Photography would not be as much fun without a little risky experimentation. Right?

So, let's play "guess this lens."

Last night was the dress rehearsal for Zach  Theatre's production of Million Dollar Quartet and I was in a quandary. I really wanted to play with my new GH5 but the only Panasonic lens I currently have for it is the 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. It's a nice lens; especially for a kit lens, but that long end is really slow for shooting stage shows and, actually, the long end isn't that long. I was looking around for something closer to the 90-100mm range. I guess I could have cobbled on my older Nikon 105mm f2.5 or something but I wanted the ability to recompose on there fly and that meant I really wanted something zoom-y. 

Yesterday's discussion about the Olympus 12-100mm lens really whetted my appetite but I felt a bit reticent, after having dropped kilo-bucks on the GH5, to return to the trough too soon... that, and the fact that projects have been a bit "light on the ground" this Summer. Something to do with having an overweight position in healthcare clients in the middle of a period of funding uncertainty brought about by our elected officials...

So I rummaged around in the equipment cases and came across two copies of a very old lens that would work with one of my Pen FT to m4:3 adapters. It's a lens I seldom use and one I never had much luck  with on the first and second generation of micro four thirds cameras: it's the Pen FT 50 to 90mm f3.5 zoom lens. 

I carefully inspected the glass and tried it on the GH5, just shooting inane images around the studio. I set the image stabilization on the GH5 to 90mm since I figured that was the focal length I'd need the most help with, and the one I'd mostly be shooting at the theater. I dived into my saved archives and found an original Modern Photography Magazine review of the Olympus PenFT lenses from 1970. Yes, that's 47 years ago. It's a lens that hit the market when I was twelve or thirteen years old....

I hadn't remembered the magazine's scoring but I was pretty surprised when I found it. They rated the lens as "excellent" in both the center and edges at f3.5 and f4.0. The sharpness dropped off as it was stopped down but never fell below "good." It's pretty impressive that the lens hit such good performance metrics wide open and at all focal lengths. Two things help this lens; one is the very low zoom ratio and the other is many fewer lens elements than current zooms. While I know that modern zooms can correct all sorts of things with moving lens groups and fancy elements I also know that mechanical precision and tolerances can be a bitch to achieve and thereby deliver the theoretical performance in the "real world." A lens in which on the zoom mechanism and the focusing group moves may not self-optimize for close ups but a nice, tight mechanical package will less often fail or go out of pristine alignment. 

After a bit of shooting and testing I dropped the lens and camera into my tool bag, along with the reliably good fz2500 and headed over to see the show. 

Here are my few observations after examining about 650 shots from the GH5+Ancient lens combination: 

1. Manual focusing with moving targets on a dark stage using an older lens that shoots at the stopped down aperture can be a bear. Focus peaking seems to be, in this case, more of a general guide than a precision measurement.... I'm assuming that practice would really be helpful and I'll have to shoehorn in some addition time behind the finder to the schedule. But here's the deal; if you hit focus you are rewarded with a fairly sharp and detailed image. You can't blame poor lens performance on your own focusing inadequacies. Sorry, that doesn't fly. If the lens is sharp on a tripod it's a sharp lens. If it's dull because you can't focus it's still a sharp lens. 

2. Older lenses seem to transmit color differently. I keep saying it's more rounded but that may not convey what I really mean. The color tonality just looks different to me than current lenses or mid-1990's Zeiss lenses. Rounded. Less fine gradation?

3. The I.S. at 90mm with the camera set to the same was very good. You could see it in the finder as you touched the shutter button; the frame calmed down and got very stable. I didn't notice much of a problem with wider focal lengths, but, again, we're just heading down from 90mm to a minimum of 50mm. 

I'll readily admit that I think the big Sony A7Rii does a better job with this kind of stage photography but only because there's so much more detail to work with. I'm not bothered by noise in the GH5 files (shot here at 1250) but I do hit a resolution limit. Part of that could be the resolution of the lens but when I look closely I see the kind of difference that 20 megapixels vs. 42 megapixel shows.

The zoom, focus and aperture rings of the 50-90mm lens are smooth and still well damped. They roll between your fingers exactly like high priced, precision engineering is supposed to work. They are so smooth that you end up wanting an excuse to focus or zoom. Kinda nutty, for sure. 

Don't think that I'm being unfair to my client by tossing in this kind of experimentation. On some level there is the expectation that we'll find a look that resonates with the time period of the play. On another level you have to understand that this was the third rehearsal I've shot of the same play and we covered the hell out of it on Sunday night. Also, playing is good. Fun is good. 

While I'm getting more and more serious about the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 (modern lens) I am slowing down that acquisition and spending a bit more time exploring this fun, new, 47 year old lens I have attached to the GH5. If the lens does a good job with moving stage actors from halfway up the house I'm looking forward to walking around with the combination to see what we can do in fun sun with time to focus diligently. 

Finally, the lens looks funny on the camera. It's long and skinny. But to my eye it looks just like the Angenieux 12-120mm I used to have on the front of my Bolex Rex 5, 16mm movie camera. Hmmm. I wonder if that lens would work on m4:3 ??????


A quick question to the VSL braintrust: Tell me your experiences with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0.

I'm thinking I might buy one... Figured I'd slow down until I heard back some good or bad reports. Hit the comments below please!

Thanks, Kirk

Using a Contax/Yashica Zoom Lens on a Panasonic GH5 and a G85. Interesting...

I've become quite agnostic about camera formats and brands over the last two years. If I buy a new camera these days it has to bring something valuable and different to the table. While I have a camera (the Sony A7rii) that is arguably one of the top cameras in the marketplace today for dynamic range, resolution and color I recently purchased the Panasonic GH5 for its video prowess (features not equalled in the current marketplace, under $6000). It was the fz2500's video performance that convinced me and the handling and image stabilization of the G85 that made me write the check.

I have a handful of really wonderful, old Olympus half frame lenses that I intended to press into service with the new cameras, as well as the nice 12-60mm kit lens from Panasonic but, on a lark, I decided to buy an inexpensive adapter for the Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses I've picked up over the past two years. I specifically wanted to try out the heavy, massive but well corrected


Spending a lot of time making short movies for Zach Theatre.

I definitely bit off more than I could chew for what is basically a one person shop. In a moment of languorous downtime I agreed to make five short videos to help Zach Theatre market a fun new production: Million Dollar Quartet. The video above is the first one out of the chute and I'm pretty happy with it. As usual, I learned a lot in the shooting and there are things I would change, but for the most part I am happy with our mini-movie.

I was happy to be able to work with #1 (and only) son, Ben. He helped me schlepp way too much gear over to the Topfer Stage at the Zach Theatre campus on a very hot day. Helped set up the lighting and also ran the second camera. His footage is the stuff you'll like of Cole while mine is the stuff of which you'll say, "Dude, you lit this way too flat..." 

We shot four interviews on location over the course of a long afternoon and then I came back the next day to interview the show's director. After the interviews Ben helped me disassemble all the junk and get it back to the studio. Today he dropped by the studio to see what kind of progress I was making in the editing and it took all his restraint to keep from pushing me out of the edit chair and jumping in, elbow deep. He gave me a legal pad page of "suggestions" and then left for lunch. I'd be stern and cajole him into doing the actual work but I value his expertise more and don't want to push ---- especially since there's no real budget for editing....

The one thing I would like to direct your attention to is the sound. As I wrote a week or so ago, this was our first real immersion using the Samson C02 cardioid microphone and I am blown away with how clean and noise free it is. I would buy a second one if they did not already come two to a package. It's astoundingly good, in my opinion.

I'm always happy when I can shoot an early rehearsal to get some good photos/stills for b-roll but then you get into an ongoing debate of where to stop. I had the piece almost fully edited when I went over to Zach yesterday to watch the technical rehearsal. Of course the actors were now in (nearly complete) costumes and so when I looked at some photographs I'd taken at an earlier rehearsal I immediately wanted to pull the older ones and drop in the new ones. Sounds easy but everything takes time....

So, what did I shoot with?  Most of the stills come from a Panasonic G85 equipped with various ancient Olympus Pen FT lenses. A few of the shots are from yesterday and were shot with the GH5 and an older Carl Zeiss 28-85mm f3.5-4 that was originally made to work on the Contax/Yashica SLRs.

When I actually hit focus both rigs worked very well. If anything I'd say the G85 outperformed the GH5 for exposure and accuracy of exposure and color on the EVF. But take that with a grain of salt because I am still in early days with the GH5.

The b-roll video of stage performances was done with the G85 and the same Pen FT lenses; all handheld and initially shot in 4k and downsampled. The interview footage was shot with two cameras: the frontal camera (my less favorite footage) was my Panasonic fz2500. My mistake? Combining an inadvertently introduced shadow/highlight curve along with the typical flat CineLike D profile. Ouch. (Lesson: always zero out your camera before each new project...). Now that's hard to post process. Ben was much more meticulous with his side angle shots of Cole. He was using a Sony RX10ii. And apparently he used it well.

Our sound track is from live recordings made during rehearsals. My thanks to Allen Robertson for his generous musical assist. The errant guitar riff at the mention of "Elvis" was added by me. Tacky but fun. Just don't blame Allen.

As usual, as long as you aren't snarky, vindictive and mostly say nice things about my work I'd welcome your feedback. I've got a few more videos to go so now is the time for feedback. Really.

David B. Jenkins has a great new book! It's a 300+ page guide to Georgia.

Dave Jenkins has been commenting here at VSL and offering me gentle course corrections almost from the beginning. A couple of years ago he sent me a note and let me know that he was working on a book. I love book projects so I wished him my best and hoped that he would follow through.

Boy. He followed through. About two weeks ago I got a package in my mailbox with a nice surprise inside; it was a copy of the finished book. It's entitled,

Backroads & Byways of Georgia. Drives, Daytrips and Weekend Excursions. 

And it's a beautiful book.

Rather than me trying to re-explain it I'm including the press release here:

Backroads And Byways of Georgia 
An Off-The-Beaten-Path Guide to the Peach State

Photographer and author Dave Jenkins spent the better part of a year crisscrossing Georgia for more than 10,000 miles, exploring the nooks and crannies of the Peach State. He visited old mills, covered bridges (almost every one in the state), courthouses, historic houses and old churches without number, and whatever else caught his fancy. And then he organized it all into 15 tours covering various parts of the state, and wrote it up in a book appropriately titled, Backroads and Byways of Georgia. 

Ride the historic Atlantic coast from Savannah to St. Mary's, ramble the Appalachian northwest, cruise the broad plains of the southwest, or roam the Blue Ridge Mountains of the northeast. Each tour is carefully mapped out with precise driving directions and information about points of interest. Even explore a bit on your own if you like, because there's something new to discover everywhere you look: the historic, the quirky and offbeat, the strange and unusual, and abundant beauty.

More that 200 color photographs make Backroads and Byways of Georgia a visual treat, whether you're in your car of your armchair. And if you're traveling in fact, rather than fancy, the book equips you with itineraries for trips of differing durations and in different seasons plus information about comfortable accommodations, great food, and good shopping too. 

David B. Jenkins is a photographer and writer whose previous books include Georgia: A Backroads Portrait and the best-selling Rock City Barns: A Passing Era, which won the Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal. His domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. He is a visual historian of mid-20th-century America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life. 

He and his wife live on a small farm in the Northwest Georgia mountains. 

The book is published by Countryman Press, it is priced at $19.95 and is available wherever books are sold. Signed copies are available directly from the author at 706-539-2114 or e-mail dbjphoto@gmail.com


Here's my review: Dave sent along a book that made me want to take the rest of the year off and see his home state. His writing is clean, welcoming and direct. His photography did a great job showing the character and personality of the many locations he visited. If I were a Georgian this book would be my travel bible. Not just the site but the commentaries about travel, restaurants, interesting asides and the road stories.

This is not a flimsy book tossed together quickly. It is well researched, complete and it earns a privileged place in the pantheon of regional travel guides; and it does so while also being a printed witness to part of our national history. 

While the book is also available as a Kindle book I would suggest that folks get the paperback. It's a 6x9 so it's easy to handle and it's one I'd want to carry with me as I explored Georgia. 

Congratulations are in order! Way to go Dave Jenkins !!!!

Here's hoping the Visual Science Lab readers are enthusiastic about supporting one of their own. Head over to Amazon and grab yourself a platinum level guide to traveling through Georgia.