Tuesday, December 27, 2016

M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2

Back in the good ol' Nikon days (before the spoiling of creative thought through awareness of technical process), I had a lens which, once mounted to the plastic wonder that was the D40x, never really came off again during the remaining 3 years of its service. The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX, a gem of an optic for $200. Feels like I've found the M. Zuiko equivalent in the 25mm f/1.2 from Olympus, though at a $1200 price tag it's blatantly in a different class. However, time and experience has cemented the limitations of cheaper high speed prime lens optics (a la M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.8), and while I would readily swap out the cheaper M. Zuiko with the likes of the 17mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8 for variety, I'm fairly certain an act of congress would be required to see me switch out this new breed of Olympus PRO prime for another optic. To a degree, it has me rethinking the entirety of my assemblage of kit.

What to say about this new lens... well, on the whole, it's assisted in a return to the point of working with prime lenses, or at least their function as I divined from a dedicated workflow with them interrupted only in the last 2 years with Olympus' M. Zuiko PRO line of zooms (optics which proved to be more uprooting of the creative process than I ever expected). Prime lenses have always played to the strengths of limitation, forcing the unconventional approach in the creation of a strong image in the absence of technical flexibility (ie. no zoom). For years I embodied the prime lens ethos, camera bag packed with naught but the 12mm f/2.0, 17mm f/1.8, and 45mm f/1.8, a wonderful trio mated to the EP3 of the time. But with the introduction of the PRO line, decently fast and markedly sharper f/2.8 zooms, especially in focal lengths fitting the work I was doing, I struggled to maintain that ethos, its appeal having waned in the face of superior optics with the technical flexibility to facilitate a simpler workflow for business shoots. The sacrifice part and parcel with this transition was diminished drive toward creative thinking, the lack of challenge otherwise presented by the limited scope of function with prime lenses.

Enter this new breed of prime optic, with fidelity on par with (if not superior to) those PRO zooms... quantifiable metrics of the image are no longer sacrificed in the indulgence of a prime-based workflow, and unlike the Lumix 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron, this 25mm draws me into things to photograph them intimately as opposed to stepping back to make sense of a scene in context (or get focus when the subject is in arm's reach).

This new 25mm f/1.2 will focus close. Perhaps not macro close, but certainly close enough to permit elimination of the periphery as a visual consideration. Paired with the desperately thin depth of field, I feel more capable of isolating subjects with this lens. A caveat of the Micro Four Thirds system is its greater depth of field equivalency for sake of its much smaller format, and resultantly even out of focus backgrounds, no matter the working distance, can often be too structurally defined so as to be distracting. The focus falloff simply isn't "fast" enough, even at f/1.8. While this technical limitation is certainly still a factor at play with the 25mm f/1.2, it strikes me as that much less of a problem, as if the threshold necessary for longer focus falloff to no longer introduce issue hides in this sweet spot of f/1.2 (mind you, that is entirely subjective analysis, and not quantifiable in the least... it is my perception).

Perhaps appropriately in line with the aesthetics afforded by the season and commonly chosen decor, an element of the image I've often ignored has become a focus in the last week, namely the manipulation of bokeh.

This lens wants to be shot wide open. Much like the Nocticron, it sees no perceptual (technical) benefit to being stopped down, however, unlike the Nocticron, the "mood" of the image does not change as the f-stop creeps up. Thus, with the Nocticron, aperture can be used as a dictator of mood (the contrast profile changes dramatically), whereas the M. Zuiko knows its rendition well and does not waver. Sunlight be damned, it knows where its value resides and pleads for use of ND filters or polarizers or a 1/32,000" electronic shutter before the consideration of stopping down enters the arena (and even then, it may make more sense to play high key and overexpose).

I'm unsure if Olympus plans to release future PRO primes. Similarly, I'm unsure if I want to run the risk of polluting my ecosystem with new optics anymore, not without very legitimate use cases in mind. It has taken a concert of influences over this past year to so much as hint to returning to a creative zen, ranging from new tools, to modified workflows, to abandoned workflows, to indulging other mediums, to relearning that it's actually, truly, okay to not be relentlessly creating something. At the moment, in this current environment, my head space is sustainable. I look forward to the next icy morning to photograph dead branches. I look forward to the next rain to photograph oily puddles.

It's nice to look forward, for once.