GUATEMALA CITY — It’s a little-known fact that when Cindy Lauper sang her iconic 1983 hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” she was lamenting how her second career as a photojournalist, a career that had led her to cover the Iran Hostage Crisis and the early stages of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, left her little time to simply enjoy the pursuit of photography and her love of music.
So, yeah, I just made that up completely out of Wednesday-morning boredom but hey, you read it on the Internet so it must be true. But I was, quite honestly, thinking about having fun, about the lack of it, about how our deep and serious pursuits (and what seems like an increasing inability to simply have fun) has led the world to some pretty dark places. I think the general public’s reflexive, addictive need to document everything, every meal, every meeting, every little moment where we used to have space to disconnect, is a large part of that. And somehow we still end up with no actual pictures. Instead of having a few snapshots acting as touchstones for memory and nostalgia, we have what amounts to stop-motion movies of our entire lives, movies that are increasingly complete as people take more photos and videos, start using dashcams, bodycams, and action cams that record automatically, film every mundane moment with a cam on a selfie stick, reflecting their own images back to themselves in an endless feedback loop that leaves less and less time to actually live life. It’s a terrible thing, a strange and brutal way to live where nothing is experienced for what it is and simultaneously, we have created a record whereby nothing can be forgotten.
So that’s why I am going to convince you to buy another lens!
You see, this lens is different… This lens is fun!
This is the 7 Artisans 18mm f/6.3 UFO lens and if just saying that isn’t fun enough, you can buy it for about $62.00. It looks sort of like a flying saucer. It weighs only a few ounces, it’s the size of a lens cap, it has no moving parts or electronics, is all metal and glass, and it actually works.
It works, mind you, within its particular parameters and in my opinion, does very well at that. I have one mounted on a Fuji X-Pro 1 and I would like to get one for my first ever mirrorless camera, the Panasonic GF1. And what this lens does best, I think, is turn a loved, senior digital camera into a glorious, worry (and focus) free point and shoot like we sometimes had back in the 80s and 90s (when we remembered to bring one). You can put this on a small, mirrorless camera, slip it in a jacket or a bag, and pull it out every now and then to take sunlit pics on beaches and group photos in front of monuments or canyons and maybe a friend holding the Eiffel tower: pictures I am more thankful to have than any of the images I have published in newspapers or magazines or shown in galleries. I do think the lens could well be used for certain styles of street photography, for documenting processions and parades and other public events, and perhaps for certain styles of art photography making use of the particular lens signature. It certainly doesn’t take up much room or weight in your bag. But I don’t think this is really what this lens is best suited for. I think it’s best suited to just use on its own, to mount it to a dedicated, loved camera that has been languishing on a shelf, and to take it along just as it is, with no other lenses, no other cameras, and to, every now and then, remember (or not) and to take a picture (and print a picture) as a keepsake, as a memory of family and friends, because we have far too little fun in this world. In short, this lens is something that lets you take intentional photos while at the same time relieving you of the responsibility and angst of fiddling with your settings. Turn on camera, point, shoot, return to your life. Look at the pictures later.
The 7 Artisans 18mm f/6.3 UFO lens is focus free. The manufacturer says it has a minimum distance of 0.35 meters, but I think it’s more like two meters. You might have to remember to set your camera (I had to do this on both the X-Pro 1 and the XT-4) to “Shoot Without Lens,” in the menu. On an APS-C sensor the focal length is approximately 27mm. This is fine though to really have that classic point and shoot vibe I’d like to see a 40mm equivalent focal length. You aren’t going to be taking any macro or tightly framed portraits with this one. Subjects in the fore=ground might well be out-of-focus. Who cares? It vignettes a bit. It is, particularly in the center, quite sharp enough, but with that particular glow that only a fixed-focus lens can achieve, a look that is drenched in sun and fun and the nostalgia of events best left mainly in memory and maybe one or three snapshots shared with friends that will fade a little over time, like the memories of that day, and like all the people who were there.