An experimental afternoon with a Sony camera and a Hasselblad lens....

On the bridge.

I'd read a lot of stuff on the web recently by people who think the only way to control depth of field is by using full frame cameras.  I can't understand why these people, who are so emotionally attached to the visual effect of very narrow depth of field don't just shoot large format but who can understand another person's mind?

I went out this afternoon with my cropped Sony a77 camera and a Hasselblad lens to make some images while thinking about depth of field.  The lens I chose was a venerable Hasselblad 150mm f4.  At first I was nervous to use the lens wide open because it's very old, not even a "CF" lens and so I imagined that it would not be sharp or contrasty when used at its maximum aperture.  I was, of course, quite wrong.

The photo at the top of the blog is a quick portrait of a person passing by.  I asked him if he would stop to be photographed and he readily agreed.  He was in magnificent physical shape and I loved the look of his sunglasses.  Looks to me as though the background is nicely out of focus even though we're in bright sun....  We could have increased the effect by using a faster lens, like the Hasselblad 150mm F series f2.8 but I like what I've got here. There are limits to the effectiveness of every style or technique....

We took four frames and then my "model" got on with his walk. The best narrow depth of focus I ever saw, as an effect was by a photographer who used Nikon's legendary (and no longer available) 300mm f2.0 lens.  It was enormous and awkward but if you wanted razor thin DOF you couldn't go wrong...  They retailed for $29,000 when they were introduced... 

This is not a crop.  It's the full frame.  When I grabbed this lens out of the drawer I thought I'd be getting something interesting but I didn't know that, wide open, it would be this sharp.  You see, it's not my main 150mm Hasselblad lens which I've owned since new but a back-up lens I bought used from Precision Camera here in Austin for around $249.  The Hasselblad to Sony adapter I bought from Fotodiox for another $69.  The lens is a black paint, late C lens with T-star coatings.

I also stopped in at Whole foods to shoot some produce.  I was interested in how the lens would work at its closest focusing distance and I was interested in how the Sony would perform under the low, mixed lighting.

Interestingly, they both seem to do pretty well...

I couldn't pass up the bakery.  The cakes make wonderful subjects for photography.  Sadly, no free samples were forthcoming...

Back on the bridge I ran into this joyous couple.  A photographer and his vivacious model.  I was happy with the performance of the both the Sony's rapid focus peaking and the easy focusing of the Hasselblad optical system. 

And finally,  I was reminded of why I love living in Austin.  A laid back, adventurous and fun town with lots of little nooks and crannies to surprise us.  That's the old Lamar Bridge over Town Lake.  I love its design.

Lesson for today?  Old stuff is good stuff.  New stuff is good stuff.  It's all meaningless unless you go out and use it.

Mr. A.M.,  Thanks for the glass of wine and the fun conversation at the Whole Foods bar.  Nice way to spend time.  


  1. Definitely a nice look! Kai Wong would say: "Bokehlicious!"

  2. Austin is just a Feast for the Eyes! Your Images make me Smile, whenever you have been out on the streets with your Contraptions! Up here in KC, we have had such a mild winter and wonderful Spring, we may give Texas a run for the money with the number of Sunny and Bright Days we get. Be Safe, Stay Young in Spirit & give the iPhone Photographers some slack!

  3. "It's all meaningless unless you go out and use it."
    That's the truth in a nutshell.

  4. I don't understand the attitude towards crop-frame cameras regarding DOF either. I recently shot photos with a crop-frame DSLR using an "old" 50mm f/1.8 lens that has been superceded by a newer design. The aperture I used was around f/3.5-4. My shots featured lots of nice, out-of-focus areas with lovely bokeh. I've been quite happy with the results produced by my crop-frame DSLR. No full-frame camera needed by me. I'll enjoy using what I've got.

  5. What gets to me is the use of "equivalence" with regards to depth of field. With the recent release of the Panasonic 2.8/12-35mm and the Olympus 1.8/75mm, I have read repeatedly of the "f/2.8, equivalent to a Dof of f/5.6 on FF" (Thom Hogan, I'm looking at you). If true, that's a two stop difference I don't understand which I don't believe for one minute. No-one I know of has set up an experiment where they've shown explicit depth-of-field marks against equivalent focal lengths using different sized sensors.

    If I were to run this experiment I would use my OM 4/65-200mm on my OM-4 against the ZD 50mm macro on my E-3. The OM would be zoomed out to 100mm, and both set to f/4. It would not be definitive (you would need to run tests across multiple focal lengths and apertures), but it would be enough to determine if there is such a thing as this equivalence, and if there is anything close to a two-stop difference.

    I'm not inclined to run this experiment because I don't care.

    1. It's not worth thinking about too hard, but the easiest way for me to picture it is that they are the same depth of field if you are the same distance away from the subject, but the smaller sensor has a smaller field of view. Put a 50mm lens on medium format, or full frame, or 4/3 camera and focus on a piece of grass 3 feet away at f2.8, you get the same dof, same subject separation. But on the medium format you get a wide view, on full frame you get a normal view, and on the 4/3 camera you get a short telephoto view. When you back up with your 4/3 sensor camera to get the same field of view as the full frame camera, depth of field decreases by half.

    2. Or I should say the depth of field doubles. Whatever. : )

  6. Oh, I forgot to mention, that first portrait is very very nice.

  7. Yes! The first portrait is wonderful - the old rule of getting closer to the subject always rings true!

  8. Really nice shots Kirk, who say's old lenses are not sharp enough and don't render well like today's modern gear? Proof, if it was needed, that it pays to go out and experiment with what you've already got rather than simply just buy more gear every time.

  9. Emjoyed your shots especially first portrait. I am new to Sony cameras and exploring all opportunities for using Minolta lenses. I have Sony a57 and bought used Tamron 90 Macro and Minolta 28 and 50 Used. Love the Tamron for portraits and macro.Can you finds deals on old Hasslblad galls like old Minoltas ? Of course less supply of Hasslblad and not likely to be found at garage sales ? Any other specific Hasslbald lenses you would recommend for A77 or rumored A99 full frame SLT ? I followed your link from Dpreview Sony forum.

  10. The argument against cropped sensor cameras in terms of out of focus areas is usually blown out of proportions in my opinion. However, earlier this week I was stunned by some pictures taken at wide angles with shallow depth of field. The options for blurring a background with a wide angle (w/ crop) are almost non existent, whereas the options for blurring at a longer focal length are pretty well figured out. To do something similar to the 28 f1.8 or 24 1.4 with full frame is impossible with a crop sensor camera with the current lenses.

    I hope that nikon, sony, canon, olympus (although they already have a 12mm f2 that can produce interesting results), and others will produce wide fast primes for their 'crop' formats.


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