Friday, September 26, 2008

Why 40 mm?

Mike Johnston has just republished on article of his from a few years back called "Why 40 mm?" Since I've been using a 40 almost exclusively for the past year, this was of particular interest to me. I wish I could say there was a grand plan behind my use of the 40, but honestly the main reason I bought one is that it was cheap. I found an f/2 40 mm Summicron-C online for about $400. The f/2 35 mm Summicron with virtually identical optics sells for about $1500 used. Given those options I bought the 40 and I've been quite happy with it.

What I like about the 40 is that it feels malleable. In some cases it can feel long, like a 50:

In other situations it feels wider angle, like a 35:

The flexibility is almost like using a zoom, but with one lens.

Years ago I did in fact use a zoom. I imagined I was giving myself the ability to react to everything. If something was close I could zoom wide angle. If something was far away I could telephoto in to crop close. The end result was that my photos had no consistency. They had the look of being taken by a variety of people. This is why Philip Perkis calls zooms "the work of the devil."

The first time I went to a fixed lens was quite a leap. What if there's a far away scene and I can't zoom in? What then? It took a little while but I got used to just one lens. Less is more in this case, i.e. less variables to mediate my worldview. After all, my eyes don't zoom in and out. Why should any other part of me do it?


Anonymous said...

I like the 40mm too--my old rollei 35 has a 40mm. The 45mm on my old yashicas don't quite cut it....but have you tried a 38mm? Blows the 40mm out of the water!

Lack of visual consistency--that is the best reason I have heard not to use a zoom. I've always disliked zooms for discouraging photographers from physically moving closer and from engaging with their subjects. And telephoto shots rarely have any ambience. But don't your eyes and brain zoom in to things? I sometimes find myself so locked in on something way over there, but it's not until I pick my camera up I then realize that I had better walk way over there! And when I'm suddenly in the middle of traffic, I wish I had a longer lens!

Blake Andrews said...

Hi Bryan,

The 38 is nice but it doesn't come close to the 39.27. The only reason I use the 40 is that I couldn't track down a 39.27.

J. Karanka said...

I find interesting as well the people that change format or optics quite a lot and still have a consistent production. For some stuff I mix 6x6 and 6x7, but that's about ok. The guy that surprised me a lot was Solomons, when you see him shooting with a zoom lens and in P! :-D You'd think that those narrower images would pop out of his photographs, but they just don't.