Friday, May 31, 2013

The Risk of Buying Expensive Used AF Lenses

Let's face it. Most of us amateur photo enthusiasts are not rich. It's our hobby that we maintain with what's left of the disposable income. That, of course, does not stop us from dreaming to own some nice gear.  Unfortunately, there is always this little problem of money, or the lack of it. So, the only way we can afford some of them is to buy used. My Canon 200mm f1.8L was the MOST expensive lens I have bought, ever, and I don't want to even remember how much I paid.

Buying used of anything comes with its associated risks. We don't know what the previous owner(s) did to them. They could have abused them, or took very good care of them.  We simply don't know. Fortunately, this part of the risk is relatively low, as we can usually test it before buying. The most risky aspect is the actual repair of very old auto focus lenses.

Once a lens is discontinued by the manufacturer, they might make a run of the most commonly used parts for the discontinued lens, that would enough for repairs for about 10 years. If the parts are used up, you are SOL. So, those 200mm f1.8L, first generation 300mm f2.8L, 400mm f2.8L, etc, are usually not even repairable any more, because parts are no longer available. Sometimes, I think manufacturers do this because they want us to buy their latest replacement lens, which cost 2x to 3x more expensive than the old one.

In the case of my 200mm f1.8L, the lens can still take pictures, but at the fixed distance, whatever it was when it stopped working. The sad thing about this particular lens, is that once AF is lost, you can not manual focus either. Just imagine for a moment, your $4000 lens, still one of the best out there, looks pretty, but now useless, because you can't even focus it manually. Many of Canon's USM lenses are like this; it would not work once AF is shot.

So, what do you do with an expensive, but non-functional lens? Hang it on the wall like a 3-D art object? Pray to the lens god everyday, and hope it would start working again? Or sell it for next to nothing?  There is something that can be done about lenses like this one.

I once read about a Chinese Si Foo (master) who does lens conversion, and he made a sea water damaged EF 85mm f1.2L into a manual focus lens. You can read about it here. It's definitely not an attempt for the faint of heart, or the casual DIY type. Extensive surgery is required. I think the same thing can be done for the EF 200mm f1.8L, but no one knows until some brave soul tries it.

So, tomorrow I will go pick up the 200mm f1.8L, put it in the case, and wait for some miracle to happen.

William. This is one of my favourite pictures from the 200mm f1.8L. Taken with Canon T2i, ISO 6400 @ f1.8

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Olympus FTL 50mm f1.8 M42 Mount Lens

Comments from MAWK piqued my interest about the Olympus M42 lenses.  I did some search on the web, and came up with a page about the Olympus FTL camera system. The 50mm f1.8 was one of the handful of lenses from the FTL system. MAWK is right. The FTL lenses were not made by, or at least, not designed by Olympus. Strangely, the more I looked at the FTL camera, the more it reminds of the Mamiya-Seiko 1000 series of SLRs. These cameras had a locking mechanism similar to the Olympus FTL, and they even look similar. So, I wouldn't be surprised if the FTL was designed/made by Mamiya-Seiko. Of course, I am only guessing here.

Back to the 50mm f1.8. The lens is quite small, though not pancake like small and it's all metal construction. It has a 50mm f1.4 sister lens that looks very interesting with multi-coating, but I imagine it's not easy to find one. All of the FTL lenses were never made in quantity, as it was a stopgap product.

I mounted it on the NEX-6 today and took some sample shots. I was going to do it on the full frame, but thought better of it. Too heavy and focusing is not as easy as with the NEX-6. Let's just say that I have not encountered any truly bad standard lenses. Really, it takes more effort to design a bad 50mm lens :) The lens is very sharp, even at f1.8, it's very usable, though the bokeh is not much to my liking, especially when the out of focus background has specular highlights. Stopping down to f8, it's very sharp and has good micro contrast.

Green leaves - NEX-6 & Olympus FTL 50mm f1.8 M42 @ f1.8. Click for larger.
Silhouette - NEX-6 & Olympus FTL 50mm f1.8 M42. Click for larger.

Infinity focus sample - NEX-6 & Olympus FTL 50mm f1.8 M42 @ f8. Click for larger.

Bokeh - NEX-6 & Olympus FTL 50mm f1.8 M42. Click for larger.

Captain John's - NEX-6 & Olympus FTL 50mm f1.8 M42. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 Lens Samples

This Travegar 100mm f3.3 is an interesting lens. I guess they designed it as a portrait lens of sorts, and it does have some unique qualities. At f3.3 it's very sharp, but not contrasty, quite the nice for portraits. Definitely not a very contrasty lens, even at f8, the lens lacks crispness. However, there is more to like about this lens than the Isco-Gottingen Isconar 100mm f4. The bokeh is actually pretty nice. The 0.9 meter minimum focus distance allows more opportunities at close up. In conclusion, $20 for this lens is well spent. Not often you can buy a lens made in Germany for $20, even one built as an economical lens.

Rusty Anchor - Sony NEX-6 & Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 @ f8. click for larger.

Rusty ship body - Sony NEX-6 & Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 @ f8. click for larger.

Bokeh - Sony NEX-6 & Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 @ f3.3 

Hard hat - Sony NEX-6 & Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 @ f3.3

Self Portrait - Sony NEX-6 & Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Photographic Historical Society of Canada Camera Show

The Photographic Historical Society of Canada (phsc) Camera Show is one of the largest annual used camera shows in the Toronto area, and it has been held at the Soccer Centre in Vaughan, usually in May for many years. If you are into old lenses/cameras, be sure to subscribe to the free phsc news letter for show information. They also held an annual auction as well. I bought many of my lenses at this show before, though I had not attended it for two years until today.

As usual, I hesitated before going, always afraid of not being able to control my urge to buy stuff that I don't need. Today I told myself, don't be impulsive, and it helped.  I only spent $50 on lenses today, and got three lenses; one of them quite interesting, in fact. There were so many unique and desirable lenses to be had at today's show. Saw a Steinheil 100mm f2.8 macro, a beautiful beautiful lens, for a cool $800, but aperture not working. Also an Olympus 50mm f1.2 at a cool $700, and a rarer Konica 57mm f1.2 (it's gorgeous!). There is also this French Angenieux 50mm f1.5, in Exakta mount I believe, and the asking price was $9800. No, it's not a typo. The lens was in very rough shape too. You see, there were unique stuff to be had, but they were all selling at eBay prices (or more). In fact, when asked how much a lens was, some would check eBay on the spot, and then gave me an eBay price. If I wanted to pay this kind of price, I would buy from eBay, because there would be more choices and usually in better condition.

Still, it was worth going. I bought an Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 lens, not in its usual OM bayonet mount, but in M42 mount. That's right, Olympus made a small number of M42 lenses, and this is one of them. I am sure the optic is nothing spectacular, and likely the same as the garden variety OM mount 50mm f1.8 that came with pretty much all OM SLRs at the time. One unique/proprietory feature of the lens is the locking pin, very similar to the Mamiya-Seikor screw mount lenses. It would not mount properly on most other cameras. This leads me to think they also made at least one M42 camera.

The second of the three lenses was the Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 lens in Exakta mount. Strikingly similar to the Isconar 100mm f4 that I also have, but the Schacht is larger. One interesting feature is that the lens can be unscrewed and be used as an enlarging or macro lens, a la Leitz 135mm f4.5. The Schacht 100mm f3.3 focuses much closer at 0.9m than the Isconar at 1.5m. I expect the two would be optically similar, which means nothing special, but I hope I am wrong and be surprised.

The last lens is the Soligor 105mm f2.8. I have a few variants of this focal length. Hansa, Hanimex, Spiratone, etc, all have something similar, or 105mm f2.5. Only reason I bought it, because it was only $10. The 105mm was a popular focal length and I am sure an easy lens to design and make. Without exception, these low cost lenses all have a T-Mount, and thus a pre-set aperture. It makes sense since these companies made lenses for various camera mounts, and a T-mount is ideal for this purpose. Just use a different mount for different cameras, like the Tamron Adaptall system, but without any sort of automation.

Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 in M42 Mount. Note the red lettering on the name ring. OM mount lenses have white colors. Click for larger.

Like some Mamiya-Seiko lenses, this one has a locking pin too. It needs to be filed down in order to mount flat with the adapter. Click for larger.

Schacht Travegar 100mm f3.3 in EXA mount. Click for larger.

Soligor 105mm f2.8. This lens has an unsual 46mm filter size. Click for larger.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Air Ministry 8 Inch f5.6

The Air Ministry 8 Inch f5.6 is a much larger lens than the 5 Inch f4. Many believe this lens was made by Dallmeyer, but there is no proof of that, unfortunately. Both of these lenses have a brass housing and therefore very heavy. The 8 inch lens is roughly equivalent to 200mm and it needs a very long tube. As with the 5 inch f4 lens, it's relatively easy to put a filter ring on the rear of the lens, and then just add extention tubes. The minimum focus distance is quite long, and I decided to use two focus helicoids, which would allow me to do focus much closer than otherwise possible. As you can see on the second picture below, it looks very ugly on the 5D Mark II, and even uglier when the lens hood was mounted, but I really don't care about the cosmetics. I was more eager to see what lens could do.

I shot about 150 pictures with this lens in pretty much the same setting, so I didn't have a variety of shots. It's very sharp wide open, but contrast seems low, which is normal with this kind of lens. I expected worse, actually, because this lens has more haze than the 5 inch f4. Even with a long hood, most pictures still exhibits some haze, but it cleans up quite easily in post, as you can see in the sample pictures below. I much prefer the rendering style of the 5 inch f4 than this one, but it's by no means very bad. Besides, I haven't used this lens too much yet, so I shouldn't really draw any conclusions until it see more use. It's definitely worth the time it took to put it together, and the very low cost. Ugliness aside, it has potential inside.

Air Ministry 8 Inch F5.6 with filter ring JB-Welded on. Click for larger.

Mounted on two helicoids and 5D Mark II. Click for larger.

Bokeh #1 - Canon 5D Mark II & Air Ministry 8 Inch f5.6. Click for larger.

Bokeh #1 - Canon 5D Mark II & Air Ministry 8 Inch f5.6.

Bokeh #3 - Canon 5D Mark II & Air Ministry 8 Inch f5.6.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Walk Along Harbourfront

Harbourfront is currently undergoing a huge face lift. Everywhere you see, is construction and mess. Consequently, you don't see many tourist there at the moment. Even along the boardwalk near the ferry dock, which is usually packed during lunch time in a nice day, but today there aren't that many people either. Hopefully the construction will soon end and we will have a brand new and better Harbourfront this summer.

All pictures below were taken with the Minolta RF 250mm f5.6 mirror lens. Still one of the most compact mirror lenses around.

Captain John's Seafood: a fixture of the Harbourfront for decades, eventually closed up after many complaints and failed inspection from Public Health. The ship is now waiting for a buyer. Taken with NEX-6 & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

The Dog Walker - NEX-6 & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Finding Inner Peace - NEX-6 & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Brand New Chapter

With a bit of trepidation, I started my new job today. The worry, fortunately, was totally unnecessary. Everyone was super nice and I felt welcomed. I hope this will be a long lasting and enjoyable job like the last one before the take over. This location is only two to three kilometers away from my last job, but it's totally different in terms of scenery. The Spadina & Queen area is a mixed residential and commercial area with lots of happenings, and the new location is, well, mostly just tall buildings. One thing I do like about the new location is that it's right next to the lake, and it will be wonderful to walk along it on my lunch hour. I am sure you will be seeing lots of pictures taken around this new location.

Buildings, lots of buildings - 5D Mark II & Olympus OM 24mm f2.8 @ f8.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Air Ministry [Ross Xpress] 5 Inch f4 Lens - Sample Photos

Today was my vacation day before I start working at the new job tomorrow. So I spent some time and got the Air Ministry (Ross Xpress) 5 Inch f4 mounted on the helicoid and the 5D Mark II. Since the focal length is long at about 120mm, there is no trouble using it on the full frame camera like the Canon 5D Mark II. The rear mount of the lens is just slightly smaller than 55mm, and I was able to JB-Weld the 55mm filter ring to the rear and then mounted it on the helicoid. Very easy to do.

Despite slight haze inside the lens, I didn't have the hazy problem I thought I would, thanks to the very long and effective lens hood I used, which measured at 11cm, almost as long as the focal length of the lens. Like many old classic lenses, this one does not have high contrast at larger apertures, but is very sharp at full aperture. It's definitely usable at f4. I am quite taken by the nice rendering of the pictures, but what makes this lens special is the history behind it.

Lenses like this one were used for aerial reconnaissance in World War II by the British Air Force (Air Ministry). Just imagine for a moment, that this very lens might have been used to photography the enemy and provided intel for the allies, and is very likely part of the significant history as we know it. On the other hand, what history does your auto focus lens have? Not much, I think.

Air Ministry [Ross Xpress] 5 Inch f4 on helicoid. Taken with 5D II & Tamron 90mm f2.8. Click for larger.

The Imperfect Tulip - Canon 5D Mark II & AM [Ross Xpress] 5 inch f4. Click for larger.

Bokeh - Canon 5D Mark II & AM [Ross Xpress] 5 inch f4. Click for larger.

Bokeh 2 - Canon 5D Mark II & AM [Ross Xpress] 5 inch f4. Click for larger.

The silver lining - Canon 5D Mark II & AM [Ross Xpress] 5 inch f4. Shot through windshield.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Air Ministry Lenses

Often I buy stuff without even thinking, especially when it's very cheap. That's why I end up with so much junk around the house. At one time I bought a few large/medium format lenses, because they were extremely cheap. Of course I had no use for them at the time. I look at them every once in a while, but today I decided to Google a couple of them that's marked with a name A M and see what they are. One is a 5 inch f4 and the other is an 8 inch f5.6.  To my surprise, these lenses are relatively common. The A M stand for Air Minitry, basically Britain's Air Force. These lenses were used in WW II in air planes to record dog fights or used for surveillance. They were all uncoated. Both of mine have some degree of haze and need to be cleaned.

These lenses were made by the UK lens makers at the time; Dallmeyer, Ross London, Wray, Aldis, etc. Almost all of them have pretty long focal lengths, and the 5 inch f4 is probably the widest lens it used. In large format, 5 inch (roughly 120mm) is actually a wide angle! The 5 inch f4 looks strikingly similar to the Ross  London 5 inch f4. I wouldn't be surprised if they are the same lens.

I haven't tried them yet. The 5 inch f4 seems easy to adapt, so maybe I will try that one first and see how it performs. I won't put too much hope on absolute sharpness/contrast, but I am hoping it will have interesting rendering characteristics.

The Air Ministry Lenses - 8 inch f5.6 on left, 5 inch f4 on right. Click for larger.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Olympus Zuiko 35mm f2 - Photo Set

Since I swapped this lens with Adam, I don't believe I ever used it on full frame, so I decided to give it a go on my newly acquired, used 5D Mark II. The 35mm focal length is one of my favourites on full frame. It's a comfortable view angle which makes composition relatively straight forward without pulling too much details into the view. This is the reason I have a handful of them.

Olympus truly made some awesome lenses with its OM system. I have not encountered a truly bad manual focus prime lens from Olympus. Perhaps that's why OM lenses have a huge following. Another reason is that they made some amazing lenses that even today, are exceptionally good. The OM 21mm f2, 24mm f2, 90mm f2 macro are just a few examples. If you understand that they made some of the best microscopes in its days, and no doubt the expertise was used to create some of these great lenses, then there is not much of a mystery why the lenses are so good. The OM lenses have always been pretty expensive in the used market, and I think it's even more so today.

The OM 35mm f2 is wonderful on the 5D Mark II. It's fast aperture makes the viewfinder bright and easy to focus, its optic is excellent, though on my copy, the far edges are slightly less sharp but still very good. The bokeh is nice, though in some situations, it looks quite distracting.

I think this lens is worth owning. Aside from its excellent optics, it's also very well build, and focuses smoothly. Truly a joy to hold and behold.

Olympus Zuiko 35mm f2 with hood & EOS Adaptaer. Click for larger.

Tail lights from a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood - Canon 5D Mark II & OM 35mm f2. Click for larger.

Graffiti - Canon 5D Mark II & OM 35mm f2. Click for larger.

Bokeh - Canon 5D Mark II & OM 35mm f2 @ f2

Tree & Fence - Canon 5D Mark II & OM 35mm f2. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 - Infrared Photo Set

This is probably the last set of infrared pictures from the Spadina & Queen area, taken the day before my last day of work at lunch time.

I wanted to experiment with different wide angle lenses for IR photography other than the Pentax-M 20mm f4 lens I almost exclusively used before. Last time I tried the Flektogon 35mm f2.8 with good results, and I decided to try my widest manual focus lens - the Tamron SP 17mm f3.5. As it turned out, it wasn't bad at all. I was afraid I could not get infinity focus, but with aperture set at f8-f11, it was fine. What I really should have done, is try the Canon FD 20mm f4 against the Pentax-M 20mm f4, but there is always the next time.

The Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 is not as sharp the Pentax-M 20mm f4, especially at the edges, but it's a much wider angle therefore not a fair comparison.

The Hug Me Tree 2013 - Canon 20D IR & Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 Adaptall. Click for larger.

Spadina & Queen 2013 - Canon 20D IR & Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 Adaptall. Click for larger.

Grange Park - Canon 20D IR & Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 Adaptall. 

Tree outside Umbra building - Canon 20D IR & Tamron SP 17mm f3.5 Adaptall. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

End of a Chapter

Today is my last day at a job that I have had for the last 14 years. Couple years ago, our company was taken over by a big corporation and everyone at our department was given a "transition" period; a fancy term used by the big company to mean that "we will lay you off as soon as we've got what we want from you". I am the last of the MIS team to stay and take care of legacy stuff until everything is "transitioned".

It's been a wonderful 14 years. The Spadina & Queen area in Toronto, is a great place to work, eat, and of course, photograph. No doubt you have seen many pictures in my blog posts over the years, that were taken in this area. I would take a 45-minute walk around the area in my lunch hour, pretty much each day, and took pictures. I will surely miss this area, and most of all, miss my colleagues who have been so wonderful to work with. I will look back and cherish the memories, but as Canadian astronaut and commander Chris Hadfield said, "Don't look back. That's not where you are going!", I look forward to the next chapter of my career, which will soon start.

AlgoCafe - Canon 20D IR & Tamron Adaptall 17mm f3.5.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Oreston 50mm f1.8 vs Pentacon 50mm f1.8

Other than the very long name of the Meyer-Optik, these two lenses are indistinguishable from each other, if the name ring is removed. By all accounts, these two lenses are identical.  When Meyer-Optik was merged with Pentacon, all its lenses were renamed Pentacon. At least initially, the zebra versions of the Pentacon lenses are probably the same lenses as the Meyer-Optik lenses. I am speculating here, but I think it's pretty close to the truth. That said, I wanted to see if there are any differences optically, between these two lenses. Keep in mind that when comparing decade old lenses, there are just too many parameters that can affect the optics. How heavily each lens was used, any abuses from previous owners, initial manufacturing tolerances (remember these are East German lenses), copy variance, etc. So, you have been warned. Take this comparison with a handful of salt.

In use, both lenses behave very similarly, even the colours are the same. The Meyer-Optik Oreston 50mm f1.8 clearly has a de-centering problem, if you look at the 100% crops. The right side is blurrier than the left side. The Pentacon is much better, showing both sides identically sharp/blurry. In terms of sharpness, both are very sharp even at f1.8 at the center, but the edges are just not very good, even at f8, on full frame. The bokeh is not so bad though.

From what I can tell, these two lenses are optically identical. Both focuses down to 0.33m, which is very good, as most 50mm lenses can only focus down to 0.45 or 0.5 meters. I do have a few MC version of the Pentacon, and I wonder if they behave the same as the Meyer-Optiks. Might be a comparison for another day.

As you can see, these lenses are no match even for today's cheap auto focus lenses in terms of sharpness and edge performance. They were cheap consumer lenses when new. For day to day use, you probably won't notice any bad corners unless you shoot flat surfaces all the time. I used the Pentacon version quite a bit before, and I enjoyed using it. The pictures it produced were good and pleasing to look at.

Identical twins separated at birth? Click for larger.

From the side. Look identical. Click for larger.

Bokeh - Canon 5D Mark II & Meyer-Optiks Oreston 50mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger

Bokeh - Canon 5D Mark II & Pentacon 50mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger

Bokeh - Canon 5D Mark II & Meyer-Optiks Oreston 50mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger

Bokeh - Canon 5D Mark II & Pentacon 50mm f1.8 @ f1.8. Click for larger

100% Crops at f1.8, f2.8 and f8. Click for 100%. Sorry for the bad framing

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adobe Has Gone to the Cloud. Should You Care?

Adobe has decided that the Photoshop and its suite of products will only be available as monthly rentals. Thankfully, LightRoom is not on the list. For most photographers, I don't believe it will be a big deal, as most will use LightRoom (or Aperture) to convert their RAW files and organize their photos. Personally, I only use Photoshop for some final adjustments and add boarders to my photos after exporting the pictures from LightRoom, and I will be just as happy with Photoshop version 7, or without Photoshop at all. It is the professional Photoshop users that are most affected. Adobe simply does not care about the little fish (consumers like me, who use almost none of Photoshop's advanced functions). They are after the big tuna; professionals and corporations who can afford it. It's all greed, if anyone asks me, but you'd better get ready for it; this is the future of software licensing.

Companies like Symantec has been doing this for many years. They charge an annual fee for virus definitions. The difference is that if you stop paying, your old virus definition is still functional. But with Adobe, your software won't work if you don't pay. One danger I see is that all the Photoshop files you have created, while you are using the software, and you can't open them if you are no longer a subscriber. This is just wrong. You are basically held hostage by Adobe. Perhaps that's what they are counting on for continuous subscription. If you want to open your files created with Photoshop, pay up!

As good as Adobe products are, I think it's time for me to consider alternative. Corel, Phase One, and many others offer RAW converters and image manipulation software. I am pretty sure more players will enter this market to fill the gap that Adobe has left open.

No software is irreplaceable. Not even Photoshop.

Untitled - Canon 10D & Pentacon 50mm f1.8. June, 2005.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Schneider-Kreuznach Edixa-Xenar 50mm f2.8 - Photo Set

The last time I used this lens was almost three years ago, and I wrote about it here. I praised the lens on the Canon 550D, but it works equally well, if not better, on full frame. Thankfully, this lens does not hit the mirror on the 5D Mark II.

From experience, many lenses have unique colour signatures. The Sigmas (older ones anyway) tend to have a yellow colour cast to the pictures, and Canon L lenses tend to have more vibrant colours than non-L versions. Would digital, the colour is no longer very important, especially when you shoot RAW, as it can be adjusted. Some lenses would produce beautiful colours from the beginning, so very little, or no adjustment is necessary in post processing.  I find many Zeiss lenses product very nice, pleasing colours natively. Certain, this Edixa-Xenar is one of them.

Magnolia - Canon 5D Mark II & Schneider-Kreuznach Edixa-Xenar 50mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Scooter - Canon 5D Mark II & Schneider-Kreuznach Edixa-Xenar 50mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Sculptures Outside TIFF building - Canon 5D Mark II & Schneider-Kreuznach Edixa-Xenar 50mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Pink Tulip - Canon 5D Mark II & Schneider-Kreuznach Edixa-Xenar 50mm f2.8.