Friday, December 31, 2010

ILEX 3 INCH (80mm) f1.3 Oscillo-Paragon -- More Samples

Took some more shots with the ILEX 80mm f1.3.  Tested some bokeh shots and found it's, well, kind of weird, if not ugly.  I guess the lens wasn't designed for nice background blurs.  Perhaps the lighting and elements in the picture have something to do with it, but I tried the same scene with the Canon FD 55mm f1.2 and Wollensak 75mm f1.9, both produced nicer bokeh.

In any case, an inexpensive 80mm f1.3 lens is intriguing; who doesn't want a cheap fast portrait lens?  You get what you paid for applies here, as it seems.  Will do some testing outdoors when I get a chance.

Megan -- NEX-5 & ILEX 80mm f1.3 @ f1.3. Click for larger size.

Weird Bokeh -- NEX-5 & ILEX 80mm f1.3 @ f1.3

Thursday, December 30, 2010

DIY NEX Focusing Helicoid

If you have been trying to make your own lens with enlarging lenses, medium format lenses, and other oddball lenses, no doubt you have encounter the problem of getting it to focus, because these lenses do not have their own focusing helicoids.  For some reason, focusing helicoids are ridiculously expensive, ranging from $120 to $300 or more, and those are just generic helicoids with M42 mounts.  There are some M43 native mount helicoids, but are still very expensive.  As of this writing, I found not NEX dedicated helicoids on the market, so I have decided to make my own.

What you need:

1.  NEX to C-Mount adapter
2.  Vivitar Macro Focusing Teleconverter.
3.  Drill with 1/32" drill bit.
4.  Philips Screw driver

I chose the NEX to C-Mount adapter as the mount to attach to the helicoid, because it's the thinnest mount for NEX.  Too thick the mount will make some lenses unable to focus to infinity.  The C-Mount also is the simplest mount, making it easy to drill holes.

Simple Procedures:

Remove the screws marked 1, 2, and 3

Lift the tube and everything inside it.

Remove the 3 screws on the rear mount, and lift the mount out.

Drill 3 holes on the C-mount adapter. Make sure the hole positions match the screw holes already there, and then screw the C-mount adapter on the lens.  Voila! Your NEX helicoid is done!

Finished NEX Focusing Helicoid.  Now you will have to figure out how to attach your lens to it.

I couldn't wait to test it out, so I taped my Wollensak 75mm f1.9 lens to it, and I was able to take some pictures like that, but for more permanence, you can get a 58mm-49mm step-up ring and screw that on the front.  Remember, there are three holes in the front of the helicoid.  This will provide a 58mm front thread with a 49mm diameter hold to mount lenses, but 49mm is too small for the rear element of the two lenses I tried to use, so I just taped it for the time being.

Sample Picture: Ryan -- NEX-5 Wallensak 75mm f1.9 @ f1.9.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Night Shooting Handheld with the Sony 16mm Pancake

So far the fastest native autofocus lens for the Sony NEX is  the 16mm f2.8 pancake.  I shot with it one night on the NEX-5 when we were in Niagara Falls this holiday weekend.  The wide angle plus the relatively fast maximum aperture allows shooting of 1/30s or even a bit slower and still get sharp pictures.  I find that the keeper rate is pretty good.  Since it's a wide angle, it does not need to stop down significantly to get good depth of field.  Very happy with this lens.

One of the things I am unhappy with the NEX-5 is that the auto focus system is much worse than the Panasonic G1 or GF-1.  The G1's focus is nearly always fast and sure.  The NEX on the other hand, has trouble focusing evening in very good light.  Most of the pictures I shot had to be focus adjusted by hand before they were taken.    So, it's auto focus system is nearly useless for low light work.

I am happy to find that ISO 1600 is usable on the NEX-5.  It's comparable to the 5-year old 1D Mark IIn.

Skywheel at night -- NEX-5 & 16mm f2.8 Pancake. Click to see larger.

LED Water Fountain -- NEX-5 & 16mm f2.8 Pancake. Click to enlarge.

Dome of the Fallsview Casino's water fountain at entrance -- NEX-5 & 16mm f2.8 Pancake.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

ILEX 3 INCH (80mm) f1.3 Oscillo-Paragon -- First Sample

For all the information that I can get, this lens was made for photographing oscilloscope traces on Polaroid film, which explains why the lens to sensor flange is so short.  In fact, this is a macro lens of sorts with a 0.5x magnification.  It comes with a No. 3x Universal shutter. This lens is similar to the Wollensak Oscillo-Anastimat 75mm f1.9, except the Ilex is much bigger and heavier.

Naturally, it's not worth much.  I picked one up at one of the used camera shows few months ago for $40, but can't really use it, at least not on the Canon.   After acquiring the NEX-5, I have plans to convert it to a "normal" lens with focusing helicoid.

To test it out, I held the lens to the NEX-5's mount, and took a few shots  at f1.3.  As expected, contrast is pretty low wide open, but not unusable, if you can nail the focus at f1.3 with a lens detached from the body while trying to focus!  I think it's a rather interesting lens for portraiture with such low contrast, and even a bit of luminous quality at f1.3.

I can't wait until I can make this into a proper lens with a focusing ring, and shoot some pictures at lower ISO.

ILEX 80mm f1.3 and Wollensak 75mm f1.9 on the left. Click to enlarge

William -- NEX-5 & ILEX 80mm f1.3 @ f1.3

My Plans for 2011

The year 2010 proved to be a year of gear changes.  It satisfied the urge to try new toys, but was not very conductive to actual photography.  My goal for 2011 is to settle down, and spend more time with picture taking, and less time playing with equipment.  There is only one piece of gear I really want for 2011, and few misc stuff:

5D Mark II -- I don't see the price of this camera coming down until late 2011 or even early 2012, when the new model starts shipping.  I don't absolutely need the camera, but I feel that my equipment will be more complete with a full frame body capable of providing very clean high ISO images.  Judging from the 5D's auto focus system, I am satisfied with the accuracy of the one in 5D II.  I never had problem with auto focusing on the 5D.  If anything, it was one of the most "ACCURATE" cameras I have had.  If I need anything faster, there is always the 1D IIn.  But, if the 5D Mark III comes with 7D's auto focus system,  and retains the clean image quality of the 5D II, I may consider the new model.

NEX-5 accessories -- mostly adapters for various lens mounts.  The NEX will replace my G1 for use with most of my manual focus lenses.  The Panny G1 will be given to Dillon, who will use it occasionally.  This body is next to worthless in the used market so it's not really worth selling.

DIY Lenses -- Instead of buying more lenses, I will be spending more time on DIY lenses. I would like to make the TTH Cooke 75mm f2 lens to be usable on the NEX.  This lens has no focusing ring and very short lens to sensor flange so lots of work will be needed.  The other two lenses I want to make usable is the Wollensak 75mm f1.9 medium format lens, and the Ilex 80mm f1.3 Oscillo-Paragon.  I don't have much hope for optical quality for the Ilex lens, but it would be interesting to see how good it is at f1.3.  Even if the optical quality is not there, I am sure it will have some unique characteristics that gave birth to its existence. If time permits, I would also like to try some more enlarging lenses which I started a couple of years ago.

Clean out more junk -- There are so much junk that I have accumulated over the years from the old Henry's Outlet Store that I need to get rid of.  Most of the them are worthless and probably will be giving away.  The three large cases of manual focus lenses must go.  I will keep some of them for parts, but don't need that many.  Most of the usable manual focus lenses will be sold to fund the 5D II body purchase.

We will see how my plans pan out in 2011.

Clouds over transmission lines -- NEX-5 & 18-55mm kit lens. Click to see larger.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I would like to wish all my readers a safe and happy holiday season.  May all your wishes come true and that Santa will leave the toys you want under that Christmas tree.  Most of all, this holiday season is a great opportunity to take lots of pictures of family.  I guarantee you will treasure these memories for years to come.  Happy holidays and happy shooting!

Downtown Toronto in golden morning light -- NEX-5 & 18-55 kit lens. Click to see larger.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spadina in the Morning

Spadina in the early morning -- NEX-5 & 16mm f2.8

As I use the 16mm f2.8 pancake lens more, I like it quite a bit.  I would even go as far as saying it's one of the bargains for a pancake lens, if you get it for $150 when buying a zoom lens kit at Henry's.  Quite happy with the performance of the lens.  The edge is comparable to the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L Mark I, and easily better than the 17-35mm f2.8L.  When you think about the small size and low price, it's well worth the price.  The only think missing is the image stabilization.  Although nice to have, but at this wide angle, it's often not needed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Michael Lee-Chin Crystal

8th wonder of the world, or butt ugly?  -- NEX-5 & 18-55mm Kit lens. Click to enlarge

This is an interesting building located at the corner of Bloor St. & Queen's Park.  A new addition of the Royal Ontario Museum which cost $270 million dollars to build, and opened to the public in 2007.  The building was name after billionaire Michael Lee-Chin who donated $30 million for this new building. The public reaction of te design of the building  is a mixed bag.  Some name it one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world, and others hail it as a monument.  Personally, the building doesn't jive with me.  It's too radical for my taste, but then again I am no architectural critic.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sony 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 Mini Impression

When pretty much all manufacturers are heading in the direction of making their kit lenses with all plastics, Sony made theirs with metal, for the NEX platform anyway.  The 14-45mm kit lens that came with  my Panny G1 has a metal mount, but later ones are plastic.  I don't expect much from kit lenses, as they tend to have very bad optical quality, and the hideous distortion.  Well, the Sony E-Mount 18-55mm kit lens has pretty severe distortion, like most others, but unless you shoot brick walls or pictures with parallel straight lines, it's not very obvious.  The lens is well made, and it's optically excellent, especially at the long end.  The SteadyShot stabilization mechanism works pretty well.  most pictures are sharp when shot at 1/13s or faster.  I wish the pancake 16mm f2.8 also has image stabilization, but unfortunately it doesn't.

English River -- Sony NEX-5 & 18-55mm kit lens at ISO 1600, 1/13s hand held. Click to see larger.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010 - A Year in Review

2010 saw the most frequent gear change ever for me.  Practically all my camera bodies have been replaced, except the Panny G1 and the IR 20D.  Personally, this is not a good sign.  Frequent gear changes are like mid-life crisis -- not happy with things as they are, and a need to prove something that may never be there.

Three new camera bodies were purchased this year.  Canon T2i in February, 7D in June, and Sony NEX-5 in December and acquired a used 1D IIn and Panny GF-1.  In brief, bought T2i, 7d, NEX-5, 1D Mark IIn, GF-1; sold: 5D Mark I. Current holding: 1D IIn, Panny G1, IR 20D, NEX-5.

I admit I was fooled by the Canon propaganda machines regarding the high image quality and high ISO capabilities of the T2i/7D.  I love both of these cameras except the sensor.  If had the the image quality of the 5D sensor with some high ISO enhancements, I would be in heaven, especially for the 7D.  It's almost a perfect APS-C camera.  So I have learned that you can't really trust what a company says completely, and that the studio test shot in dpreview represent the best image quality under ideal lighting, that in normal use, would almost never achieve the same results.

Sad to say that I have only partially achieved my goal as I set out to accomplish in the beginning of the year: a high speed camera for action (1D IIn), a full frame bodies with high ISO capabilities (which was supposed to be the 5D II, but the pricing has not gone down significantly enough to justify buying one), and a body to play with manual focus lenses (G1/NEX-5).

I already wrote about why I got rid of the T2i and 7D -- the image quality is not what I expected.  The short lived ownership of the GF-1 did not excite me.  Just don't like shooting with it.  I felt like shooting with a small brick -- very uncomfortable to hold.

In terms of lenses, I added some manual focus lenses, but far less than previous years.  I think this is a good thing.  Either manual focus lenses don't interest me any more, or the ones I really want are out of my price range.  A good thing, I would say.  The only auto focus lens I bought this year was the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS (kit lenses don't count).  What a fabulous lens it is.  This lens was to replace both my 100mm f2 USM as well as the 180mm f3.5L, but so far both of them are still with me.  As I said before, it's hard to get rid of lenses.

However, I did sell part of my M42 collection, especially the Takumars.

Gone are the SMC 24mm f3.5 (this one would hit the mirror of the 5D/1D series), SMC 55mm f1.8, SMC 50mm f1.4, and a few others.  Planning to get rid of the rest: SMC 35/2, SMC 35/3.5, SMC 28/3.5, 300mm f5.6 Ultra-Achromat and possibly SMC 17mm f4 fisheye.  This last one is tough to let go.  I did sell it once, but bought the same lens back. The only Takumar lens I will likely keep is the SMC 85mm f1.8.  The sold lenses partially funded the purchase of the NEX-5.

The Panny 45-200mm f4-5.6 OIS lens was also sold.  I had high hopes for this lens but it never performed well.  The image quality was not there, and the IS was not very effective.  After a few uses, it was gone.  The only regret I had for this lens was that I bought it in the first place.

Next, my plan for 2011.

A picture to remember my 5D and the spring to look forward to in this frigid winter -- Canon 5D & Schneider Retina Tele-Xenar 135mm f4. Click for larger.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sony 16mm f2.8 Pancake Lens on NEX-5

Picked up the backed ordered pancake lens yesterday and took a bunch of pictures around my work area during lunch today.

Most reviews of the 16mm f2.8 pancake lens are not very favourable.  Photozone gives it one and a half star out of five, for optical quality, which I think is a bit unjust.  We need to keep in mind  that this is not an expensive lens; it's built to be small and therefore some compromises are made for optical quality, not to mention it's a ultra wide lens.  From the samples I have taken, the edge is acceptable at f8.  If you must have razor sharp corners below f8, you should be looking at the likes of Distagon 21mm f2.8

I happen to like this little lens.  It has very good center sharpness.  The small size, when paired with the NEX-5, it feels nice and balances well.  The only "complain" I have, is that this lens is too wide for everyday shooting.  I think a 35mm equivalent focal length would be ideal.  Imagine a 35mm f2 equivalent lens on the NEX.  I won't even need the Fuji X-100 any more!

I am sure I learn more about both the 16mm f2.8 and the NEX-5 after some use.  So far, I am relatively happy with the NEX-5 and the dual lens kit.

The Ontario College of Art & Design building -- NEX-5 & 16mm f2.8 Pancake lens at f8. Click to see larger.

Old Church -- NEX-5 & 16mm f2.8 Pancake.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

GF1 vs NEX-5

I had the GF1 for only a very short time.  I bought it thinking it's a nice small camera that would replace my trusty G1, but alas, it didn't turn out the way I expected.  The GF1 is actually quite a nice camera, and very well built, but I find shooting with it was very awkward.  Consequently, I sold it.

Compared to the GF1, the NEX-5 is much easier to hold due to the larger grip, despite being smaller than the GF1.  Although I don't use the tilt or swivel screen much, the NEX-5's screen can be tilted up or down, useful for some occasions, whereas the GF1's screen is fixed in place. 

I guess the biggest difference, this applies to the G1 as well, is the larger sensor which gives a wider angle for the same lens mounted to the body.  With a 16mm f2.8 pancake, I have a nice small 24mm f2.8 equivalent lens on the NEX, but to get this kind of wide angle, the only option is the 7-14mm f4, if you need auto focus.  Panasonic does not make a wide angle 24mm equivalent prime.

Pricing.  When I got my G1 with the 18-45mm kit lens, I paid almost $800 for it.  Of course it's a bit cheaper now for the G2.  The NEX-5 with the 18-55mm kit  lens and the 16mm pancake totals $850 (the pancake is only $150 with the purchase of the zoom kit), which I think is a great price.  This two lens kit is adequate for most shooting situations when travelling.

Performance -- for the very short time I have used the NEX-5, I find it much slower overall.  Focus is slower, view to shoot time (pressing the shutter to shoot when you are viewing a picture you have just taken) is slower.   The G1/GF1 has noticeably faster focus.  Also, the live-view on the NEX seems to wobble, not really sure if it's my camera, or that's the way it is designed.

Image Quality.  At high ISO 800 and over, the Sony NEX is a little better, on par with the Canon T2i/7D. At base ISO, both the Sony and the Panasonic are very clean.  I like the colour of the Panasonic a bit more then the NEX, but then again, the last two days has been gloomy and snowy, which doesn't really show much of the colour from the NEX.  We will see as I use the NEX more.

One thing that I miss on the NEX is the gorgeous viewfinder of the G1, which makes manual focus a joy.  Hopefully, Sony will release an optional EVF for the NEX bodies.

Where is beer, there is hope -- Sony NEX-5 with 18-55mm kit lens.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The NEX Factor

So I couldn't resist, and bought an NEX-5 this Sunday with the 18-55mm kit lens.  I also got the 16mm f2.8 pancake since Henry's has a 1/2 price special on it when buying the NEX-5 zoom kit.  Unfortunately, the 16mm is back ordered and I won't get it for a few more days.

So what made me buy the NEX?

Three things:

1.  Very short flange focal distance of 18mm.  This essentially allows you to use pretty much any photographic lenses on this camera, including range finder lenses.

2.  Larger APS-C sensor.  As much as I like the Panasonic G1, getting wide angle for it, even a 24mm equivalent is expensive.

3.  Hopefully better image quality.  Sadly, the first few images I have taken haven't given me this impression.  In fact, the image quality reminds me of the Canon 7D/T2i.  OK, not a fair evaluation with only about 10 images.

The camera is very small.  Much smaller than I thought.  The large zoom kit lens makes it look even smaller.  However, it's not uncomfortable to hold.  Not as nice as the G1 though.  As the camera was designed for digicam upgraders, its UI definitely takes some getting used to.  Luckily, Aperture Priority is pretty much all I have used.  The screen is definitely better than the G1 screen.  Very sharp and vibrant.

Like the G1, this camera will be mostly used with manual focus lenses.  I have ordered a Canon FD, Canon EF (since I have a large number of adapters for EF mount), and C-Mount adapters.  I have a Kern-Pillard Switar 50mm f1.4 cine lens, as well as the JML 50mm f0.95 TV lens, which I could not use on the G1 due to their very large lens barrel.  I am hoping it will fit the NEX.  The image circle should be large enough on the APS-C sensor, but I will have to see after the adapter arrives.

I am a little excited about the NEX.  Hopefully I will find the image quality good enough to keep it.

Christmas Tree -- NEX-5 with 18-55mm kit. ISO 1600. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Swim Meet Winter 2010

We have always emphasized that swimming is one of the the life skills that everyone should have, not to mention the benefits of whole body exercise when swimming.  Consequently, all of our kids go to local community swimming classes.  Classes are run through out the year.  Megan and Dillon have already finished all the levels and are now training to be a life guard, which will take years.  The life guard courses teach life saving skills (CPR, among others) and technique not found in regular swimming classes. These classes are typically very long and sometimes last up to three hours per session.  So, unless your kids really want to do it, it's not for everyone.

Initially, all our kids resisted swimming, but after a while, they started to enjoy it.  It's important to start when they are very young, and be persistent when they first start, and don't give up.

If swimming classes are not enough, one can joint the community swim teams. Swim team training normally runs longer than normal swimming classes and is more rigorous. The swim teams compete with other community teams typically twice a year. It's a good opportunity for the kids to learn sportsmanship and team work, as the competitions always have relay event that each team member would participate.

I shot the swimming event with a 1D IIn and 200mm f1.8L again.  Tried the Canon 1.4x converter for the first time with the 200mm f1.8L.  This makes the 200mm lens a 364mm f2.5, when factored in the 1D's 1.3x crop view but the one stop lost of light proved not practical for the very dim lighting of the swimming pool, the shutter speed was just not fast enough for the fast actions with the 1.4x converter.  The image quality is acceptable even wide open at f2.5 with very little loss sharpness.

William -- 1D IIn & EF 200mm f1.8L @ f2.0. Click to enlarge.

Megan -- 1D IIn & EF 200mm f1.8 with 1.4x Wide Open @ f2.5. Click to enlarge.

Ryan -- 1D IIn & EF 200mm f1.8L @ f2. Click to enlarge

Dillon -- 1D IIn & EF 200mm f1.8L @ f1.8. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rudolph the Reindeer without the Red Nose

Reindeer -- Panasonic G1 & Canon FD 50mm f1.4 S.S.C

The human brain is a real work of art.  Even when something is out of focus, we can still immediately recognize the shape and reconstruct the fuzzy picture into something we know.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Toy Santa

Santa Claus at night -- G1 & FD 55mm f1.2 

As it turns out, I was wrong when I said holiday "decorations and happenings are everywhere".  I remember years ago that people seemed to do more decorations outside their homes, but in my neightbourhood, holiday decorations is far and between, and nothing spectacular.  Most are just a couple of strings of LED lights hanging outside.  Instead, commercials to advertise the holiday is everywhere.  Sigh.  Times are a changing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Zoomar Kilfitt Makro Kilar 90mm f2.8

It's ironic that for someone who doesn't take many macro pictures, I own so many macro lenses.  At one point, I had more than 15 macro lenses of many different focal lengths at the same time!  Even after getting rid of many, I still have eight of them -- Two auto focus (EF 180mm f3.5L, EF 100mm f2.8 L IS), and the rest of them are manual focus lenses.  The Kilfitt Makro Kilar is one of the more interesting macro lens.  This lens was originally a PL mount movie lens which I purchased along with another weird Birns & Sawyer 150mm f3 also in PL mount.  Both of these lenses were in pretty bad shape and obviously very well used.   The Makro Kilar has a removable mount which can be changed easily into another mount. I converted the Makro Kilar into an EF mount, using, ahem, Guerrilla glue, which has work out well.

As I said, this is an interesting lens.  It has the most unique bokeh I have seen when shot wide open.  In the out of focus highlights, you can see a circle within a circle, like the picture below:

Christmas tree ornament -- Canon 1Ds & Kifitt Makro Kilar @ f2.8. 

What this lens is terrible at, is flare.  Being a non-multi-coated lens, flare resistance is practically nil.  I am not sure if it's because the copy I have is pretty dusty inside, which will cause pictures to have a "white out" effect when shot in large apertures.  The lens is sharp at its maximum aperture, just that the contrast is very low, but there are tons of details.  In fact, this lens is actually quite a nice portrait lens when used around f2.8 and f4, the low contrast makes the skin look very nice.  I especially like to shoot black and white pictures with this lens.  It has very smooth tonal transition.

Once you stop it down around f8, it's extremely sharp with high contrast, just like most macro lenses are.

Being a 1:1 macro lens, the Makro Kilar has a very long focus travel.  From 1:1 to infinity, it takes more than two complete turns.  It's sometimes frustrating when you need to focus from one end to another extreme end, it could take a few seconds, especially on my copy, where the focusing ring is slightly tight.

Strangely, this lens is not a good match with high density sensors.  On the T2i and 7D, I could hardly get any usable pictures with this lens.  But on the original 1Ds and the 5D, this lens matches up really well and produces nice results.

In all, it's a unique and uncommon lens that's fun to shoot with and it's more than just a macro lens.  It's equally good at portraiture.  However, it may not work well with all cameras.  Your mileage may vary.

Racing Monkey Ornament - 1D IIn & Zoomar Kilfitt Makro Kilar 90mm f2.8 at f2.8.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Santa Bear

Santa Bear - G1 & Canon FD 50mm f1.4 SSC @ f1.4. Click to see larger

Continuing the holiday theme.  My goal for December is that any pictures I post here is holiday related.  Shouldn't be too difficult, considering holiday decorations and happenings are everywhere.

As I use the FD lenses more, I have a new appreciation of the old Canon manual focus lenses.  Makes me want to sell off all other old lenses and start a FD collection.  There are so many of them, and some of them are definitely equal to, if not better than today's modern lenses.  This is especially true for the the L series.  50mm f1.2L, 85mm f1.2L, 24mm f1.4L, 200mm f1.8L, etc, which are predecessors of today's auto focus EF L lenses.  But, these FD L lenses still command a very high premium, probably more so later on as more and more people discover the beautifully made, and optically great FD lenses to use on the Micro 4/3 and NEX cameras.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


JOY - G1 & Canon FD 50mm f1.4 SSC

As the Christmas holiday gets closer, we see and feel more and more signs and spirit of the season.  At the same time, I feel that Christmas has become more commercial.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Last Bit of Fall Colour

Last Bit of Autumn -- Canon 1D IIn & EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro. Click for larger size. 

It's always sad to see autumn going away.  The last bit of fall colour signifies the coming of bone chilling winter.  Having lived in Canada for 30 years, I am still not completely used to winter.  I don't really mind it, but prefer warmer temperatures.  The good thing about where I live, is that each season  is distinctively different, unlike warmer places like California, or Florida, where the weather is pretty much the same all year round.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pixel Peeping

So I have been pixel peeping and checking out the Sony NEX-5, as well as other cameras.  I downloaded some sample RAW files from and compared them between different cameras.  Sony used to be one of the worse when it came to noisy images, but they really have cleaned up their act.  The NEX-5 RAW files are impressively clean, even at ISO 1600.  OK, the sample pictures were taken at optimal lighting conditions with near perfect white balance.  A real life high ISO picture at ISO 1600 will surely look worse, but when you compare the ISO 1600 RAW file to the Canon T2i, the Sony NEX-5 has more details, and cleaner.  I am really surprised how far Sony has come.

What impresses me most is the 5D II.  At ISO 3200, it's still very very clean, comparable to the Nikon D700, but at almost twice the pixels.  That's one incredible feat to achieve.  This re-enforces my goal as my next camera.  I am hoping Santa will be nice and sneaked one under the Christmas tree :-)  Still, I want the NEX-5 to replace my G1.  May be in 2011.

No Blood For Oil -- G1 & Kern Pillard Switar 75mm f1.9 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cosmicar 12.5mm f1.4 Television Lens

Micro 4/3 users are usually at a disadvantage when it comes to manual focus wide angle lenses, due to the 2x crop factor.  Any lens mounted on a Micro 4/3 camera, its focal length will be multiplied by 2.  So, even for a modest 28mm equivalent wide angle, you would need a 14mm lens in 35mm format.  Well, we all know how much one has to pay for a manual focus 14mm lens, regardless who makes it.

One alternative to normal 35mm format lens, is C-Mount Television lens.  These lenses are usually pretty cheap, but they also have very small image circle, not to mention the normally abysmal resolving power.  You can usually find very wide angle C-Mount TV lenses as wide a 6mm.  Unfortunately, all you would usually get is a small circle of an image with a huge black border.  In other words, not really usable.  There are some that covers  a larger sensor, such as the 1 inch sensors.  You can tell by the size of the lens.  If it's really small, it would have a rather small imaging circle.  A friend of mine showed me a trick to check the approximate image circle of a lens.  Find a light source, and use the lens to form the clear image on your palm.  The size of the image gives you some idea how much coverage the lens can provide.

I came across a Cosmicar 12.5mm f1.4 TV lens.  Cosmicar is a division of Pentax that manufacture close circuit TV lenses.  The size of this lens is almost the same as the Angenieux 70mm f2.5.  It's very fast for such a wide angle lens with a maximum aperture of f1.2.  Mounted on the G1, the equivalent focal length is 25mm.  This is wide enough for most occasions.  BUT, you don't get the whole image, sad to say.  This lens would cover a one inch sensor, but not enough to cover the Micro 4/3 sensor, hence its heavy vignetting.  As with most wide angle TV/Cine lenses, the edges are blurry.  This particular lens would still give you usable image if cropped at the long edges.

In terms of image quality, contrast is low wide open, with a soft glow, but still quite sharp.  From f2.8, center sharpness is actually quite respectable with markedly improved contrast.  Resolving power seems low, as expected from a TV lens.  Not too crazy about the colour that comes out of this lens either.  The colour seems washed out.  Minimum focusing distance is 0.3 meters, or about 12 inches.

The 14-45mm kit lens is still light years better than this cosmicar lens in terms of sharpness, contrast and colour saturation, but it does free you from Photoshopping your own vignettes.  In some situations, this lens gives you somewhat unique characteristics not possible with the kit lens, especially in dim lighting condition where you can take pictures at f1.4. It's kind of fun to play with, as long as you can get it cheap.

Wide Open at f1.4 -- note the soft glow effect and heavy vignetting

Fence -- Aperture is around f4.  Note drab colour.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Toronto Open, Fall 2010

Yet again another speed cubing competition held on November 27, 2010 at Seneca's Residence & Conference Centre.   This is the fourth and last competition of 2010 in Toronto.  It was a larger turn out, but the previous winners, Harris Chan and Eric Limeback did not enter the competition.  Eric did come by later in the day to help out the event as a judge.

Dillon and Ryan did very well for the Rubik's cube 2x2.  Both of them advanced to the second round, but unfortunately, only Ryan made it to the final and finished 8th with an average of 5.19 second.  Neither of them could advance to second round of the 3x3 event, as the there are so many great faster cubers.

Once again, Ryan won first place in Rubik's Magic with a best score of 1.11 seconds, and an average of 1.25 second, slightly better than the last competition.

The first place of 3x3 event was once again won by an American, Rowe Hessler, from New York.  Rowe had a fastest 3x3 solve in the event -- 7.06 seconds.  This would have been a world record few months ago, but now the world record holder is Feliks Zemdegs of Australia with 6.77 seconds.  This time bettered Harris Chan's 7.33 seconds.

It was a long day, but the kids (Dillon & Ryan anyway) enjoyed themselves.

Rowe Hessler at 7.06s. Click to enlarge.

Dillon Solving a 2x2. Click to enlarge.

Ryan with First Place for Magic.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When You Have Too Much Gear - Part II

I did a little more pondering about having too much gear, and I think I should really face the fact, which I have always known, but don't want to admit it -- I acquired so much gear because of:

1.  I am possessive.  Having lots of gear somehow makes me happy.  Often, I derive lots of pleasure just playing with lenses and cameras, not necessarily taking pictures with them.  However, this sometimes have the opposite effect -- it also makes my fell guilty.

2.   I am greedy.  When I see people take pictures with different kinds of lenses, I feel the need to try them or own them.  More often than not, a lens that is bought but only used a few times, then put away for a long time before using it again.

3.  I lack creativity.  My pictures exhibit too much sameness and me-too-ness.  Just can't break out of the mold and try different styles/methods.  To compensate, I keep hoping a different lens/camera will make a bigger difference.  Unfortunately, this is just not true, but I refuse to accept the fact.

There is more, but I think it's enough for a start.  I am hoping this post will be kind of like my own shrink to help me cure an addiction.

CN Tower & Downtown Toronto in Silhouette - G1 & Canon FD 55mm f1.2. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When You Have Too Much Gear

I remember when I got my 3.1 MP Canon G1 back in 2001, I took it everywhere and made a lot of pictures.  I debated for months before spending the $20USD on a LensMate adapter, so that I can use filters and close up lenses on the G1, and I did use it quite a bit.

I had the same passion with my Canon 300D from 2003. Used it a lot and whenever I got a piece of new gear/lens for it, I was excited and spent weeks checking it out, and comparing it to others.  I really enjoyed both taking pictures and acquiring photo gears.

After the 300D, I got more cameras and lenses, and more often.  Still like to take pictures, but the passion to tryout new stuff is gradually waning.  Today, I can hardly get excited about new cameras, especially Canon cameras that show no real innovation, but going backwards in image quality with more pixels, in their consumer/pro-sumer grade of cameras.  But, I think it's just me, because Canon still sells more DSLRs than other manufacturers, and people are buying them like there is no tomorrow.

For the last two months, I seem to have developed resistance to photography, gears or otherwise. There interest doesn't seem to be there any more, or perhaps, as they say, the flame has extinguished.  I think it's partly due to the number of lenses I have built up.  Frankly I am very tired of having so many lenses that actually distracts me from taking pictures.  A decision needs to be made, and that is to get rid of the majority of my manual focus lenses and buy a full frame camera that I can use for the next five years, with a set of auto focus lenses, and a set of manual focus lenses of most common focal lengths. Yes, this shall be my new resolution of next year -- less gear, more pictures with substance.  We will see how it goes.  

Gardiner Express Way - 1D IIn & EF 100mm f2.8L IS.  Click on picture to see bigger.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Santa Claus Parade

This year marks the 106th anniversary of the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto.  Every year since 1905, kids and adults alike look forward to the annual Santa Claus Parade.  Two years ago our whole family went out early to find a good spot to see the parade.  It's always very crowded and you need to be early to get close to the action.  I shot the parade two years ago using only one lens -- the 200mm f1.8L and the 1D Mark II. Below are few of the pictures from the parade:

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canon EF 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus

I admit.  I am a sucker for weird and unusual stuff.  Soft focus lenses are niche lenses that are normally used in rare occasions, especially in film days.  Almost every major manufacturer made a soft focus lens of some sort.  Pentax 85mm f2.8 soft focus, Nikon 105mm/135mm f2 DC, and of course the Canon 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus. Like few of the often neglected Canon primes, such as the 28mm f2.8, 100mm f2, the 135mm f2.8 SF lives in the shadow of its big brother, the 135mm f2.0L.

135mm f2 and 135mm f2.8 SF. Click to see larger.

Having owned this lens for quite a few years, I can't remember using it more than 7 or 8 times in total.  I think that the Soft Focus indication on this lens kind of make people think that it's a soft focus lens only, but in fact the soft focus effect can be turned off. Compared to the 135mm f2L, you immediately see the difference in material and workmanship.  The SF version is by no means a badly made lens, but the barrow is plastic, though the mount is metal.  It's very light as well.  The most annoying thing is that like most of the lenses from this era and series, such as the 24mm f2.8, 28mm f2.8, 35mm f2, dusts seem to get inside the lens too easily.

Despite the relatively cheap (often under $200 used), this is actually quite a nice and sharp lens, even at f2.8.  From my experience using many of the Canon lenses over the years, the sharpness of Canon lenses wide open often has a lot to do with critical focus.  Many of the consumer cameras just do not have the accuracy to achieve exact focus, and thus the pictures will look soft. If you ever use live view to focus, you would often find the lens is much sharper.  This 135mm f2.8 SF is no exception.  Sure, contrast suffers a bit at wide apertures, but by f4, this lens is extremely sharp.

Most people who buy this lens tend to use it for the soft focus effect.  The soft focus effect is not easily emulated by software filters.  It's very pleasing to look at if applied appropriately.  Most often used to photograph women, or couples to create a romantic look.  I used it to take pictures of a friend, and my sister-in-law's wedding with satisfactory results.  This particular lens has two settings for softness, setting #2 is often too soft and masks too much details.  Setting #1 is what I normally would use, with apertures between f2.8 and f4.  Smaller than f4, the softness is almost completely gone.

I am quite happy with this lens, although I usually grab 135L when shooting, but when it comes to special soft effects, it's great to have around, not to mention it can be used as a normal lens.

Black Squirrel - 1D IIn & EF 135mm f2.8 SF at f2.8. Click to see larger.

Fence - 1D IIn & 135mm f2.8 SF @ f2.8. Click to see larger.

Back Lit Trees - 1D IIn & 135mm f2.8 @ f2.8. Click to enlarge.