Don’t Let Foolish Pride Stand in Your Way

 

Originally rejected because of its plasticky build and narrow, hard focus ring, the first-generation AF 180mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens featured a new optical design, and is as sharp wide open as any fast zoom made today.
Originally rejected because of its plasticky build and narrow, hard focus ring, the first-generation AF 180mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens featured a new optical design, and is as sharp wide open as any fast zoom made today.

Professional photographers, like a lot of artists, can sometimes be a pretty arrogant bunch. I don’t know if this has anything to do with many of us being men, or if it comes with the inherent self-righteousness of being a journalist, but in my travels I have found it undeniable. Maybe it has something to do with the arrogance of youth, because without a doubt I was much more arrogant when I was younger.

Of the four Associated Press photographers I personally knew over the years, three were insufferably arrogant, and the other, Sue Ogrocki, is a wonderful person.

Aware of this attitude and how it can color a life and a career, I have been mindful in recent years to try to be humble and accepting. I hope it is serving me well.

One thing I try to share with my students about pride and arrogance is that artists are not defined by their tools. It’s easy to look up to someone with $25,000 worth of cameras and lenses around his neck, while it is equally easy to look down on someone with a beat-up SLR and a 50mm lens. At the end of the day, the rich photographer might not have any good images, and the beat-up-SLR guy might have the pearl.

Track and field action from yesterday in Konawa, Oklahoma, made at f/4 at about 1/1000th of a second; click twice to see it at 100%.
Track and field action from yesterday in Konawa, Oklahoma, made at f/4 at about 1/1000th of a second; click twice to see it at 100%.

I also try to explain to my students that this attitude can serve them well, since rich amateur photographers often get rid of used equipment in order to “upgrade,” often to newer equipment that isn’t actually any better or more capable, and that through eBay or Amazon or Craigslist, they can get their hands on decent equipment at great prices, and make great images with it.

With that in mind, I was poking around on eBay the other day, and saw that a seller was offering a 1980s-era autofocus 180mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. Not only was this lens well-used, but it was also the first autofocus iteration of this lens, which was a sales flop because its plasticky design was very alien to those of us who spent our manual-focus years using the amazing 180mm ED f/2.8. Additionally, this AF 180mm had a big scratch on the front element. I forget what he wanted for it, but he included a “best offer” option, so I offered $75 and forgot about it. Three days later he accepted my offer, and now this beater is mine. I didn’t need it, since I have a pristine AF 180mm (although two generations newer, also bought at a bargain price), but I figured I’d play with it, or make it my “rain” lens for when I have to shoot stupid assignments in the bad weather, or at the very least, show it to my class as an example of how to get started shooting “fast” telephotos.

The punch line, of course, is that this unpopular, beat-up, non-zoom lens of 1987 design gives absolutely spectacular results. I’ve been putting it through its paces, and it has delivered in spectacular fashion. One point I should make is that the scratch on the front element does become a factor if you stop the lens down to f/8 or smaller. But of course, why do I need a 180mm f/2.8 if I’m going to shoot at f/8? When shooting at f/2.8 or f/4, it’s just as sharp as a brand new 180.

I think I am going to need a nickname for it.

There is a big, ugly scratch on the front element of this AF 180mm, shown with a penny for scale. Despite this obvious flaw, the lens does a great job at larger apertures, even when shooting into strong light sources.
There is a big, ugly scratch on the front element of this AF 180mm, shown with a penny for scale. Despite this obvious flaw, the lens does a great job at larger apertures, even when shooting into strong light sources.
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1 Comment

  1. Nice find, and excellent commentary. It is quite a truism about photographers being arrogant, especially photo-journalists as a group.

    Regarding rich amateurs, I’m really glad I met Steve Boots. Without him, I wouldn’t have had a chance to play around with top-dollar lenses. 🙂

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