The world we live in is full on the most amazing things, some of these things we see everyday around us in a very clear and detailed way, others we have to stop and take a little more time in order to observe. This is why when I get this time I love using a Macro Lens, you can get in close to the small things of life, getting a view that is hard to get from a distance.
This summer more than ever before I want to use my macro lens in order to record the small things in nature 🙂
Using classic Camera lenses
In the world of Digital photography it feels like a new bit of equipment is released almost every month, new Camera bodies, lenses, flash guns etc….
In the last few years however the image quality of digital cameras has begun to reach such high standards that its hard to see as bigger need than every before to keep upgrading your SLR camera body. I remember so clearly the day I first purchased a digital SLR, it was a Nikon D100, a body that was very closely based on the Nikon F80. I also remember reading sometime later that for a digital Camera to match the print size of 35mm film you would need 24 million pixels, a target that was reached sometime back in the Nikon range and surpassed with the 36mp Nikon D800.
Looking back at Film cameras, most of the end print size and quality came from the type of film you selected to use. The camera bodies themselves offered different levels of capture capabilities, some bodies offered all you needed to take landscape images while other more advanced bodies allowed you to capture fast action activities such as sports.
Once you had the camera body that you needed, for the type of photography you worked with, there was little need to upgrade until you had almost worked your camera into the ground.
Today in 2017, it is a very legitimate question to ask if at last after many years of the megapixel race, have we not now reached the point that you can purchase a camera body and keep it for life or until you finish it off by using it so much ?
What about Lenses ?
In the first years of digital SLR cameras it was not always possible to use all your old lenses with your new wonderful Digital body, Many Cameras would only for example allow you to use the latest Auto-focus lenses.
Over time the manufacturers started to launch bodies at the top end of their range that allowed you to use many older lenses including Manual focus lenses. Once this happened many photographers started to look backwards at the classic lens market, to workout what lenses from the past still offered great performance on modern cameras.
Personally I love using classic lenses and the Tarmon Sp 35mm-210mm F3.5-4.2, is one of the lenses I love using the most, produced by Tamron in Japan in the early 1980’s and only ended production in late 1987, it was available new well into the 1990’s.
This lens is one of the best made Zoom lenses of all time and even includes a Macro mode, offering a close focus of 11.8″ (0.3m), for a zoom lens this is very good. It is also very fast and falls into the professional level of F3.5 at 35mm to F4.2 at 210mm, on a current Digital slr with its low ISO noise this speed is excellent. It also has some amazing Lens flare that when used in video mode is amazing !
For times when I can use manual focus and want a zoom lens that has a great focus distant range and is fast, I am more than happy to have this lens with me. Its sharp at all F-stops, feels just amazing to use and can take any kind of usage in any type of conditions.
I will let the images below do the rest of the talking here, its fair to say however that not all old camera equipment is outdated and not worth using anymore. Great Lenses like these ones, if looked after last for ever.
When new this lens would have cost top money and for a reason!
Its a while since I posted anything about photography equipment, even though I do keep one eye on making sure I have what I feel to be very good cameras and lenses (Mainly Nikons) , I don’t feel that equipment is what photography is really all about. To me photography is about capturing the world around me and so long As I feel my camera can still do this I am very happy.
At the Same time some of the lenses I have, have been with me for many years and I have used then with many subjects and at many locations with both film and digital cameras.
My MIR 37mm f2.8 lens, I have had since my very first SLR camera back in the 1980’s and I still have complete confidence in it 🙂 even using a Pentax K3 24 megapixel SLR.
Why Pentax ? , The lens is an M42 lens which means that it connects to a camera body using an adapter and the best camera bodies on the Market for using these lenses are Pentax SLR bodies as they only need a metal lens mount adaptor that allows the lens to function without any changes in focus distance, basically all the lenses setting and scales work as they were originally intended to.
There are many things I love about using this lens. the focusing is manual as is the setting of the lens apertures but however the dials used for both these settings are just perfect in operation, no modern plastic jumpy manual focus rings here- just smooth and perfectly controlled movements. One thing also great about this lens is the fact that there are no click stops for the aperture blades , there are marking that show ” f 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8. 11 and 16″ but you can set the blades to any setting in between, this is a huge help for video !!
Another great thing for Video is that this lens is 100% silent , simply no noise feeds back through the camera body !!
The back of the lens shows depth of field and focus distant marks, its not a macro lens as its closest distance is only .7 meters so Landscapes only here !
The production of this lens originally started all the way back in 1954. It was manufactured in USSR (along with my favourite Helios 44-2) and was mainly made in 2 mounts, M39 and more popular M42 (although both are adaptable to modern cameras). The design of the lens was based on Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm f/2.8 and unlike Helios 44-2 was not a complete clone, but using same optical formal as Flektogon 35mm f/2.8, which is definitely a good sign considering how much more affordable they are than just about any Zeiss glass.
In 1958 Mir-1 received a prestigious Grand-Prix Award during the Brussels World Fair. Russians were probably so proud of the award that every Mir-1 lens produced since the 1958 World Fair, sports the “Grand Prix Brussels 1958” inscription on the side of the lens, so don’t mistake these lenses for some sort of special/limited edition.
Another great asset of this lens is the lens flare it can produce , this link shows some lovely deep spherical Studio flare results 🙂.
Compared to other Classic M42 lenses and modern lenses.
MIR 37mm f2.8 Gallery
The following are some local Kilkenny landscape images that I feel show just how good this lens still is at capturing some great sharp and contrasty black and white images , even with 24 megapixels to expose any defects!
Yashica DX 35mm f2.8, M42 Lens
Over the years I have collected a few classic camera lenses, the Yashica f35mm f2.8 m42 lens has to be one of my most valued and liked.
Back in the 1960’s this lens would have cost a good amount of cash as it was at the top of Yashica’s Slr lens range, the main reason for this being that it had the then New DX coating and a 35mm focus length was becoming very valued for 35mm film camera.
I use this lens a lot, not all the time but its always at hand if I need it, I think you can see from the images below why.
If I use it on a dx sensor camera it provides for a 50mm focus length, a length that I like a lot for framing landscapes. As for the famed DX coating, well I think that you can see form the images below that it still works very well. The colors and the contrast in these images ( taken last week ), are just great. The images taken facing right at the sun show just how little flair this lens produces.
Digital Compacts and Sensor size
Ever since Digital cameras became available to the professional and the Consumer market alike there has been an ongoing debate about the sensor size that the manufacture selects for each Model.
You can see all the possible types and sizes of sensors here : Image Sensor types and sizes
As well as SLR cameras , I own two cameras that have sensor sizes below what most people, stereotypically would consider are professional, by which people mean that you would be able to sell the images to be printed in magazines or used for commercial reasons.
Most of the time I use these cameras when I know that their images will be used for the Internet or for personal reasons like Holidays or Family pictures.
However the Boss of Nikon-USA last year made a statement that the size of the sensor is now being made less important than ever before, simply because the image quality being produced by most sensors over that of a pocket camera or an i-phone was increasing year on year.
His statement was sure to and did raise some debate, specially from the owners of very expensive Nikon Cameras !
So , over the last few months I have taken a closer look at what he was talking about and the results are very interesting, below I have posted six images taken by a Nikon P7000 and then a Canon G1x , which as you can see from the diagram above on the left, has a much larger sensor that the other camera used here a Nikon P7000.
Many top end compact Cameras have a sensor size of 7.60mm x 5.70mm in size, the Canon G1x has a much larger sensor that measures 18.70mm x 14mm.
Many Photographers who make money selling images fell that the Canon G1x has a very acceptable image quality for a good 80% of image types and keep this compact-camera as a backup or as a carry anywhere camera. Sometimes a large and heavy SLR is just a pain to carry and makes you very conspicuous !!
So the question I was asking myself is , is there a big difference in image quality between these two Cameras here ?
Well the images below don’t appear to show many if any at all, the Nikon has a 10mp output and the Canon 14mp so if your are printing the images you could get a 36x27cm print from the little Canon and a 30cm x 23cm print from the Nikon, both at 300dpi.
This is a large surprise to me and I am sure could and would be questioned in a camera review lab but I am taking real world images from both sensor sizes and comparing them.
In all other respects I can see little defects in the RAW images coming from the Nikon as opposed to the Canon, the Colors are very good they both contain about the same level of detail in the shadow areas and the highlights such as bright areas of sky and clouds and have an image noise level that is acceptable.
So is the Boss of Nikon America correct, well yes, in many respects from looking at the results of most cameras with a sensor size of and over the 1/1.7″, with these sensors you will get some great images provided the camera itself is designed to let you do so!
Will I be throwing my full sized sensor SLR in the bin , well NO! not just yet but it is very reassuring to know that at last you can take these kind of cameras anywhere (Holidays, long walks, tops of mountains and family events) and get very good results , something that has not always been the case!
Just as some final comments,
At some point I will compare these cameras to my SLR and study these difference’s, However the very fact that a close study of the image quality difference’s is even needed shows just how good top end compact cameras have become.
I started the post by saying that this area , sensor size has always been a hot topic and it always will be but you will hear many people tell you that a type of camera is not good, when you ask “OH!!! why ?” they will bring up areas such as depth of field being Shallower with full frame sensor slr’s, very true , what they will not say however is how often they need this ability and how often they use it !!
What they also leave out is that in Macro photography you want a much deeper depth of field, otherwise that Bee your trying to get a picture of will only have its head and not its body in focus!
Three images of the same image scene
Canon G1x followed by Nikon P7000
SMC Takumar 50mm f1.4, classic lens
Over the last couple of months I have posted a little about the quality of older lenses and uploaded some sample images. These post have included a review of the ( 28mm HMC Hoya m42 lens and the Tamron 24mm f2.5 lens).
One other much loved lens I have been lucky to find in great condition is a SMC Takumar 50mm f1.4 M42 Lens. I have owned this lens for a good while and still use it from time to time.
Firstly what is an M42 lens , well this wikipedia article describes these very well, basically they are lenses with a mount to a camera body that was designed to be universal, as to fit any camera designed with an M42 mount.
The stand out feature resulting from this mount is that they use a manual method of control for their aperture blades. Many of these lenses have a switch that can be used to keep the aperture blades wide open when manually focusing the lens then close them down to the required aperture during taking the image, as the view finder maybe to dark to focus otherwise.
I can hear many people asking “Why then would you want to use such a manually controlled lens ?*
Since M42 lenses, lens and Camera manufactures have put much work in-to the development of, firstly Auto Aperture lenses (Apertures controlled by the camera body) then Autofocus lenses with an ability to focus on up-to fifty focus points with an ability to selection from one of them in an image being framed. These developments have opened up a new world to photography, such as sports images that have very quick moving subject in perfect focus.
However there is still a place for old lenses, Landscape or portrait photographs for example do not automatically need auto focus.
Older lenses also offer abilities and features that have been lost in an age of autofocus cameras, abilities such as using hyper focus control for example (Lens Hyper-focus), a method of using lens apertures and focus distance to make sure that a pre-set amount of subjects in your image will automatically be in focus at any given distance range from the lens. In an age of high ISO performance, digital technology, this method is more usable than ever before as you can use Higher ISO settings and ever slower F-stop numbers such as F11 (Thus have a larger depth of subjects in your image in focus) and still achieve fast shutter speeds to capture clean usable images.
As you can see from the images of the Lens above manual focus lenses all contain much needed details such as the aperture being used the focus distance and the depth of field for each aperture.
The two other features that I really like about this Takumar lens are the construction and image quality.
The focus control on the lens is a pleasure to use it is very smooth to turn and wonderful in comparison to even my Pro level Nikon autofocus lenses.
Even though it may appear that this lens has been left behind some as far as new lenses are concerned, the image quality is hard to beat. You can see from the images below that there is no lens flare even when pointed at the sun, the images are sharp from about F2 upwards.
One feature that I feel could be the case is that when these lenses were developed, Black and White film photography was very much still being used as much as colour film was. The coatings on these lenses I feel thus gives a wonderful contrast and deep colour to digital images along with being perfect for great contrast in black and white images.
SMC Takumar 50mm f1.4, Gallery
Using Old M42 lenses on a digital SLR
Over the years that I have been taking images using SLR cameras both film and now Digital, the items that I have always show the most interest in are the lenses I have Purchased.
These days lenses are usually purchased as a secondary item to the camera body, with all the dazzling features and technology that goes into cameras and marketing them, it is easy to forget just how important an item a lens is.
It is the lens that produces the image, the camera just records this image and if its a great lens then your image stands a good chance of being so too.
Something that becomes very clear to you, the longer your into photography is that for the most part, lens technology the parts of the lens that really create the image, has been very good for a long time. Little development is needed with the type of glass and the coatings that are used on the lenses.
Most of the development today is with adding lens features such as image stabilisation, the process of moving some of the lens elements to allow for any movement in the camera while it is being held in your hands and help produce a stable image.
So just how far back do you have to go to get a good if not great lens ?
Hoya is a lens filter and lens coating company, they have done huge amounts of research and development over an very long period of time. you may know of them mostly through their UV filters that are attached to a lot of peoples lenses.
Back in the 1970’s along with a lens manufacture Tokina they also sold a limited number of great lenses, I am lucky enough to own a Hoya 28mm f2.8 M42 lens in very good condition, it cost £50 in 1975. I have used this lens for many years for Landscape work and have always been very happy with its results.
This is a fully Manual lens , No auto focus, no stabilisation, No auto exposure and just perfect for Landscapes.
I feel that landscape photography should take a little time and the fact that everything is fully manual with this lens, just adds to this experience. You have to think through all the settings and this extends into your thoughts about what your taking images of.
I feel that this Hoya lens is one on the best I have for reproducing great colours, contrast and sharpness.
The Gallery below is just a quick sample of some very recent images taken using this lens.
Hoya M42 28mm, f2.8 lens gallery
Tamron Adaptall 24mm f2.5 lens
Two Locks one lens many years of enjoyment
For some 40 years I have been taking Landscape photographs in both the UK and Ireland, one of the very first lenses I purchased when I first got a Nikon 35mm film SLR, was this 24mm F2.5 Tamron, wide angle Lens, purchased in 1987.
The images below are from a visit I made to Top side lock, near Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire in the south of England a wonderful old lock with a lock keepers house. The second image is from Ballyellin lower lock on the river Barrow, County Carlow , Ireland, taken in January this year.
Sometime keeping a hold onto equipment that you like using and that work very well, is far more important that searching for the new. Endlessly upgrading equipment has become the norm, we live in an age of none stop upgrades yet now and again it is still possible to keep a hold of the old and trusted things.
This lens works very well and in many cases even better now that its used with a digital camera body.
It is a manual focus lens yet because it contains all the focus and aperture details on the lens barrel it is very easy to use, you can set it up for what is known as Hyper-focus and shoot all day like this.
I just love using this lens and get a real kick from the fact it still works so well.
Top side lock , Grand union Canal, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Ballyellin Lower lock, County Carlow, Ireland
Way back in 1986 I purchased a Tamron SP500 f8 Mirror (Telephoto) lens from a camera shop in London, it was second hand and cost around £150 back then.
The lens is reviewed very well here : Photozone review
I came across this lens again while sorting out some equipment last week and could not resist taking some images with it, so I put it onto my Sigma x3 camera and took a walk with both through some local fields.
I am not going to reviews the lens as such here as this is done so well in the above review, what I would say however is that this is a manual focus lens that is able and very capable of producing some very detailed and delicate images.
I really enjoyed using it again, if you are looking for a lens that is quick to use then this lens is not for you. If you take your time while creating your images however then this lens offers some very different and interesting results. I very much liked the shallow depth of field, there is something about the design in a mirror lens that produces a very find focus area in the image results.
I also felt that the combination of this lens alongside the sigma x3 sensor, produced some of the closest results to using film that I have noticed while using a digital camera.
The lens is very sharp, it produces wonderful colour and contrast, focuses down to 1.7 meters from the nearest subject and has a very shallow depth of field through out its focus range. Photographers spend a lifetime looking for lenses that have these features along with very distinctive results, if you can give this lens the time to learn how best to use it, I feel you will love it !
These lenses are often for sale on Ebay, if you want to purchases one and try one out !
If anyone has read my other camera reviews you will have noticed that I don’t review any of my Pro level slr cameras from Nikon or Canon , the reason I don’t do that here is simple.
Here is a good reason why, I was out walking our golden retriever, one Sunday about two weeks ago and passed two photographers with Canon SLR’s, Tripods, all top of the range equipment. On passing I overheard one talking to the other about the lens he had just purchased “It the best in the country , the only one so far”, I am mostly very good at passing on these types of comments and I didn’t know them . However on returning past them again about an hour later, they were still talking cameras, pointing in the same direction and taking pictures of very little if anything.
If this is what they enjoy doing then good luck to them, it did however remind me of just how some people can be, when it comes to camera equipment and the need to have the best. For what reason though, for image creation or talking to friends about.
So I don’t believe that the race to the top of the camera food chain has anything to do with good or great photography, photography is the skill of good and interesting image making, it goes back well over a hundred years and in all that time photographers have been making images that are both iconic and outstanding.
You don’t need the perception of owning the best and greatest equipment to create good images.
While being into image creation, you do need a camera that you both like to use and can trust. For me out in the field the choice of which camera I would take for any given function is selective. I don’t think I have a best camera body, they all do something differently good and bad, they can be used in different ways.
So down to this review
The Sigma SD15
Firstly I think this is one of the most interesting, challenging and creative cameras to be produced for a long time, it will never be seen as the king of the food chain nor will many photographers, with the need for the best to boost their self esteem, stop looking down on it and the even newer Sigma SD1.
Sigma cameras contain foveon, ccd imaging sensors
Foveon X3® direct image sensor
Foveon has combined the best of what both film and digital have to offer. This is accomplished by the innovative design of the three layer Foveon X3 direct image sensor. Similar to the layers of chemical emulsion used in color film, Foveon X3 image sensors have three layers of pixels. The layers of pixels are embedded in silicon to take advantage of the fact that red, green, and blue light penetrate silicon to different depths – forming the first and only image sensor that captures full color at every point in the captured image.
A Dramatically Different Design
The revolutionary design of Foveon X3 direct image sensors features three layers of pixels. The layers are embedded in silicon to take advantage of the fact that red, green, and blue light penetrate silicon to different depths — forming the world’s first direct image sensor.
From point-and-shoot digital cameras to high-end professional equipment, Foveon X3 technology offers multiple benefits to consumers and manufacturers alike. At the same time, it opens the door for other innovations, such as new kinds of cameras that record both video and still images without compromising the image quality of either.
Having read about this sensor technology and the camera for sometime, in May 2013, I exchanged an old Nikon D200 for a Sigma sd15 camera and a couple lenses, ( 15-30mm f3.5 and a 70-300mm f4-5.6).
I was no longer using the D200 so felt, why not take a chance and try the claims for the Foveon sensor and the SD15 out.
Something that is less important than you my think to the pro/semi-pro photographers alike is images size or pixel counts, a much more important aspect of a digital image is the amount of details captured at any defined pixel location and this is something that I have found the Sigma SD15 to be wonderful at.
There is little point in crushing huge amounts of pixels on to an image sensor if the detail capture is low or poor.
The simple facts with the Foveon x3 sensor is that all possible colours are captured at each pixel location, this fact alone increases the level of detail some three fold over a traditional sensor, that splits colour detection into groups of three pixels, each of which can only see one colour from (Red, Green or blue), the effect on an image using this method are the creation of unwanted artefacts in the final image. So the use of a filter over the sensor is needed to stop this effect. This filter blurs the detail level in the image by a factor of around a third at each pixel group locations.
In recent times traditional sensors have increased in pixel counts to a point where the effects of artefact creation are less than before, so some expensive camera models have removed the needed filter over the sensor. This is good and produces better image resolution, however you need a three times bigger image file size to produce the same level of true detail that you find from the Foveon sensor.
Large image sizes take up more disk space are slower to process and longer to upload or email.
My final question related to printed and end results, if you print an unprocessed file from the SD15 at the same size as one from say a Nikon D700, do you get the same detail in the final image, well I have found the answer to mostly be yes, in most cases, yes looking at large prints I can detect very little difference if any.
Don’t get me wrong, I still own and use other cameras , however I have been amazed at the results from this Camera and its Foveon sensor, the colour definition is also wonderful.
Sigma and Foveon claim that the SD15 has 14 million pixels, but this is in three layers and that the newer Sigma Sd1 has 48 million pixels again layered, this is a difficult and controversial claim as each image size is only the given amount divided by three.
However if you take into account that they are only saying this because the camera market has taken as a standard, mega-pixel counts, image detail and colour definition are a much harder subject to sell, to the general public. So what Sigma and Foveon are doing with this claim of high pixel count is to say our cameras produce the same detail yet better colour definition than other cameras with traditional sensors at the level of 14mp or 48mp.
Is this claim true, well side by side A3 or A2 prints appear to say yes. This along with the fact that I just love the colour and image brightness and the great exposure produced from these cameras.
Pixel Counting Definitions
Prior to the existence of the Foveon X3 direct image sensor, there has been a 1:1 relationship between the number of pixels (photodetectors) and the number of pixel locations for a traditional CCD and CMOS image sensor. Given this relationship, the generic term “pixel” has been commonly used to reference both the pixel (photodetector) and the pixel location. Foveon direct image sensors are a new type of image sensor that incorporates three pixels(photodetectors) at every pixel location on the image sensor. The definition of a pixel as indicated below is consistent with standard industry conventions as applied to CCD image sensors, CMOS image sensors, and the Foveon X3 direct image sensor.
A pixel on the image sensor of a digital camera is a light absorbing element (photodetector) that converts light (photons) into electrons. A pixel is also referred to as a pixel sensor when there is a need to distinguish the pixel from its location.
A pixel location is the X,Y coordinate on the two-dimensional grid of an image sensor at which the pixel is located.
Below I have included some images from my first six months of personal photography while using this camera, I have grouped them into colour and black and white images.
I have also found the camera to be wonderful in the production of black and white photographs, the fact that it is naturally capturing colours in the way it is helps to produce a black and white result as a finish image.
One area that is possibly the only down side I have found is the fact that at higher than 800 iso, the images are noisy in low light, which is why you would need higher ISO, my reaction to finding this out is to say well so, every camera has its weak points. I guess what you could ask is , do the good sides of this camera out do the bad, in my own opinion yes they do, every single bit of camera equipment on the market today has good sides and bad sides.
This is what photography is about, learning what your camera is good at and bad at and working with these details in order to get the best results possible.
Can this sigma help you do that, yes it can and some !
Black and white Gallery