The Allure of Old Glass

Last week, I wrote a short post called The Beauty of the Old, in which I shared my first experience with a 25-year-old Maxxum 50mm f/1.7 lens. Yesterday in a post on one of the many online forums, a user posted the comment, "I just don't get why people are willing to pay so much money for the big old Minolta prime lenses." This, of course, is a small part of her post, but this one sentence was the gist of it. She went on to comment that old things break and it's hard to get parts, etc. A lively discussion has ensued, focused (no pun intended) more on the mechanics of things and the currently available A-mount offerings. Her question is valid. Often times, the old Maxxum primes sell for nearly as much as their newer counterparts. In the course of the discussion, little has been said about why people actually want these things. Here's my perspective:

Konica Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 7D

I remember when then Maxxum 5D and 7D were introduced. Minolta did a series of advertisements featuring "interviews" with prominent Japanese professional photographers who were Minolta shooters. Of course, the ads each featured stunning photographs taken with the Maxxum 7D and a Minolta lens.

In each of the ads, the photographers moved quickly beyond the technical aspects of the digital cameras and spoke about being able to leverage their existing Minolta lenses. They spoke at length about the aesthetic advantage they felt that Minolta optics gave them in their photography.

Minolta optics have an interesting history which certainly helped to shape the subjective quality of their lenses. When Minolta was developing their first SLR (and again with their first autofocus SLR), they entered an agreement with Leica for assistance. The result was a combination of German precision design and consistency with Japanese aesthetics. The lenses were very carefully ground and polished and the coatings were developed to create lenses with a color balance that was consistent across the entire line. This philosophy continued up to the point when Minolta no longer made their own glass lens elements. Many of the Japan-made Maxxum primes reflect this early philosophy.

As I related in my earlier post, there is a certain "look" to these lenses. Those of you who have been following my posts over the years (predating this version of will know that I, perhaps romantically, prefer a more "analog" look and that I feel that a lot of today's cameras and lenses are almost too perfect; and that I also have a preference to do as much in-camera as possible.

Recently, I've had a bit of a shift in perspective about what I'll do in post-processing (see my recent comments on Snapseed, for instance). But there are certain things that can't be done in post. I think that certain aspects of the basic "look and feel" of a photograph begin with the lens.

So, that's why I'll be willing to spend money on those old lenses. I'd love to see your thoughts on the subject. You can post them in the space below the related articles?

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New Additions - First Impressions

All the new goodies arrived today, and I immediately popped open the box containing the new Tamron 18-270 PZD. One thing that really surprised me was the difference in size between this lens and the older version. I don't know if the difference is because the Sony version lacks the vibration reduction, or if the newer lens overall is just smaller.

I've only taken a small number of test shots, but so far, the sharpness seems to be a little better than the older version and achieving focus is considerably faster. The zoom is not as smooth as the older model, but if it's like the other Tamrons I've owned, it will probably smooth out after a couple days of use.

I also very quickly attached the BlackRapid RS-7 strap. Having the strap attach to the bottom of the camera is really just the right place to do it. One of my big, big gripes about traditional straps is that they're forever ending up between my eye and the viewfinder, especially when I'm shooting a vertical. With the BlackRapid, that just plain can't happen. Nice. And, it almost feels as if the camera is not there.

I'll be loading up most all of the kit and caboodle over the next couple of days to see how it all works together. I am thinking that I'll be adding a couple more items to my new "must have" list -- I'd like a light-weight convertible tripod/monopod, for instance. But, look for some more comments over the next few days.

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A35 First Shots

I'm finally able to share some first shots with the new Sony SLT-A35 -- and my first impressions as well! SLT-A35 and 18-55mm f:3.5-5.6 SAM lens: I mentioned in my post, Quickie with the A35, that the camera and kit lens just plain feel good. With my own, I spent some time customizing the operation. A few things I did right off the bat:

  • Enable the automatic LCD/Viewfinder switching
  • Enable the "Eye-start Autofocus"
  • Enable the focus assist magnifier
  • Enable the "rule of thirds" finder grid
  • Disable auto image review
  • Set the LCD to an info display by default
  • Enable info displays in the electronic viewfinder

I also made my "standard" changes to imaging settings:

  • Punch up the sharpness in all modes except for "portrait"
  • Punch up the contrast in B&W modes
  • Punch up the saturation in most modes

This morning, I headed off across the countryside to take some pictures on a gorgeous fall day. This image is straight from the camera. I'm letting the camera make all the decisions here, and selected the "Toy Camera" scene mode. The camera has done pretty much exactly what I would have done in post -- slightly darkened the corners and punched up and warmed the colors. While you can't tell a lot from even the enlarged image here, the overall sharpness is excellent, and there's little evidence of the dreaded "purple fringing" in the edges and corners. Very nice.

DT55-200mm f:4-5.6 SAM v2: Here, I've selected the 55-200mm lens, and chosen the auto HDR mode with a range of 6EV. In this mode, the camera makes three exposures -- one at the "correct" exposure, and then one under and one over. The images are then combined in-camera for a true HDR effect. The camera then saves the correct single exposure as well as the HDR version. As expected, the HDR image requires a little "help" in post, and I've done the basics -- correct the black point, the highlight limit and at the mid-point levels. The result is a nice, crisp, detailed image with good color and detail.

Like the 18-55mm lens I purchased, the 55-200 is also a "kit" lens. While the 18-55 was made in Thailand, the 55-200 was made in China, and you can definitely feel a difference in the lens. Where the zoom control on the 18-55 is very smooth, the 55-200 doesn't feel quite as "luscious." The zoom is tight and catches here and there. If I were to try to use this lens for video, and tried to zoom with it while recording, the zoom would not be smooth. But, the lens is sharp and lightweight, with only a little more evidence of chromatic aberration. For the money, not a bad lens to start with.

Sigma EF-610 DG SUPER Flash: I don't really have any images yet to show with the flash. I did shoot a few today, but I was working in really extreme conditions and talking too much about them wouldn't be completely fair. However ... I'm not as thrilled with the flash as I'd hoped to be. For now, I'm going to put it down to not being used to the new gear. I'll post some images and a little review on that once I get better acquainted with the flash.

Gallery: Here are a few selected images I made today:

I hope that I'll have an opportunity to shoot some more tomorrow, and I'll of course share my results.

Quickie With The A35

While at the Mall in Columbia this evening dealing with my new glasses -- again -- I had some time to kill. So after a dinner of Thai-ish chicken, I stopped in to Ritz to see if they had gotten an A35 back in stock. As luck would have it, they did, and I got to spend five or ten minutes with it. I've said that these cameras had the potential to be what the old Minolta DiMage A2 really wanted to be. Well, even more than the original SLT-A55, the A35 truly manages to live up to it. Like the old DiMage, it's comfortable despite its diminutive size and also like the DiMage, it feels solid despite its feather weight.

In operation, the camera feels very responsive, and the EVF (electronic view finder) is bright and crisp -- far better than the old DiMage, and I think even slightly improved over the A55. The large rear display is also quite impressive, even if it doesn't have a tilting or swiveling capability -- I haven't had that since the A2, which also had an EVF that tilted.

Auto-focusing with the A35 was very fast and appeared quite accurate, as was the exposure. Navigating menus and contols was quite intuitive, just as they are on the WX9 point-and-shoot I already have. And, both the menus and controls are laid out very similarly to the Canons.

One complaint that I've read about the A55 and A33 pertains to the "burst" mode, and the appearance that the viewfinder displays the last image taken briefly, making it difficult to track a moving subject. I didn't get that impression with the A35, in either burst mode, but I wasn't able to try to track any really fast-moving subjects.

Another complaint that I've read is that the 18-55mm "kit" lens seems "cheap." To me, it actually feels better than Canon's kit lens. Again, relying on web images, it fairs at least as well as the Canon. I'm actually considering buying the kit lens with the camera -- something I've shied away from since we switched from Nikon to Canon when we bought the XTi's.

Since I was shooting in the store in the Mall, I wasn't able to take away any images. There are many photos and videos posted on the internet, as well as a few well-written reviews. One of the more complete reviews can be found at Imaging Resource. Another review can be found at Sony's own page for the SLT-A35 is here.