Tag Archives: photography equipment

Road Trip to Bodie and Mono Lake with XE-1, X Pro 1 and that Magical 14mm

We took a lonnnng road trip yesterday – left SF at 7:00 a.m., returned (and promptly fell into bed) after midnight.

Bodie was fantastic. The road once the pavement ends is, well, not fantastic, but well worth the dust and bumps to get where you’re going. The amount of ‘stuff’ around is just astounding. We had a nice, thin layer of high clouds that cut the light enough to soften some of the shadows and made for nice shooting conditions during our visit.

We left Bodie with enough time to get to Mono Lake to catch the sunset. The last time I was there was October of last year during the fall color season (the Aspens are almost entirely bare now across Highway 108 and down 395) and there were hordes of people all traveling the same route and descending on Mono Lake’s South Tufa area for the sunset. I am not exaggerating when I say there must have been 75 people piled up at one spot to shoot the sunset (and I was one of them, albeit peripherally).

This time it was maybe 15 people total, ourselves included.

The sun dipped behind the mountains just after we got down to the beach – so much for our timing – but the after-sunset light show was otherworldly.

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Architecture, San Francisco

Couple of images I made today and yesterday in the Financial District.  The first, ‘Gap,’ is a 15 second long exposure shot in daylight with a 10-stop ND filter looking straight up as the fog began creeping across the sky.

The second, entitled ‘Illusory Support,’ has the potential to be a bit of a mind bender.  Most of what you’re looking at is a reflection of the buildings behind the camera.   What caught my eye as I walked by is that these columns inside the window appear to support the building reflected ‘above’ them.

Both shot with Fujifilm X100, post in LR5 and Silver Efex Pro.

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Gap

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Illusory Support

Fuji XE-1, Mitakon Lens Turbo, Pentax A-50/f2

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Fujifilm XE-1, Mitakon Lens Turbo and Pentax 50/2 – shot with X100

Oh manual lenses.  I just can’t stop.

When I first read about the new Speed Booster focal length reducer being marketed by Metabones, I was immediately intrigued.  I own several inexpensive manual lenses of various manufacture – no Zeiss or Leica here – and their required adapters for use on my Fujifilm XE-1 and formerly an X Pro 1.

I enjoy manual focus (I started out on film many, many moons ago), the character and different rendering each of the lenses produces.  The issue with using these great old lenses on a 1.5x crop sensor is that the effective focal length gets much too tight much too quickly.  A 28mm lens becomes a 40 mm lens.  A 35mm lens becomes a 50mm.  A 50 becomes a 75.  Too tight.

The Lens Turbo and Speed Booster are focal length reducers.  That is, they employ a mounting plate for the digital camera you own on one end, a lens mount for the lens type you want to mate to the camera on the other and optics in between that translates a full-frame image circle down to a crop sensor sized rectangle.  The conversion is not 1:1 but rather .72.  Combining this with the Fuji’s image crop factor of 1.5, we arrive at:

50mm (lens focal length) x 1.5 (crop sensor factor) = 75mm * ~0.72 (lens turbo) = ~54mm focal length equivalent.

Since $400.00 is wayyyy out of my wheelhouse for a toy (and I don’t own any lenses in Metabones’s presently available lens mounts anyway) I elected to try out the challenger – a Chinese take on (copy of) the Speed Booster in the form of Mitakon’s Lens Turbo.

It took me awhile to pull the trigger between the Pentax K and Minolta mount.  Eventually I went with the former as the tiny 50/2 that I own is really sharp on my XE-1 with a ‘dumb’ tube adapter.  An additional consideration was the small size of the lens + adapter looking proportional on the XE-1.  The same cannot be said about some of my other legacy lenses.  Jonas Rask posted a review of the Minolta mount Lens Turbo with extensive sample images that you can read here.

Prior to the purchase, I spent some time reading what I could online in terms of user experience and reviews.  I found varying accounts of ‘decreased’ to ‘unacceptable’ performance, blue dots and mushy, soft corners.  Despite the negatives, I decided to give it a try.

The photography that I enjoy doesn’t require clinical, ultimate sharpness across the frame or perfect clarity.  That’s good, because the Lens Turbo doesn’t deliver either of those.  What it does deliver is a fun experience using old glass at close to its original focal length on a new camera body.  That to me is worth the price of admission.  Your mileage may vary.

In harsh lighting conditions, the Lens Turbo flares and ghosts.  It softens corners.  It affects image quality negatively, although not to a great extent.  It introduces barrel distortion (correctable by bumping distortion to +12 for this lens).  It sometimes creates weird blue reflections when there is a harsh light source shining at the camera in the frame, day or night.  Depending on the angle of the light source, I see blue flares or not.

Center sharpness is good to great.  Bokeh with the 50 is pleasing to my eye.  Microcontrast is good.  Without a harsh light shining into the lens there is no color cast that I can see.

Eventually I’ll buy the Fuji 35mm/1.4 and be done with it, but that won’t be anytime soon.  In the meantime, this will satisfy my 50mm digital camera want.  With the X100 and its 35mm equivalent lens, I’m all set.

I’ve included some images from a night time street photography walk from Wednesday evening.  All of the following were shot on the XE-1 with Lens Turbo and the Pentax 50mm/f2 shot at 2.8 ISO3200 between 1/60 and 1/250.  My copy of the 50/2 is usually resides on my nearly-30-year-old Pentax K1000, so there’s some sentimentality for that lens.  Sentimentality aside, the glass is SHARP.  I put it up against the Fuji 18-55 at 50mm with a regular rainbowimaging adapter and couldn’t see a difference at the same aperture.  This is a good starting point to evaluate the Lens Turbo – the glass is good.

Back to the topic at hand:  I missed a bunch of shots between my own focusing errors and the narrow depth of field in very low light.  They were close, but not worth sharing.  These were the keepers.  Not to worry, I’ll get that shot that I missed (TWICE!) of the old barber reading his newspaper in his barber shop next time (with my X100, maybe).  🙂

In these photos you’ll see the blue cast in/near the center of some of the shots and of course the reflections I mentioned – the bike shot chief among them.  Image quality is good but not great in these harsh conditions, and best when there are no headlights or other bright lights shining directly into the lens.  I have adjusted exposure and minimally adjusted contrast (8-10) and clarity (never above 15) in the following photos as I shoot RAW.

Part two of this review will cover shooting with the same combination – XE-1, Lens Turbo and Pentax 50/2 – in friendlier, more controlled studio lighting.  For the lead, though, I wanted to do a real-world, out-in-the-world torture test the focal reducer a bit so that readers would see some of the more glaring (pardon the pun) issues that can crop up (ohhh, see what I did there?).

I hope you enjoy the photos.  None of these is intended to illustrate my skill as a street photographer as much as to demonstrate what the Lens Turbo contributes to – or indeed detracts from – the images.  Rest assured I’ll post part two soon.

Click on any image for a full-sized file.

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AT&T Park ticket kiosks

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Across from Momo’s, King Street

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Outside Paragon, 2nd and Townsend

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Chronicle Books

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Small Market

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Second and Bryant or thereabouts.  Note the blue reflection from the oncoming headlights

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More specular highlight reflections

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Each of the tags is legible.

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Girl, car, Eddie Rickenbackers

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Fremont Street at Market Muni

Where I’ve been, and where the OM-D went.

Few words, lots of pictures. Life is good.

I grew more and more frustrated with my X Pro 1 and 35mm/1.4 combo as time went on (I’d owned it for a year as of June first). I missed too many moments because I relied on the autofocus system of the camera and decided it was time to try something else. I traded away the X Pro 1 for an OM-D EM5 plus a couple of lenses (the 17 and 25).

That camera is FAST. Autofocus has been described as blazing. Instantaneous. It’s faster than that. 🙂 The camera is also tiny. A flip out, touch-screen LCD. Excellent. In-body, 5 axis image stabilization. Excellent. Why didn’t it make the cut? Well, the image quality sort of left me flat. I would never say that the images looked bad, they just didn’t really appeal to me. I got some great photos with the camera, like the shots below of which I’m particularly fond.

In the end, though, the little camera that does so many things well just didn’t get it done for me. It is an excellent little package, but there were some niggles that wouldn’t go away. I have sold the OM-D and jumped back to Fuji with an XE-1 and the stellar 18-55 zoom. I also kept nearly all of the legacy glass adapters when I moved the X Pro 1, so I have a decent selection of manual focus primes from which to choose, still. The 50/1.4 FD and 35/2.5 FL Canon glass I own have been revived with Fuji’s addition of focus peaking to the camera’s repertoire via firmware. I find the peaking function – when paired with the higher resolution of the XE-1’s Electronic Viewfinder where compared with that of the X Pro 1 – to make using manual glass much simpler and more rewarding.

So au revoir, OM-D, and thank you for the fun time.

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El Músico

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Prepared for any eventuality

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Serving one’s self

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X Pro 1 and Legacy Glass – the Minolta MC Rokkor 55mm/1.7

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Minolta MC Rokkor 55mm 1.7 PF

This tandem is razor sharp at anything past f2.8 and looks fantastic on the camera to boot.  I added a 52mm, screw-in vented lens hood to help with flaring and to provide a bit of protection to the front end of the lens.  Including the hood, I’m into this lens 40 whole dollars (excluding the Rainbowimaging mount, which was 20 bucks).

Focusing is smooth with a longish 180 degree throw.  Aperture ring clicks are solid and, while the ring action is not stiff, selections are positive and the ring stays put.

When I first attached this lens to the X Pro 1, I found that highlights were constantly being blown.  Eventually (I’m not particularly bright), it sunk in that I should dial in -2/3 to -1 EV of exposure compensation.  Once I did that, this lens really came to life.  Even so, at f1.7 and f2.8 the lens still exhibits some reflective glowing/softness off of bright surfaces which, while not entirely unpleasant and perhaps even desirable in some circumstances, annoys me a bit.  After all, if I pay hundreds of dollars for a piece of glass and it does this…oh, wait, I paid $34.99 plus a hood, so nevermind that bit.  Anyhow, by f4 this glow is gone.

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Ming Aralia foliage at f1.7, RAW exported from LR 4.2 to 2mb JPG no ppImage
Ming Aralia foliage at f5.6, RAW exported from LR 4.2 to 2mb JPG no pp

I decided to shoot RAW only with my manual glass as some of the older lenses exhibit color shifts because of their coatings or what have you.  The 55/1.7 is no different, with a pronounced shift toward blue in bright sunlight.  Custom White Balance helps to a certain extent, but RAW allows for better control after the fact.  Also when shooting in RAW the blue cast is not present as it is when shooting with any of the JPG film simulations I tried.  Perhaps this is common knowledge but it struck me as somewhat odd.

As those of you who have read this blog will recall, I am a fan of bolting manual glass to the X Pro 1. While the Fujinon lenses are great, they’re also sort of restrictive in focal length and, despite my love for the image quality of the 35/1.4, the presently-available Fuji prime lenses can be slow and occasionally unreliable to autofocus in challenging conditions even with the latest firmware. While a 55mm (82.5mm full frame equivalent) lens isn’t my favorite focal length, it does provide much more reach than the FD mount 24mm/2.8 SSC that is my go-to for street photography. The added length allows for some fun compositions that I might otherwise miss or that might require too much cropping to be ‘useful.’

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Pink Scream

Following are shots from the past week or so with this lens on the camera that demonstrate its capabilities on the X Pro 1.  This Minolta is a fantastic bargain and is a no-brainer for anyone looking for a razor sharp, cheap and fun little lens.

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Lake Merritt Grass

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Broken

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Trenchcoats are back!

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Yerba Buena Gardens Carousel

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This job sucks.

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Big.

Shooting with the X-Pro 1 and Legacy Glass, part 2

A great part of my motivation to experiment with affordable manual glass on the X-Pro 1 stems from the fact that I feel a connection with the old. With the outdated. The fact is, I enjoy being entirely responsible for the images I capture. From composition to exposure, metering to focus, post processing to being my own harshest critic. For good or ill, the photographs I decide to share are mine from start to finish. As a photographic tool, nothing has given me the feeling of control and satisfaction over both process and result like shooting with the X-Pro 1 and a manual focus lens.

There is no autofocus to curse at. No ‘shutter lag.’  There are end stops when focusing manually and the focus ring feels like a proper focus ring because it IS a proper focus ring.

How long is it?

I’m a fan of the 35mm full frame equivalent focal length.  There, I said it.

I bought my X-Pro 1 with just the 35mm/1.4 prime lens (~53mm equivalent on the X-Pro 1’s 1.5x crop factor sensor). While it is is a fantastic piece of glass that creates beautiful, near-perfect images with lovely bokeh, sharpness corner to corner and great color rendition, it frequently feels too long for my taste. I looked at the 18mm/f2 prime for the X System and thought that that was too wide.

To my eye and for what I’m trying to convey with the images I capture – mainly architecture, landscape, street photography and the occasional 10-stop ND daytime exposure – I wanted something wider than 50mm. While many will point out that there is no one lens that is appropriate for every circumstance, I simply contend that the ~35mm length offers consistency the look of my images.

At this time there is no X-System 23mm lens available – Fuji’s 23/1.4 is due next year, but I can’t really see myself buying it – so those of us who want a wide prime lens at this focal length are compelled to look at what already exists and experiment. So far I’ve owned and set aside a Tokina 24mm/2.8 RMC that leaked light like a sieve (returned), Voigtländer Color Skopar 21mm/f4 (performs fairly well but smears corners and is presently for sale) and the subject of this blog entry, a Canon FD mount 24mm/2.8 SSC.

Manual Lens Purchasing Landscape

When it comes to old glass, Micro 4/3 and mirrorless camera shooters have an incredible selection of focal lengths across virtually every lens manufacturer’s (retired) product lines from which to choose.  The absence of demand from Canon shooters seems to have left the FD and nFD mount glass relatively out of favor and therefore somewhat less expensive than similar offerings from Nikon, etc.  Regardless, as more people migrate to the mirrorless/M43 systems, prices on all of the ‘obsolete’ glass move higher by the month as people experiment and rediscover the charm and utility of these great old pieces.  Still, for the price of a new OEM battery for your camera, you can frequently add a very capable prime lens and the required adapter to your bag.

FD lenses have remained affordable in large part because they require an adapter to be used on EF mount cameras.  Because of the difference in register distance between the FD and EF cameras, an optical element is required to retain infinity focus on EF bodies.  This element degrades image quality fairly significantly, so many Canon users look elsewhere for throwback primes.

Mine

I managed to pick this lens up for next to nothing as it was in less than pristine cosmetic condition and had at some point been ‘repaired’ (read: reassembled improperly resulting in some longitudinal slop in the moving part of the front end of the lens). I was happy to take on the challenge of troubleshooting and repairing the problem and was successful in doing so.  The thing is built like a truck and the glass is outstanding.  While it adds some heft to the X-Pro 1, it’s totally manageable and does not detract from the shooting experience.

Following are some of the images I’ve made with the X-Pro 1 and the Canon 24.  The photo below of the tree branch on a picnic table was taken in pre-dawn near darkness, handheld at ISO 6400, f2.8 in Portland last month.  Hope you enjoy.

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