Homage Camera Lenses
After ignoring your questions (and even deleting comments on Instagram because I didn’t want to deal with them) it is time to address Light Lens Lab and why I am not testing their lenses. Not right now anyway. To do that we need to take a trip down the luxury watch lane and consider two watches.
This is a Rolex Explorer II. I kind of want to own one but can’t get past the assumption that I would feel like a Birken full of douche wearing a Rolex so I am sure I will never get one. Anyway, this watch costs about $12,000.00.
This is a Pagani Design PD 1762. This watch costs $136.00.
They look similar. Right? They offer similar functionality. Right?
Question…do you buy a Pagani Design homage watch and wear it to a job interview? On a date? To your wedding? Are you a Pagani Design guy or a Rolex guy?
I am not a Pagani Designs guy. For the same $136.00 I would rather buy a Casio or a Timex and avoid wearing a Rolex look-alike. Lots of people feel that homages, like the PD 1762, are timepieces that pay tribute to a well-known or iconic watch design. Others, including me, view homage watches as a form of imitation or an uninspired knock-off, and therein lies the issue. I feel the same way about homage camera lenses and I can’t get out of my own way to get past it.
According to Chat GPT (1), “In the context of camera lenses, an homage refers to a new lens that is designed to mimic or pay tribute to an older, well-known lens formula. Homage lenses typically use similar optical designs, materials, and even aesthetic elements to try to recreate the characteristics of the original lens.”
That seems to be exactly what Light Lens Lab (LLL) is doing given that they say as much in their marketing materials. For example, according to LLL, their 35mm f/2 is a “recreation of the famous [Summicron] 35 mm F2.” They are not the only ones in the lens homage game. Mitakon is right there with them with their Summaron 28mm f/5.6 lens that is said to offer a “faithful adherence to the original lens characteristics while maintaining an affordable price for photographers”
For whatever reason, I don’t find these homage lenses interesting enough to purchase. Given that nobody is sending me lenses to review (I burned that bridge down to the ground years ago) I probably won’t own one. I would love to own a 35mm Summicron v.1 but probably also never will because they sell for about $3000-4000 and that is too much for me to spend on what is essentially a very cool “character” lens. If I needed a 35mm character lens I probably wouldn’t go the homage route. Rather, I would just get one of the Voigtlander classic lenses.
Anyway, that is what I would do. I am well aware of the excitement over Light Lens Lab and I can understand the sentiment. Vintage lens prices skyrocketed during the pandemic and buying and owning vintage lenses can be more of a nuisance than a fecal incontinent Great Dane living in a high-rise apartment now that your boss is making you go back to work. I fully understand why people would want to own an LLL lens and I begrudge exactly nobody for their interest in LLL products. In fact, I am not entirely sure if I am not just a preposterously, pretentious, pain in the ass for my low T degree of inspiration toward homage camera lenses. I concede the fact that I should be more open to the idea but I, again, can’t get out of my own way. You don’t get to choose what you love and apparently you don’t get to choose how you feel about homages. You do homages or you don’t do homages. Apparently, I don’t.
To their credit, it seems that LLL cares about details; and they are putting time and energy into making a nice product. I wish them all the success in the world because every new option in the rangefinder world is good for the ecosystem. Furthermore, I don’t consider Light Lens Lab to be in the starter lens category.
Do reissues cloud the situation?
The argument for LLL is that you can get the character of a specific vintage lens without the headache or expense of owning a vintage lens. Leica apparently understands this given that they recently reissued their Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 V1 steel rim.
Your obvious argument after reading what I wrote about homages should be, “OK, Leica fanboy jackass, Leica is doing the exact same homage thing as LLL with that lens reissue. Isn’t that just an homage to an old Leica lens?'” To which I would respond, “I am a fanboy, I am certainly a jackass, but a reissue is not an homage.”
To prove my point that a reissue is not an homage, put on your imagination hat and imagine a scenario where Porsche reissued a nearly exact copy of their 911 SC 3.0 from 1970. That would be cool. The dudes at the car shows who stand there like zombies looking at car engines on Sundays would be activated.
Now, imagine if Mazda released a car that looked exactly the same as the vintage Porsche, but it said Mazda on the back. How would you feel about driving a Mazda homage Porsche 911 lookalike? What would the dudes at the car shows think?
Personally, I would be stoked to drive the Porsche reissue but feel like a Neverfull Tote of douche driving my Mazda homage down the 101. Exactly zero dudes at the car shows would buy the Mazda because a reissue is not an homage.
There is no good reason for us to feel this way but I don’t make the rules. This bug in our psyche is not a feature.
This brings us to the Leica Summilux reissue. I would be stoked to own that lens, but it is unlikely that I ever will. From my vantage point, a reissue should cost less than the original (or in this case, any subsequent pre-asph Summilux version)or I would just get the vintage version with all of the heartwarming patina and heritage the vintage version comes with. In this case, the reissue costs about the same as a solid quantity original so one of the prior iterations would suit me just fine.
Anyway, from my vantage point, reissues are fundamentally different than homages, even though they are really the same damn thing. A brand can reissue anything from its back catalog. No harm, no foul. I don’t know if I am correct in this assessment, but such is life when you are playing cameras and lenses to avoid thinking about important things like Ukraine, AI taking our jobs, Tik Tok, school shootings, and whether or not it will ever stop snowing.
Image taken with a Leica M10 and a 35mm Summarit f/2.4.
Frankenstein camera lenses.
I always wanted a Funleader rehoused Contax lens, but unfortunately, I missed out. I love what Omnar is doing by rehousing vintage lenses into modern casings. These Frankenstein monster lenses, cobbled together with old and new parts, are something I can’t get enough of. From my perspective, this is an ideal way to get vintage style. These engineers are taking the best of the old stuff (the lens) and replacing the hassles of owning and dealing with old stuff with new parts. These Frankenstein lenses are neither homages nor replicas, and they certainly are not reissues.
The bottom line is that most of us who shoot rangefinders are really just playing with cameras and lenses. The equipment is as much of an endpoint as the photographs they make. Given that rangefinders are more of a hobby than anything else, you need to be excited about what you’re shooting. For better or worse, I don’t generally get too excited about homage lenses or watches. Conversely, I love Frankensteins, and I’m okay with reissues, but preferably, they should cost less than the original, and the original should still be attainable.
For the time being, if I want a new lens that makes images that look like an old lens, I’ll put my money toward a Voigtlander classic, or better yet, just get some OG vintage. To be honest, that is what I have been doing but vintage rangefinder lenses are too expensive for me to deal with. When I reach for a lens to make
crappy character images, I reach for an SLR lens. There’s a lifetime of vintage SLR lenses to explore and they are still relatively inexpensive. With vintage SLR lenses, nobody needs to care about homages, reissues, or Frankensteins. I love my rangefinders, but when it comes to vintage rangefinder lenses, as Joshua said in Wargames, “The only winning move is not to play.”
- Did you feel it? The world just shifted. I didn’t say according to Google or according to Wikipedia. Yesterday is different than today. Change is coming. Let’s hope it is for the better.
- My MKII is an exception to that rule. I like the company story.