Monday, February 29, 2016

A Thought From A Lens Hood Addict

I think everyone should practice safe photography and always use a hood.  Shooting naked will make you vulnerable and exposes you to all kinds of nasty negative side effects, like flare, damage from unintended impact to your lens, not to mention the disapproval and even wrath from fellow photographers who religiously practice shooting with hoods.

A hood is not just a practical tool, it mates to your lens like two lovers with a kindred spirit, sharing a single purpose for that perfect union.  A lens with a hood tells the mindset of the photographer that s/he is serious, cares about his/her art, and the attention to details.  Even if you lack the original hood, and you improvised a Frankensteinish contraption equivalent, it's made with love, to perfect the sacred act of art creation with photons (or silver halide).  In fact, it would draw awe from fellow hood addicts with admiration, and respect for your unyielding dedication.

Mery-Optik Trioplan 10.5cm f4.5 with the perfect hood!

We don't know what the lens designers were thinking when they drew up the lens design, some lenses were never designed with a hood in mind, let along came with one.  If you possess one of these lenses, it's usually a time of frustration, at least initially, because nothing seems to fit.  No amount of glue, electrical tape would help.  If you have one of these lenses from hell, don't despair, persevere, and you will eventually see the light, and could even be intervened by the divine! I will give my personal experience for such a lens.

The Meyer-Optik Trioplan 10.5cm f4.5 is lens that is not kind to hoods. None of the 253 [figuratively speaking, could be more, or less] hoods I have fits.  I tried Krazy Glue, LOCTITE, JB-Weld, metal screw but nothing helped.  Electrical tape is out of the question as there is nowhere for the tape to adhere to.  Time to give up?  No way!  Nothing can stop a hood addict from mounting a hood on the lens, however impossible it might be.  Eventually, after months, I was directed to a piece of brass rod.  A perfect piece of rod that's correct in size, length, and is blackened inside, and most important, it fits perfectly.  Tears filled my eyes.  It's clearly a sign of divinity. There is a Lens God that listens to prayers and pleads from frustrated hood addicts.  Morale of the story?  If all else fails, don't give up.  Pray to the almighty Lens God.  In other words, keep looking until you find what you are looking for.

Anything Goes.  Minolta hood on Leitz Lens.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pentax K-1

If you are a loyal Pentax fan, you must feel like a proud parent.  For many years, Pentax fans have to endure one bad news after another.  Pentax was tossed around, first sold to Hoya, and then Ricoh.  All these changes surely hampers product development.  Add to the fact that Pentax came to the digital SLR party quite late and it was not able to carve out a sizeable market share, although many of its DSLRs are very good.  I owned a K-10D and a couple of *ist bodies.  The K-10D was a stand out, but the *ist were too also ran.  Over the years, loyal Pentaxians patiently wait for a full frame body from Pentax, who first teased its fan with the 6MP MZ-D full frame in 2000 photokina, but suffered the same fate as the Contax Digital N, and never made it to market.  Further ptrototypes of the Pentax full frame appeared over the years but it always turned out to be a disappointment and the camera never materialized, until the announcement of the K-1.

In many ways, I admire Pentax as a company but the digital camera market has not been kind to it.  They don't have the resources as the bigger camera companies do, but always managed to introduce interesting products that appeal to photo enthusiasts.  Not the best specced, but balanced and usable at a fair price, like the K-1 full frame.

I expect the K-1 to sell well at this price point.  Many Pentax faithful will upgrade, no doubt, and many others will be drawn to this camera for its low price and good features.  I think Kajiwara-san would be most pleased.

Sunset over Toronto - Pentax-K 28mm f3.5 & Sony A7.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM Pancake on A7

I failed to mention, when I wrote about using Canon AF lenses on the Commlite smart adapter, is that if you set the APS-C to Auto in the A7's menu, the A7 will default to APS-C mode when shooting with this adapter.  Please beware.

The 40mm f2.8 STM is the first pancake EF lens that Canon makes, and it was the first to employ the STepper Motor (STM).  This pancake lens is a huge success, judging from what the owners have to say; it's almost universally praised, and deservingly so.

Aside from it's petite size, the low price is a major contributing factor.  When on sale, it can be had for about $150 CAD, although the price has gone up somewhat since the Canuck Looney has depreciated quite a bit against the mighty US green buck, but the price is still very reasonable.  A third reason why it's so popular, is because it's optically excellent.

Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM on A7 with Commlite Smart Adapter

I got mine when I bought the used Canon 5D II as a bonus.  The 5D II is long gone, but the 40mm f2.8 STM remains.  This is one of the few pancake lenses I have.  The other two I often is the Pentax 40mm f2.8, and the Contax Carl Zeiss 45mm f2.8.  All of these lenses are optically competent.

When used on the Sony A7, the tiny size is no longer very tiny when it's mounted on the Commlite adapter.  In fact, the adapter is thicker than the lens itself.  Still, the combo looks quite compact on the A7.  Of all the Canon AF lenses I have tried on the A7, this one works best, but not perfect.

The Autofocus speed is workable, but slow.  The A7 II and A7R II are better bodies to use for Canon lenses since they can use the phase detect pixels on the sensor to drive the lens to focus at a much faster speed.  On the A7, or any other E-Mount or NEX mount cameras, it's definitely not for moving objects.

Lone Tree in Snow - Canon EF 40mm f2.8 @ f8 & Sony A7

There is one bug with the CommLite adapter when used with this lens.  The maximum aperture is often stuck at f3.2 and can not be opened up to f2.8.  Sometimes it can be fixed by turning the camera off and back on, but in severe cases, the lens needs to be removed and re-mounted, or battery removed and re-inserted.  At odd times, it fixes itself.  How weird.

In terms of optical quality, there is very little to complain about.  The lens is very sharp even at full aperture of f2.8, to the corners.  I can't say the same thing for the EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS, although we are comparing apples and oranges, if you look at the price difference, the 40mm f2.8 pancake is a bargain for the quality it produces.

The lens can focus really close, to 0.3 meters, but AF doesn't work all the well at close range.  It's easily fooled with the background.  Full Time Manual (FTM) focus does not work at all, this means you can not focus the lens when it is set to AF after you half pressed the shutter to fine tune focus.  You can either focus by hand, or the lens focuses itself, but not at the same time.

Fiery Sunset - Canon EF 40mm f2.8 & Sony A7

If you shoot Canon, this lens is a no brainer, and if you own a A7 II or A7R II, it's also an excellent buy, since Sony does not make something like this.  If Sony has lenses like the 40mm f2.8 STM, and the 50mm f1.8 STM, it will help Sony sell a lot more full frame bodies.  Not everyone can afford or want the Zeiss 55mm f1.8 ZA, or the 35mm f1.4 ZA. What Sony lacks, is affordable line of full frame primes.  Ironically, their A7 II and A7R II cameras work so well with Canon (and Nikon) AF lenses that people may never buy another Sony lens.  That also makes it easy for them to switch back to Canon/Nikon when they introduce cameras with compelling features.  I know that if I had an A7 II or A7R II, I would definitely buy the Canon 50mm f1.8 STM in addition to this 40mm f2.8 STM.  I would also buy the Sigma 20mm f1.4 Canon mount if I need a fast wide prime.  In a way, this solves the lens problem with Sony.

Chained - Canon EF 40mm f2.8 & Sony A7

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Topcon Auto Topcor 3.5cm f2.8

My friend Ferdinand asked if I wanted to swap two of the lenses he no longer needed.  One of them is the Topcor 3.5cm f2.8.  I have a serious weakness for Topcor (not UV) lenses after I got my hands on the 5.8cm f1.8, 10cm f2.8, 135mm f3.5, especially the Auto Topcor 135mm f3.5, which I wrote here.  It was engineered for the visual and touch senses, with exceptional optical quality to match.  How can I say no to the 3.5cm f2.8, which was built and made in the same fashion as the 135mm f3.5?

Auto Topcor 3.5cm f2.8 on Sony A7.  Looks nice, eh?

When the lens arrived, I noted that there was no detent between aperture changes, unlike the 135mm f3.5.  I would say it is likely that the lens was serviced and they loss that tiny steel ball that made the click between apertures.  That's a small disappointment, but not a big deal.  Good for video use though. The lens is just as beautiful to look at, and touch, as the pictures it produces.

The Topcor Family.  Still missing the exotic ones [20mm f4, 25mm f3.5, 58mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8]

This fabulous piece of optical love focuses to 0.23 meters.  When I saw this, the Flektogon 35mm f2.8 came to mind immediately.  Who knows, maybe it's the same formula as the Flek?  The Topcor is definitely better made and better looking than the Flek.  The smoothness of the focusing feels like a hot knife cutting through butter.  Simply a delight to the senses.

There is far more to the good looks and build of this 3.5mm f2.8.  I haven't used it much for infinity focus, but the few pictures I took seems very sharp across the frame when stopped down.  What made my heart melt is the beautiful bokeh this gem produces.  It's simply gorgeous.

I sure will keep an eye out for others I have not yet got, but I know those who have them like will hold onto them, and even when available, probably out of my budget.  But, I am happy with what I have.  All of these four lenses are a joy to use and to play with.

Bokeh No.1

Downtown Toronto @ f8

Bokeh No.2

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The February [Thrifty Store] Challenge

Matt at the Fixed Lens Flickr Group has a couple of DIY challenges running.  One is the a monthly challenge to adapt a piece of optical glass to be used on your digital camera, and the other is the Thrifty store challenge.  The idea is to find a camera, any camera, in a thrifty store, take a picture of it, and then post it to the group before the start of conversion to refit the lens on your digital camera.  Since I got the camera from a thrifty store, but I didn't take a picture of the camera in the store, I enter it as a February challenge, with a Yashica MG-2 plastic wonder, which cost me $6.77CAD ($5.99 + taxes).  Frankly that bothers me.  I doubt all the parts used in this piece of, er, beautiful engineering would cost more than $5 at the time of manufacturing.  I could buy a real rangefinder with an excellent lens for $10 at the camera show.  But, it's all for the challenge!

The ultra cheap plastic wonder: Yashica MG-2

Everything about the MG-2 is about cheapness.  In most cameras, the lens is the most expensive part, but in this case, I think the flash and the big capacitor, was more expensive than the plastic lens.  The lens has no aperture inside, but instead, a piece of plastic with a hole behind the lens that can be selected as "landscape" mode, which probably stops the lens down to about f8-f11.  Normal mode, or wide open, it's roughly f5.6 when I compared it to another lens with a constant light source.  Also, there is no focus, but that's a feature of being "focus free"!  This plastic micro coke bottle was optimized for hyper-focal shooting, no doubt.

The lens is surprisingly easy to take apart, since the plastic body is held together by a few screws, but if you want it apart even quicker, I would recommend a hammer.  The flange is very short, too short to be used even with the petite Pentax M42 focus helicoid in the normal fashion.  But I can't shoot a "focus free" lens.  What fun is it that everything is in focus?  I had to improvise.  The solution was to sink the lens deeper into the helicoid, closer to the sensor.  So I cut out a piece of plastic from the back cover of the film chamber the size slightly smaller than 42mm, drill a hole in the middle for the lens, and stick the whole thing inside the helicoid.  VoilĂ !  Focus from very close to infinity.  I didn't even bother with glue, just electrical tape to secure the lens to the piece of plastic and the plastic inside the helicoid is held by friction.  The total cost is just the lens itself.  The only downside?  Flatness is not guaranteed, but I am not about to measure it with a micrometer.  The whole purpose of this endeavour was to have fun, and expect the unexpected!  I will be shooting the lens naked, wide open, going for that artsy LOMO effect :)

The Body Cap Lens

You know, I kinda like how the lens looks on the camera.  This is like a DIY Body Cap lens, but with focus.  It's much cheaper than the "real" Body Cap lens, even cheaper than a LOMO lens :)

The result is somewhat expected.  The lens is more than sufficient for 4x6 inch prints, but it can't satisfy the 24MP sensor in the A7.  The centre of the image is reasonably sharp, but the edges fall apart.  Contrast is low, especially at infinity. Shooting without a hood, it flares easily.  Surprisingly, colour fringing isn't that bad at all, probably due to the nice coating treatment on the lens.  Vignetting, however, is quite severe.  This could be good or bad depending on your artistic needs.  It doesn't bother me; the vignette helps to hide the horrible corners.  Aside from the lack of sharpness and mushy corners, the colour is also a bit weird.  It's true some lenses render colours very untastefully, and this is one of those.  Moreover, this lens is not kind to blown highlights.  The roll off is abrupt and unpleasant.  When all these negatives are combines, one would wonder, is there anything left to redeem itself?

Bokeh - Not too bad, right?

On the positive note, this lens has a couple of shining spots.  One is its much better resolving power at close range than is at infinity.  For macro shots, there is quite a bit details.  The other nice thing about this lens, is the bokeh.  Bokeh for a 34mm f5.6 wide angle lens?  Yes, the helicoid makes the close focus possible, and the bokeh is actually not awful most of the time.  If the background supports it, the lens can sometimes render pleasing looking bokeh, but only sometimes, and lets lower our standards for a camera/lens created to be the bottom of the rank.

Boats -- My wife does not like this one at all.  She said it was too depressing.  I am kinda OK with it.  Moody.

So what have I got from spending the $6.77 and 60 minutes making it work on the digital camera?  I had fun.  A few of the pictures actually turned out ok, and, the lens with the helicoid makes a nice body cap for the camera.

Sunset at the Keating Channel