Thursday, December 22, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

PESO 2011 #49 - Etude

AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D

A co-worker of mine recently bought this very special lens to go along with his Nikon D90. Few days ago I had an opportunity to play with it a little.

Obviously, being a rather old lens, a lot can be found about it on the net. So I will put here only my personal impressions.

Everything just works. AF is quiet, quick and precise. The defocus control ring is conveniently placed and is very to operate. Although somewhat on the heavy side (it is after all a fast f/2.0 optic), it is only ever so slightly front heavy on D90. The viewfinder view is bright, although judging exact degree of defocus is not always so easy. But chimping is easy these days, isn't it?

Image quality
This is where it truly shines. In fact, the whole idea of defocus control, where the degree of defocus is decoupled from the aperture (unlike, e.g. Pentax soft lenses, where the softness is simply set by the aperture) is just brilliant. The three dimensional effect due to play of in focus to out of focus transition can be very pronounced too.

Highly recommended in all respects. It can be used both as fast medium tele lens and as a very special portrait optic and for great many other purposes.

If I shot Nikon I would definitely get one of those defocus control lenses because I quite like the soft focus effect.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Pentax SMC DA* 16-50/2.8 follow up

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Pentax SMC DA* 16-50/2.8. Having shot with it about 800 images, I think it may be time for a follow up post.

Handling and build
It's just about perfect. The focus ring does not rotate when AF is working which makes it most convenient. In fact it's my first lens that I can hold any way I want without risking to intervene with gear operation. Zoom ring is smooth and tight.

Image quality
That's where real fun begins. This lens flares more than other Pentax lenses I used. Well, may be FA 28-105/4-5.6 (nee Tamron) flares really badly, but this one does catch flare every now and then.

Also the purple fringing can be a bit of a problem. LightRoom solves almost all of it via lens profile mechanism, but although I don't usually fret about purple fringing sometimes it is hard not to notice.

There is certain degree of sharpness fall off towards the corners of the frame for wider zoom settings. Since I am yet to print a proper enlargement from my shots with this lens, this statement and others in this section have to be taken with a sensible grain of salt.

So, I think that if this lens was submitted to a laboratory testing it would fair not too well. Also I think that if one would take into account its relatively high price (the likes of Sigma 17-50/2.8 or Tamron 17-50/2.8 are significantly cheaper), one would not be so unreasonable to say that the value for the money of this lens is not very high.

The good thing though that when it hits it, it shines. And it hits it like 99% of the time. Sharp wide open, excellent color rendering, smooth tonal gradation, very smooth OOF rendering. Add to that silent SDM AF system and weather resistant construction and you get a clear winner.

I don't think SDM has any real advantages over screw driven AF except being silent and allowing for full time manual override. These two are very significant advantages and silent AF can be most useful for shooting in the crowd or during events. It is sufficiently precise although it did miss few times but it might have been my mistake as well as technology limitation in play here. The AF speed is comparable and although some say that SDM is faster, I don't think it is that much faster so as to be a game changer. It well may be that when I return to any of my older lenses, I will change my mind, for I've been shooting with this lens exclusively since I got it.

There's very little one may dislike about this lens. Although being the flagship of the brand (along with its sister lens DA* 50-135/2.8 that I don't own) it is not perfect and it has its flaws. Yet, it's a wonderful tool that already has served me very well on quite a few occasions.

P.S. Several most recent PESOs were shot with this lens, so have a look at what it can do, don't take my word for it.

PESO 2011 #48 - Into the sun

PESO 2011 #47 - Untitled

PESO 2011 #46 - Communicating

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Enter Pentax SMC DA* 16-50/2.8


After extremely prolonged :-) contemplation, I have shelled out for my first SDM DA* zoom lens. I bought it second hand and according to the seller they had no SDM issues with this lens whatsoever. So here is a brief recap.

Handling and build

This lens is big and heavy. In fact, it is roughly as big as Sigma 24-60/2.8 that held the position of standard zoom lens before it. I think Sigma is ever so slightly lighter, but it may be a matter of weight distribution differences between these two lenses. I never care to compare the specs.

It turns out I have gotten quite used to the way Sigma rotates, which is the opposite of Pentax, but no matter. All in all, it handles well and it feels most comfortable in my hands. It has to be mentioned however, that a battery grip would be necessary for proper balance. Without the grip the combo would be badly front heavy.

One minor nit to pick though. The double cam barrel design seems a bit shaky to me. It is not real wobbling, but it seems and feels like certain minimal wobbling may develop over time. I would really have preferred a single cam barrel of Sigma here.

Image quality

This lens is sharp wide open. It is not bitingly sharp, but it is sufficiently sharp for all practical purposes and it is slightly sharper than Sigma which has a tendency to a bit of a soft glow in this situation. Stopped down it becomes very sharp indeed. The color rendering is native Pentax, which is the only very minor gripe I had about Sigma 24-60/2.8. It felt as if Sigma somehow renders the colors a bit different than Pentax. The OOF rendering is excellent too. In fact, sans the well-known aspect of rather serious distortion on the wide end, the lens does not seem to have any optical weaknesses at all.


The focusing is indeed absolutely silent. I cannot discern a sound. Initially, I was under impression that it focuses not as fast as regular screw driven lenses, but then it occurred to me that it has to do with the fact that I wasn't hearing the whirr of the AF motor the same moment I half depressed the shutter button. Presently I think that AF speed is at least as good as that of screw driven lenses.

Although in tungsten room light when it is dark outside it may hunt every now and then. Again, no problem for me.

Full time manual focusing override is really handy.

On weather sealing

When I rotate the zoom ring,  I can hear a somewhat strange sound as if an air is being sucked or something like that. Likely it has to do with the lens being more air tight than its non weather sealed counterparts. Given that this is the very first such lens in my stable, it may require a bit of getting used to.


All in all - an excellent lens in all respects if a little big and heavy, but imagine a 24-75/2.8 lens with SDM and weather sealing in full format land - that would definitely be a bigger fish.

PESO 2011 #43 - Ants

Galia was recently introduced to photo editing with LightRoom. Here is one of her first efforts...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Pentax Q, Nikon CX et al

Recently Pentax announced their Q system - the smallest interchangeable lens camera system. Today Nikon announced CX system, which is essentially the same - small sensor, electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens. But why?

I mean, micro four thirds (m43) is well established and is developing very nicely as well - new lenses and camera bodies were introduced just recently both by Panasonic and Olympus who happen to be the main forces behind m43.

Ricoh had an interesting offering with their GXR system. Samsung is developing their own NX system and Sony are doing pretty darn well with their NEX cameras.

All these camera systems have pretty large sensors.

In my personal and humble opinion - big DSLR manufacturers (well, Pentax is not very big, but they do manufacture DSLRs nonetheless) couldn't join forces with any of the above, probably due to business reasons. So they had to work out their own offerings. Now, it couldn't be large sensor compact camera thing, mainly because that would undermine their own DSLR sales. Sony, whom I perceive as Microsoft of electronics probably could sustain selling NEX for a bit of loss, whereas now they're selling faster than hotdogs in Central Park, New York. So, Pentax and Nikon produced a lot of marketing speak and came up with camera systems with rather very small sensors.

Such systems may appeal to their target audiences. Imagine a haute couture model pulling out of her purse a pink Pentax Q with this or that lens, in matching color, naturally, and taking some shots of her fellow models. That would be hip and fun.

At this moment it is my opinion that cameras like Canon S95, Panasonic LX-5 or recently announced S100 are better option for portable high quality (by today's standards) photography.

There is still hope out there, because the rumor mill has it that Ricoh will work with freshly acquired Pentax to produce a large sensor interchangeable lens camera system. Meanwhile, I will keep watching the photographic world go round and around in a bit of a wonder...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 4/50 with Tilt Adapter mini review

Not a long ago I bought the lens mentioned in the post title along with Ukrainian tilt adapter. Having used it for several weeks I think it is time for a mini review.

Handling and build
This lens is big (as in 88mm filter diameter or thereabouts) and heavy (as in 800 g). Yet it is surprisingly easy to handle and shoot hand held with the adapter. One would have to attach a battery grip to their camera for balanced handling.

As a matter of fact, I admit I tried but couldn't detach the lens from the adapter. The fellow from Berlin from whom I bought this lens, sent me instructions, but I am not very good in all things mechanical, so there you go.

Closest to the mount is the tilt ring. The tilt range is from 0 to 8 degrees. When the combo is mounted on the camera, it can be rotated as a whole around the lens axis so as to have precise control on the tilt configuration. This adapter has clicks every 15 degrees or so.

Next is the Flektogon itself. As usual, the aperture ring is followed by the focus ring. The focus ring has almost full circle (may be 300 deg if not more) of focus throw. It is silky smooth and very convenient in use. Aperture ring has markings from F4 to F22 with distinct half stop click marks between all full stops.

With no electronic coupling, aperture ring has immediate effect. This is convenient as you can keep your camera in P-mode (my mode of choice) and as it turns out K-5 meter is reliable and accurate in this mode of operation.

With stock focusing screen F4 is sufficiently bright whereas in daylight even F16 is not too dark. So precision manual focusing is possible and actually it is not too difficult to perform.

Image quality
This is where this lens truly shines. I've read on the net opinions of people who maintain that this lens easily rivals Pentax FA Limited lenses. Since I don't do measurements, I couldn't tell for certain. Yet it is very sharp even wide open and has very pleasing OOF rendering. I should also mention that it renders minute details with great accuracy. I think some would say it has excellent micro-contrast. In my limited experience so far, images shot with this lens lend themselves very nicely to B&W conversion. They have this hard to describe look or presence in them.

Given these excellent image quality characteristics it is indeed a good candidate for tilt photography where smooth tonal gradation and smooth transition to OOF seems to be essential.

Although marked MC (Multi Coated, one might believe) this lens is obviously more prone to flare than Pentax SMC lenses. Huge front element is also a contributing factor. Yet, multi coating does work and certain degree of flare resistance is at photographer's disposal.

As for color representation the jury is still out. Most of the times it is accurate and as good as any other lens out there without any color shifting, etc. However, sometimes it would produce this strange somewhat washed out colors similar to those that I remember from old Soviet negative films. I haven't figured out yet when this happens and by what this is triggered.

Last but not least, I haven't yet noticed any issues related to high contrast areas (purple fringing, later chromatic aberrations, etc). Although I admit I don't really look for them as they rarely bother me.

All in all, the image quality of this lens is as good as any modern optic. Add to that the tilt adapter and you get a very interesting combo to work with.

On focusing with tilt
Presently I first set the tilt value and then do the rest. Specifically, with lens tilted one cannot really rely on focusing by the center and then recomposing the image. Stock focusing screen of K-5 happens to be very good for purpose of precision focusing.  

  1. A friend of mine indicated that these lenses are known to have rather weak aperture construction that is prone to disintegration over time. Mine shows no sign of such dreadful behavior.
  2. There is a bit of very fine dust just beneath the front element which as I gather is mostly little pieces of inner surfaces black paint that came off. No ill effects were noticed from this.
  3. Plastic that surrounds the tilt ring is a bit loose. No, it is not going to fall apart, but rather it can go on being rotated past 0 and 8 marks which are tilt range. As a result it could be a good idea to first set the tilt and then take the camera to the eye if shooting hand held.
Excellent lens that I would certain explore further and highly recommend you get yourself one of these two and start playing with it. 

There is more than 1,000 outstanding photos (not mine, of course) shot with this lens after this (flickriver) link.

PESO 2011 #41 - Relic of the recent past

Not a long ago pay phones were on every street. Now they are very few and rather derelict...

PESO 2011 #40 - Olive tree

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

More does not necessarily mean better

Sony has just announced its new generation of APS-C cameras (Sony A77 - the flagship). The main part - brand new sensor that has 24 MPix. That's quite a handful. Well, probably it would be better to put it like this - that's quite a disk-full. I think that for my personal purposes 16 MP sensor (20-25 MB per RAW file) is just enough.

So, here you have it - in my opinion, for my photography 24 MPix is too many, 8 MPix too many to be precise.

Of course, beside the improvement of pixel count and sensor technology, new introductions have other interesting things. It would stand to reason that when other manufacturers including Pentax will show their new models they will have better metering, faster AF, etc. All of this will be available for a proper price, but if I would want a better AF (I still find AF of K-5 to be sub-optimal) I'd have to adopt this sensor with all its mega-pixels.

Suddenly Ricoh's modular systems looks quite brilliant. You want better algorithms - you get a new body. You want some special lens - you get this special lens module. Modular! Flexible!

Well, one can only dream and wish so much...

Sunday, August 14, 2011


No, there is no misprint in the title of this post. It is indeed about the tilt. I've acquired Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 50/4 along with the tilt adapter. It is big and heavy but it is great fun to use and it shows some serious promise. Few points after spending few days shooting with this combo on my Pentax K-5.
  • Operation is really easy. There is no automation of any kind - aperture is fully manual, so is focus and of course so are tilt and rotation. My K-5 in HyperP mode keeps the shutter speed at no slower than 1/60 sec after which it starts upping the ISO. No issues with metering.
  • Focusing is tricky because one cannot focus by the center and recompose. If there is a tilt involved, one has to compose first and only then focus carefully. Fortunately K-5 has sufficiently good focusing screen while maximum aperture of f/4.0 helps as well. It would seem that my K-5's focusing screen is slightly out of alignment for precision manual focusing though.
  • This lens has huge front element and although it is marked MC, it does catch flare, but that is to be expected. Other than that it is sharp with very pleasing OOF rendering and good color rendering as well.
Below are some examples (a bit of vignetting added in post):

All in all, given the lack of native tilt solutions in Pentax land, this one looks like a really good way to get started. More tilted shots to come along...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

PESO 2011 #28 - Sixteen minutes apart

One of my favorite past times during travel is to wake up as early as I can and go out take pictures... Here is a couple...

Notice: no color modification was done during post processing of these images...

PESO 2011 #27 - Before and after

Upper Galilee among other things is famous by its wine production...

PESO 2011 #26 - Power lines

We're back from a brief get away to Upper Galilee region...

More to follow soon...

Saturday, July 09, 2011

PESO 2011 #25 - Live Statues Festival

We had a live statues festival in our town this week. Galia and I went to take some pictures:

The rest of them you can find after this link.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Sony A850 compared to Pentax K-7

A good friend of mine and talented photographer Stan Pustylnik, his wife and their elder girl paid us a visit back in December 2010. Beside spending some great time with our friends, I had a chance to actually shoot in real life conditions side by side with Stan. He's a Sony-Minolta shooter and not a long before he came here, he upgraded to full frame Sony A850 camera. Thus, an opportunity presented itself to perform most informal yet in my opinion sensible comparison of these two cameras.

Please notice that the photographs below are published with Stan's explicit permission. Also they are marked with focal length, shutter speed and aperture so that the comparison shouldn't be too difficult. Photos were processed by me in LR 3.4, mostly for tonality and a bit of color balance corrections. I did not try to equate the colors because this is something I find especially difficult with my eyesight.

Gear registry
That day we went to southern Israel to explore some of the more interesting locations of Negev desert. Stan took Tamron 17-35/2.8-4.0, Minolta 70-210/4 (a.k.a. beer-can) and Tamron 90/2.8 macro. I mounted Sigma 24-60/2.8 EX DG and on our way we were.


These two images illustrate how wide is real wide. Obviously, since Sony A850 does not introduce a crop factor, 17 mm lens becomes truly ultra wide. Even on these small web images one can see that there is a bit of vignetting and that the sharpness deteriorates towards the corners. Does it matter? Well, under certain conditions it might, but in my personal humble opinion - it is practically field irrelevant. The shots Stan made came out beautiful despite these technical shortcomings.

Obviously my attempt above is not as wide as Stan's pictures, but it is quite wide nonetheless. The white balance is different and frankly K-7 sometimes produces rather strange white balance. Also Sigma EX coatings are good but they also tend to shift color balance a bit sometimes. With more rigorous post processing this can be taken care of.

Another pair of images that in my view illustrates the difference in dynamic range between the two sensors. Sony A850 wonderful sensor has smoother transition from light to shadow and more shadow detail retention. I cannot say that Pentax K-7 does badly. It is certainly weaker but it does not too bad either.

The last pair of images in this write up. Notice that EFOV of these two photographs is similar - 90mm for mine and 105 mm for that of Stan.

Obviously this comparison is incomplete, informal and some may argue - inconclusive. However I managed to arrive at some rather important conclusion from that wonderful day Stan and I had together.

It goes without argument that Sony A850 is a wonderful camera that exceeds Pentax K-7 in more than one aspect. My only negative remarks about Sony is that it is big and heavy and that its shutter sound is quite loud compared to that of Pentax.

Some of the sensor related issues were addressed by introduction of Pentax K-5, which by the way is based on another Sony sensor. But my main goal was to see how a photographer whom I hold in higher esteem than myself will acquit himself compared to my own shooting. Stan did brilliantly but he really convinced me by example that a full frame camera despite offering some clearly observable advantages is most certainly not the Holy Grail, not the Ultimate Weapon, not the Silver Bullet. It is yet another tool that needs to be studied and mastered. No more and no less.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gear diary

In: Pentax SMC D-FA 50/2.8 macro

I've been thinking of this lens for quite some time. Galia tends to like close up shooting while I am thinking that 50 mm could be a useful lens to shoot with for her learning process. Thus this lens was acquired few months ago. Our copy is a good one, no issues whatsoever - accurate focus, good sharpness across the frame. It is just that this lens has dual cam barrel made of plastic which does not inspire confidence. But then again it is light and Galia is making good pictures with it.

Out: Pentax SMC FA 24-90/3.5-4.5 IF AL

It is a good lens, but:
  • It has weak construction.
  • Sigma 24-60/2.8 EX DG is faster and sharper.
Out: Tamron SP 28-75/2.8 IF and more letters

It is also a very good lens, but:
  • Sigma 24-60/2.8 EX DG is wider and has an OOF rendering that is more pleasing to my eye.
  • As a result Tamron hasn't been seeing as much use to warrant a place on our photo gear shelf.

Friday, May 27, 2011

PESO 2011 #23 - Rowing in the park

I've taken this picture two years ago. You can see the original here and here. Presently Pentax does not offer a tilt lens for its crowd. There are 3rd party solutions but they are not all that easy to come by. So, enter Topaz Lens Effects. I've downloaded it for a trial. Here is my attempt at tilt/shift post processing...

Monday, May 16, 2011

PESO 2011 #21 - After the rain

We had some serious rain several days ago. This is practically unheard of...

Friday, May 13, 2011

PESO 2011 #19 - Etude

PESO 2011 #18 - We have Bean in Jerusalem

The title spelling is actually accurate. There is a sculpture on display at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem that looks somewhat like the Chicago Bean