Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Hey, look at that, you all got lucky today! Just when you had given up on your dreams of seeing a new post on this lovely Wednesday, a picture of a rose appears. I of course took this one across the street, in the Woodland Park Rose Garden, earlier this summer. I took it using the old 105mm Kiron macro lens (with a Minolta mount!) that I picked up (very) used on Ebay earlier this year. It’s a tough lens to use, for a number of reasons (which I’ll detail out here in a bit), but every time I come across a picture I took with it, it just takes my breath away. I keep trying to justify not using it, and instead using a lens that’s easier (again, see the list below), but man, this lens takes nice shots.
So, what’s so tough about using this guy? Well, mostly stuff that I’ve mentioned several times before. First of all, it’s manual focus. Which I know, is a lame thing to complain about. But, seriously, it’s really easy to get wrong. Especially when you factor in part 2, which is that the aperture control is totally manual. Meaning, it has a physical actuator that can be used to automatically control the aperture (so that it’s wide open while you’re focusing, but then it steps down when you hit the shutter button), but new, modern, electronically controlled cameras don’t know what to do with a little spring-loaded knob that you need to push aside to open the aperture. So, you have to deal with trying to focus with the aperture stepped down, which (obviously) greatly reduces the amount of light you have to, you know, focus with. Also, (somewhat less obviously), stepping down the aperture has the expected effect of lengthening your depth of field, so whereas it’s really easy to see exactly where the point of focus is when the aperture is wide open, it can be really tough when just about everything LOOKS in focus through the view finder, especially when everything is also very very dark.
Then, to top it all off, the range of stuff you can even focus on with this lens is pretty limited. Meaning, you can’t focus to infinity. Why that is has to do with the difference between the lens that uses an old Minolta mount, and the camera that uses a Canon EF-S mount. So, you see, the lens expects there to be a very specific distance between the rear of the lens and the sensor. If you have a lens that has the same mount as your camera, this isn’t an issue, since the mount points are designed to put the lens at exactly the right distance. But, different mounts require different distances. Some longer, some shorter. Canon’s EF mount is generally pretty convenient, because it requires a shorter distance than most others. Meaning, the mount points on the camera will put the lens CLOSER to the sensor than most non-Canon-mount lenses want. Why is this convenient? Well, because you can’t just attach a non-Canon-mount lens to a Canon. You need an adapter. So if the lens wants to be further away than the camera wants the lens to be, then you just make the adapter the correct width to make everybody happy. The camera doesn’t actually care about how far away the lens is, it just has it’s mount points at a certain location. But the lens DOES care, so you can make the adapter the right width. But, as I mentioned, that only works if the lens wants to be FURTHER than the camera’s mount wants it to be. If the distance is the same, or the lens’s ideal distance is shorter… well then it doesn’t quite work. And the way that the “not quite working” is manifested is that the range of stuff you can focus on moves closer. To completely make up numbers, let’s say a lens would normally be able to focus on anything between 10 feet away and infinity. If you mount it (using an adapter) on a camera who’s mount needs a shorter distance, you’ll instead be able to focus on things that are (again using made up numbers) 5 feet away to 20 feet away. It moves the window closer, and makes it smaller. It’s exactly the same thing that happens when you use macro extension tubes. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind macro extension tubes – you move the nearest focus distance much closer to the camera at the expense of being able to focus on things that are more than a couple inches away. So, the old Minolta mount is one of those few exceptions to the “Canon EF is a convenient mount” rule. It actually wants a shorter distance than the Canon EF/EF-S mount. So, if you’re using it as a macro lens (and you’re thinking about tossing an extension tube on anyway) it’s not really an issue. But if you want to use it as a general-purpose lens, well, then you’re out of luck.
Phew, that was a lot more words than I was intending to use today. That wiped me out.
On a completely unrelated note, I’ve started reading more and more the blog of a guy named Bill Hess who lives in Wasilla, Alaska. He’s been a professional photographer for quite awhile, and his blog is regularly updated and is a joy to read. Today’s post in particular was about being invited onto the set of a film they’re filming up in Alaska, so if you haven’t visited his blog before, it’s a great time to start. Click here to visit.
Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Kiron 105mm macro lens. 1/200s, aperture unknown. ISO: 400.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I realize that a lot of you reading this blog don’t get quite as jazzed up about pictures of flowers as I do, but the reality of the situation is that I have a whole crap-ton of them. Because, quite frankly, it’s a lot easier to go across the street to the rose garden or to take a walk around the neighborhood than it is to go on some crazy hike. I try to space them out at least a little bit so I don’t scare you all away, but if I keep burning through the non-flower shots, I’ll eventually be left with nothing but a huge pile of crazy flowers and bugs to inundate you with. But, it’s been more than a week since I tossed one out there, so it’s well overdue.
Based on the results of my normal flower-identification routine (which is to say, spending 5 minutes looking for flowers on Google), I’m fairly sure these flowers are called “stars of Persia”, so that’s what I went with. (Are there any Persians out there? Do these look like your stars??) These were, not surprisingly, in the rose garden. Taking pictures of flowers like these is somewhat counter intuitive to me. Normally, overcast Seattle days tend to make for uninteresting pictures (clouds aren’t bad in and of themselves, but around here we get these completely featureless grey skies that can make just about any picture into a real snoozer.) So generally I look for sunny days (or, even better, “mostly sunny” days with nice fluffy clouds), and stay inside when it’s featureless-ly overcast. But, I’ve found that I like my flower pictures better (in general) on overcast days. It feels like it allows the true colors of the flower to take center stage, and it means there aren’t any harsh shadows to worry about (since the light kind of comes from everywhere). You of course have less total light to work with, so you have to jack up the ISO and open up the aperture, but other than that you can get some nice results. At least that’s how I’m feeling today, anyway. Basically, I’m just trying to say that just because the weather’s not what you were hoping for, you should still get out there and take some pics. I always have to remind myself of that, because I’m HORRIBLE about getting lazy and blaming it on the weather. Somebody should totally send me a link to this post so I can read that.
Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Kiron 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. 1/160s, aperture unknown, ISO 200. Focal length: 105mm (duh!).
Friday, July 16, 2010
I figure as long as I post at least 3 pictures a week, I’m doing okay, right. 3 days a week naturally lends itself to Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but meh, we can all stand to be a little bit more flexible. This is another picture of a rose from the Woodland Park Rose Garden in Seattle (yes, it’s in the same park as the zoo), and it was from the same photo session as the rose I posted a couple of weeks ago. It even looks like it could have been from the same rose, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.
I went into great depth on that post, so I’ll try not to do so again here, but this was taken with an old Kiron 105mm macro lens that I bought off eBay from a camera shop in the Netherlands. This particular lens was built for a Minolta mount, thus I had to buy a mount adapter from some random dude in Hong Kong in order to get it to fit on my Canon. But, it all works quite well together, with the exception that you have to set the aperture manually before you shoot, which makes focusing a pain. (Normally, the camera holds the aperture wide open while you’re composing the shot (which lets through as much light as possible, so you can see what you’re doing), then when you hit the shutter it steps down to the specified aperture before opening the shutter – but with this particular mount/adapter combination, you lose the automatic aperture control, and thus you have to make sure the aperture is set before you hit the shutter button.) But, it’s quite the lens, and if you’re patient and willing to look around, you can find lenses like this for quite a bit less than the modern equivalent.
That being said, I ended up at the camera shop this last weekend for an unrelated reason, and while there I took a look at the used lenses they had for Canon EF mounts. Turns out, they had a Tamron 90mm macro that I’ve had my eye on for awhile. Tamron has made two versions of this lens, and the one they were selling was the older one, but from what I’ve been able to tell it sounds like the optics are basically the same between versions, and both of them are generally very highly regarded, especially for the cost. Also, the price they were asking was *significantly* less than I’ve seen anywhere else for it (even used), so despite the fact that I had pretty much declared my near-term macro needs “fulfilled”, I decided I should go ahead and buy it, and if later I decide that was a terrible idea, I should be able to then sell it, and perhaps even make a profit. So far, it seems really awesome. I get back the automatic aperture and all that (since it was built to work with the Canon EF mount), and it’s also rated at 1:1 magnification, so the only question is the difference in image quality. All of the pics I’ve taken with that lens so far are still sitting on the camera, so that’s still an open issue, but I have no reason to think that they’re not going to be awesome. In the meantime, as I mentioned, here’s a shot from the other one.
And if you were curious, the reason I was in the camera shop in the first place is, while I was farting around on eBay not too long ago, I saw somebody selling a Sigma macro lens with an unknown mount. I believe it only goes to 1:2 magnification, but whatever, that’s not the point. The point is that I was able to get it for extremely cheap (20 bucks), because nobody knew what kind of mount it was, and thus nobody knew if they could use it or not. I figured I could buy it, figure out the mount, and then figure out if it would be worth getting a mount adapter and using it, or just reselling it with the added information of what the heck it was. It didn’t fit either of the mounts I could check (Canon EF/EF-S, or old-school Minolta), so I took it to the shop. They actually couldn’t tell either, it didn’t fit any of the bodies they had in the store. Granted, they aren’t a “used camera shop” in the true sense of the word, meaning they are mostly focused on new stuff, but they do a little bit of business in used goods, mostly for Canon and Nikon stuff. So, the current best theory is that it “may be for a Konica or Sigma”, but they didn’t have any way to test that theory for sure. Still unknown, but I ended up getting a cheap used Tamron macro out of the deal, so all in all it was a (somewhat expensive) success.
Have a great weekend!
Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Kiron 105mm f/2.8 macro (Minolta mount). 1/160s, ISO 200, aperture unknown (didn’t write it down.)
Monday, June 21, 2010
Hey guys! Sorry for the late post today. Most of you probably won’t even see this one until tomorrow, so you won’t even realize that this was Monday’s post. (Which means I’m already planning on waiting until Wednesday for the next post – I’ve got to give each post enough time to sink in, right??) Also, I’m sorry that my posts have been rather anemic the last few weeks. Hopefully today’s entry makes up for it, it’s going to be nice and meaty. (And I’m saying that even though I’ve barely even started writing it yet!)
It’s almost the end of June now, which means that the Woodland Park Rose Garden here in Seattle is almost fully in bloom. That meant it was time to bust out some new stuff that I hadn’t yet had a chance to play with, and you can see above one of the results.
A little while back, I found a new (to me) macro lens on Ebay, and I snatched it up. It’s a Kiron 105mm macro. It gets all the way to 1:1 magnification without needing any extension tubes or anything like that. (Which differs a little bit from another old lens that I got that was advertised as 1:1, but that was only when you used the “1:1 attachment”, which was simply an extension tube like any other.) The focus and aperture controls are totally manual, there’s nothing auto on this lens. It’s made for a Minolta mount, which means a few unique challenges when you’re shooting with a camera with a Canon EF-S mount. But it’s totally, amazingly awesome. And I love it. Woooo!
So.. where do I start? I suppose I’ll start with the 1:1 magnification. I’ve talked about this before, so I’ll just give a quick refresher here. The magnification ratio is how large something is in real-life vs how big the projection of it is on your camera sensor. Actually, I flipped that around, it’s how big the projection is vs how big the real thing is. Whoops. Anyway, as an example, let’s say you’re taking a picture of something that’s exactly 35 millimeters across (And, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll say you’re using a 35mm camera, or a digital SLR with a full-frame sensor). You grab your first lens, which has a magnification ratio of 1:4. You zoom in as far as you can and focus as close as you can. You’ll notice that the object (let’s call it a bug) covers one quarter of your sensor. It’ll look pretty big on the screen, or if you print it out, but the actual light from the object will measure 35 divided by 4 millimeters as its shining on your sensor. Now, if you switch lenses, to your 1:2 lens, that same object/bug will take up half your sensor, and if you use a 1:1 lens, that thing will stretch across the entire frame. Meaning, the projection of the bug will be 35mm on your sensor, and if you blow it up to 12×18 or whatever, the image of the bug will be 18 inches long. Make sense? Most lenses that have the word “macro” in the name generally top out at around 1:4. To get any closer than that you need to find a “real” macro lens, which will get you to either 1:2 or 1:1 depending on the lens. (And there’s one that I know of from Canon that actually gets you up to 5:1, but that’s just crazy talk.) So, this lens I got gets me 1:1. Since I shoot with a Canon T1i, which is NOT a full-frame sensor (it’s actually 24mm or something across), that means if I’m shooting something that’s only 24mm across, it’ll fill my frame. Awesome!
Now, here’s what I think is a more interesting topic: mounting old lenses on your new digital camera. The two main concerns (that I care about) are the controls, and the actual attachment to your camera.
By controls, I’m talking about the focus and the aperture. It’s easy to take those for granted with these fancy modern cameras. You hold the shutter button halfway, and the lens magically spins around and focuses for you. Magic! But with a lens with a mismatched mount, the electrical connections are different, so suddenly your lens is dead-weight. And by dead-weight, I mean you’re stuck with manual focus. Aperture is also tricky. The way most cameras work (mine works this way anyway) is that it keeps the aperture wide open while you’re framing the shot. Then, it closes down the aperture to the desired size when you actually press the shutter. This one’s actually even worse than focus; every lens that I’ve ever seen at least has the controls for focusing manually, even if they’re not that handy to use. But most modern lenses don’t have controls for aperture at all! Thus, you’re stuck using the lens wide open! (This is one of the biggest problems with reverse mounting a lens, if you were wondering..)
One way around these is of course to get a mount adapter that hooks up to the electrical connections on both the lens and the camera, and translates the signals as required. I’m assuming things like that exist, although I’ve never actually looked for one, because I’ve never tried to use a lens that was eligible, to use a term that’s not quite applicable. There’s still one huge, glaring caveat that I’ll talk about in a bit, but for the most part you’re good to go at that point. Except, not in this case. I’m using a fairly old lens, which doesn’t do auto focus or auto aperture at all. (Well, to be fair, the term “auto aperture” means the not closing down until you’re snapping the picture, not having the camera set the size, but whatever, I’m going to overload the term, and you’re going to like it.) So, to use this lens, I’ve got to focus it myself (which isn’t really a problem, when I’m shooting macro I always use manual focus anyway, and I do my focusing by swaing back and forth until I’ve got it right), and I’ve got to set the aperture myself. The second one’s actually kind of a pain in the butt. As you all should already realize, shrinking the aperture means letting through a lot less light. But, if you’ve got less light, that means things are, umm, darker! So, when you’re trying to focus using your, you know, eyeball, if you limit the amount of light you’ve got to use, it can get really hard to actually see enough detail to focus. This is just one of those things, I haven’t found a great way around it. I suppose if you’re using a tripod you’re fine, because then you can focus with the aperture wide open, then close the aperture, then take the picture, knowing that your camera isn’t going to move between when you focused and when you shut the aperture. But if you’re going hand-held, that doesn’t work at all. Blah. Whatever, back to the topic at hand.
So, that’s the deal with the controls. But what about the mount itself?
A particular camera mount design has a couple really important characteristics. The first is of course the actual physical connection. You know, square-peg-in-a-round-hole kind of stuff. The hardware has to actually fit. That’s the more obvious one. The more sinister one is the fact that the lens has to be designed to fit on the body in such a way as to have a very precise distance between the optics of the lens and the sensor. Moving the optics back and forth has the effect of changing the focal range you can work with. Meaning, if you’ve got it just right, you’ll be able to focus to exactly what is specified by the lens manufacturer, probably something like from a few feet in front of you at the near end, out to infinity at the far end. If the optics are too close, the closer edge moves further away, so you might not be able to focus on anything closer than, say, 10 feet. (All of these numbers are totally 100% pulled out of my butt, if you were wondering, please don’t take them literally.) If they’re too far away (the interesting case, I’ll tell you why in a bit), the close end moves even closer, but so does the far end. So **you can no longer focus to infinity**. Instead, you’d be able to focus from let’s say one foot away at the near end to about 20 feet away at the far end. It’s worth noting also that the total size of the range shrinks dramatically, from, well, infinity, down to a few feet, or at more extreme ranges, down to a few millimeters.
Sound familiar? Right. That’s exactly what you’re doing with a macro extension tube. You’re moving the optics away from the sensor, which means you gain the ability to focus on things that are really close (and when you move closer to things, they appear bigger, right?), at the expense of not being able to focus on things that are far away, and having a super small depth of field. Wooo!! We just made a connection!
So, if you’re mounting a lens built for a different mount on your camera, two measurements suddenly become critically important: the lens-mount-to-sensor distance that your camera expects, and the optics-to-sensor distance that the lens expects. Fortunately for Canon users, the mounts used on modern Canon SLRs (EF for the full-frame sensor cameras, and EF-S (which can also use EF lenses) for the reduced-size sensors) expect a distance that is smaller than most other mounts. Why is this fortunate for Canon users (and unfortunate for other folks)? Because it means that both the camera and the lens agree that they want to be further apart than they would be if the mounts were compatible. Meaning, you’ve actually got room in there **TO FIT THE ACTUAL MOUNT ADAPTER THAT YOU NEED**. As an example (again, made up numbers), let’s say the lens wants to be 20mm away from the sensor, but the mount on your camera would put the lens 15mm away. That means you can stick a 5mm adapter in between (with appropriate fittings on each end), and bam, the camera is happy (since it’s mounted 15mm away) and your lens is happy too (since the optics are 20mm away from the point where the light is supposed to be focused.) Congratulations, you just made another connection! A physical one this time.
So, that’s all well and good. But what happens if that gap doesn’t exist? Or, in a more extreme example, what happens if the lens wants to be closer than the camera would allow it to be mounted? That means that, in order for the light to correctly focus on the sensor, you would need to mount the lens INSIDE THE CAMERA BODY! Which umm isn’t really possible. So, you’re essentially left with two options. First, you can just deal with the fact that you won’t be able to focus to infinity with that lens/camera combo. You’ll always have essentially a very small macro extension tube on there. Depending on just how big the difference between desired optics-to-sensor distance and the actual distance is, you may still be able to use the lens somewhat normally. But, probably not. The second option is that you can get a mount adapter that actually contains an optical element to correct for it. The problem here just comes back to the old adage that your lens is only as good as the lowest quality optical element in it. So, if you get a super high quality 3rd party lens, and toss a super cheap optical adapter on it, congrats, you’ve now got a low-quality 3rd party lens. If you want to use the lens badly enough, you can try to find a higher quality adapter of course, but it probably won’t come cheap.
Back to the example at hand now. The lens that I got (a Kiron 105mm 1:1 macro, remember) was built for an old Minolta mount. So remember how I said that the Canon EF mount wants a shorter distance than most other mounts? Well, the word “MOST” is the important one in that statement. The Minolta mount of old is one of those mounts that’s actually shorter than the Canon EF. That’s great if you’ve got an old school Minolta camera and want to use a fancy new Canon lens, but not so great the other direction. UNLESS YOU’RE SHOOTING MACRO ANYWAY!!!! WOOOOOO!!!! Or, to put it differently and somewhat less enthusiastically, this isn’t actually a problem if you have no intention of using the lens to shoot things that are far away. There’s no harm in having what essentially amounts to a small extension tube on there if you’re planning on potentially tossing another tube on there anyway. It just means that, while somebody using a Minolta mount camera would get 1:1 magnification with this lens, I’ll actually get a little bit closer than that. To pull another number out of my butt, let’s say I’m getting 1.2:1 magnification or something.
Okay, that’s enough blabbering for one day. But it’s definitely fun stuff. They made some fantastic lenses back in the days before digital, so if you can actually find a use for one, they definitely come cheaper than the modern equivalent, and at the very least it can be a lot of fun to play around with this stuff and figure out what you can get to work. Good times.
Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Kiron 105mm f/2.8 macro (Minolta mount). 1/320s, ISO 400. Aperture unknown (forgot to write it down).