Low-cost lens cavalcade #8

If anyone ever listened to my advice I’d probably tell them something like “don’t spend a lot of money on old telephoto and zoom lenses”. The reason for this is that lens design has improved greatly over the years, and the longer focal lengths have benefited the most. For example this entry’s test subject is an old Vivitar 300mm f5.6.

One long and heavy lens.

This is a large lens. It weighs in just under two pounds and does quite a job on the tripod trying to hold it steady. If this were mounted on the Canon 1Ds it would be an unmanageable 5+ lbs. of equipment. It is also a ‘slow’ lens at only f5.6, but at 300mm it’s the kind of focal length that is suited to much of my photography. By the way the “P&B” on the front of the lens is for Ponder & Best, the ‘maker’, who started using the Vivitar name in the 1960s – when this lens probably dates from given its design. In fact their equipment was made by other companies under license. I have a Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens that is excellent, and also a 24mm f2.8 (acquired in the same deal as this long lens) which also performs very well. This 300mm, however, is not as good.

A “medium shot” of the Nissan.

Sharpness is lacking, contrast is low, colours are dull, and chromatic aberration shows up too often. Despite this it is possible to get decent pictures with it, but you need just the right conditions – such as bright light so you can use f8 and a tripod because hand-holding this beast is a challenge.

Full image of a black-capped chickadee.

100% segment of the last image. Cute little bird (with a sunflower seed in its beak), but the detail is fuzzy not feathery.

With some effort it can render a decent image.

A cap wearing a hat – of snow.

With enough light, a tripod, and the proper alignment of all the stars in the universe …

Although it is possible to get a good picture from it, most of the time it fails. It’s hard to use too, due not only to its large size and great weight but also looking through a maximum aperture of only f5.6 is difficult for my fading eyesight. I have a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 that is smaller, lighter, sharper, and has better colour & contrast. Over-all I can only rate this lens as “fair”. It doesn’t even have any particular characteristics that make it interesting, unless you like schlepping around a lens that can double as a piece of weight-lifting equipment.

The freedom of artistic photographery

Blue Skies.

I feel sorry for professional photographers. Back when we had an accounting business we had several photographers as clients, and even in those days of still mostly film media their ability to eke out a living by catering to the tastes of others was continually tried. Today it could only be worse, as not only is there a dwindling market due to the proliferation of amateur shooting to fulfil the needs of people who still can’t tell the difference between a low-quality snapshot and a top-notch professional image but also because techno-snobbery saturates the minds of client and competitor alike.

Whale Out Of Water.

So on the one hand they make a major investment in equipment and learning only to have their work deemed comparable to shots taken with a smart phone, and on the other they get looked down upon if they don’t have the latest cameras and lenses because everyone knows you can only get the best results with the newest equipment release. Quite the perplexing paradox, no? Even your fellow professionals will deride you if you don’t keep your kit up to date. That over and above the usual ‘brand snobbery’.

Christmas Cracker.

The artistic photographer does not have to fall victim to this charade (which doesn’t mean that they don’t). For them all that matters is the end result which, since it is a work of art and not a visual documentation, is subject only to evaluation on its own merits. Or at least that’s how it should be, and admittedly this does not mean a great work will automatically be seen as such by all (more often quite the opposite). But the artist can take some solace in knowing the art only has to please its creator. Whether or not it has commercial value is a different issue (and to be honest it often doesn’t; no matter how many people praise it they still won’t pay for it). If they leave off the camera description they will not be subjected to ‘brand snobbery’ either. In fact only in the field of artistic photography can one use low-quality equipment to positive results: a Holga lens is acceptable as a tool for artistry, but no one wants their wedding photographed through one.

Some Sunny Day.

Given my deteriorating eyesight I have found extra solace in artistic photography. Since I can’t really see what I’m doing until the finished image is on my computer (if even then), there inevitably is a random component to the outcome. Perhaps a magical one as well. I certainly can no longer claim the ability to make professional-grade images, but I can still create acceptable-level artistic ones (I think so anyway). It certainly is easier not having to remember and make use of all the technical aspects, instead relying on a ‘feel’ for what is being done. It is also cheaper not having to buy ‘bargain’ new lenses, any one of which may cost more on its own than my entire arsenal of “out-of-date” equipment is worth.

Smoke Rising.

For those who are professional photographers I suggest they take the occasional moment to experiment with artistic photography. Not because they should switch, as that inevitably would result in their becoming very poor very rapidly, but because it can provide a respite from the stress of always having to ‘measure up’ to other people’s standards. Which is particularly frustrating when those other people aren’t really qualified to judge your efforts anyway.

Ice and Light.

A few words on lens extenders

(This in an age when people can’t understand the concept of effective focal length and wonder why their lenses aren’t physically that long, and “professionals” declare there’s no such thing as depth-of-field or aperture sweet spot.)

Three of a kind: various lens extenders in M42 mount.

The lens extender is a laughingly simple concept: stick a magnifying lens on the back of your regular lens and voilà – you have a longer focal length!

They were very popular back in the film SLR days because they were the cheap alternative to buying a medium telephoto to complete your ‘kit’: you bought the camera with its ‘normal’ 50mm lens, a wide-angle lens of usually 35mm, and finally either a 135mm telephoto or for a lot less money a 2X lens extender that magically transformed your 50mm into 100mm. (Hey you could buy the 35mm lens, a 1.5X extender, a 2X extender, and a 3X extender and save even more money. But I guarantee you wouldn’t like the results at 315mm equivalent.)

This works, after a fashion. But as simple as the concept is there are some obvious built-in flaws. Obvious if you understand the basics of lens design, that is. For one thing the added magnification also increases any flaw inherent in the base lens. More so than if the same flaws were present in a lens manufactured as a longer focal length to begin with. For another the extenders add in their own flaws, both in terms of the quality of the product and the inescapable problems of their functional design.

Let’s discuss those. To start with they ‘use up’ light. Everyone knows that as you move a lens away from the image plane the amount of light available there decreases. You can demonstrate this with an extension tube. The principle can be expressed as the difference between an f stop and a t stop; with the tube or extender the f stop remains constant (focal length divided by aperture diameter) but the light on the film or sensor is less intense so compensation must be made. You see the opposite effect with so-called “speed boosters” which in essence are the inverse of an extender (a concave lens as opposed to a convex one) because they concentrate the light on the image plane. (Note you also don’t see the compounding of other problems with the speed boosters because they operate in the opposite direction, as it were. I should also point out that the purpose of speed boosters is mainly to reverse the “crop factor” effect of using less-than-full-frame sensors.)

The other major problem is that extenders refocus light that has already been manipulated to fall on the image plane in a certain way. As such the effort that went in to edge-to-edge sharpness in the lens is now challenged by being redirected in new pathways. This gets complicated because how severe the affect is on the final image depends not only on the quality of the extender itself but on the design and quality of the original lens. Thus extenders work better with some lenses than they do with others. For best results you’d use a high quality lens and extender from the same manufacturer that were meant to be used together. Even then “best results” may not be as good as using a lens that is the equivalent focal length in the first place.

Amongst the selection of accessories I recently acquired were two lens extenders (see first picture). One is a 2X Royal brand (on the right) which I never heard of, and the other is a 2X-3X Vincor brand (center) which I also never heard of. It doesn’t matter much because not only did I already have a 2X Vivitar (on the left) of fairly good quality but I don’t bother to use even that one due to the poor results as outlined by the above description of extender function.

The thing is, that 2X-3X Vincor is intriguing. It has a dial on it which shows the f-stop equivalent in a little window for a given aperture. It is not a fixed chart, but a stop-by-stop conversion shown one at a time. Odd, that. Odder still is that I can not see any way of shifting between the two magnifications. The lens within is spring-loaded and moves back to front and pops back instantly, but there is no apparent ring or lever or whatever to bring about this effect for when it is in use on the camera; it can not be made to stay in 3X mode. Either I am missing something obvious or it is. I would think it should be the one twist ring, but that has no means of affecting the position of the glass inside. In fact the scale revealed through the window changes to a different one for the 3X compensation when you move the lens, but not the other way around. I’ve had it apart and can see no sign of what mechanism is supposed to be employed to bring about the change in magnification.

Not that it matters as I’ll never use it, I’m just curious as to how it was supposed to work.

(By the way I had a 1.5X extender for my Exakta equipment. It too saw little use.)

This has nothing to do with the post; it’s just a leftover image that I like. Sony a6000 and Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens.

Miscel-LENS-eous

Dear Folk;

The weather here remains abominable. We had more snow on Thursday and now the total is around 2 feet (about 60 cm). Temperatures remain below zero Fahrenheit (less than -18 Celsius). By the time you read this I will either be dead or out shooting more pictures. I sure haven’t been doing much photography in this weather! As such the lens testing series is on hold, which is a shame as it’s nearly complete and I’m sure you’ll all be glad when it’s over.

Bleak. Very bleak.

To kill time, then, I have been watching Youtube videos on various things, including photography. I always have an interest in what other people use and what they do with it. There have been some interesting finds, such as confirmation of my evaluations of certain equipment I have – some of which could have saved me money if only I’d seen them before purchasing. In one case this has worked because the other people’s testing of the Sony 55-210mm lens confirms it is not right for me. Others confirm the the much more expensive 70-350mm would be more suitable for my purposes. Oh well. That purchase isn’t going to happen.

While I’m going on about lenses, one recurring theme was people testing ‘very fast’ lenses, many of which produced the same disappointing results. The reports went along the lines of “here is the new [brand name] 50mm f1.1 lens!” (In some cases the maximum aperture was less than 1.) Followed by “wide open it is unacceptably soft.” One manufacturer even says in its promotional material that the lens will be soft at maximum aperture and better results will be obtained at f2.0 or smaller.

Well, then, what is the point of making it with a larger opening?

Understand the “f” value is a calculation of focal length divided by aperture diameter. In theory you could build a lens with a negative f value simply by making the lens hugely round and very short focal length. The “why we don’t do this” is hinted at in a lot of wide-angle lenses that are made.

But the point is, the whole reason for promoting a lens as “very fast” is to have a lens that is usable at such a low f value. If you have to stop your f0.95 lens down to f2.0 anyway in order to get a minimally acceptable picture, then putting that extra large diaphragm in it serves no function.

No, I tell a lie: it does serve a function. It fools people into thinking they are getting a better lens than they actually are. It’s hyperbole. It’s marketing. It’s organic fertilizer. Very much along the lines of “more megapixels = automatically better camera” and used in conjunction with the urban mythology that if you simply buy the “best” (i.e. most expensive) equipment your photography will magically improve.

Nope. Uh-uh. Not gonna happen. No way José. That’s not how it works.

While I’m ranting about lenses, can we please stop the pathological obsession with background blur? You know the word I mean. I won’t use it because it has not only become a cliché, but an unhealthy fixation wherein it is perceived as the be-all and end-all of lenses and images. Give it a rest. The function is a secondary aspect of composition, not the primary one.

Torn-down Tokina; it’s hopeless.

Another thing I want to rant about is a certain photography couple who have a lot of money and even more arrogance (hey, I am allowed my arrogance; it comes built-in with my French heritage) and almost enough knowledge to know what they are talking about. Let’s say self-deprecating humour is not their strong suit. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were right all the time or even if they were wrong all the time, but they manage a mix-up with no apologies which grates across my nerves.

From these two we get such amazing revelations as “there is no aperture sweet spot” (something disproved by thousands of lens tests and which anyone can evaluate for themselves) and “there’s no such thing as depth-of-field”. Wow. Why did manufacturers put those little lines on all those lenses decade after decade then? And how come we can actually see the effect in our images? Come to that, I must be a sorcerer because I actually use this non-existent phenomenon to make sharp pictures at fixed focus points. Perhaps what they mean is “it’s not depth-of-focus” which is correct – and I have heard many people over the past half century inaccurately call it that.

To be fair, perhaps the whole problem is that this couple aren’t always expressing themselves clearly. Just to give them the benefit of the doubt. Anyway their style too is irritating to me, but if you like them by all means enjoy. And no I’m not just jealous because no manufacturers or anyone else is handing me free equipment and/or gobs of money. If you recall, I sort of did that the other way ’round myself a few years ago.

Are there any of these photography videographers that I like? Yes indeed. Here’s my top four:

Dave McKeegan Accurate, not annoying, and a nice Lancashire accent which some of you may have trouble with. (I don’t because I married a Lancashire Lass.) Seriously: this one.

Christopher Frost Nice, soft-spoken gent who knows his stuff and has a pretty wife to boot.

Arthur R A bit more raucous than the others, but not to his discredit. I appreciate that he uses a Sony a6000 often so there’s a bit of “common cause” for me. Also has a pretty wife.

Simon Another English gentleman with a real handle on classic lenses and their usage. Lots of info on the old glass.

There are quite a few others which are worth a look-in on occasion, including one lass who quite swiftly skewered Youtube videos in general and their absurd click-bait headlining nature. You know the bit: lots of superlatives, absolutes, exclamation marks, and exaggerated claims meant to get you to watch the video. I see these as a sort of warning to prospective viewers: if it says “TOP SECRETS YOU’RE DOING WRONG THAT THE PROS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT!!!!!” that’s a sure sign it’s not worth watching.

Would I ever do videos? No. Can’t see it happening. Not even with a ton of up-front money. Besides which they are all pretty much lost in the vast sea of so much to see. As such there is little chance of success. And any that do manage respectable viewership numbers also get trashed by certain other (jealous) ‘channels’ out there that seem to exist just to try and make traffic off lies like “WHY THIS TOP YOUTUBER IS BEING SUED!!!!!” and “HOW MUCH MONEY SO-AND-SO REALLY MAKES!!!!!”

Yeah, bugger that for a noise.

It’s getting warmer. No, really it is.

Leftovers served cold

There’s a kind of tradition where at the end of the old year and/or start of the new one people clean up around the house thoroughly. Everything gone through, all the garbage disposed of. That sort of thing. As close as I come to that is posting these few ‘leftover’ photos from the Pentax tryout of the old lenses. I can’t remember which lenses were used in the photos and can’t find where I made the notes. Maybe I tossed that.

Strange sky.

Thin gold line.

Moon. (I suspect this is with the 200mm Cunor.)

Calendar shot. (Probably the 24mm Vivitar.)

Colour version.

Monochrome version.

There is much other news, but none of it is good and I won’t relate it at this time. There’s already too much bad news all around.

Low-cost lens cavalcade #7

A new year and a ‘new’ lens. This time it’s the Vivitar 24mm f2.8:

Uh oh, it has fungus.

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:

What is this for? How is it used?

And then the aperture ring has an ‘extra’ set of markings mirroring the f stops but all in green:

Probably some kind of camera-specific auto aperture control.

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.

Wide-angle it is even on a cropped sensor camera.

Oh look: I finally got the spots off the sensor! For now anyway. Speaking of it being wide-angle:

The mighty Nissan. This close you can just see some distortion.

Colours are spot-on and contrast is good with no sign of chromatic aberration. Let’s see how sharp it is:

Wild rose full size.

Cropped segment of the full image. This lens focuses to 9″!

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.

To ‘correct’ this shot I would have had to adjust the trailer.

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.

Spring? Not yet.

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.

Low-cost lens cavalcade #6

This entry is about a lens I’ve already had one of before. (Wow; that was an awkward sentence.) Back in the good ol’ days when film was the only option I had quite a kit of Exakta cameras and lenses, including an Exakta VX500 – which was the ‘low price’ version of the VX1000 – and it had one of these lenses on it: the Meyer Domiplan 50mm f2.8.

Meyer Optik Domplan 50mm f2.8

As such I thought I knew what to expect from this M42 edition, which was “not much”. The one I had on the Exakta was not particularly great, although in fairness that was in comparison to other lenses such as a Zeiss Tessar and a Meyer Primoplan (the one lens I regret not stuffing in my pocket and bringing home with me in 2018).

This one is noticeably better than the first one I had. Hurrah for that, eh?

Full image.

Cropped segment.

Although obviously not the sharpest lens in the arsenal, it is certainly better than several of the others. But it is unspectacular. The contrast is a tad low, but the colour rendition is accurate and there’s no sign of chromatic aberration.

Oh look: spots on the sensor I just cleaned.

Over-all I’d rate it as “good”, but not “very good” – especially considering its small control rings are something of a pain to work. It is also an “automatic only” lens, meaning it won’t function properly on the Canon adaptor.

Used Car Lot.

Right now it is serving as a “body cap” for the Pentax Spotmatic as I’ve confiscated that camera’s 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar for my shooting arsenal. But with a little effort it can make a decent photo:

Straight out of the camera.

Reworked for artistic purposes.

(I’m not trying very hard with the photos because hey, it’s -35C and there’s 38cm of snow on the ground.)

In other news my wife is apparently stuck in England for a couple more weeks at least – we don’t know for sure as it is impossible to get a definitive answer about anything from anyone. She spent over 9 hours on hold with the airline one day, until she fell asleep. Other contact attempts have included her being cut off and her being hung up on. Gee, Westjet, you’re really helpful. Our government here has issued Orders, but no directions as to how they can be complied with. The province is at capacity for testing and can’t promise anything. Worst of all, everything is subject to change without notice.

They also serve who sit and wait.

But they get sick of it.

Low resolution plus low resolution

Taking a break from lens testing to do a little lens testing.

You might have suspected that the Sony’s high resolution 24MP sensor is great for showing up any and all flaws a lens might have, and you’re right; it does.

What then would be the result of using the lowest resolution sensor I have available, the 6MP Pentax K100Ds? Not needing to reduce the image as much for “Internet size” pictures means you also can not increase it so much to spot the flaws. You can get away with a lot if you don’t look at a picture too closely!

Opticam 135mm f2.8.

Opticam 135mm f2.8.

Cunor 200mm f4.5.

Cunor 200mm f4.5.

Sun Actinon 28-80mm f2.8 (widest).

Sun Actinon 28-80mm f2.8 (narrowest).

Prakticar 70-210mm f4.5.

Prakticar 70-210mm f4.5.

As you can see if you don’t ask too much from a lens it can deliver something better than you expect. (All except the Sun Actinon, which still proves to be a very poor lens indeed.) In fairness, these images are not “straight out of the camera”; they have been processed, including ‘sharpening’, to achieve the best possible result with still a minimal amount of effort.

Low-cost lens cavalcade #5

Are you tired of reading mediocre reviews of mediocre lenses? Well I’m tired of writing them too! Fortunately there is hope for us all as this time I check out the Pentacon Electric 50mm f1.8.

The normal lens for the Praktica LLC.

It is my understanding that this lens is based on the Meyer Oreston. Meyer made many great lenses, and also a few mediocre ones. The Oreston was one of the greats, and this copy is no slouch either.

The Nissan before it got buried under the recent snowstorm.

The colours are not over-saturated and the contrast is also good, rendering realistic reproduction. Chromatic aberration is not in evidence anywhere and sharpness is top-notch. No doubt this is due to it having been constructed in communist East Germany where the quality control manager had the authority to send any slacking workers straight to the gulag.

Good detail in the branches.

If it seems as though I’m obsessed with sharpness, there’s good reason: not only that 100+ years of optical endeavor has gone into making lenses as sharp as possible and any example which falls short of being the best it can be is a betrayal to all who worked so hard, but my own actual eyes are lacking in such quality so trying to see a fuzzy image with fuzzy eyesight is doubly annoying, as well as irritating mentally and physically.

Small but sharp.

Just how good can it do? Take a look at this tree:

A tree with something extra.

Now look at a 640 x 427 segment cropped out of the full size image:

Almost hidden downy woodpecker.

Yes indeed, this lens can make good use of the Sony’s 20MP for some close-up imaging. It can turn out some very nice artistic images too:

Before the deep snow came.

What does the future hold for this lens? It will be staying with the camera it came on, the Praktica LLC. Why? For three reasons: 1). it is the Electric model, made specifically to work with the camera’s metering system (and does not work with my Canon’s adaptor); 2). I don’t use 50mm lenses often, and when I do; 3). I already have the excellent Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 which is still a better lens than this.

Despite that fact the Pentacon earns a ‘very good’ rating. There’s little to complain about in its performance, only slightly less competent than the Takumar but a bit more difficult to use owing to smaller control rings.

We interrupt our regular post to bring you the following snowstorm

So … “up to two inches” they said. Yeah? Tell it to the dog:

Difficult going.

No need to dream of a white Christmas; it’s guaranteed.

This vehicle has 9.5″ of ground clearance. Really.

Let’s have some colour!

Thus my day is planned for me: spend a couple of hours clearing a foot of snow from the driveway just in case I have to go somewhere this week. I’m not planning on going anywhere, but you never know what might happen.

Like a sudden snowstorm.