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.

A Zuiko 50mm f1.8 on a Sony A7R

In the last of this series of mini-tests of OM Zuiko lenses on an A7R, the very humble 50mm f1.8 is under scrutiny this time. This one came ‘free’ with a second-hand OM2N a few years ago and until now hasn’t been used – my usual 50mm lens choice is my 50mm f1.4 which I’ve used for 34 years (a good investment!).

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

Bokeh wide open close up.

These were made in their tens (if not hundreds) of thousands by Olympus, being the ‘standard’ lens on OM series cameras for many years. They were slowly improved over three decades (1972 – 2002) gaining multi coating and improved designs and are often overlooked due to their cheapness, humble appearance and the fact that they were the ‘kit lens’ of their day. Let’s have a look.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

From above, tiny, light and very portable.

As you’d expect it’s of all metal construction, light (160g or 6 oz), around 3cm long, min focus is around 40cm, apertures run from f1.8 to f16 and it takes 49mm filters – all standard stuff and typical of what makes OM Zuikos so attractive to use.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

This is an ‘F Zuiko’ marked lens (meaning six elements) – it doesn’t help date it though (unless you know different!).

Everything on this mid-period still works smoothly, the focus mechanism is smooth and nicely geared though this version of the lens doesn’t appear to be multi coated. There are unfortunately only six aperture blades – eight would be better for out of focus highlights.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Personally I shoot a lot at 50mm – just familiarity I suppose, and the fact that most of my book cover stuff looks natural and undistorted at this focal length.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Depth of field at f1.8 is minimal as you’d expect. Here you can see some of those out of focus highlights have a bright outer rim which can look quite distracting in some shots especially if the highlights are many and close together. I think it’s quite attractive – it’s definitely different to the Zuiko 50mm f1.4’s very soft mushy bokeh – but you may not! It may not be a ‘problem’ with later versions of the lens so don’t let it put you off.

Here are a few more shots to illustrate the bokeh.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Enough about the performance wide open – where some sharpness is sacrificed for subject isolation – how about its performance at f8 (the theoretical optimal aperture for  edge to edge sharpness)?

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Pin sharp at f8

Pixel peeping this it looks very good! No chromatic aberration, edges very sharp and no distortion.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

At f2.8 sharpness picks up quickly and keeps a shallow depth of field.

So – with a hint of excitement – a proper test across apertures.

The whole frame (on a dull day). Crops from the centre and the top right.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f1.8

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f4

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f8

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f16

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

At f1.8 it’s quite hazy and soft with some chromatic aberration and a slight amount of vignetting, but by f4 the centre is excellent and by f8 it’s excellent across the whole frame. By f16 – as always – things are going downhill again.

Using old prime lenses on a 36Mp full frame sensor is always going to push them to their limits and means putting up with some corner softness or chromatic aberration. This lens at f8 though does – amazingly – get very close to using all of that sensor resolution across the frame with no nasty side effects. Despite being single coated, I haven’t seen any flare problems either, but I have been using a lens hood during a mainly cloudy late summer. The only oddity is those bright edged out of focus highlights at maximum aperture which I like anyway!

I have to say it’s better in the corners than the other OM 50’s tested so far (my much-loved 1.4 and the 3.5 macro), f1.8 is only slightly slower than f1.4, so I’ll go as far to say to any A7R user – just get one! At £30 it’s the best value lens you’ll find. Later versions of the lens are reputed to be even better!

Watermarked shots have been post processed and have been accepted by my rather picky agency Arcangel in case you were wondering.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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.

There’s an informative page here on OM lens history here if you’d like a look :- http://esif.world-traveller.org/om-sif/lensgroup/lensterms.htm

 

 

The Zuiko 24mm f2.8 on a Sony A7R

Continuing this series of mini reviews of my favourite old lenses on the beefy A7R’s 36Mp sensor, this time it’s the turn of the tiny Zuiko 24mm f2.8. This was a cracker of a lens on the APSC Canon 60D so I’m hoping for lots of good things…. All shots taken in RAW mode and ‘developed’ in DXO Optics 9 using default settings.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

The 24mm doing what it does best – cramming lots of landscape into the frame.

The most striking thing about this all metal lens is its size – a shade more than 3cm (1 1/4 inches) long and weighs in at 220g (7.8 oz). It has almost the same dimensions as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8, and is about as small as it’s possible to make a manual focus lens and keep it useable. It accepts 49mm filter, apertures run from 2.8 to 16, the minimum focus distance is about 25cm and the aperture is – unfortunately – made up of only six blades which means hexagonal bokeh – if you ever see it with such a wide-angle lens.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Take off the lens cap and the filter and it’s even smaller!

Ergonomically on the A7r it’s perfect – the focussing ring is smooth and well geared and the camera/lens combo is wonderfully light and easy to use.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This looks like a mid era model – maybe late 1980’s?

With an angle of view of 84 degrees it’s noticeably wider than a Zuiko 28mm lens (75 degrees) and not that far off an 18 mm lens (100 degrees) or the 21mm Zuiko (92 degrees). With this level of ‘wide angle-ness’ verticals start to heavily distort if the camera isn’t parallel with the subject so unless you really like correcting this in pp, be careful!

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Just a slight tip upwards produces converging vertical. Fixed easily in pp.

Vignetting is obvious at f2.8, gradually fading to nothing by f8 – nowhere near as bad as the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 at max aperture (few lenses are!) but something to bear in mind.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Sharp, good colour and snappy contrast – looks good.

The contrast and colour are all as good as they were on the Canon 60D, but the A7R seems to over saturate greens with this lens which is odd but there you go.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This isn’t the worst example of flare I could have shown – it’s just that it’s so ugly when it happens I didn’t want to take the shot!

Flare is a big problem with this lens, and the hexagonal nature of the aperture makes things worse. To be fair, most old MF lenses suffer from flare to some degree but this is worse than most. A lens hood won’t help much on such a wide-angle lens so you just have to be careful and recompose if necessary.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

That contrast and colour again – excellent.

Chromatic aberration is minimal, probably removed easily by DXO Optics 9 when processing the RAW files for this test, so a major plus.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

It’s possible to create some nice converging lines by getting in close and letting the wide-angle distortion do it’s ‘thing’.

Resolution then – on to the mill.

The whole frame (showing that vignetting nicely at f2.8).

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f2.8

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f5.6

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f11

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f16 (just for completeness)

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

The positive first then – the superb resolution at the centre is obvious from f5.6 to f11 just as it was on the Canon 60D. f5.6 is especially impressive. The obvious problem though is edge resolution – it’s very poor at f3.5, cleans up a little by f11 where it’s still not that good, and by f16 everything is starts to fall apart again due to diffraction. Quite a disappointment as I had high hopes for this lens.

This doesn’t appear to be a problem with the adaptor as the right hand side of the frame is just as bad as the left. I mention this after reading Lensrentals analysis of using adaptors with non-native lenses here (it’s an interesting article!).

All in all then, something of a mixed bag on a full frame camera. Centre resolution is excellent at the right apertures, colour and contrast are good, chromatic aberration never makes much of an appearance and distortion is controllable if it’s used properly. It’s wonderfully small and light and a joy to use. Set against that is pretty terrible flare, vignetting till f8 and the poor edge resolution.

If you aren’t too picky this isn’t bad for the price (sub £100), but it’s effectively a 24mm f5.6 (to f11) lens if you want the best results and I would imagine a modern zoom lens would beat it hands down at the edges (maybe not the centre!). On an APSC sensor where the weak edge definition and vignetting don’t matter so much it’s a different story, and for smaller sensors I can heartily recommend it as a 35mm – 40mm standard lens. For full frame sensors though it’s not quite so easy to recommend.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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 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.

A Plastic Lens Lensbaby and a Sony A7R

This unlikely post is about the unholy match of two pieces of photographic kit from opposite ends of the image quality spectrum – the superb 36MP Sony A7R and the odd (some might say weird) Plastic Lensbaby lens which is designed to produce soft ethereal images. Why? Well it’s an experiment which sounded like fun, and trying to coax any decent results out of the Lensbaby is always an enjoyable challenge.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the right, DXO Filmpack Agfa Vista profile. Not bad.

I’ve tested this lens on an Oly EPL5 , a Canon 60D and a 5d Mk2 and came to the conclusion that the Oly produced the best results as it uses just the centre of the image circle. I have a feeling after this test the conclusion might be the same – but here goes.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The whole setup. The aperture disks lower right, the disk holder and magnetic disk remover top right. The lens itself is mounted inside a ‘Composer’ body (several bodies are available allowing different amounts of ‘lens bending’ control.

Even for someone using light Zuikos this 50mm lens is light – 125g or 4 1/2 oz. Mounted on an inexpensive Fotga adaptor for Canon EF to NEX mount, the focus ring is alarmingly sloppy, the apertures are waterstone stops held in by magnets at the front, and the relatively sharp centre of the frame can be moved around the frame by undoing a friction clutch and moving the lens about like some sort of mad sci-fi monster’s eye.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The F8 aperture disk held in place by magnets – not a conventional arrangement….

As the images will be soft you can forget about shutter shock, chromatic aberration (it’s terrible!), changing aperture (it’s a pain so I tend not to) and camera shake. Put the camera on auto-ISO, focus and shoot – all very liberating and not your normal photographic experience. Crucially, the focus peaking works very well on the A7R, ably illustrating focus curvature (to explain :- imagine focussing on a brick wall parallel to the sensor – the centre will be in focus, the edge won’t be, but de-focus the centre and the edges come into focus). In reality it’s so far from normal photography it’s fantastic!

Rather than a resolution test (don’t be silly!) here are a few shots shot at different apertures so you can judge the effect of different aperture disks, F2 to f22.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk (F2). Very ethereal but I’m pushed to think of a use for something this extreme.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F4

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F16

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

f22. The best in terms of sharpness, but it just looks like a very bad conventional lens. Maybe useful for simulating a cheap old camera from the 1960s?

Personally my favourite is f8 – just about the right amount of ‘Lensbaby-ness’.

All Lensbaby images need lots of post processing – the following have been pushed through (a slightly baffled!) DXO Optics 9 and then DXO Filmpack.

First some mono conversions :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The lens tilted all the way to the right and a PAN F profile – I like this!

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 and some more blurriness.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 again

And some with colour film conversions using different DXO Filmpack profiles :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk for this one – but pushing the very low contrast and using a colourful film profile has sort of worked?

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the top of the frame and the Ultracolour profile – I’m pleased with this. This is Kingston Lacy in Dorset in case you were wondering.

 

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and the ‘1960s’ profile – looks like some old family album shot (my Dad had a terrible camera!).

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and Ultracolour again.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 close up, Ultracolour again.

This is a real ‘marmite’ (UK expression – you’ll either ‘love or loath it’) lens. With some serious PP it does open some interesting possibilities if you don’t mind the odd look from passers-by while you change the aperture disks. Mono works well, but the colour ones work better for me, and the stronger the colours the better – don’t be half-hearted in the conversion!

It’s use on an A7R is genuinely better than on DSLR’s with optical viewfinders because you can make sure things are in focus – well, as much as they’re ever going to be in focus! The Sony’s exposure metering was also very good – something my DSLR’s struggled with using this lens. The Oly EPL5 produced images which looked more ‘misty’ than these – not a better result but just different as each could have their use.

Maybe it’s best thought of in the same way as the Olympus ‘dramatic tone’ filter – good in small doses to produce something different but make sure you don’t use it all the time. I’d recommend using one just for the sheer challenge and fun of using them – you though may (sensibly) prefer not to!

Commercially the images can sell (two or three have over the years) but they’re a bit ‘niche’ even for the book cover market.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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

The Zuiko 135 f3.5 and a Sony A7R

Recent posts have reviewed some fairly expensive Zuikos (expensive for old MF lenses anyway). This post is about the very humble 135 f3.5 – available for around £30 in the UK for a clean copy. Surely even I can’t expect such a basic lens to produce results anywhere near the 36Mp A7R’s sensors potential?

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

Nice colour (with a quick auto levels), default DXO sharpening and little else – looks good.

135mm is at the long end of my usual working focal lengths so assembling enough shots for this test was good fun. All shot in RAW and converted using DXO Optics.

The lens is small and light as you would expect for a slow Zuiko (325g/11.4 oz in weight and around 7 1/2 cm or 3 inches long). The adaptor adds some length to the combination but it’s strikingly small on the A7R for a telephoto lens and balances well on the small body.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

There isn’t enough telephoto ‘oomph’ to really isolate features in a landscape but taking a wider angle approach produces pleasing results – well to me anyway!

The angle of view is 18 degrees, minimum focus is a disappointing 1.5 m/4 feet, it accepts 49mm filters and the apertures run from f3.5 to f22. There is a built-in lens hood, and 5 elements in four groups make up the optical formula. The aperture is made up of eight blades giving a more or less circular aperture.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

With the lens hood extended this looks like a larger’ lens than it is. In reality it’s pretty small and easy to carry.

Trying to squeeze the most resolution out of a lens means using it at f5.6 to f11, so the slow maximum aperture isn’t that much of a problem and cuts down the weight. It’s not terribly easy to focus at these apertures, so for the first time I resorted to focussing at f3.5 then stopping down when I couldn’t see things in critical focus. Using the focus magnify feature of the A7R is quite difficult as the image jumps around much more than shorter focal lengths.  As always, the depth of field scale is optimistic – so don’t trust it!

At 135mm there’s some moderate telephoto compression, evident in the landscape shot below.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The lens hood does a good job or preventing flare and I saw no vignetting at any aperture. I have noticed a blueish cast to some shots though that’s correctable with a white balance tweak – auto white balance isn’t a strength of the A7R. As always the A7R’s exposures (with the help of the zebra over exposure warning) were spot on.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The minimum focus distance of 1.5m/4 feet isn’t going to win any macro awards, but it can still get moderately close and produce some pleasant if slightly busy bokeh. f5.6.

Wide open at close focussing distances  at f3.5 the bokeh becomes better.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

Not bad for f3.5

To avoid camera shake use shutter priority of 1/250th or 1/500th of a second and auto ISO but keep an eye out for under exposure at smaller apertures as you hit your max ISO limit – mine is set at ISO 1600 – and all will be fine.

F3.5 isn’t ever going to produce blurred away backgrounds at moderate to longer focussing distances. The shot below is an example of this – perfectly sharp, in focus and pretty detailed, just not much subject isolation. Having said that f3.5 is around what you’ll achieve on a consumer grade 70-300mm lens at 135mm and this is probably sharper!

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

A 2/3 crop and not bad at f3.5

The ‘scientific’ test then at the mill. The subject fills the frame here in stark contrast to the last time I took test shots with the 18mm f3.5!

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The full test frame

f3.5 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f3.5 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f8 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f8 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f16 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f16 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

At f3.5 there’s some chromatic aberration and the edges are a bit vague – no surprises there then. What is a surprise is how good things are at f8 (and f5.6) – sharp to the edge of the frame, softening slightly by f16. The slight (4-5 pixels) of chromatic aberration at f3.5 disappears by f5.6.

In conclusion then this is a solid and sensible (if unspectacular) lens on the A7R at mid apertures. It’s a huge bargain, especially given it’s cost, light weigh and portability. Just don’t expect miracles when it comes to bokeh, contrast or subject isolation using it’s maximum aperture. It’s earned the small place in the camera bag it takes up for when I next need it. It’s not resolving 36Mp – maybe 20? – but it’s good enough for my occasional use of this focal length. If your needs are different it may be best to look elsewhere – and spend a lot more!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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.

A Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6 on a Sony A7R

This mini test has been done to try out a free (to me) 1980/1990’s mid range zoom and to test my assumption that only good quality prime lenses are up to the A7R’s 36MP sensor.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Bokeh at f3.5 and 70mm – not too bad at all!

When zooms were being introduced into mainstream 35mm photography it was widely believed that they were grossly inferior to quality primes which put me off using them until partially moving to digital from film in around 2005. Are my old prejudices justified? I had to give it a test!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

In its favour is its diminutive size and light weight. It’s not as small as any individual prime lens in the useful 28-70mm range, but it’s lighter than all three usually used in this range (28,50 and 85). The rear element disappears far into the lens barrel past 50mm which is slightly disconcerting and doesn’t fill me with confidence as it seems to be quite a primitive design. It does have a ‘red ring’ at the front which might appeal to ‘L’ series users – unfortunately it’s not a Canon lens.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

On the A7R – moderately compact and surprisingly good to use.

Carrying just this lens on the camera and no camera bag is rather refreshing. It has a 1:5 macro mode so isn’t a macro lens at all but the close up mode is reached by rotating the zoom ring past 70mm, and it’s better than nothing!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

It’s not a very fast lens – unsurprising given it’s size – but if sharpness rather than spectacular bokeh is your goal you probably won’t move the aperture ring far away from an optimal f8 so it’s no real problem. The aperture is made up of 6 blades giving hexagonal out of focus highlights, the filter size is 52mm and it’s nicely made and satisfyingly compact and dense. The ‘SD’ bit of the name stands for ‘Super Low Dispersion’ lens elements used in the lens to reduce chromatic aberration. We’ll see!

In use it’s controls are nicely balanced and although it doesn’t exude the quality feel of a prime Zuiko lens (oops – Zuikoholic prejudice coming out there!).

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

As a ‘walk around’ macro it’s not bad at all. Pleasing contrast and natural colours here.

Starting with macro – it’s quite useful when wandering around for casual close ups but not for exacting macro work.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Quite pleasing and fun for macro work all in all. The focus aids on the A7R as always managed to nail focus hand held.

Generally it seems like a reasonably sharp and contrasty lens :-

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Onto the acid test then and Kingston Lacy house used as a test subject, all at f8 so as good as this lens is going to get :-

28mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

28mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre and OK

 

28mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge is a bit vague and chromatic aberration will need some more post processing.

 

50mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

50mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – very good

 

50mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

edge – better – optimal on this lens

 

70mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

70mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – good again

 

70mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge – it’s getting vague again…

 

The centres at all focal lengths are ‘good’ to ‘very good’, but the edges of the frame are a bit of a let down. Even at f8 it would take a lot of work to sort these out in post processing.

In conclusion then I’d say it’s a nice, portable lens which does a basic job of covering the 28-70mm focal length range. The edge definition lets it down badly, but the contrast makes up for some of the shortcomings. The A7R is flattering to older lenses based on previous experience, but I’m afraid that the convenience of carrying just a zoom lens doesn’t quite balance out the loss of quality at the edges of the frame so this lens won’t be used again.

Looks like my prejudices were correct based on this lens – the A7R needs the best prime lenses at their optimal aperture to make the most of it’s sensor. Maybe using the ‘crop mode’ to sample just a central APS-C sized portion of the sensor would work, but life – as they say – is too short!

I can’t complain too much – though – this lens was ‘free’!

Thanks for looking – hope this was useful.

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 Sony A7R and a Helios 85mm f2

This little review is done out of pure curiosity. The Russian made Helios Jupiter 85mm f2 is not known for it’s sharpness (Zeiss have nothing to worry about here), more for the unusual characteristics of the images it produces which I’ve found in the past to be unique. I’m not expecting much at all here so this should be good fun.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

That magic bokeh is back!

 

For around £8 a NEX to M42 screw mount adaptor was ordered, and it’s pretty well made, with three allen key loosened grub screws to allow the fixed lens to be rotated so the top of the lens aligns with the camera. What this does for the alignment of the lens with the sensor plane is anyone’s guess but let’s not worry for now. There is no electronic contact between lens and camera so no EXIF data for the lens or aperture used. Obviously there’s no autofocus, apertures are set manually and forget image stabilisation.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

On the A7R – this is about as heavy as it’s possible to go on the small A7R body without things feeling unbalanced (for me). The adaptor adjustment grub screws can be seen on the right hand side of the adaptor.

 

The lens is solidly made in metal and quite compact, but feels heavy (13 oz/374g). Minimum focus is around 75 cm (about 30 inches) and it shares a 49 mm filter thread with most Zuiko prime lenses. Focus from infinity to minimum distance takes around 270 degrees. The weight helps stabilise the camera/lens but there’s no image stabilisation (not invented when the lens was made!) so 160th of a second or shorter for hand-held shots is best.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Without the adaptor and front UV filter it’s quite small and ‘dense’. Controls from left to right – grip for screwing the lens on to the adaptor, the knurled focus ring, the ‘stop down the aperture to what’s been selected’ ring and the ‘set the desired aperture’ ring

 

The aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures, and look quite different from most lenses. Rather than being matt black they appear to be bare metal which looks a bit ‘industrial’, just like the rest of the lens in fact. The ‘stop down’ nature of the lens means it’s best to leave the front aperture setting at f16 then just rotate the inner ring across the aperture range until things look good. This means you have no idea what aperture is being used. If you’re very patient you could do it correctly and set the aperture on the front ring then rotate the inner ring completely to the right. I’m not that patient.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Shiny and worn aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures – no hexagonal out of focus points!

 

Focussing isn’t as easy as with the sharp, contrasty OM Zuiko lenses. The ‘focus peaking’ feature relies on image contrast to sprinkle the view finder with ‘in focus’ pixels, but as this lens isn’t too sharp and of low contrast it didn’t show much. With the ‘focus magnify’ focussing was much easier, but at the maximum ‘zoom in’ level you can actually see how soft the image is at maximum aperture. It’s very much like focussing a Lensbaby – there’s nothing really sharp ‘out there’ through the lens so just do the best you can. Combined with the extra care needed shooting with the A7R this combination means slow, deliberate photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Soft and dreamy – nice.

 

There’s a little vignetting wide open but only if you’re looking for it. Flare can be quite bad as the front element isn’t multicoated (it may not be coated at all). Contrast is low across the aperture range (images look terrible before post processing) so shoot in RAW and be prepared for some moderately serious post processing – all in a day’s work for MF lens users.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Nice smooth bokeh – lovely

 

If image sharpness or ease of use are your goals look elsewhere – very far away! This lens excels at producing soft ‘dreamy’ images at closer focussing distances with some very shallow depth of field and attractive bokeh. Traditionally used for portraits, these characteristics lend themselves to a few other subjects such as flower, food and ‘special effect’ photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At medium distances the edges of the frame can get quite ‘swirly’ – like a poor man’s Petzval lens.

This lens did quite well on a Canon 5D Mk2 and a 60D as the poor resolution wasn’t so mercilessly exposed on 20Mp and 18Mp sensors. It was however more difficult to focus through the optical viewfinders of these cameras so sort of a draw there. Using this lens is a huge waste of 36Mp of resolution (8Mp might be appropriate), but as the A7R is now my main camera, I’m not carrying another one just for this lens!

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

It’s rather good for ‘book cover’ type stuff.

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At f2 and soft everywhere even the bits in focus – but it all sort of ‘works’

 

For tradition’s sake, let’s do a centre enlargement from a shot at f8 :-

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The full image

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The centre enlagement – forget the edges at all apertures. Not great – but – not what it was designed for.

 

So, is this a useful lens on a Sony A7R? For me it is, as my specialist market is book covers, and a ‘different’ look at the expense of sharpness can sometimes sell (this lens paid for itself in sales many times over on other cameras). For the narrow range of subjects it’s designed for its great (and cheap), for everything else it’s pretty useless. Despite it’s shortcomings I really like this lens – it’s got ‘character’.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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.

Olympus Dramatic Tone Long Exposures

Looking for something new to try on a photo trip out to Swanage in Dorset, I had the diminutive EPL5 and some neutral density filters rattling around the camera bag so thought I’d try some long exposures using the ‘Dramatic Tone’ art filter.

Olympus Pen, Dramatic Tone, long exposure

Four seconds at f18 with the camera firmly braced against a sea wall produced this – not bad at all.

 

This special effects filter produces some spectacular results, pushing the contrast in the midtones and dragging detail from otherwise overcast skies. While shooting, the results look great but looking at hundreds of shots later when processing them brings home a sinking feeling – this effect should only be used sparingly as too much of it becomes tiringly repetitive!

Olympus Pen, Dramatic Tone, long exposure

Two seconds at f22 and more streaky seabirds….

 

Two stacked 58mm x3 ND filters on a hairy contraption of 37 ->49 then 49 ->58mm step up rings allowed their use on the tiny 14-42mm kit lens. When things briefly brightened up a circular polarizer was added to cut the light getting through to the sensor was added too! The resulting JPEGs were post-processed in DXO Filmpack using some of the ‘designer’ presets to give a toned result which adds an extra dimension to the monochrome images.

Olympus Pen, Dramatic Tone, long exposure

A river discharges into the sea here and there’s always a lot of seagulls milling around. The streaks in the sky are them flying past. Two seconds at f22.

 

The Oly’s IBIS (in body image stabilisation) and hand holding the camera on various posts, railings etc at exposures up to 8 seconds at f16-f22 worked reasonably well but there were around 50% failures due to camera shake (I was pushing things to extremes here!).

Olympus Pen, Dramatic Tone, long exposure

One second at f22 was all that was need here

 

There were a few dust spots on the sensor which have been cloned out – and the sensor given a quick clean. The processing required to create these if shooting in RAW+JPEG takes a few seconds at normal shutter speeds. With long exposure noise reduction processing added, it takes around five seconds to process and save each shot so don’t expect this to be a quick process.

Overall I’m reasonably pleased with this as a technique. It adds an extra twist to the well trodden ‘Dramatic Tone’ approach and might be useful for art print sales – though I can’t see it being much use for book covers. Mainly though, it’s simply good fun – give it a try if you have a chance.

Thanks for looking, hope you like them.

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.

 

Finally Getting Some Grain – Ilford Delta 3200

The search for some really grainy shots continues, and the latest batch of shots seems to be heading in the right direction.

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

Some decent grainy goodness at last – not quite there yet but this is a ‘work in progress’!

This mini project was inspired after being reminded of Scotch 3M 1000 slide film in an old photography book. I used to like fast Scotch film a lot – sadly it’s now been discontinued for many years. It didn’t try to hide its grainyness – instead the grain was an integral and deliberate part of the image. It was a little like trying to recreate a 19th century painting technique called pointillism using film. Modern 400 ASA films have proved reluctant to ‘grain up’ to the challenge so more extreme measures are called for.

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

Overcast days are best for this technique- too much light overwhelms the OM2N’s 1/1000th second shutter speed without a filter of some sort..

It turns out this ‘closest yet’ effort was really very simple – expose Ilford Delta 3200 at it’s ‘box speed’ 3200 which just involves a little work on the OM2N. The OM2N goes to a maximum 1600 ISO and is at it’s limit, so no there’s no -1 exposure compensation in aperture priority mode. It’s just a case of setting the exposure manually and then taking a stop off. So simple really as long as you remember!

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

These were developed in D76 – it’s Rodinal for the next try to really harden the grain up. After that it’s 6400 ASA – with an ND filter I think.

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

These were taken on a cold, overcast day in Lymington near the New Forest in Hampshire UK. Lymington seems to be dependent on the yachting/tourist fraternity – in January it’s quite quiet and empty.

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

Worn out, old patterns complement this technique nicely – but only in the smoother areas (the window) as this wall was already pretty gritty already.

Now for a close up of the grain structure :-

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

The full frame.

 

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

And a portion of the centre – complete with a few drying marks. Oops.

Finally a rural church – always a good choice for a book cover.

Olympus OM2N, Ilford Delta 3200, D76

This was taken before a heavy storm – hence the dark clouds. The snowdrops add a certain something.

Well, almost there, but this has been more difficult than first imagined. Thirty years ago grain was a major problem using 35mm film, but the past few experiments have shown that it’s really quite difficult to get really grainy results with modern emulsions. Ilford 3200 seems to produce some promising results, but pushing Kodak Tri-X to 3200 ASA might work well – more experiments!

This is the best reason to use film – the combinations of film, developer and exposure provide some fascinating possibilities and learning opportunities. The 5d Mk2 and the 60D are enjoying a break for a while until this particular project is over – this is the best photographic fun I’ve had in ages.

Oh – and Ilford 3200 in D76 is quite good too!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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

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!

An Efke Swansong

Well it had to happen one day – my final roll of Efke 820 ‘Aura’ has been hiding in the fridge for a few years, but it’s day has finally come. The ‘Aura’ bit of the name is due to the film not having an anti-halation layer, producing a soft glow around highlights something like the ‘diffuse glow’ filter in Photoshop.

Efke 820 Aura

A bridge on the river Stour in Dorset.

The equipment used was minimal – an Olympus OM1N, a Vivitar 17mm f3.5 lens, an R72 filter, a tripod and a cable release. Exposure bracketing between one and eight seconds at f8 usually produced a decent result. The use of a wide-angle lens helps avoid the infrared focus adjustments required on longer lenses – at f8 pretty much everything is in focus and it’s possible to just use the depth of field scale on the lens to make sure everything is sharp.

Developed in ID11 for eight minutes at 20 degrees centigrade.

Efke 820 Aura

And from further down the river. There are some internal reflections going on which add a certain something.

This style of shooting is really relaxed – plonk the tripod down, take off the filter (it’s opaque), compose, replace the filter and shoot. With bracketing your only going to get around twenty images from a roll so you really take your time. It’s all a bit like fishing and as far removed from blasting away with a DSLR as it’s possible to get.

Efke 820 Aura

Even further down the river there’s this pedestrian bridge. For mid November there are a surprising amount of leaves still left reflecting IR light on those trees.

As always the resulting negatives can be rather dusty, so a quick clean with a soft cloth is worthwhile before putting them in the scanner. I still needed a pass with the ‘dust and scratches’ photoshop filter to remove some of the remaining dust.

Efke 820 Aura

Even more odd internal reflections inside the 17mm lens. I’ve never seen these using conventional film.

Even with the post processing the use of the clone stamp tool to remove the larger dust particles is needed (something I didn’t do for these as you can see).

Efke 820 Aura

The final location and something a bit ‘gothic’ – this film really makes the most of these locations, and the ‘aura’ effect is very noticeable in the distant trees.

I remember this as extremely grainy film, but giving it longer exposures seems to help – I must have been underexposing it in the past.

Efke 820 Aura

Finally a recreation of a shot taken thirty years ago on Kodak HIE speed infrared film – a suitable last shot for the roll! Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Amazingly it’s still available (for a high price!) on some websites – Lomogaphy being one of them – but as the Efke factory in Croatia has apparently closed this must be quite old stock. Either that or someone is making it again which seems unlikely.

A pleasing last roll of a film I’d grown to like over the years. From now on it will have to be Rollei’s IR film (£6 a roll) which is better behaved and less grainy but doesn’t get as near to look of the best IR film ever – discontinued in 2007 – Kodak HIE Infrared. Ilford also make an IR film (SFX 200) but at £13 a roll in the UK it’s an expensive option.

Thanks for looking!

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

The Zuiko 28mm f2 on a 5D MK2 (at last)

This blog is named after my favourite lens – the Zuiko 28mm f2, so this mini test is overdue. It’s been tested on a Canon 60D, but not on a 5dMk2 – it’s ‘native format’, full frame 35mm. Lets hope it’s as good as I’ve always thought!

This is a manual focus lens from the days of film mounted using a lens to camera adaptor, so no image stabilisation, no autofocus and no communication with the camera so some missing IPTC data. The exposures can be a bit random using old lenses like this – aperture priority centre weighted metering and RAW is the best way to use them, but even then you may need to bracket exposure.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Mounted using a Fotodiox OM to EF adaptor. The lens and body are evenly balanced due to it’s all metal build and the amount of glass in there.

Focussing is smooth and it’s relatively easy at f2 on the standard focussing screen in good light. In low light it’s better to use the distance scale if the subject is at infinity – ‘infinity’ for a 28mm lens isn’t that far away, look at the distance scale. The next marked distance is 3m! Alternatives are to focus bracket, use the depth of field scale and f8 in which case everything between infinity and around 2m is in focus, or to use the LCD .

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

At f8 the resolution is very,very good – there isn’t much CA in low contrast conditions, the colour is faithful, so all good.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Crop from the centre – superb! f8

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Crop from the edge top left and again – superb. f8

A good start! As I’d hoped at f8 it’s as good as it gets – but this is an ‘easy’ scene, front lit with gentle autumn light. Let’s push things a bit.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

In more extreme conditions shooting into the light there can be some light flaring around silhouetted areas which I quite like. This isn’t unusual in older lenses – I suspect there’s some internal fogging of the lens elements. This lens is over forty years old! f4.

 

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Shooting into the sun there can be some internal reflections/flare – not surprising for a lens of this age and speed. This was taken at f2. Easy to avoid with some slight re-framing but something to be aware of. Alternatively it could be used for creative effect. The bokeh here for a wide-angle lens is pretty good.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

There’s a touch of blue/green CA in the tree branches – this is uncorrected in this shot but can easily be fixed in PP. Otherwise this great.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Indoors in a dark church at f2. Note the distortion (not corrected automatically).  It’s sharp enough though.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

This is the best bokeh I could get for this test at f2 – not bad with a slight curve. I like it but others might not.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Close up – this lens has floating internal elements which optimise performance at close distances. Overall it does a good job though using a 28mm as a close up lens is somewhat eccentric!

So time for the standard scene –

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

The complete frame. Note the vignetting at maximum aperture.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Centre f2 – a tad soft but useable – this is a huge enlargement.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Edge f2 – top right and soft at the very extreme edge.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Centre f4

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Edge f4

I won’t bother posting any more – the results are identical to f11, softening at f16. F2 results are a little soft and the vignetting is quite strong – this isn’t unusual for a fast lens. Note that modern lenses can have their vignetting automatically corrected by software like DPP or DXO,  but for older lenses this will have to be done manually.

In summary then, a cracking lens for its time, very sharp when used in optimal conditions, but showing its age when pushed to take shots into the light when flare and internal reflections can be noticeable. Going back to manually correcting vignetting and distortion manually is a bit of a nostalgic pain.

This is where you’ll fall into one of two camps.

Either

You’ll go for a modern made lens which probably isn’t as well made or sharp at f8 but has AF etc and behaves better when shooting into the light

OR you’ll like the technically flawed results under difficult conditions and use these optical faults creatively to give your shots a ‘vintage’ look.

I’m in the latter camp as I generally like some ‘character’ in lenses and I don’t mind messing around in PP.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

So highly recommended with some caveats – often the story with old lenses. This lens is quite rare on the second hand market and go for $250/£160 so cheaper than most modern 28mm lenses. Things may change when the new Sigma 28mm f1.8 ‘Art’ is released – if it’s as good as the 50mm, the standards by which a 28mm lens is judged may change!

A comprehensive technical description of this lens can be read here, and an interesting discussion of the use of lens adaptors by Roger Cicala of Lensrentals can be found here.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

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.

Things Probably Best Not Done – But….

The Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens has proved a bit of a star on a Canon 5d MK2 and a 60D. I use old Oly lenses on an EPL5 via a Micro Four Thirds to EF adaptor fronted by an EF to OM adaptor (you can see where this is going) which means it’s possible to mount the Siggy on the EPL5, so it had to be done, purely for experiment’s sake.

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

Good start.

The first thing to realise is that there is only one aperture available – f1.4 – there is no electronic communication between lens and camera using this adaptor, and no external aperture ring. At f1.4 this lens is sharp, so maybe there’s some potential.

The second limitation is no autofocus, but the EPL5 has a VF4 viewfinder attached which is great for manual focus using ‘focus magnify’.

The third is that this combination is somewhat out of balance, the EPL5 looking like an end cap. Still I can carry the lens with the camera hitching a ride.

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

One aperture, no AF and ridiculously unbalanced – it’s got to be done!

However it is a 100mm f1.4 equivalent and the EPL5 has ‘in camera’ image stabilisation so worth a try…

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

A handsome model down at the allotments. Good isolation and bokeh – this could be useful.

‘Macro’ is around 40cm, but with a 100mm equivalent on the EPL5’s small sensor you can get in quite close :-

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

Good colour using the ‘i-enhance’ colour profile. If you need greater depth of field – tough – there’ only f1.4

Using ‘focus magnify’ is interesting – it’s very precise but the magnified display in the VF4 jumps around when hand held making things tricky. Maybe a tripod is called for.

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

This isn’t too bad at all – if you can nail the focus.

Good for closer stuff, but how are things at further focus distances? It’s the mill again…..

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

The complete frame focussed using the VF4 as best I could. At this size it looks sharp enough.

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

The centre of the image.

This is odd – there’s more chromatic aberration but that’s probably down to DXO Optics 9 not doing auto correction (these images are straight conversions). Parts look sharp but others don’t – strange! As this camera and lens combo wasn’t meant to be used together it’s not too surprising. The lens adaptor may also be partly to blame as it’s not a very good one…

Olympus EPL5, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

Couldn’t agree more!

Is this combo useful? I certainly wouldn’t suggest buying an expensive lens like this for use on an EPL5 with no aperture control or AF – a Zuiko 50mm 1.4 with external aperture control would be better and much cheaper even if the performance at f1.4 would be inferior to this lens. If you’ve already got one though it might be useful where you need a 100mm equivalent lens at f1.4 (portraits in low light, stage photography etc).

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful – or at least some fun!