Posts Tagged ‘nikkor’

National Influence

30 October 2009

Dear J-

I believe in photographic influences; my eye is informed by those National Geographic photographers working in the 1970s, shooting Kodachrome on Nikon F2s.  Something about the colors — muted yet oddly vivid in different ways — which may be a result of the printing process, in fact, makes me think that the world was softer when I was growing up.  Going back now has, for me, nearly the same effect as going back through old albums:  instead of Uncle Fred, though, there’s that article on Papua New Guinea, for instance.

One thing that strikes you immediately is how gritty everything looks, part of pushing exposures and high-speed film; it’s not that the world was that much dustier thirty years ago, more that the norm today is hyper-clean high-ISO pictures.  We complain if the camera’s noise performance is anything less than perfect at ISO 800, never mind that it used to be an exotic film speed only fifteen years ago (I still remember when Fujifilm came out with an 800 print film that didn’t look like crap).

Another part the way that those old Nikkors drew.  It may be why my eye picks out lenses of a certain vintage when I’m going back through pictures I took on film.  I picked up a book the other day, written at the height of film, saying that the F/2.8 lenses of yesteryear were amazingly fast, allowing for handheld shots on ISO 400 film in any light.  Modern lenses are spectacular, for the most part, allowing flexibility with a wider range of useable stops and focal lengths, but perfect is rarely charming.  I know that everything can be added in post-processing (grain, lens defects), but it still doesn’t match what I remember.

Mike

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Seeing Wide

30 October 2008

Dear J-

You’ll see it in the pictures from Palm Springs, aside from the zoo pictures; frustrated with having to stay far from my subjects, I picked up and started using the adapted 16mm Fisheye-Nikkor for a good portion of my shots.  The distortion is actually pretty subtle — it looks like a lens with noticeable barrel distortion, but as long as you keep the lines running through the center, they’re not bad at all.  It made it easier to grab some of the group shots in San Jose, too, where quarters were tight and the adapted 35mm Elmarit-R was a touch too isolationist.

So that’s why, for my first autofocus lens, I chose a wide zoom.  It’s fun to stick the manual glass in front of the 4/3rds sensor, but ultimately limiting; short of exotic focal lengths and lenses (without the Fisheye, I’m not sure that I would have stayed sane for much longer), there’s no easy way to get the angle of — let alone focus — anything much shorter than a true f=35mm lens.  Even that’s a mild telephoto when put onto the 4/3rds system, and while it helps isolate the attention onto what you want, it’s a crutch for composition.  Let me explain.

I once read an interview with Jay Maisel, where the joke was that a f=300mm lens (in 135 film terms) served as his wideangle, and knowing the arsenal he had (reputedly the longest lens Nikon ever made in regular production — the f=2000mm Reflex-Nikkor), I can believe it.   Seeing wide is a matter of editing your views; you have to be able to make sure that everything in the frame strengthens the picture.  The point is that it’s relatively easy to isolate and cherry-pick some interesting detail with a telephoto; Maisel had the trick of finding patterns and geometry in those details as well.  Peeping through the viewfinder now is a revelation; I used to say that the first time I held up a f=35mm lens on my old film cameras, it encompassed pretty much exactly how I saw the world.  With the adapted lenses, I think I’ve gotten a bit of tunnel vision, and the new lens has been like taking that cone off my head.  It doesn’t mean that I’ve got the hang of it again, but I’ll keep at it.

Mike

New Plans

17 July 2008

Dear J-

I have to get over this whole having stuff for the sake of having stuff notion — upon learning that I could pick up a rare Nikkor for a reasonable (though still pricey) amount, I immediately thought of ways to wangle a deal.  I try to be a man of my word, though, and I’ve supposedly forsworn additional lens purchases this year:  there’s nothing quite like a tax rebate to give me the false notion that we’ve become rich.

I’ll satisfy my urges with thoughts of depth of field adapters hacked together courtesy of an ES-E28.  There’s a curious thread on the front of it; now if I could only figure out how to build the requisite 46.5mm of extension, I could be in business with the already-extant Nikkors in the house.

Mike

German Glass

25 June 2008

Dear J-

Several electrons have been spilled here regarding the use of German lenses and whether or not the premium they demand is justified or not.  You have to realize, of course, that no nationality has a corner on optical design; certain lenses will perform better than others at different stops (apertures) and focus distances, and not every lens is a consistent performer.  But I’ll stand by my original assertion that for 90% of the world’s photographers, it’s technique and not equipment that hold back wonderful images.

Still, there are those (and I begin to count myself amongst those, even though I know the current equipment is perfectly adequate) who’ll willingly pay a premium when the lens bears that Zeiss or Leica name.  Part of the reason I bought into the 4/3rds system was the ability to play with German lenses — the original intent, after spending multiple luminous moments with the Zeiss gem that comes on the Sony DSC-V1 and -V3 (and, reputedly, on the Casio EX-P600 and -P700) was to get a Contax/Yashica mount adapter as a supplement to a Nikon adapter, but a good deal came up on a Leica R adapter.  I know, rationally, that my photographs aren’t incredibly better just because of the brand of lens I put in front of the camera — and the results seem to bear it out, there’s nothing extraordinary about the Nikon/E-1 combo in relation to the Leica/E-1, at least to my untrained eye.  But there is something else at play here, whether it’s the tactile rock-solid feel of the Leica R lenses, or the way they balance, or the fact that, since most of my photos all year were taken with the Panasonic DMC-LC1 prior to shifting over to the E-1, I’ve become accustomed to the Leica direction of operation.

Funny thing is that I was that same guy who sneered at folks overpaying for that red dot — why, if the Leica R lenses were so much more expensive and slower than the Nikon exotica, would anyone pay the difference?  I can’t say that I’ve found some magic justification, either.  All I really know is that I’ve been shooting a lot more frames lately; whether that’s the camera or the lens, it’s having a decided effect on the proportion of keepers, or rather, displayers.  You can’t approach photography as an investment hobby, which is unfortunately the direction that rangefinder photography has drifted into; that’s like telling an auto mechanic to take good care of their wrenches as they’ll have collector’s value in the future.  Undeniably, there will be historical value; unfortunately, they make such good tools that you’re compelled to use them, wrenches or lenses.

The two Leica R lenses I do own were cheap because of their cosmetic condition; they duplicate focal lengths and abilities I’ve already got in Nikon mount so truthfully, I have no business owning them.  It’s strange that they already feel far more natural — reproducing the scene as-I-saw-it and not interfering with the process — than anything I’ve used before.  I may be compelled to make it a trio or more, especially as several of those lovely Telyt 400 f/6.8’s have materialized at reasonable prices … I could always use a bit more hand-held reach.

Mike

Aquarium Lens

22 June 2008

Dear J-

As part of the campaign to find air conditioned spaces in San Diego (the four major malls closest to us — University Towne Center, Fashion Valley, Mission Valley, and Horton Plaza — are all outdoor malls) we spent part of the afternoon going through the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography.  When I was younger my imagination was sparked by the romance of the sea, specifically treasure-hunting sunken-ship divers like Mel Fisher (who discovered Atocha) and, later, folks with a more scientific bent like Robert Ballard (Titanic and Bismarck).  Dr. Ballard worked for Woods Hole, who always maintained a friendly rivalry with their West Coast counterparts, that same Scripps we visited today.

But onwards to the lens; put simply, bring along the fastest lens you can lay your hands on.  Today, I used a f/1.8 lens wide-open at ISO 800 and still found myself wishing for a bit more speed for some situations.  The angle of view was equivalent to a 100mm lens on 35mm film (10 degrees, horizontally), which turned out pretty much perfect to frame most of my shots without getting in anyone’s way, or getting anyone else’s fingers in my way.  Maybe for 10% of the shots I would have chosen something a little wider — the octopus in full fury, cruising along the glass was a sight to behold, and some of the larger sharks would have been nice to get a full-body shot of up close — but the humble little Nikkor did the trick today.  In fact, the only thing that would have been better would have been a macro lens — thus the Digital Zuiko 50 f/2 I keep telling myself I need to save for.

It’s a nice aquarium to visit; not so huge that figgy got bored halfway through; this time she delighted in pointing at the numerous fish all capering seemingly for her entertainment.  The crowds were thin enough that we never had to wait an interminable amount of time for our turn at the window.  Funny how all at once it strikes you, sometimes; I asked theVet several times today when it was that we had this daughter.  For some reason it feels both like forever and forever new, all at once.

Glassy Eyes

19 June 2008

Dear J-

The more I shoot with my current setup (Olympus E-1 with vintage lenses) the more I’m tempted to acquire more glass, even though I swore off more acquisitions only a month ago, and this even despite already owning multiple lenses in those same focal lengths.  What I’d be smart to do is set money aside for some actual Olympus lenses instead of making do with the motley crew of lenses I currently rotate.

For example, Olympus makes a 50 f/2 macro lens for the 4/3rds system; that lens is fast, compact, autofocus, and a 1:2 macro lens to boot, so why would I even consider instead spending a fraction of its purchase price on something like a Summicron-R 50 f/2?  I will say that there’s something seductive in the way the Leitz lenses feel:  well-damped, solid, and with an impressively long focus throw.  Here’s where my limitations come into play, though; anything less than 50mm or so of actual focal length and I can’t honestly say that I’m focussing accurately.  Besides, giving up on manual focus and aperture rings would mean that one-handed operation would be a bit more feasible; considering that for most photographic opportunities I find myself juggling baby, dogs, and camera, a free hand would be greatly appreciated.

I’d also like to be able to regain wide-angle photography without having to resort to pulling out some of my exotic lenses; the full-frame 16mm Fisheye-Nikkor works surprisingly well with minimal distortion, but what I’ll probably save my pennies for is either the 11~22 zoom or the 8mm fisheye, along with the 50mm macro.  The 14~54 has had great reviews, but considering my recent usage of that focal length range (on the LC1, I’d usually rack the zoom out to full-wide or full-tele, 28 or 90, and be perfectly happy with those results).  I don’t generally find myself limited when shooting with single focal lengths, although that may be a by-product of the lenses I’ve owned.  Now if Olympus would just lower the price on that 7~14 …

Mike

Walkabout Rig

26 November 2006

Dear J-

The worst pictures are the ones you end up not taking because the camera was too bulky/complex to use. On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to be relying on your camera phone for much beyond casual snaps, so what’s a budding photographer to do?

I have an absurd amount of grad student stipend invested in (politely, classic; popularly, obsolete) Nikon glass, so I ended up with the cheapest SLR capable of handling AI lenses with some grace and resolution — Kodak DCS 660C, which is a modified Nikon F5 with a 6MP Kodak imager stuck inside. In the nicest possible sense, this is a beast of a camera; the regular F5 is heavy enough, but when Kodak is done with it, it feels more like something you’d weigh corpses with, assuming you never want to see them again. The ‘developing’ process is straightforward but clunky — open files in DCS Photo Desk, tweak, save into 18MB TIFFs, then convert into JPEGs for sharing.

For a couple of years before, when I’d initially converted to digital, I was using a Sony DSC-D770, which had an optical TTL finder, mechanically-linked zoom, and decent (assuming you left it in manual focus) responsiveness. Ideal, then, except for the resolution — 1.5MP is enough for desktop backgrounds and e-mail, but not much else. Enough squinting through its keyhole of a finder and I was ready to chuck it; it was cheap enough that I didn’t mind bringing it in places I’d rather not lug an SLR rig, but boy did it attract attention, despite being nice and silent.

So, for now, the 660C fits my abilities as a high-end rig; given that the lens that lives most on it right now is a 50f/1.8 AI-S, I can’t be happier with the results I’m getting from it. All the errors are clearly my own, not the camera’s. But back when I was serious with film, I also carried around a Olympus 35RC, for those times when I didn’t want to be conspicuous and pull out a motorized Nikon F2 to blast and flap and scare any potential subjects (there’s a few folks who respond to the sound of a motor drive, but they’re fairly few). Maybe I should have loaded it with high-ISO film for that gritty street look, but I supplemented with a Vivitar 285 for when I needed more light — the camera can be small, but lots of light is going to call for a fairly good-sized flash (my other flash is a Metz potato-masher, ’nuff said).

So, I have my high-enough-end digital squared away. What’s the equivalent of the 35RC, then? What are the requirements?

  • Reasonably wide, bright lens (35RC = 42mm, f/2.8)
  • Compact — the 35RC is less than a pound
  • Flash shoe
  • Manual exposure capability
  • Dedicated controls — I don’t want to dip into a menu

Suffice it to say that there’s not too many new cameras that fit my bill, and honestly, not too much interest in providing photographers with manual controls in a compact body (the manufacturers are much more interested in selling you a cheap dSLR, which then may or may not entice you into higher-profit glass). So, just like grabbing a rangefinder from the 70’s made sense, it might be worth the effort to get a used ‘prosumer’ digital.

First off, forget cameras in the SLR/ZLR mold — Olympus E-10/20, Canon Pro1, Nikon x700, Sony F-series. Forget the superzooms; not compact enough. Think something more like a Canon G-series (or the slightly dimmer-lensed S-x0), or a Coolpix x400. Me, I’m going for a Sony DSC-V1 for one reason alone — it’s not as wide as some of the others, and it doesn’t save in a RAW format (but when you’re talking about a walkabout rig, wouldn’t you really rather have something useful straight out of the camera?), but it’s much faster/more responsive than its peers (Canon G5, Nikon 5400) — in a world of the decisive moment, response is key.

It’s an unassuming little brick of a machine, and it’s hit the MP-obsolescence curve gracefully (e.g. cheap enough to be a bit of an impulse buy, enough resolution to make good prints). As they’re all mostly leaf-shutter cameras now, noise shouldn’t be a critical issue, either, and should thus allow for less intrusive photography; I’ve always prefered the fly-on-the-wall approach to paparazzi-stalker long-lens tactics.

So, that’s my vote. Why no Powershot-G? Check the response times; it’s clear that electronic wizardry trumps silver halide in the veins, at least at that time. Plus the G’s have held their value absurdly well (as has the Coolpix 5000, which is usefully wider, as well as better-accessorized), compared with the V1.

Mike