Category Archives: Photo Gear

To lifesize…and beyond!

Some time ago I bought the 25mm extension tube for my Canon FD system and have been using it somewhat successfully with the 50 and 135 to get closer focusing. It was a cheap, moderately effective but rather fiddly way to get into macro territory.

Way back last spring, I found just how fiddly it was as I lumbered around Happy Hollow Gardens, swapping constantly between the 50/1.4 and 135/2.8 with extension. As usual, just about everything bar the close-ups was shot with the 50mm, which I’ve come to realize is my favorite focal length of the ones I have available.

That outing made me realize that I wanted to have the option of having a useful “walk around” lens with close focusing ability for such occasions. I considered the Canon 100 and 50 mm macro lenses for the FD system and a couple of third party 90mm macros which are highly regarded.

The Canon 100 and 50 macros share the same 52mm filter threads as my other FD lenses, the Vivitar and Tokina macros are larger. All my filters are 52mm. Since this will find use as a general purpose optic when I want to travel light with just one lens yet retain close focusing ability, it would be nice if the filters I already have will fit.

Both the 50 and the 100 will go to half life-size by themselves, but with my existing extension tube the fifty will go to 1:1. If I add that combination to my 2x teleconverter, I get a very slow but serviceable twice lifesize.

The fifty macro is usable as a normal lens, though the focus throw is pretty short from 3 feet to infinity and it’s not optimized for infinity focus. I’ll keep it on the camera for a while to see just how well it handles in day to day shooting.

The 100 would have had a more reasonable close-up working distance. Then again, a 200 macro would be better yet. Those seem rather rare, though.

The best part was the price, just a shade over $50 from KEH Camera. The cheapest 100 macro was almost $100. I took a gamble and went with one in BGN (bargain) condition. I have no clue why it was rated that way, but KEH are known for their quite conservative grading. Based on this lens and their friendly return and warranty policies, I’d have no qualms about buying BGN again.

Anyway, enough blabber. I’ll post examples when I’m done shooting the current roll of film.

Digital Gear Updates and Price Madness

So Nikon just launched the newest iteration of their flagship speedlight, the SB-910. It makes some updates and improvements to the established SB-900 which is a few years old now (and therefore, in digital gear terms, practically a fossil).

And once again, I notice a trend continuing.

The SB-900 broke new ground, not just in terms of what it could do (impressive stuff I must say) but also in terms of price. I seem to recall it was the first hotshoe flash unit to retail for $500 (well, just shy of it but is anyone really fooled by this $499.95 crap?)

The SB-910’s launch price? $550. Say it with me: OUCH!!

And they tell me shooting film is expensive? Give me a break! If I add up all the film I’ve shot and developed since late 2009, the total cost is still a little less than what Nikon want for their newest wonder accessory. My old Sunpak flash cost me UKP10 in a consignment store and another few dollars to switch out the Nikon manual focus foot for a Canon manual focus one. I get perfectly acceptable results with it, no less reliable than my experiences of digital TTL flash have been.

Sure, for those who really need this unit’s capabilities, it will be indispensable. If you can justify that sort of spend, that’s great. I can’t. Personally, I’m quite happy that I passed on this ever-increasing price and upgrade madness. My photography doesn’t appear to have suffered any for it, whatever the marketers might want me to think.

Goodwill Hunting

Polaroid OneStep 600

Polaroid OneStep 600

So last week I was in Goodwill in Vinton, pretty much just killing time. Any time I go in there (or any Goodwill store) I make a bee-line for the electronics section to see what unwanted gems might have shown up since last time I was in.

Typically I’m interested in their motley of computer odds and ends and more recently any cameras they happen to have. Vinton’s Goodwill tends to have a rapid turnaround of cameras; last time I was in they had a matching pair of Polaroid JoyCams, before that they had a couple of 35mm point and shoot zoom cameras.

I’d sort of been hoping they’d have still had the two JoyCams; earlier I’d been listening to an episode of the Inside Analog Photo podcast where they talked about 3D photography and my fevered imagination had those two matching lenses sitting side-by-side in a homemade camera designed to put a stereo pair of 6×6 images onto 120 slide film. Probably for the best that the JoyCams were gone.

Vista View 35 XL

Vista View 35 XL

In their place were a couple of other Polaroid cameras, a One Step 600 and an earlier type which I can’t recall the model name of. The older camera was pretty beat up looking and the lens had some nasty gouges in it, but the OneStep was in excellent condition and found it’s way home with me, along with the most plasticy camera I’ve ever seen, a VistaView 35 XL, with fixed focus, fixed aperture and fixed shutter speed. About the only metal part is the hotshoe (which after some remedial work, turned out to be a real, live hotshoe capable of firing a flash). Putting film in it doubles the weight and quadruples the value of the camera.

It’s funny really, I never quite “got” the reasoning behind shooting Polaroid or plastic, toy cameras, yet in one fell swoop, I ended up covering both of those bases and am looking forward to trying them out with a level of anticipation that’s clearly on the wrong side of lunacy (and no, I haven’t been drinking Rodinal or anything to get into that state).

I’ve already run a half dozen frames through the VistaView as a test, before rewinding and reloading the film in my Canon. I’ll see how they go but I can see this being a fun wee thing loaded up with cheap store brand 200 film, or maybe some of that inexpensive Arista Premium rebranded Tri-X from Freestyle Photo. Or maybe I’ll have 8 inches of blank, fogged nothingness. Who knows, until the film is souped…?

As for the Polaroid, I have options for obtaining film stock. There’s eBay, where you’ll sometimes find a seller who hasn’t been overdoing it on the hillbilly heroin and prices their expired 600 film within the bounds of sanity. There is also, of course, the Impossible Project and their new, experimental PX600 variants. Best of all though, the new, rebuilt Polaroid themselves are planning a comeback for the 600 cameras and film.

Embracing Imperfection

With all the online talk about lenses being “tack sharp”, “corner to corner sharp”, “sharp wide open” and so on, you could be forgiven for thinking that any lens that isn’t “sharp” is fatally flawed, good only as a paperweight.

Sometimes, sharp is exactly what you want. But I wonder if this obsession with perfect lenses isn’t going too far; yet another aspect of photography that’s being homogenized into perfect, bland sameness along with the sensors in digital cameras.

Wide open, effective 100mm/2.8 with plenty of spherical aberration.

Wide open, effective 100mm/2.8 with plenty of spherical aberration.

I’m seriously starting to see where the Lomography movement and the Polaroid freaks are coming from. Perfection in our gear means one less thing we can use to differentiate our work from the next guy with a sharp lens and 20+ megapixels behind it. Imperfections, be they random Holga light leaks, or weird colors from cross-processed film, or any of the other things which camera manufacturers are trying so hard to “liberate” us from, are something we can embrace to make our work unique or different. Sure you can do it in Photoshop, but it’s always going to be “pseudo-imperfection” generated by an algorithm.

I recently picked up a cheap 2x teleconverter, a 4-element multicoated Vivitar. General Internet opinion would suggest that any amount of money spent on this was wasted money, and looking at the first shot taken with it (wide open, in flat, bad lighting) it seemed like that was a fair assessment.

But I tried a few other shots, with the 50mm f/1.4 FD lens and teleconverter and good lighting. Wide open it has a ton of spherical aberration around highlights, giving a soft focus, dreamy sort of look. I have a feeling this would be a satisfying portrait lens if used right. I’ll be sure to put that theory to the test!

What if I want actual sharpness? Well, the trick is that most lenses perform very well when stopped down. There’s a lot of techno-babble and optical diagrams out there which explain this a lot better than I can (I understand why optics work like this, but am not great when it comes to communicating these things to non-geeks).

The point is, by stopping down even a couple of stops (in this case, to an effective f/5.6) the dreamy look goes away and real sharpness starts to set in. The next image is a case in point.

How can you look at this and *not* feel just a wee bit happier? Effective 100mm f/5.6, focused as close as possible.

How can you look at this and *not* feel just a wee bit happier? Effective 100mm f/5.6, focused as close as possible.

Ignore the horizontal lines, these look to be scanning issues and will be corrected once I’m able to.

This was just 2 stops away from wide open, but already is looking much more like those sharp lenses everyone keeps going on about! Extra bonus, the close focus distance stays the same so now I have a near-macro lens option.

Not bad for a $10 investment whatever the Internet might say about it.