A DPR reader posted a request for folks to post names of, and images made with, the “magical” lenses that they own. I thought through my lens collection, and didn’t come up with any that seemed to fit that description. That got me thinking.
There are short lenses and long lenses. There are fast lenses and slow lenses. There are lenses with lots of aberrations, and there are lenses with few material aberrations. There are lenses with smooth bokeh, and lenses with busy — even doughnut-shaped — bokeh. There are sharp lenses and fuzzy ones; there are even some that manage to be both at the same time. And most all of those things can be mixed and matched.
And here’s the deal: you can many great images with any of them.
There are two ways of looking at this.
The first is that lenses are tools, and it’s up to the photographer who honors craft to understand the capabilities of the tools in his kit. When faced with a task, pull out the right lens and do the job.
The second is that photography is a process, and the tools influence the photographer’s vision through intense and prolonged interaction. So pick a lens, any lens, and use it until you find out the kind of images for which it is best suited.
Of course, in the real world, these things aren’t so cut and dried. But you can envision a photographic process leading to successful images as a combination of those approaches in ever-changing proportion. In that case, where is the magic? The magic is what the photographer brings to the party, in the artful selection of photographic techniques that work with a well-chosen tool. There’s no magic in the lens.
If you believe that the lens is where the magic is, you are doomed to an endless search for something outside yourself that will make your photography better. It’s not out there. It’s in you.