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sony-e-16mm-f28New review of Sony E 16mm f/2.8 lens on 16Mp APS-C type Sony NEX-5n.

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Posted by on in Guides and Tutorials

Q&A: Where do you buy your Russian lenses? I have bought most of my lenses on eBay although I have also bought on various photography forums and some dedicated camera/lens equipment sites. My experience with eBay sellers out of xUSSR is mixed - about 50% of lenses I bough that way were basically paperweights. For cheaper lenses, I simply wrote that off and threw them away, while for more expensive copies I had to go through the hassle of returning the lenses back. I would recommend you to avoid any seller who does not accept returns - buying anything over $50 from such sellers poses way too much risk IMO. I've had a very bad experience with top35mm.com web site run by Alexander Semensky (eBay: semensky) - three lenses I ordered from him came completely broken one with jammed focusing ring, one with jammed aperture ring and the third lens in M42 instead of M39 mount. If you're purchasing an expensive Russian lens like Orion-15, dealing with a US based seller or better yet a company is much safer. fedka.com is one such company, run our of NYC. I've had a decent experience with them in the past and will most liley use them again. Unfortunately, fedka.com does not refresh its catalog very often and some lenses that you see on their web site might not be available or might have a different condition than what is advertised on the site. But at least you can return the item if you don't like it.


Before we jump into a deeper discussion of the individual Russian LTM lenses, let's touch-base on one of the most critical difference between Russian M39 lenses and their Western counterpart from Leica, Voigtlander and others. This difference is the cause of many complaints as well as general dissatisfaction with Russian LTM lenses, with many users believing that the lenses are of very poor quality (optically speaking) or have a wide variability in quality control. By the way, the second point by itself is true, but to a lesser degree than what many would-be users tend to believe.

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So the rumor mills are working and the latest news is that Carl Zeiss will soon be announcing the new Distagon T* 15/2.8 lens in Nikon ZF.2 and Canon ZE mounts. Originally reported by zeissrumors.com and most recently by photorumors.com, the news spread to the rest of the web within a day. As a long time Zeiss user and aficionado, I got pretty excited about this little piece of news, but then mental gears kicked in and I started to think what does it really mean to the end users like you and me? Should we all get jiggeddy-jaggedy about this and rush with pre-orders, or what?

Original Zeiss Distagon 15/3.5 was first released in Rollei mount back in late 70s and at that time was quite a master-piece. Later re-released for Contax and most recently in Leica M mount, the lens was very popular, primarily because of its price. The current version of Distagon 15/2.8 ZM goes for ~$4.600, making it pretty much out of reach for most of us. Ole Contax 15/3.5 sells for ~$2,500 these days. Still a ton of money, particularly when you consider it against what else is available on the market. For Leica mount we have Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 ASPH goes for ~$600. In Nikon mount we have a couple of interesting options, starting with the uber zoom 14-24/2.8G, than 14/2.8D and finally old 15/3.5 Ai-S. All three cost less than used Contax or new ZM versions. For Canon mount we have the 14/2.8L and slightly longer, yet absolutely superb 17/4L TS-E. Again, both cost less than either of Distagons. Finally, we have a bunch of oddball alternative and 3rd party lenses, some of them now discontinued, from Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Samyang etc. Bottom line is that there are a lot of 14-15mm lenses out there, so it's not like Zeiss is going to be filling in an empty niche... Because of that, I expect that the price point for the SLR version of Distagon 15/2.8 to be significantly below the Leica version of the lens - probably somewhere in the $2,000-$2,500 range.

Now, some of the cheaper options available out there are not particularly.good - resolution, distortion, CA etc. So naturally many who are not happy with the alternatives are looking at Zeiss as a premium lens designer who can solve all of these problems, in which case, the argument goes, the premium price for Distagon 15/2.8 is going to be justified. But is it a realistic expectation? At a minimum, I expect that the new SLR version of Distagon 15/2.8 will have a fairly good resolution. ZM version certainly improved in this domain over the old Contax version - see MTF charts below (Distagon 15/2.8 ZM is at the top and Contax 15/3.5 is at the bottom).

Tagged in: zeiss
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This is Part Two of the rolling review of the 100mm macro lenses for Canon EF mount.


Studio Test. Ok folks, we are starting off with a fairly standard Imatest evaluation of our primary candidates. Just as a reminder, we will limit this test to only one focusing distance - 10m. Why 10m? For all 100mm lenses, 10m focusing distance roughly falls into medium range and closer to the infinity than to the MFD. I cannot test lenses at longer than 14m focusing distance due to the space constraints. And testing at very close focusing distances with Imatest does not really make sense due to the software's and imaging target's limitations - we will be testing the resolution of the target (printer that is) rather than the lens at anything closer than 2m (20x focal length of the lens). At 10m we get a 100x focal length ratio, which should be good enough to get us accurate results out of Imatest (as accurate as the software is capable of giving us, of course). Plus, we will do macro (MFD) and infinity tests separately, so, yea, 10m sounds like a good start.

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Posted by on in Guides and Tutorials

If you are a rangefinder user, I am sure you have considered buying one of those dirt cheap Russian LTM lenses that have  flooded eBay. LTM lenses rose to the prominence in 30s and 40s with the ascention of Leica Screw Mount cameras. Numerous 'Leica Copies' have accelerated the adoption of the standard and a large number of manufacturers, including the fledging Japanese camera makers like Canon and Nikon began to manufacture LTM lenses. The birth of Russian LTM lenses can be traced to the 30s and the first FED camera, which utilized the M39 mount, as the Leica Screw Thread became to be known. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, Russians 'appropriated' the original optical equipment and designs from Carl Zeiss factory in Jena. Carl Zeiss know-how was one of the most prized posessions of the post-war era and helped accelerate innovation in the USSR's optical/photography industry, which was pretty much leveled with the ground over the five years of war. Most of the early Russian lens designs trace their roots to Carl Zeiss designs. The Jena factory continued its production under the Communist regime, but Russians also jump-started their own factories, most notably in Krasnogorsk (the KMZ factory) and later also expanded production to Arsenal Kiev, Litkarino, Lvov, Kharkov and Kazan factories. But KMZ remained the epicenter of the innovation and most original Russian designs were originated there.

However, while there are a lot of Russian lenses available on eBay, figuring out what is what is fairly hard - the Russian lens nomenklature is pretty confusing at times and often archaic. This guide tries to bring a little bit more clarity into this subject. We will focus only on Russian LTM lenses in this article - there is also a very wide range of Russian lenses available in Pentax M42/K mount as well as Contax mount, but these will be covered in a separate article at a later time. The main audience for this article should be a user, an active photographer if you will, rather than a collector. While some Russian lenses may bear collectible value, I am no expert in anything collectible and so am going to leave this topic to someone else. Hence the article will focus on lenses that are relatively easy to obtain on used markets and will be omitting all prototype and limited production lens. The article consists of three parts - the first part you are reading now will try to document all known Russian LTM lenses with same key statistics like rated resolution, pricing and availability. The second and third parts are oriented towards the practicioner who wants to see beyond the basic information and get a better feel about more subjective qualities of individual lenses. This is not a detailed review that you might be accustomed to if you're a regular here - if anyone decides to learn a bit more about a particular lens, he/she is advised to visit the full features lens reviews section.

On a personal note, I have been using Russian LTM lenses on and off since 80s. The biggest challenge I've discovered with anything manufactured in the Soviet era, was the variance in quality control. The tolerances are significantly looser than with any other opticals  manufacturer, SLR or rangefinder alike. On top of that, keep in mind that we're dealing with 30, 40 and 50 year old lenses here, which likely have not seen any calibration or cleaning since their manufacturing date. When purchasing such lenses, make sure you have a return period - the virtual majority of lenses on eBay have some problems and would probably need to be returned. The typical 'Excellent' rating that the sellers give to these lenses is very often misleading - with a few exceptions, all of old Soviet lenses should be rated BGN/UG in KEH's terms. The process of finding a Russian lens that lives to its performance capabilities can be quite costly if you are required to pay round shipping for ones that turned out to be dogs. You might opt to look for lenses on photography forums, where quality of stock is typically much higher than on eBay, but also is harder to come by. A few online camera shops might also carry older Russian LTM lenses, so check out all the usual places like Adorama, Tamarkin and KEH.

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