Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vintage Zoom Lenses -- Are They Worth Buying?

This last week has been a terrible week for me.  Headaches, body aches don't seem to want to leave me alone.  Because of this, I have been feeling lazy and uninterested in doing anything.  Hopefully the coming week will be better for me.

I did, however, go out during the week to try out the Vivitar Series-1 35-85mm f2.8 zoom lens. I have had this lens for at least a couple of years but only took a couple of test shots after I bought it.  This particular one came in Minolta MD mount, but I also have the M42 version, which is not in as good condition as the one in MD mount.  Both behave similarly in optical qualities.

Sick Leaf -- NEX-5N & Vivitar S1 35-85mm f2.8. Click for larger.

The Vivitar Series-1 35-85mm f2.8 is one of the very early constant aperture f2.8 lens.  I wonder if it shares any optical design from the Zoomar 36-82mm f2.8 lens.  In any case, this is not a parfocal lens, meaning that it does not keep the focus when you change focal length.  Instead, it uses a variable focusing, which makes the design simpler, but you have to refocus when you change the zoom position.

Art in the Park -- NEX-5N & Vivitar S1 35-85mm f2.8. click for larger.

We all know the zoom lenses have lots of compromises optically and they are complex to design.  Early zooms were never really good, especially the cheap ones.  This particular one was the premium zoom lens from the Series-1 line with VMC coating, and was/is considered one of the better lenses from the time this lens was introduced.  In fact, this is one of the Vivitar cult classics.  It's a pretty impressively made lens, but I don't like the zoom action.  It's not very smooth.  Optically, it's pretty soft at f2.8, but usable with some post processing if the subject of interest is in the middle of the frame.  Stopped down to f8, it's actually quite good, especially for a zoom lens this old.  It's just can't compete with today's modern zooms with similar focal lengths, but than again, the biggest selling point for this lens was the larger f2.8 maximum aperture through out the zoom range.  This means in low lights, it means getting a picture or not at the safe shutter speed.  In terms of the bokeh, it's kind of messy but not ugly.

Would you buy one of these lenses?  I guess it all depends on how much you want to spend.  I certainly wouldn't spend too much money for it and would consider a  auto focus zoom, unless f2.8 is important to you and you can't afford an auto focus version.  Others might buy this lens for nostalgia reasons, or for collecting.  For practical use, a modern zoom lens is the way to go.

Bokeh -- NEX-5N & Vivitar 35-85mm f2.8 @ f2.8

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where Has the Fall Gone?

Swing -- NEX-5N & Vivitar Series-1 28mm f1.9 @ f1.9. Click for larger.

Autumn is almost over, and I don't remember taking any good pictures of the fall colours so far.  Each year I have been telling myself to go out of the city and shoot some fall colours, but it always seems such a difficult goal to fulfill.  For years, I have been shooting everything around me and where I go, mostly within the city. I can't remember how many times I have shot the same place around my work, although, each time at least a couple of pictures turn out a bit different.  It almost seems like a dream to go somewhere out of the city for the sole purpose of just taking pictures.

Monday, November 21, 2011

William on Rocksmith

William on Electric Guitar -- 1D III & EF 85mm f1.2. Click for larger

When we bought the game Guitar Hero, the kids loved it.  In fact, they won't a couple of prizes in the competition, and William won the third prize competing with the big boys in Brantford.  I wrote about it here last year.  But, they gradually got tire of it.  the guitar in Guitar Hero is not a real guitar.  Few days ago, we bought a similar game, called Rocksmith, which my colleague Ian told me about.  This game plays with a real electric guitar, and naturally, it's a lot hard than the 5-buttons on the Guitar Hero guitar.

So far, the kids seem to like it, but not as enthusiastic as they were when we got the Guitar Hero game.  I am especially surprised that William is playing really well.  Since Dillon plays a base guitar in the school band, it was a bit easier for him.  Regardless what Rocksmith claims, that it teaches you how to play a guitar, it really doesn't in the traditional sense during game play.  In some ways, it's very similar to Guitar Hero where you have to pick/Press the right notes on the guitar, and both games shows only the position of the incoming notes, not the notes themselves.  Perhaps, I don't know enough to write about it, and there are ways to display the notes as real notes.  In fact, I don't know music, so if I am wrong, take it easy :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Ryan - Canon 1D III & EF 85mm f1.2L @ f1.2

I don't know about you, but as my kids grow older, it's getting more and more difficult to take pictures of them.  They either give me a face, or cover the face.  So anytime I can get a candid picture of them, I count my blessings :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8 QBM-Mount

Man @ Work -- NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8 QBM @ f8. Click for larger.

Finally got a chance to take out the Rollei QBM [Quick Bayonet Mount] lens for a spin.  It's been a while since I bought this lens at the photo show.  I was wondering if this older lens would perform similarly as the Yashica/Contax version of the Distagon 35mm f2.8.  Although I was kind of expecting the contrast may not be as good as the Y/C version, as this one does not have the HFT coating, where as the Y/C version has the famous T* coating.  I got what I expected.  While it's a nice lens, the contrast and sharpness of the Carl Zeiss 35mm f2.8 Distagon QBM is behind the Y/C counterpart.  Of course, this could be a copy variant, since I don't have another copy to test.  I think this lens has de-centering issue as the left side is slightly more blurry at the edges than the right edge.  It could also be the cheap QBM to NEX adapter too.

Cityscape -- NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8 QBM @ f8. Click for larger.

In terms of build quality, both the Y/C and the original Carl Zeiss Distagon are excellent.  The Y/C version is slightly larger with a 55mm filter size whereas the other has a 49mm.  Looking at both lenses, the Y/C version has almost no reflection while the other shows far more reflection.  Both focus very smoothly and a joy to use.

I think I prefer the Yashica/Contax version of the Distagon over the non-HFT QBM from the image quality perspective.  They are both excellent lenses.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spectacular Sunset

Beautiful Light Behind Building -- NEX-5N & Leica-R 90mm f2 Summicron.

Sunset today was spectacular, but unfortunately I was in the middle of the city.  The downtown buildings were  basked in warm golden light but I didn't have a lens with a focal length that could capture the scenes.  Oh well, I had to make do with what I had and shot some buildings close by that had good light.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bausch & Lomb Super Cinephor 4.75 inch (120mm) f1.9

This Bausch & Lomb Super Cinephor 4.75 inc f1.9 is one of the most impressively made projection lenses I have.  Not the longest, but is the fastest for its focal length (120mm f1.9).  Last time I checked, a 135mm f2 lens was not cheap.  It's true that projection lenses do not have apertures without some modifications, but they are extremely sharp at the working aperture.

Leaf -- NEX-5N & B&L 120mm f1.9. Click for larger.

As with most projection lenses, purple fringing is a big problem, since they are not designed for outdoor use and the lens construction is relatively simple. Another issue is flare, though with a hood, flare can be reduced.  In terms of bokeh, it's not as nice as I would have liked, but again, these kind of lenses are not designed to be photographic lenses, so this can be expected.

Bixi Bikes -- NEX-5N & B&L 120mm f1.9. Click for larger.

I mounted this lens on the Vivitar 2X Teleconverter converted helicoid, and the focusing was smooth.  It wasn't as hard to use as I feared, though it's not a lens for the decisive moments, as precise focusing takes time, due to its very thin depth of field shooting at f1.9 at 120mm.  For moderately close range, this lens shows very high resolution but at infinity, it's definitely not great, unless you can stop it down a notch or two.  But I like this lens for close up photos and its very fast maximum aperture, which creates paper thin depth of field.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

101 Pianists - Toronto

The 101-Pianists -- Canon 1D Mark III & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click for larger.

My daughter Megan, was fortunate to be one of the 100 kids to participate in the Piano Workshop at Roy Thomson Hall led by the internationally renowned pianist Lang Lang.  I am sure it has been an interesting, if not life changing experience for many of the kids.  Parents were allowed to take video and flash-less still pictures of the workshop.  That was a very nice thing to do, as most parents would love to record the workshop to enjoy it again later.  Lang lang was incredible of course.  He did play a solo piece by Liszt, which was not on the schedule.

Lang Lang -- 1D III & EF 135mm f2. Click for larger.

I brought along my 1D III and a few primes plus the 16-35mm f2.8L II and ended up using most the 135mm f2 and 16-35mm f2.8L II.  One of the best features of the 1D III and newer 1-Series of cameras, is the Silent-Shutter mode.  Well, it's not really silent, but is very quiet compared to the normal shutter sound.  Basically, when engaged, the return mirror is damped by lowering it slowly after the shutter is tripped.  This feature is perfect for concerts and quiet events.

Model Pianists Annie Chou & Anna Vertypolokh. Click for larger.

Young Pianists. Click for larger.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dusk Over Lake Ontario

Dusk -- NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 200mm f2.8

Nature is incredibly beautiful.  Different lights give the same scene very different moods.  This picture was taken near the Port of Toronto and I have taken many pictures in this area and know that some days, the light can be gorgeous after the sun set.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Look Back at the Canon 1Ds Full Frame Camera

Maple Leaves -- Canon 1Ds & Schneider 105mm f4.5 Enlarging Lens. Click for larger.

I have been sorting out some old pictures I have taken for a photo book project, and came across photos taken with Canon's first full frame camera, the 11 MP 1Ds.  This was a slow camera with an awful LCD screen and noisy high ISOs above 400.  I sold it mostly because I couldn't stand the glacial write speed.  But, some of my favourite pictures were taken with this camera.  I love the low ISO quality of this camera, especially the colour and sharpness of the pictures.  Perhaps one day, when this once $10,000 camera can be had for a few hundred dollars, I will pick one up again.

Man in Black

Man in black -- NEX-5n & Canon FL 58mm f1.2 @ f1.2

Yesterday morning while I was riding my bike to work near Moss Park, I saw this man in black hoodie sitting on the curb under a big tree, with leaves all around him.  I was moved by the solitude in the man so I hopped off the bike and took a few shots.  Yes it felt a bit awkward and weird as I had to get pretty close to him since my lens was not very long, but it wasn't as bad as I thought.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fall Colours

Fall Colours -- NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 80mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Hard to believe it's already November.  To me, there always seems to be a bit of sadness when the year ends.  Perhaps all the beautiful colours and cool fall temperatures will be replaced by snow, bone chilling wind of winter.  Here in Canada, autumn is too short, and winter too long.   On the bright side, we won't appreciate the warmer weathers if there is no cold winter.

NEX-5N & Third Party Batteries

Church Wall, 2003 -- Canon 300D Rebel & EF 80-200mm f2.8L.

I had two third party batteries I bought when I had the NEX-5 and never used them on the new NEX-5N since the battery life has improved quite a bit on this new camera and never exhausted it in any one take.  Today I just tried them on the NEX-5N and the camera complained about Incompatible Battery error.  Frankly I was a little pissed off.  Like what Panasonic did with their chipped batteries, this is just pure greed.  If they price their batteries at reasonable level, few would buy third party batteries.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Colours from Older Cameras

Fall Leaves 2008 -- Canon 1Ds & Schneider 105mm f4.5 Enlarging Lens. Click for larger.

Looking back at some of the pictures I took with older cameras, I found that I prefer the colours from those cameras.  This is especially true for the original 1D and 1Ds.  I just love the colour fidelity of the 1Ds at base ISO.  The colours seem more saturated and pleasing than, say, 7D or T2i.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Hour with the Canon FD 85mm f1.8 SSC

Yesterday I took the Canon FD 85mm f1.8 out shooting during lunch.  I have had this lens a while already but haven't really gotten around using it.  This is an amazingly compact lens for the focal length.  In fact, it's near identical in size to the FD 35mm f2 SSC, and about the same as the 50mm f1.4 SSC, but the 85mm f1.8 is slightly heavier.

Bike Bell -- NEX-5N & FD 85mm f1.8. Click for larger.

For some reason, 85mm lenses tend to be very expensive.  I think partly because most of them are quite fast with maximum aperture of f1.2 to f2, with a few at f2.8, or even f3.5.  On full frame, 85mm is a portrait focal length, hence most of the 85mm lenses have large maximum apertures to soften the background to make the subject stand out.

Autumn Leaf -- NEX-5N & FD 85mm f1.8. Click for larger.

From experience, most of the 85mm lenses are very good, especially the Takumar SMC 85mm f1.8, and the Leica-R 90mm f2 Summicron.  The Canon FD 85mm f1.8 is also an optically good lens.  It's already quite sharp wide open.  By f2.8, the lens is extremely sharp. The Super Spectra Coating (SSC) does a great job of reducing flare as well as improving contrast.  The bokeh is quite nice with 8 aperture blades.  I would rate this lens in par with the Minolta MC 85mm f1.7.

Fall Colors -- NEX-5N & FD 85mm f1.8.

One of the best things about the FD 85mm f1.8 is that it's cheaper than most other mounts.  The Minolta MC 85mm f1.7 costs more, and the Takumar SMC 85mm f1.8 is now priced up the wazoo.  It's still good value for the money.  The only disadvantage is that it, and the Minolta MC version, can not be used on Canon bodies without adapters with correction glass, which also mean they can not be used on full frame.  But, they work wonderfully on M4/3 and NEX cameras.