Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

That seems like an odd question but Chinese lens Maker Zhong Yi Optical is trying to say YES! This company makes three lenses with the exotic F/0.95 lens opening. The three lenses are as follows:

  • 50mm F/0.95 full frame for Sony FE, Canon EF, and Nikon and others. Sells for around $700
  • 35mm F/0.95 APS-C for Canon M, Sony E, and others. Sells for around $500
  • 25mm F/0.95 MFT for Lumix, Olympus, Fuji and others. Sells for around $350

I have a Canon EOS M5 so I got the 35mm version. There are not too many photographers that haven’t jonesed for the so-called “dream lens” Canon 50mm F0.95 for the 7 rangefinder. These however are now fetching massive coin routinely selling in the $2000-$4000 range. A bit rich for a soft lens. But collectors understand just how significant that lens is to photographic history.

For those of us that are a bit more modest with our dispensable cash, there are a variety of lens makers coming on the scene with surprisingly good optics and rather fair prices. The Mitakon 35mm F/0.95 is one such product. I ordered mine recently and have taken a great many photos. This is a solid piece of glass figuratively and literally.

Although the 0.95 opening can offer up an extra 2/3 stop of low light exposure versus a comparable F/1.2 lens, the primary reason to own this is the bokeh and subject isolation afforded to lenses with ultra wide apertures. The smaller your camera format, the more challenging it becomes to get these dreamy bokeh lenses. This is due to the physics of optical photography.

The depth of field is controlled physically by three primary factors. Most people think of aperture as the primary control of depth of field. And it is certainly a major driver. But the focal length is even more so. Longer focal length lenses will have a more shallow depth of field. For example a 35mm lens on a full frame camera is a moderately wide-angle lens. That same focal length on a micro four thirds camera is a short tele, portrait lens as far as perspective is concerned. However it is still a 35mm focal length and as such the depth of field at any given F-stop will still be deeper than a comparable 70mm lens on a full frame camera. It is this fact that has led cell phone makers to utilize multi-lens and software modes for artificially blurring the background. The tiny sensors used in phones need ultra short focal length lenses that almost always have extended depth of field.

As an example a 35mm lens on MFT has the same relative perspective as a 70mm lens on a full frame camera. At F/2 however the depth of field is much different. So when shooting a head shot here’s what it looks like:

  • Canon EOS 5d Mk III with 70mm F/2.0 at 4 feet distance would yield a sharp depth of field of only 1.35 inches!
  • Canon M5 with 44mm F/2.0 at 4 feet yields 2.3 inches.
  • Panasonic Lumix with 35mm F/2.0 at 4 feet yields 2.8 inches. More than twice the depth of field of the 5d

But all of them are shallow enough, right? Maybe. One of the often overlooked methods of obtaining a soft background with any lens, is the relative distance of the subject and background to the camera. So it depends on how far away the background is. Remember the blur gets more creamy and dreamy the further out of focus it is. So the 5d might get a dreamy bokeh with a background 3 feet behind the subject but the Lumix might need a few more feet back to go full soft. Things get real interesting when you go for a 3/4 length shot. Now you are focused at maybe 8 feet distance and the 5d has less than 6 inches of depth of field while the smaller sensor has pushed out close to a full foot. Now getting dreamy, creamy, backgrounds on the small sensor may need the background at 12-14 feet behind the subject.

When focusing up real close most lenses will blur a background that is far off in the distance. For example a 12mm F/4.0 full frame lens focused at 2 feet distance wide open will have roughly sharp focus from 15 inches to 4 feet. Beyond four feet will get progressively softer the further back you go. But we can’t always stuff our camera right up close to our subject without other problems. That same 12mm full frame lens while wide open, has a hyper-focal distance of just 4 feet. Hyper-focal is a focusing distance in which depth of field will include infinity and approximately half the focus distance in front of the lens. That translates as 2 feet to infinity is sharp WIDE OPEN. Cell phones often use much shorter focal lengths than 12mm.

So the notion of having that delicious swirly bokeh gets more difficult with small sensors and that is where lenses like this Mitakon 35mm F/0.95 can make a HUGE difference. This lens supports APS-C sensors. On Sony and Nikon it has a 1.5x crop factor which means it has the perspective angle of view of a 53mm on FF and with Canon’s 1.6 crop factor it is akin to a 56mm lens on FF. Let’s look at a 35mm lens on my Canon M5 at different apertures to see the depth of field difference when focused at 3 feet distance.

  • F/2.0 – 2.07 inches
  • F/1.8 – 1.84 inches
  • F/1.4 – 1.46 inches
  • F/1.2 – 1.23 inches
  • F/1.0 – 1.03 inches
  • F/0.95 – 0.94 inches

At F/0.95 there is less than an inch of depth, just breathing can move you out of focus. The difference between F/2.0 and F/0.95 is about how far “gone” that background is. Getting a sharp photograph hand-held or mounted with a living subject is a serious chore with the shallow depth of field of a 0.95 lens.

I got my depth of field values from a nice website called “doffmaster” here. Here are several photos made at different aperture values to show the difference in depth of field. These are animated GIF images that will give a slide show of the different f/stops.

So all that on the table, how is this Mitakon 35mm Speedmaster? In a nutshell it is very good and for the money it is outstanding. I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance. Compared to the KamLan 50mm 1.1 I wrote up last year, this is a superior lens in all respects. It is however two and a half times more money, so it ought to be better methinks. Likewise it is less than half the cost of any of the high-speed premium lenses, so don’t expect perfection.

The lens is very sharp in the center wide open and pretty soft in the corners. Both the corners and center sharpen up consistently as the lens is stopped down and by F/2.8 it has excellent sharpness more or less to the corners. The build quality is solid with all metal construction and nicely damped focus.  The fit and finish lacks the “premium” feel of more expensive lenses from the likes of Voightlander, Zeiss, and Leitz; but let’s face it, this lens plays in a different sandbox than those and offers a blue-collar price against the CEO levels of cash needed to purchase the others.

This lens is not small, compact, or lightweight. It isn’t terribly unwieldy, but it weighs in at around 430 grams, which is just shy of a ton, um, I mean pound 😉 It does not come with a lens shade but it does come with a really plush, leatherette, tan and black presentation case. That’s pretty cool.

The trick to getting the real creamy, delicious bokeh, is a combination of close to the subject, far away background, wide aperture, and long lens. This Speedmaster f/0.95 allows you to get three of the four with a nice tight close focus of about 12 inches, crazy bright 0.95 opening, you setup the shot for the faraway background and voila, you have ‘bokehliciousness’.

Compared to the KamLan 50mm F/1.1 this is a sharper lens at all stops but the KamLan delivers a similarly shallow depth of field despite its smaller opening as the focal length is a bit longer. That lens is priced at well under $200 while this lens is closer to $500. The difference is that this lens can work as a straight multi-purpose shooter with a sharp center and overall excellent sharpness beginning around F/2.0. The KamLan never quite gets to “excellent” on the sharpness and is a bit of a ‘one trick pony.’

I did a video review of this lens as well, here. Here are a few more shots with the Speedmaster 0.95/35mm



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I did a video a few weeks back touting the deals I am seeing on the Tamron 300mm 2.8 Adaptall series lenses. These amazing lenses are now found in the $500-$700 range on sites like eBay and at camera shows and vintage camera shops. A 300mm F/2.8 lens is an exotic lens my friends. To buy such a lens from Canon or Nikon to fit your modern DSLR will set you back some six large, that means $6,000 if you’ll pardon the Vegas casino mobster parlance.

Back in the 1990s I had both a Canon FD 300/2.8 L and a Tamron SP 300/2.8 and had fabulous results with these lenses for sports, wildlife and even portraits. I had long ago sold those 300/2.8 lenses but recently managed to find a very clean Tamron Adaptall 300/2.8 in a local Portland camera shop and snatched it up!

The Tamron Adaptall lenses were fairly unique as they utilized an interchangeable camera mount. This was not unlike the old T-mount  system in its adaptability but differed in that the camera mounts were 100% compatible with the host camera. T-mount lenses had no coupling to the body so the lens had to be stopped down to meter and as such most T-mount lenses were cheap mail order units. Tamron lenses were exceptional quality products for the most part.

The Adaptall lenses were excellent and Tamron’s SP line of lenses were their professional grade. Tamron introduced the original SP 300/2.8 in 1983. It was gloss white and did not feature internal focusing. The lens was noted as being well corrected but a little soft. The second generation came just one year later and represented a complete revision of the optical system. This allowed for a slimmer design that was notably sharper and much more contrasty than the original. It also had internal focus.

This second gen version is easily identifiable from the original by virtue of its gunmetal gray-green finish. This is the one to get and frankly they made a lot more of them than the original which was short-lived. Collectors may prefer the original, shooters should definitely get the second gen lens. These are both manual focus lenses and are not to be confused with the current line of Tamron AF lenses. Tamron does make a modern 300mm F/2.8 for modern cameras as does rivals Sigma and Tokina.

wild beast

Shot with Canon T90 and Tamron 300/2.8 ©1994 rodsager

The 300/2.8 is a great long telephoto lens with a very bright opening. Although sports and wildlife seem like an oblivious use for this type lens, portraits can also be quite amazing with these. 300mm naturally delivers a shallow depth of field, when coupled with the unusually fast f/2.8, the background simply melts away. The longer tele lens allows for a head shot or head and shoulders shot from a comfortable shooting distance of 12-15 feet. This creates a flatter image on the subject’s face and some find this pleasing to the eye.

picture of girl

Model shot with Canon F1 and Tamron 300/2.8 ©1993 rodsager

These lenses are not small my friends. The Tamron 300/2.8 lens featured here weighs 5 lbs and uses a 112mm filter. There is a filter tray that slips in towards the rear of the lens that supports 43mm filters.

Modern DSLR cameras can often utilize this lens via the old school camera maker Adaptall mount. However custom modern mounts can be found as well for cameras like the Sony A7. On a film camera I felt that the Tamron lens was nearly as solid as my previous 300/2.8 which was the legendary Canon L series lens for the FD system. I switched to this lens because in the early 1990s I was transitioning out of the FD system and into the EOS system. The Tamrom lens would work on both!

I am enjoying this Tamron beast on my EOS 5D Mk III and the image quality remains outstanding, but modern glass has no doubt gotten better over the years especially on digital images. I however am not interested in parting with some $6000 to get a modern Canon EF 300mm F2.8 L. The image stabilization and autofocus are highly desirable, but for me I enjoy the delicious bokeh and the face flattening effects of this old school exotic from Tamron. If you find one in the $500-$700 range you have done well and will not regret the purchase.

Get the 1.4x tele-extender from Tamron which yields a 420mm at F4.0 or the Tamron 2x extender that gives a 600mm F5.6. Nominal loss of quality mostly in softer contrast but still amazing none-the-less. Note that the Tamron tele-extenders will only work on Tamron Adaptall lenses.

Here is the video I did a while back on this lens.

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