F@ck the gear?

It`s definitely not the first time I hear this. This time my cousin Elisa (we`ve being talking a lot about photography these days) heard it during her course in the New York Film Academy. One of the instructors said that and she told me during one of our whatsapp talks. Yes, there is a strong movement against the gear headed. It`s a fact, technical knowledge is not enough to produce art. We all get that. As one of these nerds, walking down the creativity path I can suppose I`m in a rather good place to evaluate both arguments and state my own opinion.

(Is it possible that you give me just a moment outside of the formal argumentation so I can scream in a paper bag just how stupid and lazy those so-called artists are when they say that technical knowledge does not matter? Ok…that`s better. Thanks a lot for reading these lines. It was just the time I needed not to start trolling people. You, sir or miss, you are a nice person. Thank you.)

[Draws a deep breath, exhales]

So, let me begin.

There is pleasure in technical knowledge. We, nerds, like to stack as much knowledge as we can. This make us feel good and powerful. In the ultimate sense, we feel like we have control over the subject (in this case, photography). That being the case, it`s not enough for me to know that higher ISO`s will bring more noise to the picture. I want, correction, I need to know why in a mathematical way. Only by knowing that I can feel like I understand ISO. That is, as a person with some sense can figure, overly exaggerated.

Not giving a f@ck about ISO is also exaggerated in another way. Let me illustrate. The Signal versus Noise graph in my camera (Canon 60D) states that from ISO 100 until ISO 800 I lose just a small amount of quality for increasing the ISO, from there until ISO 1600 I lose more, but not a huge amount. From ISO 3200 until 12.800 the quality of the picture plummets, and digital noise is everywhere. It`s not linear! Our so called artist (I`m not trying to create a scarecrow line of argumentation here, I`m just speaking in a general form) probably knew ISO`s and knew digital noise increases with it. Period. I do believe it is relevant to my capability of expression to have the freedom to use a high ISO knowing that I can trade that for a deeper focus. Moreover, knowing how much I`m actually trading in terms of noise.

On a previous post I stated that I gave up buying a Zeiss lens because of its bokeh. On photographic circles, Zeiss Glass is THE glass to have. If you don`t like it, you just don’t know enough about photography. In my humble (and technical) opinion the Zeiss Plannar T* 50mm f/1.4 is not a good lens. Wait. How can a US$ 399 lens be better than a US$ 800 one?

Meet the MTF Graph. The Modulation Transfer Function is a graph to analyze the capability of a lens to express resolution. It is part of a very specific (and not very important) technical aspect of lenses. Once you know it, it`s pretty useful to understand lens issues. If you want to know more, just google MTF Graph and have a blast. Here I`ll just state the essential: the upper and continuous lines are the most important ones as they capture the gross detail that a lens can reproduce. The vertical axis is the capability (from 0 to 100 or from 0 to 1) and the horizontal axis shows the lens from the middle (represented by the number 0) to the extreme corner (represented by the twenty something).

What does our graphs say to us? Lets see the first one:

This firs graph shows the Zeiss 50mm at f/1.4. It shows that in the center it captures about eighty something percent of the details and that falls continuously until the corner. Then it drastically falls in the extreme corner. Let`s see what the Sigma 50mm shows:

The sigma begins at 90% and keeps it kind of steady until the middle of the frame. Than it falls rapidly as we move to the corners.

Can someone wake the artist with the hipster glasses, please? Thanks.

The bottom line is: 50mm lenses are used for portraits (oh, you`re awake and already complaining that 85mm are the adequate lenses for portraits? Prove it.). On a portrait usually we want the focus point (the eyes and face, if possible) in focus and a nice and creamy bokeh on the background. Well, the Zeiss gives somewhat sharp centers but it`s capability of render details falls right away. The Sigma, in the other hand allows you to take the picture off the center and still manage to get a sharp focused area.

Now to the bokeh: the Zeiss lens is made with 9 straight aperture blades, in opposition to the 9 rounded ones from Sigma.

Dude! Who the hell cares about the shape of aperture blades? Get a life! I mean, do you have any friends?

You will care about it in a second and we can be friends! Just hold still, we`re almost there!

Straight aperture blades tend to leave a messy out of focus area, with geometrical distractive highlights that takes the attention out of the main subject. The review made by The Phoblographer shows the kind of bokeh the Zeiss leaves you with:

(Picure from The Phoblographer)

In opposition, the review from the same site show what kind of bokeh you get from rounded aperture blades:

(Picture from The Phoblographer)


Both pictures were shot with the same fstop. Two more pictures to illustrate that:


Straight Blades from a 5 straight blades Canon 50mm f/1.8 shot at f/4.5 and the same configuration from the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 9 rounded blades. See the difference?

The story goes on! There`s Chromatic Aberrations, Spherical Residual Aberrations, Vigneting, Distortions, color rendition, color spaces, gamma curves in JPEG and RAW Files and a lot more topics that change the way photography behaves.

Can one really deny, after the examples given, that the lens design in its viscerally boring technical characteristics is relevant to the capability that one has to express its intents as photographer? Can one really say that: “F@ck the way my lens renders the out of focus areas” or “F@ck the resolution my lens has across the frame” and still be called a photographer? What kind of artist are those who couldn’t care less about the characteristics of its own working tools?

Are those things really unimportant or what we really have is a bunch of creative people scared of numbers?

2 pensamentos sobre “F@ck the gear?

  1. Marcelo Inacio Marques disse:

    Hj vai em potuguês mesmo porque o tradutor do meu cerébro travou (não pergunte o motivo, ainda estou esperando atendinento no suporte), mas voltando ao assunto, penso que a arte e quem tem o dom artístico é que realmente importa, pois você pode colocar um equipamento de ponta na mão de um troglodita sem nenhum dom para a coisa, que saíra uma foto mais ou menos. Agora um artista mesmo com um pedaço de filme dentro de uma lata pode produzir uma obra de arte…. simples assim.

  2. Petrusko Dêjeba disse:

    Mas acho que o ponto é justamente o fato de que se o cara que tem o dom artístico, tiver domínio técnico, ele passa a ter um “range” de aplicabilidade muito mais versátil, com mais ferramentas em suas mãos.

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