Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tamron SP Lenses - Time for Some Results

**I have replaced the title image of this post with an updated, better quality shot. Also, if you have read this post previous to this update, you'll notice 4 lenses in the image and only 3 in the review. That might be because I got a package in the mail today...stay tuned.


Not too long ago, I was knee-deep in macro lenses hunched over tiny critters and flowers making my way through a hit list of manual focus classics, in an attempt to see first-hand just how well these famed lenses performed. At one point, I owned over 10 macro lenses, 9 of which covered the same focal length. Talk about redundancy. Strangely enough, one of the most talked about manual focus macro lenses, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.5 (52BB) was not in my possession. I had seen and heard much about Tamron adaptall lenses but for some reason just had not made my way into the Adaptall system.

Only a few months later, I have gone 180°. I own 3 of Tamron's famed SP lenses and must be a few feet from my subject before I can focus (these are some of the big boys). Tamron's Adaptall-2 SP line provides some of the most economical alternatives to premium glass. I will say right out, I am very impressed with the performance of Tamron SP glass.

The Test

Having posted some initial reviews of these lenses some time back, it is about time to show some results. I put together a simple comparison which essentially demonstrates how these lenses handle under similar conditions. The shots are not framed exactly the same (to compensate for different focal lengths). Nor are the corner crops in the same location. I would just like to show "what these lenses can do".

Basically, I set up a tripod in the yard that did not move throughout the test. I mounted each lens in series and centered the composition on a specific flower. ISO changed with varying shutter speeds to compensate for subject movement so blur would not be an issue (it was a slightly breezy day). At smaller apertures, blur did occur and as a result I have no included those results.

Below are the Key images for each lens:

Tamron SP 180mm f/2.5 LD-IF

Tamron SP 300mm f/2.8 LD

Tamron SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF

The Results

Wide Open (f/2.5, f/2.8, f/4)

(f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6)

(f/4, f/5.6, f/8)

(f/5.6, f/8, f/11)

As I said, at the later apertures I began seeing blur due to the longer focal lengths and breeze of the day. Consequently I left those results out.


As I said, I am quite impressed with the overall performance of these SP lenses. I was a little curious about the CA present in the 400mm wide open. After reading some forums I discovered CA is one of the more prominent issues with Tamron SP lenses and most likely a trade-off in buying non-Nikon or Canon premium lenses. Although I have little experience with longer, professional Nikon lenses, I did get an opportunity to shoot Nikon's older 600mm f/5.6. The results shocked me. While the Nikon did handle CA a little better, the Tamron was right on par in overall sharpness! The contrast in these SP lenses is excellent at all apertures. All the lens hoods are perfectly adequate in handling lens flare. I have also had no issues whatsoever with the Adaptall mounts.

I will add a little more to this in the next couple days. Feel free to share an experience with any of these Tamron SP lenses (or some of the other longer telephoto models not here). It would be great to here more stories!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Canon G10 - Another Foot in the Canon Camp

I am embarrassed to say, this is not the first time I have owned one of the stellar Canon G cameras, nor the second. Despite all my efforts to rid my bag of Canon (ha!), I just can't seem to get away from this thing! In reality, I have no aversion to Canon. I just continue to use these as funding for various other lens/SLR type deals I stumble across. This Canon G10 is in fact my third installation of the G series point-and-shoots (I had a G9, then a G10, and now another G10). And actually, the real reason I am embarassed about owning this camera 3 times over is I should have never sold any of them in the first place!

The Canon G10 was released only 2 years ago and within one year had been replaced by the G11. The G10's predecessor, the G9 (inventive names, right?) was one of the first point-and-shoot cameras to offer RAW image quality. This "pro-grade" offering, along with numerous other features pushed the G line to the top of the P&S market as one of the most advanced pocket cameras anyone had ever seen. Seeing as how this camera is 2 years old, by tech standards, this is old news. So why am I writing this?

I merely wanted to point out, after selling two of these cameras to support my heavier DSLR kit, I realized there are some things this G10 does that even the Panasonic GF1 (or any of the new EVIL cameras) can compete with. Namely, it's size.

Things I Love About This Camera

1. Size - The Canon G10 is about as large as I can go for a true "pocket" camera. After months of trying to figure out the GF1, it just doesn't cut it. Even the newer G11 with the larger swivel screen may be a bit too bulky for my jeans.

2. Durability - This camera is truly a thing of beauty. It really is "made like they used to be". Despite some plastic for the lens barrel, the body of this camera is excellent! It's nearly all metal. It feels like the old rangefinders did, solid. It takes abuse like a pro. My other G10 looked like it had been tumbled in a woman's purse for a couple years and it still functioned perfectly.

3. Versatility - Everything you want to do manually, you can, including manually focusing (fly by wire)! I love the wide angle lens (28mm equivalent and with some zoom to boot). I never really thought zoom would be much of an issue but seriously, using the 20mm f/1.7 on the GF1 is just ridiculous. For a walk around camera, I have got to have some zoom! With the GF1, should you decide you want some zoom, mount the 14-45mm and you now have a small DSLR in your hand. It's nowhere near pocketable. I'd rather just carry the D700!

4. Macro Mode - Forget lugging around that extra 90mm macro lens in case something great crawls across your path. Just throw the G10 into macro mode! This feature is something I may even go as far as to say sold me on Canon P&S cameras. Their macro modes allow you to get so close and it still maintains excellent image quality! In fact, the smaller sensor and optics enable me to easily achieve a massive DoF in a macro images unlike a DSLR, which must be stopped down considerably to achieve similar results. This combined with the fact that the G10 has a hot shoe allows me a ton more versatility in the studio since I can then slave my strobes to the G10 and make some pretty cool images like the front lens element shots found on this blog.

Some Not-So-Great Things I Can Live With

1. Image Quality - I'm spoiled by the D700. Plain and simple. I cannot help but compare. I find myself shooting in a similar style as my DSLR, such as moving my ISO and shutter speeds around in ways to get a shot, only to realize I can't really use anything beyond ISO 400 (maybe even 200). And by then the moment is gone. Even the GF1, while considerably better than the G10, has me sour. Those new FX sensors are just incredible. Also, RAW on a P&S, while cool in theory, is still a fairly shallow file. You have very little latitude to adjust for exposure differences compared to larger sensor cameras.

2. It's Not a Mini D700 - P&S cameras are still just that, point and shoot. Many things about P&S cameras still bug me because I just get used to the big boys. Shutter lag is a big one.

Why all this so late in the game? Learning takes time, use, practical application. In shooting and traveling and having a girlfriend who doesn't like a giant obtrusive camera dangling around my neck everywhere we go, we learn new things everyday. So I got this G10 for my birthday, and I will be keeping this one for good!

Check out this sweet little bubble level/hot shoe cover I picked up on eBay. Pretty slick.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Taste of "Noctilust" - Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 - A Canon FD to Nikon F Conversion

I find it incredible how I often wander into "new" territory completely unexpectedly. Though some may argue my activities automatically disqualify any notion of "chance". Essentially, my constant perusing of eBay and the local shops and flea markets hardly allows me any room to claim mere good fortune as a factor. I suppose I put myself in the position to "come across" things...This is all beside the point.

I hadn't heard the term "Noctilust" until just the other day but I have certainly become quite familiar with it now. I have always read about fast lenses and even used a couple here and there. But I don't know that I have ever really desired one just because I think I have been more after what I need and can use everyday. Sometimes, though, decisions get made for you.

While exploring the local flea market this past weekend, I came across an old Canon FT. Despite having no real need for film camera, I tend to always check them out because I am still a hardware nut above all. What first caught my eye, and what my attention was now transfixed upon in a closer inspection was the 55mm f/1.2 lens sitting on the front. In all practicality, as a Nikon user, the Canon FL and FD mount lenses are quite useless to me. Because save for a complete re-engineering of the lens mount, I cannot do much in adapting the lens. I figured it was a cool piece but I would pass it up since it would prove some work to use. Then the gentleman told me the price. Sold! That was quick...

Canon FL and FD to Nikon F

If you are looking to adapt either of these archaic Canon mounts to the new Nikon F for use on the digital bodies consider this:

- Canon FL and FD focal flange distance is 42mm while Nikon's is 46.5mm. This means you need to figure out how to reduce the Canon lens' mount by 4.5mm.

- Adapters that contain no optics but merely mate an FD or FL lens to a Nikon body cannot possibly retain focus at infinity. So with this means, you will turn every lens into something of a macro lens.

- Adapters do exist with optics to compensate for the differing focal flange distance however, these typically have a multiplication factor associated with them as well as an inherent reduction of light. So your lens will be slightly more telephoto (often 1.6x or so) and your lens speed will be reduced by the added optics. Not only that, the optics currently in use with these adapters, by most accounts, is inferior and degrades image quality.

My thoughts: No sense in using a straight optic-less adapter since I do not need another macro lens. This lens was made for portraits! Adapters that use optics are also out since what's the use of an f/1.2 lens if it just gets knocked back down to a slower stop. Also, it makes no sense to use all sorts of round-a-bouts like adapters only to wind up with a mediocre image in relation to what that lens may be truly capable of. I just would rather not be limited by some cheap adapter.

A DIY Project - Photographic Blasphemy!

OK, an admittedly exaggerated title considering I know many photographers who shoot Canon and use Nikon glass on their Canon bodies. But it was funny when The Girl asked in a whisper-like voice, "Is that a Canon lens?...on your Nikon?" I have taught her well. Actually I'm quite non-partisan though I do like to continue to egg on the whole Canon/Nikon battle in jest.

I decided the only way to really make this lens worth my while was to convert it to an F-mount. So I first removed the FD mount from the lens via three simple screws located just inside the Breech/Lock mechanism. This exposed some threading, as well as the A/M ring which switches the lens from Auto to Manual stop-down mode. Since this lenses aperture ring is up front by the filter ring, it would prove tough to easily make this lens index with a Nikon so I will most likely be using this in stop-down mode. Considering I bought this lens for its f/1.2 aperture, I don't believe I will need to worry about auto-indexing. As I said before, for this lens to focus to infinity the rear element would actually need to recess back inside the Nikon mount of the camera. Since at this point I'm not prepared to physically alter the lens in any permanent manor that would prohibit it from being returned to its original FD mount, I have chosen to drill a spare F-mount I have to fit the original 3 screw holes used for the FD mount.

So I ended up with that. The rear element protrudes ever so slightly beyond the Nikon F mount but not nearly enough for infinity focus. The most common concern with converting these older f/1.2 lenses is that, typically you run into some tight if not simply unmanageable tolerances between the rear element and the mirror of present-day DSLRs. After some measuring and working out the numbers, this lens, in theory, could achieve infinity focus through a full mount conversion (milling down the rear portion of the lens to the correct length, and then attaching the Nikon F mount). But the numbers of where the rear element must be inside the camera in conjunction with where the mirror swings are nearly dead on. In reality, it's probably too close for safe operation. I actually even found one of these FL 55mm f/1.2 lenses on eBay converted for Nikon. I messaged the seller with some questions but still have not received a response. My guess is infinity focus is not achievable.

Despite that somewhat discouraging information, I managed to get an F mount on the rear of the lens and give it a whirl! I have about 4 feet to work with. Honestly, I am thinking a few more feet may be all I need. This lens, for me, will be a beautiful portrait lens. I am interested in the soft ethereal qualities of the shallow DoF. I most likely would never even need more than 10 feet or so. For now, I will tinker with my 4 ft.


Nikon D700 with Canon FL 55mm f/1.2
ISO 200 1/320 @ f/1.2

Just off-center Crop

I have to say, judging from my first few test shots, I love this! Noctilust here I come. I didn't think a fast normal lens was up my alley but it truly is a thing of beauty. No one shoots an f/1.2 lens that I know of for sharpness and it is clear why. This lens is not sharp wide open. But then again, I don't believe perfect sharpness was necessarily what the designers were striving for. This optic possess a unique ability to render subjects softly and in a way that is almost boastful. I find myself completely unconcerned with sharpness which is entirely uncharacteristic of me.

The Girl defeated by her Pizza
ISO 1600 1/80 @ f/1.2

Contrast with this lens is great and I don't see a whole lot of CA actually. I do notice this lens is prone to flare. This originally had a uniquely designed hood that I just may pick up since I believe I will be using this lens a lot more in the future.

I can't say a whole lot more on performance at this time save for continue posting more images as I use it. I plan on eventually milling down the back some more and getting as much as I can out of this lens. And I'm sure in the future I will end up with another fast lens to compare it to!