Friday, April 21, 2023

Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects ~ part Four

Continuing the Mad Quest to look more deeply at this Dastardly Difficult to Wrangle Under Control Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft, I'd like to now consider image processing and its influence on soft focus Pictorialist effects.

As I previously wrote, there was an underlying "sharpness" to the 85mm Soft that lay just below the under-corrected spherical aberration "glow."  I see this from wide open.

One thing we have today that we didn't back in the Old Film Days are a vast array of tools that can be used to modify various aspects of an image.  Certainly, there were processes we could use in those Old Dinosaur Days of Film, such as contrast controls and masking.

Contrast controls should be self-evident.

Masking in the Old Film Days could be used for at least two ends.  One was to control global contrast when using contrasty print media.  I'm thinking of Christopher Burkett's fabulous works printed to Cibachrome.  I've been fortunate to see his work in person.  He is clearly a Master Print Maker and his images absolutely "sing."  He masks everything he prints.

Another use for masking was to reveal the mid-tones of a scene.  We used to do this in a photo-print lab that I worked at.  It was a time consuming, exacting, difficult process.  It was rather expensive, too.  I'm not sure how many clients we actually had, if any, for the service.

A few Dinosaur Age Film Photographers created softened images that had a certain "spark" to them.  Considering the works of David Hamilton and his hairspray filters, it's interesting to note that he used Ektachrome 200 film that was pushed to 400ASA or 800ASA (and perhaps more?).  

This did two things.  First it increased the grain size, as would be expected.  I'm convinced the grain added a "artful" distance between the viewer and the subject.  I feel this is the case from looking at David Hamilton's last work.  It's too "clean" looking, even though the work had his signature soft rendering.

Second, the push development process increased contrast.  I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that normally processed 200ASA Ektachrome images would've been seen as too soft, in part due to the lower contrast. 

I'm imagining that David Hamilton stumbled upon a process that "worked" for him.  The way he lit, filtered (light hairspray on UV filter), composed and printed his images very likely depended on his choice of film and processing.  He might not have known "how" to get from here there, yet I'm continuing to imagine that he uncovered a useful process, perhaps by accident and/or by experimentation, liked the results, and made a career out of the whole thing.

That's one of the great things about photography.  There's so much room for experimentation and exploration.  If something doesn't "work", we can build on what we've learned and try something else.  Even if, back in the Good 'Ol Film Days exp√©rimentation could be a lengthy, hit/miss process.

Sometime I might share a black and white film developing process that broke many of the "rules" of film development, yet was the foundation for a successful Lord and Taylor ad compagne that ran for years.  The photographer I learned the process from was rather successful and his works looked on some level more like "art" than photography.  How Robert Randall came upon the process I'll never know.  All I know is it "worked."

Coming to current time, digital image processing includes a number of functions that we would've given our eye teeth for back in the Old Film Days.  Luminosity masks being one example.  Clarity and Texture functions in Pay-dobe' parlance, or Local Contrast and Micro Contrast in RawTheraee terms being another example.  These and many many other tools are well integrated into digital image processing software.  One can view the impact/results of these functions instantaneously.  No need to wait a few days for results to come back from a laboratory.

In this spirit I experimented using RawTherapee hoping to find a way to unlock the veiled resolution hidden in the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft lens.   This post is described what I found.

Setup ~ 

  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7, 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
  • Lens - 
    • Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2, f/2.8, and f/4
  • Bogen tripod
  • RawTherapee - 
    • Global contrast increased by image to taste
    • Local Contrast increased by image to taste


Image Processing Comparison ~

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.


Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2
Base Image

This is the starting point for the image processing comparison. I see a strong veiling softness at f/2.2.  Just under that, the image looks sharp, particularly  around the numerals on the faces of the watches.  That is where I focused the lens, so this makes sense, right?


Processing Comparison ~ Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2 ~ Local/Global/Curves Contrast Comparison Base

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2
+ image processing

By choosing a strong global contrast setting, and a strong Local Contrast setting I was able to "bring up" the details of the watch faces.  The veiling "glow" remains quite strong.  
To my admittedly aging eyes this doesn't look 1/2 bad.  I feel this begins to prove a point about the power of software image processing tools.  With a little work it appears I can offset the soft effects of the Pentax 85mm lens.


Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.8

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.8
Base Image

Processing Comparison ~ Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.8 ~ Local/Global/Curves Contrast

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.8
+ image processing

Stopping down one click changed dramatically the softness of the overall image.  For this reason I didn't need to push neither the global contrast nor Local Contrast controls as hard as I did in the f/2.2 version.
This is looking rather nice, actually.  The highlights glow, but not too much.  The mid-tones are revealed quite well.  Clearly the image was made using a soft focus lens.  There are the optical effects I expected to see, but they are now coming under control in relationship to the "glow" and the overall image.
I could stop here, but why?


Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4
Base Image

Procsssing Comparison ~ Pentax 85mm f/2.2 at f/4 ~ Local/Global/Curves Contrast

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4
+ image processing

Stopping down two clicks changes even further the softness of the overall image.  I didn't need to push either the global contrast nor Local Contrast controls as hard as I did in the f/2.8 version.
I see the "resolution hole" beginning to open in the center of the frame.  The image is sharper in the center of the frame than it is around the edges.  The sense of "glow" and optical effects are still in effect.  And I see that I didn't make the darks as deep in the re-processed sample than I did in the original.  Hopefully the mid-tone differences are apparent.

Where is the balance with this subject and this lens using strong side-lighting?  It comes down to how sharp I want the center of the image and how much edge softness I could tolerate.  I think there might be a very nice balance at f/3.5.

Considering Local Contrast in RawTherapee, I believe there might be another way of revealing the underlying sharpness.  That tool is Micro-Contrast.  I'll have a look at it in a future post.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects ~ part Three

It's been such a long process of thinking, considering and trying to use soft focus lenses that I've developed a sense that my story includes looking into the morning mirror to see Don Quixote reflected back.  There's just enough self recognition in this Madness for me to question why I even bother, but bother I persist.  I know the windmills aren't what I've taken them to be, if only I could work out how.

In deepening my understanding of how to use meniscus soft focus lenses I am beginning to build a matrix of relevant information that I feel/hope/believe I can use to determine when a soft focus optic is "right" for me to use.

As a starting point, in the first two posts in this series I looked at how a Dastardly Difficult to Master 85mm lens behaves with close-up subjects.  In this post I would like to move the lens back a little from the subject and explore how the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft renders at mid-distance

Before I get to the comparison images I'd like to share the nuggets of years of conversations with those who really know and to (*shock*, *horror* men don't usually do this king of thing) carefully read the lens' instruction manual.

While I knew this intuitively, I don't think I fully appreciated it until very recently.  A soft focus lens' aperture controls the level of softness the lens returns.

Duh.  Obviously.

Yet, if I look carefully at the effect of aperture on image softness, at some point the center of the image becomes clear to reveal an already existing at wider aperture underlying sharpness.  The transition areas from sharp to soft can be tricky.  In the case of this Pentax, the lens "resolution hole" that appears in closeup images around f/4 has a transition zone that swirls the edges of the scene.  

I don't find this pleasing.  It reminds me too much of the swirly out of focus rendition that Helios 40, Petzval, and many other early and now Hipster-Have-to-Have lenses deliver.  With one exception, I've never viewed a swirly background image that I could fully appreciate.  The swirly effect for me gets in the way.  Alex Timmerman's work being the exception.  OK.  Maybe two photographers.  Sally Mann makes incredible images from time to time in this style, too.

What this means to me is that while being strictly true that aperture controls the level of lens softness in meniscus photographic optics, the fuller answer is a bit more subtle.

As an aside, large format film soft focus lenses don't normally show much problem in the transition areas from sharp to veiling under-corrected aberration softness.  

Yes, if I look carefully at the edges of Chetworth delGato's work that I'm using as a reference, I can see a similar effect to what I've encountered with the smaller format Pentax, but the 9inch Pinkham & Smith Semi-Achromatic transition effect seems to be a bit more subtle.  I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that part of the reason is the way the transition zone is hidden by the way the subject is lit.  I'll keep this point in mind as I go along.

I am now of the thought that large format film lenses have been designed with a larger field of view than the small format Pentax, and that the gaping "resolution hole" that can form as a lens is stopped down is often _outside_ the field of view when using big sheets of film and longer soft focus lenses.  How do I feel this is true?  Look at instances where a lens' field of view is smaller than the film format.  I'll explore this, too, in the near future.

While mulling all of these things over in my wee-little brain, Bonzo Din suggested that the instruction manual for the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft might provide important clues on how to use the lens.  Translating from Japanese, he found the lens was made for close-up and portrait work.  It is strongly hinted that landscape work with this Soft lens is best used in conjunction with a tele-converter.

There it is.  Truth.  Which underscores that fact that, if it's available (and in this case it often isn't), it pays to read the bl**dy manual.

The Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft is a close-up lens or a portrait optic.  Period.  It is not, repeat not, a general purpose lens in the sense that it might behave consistently across a wide range of subject to lens distances.  It doesn't.  Rendition consistency is lost on this lens.  It wasn't designed for that.  It's a two trick pony. If landscape photography is a goal, then a tele-extender is recommended.

In this post I will consider how the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft behaves as a portrait lens.   I will use myself as the subject.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Setup ~ 

  • Composition -
    • Considering the "resolution hole" that opens in the middle of the frame starting around f/4, the subject's head (mine) was placed dead center in the field, right in the middle of the "resolution hole," so as to try and achieve the best possible sense of sharpness
    • If the head was placed nearer to the edge of the frame I know it would be distorted and covered with too much veiling under-corrected spherical aberration softness coming from what I'm calling the "resolution hole"
  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7, 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
    • Sony Remote Trigger so the subject could remain seated
  • Lens - 
    • Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4, f/4.8, f/5.6
  • Bogen tripod 
  • RawTherapee - 
    • Similar image processing settings applied to all images so as to observe optical differences
    • Vanity Alert - I used a red filter in BW conversion to suppress the skin imperfections and to raise the skin tones to something I found pleasing


Comparison ~

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.

To facilitate the following comparisons, open Chetworth's image in a window, and then open my images in an adjacent window.


Autoportrait ~ Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 at f/4

The underlying sharpness of the face and shirt collar regions are visible, but to my eyes, the overall image appearance is just slightly too soft, particularly when compared with the 9 inch Pinkham & Smith.


Autoportrait ~ Pentax 85mm Soft f/2.2 at f/4.8

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 at f/4.8

Of the three comparison images here, I feel this is the best balance between center sharpness and edge softness drop-off.  The face and collar regions are reasonably sharp.  The sleeve at the bottom of the image is not offensive to me.  The "resolution hole" isn't quite as obvious as in the following example.

Comparing this image to Chetworth's, it's not half bad at these viewing sizes to my admittedly aging eyes.  My image isn't as sharply lit as Chetworth's.  His model is far more interesting than mine.  And  I would expect the 5x7inch film image to be sharper in reality around the face and shoulders than in the above photo.  

But I have to say I'm pleased with the above result.


Autoportrait ~ Pentax 85mm Soft f/2.2 at f/5.6

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 at f/5.6

Compared with the prior two images, I feel the face and shirt collar areas in this f/5.6 image are the sharpest.  The transition "resolution hole" from sharp to soft is the most promenant, too.  If I'd lit this a little differently I might've had more success in hiding the effect.

What I've confirmed for myself is that aperture controls can be a little tricky on a lens like this.  It takes a delicate touch to extract the most out of the optic.  I can't just put the lens at a certain aperture by looking through the viewfinder and seeing something that looks good in-camera.  No.  It's more subtle than that.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects ~ part Two

Chetworth Del Gato posted a soft focus image to Flickr.  I saw it, appreciated it for a moment, and was about to move on to look at something else when I stopped and had a good long look.  Gawds! I think it's gorgeous.  Call me Old Fashioned.  Call me a Sentimentalist.  Call me a Fool.  I don't care.  It's a great image.

The subjects eyes are sharp.  The entire image glows beautifully.  The edges are gently softer overall than the center, but not by much.  The lighting is nearly perfect.  The composition is classic.  To me it's a good example of what current day Pictorialist practitioners can achieve.

Chetworth used a 9inch Pinkham & Smith Semi-Achromatic to 5x7 film. That lens is filled with optical imperfections that modify the scene in "just the right way."  It's such an "artistic" optic.

I asked the photographer if he felt one could replicate the effect in smaller format cameras. He said he didn't think it was possible.

If you know me, you know I love a good challenge.  That's really what this series on Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects is all about.  I'm still trying after many years to see how close I can come to duplicating the "look" and "feel" of large format film photography what uses early soft focus lens.

In the first post on the topic I talked about how a "resolution hole" opened up when using the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft as the lens was stopped down.  This is where the center of the image is sharp and without much of an overlaying softness, and where the edges retain an obvious amount of under-corrected spherical aberration.

The "resolution hole" appeared at f/4 and became very apparent at f/5.6.  It is so strong that it was somewhat disorienting to me in the f/5.6 comparison image.  This got me to thinking and wondering.

How sharp is this Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/5.6?

The following may help answer that.

To begin with, it's important to note the image I use here was shot at the lens' minimum focus point.  The subject was about a foot or so away from the camera.

While the image talked about in this blog entry is not trying to duplicate the effects Chetworth achieved in his 5x7inch film photograph, it is a potentially important stepping-stone to a greater understanding of how I should use this dastardly Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft.

Setup ~ 

  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7, 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
  • Lens - 
    • Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/5.6
  • Bogen tripod
  • RawTherapee - similar image processing settings applied to all images


How sharp is it?

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.


Close up study ~ Pentax f/2.2 Soft 85mm at f/5.6

Looking at the on-axis dial face of the stopwatch where I focused the lens, I'd say the lens is pretty darned sharp.  If I were after something sharp, I'd have no problem with the center of the frame.  Looking at the near-off-axis portions of the image I see the abrupt transition from sharp to an under-corrected spherical aberration overlay of softness.
By now it should be pretty obvious that in close-up work, the Pentax f/2.2 Soft is not, repeat not, a general purpose lens.  I type this thinking of comments I've read around the internet over the years where people talk about soft focus lenses and say things like such-and-such lens is soft from wide open, but it cleans up nicely by f/this-and-that.   This is not one of those lenses.

On the other hand, if I wanted to photograph flowers, I might not care, and in fact might appreciate the rapid increase in surrounding softness outside the "resolution hole."  On the proper subject, composition, and background, the lens might help create something rather interesting.  Right there is another hint at how to use this lens.

As I said in the previous entry, so far the images made in these comparisons use the Pentax Soft near its minimum focus point.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I have the strange feeling that there might be a specific matrix of possibilities/applications where meniscus soft focus lenses operate at their best.  I'll explore this idea a bit further in the near future.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects ~ part One

I have a copy of Taschen's "Camera Work - The Complete Photographs."  It's a weighty, densely filled book given it's rather small size.  I often refer to it seeking inspiration and understanding of how Pictorialist/Secessionist photographers worked their art and craft.

There is a copy of "Clarence H. White and his world" on the bookshelf, too. This is bigger and heavier than "Camera Work." It's more of a show catalogue from a curated exhibition.  The book comes with long essays that explain White's background, history, life, and times.  It's fascinating, actually.  It recalls how early practitioners would gather to share ideas, processes, and how they would many times work in groups when making images.  It sounds as if it was a very sociable exercise.

One of the many tools Pictorialists might use were soft focus lenses.  Some of the works that still impress me the most are by Clarence White, Edward Steichen, Robert Demachy, Karl Struss, and George H. Seeley.  One image in particular stands out for me.  It was made by George Bernard Shaw of Alvin Langdon Coburn.

For years I've tried to find a process, a technique, an approach to creating soft focus-effect images in the Pictorialist style.  Forty years ago I started buying and trying various soft focus lenses such as Wollensak Verito, Portland Portrait, Rodenstock Imagon, Fuji large format SF, and medium format RB 150mm SF lenses

As I started downsizing image capture formats I entered a two decade long "phase" of collecting and shooting with old manual focus Nikon Nikkor lenses.  I was looking to take advantage of their more subtle under-corrected spherical aberration behind the point of focus.

Other than a series of images I made using a Mamiya RZ and the RB 150mm SF, the whole exploration of the soft focus Pictorialist inspired effect was nothing but a  long series of failures.  Out of frustration nearly every soft focus lens I ever owned was sold.  Recently I've off-loaded almost all of my Nikon Nikkor lenses, too.  Nothing seemed to be "working."

There is only one Soft Focus lens left in the Toy, er, sorry, Tool Box.  It is the supremely irritatingly difficult to understand Pentax 85mm f/2.2 lens.  I'd picked it up from someone in Japan off That Auction Site.  It's uniqueness is that it has a cleanly and correctly installed Nikon F mount in place of the original Pentax K. I didn't need to buy Yet Another adapter for my Sony mirrorless cameras as I was knee deep in Nikkors at the time.

For several years I've been having a conversation with someone about how to correctly use Soft Focus lenses.  His first hand knowledge and historic research are second to none.  He shares valuable information that I doubt I could've gotten any other way.  

Then, two weeks ago, a different photographer provided a partial translation of a Japanese instruction manual on the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft lens.  It was clear that I've never used meniscus style soft focus lenses in the way they were designed for.

Like a scab that just can't be ignored, I decided to pick at the subject one more time.  Armed with better knowledge, I wanted this time to compare a sharp image to filtered softeners and, of course, to the Pentax 85mm Soft.

One important thing to note before I start.  The following comparison uses a subject photographed at very close range.  The watches and books were 1 to 2 feet away from the camera.  I will cover why this is important in the near future.  

Suffice it to say for the moment, these comparison results apply best to close focused subjects.

Setup ~ 

  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7, 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
  • Lenses - 
    • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai
      • Straight sharp image
      • Nikkor #1 soft filter
    • Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 pre-Ai
      • Straight shot wide open
      • Nikkor#1 soft filter
      • UV filter very lightly smeared with nose grease
    • Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2, f/2.8, f/4, and f/5.6
  • Bogen tripod
  • RawTherapee - similar image processing settings applied to all images


Comparison ~

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 at f/3.5

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5

The old Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 is one of those great lenses that I've had the pleasure of owning for many years.  It's sharp from wide open.

I will use this image as the baseline from which I'll judge the softening effects of filters and optics.

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 at f/3.5 with Nikkor Soft #1 filter

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 + Nikkor Soft Filter #1

I can see the effect of the Nikkor Soft #1 filter quite easily.  The effect is pronounced.  Overall there is a lessening of contrast.  Highlights can be made to glow.  Underlying image sharpness is retained, which can seen under the veiling glow.

I find this effect a little too strong for my liking.  Perhaps a surprisingly costly Cinebloom filter would give a more pleasing effect?  Optionally I could take a UV filter and make a DIY Cinebloom filter from hairspray mist or a clear coat aerosol of some kind.  It would be easy and might provide an effect similar to Cinebloom, and weaker effect to the Nikkor Soft #1.  There are YouTube videos that illustrate the making and use of these filters.


Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 pre-Ai at f/1.4

Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4

The Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 lens is the early and now classic Nikon SLR high speed standard lens.  Stopped down, this old lens is modern optics level sharp.  So wide open is where I went looking for Pictorialist effects.

At f/1.4 it delivers a certain level of under-corrected spherical aberration behind the point of focus when shot wide-open.  I can see some of this in the above image. 

However I'm not sure the effect is not strong enough to approach the Pictorialist effect I am looking for.  I'm thinking that something more "extreme" is what's really called for.


Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 pre-Ai at f/1.4 with Nikkor Soft #1 filter

Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 + Nikkor Soft Filter #1

As with the Micro-Nikkor I can see the underlying sharpness of the bare lens.  It's hidden just under the veiling glow that the filter creates.

Again, I find the effect a little too strong.  Additionally, because the basic lens returns a geometrically correct image, the creative "spark" provided in soft focus Pictorialist images is still missing.


Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 pre-Ai at f/1.4 with nose-greased UV filter

Nikon Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 + very light nose grease on UV filter

In my attempt to emulate Cinebloom and DIY hairspray filters, I took an old UV filter, and using a finger rubbed the side of my nose, spread it very lightly over the filter.  I used minimal nose grease to make sure the effect was less than the Nikkor Soft #1.  

I can see the effect of the nose grease on the image.  It lessens the contrast, but keeps the underlying sense of sharpness.

Nose greased (or hairsprayed) filters combined with the 50mm Nikkor-S shot wide open as an imaging softening combination might actualy be a decent jump-off point for exploring Pictorialist effects.  It's a fairly close approximation to the way David Hamilton created his hairspray filter softened images back in the day.  

The effect can be gorgeous. I'll set this aside for a moment and will come back to it in a future post.

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.2

Holy Soft Glowy Smokes! this lens is filled with under-corrected spherical aberration wide open.  Using the image processing recipe that was used in prior images gives an image that glows so brightly that I need sunglasses.

Under the veil of Holy Soft Glowy Smoke I can see the lens is actually surprisingly sharp.  Soft Focus might not mean a complete lack of sharpness.  There's a hint of something in this that I'll explore later.  

If this was all I had, I'd say this image was simply too soft as to be usable on anything but strong abstracts.  It doesn't feel suitable at this aperture for recreating soft focus Pictorialist effects.


Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.8

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/2.8

I can see the image starting to clear just a bit over the image that was shot wide open.  The highlights glow.  The mid-tones glow, too.  Underlying sharpness of the lens is more clearly seen.

Still using the image processing recipe from the earlier images on this f/2.8 photograph yields a fairly pleasing work.  I'm not sure I'd finish the image this way if I were trying to do something "serious," but for the purposes of this comparison the results are beginning to look promising.


Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/4

At f/4 I begin to see some kind of "resolution hole" opening from the center of the image.  The sharp region of the photograph has more contrast than the edges and the transition is rather obvious.  This is where the highlights appear to "pull" away from the center of the image.

With the subject I choose I'm not sure the center being sharp and the edges being soft suit it very well.  There may be, however, subjects and compositions where this effect would "work" better than it does here.


Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/5.6

Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/5.6

The "resolution hole" effect I started to see at f/4 comes into full play here at f/5.6.  

I don't think the transition from sharp to soft effect suits this subject well at all.  It's hard on my eyes and just doesn't "look" right.


This comparison lays the foundation for the next three blog entries.  Onward.


Monday, April 10, 2023

Nikon 75-150, Nikkor 105mm, and Sony Zeiss 55mm ~ comparison

It seems that I'm still in transition from manual focus to auto focus lenses.  I have a pretty 75-150mm f/3.5 Nikon Series-E AiS up for sale.  It's been very slow to move.  As in for months, now.  It's only 75Euros but you'd think it cost the moon, or something.

Since it's still with me, I thought I'd have one last look at it compared, again, with the famous Nikkor-P (Xenotar) 105mm f/2.5 pre-Ai and add to the comparison the fabulous Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE.

The Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 was an inexpensive lens built using inexpensive glass types.  The designers nevertheless created a wonderful little optic.  Fashion photographers back in the day used this as their Super Secret Sauce lens.  It renders beautifully.  Wide open it's not so clinically sharp as some lenses.  It's kind of a Goldilocks kind of thing.  Or so I've been told.

Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 E ~ Lens Stories

Setup ~ 

  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7, 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
  • Lenses - 
    • Sony 55mm f/1.8 ZA
    • Nikon Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 pre-Ai
    • Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 Series-E AiS
  • Bogen tripod
  • RawTherapee -
    • Snug up the curves


Comparison ~

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.


Sony and Micro-Nikkor 55mm, Nikkor 105mm, and Nikon 75 to 150 Comparison


Comments ~

It's obvious.  The Sony 55mm f/1.8 ZA is brilliant from wide open and straight across the field.  As this lens is autofocus, it fits the desired goal of helping this Old Man get decent focus without struggling with the in-camera magnifier and all that.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the decades difference in design dates, the Nikon Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 pre-Ai is a Cats Thin Whisker behind the Sony at f/5.6 and straight across the field.  Wide open this little optic is clearly not as sharp as the Sony Zeiss.  It's not bad, mind you.  But in this comparison I can see a difference.

The Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 Series-E AiS is obviously a touch soft wide open.  And it seems a little behind the other lenses at f/5.6.  If you stare at this long enough, perhaps you might feel as I do that the differences aren't all that great.  To test this, I ran another comparison using Rawtherapee's Capture Sharpen function.  Here are those results -


Wide Open w/wo Capture Sharpen ~ Sony and Micro-Nikkor 55mm, Nikkor 105mm, and Nikon 75 to 150 Comparison


It's pretty clear that Capture Sharpen offsets the AA filter effects of the 24mpixel Sony A7.  What's impressive to me is that the softest 75-150mm focal length wide open is 150mm.  With Capture Sharpen it looks better than the un-Capture Sharpened Sony Zeiss at f/1.8.  The Sony Zeiss Capture Sharpened is nothing short of glorious.

Image processing for absolute best quality must (as has been the case for years) include software.  There's really not much more to say.