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.

Advertisements

The Search for Grain Continues – Kodak Tri-X. Lots of Shots and Some Photographic History.

Approaching a review of Kodak Tri-X provokes some nervousness. Tri-X has been around since 1954 (though reformulated many times since then) and was the black and white film which defined a photographic era for fashion and journalism in the 1970’s and 1980’s, creating a dark gritty look which is still used today. It’s still the best-selling mono film (according to Kodak).

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Salisbury Cathedral again on an overcast day. This needed some PP but the dark ‘look’ I remember is still there. Zuiko 28mm f2 though not as grainy as I’d remembered.

The great Don McCullin used Tri-X for his famous photographs of the Vietnam war. For David Bailey, Irving Penn, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Cartier Bresson it was a mainstay too. In short it’s one of the few films which has legendary status so I’d best be thorough! For a fuller description see here for an excellent history of this film.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Inside the cathedral and that tonality is lovely – enough to feel optimistic! Vivitar 17mm lens.

When a film has been going for 60 years it’s got to be good – but does the modern version capture that ‘look’ I loved thirty years ago? Best shoot a few rolls.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

A further interior – and good too. Vivitar 17mm lens. The textured stone of the interior masks the graininess as always.

All these shots rated at 400 ASA on a Olympus OM2N with a variety of Zuiko/Vivitar lenses and developed in D76 – D76 and Tri-X must be a classic combination. Scanned on the usual Plustek 7500 and subjected to some levels and contrast adjustment.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

The last from Salisbury and a bit of a gothic type shot – working as hoped. Vivitar 17mm lens.

The film feels like a quality product in a well made cassette with solid felt light baffles. It’s difficult to break into for loading on a film spiral – always a good sign. It loads easily onto the spiral too.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Hard light suits this film. The humble Zuiko 50mm f1.8.

Drying it doesn’t attract much dust and is quite a ‘hard’ emulsion when dry. When you’ve had 60 years to perfect a film it should be one of the best I suppose!

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Zuiko 50mm f1.8.

One of the properties of Tri-X was to capture a subject’s essential details – complete with grain, dirt and darkness in the process. It was famous for it’s deep black tones and is often used to emphasise the grittier side of life – with a bit of PP in the contrast department it does it well.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

To portray dark grittyness this is excellent. Zuiko 28mm f2.

Exposure latitude is wide too allowing shooting in a wide variety of situations.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Shooting into the light and a nice result – flare, grain and all.

However – is it grainy enough? That’s what this search is all about!

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

The whole frame.

And a small enlargement :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

This small section of the negative looks quite detailed with reasonable grain for 400 ASA.

Nope – I’m looking for more grain than this. Let’s try uprating it to 1600 ASA and push processing it for 12 minutes.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

This is a little more like it in low light. 50mm f1.8.

Outdoors in soft sunlight :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Time for a frame enlargement and here’s the full frame. Zuiko 135 f3.5 (a recent acquisition!)

 

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

And here’s a small section enlarged. Slightly harder grain than a 100 ASA film but not that much.

Well it’s made things a little more grainy but not as much as I’d hoped. Tri-X is made to be pushed to higher speeds so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. These were developed in D76 but it’s (annoyingly!) done a good job on the grain structure that I’m thinking for the next roll it will have to be souped in Rodinal which should harden the grain up a bit. It’s amazing how good modern film is by comparison with 30 years ago. All of the high-speed films tested so far have proved highly resistant to heavy grain formation – so much so there’s not a huge difference between them and 100 ASA film. Even Ilford 3200 was tame at 1600 ASA.

Finally – for those who don’t like slopping chemicals around – can Tri-X be replicated digitally in DXO Filmpack? There’s a preset for it so let’s see.

Here’s a Tri-X ‘original’ :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

And here’s a DXO converted shot from an EPL5 :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, DXO Filmpack

Close enough I’d say, though film development and PP variations (in both cases) mean that DXO can only really do an approximation of the final ‘look’. The stonework on the house is brighter in the later shot due these being taken many weeks apart – the DXO shot has the advantage of some sunlight on the wall face.

Well what to make of it? Tri-X is still an excellent film just past it’s 60th birthday and as good as it’s competitors if you prefer a darker look (think of it crudely as a fast Ilford PAN-F). As a photographer who still shoots lots of film as well as digital, it’s worth a thanks to Kodak for keeping this stuff in production. My recommendation is to give it a try – I’m about to order 10 rolls!

Thanks for looking – hope this is useful!

p.s. There a reviews of lots of other films on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

 

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!

Olympus PEN Dramatic Tone

As you might have guessed from the previous post, I’ve been messing around with an Olympus EPL5 lately, having sold my EPL3 earlier in the year. What I really missed was the ‘Dramatic Tone’ art filter, which is proving useful in dragging some useful images out of an otherwise overcast few days (it’s quite useful when used on video too).

A walk up on the downland on a dull day – the filter really pulls detail out of flat cloud and the pseudo ‘HDR’ effect can produce a subtle infra red effect.

It’s not great for every scene, but when the light is just right – mixed overcast when normal photography produces flat uninteresting images – this can produce some intriguing results.  These are all straight JPEGs (plus a Raw file as a backup), toned in DXO filmpack.

Sometimes the results are a real surprise – this looked nothing like this to the naked eye, but through the viewfinder (or LCD) the effects can be judged quite accurately. A real transformation of reality!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shot a few minutes earlier that the first shot – and completely different.

These are shot using the monochrome filter, the colour version produces results which look too artificial for my taste. You could of course argue that these look artificial – however years ago I used to work for hours in a wet darkroom to produce similar effects and it never occurred to me that I was doing any ‘unethical’ post processing. Maybe our negative attitude to computer/camera based post-processing is that the results weren’t produced by traditional darkroom skills? Whatever the reason, the results are good enough for me not to worry about it any more!

In some circumstances the images just look like a lightly dodged/burned print :-

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This result was more predictable – the cloud forms were visible to the naked eye and all it needed was something interesting in silhouette.

And on other occasions the dodge/burn effect is less than subtle…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This one is possibly looks too over-processed!

So, whatever your attitude to post-processing images – thanks for looking and 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.

_MG_9225_DxOFPs

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.

_MG_9189_DxOFPs

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.

_MG_9193_DxOFPs

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

Thanks for looking, hope you like them!

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)

00217840

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!

Victorian Figure

I can’t resist poking around a junk shop looking for interesting bits and pieces, and last autumn I found this – a Victorian/Edwardian children’s doll which would hopefully be useful as a subject for a few stock photographs. All shot on a Canon 60D  + Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro lens, post processed in Photoshop and DXO Filmpack.

First – shot – a bit of an abstract but the use of DXO has given the finished result a grey/silver sheen.

00225331

Next – similar but with a green cast.

00225340

No messing with colour rendition here – just a simple shadow and shapes.

00225295

Layers here – and the use of low winter sunlight and a window in the background.

00226735

Finally just a shadow – there are some trees a hundred yards away which cast some lovely diffuse shadows in the winter.

00225296

As always these shots are taken for the book cover market, and all comments, critiques and questions are welcome.

Thanks for looking – hope you like them and they give you some creative ideas for your photography