Another medium tele test — summary

This is a continuation of a test of the following lenses on the Sony a7RII:

  • Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis.
  •  Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus.
  • Leica 90mm f/2 Apo Summicron-M ASPH.
  • AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G.
  • Sony 90mm f/2.8 FE Macro.

The test starts here.

I’d present the f/5.6 results, but I think you get the general idea. The differences are along the lines of the differences at f/4, but more subtle, and less consequential.

I’ll close the test with a few words about handling and usage, then I’ll give you my take-home.

The two lenses that seem made for handholding on the a7x cameras are the Summilcron and the Batis. They don’t stick out that far, they’re not that heavy — though the ‘cron is heavier than it looks — and they’re a pleasure to use on the body. The 85 Nikkor is a big pain to use on the a7x, because it’s a G lens and setting aperture is imprecise at best. The Sony macro works fine in spite of its length. The Otus is too much lens to comfortably hand hold for any length of time.

The lens that’s the hardest to focus is the Summilcron, because it’s got that short rangefinder throw and making small focus changes is a fiddly operation. The Otus is a joy to focus, but, tactile pleasure aside, the two focus-by-wire lenses, the Sony and the Batis, are even easier to use to dial in that last little tweak to the focus thanks to the firmware going into a mode where it takes more than a little ring turning to make a modest change in focus.

A shout-out to Leica for including a slip out lens hood. It’s not as effective as the reversible ones, but it’s a lot more convenient, with the added bonus that you’re less likely to drop your lens than handling one with a reversed hood attached.

All five lenses are excellent. The Sony is sharp enough at infinity, which is usually the toughest distance for a macro lens. The Nikon is not so hot wide open, but then again, the only other f/1.4 lens in this test is the Otus, which is in a different league from a pricing, size, and weight perspective. The Summilcron has a beautiful rendering, but to my way of thinking, is not worth the money. The Batis is a lovely lens, especially considering its price.

We photographers are lucky to have tools like these.

Another medium tele test — f/4

This is a continuation of a test of the following lenses on the Sony a7RII:

  • Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis.
  •  Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus.
  • Leica 90mm f/2 Apo Summicron-M ASPH.
  • AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G.
  • Sony 90mm f/2.8 FE Macro.

The test starts here.

We’ll look can look at 300% center and corner crops  images from all five lenses.

In the center:

Sony

Sony

Nikkor

Nikkor

Batis

Batis

Summilux

Summicron

Otus

Otus

The differences are subtle, The Sony looks to be slightly softer than the rest, and the Otus sharper and more contrasty, but these are all nice images.

In the corner:

Sony

Sony

Nikkor

Nikkor

Batis

Batis

Summilux

Summicron

Otus

Otus

All pretty nice. The ‘lux and the Sony are the softest. The Otus has an etched contrast that some — but not I — might say is too much. Is that where the disparaging word “clinical” comes from?

Another medium tele test — f/2.8

This is a continuation of a test of the following lenses on the Sony a7RII:

  • Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis.
  •  Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus.
  • Leica 90mm f/2 Apo Summicron-M ASPH.
  • AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G.
  • Sony 90mm f/2.8 FE Macro.

The test starts here.

At f/2.8, we can look at images from all five lenses.

In the center:

Sony

Sony

The Sony does a nice job wide open, with just a trace of edge coloration when the contrast is really high.

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Nikkor has come into its own.

Batis

Batis

Another fine performance from the Batis.

Summilux

Summicron

And the Summicron shows its style with that delicious rendering.

Otus

Otus

Pretty close to flawless for the Otus.

In the corner.

Sony

Sony

The Sony is a tad soft. Not bad at all; you’d never notice it for almost any photographic use, but not up to the standards set below. I know from testing that this lens has some LaCA wide open, but it’s not evident here, at least to my eyes.

Nikkor

Nikkor

A good job.

Batis

Batis

Maybe not quite as sharp as the Nikon, but an outstanding job.

Summilux

Summicron

Lovely, but not materially better than the Nikkor and the Batis.

Otus

Otus

Look at how much contrast the Otus has! Just flat amazing.

Another medium tele test — f/2

This is a continuation of a test of the following lenses on the Sony a7RII:

  • Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis.
  •  Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus.
  • Leica 90mm f/2 Apo Summicron-M ASPH.
  • AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G.
  • Sony 90mm f/2.8 FE Macro.

The test starts here.

Now we’ll look at the centers and corners of all the lenses but the Sony 90mm macro at f/2.

First, the center.

Nikkor

Nikkor

The green and magenta fringing that we saw with the Nikkor at f/1.4 has almost completely gone away.

Batis

Batis

Sharper than the Nikkor, and, to my eyes, a more believable rendering.

Summilux

Summicron

This is a lovely rendering. It’s not sharper than the Batis, which is a slight surprise, but there is no trace of any pattern coloration.

Otus

Otus

The Otus continues its special performance. The contrast is truly impressive.

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Nikon is not bad, but look below, the Batis is better.

Batis

Batis

Summilux

Summicron

The ‘cron looks great for wide open.

Pyus

Otus

The Otus is the contrast king, and produces a lovely image.

 

Another medium tele test — f/1.4

A while back, I tested a group of medium telephoto lenses on the Sony a7II. The lenses in the last test were:

  • Zeiss 85mm f/4 ZM (Leica M mount) Tele-Tessar.
  •  Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus.
  • Leica 90mm f/2 Apo Summicron-M ASPH.
  • AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G.
  • Tamron SP AF Di 90mm f/2.8 Macro.

The Otus and the ‘cron came out on top, with the little Zeiss Tele-Tessar getting the honorable mention award for its small size, low price, and excellent performance.

Today, I’m going to start posting the results of a new medium tele test. This one uses the a7RII body, so it will be a little harder on the lenses. The lenses are:

  • Zeiss 85mm f/1,8 Batis.
  •  Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus.
  • Leica 90mm f/2 Apo Summicron-M ASPH.
  • AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G.
  • Sony 90mm f/2.8 FE Macro.

I’m not going to use the scene where the camera is cocked so that the horizon runs from corner to corner. Some people have complained that it makes them queasy, and it’s not much of an advantage with lenses as long as the ones in this test.

The scene with the Batis at f/8:

_DSC6862-2

And with the Sony 90mm macro lens:

_DSC6832

I’ll show center and upper right corner crops at 300%, which is pretty intense magnification, especially considering the a7RII pixel pitch, but this way I’m sure that small differences will survive JPEG compression. I focused on the center and corner separately so as not to penalize the lenses for field curvature. I only focused wide open, though, so lenses that have significant focus shift upon stopping down will show the effects of that deficiency.

Tripod was a RRS carbon fiber one from their heaviest series. Head was the Arca Swiss Cube. I used a 5-second self timer delay. I also used EFCS, which will darken the upper part of the image at high shutter speeds and wide apertures, but I didn’t want to risk shutter shock at the lower shutter speeds. The images were all developed in Lightroom with default settings, except for using Daylight for the white point, and some corner exposure moves that I’ll explain as I go.

This post will deal with the f/1.4 images from the two lenses that can open that wide.

The center crops:

Otus

Otus

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Otus rendering is far superior.  Crisper. More contrasty. More believable. And missing that really ugly green and magenta fringing around the light part of the house on the mid-lower part of the left hand side and the green at the top of the piece of copper flashing above that. The Nikkor show less obvious color fringing throughout the foliage. This could be longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA).

The corner:

Otus

Otus

Nikkor

Nikkor

They’re both pretty dark because of the corner falloff that seems inevitable with such fast lenses, plus the EFCS being operated where you’d not normally use it. I will probably have to go back and double check the f/1.4 exposures with the mechanical shutter.

For now, I’ll give them both a two stop exposure boost:

Otus

Otus

Nikkor

Nikkor

The Otus doesn’t have nearly the contrast that it has in the center, but it’s really a pretty spectacular performance. The Nikkor is just plain soft, and suffers from purple fringing that could be LoCA. It’s not lateral chromatic aberration (LaCA), since that would occur mostly on tangential branches, not radial ones.

 

 

 

 

Planning for long exposures

Back in the large-format film era, there were many images that showed pronounced motion blur from moving water. In many cases, it looked really nice. When films were slow and lenses stopped down to f/90, it was pretty easy to get moving water looking creamy, especially since midday was usually a time for siestas and loading film holders, not photography.

These days, we see a lot of that look to water. In addition, many photographers are making images with a lot of cloud motion. Those images aren’t all made at night, although Michael Kenna has done some marvelous night motion-blurred images. With lens diaphragms wimping out at f/16 or f/22, and camera ISOs generally running from 100 up,  we often need assistance in making long exposures under more light than a full moon.

Enter the neutral density (ND) filter. I’d use them more if I could find ones that work well at infrared wavelengths, but I have played with them to good effect.

Today, I’m presenting an aid to planning for shoots using ND filters, with a little table I’ve concocted based on the hoary old “Sunny 16” rule: set your camera’s aperture to 16 the shutter speed to one over the ISO setting, and you’ll have a good exposure for a typical sunny day. I’m not suggesting that you use this table in actually setting the exposure. but it could be useful if you know what lighting conditions you are likely to encounter, and roughly the range of shutter speeds that you want to use. You can then decide what ND filters to take.

nd s 16

Across the top are ND filters you might consider, with stops of attenuation as the sort criterion. The first column is your f-stop, and the rest of the table is the exposure time in seconds using the Sunny 16 rule. The column with 0 at the top is the shutter speed for no filter.

I don’t know how many of you remember the exposure instructions that Kodak used to include with every roll of film that gave the SUnny 16 exposure — although they didn’t call it that — and then the exposure for a bunch of lighting conditions a stop apart. I’ll see if I can get close from memory:

  • Snow or beach scene: stop down one stop.
  • Hazy sun: open up one stop.
  • Cloudy bright: open up two stops.
  • Light overcast: open up three stops
  • Heavy overcast or open shade: open up four stops.

I hope this helps a few people figure out which ND filters to buy and/or take to a shoot.

A book report – getting the pages flat

This is a continuation of a series of posts that I started what seems like a long time ago about getting a book designed and published. The series starts here.

Almost all of the photos in the Staccato series are wider than they are high. Many are a great deal wider than the image height. If you want a book that fits in most shelves, you’re limited to 12 to 14 inch page widths, and 14 is pushing it. So I understand completely why Jerry designed the book with images that spread from one page to the facing one; to do otherwise would have made the images too small, and they would have floated miserably in a sea of whiteness.

Running images through the gutter – as designers call the center of the two page spread — requires that the pages lie fairly flat. Otherwise the distortion of the image is ugly, shadows cast by the pages near the spine fall on the image, and, in extreme cases, you can’t see the image content near the spine of the book.

So I was really interested to get a good look at the book mockup. That’s a book with blank pages and a blank cover, but with the same paper, the same number of signatures, the same binding methods, and the same cover material as the real book will have. You can hold it in your hands and see what the heft is like. You can see if the pages feel right when you turn them. And you can see how flat they lie. That last bit was what was foremost on my mind when I opened the package containing the Staccato mockup.

I didn’t like what I saw.

It did get a little better as I leafed through the book and the pages loosened up, but it never got to what I’d call acceptable. I took a look at the bottom of the book as it lay on a table opened to a page in the middle of the book. The signatures are sewn to a piece of cloth that forms the spine of the book. One side of the cloth is attached to the hard front cover of the book. The other I attached to a piece of paper that slides in a slot on the back cover of the book. The idea is that the cloth spine can flex upwards meaning that the facing pages to which the book is open don’t need to drop down all the way to the level of the spine on both ends of the book, and they’ll lie flatter.

The cloth spine wasn’t bending at all. Oops.

I went to my bookshelf and dug up a photo book about as thick as Staccato; it was the Robinson Jeffers/West Coast Photo Gods book. This was an old copy. The construction technique was the same, but the cloth spine bent upwards nicely when the book was opened.

I called Jerry and complained. Jerry called Hemlock. Hemlock said that they had a meeting with the bindery, and would bring up the issue.

And that’s where it stands. I’m hoping we can ge a more flexible material for the spine.

 

 

A book report — proofreading

This is a continuation of a series of posts that I started what seems like a long time ago about getting a book designed and published. The series starts here.

I’ve already posted about how I’m proofing the images for the book. However, there’s a less-fascinating (to photographers) but still important, proofing task: all the text. There are five main conceptual groups of text in the book.

  • A forward, written by Brian Taylor
  • An introduction, written by moi
  • An afterword, also by me
  • The captions
  • All the miscellaneous tittles, copyright notices, credits, etc, sprinkled throughout the book, the dust cover, and the slipcase.

I proofed all the text for the first three before I sent the copy to Jerry as three Word documents. Brian’s writing style is quite different from mine, and I didn’t do any style edits on his piece. I dealt with the captions by putting them into the metadata of their respective images before I sent the images to Jerry. I figured that would keep each image associated with its caption, eliminating the embarrassing and frustratingly difficult to find error of captioning the wrong picture.

Jerry and his people put the text and photos into an InDesign document, exported it as a PDF, and sent it to me for proofing. I proof better from hard copy than from a computer screen. I don’t know why, but I just see little things when I’m looking at paper, things that might easily escape my attention on the screen. So I printed out the PDF. I immediately ran into a problem. The pages in the PDF were full spreads — what will become two facing pages in the printed book. Since there are many images that span two pages, this is a good way to visualize the aesthetics of the book. However, when a double page is printed on the largest non-photographic printer I have (8.5×11 inches) almost all the text is illegible, at least to these tired old eyes.

Jerry reformatted the PDF into pages, and things were better, but still not great. I had special difficulty with the captions, which are printed using a 50% gray spot color, so they don’t distract the viewer from the image itself.

I had to proof the captions on the screen. When I did, I found some of them were with the wrong image. Apparently, rather than having InDesign place the captions automatically from the metadata, Jerry and his designers placed them manually. I also found errors in my own captioning in Lightroom.

When all was said and done, neither Jerry nor I had high confidence that we’d gotten all the mistakes worth finding. Jerry offered to find a proofreader. I said yes.

Five hundred dollars and two weeks later, Jerry had a hard copy printout of the book marked up by the proofreader. She found a lot of errors, some of which I wouldn’t have bothered fixing, and many that would have made me blush had they found their way into the final book.

I wanted to see what the proofreader had done, but at the time I was housebound. Jerry’s designer had made the corrections in an InDesign file, and apparently InDesign doesn’t have an equivalent of the Word revisions tools. In any event, Jerry couldn’t email me the markup; if I wanted to see it, snail mail was the only choice. I decided not to do that, and just did an on-screen proof of what the proofreader had done. She made many changes that were hard for me to find, which I guess means that she did a good job.

 

 

 

A book report — coloring outside the lines

This is a continuation of a series of posts that I started what seems like a long time ago about getting a book designed and published. The series starts here.

A lot has happened since I last reported on this project in — gosh, has it been that long? — July. In this post, I told you about deciding to have Jerry Takigawa do the design, and Brooks Jensen handle the project from there, with Hemlock doing the printing.

Jerry did a marvelous design, with striking double black pages separating the sections devoted to each city. He also designed a spiffy semi-transparent fly sheet. I sent a pdf to Brooks, who got back to me with some questions. Most were easily dealt with. A few were not.

Brooks pointed out that the all black facing pages would rub against each other as the book was read, acting sort of like sandpaper, and causing the nice rich black to deteriorate over time, to say nothing of causing black dust to get all over everything near the book. Jerry said that he planned to deal with that with an aqueous varnish. But the press that Brooks was planning on using didn’t support that. To get the varnish, we’d have to go to a different press, which upped the cost a lot.

In addition, Brook’s standard book had nothing like Jerry’s attention-grabbing flysheet. If would have to be glued in by hand, at not-inconsiderable cost.

Finally, after getting a quote from Hemlock for doing the book Jerry’s way, Brooks said that this was turning into a custom book, and that’s not what he was selling, and suggested that I have Jerry work directly with Hemlock.

I had to agree. I really like what Jerry has done with the book, although at the time I didn’t realize that he was designing something that didn’t fit Brooks’ specs. I’m probably not going to do this a lot, and I’ll just hold my breath and write a bigger check.

Sony a7II CDAF anisotropy?

A poster on DPR claimed that the contrast-detection autofocus (CDAF) and the focus peaking on the Sony a7x cameras are the result of the same hardware and software. I begged to differ, and offered the focus-peaking anisotropy that I’d demonstrated earlier as evidence. He said that the CDAF did that, too.

Hmm… Looks like something I should test.

I took a Sony a7II and turned off phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) which would confuse things. I put the Zony 55 on it, and set it to wide open. I set the ISO to 100, pasted a target that looks like this to the wall:

MATLAB Handle Graphics

This target has sinusoidal modulation with an amount of contrast that varies in a uniform fashion, and also has the modulation frequency changing in a predictable way.

I put the camera on a tripod, set the focusing to Flexible Spot, AF-S, turned the light down to get the exposure to a few tenths of a second, and looked for the places on the vertical and the horizontal target where the camera could just barely focus. There was some difference between the two target orientations, favoring vertical lines.

However, the CDAF was not at all like peaking, where horizontal lines produced no peaking at all. The CDAF was very capable of focusing on parts of the target containing only a single low contrast horizontal structure.

Therefore, I conclude that the mechanism by which the peaking indications are generated is not the same at that which performs CDAF.

 

 

Photography meets digital computer technology. Photography wins — most of the time.

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