As I was building out this site, a labour of love, by the way, that’s still in progress, I came across two images taken decades apart with the same camera and lens combination, a combination I find hard to beat even today if one is more interested in capturing the essence of the moment rather than fretting over gear.
I took the first photograph sometime between 1984-1985 while I was stationed onboard the Los Angeles class fast attack submarine USS Norfolk SSN-714 where one of my collateral duties was ship’s photographer.
In this image, the ship’s Hospital Corpsman, whom we affectionately call “Doc” on a submarine, is stitching up a shipmate’s hand that was cut on a metal can while operating the ship’s trash disposal unit (TDU).
I took the second picture in January 2012. (I take better notes nowadays.) Same camera, same lens, and same film by the way…Kodak Tri-X.
The camera, most people will agree, is a venerable icon with a world class reputation, while the lens, well, not so much. And that’s what motivated this post.
The poor, unfortunate, completely unappreciated Zoom-Nikkor 35-105 f3.5 ~ 4.5. You can buy them in mint condition on eBay for around $50 bucks. As is often the case in life, circumstances dictate necessity, and as a poverty stricken petty officer third class back in the early 1980s, I could just afford the camera. The lens was a compromise. It covered the zoom range I wanted and it was affordable. One makes due with what they have and in those days I was happy to have it.
Today, people criticize lenses for lack of sharpness and I admit that in some applications having a tack sharp lens is an essential part of the equation, but those applications usually go hand-in-hand with intelligence work: you want maximum sharpness, acuteness, contrast, and overall rendering capability, with minimal distortion to produce an image from which you can extract maximum information. But I maintain you are doing a woman no favors by taking her picture with such a lens. Here’s another image taken with the same camera and lens combination, this time using Kodachrome 25.
This is a photograph of my favorite model – my wife Coralie. So, the Zoom-Nikkor 35-105 f3.5 ~ 4.5. A lens that today is so much maligned by aficionados that you’d think it was radioactive, when in reality, this lens does all the work one would normally need to do today in post production to render a beautiful model, well, beautiful. What’s today’s process? Take a picture with a tack-sharp lens, then spend a day applying Gaussian blur, frequency separation, spot healing, blah, blah, blah.
I’d like to leave you with one more image, made with the same lens, but a different camera, the Nikon D200.
The Zoom-Nikkor is a macro lens as well. I think perhaps that’s why I like it so much. It’s simply a versatile lens capable of rendering wonderful images. So, if you are a Nikon user, don’t limit your creativity by dismissing a 30-year old lens out of hand just because it’s not the sharpest lens on the planet. For $50 bucks, what do you have to lose?