Tag Archives: lens

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.

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.