When gear matters

One of my “favorite” classic inspirational lines many experienced photographers preach is: “Gear doesn’t matter !“. It doesn’t matter what camera you use, nor whatever lens, hoarding gear kills creativity and so on. Most of them however sport the flagship model of their chosen manufacturer and own a double digit lens no camera-bag on the market can fit. So enough about that.

Let me say though, I wholeheartedly agree with some of it. It’s true enough, your creative muscle starts flexing pretty hard when working within limits of any sort. One of my favorite movies has been shot on a budget of peanuts. Just go out and shoot with a single prime lens and you’ll find yourself creatively jumping through whatever hoops will come your way.

This story is about something else.

I have been an amateur landscape photographer for some time now. I remember fondly my first years in the field. The fire burned hot and i loved roaming around and shooting like mad. I even started getting good at it. Year by year though, I found myself shooting less and less. Habits started to form. Whenever I found myself on a scene, I almost instantly knew what I would do: good foreground – shoot wide, no foreground – get the long lens and find some detail. I was in a rut and my hobby was giving me less and less satisfaction.

Turns out, most of the photographers I know, at some point, more or less got there too. Most of them also found their way out: some turned to other genres, some found new inspiration in distant lands, some did…whatever, you get my point.

With me though, something else happened.

The last decade saw the emergence of some brilliant third party lens manufacturers. Their business plan goes like this: we invent some new lens; we make it good and cheap; we fill the market cracks left open by the big dogs; we grow; we are now a factor. I just love them.

So one day, while happily browsing the internet I saw a title. It contained three words which until this moment had no place in the same sentence: “wide-angle macro“. No way, I thought, in my world that’s an oxymoron. I clicked my mouse faster than a cabdriver toots his horn on a green light and we know that’s impossible. Obviously, no one at Venus Optics knew what an oxymoron was, and someone dared to ask the brilliant question: “So, what if … ?

Turned out it was real. And it was even better:

  • 15 mm prime lens – wonderful !
  • manual focus – no big deal, I’m used to those
  • F4 – good enough for me, don’t be greedy
  • minimal focusing distance of 4 mm – What? no, seriously…WHAT??
  • front filter thread – well, thanks for the cherry on top !

It all got even better when I browsed through the sample images – this was a whole new way of looking at the landscape for me ! I just had to have it !!

So I bought it. Now what ? Well, now sir, you start to learn. First problem: focus stacking. Turns out, some smart people have already invented the software. Second problem: well there was none, I just needed to go out and shoot. It took some time but the results started coming:

Turned out, the cake had one more cherry: the brilliant sun-star you get at F11 and up:

Soon the process showed its ugly side: while shooting the focus stacks for images like the above, I had to bracket which often meant that for a single image, I needed to produce something like 80 separate shots or more. Meanwhile, the slightest wind rendered everything useless and I had to start over. Oh, well, you can’t win them all.

As the seasons progressed, I managed to get the shots I envisioned when I first learned about this precious glass:

As I said, this was a whole new way of looking at the world, nothing was too small for the foreground of my compositions:

Not even ants:

източна стара планина пролет 2019

The 4 mm minimal focusing distance let me get so close to stuff I would have just passed by any other time:

Whenever there is no use for the macro, I just shoot the lens as a prime ultra wide-angle:

The front filter thread also quickly proved its worth:

Every season offered something good:

пролет 2019

Needless to say, I am having fun again and lots of it ! I can hardly wait for whatever the future holds.

Final words:

  • this is not an advert for Venus Optics, or at least, not a paid one by them; this is just a story about the inspiration a new piece of gear gave me
  • the glass is not perfect, it suffers from most of the usual ultra-wide lens issues, but the value i get from it, outweighs them by far
  • getting this glass will not solve all of your problems, it will only give you another perspective; every ages-old rule of aesthetics still applies. Here are some below-average images that prove my point:

Thanks for reading and have fun 🙂