February 2007

If a scene wants to be be blue, then maybe we should let it be blue! Snowy landscapes tend to be blue on those dull, overcast winter days, and even when the sun is out, shaded areas have a bluish tinge. The color temperature on such days is probably in the 10,000K+ range — since there are no yellows and reds to temper the diffuse light, the ultra-violet (UV), violet and blue end of the spectrum predominate.

It may appear white to the human eye, since our brains compensate by ignoring the blue tinge. However, the lens transmits the light as it really is, and normal daylight film is very sensitive to UV radiation. UV radiation is recorded on film as blue and the dominant blue end of the spectrum present in overcast or shade situations further aggravates the situation, giving the overall scene a blue tinge.

Normally, to correct for the blue tinge, we use a Skylight 1A or UV filter for snowscapes and a warming filter such as a Tiffen 812 filter is usually recommended when photographing people to improve skin color. But what if we allowed the scene to be blue? Not only that, what if we actually enhanced the color by means of a blue filter? This past weekend, I had the chance – it snowed continuously all day Sunday, and I waited until we had a 2- 3 inch accumulation and then used the OM-2 with the Kiron 28-70mm fitted with a 80B filter.

The 80B filter is a color compensating filter to reduce the yellowish-red tinge when normal daylight film is used with tungsten lamps (studio use), but it can be used outdoors to create some spectacular blue effects, especially early morning (pre-dawn) landscapes and snow scenes. By way of contrast check out these photographs taken with the 81A warming filter.

Blue Snowscape #1
Blue Snowscape #2
Blue Snowscape #3
Blue Snowscape #4
Blue Snowscape #5
Blue Snowscape #6
Blue Snowscape #7
Blue Snowscape #8

Photographed with an OM-2 and Kiron 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens fitted with an 80B filter, 1/125 sec at f/11 on Fuji Super HQ 200 ASA film.

Blue Snowscape #9
Blue Snowscape #10

I had previously experimented briefly with the 80B filter in Vail, CO last October. The day started out overcast, but it turned sunny, and I switched back to my Polarizer after a couple of shots. I used the Minolta Dynax 800si with a Maxxum AF 28-80mm f/4.5-5.6 lens and 80B filter, Fuji Super HQ 200 ASA film. These were taken early morning at the Sonnenalp Lodge in Vail Village.

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

I was driving around in the countryside around Westminster last Fall when I came up on this little country road that lost itself between the trees. Intrigued, I got off the main road and drove down the country road for few miles, stopping occasionally to take a photograph of the fall colors. The paved road ended after a couple of miles, and became a gravel road which in turn ended at a cornfield, but as I approached the end of the road, I spotted this house through the trees. I stopped there for a few minutes to savor the crisp, cool air and the calm serenity of the wooded acreage. I envy the owner, what a wonderful retreat from the busy world.

I had the OM-1 fitted with a 50mm f/1.8 lens lens — which was good, since it was overcast and the light was poor. However, what little light there was shone through the beautifully colored fall leaves, and made them glow. The tall, straight trunks of the yellow poplars provided the perfect framework, and their textured bark seems to change patterns in the dim light.

I don’t think any photograph can do justice to Nature. Metal and glass lenses and chemical film emulsions are just not able to see the world as our eyes do. At best, they can reproduce an image that triggers memories for the photographer, recalling the richness of the original scene. And perhaps, fire the imaginations and inspire yearning in others who have only seen the photograph.

Door #1
Door #2
Door #3
Door #4
Door #5
Door #6
Door #7

Photographed with an OM-1, Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens, 1/125 sec at f/11 on Fuji Xtra 200 film. I probably would have got better results if I had opened up another stop.

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

The Mirror or Reflex lens must be the most maligned, joked about and misunderstood of all 35mm lenses. Granted, it has some disadvantages, chief of them being the fact that mirror lenses are fixed aperture, and cannot be stopped down beyond their built-in f/8 settings. In some lenses, the f/8 is a manufacturer’s claim, and in reality, the setting may be closer to f/11. Even if it is f/8 as claimed, if we add any correction filter, we are stopped down to f/11 or f/16 anyway, which limits us to daylight photography.

Another disadvantage is that the viewfinder is not as bright with a mirror lens, and that focusing becomes difficult for cameras that are using a split prism focusing screen, due to the fact that the center spot goes dark. But by far the most pointed out disadvantage is the fact that the lens causes the out of focus highlights (bokeh) to be annular, doughnut shaped rings of light, and that is considered undesirable by many photographers.

Other disadvantages are that it either takes a large filter size (mine takes a 77mm screw-in) or that in some cases a small filter has to be inserted at the back of the lens, making it EVEN harder to focus. Due to these disadvantages, most enthusiasts who jump in and purchase a mirror try using it one or two times, and then put it away to gather dust, or trade it in the first chance they get. There are plenty that are available on eBay, used and new… at prices that are quite reasonable.

Look at the lens from another angle — as a potential long focus hand held lens. The mirror lens is usually available in focal lengths of 400, 500 or 600mm, with the vast majority available in the 500mm range. The lens is very compact, about 4 inches long, since the mirror design folds the incoming light a couple of times. Consider that these lenses have been around for many years now, and computer aided design has made them optically very accurate, and straightforward to design & manufacture. Better than that, it can be made cheaply, and most of the non-OEM brands can be purchased new for a little more than $100, with used mirrors going for even less. It usually weighs less than 1 lb, and can be easily hand-held, and does not look odd even on a small frame camera such as an OM-1 or OM-2. Some of them even claim to be Macro, although it’s just a close focusing capability which is very useful.

In my opinion, these lenses have an undeserved bad rap. Oh, don’t get me wrong, of course I would love to be able to afford a reasonably fast OEM refractive 500mm prime lens (say f/5.6), but other than the enormous cost ($1000++ range??) that puts it beyond the reach of all but the most dedicated amateur photographers, the lenses are large, and heavy. One cannot dream of hand-held photography with such a lens and a sturdy tripod would be a necessity. A professional photographer may have the resources and justification to purchase such a lens, since his or her professional activities and heavy usage call for it.

But what of the amateur who wishes to move into photographing birds, or just wants to have the opportunity to use a super-telephoto? There aren’t many low-cost alternatives. A few possibilities come to mind, but none of them seem suitable for casual handheld photography. Let’s explore what’s out there that’s relatively cheap, and gives us what we want– ie, a super-telephoto lens that’s reasonably fast, and comes in a standard bayonet mount. Handheld is ideal, but we will settle for something that will let us use a bean bag or some similar support, without having to resort to a Tripod and long exposures. There are other long focus cheap lenses in older screw mounts still available, and I will discuss them in another post.

# Using a mid-range zoom such as the Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 zoom (67mm filter size) with a 2x tele-converter. The tele-converter will cause the loss of 2 stops, but we will end up with a upper range of 420mm f/8 or thereabouts. If you are familiar with the tank-like construction of the Series 1 f/3.5 lens, it will be clear that the addition of the 2x converter will make it very difficult, if not impossible to shoot hand-held. Adding a Polarizer will cut us down 2 more stops to about f/16. Cost should be around $125-$150 or so for the lens and tele-converter setup.

# A lighter mid-range such as a Kiron 80-200mm f/4.5 zoom (55mm filter size) with a 2x tele-converter. As before, the tele-converter will lose 2 stops, and we will end up with around 400mm f/8. The assembly is not as heavy as the Vivitar Series 1, but still unwieldy. The same filter factors apply. Cost approx $150

# A third possibility is the Zuiko 300mm f/4.5 prime (72mm filter size). Now, the 300mm falls into the super-telephoto range, and it is built compactly enough that hand-held photography is possible. Add a 2x converter, and you have a 600mm f/8. Hand-held is out of the question, though. Same filter factors apply. Cost varies approx $350 for the setup.

# Vivitar used to make a 75-250mm f/3.8-4.5 zoom (62mm filter size). When coupled with a 2x tele-converter, gives us a 500mm f/8 at the upper end of the range. Too big for hand-held photography, and the same filter factors apply. Cost approx $125-150 for the setup

# Tamron made a 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 and Tokina made a similar 60-300mm f/3.8-5.6 that could be coupled with a 2x tele-converter to give us an 600mm f/11 at the upper range or an approximate 500mm f/8. Still huge though, and no hand-held. Same filter factors apply. Cost varies, approx $150-200 for the setup.

Of course, if we are able to focus using the ground glass portion of the focusing screen (if you’re using a OM-1 or OM-2, you can get a 1-10 matte focusing screen, which has grid lines but no center prism.) and are willing to use a proper support/tripod, the above combinations will permit stopping down to at least f/22 or lower.

There are Digital options as well — if you have a Olympus E series DSLR and the 4/3 to OM adapter. In the Olympus E series cameras, the smaller CCD size (12mm x 18mm) affords a digital conversion factor or 2x compared to the 35mm format (24mm x 36mm), so any of the above 35mm lenses focal length will effectively be doubled – for example the Zuiko 300mm f/4.5 when fitted to the Olympus E-500 will be a fast 600mm f/4.5, and the Vivitar Series 1 75-210mm f/3.5 lens will be a 420mm f/3.5. By the same token, the 500mm Mirror will become a massive 1000mm f/8. But that’s only if you have already made the considerable investment in a DSLR. I’m not sure what kind of results we would get with hand-held photography, although I am sure that the image stabilizing technology makes life much easier. The 2x conversion applies only to the 4/3 (Four-thirds) lens system and Olympus E series cameras. The Sony Alpha (aka Minolta) has a 1.5x digital conversion factor. I am not sure what the Canon and Nikon digital conversion factors are. Perhaps 1.4x??. Here’s a beautiful example of what you can do with a 500mm Mirror with a 2x tele-converter on an Olympus DSLR. This is 2000mm equivalent Handheld!!

One other advantage we have now that the photographers in the 70’s and early 80’s did not have (back when the bad rap started) is better FILM. We have much better emulsions that provide high quality images with 400 and even 800 ASA film. So if you have been hesitating with respect to buying a Mirror lens, give it a try. Keep an open mind, and don’t compare it with its much more expensive counterparts and I can assure you that you’ll be surprised. Look for a good deal, and take the plunge. Maybe you know someone who has a mirror lens they will let you borrow for a few days. Load your camera with 400 or 800 ASA color film and go shoot. Perhaps go hiking or even birdwatching. Don’t worry about filters. If needed, you can use some simple post-processing software tools provided by Picasa to make minor adjustments.

Maybe it won’t be professional quality but at least you will not lose another super telephoto opportunity. And if you’re happy with the results, that’s all that matters. Who knows? Like me, you might fall in love with the doughnut bokeh. And by the way, mine is a very ancient, beat-up looking Soligor CD lens. Check out the setup below. 😀

500mm Mirror #1
500mm Mirror #2
500mm Mirror #3 – check out the bokeh
500mm Mirror #4
500mm Mirror #5
500mm Mirror #6
500mm Mirror #7
500mm Mirror #8 500mm Mirror #9

Photographed with an OM-2, Soligor 500mm f/8 Mirror lens, 1/125 sec, f/8; Fuji Superia 400 film. For the curious – here is my camera and lens setup. I am using a collapsible rubber Mamiya 77mm screw-in lens hood to protect the mirror lens from flare.

OM-2 and Soligor 500mm set-up #1
OM-2 and Soligor 500mm set-up #2

Here are the related Posts:
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part I
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part II
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part III

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

There’s this really interesting looking twisted old blue Atlas pine right outside my brother-in-law’s front door that no one seems to like. Its covered with droopy, trailing branches covered with stiff needles that cascade down and need to be trimmed periodically. Atlas pines are often planted as an ornamental in Maryland because of the interesting shapes it takes, but no one gives any thought to what it will look like about 20 years hence, when it is much bigger, and probably sprawled right across your front door.

The landscaper or garden center guy who sells it to you probably has no clue regarding its growth habits either. This one is particularly tough, it gets very little sunshine, since it grows on the north side of the house, and is shaded by a huge red oak tree, yet seems to thrive. This past week, the sleet froze on its needles, and weighed it down, apparently with no ill effects.

I took these pictures as the ice crystals started melting. I wish I could have had some sunlight though, it would have made for some interesting effects. I used the OM-2 with the 500mm Soligor Mirror. The mirror lens is close focusing, and these were taken from about 3 feet away. Note the annular bokeh on #2.

Atlas Pine #1
Atlas Pine #2
Atlas Pine #3
Atlas Pine #4

Photographed with an Olympus OM-2, Soligor CD 500mm f/8 Mirror lens. 1/125 sec at f/8 on Fuji Superia 400 film.

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

Updated 02/25/2007
The Quince Orchard branch of the Gaithersburg Library has an interesting facade – brick, metal and glass, with the metal skin tiled to almost look like scales. the color scheme ranges from brick red to copper and burnt sienna. The yellowish morning light catches it just right, making the whole building glow. The textures are even more interesting.

Quince Orchard Library #1- Black & White
Quince Orchard Library #1 – Color
Quince Orchard Library #2 – B & W
Quince Orchard Library #2 – Color

Photographed with an OM-2n, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Fuji Xtra 200 film. 1/250 sec at f/16. Desaturated to show material texture.

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

It’s been so cold in central Maryland these past couple of weeks, I’m dreaming of late Summer to keep warm – lazy afternoons, gorgeous weather, and of course the butterflies, bugs and bees set among the lush greenery. I am lucky that most of the countryside I drive through everyday is so rural. I generally have a lot of time to listen to music, think, catch up on the news, and of course, indulge myself, stopping on an impulse to take a photograph or two.

These were taken late in the evening – I was driving along Old Taneytown Road, when I spotted this milkweed plant in full bloom, and there were several butterflies flitting about. I drove ahead, pulled over and grabbed my Minolta and walked back. The milkweed was about 10 feet away, and I did not want to get so close as to scare the butterflies away.

The one problem with AF lenses is that they tend to hunt back and forth crazily when focusing on a moving target like a flying insect – when I finally got this little guy in my sights, I realized that the milkweed flower cluster was teeming with other little critters… it was chock full of Japanese beetles feasting on the flowers, and trying to stay out of sight. The OM-2 with a short zoom would have probably been sharper… anyway, here are the photos.

Milkweed Feast #1
Milkweed Feast #2

Photographed with a Minolta Dynax 800si, Phoenix 28-105mm f/2.8-3.8 lens at 1/125 sec on Fuji Xtra 200 film.

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

If you live in a town that has a historic district and picturesque downtown with a beautiful tree-lined Main Street which has lots of architecturally interesting buildings, count yourself lucky. Living in Maryland or Pennsylvania does have it’s advantages, since practically EVERY town has a well preserved, WORKING historic district, and there is nothing as rewarding as a quiet walk through town, a camera in hand, happily clicking away. But wait… there’s a problem.

As we saunter along, we notice how difficult it is to actually photograph the old buildings – it’s easy enough to photograph street scenes and people, but buildings are well nigh impossible. By now, you must be wondering – what’s he talking about? Do I need a permit or something that I did not know about?

The problems I am referring to are the stately old trees. Since they are usually large, mature specimens, they cover the buildings, making it very difficult to compose a decent shot. Besides, irrespective of the time of day, the facades are heavily shaded while the roofs may be in bright sunlight. A second, less serious problem in Historic districts is that due to the paucity of parking lots, cars are parked all along the street. A third problem may be large service trucks that may be going about their business. Cars along a street curb may be acceptable in Streetscapes and Architectural photography, but large trucks that block the view certainly aren’t. And I won’t even get into the issue of the utility poles with their spaghetti wires strung haphazardly all over the place.

When I first moved to Westminster, I made several attempts to photograph the well preserved Main Street and the neighboring Green Street with its beautiful residential buildings. Green Street was undergoing some major sewer replacement, and for months I drove by frustrated since the roads were all dug up and earth-moving machines were everywhere. As for Main Street, the traffic and trees made it very difficult. So I waited, and waited some more. Finally, in late Fall, when all the leaves had fallen and blown away, I suddenly saw all the buildings in their entirety, beautifully illuminated by the low sun.

Mid to late Winter and very early Spring are perhaps the very best time for architectural photography and streetscapes. The buildings are visible, the old trees with their twisted trunks and bare branches add an organic, living counterpoint to the linear architectural lines of the buildings – Also, the sunlight is never harsh and flat at this time of year, unlike the summer months when only a couple of hours in the morning and evening are suitable for photography. In fact, the winter sun even at noon is low enough to cast enough shadow to provide some very interesting modeling.

For anyone seriously contemplating anything more than the casual saunter with a camera, and have an opportunity to visit the street or district a few times, I would advise against shooting right away. If the opportunity exists, I would suggest a slow drive through of all the streets, noting the direction they face, and how the sun strikes them. In most cases, it will be discovered that one side of the street is ideally lit by the late morning sun and the other street in the late afternoon.

As the sun drops below the buildings (roof line) very rapidly in Winter, late evening photography is not advisable. I would recommend 9 to 10.30 am in the mornings and 3.30 to 4.30pm in the late afternoon as the best time. Any earlier or later than that will probably have the sun too low in the sky to have the best results. The roofs will be well lit, but the façade and street will be too dark and underexposed at normal meter readings. If you can manage it on a Saturday or Sunday, all the better, since there will not be as many parked cars, and you will have the streets pretty much to yourself.

What about equipment? Since we will be mostly likely be shooting building facades from across the street, we will be about 20-30 feet away, and moving slightly diagonally away can give us a little additional leeway as far as distance, and perhaps allow us to work around the massive trunk of a giant Oak or Sycamore. At this distance, a 50mm lens will be able to completely encompass a 2-3 story building, and will cause no perspective distortion.

If we are working closer than 25-30 feet or with larger public buildings, a 35mm lens will be ideal. This lens should be able to capture even large buildings such as a State Capitol or a Courthouse without any problems, and with very little perspective distortion. Taller buildings may call for more distance, or a 28mm or even a 24mm, although I would advise against it, if at all possible, avoid the temptation to go really wide angle unless you wish to capture multiple buildings or entire streetscapes. Remember, the wide angles will cause substantial distortion, and the buildings will lose some of their grandeur, because of the smaller image sizes. For individual buildings, a 50mm or 35mm will suffice.

The Camera? Any manual, auto focus or digital camera will be fine. As this site is (mostly) about manual cameras, Olympus in particular, I will recommend the OM-1 and OM-2 as being especially suited to this task –and the Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/2.8 lenses make it a no-brainer. With either camera, remember that the meter readings are likely to result in under-exposure of shadowed areas if there is a lot of lighting contrast between different areas of the building. This is especially true for buildings that are whitewashed or painted white or other light color. Brick also tends to appear redder in late afternoon light. The other alternative is to use the Olympus Trip 35 or the excellent semi-automatic Ricoh 500G rangefinder. Both have a 40mm f/2.8 lens that is a suitable compromise between the 35mm and 50mm, and will give you great results with minimal distortion.

What about a Zoom lens? Shorts zooms such as the Zuiko 35-70mm f/4, Kiron 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5, Vivitar 28-85mm f/2.8-3.8 and Sigma 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 are all suitable since they are fast enough for hand held photography, and will provide additional flexibility if one is unable to approach a building, or wish to close in on some architectural detail. I would not recommend any focal length longer than 105mm, unless you wish to get really close up details of some molding etc. The exception would be Chicago or New York city where a wide angle AND a zoom is a necessity.

Since we are photographing static subjects, a 100 ASA or 200 ASA film is ideal. Slower film like Fuji Velvia 50 will be fine with the Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/2.8 but impractical with the Zooms unless you use a Tripod. The setup and take down time with a Tripod will take far too much time, and there is nothing worse than a photographer who makes a spectacle of himself (or herself) fiddling with cameras, lenses and tripods. If you’re shooting Black & White, you can use 400 ASA, either E-6 or C-41 process films. I like both.

As far as filters go, you will need a Polarizing filter in the sunlight – this will also work very well for Black & White film, although a Yellow filter is usually preferred. If there is no haze or snow to scatter light, you can shoot with an 81A or even without a filter. Make sure you use a lens hood if you are not using a Polarizer. A Polarizer is always recommended for the 50mm, but be careful of vignetting on the 35mm and the wide end of the Zoom lenses.

Above all, be safe, and be constantly aware of your surroundings, and watch out for pedestrians and moving vehicles. Don’t get in peoples faces. If a downtown merchant requests you not to photograph his/her premises, please be courteous and respectful of their wishes. There’s always another building. Also, since this is winter photography, all the precautions regarding keeping yourself and your equipment warm and dry apply. Happy shooting! 🙂

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
Add to Technorati Favorites

Next Page »