8.06.2016

An interesting normal lens that fits the Sony A7 just right.


non-photographic ramblings: After a long July, in which I worked too much and swam too little, I've been conscientiously back in the pool and trying to be diligent about making it to the early morning workouts. It's Summer in Austin so even with the water chillers running the pool is still on the warm side. Today the water temperature was 83.5 degrees. A bit toasty for swimming fast, long distances.  Our coach modified the workout by incorporating lots of sets of 50 yard swims, mixing up the freestyle with other strokes to keep us engaged. 

It's a Saturday tradition for some of us to go out for coffee after the workout. We catch up with each other's lives and talk about swimming, pool politics and, where appropriate, the Olympics. Today one of our crew detoured over to the farmer's market nearby to pick up a bag full of TacoDeli breakfast tacos. I went with an egg, cheese and black bean version. Most Austinites would agee that TacoDeli breakfast tacos are the Leica of breakfast tacos.... 

I'm working on a new discipline in my swimming. I am eschewing all the extraneous swim gear, like fins, hand paddles and pull buoys in order to concentrate solely on stroke mechanics for the next few months. While most of our workouts are straight swimming we do use swim gear to enhance various parts of our training. I've just decided I've been leaning on the toys a bit too much and should spend more time distilling down the techniques dealing with body position, hand entry geometry and stroke timing.  So far, it seems to be working. Time will tell. I've resigned myself to the idea that I'm never going to go as fast as Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. 

on to the photographic rambling: First up, an amazing public admission of spectacular gear excess. Not on my part but by a well known, west coast photographer. I was looking at my Facebook feed and there on my screen was a post from a luminary in our field who wanted to show off what he was packing in his bags for some travel assignment or workshop. He is a Nikon "Ambassador" so I wasn't surprised that his gear was all Nikon. It was the sheer overkill that made my head reel. It's almost like the advertising manager sat next to him and read off a list of stuff they'd like to promote and had the photographer pack it in.  We're talking six camera bodies (including the latest D5s) and ten big, brand new professional zooms of various focal ranges. And we are talking about a lot of overlap between focal ranges. 

I have no idea what this photographer is running off to shoot but I doubt he'll be doing much running with the 40 or 50 pounds of gear he's toting. I get the need for back up cameras and the idea of using separate bodies for individual lenses but even the most ardent gear addicts might draw the line at wearing six heavy cameras, sporting six even heavier lenses, with three more lenses in the bag, just in case. It's funny because at the same time, over on Petapixel, there was a profile of a veteran Olympic sports photographer who was showing off the gear he was taking to Rio. Three bodies. Four lenses. A bunch of CFast memory cards and ..... that's about it. What could our art photographer friend be hunting that might require more gear (over 100% more) than a veteran sports photography professional shooting with the experience of three Olympics under his belt?

I guess I found the whole thing hilarious (and sad) because the gear-happy photographer was so obviously proud of his mountain of glass and metal, and I had just written a blog about the changing targets and changing gear. The idea that our jobs have changed and DON'T require that kind of portage commitment. Now, none of this is intended to malign the photographer's talent; he's really a good picture maker, but he weakens his case as a real talent by making his connection and commercial relationship with Nikon so blatantly obvious. It was a mercantile Facebook post and that's the best I can do. 

a follow on thought: There is a pervasive idea of professional courtesy that we blogger/photographers seem to extend to one another. In a way it's dishonest. I wasn't going to write what I just did about the gear nut because I thought some of his fans would put two and two together and roast me for being critical of the photographer's choice in slut parading his Nikon inventory as though it was a requirement for a real assignment. And it is true that everyone has different inventory comfort levels when they go on assignment. On the other hand a post like the one delivered to social media leads legions of other photographers (aspiring new professionals, hobbyists, etc.) to believe that kind of heedless excess is a normal and everyday part of being a "real" professional photographer when nothing could be further from the truth. No one needs the sheer inventory vulgarly displayed there and to not comment on it is, in a way, a backhanded complicity in the over reaching marketing of photo gear in our time.  It boarders on reverse marketing: The idea that Nikon cameras are so unreliable that a pro might need many back-ups just to cover butt...

Two cameras and three lenses will handle all but the most specialized jobs. Everything else is just a free advertisement for the manufacturer.  Ah well. I will now put the fire extinguisher next to my desk and await the fury of the perceptive fans of said gear jockey. I still think he would be just as well served with a nice bridge camera.... (kidding, just kidding ---- hmm.)

and now, on to what I am interested in today.  Another manual focusing lens cobbled onto a Sony A7ii. After my successes with two different Contax/Zeiss lenses attached to Sony full frame cameras, and after having received ample compensation for projects completed in the last few months, I decided to "reward" myself by scrounging around and looking at a few other lenses from the same brand and era. Nothing to see at my local resource, Precision-Camera.com, but a few interesting used products over at KEH.com (the big, used equipment store in Atlanta). I looked at 85mm lenses and I looked at wide angles but nothing really tweaked my interest until I came across the tiny and super light weight Zeiss Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens for the older Contax (Y/C) cameras. I think I was mostly interested because of the small profile of the lens and how apt it looked in conjunction with small, A7 style body. 

I found a "mint" version and decided to order it and see what makes this lens tick, if anything. It's the antithesis of a previous lens I owned, the Sigma 50mm ART lens. That lens has pounds and pounds of miracle glass, many elements, much gravitas and a very fast aperture. When I shot with it I was mostly busy trying to nail exact focus with the last century focusing mechanisms of my Nikons. Once in a while everything would click and I'd pull out and image that was beautiful and striking because of the lens's ability to be shot wide open, drop focus all the way out of the background but to still be sharp where I wanted it to be sharp. Very sharp, even wide open... 

On the other hand the Zeiss 45mm Tessar is an ancient design that uses only four elements. Hard to even imagine in this day and age...  It weighs about as much as the lens cap and back cap of the Sigma 50mm f1.4, and it's actually small enough to fit in a pants pocket with room left over for a Zippo lighter and a pocket knife with a corkscrew. 

I've been using K&F Concepts lens adapters that I found on Amazon.com for my growing Contax lens collection. They are a whopping $19 and seem to work well. They might not be totally accurate (flange distance) so if you are using the hyperfocal settings on the lens ring I'd stop down an extra stop just to make sure you cover the tolerance slop.

As you can see in the photo above the focusing ring is very narrow and certainly takes some time and experience to get used to. The aperture ring near the rear of the lens is wider and easier to handle but it is what it is. The front and rear elements are tiny. Or maybe they are "normal" in size and we've just been getting used to outrageously big front elements in our willing participation in the marketing dance to sell faster and faster lenses.


On the Sony A7ii the focus peaking does a decent job but for images were I need to know for sure that we've achieved all the sharpness I think we can wring out of this lens I feel like I need to hit the focus magnification button and go in for a good look. The lens is decent wide open but certainly nothing to write home about. By f5.6 it's sharp across the frame and there is NO vignetting that I can see. I'm guessing that f8.0 is the optimum setting but, frankly, I don't really care. All the images I took looked sharp enough when viewed at normal sizes. 

The one parameter that is less than optimal with this lens seems to be its contrast rendering. It's a bit flat. It lacks "snap." But here's an interesting post processing trick: You can use the contrast slider, the clarity slider, the enhance slider or a combination of all three to get the lens to provide images that look exactly the way you want them to look in Lightroom.  It's a fascinating secret and one I think I'll make into a high dollar, weekend long workshop in the new future. Look for the T-shirts any day now. 

So, if the lens isn't particularly fast or contrasty then why the heck would anyone want to use it anyway? Hmmm. I like it because unlike the recent Rokinon lenses I've bought (100mm Macro and 135mm f2.0 Cine), and the memory of the commitment it took to go out and around the streets with the five pound Sigma 50mm Art lens, this lens is a featherweight with a very small profile. It makes my whole A7ii package a delight to sport around. The angle of view is pretty much perfect for me and, if I use reasonable technique I get really nice images. And that's before we talk about the different flavors of rendering between modern and more archaic lenses. 

The lack of snap in the little Tessar translates into very nice skin tones and images that will put up with a lot of post processing nonsense. They have a different look and feel. Not better or worse but different. I notice the same thing when I compare the ancient Nikon 105mm f2.5 with the 100 mm f2.8 Rokinon Macro. They both resolve similar levels of detail but the appearance of high sharpness, right out of camera, is much greater with the Rokinon. The advantage to the Nikon is that it appears more real, like something you'd see with your eyes instead of an image created by a camera. That alone might be a juicy selling point for some artists who have a different vision for their work than just an endless repetition of super sharp, in focus images. 

I guess the proof is really in the shooting. I had a chance to get out and around town with the 45mm Tessar a few days ago. The first image is a 100% crop of the image just below it. If you click into the crane you'll find high amounts of detail and great color. Not as much snapola but a very mellow rendering. 




finally. marketing images. While the trends for interchangeable and cool camera sales are all heading toward the draw of gravity and pervasive entropy the world of marketing still sees images of cameras as being indicators of artsiness and aspirational living. Below are two construction fences that make use of camera imagery to augment their basic marketing messages. These are surrounding a unit under construction in the sweet spot of Austin's downtown so I imagine that one bedroom units are starting at a half million dollars or more. It's funny that they would use older film cameras to convey their message. I would think that the target market would be able to afford all six of the cameras and all ten of the lenses that seemed to make the social media poster referenced above so proud....  I like the signs anyway. 



15 comments:

Ex-ER Doc said...

Love each of my old Contax/Zeiss lenses, Japanese or German handed down from my Dad. They are magnificent on the Sony full frame E mount with adapters.

Ravi Bindra said...

On my first photo shoot with a camera club i didnt know what to expect so took the kitchen sink: Bronica SQAi with 50, 80 & 150; Leica R9 with 19/2.8, 35/1.4, 60/2.8 macro, 90/2 and 180/2.8. at the end of the day I was exhausted but there was also a large number of items I never used. Now I am wiser, I take one camera and 2 or 3 lenses. I have not been out and wished for something I didnt bring. Either medium format or 35mm, never both.

For that professional photographer - it would be interesting to look at what he took each day and didnt use and also for a total at the end of the trip.

Mike Rosiak said...

Clever use of the book titles.

Anonymous said...

Many "celebrity" teacher-photographers haven't gotten the message about bragging about gear. That's very last decade.

Dave Jenkins said...

Just thinking about it makes my back ache!

Shooting for the book I discussed with you, I've been using an Oly EM5 and just two lenses -- a Panasonic 14-140 and a tiny Panasonic 12-32. The other lenses stay in the car. By way of full disclosure, I should mention that also in the car is a full-frame Canon with a 35mm PC Nikkor on an adapter for the occasional situation when some perspective control seems needed.

In 1978, I started my business with a pair of Nikkormats and three lenses -- 28, 50, and 100, and a Mamiya C220 with 55, 80, and 135 lenses. Visiting in the studio of another photographer around that time, I noticed that he had six Nikon Fs, some with motor drives, lined up on a shelf. He dropped out of sight not long after that. I'm still around. Perhaps there's a moral here, somewhere.

A few years ago, I had some interesting correspondence with the distinguished travel and fine art photographer Gerald Brimacombe. He told me that he carried nothing on his overseas trips but a single Nikon D600 and a 24-120 Nikkor. He said that he had trained himself to see within the limitations of that lens, and, quote: "I only carry one Nikon body! Nikon’s professional line of equipment is incredibly well made and reliable, and I cannot even vaguely remember the last time I had a problem with any of my Nikon cameras."

I don't know that I would have the confidence to do what he does, but to my mind, his is a far more convincing testimonial to Nikon than the guy who carries six of them.

John Camp said...

As a simple intellectual exercise, I tried to think of a really serious use for all that stuff, and I eventually came up with one. Is it possible he was setting untended wildlife camera-traps? I have several trail cameras at a property in Wisconsin, and enjoy looking at the variety of wildlife that wanders by the IR-triggered trail cams. But that's all I could think of.

Gato said...

A couple of weeks back two of my competitor/friend photographers posted selfies with their big white lenses on the same day. I was sorely tempted to post a photo of some of my lenses with a caption something like "A lot of photographers like to show off their big white lenses. Mine are mostly small and black, but I still make pretty good pictures."

I did manage to resist.

Brad Nichol said...

Re the over - endowed gear jockey, it kinda makes me laugh, as a photography teacher pretty much the most common question I get asked is "what can I buy for travel and general shots that is light, compact and has really nice image quality and doesn't cost a fortune"(and this is often from some pretty experienced photographers). I never get asked what can I buy that is expensive, heavy and bulky and has the ultimate image quality, and by the way I want at least 3 of them plus a dozen lenses.

In keeping with your previous post on the changing gear landscape, I can't help but feel that both Nikon and Canon are making a last gasp attempt to retain their past market through the rehashing and heavy marketing of products now rapidly heading for the dustbin of photographic history. It is still working, but the writing's on the wall and seems to be getting much clearer with every passing month.

Currently I am preparing for a 5 week trip to Europe, my new M4/3 kit will weight just 1500 grams, that includes the body, 3 lenses, hoods, 4 batteries, the USB charger, grips,custom made panorama rig, mini pod, selfie stick, extension tube, macro filter and my iPhone 6s plus for backup....and it will all fit in my inconspicuous manbag. With so little weight I will happily carry that kit with me everywhere I go, you would have to pay a very large amount of money to get me to take a heavy DSLR kit and even then I would be looking for excuses to leave it behind in the motel room and take the iPhone only!

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi John, a good attempt at guessing but the photographer in question is more of a fine arts, natural light guy. No wildlife will be harassed with the overweening assortment of camera bodies and lenses. But maybe a few landscapes will be inconvenienced....

Dave Jenkins said...

Kirk, could you please post a link to that Petapixel article about the photographer who took three bodies and four lenses to Rio? I couldn't find it.

Peter said...

Back in the '80's I traveled around the UK for a couple of weeks with a bag full of gear that I thought I would need/use - two Pentax 35mm film bodies, a power winder, two of the old Vivitar Series 1 zoom lenses, a few primes, the usual filters,light meter and a lot of film. I had all this stuff packed pretty tightly into a fairly compact bag that ended up being a lot heavier than I expected, but then I "really needed" all of it. Ended up with some worthwhile pictures but carrying and constantly having to watch out for the gear ultimately came close to ruining the trip. It actually soured me to the point that I pretty much exited photography for close to fifteen years. I think that I did use everything (at least once), but could have left most of it home.
The last two trips that I've taken were with an old (and small) 6mp Pentax DSLR and one prime lens and then a Fuji X100T - in both cases I could hold the camera in my hand or in a large pocket. Results were just fine. As a hobbyist my concerns about making a particular shot are not as critical as if my living depended on it so I can be a bit more flexible about what I don't carry. With the quality of today's compact zoom lenses/bodies being what they are, life can certainly be a lot easier and more comfortable than in the past.

Tony said...

Do some 50s where the first 25 is with your fists tightly clenched and then open your hands to normal for the second 25. Tune in to the sensation you are getting from the pressure receptors on your palms and finger tips. More pressure is good. Adjust the tilt and pitch of your hand and feel the differences in pressure as these variables change.

Tune in to the sensation of your armpit "hollowing out" as muscles around your shoulder create the "oarlock" around which your torso is being projected forward.

Rotate your body along it's long axis - try and gently "corkscrew" your body, from the neck down, through the water letting you reach a little deeper with each sculling action.

Achieve zen like state.

Askingtherightquestions said...

Another thought provoking entry Kirk!

The reason I find your blog required reading (and among the best photo sites available) is that you ALWAYS attempt to explain your equipment decisions based upon your requirements as a working pro, scrupulously (and ethically) avoiding commercial tie-in. You do not receive enough praise for this - I think this is all too rare in today! Well done. I find your assessments considered and fair and to the point. Please keep up the fantastic work.

amolitor said...

I have been over and over and over this in my mind, and I am convinced that modern Hero Lens (Otus, Art, etc) is largely a scam. Back in the day, with the Old Lenses, they could all deliver far more resolution than the modern digital sensor can use. The cheaper ones delivered it at lower and lower contrast. The very fine detail was there, you could see it, but it was low contrast.

This mattered in the days of film, since putting the contrast back in the fine detail (aka "sharpening") was technical, finicky, and hard. The cheaper lenses also suffered from optical distortions, and chromatic aberration, and I dare say several other flaws all of which are now trivial to fix in post.

And yet now, now that digital enables us to use practically any half decent lens built in the latter half of the 20th century, now the lens guys are pulling out all the stops and building monstrously heavy beast lenses that push a perfect image circle out the back onto the sensor.

Someone skilled in the Art (ha ha!) could, I am convinced, build a preset for Lightroom to convert the "look" of virtually any half decent lens into virtually any other. I'd love to see someone work up some TIFF files actually shot with a 1970s vintage Nikkor 50/2.0 (of which I own a copy) to look like they were shot with an the 50mm Otus, and then do some blind testing. Hmm. Hmm. Come to think...

As a side effect, it might burn the internet down, which would be nice!

Kepano Kekuewa said...

I had the pleasure of working with Bill Frakes a few years ago as he toured the country to demonstrate Apple's Aperture. One of his signature setups is multiple cameras set on timers along a race track to capture the action along the course. I think he sets up 20+ such cameras for events like the Kentucky Derby. I'd say that qualifies as a specialized setup.

Back when my wife and I shot weddings, we'd each have a pair of Nikons, each with a 24-70 and 70-200 mounted. We'd each carry a pair of SB-900s - so that's four cameras and four speed lights. It would seem excessive if someone thought all that gear was for just one person...