Chicago at 50mm: Ten Photographs

April 10, 2016  •  4 Comments

How many times are we late for an appointment that eventually puts us in front of a bus driver who doesn't see the red light? An hour of oversleeping can make us miss a plane crash. Milliseconds of happenstance building upon themselves and shaping our very lives in a state of constant flux which we hardly perceive. I’m sure that whatever day my father walked into whatever pawnshop was as mundane as any other. He found an old camera bag which contained an aged Nikon 35mm camera and along with it two lenses with a host of other decriped photographic oddities long since past their respective primes. He paid a few dollars for the lot with the hopes his son, a wayward soul with a budding interest in picture taking, would find some interest in the hoard. One of those lenses was this, a 50mm Nikon Ai-S f1.8.


This is not a story of technical specificity so please relax your sphincters. It is instead a documentation of the result of the otherwise unknown twenty-five year path the lens took to reach me. It is a reminder to those who think they need the latest and greatest gear. I wonder how many missed alarms it’s taken for you to find these very words….


Anyway, on a recent trip to Chicago I decided to bring only one camera and only one lens. The camera: a Sony A7r Mk1. The Lens: the Nikkor 50mm f1.8. The thing to understand about this lens is that it is completely manual. Meaning it is nothing but high grade glass and finely tunes metals. No electronics. The weird little thing sticking up from the top is where a light meter could be mounted in the days before electronic auto metering. It is mated to the modern camera body by means of an adapter(Commlite), well, two adapters really since I first used this with my Canon. It is Frankensteinish configuration of old and new. The people who manufactured the lens never knew what kind of tech it would eventually be forced to accommodate.



The camera and lens combo followed me around Chitown and fired away at the various instances that needed to be photographed. I have no love for cities yet Chicago has always welcomed me. I understand this city. It carries an odd invitation that can’t quite be labeled as alluring but certainly has all the ingredients. Here is a selection of images made while wandering there.

Here I see the city from Navy Pier. One of the first photos I made of the buildings while a taste of brooding weather approaches.


The lighthouse in Chicago Harbor.

This another aspect of the city from Millennium Park. Just down from "The Bean"(no photos of the bean because it's fucking overrated).

The tunnels and underpasses around Chicago are a completely different world. Grunging and dirty, beautiful and seldom seen, the disfortunate call these places their own. 

Bubbles on the bridge. 

From across Lakeshore Drive on my last morning in the city. 

The trees from a park close to Navy Pier. 

Literally almost ran into a race after I rounded a corner.

The last image I shot in Chicago with the 50mm. What I assume to be a mother and daughter on their way to somewhere in the city. 

These are photographs made using an old lens on a new camera by a man in an unlikely place. 


Adam Welch Photographist
I considered upgrading to the A7r II but I would have to have sold my current model, a couple lenses, and a kidney. I eventually might but it will be a while. One thing about your Olympus lenses which you may or may not know is that the A7 series all have a "cropped mode" which cuts the sensor field size down so non-full frame lenses can be adapted and used. I put a Sigma 18-35 Art on crop mode and it was incredible. If you do decide to give it a test drive I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
Yes, I shoot Olympus mirrorless, and have been very happy with the form factor. I'm not completely happy with the image quality or noise, in some situations. I know the Sonys are full frame sensors, and people are raving about the A7r II. I'm tempted to rent one. The Oly lenses aren't compatible though, so there's another several thousand $. Guess I should start buying lottery tickets.
Adam Welch Photographist
Hi Bob, thanks a lot it was a completely alien experience for me, street photography I mean.

As far as the Sony is concerned I'm approaching a year of use with my A7r. in short, I couldn't be more impressed. I switched from dSLR(Canon APS-c) and for the first week or so I felt like I might have made a mistake. The camera itself is very small and depending on the lens is damn near weightless. After getting used to the size difference it was all smiles. Some people talk about the shutter vibration of the A7r Mk1 but it is really not an issue generally especially when mated to a heavier lens. I really can't think of an instance when the vibration ruined an image. The second generation of the A7 series has reduced this problem with an electronic shutter anyway. All in all, I love it.

If this is the Bob I think it might be, I remember you have some experience with the micro 4/3 Olympus which feels very similar to the Sony and is set up the same way. The debate will rage over mirrorless but for me it was a good move. I'm about to write an article about my thoughts on it over a year of use. Here's a write-up from last year right after I made the jump.
Very nicely done. How do you like the Sony?
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