Re: [OM] Zeiss Luminar Lenses

Subject: Re: [OM] Zeiss Luminar Lenses
From: Moose <olymoose@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 6 May 2017 17:38:26 -0700
On 5/6/2017 11:41 AM, Maggie wrote:
Hi all,

I am planning what, if I go ahead with it, will probably be the last major 
project of my life.

This is to do a photographic record of 600 or so of the major flowering plants 
of New Zealand.

The last time that I know of to do a volume of this degree and scope was Prof. J T Salmon with his wonderful "Native New Zealand Flowering Plants" with 252 pages and many wonderful photos.
. . .
All of the (many) macro shots were taken (to use his words) using special Zeiss Luminar lenses in combination with electronic flash as the light source.

I'd not heard of Luminar lenses before this, and wonder if it might be worth my while to track some down for this project; and wonder how they would perform on OM digital - probably the M5.

If this is not a nostalgic exercise in retro recreation of the tools and techniques of the past, I suggest you ignore the Luminars and Prof. Salmon's other equipment information. The bibles for this kind of work for many years, and justifiably so, have been John Shaw's "Closeups in Nature", "Nature Photographer's Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques" and "Focus on Nature", all pre-dating Salmon's book, but with better equipment and technique information.

His "Nature Photography Field Guide", with which I am not familiar, was updated in 2001. "Guide to Digital Nature Photography" is quite up to date, from 2015.

I would be looking to these as guides, although not necessarily as gospel. For example, in "Guide to Digital Nature Photography", his section on using extension tubes leaves out the problem of AF lenses with internal focus, including most recent C-U/macro lenses, such as the Canon and Oly 60/2.8s, that focus by shortening focal length, so his formula won't work for them. He also changes his long standing recommendation of the Nikon 5T achromatic supplementary C-U lens in favor of the Canon 500T, mostly because the Nikon is no longer available new. However, with my particular most used lens with such, the Nikon clearly out performed the Canon. That might not be true with the lenses he used.

Not to knock his books. They are very well thought out, organized and written, with excellent examples. Nobody/nothing is perfect, and they are as good as I know of for this subject.

I have several suggestions for you to consider. First for image quality, and second, but still important, to save time and effort. This is a huge project. Sitting around in the ground, focusing a manual lens, remembering to set the diaphragm, etc. will make it ever so much larger that it need be. I have taken many thousands of flower pictures; the ones I post here are just a tiny, tiny tip of the iceberg of my HDs. They cover tiny blossom as small as 2-3 mm, up through dinner plate sizes and huge sunflowers and exotic blooms in botanic gardens.

In film days, the lenses with which I got the best results were Oly 55/3.5 Macro, Tamron 90/2.5 Macro, Kiron 105/2.8 Macro and Oly 135/4.5 bellows lens.

Recently, my best results for flowers have been with current zoom lenses and aux. C-U lenses, most notably with the PLeica 100-400. I know this sounds so very, very wrong, but things have changed. Contemporary µ4/3 lenses are notably sharper than old MF glass mounted on µ4/3 bodies. This is in part because much of the FF field the old lenses had to cover is thrown away, but mostly as a result of advances in glass, design software, etc.

All this has consequences for old techniques. Very common, and very little known, is that internal focus prime lenses are really, in a way, zooms, as they change FL to focus. (You figure out how else to do it internally, without change in length.) The latest computer design software and the ability to use huge numbers of elements, of many refractive indexes and with several asymmetric surfaces, allows much closer control over characteristics. In the old days, you could figure that using extension tubes with normal lenses would be the best way to focus closer.

Now, you can't count on that. I recently compared a lens using extension tubes on the back for C-U with using several achromatic C-U lenses on the front. A couple of the C-U lenses didn't do very well outside the very center. The tubes weren't great. The hands down winner was a particular (old) C-U lens, sharpest in the center and holding very well out to the edges.

If you've been watching here, you've seen many IQ excellent flower images taken with PLeica 100-400, Oly 12-100 and Pleica 12-60 zooms, several here. <http://zone-10.com/tope2/main.php?g2_itemId=20399>
And here. 

Not that tubes don't work. <http://zone-10.com/tope2/main.php?g2_itemId=4534>

You'll notice again that I was working with the long end of a long zoom. There are several reasons I've moved from 50-145 mm prime macro lenses to long zooms.

1-4. It works! Great images.

5. Reach. These 'shrooms were 6-8' away horizontally and 4-5' vertically, up a very steep, very muddy slope. <http://zone-10.com/tope2/main.php?g2_itemId=21495> I have many great flower shots that I simply couldn't have made with a short FL lens, because I couldn't get close enough.

6. Working distance. This is a flower three-fer:
    a. It's much easier on older knees, elbows, etc.
    b. It doesn't block the light, making working with natural light MUCH 
    c. I generally prefer the perspective of longer FLs for flowers.

7. A bonus beyond flowers - It doesn't scare off critters as easily.

For prime macros, the Oly 60/2.8 Macro is an excellent lens. 
The time and trouble saving over an old MF lens is huge.

It focuses directly to 1:1 on the sensor, which is eq. to 2x on 35 mm. Good focal range AF options and a wonderful hood design (the JJC version works as well and is MUCH cheaper). I don't use it more because of the relatively short working distance, exacerbated by the shortening of FL with focal distance. (Yes, it's 120 mm AoV eq. on the 4/3 sensor, but optically, it's still 60 mm for working distance, and just over 40 mm at closest focus.)

If you really need a short FL, bellows macro lens, follow the advice of our resident, very expert Dean. He has more C-U, Macro, Micro experience than all of us combined, I suspect. The Oly 38/2.8 is outstanding for 2-8x (4-16 eq.). On the Oly bellows with a cable release, it's semi auto diaphragm, too.

Salmon, John Shaw, everybody back then was using flash. Flash works, but also has drawbacks. At least with digital, you can see if the exposure worked immediately.

Nowadays, excellent higher ISO sensor performance and IS make artificial light necessary far less often. Again, technology has changed options. There are excellent, white balanced, small, light LED continuous light sources available for little money. One may see what the lighting will look like, and adjust it, before making an exposure.

These options are particularly important for focus stacking, below.

Camera support:
Yup, tripods work, really well, for many subjects and situations. They also limit angles of view. More importantly, they take time to set up and take down. The vast majority of my flower images are taken hand held. Would they be better using a tripod? I think only occasionally, as the IBIS on the E-M5 II is spectacularly good. (Oly claims the even better IBIS on the E-M1 II is limited in some circumstances by the rotation of the Earth.)

OTOH, once I've set up the tripod, focused, set lighting, etc. for a shot of a particular flower, I've got a lot invested. Then when I walk farther, and find a nicer specimen, setting and/or background, what are chances that I'll go to all that trouble again?

If all I've done before is take a few moments for a careful hand held shot or three, I'm happy to do that again. I think the chances of the best possible final image of the flower may be higher hand held. With digital, the cost is nothing, not wasted film and processing.

Depth of Field

Here again, tech has changed the possible dramatically. The project you are contemplating is primarily documentation, not art. Focus stacking (which Oly, correctly, but confusingly, calls Focus Bracketing) changes the whole process. It's possible to have the sexual organs of a Hibiscus, for example, AND the front part of the petals, AND the bent back tips of the petals, ALL in focus at once, in one "shot".

This is a huge change for documenting flowers, allowing capture of details in one image not possible before. If I couldn't do this for the flowers where it's indicated, I wouldn't do the work of updating Salmon's previous work.

One problem for this is it would require a new camera, as it's available in-camera only with the E-M5 II, E-M1 I & II. another is that it requires software to merge the slices of the stack, and likely more computer power.

Old lenses with digital cameras:

You ask how the Luminars, and others will work with the E-M5. If you've been following AG, MikeG, me, and others, and if you surf the web, you'll find that some MF lenses work well with some digital backs, and come combinations work poorly.

Many of the reasons for this are known, but some combos defy what would be expected, so I conclude that all reasons aren't as yet known/quantified. MF practically forces tripod use, and is time consuming. If I were contemplating this project, I'd be planning around AF lenses, for simple practical reasons, perhaps most because I'm not immortal. I save old lenses on digital backs for other fun.


The Salmon book is 9.6x7.4'. So I assume the largest image in it might be about 6x8". If you are contemplating a similar end product, practically any of the lenses, MF or AF, that you might use will be fine. Even at 8.5x11, in the photo books I've made, my µ4/3 lenses and the 12 and 16 MP sensors have been more than good enough for even reasonably cropped images, often spectacular.

I have excellent 11x14 and 12x18 prints from the E-M5 sensor. Even a heavily cropped 11x14 of the center of a dahlia causes involuntary oohs and aahs.

I imagine that the limitations of film and publishing would have masked the flaws in any lenses he used. I don't think you need look for any old special, magic lenses to get great images.

Some of this seriously breaks long held beliefs, but I swear it's all true, now 
- experientially tested.

Iconoclast Moose

What if the Hokey Pokey *IS* what it's all about?
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