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Old May 23, 2011, 2:48 PM   #1
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Default A long-winded dissertation for discussion - learning

A long-winded dissertation on lenses and technique from a know-nothing know-it-all.

I am again at one of those crossroads in this hobby. I have produced many images that I am proud of (hopefully proud is not too self serving a term), however, in retrospect, I must admit that the majority of them were unplanned and the only real strength I added to the image was in composition. What I am saying is that the technical aspects that make an image great were accidental. This is mainly due to my undisciplined technique but it is also partially due to my choice in lenses.

To quickly clarify my comments on technique I must start by admitting that since I put the K1000 away I have become more dependent on the camera’s electronics to do my thinking for me. This is clearly a mistake and I have missed shots or taken badly exposed or focussed shots far too often. My first step in rectifying this is to reconfigure my cameras to force me to think. The DL no longer focuses with the shutter release but instead uses the OK button. Why you may ask? Two reasons come to mind. First of all it makes me think about focus rather than just let the camera do it, and secondly it means that the camera will no longer refuse an image because the focus point has moved off of the subject. Now I can focus on what I want without the camera deciding otherwise. I have yet to decide how to set up the K20D, right now I am using the AF button as an AF cancel but that may change with a little more practice. I really cannot manage MF with these cameras unless I get new focus screens.

My method for setting exposure will also have to change. On the DL I will probably use Av mode more often but on the K20D I will make greater use of program shift in the P mode and exposure compensation in the Av and Tv modes. Since exposure has been less of an issue than focus and sharpness, it will just need me to experiment and practice to find the combinations that work best in different situations. Using M with the green button (or AE-L on the DL) to set the initial exposure value may be the method I will use most often when time allows.

Now on to the main course. Technique may be my biggest problem but my lenses are also an issue. Basically I own a large number of lenses but most are of mediocre quality or usability. Here are my “good” lenses:
DA 10-17mm (my sharpest zoom by far)
DA 14mm f2.8 (good but still not great)
FA 35mm f2 (possibly my sharpest prime)
FA 50mm f1.4 (a classic)
FA 28-70mm f4 (cheaply made but optically sound)
As you can see the list is not long, and really the fisheye and the two FA primes are the only real stars, the other two are just better-than-the-rest.

My acceptable lenses, the ones that take adequate images most of the time, are the two WR kit lenses, the DA 18-55mm WR and the DA 50-200mm WR. These are lenses which will give good results for most general photography. I can also include the FA 28-105mm f3.2-4.5 IF AL lens in this list since it is probably a little better than the two DA WRs but not as good as the FA 28-70mm.

My excursions into longer lenses have not been pretty, probably the optically best was an old FA 100-300mm f4.7-5.8 silver model with plastic mount. It was cheap and flimsy but took pretty good pictures. It got stolen, end of story. The F 100-300mm f4.5-5.6 that replaced it was big, heavy and not particularly good. The FA-J 75-300mm is another cheaply built lightweight (although construction is better than the old FA) which is optically mediocre at best. All of these lenses can produce marvellous images if you are fully aware of their limitations and learn to work with them at their best, however that limits their effectiveness considerably. Having a lens with a 300mm focal length that is nearly unusable is somewhat pointless regardless of how good it is at 200mm.

Now what is the result of all of this rambling? I need to change. My self improvement plan starts with lens choice. Obviously the lenses from my first list (except for the DA 14mm which is at the other end of the continent) will be my choices for the K20D and will stay in the bag with the camera. The WR lenses will always be ready to take when conditions require them (and of course the 50-200mm is my only long lens so it will see a fair bit of use). The DA 18-55mm WR will stay on the DL (the DL is prone to dust spots up here in the Arctic desert, so this lens makes it a great “always with me” camera, its dust seal may actually help keep the DL clean if I don't take it off). I am starting a fund to buy a long lens (possibly a DA* 300mm f4) and some of the DA limited lenses (yes the FA limiteds are faster but also considerably pricier, I want to stay within a reasonable “hobby” budget that I can afford). I have also considered either the DA* 50-135mm or the DA* 60-250mm but primes are my major focus for now. The disadvantage of these lenses is that I will no longer be able to blame the lens for my less-than-perfect results.

I plan to concentrate on subjects that are accessible to the better lenses that I now own until I can buy something new, in the meantime I will be selling my Minolta Maxxum lenses (my brief interest in the new Sony SLTs has dissipated since I decided to concentrate on technique rather than look for new electronic crutches). I will sell (or pass on to my sons) any Pentax glass that I do not, or cannot, use (such as most of my old MF lenses). My DA 50-200mm will have to serve as a wildlife lens for now, so I may need to get close (or leave polar bears off of my shoot list). The tripod may start to see more use as well since it imposes a degree of discipline that is needed in my photography. Working with Harriet and her array of excellent glass has inspired this re-evaluation since I got an opportunity to try some truly quality lenses and to talk to someone who is constantly striving for improvement, something I believe I may have lost somewhere in the last couple of years. As a minor aside I also dusted off the old NEC MultiSync and attached it to my laptop so I can properly post process images (unlike the dismal failure with my recent Grand Canyon shots that I edited on the woeful laptop screen).

Enough for now, this post is meant to generate discussion, I want to start learning again and all of you can be my teachers, and students, as we strive to move forward in the art.

Ira
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Current equipment
Pentax K5, K3:
FA 35mm f2, FA 50 f1.4, FA 28-70mm f4, FA 28-80mm f3.5-5.6, FA 80-320mm f4.5-5.6, F 50mm f1.7, Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di, DA 10-17 f3.5-4.5, DA 14 f2.8, DA 16-45mm f4, DA 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 WR, DA 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR, AF-540FGZ

Olympus E-P2, E-P5, OM-D E-M1: 9mm to 150mm lenses

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Last edited by Monza76; May 23, 2011 at 10:52 PM.
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Old May 23, 2011, 4:06 PM   #2
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The moral of your story is - don't try any of the * or limited lenses unless you want a big hole in your wallet!

Its easier to get an otherwise ordinary shot to really pop when using better glass, and some just have an extra something that Pentax people call "pixie dust". I've never been able to describe it or explain it or predict when it will happen, but you can see it in some shots when you first see them, even if the subject is mundane.

But not always - having good glass doesn't make all shots special, I can't tell you how many awful shots I've taken. My shooting technique isn't the greatest and I'm very weak when it comes to composition, and that will be obvious no matter which lens or camera I shoot with. But I'm much more likely to get something pleasing if I'm using a better lens - your comparison shots at 300 showed how the DA*300 does make a difference, especially compared to your FAJ lens (and even the DA 55-300).

As far as AF vs MF, I've pretty much gone to AF lenses except for macro, where I still use the manual focus Vivitar Series One 105 macro. I find that I can still manually focus a really sharp lens, like the Viv or the A*300, the one I used in this picture. I'm still impressed with the quality rendering that this manual focus lens gives, even with a quick "street-shot" of another photographer. I can't manually focus a lesser lens any more though.



I do think that having high quality lenses does help one become better faster (at least I think I've gotten better because of investing in such good glass). Even when I'm not working on some technique or something, shooting with good lenses is just more fun. I get so frustrated when I can't figure out why the picture looks lousy. I learned from my K10, which had AF issues, how frustrating having faulty equipment can be. For so long I thought the problem was my technique, it didn't occur to me that a good portion of my really good shots were taken with manual focus lenses (I was using them more at that time) and that the problem was with my camera's AF system (couldn't figure out why some shots would be so brilliant while others were so rotten). It wasn't until I got the K20 that I was completely convinced my "problem" was an equipment problem, not a technique problem (though I was pretty sure of it by that time).

Unfortunately, now I've solved my equipment problems so I don't have any excuse (do NOT leave the camera on TAv set to low-light conditions when shooting in bright sunlight!) and some of my technique problems are showing up, and an occasional disregard for what the camera is trying to tell me (no wonder the camera was flashing the ISO "80" - it was trying to tell me the shot would be over-exposed!).

So while good glass will make shooting more fun, it's just as important to become completely comfortable with your camera's features and then to pay attention to what it's trying to tell you.
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Old May 23, 2011, 9:43 PM   #3
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Ira, I admire your initiative, and I hope your self-improvement program produces the results you seek. I certainly see myself with many of the issues you discuss. Way back in "the day" I had an Olympus OM-1 (essentially equivalent to the Pentax K1000), and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. That was it. The camera had a built-in meter of course, but I had to set everything myself. And as unthinkable as it is today, I simply lived with a 50mm focal length, and I was quite happy.

Today, I definitely let the camera do most of the thinking for me, and usually it does an excellent job. But occasionally my laziness costs me a good image, as the camera will be fooled by a backlit subject, or the autofocus will lock onto the wrong thing. I know perfectly well that's my fault, and that upgrading to a better body won't improve my percentage of "keepers."

I also have a sparse selection of lenses, and except for the FA 50mm 1.4, I have no stellar performers. My "walking around" lens is the DA 16-45, which is definitely a major step up from the kit lens, but it's certainly not world-class. Would better lenses make my photos better? Probably, by a small margin, but there is no question that I remain the weakest link. I am very much looking forward to seeing if I can learn something from your initiative.

Oh, and I still want a K5. That would surely make me a better photographer, right?
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Old May 23, 2011, 10:00 PM   #4
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With my Pentax film lenses...my best among about 6 lenses was my most expensive...a Pentax 'A' 35-105 Macro zoom.

I still have it, bought it new for $ 330 CAD or so, back around 1984. After I bought it and tried it....it for the most part became permanently attached to my K1000.

Buying the best tools you can afford.....even if buying them used (if you get one in good shape) is IMO, always a good idea.

So when I bought my K10D in 2007....I bought just the body. Didn't want the kit lens. Figured my old 35-105 A, would be better than the 18-55 kit. I eventually got the 18-55 kit on my KM....came as part of the deal. I used it a few times...it pales in comparison to my film 35-105, 16-45. I don't use it.

First digital lens the 16-45, then the 55-300.

Both good lenses.

I do a lot of vintage, special interest vehicle photography.

While the 16-45 did a good job...occasionally doing an exceptional job....I wanted more.

I finally bit the bullet and bought a Pentax 12-24mm lens.

Very expensive in Canada...but I read the reviews...Pop Photo says best in class.

I believe it is....the % of vintage auto pictures that are exceptional..technically IMO....far exceed what the 16-45 could do.

So you're right...top level quality lenses can make a significant difference.

Problem is that many of us, like me, buy a bunch of standard level entry lenses....not wanting to 'commit' too much $$ at first. There are different reasons too...budgets figure in a lot of cases. Or...are we going to really use these expensive lenses. Hard to tell sometimes, at first.

A fellow photographer friend of mine did it the right way.

He did a lot of research and bought just two lenses.....that fulfill all the requirements of the type of photography he does.

He has a Canon....bought a 7D body.

Then bought a Canon F 5.6, 400 L telephoto and a Tokina 11-16 wide angle.

Both top notch, excellent lenses and the camera body is also top notch.

Expensive....but cheaper ...in the long run than many of us do. buying a long series of cheaper lenses and bodies, not being happy with them...eventually trading them in or selling them at a loss in order to buy what we probably should of in the beginning.

I have about 7 Pentax lenses. Most consumer grade.

If I lost all of them...say they were stolen and had to start again and had the same budget that allowed me to buy the 7 lenses originally....I would not replace them with 7 lenses just like them.

Instead, I would buy the following:

  • Body...Pentax K5
  • DA 300
  • Pentax 12-24 mm
  • Pentax 100 Macro F 2.8

Last edited by lesmore49; May 23, 2011 at 10:06 PM.
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Old May 23, 2011, 10:47 PM   #5
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lesmore

Your photographic interests are similar to mine in some ways, I also enjoy cars. I have found that the 50mm and the fisheye zoom have been my favourites because they are my quality lenses. The fisheye was used a lot last summer to shoot a series of shots on musclecar hoods (especially hood pins and hood scoops), it was a lot of fun.

I agree completely, if all of my mediocre lenses were gone I would probably get the DA 12-24mm, the 15mm, 21mm, 40mm and 70mm Limiteds and the DA* 300mm. the DA* 50-135mm would also be on my list. The only true keepers in my current lenses are the DA 10-17mm and the FA 35 and 50. I relly can't afford all of this list so I will have to decide which ONE to get first.
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http://aicphotography.blogspot.com/
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Current equipment
Pentax K5, K3:
FA 35mm f2, FA 50 f1.4, FA 28-70mm f4, FA 28-80mm f3.5-5.6, FA 80-320mm f4.5-5.6, F 50mm f1.7, Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di, DA 10-17 f3.5-4.5, DA 14 f2.8, DA 16-45mm f4, DA 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 WR, DA 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR, AF-540FGZ

Olympus E-P2, E-P5, OM-D E-M1: 9mm to 150mm lenses

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Old May 23, 2011, 10:54 PM   #6
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I have decided to keep the DA 18-55mm WR on the DL sice its seal may help with the dust issues and the range is better for general photography. I really like the improvement in mechanical quality Pentax made with these WR lenses, they feel far more substantial than their unsealed brethren.

I made a correction in my original post to point that out.
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Current equipment
Pentax K5, K3:
FA 35mm f2, FA 50 f1.4, FA 28-70mm f4, FA 28-80mm f3.5-5.6, FA 80-320mm f4.5-5.6, F 50mm f1.7, Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di, DA 10-17 f3.5-4.5, DA 14 f2.8, DA 16-45mm f4, DA 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 WR, DA 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR, AF-540FGZ

Olympus E-P2, E-P5, OM-D E-M1: 9mm to 150mm lenses

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Old May 23, 2011, 11:40 PM   #7
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Quote:
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lesmore

Your photographic interests are similar to mine in some ways, I also enjoy cars. I have found that the 50mm and the fisheye zoom have been my favourites because they are my quality lenses. The fisheye was used a lot last summer to shoot a series of shots on musclecar hoods (especially hood pins and hood scoops), it was a lot of fun.I should of mentioned I have a 10-17 Fisheye. I use it on my KM and I find I can sometimes 'extend' the hood of say a long hooded car ,such as a late 30's Cadillac.

The FE as you say Monza
, is a wonderfully versatile lens that can really be creative...although I find I 'work' harder with the FE than any other lens...to get the look in a photo...just right.

But although it can be a challenging lens to use, it's also a very satisfying lens to use if you get the effect you want.

The quality both the body and the glass are top quality.

I also like using my 50mm F1.4 on cars....very 'creamy' quality about the pix and the bokeh is tops.

I also use a 50 Macro F 2.8 on parts of cars....hood ornaments, wire wheels, etc.

I agree completely, if all of my mediocre lenses were gone I would probably get the DA 12-24mm, the 15mm, 21mm, 40mm and 70mm Limiteds and the DA* 300mm. the DA* 50-135mm would also be on my list. The only true keepers in my current lenses are the DA 10-17mm and the FA 35 and 50. I relly can't afford all of this list so I will have to decide which ONE to get first.


I would not mind having some Pentax primes....the 77 mm and the 21mm come to mind.

So much for me saying that two lenses would do the trick for me.

What I should of said is having a repertoire of nothing but top quality lenses, would be my goal.
Les
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Old May 24, 2011, 12:01 AM   #8
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Lesmore raises a very valid point :

Quote:
Expensive....but cheaper ...in the long run than many of us do. buying a long series of cheaper lenses and bodies, not being happy with them...eventually trading them in or selling them at a loss in order to buy what we probably should of in the beginning.
i believe most of us go through that learning phase, believing that we can get those 'pro level' shots with average glass. Not .... going .... to .... happen ! Of course developing technique through knowledge is going to be the best way to improve .. but when you want those drop dead gorgeous shots you need the good glass as well (though not always the 'best' glass or bodies).

I am slowly selling off all of my glass that does not fall into the ' very good to excellent' bracket, even though it sometimes feels like I'm selling off my children ! Even if I can only get one lense for three that I sell. It is better, I believe, to have 3 cracking lenses than 6 or 7 so-so lenses. Only one can be on the camera at any given time !

Maybe you would also like to revisit the the MF camp too. I started buying a few M42 MF lenses for the quality and the price however I decided that my eyes nor my technique were good enough for MF and started buying and using more modern AF lenses. Though the Pentax focus confirm green hexagon is a God-send in this regard and I use it in preference to my eyes most of the time - with far more keepers than I imagined.

Some of my AF lenses are great, the 43 Ltd and *300 stand out, as does the Sigma 30/1.4 and Tamron 90 macro, and the Sigma 10-20 and Tamron 17-50 are always with me. However my LBA, as I started looking for higher quality lenses with 'pixie-dust' found me buying, for US$200, a Voigtlander Colour Ultron 50/1.8 (converted to PK mount - which is easier to find here in China as conversions are much cheaper than in the West) - not my favourite focal length by a long way I hasten to add. This lense has blown my theories to bits.

As sharp as you could possibly want, even cropped at 1:1, gorgeous colours, a distinct 'pop', even 3D, feel to the subject .... and most importantly it's very easy to focus, so now I want to use this lense whenever I get the chance ! Here is an example I shot yesterday. I took a series of shots of the same subject at f1.8 - 2.8 - 4 - 5.6 & 8. This shot is the f8 version ..... yes honestly. Look at the 'pop' from f8 ! Even f1.8 is perfectly usable for portraits imbuing a slightly softer look - just what's needed for head shots.

This shots has had absolutely zero PP - just resized. K5 / Voigtlander Ultron 50 : ISO 800 / 1/80 / f8.



My point is that by looking at older MF lenses you can find superb quality at much lower prices than modern lenses .... and Pentax specialised in them. Reading the MFlenses.com forum is teaching me more and more about MF lenses - those guys really know their stuff.

Will MF lenses supplant my AF lenses ? No, absolutely not, but for the right subject e.g. landscapes, portraits, flowers ... anything that allows me time to compose .... they can give you the quality you are looking for at (generally) much lower cost than modern AF lenses, with the added bonus they are superbly made and often look gorgeous too ! The beauty of these lenses (without hitting the price range of converted Contax, Zeiss and Leica) is that although you won't find a bargain for $20 you may indeed for $200 .. a fraction of the price of a modern AF lense of equal standing.

Ira, you have a nice start with your two primes and the 10-17 and it sounds like you are going in the right direction as there is some wonderful glass in the DA Ltd range, but maybe don't forget the occasionally MF lense that may prove to be a true bargain. Good luck in your hunt for better glass.
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Pentax : 15 Ltd, 77 Ltd, 43/1.9 Ltd, Cosina 55/1.2, DA*300/4, Contax Zeiss Distagon 28/2.8, Raynox 150/250, AFA x1.7, Metz 50 af1.

Nikon : D800, D600, Sigma 500/4.5, Sigma 120-300/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 - 21/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 - 35/2.0, Nikkor 85/1.8G, Sigma 50/1.4. Nikon x1.4 TC, Sigma x2.0 TC

Last edited by Frogfish; May 24, 2011 at 12:13 AM.
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Old May 24, 2011, 12:13 AM   #9
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Frogfish, I do have an excellent M 200mm f4, light weight and super sharp, a surprisingly good Takumar K-mount (read that as cheapie) 135mm f2.5 and an excellent M 100mm f4 macro (1:2). The problem is that my MF skills have slipped away to the point where I would have to have lots of time to focus accurately. I do see your point though, the A-series Pentax lenses are among the best they ever made and offer full automation, except for focus, at reasonable used prices.
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Riverview, NB, Canada
http://aicphotography.blogspot.com/
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Current equipment
Pentax K5, K3:
FA 35mm f2, FA 50 f1.4, FA 28-70mm f4, FA 28-80mm f3.5-5.6, FA 80-320mm f4.5-5.6, F 50mm f1.7, Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di, DA 10-17 f3.5-4.5, DA 14 f2.8, DA 16-45mm f4, DA 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 WR, DA 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR, AF-540FGZ

Olympus E-P2, E-P5, OM-D E-M1: 9mm to 150mm lenses

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Old May 24, 2011, 12:18 AM   #10
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Quote:
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Frogfish, I do have an excellent M 200mm f4, light weight and super sharp, a surprisingly good Takumar K-mount (read that as cheapie) 135mm f2.5 and an excellent M 100mm f4 macro (1:2). The problem is that my MF skills have slipped away to the point where I would have to have lots of time to focus accurately. I do see your point though, the A-series Pentax lenses are among the best they ever made and offer full automation, except for focus, at reasonable used prices.
And the K series has some real stars too !

As for your MF skills then I think that is, like me, just a case of subject matter. Using them when you have a subject you can take your time with. I woudl never use them in any situation where I may feel 'rushed'.
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Pentax : 15 Ltd, 77 Ltd, 43/1.9 Ltd, Cosina 55/1.2, DA*300/4, Contax Zeiss Distagon 28/2.8, Raynox 150/250, AFA x1.7, Metz 50 af1.

Nikon : D800, D600, Sigma 500/4.5, Sigma 120-300/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 - 21/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 - 35/2.0, Nikkor 85/1.8G, Sigma 50/1.4. Nikon x1.4 TC, Sigma x2.0 TC
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