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Thread: It's not the lens, it's me?

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    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
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    It's not the lens, it's me?

    Hi all,

    I recently bought my first brass lens, a beautiful 16" RR from a very worthy forum member.
    My inexperience with old, shutter-less lenses has prompted me to post here, mostly because I find it difficult to focus this lens properly.

    I am, admittedly, used to modern lenses, which seem to "snap" into focus, leaving little doubt about when one is properly focused.
    The brassie has a more "open" approach, whereby focus seems to be proper across a much wider range of distances.
    Consequently, I have maybe one shot out of every four that is close, but not quite perfectly, focused.

    I hope that made sense.

    Here are some photos taken a few days ago; at the time of exposure, I was sure that each shot was properly focused, but I was quite a ways off in three of the examples.
    The first one is probably the best.
    The photos might look reasonably ok to you in internet-land, but the negs, under scrutiny of a loupe, are soft, especially the last two.

    All were done with quite a bit of camera extension, requiring 1 or two seconds of exposure using a lens cap for shutter.
    My wife can hold still quite well, and the camera/tripod/ball head combo is rock-solid.

    My question is: is this my doing, or is it my inexperience with a different way of working (i.e. lens cap shutter, 2-3s exposure)?
    Or are lenses of this vintage (75-100 yrs) known for being difficult to focus?

    Thanks in advance





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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    Ari! I can sympathize with your dilemma (facetiously I admit) and I think I would not be alone in the opinion that these are positively beautiful images of your positively beautiful wife! All I can say with regard to the "lens focus issue" is that it lends a rare and excellent effect to your portraits and I would be proud to show these images.

    I can appreciate a good photograph as well as anyone, but I rarely gush over such excellent work. You've been holding back Ari! Beautiful work!

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    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    Hi Phil, good to hear from you!
    Thank you very much, you are too kind, but I really wasn't fishing for compliments (my wife will happily accept them, though ).
    The previous owner of the lens had no problem focusing this lens and getting some lovely (and sharp) photos of his family.
    I guess the problem is the operator and not the machine.

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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    Ari I know you weren't fishing for compliments and I have often lamented my lack of vocabulary for a proper critique, so I just wrote what I thought! To be more specific (or less, depending on your point of view) I have no experience with old brass lenses, but I'm given to believe that much of their charm lies in their unique qualities and abilities to render an image with characteristics other than "tack sharp".

    That was a lot of words to reiterate that I think the photos you made with the lens are beautiful and that's without judging from a perspective of how well "focused" they are. How's that for gobbledygook?

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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    How are you focussing?
    One man's Mede is another man's Persian.

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    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    Some observations from an old lens user, (and I'm sure you'll hear from others...)

    As far as the "snap into focus", I'd guess your modern lenses are faster, and the shallower depth of field makes focusing more obvious. Try focusing them at f/8 or f/11, and I suspect some of that will go away.

    Regarding sharpness in the prints, some of the old lenses are soft in a beautiful way (a sharp image overlaid by a softer image), some merely lack resolution, and many are very sharp. I can't speak to yours...
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    Well I think you have done a creditable job. All of them are fine. As Julia Margaret Cameron said 'who is to say what correct focus is"
    Your wife is extremely photogenic. Her eyes are mesmerizing. Take as many portraits as you can in the next 10 years.

    At your f stop,(? wide open) the lips are soft when the eyes are sharp. Or vise versa. You can cover focusing discrepancies with a smaller f stop.
    I have found the best aid to start was a small 4 " Maglite (older style, not led) with the top screwed right off, held up to the subjects temple.
    the small bright light is a great help to decide firmly where focus is.
    Once that is determined tie a length of string to the front of the camera and knot the other end at the length of the nose and keep using that as a measure.
    No.s 2,3 and four have the focus on the nose. some say this is where it should be and the f stop should be smaller to cover the eyes.

    Extra Unnecessary Advice
    1. Also as you rack back and forth, you will see the Maglight go out of focus in a pleasant or unpleasant way. Usually racking out is the more pleasant but not always. If so, however, try to distribute the DOF by focusing a bit in front of the eyes(? as far as the nose) Rarely the nice bokah/DOF is in front of the point of focus in which case focus on the eyes for sure and let the nose lie in the pleasant DOF portion.
    2. you might tilt the lens forward if the lips are forward of the eyes.

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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    I think DOF is more on the front side than the back..so if you miss just a bit long..it will probably be better than missing a bit short

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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    I would agree, other than the first, all your shots are not adequately in focus. They are not examples of what a good RR can do. Here are two 8x10 shots with an F7 Euryscop (Voigtlanders name for RRs), taken a couple years apart. RRs can be extremely sharp, and fairly contrasty.

    There are several things that could be going wrong:

    • Model moving during 3 sec exposure.
    • Film plane in holder not matching ground glass.
    • Faulty lens. (I'm inclined to feel something is wrong with your lens. What is it? Is it complete?)





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    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
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    Re: It's not the lens, it's me?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cletus View Post
    Ari I know you weren't fishing for compliments and I have often lamented my lack of vocabulary for a proper critique, so I just wrote what I thought! To be more specific (or less, depending on your point of view) I have no experience with old brass lenses, but I'm given to believe that much of their charm lies in their unique qualities and abilities to render an image with characteristics other than "tack sharp".

    That was a lot of words to reiterate that I think the photos you made with the lens are beautiful and that's without judging from a perspective of how well "focused" they are. How's that for gobbledygook?
    That's great gobbledygook, Phil, and I really appreciate the comments.
    I'd be the first to say that sharpness is overrated, but I'd like to be the one to control it when using LF.

    Quote Originally Posted by E. von Hoegh View Post
    How are you focussing?
    The 810M's focusing is very smooth, with controls at the back.
    For these photos I used two loupes, one 5x and one 12x; the 12x has never steered me wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Sawyer View Post
    Some observations from an old lens user, (and I'm sure you'll hear from others...)

    As far as the "snap into focus", I'd guess your modern lenses are faster, and the shallower depth of field makes focusing more obvious. Try focusing them at f/8 or f/11, and I suspect some of that will go away.

    Regarding sharpness in the prints, some of the old lenses are soft in a beautiful way (a sharp image overlaid by a softer image), some merely lack resolution, and many are very sharp. I can't speak to yours...
    Point taken, Mark, thank you. This is an f8, and I focused and shot at f11; I know the lens is capable of better than what I have shown, the previous owner's photos are all over this website, so that's what I'm aiming for.
    I know I'm more of a hindrance to sharpness than is the lens.

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