As good as can be

It snowed Sunday night, after being 8°C that day. Then it warmed up and melted off again. This has been one weird Winter!

Anyway it was nice and sunny so I got out and walked around with the dogs and the Pentax K100DS a little bit. I wanted to see if I’d managed to polish the 18-55mm Pentax-DA lens sufficiently for use, and how well I’d manage a bit of activity. Oh, I have got the autofocus working off the ‘back (OK) button’ – but not from the shutter release. I don’t really like the back button focusing method; seems unnatural to a long-time photographer.

Here are the results. In some cases I had to do some post-processing to correct exposure errors it still makes, but over-all the camera is usable now.

The new snow.
Puddle remnant.
Marley being incredibly silly.
100% crop of 18mm shot. Fairly sharp.
50% crop of 55mm shot. The gossamer is blurred by wind.
100% crop of 55mm shot.

I don’t think any further cleaning will improve the lens any: it is what it is. I need to take some more “general” shots to see how it handles medium and distant focusing. On the whole, usable but of course not as good as the Super Takumar manual lenses. One nice thing about this camera is that it automatically adjusts for the yellowed 35mm lens, making the two an ideal combination.

Although it’s a nice camera to use, I probably won’t use it much except in instances where I want to employ one of the old lenses like the Hanimex 80-200mm zoom. I might try the old Soligor on it as well, but that is one heavy monster lens and it doesn’t have manual stop-down so it’s either full aperture or I’ll have to wedge the pin.

K100DS at 500-ish pictures

Believe it or not, I’ve almost got all the dirt off the Pentax K100DS sensor. Only “almost” though, as it seems every time I’ve scrubbed one bit away another appears. At the moment there is still a small dot in the lower right. So far I’ve gone through half of a cleaning ‘kit’, or about six swabs and an ounce of methanol. This in addition to a lot of air, some isopropanol, and regular lens cleaner & swabs. Maybe I should have started with a shovel.

Meanwhile the autofocus has gone from working occasionally to not functioning at all. I’ve also used up two sets of AA batteries. If I ask myself objectively “is this camera worth it?” I have to answer “no”. True it can produce some good pictures (with a lot of effort) but so will my other cameras – with a lot less effort. With a ‘success rate’ of around 2% at best, the infamous “Mystery Camera” is destined for a shelf somewhere.

In the meantime, here’s some scenery shot with it. Some have had the spots retouched, but the last one hasn’t.

Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Scene 4

Lens used was the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar, all manual settings.

I should do a piece on how I preset for ‘all manual’. I also want to do at least one comparison shot between this APS-C camera (1.5 crop factor) and the other, the Canon T100 (1.6 crop factor), using the same lens (Super Takumar 35mm f2 which is close to ‘normal’ for this format) and settings on both to show how the sensors compare (6MP vs. 18MP).

Maybe after I clean the sensor. Again.

Mystery Camera Revealed!

Pentax K100D Super!

Yes that’s the camera I’ve been using to make all those fuzzy, spotty pictures with. At long last I’ve got an adapter to put the old Super Takumar lenses (specifically the 35mm which is a ‘normal’ FL on this camera) on it in place of the truly awful 18-55mm Pentax DA that came with it. Of course it can only be used on manual with the old lenses, but the auto exposure is usually wrong and the autofocus doesn’t work anyway so …

A raven, of course.
Rich colours. Finding camera settings that worked well took some experimentation.
Fallen ice.
Snow gnome’s hat.
Bleak tree.
Testing with the Vivitar 135mm.

There are still a few spots on the sensor:

Most noticeable spots.

Some of these images have been post-processed a bit beyond size adjusting, including sharpening, white balance, exposure correction, and cropping. This was about getting the best out of it, as the worst it can do is easy to achieve: out of 400+ images I’ve taken with this since the start, about 20 are any good at all. It’s been getting better as I managed to get a lot of the dirt off the sensor and switch to a lens that isn’t fuzzier than a bear, but still not a good record (we’re talking image quality only here, not composition issues).

I’m not sure if I’ll try another cleaning or not. The camera has some good aspects, but it has a lot of flaws as well. These are mostly due to age and misuse although some are design issues. On the whole I prefer slightly more MP resolution even though a shrink shots way down all the time. Plus it seems a shame to have automatic features and not be able to use them. Overall the Olympus E-410 was a better buy.

I am now holding out for a full-frame Canon as that is a camera which will actually add to my repertoire (low-light and landscape images).

Return of the Mystery Camera!

I’m going to ignore everything that’s been happening lately because most of it is depressing and just get on with this photography stuff. Which is also depressing, come to think of it, because … you’ll see.

Okay so Mystery Camera has had its sensor cleaned – to no avail. The spots are permanently etched in, I guess. Oh well. Not that those cleaning swabs are terribly effective, mind you. Even so, we make … progress? Uh, no. Not really.

In addition to the problems with the intermittent autofocus and erratic exposure, I have determined that the lens it came with is, not to put too fine a point on it, junk. It is not just soft but blurry. I know people pay money for Helios and other such Russian fuzz-master optics, but I can’t see why. This is supposed to be a good lens and maybe it was once, but even after multiple cleanings … it’s had it. I don’t know where this camera was used, but it must have been one filthy environment considering all the dirt damage it’s got.

Another way I determined the lens wasn’t any good was by trying a couple of others. For example the 35mm Super Takumar:

The Whale waits for Spring.
Obligatory test shot.

Much sharper than the equipped lens, even if I do have to compensate for the thorium yellowing. These shots were taken with the lens held in place by hand, as the M42-PK adapter still hasn’t shown up! (Aha! Another clue to Mystery Camera’s identity!) Fortunately I was able to secure a different lens in its native mount (albeit for earlier film cameras) which produced a ‘second opinion’ so to speak:

Marley stalking.
The best picture this camera has produced so far.

So what will I do with this camera? It isn’t very good for using and not worth enough to bother selling. I’m certainly not going to invest in more glass for it, although I’m likely to adapt this one PK lens (more about it in future posts) to the Canon instead.

The wild rose shot. You can see the sensor flaws.
Two ravens in flight. Again you can see the sensor flaws.

Anyway, have you guessed what the camera is yet? There have been clues enough to at least get the make, so I’ll add one for the model: it’s 6MP.

Addendum: I’ve updated my cameras I use page to include the Olympus E-410 (and demote the Kodak P850), but have not yet added the Mystery Camera – which may never make the cut.

Olympus Serendipitous

The camera: Olympus E-410 (aka Evolt 410).

The lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f 3.5-6.5.

The other lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital 40-150mm f 3.5-4.5.

The cost: camera and ‘short’ zoom lens $108.80 CDN; ‘long’ zoom lens $29.16 CDN. (I’m not joking).

Olympus E-410 and lenses.

Why did I buy it? You got me there. Perhaps I got confused. I was looking for the E-300 model, which was the last with a CCD sensor. But they command a premium price it seems. Then along came this and well … It’s bad if I’m bored. I made the purchase over a month ago but thanks to the seasonal shipping slowdown it has only just recently arrived.

A couple of things to point out: this is not the “Mystery Camera” used in two prior posts. Also, this is a four-thirds camera not a micro four-thirds. The difference being in the distance between the sensor and the lens flange; a micro four-thirds does not have a reflex mirror to take up space, and as such there is much more flexibility in the design for adapting other lenses. For the four-thirds cameras (which came first) there are less 50 different lenses available and adapting others is unlikely. As it is I got the two zooms which cover the most range. The ‘standard’ prime lens for this unit is a 25mm, which when found for sale tends to cost 3 to 5 times what I paid for the camera & short zoom. I don’t think I’ll be buying one.

So how does it work? Amazingly good. After getting over some minor ‘teething troubles’ having to do with getting images on to and off of the only compact flash card I have (64 megabytes) results are pleasing indeed. Lacking sufficient storage space for full-size images (I got 12 before the “card full” warning came up), I ‘dialed down’ the resolution to get more trial shots. Also had to download pictures by putting the card in the Canon PSA70 because I don’t have a USB cord for the Olympus. Nevertheless, we have images.

Obligatory lens sharpness test. It’s sharp.

The main reason for my going after any four-thirds camera was to see how that particular format compares to others. I’d say it does so favourably, with expected shortcomings and advantages. For example it is lousy in low-light conditions, as would be normal for a small sensor (APS-C sensors are bad in low light, anything smaller is even worse). On the up side it produces better pictures than, say, a 2.3 sensor. It is a good “compromise” camera, which is both its strength and its downfall: if you could have only one camera and needed it to shoot good pictures and take old lenses and be reasonably sized to carry about and have good wide-to-telephoto capacity (crop factor of 2X on this, so the 150mm focal length is 300mm equivalent) … well I can see where a modern micro four-thirds like the Olympus OM-D series would be a great choice. I would not recommend one of these older four-thirds cameras to anyone because they are truly dead-end devices.

Obligatory raven in the sky image. It’s raven.

Subjectively, using this camera is excellent. It handles very well indeed. Okay the focusing is a tad slow, but that is typical of cameras this old. On the whole the controls are in the right places and it passed the all-important test of producing acceptable photos on ‘automatic’ right out of the box (as it were).

Obligatory dog photo. It’s dog.

I don’t really know why I bought it, but I’m glad I did. Is it a ‘keeper’? It shouldn’t be, because it doesn’t fit the criteria for any of my kind of photography nor does it open up any new avenue as the G11 did. Will I get rid of it? No. For one thing it isn’t valuable enough to be worth making the effort to sell. For another … I’m invoking the Eric L. Woods Defense: “I like it. Leave me alone.”

Obligatory cloud picture. It’s cloud.

Mystery Camera, Part II

Oh dear oh dear oh dear! This is proving to be quite a project, trying to get consistent photos from the Mystery Camera. On the up side it didn’t cost a lot of money. On the down side its inconsistency is frustrating.

Here is a close-up taken at the widest angle. Other than having to correct significant underexposure (about 3 stops – a problem that is also erratic) it is pretty good:

Wild rose lens test.

On the other end of the zoom results are not so pleasing:

Bird on a wire.

Someone may want that cartoon-like appearance, but not I. Note the chromatic aberration. Another bird shot shows there are significant problems at maximum telephoto:

You can just tell it’s an eagle.

Yet if we go back to wide we get this:

Results are sometimes good.

I have worked with it (mostly cleaning contacts and resetting settings) to get the autofocus to sometimes work, but it is still inconsistent. I’m not sure if it’s the AF switch or the ‘halfway’ connection on the shutter release, but much of the time the motor doesn’t even try to adjust the lens. When it does activate, it’s abysmally slow. That is probably a function of the design, not of the failure.

Here is a picture in which I managed to bring out the underlying cause of the imaging problems:

Ravens and blots.

A couple of ravens, the top of the trees, and a whole lot of dirt on the sensor! In fact this camera came to me very dirty, and smelling horribly of some chemical which implies someone tried to clean it without knowing how. I scrubbed the lens three times and it still appears a bit hazy on the front. The exposure went from consistently -3 EV to sometimes getting it right because of contact cleaning (which includes repeatedly working controls to get any corrosion rubbed off internal parts if possible). As mentioned I’ve managed to get the autofocus to engage sometimes. None of the operations are consistent, and may never be. At this point it’s definitely not a camera you’d want to count on for anything.

What is it? Still not going to tell you. I’m going to have another go at cleaning (once I get some sensor wands) and try it again in sunshine (if we ever get any of that again) and just see if it’s possible this camera may be salvaged. Oh there’s dirt and a loss of mirror silvering in the viewfinder as well. Not sure I’ll be tackling that.

It does not shoot in B&W, but sometimes things look better that way.

When I’m convinced it can not be improved further I’ll make a final evaluation. At this point it appears to have limited value of any sort.

Experimenting with the Mystery Camera!

This was a nightmare of trying to get things working. To start with, there’s nothing but overcast skies here – and high winds. Then try to use a camera which not only am I unfamiliar with, but clearly some aspects of it don’t work! Like the autofocus, which I am dependent on. Its automatic settings aren’t very good either, and half of these pictures got quite a bit of rework to make them presentable. Half I left as-is. Oh and just to make things more confusing, it was set on ‘RAW’ to begin with which cost a few frames as well. I really hate having to process from RAW!

At this point I won’t tell you what the camera is.

Widest angle.
Maximum telephoto.
Marley the Model.
It was a dark and stormy morning …
Everything about this picture is wrong – except the moodiness.
This one it got right all on its own.

I need better weather and more experimentation before I discuss this device any further. So far it is not terribly impressive.

Seeing out the year

While most people are engaged in reviewing the past year and reiterating how awful it was or trying to pretend it really wasn’t that awful, I’m going to be different as usual and just go forward with some more new pictures instead. (And my late brother the English major would give me an award for constructing such a wonderfully awful run-on sentence as that one.)

The camera is, of course, the new-to-me “Zen Canon” PowerShot G11. Truly a fine quality device which I’m still ‘experimenting’ with. I would have taken more street shots when I went to town Tuesday, but it was all of -10˚C and also totally overcast – so no good for taking pictures or even being outside. Instead I had to sneak some shots in whenever I could to come up with the latest batch.

Lens testing. Wide-angle and close up, full automatic. The result is excellent.
A couple of the resident ravens.
Glacé. This is a segment of a shot which contains many potential images. I liked this bit best.

This camera looks and works like an old but automatic 35mm rangefinder. It has lots of controls on it, most of which I’ve tried and now ignore. For functioning on ‘automatic’ the G11 is second-to-none. I rarely even flip the LCD out and make use of that, much less dive into the menus and change settings. It’s like … using a film camera. So are the results.

It’s all about colour tonal range: CCD sensors!
Although not ideally suited to such extreme photography, the G11 performs well in skilled hands.
And away we go!

As you can see the G11 does a fine job as an ‘artistic’ camera, even though that’s not why I bought it. This is what the infamous ZS-60 was supposed to be capable of. Aside from the extreme difference in zoom capacity, the Canon is absolutely superior in every way to the Panasonic. Never mind the difference in price. The bargain PowerShot makes up for the waste-of-money Lumix. I’ll just pretend the prices were the other way around; that would make the cameras fit their costs. (For those who can’t follow my convoluted reasoning, I paid $12 for the used Canon PowerShot G11 and $300 for the brand new Panasonic Lumix ZS-60. In terms of performance the value is completely the other way around.)

Footnote: there is an optional ‘lens adapter’ for these cameras which twists on around the lens once you remove the protective base ring. It is a tube that sticks out and has a 58mm thread in front of the extended lens. To it you can affix filters or ‘accessory’ wide-tele lenses. The cheapest one I’ve located so far is 3X the price I paid for the camera. I don’t really think it would add much to the functionality so I won’t bother with the expense. Besides those add-on-to-the-front lenses don’t work very well, since the base lens was never designed to have the extra element stuck in front of it. A thin filter is one thing; a thick chunk of glass is quite another.

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.

A Tale of Two Teles

Or: another boring lens test post.

A few moments of sunshine have been granted here, so I took advantage of it. The main purpose was to compare the Canon EF 75-300mm zoom to the Canon EF-S 55-250mm zoom. The results were … interesting.

I’m going to spare you the innumerable shots made under various experimental conditions and get down to a few that demonstrate the differences. Keep in mind the EF-S lens has image stabilization, thus to make things “fair” I had the ISO at 400 so the shutter speed could be quick (1/500 and 1/750) and the aperture stopped down a bit (f9.5 and f8.0) to give maximum advantage to both lenses. As usual these are 640×427 crops of the full-size images.

The first two are taken at 75mm and approximately 75mm as this is the minimum focal length of the longer zoom.

75-300mm EF lens.
55-250mm EF-S lens.

This is a very difficult one to call! I think I see a slight edge in the 75-300mm in fact.

The next pair are at 250mm and approximately 250mm – the maximum of the shorter range zoom.

55-250mm EF-S lens.
75-300mm EF lens.

Here the prize goes to the 55-250mm EF-S as there is noticeably better detail in the bark. It is still a very close thing, and in normal size presentation the difference isn’t noticeable. What is noticeable in each photo is that the colour rendition and contrast is the same between both lenses.

Now, would a brand-new edition of the EF 75-300mm lens be better? Maybe, but I doubt it as I don’t see any defects in the glass itself. Certainly a new one would operate more smoothly, but it would also cost 5X as much. I suppose the $600+ version with IS would be better, but … I think I’ll save that money towards a replacement to the super-zoom Nikon. I really only bought this lens so I’d have a long zoom for the Canon 5D if/when I manage to obtain one (the EF-S lenses don’t work right on full-size sensors).

The bottom line with any lens is: can you take a good picture with it? Let’s see:

A raven under power. (300mm)
Icy sun. (75mm)

The answer appears to be “yes”.

Otherwise I have to report no progress on The Plan as of yet.