The Fixed Lens Comes Again

23 September 2010 10:00:00 AM AEST

The modern camera is undergoing a transformation like the fashion lines of the world: retro is in.  As one who is usually oblivious to the changing nature of attire (what, men don’t wear hats anymore?) even I can’t help but be impressed. Not only do the cameras look like something Megan Gale would be proud to swing from her shoulder or Paris Hilton strap to her poodle, but some old ideas are resurfacing to give substance to all the style. 

Olympus  gave rise to this when they released the first digital PEN camera (of which the two current versions are the E-PL3 and E-P3) designed looked like the old film PEN camera that was originally released in 1959.  Even Ted’s itself only goes back to 1970 – probably explaining the hirsute moustache of the man himself.  The idea of the digital PEN’s was to recycle the same idea as the half-frame SLR that inspired them – to reduce the weight and size of the regular SLR’s and inject some of the fun back into the idea of photography. 

Recently, at the Photokina trade show in Germany, Fuji unveiled the X100, which looks like something a Soviet spy might have left behind jumping back over the Berlin Wall.  It even has traditional dials for adjusting shutter speed and the aperture value.  It is, however, the fixed f/2 lens that generates the excitement alongside the nostalgia. The fixed lens, especially a 50mm,  was at one point  the standard "prime"  that went with your camera body. Today it is usually the 18-55 zoom. The fixed lens fell out of favour like floral shirts and bell bottoms. The zoom came in on the promise that you didn’t have to move to get closer anymore.

The difference, or the main one at least, like we touched on last time, is the amount of light a fixed lens can let through compared to a standard zoom plus the increased ability to manipulate depth of field.  Everyone with a DSLR should have a lens with a fast aperture, so much so that the majority of people who buy the ubiquitous “twin kit” packages would be better off if the second lens was something like the Nikon 35mm or Canon 50mm 1.8 instead of the telephoto lens.

Panasonic and Sony have recognised this with, for example and respectively, the Panasonic Lumix GF2 and the Sony NEX 5 that are driving their sale results.  It’s worth keeping in mind when you’re tossing up your next purchase because for anyone with creative results in mind will usually be better served by a fast lens rather a standard zoom.  Ask us at Ted’s if the idea is worthwhile for your situation, or ask me – I’ll be the one in the hat.  

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