Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Photo Equipment Repair Advice Needed

When our beloved gear falls to the ground, our heart will sink with it, usually both break on impact.  Anyone who has done any out-of-warranty repair work will know how expensive it is to get photo equipment repaired.

Last June my D810 with the AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 fell to the gravel ground when the tripod toppled.  It was a short fall as the tripod legs were not extended, and both camera and lens didn't seem to suffer any damage, and both were working.  But few months later, the lens would not focus; it just racks to infinity and stays there.  Of all the wide angle lenses I have used, the AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 is my favourite.  I had used the Canon 28-70mm f2.8L, as well as 17-35mm f2.8L, 17-40mm f4L, 16-35mm f2.8L and 16-35mm f2.8L II, and none of them were as sharp as this one.  I have gotten some very fine images from this lens with the D810 and I really want to get this lens fixed, but I keep putting it off.

Frankly, Nikon repair costs scare me.  Their estimate and repair cost often is half cost of a new lens, and I am left with two choices for repair in Toronto: Toronto Camera Service or Sun Camera Service.  Both have very good reviews.

Toronto Camera Service is very close to me, but I have never dealt with them before.  One the other hand, I have good experience with Sun Camera.  I once sent the 24mm f1.4L to Canon to remove a large piece of metal shaving from inside the elements and Canon sent it to Sun Camera, which is an authorized Canon Repair centre, and they did a really good job.  I also had my Canon 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus lens that was dropped with broken AF switch and wouldn't focus, and they fixed it for $99, that included cleaning the lens elements that had a lot of dust, which I think is very reasonable.  But, they are just so far away from me.

If you have ever repaired an Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 lens, how much did you pay for the repair?  I want to get a ball park figure before going for an estimate, which carries a fee from both repair centres.

Sugar Beach in the Morning - Fujifilm Fujinon 4.5cm f1.9 Rangefinder Lens on Sony A7.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

To Lathe or Not to Lathe

As many of you know, I have been doing pretty much all of my lens conversions, modifications with glue, tape, and filter rings and a Dremel.  It's getting to the point where I am not happy about this BAND-AID solution any more.  I really want to use the right tools, such as a lathe, and a milling machine, but I have zero experience with either, so I started reading more about these tools, especially the mini-lathes.

To start with, what I want is really simple.  A tool that allows me to create a tube/ring that can be securely mounted on a lens, like an enlarging lens, and then mate to a helicoid or a lens mount, with precision, and if it looks nicer, that would be a bonus.  I probably don't even need to do threading initially, but I would love to be able to create threads like M39 or M42 that can easily work with other standard parts, but cutting threads is probably not easy with a mini-lathe.

The world of the lathe is full of confusion for beginners like me.  The dazzling variety of them is already headache inducing, but it's the accessories/tools needed to make the lathe work, that really screw my head and sometimes I feel I am slipping into a coma out of helplessness. One resource I highly recommend, is Frank Hoose, whose site is an excellent source of information.  However, I am more of a visual person, and Frank's Youtube videos are detailed, easy to understand, and well presented.  If you are thinking of getting a mini-lathe, be sure to check out his site/videos.  I learned a lot from him.  But, reading and watching video can only help so much.  There is no substitution for learning by doing, so I have decided to jump in with both feet :)

Buying a lathe is not like buying a camera or a lens, that you can hide from your significant other, so it's probably a good idea to clear that first with him/her.  I talked to my wife, with my oiled tongue, extolled the virtue of a machine that can do amazing things, like making useful household gadgets for the home.  Unbelievably, she went with it, and even encouraged, as long as I can cough up the money myself, which means I have to sell some of my toys, er, tools first :)

The tough part, of course, is deciding what to get.  I have a small house and space is limited.  Noise is a factor too as I share walls with neighbours. I don't want something so small that it's uses are severely limited, but on the other hand, not something very big and noisy.

At first, I thought about the micro lathe/mill combo that you can put together like Lego blocks. These usually have a small 30-60 Watt motor, which really is not suitable for working with metal.  But, they are very small, and relatively cheap at around $350.  Great for teaching kids or learning, but probably not able to do what I want.

My next target is the Taig Micro Lathe II.  This is an extremely popular lathe for home hobbyists and is available in Toronto through Lee Valley Tools.  It's very compact, well made and crafted in the USA.  The basic kit is reasonably priced and there are immensely vast number of accessories/tools available to make it into a full blown CNC lathe/mill machine.  But, in its basic form, it does not have power feed, thread cutting, etc.  Adding these features costs a lot of money and for beginners like me, might be a challenge to setup.

The last group of machines I consider is either a 7x12 or 7x14 mini lathe.  7x12 or 7x14 describes the size of material you can work with, which is 7 inch high by 12 or 14 inch long.  In practice, the length is 2 to 3 inches shorter, as you will need to account for the chuck and the centre that support the stock/work piece.  Usually, these machines have power feed and thread cutting with a variable speed DC motor.  On the Taig Micro Lathe II, speed is set by using different sized v-bells on an AC motor, although one can make a DC motor option for the Micro Lathe II.

What makes finding the right mini lathe so frustrating is the lack of availability of low end models in Toronto, unlike in the USA, our lucky southern neighbours, or our friends in China whom I envy for having such affordable and variety of lathes.  There used to be more variety of models and cost a lot less, when I looked at them few years ago, but now very few machine/tool shops stock low end metal lathes.  The lowest price ones I found is the Taig Micro Lathe II, costs around $380 without the $150 motor, and the King Canada 7x12 (probably made by Sieg of Shanghai, China) for a cool $1000 CAD. When the Micro Lathe II is configured to have the features of the 7x12 lathe, the price is probably more, or close to $1000.

I am leaning towards the 7x12 mini-lathe.  If I am not able to find a reasonably priced used one, this is probably the one I will get, but it will probably be a couple of months before I get one, and it would take even longer for me to get familiar with it to make it useful.  But, I am excited and look forward to the new tool.  There are so many possibilities!

True Love Cafe - Nikkor-H 48mm f2 rangefinder lens from Nikkorex 35 on Sony A7 at f2.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Commlite Smart Adapter Update

The other day I realized that my Sony A7's firmware was still on version 1.1, and the current version is 2.0.  I updated the firmware to 2.0 and briefly tested the Commlite EF to E-Mount smart adapter and see if there are improvements.

Below are the result.  Please keep in mind that it's a very brief test.

  • EF 35mm f1.4L Mark I - Auto focus works.
  • EF 40mm f2.8 STM - Auto focus works.  No longer has the strange aperture issue.  
  • EF 50mm f1.2L - Auto focus works.
  • EF 85mm f1.2L Mark II - Auto focus works
  • EF 100mm f2.0 - Auto Focus works
  • EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro - Auto focus not working at all.  Works reasonably OK in manual focus, although the aperture setting still can not be set to f2.8.
  • EF 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus - Auto Focus works, but not in soft setting 1 or 2.  This lens did not work well at all with old A7 firmware version 1.1.
  • EF 135mm f2.0L - Auto focus works, but not always accurate.  This lens didn't work with old A7 firware version.
  • EF 180mm f3.5L - Auto focus does not work at all.
Conclusion: It's definitely an improvement after the A7 was upgraded to version 2.0 firmware.  The AF seems slightly faster on all lenses and the big surprise is that the 135mm f2 is now working reasonably well.  If your A7 is still on old firmware, it's worth upgrading to version 2.0, at least if you  are using Canon AF lenses and the Commlite adapter.

Gas station at night - Sony A7 & Canon EF 135mm f2.0