Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Koristka Salex Anastigmat 5 2/5 Inch f4.5 - Weird and Wonderous

I did some search on the web, but couldn't really find much information on this particular lens.  A lot of references of Koristka are on microscopes and binoculars.  In any case, it was quite easy to mount this lens on some tubes and focusing helicoid (two in fact, I will have a post on this later) to get the lens to focus to about 0.5 meters.  Normally, lenses like this have very long minimum focus distance.

When I first tested this lens, my first impression was that it's very soft, so soft in fact, that I think it might have been designed as a soft focus lens.  But I decided to go to Allen Garden to give it a go yesterday.  Unfortunately I was there about 35 minutes before it was closed and the light was fading fast, I had to shoot at high ISOs.

Koristka Salex Anastigmat 5 2/5 inch f4.5 with its own shutter and in exceptionally good shape.

As it turned out, this old Italian lens, though soft, has its charms.  It renders pictures with some very unique characters.  Yes, it's soft wide open, but it's so pleasing to look at, unlike the soft focus lenses that use uncorrected lens aberrations to achieve softness, which in most cases make the colours go wonky; this lens produces some of the most beautiful colours I have seen in an old lens. I think it will make a wonderful portrait lens.  Hopefully I will be able to take some portraits with it soon.

Blue, Pink and Yellow - Sony A7 & Koristka Salex Anastigmat 5 2/5 inch f4.5

Soft and Pretty  - Sony A7 & Koristka Salex Anastigmat 5 2/5 inch f4.5

Pomelo, shot through a pane of glass  - Sony A7 & Koristka Salex Anastigmat 5 2/5 inch f4.5

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kilfitt Makro Kilar 40mm f2.8 D APO

Ever since I got the Kilfitt 90mm f2.8 Makro Kilar many years ago, I wanted its older sibling, the Makro Kilar 40mm f2.8. This lens is not easy to come by locally, and when it's available, the price tend to be too much for my liking.  A little while ago I saw one online for about $150, which I think is reasonable, so I bought it.

The Kilfitt Makro Kilar 40mm is the world's first macro lens for 35mm photography.  Kilfitt also made the world's first zoom lens called the Zoomar, and that's why all variable focal length lenses are now called zoom lens :)

The lens is in very good shape, much better than the 90mm f2.8 Makro Kilar, with very clean optics and it comes in a fixed Exakta mount. The 40mm f2.8 Makro Kilar usually came with interchangeable mounts, and Exakta is the only fixed mount on this lens. With the Sony A7, the mount isn't a problem, unlike in the olden days when we have to worry about the flange distance on the Canon EF mount.

Happy Together - Makro Kilar 90mm f.28 on left, and 40mm f2.8 on right.

The Makro Kilar has two versions and both has the 1:1 or 1:2 magnification ration. I believe early lenses were f3.5 and later ones are f2.8. The D designation on the lens signifies a 1:1 magnification, and the E 1:2.  I have the D version and it focuses down to 5cm.  Mine has the three colour dots on the front of the lens and this indicates APO design.  I am not sure if all Makro Kilar 40mm has this design or not.  It's very compact and much smaller than the 90mm f2.8 version.  The lens front element is very recessed, providing some shielding for stray light, and usually does not require a hood.

While the compact size is nice to carry around, it's use as a macro lens is not. To achieve higher magnification ratios, I had to shoot very close to the subject, which I really don't like. In my opinion, 40mm is too short as a macro lens; 90mm - 100mm is a good compromise, and 180mm is a bit too large.

The lens is very sharp even at full aperture, but contrast suffers a bit, but it's very sharp stopping down. The bokeh from it is very nice indeed, and with the help of its 10-bladed aperture, it should be equally nice stopping down a little, as it retains the circular aperture.

My copy of this lens has a slight decentering problem. The left side of the lens is softer than the right side.  This is usually not a problem shooting macro, unless it's used for copying flat documents, so I am not really too concerned.

In all, I think it's a nice little lens to carry around as a general purpose lens, with its 1:1 macro capability, it should shine when you need to take close up shots.  Very happy with it so far.

Bokeh - Makro Kilar 40mm f2.8 D & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Milkweed - Makro Kilar 40mm f2.8 D & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Morning light over Sugar Beach -  Makro Kilar 40mm f2.8 D & Sony A7

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Commlite EOS to E-Mount AF Adapter - Initial Impression

I ordered the Commlite from eBay early this month and got it yesterday.  The cost was $80 with free shipping from China.  At the time I ordered, it was one of the cheapest AF adapters available.

The adapter is very well made and heavy, and it comes with a detachable tripod mount. Unfortunately, the tripod mount is not Arca Swiss compatible, which is a real downer. On the Canon lens mount side, the fit is nice and tight, but there is a slight play on the camera side of the mount, but it's better than the original Sony lenses. The Sony lens mount on the A7 seems to have too much tolerance on the locking pin; it's a bit too small than the locking pin slot, causing the lens to move with a twist. This is the same problem with Canon camera/lenses. I heard that Sony has fixed this on the A7 II.

Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II with Commlite Adapter on Sony  A7

So far, I have tried the following lenses:
  • EF 16-35mm f2.8L II (works ok)
  • EF 35mm f1.4L (works ok)
  • EF 40mm f2.8 STM (very fast and accurate)
  • EF 50mm f1.2L (shows maximum aperture as f1.3)
  • EF 85mm f1.2L (shows maximum aperture as f1.3)
  • EF 100mm f2.0 (very fast and accurate)
  • EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro (would not achieve focus and IS does not seem to work.  Also it does not stay in Aperture priority (A) mode and in fact, it seems to be in P mode because it seems to change either or both the shutter speed and aperture when light changes)  
  • EF 135mm f2.0L (Focus is less sure than other lenses)
  • EF 70-200mm f4.0L IS (IS seems less effective than on Canon body  
I still have the EF 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus and the EF 180mm f3.5L macro lens that I haven't tried.  So far the only lens that refuses to AF is the EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro, but I expect them to work fine as they are older.  The other minor issue is that the two f1.2 lenses were reported as have a f1.3 maximum aperture.  Not a big deal, but not sure why that is.  The adapter records most exif information of the lens, except the lens model.  The lens is always shown as "DT 0mm F0 SAM". Not a huge deal, but it would have been nice to report the correct lens model.

One surprise is the 40mm f2.8 pancake lens with STM motor.  This lens is by far the fastest focusing and most accurate.  Perhaps lenses optimised for contrast detect works better with the adapter. Can't verify this as I don't have another STM lens to test.

Took the Canon EF 100mm f2.0 lens with me today for some light shooting. The result was mixed. In most cases, the lens focuses pretty accurately, but occasionally it would mis-focus. The speed of focus does not seem to improve significantly in bright daylight than indoors.  Other lenses may be different though. I will update on the adapter as I shoot more with it.

Parking Lot - Canon EF 100mm f2.0 & Sony A7 with Commlite Adapter.

Skating on thin ice - Canon EF 100mm f2 & Sony A7 with Commlite Adapter

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Unmarked [AM] Ross London 5 Inch Wide Angle Xpress f4 Lens

I bought a pair of Air Ministry (AM) lenses from Henry's Outlet Store many years ago, one was the 5 inch f4 and the other was the 8 inch f5.6.  Both lenses were used by Britain's Royal Air Force on aircrafts to document the aerial combat or surveillance.  A search on the net would suggest that the 5 inch f4 lens was the same lens as the Ross London 5 inch Wide Angle Xpress f4, but I didn't see any evidence posted by anyone to verify this.  Last week I got another copy of this lens, which actually has both the manufacturer's as well as the Air Ministry's name and logo engraved on the lens.  So I compared them side by side, and they are, indeed, pretty much identical with very minor differences.

Side by Side - Aside from the engraved text, the lenses look pretty much the same

The mounting plate is slightly different.  Note the serial number on the Ross branded lens has a smaller number than the unnamed one.  This indicates that early lenses had maker's name on the lens, and later ones didn't.

Ref. No. 14A refers to photographic equipment.  Both the Royal Air Force and the Canadian Air Force use the same convention.

The major difference I see, is that the Ross branded lens has aperture settings to f32, while the unname lens only goes to f11.

Well, there you have it.  I am willing bet a dollar that the unnamed AM lens was made by Ross London, and the two lenses should be optically identical.  I haven't shot any pictures with the Ross lens yet, but will do so as soon as I get it mounted on my camera.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Voigtlander Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8

When people hear the name Voigtlander, most would think of the current Voigtlander lenses made by Cosina. There is no doubt Cosina makes very fine lenses, as the popularity of their lenses speak for themselves. In fact, I own a 40mm f1.4 Nokton which I quite like. It's small, well made, and optically very good. But, my favourite Voigtlander lenses are those originally made by Voigtlander, before the name was sold (licensed?) to Cosina.

Voigtlander invented/bought many lens designs, including the well known Petzval, Heliar, Dynar, Kollinear, Skopar/Color-Skopar, Voigta, Zoomar, Lanthar, etc. I have accumulated a few of the original Voigtlanders and I enjoy all of them.  Sure, there are challenges to get them to work with digital cameras, but the effort is well worth it. The latest addition is the Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8, which came from a broken Voigtlander rangefinder. Unlike those lenses from the older folder cameras, this one was well bolted to the camera and it took some effort to remove it. Then it was not a small challenge to remove the shutter blades from the lens.  Remember most old cameras have the shutter blades (like aperture blades) on the lens, instead of a focal plane shutter on the camera body in modern cameras.  Without removing the shutter blades, they will completely block the light entering the lens.

The next step was to mount it onto the camera.  The diameter of the lens is around 52mm.  My usual way of securing the lens to the camera is using JB Weld to cold-weld the filter ring on the lens, and then the lens is screwed onto the focus helicoid.  There is no difference with the Color-Lanthar, except it has a very short lens register, so short that even the 12-17mm focus helicoid is too thick.  Fortunately, the lens has its own focus mechanism.  As you can see from the second picture, I have a 52mm filter ring glued to the lens, and then a 52mm to 42mm step-down ring, and finally the thin M42 to E-Mount adapter. Works out really well for this lens.

Optical performance - I wasn't expecting the lens to be excellent, since the camera was consumer grade, and it turned out to be about that. Center sharpness is pretty good at f2.8, but the edges are muddy. Stopping down to f8/f11, the corners are markedly improved and is acceptably good. Of course there is more to a lens than just sharpness. I find the bokeh kind of interesting, and lens renders pictures with good details and tones.

To me, the larger part of the fun, is being able to use a lens to make pictures from a broken camera that's otherwise useless.  Besides, lenses like this are very cheap. A new lens, however good or bad, is a good incentive to go out and shoot.

Color-Lanthar on the Sony A7.  Looks pretty good, no?

Here you can see the lens with adapter is very compact.  The front is the focusing ring.  Not the easiest to focus but usable.

Waiting for the ice to be cleared by the Zamboni - Sony A7 & Voigtlander Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8 at f8.

Bokeh - Kind of interesting, eh?  Sony A7 & Voigtlander Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8 @ f2.8.

Cold - Sony A7 & Voigtlander Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8 @ f2.8, ISO 6400.

Lights - Sony A7 & Voigtlander Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8 @ f2.8.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2 - Photo Set

I really like this Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2. It's so small, and yet beautiful to look at and take pictures with.  No complains with the optical quality.  Below are few more pictures taken with it.

All pictures below taken with Sony A7 and Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2:





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Adapting the Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2 to Sony E-Mount

In the world of ever faster (brighter) lens designs, a 50mm f2 lens seems like a little candle against a supernova where lenses are f1.2, f0.95, f0.85, or even f0.75.  Personally, possessing ultra fast lenses is more a bragging right than a necessity, with very few exceptions.  Faster lenses offer thinner depth of field and thus provides more creative possibilities. Every lens that's ever designed and produced, always served a purpose.  They all have a place to justify their existence, just like we humans do :)

Despite its relatively "slow" f2 maximum aperture, the Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2 has earned high praises for its optical excellence, pleasing colours and rendering characteristics, and like most Rodenstock lenses from its time, the build quality is first rate.  The Heligon 50mm f2 typically came with the Kodak Retina cameras as a premium option, instead of the more common Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon 50mm f2 (which is a beautiful lens in its own right.  I have covered it here and here).  But my copy came with a Balda folder camera, so I assume this lens may be on other cameras as well.

The Heligon 50mm f2 is surprisingly easy to adapt to mirrorless cameras, just be sure you don't misplace lens retention ring when you remove it from the camera. You just need a focusing helicoid of 17-32mm or 18-33mm that mates to your camera; a 30mm-52mm step-up ring, and of course the retention ring from camera.  I use mine with a Yeenon 18-33mm helicoid and it works very well. 

Some will wonder, no doubt, why on god's green earth would someone go through so much trouble for a 50mm f2 lens, while you can get a faster autofocus 50mm f1.8 for under $100, and this Heligon is not exactly a bargain either.  I paid $75 for mine with the camera, which I think is a little excessive as old lenses go, but there is no rationale to a lens addict :)  All I can say is, until you use one of these gems, you will not understand the joy derived from using one.  It gives you a very different mindset when taking pictures.  Besides that, the pictures posses characters not found in modern lenses.  They are less sterile, more pleasing, and not to mention the process of making the pictures are lot more fun than just pressing the shutter button; you actually have to set the aperture and do the focusing by hand!  It's what photography is all about, having fun, no?

Mounting for the rear of the lens.  The first ring is used to provide a raised flat platform for the large black ring to sit on.  The black ring in the middle is a 39mm-52mm step-up ring, which will be screwed onto the focusing helicoid. The silver ring is just large enough to cover the gap between the lens and the black ring, and the last brass ring is the retention ring which screws on to the silver ring to tighten the black step-up ring.

This is how it looks like when all the parts are fit together.

This is how it looks like on the helicoid. 

This is how it looks like mounted on the camera.  Note the lens itself has its own focusing mechanism, plus the focusing on the helicoid, which can make the lens focus very close.  In theory, you don't need the focusing helicoid as you can just use the focusing on the lens, but it won't focus as close.


Example of how close the lens can focus, which provides more creative possibilities. Taken with Sony A7 full frame camera.

Bokeh Sample - note the slight swirl.  I kinda like it. Taken with Sony A7 full frame camera.

Extremely sharp wide open at f2.  The colours are so lovely.  Much to like about this lens!  Taken with Sony A7 full frame camera.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Smart AF Adapters for Sony E-Mount (NEX)

It has been about two years since the smart adapters for the Sony E-Mount came to the market. At the moment, there are two types of AF adapters for Sony E-Mount: Canon EF Lenses, and Contax G rangefinder lenses.  Since I don't have any Contax G lenses, I will concentrate on the EOS to E-Mount adapters.

What does a smart adapter do?  Basically, the smart adapter allows Canon (or Contax G) autofocus lenses to behave like native E-Mount lenses.  It can autofocus, supports Image Stabilization (IS), change of aperture through the camera, and records EXIF data.

Currently, there are quite a few smart AF adapters for Canon lenses to Sony E-Mount.  The most notable ones are from these companies: Metabones (now in the 4th generation), TechArt (also known as the KPLing adapter in China, name after its designer), Viltrox, Commlite, Fotga, and King.  There might be others but suspect they are just rebranded products from a single source.

NOTE: there are multiple versions of these adapters from some of the makers, including Metabones, TechArt and Viltrox.  Early versions do not support full frame.  Make sure you order the correct adapter if you intend to use it on full frame.  The full frame version has a larger opening at the back of the adapter.

Below are some of the adapters I have read about:

Metabones EOS to E-Mount Adapter -- This is probably the most well-known of all the smart adapters, as it had great news coverage when it came out.  It was co-developed by Metabones and the Canadian company Conurus.  Both companies make excellent products and Conurus is less known but well-regarded for their Contax N to EOS modifications.  Long before other smart adapters, Conurus already reverse-engineered the Canon lens protocol and made Contax N lenses auto focus on Canon EOS bodies.  So it's no surprise that the Metabones EOS to E-Mount adapter is the most stable of the smart adapters.  As much as I like the Metabones adapter, its $400US price is way out of my budget.

TechArt EOS to E-Mount Adapter -- I followed this adapter since its inception in 2012 on Xitek (Chinese only). This adapter was also known as the KPLing adapter.  It was designed by KPLing from scratch, not copied from others.  In fact, the first version of this adapter supported more lenses than the Metabones version.  Other useful features of this adapter includes the support of wireless firmware upgrade through Bluetooth.  The adapter has gone through a few revisions, but some users still reports occasional instability/compatibility issues, possibly due to adapter tolerance.  This is the second most expensive adapters on the market, selling between $250 to $300USD.

Viltrox EOS to E-Mount Adapter -- Quite well-known in China, this adapter is probably the second most popular after the TechArt version.  From what I have read, it works about the same way as the TechArt, in terms of performance and stability.  It also suffers from occasional lock-ups and compatibility issues.  Probably a mount/electronic contact tolerance issue. I know of no way of firmware update by the user for this adapter.  Price for this adapter is about $120-$150USD.

Commlite EOS to E-Mount Adapter -- This adapter is quite popular outside of China, and this is the one I ordered.  From what I have read, this adapter is actually quite stable and supports most of the lenses I have.  It's also one of the least expensive of the adapters; mine cost under $80USD.  I will do a write up on this once I have received and tested it.

Fotga & King EOS to E-Mount Adapters -- I actually can't find much information on these two adapters.  the Fotga costs about the same as the Commlite, and I wanted to buy this one initially, but lack of user feedback kind of steered me to the Commlite instead.  If anyone has user experience with these two adapters, please let me know and I will update the post.

National Gallery of Canada - Sony A7 & Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 HFT QBM

Friday, January 2, 2015

Some Thoughts for 2015

2014 has been a good year for mirrorless camera shooters.  The available options are staggering; 1" sensor (Nikon V/J series), Micro 4/3, APS-C and full frame and 2015 will only get better.  This year I would like to make a few changes to the way I shoot/acquire gear and I hope I can stick with it.

What I want to do, for the early part of 2015, is to make my collection of EF lenses work with the Sony mirrorless cameras (NEX-6 and A7) through the use of smart AF adapter.  I have about a dozen Canon EF lenses, most of them L lenses, that have not been used much since I do most of my shooting with mirrorless cameras.  These lenses include my favourites, 35/1.4L, 50/1.2L, 85/1.2L, 135/2 L and the now broken 200mm f1.8L.  I have waited this long for the smart adapters to mature, and I think it's now the time to do it.  I will write a separate post detailing my findings on the adapters.  If the adapter works out well, I would not need to buy native Sony E-Mount lenses, as my Canon lens collection covers 16mm to 200mm, plus the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters.

Buy fewer lenses.  Last year alone I added more than 20 lenses to my collection, mostly obscured, non-35mm format lenses.  I did enjoy most of them and I made some nice pictures with some.  But this year I will concentrate on using them to make pictures instead of buying more.  I will be happy if I can manage to buy less than half of what  I bought last year.

Shoot less.  Yes, shoot less and not more.  This may sound strange, but I want to shoot fewer pictures but more keepers.  In other words, put more thought into making the pictures.

We will see how it goes :)

Milkweed - Sony A7 & Wollensak 162mm f4.5 Type I

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 - A Year in Review - Part II

Personally, I think the year 2014 marks the beginning of decay for traditional full frame DSLRs, mostly due to Sony's line of mirrorless A series full frame cameras.  I am using the first generation A7 and I think it's one of the best cameras I have used.  Certainly it's not a camera for all situations. If you need to shoot sports, DSLRs still has its place, but it won't be long.  Phase detect autofocus on mirrorless is improving in leaps and bounds in the last two years.  In a few more years, I am sure the speed of tracking focus on mirrorless will be as good, if not better than DSLRs.  The only ingredient that's needed for success, is the lens line up.  This is where the Canon/Nikon systems hold a superior advantage.

Even APS-C sensor DSLR cameras are being corroded by the mirrorless competition.  The likes of Sony A6000, Fuji XT-1, Olympus E-M1/E-M5, Panasonic GH-4, and even the Samsung NX-1 are very capable cameras and some of them even offer 4K video, for those who are video centric. No DSLRs currently shoot 4K (not counting the Canon C-series).  Frankly, I don't miss the optical viewfinder all that much, and the EVF makes a world of difference for manual focus lenses, which I use most of the time.

My wish for the coming years is for Sony to make some nice, fast primes, so that I can sell off the rest of my Canon lenses, and buy the native mount Sony equivalent.

I look forward to 2015, which I believe will be another exciting year for photography!

Sunset - Sony A7 & Leitz Projection 200mm Lens.