Enough love showered on the Sony RX10. Now I turn my attention to the NIKON !!!!!

©2014 Kirk Tuck. Do not reproduce.

By Austin Photographer, Kirk Tuck ©2014

Yeah. You heard me. I said, "Nikon." But no, I don't mean the ponderously large cameras or the antiquated camera mirror antics. No, when I say "Nikon" I mean Nikon lenses for my micro four thirds cameras. Today I was packing up to go and photograph some kids at Project Breakthrough so we could select one of the kids for the cover of the annual report. (Project Breakthrough is a non-profit organization that prepares underserved high school and middle school students for successful college careers...).

I put together a really small and straightforward kit but enough to do exactly what the comprehensive layout and the attending art director asked for. I took a Panasonic GH3 to shoot with and a second one as a back up. I grabbed the kit lens, the 45-150mm lens, the 40mm and 60mm high speed Pen lenses and, just for grins I tossed an old Nikon 50mm 1.4 (pre-au), rigged on a couple adapter rings, into the the bag.  I took a couple of flashes but assumed (correctly) that I would only need a manually set Sony A-58 HVL flash firing into a big, 72 inch umbrella, triggered by a Flash Waves radio set.

My intention was to use the 60mm 1.5 lens as my primary lens and have the others along in case someone chimed in with, "as long as you are here would you mind shooting......XYZ ???"  But when I started setting up that old, battered Nikon lens kept calling out, "Try me. Try me."

Of course it was just the right focal length and these color corrected but otherwise un-retouched images tell the story. The lens is sharp, well balanced and gives a very smooth rendering to the various tonalities. It's a different look than the exaggerated over sharpness I see in lots of modern lenses. The ancient Nikon, shot at f2.8 is subtly rounded in its rendering while delivering detail you can see in the enlargement of our subject's eye, below. 

When used properly the GH3 is a wonderful camera. The files are neutral and transparent and, I think as good as anything out in the market at 16 megapixels. At least on par with the Olympus OMD EM-1. The camera requires the operator to make good choices and to use good technique. I find it to be equally transparent in its usability. It just gets out of the way and facilitates the process for me. It's an interesting choice of camera. Even more so if you are also inclined to want to make lovely video files...

I have three Nikon lenses left over in my drawer. I tried the 50mm 1.4 today. I have an older 55mm f3.5 micro lens and a 58mm 1:1.2 Nocto Nikkor and I look forward to testing each of them on the pixie-style camera bodies. You never know what you'll find when you mix stuff up.

©2014 Kirk Tuck. Do not reproduce.

I guess I read a lot of lens reviews that are done by people who photograph watches and wheat stalks and micro fine wiring harnesses. Clockwork and landscapes, intricate weavings and giant, industrial architecture. They all seem to like their lenses sharper than wire through cheese. And sharp everywhere, even in the hidden parts of a photograph. Seems like scalpel level sharpness is the general vogue.  

Portrait photographers might do well to break from the herd and seek other metrics of lens selection. Everyone would benefit from trying a number of lenses in the focal lengths that are most important to them and then choosing the ones that feel right to them. In a way it's like selecting wines. Some people like big, bold, high alcohol content, Cabernet Sauvignons while others enjoy softer but more complex wines. 

We can be like that in photography if we are mindful and fully engaged with our choices. 

No. I will not pick out lenses for you!

(Note, these files are reduced from their original size to a maximum of 1500 pixels on a long edge in order to fit in the parameters of the Google Blogger format. I will note that the detail in the originals, while not bombastic and obvious, does go on and on).


Racecar said...

Excellent observation. A little softness in a portrait is a good thing. I recall buying a softening filter for my 135mm "portrait lens" which deliberately softened the images. Another trick was to spread Vaseline on the front of a UV filter to soften images. Sharpness has it's place i.e. product photography, medical photography, etc. but I love a good portrait made with diffused light, and not-so-sharp optics. Sharp focus is an option, but not a requirement in a good portrait.

ajcarr said...


Whilst you're on an old glass binge :-), why not look for a Soviet Helios-44K on the web? It's a Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2 in a Pentax K-mount (most Helios-44 lenses are M42 screw with varying degrees of compatibility with modern bodies; you want the 44K variant with the K-mount). Not KA, so you'll have to use stop-down metering on the K-01 ('Green Button'). On APS-C, 58mm is about 90mm-e, perfect for portraits, and f/2 is nice and speedy. I just bought one and it seems to operate OK on a K-01 and K-5, but I haven't used it in anger yet.

I cut my SLR teeth back in the 1970s using a Zenit-E with a preset (not even auto stopdown) Helios-44-2, and it was a fine lens. I must dig out my old Pentacon (Meyer-Optik Görlitz) preset 135mm f/2.8 to try via an M42-K-mount adaptor.


Anonymous said...

Kirk, how do you get the skin to be so smooth without retouching? Is it the light, the aperture or the model?


Anonymous said...

These shots are great! Very natural looking.


Wally Brooks said...

It comes down to knowing your craft. Knowing means taking time shooting, making some bad images along the way and figuring out what works for your vision. There is no shortcut for the journey. Really nice images and given the adapters on the market it opens up the possibility of lots of experimentation!

Gato said...

Reminds me of something I heard an old-timer say about Leica lenses -- "always sharp, but never too sharp."

Especially for portraits I have always looked for lenses that could capture fine detail without becoming to "hard" or "edgy." Looks as if you have found one.

Often these days I cheat, adding just the tiniest bit of blur in Photoshop after my final sharpening.

Mike Peters said...

Hey Kirk, you'll find that 55 3.5 micro to be amazingly sharp, I have one of the really old ones with the chrome dof ring, must be over 40 years old and it just crushes the Leica 45 macro in terms of sharpness. I picked up an old 50 1.4 for 45 bucks a few years ago, and it was my go to lens for portraits on the GH2.

Now I have a couple of old Canon FD lenses, a 24 f2, 50 1.4 and a 135 f2, which all have a very different look than new glass, softer, yet still sharp and good contrast, but not too much. Just right. Old glass is excellent.



I've found the 3.5 Micro Nikkor to be a fantastic lens on my G3, light due to its modest front element, has it's own lens hood included, and crazy sharp even wide open.

Dave said...

One of my favorite Nikons to throw on M43 has been the lowly 75-150mm f/3.5 zoom. Not as sexy as the wide aperture primes but a lens of great contrast and resolution close to the hallowed 70-200 VR. For $60 or so its a ton of fun. I too have the 55mm f/3.5 micro and love it, but nearly so much as the 75-150.

Soeren Engelbrecht said...

I absolutely agree - this portrait of my niece, Anya, was shot using a similarly old Nikkor 50/1.4 on an E-PL1. I set the lens to F/2 or F/2.8.


Dave Jenkins said...

I really like the Olympus OM 50mm f1.8 on my m4/3s cameras for portraits. The 90mm M-Zuiko is more convenient, but I think I prefer the rendering of the 50.

MO said...

Best photo i have seen from you in a long time:) It is doing it for me! I only carry lenses with a "signature" i like at assignments with people shots. sold my 70-200is II to get an old 200mm 1.8. and a 70-200 f4 without is when i need a zoom. Same prize different package.

All in love with potografing, could learn from your thought in this post.

Sharpnes i mostly overrated in todays photohype.