Many of you are familiar with Blair Bunting, one of the premier commercial portrait photographers in the United States, and a good friend of mine. A couple weeks ago we were chatting about lenses when he brought up this project he did several years back. I instantly wanted to share it, and we tweeted an image of his 50mm f/1.4 next to his 110mm f/.95, which many of you thought was fake. It wasn't.
Blair has always had an eye for the meticulous that borderlines at the somewhat outrageous. "Being self taught I found myself obsessing with the technical to a degree that the artistic side of photography was an afterthought. At first it was just grasping the concept of 18% grey, then it was learning the stop reach of my sensor, then it was getting rid of depth of field only to bring it back in later years. It serves a little ironic that I craved bokeh so much when young and now I cringe whenever someone uses that word in a conversation.
"Back in 2003, I found myself with a lens line up from 24 to 200, all faster than f/1.8, so to say I enjoyed depth of field isolation was an understatement. However, there was a part of me that thought the 85mm f/1.2 just wasn’t shallow enough. I had tubed the thing beyond its nodal point reach to where the min focus point was behind the front element. However, a part of me still felt there was less depth to be achieved."
For what purpose could one need something with less depth? It didn't matter. What mattered to Blair was that if it could be done, he wanted to do it. "There was not a practical use for the lenses, but there was learning to be had in their use."
"This quest impacted my grades as I would often sit in Italian classes trying to calculate the angle of light conversion for a lens instead of paying attention (2 years of Italian and all I know is how to say 'My name is cheese'). Being a true photo geek at heart, I listed lenses by absolute aperture size in millimeter rather than stop.
"Fortunately for me during this time, there was an industrial factory that did X-ray analysis that had gone under and surplussed its equipment. I called them up and offered to buy all their lenses for cheap as I intended to mount them to a Canon 1D.
"The lenses that came in the box ranged from 110mm to 50mm and had aperture values of 1.1 to 0.50. Unfortunately, they were made for industrial X-ray machines, so mounting them would not be easy. Some had nodal points that wouldn’t work with a mirror and others had rear elements that would support the lens. None of them had focus rings and would be strictly DTS pulled, not to mention no chips meant that the truest form of manual exposure would be required as most cameras aren’t set for f/.50.
"I eventually mounted some with cut body caps and others with plumbing tubing with a CD case. Min focus distance was very minimal, often only a couple inches, but depth of field is a function of distance as it is a derivative of iris, so this was a plus.
"Texture was important and the quality of the images that came from the lenses was often determined by the progression from focus to out of focus rather than the quality of the blur itself. At the end of the day, I never really showed the images all that much and sold off most of the lenses I had made. Like so many other aspects of photography, I was merely looking to show myself I could do it."
For more ridiculousness from the mind of Blair Bunting, head on over to his blog.
Published with Blair Bunting's permission.