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July 2007

Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*

85mm
Zeiss ZF 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*

I’ve just begun to explore the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* [specs]. It offers exquisite detail and can hold a high range of contrast with tremendous “depth” to the image; as close as you can get to 3D in a photograph.

The actual-pixels crop below was shot handheld at f/2. Resolution is limited by the sensor and does not improve by stopping down further, though contrast increases a bit. Unfortunately, the original is so finely and subtly etched and nuanced that JPEG compression loses some of the life in the original.

85mm
Zeiss ZF 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* on Canon EOS 1D Mark III, actual pixels, f/2

There is so much to say about the Zeiss ZF line that I’m considering a full-blown review, which affords the opportunity for high-resolution examples. Remember, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow—treat yourself and try one of the ZF lenses (I recommend the 35 f/2 Distagon or either Makro-Planar for your first date).

But don’t stare at resolution charts—shoot real images and see that the ZF lenses “draw” with an elegant style matched by few other lenses. If you want a reason to not get one, you can certainly find “reviews” written by morons who think assessing a lens by the numbers tells all. I was once one of that crowd, but age and experience taught me better.

Want an in-depth review of the 85/1.4 Planar ? Look no further:

Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar

The Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar might be the finest lens I’ve ever used—and I have many, both Canon and Nikon. I don’t rate lenses just by how sharp they are, though the 100mm qualifies in that regard, with stunning detail across the frame wide open at f/2 that simply eclipses the performance of the Canon EF 100mm macro, a fact which will be demonstrated in my formal review. (In the meantime, please see the July 08 entry for more information).

Lens performance is about a combination of things, including sharpness and contrast, color rendition, distortion, flare, and bokeh, the way the out-of-focus areas render. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of using a lens with more beautiful bokeh than the Zeiss 100mm. The velvety-smooth out-of-focus rendition combined with high resolving power at high contrast is stunning—it creates a 3-dimensionality that I’ve not seen before.

It was windy yesterday, so I shot a series of handheld images while the plants waved in the breeze, shooting multiple frames at ISO 400 and f/2. Below are a sampling. All shots are unmanipulated, using Neutral rendering in Digital Photo Professional.

bokeh
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro Planar @ f/2, handheld, Canon 1D Mark III
bokeh
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro Planar @ f/2, handheld, Canon 1D Mark III
bokeh
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro Planar @ f/2, handheld, Canon 1D Mark III

Want an in-depth review of the 100/2 Makro-Planar ? Look no further:

Advice solicited on cost-effective easy-to-use printer

A friend of mine is not computer savvy, and just wants to make prints off Compact Flash and SD cards without having to use a computer, and with the convenience of at-home printing. I set up an Epson RX580 for that purpose, which works great, but the cost per print is outrageous. Originally, I thought the volume of printing would make it reasonable, but it’s looking like thousands of prints will be made.

So—any reader suggestions on a printer that makes high quality prints at reasonable cost? (Print quality should be as good or better than the Epson RX580). It must be reasonably compact, and it must take Compact Flash and SD cards and have a user-friendly screen and menu system to operate it. Please email me as 'printer' at diglloyd.com.

PhaseOne P20+ digital back

Third in a series, I review the PhaseOne P20+ in Thirty Minutes with the PhaseOne P20+.

PhaseOne monochrome digital back followup

Following up on the July 26 entry, there are now 5 photographers seriously interested in a group buy of a P20+ monochrome sensor digital back, plus another 2 “maybe”. Please contact me no later than August 5th if you are serious about purchasing such a unique photographic instrument (send email to 'monochrome' at diglloyd.com). Base price is approximately US$10,435 for the P20+ back (in monochrome), plus an upcharge of US$10,000 (divided by the number of backs purchased). With 5 backs, that’s US$2,000 each, with 10 backs US$1,000 each. It’s real, it’s possible, don’t miss this chance to get a rare tool built cost-effectively!!! (See July 27 entry on this subject).

If you’re unclear on what camera bodies can accept a PhaseOne back, please see the PhaseOne website, and see the specs on any of the P+ series backs. These include Hasselblad H1/H2, Hasselblad 500 series cameras, Mamiya 645AF and Mamiya RZ, view cameras, etc. For example, a PhaseOne P20+ back would go on a Hasselblad 503CW (my likely platform) and can also be used (without modification) on a view camera for stitching/shifting (with the appropriate view camera insert).

The PhaseOne P20+ backs are standalone (no tethering required), take Compact Flash cards, have a very nice screen and are built to very high quality standards (see Thirty Minutes With the PhaseOne P20+). They also have a tethered “Live View” mode for use with a computer.

Monochrome vs color filter array (Bayer) sensor

Following up on yesterday’s entry discussing the possibility of group buy of a monochrome medium format digital back, a color filter array (Bayer) sensor is compared with a monochrome sensor below (images courtesy of Pete Myers).

The images are from an eleven megapixel Kodak chip, and actual-pixels are shown. They are not an exact match in framing. The color image is slightly larger, so it it has a slight advantage over the monochrome sensor. Consider the actual-pixels crops below, then read on.

bayerImage from color sensor
bayerImage from color sensor converted to grayscale
bayerImage from monochrome sensor

The stunning clarity of the monochrome sensor should be obvious at a glance. It has high accutance (edge sharpness) with few artifacts. The 6-point text is most revealing; what is difficult to read in the color sensor-derived image is clear and crisp in the monochrome sensor-derived image.

In case it’s not obvious, the tiny crop shown just below at 200% of actual pixels should make the differences easy to see; mouse over to see the monochrome sensor-derived version. The color sensor-derived version has an interlaced look to it—as if 1/2 the pixels were there—which indeed is the case, since 50% of the pixels are green, 25% blue and 25% red. This “color filter array” results in a loss of very fine detail in the interpolation process. Of course, color filter array RAW-file conversion is improving all the time, but there is no algorithm that can create non-existent data.

bayer
200% of actual pixels, mouse over for monochrome sensor

One might gripe that there is a small difference between the two images above—bah humbug. So let us compare the color-sensor-derived image to the monochrome image—but first let’s downsize the monochrome one to 70% of its original size, then upsize it to the original size. In short, we are comparing a 5.5-megapixel monochrome image to an 11-megapixel color-derived image.

bayer
200% of actual pixels, mouse over for resampled monochrome image

The resampled monochrome image compares very favorably to the color-sensor-derived one’s full resolution. In short, a 16-megapixel monochrome digital sensor has the potential to produce images with the resolution of a 32-megapixel color sensor! But let’s not forget that a true 32-megapixel sensor demands considerably more resolution and contrast from the optics, not to mention more precise focus and careful attention to depth of field (to achieve twice the actual resolution). So it is not out of the question that in actual practice with real lenses and real subjects, a 16-megapixel monochrome sensor could perform more like a 40-megapixel color sensor! Now that’s an exciting prospect.

Additional advantages to a monochrome sensor are a “cleaner” image that will sharpen more easily with fewer artifacts, and image files that are 1/2 the size for comparable resolution (16 vs 32MP).

PhaseOne monochrome medium format digital back

Any photographer who appreciates fine black & white or infrared photography should be interested in what can be done with monochrome in the digital domain—not by converting color images to monochrome, but shooting directly to a monochrome sensor

Shooting in color and then converting to monochrome does offer considerable flexibility (e.g. post-shoot filtration). But with no color filter array and hence no interpolation, the resolution of a monochrome sensor is fairly characterized as up to twice as sharp as a conventional color sensor. Color aliasing doesn’t exist, and noise at any given ISO is lower. A monochrome sensor is also sensitive to the full spectral range from UV to infrared, allowing specialized applications in fine-art photography, as well as scientific study.

I have researched the market, and currently there is no monochrome digital back that is acceptable to me. Among other things, it must be of high build quality, have a quality LCD screen, good software and take Compact Flash cards. In short, not a “science fair” project!

“Science fair project” is a humorous but descriptive term I borrow from Pete Myers, a Santa Fe black & white fine-art photographer with whom I’m working on this project. We both share a common interest in seeing a monochrome digital back brought to market. Pete shot the Kodak DCS 760M for a time, a monochrome digital SLR of which perhaps 80 were made.

Researching the issue with the aid of my local (and extremely knowledgeable) PhaseOne dealer, Bear Images, I have learned that PhaseOne can build a monochrome version of their back, but there is a fixed upcharge to persuade Kodak to actually manufacture the sensors (“line interruption”). That fixed charge could be divided among a group of photographers. Two buyers cuts the cost in half. Three buyers by 2/3, etc. In addition, with enough buyers, perhaps a discount could be arranged. My role would be to arrange the particulars with my local dealer as a service to diglloyd.com readers, charging nothing for my time or effort. So—

Obviously, 39-megapixel chips are much more expensive, and it’s likely that most photographers would prefer the much lower cost of the 16.8-megapixel chip (myself included). With enough buyers, the price would decline to about the same price as a color back. But even with as few as 4 buyers, the price premium would be relatively small, and you’d have a tool that competitors would not be able to match.

Particulars of firmware and software are of course critical issues; the back must function just as well as any PhaseOne color digital back, images must be very high quality and understood by Capture One (and preferably Adobe Camera Raw as well).

Chip particulars

KAF-16802: 4096 X 4096, 9-micron pixels, 30% quantum efficiency, 73dB dynamic range
KAF-39000: 7216 X 5412, 6.8-micron pixels, 30% quantum efficiency, 71.4dB dynamic range

There is also the KAF-16803, with 76dB dynamic range and 60% quantum efficiency, gained via micro lenses. But micro lenses are problematic for shifting/stitching applications, which would limit the usefulness of the back.

Zeiss ZM (Leica rangefinder) lens review

Anyone shooting a Leica M8 (or any other M rangefinder or compatible camera) might want to check out black & white fine-art photographer Pete Myers’ review of the Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon T* ZM lens in the current Zeiss Camera Lens News (PDF). (Go to Zeiss.com/photo to see all the Zeiss offerings, and petemyers.com to see Pete’s work).

The rear element of the elegant Biogon design sits too close to the film/sensor to work for an SLR with its mirror box, and so the Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon that I’ve been using (an outstanding performer) is a Distagon design, another elegant design, but one which allows use on an SLR.

However, judging by the MTF chart, the Biogon is a cut above even the Distagon’s performance. Rangefinder wide-angle lens designs can be optimized without having to consider lens-to-film distance, and so rangefinder lenses can be as good or better performers than retrofocus designs for SLR cameras. However, it’s unclear how the Biogon performs on digital bodies (Leica M8), because of the increased angle of incidence to the image sensor.

Emails will not be delivered to spam-filter services

Diglloyd.com cannot and will not deliver Pro Reviews to email addresses that use a spam filter service. These take time to respond to, and some of them stipulate legal agreements.

This service below (SpamArrest) is particularly offensive—it requires agreeing to monetary damages, venue in the state of Washington, etc. Reading and understanding a complex legal agreement is time-consuming and demanding, and always presents a legal risk. It is the buyer’s obligation to use an email address that “works”.

sp
Unacceptable email service

Fotodiox Nikon-to-Canon lens adapter

I received the Fotodiox.com Nikon-to-Canon lens adapter I ordered (the “Pro” model). At $89, the price was considerably more appealing than the $175 asked by Stephen Gandy of CameraQuest. And it comes in a printed box and therefore looks like a real product, whereas Gandy’s adapter comes wrapped in bubble-pack, newspaper, and perhaps a re-used shipping box! But the shipping material and box do not go on the camera, so—

Appearances can be deceiving—I have several CameraQuest adapters and all have served me well—their build quality is excellent. The FotoDiox adapter looks nearly identical in quality, but it won’t lock onto the lens—so the lens could just drop right off the camera! I tried 4 lenses, and the FotoDiox adapter would not lock onto any of them. My Friday phone call to FotoDiox.com has as yet gone unreturned. My advice: stick with CameraQuest for lens adapters.

PhaseOne digital back anyone?

After shooting the two Hasselblad digital cameras (see reviews on the Free Articles page), I’m left wondering how the equivalent PhaseOne backs perform. If any of you readers out there have compared the PhaseOne backs to the equivalent Hasselblad offering, please share your experiences by emailing me. I still hope to test-shoot a PhaseOne back, but I haven’t received a response from my local PhaseOne dealer yet. Also, I have a Mamiya ZD review coming, but I have to wait until the camera is released (NDA).

Update: My local dealer has impressed me with their knowledge, including a subject of great interest to me: infrared. It seems that a PhaseOne back can be supplied with clear glass over the sensor such that it can be used (with appropriate filtration on the lens) for infrared or color!

Digital infrared introductory class

It’s not too soon to reserve a spot in my September 27 class, hosted by Keeble & Shucat Photography in Palo Alta, CA. The room filled up the last time I gave this class, so don’t wait until the last minute! If you cannot make the class, consider the diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared Photography, which covers everything in the class, and considerably more.

Keep it green

Rhythmic sound, smells, colors all remind us of times of year.

Oh, the wonderful berries of summer

One of the reasons summertime is such a cherished season—the freshest fruits of the earth from the local market, free of man-made chemicals.

berries
Fruits in season
Canon 1D Mark III, Zeiss ZF 35mm f/2 Distagon

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon (and Canon 1D Mark III)

I continue to shoot my Zeiss ZF lenses on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III (see my previous entry), and my appreciation for both the camera and the optics only increases with use—they are a magic combination. The 35mm f/2 Distagon is a workhorse on the 1DM3, being equivalent in field of view (1.28 X 35) to a 45mm lens on full-frame—a nice slightly-wide view.

35f2
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon [MTF]
(photo used with permission)

The flower image below was a quickie shot at f/2 with the 35mm f/2 Distagon. I often shoot the 35mm Distagon at f/2, and the results never disappoint, displaying biting sharpness across the frame (barring mis-focus!). I did nothing to the flower image except to resize and sharpen it—no tricks—lazy is better.

Great-looking “wow!” results with negligible effort are a huge plus for a digital camera, and a trick that I’ve never experienced before (and I’ve owned the Nikon D1x, D2H, D2x, D200, Canon 5D, EOS 1Ds Mark II previously).

The Canon EOS 1D Mark III produces the most appealing and pleasing images I’ve yet seen from any digital camera, and that includes the medium format Hasselblad 503CWD and Hasselblad H3D-39 (click those links to read my reviews). Those two cameras can produce superior results in multiple ways, but their images equal the 1D Mark III in visual impact only by expending effort in the RAW-file converter and/or Photoshop.

berries
Complementary

diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared NOW AVAILABLE

The diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared is now available for purchase.

Rudolph
Now available

Oddball

Some days, oddball pictures just happen to me. All photos with Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon.

selfSelf Portrait
selfShapes
self
Daylight

Hasselblad H3D-39

Following up on my review of the Hasselblad 503CWD, I’ve written a more extensive review of its big brother, the H3D-39, a 39-megapixel U$30,000 contraption.

 

diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared

You may now pre-order the diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared. It will be available for electronic download no later than the end of the day Sunday, July 22. Email responses to all pre-orders will be sent at that time. Read the details on what the Guide covers by clicking the cover page below.

Rudolph
To be released no later than July 22, 2007

ASMP Nor Cal infrared article

ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) is a terrific organization, offering great advice for professional photographers (technical, legal, etc), informative meetings, discounts on services and other useful support for photographers—I recommend joining.

My summary introduction to infrared, Seeing Beyond Red is published in the Summer 2007 Norcal Quarterly (page 7). Click to read the Quarterly (PDF).

Why no high-res, high-quality monochrome?

Regular readers of this blog know that I like to shoot a lot of infrared. While a modified camera with the usual color filter array sensor can be used to that effect, and is also useful for false color (see images below, and also yesterday’s entry), a monochrome sensor would offer a stop higher sensitivity, lower noise, greater dynamic range, superior resolution at the same pixel count—the medium-format 16.8-megapixel Kodak KAF-16803 is the sensor I’m lusting after. But it is simply not available from any medium-format vendor; they’re all building color backs.

Understanding economies of scale (small market), a monochrome camera ought to be easier to build: no color filter array, so no powerful hardware to interpolate the R/G/B data, a black & white screen would suffice (cheaper), and probably other color-related issues. Or so it seems.

Are there any readers out there like me who would like to see a medium-format monochrome back? Or for that matter a 16-megapixel Canon EOS 1Ds Mark IIIm (monochrome)?! Email me if you have similar ideas.

Rudolph
Fall color in June
Fuji F30-IR, Monitor Pass summit, CA
Rudolph
Burning Man
Fuji F30-IR, east Monitor Pass, CA

A 16-megapixel medium format back—test shooting

Read about my experience with the Hasselblad 503CWD, a medium-format digital system that I shot recently.

dumpster
Hasselblad 503CWD image—daylight white balance

Zeiss ZF lenses and mirror clearance on Canon 5D

Several readers have emailed to ask if there is a mirror clearance issue with the Zeiss ZF lenses on the Canon EOS 5D. With Contax/Zeiss lenses for the Contax SLR, there is indeed a problem with certain wide-angles, but there is no such problem with any of the Zeiss ZF lenses; I have mounted each of the following lenses on the Canon EOS 5D using the CameraQuest Nikon-to-Canon adapter, and taken photos without incident:

Always use caution when mounting an unknown/untested lens on a new camera body with an adapter. Extreme wide angles should be especially suspect. However, excepting a few rare Nikkors, all Nikon F mount lenses have no issues on the Canon EOS 5D.

Lens adapters — Nikon “F” mount to Canon EF mount

Several readers have emailed asking about lens adapters that allow mounting Nikon “F” mount lenses to Canon EF mount (“EF” is the current Canon mount; it was the incompatible “FD” mount prior to that).

I currently own several CameraQuest Nikon-to-Canon adapters, and they are well made and work great, though they are not inexpensive. I have ordered a fotodiox.com “pro” adapter (US$89) and will be comparing it to the CameraQuest model ($175), for the obvious reason of price. However, a lower price must not entail any sacrifice in quality and durability, and I’ll be looking at that issue carefully.

Roadside grab-shot — Springtime aspens

Rudolph
Fuji F30-IR, east Monitor Pass, CA

Read about how color shots like this can be made with an infrared camera in the diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared Photography. In the meantime, take a look at Digital Infrared.

Roadside grab shots

Rudolph
Fuji F30-IR (click), east Monitor Pass, CA

One of many grab-shots taken along the road while cycling (well, I stopped briefly). Something just pulled me to this scene and I needed to let the guys on Harleys sputter and stink on past anyway. At full resolution, the image really “pops”; much of that feel is lost in this smaller and more compressed version.

Coming soon

Rudolph
All the stuff it took me untold hours to learn

Canon EOS 1D Mark III “L” brackets

tools
The right tool for the right job

I finally have the Really Right Stuff L-bracket for my Canon EOS 1D Mark III. I also have the Kirk Enterprises L-bracket, having decided to order both and compare them as a Service to myself and to the readers of this blog. As previously noted, Really Right Stuff did a very poor job of explaining order status, forgivable, but not excusable.

Both brackets are relatively awkward; Canon’s placement of connectors precludes the elegant design of an L-bracket as with the Nikon D200 or Nikon D2x, whose L-brackets have the horizontal and vertical dovetails aligned. With the Canon L-brackets (most models), horizontal and vertical dovetails are not aligned, and thus any “nodal point” adjustments are different depending on the orientation of the camera—yuckaroo for rotational stitching.

The Kirk and the Really Right Stuff design are not all that different in basic outline. Here are the salient issues:

  1. The Kirk bracket has a shorter bottom dovetail section; the RRS bracket is significantly longer. Without field use of both I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that this is of little practical consequence. Possibly the Really Right Stuff bracket has a greater area over which to spread stress.
  2. The Kirk bracket weighs in at 158g vs 184g for the really Right Stuff bracket. This is of little practical consequence given the weight of camera + lens.
  3. The Kirk bracket lacks laser-engraved centering marks; the Really Right Stuff bracket has them for both horizontal and vertical dovetails. Such marks are useful for centering the camera, especially for shift-lens operations requiring a camera counter-shift.
  4. Neither bracket feels right. However, the Really Right Stuff bracket makes it particularly annoying to access the lower-left “play” and trash-can buttons, forcing the finger in at a right angle to press them, awkward at best. This is a design blunder which can be dealt with by the user, but it is far from elegant. By comparison, the Kirk bracket rounds the edge near these buttons, and also makes it an arc, as opposed to a straight line, which adds adequate space for easy access to the buttons without having to force the fingers in at a 90° angle, as with the RRS bracket. The front of the bracket has issues of a similar nature.
  5. Gripping the camera is not an issue for me. I hold the camera with the left hand under the lens, and the right hand on the camera itself. Some users might have to modify their grip if it involves wrapping it around the left and/or bottom left side of the camera.
  6. The Really Right Stuff bracket appears to have no flex whatsoever. The Kirk bracket shows very slight but non-zero flex on the vertical dovetail.

In short, it’s a mixed bag. The Really Right Stuff bracket is rock-solid but with inferior ergonomics to the Kirk bracket. Both are priced about the same, so it’s not a financial decision. It’s a pity Canon make the idiotic choices it does with placement of the connectors, forcing Really Right Stuff and Kirk into designs that are inelegant. One need only heft a Nikon D2oo or D2x with a Really Right Stuff L-bracket to immediately note the form-fitting and elegant mating of the bracket with the camera.

Which will I use? I’m not yet sure, and all these comments are based on initial observations. Probably the superior rigidity of the Really Right Stuff bracket will win out in the end, since work for which an L-bracket is useful is more about a tripod, mirror lockup, etc, and less about fiddling with buttons. At any rate, I do not feel that the Really Right Stuff bracket is fundamentally flawed, as might be imputed by the reader quote in the July 1 entry of this blog. Rather, it is non-optimal and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the design improved to address the ergonomics.

Lens testing and focus accuracy

A 10-megapixel (or more) camera requires exact focus to extract the stunning results that are possible at f/1.4 or f/2 with top-performing lenses, but often not achieved due to tiny focus errors, inciting the masses at major web sites to yak on endlessly about “soft” lenses. To paraphrase Yoda, do not underestimate the powers of accurate focus! Manual focus is not the issue; autofocus is often inadequate as well (See Focus Accuracy).

In fact, multiple recent (and frustrating) tests by yours truly demonstrate all too well that even the 10X “Live View” feature of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III is inadequate for valid comparisons of lenses, which requires such excruciatingly precise focus that it’s unclear that it’s feasible to reliably produce scientifically valid comparisons in the field. I can only titter at some of the “comparisons” I see of competing lenses, where all the claimed advantages or disadvantages of a particular lens would be dwarfed by a barely perceptible turn of the focusing ring. Ditto for the “scientific” MTF tests seen on some sites. Very funny.

I can see the quality of a lens, but proving it requires a higher standard, work which is tedious and precludes much creativity. The Zeiss lenses offer excellent manual focus, but the autofocus (Canon) lenses have very poor manual focus capability, including “slop” that makes it difficult to settle on the precise focus point.

In short, I’m resorting more and more to field tests eg “real” images that show the characteristics of a lens in terms of color, contrast, sharpness, distortion, bokeh, etc—qualities that as as a whole sum up to the raison d’être, the visual impression, which is the end game, is it not? Anyway, maybe Santa will bring me a solution to the focus accuracy problem someday.

Rudolph
Creative use of stickers on a road sign
Fuji F30 infrared

Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar

Rudolph
Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar
(photo used with permission)

Lest it was unclear, I want to emphasize that the previously-discussed performance of the Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar is shared in many ways by the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar, used for the fireworks images in the July 4th entry. Both lenses are outstanding not just for macro work, but for work at infinity focus, something not always true of macro lenses that might be “optimized” for reproduction ratios of 1:2 through 1:10. First-class designs can perform well in both areas, and the Zeiss designs are absolutely first-class. Not so of the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro and 50mm f/2.5 macro, as I discovered recently when comparing images on outdoor scenes.

If the 100mm is too pricey for your budget, consider the 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar as a stellar all-around lens, and an absolutely superb portrait lens (some very satisfying personal images not shared here). On a Nikon digital body with a “DX” size sensor, 50mm has the field of view of 75mm, excellent for portraits. On the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, the 50mm has the field of view of a 65mm, slightly more intimate, and a focal length I prefer for portraits over 100mm (130mm).

If you find MTF charts instructive, here it is for the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar at f/2—remember it’s at 10, 20, 40 line pairs/mm, not the 5, 10, 30 line pairs used by Canon, and the MTF is measured from a real lens, not computed. (Spectral distribution also matters, and it’s unclear how it might differ). Such performance is exceedingly rare, but more importantly, real images simply jump off the screen.

Rudolph
Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar MTF—exemplary

Zeiss, how about an apochromatic 200mm f/2.8 macro lens with similar performance?!

Third-party inks followup

Following up on the July 1st entry on bulk inks, reader John Sievert reports good results with Mediastreet inks on his Epson R1800. He has written up his findings with some nice pictures at prophotohome.com.

bulk ink
Epson R1800 bulk ink setup (photo courtesy of John Sievert)

Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar — best of the best

Rudolph
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar
(photo used with permission)

As an inveterate connoisseur of lenses (Nikon, Canon and others), I’ve seen the whole range of performance—some outstanding, many excellent, many good, and a few poor in optical performance. Optical performance doesn’t just mean sharpness and contrast; it means bokeh (the way in which out-of-focus areas are rendered), distortion, flare, color rendition, etc. Build quality is also important, both for reliable results and pleasure of use.

The new Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar (with “ARRI/ZEISS Master Prime optics from Hollywood’s movie industry”) promises unusual image quality and it delivers on that promise—it’s a magical combination with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III.

I spent 30 minutes in my garden last night at dusk, using the 100mm for the first time (received just Friday afternoon). I had the distinct feeling that hard work will be required to do justice to it, but I offer these images to show its beautiful rendition, even if my compositions could use some work (if I knew how to make a good composition I’d make one every time). Click images for larger versions.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lens this good. It offers bitingly sharp detail across the field even wide open at f/2, stunningly beautiful bokeh (out of focus rendering), unusually lifelike color rendering, and an eye-popping brilliance that makes images jump off the screen. Unlike lesser lenses, there is no trace of uncorrected “haze” (spherical aberration, color fringing, coma, etc). Images just have a “zing” not seen with other optics. The ability to shoot at any aperture for the desired effect, rather than worrying about less-than-optimal optical performance at wider apertures is a major plus with this lens.

MTF charts don’t tell the whole story, but the Zeiss 100mm offers outstanding MTF, both at infinity and closeup. Note that Zeiss MTF charts are 10, 20 and 40 line pairs per millimeter; Canon’s MTF charts only go to 30 line pairs/mm, so the chart below of f/2 MTF is simply amazing; few Canon optics could do this well stopped down to f/8. Note that on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, the horizontal “17” mark corresponds to the corner of the image; beyond “17” represents a full frame sensor.

MTF
Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro wide-open, chart used with permission

The f/2 maximum aperture is unusually “fast” for a macro lens, enhancing the beautiful way in which the background renders, and allowing easier focusing. It uses a buttery-smooth focusing helicoid, not the annoying internal focus that some lenses use that changes focal length with focus distance. While Canon’s 100mm f/2.8 macro is a very fine lens, it is a full stop slower, and just can’t offer the same sharpness, bokeh and color that the Zeiss optic does. It’s a question of excellent versus “world class”. Distortion is also practically non-existent; see the data sheet.

Run, don’t walk to your local Zeiss dealer or online store and get this lens now. Although my copy is a loaner (demo), I’m not planning on sending it back; I’ll be purchasing it. The lenses come in Nikon “F” mount (Zeiss calls this the “ZF” line). Canon users will need an adapter and will have to use manual stop-down, an inconvenience, but not really an issue for macro photography.

It also is a gorgeous performer in infrared, with superb tonal separation and an unusual delicacy with which it holds highlights and shadows. I’ve had no time to explore its capabilities, and have only the modest test shot below to show as yet. I’ve hardly ever seen this quality in infrared before; the full-size image is exquisitely detailed, with delicate tonal separation and a “mud free” tonal range. Image detail in infrared cannot be criticized in any way.

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Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro, Canon 5D-IR

White Mountains in infrared

I’ve added three new photos to a new Infrared section of my White Mountains article (which also has larger versions by clicking the small ones). More photos to be added as I have at least half a dozen more good images.

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White Mountain Vista, looking south from Patriarch Grove

In only 24 hours (early June), I made some very satisfying images in one of my all-time favorite places to photograph. A stark and sublime place that I can just sit in for days if I wasn’t so excited about photographing it. Well, actually, I do sit for a while sometimes to let the soul of the place soak into my psyche...one good reason to go alone to such places.

Fireworks

Crisp fireworks shots are a cliché, and lacking a tripod I experimented with various shutter speeds, ISOs and apertures from f/2 to f/8 using the Zeiss ZF 2/50mm on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. I think the brilliance of the Zeiss glass, together with the high image quality of the 1DM3 comes through in these photos. What do you think?

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Rocket’s Glare
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Flock in Flight
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Hues
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Sunrise
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Riot
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Mad Rush for Home

No tripod ≠ no pictures

On a family outing a tripod is impractical, and shooting handheld is the rule of the day, along with a willingness to look with a fresh eye at whatever presents itself wherever one happens to be.

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Canon EOS 1DM3, Zeiss 2/50mm macro

Shooting stars followup

The actual-pixels crop below from the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L shows a strong aberration—a “bird’s wings” effect. This looks like coma, but my reading of the definition of coma finds radial (saggital) smearing. In this case, stars look like they have bird’s wings tangentially (the sagittal/radial streak is due to a 15-second exposure). While the NOCT-Nikkor (see yesterday) exhibits saggital coma flare, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 exhibits a similar aberration tangentially.

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Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 35mm f/1.4L @ f/1.4

The “bird’s wings” effect makes the lens troublesome for astrophotography; stars should be imaged as point sources, not smeared blobs. Stopping down to f/2.8 can largely eliminate the problem, but what is the point of owning an f/1.4 lens that must be stopped down to f/2.8? Even ignoring astrophotography, image quality is degraded with all subjects, smearing detail to an increasing degree away from the center of the image. The blur might be amenable to software correction, perhaps DXO Optics offers a solution.

The Zeiss ZF 35mm f/2 Distagon appears to offer excellent control of coma, imaging stars as point sources, but it is not perfect. Below is the worst case I could find, in the extreme corner on the EOS 1D Mark III, which appears to be a case of saggital (radial) coma flare.

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Canon EOS 1D Mark III, Zeiss 35mm f/2 ZF

I haven’t compared the Canon 35mm f/1.4L directly against the Zeiss 35mm at f/2, which would be the fairest test. However, daylight shooting suggests that the Zeiss 35mm offers superior correction of off-axis aberrations. A future writeup will explore these issues in detail.

Happy fourth, and some appreciation

Best wishes to those in the USA tonight as the ritual repeats itself. And a special thanks (whatever one might think of the war) to those brave, underpaid and underappreciated U.S. service men and women experiencing deadly fireworks and the risk of death and dismemberment every day.

Focusing on infinity / shooting stars

One thing many photographers don’t realize is that there is no such thing as a fixed infinity focus, especially with modern lenses using “ED” or fluorite or “low dispersion” glass elements. Many Nikon or Canon zoom lenses shows an infinity mark, but actual infinity focus might be before or after that mark, depending on the temperature.

The same is true even for prime (non zoom) lenses, and even for lenses designed decades ago (though usually less so). The infinity “stop” found on manual-focus lenses needs to be set slightly beyond infinity to allow for the shift in infinity focus with changing temperatures. As a consequence, the convenient approach of racking the focusing ring to the infinity focus mark until it physically stops might well focus beyond infinity, leading to blurry results.

This unfortunate fact leads to a real problem for astrophotography: how does one ensure that the stars are actually in focus? With the Canon EOS 1D Mark III and a visibly bright star, this is no problem; use the Live View feature and nail the focus exactly. With lesser cameras, it’s trial and error, taking a frame and using the LCD to zoom in until infinity focus is found—call it “LCD zoom focus”...a tricky business if the lens doesn’t image sharply-defined points.

Another problem with many lenses is coma of various kinds, such as sagittal coma flare, claimed to be well-corrected in such lenses as the aspheric NOCT-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2. In spite of idiotic claims to the contrary, the NOCT-Nikkor is an exceptionally poor choice for astrophotography—the poor degree of aberration correction is blatantly evident, along with strong field curvature. Once one tries to actually photograph a starry sky with it, the results can be seen to be dismal, easily bested by the ordinary 50mm f/1.4D. (I’ve tried 4 samples of the NOCT-Nikkor).

The more recently-designed Canon 35mm f/1.4L also suffers from uncorrected aberrations, turning points of light into smears that can look like a bird’s wings; this requires stopping down to eliminate them, defeating the purpose of an f/1.4 lens. It also suffers from uncorrected spherical aberration.

By comparison with the latter two very expensive lenses, the Zeiss 35mm f/2 ZF lens shows great promise as an astrophotography lens because it has a high degree of correction for off-axis aberrations. Wide open at f/2 out to the corners (on the Canon 1D Mark III), points of light (stars) are points, not blobs with wings as seen with the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. (No, I didn’t shoot the image below with film; the horizontal streak is a meteor not a faint scratch on film!)

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Yosemite sky at 10,000' [larger]
Canon EOS 1D Mark III, Zeiss 35mm f/2 @ f/2, ISO 800, 10 sec

Canon EOS 1D Mark III custom settings

One reader asked me about the custom settings I use with my Canon EOS 1D Mark III. Because my use of the 1DM3 is likely very different from that of other photographers, I’m not sure how useful they will be, but you can download them if you want to get started that way.

After downloading, first unzip CAMSET01.CSD.zip to CAMSET01.CSD. On the computer, copy CAMSET01.CSD to the top level of the storage card. Insert the card into the camera, and use the camera’s Save/Load settings on media command to load them (found at the top of the 3rd menu from the right).

Really Right Stuff L-bracket update

I called Really Right Stuff today (see July 1 commentary below). I was told that the L brackets are back-ordered, but that all backorders should be shipped by the end of the week.

I can’t say I’m particularly pleased to learn that my order is backordered after being promised immediate shipment on June 6. That’s with no updates whatsoever via any means, no response whatsoever to my email queries about order status, a web site that gives no indication that my order was backordered, etc. Really, I think it’s not Right to do Stuff to customers like that.

When I finally do receive the L-bracket, I’ll report on it here. I’ve used the Really Right Stuff L-brackets for the Nikon D70, D2x, D200, Canon 5D and Canon 1Ds Mark II, so I have ample past experience by which to judge the latest 1DM3 offering.

I’ve also ordered the Kirk L-bracket for the 1DM3 (thanks to R.P. for the link to the Kirk website). Of course, I’ll compare the two and report my findings here; look for my report in the next week or so. After all, investing in a US$4500 camera is stupid if one is loathe to spend a few hundred dollars more on a vital piece of equipment to make the camera maximally usable on a tripod.

Cabin exposures

I can’t spend all afternoon scratching my ass while three kids play “cabin”, so I amuse myself taking pictures.

It took me a number of years to learn how important it is to make pictures for myself. Once I figured that out, making images became easier and more satisfying.

Below are a few shots taken in my idle time—all spontaneous and handheld—I hope they communicate a “sense of cabin”, though the occupants are not shown. All were taken with the Zeiss ZF lenses on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. Look for a full report on the Zeiss 25mm, 35mm, 50mm macro and 100mm macro lenses in the August/September time.

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Teatime
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Pleasant afternoon
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Cabin Colors
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Cheerios
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A good thing
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The reality of mountain light most of the day—how many cameras might capture this scene while retaining full detail in highlights and shadow? The Canon EOS 1D Mark III can.
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Visual Echo
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Time To Rest
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Blue and yellow / inside and out
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Open door policy

Bulk ink for printers—caveat emptor

A reader of this blog wrote to me describing his awful experience with a bulk ink system from inkexpress4u.com. The reader experienced problems with the printer recognizing the cartridges, clogged nozzles, massive ink waste when turning the printer on/off, and strong color shifts when printing.

Keep in mind that even if a bulk ink system works perfectly, you’ll almost certainly need new color profiles for obtaining accurate color; the vendor should supply many of these free of charge—make sure there is one for each type of paper you use, for your particular printer. If not, take your business elsewhere, or plan on creating your own color profiles.

Also keep in mind that bulk inks don’t necessarily have the same properties as Epson inks in terms of their drying time, density, longevity, and consistency from batch to batch. Don’t ignore the value of your own time when considering such a system; “expensive” ink can suddenly look like a very good value if you’re wasting numerous hours dealing with operational and printing issues.

Coincidentally, another reader inquired about bulk ink for the Epson 4800 printer. As I’ve never used a bulk ink system personally I can’t speak to the merits of any one system over another. But some vendors such as inkjetmall.com have been around for years, and would likely be a safer bet than many other sites. Finally, consider how much ink you actually use—some of the professional Epson printers have fairly large cartridges and print volume has to be quite high to justify the expense and hassle of a bulk ink system.

Readers who have experiences with bulk ink systems who wish to share their thoughts can email me (info at diglloyd.com). Please specify the vendor, the printer and the name of the bulk ink system used. I’ll post findings as they seem useful to readers.

Really Right Stuff L-bracket for Canon 1D Mark III

A week after writing about non-delivery (and emailing Really Right Stuff again), I still haven’t received my L-bracket, as described in my June 22 entry. It seems that I will have to telephone them to inquire, as something is not working with the email approach. When I emailed R.R.S. a week ago, I included my telephone number in my email, so perhaps they have an aggressive spam filter, or perhaps they just don’t understand that customer service is best handled by phone when a customer is becoming increasingly irritated.

One reader of this blog reports great dissatisfaction with the L-bracket for the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, finding it quite uncomfortable to use, a feeling he says was shared unanimously by four employees at Keeble & Shucat Photography in Palo Alto after they handled the 1D Mark III with the L-bracket (all were experienced Canon EOS 1D Mark II users, having used the RRS L-bracket on their Mark II bodies). Among other things, the reader states:

In addition to protruding too far forward, preventing convenient access to the lens with a tight, vibration-reducing grip, the bracket puts all of the pressure of holding the camera on the very small point in the palm of the left hand. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it could even give rise to muscle and/or nerve damage with professional photographers. The Mark II bracket, on the other hand, nicely curves around the battery holder, so that the photographer is gripping both the camera and the bracket equally.

This is disappointing to hear, but I cannot concur (or not) until I have the L-bracket on my own 1D Mark III.

I rely heavily on an L-bracket for vertical compositions on a tripod, and it has been very inconvenient to date without one. I hope that a viable solution exists, otherwise this will really hamper the user-friendliness of the 1D Mark III for tripod work.

How often does the Earth go around the sun?

Once in a while one comes across a startling fact, as in the July 9 Newsweek science pages stating that 25% of adult Americans do not know that the Earth goes around the sun once a year (it actually takes a few hours more, hence leap years). That simple statistic might help explain why public policy in America is hardly ever based on rational discourse (assuming it’s true).

But perhaps that’s too harsh on the layman—after all, scientists themselves establish dogmas in their own fields, holding back groundbreaking research for decades, with the penalty of career suicide for a scientist willing to question the established “facts”. Just one example in a long and sad series is the proof of neurogenesis at all ages, and even in the elderly, something once thought impossible.

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