Finding Beauty in Banality: The Magic of Boutique Lenses!

Merriam-Webster defines “banality“ as something lacking originality, freshness, or novelty - not having any new or interesting qualities. Aha … OK, right. So, what´s all this gotta do with photography? And what, pray, is a “boutique lens”? … and anyways, how on earth d’you want to find beauty in banality? Questions, questions, questions … Please read on if you want to find out the answers & settle in for a relaxing weekend read ;-)

The beauty of banality, seen thru Nikon‘s AF-S 58mm f/1.4 on D850

Oh boy, now he´s getting philosophical you may say … even metaphysical maybe? Whatever. Please hear me out, I will elaborate: For me photography is the art of conveying your impressions and feelings on the world around you to your audience via the images you make. Your ability to see and perceive photographically is a key enabler! And with this post I hope to animate y’all to continuously train and develop this ability. Of course, alternatively you can always book a safari trip to the Serengeti (if you have the time and the necessary small change to pay for it on hand, that is ;-) … Your experiences and the images you´ll bring back with you will for sure be amazing (alone due to the extraordinary location). However, believe me: Enhancing your photographic seeing skills by bringing mundane topics into a new light can be immensely rewarding (apart from also greatly benefitting those Serengeti images)!

Pipe Dream, Nikon’s AF-S 58mm f/1.4 on D850

It does require persistence, effort, and some courage though. To look where you have never looked before. To overcome your initial reluctance to take a photo of … well, nothing interesting, really. To discover things everybody else has overseen, for example see above image of a drainpipe or below photo of a bridge railing:

Off the fence, Nikon‘s AF-S 58mm f/1.4 on D850

Ok, so where does this “boutique lens” thing come from now? All right, I gotta admit I dreamt this one up m’self! Nowadays the word “boutique” is often used to indicate a specialized, highly attractive offering for discerning niche customers, eg. as in fashion boutique, boutique hotel or boutique winery. Following this logic, I´d now like to coin the term “boutique lens” for lenses which combine the following for me important characteristics (usually these aren’t found on mainstream and/or zoom lenses):

  1. Ultra-fast aperture resulting in a razor thin focal plane (pre-requisite to the following items)

  2. Attractive bokeh, with a smooth transition from in-focus to out-of-focus areas

  3. Good sharpness in the focal plane already at largest / larger apertures (> f/2)

  4. Acceptable lens aberrations (distortion, vignette, coma, lateral & longitudinal CA, …)

But don’t an ultra-fast aperture guarantee attractive bokeh? Unfortunately not. When looking for a fast full frame “normal“ lens I first bought the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art. Phenomenal sharpness but terrible “onion ring“ bokeh. Just didn’t cut it. So, for me criteria 1 and 2 both need to be fulfilled. Then the plane of focus needs to be tack sharp and the lens aberrations not too obvious. Combining these four criteria in the right balance lays a magic touch on your images, below image of a driveway is a nice example:

Thru the gate, Nikon‘s AF-S 58mm f/1.4 on D850

In my view Nikon‘s AF-S 58mm f/1.4G used for all images in this post is a fine example for a boutique lens. Next to fulfilling all the above criteria’s it’s slightly longer than normal focal length gives images taken with it a special focussed perspective! Many thanks for visiting, should you have any questions please drop me a note in the comments section below or on my about page. Best regards,


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