Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Lens Comparison ~ Nikon Nikkor 135mm, 300mm + Komura 2X against Tamron 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3

Something that I've wondered out for many years is just how good or bad 2x teleconverters can be from back in the day.

Recently I stumbled on a Komura Telemore 2x teleconverter.  It was relatively cheap and I was interested to see how it might perform.

Comparison Setup -
  • Sony NEX-5T, 100ISO, 2 second timer, "A" aperture preferred mode
  • Nikon Nikkor
    • 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai - two passes, one with and another without Komura Telemore 2x converter
    • 135mm f/2.8 Ai + Komura Telemore 2x converter
  • Tamron 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3 version 1 on Sony AF adapter
  • Scene shot through double pane glass window (it was too damned cold to open the window for a clear shot)
Here is the scene at 300mm -

Nikkor 300mm f/4.5

Here is the scene at 600mm - 

Nikkor 300mm f8 Komura 2x

Comparison Results -

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there you and 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 image at 100 percent.]

Nikkor 300mm 135mm Doubleur Tamron "Bigron" Comparisonb

Observations -

Looking at the Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai against the Tamron 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3 at 300mm shows not much difference between the two lenses in the center of the field.  As you can see, the single coated Nikkor is slightly less contrasty than the modern Tamron.  This can be easily corrected in processing by applying a gentle increase in contrast.  The edges of the frame show something interesting.  The Nikkor remains sharp where the Tamron gets slightly softer as the edge of the field is approached.

The Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai mounted on the Komura Telemore 2x teleconverter shows that the Komura degrades performance rather rapidly.  At no aperture does the teleconverted Nikkor come close to wither the un-teleconverted 300mm Nikkor nor the Tamron.  Obvious decreases in contrast and resolution can be seen.

The same things can be said about the Nikkor 300mm, Komura Telemore combination.  Contrast is decreased and the resolution never really matches the modern Tamron "Bigron" zoom.  I can increase the contrast in processing, but there is no way to gain back resolution after the shutter has been tripped.

I was hoping to find a light(er) weight manual focus lens combination that I could use at the racetrack to photograph old cars and MotoGP motorcycles.  I won't be able to meet that goal with the Komura and Nikkor lenses.  For now I'll need to stay with the Tamron super zoom, which, it seems, performs admirably well.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Is Photography Really Dead???

PetaPixel published an article that asks if photography is really dead.

I have to admit, the author makes more than a few decent points.

"...But what died, exactly? The techie crowd had become bored with these particular machines, moving on to newer, shinier gadgets, and young people, like most young people, just wanted to hook up. Nothing wrong with either, and certainly nothing new. The dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored likewise continued in this fashion, and will keep doing so even while everyone else is using brain implants to beam live VR experiences featuring their cats..."

It's the being ignored part that can be a little difficult.  Or more properly, it's the being unknown and unfindable part that working in isolation can bring.  Dedicated artists like to share their work and in the narcissistic world of social media self promotion it's very difficult to carry on any kind of conversation about the art and craft of imaging.

Here I sit in one of the most photographed cities in the world and yet I can count on fewer than two digits the number of dedicated photographers who live here as a friend or colleague.  All of my photographer friends live either in New York or out on the west coast of the USA.  Perhaps it's telling that many among these dedicated artists continue to pursue their vision using old tools, techniques, and processes.

I miss being able to sit around a table stacked with beers and "talking shop" and sharing the results of our latest efforts.  Doing so remotely, electronically, just doesn't carry the same impact as meeting someone face to face.  I learned so much from our casual conversations.

I learned about optics and the fact that lens coatings exist that make the glass disappear.  One of the gents I talked with worked in an optical company where the process and results were demonstrated.

I learned a lot about process.  Two other gents helped me understand the proper tools and techniques of hand-coating platinum-palladium solutions for making contact prints that can last unchanged for over 500 years.

I learned a lot about how to work with models.  Several gents continue to create gorgeous images of models.  They work both in the studio and in the open air.  Dealing with people takes time, intelligence, and the ability to convey emotions in sometimes subtle ways.

While there are so many aspects to photography that I will never fully grasp, simply talking with others helped to fill in the "blank spaces".

Many are the days when I consider "pulling the plug" on social media participation.  Though I know in doing so I could completely turn out the image sharing, conversation starter, art as a movement welcoming and participation light.

Nikon Nikkor + Lens TurboII + Sony A5000

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Comparison ~ Nikon Nikkor 300mm, 135mm, 105mm + Lens Turbo II

Continuing to troll the 'net for 50Euro or less highest quality lenses yielded up a Few More Fun Things.

Last year I sold a mint 300mm Nikon Nikkor f/4.5 pre-Ai lens.  Of course I started to regret the sale.  It was a really nice, sharp optic.  So when another came available at half the cost of the first 300mm, I jumped at it.

What I now have is an excellent condition 300mm lens that dates even earlier than my first example.  The focusing collar is smooth and accurate (nearly Super-Takumar-like in this respect, which is a surprise for such an old Nikkor).  The exterior condition is excellent.  But the front element has a few cleaning marks.  They are very light, very fine marks, but, neurotic as I am about such things, I know they are there.  I may learn to live with it.

The setup -
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Nikon Nikkor 
    • 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai (c.1971)
    • 135mm f/3.5 Ai
    • 105mm f/2.5 Ai
    • all mounted on a Lens Turbo II focal length reducer
  • One pass where 300mm f/4.5 images were processed
    • Gimp -> FX Foundry Luminosity Sharpen
    • Gimp -> Curves (subtle adjustments to tonal range)
The results -

Here is the scene setup -

Scene Setup Nikkor 300mm, 135mm, 105mm comparison

Here are the results.

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there you and 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 image at 100 percent.]

Nikon Nikkor 300mm, 135mm, 105mm Comparison

My observations -

The Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai stands up rather well against the wickedly sharp 135mm f/3.5 Ai.

Wide open the 300mm shows softness that typically comes from spherical aberrations.  You can see the effect around the large lettering.  One stop down and the 300mm seems to match the shorter focal length lenses across the field.

The 105mm f/2.5 Ai suffers at f/4 and a little at f/5.6 in the corners.  I think it is an effect of field curvature, particularly when the lens is used with the Lens Turbo II focal reducer.  I've seen similar things when making these kinds of 2D flat sheets of newsprint comparisons between various lenses.  I've specifically seen the effect with the 85mm "K" pre-Ai Nikkor, Lens Turbo II combination.

My comparisons are always made using un-altered, straight off the sensor images.  I convert AWR files using Sony's conversion software and I leave that software with it's default settings.  I never add nor subtract, for instance, "sharpness" nor contrast.

With this comparison I added a line where I took the 300mm Nikkor images and passed them through the Gimp and two functions.  Specifically, I passed the images through FX Foundry's Luminosity Sharpen and used "Curves" to try and match the tonal range of the 135mm f/3.5 images.

Luminosity Sharpen is a very subtle sharpener.  I think it's better than many "smart" sharpen algorithms in that Luminosity lightly touches the light/dark transitions and leaves the smooth areas alone.  Images don't typically look hard sharpened when I use this function.

What I find is that lightly processing the 300mm f/4.5 wide open image yields results that appear to match the wickedly sharp 135mm straight off the sensor results.  Carefully using "Curves" I was even able to reduce the effects of spherical aberration (look at the large lettering).  At f/5.6 and f/8 the 300mm lightly processed image results appear to as "sharp" as anything in this comparison.

The "sharpening" aspect of the processing is to carefully increase transitional zone contrast.  The human eye perceives this as "sharpness".   This means that just about any file made with a well designed and constructed optical system can be carefully "sharpened" to the point that the results appear sharper than the off the sensor originals.

While there is nothing new in recognizing the effects of "smart" sharpen functions, what I find interesting and promising is that in using these controls, I might be able to use this Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai for photographing motorsports and birds and exceed the results I used to obtain from my old Canon 7D, 100-400mm zoom kit.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tri-X black and white film "look" in digital...

I have to admit that I'm something of a fan of Mike Johnson's The Online Photographer.  He sometimes posts things that I find rather interesting.

Take this article on the great Formula One pilote, Francois Cevert as an example.  The chain of events that led to my exploration of Tri-X, it's grain in 35mm film, and trying to digitally emulate the effect was rather long and twisted.  Here's the story.

My uncle used to pass me his Road and Track magazines after he'd read them.  I, too, would read them thoroughly.  My favorite writer at the time was Henry Manney III.  The way he wrote about racing in Europe captivated my imagination and set the basis for my desire to one day visit that far-off continent.

If memory serves, Henry Manney III nearly single handedly introduced Formula One racing to American readers and followers of motorsport.  It was an exotic pastime and there seemed to be a big story to tell.  Even from so far away I had a sense that the Formula One Circus was a close knit community of owners, mechanics, and drivers who's one great passion was racing.

Being a dangerous sport drivers from time to time would die.  I remember when Jim Clark and later Mark Donahue were killed.  And I remember when Francois Cevert crashed heavily at Watkins Glen.  Even now these memories are charged with emotion.  There were so many skilled drivers and my best friend, Nelson, and I enjoyed watching some of them race at the Long Beach Grand Prix and out in the desert at the Riverside Motor Speedway in Southern California.

After reading The Online Photographer, I followed the link to Richard Kelly's wonderful work.  Looking at his images brought back a flood of memories.  My own photographs and negatives from those days are now either recycled or in a landfill somewhere.  Ugh.  If only I'd known how I might feel someday about my early, wobbly, adolescent imaging works.

I met an LA Times photographer many years ago to talk about the trade and how best to approach photography.  He showed me some of his work and showed me 16x20inch prints that were center mounted on 20x24inch ragboard.

I remember asking him about the grain.  The overarching esthetic at the time and de rigueur in the group of photographers I used to hang out with was to make prints as grain-free as possible.  This required large format cameras and slow film.  Yet the LA Times photographer's work was grainy and had a certain "grit" (for the lack of a better word).  They were fabulous.

What helped make them fabulous, in addition to the wonderful subject matter, was that they had all been made using a 35mm camera that was loaded with Tri-X and processed in D-76.  And very importantly the grain was absolutely sharp edge to edge on the print.

Lucky for me the photographer gave me an important hint to the secret for keeping negatives flat in the negative holder in an enlarger (without having to resort to Newton Ring inducing glass negative carriers).  Working out the rest of the secret in my own darkroom is what helped me land a job printing black and white photos for well-known photographers in Hollywood.  I worked at the Crossroads of the World print shop that Samy's Camera used to own and run.

All of this happened during the 1960's, 70's and early 1980's before I returned to the University of California, Irvine to pursue computer science, engineering, and a "real" job in aerospace.

Coming to the present and recalling the beauty of grainy small negative black and white images, I set about working out yet another secret in trying to match the effect in digital.  It turns out it's all pretty simple and straightforward.  Here is the process I use.
  • Desaturate a digital image
  • Using "Curves" and "Exposure" - set the shadow and highlights to taste (remembering to keep as much information in the highlights as possible - ie: don't clip the whites)
  • Using "Curves" - grab the mid-point of the curve and raise it a bit (to achieve a rather accurate film emulation "look")
  • Add "film" grain (Gimp, Capture One, etc all seem to have film grain functions)
Looking at the results feels to me as if the images without the emulation film grain were made with a very large format film camera.  The highlights and shadows are creamy and wonderful.  This holds true even in images originally made using a Canon A640 Point and Shoot that shot jpegs only.

The images with emulation film grain, on the other hand, have that small negative enlarged print "look" about them.  The effect is really quite striking.  I can see where the effect can be useful to underscore a certain photographic aesthetic.

[Large Format Film "look" on the left.  Small Format Film "look" on the right.  You'll need to click on each image to see the effect.]

Emulating Tri-X film "look" Emulating Tri-X film "look"

Emulating Tri-X film "look" Emulating Tri-X film "look"

Emulating Tri-X film "look" Emulating Tri-X film "look"

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Comparison ~ Sony, Nikon, Asahi 200mm lenses

Trolling the 'net for lowest cost highest quality lenses has turned up a Few Fun Things.  With this in mind, a couple lenses arrived in the boite au lettre thanks to fleaBay and leboncoin and I wanted to see how they compared.

The setup -

  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS 
  • two, count 'em, two! Nikon Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5 Ai
  • Asahi (Pentax) 200mm f/4 Super-Takumar
To hold the Nikon zoom and Super-Takumar lenses I used a broad L-bracket I made as a cradle.  I was concerned that the tripod mount on the bottom of the A6000 might shear under the weight of the telephoto lenses.  It was hard to keep things aligned and focused, so I took several passes.  Even with this, I'm not convinced the results are fully representative of what the three lenses are capable of.  But perhaps its close enough for government work (as we say).

The results -

If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there you and 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 image at 100 percent.

Takumar Nikon Sony 200mm Comparison

My observations -

The Sony 55-210mm SEL OSS is really quite sharp in the center of the frame at 210mm.  The corners suffer a bit, though.  Still, if a subject is centered in the frame, it'll be wickedly sharp.  I think this is interesting given the rather modest price of these built-to cost lenses.  Though I think I also see the center performance very slightly degrade as the aperture is stopped down.

The Nikon Nikkor lenses are very slightly soft at 200mm compared to the other lenses here.  The corners are in keeping with what I've seen from zoom lenses, too.  That is, they too are soft compared to fixed focal length optics.  As is common with older lenses that I've looked at, contrast and resolution improve one or two stops down from wide open.

The Asahi 200mm f/4 Super-Takumar is a wonderful little lens.  It's nearly as long as the Nikkor zoom lenses, but given the Super-Tak's smaller diameter barrels it feels a lot smaller than the Nikons.  With fewer lens elements, the Asahi is lighter, too.  It feels good in the hand.

One of the things many people across the 'net note holds true with this lens, too.  This Super-Tak's focusing mechanism is incredibly smooth and is quite nearly perfect.  It's a real joy to use.  More importantly, the resolution and contrast are quite good out to the very edges of the frame.  All this and a price of 11Euros, to boot.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Big Comparison ~ 50mm to 210mm Sony, Nikon fixed and zoom lenses

Out of curiosity I went back and looked at the first year a friend and I copyrighted our look at the resolution of large format film lenses.  It turns out that it's been exactly 20 years.

I'm not sure this would qualify as a celebration or not, but here is my latest Fit of Curiosity and Insanity.  I wanted to see how several zoom lenses stacked up against fixed focal length optics from the same manufacturer.  Legend has it that zooms are less sharp than fixed focal length lenses.  This comparison would give me a chance to check reality against legend.

The setup -

  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS as the control optic - this lens is amazing in every respect
  • Old Nikon manual focus lenses 
    • Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai
    • Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 Ai
    • Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Q Ai
    • Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 AiS
    • E-series 75-150mm f/3.5 at
      • 75mm
      • 105mm
      • 135mm
    • Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5 N Ai at
      • 80mm
      • 105mm
      • 135mm
      • 200mm
    • Zhongyi Lens Turbo II focal reducer used on all Nikon lenses
The results -

If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site.  Once there you and 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 image at 100 percent.

Nikom Tele Fixed and Zoom Comparison

My observations -

The Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS acted as my control lens for this comparison.  It's every bit as good as the Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art DN I once owned, and perhaps a bit better.  In the area of out of focus rendition this Sony is brilliant where the Sigma was a bit harsh.  In terms of resolution I really can't tell any difference between the two lenses.

The fixed focal length Nikkors mated to the Lens Turbo II are all similarly sharp in the center of the frame from f/2.8 down thru the f-stop range.  In the cases where the extreme edges of the frame are just a tiny bit soft, they clean up nicely around f/4.

Looking at the zoom lenses and starting with the super cheap unloved E-series 75-150mm f/3.5 constant aperture, I came across something of a surprise.  Wide open at anything less than 135mm this lens is as sharp in the center as fixed focal length equivalents.  The edges, however, can be a bit soft.  However, even the edges clean up nicely by f/5.6 at the shorter focal lengths.  As a bonus, this lens came to me for around 40Euro.

Moving on to the Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5 N Ai and again looking at the center resolution from wide open, this zoom appears to match the fixed focal length lenses between 80mm and 135mm.  At 200mm the lens is ever so slightly softer than the fixed length objectives.

Looking at the extreme edges of the frame, I should note that with this series zoom (I've owned two of them at the same time) shows a fairly big drop in resolution.  If you must have the edges perfectly sharp to the utter and very edge it's best to either slightly crop your zoom lens images or use a fixed focal length lens.  In general longer focal lengths are softer.

I would like to make a couple special notes.  The Sony 50mm f/1.8 is obviously brilliant and the prices on these are rather attractive.  If you shoot Sony APS-C mirrorless and like taking portraits or using a focal length slightly longer than "normal", I'd say this lens is a "must have."

The Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 is a beastly heavy optic for its focal length, but it's sharp from wide open.  I didn't expect the old design Q-series Ai to perform this well, but it does.  The out of focus rendition isn't half bad, either.  The prices on these are good if you shop carefully.  I've seen them trade hands for around 60Euro.

Lastly, I need to mention the Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai.  The effect is subtle and you might not recognize it from the 2D newspaper shots I use when comparing various lenses, but the contrast and resolution of this lens is nothing short of phenomenal.  It "feels" very much like the brilliant Sigma 60mm Art DN and Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS.  If any lens has a dash of magic, this one definitely has it.  I find this little lens to be wickedly awesome.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5

I've owned this lens for years, having picked it up well before we moved to Europe.  It's small and light so it was easy to pack and carry across the Vasty Waters.

If memory serves I paid 100USD for it.  But, as the Lens Gods would have it, it sat unused while I worked through the last years of my DSLR insanity.  After the Sony NEX/Alpha series found their place in the closet and after the Canon strong-AA filtered behemoths were sold I bought the appropriate adapter and re-tried the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai.  I'm glad I did.

From a design perspective the 55mm f/3.5 macro is 5 element 4 group Double Gauss.  I call it a Double Gauss even though the rear cemented doublet in the traditional design is really just a single element in the Micro-Nikkor.  In any event, the lens design is rather simple and with few air to glass surfaces it feels like images really "pop."

Looking at it's performance I find that it's wickedly sharp from wide open.  Contrasty, too.  Just a marvel, actually.  Nikon designed and built a very beautiful lens when they made this one.  Rumor has it that the f/2.8 version is even better, but I can't see how.  There was a pleasant surprise lying beyond resolution and contrast.

When I was looking at my fast Nikkors and how they render the out of focus regions I uncovered a surprise.  Wide open the out of focus highlights from the Micro-Nikkor are flat, creamy, smooth, and utterly glorious.  Of all the 50-ish mm lenses I've owned this is one the best OOFR's of any of them, with only the 50mm f/1.8 AiS being able to complete with the 55mm f/3.5.

The Micro-Nikkor's aperture is "slow" compared to the 50mm f/1.8 AiS.  But the world does not revolve around razor thin depth of field, does it?  Yes.  Sure.  It's All The Rage these days.  Yet, if you're an artist who doesn't work quite that way this kind of old optic might be very usable for focusing on the eyes and keeping your subject's nose in focus too, all the while getting that OOFR yumminess, at the very same time.

Just the other day a fellow photographer friend contacted me.  It'd been a long time since we'd traded emails.  I went out to his website to get caught up on what he's been doing.  Lo and behold, what's this?   He bought a new Sony mirrorless camera and finds he enjoys using a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8.  I took a look at what he's done with the combo and... found... huh... not 1/2 bad, this.

I looked at Ken's gorgeous work and it was as if the Beautiful Muse whispered something in my direction, too.  Inspiration, in this case, came in the form of three pears.  She arrived on a day when we do our weekly house-cleaning.  After the floors were vacumned (quick and easy in 55 metres carres), the plumbing plunged (ah the glories of French egoutes), and while waiting for the sheets to dry (yea! we have our very own clothes dryer!!),  I gently carried the pears into the living room next to the big floor to ceiling windows, arranged them in various ways, and set to work.  Of course the lens I used had to be this sweet 55mm f/3.5 Nikon Micro-Nikkor.