Friday, September 28, 2012

My Favourite Blogs. What's Yours?

The inter-web is a marvelous place.  In the olden days, I used to spent hundreds of dollars a year subscribing/buying magazines of whatever interest I had at the time, mostly personal computers and photography (The Transactor, Circuit Cellar, Modern/Popular Photography come to mind).  If you want to read a review of a new product, sorry, but you would have to wait about one to three months for the magazine to publish reviews.  Rumours?  Sure, your usual sales person was the best place to get them.  The internet changes all that.  I now subscribe to RSS feeds, not printed matters (though still a couple of magazines to support my kids' school). Rumours?  We now have dedicated rumour sites for your favourite brand, and they even have "Trusted Sources" for rumours that often provide very accurate information which would turn out to be true. So much for rumours, eh?

I will list below, the favourite blogs the I check/read everyday, in no particular order of importance.  Please let me know what your favourites are.

The Online Photographer - By far my favourite blog.  Michael Johnston is a great writer.  If you follow photography, you no doubt had enjoyed his "The Sunday Morning Photographer" articles that he wrote for the Luminous-Landscape, and perhaps, his "37th Frame" magazine.  His articles are well researched, intelligent, and always well written.  There are other regular contributors, specifically, Ctein, who writes a weekly article for the blog.  The blogs is not heavy on camera gear, but more on the essence of photography.  Some articles are not even photography related but always a good read. The comments section is especially interesting to read.

The Visual Science Lab - By Kirk Tuck.  I don't know how anyone can write so much and so often.  You might not like it if you don't like reading long articles.  As I said, Kirk can write.  If you are a working pro or you make a living from photography, Kirk has many insights as a working pro.

Lens Rental Blog - By Roger Sicala.  Roger loves camera gear and has a great sense of humour.  Most important of all, he is unbiased when it comes to testing gear.  He has access to hundreds (possibly thousands) of lenses and camera bodies of different brands with multiple copies of the same item, so test data is usually representative of real world usage.

Ming Thein | Photographer - Ming Thein, based in Singapore Malaysia, is another prolific writer.  I like his concise writing style and his post processing techniques.

Luminous Landscape -  I have been following this site since Michael Reichmann reviewed the 3 MP Canon D30 in 2000. Michael's tell it like it is attitude has built a reputation in the cyberspace as one of the best hands on review sites.  The site has been slowly increasing coverage for Medium Format Digital, which I find interesting but irrelevant (for me). - One of the very first web sites dedicated to photography.  Started by Philip Greenspun, who wrote many Canon gear related articles in the early 90s.  His "Travel with Samantha" series was my favourite articles.  The site contains a wealth of information, especially on older equipment, largely because it has been around for so long.  It also has some of the best and the most inspirational photographs in its user galleries.

By Thom and Sans Mirror - Even though Bythom is mostly about Nikon gear, I love to read his insightful and easy to understand articles.  The site is pretty old and not very flexible in design and does not offer RSS feeds directly.  The Sans Mirror site is newer and covers all mirrorless cameras.  Thom's thoughts on the camera industry should not be missed.

Robin Wong - If you want to read the most comprehensive hands on lens/camera reviews (mostly Olympus),  or you love street shooting, look no further.  Robin is a great photographer and an excellent writer.

And then there are the rumour sites that provide so much entertainment and create expectations of new gears to come:

Canon Rumour
Sony Alpha Rumour
Four Third Rumours
Photo Rumours
Mirrorless Rumours
Nikon Rumours

Sheltered - NEX-5N & Leica-R 90mm f2.0 Summicron

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cheap Fun Part Two - Vivitar 28mm f2.8 TX Mount

On the theme of cheap fun, this Vivitar 28mm f2.8 in TX interchangeable mount also qualifies.  Not only does it have very good distortion control, it's also very sharp stopped down a little.  There are so many different Vivitar mini-wide (28/35mm) lenses out there that it's dizzying to know them all.  The same design of lens could be made by different manufacturers. This particular lens was made by Tokina (37), and is quite well built.  You may also find a Tokina branded 28mm f2.8 that may share similar or same design.  These are very cheap lenses that can produce quite nice results.

Rust - NEX-5N & Vivitar TX mount 28mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Tower in sunset - NEX-5N & Vivitar TX mount 28mm f2.8

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cheap Fun with Sima 100mm f2 Soft Focus Lens

There aren't that many lenses you can buy for under $50, especially those that can take unique pictures.  The Sima 100mm f2 soft focus with macro lens is one of those lenses that you literally throw around without worries, because the entire lens is made of plastic, including the lens elements themselves.  In fact, though I have not tried it, you can probably put it in the dishwasher and it will probably survive the wash cycle.  

If you don't know much about this lens, it's a T-mount lens that will fit ANY camera mount. the lens comes in two parts.  You focus by pushing or pulling the front lens barrel until it's in focus, and then you take a picture.  Extremely simple, but great deal of fun.  The lens comes with f4 and f5.6 (or could be f8) aperture discs that go on the front of the lens.

Sadly, the price of this lens has gone up way too much.  It used to be sold for under $20 just a few years ago, but now sellers on eBay want $70 to $80 for one.

Sign of Autumn - NEX-5N & Sima 100mm f2 @ f2. Click for larger.

Rose - NEX-5N & Sima 100mm f2 @ f4. Click for larger.

Sign of Autumn #2 - NEX-5N & Sima 100mm f2 @ f2. Click for larger.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Leaf on Fence

Dead leaf - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componon [Durst] 50mm f4 Enlarging Lens. Click for larger.

Of all the enlarging lenses I have, the Schneider-kreuznach Componon (Dusrt) 50mm f4 is the most elaborately built.  The entire lens barrel was made of brass and chrome plated.  It also sports a 15-blade aperture.  Interestingly, at maximum aperture of f4, the aperture blades are not hidden.  I suspect the lens is capable of f2.8, but is restricted to f4 as the maximum.  It came with both the front and rear lens hoods.  Very beautiful and heavy, with excellent optics to match.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Window - NEX-5N & Vivitar Auto Wide Angle 28mm f2.8 TX interchangeable Mount. Click for larger.

My kids' music school, Regent Park School of Music, had outgrown itself and moved from its former old building on Queen Street East near River Street to the spanking new Regent Park Arts & Culture Centre on Dundas Street East. The Whole Note Magazine was there to take pictures of the new school for its upcoming issue.  My kids were invited as part of the group in the pictures that will appear in the cover of the magazine.

As soon as I entred the second floor, where the music school is, I was immediately drawn to this gigantic window, as pictured above.  As you can see, new buildings have been built in a feverish pitch in the Regent Park area; it's transforming itself into beautiful living/working space. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Look Back at the First EVIL Camera - Panasonic G1

Out of guilt, I took the Panasonic G1 out yesterday.  It was literally collecting dust.  Besides, the Wollensak one inch (25mm) Cine Raptar hasn't seen the light of day since I got it, because its imaging circle is too small for the NEX-5N.

First thing that jumped to my mind was how good the viewfinder is, even against the very best on the market (Sony external viewfinder for the 5N).  Yes, it's not as crisp and detailed as the Sony, but proudly holds its own.  Considering the G1 is four years old, this says something.  

In some ways, I prefer the colour from the Panasonic than the NEX-5N.  It seems more vibrant and pleasing to look at.  But when it comes to image quality, the NEX-5N is clearly the winner.  Even at ISO 320, the G1 shows lots of noise, compared to the G1, thanks to the larger sensor and better on-chip noise reduction of the NEX-5N.  The G1 reminds me of the original Canon 1Ds, where low ISO quality is superb, but anything above ISO 320, it gets very noisy.

The G1 is still a very capable camera.  Certainly it's no worse than when it was introduced four years ago.  We tend to want the latest and greatest, and forgetting that older equipment can still make beautiful images.

Lunch with the birds - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Cine Raptar one inch f1.9. Click for larger.

Pink Dahlia - Panasonic G1 & Wollensak Cine Raptar one inch f1.9 @ f1.9. Click for larger.

Leaves - G1 & Wollensak Raptar two inch f1.5.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Minolta MC Macro Rokkor-QF 50mm f3.5 - Second Look

Last time, we looked at this lens a little more than a year ago, and I quite like it. On the used market, this lens often sells for under $75.  Personally, I think it's a bargain lens that performs well, especially for macro.  On cameras with optical view finders, this lens may not offer a bright viewfinder due to its rather large maximum aperture of f3.5, especially if the 1:1 macro extension tube is used.  But with mirrorless cameras, this is no longer an issue. The electronic viewfinder will compensate for the light loss by amplifying the brightness level.

It's understandable that many of us would like a macro lens that could do double duty: an every day use normal lens and a macro lens. And for this, a larger maximum aperture, like f2, or even f2.8, is preferred. Maybe this is part of the reason why small aperture macro lens in normal focal length is not as popular as ones with larger maximum aperture.  Look at it the other way, a larger aperture lens is quite a bit more expensive, especially for a macro lens.  If you only do occasional macro photography, and you already have a faster normal lens, this lens would be a good fit.

Spider plants - NEX-5N & Minolta Macro 50mm f3.5 @ f3.5 without extension tube. Click for larger.

Rose - NEX-5N & Minolta Macro 50mm f3.5 without extension tube. Click for larger.

Rose #2 - NEX-5N & Minolta Macro 50mm f3.5 without extension tube. Click for larger.

Rose #3 - NEX-5N & Minolta Macro 50mm f3.5 without extension tube.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sign of the Times #2

If you are still not convinced that the cell phone is killing the low end digital camera market, just take a look at the picture below.  I took this picture today on my way home from work.  A crowd of teenage girls were photographing some celebrity at CityTV.  I know this is just a very narrow age group of users, and adults should have a higher percentage of "real" cameras users than teenagers. Still, the writing is on the wall for low end dedicated digital point and shoot cameras. 

Cell Phones Vs. Cameras - NEX-5N & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5 @ f2.8. Click for larger.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kodak Ektanon 3 Inch f2 Projection Lens - More Sample Pictures

Here are some more samples from the Kodak Ektanon 3 inch f2 lens and the NEX-5N.  If only it has aperture control, it would be fantastic.  Even as the way it is, it's a great lens and I really enjoy using it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Kodak Ektanon 3 Inch f2 Projection Lens

This is the last of the few projection lenses that I will look at for a while.  I have always liked loved old Kodak glass, especially the cine lenses, but their earlier projection lenses, before those plastic ones on later models, are equally awesome.  I covered the 50mm f1.2 projection lens here, briefly.  This 3 inch (75mm) f2 is a bit longer, but with a smaller maximum aperture.  Due to its very slender and long design, it was difficult to make it fit in the focusing helicoid, until I found a lens mount from an unknown lens I dismantled.  Now you know why I keep so much junk around, because you never know when the parts could come in handy one day.  Below you will see how I mount the lens to the focusing helicoid, made from the Vivitar 2X teleconverter with macro focusing.

The original lens was longer. I cut the end so that it wont' hit the sensor. Click for larger.

With the lens mount. Lens mount has a 58-55mm step down ring, which will screw onto the helicoid. When the finished, I wrapped electrical tapes on the end part to prevent reflections hitting the sensor. Click for larger.

The whole 9 yards -  with Helicoid and lens hood. Note how many step-up/step-down rings were used. Butt ugly but works.

How does it perform?

Marvelous!  Optically, it reminds me of the Astro-Kino 65mm f1.5 projection lens, but sharper.  It also does not exhibit as much back ground swirl as the Astro, but is still noticeable. The Ektanon 3 inch f2 is the sharpest projection lens I have used.  It's insanely sharp at f2.  The color fringing is also very well controlled. Very happy with what it can do, but like the Astro-Kino 65mm f1.5, it covers only 16mm projection film.  In terms of image coverage, it actually has very little vignetting, but the corners are blurry, especially at infinity focus.  As bad as this sounds, it's also one of its unique signatures: slightly swirling backgrounds, blurry corners with extremely sharp center.  Below are some examples.

Tree Trunks - NEX-5N & Kodak Projection Ektanon 3 inch f2. Click for larger.

Tail Lights - NEX-5N & Kodak Projection Ektanon 3 inch f2. Click for larger.

Bokeh - NEX-5N & Kodak Projection Ektanon 3 inch f2. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nikon D600 - Start of Affordable Full Frame?

The long rumored Nikon D600 was officially introduced yesterday but unfortunately not at the $1500 as expected, but at $2100.  I am sure many will be disappointed, but I think it's still a significant camera that will signal the start of affordable full frame cameras to come.  When the first consumer full frame camera, the Canon 5D, introduced in 2005, was $3300.

With the D600 out, I am sure Canon won't let Nikon steal the lower end full frame market share, and will have a model (6D?) to counter the D600.  I also believe Sony will have a lower priced full frame other than the A99 sometime in 2013.

Exciting times, even if I can't afford one.

Bellflower? - NEX-5N & Kodak Ektanon 3 inch f2 Projection Lens. Click for larger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thoughts on Sony's New Products

Sony has introduced a slur of products just prior to the Photokina show.  Most talked about is none other than the RX1.  The first full frame compact camera with a fixed 35mm f2 Zeiss lens.  My feeling is that it won't sell in great quantities, but shows that Sony is not afraid to innovate, and take chances.  Witness the Nikon J2 and Canon EOS-M.  Can you find a more ho-hum camera, especially the J2 which is supposed to be an upgrade to the J1?  Even Sigma, the smallest company of them, tries a different technology with the X3 sensor.

The Pipe - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componar 75mm f4.5 Enlarging Lens. Click for larger.

The RX1 is just one of the new products, and the less talked about VG-900, a full frame camcorder based on the NEX E-Mount.  Frankly, I am very excited.  Not for the VG-900, but what's coming after it.  You see, the VG-900 is basically an NEX camera optimized for video.   Imagine, a small full frame mirrorless camera!  Another first from Sony.  Hello, where are you, Canon and Nikon?  Maybe it's true that when a company dominates a particular market for too long, they would become complacent.  When was the last time you see something innovative related to photography from Kodak, the once mighty photographic giant?  I do hope the biggest players in the photography arena will not become another Kodak.

NEX-5N & Wollensak 50mm f1.5. Click for larger.

Now, for something close to what most people can afford, and will sell in large numbers, the NEX-5R and NEX-6.  I think Sony was listening to its customers, who wanted a NEX-5N sensor in the NEX-7 body, hence we have the NEX-6.  Not quite an NEX-7 body, but much improved from the 5N with more external controls, especially the mode dial and a built-in EVF.  The NEX-6 body costs about the same as the 5N with kit lens when it was introduced.  Personally, I think the NEX-6 will sell like hot cakes, especially the bundle with the 16-50mm pancake lens for $1000.  It's the camera that I wanted since the NEX-7 came out, but unfortunately I already have a 5N with external viewfinder.

Sony has also slowly bringing out E-Mount lenses.  Of particular interest are the 35mm f1.8 OSS, and the 10-50mm 10-18mm f4 OSS wide angle zoom .  It's a good move by Sony to bring out the 10-50mm 10-18mm wide zoom, as auto focus wide angle lenses is what the E-Mount lacks.  This one lens should make a lot of people happy, not to mention both lenses have optical image stabilization.  As much as I dislike zooms, I can see myself using the 10-50mm 10-18mm .

In all, I think Sony has done well for its customers with some very exciting products, and I am sure more (like the full frame NEX) will come soon.

Game Factory - NEX-5N & Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5 @ f5.6. ISO 3200.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Other Juipter-9 85mm f2 LTM

At the last Sunday's camera show I picked up only one "real" lens - a black Jupiter-9 85mm f2 LTM, for no reason other than a "good deal".  Now, who can past up on a good deal, right?  So now I end up with two Jupiter-9s.  One black and one silver.  The black one seems to be older that has no coating on it, whereas the silver one has purple colored coating.  Both lenses should be optically identical.

Jupiter-9 Brothers. Click for larger. 

Took it out for a spin today, and found that they both perform about the same.  Very good already wide open, and very sharp stop down a bit.  The circular aperture helps with the nice bokeh.  It's a nice lens to use on EVIL cameras.

Fallen Leaf - NEX-5N & Black Juipter-9 85mm f2. Click for larger.

Bike Bell - NEX-5N & Black Juipter-9 85mm f2.

Window Washing - NEX-5N & Black Juipter-9 85mm f2.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Square Bokeh: Componar 50mm f4.5 Meets Brother Componar 75mm f4.5

Went to the camera show yesterday and picked up a few more enlarging lenses.  One of which is a 4-bladed 75mm f4.5 Schneider-Kreuznach Componar, the bigger brother of the 50mm f4.5.  I expect the image quality will be better than the 50mm f4.5 and the weird bokeh will be similar.

Another enlarging lens that I picked up is the Rodenstock Rogonar-SC 50mm f2.8.  Will be interesting to compare this one with the EL-Nikkor 50mm f2.8.

Brothers - Componar 50mm f4.5 and 75mm f4.5. Click for larger.

I am happy to say that the 75mm f4.5 Componar is much better than the 50mm f4.5, in terms of optical quality, especially the corners.  It's very sharp wide open, similar to the Schneider-Kreuznach 75mm f4 (why do they have so many enlarging lenses of the same focal length?).  I do notice the square bokeh is less pronounced than the 50mm f4.5, maybe the longer focal length has less depth of field.

Square Bokeh - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componar 75mm f4.5. Click for larger.

Wide Open it looks normal - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componar 75mm f4.5. Click for larger.

Super Sharp  - NEX-5N & Schneider-Kreuznach Componar 75mm f4.5 @ f5.6. Click for larger.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sony RX1 Full Frame Pocket Camera

I was fully expecting the rumored full frame pro NEX cameras would be announced on September 12, but it turns out it's a pocketable, non-interchangeable cameras with a 35mm f2 Zeiss lens.  While I applaud Sony for making a unique camera, unfortunately, it's not cheap at $2800, and the lens is fixed at 35mm.  If they had gone through making a full frame pocket camera, why not make the lens interchangeable?  I am completely baffled.  Unless, the the RX1 tries to be a Leica X2 competitor, but that is such a small, niche market.  Sure, this camera is perfect for someone who only shoots the 35mm focal length, and I am sure they will be happy with the expected outstanding image quality.

If the price of this camera is at $1500, I am sure it will sell by the boatload, and will completely kill the Fuji X100.  The good news is that the interchangeable lens version won't be far behind.  Can't wait.  Just hope that it won't be priced at $3000.

Parking Lot Romance - NEX-5N & Wollensak Raptar 50mm f1.5 Cine Lens. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 vs. Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5

The other day I took out both the Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 Adaptall (second version) and the Tokina RCM 17mm f3.5 and took some pictures for comparison.  What I found was bit of a surprise.

Please note that this is not a real review, and certainly not anywhere near scientific or rigorous in making sure everything is identical.  Pictures were taken handheld, one lens, and then the other.  Consequently, framing might be slightly different.  Also, no guarantee on 100% accurate focusing.  Ultra wide angles are very difficult to nail critical focus.  But, both lenses have equal opportunity on chances.

The Physicals

Both lenses are very well built and focuses smoothly, as expected with most manual focus lenses.  Both focus to 0.25m, which is very close; almost touching the lens hood at this distance.  The only non-metal parts is the focusing band on both lenses, and in the case of the Tamron, the plastic distance window.  The Tokina has a slightly longer focusing travel and might give a slight edge to finer focus adjustment.  In terms of size, both lenses are similar, but the Tamron is slightly smaller.  The Tamron has n o filter threads on the lens itself; an 82mm filter thread is on the hood. If you lose your hood, you won't be able to use filters on it.  On the other hand the Tokina has a standard 67mm filter thread, which is much easier and cheaper to attach filters.

Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5 [FD] on left, Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 [EF] on right. Click for larger.

With hoods. Click for larger picture.

How do they compare optically

At the end, it's the image quality that matters.  Surprisingly, both lenses behave very similar optically, at least on the APS-C sensor.  The Tamron is slightly more contrasty (sharper) wide open, but the Tokina seems to show a bit more detail.  Interestingly, the Tamron appears to be wider than the Tokina.  I took the pictures below from the same spot without moving my feet.  Even from the small thumbnail, you can see the Tamron is more contrasty.  Also, the Tamron is a little better at suppressing color fringing than the Tokina.


Tokina on left, Tamron on right. Crops are NOT sharpened. Click each picture to see larger version 

At f8, both lenses are very sharp at the center of the frame. The Tamron does a bit better at the far corner.  Please note that the tree was not at the plane of focus, so on a flat surface, the corner might be better, but at f8, the depth of field should make up for it.  Note the colors are very similar.

I would imagine the Tamron will be a better performer on full frame at the corners.  The center of both lenses are very similar from about f5.6 on.

At f8 unsharpened. Tamron on left, Tokina on right. Click to see 100% crop.


For ultra wide angles, bokeh is usually not a real concern for most people.  They are normally used stopped down.  For interest's sake, I have provided one for your reference.

Flare Test

Both lenses flare badly when shooting at light source.  To be fair, most lenses, even the very expensive ones, probably wouldn't do much better than this.  The Tamron holds contrast much better than the Tokina in this situation.

Flare test.  click on each image to see a larger version.

The verdict

I paid exactly twice as much for the Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 (without mount) as the Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5.  I think the Tokina represents a great value for the money, putting up a good fight against the more expensive Tamron.  If used on M4/3 cameras, the differences is probably negligible once both lenses stop down one notch, but on full frame, and to a lesser degree, APS-C sized sensor, the Tamron hold an edge at the outer corners.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 Adaptall

It seems like every few years, I will get a copy of this Tamron SP 17mm f3.5.  In 2007, I had the original version with built-in filters.  You can see some samples here that I took with my Canon 20D.  In 2009, I got the new version that has no built-in filter, but didn't quite like the image quality on my 5D.  I mentioned about it here.  Now for the third copy of this lens, I just received it.  It's the version two without built-in filters and by far the least expensive one I bought, at around $150 including taxes/shipping, and it came with the very hard to find lens hood.  One of the reasons I bought it, aside from the good price, is that I want to see the comparison with the Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5.  Unfortunately though, this has to be compared on the NEX-5N, since the Tokina is a Canon FD mount, which can not be used on Canon full frame.

The Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 is sort of a controversial lens.  Copy variance seems very high.  The last one I had wasn't  very good on my 5D, but the one I had before that was better (at least on the 20D).  This lens is often pitted against the likes of Olympus Zuiko 18mm f3.5, Tokina/Vivitar 17mm f3.5 and the Nikon 18mm f3.5, and to lesser degree, the Canon FD 17mm f4 and Minolta MD 17mm f4.

The Zuiko, without doubt, is the most expensive of the lot; often costing 3X or more of that of the Tamron 17mm f3.5, and it vignettes much worse than the Tamron, and has a bulging front element and kludgy lens hood, but possibly has better distortion control.  You can see the test results of the older version with built-in filters by Modern Photography against other similar lenses by OM, Minolta & Nikon here.  From the test, we can see that the Tamron should be a good performer.

Be My Valentine - Canon 20D & Tamron Adaptall 17mm f3.5 [2007].  Click for larger.

Gooderham Flatiron - Canon 5D & Tamron Adaptall 17mm f3.5 [2009]. Click for larger.

Tiff Festival 2012 - NEX-5N & Tamron Adaptall 17mm f3.5 [2012]. Click for larger.