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Providing Portrait, Event and Architectural photography to the New England Region, and the world, Patrick Reading, Photography brings vision and expertise from diverse design and artistic mediums to provide you with a truly unique photographic experience. Please browse our galleries, and contact us if you want to know more. We look forward to working with you on your next artistic endeavor.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Content Warning: Extreme photo geekiness ahead!

I have a dark habit. When I'm waiting for the kids at activities, or have a few minutes on the road between jobs or errands, I go browsing. Not shopping, because i hardly ever buy anything, but I like to browse. And not just at any store. At antique stores. You know the kind, the run down shack on the side of a state highway with rusting car parts and farm tools hanging from the barn walls. What am i looking for? Not much, just little things that catch my eye.

But last week I bought something. I stopped in at a place in Hebron near my kids gymnastics, and saw this box of old cameras and parts.

Now, to most people this would be a box of junk, After all, none of the cameras are digital, No wifi uploads to facebook, no lcd screen previews on the backs, no usb cables to upload images to your hard drive, no menu settings to add vintage looks to your images, in fact, vintage is about all you CAN get out of this collection, because their very nature is vintage. One of the cameras even had a roll of film already loaded! (don't know what "film" is? Stop reading now!)

In part, they'd be right. That Praktica is an East German Camera ( Don't know what East Germany is? Stop reading now!) widely renowned as one of the most unreliable cameras ever built. The Spotmatic is a professional workhorse, if the battery cover wasn't corroded and brutally forced open. The Vivitar flash is a reliable standby, but would probably burn out the circuits on modern cameras because of the voltage it uses. The lenses wont even fit on a modern camera without an adapter that costs more then the entire box  of goods was priced at.

Now, I will say that all of the parts and  pieces were in excellent shape, well used by someone who know what they were doing with cameras. One in fact looks practically unused! But all of them are likely older than I am, entirely manual, and thoroughly vintage. So what is it that caught my eye and caused me to buy the package whole?

This little gem right here.  The 55 mm Ricoh Auto Rikenon f/1.4 manual lens. Its a little scuffed. The filter thread got a little dented in, but not enough to prevent someone from using it.This little chunk of steel and aluminum and massive gobs of honey coated glass caught my eye and made me snatch up the beauty and all the trimmings. The 28mm and 135mm f/3.5 prime lenses in the box will have their uses, but this darling has a special superpower in the form of bokeh...

Whaaaa? What is bokeh you ask? The original term 暈け is Japanese, meaning "haze" or "to obscure," but in photography is commonly used to refer to the blurred portion of a photograph resulting from a subject being outside the depth of field. What is depth of field, you ask? Well, simply put, its the range of acceptable focus contingent on factors of aperture, distance and focal range.  What are all those things and what  do they have to do with each other, Oh bah.. Let me see if this makes it clear:

This is the roof my the playhouse in the back yard. Yes, I know I need to clean the moss, but in the mean time, it makes for a wonderful subject! Notice the stripe of focus with the fading off of blur. That's bokeh, and aside from making things fuzzy, it also serves to direct the viewers attention to that slice of sharpness and the detail it contains. Its trick used by photographers to eliminate distractions, especially in portrait photography. Its a major reason that photos from point and  shoot cameras never look quite as lovely as those from more professional gear.

I currently own a Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 lens, an inexpensive plastic portrait lens commonly called the "Nifty 50" because its price to aperture ratio makes it a favorite of young photographers, especially as the next level 50mm f1.4 lens generally goes for 4 times that amount, and to go down to f/1.2 is 13x the price! But, the nifty 50  has a number of flaws, including inferior glass elements and poorer color rendering then the higher priced lenses. So how would my new acquisition stand up to the competition?

I took a couple shots of one of my lovelier subjects to test the lenses, first with the canon 50 mm f/1.8:

50mm @f/1.8 1/60 sec ISO 100, and look at that smile!

Note the bokeh in the background isolating the portrait and drawing your attention away from the cluttered background, and drawing you to that adorable smile. Because of the large aperture, I'm able to use the lens in the natural light of the living room without any flash, and with a shutter speed fast enough to avoid and shaking. My other lenses even at f/3.5 would likely require a higher ISO, making more noise, or a slower shutter speed, resulting in camera shake and blur even in the focused areas. 

Now for the 55mm Auto Rikenon f/1.4:

55mm @f/1.4 1/80 sec ISO 100, and making a lovely face too!
First you'll notice that the image is a closer crop. The 55mm gives a more "normal" view of the subject, meaning its close to what you see with the naked eye, with no enlargement or reduction in size. the result is a natural perspective, even at close distances. Next you'll notice a warmer hue to the skin tones and warm colors, and a flattening of the cool colors of the green ottoman. Every lens has its own personality, and this one makes it an ideal portrait lens, and a less than ideal landscape lens. It pops the skin tones while muting the foliage, putting more focus on the person and less on the scenery. Also the larger aperture allows  an even faster shutter speed even under the exact same lighting conditions. 

Of course, for every advantage, there's a disadvantage. The first is manual focusing. Since this lens is close to 50 years old, there are no electronics in it to sync with the cameras auto-focus system, and since modern cameras dont have a prismatic focus lens in the eyepiece, I'm left to my own in eyeballing the focus, Not an easy task when shooting close with a wide aperture, and a depth of field that's only a couple millimeters deep! simply put, its entirely possible for me to have the tip of my subjects nose in focus, and have her eyes blurred! Not the best arrangement! But the rewards are certainly worth the challenges! Secondly, the lens is HEAVY!!!! the Nifty 50 is a plastic build, 6 element glass lens taht weighs in at 130g The Rikenon is heavy metal build, 6 LARGE glass elements and weighs in nearly 3X has heavy at 306g. That's nearly as heavy as my ultra wide Tamron 10-24 mm that's nearly 3x as large. That's a lot of weight to tote around on the end of an already large camera body. Still, somethings are worth it, especially when you're sacrificing convenience for quality. 

I fully expect to see more of this lens showing up in my photos.  Keep an eye out!

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