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The Blue Ring Lens Family: The right lens for the right job

Any image, no matter what features or tools the camera may provide, is only as good as the lens that captures it. Sure, there are subjective aesthetic qualities of certain lenses. However, objective qualities like sharpness, resolution, durability and versatility are all essential for professional photographic results. I hope we can all agree on that much.

The specific lens you use, how you use it and why you use it, is certainly grounds for a discussion. In the vein of that discussion I have to be honest: my views are completely biased, as I’ve worked for Phase One for nearly 9 years. Nevertheless, even well before that time you could always find me with Phase One in my hands. As a Product Manager I have innumerable opportunities to use and test the Phase One equipment. This is not only taking place in a studio environment but under rather demanding conditions as well.

Among other responsibilities here in Copenhagen, I manage the PODAS (Phase One Digital Artist Series) photographic workshops. With that position comes the envious task of traveling the world and photographing some of the most stunning scenes. I get to do everything with the best products, and the Schneider Kreuznach Blue Ring lens range is no exception. In my constant use of the XF Camera System, I want to take the opportunity to share a few things that stand out to me about the Blue Ring lens range. There’s a chance I might shamelessly plug our upcoming workshops to Cuba and Bali!

Quality

I count myself lucky to have been a part of Phase One’s growth from a small Danish Digital Back manufacturer to a fully-fledged global Camera System and Specialty Imaging company. Our dedication to quality and the love of photography has recently culminated in the XF Camera System, which features our Blue Ring lenses. The Schneider Kreuznach Blue Ring lens family currently covers almost every desired focal length, from wide-angle to telephoto. It’s clear how much it emphasizes and embraces professional image quality. Resolution, speed, durability, and reliability, are all specifications that MUST be met before evaluating pesky details like size and weight. The culmination of that emphasis may be big lenses, but it’s all worth the beauty of the end result.

Features and flexibility

With workshops like PODAS, I have to manage dozens of lenses and camera systems for eager participants. Being able to precisely trim the focus for each lens on each camera body makes certain there are no concerns about focus accuracy when we’re out in the field. Calibrating a Hyperfocal “sweet-spot” ensures customers can see the immediate benefits without setting it up themselves. The Blue Ring lenses allow me to set up each system once and always keep that calibration information. This is applicable no matter what camera the lenses end up on throughout the workshop. The improved electronics within the lenses means that the XF Camera System’s tools can easily communicate with the lenses. It’s a huge time saver and stress reliever for me knowing the customers’ experience will be a good one.

Focus Stacked Image

With the simple and detailed calibrations out of the way, the Blue Ring integration makes tools like Focus Stacking captures of intricate subjects, complex architecture or vast landscapes, a simple process. Not to mention having a preset Hyperfocal point that ensures worry-free success when shooting in demanding conditions like aerial photography. When hanging out of a helicopter, or in a rush to capture the fleeting light, precision and efficiency are essential.

Robust and Durable

The conditions that we meet on PODAS, I can assure you, can be demanding. The rain in Ireland, the cold of Antarctica, the heat and sand of the Australian desert. They’re all perfect testing grounds to demonstrate that the Blue Ring lenses live up to our high standards. In addition, with so many workshops and so many eager hands putting the lenses to work, they see their share of use. With the Blue Ring lenses, that heavy workload is no problem, as the design specifications demand durability. However, unless the lenses take a tumble down a steep cliff (yes, it happens) there’s never any worry about reliability.

Professional promise

Though, durability and professional design are only words unless they’re backed up by a guarantee. The Blue Ring lenses, when purchased with an XF Camera System, carry a 5-year warranty that isn’t limited to how much work the lenses do. It’s comforting to know that Phase One stands behind their product, offering unlimited leaf shutter actuations. It’s especially important when you consider the thousands of actuations that the lenses get at any given workshop. For PODAS workshops, we’re in remote locations with eager photographers waiting to test the latest and greatest. I sleep easier at night knowing that the equipment being a problem is a far lesser worry than the weather cooperating at sunrise.

Right tools for the job

With the wide variety of available lenses, the options cover almost every conceivable application. And they do so with the precision and detail that only a 101 megapixel back can capture. At the end of this post are just a few of my favorite images taken on PODAS workshops. These results wouldn’t be possible without the dedication to quality and integration found in the Blue Ring range.

Wide-angle lenses

Typically, the PODAS workshops focus on landscape photography, and the new-ish (2015) 35mm f/3.5 is always a popular choice. The lens was designed with landscapes in mind and provides a slightly curved focal plane that takes advantage of distant focus. In addition, it provides greater depth of field sharpness from the foreground to infinity. One shot is all you need!

By comparison to the above, the new 45mm f/4.5 is as technically rigid as possible, making it ideal for architectural subjects. The perfectly flat focal plane and razor detail resolution of the lens ensure that it captures every detail in rich contrast, from corner to corner, edge to edge. With XF Camera System features like automated Focus Stacking, a few quick entries dialed into the camera produces files that one can combine for perfect focus throughout the entire capture.

Standard lenses

The standard 55mm and 80mm lenses (equal to a 35mm and 50mm in 35mm terms) are the stock standards of any photographer’s toolbox. This makes them infinitely versatile with what they can do; from landscape to portrait, there’s no task they can’t meet. However, I’ve found that their real strength is in Aerial photography. Combined with the Hyperfocal focus of the XF, you’re able to mix the precise Autofocus and a preset Hyperfocal “sweet spot” when shooting from a helicopter or plane. In stressful situations like that, it’s good to have something that you can always rely on, concentrating on composition and safety… not to mention their small size as an unquestionable benefit in cramped spaces.

Zoom lenses

Between the two zoom lenses almost all the prime focal lengths, from 40mm to 150mm, are covered in impeccable quality. When you’re hiking up a ridge or just choosing a single lens for a day’s trek, the flexibility these lenses offer is second to none. In fact, it’s often more of a challenge to get the lenses back from the participants at the end of the workshop than it is to reassure them that a zoom lens will get them the prime lens quality what they demand.

Telephoto lenses

The 110mm, being our smallest fast telephoto lens, is one of my absolute favorites. With the flexibility to shoot at f/2.8 but the focal length to still capture far away details, it makes subjects like the Northern lights in Iceland an absolute dream.

There’s also the new 150mm f/2.8, which is an impressive piece of glass, but certainly on the larger end of the size spectrum. Regardless, it makes portrait images with beautifully shallow depth of field and soft bokeh easy to obtain. This is especially the case when you trim the XF Camera System focus to ensure perfect Autofocus.

Lastly, the often overlooked hero of the entire lens family is the 240mm. Long lenses are typically shied away from when you have a vast, beautiful landscape at your disposal. However, for the detailed photos of faraway mountains or hidden patterns of light deep in a valley, there’s nothing this lens fails to capture.

Summary

At the end of the day, the most important part of the photographic craft is the excitement you feel when you watch your images develop. The final photograph should always leave a smile on your face and motivate you to get out and do it again. The flipside is that there’s nothing more disheartening than to painstakingly craft a unique capture in the field, only to realize that you missed the focus, that the image quality doesn’t meet your expectations or to simply have equipment fail.

It’s that understanding which shapes the efforts that Phase One and Schneider Kreuznach put into the Blue Ring lenses. The high expectations of professional quality and demanding performance create optics that perform time and time again. The results will bring a smile to your face and reassert the passion we all have for the craft.

If you’re ever in doubt, I’d like nothing more than for you to join one of our PODAS workshops and see the beauty of the Blue Ring lenses for yourself.

See the Blue Ring lens range here.

January 11 2017

By Drew Altdoerffer

Category: Photography Best Practice Tech TalkTags:
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  • Drew Altdoerffer
    Drew Altdoerffer

    Drew is a Product Manager and Marketing Specialist for Phase One as well as a previous member of the Technical Supporter team. He works directly with customers in addition to assisting partners and sales associates alike to better understand the features of all of Phase One’s products. His role in the company extends to the PODAS photographic workshops, training seminars and sales events.

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    Comments (19)

    Wilhelm

    Always in spring. To tede this emails.
    Tanks. Wilhelm

    Camilla Kristensen

    Dear Wilhelm,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean. Can you please elaborate?

    Best regards,
    Camilla, Phase One

    I like your article, but it would be helpful if you could illuminate the differences between Blue Ring and Nikon/Canon lenses. We all have the same technical XXmm’s and f/X.X’s, so what make Blue Ring lens special and how does a curved focal plane work? Is it a virtual, or real, geometric plane?

    Hi Reis,
    A direct comparison with 35mm optics is a very different article, requiring significant technical analyzation. This article is meant to point out the excellent quality and features of the Schneider Kreuznach Blue Ring lenses for the XF Camera System.
    Medium format vs 35mm is a different subject all together and the comparisons become quite technical carrying more analytics comparing the two formats than the two lenses.
    With regard to the curved focal plane of the 35mm, it is a real focal plane specific to wide-angle characteristics of the lens and provides much deeper depth of field for properly captured images.

    That makes sense. Thank you for your response.

    I would like to see a few sample pictures with the tilt shift lens option. Great article and insight.

    Hi After,
    The T/S 120mm is a good subject for another day. Although it looks the part, it’s not actually a Blue Ring lens as this designation is for the Leaf Shutter lenses while the T/S is a Focal Plane lens.
    Great suggestion and I hope we can accommodate the request in the future.

    As I know there is no TS ‘Blue’ lenses. If you need them, go for technical camera coupled with PhaseOne backs

    Although it is not a “Blue Ring” lens, the 120mm T/S is a great lens for XF when an entirely different system isn’t practical.
    https://www.phaseone.com/en/Products/Camera-Systems/Lenses/Schneider-Kreuznach-120mm-TS.aspx

    Drew, when do you plan to publish on YouTube channel technical Webinar you had with David at the end of last December? Curios to know and re-watch. Tanks!

    Very soon Pavel. I think it will be up on our youtube channel tomorrow!

    I recently purchased S K 35mm Blue ring (NEW) and used it with my XF camera and was DISAPPOINTED. Returned the lens and looking for a better system for my Landscape and Architectural photography. This lens does not have a good depth of field. Please look at your own Penguins picture- It appears that only the few in front are sharp. ?? Stacking will not work hear.

    Hi Hassan,
    I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed. Your criticism is a bit curious as Depth of Field is not truly dependent on Focal Length but instead the aperture used and the focusing distance of the subject. The shot that you reference uses a large aperture and close focus, two factors that would invariably create a shallow depth of field. This was chosen as a deliberate aesthetic for the subject.
    The circle of confusion for the 35mm is quite small with this lens and a properly captured image (small aperture and 1/3 subject focus) will produce a 1:1 scale print (using any back with a viewing distance measured in centimeters) with perfectly sharp depth of field throughout the entire capture.
    Focus Stacking, should I have chosen to use it, would certainly work if the subject stood still.
    If you have further concerns or questions regarding the performance of the lens please speak to a Phase One Partner as again, the Depth of Field for this lens is nothing short of excellent.

    Hi Drew,
    Thank you for your reply.
    I am aware of aperture effect on depth of field. I had chosen this lens (SK 35 mm Blue Ring) as a wide angle lens for my Landscape photography hoping when I use f 32, I will have a deep depth of field from about 15 feet to INFINITY. However, the lens failed to produce this. While objects within 15 feet are in perfect focus in my test shots, the objects in far distance are out of focus. I used a sturdy tripod and high ISO and fast shutter speed.
    Could this new lens be defective?
    Also, could you please explain the circle of confusion and the 1/3 subject focus? (Refer to second paragraph of your response)

    Hi Hassan,
    From your description nothing seems “defective”. At f/32 you do get maximum depth of field but you also get diffraction, which can easily be confused for a loss of depth of field as it is a loss of sharpness. The optimal aperture will depend on the resolution and pixel size of back you’re using.
    The reference to focus was simply a description of how the depth of field falls on this lens, roughly 1/3 of the depth of field is in front of the focal plane while 2/3 is behind. The circle of confusion references the transition from sharp and in focus to out of focus due to depth of field roll off.

    Hi Drew,

    Well said. Appreciate your reply and patient.
    I am using my IQ1 100 with this lens and have shot with all apertures, almost all with same failing results… Do you know what aperture will result in the best depth of field with this lens?
    I have to mention, I love my XF camera and Capture One software. I am just looking to get the best
    result.
    Thanks,

    Could you please point me in the direction for more informaiton on “preset Hyperfocal point ” as mentioned in the article above under the heading “Focused Stacked Image”

    Hi Ben,
    Page 47 of the manual speaks about the feature on the XF Camera.
    https://www.phaseone.com/en/SupportMain/Manuals/Manuals_XF.aspx

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