150904 The 35-100 f/2 - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto
2008 Matthew Robertson

This is the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 zoom lens. I've used it to take more photos than any other lens I've ever owned, and I haven't owned it since 2009.

These days I only own two of the things in this photo: the tripod legs and the homemade camera strap. The camera, an Olympus E-3, the lens, and the tripod head have all moved on to new homes. I do still have the Olympus E-1 and 50/2 Macro lens that I used to take this photo, but that's another story.

The 35-100/2 is designed to replicate the 70-200mm focal length, and was a tremendous equalizer in the early days of full-frame digital. The Four Thirds sensor was a distinct weakness back then, but the better D.Zuiko lenses were unmatched by the legacy film lenses everyone else was using, and the 35-100/2 was simply one of the very best lenses Olympus made. It could be used wide open with impunity, which wasn't true for the 70-200/2.8's of the world.

The downside was that the 35-100/2 was just as big as those older lenses, which undermined some of the reason for choosing a smaller sensor in the first place. But it didn't matter. The lens was majestic; it had swagger. I carried it everywhere and used it for everything.

A lot has changed since then.


A Whole New You

In my early days I had some constraints; I didn't own such a diverse array of cameras, so I used my Olympus SLRs much more intensively than any of my current fleet. The exception to that is my Ricoh GR, which turns two this weekend, but that little machine still needs to accumulate a few thousand more images to match what I took with the mighty 35-100/2.

It's telling that my littlest good camera is what comes closest to the ubiquity of my old 35-100 on an Olympus SLR. Back then I was much more exploratory and experimental; now I'm more cautious and conservative. But then I'm also much less likely to hang around with gear-focused photographers from clubs and meet-up groups – this lens predates the term "photo walk" – and I'm less inclined to have anything to prove.


The city has changed a lot since I had this lens, too. The Brickworks used to be a place where only photographers and taggers would go – isolated, bitterly cold in the winter, and dark in the middle of the day. If I went back to this same place on a winter weekend now it would be hosting a farmer's market. There just aren't as many places left to explore in the city, and I no longer have the connections or the inclination to find the ones that remain.

I still consider the Olympus 35-100 to be the best lens I've ever owned. It's also a huge part of the reason why I've only used primes on my big Nikons, because they're the only ones that measure up to its standards. Some of the newer zooms are getting there, though, and I've been idly considering the Nikon 70-200/4 as a possible successor to it. There's no question that it would be a superb performer on my D800, but it doesn't have the same long-zoom f/2.0 swagger. Even the f/2.8 zooms can't quite pull it off.

Nothing really does.


Sand Is Just Little Rocks

Of course the important things about photography endure beyond the gear. This photo is seven years old and it could easily fit into a project that I hope to produce this fall. The discarded parking ticket in the foreground, the rocks to make the ground inhospitable to all life, the vast amount of room devoted to cars in the core of the city, and the single vehicle with its statistical 1.2 people inside as the only others visibly making use of this space. It's still capturing the essence of what's wrong with transportation planning and land use in this city, which is an idea that I need to explore now just as much as I did then.

I haven't yet decided what camera I'll use when I go back under this highway, but choosing one now is more about what sort of images I'll need than any technical concerns. They're all good enough, and each has some advantage over the others, giving me different options. Naturally I still wish for something none of them can do – but that is also another story.


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