Category Archives: Lenses

Canon – you need to fix your glass

Simply unacceptable color fringing.

5D, 50mm f/1.4 at f/8 – after and before correcting for green and red chromatic aberration

When processing the picture included in yesterday’s journal entry, I was reminded again of the truly frightful extent of uncorrected chromatic aberration (color fringing) in Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 standard lens. For many this is a portrait lens on cropped sensor bodies, with an equivalent focal length of 80mm.

The picture on the right is unprocessed, straight from the camera at the lens’s sweet spot of f/8. The one on the left is after removing the chromatic aberration using the sliders in Lightroom. Even in these small pictures the amount of chromatic aberration is shocking – these enlarged snaps would make for a 30″ x 20″ print. (The small scale difference results from correcting converging verticals in Photoshop CS2).

Given the superb quality of the sensors in Canon’s DSLRs, isn’t it about time that some more attention was paid to fixing dated lens designs like the fixed focal length 50mm one? This sort of thing has been properly designed by any number of manufacturers decades ago and there really is no excuse for such poor optical engineering in a medium priced fixed focal length lens who many, suspicious of the bulk and poor optics in most zooms, still regard as their ‘standard’ lens. Especially old duffers like me who toured the world with a 50mm or 35mm on our cameras, because that’s all we could afford.

Now a glance at any news source will confirm that there are more complaining historians in the world than people with fix-it ideas. The fix here could not be simpler, or more lucrative for all concerned. Do a Panasonic. License Leica’s fabulous designs, Canon, forget about corporate pride, and make sure the final product is emblazoned with the Leica name. Use your mass manufacturing genius to drive the price down and I will be the first to have a fully automated 50mm f/2 Summicron-R Leica lens (made by Canon) on my wonderful 5D – the best 50mm lens ever made. Heck, if I’m feeling spendy I’ll even consider springing for the 50mm Summilux-R with its f/1.4 maximum speed – the second greatest 50mm lens ever made. And while Leica, 40 years on, still cannot manage to add autofocus to its SLR lenses, for Canon that would, of course, be de rigeur.

And while you are at it, Canon, feel free to replace your underwhelming 20mm f/2.8 (which I know and dislike) with Leica’s superb 19mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R, or even with the older 21mm f/4 Super Angulon-R which I knew and loved for many years. Leica and Schneider conspired on that design – can life get any better than that?

A big enlargement to make things yet clearer – color fringes before correction

Let there be light

No half measures here!

My preliminary ramblings about the Canon 100mm macro focused largely on ergonomics with a quick peek at image quality.

One of the advantages of the 100mm focal length is the doubled – compared with a 50mm – subject to camera distance, making lighting issues easier. But I decided I wasn’t about to do things half way, so I checked into ring light flashes for the 5D. Well, Canon wants over $400 for theirs to which all I could politely say was “No thank you”.

So a quick visit to that repository of thieves, cutthroats and crooks known as ePrey was called for and, lo and behold, simply dozens of ring flashes were on sale. After weeding through the offerings I finally found one which used a real flash tube (rather than poncy, underpowered, LEDs) and, best of all, mated with the ETTL circuitry in the 5D to make just about everything automatic.

$120 and a few days later UPS dropped it off. It comes with three adapter rings, the 58mm one of which fits the 100mm Macro. Look closely and you can see there’s a real flash tube in there:

The body takes four AA cells and looks suspiciously like the body of a Vivitar 283 flash gun. Recycling time is 3 seconds with fresh alkaline batteries. The foot has a nice screw retainer and you can see the contacts for ETTL in the base:

Here’s how the whole thing looks on the 5D – the power supply and tube are incredibly light, weighing less than the lens itself.

Once the base ring, which rotates freely on the flash tube body, is threaded onto the lens, the tube assembly is free to rotate and, if you think about it, that’s no problem. The base ring has nice, coarse serrations for a proper grip and protrudes just above the body of the flash tube – nice.

Use is simplicity itself. ETTL balances exposure between flash and camera automatically, the lighting is shadowless, and all you have to do is frame and press the button. If the flash is in range the green LED on the rear illuminates after the picture is taken to show all is well. It would have been nice if it did this with the first pressure on the shutter release, but, heck, ‘film’ is cheap in the digital age, no?

Suffice it to say that the whole thing works perfectly out of the box, at one quarter of the price of the Canon branded device. OK, so the finish is more GM than Toyota, but at that price, who cares?

And because even our six year old could take sharp snaps with this little combo, here’s one which mixes sharp and blurred, courtesy of ETTL, which has mixed flash and regular light by using a slow shutter speed, adding blur to a subject swaying in the wind. Choice of a low ISO setting compounds the blur.

5D, 100mm Macro, ring flash, 1/100, f/6.7, ISO 100

More later.

Canon 100mm Macro – Part I

Not your father’s macro lens.

For a preamble on macro lenses, please click here.

Over the past five years anytime I wanted to get really close to something meant using my Olympus C5050Z five megapixel digital. Quality is decent, it focuses postage stamp close and framing using the built-in LCD screen is dead accurate. Rack the lens out to maximum zoom and you also get reasonable subject-to-lens clearance for illumination purposes.

If nothing else, it has been used to list any number of film cameras and lenses on various auction sites, so it has paid for itself many times. Most digital cameras, especially the point-and-shoots, focus easily into what we think of as the macro range, so the Olympus is nothing special in this regard. Handy, though, and easy to use, with auto everything – focus, flash, exposure.

By contrast, here’s my latest Canon lens addition – macro with a vengeance.

Canon 5D and 100mm f/2.8 USM macro lens, with funding source

With modern multi-coated glasses, charging extra for a lens hood must be as big a scam as ethanol, and I never use one on any of my Canon lenses except on the fish-eye and the 400mm, where they are non-removable. Why? Because they add bulk and make no earthly difference to the picture. And if you have seen the hood for this Canon, you will not want to buy it either. But I do use an UV filter on everything and have recently convinced myself that the German B+W ones are better made than their Japanese counterparts, so I paid up a few dollars more for the real thing. Seems I’m still a sucker for that ‘Made in Germany’ thing. The main reason I use a filter is that I think any decent photographer should throw out all his lens caps.

Not a Japanese filter…. As you can see, that Olympus has no issues with getting in close.

Now no one could accuse the Canon Macro of being pretty to look at – not like in Leica Summicron or Contarex Planar pretty – but its inverted cone design speaks of the Bauhaus, function and funky form. Construction is typical Canon prime – meaning good if not ‘L’ quality and a whole lot better than their crappy kit zooms. Best of all, at under $500, if you drop it you are upset but not destroyed. Try saying that about your Leica lenses….

Everything about the ergonomics of this lens is right. The 100mm focal length means you get a nice long subject distance to simplify lighting. You are twice as far away as with a 50mm macro, at the cost of depth of field. The short (about 135 degree) focus throw from infinity to 1:1 (the lens goes down to life size on a full frame camera) is very smooth and full time manual focusing is included if you use autofocus – very handy for a macro lens where small focus adjustments are the order of the day. The bulk and weight of the lens make for perfect balance on the 5D, meaning hand holding is easy.

Best of all, unlike all those macro lenses I illustrated yesterday, the length of this one does not change as it is racked out – meaning that no new obstacle to proper lighting presents itself. And auto exposure means no more figuring of light loss as 1:1 reproduction is approached – a loss of two stops in brightness owing to the extension of the lens from the sensor. That holds whether the lens is made by Canon or Ballspond Roadski optics.

How accurately does the lens focus on the 5D? I am using the center rectangle here which is the most sensitive focus point in the camera’s design. Placing the camera and lens on a tripod on the high tech Pindelski test bench with the camera at 45 degrees to the tape measure, here is the result with the lens autofocused on the line just above the numeral 3 with the lens at full aperture of f/2.8, set at its closest focus distance:

That looks pretty spot on to me.

Not convinced? Here it is much larger:

Far better than I could do with manual focus.

Now I am an empiricist by nature, not a test bench nerd, but with a lens whose primary use is for the very close-up subject, a few seconds doing this determines whether the lens is a keeper or not. Clearly, this one is a keeper. Thank you, B&H and thank you, Canon!

The Dr. Pindelski optical test bench? High tech at its best:

Because of the internal space needed to allow those elements to be racked out when focusing close, the 100mm Macro is necessarily quite a bit longer than that greatest portrait lens I have ever used, the 85mm:

Comparable in weight, the 100mm Macro is much longer than the 85mm. Lens hoods NOT included!

So ergonomics, autofocus accuracy and sharpness are not going to be an issue with the Canon 100mm USM Macro lens.

Focus speed? Simply startling, with little noise. The only time I could trip it up is by focusing at the closest distance then recomposing on a subject at infinity with poorly defined details. The lens would hunt back and forth before locking in. For non-macro use Canon thoughtfully provides a focus limiter switch to prevent this kind of silliness. In practice, I have found that setting the 5D to servo-focus is ideal when this lens is used in the close-up range. This setting makes the lens focus continuously even after the first pressure is taken up on the shutter release button and you can hear the stepper motor working away to maintain the subject in focus. As I said at the beginning of this article, this is not your father’s macro lens.

As I already own the fast 85mm non-macro, I have little interest in using the 100mm Macro lens for any but macro subjects. To do otherwise would be like using an f/1 lens at f/4 – a waste of money. If, on the other hand, this is your only portrait-length lens, then use in the studio should be just fine.

The challenge now is to see whether I can take any snaps remotely up to the technical standards of this optic. Subsequent articles will determine that.

Click here for Part II.

Canon’s big guns

Watch how they are made.

A reader posted an interesting comment (scroll down) with a link to Canon’s videos showing how lenses are made. (That same reader was very helpful in resolving a problem that prevented Internet Explorer users from commenting – thank you, Ben!).

Click on Lens Assembly Process (click through to get there – I cannot find a specific URL) and you will see how the monster 500mm f/4L IS lens is assembled – I still don’t feel good about the price tag, but this helps.

There’s lots of great historical information regarding Canon’s products – click Camera Hall for a history of cameras or here for great historical details on Canon.

Canon 400mm f/5.6 ‘L’ lens – Part II

Simply the best 400mm lens I have used.

Refer back to Part I for the design and handling aspects of this lens.

Now for some pictures. These were snapped with the camera/lens mounted at the lens ring on a Bogen 2016 monopod, one of the greatest bargains for any photographer. The monopod is fitted with a Manfrotto QR head, another tremendous bargain. Absent use with the very fastest shutter speeds, a monopod, as a minimum, makes great sense as it eliminates vertical movement of the camera. The long tube of the lens, with its attendant high turning moment of inertia, reduces rotational movement. That leaves fore-and-aft movement, something that can be greatly reduced with a solidly planted, wide legged, stance and support of the long end of the lens’s barrel with the other hand. Remember the lens has no IS – a shame, but that would add $500 and 8 ozs to the price and weight. I can live without it.

These snaps were easy. I drove 21 miles west to California’s wonderful Highway One with the sun having a couple of hours of gambolling about left, before its date with the far east. Early and late light always conveys the best drama. Add a lens that is inherently dramatic, and the rest is easy.

ISO was set to 400 for shorter shutter speeds. All snaps were underexposed by 1.5 stops, as these late lighting conditions are simply an opportunity for highlights to burn out with the 5D’s sensor. Underexposure and a little use of the ‘Shadows’ slider in Aperture makes for a far better dynamic range. The aperture makes no difference to resolution with this lens – the aperture controls only light and depth of field. Definition remains unchanged. Meaning superb.

All pictures were processed in Aperture, meaning RAW conversion and default 5D sharpening settings. The lens does not need additional sharpening, unlike its two Leica predecessors. Focus was automatic, with a first pressure on the button locking the central rectangle focus point, pending recomposition. Forget matrix focus and all that marketing gobbledegook – there is so little depth of field at short distances that critical focus must be on the key part of the image – meaning the eyes, where animals are concerned.

First, driving north on One, a quick stop at Moonstone Beach to catch the pelican doing his thing. This one is actually one half of the image, cropped for drama. So it’s as if I used an 800mm lens here! You can’t tell – there is no grain with the 5D’s sensor at ISO 400.

Pelican at take-off. 1/1500th, f/8

10 miles further north, just past Hearst Castle, is Elephant Seal Beach and a stop to enjoy sunset with these big boys was just what the doctor ordered. Just stay upwind of these fellows if at all possible. The lens is completely flare free, even directly into the sun. And who said fish don’t make you fat?

Elephant seal pup. 1/180th, f/8

Elephant seal. 1/250th, f/8

Finally, with the sun three-quarters of the way down the horizon, driving back home, Hearst Castle glows in all its splendor. This one had the camera resting on the car for support.

Hearst Castle at sunset. 1/180th, f/11

The striking thing about this optic is that, for the first time in my experience with a 400mm focal length, absolutely no excuses need be made for micro-contrast. Meaning the resolution of fine detail with high contrast is equivalent to a fixed focal length prime (OK, excluding the lousy Canon 20mm!). That statement alone should have you rushing to your favorite vendor to buy yourself one for the holidays. Sure, you may only use it a few times a year, but when you do …. Wow! Canon’s megabuck f/4 and f/2.8 optics of like length may be better, but at that price I neither care nor propose to find out. This lens is a stunning bargain.