Archive for the ‘lenses’ Category

Infrared Strikes Back

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

As you doubtless know if you follow me on twitter, tumblr, or flickr, I have returned to infrared with a vengeance. For many months, my IR usage has diminished, for a variety of reasons — the main one being that I don’t have darkroom access presently and have not yet set up for film development at home or made other arrangements for black and white.

Given this, and given that even the lesser tier of IR film stocks is thinning, it made sense to finally go back to digital infrared in a more thorough way. (I’ve shot a lot of digital IR using unconverted cameras, with often acceptable results, but it’s a somewhat frustrating way to work when you don’t want to use a tripod — and my progress with IR is tending strongly toward the handheld and to IR flash street shooting.)

Complicating the matter slightly is my love for the 2.8cm f/3.5 H — a lens that is around half century old, cost me about $30, and has become totally definitive for me as the way to see the world in infrared. And using it with the Nikkormat and no ability to see through the viewfinder, I’ve pretty well trained myself to a certain angle of view…which I was reluctant to give up by going to a DX format converted camera.

So, after much poking around online and no shortage of hand-wringing, I bought a used Canon 5D and shipped it off to Lifepixel for conversion. (Using the “standard” option, which is the closest to the 72R/89B filtration I’m accustomed to.) I went with the 5D because it’s cheap (relatively), and because there are issues with the D700 for IR under some circumstances, thanks to some sort of shutter monitoring gizmo Nikon introduced.

New IR Kit

For most IR users, a 5D MkII would have been a better choice, because Live View will offer much improved flexibility and precision for IR focusing. In my case, that was irrelevant, since I’m interested almost exclusively in one lens and I only ever intend to scale focus it.

Lifepixel was fast and did a great job with the conversion, but I ran into two slight speed bumps:


Using an F-mount lens with an adapter on the 5D means that focus sales are off. This isn’t that big a deal — I just had to do some testing to figure out what the shift was. In the case of my lens/adapter/camera combination, it moves the IR index to a spot just to the left of the left-hand f/8 index on the DOF scale. For now, I’ve got this marked out with a bit of gaffer tape, because gaffer tape makes everything better.

2.8 cm f/3.5 H

More problematic: on some Nikon lenses, and the 2.8cm f/3.5 H is one of them, there are back-protruding bits that prevent the lens from mounting properly on the 5D. This is unrelated to the AI/Non-AI/AIS standards, and seems to be specific to certain lenses. I did not know this at the time I bought the 5D, or it would have given me serious pause.

In the end, I girded my loins, taped up the lens, and used a metal file to remove a couple of MM from that protruding part. This was very, very stupid on my part, and the correct procedure would have been to remove the back portion of the lens before modifying it, to prevent any filings from migrating to the interior of the lens. It seems to have worked out okay for me, but I certainly do not advise anyone else to do it this way.

The result: an IR kit that is a fairly close digital approximation of my old IR kit. Same (wonderful) lens, same flash (with same options of using hotshoe or side PC connection), with vastly higher working ISO options available — which means more flexibility and greater working range with the flash — and the ability to look through the viewfinder when I feel like doing so.

I haven’t gotten fully accustomed to it yet, and I don’t know it as well as I knew Rollei IR400. But it seems to be more or less a Sunny 11 situation, exposure wise, and the auto mode on the SB-24 seems to work well enough without much (if any) compensation for most situations.

I’ve already shot quite a bit with it, and been pleased with the results. It will take a while for me to know quite how to process the files, though — while the filtration is similar to what I’m accustomed to, 5D’s sensor is not going to behave in quite the same way as film.

Lake Merritt

Lake Meritt Channel

Betsy Ross Flag

Flood Control Station Tour

Unfortunately, in the time between when I more or less topped shooting with the Nikkormat and when I got the 5D kit set up, I seem to have lost much of my 28mm no-viewfinder composition mojo. Hopefully that’s reversible. In the mean time, well, we’ll just have to I’m canting photos for aesthetic reasons.

Stars Headband

Format and Magnification

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

_Cross-posted from Tumblr_.

I’m gearing up to work on a large format project that will require some close-up work. I’ve been out of practice for a while on the Shen Hao, and I’ve never used it all that intensively for close work, so I did a quick test run in the kitchen with a couple sheets of Fuji instant film.

Here’s the scene at normal magnification:


Here’s the scene at 1:1 magnification:


Here’s the same 1:1 photo next to the subject (yay instant):

Onions and Onions

For those who are used to working with 35mm cameras or crop sensor digital bodies, these results will not _feel_ like 1:1 photographs. They would be looking for something more like this 1:1 photograph of tea leaves made on 35mm film:

Upton Ti Quan Yin

In reality, both examples are at 1:1 magnification; the difference is in the format size. The 4×5 positive is the same size as the negative area (of course), but people do not generally view a 35mm or crop sensor 1:1 image at the size of the negative/sensor area, unless they work with contact sheets or slide film.

Doing close-up work on 4×5 is something of a PITA. As you can see, even working at life size, the results don’t “feel” all that close, and to get to life size, you have to have lens extension that is twice the focal length of your lens. My camera is a field camera with 300mm or so of maximum extension, so I can’t achieve 1:1 with my 210mm Schneider, and doing so with my 150mm Nikkor presents problems if I need to apply any movements. My 135mm Nikkor is fine, but I still have to extend the bed almost all the way out, which makes the whole setup less rigid.

Luckily, the project I’m actually gearing up for is unlikely to actually require 1:1 work, or else I’d probably have to start shopping for either extension boards or a new (monorail) camera. : )

Big lens, big moon

Friday, December 12th, 2008

My new 400mm f/5.6 ED AIS and TC-14B arrived today. I’m going to be using it mainly for birds (of course), but I didn’t have any birds handy, so I pointed it at tonight’s perigee-tastic superhuge moon:

Full Moon at Perigee

Full Moon at Perigee

Astrophotography will probably never be my thing, I know…

35mm f/1.4 AIS

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Crossed Leaves

A thing of beauty. My first non-non-AI manual lens. It will replace my 35mm f/2 O and 50mm f/1.4 S for regular carrying purposes, and will probably be the lens most often on my camera when I’m not looking for birds.

35mm f/1.4 AIS

Rørslett says that this lens

Its imaging capacity quickly increases when the aperture is set to f/2.8 and peak performance is reached between f/4 and f/5.6. In this quite narrow range it produces tremendously sharp images. To illustrate its imaging potential: In the peak range it is possible to discern objects that actually measure <1 mm within a recorded area of 5 by 8 m. You'll need at least 40X magnification to observe these tiny details on the film, but they certainly are there . This shows the unbelievable level of detail that can be resolved on film by this lens!

Which is one of the reasons I bought it — because my 35mm f/2 O, especially when shooting at f/2-f/2.8, is a bit soft, especially when thinking about film enlargement, rather than digital, where sharpening is simple and fast.

But while that’s part of the lens’s appeal and a big part of why I bought it, so far, I just haven’t been able to stop shooting at f/1.4. Sharpness, shmarpness, look at this:

35mm f/1.4 Test Shots

And this:

35mm f/1.4 Test Shots

Woo! Sharpness is overrated. Bokeh is where it’s at!

Of course, neither sharp focus nor soft focus nor great or little depth of field in and of themselves are enough to make a photograph worthwhile. But it’s good to have these tools when you need them, and this lens definitely expands my toolkit.

I’ll try to bust out the tripod and do some test shots comparing this lens with the 35mm f/2. I already tried this last night, but I had my tripod set up too close to a TV, and I wound up with crazy flare from the TV, affecting the 35mm f/2 considerably. I was able to determine (from some handheld tests that aren’t conclusive for sharpness) that the f/1.4 AIS is about 1/2-2/3 of a stop faster than the 35mm f/2 when shooting at f/2. This is doubtless attributable to the lack of multicoatings on the 35mm f/2.

180mm f/2.8 Nikkor-P v. 55-200VR

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

180mm f/2.8 P

The 55-200VR was one of the first lenses I bought, aside from the kit lens that came with my camera. It’s a very, very common second lens for Nikon DSLR buyers — reasonably priced, universally respected by reviewers, and an obvious compliment to the 18-55 kit lens. For D40 users, it’s part of the trifecta of first lenses — 18-55, 55-200VR, and 50mm f/1.8 AF-D.

I was madly in love with my 55-200 for a while. Understandable, because it covers some of my favorite focal lengths. When I’m looking for photographic subjects, the things that catch my eye are usually details occupying a fairly small part of my field of view. So, when I first got the 55-200, there was a long honeymoon period during which it never left my camera.

But I quickly came to discover that the lens had some serious limitations. The most glaring is in an application which, to be fair, was a bit of a stretch for this lens — birds. The 55-200VR isn’t fast enough or long enough to be really useful for birding work, and it really wasn’t reasonable of me to expect it to do so. Nonetheless, this was a frustration, and the slow speed of the 55-200 was often an impediment when shooting other, less mobile objects as well.

This is why I first got interested in manual focus lenses — first a 135mm f2.8 Q, then the same lens with a 2x teleconverter, than a 300mm f/4.5, became my go-to lenses for street photography and for birding. I’m very fond of both those lenses, but it always seemed like 135mm wasn’t quite enough reach, and (except for birds) 300mm was almost always too much.

One stays, one goes

Then I got a 180mm f/2.8 P — not the legendary ED AIS version of this lens, or the equally awesome current-gen AF version; this is the old non-multicoated, no-ED version. So, it’s relatively humble. It cost me less than $80, and it makes me really wish I had just skipped the 55-200 “stage” of my photographic development. : )

I love the speed of the 180, I love the way it feels in the hand (just enough heft for stability without heaviness), and I love its buttery-smooth focus ring dampening. I particularly love the control that focus ring gives me; when paired with many, many hours of practice, it gives me a far superior solution for tracking motion. (Superior to the D40’s AF system, anyway. If I could afford a D300 or D3, that would be a different story.)

I always assumed that the lens was limited by its age. It doesn’t have modern coatings, let alone ED glass. It’s old, it’s been used pretty thoroughly, and it lacks amenities like autofocus and VR. So I initially assumed that I was working with a lens that was probably optically inferior to my 55-200VR — I figured I was using it only for its faster aperture and better handling, not for its image quality.

Buzz, buzz

But I started thinking about it more and more after reading some discussions of the 55-200 and of VR in general, and after hearing a professional photographer of many decades waxing eloquent about his 18-55 and 55-200 lenses. I decided maybe I ought to see what I was and was not giving up with the 180 — so I did some totally unscientific comparisons.

I discussed my findings in the D40/x/D60 group on flickr. I’ve also got the most recent round of test shots in a set here.

I was surprised at how well the 180mm lens fared. Or, conversely, at how poorely the 55-200VR did.

  • The 55-200 is surprisingly soft at the long end, although it’s nearly as sharp as the 180 when shooting at f/5.6 at the same focal length.
  • The VR isn’t useless, but the level of compensation it provides is just enough to make up for the intrinsically less stable nature of the light-weight plastic lens.
  • That lightness also makes the 55-200 far more sensitive to vibration and/or mirror slap, even when shooting on a tripod.
  • The one area where the 55-200 really demonstrates a superiority is in contrast at smaller apertures (i.e., f/8 or f/11 or so).
The Somnambulist

Since in the case of either of these lenses, I’m mostly doing hand-held available-light shooting, the net zero benefit of VR and the need to stop down to see a real performance benefit make the 55-200 a bit frustrating for me. Of course, a more pro-quality lens with second-gen VR would probably have no problem outperforming my humble 180 (although maybe not its ED cousins), but those lenses are likely to cost ten times as much — if not more still.

All this means that the 180mm f/2.8 is a much, much better choice for someone in my situation — looking for a somewhat long lens suitable for handheld, available-light shooting, and willing to manually focus and work without metering. And one of the nice things about doing focus and exposure manually is that I can improve my performance with practice and thoughtfulness. When I rely on my lenses and camera for that, I need to pay money when I need to improve performance.

The 180 is particularly appealing in the digital context, because so it’s so easy to deal with color and contrast in post-processing. The 55-200 might actually be more useful for film shooting — because color and contrast control in analog printing is a whole lot more trouble than color and contrast control in Capture NX. Which is ironic, since it’s a DX lens.

I’m seriously considering selling the 55-200 — I hold back because I may at some point want a cheap portrait lens in conjunction with TTL flash — not totally likely, given my feelings about portraits, flash, slow lenses, but I’d kick myself if I sold today the piece of equipment I wind up really needing tomorrow… : )