Photographer and Machine


I came of age in the 60s and 70s and music was very integral to our lives. Everyone I knew including myself played guitar to some extent, and guitar virtuosos were held in very high esteem. It wasn’t enough to just be an accomplished guitar player. You had to have something more. I remember conversations we would have where some “amazing” player was mentioned and someone would immediately interject, “Oh he’s just a machine.” That was the worst put-down possible.

Digital photography and the internet have made photography very commonplace and there are a lot of very technically savvy people out there, but to me, most of them are just machines.

The technical craft of photography is very important to master if you want to be a photographic artist. How can you actualize your vision if you don’t have the skills to capture what you want. But the craft, when mastered, is boring. I want the artistry. I’m notoriously closed minded about most of the technical tricks that one can learn in photography and its post processing. I’m only interested in learning about the ones that I want to use.

I generally don’t like to talk about equipment, because equipment is only a means to an end. When people ask me what camera they should get, I advise them to go to their local camera store and try the Nikons, Canons, Sonys and Fujis and see which one they’re most comfortable with.

However, in my constant quest to get an ideal macro lens, I was made aware how equipment can such a difference in your images.

By some blind luck, I purchased a new and very inexpensive Sigma 70-300 macro zoom because my 80-200 Nikkor was in for repair and I wanted a quick replacement. Now, a large part of my current images are taken with that Sigma 70-300. The lens drives me crazy. It vignettes a lot in macro mode and the vignetting isn’t evenly distributed so it’s really a pain to correct. I tried going to a 70-300 Nikkor with a +1 close-up lens and the coverage was much better, but it wasn’t as sharp as the Sigma. The Sigma is quite a sharp lens.

I decided to try the 200mm Micro Nikkor, but because the lens, costs $1700, I rented one for a week. OMG what a sharp baby. Just looking through the viewfinder and focusing it I could tell the difference. But, when I started working on my raw files I saw something else. Yes, the lens was VERY SHARP, but just like those machine guitar players it was missing something. The out of focus areas were also sharp, sharper than the Sigma and sharper than the Nikkor 80-300. But it wasn’t just sharpness. I guess the term you would use for it is bokeh. Wikipedia says that bokeh “is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens.” As much as I’d grouse about the Sigma, I didn’t realize how much of my images depended on its awesome bokeh.

What to do. I’m learning to work with the Nikkor, using larger lens openings and being very careful about my backgrounds. I just purchased a used older version for fairly cheap. I’ll probably use both of them depending on my subject matter.


~ by danbaumbach on September 24, 2018.

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