Sunday, August 31, 2014

Toronto to Niagara Falls on Bikes - 2014

A bit over two years ago, a bunch of us rode to Niagara Falls from Toronto. It was my first time riding that far and proved to be a real challenge. Due to my knee that was hurting me, I could not ride back the next day and it has been a disappointment for me. Two years later, I wanted to do this again with my older kids, as an adventure and hopefully a fun time before school starts.

The gang - Dillon, Megan, Ryan and Lens Bubbles. Click for larger.

We planned to go at a slower and more constant pace of about 20 km/h  so that we don't exhaust ourselves early on, but that turned out to be less of a problem. We took the Waterfront Trail for most of the way there but switched to directions provided by Google Maps.  the Waterfront Trail has very good signage but sometimes signs were not visible at some turns. We spent quite a bit of time checking directions to make sure we are on the right track. The Google Maps directions had a couple of steps omitted, causing us more delays. One advice when using Google Maps directions is to check each point on the map to make sure they are correct.

Last time I rode a vintage Coppi bike with a Brooks saddle, which was a real mistake. The saddled was very hard and my butt felt like it was on fire at the end of the trip. This time I made sure everyone got comfortable seats, and I brought along a gel seat cover, which made a big difference.

Beautiful Port Credit - Sony A7 & Carl Zeiss FE 35mm f2.8 ZA. Click for larger.
The Waterfront Trail is very beautiful and a scenic route. It passes many towns and cities, parks and natural conservation areas, and best of all, most of the ride is along Lake Ontario. There is one section of the trail, the 8.5km Hamilton Beach Trail, is one of the best part of the ride. It is really beautiful. The last time we rode there, we missed it.

Sign of confusion: Note both street names are identical. Sony A7 & FE 35mm f2.8 ZA.

Checking the map to make sure we are on the right track.

I brought along my Sony A7 and the Zeiss 35mm f2.8ZA.  For the first 50km, I just hung it on my neck and took pictures of the kids while riding, but that proved to be tough on my neck, so I took it off and left it in my bag. My old problem, the pain in my right knee, was also starting to hurt. This really dampened my spirit as it ruined my trip last time. Expectedly, it got worse as I rode. We had to stop and get a knee brace, which helped a great deal.

Trail Blazers -- Sony A7 and Carl Zeiss FE 35mm f2.8ZA. click for larger.

We were lost a couple of times near Niagara Falls following the Google Maps directions.  Also, as we are closer to the end, the elevation in the last 30km was something close to 120 meters, and there are many hills to climb. It was difficult for Megan, as she being the youngest and riding this far for the first time, but she's tough as a nail and very determined.

Taking a break at the same spot we did two years ago!

We made it to Niagara Falls in around 12 hours. It would have been at least an hour shorter if we didn't have to do so many checks on the map and getting lost. My wife and my youngest son were waiting for us there.

My knee was getting very bad and I knew it would not be possible to ride back in this condition. My wife prepared some vitamin treatment for me, and I prayed for my knee to get better in the morning. In credibly, it did and I was feeling much better but still hurts. I really didn't want to disappoint Dillon, as I knew he really wanted to ride back, so I decided to do it.

We left Megan and Ryan in Niagara Falls, and Dillon and I headed home. 1/3 of the way home, my other knee was having the same symptom as my right knee, which was starting to hurt. Another knee brace and a couple of Tylenol later, I forced myself to continue. Needless to say, the last 20 km was one of the most difficult ride I had ever done, but we made it home.

I am so proud of the kids, especially Megan. She's one tough kid. Ryan has been training for this for a few weeks and it was much easier for him this time than the last, and Dillon, he made the trip seem so easy. He was carrying most of the supplies and tools, and he was the front person for drafting.  It's too bad this will likely be my last long cycling trip due to my knee problem, but I am happy I made it there and back.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

REVIEW: Yeenon Short Flange M42 to E-Mount Adapter

You may be wondering, what the heck is a short flange adapter and what good is it for. A normal M42 to E-Mount adapter would allow the mounted M42 lens to focus to infinity; a short flange M42 to E-Mount adapter is made as thin as possible with only one purpose: to be used with another adapter, usually a focusing helicoid that has an M42 mount. Definitely not usual and is a bit hard to find. I was very happy to have found one.

Yeenon adapters are usually more expensive than other makes from China, because their stuff is better made with good precision and this particular one came with a nice box, and a rear cap. The adapter cost $15 plus $8 shipping.

Before buying this adapter, I was using a modified C-Mount to E-Mount adapter that has an inner 42mm thread, but this kind of adapters are now hard to find.  Most C-Mount adapters sold now do not have inner threads.

This adapter fits the Yeenon helicoid like a glove.  It also is very precisely made and mates to the Sony A7 with a snuggle fit and no play at all. The fit and finish is first rate. Very happy with it.

Voigtlander Voigtar 7.5cm f6.3 from Voigtlander Brilliant 6x6

I have been going to the St. Lawrence Antique Market for the last few Sundays. Some days, there is nothing interesting, but sometimes there are interesting stuff to be had, for a relatively cheap price. For someone like me, who likes to tinker with old stuff, it's a great pass time. From last week, the Voigtlander Brilliant 6x6cm "TLR" for $20.

The finder of the camera is very bright, hence "Brilliant" in the name, but I am more interested in the lens, which is easy to remove by unscrewing the retention ring; it can be put back just as easy. I found some parts that I can put together and mounted the lens on my Yeenon Helicoid.  Looks ridiculous, but works :)

Naturally, for a small aperture lens, it's only suitable for daytime picture taking, if you want to shoot handheld. The lens has its own focusing mechanism, and because I put the lens on a focusing helicoid, which allows me to focus very close if I use both focusing rings.

The lens turns out to be quite brilliant. Very pleasing rendering of pictures and nice bokeh, and it's also very sharp. The most surprising thing of all, especially when compared to its sister lens, the 8.3cm f4.5 Skopar, flare is well controlled if being careful. In fact, I didn't even use a hood for all the pictures below.

The greatest fun is making the lens to work with a modern digital camera, and the quality did not disappoint. Even if I only use this lens just once, it's worth the $20. How much fun can you buy for $20 these days :)

Love Lock - Sony A7 & Voigtlander Voigtar 7.5cm f6.3. Click for larger.

Art on spokes - Sony A7 & Voigtlander Voigtar 7.5cm f6.3. Click for larger.

Lunch Time - Sony A7 & Voigtlander Voigtar 7.5cm f6.3. Click for larger.

Marriage of old and new. Click for larger.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Photokina 2014 - Some Random Thoughts

Photokina, the biggest photographic event that's held every two years, is fast approaching. Most major photo equipment makers usually reserve the best product announcements on this event. I don't have a crystal ball, or insider information, but that does not stop me from having fun and predict what might be announced at the show by manufacturers.

Sony: Currently my favourite camera maker. I have been shooting mostly with the A7 for the last little while, and a little bit with the Olympus E-M5, while the Canon equipment has been sitting on the shelf. I do not expect Sony to announce major cameras, as most of the models are pretty current. The only camera that we might see is the RX-1/RX-1R replacement, and perhaps a new model using a 1 inch curved sensor and a fixed 35mm f1.8 lens. But, we probably will see more lenses from Sony than any other time. This is good for lots of people, though I likely won't buy many auto focus lenses.

Olympus: Olympus is in the same boat as Sony; their main line has pretty recent models. I think it may announce an EP-L model (EP-L7?) and perhaps a warmed over E-M10 replacement. Fast lens freaks will probably be overjoyed as I think Olympus will have a f1.2 lens prototype at the show.

Fuji: Fuji is an interesting company who produced a nice line of high quality prime lenses for it's mirrorless camera system. They will likely introduce even more lenses.  I do wish they will have a full frame sensor using the Super-CCD technology.  That would be interesting.

Panasonic: Panasonic probably has more camera announcements than other mirrorless camera makers. The expected LX8, probably a camera to continue the GF series, and perhaps a scaled down version of the GH4, but I don't think there will be many new lenses.

Canon: It's going to be mostly APS-C cameras for Canon.  The long rumoured Canon 7D replacement will sport new sensors, but I won't be holding my breath for anything revolutionary. It's probably going to be based on the current dual-pixel design and thus cramping 40+ megapixels on such a small sensor is probably not going to be that great in both dynamic range and noise performance, unless Canon moves away from it's "ancient" fabrication technique that they have been using for the last decade. I do wish they will have something revolutionary, like a 3-layer sensor a la Foveon. I hope they do, because I still have a bunch of L lenses :)  As for mirrorless cameras, they will likely introduce a warmed over EOS-M2 as M3 with dual-pixel sensor and faster auto focus. Basically, I don't expect anything earth shattering from Canon.

Nikon: Well, I don't really follow Nikon so I won't say much. They might have yet another new edition of the Nikon One mirrorless camera. A J4/V4?  I am sure if Canon has the 7D II, Nikon will also announce a D300 replacement to counter Canon.

We will see what happens in a few weeks.

Megan - Sony A7 & Leica-R 90mm f2 Summicron at f2

Friday, August 15, 2014

Belleville - A Short Visit

Our IT department held the off-site meeting in Belleville this year. I planned to take advantage of this opportunity to visit this nice little town of about 50,000 people, so I brought my bike with me. Alas, the weather was not cooperating. By the time our conference was finished, it started to rain. Still, I rode to Belleville downtown for a short visit, and took a few pictures.

The city of Belleville was first settled by the United Empire Loyalists in the early 1800s. Its local college is named the Loyalist College, in honour of the settlers. The town is a nice mix of old and new but it feels very different than big cities like Toronto. It has an aura of a European city. I like it.

I noticed there are many empty shops, and shops that were out of business; a sign that the economy isn't doing well. The town itself is very nice. Clean, well kept, and lots of greens. Too bad I didn't get to explore it longer.

Belleville City Hall on the right. You can see the bridge near the left, which was made of iron and built in 1858 - Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 ZA & Sony A7. Click for larger.

The Armouries. If you want to read its very interesting history, try here - Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 ZA & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Front Street - Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 ZA & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Belleville City Hall - Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 ZA & Sony A7.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pictures of Clouds

For some reason, I have always been fascinated by clouds. The shapes can range from peaceful cotton ball clouds to weird and fierce looking monsters. Below are few I took in the last few days which I think is interesting.

Let There Be Light -- Sony A7 & Hektor 120mm f2.5 Projection Lens. Click for larger.

Cloud Monster - Sony A7 & Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 Adaptall. click for larger.

Stairway to Heaven - Sony A7 & Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 Adaptall.

Old Man Smoking - Sony A7 & Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 Adaptall.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Canon FD 50mm f3.5 Macro

The 50mm f3.5 Macro lens is THE most popular macro lens ever made. It's cheap, and can double as a standard 50mm lens so a lot of people buy one of these to replace their 50mm f1.8/f2.0 lens that came with the camera. Practically all of them has a 1:2 magnification ratio and they usually came with an extension tube to make the lens capable of 1:1 (life-size) macro shots. Perhaps because of the abundance of these lenses in the used market, they are extremely cheap, usually in the $50-$80 range for a very good condition copy. Naturally, when some people look at it with such low price, they automatically discount the lens as of low quality, or lens snobs who wouldn't look at lenses with an aperture of slower than f2, especially for a 50mm lens :)

I looked at the Minolta version of this lens here, and here, and I liked it a lot, especially when it's so cheap. Last week I got my hands on a like-new Canon nFD 50mm f3.5 Macro, complete with 1:1 matching tube. Leica Guru Erwin Puts has good things to say about this particular lens (can't find the article on his site anymore), so I was itching to try it myself. I was not disappointed.

If you are not a fast lens freak, you will love this lens. Extremely sharp even from maximum aperture of f3.5, and stopping down a little the sharpness will make your eye bleed :) and it's sharp across the whole frame. Very high resolution.  At infinity, the sharpness drops a bit, but still excellent.

I find this a very versatile lens to have around. The focal length is comfortable to shoot with, and because it's usable wide open, there really is no restriction except if you need very shallow depth of field. It's worthy of a spot on your lens shelf.

All pictures below were taken with the Sony A7 and Canon nFD 50mm f3.5.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ansco Xyton 100mm f4 - An Uncommon Lens

Seriously, I don't remember when I got this lens. It's got a weird mount that only fits the Anscomark M camera. According to the information I found on the web, this lens (and its camera) was made by Ricoh in Japan. One thing that really struck me when I first picked up this lens, is how beautifully it's made. The lens is not large, but very dense. It's shorter than the Minolta 100mm f3.5 but larger in diameter.

I was able to mount it on the Yeenon helicoid by sticking a filter on its rear. It actually looks pretty nice on the Sony A7. Unfortunately, its IQ doesn't match its good looks. No, it's not a bad lens, but I was hoping it would be better.

The lens is relatively sharp even at f4, but the long edges do not keep up with the sharp centre, even stopped down to f8, but it never get truly terrible. I kept thinking such a nice looking lens should perform better :)

The bokeh of this lens taken wide open is quite nice. I like it a lot.  Too bad it's so slow at maximum of f4. Nevertheless, there is a certain joy in using an uncommon lens to make pictures.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 on Sony A7

Tamron made many Adaptall lenses; some very good primes with focal length ranges from 17mm to 400mm, plus the 350mm and 500mm mirror lenses, but strangely, I don't believe Tamron ever made a 50mm lens. One very unique zoom that Tamron made was the 70-150mm f2.8 Soft. It's a very fast zoom with Soft Focus capabilities. Hard to find, and very expensive, but produces interesting pictures.

The SP series of the Adaptall lenses were premium lenses that were better build and usually optically better than the regular non-SP series. I was, and still am, a big fan of Adaptall lenses. Still have a dozen of them, and among them is the SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4. It's a very large, long, and heavy lens. With the hood, and fully zoomed out, it could look intimidating. Many dismiss this lens due its slow maximum aperture at the long end, but with today's digital cameras, this shouldn't even be a concern, but when using long end at 300mm, it's not easy to keep the image from jumping in the viewfinder, and thus hard to focus. Cameras like the OM-D E-M5 or E-M1 are better for this focal length, but using a zoom lens with In-Body-Image-Stabilization is too cumbersome as you will have to change the focal length in the camera when you change zoom position.

I find the lens very good optically, even when used at full aperture. There is the unavoidable colour fringing at larger apertures, but it's not unique to this lens. Besides, it takes a few clicks to fix in Lightroom. Even after decades, the zoom is still very smooth and no severe zoom-creep.  I think it's a good value for range and its optically competent. A good choice if you need long reach and reasonable cost but with good image quality.

Mohawk helmet - Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 & Sony A7. click for larger.

Three Amigos - Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 & Sony A7. click for larger.

One legged seagull - Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 & Sony A7. click for larger.

"Get out of my territory!" - Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 & Sony A7

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Waterfront Night Market

Toronto has many food related events throughout the year.  Probably the largest of these events, is the Taste of Danforth, spanning many streets on Danforth for more than a mile.  And then there is Taste of Little Italy, Taste of Little India, and many others, including those in the Chinatowns. The Waterfront Night Market started five years ago by T&T supermarket, hosted on its parking lot at the Cherry Street store. This event draws a large crowd every year, and unlike other events, this one is three days long starting on Friday and ends on Sunday. It has been a nightmare for me each year because we shop there every Saturday and during this festival, finding a parking space is next to impossible.

My son Ryan joins the Lion Dance club at school and they performed the lion dance there yesterday. I went there a bit early to take some pictures before picking him up.  Even at near midnight, there was still a lot of people. The most distinctive food, either you hate it, or you love it, is the smelly tofu. In the the first year the smell almost knocked me out. I have heard of smelly tofu but actually smelling it is something completely different. I find the smell offensive to my nose, but I am sure many would consider it a delicacy. Oh well, horses for courses.

The Night Market is more than just food. There is live music performances, rides for kids, and many other happenings. It's good fun for the whole family, if you can stand the smelly tofu, which followed me everywhere I went.

All pictures below were taken with the Canon nFD 50mm f1.2 & Sony A7.

Cooking up a storm - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2. click for larger.

Recording a concert - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2. click for larger.

Corn Dogs - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2. click for larger.

Lights - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2. click for larger.

Sweeter than first love - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2. click for larger.

Squids on skewers - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2.