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.

Forty millimeters

In an odd detour of my¬†“Master Plan” I have purchased a Canon 40mm EF ‘pancake’ lens. I wanted to see if a prime/EF lens was sharper than a zoom/EF-S lens, and I came across this one for about half the price of a new one. 50% off is always a good deal. Unfortunately the weather has not been good for picture taking lately, so I only have a few test shots to evaluate it with. If the sun ever shines again I’ll try and do some comparisons with the short zoom/EF-S (18-55mm). EF-S lenses are made specifically for the crop sensor cameras and do not work well on the full-frame ones (vignetting). They are cheaper, smaller, lighter, and not as well made. The EF lenses work with either sensor size, but of course cost more. Sometimes a lot more.

My first comment has to be: “What were they thinking with that focal length?” On the APS-C camera it’s slightly telephoto at 64mm equivalent. On a full-frame camera it would be slightly wide-angle. Really 5mm less would have made more sense (56mm on the crop sensor, 35mm on the full-size). As it is I found myself backing up and backing up and backing up more when I took this ‘standard shot’ of the cabin. I wasn’t quite standing in the lake, but it was a near thing. I have taken this same view numerous times with wide-angle and regular lens focal lengths, so the telephoto effect is noticeable to me.

Need to back up a ways to fit the whole cabin in.

The critical test of a lens is how sharp it is. You can always make an image softer, but you can’t make it sharper. I fell back on my favourite subject for lens sharpness evaluation, the thorny wild rose stem.

Full image of the wild rose stem.
640×427 crop of full-size image. Note the grain rather than blotchiness.

Here we see that when you go to 100% the edges fall off not to blur but to the ‘grain’ of the sensor, just as it would be with a film camera. This is the effect we want to see. I’d rate this lens as ‘very good’ for sharpness. Certainly above the two Canon zoom/EF-S lenses I have, but perhaps not as sharp as the Pentax Takumars.

The focus on it is fast and accurate, except in low-light conditions (only full-size sensors really handle low light conditions well). Much faster than the Tamron and possibly a little faster than either of the Canon zooms I have. There are a couple of factors in this, one being the simpler single focal length design and the other being the sharper glass.

This image amuses me.

There is still the matter of colour rendition. This is where the testing conditions were not ideal so I can’t say for certain how good it is. It is clearly acceptable, but without bright light the colour temperature is off and we don’t know how ‘true’ it is.

On the trail.

A hidden yet visible advantage of this lens is how compact it is. True the focal length is limited to 40mm which doesn’t fit with my usual shooting regime, but for use with the ‘experiment camera’ it offers the advantage of being easily carried and donned/doffed which makes it simple to use as a ‘light meter’ to double check my intuitive settings when taking pictures with the purely manual classic lenses. Even the short zoom is a bit of a nuisance to carry just for that purpose.

One small step for a man …

I hope to take some more images with this in sunlight as so far it’s fairly impressive.

As for the rest of the Master Plan, it’s in abeyance. Someone else bought the bargain Sony HX350 and I don’t have a spare $680+ to buy the used Canon 5D with. I shall have to bide my time and see what, if any, other opportunities arise.

BTW, the photos in this series follow the week: the cabin taken Tuesday, the rose Wednesday, the truck & dog Thursday, and the footprint Friday. That’s how the weather has been!

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.

IMG_2823
Small fry with the Tamron. It’s blurry, no matter how you slice it.
IMG_2828
Small fry with the Canon 55-250mm. Significantly sharper.
DSCN2705
Small fry with the Nikon P610. Makes the Canon lens look poor and the Tamron look awful.
IMG_2818
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.

IMG_2851
When sharpness isn’t important, it’s fine.
IMG_2848
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).
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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.