The Zeiss Super-Q-Gigantar 40mm f/0.33

I remember reading about this back in one of the mainstream photo magazines in the 1960s.  At the time, Zeiss was taking a lot of flack for making slow lenses (they made very good lenses, but for lots of uses, their lenses were too slow for the new, gritty, world of 35mm photojournalism).  This lens was a major counter-thrust in that war.  The lens consisted of an enlarger condenser element, cobbled into a mount, with an aperture and so forth.   Zeiss was saying very loudly that anybody can make a fast lens if you don’t care how good it is.


The Zeiss 40mm f/0.33 Super-Q-Gigantar
The Zeiss 40mm f/0.33 Super-Q-Gigantar


See Petapixel article for more detail.

Photo Gear Price History

In my early years in photography, the back (especially) pages of Popular Photography and Modern Photography were the sources of many of my lusts. That’s where the mail-order camera companies ran their ads.  Some of those ads went on for pages and pages, in little tiny type, with small low-resolution images of the cameras stuck in every now and then.

I’ve finally made a start on getting images of some of those old ads and putting them online. I use these to look up old prices, and to look up what gear was being advertised when, and to remind myself of some of the weird strange things that were being sold back then.

I hope to keep adding data from additional years to this collection, and also to extract some prices into spreadsheets and charts to show how particular pieces of equipment or classes of equipment have fared over the years. Some day.

Some of the images I have collected elsewhere and some I have made myself from old copies of the magazines, at the library or wherever I found them. Since I don’t own them, I can’t take them apart to get good clean flat scans of the pages. Sorry about that; I’d like better images myself, but I haven’t gotte my bound pages holding jig designed and built yet, so these were done freehand and are really rather rough.

The collection lives here.

Olden Camera I remember for their signature bright yellow pages. They mixed new and used prices through their ads, and had a stranger collection of gear than most places.  I remember I bought a used Leitz 90mm Summicron f/2 from them for my M3, and decided the condition just wasn’t go0d enough and returned it.  They list a used one for $184.50 in September 1973, which is about right.   I’m pretty sure the new one I then got also came from Olden, and I remember it as costing $360.

Custom Quality Studio in Chicago did film processing and reprints at very good prices, and they actually did a decent job.  I used them up through the 1980s.  They eventually disappeared.

I never used Sunset Color Lab, but they had the distinction of being the only place I remember seeing that advertised dye-transfer printing services. A regular 8×10 print cost $1.75, a dye-transfer print cost $22.

The Latent Image (NSFW) had the interesting business of selling rolls of undeveloped film with nude photos on them. I imagine a lot of people bought pictures from them. I wonder if this got around some state laws, too? (The ad kind of looks like they sold some processed negatives, and some unprocessed rolls. I never actually ordered from them, so I don’t know.)

B&H Photo is the place I most remember dealing with—but they didn’t get started until 1973, and I don’t have the first one-page ad of theirs that I found posted yet.

Wall Street Camera Exchange had the weird advertising model of giving prices for unlikely trade-up exercises, and often not giving any price for just buying the stuff. I guess this let them print smaller numbers, but anybody with any functioning brain cells figured it out in the first few seconds, so I don’t know what it gained them.

Is it a bad sign when I find I’m nostalgic about old advertisements?



Advice on Lens Brands

This got sufficient praise when I posted it as a comment to a question on LiveJournal that I’m reprinting it as an article here, where I can find it when needed.  The question was initially about Sigma vs. Nikon lenses.  I currently consider Sigma, Tokina, and Tamron to be the third-party lensmakers who sometimes make first-rate mainstream lenses (no offense intended to specialists and weird people like Zeiss, Cosina/Voigtlander, or Coastal Optics (now a division of Jenoptik Optical Systems, it looks like)).

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Who’s ahead in which parts of their lens lineup changes over time—so one thing that influences the advice you get is the age of the adviser. I’m 55 myself :-).

For a while, zoom lenses were only made by third-party companies (absolute statements probably aren’t absolutely true, but this is how I perceived it in the 1970s). Then the camera companies made overly-conservative zooms, and the third-party companies made better zooms. This covered parts of the 80s. Then the camera companies started making first-rate zooms.

Also, the camera-companies started making second- and third-rate zooms, and even some primes. And the third-party companies didn’t always do their best anyway.

So, TODAY, IMAO, the situation is confused to the point where there’s no simple general advice. You have to specifically consider each type of lens and decide which ones are good and which aren’t. Nikon isn’t ALWAYS better or worse than Canon—or than Sigma, either. (Sigma was a third-tier company even 10 years ago, but they aren’t today.)

One thing to keep in mind is that, if you’re buying Nikon’s consumer-grade lenses like the 18-200 or the 70-300, there’s a lot less to lose going to Sigma, Tamron, or Tokina. Those aren’t Nikon’s top work. Similarly, the Sigma 120-400/4.5-5.6 may actually be better than the Nikon 80-400/4.5-5.6 (though Nikon just did or is about to update that lens, so who knows?). It’s the Nikon 200-400/4, the $5000 professional lens, that Sigma probably doesn’t have a real competitor for.

Also remember that wide-range zooms always carry compromises. You simply can’t make an 18-200 and sell it for a 3-figure price that’s first-rate throughout. However, the convenience can be important, and the quality might be good enough for you. Don’t pretend you always need “the best”—at least not while talking about a D40x :-). Be realistic, it’ll stand you in good stead; probably save you thousands of dollars. Junk is never worth it, but the very best is probably completely out of your reach, too. You HAVE TO compromise—and even the “very best” has flaws which the people who use its full capabilities all know about and have to work around. The best photographers I know don’t own a single piece of “perfect” equipment; instead they own lots of very good equipment that they fully understand. They avoid using it for the things it’s bad at.

You’re probably better off with Sigma’s pro-grade lenses than with Nikon’s consumer-grade lenses. Although every now and then, a consumer-grade lens happens to be really outstanding anyway. (As a rough guideline, fixed-aperture zooms, especially if the aperture is fast for the focal lengths, are nearly always considered pro-grade lenses. Slow, variable-aperture zooms are nearly always consumer lenses. Primes are nearly always pro-grade lenses. I believe Sigma uses the “EX” designation for what THEY think are the pro-grade lenses. But even this is, in the end, a matter of opinion.)

And if you want the very best autofocus 50mm/1.4—that’s almost certainly the Sigma; but it costs a lot more than the Nikon. (The Zeiss manual focus 50/1.4 may be better, partly depending on what you care about.)

When reading customer reviews, consider the number sold. Something sold by the tens of thousands is nearly certain to have more bad reviews than something sold by the tens. 🙂

Here’s a trick I used. I still think it’s clever. Go someplace like where you can search by the lens, and look at the pictures taken with each lens you’re considering. Some kinds of problems won’t show up at web resolution, others will. But in addition to what you can see yourself, there’s a second source of information: If a number of photographers who take really gorgeous pictures all use a particular lens, you’re pretty safe in concluding that lens is pretty good. This path led me to the Tokina 12-24/4, which indeed was a fine lens (and quite cheap), and which served me well when I was on a DX sensor.

I’m Selling Some Camera Gear on Ebay

Again :-). Generally, I’ve found buying camera gear is more likely to cause me remorse than selling it, so I’m moving out some more things, including my D200 body, my Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 lens, my Fuji F11 point & shoot, and (not listed yet, but will go up tomorrow afternoon) my Tokina 12-24mm f/4 wideangle zoom for DX cameras. Buy the D200 and both lenses and you’ve got a decent start, though you’ll want to add a 70-200/2.8 and an SB-800 flash soon.

The auctions should all show up at here.