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 
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 
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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Seemingly stuck in the past...

I feel increasingly like I'm stuck in the past.  Make no mistake, I enjoy being stuck there.  But I can very easily measure the distance between where I am and where imaging technologies have gone by taking a look at the current state of the art.

Sony and Nikon Nikkor lenses

Petapixel has an article about a Chinese phone manufacturer who sells a 50mpixel imaging device that is all too shockingly close in image quality to Canon's 5Ds 50monsterpixel.  The comment about the use of computational imaging explained some of the improbably good technologies that are now available.

It's been a number of years since I thrashed and whinged over leaving traditional silver film photography behind to dive into digital.  Even then I felt like I was following the trailing edge of changes in imaging technologies.

I'd been heavily invested in large and medium format cameras and lenses.  Exotic lenses were fascinating to me.  New film developing techniques were followed with great interest.  The latest advances in film production were tracked.  A room in the basement was filled with enlargers, print paper, boxes of film, and large format film cameras of all sizes and shapes.  The collection of lenses I could choose from was rather impressive.

Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I went from packing a 4x5 Speed Graphic, three small fabulously sharp lenses, Kodak Readyloads, and boxes of Polaroid Type-55 for a business trip to India, to realizing there was no room left in the suitcase for my clothes, to jettisoning the entire rig and buying a wee-Canon A640 digital point and shoot.

My first digital images were nothing to write home about.  There was no RAW option on the camera, and the jpg processing left many images looking more like water colorings than photographs.  But the next trip to India had me carrying a Canon 5D MkII and a 24-105L.  I came home with a number of images the second trip that I still enjoy.

After moving to Europe sold my Canon DSLRs and moved my camera kit into Sony APS-C mirrorless.  The size, adaptability, and image quality of these cameras continue to impress me.

In the past year I've watched the prices of used camera gear drop and I wonder if the market is saturated.  First I picked up a Sony NEX-5T with kit lens for 150Euro.  I sold the lens for 60Euro, which left me with a 90Euro camera body.

Then I watched as old manual focus lens prices in some cases dropped like a rock.  Lenses that used to cost  a minor fortune were suddenly available for around 50 Euro or less.

Since I'm retired, living on a fixed income, but still enjoy playing around with camera gear, I found these developments (pardon the pun) rather exciting.  Which led me to consider the lowest price two lens camera kit that I have on hand.

  • 90Euro Sony NEX-5T
  • 10Euro Nikon F to NEX adapter
  • 55Euro Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 Ai
  • 7Euro Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai
All up cost - 162Euro

Sony and Nikon Nikkor lenses

What do I get with this?  To start, I get a very small, light, WiFi and NFC capable 16mpixel camera.  The images I get out of these thrill me.  No, I don't make prints larger than 13x19, so the sensor size isn't really as small as it might seem compared to current product offerings.

In the 28mm Nikkor f/3.5 I get a 40mm full-frame equivalent lens that is sharp from wide open.  Sure, the maximum aperture is less than many people prefer, but I don't typically shoot razor thin depth of field images myself.  The effective focal-length slots nicely between full-frame 35mm and 50mm lenses.  It's kind of a Goldielocks lens.

The super cheap 50mm f/2 acts as a 75mm full-frame equivalent optic.  This too is razor sharp from wide open.  At 75mm I find the lens nearly perfect for isolating interesting subject matter in complex environments.  It's also the perfect portrait lens.

Stepping back a moment and thinking about the newest technologies, this inexpensive two lens kit seems archaic.  It feels like I'm following the curve.  Where some people carry just a cell phone, I carry a camera, lenses, and a small tablet to download and process images on.  It seems like a lot of monkey motion.

Considered from another perspective, yes, there is a part of me that would like to try out the latest-greatest imaging tools.  I'm sure it would be fun.  One Does Everything devices, on the surface of the argument, sound rather attractive.  No more shoulder bag weighed down with old bits of metal, plastic, and glass.  No need to carry a small Android tablet.  I could be "In" with the "In Crowd."

But there is, for me, the important consideration of money.  The cost of new Wowy Zowy cell phone camera One Does Everything devices are around 900Euro.  For a quarter of the cost I have the already paid for Sony and Nikkors.

If I ever do go the One Does Everything route I wonder how I'll feel contributing to the low-cost equipment glut?  There are a few lenses that I paid dearly for just a few years ago (like a mint Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 and a 55mm Micro-Nikkor f/3.5).  And there is a life long memory of watching Nikon Kogaku introduce amazing products. But then would it even matter if the images I produced using computational imaging devices were to please me?

For now I think I'll continue to live out my childhood fantasies.  These old Nikkor lenses out-resolve commercially available imaging sensors.  The photographs I make please me.  I enjoy working with old Machine Age gear.  It's still a kick in the pants kind of fun.

Cost vs Quality vs Capability vs Culture vs Memories vs Creativity vs Fun.  These seem to be some of the areas of consideration.  When not out shooting photos, that is.

Sony and Nikon Nikkor lenses

Saturday, April 21, 2018

... and Flickr has been sold...

Many years ago a good friend pointed me to Flickr.  I've been there for 13 years where I post much of my work.  I was there when Yahoo bought and nearly destroyed the image sharing platform.  I was there when Yahoo sold out to Verizon/Oath.  I was there when I decided to close my (also long running) Facebook account, and all attendant Facebook owned company applications (including Instagram).  Flickr is still where I remain today.

This morning I read that Flickr will be sold to SmugMug.  I wonder if Verizon/Oath had this in mind when they purchased Yahoo?  It seems like Verizon/Oath are doing a bit of asset stripping.  And it makes me wonder what they will do with Tumblr, another interesting application, and one that I can't imagine how it fits in Verizon/Oath's platform "strategy" (ie: data mining and sales ala Facebook).

Coming back to SmugMug a moment, when my friend first pointed me to Flickr I wondered what other image sharing platforms might look like.  Over the years I would look at SmugMug and wonder why people liked it.  It seemed so basic and simple.  Eventually I stopped looking at it.  Until today, that is.

When I went to SmugMug to look at the website I was surprised.  Things have changed and it actually looks pretty good.  Still, I can't feel more than a little worried about what changes SmugMug will make to Flickr.

So many things have changed in the past month and a half for how I engage the online world.  First it was the payment problems with px500 and the subsequent announcement of a sale to a Chinese owned company.  I had hoped I could sell a print or two of some work that I was particularly proud of.

Then it was the Cambridge Analytica revelations of data scraping 87 million user accounts on Facebook.  I had a "public" Facebook page devoted to my photography.  I used it as a contact point for models, stylists, and other creative people.  Risking making a solid retreat from the all of these engagement I made a difficult decision to close my Instagram and Facebook accounts.  And indeed my access to the creative world has shrunk.

And now this, the sale of Flickr to SmugMug.  My Flickr hosted images have received nearly 10 million (yes, you read that correctly - 10 million) views.  I really don't want to give up these kinds of eyeballs and this kind of deep access to creative images and talented artists.  I'll have to carefully review the new Terms and Conditions as well as their Data Privacy Statement as soon as they are updated by the new company.

[UPDATE: Here are the new Terms and Conditions]

Seville ~ details

Thursday, April 05, 2018

... the right questions to ask...

Just a couple days after PetaPixel posted back to back articles on two very dedicated practitioners, I stumble across the work of Markus Brunetti.  What caught my eye was a small photograph printed in a recent The New Yorker magazine.  Out to the 'net I went to do a bit of research.

M.Brunetti creates large highly detailed prints of the facades of buildings.  His work concentrates on western European religious structures such as cathedrals, basilicas, and churches.  At first the images seemed simple, almost simplistic.  Yet there is something quiet and vaguely compelling about what the artist has achieved.

Looking to understand M.Brunetti's work, I found this critique.  The author considers Brunetti's work in the context of photo, architectural, and art histories.  It's a long article and the author has a lot to say about topics that I tend to reduce to "if I can't feel it or if I need to have it explained to me, then you've lost me and I'm ready to move along."  I was ready to drop it and try something else.  But for some reason I recognized I might yet again be headed down that familiar path and wondered why I shouldn't stop and think and read and ponder.  So that's what I've done.

Toward the end of the critique the author talks about Orson Welles 1974 film F is for Fake.  In the film Wells asks questions about art, its nature, and our relationship to it.  The more I thought about the questions, the more I realized their potential importance in helping me grapple with the what/why/where of photography.

In the original text, the Welles questions ran together in a long paragraph and I was quickly lost in a sea of words.  For this blog entry I have broken each question out into their own standalone paragraph.  It helps me see more clearly and helps me concentrate my considerations, musing, thoughts, theories, and answers.

What do we want from art? 

What do we want from artists? 

Can we know the deepest secrets of creativity? 

How far will dedication and technique carry us? 

Can we ever know the full meaning of what we create? 

Why do we value the maker when what they make is intended to outlast them? 

What is a collective artistic endeavour?

I have no answers to any of the above.  Not yet, at least. But something tells me these are indeed some of the best questions we can ask.

Seville ~ details

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

... which has gotten me to thinking...

I don't usually find what PetaPixel posts to be all that interesting.  But just this week two articles came up that I felt are worthy of notice.  The first was about a NY streetphotographer Louis Mendes.

The second is about a photojournalist who is homeless.  There was a time not so long ago when a photographer could be paid a living wage while working in journalism.  But this seems to no longer be the case.  Aside from two areas of photography, I don't think there is money to be made in photography of any kind.

When I stop and think about all the wonderful photographers I know who ply their craft with dedication, insight, and passion, I can't think of a single one of them who make a living off their images.  Some folks give workshops and make a bit of money that way.  Others sell what they can to galleries, private parties, and museums, but live in near outright poverty.  And yet others work full-time non-photography related jobs to make ends meet.

I wonder, though, when I follow some of the comments people make on various websites about not picking up a camera for less than $1200.  Are they serious and are they really making a living at photography?  I guess it might be the case if they are decent wedding photographers.  Some of the fees claimed to be charged for wedding work seem outrageous to me, but if true, certainly a person could live well.  This is one area where I think there is still money to be made.

The second area is, for many of us, unattainable.  Does Conde Nast really pay Annie Leibovitz a million dollars a year?  Celebrity Photographers are extremely rare.  And I'm not talking about photographers who take pictures of celebrities, either.  No, I'm talking about living photographers who are famous, and by extension, are well rewarded for their work.

So why on earth do some of us put so much time and effort into our craft?  Into our art?  Perhaps there's more to this than just money?

Cathedral ~ Seville, Spain

Sunday, April 01, 2018

A Wonderful Story...

Check out this article on PetaPixel about Louis Mendes.  It's wonderful how he connects with people and does it in such an elegant way.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Quite a month!

My wife and I left Dodge for sunnier climes... only to encounter rain, rain, and more rain... followed by flooding, flooding, and more flooding... and snow in the mountains.  Lots of snow.  Could that really have been al Andalus in Spain?  It was like a bad dream.  At least the temperatures in Seville were a good 10 degrees warmer than Paris.

Early into our trip I received an email saying my px500 renewal couldn't be processed.  They couldn't find my px500 account.  I worked through the issues with their support team and realized they really couldn't find my account and were only able to refund my subscription.

Then, not two days later, I read where px500 had been sold to the Chinese.  Some of the comments I read on PetaPixel suggested people were deleting their px500 accounts and going back to Flickr.  Good thing for me as I never left Flickr in the first place.  After returning to France I removed my px500 account.  I know, they still have a bunch of my photos squirreled away somewhere on their servers.

I originally joined px500 in the hope I could sell a few images.  No joy.  Nothing sold.  So, to me, leaving them isn't such a big deal.  I just don't like the thought that the Chinese now have some of my older works.  Short of hiring a lawyer I'm not sure what to do about that.

A few weeks pass.  We experience a boatload of rain.  Not the sunny vacation we were hoping for.

Suddenly the news is awash with revelations regarding Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Russian trolls, and the role they played in the 2016 election in the USA.  It seemed like a good time to re-consider my participation in social media platforms that use individual member data as revenue sources (Facebook sells the personal data you provide, it's the basis of their business model).

I posted a series of quotes on my personal Facebook page and put a few links on my public photography page that are critical of Facebook and their business model.  Here too, I'd hoped I could make contacts with creative people and I hoped to further my photographic explorations that might eventually lead to something, somewhere, anywhere, artistically, or commercially.  But as with my experience with 500px, nothing really ever happened.  Certainly, I met some very nice people, but one of the things I've learned in living in France is that creative contacts are best made and maintained in person, and not over the 'net. 

I'm leaving Facebook after a decade of participation.

Once I started down this path, I wanted to make certain that Facebook didn't get to benefit any longer from my giving them personal data they could sell.  What this means is that any company owned by Facebook was subject to consideration.  With this in mind, I deleted my Instagram accounts.

I'm done with Facebook.  Forever.  I'm done with Instagram.  Forever.

Where does this leave me?

I still have my Flickr account -

I still have this blog account (the one you are reading right now).

I still run a couple Tumblrs, which are subject to review and reconsideration.  I'm not quite sure what I'm getting from Tumblr that I can't get elsewhere.  It's difficult to measure just how much positive exposure I get from it.  We'll see.  Maybe I'll keep them.  Maybe I won't.

In any event, I am reducing the number of platforms I have to manage and maintain.  Perhaps this will free me up to spend more time doing what I really enjoy - making photos.

Nikon Nikkor + Lens TurboII + Sony A5000

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Comparison ~ 135mm lenses, Schneider, Nikon, Sony

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

Today I would like to take a look at several 135mm lenses that I happen to have on hand just now.  Two lenses are new to the Toy Box.  One arrived as part of a stack of things I purchased.  I'd inspected it in the field but failed to notice "cleaning marks" (scratches) on the front element.  The second lens arrived as part of the Super Deal that I scored off eBay point fr and it set me back all of 7 Euro.

  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  •  Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Lenses - 
    • Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS 
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai with mint condition glass
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 non-Ai with scratched front element ("cleaning marks")
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai 4 element airspaced
    • Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 135mm f/3.5 Exakta mount
The adapted lenses were shot using "straight through" adapters. None of them were mounted on a focal reducer. So what we will observe here 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.


Here is the overall scene.

Scene Setup ~ 135mm lens comparison

Here are the 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.]

Schneider Nikkor Sony 135mm ~ Comparison


Starting with the Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS, what I see is that it's sharp in the center at 135mm from wide open (which in this case is only f/5.6).  The edges of the scene are a little soft and distorted.  This may be due to field curvature, or it might be due to the inexpensive zoom design.  Photographing 2D subjects is always trying for non-flat field lenses (most optics are non-flat field).  For the price ($100 used) this is a usable lens.

Next up is the Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 135mm f/3.5.  This is a lens I picked up for 7 Euros.  I needed to clean the front two lens groups.  One was fogged and the other looked like fungus was starting to grow around the edges.  Once cleaned up and after the Exakta adapter arrived I wanted to see how it behaved (hence this post).

In the center the Schneider is very sharp.  At the edges, it takes time for things to clean up (f/8).  Thinking back to the Sony comments, I wonder if field curvature might be coming into play.  What's surprising is how sharp it is in the center given the age of the optic (manufactured in the mid-1960's in this case).  I've always prefered Schneider to Zeiss lenses and this only confirms my already strong bias.

Another thing that I like about the Schneider 135mm is its size and weight.  This is what I like about the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai, too.  When compared side by side the f/2.8 Nikkors feel large, bloated, and heavy.  The difference is remarkable.   The depth of field effect moving from the f/3.5 to the f/2.8 optics (it's only half a stop, mind you) is indistinguishable.

The Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai was given to me by a good friend.  The glass is in mint condition.  I thought it interesting to see how the scratched pre-Ai version I recently picked up performed by comparison.  Minimally, if scratches impact performance I would expect to see a drop in contrast and perhaps a drop in resolution as well.  Yet, what I see here is that both lenses are equally sharp and behave exactly the same way at all apertures.  Looking at the results I can not honestly tell which lens is scratched and which isn't.  Certainly the "cleaning marks" are light (they're not deep gouges), but to see absolutely no difference in performance?  This is a very interesting "learning" for me.

Lastly, I think the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai should become my 135mm "control" lens.  It is the standard by which I could measure all other 135mm lenses.  It is brilliant from wide open straight across the field and at all apertures.  All this "goodness" in a 45 Euro optic is impressive.  There is nothing finer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Comparison ~ 50mm lens out of focus rendition

The Angry Photographer has a lot to say about out of focus rendition (aka: bokeh).  He has a bit to say about the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar.  And he has a bit to say about the Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Domiplan.

As it turns out, I now have one each super cheap (weighing in at all of 7 Euro each) Tessar and Domiplan.  So... why not take a look at how these lenses compare against my much loved Nikon Nikkors?  Not from a resolution point of view.  I've done that already.  Rather, how about if I took my own look at out of focus rendition?

  • Shoot the same scene (through double pane glass, since it's so freak'n cold here)
  • Attempt to match the size of the out of focus rendition
  • Convert RAW to JPG using Sony's converter software

If you click on the image below it will take you to Flickr where you can look at this in a larger size.  I included the entire scene and a section from that scene.

Out Of Focus Comparisons


What is surprising to me is how similar most of the lenses are to each other.  What differences there are tend to be rather subtle.

To begin with, I very rarely see a 35mm full frame 50mm lens with out of focus area rendition as smooth as longer focal lengths.  There seems to be a lot if "jittery-ness" or "harshness" in 50mm lenses.  Perhaps this is why some people have gone the opposite direction and are celebrating "bubble bokeh" where the out of focus areas are overcorrected.

Here is what I observe about the lenses I compared, starting from the smoothest, most "buttery" out of focus rendition to the harshest, most "bubble bokeh-y" (gawds! try saying that three times fast).
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5
  • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai and H
  • Meyer-Optic Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan
  • Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar f/2.8
The Micro-Nikkor is really smooth in it's transition from sharp to out of focus.  The out of focus disks are flat and properly corrected.  It stands pretty much in a league of it's own in this regard.  It's the only 50mm (OK, this one is really 55mm) I've ever seen that can compete with longer focal length lenses in terms of out of focus rendition.  The lens is also sharp from wide open.  A drawback is that the maximum aperture is rather small (f/3.5), which means that the current rage razor thing depth of field is difficult to achieve.

Next comes the 50mm f/1.8 Ai "pancake" Nikkor.  With this lens a photographer can create the kind of razor thing depth of field images that are currently popular.  However, I see some "harshness" starting to creep into the out of focus areas.  I can clearly see a difference between this and the Micro-Nikkor, but I feel it still stands apart from the next two Nikkors, the f/2 Ai and H lenses. 

Beginning with the Nikkor f/2 lenses I feel we've fully entered into the zone of "bubble bokeh." This will make some photographers happy and will drive others nuts.  These two lenses come rather close to matching the Domiplan for their level of harsh "bubble bokeh" rendition.  Though I must say the f/2 Nikkors are ever so slightly less "harsh" than the old German lens.

Finally, the winner in the area of "bubble bokeh" generation is indeed the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8.  The Angry Photographer seems to have nailed the call on this one.  It gives the harshest and most "bubble-y" rendition of the small stack of lenses I considered here.  Too bad it's rather soft at the focus point.  But that's another matter for another time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

50mm Lens Comparison ~ Sony, Nikon, Zeiss, Meyer-Optik Gorlitz

Occasionally I receive confirmation that I'm completely nuts.

Last year I decided to try and find the best lenses I could for less than 50 Euro.  I scored four or five lenses for that price or less.  Then one day things changed, again.  I won an auction for a mint Super-Takumar 200mm f/4 for 11 Euro and it felt like the bottom had fallen out of  my expectations for the old used lens market.

Confirmation of my lack of mental stability more recently arrived in the form of a box originating from Germany.  It held six lenses that I'd won in an auction off eBay point fr.  To be a bit more precise, it was a box filled with _cheap_ lenses.  The cost averaged across the entire purchase was 7 Euro per objectif.

Sorting through things I found four lenses of particular interest.  There was a Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8, a Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan, a Schneider-Kruzenach 135mm f/3.5, and a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai. The other two lenses will be sold for cheap (the mounts are nothing I would ever use).

What encouraged me to bid on the auction were the two "bubble bokeh" lenses (not that I'm particularly "into" "bubble bokeh"), the Jena DDR Tessar and the Domiplan.  The Angry Photographer had good things to say about the lenses, so I decided to try my luck.

The Tessar lens design is well known and very well proven with well over a hundred years of implementation by a wide variety of manufacturers.  It consists of four lens elements in three groups.  The German made glass has the best reputation and prices are at times rather robust.

The Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Domiplan is a simple three element three group design.  It was made to be inexpensive and easily manufactured.  I see these at the photo swaps here in Europe.  Prices are variable and no one seems to buy them.  No one seems to like them.

  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod
  • Lenses -
    • Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS (as the "control" lens)
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H non-Ai
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai
    • Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8 (M42 mount)
    • Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan (M42 mount)
The adapted lenses were shot using "straight through" adapters.  None of them were mounted on a focal reducer.  So what we will observe here 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.

Here is the scene -

Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS ~ Scene Setup

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.]

50mm lenses ~ Sony Nikkor Tessar Meyer Comparison


The Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS acted as the "control" lens.  It's performance is brilliant from wide open clear across the field.  This lens feels resolution limited by the sensor, it's that sharp.  It's light and easy to carry on Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras.  When I want AF, it's my "go to" lens in this focal length.

The Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS continues to impress me.  While it's a little soft wide open due to spherical aberrations, starting one stop down it matches the Sony.  The lens is small and light.  Being a pancake lens it looks like the more common E-series Nikon of this focal length and aperture.  If I could carry just one lens, this might be it (but only when coupled with a Lens Turbo II focal reducer which gives a full frame 35mm field of view on the APS-C format).

Another lens that I already owned is the Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H non-Ai.  In the Box of Toys, however, there was a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai.  The Angry Photographer on YouTube loves this lens.  So, I was interested to see how the two lenses of the same design but very different years of manufacturing might compare.  What I found is that the Ai version is slightly sharper (though one has to look very carefully) and the scene color matches other newer Ai and AiS Nikkors.  The old "H" version gives a warmer rendition (which is easily accounted for in processing).  For 7 Euros I think I'll be keeping the Ai (along with all the other lenses I can't seem to relieve myself of).

Next comes the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8.  For years I've heard about how wonderful Zeiss lenses are.  I've owned a number of these Tessar 50mm lenses of various vintages and, honestly, I've been underwhelmed.  This little pancake lens is no different.  It performs identically to every single 50mm Tessar I've ever looked at.  It's strange how consistent the lenses are between manufacturing sites and vintages.  That is to say, they are all soft wide open and never seem to "clean up" (sharpen up, if you like) as the lenses are stopped down.  I would've thought that by f/5.6 that lenses would match the Sonnar or Double Gauss design lenses, but they never ever do.  I'm not sure where the "magic" is supposed to be in these because I've never been able to find it.  I think the famous photographer David Duncan Douglas had this all sorted out over sixty years ago when he was in Japan and discovered Nikkor optics.

Lastly comes the very lowly three element airspace design Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan.  The lens is very light, very simple, and feels a little feeble.  Yet there's a little surprise.  Yes, it's well know for it's out of focus rendition.  It certainly has that to recommend itself.  In terms of resolution the edges of the APS-C format frame shows an incredible drop-off.  I can't imagine what the edges of full-frame 35mm look like.  It must be pure mush  However, the center of the field is sharp.  It's as sharp as anything of the era.  There's the surprise.  In fact, it's sharper than the Zeiss Jena DDR.  Because of this I find the Domiplan an amusing little curiosity.  It's like coming across a "cheeky little 2 Euro wine" from Bordeaux.

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.