Horizon 202

Whatever possessed me to buy a camera where you can accidentally get your knuckles into shot? Or I thought I could, even though I haven’t done it yet. The temptation was the 120 degree field of view and the distortions you can get because the lens swings in an arc. I’m a sucker for odd.

With the clip-on handle fitted.

So the basics are that it swings the lens in an arc and projects the image through a moving slot onto a curved film plane. In action it scans a narrow strip of light across the film. There are two swing speeds for the lens and a set of different slot widths for the scan. Together these give you a range of shutter speeds. Not a full set, as the two ranges don’t quite meet.

You can see how your knuckles could get into the shot. The switch on the left selects the yellow or white range of speeds.

Because the lens effectively turns its head, straight lines across the frame appear to recede at the sides. Keep the camera level and the horizon will divide the frame across the centre. Tilt the camera and it bends from bowl to hill. There is a bubble level in the viewfinder and on the top of the camera to help.

Only do this when you are the passenger!

The basic specs are that this camera uses a 28mm lens set at a fixed focus distance. This is fine, as the depth of field covers just about everything. For those of us shooting mono or infrared the lens can take clip on filters which can be fitted part-way through winding the camera, when the lens is midway through swinging back to its starting position. The camera comes with three filters, stored in the clip-on handle. These are a yellow, a UV and a neutral density one. The ND filter is handy because you have a limited range of shutter speeds. I took the plain UV one apart on mine and replaced it with a visually-opaque IR filter. Because the lens swings across a curved film plane it doesn’t vignette at the sides like a fixed wide-angle lens might.

The frame size is the normal 35mm film height (24mm) but as wide as a medium format negative at 58mm giving you a 2•5:1 panoramic format. The 58mm width means it can be scanned or printed from anything that can handle a 6×6 film frame. To be able to scan the film on 35mm kit I scan each frame in two pieces, then combine them. You will get around 22 shots on a 36 exposure film.

The camera looks like a fragile plastic fantastic, but I believe it’s actually a cosmetic plastic shell over a metal chassis. I’d still avoid dropping it though.

The camera can be awkward to load – the film has to follow a curved path so it needs more than the usual guidance. The advice is to put the film behind everything: it goes behind every roller and guide you can see.

What got me thinking though, and the reason I bought it in the first place, is the potential of that swinging lens. It swings left to right, so a fast-moving subject also moving left to right ought to be stretched. Moving right to left it ought to be compressed. If I stand on a bend and photograph the traffic it should also do odd things with the shape of the corner. And I wonder what would happen if I panned the camera to follow a passing subject? There is also the potential to photograph a group of people arranged in an arc in front of the camera. The picture should look as though they stood in a straight line, but all facing the camera.

Moving right to left – some possible shortening of the bike

In use the camera is awkward to hold. The shutter release is set back, so your trigger finger is not in the usual position. It also takes a firm press to fire the shutter. The clip-on handgrip is very useful for keeping your fingers out of the frame, for aligning the camera and for allowing your right hand to take a loose grip in order to reach the shutter release. I’ve used it plenty of times without the grip though, as it makes the camera easier to carry.

Panning the camera. Less background blur than I expected, but it was a fairly slow pan.

You will spend a bit of time trying to get the bubble level in the viewfinder centered. The viewfinder shows the field of view of the lens pretty well but not the distortions it produces. When you do press the shutter you get an extended mechanical whoosh as the lens drum spins. It’s unusual and distinctive.

A lot of the time you can’t even see the distortion from the swing lens.

It’s a good idea to keep this camera in its case or well protected when you are not using it. If a bit of grit gets into the swing mechanism you will get vertical bright lines appearing in the frame where the lens slows-down briefly. If you are buying one second-hand, see if you can get a recent picture taken with it. Streaks mean grit.

Proof at last – the world really isn’t flat.

But, for all its awkward handling, this camera produces unique results. There are very few swing-lens cameras, and this one is probably the most accessible and cheapest way into the world of swing.

Alfred Klomp has also written about the Horizon camera in far more detail than me.

Gear Addiction Syndrome

So I was reading Unwinding anxiety by Judson Brewer, as one does, and came across a definition of addiction: “continued use despite adverse consequences”. A chill ran through my heart (not really, but a wrinkle of worry wormed across my brow) – does he mean Gear Acquisition Syndrome?

If I have more camera or lenses than I can carry and I am still looking at the results of my saved searches from eBay, I must be addicted.

There was a time, a few years ago, when film equipment was cheap because it was old and analogue. I would have sold all my kit at the time but the return was so low that I kept it for occasional use. Then I bought a few lenses to make up what felt like a full set. Then I am afraid that I bought things to play with. And I think that is the basis of my GAS and addiction. “I am Fup Duck and I have too many cameras and lenses”.

But I like variety. I don’t need to have a collection of every model of a certain camera, as my addiction is not ownership or completeness: I want different things to try. I have analysed my set of cameras and lenses for functionality in what I felt was a rational approach to building a full suite of capability. What I didn’t think about was what caused me to have so much stuff to choose from.

One of the drivers is curiosity – I am a very curious person (probably in both senses of the word). I love to find out how things work and to solve problems. So something like a half-frame camera with a rotary shutter is catnip to me, as is a camera that you twist the lens to work. What is telling is that I borrowed one of these and sold the other one. I think I would own less kit if I could borrow more.

I think there is also a desire to be equipped and ready. It’s probably like carrying some multi-function survival tool around to give me the assurance that, come the zombie apocalypse, I could cope. And is a penknife with ten blades better than one with three? I went down that rabbit hole with underwater cameras and came to the conclusion that the best camera was one that was good enough, but easy to use. But this sense of having the special thing in case I ever need it has driven some lens purchases. My only defence is that I only ever bought cheap – when I spotted a 300mm lens in a charity shop one time, I bought it. I now have a long lens, if I need one, that cost much less than buying one in the future when I do need it. Of course, if I never use the lens it was a waste of money and storage. And that’s the very definition of addiction.

Now, what Mr Brewer talks about is the link between the trigger, the behaviour and the reward. So one of these loops for me is the trigger of curiosity: I wonder what a thing is like. The behaviour is then to acquire one of those things to find out. The reward is the pleasure of investigating and learning. This is fairly well controlled, as I tend to then sell the thing once I have played with it. So this little addiction varies from cost-neutral to making a small profit.

The other loop is more of an addiction, and this is the one where I buy things to fill a perceived gap. Do I have an underwater digital camera? Yes, but what about an analogue one? Do I have a 400mm lens? What about a 200? And shouldn’t everyone have a 70-210mm zoom? This is more pernicious as I accumulate these things and rarely sell them on. The saving grace is that the adverse effects are small: I do not spend much money on this stuff. I tend instead to take opportunities: I will buy something if it turns up at the right price (low) and fills a perceived gap. I’d love a macro lens, for example. Not because I shoot loads of macro stuff, but I would use it for scanning negatives. But I am not willing to pay what they sell for and I already have other means of doing the same job (bellows and an enlarger lens). So I would only buy a macro lens if it was cheap, which isn’t going to happen. But this particular form of my addiction has resulted in me owning more cameras and lenses than I need. And I think the resolution would be to rationalise what I actually use and need and find a way to hire or borrow things that I might use only once or never. What I will also need to do is to refocus the feelings of reward from having all the tools I could need into having the perfect “capsule wardrobe” of essential and multifunctional equipment.

The first step, of course, is to decide if GAS is actually a problem. I think it is, as I have more stuff than I can use. There is no point hoarding cameras for the future: if film does continue to grow then someone may start making cameras again. And if not, they won’t. In which case we may be left with large format film, as there won’t be any 35mm cameras left to shoot the smaller formats. So don’t worry, be happy. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The thing that’s going to help me though is to recognise that I don’t need a huge reserve of every type of camera and lens, plus an extra of each camera in case the first one breaks. It’s only recently (in relative terms – I’ve been around since the last ice age) that I’ve had anything more than a basic camera setup. That never seemed to stop me. So perhaps the simplicity of a capsule camera bag is what I need? That and the recognition that I don’t need to feed this hoarding behaviour.

What we potential members of Analogues Anonymous need is a camera and lens library so the we can scratch the curiosity itch without incurring ownership. Or get the use of something exotic for only the time we actually need it. I’ve got a range of odd kit that I don’t use all the time, but wouldn’t have the use of otherwise. If this charged enough to cover the costs of repairs and CLA, it could help keep some useful skills in business too.

What do you think? Would you give up hoarding kit if you could borrow it?

Things are looking up

In terms of ease of use and quality of results, photography is so much better than it used to be. What brought this (less than genius) thought on was finding a copy of Lichfield on Photography in a charity shop. Whatever you may think of his work, he was successful for quite a few years. The book dates from 1981 and is printed on fairly good coated paper. So the pictures ought to be good. But they’re not.

It’s probably not his fault. Possibly a lot of the mono pictures were converted from colour slides. Perhaps the printing was poor, resulting in the lack of any shadow detail. Or perhaps this was the best we could do in 1981.

I shouldn’t be sarcastic – I have said before that grain and sharpness are not the most important aspects of a picture. But that’s not the point here – what I noticed is just how much better are the results we see now compared to then.

Then was shooting Polaroids to check the lighting. High ISO meant heavy and intrusive grain. Commissioned work meant shooting colour slide film, with no opportunities for post-processing or even cropping. Your shutter might top-out at 1/1000 and your lenses at f2, or smaller if you used a zoom. To get the best results you would be shooting at ISO 25 or 64. Chimping would mean sending a test film for processing or clip tests.

I can hardly criticise – this is grainy and it wasn’t even dark

Now is autofocus and face detection, low-noise ISO in the tens of thousands, large aperture lenses and magic zooms. Plus the ability to tell immediately if the picture worked.

You could say that it needs less skill to make a picture, but it also means that it is easier to get a good picture. See Lichfield – you have to agree that he had the skill, but you can see the limitations of his equipment and the process of printing. Even something as prestigious as National Geographic shows how the underlying technology has improved.

I have certainly taken advantage of this in my diving. I started with a 3mp camera and rapidly found I needed better. I moved to an 8mp camera that has better features and image stabilisation. This wasn’t a deliberate choice mind, it was what was available on eBay. Eight megapixels was pretty good but then I bumped into the jaggies again. So the next step is up to 10mp with a camera that can save raw files. And the technology also brings me image stabilisation, automatic flash control and a macro mode. Compare this with the analogue cameras I have wrestled with underwater and I can’t see myself ever going back. Yes, the technology has made it easier and you could say it has removed the need for technical skill (Lichfield was also saying this in 1981 about cameras with auto-exposure). But it has also allowed me to concentrate on taking pictures rather than juggling the camera settings.

This is at the limits of what my 8mp camera can do and won’t take much enlargement

So I think a few things have happened: better kit has lowered the trade-craft barrier to entry; better kit has raised picture quality generally; good photography is no longer the preserve of photographers. Where is it going? I don’t know. But post-processing software can correct mistakes, smooth skin, replace skies and add mood. Cameras can focus on faces or even eyes and take a blizzard of shots to capture the perfect timing. But there is still a difference between good and bad pictures, if a good picture was your intent.

But basically, bring it on! I will take all the cleverness the camera people can give me (or I can afford) because it generally gives me better results. Or fewer chances to be rubbish. And it gives me the space to go back in time in an area of my choosing to gain an effect – things like using old lenses or shooting in mono rather than colour. Same with cars – my current car is far more advanced than my first one. Do I miss the ability to start the engine with a handle? No. Do I like heating? Yes, and I can turn it off if I want to get nostalgic. So if the purpose of photography is to make pictures rather than drive cameras, then things are much better now than they were then.

Going to extremes

While I have wittered about cameras being Turing machines that can do anything photographically, there are edge cases that are difficult to adapt to. At these times we turn to the weird and wonderful. I admit to owning a few of these and being curious about the rest.

Very wide angles and panoramas are something I do have. I’ve posted before about the Horizon swing-lens camera, but I’ve also got a Lomo Spinner. Where the Horizon scans the lens across a length of film, the Spinner pulls the film past a slot behind the lens. Much the same effect, except the Spinner can do more than a full circle of view. It’s tricky to not include yourself in the picture and equally hard to keep it (nearly) level. But when you want a 360 view without stitching, the Spinner is your friend.

This is also a fine example of Swiss health and safety: a sign on the approach that says ‘be careful’.

For less extreme frame widths I’ve used wide angle lenses. I’ve got one of those negative diopter adapters that fits on the front and gives a wider view. On a 28mm lens you get the full circular fisheye effect with loads of internal reflections and fuzzy edges. Cheaper than a real fisheye for occasional use though.

The extreme of this might be something like the Nikon 8mm lens, that looked like a goldfish bowl. I’ve got a Pentax 15mm lens that I love dearly and had a 30mm fisheye for my Kiev which has roughly the same angle of view, although with much more curvature.

Not bad weather for Yorkshire – you can nearly see the horizon

At the cheap end of the scale I also have a Lomo Fisheye. Given its limitations it works pretty well. The circular image is a bit cropped, but it has a very strong fisheye effect.

At the opposite end are the long, long lenses. I suppose bird-watchers use these, and I use them for sports. Does anyone remember that creepy gadget that used to be on sale, that put a sideways-looking mirror in a fake lens hood for taking covert pictures of people? Jessops used to sell it as a candid angle lens attachment Eew. Although there must have been a market – my great aunt Maud insisted on borrowing my camera with a long zoom when (years ago) we went past the nudist beach at Brighton. Which is interesting, as I would not have done the same for a great uncle. (OK class, discuss).

I’m lucky that I have some longish medium format lenses with an adaptor that lets me strap them to an APS-C digital camera. The focal length multiplier, and the fact that the sensor is using the sharper centre of the image, means a very long lens at a fairly short price.  One of them is a Jupiter 36b 250mm though, which is so heavy it must be a solid cylinder of glass. On the plus side it has so much inertia there is no chance of it bouncing with your pulse.

But as the man said, ”call that a lens?”. At the long end there seems to be no limit. How about a 1700mm f4 made to cover medium format, allegedly made for a member of the Qatar royalty? It weighs 256kg, so your camera bag had better have wheels. Zeiss made that one, and then Canon stepped in with a 1200mm f5.6. Supposedly one of the most expensive lenses ever made (except for the Zeiss, which was never on general sale). There were only a few made and got used for special events where the Press needed to get really close. That lens is a few years old now, but Canon will still sell you an 800mm f5.6. Granted it’s nearly £14,000, but if you need one, you need one. Stick a 1.4x teleconverter on it and bump the ISO up on your modern camera and you have the same reach.

The problem of course is using something with such a narrow angle of view. You almost need a spotting lens to help you point the main lens in the right direction. Then it’s a huge tripod, high ISO and pray nobody bumps you.

So a long zoom might be easier, as you can find your subject at the wide end and then zoom in. It also gives you some adjustment if the subject is moving towards or away from you. I’ve shot at a cricket match with a 300mm, which was barely adequate from the boundary, but worked fairly well as the action was side to side. Somewhere like the public area by the hairpin at Silverstone is harder, as the vehicles come towards you, turn and go away. You need either a long zoom or to pick one spot. A narrow angle of view means that you need Jedi reflexes to trip the shutter, or you follow the vehicle and press the shutter at your pre-focussed spot. When I was there I saw a third solution. This guy had a very long fixed lens. He set the camera up on a tripod pointing up the track and obviously made a note of what was in his frame. He sat next to the tripod with a remote release. As the (bikes in this case) entered his area he tripped the shutter. Much less stressful than me trying to follow-focus with a manual lens on a monopod. I would love to have had something like the Sigma 200-500mm f2.8.  It comes with a teleconverter so at the top end you have a 1000mm f5.6. It weighs about 16kg though, so you’ll not be hand-holding it.

I suppose the other extreme is aperture. With computing power getting cheaper and manufacturing getting more clever, we can now make lenses as standard that used to be unique and hand-made. Zeiss made a very wide aperture 50mm lens for NASA. They made only ten copies. Yet now you can buy a mass-produced 50mm f0.95 lens. Instead of special order, you can even get it on Amazon. There seems to be a wide-aperture lens announced every week, and the prices are reasonable for something so clever. Like I said, I expect it’s a combination of computing power to design them and very clever automated manufacturing to make them. With that goes the ability to make aspherical lens elements more easily and cheaply, making the lens design easier and the lens performance better. I just hope it all goes to better use than the hunt for bokeh though.

I’ve got a close cousin to the wide standard lenses, in a 55mm f1.2. The wide aperture does make it easier to see the point of focus but the lens is quite heavy. Unless I really needed it, I am more inclined to take a short zoom when I go out, as it’s more practical for general shooting. But, and this was the whole point of the article, it’s a tool in the box. It sits with the very wide angle stuff and the very long lenses as solutions for specific problems. Anyway, that’s how I used to rationalise owning too many lenses. And I can’t even play guitar.

One to one or one to many?

One camera with several lenses? A particular lens used on several cameras? Or one lens per camera? If I think about the cameras I have that can swap lenses, I have more lenses than cameras. On the other hand, I still have a lot of cameras.

There is a definite argument for one lens per camera when you are shooting action or the conditions are bad. For some sports or action you don’t have the time to be swapping lenses, plus there is the risk of damage or dirt to the lens you are not using. And in wet or dusty conditions I don’t want to be swapping lenses anyway. I remember taking pictures on a very windswept beach where the air was basically opaque from ground to knee level. Not a place to put your camera bag down.

There is a risk that you end up looking like the Dennis Hopper/ Tim Page character from Apocalypse Now, dangling with cameras like a sale at Jessops. But if I was doing something where it was necessary, I’d probably do the same. Probably not as many drugs though.

But at the end of it all, a camera is just the thing that drives the lens. Except I suppose when the camera has a special quality of its own, like a certain type or size of film or sensor, and doing something clever like panoramic framing.

It’s an idea I started playing with previously, when I started wondering about the functional value of all my kit. So I really ought to think about the lenses too. Do I really need two 135mm lenses for example, or a boxfull of fifties? Maybe yes to the fifties, as they each have a distinctive character. Most of my lenses work on most of my cameras, so perhaps I need to make another grid to work out what I really need and what could be swapped for something more useful?

So, the meaning of the grid: N means the lens is native to that camera. A tick means it also fits this camera. The number in brackets is how many of that lens I own. (I know, I’m ashamed myself). I have given the lens’s actual focal length and ignored the angle of view.

You will see from the grid that I acquired lenses like they were cheap and about to go up in price. Guess what… I didn’t know about increasing in price but I do like a bargain. In general I bought the fixed focal length lenses because I wanted what they could do, the long lenses to cover sports and the zooms because they turned up at the right price. Maybe that’s not fair – there are three zooms that really matter. The 16-45 is brilliant on the APS-C digital camera. The 24-50 is equally great on the full frame camera. And one of the 70-210 is a Vivitar Series 1. This is the lens that a pal of mine at university used to fell a problematic person who was blocking his view. Any lens that can be set to stun and then keep rolling is a bit of a legend to me. I’ll admit – I also have lenses that turned up as a body cap on a camera I wanted, were too cheap to pass up or were part of a bizarre experiment.

I think I have definitely strayed into the many-to-one area in my lens to camera relationship. So what’s a poor boy to do?

I definitely have too many lenses. A few years ago I went to photograph some motorsports and, as I hadn’t done it for a while, took all my long lenses. That was one heavy bag. I can also feel a cull of zooms coming on. Some of them, like the 80-205, are worth peanuts but they are taking up space and someone else might get some use out of them. Same with one of the 70-210s and maybe a few more. So I suppose at the moment I am definitely in the region of (very) many-t0-one and I feel I need to get to the smallest set that fits the cameras I need them to.

Watch out eBay – here I come!

Unfaithful to Pentax

I’ve done a thing I never thought I’d do, and bought an SLR that is not compatible with my Pentax kit.

Up until now all my SLRs could share the pool of lenses. This new one stands alone.

Fuji camera

Why was my head turned? A cheap and interesting lens. It was the beginner’s kit lens at the time this camera came out in the late 70s, and probably since. It’s 55mm focal length and f2.2. So far, so modest, but I heard it could give interesting results. It has four elements in four groups and the online wizards say it’s a Zeiss Unar design. This is the ancestor of the Tessar, the difference being that the air-gapped pair of rear elements in the Unar are cemented together in the Tessar. So you could say it’s not as good but cheaper to build than a Tessar.

I had a bit of fun (true for small values of fun) a while ago comparing bokeh and rendering between different types of 50mm lenses. What I hadn’t got at the time (or since) was a five element lens. I didn’t even know there was a design with four. But now I do.

It was on eBay as an Adaptall-2 fitting, which was great. It turned out to be Fuji bayonet with an Adaptall-labelled rear cap. No matter – the lens was very cheap and a bit of searching found a very cheap Fujica STX-1 body to fit it to. Even together the pair fell inside the Sunny 16 cheap shots challenge rules. We like cheap when we are experimenting.

The lens is certainly cheap. It has a plastic body and a five blade aperture. The camera is cheap too – it was Fuji’s entry model in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s totally mechanical, with a top shutter speed of 1/750. Mine has a dent on the corner and the crank is missing from the film rewind. But it works. It’s also the early version of this camera with a meter needle rather than LEDs, so it’s pre 1982, making it around 40 years old. But the meter works, so hurrah for cheap old cameras. Even so, who cares? It’s the lens I’m interested in.

So what does the father of Tessar look like? (I was going to call it John Durbeyfield, but that’s just too obscure). Quite hard to focus in dim light, but that’s more to do with the camera’s screen than the lens. It feels very plasticy – focusing it or changing the aperture feels like bits of plastic sliding on each other rather than brass or aluminium. It doesn’t rattle like some old lenses though, so that’s a bonus. Closest focus is 0.6m which isn’t bad. Some people have raved about its bubble bokeh, but I’ve seen so many adverts claiming that anything from a telescope to a microscope is a bokeh monster that I don’t really believe them.

As I’m not sure about the camera’s light seals I shot it first with the tail end of a part-used film. No light leaks apparent, so all seems well.

For the camera buffs it’s a basic SLR and works just like they all do. The shutter speed range and the one in use are visible at the left of the viewfinder with the meter needle on the right. A half-press on the shutter button switches on the meter. There is a lock for the shutter release so it’s safe to leave the shutter cocked. This is a cheap and basic camera that would (and still does) do the job. The only real drawback, then as now, is that you are largely confined to Fuji lenses. The flange distance was less than M42, so there was an adapter available at the time that could get you access to a wider range of screw-mount lenses. Whether the adapter is still available I don’t know, and I have no wish to use this camera with my M42 lenses – this is to mount the mighty Unar.

So how did it handle? Like a film SLR. All the usual controls in the usual places. A little limited in bright conditions by the low top speed, a little limited in dim conditions by the small maximum aperture and a dim focusing screen. And the lens? At the usual range of distances and apertures, just like any other standard lens. I’m not going to point it at a resolution chart or even a wall – what’s the point?

These are the first shots out of the camera. First test of course is to recreate the bokeh shots I did, but using Wilson’s fruity friend.

Fuji pine

Nice and smooth with a hint of double image in the white bench.

Fuji tree

The possibility of a bit of swirly in the background.

Fuji Charlie

Again, nice and smooth. A bit of double image or outline in the strand of plant, which mean it may well do the fabled bubble bokeh.

Still, for what it cost this is fun. Fun enough that I used it for the Casual Photophile Challenge.

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PS – the Classic Lenses Podcast then did an episode on this lens. Looks like mine is a good one for not being cracked.

Make do and mend

I had some lenses fixed.

Let me tell you how this came to pass. I’ve had some of my lenses for a long time, and I’ve accumulated an eclectic collection of glassware over the years along with some knackered cameras. I’ve had a couple of the cameras fixed – basically waking-up sleepy shutters. Then I found that a Pentax 135mm lens I hadn’t used for a while had a very sticky aperture. I also had a lovely old Pentax 35mm lens with the same. It worked fine at closing down when taking a picture but was very slow to open-up again.

So what to do? I could perhaps replace the lenses, but what would I do with the old ones? I doubt if I could sell them and I hate the idea of throwing them away. The answer was to get them serviced, for a couple of reasons.

First is that we shouldn’t be throwing things away that we can repair (which is why the right to repair is so important).

The other is that there aren’t that many people who can still mend cameras and lenses. If they can’t make a living, we lose them completely. (Although there is a new hope)

Seawater meets electronics

I had previously had a Pentax with a dragging shutter serviced, plus an Olympic Zeiss 180mm lens with a gummy aperture. These were done by APM in Newcastle, and they did a good job.

For the 135mm and 35mm I used Peggy’s recommendation of the Camera Repair Workshop in Milton Keynes. Another good job – the glass in these lenses now looks brand new as well.

What I need now is someone who can repair a Kiev 60 with a forced winding mechanism (don’t ask). The obvious thing would have been to send it to Arax, but getting a parcel to Ukraine seems to be more complicated than sending it to Mars (and about the same price). But there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the UK who can repair them. So I guess I’m planning a Mars mission.

Glue, perhaps?

So overall, mending and servicing gear is a good thing. It might be useful to have a list of menders, so here is my first draft. Feel free to send me details of other people you have used with good results and I will update this post.

I’m sure there are more. Indeed, I know there are more. Let me know if you have any recommendations. Or if you have a broken Kiev 60 with a working winding mechanism. Or any spare pies.

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Update – I’ll re-open contact with Arax. As soon as this invasion is repelled and things hopefully return to nearer normal, Ukraine is going to need all the business we can send them.

Favourite camera or lens

Pick your top three lenses. What’s your favourite camera? If you could only shoot one type of film, what would it be?

Those are difficult questions, not because I have so many to choose from but because I don’t think I have favourites. Well, with film I probably do. Not with lenses or cameras though.

But if I don’t have a favourite, does this mean I lack discrimination? I don’t know. I can tell my lenses apart and I can pick one lens out of several that are similar to get an effect I want. But I’m not sure that I favour one lens or camera over another.

I’m very lucky – like a lot of photographers I have several cameras and lenses. This means I can use either what takes my fancy or what gets the job done. But I don’t find myself always using the same camera or lens. I don’t automatically pick up a certain camera or lens, so I guess I really can’t have favourite. I’ll spend a period using one camera and then probably put it away and use something else for a while. Unless I’m after a specific result, in which case I’ll use the combination that delivers it. For example – I wanted a mild telephoto lens with a wide aperture on digital to shoot something indoors that I could not get close to. So I used a 50mm f1.7 on an APS-C camera. Neither lens nor camera became a favourite and I’m not sure I have used them together since.

Actually, I think that having a variety of kit means I don’t need to have a favourite. Part of the joy for me in having options is that I can play with them. I do have kit I like because it’s a bit special, and by that I mean that it’s fun to use or does something unusual or in some cases has sentimental value. This would be the place I should provide a list of the things I claim are not my favourites so that I can show-off my wonderful toys. Instead, I’ll just say that I’ve got some stuff I like for a mixture of practical and sentimental reasons. If you have read any previous posts, you will have seen the results from some of these or read my reasons for liking them. One that I haven’t written about is a Pentax 15mm lens. This thing is awesome but a bit specialised. I may write about it but it’s hardly something that you can pick up in a charity shop. As for the rest of the kit, the whole point of it is whether it can produce the result I want. In this context I think that favourite means ‘does what I want it to’. So I have definitely had kit that was the opposite of favourite. There was the Nikonos that I just couldn’t love; I’ve got a little Fuji splashproof camera that has bad shutter lag and takes so long to start that the moment has usually passed; I’ve got a couple of zoom lenses that add little to a camera than poor handling and greater weight. The only one of these I have done anything about is the Nikonos as it was the only one with a resale value (if you don’t love something, let it go). Basically, cameras and lenses have to be good enough and reliable enough to do the job – the rest is marketing.

Teeth.png
For this you need a camera that can be operated with one hand.

So, of all the rest of my huge investment in kit, is any of them my favourite? No – I like using them. Would I replace them if one of them broke? Probably not. The various lenses have their own special thing and I’m keeping them because if I sold one of them and changed my mind, I probably couldn’t afford to buy them again. Would I take them to my desert island? Nope – I am unsentimental enough to want something sandproof instead.

But that’s just me. Do you have favourites? What makes them so?

Ars longer

I’ve been scanning a load of my parents’ and grandparents’ old negatives. Amongst all the fuzzy shots of relatives on holiday was one film’s worth of long-term shots taken in my parents’ garden. They were taken by me of a family occasion. I had obviously given both the prints and the negs to my parents so they could make reprints. I’d forgotten all about the pictures and the occasion. But aside from that, I’d forgotten how good a long lens is for pictures of people.

These days I tend to use standard to wide angle lenses. I get environment and context in the shot. But the simple joy of seeing a single figure separated from background, not particularly aware of your presence – it’s great.

Ben and Sally

It was a sunny Summer day and I was using 200ISO colour negative. I only had two long lenses at the time and it was obvious from the shots that I didn’t use the zoom. So these were shot on a 135mm lens. It was bright sunlight and I know I was shooting with flash, so the fastest shutter speed I could have used is 1/125 which means this lens must have been stopped-down and not wide open. It still blurred the backgound nicely though.

I think this focal length has gone out of fashion: it’s thought to be too long for portraits. One of the photo podcasts described it as a focal length that was invented to let German hill-walkers pick out a detail on the other side of the valley. I guess it would be too long for indoor portraits, but it worked perfectly in my parents’ garden. I’ve even got full-length portraits.

Roy Friday

So I’m back in love with the 135. The one I was using at the time was a Pentax – the SMC Takumar f2.5. In the years since the aperture blades have become oily and slow, so I need to send if away for some TLC. But a Vivitar f2.8 came up on eBay at under ten squids and now it is mine.

Back in the old days we used to know that with a 50mm lens on 35mm (or full frame) held portrait, a person would nicely fill the frame at about ten feet. I just did the sums again and the field of view for a 50mm lens on a vertical 35mm frame is two meters at nine feet (ooh, nice mixed metrics – it’s 2m at 2.8m distance).

Slap a 135mm lens on and the distance increases to 24′ (7.4m). So yes, you’re unlikely to be shooting full length portraits indoors. I do like the effect though and it will come in handy with our current distancing and separation.

Down sides? I had obviously not used the Pentax lens much in recent years. Perhaps it really was a bit too long for people and not long enough for sport. I do remember that it was never out of my camera bag at the time. Perhaps then it was just me changing the sort of thing I shot? Maybe I got old and slimmed-down the camera bag?

So it looks like I’ve rediscovered the modest tele lens. Let’s see what I do with it during my government-allowed exercise period.

Simple lenses and choppy bokeh

Remember the film title Things to do in Denver when you’re dead? Well this is things to do in the house when you are trying to not be. In the house I mean, although not being dead is important too.

Despite all the therapy and support, in times of idleness one’s fancy can turn to things of bokeh. Or the unimportant bit, as we used to call it. That’s when you realise you have several lenses of the same focal length but different construction. And you wonder why, and what the difference is between them. And if the really clever or expensive lens is actually better than the cheap one. And what better means. And if this means you need to buy more lenses. Or find better backgrounds.

So you find the adapter that mounts your cheapo nasty analogue lenses on your digital camera. This takes two hours and uncovers more interesting old lenses. But you only have one version of each of them. So when it gets dark and eBay closes for the night you come back to the plan. One focal length, one aperture, one scene: the ultimate shoot-off. But is it fair to compare a lens that can do f1.2 with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f3.5? Do you compare them all at the same aperture or at their widest? More time passes.

After a few more beers you decide that the reason you started this (and it is totally your fault) is to see what the backgrounds looked like. Kind of an aide memoire of which lens to use to get which effect. So it’s fully open aperture on all lenses to get the best of their aberrations. But to use a scene where the point of focus is close, so that we get lots of the fuzzy. And we reassure ourselves that we haven’t gone all Photography With Classic Lenses and that we still have a sliver of pride and self respect. And then we laugh and drink more beer.

So – big question: what sort of fuzzy does it for you?

Me? I’m a smooth guy. I like the out of focus areas to just look less sharp. I want my background to be background. Smooth tones. No magic circles or swirly. Nothing that looks like the subject is stood in a whirlwind or bubblebath. The only reason to use the weirder lenses might be that the pattern in the background somehow adds to the shot. Otherwise it’s the background. But that justifies the other lenses, right?

Now, some of the theory to this is that the rendering of the background is affected by how well-corrected the lens is for spherical aberations. And a simple magnifying-glass lens gets better corrected for other aberations by adding more elements to the design along with different types of glass. It’s fairly easy to make a reasonable lens at small aperture sizes, but the wider you want the lens to be the more clever the design has to be, which often involves yet more bits of glass. So the argument is that a simple lens ought to have more textured out of focus areas than a more complex and better-corrected lens.

So where does that leave me on a Sunday afternoon? I have, in the same focal length, lenses with from 3 to 7 elements. I have lenses that span the all famous design formulae. To be honest, I have a sufficiency of lenses. And I have time.

So, the simplest lens is no lens. But I have no pinhole cameras at the moment so this is out. Same with a simple meniscus (but been there, done that on medium format) or a doublet. Got a triplet though.

So I’ve got:

  • Triplet – a Meyer-Optik Goerlitz Domiplan 50mm F2.8.
  • Four elements in three groups (Tessar) – an Industar 50-2 50mm f3.5.
  • 6 elements in 4 groups and probably a Planar design – Rikenon 50mm f1.7.
  • 6 elements in 4 groups, but a Biotar design – Helios 44 58mm F2.
  • 7 elements in 6 groups, probably a version of the Planar – an Auto Yashinon 55mm F1.2.

This is what I had to hand – I am not spending time on eBay looking for a five element lens.

Now, everyone buys the Domiplan lens because it does bubble bokeh: out of focus highlights turn into circles. With only three lens elements, it doesn’t really correct for much at all.

At the other extreme, the Yashinon has seven elements, not so much to make the lens sharper but to manage the aberations in a design that is more than two stops wider than the Domiplan. Somewhere in the middle might be the sweet spot of fast enough and smooth enough – the Goldilocks lens.

My first idea was to shoot them with a nearby lamp as my subject and a window behind to give me some highlights. That didn’t really work, as they all looked quite similar. The only one that stood out was the Yashinon. This was because the design that was pushed to work with a front element almost two inches in diameter caused some crescent-shaped highlights away from the centreline of the lens. This is the downside of pushing a lens design this far.

TOMIOKA

So instead of dithering indoors, I persuaded Wilson‘s cousin Gilbert to stand in as my model in the garden. He’s a rugged fellow with plenty of skin texture, so ideal.

Domiplan pair
The background is quite busy and showing bubble highlights

Industar pair
Smoother background. This is a lens I like.

Ricoh pair
Nice – I’ve had this lens a long time and I can see why.

Helios pair
The background is getting a little swirly.

Yashinon pair
What background? Was it foggy?

So, what do I think?

Well, one thing was that some of the lenses had noticeable field curvature. In each case I focused on the B in the centre of the lens than reframed the shot. In some, like the Domiplan, the sharpest point has moved nearer the camera. Something to be aware of – I can’t just reframe some of these lenses if I use them wide-open.

The Domiplan is a cheap lens that does the bubble trick on background highlights. It’s OK for that but it can make the background look quite busy.

The Industar 50-2 is great – I really like this lens. It’s tiny and it renders backgrounds smoothly. A bit of a pain to use though, as the aperture is manual.

The Ricoh/ Rikenon is the standard lens that came on my first SLR camera. It does a good job and doesn’t intrude. It works on my film kit and on the digital and gets the highest praise: it just works.

The Helios is a real cult lens because it can make backgrounds look swirly. It’s slow to use, as mine is one of the older ones with a preset aperture. Given the choice I would usually take the Industar, because it is so much smaller and lighter than the Helios.

The Yashinon is bonkers. It does crescent-shaped highlights, it does completely fogged backgrounds, it can see in the dark. On digital it also gives coloured fringes and a bit of a glow to things – see the shots above. Unless you want to shoot at F1.2 all the time it needs to be used on a proper M42 mount, so I use it for film work.

My conclusion? The Domiplan and the Helios are special effects lenses. The Industar is a superb pancake lens with good rendering. The Ricoh is a rock-solid standard. The Yashinon is there for when you really do need to separate the background or to take pictures in the dark. And your mileage may vary.

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