How Much of a Difference Does Modern Lens Technology Really Make?



I’ve always been a fan of odd lenses and crazy rendering from some vintage lenses. I have even gone further than most and used vintage lenses on my Sony exclusively on actual customer sessions, and I have been pleased with the results. Today, I want to talk about how much difference modern lens technology really makes in actual real-world usage.

I suffer from gear acquisition syndrome as much as the next guy, and I’m the first to always want the hottest new lenses such as the Otus 100mm. Technology improves at a rapid pace in most industries, but especially in electronics, cameras, and the like. So, I thought I’d do a quick side-by-side shoot with a modern(ish) Canon 135 f/2L versus a very old ISCO cinema film lens of a similar focal length, a 140mm f/2.1. Yes, I know the Canon isn’t brand new tech, but comparatively speaking, it is with autofocus and much more modern coatings.

Cinema lenses are a niche interest, and many photographers have never seen one. They are pretty rare and definitely cool looking, but being manual focus and not having a selectable aperture, shooting wide open exclusively makes for a challenge to really nail focus. This is where the Sony a7R III comes in, the focus peaking and manual focus live view magnification make it really not all that tough.

So, on to the results. I chose a fixed object that I had on my desk to eliminate the possibility of subject movement from frame to frame, and I tried to get the crop to be similar. The 140mm vs the 135mm is pretty close, but there is a difference.

Heading into this exercise, I expected there to be some variances in contrast, color, sharpness, and out of focus rendering. But how much difference does 40+ years of technology really make? Judge for yourself below on which image is taken with the 135mm, and which with the 140mm.

Answer at end of article.

How Much of a Difference Does Modern Lens Technology Really Make? 1

How Much of a Difference Does Modern Lens Technology Really Make? 2


Is it practical to shoot with a lens like this for everyday work? That answer really depends on how and what you shoot. If you shoot sports, absolutely not. Still, work, including portraits, is doable if you have the patience to manually focus and accept that you are going to miss focus a decent amount. 

Some would argue that forcing yourself to slow down and think about what you are shooting in this manner may make you a better photographer by forcing you to not just be lazy and hit the button. Certainly, that’s subjective.

Well, there’s clearly some differences in the way the images are rendered, but are the differences really as massive as you would expect for four decades of rapidly paced technological improvements?

Answers: Image A is the Canon 135mm f/2L and Image B is the ISCO 140mm f/2.1.


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