Monday, March 22, 2010

8-Lens Macro Shoot-Out

- The Contenders -


I really just wanted to see a good side-by-side of each of these lenses at 1:1 reproduction ratio. Now I realize flat field reproduction is just one aspect of performance in regards to macro lenses. In choosing a lens, the photographer must consider many things including the fact that in just about every instance outside of copy work, the subject is not a 2-D object. In my first comparison I did on this site, (which was something of a disaster) I attempted to look at sharpness as well as bokeh in the same shot. Not only that, I chose to do it outdoors, with a real subject (a plant) with changing conditions (wind, etc). All because I was tired of looking at relatively unrealistic, uninteresting subject matter in comparisons. Look how far I have come. But seriously, a flat 2-D object does provide me with some information about the performance of the lens over the range of apertures as well as a standard gauge between lenses. This test doesn't really decide the lens I will use most often, so much as it gives me more overall insight about each lens. In fact, of all of them, I shoot with the Tokina the most despite relatively strong CA because of its size, ease of use, and autofocus (which can definitely come in handy at times). The second most used lens would be the Series 1 90mm. Tack sharp wide open. I love this lens!


To be as fair as objective as I could, I blindfolded myse....Just kidding. All lenses were shot at 1:1 with necessary extenders and extension tubes if needed. I was sure to check focus every shot. If something appeared out of focus after checking the shot on the screen (zooming in), I took another shot. I used mirror-up to minimize camera vibration, as well as a remote shutter release. Using live view, I focused each image and carefully switched over to M-up. The biggest challenge here, was keeping the plane of focus parallel with the sensor plane. At the micro level, the slightest change in angle can throw off results. Needless to say, with my relatively limited gear, don't believe this test is without errors. Even the dollar bill, though relatively new wanted to curl in the heat of the lamps (It was taped down on all sides and I was sure to keep it flat after each lens). I also used a macro focusing rail to avoid remounting the camera with each new lens, and consequently slightly different minimum focusing distance. Despite this, with some lenses, such as the 55mm, the distance was far greater than the macro rail could account for and the setup had to be completely moved.

- Test Key -

To do this test, I chose to photograph a dollar bill because it is recognizable, reproducible, and convenient to continue with, should I choose (and I am sure I will) in the future, to test a newer lens to compare results. Also, I haven't gotten around to ordering or making a lens test chart just yet! All images taken at ISO 200 on the Nikon D700.


Test Results at the Center
Order of results is as follows (in retrospect, my image labels are tough to read, sorry!):
Nikon 55 | Viv S1 90 | Viv 90 | Kiron 105 | Dine (Kiron) 105 | Viv S1 105 | Nikon 105 | Tokina 100







Test Results at the Lower Right Corner
Order of results is as follows (in retrospect, my image labels are tough to read, sorry!):
Nikon 55 | Viv S1 90 | Viv 90 | Kiron 105 | Dine (Kiron) 105 | Viv S1 105 | Nikon 105 | Tokina 100











What to make of it all? After getting all the results in and putting them all together, I find more than ever I want to do it again. With new samples of the lenses too. This was a lot of fun for sure! Also I am curious if the Tokina 100mm is truly as soft at f/2.8 as my results in this test. Also, the Nikon 105mm, I could swear it is a little sharper wide open than this. So perhaps with such shallow depths of field, my focus was slightly amiss, causing this tad miscalculation. Otherwise, all the lenses look pretty good save for the Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 MC which doesn't do so well in the early apertures. In fact, it looks aweful. I have noticed this lens tends to have a mind of its own early on. Around f/8 however, it gets back in the game. As in my other tests, the Vivitar Series 1 105mm tends to be softer (and often has a bit more CA) than it's Kiron siblings. So even though I love it's build and physical design, I now often reach for the Kiron or Dine. Not surprisingly by f/22 and f/32 these lenses are useless. Even f/16 is pretty poor.

**A user, Robin, commented below on the above statement. I made it more in hyperbole. Of course you can use these lenses at high apertures and get good images. Sometime you really do want the most DoF you can get. I was just speaking in terms of sharpness. If you want the sharpest image you can get (for what is in focus), these higher apertures will be affected by diffraction will not yield as sharp of results as the middle apertures of the lens.

Well I don't really care to go into any kind of ranking system here since as I said previously, sharpness and the kinds of things this test demonstrates about a macro lens is only a part of so many other variables in what makes a macro lens, a great lens. I personally am big into bokeh. I would love to do a little bokeh comparison. I also, on a less windy day, would love to do a comparison with a 3-D subject. I will let you make your own decisions based on these findings. I will also tell you the Vivitar Series 1 90mm (Tokina 90mm AT-X) is my favorite lens to use, and it should be yours too! The Kiron/Dines are not far behind. In terms of practicality, a newer, 1:1 capable AF macro, such as my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X will do just about everything I need with quickness and ease.


I suppose I sensed these results. I actually had not even looked at these findings prior to deciding on selling a few lenses. Decidedly, I didn't use the Vivitar 90mm (not the Series 1 version) enough to justify keeping it. I think it was just inconvenient for me and I was never incredibly impressed with the output, especially considering all my other options. Sold. Didn't ever use the Nikon 105mm despite people like Bjorn Rorslett boasting it to be one of the best macros ever designed. Sold. And who really needs this many macro lenses? Don't ask me that question!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8 AT-X SD - Performance

I took the new (used) Tokina 300mm f/2.8 out for a spin the past couple days during my daily travels. I didn't get the chance to make it to the zoo, like I wanted but summer's on its way. What I do have is a quick test I did on a tripod overlooking the local lake. The sun provided a beautifully rigorous set of variables for any lens to overcome. High contrast, strong highlights, flare, just about everything.

Let's Get To It

I have to say, although I don't have a lot of experience with other f/2.8 telephotos, I am rather impressed. You can make some beautiful images with this lens. Obviously this lens has its shortcomings. But for the money, I am very happy.

Below is the test key image. Being a bright sunny day, this high contrast situation will definitely showcase the lenses ability, or inability to handle CA. The lens runs through f/32 and runs 1/2 stop clicks until f/22 where it then is one click to f/32. Somehow I goofed and missed f/22 in this test. Not only that, despite having a tripod, I managed to get some camera shake at f/32. Diffraction was already degrading the image so much I hardly feel it necessary to worry about this. I don't know anyone buying an f/2.8 lens to shoot at f/32. So f/22 and f/32 are absent from these examples. Image info is posted lightly in the bottom left corner of each image as well.



First off, allow me to clarify something. A comment on a previous post brought to my attention, something I may have forgotten to communicate in these lens tests regarding performance. The comment was just that I was focusing on wide-open results heavily, despite the lens being able to deliver fantastic results at later apertures. To that, I just want to say this.

Let us assume as with almost all optics I have come across, optimal optical performance will be at some middle aperture of the lens. Typically lenses are at their best at f/5.6 or f/8. However, often times the difference between very expensive optics and cheap-o's comes down to how that particular lens can handle "the extremes". How does it handle in highly specular situations, how does it perform wide open, how do the peripheral factors of the lens such as bokeh look? It is those aspects of lens that I invariably explore. For it is through such scrutiny the great lenses can be found still performing.


So with that said, is this lens worth the f/2.8? Is it worth buying the f/2.8 to use at f/4 since buying an f/4 may mean you must use it at f/5.6 for usable results. I think the lens performs quite satisfactorily at f/2.8. It's a bit soft but retains a great amount of detail and after some post, can produce some very nice images. Edge sharpness looks pretty good. Near the corners the lens softens for sure. Definitely has an issue with CA, but again, many of the Tokina lenses I have used do have this issue. Perhaps a little post could improve this. At f/4 I would say the lens improves greatly, certainly in regards to the CA. There is some light fall-off at the early apertures but nothing abnormal. I tend to like a bit of vignetting anyway. By f/5.6 I think this lens looks great! After f/8 diffraction begins taking the image back down. Even at f/11 it is very evident.

Contrast is great. I find Tokina lenses to typically be a little more contrasty than their Nikon contemporaries. The 300mm MF is no exception. Contrast is an interesting issue relative ot the digital age. Primarily because I prefer to control this in post. I typically shoot RAW and worry about contrast when I get to the computer. Granted, the less post, the better. And a lens does need a certain quality of contrast. I am only saying, I don't feel it is "quite" as imperative as it was with film, though definitely still important.

All in all, a great lens for about half to a third the price of the Nikon. If you are looking for a lens for some serious freelance work that need to be technically very adept, I would recommend just buying the Nikon. According to those who use them, they're excellent. You (or your client) however, know your own needs better than anyone. For what I am doing right now, this lens will be just fine!

Just for the heck of it I made a few other images with this lens at ISO 3200 on the D700. Love that camera.

1/200 @ f/2.8 ISO 3200

1/60 @ f/2.8 ISO 3200

1/5000 @ f4 ISO 200

1/1000 @ f/5.6 ISO 200


I will continue to shoot with this lens and see what I can get out of it. I also just recently used a teleconverter, the Nikon TC-14A, just to see what happened and I actually got some very nice results. Likewise, I am happy with results from a used AF Tamron 1.4x TC I found for $30 at a local camera shop. It seems this lens is relatively conducive to TCs.

Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8 with Tamron AF 1.4x TC

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8 AT-X SD - An Elusive Manual Focus Telephoto

It wasn't until recently, that I ever considered picking up a long telephoto, faster than f/4-5.6. Anyone reading this most likely knows, a lens' aperture and price tag have a direct relationship; As the aperture gets larger, so does the cost. I don't have a whole lot of money, so as usual, I of course was sure to explore all of my options. The digital age has swept photography by storm and left in it's wake garages full of lenses composed of older optical designs, dated coatings, complete lack of electronics, and pure, primal manual focus. But just how inferior or dated are these lenses?

I am looking to get more into shooting sports. I would also love to do some birding and wildlife photography. Currently, my longest lens is the Nikon AF 80-200mm f/2.8D, a stellar piece of glass, but not nearly long enough for the aforementioned purposes. There are always teleconverters, however, this solution immediately cuts into the speed of the lens defeating the whole purpose of a fast telephoto. I want speed!

Most likely due to the cost of R&D and production, a vast catalog of alternatives to the major manufacturer's long prime lenses does not seem to exist. In fact, in all of my searching for a means to attain a relatively inexpensive taste of the fast tele market led me to only a handful of choices: the Tamron 300mm f/2.8 (of which a few variations exist: 107B, 60B, 360B, 90E), the Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8, and as far as the 2.8s are concerned, that's about it. Now allow me to place a disclaimer here: I am speaking from the standpoint of a Nikon user. Also I am keeping in mind commonality. These models will pop up on the used market fairly regularly whereas I am sure other fast tele's exist but remain fairly hard to find.

Having a limited choice can be both a good and bad thing. On one hand, the decision is certainly more sane than attempting to choose a normal zoom, which has almost a hundred various designs/focal lengths/manufacturers to choose from (24-70, 24-50, 28-70, 35-70, and so forth). On the other hand, having only a couple alternatives also begs the question, "Is there a reason only a couple competitors exist? Should I even bother attempting to go with Third-party? Just how great are those Nikkor (premium) telephotos?"

Situation and Decision Process

Being newer to the telephoto market is no accident. The first time I saw the prices of those Sports Illustrated lenses, I was more than shocked! The low end of those lenses are two or three times more than my first car! When I mean fast, I mean 200 f/2, 300 f/2.8, 400 f/2.8, 500 f/4, 600 f/4. etc. You can pick up a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 for around $200. These lenses however, are not fast enough to fully separate the subject from the background (in similar settings) like those beautiful, giant rocket launchers the SI guys schlep around. They certainly don't carry 'em just to build muscle. It is because of that crisp separation of subject from background that I have decided I am completely willing to lug around one of these beasts.

If you too find yourself ready to make the jump to a faster telephoto but have a budget in mind, consider these few things:

The first decision: Zoom or Prime. While the zoom will afford you variability in your composition, a fast zoom lens will cost a fortune. Many people's first lens is a zoom. The basic kit lenses for cameras are often 18-55mm, 55-200mm, or even 70-300mm. These lenses however, are quite "slow" often only opening up to f/5.6 at the longer end. You might be surprised at the difference in a couple apertures. The highly rated Nikon 200-400 f/4 provides an amazing focal length with a great constant aperture; but at over $5k it ought to! A prime on the other hand, can deliver the speed but inversely restricts your flexibility in terms of composition (Obviously, you will have to physically move closer or further to change your composition significantly). In the end, the speed and resulting DoF combined with a lack of unlimited funding led me to a prime.

AF or MF. This is a tough one. Sports/wildlife subject matter is constantly moving. The newest auto-focus lenses make photographing moving objects much easier so that more effort can be devoted to composition. Even though I would love to go all out, I just cannot afford these long/fast telephotos right now. Anything f/2.8 or f/4 in the realm of 300mm or more with AF is easily $3000. I even thought about getting a shorter focal length and using teleconverters*. When you shoot this stuff for a living, no problem. When you're a broke freelancer, it's somewhat of a different story. If you have the money, the AF is a no brainer. For those without that financial background, here is where the Nikon system shines! Manual focus lenses can be had for fractions of the price of newer AF lenses. The way I see it, the pros years back shot manual focus everything and did just fine. If nothing else, it will make me better and more adept for the time being. (Or at least this is what I tell myself to cope...)

*For the Nikon shooter, I think it important to note a couple things I ran into with teleconverters. I thought about using either the Nikon 80-200mm AF-D, 80-200mm AF-S or 70-200mm AF-S VR with a 1.4x or 1.7x TC. Here's the thing. For optimal image quality most photographers use the Nikon brand TCs, the TC-14E, TC-17E, and TC-20E. These TCs ONLY work with the AF-S lenses. They actually have tabs that will not allow other lenses to be mounted including AF lenses. I have heard they can be milled but I don't know about paying over 2 grand to "rig" something. So scratch the 80-200 AF-D (the one I conveniently already own). Not only that, those AF-S lenses (as of March 2010) are running about $1000-2600 depending on which lens you're looking at. And those TCs run $300+ by themselves. You can't even use them on the $1500+ Nikon 300mm AF lens. As I said, you could choose to use any one of these lenses and just buy a Third-party TC but from all I have seen it is relatively hit or miss and if you're spending the money, you may as well know what you're getting for it. All told, I find the TC solution a possible solution, but not the best for the miserly photographer who does not already own a tele-zoom.

Nikon or Third-Party. As per usual, the Nikons tend to run a good amount more than the third party lenses depending on the model, but from all reviews perform extremely well. This is the big decision for me. Again, the third-party lenses aren't cheap, just less expensive. Typically, for just about the same price of a nice condition third-party, a photographer could purchase a beat-up Nikkor. This was an important decision to me since I appreciate owning and using well cared for gear. This can also be important in terms of quality of your sample. Not only can there be performance variation among different samples of the same lens, but consider such a precision instrument being treated like garbage for a few years. Why would you expect it to perform flawlessly? Plus, a clean, cared for lens makes resale a whole lot easier if things don't work out. I, however, managed to get an excellent price on a good condition Tokina 300mm f/2.8 SD manual focus lens. So despite the Nikon going for $800 in "bargain" condition, I picked up an alternative for barely over half the price.


Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8 AT-X

I have found very little factual information on this lens. Just about every time I search it, Google, Flickr, or whatever search I am using pulls up info or examples from the Tokina AF 300mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro. This is much newer lens design incorporating more advanced technology. It's considerably larger price tag also causes me to believe it is perhaps a much better optical design. In regards to what I have found on this older manual focus 300mm, people have said some great things about it. But again, lots of talk, little evidence. I originally had very little tech info on the post but after further searching I found and a Japanese site (which it seems got their info from photodo). I had actually initially posted a few items based on tests I did, such as minimum focusing distance and they corresponded with the Photodo numbers almost exactly, so that's great! Photodo says min focus distance is 2.4m. I kept getting 2.3 m. I also think they weighed the lens without the metal hood, which adds a pound or two. No real big differences!


Aperture Range: f/2.8-32
Angle of Acceptance:
Optical Construction: 9 elements, 7 groups
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1:7 at 2.3 m
Minimum Focusing Distance (From Film Plane): 2.3 m (7.65 ft.)
Length with Hood: 350.5 mm (1.15 ft.)
Length without Hood: 213.4 mm (0.7 ft.)
Maximum Barrel Diameter: 117 mm (0.38 ft.)
Accessory Size: 112 mm and 35.5mm (filter tray)
Weight with Hood: 2.7 kg (6 lbs.)


This lens is a tank. The particular lens I bought, is somewhat of a "beater" (the hood and larger portions of the barrel have been retouch a bit in the images for the sake of this site). The glass looks very nice with a bit of dust. No scratches, fungus, haze, oil on blades, etc. so optically quite usable! But as far as cosmetics this thing got beat up. The barrel shows mars in the metal, a slightly bent hood, which fortunately is all metal (I have actually read this lens in particular had issues with the hood tightening screw breaking and thus the hood becoming flimsy, which has happened to my sample. A small piece of adhesive felt fixed this for me). Despite the battle scars, it's a rock. The hull of this lens just thuds when you flick it, no reverberation of any kind. You may as well be flicking a solid brick of steel. This MF version sports a large Tokina brand 112mm protective filter that came with the lens (also quite beat up on my lens but still in great optical shape). You have a rear 43mm drop-in filter which is the only plastic in the whole lens. I don't particularly like how flimsy it is compared to the rest of the lens, but I doubt I will ever mess with it to be honest.
Operationally, the Tokina MF 300mm is very basic. No quick focus settings or limiter switches. Just a large, extremely accessible, silky smooth focusing ring dressed in the Tokina AT-X line's signature knurled-like grip. Such a fluid focusing ring is key to improving the shooter's ability to focus quickly and accurately.

If you have any info or links on this lens, message me or e-mail. I would love to get some more together for others who may be looking!


Japanese Blurb on this MF Tokina 300 through Google Translate -|en&hl=ja&c2coff=1&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&prev=/language_tools's review with some MTF data -

Tokina AF 17mm AT-X f/3.5 Ultrawide

While looking for an auto-focus ultrawide some time back, I remember coming across this Tokina AF 17mm AT-X f/3.5. It is indeed the precursor to the AT-X Pro model I previously reviewed here on this blog (Consequently, I will refer to it as version 1 from time to time). Well I just got a crack at one and thought, since often lenses such as this have very little information out there, I would give it a quick whirl for my own curiosity's sake.

First impression, solid built little lens. Although it isn't very much smaller than the AT-X Pro model, for some reason it "seems" considerably smaller. Even despite the fact that the hood is built-in (non-removable).


Focal range: 17 mm
Filter diameter: 72mm
Max. aperture: 3.5
Min. aperture: 22
Elements/Groups: 11/9
Angle of view: 103°
Aperture blades: 7
Minimum focus distance: 250mm
Hood: Fixed metal
Weight: 400 g


Honestly, I haven't spent a whole lot of time with this lens. I don't believe the performance will be all that different from the Pro version. Only optical difference it seems is the addition of Super Low Dispersion glass in the Pro. The hood of the newer Pro also appears to have a bit more coverage than the metal build-in of the first AF version.

Below is a quick comparison between the two versions at the extreme. Wide open and far edge.

f/3.5 @ ISO 200 on D700
I really only saw a difference worth mentioning here. It seems the Pro version is a hair sharper wide open. CA is apparent in both and for all intents and purposes appears to be the same. The difference in color rendering between these lenses is so minute, it would hardly show up through the various processing of a web uploaded image, but I will just say, the Pro version puts out a slightly more saturated image. I like the look and feel of the Pro's images just a hair better than the older version 1.

Visually the coatings of the version 1 lens appear more saturated (on the right) but as stated above, I would believe the coatings of the Pro are more advanced based on the output.


The version 1 Tokina AF 17mm lens feels solid. It appears to be an all metal construction, including the hood. The hood is non-removable but that shouldn't be an issue since anyone shooting an ultrawide should have the hood on at all times. The only reason one might want to take the hood off is during storage. Still, the hood isn't all that obtrusive. There is no AF/MF switch or clutch mechanism as on the Pro. Seeing as how the user must engage the MF clutch as well as switch the camera to MF using the Pro version, this isn't any disadvantage. The focus ring and autofocus is a hint noisier than that of the Pro but nothing to worry about. This version 1 also has one of those clear plastic windows to view the distance scale printed on the inner barrel.

One more thing. The AF 17mm AT-X originally came with that signature dark red rectangular leather hard case whereas the newer Pro came with an ugly grey leather sack/thing. Both models have since been discontinued.


Overall, this first version is a reliable, robust ultrawide lens. If given the choice between this version and the Pro, go for the Pro. Slightly sharper performance, SD (Super-low Dispersion) glass, and (I'm gonna state an opinion here...) a more aesthetic build. I'm a huge fan of the Tokina "armalite" finish. Other than that, the Tokina AF 17mm f/3.5 is an excellent little ultrawide and is capable of making beautiful images, especially on newer full-frame DSLRs.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Early Spring Cleaning - LENSES FOR SALE!

***ALL SOLD*** Thanks!

So I have recently decided to switch gears momentarily while I attempt to get things in order for the future. The job market is rough and the photography industry is even rougher. I love analyzing these older lenses and shall continue to do so as I come across them. However, I have begun to acquire somewhat of an "entourage". The fact of the matter is, I just don't need this many lenses! I couldn't possibly use them all and I really do need some other gear. So, although I consider it "a great service to photography" to keep these wonderful pieces of glass in pristine condition, and of course using them for good measure, I have decided to share, so to speak! I have links to my eBay listings below. For SALE:

- Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 1:1 Nikon AI

- Vivitar Series 1 135mm f/2.3 (love this one but just can't keep it right now) Nikon AI

- Spiratone 18mm f/3.5 (the far superior tokina 17mm makes this one redundant) Nikon AI

- Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 w/ PN-11

- Quantaray 2x AF TC for Nikon

- Mamiya 65mm f/3.5 for TLR (C33, C220, C330)

Also will possibly be selling the Vivitar Series 1 105mm f/2.5 for Nikon AI and the Tokina 17mm AT-X Pro f/3.5 for Nikon. Still deciding on these!