That which we call a lens

Even though I still haven’t cleaned the sensor on the ‘new’ Canon 1Ds, I have tried a couple more lenses on it. So far I’ve used the two Canon EF lenses I have (40mm and 75-300mm) and the 50mm Pentax Super Takumar. All okay so far.

Now a brief explanation of Canon EF lenses. There are two types: the EF, which has a red alignment dot, and the EF-S which has a white alignment square. Both will fit on a crop-sensor camera such as my Canon T100 (the body of which has both the red dot and the white square), but only the red dot EF lenses work on the full-frame cameras like my Canon 1Ds (which has only the red dot). The EF-S lenses will not fit due to the rear of the lens intruding into the camera body. Don’t try it, you could damage something.

That said, the next lens I tried was my old M42 mount Vivitar 135mm f2.8. It’s a pretty good lens too.

I like this.

How sharp is it? Here’s a portrait of Marley the usually silly dog:

Marley being sensible.

And now we take a 640×427 segment out of the full frame, right around her eye:

Up close and sharp.

It is not the sharpest lens I own, but it’s hard to fault it. There’s no trickery like ‘unsharp mask’ used here either; it’s all in the lens.

But the lens does have its failings. Of course it’s manual, so that means manual focus and manual exposure. So no quick ‘grab shots’ of anything. Also, for most of the things I shoot the focal length is pretty short:

Three snow geese far away.

That is again taking a small segment from the full frame, and the birds are still very small. I even used the unsharp mask to enhance their shape, but no amount of computer processing will make up for the physics. Really: you’ve got to stop believing those TV shows that pretend a satellite in orbit can read a license plate that’s perpendicular to its lens as clearly as if it were ten feet away.

Now back to the EF vs. EF-S issue. I have one more lens in my collection which claims to be EF, in that it has the red alignment dot and will fit the full-frame camera. There’s just one little problem:

Say “nyet” to vignette. (The bird lost in the middle is a black-capped chickadee.)

This is the 18-200mm Tamron, which also has sharpness issues at any setting. Here we see the vignetting that showed up as a minor thing on the APS-C sensor at the 200mm length becomes full-blown-artistic-whatsit whether you want it or not. Yes you could crop this out, but then you’d notice the blurry focus all the more.

It’s a dark-eyed junco. Take my word for it.

Nope. That lens is not good enough for me. BTW it also focuses noticeably slower than the Canon lenses, and sometimes inaccurately.

I still have the 35mm and 28mm Super Takumars to try on this camera. But first I absolutely will clean the sensor. I promise. Or at least make a try at it.

I also need to get a larger CF card because at full resolution I can only fit 11 images on the 64 MB one I have. That isn’t even a ‘half roll’ equivalent.

Tamron toy

I’m not very self-indulgent. I don’t spend a lot of money on my photography. This is just as well considering the results. It seems when I do fork over the big bucks the results are disappointing, and when I purchase something for mere pocket change it’s much more rewarding. Sort of the opposite of what should be expected.

When I bought the latest indulgence I truly believed it would be an asset. For one thing, Tamron is a venerable name in lenses. For another the specs seemed good, especially the wide focal length range which gets around the need to lens-swap on the Canon at 55mm. That was annoying.

On the downside, the lens lists for crazy money and there is apparently no support from Tamron in this country; the equipment is considered “gray market” and if something goes wrong they won’t fix it even at your expense. Not encouraging.

So when I came across a used one for half price I figured it was worth a shot. Short form: nope, it wasn’t.

Pros: short, light weight, easy to handle with a good zoom range of 18-200mm.

Cons: slow to focus, poor low-light focus performance, and it’s not very sharp.

Small fry with the Tamron. It’s blurry, no matter how you slice it.
Small fry with the Canon 55-250mm. Significantly sharper.
Small fry with the Nikon P610. Makes the Canon lens look poor and the Tamron look awful.
Tamron at full 200mm. Significant and inconsistent vignetting. Also the shorter focal length makes one yearn for the ‘missing’ 50mm.

So what is the lens good for? Anything? Well it’s not bad for average picture taking of general scenes.

When sharpness isn’t important, it’s fine.
Female common merganser and her brood, watching the sunset. This would have been much better with the Canon lens, but there was no time to swap (why I like the vast range of the Nikon).
The sunset they were watching.

For the record, I’ve made three photographic purchases in the past two years which I regret: the Nikon W100, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60, and this Tamron 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 Di II VC. They all could have been great, but disappointed for the same reason: lack of sharpness in the lens.

I am now loath to make any more purchases at all, for any amount of money. It’s a shame too because I think I found a replacement for the ailing Nikon P610: a Sony DSC-HX300/B for <$300. Other options are well over that (like a used P610 for more than mine cost new). I’m not keen on buying any more lenses for the Canon either, as it seems ‘affordable’ is a synonym for ‘low quality’. It would be worse if I shelled out for the top dollar glass and was still disappointed.

I’m not trusting new equipment right now.


The long and winding lens

I have an old Soligor M42 mount 80-205mm f3.5 macro zoom from my Pentax equipment. I tried it on the Canon once, but didn’t like it. Mainly because this lens lacks an Auto/Manual aperture switch, meaning that as-is you can only shoot wide open. I probably don’t have to explain that on a lens that long the depth of field at f3.5 is near nil, never mind that full aperture is rarely the sharpest selection for any lens.

Dan James suggested I glue the stop-down pin in, making it a full manual-only lens. It’s a good idea, but before taking that step I decided to give it another shot on the Canon so I could ask myself that all-important question “would I really use it?” before going ahead with the modification. Herein the results.


Something there is probably in focus somewhere, but I don’t see it. What I notice most is the colours are interestingly rich. This is due partly to the characteristics of the lens and partly due to the fact some idiot forgot he had the 2X Pentax extender on as well and didn’t compensate the exposure for it. Well if you’re going to screw up a digital exposure, go under with it. Going over just gives you washed out areas with zero data to work with.

This combination also brings up another issue with the lens: it is big, long, and heavy. 205mm of classical glass is 328mm on the crop sensor Canon, or 656mm with the extender. We’re talking Hubble Telescope neighbourhood here. No Image Stabilizer on this old lens! Almost impossible to handhold steady even for a normal person, never mind some old guy with permanent shakes. Crank up the ISO, turn the shutter speed to max, and you can still get nothing but a blur due to the practically non-existent DOF.


Now here is a picture which brings up another issue, albeit one not the fault of camera or photographer. At this time of year our sun angle is really low in the sky. This means the light is coming through a lot of atmosphere even at noon, making for very warm lighting. Also long shadows. Also lots of glare. We’re talking windshield-laser-of-death kind of thing.

I tried some processing on this shot and kept going back to the out-of-camera original as best for lighting and colour. It’s not a spectacular image by any means, but I like the light. I’d like it more if it were even remotely sharp. Even my eyes can see that it isn’t. Pretty sure I had it focused, but a lot can change when you push the button.

Dew drop

I often take this shot as a lens test. The wire is slightly diagonal to the ‘film plane’, yet we don’t see any particular point of sharp focus. Or at least I don’t. I have to conclude that there was a focal point, but the image simply isn’t sharp anywhere. How much of that is the wide-open aperture and how much is the glass? Good question.


This is a failure. It seemed like it would be a good shot, but in the end it’s pretty dull and yes it’s fuzzy. Since these pictures are done at different distances you’d think one of them would turn out sharp, but it isn’t looking good for the ol’ Soligor.


Ah, who are we kidding? There was no chance of a macro shot coming out sharp. But I had to try it because it’s one of the lens functions. Kind of silly to hand-hold it too.

Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

This shot started out as blah. One aspect of telephotos is how they look through the haze, and pick it all up. That’s one difference between getting close with a lens and getting close with your feet. Really this started out as a mass of bluish-gray dullness, so I decided to ‘cook’ it with brightness and contrast adjustments. Now it’s an artistic rendering of scorching desert heat on the wires. And you hardly notice it isn’t sharp. Heat blur. Or something.

What conclusions do we draw? The Soligor is not a sharp lens. It is heavy and hard to handhold. The fact is I can get similar results with the 55-250mm Canon lens with fewer exposure/focus issues. What’s more, for really long shots the Nikon P610’s 1440mm equivalent blows the Soligor to pieces in every respect.

I may yet go ahead and glue that pin down, just to see if the lens is any better when stopped-down. Of all my old Pentax mount lenses, this one clearly is the worst. I’m not sure I noticed it at the time.