Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Into the Daylight ~ Flash Photography and Old Cars

With a big car event coming up, I was excited to try my hand at lighting up one of my favorite subjects.  Nothing serious, of course.  I'm retired and don't need nor want to impress anyone.  No, this is just for the pleasure of pursuing a topic, understanding as much as I can, and to make an image or two that please me and only me.

I've been reading too many articles by David Hobby and Joe McNally.  I seem to have caught the bug to shoot small flash.  Here was yet Another Itch that needed to be Scratched.  Photographically speaking.

To add another Itchy Spot to the Whole Plot, just the other day I read a very short article on how to photograph HotRods.  The difference between what this article talked about (shooting in open shade) and what I would be doing is that I'd be working under partly cloudy to full sun conditions

I have three Cheap Chinese Flash units that I've picked up over the years.  My calculations indicated I might _just_ be able to augment the power of the sun and make my subjects standout a bit from a slightly under-exposed background.  That would be the goal.

My camera setups would be as follows -

  • Sony A7 - set to full manual mode (stored settings as M1)
  • Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai
  • Polarizing filter

My second camera would be -

  • Sony A6000 - also set to full manual mode (again stored settings as M1)
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5
  • Lens Turbo II focal reducer
  • Polarizing filter

It all seems a silly thing to in this Day and Age use manual focus Nikkors.  Working with AF lenses and meter-coupled apertures would certainly be a faster, more accurate way to proceed, right?  Well...

There were several competing ideas that swirled around my (sometimes empty) brain.  One, as I've already said, was to use flash to brighten the subject relative to the background.  Another idea was to see how wide I could get the aperture so as to blur the background.  And the third swirling idea was to use a Polarizing filter to try and control reflections off shiny, painted, waxed surfaces.

In short, I would be trying to manage complexities in a discrete, one thing at a time, manner.  It's sometimes important to keep an Aging Mind well exercised.  Or so I'm told, but I can't remember who said it.  I made a joke there.  Did you get it?

I love the "idea" of my Nikkor lenses.  Manual focus.  Beautiful out of focus rendition when shot wide open.  Manual aperture settings so I know exactly where I'm at.  Of course, shooting in broad daylight would mean stopping lenses down and potentially sharpening up the entire scene with good depth of field.

Fortunately the (old hand calculated designs based on history and practical knowledge) Nikkors are by current standards (of computer ray traced designs solving for 11th order effects) brilliantly sharp stopped down.  

I have modern AF Top Drawer lenses as well as many old Nikkors, and, frankly, from one click down on the aperture it's awfully difficult to tell any difference between them.  So, with a few mental gymnastics I was able to convince myself to use the old Nikkors.

For the Cheap Chinese Flash setup, here's what would be used - 

  • Three Yongnuo YN560 flash units
  • A cheap three flash mount bracket
  • A cheap flash stand
  • A RF/FM remote trigger system consisting of
    • On-camera trigger
    • Two remote flash hot-shoe'd receivers

All I needed to do when switching cameras from 24mm to 55mm and back again would be to slip the on-camera RF/FM trigger from one body to the other.

To make a complex situation more complex, I packed a 2-stop ND filter.  This would allow me to open up the aperture, well, by 2 stops.  If I did this right, I would be able to explore what happens to a scene when both sun-enhancing flash and narrower depth of fields are used in tandem.  The effect might be interesting.

So how did my little experiment of shooting the all manual, maybe needlessly complex setup end up?  Not 1/2 bad, actually.  Let's have a look, shall we?

This was done under full sun (to my right).  I put the flash units to the right as well, set their power to 1/4 and under-exposed the overall scene by 1/2 a stop.  The depth of field is a little too good and the background is a bit distracting to my eyes.  Though, the scene is well placed with the view of the large buildings in the background.  I like the way the flashes did their jobs to bring the bike out of the mess.  Even if it's just a little.

le traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022


Shooting against the sun, setting the flash to my left, and putting the power at 1/4 or 1/2 on all three units I was able to blast the Holy Heck out of the Buick.  The overall scene was under-exposed by, again, 1/2 stop.  I like the effect.  The people and the trees in the background at back-lit.  So would the car be if I hadn't painted the car in light the way I did.

la traversee de Paris ~ 2022


Three young ladies were being photographed by a local photographer.  They were using the cars as backdrops.  All three were "Miss" somethingorother.  This lady was Miss Montmartre. 

Had I not used fill-flash the scene would've been a lighting mess.  The sun was throwing very strong shadows off everything and the Jaguar XK-SS would've disappeared into an inky black hole where no light could escape.  I needed to flatten the contrast a little and to "open up" the Miss' far-side face if I could.

If you know me, you know I've owned several Jags in my life.  They were my childhood pinnacle of automobilisme.  They all had sexy lines and could push a gentleman smartly down the motorway at impressive speeds.

I'd read where the D-type race car had been lightly re-designed to take normal road-gear (bumpers, passenger seat, that kind of thing).  Very few were made, though, before that portion of the Jaguars factory burnt.  So it came as a huge surprise to see this car.  Sure, the young lady is pretty.  There's no doubt about that.  But that Jag?  Oh All Things That Are Holy this was glorious!!

I'm not sure if it's an original or a "continuation" version.  Somehow I just can't see someone driving a many-millions of Euros car around Paris just for the hell of it.  The insurance alone would cost a fortune.  So I'm thinking this must be a very accurate reproduction (perhaps even done up by the factory?).

la traversee de Paris ~ 2022

Early on in my little photo-session I balanced the overall scene exposure with the flash and let the flash simply fill the shadows.  Looking at the cameras LCD convinced me I liked the gentle effect that simple flash-fill might bring.

For this Renault Alpine the sun was was over to my left (almost, but not quite shooting against it) and it cast a strong shadow to the right.  So I placed the three flash setup to my right, set the power to 1/16 or 1/8 (rather low, whichever it was) and this is the image I came away with.

It's almost as if you can't see the effect of the flash.  If I wasn't talking about it, would a viewer even notice?  It's kind of interesting to think about in this way.

One more thing, look at the quality of the light.  Having worked with flash for decades I might've guessed that a large light modifier had been used to "soften" up the light.  But that's not the case at all.  The three flash units were all bare and no light modifiers were used at all.  This is just straight flash fill.

Renault Alpine ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022


Lastly, we come to Coluche.  How the great French humorist comes to be associated with this Ford Fairlane is beyond me.  But there you have it.  Coluche's name is attached to this car.

Ford made this line of Fairlanes back in the 1950's.  By the late '50's Ford sold the factory, designs, tools, and everything to Simca. Simca continued to produce these cars for several years after.  I have to look at the badges to know which side of the Ford Sale any particular car comes from.

For this image the full sun was over left shoulder.  You can see the flash-filled shadow from the sun on the ground to the right of the car.  The overall exposure was set to -1/2EV to knock down the sky a bit and to make the people darker.  

I set the three flashes power to full *pop* and set the stand to my right.  If you look at the cars fin in the center of the frame, you can just make out the shadow that the flash threw off the fin and onto the rear trunk.

To me this image really "pops."  It's filled with colors and shapes.  It "feels" interesting.  It fully expresses what I wanted to capture about these old cars that participate in le traversee de Paris.  All it took was three RF/FM controlled flash mounted on a cheap flash stand.

la traversee de Paris ~ 2022

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Another Up-Sizing look ~ automobiles in the wild and out on the streets of Paris

Years ago (as in 14 at this point) The Online Photographer had an article about how a photographer took a 4 megapixel sensor'd image and made glorious 13x19 inch prints.

 Here's what was said about the image - "This rider was going about 75 mph when the photo was taken, and you can see every stitch, vent perforation, and the pebble texture of the leather with excellent detail and clarity."

This has stuck with me over the years.  I've written several times about trying to simulate a similar up-sizing process using the Gimp.  My first attempt involved UnSharp Mask sharpening the basic file, up-sizing using the Cubic operation, and then USM sharpening again.  It was an interesting process, but there was always something slightly soft about my final results.

Two years ago I saw that RawTherapee came out with a "Capture Sharpen" function.  I didn't think about it too much at first about how it might related to up-sizing an image.  All I knew was that my images took on a sudden and happy increase in "sharpness" in their native sizes.

I guess I could step back and say that my early Canon DSLR images, at the time, felt "sharp" enough to me.  Then I experienced Sony's APS-C sensors and realized I my Canon gear was lacking.  More recently I've added a couple Sony full frame sensor'd A7 cameras to the Box of Toys.  These take to "Capture Sharpen" like ducks to water and are far sharper than any of my old Canon files that are also "Capture Sharpened".  If there is anything sharper, please, please show it to me.  I'd like to see it.

In 10 years I've moved from Canon "acceptable", "ya, that's pretty OK" sharpness to Sony "oh my ever loving gawd!" levels of sharpness.

When is "enough" enough?  I've been wrangling over the added cost of moving up the Food Chain a bit to acquire a 42mpixel Sony A7R2.  The additional pixels could make life better, right?  More, better, happiness.  Stay with the "in crowd" to maximize flexibility and overall image quality.  Perhaps rather shallow justifications for buying more camera equipment.

In similar time, or should I say "just in time", I stumbled across an interesting video where a guy makes rather large pleasing prints from an old 10mpixel Leica M8.  It immediately reminded me that perhaps I hadn't fully explored careful up-sizing processes.  

Between Stephen Sharf's process notes and seeing this video I then felt I might even save a few Louis d'Or or Pistoles by staying with a lower cost but still (hopefully) viable 24mpixel sensor'd solution.  For the price of one used Sony A7R2 (around 1100USD) I could have three used Sony A7 (around 400USD each).

Borrowing from 14 years ago to consider the idea of making 42mpixel sized prints by careful up-sizing 24mpixel image might prove "interesting."  Stephen Sharf  started with a 4mpixel (2464 x 1648 pixels) Canon 1D image and ended up with a 6840pixel x 4680pixel print file that looked, by all accounts, to be wonderful at 13x19 inches.


1. Each image is sharpened upon import into Photoshop using the Photokit Sharpener "Capture Sharpen" macro to recover detail lost by the sensor (effectively infinite number of photons, finite number of pixels).

2. Each image is then upressed using Bicubic Smoother in PS to give the pixel dimensions at 360 ppi.

3. The image is then sharpened for printing using Photokit Sharpener using the Inkjet, 360 dpi, Glossy sharpening macro.

4. The image is then exported to ImagePrint, a RIP, and printed on Stephen's old warhorse Epson 2400 using the appropriate color profile and ImagePrint to drive the printer.

5. The photo is then printed on InkJet Art Microceramic Lustre..."

Looking at my up-sizing process I thought about improvements I might make.  For the first sharpening step I could use RawTherapee's "Capture Sharpen" in place of the Gimp's various "smart sharpen" operators.

Second, I could use the Gimp's "NoHalo" up-sizing operator.  This would replace the "Cubic" operator that I had been using, and recently found to be soft compared with "NoHalo".  

Third, I could try various Gimp G'Mic sharpening operators to see if there was something demonstrably better than "UnSharp Mask."  To this end I find I like the G'Mic "Inverse Diffusion" sharpening operator.  I think it's really nice, particularly if I put a sharpened copy of the image in a layer and lower the opacity while observing the effect at 100 to 200 percent viewing sizes.

To test all this I took an image from a recent la traversee de Paris that I'd made using flash fill (three flash units, in fact, to try and keep up with the sun), a Sony A7, and a pretty little Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai lens.


Renault Alpine ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022


Here is what I found.

Rawtherapee Capture Sharen Comparison


Keep in mind, I'm well aware of the fact I'm not adding ANY information to an up-sized file.  All I'm doing is smoothing ("spackeling", if you prefer) the transitions between expanded pixels.  This is, afterall, what Stephen did all those years ago, and he came away with good looking prints.

The comparison begins with the base 6000x4000pixel image unsharpened, followed by "Capture Sharpen" version.  I see a useful improvement in "sharpness."  The effect is rather dramatic, actually.  

The out of focus rendition wasn't much effected, though I did note higher contrast when using "Capture Sharpen" and perhaps a "grainier" feel to the out of focus region when pixel peeping. This would hold true for subsequent process variations, too.

Using the Gimp's "NoHalo" 9000x6000pixel up-sizing operation on an un-"Capture Sharpen"ed image I see overall smoothness in the image.  There is little to no objectionable noise and pixelation seems to be well under control.

Applying G'Mic "sharp" function called "Inverse Diffusion" to the base un-sharpened, up-sized image I see that things still look pretty nice.  Though I don't show it here, this result is "sharper" than using the Gimp's "Cubic" up-sizing operator and the Gimp's USM sharpener that I used in my earlier studies.

Considering the "NoHalo" up-sized "Capture Sharpen"ed image, I do have to say, that looks eminently printable straight away.  Artifacts introduced by up-sizing a "Capture Sharpen"ed image seem fairly well controlled, even though they are more evident than in the un-Capture Sharpened images.  We can see these artifact when "pixel-peeping", but they will be slightly masked in a final print.

The "Inverse Diffusion" sharpen operation applied to a "Capture Sharpen"ed image is simply too much.  Well, to my eyes, at least.  So to tame the overall effect down a bit, I put the "Inverse Diffusion" sharpened image in a layer and set the opacity to 40 percent.  This seemed to be a pretty good balance between too much noise with too many artifacts, and further increases in "sharpness."  Balanced in this way the image really "pops."

To this point in my investigations I feel the un-sharpened/NoHalo up-sized/Inverse Diffusion sharpened image is very nice and is probably quite printable as is.  

However, for the ultimate "pop" without the feeling of being "oversharpened", the Capture Sharpen/NoHalo up-size/Inverse Diffusion at 40percent opacity really rocks my boat.

I didn't stop there.

How it occurred to me I will never know, but I thought about having RawTherapee add just a hint of noise reduction early in the process to see if it had any effect on the intensity of the artifacts introduced by "Capture Sharpen" in an up-sized image.  

I'd recently come to understand the RawTherapee "Noise Reduction" operation can be very subtle when I want it to be.  It can also act like a heavy hammer when the ISO's are through the roof and the noise is so great I can't sleep at night.  No, I'd try to take a very soft hand to the low-ISO image noise to see if I could "knock off the edges" just a tiny, nearly un-noticable bit. 

I implemented the following process -

  • Import image to RawTherapee
  • "Capture Sharpen" image
  • "Noise Reduction" applied with minimal action on the sliders
  • Pass the "tif" image into the Gimp
  • Up-Size using "NoHalo"
  • G'Mic "Inverse Diffusion" sharpen image in a layer
  • Set sharpened image layer to 40percent opacity

Take a close look at the last two image sets and compare them with images further up the chart.  What do you see?  Not half bad, eh?

To encapsulate my current feelings of which would be "best" -

  • Quite "adequate" - RawTherapee un-sharpen base image/Gimp NoHalo upsize/G'Mic Inverse Diffusion sharpen

  • Amazing "pop" - Rawtherapee Capture Sharpen base image/Gimp NoHalo upsize/G'Mic Inverse Diffusion sharpen layer with opacity set to 40 percent

  • Pleasingly "luscious" - Rawtherapee Capture Sharpen + very subtle Noise Reduction of a base image/Gimp NoHalo up-sizing/G'Mic Inverse Diffusion sharpen layer with opacity set to 40 percent

After all is said and done... should I be able to take a 6000x4000 Sony sensor'd image, apply any of these three process versions, and come away with a beautifully printable image that is 48 inches long? ... maybe ... maybe yes...  quite possibly ...

Friday, August 05, 2022

Into the Daylight ~ a Cheap Chinese Flash Adventure

This is the ninth year I've shown up to photograph la traversee de Paris.  The event is run twice a year, once in early January and once in late July/early August.  Each time I go I try to find a different way to photograph the event, and each year I've tried to improve my "seeing" of the very common subject that is the automobile.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022

For this years summer event (the "estivale") I decided to try to separate automobiles from a darker background by using flash fill.  You've probably rightly guessed that I've read a bit too much Joe McNally and David Hobby.

Flash setup -

  • Three Yongnuo YN560 flash units
  • Mounted on a cold shoe bracket that takes the three flashes
  • Triggered by a cheap wireless FM RC setup -
    • Trigger on camera
    • Two receivers mounted to two of the three remote units
      • These two flash units to "M" - manual 
    • One of the flash units to "S1" - slave1

This allows all three flashes to trigger simultaneously.  

The whole plot was put on top of a cheap flash stand.  The off-camera stand allowed me good flexibility on where to place the lighting rig.  It can be far from the camera.  It can be lowered and put close to the subject.  I can move the lighting rig to the shadow side of the scene.  Or I could place the rig right up over the camera. In other words, in running cable-free RF triggered flash units I can arrange the rig as I feel the scene demands.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022

My biggest concern about this setup centered around Real World flash output.  I'd measured the output of these cheap Chinese flashes and the Guide Number is truly 22.  The published GN of 58 is wrong under the conditions I find myself in.  I feared that it would be a real challenge to get three flashes to balance and ultimately overpower the sun.

Camera setup

  • Sony A7 with stored setup in mode "M1" 
  • ISO100
  • 1/200th sec shutter speed (which I'd tested before leaving home to confirm the shutter wouldn't cut the upper portion of the frame)
  • White Balance set to "Daylight" (which in Sony World is 5025Kelvin - about 500Kelvin lower than I like as the flash is too blue, so I had to adjust in processing, and will need to set the WB manually to 5500 in the future and save it as part of my "M1" selection)
  • Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai manual focus lens adapted to the A7
  • Find the desired aperture setting by watching the exposure needles while turning the aperture ring

My original goal was to lightly over-drive the flash output to the background exposure.   I had intended to drop the metered exposure -1EV to -2EV.  

Yet once I was on scene and working I realized I kind of preferred setting the overall exposure as the multi-zone exposure system reported it at 0EV adjustment.  In the end this was a lucky choice.  It kept the sky from blowing out.  The non-sky portion of the scene was between -0.5EV, or perhaps -1.5EV, depending on where the sun was relative to the subject and the direction I pointed the lens in.  For the most part this was what I was looking for.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022

The day started out cloudy.  With overcast skies I could set the flash power on all three units between 1/8 and 1/4 power.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  The flash units could recycle quickly and I wasn't burning the batteries to the ground by having to use 1/2 or 1 Power all the time.

This would become my process.  Meter the scene by watching the needles move with respect to the aperture.  Take a shot.  Look at the result.  Adjust the flash  power output up or down depending on what I saw.

After the sun came out, I found I could put the three flash units between 1/2 to 1 (Full Pop) Power.  This rig could augment the sun and I could actually under-expose the overall scene by 1EV.  Since the flashes were doing their "thing" by blasting as much light as they could give, the subject was brought back into proper exposure.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022

The overall experience made me wish for a couple of things.  First, I wished for accurate GN's.  While GN22 got the job done, to not make the flashes work so hard I think I'll need to add one or two more units to the rig.

Certainly Sony, Nikon, and Canon all make accurate Guide Number claims.  To have three SB800, for instance, would add overall flexibility to my setup, but those are expensive.  Just one SB800 used on the open market would be more than I paid for the three Yongnuo's new.  Obviously you _do_ sometimes get what you pay for.

On the other hand, with a little DIY I should be able to add two more cold shoes if/when the time comes and I feel the need for more Cheap Chinese Light. 

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2022

 Image "Explore"'d on Flickr
7 August, 2022

The second thing I wished for is really a minor thing in the overall scheme of things.  For 30 percent of the photos I wish I'd dropped the metered exposure 1/2 stop further.  Some of my images, while looking pretty decent, could've benefited from a slightly darker background as a way to help make the primary subject "pop" a bit more.  The white Porsche 356 is a good example of that.  Compare this image to the Corvette above it and you'll perhaps understand my wish.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Cheap Chinese Flash Units ~ Marketing vs Reality

In the process of preparing for a project I discovered something about the three Yongnuo YN560 flash units I own.  

The published Guide Number (GN58 at 105mm) does not match my experience.  This makes it difficult to accurately expose a scene using the manufacturer supplied information.

As you already know, this model of flash is completely manual.  There is no TTL capability, nor is there any built-in RF triggering (at least in the series one and two versions I own).

Someone measured the output of a more recent model Yongnuo flash and shared their results.  They concluded that their measurements proved the factory Guide Numbers were accurate.  

Who am I to doubt? So I followed carefully what was measured, set the camera and flash to the appropriate settings, and the image was... *sad clown sounds*...  two stops under-exposed.  

Huh.  What had I done wrong?

If you've followed me over the years, you already know the importance I place on sorting things out "in the real world."  Forget the marketing lies.  Forget what someone claims to have measured, particularly if things aren't adding up correctly.  Somethings they can be wrong.  Or I should say, in the earlier days of Chinese manufacturing and sales, mostly wrong.  And sometimes there are significant differences in systems of measurement and/or understanding.

So what would the real Guide Number of my flash units be?

To sort it all out I took a Sony A7 and A6000, mounted up a couple old manual focus Nikkor lenses, grabbed a tape measure and set out to find the answer.

Here is the simple formula for determining Guide Numbers -

    Guide Number = Distance (meters or feet) X Aperture

Test Setup -

  •  Sony A7 (following values set to M1 on the mode dial for future use in the field)
    • ISO 100
    • 1/125th sec shutter speed
    • Daylight white balance
  • Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5
  • Subject exactly 1 meter from the sensor plane

As you will see I made things as easy as possible to calculate GN's at various flash power settings by setting the distance to 1 meter. 1 times anything is still just anything. In this case the Guide Number is simply the Aperture (anything).

    Guide Number = 1 meter Distance X Aperture

At each aperture setting (f/2 through f/22) I carefully noted the flash power output that gave the best range of tones from highlight down through and into deep shadows by looking at the image histogram.

Using 1/125th of a second and 100ISO, mapping flash power (FP) settings to Guide Number to distance, here is the matrix I came up with.  As you can see, at 1 meter, the Guide Number in my case is the same as the aperture.

In my system of Sony cameras, camera settings, Nikon manual focus lenses, and Yongnuo flash I found that the Full Power Guide Number is 22 at all flash zoom settings except 100mm where the Guide Number is a whopping 24.  I found these  GN's are valid for all three of my Yongnuo YN560 units.  There is no variation between them.

  • Distance = 1 meter
    • GN2, f/2, FP 1/128
    • GN3, f/2.8, FP 1/64
    • GN4, f/4, FP 1/32
    • GN6, f/5.6, FP 1/16
    • GN8, f/8, FP 1/8
    • GN11, f/11, FP 1/4
    • GN16, f/16, FP 1/2
    • GN22, f22, FP 1 (full pop)
  • Distance = 2 meters
    • GN4, f/2, FP 1/32
    • GN6, f/2.8, FP 1/16
    • GN8, f/4, FP 1/8
    • GN11, f/5.6, FP 1/4
    • GN16, f/8, FP 1/2
    • GN22, f/11, FP 1 (full pop)
  • Distance = 3 meters 
    • GN6, f/2, FP 1/16
    • GN8, f/2.8, FP 1/8
    • GN11, f/4, FP 1/4
    • GN16, f/5.6, FP 1/2
    • GN22, f/8, FP 1 (full pop)

To see how this works, let's say I have a subject 3 meters away and I would like to hit it with the correct amount of flash power with a lens aperture of f/4.  Looking at the matrix I see I need to set the flash (FP) to 1/4.  This is exactly how it reads on the back of the flash, so I don't have to think any further about it.  Hit the shutter release et voila, a perfect exposure.

Now let's say I have a subject that is 2 meters away and I am using a polarizing filter (to knock reflections off certain subject surfaces).  Let's say I would like to use an aperture of f/2.  Looking at the table I see the flash power setting would be 1/32.  Then taking into consideration that polarizing filters grab approximately two stops of light I see that I need to go from the GN of 4 to a GN of 8, where the flash is now set to 1/8 power.  Hit the shutter release et voila, a perfect exposure.

Let's do one more calculation, shall we.  Let's say we have a subject three meters away, want to use f/5.6 _and_ we have a polarizing filter.  We start with a GN of 16.  Then we need to account for the polarizing filter which is another two stops.  A GN of 22 won't cut it as it's only good for one more stop.  So, we need two flash units at 3 meters set to a GN of 22 (full pop) to give the subject enough light.  Hit the shutter release et voila, a perfect exposure.

You might question why go through all the trouble?  After-all, for a mere 500Euro/USD you can get a camera manufacturers own fully integrated flash system.  Valid question, right? 

A valid response is I'm a Cheap Old Slob.  Being retired and living on a fixed income can do that to a guy.  Further, I come from a time where these kinds of mental gymnastics were required and not optional.  Balancing ISO (ASA back in the day) against shutter speed, flash output, and lens aperture was simply part of the act of making a photograph.

Here's what I paid (approximately) -

  • 50Euro each for two new Yongnuo YN560II flash units 
  • 40Euro used for a third series 1 flash
  • 30Euro on a pair of cheap flash stands
  • 15Euro for a pair of shoot-thru umbrellas
  • 8Euro for a silver bounce umbrella
  • 15Euro for a three flash cold bracket
  • 20Euro for an RF (FM band) trigger with two remote receivers.

For less than 230Euro/USD I now have a fairly flexible fully GN verified three light system.  This, where just one Sony/Nikon/Canon flash would cost over twice that much.

I hope to be able to share results from an upcoming project.  It would be fun show what's possible while on a fixed Cheap Old Slob income.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Photo Ops ~ July 2022

2022 isle de France Photo-opportunities - So, this is it for the updates on the Paris region photo-ops for awhile.  I have a lot to do over the summer and we'll be very busy through the Fall and Winter.  Bretagne and Italy will be in the cards.  These two places are always outstanding photo-ops.

[I've redone this sequence and put the completed events in reverse order putting the most recently finished events at the top.]

le Mans Classic - 30 June - 3 July DONE Photos Here


Aston Martin DB3S - 1955 ~ le Mans Classic 2022


Cafe Racer Montlhery - 18-19 June *NOPE* We were in the midst of a heatwave

Paris - Rambouillet avec les Teuf-Teuf - 28 rassemblement a Paris 7eme, 29 May a Rambouillet *NOPE* I went to the WRONG location!!!  Oh, man.  This isn't good.  I feel like such an idiot.

Rallye des Princesses - 14-19 May *DONE* Photos Here!

Rallye des Princesses ~ Paris 2022 

Vintage Revival Montlhery - 7-8 May - the Beast will be there (the only surviving Fiat S76) *DONE* Photos Here!


Vintage Revival Montlhery ~ 2022


Tour Auto - 25-30 April *Did not attend*

la traversee de Paris - 27 March *CANCELLED at the last moment! Argghhhh*  but it was rescheduled - yea!!! la traversee de Paris - 17 April *DONE* Photos Here!

la traversee de Paris ~ 2022

Foire Photo - Chelles - 20 March *Did not attend* 


Retromobile - 16-20 March *DONE*  Photos here!


Retromobile, Paris ~ 2022


Salon International de l'Agriculture *DONE*  Photos here!

Salon International de l'Agriculture, Paris ~ 2022

That's all for now.

Bugatti Brescia Type 13 1923 ~ Vintage Revival Montlhery ~ 2022

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Specialty Lenses ~ a more personal history

Specialty "soft focus" lenses can be a real kick in the pants, but most of the time they are difficult to control.

I've owned many "soft focus" lenses.

It all started with a 12inch Portland lens that I dearly wish I'd kept.  I didn't use it much and I now very much regret selling that lens.  I paid next to nothing for it and got next to nothing selling it on.

I also owned a Wollensak Verito, but it never was mounted nor used.  Stupid, stupid, silly me.  What I'd give to have that lens back.  Like the Portland soft focus lens, I paid next to nothing for the Verito and got very little when I sold it.

There were three other large format soft focus lenses that passed through my toy box.  Two came from Fuji and were the 180mm and 250mm SF lenses.  Like the Verito and Portland optics I never came to grip with the Fujinon SF, even though I tried them many times.  Something simply did not "click" (ahem) for me.  Same for a gorgeous Rodenstock 300mm Imagon lens that came with a complete set of sieves.

The "soft focus" lens I had the most luck with was a Mamiya 150mm SF for RB67 that came with the sieve set.  I picked it up for cheap from KEH and used it on a workman-like Mamiya RZ.  I photographed some of my wife's roses and peonies with it.  I still have several palladium contact prints that I made from digital inter-negatives that I scanned from the original 120 6x7cm.  The prints "sing" to me.  The flowers "glow" so magnificently.   These prints remain something quite special.

I have a Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft that was originally in Pentax K mount, but came to me in Nikon F mount.  Talk about under-corrected spherical aberration behind the point of focus!  Eowza!! that thing is over the top.  

Even stopping the Pentax down it fails to sharpen up in any meaningful way.  It's simply too much for me and I'd prefer a bit more softness control.  It's probably too much for other people, too.  I've had this lens forsale on a local website for months and no one appears the least bit interested.  Can't say I blame them.

After trading emails with a scientist photographer who received his PhD in the topic of "pictorialist" lenses I learned something interesting.  Of course, now I'd like to find the lens he says modern day "pictorialists" swear by.  It's the Minolta Varisoft 85mm lens and hey cost the moon.  I doubt I'll ever find one for a reasonable living on a fixed income price.  Though I do keep my eyes open.

A couple years ago I picked up a box of lenses for 7Euro each.  One of them was a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai.  It was disassembled, cleaned up, and as it was being put back together, a thought occurred to me that maybe using the rear element set all by itself could be "interesting."  I found I needed to put a couple extension tubes in line to get the setup to focus from infinity down to something pretty close.  It did the trick.  Some of the photos I made with it weren't half bad.

Paris ~ Fall 2020

Paris ~ Fall 2020

Since hunting and gathering is a full time obsession for me, the 50mm f/2 Nikkor was sold.  In the process of moving to Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 manual focus lenses, I stumbled across a 20Euro beater Nikkor-S.C.  I got the parts off it I needed for another Nikkor-S.C. project and quickly realized I had a similar setup to my old Soft Focus Special.

Using an 11mm extension tube I found the Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f/1.4 rear element set Soft Focus Special could focus from infinity to about a foot.  This was a much shorter lens adaptation than the f/2 was.


Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f/1.4 without front element set

Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f/1.4 without front element set


Looking at how it renders I feel that it behaves rather similarly to the old Wollensak Varito.  There's swirl around the edges of the frame.  There's loads of barrel distortion (which I didn't find in this quantity in the converated 50mm H f2).  The under-corrected spherical aberration is controllable using the aperture.  To help protect the lens internals I mounted up an old UV filter.  In short, not a bad "find" out of a cheap ready for the recycler lens.


Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f1.4 without front element set

Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f1.4 without front element set

Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f1.4 without front element set

Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f1.4 without front element set


Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f/1.4 without front element set

Nikon Nikkor-S.C. 50mm f/1.4 without front element set


How does the rear element set of a classic old manual focus double Gauss design give a soft focus rendition?  Nikon's "Thousand and One Nights" history series may have the answer.  When designing wide aperture SLR lenses they would "fight fire with fire" by letting under-corrected spherical aberration dominate both element sets of deeply ground element curves.  The trick appears to be to balance that under-correction.  The first element set gives under-correction and the second element set inverts the effect and re-corrects it back out.

With this in mind, you can use either the front or aft element set from a double Gauss lens to achieve a similar effect.  In the case of my thrashed 50mm S.C. the fore element group has deep scratchs and boatloads of fungus, but the rear element set remains clear.  This, it turns out, matches the configuration of the old Portland soft focus lens that I dearly miss.  The aperture is in from the element(s) and controls the level of softness.

One thing I notice is the out of focus transition behind the point of focus is very very smooth from the "get-go."  Where most old under-corrected 50mm lenses transition through the out of focus disk having a bright center _and_ a somewhat bright outter ring, this Nikkor SF Special transitions straight to beautiful under-corrected spherical aberration behind the point of focus.  No outter ring around the out of focus disk.  It's glorious.

I don't like this kind of rendering for automobiles (though things look slightly better in Black and White than they do in color) or many of the man-made subjects around town. The effect, however, looks pretty good on vegetation and in portraiture.  It's a matter of finding a subject that, to one's eyes, is enhanced by the softness.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Lens Out of Focus Rendition ~ a more personal history

Out of focus rendition behind the point of focus is where the "character" of a lens is.

For years I thought optical resolution was where "magic" could be found in a lens.  It took me a couple decades to learn otherwise.  Sharp lenses aren't hard to make.  Everyone is capable of manufacturing lenses that are "sharp."

I've learned that, for me, it's other optical properties that make a lens interesting and adds "character" to an image.  This is what I'm talking about when I write about the out of focus rendition behind the point of focus.  There are three kinds of out of focus rendition and they are as follows.

  • Under-Corrected Spherical Aberration - the out of focus disk of highlights are lighter (show more energy) in the center of the disk than at the edge
  • Neutrally-Corrected Spherical Aberration - the out of focus disk of highlights are smooth and evenly illuminated across the disk
  • Over-Corrected Spherical Aberration - the out of focus disk of highlights show bright edges and are "hollow" in the center of the disk

NOTE: These effects are most often and most easily seen when a lens is shot wide open.

Nikon knows that under-corrected spherical aberration behind the point of focus can produce a "subtle", "delicate", and "beautiful" effect.  From what I see they've been designing lenses to build this into their lenses since at least the end of WWII. For their old manual focus lenses Nikon has a clear understanding of the effect.

Zeiss lenses tend to be designed for neutral spherical aberration corrections.  I have a gorgeous Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS that appears to be been designed this way.  And I have a couple Nikon zoom lenses that behave this way, too.  One is the cheap and under-appreciated E-series 75-150mm f/3.5.  The other is the 100-300mm f/5.6 AiS which is also cheap and under-appreciated.  I find out of focus rendering to be wonderfully smooth.

Old manual focus over-corrected lenses tend to appear "sharper" at the point of focus than under-corrected lenses (where spherical aberration tends to veil an image).  I'm convinced this is why certain manufacturers chose this approach.  I'm thinking of the Zeiss 50mm f/3.5 and f/2.8 Tessar lenses and many of the Canon FL, FD, and FDn designs.  This effect is what people tend to call "soap bubble bokeh."  I don't like it, but I know of photographers who do.

Back when I shot large format film (4x5inch up through 12x20inches) I felt with no real evidence other than "Tribal Widsom" that German made lenses were the "best."  I owned a nice collection of Schneider, Voightlander, and Zeiss lenses.

It was only recently that I read about Nikon's lens design philosophy and how they applied their under-corrected spherical aberration approach to their medium and large format lenses, as well.

I saw "something" in the way a pretty little Nikkor-M 200m f/8 performed, but at the time I couldn't "put my finger" on what it was.  Well, looking at a few of my old negatives I now see it was this out of focus rendition that makes Nikkor optics so special.  It was a real missed opportunity for me to explore what the Nikkor-W series of lenses were capable of. 

How to know how a lens was designed for behind the point of focus rendition?

This is easy.  Very easy, in fact.  Using a digital camera with focus magnification -

  1) Mount a lens on a camera

  2) Find and focus on bright highlights

  3) Magnify a highlight to 15x

  4) Start to slowly turn the focus ring from farther away to closer

  5) Watch the highlights as they go out of focus, note the highlights in one of three following ways:

        a) Bright point in the center of the expanding luminous out of focus disk - this indicates under-corrected spherical aberration behind the point of focus.  Often with old lenses you will see what appears to be a brighter ring around the edges of the out of focus disks.  This is normal.  What's important is to see is that the center is brighter than the surrounding disk area (with the possible exception of the very edges of the disk).

        b) Luminous out of focus disk remains smooth across the field - this indicates a neutrally corrected optic (these tended, until recently, to be rather rare in my experience)

        c) Bright disk edges with hollow center - the out of focus disk looks like a doughnut - this indicates an over-correction leading to "soap bubble bokeh"

I do this when considering a lens I'm not already familiar with and this simple technique works a charm.

Modern mirrorless AF lenses from Sony, Nikon, and Olympus are designed to eliminate as many optical defects as possible.  With the aid of computer ray tracing software and improved manufacturing techniques many new lenses are darned near "perfect."  You can use the technique of verifying the out of focus rendition on current optics, too.