I’ve been shooting with the 40mm pancake almost exclusively for a half-year now, and I’m not going to stop, but I’m really itching for something better.

If you read the comments on that pancake link above, they say smart things, and others have written about the virtues of running with a prime (no-zoom) lens. Let me pull together my personal list.

Compact · My aged Pentax *ist-D is smallish and lightish as DSLRs go, and the pancake is small and light by any standards. I can easily hold the combo with one hand for an hour at a time as I walk around and shoot. Also I get to tease the other photogeeks with their huge swollen Canon lenses by waving my diminutive setup around airily as they struggle with monopods and the straps around their necks cut off circulation to their brains.

Lynn Valley forest

On a tricky Lynn Valley trail walk

I’m using Lauren’s old camera bag, a beat-up looking canvas thingie designed to hold an SLR with a big zoom. Except for, in the bulge where the zoom is supposed to go I have my flash-card reader and the 21mm wide-angle, and the whole package is light. I do sometimes wonder, for example when stopped by a busy street in Shanghai changing lenses, what would be so bad about using a zoom, but dammit, Art demands Sacrifice, everybody knows that.

Another side-effect of the diminutive setup is that I now take the SLR along on lots of trips I wouldn’t have, before.

Fast · Because I don’t have to think about the zoom, I can shoot more pictures per unit time. Yeah, I have to compose with my whole body, but these days, composition is less important because I’m gonna level and crop in Lightroom anyhow.

Berlin sunset

Shot quick in Berlin

Intimate · It’s like this; after six months of working with this puppy, I totally know the field of view. When I look at something maybe-interesting, I find that my mind is automatically figuring out what’s going to fit and what isn’t.

Insensitivity · Life isn’t perfect: this setup is just not sensitive enough. I want the lens to be faster and I want anti-shake and I want the image processor to produce images that are smooth as butter at ISO 1600 and above. Basically, I want a Nikon D3, only half the size.

These days, for indoor shots at conferences at the like, I shoot on manual, hardwired to ISO 400 or 800, 1/60 of a second, and f2.8. They’re mostly a little underexposed, but with the judicious application of Lightroom I can get some decent effects.

Yukihiro Matsumoto (“Matz”)

Matz keynoting; the camera is being pushed a little further than it really wants to go, with obvious results.

Shiny New Toy? · Hmm, check out the new Ricoh GR Digital II. Everyone loved the ergonomics and lens quality and general artfulness of its predecessor, but its low-light performance was wildly controversial. Some of the controversy even showed up in the comments on an earlier piece.

This puppy is said to offer “dramatically” improved high-ISO performance, which sounds very interesting. Mind you, the company’s demo images are all shot at ISO 100; grmph. No anti-shake, though.

Hey, I’m going to be in Tokyo next week; staying in Shinjuku this time too, which is a good camera-shopping district. Hmmmm.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Janne (Nov 10 2007, at 06:52)

For high-ISO, forget the Ricoh. It's an exceedingly sweet camera (I kind of lusted for the predecessor too), but while "dramatically better" is perfectly true, it still means that ISO400 looks just about like ISO1600 does on your DSLR.

How about the Pentax K100super, and get the 43mm f/1.9? The K100Super will give you antishake on every lens you have, while the 43 is really fast, and regarded as one of the better lenses Pentax has made. A wider, slightly larger, but much more budget-friendly alternative would be the 35mm f/2 (which I have, and love; I might be a little biased).




From: Jeremy (Nov 10 2007, at 10:00)

Shijuku? Yodobashi Camera?

Arghh - the earworm!

Not that I went there. Not more than

a few times. Oh no, not at all.


From: Derek K. Miller (Nov 10 2007, at 11:16)

Would a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens not address many of the low-light performance issues you're taking about? Or the Sigma 30mm f/1.4?

I find myself using my Nikon D50 with the inexpensive but very nice 50mm f/1.8 most of the time, and an extra stop or two of aperture would make almost any low-light shooting situation viable.


From: Justin Watt (Nov 10 2007, at 11:20)

Tim, I had a brush with a Canon A series (even after you left your pro-Pentax comment on my blog), but upon arrival, it just didn't feel right after two years with an SD400. Meanwhile I'm back to lusting for that perfect full frame sensor (ostensibly the Canon 5D or it's direct descendant). But an improved GR Digital, now that sounds intéressant.

Question: "compose with my whole body." What do you mean?


From: R Kolewe (Nov 10 2007, at 12:45)

You might want to look at the Canon G9, a more or less pocketable camera that shoots raw. Low light performance seems good but I'm still getting used to it; haven't posted any pictures yet. Anyway, it's what I'm now carrying when my D200 with a 50mm prime (my equivalent of your pancake mix) is too much to haul.


From: Justin Watt (Nov 10 2007, at 13:34)

I just pre-ordered the GR-Digital II:



From: Matt Brubeck (Nov 11 2007, at 09:04)

It looks like the GR-Digital II is using the same 10MP sensor as the GX100. That plus the lack of high-ISO samples makes me suspect the "dramatic" noise improvements are software-only, and may come at a cost.

Anyway, the enthusiasts at the DPReview forums are actually more excited that the new firmware for the GR-D and GR-D II will let them turn off noise reduction completely, and get even more of the grainy film-like look that they love.


From: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward (Nov 11 2007, at 11:06)

Perhaphs nobody here has noticed that the French firm Angenieux has just announced the production of their 37mm F-1.4 Apochromatic crêpe lens. It even sports a floating element for maximum sharpness from infinity to an incredible five inches. It's patented anti stick technology provides a super fast auto focusing in the dimmest light.

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


From: dbt (Nov 13 2007, at 07:18)

I really have been enjoying my Nikon D40 with auto-iso and the kit 18-55 mostly glued to the wide end. Infinitely light and easy to carry, though I really need to get a VR lens for night shooting.


From: Terri Molini (Nov 16 2007, at 09:04)

Tim "compose with my whole body." What does that mean? Curious minds want to know.


From: Tim (Nov 16 2007, at 09:40)

That's two people wondering about "compose with my whole body".

What that means is that since these lenses we're talking about aren't zooms, if you want the subject of your photo to fill more of the frame, you have to get closer to it. If you want more stuff around it you have to move back.


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