Category: Gear Review

The Vivitar 90-230mm f4.5 Review

The lens that you didn’t know you didn’t need.

This is almost a review of a lens. I don’t do technical reviews, this is just a usability review.

Without going too far into Vivitar’s history, Vivitar is an American photo-equipment company that didn’t actually make their own equipment. In regards to their lenses, they would contract independent lens manufacturers, mostly in Japan to make the lenses that they would re-badge with their name on it. These lenses were generally very high quality. Often the lenses were just as nice as Canon, Pentax and Nikon in the 1970s and 80s.

This particular lens was a popular zoom range for nature photography enthusiasts. This lens was made by Tokina and has a very interesting TX lens mount interface. Tokina had four versions; T1, T2, T4 and TX. This allows the lens to mount to different cameras. This came with the Konica AR adapter. I don’t have any Konica 35mm cameras, but I do already own an M42 TX adapter. So, that made it easy to test.

How I came to own this lens?

I found this lens in a thrift store, it was $9. The lens doesn’t have a scratch on it. The lens doesn’t even look like it’s ever been used. So I bought it.

Let’s talk about how it handles.

I mounted to my Fujifilm X-E1. The first thing I noticed, it’s weight. It is a heavy lens and long, just about 7½ inches. It was quite awkward to hold. However, despite it’s weight and size it actually felt better when I mounted it to my Pentax Spotmatic 35mm film camera. My favorite feature though, the length of the lens doesn’t change when zooming or even when focusing. It’s a fun lens to use, 90-230mm seems odd nowadays, but it works well for photographing in the ducks in the park. It has a long focus throw, so it’s very easy to get fine focus.

How is the image quality?

Image quality is fine. It’s not going to get any awards on DxOMark. You don’t buy this lens for image quality, you buy it because it’s a really cheap zoom. Another feature it has that I had not mentioned, the lens also has a “close-focus” mode on the zoom ring, it moves the rear element further away from the image plane. In a similar fashion as the Sears 28-200mm f4-5.6 lens I reviewed in November. When in CLOSE • FOCUS there is a fair bit vignetting and distortion. Personally, I don’t mind that so much. The lens is sharp enough for my taste. Can it go head to head with a modern zoom lens? No, I don’t think so, but again, that is not why I would use this lens.

Final thoughts on this lens.

I like this lens, but it’s not an every situation lens. Personally I prefer to shoot with prime lenses, if I know I’m going down to the river to photograph the waterfowl I think I would still prefer my 200mm f3.5 prime. This would not be great as a portrait lens because of the f4.5 maximum aperture. It would work, but not ideal. A lot of its shortcomings are about its size. If you don’t have shelves full of vintage lenses like I do, then this thing just might be right up your alley.

Shot on Fujicolor Xtra 400 film:

Shot on a Fujifilm mirrorless camera:

Forty Five Minute Close-up

My love for funky lenses of a certain vintage is no secret.

Today, weather played a factor in the amount of time I had with a Sears 28-200mm f4-5.6 macro lens. I only had a small window of time to walk around the neighborhood with this lens.

2016-11-22-70

Macro vs. Close-up

There is a difference between macro photography and close-up photography. Often times lens manufacturer’s marketing departments will brand lenses as macro, but in reality the lenses are only capable of 1:4 to 1:8 magnification. Macro photography is the practice of photographing small subjects to appear large. Usually with a magnification of 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. Typically this means a proper macro lens has a very close focusing distance.

Using this argument; the lens I tested today is a close focusing zoom lens. Depending on the zoom, the ratio this lens rates at a 1:4 magnification ratio at 28mm and a 1:7 ratio at 200mm. In macro mode at 28mm I can bring the front lens element just shy of 4in (10cm) and 200mm the closest I get is roughly 48in (1.2M). This is pretty darn close. In normal mode, 28mm close focus is 8ft (2.5M), and at 200mm the close focus is 6ft (1.2M). The way the lens achieves the close focus is by a twist ring that pulls the rear element further away from the sensor. This lets you focus closer but it prevents you from focusing to infinity. This is great because it bypasses the need for extension tubes. This is a novel idea.

Ok, so how does this thing handle?

It doesn’t handle very well. This lens is heavy. The front filter ring is a 72mm, there is a lot of glass in this monster. I don’t have a scale, but it weighs noticeably more than my Canon EF70-200 f4L. With the adapter for the Fujifilm-X series, the lens is just about 7in (18cm) long and add another inch (2.54cm) at 200mm. This is not a photowalking lens. It’s awkward, bulky and is difficult to focus. I don’t much care for push/pull zoom lenses either. This lens is just not very well suited for the way I like to work.

I did notice that this lens has a real t-stop issue compared to prime lenses. T-stop is the measurement of the actual amount of light that the lens allows to pass through. This is not to be confused with f-stop, which is calculated by the diameter of the iris as it relates to the focal length.

I did a quick comparison with two prime lenses. I metered through a 28mm and a 200mm prime lens set at f5.6. Both prime lenses let in slightly more than 1 stop of light compared to equivalent focal length in the Sears 28-200 zoom lens. This is very common with older zoom lenses, and a big reason I don’t usually use vintage zoom lenses. Prime lenses do have several advantages but convenience is probably not one of them.

Because of the t-stop shortcomings, using this lens on a cloudy day means boosting the ISO higher than I really like. This lens is difficult to hand hold at 200mm in many conditions.

Image quality is the most important feature to me.

I was a little surprised, this lens fared a bit better than I thought it would. This lens does not come close to the resolving power of modern glass, but the images I got from it were pretty good for my taste. There is some chromatic aberration that is easily managed. Shooting close-up, the lens is pretty sharp, as long as you could hold the camera still that is. The vignetting is not too bad either, especially for a zoom lens of this vintage. Despite its weight, it doesn’t feel particularly well built. It’s a little wonky.

Final thoughts.

It’s a cool lens, albeit with limited practicality. I enjoyed using it, but it is not a lens I can recommend for a casual photographer, whether shooting film or digital. It’s not a true macro, but it can be handy for a few situations if you don’t own extension tubes. Extension tubes will give a better quality on a prime lens than with this zoom. However, if close-up image making is not your usual thing and someone gives you this lens, then by all means take it and get an adapter.

I’ll certainly use it again, but it’ll be under very limited circumstances.

Fujifilm DL MiNi Zoom, After One Roll of Film

A One-Roll review of a small and useful point-and-shoot film camera.

Fujifilm has been building high quality cameras for a long time. When I spotted this little 35mm camera at the thrift store for $5, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. The camera has some minor ding on the top corner of the camera next to the flash. Fortunately the camera has a sturdy aluminum body. It’s built quite well. The camera also came with the manual, which is really nice. As I read the manual, I was really impressed by all the features this camera has. The camera is very usable and pretty stylish.

I rushed over to Dot Dotson’s and bought a roll of film and loaded it. The film door only opens just enough to drop the film canister in. Once you close it, the camera rolls the film on to the take-up spool first. Then winds it back in to the canister as you take pictures. I appreciate this feature, but it puts the frame numbers backwards. I’m just being picky I guess.

The lens focuses very quickly, but it is a bit noisy. So it’s not a very discreet camera. The lens quality is good, the lens however is very slow and the zoom range is far from impressive. 28-56mm at f4.5-f7.5. Compared to other cameras of the time and type, the specs are a little over par. Like a lot of cameras in this class, there is a learning curve, because you don’t know what your shutter speed it, you really have to hold the camera steady in subdued light. My first roll of film was Fujifilm Superia 200. I like this film, but Dot’s was completely out of consumer ISO 400. They do have a fridge with professinal grade film, but I did not think it was necesssary at the time.

Do I need another point-and-shoot film camera?

Since owning only one camera is not an option for me, having a film camera of this type is required for my lifestyle. A few months back I reviewed a Rollei Prego 70. This is a p/s camera of the same ilk as the Fujifilm DL Super Mini. The Rollei is a 35-70mm zoom. However, the DL is a far more impressive camera. It has a ton more features and hands down an easier and more satisfying camera to use. I think my Rollei Prego will have to be given to a deserving sort of photographer, because this camera has taken the Prego’s spot in the camera bag.

PROS:

  1. The body is metal.
  2. Quick auto-focus.
  3. Manual focus capability. (Range focusing).
  4. Easy film loading.
  5. Exposure compensation +/- 2 stops in ½ increments.
  6. Positive feedback on shutter button. Half press to focus is very easy to do.
  7. Sliding to door to cover lens and turn off camera.

CONS:

  1. The body is metal, so it’s a little slippery with cold hands.
  2. Slow, I mean really slow lens. (f4.5-7.5)
  3. Loud. Auto-focus and zoom motors are quite noisy.

This is a very nice camera, and with the auto flash modes for fill, back-light and auto it is very useful. Being a photographer is more about how you feel when you are taking pictures than the gear you are using. This camera will be taking the place of the Rollei Prego in my camera bag. In doing research on this camera I learned that Fuji made a prime version of this camera. It’s just named the DL Super Mini AKA Fujifilm Tiara, with a 28mm f3.5 lens. Read Benn Murhaaya’s blog post about that camera here on 35MMC.

Joy Riding the Petri Racer

Another day-in-the-life of vintage 35mm film shooter.

A couple of days ago Berg swoops me up at my place and head to the Bunk Bar for his band’s show. I get into the car and he hands me this retro looking rangefinder. He found it at a thrift store for $20. It looks so retro it’s difficult to believe it was built in the Sixties and it’s not some funky Eighties throw-away camera. Berg wanted me to give it a good run and let him know how it stacks up.

The test drive of the Petri Racer.

I did some Google-reconnaissance and I learned a little about it. The camera had a light meter, but it’s not tied to shutter or aperture. Shutter speed goes 1 second to 1/500 of a second and it’s all mechanical. It uses a mercury battery that is no longer in production. However, everything is mechanical so it doesn’t rely on the battery to shoot, unlike other fixed lens rangefinder cameras of this ilk. This version has a 45mm f1.8 but they made a 45mm 2.8 fixed lens camera too.

Five frames into shooting this camera, I was hooked. The rangefinder patch is a little tough but the distance scale on the lens barrel is easy to read so ranging in the distance is great too. The film advance is nice and positive and snaps back against the body and doesn’t poke you in the nose.

The most fun thing about this camera, the shutter button. The shutter button is on the front of the camera. It’s right on the body instead of the top plate. It took some getting used to, but it’s actually is quite a nice placement for it.

Here is a picture gallery. The film Berg loaded in the camera was Scotch 3M 200 35mm film. I bet the film was at least 15 years old. I exposed the film at e.i. 100, and managed to get a couple of keepers.

Only One Lens?

Photographers rarely carry just one lens, and the 50mm lens can’t get you out of every jam.

Inspired by a conversation I had with a photographer a few days ago, I wanted to write this post. He was curious about my Fujifilm X series mirrorless camera and the Pentax 55mm SMC mounted on it. We talked about gear and what we carried on a daily basis. He went on about his Canon EOS 7D with a 24-70 f2.8 as his walking around camera. He told me gave up on the 50mm because it’s not versatile enough for his style. Fair enough. I like the 50mm, but it’s not the only lens for the job.

Photographers have had countless conversations about what lens to buy first, or if you could only carry one. The routine answer for prime lenses is simple, 50mm on full-frame and perhaps 24mm for an APS-C sensor. If you really want to cover a range, then 24mm-105mm for full-frame and 16-55 for APS-C. These arbitrary choices are imposed by trends. These hard and fast “rules” do not take into account the individual photographer’s needs. The idea that we as photographers must have the full range of focal lengths is pure nonsense. The idea that every lens as a specific job and can’t used for other things is just narrow-minded.

Falling on deaf ears.

I think a lot of young photographers are led to believe that wide-angle lenses are for landscape, telephoto lenses are for portraits and 35mm – 50mm lens are for “general photography”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have a friend that routinely shoots portraits with a 35mm lens. Jillian does some lovely work too. Besides, I don’t even know what general photography means.

I agree that the 50mm lens is a great all around lens but it’s not the only lens to get the job done.

A telephoto lens is not a one-trick pony.

This afternoon I decided to head out on a photowalk for a few hours, but only armed with a 135mm prime telephoto lens mounted on my Fujifilm X.

Is carrying a 135mm lens ideal for street photography? What’s ideal? Who dictates what ideal is? Honestly, I would have preferred a few more lenses, but I wanted to prove the point to myself. There is a lot we can do with the gear we have.

Photography takes imagination, but it also takes some of technical knowledge. This knowledge can be taught, but your creativity can’t be. The more technical knowledge you have, the better equipped you are as a photographer. Technical knowledge will help with creativity, that just goes with without saying. That line of reasoning works with all fields of study.

Dragging around a telephoto lens on a photowalk for street photography shouldn’t slow you down in the least.

Why Mobile Phone Photography?

I love having a camera in my pocket more than having a phone. Fortunately I can have both. The inter-web is flooded with iPhone images, and that is a fact that we can’t escape. If you are a photographer, a good camera is a great thing to have at all times. These days mobile phone cameras are pretty darn good. Mobile cameras are not a replacement for even a compact camera, not yet at least. However, if it’s the difference between getting a picture and not getting a picture, you’re better off with having a good mobile camera.

Currently Flickr has the iPhone listed as the most popular camera. The Samsung phones are the second most popular. This is probably due to the sheer numbers uploaded by each user. The list does reflect the fact that the average person is using them and uploading them. I would tend to agree with the criticisms that these uploads are getting out of hand. The images are not very good, but I have no problem in saying that these images are of low quality because the photographers are not very skilled at using these mobile devices.

Yeah, I believe mobile phones are capable of taking excellent pictures. Every camera has limitations, whether film, digital or X-Ray. The right camera for the job, but this isn’t always possible. You have to work around your camera’s weaknesses. With mobile photography, every phone is different and has different hardware specifications and different software specs.

I prefer Android over iOS, it’s not about better or worse, it’s just the way it is for me. iPhone camera software may only differ from versions of iOS. Android’s camera software differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is often problematic for beginner photographers, but shouldn’t be a make it or break it situation if you have a little practice.

Lately, I’ve been using an app called Open Camera for Android. This app opens up a lot of features that the stock camera app just might not give you. There are certainly hardware limitations with options, but there are plenty of non-hardware options. This app is very customizable and useful. There are plenty of automatic features and depending on your hardware it opens up a lot manual settings, like ISO and Color Temperature. I am using the LG K10 with Android version 6, AKA Marshmallow. I was previously using Open Camera on an ASUS Zenfone 2 with Android version 5.0.1 Lollipop and it worked flawlessly. If you find that your stock phone app is just not doing enough, go and play around with some other apps. Open Camera is free and doesn’t have any ads. You’ll find that a lot of other apps in the Play store are supported by ads. I find those things too annoying for my taste.

Software will not improve your mobile photography on its own, you have to understand the limitations of those small digital sensors. Mobile phone digital sensors don’t have the range that the larger sensors have. Blowing highlights is very easy to do. The focal length of mobile phone cameras are roughly at 3mm, so getting shallow depth of field is very difficult to achieve. There are lens accessories are don’t really help to achieve that, but they can help focus on smaller subjects at a close distance so there could be a little leeway. The more you shoot with your camera the more you learn how it responds. You just have to pay attention to what you camera is doing, then plan ahead.

these images were all shot over the last few days with the LG K10 and imported through Lightroom Mobile and edited.

Bushnell 90-230mm Informal Lens Review

BUSHNELL 90-230MM

This is NOT a technical review, it’s more about its usability.

I inherited this lens from my friend Paul, he passed away a couple of years ago. The more I shoot with this lens, the more I love it. I haven’t been too keen on shooting vintage zoom-lenses, so this lens has sat on a shelf for a long time. I decided to take it out a few months ago. I figured I would give this lens a go while adapted to a digital body. Turns out this lens is pretty damn good. I have used it on my full frame DSLRs and Fujifilm X series cameras. I took it out today and had a great time with it.

Mounting this lens to a Fujifilm X series or Canon EOS DSLR camera is very straight forward. I wrote another post about adapting lenses that you could read here.

I have not been able to determine which Japanese lens manufacturer actually built this sturdy and heavy lens. It seems that Soligor and Vivitar have a version of this lens and they all share some similarities. My best guess, this lens was made in the mid-seventies by one of the many third-party lens manufacturers in Japan of the time. I suspect that Tokina made this lens though. A lot of these vintage lenses are very nice, and very sharp.

This lens has a constant aperture of f4.5 and does not change length when the focal-length is changed. This lens also as a built-in lens collar, which is handy. It’s a long lens, about 8.75 inches (222mm). The filter thread of 62mm. I haven’t weighed it, but it is fairly heavy. My lens came with a padded pouch and it came to me in mint condition. The zoom ring and the focus ring are both extremely smooth. The aperture ring is very easy to reach and has positive click-stops. The minimum focus distance is a disappointing 7.75 feet (2.4m). Focusing this lens without a monopod or even a tripod could be troublesome because of the length. I have found that using a monopod with this makes focusing and zooming a lot nicer. I have found that it is still fairly easy to track a moving duck without the assistance of a monopod or tripod. The rubberized focus and zoom rings are very nice for this.

Using vintage lenses on modern cameras is not for everybody. It does present some challenges. Manual focusing can be an issue for many. The coatings on these old lenses are not as nice as modern lenses. However, vintage lenses have personality that a modern kit-lens doesn’t possess. Optically, modern lenses are “better” if you take marketing literature as gospel. Don’t feel bad if you do, I would guess that 90% of professional photographers believe as you do.

This Bushnell is NOT a perfect lens for all situations. It is a fun lens for a lot of situations. If you were to find one of these lenses, you could get it for as little as $15.00. I wouldn’t pay more than $30 for one in mint condition. I don’t believe they are rare, but I think people hold on to them.

The Neewer Grip – Fujifilm X-E1 Informal Review

Neewer® Black Metal Quick Release L-Plate Bracket Hand Grip Camera Grip for Fujifilm X-E1 X-E2 Fits Arca-Swiss Standard.

I have had my eye on the Fujifilm X-E1 Assist Hand Grip for quite some time. I love the Fujifilm mirrorless camera, but the grip is really lacking. I didn’t think the grip was really that important, but now owning a grip I was wondering how I have gone this long without it.

I was trying to justify the price of the grip. I stumbled on the Neewer grip on Amazon while shopping for some batteries for my DSLRs. The price was about half the price of the Fujifilm version. I have had it mounted for the last month and I will never take it off.

Pros

  • Well machined aluminium fits nicely to the body.
  • Easy access to the battery and SD Card.
  • Fits Arca-Swiss quick release tripod heads in vertical and horizontal position.
  • Big, easy to hold grip.
  • Very light and stiff.

Cons

  • Grip is a hard plastic, I would love it to have it rubberized. It would also be cool if it were made of wood.
  • I would like a threaded screw mount on the vertical side.

So this is not too bad. Everything about this grip is makes it feel like a must-have accessory. This grip is very nice to hold and would be really cool if they made different colors too.

Adapting Vintage Lenses to a DSLR

Yes, you can use some old lenses on new digital cameras.

My attraction to mirrorless cameras comes from the ability to adapt old lenses. I have been using vintage lenses exclusively on my Fujifilm X series cameras. I enjoy manual focusing, so the lack of auto-focus doesn’t bother me.

The other day I brought the DSLR instead of a mirrorless. A DSLR presents some different problems.

I guess the most obvious question is, WHY? Quite simply, because I can. The next question, should you? No, it’s not for everybody. Modern bodies don’t have a split prism, which makes manual focusing easier. I took my time and each lens really has some quirks that you have to overcome. Especially for still photography. I know plenty of video shooters that swear by vintage manual-focus lenses. Especially the Nikor 50mm f1.4 on the Canon 5D cameras. I’m not a video shooter though. If I were though, I would rather use a nice Sony A6000 or the like.

The challenge; walk around and shoot all day with a bag full of vintage lenses on my full-frame DSLR.

the lens line up. all adapted with an EOS -> M42 lens adapter.

  1. 21mm f3.5 Vivitar (made by Tokina) T4 M42 mount
  2. 35mm f2.8 Chinon M42 mount
  3. 55 f1.8 Pentax Super Takumar SMC M42
  4. 135mm f2.8 Vivitar (made by Komine) M42 mount
  5. 200mm f3.5 Vivitar (made by Komine) M42 mount
  6. 90-230 f4.5 Bushnell (possibly made by Tokina) M42 mount

oldlensesA bag full of these lenses is really heavy.

Each lens has it’s own quirks and with the exception of the Pentax 55mm lens I was using, each lens just can’t optically compete with their modern counterparts.

This is not a bad thing, this is what made shooting those old lenses so much damn fun. The 21mm f3.5 for example has pretty bad distortion and severe vignetting. It’s a difficult lens to get focused, but when you stop the lens down, a lot of vignetting disappears and there is a lot of depth of field. This lens also has heavy lens flair. I really like this lens, especially on my Pentax Spotmatic and Chinon CS and CX II.

if you dig up your grandpa’s old Leica III F with a nice old 5cm f3,5 collapsible lens, go pick up an M39 lens adapter and attach it to your mirrorless camera. Because of the flange distance is shorter on the old Leica than on an SLR with a mirror box it will not be possible to focus to infinity.

You must keep in mind, that every camera manufacturer uses a different flange distance. The flange distance is the distance from the film/sensor plane to the mount ring on the body.

The lens you want to adapt must come from a camera with a larger flange distance than the camera you want to adapt to. This is why mirrorless cameras are a good choice. Cameras like the Fujifilm X series and the Sony A7 series cameras are the fantastic choice for adapting these vintage lenses.

If you are shooting Nikon, you pretty much have to stick with F mount lens.

Mirrorles Mounts
  1. Fujifilm X-mount 17.7 mm
  2. Sony E-mount 18 mm
  3. Leica SL-mount (formerly T) 19 mm
  4. Leica M-mount 27.80 mm
  5. M39×26tpi mount 28.80 mm
SLR Mounts
  1. Canon FD-mount 42.00 mm
  2. M42×1 45.46 mm
  3. Pentax K-mount 45.46 mm
  4. Nikon F-mount 46.50 mm
  5. Olympus OM-mount 46.00 mm
  6. Canon EF-mount 44.00 mm
  7. Leica R-mount 47.00 mm

One more point to understand, the lens you are adapting MUST have an aperture ring. There won’t be any control through the camera. Also, there won’t be any communication between the lens and the camera.

I’ve been using Fotodiox Adapters and they seem to be working just fine. They make an adapter for just about anything.

I enjoyed the day of shooting with Noah Katz. It was a little more difficult to get the shots I wanted. Once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t so bad. There was definitely a lot more chimping than I am used to.