Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

This year's Halloween falls on a weekday, and a very rainy and cold day at that.  Consequently, not many kids were out trick or treating. Despite the bad weather, Megan and William did go out and had lots of fun and yummy candies for dad :)

House - NEX-5N & Canon new FD 50mm f1.2 @ f1.2. Click for larger

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Using Enlarging Lenses with a Focusing Helicoid on Sony NEX

Unlike projection lenses, enlarging lenses have sort of a "standard" mount.  Most of them have a L39, or 39mm thread mount at the rear.  This is a good thing, because L39-M42 adapters are widely available and very cheap.  If the helicoid you have has an M42 mount on both ends, that's all you really need, if the focal length fits your helicoid.  The majority of helicoids on the market have this configuration and it makes a lot of sense.

Here are the reason why I chose something different: the helicoid with a M42 mount, and 52mm opening: 1. Some of my lenses have very large rear openings and 42mm is not large enough to accept the lens, and a 52mm opening gives me a better chance that the lens would fit.  2. I choose the M42 mount because it's interchangeable.  You can buy the helicoid with specific mounts like NEX E-mount, M43 mount, or Canon EF mount, etc.  With an M42 mount, I can use this helicoid on more than one camera system (I have NEX, M43 and EOS mount cameras), by simply screwing the helicoid onto an M42 adapter, or a c-mount adapter with M42 inner threads.  It has its compromises, of course.  For one thing, when used with enlarging lenses, I would need a M42 to 52mm step-down ring.  This would increase the thickness of the helicoid by about 3mm.

The picture below shows how I normally connect the enlarging lens to my camera.  For this particular lens (Rodenstock 50mm f2.8), it works almost perfectly, infinity focus is just slightly beyond infinity.  So, what happens if your enlarging lenses are longer than 50mm?  Very simple, just add 52mm filter rings.  The last picture shows an 80mm enlarging lens with 3 filter rings added to compensate for the longer focal length.  For very long lenses, like 150mm, it's better to buy a longer helicoid, or use extension tubes instead of filter rings.

It maybe worth mentioning that the c-mount to NEX adapter with inner 42mm thread is now hard to find.  So, it maybe be better to buy a helicoid with the mount of the camera you are using it on, instead of an M42 mount.

How the pieces are put together. Click for larger.

All connected.  In real life, the labels won't line up nicely like the picture. Click for larger.

Mounted to the camera.  Click for larger.

With extension rings (filter rings) for longer lenses. Click for larger.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Yeenon 18-33mm Focusing Helicoid

If you read my blog for any length of time, you would know that I am a big fan of DIY lenses.  Projection lenses, enlarging lenses, odd ball lenses are my past time favourites, and all these lenses need a focusing helicoid, as the lenses themselves do not have a focus mechanism.  My first focusing helicoid was a converted Vivitar 2X Focusing macro teleconverter, which I wrote about it here. But, this home made helicoid is too thick (long) for wider angle lenses, so a thinner helicoid is needed.  I ordered two generic ones from eBay: a 12-17mm and a 17-32mm, which I covered here.  These two are widely available on eBay from many sellers, but they are essentially identical.  Typically they are selling for about $40 each, much cheaper than the time I bought mine. Sadly, they are very badly made.  Even when new, they have some play between the focusing and the mount. After only a few months of use, they have become wobbly, and pretty much unusable.  I did get a lot of use out of them, so it's not a total write-off.  I began searching for a better replacement, but couldn't force myself to forking out more than $100 for a different one.

There are basically four different makes of helicoids readily available on eBay.  They are: the generic ones that I bought and bad quality; one from Hawk Factory in Taiwan, which has good reviews, but at about $130; one sold by Fotodiox at $120, and the other, which I bought and I am reviewing, is a Yeenon 18-33mm, at $57 (free shipping if you offer to pay the asking price on eBay).  I chose the M42/52mm version, so that I can use it on NEX, Micro 4/3, and Canon EOS through the M42 adapter.

The Yeenon helicoid took exactly one month to arrive from China.  It came with a (relatively) nice box, and even a guarantee.  I could feel the difference in built quality as soon as I held it in my hand.  Much better than the generic ones I bought.  The Yeenon is slightly larger in diameter.  This has a negative effect on the NEX-5N, as the focusing ring touches my middle finger that grips the camera, while focusing. Also, there is still a very slight play between the focusing and the mount, just enough to feel it.  It's not a big deal, but nevertheless lessens the joy of using it. The focusing is relatively smooth, but a bit too much resistance.  I am sure with use, it will loosen up.

So far I have only used it for a week, but I enjoy it much more than the ones I had before.  It's not as good as the Vivitar 2X focusing helicoid, but very close.  I just hope that the build quality will hold up and last more than a few months.

The Yeenon 18-33mm helicoid. Click for larger

Face Off - Left Yeenon 18-33mm; right generic 12-17mm. Click for larger

Side by side. Click for larger

Intense colours - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componon-S 80mm f4. Click for larger.

Symphony of colours - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componon-S 80mm f4 @ f5.6

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunset at Port of Toronto

We have been having a lot of rain the last few days, but yesterday evening we saw a beautiful sunset, which is a treat.  More rain is expected in the next few days, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.

Sunset at Port of Toronto - NEX-5N & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5. Click for larger.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Bit of Good News

Early this week I emailed Sun Camera in Vaughn and asked if they still repair the Canon EF 200mm f1.8L, and they said they still repair this lens.  So, today I packed the lens and was ready to drop it off at their repair centre.  On my way out, I thought, let's try it one more time.  Mounted the lens on the 1D III and when I turned the focus ring, it moved!  I then tested the AF and it also worked.  I don't know how the lens just healed itself but I don't care.  This has really made my day.  I can use my favourite lens again.

Sally - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 200mm f1.8L @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bicycles in Toronto

Torontonians love bicycles.  If you live downtown Toronto, you will see bikes are parked everywhere on the sidewalk.  Some streets, like lower Spadina, you can see hundreds of bikes locked next to each other.  We also have dedicated bike lanes on some streets, which provides safer routes for cyclists.  Too bad there aren't enough bike lanes.  

Some of us bike to walk all year round, even in the winter with windchill at -20c, or in the snow.   Some think we are crazy, but it's not as bad as they think, as long as you dress for it.  The benefits are obvious: good exercise, save money, and reduced carbon footprint.

Cyclist - Canon Rebel XSi & EF 50mm f1.2L @ f1.2. Shot through car window. Click for larger.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Ken Rockwell Reviews and the Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 VR

If you are around the photography community for the little while, no doubt you would have heard of Ken Rockwell.  Some of us remember the controversial "reviews" that he did and had some good laughs.  Ken back then (not sure if he still does now), would write reviews without actually having any of the products he reviewed on hand, and did it basically from spec sheets.  For this reason, many people do not trust his "reviews" or take them seriously.

The other day I was searching for information on the Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 VR lens, and found Ken has a review for this lens, and he listed it as one of the 10 worst lenses.  Basically, as he puts it, this lens is so soft it's good for only 4x6 prints.  There are no real images from this lens on his review (I mean, can you really review a lens without providing sample pictures, especially when it's so bad?)  On the other hand, he praised the Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens as "life changing", and we all know that the 18-200mm VR lens does not win any awards in the sharpness department.

I shot with this lens today on the ancient D70, and I could not disagree with him more. For sure, it's a slow lens, just like the 18-200mm VR is, and is meant to be a convenience lens that you take with you on vacations, casual shooting, family pictures, etc.  I am not saying this is the best and sharpest lens is the world, but it's designed with a compromise, just like the 18-200mm VR is.  I highly doubt the optical quality is any different between the these two lenses.  From the pictures I have got from the AF-S 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 VR, it's a decent lens.  Nothing like it's only good for 4x6  inch prints.  In fact, I have not used any lens that bad in my life, however cheap they are.

I highly doubt Ken used this lens more than once and probably just shot a few pictures indoors, otherwise why is there no sample pictures in the review, and there are samples for the "life changing" 18-200mm VR?  If you are considering this lens, I would suggest actually borrow/rent one and decide for yourself.

Nikon D70 & AF-S 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 VR, 120mm @ f6.3. click for larger.

Nikon D70 & AF-S 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 VR, Wide Open at 120mm @ f5.6. click for larger.

100% crop from picture above.

Nikon D70 & AF-S 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 VR, at 62mm @ f8.

100% Crop from previous picture.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I Slow Down Camera Body Upgrades

For a lot of people, they would upgrade to the latest camera bodies as soon as they are available.  I am guilty of this in the past to some degree, but I have now slowed down the upgrade intervals.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

In just a bit longer than a decade, the sensor in the consumer digital camera has matured with frightening speed.  It's unimaginable just a decade ago that today's sensor is capable of such high resolution and low noise.  But, the last couple of years, advances in image quality has been incremental.  The resolution of around 16MP is more than high enough for most uses, and ISO 6400 is surprisingly usable.  Cameras now can last two to three years and are still very usable compared to the new cameras. So, where do you spend the money allocated for photography?  I would suggest lenses.

In film days, we would say that cameras are just a light tight box.  It's the lenses that make the images. It's still true today.  Camera bodies retire at a much faster rate than lenses.  How many 10-year-old digital cameras do you see people use?  Hardly any.  Lenses are entirely different. I see lenses as an investment, though not entirely in financial sense.  I have gone through many Canon bodies, but my Canon lens collection has hardly changed; some of the lenses are more than 20 years old.

True, many people buy cameras not based on image quality, but other factors, such as size, weight, and other features.  Manufacturers know this, and will never make a "perfect" camera.  there are always features that you want, but lacking in the latest camera, and one of these features will be in the next iteration.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prelude to Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner.  Some houses/shops are decorated for the occasion.  There are some very creative individuals who spend considerable amount of time and money to show off their talents.  My older kids don't go treat or tricking any more, but the younger ones are eagerly waiting for the day to come.

Say Cheese - NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 HFT

Monday, October 22, 2012

OT: It Takes a Real Man to Cry

I have been following obakesan's [Chris] blog for a long time.  The articles are always thoughtful, thorough, and have good content.  But lately, after the untimely passing of his wife, he has written many heart warming, thought provoking essays on coping with the loss of loved ones.  They are helpful not just for releasing his own grieves, but will also be immensely helpful for others in the same situation.  Too many people, especially men, have locked up their feelings inside, fearing that being emotional is a sign of weakness.  This could lead to tragic endings.

I lost my father due to lung cancer.  He was a heavy smoker until two years before his death. He tried, but could not quit smoking.  When he finally succeeded, it was too late.  Dying of cancer is one of the worst ways to end one's life.  It was painful and anguish to see a person full of life and vigor slowly getting weaker, helpless and finally wittered.  In so many ways, a sudden death would have been a blessing.  

My father and I were not very close, as I grew up with my mother and I didn't see him again until I was 16, but I always corresponded with him in regular intervals.  No, my parents were not divorced, but they were separated, not in legal sense, but physically.  My father left China when I was very young, and we didn't re-unite in Canada until I was 16.

I was confused upon my father's death.  I didn't know how I was supposed to feel.  I felt sad, but not overly so and I thought I would have forgotten him very soon.  This is just not true. In fact, I thought about him more now than before.  At times, I even felt like crying. Fortunately, my wife and I are very close and we talk to each other about this often.  It has been a great help to me and I am very thankful to have someone to discuss our inner feelings.

It takes a real man to cry and talk about his emotions.  I know Chris will live his life to the fullest, because he is taking steps to recover and heal.  Losing someone does not mean you have to stop and forever morn the loss and be trapped in it until the end of time. For sure, we will be reminded often of the loved ones we lost, but it should bring back happy memories which add to the richness our lives. It's part of life's journey, knowing that life would have been far worse without those memories we shared with loved ones.  So, open up. Cry if you have to, and talk about it, but don't keep the grief inside you.

Guildwood Park - October 2012

Yesterday, Sally, Lisa, Dillon and I went to Guildwood Park to shoot the autumn colours.  Guildwood Park is one of my favourite places photograph in the fall.  We also went there last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In addition to the 200mm f1.8L, I brought a lot more equipment this year, including the 70-200mm f4L IS that I traded the 70-200mm f2.8L IS for, and never really used it, and the NEX-5N with the Wollensak 209mm f4.5 copy lens.

As usual, the 200mm f1.8L did not disappoint, but sadly, it's now broken, and may never be working again. The 70-200mm f4L IS is fantastic.  I actually like it more than the 70-200mm f2.8L IS version.  It's a lot sharper wide open and the IS is very effective.  Due to the dim lights in the woods, I shot most pictures either wide open or 1/2 a stop down.  If you don't need f2.8 for the popular zoom range of 70-200mm, I would suggest the f4L IS.  Well worth the money, and much lighter and easier on your body (and wallet).

More interesting is the comparison of the Wollensak 209mm f4.5 and the Canon 70-200mm f4L IS at 200mm.  The Wollensak was shot on the NEX-5N and you can see the very significant colour and rendering differences between the two lenses.  The NEX-5N and the Wollensak has a lot less saturation and contrast, where the Canon is the opposite.  I can't remember, but the lighting might be slightly different as the sun was doing hide and seek.  Aside from the colours, the bokeh is night and day too.  This shows how, despite the similar focal length, pictures can be vastly different between lenses; each has its own characters.  Which one you like is a personal preference.  For black & white photography, I think the Wollensak will be excellent.  

Young Tree - NEX-5N & Wollensak Raptar 209mm f4.5 Copy Lens. Click for larger.

Young Tree - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 70-200mm f4L IS @ 200mm f4. Click for larger

Bokeh - NEX-5N & Wollensak Raptar 209mm f4.5 Copy Lens. Click for larger.

Bokeh - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 70-200mm f4L IS @ 200mm f4. Click for larger

Fallen Leaf - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 70-200mm f4L IS @ 200mm f4. Click for larger

Reflection - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 70-200mm f4L IS.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Sad Note

Today my worst fear has come true - my most loved lens, the Canon EF 200mm f1.8 has stopped working.  I have had this lens for many years, and used it with all sorts of Canon cameras from the original 1Ds to the 1D Mark III and always gave me fantastic image quality.  We went to Guildwood Park today and everything was fine and I even took some pictures with it on our way home, but it's now dead.  No AF or even manual focus.

I am so sad, because the most likely case will be that there is no part to fix it.  Canon no longer has parts for this 24 year old lens.  It remains the fastest auto focus 200mm consumer lens in the world.  I will try the repair shops, but my hope is not too high.

Dillon Getting the shot - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 200mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Autumn Colours - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 200mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Sally with the wrong camera :) - Canon 1D Mark III & EF 200mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sunset on Queen Street

Sometimes you can get a glimpse of a sunset in the city; it can even be beautiful. The only trouble is capturing it faithfully.  With today's sensors, it's near impossible to record the shadow details in such a high contrast situation, without resorting to HDR of some kind.  Sensors today just do not have the dynamic range of the human eye yet, but I think they will be in a decade's time, or even less.

Sunset - NEX-5N & Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 HFT QBM 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Canon EF 100mm f2 USM - Samples Pictures

The Canon 100mm f2 is one of my favourite lenses, especially on full frame.  It is an underrated lens, overshadowed by the 85mm f1.8, and the 100mm f2.8 macro.  Most people who consider the 100mm focal length, would most likely go for the 100mm f2.8 macro, as it's a much more versatile lens, though one stop slower.  Personally, I think the one stop makes a difference, as f2 can be a working aperture.  Truly a great lens to own and use.

I used the 100mm f2 lens with the Canon T2i.  I originally owned this camera for a few months after it was introduced, but didn't like image quality and sold it..  Now that I have a chance to use it again, I miss how responsive the camera performs; more so that the Sony NEX-5N, especially on image playback.  Still, the sensor in the NEX-5N is much better than the T2i with lower noise and more dynamic range.

Maple Leaves - Canon T2i & EF 100mm f2 @ f2.2. Click for larger. 

In the Rain - Canon T2i & EF 100mm f2 @ f2.2. 

Stop - Canon T2i & EF 100mm f2 @ f2. 

Under Construction - Canon T2i & EF 100mm f2 @ f4. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Afternoon with the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 Mark I

Picked up a used Canon T2i (550D) for Dillon, for another slight upgrade from the XSi.  It's ridiculous how cheap used digital SLRs have become.  I wonder if it even makes sense to buy new cameras at all, as lower end digital SLRs retain their value at about 30% of the original price.  Before getting rid of the XSi, I thought I would use it a bit, as my Canon lenses have not been getting much love lately.  I shot with the 100mm f2.8L macro the other day, so today I used the EF 50mm f1.8 Mark I, the metal mount version.

Although the 50mm f1.8 Mark I uses a lot of plastic, its built is much better than the Plastic Fantastic (version II).  I owned version II for a while, before upgraded to the 50mm f1.4.  Both versions of the 50mm f1.8 focuses very noisily, if you are used to the silent USM lenses, but the Mark I feels more like a lens than a toy.  Both lenses are optically similar, but version II has newer lens coating.  I actually prefer Mark I which I think is sharper at the corner in large apertures.  Overall, it's a nice little lens that despite the age, performs really well.  If you don't care about the 2/3 of a stop slower, there is little advantage to upgrade to the 50mm f1.4 USM.

A note on the XSi body.  Though it's a Rebel, the focus is very quick and quite accurate, very similar to the Canon 30D I had.  However, the file shows its age compared to the Sony NEX-5N.  Even at low ISO, the Sony images are cleaner.  But, it's better than the T2i.  Yes, the older XSi has better low ISO image quality the newer T2i. A shame, really.

Startled Birds - Canon Rebel XSi & EF 50mm f1.8 Mark I @ f2.8. Click for larger.

Playground - Canon Rebel XSi & EF 50mm f1.8 Mark I @ f2.8. Click for larger.

Cyclist - Canon Rebel XSi & EF 50mm f1.8 Mark I @ f1.8. 

Bridgepoint Hospital in Distance - Canon Rebel XSi & EF 50mm f1.8 @ f4.0

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More Samples from Birns & Sawyer [Tewe] 200mm f3.2

The more I use the Birns & Sawyer [Tewe] 200mm f3.2, the more I like it.  I didn't have a very good impression of it the first time I used it and found that its bokeh was somewhat distracting.  Then I found that for some scenes, no matter what lens you use, the bokeh will look awful.  This lens is growing on me.

Fall Colours - NEX-5N & Birns & Sawyer 200mm f3.2. Click for larger

Park Benches - NEX-5N & Birns & Sawyer 200mm f3.2. Click for larger

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In-Body vs Lens Based Image Stabilization

The topic of in-body vs lens Image Stabilization (IS) has been talked to death, but I thought I would add my two cents.  The only camera that I owned, and had in-body IS was the Pentax K10D.  Sorry to say, but it was not as effective as I was hoping for, and certainly was not even close to the lens based stabilization of Canon lenses that I am familiar with.  After the experience with K10D, I am a bit wary of cameras with in-body IS.

I am sure with newer generations of in-body IS is much better than the first generation that was in the K10D, especially the advanced one found in the Olympus OM-D EM-5.  But I feel more confident using lens based IS, as the effect of IS is clearly visible in the viewfinder and I can judge how far I can go before pictures will start to look blurry.  I have not used the EM-5, so I can't say how the viewfinder will show the effect of IS.  I like the fact that in-body IS will work with ALL lenses attached to the camera, and this is especially useful for lens junkies like me, who uses mostly manual focus lenses.  An effective in-body IS system is a godsend. Though I still believe lens based IS is more effective, I really want a camera with in-body IS that's comparable to lens based IS, and currently only the Olympus EM-5 is competitive in this regard.

I am hoping the price of the EM-5 will drop by Christmas, which will push me to buy one :)

Nick Nack - Canon Rebel XSi & EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My In-Law's Backyard #2

Here are few more "very old" pictures taken in the In-Law's backyard.  I used the backyard for many of my "lens testing".  Over the years, some of the items shot in these pictures are no longer there or now look different.  That's another reason many of us love photography; to record the moment that may never be the same again.  After many years of taking pictures, I have noticed that some of the very ordinary places that I took pictures of, now either no longer exist, or have changed greatly.  If there are places/things that you want to document or take pictures of, do it now, or you may not have another chance later.

Clothespin [2008] - Pentax K10D & Vivitar 70-150mm f3.8. Click for larger.

Dandelion [2007] - Canon 20D & Tamron SP 500mm f8 Mirror Lens. 

Fall leaves [2007] - Canon 1D Mark II & Meyer-Optik 400mm f5.5 Telemegor

Monday, October 8, 2012

My In-Law's Backyard

It's unbelievable how many hours I have spent in my in-law's backyard taking pictures over the last 15 years or so.  Considering that it does not even have a garden, what makes it so attractive to me?  Boredom, really.  We visit the in-laws once a week on the weekends, with very little interruption.  Most days, my kids can hang out with their many cousins, and I usually just go out and take pictures, and in the backyard I spent countless hours, taking mostly close-up pictures of whatever look interesting.  I actually was thinking about making a photobook with the many pictures I took there. Interestingly, I never get bored doing it.  There is always something that I can find worth photographying.

Colour Leaves at in-law's backyard - NEX-5N & Kern-Paillard Switar 50mm f1.4. Click for larger.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sign of Autumn

Autumn has always been my favourite season.  For those of you who live in paradise where temperature is pretty much constantly warm all year round, you may not understand the big deal of changing of seasons.  To me, autumn is a perfect balance; no hot temperature and high humidity of summer, and no bone chilling winds of winter.  Just crisp clean air, with beautiful changing of colours.

Sign of autumn - NEX-5N & Apollo 135mm f1.8

Monday, October 1, 2012

A New Photo Book Project

I have finally started to make one of the two books that I said I was going to do at the beginning of the year. Unlike others, who may not have enough material for the book, I have the opposite problem - there are too many pictures to choose from.  I started with the easy one, I call it "The Alt Lens Book" that has a section for cine lenses, normal manual focus lenses, projection lenses, enlarging lenses, and "do it yourself" lenses.  There will be two pictures for each lens.  Already, I am not even done with cine lenses, and already am at page 42 of the book.  I would imagine that if I use all the lenses I ever used in this book, it will run into hundreds of pages, so I will have to drop some of them.  The book will be 8x10 in size, probably going to be around 150 to 200 pages.

The service that I am using for the book is called Blurb.  I did two books already with them, one for my sister-in-law's wedding, and another for a co-worker.  The books came out pretty good, and it's the cheapest I could find.  Now they also have different grades of paper to choose from, which was not available when I did the two books.  The BookSmart software provided is easy to work with.

Once the book is done, I will provide a link to the book so that if anyone is interested, you can take a look at it.  That's one of the nice things about Blurb is that once a book is printed, it's available for others to browse.  You can also list it for sale on their site, if you want to.  For Canadians, they now have a Canadian division and you can pay in Canadian dollars, instead of US.  Again, this is new and was not available when I did my other books.

Screen shot of my book in progress.  Click for larger.