If you like something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is good

Introduction

ms-optics ms-optical ism sonnetar f/1.0 f/0.95 fast noctilux angenieux leica m10 24mp 42mp review sharpness bokeh vignetting
Leica M10 | MS-Optics 50mm 1.0 ISM | f/1.4

…and only because something is good you don’t have to like it either.

I am an active member of several photography boards (Fred Miranda, DSLR-Forum, Leica Forum) and in addition to that plenty of Facebook groups and in a moment of weakness I might even have a look at the comment section of a Sonyalpharumors post. And of course I am also taking care of our own Discord community since early 2023.

What got me thinking and ultimately motivated me to write this piece: how useful is it to ask random people what lens you should buy?

The more time I spend on those boards (and I am trying to spend less time there), the more I think asking these questions there is pretty much pointless. Why is that?

Let’s say you go to one these boards and you ask what 35mm lens to buy for your camera. If your IQ (I am hinting at intelligence, not image quality) is somewhat in the range that you are able to tie your shoes on your own, you will at least add what camera and format you are using. Let’s assume you mentioned fullframe E-mount camera and we will go from there.

“My initial tests show this is a great lens!”

What kind of answers you will get? The first 10 answers will be of people telling you how great lens xyz is that they bought a week ago and how it is easily the best. None of these answers will be helpful. Most of these people have (at best) used one 35mm lens in their whole life. They are not able to compare them to other lenses, all they will tell you about other lenses is heresay. But at least you know a few (more) 35mm lenses ranging from f/1.2 to f/2.8 now. There might also be a few people telling you that you don’t need a 35mm lens, because 50mm is better anyway, and because Bresson and yeah, very helpful.

Don’t trust someone that takes shitty pictures

Some of those people will act like they know everything, but when you dig just a little bit deeper you will see they only linger around in the gear area of those platforms and never dare to post pictures of their own. If you think you ended up with a fella like that, just ask to see some of his pictures, usually they will crawl back to their troll cave then. Obviously you will never see pictures from these folk. Ever. Personally I attest less than zero credibility to those people.

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Leica M10 | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/5.6

Photography is about the pictures and not about the tools. Knowing only about the tools will only get you that far.

Lost in Time

There are also people on those photography boards that have been into photography for a long time. A very long time. So long, they might have no idea what actually happened in the last 15 years.

bastian kratzke sony a7rii a7s photography aspects important introduction manual lenses bridge loxia 35 mm zeiss 2.0 biogon sony a7s sunstar sunstars blendensterne
Sony A7s | Loxia 35mm 2.0 | f/11.0

Only very rarely there is no modern lens which is simply better than what was hot some 15-20 years ago. Or even 5-10 years ago. Buying the Zeiss Loxia 35mm 2.0 (released 2014) or the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA (released 2015) is simply not a good idea anymore. Especially not at full retail. Don’t do that.

And this is where I got the idea for the title from. There are people that bought whatever lens some time ago and they are happy with it. Perfect. Everyone likes to be happy.
But that doesn’t mean that you will also be happy with their decision and there is no guarantee that there hasn’t been something released in the meantime which fits your needs much better.

Should I even mention the Fanboys?

There is a bit of an overlap with the previous section here. Fanboys may have a lot of background information on what the alignment of the stars was when a certain lens had been designed by a famous optical designer and what alloy they used for the helicoid, but they are pretty bad advisors, because they will only tell you how great the products from their favorite brand are. These people will also use the slightest, most irrevelant difference working in favour of their narrative to sell you their favorite lens as being “vastly superior”.

Better colors (whatever that may mean), by their standard correctly shaped focus tab, correct font of the writings: all things easily worth paying an additional $2000 in their mind.

hologon leica m contax-g 16mm 8.0 8/16 center filter review sharpness leica m10 m11 sony e-mount adapter conversion sharpness distortion carl zeiss germany
Modified to Leica M-mount 16mm 8.0 Zeiss Hologon on Leica M6

One highlight that happened to me here, someone sent me a private message saying I am apparently not a fan of ZEISS (it was very important for him to write it in capital letters) because in a Batis 40mm 2.0 discussion I said, I have a hard time accepting a lens that decides for me, if I want to stop down or not.

You know what? Of course I am not a fan of Zeiss! Because being a fan of a company is completely stupid. You can be a fan of a good product, but as soon as you are a fan of a company, you become deluded and buy whatever junk they release and don’t care about the prices they are asking anymore.

A company is not doing anything for you and there is no highly endowed “Fanboy of the Year” award either, so don’t be one.

But reviews are good, right?

Now someone may post a link to one of my reviews or the 35mm FE Guide (thanks for that by the way, always appreciated). Does this help you? Maybe, but only if you know what you are looking for and if I cover the aspects that you care about.

All the time people ask me about lenses for videography. I know shit about videography. Better ask someone who actually knows about that. Pretty sure ChatGPT “knows” more about lenses for videography than I do.

laowa 15mm 2.0 fe venus optics review coma astro astrophotography milkyway milky way
Sony A7s | Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D | f/2.0

If someone writes a review on a lens for sports photography covering how fast and reliable AF and tracking works, it will probably not help you if you are looking for a lens for astrophotography.

If the review is full of pictures of bookshelves and test charts at an unknown short distance that may not give you a great idea on how that lens performs at infinity.

There are also some review pages where you seem to drown in advertising. Everyone tries to cover the cost of running their blog, but when it is that excessive, I sometimes wonder if it is still about the lenses or more of a cash-grab attempt.

So what can I actually do?

First make sure you know what you are looking for. A compact lens for landscape photography? A fast portrait lens? Do you need autofocus? What is your budget?

When you have decided on these basic features you can check for some guides and maybe reviews. Check the pictures in those reviews, do you get the impression the author knows, what he or she is doing? Does the review cover the types of photography you want to use that lens for?

bokeh summicron 90mm 2.0 sony a7 review 42mp leica m10 24mp sharpness contrast
Sony A7III | Leica Summicron 90mm 2.0 pre-Asph | f/2.0 | LM-EA9

When doing a bit of this homework, then you will be able to ask good questions that have the chance of yielding good answers.

I get many of these questions here in the comment section and I think 99% receive an answer from me. Sometimes that answer is “I don’t know” though, because in some cases I simply don’t know. And I rather tell you that, than coming up with some BS.

Further Reading

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My name is Bastian and I am your expert here when it comes to ultra wide angle lenses, super fast portrait lenses (ranging from a 50mm f/0.95 to a 200mm f/1.8) and I also have reviewed way too many 35mm lenses. Don't ask me anything about macro or wildlife shooting though.

47 thoughts on “If you like something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is good”

  1. Hehe nice one, Bastian. I had fun reading this. Bravo for collection such a good overview over crazy people these days with their crazy hobbies 😉
    May I ask you about the best 50mm lens then? ^^

  2. More or less (well, more, like 99%, maybe 100%) this is what I’ve been telling people asking me for advice, or at least what I’m usually trying to convey when faced with “what’s best” type of questions.
    People, especially beginners, usually pose those basic questions seeking an easy answer, without knowing what it is that they actually need or like. They want something interesting to spice up their photography experience, but still haven’t formed their artistic style or found their genre.
    I get that, so my answers always begin with something like “the best lens is the one you like the most”, followed by a few tips on how to determine that without subjective foreign influences (including my own). When a question is not very specific, I don’t want to give concrete suggestions as they would be quite useless and misleading.
    I’m usually trying to counter answers from some other people, and they are often aplenty, telling that person with great confidence to go for a lens X or Y, or to avoid lens Z, or even those going further with unsolicited advice, like to change a camera system or whatever.
    From now on, I could simply post the link to this page and save myself time and effort. People should be taught to think for themselves and figure some things out first, pointed to different sources of information.
    The worst kind of people thought are those that immediately suggest the best lens/camera/other gear, followed by offer to sell if for a good price. I’ve seen that many times. And those aren’t fanboys, since their suggestions depend only on what’s currently in their stock and are subject to change on a daily basis.

  3. Yeah, it seems weird to be a fan of a company. I’m a fan of lots of specific lenses. And many come from the same companies, but all those companies also make lenses I’m not fans of.

  4. Excellent article and in essence also very applicable to many other areas of interest (e.g. audio equipment or console gaming). This should be a must-read when visiting this site for the first time.

    Some of the forum behaviour you describe is related to cognitive dissonance; when you have finally made a decision to buy that lens/body/equipment after spending many evenings reading all kinds of reviews, the only thing you want to read afterwards is full confirmation that you have made the best possible decision (for years to come).

    However, what is “best” may be completely different based on YOUR variables (as you mentioned). It can be defined by artistic, technical, practical or even sentimental value, and each of these can be very valid.

  5. This comes down to:
    – There is no such thing as the perfect lens (Best lens )
    – Many testers use a brick wall or other flat surface to show sharpness (or lack thereof ) in the corners. I usually stop reading at that moment. These people have never heard of field curvature and depth of field ?
    – Something that is not measurable is the atmosphere a lens can render and that is not covered. Some older lenses are actually great at creating an atmosphere that modern lenses can not equal due to all the extra number of lens elements ( and weight) they require to correct for whatever defects the designer tried to correct or minimize.

  6. I agree with almost all of this, and this insight that guides your philosophy of reviewing lenses is why I keep coming back to this blog. There simply isn’t anything that has the same amount of insight and detail as your reviews.

    On a second note, I think it can be valid to be a fan of a company to some degree. I’m a big fan of Codina/Voigtlander but not a unyielding “fan boy.” If they make a shit lens, I’ll recognize that. I just think they tend not to and that’s why I’m a fan.

  7. For me searching for a lens always starts from choosing what are the most important 2 from 3 attributes of it:
    – weight/size
    – price
    – performance
    They are connected like ISO-fstops-time – changing one affects others:D

    1. this site offers the FE List which kind of allows to filter for those attributes, but wouldnt it be great if we had an AI that would be able to pick the perfect lens according to input attributes.
      I might try to ask chatgpt:
      What 35mm lens should i buy if i want best across the frame sharpnes for landscape photography for the least amount of money. (answer in my book nFD35)

  8. There must be some trigger for this post, mind telling it us what it was? 🙂 Btw, I agree on all points, but I do not often share my pictures on forums/discord because a) they’re not that good b) mostly it’s something interesting to me/people I know, so appropriate platform is closed insta account. And I think this might apply to some other people as well (but they probably not “linger” on gear forums, yes).

    1. Actually most of those are recurring issues 🙂

      A small pointed summary:
      DSLR-Forum: many people like to tell others what they bought and how great it is
      Fred Miranda: many people think some old Leica/Zeiss/Topcor/Whatever stuff is the best there ever was
      Leica Forum: only Leica knows how to design lenses, lenses from other manufacturers will damage the camera and render it useless
      Sonyalpharumors: China is the devil and everything form there is junk

      1. Eigentlich sollte man als Autor so viel Selbstbewusstsein haben solche Kommentare und auch Artikel wie diesen, nicht zu schreiben

          1. Diese Frage tut weh, weil sie schon sehr billig ist.
            Ich bin Fan davon, dass man seinen eigenen Wert kennt und sich nicht auf diese Blah Blah Ebene begibt, wer jetzt was gut macht und wer nicht.

            Ich mein der Artikel wird mich nicht abhalten, eure Lens-Reviews weiterhin mit Interesse zu lesen. Es hat mich nur einfach verwundert. Die Welt dreht sich natürlich weiterhin.

  9. I personally would like to point out another(and very annoying) type of inquirer. Such person asks for an advice for the best lens(audio/computer component, etc..) and from the following conversation it seems that not to buy anything was true intention in the beginning. Instead endless argument emerges because aforementioned person “knows”(=had read/heard). And after you are drained of all variants you know(and all of your energy) there is no conclusion reached.

    Thank you for this article and for the tremendous work you put into reviewing lenses! Going back to that initial example question regarding best 35mm I personally bought two of them on behalf reading articles here. nFD 35/2.8 was best when budget was tight(and suited my then A7mkI) and FE35/1.8 later on. For my purposes(and budget) those still can be best.

    1. There is also a subtype: someone who already knows what he kinda wants, just looking for confirmation,
      then being confronted with really good advice offering better options, but ignoring it completely and at the end just buying what he proposed in his opening post 🙂

  10. Thank you for this great and honest write-up! Especially for sentences like “Because being a fan of a company is completely stupid.” Many members of photo forums would agree at first, but then add: “But (insert personal favourite brand) is the best!” That’s always wrong, regardless whether one inserts “Leica”, “Zeiss”, “Nikon” or whatever …

  11. haha, i can feel the frustration that went into this article 😉

    I can only thank this blog and lately espically you Bastian for giving me all the necessary technical insights and tipps, so over the years i’m very much able to pick the perfect camera+lens for the occasion. And the occasion might just be wanting a lens that is lovely and fun to handle and not taking the sharpest, best corrected image possible.

  12. “I’m going for a trip to the Himalaya, what do you suggest me to take; camera, lenses? ”

    “I’ve never been to the mountains, and do not have a camera, but I should take Michelin X tyres!”

  13. Great point about ignoring the opinions of bad photographers, luckily yours are good. Great output is the goal and constantly chasing newer gear reduces time spent taking great photos.

  14. This could not be more accurate.

    The number of times that people reply to a ‘which lens’ post with the lens that they personally have chosen, irregardless of the fact that they haven’t used anything else.

    This type of thing is made so much worse by the ‘YouTube reviewers’ – people posting videos trying to get you to buy a lens, not mentioning any of the flaws, only that it’s ‘better’ than the last one you could buy. The real truth is that they’re terrified to say anything negative unless the company refuses to send them their new product next time, so everything is always amazing and wonderful. People watch these videos, and then share that exact same information in replies to forums etc without ever have even seen or touched the lens themselves.

    1. FWIW, I just scrolled through a thread on another forum in which someone asked for recommendations to help him to choose between renting a 16, 20, or 24mm for an upcoming trip. Almost all of those who replied recommended a zoom lens–wide, telephoto, or both.

  15. Forums are one of the worst places to go for advice these days, with so many users with excessively strong opinions and biases, and no capacity for critical thought or balanced viewpoints. These days I mostly just buy things I think are worth trying and give them a go. Free returns on most stuff, makes it easy. I used to go to camera stores a lot more, but most of them seem to be staffed by forum users.

    I also like to see what Flickr users are doing with products of interest.

    However, I’m not sure that posting your photos online automatically qualifies you as a trustworthy source, even if your photos are great. A great photographer can still have invalid or unhelpful opinions and attitudes. And the opposite might also be true. For example, I’m very even-handed and balanced when I help people out online (rarely forums, mostly Reddit), but I never post my photos in forums… I just don’t care what people think of my work, and I certainly don’t need feedback from forum users. If people ask for examples of my work, I will give them my Flickr or insta.

  16. nice article 😉 Very whise.
    My first camera was bought in 1985. As a teenager I was on a budget ad found a 50 Deutsche Mark broken Ricoh KR5 that came with a 55mm f2.2 Riconar. I repaired it somehow.

    The lens worked terrible for astrophotography which was the reason why I got into photography, unless you stopped it down to f/4 ! The same applied to the Kiron 28mm f2 that I found a year later. Despite the aberations both lenses delivered an tracked milky way image that got published in a Dutch astro magazine Zenit.

    Done with a home made mechanical tracker that used gravitational pull and a Junghans clock guided it at the right speed. So cheap equipment can deliver excellent results. The cheap Fujuchrome R 100 and the more expensive Kodak Ektachrome 200 were the best slide films to capture the red nebulae in our galaxy. As with the sensors nowadays a few color films had great red-sensitivity.

    The plasticky but solid Riconar 55mm f2.2 had a 4 lens design that had a lot of aberations and produced a weird but quite nice artistic pictures until you stopped it down at f4. The same applied to the Kiron 28mm f2 (also Vivitar 28mm f2)

    In 1989 the 55mm f2.2 got exchanged for a sharper Riconon 50mm f2 lens and a Sigma 24mm f2.8 (great sleeper vintage wide angle) Both performed much much better concerning coma, field curvature and astigmatism. In 1997 I swapped to Nikon stuff the FM2 also still working .

    And in June 23 I found a Riconar 55mm f2.2 for 10 € and a
    15€ 28mm f2 Kiron in a 2nd hand store. Both in a good condition and adapted them to my Z7/Z6UV-VIS-IR bodies. And somehow I still like both for their quirky images.
    Nowadays for astro (time lapses) I’ll use a suberb Sigma Art 28 mm f1.4 or a Nikon 50mm f1.8 S. My vintage Tokina ATX Macro 90 mm f2.5 and Nikkor AIS 180 mm ED f2.8 (at f3.2) bought in 1997 with the FM 2 still perform great at night and during daytime! I have to admit that an excellent Nikkor Z 70-200 mm f2.8 S outperforms both lenses for astro -except for vignetting- but you really need to pixel peep in the corners.

    Sometimes sharp and contrasty pictures are just not what you’re looking for. Unless you’re shooting stars at night or architecture.

    I actually started in the first place with the wrong lenses for my astro purpose but somehow it helped me learning a lot how to deal with the quirks of lenses.

    The best lens or camera is the one that creates the images that you like.

  17. I can see your point and I agree with you that some people on the online who are there for the sole purpose of annoying people. But as long as someone isn’t offensive, I usually enjoy conversing with him/her.
    Most users of photo fora usually mean well and I think they have something to say (I’m not on facebook, though). I even value the one-lens-owner’s opinion. For me it’s the modern way of finding information on something that has not been scientifically researched: The more opinions I read about one lens and images I look at taken with it, the better my ability will be to really judge the lens beforehand. If I’m lucky and you’ve reviewed it here, I may not need another source, but oftentimes there’s no source that I like to trust intantly. Usually by now we’ve all mastered reading between the lines and normally I find myself well informed after. I don’t think there are many victims out there who are unhappy, because they had believed the first guy that told them his lens was the best.
    Also, I simply enjoy talking/writing about lenses and the way the perform with others that are equally interested. What’s the harm?
    One more thing: I am a fan of lens making companies (yes several), because I enjoy their glass for their way of rendering, handling, etc.. Sure, not every lens they make is perfect or even great, but I can still like (almost) any lens they made (I’m mostly talking about vintage lenses here), because of the way they’re designed, handle and render. For instance I am a fan of Zeiss glass. None of my Contax lenses was a disappointment for me. I really like their rendering, handling, durability. I also enjoy several Z-series lenses and my Loxia 21. Again, no disappointment. So why can’t I be a fan? There’s a huge difference between being a fan and promoting a company as the only one and best there is, ever, no exceptions.
    Also I can’t see why someone wouldn’t be a fan of Minolta SR glass, because (almost – a few are too expensive now) all of their lenses I own or have owned have a wonderful price/performance ratio. I’m a fan of Olympus for their OM lenses that are great performers in a small package (for SLR glass). I even don’t see why someone wouldn’t be a fan of Leica glass. Their lenses are wonderful as well. If only they weren’t so very, very expensive :-).

  18. There is a lot of confirmation bias on photo forums. You spend a bunch of money on your choice, it’s got to be the best choice. And usually that’s for everyone else too, which is where it gets really annoying. That – my choice is the best choice in an absolute sense – seems to give most people the most satisfaction from their purchase.

    There’s always those people who come to the same questions with a predictable confirmation bias response over and over.

  19. Great read. I have committed many of the sins you describe and enjoyed them very much. I never give advice so it is largely a victimless crime.

  20. Photography is subjective. You like something but others might not. For me photography is a hobby – a thing I enjoy. So I want to enjoy using the lens and enjoy the results it produces. This means it must have “the feeling” which is quite non-transferable.

    So I could tell you a lens felt good with me, but that’s it. It doesn’t mean it would feel good with you using it.

  21. Well said Bastian.

    If I am thinking about buying a lens, I search Flickr and Instagram for images with that lens and then look carefully through the images and also the photographers and the rest of their portfolios.

    You do give me a few problems though, because you can get superb images out of any lens!

    1. Actually I do the same.
      Whenever there is a (mostly fast where there are actual rendering differences) lens I want to know more about I try to search flickr and in rare cases also Instagram.
      I hope I still manage to make clear if I think a lens sucks, e.g. Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E 🙂

  22. Thank you for this article, I must tell that your website earned the reputation of unbiased lens review source in my eyes. Unfortunately it’s not very common characteristic, as quite a few review sources just universally tell you how great the reviewed gear is, with some tiniest imperfections.

  23. I would like to add:

    Yes, there are shitty photographers on these boards. Sometimes they even are very happy to show off – a hilarious example is user “Kontrast” on the “systemkamera-forum” 😅
    But dare to criticize one of these very bad photos – you will immediately be the evil outcast, and the forum mainstays will tell you that photography is a very subjective thing 😅

  24. Oh, that was a fun one to read Bastian, well done! =)

    Here are a couple of my personal message board pet peeves.

    (1) The “you can’t criticize it if you don’t own it fallacy” – angry owners of lens x imply that you actually have to buy lens x before you are entitled to say that lens x is not worth buying!

    (2) Lens x is “good for what it is” – often used to describe inexpensive kit zooms. The problem is not that the lens is bad, the problem is that you are expecting too much of it. So if you are willing to lower your standards enough, then poof, like magic, a demonstrably bad lens becomes a “good” lens!

    1. Describing kit zooms as “good for what is” makes sense to me. Yes, the Sony FE 28-70 kit zoom is one of the worst lenses optically for Sony FE. However, compared to many other types of camera systems it’s pretty good and it’s perfectly usable in many situations. It is also one of the cheapest lenses (especially second hand). Moreover, it covers a very useful zoom range, while being pretty lightweight. I don’t think there is a Sony FE lens that is optically better that is not worse in either, price, weight or zoom range. Therefore it can be a good choice for people prioritizing these attributes such as beginners or people doing travel or family photography. People on photography forums can be quite snobbish about optical quality, while price and usability can be more important to many people, especially non-professionals.

  25. Hello Bastian!
    I am nearly a Fanboy of Contax G lenses, l just like their shape, wight, look and optical performance. Lately l bought a helicoid housing (from “rework-lens” US $303) to transform one of my two 28mm from G to Leica M mount. Their product is nice, wightlight and fine to use with the new M to E Tecart adapter (all in all cheaper 4 mt than to buy a new Nikon Z with adapter)…
    As l said before, I am just dissapointed, that no camera company has the balls to create a camera which is dedicated to use vintage lenses!
    (Fanatism to companies can depend on the whish to keep some of their nice Products out of time)

  26. Hello Bastian!
    Thank you for the reservation of your fine and lovely converted Hologon G 16/8!
    I hope to enjoy it as soon as possible 😎
    Kind regards and thumbs up 4 your inspiring site here
    J

  27. PS. …l have had a Moto Guzzi motorcycle (850 Le Mans from 1974, I owned this red beauty from 1989 to 2020), it was in the 1980-till jet, when guys from Germany (Stein Dinse and others than) tried to save this (technical imperfect but beauty and cultic) machines, to hold up with (technical better brands.
    I sold my Guzzi some years ago, but not my Contax Lenses, they need just some love and the right PCX… 🤭

  28. I don’t want to be very hard on this one, but I honestly miss more photographers and less gear lovers in those forums. I’m a photographer (good or bad) and more often than not I just try to ask simple questions that hardly generate the answers I’m looking for. I remember asking (on Leica Forum, a website that I like) if there was any solid M-mount lens option to replicate the close focus distance job that people like Lee Jeffries excels at for portraits and using an SL 28mm Apo… Only Bastian answered that clean and straight.

  29. Yep, that about sums it up nicely!

    I think I’d distill your sound recommendations about doing homework before asking a question as avoiding “garbage in, garbage out”.

    If you ask a garbage open ended question without enough information then you’ll of course get garbage answers in return. Everyone will re-frame the ambiguous question into what they want to talk about, rather than what is useful to you.

    If you ask a well defined question you are much more likely to get a few useful answers in return. Now, as you mentioned, because of the personalities that frequent forums even a great question will get a lot of garbage answers as well – but those are easy to mentally filter out if you defined your question well to yourself in advance. If you haven’t done that you are likely to get distracted by the garbage replies as well.

    And often if you’ve done your homework well enough you don’t even need to ask the question in the first place. Or you can ask an easy yes/no question (e.g. “I’m looking at lens X for reasons A, B and C. Did I overlook anything?”).

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