7.02.2015

Back to the crack. I mean gear. I've been testing a prototype zoom lens that's under wraps. I think it must be a Zeiss Otus Zoom lens because it's very heavy and very good...


Amazing. Micro-contrast within micro-contrast. At 20mm it's at least 87.5% sharper across the frame than the Zeiss 21mm f2.8 prime. The color purity redefines delta. The coatings must be the tiny particles that together make up nano-crystals only mixed with gold and platinum to resist both flare and the dreaded banality coefficient. 

It was a dark and stormy night and even though it was humid, and the mercury had come to rest near the ninety degree mark, the man in sunglasses who approached me was wrapped in a black trench coat and had his wide brimmed hat pulled down to drop the rest of his face into shadows. "Are you Tuck?" He asked with a trace of a growl and more than a dash of some Germanic accent. I nodded my head and waited. He thrust a small package into my hands. It was wrapped in brown paper and secured with twine. It felt heavy. Dense. Expensive.

The mysterious man nodded curtly and said, "The boys at the lab would love for you to shoot this and write about your results. But be careful. What's in this box is capable of such high sharpness there is the chance that the wrong sort of use might actually slice your eye." With that he turned and stepped into a black sedan and peeled out of the parking lot of the Seven-Eleven convenience store where I had gone for my working photographer's microwaved, burrito diner. I went without the luxury of a meal (such is the fate of the freelancer in this era....) and headed home to open the package in the privacy and security of my tiny, cramped office.

I locked the deadbolt and turned on the old, flickering desk lamp which threw a tiny beam of troubled light onto a desk piled high with bills and cancellation notices. I pushed the rejection letters for my books off to one side, to create space, and set the package down. It was no bigger than the boxes that camera lenses come in. I hesitated and then pulled the John Ek, EK4 KA-BAR commando knife from its sheath on my right ankle and sliced through the twine. I carefully peeled through the brown paper with the tip of the blade and then opened the plain, black box inside. There, nestled in Andalusian, model grade, foam peanuts was
a lens with all of its branding and markings black out and obscured. It glistened and gleamed as it seem to catch the weak, tired light from the desk lamp and return it, renewed, to my eyes.

A terse note read: "Wide Angle Zoom for Nikon. Recommend it be used on the D810. Do not place a sharpness robbing "protection" filter on the front if you want to savor the true optical experience."

I turned the lens around and around in my hands. It was dense and the build quality was unlike anything I'd experienced in my years of handling nice photography gear. I was so anxious to try the lens but I was also weak from hunger and would need to wait until the next day to try the lens with my Nikon D810 because the electricity I was using to run the desk lamp, and with which I charged batteries, came to me via an unapproved loan from my next door neighbor. I had run a small gauge extension cord to one of his outside outlets in the dead of a dark night and buried the cord as well as I could in the velvety soft turf of his perfectly manicured lawn. I didn't want to use the charger and lamp at the same time because a tripped breaker might have unveiled my electrical larceny. Such is the nature of freelancing in dire times....

I still couldn't vouch for the origin of this lens but I went to sleep dreaming that Zeiss had made the ultimate Otus zoom and I was to be the person tapped to test it's unlimited potential. Amazing dreams. The next morning I put the battery in the Nikon D810 and then I fitted the lens on. It slid on like platinum on gold, and locked in with a satisfying click. I held my breathe, turned on the camera and then looked through the finder, and then had to quickly sit down in order to prevent fainting. There it was! The lens we've all been dreaming about. Magnum. Cold Blue Steel. Suddenly my micro-contrast had nano-contrast and my nano-contrast has sub-atomic contrast. I could see things revealed in the objects all around me (though the optical viewfinder) that I had never discerned with my naked eyes; and with a clarity that was so unusual it was frightening. 

Through a series of highly advanced mathematical computations I was able to discern that the lens covers a range from 20mm to 40mm on a full frame DSLR. And it's very fast: f2.7 at the widest angle. I took it apart and analyzed each element with an interferometer and found one element in the mix to be a glass aspheric. Chemical analysis shows the rest of the optical elements to be made from Lanthanum glass and Nitrozaminez glass which is only created under extreme pressures, undersea, at depths of over 20,000 feet. Since every element is seated in a titanium/zorbite mount it was easy to reassemble and continue using the lens without putting it out of tolerance. 


This afternoon I made a big walking circuit around downtown Austin with the lens and a Nikon camera. When this particular lens is attached to the camera it begins to take over the firmware and embedded, basic instruction sets of the camera, and makes automatic improvements in all areas of image generation. Almost as if the lens is assimilating a lesser design and reconfiguring it for much finer image quality. While I see .0009% Sagittal dissolution beyond wide open the lens/sensor combo brooks no degradation from optimum theoretical specifications. The lens draws with a vituperative elegance!

Having a test chart handily folded and stuck in my back pocket I proceeded to do the lab tests that the lens cognoscenti find so alluring. At the optimum aperture of f 4.33, at the widest focal length, we are clearly resolving more than 350 lines per millimeter. Can you see it? It's right there in the graph!!! Zooming in to the maximum focal length of 40mm (40.31 actual measured) the resolution drops slightly to  349 lines per millimeters, leading us to recommend staying a bit wider than 40mm for best performance. 

In the process of making Gargantua Prints(tm) I did find that the resolution of the lens far exceeded the ability of sensor in the D810. I switched immediately to the Canon 5dr but it still wasn't able to match the lens, and the underwhelming dynamic range of the vintage, Russian copy sensor left me equally underwhelmed. It was only when we snuck on to a NASA facility in Houston and stole a prototype imaging sensor, made by (the black ops devision of) Kodak, that we were finally able to start banging against the edges of the lens's capabilities. The sensor resolves nearly 280 megapixels and the lens, wide open, was just beginning to show some anomalies at that point. Of course, being handheld may have been a mitigating circumstance. 

Usually, when I am testing a camera and lens combination I am careful to dig way down down to bedrock, and then drop in rebar, and then build up a structure to shooting height made of tungsten rods and concrete. It is on this isolated monolith which to put the dense, spent plutonium, tripod head, which is so effective at dampening vibrations....

But here I am rattling on when there are ample test images to show off and evaluate. If you are interested I have all of the 280 megapixel images available as NASA 16 bit uncompressed raw files at about a terabyte apiece, but: remember this! Your computer has to be anchored to bedrock to eliminate the insidious electronic vibrations that could  interfere with your accurate visual evaluation.  Check out the images and then we'll catch up at the end!

Most images shown here required a Gaussian Blur of about 9 to 10 just to be viewable by the naked eye. Anything less blurred could be blinding by the nature of its acutance...

the colorful, brick wall test.

the secondary waiting room in the foyer of the VSL headquarters.



future Zombies. In Hibernation.

Yes. In Austin we can actually sell you the seasons. Really.


The lens is so powerful in its capabilities that it renders the photographer invisible. As seen clearly in the above image.   

Men running in fear from the savage sharpness of the lens at its longest focal length. 

buildings bending backward in awe of the lens....


Well. This is a little embarrassing. I was convinced that the lens I had in my hands was the newest Zeiss/Leica collaboration; the Otus-icron wide angle zoom. But after regaining consciousness this afternoon I made a dreadful discovery that will forever mute my appreciation of the lens. It was, in fact, not a noble, German lens but an almost worthless, older zoom lens from the 1990s. And not even one made by a prestige name. 

Seems that the entire time I was shooting with the new omni lens I was actually shooting with a used, 20-40mm f2.7-3.5 Tamron SP lens. Something I picked up for around $100 at the camera store's used equipment desk yesterday or the day before. 

With the realization of the provenance of the lens all of the pictures became at least 50% less sharp, 100 % less sharp in the corners and plagued with all sorts of deadly and incurable distortions. Now I've come to realize that the lens I've been shooting is totally incapable of rendering any sort of useful image. Ah. Oh well. I guess I'll keep it around as a symbol of my many follies as a lens tester.....

I was having a tough time believing the micro contrast versus bokeh intersection numbers anyway. 

Do you ever feel as though discussion on some sites, regarding the difference between two really great lenses, is more a discussion akin to how many camels can dance on the head of an angel who is trying to fit through the eye of a needle??? than real understanding?  A lot of ultra hot air chasing a phantasm though a house of cards?  

Seriously though, I remembered reading good things about the Tamron SP series 20-40mm, and when I saw one on sale for the price of a good steak dinner (with a glass of drinkable wine) I took a gamble and bought it. It's pretty amazing and well done. Especially considering the price. Amazing temporal hubris to believe that all current lenses are better than any of the stuff in the market twenty years ago. Just remember all the warp drive engines in the space ships in Star Wars. And that was a long time ago....

(imagine type scrolling off the top of the screen.....)

Hey! J.J. Abrams!!! Option my novel, "The Lisbon Portfolio" and I'll help you write the screenplay. What fun we could have..... Really.

Bottom line about the lens? All satire.


15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Um. Fucking. Brilliant. Because it's so true.

Ed Posthumus said...

:-))

Craig said...

"With the realization of the provenance of the lens all of the pictures became at least 50% less sharp..."

This made me laugh out loud for the first time today. Thanks. Much appreciated.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

LOL... time- and priceless, and also a good glimpse into your novel writing skills. Oh, but I envy you because of your secondary waiting room...

KeithM said...

Thanks Kirk - I needed a good laugh today - and you provided it!

Peter F. said...

Give us a porn pic of the lens, Kirk! Plus I'm ready for your second novel.

Peter F.

streetlevelphotography.com said...

That's brightened up the day!

Rufus said...

Accepted internet wisdom is that the D810 will break into a million pieces and the gods of photography will weep unless you only use the finest quality glass.

I always thought that was BS.

I clicked around with a D810 and an old 35-70 Nikon 2.8D the other day. It was lovely.

G Gudmundsson said...

Wonderful post! Thank you!!!!

David Zivic said...

I also got a glimpse of your writing style. Can't wait to get a copy of your new book, but inMexico that's a challenge.
When I switched from Nikon to Sony mirrorless I bought an EF mount Zeiss. I also bought a German adapter and kept my Nikon glass...much of it older. Nothing here to knock the quality of Nikon, but there is no reason for me to run a comparison test between the two. Zeiss is off the charts and worth the extra cost.

Mike Rosiak said...

Okay, Kirk, just how long have you been waiting for a chance to use "vituperative" in a sentence?

Loved the biting, though veiled, sarcasm, and the hints of yet another spy/adventure novel in the offing.

Kirk Tuck said...

Still waiting to use, "loquacious".

Michael Matthews said...

That first image is a pretty magical shot.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Michael beat me to it: that first image is superb.

Thanks -- John Griffin

Brad Nichol said...

Kirk, you really missed your calling, you should be writing for one of the high end HiFi mags, you would fit right in! 😀