Tuesday, July 17, 2012

6 Good Manual Focus M42 Russian Lenses For Your DSLR

From Russia with love
 Makshim Gorky - A true hero of the proletariat
 (image courtesy wikipedia)
A few days back I was reading some photography monthly and I happened to chance upon a small article about the Zenitar fisheye and how supposedly cheap it was given the superior optics. Did I read that somewhere or was it some peripheral memory or did I dream that in my sleep? By accident or by twist of fate, there exactly, like Alice falls into the rabbit hole, I suddenly stumbled into another alternate world of cameras and camera optics.  
Welcome to the world of Russian photography. 
 Zorki S (image courtesy wikipedia)
 These lenses with uncommon names (Tair, Volna, Industar), uncommon mechanics and build are solid alright, but they also perform like tanks with little or no subtlety (or is it?). To the photography world they may be an abomination but when it comes to price, they win hands down.
State Historical Museum area Moscow (image courtesy wikipedia)
Russian camera legacy dates back to the communist golden era of the 40s, 50s and 60s. These lenses are the cherished artifacts of the rich and diverse Russian industrial heritage. One look at them and you will know what I mean. Built to last forever (such were those times) and offering good optics for an extremely affordable price, these lenses could now really make photography ‘people’s art’ again. 
 Opticians' Square in Krasnogorsk, with KMZ factory buildings in the background

Due to the Canon and Nikon domination of the market today, users have very limited options. Both Canon and Nikon (and also many other companies) have millions of dollars for R&D, these Russian companies do not.

Though not without some imperfections, Russian lenses have a character that cannot be matched by any other major mass produced lenses. Even if they are from the same batch and same mechanics, each Russian lens comes with its own quirks, its own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. As far as I know, they do not have plastic optics inside, its real glass. Their barrels are not made of plastic, its solid metal. Some of them weigh almost a kilo (Jupiter 21M at 980 grams). Both the glass and the metal itself perfectly justify the price tag. 

Nizhny Novgorod Planetarium and Circus (image courtesy wikipedia

These lenses are available from a variety of vendors online, especially on ebay, where you can get them for very low price (always be careful when buying from ebay). Other sellers include rugift and top35mm. Prices from rugift seem a bit inflated. I would rather prefer to buy from top35mm as it has a very Russian feel to it (their English is funny)  this website looks very unpretentious and thankfully a brief lens description is also provided. Don’t forget to look in your local stores or classifieds too. Usually on ebay they appear to be cheaper when on the camera. Just my two cents. 

For more information on Russian lenses, cameras and other accessories go to USSR Photo dot com which is a repository of information on sellers and other details.
Also top35mm is offering these M42 Russian lenses with built in adapter that has focus confirm chip for Nikon, Canon, Sony (both alpha and NEX), Pentax mounts and even for micro-four-thirds system. Isn’t that great?

Prices vary from model to model and seller to seller. It also depends on whether you are buying used or new (better buy new). The best prices seem to be available on ebay and from local Russian sellers. There is atleast 5-30 dollars difference from seller to seller on an average. So it’s better to do proper research on prices and sellers before buying. Given the price point they are excellent for hobby photographers.

Here like everything Russian, it’s only a divine mystery (haha). You can never really know the quality (like everything Russian). It’s reportedly either a hit or miss, but you never know. Quality is widely varied on different models and from year to year and also from lens to lens in the same batch. There is also a risk of fakes, but that can be avoided by purchasing only from reputed sellers (nothing less than 99% on ebay). Ironically enough the Russian lenses themselves are knock offs of Zeiss and other East German lenses. Strange world we live in.

Some of these lenses are so heavy you might need an extra arm. No kidding. Some of them can weigh more than a kilo (Tair 3 at 1.6KG) and that makes them extremely difficult to maneuver. Given the light gathering capability and lack of auto focus these lenses need careful handling. Tripod is more or less necessary when using lenses like Jupiter 21M not only because of the lens but also because the auto and manual aperture switches which are located on the lens.  Also better be careful as these lenses are not only heavy but also usually with no brackets or sockets for tripod mounting. Its no hanky panky business with these lenses. Remember there are also others that are not as heavy.  
Helios 44M
As they are subject to manual focus, they won’t be easy to focus. Lot of manual effort is needed (don’t be frustrated). As they are slow they are not suited to certain types of photography like sports (but still!) or even commercial photography (fashion, wedding), but rest assured nobody will sue you if you do. 

  • Affordability (10 bucks? Seriously?)
  • Novelty (do you know anybody who has one?....exactly)
  • Killer looks
  • Sturdy build (Can also be used as an emergency projectile, heavy enough to break human bones)
  • Minimal or low Chromatic Aberration (depending on the model)

Some of my favorite Russian lenses 
Remember all Russian lenses are made for both export and domestic use. It is said, but not proven though, they say mostly the ones meant for export are of better quality. So how to know if the lens you are going to order is meant for export???. Models meant for export reportedly have roman characters as opposed to the ones with Cyrillic characters which are meant for domestic use. Example: Mir 1B is domestic, Mir 1V is export (both are the same lens). Russian V is B (BOCTOK? VOSTOK? Remember?) (Oh btw on a completely different note, I lobe Vostok automatic watches, haha)

When buying lenses, first of all check flickr for images shot with the particular lens to gauge the photographic output. That way you will have a better idea if you really want to buy the lens and what kind of work you can do with it.  

Mir 1B (or V) (image courtesy wikipedia) 

Mir 1V 37mm f2.8
I just fell in love with this lens. I was checking out some pictures of Mir 1V on flickr and I gasped in awe and amazement at the superior quality. There is nothing cosmetic either about their looks or their output. The Mir 1V will NOT give you dense colors (who needs em anyway) but the detail and contrast is something beyond extraordinary. Its design is based on the Zeiss Flektogon. The output is out of this world. It is produced at the VOMZ (BOM3) plant in Vologda, Vologodsky district, Russia.
The Jupiter 11A 135mm f4
This lens has a 10 by 10 rating for sharpness, handling and value on Pentax forums.  This is a different lens from Jupiter 11. For a low price of the lens you have superb IQ, brilliant colors, excellent corner to corner sharpness and rendition. There are both silver and black versions, silver being the older model.
The Jupiter 21M 200mm f4.0
Some say the color rendition, sharpness and overall looks of this lens surpass even the famous Minolta beercan (literally has more weight than beer can at 980grams, that’s almost a kilo) Others are also of the opinion that it is far better than the Sony SAL 75-300 and is markedly sharp at all apertures. Automatic Diaphragm. On a APS-C camera the focal length would be 300mm (which means extraordinary close-up portraits/macro shots, just go wild)  
Industar 61 L/Z
This lens has almost the same specifications as Volna 9 (which is also a great lens btw). Some are of the opinion that its better than Volna 9, some differ. However I have discounted Volna 9 from the list solely based on its price, which costs double than the Industar. Being a budget photographer I personally would rather choose the Industar.
Jupiter 9 85mm f2.0
This lens is in its own class. At 85mm (more than 100mm on an APS-C DSLR) this can make an excellent portrait or macro lens. Keep in mind colors are not its strongest point (a little bit neutral). Its contrast and rendering is amazing. If your lens has a hood fine, if not, better get a multi-coated version as a lot of users online reported some flare.  There are good and bad version of this lens. So better buy from a reputed seller. 
Tair 3 300mm f4.5 (Photosniper 12s)
Camera, lens and the gun mount of the Tair 3 Photosniper

Coming from a company like KMZ which makes sniper scopes for the military, this lens should not come to you as a surprise. It weighs 1.6 kilograms and that is quite a heft. Image quality according to reports is top notch. These lenses come in two versions. With and without the Photosniper 12s Gun (not a real gun ofcourse, it just looks it ;) and comes in a huge box.
Just a word of caution though. You may be the greatest photo journalist in the world, but never go into a politically charged/war torn/socially restless area with this photo sniper. If somebody shoots your funky posterior down, that's nobody’s mistake. You have been warned.

Note that apart from these there are hundreds of other great lenses to choose in the Russian lineup. These represent only a small fraction which happen to be my personal favorites.

Conclusion:  These Russian lenses win on two aspects price and quality. Convenience and speed are not their specialty, but for hobby photographers who want to really learn the ropes of photography, these lenses could provide excellent opportunity to do so. Learning the old fashioned way has never hurt any one. If you got deep pockets, or a rich dad or relative or friend, you can go ahead and splurge your money on those over hyped plastic lenses with plastic optics that cost a bomb, but the rest of us know for sure we are in good hands. There's no school like the old school.

Here is another article about old lenses. should you really buy them ? read on...


 --Viisshnu Vardhan--  

P.S: Hey how about the Review of the Sony a200 DSLR and there's a story about how I lost and found it ?

Here you go: http://subliminalwhispers.blogspot.in/2015/10/sony-a200-review-2015-or-how-i-got-my.html 

Sony a200 DSLR - Second Review

Sony a200 DSLR

In my first review I outlined the features, price and performance of the a200 for a fair overview of the reader. In this review I am also providing links for comparison and how the a200 stacks up compared to other models. This second review will delve a little deeper and will not cover what I have previously discussed earlier.

Lens performance: Clearly the new generation electronic autofocus lenses are nothing on the old manual focus lenses in any aspect, neither in build, optical quality nor the actual output and that’s irrespective of the brand. The kit lens of the a200 is just a kit lens, though fine, it’s not a superb performer or anything. It’s just like any other kit lens, nothing bad or nothing good. Truth be told, you need to invest some money in additional Minolta lenses (or m42 or others). Why Minolta? Because Sony lenses are actually a bit costly at this point of time.

Since a few days I was actually suspicious that there was something wrong with the camera lately. The pictures were coming out very dull and lifeless. I changed the settings a thousand times, but still no use.

One night while fiddling with manual settings on the camera, I came to the realization that presently India is going through the Monsoons. Days are always cloudy and there is little to no light(gloomy). I wasn’t using flash for indoor shots and that explains all the dull pictures. To test the camera I shot some pictures with flash on and viola, rich tones and superb colors are back.   

Third party lenses on Sony DSLRs: with a proper adapter a wide variety of lenses can be used on Sony DSLRs. Since the Minolta lens prices are also increasing and catching up with the Sony ones, its better to look at other options we have. I personally have some K mount lenses that I am planning to use with an adapter. I read somewhere that M42 lenses work excellently on Sony DSLRS. Old manual focus lenses of various mounts are widely available on ebay and Amazon and should be easy to find at affordable prices. Minolta’s MC and MD mount lenses can also be used on Sony bodies with a proper adapter as also K and PK mount lenses.  

Price: Since the a200 model is discontinued, its not available brand new, but I am sure there are plenty available on the used market. (Also the later versions 230, 290, 300, 380, 500 are all available for a bargain online.) The advantage of Sony is that, they don’t have that much resale value like Canon and Nikon (which is a good thing, believe me) so with a fair bit of research online and some bargaining you can have a good enough piece for under $300 and even less if you look further.  

Performance: Remember you are not buying a Nikon D4 or a Canon 5D etc. The a200 is an entry level camera, that’s all. That said it stacks up high in comparison to other entry level cameras of its class. Oh you have a problem with entry level cameras? Ok. They are not all that bad believe me. I have a friend who has his own photography business and he uses an entry level Canon 350D (which was introduced during the stone age) as his primary camera with a lot of good (pricey) canon lenses. Heck, it doesn’t even stack upto the a200. What do you have to say to that? It actually means that you are in good hands. Photography is not all about camera bodies but the lenses. The better lenses (not necessarily pricey) you use, the better output you get.  

ISO Performance: Like any other camera judging a camera by its ISO performance is a bit tricky. Most cameras do not measure up in ISO performance and the a200 is no exception. I test shot some pictures at ISO 3200 (max) while strolling around in the neighborhood and the pictures were un-usable. They actually looked excellent on the LCD, but when I saw them on the computer; it was a whole different story. A badly done, watered down, water color painting, but hey I don’t need any superior ISO performance, I don’t even shoot pictures in the dark at all. My honest advice is don’t go over ISO 800 and stick with that rule.                                         

Here is how the a200 stacks up with other cameras :

Comparison with Nikon Cameras

Comparison with Canon cameras

I will also post updates to this second review as and when I can. Cheers.
©Viisshnu Vardhan. All rights reserved.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Want to go analog and shoot only on film from now on?

Pentax K1000 - Power to the people 

This is what you need to know. It’s going to be a long read, so you better have time.

Congratulations on choosing to shoot film. This can be the single cleverest cost-effective decision you will make in recent times regarding your photography. I want to assure you are stepping into a better dimension where your lifestyle as a photographer isn’t going to become a costly proposition. In this present article I will try to give you a fair idea on the scope of film photography and the resources you need to continue your quest for quality. 

Comparison – Film and Digital

To begin with, I have to tell you, a cheap point and shoot film camera can beat the most high end DSLRs like Nikon D4 or Canon 5D Mark II, III etc in not just one aspect but many. Film cameras are extremely cheap and available widely on and off line (power to the people), the accuracy, color depth, dynamic range are all top notch. Whereas high end DSLRs these days are using CMOS sensors, which are horrible at making images. They make low quality pictures than CCD sensors. CMOS sensors are very cheap and the explanation of DSLR manufacturing companies usually give for using these supposedly advanced (low quality) CMOS sensors is ‘they are better in low light photography’. My question is - are you making cameras only for low light photography?????. 

At zoom levels the colors from CMOS sensor images look like they are washed and bleached (ya ya go ahead and see for yourself).  In their process of cutting corners these DSLR manufactures are also cutting the quality of photography. They are using synthetic glass (plastic) in lenses and using cheap inexpensive CMOS sensors. Do you know where CMOS sensors are used? In low-end security/CC TV cameras. Yes, that’s why your photos suck and not because of your skill. The most high-end Canon or Nikon or Sony or Pentax or Olympus or Fujifilm cannot beat the quality of those big 8X10 or 6X4 full format cameras from the 20s and 30s.  As the technology of cameras is increasing, the quality of photographic output is sliding down. The big question is, why?????

Currently, the Nikon D4 actually costs INR 5,24,000 which is equal to the price of a brand new car in India, whereas a brand new Kodak point and shoot film camera (no frills) is available for less than $10 (INR 499). Additionally the Kodak has a fixed wide angle lens. How good is that? Comparatively for a DSLR you have to additionally buy a wide angle lens separately, which is extremely expensive. All wide angle lenses for DSLRs are expensive (irrespective of brand). 

An acquaintance of mine from my photo club uses a Tamron 10-24 and it costs somewhere around INR 25,000 to 29,000. That’s a typical average monthly salary of a qualified IT professional at this side of the world. And how are the image details from the lens? Blurry, colorless, no depth, no detail and mostly like a bad water color painting. Where the hell are we heading?

Film Cameras

This probably is my single most favorite subject to date haha. Don’t fret if I am going on and on. I personally have  4 film cameras with me a Pentax K1000, Minolta XG-M, Chinon CP-7m multi program and a Yashica point and shoot (I suspect it’s a fake, but not sure. Irrespective of that it takes great pictures). The Pentax I took it away from a family friend who also happens to be a professional photographer (with a studio and all) as he was not using it. The Minolta XG-M, I bought from a vendor at a local market for a great price, the Chinon was gifted to me last year June or July by an ex-colleague out of goodwill along with two great Sears lenses (3 lenses on the whole along with the Auto Chinon lens on the camera), the Yashica point shoot was bought by my father from a neighborhood photo studio for around may be $20 or 25.                                                     

Due to the advent of digital cameras, film has certainly taken back seat and currently is almost a purist hobby. There is nothing to worry though. Go to YouTube and flickr and type ‘film photography’, you will find a million resources, groups and there you will find tons and tons of people who are still shooting film and proudly so. A lot them have actually transitioned from digital to film, ditching their digital gear and actually living the film lifestyle. Right from buying a film camera and loading the film into it there are also thousands of tutorials on how you can process your film on YouTube. Isn’t that great?


 There are plenty of film cameras both offline and online. Your local classifieds can be a good source too. If you are living far away from proper urban civilization, you can start enquiring from your friends and relatives or photo studios in your area, most studios have a bunch of equipment lying around that isn’t being used. Its always better to buy stuff where you an physically inspect before buying. Additionally these studios also have accessories like flashes, lights, tripods and other sundry which can also be had at great prices.  

You have any particular camera model in mind? Good. If not you can go to Camerapedia or Camerawiki which have a lot of information regarding film cameras and camera companies. The site also has useful articles related to lenses and photography in general which will be very useful to you as you begin your journey in film photography. You can also compare models and choose the one that best fits your budget and style of photography.
So now you have your camera. What is next?

Film Processing

Firstly, when you are doing film photography you have to know that you are in the minority. So it is extremely important to be resourceful and self sufficient. You cannot always depend on the corner photo shop for processing and scanning your film. Even if you do there is no guarantee of the quality. So what you need is a processing set up, scanning apparatus and archival equipment.   

Processing at home is probably the easiest way to get great images and also save tons of money. How? The chemicals used for processing negatives are very cheap. All you need are – a developer, a stop bath, a fixer, photo flow (to finally wash off all the chemicals) and a thermometer. Last time I checked there were also videos showing the development of film with everyday items like coffee and lemons. Yes surprising indeed. You can view thousands of videos related to the topic here.  

Dark Room

Usually with the kind of money hobby photographers usually have, it’s not easy to build a full fledged dark room. But there are a lot of alternatives to a full fledged dark room. There are thousands of people worldwide who use their bathrooms, kitchens etc. as dark rooms. Also, it is not at all hard to build your own portable dark room from collapsible plastic or fabric walls. It is especially useful if you are living in a rented place. All you need in this dark room is a sink with a tap (or lots of water with draining facility), a table and enough space to put all your chemicals safely. Remember to bring a red bulb too. If you can’t find one, wrap a heat resistant red polymer/fabric/sheet on a normal bulb.

Scanning Your Negatives

This is a fairly simple job. There are a lot of scanners in the market today that will perfectly scan your rolls without any loss in quality whatsoever. You can choose to scan at your own pace and at a resolution suited to you, but remember, higher resolution means bigger storage space. So save the scans as high resolution tiffs and also low resolution JPEGs or as per your requirement. The most popular scanners in the market today are Epson Perfection range, 500, 600 and 700 models, Nikon cool scan, which is a dedicated film scanner and there are also many others. Hasselblad also makes drum scanners called Flextight, but they are extremely expensive. Both the flat bed scanners and dedicated film scanners use CCDs and it is important to check the bit depth. The higher it is the better. Generally it is somewhere between 12 and 16. Make sure yours is not less than 12 bits. 

If you are really interested in very high quality photographic output and have a little bit more money, you can buy a used Drum Scanner for a few hundred dollars from ebay. Drum Scanners capture images through Photo Multiplier Tubes (PMTs) rather than CCD arrays that are employed in consumer grade flatbed scanners. Also the output quality of drum scan is far better than that from a flatbed scanner.  

Bottom line is read the reviews before buying. Also buy film holders separately if they aren’t included with your scanner. 

Archival Of Scanned Negatives/Storage

Store the data on DVDs rather than CDS or hard drives. The lifespan of CDs tends to be just 5 years after which they become unresponsive and hard drives usually crash or become victim to viruses and other technical problems. DVDs have a life span of 30-100 years, so if you store them well you can show your masterpieces to your grand children too. Another way of storing is Google Drive where you can store your pictures online without any hassle and they will be there as long as Google is there, which seems almost forever. 

  • Remember most wide angles during the film era came in 28mm only, which is wide enough for a full frame film camera. Additionally there is no crop factor or other blah so what you see is what you shoot.  
  • If you are worried about wasting film during your learning to shoot film, you can use a very inexpensive digital point and shoot camera (or even your cell phone) to test shoot images first to gauge the look and feel and only then shoot. This will give you a fair idea on what will end up on your film frame.
  • Scan your negatives right after processing. That way you won’t have a huge stack of negatives to process on the weekend. And the stress from scanning will be gone if it is only 2 or 3 rolls. I happened to read on somewhere about a guy who had 3,00,000 rolls and he wanted to scan them and asking people how to do it. Some commented that it will take a minimum of 1-3 years to scan all of them and that too if he treated it as a full-time job working 8 hours a day and taking only the Sunday off. Moral of the story: Scan negatives right after processing. Shoot pictures only after scanning previous negatives.  

All prepped up? That’s very good. I hope this article was useful to you. Cheers and good luck. 



Manual Focus, Manual Focus Lenses On DSLRs, Exposure And Shutter Speed

A couple nights ago, I was reading up on some photography stuff and wondered how would my Sony a200 and the DT 18-70 fare with all manual controls, if so how would my camera work with a manual focus lenses. So I switched both the lens and camera in manual mode and starting shooting stuff on my computer table (which is a mess) with the kit lens. Surprisingly enough the exposure reading on the LCD was blinking. Some times under exposed and sometimes over. [Generally speaking, in low light conditions (fluorescent light in the room) I have to say DT 18-70 lens will not perform that good in shutter priority but in aperture priority the output is on par and it would work excellently for macro]  

So for people intending to use old manual focus lenses on their DSLRs, you should be aware of the limitations of them. From another perspective they are not really limitations. It’s a perfect opportunity to learn about what shutter speed will work for indoor/outdoor and a variety of other lighting conditions and how you can expose your pictures properly. All this effort, trial and error will only make you a better photographer. If you are a hobby photographer, you can always try this, as you got nothing to lose. 

For a specialist kind of photography like sports, fashion and journalism, this whole idea is invalid as they demand very high precision, on time delivery, you cannot go into a corner and keep fiddling with your settings when your crew and assistants are waiting for you. It just wouldn’t work.  If there is enough time and if the deadlines can be relaxed a bit, manual lenses can do wonders for both your skill as a photographer and also the actual photographic output.

This is just a heads up: You should also be aware of a predicament, which is when you are shooting in manual mode and correcting shutter speed to match the exposure, sometimes the shutter speed will be right at 1/3 or ½ or 0.3” or 0.4” then in that case it is extremely important to keep the camera stable or else you will end up with a blurry shot. Thankfully Sony DSLRs have steady shot in them and they will somehow compensate, but it’s also important to not depend on the camera entirely. You either have a tripod, or put the camera in self timer mode and put on it your bike or car or a boulder or use something like a pen and thread stabilizing system or be absolutely still when taking pictures which is not too difficult. How did you think people took great pictures before the 1950s? Go figure. 

When using old manual focus lenses on DSLRs, the camera has no way of communicating with the lens to know the exposure or aperture. So after focusing, and setting the aperture, you have to lock the exposure on the correct reading and then shoot. If it’s outdoor, the exposure difference between different shots is very less, so you can mostly continue shooting without changing the shutter speed. If its indoor you should probably change it many times as you have additional lights. Don’t worry, with time you will get used to it and it will become second nature. It’s the least you can do for quality and the associated ease from the cost factor. Look at the bright side, with every shot you are becoming a better photographer, judging the exposure, shutter speed and focus distance, isn’t that great?  

Wondering why you should go through all this trouble? Yes I too feel the same sometimes. It is not your mistake. We are living in an age where everything is automatic, easy and fuss free.  We want shortcuts to everything and bypass anything that involves effort, to learn, to work. It is not a good thing. Learning with hard work and on your own strength will definitely make you a better artist. A self acquired wealth of wisdom is unbeatable by any means and I am not talking just about photography. Cheers and good luck.