This article is written in response to “The Question of 18-300mm Lenses” article written by Romanas Naryškin. I used to like my 18-300mm zoom – I called it my Guilty Pleasure Lens (GPL). It was hands-down the most fun lens I ever shot with. When I wanted to just go out on an adventure outside and had no idea what I’d run into, instead of grabbing my FX body, my 16-35mm zoom, 50mm prime, 105mm macro, 80-400mm zoom and of course a manservant to carry all that gear, I’d grab GPL and my D7000 and blast on down the trail. Sure GPL wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but neither am I. In our shared ignorance we’d shoot grand vistas or cool nature abstracts or maybe even crawl through the dirt for a close-up or two. What a fool I was thinking I’d found a partner that liked to do all the things I liked to do.
Well, I’ve seen the light and it was time to get even with GPL for deceiving me into thinking we had something special. Before tossing GPL into the dumpster I was going to show it how a real lens behaved. Enter the 10 lb 1 oz Baby Jesus, AKA the Nikkor 800mm, AKA BJ. Yep, the top stud in the Nikon stable. The lens that doesn’t have a MTF curve – it has a WTF curve. And GPL, well suffice it to say we know what gets shoveled up from the stable floor. I figured I’d go out on one last shoot with GPL, ostensibly for “old times sake”, but really to show GPL how a real lens like BJ would handle those situations.
Right off the bat I think GPL knew something was up. GPL insisted we shoot a selfie. This is what it looks like when an 18-300 owner takes a selfie:
And at 100% – ick.
It was a bit awkward getting the selfie with BJ.
But the results were impressive. Check out the creamy bokeh. Awesome.
We then rolled over to Sunset Crater where GPL saw an abstract cinder slope landscape. Knock yourself out GPL, this is your last hurrah.
Hmmm, kinda cool, but let’s see what BJ has to say about these cinder hills. Oh yeah – BJ gets right down to the inky soul of the landscape.
Not only that, but he throws in a Golden Eagle sweeping the cinders with a wingtip to boot.
100% of awesome is just more awesomer. Take that GPL – you couldn’t shoot a bird if you were full of buckshot. Just to prove it let’s look at this roadrunner. So sharp it hurts your eyes, huh?
What do you say to that GPL? Uh, what? You shot that? Don’t lie to me, I’m checking the metadata. Oh, you did shoot that, at 300mm no less. Oh, now I remember when we shot that – that doesn’t count, that roadrunner had a limp. And besides, this is just at web resolution. Nobody shares photos on the web. What do you think this is? My Space?
At this point GPL was getting desperate and insisted we shoot some close-ups. I’m a sucker for nature detail shots so I gave in.
That’s pretty, but lets look closer. Ah ha, look at those soft spots between the rocks!
“But that’s just OOF,” pleaded GPL.
“You can’t spell goof, without OOF,” I replied. That shut GPL up.
BJ stepped up to the plate, or I should say, stepped back. One of the great advantages of the 800mm is its 18-foot minimum focusing distance. With GPL I had to kneel in the sharp cinders to get the shot. With BJ I just trekked back a ways, meticulously set up my tripod, wiggling the legs back and forth until they sunk far enough in the cinders to stay put, then got the supplementary weights attached to stabilize the setup in the wind, readjusted the legs, locked down the gimbal pan and tilt knobs, bumped up the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed, then busted off this masterpiece.
You can just feel the way that lichen spattered cinder has persevered through the ages, the arrival of Columbus, the Emancipation Proclamation, Pearl Harbor, The Brady Bunch… This is deep. This is what you get when you don’t have to work around the limitations of a superzoom lens.
GPL tried to distract my attention from critical pixel-level sharpness with a mix of showy colors and fun composition.
Really now. You think I’m that unsophisticated? BJ yawned, then revealed the true essence of the subject.
When you look at this you are first struck by the Zen-like simplicity, then the parallels with The Pieta strike you, followed by a hint of The Scream and a long smooth finish of Nude Descending a Staircase. True art as only a real lens can deliver.
GPL then tried to plead its case as so many photographers do these days, by playing the “if Ansel Adams were still alive, he’d like me” card.
Pathetic. I could never print this bigger than 11”x17” and keep a proper 300 dpi resolution so I could soak it in from my standard 7.4 inch viewing distance.
That’s it. It’s the dumpster for you GPL.
“No, no,” pleaded GPL. “Give me one last chance. Tomorrow morning I’ll take on BJ at the very thing he does best – shooting lens charts. If I can’t take a better lens chart shot than BJ, then throw me in the dumpster. But if I take a lens chart shot that makes you happier than BJ’s shot, then you have to promise to never throw me away or sell me. Deal?”
Trash pickup wasn’t for a couple days so what the hell, I’d have one last laugh at GPL’s expense. The next morning I let BJ go first. The results would be enough GPL would probably jump in the dumpster without my help.
Oh, now this brings tears to my eyes. Especially when I squint to see the 800 lines. Okay GPL, it’s your last click, make it good. Oh my goodness!
Warning, the link to the image is tagged as “not safe for work” (NSFW). Link to open the image.
Dear dear GPL, you always were my favorite. No prime lens could ever do all the things you do. I was so silly buying all that expensive glass thinking I’d be busting out loads of 20”x30” prints. Heck, my printer only accepts 8.5”x11” paper anyway. Remember that raft trip down Desolation Canyon when I could only bring one lens? You were the perfect companion. And the shots were plenty good for the Blurb book we did afterwards. Sure I have to learn to shoot around your limitations, but guess what, all lenses have limitations one must learn to shoot around, even BJ and Otis. You might be a tad heavy Baby, but that’s just more of you to love (and rumor has it you’re on a new diet). You know GPL, if I had to spend the rest of my life on a desert island with only one lens, it would be you.