Wednesday, February 24, 2010

105mm Kiron Iterations

The Kiron 105mm is, in my experience, one of the most talked about third party macro lenses when it comes to manual focus lenses. It excels in performance, goes to 1:1 without the need for clumsy extensions or tubes, and most of all, is quite accessible. The lens can be had for a relatively modest price on auction sites (most of the time). I have heard many stories of them popping up at local shops and garage sales for a couple dollars. The best news is: There are plenty of these lenses to go around! Due to the popularity of this lens when it was first marketed and numerous branding variations, finding a Kiron 105mm really isn't the proverbial "needle in a haystack". In fact, aside from searching Kiron 105mm, there are a number of other cosmetic variations that may get you the same, or similar performance. You just need to know what you are looking for!

Model Variation

The Kiron 105mm was incarnated in a number of other iterations. I am still finding (and people are bringing to my attention) more lenses that are rebranded Kirons. Thus far, I am aware that the Kiron 105mm f/2.8 lens can be found in these physical iterations:

- Kiron 105mm f/2.8
- Lester A. Dine 105mm f/2.8 (Dental lens, often labeled with a dental focusing guide)
- Rikenon 105mm f/2.8
- Rolleinar 105mm f/2.8
- Vivitar 105mm f/2.5
- Vivitar 100mm f/2.8

While differing cosmetically, each of these lens variations contains an identical optical formula and is manufactured by Kino Precision, according to everything I have read thus far. The Kiron and Lester Dine models look the same with only extremely minor differences (noted below). The Vivitar 100mm and Rikenon 105mm models also look relatively the same. The Vivitar Series 1 105mm is unique in it's appearance. I have also just been informed of a possible Rolleinar incarnation, the Rolleinar 105mm f/2.8.

Kiron 105mm f/2.8

The Kiron 105mm f/2.8 lens in its sleek, black glory.

Lester A. Dine 105mm f/2.8

The Lester A. Dine version is typically identical looking to the Kiron, just marketed to dentists. It will have some extra markings on the distance scale and possibly a supplementary adhesive scale specifically designed for dental photography denoting intra-oral regions. The version pictured below on the left demonstrates the "field size" markings in contrast to the original Kiron version on the right.

Below is an image I found on the Pentax forums showing the adhesive dental scale:

Rikenon 105mm f/2.8

Below is the rarer Rikenon 105mm version of this lens*.

Rolleinar 105mm f/2.8

It has been brought to my attention (Thanks JC) that Rollei may well have rebranded a Kiron 105. The Rolleinar 105mm f/2.8 looks cosmetically and mechanically identical to the Kiron 105. I haven't yet come across any optical diagrams of the Kiron to compare with that of this Rollei but the current similarities lead me to believe the Rolleinar is Kiron's optically identical sibling. Here is a page on Rollei lenses with the 105mm midway down the page.

Vivitar Series 1 105mm f/2.5

Vivitar 100mm f/2.8

Similar to the Rikenon 105mm, the Vivitar 100mm iteration appears to have the same overall proportions, grip, and built-in hood, but with lens notation printed on front of the barrel, near the optics, rather than the outer edge.

*Images I have not made on this blog will be noted by the originator (in this case, osgood521 and Samy's Camera). I request permission to use them. I do however often put them on white, tweak WB, add some curves, retouch, and finish the overall layout.



After collecting a few of these iterations, my curiosity led me to a comparison. First off, it should be noted, with any lens, there can be variation in image quality even between two identical models. So along with looking into differing image quality between these models, I also can be sure (if they truly are identical optical formulas) my assessment of the lens sharpness is accurate.

All the talk on the web tends to hyperbolize the greatness of this lens, namely that this is the greatest macro lens ever made. I would have to disagree with that statement, based on optical performance. Not that the Kiron 105mm isn't an excellent lens, but the best ever made, no. Below I have, as many others, used a $1 bill as a practical subject matter. The left crop is the eye in the tip of the pyramid while the right is a small detail near the upper right corner of the frame. I have only chosen to include the wide open performance crops. Stopped down, these lenses are excellent. Certainly as sharp as most anyone will need. Below is a key to where the crops came from:

I often interested in how a lens will do wide open (because why buy a fast lens, if it won't perform at that aperture?). At f/2.8 (the Vivitar 105mm version is marked f/2.5 but is actually f/2.8) this is the performance of each iteration:

Lester A. Dine 105mm f/2.8 Crop
Kiron 105mm f/2.8 Crop
Vivitar 105mm f/2.5 Crop

For the sake of argument, I actually do own a lens that is sharper wide open than these 105's. My favorite Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5. Interestingly enough, these lenses tend to go for a considerable amount less than any of the 105mm version lenses, despite being sharper. My assumption is this is due to the fact that the 105 can go all the way to 1:1 reproduction rate without the need for extension tubes or macro extenders (such as the 90mm).

Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 Crop


The Kiron and Dine do appear a tad sharper than the Vivitar. This could be due to tester error though I was sure to check focus every shot. Also, it could be due in part to the aforementioned sample variation. The Vivitar just may be a softer sample. Either way, the tests show consistent CA wide open. The S1 90mm has always been stunningly sharp wide open. In this test, center appears a tad softer than the center of the Dine but through field use, the 90mm always proves extremely sharp wide open (as well as MTF charts etc). This is the largest reason I love this lens. It is an f/2.5 lens, and can be used optimally, at f/2.5! Also the CA does appear to be more controlled (though upon very close inspection, especially under more severe circumstances, the 90mm definitely does produce some CA). The 105's are unmistakeably excellent lenses. Focusing distance, easy 1:1 focusing, beautiful industrial design, etc. Although I did not have the opportunity to test the other variations, I would believe they will perform very similarly.

As can be seen in the upper left hand corner of the Key image, the dollar tended to curl a tad despite being taped down. This test was improvised and a bit hurried.


For a larger scale test incorporating more than just the Kiron 105's check this macro comparison out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ultra-Wide 17mm Lens Comparison

Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 - Tokina 17mm f/3.5 - Spiratone 18mm f/3.5

To fulfill my curiosities, including my inquiry as to whether an alternative to the Nikon 17-35mm existed, which still retained relatively good image quality but was of considerably smaller size and cost, I did a quick comparison of a couple other ultra-wides I have picked up over the past few months.

I just took the trio out to the deck, took shots with each lens at every aperture, slightly adjusted exposures (same adjustment for every shot by any one lens) because each lens appears to have a mind of its own. Also, the conditions probably weren't optimal but I do what I can when I have the time. **I have made some changed since my first posting of this.** It was up a whole 8 hours before I decided, I really need to take a closer look for this comparison to mean anything. Originally, the exposures seemed all over the place. I was looking at the histograms and the detail shots side-by-side trying to understand what was happening. I figured it out! Just a user error on my part. Forgot a step with one batch and it threw off the others. Either way, the sample images just looked muddy and underexposed. After some tweaking I have the images where they should be for optimal comparison. Still the Tokina does tend to need just a bit more exposure compensation (which I have done) than the Nikon, but nothing too severe. Likewise, the Spiratone is really just here to demonstrate what you can expect out of an older MF $100 ultrawide. I did all global changes and only in batches per lens (I performed no alterations on any one single frame or portion of a frame). I then sampled a small square from the center and near the bottom right corner.

My results can be seen below:


Nikon 17-35mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm

Spiratone 18mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm

Spiratone 18mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm

Spiratone 18mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm

Spiratone 18mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm

Spiratone 18mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm

Spiratone 18mm


Nikon 17-35mm

Tokina 17mm


After really taking a look at the results, I am actually even more happy with the nikon 17-35mm. It is an amazing lens. The Tokina does continue to defend the company's reputation of quality glass, however. I am actually amazed at how well it holds up to the Nikon. Although here and in general use I have noticed it consistently underexposes images a bit (until I figure out why I can just compensate accordingly), it produces a crisp, contrasty image with good sharp detail. The CA is a bit of a problem but it often easily fixable in post. Also, I have noticed the light fall-off is more severe than the Nikon. As far as the spiratone, well for $100, you can get an ultra-wide field of view, but that may be about all. As much as I like this little lens, it just doesn't hold up here. Lacks quite a bit of contrast, severe CA, and probably a lot more. Also, as noted it my previous write up, it has an odd tendency to pull objects just outside the frame of the other 17mm lenses, into the frame. Such as the corner of the deck. A strange optical formula (and Tokina made actually!).

So? If you can afford it, and need the performance, the Nikon AF-S pro line costs a lot for a reason. These lenses do things right. If you are just looking for a solid lens, but don't mind some extra steps in post and can use the extra cash, the Tokina is quite the little gem. I'm sad to hear it has been discontinued so as I said before, if you see one, grab it! There is also an earlier version which has a built-in (or permanently attached rather) hood. From what I have read, the hearsay is that the formula is either very close to this pro version or the same altogether, just with the older body style. I haven't had the chance to check it out but it may very well perform equally to the pro.

I love ultrawides. They are just another optic that allows us to see things in a new, fresh way. Next stop, 14mm rectilinear.

Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Pro Ultrawide

When I began making photos, some years back, I remember finding myself always trying to pull back from my composition. I couldn't get enough in the frame. My first lens was actually a cheap-o kit lens made by Quantaray, a 28-90mm. I recall vividly looking at images made with true wide-angle lenses such as a 24 or even a 20mm. Well I didn't have any money so I worked with what I had for some time. I did however decide on two variables by which I would choose my next lenses. I wanted a wide lens, and I wanted a fast lens (no surpise there!).

I love a good 17mm perspective. 20mm isn't bad, but I can't help but want that little extra "zing". For my first 17mm lens, I was fed up with subpar optics, was now majoring in photography and decided to go big. The Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 made all the sense to me. According to all the reviews, it was the tried-and-true choice of the nikon photojournalists and photographers world-wide. I also liked that it was a full frame optic, able to be used on my film cameras as well as a full frame digital (though at the time I was using a D200). Actually I struggled with the decision because I wanted a really wide lens but didn't want to buy into the DX lenses because then (and even now) I just didn't forsee myself staying with an APS-C size sensor forever. My DX lenses would then be useless. I still wouldn't buy a DX lens even if I wasn't shooting a FF camera. So basically, I picked up the Nikon 17-35mm and its been an excellent performer.

So why the Tokina 17mm? What the heck do you need another 17mm for? Well to be completely truthful, my only complaint about the 17-35mm is it is a HUGE piece of glass. Especially when, after a few years of use, I notice I really only tend to use the 17mm end of the lens. So I began wondering if there might be another option. A lighter, perhaps more inexpensive lens which could serve the same purpose and be a tad more convenient. Tokina has always been a go-to company for me, in terms of third-party manufacturers, and wouldn't you know it, they make an auto-focus 17mm lens!

Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Pro

Mount availability: Canon EOS, Minolta AF, Nikon-D,
Maximum aperture: f/3.5
Minimum aperture: f/22
Optical construction: 11 Elements / 9 Groups
Coatings: Multi-layer
Angle of view: 103°40'
Minimum focus distance: 0.25m (0.82ft)
Focusing system: Internal Focusing System
Number of diaphragm blades: 8
Filter size: 77mm
Maximum outer diameter: 88mm (3.3")
Overall length: 65mm (2.6")
Weight: 440g (15.5oz)
Accessories, included: Dedicated lens hood, fitted soft case
Lens Hood BH773

Specifications directly from Tokina's website.

Physical Attributes

Like Tokina's other AT-X Pro line lenses, such as the 28-70mm f/2.8 reviewed here, this lens bears the same crinkle finish covering the exterior of the lens. Love this. All around, it feels like a solid tool. This truly is one of Tokina's most popular aspects, the build quality. Being part of the older AT-X pro (this lens has since been discontinued), the manual focus is enabled through a clutch mechanism within the focusing ring. Probably one of the biggest complaints about these lenses has to do with the fact that even after you successully align the focus ring to the right orientation, so you can pull it back into the MF position, you still have to switch your camera to MF as well. A relatively inconvenient method. On newer AT-X lenses (such as the 100mm f/2.8 macro), I believe Tokina has addressed part of this issue by allowing the user to pull back the focus ring at any point in its rotation. MF issues aside, the 17mm is a solidly built, all metal lens. P.S. the 17mm takes Tokina's BH-773 hood (so does the Tokina 28-70mm). It's a fairly rare hood. Be sure if you're picking one of these up, you try to get one with the hood because "good luck finding one".


To discuss performance, I did a comparison between the Spiratone 18mm f/3.5 (Tokina made), Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8, and this Tokina 17mm f/3.5. I think it provides a pretty clear and concise visual of the capabilities of this lens, relative to something 1/3 its cost as well as something 3x its cost (that worked out nicely).

Wrap Up

Ok, so there is good reason why the Nikon costs what it does. It truly is a stellar performer. But the Tokina is no slouch. Despite some more than average CA the 17mm provides some sharp, contrasty images. As usual, the company has produced a solid piece of equipment especially considering the price point. (This lens will typically run you somewhere around $300+ I believe. Price may actually be on the rise as this lens is discontinued and FF cameras are becoming much more common.) I especially find the size to be most convenient. If you have a crack at one, I would recommend picking it up without a second thought! It certainly doesn't appear to lose its value.


A very good in-depth look at the Tokina 17mm
Photozone's review with great info on the MTF and CA performance of the Tokina 17mm AT-X
Shashinki Review of the Tokina 17mm