Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Now for the really difficult test...

I have to laugh to myself every time I read somewhere on the 'net (like over on DPReview, or MF Forums, or Fred Mirdanda's forums) that anyone can tell the difference between images made using Zeiss lenses and those made with something else. To some folks it appears that the magic is obvious. The Leica crowd sometimes behaves the same way. "This is the best lens there is and you can see the quality in your final print" they seem to be saying.

I have been testing lenses and cameras systems for over 15 years and have learned a thing or two about how commercially available optical systems behave. People who tell you they can see the difference between lenses, between manufacturers, or between focal lengths are just blowing smoke.


Want to try something that should be easy for kinds of folk who "know" their Zeiss or Leica lenses are visibly superior to all other makes? Click here and take a very close look at these results.

I used a Canon 7D camera. It was the highest density sensor of any DSLR currently made at the time I performed this test. The sensor can resolve 116 line pair per mm. You can calculate this from the number of image nodes in your file divided by the size of the sensor in mm's. To get line pairs per mm, divide the result by two. You will confirm that the Canon 7D is capable of resolving 116 lppmm. To me this says that if there are differences between lens resolution and/or recorded image contrast you should be able to see them quicker with the 7D than with other cameras, regardless of the number of pixels those cameras have. It's about the size of each sensor site, not the total number.

There are 9 lenses. The focal lengths go from 50mm's through to over 100mm's. There is a mix of Zeiss (oh ya, bring it on!, say's I), Nikon, Pentax, and Canon glass. Some of the lenses are very old indeed. Some are brand new. I guess I should say that there are three Nikkors, two Pentax, two Zeiss, and maybe a Leica lens or two, balanced out by Canon.

It will be impossible for folks to know, but did I start at f/1.2? f/1.4? or f/2? Did I end up at f/5.6 or f/8? Did I include zoom lenses or are these all primes? I did my best to achieve correct focus in all cases.

Each 300x300 pixel image is a 100 percent crop. I shot raw and used DPP to convert the result to jpg. To see differences between lenses I set the sharpness at 3 on the RAW tab of the Tools window in DPP. If I didn't do this, you would have an even harder time telling the differences between these lenses.

So... which lenses are which? Where are those Zeiss lenses? Did I throw in a Leica optic or two just to mix things up a bit? Did I really include a couple "ringers", including two or three or four lenses that cost less than $20 each?

You decide. And if you get it right, I'll buy you a beer.

I doubt anyone will come close, so let me take this opportunity to stress, once again, that it's better to have a lens than not, and that the sharpest lens in my kit is a tripod.

Said another way, I really do not believe that it matters what lens you use. If you are creative, then you are capable of making wonderful images, regardless of what equipment you own.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Testing the Sigmonster

This Fall while visiting my favorite Ducking Hole to see if my favored Buffleheads were back from their Summer breeding ground, I spied a gent with a rather nice lens. He had a Canon 40D mounted on a Canon 500mm f/4L IS. He may have had a 1.4x teleconverter on it too, though I can't recall with certainty. He seemed to be having a very good time.

I looked down at my Canon 7D mounted on a lovely Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L and was instantly overcome with lens envy. The gent with the 500mm lens was able to reach out a lot farther than I was able. And, there were birds out there that I really wanted to photograph. Of course. This is how addition works, right?

After selling off a stack of unused glass, I was able to find a nice Sigma 300-800mm EX HSM f/5.6 lens. It arrived in good shape and I wanted to test it.

So here is a wee test. I used images taken with a Canon 24-105L and Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro as control lenses. These are as sharp as sharp can be. I also shot the Canon 100-400L to see how good the Sigmonster stood up against my favorite bird lens.

By clicking here, you can see the full sized results. These are 100% crops from a Canon 7D. Since the 18mpixel sensor has such a strong anti-aliasing filter, I added 3 sharpen in the RAW tab in to DPP Tool menu. 3 seemed to be a nice balance between the very soft straight out of the camera thru DPP converted JPGs and obvious over-sharpening.

The Sigmonster is a very fine lens. However, focusing the Sigmonster at 800mm's was a real bear! I'm not convinced I have the test target in focus. Look at how the Nikon 55mm f/3.5 performed at f/5.6 with the same two dollar bill details. The Nikkor was MUCH easier to focus than the Sigmonster. Still, one lesson may be to stop the Sigma down at least one stop when shooting at 800mm. It might be unacceptably soft wide open at that focal length.

The Sigmonster appears to out-perform the Canon 100-400L at 300mm and 400mm, but just barely. The 100-400 is a nice lens and holds it's own against the Canon 24-105L and Nikon Micro Nikkor. Though the shorter Canon zoom and the Nikon prime appear ever so slightly sharper to me, it's nothing that a little sharping with DPP can't clean up.

Bottom line, for me the combination of the Canon 100-400L and Sigma 300-800mm EX HSM will be wonderful to chase birds with. Both are sharp. Both focus nice and quick. Both respond well to the 7D's speed of handling and the DPP conversions to jpg.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

From the Age of Steam

I would very much like to connect with folks in the Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, or San Fransisco, California cities who are this deep into the scene. I want to make more images based on the theme of Noir Victorian Gothic, Steampunk, and Tribal Fusion and am looking for folks willing to model in their regalia of their genre.

Monday, December 07, 2009


I received a very nice email from Marthyna. She publishes a belly-dance magazine called Papyrus. Marthyna asked if she could publish one of two images in an upcoming issue. I had to say "yes", "please", and "merci beaucoup!"

It is an honor and a pleasure to have my images show up in print like this. One of the following images should be published shortly.

Oregon Country Fair 2008 - Rachel Brice

Oregon Country Fair 2008 - Rachel Brice