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.)

The Zen Canon G11: what’s wrong with it?

Frankly, not much.

We’re having more of our usual bad weather with lots of clouds and some snow and a glimpse of sun, the sort of thing that makes it difficult to take pictures of any kind with any camera. Still I have managed to tease a few decent shots out of this latest addition to the tool box.

Sunlight catches the trees.

But it does have some flaws. For one thing, I find I hardly ever take it off “Auto-Auto” (ISO-expsoure) setting, if that can be called a flaw. Sure I had to try out everything else, including the +/-2 EV compensation and the various colour settings and so forth. They seem somewhat superfluous on a camera the can do automatic so well.

The Standard.

What doesn’t it do well? Focus. It’s noticeably slow and inaccurate under certain circumstances such as low light (to be expected) or ‘fuzzy subject’ like a sky full of clouds. It makes mistakes, but they are ‘honest’ mistakes – not the function failures that keep cropping up on the Nikon. The only other downside is that the shutter has an obvious lag between button press and image capture. Hey, that was pretty much normal back when this camera was made. For stationary subjects it isn’t an issue, but the G11 would not be good at sports or wildlife photography.

On stage now.

In fact one area where it seems to unexpectedly shine is the “art photography” category. For one thing the image quality is a very nice film-like rendition with a wide tonal range and grain structure rather than low-resolution blurring. I do wish it had slightly higher zoom capacity, but c’est la vie. I have made several successful shots from cropping a 640 x 480 segment out of the full frame image.

You have to look close.

Speaking of my infamous image sizing (640 x 480/427), I was musing on whether I should adjust this to some other dimensions. Upon measuring the size on my ‘typical’ 15″ laptop 16:9 screen I find it’s slightly larger than a ‘standard’ 4″ x 6″ 35mm print … so I guess I’ll stick with it except in those instances where the picture requires the dimensions be altered.

Across the sky.

There may be more moments of sunlight ahead, but it’s not exactly good for getting about in even if there is. This is Winter in the Cariboo, and you have to make the best you can of it.

Where there’s smoke

The wildfires burning on the west coast are doing incredible damage, as usual. We here in British Columbia are all-too familiar with the situation. The smoke from those southern fires has drifted up here, even reaching my remote location. Shades of the 2017 nightmare, I’m under hazy skies again.

That would be the sun.

It’s a bit difficult to work in this, but no place near as bad as what it’s like down where the fires rage. There’s nothing to do but wait, and leave the firefighting to the experts. I’m too old and infirm to take active measures. (I spent a lot of time in 2017 trying to explain the methods used and the why for of them. It was a waste of time because the answer is always to fly the Martin Mars, don’t you know. So glad those ‘Internet experts’ weren’t actually in charge of operations.)

Cameras have trouble with this haze too; getting a focus lock can be a challenge when the world itself no longer has sharp edges.

Soft focus only.

Wildlife is in hiding for the most part, except for this brave red-necked grebe:

Art shot.

These are not the kind of pictures I was wanting to take, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

Water bug.

It will have to end sometime. The smoke will clear from here before it does, and things will get back to normal.

Ha! Normal. What is that?

We live in interesting times.

Film Finis

In one of the unusual circumstances that are so usual in my life, I came across the prints of the last roll of film I ever shot. I know it must be the last because the images start at the old house, ‘visit’ the cabin, and finish at the ‘new’ home, meaning they were taken in the time period of 2009-2010. Yes, the film sat in the camera for almost a year. No doubt something to do with someone having an automobile accident and breaking her back, resulting in a lot of confusion and changes to our lives.

Anyway, I scanned the images such as they were and worked them a bit because the prints had faded in the ensuing 10 years despite being kept in the dark. Possibly not the best photo finishing service either; the prints are a bit grainy. But the camera they were taken with was the Pentax Spotmatic and its Super Takumar lenses shine out.

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Our Friend Peter

Taken at the old house, the kind of picture I don’t usually take: a people shot. He doesn’t look amused, but really he had a great sense of humour. You can see the usual chaos of my over-active life all around him. The vehicle to the left is the gray ’98 4Runner that would end up on its roof in October with Brenda trapped inside.

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The Stony Shore

Here we are at the lake, then. The terror of the future yet to be revealed. This is not the sharpest picture I’ve ever taken of that lake. It might have been hazy that day or … well who knows. No sense speculating about it, really, as it’s past.

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Denim Pine

The pine bark beetle epidemic was in full swing then. This shows the end of a pine log cut, with the characteristic blueish staining cause by the tree trying to defend itself against the beetles. This would have been cabin fire wood, as we didn’t heat our main residence with wood until we bought the ‘new’ place.

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Daisy Bug

Even then I liked to take pictures of bugs on flowers. The newer cameras have better macro ability, I must say. Even so, not a bad effort.

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Sun on the Water

A decidedly artistic shot. The vignetting is on purpose, the rampant chroma is not. Therein lies one of the faults with film: you don’t really know what you’ve got until the prints are done. With digital, I could look at this in a second and try a different approach – or even afford to take the shot several different ways right off the bat.

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The Clearing

This is one side of the property of the ‘new’ place as it appeared in the Spring after we bought it. The stumps everywhere were infected pine trees that had been cut down and sliced up for firewood. Yes, the house came with the first two years’ heating free, so to speak. I would reproduce the shot as it appears now, only I’d have to trudge through 10″ of hard packed snow and I don’t fancy breaking an ankle.

As I glance over these I wonder about the thousands of images I have taken which have simply disappeared to who-knows-where, never to be seen again. I also wonder about how well digital images might be preserved in their magnetic form. I know I’ve already lost a few to hard drive failure, and since have taken extra measures to back up anything I feel is really worthwhile.

Even so, I will stick with digital. It’s certainly cheaper than film these days, and easier to manipulate. Plus there is the added advantage of not being ‘stuck with one type of film for a whole roll’. If you load your camera with Kodachrome 64, you must shoot the whole roll before changing film types – or spring for numerous cameras to handle different films. With digital, you can alter ISO, colour intensity, even ratio and resolution from one shot to the next if you so desire. Personally I try to go for a “base universal setting” which not only produces the kind of results I like right out of the camera most of the time, but also allows me a lot of latitude to post-process into different forms if I feel a particular shot needs the change.