Mark Llobrera

Through New (Old) Lenses

Black and white shot of eyeglasses folded, on a table.

These are my new glasses. When I first put them on everything looked weird, even though my prescription hadn’t changed. It took a few days of forcing myself to wear them before my brain caught up with my eyes and everything felt normal again.

That experience got me thinking about how we see with cameras and lenses. Whenever you throw on a new lens, you’re essentially getting a new set of eyes. Craig Mod has written about this quite beautifully in his essay “Seeing Prime”, about the Panasonic 14mm lens1 for Micro-4/3rds. Describing the shift from the 20mm to the 14mm, he writes:

With a single gesture — changing lenses — your visual lung capacity increases. The sky explodes over subjects and you have to forcibly reframe the world because your brain is stuck in 20MM mode. Your mind’s eye shifts — an internal aperture expanding to welcome the new space. And you start to wonder — how the hell did I live in such a small box before?

I bought the 14mm lens two years ago partially because of Craig’s review.

And I hated it.

Well, hate is a strong word. But I could just never get used to seeing with that lens, which equates to a wide-angle 28mm in 35mm terms. It was always just a bit too wide, a bit too distorted, for the way that I was shooting. I was coming from a DSLR where a 60mm was my normal lens, and I was shooting the 14mm in the same fashion. Eventually I got a 45mm, and then a 25mm. The 14mm? Shipped off with myold Olympus E-P2 to my brother, who was contemplating a switch to Micro-4/3rds.

Eventually my brother recently ended up selling his Sony gear and bought his own Micro-4/3rds gear, so the E-P2 and 14mm are back with me. I’ve given it another try, and while I still don’t love it, I’m learning that part of my issues with it were due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how you have to change your shooting style with different lenses. My brother said, “You have to think of a wide-angle as a close-up lens”. And with that, it something clicked. I threw it on and started getting closer. In short, I hadn’t let my brain adjust to the lens. I was using it like a normal or short telephoto, and so of course it wasn’t working.

So now whenever I feel the urge to click the shutter, I take one or two steps closer, and see how that changes things. Gradually I’m relaxing, and adjusting to my new eyes. I’m appreciating how much I can cram in, even when I’m standing at close quarters.

Young child in an orange shirt gazes out into fog while sitting on a beach.
Soph Fog
Sign for Lou’s Crab Pad on the side of a building.
"No Dogs" spray-painted on a concrete divider.
Door with a sign saying "Love", with a reflection of a street sign saying "Hope".

I actually shot the photo above with the 45mm, but I would never have noticed the door and its reflections if I hadn’t been carrying the 14mm. I’ve passed that door hundreds of times, but somehow having a different lens made me look around more, searching for subjects that might work. I rounded the corner and noticed the “Hope” reflected above “Love”. I took a photo with the 14mm, and resolved to come back the next day and re-shoot it with the 45mm.

  1. Equivalent to a 28mm in 35mm terms. ↩︎