Thursday, March 20, 2014

Old Scene vs. New Scene

  I started photography with a 35mm film camera. I picked up a beautifully maintained Honeywell Pentax SL, which is fully manual and fully awesome, on eBay for around $40-50. I absolutely fell in love with this camera and the 55mm 1.8 Super Takumar lens that came with it. Later on I even bought a 135mm 3.5 Super Takumar to go with it. But at the time I didn't really know just how good these lenses were. 
  So then comes digital. I started out with a Nikon d3000 kit which my mom so graciously helped me get. Later I moved to a Nikon d5000 and that is currently what I am shooting with. Getting into digital, I was a little underwhelmed and I couldn't understand why. Here I had gone from amazing (for a beginner) images on film to absolute mud on digital, how did that happen?
  The first thing I realized is that I had to edit my digital images. Why it never dawned on me I have no clue. I knew that images were edited in the darkroom but editing a digital image never occurred to me. (and I'm a pretty tech savvy person so that wasn't it) Once I "bought" my first copy of lightroom that seriously improved my photos, but still something was lacking. So I decided to invest in some glass. I went from the 18-55mm Nikon kit lens to a brand new Nikon 35mm 1.8 and oh boy was there an improvement. Allow me for a minute to stress that all the gear in the world will not give you better photos if you don't understand photography at it's core. But I had a pretty good understanding already so it was simply a matter of figuring out gear transitioning from film to digital.

Shot on Kodak 35mm B&W film
   I was at a cross roads. I now have a great piece of glass to shoot with. Although I love this lens, it's still nothing compared to the love I felt for my Takumars. But what do you do? Put down the digital camera and go back to film? I would love to say yes but unless you are getting paid for your film these days, it's not a wise idea. It's unfortunately a dying format. Kodachrome's last roll off the production line was shot by photographer Steve McCurry.
  For a long time I merely dreamed about using my Takkumars on my digital cameras and simply left it at that. But recently I was looking around YouTube, as I usually am, and somehow stumbled across an amazing string of videos. People have been using lens adapters for m42 mount lenses for a long time! I was absolutely, positively, squealing like a little girl at a Bieber concert. I have known forever that people use Canon to Nikon and Nikon to Canon converters all the time. But it never dawned on me to look for a converter from m42 to Nikon F-mount. As soon as I saw the videos, it was straight to eBay for me.

  For those of you who are hearing about this solution for the first time, or are perhaps still looking for information about the mounts, I will share with you some of my findings including test shots with the converter. Keep in mind that I am using a Nikon d5000 which is a crop sensor body. (1.5x a full-frame 35mm so my 55mm takumar for instance is more like an 82mm lens for Canon I think it's 1.6x on their crop bodies) Using a Nikon means that you need to buy a converter with a glass element built into it. For Canon you don't need this. But for Nikon this allows the lens to focus to infinity, without it you cannot focus to infinity. This is due to the distance Nikon mounts their sensors from their lens mount. Unfortunately this has one draw back and that is image quality and sharpness. Putting any extra piece of glass between whatever you are trying to capture and the sensor on your camera will have some effect on the image taken. How much of an effect depends on the quality of whatever you put in front of the sensor. Since most of these converters are made in China, good luck choosing one with the best quality glass. As for me I bought this one and I will be showing you the images from it. It was really cheap, as they all are, and came from Hong Kong. Also remember that these lenses are all manual focus and do not meter in camera. In fact, your camera doesn't even know it has a lens on the front of it so it can't even read the aperture setting. This is due to having no chip on the lens. This is not a big deal if you already know how to use these lenses.
Focusing scale SHOULD line up with the Nikon logo.
  The only real big problem I have with this converter is that it leaves my lens kind of skewed when it is mounted. The top of the lens is actually just off to the right. It doesn't seem to be that big of a deal but it has me a little worried for one reason. The measurements for a piece of 35mm film is 24mm x 36mm. All lenses(except those meant for crop sensors, but those too to some extent) are made to project light onto a sensor or piece of film this size. So does this mean that on a full frame body, which I mean to upgrade to soon, images will have significant light fall off on the sides? Perhaps the lens will record the same amount of light regardless of orientation, I have no clue, but as of right now it is merely annoying to have my lens lop-sided. The other minor nuisance is that when the mount it screwed onto the lens, and then you go to lock it onto the camera, you end up loosening the lens because you are spinning it counter clock-wise to lock it in place. Super annoying.
  As for test shots, here they are compared with the Nikon 35mm 1.8. Unedited jpeg files.
Nikon 35mm 1.8 at 1.8

Nikon 35mm 1.8 at f/2

Nikon 35mm 1.8 at 2.8

Nikon 35mm 1.8 at f/4

Nikon 35mm 1.8 at f/11

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 at 1.8

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 at f/2

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 at f/2.8

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 at f/4

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 at f/11

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 135mm f/3.5 at 3.5

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 135mm f/3.5 at f/5.6

Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 135mm f/3.5 at f/11
  In the end I found a few things. For one it is super hard to manual focus after not using these lenses for so long. The shallow depth of field is absolutely unforgiving. The other thing I found is that wide open at 1.8 the takumar is a bit soft. I don't remember it being that way on film, but I am kind of thinking it is more a result of the glass needed to focus to infinity. Or, perhaps, my focus was off on that one but I took multiple shots and they all looked about the same. However, stop it down to f/2 and it's nice and sharp again. The 135mm looks so dreamy and clean I can't believe it. I will definitely try this out as a portrait lens. To me the takumars also look a bit more contrasty than the Nikon. Which is odd because I have always found Nikon lenses to produce awesome contrast. Over all I am super happy I invested 9 dollars on this converter. I love these lenses so much and I have kept them in absolute mint condition. It's about time I get to finally use them properly.
  That's it. If you are looking for a way to improve your photos or video without spending too much money, these m42 lenses are cheap. I have heard that a lens manufacturer has said that the Asahi Pentax 50mm 1.4 Super Takumar is such a great lens still that if it were to be produced today you would be spending a few thousand dollars for it. Go on eBay and it is around $100 on an expensive day. These lenses CANNOT be forgotten, and I am glad that I have a chance to take them out of the bag they were gathering dust in. Get out your old manual lenses and make a scene! (Test videos with the lenses will be uploaded at a later date.)

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