“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams
I am bombarded lately by pixel peepers quoting DxoMark numbers on this or that product. They tell me (proudly) that THIER lens scores better than mine or their pal’s or whatever.
I just chuckle. To me, whether or not you can make photos that people actually care about is WAY more important than how sharp your lens is – on a test bench. But be that as it may, the reason I feel this way is that these sorts of things are inherently flawed. To me they matter not one bit. Here’s why.
I think I have a good analogy. Many of you know that I am very involved in both automobile collecting and car racing. And that world is (like the photography world) full of magazines and podcasts and blogs and pundits who love to publish numbers like these:
2014 Jaguar F-Type – 0-60MPH 4.2 seconds – Top Speed (Electronically limited to 186mph.)
Now this is just like a DxoMark test result. Somebody in the car world used a dyno to determine the car’s test results. DxoMark uses their test methodology to determine the lens’ results. The flaw in both methods is the lack of a human being.
You see, when I pull up to a stop light in a super car, I am invariably asked the same question. “How fast will that thing go?” And I always answer the same way. “Depends on who’s driving it.” And that is why I don’t give a rip about DxoMark results OR dyno tests. I may be able to shift faster than you, corner better, apply the brakes more smoothly, etc.
To assume that just anyone can drive my Jaguar at 186 mph is really silly. Just watch the YouTube videos of people who crashed their fancy cars because they were simply inadequate drivers – this happened with this Lambo and again to the guy who bought this Ferarri. Just because a car is CAPABLE of going 186 mph, doesn’t mean my grandmother can drive it that fast or that you can drive it that fast or for that matter – that even I can drive it that fast.
What determines how fast I can drive the Jaguar is my years of experience on race tracks. I’ve completed lots of different racing schools. I’ve raced on almost every sort of track there is. I’ve raced motorcycles, top fuel dragsters, cup cars, Indy cars, etc. Before my health became an issue, I held a racing license in two different leagues. I am pretty good at racing (for a fat guy that is.)
Likewise, I have nearly five decades of experience behind a camera. I think that I can coax more out of lens than the average bear. I’ve proven it. Years ago, a troll was making stupid comments about photographing birds at Bosque del Apache. He said “anyone could do what I did – and that photographing birds would be a breeze if he had the same gear as me.” To make a long story short, I called him out. He showed up. I let him use $40k worth of gear and he got maybe one or two frames that were halfway decent – far from good. Even he admitted that he failed. His technique sucked. He had no idea which way to point the lens to get the best light. He couldn’t predict the bird’s behavior. He didn’t understand wind and sun angle. He was violent in his movements causing both camera shake and the birds to fly away. He didn’t show up the next day. Imagine that?
You get the point? Just because a lens is CAPABLE of this or that doesn’t mean you can get it to perform at that level. And likewise, if you buy a lens that (God forbid) tests 1% less sharp than the top lens, if you have good technique, you can get results that outperform the best lens time after time after time after time.
For those of you who live and die by these numbers, I have advice. Stop. Spend your time trying to tell stories with your camera that move people and that folks will remember. Don’t worry about whether or not you have the sharpest lens in the world because as I often say, 99% of all lenses are better than 98% of all photographers.