Whingeday

Right: I’m skipping the bit about spending $250 on a 97ยข surgical mask. (Okay, it was actually a trip to the dentist – who evidently is making up for lost time and income.) Let’s go right to cameras because they’re more fun.

IH BC170 firetruck (early 1960s) taken with the Fuji, which works when I don’t screw up the controls I can’t see.

The best/worst suggested solution so far to my continuing low-eyesight shooting problem: buy a Pentax 645D. Why yes; I bet a medium format DSLR has a really big, bright viewfinder that would work well. I can’t get past that $2,000+ no-lens price tag, though. Pretty sure a long focal length lens would be problematic as well, even with 41 MP to crop from.

Now let’s veer off course a bit so I can complain about how bad cameras are at video. Sure, I don’t do video. But in the interests of all the people who do I had to take a look at how well it’s being handled these days. I actually have two cameras which are acclaimed for their video abilities: the Lumix ZS60 (which actually can do 4k) and the Sony a6000. In reality they both suck at video. Why? Number One Problem would be “controls in the wrong place”. Believe it or not, when it comes to ‘push the red button’ videography the old Nikon wins again, and it’s not even HD. After reading and watching a lot of people’s reviews of various cameras they use for video I can’t help feeling that it’s the ultimate case of equipment designed to make money not produce results. For one thing, external microphone jacks are missing on most of them. The built-in mikes have built-in problems that can’t be gotten away from by any simple means, other than taking the mike off camera. Also there is far too much reliance on LCD viewing rather than a decent viewfinder, and guess what; many people are finding it hard to see what’s happening when they shoot in broad daylight. Well colour me not surprised. Other frequent complaints include that the mikes pick up more camera noise than sound, and that the focusing swiftness leave much to be desired.

Manufacturers might try listening to photographers, you know. I don’t do video and even I could design a camera that would be better at it than what’s out there now. This is because no matter how good, the video is always an add-on afterthought rather than a goal to achieve from the start. As it is you have to spend some serious money to get anything that’s good at it, far more than you spend to get decent stills (we’re not talking about smart phonetography* here of course). That means you end up buying a lot of ‘features’ you never use. Does that sound familiar? So I now have much empathy for videographers as it seems they are suffering from the same lack of attention from camera makers that still photographers have to put up with. That is fundamentally wrong in every way.

You know, no one ever gives me anything for free. Except a bad time of course. Gee, do you think any of those companies has read my ranting and determined I’d be a poor risk for product evaluation? Nah, they’re not that smart. Obviously it’s simply that they never see anything I write. Lucky bastards, eh?

Well now next week the ice should be off the lake and the snow off the road so I can go take a ‘first look’ at the cabin for this year. I will license the Nissan and check it out, fill it with too expensive gasoline, and give it my best shot. Ooh that’s going to be another $1,000 expense right there.

My camera plan for the trip is to charge up all my Canons: the G11, T100, and 1Ds. That’s probably a mistake because the Fuji and the Nikon are better suited to handling all the conditions I might encounter, but we’ll see. As with everything else, subject to change without notice.

*New word: phonetography; taking pictures or video with a smart phone. Registered Trademark and sole copyright are mine. If you use it, you owe me $1.

 

Self-critique

“Artists are their own worst critics.”

Canon T100 & 40mm f2.8 lens.

So I’m going to critique one of my own photos. Notice I said “critique” as opposed to “criticize”; the latter having negative connotations rather than just an evaluative attitude.

What’s wrong with it:

1). The shadows are uneven, both from side-to-side and top-to-bottom (note the dark crescent on top). This is due to incorrect lighting placement, and I honestly couldn’t see it through the viewfinder. The scene itself doesn’t show such flaws because one’s eye automatically adjusts to any spot you’re looking at.

2). The light flares at two points on the egg; it needed more diffused lighting. Again not something I can see in the viewfinder (I am barely able to make out shapes) or notice in real life. A couple of clothes in front of the lights would probably solve the problem, but no one is paying me for this so I’m not going to re-shoot it.

3). The background is either too textured or not textured enough. As it is there is just enough to be noticeable and annoying without enough to be purposeful. A terry cloth towel would have been better, or a completely smooth piece of satin. Again not a paid shot so … (This piece was among the jewelry I shot, and I just liked how it looked.)

4). It doesn’t look enough like a potato. It’s a little like a potato, but not completely potato.

I am considering doing some posts about that most elusive aspect of photography, the one that even pros screw up habitually, composition & framing. Maybe impart my views on the subject before I’m totally unable to shoot pictures at all.

What do you think? Want to read some “how to” drivel from the guy with 50+ years experience? Or shall I just save myself some effort and refrain from annoying readers? I promise not to use potatoes as the subject if I do this.

 

Low-cost lens cavalcade #3

Today’s episode: the Sun Actinon 28-80mm f2.8 zoom.

A little background info: Sun optical was a Japanese company that started back in the 1930s and made some pretty good lenses, sometimes sold under ‘house brands’ of retailers. From what I have read the Sun Actinon is not associated with this company, but rather is a ‘house brand’ itself used by a British photographic retailer called Image. Who actually made it is anybody’s guess. Amazingly, for all the information available on the Internet these days there are still vast quantities missing – and at least an equal amount that’s inaccurate.

Photographed from the side because there is no info around the front of the lens itself!

Oh how I would like to love this lens! It has so much going for it. First of all it has a good focal length range for a 35mm camera: from wide angle to short telephoto. It has a fairly fast maximum aperture of 2.8 (4.5 at tele) as well. Also a built-in macro focus. It’s compact, fairly light yet with a sturdy feel, and the controls work nicely although the focus ring has a slight slop to it and the zoom ring needs the grip re-glued, but both those problems are from use not design.

This is an automatic-only lens, meaning it won’t fully work on the Canon because the adaptor I have for that camera doesn’t push in the aperture pin to stop it down. Works fine on the Sony though. So let’s see what we get:

Scenic picture number one.

Not bad. Good colour and contrast, no sign of chromatic aberration, and you can see the recurring dirt on the sensor quite clearly. Let’s look again:

Scenic picture number two.

What the hell happened? If you can force your eye to look at the center you’ll see it’s in focus. The difference between the two photos is that the first is at f16 and the second at f2.8. It is normal for sharpness to fall off towards the edges. All lenses have this issue: it’s a function of the physics of focusing light. Usually a lens will have an aperture where it is at its peak sharpness edge to edge. (If you look at the first image again you will see it too has a slight blurriness on the edges.) But this is the absolute worst example of edge fall-off I have ever seen on a modern lens! It made me check to see if I’d somehow missed a pound of lard smeared on it or some other blatantly obvious problem that could cause the effect. The failure continued in every photo I took, no matter what aperture, focal length, or distance was used: obvious low-resolution around the edges persisted.

Which is quite a shame because, well look what it can do in the center:

Center sharp: 100% segment of a full frame macro image.

That’s pretty darn good. Why then does it blur to oblivion around the edges? I don’t know specifically, but a lens so bad should never have made it off the assembly line.

At 80mm, there it is.

Distant, full focal length, middle aperture – and still the edges are badly blurred.

And at 28mm the problem is also there.

Hey, see all those spots? You can go crazy trying to keep a mirrorless camera’s sensor clean. Especially when you keep changing lenses. Or take one off repeatedly to look for dirt or grease on it. And no it was not the sensor dirt causing the problem: I switched to other lenses while doing this just to be sure the camera wasn’t in some way the source of the trouble.

Over and over I tried and over and over I cried. This lens had so much potential, and all hopes were dashed because it could not deliver a decent picture under any circumstances. I prefer the consistent low resolution of the Opticam and Cunor lenses to this center-only-sharp, edge-all-blurred disaster.

Lens rating: poor. I can’t even give it a “fair” label because I could not find any circumstances under which it would render an acceptable image. (Cropping out a small center section of the full frame of every image is not reasonable.)