Friday, March 30, 2012

Legacy lenses

I took a break from animating to put together this little video showing my legacy lenses - well, the ones that are currently in my possession anyway. Sorry if I got a little carried away with putting on and taking off every accessory on every lens, including the lens caps! The video slideshow is the fun way to look at my collection, but YouTube has seriously blurred things to the point where you can't make out details at all (unless you click through and switch to 1080p resolution on YouTube) - so I've also uploaded a few pics to Flickr where you can see each lens in far more detail than you'd probably ever care to:

Wollensak Cine Raptar 1" (25 mm) f2.5Wollensak Cine Raptar 1" f2.5Click the images to see them on Flickr

Above and below are my 2 C-mount Cine lenses, made for 16 mm movie cameras. These could date as far back as somewhere in the 30's, and I suspect the little one above just might. I got it from eBay for a song, with an old Revere movie camera attached! The camera doesn't work, I'm using it strictly as a rear lens cap. In the video above you can see, this little sucker breaks down ridiculously far - there's a lens hood that comes off and then there's another piece that also comes off - not sure what that piece would be called. This one looks really crazy on my camera. Unfortunately it also vignettes pretty badly - so bad the photos are inside of black circles. It also doesn't have a focus ring. Not sure this one is worth using - glad I got it for $25! 

Wollensak Cine Raptar 2" (50 mm) f2.5Wollensak Cine Raptar 2" f2.5

This one is much more like it! Another C-mount lens made for 16 mm movie camera use, but this one doesn't vignette at all (a lot of the 25 mm and under ones do on m43 cameras). This is a hefty and beautifully worked hunk of steel. Has a very cinematic look because of the way it renders highlights in out-of-focus areas. In fact all the legacy lenses I've got ahold of are extremely cinematic. The front section is a hood that comes off. 

Fujinon-TV 25 mm f1.4Fujinon-TV 25mm f1.4

This one is a CC TV lens, built for security camera, machine vision or closed-circuit TV use. Vignettes just ever-so-slightly right in the very corners in 16:9 mode, but when I crop to widescreen format that should disappear entirely. It actually looks rather pleasant, and generally can't be seen at all in dark shots (which I've been known to use now and then.. ), but if necessary I can crop it further and still end up with greater than HD resolution. This is the companion lens to my even wider 12.5 mm f1.4, which is currently in England being modified to eliminate the vignetting entirely (as detailed in my last post). These two have the lowest f-stop number at 1.4, meaning the aperture (iris) opens up nice and wide to let in lots of light - what's known as a fast lens. The faster a lens is, the shallower depth of field you can capture with it.

Carl Zeiss Contax-G 45 mm f2CarlZeiss Contax G 45 mm f2 with hood

And finally my two Contax-G lenses above and below. I described them well enough in the last post I don't feel the need to do it again. But I did feel bad for posting a web pic of somebody else's lens in that post, so thought I'd like to post pics of my own.

Carl Zeiss Contax-G 35 mm f2CarlZeiss Contax G 35 mm f2 with hood

Ok, enough.. time to get back to the actual animatin'!! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Well this sucks - I was on a roll, doing shots in Cosmo's every day, and suddenly my computer died. Luckily I had backed up most of my important files, including the shots I had done, but I've had to order a new iMac and get the right software back on it, and now I'm waiting on an adapter to make my Firewire 400 cord fit into the Firewire 800 socket on the new computer so I can plug my camera in (via my trusty old Canopus ADVC-100 analog/digital converter) and get back to work.

Actually a few other things happened that have somewhat changed my approach to this film too. For one, I discovered that I was getting some pretty horrendous flicker. I had done a couple of flicker tests with the G1 and it seemed steady as a rock, but now suddenly it's flickersville! I thought I might have just messed something up in a menu somewhere, and after a while I found that I had actually jogged a switch on top and switched it to auto exposure, but when I switched it back to manual (and made sure I was also on full manual in the menus) I found I was still getting flicker. And then it occurred to me - when I did the flicker tests, I just shot a bunch of pics without moving anything in between shots - but while animating I'm putting my hands in front of it and then withdrawing them in between each frame, and the camera must be re-adjusting the exposure for my pale hands, and then re-adjusting after I pull them out, and it isn't hitting the exact same mark every time. I can only assume this is what's going on, though it's still possible I messed something up in the complex menus and haven't been able to figure out how to fix it.

Well, whatever - I decided to fix it the sure way, by using only manual legacy lenses for animation. If the camera's little pea brain can't communicate with the lens, it can't go messing with my exposure settings!

I already had 2 of these beautiful Carl Zeiss Contax G lenses, widely considered some of the finest lenses ever made, used on Contax's excellent G series rangefinder cameras in the 1990's (I just found an excellent page about the G series cameras and lenses here) . I have the 35 and 45mm Contax G lenses, and I'm also using the same adapter pictured here. The segmented ring right up against the camera body is the focus ring - it's actually part of the adapter itself and a huuuge improvement over the tiny little knurled wheel in the cheap adapters I originally bought that you have to turn by jamming your fingertip in between the bottom of the lens barrel and the tripod head. Now smooth focus pulls are possible with these excellent lenses. Edit - after discovering that page I linked to above about the Contax G cameras and lenses, I now know that it's only the 45mm that's considered in a class above all other DSLR lenses (of the 1990's anyway) and on a level instead with Leica rangefinder lenses, and apparently that's only in terms of sharpness. Bokeh is a little funky because they used a mere 6 blades for the iris - this can result in hexagonal shapes in the highlights of out-of-focus areas, as opposed to the circular highlights seen in rounder iris designs using 9 or more blades. Good to know! I learn more about the subtle intricacies of photography every day.

And yeah, now I know - a 35mm and 45mm lens are so similar there's really no reason to have them both in your kit - hey, when I bought these I was at the beginning of my learning curve concerning interchangeable prime lenses. Now I know better!

One problem associated with the small-format Micro Four Thirds system when using legacy lenses (old lenses made for either 16mm cine cameras or pre-digital stills cameras) is the difficulty of getting ahold of a decent wide angle lens that covers the sensor and doesn't vignette around the edges. Well, I did a bit of research and discovered there's a guy going by the web name ekoehler7 (not sure if he wants his real name spread around) who has solved this problem - he starts with a couple of excellent wide-angle C-mount lenses that already come very close to covering the sensor - a Fujinon-TV 12.5mm and a Fujinon-TV 25mm, and then he modifies them to open up the light pathway and widen the image circle considerably. Other people have done modifications, but not to the extent he does - he disassembles them and really goes to work, using a lathe and hand tooling and really does a number on them, almost entirely eliminating the vignetting and dark corners. There's a page about it on his site: Ekoe Camera (click to see the 12.5mm f1.4 Fujinon lens). Edit - looking at his site, I see he has now solved the problem entirely and can get full coverage with no vignetting! I've asked him to give my lens the full coverage treatment. Awesome news for m4/3 users looking for a good wide angle lens!!

He's doing one for me now. These Fujinons are some excellent little C-mount lenses in their own right - made for TV cameras, or probably actually for 16mm film cameras that were used to shoot TV material, which was quite common, and the cameras and lenses had to be top notch.

Olympus E-P2 + ekoehler7 modified Fujinon-TV 12.5 mm f1.4

Here's the Fujinon 12.5 on a Pentax E-P2, and in fact this very lens was modified by ekoehler7 himself. Click the image to read about the process on Gekopaca's Flickr stream. It was Gekopaca's pics and video that convinced me to go this route.

So - now I've got a 12.5 (soon anyway), a 25, a 35 and a 45... wow, talk about overkill!! I'll probably be selling one of them (can't bear to part with any of them actually!) along with most of the automatic Panasonic lenses I bought in the beginning. Collecting legacy lenses is big now since they make the M4/3 cameras the most adaptable system ever offered, and a lot of fun to boot! Plus anyone who has old C-mount or other types of lenses laying around can just get the right adapters and bring new life to the old lenses. So it's not hard to turn around and sell a lens if it works on a M4/3 camera.

The hiccup is almost past now - as soon as my Firewire adapter comes in I'm ready to lock myself in the studio again and spend these incredibly beautiful spring days laboring in darkness to bring forth life where there was none... though for now it's pretty nice to get some yard work done and enjoy the perfect weather.