Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Adapting Refitted Rangefinder Lenses on the Sony A7

I have had quite a few Japanese rangefinder lenses that I took out of the cameras, but was never able to make them work.  Many of these are "fast" lenses, like the 45mm f1.9/2.0.  At the beginning, I didn't have enough experience removing the lenses and they pretty much all ended up having problems; shutter stayed shut, aperture not working, focusing mechanism could not be put back, etc. The most pressing problem is the very short flange distance, and a very large rear elements within the helicoid that interferes with the mount.

The short flange usually means the original focusing mechanism on the lens must be retained, but most of the old rangefinder lenses have very long minimum focus distance of about 0.8-1.0 meters (3 ft). I love to take close up pictures and this is just not very useful for me.  What I what is a method that allows me to focus very close, but also be able to attain infinity focus.  The answer is a helicoid with large opening, which allows the lens to go inside of the helicoid, and thus get closer to the sensor in order to achieve  infinity focus.  I found that most of these lenses have a barrel sizes just shy of 58mm, perfect to put a 58mm filter ring on the lens, and then mount the lens on the helicoid.

Rangefinder Lenses: On camera - Nikkor-H 48mm f2, on the right, Minolta Rokkor-PF 45mm f2, Fuji 4.5cm f1.9.

The focus helicoid I bought from the generic junk variant with a 58mm opening, and a 58mm mount. This helicoid has the same sh!t quality as the 17-32mm that I bought a few years ago.  When fully extended, there is a lot of play and it feels like it would break apart.  The German and Japanese have perfected the helicoid decades ago, and I just fail to see why we still have lousy quality on new helicoids.  But, helicoids with large opening is not easy to find and they are usually expensive, because most people would opt for the M42 version.  I just have to work with with I have.

So far, I have converted three lenses and they all work beautifully, except the Nikkor-H 48mm f2, which has the aperture stuck at wide open. The Fuji 4.5cm f1.9 and the Minolta Rokkor-PF 45mm f2 both works beautifully.  The lens can now focus very close, and yet I can still focus to infinity.

First snow storm in Toronto.  Shot through window - Fuji 4.5cm f1.9 & Sony A7.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 - A Year in Review

Photographically, 2015 has been an interesting and fulfilling year.

In the gear department, I have added a Nikon D810 to the family of camera systems. I am now shooting Sony E-Mount, Micro 4/3, Nikon, and Canon (Infrared), but the Sony A7 continues to be my all time favourite camera, and all other systems see very little action.

Nikon D810

The Nikon D810 addition was totally unexpected.  This beautiful camera brings out all the fond memories of shooting the DSLR in the past, and then some.  It's as perfect a non-action DSLR as I would want; simply a superbly build image making machine.  But, as nice as the D810 is, its use has been limited.  I have only a few lenses for it.  AF-S 28-70mm f2.8, AF-S 70-200mm f2.8 VR, and a AF 85mm f1.8, plus some manual focus lenses. Unfortunately, the 28-70mm f2.8 fell down with the tripod in June and it's now inoperative.  I really like this sharp lens, especially coming from Canon where first and even second generation (17-35mm f2.8L and 16-35mm f2.8, both versions) wide angle zooms were not stellar optically. The images from this lens and the D810 are simply marvelous. I am hesitating, but I might trade the D810 for a Sony A7R II in some future time, only because I use the A7 more.

Olympus E-M5

I have a love/hate relationship with this camera.  On one hand, it's a small and well built camera with very good image quality, and works with most of my c-mount lenses, and the in-body-stabilization is one of its best features.  On the other hand, it's quirky to setup and use.  I find that I do not like the handling of this camera. The small size is actually something of an Achilles's heel; the buttons/controls on the camera are too small.  It's now used mostly to shoot pictures of my gear :)  I do not foresee another Micro 4/3 camera in the near future.  This one should last me a few more years for the kind of use I do with it.

Canon 20D IR

My faithful, though seldom used camera.  The only Canon EF mount camera I still have, and I shall keep it until it dies, so that I could use it for the few times I have the urge to shoot infrared each year.


Despite the initial intention in the beginning of the year to limit my purchase of lenses, I actually did the opposite.  I don't remember any recent years which I bought so many lenses.  Mind you, most of these lenses are really old and not worth much, but they do add up to not small a sum of money. Sadly, I probably will never recover the money as most of these lenses are of little interest to most people.  Many of them are nearly a century old old large format lenses that most people have never heard of, and I must make my own mount for them to be used on the Sony A7.  The others are lenses harvested from rangefinders (mostly broken).  I have gotten a lot of joy from using them to make images.

In the picture taking department, I am happy to say that it has been a very productive year, in terms of number of images produced.  This means I actually went out and walked (or biked) around much more often than previous years, and for this, I am truly happy.  The pictures themselves, are merely a byproduct to amuse myself.  I would still be happy if only a few pictures tuned out that I like.  99% of the pictures were taken with the Sony A7 and manual focus lenses, and the majority of them were unusual and weird ones.  It was great fun and I consider that's money well spent.

As for the photo books.  I actually finished one of my own, which I called Vintage Affairs.  A 100 page photo book mirrored the original layout I started with Blurb's BookSmart. It did not turn out the way I originally started with, but I am happy to to have at least produced one.  The book was created with Photobook Canada book designer, rather than BookSmart I used originally.  I also created 3 additional books for my kids; one book for each kid with pictures from the first two years that I started using digital camera (mostly shot by the 3.2 MP Canon G1), and there is still one more to go.  Sadly, the original book data was lost when I upgraded the computer.  Totally forgot to backup those files.  Not a great loss as they can be recreated quite easily.

To conclude, 2015 has been a very good year for me, in terms of the amount of exercise induced by photography.  I hope the 2016 will be even better.

Dusk at the Port - Sony A7 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.2

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I would like to wish all my readers a wonderful holiday season!  May all your wishes come true.  If you have been nice, I am sure Santa will bring you that special gift that you always wanted, whatever that is :)

Have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Be safe and please do not drink and drive.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Virtual Machine Emulators

I have finally retired my 7-year old Dell Studio XPS desktop, and got myself an off-lease Lenovo D20 ThinkStation. One of the reasons for getting a workstation is that I need a computer with lots of RAM, space for drives, and dual processor configuration.  My D20 came with 2x Xeon X5650 6-core CPU, 64GB of RAM and space for 8 hard drives.  The other reason is reliability.  I do not want another computer that will blow up the power supply, killing my hard drives.  The painful experience is still fresh in my mind.

You may ask why 64GB of RAM?  I know it's an overkill for most applications, but I indent to run multiple VMs within this workstation.  Beside, it was only $80 to upgrade the 32GB to 64GB so why not?  ECC RAM is expensive and $80 is a good deal.  But, back to Virtual Machine Emulators.

I had good experience with VirtualBox from Oracle.  It ran really well on my MacBook Pro running Windows 7, and I could have 5 VMs running at the same time on 16GB of RAM.  It was slow but stable.  But, when I ran the latest version of VirtualBox on my D20 with Windows 7, I have had a lot of crashes with Blue Screen of Death.  Just wondering if anyone has this issue.  I don't have other hardware on it, other than the video card, and my system drive is a 240GB SSD (SanDisk).  At one point after the crash, the VM was missing completely and had to be added again.

I also tried the free Microsoft Virtual PC, but it's a single threaded application and the maximum amount of RAM I can assign to the VM is 3.7GB and runs on a single CPU.  It was just too slow for my needs.

Now I am trying the VMWare Workstation Player.  It will take a few days to install, update and test the OS.  I have the OS installed and now running updates.  So far it's stable and seems quite fast.  I have my fingers crossed.

If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.  I really like VirtualBox, if I could get it to run more stably.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Canon nFD 28mm f2.8

I always feel that the nFD 28mm f2.8 is an unloved child in the Canon FD family among other fast primes like the 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2, 85mm f1.2, etc.  In camera shows, in flea markets, you will see them often selling at $20 to $30 each, all in like new condition.  The nFD 28mm f2.8 really is an underloved, undervalued, and it really deserved more respect. So far, I have picked up at least 3 of them. Who knows, when people wake up and discover how great these little gems are, I may even be able to make a positive return on investment, LOL!

Reflection of Canada Malting Silos - Canon nFD 28mm f2.8 & Sony A7

Part of the reason the nFD 28mm f2.8 lens doesn't get much love, is because 28mm is a meh focal length for most users.  It's too common and often the cheapest in the wide angle category, if you overlook the Zeiss Otus 28mm f1.4.  The focal length sits between the ultra wide, normal.  It doesn't give you the impact of the 20mm angle of view, and is too wide for normal use.  But I kind of like this comfortable angle of view.

If you are looking for a very sharp wide angle lens that's cheap, this is the lens for you.  Compared to my Leica-R Elmarit 28mm f2.8, the Canon is sharper at the corners and edges.  Even wide open at f2.8, it's sharp and usable.

Toronto Downtown at Dusk - nFD 28mm f2.8 @ f2.8 & Sony A7, ISO 1600

The cheap price does not mean inferior build.  In fact, this thing as nicely built as the nFD 50mm f1.2, with metal barrels and very smooth focusing.  The only niggle I have is the 5-blade aperture, but then again, it was not designed for shallow depth of field or close up with a diffused background. I am more than happy with  with it.

Canon nFD 28mm f2.8 on Sony A7

M.R. Kane - Canon nFD 28mm f2.8 & Sony A7 @ f8

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 - Revisited

Last time I looked at this lens here, I didn't mention its macro capability, so here is another look.

There are couple of very well known zoom lenses with macro capabilities.  By macro I don't mean the garden variety 1:4 ratio that pretty much every zoom lens possesses.  The Nikon Micro-Nikkor 70-180mm is probably the most popular, but expensive macro zoom, that can focus to 1:1.33 ratio at 180mm.  The Vivitar Series-1 90-180mm f4.5 Flat Field Macro Zoom is a cult-classic that can do 1:2 half life size at 180mm.  These two lenses were designed with macro capabilities in mind and thus the image quality in macro mode is much better than other zooms with macro features as an afterthought. One lesser known lens, the Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4, has very capable macro mode, and deserving of a look if you are looking for a zoom lens with macro capabilities.  This lens has a maximum magnification ratio of 1:1.55 at 60mm, but majority of owners of this lens, if they do not read the instruction manual, would not know how to access this macro feature.

To activate this macro mode, you need to collapse the lens to 60mm, then focus the lens to minimum focus distance of 1.9m, and when you hear the focusing ring stop, apply more force and continue to turn the focusing ring until the yellow macro line on the focusing ring is aligned with the macro line on the lens barrel.  The special macro mode is now engaged.  If you slide the zoom ring outward, it will reveal the 1:1.55 mark that's normally hidden.  The biggest negative of this mode?  The focusing ring is locked and you can not use it to focus.  You can only move back and forth to focus.  It awkward and unnatural to use than a true macro lens, but if you don't want to spend the money to buy a true macro lens, this lens can be used in a pinch.

Aside from its macro capabilities, the Tamron SP 60-300mm lens has a very versatile zoom range.  Many people dismiss this lens because it's not very sharp wide open, especially the corners and edges, but at f8-f11, it is very acceptable across the frame.  True, it lacks micro contrast the gives the pictures "bite", compared to a prime, but the 5x zoom range is more than makes up for it, and the macro capability is definitely a nice bonus.  I am not a zoom lover, but I like this lens a lot.  The only downside, is the weight and size.  The lens itself is not very large in diameter with a 62mm filter size, but it's very dense and long, weighing more than 2 lbs.  One of the biggest advantage of this lens against the Nikon's micro Nikkor and the Vivitar, is the price.  It's often sold for around $60USD or less, compared to around $1000 for the Nikon, and around $150-$300 for the Vivitar.

All pictures below were taken with Tamron SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 & Sony A7

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Topcon RE Auto Topcor 135mm f3.5

Got this lens from the camera show a couple of weeks ago, and it was a bargain for $5.  The lens is in pristine condition, both cosmetically and optically.  The RE Topcor lenses are beautifully made and this one is no exception.  The fit and finish is first rate.  A turn on the aperture ring reminds me of a precision instrument, and it's crafted like one.  The click is crisp and precise, and the sound is angelic.  Of all the lenses I have, and I have a few, no other lenses have an aperture ring that feels and sounds like this one.  I can feel the passion, and painstaking care the designer put into creating this piece of awesomeness.  Even if the lens performs like crap optically, it would still earn my utmost respect.

Topcor 135mm f3.5 on Sony A7

The attention to details can be seen clearly with the built-in hood.  In most Japanese lenses that have built-in hoods, 99% of them are useless, because they are way too short.  But, this lens has a two stage collapsible hood, similar to the one in the Leica-R Summicron 90mm f2, and extends to about twice as long as most built-in hoods.  While still not the proper length for this lens, it's much better than most.

The precision feel of the lens extends to the focusing.  The focusing ring is rubber with ribbed textured, and has the right amount of damping.  One turn of the ring and you feel like slicing butter with a hot knife.  It's smooth with a quality feel.  Again, the fit and finish of the rubber is just amazing; it looks and feels like a unified body part of the lens.

The modified EXA mount may pose problem if you use it on Canon bodies, but it has no problem with the NEX-EXA adapter that I have.  The 4 extruding pins on the mount will prevent the lens from mounting properly on EF-EXA adapters.  More reason to go with mirrorless cameras if you are really into manual focus lenses.

Lens mounts perfectly on the NEX-EXA adapter.  Note the 3 pins in the space between the adapter and the lens.

Attempted to mount lens to Canon-EXA adapter.  Note the pins are preventing the lens from mounting flush with the adapter.  On a normal Exakta mount, there is usually one one locking pin.  Not all RE Topcor lenses have these pins.  My RE Topcor 10cm f2.8 and 5.8cm f1.8 have only one pin.

In the image quality department, I can only evaluate the images that is in focus; the adapter I have is just shy of attaining infinity focus, unfortunately.  All the images at infinity appears to be sharp, but it's just not quite there.  I know the lens can do better as in medium distance, it's really sharp.  I guess a new NEX-EXA adapter is needed.

I quite like the rendering of this lens.  I was worried that a lens this well designed and built, might perform like crap, but it doesn't.  Sure a larger maximum aperture would be nice, but for close ups, it still provides very thin depth of field.  Check the picture below.  It was shot at f5.6 and the depth of field is still very thin.  The large sensor on the A7 helps.

Fallen leaf -- RE Topcor 135mm f3.5 @ f5.6 & Sony A7

Having used this lens, I am worried that I might start looking for other RE Topcor lenses.  They are not very common in Canada and price is not cheap at all.  I guess those who own these lenses know how good they are.

Bokeh - RE Topcor 135mm f3.5 & Sony A7

Island Ferry - RE Topcor 135mm f3.5 & Sony A7

Autumn Leaf -- RE Topcor 135mm f3.5 & Sony A7

Another Bokeh Shot - RE Topcor 135mm f3.5 & Sony A7

Monday, October 26, 2015

Topcon UV Topcor Lenses

It's often confusing when it comes to Topcon Topcor lenses, because it could be one of the two mounts: modified Exakta or UV mount.  The lenses themselves are physically very different between mounts.

The Topcor UV mount is the very cheap line, with aperture controls on the camera body, but thankfully, focusing is still done on the lens.  With the lens detached from the camera, the UV mount lens looks incomplete; they look like half lenses.  This is the whole point of this line of camera/lenses.  To be made cheap.  There are very few lenses available for the UV mount.  I have the 50mm f1.9, 53mm f2, 35mm f3.5, and 135mm f4.  Other UV lenses made were 28mm f4, 100mm f4, and 200mm f4.  Not many, and no fast lenses other than the 53mm f2.

Two Topcors. Left: Topcor 5.8cm f1.8. Right: UV Topcor 50mm f1.9
Mounting these lenses could be a problem.  As far as I know, there are no proper made adapters to use them on digital cameras.  You can make one with the mount from the camera, like I did here, and this is probably the only way to go.  I tried the lenses and I was not blown away by their image quality.  They are pretty much run of the mill quality in the same era as other lenses in the same class.  However, the 53mm f2 have pretty nice bokeh.

UV Topcor 53mm f2 on Sony A7
Spent an hour today shooting with the 53mm f2 UV Topcor.  The lens is quite sharp in the centre at f2, but the corners are kind of mushy.  Since aperture is controlled from the camera body, there is no easy way to control it on the lens when adapted to digital, so I just shot everything wide open.  That's not a great loss for me, as I like shooting wide open.  The only thing I couldn't do is the test the smaller apertures and see how the lens performs.

Overall, not really bad for a cheap lens.

All pictures below were taken with UV Topcor 53mm f2 & Sony A7.

F2 at infinity.  Not bad at the centre.

Flare -- Even the best lenses could not do much better in this situation.

Growing out of the wood --  Bokeh #1.

Milkweed Pods -- Bokeh #2

More Milkweed Pods

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Full Frame Versus This and That

If you search the web on full frame vs. other sensor sizes (M4/3, APS-C, etc), you will no doubt be presented with all kinds of comparisons.  Some are very good, but many are pointless, to the point of being silly.  Consider a scene taken with a 24mm lens on full frame, and one taken with M4/3 with a 12mm lens, with aperture set at around f8, and compare away. With recently designed cameras, a picture like this will probably look identical in most cases, except the colour/white balance.  I am pretty sure few people can tell the difference between the two pictures if white balance is equalized. Personally, I think this is the wrong way to compare cameras systems.

Choosing a camera should reflect the kind of pictures you want to make, and you make sure the camera you choose has the lenses that allow you to realize the style of pictures you want.  Obviously, if you love to shoot architecture, you would want a camera that has tilt-shift lenses for it.  If you a thin depth of field freak, you want full frame with large aperture lenses, and if shooting sports is the primary use of a camera, then a DSLR with fast tracking focus system should be the main consideration.  The point is, the sensor format does not really matter much any more if viewed purely from the image quality standpoint, except when pushing the low light limit, in which case the full frame sensor usually has an advantage.  What really matters is that the chosen camera meets your needs.  Of course, if you have the means, and you really, really want, you can always have more than one system, to get the best features/functions from each system.

I chose a mirrorless full frame camera as my main system, because I like legacy lenses, and I am a thin depth of field freak.  The short flange of mirrorless cameras allows pretty much all lenses ever made for previous cameras to be used with proper adapter, which is what I like to do.

The Light -- Tamron Adaptall 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 & Sony A7

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Camera Shows in Toronto - A Thought

Today was the annual camera show organized by the Photographic Society of Canada, the "Big One", as they advised.  Previously, this show was held in Woodbridge's Soccer Centre, taking up half of the indoor field, and was a huge show.  For the last couple of shows, they moved back to the original location in Etobicoke, much closer to me, but the venue is smaller.  I can't help but noticed that most of the camera shows in Toronto now have fewer vendors (tables) and are dominated by a few large (commercial) vendors, and fewer individual sellers.  The large vendors have some good selection of lenses, but very pricy.

What maybe happening is that these shows will eventually die, when all that's left are the large vendors.  I have been making conscious efforts to skip the commercial vendors' tables, since they seldom have any good deals.  If the shows ever end, that will be a very sad day.

I did spent more than I should have at today's show, as it usually happens.  One of the items I bought was the Voigtlander Prominent with an Ultron 50mm f2 lens.  I have been looking for this lens for a very long time, and I bought one today at a reasonable price, but the lens has separations in the rear elements.  From experience, this hardly causes any issues with image quality, and I hope I am right about this one.

Voigtlander Prominent with Ultron 50mm f2

One good deal today was the RE Topcor 135mm f3.5 for $5.  Every time I go to a camera show, I keep any eye open for the Topcor lenses, since Steve mentioned them in the comment section of this post.  They are not very common here in Toronto as I don't see them often.  I am happy to find another one for the collection for a low price.  But his one has a modified EXA mount which won't fit the Exaktar adapters.

RE Topcor 135mm f3.5.

Found another Vivitar 2X Macro Teleconverter for $15.  I have 6 or 7 of them now and I usually pick them up if they are under $20. I use them as focus helicoids for those lenses that don't have focus mechanism.  In the What Was I Thinking Department, I bought a C-mount 75mm f1.4 lens, hoping it would at least be usable in APS-C sensor, but the image circle is rather small.  Works well on the E-M5 though.  I haven't used C-Mount lenses for a while, and I really don't understand why I bought it.  Finally, a couple of broken rangefinder cameras that I will remove the lenses from.  A Nikkorex Auto35 with a Nikkor-H 48mm f2, and a Minolta AL with 45mm f2 lens.  Hopefully I will be able to make the lenses work.

No-Name (but 90% certain it's a Cosmicar)  75mm f1.4.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I Have A Small Problem

Last time I did a count on my f1.4 “standard” lenses, I found 13 (actually 14 as one eluded the tally). I had a day off last week, so I decided to do a more comprehensive inventory of all my lenses with focal length between 40mm and 58mm.  The result astonished me.  Before that, I estimated I had about 40 to 50 of them.  I was way off, by a large margin.  All the lenses, including the projection, enlarging, and lenses from rangefinder/folder cameras, totalled 123, or thereabouts; just between the focal length of 40-58mm.

I felt really, really bad, and guilty.  Perhaps I purposely underestimated my collection, so that I could continue buying them without too much guilt.  In any case, I broke down the lenses by groups and found that the most duplicated lens was the Pentacon 50mm f1.8, with 5 copies (6 if includes the Meyer-Optik Orestor, essentially the same lens).  Perhaps, reviewing and writing this would help me stop and think the next time I see another normal lens.

The German Origin -- 45 count:

     Row one, from left to right:
  • Pentacon Multi Coated 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Pentacon Multi Coated 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Pentacon Multi Coated 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Pentacon Multi Coated 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Orestor 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Pentacon 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Exida-Xenar 50mm f2.8 -- M42
  • Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm f2 -- M42  

    Row two, from left to right:

  • Domiplan 50mm f2.8 -- M42
  • Domiplan 50mm f2.8 -- M42
  • Domiplan 50mm f2.8 -- M42
  • Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Primotar 50mm f3.5 -- EXA
  • Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm f2 -- EXA
  • Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm f2 -- EXA
  • Kilfitt Makro Kilar D 40mm f2.8 - EXA
    Row Three, from left to right:
  • Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 HFT -- QBM
  • Rollei Planar 50mm f1.8 HFT -- QBM
  • Rollei Planar 50mm f1.8 -- QBM
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon 50mm f1.9 -- DKL
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon 50mm f1.9 -- DKL
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Tessar 45mm f2.8 -- CY
  • Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 -- Leica-M
    Row four, from left to right:
  • Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Primoplan 58mm f1.9 -- M42
  • Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Primoplan 58mm f1.9 -- M42
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f2.8 -- M42
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar 5cm f3.5 -- EXA
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar 5cm f3.5 -- EXA
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar 45mm f2.8 -- Fixed from Contaflex
  • Staeble-Kata 45mm f2.8 -- L39 (non-standard)
  • Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 5cm f2 -- EXA
    Row five, from left to right:
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon 50mm f2 -- Fixed from Kodak Retina
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon 50mm f2 -- Fixed from Kodak Retina
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon 50mm f2 -- From Diax IIb
  • Rodenstock Heligon 50mm f2 -- From Balda folder camera
  • Leidolf Weztlar Triplon 5cm f2.8 -- Fixed from folder camera
  • Steinheil Munich Cassar VL 50mm f2.8 -- From folder camera
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 5cm f2.9 -- From folder camera
  • Rodenstock Trinar 45mm f2.8 -- From folder camera
    Row six, from left to right:
  • Voitlander Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8 -- Fixed from Voigtlander rangerfinder camera
  • Voitlander Lanthar 50mm f2.8 -- Fixed from Voigtlander rangerfinder camera
  • Voitlander Color-Skopar 50mm f2.8 -- DKL
  • Schneider-Kreuznach 50mm f4.5 -- Enlarging Lens
  • Rodenstock Omegaron 50mm f3.5 -- Enlarging Lens
  • Rodenstock 50mm f2.8 -- Enlarging Lens
  • Schneider-Kreuznach Componar 50mm f4.5 -- Enlarging Lens
  • Leitz Wetzlar 5cm f3.5 -- Enlarging Lens
The Fast and the Curious -- 9 count:

    Row one, from left to right:
  • Canon EF 50mm f1.2L -- EF
  • Canon nFD 50mm f1.2L -- nFD
  • Canon FD 55mm f1.2 S.S.C -- FD
  • Canon FL 55mm f1.2 -- FL
    Row two, from left to right:
  • JML TV Lens 50mm f0.95 -- C-Mount converted to E-Mount
  • Canon FL 58mm f1.2 -- FL
  • Kowa 50mm f1.2 -- Projection Lens
  • Kodak Ektagraphic 50mm f1.2 -- Projection Lens
  • Lomo 50mm f1.2 -- Projection Lens
The Russian Connection -- 11 count:

Row one, from left to right:
  • Zenith Helios-44M-4 58mm f2 -- M42
  • Helios-44M 58mm f2 -- M42
  • Helios-44M 58mm f2 -- M42
  • Helios-44-2 58mm f2 -- M42
Row two, from left to right:
  • Arsat 50mm f2 -- Nikon F
  • Helios-103 53mm f1.8 -- Kiev/Contax 
  • Helios-103 53mm f1.8 -- Kiev/Contax 
  • Jupiter-3 5cm f1.5 -- L39
Row three, from left to right:
  • Jupiter-8M 5mm f2 -- Kiev/Contax
  • Jupiter-8M 5mm f2 -- Kiev/Contax
  • Industar-2 50mm f3.5 -- M42
Canon Legacy -- 8 count:

Row one, from left to right:
  • Canon FD 50mm f1.4 S.S.C -- FD
  • Canon FD 50mm f1.4 S.S.C -- FD
  • Canon nFD 50mm f1.4 -- nFD
  • Canon FL 50mm f1.4 -- FL
Row two, from left to right:
  • Canon FD 50mm f1.8 -- FD
  • Canon FD 50mm f1.8 -- FD
  • canon FL 50mm f1.8 -- FL
  • Canon EF STM 40mm f2.8 -- EF

Pentax Love -- 7 count:

Row one, from left to right:
  • Macro-Takumar S-M-C 50mm f4 (1:2) -- M42
  • Macro-Takumar 50mm f4 (1:1) -- M42
  • SMC Pentax-A 50mm f2 -- K-Mount
Row two, from left to right:
  • SMC Takumar 55mm f1.8 -- M42
  • SMC Takumar 55mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 55mm f1.8 -- M42
Row three:
  • SMC Pentax-M 45mm f2.8 Pancake -- K-Mount

The [Mostly] Japanese Club -- 15 count:

Row one, from left to right:
  • Auto Chinon Multi-Coated 55mm f1.4 -- M42
  • GAF 55mm f1.4 -- M42
  • Auto Chinon 55mm f1.4 -- M42
  • Auto Chinon 55mm f1.7 -- M42
  • Auto Chinon 55mm f1.7 -- M42
Row two, from left to right:
  • Vivitar 50mm f1.9 -- M42
  • Vivitar VMC 50mm f1.7 -- M42
  • Olympus F.Zuiko 50mm f1.8 -- M42
  • Mamiya-Sekor 55mm f1.4 -- M42
  • Sony 50mm f1.8 -- E-Mount
Row three, from left to right:
  • Yashica Yashinon 50mm f1.9 -- M42
  • Yashica ML 50mm f1.9 -- CY
  • Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8 -- F-Mount
  • Auto Topcor 5.8cm f1.8 -- Topcor/EXA
  • Haiou-64 (Seagull) 58mm f2 -- MD
The Minoltas -- 8 count:

Row one, from left to right:
  • Minolta Rokkor-X PG 50mm f1.4 -- MC/MD
  • Minolta Rokkor-PG 58mm f1.4 -- MC/MD
  • Minolta Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 -- MD
Row two, from left to right:
  • Minolta Rokkor-PF 55mm f1.7 -- MC/MD
  • Minolta Rokkor-PF 55mm f1.7 -- MC/MD
  • Minolta Rokkor-PF 55mm f1.7 -- MC/MD
Row three, from left to right:
  • Minolta Rokkor-QF 50mm f3.5 macro -- MC/MD
  • Minolta Rokkor-X 45mm f2 -- MD
The Family Portrait -- 123 count:
This picture includes some of the lenses not in any of the group pictures above.  This does not include 2 Xenar 45mm f2.8 DKL and a Leica-R 50mm f2 which I couldn't find (and possibly others as well).  Also some 50mm lenses still mounted to the cameras.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Haiou-64 (Seagull) 58mm f2 Biotar Clone

China is certainly not known for producing photographic equipment.  A little while ago, I saw a 58mm f2 lens that was made in China, I was partly fascinated, and partly because it was very cheap (probably something like $10) so I bought it. Definitely not a common lens in North America, as I don't think this lens and the camera it came with was for export to the West.  This lens is a Biotar 58mm f2 clone (or it could be a clone of a clone, the Helio-44) in Minolta MD mount, and was probably made in the 70s and 80s.  It's optically clean, but something is not quite right, because as soon as I start focusing, I can feel the there is some play, like something is loose inside.  Very annoying.   But then again, this lens is a few decades old.  It might have been abused before.

The lens mount and barrel is made of metal, and the focusing is still relatively smooth with a tiny bit of coarseness.  The aperture has 6 blades, like most old East German lenses from the same era.  I really shouldn't complain too much for such a cheap lens.

I am quite surprised the lens is optically quite good.  Very sharp even wide open, and by f8, sharp across the frame on the A7.  In terms of characteristics, no surprises here.  It's similar to the pictures rendered by the Helios-44 or the Biotar 58mm f2, and this is a good thing!  These lenses are known to produce creamy smooth bokeh.

At the end of the day, it's good value for the money.

Grafitti & Wildflower - Sony A7 & Haiou-64 58mm f2. Click for larger.

Port of Toronto - Sony A7 & Haiou-64 58mm f2. Click for larger.

Milkweed Pots - Sony A7 & Haiou-64 58mm f2. Click for larger.


Milkweed Pots - Sony A7 & Haiou-64 58mm f2. Click for larger.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Signs that You Are Addicted to Gear and May Have G.A.S

G.A.S = Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  A disease that affects mostly men.  It infects the central reasoning area of the brain and makes men vulnerable into thinking more gear make them better photographers, and thus buying gear that they don't need.  There is no known cure, but there is a silver lining; some men are able to recover as the photographs they make shift from pictures of cameras, lenses, brick walls, and resolution charts to other form of pictures.

I just realized I have a lot of "normal" lenses between 40mm and 58mm, probably in the 40 to 50 in total, so I decided to see how many of them are f1.4.  The tally?  13.  Just the f1.4 lenses.  I thought I should write down some of the things that might be signs of gear addiction, and was very surprised how quickly the list came out.  Duh!  Of course it's quick.  Most of these apply to me!  Without further ado, here is the list.  Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  • You buy printed photo magazines just to look at the ads
  • You have a copy of A Lens Collector's Vade Meccum
  • You know exactly what a "normal" lens is
  • You have all 5 versions of the same lens
  • Words like Noctilux and Otus motivate you to make more money so that you can buy them
  • You name your daughter Tessar, and your son's name Nokton is not misspelled, and your dog's name is Skopar
  • You think Hologon is the most beautiful word in the world
  • You scare your partner at night uttering words like "Fisheye", "Bigma", in your sleep
  • You justify all your gear purchases as investment
  • You buy similar looking cameras so that your significant other can't tell the one that you use is not the same as the 4 others in the locked closet that only you have the key to
  • You tell your wife it's worth the expense of the 85mm f1.2L because it would make her look more beautiful in the picture
  • You convince yourself that the purchase of a Leica Summilux will one day make you as good as Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Every time you see a red band, or gold band, it reminds you of your favourite lens
  • You are a Pentaxian, and you know the word "Limited" is not a disadvantage
  • You have been buying K-Mount lenses for the last ten years, because you believe one day, there will be a full frame Pentax camera, like you believe in Santa Claus
  • You get excited when you hear words like Holly Trinity, Magic Drainpipe, The Dust Pump, Sigmarit, and you know exactly what they refer to
  • You use Ikea shelves to store your cameras/lenses because you can't afford better shelves since you spent all your money on cameras/lenses
  • Decimal numbers like 0.95, 1.0, 1.2, 1.4 bring tears to your eyes
  • You just realized that the lens you bought yesterday is exactly the same as 2 others that you didn't know you had
  • You take pictures with enlarging, projection, and printing cell lenses on your mirrorless camera
  • You have many lenses without apertures
  • You have many lenses without focus mechanism
  • You have drawers full of lens adapters
  • You have a large bin of lens hoods, and most of them don't fit your lenses, but you tell yourself one day, you will get the lenses that will fit the hoods
  • You can't understand why anyone needs to use the aperture on the lens, since you always shoot wide open
  • You feel no shame when others look at your ugly self-made lens contraption in disgust
  • 100% of your pictures contains 99% bokeh, and 1% subject that's in focus.
  • Your favourite pastime is to browse antique/flea market for vintage cameras/lenses
  • You never miss a single camera show
  • You created an app with a SQL database to catalogue and keep track of your cameras/lenses because a spreadsheet has reached its capacity
  • You remember the minute details of a lens, but forget your kids birthdays
  • Your wife is annoyed that you spend more time with your gear than with the kids, or with her
  • You blog about your favourite lens in length, and the only picture that accompanies the blog entry is the picture of the lens
  • You have 9 camera bags, and all of them are full of gear
  • You have 8 different tripod heads, and each one has a specific purpose, and each one is used exactly once
  • You fondle your cameras/lenses and talk to them like they are your lover
  • You spend more time on Flickr and online forums than taking pictures
  • You carry your camera with you everywhere you go, but you hardly take any pictures
  • You can't understand why anyone would read whatever Ken Rockwell has to say, and you visit Michael Johnston's theonlinephotographer blog religiously
  • You tell your wife you paid $20 for the very beat-up Speed Panchro that you actually paid $2000 for and she believed you
  • 80% of the photo in your Flickr stream is picture of cameras and lenses
  • Your wife thinks your planar is something to organize your daily tasks
  • Your wife can not understand why all your lenses do not zoom or focus themselves
  • You made your kids call you Prime Master
  • You have a RAID 10 storage setup to protect the terabytes of pictures you took of your cameras and lenses
  • You have another RAID 10 storage setup to protect the setup above
  • You drove 4 hours to photograph a sunrise, only to find out you shot everything wide open out of habit, and all the pictures are overexposed
  • You made penholders out of broken lenses
  • You have a box you call treasure that's full of parts from dismantled cameras and lenses. 
  • You hope that you can use them to repair lenses/cameras, but deep down you know that will never happen because that's why they became parts in the first place
  • You use a stack of filter rings in place of a hood
  • You have a dozen rolls of exposed film in the drawer from 1998, but never developed
  • You get bored of the auto focus lenses you spent tens of thousands of dollar buying, and are having a blast with a $20 enlarging lens taking pictures of your AF lenses
  • You know by heart the first two digits of a Vivitar lens serial number corresponds to which manufacturer who made the lens
  • You love pictures in RAW, and hate those cooked in jpeg
  • You have thousands of tiny screws harvested from dead cameras/lenses

Fabulous Fifty f1.4s 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sony A7 After 48,000 Images

When I bought my A7 from the Sony store as a demo unit, I didn't know how many actuations it had, and it turned out to be quite a bit. 13,505 to be exact.  Yesterday I did a shutter count check and the current count is more than 61,000.  I shot more than 48,000 pictures in 16 months.  That's quite a bit for someone who only uses the camera for leisure.  I guess it's a good time to follow up on my initial review of the camera.

The Build
Other than some brassing on the edges of the top plate, the camera is physically in very good shape.  I bring a camera with me to work each day, or whenever I go out, without fail, and the camera is either the Sony A7, Olympus E-M5, or very rarely the Canon 20D Infrared camera, and a few times the Nikon D810.  I would say 99% of the time, the A7 was in my bag.  That means the camera is in my backpack (not a camera bag), enduring the sometimes rough biking trips, and it has held up extremely well.  The camera has worked flawlessly without fail so far.

The Annoyances
1.  the proximity sensor that switches between LCD screen and EVF is far too sensitive.  One fix for this, devised by Matt, is to cut a thin piece of black electrical tape and put in the middle of the IR LEDs window on top of the viewfinder.  This works well most of the time, but sometimes the sensitivity goes a bit wonky, probably because the tape moved, so at the end, I just removed it and reverted it back to its virgin state.

2.  Sensor dust.  Compared to the Olympus E-M5, or the Nikon D810, the Sony sensor-shake dust reduction system, like the Canon version, isn't as effective.  It's a royal pain to clean.  Luckily, most of the pictures I shoot are wide open and this is not a big deal, but when a slow lens is used, say f5.6 or slower, the pictures will have many dust specks.

3.  Image Magnify button.  In early NEX cameras, the magnify button is the OK button, which is within the reach of the thumb when the camera is held. Pressing it after the image is taken instantly magnifies the image.  But in the A7, the &#$%@#  magnify button has its dedicated button, located next to the EVF.  To press this button, I have hold the camera with my left hand loosen the grip of the right hand to press it.  As far as I know, this function could not be re-programmed.  Still drive me crazy after 16 months.

4.  I miss the fully articulated swivel LCD screen on the Panasonic G1, Canon T2i, and even the original 3.2 MP Canon G1 that I used.  This is especially useful for vertical shots when not using the EVF.  A minor annoyance.

Storage and Computer Issues
As the resolution of the cameras increased, so is the storage and computing requirements.  It's true that storage is cheap, but after losing 250GB of pictures, I now store my pictures with at least two copies on magnetic hard drive, plus one copy on BluRay disc, which triples the storage requirement.  At the moment, I have roughly 18TB of hard drive storage, and it's almost near capacity, and I am way behind on BluRay backup.  The computer I am using is a 7-year old Dell XPS Studio with an Intel Core i7-920, and 18GB of RAM.  Adequate at the moment, though painful when processing D810 images.  I can't even begin to fathom what it would be like if I ever get the 42MP A7R II.

Other Thoughts
I thought the lack of an external charger would be an big issue for me, but it turns out not so, for the kind of shooting I do.  I hardly spend more than 45 minutes per shooting session, since 90% of my shooting is done during my lunch time, or on my way to or from work.  I do not need an extra battery (although I do have one).  Once charged, it's good for at least a couple of days.  I actually find it convenient to be able to charge the battery in-camera, because more than a few occasions, I found the battery almost depleted, but was able to charge it at work through the computer before heading out.

The lossy RAW format that Sony employs ticked off more than a few people.  It bothers me a little, but not to the point where I find it a show stopper.  In most cases, this does not affect the image quality, at least not something clearly visible.  I don't see why Sony would not allow the user an option to use compressed or losslessly compressed RAW.

What I like most about this camera is that it's a very balanced camera.  Obviously, it's not an action camera.  Focus speed, especially focus tracking, leaves much to be desired, but you would be buying a wrong camera if the majority of your shoot is action based.  A DSLR is a better tool in that case.  The small size with a full frame sensor and very short flange distance, coupled with excellent image quality, is a dream tool for legacy lens addicts like me.  I thank Sony for making an affordable camera like this, that no one cared to make.  It's by far the best camera I have used for my shooting style.  I look forward to the A7R II.

Anchor - Sony A7 & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6 Mirror Lens

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why I hesitate to buy E-Mount AF Lenses

The introduction of high quality lenses, like the Batis series from Zeiss, makes buying E-Mount lenses very tempting.  The thought of selling all my Canon AF lenses and buy Sony equivalent (or close to) lenses crossed my mind a few times, but I always resisted.  What's holding me back?  One experience taught me something about selling gear in the used market.  As many of you know, I was a Canon shooter for more than a decade, and more if counting the film days, and I have amassed quite a few Canon lenses.  My Canon camera bodies are gone, but the lenses remained (except the 16-35mm f2.8L II, and the 70-200mm f4L IS, which I sold to buy the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR).  All this time, I never had trouble selling any Canon equipment, because there are such a huge Canon user base and finding a buyer is relatively easy.  While "sampling" other cameras, I bought a Sony A-Mount camera and a few AF lenses, Minolta 50mm f1.7, Sigma 28-300mm and Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro to try.  At the end of the sampling period, I found that it was hugely difficult to sell Sony gear.  Eventually, they were sold rather cheaply and took a long time, compared to the Canon equivalent.  One example is the Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lens.  I sold the Sony version at about half the price of the Canon version; there were simply not many Sony Alpha-Mount users out there, especially for a relatively specialized lens like a macro.

The introduction of the A7R II makes the decision even harder for me.  The advanced phase-detect AF capabilities in the A7R II allows Canon auto focus lenses to AF much faster with a smart adapter, to a point where it's actually usable.  Previous Sony E-mount cameras AF very slowly with smart adapters, that's practically useless.

For the time being, I am going to keep the Canon lenses and wait for the A7R II to become more affordable to buy one.  If the AF is actually good enough, the Canon lenses will become my main lenses to be used on Sony whenever AF is required.

Blue Dreams - Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9 & Sony A7.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Muskoka Bike Ride

Dillon, Megan and I signed up for the Muskoka bike ride organized by MEC, and lead by Michael and Dede Berry.  This was our first organized group ride and it has been a great experience.  The ride started and finished in Gravenhurst, a town in the Muskoka region, and the birthplace of Dr. Henry Normal Bethune, a doctor who gave his life in helping others. The ride was divided into two course, one for 90KM and the other was 160KM.  Megan and I did the 90K while Dillon did the 160K.

Dock in Lake Muskoka in the morning.  E-M5 & Panasonic 14-45mm OIS

Being the first time in a group ride, I never saw so many nice bikes in one place!  There were many CervĂ©los, especially in the group that rode the 160K route, a testament to great bikes made by a Canadian company.  Of course, there were many high end Specialized, Trek, Colnago, Ridley and other nice bikes.  One brave soul was there with a Supercycle mountain bike with big tires.  If he could finish the course in that bike, my hats off to him.

Getting Ready for the ride.  Picture taken with a cell phone.

I am not going to lie, even for the 90KM (actually it was slight longer than 100K as measured by my, and other's bike computers), it was extremely tough for me.  It was relatively easy for the first 50KM, as we started fresh in the morning with full strength, but as the ride went on, we faced lots of steep hills, and this proved to be too much for Megan, who was feeling dizzy and I was concerned that she might faint.  At about 60KM, she had to be picked up by the MEC staff and driven back to the base.  Understandably, she wasn't happy that she couldn't finish the ride, but it's better safe than sorry.

Break at one of the Pit Stops at Port Carling (50KM mark).  This is the cut off point for the 160K ride.  Any rider who didn't make it here by 11:30AM would be directed to the 90K route.  You can see a police car in the background.  They were directing traffic at a few points of the ride.  

Here I must say that the ride was extremely well organized.  The routes were well marked with signs, and at critical turning points, staff were there to direct riders to ensure they didn't turn to the wrong route.  There was medical units with patrols cars.  One of the cars stopped by when they saw we were walking up the hill, and Megan was picked up and driven back.  There were four Pit Stops along the way, and they were stocked with complimentary energy gels and bars and water, with bike mechanics there in case anyone's bike needs service.  It really ensured a peace of mind and made the ride much more enjoyable.

I finished in 5 and a half  hours, with breaks and some walking with Megan.  The last 20K was brutally difficult with lots of hills.  Near the end of the 90KM, I kept telling myself it was almost there, but it wasn't.  The route was about 102KM long.  

Dillon finished the 160K route in 6 and a half hours, only one hour behind me for almost twice the distance, which was amazing, considering he was riding a heavier bike.

At the end, I was very tired, especially the neck and the leg muscles.  I felt shamefully and utterly out of shape, though I was happy to finish the ride.

Finished at last.