I’m not a collector but I definitely have way more lenses than your average shooter. Sometimes I feel a little sad for the lenses I don’t use enough and consider it might be an interesting idea to perhaps set out to shoot a different lens each month. But that would mean embarking on a 2 year project and these days I don’t have this sort of patience. Last year I tried doing one of those 1 shot a day on film projects (same stock, same camera, same lens) but got defeated by technical difficulties – right off the bat my camera overlapped 2 weeks’ worth of shots into one frame (might have been the camera’s way of telling me they were rubbish as most of that time I was stuck at home with the plague), and then some time in March I managed to burn a hole in the shutter curtain and had to send the camera off for repair. But that wasn’t even the worst part. What ultimately made me give up on it was the feeling I was turning my most fun and carefree hobby into a daily chore. There are photographers out there who thrive under these sort of self-imposed restrictions, but I’m not one of them. I mean… I am actually, just not these particular restrictions.
Instead, whenever I head out to shoot I look through the glass door of my Kellax cabinet and pick a lens on a whim. Most of the time it doesn’t even matter where I’m headed (unless I visited the same location recently, in which case I try not to bring the same lens). I believe any setting can be suitable for photography with just about any focal length so that’s rarely a consideration. My restriction of choice is I normally only take one lens with me, and even if I put a spare in my pocket more often than not I don’t use it. I like to get in the zone of being able to pre-visualise the shot and sticking with one focal length for the day helps with that. Plus juggling lenses in the field always carries a risk of introducing even more dust into the camera.
On that particular day I picked the Canon 35mm f/1.5 that I bought a couple of years before but haven’t used it that much. Nothing wrong with it – it’s fast, offers interesting character, and takes 48mm filters. It took me a lot of effort to collect the 11 different Canon filters of this size I currently have. They are beautiful, slim, chrome, and are from the same time period as Canon’s rangefinder lenses and fit several of them (as well as the Nikkor 8.5cm f/2). I feel that using vintage filters with vintage lenses adds to the experience. They not only compliment them visually but contribute to the look achieved by using glass that’s many decades old. Furthermore, the thread pitch is often the issue that prevents new filters from fitting old lenses, and certain sizes become highly unpopular over time and therefore difficult or even impossible to find.
Why didn’t I use the Canon more? The problem was, shortly after acquiring it I got the W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/2.5 and that set off a whole chain reaction of really getting into wide Nikkor lenses from that era. The Canon was a casualty of that. It is an interesting lens but never managed to spark the same level of excitement in me as some of the other lenses I have. However, by chance I recently noticed the lens actually getting a lot of hype all of a sudden. It wasn’t exactly common back when I got it but this was a whole other level. Apparently, videographers decided this was the lens to have and this led to the supply getting even shorter and prices skyrocketing, with the lens now selling for 5-6 times more than a mere 2 years ago (it wasn’t exactly cheap back then either). While prices of vintage gear going up might benefit some, on the whole it’s very bad news for most photographers and videographers who are into that sort of thing. Especially once they no longer only have collectors to compete with but speculators as well.
This sparked an internal debate over what to do with this apparently highly sought after lens that wasn’t getting much love from me. The provisional answer was to take it out and shoot. Perhaps I’m missing something? Maybe it really is one of the greatest lenses ever produced? Could it be that I’m simply not getting it? All these might very well be true. The Canon produces good quality images stopped down, dreamy images filled with flare wide open, is well built, pleasant to shoot with, but still no lensgasm. Back on the shelf it goes until I know what to do with it. Which happened to be the very next day. I was with a bunch of friends having an evening of watching our favourite Star Trek episodes, as a crazy party animal like myself does on a Sunday evening, when I received a message from a videographer in the US asking whether I still have the Canon lens and if I’m interested in selling it.
At this point I still haven’t decided what I wanted to do and was quite hesitant. The idea of a private sale of a high ticket item was causing me some anxiety. I got some good deals on lenses over the years but realistically I probably also overpaid significantly on a number of occasions compared to the prices they were selling for in the not so distant past. I had mixed feelings about being offered so much more than what I paid (still, it was less than the crazy Ebay prices I’ve been seeing) merely for sitting on a lens for two years. But perhaps the karmic balance could be maintained if I were to spend it on another exotic and sought after lens, one I actually really wanted, and the Canon went to this person who was clearly very enthusiastic about shooting with it? I’m rambling now… Anyway, it took another week of ironing out the details but finally the lens was on its way to its new (hopefully) happy owner. Will I be equally happy with my new exotic purchase is yet to be seen, but it is on its way from Japan and I’m properly excited!