Friday, June 08, 2018

David Douglas Duncan

Gods!

David Douglas Duncan has died.

I grew up with DDDuncan's images.  I well remember his work in the '60's from Vietnam.  I well remember his other images, too.  He was one of the Greats against whom so much was measured.

It is because of him that I chase, buy, and use old wonderful Nikon Nikkor optics.



Friday, June 01, 2018

Comparing a strange mix of optics

... once more again into the abyss, shall we?

Today I would like to take a look at a rather odd mix of lenses.

Two lenses offer fields of view that are much greater than the usual 35mm Full Frame format.  They are Nikon's original perspective control lenses.  These are traditionally used for keeping vertical lines and perspective when photographing building interiors and exteriors "correct" by shifting the lens.

Two of the other lenses are new to the Toy Box. It is an old Nikon Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 P pre-ai (the one with the small rear elements.   The other new Toy Box lens is a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8.  A good friend sent me these lenses as well as the 35mm PC.

One of the Nikkor lenses was part of the Super Deal that I scored off eBay point fr that set me back all of 7 Euro.  For an old somewhat thrashed 50mm lens, this one seems to tickle one of many funny bones I seem to have.

Lastly, I wanted to take another look at the Zeiss Jena DDR 50mm Tessar.  I couldn't believe that it performed as poorly as it did in the first test.  So I wanted another go at it to see if in reassembly I might have aligned things a little better this time.

Setup 
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Lenses - 
    • Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 PC  - shot straight on, no shift
    • Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 PC - shot straight on, no shift
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai  
    • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 Ai 
    • Zeiss Jena DDR 50mm f/2.8 Tessar "pancake" in m42 mount 
The perspective control lenses were shot on a Lens Turbo II focal reducer adapter.  I wanted to see what the performance would be across the field.

The other lenses were shot using "straight through" adapters. So what we will observe there is full frame lens performance on APS-C sized/cropped sensors. This means the very outer limits of the field of view will not be compared at all. If something already performs poorly at the outer edges of the APS-C frame, it will very likely be pretty horrible at the far edges of the full frame 35mm format.

Comparison

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there, look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the comparison at 100 percent.]

Nikon 28mm, 35mm PC, 50mm Zeiss Comparison

Comments

To begin with, the Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 PC is absolutely brilliant.  It's sharp across the field and all the way out to the edge of the focal reduced frame.  If I didn't know any better I'd say I was shooting the equally wonderfully sharp 28mm f/3.5 Ai Nikkor that I have. 

After seeing these results I'm happy haven't sold this PC lens.  It's been up for sale for the past several years, but no one has ever enquired about it.  Sale prices have dropped pretty dramatically, too, from the days when these were moving for north of 500USD.  No, this is being taken off the market and it now stays in the kit.

The second perspective control lens I own, the 35mm PC, is ever so slightly soft wide open.  The edges, too, seem to be slightly softer than it's 28mm PC sister.  Stopped down things improve across the field.  When shooting architecture and using the shift capability I see I should shoot the lens at f/8 or f/11 to make sure the outer edges are kept as sharp as possible.

Coming to one of the lenses that really tickles my many funny bones is the 7Euro Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai.  It's acceptably sharp wide open and becomes wickedly sharp one click down at f/2.8.  This lens has seen a rough life and there is a mark on the rear element.  But none of this seems to matter.  It's just plain sharp sharp sharp.  Period.

If you've been following along with some of my other comparisons you'll know I have a Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 non-Ai.  That lens is wickedly sharp from wide open.  By comparison, the f/2.8 example seen here is ever so slightly softer wide open than the older f/3.5.  It's nothing that can't easily be resolved using a bit of smart sharpen in processing. 

Still, it surprised me a little as I'd read and heard that the f/2.8 version was "better"than the f/3.5.  Now I'm wondering by what measure the f/2.8 is supposed to be "better."  Stopped down, of course, the f/2.8 and f/3.5 are indistinguishable from each other.  Both are wonderful lenses... and... now that I've gone looking for comparison results from the 55mm f/3.5... I can't seem to find them... which means I have yet another opportunity to compare lenses.  Oh boy!

Lastly, the dreaded Zeiss Jena DDR 50mm f/2.8 Tessar performance hasn't changed.  For this comparison I stopped all the test samples down to f/8.  It's there (at f/8) that the center of the Tessar finally equals the resolution of the other lenses.  This is very strange to me as Zeiss has a strong reputation for performance. 

Perhaps Zeiss failed to wave their Magic Resolution Performance Wand over this design?  Every single copy of the Zeiss Tessar I've had has tested the very same way, and I've owned early and late examples of the little lens.  On the other hand, I've heard some people say they don't care about any of that, but instead enjoy the Tessar's ability to produce strong "bubble bokeh" in the out of focus regions when shot wide open.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Capturing the "glow" - two more examples

I'm rather excited now that I begin to understand what I'm looking at in digital black and white photography.  Contrary to how I was trained, a good image may not about have pure black nor pure white.  Rather, I'm beginning to see that a worthy goal is about making a pleasing arrangement of lights and darks.

A friend of mine has known this for years.  When I look at his work I'm impressed by how his work "glows."  The greys are beautifully arranged.  I think of him working in what I'll call "quiet light."

Using the technique outlined in an earlier blog entry I set about to see what I could see from a few images from a recent trip to Bordeaux.  In this church interior there is a lot of detail, particularly in the ceiling.  It seems as if the yellow filter I applied made that portion of the scene really "pop".  No dodging or burning actions were taken.  No selective increases in contrast were made.  All processing activity was global to the image. This image is the simple result of following the technique.

I feel the light ceiling over the grand musical instrument is a decent example of finding the right mix and fix for matching digital images to old well printed black and white film.

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W


The next image is, for me, a example of how light and dark play well together.  There is a lot of detail in the highlights.  There is a lot of detail in the shadow areas, too.  As with the prior image no dodging or burning actions were taken.  The sensation of contrasting light and dark is well preserved nearly straight out of the camera.  To me this feels like a period silver halide image.


Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Capturing the "glow" in digital of old black and white prints

In a prior post I shared my updated understanding of how to make digital black and white images look like beautiful old silver halide prints.

For this post I would like to share a few images that illustrate what is possible.  Since I used multi-coated AF optics, I needed to preserve the highlights in the way I described in that earlier post.

Here is a window scene.  I used a Sony NEX-5T and Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS.  The image was grabbed "on the fly" as my wife and I walked some of the backstreets of Bordeaux.

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W


In the following image I wanted to see how much dynamic range the old Sony NEX-5T sensor could provide.  Using the Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS I was able to isolate something interesting from a complex environment.

What surprises me is how much "luminosity" is retained in this midday scene in a Bordeaux cemetery.  The highlights are creamy beautiful.  The shadows show good detail.  I did no burning or dodging.  This was created taking the out of camera file and applying the "glow" process.

I see that pure white and pure black aren't important.  Simple darks and lights and their relationship to each other, those are what can make an image "work".  As a test of this idea while processing this image I put the blacks as pure black and the whites as pure white.  It just didn't look right.  The sense of "luminosity" and warmth and "glow" was lost.  Welcome, I said to myself, to the world of grey.

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W


Lastly, here is a quiet little scene, this time from inside a church in Bordeaux.  I used a Sony A5000 and a pretty little Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E.  In processing I burned-in the stone arch to help make the light from baptismal font room become the central point of attention.  And since I felt it was too grey I used the contrast slider then to help make the image "pop".

It was pretty simple, actually.  A light touch on the sliders and image processing functions while following the "glow" process brings this to life.

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W



Monday, May 14, 2018

Capturing the "glow" of old black and white images...

I recently visited the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation (a museum) here in Paris to have a look around. The current show was a disappointment as the prints were gray and muddy. On the top floor, however, a close associate of HCB had some of her images on display. They were gorgeous. Deep, rich blacks with creamy highlights that seemed to "glow."

So it was a bit of a surprise to see the subject of black and white image "glow" come up on The Online Photographer's blog. One of Mike Johnson's blog entry caught my eye. He writes concerning creating "glow" -

"Use an older lens. An old, fast "long normal" lens‚ a 58mm ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/1.2‚ works wonderfully. Various makers made 'em and you can get 'em on eBay for a song. One nice new one is the Ricoh 55mm ƒ/1.2 that costs very little money [NLA]. A Noct or a Summarit will serve well enough if you only have Leica lenses. Don't use most current 50mm ƒ/1.4s, which are more "harsh-sharp." Stay away from Nikon lenses, too. If you want a cheap sample that will work wonders, pick up an old Pentax Spotmatic and an Pentax M42 screwmount (not Leica screwmount) 50mm ƒ/1.4 Takumar. And if you think that different lenses don’t have different tonal ranges, shoot that lens side-by-side with a 50mm ƒ/1.8 AF-Nikkor. That'll open your eyes! 

Use a K2 filter—Wrattan #8, medium yellow, whatever you want to call it. This will require another stop or so of exposure. You meter will probably tell you you only need an extra 2/3rds stop, but use a whole one."

He followed up with a nice article on the current state of technologies and how black and white image makers can continue to make wonderful images. These articles seemed to form the basis of a digital process that could accurately emulate good black and white film images. Old single coated lenses and a K2 Yellow filter were the starting points.

Two unexplained things bothered me, however. First, why couldn't a person use Nikon Nikkor lenses to generate a wonderful black and white image that glowed? I've seen Nikon work for decades that easily equalled anything ever made using a Leica or Zeiss lens.

Second, why 58mm? What was magic about that focal length? Old 58mm lenses tend to be soft wide open. The exception being the cheap and widely available Helios 44 which can to be razor sharp in the center of the field from wide open. Is that the optical corrections (or more properly the lack thereof) in those old optics helped enhance the "glow" effect?

Thinking back to my old black and white print days in Hollywood and Irvine, California and feeling like I could take a few steps more to recreate that fabulous black and white silver print "look" in digital I took to scrounging around the Toy Box. I hauled out a number of lenses, mainly the much hated by The Online Photographer Nikon lenses (since that's what I'm particularly rich in).

Thus started another Round of Madness, photographically speaking.

Lens "Look" 

Beginning with the statement "...And if you think that different lenses don’t have different tonal ranges, shoot that lens side-by-side with a 50mm ƒ/1.8 AF-Nikkor. That'll open your eyes!..." I just happen to have lenses of a couple different designs and at least one that is single-coated (as in at least 50 years old) as well as a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 (though mine is in the original manual focus mount - the AF and MF lenses are identical optically). To test the statement about tonal ranges, here is what I compared -
  • Lenses 
    • Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS 
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai 
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H (single coated) non-Ai 
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai (multi coated) 
    • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 (single coated?) non-Ai 
  • RawTherapee to convert the RAW input files into 
    • Black and White 
    • Yellow Filter - found in BW channel controls 
First, here is the yellow filtered RawTherapee comparison, complete with the basic scene and results from the conversion to black and white.

Scene Setup

Yellow Filter BW Lens Comparison


Take a look at the various curves for each of the lenses shot wide open and at f/5.6. Wide open most lenses show strong peaks on the dark end of the curve, and little "bump" of information up near the white end of the curve. I attribute this to the limited depth of field and that the highlights don't contain as much information in them as when a lens is stopped down.

Next, compare the "thickness" of the center regions. As the lenses is stopped down to f/5.6 there is more information in the mid-tones than when most lenses are shot wide open. The exception to all this is the Micro-Nikkor which is very sharp from wide open and spreads it's information across the curve at any aperture.

Now consider the curves from each lens and at the two apertures in total. Indeed, each lens shows a unique set of characteristics, don't they? The differences may be subtle, but there they are.

For the first time I clearly see how lenses can have their own individual "footprint." I'm not yet sure why, but this surprises me. Perhaps I've always thought I could make just about any lens "look" like any other. But that thinking was "inside out." Maybe I missed the opportunity to celebrate uniqueness by pursuing sameness?  In any event, I think there might be something here to explore.

Creating "Glow"?

Using the Yellow Filter recipe in RawTherapee I went back and raised the mid-tones of a few images thinking that this would get the "glow" I was after. My assumption was that digital black and white mid-tones tend to "open up" nicely by doing this, and building "luminosity" in the highlights as well. Afterall, it was another of The Online Photographer's blog entries that suggested doing just that when working in black and white to create digital images that rivaled silver halide film.

Here is a look wide-open and at f/5.6 using the yellow filtered RawTherapee output and then raising the mid-tones (using the secondary parameter cage curve).

Looking For Glow


Looking For Glow The "glow" effect is starting to be seen with the 50mm f/2 H (single coated) lens shot wide open. But the subject was holding me back. The effect I was looking for isn't particularly evident in the scene of the leaves and trees and I needed to stop and think a bit about where to go next.

Using the basic recipe of Yellow Filter plus raising the mid-tones, I took a long hard look at the curve from the Nikon 50mm f/2 H. Then something came to me. Working with two additional parameters I quickly had what I feel is a flexible, repeatable process as a good answer to capturing the classic black and white silver print "glow."

Process - A Modest Proposal

What I am about to describe is not the only, nor might it even be the "best" way to process digital files for that elusive old fashioned silver print "glow."  I'm convinced that with a little care and attention, the same results could be achieved by only manipulating the curves function, but the actions are currently too subtle for me to successful manipulate.  So bare this in mind as you follow along.

Step One - Convert to black and white using a yellow filter. The filter may add a bit of contrast to the scene. Here is an example a basic curve output from this step.

BW Processing Base Line

Example Curve

Step Two - Using the "exposure" function, move the slider until the very top edge of the tonal range  highlights are not "clipped." The further down the range you move the highlights, the more "creaminess" you could see in the final result.

At one extreme, tintype recreations move the highlights roughly half way down the tonal range. Normally I don't move the highlights that far.

For the processed image examples below I moved the top edge to just about 10% under pure white.  This allows the highlights to hold a "hint" of tonality.

Step Three - Then I open the curves function and set the curve shape depending on whether I used a single coated lens or a modern multi-coated optic. Here is what I mean -

BW Processing Single Coated Lens Example 
Example 
Single Coated lens curve 
 simply raise the mid-tones
This process was recently described
in another article by The Online Photographer

BW Processing Multi-Coated Lens Example 
Example 
Multi-coated lens curve 
 preserve the highlights and raise the mid-tones

Step Four - The image at this point will likely look pretty dark. To correct for this I use the "luminosity/brightness/lightness" slider (the actual name of the slider depends on the application you are using). I move the slider to lighten the image to the point where the image starts to please me.

If you look at the image histogram you could see a pretty even distribution of tones through the mid-range. The image starts to look "correct" in terms of brightness and there may be a lot of "creaminess" or "glow" in the highlights, but the overall tonality may be too flat and gray.

Step Five - Too much grayness in an image is easily solved by adjusting the contrast. I try to avoid "overcooking" the contrast as a way to retain as much "richness" in the image as possible.  It seems like there is a balance to be found between "too gray" and "too contrasty."

Note - The "luminosity/brightness/lightness" and "contrast" sliders need to be moved to the point the image pleases you. There is no hard and fast rule for how much either of these are moved.

Final Result - Here is how the curve of the finished image looks. Pay particular attention to how the highlights are held within the curves region, and similarly the blacks, as well - shown by the red bars on the right and left sides of the curve.

The "glow" in a black and white image, I contend, comes from the nice smooth transition of the light areas into the middle tones (which are often also raised). The area of "creaminess" and "glow" is indicated by the blue bar in the following illustration.

Processed Curve Example End ResultColorized

Examples -

Now for a few examples of the results of this approach. As I said earlier, the scene I started with wasn't really up to the task of finding a lot of "glow." So I closed the curtains and tried again.

I used a single-coated Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H, a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai (multi-coated version of the "H"), and the modern Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai (which continues in production as an AF lens and is the very lens mentioned in The Online Photographer's comments that I quoted at the start of this blog).

Nikon 50mm f/2 H Out of Camera Curves 
 Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H non-Ai 
 This was the starting point. 
 As you can see the whites are "blocked up". 
 But they weren't by the time I finished 
following the process I outlined above.

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H wide open 
 Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H non-Ai 
 Shot Wide Open 
To me this image positively "glows"

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai wide open 
 Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai (multi-coated) 
 While not a perfect match for the single-coated lens, 
it's still not half bad

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 wide open 
 Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai (multi-coated) 
 This is a little tougher as 
he lens is wickedly sharp and contrasty from 
wide open and shows so little 
spherical aberration at f/1.8 which 
in old lenses creates a (sometimes not so) 
subtle "bleed" from the highlights 
into the shadow details

UPDATE: Indeed, I have worked out how to control the highlights primarily by using "curves" instead of the "Exposure" slider.  But controlling the way the highlights render can be as tricky as I feared.  If I'm not careful the highlights don't roll off nicely on the top end.  Instead they can just drop off, like they've come to a cliff.  The effect can be seen in an image as the highlights aren't as "creamy" as  with when using the "Exposure"/"Lightness" slider combinations.  So I need to be very careful and watch the histogram when using "Curve" only/primarily.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

... and speaking of beauty...

As the topic of beauty was entertained I found myself in the middle of a quick little project.  I needed to sort out some technical details in preparation to moving on to a slightly different subject matter.  Here's what I came up with.


Nature Morte ~ a study in pears
Nature Morte ~ a study in pears

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Seemingly stuck in the past... [2]

Just yesterday my wife and I were at Darty looking at a couple things for the apartment.  Naturally I was curious to see what they had on hand by way of cameras.  Well, for 250Euro they have a Sony A5000 + 16-50mm kit lens.  What a screaming deal.

I have an A5000 body with the 20mpixel sensor and it's my "go to" camera for so many situations.  It's very light and compact and images really "pop", almost like a "Goldielocks" camera.  Just right.  Or almost.

If you know anything about Europe you'll know that the sun loves to play "cache-cache" for three quarters of the year.  This means that much of the time the A5000 and NEX-5T work just fine when mated to a few old Nikkors.  I can clearly see the screen when making focusing decisions.

Sony and Nikon Nikkor lenses
Sony A5000 +
Lens Turbo II focal reducer +
Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai

Come summer and the sun makes a full throated roaring appearance.  There are a lot of vintage automobile events that I like to attend and, well, focusing can be difficult when using old manual focus optics.

In addition to the A5000 (just one, thank you very much) and the NEX-5T (of which I am now rich in three examples, heaven help me!) I also have an A6000 body with the fabulous 24mpixel sensor.  After shooting mostly Nikon Nikkor manual focus lenses for the past year, I came to realize I like the rangefinder EVF for making precise focusing decisions when shooting in full summer sun.

To get to a setup that works well for me I needed to customize the A6000's button functions.  Among the normal customizations needed to shoot manual focus lenses on the A6000 I made the big button in the center of the wheel on the back of the camera enlarge the scene when I tap it two or three times.  Now I can be using the EVF, tap the big button, focus, lightly tap the shutter release get out of the magnifier mode and to return to full scene mode, compose and trigger the shutter.  Simple, actually.  My description sounds worse than it really in practice is.

What tickles the funny bone is that all of my cameras are small, light, and rather inexpensive.  My AF lenses (Sigma and Sony) are small, light, and inexpensive.  The Nikon Nikkors that I have probably too many of are quite sharp and quite inexpensive these days.

There are two adapters that I use to mount the Nikkors on the Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras.  One is an inexpensive adapter that multiplies the effective focal length of a lens by 1.5x.  For instance, a lens marked 50mm will be cropped to an effective focal length of 75mm when shot on an APS-C sensor camera.

The second adapter I use is a Lens Turbo II focal reducer.  This adapter includes optics that shrink the coverage of a full frame 35mm lens to fit the APS-C format.  The effective field of view, therefore, remains unchanged.  For example, a 50mm f/2 lens becomes a 33mm f/1.2 on APS-C and gives the exact same field of view and depth of field as when the 50mm lens is used on full frame 35mm cameras.

Sony and Nikon Nikkor lenses
Sony A5000 - paid 225Euro
Lens Turbo II focal reducer - paid 120Euro
Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai - paid 7Euro (yes, seven Euro)

Looking around at the current state of imaging technologies makes me realize that I'm carrying a lot of equipment and making complex decisions just to take a picture.  None of this includes a currently fashionable One Does Everything mobile phone (Samsung, Apple, or Google).  How quickly I've once again become a luddite.  Such are the wages of being retired and living on a fixed income.

I wrote a little about how strange it feels to once again be surrounded by changing imaging technologies and to continue to work from the back end of the technology wave.  A friend commented that, effectively, what does it matter the equipment as long as one creates beauty?

And that's a good goal, isn't it?  Creating beauty.

OK.  Onward.