50/f1.2: Some pictures

Finally managed to find time to develop a roll of film. 2014 is busy.

I did a lot of walking around the area I used to live in while visiting family over Christmas, giving me ample opportunity to find some interesting subjects to shoot with the 50mm f1.2 lens on my Nikon F3. These images are the highlights of the 36exp roll of Ilford Delta 400 I shot over a couple of my wandering about sessions. Again this is 400 ASA film processed in more dilute developer (for longer) to try and minimise grain – doing this certainly makes them more scanner friendly!

Being a committed aperture junkie these were all shot wide, wide, wiiiiiiiiiide open at f1.2, giving practically no depth of field up close but still a decent amount when focused nearer to infinity.

my_50mm_2_01

I really like the way this lens renders out of focus sharp lines (like grass or pine needles), giving them and almost infra-red photography style ghostly appearance. The Bokeh is a little busy looking, but also soft enough that shapes and lines are abstract background rather than distracting (i.e. they are enough out of focus to stop your brain trying to resolve them into anything specific).

my_50mm_2_02

With more distant subjects the effect is more subtle, but there is a definite subject isolation that I really like, the background is kicked just out of focus giving you an additional compositional tool to direct your audience to your chosen subject.

my_50mm_2_03

Shot at f1.2 the leans is sharp enough for film use. On a D800 it gets a bit lost wide open as all that resolving power is trying to make sense of the fairly old skool light hitting the sensor, but on ISO 400 film scanned at 2400dpi it only takes moderate sharpening in Lightroom to give a definite sharp point on the frame.

my_50mm_2_04

There is, as always, a bit of a fight going on between the grain and the sharpening tools, so the transition from sharpness to smooth blur gets a bit untidy on anything contrasty that is just outside the depth of field, especially in the foreground. These objects tend to have soft edges but fairly sharp grain inside making them look strangely low resolution rather than out of focus. The solution would be to stop down a bit (never!) to widen the DoF and pull the subjects into focus, or to get (and focus) closer to narrow the DoF and throw them right out of focus.

my_50mm_2_05

The latter option is quite effective, and many of these shots were done at the minimum focus distance of just under 50cm, using camera movement to focus (as one might do with a macro lens).

my_50mm_2_06

The lens is pretty easy to use on the F3 body and they are well suited as a combination. The F3 has the best viewfinder I’ve ever used, and with a split-image rangefinder in the middle you have a hope of finding focus in a way that is hard on the digital SLR bodies (shame on Nikon for not going split-image with the new ‘retro’ Df body). The lens weighs about the same as an F3, so the pairing is nicely balanced, and it looks very cool.

The final thing I noticed was the epic vignetting this lens has wide open. Now I’m a heavy vignetter in Lightroom usually (for better or worse) but this lens wide open does all the work for me – I didn’t touch the vignette tool on any of these images, and the last one shows just how much you get for free.

To sum up, this is a very nice lens and will be firmly attached to my F3 for the foreseeable future. The lens gives a certain look to images shot wide open that would be hard to fully replicate digitally (the soft glow in particular). Wide open this is a kind of art lens rather than a technical lens, it’s more about distorting reality rather than accurately recording it, but it does so in a well mannered, predictable and extremely well manufactured way (and then stopped down to f2 or so it becomes technically marvellous). I love it dearly, it makes pictures the way I like to make pictures, I just tweak the tone curve and sharpness in post.

Problem is, now it needs a 35mm f1.4 Nikkor to keep it company. And they go for Hasselblad money.

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