Six Months with a Sony A7R and OM Zuiko Lenses

It’s about time for a summary of using the Sony A7R and a selection of OM Zuiko lenses over the last six months. There are still a few lenses left to review, but enough time has passed to give a balanced personal opinion.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 close up.

I traded in my Canon full frame kit earlier in the year due to a back injury – weight was the only factor in the decision – and the A7R is the only camera I’ve used in the last six months or so. Various lenses have been tested (have a look on the Film Camera and Lens Review tab if you’d like to see them in detail), but here’s the general summary.

The Camera

First then, the positive.

The decision to save weight has worked very well – I can walk further without becoming fatigued (and therefore disinterested in taking pictures!) and the camera’s ergonomics are now completely familiar. The images produced are satisfyingly detailed and most post processing problems (white balance was the worst) have been solved.

Lensbaby Plastic Lens, Sony A7R

Even a Lensbaby is pretty good on the A7R.

The A7R can wring the maximum performance from manual focus lenses because the manual focus viewfinder tools make precision focussing fast and easy. The results are much more precise than anything possible using an optical viewfinder and it’s quite a surprise how much less is in sharp focus than the depth of field scale would suggest. The lack of an anti-alias filter also makes a big difference to the sharpness of the images – I rarely need to use anything but low default sharpening to obtain clean, sharp results. I haven’t noticed any moire either.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.8 – a shot resulting from just carrying the A7R and the 50mm on a casual walk.

Exposure control is perfect for me. The use of zebras to prevent overexposing highlights along with the ability to pull up shadows in PP without excessive noise results in some stunning dynamic range.

The loud shutter is no worse than a full frame DSLR – certainly a 5D MK2.

The 1080 HD video is a big improvement over the Canon 60D’s output (the camera I’ve used for video over the last few years) – not really a fair comparison as 60D is fairly old now, and APSC.

Zuiko OM 85mm f2, Sony A7R

The 85mm f2.

I haven’t noticed any dust on the sensor – and I change lenses more than most and shoot at smaller apertures. A periodic blast with a rocket blower is all it needs. In contrast the 5dMk2 was a dust magnet which needed cleaning very frequently which was just a pain.

The other most quoted problems – shutter shock and compressed RAW – I haven’t noticed at all. Having said that I’m careful with shooting technique, don’t use long lenses that often and rarely feel compelled to take pictures in near darkness.

But nothing is perfect :-

The Auto ISO implementation when using aperture priority isn’t much good when shooting longer manual focus as the camera will use 1/60th and the lowest ISO setting, forcing the use of shutter priority. Things may be different with non manual focus lenses.

Battery life isn’t as much of a problem as thought it was going to be. Two spares are more than enough for a day’s heavy shooting. What is a negative is being effectively forced to buy a charger (which should have been included) and a spare battery. Interestingly Sony bundle a spare and a charger with the A7R Mk2…..

White balance is a bit random in cloudy conditions producing blueish greens. This can be solved using the ‘neutral’ colour profile with RAW and developing troublesome shots with Adobe Camera Raw (rather than DXO Optics 9 which does a fine job on non-problem files).

Zuiko OM 28mm f2, Sony A7R

The 28mm f2 and one of those shots where the greens needed some non-default processing to remove a slightly blueish tint. The shadows were pulled up in pp.

Using the otherwise excellent EVF in bright conditions isn’t as good as using an OVF – darker areas cut to black quite early. However the histogram and exposure aids (zebras) make getting that perfect exposure much easier. Sort of a balance there.

Finally, there’s no auto correction for MF lenses in DXO or ACR – you’re on your own I’m afraid. Luckily the prime lenses used here didn’t distort that much – but you’ll become a dab hand removing any chromatic aberration and using the ‘levels’ tool!

The OM Zuiko Lenses

The A7R works wonders with manual focus lenses – an ideal companion if you like. It can’t however work miracles and some lenses just don’t make the grade of producing quality images on a 36Mp sensor. With this level of resolution even excellent film era prime lenses are pushed.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.8 again!

Before we start it’s worth starting that all of these lenses need to be shot at optimal apertures (f5.6 – f11) to approach the Sony sensor’s resolution. Alternatively open them up to their widest aperture and trade resolution for some attractive bokeh.

In addition they will all flare easily by comparison with modern lenses so a lens hood and careful technique are required – just like using a film camera really. They are all wonderfully small and light – a perfect match for the small A7R. Remember when hand holding the camera to always use at least twice the focal length of the lens as the shutter speed e.g. 125th of a second for a 50mm lens to prevent camera shake – 1/60th (by the old 35mm rule) doesn’t always work at these resolutions.

As anticipated, zooms fare badly. The Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-5.6 and Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Series 1 both had some serious flaws with edge definition and chromatic aberration which would make them pretty unattractive for serious use.

The old primes are a different matter :-

The Zuiko 18mm f3.5 isn’t a resolution monster but produces very low chromatic aberration and distortion.

Zuiko OM 18mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The 18mm at f8.

The Zuiko 24mm f2.8 isn’t up to the job I’m sorry to say – the edges are too soft at all apertures. APSC only.

The Zuiko 28mm f2 – Just about good enough though prone to flare.

Zuiko OM 28mm f2, Sony A7R

28mm f2. Some pp brought up the shadows after exposing for the highlights here.

The Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro – still good even at these resolutions. No need to replace this one.

Zuiko OM 50mm f3.5 macro, Sony A7R

Copied from an antique book of photographs under less than ideal circumstances but the 50mm f3.5 macro performed admirably as always.

The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 and f1.8 – 50mms are easy to make well – both are good but the 1.8 has the edge and is cheaper – a bargain.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 wide open and close up.

The Zuiko 85mm f2 – pretty good – edges are a bit soft even at f8, but for portraits/mid tele work still good.

Zuiko OM 85mm f2, Sony A7R

The 85mm f2 blurring away an untidy background.

The Helios 85mm f2 – resolution isn’t its strong point but for sheer character this is still worth using (I have a soft spot for this lens which defies all logic).

Helios 85mm f2, Sony A7R

The soft, romantic images produces by the Helios 85mm f2 though not of very high resolution are still unique – I love this lens on any camera it’s attached to!

The Zuiko 135mm f3.5 – solid if undistinguished with a little chromatic aberration – just about good enough.

Zuiko OM 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The 135 f3.5 on a frosty morning.

The 18mm is the only lens which would cost over £100 – most would be under £50 and some under £30.

All of these lenses are ‘just good enough’ but great bargains – 36Mp is probably their limit and any more sensor resolution would be a waste.

Using lenses longer than 135mm is difficult – no IS, the need for fast shutter speeds and the difficulties in manually focussing them mean I’d leave this job the Canon 60D and a modern AF tele zoom.

In the interests of fairness, I’m sure the Canon/Nikon/Minolta/Pentax equivalents would be just as good if you have any hanging around.

Conclusion

There isn’t a simple conclusion to be drawn on using the A7R and MF lenses for all photographers – but I’ll have a go! As someone who started in the film era, I’m used to working around kit limitations and I don’t expect (or want) kit to do everything for me.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

50mm f1.8.

The A7R is a specialised camera which is aimed at people who take their time with their photography and are willing to put up with some quirks to wring the most out of that amazing 36Mp sensor. In this context, slow startup times, manual focus etc become irrelevant – you’ll be there for a few minutes taking the shot anyway.

Use it without concentrating on what you’re doing and it will treat you with contempt and spit out some truly disappointing images. Use it with care and it will jump through hoops for you.

The A7R second-hand is now under £1000 which is a fantastic bargain for a modern full frame 36Mp camera. Add a few fast old MF lenses and an adaptor or two for around £500 and – for the amount you’ve spent – you’ll have an amazingly good setup. Lusting after old prime lenses is cheaper than eyeing up their modern AF counterparts – especially Zeiss lenses! I’d recommend Ffordes in Scotland for second-hand kit – it’s always checked before being put on sale and I haven’t been disappointed yet (I’m not being paid to say this unfortunately – I’m just a satisfied customer).

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4, Sony A7R

Finishing up with the 50mm f1.4.

I used to use a medium format 6×6 camera (a Yashica 124G) along with my old OM 35mm cameras. It was slow and fairly difficult to use but produced stunning results if you put the effort in (6×6 Velvia film was shockingly good). Think of the A7R with old primes as a (lightweight) medium format camera, and an APSC Canon 60D with zooms as the 35mm SLR equivalent and you’ve pretty much got the perfect analogy. I still use the Canon 60D when IS and autofocus are needed – they complement each other nicely.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

Detailed (well relatively detailed) mini reviews for all of these lenses are available on the Film, Camera and Lens Review tab.

Advertisements

The Sony A7R and a Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Series 1

Continuing this series of mini-reviews of old MF lenses on the superb Sony A7R, this time it’s a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm constant f3.5 aperture zoom from the 1970’s. It’s very different in terms of size and weight to the small Zuikos tested so far, but it showed some promise on the Canon 60D and I need to at least try to find a decent telephoto option before lashing out lots of cash on a Zeiss/Sony zoom. All shots taken in RAW and converted using DXO Optics 9 an ‘auto levels’ in Photoshop.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

 

The history of the Series 1 line is described nicely here – suffice to say avoid later models with variable apertures. The earlier models were very highly regarded in the film days – at least equal to most camera manufacturer’s equivalents if not superior. If the build quality is anything to go by this lens is already a star – heavy at 967g (2lb 2.2 oz) and built to an extremely high standard of metal construction, it still feels precise, solid and reliable after 40 years, not surprising as this one was made by Kiron. It feels best to hold the lens rather than the camera when carrying it!

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nice soft bokeh – close upat 210 mm f3.5

The filter thread is 67mm and this one has VMC (Vivitar Multi Coating) which looks effective, and this model also sports an innovative if slightly clunky macro mode I’ll describe later. The aperture range is f3.5 to f22 and the aperture has six blades.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The lens on the camera. Not well balanced at all, so support the lens at all times! This is a one touch zoom so pulling the focus ring back zooms in, rotating it focuses it, much faster than a two touch designs if rather under geared on the focus. The only major sign of age is that some of the yellow paint has flaked out of the etched ‘macro’ focus channel. It’s possibly one of the best finished lenses I’ve seen.

In use the focus is easy (as with most MF lenses) using focus assist tools of the A7R’s EVF, though focussing gets more difficult as the focal length increases. There’s no image stabilisation so shutter priority is the best exposure mode – set twice the focal length e.g. 1/400th for the 200mm long end of the zoom) and use your best shooting technique to avoid camera shake.  My only criticism is that the focus mechanism could be more highly geared – sometimes it needed lots of focus ring turn to rack focus from infinity to close up – around 180 degrees. Closest ‘non-macro’ focus distance is around 2m/6ft.

 

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The macro button – a plastic white release, puts the lens in macro mode when the lens is at 210mm with a twist of the knurled ring. Once in macro mode, zooming in and out quickly changes focus, turning the focussing ring gives finer control. It’s not effortlessly smooth but the results are good and once the lens is ‘in or out’ of this mode the operation is pretty smooth.

Macro results are very good. I found ‘zooming’ quickly to achieve rough focus then turning the focus ring nailed focus quickly and easily.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The maximum macro reproduction ratio is around 1:2.5 (ish), about the same as the Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro without extension tubes. There is some variable telephoto magnification going on as well, but what the focal length is in this mode is guesswork at somewhere between 135 and 200mm.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Closest focus distance is around 5cm from the front element. Not bad for a ‘walk around’ lens but not as good as a proper macro lens.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nothing to complain about in the bokeh department at max aperture in macro mode.

So for macro it’s pretty good, apart from a tendency towards chromatic aberration in closer distance highlights at maximum aperture. How about normal ‘non-macro’ close focus?

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm at f3.5 at around 10 m (30 ft) – good too.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nothing to complain about here.

And finally medium to far distance, and a change of subject from my normal test – Kingston Lacy House. All at f8.

70mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

135mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

In conclusion then, this is a pretty good ‘old’ lens – especially if you can get it, as I did,  for £10 (yes ten!) on Ebay. The macro performance is outstandingly good if your camera is level, but pointing the camera downwards allows the zoom ring to creep forward. In ‘non-macro mode’ things are good at 70mm, deteriorate slightly by 135mm and the edges are starting to fall apart by 210mm but the centre holds up. This isn’t unusual for telephoto zoom lenses where the long end lets things down and is provided as a sort of ‘free extra’ (or example, the relatively modern Canon 70-300 mm f4-5.6 is fine until 200mm then falls away quite fast). Chromatic aberration is slight at f3.5 but gone by f5.6 across the zoom range.

I didn’t notice any flare without a lens hood except at 70mm where it was comparatively minor.

Is this resolving 36MP? Well it’s good at 70mm, but past 100mm definitely not. However the macro mode is very useful so for sub £100 it’s worth it just for that – and the 70-100mm performance.

Whether it’s worth £1000+ for a Zeiss/Sony AF version with all the AF bells and whistles is entirely up to you…..

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on a Sony A7R

I know what you’re thinking – putting an old MF lens on a modern 36Mp body is a waste of all that resolution. However, these old OM Zuiko prime lenses were – and still are – considered very high quality pieces of kit, but I still had my doubts. 50mm lenses are usually the easiest to design and the sharpest in a focal length range so let’s see….

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Wide open at f1.4 and there’s classical fast prime vignetting and shallow depth of field.

Firstly, ergonomics. OM Zuikos are wonderfully light, small and precision made in metal. Compared to, say a Canon 50mm f1.4 EF, they’re almost indestructible – this lens has been heavily used for 34 years. I know this because I bought it new and it’s still working fine. My short-lived acquaintance with the Canon equivalent ended in a slight bash, a repair then it being sold. Performance is around the same as the Canon which not surprising as they use loosely the same double gauss design.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Shot in a sea mist and heavily post processed – the RAW files have a wide latitude to pull up shadows and draw down highlights if carefully exposed.

Focussing and aperture changes are fluid and precise, focussing is easy using focus magnify (focus peaking isn’t that precise) and it’s generally a pleasure to use. I’m using a mid range Novoflex adaptor which works fine – it doesn’t really have to do much as there is no electronic communication between the camera and lens. Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4As the A7R doesn’t use ‘auto aperture’ like the OM bodies, the aperture set is always that ‘in use’. The EVF displays the depth of field as it will be in the final shot which is useful, but at smaller apertures focus peaking becomes pretty useless as it thinks everything is in focus and covers the EVF in white high contrast pixels (as it turns out when focus magnify is used, everything isn’t in focus, but it does mean that it’s possible to really accurately nail it)

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Set f8 and you get f8 straight away – no depth of field button required. The EVF maintains brightness at all apertures unlike an OVF.

Colours are excellent one you’ve cracked post processing of the raw files. DXO Optics 9 sometimes produced magenta-ish blue skies on the ‘standard’ in camera colour profile, but Adobe ACR and a neutral colour profile in camera are very accurate. The A7R’s white balance in ‘auto’ mode is often wayward so either shoot in raw and correct in post or it’s best to set white balance in advance if using JPEG. This seems to be an A7R problem rather than a Zuiko problem.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

The lack of an anti-alias filter allows this lens to perform to a higher standard on the A7R than any of the other cameras it’s been attached to. Typical of a fast prime, at large apertures there’s vignetting, chromatic aberration (CA), low contrast and the centre is sharp but the edges soft. Stop down to f8-f16 and everything sharpens up nicely across the frame and contrast and CA improve. Here are a few more images (some with the agency) :-

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Shot at f2.8 the out of focus areas aren’t insanely out of focus but are just enough to lead the eye to the steps.

 

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

I should have used f16 for this rather than f8 to get all of that cherry blossom in focus – this camera will punish any mistake!

 

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Colours, detail and tones here are excellent.

 

At these web resolutions it’s not possible to really judge much about the files produced so – it’s back to the traditional test subject on this blog, the mill.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Not The Mill again! – afraid so… The detail leaps out of the full sized file. f8.

 

At f1.4 to f5.6 things are ‘decent to good’ so I won’t bother you with the shots, but at f8 to f16 this is the sort of resolution this camera and lens is capable of :-

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Centre crop out of that huge 36Mp image at f8 – sharp enough I’d say.

 

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

I was impressed that the superb Sigma 50mm f1.4 ‘Art’ could resolve the wire guards on the chimney (top left of the whole image). The Zuiko has done quite a nice job too.

 

It isn’t a criticism of the lens but shooting with this much resolution means you really need to be careful of technique and focussing. A shutter speed of 125th of a second on a well held camera is the minimum I’d use with this lens, higher for closeups, so in low light, use shutter priority and auto ISO. Outside in bright light aperture priority and auto ISO are fine. In both cases limit the max ISO to 3200.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Post processes in DXO Filmpack to give a Kodachrome look, this one made it to the agency.

 

I’m frankly amazed that this lens works so well on the A7R. It’s not as good as the Sigma 50mm f1.4 ‘Art’ lens, but then it costs, and weighs, a lot less. It’s also more prone to flare than modern lenses so some care must be taken when shooting – so I really must buy a lens hood!

For some reason I like the 50mm focal length on this camera more than any other focal length so far. So much so it’s been used for 90% of the shots taken over the last few weeks. I haven’t missed a zoom lens at all (I’ve got feet!) and the results of such a simple setup are producing some very good results. This may be down to me being used to using small, light OM film cameras which this camera so much resembles – I’ve even tried to advance a non-existent film lever a few times….

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

A rough pulling up of shadow detail from a high dynamic range image – amazing again (this is more down to the A7R than the Zuiko though!)

 

In conclusion then, a cracking combination of lens and camera which produces fantastic results in a small, light package and very highly recommended.

Thanks for looking, hope to find this useful.

p.s. If you’re interested in how well this lens (and lots of others) work on other bodies check the  film, camera and lens review index tab.

Ultrawide on a 5d Mk2 – a Vivitar 17mm f3.5

This lens worked out pretty well on a Canon 60D crop frame sensor (here) and it’s also quite handy on Olympus OM series film cameras. ‘Full Frame’ digital though is a lot more demanding, especially at the far edges of the frame so how well does this vintage lens shape up on the mighty 5D Mk2? I need a wide-angle lens for this camera so it’s been dusted off for a test. All shot in RAW and converted in DXO Optics 9.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

The waterfall at Kimmeridge Bay in full flow. The flare to the bottom left is a ‘feature’ of this lens – I quite like it and here it fills a dark area of the frame.

On the bulky 5d Mk2 even this relatively heavy old MF lens feels fine. It’s lighter than a 24-105mm ‘L’ so it’s quite reasonable to carry around without becoming fatigued. The filter size is 67mm and infinity to minimum focus (25cm) takes a rack of around 180 degrees. The majority of this rack is taken getting from one metre to 25cm so you probably won’t see that bit of the scale very often.

This lens seems to cause the 5D MK2 more metering problems than any lens I’ve attached to it. Evaluative and centre weighted modes both occasionally produced wildly overexposed shots so keep an eye on the playback histogram after each shot.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

On the 5d Mk2 via an Olympus OM to Canon EF Fotodiox adaptor. Nicely balanced and a pleasure to use. Manual focus is very difficult due to the huge depth of field so the LCD of depth of field scale are preferable.

One of the traditional uses of such a wide-angle lens is for course landscapes and initial impressions are impressive at f8. The colours are natural and everything looks sharp enough – without pixel peeping.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

What it should do well – and it does. There isn’t much curvature on horizons (pincushion distortion) as long as the horizon is near the centre of the frame though it’s not that bad generally.

The other traditional use is interior shots and with an angle of view of 90 degrees it’s quite good at that too!

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Remarkably I haven’t seen any chromatic aberration which usually plagues wide-angle lenses, but there are a few odd internal reflections and flare when shooting into the sun which you can either live with and use creatively or just try to avoid by being very careful with your compositions.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

As with all wide-angle lenses converging lines look particularly dramatic – you end up looking for them everywhere. The closer you are to the subject the more dramatic the effect is.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

As there’s so much depth of field you can also use the depth of field scale to ‘shoot blind’ and just hold the camera near the ground like the following shot. After lots of experimenting it seems the depth of field scale is a bit optimistic – use the next widest aperture scale (i.e. set f16 but set a hyperfocal distance for f11). Maybe it was ‘good enough’ for film but it’s not for critically sharp results on the 5D…..

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Using such a wideangle lens for close-ups isn’t advisable due to distortion which increases the closer you get. The closest focus distance is 25cm – use it if you dare!

And another using the same technique – one of the few shots of snowdrops I’ve taken which I like – and I’ve taken loads!

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Bokeh with such a wide-angle lens only appears when the lens is closely focussed. It’s slightly fussy but not bad.

After all these promising results, time for some proper test results. This scene was chosen to be especially demanding for a wide-angle with bare branches acting to test the sharpness.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

The full test frame.

At f3.5 centre :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

f3.5 edge :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Well wide open it’s not that good at all – the edge is terrible, but having read detailed test results for such lenses – even modern ones – the extreme edges of wide angles are often poor. Conclusion – avoid f3.5!

at f8 centre :- Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2f8 edge :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Improved as you’d expect, though still not exactly brilliant!

at f16 centre :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

f16 edge :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Much better – relatively… The extreme edges of the frame are still not great but better than I expected.

All things considered, this is remarkably good for a £100, thirty year old lens. As long as you keep it at f8 to f16 the performance isn’t too bad at all and on a par with many modern ultrawides (especially mid-priced zooms). It’s so much fun to use that I don’t really care too much about the soft edges – with such a wide angle of view they don’t seem too important. If you’re a perfectionist or pixel-peeper though this may not be good enough for you.

For someone who needs such a wide-angle lens infrequently this is good enough for me (and becoming a favourite lens). The lack of chromatic aberration is remarkable, the flare which crops up now and again is quite attractive (to me anyway) so all in all it’s getting a hearty recommendation for the price.

I’ll finish with another shot from the waterfall sequence – the slight vignette is caused by stacked ND filters, not the lens.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

Full Frame on a Budget – A Canon 28-105 f3.5-4.5 USM on a 5D Mk2

This post is a bit of an oddity. Usually the only older lenses I play with are vintage manual focus lenses from the film era – Zuikos mostly – but this is a discontinued film era Canon EF autofocus lens from around 2000. EXIF info for once is quite welcome.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

105mm @f5.6 – a bit of a ‘grab shot’ which went well.

Why bother? Well it’s more or less the same zoom range as a 24-105L F4, it’s much cheaper (£130 second hand vs £500 second hand for the “L”)  and importantly, it’s much lighter (201g vs 670g). Filters are much cheaper at 58mm than 77 mm though it has no IS like the ‘L’. Also I’ve got on loan and I’m curious!

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

On the 5D the light weight is very welcome. It almost makes the heavy 5D MK2 into an effortlessly portable camera.

 

It’s constructed with a tough plastic exterior and a two barrel zoom action, the minimum focus about 50 cm (marked as ‘macro’) and the USM focussing is smooth, quick and quiet. It feels quite tough if a bit brittle, but it is fifteen years old. This is the earlier model, an improved model (1999-2002) made some minor improvements.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

A Canon 24-105 ‘L’ and the 28-105 ‘not an ‘L’. Smaller, lighter and just about as versatile. Apologies for the distortion.

 

To be clear from the start, this isn’t the sharpest lens around so I won’t do a lengthy series of test shots. At 28mm the edges are soft wide open, things improve through the mid focal lengths then decline as 105mm is reached. However if you keep it at f56-f11 it will produce decent images at all focal lengths which are more than adequate for most purposes as the following should demonstrate.

Two huge enlargements from the first image are below – the tower and some of the gulls shot at 105mm @f5.6. DXO Optics 9 has already tried to remove CA from these images but a small amount remains, even if it is only a few pixels.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

Colours are generally good though as with all older lenses, a quick ‘auto levels’ is always useful.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

68mm @f4.5 Nice clean colours in good light.

Flare is quite well controlled even without a lens hood. This was metered without the sun in the shot, the exposure ‘locked’ using the ‘*’ button, then recomposed.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

28mm @f8. Kimmeridge Bay at an extremely low tide – the lowest in twenty years apparently.

Macro mode is reasonable too with some slightly busy bokeh. The auto levels has produced some rather grungy colours in the lower right but other than that not too bad.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

105mm @f4.5

An extreme chromatic aberration test here looks good – though this is more down to DXO Optics than the lens itself. Turning off CA correction in DPP produced some nasty purple fringing on the sunlight reflections.

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

63mm @f16

 

Canon 5D, 28-105 f3.5-4.5

28mm @f8 on an overcast day – not bad at all.

All in all quite a reasonable all-rounder for the price. It would make a good starter lens while you saved up for a better general purpose zoom and would be useful on shoots where kit might get dirty or damaged. Old zoom lenses from the film era are rarely as good as modern ones but this one is better than most.

At this point you’re probably thinking I’ll come up with some killer reasons to use this lens. There really aren’t any other than the price and weight. It’s ‘OK’ for most purposes but fifteen years have seen some serious improvements in lens technology and digital imaging is much more demanding than film. If you’re not going to print past 10×8 it’s fine – otherwise something more modern may be in order. I really like the light weight and the convenience though!

If you’re interested in using other old lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

 

A Stormy Day and Some Long Exposures (and some myths debunked!)

We’re having some stormy days in Dorset lately which is a good excuse to get the tripod and neutral density filters out and do some long exposures on the coast. All shots on a Canon 60D using a Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

Kimmeridge Bay and Clavell’s Tower. 10mm focal length, 15 seconds at f16, heavily tweaked in DXO Filmpack using the Rollei Retro 80s film profile – then even more contrast was added! The composition was helped by the very strong wind blowing the clouds and waves straight at the camera.

There isn’t a great amount of light around, but if shutter speeds of up to thirty seconds at ISO 100 are to be used, a x8 (three stop) ND filter isn’t enough by a long way. There were all taken using a stacked pair of x8 and x64 (six stop) Hoya ND filters and even then f16, f22 and f32 were all used to get long enough shutter speeds. The first myth to be debunked here is that old rule ‘never go below f16 – resolution will suffer because of diffraction’ – here the advantage of a slow shutter speed easily outweighs any slight softness created by a small aperture so just use it anyway!

Surprisingly there was no vignetting from the stacked filters.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

3.2 seconds @f25. This one at the same location was taken with a view to converting it to a ‘moonlit light’ type shot. The brightness is dropped and a blue tint added to give the illusion of a moonlit bay. I’ve just finished reading ‘Moonfleet’ so that’s probably what made the shot come to mind.

The second golden rule which didn’t seem to apply was that muck on a wide-angle lens at small apertures will spoil a shot as it will be visible. I’ve always meticulously cleaned the front filters of such lenses, but despite the front filter being caked in dried salt and sand by the end of this shoot nothing was visible on the shots – at 10mm focal length using f32 in some shots! Something else not to worry about!

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

A bit more abstract – f13 10 seconds. Post processing as per the first shot.

It’s best to take lots of shots at different apertures and shutter speeds as the variation between different wave timings and slow shutter effects is remarkable. I couldn’t predict how the waves were going to hit the beach so just took ten or so shots at each tripod location – even then some weren’t too good. This is pot luck in short!

A heavy tripod is recommended and even then don’t extend it but use it at it’s lowest setting with the centre column down. Strong winds were shaking the camera with the legs extended by even one section and if it blows over onto rocks in salt water it’s probably time to wave the camera and lens goodbye….

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

2 seconds f10 with the wind blowing from left to right. Post processing as he first shot.

I had more difficulty than ever keeping the horizons straight so several of these were straightened in pp. Composition in a gale is more difficult than it looks even using the flip out LCD and grid lines – the viewfinder is very dark due to the ND filters and close to the ground which means it isn’t very comfortable to use.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

5 seconds @f5.6.

For these conditions shutter speeds of 2 seconds to 15 seconds produced the best results. At 30 seconds the sea became too ‘blurred’, below 2 seconds and not enough movement was captured.

A very different location – the sheltered marshes behind the dunes at Studland and the pool surface was just being ruffled by the wind.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

5 seconds @f10. Generic Ektachrome film profile in DXO filmpack brought out the red hues which contrast with the blue sky reflection.

Next a similar shot at the same location.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

5 seconds at f10 – a blue cast seemed to suit this one but it would work well in black and white.

Finally it’s worth mentioning that the most important kit when shooting stormy weather near the coast isn’t camera kit at all – good outdoor clothing is essential otherwise you’re likely to get freezing cold and wet – not good for concentrating on photography (sorry to nag).

DN0A0105

What not to do (as I did) – get caught by a large wave (it’s on it’s way out in this shot) which overtops not particularly waterproof boots, giving you freezing cold, wet feet for the rest of the day. Oh – and almost lose your camera at the same time! Thanks for the picture Jayne even if you were laughing when you took it. The first picture on this post was taken when this happened so it was worth it.

The best part of shooting in bad weather is that you feel that you’ve done something productive rather than sit around indoors and I really must do more of it. With better boots, a towel and a spare set of socks next time though.

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

A Plastic Lensbaby Lens on a Canon 5D Mk2 using a ‘Clear’ Picture Style

The Plastic Lensbaby mounted in a Composer did well on a 60D, but as an 80mm equivalent lens it was restrictive for general purpose photography. On a ‘full frame’ 5D it should be a more useful 50mm lens (I really like 50mm lenses!) but a larger sensor should show more ‘Lensbaby softness’.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

‘Clear’ picture style, f5.6. There isn’t the soft misty look I’d expected which is odd, probably caused by the picture style which creates highly saturated and contrasty images.

A day’s experimentation is called for….All shot in RAW + JPG (the final picture style is ‘baked into’ the JPG but not the RAW – just in case).

If you’ve never seen or used a Lensbaby a brief explanation is called for. They’re manual focus lenses with a very basic construction, in several designs most with ‘Waterhouse’ removable aperture disks (see below). Their uncorrected optical flaws are there to be exploited and the main reason for using them. Fitting smaller apertures (they’re held in place by magnets) reduces the optical flaws, but even at f16 they’re still there!

The Plastic lens is a 50mm f2 with aperture disks running from f2.8 to f16 (you could make your own if you liked!). Note that the Sweet 35 lens has a conventional internal aperture so no need for the ‘box of apertures’.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The blue ringed plastic lens (not ‘L’ series then!) with the aperture disks to the right (see f16 and f5.6?). The disk holder is on the right, the lid looks suspiciously like a 35mm canister lid, and the end of the ‘stick’ is a magnet to remove the disks from the lens. Simple but ingenious. It is a temptation just to leave one aperture disk in all day!

They’re very small and light, almost transforming the 5D into a lightweight camera (I’m used to the weight of 1 24-105mm lens). As you can see from the next shot, the lens can be pivoted around to move the central sharp part of the image around in the frame, though I must admit I hardly ever do this, preferring to keep the ‘sweet spot’ of sharpness in the middle.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The ‘lens’ as seen here is really a secondary mount called a ‘Composer’ – there are several types. Different lenses (glass, plastic, pinhole etc) are then slotted into this to achieve different results.

To counter the inherent low contrast of these lenses you can either correct in post-processing, or cheat and use Canon’s ‘Clear’ picture style which pushes contrast and saturation to extremes. Installing extra colour profiles on your DSLR  is easy, some are already installed (‘Neutral’,’Standard’ etc) but there are three spare ‘slots’ for extra profiles – look here. Alternatively they can just be applied in Canon’s RAW DPP software – the result is the same but using software is a lot more fuss.

Focussing is best done on the LCD screen as these are low contrast and low sharpness lenses and the ‘Clear’ picture profile is simulated on the screen. It’s quite easy if you’re used to using MF lenses.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The first image with no ‘Clear’ style applied, just an ‘auto levels’ – not quite so dramatic. Still no soft mistiness which was so prominent on the 60D – interesting!

Enough about what it is – how well does it do?

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

Keep it simple and abstract!

Firstly, the softness at the edge of the frame is stronger on full frame than APS-C – as expected (I didn’t expect quite this much though) so smaller apertures will be required unless you really want to go wild. As on the 60D, simple, bold compositions work best allowing the blur at the edge of the frame to emphasise the main subject.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

At f8 – the centre is surprisingly sharp, the edges smearing into some nice blur.

To add to your creative ‘arsenal’ the lens will flare like crazy if sunlight shines over the front element :-

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

Sun out of frame to the upper left.

This shot was taken moving the camera very slightly to the right. Note that spectacular chromatic aberration on the roof!

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

Better!

Though oddly it’s not bad if you shoot straight into the sun!

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The proper 50mm focal length is much more useful for landscapes, though again, smaller apertures work best.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

f5.6 disk – a bit too much blur maybe.

The ‘Clear’picture style really drags some good colour out of a scene on a cold winter’s day – a bit of de-saturation in Photoshop would tone it down nicely though if that’s more your taste.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

At closer distances the blur looks more like that of a really fast lens – well, almost but not quite! The soft pastel colours in the stone and leaves look good here I think.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

What to make of all this?

On a full frame camera you’ll need to use smaller apertures than on a 60D to tame the Plastic Lensbaby’s extreme edges (assuming you want to of course). Smaller apertures unfortunately seem to remove the soft, dreamy look that the lens produces on APS-C – these look more like the results from the glass lenses. On the other hand a 50mm field of view is more useful for general photography. I’ll test the glass lenses next, but so far I’d say it’s better on a 60D.

Using the ‘Clear’ picture style certainly adds a bit of zip to these low contrast images – it’s invaluable to help focussing and visualising the image before it’s taken, and can be changed in DPP if you prefer a more subtle result.

Lensbabys are a bit pricey new, but have been around long enough to buy cheaply second-hand. Unless it’s been run over by a truck there’s virtually nothing that can go wrong with this kit (no IS, no AF and not very sharp to begin with!) so it’s a pretty safe thing to do.

Hope you find this useful – it quite surprised me – thanks for looking!