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Michael Erlewine

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Michael Erlewine last won the day on 13 February

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About Michael Erlewine

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    Michael Erlewine
  • Birthday 18/07/1941

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  • Gender
  • Location
    Big Rapids, MI USA
  • Photographic Interests
    Lenses, Focus Stacking, APO, Medium Format
  • Edit my pics?
    Ask Me
  • Fav. Camera
    Nikon D810, Hasselblad X1D
  • Fav. Lens
    Zeiss Otus Series
  • Fav. Editor
    Adobe Photoshop

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  1. Exactly. I have nothing on my phone that is secret.
  2. I don't have time for FR or fingerprint or even a code. I chose to NOT do this on setup and it works fine for what I want, which is to be able to quickly take photos.
  3. I chose NOT to use the Face Recognition or any key to unlock the phone. I have looked into the AirDrop feature and will continue.
  4. After being laughed at for taking the new iPhone 11 Pro Max seriously as a camera I can use, along with all of the more accepted cameras we all know and love, I have persevered and with great interest. For one, the iPhone is light enough to slip into my pocket, which I do. That’s enough for starters, but of course I gravitate toward doing the kind of camera work I always have done and that involves some accessories, so let’s start there. As mentioned, I am involved with vetting the gear I find useful for using the Apple iPhone 11 Pro with its three onboard cameras. Of course, I can (and do) carry around the iPhone and take photos. However, my own jitteriness makes it too unstable for excellent still-life shots. LOL. Next, I mistakenly assumed that a monopod would help to stabilize the camera-work I like to do. However, the good monopods are still heavy to carry around, so I searched around to find the lightest carbon-fiber monopod as I could. I found one that is under one pound, about ¾ of a pound. However, when I tried about five different monopods that I have (heavy or not), what I find is that monopods, although they help, still are prone to wiggle and shakiness, more than I can allow, so I was back to square one. My next step was to look for small, lightweight tripods that could fill the bill. I looked at everything from those ultra-thin tube-tripods that have elastic cord inside them so that you kind of shake out the legs, and then very small tripods, those with just very narrow tubes, and on and on. What I found out from all of that is that these very thin tube tripods themselves are not really that steady and have problems of the their own. This led me to looking at tripods in the range of strength I am more used to, and I already have a bunch. But of course I had to buy one more. LOL. However, if they are 3-4 lbs., even that is a lot to haul around for use with a smart phone. And so, to bite the bullet, I have found a small Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod that weighs a little over two pounds. That seems doable, and I tried it out during a typical outing. The small tripod, which weighs 2.5 lbs., is the Gitzo GT-1545-T (Traveler). And I have a ball-head from another small tripod, the AOKA KB-20, which has an Arca-Swiss clamp. All told, that weight is very manageable. In addition, I have a very tiny video head that allows me to move the iPhone smoothly. I also have a DJI 3-gimbal hand-held device (DJI Osmo Mobile 3) that I can use for video (or stills), but the tripod is my first choice. As for tripod heads for the iPhones themselves, the story is similar. There are a lot of little tripod mounts for iPhone out there, often very inexpensive. However, they seem to be made out of cheap plastic and, worse, are cobbled together so that parts are “clunky” and the haptics of them are, well, terrible. I hate to be stuck using such junk, even if it is inexpensive. And many of these cheap tripod heads have spring-loaded clamps for the iPhone. Sounds like a nice thing thought I yet having to pry open and then close the clamps when doing or holding other things, became a pain after using them for a time or two. It is not surprising that after a short while, I yearned for a simple clamp that we tighten with a knob like I am used to. I now have an expensive head for iPhones from Really Right Stuff. It is totally well-made as most RRS products are. I seem to never learn. Buy good equipment right off and stop trying to save a buck. Now I have a good RRS head and a handful of ones that are not good, but still cost me money. They sit on the shelf. RAW IMAGES Moving on to raw images with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, they are available. However, you have to (at this point) use one of several apps. And while Adobe LR Mobile is said to be the best, at this point Adobe LR does not support all three cameras in the iPhone 11 Pro. However, ProCamera, an app for the iPhone that costs about $8 does support them and can store them as TIF files or DNG. I find ProCamera very useful and easy to use. And most of all, I find raw images absolutely wonderful to have on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. EXPORTING VIDEO AND STILLs I did have a lot of trouble getting large videos (like 11 GB) off my new iPhone and it took almost three days for me to sort it out. I tried to export to DropBox, but that did not work for large files. Finally, I had to use iCloud. I exported to iCloud and then downloaded these large files to my computer, after which I could place them on DropBox or wherever I wanted. All of the above begs the question of what the final image quality will look like. Now, that I have sorted out most of the accessories and process, I am ready to dig into that. It is important to know that the low ISO on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is something like 21 ISO and a higher ISO range of 3072 ISO (wide-angle lens), which is much lower than any other camera I own. The front-facing lens is 24mm and f/2.2. The image output size is 4032 x 3024, with cameras apertures of f/2.4 for the 13mm super-wide-angle lens, f/2/8 for the wide-angle lens, and f/2.0 for the 51mm telephoto. Perhaps there are others serious users of the iPhone 11 Pro Max out there and we can discuss this very interesting (to me) portable camera!
  5. The Laowa/Venus 100mm F/2.8 2x APO for Close-Up This lens caught my eye primarily for several reasons. It was a macro lens that went to 2x magnification. That I liked. Secondarily, it claimed to be apochromatic (APO), that is: highly corrected. And third (and last in importance), it was inexpensive at around $500. And the Sony E-Mount version has 13 aperture blades, which also seems a plus. The lens took its time to be released, but finally arrived. However, it would not accept any of the chipped adapters for Sony-E lenses to the Nikon Z7 mirrorless cameras. So, I found and ordered a Kipon “dumb” adapter, which had to come from China so it also took a while. It works fine. Now I could see if the lens does the job for the kind of work I do, which is close-up focus stacking. Right off the bat, the length of the Laowa 100mm APO was quite long, 8.5 inches (not collapsible), so it really hangs off the adapter on the Nikon Z7. And it weighs 1.4 lb (638 g). A little too long, IMO. And to get to the promised 2x magnification, you have to almost touch the subject with the end of the lens AND make sure you have enough light, since the lens itself can cast a shadow or overshadow the subject. That I don’t like much, either. Something I like even less was the severely short focus throw for doing stacked images. The focus throw for the lens is about 150-degrees, but almost half of that throw (46%) is for the range from 40 cm to infinity. That does not leave much room for close work, which this lens is designed for, especially for 2x magnification where even a tiny adjustment of the helicoid makes a large difference. It is the smallest focus throw of any macro lens I have ever used, and that is a not-fixable problem. Perhaps, for single-shot images there is no problem, but even then, we still have to turn the helicoid to get the focus sharp. But for stacking images, where many layers need to be spaced very close together, it’s not very acceptable. I found myself having to mount the Laowa 100 APO on a focus rail and let the rail control the “focus throw.” Still, I wanted to see how “APO” the “APO” for the lens was. So, I compared the Laowa 100mm APO to a few lenses that can get up really close and magnify to that degree, the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5, the Macro Nikkor 65mm, and the APO El Nikor 105mm f/5.6. And that’s what we are going to look at here. Yet, as mentioned, for my work stacking focus, the Laowa 100mm APO already has several strikes against it, IMO. That being said, when I looked at the results of actually photographing with the Laowa 100mm APO and a classic like the Multiphot Macro Nikkor 65mm f/4.5 and the others, the Laowa 100mm did very well, but there is a caveat. Stacking the Laowa 100mm APO using the lens’s helicoid showed that the focus throw was too small, as mentioned above. You can easily see smears where the turning of the helicoid (even a tiny bit) was too much for the focus stacking software to bridge the gap. However, if the same shot was done with the Laowa 100mm placed on the camera and then both camera and lense are mounted on a focus rail, it looks very good, certainly good enough. Conclusion My takeaway is that the Laowa 100mm APO is apochromatic enough for my stacking work, provided it is used on a focus rail. The focus throw without a rail, is pitifully short, a very thoughtless design parameter for any close work. The same goes for its use without a focus rail, since focusing for a single-shot photo may also require exact focusing and that is way too difficult IMO. The length of the lens with hood is too long and heavy, IMO, and results in almost physically touching the 2x subject and also weighs heavy on the dumb adapter needed to hang it from the Nikon Z7. So, I may hold my nose and keep the lens or I may not. The results from other APO lenses, like the Schneider MacroVaron, Macro Nikor 65mm, and Nikon APO El Nikkor, which are MUCH more expensive are as good and IMO better than the Laowa 100 APO lens. I offer two examples of the Laowa 100 APO, one stacked image using the helicoid of the lens and the other with the lens mounted on the Nikon Z7 and the camera/lens then mounted on a focus rail. If you look at the two of them, it is easy to see the artifacts introduced by the helicoid due to the inability to make tiny steps with the helicoid. The gaps appear as smears. With the focus-rail version, there are no (or very little) artifacts. What this means is that the focus rail should be used for stacking, although the focus-rail method is not as ideal for any stacking-software as using a helicoid with a proper focus throw. I see no particular value (for me) in using the Laowa 100 APO beyond close-up work (like for landscape or infinity work) compared to many other suitable lenses that most of us have. It would be convenient for me to just say the Laowa 100 APO is lousy and reject the lens, but that’s not true. It is a lens that is pretty well corrected. All of its other detriments, however, make it a pain to use, IMO. And I’m not done testing it, but I have seen enough to determine that it is not useful for my work. I will return it.
  6. I was asking around various forums for suggestions about image-hosting sites that were worth considering. Well, I answered my own question by going out and seeing what photo sites are there. The perfect one for me, so far, is something called Smugmug.com. Perhaps they are smug because they just bought Flickr. It’s not a free site, but it is very reasonable for what it offers. For one, you get unlimited uploads. As a software engineer who had built and overseen many enterprise-level websites built, I am impressed at how functional and well-built this site is – very well thought out. It deals mostly with JPG or GIF, but also include lossless .PNG, which not too distant from the TIF in which I store my finished photos. There are limits on the size, but they are good enough (150 megabytes in size and 210 megapixels). I am busy putting up some of my photo collection (or at least the start of it). They have a number of finished templates that you can just adapt to your material and I choose one. Functionally, this is a very well-made system, with great tools for putting things online. I have never seen any better, IMO. My site took about a day to put together, not including preparing files to upload. But with hundreds of thousands of images, it took me a week or two just to massage out some 40,000 images that I am considering. From these, I will pick a few thousand to post on the site as I find time. They offer four plans and monthly subscriptions for $3, $5, $14, and $29 if billed annually. The two more expensive plans include a shopping cart complete with about every way to monetize images I could imagine. They offer fulfillment automatically through several major print-shops, a cradle-to-the-grave experience. Having built many shopping cart systems over the years, this one is really well made. I am just starting to populate my site, but I have some 500 or so images up. Those of you interest in this sort of thing can check out what I’ve done here: https://MichaelErlewine.smugmug.com
  7. As a focus stacker, I especially like the tilt in tilt/shift lenses and the reason is that by using tilt I can compress the area that needs to be stacked enormously and thus get more in focus using less layers. I had all three of the main Nikon PC lenses (24mm, 45mm, 85mm) early on, but lost interest in them because the quality of the lens was not corrected enough for my taste and they were physically too limiting at times. I liked the 45mm PC the best. I even have one of those small macro-tilt adapters for nikon that provides 8-degrees of tilt only, but rotates 360-degrees. It actually works and is the least expensive way to get tilt on a Nikon that I know of. But mostly my interest in tilt has been in view cameras. I have had a number of view cameras, ranging from big 14 pounders to little miniature view cameras that still had all the movements, but were too frail for real work with a DSLR. And I still have the Novoflex BALPRO system, which is poorly designed IMO, but offers some movements. And of course there is the view camera system I use the most, the Cambo Actus Mini, of which I have a streamlined version. What a great system for my work! And I have taken a number of these view cameras into the field, but have found them pretty awkward, yet have done it just the same. However, I have not done it THAT often because they can be a pain. What if I told you there was a robust, small, view camera that I would not hesitate to take outside and into the field. You might ask: why do that when the wind (in the flat-state I live in -- Michigan) is almost always present and this would prevent any large focus stacks. I hear you, but that’s not the point here. With a small view camera, if it was really small and compact, I could us the tilt feature to compress what needs to be stacked in a single shot. Or, I could create what I call “short stacks,” taking a few close-focus images at key points in the image and stacking just those, perhaps three or four layers. But there is something more useful than that, which is the reason I am writing this piece. When the Hartblei Superrotator Macro 120mm F4 TS came along, I could see that at heart this lens is a tiny view camera all wrapped in a lens and one with a very small vertical component (no more than just mounting a lens), making it relatively easy to carry around and still have some of the main movements that I like in view cameras plus some unique features of its own. Perhaps the Hartblei Macro 120mm is not purposely designed for stacking in the field, but why not? I don’t find that this discourages me. What it does offer is the ability (through Tilt and Shift) to add depth-of-field to a shot, if need be, in a one-off photo. I may not have time (or the wind prevents) to make large stacks, but I can independently rotate to tilt and/or shift the lens to maximize the depth-of-field in a single shot or a short-stack in just a few seconds. The result is I get more depth-of-field by the tilt and shift than I otherwise would. In my work, every little angle counts. And it is this capability that makes this rather complex lens system worthwhile in the field as well as the studio. It shines in the studio! It is a heavy lens, but not as heavy and cumbersome as any of the view-camera systems I have otherwise used with equal features. The Hartblei 120mm Superrotator uses a sturdy collar that mounts directly to the tripod via an Arca-Swiss plate so that the Nikon D850 hangs off the back of the collar mount and the heavy lens hangs from the collar and does not hang on the camera flange. This is very important for a 2 lb. lens. The lens kit also comes with a side-focus wheel which provides 2:1 fine-focusing, much like the focus-pullers I am familiar with in video work. And the lens is called a “superrotator” has three rotations: (1) Rotation Collar (horizontal/vertical) (2) 360-degree Rotation Shift Movements (3) 360-degree Rotation Tilt Movements These rotations are each 360-degrees by increments (all the way around) and the shift and tilt rings can be used independently of one another in any combination. This feature, which is very desirable, is unlike any lens I have ever gotten my hands on and it is no kludge, but very well made and it works smoothly. As for the lens itself, this is the same 120mm Zeiss macro lens that Hasselblad has successfully used for many years, the “Zeiss Macro Planar 120mm CFI/CFE” of the Hasselblad last build. It has been thoroughly vetted and reviewed, so it is a known entity. And the lens itself has two separate focusing helicoids, a ring to get from infinity to 1.2m (170-degrees focus throw) and a second ring for close focus 1.2m to 75cm (160-degrees focus throw). In addition, there is a side focus which allows 2:1 fine-focusing. As a focus stacker, this is right up my alley. And I am told that this Zeiss lens has the best coating on the market; the blue channel is about 15-20% denser than other lenses. However, it’s true that the Zeiss lens used in the Hartblei implementation is not as well corrected as some of my exotic APO lenses, but most of those APO lenses have no infinity, are VERY restricted in their range, have very old coatings, odd-ball mounts, and so on. The Hartblei 120mm looks to be an all-around general purpose lens and not just a specialized lens, although it is special indeed. This particular Zeiss 120mm Macro Lens is well known and has been a feature of the Hasselblad system for many years, so we know what it is and isn’t. And while the optics may be slightly old fashioned, it is certainly fine enough, especially as Hartblei has configured it. Given its very low vertical profile, the sturdy tripod collar, and the refinement of the side-focus wheel, what you have here is a miniature view camera built into a lens, ready and able to work well in the field where I find it can be difficult to cart a larger view-camera system. This lens may have to be used stopped down more than I would like, but it’s portable and for stacking some photos, I can also take a shot wide open to get whatever bokeh I can and feather that in with the main stacked image shot at higher f-stops, if needs be. What is at least a psycho-social barrier is the price of the lens, which is over $5k. Ouch! For me, I am kind of used to high prices and I just have to sell a few more of the lenses I don’t use much. LOL. The Zeiss Otus lenses cost a lot and many of the lenses I most use do also, I guess that’s the price of admission. With the Hartblei Superrotator 120mm, what you do get is a lens of known quality (the famous Zeiss Macro Planar 120mm CFi/CFe), a strong tripod color, a very helpful side focus system, plus the (and let’s use their word) three “Superrotators.” As mentioned earlier, I have had all three Nikon PC lenses (24mm, 45mm, 85mm) and their physical restrictions and too much chromatic aberration make them pretty-much unusable for my work. There is a learning curve with the Superrotator 120mm lens. There is a lot of functionality packed into a small package, in particular getting used to the three rotations. It’s a lot like the old test of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. And the little release buttons for the rotations are not totally easy to hold down and do the rotation at the same time. For my work, I probably will use the same (or a similar) setup each time, so this may not be a big problem. Also, I have to learn to recognize where the tilt is, since unlike most PC lenses, where the lens tilts, in the 120mm Superrotator it is the camera body that tilts. After all, the lens packs almost a complete view camera, with all of the main movements that I need, into a tiny (albeit a somewhat heavy) package. And while I may not use this lens all that much in the studio because I have so many temperamental exotic APO lenses on hand, I will take the Hartblei Superrotator 120mm f/4 lens into the field where it is just a single lens, albeit a heavy one, and get many of the movements I like and find in the standard view camera. I would like to hear from other owners of this particular lens. Here are a couple of photos, one with the camera setup and a first image with the Nikon D850 with the Hartblei Superrotator. This shot focuses on the leaves and the flower is not stacked.
  8. I have been stacking focus for many years now, so I’m no stranger to this technique. And the track of my learning curve (more like a spiral) has been fueled by my using better and better corrected lenses (APO) to enhance the stacking. In other words, the more finely corrected the lenses, the more careful I have to be in stacking, and on around. It’s like a Catch-22. I get lots of emails and messages about my photos. And not infrequently (at least from photographers) is the question as to whether I have tried one of the automated focus rails. In the past, I have taken a certain amount of pride in pointing out to these folks that I can stack quite well manually, thank you very much. I had no intention of varying my technique. Yet, as I pointed out above, the circular spiral of finer lenses and precise stacking led to more and better apochromatic lenses, like the Zeiss Otus series, the APO-El Nikkor 105, the Leica Elmarit-R APO 100mm macro, and so on. I pretty-much took these fine lenses in stride, hopefully learning to use them more and more skillfully. Then comes the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm industrial lens. I had kind of heard about this lens on and off for some time, but never had seen one come up used on Ebay and even trying to get availability and a firm price from the manufacturer and distributors was difficult. It was almost as if they did not want to sell to me because I was not a company that required industrial lens for line-scanning. I wrote them. I called them on the phone. A more detailed story about the Macro Varon would require a separate article. Suffice it to say that a good friend of mine, another photographer, sent me a FB message telling me that a Macro Varon just came up of Ebay and at an attractive price at that. It took all of perhaps one minute and I had bought it. It was not an impulse buy, because I had decided to get one quite a while ago, just not pay the retail price of about $4500. Ouch! The Makro Varon is a very highly corrected lens, certainly worthy of the name APO. However, perhaps most remarkable was that this was a lens built for a wide range of magnifications, which is unusual for industrial lenses, which usually have a very limited magnification range at which they are at optimum sharpness. The Macro Varon even has a separate ring to compensate for whichever reproduction-ratio is used, actually moving the inner lens elements around to accommodate that reproduction range. And, interestingly enough, its specs showed me that it could easily outperform the sensor of my fairly new Nikon D850. “Hmmmm, I mused. I’d like to see that.” And see it I did and pretty quickly too. But such a revelation soon led me to rethinking my bias against automated focus rails. It was not that I could not stack well, but I continue to get older and I am old enough as it is, and the little bumps, jars, and vibrations caused by me began to be more visible; they got in the way. Anyway, back to this blog. So, there I was, reading about the StackShot, when before I knew it my finger was hitting the return-key to order a copy. And to my surprise, the company (Cognisys) was right here in Michigan, only just up the road from where I live, in Traverse City. So, it was only a day or so before the automated-rail turned up at my door. However, learning to use StackShot was a bit of puzzle. It actually is very simple, but the manual is SO complete that finding the simple in it is hard. At least that’s how it struck me. I just wanted to get going right away and stack something, but although eventually that was easy, at first it was not so. And also, this device is meant for many kinds (or ways) of stacking. It took me a while to figure out what the name for what I wanted to do was. I finally did (Automatic Distance) and, as mentioned, it could not be simpler. Well, it could be explained more simply. LOL. As a software developer myself since the early 1970s, I recognized the kind of manual that indeed was precise, but is no beginner’s guide. I told them so. The problem was, IMO, how do I find what increment or step makes sense for the kind of close-up focus-stacking that I do. I don’t need the kind of detail one needs for stacking a bee’s knees, but I do need enough overlap of images to make the rendering of the stack smooth with no banding. Of course, I called the support line at Cognisys and spoke with a very nice person, only too willing to help. The problem was that at each question, each point where I was stuck, he pointed out that this or that particular choice was variable, very variable. So after fifteen minutes or so, I was right back where I started from, having to figure it out for myself. What’s new? Story of my life! LOL. And it took a while for me to run many stacks at different step-sizes to find a step-size that gave me what I was looking for and not one that took all day by over-stacking what probably couldn’t be seen. I wasn’t stacking a microscope image, but just a flower or two. I messaged Rik Littlefield, creator of Zerene Stacker, the stacking software I use, and asked him about over sampling. His response was that it won’t harm anything to make too many images, but it might add a wee bit of extra noise. After a few happy days with StackShot, here is where I am at. So far, it looks like the more detail you can get with the smaller increments with Stackshot, the better the result, within reason. StackShot likes to work in thousandths-of-an-inch or in millimeters or fractions thereof, your choice. I found myself working with MLS, thousandths of an inch, a setting of 20 Mls seems pretty good. 10 MLS is slightly better, but perhaps not worth the extra time, etc. A lot depends on keeping natural light even, which is hard with variable cloudiness. My thoughts on using the StackShot automatic-rail are positive. I have stacked for many years, always barely touching the focus barrel or whatever mechanism as required. I got pretty good at it, but also made little accidental bumps and knocks, which have never helped at all. And, as I drill down on these ultra-sharp industrial lenses that can challenge the sensor of even the Nikon D850, there is less room for user-caused error and a greater demand for regular precise increments. After many years of focus stacking, my most valuable learned skills are in setting up and composing the shot, although I have always done my best to move carefully through all the steps that focus-stacking requires. However, having tried out StackShot, I am convinced it has a lot to offer me in stability and consistency, leaving me more time to consider what shot I want to take. I am enjoying that. I have a fair amount of testing the Stackshot yet to do, but I am already getting a handle on it. By testing various step-sizes, I am already converging on what seems to work for me. I’m not doing photo-micography, but rather just simple close-up and macro photography. Of the many options that StackShot offers, the one I seem to be gravitating to is Automatic-Distance, which allows me to choose the granularity, the step-size, that works best for my work. In other words, I have one main step size that will be applied no matter what scope or distance I want to cover. Should that not be fine enough, I can easily make if finer, etc. The only caveat might be with spherical objects, where following the curve demands finer steps, IMO. So, the step sizes I have settled on should work. Physically, the StackShot is very well made, meaning it is robust, as strong or stronger than any other focus rail I have and I have ten or so. Its vertical profile for my camera is low, about as low as it could be and I have fitted it with my favorite RRS Arca quick-release clamp, the one with a larger knob. I can see no way that this is not better than what I have been doing myself by hand. And the program allows me to introduce all kinds of latency time, which I have done, so that at each movement of the auto rail, I take a second or so to let any vibrations created by the mechanism movement subside. The only problem, which has nothing to do with StackShot, is that since I use natural light, on a variably-cloudy day the lighting changes from moment to moment and affects the stack. To counter this, I would have to be standing there, slightly modifying the shutter moment-by-moment to keep the light stable. That kind of takes the auto out of automatic, but that’s the price we pay for natural light. It varies. So, my initial impression of the StackShot is not only good, but very good, almost something like “where-have-you-been-all-my-life?” good. I like it. As for taking the time I am used to spending stacking focus at the camera away from me, which I traditionally associate with meditative absorption on my part, it does not seem a problem. My hard-won skills are seeing the shot and setting up for it. With StackShot, I do the creative work and let an expert step through the mechanics while I do other stuff. Makes sense and seems fine. StackShot is easily rough enough to take into the field, provided you realize that it is heavy and if you don’t have any wind. Here in Michigan, I wait to see each day if there is no wind at first light. Rare, but it happens. A Hidden Surprise Surprise, surprise! There is almost always a surprise with new equipment. Using stackshot made one thing very clear. By standardizing the process of focus stacking (the mechanical part) all lenses were treated equally. It’s true that I always did my best to incrementally stack focus as carefully as I could. But, I cannot pretend that on any given day, I may have stacked looser or tighter, even or less even. I can only guess at the variation. But one thing is clear so far from using the StackShot and that is that the regularity of increments (the step size) reveals more clearly than I have ever seen the true or actual difference between any of these highly corrected lenses. It is clear that some of these lens differences were veiled by the more organic (sloppy) process of stacking by hand and not by auto-stacking. However, by regulating the stacking process, it creates a much more level playing field. And I found it very easy to see the differences between lenses, many of which I could never before be certain about. And so, whatever else auto-rail stacking provides (and there is a lot) a wonderful bonus in allowing me to see more clearly than ever how lenses differ, something I have always strained to see (regardless of all the graphs) for myself. By stacking in a more regulated manner removes (at least for me) a veil that has been obscuring these difference all of this time. Below are a couple of tables that might be useful. StackShot likes to work in thousandths-of-an-inch or in millimeters or fractions there of. 1 Millimeter = 39.3701 Thousandth of an Inch 1 thousandth of an inch in is equal to 25.40 μm Thousandths-inch TO MILLIMETER 10-mils = 0.254 Millimeters 15-mils = 0.381 Millimeters 20-mils = 0.508 Millimeters 25-mils = 0.635 Millimeters 30-mils = 0.762 Millimeters 35-mils = 0.889 Millimeters 39-mils = 0.9906 Millimeters 39.37 mils = 1 Millimeter MILLIMETER to Thousandths-inch .25 MM = 9.84 Mils .333 MM = 13.11 Mils .5 MM = 19.685 Mils .666 MM = 26.22 .75 MM =29.5276 Mils 1 MM = 39.37 Mils 1.25 MM = 49.2126 Mils 1.5 MM = 59.055 Mils 2 MM = 78.7 Mils 2.5 MM = 98.42 Mils 3 MM = 118.11 Mils 3.5 = 137.8 Mils 4 = 157.5 Mils 4.5 = 177.2 Mils 5 = 197 Mils Here are three example images, both done with StackShot, one with the Schneider Macro Varon f/4.5 and another with the APO-El Nikkor 105mm f/5.6. A third one is with the Nikkor “O” CRT lens. Also, a poor-quality shot (shot at night in bad lighting) of the StackShot controller (Vecro-ed to a post) and the basic StackShot setup. Not the RRS Quick-Releas Clamp with the large knob.
  9. On my seemingly-eternal search for interesting lenses for close-up work I could not help but come across the Schneider Kreuznach Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5 CAS lens, if only because Schneider promotes the Macro Varon all over the place. And that’s a lot of promotion for a lens most photographers have never heard of. Well, I heard about the Macro Varon and searched it down to its price tag of $4500 and that set me back on my heels a bit. I don’t need a new lens THAT much. Well, perhaps a Zeiss Otus or two would be alright. I did make some calls, sent out some email requests and finally found that the Macro Varon could be had for somewhere in the mid $3K range brand-new. Well, of course that just sent me to Ebay looking for used copies. However, while it has happened, the Macro Varon does not show up used on Ebay very often, in fact hardly ever. Well, that limited my searching. I did find out that one sold on Ebay some time ago. Again, I spoke with Schneider reps about the Makro Varon on the phone and finally just let it go. It’s not that I don’t have other lenses that I might buy. LOL. And for those of you foolish so think I’m rich, guess again. I sell old equipment to buy new equipment as I go along. I just do it methodically. To make a long story short, recently a good friend sent me a message that there was a Makro Varon actually on Ebay for $1500. Well, that turned the corner for me and I bought it in about 15 seconds from receiving the message. It came from China, was used, but looked in decent condition. When the lens finally showed up at my door it was obviously brand new or in mint condition. However, it came in a strange industrial lens-mount which held the lens captive with three very tiny screws. I exhausted my collection of tiny screwdrivers, flat, Phillips, and torx (star). Then I called the local optician and gear-heads and no one had a tool that small. Well, that was disappointing, since I had no way to mount the lens without removing this big clucky adapter that gripped it first. Then I went salvaging through dozens of boxes of camera-related stuff and finally found a set of tiny torx drivers, but none of them was small enough to work. But, there was one (tiny) hole where a missing torx wrench should be. Where was it? And sure enough, in the bottom of my box of Cambo Actus parts was the tiny torx screwdriver and to my surprise, it worked! I had the lens mounted in a few minutes and was good to go. Now, I wanted to find out if this lens is best mounted directly to the camera and the camera placed on a focus rail, or should the lens be mounted directly on the camera with a small helicoid to focus with. The lens itself has no way to focus. It has six aperture blades (I wish there were more) and It has f/stops from f.4.5 through and including f/8. It does have something special, however. The Macro Varon has an additional ring on the barrel that allows me to adjust the floating lens parts in the lens to fit a particular magnification ratio 0.5x to 2.0x. This compensates and suppresses aberration depending on the magnification ratio. The only other lens that I have that has such a ring is the first edition of the Nikon Printing Nikkor 150mm APO f/2.8. These rings actually work. Another rather unique feature of the Macro Varon is that on each individual lens, during final adjustment, a tiny drop of red paint is placed on the rim of the barrel that allows (when the M42 adapter is screwed on tight) us to orient the particular lens to the camera sensor orthogonally, at right-angles. This is red dot calculated and optimized for each individual lens. Anyway, I soon figured out that (at least for now) I get the most play out of mounting the lens on the Cambo Actus Mini View Camera. Next, I had to decide what kind of hood would be best, since my first shots (made without a hood) lacked a bit of contrast. I tried both flared and narrow-tube hoods and finally fashioned one from the Nikon K-Ring set, one K5 plus two K3s all screwed together. They made a nice tubular hood that seems fine so far. Mounted on the Cambo Actus Mini, I soon found out that rather than the large (special order) cambo bellows I normally use that prevented me from getting as much field of view as I wanted with this lens, so I substituted a short bellows, which is fine because I do not need as much room with the Macro Varon anyway. That helped a bunch. I could also look into using a tiny extension/helicoid mounted directly on the camera, but I doubt that I would gain much, and moving the rear-standard on a view camera is better for stacking than using a helicoid. Anyway, I am up and running. Here is a quick photo of my setup, the Nikon D850 on the Cambo Actus Mini. On that is the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm f/4.5 lens adapted to Nikon mount, with a hood made of several K-rings. So far, so good. And I include a couple of early shots taken with the Makro Varon to give you an idea of what this lens can produce. This setup is not hiking-material, but certainly can go outside to the fields and meadows, at least if there is easy access so that the gear does not have to be carried far. The lens itself would be easy to carry for hikes, but would have to include some form of helicoid to focus or be happy with a DOF at F/8 and fixed focus. Anyway, I’m checking out the Schneider Macro Varon 85mm and would be interested in any other user’s experience. A fine review of the Scheider Macro Varon is this one by Robert O’Toole: https://www.closeuphotography.com/macro-varon/schneider-macro-varon-lens
  10. The Nikon industrial Printing Nikkors are exemplary and highly corrected lenses, but for whom? Who wants to use them because, for the most part, they are restricted to a particular narrow field of view. There not only is no infinity available, but in general they are highly restricted as far as view. Worse (much worse) is that the higher the f/stop, the less sharpness and resolution. So, we can’t just dial up the f/stop to f/11 or f/16 and expect spectacular results. The Printing Nikkors are optimized wide open or close to it.. They may be better than ordinary lenses, but the sharpness and resolution are confined to the lens either wide-open or nearly so. And that is a very thin depth of field. Who uses that? And so, there is no sweet spot for standard photography unless... and here it comes, we stack focus. That’s where these lenses come into their own and earn their high prices, at least in my book. Using focus stacking, we can paint on focus just where we want it, a razor-thin layer at a time. Yet, even for focus stackers, the reproduction rate for most is very limited in range. It’s a kind of “take it or leave it” proposition, i.e. use this limited field of view or forget about it. Most Printing Nikkors only come alive on a bellows system, some work only well on a focus rail and none work well on the camera itself without a rail or a small helicoid. There is no native helicoid or way to focus other than the rail, which as focus stackers know, is the least preferred way to stack focus. Why do I bother with these lenses and invest hard-earned cash in finding them? That’s a good question, but the answer is: I like the quality in these lenses and I only wish that kind of correction was the standard in lenses. The closest I come are the Zeiss Otus lenses, (and the Zeiss 135mm) which I consider an Otus. With the above in mind, let’s look at the main Printing Nikkors (95mm, 105mm, and 150mm) and see what their field of view IS like. Forget about macro range and above. These lenses can go there, but I don’t. Someone else can check that out. The 95mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/3x~1/1.5x, while the 105mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/1.5x~1.5x, and the 150 PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/x. Other than there, we are going outside their optimum qualities at our own risk IQ-wise. Since I don’t usually do macro, but rather close-up photography, that tells me that the PC 95 is going to be the most useful (all around) for me. It does not mean that the others (or the 95mm) don’t go higher in f/stops, but that they don’t go higher at their sharpest. What’s the point of having a $3K lens if I am not going to be able to shoot at the range I want to shoot at and get top IQ? Unless I want to stack focus, I am kind of limited to “arty” photos, ones with just a hint of field depth. It’s nice, but for only once in a while. The 95mm PN can be used mounted directly to my Nikon D850, provided that camera is mounted on a focus fail. I could also add a very small helicoid to the lens, but the moment I do that I immediately lose some of what I most need, range. This lens is designed for something like 1:2 magnification. I find the 95mm very sharp, easy to use, and probably gives me the best bang for the buck, so to speak. The PN 95mm has 45mm outer threads. The lens mount M45 x 0.75 and there are 12 blades. The 105mm PN pretty much has to be on a bellows or view camera and, even then, the range is limited to about one view and (for my work) that is not even at its sharpest. The PN 105mm has 43mm filter threads and the lens mount is M45 x 0.75. There are 12 blades. There are two PN 150s (actually three), but the one not mentioned here follows the lead of the PN 150, 2nd version, and I don’t have it. The 150mm PNs are advertised for 1X magnification range, but it will work wider, but of course at a loss in IQ I would imagine. The PN 150mm (first version) has front and rear threads of 62mm. I’m not an expert, but this earlier version of the 150mm has an additional ring that compensates for the magnification, insuring sharper images over a wider range of magnification. This is perhaps what makes this version the most useful to me. It actually works and is kind of amazing to watch. You just dial it in and it is sharper. And the PN 150 (version 2) has a filter thread of 58mm and 12 blades. It can’t go much above f/4.5 and not lose quality. It does not have the extra ring to compensate for magnification. As far as mounting the Printing Nikkors to the Nikon-F mount, it is not difficult, but you do have to match up adapters. I have enough laying around here to mix and match until they all are ready to go. I post here two stacked photos for each of the four Printing Nikkors I have. These photos give you a rough idea of the kind of reproduction-ratio that I can get with these lenses. I am sure if you want to go 1:1 and above, you would with some get better results. However, I do the best I can with what I have. Below are shown two sets of four images, the first four are simple stacks of 2 layers, one each focused around the center of each flower. This lets you see each lens with little stacking. The second four images are all stacked liberally. They will show you what a stacked image looks like with each lens. I’m not sure what you will get out of these, but you can take a look. Meanwhile, I continue checking out these interesting (to me) lenses, the Printing Nikkors.
  11. Michael Erlewine


    Editor's note: incredible details and sharpness from Michael in this shot. Seen here.

    © Michael Erlewine

  12. Nikon D850, APO El Nikkor 105, Cambo Mini Actus
  13. I am “trying” to test out the Sony A7R3 in single-shot and pixel-shift mode, testing it against itself and also as close as I can to see how it compares to the Nikon D850. These shots are taken on the Cambo Actus Mini technical camera, using the D850 and A7R3 cameras in as close to the same conditions I can manage. They were shot within minutes of each other in natural light coming in a window on a snowy and overcast day. The lens is the APO-El Nikkor 105mm lens at f/5.6. The larger image is just an overview shot, a pixel-shifted image from the Sony A7R3 to provide context. There are two crops: One is with the Nikon D850 “as taken” and a second shot as cleaned up in post. Obviously, the second image could be to whatever taste we want. This comparison does show me that the Nikon is similar (to a degree and IMO) to what we call S-log in video. It is a bit of a canvas that we must tweak and finish in post, while I notice that the images from the A7R3 are much more finished and ready-to-go. I may prefer the S-log qualities; not sure yet. And the second image compares a single image from the A7R3 with an image that has been pixel-shifted. As for this, I don’t see all THAT much difference between the two for all the pixel-shifting work. So I hope others can test this themselves and weigh in here with your thoughts. Yes, I see some differences, but not as much as I expected. Of course, I have a lot more to do to form my own opinion of what I am seeing.
  14. Here is an single image (unstacked) at f/16 to give you an idea of what the A7R3 can do. This is pixel-shifted using the Voigtlander 65mm Macro lens for Sony E-mount.
  15. Here is a proof-of-concept stacked image taken with the Sony A7R3 using pixel-shift as follows: This is what I call a “short stack,” in this case six pixel-shifted images (each image using four pixel-shifts). These six resulting TIF images were then stacked using Zerene Stacker to produce a final stacked image. Because I only took six images, there are areas in the photo that are not in focus, perhaps most easily seen in the Spadix (large vertical in center), where I focused on the bottom and top of the Spadix, but not in the center. If I were to take a more normal stacked image, it might have 50 or more layers, but here, to save time, I just made six images. The result shows me that the A7R3 will work well for focus stacking, especially if they ever automate it better than they have now. I had to do each of the six images separately, since I don’t know how (or if) there is a way to batch process these at this point. I am impressed by the color and (unlike my Nikon D850), the A7R3 did not require much of any color adjustment. Interesting. I was using the APO-El Nikkor 105mm on the Cambo Actus, with the Sony E-mount, and a little time delay. So, to repeat myself, I see no reason why this setup will not be excellent for focus stacking. However, to be really useful, we would need software that accessed a folder and automatically processed all the 4-image pixel-shift packets in that folder and (for me) then converted the composite images (in this case six) into TIF files, ready to stack in Zerene Stacker. Aside from adjusting the exposure level, I did not post-process this image much at all. Sorry if this is a little sloppy, but I am doing it for me and sharing it with you, if you can find it helpful.
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