Friday, May 20, 2016

R.I.P Michael Reichmann

I read the very sad news this morning that Michael Reichmann of Luminous-Landscapes has passed away.  Michael was one of the very first pros who adapted and later switched to digital for professional work.  I followed Luminous-Landscapes almost since its inception.  Michael's landscape pictures were an eye opener for me, even though I do not really do landscapes.  I thoroughly enjoy all his travel/landscape master pieces. But it was his reviews of cameras and accessories/software that I really enjoy.  The reviews of the Canon D30, D60 and other Canon digital bodies influenced my decisions on choosing my first DSLR.  I love his review style from a usability perspective, a stark contrast to DPReview which was (still is?) very technical and clinical.  I bought some of his Video Journal DVDs (and later downloads) he and Chris Sanderson produced and they were always informative and often entertaining.

The site later concentrated on mostly high end medium format content and I lost interest and stopped visiting the site, but I still subscribe to its RSS feed to check up on the updates.

Rest in peace, Michael.  You will be missed.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Minolta Rokkor-QF 40mm f1.8 From Minoltina AL-s

I always thought 40mm is an odd focal length for a lens, but it was very popular with rangefinders, because it's a cross between a mini-wide 35mm and a standard 50mm lens.  In other words, it's a compromise, or if you are an optimist, the best of both worlds.  In actual use, I kind of like this focal length on the full frame A7. It has a wider view than the 50mm lens, but still used like a normal/standard lens, at least psychologically.

Minolta Minoltina AL-s with Rokkor-QF 40mm f1.8

The Minolta Rokkor-QF 40mm f1.8 came from the Minoltina AL-S rangefinder.  The camera had sticky shutter below 1/15 second, although everything else seemed to work fine. Anything not perfect is an excuse to take the camera apart for the lens :)

I removed the lens from the camera, removed the shutter blades, and used a 58mm reversing E-Mount adapter.  I must say, this is by far the best hand converted rangefinder lens I have ever done.  It looks pretty nice too.  With a short flange, this lens did not need much space between the mount and the lens.  It looks compact and small when it's mounted on the A7, and it's solidly built, like most old lenses.  I really like it.

Rokkor-QF 40mm f1.8 on Sony A7

The hardest part of this conversion was infinity calibration.  Having to file the shim for exact thickness took the most time, and at the end, it was still a bit too thin and focuses slightly past infinity, but I am not ready to go through another hour and a half to do it again.  Next time, I think instead of a metal retention ring I used from the filter as a shim, I should just cut the shims using plastic sheets.  Should be much more precise and take far less time, until I get my lathe to machine the mount to the exact measurement I need.

Bokeh with busy background

The lens board was cut and filed to the diameter of the lens, and fits perfectly within the 55mm filter ring.  The only problem is the focus glide column that protrudes when focused to infinity, and hits the mount.  I had to file a gap on the adapter to allow it to extend fully.  The focus guide, which is a small piece of metal that guides the focus glide column so that it won't move or wobble sideways when focusing, used to be on the outside of the lens board, I made a smaller version of it and mounted inside.  This looks neater and when I eventually have a metal lathe, it would be much easier to machine the mount and screw on top of this lens board.

Wide open, very sharp, but vignetting is quite severe

I retained the original focusing mechanism, to keep the lens as compact, and original looking as possible.  The minimum focus distance for this lens is normally at 0.8 meters.  Far too long for my liking, so I modified the focus travel stopper to allow the focus ring to turn the lens outwards more, which increases the space between lens and sensor, and thus closer focus.  It now focuses to about 0.4 to 0.5 meters, like most modern standard lenses.  The only cosmetic issue is that there is a small gap between the focus ring and the lens body at minimum focus distance.  Oh well, can't have everything!

At f8.  Very sharp across the whole frame.

At maximum aperture, the lens behaves like most old lenses: it's quite sharp, but lacks contrast.  I think the shim I filed wasn't perfectly flat.  The left side of the image is slightly sharper than the right side, and this is noticeable at large apertures.  From f8 on, the lens is sharp across the frame with relatively good contrast.  But it's the bokeh I am most interested in.  This is what shows the most characters of the lens.

More Bokeh Shots

More Bokeh Shots

The bokeh is quite similar to many of the Japanese rangefinder lenses I have used.  Slightly swirly wide open.  This is not to say the bokeh is not pleasing.  In fact, I think it's quite nice to my eyes. It's just not so unique.

I really like this lens, for its compact size and relatively good optical quality.  It really is a nice walk around lens with a focal length that falls between a wide angle and a standard lens.

No Lens evaluation is complete without a hydrant shot :)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

ISCO-Göttingen Westanar 50mm f2.8 - Art Lens

My friend Paul used to tell some of his customers to use a cracked UV filter to achieve soft/weird effects.  Well, I now have a lens that has this special capability built-in!

This ISCO-Göttingen Westanar 50mm f2.8 lens, in Exakta mount, was a free bonus from a few other phonographic items I bought.  There are few things wrong with this lens.  It won't mount on any of the EXA-Emount or EXA-EOS adapters I have.  The rear element(s) appear to have cracks along the edges, and in the middle of the element, heavy scratches.  To top all that off, the lens has a healthy growth of fungus.  What makes this heart-breaking is that the lens is mechanically excellent.  It focuses very smoothly, and the front element group is nice and clear.

Westanar 50mm f2.8 with Exakta Mount. Note the "imperfections" on the rear element.

With the mount replaced and on focus helicoid.

Rather than giving it a death sentence, I thought, why not use it as a soft focus lens? The pictures might even come out artsy without doing anything special!

I had to remove the mount, since it won't work on any of my adapters, but it was easy, as it was held on by three screws.  These old lenses were made with different mounts in mind, and they designed it to be easy to swap a different mount on it.  For me, I just glued a 37mm-52mm step-up ring on the lens, and then mount the lens to the Yeenon focus helicoid.  This lets me focus extremely close, as the lens itself already has its own focus, plus the focus helicoid.  Now it's all good to go.

Pretty nice soft focus effect, no?

Soft Focus Effect #2

This one has a healthy dose of contrast boost, which is actually not too bad.

With this much artsy ingridient done to the lens, I was surprised to find that the lens actually produces usable images, abeit very low contrast.  Even stopping the lens down to f8, the contrast hardly improved, though sharpness spread more to the edges.  The lens has a slight soft focus effect, but I was hoping for something more dramatic.  Perhaps, it needs more "artsy" elements, like crack lines in the middle of the rear element, or deeper scratches!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Toronto Camera Show - April 2016

I was looking forward to this show, but at the end, it was a huge disappointment.  Oh well, higher expectations would yield bigger disappointments.

I was hoping I could find some nice large aperture rangefinder cameras that I could get to play with, but all I got was a Canonet 19 and a Konica S2, both with a stuck aperture.  Not exactly a bargain at $15 each, but hopefully I can use them as practice pieces to fix the apertures.

Canonet 19 and Konica S2 with stuck apertures.

Picked up a Topcon Uni with a 35mm f3.5 UV and a 100mm f4 UV.  The 100mm f4 is the only reason I bought, since I already have a 35mm f3.5.  I did not know the 100mm f4 even existed.  I am not a big fan of UV Topcors but I could use the mount from the body to make an adapter for my A7.  $30 seems like an OK deal.

Topcon Uni with 100mm f4 and 35mmf 3.5.

I seem to have a couple of A. Schacht lenses so I picked up the 50mm f1.8 Edixa-S-Travelon-A to expand this new family :)  The lens has a slight dent on the rim, a small disappointment.  Hopefully it's not de-centered.  Way overpaid at $50.

A.Schacht 50mm f1.8 M42 Mount.

Lastly, a Russian Industar 75mm f3.5.  At first I didn't know it was an enlarging lens.  This lens has a very nice built-in hood that's not removable.  I like the focal length so why not.  $20.  Hopefully it will be a nice picture maker.

That's it.  In a way, I am glad I didn't spend too much money at the show.  On the other hand, I am disappointed that I didn't get anything interesting.

Another, larger camera show next month.  There is hoping, again :)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Photo Equipment Repair Advice Needed

When our beloved gear falls to the ground, our heart will sink with it, usually both break on impact.  Anyone who has done any out-of-warranty repair work will know how expensive it is to get photo equipment repaired.

Last June my D810 with the AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 fell to the gravel ground when the tripod toppled.  It was a short fall as the tripod legs were not extended, and both camera and lens didn't seem to suffer any damage, and both were working.  But few months later, the lens would not focus; it just racks to infinity and stays there.  Of all the wide angle lenses I have used, the AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 is my favourite.  I had used the Canon 28-70mm f2.8L, as well as 17-35mm f2.8L, 17-40mm f4L, 16-35mm f2.8L and 16-35mm f2.8L II, and none of them were as sharp as this one.  I have gotten some very fine images from this lens with the D810 and I really want to get this lens fixed, but I keep putting it off.

Frankly, Nikon repair costs scare me.  Their estimate and repair cost often is half cost of a new lens, and I am left with two choices for repair in Toronto: Toronto Camera Service or Sun Camera Service.  Both have very good reviews.

Toronto Camera Service is very close to me, but I have never dealt with them before.  One the other hand, I have good experience with Sun Camera.  I once sent the 24mm f1.4L to Canon to remove a large piece of metal shaving from inside the elements and Canon sent it to Sun Camera, which is an authorized Canon Repair centre, and they did a really good job.  I also had my Canon 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus lens that was dropped with broken AF switch and wouldn't focus, and they fixed it for $99, that included cleaning the lens elements that had a lot of dust, which I think is very reasonable.  But, they are just so far away from me.

If you have ever repaired an Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 lens, how much did you pay for the repair?  I want to get a ball park figure before going for an estimate, which carries a fee from both repair centres.

Sugar Beach in the Morning - Fujifilm Fujinon 4.5cm f1.9 Rangefinder Lens on Sony A7.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

To Lathe or Not to Lathe

As many of you know, I have been doing pretty much all of my lens conversions, modifications with glue, tape, and filter rings and a Dremel.  It's getting to the point where I am not happy about this BAND-AID solution any more.  I really want to use the right tools, such as a lathe, and a milling machine, but I have zero experience with either, so I started reading more about these tools, especially the mini-lathes.

To start with, what I want is really simple.  A tool that allows me to create a tube/ring that can be securely mounted on a lens, like an enlarging lens, and then mate to a helicoid or a lens mount, with precision, and if it looks nicer, that would be a bonus.  I probably don't even need to do threading initially, but I would love to be able to create threads like M39 or M42 that can easily work with other standard parts, but cutting threads is probably not easy with a mini-lathe.

The world of the lathe is full of confusion for beginners like me.  The dazzling variety of them is already headache inducing, but it's the accessories/tools needed to make the lathe work, that really screw my head and sometimes I feel I am slipping into a coma out of helplessness. One resource I highly recommend, is Frank Hoose, whose site is an excellent source of information.  However, I am more of a visual person, and Frank's Youtube videos are detailed, easy to understand, and well presented.  If you are thinking of getting a mini-lathe, be sure to check out his site/videos.  I learned a lot from him.  But, reading and watching video can only help so much.  There is no substitution for learning by doing, so I have decided to jump in with both feet :)

Buying a lathe is not like buying a camera or a lens, that you can hide from your significant other, so it's probably a good idea to clear that first with him/her.  I talked to my wife, with my oiled tongue, extolled the virtue of a machine that can do amazing things, like making useful household gadgets for the home.  Unbelievably, she went with it, and even encouraged, as long as I can cough up the money myself, which means I have to sell some of my toys, er, tools first :)

The tough part, of course, is deciding what to get.  I have a small house and space is limited.  Noise is a factor too as I share walls with neighbours. I don't want something so small that it's uses are severely limited, but on the other hand, not something very big and noisy.

At first, I thought about the micro lathe/mill combo that you can put together like Lego blocks. These usually have a small 30-60 Watt motor, which really is not suitable for working with metal.  But, they are very small, and relatively cheap at around $350.  Great for teaching kids or learning, but probably not able to do what I want.

My next target is the Taig Micro Lathe II.  This is an extremely popular lathe for home hobbyists and is available in Toronto through Lee Valley Tools.  It's very compact, well made and crafted in the USA.  The basic kit is reasonably priced and there are immensely vast number of accessories/tools available to make it into a full blown CNC lathe/mill machine.  But, in its basic form, it does not have power feed, thread cutting, etc.  Adding these features costs a lot of money and for beginners like me, might be a challenge to setup.

The last group of machines I consider is either a 7x12 or 7x14 mini lathe.  7x12 or 7x14 describes the size of material you can work with, which is 7 inch high by 12 or 14 inch long.  In practice, the length is 2 to 3 inches shorter, as you will need to account for the chuck and the centre that support the stock/work piece.  Usually, these machines have power feed and thread cutting with a variable speed DC motor.  On the Taig Micro Lathe II, speed is set by using different sized v-bells on an AC motor, although one can make a DC motor option for the Micro Lathe II.

What makes finding the right mini lathe so frustrating is the lack of availability of low end models in Toronto, unlike in the USA, our lucky southern neighbours, or our friends in China whom I envy for having such affordable and variety of lathes.  There used to be more variety of models and cost a lot less, when I looked at them few years ago, but now very few machine/tool shops stock low end metal lathes.  The lowest price ones I found is the Taig Micro Lathe II, costs around $380 without the $150 motor, and the King Canada 7x12 (probably made by Sieg of Shanghai, China) for a cool $1000 CAD. When the Micro Lathe II is configured to have the features of the 7x12 lathe, the price is probably more, or close to $1000.

I am leaning towards the 7x12 mini-lathe.  If I am not able to find a reasonably priced used one, this is probably the one I will get, but it will probably be a couple of months before I get one, and it would take even longer for me to get familiar with it to make it useful.  But, I am excited and look forward to the new tool.  There are so many possibilities!

True Love Cafe - Nikkor-H 48mm f2 rangefinder lens from Nikkorex 35 on Sony A7 at f2.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Commlite Smart Adapter Update

The other day I realized that my Sony A7's firmware was still on version 1.1, and the current version is 2.0.  I updated the firmware to 2.0 and briefly tested the Commlite EF to E-Mount smart adapter and see if there are improvements.

Below are the result.  Please keep in mind that it's a very brief test.

  • EF 35mm f1.4L Mark I - Auto focus works.
  • EF 40mm f2.8 STM - Auto focus works.  No longer has the strange aperture issue.  
  • EF 50mm f1.2L - Auto focus works.
  • EF 85mm f1.2L Mark II - Auto focus works
  • EF 100mm f2.0 - Auto Focus works
  • EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro - Auto focus not working at all.  Works reasonably OK in manual focus, although the aperture setting still can not be set to f2.8.
  • EF 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus - Auto Focus works, but not in soft setting 1 or 2.  This lens did not work well at all with old A7 firmware version 1.1.
  • EF 135mm f2.0L - Auto focus works, but not always accurate.  This lens didn't work with old A7 firware version.
  • EF 180mm f3.5L - Auto focus does not work at all.
Conclusion: It's definitely an improvement after the A7 was upgraded to version 2.0 firmware.  The AF seems slightly faster on all lenses and the big surprise is that the 135mm f2 is now working reasonably well.  If your A7 is still on old firmware, it's worth upgrading to version 2.0, at least if you  are using Canon AF lenses and the Commlite adapter.

Gas station at night - Sony A7 & Canon EF 135mm f2.0

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