Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vivitar 35mm f1.9 - A Second Look

I think this Vivitar 35mm f1.9 deserves more credit than it receives.  Many people who search for the Vivitar wide angle would usually look at the Cult-Classic: the 28mm f1.9.  A few years back, I shot the Vivitar 35mm f1.9 on the Canon 5D full frame without a hood, and the image quality was only so so.  Contrast was not very good.  Today, I put a very long hood (the one used on a Minolta MC 135mm f3.5) on the same lens and the result is quite different.  Not really sure if it has anything to do with the sensor or the hood, but the images are very nice.  Sharp and has much more contrast than I remember having before from this lens.

The bokeh probably won't win any awards, but it's not really bad.  It resembles bokeh from the 28mm f1.9. You can see another sample (second picture) of bokeh from this post I wrote couple years back.  But, at f5.6 to f8, the lens is very sharp.  Even at f1.9, the lens is usable in most situations, but not very contrasty at this apreture.

When I bought this lens, it wasn't very expensive, and is quite a common lens.  I seem to pick one up once in a while at the photo show and now have three or four of them, of different mounts.  If you come across one of these beauties (they are extremely well made), be sure to test it out.

Self Portrait - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9. Click for larger

Bokeh - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9 @ f1.9

Window - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9

New and Old - NEX-5N & Vivitar 35mm f1.9

Saturday, November 24, 2012

B&W Photo Conversion From Colour

I noticed that some pictures, when viewed in colour, look very ordinary or even bad, but when converted into black and white, they look very different.  This is especially true for very high ISO/grainy shots.  The chroma noise in the colour photograph is usually what makes it look disgusting, but in black & white, the noise becomes monochromatic and it sometimes even enhances a picture.

The picture below looks pretty bad in colour, but I think it is much nicer in black and white. All the colour fringing and chromatic aberrations and noise are no more.

Jimmy Simpson Park at Night - NEX-5N & JML 50mm f0.95, ISO 1600

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG HSM - The New King?

One of my favourite bloggers, Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals has posted a first look at the new Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens.  The first of Sigma's Art lens line.  Like anyone who has been around the photography block a few times, I have had my share of the Sigma lenses.  Few of them didn't work with newer Canon bodies, so it was always a gamble when buying a Sigma lens, since Sigma does not pay Canon any loyalty on the EF lens protocols, they just reverse engineered it.  But the new lenses have gotten better.  I have had the Sigma 50mm f1.4 for a couple of years and it's one fantastic lens.  I have kept it even when I already have a Canon 50mm f1.2L, because it's such a good lens.

But, that was then, and this is now.

Since the passing of Mr. Yamaki, the founder of Sigma, his son, Kazuto Yamaki has taken over the helm at Sigma.  We have already seen many changes from him and this is a good sign.  I am excited about the new lenses that Sigma is introducing, for a few reasons.  One of them is price.  The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is about half the price of the Canon version.  The other is optical performance.  From the test performed by Roger, the Sigma is actually better than the Canon equivalent.  Lastly, the aspect of connecting the lens to a computer and do all kinds of fine tuning intrigues me.  Apparently, all new Sigma lenses can be tuned by the user with an optional USB dock.  Even zooms can be adjusted for focus accuracy at different focal lengths!  Imagine that.

Should I sell my Canon 35mm f1.4L?  Likely not, since it's one of Canon best wide angle lenses.  But if you are looking for a new lens, the Sigma is worth looking into.

Megan & William, 2007 - Canon 20D & EF 35mm f1.4L. Click for larger.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Ashbridge House - 2012

This is one of the oldest houses in Toronto and it's beautiful all year round.  I especially like it in the fall and winter.  On the south east side of the house was a garden a few years back, but I guess it was too much work, or cost the city too much money to maintain it, so it is now just a parkette with grass.  The parkette is surrounded by willow, maple and other trees on three of the sides except south.  The park is open to all visitors, but the house is rented out and people are actually living inside.  So if you do visit, be sure to respect people's privacy.

I have always wanted to take a picture from each season, and I think I have done it, but always seem to be missing a season.  May be I should make it a small project.

Ashbridge Estate - NEX-5N & Olympus OM 35mm f2. Click for larger.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Makes Us Upgrade

Let's be honest.  I have a weakness when it comes to buying camera gear.  If I were single, I would probably spent all of my disposable income buying cameras and lenses.  Back in the film days, upgrading a camera usually involved a 5-year plan.  A film camera was made to last at least 5 years before an upgrade was considered, because most camera models had multi-year life span.  Some of them, like the Pentax K-1000, was in production for decades.  My Pentax Program Plus lasted about 12 years for me, and it was still in perfect working order when I traded it in for my last film camera, the Canon Elan II, which lasted about 5 years before digital came along.

Digital fulfills our instant gratification desire. We push a button, the picture shows up on the screen.  We no longer need to wait hours, and sometimes days, before we see the pictures.  We no longer had to count and consider before pushing the shutter, because we are no longer restricted to 36 frames of film.  We can now scrutinize the pictures to the pixel level, versus looking at a 4x6 print.  We get more and more dissatisfied with image quality because we pixel peep, and the newest camera must be better, or so says the marketing department of the camera companies.

Last week I shot Dillon's school concert, with my Canon 1D Mark III, at ISO 1600 and 3200 and the 85mm f1.2L.  I pixel peeped at the meager 10 Mega Pixel files, and I am actually very happy with the image quality.  Seeing images from the 1D III has suppressed the desire to upgrade to a very large extend.

For those of us who are short on disposable income for camera gear, we should take a step back, look at the pictures we have taken with the cameras we have, and ask ourselves, are we really unhappy with the image quality, and really need to upgrade our cameras?

King Street Social - NEX-5N & Tamron SP 17mm f3.5

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Allure of Olympus' New Lenses

Olympus, like Pentax, have been making small and wonderful lenses for decades.  Back in the film days,  Pentax was more popular and common, Olympus lens lovers are a more cult-like following.  In their OM days, the 90mm f2 macro, 21mm f2 wide angle, to name just two, were, and still are, phenomenally good lenses.  Lately, they are on a roll with superbly designed lenses: 12mm f2, 45mm f1.8, 60mm f2.8 macro, 75mm f1.8, and now the 17mm f1.8, all excellent lenses.  I can't say I am not attracted to these lenses, despite how much I like manual focus lenses.  This is making it even harder for me to choose between the OM-D and the Sony NEX-6.

"Rose Glow", Last Bit of Autumn - NEX-5N & Olympus 35mm f2 @ f2

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Electronic Level on the NEX-6

I failed to mention one of the neat new features on the NEX-5R/NEX-6 is the electronic level.  This should be an invaluable tool for those of us who are alignment challenged.  On my NEX-5N, I have the grid lines turned on to aid me line things up when taking pictures, but the electronic level is much better idea and much more accurate.  Basically, the level is a horizontal bar with green arrows on both ends.  When the camera is level, both arrows will turn green.  Very neat!

Sidewalk of Spadina Ave - NEX-5N & Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Next DSLR Might Be a Sony

While I spent quite  a bit of time on the Sony NEX-6 at the Sony Store, I also briefly handled the full frame A99.  Personally, I like it better than the 1D III.  The only thing I don't like about the A99 is that it has too many buttons at the back.  This is the extreme opposite to the NEX-5 series, which does not have enough physical buttons.

Maybe I am used to the NEX-5N's viewfinder, looking into the A99 electronic viewfinder does not remind me of a EVF.  I am as comfortable looking through the Canon 1D III's 100% optical viewfinder as with the A99's EVF.  In many ways, I prefer the EVF, which contains much more information and is more dynamic.

What impresses me the most is the AF capabilities, specifically, the accuracy.  The A99 I was looking at had a 50mm f1.4 lens attached to it.  I shot some frames at f1.4 and the focus was quick and spot on.  Even on the 1D III, this is not always the case.

Since I had never handled a Sony DSLR with Translucent mirror before, the A99 really changed my perception of Sony DLSRs.  I wish Sony would make a scaled down version of the full frame camera, like A77, but with a full frame sensor and the A99 focus system, but minus the enhanced video features, and price it the same as the Canon 6D or Nikon D600, it would be a camera a lot of people would buy.  I feel that Sony should deserve more credit, for it has done more than Nikon and Canon in terms of innovation in the camera industry.  Unlike the conservative Canon, Sony is not afraid to try new things.

Sonic Bike Shop - NEX-5N & Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8

Monday, November 12, 2012

What to Do with Useless Lenses

One of my favourite past time is to dismantle cameras and lenses that I consider useless.  Sometimes this turns out to be a costly mistake, because at the time I considered them useless, but few years later, they magically become hot commodities.  The reason I do this, is to savage parts that I think I might use later on.  I have a large jar that contains hundreds and possibly thousands of small screws of all kinds. I never failed in finding a right screw for any kind of job when I need one.  It's probably the most valuable parts from these unfortunately cameras/lenses.

Sometimes, I only disassemble the lenses half way, because they make great looking pen holders, tools holders and whatever that you want to put on.  The picture below shows one of my lenses converted to a tools holder.  Prime wins for this purpose, as zoom lenses have too many parts that are hard to take out and put back together.  The relatively simple construction of prime lenses are much easier to work with.

Nothing is worthless, it seems.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brief Encounter with the Sony NEX-6 - Some Impressions

I went in the Sony store today to check out the NEX-6 and the A99.  Before I start, I have a rant.  I despise how cameras were secured in the electronic/Sony stores.  There were Velcro tapes, plastic fasteners, and security sensors/wires attached to the cameras/lenses.  I tripped the theft alarm twice while trying the cameras.  Seriously, is that all necessary?

On the happier note, I really like the NEX-6.  In fact, I think I like it better than the NEX-7.  It definitely feels more upscale and better than the NEX-5N/5R.  The chunkier grip makes a more secured holding of the camera.  The materials used feels less plastic.  Here is what I like the most from the 20 minute fiddling of the NEX-6:

Built-In Viewfinder - Although it's the same viewfinder as the external one I use on the NEX-5N, I preferred the built-in one.  I can see more of the screen.  Having it built-in also means the viewfinder won't hook onto everything, and moves up/down when you want it to stay.  I think this alone will be reason enough for many to upgrade.

Mode Dial - Finally, we get a mode dial on top of the camera.  The dial feels good and has very firm clicks, which is means it won't be accidentally turned easily.  Somehow, to me, without a mode dial, it does not feel like a real camera.

The Wheel - I really don't know what Sony calls it, but this is one of the best features next to the built-in viewfinder.   This wheel sits under the mode dial, and complements the wheel at the back of the camera.  This wheel basically duplicates the function of the wheel at the back, but is positioned near your thumb so it's much more natural to use this wheel the the back wheel.  Don't laugh, but this might be the feature that pushed me over to upgrade from the NEX-5N!  Very well done, Sony!

Fn Button - Like the Q button on the later Canon DSLRs, this button brings up the most used functions.  Very handy to have.

16-50mm Kit Lens - Very compact kit lens, and from the shots I made at the store, it seems about as good or better than the 18-55mm kit lens but wider.  Just slightly thicker than the 16mm f2.8 pancake lens, it extends when zoomed.  I have never been a big fan of zoom by wire (electronic zoom) and this lens has it.  You can zoom by the zoom button, or using the ring.  Definitely a good lens to have if you do a lot of video, as the it zooms pretty smoothly.

Over all, I like this camera a lot.  It will be torturous for me to decide between the OM-D EM-5 and the NEX-6.  I am more tilted to the NEX-6, for two reasons.  Larger sensor and cheaper, but the EM-5 has built-in body stabilization, which I really want.  We will see by Christmas and see what the price is like for both cameras.

Fancy Bike Bell - NEX-5N & Taylor-Hobson 75mm f2 TV Lens. Click for larger.

Please Remember Those Who Sacrificed for Us

In Flanders Fields 
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) 
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses row on row, 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Minolta RF Rokkor-X 250mm f5.6 Shoots the Cemetery

On my way driving Ryan to his DR. appointment this morning, I saw Mount Hope Catholic cemetery nearby.  Since the appointment was long and I did not need to be there, I decided to shoot some pictures in the cemetery. As it turned out, the cemetery is more than a 100 years old, and is one of the most beautiful I have seen. From Eglington avenue, where I saw it, it looked pretty small, but it's actually huge inside.  It's very deep.

I stayed there for about 90 minutes, and shot a few hundred frames, using only the Minolta RF Rokkor-X 250mm f5.6, and a tripod.  I always have a small, travel tripod in the car, in case I need some support, and today it came in handy.  Unfortunately, the tripod is not strong enough, coupled with strong wind, it was better than nothing, but not as steady as I wanted.  Still, I got a lot more keepers than hand holding this lens.

Still amazed at the small size of this 250mm f5.6 mirror lens.  Too bad it's not the easiest lens to use on the NEX or M4/3 cameras, due to its effective focal length.  Having a tripod really helps and perhaps that's how it's meant to be used.

Under the Tree - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Angel - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Angels and the Man himself - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

In Loving Memory - NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Double Cross - Sony NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Under the Tree #2 - Sony NEX-5N & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sony RX-1: The Perfect Photographic Companion

When the Sony RX-1 was first introduced, the general reaction was of disbelieve, of the almost impossible engineering  and of the price.  This mighty little machine is a pinnacle of engineering.  A full frame camera in such a small package, with a fast, great lens attached.

Surely, this is not a camera for the mass market.  It's a piece for Sony to show off its engineering prowess, to silence the doubters that a full frame camera can not be made so compact, and that Sony can do what many people considered impossible.  I have seen the sample pictures from this camera, and I am awed by the image quality.  I also saw the Zeiss branded 35mm f2 lens in its flesh, apart from the RX-1. What a beauty to behold!  I couldn't help but salivating while looking at it.  It not only has the looks, but can also delivery the goods.  When paired with the RX-1, it's like a proverbial match made in heaven.  Sumptuous and delicious bokeh, laser-like sharpness when needed; a camera made for creating art in the dim and the darkness.

If I could afford this luxurious wonder, it will be my constant companion, a device that I will never leave home without.  We will shoot the streets, and see beyond the dark, but it will not be my main camera.  My main camera will always be lens interchangeable, but the RX-1 will be the camera when the pictures call for a 35mm vision.   

The RX-1, a marvelous invention, a beauty that evokes lust and the urge to hold and behold, alas, remains a dream for most of us.  

Motorcycle - NEX-5N & Rodenstock Omegaron 50mm f3.5 Enlarging Lens. Click for larger

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why I Have So Many Lenses

It dawned on me the other day, why I have so many lenses.

So many people are obsessed with cosmetics of the lenses that sometimes they take 45 minutes looking and re-looking at a lens that they are buying.  I know this because I sell my share of stuff on Craigslisst.  Sometimes I am tempted to say it in my post, that if you have a near disease-like requirement on cosmetics and neatness, please do not contact me.  I, on the other hand, buy lenses to make pictures.  I don't much care about cosmetics, or a few scratches here or there on the front element, as they hardly affect the image quality.  The problem comes when time to sell some of these lenses.  I really don't want the hassle of sitting there for an hour for someone to complain and whine about how this is not good and that looks bad.  So I just keep them.  Most of them aren't worth much anyway.

Perhaps, to reduce the number of lenses I may buy, I should acquire the same nick-picking attitude to make the seller mad, so that they would not sell it to me. But, in the mean time, I have hundreds of mostly worthless lenses sleeping in boxes.

Glowing Maple Leaves - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 200mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Canon Lenses - 24-70mm f4L IS and 35mm f2 IS

Rumour has it that Canon will be introducing the EF 24-70mm f4L IS and the EF 35mm f2 IS lenses in the next few days.  The 35mm f2 IS, like the 24mm f2.8 IS and the 28mm f2.8 IS before it, replaces its ancient predecessor,  the EF 35mm f2 that uses the Arc form motor.  The introduction of the 35mm f2 IS is easy to understand, but many people will no doubt wonder, why a 24-70mm f4 IS when the 24-105mm f4 IS already exists?

I owned the 24-105mm f4L IS for a few months, and while it was a very good lens, the distortion at the wide end should not be this bad for an L lens, in my opinion, and it's not exactly the sharpest lens in town.  I think it makes sense if Canon can make the 24-70mm f4L IS lighter but with the same optical quality as the more expensive 24-70mm f2.8L II, and sell it at the same price as the 24-105mm f4L. It would be a great lens for full frame.  The 24-70mm f2.8L IS is a stellar lens, optically.

More interesting is the 35mm f2 IS.  I also owned the non-IS version for a little while and liked it a lot.  I even did a comparison of it against the 35mm f1.4L, here.  Again, the price of the new lens is a bit ridiculous at about $900, more than twice that of the lens it replaces.  Hopefully, over time, the prices will come down and settle down to around $500 to $600.

Downtown Tower - NEX-5N & Rodenstock Rodagon-WA 60mm f4.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

New Life on an Old Lens

The Taylor-Hobson Ortal 3 Inch (75mm) f2 TV lens was a nice find for me, but it has a very short lens to sensor distance and I couldn't make it work on DSLRs.  Having no focusing mechanism, the only way to make it work is through a focusing helicoid.  I first got it to work on the original generic focusing helicoid on the NEX-5, but helicoid and the lens don't jive well together.  This lens is extremely heavy for it's focal length and aperture, and the focusing helicoid is kind of flimsy made.  After some use, the helicoid developed more and more play and eventually starting to wriggle. So, it hasn't been used for a little while.

The Yeenon helicoid came to the rescue.  The Yeenon helicoid is nearly identical to the diameter of the Ortal 75mm f2 lens so they actually look really nice together, and they work wonderfully together as well.  The only problem I have, is that the aperture ring is very large/wide, and it sits ahead of the focusing ring.  Even after some use, I invariably turned the aperture ring when I really meant the focusing ring.  Small niggle, but annoys me.

I am really liking this lens.  Very sharp at f2 and with wonderfully saturated colours.  Really looking forward to shooting with it more.

Brunch Talk - Sony NEX-5N & Taylor Hobson Ortal 75mm f2 TV Lens. Click for larger.

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's always sad to see the fall going away, along with the beautiful and vibrant colours.  The temperature is getting colder  I can already feel the chill in the air.  Better get used to it.  I think it's going to be a long and cold winter.

End of Autumn - Sony NEX-5N & Rodenstock Rogonar 50mm f2.8 Enlarging Lens