Sunday, December 6, 2009


Canon 50D, 300/4, 1.4x
I usually don't like the "frame within a frame" approach, but sometimes it does the trick.

These Cormorants were hanging out on one of those big power line towers (the ones Ken Rockwell swears give you cancer) when I drove by this morning. Came back later--this time with camera--and a few were left.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Picking up a few Zuikos

Some months back, I decided to try some "alt glass" on my 1Ds II. There were some M42 (screwmount) lenses I was fairly curious about, so ordered a Fotodiox adapter. Noticed they had an OM adapter as well, and figured it wouldn't hurt to at least try it, since I had an old 50/1.8 Zuiko sitting around. Well, the M42 glass didn't knock my socks off, but the little cheap Zuiko did.

Canon 1Ds Mark II, Zuiko 50/1.8 wide open

Didn't expect quite such sharpness, especially at f/1.8, from a tiny, very inexpensive piece of glass like this.

I did some more shooting with it, and continued to be surprised at how nicely it
renders, and how crisp the images were. Again, wide open (and check out the smooth bokeh).

Going through yet another gear reshuffle, I decided to part with the M42 glass and "standardize" on OM/Zuiko as my non-Canon, adapted glass. Did a little reading and based on my focal length needs and what I saw, found three lenses that I wanted to try out. A trip to ebay yielded a sample of each: 50/1.4, 28/3.5, 24/2.8 -- I would love to get my hands on the 85/2 but the Canon 85/1.8 is such a spectacular lens that I can't justify spending the $300 or so that the Zuiko runs.

The 50/1.4 arrived first, and I was eager to compare it to the 50/1.8. Alas, an unpleasant surprise awaited me when I opened the box.

It appears that a piece of light sealing material has come loose--likely from a deteriorating seal of some sort--and was moving around between two lens elements. In addition to that, the aperture blades moved at the speed of glaciers; this wouldn't be the end of the world since I am using stop down metering, but certainly was far from what I expected based on the description in the auction. Thankfully the seller is offering a 7 day return policy, so back it goes. I did try a few shots since shaking the lens a bit would move the thing out of sight temporarily, and found the lens to be very soft and low contrast, definitely far inferior to the hunble 50/1.8. I gather that later 50/1.4 lenses are far improved, supposedly those with a serial number in the 1.1 million or higher range. I might try to locate one of those later on.

A few hours later, UPS dropped a 24/2.8 on my doorstep. This one I was a little worried about when I bid on it since it was described as feeling a little "looser" than the seller's other lenses. For the price it was worth a gamble, I though, and was pleasantly surprised to find that whatever slop was in the focusing mechanism was so minor as to not affect anything at all. The lens came with the case and original metal hood (which I believe is the same as on the 28mm Zuikos), and the optics are in like-new condition. And like the 50/1.8, it's wonderfully sharp. The below shots wide open.

It is worth noting that the lens focuses down to 0.25 meters which gives you a lot of flexibility; not a true macro by any means, but close enough to get some interesting shots. The bokeh is a little "busier" than my Canon lenses, but not unpleasantly so. The sharpness does not come as a great surprise after I'd read this lens test which put it up against some top level Canon and Nikon glass, where it held its own admirably.

My 28/3.5 just arrived as I was typing up this post, so will post some images from it later. It appears to be in excellent shape, and for the money it should be quite the bargain. Yes, it's a little on the slow side, but where else would you find a decent performer in this focal length for the $30-40 they usually cost? Check out the Zuiko 28/3.5 love thread on FM for some really nice shots from these lenses.

One thing worth mentioning is that these lenses all use 49mm filters; if you are a frequent filter user (I am not) this might be a bonus.

As I spend some more time with these lenses, I will share some more images and impressions. For now, I think that they are true bargains when taking the optical performance and build quality into consideration.

Friday, November 20, 2009

By golly, it's Jupiter

50D, 400/5.6, 1.4x

Well, this represents about 1/30th or so of the original frame. Even 560mm on a crop body doesn't get you very far! Still, amazed that I managed to get a planet...

The moon showed up too, though it's a little too "new" still.

Yashica F521 flickr group

Be sure to visit the flickr group dedicated to this great little toy camera. It's slowly growing and people are posting some great shots!

The discussion area is worth a visit too, with a fair bit of interesting chatter about the camera and its potential.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Some more vignetting tests

It looks like the vignetting mod is even better than I expected... see within.

Take a look at this crop from the edge of the above. The rocks continue all the way to the edge but see how they get all smeared into oblivion? I didn't quite expect that, but it looks like the vignetting mod has caused some optical issues as well -- bonus!

More images... macro seems mostly unaffected.

Again, look at the (lack of) detail in the lower left. Definitely getting somewhere.


Friday, November 13, 2009

It's a mystery to me...

...the game commences, for the usual fee, plus expenses.

Err, yes, where was I? The strangest quirk of my "digital Holga" so far: when I open the door to remove the SD card, and thereby remove power from the camera, all my settings reset. All, except for language. It remains in English. The date/time resets immediately, but the language setting remains.

Yeah, explain THAT one to me.

(Nothing more to say, so here's a picture of some trees (Leica and beat up Summar)).


Vignetting Mod (I can't keep a secret)

OK, OK, I was going to sit on this for a while and have people guessing but... I am terrible at keeping secrets. Vignetting mod described here. Disclaimer: don't sue me if you break something.

The two screws on top of the lens "plate"? Unscrew 'em. Then fold out the entire mess (it has catches on the bottom). Stick a suitable washer on the back part of the "lens" (really just a fake lens and a plastic element on the front). Mine was attached with gaffer's tape. Reassemble (try to keep from getting dust inside). Voila! In-camera vignetting, and we're one step closer to a "digital Holga". When you reassemble, make sure that you line up the lens with the plastic catch that controls the "macro" function; just set the lens to whichever of the two positions it was in when you removed it.

As a bonus, if you use a shiny washer it should add some potential reflections off the internals, for some unexpected flare.


Anyone up for figuring out how to "ruin" the optics properly? I tried putting a big bubble wrap "bubble" in front of it and as long as you can keep it smooth it "smears" the image nicely, but let it wrinkle and you see the wrinkles in the final image. Maybe some sort of plastic lens, like from a cheap pair of reading glasses, would work?

TTL and further vignetting

Yashica F521, shot through Jupiter-9

Gets you pretty close... but wait, there's

Another "TTL" shot. This time through Zuiko 50mm lens.

First test of Super Secret Vignetting Mod (to be revealed). This is a test shot with no manipulation other than resizing. Just about the right amount of vignetting for me... oh yeah, it might add some occasional, uncontrollable flare under the right circumstances too. Now we're getting somewhere!


B&W Pelicans

50D, 400/5.6

Dull light, but a B&W conversion can help in these situations.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Speeding Sandpiper

Full of purpose, never a slow moment.

Though, sometimes the camera can freeze a moment, turning the frantic hunt into something more peaceful.


"Digital Holga" -- part one of something

Yashica EZ F521, B&W mode

It's here, and it rained all day. Managed to get out in the evening right before the sun went away, and got to play with it a bit. Some comments and thoughts here.

As I mentioned in last night's very brief post, it's a very small camera. Even with the protruding lens (and I wonder how much of the lens is really optical elements and actually needed; could this camera be made flatter?) it fits just fine in the front pockets of my jeans. It is also quite light, as can be expected from its "frugal" all-plastic build.

The viewfinder is no better or worse than that on other compacts I've used. The fact that it even HAS one is unusual these days. One odd thing, though: the LCD can be turned off (the DISP button cycles between off, image only, and image with some info overlay), but when you then press the shutter button it doesn't take a picture, but rather turns the LCD back on. You then have to press the shutter button again to capture the image. This is a little unexpected and I must confess I don't quite understand what the logic was behind this. The LCD itself isn't a bad one; no adjustments or anything, but it refreshes smoothly, has decent enough resolution, and gets the job done. Better than I expected, to be honest. One bonus is that when you put it in any of the "effect" modes it's reflected in the LCD preview -- so you can see a black and white, or sepia, or funky colored image on the LCD before snapping the shot.

Even in "high" quality jpeg mode, there's often visible artifacting in various areas. Nothing terrible or unexpected however. You can apply "effects" to already captured images, and it will create a copy of the image with the effect applied while leaving the original intact. Cool!

One nuisance (but again, nobody bought this camera expecting smooth functionality or high quality) is that the settings for effect, exposure compensation etc are reset whenever the camera turns off. There's no way of disabling the automatic shutoff (and nor would you want to based on how quickly it eats through batteries from what I can tell), so if you want to use B&W mode with -0.7 compensation you just have to reset it every time it wakes up or powers on.

Slow shutter speeds can be fun

One thing of note is that all my shots have ISO 100, f/2.8 embedded in the exif. The fixed aperture is something I expected (I did not think such a cheaply constructed camera would have aperture control), but it is supposed to have "Auto ISO" so either the exif data is incorrect, the specs are incorrect, or something isn't working as intended. I snapped some available light indoor shots and compared to my 50D, and the camera seems to be unable to expose past 1/17 second, ISO 100. Curious and something that I'll have to investigate further.

Well, this covers my initial experience, brief as it was. I look forward to further experiments with the camera, and will look into whether anything can be easily done to modify or change the lens. I initially suspected it was entirely decoupled from the rest of the camera, but at a minimum it does have a switch to sense when put into "macro" mode (it being a fixed focus lens, this is the only change you can make to focusing distance). I am not sure what this switch might do other than turning on a small LED on the back of the camera, though!

Keep an eye out for further posts; hopefully we'll see some sun in the next few days so I can get some less gloomy looking shots.

PS: if you came here looking for information on how to change the language from Japanese, it's the bottom menu entry in the "tools" area.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Eagle has landed (F521 arrives finally)

Got home late this evening and a box from Japan was waiting for me. More tomorrow!
Initial thought: light and much smaller than expected. (More)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Other Things That Fly

50D, 300/4 IS + 1.4x
Birds weren't cooperating, so found some other flying creatures.

The one above, I am informed, is a "long tailed skipper". Had to get some help figuring that out.

The monarchs I at least recognized.


First Yashica F521 review is up!

Go ahead and click -- here's the first review of the new F521.

Looks like almost everything I wished for.

The one thing I hoped for that I didn't get was the exposure compensation being controlled by buttons or a dial. It appears to be menu based. Depending on how well it meters it might not be much of an issue though.

The colors look very nice and punchy (without going into oversaturated blobs like on many cheaper cameras), the dynamic range appears surprisingly wide (look at how well it holds on to highlight detail), and as I suspected from the CMOS sensor and Yashica F924 shots, it does suffer from "rolling shutter syndrome"; check out how wobbly things get when he moves the camera around!

For the money this looks like a lot of fun, and just about what many expected it to be; a cheap, quirky piece of gear with some personality.

As soon as mine arrives I will post a review of my own!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yashica F521 -- multi-lingual menus confirmed!

There was some initial concern that the production version of the camera would have Japanese-only menus. Dirk @ Japan Exposures has just received one of the F521 and has confirmed that the menu is indeed multi-lingual (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese). Very good news!

With the initial language being Japanese I can possibly see people needing enough help to change the menu language, but that should not be a big deal.

Dirk is also working on a small review of the camera -- will be very interesting to see what he finds out. (More)

Monday, October 26, 2009

But it only works on squirrels

Picked up a Canon 300/4 IS to use over the winter since IS will come in handy when the light is less than ideal. Took it out for some bird hunting with no luck.

50D, 300/4 + 1.4x, 1/30 second wide open

It seems it only works on squirrels.

Now, I like a good squirrel shot as much as anyone, but two days' effort yielded nothing but these furry-tailed rats.

Once the birds start appearing again (honestly, where are you guys?) I will evaluate how it performs compared to the 400/5.6L -- if it does well enough for birds-in-flight I will probably keep it and part with the 400/5.6 later on. Time will tell.

Until then, squirrel.


"Digital Holga" closer to shipping -- update

Dirk at Japan Exposures just informed me that the Yashica F521 should start shipping from the manufacturer October 29th; this means he should have a sample to review before long. One of the things still in flux is whether the menus will be Japanese-only or multi-language. We'll know soon!

Other things I am hoping to find out is how the exposure compensation works (buttons or menus), whether the ISO is auto-only, and if it seems possible to change/modify the lens. I'd probably take a Japanese-only version if it was the only thing available -- just gotta find someone to translate the important parts. What's Japanese for "format", anyone?

Found some more Yashica F924 stuff

Well, still waiting for the F521 to arrive -- from what I gather it's delayed a bit and do not currently have an ETA.

So, while waiting, here's something fun to check out that's related to it: This google translated (it gets, uh, interesting at times) blog has a fair bit of Yashica F924 stuff. I speculated earlier on the F924 sharing components with the F521, so thought it worth taking a closer look at.

The guy's blog seems to contain a fair bit of interesting information on other quirky cameras too (and not surprisingly, he has a F521 on order) -- too bad I can't read Japanese and have to rely on the highly questionable google translation of it!

By the way, I've seen the F924 for sale on ebay for under $100, so for those who aren't wanting to wait for the F521, it might be worth looking into if you want a similar "toy" digital camera.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Juvenile Little Blue Heron

After an unsuccessful beach trip earlier, this little guy was waiting for me outside the house. A little nervous at first, but once I sat down he wandered back over to where I was.

As usual, 50D + 400/5.6

First I thought Egret, but then noticed the oddly colored legs. Sibley guide and a couple of birding forums helped figure it out.

Looks quite different from the adult:


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Resting Anhinga

50D, 400/5.6

Caught this very relaxed looking Anhinga outside the house.

I am not sure if it's the same one that keeps showing up or if they are rotating, but they really aren't particularly scared of me wandering around there taking pictures of them lately. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if they enjoy posing!

Roach clips big hand, more on Yashica F521

Check out this page somebody on flickr dug up. Small images but shows the color processing available in the camera. Nifty.

And the Google translation is priceless: "Recently, a digital camera equipped with a rare optical viewfinder can be taken not only the naked eye gazes into the LCD monitor."

(By the way, I dig the old school strap attachments; looks like I can put one of my 1970s "hippie straps" on there.)

The specs look like what was posted earlier, no surprises there. One thing that I wonder about is whether there is any communication between lens and body, and if not, how easy it would be to transplant other lenses on there. I have a plethora of old M42, OM, Leitz etc glass that could make for an interesting marriage with the (hopefully!) somewhat crummy CMOS sensor. I did the math and at ISO 100 1/2000 top shutter speed would put us around f/4 in bright sunlight which is a little smaller aperture than the f/3 or thereabouts would yield. If we lower the base ISO a little then the 1/2000 shutter speed would be sufficient for f/3 and it would be possible to have a fixed aperture lens... time will tell.

Of course, even the widest of my glass would make for tele lenses. :)

Is November here yet?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

David and Goliath

50D, 400/5.6
The beach is pretty dead this time a year as far as birding goes, but now and then some arrive and provide a little entertainment and photo opportunities.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Found on beach

50D, 400/5.6


Thursday, October 15, 2009

High key gull

Sometimes you screw up and get lucky. (50D, 400/5.6)

I really do prefer manual mode for most of my shooting, but on occasion a combination of light change (e.g. sun coming out from behind a heavy cloud) and changing angles can result in some serious exposure errors if you aren't paying attention. Well, I wasn't, and ended up with this shot. Played with the raw file a bit and I could possibly rescue it in post processing, but decided to leave it as is; a somewhat ethereal bird portrait.

Speculation on the F521 "digital Holga"

Was poking around a bit looking for information on the new Yashica EZ F521 camera. I speculated in the previous post about it being related to the EZ F524 which has similar specifications, but little information could be found on that camera.

But, it turns out there's yet another Yashica branded model that could be sharing components with this guy, and I found some actual images taken with it!

It's the Yashica EZ F924 -- looks like it's the same camera as the F524, except with a 9 megapixel sensor. Same lens (7.1mm f/3.2), same LCD, same looks... considering they are not putting a lot of money or R&D into this range of cameras I think it's a fairly safe bet that these components are the same we'll see used in the EZ F521 when it starts shipping.

And, it turns out somebody actually HAS one, and has posted some pictures from it. This guy's flickr set contains a pile of shots (mostly dark/indoors) from the F924. It looks promising, with some overly bright colors, poor white balance, and noticeable softness. Let's hope the F521 has a similarly "cheap" look to its images.

Hey, if we wanted sharp and pretty shots, we'd be out picking up a last generation Canon point and shoot for the same money, wouldn't we?

Added 10/16: Found another set of shots from the F924 here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yashica's "digital Holga"

Well, I thought the Yashica name had died out long ago (and from what I gather, the name is all that really remains of the classic camera brand), but here they show up out of nowhere, and with a quirky camera to boot. Spotted at The Online Photographer earlier this week, this curious looking device is a rather basic digital camera; a 5MP sensor, optical(!) viewfinder, fixed lens with only two focus settings (macro and hyperfocal). The design, though, is definitely shooting for classic styling. As cheap as they are ($89 in Japan) I pre-ordered one from Japan Exposures, in hopes that it will effectively turn out to be a digital version of my beloved Holga. Time will tell.

Incidentally, Yashica has an "EZ F524" camera model that appears very similar in specifications. I wonder if this new camera is just a more retro looking variation of this guy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Generic sunset, portrait

50D, 24-105/4

Turns out you can use lenses OTHER than the 400/5.6 on a 50D. Who knew!
Since I'm not really into the "normal" wide angle (24-28mm on full frame) range, the 24-105/4 makes for a good walkaround lens on the 50D. The wicked barrel distortion on the wider end is not quite as big a problem as on a full frame camera, another bonus!

And while it's no 85/1.8 for portrait work, it can certainly get the job done: