Sunday 20 September 2020

Three Lenses I Regret Selling


FM2n, Nikkor 35mm f1.4 AI-S, Ilford HP5+ @ EI3200

The 35mm f1.4 is a loved & hated lens, largely because it has two very distinctly different characters. Wide open and slightly stopped down it's full of CA & abberations and is very much a character lens, but with some very 3D rendering. Stopped down past f2.8 and it turns into a great landscape lens, sharp across the frame, low distortion, good 3D.

It was a fun lens and it's surprisingly small compared to other 35mm f1.4 options. Not the best 35mm f1.4, in fact from a technical standpoint it's the worst one in F mount. But it's also decades older than the other options, there wouldn't be another f1.4 at this focal length until the 35/1.4G AF-S, followed closely by the ZF.2. Now there are 3 others, with Sigma, Tamron and Samyang all having offerings here.

Definitely on my to re-acquire list as I've only got the 35/2 AI right now and that's my least favourite of the four general-purpose Nikkor options at 35mm.

FM10, Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SLII, Ilford HP5+

This is one of my favourite normal lenses. Longer than the typical 50mm, I quite liked the extra bit of reach. It has a fairly soft rendering, but very sharp and very well behaved optically. It was also great on APS-C digital in part because it offered the field of view of an 85mm on FF.

These are still available new, but I don't like the redesigned barrel of the current version nearly as much. Voigtlander went to a knurled metal focus ring similar to classic pre-AI lenses and I definitely prefer the more modern design of the SLII version with its rubber focus ring grip and AI-style cosmetics.

I've never liked Nikon's f1.4 offerings at 50mm and this was a great alternative. Definitely preferred over the f1.4 options, although I'll admit that for the same money a 50/1.2 AI-S is a solid alternative, albeit one with very different rendering. The Nokton has better OOF rendering, the 50/1.2 is punchier, has more vivid colour and an extra half stop.

F2A, Nikkor 85mm f1.8 K AI'd, Agfa APX100 (original)

This is just a gem of a lens. Often overlooked in favour of the later (and larger & heavier) 85/1.4 or the earlier single coated versions (the Nikkor-H 85/1.8), this late Pre-AI lens has AI-style cosmetics and is often confused for an AI lens if equipped with an AI kit. Nikon even sold these with a factory-installed AI kit, so the confusion is partly their fault. It is however very definitely a pre-AI lens, lacking the maximum aperture indexing tab of a real AI lens.

It's very much a character lens when shot wide open. Some swirl in the bokeh and softness outside of the center deliver that very 70's street look. Stop it down and it gets quite good, although it does not have the abrupt personality transition of the 35/1.4 AI-S, you just see the character progressively smooth out and the edges sharpen up quickly as you stop down.

Of the three lenses on this list, this is the one closest to being bought again, as I have no 85mm options except my not very loved 50-135/3.5 AI-S. A 135 is next, but afterwards I will be getting another one of these. Might grab the optically-identical Nikkor-H.C depending on pricing, but I definitely prefer the handling of the K version and its rubberized focus ring.

Friday 18 September 2020

A Few Updates

Mamiya 645 Super, lens unrecorded but likely the 150/3.5 C, Portra 160VC

 Bravo to Fuji for this week's firmware update. Fuji again proves that they understand the need for back catalog support by releasing updates for all the X-Trans cameras including the very first model, 2012's X-Pro1. The updates are mostly minor aside from support for AF lenses faster than f1.2 (needed for the new XF 50/1.0)

Sony announced the A7c, which is a camera with 2 problems. The price is too big and the viewfinder too small. It's basically a A7III with the EVF hump chopped off, a tiny one added on the corner and a bunch of mild decontenting (it loses a slot, has a lower spec shutter, loses a bunch of controls, but gains the digital audio interface on the hotshoe introduced on the A7RIV and loses some of firmware-level video limitations of the A7III). As it is very much an A7III internally it retains the old menu system and loses most of the AF gains since the A7III release. It does get Real-Time Tracking though.

Nikon dropped two new Z lenses. An utterly massive 50/1.2 and the smallest & lightest 14-24/2.8 anybody's seen so far. Optically both look like winners, but I wouldn't want to haul that 50, or even really use it on a Z body.

As to my work, I recently passed 3000 shots on the X-T2. Very happy with it. I've also received a VERY cheap Super-Takumar 135/3.5 for testing. It has mild fungus so can't live in a bag with other lenses, but it's mild enough that the lens remains usable. It's mostly for play though. So tiny and nicely sharp.

Ordered a black Nikon F2 without a prism for very cheap. The bodies are cheap, but the prisms aren't unless they're the non-AI ones. I'll likely add a DP-11 (AI prism to make an F2a) and I'd like the waistlevel which isn't too expensive. I'd love a plain prism, but you can buy a complete F2a or F2as for the cost of a DE-1 plain prism on its own. They're rare and stupidly popular for some reason. The F2 is usable without a prism, although the experience is better with the waistlevel installed or an eyelevel prism

On the film workflow side I scanned 2 rolls of Superia 200 earlier this week that had been sitting around for 3 years waiting to be scanned. These are the first 2 rolls I've scanned since 2017. Today I mixed up some chemistry and developed 2 rolls of PanF+ in 120, one of which was recently shot in the Super Ricohflex, and 2 rolls of HP5+ in 35mm, one from my most recent FM (I keep buying FM's and having them die on me) and the other I'm not sure of, will figure it out once I look at it. All of them were done in Blazinal (Rodinal), 1:100 stand for the PanF+, 1:25 normal for the HP5+. More developing to come, I have a dozen more rolls of HP5+ to do and 2 rolls of PanF+ in 120. Plus I have to get a bunch of colour neg & slide film processed. I've got 2 rolls of C41 out for processing now and will be cycling the rest through in batchs of 2 or 3. I've had some of this sitting around since 2012 (most of the E-6 is from the 645 Super or Maxxum 7, which I sold off at the same time in 2012)

Sunday 13 September 2020

A Return to Film


Voigtlander Bessa R, Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM, Kodak Tri-X

I’ve definitely been experiencing a resurgence in my interest in shooting film of late. I’m not going to abandon digital any time soon, but I’m pretty sure a large part of what’s driving the renewed interest is simple exhaustion in my interest in shooting digital in my local neighborhood. Flower & bee season is over and that’s all I really enjoyed shooting locally with the digital cameras.

I know I could just set the X-T2 to Classic Chrome or Acros, stick the 25/1.8 on it and wander about shooting film style, and I Actually have been doing that some, but there’s a shooting experience and process experience aspect to this and I just find myself unable to divorce the film process from this sort of shooting without losing some of the enjoyment. A couple rolls through the FE last week reminded me of the joys of shooting film for cityscape work.

I’ve also found my interest in larger formats returning. I shot 2 rolls of 120 yesterday, the first two I’d shot since 2012. One was finishing a roll in my Coronet Twelve-20 box camera, a roll that had been sitting in there for more than a decade as I honestly don’t much like shooting with a box camera. The second was a fresh roll of FP4 in my a Super Ricohflex TLR, which I quite enjoy using.

On the development side, I have a large backlog as I pretty much stopped cold with developing when I stopped actively shooting film in 2017. I even have a few rolls of 120 from 2012 that need development. I’m out of fixer and Rodinal, as well as 35mm neg sleeves, so a supply run will have to happen before anything else.

So expect some film work to start appearing here over the next little while.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Three Cameras That I Regret Selling


Nikon F2a, 85mm f1.8 K

While my favourite Nikon film camera remains the FM2n, the F2a is my second favourite and in some regards the better film shooting experience. It’s bigger & heavier and has a truly amazing finder, but lacks the 1/4000 max shutter of the FM2n. I had a nearly mint F2a in black and really wish I’d held onto it. It’s simply difficult to beat the shooting experience of the F2a, it’s just pure zen, as close to a meditative shooting experience as I’ve ever had with a small format camera.

Voigtländer Bessa R, Color-Skopar 35mm F2.5

I’ve had a few rangefinders over the years and mostly never bonded with them, I am fundamentally a SLR guy. The Bessa R was the one that lasted quite long in my bag, it might actually be the 135 format camera that I owned the longest. While it certainly is no Leica M, it’s compact and nice to shoot and it brings much of what I love about the Cosina SLR’s to the rangefinder experience. That’s not too surprising since it is a development of those Cosina SLR’s. The only weak point is the use of M39 screwmount, which was solved with the R2 and later bodies, which are M mount.

I got great results and shot a lot with it. I’d love to have another, or even better an R2 or R3 so I could pair it with the new M lenses from 7ARTISANS and TTARTISAN.

Mamiya 645 Super, lens unrecorded 

I shot more film with this camera than any other single camera I owned. It is big, heavy & clunky without giving the massive negs of the larger MF cameras. But it delivered for roll upon roll of film. I honestly think my best body of work was shot with this camera and I miss it. I should have set it aside for a while rather than selling it

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Three Cameras On My Dream List

Super Ricohflex, Fujifilm Acros 100

I've been thinking about film again lately, and took the FE out today for my lunchtime walk and enjoyed it. Yesterday I took the X-T1 and only shot B&W, also enjoying it,

That's brought to mind 3 film cameras that I've never owned but would enjoy owning.

The first is the Contax S2(b). This was one of the last premium manual mechanical 35mm SLR's ever made. It's also the closest any other maker to capturing the essence of the Nikon FM2n, which I still consider the best all-round 35mm manual focus film SLR. And the S2 achieved this largely by simply copying the essence of the FM2n, being a simple mechanical SLR with a wide shutter speed range (1/4000 max), a great viewfinder, relatively compact size and no weird control setups. The only odd thing with the original S2 was it had spot metering only, the later S2b replaced the spot meter with a traditional centre weighted meter. Like the FM2n, the only thing the battery powers is the meter, you can walk around all day shooting with a dead battery. The biggest miss? The plastic wind lever.

Despite the fact these go for somewhat stupid money these days I'd still like to own one someday. I've honestly never had a really good Contax body, just various semi-flaky old ones and a couple cheapo FX-3's. I even have a few lenses which would work on it today, as I have an M42 adapter for Contax mount and an old Vivitar 70-150 in Contax mount.

The second camera is a Hasselblad 500C or one of its successors (through the 501CM). Waistlevel, a 80/2.8 CF and an A12 back and I'd be set. This is the one camera on this list that I actually have shot with, I borrowed a friends some years ago when he wanted to borrow my 645 Super and quite enjoyed putting 5 or so rolls of film through the Hassy. It's such a simple yet workable camera and the IQ is amazing. I've always liked shooting square and still have my old Super Ricohflex TLR which I should put some film through one of these days. But the Hassy is still on my radar as something I'd love. They're not that cheap these days, so this one is a bit pie in the sky.

The third and final camera really isn't a specific camera but rather a type of camera. I would absolutely love to own a wood 4x5 field camera one day. I've had a 4x5 in the past, but it was a monorail and didn't work very well for the sort of shooting I like to do. A field camera is designed for my sorts of uses and they're actually surprisingly light & compact. Give me a 90-110mm lens and 2-3 film holders, plus a decent neg holder for my developing tanks and I'd be set. There's just nothing like holding a huge neg or slide and 4x5 delivers the big negs/slides while not being too overwhelmingly sized like the larger formats.

Honestly, of the three, the 4x5 is actually the most practical. I'd only ever want maybe 2 lenses (a portrait lens could also be fun), the basic camera is actually the cheapest of the three and it's something you only shoot in small doses anyways.


Monday 7 September 2020

Fuji on the Cheap - Lens #4 7Artisans 12mm f2.8


Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

The 4th lens in your basic 5 prime set is your Ultra-Wide Angle lens. We've covered the wide/normal (25mm f1.8), the normal (35mm f2) and one good option for the mild telephoto (the 55/3.5 Macro).

Rounding out the kit on the wide end for now is the moderate Ultra-wide. This is going to be in the 18-21mm range in terms of 35mm equivalent, so 12-14mm. Keeping the focus on cheap options, below $200 USD, there's really only a couple options in this area, specifically the Meike and 7Artisans 12mm f2.8's. These are different designs, not the same lens rebadged (as is so common for these Chinese lenses) and 7Artisans has the better overall reputation for quality, although their offering is a little more expensive (about $10USD more). 

I've selected the 7Artisans and have been shooting it for about 6 weeks now. I was extremely impressed with it from the initial presentation through the handling and image quality. 

The 7Artisans lens arrives in a very nice presentation box, frankly a much nicer one than many far more expensive lenses. it's nestled in quality foam (no styrofoam or cardboard like Zeiss or Sony/Nikon/Canon respectively) and includes a good rear cap, a push-on front cap, a microfibre pouch, a microfibre lens cleaning cloth and a stick-on focusing tab. 

The build quality of the lens is excellent. It's all metal, smooth focusing, no wobble/wiggle anywhere. My stick-on focusing tab did unstick after 6 weeks, but that's just going to happen with anything stick-on. It was a nice add and I'm looking at more permanent attachment options for it. 

Optically, it's quite good. Don't expect something that will embarrass the XF 14/2.8 or Touit 12/2.8, but it's sharp everywhere except the extreme corners, has nice colour and a nice overall rendering. The flare control is very 70's, with some loss of contrast and mild to moderate ghosting. Nice sunstars, but expect to deal with ghosts if you include the sun in the frame. 

I do recommend this lens quite highly. It's a much better experience in terms of handling and quality than the 25, which was merely nice for the price. The 7Artisans lens could easily command twice the price or more if 7Artisans got access to better coating technology. As it is, I think it's still worth $300USD or so, which is pretty good for a $180 lens. 

More images from the 12/2.8 can be found here:


Thursday 3 September 2020

2500 on the X-T2



Fujifilm X-T2, Fujinon XF 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 LM OIS

I passed 2500 shots on the X-T2 today, after less than 2 months ownership, making it my most used Fuji body (I have shot more with X-T1's, but that's evenly split across two bodies with ~2250 shots each). It simply continues to deliver a great shooting experience in a compact and mostly well thought out package. I don't regret at all making it my primary body. The handling is excellent, the IQ is very good and it just makes me want to shoot.

I've been shooting a lot lately with the 55-200, it's a good flower and bugging lens and that's all I've been able to do lately due to work, I'm in the middle of a major project release and it will be at least 2 weeks before I can get out for a real hike again so shooting lately has been in the neighbourhood or in Cedarvale Ravine. But for the work I've been able to do, the 55-200 is doing very well and I look forward to trying it out in the bush. So far the handling is good, the images sharp and the OIS is surprisingly good, I've gotten good results down to 1/20 handheld at 200mm. The only thing I'd knock is the merely average close focus ability, it's enough for what I need but I'd love a little more.

I've done a bit with the XC 16-50 OIS II as well, and confirmed I have another good copy of that small but competent lens. It won't win any awards, but it does what it does quite well and for not much investment. I'd call it probably the best all-round kit lens in its class, being wider than the Olympus or Panasonic 14-42's, quite sharp, good close focus, it's big enough to handle well even on a larger body and small enough that it's non-collapsible operation really isn't that much of a downside. The only knock is it's not pocketable on a body, unlike the 15-45 or the various pancake zooms from the competition (everybody but Canon makes a collapsible pancake in at least one mount).

In terms of workflow, I've been doing everything on the iPhone/iPad Pro combo for the last week and have sorted out most of the challenges. I'd kill for a good Blogger app though, right now I have to edit in the browser which is less fun on a tablet and definitely need to get a keyboard cover & Apple Pencil 2 for editing. LR Mobile has been giving good results with the 24MP X-Trans files so far, so fingers crossed that I won't run into any issues, of course if I do, I can just edit on the desktop. I am still working on the best way to handle sync back to the desktop for Archival purposes. I don't trust Adobe Cloud as the sole repository for my RAW files. I'd also like finer grained control over on-device caching with LR Mobile. It's supposed to manage it for me automatically, but until I see it clean up old cache files to allow a big import, I won't trust it entirely.

I have actually found import to iPhone useful when out shooting. I can dump the card, do a quick edit for Instagram on the phone and post it while on the move, then let it sync when I get home and do selects/edits on the iPad. The only annoyance is that I need to proxy any posts through Photos, rather than sharing directly from LR Mobile. LR Mobile can DM a pic, but not post to my feed.

Right now it seems with both Instagram and Flickr I have to post then edit to do some key stuff. When posting to Instagram, right now I'm blocked on editing hashtags with suggestions and direct to Facebook flow. With Flickr it's groups, I can add to Albums but not Groups on upload. I also can't get BBCode or an Embed link from Flickr's app, have to use the browser for that. For the most part it's not more difficult, just different.

I have been following the recent announcements. Panasonic's S5 looks killer for landscape work, between the highres multishot, Live long exposures and that 20-60mm compact zoom (the perfect wide zoom for hiking). And Panasonic is bringing a set of f1.8 primes, hopefully at reasonable prices.

The S5 is pricey though, plus the EVF is low spec for the pricepoint. The video features keep the price up (it's worth it if you care about the video). We'll see what a 2 lens kit ends up looking like after their 70-300 ships later this year and frankly if the free Sigma 45/2.8 deal comes to Canada it's a lot better value.

The Nikon Z5 looks great and has much better pricing on the body, but honestly I'd rather a 20-60 than a 24-50 any day of the week, especially since the 20-60 costs the same. Still have an interest in the Z5 though, it's a steal for its price already and will only get cheaper. A pity that Nikon is so lacking in the cheap but good Z lenses the Z5 deserves. The current Z lineup is great, but none of them are inexpensive and Nikon needs some consumer glass to go with their consumer body. Z5 customers just aren't interested in spending $800CDN for a nifty fifty.