Friday, August 10, 2018

Historic Racecars in Black and White

In a previous post I illustrated the use of old Nikon Nikkor manual focus lenses to photograph a classic automobile show.  These older lenses tend to "round" off the top end of the curve, making highlights easier to control in processing.  It is a simple process to keep the highlights creamy and luscious.

le Mans Classic ~ 2018


Modern lenses tend to be a bit more "contrasty" in the highlights.  As such when using modern autofocus optics I've found I need to gently modify the highlight areas by using a "rounded" curve toward the top end.

After the teuf-teuf show I visited le Mans for the 24 heures Classic event.  This was the second time that I've been (the first visit being in 2016).  Not wanting to miss a shot by rushing to manually focus (I wasn't yet fully comfortable in trusting my manual focus abilities) I took three cameras mounted with three different autofocus lenses.

The first camera was a Sony NEX-5T with a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN.  The second was a Sony A5000 with a Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN.  It was this camera that I put on the end of a monopod and remote triggered using a cell phone.  This was a wonderful solution for getting into those "hard to reach" places.  The third camera was a Sony A6000 and a Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS.  This is the setup I would use to "reach" out and "compress" the distance between me and a subject.

le Mans Classic ~ 2018


Le Mans has been hot and dry in the two years I've been there.  A hat (the one I used to wear to combat the sun in India), a sack lunch, and bottled water are basic requirements.  I selected Friday as the best day to be there.  The crowds on Saturday and Sunday can be massive.  To avoid as many people as I could I took a 07h30 TGV out of Montparnasse.  Le Mans is only an hour away and I was able to get to one of the entry gates just as they opened at 09h00.

Hot footing it over to the paddock meant I had to avoid strong temptation to take photographs of private cars as they arrived.  There are areas set up all around the infield for car clubs.  These clubs come from all over Europe and some very interesting automobiles are on display.  They would have to wait until I was done working the paddock and racetrack.

le Mans Classic ~ 2018


I can get pretty excited seeing old racecars.  Ferraris, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, early Bentleys and the oh-so-French Bugattis.  These and many many more marques and makes of racecar are on display as they prepare for a weekend of racing.  The atmosphere is even better than anything I read as a young boy in Road and Track magazine.

There is simply too much happening all at the same time to take it all in.  I did my best to concentrate on cars I was most interested in.  From time to time I would stop and talk to car owners and drivers to learn more about them and their vehicles.  The histories are so deep and rich.

It's difficult to do the subject justice in just one seven hour day, but I did the best I could.  Of course I am looking forward to the next 24 heures Classic in two years.

le Mans Classic ~ 2018

[Note: Here is an album of images from the 2018 Le Mans Classic - including both black and white as well as color works]

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Vintage Automobiles in Black and White

The French are seemingly just as Car Crazy as the English and Americans.  We have so many motor related events that it's hard to keep up with them all and impossible to visit each and every event.  I try to select the events I'm most interested in.

Paris-Rambouillet ~ 2018

This year a couple local clubs hosted a Paris to Rambouillet event.  It was for very early automobiles and they would set out from les Invalides.  The cars massed on a Saturday afternoon and set out around sunrise Sunday morning.

I was curious to see what might show up.  There are so many early marques that I know nothing about, and I thought it would be fun to explore and discover a bit.  Of course I wanted to make a few images.

For obvious reasons the image style that appealed to me most was black and white.  To answer questions about image quality and focus-peaking focus accuracy I wanted to take two lenses.  The first was a Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai that tested a little poorly way out in the corners.  The second lens was a Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K that tested ever so slightly "soft" wide open.

Paris-Rambouillet ~ 2018

My wife and I headed over the see the cars as they arrived and the public display the clubs put on in front of les Invalides.

As you no doubt know, I really enjoy using Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras.  But one of the things I've been too "chicken" to test in a "live photoshoot" was focus peaking accuracy on moving subjects.  With plenty of time I can magnify the scene and carefully focus on the part of the subject I want in maximum focus.  But with moving objects I wondered how far my "hit rate" might fall when using non-AF lenses.

Taking a deep breath and risking being disappointed by the lack of sharp images I dove in to see how things might come out.

Paris-Rambouillet ~ 2018

Looking at the images from the Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai the first thing I considered wasn't the edge performance.  It was the composition and lighting of the subject.  Only when I forced myself to look across the image did I think about the edges.  They seem just fine.

To test the focus-peaking accuracy in situations with no time to magnify a section of the scene I shot the Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K wide open.  Over the past few months in working with test subjects I observed where the sharpest images are achieved relative to the focus-peaking line widths.  So I had a little confidence that things might come out OK, but until everything was in motion and in play I couldn't be certain I had the best/correct technique.

It turns out that using a Sony A6000 with focus-peaking through the EVF I was able to get a very high focusing accuracy "hit rate."  Frankly, I was more than a little surprised.  And the images were sharp, too, even wide open.  This was important to me because AF lenses on the same camera would sometimes choose an AF point behind the intended subject.  Now, it appears, I can control the focus point with surprising accuracy and better consistency.

Paris-Rambouillet ~ 2018

While I might not declare a Year of Manual Focus Lenses Only (there are still situations where I feel I have to trust AF), unofficially more and more of my work is and will be made using old Nikon lenses.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Comparison ~ Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai and f/2.8 Ai

The insanity continues.

A friend recently sent me his old Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 Ai.  I already had a copy of the earlier lens, a 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai.

Playing around, I took a look at how well these worked with a 52mm threaded reverse adapter that flips the lens around on a camera.  I learned that the adapter worked best when the subject to lens distance was shorter than the focal length (otherwise the edges went soft very quickly).  But for everything else macro a normally oriented lens worked best.

In general use, I couldn't help but notice the f/3.5 "felt" sharper wide open than the f/2.8 at f/2.8.  But stopped down, everything was brilliantly sharp out of both lenses.

Macro is not what I do, but, still playing around and wondering about "things" I thought it might be fun to see how the two Micro-Nikkor lenses behaved at 1:2 magnification (as marked on each lens).

Setup -
  • Sony NEX-5T, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 Ai
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai 

Comparison Results -

[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 55mm f/2.8 and f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor Comparisonf28f35


Comments -

Indeed, the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 shot at f/2.8 is softer than it's brother lens shot at f/3.5.  The difference isn't that great, but it is noticeable (otherwise why comment on it, right?). 

However, the f/2.8 lens at f/4 is sharper than the f/3.5 at f/3.5.

From f/5.6 on down both lenses look nearly identical.

One of the things I like about shooting with a Micro-Nikkor is that the image field is flat and without distortion.  Images can be sharp all the way to the edge and I don't have to apply pincushion/barrel distortion corrections.  As a bonus, the out of focus rendition of both lenses shot wide open is very smooth and creamy.  I like this since many 50-58mm lenses suffer from over corrected out of focus regions which leads to "soap bubble bokeh".

I suppose I should, for completeness, take a look at how both lenses compare at more normal photography working distances.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Fungus ~ Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai before/after CLA

It so happened that I picked up a cheap 300mm Nikon Nikkor f/4.5.  After receiving the package I realized why it was so cheap.  Here was a second opportunity to see how fungus could affect image rendition.  This time the lens was pretty clouded with champignons.  The inside forward elements were covered with nastiness.  And it looked like the inside and outside of the rear element set hadn't ever been cleaned.

Setup -
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai with very very light scratches on the front element (as the control optic)
  • Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai filled with fungus (before CLA) and cleaned (somewhat)
  • Lens Turbo II adapter

Comparison Results -
[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 Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai


Comments -

The control optic is a fine lens.  Sharp from wide open, this lens, even with the light scratches, is contrasty and just plain downright good.

The fungus infected 300mm did indeed show performance degradation.  This really is no surprise.  There was so much gunk and crud that just about any amount of cleaning would've done the lens good.  And it did.

However, the CLA'd lens still suffers for a very slight lack of contrast.  A re-inspection of the lens revealed that the inside of the rear element set is a little cloudy.  The way Nikon manufactured these lenses makes it difficult to disassemble.  The various threaded retainers tend to be nearly impossible to remove.  So... I'm not sure what to do with the lens... perhaps I'll sell it as is?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Fungus ~ Nikon Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-f/4.5 zoom before/after

I wanted to see what effects fungus infected lens elements might have on resolution and contrast.  On hand was a Nikon Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-f/4.5 zoom that was somewhat infected.  It wasn't too bad, but still, I thought even a little should affect the outcome.

Setup -
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Nikon Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-f/4.5 zoom
    • Straight-thru adapter
    • Lens Turbo II adapter
Fungus -

Here's a look at what fungus there was in the lens before a proper CLA.

Nikon Nikkor 35mm to 105mm f/3.5-4.5


Comparison Results -

[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 Nikkor 35mm to 105mm f/3.5-4.5


Comments -

There's not much to say.  I can't tell any difference between the pre and post-CLA'd lens output.  This is a case where fungus had little to no effect on image creation.

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.