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 GM-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 GM-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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The [Fixed] Rangefinder Lens Craze

I have been taking out lenses from rangefinder cameras to be used on digital for a while now, but usually only on German made ones, because they are so much simpler.  I took apart a couple of Japanese ones, namely the Minolta Hi-Matic and a Yashica with a 45mm f1.7 lenses.  Both ended up failed attempts due to their very complicated construction.  But I have Matt and Ian to blame for all the rangefinder lenses they shared on their Flickr streams, and of course, they made everything look so easy.  So I started to experiment with the Japanese rangefinder cameras again.

Failed attempt - only the gut is left, but still usable on the helicoid.  This lens is from either the Hi-Matic S or Yashica Electro 35.  It's a 45mm f1.7 lens.

The very well regarded Zuiko 42mm f1.7 Lens vs the garden variety 40mm f1.7, that few other makers use (Canon, Minolta, etc).

Last week I got a few mostly broken rangefinders for my experimentation.  Some are just so beautifully made that I can't put myself through tearing them apart.  I will save those that are still working and only take apart those that aren't "perfect".

I am taking this slowly, and try to take the time to understand how they are put together, so that when I take them apart, I can still adjust the aperture/focus.  Many of these that I disassembled, have seized aperture rings.  I am not a patient person and sometimes I just wanted to take them out quickly and used excessive force when seemingly there are no way to remove certain parts of the lens.  These usually ended up as lenses with no aperture control, and being used on the focus helicoid.  I try to preserve as much as possible the built-in focus mechanism, but the side effect is that each one will need its own mount, which will add to the cost.  It also means no close focusing capabilities.

Some recent additions.

The reason I like these rangefinder lenses, is because they usually have pretty fast maximum apertures (f1.7, f2, etc) and they have short flange distance, which match up nicely with mirrorless cameras, especially the full frame A7 series.  Let's not forget the most important aspect of these gems, that they have very nice, sometimes unusual rendering characteristics not found in your kit lens or even the very expensive, well corrected fast primes.  These things are sometimes like drugs; once get hooked, it has to go through its course to recover, and sometimes you don't!

Yashican Color-Yashinon DX 45mm f1.7 on Sony A7.  Looks nice, no?

Empty Milkweed Pod - Nikkor-H 48mm f2 from Nikkorex

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cintagon II 48mm f2 from Argus V-100 Rangefinder

The Argus V-100 I got from the camera show was a nice surprise.  That beautiful 48mm f2 Cintagon II lens caught my eye immediately :)  I was afraid the price would be high, as the seller has some very expensive stuff, but it turned out to be very cheap, because it was in the junk bin.  Fast lenses were expensive and not often seen in the old, old days, so I was super excited.

This V-100 was made in Germany, probably by Iloca.  I read somewhere that Iloca was bought out by Argus.  This may explain why this American company had cameras made in Germany.  Most models of the V-100 came with a 52mm f2.8 Triplet lens, rather than this faster 48mm f2.  If you are looking for a V-100 with a specific lens, be sure to check what lens it has.

Blue Eye looks good, no?

The camera seemed to be working; shutter opened and closed, winder worked too.  The only issue it had, was the missing plastic button that ejects the knob/crank to rewind the film, and also to opens the film chamber as well.  I was hesitant to take it apart, fearing the reprisal from Camera God, but now that it was "broken", I guess it was OK to take the lens out to give it a second life :)

The lens module was easy to take apart, and the lens is more or less self-contained, which was a relief.  I will post some pictures in a later post on how it was taken apart and how I converted it to Sony E-Mount.  One surprise was that this lens shares the exact same helicoid/focus design as the Rodenstock Ysares 50mm f2.8 lens.  There is a certain mystery about who made some of the lenses for Argus.  I know Steinheil and Enna were two of the manufacturers that made lenses for Argus.  It's interesting that the Cintagon 48mm f2 has the same focusing mechanism as a Rodenstock lens.  Could there be some links between the two companies?

Argus Cintagon II 48mm f2 on Sony E-Mount, with Series VI hood

Another nice thing about the lens is that the front group of elements can be unscrewed, exposing the shutter blades.  I used a pair of long nose pliers to remove the blades, so that I don't have to worry about the shutter closing on me.  It also allows me to clean the lens easily.

But wait, there is more!  The lens uses Series VI filters and hoods, which is relatively easy to find, and I have few hoods in this size.  How's that for nice surprises?

My gut feeling was correct.  This is a nice lens. It's relatively sharp at f2, and even the edges are not bad wide open. From f8 on, the edges are reasonably sharp too.  Of course, even a coke bottle can be sharp at f8 at infinity, I am more interested in the rendering characteristics in closer distance. This Cintagon does not disappoint.

Wide open at minimum focus distance, the bokeh is a bit swirly but not distracting, not unlike the Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2, which I rather like. I won't be surprised if they share similar optical designs.  Sadly, the Lens Collector's Vade Meccum ( does not have any information on the Cintagon II 48mm f2 lens.  I rather like the rendering characteristic of this lens.  To be sure, it's not a very contrasty lens, but pictures hold a lot of details, and very malleable in post processing from RAW.

I only had one session shooting with this lens.  The rather long minimum focus distance sometimes leaves me wanting, and I may convert it again to be used with a focus helicoid, I found it to be an enjoyable lens to use nevertheless.  Who knew a few dollars could provide so much fun?  New Year Resolution be damned!

All pictures below were taken with Cintagon II 48mm f2 & Sony A7

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mega G.A.S Attack

I went to the camera show today.  In fact, I planned to go this time.  In order to preserve my pseudo New Year Resolution, I sold my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod to fund the purchases.  In a way, it's an exchange and not new purchases.  How's that for an excuse, eh?

Very happy to see my good friend Paul at the show.  It had been a long time.  Also met Professor Bob, and many other familiar faces.

The Camera God must be smiling at me today.  The very item I have been looking for a long time, is the Pentax M42 focus helicoid, and I found it today.  In fact, Bill had two of them.  One still in the original box, like new.  The one I got looks like new in its leather case and is cheaper.  One turn on the focus ring, and the sensation of the silky smooth focusing of Takumar lenses was flooding back.  It's still pretty expensive at $80, but I know it will last my life time.

Pentax Focus Helicoid. 

One item I unexpectedly bought, was a New Canon F1 camera with a 50mm f1.8 lens, also $80.  Not even sure what the going rate is for this camera, but I remember it to be quite expensive.  I had the original F1 but didn't shoot too much with it.  This one has some nice brassing on the top and bottom of the camera and seems to be working.  I might have to shoot a few rolls of film now that I have it.

New Canon F1.

Bought a bunch of rangefinder cameras, mostly dead.  Of interest is the Olympus 35 RD with a 40mm f1.7 lens.  I was really looking for the 35SP with the 42mm f1.7 lens, but there wasn't one, unfortunately.  This one has a jammed aperture, and some dust/fungus inside, but I was willing to risk $10 for it :)  The other interesting one is the Argus V100 with a 48mm f2 Cintagon lens.  I can't wait to try this one out.  Hopefully I will be able to make it with with the aperture and focusing working.  I also had in mind a Yashica Lynx-5000E, but only found the Lynx 5000.  Wonder if the lenses are the same.  Matt thinks highly of the one from the 5000E.

Yashica Lynx-5000, Olympus 35RD, Canonet GIII-QL

Argus V-100 -- Best deal of the day at $5.

Few other misc bits, including the Nikkor-P 7.5cm f2.8 medium format lens for Bronica.  Will be interesting to see how this one renders.  I have a good feeling that it will produce nice pictures.

Nikkor-P 7.5cm f2.8 with Bronica focusing helicoid.

Overall, I think it was a productive day.  Got some stuff I was looking for.  Good exchange of goods for the Gitzo tripod that I hardly used.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yashinon 4.5cm f1.8 from Lynx-1000

Here is another rangefinder lens I removed from the Yashica Lynx-1000.  This time, I attempted to leave the original focus mechanism intact and made it into a native E-Mount.  This has the benefit of a nicer, more unified look than used on a focus helicoid.  The drawback is that minimum focus distance is at 0.8 meter, and the focusing mechanism is unintuitive and difficult to turn.  The focusing ring is very thin, but there is a little handle on the ring which you use to focus.  Instead of landing my fingers anywhere on the focusing ring, I have to find that tiny handle first each time I need to focus.  But, this is my first successful rangefinder lens conversion, and I am going to just keep it like this, for the time being.

Yashinon 4.5cm f1.8 on Sony A7.  Looks nice, no?

This lens is similar to the 45mm f1.8 from the Lynx-5000E, which my Flickr friend Matt tested, and claimed to be a very sharp lens, sharp to the edges, even on wide apertures.  You can check out the samples on his Flickr stream.  This one from Lynx-1000, however, is not very sharp at the edges, even stopped down significantly.  It does, however, have interesting swirly bokeh, and the centre of the frame is very sharp at f1.8.

In use, I find it less restricting than I thought, in terms of the minimum focus distance.  Sure, at times wished I could focus closer but one adjusts to it pretty quickly.  On the focus mechanism, I forego the little focus handle, and instead, just find the focusing ring and turn it instead.  It's workable if not cumbersome.

Swirly Bokeh - Yashinon 4.5cm f1.8 wide open & Sony A7

I like this lens as a walk around lens.  It's relatively small size matches the similarly small Sony A7 body, and they look pretty nice together, in my opinion.  The centre of the lens is very sharp, but if you like sharpness across the frame, this is probably not your kind of lens, and you may want to look at the 45mm f1.8 from the Lynx-5000E instead.  It's totally adequate for my use though, as I am more interested in how the lens renders the pictures, especially the bokeh.  There are plenty of sharp lenses, but interesting ones are few, and really interesting lenses that produce pleasing results are hard to find.

Greenwood Skating Rink - Yasinon 4.5cm f1.8 & Sony A7

This lens produces swirly bokeh when picture is taken wide open and the subject is focused at
minimum focus distance.  It's not so pronounced as the Biotar 75mm f1.5, or some C-Mount lenses with severely distorted edges like the Dallmeyer Speed 25mm f1.5. Surely, swirly background is not uncommon.  Many old lenses do this.  Some like this kind of aesthetics, I find it mildly interesting.  In the case of the Yashinon 4.5cm f1.8, this swirly background lends some uniqueness to the lens and sets apart from modern counterparts, which are usually well enough corrected that swirly bokeh does not happen.

Orange Wall -- Yashinon 4.5cm f1.8 & Sony A7

The Mystery Lens

I have a few lenses, naked, without any barrels.  I don't remember what the reason was for their unfortunate treatment, possibly due to mechanical issues.  One of them really caught my eye with its very nice coating, so I put it on a focus helicoid and gave it a try.

Short conclusion: average lens for bokeh, but very sharp stopped down.

The lens has very clean optics, and judging from the relatively large rear element, it's pretty certain the focal length is 50mm, with an aperture between f1.7 to f2.0.

It's too bad the bokeh doesn't excite me.  I was hoping for a better lens.  Oh well, at least it drove me out to take pictures :)

Lighting Fixture - wide open

Bokeh #1

Bokeh #2

View between two buildings - possibly f5.6

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fujinon 4.5cm f1.9 Rangefinder Lens

The Fuji 4.5cm f1.9 came with shutter blades jammed up inside the lens of a Fujica 35-EE rangefinder camera.  This camera is not known to have a reputation for reliability, probably due to the complex nature of its design.  This is one of the most complicated rangefinders I have disassembled, and removing the shutter blades were also a pain in the rear, but when it's all done, the results from this lens is well worth all the effort.

Fujinon 4.5cm f1.9 on a 58mm diameter focus helicoid

I opted not to use the build-in focus mechanism on this lens, and instead, use my newly acquired, though shoddy made focus helicoid with a 58mm opening.  The large diameter allows the lens to go inside the helicoid so that it's close enough to the sensor for the lens to focus to infinity.  The added bonus is that infinity focus does not need to be precise, as long as it can be be focused to infinity.  This is not true when using the built-in focus mechanism.  It must be exact, or either you can't focus to infinity, or it focuses pass infinity and causes its already long minimum focus distance to increase further.

When used with a 17-32mm focus helicoid, very close focusing is possible.  Click for larger.

Like many rangefinder cameras from the 60s, the lens was designed and made as a premium product, but the lens optical formula is relatively simple compared to today's lenses.  This may not be a bad thing, as fewer elements usually means more pronounced characters and better looking bokeh.  Highly corrected lenses of today produce pictures that look similar to each other.

Very sharp wide open.  Click on picture for a larger version.

The Fuji 4.5cm f1.9 produces very fine pictures.  It's very sharp in the middle of the frame wide open, and it has a very pleasing rendering characteristic; sharp but without the hint of harshness.  I like the bokeh too; nothing distracting or extreme.  When stopped down to around f11, sharpness shows itself across the whole frame.  I would say very good performance from a lens designed and made more than 50 years ago.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Disassembly of the Yashica Electro 35 Rangefinder Lens

Over the years, I have dismantled many rangefinder cameras to take out the lens for use with my digital camera.  Most of the initial removals didn't have a good success rate, but lately it has improved somewhat.  Keith asked if I could show how I remove the lens from one of the rangefinders, and I happened to take pictures of disassembly of the Yashica Electro 35.

What you will need:

  • Small blade screw driver, or an Xactor knife used to remove the skin from the camera.
  • A small Philips screw driver 

In my experience, this is one of the easiest camera to remove the lens, as the images below show.

1. Using a thin Remove the skin (covering) on the front of the camera, and this will reveal the four Philips screws (in red) that hold the lens module together.  Remove the screws using the Philips screw driver:

2. Once the four screws are removed, hold the lens and pull the lens module with the direction from bottom to top.  The top of the lens module is still held together to the top of the camera by screws.  Don't hesitate to use some force if necessary.  Once the lens module is half way, as indicated by the picture below, remove all the screws that are holding the lens module to the body of the camera, and the lens will separate from the camera.

3. The picture below shows the lens module that's removed from the camera body.  There are three screws that are holding the lens board to the lens.  Remove these and separate the lens board from the lens.  Note the brass guides at the 11 o'clock and 5 o'clock position.  You will need these if you want to retain the focus mechanism on the lens.  These guides are used to prevent the focus helicoid from separating from the lens.

4. Once it's cleaned up, you will end up with something like the picture below.  I didn't use the built-in focus mechanism on the lens, and instead, I use a 17-33mm helicoid with 58mm opening to focus the lens.  This allows a much closer focus distance, and is a lot smoother and easier to focus than the tiny focusing ring on the lens.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Adapting Refitted Rangefinder Lenses on the Sony A7

I have had quite a few Japanese rangefinder lenses that I took out of the cameras, but was never able to make them work.  Many of these are "fast" lenses, like the 45mm f1.9/2.0.  At the beginning, I didn't have enough experience removing the lenses and they pretty much all ended up having problems; shutter stayed shut, aperture not working, focusing mechanism could not be put back, etc. The most pressing problem is the very short flange distance, and a very large rear elements within the helicoid that interferes with the mount.

The short flange usually means the original focusing mechanism on the lens must be retained, but most of the old rangefinder lenses have very long minimum focus distance of about 0.8-1.0 meters (3 ft). I love to take close up pictures and this is just not very useful for me.  What I what is a method that allows me to focus very close, but also be able to attain infinity focus.  The answer is a helicoid with large opening, which allows the lens to go inside of the helicoid, and thus get closer to the sensor in order to achieve  infinity focus.  I found that most of these lenses have a barrel sizes just shy of 58mm, perfect to put a 58mm filter ring on the lens, and then mount the lens on the helicoid.

Rangefinder Lenses: On camera - Nikkor-H 48mm f2, on the right, Minolta Rokkor-PF 45mm f2, Fuji 4.5cm f1.9.

The focus helicoid I bought from the generic junk variant with a 58mm opening, and a 58mm mount. This helicoid has the same sh!t quality as the 17-32mm that I bought a few years ago.  When fully extended, there is a lot of play and it feels like it would break apart.  The German and Japanese have perfected the helicoid decades ago, and I just fail to see why we still have lousy quality on new helicoids.  But, helicoids with large opening is not easy to find and they are usually expensive, because most people would opt for the M42 version.  I just have to work with with I have.

So far, I have converted three lenses and they all work beautifully, except the Nikkor-H 48mm f2, which has the aperture stuck at wide open. The Fuji 4.5cm f1.9 and the Minolta Rokkor-PF 45mm f2 both works beautifully.  The lens can now focus very close, and yet I can still focus to infinity.

First snow storm in Toronto.  Shot through window - Fuji 4.5cm f1.9 & Sony A7.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 - A Year in Review

Photographically, 2015 has been an interesting and fulfilling year.

In the gear department, I have added a Nikon D810 to the family of camera systems. I am now shooting Sony E-Mount, Micro 4/3, Nikon, and Canon (Infrared), but the Sony A7 continues to be my all time favourite camera, and all other systems see very little action.

Nikon D810

The Nikon D810 addition was totally unexpected.  This beautiful camera brings out all the fond memories of shooting the DSLR in the past, and then some.  It's as perfect a non-action DSLR as I would want; simply a superbly build image making machine.  But, as nice as the D810 is, its use has been limited.  I have only a few lenses for it.  AF-S 28-70mm f2.8, AF-S 70-200mm f2.8 VR, and a AF 85mm f1.8, plus some manual focus lenses. Unfortunately, the 28-70mm f2.8 fell down with the tripod in June and it's now inoperative.  I really like this sharp lens, especially coming from Canon where first and even second generation (17-35mm f2.8L and 16-35mm f2.8, both versions) wide angle zooms were not stellar optically. The images from this lens and the D810 are simply marvelous. I am hesitating, but I might trade the D810 for a Sony A7R II in some future time, only because I use the A7 more.

Olympus E-M5

I have a love/hate relationship with this camera.  On one hand, it's a small and well built camera with very good image quality, and works with most of my c-mount lenses, and the in-body-stabilization is one of its best features.  On the other hand, it's quirky to setup and use.  I find that I do not like the handling of this camera. The small size is actually something of an Achilles's heel; the buttons/controls on the camera are too small.  It's now used mostly to shoot pictures of my gear :)  I do not foresee another Micro 4/3 camera in the near future.  This one should last me a few more years for the kind of use I do with it.

Canon 20D IR

My faithful, though seldom used camera.  The only Canon EF mount camera I still have, and I shall keep it until it dies, so that I could use it for the few times I have the urge to shoot infrared each year.


Despite the initial intention in the beginning of the year to limit my purchase of lenses, I actually did the opposite.  I don't remember any recent years which I bought so many lenses.  Mind you, most of these lenses are really old and not worth much, but they do add up to not small a sum of money. Sadly, I probably will never recover the money as most of these lenses are of little interest to most people.  Many of them are nearly a century old old large format lenses that most people have never heard of, and I must make my own mount for them to be used on the Sony A7.  The others are lenses harvested from rangefinders (mostly broken).  I have gotten a lot of joy from using them to make images.

In the picture taking department, I am happy to say that it has been a very productive year, in terms of number of images produced.  This means I actually went out and walked (or biked) around much more often than previous years, and for this, I am truly happy.  The pictures themselves, are merely a byproduct to amuse myself.  I would still be happy if only a few pictures tuned out that I like.  99% of the pictures were taken with the Sony A7 and manual focus lenses, and the majority of them were unusual and weird ones.  It was great fun and I consider that's money well spent.

As for the photo books.  I actually finished one of my own, which I called Vintage Affairs.  A 100 page photo book mirrored the original layout I started with Blurb's BookSmart. It did not turn out the way I originally started with, but I am happy to to have at least produced one.  The book was created with Photobook Canada book designer, rather than BookSmart I used originally.  I also created 3 additional books for my kids; one book for each kid with pictures from the first two years that I started using digital camera (mostly shot by the 3.2 MP Canon G1), and there is still one more to go.  Sadly, the original book data was lost when I upgraded the computer.  Totally forgot to backup those files.  Not a great loss as they can be recreated quite easily.

To conclude, 2015 has been a very good year for me, in terms of the amount of exercise induced by photography.  I hope the 2016 will be even better.

Dusk at the Port - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2