Thursday, February 26, 2015

O. Sichel 8.25 Inch f5.5 - An Old English Lens

Most people have never heard of O. Sichel Co. lenses, and that's understandable. According to the information on the web, they actually did not make their own lenses, but sold OEM lenses with their own name, like Birns & Sawyer (TEWE), or Sears that sold lenses with Sears brand.  O. Sichel was established in 1887 and existed until 1937, so they were around for quite some time.  Personally, I don't know who made the lenses for them.  It's possible they operated like Vivitar, which designed lenses but never really made their own but had other companies made them.

I have only one O. Sichel lens, the 8.25 inch f4.5 Anastigmat, which has lens separations clearly visible at the edges.  Lots of fine scratches, but is relatively clean without much haze. Despite all that, with proper hood, this lens can produce stunningly beautiful images with creamy bokeh. I am quite taken by this lens, and I am sure others as well when looking at it. With the hood on, this lens is about two feet long and it drew a lot of curious looks and remarks when I shot with it at Allan Gardens (a public greenhouse in Toronto).

The lens is very enjoyable to use; it puts me in a different state of mind when shooting with it. Just imagine the history this lens has and who knows what famous photographer might have used it before me.

All pictures below  were taken with the O. Sichel 8.25 inch f4.5 and the Sony A7.  Click on the picture will produce a larger version.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Adapting Long Lenses on Sony E-Mount - Part VI

Part V is here

Putting it all together

So far, we have talked about all the parts required to mount longer lenses.  In this last installment, we are going to mount the Ross London 5 inch f4 Wide Angle Xpress lens, as an example how everything fits together. The 5 inch lens (equivalent to about 127mm) is not really that long, but fits in kind of a sweet spot; a Goldilocks focal length if you will, and I really like this lens (and the focal length).  Besides, I have been shooting with this lens in the last few days and it's already setup, therefore less work for me :)

The flange to sensor distance of this lens is roughly equivalent to its focal length.  This provides plenty of space to mount this lens on pretty much any current lens interchangeable digital camera, this includes all Sony E-Mount (or NEX-Mount).

Preparing the lens for the helicoid

The first thing to do, is to assess if the lens can be mounted on the helicoid. Some are easy and some are very difficult to do. Any lens that allows a standard filter size, like 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, etc,. to be attached to its rear, would be the easy ones. The Ross London 5 inch f4 lens is one of those.  It allows a 55mm filter ring to be attached with just a little bit of work.  What we want to do is to epoxy a 55mm filter ring to the rear, and then screw the lens to the tube/helicoid for focusing.

The rear of the lens is just slightly too large to allow a 55mm filter ring to pass through.  We need to file the filter rim slightly with a Dremel grinding tool until the filter ring can go through.  Once it does, we can apply epoxy to the filter ring to attach itself to the lens.  Be sure to check that the filter is perfectly aligned, or else we will get pictures with one side sharp and one side soft.  Once the epoxy is set, it's ready to be used.

Mounting the lens on the helicoid

Now that the lens has a 55mm thread and ready to be mounted.  It's time to decide what combination of helicoid/tube/filter rings to use to get the lens to focus as closely as possible, but also able to focus to infinity.  The distance between the lens and the sensor is not long enough to stack two Vivitar 2X macro teleconverter helicoids; it's just slightly shy of infinity focus. This means I will be using just one helicoid, and extension tube/filter rings. As it turns out, all I needed was on extension tube and I didn't need any filter rings.  With the Vivitar 2X Macro Focusing helicoid and the filter rings, the minimum focus distance is about 5 feet, which isn't too bad, considering most old lenses have very long minimum focus distance.  If closer focus is needed, you can add two or three filter rings to extended the space between the lens and the helicoid.

Well, there you have it. Mounting a different lens just means adding or removing extension tubes/helicoid.  Hope you find this mini-series useful and helpful.  It has been a fun exercise for me.  Good luck if you are trying it out.

All the parts together from left to right: 1 mm thick M42 to E-Mount adapter, 42mm-62mm step-up ring, Vivitar 2X macro focusing helicoid, extension tube, lens with 55mm mount.

All screwed together

On camera

With Hood

Sample picture: Sony A7 & Ross London Wide Angle Xpress 5 inch f4

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Adapting Long Lenses on Sony E-Mount - Part V

Part IV is here.

Lens Hoods

Lens hoods are like a bike helmet.  I put it on when going out shooting (or riding). Hoods serve two very important purposes: 1) it protects the front element of the lens and most importantly for old lenses, 2) it reduces flare and improves contrast.  Shooting without hood is like running naked in public; you will (may) get unexpected exposures :)

Below are two shots taken without, and with a hood.  See for yourself:

With or without hood. Taken with a Ross Xpress 5 inch f4 at f4

If you have been using really old lenses, no doubt you will notice some of the lenses become a bit hazy, either due to the microscopic dusts settling inside, or the coating of the lens is starting to disintegrate. This hazy effect makes the lens even more susceptible to flare and stray lights, making pictures look like they were taken in the fog.  Even clean old lenses need proper hoods to bring out the best quality they can provide.

Most modern lenses have dedicated lens hoods that only fit a particular lens.  Older lenses had screw-in mount, making them more universal, and in the good old days, lenses usually accepted filter and hoods with a series-6, series-7, or series-8 standard size filters/hoods.  Most really old large/medium format lenses do not have dedicated hoods and even if they did, after decades of changing hands, they usually would be sold by themselves, naked without hoods.

So where do you get hoods for the old lenses?  Extension tubes, of course :)

I have more tubes than I need for my helicoids, and the rest are used as lens hood. The beauty of this, is that you can add/remove sections for the length that you need. For very long lenses, you may need a hood more than a foot long. But, there is one fatal flaw with extension tubes as lens hood: the lens would vignette badly if the hood is very long, because the diameter of the tube is not large enough.  Hoods should be as large in diameter as possible to avoid vignetting.  Extension tubes are better than nothing. It's usable and useful in most cases but not ideal. I am still searching for a good alternative, and am considering using large black PVC pipes. In the meantime, extension tubes are what I am using at the moment.

Getting hoods for the old lenses is easier than putting them on, because many of these lenses have very little space in the front to mount them. Almost exclusively, I use black electrical tapes to hold them in place. In fact, I bought a half dozen electrical tapes for this purpose. It's string enough and is easy to remove without leaving any residual.  Sometimes it can even be reused.

For smaller lenses, it's a lot more tricky to find the hood that would fit.  I found that parts from old broken lenses that hold the lens rear elements together are usually good as lens hoods. They are usually too short, but they can be taped together using electrical tape.  Below is an example that I used on the Aldis lens. It looks rather homely, but is very effective.

Ugly hood, but very effective 

To recap, a hood is a must for old lenses, especially those without any coating. The differences between a picture taken with hood and without hood is like night and day. So, put on a hood, which will make your pictures pop, or shoot the lens naked, and risk unwanted exposure.

Our next, and last installment of this mini-series, we are going to wrap up by mounting a lens with the parts we talked about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Adapting Long Lenses on Sony E-Mount - Part IV

Part III is here.

Extension Tubes

I have a hobbit of picking up stuff that I think they might be useful in the future, if not at the moment. The extension tubes, filters, old lenses etc., that I picked up many years ago are now finding use in my DIY lenses.  Of course it has the bad side effect of having too much junk in the house, but let's not talk about that :)

Just a bit more on the helicoids that I used, and I don't think I mentioned that in my last post, is that the Vivitar 2x macro teleconverter helicoid has a 55mm thread, and my Yeenon 18-33mm has a 52mm thread.  This means I need tubes in both sizes.  But I don't normally use the 18-33mm helicoid for long lenses, so we will just concentrate on the 55mm tubes.

Tubes of various sizes 

In the hay days of Point & Shoot cameras, manufacturers, and third parties made a lot of accessories for them, and the "Lens Tube" was one of the most popular ones.  Basically it's a metal tube that replaced the tube on the existing camera and provides a 52mm or 55mm thread for the filters.  I have a few of these from Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, etc.  Some of them have non-standard threads on the camera side, but some are standard 55mm, so they are essentially 55mm extension tubes, which is very useful for my purposes. Most of these tubes are around 4 cm to 5 cm in length

If you don't have any extension tubes lying around, and you must buy them, I suggest a search on NEX extension tubes on eBay.  You can buy a 3-section tube, with a length of about 50mm, and it comes with an E-Mount for about $8.  I bought three sets of these and you can stack them when you remove the E-mount. Unfortunately, the mount is terrible and they don't fit well. Too much play which is very annoying.  Another annoying thing is that the thread on these tubes is non-standard.  It's just shy of 58mm.  This means you can't use filter rings to add spacing in smaller steps.  What I ended up doing was to get rid of the sections with mounts, and use only the tubes. For the tubes, I glued a 58mm filter ring to the female thread side, and put on a 55-58mm step-up ring, so that it would accept 55mm filter rings.  On the male thread side, I glued a 62mm filter ring on it, and then screwed a 55mm-62mm step-up ring to make both ends 55mm.

Extension tubes from eBay converted to 55mm female/62mm male threads. 

For those of you who use a M42-M42 helicoid, you can get a 62mm to M42 conversion ring; this allows you to mount the tubes to your M42 helicoid.  More on this below.

Filter rings

In the beginning, when I was experimenting with adapting lenses without focusing to digital cameras, I used a lot of filter rings to make tubes, because I have so many (at least a couple hundred in various sizes). They work great, except they look really weird with all sorts of brand names on them. These filter rings are necessary because the extension tubes tend to be very thick, with the thinnest at about 10 mm. This is not good enough for infinity adjustments. If the spacing is longer than necessary, close focus distance will increase. In most cases, I use a combination of extension tubes with filter rings to get infinity focus or just slightly beyond. Sometimes, I bring a couple of them with me, in case I wanted to focus closer, I would just screw on the filter rings between the tube and the lens. Most filter rims are made of aluminum. Rare ones are made of plastic, and the best ones are made of brass, by B+W. B+W are my filter ring of choice.

Filter rings of various sizes.

Step-Up and step-down Rings

Step-up rings are conversion rings that the male thread size is smaller than the female thread size. For example, if you have a lens with a 49mm filter size, but you only have a 52mm size filter, you will need a 49mm-52mm step up ring. The reverse is true.  A step-down ring has a larger male thread size than female thread size.  These conversion rings come in amazing number of sizes and are usually quite inexpensive. Another useful conversion ring is the L39 to M42. Many enlarging lenses have a 39mm thread size and with the L39 to M42 converter, you can mount the enlarging lenses on the M42 helicoid. They are one of the most useful accessories to have, for those of us who do not have access to metal lathe or NC tools to make our own adapters.

Step-up/down rings of various sizes

 In Part V, we will talk about the importance of lens hoods.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Adapting Long Lenses on Sony E-Mount - Part III

Part II is here.

My modular system includes the following components:
  • Focus helicoids
  • Extension tubes
  • Filter rings, mostly 52mm and 55mm
  • step-up/step-down rings 

Focus Helicoids

My most often used helicoids - 2x Vivitar Macro 2X teleconverter and the 18-33mm M42-M52 Yeenon

The most important decision of the whole setup, is choosing the focus helicoid.  Typically, you will need at least two helicoids; one for short focal length lenses and one for longer focal length lenses.  Most common range for helicoids are 12-17mm, 17-32mm, 25-55mm, 35-90mm, and of course other odd ones.  For me, I have the 12-17mm, 18-33mm (Yeenon), and a few Vivitar 2X macro teleconverters converted to focus helicoid.  I will get into the Vivitar conversion a bit more later on.

The next question is the mounting type of these helicoids.  Most common is M42-M42, which means the mount (male side) of the helicoid has a M42 mount, and the opening (female side) that accepts the lens, is also M42. Other types include M42-M52 (52mm opening), M68-M68, and other more specialized types. Personally, I find the M42 opening a bit restrictive, for two reasons: 1) Some of my lenses have large diameters but have short flange distance and the lens needs to go inside the helicoid to achieve infinity focus, so I need an opening as large as possible, and 2) You will need a lot of M42-52mm, M42-55mm, M42-62mm, step-up rings to mount the lenses to the helicoid.  This could get expensive if you have lot of lenses. I have a couple hundreds junk filters of all sizes, and I am not kidding you, I accumulated these filters many years ago from the Henry's Outlet store, like I knew what I was going to do with them :)  I would prefer not having to buy anything if possible.  Did I mention that I am cheap?  So I ended up with the M42-M52 helicoids.

But, it's up to you which one to buy.  M42-M42 are sometimes 50% cheaper than an M42-M52, probably because they don't sell as many as the M42-M42.  For long lenses, you probably want a longer helicoid, like the 35-90mm, or roll your own with the Vivitar 2X macro teleconverter like I have done.

I made my own focus helicoids from the Vivitar 2X Macro teleconverters, for two reasons.  First, I am cheap.  I can often buy one of these at the camera show for $10 to $15, and now I have 5 or 6 of them in various mounts, but it doesn't matter what mount it is as the mount will be removed anyway.  Second, these Vivitar teleconverters are extremely well made and focuses very smoothly.  If you have ever used the cheap 17-32mm or 12-17mm helicoids, you know how bad they are.  Lots of play and the workmanship leaves much to be desired.  Even my 18-33mm Yeenon helicoid, which is much better than the average, is starting to get a bit loosy.  The Vivitars, on the other hand, are rock solid.  There is a limitation, of course.  These teleconverters are about twice as long as the standard 17-33mm, so they are not good for short lenses, unless the lens can go inside the helicoid.  That's the reason I use them mostly for long lenses.

I also make the Vivitar helicoids stackable. Most long lenses have very long minimum focus distance, which sometimes up to 10 meters (33 feet) for 300mm+ lenses.  A single focus helicoid just isn't enough to get them focus closer, and that's why I sometimes stack two Vivitar helicoids together for the longer lenses, and often get them to focus closer than 3 feet for a 7 or 8 inch lens.  For even longer lenses, you can even use three of them together.

How do I make the Vivitars stackable?  Very simple.  Remove the mount completely, and epoxy a 62mm filter ring on it. Depending how I use it, I will use either a 55mm-62mm step-up ring, to connect to another Vivitar helicoid, or a 42mm-62mm step-up ring, plus a M42-E-mount adapter if I want to use it by itself on the camera.  All these rings add a bit of thickness to the helicoid, but it's a small price to pay for versatility.  I will have another post at the end of this series with more details on the Vivitar helicoid.

After you have decided on the helicoid, you will then need to get a thin M42 to E-mount adapter, like this one I reviewed, but I bought two more from eBay that's cheaper (around $8 each shipped) and they fit as good, if not better than the Yeenon.  They are 1mm thick, so it's perfect to connect the M42-mount helicoid to your camera. Too bad I don't see the 1mm M42 adapters for M4/3; there is a 5mm one, which I bought, but it's quite a bit limited as it increases the overall thickness of the helicoid. when mounted to the camera.

On part IV, we will talk about extension tubes.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Adapting Long Lenses on Sony E-Mount - Part II

Part I is here

When I first started adapting lenses without focus capabilities around 2008 on the Canon bodies, focus helicoids were prohibitively expensive, and there were very few choices as well.  So I just used lens barrels from existing, and often broken lenses.  This worked somewhat, but never satisfactory. One of the problems is the focus throw is usually very short, which mean you can't focus very close at all.  The other limiting factors was the the rear of the lens usually had too small an opening for long lenses, and this would cause dark corners.  Further more, these adaptations were one of a kind; one lens barrel for one lens. Not a big deal if you only have a few lenses but that could quickly get into problems when you have dozens of lenses to adapt.

Early attempt samples

As more people get into adapting lenses on their digital cameras, and the photography market in China flourished, more and more options become available for all kinds of DIY projects from China at very reasonable prices.  5 or 6 years ago, a cheaply made M42-EOS adapter would sell for $50, and now you can buy one for under $5.  We now have helicoids of different lengths at affordable prices, and extension tubes for under $10, not to mention the plethora of choices in conversion rings, such as M42-M39 adapters, step-down/step-up rings of any size imaginable.  All these makes adapting old lenses so easy that it was simply mind boggling few years ago, unless you have access to your own mini-lathe that can make your own stuff.

Due to the number of lenses I have to adapt, it's not feasible for me to have dedicated tubes/helicoids for each of my lenses, so I needed a modular system that I can quickly re-use the tubes and helicoid for different lenses.  For the next part, we will talk about a modular system.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Adapting Long Lenses on Sony E-Mount - Part I

If you are a die-hard manual focus lens user on digital cameras, sooner or later you will find that, although satisfying, your current collection of M42, FD, Nikon, Minolta MD, Contax, or whatever mount your lenses have, lacks excitement, uniqueness, weirdness, or, just not different enough, and you will be looking for less mainstream stuff, like enlarging lenses, projection lenses, and of course, medium/large format lenses.

Shorter focal length lenses are relatively easy to adapt.  They typically just need a short focus helicoid and some extension tubes, but large format lenses usually measure in inches, instead of millimeters, and adapting them is not as easy, for three reasons.

Except for some projection lenses, long focal length lenses usually have very long lens to film/sensor flange, usually in inches.  This means you will need very long tubes between the lens and the helicoid.  The other problem is minimum focus distance is very far; getting close-ups is not easy to do.  Lastly, long hood is required to shield the flare from these old lenses, which often are uncoated and very susceptible to stray lights.  We will address each of these issues in this mini series.

Long lenses without focusing mechanism.

Before we start, I just to show you how a typical lens looks like with my setup.  I have often been asked how I setup and shoot with my long lenses, hence these posts that follow.  We will be using the Wray London 7 inch f5.6 lens as an example. This lens requires approximately 6 inches of space between its rear element and the front of the mount on the Sony mirrorless cameras.  The focus helicoid I use is approximately 2 inches in length, that means we will need 4 inches of tube between the helicoid and the lens.  So far, this is not too bad, but 7 inches is equivalent to about 177 mm, which corresponds to a medium telephoto.  A 12 inch lens will need much long tubes.  But, let's look at how it looks with 7 inch Wray Lustrar on the camera:

It looks pretty long, no?  Note the double helicoids.  We will talk about that shortly.

With Hood - Looks monstrous, eh?  You will get curious looks and people will ask you what heck you are shooting with!

On our next post, we are going to look at the our options to adapt these long lenses.  Go to Part II.