Initial Impressions – The Sigma 50mm F1.4 ‘Art’ on a 5D MK2 (lots of images)

I don’t usually post about modern lenses – there are lots of reviews out there already of any photographic kit made recently. However, this is the exception which proves the rule as this promises to be one of the best third-party lenses of recent years. All shots taken on a 5D Mk2, processed in DXO Optics 9. DPP (Canon’s RAW developer software) won’t help with distortion etc as this isn’t a Canon lens, but DXO has all the correction profiles available.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

What was hoped for. Contrast, bokeh, colours and sharpness (including spider’s web). A good start to say the least.

Having been distinctly unimpressed by the weak construction of the Canon 50mm f1.4 (it needed a £150 repair after a slight knock) I started looking around for a replacement, and there isn’t that much available which is affordable (i.e. not the Canon 50mm f1.2), optically sound and well-built. There is the manual focus Zeiss Otus available, but as I don’t have £3k+ free it’s a non starter (I’ve had cars cheaper than that).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Left – Canon 24-105mm f4 ‘L’, centre the Sigma 50mm f1.4, and for comparison with the way things were done in the past, the compact and excellent Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4. Amazingly the Zuiko is the equivalent of the Sigma!

Onto the lens. It’s big and heavy! It feels about as heavy as a Canon 24-105 f4 and it’s around the same size. Much has been made of this, but as I’m now used to the size and weight of the 24-104 on a 5D Mk2 it’s not really a problem. Build quality is excellent, the autofocus is quiet and the whole thing exudes a feeling of quality. Costing £700 it should I suppose!

Using Live View (CDAF) the focussing as fast as any lens on the 5D Mk2 (ie slow), using the viewfinder (PDAF) it’s as fast as the 24-105. Low light focussing seems as good as the 24-105 too.

Is it any better than the Canon 50mm f1.4 in the sharpness dept? At f1.4 through to f5.6, definitely and noticeably yes. After f5.6 they’re about the same.

Here’s the full picture in this quick test :-

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What a surprise – it’s The Mill again!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f1.4 centre – excellent for a 1.4 –

Update – having tested manual focus on a 60D here this may be ever so slightly out of focus when using autofocus – a little AF tuning required. Having done some MFA in camera adjustments -5 seems the best compromise for all distances (the correction required is different at various distances).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Here’s the result using Live View and manual focus shot on a different day – much more like it!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f1.4 edge using autofocus and slightly mis-focussed – the trees are out of focus even at these distances (see later shots)

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 centre – AF

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 edge

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f4 centre – as good as it gets

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f4 edge

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f5.6 centre – astonishingly sharp!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f5.6 edge – and again.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 centre

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 edge – things soften slightly at f16.

 

What’s noticeable other than the superb sharpness, is that at wider apertures, the trees which are 100 yards or so further behind the chimney in the edge shots out of focus – see the shots at f8 where they are. This narrow a depth of field isn’t something you’d expect for a 50mm lens focussed close to infinity, illustrating just how important accurate AF is. For a much more professional discussion about this see Roger Cicala’s excellent post about using fast lenses here.

This shallow depth of field ‘problem’ explains why some users are initially disappointed with the results from fast lenses – these lenses are difficult to use wide open, you need to be very precise with your focus point and shoot a few shots each time as the focus can vary slightly – even a tiny amount with this narrow margin for error can be disastrous.

Let’s try another shot:-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Autumn on the way (at f2.5)

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Centre crop – that is very sharp.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Top centre crop – very sharp too.

Depth if field at close distances is tiny as you would expect :-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

The Siggy at around two feet (60cm) at 1.4 – a centre 1/3 crop of a frame and that depth of field is around 1/8th of an inch (2-3mm). To get more in focus the focus point would need to be the centre of the bell rather than the bottom and maybe use f2.8. You need to be careful with this lens!

Contrast at 1.4 is OK, but picks up quickly – by f4 the lens shows quite strong contrast – maybe a ‘neutral’ rather than ‘standard’ colour profile would be best if you like to shoot JPEGs.

Colours are very good to excellent straight from the RAW files, with a tendency towards a cooler neutral look (the Canon 50mm f1.4 produced ‘warmer’ results) :-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

It’s all going on here – shallow DOF, contrast, colour and bokeh!

 

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

My stand in portrait model at f2 – the hair really is blue.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A crop from the centre. Focus on the eye is spot on!

Bokeh when the background is deeply out of focus is lovely, but when it’s ‘almost’ in focus it can be bit ‘busy’ :-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Very out of focus bokeh – this is as good as the old Helios 85mm f2 used in previous posts!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A full range of ‘out of focus-ness’. The intermediate distance bokeh displaying a slight degree of jitter with a detailed subject.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

This subject though – because it has less detail than the leaves – fades smoothly into soft bokeh.

Chromatic aberration is evident at wide apertures but DXO corrects it very well (sometimes with the manual sliders) –

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A crop from the above – a hint of slight green and magenta on out of focus areas but for a shot at 1.4 this is excellent.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Centre(ish) crop

I didn’t need to do any lens callibration focus adjustments on the 5dMk2 (the Canon rather huffily just reports ’50mm’ for the lens in the MF adjustments screen!), and it looks as if it’s also fine on the 60D though this needs proper testing. I only ever use the centre focus point – edge points may not be as accurate.

I haven’t worried about vignetting – DXO does an excellent job of removing it (I didn’t see any in other words). I also tried to get some flare without the lens hood attached but wasn’t successful, which may mean the lens hood isn’t needed….

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

So, all as advertised it seems, but who is going to buy one given the price (3x the Canon version) and the weight? Other than me obviously.

It seems to me that this lens offers an alternative to the fast/sharp in the centre/blurry at the edge/heavily vignetted fast prime ‘look’ which has been accepted for years. To have a f1.4 lens which is sharp wide open at the edges opens up some interesting opportunities, whilst allowing for ultra sharp images across the frame at f5.6 onwards. Photographers who would like to make the most of this new wide aperture ‘look’ will find this attractive.

The weight is a non issue in my humble opinion  – if you’re carrying a full frame DSLR with a 24-104mm or 24-70mm zoom you already don’t care about weight and do care about maximum image quality (if you do care about the weight you may have the wrong camera system!).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Based on this initial series of images, the Sigma produces some of the best results I’ve seen. It’s not the easiest lens to use – where you place your focus point is critical, and choosing backgrounds with less detail provides better bokeh at mid distances (a universal rule not specific to this lens). If it had a proper aperture ring and image stabilisation it would be perfect!

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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

p.s I have no connection with Sigma – just using their products

Upgrading from a Canon 60D to a 5D MK2

If you’re a Canon APS-C shooter who’s lusted after a full frame DSLR then this post is for you. It’s not a review of either camera – there are loads of them available already – rather it’s about the experience of moving from one to the other. Having used 60D’s for almost four years and the 5dMk2 for six months it seems about time….

Canon 60d and 5d Mk2

The lighter, more rounded 18Mp 60D on the left, the more muscular 20Mp 5DMk2 on the right.

The first thing you’ll notice is the weight and size of the 5dMk2 body. It’s only 150g heavier (790 g vs 932 g) but the all metal body ‘feels’ much heavier, and the body seems to sit less easily in smaller hands. Add a 24-105mm to the 5DMK2 and a 15-85mm to the 60D and the weight on your shoulder goes from 1.4 kg to 1.6 kg. Not much on paper, but you can feel the difference after an hour or so.

Canon 60d and 5d Mk2

The 60D on the left has a more rounded shape and sculpted grip which reduces fatigue.

The grip on the 5DMK2 is noticeably more ‘chunky’ and less comfortable after a long period of shooting.

Canon 60d and 5d Mk2

The 5D’s joystick control is to the top left of the LCD – the 60D doesn’t have one at all!

The next major difference is the lack of an articulating screen on the 5DMK2. The 60D’s is one of the best out there, and I’ve really missed it for low angle shots and video. This may sound like a minor niggle but repeatedly squatting down to see a tripod mounted 5DMK2’s LCD induces backache!

The 5DMK2’s viewfinder seems to be about 1/3 larger which is great but it’s no brighter than the 60D. The extra size is a mixed blessing though, as it needs a good look around the screen to check composition before shooting. The info readout on the bottom of the screen is dimmer on the 5dMk2 making it more difficult to read on a bright day.

Oddly, ‘Auto ISO’ on the 5DMK2 cannot be limited (to say 1600 ISO) which makes it’s use risky.

The 5d MK2 drains batteries sitting on a shelf at a remarkable rate – much more so than the 60D.

The 5dMk2 exposures when using old manual focus lenses are more random than the 60D. However the larger screen makes focussing easier.

Compact Flash cards (5dMk2) are significantly more expensive than SD cards (60D) for the same capacity.

The 5dMk2’s LCD when viewing taken images can be misleading – much more so than the 60D’s. Replaying images look rather washed out and it’s difficult to judge contrast and exposure, so using the histogram becomes a must.

Dust – the 60D hasn’t needed a sensor clean in four years of use, the 5D MK2 needs one every six months.

Canon 5dMk2 70-300mm lens

5DMK2, 70-300mm lens and some subtle and accurate colours.

Finally the controls. The top plate buttons and display are instantly familiar, but the back of the 5DMK2 with its joystick control and line of buttons on the left is completely different. The articulating screen of the 60D is the obvious reason for the difference, but using both cameras on the same shoot can become frustrating. The oddest difference is the lack of a dedicated movie mode on the 5DMK2 – the 60D stores preferred movie settings when you go back to stills, the 5DMK2 just has ‘current settings’ which are used across all modes . This can be frustrating as it’s easy to forget to set things back how they should be, especially the colour profile which is best set as a flat low contrast and sharpness profile for movies and a more normal profile for stills. The best way around this is to use one of the ‘custom settings’ on the mode dial.

Canon run two lines of lenses, one for full frame (EF) and one for APS-C (EF-S). EF lenses can be used on APS-C cameras with a focal length multiplier of 1.6, but EF-S lenses don’t have a large enough image circle on full frame so are pretty much useless. If you’ve bought lots of EF-S lenses this upgrade is going to be expensive!

The batteries of both cameras are the same which is useful on a long day, and having two chargers makes recharging pretty quick. The 5dMk2 seems to use up battery charge quite a bit faster than the 60D when shooting video. It also drains batteries when sitting around doing nothing, something the 60D doesn’t do at all.

After all these slightly niggly points, where does the 5DMK2 start to win some points over the 60D?

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5DMK2, 24-105mm. The quality of the image can only really be appreciated at full size rather than this tiny version.

The first is control of depth of field – full frame allows shallower depth of field using the same lens (see an earlier post here), and has no focal length multiplier – a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens! This is especially good if you use a Lensbaby as the 35mm Sweet 35 gives a significantly wider view on the 5DMK2 than on the 60D.

Second is the quality of stills. The resolution isn’t that different but the 5dMk2’s images have a more polished ‘look’ to them which is difficult to explain. It’s to do with the subtle colours, the crispness delivered by the 24-105mm lens and the even graduation of tones which give shots greater depth and quality. The larger 5d’s pixels produce less grain at higher ISOs, and remain smooth until 1600 or 3200 ISO – 800 ISO is as high as I like to push the 60D.

Third is the quality of the video where the large 5DMK2’s sensor leaves the 60D struggling to compete. The 5D’s footage seems less prone to moire which is irritating on the 60D on occasions. The 60D’s however now have Magic Lantern installed which opens up lots of video possibilities (I haven’t dared use it in the 5dMk2 yet!).

Canon 5dMk2 50mm F1.4

5dMK2 50mm F1.4 on an overcast day – razor-thin depth of field and soft tones.

Is it worth upgrading? That depends on whether you’re prepared to put up with the extra size and weight, the less slick handling and the sometimes less than helpful controls when switching between stills and movie mode (update : fixed using ‘custom settings on the mode dial). In exchange for these inconveniences, the 5dMk2’s results (when you get it right!) are clearly superior in many ways as you would expect. However the 60D is easier to use and carry with more user-friendly features and isn’t that far behind where it matters. In conclusion, if I was shooting for fun rather than to make money, the 60D would be the clear winner, but for commercial use it’s easily the 5DMK2. Having said that, if I was just shooting for fun I’d probably never use a DSLR and stick to something small and light such as an Olympus PEN or an old film camera!

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking. If you’ve got any questions about upgrading just ask.

 

Olympus VF4 Viewfinder Review

I’ve liked Olympus cameras for many years – from my very first ‘proper’ camera, an OM-1n through Trips, OM2s, an E400, an E620, an EPL3 and now an EPL5. The EPL5 is a great upgrade to the EPL3 but I’ve never been a fan of ‘arms length’ LCD camera operation, so it’s not quite ‘perfect’. Adding a viewfinder to the PEN EPL5 seemed like a good idea so I took the plunge and ordered a VF4 a week ago – and I’m very glad I did. This is a high resolution Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) – not an Optical Viewfinder (OVF) as you might think by looking at it from the back.

_DSC1447_DxO

The EPL5 PEN, kit 14-42mm lens and the shiny new VF4 – it appears bigger on this picture that it really is….

Firstly, an upgrade of the camera’s firmware from 1.1 to 1.2 was required – it just won’t work without it. This is done through the Oly ‘Viewer 2’ software and is pretty easy as long as you’re patient and leave the camera to update itself. The process takes around 5 minutes. You can check the firmware installed in your camera via the menu system.

After that’s done, just slide the viewfinder into the accessory port on the top of the camera and off you go. It’s worth pointing out that EVFs on the PENs take over the hot shoe – so no use of the supplied flash unit while it’s attached. This may be a problem to some, but as I never use flash it’s fine for me personally.

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The VF4 from the rear – the button is the EVF/LCD switch. The two blue circles are probably the eye sensor – not used on the EPL5  unfortunately.

The only controls are a button on the back – this switches between the LCD and the EVF, and an eyesight diopter adjustment on the right. If you’ve got a top of the range PEN there is an eye sensor which switches between LCD and EVF automatically, but on the EPL5 you’ll need to use this button. There is also a lock button on the lower left which secures the viewfinder – a nice touch as losing this rather expensive accessory would be a tragedy!

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The diopter correction wheel – this is quite stiff so won’t move accidentally.

It adds some bulk to the smallish EPL5 but not that much and seems nicely in proportion. To provide a bit of extra versatility it will also pivot at it’s front to allow the eyepiece to swing vertically through 90 degrees (and all positions in-between), which means you can compose landscape shots as if you were using an old Twin Lens Reflex camera, peering down into the viewfinder from above – very nice.

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The EVF in the vertical position. There’s a ‘push/click’ type catch which keeps it in place when ‘closed’ in the horizontal position.

What you see in the viewfinder is the ‘active’ central portion of the LCD – i.e. the strips of shooting information either side of the image on the LCD are either pushed into the image area or not reproduced e.g. the touch screen icon. The image is large, bright and detailed (2.3 million pixels) and doesn’t ‘smear’ when it’s moved – in fact it appears about as wide as a Canon 60d’s viewfinder but taller due to the 4/3 aspect ratio of the camera (the 60D is 3:2 so wider). It can’t quite match an Olympus OM system viewfinder, but it’s not too far off!

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The unlock button on the left side.

However the really – and I mean really – big improvement when shooting is when using manual focus lenses. To achieve critical focus the ‘focus magnify’ button is used to enlarge a portion of the image while focussing. On the LCD this is OK, but the LCD image is relatively small at arm’s length. On the EVF however it’s huge – and so much easier to get perfect focus.

It’s very like using MF lenses on a film SLR and so instantly familiar and comfortable – a real pleasure to use and a massive change in how useable the camera is. This is probably going to remain permanently attached!

So, if you’re thinking of getting one, especially if you shoot using MF lenses, I’d heartily recommend one.

Thanks for looking!

Compact Camera vs DSLR – a silly comparison?

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

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

camerashots

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

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

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

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Sony -distortion correction on and off

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

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

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

C_24_5.6_small

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

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

C_24_f3.5_composite

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

S_28_f1.8_composite

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

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

C_24_5.6composite

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

S_28_f4.5_composite

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

On to approximately a 50mm setting :-

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

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

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

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C_85_f5.6composite

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

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

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

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

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

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

Yet More RX100 Infrareds!

Dorset is experiencing something weird this year – summer! The skies are clear, the temperatures are hitting 30 degrees C and for people used to cloudy wet summers with just a glimpse of sunshine now and then it’s all most disturbing…..

So using this hot weather as an excuse to shoot yet more infrared handheld on the unmodified RX100 (with an R72 filter) , here we go.

First, a few of the pedestrian bridges over the River Stour near Tarrant Crawford – the leaves and grasses radiating IR like mad. All taken at 28mm setting at f1.8 using RAW, the ‘Black and White’ creative setting (for composition) and +1 exposure compensation.

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This is the next bridge along – the field boundary is heavily overgrown on either side which help isolate the dark path.

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And the same view but in landscape orientation with a lower contrast – can’t make my mind up which of the two is best. _DSC0948_DxOFP

Finally a small avenue of trees taken on the same day, the shadows on the road being an integral part of the composition.

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As usual, all taken for the book cover market – hope you like them!

English Downland and a Lensbaby Plastic Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for looking, hope you like them!

A Good Day for Infrared!

A few more from the Sony Rx100 plus R72 filter – on a very good day for infrared. All hand held at 800ISO 1/8th to 1/25th of a second at 28mm f1.8 +1.3 exposure compensation. The image stabilisation seems to work well most of the time even at these slow speeds. Shot in Raw at 20MP, then via DNG format and ACR to Photoshop and converted to B/W using one of the presets which seems to provide the best contrast.

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This is the road to an old Dorset bridge near Sturminster Marshall (White Mill Bridge). The sky this morning was superb!

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Here’s the Mill – taken from the same location as the lens tests earlier in the year. The vegetation has well and truly taken over and reflecting IR like crazy.

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Slightly different view and a nice contrast between the bright greenery and the shadows.

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Finally the bridge from the other side – the signpost is nice and sharp so all in all a good result.

If I can only leave the IR filter at home I’ll try to take some normal shots soon…..

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This is the ninth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who want to try cheap but fast manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This time it’s the tiny Zuiko 24mm f2.8, on loan from fellow photographers Pete and Jayne, who’ve also leant me a few quite exotic lenses to play around with. I’ve never used this lens before so this is a complete unknown for me.

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At close to minimal focus distance and quite a stunning start. Sharp, contrasty, nice bokeh with a great colour rendition.

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Closer to infinity and this is superb again. This was shot at f5.6 and it’s pin sharp with no chromatic aberration in the trees to the top right.

On full frame this is nudging into ultra wide territory, but on an APS-C DSLR it’s the equivalent of a 38mm, making it close to the widely (no pun intended) favoured focal length of 35mm. At f2.8 it’s around one stop faster than a kit lens so a useful advantage. The filter size is 49mm (no surprise there), the minimum focus is around 25 cm which is very close, and the aperture range is f2.8 to f16.

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Same again – excellent….

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Another cracking result – sharp, good colour and definition.

Olympus priced their lenses by maximum aperture, maintaining that they all were built to a high minimum standard. There’s a 24mm f2 from the old Zuiko range which is usually very pricey, but the build quality of this 2.8 equivalent lens is top-notch.

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Physically the lens is tiny and very light – so small that the aperture ring is easy to nudge accidentally when focussing. The focus rack is very fast – infinity to 25cm in 1/4 of a turn making focussing easy.

So then – a test and here’s the frame. This was shot on the ‘standard’ colour profile and the colours are just zinging out. There has been no tweaking with the saturation.

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f2.8 – These huge (300 pixel) enlargements from the centre and far left show a slight softness at no CA at the edges so not bad at all – definitely useable. I’m not convinced that the focus point was correct on this one but it looked correct on the LCD.

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f5.6 – As sharp as it’s going to get I’d say.

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f11 – just the same.

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Well – wow! It even makes my favourite Zuiko 28mm f2 look a bit second-rate… As a general purpose 35mm equivalent focal length lens it’s a real gem and a good choice as a ‘walk around’ lens or a supplement to a kit lens – which it should easily outperform at f4 or lower. The close focus distance, though not marketed as a macro mode, is very useful, and the images are saturated (possibly overly so for some), sharp and contrasty with no CA. A bit of a star all round.

At under £100 it’s a great bargain and unreservedly recommended.

Now – I wonder how much Pete and Jayne want for it?

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.

To see how this – and virtually every other known Zuiko lens known to man – performs on four thirds and micro four thirds sensors have a look here – an excellent series of tests at biofos.com!

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A lens with a long name beginning with ‘Meyer’

This is the eighth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This time the full name of the lens is ‘Meyer Optik Gorlitz Primotar E 50mm f3.5’ which an impressive start!

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Very soft pastel colours and a soft diffuse glow at maximum aperture – nice!

It’s an old East German-made lens in M42 screw fit and usually was sold with Exactas and Praktica cameras as the mid 20th century version of a ‘kit lens’ – i.e. a 50mm. On an APS-C DSLR it’s the equivalent of an 80mm lens. My hope was that with only a few lens elements, no multi coating and a relatively low contrast, it might be good to give a classic 1950’s look to images.

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Closer to infinity, and again a strange ethereal appearance – I’m beginning to like this effect. It’s more noticable at larger image sizes.

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The bokeh is unusual too.

The barrel is solid turned aluminium which is good, but the controls for focus and aperture are very thin making using it uncomfortable to use on a cold day. The min focus is around 50cm, filter size 40.5mm and the aperture range is f3.5 to f16. Oddly, the aperture is hexagonal at max aperture on my copy – which means hexagonal bokeh at all apertures. With the mount adaptor, there’s only stop down metering available.

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The lens from the top and the thin focus and aperture controls. At the top the last ring has black and red dots – operating on the original cameras the red dot aligned with the red arrow keeps the aperture open for focus, moving the ring so the black dot is aligned closed the aperture to that chosen on the aperture ring. Unfortunately on the mount adaptor it makes no difference!

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It’s quite a nice lens on the 60D – despite being small these old lenses are heavy.

So having notched up some nice initial impressions, off to the mill for a quick test.

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The test frame in all it’s glory.

f3.5 – soft in the centre and very soft at the edge, with that odd max aperture sheen seen earlier. On the Zuikos it was a bit unpleasant but on this lens it’s quite nice.

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f8 – very sharp in the centre and not bad at the edge

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f16 – softening again  but the edge is better.

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Viewed as a ‘normal’ lens it’s not bad, except at f8 to f11 where it’s very sharp. However at f3.5 it’s age and flaws give it’s results something of the look of a Lensbaby plastic lens at smaller apertures where the softness is better controlled. The soft rendition, pastel colours and the way light bleeds into shadow when light and dark areas coincide are a nice effect. It certainly lives up to expectations in producing vintage looking images, and would make a very good 8omm equivalent portrait lens.

So if you see one cheap (it’s much cheaper than a Lensbaby) give one a try – even 50 year old lenses can sometime produce a pleasant surprise.

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.

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – Zuiko 50mm f3.5 Macro

This is the seventh of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This time it’s the Zuiko 50mm f3.5 Macro, a light versatile lens which can focus from infinity to, well very close indeed.  The APS-C crop factor make this a medium telephoto 80mm equivalent, which is quite handy as you’re not too crowded in on your subject.

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As a macro lens, hand held or on a tripod it’s very good, even at max aperture of f3.5

The aperture range runs from f3.5 to f22, the smallest aperture being most useful in macro work where depth of field is a at a premium. The minimum focus is 23cm which works out very close to the front of the lens, and the filter size is the ever reliable Olympus standard of 49mm – Oly have saved me a fortune in filters over the years!

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I’ve used this as my only macro lens for years on film and digital. It’s a great all-rounder. This is a razor blade in its paper wrapper.

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This shot was hand held at max aperture – the control of the bokeh is nice and clean with no odd characteristics.

On the Canon 60D it’s just about right and perfectly in proportion. The very fast focus rack at further distances makes this a very responsive lens to focus in bright light as it races from infinity to 50cm in a quarter of a turn! The focus mechanism is the smoothest on any lens I’ve used – fast and fluid with just the right amount of resistance. The lens mount adaptor is by Fotodiox and is very precise and well made, but others are available.

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So having swiftly established credentials a macro lens, what’s it like as a general purpose 50mm lens used at all distances? Macro lenses are optimised for close-ups but they’re often very useable at longer focus distances too.

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As is common with macro lenses, the front lens element is recessed deep down into the lens barrel. I guess the depth of the barrel is there to provide the length of helicoid screw thread necessary to extend the lens.

So, the now familiar test scene.

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f3.5 – the centre is excellent already but the edge is a bit vague.

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f8 – excellent across the frame. f5.6 is the same.

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f16 – softening a little and the edge is going. f22 was even worse – diffraction setting and quite badly.

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As you can see a decent performance at wider apertures, in its mid aperture range it’s as good as it gets and only falls apart at f16 and smaller focussed at infinity (for macro work the smaller apertures are fine on a tripod).

Wandering around with a macro lens gives you a huge range of options for landscapes, portraits, mild macro and full on macro, and opens up a new world of possibilities. You find yourself looking more closely at all sorts of objects trying to get a shot which would be impossible with a kit or normal standard lens.

If hand holding macro shots keep the shutter speed high – camera shake is much more obvious taking close-ups so the faster the better as this lens has no image stabilisation  – 1/500th of a second of faster. I’d suggest using the LCD with focus magnify for both hand held or on a tripod based macro to get the focus point just right.

Now out of production, they’re available second-hand for around £75, the f2 version being a rare and a very expensive collectors piece. A possible alternative is the larger and heavier Vivitar Series One 70-210 f3.5 which has an amazing macro mode (at 210mm) and a very nice telephoto zoom range for general photography.

In conclusion, a very well-behaved, light and sharp macro lens which can be used successfully as a ‘normal’ lens at most mid range apertures. It’s around as fast as a kit lens at 50mm, but sharper at f5.6/f8 and offers macro too.

Hope you find this useful and 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.

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Vivitar Series One 70-210 f3.5

This is the sixth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who want to try cheap but fast manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. I’ve been digging out some of my favourite 35mm OM mount lenses for reuse, and this one emerged from storage and begged to be resurrected. The Vivitar Series One line was a successful attempt by Vivitar to make their independent lenses as good as those of the premium camera makers, and this one was a bit of a legend with a unique trick up it’s tail!

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f4 at max tele setting – lovely shallow depth of field and very soft tones

Several manufacturers were sub-contracted to make them including Kiron (serial numbers starting 22) and Olympus (serial numbers starting 6) but the later models weren’t that good, so if you’re thinking of getting one after reading this check here for the definitive history. In short, steer clear of anything with apertures f4.5 – f5.6.

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Maximum macro at a few cm – this is like carrying around a compact like a G9 – except it’s anything but compact!

What’s so special? It’s a fast (at least at the tele end) zoom with a fixed f3.5 across the zoom range, cracking performance and the most amazing macro mode which I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s also very well made – as good as Zuikos and the Helios 85mm tested earlier – all metal and very heavy, the weight acting as a primitive sort of image stabilisation through sheer inertia. The APS-C equivalent range is approximately 112mm to 336mm so pretty much the entire range from mid to the near end of extreme telephoto. The lens adaptor is a Fotodiox, but many are available.

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Macro at medium distance – nice out of focus highlights and very good colour.

The filter size is 67mm, the minimum focus (non-macro) is 2 metres, and infinity to a few cm in macro mode (see later – it makes sense!).

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Macro at 300mm equivalent – included for comparison with the other lenses in the test series, and a cold, neutral colour cast.

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At longer focal lengths, compressed telephoto perspective is evident. Focussing in the viewfinder is easier at the tele end (this was taken around 150mm) but the LCD is needed for fine focussing. A tripod is pretty useful too!

To engage macro mode, the zoom ring is pulled back to 210mm, and a button pressed to allow another ring at the base of the lens to be rotated. The lens is now ‘locked’ at 210mm and zooming in and out allows focus from infinity to a few cm. The zoom ring (in/out) acts as a coarse focussing mechanism, with the focussing motion (rotate) working for fine focus. To disengage macro mode pull the zoom ring to 210mm and reverse the procedure. It’s easier than it sounds and quite brilliant!

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You know you’ve got something heavy attached – be careful who you point this at! It’s surprisingly well-balanced on the 60D, but it was too much for an Olympus 620. On 35mm OM’s it’s a bit too heavy, probably because I’m used to Zuiko primes which are so small and light. The zoom ring slides under gravity when the lens is pointed downwards – not good for tripod work.

So a quick test at 70, 135 and 210 mm.

70mm

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f3.5 – A smidge of CA and slightly soft but perfectly acceptable.

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f8 – Sharp as anything else on the 60D. f5.6 is the same

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f16 – unchanged.

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135mm

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f3.5 – a bit vague here – but not bad.

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f8 – same at f5.6 and excellent

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f16 – perfect!

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210mm

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f3.5 – a bit soft but not bad

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f8 – no complaints here.

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f16 – slightly improved if anything.

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Across the zoom range and at all apertures except 3.5 this is superb, and at f3.5 it’s not too bad either. Add to that the amazing macro mode and it’s irresistible, and despite the weight it’s going straight back into the camera bag.

What’s best though is the price – I got this one from Ebay for £10 (yes ten), sold by someone who apparently liked nothing better than a spot of oily engine maintenance followed by some photography. It was truly filthy but cleaned up beautifully in 1/2 hour or so. Several agency shots have sold from this lens so it’s paid for itself tens of times over.

If I’m honest, the reason for purchase was that I always wanted one when they were way out of my price range in the 1980’s (£400 as I remember), and I didn’t expect much – but what a pleasant surprise. Highly recommended at ten times the price (all of £100!). Remember to shoot in RAW though, as with all MF lenses, the exposures can be a bit wayward.

Hope you find this useful and 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.

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Zuiko 85mm f2

This is the fifth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who want to try cheap but very fast manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This one’s dedicated to the Zuiko  85mm f2 – a direct Olympus equivalent of the Helios 85mm f2 reviewed earlier. The APS-C crop factor make this a 136mm equivalent, and at f2 it’s pretty fast.

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As you’d expect the depth of field is very thin at f2 and close focussing distances – something which can be used for creative effect. ‘Auto Levels’ applied to improve the contrast.

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The bokeh isn’t as smooth as the Helios – more ‘structured’ if that makes sense.

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Even at distances of a few metres the background becomes blurred at f2. There’s a hint of purple chromatic aberration on the original – a few pixels.

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Unlike the gorgeously eccentric Helios with it’s saturated colours, the Zuiko produces colder, more subtle results with no colour cast.

It’s well built, light and all metal and in size just a few mm longer than the 50mm f1.4. The filter size is the Oly standard of 49mm, minimum focus is around 85cm and the aperture range is f2 to f16.

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Test shots then – here’s the frame.

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f2 – A good start but some softness in the centre.

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f4 – well as sharp as it gets!

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f8 – slightly improved at the edge – excellent.

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f16 results were identical.

In conclusion then,  a very impressive result – capable of lovely bokeh blur wide open, and at smaller apertures sharp and contrasty. At around £100 its a bargain, 3 stops faster than a kit lens and just as sharp at similar apertures. The only disadvantage it has by comparison with the Helios is it’s cold, almost clinical rendering of colour, which is something which can be easily fixed in post-processing or with custom white balance.

As a ‘Zuiko-holic’ I’m very pleased with this, though the bonkers Helios is still a very nice lens, in the same way that a Lensbaby is – sheer eccentricity!

Thanks for reading and hope this is useful!

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

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Helios Jupiter 9 85mm f2

This is the fourth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This time it’s the Helios Jupiter 9 85mm f2, an old USSR made portrait lens in M42 mount, with oodles of character. The APS-C crop factor makes this a 136 mm equivalent, and by ignoring the worst performing frame edges of a lens designed for 35mm it might do quite well.

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A magically disappearing background with a gorgeous silky soft bokeh.

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Wide open at f2 – a scarecrow standing in for a portrait model in this one. The mild orange colour cast is a ‘feature’ of this lens – or maybe its age.

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Depth of field is razor-thin at the minimum focus distance – the easiest hand-held focus technique is using the LCD – compose, roughly focus then use focus magnify and move the camera gently backwards and forwards to get it spot on. Take the shot in ‘focus magnify’ mode – if you switch back the focus point will move again!

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Colour rendition can be very highly saturated! Easily fixed in post processing but a bit of a shock till you get used to it…

On to the lens itself. They just don’t make them like this any more – a solid metal barrel (its not a light metal either) and lots of glass make this one feel like it would stop a bullet. If quality of construction were the sole benchmark of quality this would outshine a Canon ‘L’ series lens!

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The mount adaptor is a cheap 42mm to Canon EF – £10 from Ebay. The screw thread stops at the wrong point so the lens info isn’t quite on the top of the lens when mounted. The focus ring is very stiff in the cold and can start unscrewing the lens when turned clockwise as well. All part of the experience!

The aperture is made up of 15 blades (just counted them!) maintaining a perfectly circular aperture across the range from f2 to f16 – very nice. It’s a ‘stop down’ mechanism which is odd if you’re not used to it – setting the aperture ring just sets a ‘stop point’ for another ring which varies the aperture from wide open (for focussing) to the aperture chosen. As we’re not using an external exposure meter but the 60D’s internal exposure system you can just set the aperture stop point to f16 and vary the aperture across the range, judging the depth of field on the LCD. Minimum focus is just less than 80cm.

So – not expecting too much (this is really a soft portrait lens) how well does it do for sharpness etc?

Standard test subject – I’ll have to change this soon – as we go up the focal lengths I’m running out of room on the road and will end up in the river).

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Full frame of test image.

At f2 – pretty soft and strong ‘open aperture sheen’.

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f4 – centre is better , edge marginally so.

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f11 – not bad but still soft at the edge.

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It doesn’t change at f16 either!

Not really a surprise though – this is a classic portrait lens – just sharp enough in the centre and soft at the edges to give a flattering effect.

Is it worth getting one? At around £100 they’re quite cheap, and the f2 aperture is seriously fast for this focal length. The bokeh is one the best I’ve seen, and for flattering portraits or special effect close-ups – where you want the subject isolated by a blurred away background – it’s brilliant. For more general photography it’s not quite so good – stick to the kit lens unless you really need the extra  three stops of speed.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking! To see how well it on a Micro Four Thirds Olympus EPL5 look here.

For some more reviews of M42 mount Helios lenses, Veijo Vilva has tested most of them here – it was these reviews which helped me with my manual focus lens choices so thanks Veijo!

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.

Update – to see how this lens performs on a 5d MK2 see here.

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Vivitar 17mm f3.5

This is the first of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. In order to do a meaningful evaluation we’ll need some proper test shots – so other than a few examples on 35mm film and a rather nice Dorset mill as a subject there aren’t any photographic masterpieces I’m afraid.

All test shots on an 18MP Canon 60D at ISO 100 and Olympus OM mount lenses using a Fotodiox adaptor. Images were taken in centre weighted metering mode, saved in RAW and converted to JPG with default settings in Canon’s DPP software.

So starting the lens series at the wide end – a 1980’s era Vivitar 17mm f3.5 and quite a special focal length on a 35mm Olympus film camera. Ultrawide on 35mm (I think the angle of view is 92 degrees) it’s capable of some typically dramatic distortion :-

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Image from the Vivitar on an OM1N

This lens is identical to a Tokina branded lens of the same era, and the edge performance and chromatic aberration always left something to be desired – at least that was the rumour. These lenses were always mid range and weren’t expected to produce top flight results. However, this is ‘only’ an APS-C sensor so the edge of the frame (usually a weakness in cheaper lenses) isn’t in the picture. Maybe this lens could be useful – unfortunately it’s only around a 28mm equivalent when the 1.6 crop factor is taken into account so it’s not that exciting an effective focal length. The minimum focus is 25cm.

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In use it’s nicely balanced as the lens is all metal and quite heavy. Apertures run from f3.5 to f16, and there’s a depth of field scale on the lens. This indicates everything in focus between infinity and 0.5m at f16 – this is misleading as it doesn’t work as accurately on APSC – to be safe use the setting for one stop less than the aperture set.

The focus mechanism is smooth and even, and focussing is difficult through the viewfinder as the depth of field is huge. For critical results use the LCD and ‘focus magnify’, or stop it down to f8 and use the depth of field scale on the lens and don’t focus at all!

One thing worth pointing out about the lens mount adaptors  – they only allow ‘stop down’ metering. Most cameras use ‘open aperture’ metering – keeping the aperture wide open until exposure, keeping the viewfinder nice and bright to allow for easy focussing and composition. The manual focus adaptors use ‘stop down’ metering where the aperture set is the one in use at all times  – at f16 the viewfinder gets pretty dark. If this is a problem the LCD image will always remain bright even as the aperture closes.

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Being an ultrawide this has a large front element – the filter thread is 67mm which means filters aren’t cheap!

So – the test subject – used for several posts on film as well as digital :-

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This was taken at f8 – very pleasing colours, contrast and sharpness. Some clumps of snowdrops as an added bonus!

The samples are taken from the centre by the dovecotes, and the right where a red car is parked.

First samples at f3.5 and surprisingly good in the centre but the edge is a bit vague. There’s also an overall light ‘sheen’ to the image which is common at max aperture and may be caused by light bouncing around the mirror box onto the sensor – this hasn’t helped the contrast of the image. However these are extremely small samples and this would be perfectly good printed to 10×8 inches.

f3.5compAt f8 (5.6 was almost identical) and a dramatic improvement! Razor sharp in the centre and the edge is pretty good too.f8comp

f16 -even more of an improvement at the edge and a slight degradation in the centre – sharp across the frame and certainly showing no signs of diffraction.

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Finally – edge chromatic aberration – taken from the very top left of the main frame. Perfectly acceptable at f8 and not too noticeable at f3.5. I’m amazed!

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As we’re only using the centre of this lens’s image circle, there isn’t that much barrel distortion either. ‘Bokeh’ is almost impossible to judge as the extreme depth of field means that virtually everything is in focus.

So – is this useable?

Yes – and this is a genuine surprise to me – just one stop down at 5.6 it’s very good, at f8 to f16 the results are excellent.

All good so far but this focal length is already covered by kit zooms at around f3.5 so there’s no speed advantage. However, the resolution, chromatic aberration and contrast at f5.6 to f16 are better than I’d expect from a kit zoom lens.

So if you’re a prime lens shooter, or want something better at the wide end than the standard offering this might be for you.

It’s also pretty useful on an Olympus OM 35mm film camera so can happily live a ‘double life’!

It’s around £100 second hand in the UK, with a lens mount adaptor costing anything between £20 and £150 (which you can use for all lenses of the same mount obviously).

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.