Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD pre-Ai

The gifts keep coming.

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD pre-Ai

In the box along with the Sony NEX-7 my friend sent a Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD.  I was surprised, pleased, and, of course, very interested to see how it performed.

Historically, Nikon had earlier designs for a 2,1cm lens.  Those were symmetrical and the rear element set recessed deeply into, first, Nikon rangefinder camera bodies and later the Nikon F SLR.  In the case of the SLR the mirror had to be mounted up and out of the way so the rear element set could be properly positioned, thus nullifying the benefits of being able to look through the lens.

Thinking about it for a moment, the 20mm f/3.5 UD I was now holding represents Nikon's first strongly asymmetrical ultra-wide angle lens designed specifically for the Nikon F SLR.  For its time the lens would've been rather unique.

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD pre-Ai

Off to beers with a friend one day I took one of my trusty Sony NEX-5T cameras (I have far too many of these because, well, they're cheap now) with a Lens Turbo II focal reducer and mounted the old Nikkor.  The first thing I noticed was just how large the 20mm Nikkor is when used on a very slim, very small APS-C Sony mirrorless camera.  The next interesting thing I would notice had to wait until I returned from the pub.

One of the images that I'd taken had deliberately included sections of strong daylight highlights and deep pub-interior shadows.  The (now) small 16mpixel sensor is well known for it's long 13EV dynamic range.  The newer 24mpixel APS-C Sony sensors only slightly extend the range to 13.4EV (NEX-7).  So this, to me, means the old sensor will continue to perform very nicely for much of the kinds of photography I tend to do.

Liking fields of subtle grays I am pleasantly surprised by the detail and "creaminess" of the image I took of my friend.  As you can see, there is detail deep into the shadows and the highlights roll off nicely, just like when using old silver halide film.

The lens appears to produce little to no flare, which is quite remarkable considering the age of the optic and the fact it is only single coated.  It is sharp from wide open. 

I think this lens is a "keeper."

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 UD first light

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Camera Story ~ Sony NEX-7

A friend sent me his "old" Sony NEX-7.  Such a gift this is.  Such a gift.

Lens Stories ~ Sony NEX-7

My friend's first NEX-7 had died a mysterious and sudden death.  So he went down to the local camera store and picked up a nice used example as a replacement.  This second NEX-7 is the one he sent me.

I really like how Sony implemented the "rangefinder" EVF in the upper left-hand corner of these cameras.  In bright sunlight I can see what I'm focusing on and my "hit rate" is much better than with the non-EVF NEX-5T or A5000 camera bodies that I also use.

The first thing I did after receiving the camera was to check that the sensor was clean, and it was.  Then I took some photos and then applied black tape to "blacked out" the make and model information.  I like my cameras appearance better when I do this.  Lastly, I opened an instruction manual and read through how to set the functions and dials and wheels.

It is easy to see how similar it is to the more recent Sony A6000.  The controls layout, the overall size and weight of the cameras are nearly the same.  There is a strong family resemblance between these two. There are a couple minor differences (such as an AF mode control switch) between the NEX-7 and A6000.

Another difference is the Sony NEX-7 dual wheel control.  I think they called this "tri-navi", or something like that.  This is different from any Sony camera I've used.  There are two programmable wheels along the top back edge.  The default setting has the right wheel modifying the exposure value for setting under/over-exposure.  The left wheel is dedicated to aperture, shutter speed controls.  Then there is the role of the (unmarked) "function" key and how it is programmed.

Lens Stories ~ Sony NEX-7

After fiddling around with this for awhile it all seems rather complicated to me.  I can barely keep straight the menuing systems change that took place between the NEX-series cameras and the newer A-series.  When in a photo-shoot I find myself checking the setting, concentrating on not bumping something, rechecking and so-forth.

I seldom encounter a need to change a camera's setting once I enter a photo-shoot.  Sometimes I will change the over/under exposure settings, but that's easily done on the wheel control on the back of the camera.

In any event, I try to anticipate the conditions I will find myself in, set a camera's controls and functions, and then try to avoid, as I said, bumping any of the dials and controls during a shoot.

Reading the manual I came across the method Sony provides for disabling the dual wheel system.  It involves holding down the (unmarked) "function" key that sits just next to the shutter release button.  Now that this has been sorted I feel the camera won't "fight" me when I accidentally bump something or other.

According to DxOMark the Sony NEX-7 has 13.4EVs of dynamic range.  Which is to say, it has over 13 "f-stops" of dynamic range.  By comparison, the Sony A6000 I have is reported to have 13.7EVs of dynamic range.  The difference between these two cameras would be, I imagine, rather difficult to see in practice.

In summary, think the camera will be every bit as good an image making machine as the A6000 which I will continue to very much enjoy using.

Camera Story ~ Sony NEX-7

For the illustration images seen here I mounted-up a nice, light, sharp little Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN.  Shortly after taking the images I blacked out the bright spots and replaced the Sigma lens with a Lens Turbo II, Nikon Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 pre-Ai setup.  It's in this configuration that I will see how things work out for me and my friend's "old" camera.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H pre-Ai, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai ~ Macro Comparison

Something in an article on Nikon's Thousand and One Nights site caught my attention.  They said, referring to the Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H -

"...We should also mention that the drop in performance for close-up work is small, and not only is the high quality maintained at the closest focusing distance of 0.45m (1.5ft.), but the lens also produces high quality when used on a bellows or extension rings for macrophotography..."

I happen to have a copy of the pre-Ai 50mm f/2 as well as a Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 which is also pre-Ai.  So I thought it might be interesting to see how the two lenses compared.

Setup ~
  • Sony A6000, 2 second delay, 100ISO
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod
  • Straight-through Nikon to Sony E adapter
  • Lenses -
    • Nikon Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 pre-Ai
    • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai
  • Two tourist "0 Euro" as flat subject-matter
  • Rawtherapee (no sharpening) to convert from AWR to jpg

Comparison ~

Here is the scene setup.

Scene Setup ~ Macro Study

Here is the comparison.

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there, look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the comparison at 100 percent.]

Macro Comparison ~ Nikon 50mm f/2, 55mm f/3.5

Comments ~

Note: Keep in mind that when dealing with macro subjects that the slightest field curvature in a lens will cause the edges of the frame to not be in focus.  However, if you either focus at the edges (which isn't exactly useful for keeping the center of the frame sharp) or stop the lens down to (as in this case, f/8) you will often see that the edges are, in fact, quite sharp.

Wide open the 50mm Nikkor-H f/2 pre-Ai is slightly soft in the center of the frame and very soft at the extreme edges.  Starting at f/2.8 the center is actually acceptably sharp.  This continues all the way through f/8 (and likely beyond, but I didn't test for the smallest apertures).  The edges of the frame become progressively sharp as the lens is stopped down.  Around f/8 the resolution begins to approach that of the Micro-Nikkor.

The Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai, by comparison, is very sharp from wide open across the entire field.  To me this remains an absolutely brilliant general purpose optic.

What I take from this comparison is that, yes, the Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 is mostly stable when focused at macro distances.  Like most non-macro lenses, it suffers from field curvature.  This makes the lens an interesting challenge when working with flat documents.  Yet when dealing with bugs, morning dew-drops and other potentially interesting subjects in a non-flat real world the lens is, as advertised, quite good for macro work.

Note 2: I have enjoyed reading Nikon's Thousand and One Nights series.  Their comments on early lens design, the trade-offs they made, and results they were seeking are, for me, very informative.  Their writings have helped me consider lenses more deeply than just the shallow one-dimensional considerations of "sharpness" and "resolution" that I've been overly prone to for the past 20 years.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor-O f/2 pre-Ai

In a fit of downsizing the Lens Closet I sold a very good condition Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2 Ai. 

There was just "something" on the edge of perception that made images special when I used this lens.  As always, for me regret is a powerful motivator.  Even though I am rich in 28mm and 50mm lenses, I just had to have another copy of the 35mm f/2.

Nikon Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 ~ Lens Stories

I've been thinking about this for over two years.  I've been trolling "that auction site" to see what might turn up.  I've been hoping that I could mend the errors of my ways.

Then, one day not too long ago, I came across a beautiful-looking early single-coated pre-Ai Nikkor-O version of the lens.  It had a case and, well, it looked rather un-used.

With patience that comes with age I bid late in the auction and, surprise!, won.

The package the lens arrived in had been sliced by a sharp blade along one seam.  While unopened, I wondered who did that and why?  The story I got from the point relais where I picked the lens up from was completely bogus.  Something was up.  So I opened the package right there in front of the man, just to make sure everything was OK.  It was, so I took my new acquisition and left.

From my first example of the lens I knew that Nikkor-O would be sharp.  There is a bit of field curvature, but along that line of that curvature images are sharp all the way to the edge of the frame.

Once back to home and hearth I took a quick look at the lens' out of focus rendition.  It looks and "feels" similarly to the Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS and the 24mm f/2.8 Ai.  Which is to say, behind the point of focus the Nikkor-O is gently under-corrected for spherical aberration.

The all up cost, including delivery?  It came in under my self-imposed limit of 50Euro with more than a few Euro left over. 

When will I ever learn my lesson about selling lenses that I like?  For the moment balance in life has been re-achieved. 

Nikon Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 ~ Lens Stories

[NOTE: The photos in this album and this album, too, were shot using the Nikon Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 pre-Ai]

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 pre-Ai, f/2.8 Ai

Returning to my usual and customary target of spending less than 50Euro a lens we come to a pair of 28mm Nikon Nikkors.  One is pre-Ai and f/3.5.  The other is Ai and f/2.8.

Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 and f/3.5 ~ Lens Stories

The Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 pre-Ai was, in fact, the lens that taught me the virtue of patience and keeping a sharp eye out for more fun toys.  Er.  I mean photographic tools.

Searching "that auction site" one day, I stumbled across an early design 28mm.  The bids were low and so I decided to watch it.  Then, at the last moment I bid low and still won.  The lens was scored for significantly less than 50Euro.

What I'd read was this was the first wide angle lens Nikon designed for the F mount SLR cameras.  Historically the first lenses hit the market in 1959.

Being an early design, "conventional wisdom" suggests this lens isn't as sharp as a more modern optic.  Maybe I have a "good" lens, but I don't see the f/3.5 lens' performance as being any less than outstanding from wide open.  Well, in the center, at least.  The edges aren't at all bad wide open when you take into account field curvature.  In general it takes stopping down to f/5.6 for things to clean up pin sharp across a flat field.

The Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 is a favorite of some people on the 'net.  It has a reputation for being sharp, light, and "handy".  This version of the optic was first introduced in 1974.  Looking at a cross-section of the lens it's easy to see where the f/2.8 design differs from the earlier f/3.5.

Taking into account for mild field curvature, indeed, my copy of the f/2.8 is sharp from wide open in the center all the way to the edges of the field.  And looking at the out of focus rendition, the more modern lens is ever so slightly under corrected for spherical aberration behind the point of focus.

While I think the f/2.8 gives a softer, more "delicate" out of focus rendition than the f/3.5, there are times when I feel the older design lens is just plain perfect as is.  Check out this example and perhaps you will see what I mean.

As for what I paid for the Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 Ai, there's a bit of a story.  It begins with a box of lenses that I bought of "that auction site."  A good 70 percent of the lenses were easily fixed up and one was, in fact, mint.  So I put it on a local to France sales site and suggested I'd be open to trades for something interesting.  One morning in my inbox was an email suggesting the 28mm.  The gent was happy for the trade and I'm sure the lens he now has is keeping him plenty happy.

In the end, the 28mm f/2.8 set me back all of 7Euro.

What I have here are two wonderful lenses.  They are simply Nikon pin sharp and both give a creamy out of focus rendition.  I can't tell the difference between them.

Do I honestly "need" two 28mm lenses, or three, really, if you count the pretty 28mm f/3.5 PC that I also own?  I suddenly find myself rather rich in this focal length.

Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 and f/3.5 ~ Lens Stories

[NOTE: The wide angle photos in this album were all shot using the Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 pre-Ai]

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 Ai

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4

On the same day, at the same time, and with the same seller that I broke my self-imposed Lens Budget Cap of 50Euros when I purchased the Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai, I purchased a second lens.

The other lens was the worst condition lens that I think I've bought in nearly 30 years.  The first bad condition optic purchased lo those many years ago was a Zeiss Tessar 15cm that had come with a 4x5 view camera and who's front element was severely scratched.  The lens was so badly damaged there was no contrast in an image.  To help myself "feel" better about that transaction I rationalized by saying I received a pretty nice camera for little money and a junk lens for free.

In the case of the Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 Ai my rationalization for the purchase was a bit different.  Indeed, the exterior of the lens looks terrible.  Even that old 15cm Tessar looked better on the outside than this thing does.  There is so much "brassing" ("aluminuming"?) on the Micro-Nikkor that I might be able to use it as a reflector to bounce light into shadows.  I exaggerate, but not by much.

What separated my money from the wallet was something that I'd considered when looking at the out of focus rendition of the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai and f/2.8 Ai lenses.  These lenses were my first encounter with nearly neutral spherical aberration control behind (and, of course in this case, in front) of the point of focus.  Hoping that Nikon had designed all it's Micro-Nikkor lenses this way led me to think the 105mm f/4 could be a natural compliment to the shorter focal length macro lenses.

I should stop here for a moment and explain why neutrally controlled spherical aberration in the out of focus areas is important to me.  CarsMotorcycles.

While for some subject matter I absolutely love the under-corrected spherical aberration out of focus rendition of both the 105mm f/2.5 and 85mm f/1.8 K, when photographing machinery I feel distracted by the "softness" and highlight "pop" I many times get when using those lenses.  They "feel" like outstanding portrait lenses more than they feel like the best tools to document machines.

After getting the Bruised Beast home I took a look at its "resolution" and its out of focus rendition.  Yes, the Micro- Nikkor is as sharp as I expected it to be.  Yes, the Micro-Nikkor has a flatter field from wide open than my other 105mm lenses.  But...  Surprise!  Surprise!!  The out of focus rendition is closer to the performance of the 105mm f/2.5 P and updated design Ai lenses than to the neutral spherical aberration corrections of the Micro-Nikkor 55mm lenses.

So... now what to do...?

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai

OK.  So I broke my own self imposed budget limit.  I couldn't help myself.  I'm sure I could justify the purchase based on non-budgetary criteria.  My fuzzy little mind remembers wondering how Nikon's successor to the 85mm f/1.8 H, HC, K lens performed behind the point of focus.

I'd read that the 85mm Nikkor f/2 was a "boring" lens.  Sharp(ish) wide open and nothing special by way of its out of focus rendering.

I owned a pretty Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai when I first moved to Europe.  But it was sold in a fit of "downsizing" the photographic tools cabinet.  Slowly, over the years, I came to regret the decision.  So when this lens came up at a somewhat reasonable price, my 50Euro per-lens budget cap went out the window.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 ~ Lens Stories

Being one to not trust what's posted on the 'net, I decided to have yet another look at this lens.  Here is what I found (confirmed, yet some more?, oh gawds, the Insanity continues).

The Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai is very slightly sharper wide open than any of the Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 H, HC, or K lenses that I've owned.  By f/2.8 my eyes can't see any difference in "resolution" between the two lenses.

Looking at behind the point of focus rendition I see that the f/2 lens is much more neutral in it's correction of spherical aberration than the f/1.8 lens is.  Perhaps it is this characteristic that some people find "boring?"  I wonder.

In any event, the f/2 lens has shallower depth of field wide open than it's f/1.8 sibling.  This has a lot to do with how the out of focus region spherical aberration is treated.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 ~ Lens Stories

Standing back a bit and looking at the two lens designs, I can hazard a guess or two about their performance trade-offs and design details.  Perhaps the most obvious is this.  The f/1.8 H, HC, K lens is a wonderful portrait lens in the old style.  The lens designer gave that lens a subtle, beautiful behind the point of focus rendition.  Highlights positively "glow" and it reminds me in some ways of a lovely Wollensak Verito large format optic.  The complement to the older 85mm lens, in my mind, is the lovely 50mm f/1.8 Ai/AiS.

The Nikon Nikkor f/2 Ai lens, on the other hand, feels well corrected.  It could be a good companion to the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai and f/2.8 Ai and Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 lenses that I tend to shoot with.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Lens Stories ~ 3 Nikon telephoto zooms

I'm at a loss to explain why the prices have seemingly dropped out of the old manual focus lens market.  Sure, there are likely more than a few good reasons for this, but nothing stands out in my mind as the _most_ likely explanation.

No matter.  I find I'm enjoying finding brilliant optics for not much money.  It's too much fun, in fact, and I've made something of a game of it all, searching for the cheapest and best optics I can find.

I set an arbitrary upper limit on what I will spend on an old piece of glass at 50Euro.  Perhaps surprisingly I'm able to many times pick up a lens for less than that, delivered.  Here are three examples.

3 Nikon zooms ~ Lens Stories

Some time back I picked up a Nikon Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5 N for what I felt at the time was a shockingly low price (much less than the one seen in the previous link).  The lens is in very good condition and the optics are mint.

Not long after I found a mint condition Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 AiS for half what I paid for the 80-200mm.  These days no one seems to like the short 2x zoom, but go back to when the lens first came to market and you'd see fashion photographers use practically nothing else (yes, I exaggerate, but not by much).  This lens, while costing so little, delivers much more than you might believe possible.

After spending the winter in Nice I came home and causally scanned the latest lens offerings on the 'net and came across the mighty Nikon Nikkor 100-300mm f/5.6 AiS for what I'd paid for the 80-200mm.  This model zoom is long but makes not accommodation for a tripod foot to help balance the rig while on a tripod or monopod.  But, it's a lot lighter than other lenses in this class, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The 100-300mm was being sold "as is."  This is usually an indication that something is wrong.  In this case the focusing sleeve was reportedly "loose."  This happens frequently with these old zoom lenses.  Nikon used a felt ring to keep the push-pull focusing sleeve snug against the inner barrels.  When the lens arrived it turned out to be much much better than expected.  It's perfectly usable "as is."

Normally I prefer fixed focal length lenses.  Traditionally they tend to be sharper across the field and are better able to manage spherical aberrations in the out of focus areas.  So I put these three zooms to "the test" to see what Nikon did with their early versions.

In all three cases, resolution in the center of the field of these zooms are at least the equal to their fixed focal length counterparts.  The edges of the 75-150mm and 80-200mm were testing slightly soft.  The 100-300mm, however, is brilliant straight across the frame.

3 Nikon zooms ~ Lens Stories

Then I reminded myself (by conducting yet more comparisons) that many of my fixed focal length lenses suffered from field curvature.  When I accounted for this be refocusing at the edge of the frame when I conducted my "resolution" comparisons I found that in nearly every single case that the "resolution" at the edge matched the "resolution" at the center _from wide open_.  So I took another look at the two shorter zooms and, yes, found they too can suffer from field curvature and produce sharp images at the edge of a frame when the curvature is accounted for.

Next, I took a look at the  out of focus rendition behind the point of focus of these zooms.  True to what Nikon says about nearly all their lens designs, the 75-150mm and 80-200mm lenses at the shorter focal lengths have been under-corrected for spherical aberration behind the point of focus.

One more thing of interest, however, came quickly apparent.  In the case of these two zooms, there was something happily surprising that happens at the longest focal lengths, and in the case of the 100-300mm, the same thing holds true at all focal lengths. The out of focus rendition is dreamy creamy smooth neutral.  The rendition is so good that they are every bit as good as any of the current new all the rage "smooth trans focus" apodization filter lenses from Sony (formerly Minolta), Fuji, and Canon.  Yes.  It's true.

3 Nikon zooms ~ Lens Stories

So what do I have here?  In total, here are three wonderful Nikon zoom lenses. The zooms are sharp sharp sharp in a fixed focal length sense of "sharp".  Yes, they gently suffer from varying degrees of field curvature, though none are worse in this regard than the fixed lenses I have looked at.  Best of all, they all have beautifully controlled out of focus rendition.  The only difference from their fixed focal length siblings, really, other than the obvious ability to change focal lengths, is the maximum aperture.

If I had to choose just one lens (and thankfully I don't, certainly not at these kinds of prices) the 100-300mm f/5.6 AiS stands out as something truly special.