A normal lens
Normal lenses free the photographer from the complexity and distraction of zoom lenses. When I walk around with a normal lens on my camera, I see things in an everyday kind of way. My photographic vision moves from “???, wtf do I take a picture of?” to one of clarity, seeing exactly what I can capture with the normal lens. While you might be able to photograph more with a zoom lens, you can see more when you use a normal lens. Not that it’s an advanced concept or anything, but it took me a long time to really “get” this.
80mm on a medium format camera is a “normal” lens. It’s the same as using a 50mm lens on a full frame camera like the Canon 5DIII, or a 28mm lens on a crop sensor camera like the Canon 60D. The Mamiya 80mm lens sees things with approximately the same perspective as your eye, thus images appear present, immediate, and real. Normal lenses are excellent for all kinds of photography (including travel!), so long as you are able to frame your shot in an interesting and visually pleasing way.
Old school lenses
It’s nearly impossible to find any worthwhile comparisons between old school lenses – especially when it comes to medium format film. I suppose the reasons for this are a) hardly anyone shoots with them, and b) those who use them don’t have a photography website.
Well I have a website and I shoot with them, so I’ll go ahead and break the trend. You may find the following less than useful if you’re not planning on shooting with this exact camera (Mamiya 645) and lens combination, and if you prefer to use zooms instead of fixed focal length lenses. If that’s the case, feel free to check out my tutorials on shooting both digital and film:
Perhaps you’re thinking of getting into film, or maybe you just love all things photography. If that’s you, then let’s get to it.
Head to head
The Mamiya 80mm f1.9 and f2.8 are optically very similar lenses. Performance at and beyond f2.8 is nearly indistinguishable. There are, however, four important differences:
- The f1.9 lens is significantly larger and heavier (67mm filter thread vs the f2.8’s 58mm thread.)
- The f1.9 lens offers beautiful bokeh when shot wide open which is unattainable when using the f2.8 lens.
- The f1.9 lens, at about $300 is $150-$200 more expensive than the f2.8 lens.
- The f1.9 lens offers slightly superior bokeh at equivalent apertures when viewed side by side against the f2.8 lens. This won’t be obvious unless a direct comparison is made.
As for point #1, the Mamiya 645 camera is already large and incredibly unsightly, and if you’re willing to carry it around you probably won’t mind carrying a slightly larger and heavier lens along with it. The f1.9 lens is better, and it offers more options to the photographer. The only practical difference is one of money – so is it worth the extra money? Personally, I think that it is.
f1.9 opens up so many more photographic opportunities which simply aren’t available with the f2.8. And if you are ever going to buy the f1.9 lens, you might as well do it now. The price difference is not going to change, and you can’t go back in time to recapture your initial shots with the better lens.
This review is useless without pictures
…so let’s see some, shall we? All of these were shot on Kodak Ektar 100 film using a tripod.
You can view full resolution images on my Flickr stream here: Ed Graham on Flickr
I hope this short review helps you decide between the 80mm f1.9 vs the 80mm f2.8 lens. And if you don’t shoot medium format film, I hope I’ve shown the benefits of using a normal lens in your day to day shooting.