Hard Work Pays Off – Hoferart.com Updates

So my numerous sessions with Christian Hofer of http://www.hoferart.com finally got updated into his website and I couldn’t be happier to see everything be put to good use. The cover shot as well as everything under Live Painting section.

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Future collaborations will be on an even higher level since I’ve since overhauled my workhorse to a full frame sensor and the quality of the picture it puts out blows most of these completely out of the water.

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Another Macro Dabble – Extension Tube – 45mm f/2.8 AI-P

Had this thing ever since I got my 50mm f/2, but hardly used it since I didn’t quite grasp the essence of this direction before. So, I proceeded to use my 45mm AI-P paired with the tube and my WJ-60 light to shoot some Bismuth.

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Try one was pretty nice, so I proceeded with a slightly better setup for this-

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Thanks to my friend, a lil shot of me doing my experiment. This time the subject was propped up, camera mini-tripod’ed, and remote in full swing to minimize any shaking.

The final result (after very minor photoshopping the prop stand out), quite nice:

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While nowhere near a proper 1:1 kinda stuff, this is a solid close-up method on a budget since virtually any lens at hand will suffice and older non-AI extension tubes are dirt cheap. An older lens with manual aperture will help, but isn’t crucial since shooting at a small aperture is better for macro.

And So, A Year Goes By

Friday, the 27th, marked my D5100’s technical birthday. The little bugger went through hell and back over this year and I can’t quite think what I haven’t tried to shoot with it. As of the very last shot on Thursday, the shutter count was 43543 via CameraShutterCount.com. That quite the mileage I put on it in just a year- far more than I used to put on cars when I drove and commuted.

And so, one of the very first shots this guy took was this one-

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And the 43543rd was this-

Was a pretty fulfilling year in terms of a new direction in life, and this next one will be bigger, better, and uncut.

Bresson Split Focusing Screen – Nikon D5100

After much research and decision, I went with an ebay purchase from China. The brand is Bresson and they seem to make a ton of these resin focusing screens for most of the DSLRs out today. Here is their product page for these nifty little buggers.

Just in case some of you haven entered photography after the film ages, this is how focusing screens used to be- 2 or 4 little prisms embedded into the main screen. Each small screen sits at an opposite angle than its other half, thus splitting the incoming scattered (out of focus) light in different directions unless it is in focus. The circle around aids too by adding grain to the image while it is out of focus. So 2 ways to get something in focus is either using the inner circle and aligning subject’s lines until they appear straight and/or using the outer grainy circle until it looks crystal clear and thus in focus.

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As you can see, it works just fine albeit not matching up the stock AF points exactly in the middle. No big deal in my opinion, considering it only costs $20 unlike Katzeye and other brands ($80-150).

Is it accurate? From what I can tell, it is. Tested focusing with both AF-S 35mm f/1.8G as well as D5100’s on-board meter (green dot indicator) and both confirmed the split-cirle.

Now, this kind of screen can also be a great tool for testing your AF- whether it hit where you wanted it to or to quickly override it if it starts to hunt past the good focal point. I can definitely see this prism being essential for anything macro.

Based on promises from Katzeye screens, they treat the surfaces with compounds that help brighten the image and offer another treatment that reduces the split circle blackening when shooting at lower f/ stops. All modern Nikons always keep the aperture wide open until you take a shot, so realistically this issue will never surface unless you use a lens with a high maximum f/ number like 5.6. This one indeed becomes a few shades darker when using my 70-300 since the lens’ maximum range is 4.5-5.6, but even with such effect it is still easy to focus and use.

Installation: quite easy with skilled and nimble hands, though packaging could have been a hint more professional. This came in a box with metal and rubber-tip, plastic tweezers; rubber finger tips; soft cloth; and the screen in a ziplock baggie wrapped into the cloth. All you have to do is VERY, VERY carefully push the wire bracket holding the screen in down to unlatch it, let it drop down, let the screen drop onto it, grab the stock screen with plastic tweezers and place it on the cloth, grab the new screen and try to pop it into its slot, then using your fingers in rubber finger tips close the wire bracket back up. Viola. Note that the wire bracket needs to be bent down to get into its locking piece.

Should you spend $150 for specially-treated screen? If it makes you feel better, why not; however, this Bresson thing is everything I expected and am perfectly happy with it so far. One of these is definitely a must for any sharp shooter out there, especially when using manual-focus, high aperture lenses like 2.0-1.2.

First Impressions – Nikkor 45mm f/2.8 AI-P

Finally got this gem/dream lens after long deliberation regarding its ridiculous cost. Despite my hunt for a black version, silver will have to do for now as a workhorse.

This guy is a modern remake of the old Guide-Number Nikkor 45mm f/2.8 whose forte was being able to set the old flashes to the optimal output per focal distance using the guide numbers written on the opposite side of the focusing ring than the distance scale. Today, that was replaced with a CPU chip and better lens coating, but the old Zeiss Tessar design remained and made this the only true and smallest pancake lens in Nikon’s (and well, Canon’s) lineup to-date. Haven’t had a chance to really put this guy to work yet, but some snaps I took thus far were pretty smooth.

Package, being a collector’s, comes with the NC 52mm filter matching the lens’ color, its own special metal screw-on hood, special front cap, color-matched back cap (didn’t get this one), and its own soft pouch (eluded me as well).

Main highlights are the mostly metal build (minus the aperture ring), super-compact design, short throw of the focus ring (unlike most primes, though I prefer this for quicker re-focusing once you get the fine-focusing down using a shorter throw), unique hood and cap that fits right over it, and ability to use it on both film and digital bodies. Special note here- to use this on digital bodies via CPU, you have to set the aperture ring to the minimum 22 and control it via body; however, while you lose the ability to manually dial in classic Nikon full-stops, it allows 1/3 stops like any modern G lens via on-board controls. Pretty worthy trade off if you ask me.

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Main kicker- its SUPER compact/thin kinda lens-

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Fully extended focus doesn’t add too much either-

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And next to 35 f/1.8G-

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With NC filter and hood attached-

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And the cap is designed to fit over the hood!

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And a shot of my 24mm Sigma using the 45P-

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Today, this is almost purely a collectible lens, but that won’t stop me from going to a unique edge due to its design.

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And couple edits-

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All in all, extremely portable and fairly versatile street/general purpose lens. Not much fringing with this one thanks to the Tessar design, awesome quality, 1/3 stops for aperture, and a full-metal build that many modern lenses lack in favor of being lighter.

Zeikos Close Up Macro Filter Set

Decided to try one of these once again, but with a purpose this time- to zoom in on the bees and insects a little bit more with my 70-300VR.

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Testing the thought of how much each diopter reduced the minimal working distance via Gundam Wing Leo figure and a desk chair. The tests were successful in the static environment, and went as follows:

This was the stock 1.5m minimal focus distance at maximum 300mm zoom-

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Then I added +1 filter and moved the camera until I got within the new minimal focus distance and took another shot, still zoomed in at 300mm-

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Since +1 didn’t really do as much, I bet this whole idea on +2 and that went just about perfectly-

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Given the bees and lots of other bugs are roughly the size of Leo’s head and would let me in that close (about 0.5m vs original 1.5m), this could be perfect to shoot the busy and ignorant bees with.

Next I tried +4 filter just to see how much zoom it would add, and it was a bit too close for comfort at 300mm; however, shooting at 70mm was pretty solid and allowed me even more room to zoom and frame the shot as needed-

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Here I was just a hint closer than with the +2 filter.

And a shot with the +4 filter at 300mm zoom-

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All in all, very pleasing results for $20 spent on equipment I will only use occasionally. Naturally, bumping the ISO, shutter speed, and using a flash will help the whole process tremendously.

Until I field test this setup then…

 

Guide: Starting DSLR Photography (On a Budget)

Lately more and more of my friends are starting to really get into photography just as I have 8 months ago, and their top question is the same as mine: can I get a real bang-for-the-buck deal without selling a kidney?

Answer is, of course, yes, and with a very pleasant learning tool on top- Nikon + older/vintage full-manual lenses.

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Brand Preference

Typical follow-up question is: well, why Nikon over Canon? Inherently, because of lens selection versatility and thus budget. There are other contrasting differences, and I will go over them for the sake of a less blindly-biased guide.

Canon bodies offer built-in auto-focus, better video recording capability, and extremely cheap looks (haha). The in-house lens selection is vast and fits all grades of quality and prices, but the ones in question here are the lowest-priced, beginner consumer ones that sport equally cheap look and feel (especially the manual focus rings on the primes, like the 50mm f/1.8). You’re also limited to using EF mount lenses that only date back to 1987. So you can forget about using your father or grandfather’s gems out-of-the-box (aka without a special adapter). And now, onto my choice of Nikon over Canon.

Nikon beginner bodies (D3x00 and D5x00 series, as well as older ones like D40, D40X, D60) lack that built-in auto-focus motor, so that feature will depend on getting a modern day consumer level lenses with built-in AutoFocus-Servo (AF-S). Quite crucial for sports and nature, but not other types of photography (and definitely not helping you learn how to shoot film camera style). Nikon offers lower ISO noise than Canons (low-light photography) and are thus much better for classic, still photography. Video features are still quite capably, but Canon does win in this category marginally. The real gem however, is actually lack of internal auto-focus servo and Nikon’s F mount.

Brief History

The F mount dates back to 1959 and thus adds an enormous choices of lenses from all generations. Prior to 1977, all Nikon lenses were completely mechanical, simple, and offered solid image quality without any of the modern coating. At the turn of 1977, Nikon introduced the AutoIndexing (AI) so that the camera body could tell the user how bring or dark the scene is based on the lens’ current aperture.

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(Left is 50mm f/2 non-AI, right is a 24mm f/2.8 AI)

The design of the mount became slightly different, and modern Nikon bodies in the D7x00 series and higher require AI lenses to avoid damaging the auto-focus servo. This translates to inability to use lenses prior to 1977 on fancier bodies without the AI conversion (that Nikon did for a long period of time, and several private individuals do today). So, having a more simple body can be good for your budget when you’re just starting out.

Vintage vs Modern

So, why the fixation on vintage lenses? That bang-for-the-buck factor in its purest form. These lenses may be old, but back in those days there was no consumer and professional grades of equipment. Everything was professional quality, and people often could not even afford to buy a lens even if they could get a camera body. And the only thing that has changed since for these gems is simply their age, not their solid performance.

Here’s a sample with a modern 35mm f/1.8G lens ($200) and then a sample with my 1966 50mm f/2 (~$40):

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Both are sharp, both are fast, but the older 50mm has far less frequent fringing than the 35mm (see my reviews under my photography page). The bokeh is perfectly round on the 35mm due to having modern, curved aperture blades unlike straight ones on the 50, but it’s a mere matter of preference. For the most part, aside from being (able to be) full-auto or being full-manual, these lenses run neck to neck; aside from the price tag.

So here is the real nitty-gritty benefit of using old, full manual lenses: they teach you how to shoot. You HAVE to know the aperture and how it, shutter speed, and ISO work together in order to get a good shot. You HAVE to be able to focus by hand (though camera’s focusing algorithm still works and it will blink a green dot in the viewfinder when you are in focus for sure). So, you will have to learn how to shoot a film camera without having to waste money and time on actual film, developing it, and other inconveniences.

So, what befit does this serve? You learn how to be a photographer and not some monkey pointing a computerized camera at something and clicking a button to get that perfect quality shot. You have to think about what you’re doing. You have to know what settings to use. And since these lenses will get you thinking, you will automatically begin applying other aspects like composition into the whole equation. Your ability as a photographer will progress much faster than if you just used automatic settings and lenses, and at a fraction of the cost of those to boot!

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(Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 Macro)

Equipment Suggestions

So the big question- what to buy? Either D3x00 system or the D5x00 system is fine, and pick whichever suits the needs you think you’ll have better (do specs research yourselves).

Keep in mind that vintage glass is designed for the full frame sensors/film cameras, and our crop sensors add a x1.5 “zoom” in the field of view. Perspective of the lens does not change, but how much you will see through it reduces by 1.5. So for instance, a 35mm lens on a DX Nikon will have the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a film/FX camera. Now, there is the sweet-spot benefit to this loss of viewing angle- since vintage lenses are designed to project the image on a bigger area, the DX APS-C sensor only covers its projection area closer to the center thus avoiding any flaws the edges of these lenses may hide.

What lens to start with? Here you have 2 potential routes.

  • 1st route: get Nikkor 18-70 f/3.5-4.5 AS-F DX or either of its brothers (18-105 or 18-135) as your “kit” lens. Then simply play around with its full zoom/focal range and try to find your favorite one in order to decide what prime lens to get, since that prime of your choice will be your daily driver and photography teacher all in one. Just be mindful that the prime you get will really feel like its x1.5 “zoom” equivalent.
  • 2nd route: I will call this one the Point And Shoot route. Try to get a prime lens between 24mm and 50mm tops. Whatever you choose to get will become your default (since it’ll be your only lens), and your path of growth will come from feeling what your default is missing that you wish it could do (could be to have a farther reach, could be macro, could be actually having a zoom capability).

So, plan your purchase accordingly, and happy shooting to all of the newcomers!

YellowFlowers

I’ll update this guide if I have something else to add.

First Impressions – Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 Macro (Manual) (1981)

Got this sucker in my quest for a wider and closer-focusing lens for indoor events, in vintage/all-manual variety. Only ran me an incredibly lucky $41 plus shipping for a mint condition piece with original leather case and the crappy snap-on hood (that’s broken, but nothing superglue can’t fix). It is also an AI lens, so it’s compatible with all Nikons off the bat. The build is full metal with the exception of the rubber grip on the focus ring and a full plastic aperture ring. Focus ring feels tight, but I would guess that it would loosen up and become very smooth, yet still solid just like my Nikkor-H 50mm. Disassembly looks fairly simple in case the need for repairs arises.

For history, based on the Japan Camera Inspection Institute quality control sticker, this lens and all in its batch passed the test and were from 1981. Bit newer than my 1966 50mm, but the difference in quality is extremely noticeable.

And now, onto the snaps of this puppy and my Nikkor-H 50mm f/2:

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How close can it go?

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Now it made me want to revisit my extension tube I got with the 50-

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And here comes the Bismuth grown in Germany-

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And one of the end of a Flowlight-

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Now onto the fringing test, which impressed the hell out of me as it did with the 50H. Another neat part about this lens is that it can do half-stops for aperture:

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If you compare it with 35mm f/1.8G, Sigma blows it completely out of the water, and it is extremely pleasing considering $160 difference in costs between the two.

Now for some edited and unedited outdoor snaps to show what this little guy can do-

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And now for some daytime shots, to really test the colors:

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(Slightly edited sky)

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And to finish this off, something really tasty-

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Also very pleased with the 35mm equivalent width for cramped indoor events. Definitely not something I could squeeze even out of my 35G.

And so you have it ladies and gentlemen- this Sigma definitely takes the cake considering how inexpensive it can be from time to time. Another nominee for inexpensive glass of fame in my book.

First Impressions – Yongnuo 565 EX for Nikon (YN-565 EX)

Very last piece of gear on my list is now in the house. Retails for ~ $150 and sports excellent features for its price. Usual free diffuser gift from Chinese ebay stores, and essential accessory for these big guns.

Package is simple, but very nice – detailed manual, quick reference card, nice storage pouch and the stand for using this off-camera.

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And now some shots with it. These two were at low and high power at I believe f/11 and ISO100, which is a ridiculous number for anything indoor and hand-held.

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iTTL mode works perfectly and ev compensation on-the-fly is easy and works great. Manual mode is 1 button away and even easier to work with. Diffuser does real magic.

Shot of a bumblebee at ISO100, f/11 outside.

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Slightly edited butterly mid-flight, at f/5.6 and ISO200.

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Excellent flash all in all, and more tests to come. Refresh rate is very good too.

“Trinity” Complete

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Now I’ve only very extreme limitations left and everything else pretty much covered.

  • AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED
  • AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
  • Nikkor-H 50mm f/2
  • AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED

These give me awesome duo combos to take with me, and not have to break my back or my bag. If I’m only doing day time and want wider angle- 18-70 + 70-300. If it’s a mix of day and night and I want wider angle/AF- 35 + 70-300. If I’m doing strictly artistic shots day and night- 50 + 70-300. Else if I want completely light-weight and day and night kinda pack- 35 + 50. By its usefulness, the 35 falls into the actual trinity far better than the 50, but 50 cost me next to nothing for the quality it delivers, so having a quartet wouldn’t really hurt at the end of the day.