How much kit?

Recently I watched a video about some wonderful magnetic neutral-density filters. I thought: “I have neutral density filters, but do I ever use them?” The answer is “no”. I have all sorts of gear in fact, and most of it stays home all the time even after switching to the Canon DSLR which doesn’t have all the built-in capacity of the Nikon bridge. Hmm. Let’s think about this.

Deadhead. (Canon T100 & Sigma 150-600mm)

I have often read one of my favourite professional photographers writing about how he went to a gig and brought these four cameras and those six lenses – and ended up using two of each if not less. He’s not alone in that either. How often do you schlep around a bag full of kit and never take it out? Let’s be honest, for all the fun specialized gear is it’s simply easier to just shoot with a basic set up and get what you can out of it. This is why we are often happiest with the point-and-shoot pictures we grab when “playing” with simple cameras rather than agonizing over getting just the right camera-lens-filter-settings combo – and then going mad in post-processing trying to decide over +1 or -1 variations of brightness/contrast/colours.

Angels’ hair. (Canon T100 & Canon 55-250mm)

In truth I only ever take out the special gear when I have a specific idea in mind, such as shooting in infrared. Otherwise I have favourite camera/lens combinations and take one or maybe two and whatever happens for pictures happens. Whatever doesn’t, doesn’t. No sense getting all worked up over it, eh? One of my often-used sayings is: “If only things were different they wouldn’t be the way they are”. You’d be surprised how often that is true. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

So here’s to serendipity, kismet, chance, and fate. The artist should embrace them as friends, not view them as enemies.

Oh yes, and as an engineer that goes entirely against the grain!

Item #5: long lens

Okay, full disclosure here; I bought this first. Late last fall in fact, and you’ve already seen some pictures from it: Photos Classified Top Secret. I’d been looking at it for some time, and finally found a “shop worn” edition which supposedly has scuffs and marks but fortunately my eyesight doesn’t allow me to see them. It came in taxes included for less than a new one starts out at. Almost immediately afterwards Sigma introduced a new version with a longer range – for far, far more money.

Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3

This is a big, heavy lens. Over three pounds. If I put it on the 1Ds the combined weight is nearly eight neck-snapping pounds (I’m thinking about that too). It’s also pretty heavy even on the T100, hence the need for the heavy-duty tripod.

View from above.

But of course the big question is: how sharp is it?

Setting the first pictures aside, here’s some more:

One random concrete truck. 150mm and cropped.
Male robin in a pine tree. 600mm and cropped.
Female robin in a pine tree. 600mm and cropped.
A tree full of robins. 600mm and cropped.
Of course I had to take a picture of the full moon. 600mm and cropped.

The above pictures, taken with the T100, were not only cropped but also sharpened because I’m looking for how much I can push the limit of the 960mm equivalent focal length. I’d say the results are acceptable.

Taken with the 1Ds camera (as were the pictures of the lens itself, using the 50mm). 600mm and cropped.

542X7959

Now … on with the Motley!

Item #4: dioptors

Okay, call them “close-up lenses” if you must. Just don’t call them “filters”!

No-name, less-than-twenty-dollars.

The set of four finally arrived. Inexpensive set too, which explains the cheap packaging and the fact the +10 lens has a small flaw right in the center (you can see a small white dot in the picture above; left rear lens). I probably won’t use that one much anyway, as I’ve already found (to no surprise at all) that +1 or +2 (for longer lenses that don’t focus as close as ‘normal’ ones) is enough to accomplish what I want to do.

Preliminary results:

On the table, 40mm f2.8 Canon lens & +1 dioptor.
100% segment from the above image. Every speck of dust is sharp.
Outside, +2 lens on the 55-250mm EF lens.
100% segment of the above image. Not processed in any way.

How good can they be?

Pretty decent. A bit blown out on the highlights. Sharpened and adjusted for exposure.

Even the +1 shifts ‘infinity’ down to about 5 feet. The +2 is about 3 feet at that focus point.

A thing to get close to, shot at normal focusing.
250mm and +2 dioptor.
Marley. 40mm, +1 at about 5 feet.
100% segment of the above image.

Yes there is some fringing. That’s to be expected since not every frequency of visible light focuses to the same point. I’m okay with it.

Switching to close-up this way is more cumbersome than was just pushing a button on the ol’ Nikon, and I will need to carry at least one dioptor just in case I see something that needs closer-than-normal focusing. I’m thinking about what ‘ring accessories’ would be best packed in a folder for field work. (Note: I also spent ages looking at cases/pouches trying to find something that would allow me to carry the dioptors on the camera strap. No luck.)

I’m good with this purchase already, and I haven’t even fully explored all the possibilities.

Photography’s Future?

This is a case of my speculation triggered by others’ speculation – and my own journey to re-learn photography owing to failing eyesight. (Insert an analogy about photographers’ metaphorical eyesight in general here if you must, but we’re going down that rabbit hole anyway.)

Where are we going with this?

The first speculation surrounds the tentative announcement that Pentax will be building new film cameras, and what people think they may be like. It is a given that they won’t be re-issues of the good ol’ Spotmatic, or even a close derivative thereof. More than likely those who expect it to be some sort of electronic-laden monstrosity are correct. I’m thinking they’ll basically be removing the CMOS sensor and installing a film carrier, adapting the processor segment to handle fixed ISO, and of course eliminating the digital recording pieces. In other words they’ll try to keep as many of the digital camera’s parts as possible in order to save money. If you’re among those who lament the passing of quality camera micro-mechanics you probably have nothing to anticipate here.

One person brought up Leica as an example of the continuation of that tradition, but have you priced their equipment lately? To say it is aimed at a niche market is an understatement; even among those who can afford it not everyone would pony up the Deutsche marks when a lower-priced Sony or Nikon can produce just as good results.

Mysterious equipment.

But we already have had, many times, the declaration that even digital photography is dead: at first replaced by ‘smartphonography’ and more recently almost entirely eliminating the human element with the advent of ‘artificial stupidity’ imaging. Just as a million amateur automatics kicked professional photographers in the business, so the smartphones hammered the true digital camera market nearly to death; people simply can not tell the difference, even when the difference is there. Film photography had been relegated to the trash but was resurrected for artistic purposes, and even now real digital camera photography is falling into that same limited venue of appreciation.

So then, is this where all camera and/or human-derived photography is headed? Will the ignorant masses have their artistic desires sated by computer-generated phoney photos? Worse; will they accept such images for documentary purposes? Too late: they already do; the Internet is rife with ‘deep fake’ photos and videos misleading the gullible and naive public into believing any sort of lie the creator wishes to promote (a trait which people tend towards anyway).

Whither real photographers after this chaos of unreality takes over?

It’s going to be crowded in the artists’ field, with anyone who wants to use actual equipment and real brains to produce images vying for the attention of an ever-shrinking audience of discerning viewers.

Lomography-like.

The equipment itself may become limited to non-existent, or all outrageously expensive as Leicas. Lomography, the ‘cheap photography’ solution, isn’t all that cheap already; anyone desiring higher quality has to pay more even now, and later it will be worse. You may not even be able to get the film you want, much less the cameras and lenses. Photography will become a rich man’s hobby.

Which is where it started out.

Before the Bulls-eye, the Kodak, and the Brownie.

Original Kodak Brownie

Is that where we’re going? Making emulsions at home and coating plates of glass to be put in cameras we build out of wood and leather? Will we even have those raw materials available to us, or will improvisation step up with suitable substitutes?

It just may be that we go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Equipment comments (random)

Squawking again.

While working with what I’ve got, it occurred to me that most of the major digital camera brands are represented in my stable: Canon (3), Fujifilm, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic/Lumix, Pentax, and Sony. About the only one I don’t have is Leica, and that’s because for what they cost they should have four wheels and a motor to drive them around with. I had a Leica film camera once; I didn’t like it. Good lens, but a fiddly camera to use. When it comes right down to it, there is no way any camera can out-perform others sufficiently to justify the kind of prices they command. (Okay I haven’t got a Hasselblad or Sigma or Ricoh either, but those are arguably not major brands.)

Here’s why I don’t like lens extenders:

28mm with 2X extender: 56mm equivalent.
100% crop of above image.
Same lens, zoomed to about 56mm, no extender.
100% crop of the above image.

Sure there are better extenders out there, but the underlying flaws remain the same. (Prompted by someone boasting about how many photos they’d take with an extender – a Canon extender on a Canon lens, which we’d expect better performance from). BTW that lens is the Sun Actinon I gave a “poor” rating to when used on the Sony a6000. Oddly it performs much better on the Olympus E-410 with its smaller, lower resolution sensor. Bigger and more pixels is not always better!

Another couple of things I thought of: it would be possible to build a camera with a built-in ‘extension tube’, especially with the mirrorless type. A lever that would move the lens mount forward 10-13mm would be the equivalent of a #1 tube. But it would add complexity and cost while eliminating at least some sales of tubes to those who want them, and most people wouldn’t go for it. The fact is most people don’t use many of the features on their cameras. Manufacturers know this, and tend to keep the bells-and-whistles down to those things which sound like a bonus but can be added cheaply – usually by a bit of programming.

The second thing is; why not an exposure compensation push button? I realize some cameras may have this, but I don’t get to test every camera out there (not that I wouldn’t want to). On several of the cameras I have the EV is so buried in menu layers that it’s not worth finding. Being a function that is used often, it should have its own dedicated button (I’m sure some cameras have an ‘F’ button that can be programmed to this but …). Think of it: next shot, push button once for +1, twice for +2 … resets with the shot. Or a toggle +/- button. You could preset increments in the menu, perhaps. I was think of this lately because shooting in snow conditions … well the difference between sun and shadow gets quite extreme. It was easier in the old days with ‘match needle’ metering; you just adjusted the aperture or shutter speed so the ‘needle’ was + or – from the ‘correct exposure’ (18% grey) center.

Ah but manufacturers of cameras do not listen to photographers. At least not to this one.

End of squawk.

 

Item #3: Lens Adaptor

(In case you forgot, #2 was a new battery for the Olympus E-410.)

One of the goals of my Plan was to make more use of the cameras with optical viewfinders, which includes the Olympus that just got a new battery. But what is a camera without a lens? The two ‘kit’ lenses that came with the E-410 are somewhat unremarkable, and other lenses for it scarcely existed even when it was a new camera.

Of course if you’ve already got a bunch of M42 mount lenses, including some Super Takumars …

Taken using the Vivitar 24mm f2.8
Taken using the Super Takumar 50mm f1.4
Taken using the Super Takumar 135mm f3.5
Taken using the Super Takumar 135mm f3.5 and Vivitar 2X extender

Okay I didn’t try it with the 35mm Super Takumar or the 28mm Super Talumar or any of the ‘lesser’ lenses … except one (so far):

Taken using the Vivitar 300mm f5.6

That’s about the best picture I’ve ever got out of that long Vivitar lens. Frankly it’s not much good.

However for using good old lenses in broad daylight when I just want to have some fun shooting pictures, this is a viable setup. Notice that the 24mm Vivitar is about a ‘normal’ lens on the 4/3 format (2X crop factor so 48mm equivalent).

I do have trouble seeing to focus with these lenses, and every aspect of using them is a bit slow (focusing, adjusting aperture, changing lenses) but … slowing down is one of the things I have to learn to do. So naturally I’ve been working out some ‘preset’ arrangements to speed things up, such as using Shutter Mode for telephotos to reduce shake (focal length X2) and letting the ISO ‘float’; there’s not much depth of field on a long lens anyway. For ‘wide’ lenses I can preset the aperture for maximum D-O-F and use it like a box camera. Not every shot is successful of course, in fact there are a large number of failures, but that’s just something I have to live with now.

I doubt there are any other adaptors that will work with this camera. Then again I haven’t really got any other lens mount types I want to try on it. Why use this old Olympus for ‘classic’ lenses? Well, why not? It works well in this application (basically replacing the Sony a6000) and it means I won’t have to take the Canon off ‘automatic duty’.

Still finding my way in the semi-darkness.

Here we come O-lympussing!

Or, Item #2: battery.

Yes I expended ~$10 on a new battery for my Olympus E-410. This one takes longer than a few seconds to charge, and longer than a few minutes to discharge. Wait ’til the electric car owners discover their range goes down over time, eh?

Just shooting around the yard, and that limited because I can’t even walk all around due to the snow build-up.

This camera works best with using the whole frame, rather than any ‘digital zooming’, due to its ‘low resolution’ 10MP sensor.
Artistic silhouette of two song sparrows.
Old hornets’ nest discovered in the wood pile.
Top of the driveway post. It’s 3′ tall. That’s part of the snow problem I mentioned.

On the whole this camera has some limitations, but at least I can see to use it. I’m looking forward to using it more once the weather gets better – and another item arrives.

Close to view

One of the items on my list of ‘things to do to make up for losing the Nikon’ was the need to focus close. Correction: the need to easily focus close. In the field, as it were. Therewith I mentioned four ways to go: close-up lenses (diopters), extension tubes/bellows, lens-reversing ring, or macro lens. The first three are relatively cheap, and there is a difference between what the first two do and what the second two do. The first pair are close-focusing devices, meaning they move the focusing range up. The second two actually ‘change the ratio’ – true ‘macro’ function.

Since I already have extension tubes (a manual set, in M42 mount) and a lens-reversing ring, we’ll examine the effectiveness of those two.

The ‘target’; taken with 50mm lens at 1.5 feet.

Extension tubes usually come in a set of three, each a different length. These generally are called “#1, #2, and #3” despite size variations from one brand to another.

The tubes. Note how #3 is large enough to affect the lighting within it.

What kind of difference do they make? I took some measurements, and the #1 tube on the 50mm Super Takumar brought ‘infinity’ down to 14″. Switching to the #2 changed it to 9″, and #3 to 7.5″ (object to focal plane, approximate distances).

Using the #1 tube.

If you use the tubes with a 35mm lens you get similar results: the #1 tube makes the biggest difference, the others less so. On a 135mm lens #1 brings ‘infinity’ down to 7′, or about as close as the lens normally can focus. You need to use the #3 to get a significant change; 38″. As you can see telephotos are not the best choice with extension tubes.

135mm with #1 tube.
135mm with #3 tube.

Now consider this; the tubes ‘use up’ light and of course you have to detach the lens to put them on, so … Not entirely without negatives.

What about the lens-reversing ring? Here we get the combination of close focusing and true macro function. The latter can be explained in simple terms as ‘reversing the ratio’: in a normal lens situation you are taking the very large subject and reducing down to a tiny image on the focal plane. Turn the lens around and you change the ratio so that the image is up to equal in size to the subject (1:1).

T100 with lens-reversing ring installed utilizing the 50mm Super Takumar.
Image captured with lens-reversing ring.

None of the sample pictures here have been altered beyond shrinking down to ‘Internet size’, so you can get an idea how much difference the various methods make at getting close. There are of course differences in the distance to subject, but that’s part of the whole idea.

So what choice did I make? Well the above gear I already have and it works, but both methods are a bit impractical in the field since you have to remove the lens to apply either. Also the tubes reduce light, and the set I have are in a completely different mount so need adapting to the camera – and the use of a different lens. Automatic extensions tubes are a tad pricey (the genuine Canon ones are over $100 each here), and only work with the one system. The reversing ring’s effect is somewhat more drastic than I need, as I only want to duplicate the Nikon’s close-focusing ability, not add magnification. A macro lens would be excellent all-around, but they cost significant money – especially for something I wouldn’t use that often.

The diopter effect (simulated with a magnifying glass).

The solution, then, is close-up lenses aka diopters. I can easily carry them with me and screw them on the front of most of the lenses I have, even on different cameras. I have used them before (the old “Series” sizing style*, which I no longer have) and they are ‘good enough’.  No light loss, no need to remove the lens, adaptable to various lenses/cameras, and no major expense.

I just have to wait for that order to show up now.

*This system offered filters and close-up lenses of various types in flat disc form – no threads – which were contained vian screw-thread ring within adaptors that fitted to you lens (either by thread or friction fit). There were three common sizes: Series 5, Series 6, and Series 7. It follows that there must have been 1, 2, 3, 4, and possibly 8 but I never saw them.

Item #1: Tripod

So it’s time to start listing the new equipment. Of course this won’t be in order of addressing the issues mentioned in the previous post or even in order of purchase. More sort of randomized for no particular reason, other than some of the stuff hasn’t shown up yet.

Thus without further ado, the new tripod:

Endurax; tall and … sturdy?

“But why?” I hear you ask (I have really good hearing, eh?) After all it doesn’t address any of the issues. Except in a roundabout way that will be revealed later. In the meantime we ask the questions “why this tripod?” and “how good is it?”

There were three selection criteria: price point (always a problem for the photographer on a budget), sturdiness (which comes into play later), and height (because I’m still as tall as ever but these days find crouching down to peer through a viewfinder more than a little bit annoying). This tripod has four leg extensions plus a crank-up vertical column. My old one has only three leg extensions, so even without using the column this new one is as high. Add the crank-up and it can exceed my eye level.

I suppose I need to tell you that over the past half-century-plus of taking an awful lot of pictures (or is that a lot of awful pictures? Whichever) I have had a few tripods as well. Okay, a lot of tripods. Most of them were, shall we say, ‘vintage’. As such not always the best choice for actual use in the field. And yes some of that field work included using a 4×5 Graflex sheet film slr, which is no lightweight camera. But the tripod I used most and still use is a lightweight Hakuba HK-202 which I’ve had for more than … 40 years? It has worked well, but I wouldn’t perch that Graflex on it.

So this one is taller, which is an asset. It was within budget, which is good. That leaves the issue of ‘is it sturdy’? It’s supposed to be capable of holding 11 lbs. (5 kgs.), but can it?

Oh well disappointment was bound to appear at some point, eh? This is why it’s better to buy things in stores where you can look at the product. Despite the claims of weight capacity, it struggles as much as the old Hakuba, which is rated for about half that much. How did they figure the load? Keep putting heavier and heavier cameras on it until it actually broke? It wobbles quite a bit as it is: new tripod wobbling. Note that it wobbles at every joint. There are quite a few mistakes in design regarding that, not the least of which is the Quick Release:

Quick Release.
Whose stupid idea was this?

This is a flimsy and to me inconvenient method of mounting cameras. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve had so much practice with the standard 1/4″ screw connectors, but I really do not like this. It is not faster – even if you buy separate base plates for everything you might want to put on and leave them attached to the equipment all the time. Yeah … sell more stuff. I see. Otherwise you have to change the screw and the quick connector every time; twice as much work for the same operation. Also it introduces a weak point, as seen in the video. (It seems everything these days must be ‘small’ and ‘lightweight’, as if that’s always an advantage and never a failing. Most of the time it would be more accurate to use the adjectives ‘cheap’ and ‘shoddy’.)

Rant over? Not quite. Let’s talk about my universal tripod complaint: vertical tilt. What do we use tripods for? Heavy equipment we want to keep very steady and precisely aimed while we take the pictures. Often this includes long telephoto lenses of significant weight, sometimes aimed up at the night sky. The usual friction-mount tilt is a failure at this, as the pressure changes between when you put it into position and when you let go and it all sags. Even one degree of change may be the difference between “moon centered in the frame” and “moon? What moon?” The worst of it is, it would not be so difficult to make the tilt a large circular gear with a worm gear on the adjustment handle. Thus you could gently crank the camera into position. Oh they do make such devices, but they are in the astronomical category and the prices are, ah ha, astronomical as well. Excuse me if I don’t want to pay 10X what the tripod cost just to get a head for it that will do what should have been built in to begin with. Someplace between the slipping friction collar and the expensive astro-tracker there has to be a simple, basic gear adjuster that will do the job. The number of horizontal plane refinements available is many (I suspect that is video’s influence) but that is not difficult to deal with as the center of gravity of the equipment does not change as you swing through the horizontal. However some of us want to look up at the skies, for a reasonable price.

The dreaded friction-tilt.

While I’m at it, is there any chance of teaching manufacturers that not every type of tripod head is automatically a “ball head”? I’ve seen that term used for things that quite clearly were not ball heads, some of them taking the form of ‘Z’ lifts for example (which are another instance of friction failure waiting to happen).

Oh I forgot: we’re all supposed to use smart phones now for photography, huh? ‘Cause it doesn’t take much tripod to hold one of them up. In fact you won’t need any support other than your arm about 99.44% of the time. People who use actual cameras should just go away, I guess.

Anyway, at least I like the height of the new tripod. I suppose I will permanently attach the stupid quick release to the most-often used-on-a-tripod piece of equipment and let it go at that. It’s not like I’ll use it that often, but I would like to use it more.

Addendum: I’m not a fan of the tiny, pointed feet on the new tripod either. Especially as they are somewhat difficult to coax out at times. The old tripod has nice rubber feet which allow you to pull the legs out easily, although that usually isn’t necessary. I have had to glue those feet back on a few times over the years, but that’s over forty years. Or more.

(Note: if you guessed the new tripod is made in China and the old one in Japan, good for you.)

Switching to plan … what comes after ‘Z’?

Preview of things to come.

Believe it or not, it’s been about a year since I first started out on this journey of trying to find a way to fulfil my photographic desires in the light (ha, ha) of my fading eyesight. I’ve evaluated all my old equipment and reviewed potential replacements, all the while trying to stay within the constraints of a fixed-income budget and rampaging inflation. Not the easiest mission to accomplish, to say the least.

After exploring innumerable possibilities, all of which have flaws, I’ve come up with a plan I can follow. It is not the best plan, as there probably is no “best plan”, but rather the only one that meets any of the necessary criteria. Therefor it entails using existing cameras and a minimal expenditure on new equipment.

Mysterious equipment.

The goal first of all is to make best use of my cameras with optical finders as the electronic ones, even the best ones, are nearly useless to me now. In fact I had occasion to try the P610 in monochrome mode and – I could see no image at all. By the same token, even the Canon’s external LCD is nearly invisible in daylight (to me anyway) and so it’s optical finder or nothing at all. (I can see myself collecting additional optical finder digital cameras, if I’m not careful.)

The second important factor is to make as much use of automatic functions (including focus) as possible because, guess what, in addition to not being able to see sharp focus all the tiny little symbols and letters on the controls are becoming invisible to me. As mentioned above this includes the EVF/LCD displays, which is a bit of a problem when using either aperture or shutter preferred mode (never mind full manual) unless I pre-set it before venturing out. Fortunately I’m quite comfortable with Program Mode most of the time.

What the future looks like?

So optical finder and automatic settings to do … what? Well, make up for the incredible focal length and focusing ranges of the Nikon P610 (65X) mostly. This means the need for an extremely long zoom lens, and possibly a better mid-range one as well (the Canon lens is good, but not great). Plus some method of switching to close focus in the field. That last one is difficult as it involves either using diopters, extension tubes, a lens-reversing ring (the cheap solutions), or a macro-capable lens (the expensive solution).

On top of this I want to press the Olympus E410 into service again in some way, so that it is not wasted sitting in a drawer. Despite what some of the eBay listings would indicate it really is not a highly valuable camera due to its extreme lack of range in lenses. However, I believe I have found a way around that (albeit in a limited capacity). Thus the camera selection will be the Canon T100, the Canon G11, the Canon 1Ds, the Olympus E410, and yes even the Pentax K100 Special on certain occasions.

All of which means purchasing some new equipment, but not a lot and not all at once. Stay tuned!

Full-on!