The Roadtrip

Recently me and Richard (my friend and fellow photographer whom I shot burnt trees and holes with) went on a roadtrip north. The primary mission was two-fold: to shoot family and pregnancy photos of wonderful Lea and her family, and for me to replace my server in the co-lo.

Both of these missions were successes, and you’re reading this served from the new machine.

Here’s some photos from the trip:

How I Spent My Weekend

Back in mid-september, me and a friend (and fellow photographer) had lunch together. During this lunch we lamented the fact that as a photographer, there’s just not a whole lot of good photos of yourself. We jokingly concluded that the best way to achieve this would be to gather a bunch of photographers in one site and simply shoot each other. Lightbulbs were lit above our heads, aha-moments were had and when we introduced the idea to a third photographer-friend the metaphorical wheels were set in motion.

Long story short, ten people gathered in a countryside-house about an hour or so outside Stockholm to have fun with photography. We brought everything we could carry and fit into the cars. Everything from large-format cameras to digital stuff, flashes and whatever we figured we might need.

A lot of fun was had. Below are a sampling of photos I took.

Fisheye or No fisheye?

Five years ago when I got back into photography and started being serious about it, I loved wide-angle lenses. I didn’t have a lot of money, but a superwide lens was on my wishlist. Back then I wasn’t quite as experienced and mature, and I’ve noticed how my compositions have grown and become better, as well as finding my own style.

Wide-angle lenses are a tricky breed and most photographers don’t understand how to (in my opinion) use them properly. Nothing applies to wide-angle lenses like that old Robert Capa quote.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

As my style developed (hurr durr, photography joke) I became less and less interested in superwide-angles. Since I became more and more interested in portraits and people, I became more interested in longer lenses.

But a while ago I bought a Samyang 12mm/f2.8 fisheye, and I think it’s absolutely hilarious. First, it’s so wonderfully wacky and secondly, it’s a pretty damn good lens overall. I’ve often said that it’s impossible to take a boring photo with this lens. Bad photo? Hell yeah. Boring? Nope, that can’t be done. With a crazy fisheye like this, everything is hilarious and interesting, even if the photo is crap.

To me, this is a fun, creative toy. It’s mostly useless for “serious” photography, but it’s a lot of fun shooting with it. Since the distortion is so crazy, you can abuse it to take bizarre portraits of your friends, as demonstrated below with the help of an old friend.

In the photo to the left, taken at closest focusing distance for this lens which is a little more than 20cm, his face is almost pressed against the camera. It is really shoved into his face, you can’t be shy with one of these lenses. The one on the right is a little more sane, but his face was maybe 30 cm from the lens.

If you treat a fisheye right, you can use it for a variety of less laughter-inducing purposes. Landscape photography is one, if you make sure the horizon is fairly vertical and don’t have a bunch of trees at the outer edges, no one will know you used a fisheye.

Another possible use is for interior photography. This is not optimal though, you need to perspective-correct the photos afterwards so the rooms don’t have that hobbit-y look. This unfortunately throws away a lot of the photo – but in a pinch it might do the trick.

Below are the same photos with the same editing. The difference between them is the one on the left has been perspective-corrected in Lightroom. Note how it cuts off the door on the right, as well as making the perspective so much more long. The hallway seems to be several miles long, but in reality I shot it about two meters from where my dad is sitting in his chair, chuckling.

To me, there’s no mystery why some photographers and filmmakers love extreme wide-angle lenses. It makes everything seem distorted and surreal, even when you use a rectilinear lens and not a fisheye.

Should you get a fisheye? If you like that wild, distorted look then hell yeah. Samyang makes a variety of fisheyes for all kinds of mounts and formats. The 12mm/f2.8 that I bought is excellent and blasts even Nikons own fisheye out of the water.

Review: Nikon Nikkor AF 35-70/f2.8

When I got my Nikon a few years ago, I bought it body-only. This was because I already had a decent midrange-zoom that would work with it. The lens is a bit of an heirloom, it used to belong to my father. He gave it to me (connected to his old Nikon F4, which he used a lot) and I figured it would be a good first-lens.

This is a late-1980s lens. As with most of Nikons autofocus-lenses from that era, this requires you to have a body with integrated focus-motor. Also, as with the 70-210, this is a push-pull contraption. I don’t mind it, and this lens is quite small anyways so it doesn’t grow too much.

Optically it’s excellent. This is a f2.8 and it was _the_ pro-midrange-zoom that Nikon made in the late 80s and it shows when you use it. Almost no vignetting, very little distortion and wildly sharp at any aperture. The 35-70 range is a little weird, but I rarely feel the need for anything wider than 35mm.

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It’s solidly built and will take a beating. I’m unsure of eventual weathersealing, but I know this one has seen a lot of action. I’ve literally taken almost 11.000 shots with it, and it was probably used for equal or more of that in my dads care. Mine has a few minor nicks and dents, but it’s still in great shape for a lens that’s over 25 years old and still gets used regularly.

UPDATE: While visually this lens is very similar to the 70-210 I also reviewed, this is way, way more tough. I just want to emphasize that. The 70-210 is decently built for a consumer lens from the late 1980s, but the 35-70/2.8 is a pro-lens and built to a much higher standard.

This lens also has a nice little trick where you can push down a little knob and enter into a kind of macro-mode. It only works in the 35mm-setting and also disables autofocus, but it’s surprisingly handy when you need to get a little closer to something.

Provided you can find one, expect to pay a little more than regular for it. This is a fairly coveted lens and I’ve seen prices for used specimens in good shape go all the way up to US$300-400. I didn’t pay anything for mine since it was a gift.

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Review: Helios 81N 50mm/f2

Here’s another great lens you should check out if you’re a Nikon-shooter. Everyone should have a fast 50 in their arsenal and this is a minor favorite of mine.

There are a lot of good reasons to get this. First is that it is quite small. It’s not pancake-small but it does not weigh anything really and barely juts out past the flash horn on my camera. Secondly is that it’s well-built. Third, it’s a lot of fun to shoot with. Fourth is that it costs very little.

The story behind the Helios 81N (or 81H when using the cyrillic alphabet) is that it’s a soviet/russian copy of an old Zeiss optical formula, slapped onto a unlicensed copy of the Nikon F-mount.

Now, there are a few caveats with this lens. No showstoppers, but things to know about. Since this is an unlicensed copy of the F-mount, it isn’t 100% accurate. At least mine isn’t. There are various versions of this lens but my version isn’t completely compatible. It wiggles a little when mounted. I mean, we’re talking fractions of a millimeter but enough to notice when it’s mounted. Also the aperture ring doesn’t quite line up with the cameras aperture-feeler. This is a bigger concern, since if you’re frivolous might damage the feeler. This is why I’ve modified mine with a bit of duct-tape so it lines up properly. A dab of thick glue would also do the trick, but for the time being I prefer something removable.

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Apart from that, this works great with any Nikon. This was the kit-lens included with some Soviet/Russian camera whose name escapes me, but it had an unlicensed Nikon-bayonet. Note: this is the ONLY Helios-branded lens (at least that I know of) that has this feature. Every other Helios either is M42-screw or some other bayonet. It’s just the 81 that is Nikon.

Why should you get this lens then? Because it has some very interesting optical properties. These optics are a bit of an acquired taste though, so it has to be something that attracts you. The Helios-81 produces wonderfully smeared bokeh, and when provoked in the right manner also swirls it similar to most other russian lenses. Stop it down a bit and it’s also very sharp, but this is one of those lenses you want to shoot wide open, Lomo-style.

Here’s a photo I took with it. It gives very contrasty pictures, and the smeary bokeh adds a painting-like quality to the textures.

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I like this lens a lot. Unlike the other Helios I’ve reviewed (and hated) this one is a keeper. It’s very cheap to get, I bought mine for about 30 US bucks. Look around ebay, they’re everywhere.