A new year and a ‘new’ lens. This time it’s the Vivitar 24mm f2.8:
Yes it has fungus. That’s worrying but it isn’t on the glass and there’s no sign of it affecting the images. Yet. Someone skilled with lenses could no doubt take this apart and clean it up quite easily. That someone is not me. I’ve made some recent ventures in lens repairing and … best if I just leave this one alone.
This lens gets some ‘extra’ display shots here because it has some curious ‘extra’ controls which I can not figure out how they function. On the bottom is this tab with markings that doesn’t move even when you push the metal button in:
And then the aperture ring has an ‘extra’ set of markings mirroring the f stops but all in green:
This is one of those lenses with the tiny button on the back that needs to be pushed in to get it to shift to ‘manual’ if you don’t have it screwed in to the right kind of camera body. (I think this is the Pentax ‘SE’ edition of the M42 mount.) I got it shifted (which means it can also work on the Canon, by the way) and took some shots.
Oh look: I finally got the spots off the sensor! For now anyway. Speaking of it being wide-angle:
Colours are spot-on and contrast is good with no sign of chromatic aberration. Let’s see how sharp it is:
That is a very sharp lens. The biggest problem I had was not being able to see well enough to focus at very close distances where depth of field dwindles at f2.8 – even on a 24mm lens.
Despite the fungus this lens gets a ‘very good’ rating. If put up against the Super Takumar 28mm you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. The only things against it are that I rarely use such wide-angle lenses and it has that ‘extra’ control function. Neither of those are a fault with the lens. I think this may be good for landscape shots if the 50cm of snow ever melts around here. Hey it warmed up above zero Fahrenheit for the first time in many days! Maybe there will be a Spring.
In other news it will be a few more weeks before my wife will return, unless they cancel that flight on her as well. Meanwhile I’ve got more medical tests to take, and the temperature is supposed to go down yet again. With more snow. No, we’re not quite to Spring.
Yes I know I’m doing these lens tests “all wrong”. I’m an engineer; we know about these things. It should be done in a studio with controlled lighting and the camera on a tripod aimed at a lens testing chart which would enable me to carefully count all the lines of resolution from the center to the edges, et cetera.
The only thing is that would be even more boring than what I am doing, both for me and you. Besides, the idea here is to see which lenses of the bunch are capable of producing good pictures under real-world conditions. Anyway, it’s more fun this way.
So we’re up to the Prakticar 70-210mm f4.5 zoom.
This is another ‘automatic only’ lens so it won’t work on the Canon, but it’s no trouble on the Sony. In fact the maximum focal length of 210mm is the same as that of the least expensive Sony zoom I’ve come across, which gives me the opportunity to see if that length is really good enough for my picture purposes – before buying what is a fairly expensive lens (the Sony 55-210mm).
The Prakticar lenses, as I understand things, came about in the late 1970s as Praktica switched to their bayonet ‘PB’ mount but retained the 42mm screw thread mount for lower-end equipment. These were made by more than one company, and the specifications on this example don’t match any that I found in research (all of which say it should be an f4). I suspect it was built by Samyang, however. This lens radiates “lower-end equipment” as it has an over-all too-light and too-cheap feel to it. Its optical performance only reinforces this impression.
That’s about as good as it gets. When you start pushing the limits you find they were already a lot nearer to you than you thought, and certainly nearer than they ought to be.
Okay this lens has low contrast, washed-out colours, poor resolution, and a tendency to exhibit chromatic aberration almost always. Not good. Not good at all. Many, many disappointing pictures. Let’s try harder and see if we can get a decent shot out of it.
We’ve got to try harder!
Much better, but still rather fuzzy even without zooming in. It’s a good thing digital images don’t cost like film!
That is at least not awful. Some post-processing was involved, and no small amount of luck. Considering the build quality, the operation (sloppy focus/zoom ring and difficulty seeing to focus at only f4.5), and the end results this lens gets a rating of “poor”. It’s hard to get even an artistic sort of image from it.
Oh and what about evaluating the zoom length? A bit of a poser considering the low sharpness, but here is what I know to be a downy woodpecker in an aspen tree at about 80 feet away:
The Sony’s 24MP sensor lets us zoom in digitally, which really betrays the lens’s poor resolution:
Are you one? Do you prefer the images from older digital cameras? Do you prefer using the older digital cameras? Maybe they’re all you can afford. There’s no shame in that. In fact you should be more ashamed if the first digital camera you buy is some ultra-expensive, loaded-with-everything, professional grade unit of which you won’t use a fraction of its capabilities.
Using obsolete, I mean classic, digital cameras has become “a thing”: the preference for CCD over CMOS sensors, an absence of techno-glitz like wireless connections and touch-screens, and the realization that the picture is what matters, not how you achieve it. So we sacrifice megapixels in favour of colour gradients. Most digital images are seen at less than 2MP anyway (on a computer screen).
As is often the case with my posts, this one started out going somewhere else so it’s bound to be a little incongruous at times. I was looking around at camera offerings (which is almost a pastime in itself) and noticed one or two (or ten, or twenty) interesting cameras that didn’t actually fit my current equipment needs but were nonetheless intriguing. I’ve got and sometimes use some older digitals, mostly the Kodak P850 – even though it has quite a few operational quirks these days (like a bad habit of resetting to +3 EV and not co-operating with changing this back to zero). I really don’t need any more old cameras. I am no longer collecting cameras. Say it louder: I AM NO LONGER COLLECTING CAMERAS!Nevertheless …
Let’s look at a few anyway. There’s no harm in looking, right? They can’t make you buy.
First let me say there are hundreds of models you can dismiss out-of-hand. Maybe thousands. All those ordinary ‘cookie-cutter’ compact cameras that have #MP and #X zooms and look like they’re all made in the same mold with different names slapped on afterward. It’s not that they aren’t adequate, it’s that they aren’t exceptional. If you’re going to use classic equipment it should be something with at least one unique property that makes it stand out from the run-of-the-mill production.
So in the category of compacts let me suggest a couple that I have: the Canon PowerShot A70 and the Fujifilm F80 EXR. They don’t have to be those exact models as there are many similar ones which will perform as well or in some cases even better. Why I like the Canon is that in addition to an excellent glass lens it has an optical viewfinder. Nothing like it for shooting in the sunlight. In fact that’s one area where the Fuji fails. Canon made several PowerShot cameras with optical finders, some up to 16MP and 5X zoom. Well worth it if you can find one in a thrift store for $5 or $10. Why I like the Fuji is the EXR processor function. It is exceptional. Again there are several Fuji EXR cameras, including the very nice (but rare and therefor expensive) HS20 through HS50 series ‘bridge’ cameras, which have significant zoom capacity.
Now let’s talk about some more advanced cameras. There are a few models I’ve come across recently which have caught my interest. If I were free to indulge myself however I wish, I would definitely buy these (or something similar).
1). Olympus Evolt E-300. This is a micro four thirds camera with pentaprism and interchangeable lenses. It’s only 8MP, but unlike the newer Evolt models it has a CCD sensor (one seller referred to it as a “Kodak sensor”). Some specs from Camera Decision: Olympus E-300
2). Pentax K100D. A mere 6MP APS-C DSLR using the Pentax KAF lenses, it has in body image stabilization (IBIS as it is known). An affordable way to use a huge number of quality lenses. Some specs from Camera Decision: Pentax K100D
3). Samsung GX-1L. You want something different? Samsung is a name you won’t see on a camera often. This one is a 6MP APS-C DSLR like the Pentax, but without the image stabilizer. The one I came across had a Schneider-Kreuznach 18-55mm lens which is bound to be sharp (the S-K on my Kodak sure is). Some specs from Camera Decision: Samsung GX-1L
4). Nikon Coolpix 4500. This is a weird little 4MP (in some versions less) camera with a twist: literally. You twist the body to move the lens into shooting position. They made several similar cameras, known as the ‘Coolpix 950 series’. Functionally it’s no great prize, but the body design certainly isn’t the usual motor-driven-extend-o-lens of other compacts! Wikipedia entry: Nikon Coolpix 4500
Those are just some examples of classic digitals I’ve come across which intrigued me. There are many variations of these, and you have to look up which models have which features (for example the Fujifilm HS10 does not have the EXR processor whereas the HS20 through HS50 do, and the Pentax K110D doesn’t have IBIS like the K100D).
Now we have to talk about prices. For one thing, you may be choosing a classic camera because you’re no relation to Bill Gates and can’t afford multi-thousand dollar Fujifilm, Sony, or Leica machines. Even if that’s not the case it’s too easy to overspend on an old one. Always remember the camera that is working today may not be working tomorrow, especially if it isn’t new. The cameras I mentioned above range from $6 I spent on the Canon to $60 on the Fuji, and the ‘numbered’ ones were all listed for between $100 and $200 CDN (that’d be a lot less in the US, believe me). Ultimately the price should be what you feel you can afford and not a penny more. Beware auctions like Ebay: make your maximum bid and then stop; there will be another one along if you miss out. Patience is a virtue. So is frugality.
Side note: I’ve seen offers of groupings along the lines of “20 untested digital cameras for $60 – plus shipping” (shipping often being as much or even more than the price). You know what 20 untested digital cameras are worth? Right: $20. It isn’t that hard to test a camera, so assume “untested” means “not working”. I tested a couple of dozen that my Dad had picked up cheap and found all but one – which happened to be a Fuji and the best in the bunch – did work once you stuck batteries and an SD card in them. I still had to give them away. It’s not like fixing one of these is a practical option, after all.
If there are a lot of photographers near you, get together and form a club. That way the group can more easily afford a larger selection of cameras to work with. Just watch out for people hogging one model to themselves! Most importantly, have fun.
As for me, I will continue to “put the brakes on” when looking at old cameras. Especially as it looks like I will need a Canon SX70 to replace the ailing Nikon P610: since it is my “main” camera replacing it with another used machine is courting disaster, and the Canon best fits the specifications – aside from being pricey at $600+.
But hey; you never know when the ‘brakes’ will give out, eh?
Addendum: CCD means Charge Coupled Device, whereas CMOS means Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. They are the two types of image sensors you will find in digital cameras. The former is usually fewer megapixels in resolution, but generally has a greater tonal range. The value of this is subjective. One curious side effect of fewer MP for a given size sensor is that it is more sensitive to light as each pixel covers a larger area. So a lower MP but same-size sensor can yield better low-light results.
Also, be aware of what kind of memory card your used bargain camera takes. Not every one uses the now-standard SD card. Olympus and Fuji, for example, often used xD cards which are now somewhat hard to find. There are adapters for these to use micro SD, but the reviews on them are mixed as to fit and quality for any given camera. Likewise Sony used a variety of “memory sticks”, and in the Mavica 3.5″ computer disks – good luck finding those or a machine to read them. Even the Compact Flash cards can be difficult to obtain at a reasonable price these days.
Remember too that a working used camera may not work as good as it originally did. The screen/EVF may have faded, the sensor may not deliver full contrast/correct colour or may have hot/dead pixels, and the exposure may be off or inconsistent. All this in addition to the fact it probably did not perform to the high expectations of today in terms of speed and accuracy in focusing – or even snapping the shot (a lot of older cameras have quite a noticeable delay between the button being pushed and the image being captured). You have to expect these things.
Well that wandered a bit!
Since writing this I note that the camera offerings mentioned above have all sold but one, so I guess they were pretty good deals for someone!