Why So Few Fast, Modern Lenses?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by tjdean01, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. tjdean01

    tjdean01 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 20, 2013
    Late 1970s Lens Prices
    Okay, hear me out. I read some ads with lens prices from the late 70s. I averaged out the popular, yet not super expensive FLs and brands--Olympus OM, Konica Hexanon, Canon, Nikon, etc--and found that an f1.4 lens (lets just say a 50mm) cost around $150 and an f1.2 was around $200 (50/1.7 could be had under $100). I think it's safe to say that the BUILD-QUALITY was top-notch back then (all metal), plus they were FAST, SHARP, and if used on m4/3s, have GOOD CORNERS.

    Speed Boosting Adapted Lenses
    Now, in 2013 dollars (US), a 50/1.4 lens that was $150 in 1978 would be around $500. That fits with the Panasonic 25/1.4. But today, with the exception of an extra inch or so, you can take any of our 1970s f1.4s, Speed Boost them, and very cheaply, have an F1.0 lens. Assuming a speed booster was made for Hexanon lenses, and you have the 40/1.8, 50/1.7, and 135/3.2, for which you paid $150 total on ebay and $400 for the focal-length reducing and speed-boosting adapter, you have at the end of the day paid $600 in today's dollars for three lenses: That's a deal!

    Now I'm not going to even attempt to work out all the comparisons of cheap labor, cheaper materials, how the world's changed, how m4/3s isn't the mainstream and how APS-C or FF might be more mainstream, etc. But I want to show some options:

    1) In 1978, buying a 1.2, 1.4, and 1.7 lens would cost you $450, or in 2013, US$1500.
    2) In 2013 you can get a slower set--25/1.4, 45/1.8, and 75/1.8--for about $1600.
    3) In 2013 you can get the Voitlander 17/0.95, 25/0.95, and SLR Magic 50/0.95 for $3000.
    4) In 2013 you can get the Speed-booster to make 3 used f1.0, f1.2, and a f2.5 for $600.

    So here's my point. Since it's so easy to speed boost a lens, and since m4/3s has a smaller sensor, and since Voitlander is already doing what I'm suggesting, why aren't Panasonic and Olympus churning out hoards of m4/3s lenses with numbers like 38/1.1 for prices around the $600 mark? This new Panasonic 42.5/1.2 is like what I'm suggesting, but I doubt the price is going to be what I'd want an inflation-adjusted 1978 "nifty-fifty" ($500) with an extra FL-reducing speed-boosting" element ($100?) in each lens to be priced at. Sakar made some sample "Kodak"-branded lenses--25/0.95, 50/1.1--and I think it said the price will be around $500. Wouldn't a few of those be nice? I mean, I love the $300 45/1.8, but wouldn't a $600 35/1.2--plastic or not--also have a place in your camera bag?

    Note: I didn't calculate and did a lot of averaging for numbers here. I'm just thinking out loud about what lenses I want and at what price!
  2. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 4, 2010
    Cheaper to rev the sensor tech and software algorithms than it is to design, engineer and tool fast, sharp glass ?

    Remember that you could only push film so far in 1970 (maybe a grainy ISO 3200?).

    Now you can have ISO's up past 800 into 25 or 50k and 'slow' glass starting at f2.8 and still get acceptable pictures (not to mention easy to use built-in flash). Faster lenses are a nice bonus but the need for < f1.4 is reduced due to advances in other areas of photographic kit.

    I'm still hanging out for Sigma or Olympus to give us a cheap fast nifty-fifty though :)
  3. rpatodia

    rpatodia Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 3, 2013
    Real Name:
    There were 2 reasons for faster lens
    1. more light
    2. shallow DoF

    1st is solved by having better sensors
    2nd problem is even more acute with smaller sensors and therefore the development of f/0.95 for photographers who need & value the DoF.
  4. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Real Name:
    Andrew Lossing
    Fast lenses were in high demand in an era when your best films were 400 speed, any faster and the grain started getting very pronounced.

    But back then, also, cameras were sold with prime lenses pretty much across the board. Zooms were expensive, lousy and not kitted. So you had a very good possibility that the photographer would own at least a few lenses.

    Fast forward to today, and camera makers know that people don't generally want to buy more lenses. The huge majority of ICL camera buyers never change lenses, so what's a manufacturer to do but put all their development dollars into improving sensor technology. Not to mention, raw materials are expensive to ship and the machines and manpower to produce lenses are also expensive. The more problems that can be solved on a chip of silicon, the better.
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  5. bassman

    bassman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Apr 22, 2013
    New Jersey
    Real Name:
    Unlike many of the enthusiasts here, I'd say the majority of consumers simply want a light camera+lens that gets the picture in-focus and with the proper exposure. Wafer-thin DoF is not a high priority nor a major market. So the manufacturers respond by putting their development dollars on functions and features that, in their opinions, will drive sales.
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  6. photo_owl

    photo_owl Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 8, 2013
    this plus -

    1. the price comparison by the OP is completely flawed because of the involvement of AF motors, electronics (direct price) and the implications to waranty/support costs (indirect costs).
    2. in increasingly providing more effective MF options the body manufactures are recognising the significant volume of competent legacy glass in this area - which in itself would (does) create a mass market price ceiling.
    3. when you can get a dof eq to the curve of the eye <10mm with f1.8 and f2 lenses the need for less isn't that obvious on the 43 sensor - and if you really want it it already exists (but it's not cheap).

    In many ways the price point (and capability) of the Oly 45/1.8 probably put off SIgma/Tamron etc from entering this obvious and lucrative market.
    The sort of marker response to the weaknesses in lenses like the 17/2.8 suggests that producing less than stellar lenses for a specialist market to meet a price point falls flat in the real world.
  7. fredlong

    fredlong Just this guy...

    Apr 18, 2011
    Massachusetts USA
    Real Name:
    In the 1970's lenses were all built using mature manufacturing techniques and technologies. There were very tight tolerances, but machining and lens grinding wasn't pushing the envelope. Companies like Samyang and Cosina make lenses like this at relatively lower prices.

    Modern lenses are in a constant state of change in manufacturing technique. The motors for autofocus are constantly being improved, new types of glass are being used, lens elements are being cast instead of ground, lens construction is a combination of plastics and machine parts. I'm sure the list goes on. All of this requires new production lines and new training.

    I expect that over time as some of these newer methods become mature, the prices will go down.

    All that being said, I think we have higher quality lenses at reasonable prices than we ever did in the 70's. Most of these relatively cheap 50's were not very good performers wide open on the their intended format. We wanted large apertures not just for lower light or less depth of field, but so we could focus. Focusing a a slower lens using a split screen or microprism focusing aid in anything but bright light was nearly impossible. That meant using the grainy ground glass portion of the focusing screen. It was hard to be accurate. Fast lenses helped even though they were often stopped down for image quality or to get enough depth of field.

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  8. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Real Name:
    Mike Aubrey
    I don't know where you're getting your numbers for inflation correct, but $150 would most certainly not be $500.

    Here are the right numbers (rounded):

    $100($600) = f/1.7
    $150($900) = f/1.4
    $200($1,200) = f/1.2

    As such, $450 in 1970 would be equivalent to $2700, which is just slightly under the price of the three Voigtlanders (17.5mm, 25mm, 42.5mm).

    All in all, it's excessively clear that lens prices have dropped dramatically since 1970.

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  9. janneman

    janneman Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 6, 2012
    Real Name:
    Jan (John) Kusters
    What lenses would that 1970 set be?
    In my memory, most lenses were 2.8, 3.5 or even 4, and very few faster then 2. Most lenses faster then 2 would be 50 mm and 1.8 or 1.4. The only lenses faster then 1.4 that I remember were very expensive specialist tools.
  10. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    There were plenty of lenses in the f/1.8 and f/1.4.

    The Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 was introduced in 1966.
    The older Takumar 55mm f/1.8 was introduced in 1958.
    Canon rangefinder lenses of f/1.4 and f/1.8 were around in the late 50s early 60s.
    Early Canon SLR FL mount had both in the mid 60s.

    Pretty much every optics manufacturer was capable of producing them in various grades of quality. Fast optics in other formats have been around for decades earlier (135 format is relatively new). Zooms (slow apertures) started to appear in the 70s and 80s. Fast aperture zooms soon after.

    Yes... faster than f/1.4 (in 135 format) were always expensive... yesterday.. today.. and into the future. They will always be niche products. Whining about their availability today is simply not looking into the past and realizing why they were never popular. Their place is even less viable today because of the high ISO capable sensors in the typical camera. High ISO sensor is far more usable for low-light situations than any ultra fast optic. High ISO sensor is far cheaper than the manufacturing of an ultra-fast opic.

    Just look at the recently announced Nocticron (or whatever it is called). Large optic, the proper AF motors to move those optics and people still complain about the price.
  11. Markb

    Markb Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 9, 2011
    Kent, UK
    Real Name:
    Spot on, I'd say. A pretty typical 70s camera club enthusiast outfit (from hazy memory of course) would have been 50/1.7 or 1.8 (aka kit lens), 28/2.8 or 3.5, tele lens of 135 or 200mm according to taste. Later on, slow zooms of 80-200ish would have replaced the telephoto prime.

    In the intervening years, zoom lenses have improved greatly and we've all been told to carry lenses that cover every focal length from fisheye to super-tele just in case by those clever marketing men and their accomplices in the photo press so the concept of a comprehensive lens outfit has changed dramatically.

    The nearest equivalent in :43: for our 70s camera club throwback (e.g. me :smile:) would be something like 14/2.5, 20/1.7, and 40-150ish Oly or Pana zoom if we're looking at reasonably priced lenses.

    nb: the middle paragraph above may contain sarcasm
  12. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 5, 2013
    San Diego
    Real Name:
    Doug Green
    Even in the 1970s, it wasn't uncommon to find 85mm and 35mm lenses at speeds between f1.4 and f1.8 Generally, anything longer or shorter than that would be f2 or higher even for fast high-end lenses.
  13. yakky

    yakky Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jul 1, 2013
    I think your statement is 100% correct, consumers want those exact features... funny thing is Nikon delivered them in the One series, and no one wanted them!
  14. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 27, 2013
    I won't echo all that being said here and for 95% of the above nice comments, it's spot on.

    I think as the MFT market matures, more and more MFT enthusiast are willing to invest in the system (which still is relatively Young!) for good. Thus the appearance of the Nocticron (crossing finger) and many more lenses to come i hope. At 1000$ or less, it's going to cost a bunch, but still will be a marvel to use!
    I have many, and I say many fast legacy glasses that are beautiful in their rendering, but they lack what ABS and electronic injection is to driving motors... ie autofocus!
    I won't go back without autofocus, I produce way way more and way better photographs with it!
    The UWA P7-14mm zoom for instance can be considered expensive above the grand, but I regret absolutely not a single penny in that lens, it has served me so well and so conveniently regarding it's convenience, speed, sharpness, autofocus and size, and that is a marvel I have yet to encounter in any other system!
    Let the big brandq organize their marketing and we will see a whole bunch of fast pro MFT lenses in the future. When? I guess it all d├ępends on the maturity of the market, ie the shooters themselves...

    PS: (edit) and i think Oly got its wings burned already with the 4/3 system, that is the reason why of their agressive marketing and recouping costs politics (MIC Made in China...), and that is ultimately why they haven't release anything Under 1.8.

    Thanks Panasonic for us fast shooters!
  15. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    Real Name:
    The technology in lens design in the past and the fabrication of those special elements (aspheric, low dispersion and all) were pretty difficult in the 70s and 80s, which makes prime lenses easier to design and make. Single focal length lenses require the least amount of element groups, so the design and optical prediction were easier to determine and applied correction elements to reduce chromatic and spherical aberrations were easier within the cost of a normal consumer who was willing to pay then.

    With the advent of faster affordable computers with multi-core processors and advanced optical engineering software, one can design a lens on the computer, simulate its optical characteristics and apply optical corrections and coating and re-predict with accuracy the optical output of the designed lens. This saved prototyping and hence can deliver complex lens design like a zoom lens that can rival those of primes. The Nikon 24-70 and the new Olympus 12-40 f.2.8 Pro is just one of the few examples of fast 2.8 lenses that can be just as good as the best 2.8 primes. A lot of pros today tend to prefer zooms over primes, because zoom lenses are now good enough for pro paid work and sensor technology has improved (Olympus E-M1 or E-M5) or the new Nikon Df (Lord of Darkness) to a point that pretty much compensate for the slower f/2.8 than say a fast f/1.4 prime can offer. That's only a stop difference, but modern sensors can go beyond that and still can deliver clean files at high insane ISOs.

    The only time people want a faster lens than a f/1.4 is to isolate DOF. HOWEVER, only CDAF (Contrast Detect AF) which focuses on the sensor plane can achieve good accuracy with faster glass because of such a narrow depth of field. The problem with PDAF (Passive Detect AF) is that, there is a slight tendency for the camera to front focus if you stop down to f/1.4 and then back focus if you then stop down to f/2.8 to f/4. This makes crucial close focus work difficult and one needs to rely heavily on AF Fine Tune to correct the AF shift that is inherent with PDAF systems. Hybrid PDAF and CDAF systems are better. But the industry standards now have settled on 2.8 zooms so that's why you have very few fast primes.

    Typically, pros will have 2 main zooms depending on their work and then fill in with primes for low light DOF work.
  16. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Real Name:
    Companies charge as much as they think the customer is willing to pay. What they charged last year or ten years ago is irrelevant.

  17. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    Real Name:
    This is not quite true as I work in this industry.

    Here is how the process works.

    First the marketing department determines the type of lens and the price it wants to sell to the public, not to mention the profit margin it needs to maintain. So then, this request gets to the engineering department. There will a haggle between the marketing department and the engineering department. The engineering department obviously wants to design the best of the best, but the marketing department may say no. The cost is too prohibitive, so the haggling then became compromises between cost and performance. How much it can get away with without the lens falling apart. We all know about the recent Olympus 12-40 Pro problem with the mount splitting for no reason at all. Nikon had this problem with the 24-70. They even FACTORED IN the warranty claims and so forth and then the needed engineering and component changes if the claims become excessive. It becomes less of a concern with boutique brands like Leica. But still, it always make you wonder.

    You need to understand fully that the general public isn't buying a lens or a camera like we do. The majority of the buyers are people who are focused on price and brand, which is why Canon and Nikon continually have a somewhat fixture in the US of A market. They only care about what freebies come with their cameras and they are so fixated on value alone that they don't see the benefits of other systems. High end stuff like fast glass and pro bodies aren't the mainstays of a camera company. It needs feeder products to maintain cash flow, which is why Panasonic, Olympus and Sony somewhat are loosing money as their feeder products are not as price competitive against the Nikons and Canons.

    How can you stay in business if you are continually bleeding money?!? In this difficult economic conditions, many companies have resulted in cutting prices to move products. Unless you are a Leica or some boutique brand like Apple Inc. that has high cache, you simply can not charge what the consumer must pay.

    In fact, there is a tendency towards making cheaper products like cheap all plastic lens. 20 years ago, you don't even have plastic mounts or plastic helicoids. They are metal, heavy.
    But nowadays, people want LIGHT and CHEAP and that's what the marketing department delivers. I'm sure photo gurus who are up and arms about this shift; claiming that makers are making crap. If you want quality, you can always pay $2000 to $8000 for a lens. But who's paying for that? A soccer mom who has a budget of $700 get the plastic camera and 2 plastic lens kit, not a Leica prime or a Nano coated Nikon all metal lens either.
  18. Jeff1:1

    Jeff1:1 Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 2, 2013
    Yes, and ISO 400 was for Tri-X black and white. Color was 25-100 and 200-400 was high speed with grain or other compromises. Auto sensor flash had just came out (Vivitar 283 @1974), so took a few years to be widely available and adopted. Even today the slide films at 400 and print film at 800 show their issues vs. 1600/3200 digital and noise reduction software. My first digital camera, 2001 Sony DSC-50, with it's 2.1 megapixels & iffy ISO 200 produced 4X6 prints that were good enough vs film.
  19. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 27, 2013
    1.4 to 2.8 is two full stops so four times the light gathering. Pro zoom 2.8 are what they are... Fast glasses are another story.. Look at 85mm f1.4 or whatever prime in that zone.. They are pro tools that no zoom can compete against.
  20. Dave in Wales

    Dave in Wales Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 5, 2011
    West Wales
    For me it's simply speed vs cost, I'd much prefer a cheaper PL 25mm f1.8 (not f1.4) for example.