The What If Game

Something I’ve known for a long time. What works for other people might not work well for you. Common wisdom and thought process only get you so far. By all means if you have no other experience how other people might achieve the results they want is not a bad starting point but that’s about it. Yesterday I wrote a really long post about bias, habits, thoughts that get stuck in your head, and what a struggle it is to get out of that. Most of the time you can’t even identify those biases and hang-ups, they’re subtle. Today I wanted to follow-up with another deadly compromising thought process that’s tangentially related to my little 28mm epiphany.

I’ve probably taked about how I am faster using manual focus for more than half of what I shoot. That’s all due to the way I work, how close I shoot, how I frame, and a bunch of other factors. I discovered this a long time ago shooting my daughters when they were toddlers. At first I had the notion that a better auto-focus system was the issue. Nope, found the same thing after every upgrade. What’s that have to do with dealy compromising thought process? Everything. Why would I buy autofocus lenses if I know this about my own working method and shooting process? The answer — The What If Game that we all play trying to optimize for all conditions, in all circumstances, no matter what, all bases are covered. The reality is by trying to do this theoretically we are actually compromising on all of those fronts in many cases.

Case in point — the dragging of the feet on acquiring a 35mm prime. I’ve been at this acquistion for years. Part of the reason why is that I know I would rather that than my heavy pro-zoom but as you can see from yesterday’s post something was amiss. Specifically it’s not anything I was enamoured with. Those plans are scrapped. You can guess what I really want now. You got it — a 28 prime that’s a bit more capable than my 70’s freebie. I love shooting that lens. I am super fast with it given how I personally shoot. It feels great using it. I don’t like how stinking soft it is in the corners since I tend to use just about every square millimeter of the frame. I’m also a bit constrained given the f/3.5 maximum aperture. Another stop or two would be fantastic.

So let’s just pony up and grab one shall we… which begs the question of which one. The answer is easy. Grab a really nice manual focus lens. Maybe a 28/2.8 Nikkor AIS, one of the best out there. Maybe the f/2 instead. If I want to splurge I could grab the Zeiss ZF. Simple — I like the focal length immensely after using it for a few weeks. Far better in combo with my 50mm than a 35mm. I love the maunal focus. I know if I grab the perfectly wonderful Nikon 28/1.8 AF-G I’ll rarely manually focus — due to how sorry manual focus is on AF lenses in terms of feel and other nits. Why would I do that? That’s downright stupid given my desires, how I work, etc. etc. That’s the dreaded what if game. What if I need autofocus. What if the new design is slightly better IQ. What if Nikon stops supporting old lenses on DSLR’s in a decade. What if after I grab a really expensive Zeiss that doesn’t have AF I feel stupid for spending more on a lens that does “less”.

Theoretically I could rationalize myself into the new AF-G. Theoretically I could just use manual focus on that lens and be happy. Less money, more function right? It does both. Wrong — I know exactly how this equation plays out in my own reality with AF lenses. I do not enjoy using them at all with manual focus, they are bigger, they don’t have nearly the tactile feedback and sensuous feel that manual focus lenses have. I know I won’t enjoy it as much. Honda vs BMW. Utilitarian all things to a huge number of people vs fine tuned for what I want and prefer. That’s where the what-if game gets you. Not optimizing for any particular thing you already know about your own personal needs but compromising all of them to theoretically address theoretical situations and circumstances that you don’t acutally care about right now.


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