January 2008


I finally got around to visiting the GW Masonic temple in Alexandria – it’s a shame that I haven’t been able to get over there, since I work close by – but DC traffic is hard to deal with on any given day. I visited on Martin Luther King Day – since it’s a Holiday, there was very light traffic. However, it was COLD!

It was about 28 F at about 4 pm on Jan 21 – the wind chill must have been much lower, but I was inspired by the previous night’s game between the Giants and the Packers playing in -3F, -24 wind chill. If they can play in such severe weather, I should be able to get out and take a few photographs, right? After all, it would only take about 15 minutes. Brrrr.

This monument has been getting a lot of interest from the tourist crowd since it featured prominently in Nicholas’ Cages thriller “National Treasure” – since then, people have been adding it their itinerary when visiting DC, even though it’s a few miles away. On the bright side, they get to visit old town Alexandria and the cool shops on King Street.

I was using the Zuiko 35-70mm f/4 lens on the Sony A700 with the Bower Minolta AF-OM adapter – The lens is an apparent 52mm-105mm lens on the Sony Alpha, and it’s great for general photography and portraits. It’s also a good lens for Architecture as well – but only if you are able to stand back a reasonable distance.

For street architectural photography, I’d still recommend a 35mm lens ( in the case of the A700, it would have to be a 24mm lens to get the apparent 36mm equivalent). In this case, I lucked out since the temple has a lot of open space around it, even beyond the parking lot. It’s easy enough to get far enough back to get a decent full length shot.

At 4pm however, the front of the Masonic Temple is in shade. The rear and side were nicely illuminated. It’s advisable to go there in the morning hours to get a well illuminated front elevation shot.

GW Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA

GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA
GW Masonic Temple, VA

GW Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA
GW Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA

Photographed with a Sony Alpha 700 DSLR and Zuiko 35-70mm f/4 lens with a Bower Minolta AF-OM lens Adapter. ISO 200, 1/125 at f/5.6



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olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

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A while ago, I had written about a Bower made Minolta AF to OM adapter that I was able to use on my Minolta 800si/Sony Alpha 700 to mount Zuiko and other 3rd party OM mount lenses.

The Bower adapter is actually a weak teleconverter since it has a glass element that permits infinity focus – since I got the A700, I have been checking out all my manual focus prime and zoom lenses – Zuiko, Vivitar, Sigma, Soligor, Panagor and Kiron primes and zooms. Most of them fit on the Alpha 700 without any problems – with the exception of the Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 and the Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 (more on this in a future post)

There was a very interesting discussion on the DP Reviews forum regarding the use of manual focus Olympus OM Zuiko lenses on the Sony Alpha series cameras. I had participated in the discussion and shared the information I had about mounting manual focus lenses on the Sony Alpha 700. However, the DP Forum’s website seems to have had a technical failure, and about 5 days worth of forum topics have been lost. All the reply postings have vanished – except for the question itself. Bummer.

Zuiko/OM lenses on the Sony Alpha Part II



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olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

In an earlier post discussing the DSLR crop factor, I had mentioned that if you really need to shoot really-wide angles, just use your film camera – because ultra wide-angle PRIME lenses (24mm equivalent or better) for DSLRs are still prohibitively expensive. The Kit zoom lens that Sony bundles (18-70mm) and the other lenses such as the 18-200mm and 18-250mm are all equivalent to 27mm at the wide end.

The Sony 16-105mm Zeiss zoom is equivalent to 24mm at the wide end, but markedly more expensive than the other lenses. So if we need 24mm and better, it’s either shelling out the big bucks for the Sony 16-105, and if choosing a prime, there’s not many choices. It’s one area where a film 35mm camera like my Minolta 800si still has an edge especially if you currently own a 24mm lens.

However, if a moderate wide angle is fine, the fine Sigma 24mm f/2.8 AF is still widely available at a reasonable price. On the Sony Alpha DSLR, the Sigma 24 is an apparent 36mm focal length with a 63 degree view angle. A true 24mm has a view angle of 74 degrees.

The Sigma 24mm AF Super-wide II is a particularly good deal, since it is available at a reasonable price. One of the reasons (other than that it’s a 3rd party prime) was that the lens came with a matte black “Zen” finish that tended to flake off easily, giving even well cared for lenses a used and battered appearance. This means the prices are often substantially marked down.

My recommendation? Don’t be afraid – unless you are a stickler for cosmetic appearances, the external finish does not affect the lens performance at all. It is an excellent lens by all accounts, and I can vouch for that.

The Sigma lens was also re-badged and sold by Ritz Camera as a house-brand Quantaray 24mm lens, but with a different, more durable, though cheesy finish, gold line and all. It’s still the same optics, though. Don’t be fooled by the appearance – this is a very high quality lens. Besides, the Sigma 24mm can be used as a 36mm normal lens, since many photographers prefer a 35mm lens as their standard lens.

The 24mm has well corrected distortions and moderate wide-angle allows us to include more of the subject, having the effect of ‘getting into the picture’ . We’d pay hundreds more to get a similar “designed for digital” Sony (or any other OEM) lens. High-priced lenses are an anathema for the thrifty amateur, of course.

These pictures are from Westminster, MD – the little park at the intersection of Green Street and Ridge Road (MD Rte 27) looking towards St. Paul’s Church and Green Street. I used the Sigma 24mm AF lens on the Sony Alpha 700 – the 1.5x digital crop gives me an apparent focal length of 36mm. The soft morning light with a light overcast sky was just right.


Westminster, MD

Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD

Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD
Westminster, MD

Here’s a couple of pictures of the Sigma 24mm mounted on my Sony Alpha 700. It’s a small lens, about the size of a Minolta 50mm f/1.7 normal lens.

Sigma AF 24mm Super-Wide on Sony A700
Sigma AF 24mm Super-Wide on Sony A700
Sigma AF 24mm Super-Wide on Sony A700

Here’s my daughter Sunny, making faces from very closeup as I was checking out the Sigma lens. She though the distortions were hilarious.

Being Silly

Here’s a some pictures taken with the Sigma 24mm at sunset – I was in Bohrer park with Sunayana and the light was changing rapidly. Note the reddish light in some of the pictures.

Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park
Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park
Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park
Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park
Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park
Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park
Sigma AF 24mm – Sunset Bohrer Park

Photographed with a Sony Alpha 700, Sigma AF 24mm f/2.8 Super-wide II (the lens has an apparent focal length of 36mm when mounted on the Alpha 700)



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olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

A few weeks ago, I found this vintage Hansa 50mm f3.5 on eBay at a very reasonable price. It was new in the box, and the seller told me that it was an enlarger lens and that I’d have to find some kind of step-up adapter to get it to fit on M42 Pentax thread mount. That was puzzling, but a little bit of research told me that it was probably a M39 mount enlarging lens. This means I would have to find a ring that would step it up to the M42. (The M42 is a 42×1 pitch thread while a T-mount has a 42×0.75 pitch fine thread.)

After a little searching, I found this little aluminum adapter ring from a seller in the Ukraine, so I took a chance. Once I got it, I fitted it on the Hansa lens, and voila, it was just right size to mount on a M42 mount. I figured that it should also fit on a regular T-mount lens, since the pitch is so close. It works, but it wont thread in all the way because of the pitch difference, so don’t force it. As long as it grips a thread or two, it’ll be fine. Besides, the Hansa is so small and light, it does not matter.

Hansa 50mm f/3.5 lens
M39-M42 Adapter Ring

A note regarding macrophotography on the cheap – as an amateur, I cannot spend large amounts of money on specialized equipment, so I am always on the lookout for “cheap awesome lenses” and other accessories. One such example is Spiratone macro equipment. Spiratone sold 2 types of bellows – the single rail rack and pinion bellowscope with T-mount fittings and the double rail Macrobel with camera mount specific fittings.

Spiratone also marketed a tiny 35mm Macrotar lens, a 75mm Flat Field Macro lens (for copying, possibly) and a 150mm Macrotel lens, all with a T-mount, and designed to be used with their bellows and copy systems. They appear with some regularity on eBay, and if one is really interested in real close up macrophotography, it’s possible to put together a macro kit cheaply. It’s possible, with a little bit of luck. I can attest to this.

Patience is key here, and one has to be willing to wait for the right price. My goal was to acquire a full set of bellows macro equipment – bellows, bellows lenses and adapters for less than $200. I was never able to ascertain if Spiratone also sold a 50mm bellows macro, so when I found the Hansa 50mm f/3.5, I was very happy. Check out the Macro section for pictures of the equipment.

I mounted the Hansa to a Spiratone Bellowscope and with a Minolta AF -T mount adapter on the other end, I mounted the Sony Alpha 700. The Bellowscope gives an extension of about 160mm and is pretty light.


Here’s what the Macro set-up looked like –

bellows setup for Macro
bellows setup for macro
bellows setup for macro
Spiratone 75mm f/3.5 Flat Field Macro

These are pictures I took with the Sony Alpha 700 and the Hansa 50mm f/3.5. Regarding the macro enlargement – the Sony Alpha 700 has a APS-C size sensor (23.5mm x 15.6mm) so at full extension, I think I was able to get approximately a 4:1 magnification. That’s pretty respectable.

Scale Image 1
Scale Image 2
Sony A700 and Hansa 50mm f/3.5
Sony A700 and Hansa 50mm f/3.5
Sony A700 and Hansa 50mm f/3.5
Sony A700 and Hansa 50mm f/3.5
Sony A700 and Hansa 50mm f/3.5
Sony A700 and Hansa 50mm f/3.5

I’ve also included a couple of pictures with the Spiratone Flatfield 75mm f/3.5 fitted on the Bellowscope. Again, the magnification is around 4:1 at full extension. Second picture is about 2:1 magnification. I’ll post some pictures soon with the 35mm Macrotar and 150mm Macrotel bellows lenses.

Sony A700 and 75mm Flat field Macro
Sony A700 and 75mm Flat field Macro
Sony A700 and 75mm Flat field Macro
Sony A700 and 75mm Flat field Macro
Sony A700 and 75mm Flat field Macro
Sony A700 and 75mm Flat field Macro

Photographed with a Sony Alpha 700 DSLR, Hansa 50mm f/3.5 and Spiratone Flatfield 75m f/3.5 on Spiratone Bellowscope.



Creative Commons License
olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

I was up in Westminster again a couple of days ago, and on the way back, I drove out towards New Windsor. I took the old winding Wakefield road to the Strawbridge Shrine – it’s been a while since I stopped there, there have been some changes – first, they finally erected a second life size granite statue – of Elizabeth Strawbridge, the good pastor’s wife and companion.

I wish they had placed the statues lower – more eye-level, so to speak. The pedestals somehow seem too much. These were simple farming folk who were called to spread the word of God. Robert Strawbridge was never ordained, and thus faced a lot of criticism and censure for daring to preach. When called upon to defend himself and his actions, he is said to have replied “No right but that of the Divine. The Need creates the Grant”. The good Bishop Francis Asbury of Baltimore wasn’t having any of that, though. Apparently, he gave him a really tough time.

In spite of all that, Robert Strawbridge’s ministry thrived, and grew. That whole part of Carroll County – New Windsor to Sam’s Creek is called ‘Strawbridge Country’. It’s bounded by Rte 27 to the East, Rte 140 to the North, Rte 407 to the South and Rte 31 to the West. The area is very rural and picturesque. Archaeological opinion is that the site may not be authentic, and that Strawbridge may never have lived there.

Be that as it may.. .it does not matter in the least. There is a sense of peace and serenity at the Strawbridge shrine that whether or not the good man actually lived and preached in that spot, you understand the spirit that drove him. It’s a shame that he never made it into the Heroes of Methodism book (published in the mid-1800’s) along with other primitive preachers like Bishop Asbury and others. Guess you had to be an ordained minister, or a Bishop. The irony of it all is that the museum at the Shrine is named after Francis Asbury, the very man who tried to put poor Robert and Elizabeth out of business.Correction: David Bearr wrote to let me know that the Visitor center is actually named after a Asbury Smith, a Methodist minister who helped develop the site. I apologize for the error.

It was almost sunset when I got there, and very cold. The light was fading fast, and I just managed to get some photographs. Unlike my previous visits, where I was using film, this time I had the Sony Alpha 700, so I could switch ISO’s quickly to accommodate the fading light.

I switched between a couple of lenses as well. Most of the pictures were made with the Minolta 35-105mm (52-157.5mm eq. 35mm format) and the rest with the Sigma 24mm wide angle (36 mm eq).

I even had a chance to chat with the site curator for a few minutes. Rev. Laura Apostol lives right next door and offers guided tours from April onwards.


Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine

Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine
Robert Strawbridge Shrine

Photographed with a Sony Alpha 700, Minolta AF 35-105mm and Sigma AF Super-wide II 24mm f/2.8 lens. I’ve posted some additional photos here.
Here’s my previous post on the Strawbridge Shrine.



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olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

Just getting way ahead of myself here, but my friend Cliff got me thinking about the future Alpha models, and regarding Sony’s plans for the future Alpha 900. Now, this is just my own little thought experiment, and should be treated as such.

The current A700 DSLR is 12.24 megapixels. The camera frame is large enough to accommodate a full frame sized sensor and I’m guessing that Sony designers will just need to make minor changes to the external configuration. The A700’s ergonomics are excellent, so Sony probably won’t mess with that. The will need to upsize the CMOS sensor to a full frame 35mm format sized 36mm x 24mm.

What does this mean? Currently, in the A700 which uses the APS-C sized sensor (23.5mm x 15.6mm) with surface area of 366.6 sq.mm. A full frame 35mm format is 36mm x 24mm (approx 864 sq.mm surface area) which is about about 2.35x the APS-C surface area.

Assuming they keep pixel density the same as for the A700, a full frame A900 could be a mind-blowing 12.24 x 2.35 = 28. 76 megapixels. I say COULD BE. With so much surface area to play with, Sony would be wise to reduce the pixel density further, allowing the A900 sensor to run cooler, and thus avoid hot spots (and bad pixels). I’d venture to assume that they would try to keep the A900 in the 20 – 22 megapixel range, which would give Sony a nice buffer for future marginal “improvements”

It will be interesting to see what Sony will finally settle on for the Full frame A900. I hope they can keep the cost reasonable so that amateurs can afford them as well. As for me, the A700 is probably rugged and enough for my amateurish efforts.



Creative Commons License
olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

Early January isn’t the best time for macro-photography – the usual subjects, flowers, insects, ferns, lichens, mosses are mostly absent and there isn’t much greenery anywhere. There’s usually a lot of bright winter sunshine in Maryland around this time, even if there isn’t much snow. It’s cold, and that adds to the challenge. Bright colors are conspicuous by their absence… one has to be imaginative, and look for interesting patterns, textures etc that might be good macro subjects.

Indoor macro-photography is another matter altogether, there’s a wealth of interesting subject matter around the house to photograph – coins, food, grains, spices, toys, gadgets, fabrics, clothing details, you name it…. However, indoor macrophotography has another problem – that of lighting. It’s hard to get enough lighting for hand-held macro photographs, unless a Flash unit is utilized. For the most part, shooting near a sunny window takes care of the lighting issue. Here are some pictures that I took of everyday objects – shoe brush bristles, fruit, a crossword puzzle, brooms etc.


Shoe brush bristles
Crossword Puzzle
Orange
Orange
Broom
Broom

A note about camera care – Using any camera outdoors when it is cold requires a bit of care, but digital cameras need some extra precautions… handling the little buttons is a little more difficult since numb fingers lose their dexterity. Make sure you have the camera strap securely around the neck to ensure against dropping the camera. If that’s not convenient, wrap the strap around the wrist a couple of times.

Keep the camera dry, and warm as possible. Keep it close to the body, covered with a jacket when you’re not shooting. Batteries don’t like cold conditions, and who knows what the cold does to the electronic innards? Most cameras have an “operating” temperature range specified, but I always take that with a grain of salt. Better to exercise extra care than to be sorry. Moreover, when going back inside from very cold conditions, make sure you put the camera and lens inside a large zip-lock bag so that moisture does not condense on the camera. Keep it in the bag until it reaches room temperature – at least ½ hour, if not more.

The Sony Alpha 700 has environmental sealing, but it’s not weather-proof. The seals can only prevent accidental entry of dust, sand and moisture, but I don’t think ANY camera is designed for prolonged use in adverse conditions (maybe they make special cameras to MIL specifications for the armed forces, but I haven’t come across any yet).

Enough digression – Anyway, here I was, out in the backyard, looking for interesting things to photograph… it was late afternoon, and the winter sun was already low in the sky – the light was yellowish-white and the shadows were getting longer by the minute. Here are some of the objects I found around the yard… leaves, bark, mulch, some green shoots on potted plants etc.


Tender leaves
Jasmine tendril
Blue Atlas Pine
Cedar Pine
Decayed mulch
Lichen on Dogwood
Electric Meter
Electric Meter
Leaf at Sunset
Leaf, in shade

I used the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro lens… it’s one of my favorites, I love it as much as I love my Panagor 90mm f/2.8 (that’s another superb 1:1 macro lens by Kino Precision. I can mount it on the Sony Alpha 700 with the Bower Minolta AF-Olympus OM adapter).

The Sigma 50mm is a true macro lens, and it goes up to a 1:1 magnification. The Sony A700’s crop factor of 1.5x gives the Sigma an apparent 75mm focal length, allowing it to be used from further away. This additional stand-off distance can be an advantage when it’s not possible to get too close to the subject for whatever reason… especially if they are skittish bugs…

Which brings us to this little fellow – this tree shield (stink) bug somehow made its way into the house and was wandering around. My daughter Sunayana found it and convinced her cousin Vasudev to capture it for her. We took a few pictures of the critter before letting it loose outside in the late afternoon when it was a little warmer.

I looked him up on the ‘What’s that Bug?’ site and on the Bug Guide. It’s a Stink Bug, belonging to the order Hemiptera, family Pentatomidae, and genus Euschistus. Pretty complicated name for a little bug. It’s common to see stink bugs during the summer months when there is plenty of greenery around to feed on, but what was it doing running around in mid-winter? I used the Sigma 50mm for this as well. Here are the pictures of him on the kitchen counter, and later on the deck railing. I took the last picture as he was scuttling away to find a corner.


Shield Bug
Shield Bug
Shield Bug
Shield Bug
Shield Bug
Shield Bug

Photographed with a Sony Alpha 700 dSLR and a Sigma 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens.



Creative Commons License
olympus/zuiko by Ajoy Muralidhar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.text and images © 2008 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. thank you for visiting olympus/zuiko.

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