Review : Canon FD 85mm/1.2 L

Here is the 20s version : If you happen really really want a f1.2 lens for Sony mirror-less system, go for this lens. Beware of the weight of this lens.

This is a series of articles about alternatives lenses I've used and I recommend. The second lens in the series is Canon FD 85mm/1.2L.

Ever since I bought my first serious full frame digital SLR camera, a Canon EOS 5D back in 2005, I've been using alternative or non-original-manufacturer lenses. For Sony Mirror-less A7 series I've been using Canon FD lenses for a while now. I love to do portraits for personal albums and occasional wedding-photography sessions. Sony still had not come up with the Loxia and Batis line of portrait lenses yet. And I needed a portrait lens for my A7ii. And who does not like lovely chunk of glass with f1.2?


Why this lens -

When you hold this lens you realize this is a serious piece of glass.  Sample I purchased was in superb condition as can be seen from the following images. It is a canon L lens and it oozes quality and fine craftsmanship. And it is a f1.2 lens. You can get some delicious bookeh.

Poppy in our garden. Sony A7 + Canon FD 85mm/1.2L and Canon 500D diopter. Click to view large.


Operation

You will need an adapter to use this lens Sony or Fuji digital cameras. You can buy a cheap one off eBay however I recommend adapters by Novoflex or Leitax. The Leitax is a fantastic option if you want to stick to a certain camera brand for a while. I use novoflex adapter for all my Canon FD lenses. For this lens as it has aperture priority or operating in manual mode, just press the locking button to release the aperture to any aperture setting that you want. I've always used this lens in aperture priority to start with to check if it is mounted correctly. It is a good idea to check if the exposure doubles or halves when you change the aperture, which is on the lens, manually. One can then move on to manual metering mode if it suits your style. I do.

Click to view large. Canon FD 85mm f1.2 L lens.

Click to view large. Canon FD 85mm f1.2 L lens. Aperture setting button clearly seen.

As soon as I received the lens I decided to do some flowers photography in our garden. It was mid-summer and all sorts of flowers were in bloom. Good test for shallow depth of field this lens affords and also sharpness wide open. These were taken on a relatively breeze free evening which is near impossible if you live on an island called as UK. All shot wide open and using canon 500D diopter for close focusing. Bit of drizzle and over-cast conditions before the shoot helped to bring out the best colors possible.


What is Good -

  • Sharp as a Swiss knife. Even wide open. It only gets better stopped down.
  • F1.2 and the bookeh it affords.
  • Quality is evident.

Issues

  • I bought the lens mainly for portraits however could not use it as often I should / could have. I always went for the shallowest DOF possible at f1.2 or may be f2. It is very difficult to focus at this aperture. I missed few shots. I'm used to manual focus lenses including large format lenses however this is partly use error and partly "it is not a bug but part of the package" issue.
  • The aperture setting on FD lenses can be tricky at times. It also depends on the type of mount on the lens. My 50mm macro and 35mm TS lenses are different to this 85mm.
  • CA can be an issue however I could easily correct it in Lightroom.
  • This lens is heavy. It is almost front heavy on Sony A7 series cameras. Not sure how it can work well with Fuji.

Re-entry : Large Format Photography

Large format is expensive. Large format is slow. Large format is unforgiving. However I've always loved the slow process.

I'm a huge fan of checklists. So here is the version 1 of my checklist for using 4x5 in the field.

  1. Secure the camera on the tripod.
  2. Remove the back lens cover and mount the lens.
  3. Lock it.
  4. Open the lens to its largest aperture (smallest f-stop)
  5. Focus and use movements
  6. Close the lens shutter
  7. Cock the lens
  8. Meter the scene to get the desired aperture and shutter speed for the film being used
  9. Test fire the shutter at desired aperture / shutter speed
  10. Close it again
  11. Cock the lens
  12. Tap the film holder (film has habit of moving while in the bag)
  13. Insert the film holder in the camera making sure you hear the "click"
  14. Remove the dark slide
  15. Fire the shutter - make the image.
  16. Insert the film holder - use your own system to know the film is exposed.
  17. Put the film holder in a ziplock bag.
  18. Fingers crossed.
Chamonix 45N-2 at work

Chamonix 45N-2 at work

Review : Olympus Zuiko 35mm/f2.8 SHIFT Lens

Here is the 20s version : If you happen to own a Canon DSLR, just buy this lens. You won't regret.

This is a series of articles about alternatives lenses I've used and I recommend. The first one has to be the one which was very dear to me for over a decade since I purchased it.

Ever since I bought my first serious full frame digital SLR camera, a Canon EOS 5D, back in 2005 I've been using alternative or non-original-manufacturer lenses. One such lens I got to know about was Olympus Zuiko 35mm SHIFT. I was able to buy a multi-coated sample off eBay and this was my go-to lens for many many years.


Why this lens -

A unique lens which offers shift option in two planes, so called omni directional shifting: 10.4mm to each side, 12mm up and 13mm down.  In total of about 83° maximum shift - allowing you to make three overlapping shots to make a panorama and/or avoid converging vertical lines. The lens is amazingly sharp at its best aperture, around f8/f11. Mine was almost always set to f11. I've made some fine images using the shift+rise feature which would have been impossible otherwise. Even though the lens does not offer a tilt function, like Canon FD 35mm TS lens, the rise+shift is a brilliant option. I've used it for many woodland images. I often used shift-up (rise) function to avoid key-stone effect and then shift in horizontal plane to get three overlapping frames to make a panorama.

This image has been published a few times in German magazines. It was an hour before dusk and I thought this would make a fine panorama in 6x12 format. I personally prefer it to 6x18. Three overlapping frames at f11 and then stitching in Photoshop. Click to view large.


Operation

You will need an adapter to use this lens on Canon or Sony digital cameras. You can buy a cheap one off eBay however I recommend adapters by Novoflex or Leitax. The Leitax is a fantastic option if you want to stick to a certain camera brand for a while. The diaphragm has to be preset manually and used with stop-down metering. I did not have an issue with this as I was coming from 4x5 large format camera at that time.  I was used to taking up to 15-20 minutes to set up the camera and still deciding not to make any images. As you can see in the following image one can use omni-shift by moving the lens in the groves.

Click to view large. Note the lens shifted in two planes.

For the following image I made in Bavarian National Park, I was standing on the soft ground in the lake. Any other position was impossible without hip-waders and even then getting the perspective I wanted would have been impossible. I liked how the reflection of größer Arber was mimicking the dip in the tree line. The scene did remind me of a certain Harry Potter sequence. Thanks to the rise function I got enough room above the "island tree" and shift function was used to make three overlapping images.

Bavarian National Park - Harry Potter Island. Canon EOS 5D + Olympus Zuiko 35mm SHIFT. I've printed this around 4ft at the long end and the details are amazing.


What is Good -

  • All Olympus Zuiko lenses are tiny. I mean you would not believe tiny. This is not an exception for a shift lens. Amazing how this was possible in the 70ies.
  • Very sharp optic at f8-f11
  • Of course, the omni-shift

Issues

  • This works brilliantly on EOS cameras I've tested. Classic 5D, 500D and then 6D. However I've switched to Sony A7 series and due to relatively less flange focal distance (I think) there are unavoidable reflections which reduce the contrast in the images considerably. I tested it on A7ii and the issue is not seen. However you may want to test it before taking it for a serious photography assignment.
  • The diaphragm has to be preset manually. Very easy to forget.
  • CA can be an issue however I could easily correct it in Lightroom.
  • Lens flare can be a problem - as mentioned in some forums. However I rarely used this lens in conditions which would test this. I made the following image as part of the OTWTW project. I did not notice any flare here. So can not really comment.

This remains one of my favorite image to date. I used the rise function only to avoid the keystone effect. I also had to use a polariser to remove glare from the wet leaves and a 2 stop graduated neutral density filter to balance the exposure.


Few more images as a gallery. Please click to view large.

Review : Intrepid 4x5 Generation II

Here is the 20s version of this article : This camera is a fantastic alternative for an experienced large format user who needs a light weight alternative for backpacking. Inexperienced or people new to large format may get frustrated by lack of precision in some movements.

I'll be honest, both Alex and Ben Horne have done a much better job of explaining various functions of the camera. I would urge you to view those videos in case you are looking for an in-depth review and how to use this camera.  Ben's recommendation as a good light weight field camera has without a doubt helped the sales.

While the generation I of this camera had some serious issues and I agree to most of them, the second generation is very refined. I used this camera for a portrait session and some architectural shots and here are my impressions.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II at work in our garden

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II at work in our garden


First session at home.


The Good -

  • Rotating back - amazingly clever and simple design and engineering.
  • possibility to use roll film back despite the light weight of the camera.
  • Weight - under 1 kg this is one of the lightest large format camera (4x5) there is.
  • Price - £250. Fantastic for someone to give it a go. I mean you can easily spend more on film and development within a year.
  • Functions - no light leaks, good front axis movements.
  • Novelty factor hence many people buying it. And so the possiility of more film available. Kudos Maxim and Co.

Not so Good -

  • Ground glass is not protected. One must take care while carrying/backpacking
  • Variability is the enemy of manufacturing. There are some tolerance and manufacturing variability issues. Mine was replaced free of cost by Maxim. Check the forums - there are still some issues which need addressing. A 6-sigma study will help iron out quite a few them easily and help make the third generation even better. #Intrepidcameraco give a shout if you need help. As of now you are in the same boat as Tesla motors. One can get away with lots of things gone wrong due to novelty factor. (Yes, I'm an engineer by trade and attribute engineering is my specialization).
  • When you insert the film holder you need to give it a push. This is may mean moving the camera and potentially focus. For my shoots I had all the time so not a problem. However for landscape photography when light is changing fast this could be a problem. It only happened twice so not a huge deal perhaps and potentially user error on my part.
  • Ground glass is good if you have a bright lens and it is a bright day. Anything like f8 and you must invest in a Fresnel lens. There is a good discussion on Intrepid User Group on Facebook.

One must also understand that while the folks at Intrepid are very friendly and passionate about their product this company has grown. That means there will be issues with communication compared to say a year ago. They are also into production stage of their 8x10 and recently moved to a new place. It is great to see the film user base increasing and demand for LF camera going up however Maxim and Co are now very busy - expect delay in your delivery. If you happen to be on the wrong side of the pond this could mean - waiting. For long time.However they are very friendly and often will take care of production variability.

Some more good reviews and information on the internet

Richard Pickup

Alan Brock contemplating selling his Shen-Hao

Steve O'nions uses this camera often for landscape shoot


Some images made with Intrepid camera recently. Using my favorite Ilford FP4+ film at ISO 100, handheld meter and strobes. It was then scanned using Epson V750 and Vuescan.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II + 210mm/5.6 Fujinon lens. Ilford FP4 developed in Ilfosol.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II + 210mm/5.6 Fujinon lens. Ilford FP4 developed in Ilfosol.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II + 210mm/5.6 Fujinon lens. Ilford FP4 developed in Ilfosol.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II + 210mm/5.6 Fujinon lens. Ilford FP4 developed in Ilfosol.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II + 210mm/5.6 Fujinon lens. Ilford FP4 developed in Ilfosol.

Intrepid Camera 4x5 Generation II + 210mm/5.6 Fujinon lens. Ilford FP4 developed in Ilfosol.

Are your images a reflection of your state of mind?

A recent conversation with a fellow photographer made me think about this. He was talking about another artists he knows and how his images had stark contrast while he was going through personal turmoil. And then one day all the new work was airy and brighter. Which made him guess that his friend has found love again.

Not sure of such a distinct relationship between the art and the artist however it is possible. Here is an image from bolehill in peak district. Version 1 is right after few days of making this image whereas version 2 a recent one. I was intentionally started listening to a certain kind of music while processing images. What do you think?

Click to view large. Version 1 processed in November 2016

Click to view large. Version 1 processed in November 2017.