Thursday, December 20, 2018

Now Available - dans les Paddocks ~ le Mans Classic ~ 2016

dans les Paddocks ~ le Mans Classic ~ 2016

I am happy to announce that a book project of over 100 images is now available.  The work is printed in classic black and white.  I chose monochrome to pay honor to the time and style of reportage many of the automobiles have come from.

Aston Martin ~ le Mans Classic ~ 2016

Saturday, December 08, 2018

A little something called "SuperResolution"...

A friend recently picked up a Nikon D850 and more recently a new Fuji GFX 50R.  Both are very high resolution cameras.  In my case, the highest resolution camera in the closet is a 24mpixel Sony A6000.  Beginning to feel a little "behind the curve" in the Mpixel Race (whatever that is) I wondered how close I could come to 50mpixel sensor output given my current tool set.

Several years ago I saved a link to an article that described a process for creating very high resolution photographs.   I found that recipe after having written about how to generate high resolution images from a single base image.  This blog entry combines the two techniques, and adds a few things that I've learned along the way (which I will Note: in the text below).

Base setup -
  • Sony NEX-5T set to jpg output (to streamline the stack blend processing)
  • Lenses
    • Sigma 19mm EX DN E
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS
    • Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai
  • Camera handheld
  • Multiple exposures shot using the "S" fastest continuous shutter release function
    • Shot 20 to 30 images of each subject that would next be used to create an image stack
  • Follow the "SuperResolution" recipe (with two important Notes and one Observation) using
    • Hugin to align the image stack
    • Gimp (v2.8) to perform a linear 2x "cubic" uprez from approx 4900 pixels (native Sony NEX-5T file size) to 9500pixels
    • Gimp (v2.8) to blend the layered image stack
    • Gimp (v2.8) to apply a 2 pixel unsharp mask
In the following side by side comparisons, along the left hand side I have labeled from "File Viewed at 100%" to "File Viewed at 400%".  This applies in all three comparison cases to the left hand column only and represents the base image at its native resolution viewed at the indicated enlargements.  The right hand indications of "File Viewed at 50%" thru "File Viewed at 200%" apply in all three cases to right three image columns.  These three columns represent the output of various processing techniques I used to explore the idea of "superresolution".

Setup One - Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai set at f/8

Super Resolution Investigation ~ Base Image
Scene Setup

Super Resolution Investigation ~ Comparisons

Setup Two - Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai set at f/1.8

Super Resolution Investigation ~ Base Image
Scene Setup

Super Resolution Investigation ~ Comparisons

Setup Three - Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E set at f/4

Super Resolution Investigation ~ Base Image
Scene Setup

Super Resolution Investigation ~ Comparisons

Comments -

Regarding the optics, all three lenses performed very well, indeed.  They are sharp and contrasty in the base image.  Printing at 300dpi using the native 16mpixel sensor resolution of the Sony NEX-5T will easily generate a 17inch on the long dimension high resolution image.

As for the "superresolution" techniques, here is what I have thus far experienced.

My early understanding of how "cubic" up-rez works was insufficient.  Up-rez'ing an image at 150dpi or 300dpi will yield jagged edge transitions and will amplify "noise" across an image field. 

Note: What I've learned is that by increasing the sample rate of the "cubic" filter that the output up-rez'd image will contain fewer artifacts.  In clear terms - to perform a 2x up-rez requires, minimally, a 600dpi filter sample rate.  This is fundamental to understanding how to retain the most image quality when performing an up-rez. 

For this comparison I set the "cubic" filter sample rate to 1200dpi.

Using the Gimp's "cubic" Image Scale function quickly generates a 9500pixel file from the base 4900+pixel image.  No new information is added, of course.  Image problems (shake, mis-focus, etc) and sensor "noise" are amplified.  Following my early attempts at understanding "superresolution", this approach still has some promise.  Compared with the following two "superresolution" examples that follow, the simple "cubic" up-rez technique is somewhat lacking.

Looking at the blended image stack examples I see the results can be pretty interesting.  The very first thing I see is a dramatic drop in sensor "noise".  The images are much smoother than even the original base image.  In fact, blending just two images produces a very useful reduction in noise, even in a non-up-rez'd image, that this technique is worth utilizing.

The second thing I see is that stacked images do indeed appear to add information to the resultant image.  This is much like what we expect out of the "superresolution" functions in some Olympus and Sony mirrorless cameras where, in those cases, they "wiggle" the sensor electronically.  For the handheld technique, this is a very nice finding.

The technique of image stacking wasn't as straightforward as described in the recipe.  My first attempts were actually rather soft.  On close inspection I found that the Hugin "aligned" image output was not really "aligned."  The images were all too often many pixels mis-aligned, but only in the "y" dimension.  The "x" dimension seemed to be correctly positioned.  There is something I don't yet understand about the Hugin image stack output and how to import them correctly aligned into the Gimp.

Note: To achieve correct image stack alignment I chose a scene segment with clear dark to light transitions (like a raindrop or door keyhole or a piece of paper with writing) and set the "view" to 400% so that I could see every pixel magnified.  Using the base image (the image at the bottom of the stack) as the reference I worked with each layer, one at a time (turning off the visibility to all the other layers and by setting the "opacity" to 50% so I could see both the layered image and the base image). Then I used the keyboard arrows to move the layered image to set the exact alignment.  It was time consuming but yielded, obviously, the best results.

Observation: The recipe calls for a minimum of 20 images stacked and blended to get the most information.  In my case, I found that as few as 5 layers above a base image can yield outstanding results.  Perhaps my process technique isn't as accurate as it could be, but I can't see any "improvement" in the amount of information an image stack gives by going beyond those first 5 layers.

The last item in the recipe was the strong suggestion that a 2 pixel unsharp mask sharpen function be applied to the up-rez'd blended "superresolution" image stack.  To my eyes the results are quite impressive.  It appears, at first glance, as if a 300dpi 30inch print can be made while retaining all the native blended layer file resolution of the up-rez'd image stacked file.

It appears that my output is similar to the recipe examples.  Before declaring victory and moving on to another area of investigation I needed to compare my results, not only with the original "superresolution" recipe, but with the output of the latest generation of high resolution cameras.  Looking thru Flickr for Fuji GFX full resolution images I have come to realize that the handheld "superresolution" technique produces a different "look."  The native GFX file resolution is clearly superior to the approach being explored here.  Have I missed something in my own process?  Or is this just the way things are?

While clearly superior to native resolution base image output, using the handheld "superresolution" technique produces an image that reminds me of the soft, gentle tonal transitions I see in old contact print large format film. That is, the "feeling" of the image is that of light gently scattering through the gelatin surface coatings of traditional 20th century print papers. 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Process ~ when it seems to work

Looking back over the past two years I see that a lot has changed in my understanding of the craft of photography.  I've looked as deeply as I could (without access to a full optical lab) at the subject of lenses, resolution, and what really happens when we talk about resolution and "sharpness".

I was prodded into action by a couple of articles on The Online Photographer's blog about how to make "good" black and white images from digital files.  The outcome of that was I rediscovered how much I enjoy making monochrome images.  As a bonus it seems to me that my current output has become "sharper" and "smoother" than my earlier 4x5inch and 8x10inch enlargements and contact prints.

Which leads me to a short story about the path I've taken in transitioning from large format film to APS-C digital.

Uffizi Gallery ~ Florence, Italy 2018

The thing that kicked me into digital was it's ease of access and immediacy.  I could see something, snap a photo of it, and review the results before I continued on my way.   The change certainly was not because digital was as sharp as large format film.  It wasn't.

When I started into digital I acquired a Canon 40D (later a 50D, a 7D, and a 5D MkII) and two lenses, a 24-105L and a 10-22mm EF-S.  I paid a lot for all this equipment so I was "all in" as they say.

Looking back I'm shocked at my early digital work.  In a small size the images are merely OK.  But comparing the original files against my current output I can't believe I hadn't chucked the whole plot into the ocean and returned to film.  The Canon sensors and lenses, while famed and widely lauded, are "soft".  The original files are nearly unusable.  I can't stand to "pixel peep" them.

Thinking I might shoot a bit of video I started picking up old Nikon Nikkor manual focus lenses.  They are widely available and can be had for little money.  I went with Nikon because Canon's old R/FL/FD mount lenses would not fit on Canon EOS without serious modification.

Uffizi Gallery ~ Florence, Italy 2018

With the Nikkor lenses all I needed was a simple adapter.  But manually focusing, even with AF confirmation chips in the adapters, was a hit and miss operation.  For this one reason I never could see how much sharper than Canon zooms a good fixed focal length lens really is.

One of the first things I did after buying a Sony A6000 was to mount one of my Nikkors on the camera and see how sharp the system was.  I was shocked by what I saw.  The APS-C sensored images were demonstrably sharper than anything I ever saw out of the Canon system.

Knowing what resolution was possible and wanting a bit of auto focus, I purchased a trio of Sigma Art DN lenses, tested them, found them to be as sharp as my Nikkors.  Back when I owned Canon cameras Sigma was still known as a low cost, low quality aftermarket supplier.  Over the years Sigma's reputation changed and some of that is due to the quality of the Art DN series.

Now I have a choice between using the old manual focus Nikkors and newer AF capable small lenses.  I find that around town and when I can relax and take my time I like using the Nikkors.  When my wife and I are traveling the Sigma lenses are just about perfect.

Accedemia ~ Florence, Italy 2018

On this end of the long road of experience I find that coupling high quality imaging with a better understanding of how to make a "luminous" black and white image that something startling to me is possible.  When I compare my old 8x10inch film contact prints with a digital print, the digital image in many ways "looks" better.  When I compare a 20x24inch enlarge 4x5 image to a similarly sized digital image I see the very same thing.   The digital image in many ways "looks" better.

While there is so much more I could say about all this (I have obviously skimmed over many important details), the bottom line is: The tiny, very lightweight Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras produce images at least the equal in terms of quality as any high quality large format film camera I ever hauled through the world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

On William Mortensen...

This just popped up today and I thought I ought to share it.

While certain details of Mortensen's life might not be accurately recounted here, the overall subject is interesting. 

I'm happy to see people talking about him.  His Camera Craft published books were a source of information and inspiration to me for years.  In fact, I still have a book or two of his on the bookshelf.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

On the Art of Photography...

I very much enjoy this interview with Keith Carter.  It's a very human, non-equipment centered conversation.

Anne Brigman ~ Pictorialist

There is an interesting article on Messy Nessy concerning Anne Brigman.  If you know about early pictorialism in photography, you likely already know about her.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai ~ a closer look

[UPDATE 29 January 2022 -  I was definitely out of my depth here with this post.  I have since learned that the field curvature I observed is not the fault of the Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai lens.  The curvature is introduced with the use of the Lens Turbo II focal reducer.  It does not change the fields of all lenses to this degree.  The Nikon lens in question is beautiful and I'm glad I kept it.  You can read my mea culpa in a post I made four years after this one.]
I've wanted to like the Nikon 24mm f/2.8 manual focus lens.  Really, I have.  But every time I compare it against the cheap, small, light, modern Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E, it loses out.  The corners are soft every single time I try to conduct a comparison.  I had a f/2 version of the 24mm Nikkor that behaved just as poorly.

Having owned these lenses for years I sold the f/2 version out of frustration.  The entire experience has been nearly maddening.  I couldn't imagine how Nikon could've screwed up two versions of the same focal length.

Early one morning I was cogitating on the edges of a dream-like state and something occurred to me.  I suddenly felt I should check for field curvature.  Figure 1 illustrates the effect I'm talking about.

What I thought about was how Nikon might have designed these lenses to have a plane of focus that was equidistant from the lens (IOW, a curved field).  So I quickly set up a test.  The scene is simple.  To place the two bottles near the edge of the frame, I scribed an arc from the lens where all three bottles sat on that arc.

Then I compared three lenses.
  • Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai at f/4
  • Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 Ai at f/4
  • Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E at f/2.8
I thought the 24mm Nikkor would show an arc that described the point of focus for that lens.  After having used the 28mm f/3.5 I thought it would show a point of focus as a straight line.  I knew the Sigma would be a flat field lens.  I've used this one for years and it is my reference lens for resolution and field flatness in this focal length range.

Here is the scene setup.  As you can see, the bottles near the edge of the frame are well forward of the railing.  The railing represents the straight line.  The three bottles were placed on an arc equidistant from the lens, where the center bottle is resting against the railing/straight line.

Scene Setup ~ Nikon 24mm f/2.8 Ai

Here are the results (click on the image and select the full resolution image to look at the details).

Field Curvature Comparison
Indeed, the 24mm f/2.8 Ai Nikkor appears to be designed with a point of focus that is equidistant from the lens across the field.  This, to me, means it is deliberately not a "flat field" lens.
With this lens, however, the portion of the image that is in focus does not "pull" or exhibit sagittal distortions.  The subject is rendered "naturally".  And this may be the very reason why the lens was designed this way in the first place.
Considered in this new understanding, the Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 is actually a very fine optic.  I just have to keep in mind it's characteristics when using it.
As for the 28mm f/3.5 lens, the edge performance at f/4 is not sufficiently good for me to draw any conclusions about it's design nor field curvature.  I could've stopped the lens down further, but the depth of field might have been too great for me to detect it's point of focus at the edges of the frame.
The control lens, however, is quite outstanding and, though the effect is subtle, the railing is more in focus than the bottles.  This re-confirms for me that it's design is more "flat field" than the Nikkor 24mm.  Not "better" than the Nikkor 24mm, just "different" and more in line with what I expected (before conducting this little test).

Illustration ~ Fig 1
Figure 1

Friday, September 07, 2018

Hyperfocal Distances ~ Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai

Recently a friend explained to me that he was having trouble focusing a Zeiss 25mm manual focus lens on his Nikon DSLRs.  Since very wide angle lenses give deep depths of field I suggested to him that he set the lens at it's hyperfocal distance, stop the lens down to f/11 and "call it good to go."

He wasn't familiar with the term "hyperfocal."  So I whipped out my favorite depth of field calculator and suggested he put the focus at 6 feet 6 inches, set the aperture to f/11 and that everything from 2 feet to infinity would be in focus.  I asked him to let me know what he thought after he tried it out.

Well, needless to say, he was thrilled and he sent me a couple sample images.

Which gave rise to the question of how this might look in practice.  So I took out a Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai, setup up a tripod, and photographed a scene with different subjects at different distances to show how it works.

Here is the base scene -

Scene Setup Hyper Focal

And here is a look at the results for the lens focused at the hyperfocal distance, where it is focused at infinity, where it is focused on the foreground, and a look at what happens when a smart sharpen is applied to the hyperfocal image.

Comparison ~ Hyper Focal

What I see is that setting a lens to it's hyperfocal distance does indeed work.  Everything from the orange clothespin in the foreground to the windows at infinity are "acceptably" in focus.  It's a matter of how much of an "airy disk" we can accept before saying something is "out of focus."  Frankly, the detail at infinity isn't all that bad.

Of course, if I took the time to focus on infinity, subjects at that distance were slightly more in focus and the foreground dropped resolution.  When I focused on the foreground the clothespins were slightly better focused and the background dropped resolution.  From the above image you can see for yourselves by how much resolution changes in the various scenarios.

Taking the hyperfocal image and applying a light smart sharpen was rather interesting.  Of course sharpening an image does not add resolution.  It adds contrast to the dark/light transition zones of an image.  That is to say, it adds "apparent" resolution because the human eye sees increased contrast as increased resolution (up to a point).

Walking out into the "real world", here are a couple examples how how setting the Nikkor 24mm at f/11 and the focus at the hyperfocal distance looks in practice.

Passages ~ Paris, France
Passages ~ Paris, France

Monday, August 20, 2018

Learning to trust Focus Peaking

One of the many subjects I enjoy photographing are automobiles and motorcycles.

Twice a year here in Paris there is a large gathering of cars and bikes.  In trying to capture the overall atmosphere of the event I like to photograph the vehicles at rest and in motion.

la traversee de Paris estivale 2018

Over the years I've become somewhat dependant on autofocus when working with cars moving on the road.  I thought I'd lost the ability to accurately track a vehicle and come away with a very sharp image.

However, I've noticed that sometimes an AF lens will lock on to something that I don't want.  For instance the AF system can lock onto the foreground or background, particularly if the subject's contrast is lower than the surrounding area.  This has happened to me even when I set an AF point (such as center) to try and limit the AF to "seeing" the subject.

This mis-focus state happens surprisingly often and after some car events I have found many images that were less than sharp where I intended it to be.  It didn't matter if I used a DSLR or a mirrorless camera.

la traversee de Paris estivale 2018

Which got me to thinking about trying old manual focus lenses and learning to work with my Sony mirrorless cameras "focus peaking" function.  It would take practice and these car events happen only twice a year.  Practicing on cars driving on the street outside of these events is problematic as people here don't like their picture taken and will call the police.  I'd have to just jump in and see what I could do during la traversee de Paris itself.

Fortunately I had a glimpse of what might be possible when I photographed vintage automobiles in front of les Invalides.  As some of the cars were in motion I snapped a few images while trying to keep the "focus peaking" properly over the subject.  It was a little complicated because those old 35mm film days muscle memories of focusing on race cars had atrophied.  But I came away with enough very sharp images that I was rather happy.

la traversee de Paris estivale 2018

A month later I found myself snapping photos of quickly moving cars on la place de la Concorde.  My setup was a Sony A6000 camera, a Lens Turbo II focal reducer, and a lovely Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai lens.  The focal length of the lens seemed to be about "right" for reaching out and capturing images of event participants.  Interesting cars were coming from all directions and I worked the manual focus ring like a madman trying get the right "focus peaking".

Once I got home and was able to review the outcome I realized I lost perhaps 5 of the hundreds I took due to the lack of critical sharpness!  And two slightly out of focus images I was really interested in keeping were easily sharpened up using a "smart sharpen" function during image processing.  That "hit rate" far exceeds anything I've ever experienced with AF lenses.  It didn't matter if I shot the 85mm at f/5.6 (where there is a bit of depth of field) or wide open (where I really need to "nail" the focus to keep things sharp).

la traversee de Paris estivale 2018

I'm pleasantly surprised and the outcome pleases me.  I can feel those old muscle memories about how to work manual focus lenses in quickly changing situations coming back.  It's a good feeling.

But it brings a question: Why am I _still_ wrangling over what to take to Nice during the winter?  You see, there will be a Carnival there and it will be yet another quickly changing environment.  For whatever reason I'm still a bit worried about taking my old Nikkors in place of the AF optics.  What to do?  Fortunately I have a few months to sort it all out.

la traversee de Paris estivale 2018

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


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.

  • 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.


[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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 25, 2018

Capturing the "glow" - two more examples

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

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

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

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

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W

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

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W

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

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

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

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W

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

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

Bordeaux ~ 2018 in B&W

Monday, May 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus started another Round of Madness, photographically speaking.

Lens "Look" 

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

Scene Setup

Yellow Filter BW Lens Comparison

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

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

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

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

Creating "Glow"?

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

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

Looking For Glow

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

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

Process - A Modest Proposal

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

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

BW Processing Base Line

Example Curve

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

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

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

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

BW Processing Single Coated Lens Example 
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.