Confessions of an ex-lens snob

I walked round the back of the community centre and found the stairs where I was told they would be. There was no sign indicating what was there, as I was informed. I went downstairs to the basement and at the door there was a polite yet firm man who asked me for some I.D. I opened the jacket of my coat and showed him my badge consisting of a third party unmarked lens cap and I gave him my password which was 'Schneider Kreuznach' and I just hoped I had pronounced it right. He smiled at me and said 'Welcome, your first time?' I nodded and walked inside.

In the middle of the room there were chairs in a circle and at the side there was a coffee machine with cups and lots of orange juice cartons and glasses. On the wall there were pictures of kit lenses and cheap 50mm's with captions like 'f/1.2 your children go hungry, f/1.8 they get to eat' 'Limited edition, limited bank account' and 'Sigma and Tamron aren't dirty words'. The people there were friendly enough, they all came to me and shook my hand and said welcome. It did however take all my resolve to stay where I was and not just turn round and walk out. How had it come to this? I didn't need help. I could handle it. 

Before I had a chance to walk out the facilitator called the meeting to order and everyone moved to the circle of seats. Sensing my doubt, a few gentle hands guided me towards a chair, and I sat down with the others. The facilitator opened by saying 'Welcome to Optiholics Anonymous. Before we start I'd like us all to welcome a new member, David.' "Welcome David' they all chimed in unison. 'Maybe you'd like to tell us something about yourself' continued the facilitator 'Remember no last names, and everything you say is in confidence'

I rose slowly with a mixture of embarrasment and shame and though I was unable to make eye contact with anyone in the room I uttered the words that would eventually change my life. 'Hi I'm David and I'm a lens snob'.

OK so things aren't quite that bad, but I've certainly made some changes over the last few weeks. However, have things changed that much? Seeing a rumour item that Pentax are on the verge of (finally) bringing out a camera with a 35mm sized sensor, my immediate thought was 'Great. I can get the 31mm, 43mm and 77mm limited lenses and use them to their full potential.' So much for common sense. Why is it that the f/1.2 is always more desirable than the f/1.8? Why does the word Zeiss make me tremble with excitement? Why whenever I buy a Sigma lens is my first instinct to get some black tape and cover up the name? Yes I'm a lens snob. No, not a Leica 50mm f0.95 lens snob, I can't afford to be one of those, but I've bought some pretty expensive optics in my time, and I'm beginning to wonder why.

Is it the reassurance of the brand, the specs? After all how can you go wrong with a Zeiss 18mm? Well quite easily as it happens. Two of the worst lenses I ever bought were a Zeiss 18mm, Nikon mount and Zeiss 18mm, M-mount. Both were very soft and cost close to £1000 and were a complete waste of money. But then I kept on thinking when I had my m4/3 cameras that I might get the 18mm m-mount again because it looked so pretty on my Pens!! 

In the real world, there is actually much less difference between lenses than is made out. I should know, I've owned enough of them. Yet despite my constant disappointment that the most expensive lenses I bought didn't take the best pictures, I kept on buying them. Until now. Someone wrote on Google+ that I should end up with the 14mm f/2.8 for my Fuji, and indeed in previous years I would have already bought it and be halfway through my review and user experience by now. But I really wouldn't use a 14mm on APS-C that often. Plus I have a perfectly good Sigma zoom that is far more versatile and takes really attention grabbing images. And so it has gone on. Buying expensive fast primes when I shoot everything at f/8 and f/11 and a zoom is of much more use to me anyway. But then opening a box and pulling out a polycarbonate 14-42mm isn't the same thrill as pulling out a Voigtlander, Zeiss or Leica metal and chrome wonder. 

It is difficult when these tormenting manufacturers make these things look so good. So is that what its all about, aesthetics? I don't really don't know but I'm sure that is an element in this. Plus the fact that for years I always had to compromise. I could never afford the marque version so I bought a lot of Sigmas and Tamrons and the f/4 version rather than the f/2.8, the f/1.8 rather than the f/1.4 or (whisper it quietly) the f/1.2. So when I could afford to indulge myself I found myself drawn to spending twice as much for an extra 1/2 a stop. Interesting when you consider I virtually never use a lens wider than f/5.6. 

So is salvation at hand? Will my self-imposed austerity work and change my habits on a permanent basis? Or will I just suffer the year-long moratorium and break out the credit cards again next spring to get some fast, sleek prime that will probably spend most of its time sitting on my shelf rather than get put in my camera bag? As per usual, I know myself too well to promise or predict anything, but there are signs, small I know and far from certain that I might be changing. I have been somewhat enjoying my escapades with my cheap and cheerful collection, and there is certainly an element of satisfaction in seeing that even the pickiest of my picture libraries seem quite happy with them. 

As it is I'm taking it one day at a time, and my sponsor says I seem to be making progress. The urge to spend 4 figures on a lens hasn't gone away and I suspect it never will, however I'm fast prime free today and I no longer hide f/2.8 zooms in plant pots to avoid admitting that yes, I've fallen off the wagon again. Once a lens snob, always a lens snob I guess. Its just I've made the choice not be one today.

Are you a lens snob? If so Optiholics Anonymous can help. Discreet counselling is available at a variety of locations for those who are finding their habit to hard to handle alone. See your local telephone directory for a contact number. Remember, we are here to help.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.  

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