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Are Expensive Lenses Better?

Switzerland photography workshop

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Photographers are often surprised when I tell them my preferred lens is the 18-55mm OIS that came with my XT-1 Fuji camera. “No surely you must have a range of prime lenses?” They say thinking I’m joking. But it’s true.

As you probably gathered from the video by now, I broke it on the 2017 Iceland photo workshop. I was truly gutted because A) I like the lens and B) Camera stores are few and far between out in the wilds and I wanted my favourite focal length lens to harvest photos.

To cut a long story short, we’d be passing through Reykjavik in a couple days so we phoned some stores. The only similar lens available was the f2.8 weather resistant 16-55 WR version at a breath-taking £1500 (Iceland is an expensive place!)

Well, I had to have a lens and the guys at Ljósmyndavörur Photographic were super helpful, even having it delivered to hotel reception for me because we were only there for an 8 hour overnight stop. So I sucked it up and got out the credit card...

Back home I went to claim on the insurance and discovered a couple of very interesting things. There was a £200 excess charge to claim and Fuji would repair my broken one for just £125!

But why would I want to keep what is often referred to as a ‘Kit’ lens over the top end one?

As I said in the video, I like the 18-55 because it’s small and convenient and fits in my pocket easily. But the more images I developed from the £1500 lens, the more I began to notice they seemed too sharp for my liking.

This really came to a head when I was developing raw files for a video about waiting for light, which I shot on the Lanzarote workshop a few weeks later. At the time I couldn’t truly put my finger on it - it’s not that the images were bad, they were just different... Slowly it dawned on me they appeared a bit too sharp for my liking, especially in areas of fine detail.

Now let me be very clear. It was only a tiny thing and had I not owned my beloved 18-55mm OIS, I’d never have noticed it. But I had and I did so decided to try a test and share it with you.

Annoyingly the differences don’t seem to be as pronounced in the video as in other images I’ve shot, either that or it’s psychological. I believe the images are better from my 18-55 so for me at least, they are!

But what it does bring to mind is the question “Do I need this and will it improve my photography?”

So as you saw in the video, the differences in image quality are tiny and in my opinion I prefer the slightly softer look from my old lens (which is smaller and easy to have with me). It may not be weather proof but it’s had a bit of a soaking on several occasions and doesn’t seem any the worse for wear, so why change it? To me at least it seems a waste of money because the kind of photography I shoot doesn’t need F2.8 throughout the range or weather resistance.

Cameras and kit don’t take pictures. We take pictures using our imagination and ability to ‘see’ and interpret them, combined with knowledge of how cameras and kit work to capture them - the 7 Building Blocks of Photography.

To my mind the money would be better spent on visiting somewhere that inspires me. Somewhere or something I’ve always wanted to see and photograph so I get to have a great time, capture great images and practise doing what I love – shooting pictures.

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