An A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f1.2

An A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f1.2

This is a short – well not that short – description of the spectacular Zuiko 50mm f1.2 on a 36Mp A7R. I’ve had this lens for about a year and it rapidly became my favourite 50mm. It was bought on the pretense that my old 1.4 was falling to pieces after thirty years of use, but if I’m honest I’ve always wanted one and it was up for sale in mint condition at Ffordes. And of course I’m a complete sucker for fast Zuikos, especially 50mm’s.

For those of you with the 1.8 or 1.4, I’ve included a brief comparison. All shot in RAW and developed in DXO Photolab. There aren’t any profiles for old lenses like this so you’re on your own when it comes to corrections. Luckily 50mm’s don’t need much correction.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

Bokeh… This lens produces some very nice examples.

So starting with a description – it’s a bit wider and longer than the 1.4, but a lot bigger than the tiny 1.8. Despite being a 1.2 it takes 49mm filters like the other two. From left to right, the 1.8, the 1.4 and the 1.2. Prices are £10-20 for the 1.8 (or free with an OM2), £80-100 for the 1.4, £350 for the 1.2

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

1.8, 1.4 and 1.2 – it’s the other way round in the next diagram!

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The lens designs from the 1980’s Zuiko lens catalogue. The 1.2 is essentially an upscaled 1.4, the 1.8 shows it’s more humble design with fewer elements. If you’re interested in the historic development of lenses have a look here – fascinating :- https://wordpress.lensrentals.com/blog/2011/08/lens-geneology-part-1/

As per the other two, minimum focus is 45cm and the smooth rack from infinity to min focus is achieved in around 120 degrees. Like the 1.4, it has ten aperture blades, the 1.8 has eight.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

On the Rayqual adaptor which has solved some of my wideangle edge definition problems due to its precision (thanks for the tip https://phillipreeve.net/blog/)

It’s nicely balanced on the A7R, being nice and light (11.6 oz, or 330 g), and has a lovely smooth focus ring and snappy aperture ring. Altogether a real pleasure to use in a discrete package. As it’s a relatively recent Zuiko it’s got some very effective multi-coating, but I still like to use a lens hood.

So, physically it’s a lovely lens and a pleasure to use, but how does it perform?  You’re not buying this lens to use at f8 so let’s look at f1.2.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

Shallow depth of field and heavy post processing to produce an abstract.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

An example of the ‘Trioplan’ style bubble bokeh at f1.2. I like this effect but you may not. If you don’t you’ll be happy to know it’s gone by f2.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

An example in colour. Note the classic flattening of the bokeh circles towards the edge of the frame.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

And another with some light green/purple CA on the harsh table reflections. It’s no too difficult to remove in post, but here doesn’t distract from the shot IMHO.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

And some creative overexposure just for good measure.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

At middle distances the shallow depth of field is less obvious but adds some subtle depth to an image.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

Colour, contrast and sharpness are exemplary at f5.6 to f8, but this wouldn’t look that different at anywhere between f2 and f16.

It may be a bit tedious, but no lens test is complete without a full aperture range set of samples, so here we go…..

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The test frame at f1.2. Some light vignetting in the corners – it’s gone by f4. As you can probably see, f1.2 for landscapes isn’t recommended unless you like a ‘vintage’ effect or are good at post-processing.

f1.2 centre

12c

f1.2 edge

12e

As you can see there’s some overexposure which would need fixing in RAW, a little CA and a veiling flare across the frame. It’s possible to tidy most of this up in post, but importantly edge and central definition are already quite good.

f2 centre

2c

f2 edge

2e

All tidied up at f2. Centre and edge definition are already very good.

f2.8 centre

28c

f2.8 edge

28e-e1543164012857.jpg

f5.6 centre

56c

f5.6 edge

56e

f8 centre

8c

f8 edge

8e

f16 centre

16c

f16 edge

16e

So, to my eyes, very good centre and edge definition from f2, excellent at f5.6 and f8, and hardly deteriorating through diffraction at f16. Even f1.2 is usable with some work in post.

In conclusion then, the very best Zuiko I’ve used. Most of them are just ‘good enough’ on the 36Mp A7R with a fairly narrow ‘sweet spot’ of resolution at mid apertures. This lens though is very good to excellent across most of the aperture range and reminds me of the excellent Sigma 50mm f1.4 on a Canon 5d Mk2 at at half the price and a fifth of the weight and bulk, albeit without autofocus (but that’s easy when you’re used to it). I may have bought it for the f1.2 aperture but what like most is the excellent performance from f2 to f16. I also can fix it’s faults at f1.2!

Is it worth £350? I’d say so if you’re a perfectionist. £350 for an old lens isn’t on the face of it that cheap, but I could put this up against some of the best modern, more pricey 50’s and I think it would put up a respectable fight. It’s not that surprising – this was a very expensive lens thirty years ago and it shows. The 1.4 is excellent value for < £100, and the 1.8 is a steal for < £20, but for the really critical (obsessive?) photographer, this 1.2 is in a different league.

I was wondering about doing a shot by shot comparison between the Zuiko 50’s (1.2, 1.4, 1.8, 3.5 macro) is there’s any interest out there. If so let me know – it will take quite a bit of effort.

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

Rob

A Year with a Sony RX10 Mk3

Hello again after a long break from blogging. I’ve a few articles planned for the next few months as there are a few new Zuiko lenses waiting for a test. This though, is about a Sony RX10 Mk3, which is a much more interesting camera than you might think. No really.

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To the left the RX100 Mk3, to the right an A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f3.5 (for no particular reason).

Many years ago I had a Sony R1 which was an unusually designed camera but produced excellent (for the time) images. My nephew still uses it. Fast forward to 2017 and I bought it’s descendant, the RX10, as a general purpose stills and video stock camera. The headline attraction is that 24-600(!)mm f2.8 to f4 lens and a one inch 20Mp sensor which I like so much in my RX100. So after a year, here are my impressions for stills photography – the excellent video abilities would take another article.

All shots processed in DXO Photolab which does a very good job, especially with Prime noise reduction (see later).

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At the 24mm setting.

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And a more obtrusive 600mm setting.

Knowing where to start with such a fully featured camera is difficult. Let’s start with the lens. Actually that wasn’t a difficult decision at all. There is a de-clickable aperture ring, manual focus by wire is available (though not recommended) and a focus lock button to the rear left hand side of the lens. It takes 72mm filters. There are various focus options selected on a front-of-body switch, but I’ve really only used single AF using a central area point.

It uses standard Sony NP-FW50 batteries and two are more than enough for a whole day’s demanding shooting.

I’ve only shot RAW with this camera so I’ve no comments on the JPEG performance.

Strangely there is a cable release thread on the shutter button which is a nice touch. The camera weighs in at about 1kg (2.2 lb) which feels about the same as my old Canon 60D with a good standard zoom on it. The LCD panes flips up and down a bit, but doesn’t flip out which would have been very useful.

So, let’s get on with it, what does a 24-600mm lens range look like?

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24mm….. Kingston Lacy House on an overcast day.

 

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600mm. This is just the top bit of the building!

Quite (!) a wide to tele lens then, and it’s a good performer throughout the full range – unbelievably so. There’s a lot of processing going on under the hood of course, and I wouldn’t like to see uncorrected RAWs, but the end result is very good. It seems best at f4 throughout the zoom range, but I suspect Sony didn’t build this camera for people who worry about such things.

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The Channel Island ferry with Bournemouth on the horizon at 600mm. Haze and heat distortion start to be more visible at longer focal lengths – something which should be borne in mind when taking the shot.

Minimum focus at 24mm to 50mm is quite good (3cm) but this extends out to about four feet by 200 mm then strangely back to three feet from 300mm to 600mm. A 600mm lens focussing to three feet opens up some interesting possibilities, though auto-focus can be a bit hit and miss so it’s best to take a few shots each time.

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A wary Damsel Fly.

 

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And another. I became a bit obsessed taking insect pictures over the summer with this camera.

The image stabilisation works pretty well – it needs to at the longer focal lengths. Longer focal lengths need faster shutter speeds and therefore higher ISO’s, which is where DXO Prime noise reduction comes in. With noise starting to appear at around ISO 1000, you’d better be prepared to use something good to get rid of it for best results.

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It has a 24mm setting too!

Colors are fine to my eye though I’m used to Sony colours. Blue sky can appear a little cyan sometimes, but it’s easily corrected in post.

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Autumn produce in a dimly lit shed. Not too bad!

Although only having a small sensor, you can get some nice bokeh at longer focal lengths and close focus distances.

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This is as good as my Helios 85mm f2 on an A7R for out of focus blur – and that’s pretty good.

So technically all very good, apart from high ISO performance which can be corrected – within reason.

With such a wide zoom range at your fingertips, walking around a large event presents a sometimes overwhelming set of possibilities. I found concentrating on just wide angle for 1/3 of the time, just tele for another 1/3 and normal mid focal lengths worked for me. The following are a few from the 2017 Great Dorset Steam Fair which is always a good photo day out.

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All in all quite an impressive performance and an excellent ‘reportage’ type camera. You could get technically better shots with a DSLR and a range of lenses, but to cover this focal length range you might need an assistant to carry them all or be a weightlifter.

In conclusion then, I’ll sum up by firstly listing the ‘not so good’.

  • In terms of image quality it’s not up to a micro 4/3 or APSC sensor camera (but not far off at low ISOs), and it won’t focus as fast (or at all) in low light.
  • It’s a bit clunky to operate until you get used to it.
  • It’s not a camera for ‘pixel peepers’.
  • You’d best have some good noise reduction software available for post-processing as well.
  • It’s not particularly charming either – I think Sony just let their engineers loose to design it without hindrance from the aesthetics department.  It’s possibly the best example I’ve come across of a camera designed to be ‘just a tool’. An Olympus Pen F or Sony A7R it isn’t.

However, if you can see past, and work within these limitations, what it does, it does very well – provide an excellent, versatile zoom lens with good image stabilisation and macro capabilities which offer an almost boundless set of photographic possibilities. And a lot of fun!

A 600mm f4 equivalent lens in a package this small would be remarkable enough, but a 24-600mm which performs well across it’s whole range is amazing.

I haven’t touched on it’s video capabilities, but the 4k is very nice. With the timelapse app I can speed time up, and with the high frame rate video (250 fps 1080p) I can slow it down, using focal lengths from 24mm to 600mm. If you’d told me twenty years ago that such a camera would exist I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m not sure I do now.

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I bought this thinking I probably wouldn’t like it but couldn’t resist the technical specs. I can’t say I love using it like the A7R with old lenses, but I do have a huge respect for it’s abilities and can’t think of any camera I’ve used which is as versatile, while producing  results which are good enough (after PP) to submit to some picky stock photography sites.

‘Everything in life is a compromise’ is a phrase I’ve heard often – does it apply to the RX10 Mk3? Well not as much as you’d think.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

Rob

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.

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

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Edge

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135mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

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Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

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

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

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

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

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

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

The Zuiko 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.

The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 18mm f3.5

This mini review features a rather rare and exotic wide-angle optic which has a great reputation as a film era lens on digital – the tiny Zuiko 18mm f3.5. However, 36Mp of A7R resolution (without an anti-alias filter over the sensor) will stretch any lens so this will be pushing this classic lens to its limits.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The classic wide angle shot – lots of sky, deep depth of field (but see later in the text!) and a dramatic perspective.

It’s a manual focus lens obviously, and the depth of field scale would suggest you really don’t need autofocus at all – the depth of field is infinity to 1/2 a metre (3 feet) at f16. The catch though is that – as with all the other old lenses tested so far – it’s really a lot less than that for critical focus. High resolution digital sensors mercilessly expose any lack of sharpness and although 35mm film covered the same area as the Sony’s sensor I get the feeling that hardly anyone checked sharpness in the same way with film as we do now with digital images. In other words – you’ll still need to focus using the focus magnify feature on the A7R.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The tiny and exotic looking 18mm from above. A minimal set of controls – a focussing ring and five aperture stops. There’s no room for a front facing cosmetic ring giving the serial number/spec so it’s printed around the edge of the lens (the bit that looks like a filter but isn’t). This one has a serial number 102085 (no 2085?). The serial number on my Zuiko 50mm f1.8 is 1494292 – I think they made more of those!

Physically it’s tiny – around the same size as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8. Weighing in at 267g (around 10 oz) it’s solidly built with a slightly shinier surface than most Zuikos, and feels quite dense. What’s most striking is the bulbous front element which protrudes from the front of the lens by around 2mm at the centre and looks vulnerable to damage (I remove the deep ‘slide on’ lens cap, take the picture and put the cap straight back on). Minimum focus is 25 cm and focus goes from infinity to minimum in around 90 degrees of a turn of the focussing ring.

There is a 49 mm thread fitted and Olympus made a now rare and expensive 49mm to 72mm step up ring for filter use. I’ll be experimenting with how to sort out this problem later but suffice to say standard filters won’t fit and I don’t want to pay £100+ for a step up ring!

 

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

That amazing front element hides a complex set of internal lens elements and is quite hypnotic to look into!

According to my old Oly lens catalogue (circa 1980) the lens features an automatic correction mechanism to prevent degradation of lens performance at close focussing distances – nearly all wide Zuiko prime lenses do this too.

A 28mm lens has an angle of view of 75 degrees, an 18mm sees 100 degrees so quite a difference, especially in a cramped interior where you can’t step any further back. The cost of using an ultra wide angle is usually strong distortion, flare and soft frame edges – these lenses aren’t easy to design or use and often suffer from poor edge performance.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 28mm f2

The Zuiko 28mm f2 75 degree angle of view – note the slight purple internal flare below the altar.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The 100 degree view of the 18mm – quite a difference and no internal reflections but a slight haze around the light source. I’ve been caught out a few times by including the top edge of my finger as it supports the front of the lens – this really is a wide angle lens.

After using the lens for a day vignetting stood out as a ‘feature’ at f3.5 – it’s very noticable in some shots! In trying to correct the darker edges in DXO a reddish colour cast was introduced so you can’t work around it either. It’s pretty much gone by f8 and isn’t that much of a problem as to get the best resolution you’ll need f5.6-f11 anyway, but it’s worth pointing out. You could use it creatively I suppose – I don’t think I will be though!

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

Hammer House of Horror would be pleased with vignetting at f3.5 (more or less gone by f8). Unless you really like this effect use f5.6 or ideally f8 to f16. Depending on the composition it can be devastatingly obvious or not that obvious at all.

Flare is usually a problem with ultrawides. With so much in the picture the sun often makes an appearance and with all those lens elements internal reflections can become a problem (lens hoods aren’t that much use either as they’re so shallow). Happily I can report that I had to deliberately engineer a shot to see anything significant and other than this example I saw no flare which was distracting.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The worst flare/internal reflections I could manage. Pointing the camera upwards as in this shot produces these converging verticals.

I found only a little purple/green chromatic aberration when looking for it – the example below illustrates it quite well. It can be easily removed in post-processing but honestly, I wouldn’t bother as it’s virtually insignificant in most shots – a few pixels at most (a few in 36Mp isn’t that much!).

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The whole shot

_DSC1284ECA_DxO2b

Large crop from the top right.

Close up distortion -well distortion in general really – is minimal. I haven’t seen any pincushion distortion or bent horizons which is remarkable in itself. Pointing the lens upwards will obviously produce converging verticals, but with the camera more or less level the images don’t give away that they were taken with an ultra wide at all.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

At f8 – still a little vignetting (easily removed at this severity) but good sharpness and colour saturation and very little chromatic aberration – excellent! This doesn’t look like an 18mm shot at all – more like a 28mm.

Close up distortion is pretty minimal too :-

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

You’re thinking – ‘so what?’ aren’t you! This was taken about two feet away from the window and there’s no distortion at all in an uncorrected image – that is remarkable. The 24mm end of a high quality zoom would have the centre looking like it was bulging out of the picture.

On to the mill for the acid test :-

f3.5

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The full frame at f3.5 with vignetting obvious

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

A large centre crop and OK ish. Not great it must be said.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The edge at f3.5 is so dark, sharpness is difficult to judge. Unless you like strong vignetting it’s irrelevant, but if you do it’s OK – I can just read some of the wording on the sign.

 

f8

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

f8 centre and looking very good – not amazing but this is a 18mm lens – not a 50mm!

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

f8 at the edge.

At f3.5 things are fairly good in the centre, but edge definition is completely masked by vignetting (possibly a good thing!) By f5.6 things have sharpened up nicely, f8 is optimal and, as usual, slight softness is created by diffraction at f16 but the differences between f5.6 and f16 aren’t very noticeable. As you might expect, the edges of such a wide-angle lens are slightly softer than the centre at all apertures but the centre is pretty good – maybe an 8/10. These have been processed using DXO Optics 9 with straightforward default RAW conversion. I’ll have a play around to see if I can squeeze a little but more sharpness out of them using micro-contrast and sharpening controls.

At £300 plus this doesn’t fall into the usual ‘cheap and very good’ category of for Zuiko MF lenses (£300 doesn’t buy many modern AF lenses either), it always was an expensive and exotic optic.

It must be said that it isn’t making the most of 36Mp of resolution, but it’s resolution is impressive for an ultra wide-angle lens. I doubt that most modern lenses, especially zoom lenses, would be that much better in terms of sharpness on the A7r at this focal length. Where this lens really shines though is its remarkable lack of distortion and tiny amounts of chromatic aberration in such a small package. It’s in a different league to my cheap and cheerful Tokina 17mm f3.5.

So oddly, and I wasn’t expecting this, I’ll conclude that for such an exotic focal length, this is a well behaved solid lens which is consistently ‘sharp enough’ from f5.6 to f16 and, if used with care, produces images which don’t have most of the giveaway signs of an ultra wide angle lens. It would be an excellent lens for photographing architecture and landscapes. Highly recommended – I must try it on my OM2N next!

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.

 

Ilford Pan-F in Tetenal Neofin Blue

Having messed about with Ilford 3200 in an attempt to get some truly monstrous grain (previous post), it’s back to the other end of the film speed spectrum with an old favourite – Ilford Pan F. All shots on an Olympus OM2N in aperture priority mode (with appropriate exposure compensation).

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

25 ASA with a 50mm f1.4 at 1/30th second and an excellent start!

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

The centre of the image showing very little grain .

Rather than use the same old developer I thought was worth trying something different after reading this :- an article from Practical Photography back in 1960 describing using Neofin Blue with a now long gone film Ilford Micro Neg. Interestingly this reminded me of several characteristics of Adox’s CMS20 film. Neofin Blue is a high acutance one shot developer for slower films – the fast film version was Neofin Red now discontinued. The link above is to a really interesting website if you’re into photographic history by the way.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

There are five ampoules of developer in a pack working out at around £1.60 per film if used at the standard dilution. The dilution can be halved for economy if you wish.

Pan F is happy at 25 and 50 ASA, though the contrast at 25 ASA in ID11 developer is pretty strong. Will it do the same thing in Neofin Blue? I’ve never used Tetenal chemistry so this should be interesting.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

The 50mm f.14 again at f5.6 – nice.

Mixing Neofin Blue has an extra calculation – one ampoule of 30ml in 500ml of water is the standard dilution. Other dilutions are possible (half an ampoule, more water etc) which will result in a multiplier to the development time. I stuck with the standard dilution as it’s the first time I’ve used it. The development time was a short 4.5 minutes which seemed very brief but worked perfectly.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue This is good! The harsh contrast I’ve experienced with ID11 at 25 ASA just isn’t here at all, the grain is very well controlled and the tonality pleasing.

What about 50 ASA?

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

@50 ASA and this is hardly different from the 25 ASA results which is welcome. 25 ASA just isn’t fast enough sometimes.

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

The centre of the previous image – being able to see the thin cable attached to the top of the tower and exiting left is impressive (the branches are slightly out of focus)!

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

Being fairly slow film this is good for long exposures – this was around one second through an R25 red filter at f16. Vivitar 17mm f3.5

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

Some of Pan-F’s dark characteristics remain – those shadows are very deep even if i missed a few dust spots – sorry.

Most of these were taken using a new minimalist kit approach – one camera body, a 50mm f1.4 or 1.8, a 28mm f2, a 135mm f3.5, two spare rolls of film and a spare set of batteries. A wonderfully light and flexible set of equipment which can be carried in jacket pockets without a heavy camera bag. As the 50mm lenses get used more than any other I could leave the other lenses behind and go really minimalist! Try it one day – it’s very refreshing and the results are good so far.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

50 ASA on an overcast day allows the gratuitous use of wide apertures and some flashy shallow depth of field. This is with the 50mm f1.8 – it’s bokeh is a bit busy here.

All in all an excellent result. At 25 ASA the contrast is better controlled than ID11’s results, and at both 25 and 50 ASA the grain is excellent for a high acutance developer. The ‘dark’ look of Pan F has been nicely preserved too. It’s not quite as grainless as Adox CMS20 but then I didn’t really expect it to be. A highly recommended combination!

Thanks for looking – hope you find it useful.

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

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!

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?

_MG_7924_DxOs

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.

 

A Few More from the 5DMK2 and a Lensbaby Sweet 35

This is turning out to be a really good combo! The increased ‘lensbabyness’ of the image and the wider angle of view are proving useful!

All these were taken on a pretty uninspiring day in Jersey at Saie Harbour, a mixture of rocky outcrops and sand.

This first one has had a touch of the ‘cross processed film’ filter added to tune the colours a little. There may be a layer added too!

5d Mk2 lensbaby sweet 35

Just a layer for the next one – that tide was coming in very fast, a slow walking pace. For some reason the horizon never looks straight in this no matter how often it’s corrected…..

5d Mk2 lensbaby sweet 35

Finally a last variation on the same theme.The lovely ethereal rendering this lens gives is, to my at least, superb.

5d Mk2 lensbaby sweet 35

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

A Canon 5d Mk2 and a Zuiko 85mm f2

This is the second of a series of tests using my old Olympus OM fit manual focus lenses on a full frame Canon 5d Mk 2. This time it’s the rather nice Zuiko 85mm f2, which was quite good on an APS-C sensor 60D, albeit with a 135mm equivalent focal length and a cold colour cast.

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

Narrow depth of field, smooth gradation of tones and easy to focus – an excellent initial impression!

All shots taken with a ‘Neutral’ colour profile and post processed in DXO Optics Pro 9 (which has absolutely no idea what lens is attached via the simple OM to EF adaptor, so can’t do it’s usual sharpness, distortion and vignetting corrections).

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

The slight telephoto compression and subtle vignetting impart a real ‘atmosphere’ to some shots.

The lens is described in the 60D test  here so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say it’s a beautiful ‘old school’ all metal built lens, and very easy to focus at f2, the focus ring being fluid and responsive. It’s quite well-balanced on the 5d but seems rather small by comparison with the great lump of the body – especially when compared to a large AF zoom lens – not necessarily a bad thing.

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

Changing aperture and focussing are of course both manual – not really a problem when you get used to it. As always, shoot in RAW to correct any exposure problems. Oddly, on 5D the ‘evaluative metering’ mode works best, on the 60D ‘centre weighted’ metering was needed.

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

Colours are bright and the contrast is pretty good too – no need for auto levels as was the case with the low contrast Helios 85m lens tested earlier. The red of the poppy looks natural, even with Canon’s tendency to over saturate reds.

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

The bokeh is still a little busy at medium distances – as it was on the 60D so no surprises here.

Canon 5d Mk 2 Zuiko 85mm f2

At closer distances though – it’s superb!

On the 60D I much preferred the soft, swirling bokeh of the Helios 85mm f2, even though it was much harder to focus, especially in cold weather. On full frame however, the Zuiko is a clear winner. It’s easier to focus, produces much less clinical colours than it’s results on the 60D and produces images with real impact. At around £100 it’s cheaper than the Canon AF equivalent, and is so easy to focus AF seems irrelevant. If you can find one – snap it up!

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.

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking!

 

 

Spring is here…

Which must mean it’s time for messing around with some infrareds on a warm sunny day….

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

Everything still works as it should! Black skies and water, white vegetation and clouds.

It’s good to see the IR effect again after a long wet winter. Fresh foliage seems to reflect more IR wavelength light than older grass and leaves so the ‘Wood Effect‘ is especially pronounced.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

Here’s the setup – an RX100 with R72 filter held on a Lensmate filter attachment. A much better arrangement than just holding the filter over the lens, this little gadget is very useful. The AG-R1 grip is also attached and transforms the RX100’s handling (get one!).

All shot at the ’28mm’ focal length (really 10.4mm) at f2, ISO 800 with a +1 stop exposure compensation to allow hand held speeds of between 1/30th of a second and 1/8th of a second. These were processed in DXO Optics Pro 9 using the ‘Dense’ black and white conversion – straight from the camera they have a very intense magenta hue. A slight ‘diffuse glow’ was added in Photoshop to give it that old Kodak IR film look.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

A bit more abstract here – fresh growth in a pond with some clouds reflected.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

Same bridge – but from the other side.

Sony RX100 Infrared R72 filter

More of a traditional landscape really – the vegetation at the lower right seems to be ‘reaching into’ the frame.

Not a bad result for some gentle messing about – more a practice for later in the year.

Hope you like them, thanks for looking!

 

Extreme Combinations…

Combining various obscure photographic techniques is irresistible – at least to me. So apologies in advance.

What happens if you shoot infrared hand-held with an IR R72  filter through a Lensbaby Sweet 35 using Olys ‘Dramatic Tone’ filter? I had no idea until today.. The 35mm focal length is a fixed 70mm equivalent on micro four thirds, so a bit restrictive, but let’s see what we can do. The Lensbaby has a problem resolving detail at the edge of the frame – how bad is it ‘in the field’ on small micro four thirds sensor? There are loads of ‘fields’ near where I live, so lets give it a go – walking into ‘a field’ as I do so. MTF charts are unavailable due to a technical fault.

Here’s the kit – an EPL5,  a micro 4/3 mount converter, a Sweet 35 Lensbaby, a 49mm to 58mm thread converter and a Hoya 58mm R72 filter. I’d hoped to fit in some macro extension tubes but time didn’t allow. To add a little colour, DXO filmpack was used to tone the monochrome images (we’re a long way from photo realism already)….

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

This isn’t the easiest combo to focus – ISO needs to be around 8000 to hand hold a shot in spring sunshine (the R72 filter is pretty much opaque), so the focus magnify button is essential to find something like a sharp image. To add to the excitement (why do I do this?) the ‘wide open’ sharpness of the Lensbaby makes sharpness a relative term. The Lensbaby people must do something about this…

Onto the results…

EPL5EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

A bit too grainy possibly – ISO 8000 should be free of noise in a modern camera surely. I well remember using Kodak IR 8000 film ten years ago and it was nowhere as grainy as this. Digital is obviously rubbish. The IR effect is showing, but the ‘Dramatic Tone’ element isn’t too visible. That black dot is a bird by the way rather than ‘dust on the sensor’. Why don’t Lensbaby make a zoom pinhole attachment by the way?

 

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

This is better – even something in focus. The blurred areas are – well – very blurred and rather good. The grass on the right is bright (as it should be), and the new foliage on the willow tree is nicely bright too. Why is this less grainy – I have no idea!

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

More grain again – but this time it seems to suit the subject. Well maybe….

Finally the Mill, used in the past as a test target for previous lens tests. The lovely Lensbaby out of focus areas have produced an abstract, almost ‘painted’ blurry result. Assuming most painters like blur of course, which is an unproven hypothesis in my experience.

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

Hmm.

Thanks for looking, enjoy Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere)  and have a good April 1st!