Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Camera Play

I recently dug up my old (like 30ish years old) Nikon 50mm lens that belonged to my Nikon FM camera back in High School. I bought the camera and lens second-hand for photography class, and the FM has long since bit the dust, but I held on to the old lens. It was never worth much and as you can see it's been around the block a few times (and dropped along the way).

I currently use a Nikon D40 with the standard 18.5-55mm lens, which of course is fully integrated with the electronic features of my camera. That means the camera can be fully automatic right down to the focus, and I most often use it that way. I though I'd see if I could use the old 50mm on the D40, and took it out for a test drive last week. The biggest difference is not having any automatic features and having to use the camera manually, being forced to think about f-stops, shutter speeds, and focus all over again. Luckily, since the D40 is digital, I can see a preview of my photo immediately and adjust any settings before taking another photo, no need to wait to develop film! Still, my first batch of photos were mostly out of focus and overexposed. Here's an example - I was trying to focus on Fidget's face, but she was moving so fast that her hair is the only thing in focus.

When I posted about playing with the old lens on the Facebooks, I got several comments about old lenses, mostly how you can experience serious difficulty when using old lenses made for 35mm film with new digital SLR cameras - or shouldn't use old lenses at all. Thankfully, the old Nikon lens connects perfectly with the mount on the Nikon D40, and I am not experiencing any issues with focus that would make it impossible to use the old lens. But it did make me curious about the old 50mm vs. my new lens - was there any difference? I ran a few tests today to find out.

The first difference I noticed is in f-stops for each lens. When taking these shots I realized that the f-stops on the new lens run from f-5.6 to f-29, while the old lens goes all the way down to f-1.8. Since I'm a big fan of depth of field, I like that the old lens offers bigger aperture settings, and could see through the SLR camera that I can get some very shallow depth of field with the old lens. Nice! Here were my test results with the two lenses:

Using the exact same settings on the camera and lenses manually, here are two shots; top is the old lens, bottom is the new.

Can you even see any differences? Hardly, but the bottom photo is a bit lighter than the top photo. I want to say that the focus looks a bit different, but that could just be my old eyes.

On taking another set of photos, I do notice that the old lens has a different field of focus than the new lens. The new lens seems to capture more background in focus than the old lens, even when using the exact same settings. Old lens on the left, new lens on the right.

This photo set includes the old lens on the top, new lens on the bottom.

The biggest thing I noticed while taking this shot was how much easier it is to manually focus with the new lens. It is harder for me to see when things get crisp in the old lens, and although I was trying to focus on the flamingo in the top shot, I really have the flowers behind in sharpest focus.

And the new lens seems to be shooting all the photos a bit more exposed than the old lens, almost imperceptibly. Yes?

The thing I like about shooting with the old fixed 50mm lens is how it forces me to frame the shot and think about composition, not to mention being acutely aware of the light situation when using settings manually. Since it looks like the lens works great with my camera, I think I will leave it on and play some more. Although going through this experiment has taught me that I can ALSO use my new lens with manually settings to get pretty much the same effect - good to know!

What kind of camera do you use? Do you have more than one lens - and if so, which is your favorite?

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