Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ross London Xpres 105mm f3.8 Nikon D810

One of the nice things about larger format lenses like the Ross London Xpres 105mm f3.8, is that their flange distance is often longer than most SLR camera mounts, and this makes them adaptable on DSLRs, even on Nikon cameras which is usually the least adaptable mount of all D/SLR cameras. This particular lens, having a very long flange, is even usable with the Vivitar Macro 2x Teleconverter helicoid.  I have a number of these Vivitar macro teleconverters, and I used one of them for the Nikon mount.  Even with the Vivitar focus helicoid, a 10mm spacer is required to make the lens focus to infinity.

This lens has one nice feature on its shutter: T setting. This setting allows you to trip the shutter and it stays open until the shutter is tripped again. This makes it unnecessary to remove the shutter blades in the lens, but at the same time, the shutter is easy to trip so often I have to re-cock the shutter and make it open again before use. A small inconvenience I can live with.

Ross London Xpres 105mm f3.8 on Nikon D810

I am not a big fan of using adapted lenses on DSLRs, having done that with the Canon for many years. They are nowhere as convenient as using an EVF on mirrorless cameras. But the Nikon D810 has a very nice optical viewfinder, and I find that I don't have much trouble getting critical focus, even with slower lenses. The non-swivel rear screen is still a big negative for some low angle shots. That said, I kind of enjoy using the D810 with some of the manual focus lenses. Aside from the nice viewfinder, the image quality is the biggest attraction.

Winter in the city - Xpres 105mm f3.8 on Nikon D810

Miss Toronto - Xpres 105mm f3.8 on Nikon D810

The Xpres 105mm f3.8 lens works really well with the D810, despite the high density sensor. So far, I am really, really liking this lens and how it renders pictures, even though I have only used it a few times. The bokeh is especially smooth and beautiful, but the lens is also quite sharp.  One thing that I have noticed, and that usually does not happen with the Sony A7, is I get more blurry pictures with the D810, even though I set the minimum shutter speed to 1/125s. This camera requires a much higher shutter speed to get sharp pictures.

I am looking forward to using this lens more, especially in the spring when we have more colours to fill the camera sensor.

Bokeh Samples - Xpres 105mm f3.8 and Nikon D810. This pictures need to be viewed at large size to appreciate the details.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

When Lens Conversion Goes Wrong, or Why Lenses with Auto Aperture Control Suck

I was somewhat encouraged by the semi-successful conversion of the Vivitar 40mm f1.7 from the Vivitar 35ES, so I ventured on to start another rangefinder that did not have aperture control: the Minolta Electro Shot.  This camera has a 40mm f1.8 lens but much larger than the Vivitar 40mm f1.7. Well, things didn't turn out as well as the Vivitar conversion.  The Electro Shot does not have separate shutter and aperture blades, like pretty much all other rangefinders from that era, but it employed a single shutter/aperture system. I didn't know this until the very end.

Lens Conversion Gone Bad

As I assumed the shutter and aperture blades were separate, and from experience that I gained, the shutter mechanism is usually accessible from the front. But when I disassembled the whole front, there was nothing.  All the controls are from the rear of the lens.  Long story short, in the process of trying to find the mechanism for aperture control, I mistakenly loosened three screws on top of the lens from the rear, and this caused the aperture/shutter blades to fall out of the lens :(  The timing and shutter/aperture control system is very complicated and I decided to just give up on aperture control. After some more thought, I further decided that I should make another Borg lens, with a Steampunk look.  Incidentally, my first Borg lens was also a Minolta.

From now on, I will stay away from rangefinders that have no manual aperture control on the lens. It's just not worth the trouble, unless the camera is dirt cheap or is unusual.  Of course, this could change if I gain enough skill to make more complex parts to enable the aperture in the lens.

Wilted Rose - Minolta Rokkor-QF 40mm f1.8 & Sony A7

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 - A Few Thoughts

2016 has seen the fewest blog entries since I started blogging a few years ago, but at the same time, I took a record number of pictures in the same year, mostly with my Sony A7.

Looking back, I did not spend any money on digital camera bodies in 2016. For some reason, I didn't have the urge to upgrade the cameras like I did in previous years.  Perhaps I have come to the realization that my Sony A7, Nikon D810 and the Olympus EM5 are still great cameras. The Nikon 1V I got was given to me in exchange of some work I did for a friend, and I really do not like that camera at all, for manual focus lenses.  Nikon has castrated the very feature I need, mainly, auto exposure for manual focus lenses, and I can't see myself using manual exposure for every freaking frame I take.  It's just not happening.  That's the reason I have not even bought any adapters for it. Really don't know what to do with the camera.  A shame really, as it has so much potential for small format lenses like D-Mount, C-Mount, and half frame lenses.  As an AF camera, it's quite nice, dynamic range of the sensor not withstanding.

The best thing I did in 2016, was the purchase of the micro lathe.  It has been only a short time, and the lathe is not perfect, but I got a taste of what I can do with such a machine, and I am hooked.  I really look forward to adapting more lenses with it.  In fact, I have a plan which I will talk about in another post :)

Last year also saw me amassed a large number of non-standard lenses and (mostly dead) rangefinders. My goal was to buy enough of these things for me to practice on, to make myself a more skilled lathe operator. So far, I have done about a dozen conversions, mostly on slower rangefinder lenses or on lenses that are already manually converted but with less than satisfactory results. The only thing that slows me down is the lack of time I have available. I think for simple conversions, I can do a pretty good job now.

I fully realized that my blog has become more niche and covers mostly non-standard lenses.  This may turn off some readers who may expect me to cover conventional mount lenses, but I find it in my interest to discover and try out these gems.  Sorry if this is not your cup of tea.  There are so many of these lenses out there and as many people don't realize they can use them on digital cameras.  If I can provide enough information to make some of these lenses live a second life, my goal is accomplished.

Photographically, 2016 was not a bad year for me.  No, my pictures have not improved,  but I enjoy taking them nonetheless.  Hopefully 2017 will be even better!

Streetcar on Queen St. East. Vivitar 40mm f1.7 & Sony A7

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Vivitar 40mm f1.7 from 35ES

I got this Vivitar 35ES rangefinder, rumored to be the same camera as the Minolta Hi-Matic S7 II, to see how hard it is to convert the lens which has Automatic aperture control to be used on the Sony A7.  The aperture is not manually adjustable, obviously, but it is not controlled by a geared motor like modern lenses are.  The aperture is still mechanical and I was able to link the aperture to the ISO Shutter Speed ring on the lens. Not perfect as there is no indexing, but it allows the aperture to be controlled.

Tried it out today and I am very happy with how it renders images.  More to come.

Vivitar 40mm f1.7 converted to Sony E-Mount

Delicious bokeh - Vivitar 40mm f1.7 & Sony A7

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Beauty Biokor-S 4.5cm f1.9 In Use

This lens turns out to be quite nice.  I mounted it on my A7 for about a week and shot a few hundred frames. I enjoyed it as a walk-around lens.  The Pentax helicoid provided a very versatile focus option from extreme closeup to infinity, all without having to add extension tubes.  The funky looking honey-combed defuser panel for the light meter cell adds a touch of vintage charm.  The only negative is the sticky aperture ring, and I did have to use it a few times for some pictures with a bit more depth of field.  Not a big deal, but an annoyance just the same.

I like the smooth bokeh from this lens.  Some very slight swirl when pictures are taken at certain distance, but overall very pleasing.  It flares quite easily, like most old lenses.  A hood helps a bit but not at all situations.  Overall, I think it was worth the effort of the conversion.  This lens produces nice results.

Reflection - Biokor-S 4.5cm f1.9 @ f1.9 & Sony A7

Slightly Swirly Background - Biokor-S 4.5cm f1.9 @ f1.9 & Sony A7

Nice Smooth Bokeh - Biokor-S 4.5cm f1.9 & Sony A7

Flare - Biokor-S 4.5cm f1.9 & Sony A7

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

I want to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas!  Hope you have been good all year and Santa has brought you shiny new toys, hopefully with multi-coating :)

Have fun with family and friends and be safe!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ross London Xpres 105mm f3.8 from Ensign Selfix 820

I have heard/read about Ensign cameras, and how much the owners praise them, and how much would-be owners curse them for their relatively high price compared to others.  For me, I don't particularly care about the Ensign cameras, since I don't really shoot film, especially medium/large format film, but I have always been a big fan of Ross London lenses.  I have a couple of Xpres Wide Angle 5 inch f4 large format lens which I absolutely love; its lovely and unique bokeh and rendering sometimes leave me weak on my knees :)

Ross London Xpress 105mm f3.8

The Xpres 105mm f3.8 is another lens I have been eyeing for a while, but Ensign cameras are not common in Canada, at least I don't see it often in the used market/camera shows.  But, one finally showed up at a reasonable price, so I grabbed it, along with another folder camera sporting a Schneider-Kreuznach 75mm f3.5 Radionar (Triplet) lens, which we will talk about in another post.  The Ensign is in reasonably good condition, but as with most very old folder cameras, there always seem to be some problems, usually with a worn bellows, or slow/jammed shutter, as the case with this Ensign.  The camera is an impressively built beast.  Hefty and solid, that almost gives you an urge to pound nails with it :)

Xpres 105mm f3.5 and the Ensign Selfix 820

The camera/lens is obviously well used.  The previous owner(s) probably used it until it no longer works, as in its present condition.  I like well used camera/lenses; one must love the camera enough to have used it again and again.

The lens is easy to remove since it is held in place with only a retention ring. Despite the age, the optic is near perfect, except the rear element has a few scratches.  No haze that I could see, and the lens is coated, though probably not multi-coated.  One word of caution when setting the lens down, the rear element is not guarded and the glass will touch the surface.  Perhaps that's how the scratches on the rear elements came about.  So, put it down on the front, not the rear, if you don't want the rear elements scratched.

So far, I have not mounted the lens on the camera yet, but I am uber anxious to try it. The flange is long enough to be used on my Nikon D810, so perhaps I will be using it on the Nikon as well as the A7.

Stay tuned for further development :)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Beauty Biokor-S 45mm f1.9 Conversion

This is an interesting camera.  I never knew this brand even existed until I got this camera.  Some Googling reveals there are some fanatic followers for some of its rangefinder camera.  The one I have, unfortunately (or fortunately), has damages, and was dead.  I don't have to feel bad gutting it for the lens to transplant it for use on digital.

A Beauty, no?

I originally wanted to preserve the built-in focus mechanism, but the lens has some strange designs that prevents this from happening.  On most rangefinders, there are two focus guides; one on each side of the lens and are small and very close to the helicoid.  On this lens, there is a single focus guide and is placed quite a distance away from the helicoid.  If I were to retain the original focusing, I would have to machine the mount much larger than the diameter of the lens to accommodate the focus guide.  If I were more skilled, I could probably create my own focus guide, but I am not there yet.  In the end, the built-in focus is abandoned, and the Pentax 17-33mm focus helicoid is used.  There are many advantages of using a helicoid with 16mm of focus travel, and one of which is extreme close focus while still retaining infinity focus.  Another advantage is the focus feel.  The Pentax helicoid is smooth as silk and what a pleasure to use.

The skin on the front of the camera need to be removed, which will expose the screws that secure the lens module.  The top plate probably does not need to be removed, but I did it anyway.

Once the screws were removed, the lens module can be pulled out easily.  Note the focus guide circled in red.  

I need to use an M42 mount for the lens, so that it could be screwed on to the Pentax helicoid. This M42 mount came from one of the three sections of a Pentax extension tube.  I have to somehow mount this onto the lens.  The obvious way to do it is to attach it to the inner helicoid.  The only problem is there is less than 3mm of space available between the lens and the focus helicoid.  I machined the inner helicoid tube from its original 25mm to about 1mm thick, and the M42 mount to about 3mm, just thin enough to achieve infinity focus.  I then epoxied the two parts together.  Since the weight of the whole lens is held together by the glue, I am not too comfortable trusting glue to handle this by itself, so I intend to drill/tap and screwed them together for some added assurance.

Remove everything at the rear of the lens, but keep the retention plate.  This plate is used to hold the M42 mount to the lens.  See next picture for the plate. The screw circled is a key that makes sure the plate does not move around.

On the left is the M42 mount I cut from the Pentax extension tube and machined to the required thickness.  In the middle is the retention plate that I machined so that it will fit inside the back of the M42 mount.  These two pieces are glued together with metallic epoxy. 

The retention plate is glued onto the M42 mount. Note the recessed groove; it's just small enough that the retention ring can't go through the hole.  This is where the retention ring on the right will be pressing on while screwed onto the lens.  This secures the mount on the lens.

All the pieces fitted together.  The notches circled in red is where you use the spanner wrench to tighten the retention ring and secure the mount.

Disabling the shutter

This is actually the trickiest part that took more time.  It involves disassembling the front of the lens.

Remove the retention ring with a spanner wrench and remove the diffuser piece. Next unscrew the front element group, and take out 3 pieces under it. Now remove the 3 screws circled in red.

Once the 3 screws are removed, lift this piece out, and the piece below it.  This will expose 4 more screws that need to be removed.  Note the small retention ring in the middle, pointed to by the blue arrow.  This one also needs to come out.

Take out the piece secured by the 4 screws, and now the inner retention can be removed.  Note the locking screws in red.  It needs to be turned so that it's not touching the retention ring.  Using a pointed spanner wrench, remove the retention ring.

Once the retention ring is removed, take it out, as well as the two other pieces under it. This is the end of the disasembly.

This is where you will find the shutter cocking mechanism, circled in red.  Find the part that actually engages/disengages the shutter, and glue/solder it in place.  For this particular lens, I just removed the shutter blades using a long nose plier since I didn't feel like I wanted to go through all the disassembly steps, but I did the steps here to show where you can do it without removing the blades.

Everything together.  Looks nice with the Canonet hood :)

A real beauty, ain't she?

One issue that this lens has, is the very stiff aperture ring.  I think there are two much gunk that gums it up.  But, I am not going to do further disassembly to fix it since I hardly use the aperture :)  I shoot mostly wide open.

Next time, we will look at some pictures taken with this lens, and see if Beauty is only skin deep, or it actually has substance.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Soligor 55mm f1.8 Miranda Screw Mount

Soligor and Vivitar lenses were all that I could afford when I started in photography.  I bought a brand new dual focal (85mm & 135mm) Soligor in the mid 80s for my Pentax Program Plus.  Never liked it, and the whereabouts of this lens is now a mystery.  But that marked the first time I encounter Soligor lenses, and only knew it as cheap alternatives to the more expensive OEM lenses.  Still have a few Soligor lenses.  Early ones were actually quite well made, and all were made in Japan, many of them by Tokina.

Soligor 55mm f1.8 in Miranda Screw Mount

At the last camera show, I was surprised to discover a normal, 55mm Soligor lens, which I never even knew they existed. Even more surprised it was a screw mount that fit the hybrid mount of the Miranda cameras.  Yes, some of the Miranda camera can accept screw mount and bayonet mount lenses.  Unfortunately, the screw mount is not the standard M42 but is slightly larger, around 50mm but has the same 1 mm pitch as M42.  Some companies, like Tamron, never made a normal (50mm/55mm/58mm) lens that I know of, and this Soligor 55mm f1.8 is the only Soligor normal lens I have ever seen.  Since it was pretty cheap, I bought it to check it out.

Old St. Lawrence Market, before it was completely demolished. Soligor 55mm f1.8 & Sony A7

The lens is very well made like most lenses at the time.  It's also a pretty large lens.  All metal lens barrel and mount with 10(12?) aperture blades, but they are not really round in middle apertures, but are sawtooth-like, similar to many older cine lenses.  This lens has pre-set aperture, so there is no automation at all between camera and the lens.  There is no coating on the glass surfaces, therefore the lens has lots of reflection on the front of the glass.  A proper hood really should be used when shooting outdoors.

In order to make the lens mountable on my A7, I had to machine a used M42 mount that goes over the existing screw mount.  This way I can screw the lens on the M42 focus helicoid.  This works out really well.

Bokeh Samples - Soligor 55mm f1.8 & Sony A7

The image quality is pretty much what I expected, similar to other 55mm f1.8 lenses I have used.  The lens is not super sharp at wide apertures, but it does produce pleasing bokeh.  Even stopped down, the lens lacks microcontrast the give "bite" to pictures, but with a bit of unsharp mask, the files are more than usable.

Overall, it's an interesting lens, not optically, but from the uncommon stand point.

Gooderham Flatiron Toronto - Soligor 55mm f1.8 & Sony A7

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Worrying Trend of Increasingly Higher Priced Sony Cameras

We see Sony announced the A6500, a camera with features that all A6300 owner wanted in their camera in the first place.  It's almost predictable that the newer models is hundreds of dollars more than the one it replaces.  In the case of the A6500, it's around $400CAD more than the A6300.  The marketing geniuses at Sony does not actually "replace" the current model, but sells them side by side.  The older models become lower spec'ed cameras and the new model becomes the top of the line model with the top of the line price, but that does not take away the fact that it's still a replacement until they sell off the current inventory of older models.  Sure, the A6500 checks all the boxes in the bells and whistles department, but it actually costs $200 more than then full frame Sony A7, and is very closely priced to the Sony A7II.

The prices of new lenses and camera bodies steadily increase with each new announcement, and not just incremental increases either.  For Sony, they seem to want to play the up market game, and price their new products accordingly.  Yes, we know the Sony cameras are increasingly more capable than those models before, and have features that many other camera makers don't have, but how far can they go before they end up being a niche player like Leica?  It won't be long if each new model is $400-$500 more, and in the case of the A7R II, the price is mindblowing $4000 in Canada.

Yes I am whining because I don't have the deep pocket of those who have a lot of disposable income.  I would love to upgrade my A7, but not at these rediculuos new prices.  If a crop sensor A6500 costs close to $1800, I can't imagine how much the A7 III will cost.  My guess would be around $3000.  I upgraded from NEX-5 --> NEX-5N --> NEX-6 --> A7 because each model didn't cost significantly more than the one before, except the A7 but it was in a different product category.

I guess I will continue to enjoy my trusty A7, but one day it will die, and I will likely replace it with something affordble, like a used A7 or A7 II.  I would rather spent the money on lenses, as the A7/A7II are still very capable cameras.

Hooked - Yashinon 4.5cm f1.8 from Lynx-1000 Rangefinder on Sony A7