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.

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