Sunday, January 15, 2017

Nikon Series E Lenses

The FG and its Series E lens family,
Yesterday I walked into Camera Mall, and found a couple of Series E Nikkor lenses I had on my "want list."  For $25 each, I took home a Series E 35mm 2.5, and a 100mm 2.8.  Both in good condition, and this first portrait shows my Series E "family" - The 50mm 1.8, 35mm 2.5, 100mm 2.8, 36-72mm 3.5, and 75-150mm 3.5.

This of course, brings up the typical conversation, which goes something like this:  "Those Series E lenses aren't the greatest, but they'll do."   or, "The Series E 50mm is compact, but it's not very durable."  or, "That 100mm series E is nowhere as good as the 105mm Nikkor."

I'd like to address the mythology of the Series E lenses. First of all, I will concede that they are lighter, smaller, and are certainly not built like the "pro" lenses. Nikon glass for the most part, has been top-notch, with few exceptions.  The Series E lenses were made in the late 1970s and early 1980s to be smaller, lighter, and less expensive so as to bring options to photographers with less money to spend. They did not have the "bunny ears" to accommodate non-AI cameras, such as the F2, because it is a "pro" camera. So these are true AI lenses for the Nikon SLRs such as the FE, FM, FA, FG, and EM, and of course, AF cameras such as the F100.  The series of photos here illustrate the paired lenses such as the 50 f/1.8 Series E and the Nikkor 50mm f/2. I'll talk about each of them briefly.  I don't have the 28mm Series E lens, so that one will be left out.

This focal length has often been felt to be the best for street photography -- just a little wider than 50mm, but also a good estimate of what our eyes see.  The two lenses here, the Series E 35mm f/2.5 is certainly much smaller and lighter (160g) than the Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 (285g), which dates from about 1965, and was AI-modified by John White much later.  The E lens dates from around 1980.  I have used the older lens a lot, and it produces excellent results, especially when stopped down.  It should be used with the matching 35mm lens hood, as that front element is a lot of glass, close to the front of the lens. The E version is reputed to be a fine lens optically.

The 50mm has always been considered the go-to focal length by many photographers, and it's the lens that almost always came with your SLR, no matter the manufacturer.  Before cheap zooms became "kit lenses", these were the kit lenses.  There are a bunch of 50mm Nikkors, and while the f/1.4 is a desirable lens for indoor and low-light, as well as shallow DOF, the "standard" 50mm f/2 reigned from 1959 to 1979 in different versions.  The 50mm f/2 is renown for its relative flat field, close focus distance, and does well with extension tubes and bellows. However, it has a minimum aperture of only f/16.  The lens shown here weighs 210g.  In comparison, the E lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and a minimum of f/22, and weighs 155g.  I have shot a lot with different E versions, and I will say that stopped down to f/4 and lower, results are fine. It IS compact, and in a camera such a Nikon FG, it makes for a good combo of light weight and compactness.  Is it a great lens?  I'll bet it depends a lot on your expectations and subject matter.  Don't dismiss it though.

100mm - 105mm
I consider the 100-105mm focal length a good one for portraits, nature, and as it's a short telephoto, a good match with extension tubes for nature close-ups.  Even on the street, it's a good lens for isolating your subjects.  The Series E lens, 100mm f/2.8, has a very good reputation, and I shot the image of the Nikon FG and FM with their 50mm lenses with the 100mm E lens on  my Nikon D200.  The E lens is noticeably smaller and lighter than the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor (220g vs 470g) with its built-in lens hood.  Both are excellent lenses, but I would say if you are going on a trip, the E lens will be appreciated due to its compactness and weight advantage over the 105.


It was harder to compare the zooms, but the closest I can come to the 36-72mm f/3.5 Series E is the cheap 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 zoom which features a zoom collar and a separate focusing collar.  Yes, there are other 35-70 zooms, but I have not tried the other manual-focus ones.  In this case, it's the Series E lens that is larger and heaver (380g vs. 255g).  I have shot quite a bit with my E lens, and while it is a constant aperture-zoom, I think stopped down to f/5.6 produces better results than wide-open.  It is a far better lens, in my opinion, than the 35-70, due in part to being a one collar zoom and focus.

I don't have a "twin" to compare to, but I have shot with this lens quite a bit, and results have been very good.  Pop on an extension tube or a 2T accessory lens, and it's great for flower close-ups, etc.  The lens weighs 519g, and is 12.5 cm long.  According to Moose Peterson (The Nikon System Handbook, 2000), the 75-150 was "the" lens for fashion work, especially in the studio. I consider it to be an excellent lens to have in the bag.

The beauty of the E lenses is that all take the standard 52mm filters, making filter use quite simple.  I recommend lens hoods for best results (I know it's a thing with me, but they help all lenses).
If you are going on a trip, carrying the 35mm, 50mm, and the 100mm won't be a big deal with a body such as the FG, FE, or FM.  Or, the 36-72mm plus the 100mm if you only want to carry two lenses.
taken with the 100mm E lens

I am not saying Nikon lenses are by far the best, because that is an un-provable statement.  The manual focus Nikkors have been around a long time, and I think the true value of a lens to me is -- does it produce an image that I am happy with, and does it work consistently?  While the E lenses have been saddled with the "not as good a build" statement, remember that these lenses are now over 35 years old, and most are probably working well.  You can chase unicorns for that mythical best lens, or learn to use your equipment and know how to get the most out of what you have.  That may seem hypocritical coming from a gear guy like me, but I see people arguing over the fact that a certain lens is better because it has an aperture of f/1.2 vs f/1.4.  If you NEED to shoot at f/1.2, it is the best lens to do that with, but it does not mean it's a better lens than the mundane 50mm f/2 Nikkor.

Over the years, I have accumulated quite a few Nikon lenses, and also sold off a few as well. I had a 180mm f2.8 ED lens for quite a while, and though it certainly is a very good lens for isolating a subject due to the shallower DOF, I found that the sheer bulk of the lens outweighed its utility to me, and sold it last year when I needed to fund a Pentax 6x7.  A zoom lens that I think is really very all-around useful is the 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor.  It can focus at around 10 inches in the "macro" setting.  If you had that lens and a 50mm f/2, you would be set for most things on a trip.

I'll close with this photo of my current stable of manual Nikkors, though I now see I forgot the 45mm f/2.8 GN-Nikkor, because it was on a camera.  I have multiple 50mm f/2 lenses, and I love them all, especially the older non-AI versions. They are superbly-made lenses.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Big News... Ektachrome is back!

my last roll of Ektachrome* in
the fridge
Unless you have not been anywhere on the internet in the past week, you have undoubtedly heard the unexpected announcement by Kodak Alaris at the Consumer Electronics Show regarding the resuming of production of Ektachrome by Eastman Kodak later this year.  Yes, this IS a big deal.  It's rare for a manufacturer to reintroduce a discontinued product, let alone a film stock.  I hope the hype pans out, and that people buy this film -- a lot of it, in fact.  One may wonder why they would do this.  Well, since it is a color-reversal film, development results in a positive image, which translates well for the 16mm movie market.  It's a niche, for sure, but so is Super-8, which also would benefit from this.  I think the still-photography folks will also appreciate having another option, too.

Up until now, Fuji has been the only manufacturer still offering slide film.  Their Fuji Velvia 50 and Velvia 100, and Provia 100 and Provia 400 films are terrific, and if you are shooting nature, those films are perfect.  Meanwhile, Ferrania is trying to restart their factory, and until they actually produce a product (and I think they will), it is just what we used to call "vaporware" in the software industry.  Eastman Kodak, however, has the facilities, the formulas, and the expertise already in place, so I fully expect Ektachrome 100 to appear this fall.  I would love to be one of the first people to get samples!

I also think that the continuing interest in shooting film has played a role (many many rolls!) in this decision.  Lomography has been selling slide film, which I believe is remaining stocks of Kodak Ektachrome, and perhaps Fuji, as well. The only way to tell is to look at the film box, which will state where the film was manufactured (USA = Kodak, Japan=Fuji).  Even the so-called Agfa Precisa is rebranded Fujichrome (correct me if I am wrong).  While I question how much slide film will be used in the commercial realm, the enthusiast market is growing again, and a smaller, more efficient Kodak operation can fill that niche.

I don't want to count the number of rolls of slide film (aka "color reversal film") I have shot in 45 years of photography.  I did however, take a glance through some of my files of slide images, and I can see where I shot a ton of Fuji Astia and Provia, Kodak Kodachrome, and to a lesser extent, Ektachrome.  I pondered about that for a bit, but I suspect it was most likely due to price, and film specials, etc.  It may also have been cyclical -- I can see where I shot a lot of Ektachrome in a given year.  Of course, in the last decade, any slide film I shot was primarily whatever I could find and it usually was not the same kinds of subjects what I was shooting in the early 2000s.  Back then, I was doing a lot of nature and macro photography.  That's primarily what I use digital for now.  For me, street, architecture, and colorful subjects--slide film is a pretty darn good medium.  The trouble is, the local E-6 labs died off, and I had to send it out, and the development price was about $12/roll, including the postage.  So, of course, until more recently, I shot very little of it.  Now that I can do E-6 at home with the Unicolor kit, my price of development of a roll is about $3.   As a result, I am more likely to shoot more E-6 in the coming months.  I have been shooting the Retrochrome 320 from the FPP store, and while I like it, it is expired Ektachrome of some sort.  So again, having a true ISO 100 slide film from Kodak will be greatly appreciated.

If you have not ever shot slide film in 35mm or 120, you might ask "why all the fuss?"  There is something quite magical about holding a "chrome" in your hand.  The bigger the format, the more outstanding the positive color image.  You do not need an intermediary process to see the image (i.e. a negative needs to be scanned  or printed to see the positive image.  With a color reversal film, it's all there right in front of you.

So, to Kodak, I say, bring it on!!

*Elite chrome was the consumer version of professional Ektachrome.  Under the Kodak Professional branding, we had Ektachrome 100G, 100VS, etc.  The all-purpose Elite chrome 100 was a good film, and the edge markings are EB100.   You can find out more about the various types of chrome films here.   

If you are interested in seeing a lot of Ektachrome shots online, visit the Flickr Ektachrome group

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Projects can keep you fresh.

Day 8 of "Solstice to Solstice"
It's just about the end of the year, and while 2016 has seen its share of bizarre events, disasters, celebrity deaths, and potential end of life as we know it-- on a personal note, I can't complain.  The bigger picture is beyond my sphere of influence, and rather than let fear and/or anger lead my way, I have to do what I know best, and that's to do photography.  I'm not an "event photographer" nor am I an "adventure photographer."  My work is more often introspective, about nature, slivers of life and places, and of course, a lot of it is on film.  If you look through my images on Flickr, where I have been since 2004, you'll have a pretty good idea of what I photograph.  Probably over a  third of the images there are on film.   I continue to shoot it a lot -- in fact, I think 2016 might just be the year that I have shot well over 100 rolls - close to 130.   Developing my own C-41, E-6, as well as B&W has saved me a lot of money -- which of course, can be used to buy more film!

So, with all the film have I shot, what have I done with it?  I have long-term projects that accrue by the fact that the subjects are easily grouped -- Michigan post offices would be one such project. Recurring images of water in various states would be another, and while I had an exhibit in 2102 of winter water images, there are always more.  Sometimes, a single roll can be a small project, and that is always a fun challenge.  I feel that it's good to have some goals and  projects to keep one engaged, no matter what your endeavor. I rarely announce a photography goal, but this year, I am doing a "Solstice to Solstice" project, where I upload one image taken that day, from the Winter to the Summer Solstice -- basically, 6 months. That's not really a project I can do on film, and I decided to use just one camera for that, a Nikon D3200.  It's lightweight, takes different lenses, and while lacking features of my workhorse (and some may say outdated) D200, it allows me plenty of creativity.  So, on December 21, I shot and uploaded Day 1.  I hope to finish with consecutive images on Wed., June 21, 2017.  The idea that I have to produce an image for each day is challenging, and it has to be a worthwhile image.  Half a year's worth.  I think it'll be fun, sometimes frustrating, but I want it to be worth the effort.  I'll know in June.

It's not a bad thing to set some goals, and I think it helps one grow as a photographer.  Maybe you would like to be better at doing portraits.  Learn about lighting, and experiment. Enlist friends or family to pose for you -- find out what your "style" is.  Maybe you'll find that b&w works better for you than color.  Or not.  You'll never know if you don't try.

AuTrain Bay, Pentax 6x7, August 2016
Take a single camera and lens combo and use it a lot.  We all get that "gear-acquisition syndrome" or GAS.  I'll be the first to admit it.  But what if you found that just using a 50mm lens or a 28mm lens for a lot of photography made you a better photographer?  Give it a try.  There are many "projects" one can do in 6 months.

To go to the other extreme, shoot one Polaroid a day.  It's been done by many, but what about you? What story do you have to tell?  Six months of Impossible Project film might be pretty expensive though. Hell, one month of IP film would be expensive, so 6 months would be about $750.  Make those shots count!

Since I have been on winter break (one of the perks of working at a university), I have had time to do some darkroom cleanup, mix up more C-41, and process a lot of color film.  Some of it dates back to June!   Scanning is going fine, and yes, while it takes time, I enjoy the results.

Kalamazoo, MI, July, 2016. Canon EOS 2000.
FPP recording  session, my house, Feb., 2016. Minolta XG-M.

Princess Phones, Kiwanis, December 2016, Minolta X-700

UM Art Museum windows, Dec. 2016, Minolta X-700

Berkeley, CA. Nikon FG, April 2016

Hocking Hills, OH. Nikon F3HP, May, 2016

Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Nikon FE, Feb., 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays

You can't escape this time of year.  For me, the Winter Solstice is a time to reflect, to connect, and to look forward to longer days. It's no secret that the winter solstice held  much importance to ancient cultures, so much so, that Christianity ended up melding its celebration of the birth of Christ to the Roman Saturnalia and the Yule traditions.   However you celebrate the shortest days of the year, I wish you the best.

I love the lights and many of the decorations and the general festiveness, and the food. Since this is a photography blog, I hope that if you were wanting that "special" photo item, you ended up getting it, or giving something to start another young photographer on his or her way.  In Christmas 1973, I received a new  Exa IIa, which cemented my love for photography.

At one time, it seemed that a lot of people had a roll of 12 exposures in their Brownie that covered not one, but often, two Christmases.  Then Polaroids and Instamatics got them shooting a bit more frequently. Here is  a really dorky photo of me from Christmas, 1966, in which I am holding my prized G.I. Joe doll (ahem, they had not come up with the term action-figure as yet).  I was 10, so that was 50 years ago.  My cousin Brenda MacDonald was less than a year old.   Are cardboard fireplaces still a thing?

Anyhow, shoot some film, enjoy the festivities, and be careful on the road!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

It's that time of year!

Card design by Samara Pearlstein
When the snow starts falling, my photographic output falls a bit, until I get my mindset aligned with the change of seasons.  First of all, doing any photography in the winter can be a challenge, depending on the severity of conditions.  There are factors that work against you, aside from getting cold fingers.

Keep your gear from getting wet. Snow can cause havoc -- and if you are in a snowstorm, you really don't want it on your lenses.  An easy way to keep the snow off the front element is to just use a skylight filter on the front. It will making cleaning it off a lot easier.  Use a soft cloth, such as a piece of an old t-shirt to wipe off the snow or condensation. A micro-fiber cloth for fogged lenses usually works pretty well, and a lens hood also helps to keep snow from the front of the lens.

Try to avoid changing lenses, but if you must, keep them wrapped in a cloth until you need them.  There are lens wraps available that protect lenses quite well.  Changing lenses in the cold weather with cold fingers is a good time to have a case of the fumbling fingers appear.

Some cameras are just harder to use in the cold -- folding cameras are a good example. The bellows get stiff, controls fiddly, and so on.  All-metal cameras with small dials and metal lens barrels also may become difficult to use.  While I wear gloves or mittens with flip-away tips, my fingers get cold from handling equipment, and it helps to have a warmer in your pocket.  Carrying a tripod is another source of cold hands, so use some pieces of foam pipe insulation and tape them over the topmost leg section.  It really makes a huge difference.

If it gets, really, really cold, you can strip the sprockets right off the film with a motor-drive.  If you are shooting film, I advise you to use as simple a camera as possible for below-zero conditions. A Nikon FM2N, Pentax K1000, or similar camera will be ideal.  If you are shooting digital, keep spare batteries inside your coat.  Nikon made an external battery holder (DB-2)  for the FM and FM2N and similar cameras-- it has two AAs with a long cord that screws into the battery compartment - keeping the battery inside your coat. Cold dry air can cause static discharge on the film as it is wound or rewound.  I have had that happen only once, and it wasn't all that cold.  It was an "interesting" effect on the negatives. So, another reason to wind slowly.  While I doubt that most of us would find ourselves in the Antarctic, under those conditions, film has simply shredded as it was wound.  So, under ultra-cold conditions, digital may be the better choice!

I tend to shoot mostly nature scenes in winter, but street shooting has it rewards, too.  However, a pocket camera works well in winter, and something like an Olympus RC or Trip 35 is easy to use with gloves.  Holgas are great for winter, too.  Nothing much to adjust, and with some b&w film, those snow scenes could be even more interesting shot with a Holga.

Keep your hands, feet, and head protected in winter. The rest will be fine if you do that.  The clothing available now for winter wear is amazing, and dressing in layers is still the best way to go about it.

One last bit of advice -- experienced photographers already know this-- but remember to adjust your exposures for snow.  Generally, 1 to 2 stops more exposure than your meter is telling you.  Sunny-16 in winter is a wonderful thing.

To close up, here are a few recent images that I shot on the FPP- Mr. Brown ISO 6 film.  It was snowing heavily, and I used a Canon EOS Rebel 2000 (all-plastic) at ISO 8.  The film was developed in XTOL 1:1 for 10 minutes.  I think the results are pretty good.

The gray smudge at lower center is a walker in the woods.
Long exposures!
I turned 60 last Monday, so I better be getting my senior discount now, but unfortunately it does not apply to film purchases!  Stay warm, stay positive, and keep shooting film. I know that I will.