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05-25-2011, 06:21 PM   #106
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QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
Bottom line: if lenses didn't matter, all of our gear would be ProMaster.
Minnesota Fats used to bet people he could beat 'em playing with a broom handle. He did it, too. But his actual cue - what he'd use to play other real players - was a good one.

I never said they didn't matter. I've said that I think there are no magic lenses that make the images magical; *that*, I think, lies in the vision of the photographer, and whatever technique a photographer employs to achieve that vision is meet. For me, that means sharpness first, contrast/saturation second, and having bokeh that's not distracting - is what it takes to be a useful lens in pursuing my vision.

Just as someone who paints murals on the side of a building wants different tools than someone who paints them on the side of a motorcycle gas tank, photographers may want different tools, but the magic is in the photographer, not the tools.

Edit: Illustration of point... I posted three images on my Facebook profile for my friends and family to see. I got several "Wow, those are great images. I wish I could afford a camera like that!"

05-25-2011, 06:33 PM   #107
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QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
Well, if I shot them at the same aperture, the DOF disparity between them would have made them radically different.
Can you please post the lenses, cameras and exif?

QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
I made the assumption (possibly not one with which everyone would agree) that a big part of pixie dust would be associated with bokeh,
That's the basic problem. There's no accepted definition of pixie dust, there's disagreement on whether it is present in a particular photo, and no agreement on which lenses have it.


QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
HERE is a link to a small Flickr gallery which has six shots in which I think the lens made an unremarkable scene special.
Very nice images. I agree, a lot of it is down to the lens and of course knowing how to utilize it.

Last edited by audiobomber; 05-25-2011 at 06:43 PM.
05-25-2011, 06:43 PM - 2 Likes   #108
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QuoteOriginally posted by DogLover Quote
I still think twitch was right when he said that a lens with pixie dust is a lens that often times gives images that look better than the scene did with the naked eye. They "add" something to the image that can seem somewhat magical. No matter what anybody else comes up with, that is pixie dust to me.


I've noticed this also. There have been times when I've shot something with a dusted lens that just should not have looked as good as it does. There have also been times when the shot makes me look like a better photographer than I actually am.

I've probably taken hundreds of fern shots, with almost every 50mm, telephoto, and macro lens I've owned, from every distance, with varying lighting, PP, etc - but one simple snap of some of those same pedestrian ferns taken with the 77 was better than any other fern shot I've ever taken - and I wasn't even trying, I just pointed and shot, expecting nothing.







Now, there are a lot better fern shots out there, taken by better photographers than me - but I've never taken one quite like that. In particular what thrills me about that shot is the crisp center, yes, but also the OOF transition along the fern structure, following the fronds back away from the center on the left side of the frame.

I would be more than happy to chalk that up to a fluke, but it happens consistently with the 77, and a couple other lenses. Not with every shot, but with enough of them for me to notice.

A strong background highlight can be a bad thing to bokeh - I don't fear it with the 77:





Here's a test shot that shows how the transition to background happens in concert with the way I think the brain would expect it to happen (if the eye 'saw' ths way) - no jarring transition, even though it's a radical fade to bokeh at this distance.





Here's another shot that was taken as an afterthought - in reality, nothing about this scene was remarkable - the shot was more interesting than it should have been:




Same here:



And here:




Here's a shot of a screen door that was almost accidental:




When my little guy got a bad flu, the 77 happened to be on the camera - this was a very quick snap:




But he has been a favorite 77 target since I bought it:















His little brother's going to be tired of seeing the lens too. (I adore the background seen through the snowflakes in this shot.)





Now, I'm not claiming you should be wowed by any of that or convinced of anything based on those shots alone, but I should say that I personally can't consistently get shots that please me quite as much with any other similar lens, on aps-c or FF. And I've tried. The closest I probably get on Nikon is the 180 2.8 AF, which I call the "Nikon Limited." With Pentax, the M 85 f/2 gives me some of that, but it's harder to use day to day, being MF. The FA 31 and 43 did also, but I took to the 77 more for whatever reason.



Here's Mike Johnston's famous take on the 77ltd - I suspect he snorted some of that dust when he was shooting it, also.


QuoteQuote:
...And nobody pays all that much attention to Pentax. Pentax does have some pretty pedestrian optics in its bag, it's true. What many photographers aren't aware of is that Pentax still also makes some of the best SLR lenses on the planet. For pure picture quality, taking bokeh into account, my considered opinion is that the Pentax 50mm f/1.4 is the best fast fifty (and I say that having carefully tested damn near everything out there). The FA 24mm f/2 is certainly one of the best 24mm AF lenses going. And if you were to directly compare the Leica 80mm Summilux-R, the Zeiss Contax 85mm f/1.4, the AF-Nikkor 85mm f/1.4, and the Pentax SMC-FA 85mm f/1.4, it would be very clear to you that the latter lens absolutely belongs in the company of the former three. For portraiture, it might even edge the others out.

Yet the very best AF SLR lenses made today are the Pentax Limiteds. There are only three, and they have focal lengths apparently chosen by means of occultish numerology: there's a 31mm f/1.8 wide, a 43mm f/1.9 "true" normal, and a 77mm f/1.8 short tele. All three are made of metal (imagine that), focus manually more than passably well, and are of an size and weight that doesn't constantly penalize you, whether you're lugging them around or holding them up to your eye on a camera. They have beautiful matching metal lens hoods and a feel of quality that puts them above virtually all other AF lenses.


"The Greatest"

All three are utter standouts optically. With the vagaries of personal taste taken into account, no lens, however deluxe, can be called the "best" for everyone, but the Limiteds are certainly among the best. Popular Photography in its March 2002 issue called the Pentax SMC-FA 31mm Limited one of the greatest prime lenses it had ever tested (the other two were the Voigtländer Heliar 50mm f/3.5 and the Nikon Nikkor 45mm f/2.8P Tessar-type. This wasn't clear in the issue itself, but I contacted the Editor, Jason Schneider, who confirmed it). Yet all things considered, the 77mm may be the best lens of the three. A nearly ideal short tele, the 77mm Limited is superb — contrasty, excellent for portraits wide open, with a truly beautiful, delicate bokeh that compliments the almost 3-D vividness of the in-focus image. Tops in its class? There are certainly a lot of great short teles out there. But I can't name an AF SLR short tele I'd put above it.
05-25-2011, 07:19 PM   #109
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Wow, Jay, great post! I remember that fern shot and it is indeed mesmerizing. Surely no one can deny that there are a number of pixie dust images among the ones you have posted. And I know that many will say that you are a master at getting the best out of any lens. They will not be wrong about that. But even you seem to give a lot of the credit to the lens. Loved the quote about my beloved FA Ltds., too.

05-25-2011, 07:20 PM   #110
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Seems to me that "magic" may be the word that makes some people uncomfortable, and that's really just a semantic issue.

To boil it down, few people would argue that certain tools are better suited to a job than others. That's why we spend lots of money on cameras and lenses. I know painters will insist that the art will be somehow less if they use inferior pigments, or the wrong paper, or brush hairs that have improper stiffness, absorbancy, etc. So that's point one: there is variation in the aptness of our tools for a given job.

Point two, has been raised: "Gestalt." This is a familiar and accepted concept. It's real. If you disagree in the existence of gestalt, then you are engaging in a purely philosophical argument for which I do not have the energy.

Point three: subjectivity. Not everything is quantifiable. It's pretty obvious that different lense render things differently, and not every infinitesimal difference will be decribable in objective terms. So if you accept these three things:

1. some tools are better than others
2. tools can have gestalt properties which cannot be predicted from knowing their components
3. results cannot be fully and objectively quantified

then you've essentially accepted "Pixie Dust" and we're just arguing over what to call it. We can call it "magic," we can call it "great lens," or we can call it Wilford freakin' Brimley.
05-25-2011, 07:24 PM   #111
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QuoteOriginally posted by jsherman999 Quote
There have also been times when the shot makes me look like a better photographer than I actually am.
That's doubtful. Your shots have such creativity and imagination.
Keep 'em coming!
05-25-2011, 07:26 PM   #112
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QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
Seems to me that "magic" may be the word that makes some people uncomfortable, and that's really just a semantic issue.

To boil it down, few people would argue that certain tools are better suited to a job than others. That's why we spend lots of money on cameras and lenses. I know painters will insist that the art will be somehow less if they use inferior pigments, or the wrong paper, or brush hairs that have improper stiffness, absorbancy, etc. So that's point one: there is variation in the aptness of our tools for a given job.

Point two, has been raised: "Gestalt." This is a familiar and accepted concept. It's real. If you disagree in the existence of gestalt, then you are engaging in a purely philosophical argument for which I do not have the energy.

Point three: subjectivity. Not everything is quantifiable. It's pretty obvious that different lense render things differently, and not every infinitesimal difference will be decribable in objective terms. So if you accept these three things:

1. some tools are better than others
2. tools can have gestalt properties which cannot be predicted from knowing their components
3. results cannot be fully and objectively quantified

then you've essentially accepted "Pixie Dust" and we're just arguing over what to call it. We can call it "magic," we can call it "great lens," or we can call it Wilford freakin' Brimley.
Now that's a nice, perfectly logical breakdown. Not sure how anyone could argue with that. But someone will in 3...2...1...
05-25-2011, 07:56 PM   #113
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damn Jay, don't make me hafta buy another lens!!

05-25-2011, 07:56 PM   #114
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QuoteOriginally posted by DogLover Quote
Now that's a nice, perfectly logical breakdown. Not sure how anyone could argue with that. But someone will in 3...2...1...
Once again... for my part, I've never argued that "pixie dust" doesn't exist. I've argued that it's not a part of the *lens*, but a part of the photographer. At the very farthest edge of reason, it's a relationship between a photographer and a lens he or she likes, not some invariant characteristic of cold glass, aluminum and plastic. There's no magic in lenses; there's magic in jsherman's eye.
05-25-2011, 08:18 PM   #115
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QuoteOriginally posted by jstevewhite Quote
it's not a part of the *lens*, but a part of the photographer.
Can a given photographer, of reasonable talent, produce more interesting images with one lens than another? If not, then I'll go all Ken Rockwell on your ass and trade all of my gear for the Nikon 18-200 VR. But if so, then your statement cannot be critically true.

Just like a lens, a photographer, or a camera system, or the combination thereof, can have a gestalt, and when we talk about making great images, we can't leave any of that out of the equation. But you seem to be trying to ascribe a definite place of residence to something that many can't even agree exists. It's pretty ethereal. It just isn't that black and white. If we admit that "Pixie Dust" exists in some sense, but is merely a semantic qualification to something that eludes explicit defininition, then sure we can say photographers can have it, too. So can subjects. And days, and moods, and weather, and an infinite array of hypothetical and complex "gestalts." It's not either/or. It's everywhere, and nowhere. It's like the force. It may be here, it may be there. It's absolutely in the FA77, man. I'm not stoned, I swear.
05-25-2011, 08:29 PM   #116
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QuoteOriginally posted by mikeSF Quote
hmm, here we go with the pixie dust debate...

My other hobby is playing jazz guitar; a similar intangible phenomenon exists when comparing very high end handmade instruments. That is, once in awhile, a particular guitar will possess a special quality that transcends ordinary means of measurement, and place it far above other instruments within its category. I have personally experienced this a few times and find that playing said instruments can even inspire one to be a better musician.
Very present in other string instruments as well. They've been trying to find out what makes a Stradivarius tick for ages


I'd agree very much with Jsherman on what he thinks gives that 'pixie dust', '3d' effect, etc.
A combination of focal length which affects subject to camera distance and hence DOF, sharpness (often very high in the center), contrast and oof rendering.
It happens more often on some lenses than others. It has nothing to do with cost either.
My K24/2.8 is certainly better than my Kiron 28/2 in it between f2.8 to f4.
M85/2 certain has it as well over my Tamron 28-75/2.8 at 75mm.
Both are not expensive lenses.
FA35/2 while very sharp is only that most of the time. On the other hand, it occurs more often with the FA43

The photographer is also key, factoring into it composition, subject distance, DOF control and lighting with all the above factors to 'make it happen'
05-25-2011, 08:37 PM   #117
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QuoteOriginally posted by jsherman999 Quote
Here's Mike Johnston's famous take on the 77ltd - I suspect he snorted some of that dust when he was shooting it, also.
If Pentax were a religion, that article would be scripture.
05-25-2011, 08:37 PM   #118
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QuoteOriginally posted by audiobomber Quote
Can you please post the lenses, cameras and exif?
Images were either shot with the FA77 at f/2 with the Pentax K-5, or with the Nikkor 70-200/2.8 at f/2.8 and ~116 mm with the Nikon D3.

In the first set, the green/yellow bush, the first image was the Nikkor and the second was the FA77. In the other 2 sets, the FA77 image appears first.
05-25-2011, 08:48 PM   #119
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QuoteOriginally posted by audiobomber Quote
I don't see the pixie dust in your samples Todd, I guess I don't know what to look for. In the first set, I prefer the first photo for its higher contrast. In the second set I prefer the second flower shot for its bokeh. I prefer the first photo of the wood, it looks sharper (maybe due to contrast).
QuoteOriginally posted by Todd Adamson Quote
Images were either shot with the FA77 at f/2 with the Pentax K-5, or with the Nikkor 70-200/2.8 at f/2.8 and ~116 mm with the Nikon D3.

In the first set, the green/yellow bush, the first image was the Nikkor and the second was the FA77. In the other 2 sets, the FA77 image appears first.
I chose Nikon, Nikon, Pentax. I guess I don't understand pixie dust, but at least I was willing to try. I would think the camera would have as much to do with the result as the lens. I prefer images from my K20D over my K-x. IMO the K20D has pixie dust in it.

No one answered my question. Is the Voigtlander 125mm f2.5 macro known as a lens with pixie dust?
05-25-2011, 08:52 PM   #120
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QuoteOriginally posted by audiobomber Quote
No one answered my question. Is the Voigtlander 125mm f2.5 macro known as a lens with pixie dust?
I think "Pixie Dust" has been informally reserved as a term for Pentax. But it may have that undefinable quality that makes it more "interesting" than other similar lenses. I'd love to tell you. If you can find me one, I'll be happy to play with it for a few years and render my opinion.
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