4.30.2010

Half frame mania. Starring the 150.

This is the rig.  The EPL1 with the Pen (film) 150mm f4.  I got a call from my friend, Keith, asking me to meet for lunch and knowing that he's into the new Olympus Pen cameras I looked through one of the drawers in my equipment cabinet and pulled out a lens to share with him.  I'm not sure the exact year I got my hands on this beauty.....probably in the mid-1980's....but the glass is incredibly clean and the lens looks like it's never been on a camera.  After lunch we headed out to a local museum to play around with out respective cameras.  He brought a very serious Nikon D3x with one of the Nikon Shift lenses and I played the eccentric outsider, bringing the above rig and popping a 38mm f1.8 Pen (film) lens in my pocket.


One of the amazing things about the whole micro four thirds revolution, as presented by Panasonic and Olympus, is the very short distance from the lens mount flange to the sensor in the camera bodies.  This allows people to make adapters for just about any lens from any maker whose lens was designed for a deeper distance between flange and film or flange and silicon.  There are currently adapters that will allow you to use Nikon, Canon, Contax G, Contax N, Leica M, Leica R, Olympus e series and OM series and Pentax K mount lensesFotodiox Lens Mount Adapter, Olympus PEN F Lens to Micro 4/3 Four Thirds System Camera Mount Adapter, Olympus PEN E-P1, PEN E-P2, PEN E-PL1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, GH1, G1, G2, without restriction on the the EP series and the G series cameras.  I originally bought into the new Pen system just so I could use my old Pen film lenses.
So here's my Pen to Pen adapter ring.  It's a whopping $60, which I think is pretty fair given the limited market and the machining required.  When I ordered the adapter ring I didn't have high hopes for the lens performance and I admit I proceeded out of nostalgia more than common sense.  I figured that the normal focal lengths would be pretty good but I though even those would struggle given all the advances that have occurred in lens coatings, CNC machining, optical resins and other cool, technical stuff.  I thought the longer lenses would especially show their age given the advances in ED glass and other tech.  I'll admit that I brought the 150mm along to lunch to tweak my friend given our usual repartee about the sheer poundage of gear he sometimes schlepps around.  After all, the 150mm Pen lens is the equivalent of a 300mm Nikon at 1/5th the size and weight.
A size comparison.  The 38mm Pen versus the Nikkor 50mm 1.2 with its e system conversion adapter.

After a great lunch we headed off to shoot for an hour or so and to compare notes about the new 24mm Nikon TS lens, mounted on a D3x and playing with live view.  Keith is more diligent than I so he took the lead and set up some interesting test shots.  I stumbled around and played with the EPL and the Pen 150.  When I started chimping my shots on the back screen I changed my mind about the older lenses.  

This is an interesting lens.  It's a 50mm to 90mm f3.5 (constant aperture) zoom.  Stop it down to 5.6 and it's really very good.  (above).
We love to talk about pocketable cameras but this is a seriously pocketable 20mm f3.5.  You could actually (but uncomfortably) have a three lens system of old Pen lenses that could fit in the pocket of a pair of relaxed fit Dockers.  If you were willing to wear the Dockers.....
This was the first shot of the day.  I'm stuck in lunch rush traffic on Bee Caves Road.  I shoot some cars through my windshield with the 150 f4.  I wonder why that always freaks out the other drivers.......


So, here's Keith with the power rig:  D3x, Hoodman Loupe, 24mm TSe,  and a pretty cool cap.  He's the kind of photographer I admire because he's out testing his gear and getting comfortable with it BEFORE heading out to a job or off on the trip of a lifetime.  He gets that it takes time and practice to make the hands and brain work together to make great shots.  This is shot with the 150mm at about 15 feet, wide open.  We're in open shade.  I won't show you Keith's shots, that's bad marketing for me....
So while Keith is mastering the Scheimpflug law and the intricacies of lenses that can change their focal plane and move their nodal centers all around I was wandering around shooting things with bright colors.  All of these shots are done with the 150mm lens, handheld, using the A setting on the EPL.  I kept a close eye on the max shutter speed and now I officially want the next camera to go all the way to 1/8000th of a second!
I think you'll agree that the performance is pretty straight forward.  No huge flares, no softness and no weird color casts.  Considering how small and light this puppy is I can see including it in my standard, fine art travel package......
For those for whom the desire for Bokeh is all consuming I present the repeating background, out of focus objects at our widest aperture.  I burned sage as I was shooting this and contemplated sacrificing a small animal in order that the Ephors could divine the len's mystic Bokeh potential but I was short of goats and time.  I'll leave the interpretation of the optic's Bokeh to the more adept........  I like the light bulb.  It's shiny.
Of course,  all the rational critics on DPReview and other sites are absolutely correct:  It is impossible to throw the background of any photograph out of focus unless you are using a "full frame" camera!  I'll keep trying.  
I'm not sure why but there's one website where they review cameras and lenses and they always shoot pictures of gritty rocks to prove or disprove the attributes of their gear under test.  I guess little gritty stuff shows off sharpness or lack thereof.  All I know is that this is what I got, handheld, with the 150mm at its closest focusing distance.
As we left the museum, Keith pointed out these little flowers to me.  I thought I'd shoot em and see if I could drum up any Chromatic Abberation.  Any purple halos.  Any red or green outlines.  Nope.  Just flowers.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe this 40 year old lens is better than most of the consumer type zooms people are racing around with.  The downside of this lens?  It doesn't autofocus......

A request:  If you've read my fourth book:  Photographic Lighting Equipment, would you be kind enough to write a glowing, intriguing review over on Amazon.com?  Of course, if you didn't think it was a very good book you are probably far too busy with other stuff to write a review......

Thanks.  Kirk

Photographic Lighting Equipment: A Comprehensive Guide for Digital PhotographersPhotographic Lighting Equipment: A Comprehensive Guide for Digital Photographers

14 comments:

Daniel Fealko said...

Your writing almost always gives me at least one good chuckle. This article generated several.

I think you'd be a fun one to be out shooting with.

kirk tuck said...

I got a chuckle myself as I was sitting in traffic shooting with my toy lens. The person in front of me must have thought he was the subject of my attention and he started shaking his fist and honking his horn at me. Next, he grabbed his cell phone and pantomined that he WOULD be calling the police. I was terrified? Maybe not. You have to remember that I was driving the elite 2003 Honda Element----which I'm pretty sure is bullet proof and could easily out run his Lamborghini......

Craig said...

Autofocus is overrated...

Robert said...

I love people who think you might be taking their picture, they usually have big egos and think they are worth shooting, or they are conspiracy theorists. any way is there really anything the police could have done if you really were taking his picture on a public roadway.
And I agree autoocus is way overated, and I don't have the patience for it.

kirk tuck said...

I guess you could make the case that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their cars. There are always conspiracy theories. And here in Texas it's not always a "given" that the police understand the various protections offered by the Bill of Rights.....so it can be dicey. Not to mention the number of people who have "carry permits" for handguns......but then, what's life without adventure?

Jeffrey Goggin said...

As coincidence would have it, I'm actually considering replacing my collection of m4/3 bodies and lenses with a D3X and a pair of lenses. I don't suppose you two did any head-to-head comparisons between the two cameras? Acquiring minds need to know!

kirk tuck said...

They are two such different animals that I think they define bipolar. The m4/3's are light, nimble and stealthy. The D3x is big, heavy, and obvious. The files from the D3x absolutely eclipse in quality anything you'll get from m4/3rds or cropped sensor cameras when it comes to sheer detail and resolution. The high end of the EP2 line comes in around $1000 and that includes a lens. The D3x has steadfastly held it's price at $8000.

I look at it like this: You have a motorscooter that's fun to ride (even funner with a pretty girl on the back) and it's cheap to buy and gets great gas mileage. On the other hand you have a big, black Range Rover with tinted windows and bullet proofing.

It's okay to have both. They serve two different purposes. And together, they bring balance to the universe (sorry Quigon......).

Nick said...

I've been having a lot of fun with my E-P1 and the little Pen F 38mm f/1.8. It's a little short for portraits, theoretically, but I've sure got some nice pictures of my newborn baby son with it.

The big downside for me is that I can't use it while walking my dog; manual focus is not compatible with leashes.

Jeffrey Goggin said...

Yes, of course the m4/3 cameras and D3X are as different as chalk and cheese. In fact, they're so different the odds that anyone will ever compare them to each other directly are quite remote, which is why I was curious as to whether you had, in fact, done so.

While I am happy enough with the performance of my m4/3 cameras (G1, two GF1s, E-P1, and E-PL1) and collection of 4/3-format lenses (Oly 7-14, 14-35, 35-100 zooms, as well as the wonderful PanaLeica 14-50 zoom from the DMC-L1 and let's not forget the Panasonic 20mm), the bottom line is that I've started using them in ways that are well outside their design brief (i.e., tripod-based nighttime photography using long exposures) and as a result, I have been looking for alternatives that will better meet my needs.

I really would like to move up to a digital back for my view camera and while their not inconsiderable expense isn't an insurmountable obstacle for me, I've come to realize that none of those on the market today will work for my purposes because the three additional stops necessary to achieve the same DoF with a larger sensor as I achieve with an m4/3 camera require a corresponding three additional stops of exposure and that's simply unworkable given that I'm starting with 15-60 second exposures as it is.

So I've been looking at the D3X as a possible compromise between the two: Larger files, with more bit depth, but a sensor that requires only one additional stop to achieve the same DoF I have now; considerably greater dynamic range; a good selection of lenses; and Live View, which is a necessity for me. The fact that it's also larger, heavier, and more costly than any m4/3 camera body is unfortunate, but I can live with these factors if it meets my needs otherwise.

Anyway, I'm pointing all of this out just so that should our paths ever cross, you won't write me off as being completely insane. :-)

Paco Vargas said...

Great read Kirk. I bought my E-PL1 to use with different types of old lenses. May I ask where did you buy the adapter and would you say that the electronic viewfinder is a must with these type of lenses?

Thanks, I really enjoy stopping by to read what you have to say about the digital pens.

- Paco

kirk tuck said...

Hi Paco,

If you can use a Hoodman loupe or other thing to block the light on the LCD panel on the back of the camera then I don't think it's absolutely necessary to have the EVF but it sure is nice....

I bought the Pen adapter from a guy who sells them on e-bay but I recommend going to Amazon because the prices have fallen and I like the way Amazon does business and guarantees their sub-merchants.

kirk tuck said...

Jeffrey,
I'm hardly one to point fingers. As the photo spirits move me I am as likely to reach for a Pen camera, a 4:3rds Olympus camera (I rarely go anywhere without my 14-35 and my 35-100!!!) or a Canon 5dmk2, or a Kodak SLR/n. Hell, I even keep three Rollei 6000 series cameras and a bag of Zeiss lenses around. I know from experience that I shouldn't make it an "all or nothing" proposition because I change my mind.....alot. That's part of it being an art and not a science.....

Christopher Polis said...

Jeffrey,

ยต4/3 (or 4/3 for that matter) to FX is ~two stops of DoF, not one.

Brian S said...

Thanks for the reviews of various legacy lenses.

I use adapted OM lenses on 4/3, but it would be interesting to see how Pen lenses work given they were made for the same "sensor" size. Are they noticeably smaller than older 35mm lenses?

I was able to pick up an OM-2 with Olympus 50mm f1.8, a 35mm f2.8, and 135 f2.8 lenses for a very reasonable price locally. I already had an OM 50mm f1.4 and adapter. The OM camera with 3 lenses and a couple rolls of film weigh about the same as the 50-200mm Zuiko lens.

The 135 f2.8 is a compact lens, a decent performer, sells for reasonable prices, and gives the FOV of a 270mm lens on 35mm. It comes with me most of the time just in case I need some extra reach but don't want to carry the larger digital lens.

I may need to look into the EP camera series to complete a light weight travel kit and gain some video capabilities.