Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tamron SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF 65B - It Has Arrived

I don't know why, but I have been especially anxious about receiving this lens. It could be due to my new found appreciation for the fast, super telephotos. It may be the sheer size of these beasts and an accompanying gratification that I am getting, at least in weight, what I paid for. Whatever the reason, it has arrived!

The Tamron SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF (65B) Adaptall lens is somewhat of a rare lens. After a lot of shooting with the Tokina 300mm, I realized I often attach the 1.4x teleconverter and just about always shoot at f/4 or more (f/2.8 is bit too soft). Because of this, I began looking for possible alternative prime lenses which were somewhere in the ballpark on price but perhaps a little more tailored to longer shots. I checked out some of the 300mm f/4 lenses too, which can be had for relatively meager prices these days, even with AF. But again, 300mm is a bit short and when considering I will want to use TCs to extend whatever lens I use (because why not always have the option for that little extra reach) somehow 300 2.8 and 400mm f/4 seemed to be the cut-offs. I was mainly looking at the Nikon 400mm f/3.5 but I have just been having a hard time finding one that hasn't been beaten to a pulp and isn't 2 grand. There is hardly any info out there on the Tamron SP 400mm and it was pure chance that I stumbled across this one.


Focal length: 400 mm
Model: 65B
Aperture Range: f/4-32
Angle of View: 6.2°
Optical Elements/Groups: 10/7
Min. Focus (From Film Plane): 118" (3.0 m)
Filter Size: 43mm (Rear), 112mm (Front)
Max. Diameter: 4.6" (118 mm)
Weight: 80.1 oz (2270 g)
Lens Hood: Bayonet #39FH

Physical/Cosmetics - First Impressions

This is my first Tamron Adaptall lens, ever. I know nothing of their build quality but I believe they have a great reputation according to many of the forum posters with their Adaptall and Adaptall-2 line. My first thought when I pulled this lens out of the bubble wrap was it seemed...lighter than I expected. Sure, I could have just read the weight on the site (and I did). But it is just different when you are holding the lens in your hand. As stupid an observation as it may be, when you flick this lens barrel, or give it a little knuckle tap, sure it feels solid, but the Tokina literally feels like a brick made of metal. In that respect the Tokina 300mm MF just seems a bit more indestructible. But given the age of this lens, and its condition, I am not worried about it lasting because it is still a professional quality lens.

The second thing I noticed when mounting this lens is that there seems to be a tiny bit of play in the setup. I have read a few reviews in various forums describing this lens as being poorly constructed, or at least less than ideal and specifically making comments about the adaptall mount. The adaptall mount system is universal. I think it is brilliant for a third party manufacturer; that is, in its more conceptual form. Making a lens mount system that can truly adapt to many brands, that is equal to an original OEM mount is a great undertaking. I think Tamron did very well! Yes there is some play in the mount. But I have used teleconverters with more play than this mount has. So this issue is acceptable to me. Also, the tripod mount on my lens is faintly ajar. I may be able to tighten this via the four visible screws. I only noticed when I mounted this lens on the tripod and even after being secured there was a faint bit of movement. The bayonet hood is another source of less than perfect tolerances. Being tension mounted, the hood doesn't sit 100% locked in place. Once the flanges clear the retention springs, the hood has a fraction of a millimeter to move. These issues are relatively small but I note them because I have not seen these types of mechanical shortcomings in my Tokina 300mm, my only comparably lens as of now. So despite the esteem of the optics and the price, don't expect to be wowed by the build.

It is possible all these slight inaccuracies are a result of wear over time. I am perfectly fine with that explanation. Because quite honestly, none of these factors affect the optical performance in any way. They may contribute to the overall confidence factor that a photographer feels about his or her gear. Design issues can be indicative of the mechanical reliability. I have only owned the lens a day and cannot comment on this yet. Though I can say, I have seen posts in the forums of photographers claiming others may take their Tamron 400mm f/4 "when they pry it from his or her dead, lifeless hands". So in the end, I'm not too worried!

Stylistically, I love the look. The Tamron 400mm comes in the same military greenish tan color as its sibling the Tamron SP 300mm f/2.8 LD-IF (060B) telephoto lens (Another lens I would love to try). I find the unique turquoise ring (Tamron's little design queue denoting Low Dispersion glass) an excellent retro touch. The adaptall mount system is a great concept and so far isn't nearly as troublesome as many have made it out to be. Though, I have hardly used it in real-time and do realize that may make all the difference.

Some other features of the Tamron 400mm is a focus limiter. When shooting, you can dial in a point of interest such as home plate at a ball game. You can then quickly focus the lens to that point when necessary. It seems both the 400mm and the 300mm Tamron LD-IF telephotos originally came with a small palm rest accessory. The palm rest is a small knurled hardened plastic part that attaches to the base of the lens via the tripod socket used to make steadying the lens more ergonomic. I find it surpisingly useful!

I also received the original Tamron canvas bag that was marketed with the SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF.
The Tamron 400mm 65B
features 2 Low Dispersion elements to reduce flare, improve contrast and overall optical performance. It utilizes a large 112mm front filter which I have read may further improve sharpness but I have yet to test this. The 65B also utilizes the 43mm rear filters. In this day and age, we just leave the UV in and use filters in post.


Here is the sad part. The lens I got was in great condition. However, and it is a big however, the focus is not smooth. For some reason the action is coarse and stiff. I am hoping it is only the lubricant stiffening or something not involving a need to get parts. Because that will be nearly impossibly since this lens is relatively rare and has been out of production since 1995. Fortunately the seller (eBay) has offered to help with getting the lens serviced since this issue was not disclosed in the auction. Hopefully this beautiful piece of glass can be salvaged! I will have more on the performance soon!

Original Advertisements

These vintage ads can be found on the website found in the links/resources section below. I love these!


Adaptall-2 - This is a great resource for all Tamron adaptall products. They even have some of the original ads. I have requested permission for use of these ads for some time and haven't heard anything back. They are original Tamron ads (not original content of this adaptall site, who is not officially affiliated with Tamron).

Adaptall-2 Page on Tamron SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tamron SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF 65B

After a lot of time spent with the Tokina 300mm f/2.8 MF telephoto, I realize I just about always have at least a 1.4x tele-converter attached. I would be better off with a 400mm. In my search for a possible alternative, I have come across another rare manual focus telephoto lens! The Tamron SP 400mm f/4 LD-IF (65B) adaptall. Also, it can be had for a good deal less money than the Nikon 400mm f/3.5. So I will be letting my Tokina go and exchanging it for this 400mm! My initial sweep for information has pulled up very little data and even fewer samples. I will be sure to ameliorate this. Review and tests coming soon!

The above image is temporary and from the Adaptall home site (with some retouching of course!) which has a good write up and the optical formula:

Also a small blurb of translated garble here:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Full-Frame Fisheye

The Zenitar 16mm Full-Frame Fisheye has long been an inexpensive alternative to the manufacturer's high-priced, premier glass (See here for an understanding of what a full-frame fisheye is). But just how good of an alternative is it? You have most likely already seen and read a lot about this lens due to its relatively low price and accessibility. The price has attracted a large number of users. Because so many are using this lens, information on the web regarding the Ukrainian-made fisheye is in abundance. Ken Rockwell has a thorough write-up, comparing the Zenitar 16mm with the Nikon 10.5mm DX Fisheye. I'll try to keep the redundant info to a minimum and leave you with just my personal opinion of the lens should you be debating picking one up. To sum up my personal impression: I am very pleased with this lens.

For me, this is where the rubber meets the road: I have yet to be in a situation where a scene requires both the use of a fisheye lens and extremely high, optical performance. "Hey we'd love this done with a fisheye lens, but we can't have any edge softness or CA. We want perfect, technical accuracy." Now, I am sure there are applications and times when this occurs; In science perhaps. Or maybe you are just that OCD. I am just saying for MOST people and general applications, this is rare. And optical perfection rarely comes cheap. Fisheye lenses are typically used in fun, free-form, and expressionistic settings. They provide a way of seeing that we as humans are unaccustomed to. They exaggerate things and vastly dramatize scenes. They often imply playfulness. Because of the inherent distortion of an image as seen through a fisheye, these lenses are rarely scrutinized by the everyday user to the same degree that rectilinear lenses are. Edge softness and color-fringing produced by the Zenitar 16mm is definitely present. I just find that I am never too concerned since the end result will already be so far removed from the actual scene.

I picked my Zenitar 16mm up from used but in excellent condition. Unfortunately, I didn't get the extra rear-mount filters or the sweet Cyrillic covered box that come with the lens when it is purchased brand new. The Zenitar is made in the Ukraine. According to Wikipedia, the 16mm along with other Zenitar primes are "currently produced by JSC S. A. Zverev Krasnogorskiy Mekhanicheskiy Zavod (KMZ)." While I do not have experience with any of the Zenitar siblings, I have purchased Lomo cameras, specifically the Lubitel 166B medium format TLR. These cameras are also sometimes manufactured in the Ukraine or in Russia. Ironically, one constant I have found in the production of Russian/Ukrainian cameras is: the quality of these products is highly inconsistent.


Having read many reviews of Russian/Ukrainian hardware, a lot of variation exists between samples. Given the tumultuous history of that region this shouldn't be surprising. I remember taking some of these Lubitel cameras apart and noticing parts which looked like they had been hand-filed (probably were) rather than precisely machined. The edges and ends of components looked chewed-up instead of clean and neat. Coatings looked uneven. The overall composition appeared haphazardly cobbled together in a hasty manor perhaps even with the wrong set of tools. Without having been to the factories first-hand, I cannot say what production lines actually look like, but I wouldn't be surprised if the tools consisted of hand files and tin snips.

With the Zenitar 16mm Fisheye, I initially noticed the uneven paint coatings on the barrel of the lens. Different surfaces actually have dissimilar finishes. Imperfections in these coatings abound. Likewise, I have seen and read of inconsistencies in the actual optical coatings of these lenses. None of the exterior imperfections have any effect on the optical performance of this lens but do tell us something about the attention to detail in the ultimate manufacturing of these lenses.

A couple other physical attributes to note: The aperture ring of the lens I received seems to click HARD into place. Relative to all other lenses, this aperture ring moves much less fluidly. The fact that this lens is made in several mounts could be part of the issue. Perhaps the Nikon adaptation of this lens is not very well designed. The mount certainly looks pretty rough. I notice a tougher time mounting and un-mounting this lens with my D700 since it occasionally gets stuck on the camera. The rubber focusing ring feels good to me. It only takes about a quarter of a turn to go from the closest focus to infinity. Regardless of the smaller annoyances, overall this lens is a solid, compact little optic.


Focal length: 16mm
Filter thread: Rear-mount 26.5 x 0.5 mm
Min. Aperture: f/2.8
Max. Aperture: f/22
Angular field of view (diagonal): 180°
Elements/groups: 11/7
Min. focusing distance: 11.8" (0.3 m)
Dimensions: 2.5 x 1.9" (63 x 49 mm)
Weight: 10.9 oz (0.31 kg)


Obviously appearances have little to no effect on the optical performance of a lens (save for some type of extreme circumstance). The Zenitar 16mm has a great reputation for being an outstanding performer at a price point of between $100-200 USD. I find no reason to disagree with this assessment. I have actually seen them go for less than $100. Considering this is perhaps the cheapest of the third-party alternatives to the manufacturer brand lenses, it's a great value!

Rather than post examples at every aperture and light fall-off etc, I feel there is a lot of that info already available. My experience with this lens has revealed no contradictions. As Ken Rockwell shows in his samples, it actually controls CA a little better than the more expensive Nikon. I use this lens on my D700 and it looks excellent! It is definitely soft wide open but that is to be expected I suppose. Shooting near f/5.6 delivers great results though. I have included a few examples of my first few days goofing around with this lens.

1/40 @ f/4 ISO 1600

20 sec. @ f/4 ISO 200

1/800 @ f/8 ISO 200

Lower Right Corner Crop

Yes, that is my Tokina 300mm on the Panasonic GF1

Things To Consider

The main thing I would be sure to consider before buying this lens is, "How will this look on my camera?" I am using this lens on a full-frame D700, and I get every bit of the intended field of view. When used on a smaller sensor camera, you may find you've defeated the purpose of buying a full-frame fisheye. (If you are still lost, see here for an explanation of sensor sizes and why you care!)

Two types of true fisheye lenses exist: Full-Frame Fisheyes, and Circular Fisheyes. A full-frame does just as it would indicated, it fills the frame giving you 180º field of view from corner to corner. A circular fisheye will give you 180º from edge-to-edge inside of a circular shaped image. Essentially, a full-frame fisheye is the same as a circular, just designed so that the field of view sits just within the circular projection. The circular fisheye "steps back" in a way, and shows you more of that circular projection. This will make more sense when you see the image below.

Here is a pretty simple quick comparison of how much you lose with a crop sensor camera.

Both of these images were made with a full-frame camera. So the image appears precisely how the lens was designed to look. The turquoise line illustrates what you will see if you are using a cropped sensor camera. Notice how the circular fisheye begins to look more like a full-frame fisheye on the cropped sensor? See how the Zenitar 16mm looks more like a distorted wide angle than an intentional fisheye on the cropped sensor?

So be aware of the size of the sensor in your camera which should be clearly denoted on the manufacturer's website. Nikon's cropped sensors are 1.5x. This means you can multiply the focal length of the lens you intend to use by 1.5. That product represents a new focal length AND a new approximate field of view. (ex. You want to you a 50mm lens. 50 x 1.5 = 75. By mounting a 50mm lens on a Nikon cropped sensor body, you will have a field of view similar to a 75mm lens. Essentially the lens won't be as wide.)


Fish-eye lenses are a pungent flavor. The drama of the field of view and curved distortion make them unique. However, the effect can get old, very quickly. Consequently, they are best used sparingly. For the exploratory photographer, something like the inexpensive Zenitar gives an excellent tool to experience the fish-eye without investing too much money. For less than $200, why not get this lens? It can never hurt to have an extra lens/effect in the kit. In fact, I think most people should buy this lens. If not just to try a fisheye. This is the lens to do it. The Zenitar 16mm can produce very clear, crisp results (Now it is up to the photographer to attempt to compose with this beast!).


There have been quite a few reviews of this lens so information as well as the lens itself are in abundance. I particularly like Ken Rockwell's comparison to the Nikon 10.5mm which really puts this lens into perspective (little pun).

Ken Rockwell's write-up - 10.5mm comparison

NK Guy's review on -

This guy must have received a poor copy because his first review and samples of this lens were aweful (not his writing, his impression). It actually required some modification. When he did eventually dial-in the lens, he was able to effectively focus and use the lens and claims to be impressed with the results. The copy I received does not appear to have any focusing issues.

Another instance of a bad sample

Some astrophotography with the Zenitar