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.