Photo Notes

December 7, 2018

About Lenses #1

So this post is sort of a plan or, if you prefer, a work in progress. A couple of days ago I put a post on Facebook announcing a series about lenses; this is the beginning. The idea is to have place where there will be links to the other posts and to give a sort of outline for the project. I’ll update this post as the project takes shape.

The first thing you should know: if you’re looking for advice about what lens to buy for your dSLR you may just want to pass on this whole thing. There are a lot of places you can get that information. This series is about understanding lenses and lens design. It may help you choose a lens for a dSLR, but the intent is to help you choose lenses for large format film work. Regardless it will help you understand how lenses work, and that can’t be a bad thing.

I was shooting with my 11X14 camera yesterday. I made a dozen negatives and shot with four lenses: a casket lens-focal length about 230mm; a Schneider Dagor-14 inch focal length; a Goerz Artar-focal length 12 inches; and a Goerz Gotar-13 inch focal length. The thing is, the focal lengths are very similar on these lenses, so there must be other reasons for making choices about which lens to use. When shooting with a small camera one of the first reasons to make a choice about a lens is the distance you’ll be from the subject. If you are closer to a subject you build more shape into the image, while if you’re further from a subject the image will feel flatter. People discuss this as if the lens changes the perspective. But that’s not true-it’s how far the subject is from the camera. If you shoot a persons face from 10 feet away it will always look flatter than if you shoot the same face from a foot away, regardless of what lens you use or how you crop. Distance from the subject is important to my work, but many other things influence my lens choice. First I think about coverage: you need a lot of image to shoot an 11×14 inch camera. I have a lot of lenses that would just make a circle in the center of the ground glass, and I have a lot more that won’t be sharp over the entire frame. The sense of sharpness and how the un-sharp image feels is critical to conscious lens choice. It’s like a painter picking a brush; even a house painter uses different brushes for different tasks, even more so for a portrait painter.

There’s more to the character of a lens that just sharpness. Contrast is also very important. The human eye interprets contrast AS sharpness. As a result of this modern lenses are always designed to maximize contrast, and that is generally a good thing. Maximizing contrast was particularly important before Photoshop because it was very difficult to control contrast in color printing. One of the things that improved contrast, perhaps more than any other factor, was lens coating.

Shot with 28 cm and back elements of my C. Bethiot casket set. An un-coated lens.

So this is a quick discussion of some of the topics I’d like to explore.

History of lenses. Lens construction pre-dates photography by at least a couple of centuries and possibly millennia. Lenses added to human vision. The thing is that since the human eye sees only a small field at any moment you don’t need to make lenses that are accurate over a large field since a person can move the eye or lens to compensate. Making photographic lenses that would cover a large area, at one time, was an early challenge.

Soft focus lenses. There is a difference between spherical aberrations and chromatic aberration and just poor focusing. I’ll also spend some time on soft focus filters. Many lenses have been specially designed to make soft focus images.

Flowers Wrapped in Newspaper-Shot with a Bausch & Lomb Plasigmat. This is a double exposure at two different apertures, which allowed me to selectively choose what was soft and sharp.

Process lenses. These are specially designed to meet the challenges of making printing plates for off-set presses. They are highly corrected for color and field flatness. Using them offers some special opportunities and challenges. I have several of these lenses that I use with my 11×14 camera.

Shot with a Goerz 12 inch Red Dot Artar on my 11×14 camera. Processing effects do not reduce the great sharpness and contrast of this lens.

Lens aberrations. These include pin cushion distortion, barrel distortions and coma.
Classic designs. Of course there is the Tessar from Zeiss, and there are so many more: Dagors, Dogmars, Angulon, Biogon…
Casket lenses and convertibles. Large format lenses are basically fixed focal length lenses, but many large format lenses have been designed that offer multiple focal lengths. I wrote an article for View Camera some years ago about DIY casket sets. You can download it here: www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/zpdf/LensAssembly.pdf

Shot for an article in View Camera about DIY soft focus lenses. This uses Kodak Portra lenses (add on lenses) instead of a lens designed to be used alone.

This whole thing will go on, but if I don’t post something now I may never get started.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:


One more thing, there are almost 9000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

June 20, 2018

Horseman 970 Medium Format Camera

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 3:48 pm

I’ve wanted to discuss some vintage cameras for a while. I know that a lot of people are more interested in shooting film again, so I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about film cameras, especially fun film cameras, over the decades. Of course my idea of fun might be different from yours. Also I’m teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis in a couple of weeks, so these posts will add a little extra information to the class. I’ll be adding a few of more of these discussions about film cameras to this blog over the next months.

I’d like to start with a medium format technical camera, the Horseman Press. The one I have is the 970. The later models have more movements and some even have a single window for the viewfinder and the rangefinder. The extra are very nice improvements, but not important for me, because I’m not using the camera for commercial shooting, only fun.

The camera weighs in at less than 5 pounds, without a roll film back. It collapses to about 6X7X4 inches, so it’s easy to carry with you. You can use a Horseman roll film back, which is probably your best choice, but Graflex roll film backs and even sheet film holders will work as well. You can get the Graflex holders in 6X6cm, 6X7cm and 6X9cm. I’ve included a picture with an old Graflex back. I’m not sure about the sizes of the horseman backs. The build quality is extremely fine; everything on mine works just beautifully.

Here are a few things I really like: first it will shoot with a large variety of view camera lenses, not just the Horseman lenses. Since you can focus on the ground glass you don’t have to have the actual Topcon lenses that were made for the camera. This is also critical if you want to use the camera movements: tilt, swing and so on. Focusing on the ground glass is the only way to utilize camera movements on any camera. The camera has a hood so you can use the ground glass out doors and the hood pops out of the way for critical focus with a magnifier. Topcon made lenses that were designed for this camera. They are really very nice, and designed to work with the camera. If you do use one of those lenses you can actually hand hold the camera using the rangefinder to focus and the viewfinder to compose. I should point out that the shutter release on the Topcon lenses is designed to be easy to use when you’re hand holding the camera. No need for a special trigger grip. The camera has really good ergonomics to go with its build quality.

The camera has front rise and front swing. If you might want more movements you have a couple of choices: first you could get one of the later versions of the camera. Alternatively, you could use the back movements. The camera has a back bellows that can be opened with four knobs on the side of the camera. If you do this you have about an inch of play in any direction, which provides back tilt and back swing. It’s a little more difficult to use these movements than working with a monorail camera, but no monorail camera collapses to something you can carry with one hand. If you want to shoot a vertical orientation on a tripod there is an extra tripod socket on the side of the camera, another nice design item.

While I can mention additional nice features, like the distance scale on the top of the camera, I should mention a couple of problems. The first one is that, if you want to use any Topcon lens with the rangefinder, and who wouldn’t, you need a rangefinder cam and a set of infinity stops. The rangefinder cams are generally available on eBay, but they can be a little pricey. The infinity stops, which keep the lens in the right place for its focal length, are very rare. Both of these things make it a little difficult to use this camera with multiple lenses, which is a shame. An additional issue is that the front bed doesn’t drop so it’s unlikely that you could use this camera with any lens wider than a 65mm. A 65mm isn’t that wide on 6X9cm negative. However you could set up the camera with a 150mm or even a 210mm and shoot portraits and the 65mm might be about right for groups.

I’m putting this camera up for auction on eBay. I would have continued to search for a set of infinity stops, but another great medium format camera fell into my hands. That’s a story for next time. Here’s the eBay link
Or you could contact me at john@siskinphto.com.

I guess I should mention that the camera comes with the Topcor 105mm f3.5 Super lens, which is a nice thing. This lens covers the 6X9cm format, but won’t cover 4X5. Topcon made another version that did cover 4X5, but it’s slower.

I’ve also included a Graflex 6X9cm roll film back, a sheet film holder and 3 extra lens boards in the Auction! What a deal.

I’m setting up a separate auction for a Super Topcor 150 f5.6 lens. It’s on a Horseman lens board, but unfortunately I don’t have the rangefinder cam or the infinity stops for the lens. Check it out at this eBay link!

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are more than 8000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

March 15, 2018

A Do It Yourself LED light!

I’ve been watching the evolution of LED lighting for some time. As with any light source I’m interested in a couple of things, first how much actual light can I get? Second what does the spectrum look like? Third what is the color temperature of the light? Fourth what is quality of the light, and by this I mean how hard or soft is the light? Fifth what is the portability of the light? Finally, I’m interested in the price. In this post I’ll present a Do It Yourself light that presents a satisfactory solution to these problems.

How much light? I compared this light to a Lowell Omni light with the 420 watt EKB bulb. The DIY LED bulb had 1/3 of a stop less light that the Omni did if the Omni was set to throw a broad light. When the Omni was set to throw a spot then the Omni was 2-1/2 stops brighter. You should note that the LED light is a broad light, so the comparison to the Omni set for spot is not realistic.

I looked at the spectrum with my homemade spectrometer. The spectrum is continuous from red to blue. I can’t tell accurately if the cut off is different from a tungsten light source, but I don’t see a difference. The earlier LED light sources I tested did not have a continuous spectrum; so this is a real improvement.

 

I tested the light with a Konica Minolta Color Meter III F. This is a very accurate meter. The DIY LED had a color balance of 2930K. If you prefer the light needed an 82B filter AND a CC9 magenta filter to match 3200K. 3200K is, of course, the standard professional movie color temperature, which is the color temperature the Lowell Omni light is designed for. This means the DIY LED is a little warmer and a very little bit green. With a ¼ CTB filter over the unit the light had a temperature of 316, essentially even with the 3200K standard. There was still a small amount of green color that could be corrected with a CC10 G filter. This is a small correction, which could be ignored in many situations. I should point out that my various quartz lights show a color spread from about 2900K to 3300K, so there is normally variation in standard quartz lights. You can see the variation in these images.

The left test is a Quartz light with a DYS bulb, the center is the LED with a ¼ CTB filter and the right side is the uncorrected LED.

When corrected in Photoshop all the files look pretty much the same as you can see in the image below.

The DIY LED light acts like a small soft box. If you’re not worried about a specular highlight that might reflect the multi bulb set up, it’s really quite nice. Especially if you use it close to the subject. If the multi bulb design creates a problem in your image you can use it with a fabric cover. You can also use it with a light panel to make it even softer. You can see the difference between the LED light on the left and the Lowell Omni light on the right below. Both lights were set in the same position, about 5 feet from the wig head and about 45º to the left side of the camera. The version from the Lowell light has harder transitions and deeper shadows.

My design for the light is quite light weight, but a little bulky. The turkey roasting pan is easily pushed out of shape, which could be a problem. The good part is that the light will run for quite a while on a 12volt battery with a 120volt converter.

With out a filter the light will cost you about $45. NICE PRICE! Of course this doesn’t include a light stand. The filter is about $7 to $10 depending on which manufacturer makes it. Since the front of the lights are cool you won’t need to worry about burning or melting the filter.

Please note that I am looking for other color temperature bulbs that would work with this design. At this time these are the best balanced bulbs I’ve found. They will work well with a DSLR set to Tungsten. And in many cases can be mixed with other tungsten light sources. I am doing other tests as well, so look for updates. The daylight balanced bulbs I’ve tried are not very close to daylight or strobe.

Here’s the parts list:

The bulbs are Feit 100 Watt Dimmable. I got them at Costco, which was about half the price of the bulbs at this Amazon link.

The 7-bulb holder is available at Amazon. Here’s the link:

The socket, which has an on/off switch, is on Amazon at this link:

I should point out that this socket fits onto a standard light stand. There are several versions of this device. All are a little flimsy. The one in the link has a bigger tightening knob. I think this is better than the one I actually bought, mine slips.

I bought the turkey roasting pan at the Dollar Store. You can get them at Amazon, but you have to get a bunch of them. The pan was just a dollar that the Dollar Store.

The only trick to assembling the thing is to get the roasting pan to sit at the base of the bulbs. I used a couple of feet of pvc pipe to push the pan against against the base of the bulbs. I attached the pvc parts with pvc glue. I’m sure other things would work as well. Keep in mind that the base of the bulbs does get pretty warm, so you probably don’t want to glue the roasting pan to the bulbs. Take a look at the picture to see how I assembled it.

This shot shows how deep the bulbs are set into the turkey roasting pan.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are now more than 7500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

August 22, 2017

Dedicated Strobe Test

Over the years I’ve written and taught many times about lighting gear. I believe that any photographer who is wholly dependent on finding good light, rather than being able to make and modify light, when making a picture is limited in ability. While I recognize that there are many photographic artists who work in this manner, it is just not acceptable for a commercial photographer to be limited in this way. I should point out that you still purchase my book on this strobe lighting, just click on the link below.

The tools of light are evolving, as are all the tools of photography. When I first started making pictures on camera electronic flash was pretty new. It was also not very good. Now there are many fine lighting tools that work with digital cameras. Of course this doesn’t solve the biggest problem of portable flash units: you can’t see the light you’re actually photographing. An on camera flash makes light at your camera, so, if you’re not careful, you’ll get the dear in the headlights effect and red eyes. Any lighting unit is only as good as the visualization or lighting control of the photographer. Automation doesn’t make good pictures, just properly exposed pictures. It takes a photographer to make good pictures.

Since I started teaching at the Art Institute of Indianapolis I’ve had to discuss lighting tools almost constantly. The tools I’ve used for decades aren’t practical or available for the students. It seems ridiculous to suggest that twenty something students buy strobes older than they are. So I’ve been evaluating many of the current products. I have just a couple of important parameters for evaluating a flash: light and price.

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

It may seem obvious that I would evaluate a flash based on actual light output, but I’ve had a couple of conversations lately that make me think it’s not obvious.

Photographers have told me that, since their cameras make very fine images at very high ISO setting, they don’t need a lot of strobe power. I’ll admit that a high ISO is a wonderful thing and that it does change they way you can use lighting tools in many situations but it can’t solve every problem. And that is the issue: not light quantity but light problems. A little bit of light can improve the images you take at an event even if you’re shooting at ISO 1600, but that’s not the only problem you’d like to solve with a camera amounted flash. The biggest problem for a dedicated flash is flash fill in sunlight. I refer to this as the ribbon-cutting problem. Your job requires you to shoot a group of people outdoors in the middle of the day, say an opening of a new store. There is a group of people standing around. You can’t change the light on the group or change the angle, simply because they have to be shot in front of building, and right now. The folks look a little like raccoons because of the shadows created by their brows, chins and so on. There isn’t any way to solve this problem with a reflector, unless the reflector is the size of a truck. You can solve this problem with a flash. The technique is called flash fill. The idea is to use a strobe that will fill in your shadows. You need ¼ to ½ the amount of light from your strobe that you get from daylight to make the ribbon-cutting shot work. In other situations you may use much less or, perhaps, even more fill flash. The Daylight 16 Rule states that you set your shutter speed to match your ISO and shoot at f16 for a full daylight shot: ISO 100, 1/100 and f16. Since this is a group you’ll be about 10 feet from all of them. In order to make this work you’ll need an exposure f11 from your strobe, or if you can shoot at 1/200 then f8. This would put your flash power at ½ the daylight exposure, or 1 stop less than daylight. This level of light will do a good job of filling your shadows.

You may be thinking, but the new strobes allow me to sync at higher speeds, so I’ll just raise the sync speed and then I can use less strobe. Doesn’t work. As you use higher sync speed the strobe has to fire more times so you get less total light in the shot. The power drops off very fast, so the fastest speed you can use for the ribbon cutting shot is they original sync speed of your camera, probably around 1/200 for a modern digital camera. Raising the ISO just raises the shutter speed, so that doesn’t work either.

 

No Flash

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

So it would be very useful if we knew what aperture we could use with a flash at 10 feet from the subject with ISO 100. Good news and bad news on this subject. The good news is that most dedicated flash units are evaluated using a metric called guide numbers. Guide numbers are often done in feet and in meters, for our purpose the guide number measured in feet is the most useful. The guide number in feet is the aperture the strobe would give you at 10 feet from the subject at multiplied by 10. So if your flash is 10 feet from the subject, and the exposure is f5.6, your guide number is 56. Of course this is measured without any other light source. If the f-stop at 10 feet is f8-1/3 then the guide number would be 90. This isn’t rocket science, and using this information we can see that we’d need at least a guide number of 80 and we’d like to have 110. Now the bad news: while the manufactures usually list guide numbers for flash units they lie about the numbers.

I don’t mean they lie just a little, they lie A LOT! I tested the Sunpak 120J II. The manufacturer’s listed guide number is 177. The actual guide number is 50. The difference is about 4 stops. That means the unit has about 1/8th the power that Sunpak says it does. If I took the unit to the ribbon cutting I would fail. While Sunpak lies a lot, most of the manufacturers are lying by 2 or more stops. One notable exception here, the NIKON SB910 has a guide number of 111 according to Nikon and my test says that’s true. I also tested the Youngnuo YN685, which had a real guide number of 70; the Bolt VS570, which had guide number of 90, and the Polaroid PL190, which had a guide number of 60. I also tested a couple of classic strobes, Norman 200B, guide number of 120: the original Quantum Turbo, guide number 90, and some other things.

The second consideration I mentioned above is price. There are quite a number of dedicated flash units priced between $100 and $200. I like this price point for a couple of reasons: first it’s doable for my students at the Art Institute. Second it allows you to buy several units for what one Nikon unit would cost: $597.00. While a little extra power is good, several units will allow more creative lighting and offer back up when something breaks.

So what did I find out? The best unit for price and power is the Godox TT685. It has a guide number of about 90. It costs $119 at B&H or Amazon.
I would like t than B&H. I’ve ordered half a dozen different flash units, tested them and returned them. They are just great about returns. I couldn’t have afforded to test so many units without the returns department at B&H. Thanks folks!

Using the Godox TT685

No Flash

I’ll be writing more about working with the Godox soon! By the way the shots are from the Indiana State Fair.

Oh, and one more thing, you can get my book on Photographing architecture at this link:

March 23, 2017

New Work With The 11X14 Camera!

Bree 12a v-8 The numbers are only a working title.

Bree 12a v-8
The numbers are only a working title.

I think this is the sixth time I’ve taken the 11X14 camera out for a spin. I’m extremely gratified with the results of this shoot. I worked with a model named Bree Widener and a make up artist Julie Powers; both are excellent. Of course I also worked with my current assistant David Kidwell. Really I don’t think I could manage the camera without his help. As you may imagine the camera is a beast. I’ve written before about the process. You can review the early blog posts if you’d like, at these links: blog-3207 and blog-2871

Bree 7 v-2 There is less process manipulation in this image.

Bree 7 v-2
There is less process manipulation in this image.

I think the business of coming to grips with the ultra large format camera and working out an accessible process is quite interesting. A lot of skull sweat has gone into figuring out this method of shooting the big camera. I’m using 11X14 Ilford Multigrade RC paper in the camera. This gives me an 11X14 negative, but it’s on paper rather than film. This works out well because I have an oversized scanner that enables me to scan the paper negatives. This means that the basic process is analog-digital rather than the strictly analog process you would get with a film negative and direct printing to silver gelatin printing.

Bree 9 v-5 The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

Bree 9 v-5
The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

The process allows me to introduce chaos into the images in ways that I can only do with a wet darkroom process. In fact this method is probably better for creating these chaotic images than working with film or any other method. There are of course many ways of working, both with digital capture and with film, where the goal is to gain control over image making. I would be shocked and dismayed if an architectural or product image I made suddenly displayed totally random results, but that doesn’t mean that I don‘t want chaotic results in some circumstances. Many people are shooting film just to court random results, and they sometimes achieve results so random that it’s hard to see any original intent in the final image. I just can’t go that far, though some of my results have been totally out of control. The primary way that I crate chaos in these images is to re-expose the paper to light as I process it and to process the paper in unusual ways.

Bree 1 v-2 The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Bree 1 v-2
The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Part of what makes this whole process exciting is that I develop and solarize, the negative while the shoot goes on. The whole studio is lit by a sodium vapor safelight, so we can load, handle and develop the paper while the shoot continues. The people involved in the shoot, make up, talent and assistants are always amazed to see the image develop right in front of them. Often I can finish scanning the first good negative from the shoot and make a print before the shooting day is finished. Of course it takes a while to dry and scan each image, so finishing the post processing may take weeks after the shoot ends.

Bree 5 v-2 This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Bree 5 v-2
This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Since this is an analog digital process all the control and interpretation that Photoshop offers is available after the scans are made. I do a lot with layers and curves to manage the contrast. In addition there are usually defects, dust and other problems, that have to be fixed. Unless you’ve done print spotting, you have no idea how much easier it is to spot an image in Photoshop than it is on a print. I usually add a slight warm tint to my images, just as I would have done by printing on a warm paper, like Agfa Portriga Rapid, in a darkroom. I may also add false color to the image, if the spirit moves me.

Bree 4 v-2

Bree 4 v-2

I tested another piece of the process with these images. I made a new negative on a transparent film with my digital printer. I had always hoped to be able to take these images back into a wet darkroom and make various kinds of prints: silver gelatin and alternative process. I was able to make a couple of Cyanotypes from the new digital negatives. They really look great! My test prints are 8X10 but of course I could make a really enormous negative make enormous prints with it.

Bree 12a-cyanotype Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn't like seeing the original.

Bree 12a-cyanotype
Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn’t like seeing the original.

Since the original negatives are 11×14 inches and the scans are 1200dpi the final files are just huge. I could make a print that is about 5 feet tall at 300 dpi without any problems. Psd files are about 600mgs. which can make them a little difficult to deal with in Photoshop.

Bree 5-cyanotype

Bree 5-cyanotype

I’m not offering prints of these images at this time. If you’ve been watching this blog you know that prints of a lot of my images are available through the blog. I really hope you’ll buy some. These images will be available, but I hope to create a show with them first. I will do a few more people shoots before I start working on that. I’m looking for models, of course for figure studies, but I’d also like to work with people with facial tattoos and who knows what else?

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are now almost 6000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

February 7, 2017

Wide-Angle Lenses for Large Format Cameras

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 6:03 pm

So this is a couple of things about wide-angle lenses for large format lenses.

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

Union Station, Los Angeles #1 This shot was made with a 65mm f8 lens. Focus is tricky with this lens

Section 1

I love lenses. I think it is just amazing that a small piece of glass can actually bend light and form an image. My favorite lenses are wide-angle lenses. I’ve got a 14mm that fits my digital camera. It will produce a 115º angle of view on the full frame camera. It’s well corrected especially with the plug in available in Photoshop.

If I were a simple person this would be enough for me. Ah, that that was the case. You see I also love big cameras. No I mean BIG cameras. Once upon a time photographers used big cameras: 8X10 film and larger. Back in those days there was a lens that had a wider angle of view than my 14mm, possible wider than anything made since. The Goerz Hypergon had a 130º angle of view, and there are reports that it could resolve even a larger angle. In addition the lens had no rectilinear distortion, which means that a straight line on the edge of the frame stayed straight. Unless I use the plug-in with my 14mm lens edge lines don’t stay straight. This link goes to a picture of a Hypergon (http://inphoto.blog.hu/2015/12/03/goerz_hypergon)

Not that the Hypergon doesn’t have problems; it has lots of problems. Most Hypergons only had two aperture settings, often f22 and f32, but sometimes 48 and 96. The thing is those last two numbers really meant about the same thing as f22 and f32, they were a special Goerz numbering system. This is just one of the things that makes these lenses so difficult to work with. Consider trying to focus with a lens that is f22, and keep in mind you’re focusing on a ground glass under a black clot. Oh, and don’t forget the image will be upside down and backwards. Anything for a weird life.

My 14mm lens has 14 glass elements. The Hypergon has 2. The glass in the lens is about the size of a marble. Now you may be saying, at least if the lens is that simple it must be cheap. NO. The average Hypergon costs about $3000. Yes, that is three thousand United States Dollars, and a really nice one may go for double that. I think there are a couple of reasons for the high prices. First, I don’t think they made all that many of them. They were made between about 1900 and 1920, so not that many still exist or are for sale. No one, ever, made any lens that did what a Hypergon does: cover a large piece of film with a huge angle of view.

I would guess that the reason that no one else ever made a lens like the Hypergon was that they are an incredible pain to use. First, as mentioned, they can’t be easy to focus. Second there is the problem with the evenness of exposure. The exposure in the center of the frame is at least four times more than the exposure on the edges. The problem is that the distance from the center of the lens to the film, which is the actual focal length, is much shorter than the distance from the center of the lens to the corner of the film. This is called Cosine failure, just to make things more difficult by adding trigonometry to it. You can work out a rough approximation by comparing the distance from the middle of the lens to the center or to the corner and working the problem like a bellows extension correction. The effect is that the center of the image is MUCH brighter than the edges.

Goerz understood this issue, and designed a really weird solution for the problem. The built a sort of fan that moved in front of the lens. At least I think it moved; the various descriptions differ. Then you removed the fan entirely for part of the exposure. There was a squeeze bulb to manipulate the fan. This must have been an unbelievable pain in the ass. I’ll probably write more about modern wide angle lenses for large format later, but for now it’s enough to know that other companies solved the problem by using a variable density filter: darker in the center than on the sides.

 

center filter

This filter compensates for the fact that the edges are darker on the sides of a wide angle shot. It does this by removing light from the center of the shot. this one also controls contrast on black and white film, which is why it’s yellow

Another problem is that the lens is so wide that the parts of many cameras would show up in the shot when you used this lens. So, for instance when I use a 121mm Schneider Super Angulon lens with my 8X10 Toyo field camera the bed of the camera shows up in the shot. Very often photographers used a dedicated camera for theses lenses. This is a little easier than it sounds, since you wouldn’t need to focus the camera, and you might not be able to. The idea would be to build a camera that is set to the hyper focal distance of the lens. The hyper focal distance is the point where the depth of field, from front to back, is maximized with a lens. This actually gives you a better image than if you focus at infinity and stop down, particularly with a wide-angle lens. It’s just one more issue with this lens.

Post Office-Indianapois

You can see the bed of my Toyo 8X10 camera in this shot.

One more annoyance: there is no shutter in the lens. Large format lenses usually have internal shutters, but there isn’t any way to build one into a Hypergon, or at least there wasn’t when the lenses were build I’ve never heard of anybody installing a shutter into a Hypergon. However, since you’re generally using the lens indoors at f22 of f32, your exposure is, likely to be very long anyway. So I guess you can use a lens cap. They made versions of the Hypergons without the fans. These lenses are reported to only cover 110º. Supposedly they have even coverage without needing the fan. I’m not at all sure that I believe this.

The basic design of the lens is called a globe lens, because of the marble like shape of the lens. There were people who built them before the Hypergon, for instance I have a Zentmayer lens that is a two-element globe lens, but it’s not designed to be an extreme wide-angle lens. It seems other early lens manufacturers adopted a four-element design, like the Zeiss f18 Protar or the six-element design of the Schneider f6.8 Angulons. Of course the later designs were generally 6 or 8 element lenses like the Schneider Super Angulons and the Zeiss Biogons. These lenses were faster. These lenses were better corrected for chromatic aberration, but they didn’t cover as much. The Schneider Angulon only covered 84º. A much later Schneider Super Angulon generally covers only 100º. What this means is that you could use a 90mm Hypergon with an 8X10 camera, but a 90mm Super Angulon would only cover the 5X7 format.

Zentmayer Lens

This is an early glob lens by Zentmayer

Now to the good part: my dog got me up at four in the morning the other day. Since I couldn’t get back to sleep I was trolling eBay. I found a Goerz Hypergon for just $200, buy it now! That’s two hundred United States Dollars. And there was much rejoicing! Of course I kept the noise down so as not to wake the wife. I am waiting to receive the lens as I write this. From the pictures I know that this lens is weird even for a Hypergon. The lens does not have the usual inverted cone shape mount. The focal length, 127mm is not mentioned on early Goerz literature. It has only a single diaphragm opening. I’ve been able to find very few references to this particular Hypergon on line. It might have been used for map copying. I did see an auction record of the same lens selling for 1800€ (is that the right sign for Euros?) so I still feel good about buying it.

If it is a usable lens for large format work then the lens should cover 11X14 inch film and maybe 16X20 inch film. That is one whole hell of a lot of film. Now, as you may know, I have an 11X14 inch camera. The thing is that there is no way I could get the standards close enough together to shoot with this lens. I could make a box that would fit the back from the 11X14 inch camera, so that is probably the best way forward. It’s good that I have a couple of 11X14 inch film holders, because the damn holders usually cot a couple of hundred bucks. If I mount the lens on a Speed Graphic lens board then I can at least start testing the lens with the 8X10 camera. It’s probably going to take a bout a year to start getting good images with this lens. More if I lose my mind and start trying to work out a way to shoot 16X20.

Section 2

I just received the Hypergon. This lens is extremely strange, even for a Hypergon. First Hypergons were built by Goerz Berlin in the very early part of the twentieth century, say between 1900 and 1920. The serial number on this lens matches lens made American Goerz after 1950. Hypergons weren’t coated. This lens seems to be coated. Apparently these were made for a map-making function, but it’s hard to tell. Very few Hypergons like this are shown on the web. So this lens is a very rare rarity. I don’t know how big an area the lens will cover, but by eye it does seem to have a LOT of coverage. So the next step is to mount the lens, but that’s not going to be easy. As you might be able to tell from the picture the lens has no mounting threads. I’ll probably need to work with a machinist to put the lens onto a Speed Graphic board. I have a special board to mount Speed Graphic boards on my Toyo cameras and onto my 11X14 camera. I’ll probably mount the lens off center so I can create some rise movement if I build a dedicated 11X14 camera for the lens.

127mm Hypergon

My new Hypergon! It’s less than an inch across.

There is going to be a learning curve with this lens. I can’t be sure about the coverage until I can mount it on a camera. Then I’ll need to figure out how to manage the cosine failure. The more coverage the lens has, the bigger this problem will be. As I mentioned above most Hypergons were built with a fan. This lens didn’t have a fan. I don’t think that I can reverse engineer a fan for the lens. I could do something with a center filter. Maybe I could even build a mount for a center filter. Surplus Shed has center filters for Metrogon lenses for just $4, cheap. There is a picture of the Metrogon filter above. Center sharp filters for Schneider Super Angulons generally cost a couple of hundred dollars used, which makes the Metrogon filters look cheap. One detail about the Metrogon filters is that they are also yellow filters, but yellow filters are very useful with black and white film.

There’s another way to manage the cosine failure. I could just dodge the exposure in front of the camera, the way I would dodge a print in the darkroom. I’ll bet the learning curve on that sill will be pretty steep.

If the lens does cover 11X14 film I still can’t use it with my 11X14 camera. There is no way to get the lens anywhere close to five inches form the film on the camera. Also the camera isn’t really good for location work. So IF it covers I’ll need to build a camera, well really just a box. See the focus will need to be set at the hyper focal distance for the lens. Since the lens has a small stop and will be very difficult to view the plan is to build a camera with fixed focus. At 11X14 the lens probably won’t have any extra coverage, so I won’t need movements. If there is coverage, and that would be nice, I can build in a way to shift the lens board.

When I get everything built I’ll probably keep using Ilford Multigrade Paper instead of film. I’ve been using this so far with the 11X14 in the studio, and it’s worked quite well. I’ve done some blog posts about working with the current 11X14 cameras that discuss using the paper. The ISO is about 100. Of course the processing is fast and easy. I’ve got a large scanner so I can take the negatives into digital after they’re processed.

Frankly I won’t be surprised if it takes the better part of a year to make good images with my new lens.

Section 3

I thought I should add details about the evolution of wide angle lenses, just to give some context.

Pretty much all wide-angle lenses for full frame digital cameras are retro focus designs. This design allows the lens to be placed further from the film. This is essential for a SLR design camera because the camera requires space for the mirror. There were older designs for range finder cameras, but I don’t think they were better than current designs. For what it’s worth most, but not all, wide-angle lenses for medium format cameras were also retro focus designs. A notable exception would be the 38mm Zeiss Biogon that was permanently mounted to the Hasselblad SWC camera. Of course this camera didn’t have a mirror.

Zeiss made a wide-angle Protar for large format cameras, probably about the same time that Goerz was amking the Hypergon. These didn’t have as much coverage as the Hypergon, but they were a little faster. It takes a Hypergon to make f18 look fast. There are other Protars from Zeiss; the f18 ones were the only really wide angle versions. The Protars were four element lenses

165mm Angulon

This is my 165mm Angulon. It wasn’t originally coated, but i got coating put on. It’s pretty good!

Schneider introduced the Angulon lenses around 1930. These were six element lenses, and quite well corrected. The aperture on these lenses is f6.8, which is so much faster than a Protar of a Hypergon! You can actually frame and focus an Angulon on the ground glass, hard to do with the other lenses. I have a 165 Angulon. The overall sharpness is adequate. It will just cover 8X10, in fact you have to be careful or you’ll lose the corners. As with most of the early Angulon lenses mine wasn’t coated or mounted in a shutter. I had the lens coated, which improved it’s performance. Mine is mounted in front of a Packard shutter. Frankly it isn’t pretty, but it does work pretty well.

Schneider went on to develop the Super Angulon lenses, which were the standard wide-angle when I stated doing large format work. Frankly they are fabulous. Even my older f8 Super Angulon lenses are quite great. They generally came in an f8 version, which was a 6-element design and an f5.6 version, which was an 8-element design. I own several of the f8 lenses and I think they are great. Predictably, since I told you I really like wide angle lenses, my favorite is the 65mm for 4X5 and the 121 for the 8X10 format. If you shoot 8X10 you should really take a look at the 121mm or the later 120mm Super Angulon. Strangely enough they are very reasonably priced, often about 20% of what a 165mm Super Angulon costs. Of course you need to be careful with a lens that wide. If I shoot a vertical with my 8X10 Toyo field camera the baseboard shows up in the picture! You can see that earlier in this post.

65mm f8 Super Angulon for the 4X5

65mm f8 Super Angulon for the 4X5

90mm f8 Super Angulon

90mm f8 Super Angulon. I use this on a 4X5 but it will cover 5X7

121mm f8 Super Angulon

My 121mm f8 Super Angulon. This just barely covers 8X10!

Section 4

I’ve mentioned the hyper focal distance on a lens above. This is extremely important when working with large format wide-angle lenses. Here’s the thing, if you focus a wide lens, say a 65mm f8 Super Angulon, at infinity and then stop the lens down, you’ll get a lousy image. Since we often shoot large cameras at small stops this can be quite a problem. While this happens with a lot of large format lenses the problem is particularly bad with wide-angle lenses. In the old days photographers used to do a trick called back focus. They would set up the shot, focus the lens and then focus the lens back a couple of millimeters. Other photographers would check the focus after stopping down the lens, which is tricky, but it does work. If you focus on the Hyper Focal point for the lens, which is the point where you have maximum depth of field for the aperture and lens you’re using that will also work very well. For instance, if you’re shooting a 65mm lens on a 4X5 camera at f22 the Hyper Focal distance is just 4 feet! At that distance you’re in focus from 2 feet to infinity. If you focus at this distance and stop down a shot at infinity will be sharp. If you focus at infinity and stop down the shot won’t be sharp. It took me a while, and quite a few bad negatives, to figure this out. I thought the lens was defective, but it was the photographer that was defective. The Kodak Professional Photoguide gives calculator wheels that will enable you to find out the hyper focal length for your lenses. This is really important.
One more thing I wanted to mention: I offer several workshops at my studio in Indianapolis. I hope you’ll check out the workshops at http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

April 5, 2016

Rock House #2

Rock House #2

Rock House #2

This is the second image I’m posting from this site. I think this image shows more about the house than the others I made. As I mentioned in the earlier post (Rock House #1). When I look at this picture I look for evidence about the house like the electrical conduit you can see in this shot. I really don’t know much about this site, so I try to extrapolate from the image. Look at the huge logs, I keep wondering where they came from, certainly they weren’t local. The house seems to have had two floors. The logs would have been the support for the second floor. I wonder what the house looked like before the fire.

I’ve recently posted a couple of shots of a waterfall in Box Canyon (Box Canyon #1 and Box Canyon #2). Literally on the other side of the left had rock is this house, or what remains of this house. I came upon the place hiking down the canyon. I had no idea it was there, and there is much less than a quarter mile from where I lived at that time.

Shot with my Speed Graphic of course. I think I used my 135 f4.7 Xenar lens. This probably, certainly, isn’t the best lens Schneider ever made, but it’s a lot better than the lens that’s usually found on a Speed Graphic. I started using a Speed Graphic when I was in High School, back in the early 1970s. I learned a lot about using big cameras through the problems I had. A big source of problems was the original lens I had, which was made by Wollensak. One of the things that makes large format shooting so rewarding are the great lenses, but not all large format lenses are good. Some of the early problems I had were caused by the shutter. I recently got a shutter speed app for my Andriod phone. I went ahead and got the optical sensor for the app; and I have to say it works great! I also really like the Color Temp Meter, Photo Tools, LightMeter & Lighting Studio. One more: Photog Companion, this has model releases that can be filled out on your phone or tablet.

I’ll add more shots from the Rock House soon.

As you know I’m adding these images to my blog as part of my re-do of my fine art portfolio pages. I’m also doing it to make these images available. If you’d like an archival print of this shot, please order with the PayPal link. The image will be about 11X14 inches and mounted on 16X20 cotton rag board. I’ll even throw in shipping, if you are in the U.S.

One more thing I wanted to mention: I offer several workshops at my studio in Indianapolis. I hope you’ll check out the workshops at http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

January 21, 2016

Union Station, Los Angeles #2

Union Station #2

Union Station #2

Another shot of Union Station in Los Angeles. This is a beautiful place fallen on hard times. It’s still busy, but people in L.A. don’t use transit service like they do in New York, and trains just aren’t part of the mix in California. Still I’ve take trains out of here a couple of times, and it’s always interesting. It’s also a fabulous place to shoot, but don’t take my word for it-look for Union Station on television. It’s used for a lot of shoots. Consequently the management is difficult about using a camera, and won’t let use a tripod at all. I really like the way the super wide effect changes this building, and I also like the way the people appear in the shot. I particularly like the child on the left side of the frame.

Super-wide Camera

Super-wide Camera

This shot was made with the super-wide camera I build. I used the same one for shots at El Matador and other places. I’ve included a scan of the original negative so you can see the way the lens cuts the corners off on a 6X6cm piece of film. This was always an interesting camera to use. It wasn’t possible to really predict hos the camera would see, or even if the negative would be sharp. So it was always exciting to see the film. You can check out an article I did on making cameras at this link. I hope you’ll check it out.

 

original scan

original scan

 

Just so I’ve mentioned it my family’s company Angelus Furniture built the benches and some of the other furnishings in this room.

If you want a print of Union Station, Los Angeles #2, use the link below. I’ll send you a print mounted and matted to 16X20 inches. No additional charge for shipping in the U.S.


I’m going to give a Micro-Photography Workshop soon (http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3105) and another Lighting Workshop, probably in March. Please check them out. You can find out more about my workshops, and access some FREE Classes at my website.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

January 7, 2016

Planetarium

Planetarium

Planetarium

The last blog was about my Super-Wide Camera, which has 110º angle of view. Of course it’s possible to go even wider, and I built a camera to do that also. The thing is that when you go beyond super wide you get distortion. Just as it’s not really possible to make a flat map of the entire planet that makes all the continents and distances look right, it’s impossible to show everything in front of the lens without distortion. This camera/lens combination shows everything in front of the camera: 180º in all directions, but the images bows out in the center. This is called fisheye effect.

The shot was made at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, maybe you’ve seen it in an old James Dean movie? There is a pendulum in the center of this shot, but it’s hard to see because it’s moving. The pendulum demonstrates that the earth is moving, but I’m not sure how that works. I made the shot on 4X5 Ektachrome film, and the exposure is long enough for the pendulum to have moved from side to side. Didn’t use a tripod, but I did have the camera steadied against the rail. The transparency looks a little like a Christmas tree ornament. The actual image is about 80mm across on the film, pretty impressive.

Fisheye Camera

Fisheye Camera

I should say that I didn’t build these cameras because you couldn’t get super wide lenses or fisheye lenses for 35mm cameras. I did it because the resolution of film was so poor. If you made an 8X image of shot like this from 35mm film the image would already show grain and a loss of detail. Because this shot uses at least 10 times more film than there would be with a 35mm shot the grain and detail are much better! I’ve made prints 24 inches wide that looked fabulous. You can use the PayPal link below to get a print that’s about 13 inches wide, on a black background. I normally mount and mat on white board, if you’d like something else let me know when you order the print. I’ll be adding more links as this project goes forward.

The camera started life as a Speed Graphic, a classic press camera. The lens is from a Russian Kiev 60 camera that shot 6X6 cm images. The lens made full frame (edge to edge) square fisheye images on the original camera. I modified the lens by removing the built in lens hood. Then I customized the Speed Graphic to take the Kiev lenses. I also had to remove the base board (front) of the camera so it wouldn’t show up in the shot. The camera was a junker when I began, with a very rough appearance. I took the leather off the outside of the camera and refinished the mahogany surface. On the whole, I think it is the best looking camera I ever built. The camera focuses using the ground glass or the focus scale on the lens. Speed Graphics have a built in focal plane shutter so that’s what the camera uses. You can see my article about camera building here.

I’ve attached a couple of the other images I made with the camera below. I hope to add posts and PayPal links for these images soon.

Wat Thai Temple, Los Angeles

Wat Thai Temple, Los Angeles

 

Castaic Power Plant-Pulling Rotor, California

Castaic Power Plant-Pulling Rotor, California

I hope you’ll order a print of this image. As usual the price, $125, includes mounting and matting. The image will be about 1X13 inches. Please let me know about the mat at john@siskinphoto.com. Also contact me if you’d like the print shipped outside the United States. You can also get the image, and many others, in my book B-Four.


You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:


December 30, 2015

Los Angeles Downtown #1

Los Angeles, Downtown #1

Los Angeles, Downtown #1

I’ve been stumbling through my archives as I prepare these posts and begin to put together the fine art pages for my website. Some of the images create an effect I like to call involuntary time travel; the pictures really take me back. I was surprised when I saw this image in my files. I though the original transparency was encapsulated in my portfolio. I used to get presentation pages made from my best shots that permanently held the transparencies. I thought the original was in one of these pages. The things looked great, if you happened to have a light box. It was a very effective way to present my portfolio, at the time anyway. For more information about portfolios you might want to check out my Portfolio Workshop. Anyway I found the original in my files, so this is a new scan. I really should consider more creative titles.

Encapsulated Portfolio Image, Mickey for Disney. Dick Duerrstein Art Director

Encapsulated Portfolio Image, Mickey for Disney. Richard Duerrstein Art Director

I remember taking this image. I think I was with Richard Risemberg, in fact I think he pointed out this composition. I learned a lot from Richard: he helped develop my fascination with lenses. The shot was taken on my Omega View Camera, really a cheap Toyo. I know that because the image is cut off on the top because of the considerable camera movement used to keep the subject straight. I guess this image was made with my Fujinon 210, f5.6 lens. This was one of the first really modern view camera lenses I had. It’s also possible I shot it with a 210 Komura, f6.3 I got from Bernie Sayers. This was a four element lens and really the first good view camera lens I had. I think I gave that lens to Jeri Grover when I got the Fujinon. I told you this shot triggered a trip down memory lane. I guess the shot was made in the mid-eighties. I can’t tell you much about the technical details, but I do know it was made on Fuji Film.

My Toyo 4X5 Camera-about the same size as my original Omega. 121mm Super Angulon Lens.

My Toyo 4X5 Camera-about the same size as my original Omega. 121mm Super Angulon Lens.

On one level this shot is sort of a basic straight view of a building detail, but what makes it special is the play of light and reflection in the buildings. Sometimes you get to make a special image just because you’re present and awake to the moment. Richard helped me learn that lesson here. I often talk about making images rather than just taking them, but sometimes you have the tools and subject at the same time, that’s good. In this case the camera was a 4X5 Toyo monorail camera, really a big camera. I haven’t used this camera for field work in many years; it was just too bulky. I’m glad I had it on this day because I couldn’t have made the same image with a Speed Graphic, they don’t have enough camera movements.

If you’d like to get a fine art print of Los Angeles, Downtown #1 you can click on the PayPal link below.  The image will be   almost 13 inches wide. It’s mounted and matted to 16X20 inches. The price, just $125, includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like to have me ship somewhere else, or order another size please contact me at john@siskinphoto.com.


You can buy one of my books at these links

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