A Tale of Two Lenses: Canon 50mm f.1.2 Versus The Schneider-Kreuznach APO Symmar f.5.6

Canned lobster is hit and miss. I buy it once a year to use in a pasta dish, because frozen lobster feels like a luxury item when you need it most. Tonight’s lobster was a big miss. The salt content was high, and it held onto that iodine-preservative taste, so in went a sweet tomato sauce, shrimp, saffron and shitake mushrooms. I am always sad when a dish does not work out because poor quality products mean a poor quality dining experience, and tonight I felt like eating well.

The only way to salvage the dinner beyond the additions of masking agents was to experiment with my camera and see what I could capture. The challenge was to shoot the same plate [a pottery plate from my favourite dealer, The Dunes on Prince Edward Island] with two different lenses on the same Canon 1DmkIII body. The first lens was the Canon 50mm f.1.2 L lens. I hate this lens. It is the holy grail of 35mm lenses, but I just do not have the skills to shoot with it at f.1.2. To be fair, the lens is really built for shooting headshots in close and in natural light, and that is just not the work that I tend to do except when shooting for events or portraits. It is a specific look, but it is also a $1500 lens that I use for much of my food blogging due to the studio’s low, natural lighting.

The second lens was the Schneider-Kreuznach 210mm f.5.6 APO Symmar lens that is attached to the Canon via my Linhof Kardan Color S view camera body and  the cardboard adapter I rigged up on Thursday night. The last time I tried the cardboard-franken-camera, I was unsure of its actual performance and the white balance was a mess. As I wrote last time, I am bemused that a piece of cardboard would allow me to plonk the Canon onto the body. To be honest…the others who have tried this have not posted the most interesting images to judge whether the camera adapter could be used on a regular basis.

What about the results? The Canon 50mm is sharp where it needs to be, and covers a decent area of the plate with a pleasing bokeh. The problem with this lens is that you must be about a foot away from the subject to clearly focus. For food photography, you need to be able to get in close, and the L Series lens does not allow this. The Schneider-Kreuznach gets me in close to the food and allows me a tonne of leeway to play with where the actual focal point is. Like a Lensbaby, the view camera provides tilt, but also, unlike the Lensbaby, you get the shift from the bellows. At f.5.6, the focus is shallow [much like the f.1.2] but the critical sharpness is yet to be seen. Still, I like the possibilities of this 4×5 camera to 35mm digital body concept, and believe that either by stopping down or using my Profoto studio lights I will be able to shoot a collection of compelling food photographs. I ordered to Fotodiox 4×5 to Canon adapter on Friday as it is now available through Amazon.ca. The last time I ordered an adapter from Fotodiox I had to go through Henry’s, and they lost my order twice and it took 2 months.

Which is the 4×5 image? The first image is through the adapter while the second is with the 50mm Canon lens – once I corrected the white balance, I think they came out fairly even in the end. Remember that an older 4×5 lens was not built to provide the sharp images we are used to seeing, and certainly not wide open, but for a franken-camera cobbled together with adapters and cardboard [not light-tight] this is a pretty solid image capture. If I were choosing one for an issue of Donna Hay, then it would clearly be the view camera shot; the emotion of the food is there despite the loss of digital contrast and sharpness.

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