3.06.2017

Pulling out a favorite lens and pushing it just to see. Morning shoot on white.

A 100% crop of the image just below all the "gray space." (type). 

I've been playing around with one of my old, favorite lenses quite a bit in the last week. It's a Contax Zeiss 28-85mm, f3.3-f4.0 zoom, combined with a CY > Nex K&F Concepts adapter. Now it's a manual focus, manual exposure lens for my A7Rii. 

I started playing with it again when Fuji announced their two, new, inexpensive "cine" lenses, just recently. The introduction led the major photo and video sites to revisit what's different and wonderful about "cine" lenses versus just plain, old vanilla lenses. There are lots of operational and cosmetic reasons between the two genres but the real reasons pros feel like splashing out on "cine" lenses mostly has to do with the benefits of par focal zooms and the standard focus and aperture gearing that allows the use of focus follow mechanisms. 

Here I am mostly interested in the idea of par focal lenses because it would be nice to shoot video with my big mirror-free cameras and be able to zoom in or out during a take without the focus shifting. I tested the lenses I have in house and just about any of them will work if I am zooming from a long focal length to a shorter focal length but very few (one) will do the trick in the other direction. You probably guessed it but that lens would be the Contax/Zeiss 28-85mm lens. I've tested it and it actually does the whole par focal thing; and in both directions. 

That piqued my interest and so I ended up tossing it in the camera backpack and taking it with me to my shoot this morning with the idea that I'd use it for everything. Which I did. 

Today I was photographing an actor for a play that will run in 2018. He was in town and the marketing people pounced. The marketing staff will drop out the background on the final file they choose and will do any sort of retouching necessary to make the image work for their project. My reason for posting the images here is solely to discuss the lens performance!

A few caveats. I've looked at the original MTF curves published by Zeiss for this particular lens and found them to be very, very high performance; especially for a zoom lens. The center of the lens, at every focal length, is outstanding when used wide open and even bette when the lens is stopped down to f8.0. Here are the exceptions to what I just wrote: The corners and the farthest edges of the frame take a fairly big hit in terms of sharpness, as accurately described in the same MTF curves. Secondly, the lens has various distortions that affect straight lines, etc. But the distortions are nowhere close to what you see from modern zooms if you turn off the internal camera corrections for those lenses.  

What this means is that if you are considering this lens to use in photographing products or architecture you are bound to be disappointed. Likewise, if you are a portrait photographer with a mania for putting your main subject into one corner you will also be disappointed. For the rest of use who photograph three dimensional, organic forms, and lots and lots of portraits, you will likely be delighted. 

I'm not sure how much compression Blogger/Google does to the files that I upload so I'll just give you my impressions from today's shoot. I spent most of the shoot at f5.6 and used the focal range between 50-85mm for nearly everything except the three quarter shot at the bottom of the post. If I needed to keep a hand and a face in focus I went with f8.0 and split the focus difference. 

When pixel peeping at 100% the A7Rii files were very, very detailed and very lifelike. The lens has very nice microcontrast (and enthusiastic nano-acuity). Within the confines of the limitations I wrote about above I find it to be exemplary. With appropriate technique is has low flare and no perceivable fringing. The native contrast is neither low or high but accurate. It is at least as good as the $1,000+ Sony/Zeiss 24mm-70mm f4.0 lens, which I like as well. 

The older lens is mechanically robust and offers good focus control as well as smooth zoom control. And it remains par focal all the way from 28 to 85 at f5.6. The rush to autofocus zoom lenses has brought us.....autofocus zoom lenses. But we've lost some controls in the process. Trying to do good manual focus and focus pulls with a fly-by-wire lens is more or less an exercise in frustration. Zooming with most modern AF lenses is equally unsatisfying. We traded control and repeatability for convenience. 

I'll be keeping my eyes out for other cool zooms from the old C/Y mount and N mount Contax systems. Zeiss lens formulations combined with total imaging control is a powerful combination. One I'm willing to come out of pocket for. 

I put all these images up as big files. I'm thinking you can click through and really see the detail. If that's not the case you'll have to trust what I wrote. After all, I'm not trying to sell you one. In fact, I'd like to keep them all for myself.


On another note, we used the four Aputure LightStorm LED fixtures again today and once again I am so pleased at the color accuracy and spectral accuracy we're getting out of these lights; especially when I take the time to do a good, custom white balance. The days of LED lights with magenta or green color casts seem to be coming to a quick end. I've written about these lights before but they are high output panels that have CRIs of 96-98 (depending on the model). That's a great metric, and it's borne out in day-to-day use. 

Final note: When using a relatively slow, manual focus zoom lens (especially at the wide angle settings) you really do need to hit the focus magnification button and look carefully at your focus. It's trickier than we remember back in the days when our eyes were perfect, the focusing screens superb and the system resolution low.  Not anymore. 


Yes, we have variations without paint on the actor. Yes, we can use those too. 

Focus. Breathe. Wait for the Moment. 

The second video in a series I shot earlier this year, in Toronto, Canada.


John Mitchell C-Leg Story Rev. 1.1 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Many readers have asked to see the video productions I've been writing about. We have to wait until our clients publish the work we create for them, in a public forum, before we can share them. Fortunately, the client we worked for in Canada, Ottobock Healthcare, is happy to get the videos posted to their public Facebook page as soon as we get them edited and they are approved.

Here is the second video from our time in the great North.

I thought I would quickly rehash how I shot them so that the gear specs will be fresh in your mind while you watch the video.

I took along four cameras but ended up using the same two cameras every day. The "A" camera; used for each interview, was the Sony A7Rii. I shot it using a modified version of picture profile #4, in the 4K setting, and in the APS-C format. The APS-C crop is higher quality than the full frame, although most of us would not know the difference. The second cameras, used for every shred of "B" camera work --- interior and exterior --- was the Sony RX10iii. It was also set up using the same profile but I used it mostly in the full frame, 1080p mode.

My standard fps setting was 30 but I did go to 120 fps for the scenes where I was pretty sure I would like to slow down the action in post processing and would appreciate the smooth, detailed content.

The Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun microphone was my mic of choice for all interviews. I ran that microphone into a Beachtek interface and took the audio from the Beachtek directly into the interview camera.

The editing was done on a recent iMac computer in Final Cut Pro X. I added Nattress Curves and Levels to the program as a plug-in so I'd have more control over the tonality of the parts that we converted to black and white.

The project parameters in FCPX were 1080p with a ProRes 4:2:2 rendering, sound at 48k 16 bit.

I like the Sony cameras very much and have backed away from my initial bedazzlement with dedicated video cameras. I like being able to toss super fast 85mm lenses on the front of a full frame sensor to get that razor thin depth of field look from time to time. I also like being able to grab stuff from far away with a 600mm equivalent lens. Mostly though, I've found the image quality from the conventional Sony cameras I am using to be exemplary and I'd rather fully fund my SEP every year (yes, it is tax season) that buy more cameras.

One more thing... the Sony RX10iii running with an external monitor delivers nearly 2 full hours of run time. Far exceeding the video run time I was able to get in conventional mirrored cameras I'd previously used.