5.19.2022

Lost in the Sea of Photography. No roadmap ahead. No legacy behind.

 

TTArtisan 21mm f1.5 lens on a Leica SL2 camera.

"The Butterfly Bridge"

When I was working hard at the business of photography I think my single biggest worry was whether I would every have enough money to retire or whether I would turn into a charity case with an endless supply of stories about the "good old days." While I wasn't paying attention my partner/spouse/super-hero wife stepped in and took care of the financial stuff. In spite of my best efforts to spend money on an ever changing gaggle of new toys she figured out how to backstop me. But now I'm grappling with something different and in some respects more sinister. To wit: "What happens next." 

From 1979 to 2000 change in the photo world seemed fast but was glacial by comparison to the years from 2001 to 2022. There are similarities but the differences between the earlier days and the start of this century are almost overwhelming. Client still need images but what they want is profoundly different. Where the put the images is wildly different. Client will still pay but figuring out how to charge for social media use versus national print campaigns is a total mystery to just about everyone. Gear kind of looks the same but we never had to deal with so much obsolescence. Gallery shows have vanished while NFTs are proliferating?

Today I am thinking about obsolescence and commercial photography. I landed on this as I was setting up the studio for a portrait shoot I'm doing tomorrow. My mind snapped to obsolescence as I looked at two floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with binders that are, in turn, filled with CD-roms and the DVDs. Digital images have always been ephemeral compared to film. Keep film cool, dry and in the dark and it has the potential to outlive the photographer by a factor of about 2 to 1. Our biggest problem with film storage was just getting a slide we used back into the right folder. 

Digital content lives a fragile existence. The images have to be stored somewhere but every potential residence for photographs made with digital cameras is subject to some peril or another. Store everything in the cloud and you run the risk of waking up one day to find that the "trusted" service provider has gone bankrupt and shut down without notice. The servers are gone. The images flushed into the virtual sewer. Rendered, in one stroke, non-existent. Those CD-Roms from Kodak and Verbatim? Maybe they'll decay over time and we'll find once again that moving a few bits off the trail renders the whole disk non-readable. Or maybe we'll just, over time, run out of disk players that will read whatever format you happened to write to back then. Or maybe we'll just get to the point when no one is still making the disk readers/appliances that read CD-Roms altogether. Already the drivers for older readers aren't upgraded anymore....

The same goes for DVDs with acres and acres of images on them. What happens when those become unreadable? Of course, you could spend the rest of your working life iteratively transferring/migrating to whatever the newest media is but wouldn't you rather enjoy the fleeting promises of a happy life instead of laboring over files which, if you are like me, you barely remember taking and haven't had a reason to revisit in...maybe decades?

In the ancient times, before Wi-Fi, arrogant photographers believed that people would always hunger to re-use (and "re-pay-for") their glorious images. They called it, "stock photography." Those large format photographs of the Eiffel Tower or those poignant medium format pictures of chubby office workers looking purposefully into desktop cathode ray tube computer monitors. The photographers saved everything. Every image was going to be part of a legacy they would leave to their loved ones which would provide never-ending residual fees for an every brightening future. So....how's that working out?

Truthfully, the number of photographs being taken every day is now unimaginably huge. The number of photographs that need to be taken by trained professionals with super advanced gear for demanding media insertion is probably smaller as a percentage of images taken (per capita) than at any time since the introduction of flexible film.  Almost everything is headed to the web. Almost every shot can be taken with a phone. Almost every use can be satisfactorily fulfilled by the happily untrained person who just knows when the image on the phone screen looks good to them. And since most uses are fleeting and non-recurring the downside of a less than perfect photo is minimized.

I've written many times before that photography made the jump over the bridge between "precious object" to consumable commodity. Every image has an ever-shortening "use by" date. Mostly measured in hours. Days are saved for really special work. So how do we navigate the "brave new world" profitably?

When my son's millennial friends call up and want to "pick my brain" about "how to become successful photographers?"  I am truly at a loss for what to tell them now. I wrote a book in 2010 called "Commercial Photography Handbook." It was published by Amherst Media. You can still get a brand new copy from Amazon.com. The book was very popular and we sold tens of thousands of copies. Many of which were used in college courses teaching commercial photography. A lot of the book content was about marketing and usage rights. Some parts about pricing. And I tossed it what I learned about branding and strategies of specialization mostly gleaned from working at a regional advertising agency for a number of years --- in a non-photographic capacity. 

Much of the general information in the book is still practical but only at the highest echelons of our industry do people still negotiate and get paid for usage licensing now. You can protest but you know that the great unwashed, new masses of "pros" and part timers have probably never heard of the concept of licensing their images.... They just accept a one time payday and hand over the images to a marcom person who then tosses them onto the social media tire fire and, perhaps, somewhere on a company's ever changing (consumable) website. Next to the free stock photography.

When the kid's friends call we meet for a while, I give them a copy of the book, I urge them to figure out what they need to make in order to live a good life and how to estimate all the numbers involved to gauge how much they need to be charging clients. If they are going to be "professional." We'll see how many make it. And these are smart kids who've gone to the best colleges or universities and have gotten degrees in something other than photography. I think it's just currently fashionable now, during the "great resignation" to try one's hand at something fun....like photography. And being smart, young people if they can get paid for it then so much the better. 

I keep getting calls inviting me to work. On one hand it's good for my ego and my self-esteem but on the other hand it gives me a front row seat on how much photography, as a business, has changed and how so much of the challenge and fun of it --- from my perspective --- has been sucked dry by ever diminishing expectations on the part of clients (less time, less budget and less imagination) and ever more paper work from the spreadsheet mavens who seem to have taken over control of all creative businesses... to the everlasting detriment of the actual product. 

Last night I noticed that the price of a Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art lens has fallen from $1500 to about $799. Everyone who has ever used the lens praises it to the heavens as one of the sharpest "Art" series lenses ever made. Go see Gerald Undone's YouTube review of the lens if you aren't familiar with it. The price drop, coupled with the reputation of the lens triggered my gear infatuation cycle and got me excited about another acquisition. I checked the local camera store's website and saw that they listed the lens as "in stock." I started rationalizing the cost of yet another big, heavy but amazingly good lens. 

And then I stopped and reflected. What project could I possibly do better with that particular lens and that particular focal length? It's not my style of portrait lens. I have good lenses in focal lengths of 35mm and 45mm so what the heck would the new lens really allow me to do that I can't already do?

But underneath it all my pervasive thought was --- who will ever end up using images I might create with this lens in any medium that might even remotely challenge the sharpness and resolution of it? Would I ever realize its potential?

Could I instead justify buying it in order to walk around and do "Art"? I already have a tremendous surplus of heavy lenses all across the normal focal length range and experience tells me I might put a 3 pound lens on the front of a 3 pound camera and walk around in the Austin downtown heat exactly one time before I got horribly bored and exhausted by the adventure of it all. And on a high resolution camera, using everything handheld, would I ever be able to really discern the difference between a legendary Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens and the 40mm? I have decent eyes but I can pretty much guarantee that I won't. 

The only place a lens like this might really shine is if you are doing a comparison between two very elite lenses and you put both on tripods, anchor the tripods onto concrete, use a flash aimed at a static target and carefully compare the resulting files at 400% on a great monitor. And who has time for that? I can't imagine anything more boring. And yet people seem  to do that all the time.

And with that decided I came to the realization that I'd finally hit the wall. Starting next week I'm purging every non-personal CD-rom or DVD that over five years old. Everything goes. Next we'll toss out the older stuff on film that hasn't already been squeezed out. And then, and then. And then they came for the lenses...

I love taking photographs and being an extrovert, or an extra-extrovert, the thing I like best about assignments is working with fun people but the whole last century obsession with legacy stuff is so overblown and overdone. I think people in general and artists in particular need to be focused on "What's next?" And to stop looking in the rear view mirrors. 

If you worked hard and socialized well you can probably name drop all day long. But does it matter if it all happened a long time ago and anyone younger than 50 has never heard of the people whose names you are dropping? Should anyone give a damn about how we used to selenium tone our double weight prints? Does it matter that you still know how to trim the leader on Tri-X film so you can load it in a screw mount Leica? Does your Linhof camera still make you look cool?

Can you look me in the eye and tell me you really, really like most of the old black and white landscape photography from the second half of the 20th century? Are some of the popular photographs of that era really worthy of sainthood? Have we already forgotten Judy Dater and Jack Wellpot? 

I was so excited to buy the enormous book of Peter Lindbergh's life's work a while back. I always liked his black and white fashion photos. And there was a lot of good stuff in the book. Maybe 25% of the work was like the stuff I fondly remembered. But the other 75% was repetition of style and point of view, or just boring, or time dated, or on par with what the rest of us were capable of. And to be honest seeing the totality of his work made me understand his place in photo history a bit more rationally. 

It's funny to me that some work from a number of "famous" photographers from our shared past hasn't aged well at all. There are standouts like Avedon, Penn, Frank, HCB, and Koudelka. Their work seems to this day as timeless as ever. But there are legions of photographers from the last quarter of the 20th century who had their day in the sun, their spread in a magazine, their profile in Communication Arts or Graphis but looking back retrospectively and with a time-trained eye most of it hasn't aged well at all. 

Some of it is down to the fact that great technical photos were much harder to pull off back then and so in no small part we respected the craft and the novelty of innovative work. But the innovation didn't guarantee timelessness. Anymore than watching Gilligan's Island or The Beverly Hillbillies in reruns raises the stature of the programs for audiences in 2022. The jokes are played out, incorporated into the fabric of popular culture. Who collects Ford Taurus automobiles? 

Save me from having to ever look at one of Herb Ritts's "portraits" ever again. And warn me, please, if I am about to walk into a gallery showing work by Scavullo. But I'd be thrilled to spend a couple hours looking at Albert Watson's work...

I have an acquaintance who made hundreds of millions of dollars in high tech in the 1990s. He bought an entire edition of Ansel Adams photos, printed and numbered by the artist, and had them hung proudly in his penthouse apartment. I'd seen a lot of Adam's work over the years but mostly on posters and in books and magazines. Never up close and in person. Framed and lit and proudly displayed. And achingly boring. As boring as an evening shopping excursion to a middle American mall. I smiled and nodded to my friend and congratulated him on buying art that he liked. Next up he was looking to buy some John Sexton work. I'll decline another invitation if he starts collecting Paul Caponigro. Then again, my friend does have good taste in expensive wines...

I'm sure I've insulted the fans of a handful of photographers today. If I were to buy prints for a collection for my home they'd be by Elliott Erwitt or Duane Michals. I tried to buy an Avedon 20 years ago but the gallery sat on their hands until the prices doubled and at that point we had other priorities... (bastards). But there's no guarantee that their appeal would not fall flat with other people. Including other photographers. 

So much of the wish for legacy is a sublimated fear of mortality. And of lapsing into irrelevance. So much of our feeling that photography is becoming more diluted and less meaningful is a reflection of our own wish that things hadn't changed or the wish that even current change in our chosen field would slow down. Or the wish that someone would write a manual of how to negotiate life when the process that created your own cherished identity becomes different, changed and almost unrecognizable. Yeah. That's the next big thing to grapple with. And I don't have any clear answers here. 

If someone asks why I continue on doing what I do I can assure you that it's not to pay the bills, it's not that I think museums will hang my work years from now either. It's because it's what I really know how to do in the moment and that gives me comfort. I guess I'll get it figured out some day but for now I'm just glad I finally figured out that some new gear isn't going to move the game forward in any meaningful way. 

going forward is about greeting the future with enthusiasm and trying new things. That's the secret.

5.18.2022

A Renaissance of Micro Four Thirds Equipment? Yes, but with a different twist than before...

The APS-C, in between format...

 In fairly short order OM Systems (formerly Olympus) dropped the OM-1 on the market, Panasonic followed up last year's launch of the GH5ii with the exciting new video/still hybrid camera for all the rest of us with the GH6, and then Panasonic tossed in a comfortable sale price on one of their most beloved photography oriented cameras of all time, the G9. This week, almost as an afterthought, Panasonic/Leica also delivered a 9mm f1.7 lens that's destined to become the m4:3 standard wide angle lens for V-loggers who want desperately to act in and direct their own videos simultaneously. To cap it all off Panasonic has been doing lens refreshes to take advantage of dual image stabilization and better weather sealing. All of which makes this an exciting time to shop for new cameras --- if you haven't been pulled into the idea that you "need" a full frame system. 

It certainly combats the ever circulating claims that micro four thirds is dead.

I'm going to bet that many of you who come here to read the blog own some sort of m4:3 camera already. The value proposition over the years made it hard to resist. And if you've been interested in low cost/high performance video production for the last five to ten years you certainly know that the GH series from Panasonic has always been the high value proposition. (That being said I have to mention that my favorite video project to date is the one my friend James and I did for our mutual friends at the restaurant, Cantine, which we shot only on Olympus EM5-ii cameras because of their amazing image stabilization and great colors).

The smaller sensor camera sales are certainly picking up these days. Threads on several fora are full of people who've pre-ordered OM-1s and have been waiting patiently and impatiently for delivery. Rumor has it that pre-order demand came in at about 4X expectations! That's either amazing demand or amazingly bad pre-launch market research. We'll probably never know which. 

While many are using the O&P cameras and lenses for as their primary professional and advanced hobbyist choices I think there is something new going on here that I frankly love. I think people have given themselves permission to own multiple camera systems, each of which is "best" at doing one type of thing really, really well. I have several friends who've been tooling up for more work, now that the economy is red hot and recovering even in unexpected places, and they have bought Fuji medium format cameras for very high end work like architecture and studio still life/lifestyle. They still have full frame (35mm frame size) cameras which currently represent their "go to" tools for general work and things like commercial/corporate headshots but who are also picking up Panasonic's GH6s to more easily do video (well) and OM System OM-1s as quick shooting, bright light sports, travel, wildlife and even landscape specialty cameras. 

Birders love the long, sharp OM lenses which bring reach and sharpness in small packages. Videographers like the awe inspiring video capabilities of the GH cameras which have mature surrounding infrastructure of audio interfaces, appropriate lenses and integration features like the full sized HDMI sockets and reliable resistance to production-gutting camera shutdowns caused by internal heating. ( As seen across several major camera brands...).

But the point is that they aren't making severe, binary choices...rather they are assembling multiple systems to match their needs. The right collection of tools for the right jobs. Differently better.

I haven't succumbed to the siren song of the medium format cameras yet. I don't see the need for them in my business. But I know that high resolution full frame cameras have their place, especially for advertising agency clients who want files that can be blown up large,  get endlessly retouched and are stuffed with detail. The fact that out of focus backgrounds are now a twenty year trend and the full frame systems with new generations of less compromised fast lenses makes their use for trendy stuff like this easier makes the format even more popular. 

But at the same time the m4:3 cameras also check many boxes for me. I love the smaller, lighter lenses for those weeks where corporate events have me moving, shooting and moving from the first introductory speech over breakfast in the morning until late in the evenings. Cutting the lens-weight burden by half or two thirds is hugely beneficial. Ditto for traveling across country on small planes, in small rental cars and sometimes on foot.

And when it comes to shooting multi-camera video we've got, in the m4:3 cameras,  cost effective tools that can run for hours, never overheat, have super fast codecs (which effectively means impressive slow motion), less rolling shutter artifacts and brilliant audio interfaces which really work. 

I think many advanced non-pros are also taking advantage of the fact that a selection of different format cameras can be a perfect blend of resources. And having disparate systems at hand can allow one to switch back and forth which, I think, helps people keep from getting bored and losing interest in the craft. 

My preferred "bigger" cameras are the full frame Leica SLx series cameras but my favorite camera to use for just about everything that doesn't need to be big and perfect seems to be the Panasonic G9. It's just more fun. And it makes files that are "almost perfect." 

It's cool to have both systems. And it's a motivation enhancer. Always nice to have a personal system and a "work" system as well. 


5.17.2022

The Leica CL and the Leica TL2 Exit the Camera Arena. Retired. Nothing lasts forever.


I bought two eccentric Leica cameras last year. One was the CL and the other was the TL2. Both are L mount, APS-C cameras and both were getting a bit long in the tooth by the time I decided to buy them. I instantly fell in love with the CL and I'm still mostly ambivalent about the TL2. In fact, I sometimes have a dream in which one of the Kardashians sees me out with the TL2 and Just has to have it. Now! And the Kardashian slips me a cool $25 grand in cash and sashays off with her new toy. I of course take the $25,000 and ship it off directly to Leica to buy some other fun toys.

I learned about the fate of the CL + TL2 from VSL reader/commenter/advisor, Gordon Brown, who is also a Leica user. I suspect he thought I'd be a bit sad to read the news but I'm really not. I didn't see the products as particularly sustainable. Sure, I buy crazy stuff like this but not everyone is so illogical. In fact, I'm betting the entire market for these two cameras numbers in the low four digits.

I thought to take the TL2 out for a jaunt first but when I pulled it out of a drawer I realized that I had forgotten how to do the "punch in" magnification in the menu and after fucking around with it for too long I tossed it onto the camera pile and grabbed the CL instead. A much better choice and an actual, real, usable camera. 

For the last half a week I've been obsessed with smaller sensor cameras and short telephoto lenses. I've been putting a TTArtisan 50mm f1.2 lens on the Panasonic G9 and then switching out for zanier stuff like the old, Pen FT 60mm f1.5. For today's commemorative Leica CL walk I decided to get some use out of the Sigma Contemporary 56mm f1.4. It's a wonderful lens. So I clicked the lens onto the CL and headed downtown in a baggy pair of short pants and some sort of expensive REI t-shirt that's supposed to keep one cool and dry. It kinda worked. The temperature was in the high nineties and the humidity was becoming...intimate...but it wasn't crippling by any measure.

I'll probably end up keeping the CL until it falls apart in my hands. It's a really swell little camera that in some ways is as endearing as a family dog. It's small, light, has 24 megapixels, is tweaked up with the Leica "color science", works well with all sorts of L mount lenses and adapted lenses and takes an absolutely ubiquitous battery. It's final downfall will not be because I can't source a battery.... And, it's house trained.

The TL2 on  the other hand takes a pricey, Leica only battery which is destined to become as rare as hand made Ferrari 360 Spiders. Or interesting articles about punitive diet regimens. I need to go through its menu one more time, take notes and they produce a series of laminated guide cards so I can continue to use it long enough for it to become a Leica "collector's" item and then I'll sell it off as quick as I can. 

The one thing I'm reasonable certain about though is that the Sigma 56mm f1.4 is very much a keeper. Whichever brand of camera you use it on. Even if I exit the Leica APS-C cameras altogether I'll keep the Sigma Contemporary L mount lenses, mount them on an SL2 and use the camera in the crop mode. 

Here are some images from today; from the CL. Be sure to click on them so you can see them large enough to make it worth the journey.
















Giant Texas BBQ grill. My back yard.




 

5.16.2022

Re-Visiting the equally ancient Olympus Pen FT 60mm f1.5 Lens. This time on a G9. A good excuse for walking around on a hot and steamy day.

 


The 60mm f1.5 Olympus Pen Ft lens was designed to be used on the Olympus half frame film cameras that were introduced back in the 1960's and discontinued in the 1970s. Many of the lenses for that small, compact and efficient system were of very high performance when introduced. And a handful of the standard-to-longer focal length lenses were also made with very fast apertures. My three favorites of the time are the 60mm f1.5, the 40mm f1.4 and the 70mm f2.0. All of these lenses covered the APS-C image circle and amply cover the micro four thirds image circle. 

I originally started buying micro four thirds cameras not because they were small or light or small and light but because the lens flange to sensor distance was small enough to allow the use of adapters to mount my old Pen FT lenses on modern, digital cameras and still keeping the ability to focus to infinity. I've circled back to m4:3 for a variety of reasons but a big part of my decision making it the ability to use my collection of zany old half frame lenses on a current body. This kind of lens adaptation just wasn't possible with DSLR cameras. Not at all. 

A weird trio of mechanical lenses, two on new cameras and the 60mm
sitting right up front. Battery included to both show size and because
I was too lazy to move it out of the frame. There is black tape 
on the barrel of the 60mm because the lens cap that came with it has the 
felt smooshed down and the tape adds some friction to keep the cap on.

While wide angle lenses from the "good old days" show their age with obvious corner unsharpness, lower contrast and a profound propensity for flaring with even the tiniest hint of light or specular highlights in the frame it appears that the telephoto and near telephoto lenses of the day were easier to design and make without having too many obvious faults. The teles tend to age well. 

The Pen FT lenses are all fully mechanical in every sense. There is absolutely no communication between the lens and any camera you use it on. There is no automatic stop down mechanism either. You can focus with the lens wide open and then manually stop it down to the taking aperture you want or you can take your chances and focus with the lens stopped down to that aperture. There are compromises in either direction. I choose to stop the lens down and then focus. That covers, to a certain extent, focus shift. But the greater depth of field lowers your ability to exactly gauge the real point of sharp focus unless you take full advantage of focus magnification via the camera. 

I have, on occasion, used the 60mm f1.5 as a portrait lens on micro four thirds bodies as well as on a few Sony cropped frame cameras --- most notably the New-7. While it's not quite sharp enough when used wide open (at least for my tastes) it does a good job at f2.0 and it's really, really good from f2.8 onward. 

I think the lenses of the time were designed to be of lower contrast, perhaps because many photographers were doing their own darkroom work and could use the lower contrast of the initial image to maintain more apparent dynamic range while being able to fine tune their contrast when they printed their black and white prints. Either with graded papers or with multi-contrast papers. The upshot is that if you want images make with the 60mm to match up with current lenses you'll likely want to add a bit of contrast and make use of the clarity sliders in post production to get a similar effect. But to my way of thinking this lower contrast is a feature and not a "deal-breaker." 

Since I decided to walk yesterday on the spur of  the moment I didn't have time to engage a supermodel with which to test the highest and best use of this lens. That would be using the lens to photograph people. So I had to make due with my usual building shots and downtown errata and ephemerata. I suggest you click on the images to make them pop up bigger. 

I am constantly impressed with how seamlessly older lenses work on Panasonic m4:3 cameras with adapters. The cameras (G9, GH5ii and GH6) prompt the user to enter the correct focal length of a legacy lens when the camera is turned on. This informs the camera of a parameter that is important to the optimal functioning of image stabilization. The cameras also seem to be good at nailing both color and exposure when used in aperture priority mode. 

The 60mm f1.5 is a much sought after lens. Currently minty copies go for a bit over $750. Mine is hardly minty and probably doesn't even qualify as "good." But it's not quite into "bargain" territory yet and I hope to keep it that way. 

The walk was uneventful and gave me lots to time to try and understand my attraction to the GH and G series cameras when I already own various full frame Leica SL(x) cameras and full frame Panasonic cameras. I'll try to cover that in an upcoming post. It's interesting to me that m4:3 format did not die when the online savants predicted it would and in fact is experiencing a renaissance of appreciation these days. 

I'm sure my peers in Japan would not like me to divulge this but according to some sources the m4:3 cameras are the top selling cameras in that country. More advanced and knowledgable camera buyers? Probably. But there's more to the appeal than just momentum...

Click through and see how well lens designers succeeded nearly six decades ago. And ask yourself why lens design isn't even better these days...















I had a reason to photograph this fence/barrier.
It's shiny metal and I wanted to see how the lens handled the specular highlights.
The frame blow is a very tight close up crop of the photo.
Note the flaring of the horizontal strands. I'm going to call that:
Micro flare.



Not a BBQ pit but an auxiliary machine driving fans at a power plant.

Not cropped. Just a tight 120mm equivalent angle of view.

A different optical "feel" to the files than a modern lens delivers.

Bag of fresh coffee for the boy. 

the 60mm f1.5 is more than sharp enough for most work I would use it for with m4:3.
In all the shots with clothing I could easily see the weave of fabric when punching in.
In my book that means "resolution." 

5.15.2022

If it's a hot Sunday then it must be "Vintage Lens Day." Let's go for a walk and see how the ancient Olympus Pen FT 20mm f3.5 lens makes photos.

The Pen FT 20mm f3.5 lens, circa: the late 1960s. 
Photographed by a 17mm f1.4 TTArtisan lens on a GH6
A classic "grab shot".

 Many years ago, back in the early 1980's, I started buying Olympus Pen FT half frame cameras and lenses. They were cheap to buy in those days because people had not yet seriously embarked on niche camera collecting. Bodies in good shape were generally available for around $100 and most of  the lenses were well under that price. One of the lenses I bought back then was laughingly cheap. I think I paid $23 for a well used copy of the G. Zuiko Auto-W 1:3.5 20mm Olympus lens. It had a slow aperture which made accurate focusing with the old cameras a bit of a mess. I tried to tame it but with the tech of the day it was, for me, a lost cause. I stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it for several decades until those two Zany companies, Olympus and Panasonic, engineered the micro four thirds system. It came complete with a short enough flange to sensor distance to accommodate an adapter and still allow my ancient Olympus Pen lenses to focus on infinity. 

I started pulling old lenses out of the drawer but soon found that the early m4:3 cameras didn't do "punch in magnification" and that limited the usefulness especially of the shorter, slower lenses since their apparent depth of field made for sharp looking viewfinder images but woefully out of focus actual files. 

The faster lenses such as the 40mm f1.4 and the 60mm f1.5 stayed out of the drawer and were used on m4:3 cameras as well as Sony cameras like the New-7 and the A7RII. 

I recently re-upped with the m4:3 team and I checked out the focus magnification of the newer cameras and found it to be easy to use and well engineered to breath life back into the lenses that hadn't worked as well on earlier cameras. But I never got around to re-checking the 20mm f3.5 lens until this afternoon. Who knows why? I'd posit laziness but usually I'm pretty disciplined at getting to projects like this. 

At any rate I put the lens on a well proven adapter ring, dressed for the 98° high temperatures, put on a bucket hat and took the G9 and the 20mm f3.5 Olympus Pen lens out for a walk. We are also accompanied by the Oly 60mm f1.5 but its performance today will be covered in a future blog post. Maybe. 

The 20mm lens acts like a 40mm lens in a full frame, 35mm system. But one with an extra dose of depth of field. I noticed that light sources in the shots produced moderate flare and some aperture artifacting but I think that's to be expected since these lenses depended on their photographers using films with anti-halation backings and were not coated with the right coatings to reduce flaring with digital sensors. 

I used focus peaking in addition to image magnification to really hone in on correct focus and I think that was the missing link in my earlier tests; no way to really fine tune at the taking apertures the accuracy of the focusing. Today though I was able to absolutely nail focus even while stopping down to f5.6 or f8.0 and focusing there. Sean Reid imagines that the greatest accuracy when focusing manual lenses such as these is to do your focusing with the lens wide open and then stop down to make the exposure. I, of course, disagree and think that with high magnification and nuanced focus peaking you can reduce focusing error caused by focus shift from stopping down when  focusing at the taking aperture instead. 

Since I can clearly see the texture of the paint on the machine that is the subject of 
this photo I have to say that the lens is very capable of good sharpness performance
when used at f5.6 or f8.0. This image was taken at f8.0

Can a lens add to apparent (not actual) dynamic range?
Well, yes. Of course. Highlights bleed into shadows and vice versa.
The image just above is a good example of this. 


When I blow up the images and look at them on a high res monitor I can see that modern lenses are capable of a bit more sharpness but a LOT more contrast. I found that I can more closely emulate the look of modern lenses by adding contrast to the image and also making generous use of the "clarity" slider in Lightroom. 

While I wouldn't recommend that you go out and search for one of these when there are so many other better lenses in the same focal range I was pleasantly surprised that a lens designed in the 1960s for a film camera can still do a good enough job to pass for "good" in modern times. 

The lens is small, relatively lightweight and looks pretty cool on the front of a modern GH or G series camera. I would caution against using it wide open or stopping it down much past f8.0. But in the sweet spot, with the light coming from over your shoulder, it can still make nice photographs. 

A fun way to get in a 3.5 mile walk, exercise one's distance vision, get acclimated to the coming heat waves, and to see if one's technique can help compensate for an ancient lens. A nice way to spend some time with a camera. 

next up: Is the Pen FT 60mm f1.5 still relevant in 2022? Is it still a sexy portrait lens? Is it worth the current used prices? We'll see.