Sunday, December 7, 2014

High Shutter Speed Anomalies in Sony A7 and NEX-6 with Manual Focus Lenses

The first time I took a picture with the NEX-6 and Soligor 80-200mm lens that  resulted in a picture with one side darker than the other, I didn't pay much attention.  In fact, I thought it was the lens.  Over time, this happened infrequently and I didn't really want to investigate more.  But when this happened with the Sony A7, I thought this must have something to do with the camera.

Essentially, when pictures taken at high shutter speed, starting at 1/3200s, you can see that one side of the picture is darker than the other.  As the shutter speed goes up, the severity of the darkness gets worse.  This is more apparent on vertical shots and shots with a lot of white content.  What is happening is similar to using the flash with a shutter speed faster than its rated sync speed; the curtain does not close fast enough and thus leave a portion screen darker than the rest.

Curiously, this does not seem to happen with auto focus lenses from Sony, at least not noticeable.  With the Zeiss 35mm f2.8ZA at 1/6400s, there is very little difference across the frame, and with the Sony 50mm f1.8 on the A7 at 1/8000s in crop-mode, there is also no apparent differences.  So, this seems to be an issue with just manual focus lenses.  It's disappointing, but nothing much you can do.

Sample picture; note dark left side. Taken with Leitz Hektor 120mm f2.5 Projection lens at 1/8000s.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Thom Hogan wrote an interesting article on "Samplers".  Samplers are people who buy and try out other cameras while keeping their existing primary camera system.  I was a sampler who became a leaker.  I started with Canon film camera from the 90s and then got into their digital cameras around 2001.  Since that time, Canon had been my primary camera system.  I sampled other cameras, from Olympus (E300, E-M5), Pentax (K10D, and few other *ist models), Sigma (SD10), Kodak (SLR/C), Nikon (D70s), Panasonic (G1) and possibly others, but always stuck to Canon because the competition didn't create anything as good, or better.

But, sampling Sony's NEX-5, NEX-5N, NEX-6 and finally A7, pretty much moved me away from Canon.  I still have all the lenses, which I intend to use on the A7 with full autofocus capabilities, and a 1D Mark III, which Dillon is now using for school's sports events, plus the 20D which was modified for Infrared.  I will not buy any more Canon lenses, or camera bodies, unless they introduces a revolutionary sensor.  Judging from Sony sensor patents, I don't think Canon will be able to touch Sony in the sensor area for a while.

So here I am.  From a sampler to a leaker.  It took a few years, but I am not even looking back.  It was the best move I have made.  No more vintage lenses hitting the mirror box and no more bulky and heavy bodies.  I do, however, miss Canon's colours, especially the skin tones and the very pleasing blue in the blue sky/white clouds.  All the products that Canon and Nikon have introduced in the last few years did not interest me, except the 7D Mark II which I don't mind replacing my 1D III with, for the improved autofocus and lighter weight, but even that is not enough to sway me.

Now that Sony has introduced the A7 Mark II, with the excellent 5-axis in body image stabilization, what a wonderful feature for us manual focus lens users! I highly doubt Canon or Nikon will ever have this feature in their DSLR camera bodies.  They would rather sell you lenses with the stabilization feature instead.

While the trend is smaller, lighter, mirrorless and more capable cameras, Canon and Nikon still have their head stuck in the sand.  Sad, really.  They could have done so much more.

Milkweed Seeds - Sony A7 & Carl Zeiss Jena Visionar 109mm f1.6 Projection Lens.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Take Our Kids to Work Day

Today is the Take Our Kids To Work day, at least here in the Toronto area.  Each year, schools would allow grade 9 kids, if they choose, to go with their parents to their workplace and learn what they actually do at work. My daughter Megan is in grade 9 this years and I decided to take her to work today.

I work for a water treatment organization, but being an IT person, I have not actually been in the treatment plant myself.  Today, my workplace organized a wonderful program for the kids.  They learned about safety, career options, water and waste water treatment, water conservation, and best of all, a tour to the water treatment plant.

I certainly learned a lot about water and wastewater treatments, and now have a much better appreciation for the water we drink.  Ontario has one of world's most stringent safety requirements for drinking water and our treated water is among the safest in the world.  It's amazing the amount of work, the equipment and people involved, and the processes that are required in treating water.  Most of us don't think about it when we turn on the tap.

A deep appreciation and thank you for the people who organized the day.  I am sure the kids learned a lot.  Also a special thanks to my amazing colleague Tristina, who got people from every department at our headquarters to talk to the kids about what they do, and how they end up where they are after high school, so that the kids would have a better understanding of how an organization works, and how people choose their careers, and a sense of teamwork.

It was a fantastic day!

Jim is teaching kids how to put on specimen on microscope slide to check out what's in wastewater

Lots of organisms in the wastewater. 

Megan putting on Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) before the tour.

Lorenzo is giving a wonderful guided tour for the kids.

Carbon Filtering Stage

One of the Ozone Generators


Control Room.  Technicians monitor equipment in real time.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sample Pictures from Folder Camera Lenses

Many people dismiss relatively slow lenses, but I find them very attractive. They have characters that modern lenses don't possess. Most of them are imperfect compared to the modern counterpart, but that's where their charms lie.  Don't let the smaller maximum aperture deter you from enjoying some very fine lenses.  Below are some pictures from folder camera lenses.  Hope you like them.

Steinheil-Cassar 105mm f4.5 -- This is a very interesting lens. At its minimum focus distance, the lens almost becomes a soft focus lens with very nice glow.  Perfect for glamorous shots.  But, once the lens is focused near infinity, the soft effect goes away and becomes normal lens.

At minimum focus distance.  Note the soft effect.

At normal focus distance.  Remember that many folder lenses have their own focus mechanism and I mount them on a focusing helicoid so even if the lens itself is focused to infinity, I can still focus them pretty close with the helicoid.

Zeiss Opton Tessar 75mm f3.5 -- One of my favourite lenses. It's sharp like heck and has distinct bokeh.  The lens coating was damaged by fungus but that does not diminish its beautiful character. Both pictures below were shot wide open at f3.5.

Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2.0 (Red A version) -- Another favourite.  This lens usually came with the Kodak Retina cameras as a higher end lens than the normal Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon version. Tiny and yet beautifully built. Image quality is as excellent, as is the delicious bokeh.  Both pictures below were shot at f2.

More to come...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Using Folder Camera Lenses on Sony E-Mount (NEX)

I have been neglecting my blog and spending much time on Flickr.  Sometimes I think Flickr is a better platform for sharing pictures, since it's easier to upload and you don't need to write anything if you don't want to.  But, a blog have its place.  It's much better for other form of sharing: information that does not involve pure photographs. 

As of late, I have been accumulating quite a few folder cameras or lenses from folder cameras.  For those who love uber fast lenses, this post is probably of no interest to you, since most of these lenses are slow to very slow, with maximum apertures ranging from f2 to around f11.  But, if you overlook the slowness of the lenses, you will discover that many of them have very unique characters.

Baker's Dozen - Various lenses from folder cameras. The one on top is over a hundred years old.

One of the reasons I like these lenses is because they are usually very easy to remove from the camera; they are mostly held in place by a retention ring inside the camera.  Unscrewing the retention ring and the lens comes right off.  It's just as easy to put them back.  I have a half dozen folder cameras with no lenses inside, but if needed, I can put them back quite easily.

Mounting them on the Sony E-mount cameras is also very easy.  Many of these lenses have standard 39mm or 30mm threads.  There are adapter rings available on eBay that allows you to screw the lens directly on to the adapter ring, and in turn screw onto the focus helicoid.  It's just a matter of adding spacers to get infinity focus, and they don't even need to be precise; just at, or slightly beyond infinity is fine.  I have both the 30mm-52mm and 39mm-52mm rings that I use.  I haven't encountered any folder lens that has rear mounting thread bigger than 39mm.

The lens is held in place by a retention ring. The red spots indicate the notches where you can use a spanner tool to remove it.

As with everything in life, not all lenses have these nice thread sizes.  Quite a few are smaller than 30mm, or larger than 30mm but smaller than 39mm.  For these lenses, I just use, or make a "washer" with an opening that's just large enough to go through the lens thread, but covers the gap between the lens and the adapter ring.  Now screw in the retention ring to the lens to secure the adapter ring in place.  sometimes the gap between the adapter ring and the lens thread maybe too wide, and in that case, try to find or make a smaller ring that fits between the lens and the adapter to prevent it from moving around.  After you have done a few of these, you will know exactly what you need to get them mounted properly.

conversion rings: 30mm - 52mm, 39mm - 52mm, 42mm - 52mm, and home made spanner wrench.

For those lenses that don't have the right thread for your conversion ring, use a washer (second item from left) on top of the conversion ring, and then screw on the retention ring.

Sample of how a folder lens is mounted on the focus helicoid.  Note the lens itself has a focusing ring.  This double focusing ring enables the lens focus very close.

The focus helicoid I use is either the Yeenon 18-33mm, which as an M42 mount at the camera side, and a 52mm opening on the lens side.  I have a Yeenon short flange M42-E-mount adapter that connects the helicoid to the camera. See this blog post for the review of the short flange M42 adapter.  For longer lenses, I also use a modified Vivitar 2X Macro focusing teleconverter.  These Vivitar macro focusing converters are quite common.  Whenever I see one cheap, I buy them if they are $15 or under.  I now have 5 or 6 of them.  Connecting these teleconverters to the camera is a bit harder but too much so.  My preferred method is to buy a reversing ring (any size should be fine, 49mm to 55mm are common and cheap), and glue it to the rear of the converter.  Keep in mind that these DIY stuff vary in precision and tolerance; it may not be your cup of tea.  Having said that, I do not find it a hindrance for me. I enjoy using lenses this way immensely.

One of the advantage of using a focusing helicoid with these lenses, which sometimes have focusing mechanism of their own, is the much shorter minimum focus distance they were original designed for.  Most them would have a 3-feet or 1 meter minimum focus distance, but when mounted on the focus helicoid, you can get it down to about a foot, or even closer if you use both the focusing on the lens and the focusing on the helicoid, while still maintaining infinity focus.  An interesting thing is that using a lens closer than it was designed for sometimes shows characters you will not normally see when used as designed.  A common trait is the decrease in corner sharpness as the lens focuses closer.  I most cases, this is not an issue as  most subjects we photograph this close are not perfectly flat.  This of course, also changes the look of the bokeh.

I will post some sample pictures from various folder lenses in the coming blog entry.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Mount the Xenon 50mm f2 from Diax IIb to NEX

macman asked how the Xenon 50mm f2 is adapter to the NEX in the last post so I have decided to write a post on how it's done, which is extremely simple.  This approach is applicable to the Retina-Xenon 50mm f2 I wrote about it here, once you have taken it out of the camera.

To use the lens, you will need the following:

  • Focus Helicoid, or an extension tube of about 35mm with a 52mm opening.  Since the lens has it's own focusing mechanism, the focus helicoid is useful to make focusing closer than using just the extension tube, but is not necessary.  However, for the Retina-Xenon, you will need the focus helicoid since the focusing mechanism is not there anymore.
  • A 52mm filter with the glass removed.  This filter ring will be glued to rear of the lens, which in turn will be screwed onto the focus helicoid or extension tube.
  • Epoxy of some kind.  I use J-B Kwik since it's strong enough, but if reversal is needed, I can cut the filter ring and the glue will come off with some force.  J-B Weld is much stronger and harder to remove later.
The 52mm filter ring is just slightly smaller than the rear of the lens.  You will need to sand off about 1/2 a millimeter inside the filter thread, like the picture below:

Sand off the threads inside the filter ring.  Click for larger.

Once the filter fits over the rear of the lens, apply epoxy in the inside of the filter ring, and then fit the filter ring over the rear of the lens.  Be sure the filter ring sits evenly.  Let the epoxy set.  If done correctly, it should look something like the picture below:

Filter ring attached.  Cick for larger.

Once the epoxy is set (I usually leave it over night), you can then mount the lens to either the extension tubes, or the focus helicoid:

Lens on Helicoid.  Click for larger.

The lens is now ready to use.  Mount it on the camera and enjoy!  If you have any questions, ask it in the comments section below.  I will answer as best as I can.

Ready to shoot.  Click for larger.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon 50mm f2 from Diax IIb

Funny how things sometimes come together.  Today I was at the antique market and saw this rangefinder with the mount semi-detached, but on it is the Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon 50mm f2 lens, just like the one from the Kodak Retina Reflex, except this one can be removed from the camera.  After some price haggling, the deal was done at $30; cheaper than the Kodak Retina.

At first I didn't know the lens was removable but a bit of Googling told me more about the Diax IIb. The camera body was in very bad shape, but thankfully the lens is great condition. After removing the lens from the camera, I mounted the lens the same way I did with the Retina-Xenon; with a 52mm filter ring at the rear, and then attached to the Yeenon 18-33mm focus helicoid.

Diax IIb with lens detached.  Click for larger.

Brothers: Retina-Xenon on the left, Diax IIb Xenon on right - Click for larger.

I briefly tested the Diax IIb Xenon 50mm f2 this afternoon, and I am overjoyed. This version of the lens is even slightly better than the Kodak Retina version.  At f2, the lens is sharp corner to corner, with just a bit of loss of contrast. One stop down, it's excellent.  As expected, there is just a bit of vignetting wide open but not worse than modern lenses. A nice bonus, the lens comes with a 14-blade (could be 13, couldn't count) aperture, whereas the Retina version has only 5 blades.

Like the Retina version, this lens renders bokeh with such silky and exquisite smoothness that I am quite enamored of. This could become one of my favourite lenses.

All pictures below were shot with the Sony A7 and the Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon 50mm f2 lens from the Diax IIb, at f2.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar - Sample Pictures

I feel like a little kid in a candy store lately, because I have gotten quite a few lenses from the camera show and the antique market to play with.  Today I went out and shot with the Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar lens.  This is a very small lens but like all Wollensak lenses, it's extremely well built. The lens has a 30mm thread size on the rear and I mounted a 30mm to 52mm step up ring, along with about 5 52mm filter rings on the Yeenon 18-33mm focus helicoid, it just attains infinity and yet provides a relatively close focus capability. So, close up is still possible to show off its pretty nice bokeh.  The near circular aperture should provide nice bokeh even when stopped down.

I expected the lens to be sharp, and it is, but the edges do not compare to something like a Schneider-Kreuznach Componen-s 80mm f4, or a Rodenstock equivalent. At about f11, the edges are very good, and wide open the centre and most of the frame is very sharp.  For $5, I think it's an excellent value. I certainly am not complaining :)

Bokeh - Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Rope - Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar & Sony A7. Click for larger.

More rope - Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Rust - Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Toronto Downtown - Wollensak 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Raptar & Sony A7. Click for larger.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2

I have read a lot of good things about the lens used in the Kodak Retina Reflex, and the later Retina models, the Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2. I bought a non-functional Retina Reflex from the last camera show and removed the lens to be used on my Sony A7. The whole process was not as hard as I thought and the lens was quite modular and easy to take apart. A 55-52mm step-down ring was nearly a perfect fit to cover the back of the lens, which in turn mounts to my favourite Yeenon 18-33mm focus helicoid.

There is only one problem: the shutter and the aperture are synchronized. I can not keep the shutter open AND change the aperture. I can have the shutter open, but only with the aperture wide open. All the pictures you see below are shot at f2. Eventually, I will open the lens to remove the shutter blades so that I can change the aperture, but for now, I am enjoying it at f2.

The lens is very sharp at f2 and renders pictures with lovely tones. Its bokeh is beautiful. It totally deserves all the praises it has earned. I do wonder though, if the later versions of the Retina cameras, like the IIa, IIc, etc, have the same lens design.

Match made in heaven?

Gardiner Expressway - Sony A7 & Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2 @ f2

Dare to be different - Sony A7 & Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2 @ f2

Full blossom - Sony A7 & Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2 @ f2

Mellow Yellow - Sony A7 & Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2 @ f2

Bokeh - Sony A7 & Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon C 50mm f2 @ f2

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Photo Set from the Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9

I have only used the Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9 once on the Sony A7, and very briefly. Took it out again the other day and spent a couple of hours shooting around the neighbourhood. This exercise brought back some pictures that remind me how good some of these East German gems are.
The Primoplan has a very beautiful and interesting bokeh but I don't think it justifies how much people are paying for one on eBay now. It's total insanity. I wouldn't buy one at these ridiculous prices but if you already have one, take it out and take some awesome pictures!  Just remember that this lens has very soft coating; be sure not to rub it too hard.  All the pictures below were shot wide open at f1.9 with the Sony A7.

Black & Yellow - Sony A7 & Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9. Click for larger.

White on Green - Sony A7 & Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9. Click for larger.

Red, White & Green - Sony A7 & Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9. Click for larger.

Punk garden gnome - Sony A7 & Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9. 

The Primoplan. You can see the coating is starting to go in the picture.