Pentax 15mm lens

This is one of those lenses I mentioned that, if I ever sold it and was filled with remorse, I couldn’t afford to replace.

How I came to buy it originally was luck. It was a rare and expensive lens – Pentax can’t have sold a dozen of these a year. And yet a branch of Jessops nearby had one on sale. This was in the days when Jessops were useful. When I asked about it, the reason was because a customer had ordered it but then declined to buy it. It was such an extreme lens that the shop must have thought they would never shift it. So they had it on sale for the same amount I had separately paid for a secondhand MX body. Even then I swithered about it. How many people really need a 15mm lens?

And yet it’s rather marvellous. It has a 100 degree horizontal field of view, but it is also rectilinear. This means that straight lines stay straight and don’t bow like a fisheye lens. There is a whole rabbit warren to drop down if you want to learn about the different ways an extreme wide angle can work, but it basically comes down to two things: do straight lines curve or not and do circular things stretch into ovals at the sides of the frame?

This is an estate agent’s lens. Pop this on a tripod, get it level and you can make a phone box look like a ballroom. All the lines stay straight, so there is no obvious distortion. You can get a lot in the frame without the usual fisheye distortion or get in close and get some strong diminution effects.

It may not look much, but that’s the point. I was nearly close enough to touch the building.

Those that know give the lens a mixed reception and say it’s soft in the corners wide open and suffers from flare. I like it a lot, but use it less than perhaps I could. The built-in yellow and orange filters are useful for black and white and there’s also a UV and skylight filter for colour. The built-in lens shade does at least belp to keep the front element from harm.

In terms of handling it’s a bit of a beast. It’s heavy, for a start – 595g. The large front element and built-in hood need a deep slide-on lens cap that is better described as slide-off. I’ve got a strip of masking tape round the end of my lens to make the cap a tighter fit, but it’s still covered in dings from its escape attempts. Despite being heavy, it’s easy enough to carry though. I did a photo-walk and used this lens. The camera was actually a nice balance and quite discrete for hand-carrying. With the lens on a Pentax MX body weighing 495g the point of balance was to carry the outfit by the lens body with a wrist strap for safety.

Strap 1

It has a lovely smooth focus action, just as you’d expect from a Pentax lens. The extreme wide angle means that the throw of the focus ring is quite short – perhaps 60 degrees to get you from infinity to it’s minimum focus of something like 25cm. The depth of field is also pretty extreme – at f8 it covers from infinity to about 50cm. Circles do become elliptical at the sides of the frame though, but that’s to be expected with an extreme angle of view.

Does it flare? It can, yes, but the picture below was taken into the sun. I have had some flare streaks before, but it seems to be from shooting across the sun rather than into it. Up with it you are going to have to put though, as you’re not going to get a bigger lens hood on this baby (unless you make one).

Coventry

The built in filters are more convenient than some fisheye lenses that need separate filters fiddled onto the rear of the lens. They also stay clean and are part of the lens’s formula. The down side though is that you can’t easily swap one of the filters for something else. I had an Arsat 30mm fisheye for my Kiev 60 that took screw-on filters on the rear of the lens, so it would be possible to take say the green filter apart and replace it with a neutral density. I did this trick with my Horizon camera to give me an IR filter.

So, is it worth the expense? Maybe, if you can get one at a good price. You really need the lens cap with it, as nothing else will fit and that front element sticks out a lot. It would be interesting (in a nerdy kind of way) to compare it with some other extreme wide angle lenses such as Samyang. But then you descend into the madness of rectilinear versus fisheye rendering (see link above) and end-up buying one of each. But, if you can find or borrow one, try it. It really is a new way of looking at the world.

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.

Aphantasia

Now, here’s a thing. And I didn’t even know it was a thing. It’s the inability to see pictures in your head. A blind mind’s eye.

It started when I was reading Imaginable by Jane McGonigal. Highly recommended, by the way. But there was an initial exercise that asked “imagine yourself waking up in ten years’ time. What’s it like”. So in all good faith, I started describing it to myself. Then the book continued to ask me to imagine every detail and colour of the scene as vividly as possible “unless you are one of the 2% of the population who have aphantasia”. Say what? I could describe my future world eloquently in words, but the best picture was a fuzzy version of my existing bedroom. Hang on – do other people see pictures?

Now close your eyes and imagine a horse. But not this one. This is Bob.

Then, as life does, synchronicity slapped me on the head. There was a press headline on a news feed about a study into aphantasia. So I read it. Then took an online test that seemed to have a lot of its results feeding into further research. And you know what, I don’t seem to have much of a mind’s eye. I can’t see a picture in my head of things that I’m not directly remembering. Even then, it’s lacking in detail. Like most things, it’s a spectrum. A fuzzy imagining, rather than a total absence, is called hypophantasia. Nothing to do with the Disney film, by the way.

How about imagining a sheep?

The first question of course is wether this is true, or at least true for me. The online test seemed to confirm it, but I’m sure every hypochondriac says the same. On the other hand it would explain a lot. It may explain what my wife calls my total lack of an aesthetic sense. But if I can’t imagine what something could look like, I’m unlikely to go out and buy paint. It could also explain why, the one time I went off piste and did buy paint, it was so far from the right colour it wasn’t even wrong. My wife is still puzzled why someone who takes photographs could not see it was the wrong colour. Perhaps I now know why. It may also explain my fascination with colour in production design: I can’t really see what a scene could look like, so I think people who can are very clever. It could even explain why I feel I see things as an alien, but that’s probably stretching it. I do think it could explain why I was rubbish at art when I was at school, but much better at writing (and explains this blog).

If this is true, and it’s still an if, it’s not the end of the world. The condition seems to be no hindrance to creativity. In the case of Derek Parfit it was mooted as the reason for his interest in photography. It may even be compensated by better spacial cognition.

So if it is true, it explains a few things. If not, it’s harmless and gets me out of choosing paint. I may be using this as the drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination – but at least I got a drink out of it.

Out of curiosity, how do you get on with this test?

What are the rules?

With full credit to the song from “it’s always sunny in Philadelphia”.

So, what are the rules?

  1. Sharp is better
  2. Boring subjects are made better by good technique (but see rule 6)
  3. Better cameras make better pictures
  4. Wider lens apertures are better
  5. Expensive lenses are best
  6. Bad technique is better (Lomo)
  7. More pixels = more better
  8. You have to really understand 18% grey
  9. Bokeh makes the picture
  10. If you don’t understand, you’re stupid
  11. You need the same camera as them
  12. Old lenses are better
  13. This number is unlucky
  14. You can guess the exposure
  15. You will work for exposure (the other kind)
  16. The past is not relevant
  17. If you had a Leica and a Rolleiflex, you would be perfect
  18. All women naturally stand around in poses like they do in photographs
  19. Shooting film slows me down
  20. Real photographers shoot in manual
  21. Tripods are for HG Wells
  22. I could have taken a better picture than that
  23. I don’t need to ask anyone for permission
  24. You want me to explain that to you
  25. Mirrorless is the best
  26. Film has a special look
  27. Street photography needs a rangefinder
  28. You should start a podcast
  29. Instagram will bring you fame and money
  30. Thirds are the secret of composition
  31. You should learn more about cameras
  32. Taking pictures of graffiti is art
  33. Lenses should be tested
  34. A wedding, or any event, needs thousands of pictures
  35. It’s only serious if it’s in black and white
  36. Make sure the sun is behind you
  37. Everyone loves pictures of wildlife
  38. Almost as much as they love landscapes
  39. Always aim for the highest possible contrast in your picture
  40. “Well seen” is the highest praise possible for your pictures
  41. Everybody wants their picture taken
  42. There is an answer for everything
  43. For more diversity in photography, try a different lens
  44. It’s extra special if you shoot it on an iPhone
  45. Youtube needs you
  46. Expose for the shadows
  47. Petrol stations at night
  48. Taking pictures of poor or homeless people elevates them
  49. The Milky Way and a tent lit from inside
  50. There is only one way to leave your lover

Have I missed any?

37

And in deference to Poe’s Law, I need to make it clear that this post is ironic.

9

Oh, and so is Philadelphia. Just in case.

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