If you look up “ambivalence” in the dictionary, you might see a picture of me staring at my Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro lens.
I bought this a few years ago during one of those periods when I was lusting for the more expensive 85mm f/1.4. I did tons of research and convinced myself that the 105 would serve my needs as a portrait lens, for less money, and give me macro (close focus) capability in the bargain.
It is a wonderful lens, but here I am years later, still lusting after the 85mm f/1.4. As a portrait lens, the Micro lens has three deficiencies compared to the 85. First, it can be TOO SHARP. I know that sounds absurd, but for most of my portraits I want the eyes sharp and everything else slightly softer. Shooting the 105 wide open, I get sharp eyes, very detailed pores, and easily countable nose hairs. Second, it offers pleasant bokeh, but not the “cream machine” look for which the 85 is famous. Third, it’s a little long for most of the situations in which I shoot portraits: I have to stand all the way across my small studio to produce a head and shoulders portrait.
It has its own look and I work with it, but it doesn’t do what the 85 does. I still enjoy the lens, because the macro capability is a lot of fun and it’s a very capable telephoto lens on my DX-sensor cameras. But I suspect I will eventually buy an 85 anyway, and I don’t do enough macro photography to justify both lenses. Instead of saving up for what I really wanted, I settled (too strong a word, as it is a fine lens) for something I could afford at the time. I got a jack of several trades that is indeed a master of one (macro), but not the one for which I bought it.
I’m a little less ambivalent when I see some of the images I’ve made with this lens, but I suspect I might be selling it in 2012 to help me buy the 85 f/1.4. Before it comes to that, I’ll spend a week or two using it as my only lens to see if I can kindle a romance…
Thus concludes this series of posts about my four prime lenses. A photographer’s vision is more important than any piece of equipment, but a lens is the key piece of gear for realizing one’s vision – far more important than the camera body. Today’s zoom lenses offer optical excellence undreamt of when I bought my first camera in 1972, but there are still many advantages to single-focal-length lenses, which are generally faster, more simply designed, and easier to handle. I offer the same advice today that I gave to new photographers when I worked at a camera store in 1980: get a working camera and then invest in the best lenses you can afford. These are the tools that will help you create your own style.