Something old meets something new. Photo-Nerd Porn ensues…..
Several months ago, i was charged with shooting a project that needed some visual “character”. Being a “get in camera/shoot for look” kind of guy, i decided to shoot the project on 4X5 film. I visited my friends at panorama camera center to see what they had available in the 4×5 realm. Now, you see, i am a big believer in owning equipment. Yes i could have rented a 4×5, but wheres the fun in that, plus i wont learn anything using a camera once…. Anyhow, what resulted was that given the budget of the project and the time and learning curve associated with all the experimenting necessary to get the desired effect, shooting on 4×5 would have been cost prohibitive.
What i did do was buy a hand full of old M42 mount Russian Zenit and Japanese Asahi Takumar lenses, and a M42 to Canon EOS EF adapter. The lenses seemed to approximate the kind of visual texture i was heading for… A little Flare, a little vignetting, sharp in places, soft in others.
The first being a 28mm Asahi Super Takumar “yellow Glass”. There are optics in this lens that is actually slightly radioactive and thus the optics yellow over time.
The second image is from a Helios 44-2 58mm F2.0 Lens.
Some weeks later, on September 17th, My friend, a brilliant Russian lens technician and owner of Panorama Camera Center, called me into his shop in NYC. He reveals a tiny, brass knob with a spot of glass in the middle. It looks like the eyepiece of an ancient Microscope. He proceeds to tell me he found it in a box, hidden inside another lens. He says its a ~35mm Wollensak Cine-Velostigmat F5. The kind of lens used on a hand cranked cinema silent movie camera. By his best estimates he dated the lens “turn of the century”, but said maybe 1908 to be safe. He says to me…. ( in the thickest Russian accent ever) ” I can make this fit EF you know….”
The curiosity of what a centuries old lens would look like overtook me. So i agreed, and commissioned him to build the mount…. We had NO idea what the lens would produce until we put it on a camera. Would it be razor sharp? would it have a neutral look? would it have character? Well…
After a couple of hours of grinding, cutting, and sweating later ( mostly me sweating hoping we dont ruin the lens), The finished product is something special.
This is the end result: None of these photos have been altered in ANY WAY whatsoever, they are straight Jpegs from camera.
There is Video coming this monday from the lens. Here are a few Video stills to hold you over….
The way this lens treats light is unique. Some shots, come out with deep rich contrast, sharp and with a heavy vignette, and others over exposed, washed out and completely soft. One factor is the vignette, under perfect controlled circumstances the lens has great contrast, and clarity. Since this lens was developed for 35mm Motion picture which has a smaller film plane than full frame film/digital, the center is a “hot spot” with illumination falling off towards the corners. If you expose for that bright center, you lose all the detail in the corners, and if you expose for the outer edges you wind up with a brightly blown out center. What winds up happening is you have to expose in the middle, give a little on the top end for the middle, and accept a little under exposure for the edges of the frame. (This over exposed information is recoverable in RAW files from photoshop if you REALLY need it, but i still feel shooting this lens unmodified in post is the fun part) Remeber what i said about “perfect Controlled circumstances”… well, all of that controlled exposure, watching out for the exposure in the middle, while protecting the shadows mumbo-jumbo goes out the window when the lens flares. Then you’re on your own. The internally reflected light completely changes the way the exposure occurs. It can flare from a person who is brightly lit by the sun to your back…. Umm, yea. That can flare the lens. So can a Street Lamp, a flashlight, a headlight, or a bright bodega. BUT, sometimes, it refuses to flare. Sometimes direct sunlight has minimal effect. I think it has more to do with to do with the angle the erroneous the light enters the lens, not the intensity. To complicate the exposure calculation even more, the aperture is a HUGE factor in predicting its exposure. When open, flaring is more apparent, thats nothing new, but it changes as you stop down. At wide open, F5, nothing is particularly sharp, and there is almost no contrast. Stop down to a F8, and suddenly its a new lens. Razor sharp, contrasty, and beautiful. Come down to an F11 or F16 and its suddenly hazy and soft again but this time with a far more pronounced vignette.
See the portrait of the model Bhavani in the Indian garb. Shot around F8, The photos is contrasty, sharp and with great color, but still tons of character (see 100% crop below from a 5DmkII 21.1 MP image). Where as the night shot of the building with the street light in frame is washed out because its shot wide open, and the Green light is flaring the lens.
So Exposure aside, the lens is Very small. Focusing, is a helluva problem. I find using the old fashioned Cine-AC trick of focus distance guesstimate while stopped down to a F8 usually does the trick. Hard to believe but the focus marks are actually accurate. When i cant use that trick, like for portrait work, i use the Live view and zoom into the image and do my critical focus from there. This certainly isnt a run’n gun type of lens. you need to be a bit more methodical in using it.
If anyone has Questions, please post em, and i will respond as quickly as i can!
And Now MOVING PICTURES!
This is a mix of natural lighting, cine style lighting, hand held, dolley and tripod work. Much of this was shot to see what this lens can do in real conditions, and where its strengths and weaknesses are. What it adds, what it loses is in my opinion what makes this glass unique. This motion test is a precursor to an upcoming film project. enjoy….
***There is NO color correction or footage manipulation what so ever***
This Video was Edited by the amazing Thomas Wong. www.thewongcut.com
Thank you for reading…
Special thanks Bhavani Lee for being a great model…..
Some New Photos!
The Project I built this for:
More information here : Click here
Photo essay of the pilgrimage in Karbala Iraq.