Some More From the Zuiko 50mm F1.4

Been trying something simple today – just one fixed focal length lens on the Canon 60D – the lovely Zuiko 50mm f1.4. Having only one focal length really makes you work for the pictures but the results are usually better – especially when used at a wide aperture to give a narrow depth of field. All shots required a bit of post processing as the exposures and colours can be slightly off using old MF lenses – easily fixed in RAW though.

The butterflies were quite still this morning – allowing me to approach to around 50 cm.

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Without the help of the 60D’s 1/8000th of a second shutter the use of such a wide aperture on a sunny would be impossible at ISO 100 without a neutral density filter (which I always forget to carry with me).

This note tied to a branch by a ribbon is at the ‘Wish Tree’ at Knowlton (see previous posts), an evocative location at all times of the year.

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Same location for this home made pendant. The 50mm’s out of focus areas never disappoint!

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Finally in an attempt to get a ‘different’ angle on the ruined church, a shot from down the road through the roadside grasses.

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As always – taken for the book cover market – hope you like them!

A full review of the lens on this blog is here, or have a look at several Zuiko lens reviews on the “Film, Camera and Lens Review Index” tap at the top of the page if you’re interested.

Compact Camera vs DSLR – a silly comparison?

Most keen photographers have always faced a dilemma – their DSLR (or SLR for those who still use film) and standard zoom produce very good results, but carrying one all the time is a pain and opportunities are everywhere! A small camera is the solution, but small digital cameras are usually compromised by limited ISO performance, they’re not often that small and even their best results aren’t as good – at least that’s what I’ve found having used several (small film cameras are a different matter). A test is in order…

So to see if things have changed here’s a test between a two-year old mid range DSLR with an upgraded kit lens against a new top of the range compact. Not a fair test on the surface, but who said anything about fair? The differences in size and weight are obvious but the results are a bit of a surprise….

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The APSC sensor format Canon 60D with interchangeable EF-S 15-85mm (24-135mm equiv) lens on the left, Sony RX100 with smaller one inch sensor on the right with a fixed 28-100mm lens. The 60D boasts 18Mp, the RX100 20Mp – a negligible difference in practice.

The Canon has been used consistently for over two years, and has never failed to impress over ten thousand images with a wide variety of lenses. The Sony is relatively new (three months)  but is up to 1000 shots already. It’s images are more ‘consumer’ oriented with brighter colours and what looks like more sharpening, but very good nevertheless.
The Sony’s lens is a bright f1.8 to f4.9 across it’s zoom range, the 15-85mm a more modest f3.5 to f5.6. I’ve no complaints about the handling of either camera, neither having any irritating quirks which would drive you mad. My personal choice for useable maximum ISO is 800 on the RX100 but the Canon can be pushed further to 3200 in an emergency.

The Sony is doing a lot of processing to work around the design compromises of fitting such a tiny fast lens into a small body. Here’s a close up (ish) wide angle image with distortion correction on and off (done in the Sony Raw converter). Although the correction is done very well my initial thoughts would be that this much correction must result in poor edge performance – we’ll see! It’s worth stressing that this correction has to be explicitly switched off in the RAW converter to see this – you won’t see it on the camera’s replay function or in JPGs or RAWs by default.

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Sony -distortion correction on and off

The main ‘problem’ with the Sony is the colour rendition – reds, greens and yellows are all a bit ‘off’ for my taste, but shooting in RAW and using a correcting colour profiles in ACR (see Maurizio Piraccini’s website here) fixes the problem to give a more subtle result.

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Corrected colour – here a red postbox, the corrected on the left and the straight RAW to JPG result on the right. DPReview found the same thing in their (much more scientific and exhaustive) test.

So – on to the mini test and it will be familiar to anyone who’s read the film and lens test from earlier in the year – there’s a lot more vegetation now though! All shots in RAW and converted to JPG using the supplier’s RAW converter. The Canon’s ISO setting was 100, the Sony’s 125 (it’s native ISO). I haven’t worried about colour here as it’s important to compare default outputs.

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Wideangle on both lenses – the 15-85mm Canon is a bit wider than the Sony – 24mm vs 28mm, but not significant for these tests.

Starting at max aperture, this definitely a surprise and a significant difference. The Sony is producing very sharp results (it’s sharpening is at a higher level by default), and the edges which have been heavily ‘corrected’ aren’t bad at all.

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Canon – 15mm setting f3.5. Centre and top right crops.

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Sony 28mm setting f2. f1.8 would gave resulted in more overexposure.  Centre and top right crops.

At mid apertures things are much more even – mid apertures usually produce the best results in all lenses.

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Canon – 15mm setting f5.6. Centre and top right crops.

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Sony 28mm setting f4.5. Centre and top right crops.

On to approximately a 50mm setting :-

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Canon at 50mm f5 (max aperture at this focal length) and excellent.

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Sony at around the same focal length (not exactly – hence the slightly different edge crop – apologies). This is good too!

Finally at tele setting – 135mm equiv on the Canon, 100mm on the Sony.

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Canon at 85mm f5.6 (max aperture at this focal length) – bit soft at the edge but OK.

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So definitely a surprise. I checked then double checked that the images were correctly attributed, but it was right first time! The little Sony is matching or even exceeding the Canon 15-85mm in terms of sharpness and detail, as well as having a wider maximum aperture. As I remember this lens alone cost as much as the compact camera!

The differences are probably down to the default sharpening parameters in the Sony, and highly polished image optimisation for a fixed zoom lens – the Canon can have hundreds of different lenses attached and can’t optimise images ‘in camera’ for all of them.

The Sony isn’t a replacement for the 60D – far from it. There’s no optical viewfinder for a start (composing on an LCD in bright sunshine is pure guesswork), the lens is fixed and the 60D’s sharpness and colour rendition is much more neutral and allow more latitude in post processing. Having said that, the RX100 is producing very impressive results without any work in terms of sharpness, and the ability to tweak the results in pp means that the gap between DSLR’s and compacts has definitely narrowed and I can use the RX100 with confidence in most situations.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

p.s I’m, not (unfortunately) sponsored by Canon or Sony – just using the cameras….

Variations on a Theme

Or maybe this should be called “messing around with an old key” because that’s what it is…. This old church key must be around one hundred years old, and opens a very heavy wooden door. These were all taken on a fairly quiet drizzly day, wandering around trying to get some inspiration.

All shot on a Canon 60D with a Fotodiox EF to OM adaptor and the ever amazing Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at maximum aperture. All taken at around 40 cm – closest focus – the tiny depth of field and lovely bokeh complement the subject nicely. The background is the sill of a church window, with soft light filtering down from above. The toning is done in DXO filmpack.

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Same subject – lower angle. I tried several shots moving the focus point back and forth, but this one seemed the best.

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Finally one casting a slight shadow.

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Just goes to show inspiration can crop up from anywhere!

All images shot for the book cover market – hope you like them.

Some Summer Flora

Summer is in full swing, and the grasses and flowers are providing some great subjects for photography. I’ve never really tried photographing these subjects before so this is a new one for me. All post-processed in Photoshop and DXo.

First – a really simple soft abstract using the plastic Lensbaby. As always with this lens, the results were pretty hit and miss, but when they’re good they’re unlike anything else.

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Next one with the Helios 85mm f2 wide open – the Canon 60D’s 1/8000th of a second shutter speed is really useful in bright light at these apertures.

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Back to the plastic Lensbaby and some wheat bending over in the wind towards the camera. There’s a dark line to the left which is an out of focus weed – shame I didn’t spot it.

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Finally a few poppies – can’t resist them at this time of year. I saw this large patch from the car but it needed at fifty minute walk to get there from the nearest place to park. This one was with the Zuiko 50mm f1.4, one knee in a muddy puddle!_MG_9625_DxOFP

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

The Best of the Last Few Days

Four images here – all taken on the chalk downland where I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. All taken with a Plastic Lensbaby on a Canon 60D in very nice weather.

Focussing on the LCD using ‘focus magnify’ is pretty much essential with these lenses – the viewfinder is more or less useless for nailing perfect focus.  This is mainly because the zone of focus for the plastic is very vague with no aperture disk installed. The 1/8000th of a second shutter speed of the 80D is very useful at max aperture in bright sunlight.

This first one really shows off why I really like the plastic lens and make images taken with it unlike any others.

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Next a more conventional ‘soft’ image of some railings – pretty simple but good nonetheless.

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Third one is door metalwork on a medieval church door – that tone as it blurs to darkness is lovely.

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Finally one featuring some grasses with a distant house adding something to the image – just blurred enough to be recognisable, not sharp enough to be to obvious – perfect!

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Hope you like them – all shot for the book cover market. Thanks for looking.

Some More from the Plastic Lensbaby (and a few infrareds)

It’s been an odd week this week – been organising print sales through a local art gallery, so there’s not been much time for taking photos. These are a few from the limited opportunities where time and the weather allowed, using the plastic lens/Lensbaby Composer on a Canon 60D (my current favourite combo). The infrareds are taken on a Sony RX100.

The poppies are out in Dorset – having driven and walked around to find some, this was growing next to the car park!

This one’s a bit of an abstract – no aperture disk for this (so at f2) and long grasses blowing on the downland, post-processed and toned. The flowing blur near the horizon was unexpected…

This one (continuing the floral/grasses theme) has some nice depth even if it’s an odd composition. F4 aperture disk, post processed and toned in DXO Filmpack.

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And now for the inevitable infra reds – this one is Horton Tower. It looks spooky but it was built in the 18th century so the local landowner could keep an eye on the progress of the fox hunts around the landscape after he became to old to ride with them.

And finally a barbed wire/aged fence post. I think the RX100 is just going to be used for infrared at this rate!

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Thanks for looking – hope you like them, and have a good weekend!

Something a Bit Different

For me anyway…. The Wimborne Folk Festival (Dorset, UK) has been on this weekend and I’ve been wandering with a canon 60D and an EF 70-300mm lens trying to get a flavour of the event, which can be distinctly eccentric – and very enjoyable….

This isn’t my normal choice of subject so this is as close to street photography as I’ll probably ever get!

This one took some serious post processing due to the low contrast of the phone LCD. A few layers and lots of messing around seemed to do the trick.

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There’s a range of troupe (oops – ‘side’) outfits varying from bright summer colours, through lightly decorated whites to very dark rags, so lots of variety. The light and dark outfits can make a real mess of the exposure on a bright day so there’s lots of exposure compensation required.

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And some performers are, well, I’ll let you decide (the one on the right is a proper Police Community Support Officer by the way)….

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There are lots of stages set up, but the main problem is trying to get a clean background. This set was quite good but a really fast telephoto would have blurred away the background even better.

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There are loads of shops selling everything imaginable really – this one’s name caught my eye…

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One from last year on Rollei Blackbird on an Olympus OM2N and a Zuiko 85mm f2 lens. This one might well be my favourite.

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It was good to try a some subject matter – not a single infrared or Lensbaby shot was taken!

All good fun and not very serious – thanks for looking, hope you like them.

English Downland and a Lensbaby Plastic Lens

Been out today in some brilliant weather – up on the chalk downland which is in full summer mode with grasses, butterflies and birds everywhere.

In an attempt to stop taking IR shots on the Sony RX100, an old favourite was attached to a Canon 60D – the Lensbaby composer with the plastic lens and (very) manually changed apertures. As I’m not really a landscape photographer, the best subjects to concentrate on were the flowers and grasses, rendered very softly with this odd lens.

In order to boost the contrast the ‘Clear’ colour profile was used in camera. Other important settings were centre weighted metering, magnified LCD focussing and RAW file output as exposures can be all over the place – display a histogram on the LCD and keep an eye on it! Unless you really like lying down and getting up a lot, the pivoting LCD screen on the 60D is very useful for this sort of subject, though it’s difficult to see in bright sunlight. It’s all a bit hit and miss to be honest.

First some buttercups, post processed to give the yellow of the flowers a reddish hue. No aperture disk so very soft – just the essentials of the subject really. A neutral density filter (x3) was needed to prevent overexposure at f2.

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This was shot with the f4 aperture disk and converted to black and white in DXO filmpack to give it a harder contrast to cut into the softness and let the chalk path burn out.

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Finally another at f4 (once an aperture disk is in I rarely change it). Some odd flare top right, but given the lens it doesn’t seem to matter.

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Not a bad day at all – I may have picked up a slight suntan too!

Thanks for looking, hope you like them!

Texture Layers Part Four

Time for a few more layered shots, this time a little less subtle than some of the previous ones.

First up, a fountain in a park – the dark layer added a sense of drama to an otherwise cold winter scene.00177107

Similarly here – this was shot on a truly dreadful day – cold, wet and frozen.

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Next one from the same day and the layer adds to the wet misty atmosphere.

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Finally one from the heath nearby – the layer adds an ‘aged’ look to an otherwise so-so image. Might be better in black and white…

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All shots for the book cover market – thanks for looking and hope you like them!

Silhouettes

Here’s a few with a general theme of ‘silhouette’ – often the only graphically strong option on a day with flat lighting. There’s usually enough contrast between trees, railings etc and an overcast sky to provide a good image – even if it sometimes takes a boost in contrast to really bring the best from the shot.

First one – a grab shot on a 60D with a telephoto zoom. The crow was flying into the shot and turned up right on cue in the viewfinder.

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Next a simple abstract of a church lantern and some bare trees. 00228205

This flock of starlings good enough to stop the car for (I was on the way to shoot so had all the kit ready). The contrast was increased using a DXO Filmpack ‘ortho’ film setting.00199875

OK – this is more of a shadow than a silhouette, but it’s sort of in the right post. Lightly textured in photoshop.

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All shots taken for the book market, hope you like them and thanks for looking.

A Few in a 1930’s Hemmingway Style

Having tested loads of old manual focus lenses on a Canon 60D, this post is about using them for a practical, commercial purpose (rather than just mucking about with them!).

This set was shot for a specific request from the agency for images of a typewriter, booze and a cigarette – I suppose in a sort of vintage  Hemmingway style. The typewriter was bought two years ago in a second-hand shop because, well, I couldn’t resist it for £10 (did I mention I’m a terrible junk buyer), and it finally came in useful! The ‘scotch’ is unfortunately only cold tea….

All taken on a Canon 60D with various manual focus lenses, then given different treatments in DXO Filmpack.

First one – on  a Meyer Optik Gorlitz Primotar E 50mm f3.5 (tested here) with an M42 to EF adaptor. The softness wide open seemed to compliment the subject. 00325899

Second – on a Zuiko 50mm f1.4 (used previously here) – that narrow depth of field blurred away the otherwise modern looking kitchen.00325897

And finally, two shots with one of my favourites – the Helios Jupiter 85mm f2 (tested here), stopped down slightly to give just a hint of the scotch and cigarettes in the background.

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So – they do have a practical use after all, especially for shooting ‘vintage’ look shots. DXO Filmpack added to the images by giving them a final ‘film’ tweak.

Hope you like them and thanks for looking.

Rocking Horses and Russian Dolls

(Four Images). The search for saleable stock images on a wet day leads you to have a look around the house for something to shoot – hence a very strange combination of subjects….

Starting with the russian dolls – no idea when these were bought, they were just sitting on a mantelpiece. A plain white background left cover designers an opportunity to place whatever background they wanted. The camera was an Oly 620 with the 50mm f3.5 macro.

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Same subject, different angle – the important thing is the part of the image which is out of focus.

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And next it’s the rocking horse, sitting under the stairs, it’s been there for years but worth a few shots both taken on the 60D. Can’t remember the lens – sorry.

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This was enhanced using the ‘Toy Camera’ effect, giving a vignetted/faded appearance.

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If it’s not that good outside, have a look around the house for something to photograph – it can work really well and it’s better than watching the TV!

All shots taken for the book market, hope you like them and thanks for looking.

Spooky Monuments Part 2

(Four Images). This is the second of a short series about very odd, some might say macabre, monuments which attract the ‘odd eye’ of a book cover photographer. The first part is here.

Poking around some old places usually yields some good results – the best shots are hardly taken in the most obvious locations or from the easiest viewpoints.

First one – taken with a Canon 60D and an ordinary kit zoom, toned in Photoshop. That eye is oddly mesmerising!

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Next a subject made for Rollei Blackbird film and a 17mm lens on an OM1N  – spooky, what more can I say?

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Next one of those gruesome 18th century monuments involving flying skulls – vignetted and converted to mono after shooting on a Canon G9.

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This final one seems to have been squeezed in by 1/2 cm – the laurel wreath is particularly odd. Extensively layered, taken on a 60D.

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All shots taken for the book market, hope you like them and thanks for looking.

Manual Focus Lenses on A DSLR – The Search for that ‘Magic’ MF Lens

When this series started I was really excited about doing some proper tests on lenses which I’d used on an Olympus 620 and a Canon 60D for several years. Always in search of that ‘magic’ lens which would give images a special touch, this post is a summary of my experience working with these lenses.

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This is a shot from the Vivitar Series One 70-210 – quite close to that ‘magic’ lens

There are a few complete duffers which I didn’t bother to test – but they didn’t cost much so it didn’t matter – and here’s one.

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The unbelievably small Industar 50mm f3.5. It’s so small it’s unusable really, and the results – from this copy – are not that good, so the planned test was cancelled.

To make their use worthwhile, MF lenses must offer either a significant aperture speed advantage over a kit lens, or show some special optical quality which modern AF zooms can’t create at a bargain price which makes them attractive.

Of the lenses tested, running from 17mm through to 300mm, it’s the ones in the 24mm-85mm range which stand out.

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Is that a lenscap? Oh no, it’s an Olympus EPL3! Another one where the test was abandoned – a ‘loaner’ from Pete and Jayne, a 400mm Tokina f5.6. Is MF with an 800mm equivalent possible? Maybe, but it’s just not worth the trouble. Testing the 300mm was bad enough – I’m not doing extreme telephotos again!

Less than 24mm and the max apertures are about the same as a kit zoom, and the performance more or less the same.

At 24mm to 85mm the aperture advantages are significant, as are the corresponding improvements in bokeh.

After 85mm, things start to even out again, the difficulties in focussing MF lenses at smaller telephoto apertures – just when you need critical focussing – start a downward turn which at some point becomes a breaking point. For me it is 135mm at f2.8. After that telephoto lenses become progressively more difficult to use as the max apertures get smaller – autofocus and image stabilisation start to become indispensable.

The ‘stars’ from the tests then –

The Zuiko 24mm f2.8 is a brilliant 35mm equivalent on a 60D. Sharp, contrasty and light.

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Unreservedly recommended – the Zuiko 24mm f2.8. I must get one!

The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 is very good even wide open and a good portrait lens.

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The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 – lovely colours, shallow depth of field and a perfect portrait lens.

For sheer eccentricity the Jupiter/Helios 85mm f2 is the best of them all, producing some unique results – the closest I’ve come to that ‘magic’ lens.

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The Helios 85mm f2 – the soft bokeh and image softness are a unique combination. The closest to my mythical ‘magic’ lens so far.

The Zuiko 85mm f2 is the ‘sensible’ alternative to the Helios. Both produce results at f2 which are very different to a kit lens at 85mm at f5.6.

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The Zuiko 85mm f2 – not as crazy as the Helios but more predictable. Some might prefer it’s cooler more restrained images.

For macro, the Zuiko 50mm f3.5 is also a good general purpose lens, but I’d rather have the zoom range and macro capability of the Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Macro. However, I’d need to know it was needed before all that weight went into the camera bag.

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The Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Macro – a legend of a lens and excellent on digital. The macro mode is superb. I just wish it weighed a bit less!

If I’m being brutally honest, the list stops there. When you come to pack the camera bag for a shoot, the Canon EF 70-300 is always going to be preferred to any of the MF lenses past 135mm, and probably 85mm. There just isn’t the compelling case to regularly use these lenses at their max aperture/weight/size/performance – it’s as simple as that.

Any of the four lenses above are a very good complement to a wide/standard and a telephoto AF zoom. With the exception of the Vivitar they could routinely be carried in the camera bag without weighing you down too much. None of them should cost more than around £140.

So – this test series finally finished ! It’s been good fun and worth the effort – even if it’s only to pare down my collection of old lenses to the best ones. The only downside is that now I’m on the hunt for a Zuiko 24mm f2.8….

Links to all the MF lens tests on a DSLR can be found here on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

Hope you find this useful, and it saves you some time and money…

A Few More Bits and Pieces

Another non-themed post made up of shots that don’t fit into any particular category – and what a mish mash we’ve got here!

First – autumn and some wet paving slabs. Given a colour characteristic in DXO filmpack (Superia I think) but other than that…(3 images)

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Changing tack completely, a wrecked TV in one of the abandoned house locations. Why someone smashed it then stuffed some aluminium food packaging in there like a microwave is anyone’s guess.00180315

Finally a fairy ornament from a hobby shop resting on some leaves – part of a macro shoot which didn’t really work out as I’d planned but produced something which wasn’t too bad. 00225283

I told you this was a mish mash!

All shots taken for the book cover market – in a remarkably random way – thanks for looking and hope you like them!