Saturday, September 29, 2012


I may be violating some Blog Ethics here, but I can't believe what this person has done:

Like one commenter stated - "these are his photos and he can do what he likes with them" - I fully agree. But to call this a "Camera Review"?? At first, I thought who would want a camera that makes such a complete hash out of photos. But then it dawned on me - the photos were very heavily overprocesed. That's fine, if you're into this particular look. I used some Pseudo -HDR myself in my previous entry about the skateboard park. But my topic here was "Composition". I wasn't giving a camera review - for that, you need to see "straight out of camera" shots. This writer William Jusuf didn't provide a single picture that reveals the qualities of the Ricoh GRDIV.

Just sayin'

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Composition Basics

Abstract Composition

Action Composition

Emotional Composition

I find it difficult to write about the most fundamental part of picture making - that being "composition". I have to admit from the outset, it's not something I put a lot of effort into. I don't take care to stage or construct things, nor do I get people to pose for a shot. I really prefer using what is in front of me, as it occurs, undisturbed. Most of the time, it is only afterward that I get a sense of the merit, or lack of, in the composition that happened. My approach is to evaluate lighting conditions, location, and making sure my equipment is set correctly, and composition just kind of looks after itself. This may not be true for every photographer, and in fact, it should be more common to first make sure the composition is great, because that is what most makes for a great picture. Perhaps my sense of composition comes from my experience of drawing and painting in my younger days, along with a few sessions of art classes. I've also put pictures out there that are just plain awful, composition wise, but I'll make something else out of them, such as a deep foreground crop that emphasizes texture. I love textures in photographs just as much as I like strong compositions.

I have put up three shots here, taken in Moncton yesterday, and true to form, I noted that the conditions were perfect for taking pictures - the sky was partly clouded, the air was humid, and the lighting was soft and natural. I made my way down to a skateboard park near the river, which has all kinds of interesting shapes and colours. There was one solitary boarder, doing his thing. I just let him go with it, without asking his permission; I just had a very strong sense that he wouldn't care one way or the other if I took his picture, and this time I was right. Sometimes you really need to be careful about taking pictures of people.

So, lets talk strictly about the composition of each of these. The first one is pure abstraction. It may look a bit awkward, seeming to be a picture about nothing, but I'm liking it more and more. As with most abstract images, it is very academic; by that I mean it is all about the picture itself, not about the absent skater, or not even particularly about the skateboard park itself - I had taken many other shots here that were strongly about the location, and it's features. This one is minimalist when it comes to the features of the park itself. So, we can talk about it strictly in abstract terms. 

First, it is based strongly on two rules of good composition - the "Rule of Thirds"- I placed the very strong dividing line from inside to outside along the upper third dividing line, and "Lead the viewers eye in from a corner" which is done by the rail at the bottom. From there, the viewers eye is taken by a strong S-curve which terminates at the smooth concrete exit in the upper right, leading to the world outside. Although the picture is static, there is a very strong sense of movement which almost puts the viewer on the skateboard, heading toward this S-shaped manoeuvre and out of the park.

The second shot of course came about, as I noticed the skater getting ready to roll down the grade, and I was already in position from the previous shot. Sometimes you just get lucky like that - being exactly ready and in the right place at the right time. The only challenge here was to press the shutter at the right time, which I did. This is where you need to be totally acquainted with your camera's performance. I've mentioned it here before, but it bears repeating - a digital compact has a bit of shutter lag. In recent years, it has gotten much less severe, especially if you are pre-focused by pressing the button halfway down. Older compacts were terrible with shutter lag, which would have resulted in our skater being caught only in the foreground from the waist up. With enough practice, people could get a feel about how to fire early, but typically, with older digital compacts (not true for film compacts, especially older mechanical ones, which always had instant shutter action), shots like this would not turn out. I managed to place him on a "rule of thirds" line perfectly, which, combined with good "negative space" in the surrounding concrete, makes this composition very strong.

The third one was very interesting. I had changed position a bit, and the skater had just fallen off his board. I was totally aware of his disappointment, and really wanted to capture something about that. The upturned skateboard, and the lad's disappointed hunched over gesture were a true decisive moment, which I managed to capture. But it was only after looking at this on my computer, I discovered a lot of other great compositional things at work here. Notice how everything else in the shot leads the eye solely to the skater. Nothing leads out of the picture; everything leads in, and also points to him. The concrete path at the bottom leads to him, the asphalt in the lower right points to him. The two concrete shapes on the left point right at him, while the concrete slab next to the stairs form an arrow with the shape to the left that points right at him. Even the stairs leave no escape - an exit is blocked by the tree at the top of the stair, so they can only lead into the picture, not out. Every picture tells a story!

I don't always compose well, because I seldom think about it. For me, it happens subconsciously. It is a minds-eye thing, and I have to have an optical glass viewfinder to make it work. My mind's eye for composition usually fails me when using compact or smartphone cameras that only have an LCD for viewing.

There are so many things that come into play when composing a photograph, and the best approach, I think, is to read up on the elements of good composition. It eventually comes naturally and quickly, but the best advice I can give is to start slowly and deliberately, following the "rules", and then selectively breaking them, once you know how.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Film - The Not So Obvious, Part B

Taken in 2008 With Kodak C41 B&W Film, Zorki-4 Camera

Yesterday's post may have been confusing for some; it's hard to know. Allow me to sum up what I was trying to say in a very simple way - it is that I believe that a Digital Image Art Object, regardless of what point it became digital, is of inherently less value than one which is made through the complete traditional chemical process. And.. the reason I believe this is that if the digital print has any digital copies viewable on the internet, there is nothing stopping somebody, who likes your picture, to make prints of it on their own home equipment. A traditional film print made in a darkroom, on the other hand, remains as a high value commodity regardless of how many people might make digital copies of it, simply because it exists in its original form as a darkroom print, and not a digital one.

So, is this all nothing but twaddle? Perhaps I really don't know what I'm talking about... and there is a rather important bit  that I did not mention yesterday, so let me deal with that today. There is such a thing as "Digital Fine Art Printing". This is something any photographer can get into for around $500, unless larger than 13"X19" prints are required - then it gets a lot more expensive. Or, any digital file can be sent to numerous Fine Art Print Houses, who specialize in making Digital Art prints of any size. The process uses digital printers just like the one sitting on your desk at home, only many times bigger and more expensive, and these printers use a much more sophisticated ink-set, and are capable of printing on many types of fine-art paper of very large size, by professionals who know their craft.

So it could stand to reason that if a fine art photographer gets her best work printed in this fashion, and safe-guards ownership of the piece, the value is raised considerably, because the original cannot be duplicated in the same way as somebody downloading and printing her stuff on consumer grade equipment. I agree, this would help considerably, especially if the digital file showing the work on-line is of greatly reduced resolution, as is most often the case anyway, making it impossible to create a digital print any bigger than an 8X10. It's also possible that the artist may not show a complete catalogue of his / her work on-line, which would be a very smart move.

Yet, I am still waffling around on this. It still seems to me that the ultimate right choice for artistic black and white photography is to make a film print from a film negative, and I still believe this to be so because of preserving the value of the end product, fine art printing notwithstanding.

As for me, well, I've decided that making film prints in a darkroom is definitely not my cup of tea. Developing the roll of film into a negative is quite easy to do at home, but from what I read about the making of actual prints, I would find it very difficult to get set up for, and just not the kind of hobby I could roll up my sleeves for. This leaves me dependant on sending my traditional black and white film away for processing, which is OK for now. I do have another option - I could go with Ilford's XP-2 film, which is a black and white that is processed at your friendly One Hour C41 photo lab. I did try this once, and was actually quite pleased with the results (see photo above), although this is a rather bad compromise when compared to "real" B&W film, like Ilford FP4, according to some people.

Finally, I know I've got to stop obsessing over all this stuff, and just go out and take some pictures. The leaves are just starting to turn, and the best medium for shooting that is, quite simply, the digital camera! I'll have plenty of time to brood over black and white fine art film techniques once winter settles in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Film – Stating the Not So Obvious

Pic I Took in 2006 With an Olympus Trip 35

I often state the obvious, but to offer my opinions about film photography, I want to try and go beyond the obvious, into the realm of my own feelings and opinions about it. At this point in time, I'm truly making a go of using film once again, to try again to see if it really captures me as an amateur photographer as it once did. Eight years ago, I had re-discovered photography, and although it was a little Pentax Optio 230 digital camera that got my toes wet, I wasn't long in switching to nothing but film cameras. In 2008, things changed – I bought my first DSLR, and quickly became really hooked. A film die-hard might have said that it was like going on crack cocaine. Now, four years later, I'm giving film another go. But four years later, I'm discovering the world has changed. A lot of photo processing places have disappeared, and others have become a local collection depot only, sending your films to another city, because they can't keep staff on board to run the processing machinery – no longer enough demand for it. To say that since 2008, digital photography has greatly surpassed film photography would be an understatement. If the trend continues, my opinion is that within five years, film photography will have totally become a niche market only.. it's almost there now. That is, unless people begin realizing something, which I'll get to briefly.

Before 2008, the discussion was “film vs. digital” in pretty much the same way as American politics is Democrat vs Republican – people were equally passionate about one or the other as being “the truth”. Now, as I read various Blogs and Discussion Forums, the tome has greatly changed. It is no longer an issue as to which gives better results, because it can no longer be proven or measured either way. The word is now along the lines that one isn't better than the other, but film and digital are merely “different”. I think this shows that we have arrived at the place where quality arguments are no longer valid. Aside from the inherent “look and feel” of film photos, digital cameras have progressed to the point where there is no measurable difference in image quality, compared with film, and almost everybody is saying hooray!

Something that seems to be missing from this discussion, however, is “the value of the final product”. I imagine that somebody somewhere has written about this, but I've not read it, so here is my “original” take on it. (For the record, here's an article that comes close to what I'mthinking.)

It is a matter of value, not of quality, I believe. People who only see film vs digital in terms of resolution, sharpness, color accuracy, etc. are missing the point... a point which can be stated in several different ways. For starters, let's say if you take away the Internet, digital photography dies instantly. No? The Internet is like electricity – it's not going away? How can you know that for certain? Let's look at it another way that might be more probable then. If a genuine, professional artist, who has gone completely digital, just shot some of her best, most important work, transferred her pictures to her computer, erased her card, and then went to bed, only to awaken to discover that her drive has hopelessly crashed, what became of her work? Well, again you could argue that even analogue photographers suffer the risk of technical malfunction – or somebody could break in and steal his film camera. If that's your argument you are still missing the point.

My point is – a photograph isn't “real” until it is something that you can hold in your hand. Obvious, I know, and also, Ken Rockwell has said thistoo. But think about this long and hard. Think about the difference in potential between a roll of undeveloped film and a camera memory card full of digital “pictures”. The roll of film can only become one thing – a collection of absolutely real pictures. A memory card on the other hand can become many different things, but in the vast majority, real pictures are never made from it – but only data files that are shared on-line. Now ask yourself, which is ultimately of greater value?

This is a hard discussion I know, loaded with “what-ifs” and different scenarios. You have to view the finished product of a film photograph as being completely different than a digital photograph, because to truly remain a photo that is processed chemically, and retain it's true character, it can never be digitized or shared over the internet, any more than an oil painting can. Once a film photo is scanned, it is no longer a film photograph, but a digital one, yet the film version still exists. Same as a painting – once it is scanned, it becomes a digital image, yet the real painting still exists, with it's original value intact. Digital scans are made to show others on-line an approximation of what the real thing looks like – otherwise, the real thing has to be viewed in the photographer's home, or perhaps in a museum / gallery.

So am I missing the obvious point of the Digital Print? Well, again, the arguments about digital printing have only been technical, based on pigment vs dye based ink, and which will last longer. But I've never read a comparison about the true value of a digital print vs a film print, so I'll make a good one now. A digital print will most likely have it's “shared” corollary in cyberspace somewhere, and all somebody has to do if they want one of the same is to click “save image as”, and they've got it. If they want to go to the trouble, they can make a quality print of the file themselves. This cannot help but cheapen the value of a digital print. But with a film print, it doesn't matter how many people are saving and printing the on-line corollary, because the genuine film-paper or slide original still exists in the possession of the original artist. The value of the photo, therefore, is never cheapened if it was done originally on film, no matter how many people violate the copyright, the true original remains as safe as an oil painting. Therefore, any gallery or museum will continue placing a much higher value on film photography, and I think the more difficult it gets for film, with manufacturers discontinuing their hardware and base medium, the more valuable a good film photograph will become.

Let us just wait and see what happens in the very near future.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Score From the Classifieds

My Canon EOS 55 / EOS Elan II

This set of goodies came from the same man I bought the Rolleifllex from. The main catch for me was the lens - a very desirable EF 28-105 USM II that goes from f3.5 - 4.5, introduced by Canon over 12 years ago. It is a lens that was a mid-high range option for EF film cameras, yet has features found on their costly good glass today - Ultrasonic Motor, fairly fast, manual focus over-ride (meaning that even when you have the AF switch on, you can still turn the focus ring if you don't like the camera's Auto-Focus decision). It's also much smaller and lighter than many of today's lenses - a lot to do with Image Stabilization being un-invented in the year 2000 - a feature that adds quite a few ounces. Anyway, $100 got me this lens, with what I thought was a rather weird Canon film SLR attached. Weird, that is, until I started gathering some info about it.

The camera is marked "EOS 55". I had to do some digging to find out that it was only available for the Japanese market, and in North America, it was marketed as the Elan IIe. Canon has maintained a remarkable relationship in the marketing of it's film SLRs in comparison to the new line of DSLR's. It turns out their top prosumer film camera of the day was the EOS 5, and today you get the EOS 5D. At the budget end, there was the "Rebel" line-up, with similar naming / numbering as the Digital Rebels on the shelves now. The "Elan" series fit right in between - only sold as Elan's in North America, they were marketed as EOS XX" (two digits) like the EOS 50D  is now. This one was actually an EOS 50, everywhere in the world except North America (Elan IIe) and Japan - the EOS 55. What's more, this rare Japanese model was sold in all black, not black and silver, and has a feature that nobody else got - a "Panorama" switch on the back. 

All models were loaded with features - a time / date back cover, fully motorized film load, transport / rewind, two command dials, including a nice big one on the back, and pretty much all of the shooting features found on today's Canon DSLR's, except they're controlled by nice big dials and switches on the top, instead of menu - buttons; like, see the big rotary switch that is labelled "One Shot", "AI Focus" and "AI Servo" - sound familiar, all you Canon DSLR users??? Very nice indeed. Another feature we long for on our DSLR's is the big LED focus assist light on the front - why doesn't Canon give us this now, instead of the very annoying flash - bursts? And one more - this camera actually has a system called "Eye Control"  by which your Auto-Focus point is selected by whatever your eye is looking at through the viewfinder.

I shot with this camera, as well as the Rolleiflex all day today, and must say, after a few years of owning various Canon DSLR's, this one felt very familiar to me. I even had occasion to try that exclusive Japan only "Panorama" mode. And, as it is with any film camera- 

"I can't wait to see the results next week"!

I'll have more musings about film cameras tomorrow - I think I might be starting to dig it!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Automat

Rolleiflex Automat rear view with VF opened
(Note Exposure Calculation chart on back)

Crank Side View showing the "Automat" frame counter window

I'll probably blog this to death before I actually get to see any pictures I took with it, but today I bought a roll of Ilford FP4 ASA 125 Black and White film, and actually took two pictures - only ten to go now I also discovered what is "automatic" about this camera. You have to cast your mind back to 1951, when this model was introduced. You also have to consider the German precision of manufacturing which they had attained - then it all makes sense. The automatic part is in the loading and transport of the film. This is a totally manual, and mechanical camera, which has no electronics whatsoever, and no battery. It also uses 120 roll film, and for those who may be too young to know about this, "roll film" is a bit different from film concealed within a plastic cannister, like typical 35mm film. 

With less sophisticated roll film cameras, there is a little round window on the back through which you can see what exposure number the film is rolled to, as typically these cameras had no mechanical film counter. The frame numbers were printed in large black letters on the back of the roll, and visible through the round port-hole, usually red plastic. What Rollei did was apply extreme precision "automation" to this film loading and advance process. The Automat has no round red window through which to read the frame numbers - instead, it does have a mechanical frame counter next to the film advance crank. The really amazing part is how the camera "automatically" knows when to start at Frame #1, and then keep counting frames with great precision - remember, this was 1951!. 

The way it was achieved is that when you first load the roll of film, you have to pass the paper backing which "leads" the film through two chromed rollers inside the chamber, and at the point where the actual film starts, these rollers are sensitive enough to detect the change in thickness, and this triggers a little mechanical sensor inside which tells the film advance gears that "Frame #1 is coming up". At that point, the action of the crank changes, so that it locks into position, advances the film counter from 0 to 1, sets the self timer button and cocks the shutter mechanism, all in one drift! Remarkable how this roller mechanism had the precision to measure this difference in thickness, and even more remarkable that it still works flawlessly over 60 years later.

Amazing design for the time, and characteristic of this fine camera.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rolleiflex - The Beginning of a New Adventure

My latest find! It's an early 1950's Rolleiflex, Model "Automat-4" (from what I can gather so far). I can't figure why it was called "Automat" (nor can I figure out why Pentax named their immortalized SLR the "Spotmatic") - there is nothing 'Matic about these cameras! Absolutely nothing! I've been here before, having reintroduced myself to photography with a Russian Rangefinder, also a "nothing - 'matic". It's actually a wonderful way to take pictures - slow, deliberate, check and double check - re-think, tweak a little, then fire! Then you have to wait for the (hopefully ) pleasant surprise when you get your film processed. It wasn't exactly a bargain - bought it from local classifieds, but paid pretty much a good Ebay bidding price (not the "in your dreams" Buy-It-Now amount) - I know if this relationship doesn't work out, I can get my money back pretty quick - these are popular items on Ebay. It is definitely in close to pristine condition, with only a little ding in one corner of the case back. Everything appears to be in good working order.

So why in the word would I do this? Well, I've been "film-curious" for quite awhile now, and although I came very close to pushing the button on another Russian FED or Zorki, I knew in the back of my mind that if you're gonna go film, you might as well forget 35mm and go with Medium Format, and getting a real-deal West German built camera is always a good idea too. So I saw the ad for this gem, then checked what kind of results people are getting here on Flickr, and with my sense of wonder piqued, I went for it. Tomorrow, I'm going to get a roll of Ilford B&W something, probably ISO-100, as the fastest shutter speed is 1/500, and hopefully in a few days I'll be able to show off my results.

One thing about this camera did surprise me, not having actually held one of these in my hands before - it's a lot smaller than I expected, even though it shoots a square 60X60mm negative (compared to 35mm which is much smaller at 36X24mm). With the top Viewfinder "chimney" folded down, this camera is of similar dimension to my EOS 7D, although obviously oriented completely differently, and it feels a bit lighter too. You know how I love small and light!

So from smartphone to DSLR and everything in between, this will give me a lot more to talk about here in the coming days, hopefully. I know there are a lot of film buffs out there, and I hope I don't disappoint you (or me!)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ultra Compact vs. Camera Phone

Lumix DMC FH-27

Samsung Galaxy S-2

Canon EOS 7D

I don't mind using my camera phone at all, as it is usually the camera I have with me all the time. I have often said here that its image quality is respectable, even surprisingly good, given the miniaturization of the camera, but I've never before compared it to anything. 

Last February, I bought my wife a very small camera for her birthday - one which she could keep in a jacket pocket or whatever. It is the Panasonic Lumix DMC FH-27, seemingly just another "forgettable" compact. It must be forgettable, because I actually had difficulty finding reviews about this camera when I bought it. But spec-wise, it's not too bad, given it's 8X optical zoom, 16 MPix sensor, and fully touch-screen operation. I got it on an open-box clearance at just under $100. Not bad. Aside from thickness, it is physically smaller than my Samsung Galaxy smartphone, yet they managed to cram in a 28-224 (8X) equivalent f3.3 Elmar lens.

It's not my purpose to review this camera, but just to do a simple quick comparison. In doing this comparison, I believe it can be seen that they both take decent photos under normal conditions. I had the Lumix set for 5 Mpix, not it's native 16, to make it a bit closer to the Android cam's 8 Mpix. It's my opinion that cramming 16 Mpix onto a small sensor is self defeating anyway, so 5 is actually the better choice, as it goes.

Seeing the results above, I regard the shot taken with the Lumix as better, but not by much. These are straight out of camera, both cameras set fully automatic, with their standard defaults. To me, the Lumix has better contrast, a bit less lens distortion, shows more detail and better colour balance, as seen in the sky - more true blue, and with enough contrast to show a bit of cloud in the sky, which the smartphone missed.

All the latest buzz from digital camera makers this year seems to be toward getting big sensors into smaller packages - a very good direction, for those who can afford it. I personally lean toward smallness. The camera industry's aim is to try take full advantage of miniaturization, as it should be, and there is a huge spectrum of consumers out there whose requirements indeed range from the very small and discreet, through to the large equipment required by full blown professionals. Personally, I cheer the loudest when something very small is made into something very good. Here I have compared two of the smallest options available - the results were as one would expect, with the dedicated small camera with a good lens making a better picture than the smartphone. I also feel I have once again shown that a smartphone camera is nothing to be embarrassed about either.

Finally, just for sport, I included a different view of the same scene taken with my DSLR. This will be used in a future comparison of the 7D against my newly procured 1952 Rolleiflex with Ilford B&W film. Very different pictures, taken on an overcast day, at Normal (50mm Lens Equivalent) views. Still though, it's interesting to see how a smartphone and an $100 ultra compact can somewhat hold their own against a $1000 DSLR.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Around Where You Live

 Non-Kitch B&W

Non-Kitch Color

Non-Charming Kitch - A Regional Museum

Charming Kitch - Gift Shop and Owner

The part of the world where you live will always be your most interesting place to take great pictures. Sometimes, we look longingly at on-line photographs taken by other people in "exotic" locations like Greece, France or Bali, and may never give it a thought that these same people are looking longingly at our on-line albums, thinking about what an exotic part of the world we live in. The exotic place is simply the unfamiliar place.

The trick is, to find the tourist destinations closest to you - that's right - look for those kitchey tourist trap areas and then look for scenes that TRULY reveal the history, way of life and geography of the place. Put on the "kitch filter" - that's my preference, or, kitch can be your subject if you'd prefer, but go for "charming kitch". It doesn't matter, really, because if a certain stretch of highway is a tourist destination, there is always a good reason behind it, kitch or no kitch.

This part of the world, (Atlantic Provinces of Canada) is a tourist destination in its entirety. The cities are small and interesting, the oceans are breathtaking, and the landscape for the most part consists of the north-eastern extreme of the Appalachian Mountain Range. This is what I was trying to capture here - the rich multi-cultural way of life that was once experienced by our Celtic, Acadian and German settlers - a way of life that is now history, but recent enough that you can still find it, preserved intact. Here is where I collect my pictures of what I call NorthEast Appalachia.

So go ahead, grab your camera - any old camera will do, and take a day trip.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Incredible Russian Cameras

I know I've raved on before about certain Russian made Soviet era lenses and cameras, and I do really favour the Russian made M42 thread-mount lenses, although the Pentax Takumar (all series) I really like just as much, especially as they tend to be more compact and lighter. This time, a picture caught my eye on Flickr, which was taken by a Russian made Zorki-4, which was the camera that got me back into photography as a visual art. Here's that picture:


I emailed Emanuele to get his permission to use this here, and he was fine with it, as long as I linked to his Photostream to give him full credits, here.

I thought - what an amazing picture! There's just no getting around it- this was carefully composed and worked out by a fine, enthusiastic photographer - and do check out the rest of his photostream!

As for me, well, in spite of my total commitment to digital (I sold my Zorki), I can honestly say that I've never been able to take pictures with my digital cameras quite like I was able to do with my Zorki-4 and Jupiter lenses. Here's my own set of Zorki-4 Pictures again. The old Zorki gave me an enthusiasm for photography which I'd never had before, simply because there was some kind of magic in the results I was getting. No film or digital SLR has ever given me the same qualities, and other than my rather lame explanation given here, I can't really explain why the Zorki gave me more magical results than, say, the Russian built Zenit-11 I had for awhile, or any of the Pentax, Praktica or Canon film SLR's I'd also tried. Is the magic in the eyes of the photographer, or is it in the Rangefinder camera? Perhaps it's a combination of both - as a photographer, the real business starts to happen when you begin to see the world in the same way your camera sees it. Maybe Rangefinder cameras make this easier to do somehow? I just don't know.

Anyway, I extend my congratulations to Emanuele for all his fine work - he is a good study in my opinion!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Super Takumar Lenses - Errata

I had neglected to do my homework with respect to what I wrote about the Super Takumar 35mm lens in my previous post. This error was pointed out by a group of readers on Flickr. In actuality, "Super" and Super multi-Coated (SMC) were used by Pentax with the following distinctions:

Takumar: manual aperture, single coating
Super-Takumar: automatic aperture, single coating
Super-Multi-Coated Takumar: Multi-coated Super


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Lenses

I've collected a fair number of lenses over the years. These are the ones I own right now, although I've had quite a few others which I've sold. I find a real advantage in manually focusing, as opposed to using a camera's auto-focus. As long as I have a great Viewfinder and "Manual Focus Peaking" (the 7D has this and it is enabled by the chipped adapter I bought), I find MF to be easier to deal with than all the complex Auto Focus features the 7D has to offer (not knocking AF -sometimes you just have to have it,  such as with action shots, it's just that "Automatic Focus" isn't always as "automatic" as you might think).

First, the Russians:

During the Soviet era, Russia made some exceptional camera lenses. It's a legacy that goes back to the reverse-engineering of some of Germany's finest lenses, as Russia inherited the spoils of WW II, relocating entire optical factories from Hitler's Germany into regions dominated by Stalin. If nothing else, Russian lenses are extremely solid, built to military specs to last a lifetime of hard use. But beyond that, you will get amazing photographic results using Russian glass on modern Digital SLR cameras.

 Jupiter-9 85mm f2

This is the absolute prize of my collection. Bought several years ago from a Ukraine Ebay seller for $80.00, this lens is over 40 years old and still in very good shape. It's an ideal indoor event lens, as at 85mm it is a moderate Telephoto or Portrait lens with a very bright maximum f2 aperture. Here's a sample:


Next up is the Industar 50-2.
 Industar 50-2 50mm f3.5

I've referred to this little wonder many times. It is actually an adaptation of
Leitz Elmar lens, that sells for about 1/10 of the price, but is optically an exact copy. As you can imagine, the very simple Elmar wouldn't be a difficult lens to copy. It is exceptionally sharp, making it ideal for Black and White if you want to emphasize texture. It also produces wonderful, natural looking colour. I bought mine on Ebay for around $25.00. It's diminutive size makes most DSLR's "almost" pocketable, and on a APS-C camera, the 50mm focal length become 80mm, making it an ideal street shooter. It is particularly good at pre-focusing with an f8 or f11 aperture, so you don't really need to focus this lens at all! Used this way (which is the most sensible way, as large aperture "bokeh" is not that great), your DSLR is turned into a point and shoot with Leica - like qualities.

Here's a great example of using this lens as a "preset-and-forget" street shooter:


Now for the Mir-20
Mir-20M  20mm f3.5
This is another example of Russian reverse engineering. The Mir-20 is a copy of the Zeiss Flektogon more or less. On a 35mm full frame camera, this would be an extreme wide angle, but with an APS-C DSLR, it comes out to 32mm - just a bit wider than a "normal" wide angle. Yet, in use, it seems to have a radical wide angle quality. It's front diameter is very large, and it tapers rapidly to a small rear element, where the specially made lens filters are actually put on (instead of the front). The Mir-20 is fantastic for architecture shooting, and I've especially enjoyed using it while touring historic villages. I bought mine from a Ukrainian Ebay seller for $80. They normally sell for a lot more but mine has a loose focusing ring which does not affect the use or performance of the lens - just helped to make it a little more attainable.

Here's a sample I took last year with the Mir-20:


Next, the M42 Made in Japan Lenses:

 Bushnell 90-230 f4.5 Zoom

This Bushnell Zoom is absolutely huge, and built like a Mack. It really is not of great specification, for a relatively limited zoom range to be as big as a Canon L-Series Zoom, but it does have some things in it's favour. Unlike most Zooms from the film era, this one is not a "push-pull" zoom; rather, it's like a more modern design with a zoom ring, and the zoom is all internal, so it doesn't increase in length when zooming (good thing!) It also comes with an amazing metal screw on hood, and has it's own tripod screw mount. I got this lens in a local package deal with a Spotmatic camera, in which it was about $15.00. A great bargain, but I haven't tried it out yet. Sorry, no sample pics.

 Vivitar 70-200 f4.5 Zoom with Vivitar 2X Multiplier

This old Vivitar came with the same package deal mentioned above - about 15 bucks. It's very light weight, and seems kind of cheap. Like most 1970's Zooms, it is push-pull action. I haven't tried this one out yet either.

 Pentax SMC Takumar 200mm, f4 Telephoto Prime

Now here is a truly great, legendary lens. There's probably not much demand for fixed focal telephoto lenses these days, but this one has an image quality that's unforgettable when used on a DSLR. The 200mm translates into 320mm on an APS-C (Canon), so it's very long. But it's purpose built - the detail is amazing when compared to Zooms of similar focal length. I have applauded this lens before, here (with samples). My cost? Included in same package deal, so it was about $15.00! This is a very fun game to play - something every DSLR owner simply must do. So get on Ebay, find the appropriate lens adapter and an Industar 50-2, and then keep your eyes on the local classifieds, or Garage Sales for people selling their old film gear.

 Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm f1.8

The Takumar 55 is also a truly great Pentax lens from the '70's. It's a bit bigger and heavier than a lot of lenses of this spec, but the build quality is exceptional, and it also features Super Multi-Coated (SMC) glass, which was like no other in its day. Great for night photography with it's large f1.8 aperture and flare resistance, it also has great potential for street photography from it's superb sharpness when stopped down for "preset and forget" shooting. Finally, with the 55mm full frame = 85mm on APS-C, this lens could easily become a default Portrait Lens. Although lacking the amazing bokeh of the Jupiter 9, the Tak 55 is probably the most versatile prime lens in my kit. Again, this lens came to me as part of this same package deal for about $15.00 - See more detailed evaluation and samples here.

 Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f3.5

The Super Takumar is a different series of lenses from Pentax. Being smaller, lighter, and lacking the Super Multi Coating treatment, they were more of the budget series offered in the 1970's. Typically, whereas the SMC Taks would have given the wide angle 35mm a maximum opening of f2.8, the lower spec'd Super Takumar offers a still respectable f3.5. See update entry in the Sept 9 Blog Post

The Super Takumar 35 is really an incredibly small lens for a wide angle, being not much bigger than the Industar 50-2, but with it's 35mm focal length, it becomes close to 55mm on an APS-C camera; in other words, a "standard prime" which offers a field of view similar to our human vision. This, combined with it's small size, makes it a great street shooter, but with a wider view, requiring you to get more intimate with your subjects compared with the Industar 50, or any other 50-ish lens would be on an APS-C camera. This one I bought for $60 from a local classified ad. As this may become the go-to lens I will most likely have on my camera, I have dedicated a Flickr Set to it.

Bushnell 28mm f2.8

Ah, another mysterious Bushnell lens! These really are a bit of a mystery - they seem to be made quite differently from other Japanese brands from the '70's, mainly being somewhat bigger than normal, and wonderful in their precision and smooth operation, we know Bushnell makes fine binoculars and rifle scopes, but apparently, their foray into camera lenses was quite brief. This is the last lens included in my "gold mine" package deal, making it once again around $15. It's a truly great wide angle, and when mounted on an APS-C camera, it is just borderline wide, although very suited for architectural detail, and perfect for car photography. I'm not sure how to judge the image quality of this lens - it's quite different. Not really sharp or contrasty, nonetheless it gives the best colour of all my M42 manual focus primes. I like things sharp and contrasty, but I may be "wrong" in my preferences here. I gave it a review, with samples here. Also, here is a nice example of the wonderful brightness and colour this lens has to offer:


Finally, the Auto-Focus Lenses

 Canon EF 28-80 Film Rebel "Kitch Lens"

I picked this one up at a yard sale for $30.00 with a Rebel film camera and a broken Sigma zoom (both re-sold long ago, and don't remember which model). It would have been the Canon kit lens for EOS film cameras, so it's old and cheap. It's actually quite similar to the EF 18-55 non stabilized version sold today with the lowest priced Digital Rebels. It has a plastic mount, the AF motor squeaks like a hamster, the focus barrel is outside, the aperture range is a not very good 3.5 - 5.6 and manual focus is a useless after-thought. And yet, this thing has image quality in spades! At least, the sharp and contrasty kind that I really prefer. I mentioned it here, and here is another great sample:

Any lens that gives me B&W like this is definitely a keeper!

 Sigma 17-70mm f2.8 - 4 OS

Some of you may be thinking right now - "doesn't he own a decent lens to go with that nice 7D?" My answer is "yes, I did make one big mistake along the way" And this is it. Last Christmas, I thought I deserved a present, so I gave this to myself. Price was (and still is) $570 at Henry's. So is it a great lens? Of course! It's superb. Fantastic quality in every way, and compared to Canon, not a bad price. It's very quiet super responsive autofocus I'm sure couldn't be any better, and it integrates perfectly with every Canon camera I've put it on (a 400D, 40D and the 7D). It has Optical Stabilization that works a little strange - seems like it's always on but really it isn't -go figure. So why was this my big mistake? Simple - I don't need it. I thought I did, but I don't. I've got the whole range covered with all my other truly great lenses mentioned above, and the Kitch EF 28-80 is obviously good enough for me. Besides, this thing is rather big and heavy, and every time I use it, I feel the weight of $600 around my neck. I'll leave you with some sample pictures anyway - here's a good set taken with this lens.

Canon EF 70-210 f4, Vintage 1987

Here's another great one. Even Ken Rockwell says so. I bought this through local classifieds for $150.00, which sounds a bit steep considering it was made in 1987 (from the Serial Number). But just read what ken says about it. I can't add any more, except a sample gallery.


To sum it up, I'm really a Leica kind of shooter (manual lenses are the only option with the famous Leica Rangefinder), but I'm barely on a Canon budget. I "went digital" from a brief but wonderful background of Russian Zorki and Zenit film cameras, where I even had to calculate exposure in my head, let alone focus manually. I'm slow, deliberate, artistic, take my time, and I hate sports. I like small lightweight gear, and if I could afford an M9, I'd surely have one. So with the exception of the Sigma, my total investment in 11 lenses that are truly great and suit me to a turn is about $420.00.

Monday, September 3, 2012

They're Probably Right

Takumar 35 f5.6

Canon Rebel EF28-80 f5.6

People who say that the quality of your photo gear makes little difference to the pictures you take are "probably right". Generally they speak along the lines that having better gear won't make you a better photographer, and when you say it that way, I totally agree - this is not "probably right" , but "most definitely right". Photo gear has different attributes, and once as a photographer you hone your skills to a good level, then you can research these attributes, try things out, and settle in on the gear you want to use. It is supposed that more expensive gear is better, which is to say that Canon's "L Series" Lenses are superior to the standard series, and all lab testing certainly shows this to be true. Although I have no experience with L Series Glass, I trust what I read about it, that it is far superior to not only Canons' other lenses, but some reports say it's better, especially in lab testing, to anything else out there, period.

This doesn't apply to me however. I will never be able to afford L glass, and even if I could, my preference is so much toward small and light, if I ever had the money to afford Canon L lenses, I would   find a way to switch brands, so I could either use Leitz or Zeiss on a Micro Four Thirds, or (dream, dream..) a Leica M setup. Canon L lenses are simply too big and heavy for my liking.

I have adopted the way to get the best bang for buck when it comes to lenses, and also remain small and lightweight. I buy nothing but film era lenses (with one exception - a Sigma 17-70 f2.8-4.0, which I find myself using less and less frequently). I especially like using manual focus prime lenses (as opposed to zooms). 

This morning, I took a walk around my usual route, and had my camera equipped with a really old Canon EF 28-80 - a cheap kit Zoom that I procured at a yard sale, complete with a Rebel film camera, for $15.00! This gave me the opportunity to snap a similar picture I had taken a few weeks ago with my Pentax Takumar 35mm f3.5, so I thought this would be a great "vintage film era" lens comparison. Given that Takumar lenses are very highly regarded, and the Canon Kit Zoom is often seen as a cheap plastic throw-away, I must say I was somewhat surprised at the results. Both of these shots got similar RAW processing - simple one click correction to one of the RawTherapee default settings. Also, to be fair, the picture taken with the Takumar was closer to noon, with the sun brighter and higher in the sky. The closest thing I did to make for a fair comparison was to set the cheap Canon Zoom at 35mm, and f5.6, similar to the Takumar's native focal length. And obviously, my vantage point was a bit different - this was just a spur of the moment thing during my morning walk, not an intent for scientific comparison.

At first glance, I like the results from the cheap Canon- old-Rebel-film-camera-throwaway-kit-zoom  better. It certainly displays more texture and contrast, but given the variables in composition and time of day, I would score the two photos as dead equal. The look of the Takumar has some good attributes too. But my main point is that I am heavily invested in old glass, and (aside from my Sigma 17-70) I have never spent more than $150 on a lens, and on average, probably more like $30 per lens. Would I have done better with a Canon L Series? I have no idea - somebody that uses L Glass please write and tell me. What about if I had used my Sigma Zoom? Experience using this lens tells me that it probably wouldn't have done any better.

I think I'll stay the course, and enjoy my vintage lens collection - which will be the subject of my next post.