Friday, May 30, 2014

Air Ministry 5 Inch f4 Shoots Distillery District

One of the nice things about working downtown Toronto is that there are lots of interesting places within a few minutes of biking. The Distillery District is one of the more interesting places, which I visit once in a while. I rode my bike there this afternoon during lunch time and had lots of fun shooting with one of my favourite lenses: Air Ministry 5 Inch f4 on the Sony A7. This lens was used on the 5D Mark II a couple of times, but it was such a hassle focusing through the optical viewfinder, and the Live-View wasn't as easy to use as mirrorless cameras so I gave up on the 5D II.

The lens works great on the Sony A7. I simply adore how it renders the pictures. Amazing for a lens that's more than half a century old and without coating on the glass. The pictures look smooth as silk and none of the harshness of most modern lenses. The bokeh is simply delicious and pleasing.

If you find one cheap, take it and you won't regret it.

All pictures below were shot using the Sony A7 and A.M 5 Inch f4:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dallmeyer Dallon 12 Inch f7.7 - Photo Set

Got this lens from the Camera Show last Sunday on an impulse. It's a large format lens that covers a 4x5 view camera. As is usual with large format lenses, the maximum aperture is rather small at f7.7 but it's quite normal for large format. A 12 inch lens is equivalent to roughly 300mm, which is very long. It needs long tube and very long hood, and as a result, the lens is more than two feet long on the camera and it looks ridiculous. But hey, photography has no fear, or shame :)

Without a long hood, this lens is not usable wide open; it will look all white out with nearly no contrast at all. A proper lens hood makes it usable af f7.7, but still, contrast is low. The minimum focus distance is VERY long at probably 5 to 8 meters. The first three pictures were shot using an extension tube.  The lens is a very difficult to use. Hand holding it is next to impossible so I put the camera on tripod. Patience is mandatory.

I quite like how the lens renders pictures, especially the out of focus area. The lens is quite sharp at f7.7 and becomes very sharp stopping down to around f11, and at this aperture, contrast improves quite a bit too. Not too bad for a lens this old.

All pictures below were taken with the Dallmeyer Dallon 12 inch f7.7 and Sony A7.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Minolta Rokkor-X RF 250mm f5.6 Alternative

If you have been looking for a small mirror lens lately, you have no doubt checking out the Minolta RF 250mm f5.6, arguably the smallest 35mm format mirror lens in the world. The tiny lens (for the focal length) is about the same size as the Rokkor 58mm f1.2; very desirable lens for hand-holdability and discreteness, plus its image quality is quite OK as mirror lens goes. But the price of this lens will make you shake your head in disbelieve: more than $1000! That's a lot of money for a lens that does not have outstanding image quality. The world has gone crazy.

Enter the Makinon 300mm f5.6. Slightly longer focal length and slightly larger but has the same f5.6 aperture as the Minolta counterpart, but at about 5% of the price.  The Minolta has a 62mm filter size, while the Makinon has 67mm filter size. The old Outlet Store used to sell these lenses for around $60, but now they are going for almost $200 on eBay. Insanity! I have had a few of them over the years, but eventually got rid of them due to lack of image quality when compared to glass lenses. I bought another one this Sunday at the Camera Show in Woodbridge for $40, just because I am curious how it would compare to the Minolta.

As it turns out, there is not a whole lot of differences between the two lenses. Both of them are well made and focus smoothly and both weigh about the same. The Minolta has a glass filter built-in the front while the Makinon does not. One feature the Makinon has over the Minolta, is the close-focus capability; the Makinon has a pseudo macro magnification ratio of 1:4 and focuses much closer than the 2.5m of the Minolta. In terms of image quality, the Minolta has a very slight edge in contrast and sharpness, but not much more. Definitely not worth the outrageous price difference.

The Makinon 300mm f5.6 is a good alternative to the Minolta, if you can live with a slightly larger size (few millimeters taller and a bit wider in diameter). Definitely worth $40, but not $200, in my opinion.

Left: Makinon 300mm f5.6, Middle: Minolta RF 250mm f5.6, Right: Canon nFD 50mm f1.2

Lunch Break - Sony A7 & Makinon 300mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Red Chairs - Sony A7 & Makinon 300mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Reflections - Sony A7 & Makinon 300mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Walking out of the tunnel - Sony A7 & Makinon 300mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Tree Trunks - Sony A7 & Makinon 300mm f5.6. Click for larger.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sony A7 - First Impression, Part IV

Image Quality

One of the promises of full frame is increased image quality compared to APS-C sensors, and the other is better depth of field control.

I am quite happy with the image quality from the A7, despite the lossy compression of the RAW files that Sony decided to apply to RAW. I think this is inexcusable. The reason to shoot RAW is to extract as much details and obtain maximum image quality. Lossy compression of the RAW files defeats that purpose. Sony should at least provide an option to choose lossy and lossless compression on RAW.

Other than the lossy compression issue on RAW files, I have no other qualms with image quality from the A7. The 24 MP full frame sensor is capable of capturing an amazing amount of details, provided the lens has good enough resolving power. So far, I have used the Pentax-M 20mm f4, ultra wide angle, the Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C, and Canon nFD 50mm f1.2, FE 28-70mm kit lens and of course the Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f2.8 ZA, and with the exception of the kit zoom, they all perform really well on the A7.

Depth of field control is excellent on full frame.  With an f1.2 lens, you can get paper thin depth of field if required but is harder or impossible to achieve with smaller sensors. I truly feel liberated when using my legacy lenses; they are finally being used as the design intended. This is the major reason I bought a full frame camera.

Man at work - Sony A7 & Makinon 300mm f5.6 Mirror Lens. Click for larger.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sony A7 - First Impression, Part III

Auto Focus

Auto focus on the A7 is relatively quick for single shot focus. It's slightly faster than the NEX-6 using the same FE 28-70mm kit lens.  Based on two lenses I have used on the A7, I found that there were some inconsistencies on focus accuracy. Once in a while, a picture would be out of focus, even with focus confirmed. Not really sure what's causing it. It seems to happen more often on the FE 28-70mm kit lens than the FE Zeiss 35mm f2.8 ZA. It could be the Image Stabilization, the Focus Point (I used the default focus point size, which was huge, but there were no foreground objects in the pictures). Whatever causes this, it's definitely an annoyance. Luckily, I don't use AF all that much other than the initial "test" of the AF lenses.

I don't normally shoot moving objects, so I didn't really test that part; I would grab the 1D Mark III for that if the needs arise. I would imagine it won't be that great, definitely not yet in the ballpark of the prosumer DSLRs for tracking focus.

In the low light focus department, sadly Sony is still left in the dark by Olympus or Panasonic, so to speak. The Olympus E-M5 can focus very quickly and accurately in low light, even my ancient Panasonic G1 is about on par with the A7, not to mention the literally focus in the dark with lightening speed of the GH4. Sony should use the very good AF system of the A6000, but the cameras probably had different development schedules.

I am not overly concerned about the AF with the A7. AF lenses are not my main usage lenses; Manual Focus lenses are what I would use most often, but it would be nice to have a reliable and responsive AF system when needed.

Tulips - Sony A7 & Dallmeyer Dallon 12 inch f7.7. Click for larger

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sony A7 - First Impression, Part II


The A7 is a big improvement from the NEX-6; it feels more substantial and the larger body of the A7 is actually welcomed, since it helps with a better grip on my hand. The addition of the front scroll wheel is definitely a plus.  With AF lenses, it can be used to select the aperture, and when set to Shutter Speed priority, it can be used to control the shutter speed, with both AF and manual focus lenses.  As I said before, the exposure compensation dial doesn't really need to be there; it's kind of redundant. Physically, I like the A7 much better than the NEX-6, but there are somethings that I like better on the NEX.

The magnifier button (C2) is at the same location as is on the Olympus E-M5's Playback button, which I really hate. I can not magnify the picture without using both hands, because the button is too far from my thumb without loosen my grip on the camera.  On the NEX-6, I can program the ENTER button to enlarge the picture, which I can operate with one hand and it works perfectly.

The Live-view magnify feature now takes two button pushes to activate, instead of one on the NEX-6. This is similar to how the the Olympus E-M5 works. It makes no sense to me.  If I want to magnify the area I am focusing on, I want it magnified when I push the button, not to select the area I want to focus first, because I almost always use the centre position.  Besides, I can still move the magnified area if I need to. It is possible that I haven't setup the camera correctly.

These two issues are my biggest complaint so far. I can live with them, but it sometimes drives me crazy.

Lawn Chair - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2 @ f1.2. Click for larger.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sony A7 - First Impression, Part I

It was my dream years ago, when I was using the 1Ds, that one day I would be able to shoot a full frame camera the size of a point & shoot, and that I could use all my legacy lenses on it without restrictions.  With the introduction of mirrorless cameras, that dream came pretty close and I have been happy with the Panasonic G1 and the NEX series for a few years.  But, I always wanted a full frame body to augment the mirrorless crop sensors, and that's why I still have a 5D Mark II. The new Sony A7s is the perfect camera for me. It ticks all the marks I want in a camera, but alas, it's priced out of my reach. The next best thing, is the Sony A7, which I bought a few days ago at the Sony Store.

The A7 feels more like a small DSLR than the NEX-6, due to its chunkier grip, but it has far more external controls. I might be biased here, but I feel that none the Sony cameras are as easy to operate as the Canon cameras (Rebels excluded since they don't have the command wheel at the back).  After years with NEX, and very little shooting time with the Canon, I still feel right at home once I hold and operate the 5D II or 1D III. The controls are just at the right place.  With the Sony, I am not confident at changing settings without looking at the camera.

The A7 is a much more configurable camera than the NEX-6, but thankfully not as hard or cryptic to configure as the Olympus E-M5.  The A7 has a dedicated exposure compensation dial, which I think is redundant; the control wheel or rear dial could be used for this purpose and is far more natural and easier to use. The front wheel is a welcome addition which the NEX-6 lacks, and this makes changing aperture quick and easy, when using AF lenses. Truth be told, I still haven't setup the camera the way I want, but it's functional enough that I can start using it. So far, I like it a lot.

To be continued...

Bicycles Crossing on Queen - Sony A7 & FE 35mm f2.8ZA @ f4. Click for larger.

Clothespins - Sony A7 & Olympus 35mm f2. Click for larger.

Bicycle - Sony A7 & Carl Zeiss S-Planar 60mm f2.8 Makro

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wide Is Back - Pentax-M 20mm f4 on Sony A7

The most aggravating issue for manual focus lens lovers who do not have a full frame digital camera, is the lack of ultra wide angle lenses. The 20mm lens that you treasured from the film days, which gives you an immense and expansive field of view, is a measly 30mm mini-wide on crop sensor.  The experience between 20mm and 30mm is like day and night. The good news is that Sony has now lowered the price of its full frame A7 camera to a much more affordable level and with that, your 20mm lens has the 20mm field of view again!

I tested out the Pentax-M 20mm f4. This has been my favourite lens for IR on the 20D and it's extremely sharp corner to corner on crop sensor, especially the IR 20D that has no AA filter. Amazing for it's tiny, pancake like size. This lens works on the 5D Mark II as well, but it would hit the mirror at infinity if not used in Live-View; too much of a hassle and that's the reason it's been used only a couple of times on the 5D II.  As it turns out, the Pentax-M 20mm f4 works perfectly on the A7; a good match for the A7 sensor too.

This lens has very good resolving power, even near the edges in smaller apertures. By f8, the far edges are quite sharp with good definition. The amount of detail you can dig out from the 24MP sensor of the A7 is incredible, and I am sure it's even more so for the A7R. If shooting landscape is your thing, go for the A7R. For sure, this lens is no Distagon 21mm f2.8, but it puts up a good fight at the fraction of the cost, not to mention it's a millimeter wider :)

The Good:
- Very good resolving power
- Good edges around f11-f16
- Small size and well made

The Bad:
- Relatively small maximum aperture at f4
- Vignettes at larger apertures
- Needs ultra-thin polarizing filters if you use it

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 - First Impression

I haven't gotten the A7 to be set up the way I want it yet, so I will not say anything about the handling of the camera until it's customized to the way I normally use the camera. Instead, I would like to write about my very initial impressions of the FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. Strangely, this lens is only bundled with the A7, and not the A7r, in Canada, presumably it would perform worse on it, or Sony thinks the A7r deserves a better lens.

Like most kit lenses, this one doesn't get much respect, or good reviews. The lens itself is quite well made with metal mount and high quality plastic. What falls short, is optical quality, especially at the wide end, which is worse, as that's the focal length that gets used more often.  This lens reminds me of the kit lens that came with the NEX-5N, the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6, which had severe vignetting, and distortion issues, not to mention lousy edges. The FE 28-70mm fares quite a bit better; the vignette is not as bad, and distortion is better controlled. Even the edges are a bit better but it's still a lens that can not do justice to the sensors of the A7/A7r.

Why Sony created this lens to bundle with the A7 is a mystery. People who buy A7 are likely going to spend more for better optics, and cheap zoom lenses just have too many compromises to be good enough. I think a better strategy was to bundle a 50mm f1.8 or even f2 lens, like in the film days. These lenses don't need to be as good as the Zeiss 55mm f1.8, but they will still be miles ahead of the kit zoom. I am sure a standard 50mm lens is much cheaper to make than the 28-70mm. But then again, if they bundle a relatively good standard lens, who's going to buy the $1000 Zeiss branded FE 55mm f1.8?  Most people won't.

It's not all doom and gloom; this kit lens does have some good points. Other than the already mentioned good build, the centre of the lens is quite sharp, even wide open. It can also focus relatively close, which is handy when you need close up photos. It also has Optical SteadyShot, although you can't really turn it off on the lens, like most other makes that can. Another brownie point, is that the lens comes with a hood. Don't laugh. If you are a Canon shooter, you will understand how stingy Canon is. Unless it's an L lens, you won't get a hood, even if the lens costs hundreds of dollars.

I think the A7/A7r deserve a better lens than this one.  It is by no means a terrible lens; there are far worse lenses out there, Lightroom has a profile to correct the distortion, which makes it quite a bit better, but it can not help with the blurry edges at the wide end. But the longer end of the lens is quite good, even at the edges, but then you would be shoot at f5.6 maximum aperture. I would not shoot landscapes with this lens, but it might be adequate for a casual use.

All pictures below shot with Sony A7 & FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6, with lens correction applied in Lightroom.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Toy - Sony A7

Today I picked up an A7 kit with an additional FE 35mm f2.8.  This all started on Saturday when I went to the Sony Store to exchange a pair of broken headphone I bought for my son. The sales person initially refused to exchange it because of the "physical" damage. As the last attempt, I mentioned that I had 3 of their NEX cameras in the last few years and when I needed service, they never gave me a hard time. That seemed to have done the trick, and we started talking and he mentioned that there would be a sale on Monday (today) on all interchangeable cameras/lenses. The demo A7 with the 28-70mm kit lens would be $1350. That sounded just too good to pass up, and they only had one demo unit, so I went early today before they opened.

It turned out that they also had a A7r for $200 more (but only for the body). It was a very hard decision between the A7 and A7r, but when I clicked the shutter on the A7r, I heard the most ugly sound I had ever heard on a camera. If you think the 5D Mark II shutter sounds bad, the A7r takes the cake. That did it for me. A7 for me it was.

I casually asked if they had a FE 55mm f1.8, the sales person told me they only had an FE 35mm f2.8, at 50% off. That also sounded too good to pass up, so I took it. But it got better. Sony currently has a sale on lenses; if you buy an A7 or A7r, you can save $200 off the $800 price of the FE 35mm f2.8 lens, and you essentially pay $600. Plus 50% off on the demo unit!  How could I not take it at $300!  Anyway, I think I got a very good deal today, even though I didn't intend to buy any lenses with the A7.  Can't wait to put the A7 through its paces with various lenses.

Sony A7 & Zeiss 35mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Sony A7s Price Disappointment

I was eagerly waiting for the pricing information on the A7s from Sony, and the price was finally revealed today, at $2500.  Disappointingly, this is too much for most enthusiasts, including me.  I was hoping the pricing would be close to that of the A7 or just slightly more. As it stands, the A7s is now $1000 more than the A7.

Personally, I think pricing the A7s this high is a wrong move for Sony and will put this camera into a niche market. Before the price announcement, Sony leaked out different price points to test the reactions from potential users, from $1800 to $3500, and then settled somewhere in the middle. There is nothing technologically advanced about the A7s; the very capable low light capability was made possible by lowering the pixel count of the sensor, which pretty much any company that makes sensors can do with current fabrication methods. The autofocus system, or even the video subsystem, is nothing earth shattering. In many ways, the Panasonic GH4 is a more capable video camera; it can literally focus in the dark, and records 4K video internally. Besides, the low light capability of the GH4 is no slouch either. But, I can see that the A7s is a perfect compliment to the GH4, when the full frame look is desired. What makes the A7s great, is that Sony actually dears to be different and has made a camera that no other company would do. Don't get me wrong, $2500 for a full frame camera with such low light capability is entirely reasonable; just that its price is not low enough for most people who want to use it as a camera for still photography, especially when today's cameras are already very good at low light.

In some ways, my heart is broken for not being able to afford the A7s. I guess I will pick one up used in a year or two, probably at half the price. In the mean time, I can now look forward to the A7, which has its price just reduced to $1500 in Canada.

Toronto from the 46th floor - Kiron 28mm f2.0 [OM Mount] & Sony NEX-6. Click for larger

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sugar Beach in Infrared with Pentax-M 28mm f2.8

I recently acquired a very cheap Pentax-M 28mm f2.8. There are many variations of this lens in the Pentax family, and I was especially interested in comparing it to the Pentax-K 28mm f3.5 which I have for a while, but hardly used.  But that has to come later.  I put this lens on the Infrared modified Canon 20D ran through a few dozen frames and like most Pentax primes, it's an excellent performer; I was not disappointed.  The Pentax-M 20mm f4, which I used pretty much exclusively on the 20D IR camera, is extremely sharp, but pictures coming out of the Pentax-M 28mm f2.8 is indistinguishable from the 20mm f4, except the angle of view of course.  Judging from memory, it's on par, if not better than the K28mm f3.5. Very nice lens indeed, and the best part is that this lens is reasonably cheap.

All pictures below were taken with Canon 20D IR and Pentax-M 28mm f2.8 at around f8-f11.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Another Look at the Air Ministry 5 Inch f4 Lens

The Air Ministry 5 inch f4 lens is one of the more enjoyable lens to use, partly because it shows no haze or white spot in the picture, often associated with old lenses that are uncoated. Of course the lens needs the proper shade (all lenses should have proper shades). This is quite amazing because the lens itself shows some haze when look through it.

More interesting is the optical characters of the lens. I don't know if it's due to the design, or glass, or other reasons, the rendering of the pictures look markedly different the modern lenses, especially when it comes to out of focus area. Maybe this is part of the allure of old lenses that I enjoy so much.

Can't wait to shoot this lens again.

Tulips - Canon 5D Mark II & Air Ministry 5 inch f4. Click for larger.

Columbine - Canon 5D Mark II & Air Ministry 5 inch f4. Click for larger.

Bokeh- Canon 5D Mark II & Air Ministry 5 inch f4.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vivitar 24mm f2 - Sample Photos

Vivitar made some very nice fast wide angle primes, and the 24mm f2 is just one of these.  Interestingly, there are at least three versions of this lens, made by different OEM.  This particular one was made by Kiron (with serial starts with 22). It's a reasonably good lens optically, but the bokeh isn't my cup of tea, as most wide angles usually don't have very good bokeh.  Wide open the lens is quite usable and is relatively sharp stopped down. It does lack the microcontrast you see in lenses like the Zeiss S-Planar 60mm f2.8 Makro. The fast maximum aperture makes it a nice lens to use in low light.

Bokeh at f2 - Sony NEX-6 & Vivitar 24mm f2. Click for larger.

Getting Lunch - Sony NEX-6 & Vivitar 24mm f2. Click for larger.

 Boarding -Sony NEX-6 & Vivitar 24mm f2. Click for larger.

Covered Walkway - Sony NEX-6 & Vivitar 24mm f2.