Feb 012014
 

User report: Rokinon 8mm in the Fuji X-E1

By Frank Conley

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This is not a technical review of the Rokinon 8mm. This is just some musings about actually using the lens.

My evolution into an all-Fuji toolkit has had an empty hole: the ultra-wide. I do a lot of wide work, and have daily relied upon the Canon 10-22mm, which is an absolutely superb lens. Fuji’s product roadmap has them releasing an XF 10-24mm sometime in March 2014. It will be a half-stop slower than the Canon, but it will fill a serious optic need that’s kept me tied to Canon.

One of the primary reasons for the move to Fuji was smaller, lighter, less obtrusive gear for documentary work. Having to lug the Canon along to get the utility of the 10-22mm is unfortunate. So while I wait for Fuji to get its manufacturing act ramped up, Rokinon’s lens makers offer an engaging and fun fill in.

While I had a few off brand lenses when I first started as a photographer, I quickly replaced them all as soon as I could. I’ve kept the tradition of sticking to lenses within the brand ever since. (That hasn’t been true of accessories, but glass is a separate issue.) There are many benefits of buying within a brand, especially with digital bodies and the communication that needs to go on between lens and the camera’s computer.

I happened across a review of the Rokinon 8mm, however, and was intrigued. Although slightly less than a true fish-eye, it’s an ultra wide. It’s wider than I usually work with, but that also means that it will still have a purpose once Fuji releases their lens. B&H had one in stock, and I’m up for any excuse for a trip to Manhattan. With my bank account $300 lighter, I’ve rolled the Rokinon into steady use rotation.

I have no prior familiarity with the brand. Apparently Ronkion also sells under the name Samyang. I have no idea if there’s a difference. All I know is that the lens I bought is solid, doesn’t rattle, has positive (if possibly stiff) clicks on the aperture ring, has a stiff focus ring, and has a mount that fits solidly to the X-E1. It’s a heavy lens, with a lot of glass in it. The X-E1 is small and light to begin with, so any lens on the front is going to unbalance the camera. There’s enough room to grab the Rokinon by the barrel and keep things steady, though.

In operation, it’s fine. It doesn’t have the polish and subtlety of the Fuji lenses (whose feel reminds me most of the bulletproof Nikkor glass of yore). But, it doesn’t feel cheap. It feels quite acceptable for the price point. It has an integral hood, which is useful for not chipping up the glass. However, because of the extreme convex, it picks up smudges very easily.

Part of what that price doesn’t buy you, though, is the ability for the lens to talk to the camera. And so we learn some of what all those extra dollars are paying for: there’s no autofocus (though, focusing is overrated on an ultra wide). There’s no aperture control. In fact, the camera doesn’t think that there’s actually a lens attached, necessitating you to turn on the “Shoot Without Lens” option. That means there’s no record of the lens or its aperture setting in the EXIF data (though you do get shutter speed and ISO). Although the camera doesn’t know what the lens is up to, the sensor on the X-E1 will still figure out the required shutter speed and ISO. The electronic viewfinder on the X-E1 does a very decent job of representing the scene, making full manual an option, too.

These are minor annoyances, though, and I’ve been pleased with the performance of the lens. I don’t worry about things like edge to edge sharpness, and lens flare and chromatic aberration, and I’m sure that the Rokinon suffers from some or all of such things as compared to a Zeiss or Fuji lens. The images I can make with it are interesting, and there’s enough resolution that I can crop out excessive distortion if that seems to be the right thing to do. Focusing seems to be largely irrelevant so long as nothing is closer than a foot away, and it gathers quite a bit of light at f/2.8. It’s very wide, though, which means that fingers, shoes, and sometimes my shirt can find their way into the corners of the frame.

The center of the lens suffers surprisingly little distortion. Depending on the subject matter, the edges sometimes aren’t that when they aren’t close in. Even when the distortion is severe, however, it’s less distracting than I would have guessed. All the images here are uncorrected for lens distortion. It’s obvious that it’s an ultra wide, and I think viewers are more comfortable with that than the subtle distortion of, say, a 20mm lens. Subtle distortion is more easily mistaken for a manipulated photograph, or just a feeling of queasiness. In either event, in my experience a subtle distortion is more likely to cause unease than an ultra wide, so I don’t mind it.

This is a very decent lens. The perspective is easy to abuse and could easily get tiring, but with mindfulness and the occasional crop, it fills the ultra-wide void for a very reasonable price, and has the quality to remain a working tool after Fuji finally catches up to their production calendar.

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Pedestrians in front of a New York City bookstore.

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A gargoyle on Notre Dame breathes the clouds into being.

email: [email protected]

website: fjamesconley.com

twitter: @Philatawgrapher

Oct 212013
 

The Lomography Experimental Lens Kit Review

by Dirk Essl – His website is HERE

Today I received an Experimental Lens Kit from Lomography and immediately took it on a test ride while having my lunch break. In case you don’t know it, it is a kit of 3 Plastic Lenses with plastic optics. and an integrated shutter, so you can take ‘real’ double or multi exposures just like in the analog days.

Packaging And Contents:

packaging

In the package there are the three lenses with front and rear cap, on the rear cap the focal length and name of the lens is written:

rear-caps

Also in the package is a tiny pouch with tiny little filters which can be inserted into a filter slot on the back of each lens:

filters

So we have yellow, blue, orange, green, violet and two different ND filters. The ND filters are helpful for doing Multi Exposures in bright daylight.

The Filters are mounted in a dedicated slot at the back of the Lens. Stacking Filters is also possible:

filterstogether

Also included is a big poster with Instructions in all different languages and sample pictures on the back. You can see it acting as a backdrop here where I mounted each lens on a camera for your enjoyment. From left to right: E-P2-IR with 12mm Wide-Angle Lens, E-M5 with 24mm Standard Lens, E-PM1 with 160° Fisheye Lens

TheThree

Although the look a bit different in size, they are not. just the Fisheye is a bit shorter, as it does not have the integrated hood.

Handling

As I said the lenses are plastic. Plastic mount, plastic lenses, plastic everything. Only the shutter level-knob and I guess the screws and a spring inside the lens for the shutter are made of metal. Mounting the Lenses on a camera is done as with every lens with a m4/3rds mount. Align the dots, twist. done.

The lenses shutter is closed in the original configuration, so to see a picture on the viewfinder, you need to open that up. Turn the triangle-shaped lever downwards until it snaps in and you can compose your shots. The integrated shutter is disabled in this position (T-Mode). Set your camera to A-mode and you are done. If the shutter speed is too low, raise your ISO. All three lenses are fixed at f8, just like the Olympus Bodycap Lens.

Multi-Exposure Mode

To make real multi-exposures, I find the easiest is to leave the camera in A-Mode. Compose your shot, close the shutter with the triangle lever, push the little metal-shutter knob, recompose (you will of course need to guess your composition from know on) and trigger the shutter again. As the meter will measure with the shutter closed, your shutter speed will be at about 4-5 seconds, which should be enough time to take a multi-exposure image. the manual says to use bulb mode, which of course works as well.

Optical Performance

I tested those lenses today at lunch time on an Olympus E-PM1 and on an IR converted E-P2 (720nm) The Visible images are all straight out of camera, with no adjustments beside resizing in Adobe Lightroom. The IR pictures only have some increased clarity, as they would look very flat-out of camera. White balance of the E-P2 was on green gras.

12mm Wide Angle Lens E-PM1

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Of course, optically all those lenses are only mediocre. Well less than mediocre to be honest. The 12mm is a contrasty, quirky colors, wide-angle lense with a nice vignette. The center is not as soft as the corners and it has very strong barrel distortion. Focus goes from 0.2m to infinity

Pros:

Wide angle of View (24mm FF equiv.)

lightweight

close focusing distance

cons:

plastic fantastic (should be a pro, through)

24mm Standard Lens E-PM1

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As well nice colors, quite sharp in the center, typical lo-fi TV lens look in the corners. Not so much distortion as you would expect. I guess this is quite a fun lens at night with color filters and a flash. Red gel in the Lens, blue gel in a flash and you get crazy colors like never seen before. Focusing goes from 0.6m to infinity.

Pros:

nice ‘Standard’ FOV (48mm FF equiv)

good colors

focuses nearer then any Leica Lens

cons:

only f8 (might be tuneable)

160° Fisheye Lens E-PM1

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Infrared performance

As there so many m4/3rds bodies now that can be bought (or sold) for very little money, many people decide to get their old body converted to different wavelengths. I have an E-P2 converted to 720nm (near Infrared). I mostly shoot it with the Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye and can say it is a wonderful combo. Examples of false color and B&W pictures taken with this camera can be seen in this flickr set

12mm Wide Angle Lens in Infrared

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In IR, this is my favourite out of the three. You can take nice, contrasty IR images without worrying much about fstops, focus, sharpness and all that technical stuff. Shooting directly into the sun? No problem. Hotspots? non-existent.

One thing I found as speciality on all of the three lenses is that the T-Shutter can be closed only partially to create a strong vignette in the lover right corner. If you are a fan of heavy vignettes and don’t want to fiddle around with post processing, these are your lenses:

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24mm Standard Lens in Infrared

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The 24 is usable for IR as well, but just not my focal length for this type of shooting. Hotspots? Negative report!

160° Fisheye Lens in Infrared

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This is the only of the three that has not enough focus for infinity focus in IR. As in a converted camera the focal plane is different because a.) the different wavelength of IR and b.) because of the different thickness of the filter glass in front of the sensor. It might be hackable to achieve infinity focus, and I really hope so as I like the circular effect.

Focal length comparison:

Just for reference the same scene, taken with a E-PM1 in A-mode, ISO 200, center weighted metering.

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Conclusion

I think it is a great addition to the m4/3rds family. It shows that the system has enough users for new companies to produce lenses for it. No need to mess around with quirky adapters to get these lo-fi shots. No messing around with post processing if you want to add a certain effect to your pictures. If you want to have a break from your usual photography style, take those lenses with you and enjoy an afternoon of worry free shooting.

You can visit Dirk at his very own blog HERE

Nov 152012
 

Fisheyes are more than a gimmick.

A recent post discussed the choice of fisheye lenses for 4/3 cameras, particularly the Panasonic f3.5. The comment was made that these lenses are mostly a gimmick because of the severe barrel distortion. That is true in many instances. These lenses do not work for portraits, for example, unless you want to show someone with a really big distorted nose. I would not take a fisheye to walk around a city.

But I have found a fisheye an indispensable lens for shooting some landscapes, especially wide open desert vistas in southern Utah. Some of the best shots are those that capture as much of the whole vista as possible and a fisheye, used correctly, is the ultimate wide-angle lens. Here are some examples.

This is an early morning shot from an overlook at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park. It takes in a nearly 180 degree view. Island in the Sky is a 6000′ elevation mesa with the Colorado River on the east side and the Green River on the west. Both sides of the mesa have 1000′ cliffs dropping to a level of concrete hard white sandstone named the White Rim. From the White Rim a maze of canyons drop another 1000′ to the two rivers (which eventually converge at the southern end of the mesa). This view is to the east. The mountains in the distance are the second highest in Utah at over 13,000′. Capturing all of this in one shot is key to depicting what is so spectacular about this region. The secret to getting the shot without distortion is to put the horizon in the middle.

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There are three iconic arches in this area. Two are in Arches National Park (Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch) and the other is in Island in the Sky, named Mesa Arch. It is a spectacular sight at any time but especially on a clear morning when the sun hits the cliff below the arch and reflects up making the bottom of the arch glow a brilliant orange as if it were on fire. There are thousands of photos of Mesa Arch but virtually all show only a portion of the arch. The best shot shows the many formations that can be seen through it down to the White Rim but you have to stand close to get it. Only a fisheye can both capture the full arch and the scenery below it. Shot straight on a fisheye makes the arch appear like a big mouth but off to the side it works better than any other lens to capture the whole scene.

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This is a shot of the goosenecks of the San Juan River near Bluff, Utah. Again, the most spectacular feature is the whole scene, the number of meanders the river takes through this section. Monument Valley is in the distance. Only a fisheye can capture this whole scene in one shot. A very wide-angle like a 14mm would only get three meanders. The fisheye gets all four. Another option would be a series of stitched shots but sometimes you also want the foreground and the sky with the sun. This is not that spectacular because it was shot mid day but that is the only time to see the details down in the canyons.

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This final shot is of a place named The Citadel in Cedar Mesa, near Bluff, Utah. This was a defensive site accessible only across a very narrow neck leading to a rock outcrop surrounded by deep canyons on both sides. These 600 year old Anasazi ruins cannot be seen from the neck and there is very little room to back away from the ruins for a shot. I wanted to get the ruins and the canyon next to it so show how precarious this site is. Again, only the fisheye would do the job. A 35mm lens would only capture a portion of the ruin and none of the canyon to the side. My son is only about 4 feet from me when this shot was taken.

Obviously a fisheye is not a take everywhere lens but at times it is the best lens for the job.

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