Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not to forget

Despite my current obsession enthusiasm with the Olympus E-P2 (and all the lens that I can try on it) let us not forget that my old* Pentax K10D is a remarkable camera, with an excellent sensor and a well designed user interface. It is still a joy to use.

By the way, a recent rumor has it that Hoya-Pentax is seriously considering entering the Micro 4/3 market, at least in terms of concept (mirrorless + interchangeable lens), not necessarily with the same system. We'll see.

* I bought it in July 2007. Nowadays, a 3 year old camera is considered by most as obsolete and pretty much useless...

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8 + off-camera flash

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The "neutral" focal length

A focal length between 40 and 50 mm, on the traditional 35 mm film format, is usually accepted as the one that more closely matches the field of view of human vision. That is often called a neutral (or normal, or standard) focal length. On APS-C sized sensors that would correspond to about 28 to 35 mm and on Micro 4/3 sensors to 20 to 25 mm focal lengths.

I've never been a particular fan of neutral focal lengths. Back in my days of 35 mm film, my favorite lenses were the 25, 35 and 85 mm primes. Now, with my Pentax DSLR, I have been using mostly 35, 75 and 130 mm equivalents. Can you see a trend here? I've always bypassed the 40 - 50 mm range, and I've never really missed it. I've always thought it would be difficult for me to produce good images with such focal lengths. One can't resort neither to the dramatic views and superimposed planes of wide angle lenses nor to the detail and subject isolation of longer lenses. All that can be done is careful composition. And that, my friends, demands a certain amount of skill.

Olympus E-P2 + Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7

I've bought a 20 mm lens with the E-P2, which is equivalent to 40 mm - right on the neutral zone. I'm not too happy with the aesthetic quality of the images I've gotten so far. Have to keep trying. Many masters of photography created beautiful works using 50 mm lenses attached to Leica film rangefinders. The problem is certainly not the length of the focal, but the skill of the photographer using it...

PS [Apr 28, 2010]: This interesting article by Andy Westlake discusses what a "standard" lens is supposed to be. According to him, the proper "theoretical" values are 43 mm for full-frame/35 mm film, 29 mm for APS-C and 21 mm for Four Thirds. But the usual convention tends to be: 50 mm, 35 mm and 25 mm respectively.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

270 mm + extension tube

As you may have guessed from the previous post, my Zeiss Sonnar 135/2.8 has had more use in the last month than it had in the last 3 years! But this lens has one known drawback: the minimum focusing distance is too long (1,6 m), which makes it useless for close-ups. Of course, that can be remedied if one is willing to use extension tubes... It just so happens that I had a beautifully crafted set of original Contax extension tubes on a cardboard box labeled "old photo gear". Thank God I'm not into selling old stuff on Ebay!

So here are a few flower shots taken with 13 and 20 mm extension tubes. Just wait for the bees and butterflies to start showing. I'm ready for them!

Olympus E-P2 + Zeiss Sonnar 135/2.8 + extension tube

Sunday, April 18, 2010

270 mm

It is certainly ironic that after praising the compactness and inconspicuousness of the E-P2 equipped with the Panasonic 20 mm pancake, the lenses I have used most on the camera so far have been... my old manual focus Zeisses! After the Distagon 35/2.8, I have now been trying out the Sonnar 135/2.8. I had converted it to K mount, but I never used it much on the K10D. But on the E-P2 the lens is equivalent to a very respectable focal length of 270 mm on a 35 mm film camera. So I converted it back to the original Contax mount and, using the C/Y to Micro 4/3 adapter, put it on the E-P2.

A 270 mm focal is not enough for a wildlife safari (400 mm would be the minimum, probably), but it's good enough for taking a few interesting shots at a zoo or a nature preserve, for instance. I think the photos in this post are a good example of that. They won't get me on National Geographic, but I'm quite proud of these first results.

I can't avoid thinking it is weird to have a camera that uses only a portion of the image produced by the lens. It seems like a terrible waste of high quality glass... But as long as the sensor's resolution is good, the 2x "magnification factor" one gets from the 4/3 system may actually be welcome.

Olympus E-P2 + Zeiss Sonnar 135/2.8

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The Porto-Lisbon train trip takes almost 3 hours.That's way longer than I take to read a newspaper.

Olympus E-P2 + Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7

Friday, April 9, 2010

A future project

I have a thing for abandoned wooden boats. They are not hard to find if one is willing to follow down some river courses. This will be a photo project someday.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Revisiting an old lens

Some of my faithful readers may recall that I've rediscovered the pleasures of photography after converting my old Carl Zeiss lenses from Contax/Yashica mount to Pentax K-mount and starting to use them on my K10D. However, one of the lenses - the Distagon 35/2.8 - was not converted because the bayonet cannot be removed on the particular version I own. I kept it on my old Contax 167MT body, on display on a shelf in the living room, together with other oddities from the time when cameras captured light onto polymer film strips coated with silver halide salt emulsions (!).

Now one interesting thing about the Micro Four Thirds system cameras, like the E-P2, is that they can operate with virtually any existing lens from 35 mm film cameras. That's because of the short distance between the lens mount and the sensor plane. An appropriate mount adapter will position the lens so that the correct image will form on the sensor.

You might have guessed it by now. I got a Novoflex Contax to Micro 4/3 adapter, so I can use the Distagon 35/2.8 on the E-P2. Due the small sensor size, the image is heavily cropped and the lens becomes equivalent to a 70 mm focal length on a 35 mm film camera. That is not a problem: 70 mm is a great focal for portraits and is still interesting in other contexts. Besides, most lenses tend to produce a sharper image at the center when wide open, so loosing the borders may actually be a good thing.

The lens still maintains the larger depth of field of a 35 mm focal. This, together with the maximum aperture of only 2.8, means that this lens/camera combination is unable to produce highly blurred backgrounds. As I've mentioned before, however, I believe this is an highly overrated issue.

Of course, focusing is manual. But that works quite well with the E-P2's nice electronic viewfinder. And the image can be easily magnified, if necessary for more precise focusing.

Call me a retro geek, but this is the kind of thing that gets me all tingly with excitement!

Olympus E-P2 + Zeiss Distagon 35/2.8

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

I love the almost unreal appearance of this photo. It just took a monochrome conversion and some tweaking on the tone curve. The soft sunset light helped a lot, I must say.