Friday it was 13°C and the next morning (yesterday morning) it dropped to -1°C and it was falling big wet snowflakes 😦
The photo below was taken at the Ecomuseum of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue near my home. Taken with my Pentax K50 and DA 55-300mm WR.
I didn’t post much lately, not much time and the temperature or subjects didn’t cooperated. Went to test my new Pentax K50 this morning, it was -15°C (-23°C with the windchill). I like to go to a local old canal to try out new gear because of the details in the canal.
It’s full name is : HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm/3.5-5.6 ED DC WR. I did owned the Canon 15-85mm/3.5-5.6 and liked it a lot because of it’s range and quite good IQ, it was especially useful during our family vacation we took 2 years ago in the province of New Brunswick and P.E.I. here in Canada. The Pentax is even more desirable to my eyes because it incorporates WR, is cheaper than the Canon as well when there is no rebates. The Canon quickly developed zoom creep, which it’s known for, hope the Pentax will do better in that department. They both focus down to 0.35 meter and uses a 72mm filter size.
My first impression when i removed the lens from the box was it’s solid feel in my hand, always a positive thing to feel that a lens can take some abuse. The zooming ring feels stiff enough for the moment to prevent zoom creep, will have to wait after some months of field use to see if it will maintain that stiffness and not suffer from zoom creep.
IQ and field experience
One of the most important selling point of lenses is sharpness, if a lens can’t deliver in that department most people will not buy it. Do you need to absolutely have the sharpest lens available, probably not, but a lens needs to be at least very good. Does the Pentax DA 16-85mm is good enough …….. after shooting for some weeks with it in the field i can say that it’s a very good lens.
The focusing ring is placed close to the mount, which is not my favorite place to put it on a lens, which seems to become a “trend” with lens manufacturer, i prefer the “old” way. It’s probably because now peoples are using lenses mostly in AF mode and it’s a better place to put the zooming ring more at the front of the lens. I would have liked the focusing ring to be larger also but i will live with it. It’s my first Pentax lens with a DC motor and it’s quite fast and silent. The AF is very good in LV at any distances, works really well in the field with most subjects.
Flare control is always very good on Pentax lenses, so this lens is no different than all the other Pentax lenses i’ve owned.
The more i use it the more i find that it’s a very useful lens for nature photography because it’s a complete package.
Close-up , does the image quality is maintained ???
The lens alone can focus quite close at 35cm resulting in a reproduction ratio of 0.26x, which is not bad. My Canon 15-85mm was not so good at 85mm at the minimum focusing distance, the IQ dropped, especially in the corners. Does the Pentax 16-85mm will perform better, will it make a good occasional “Close-up” kit ?
I gave it a try this morning, mounting it on my tripod i photographed some leaves on the ice. First thing i have to say is that the fact that it’s a Zoom makes it easier to change my framing, when using a prime Macro lens if your too close you have to play with the legs of your tripod, not as fast and effective.
I compared it with my Tamron 90mm Macro (model 72E) to see how it really performs at close range. It’s not fair in term of pure sharpness but i needed a benchmark, i’m not expecting the same degree of details from the DA 16-85mm, especially in the corners. But if the quality is good in the center it might be helpful for some Frog shots.
Here is my test subject:
At f/5.6 the Tamron has the advantage by a slight margin but at f/8 (the crop posted here) there is no real advantage, i would call this negligeable for field work. Adding the PP and sharpening and both could be printed quite large with very good IQ.
Pentax came-up with a great lens, from my experience it’s a better lens than the Canon 15-85mm that i was using in the past and it has the bonus of weather sealing !!! It makes a very good combo with my K50 and tough enough to shoot in very bad weather. It fits perfectly for the kind of photography I do, it can be landscape, Close-up or even family photos. With that lens i can do all that in good or bad weather while producing beautifully detailed photos. Like i said, my only complaint is the placement and size of the focusing ring, but that’s a personal thing because i’m using MF a lot in my photography.
Well, some will say that it’s pricey but if you look at how many lenses it replaces and how good it is, even for close-up photos, i think it’s well worth the price. Sure it’s a “slow” lens, if you need a lens with a faster maximum aperture to use in very low light it’s not the lens your looking for. But for a nature photographer who want a good lens that is not too big or heavy, for travelling or for everyday use, i think it’s one of the best option in Pentax land. Pentax really proved with that lens that they can make some excellent zoom lenses, not only small prime lenses. I will post updates when I will be able to try it out on Frogs.
Usually when we talk about close-up photography we think of using a Macro lens but a WA lens can give you a different perspective. Unfortunately there isn’t that many WA lenses that can focus very close. Sigma is making or have made a 24mm and a 28mm “Macro” lenses but i’ve never tried them, they can focus down to 0.18 Meter and 0.20 Meter respectively and giving a reproduction ration of 1:2.7 and 1:2.9.
The lenses that i have more experience with are two 14mm lenses that focus closer than other manufacturers 14mm lenses … the Pentax DA14mm and Fuji XF 14mm. The Pentax can focus down to 0.17 Meter (repro ratio of 1:5) and the Fuji to 0.18 Meter (repro ratio of 1:8), both are APS-C lenses only. From the official numbers the Fuji doesn’t have a magnification as high as the Pentax, that 1 cm closer focusing of the Pentax makes a big difference or it’s something in the lens design that results in a big loss of magnification. If someone know the answer don’t hesitate to post it below.
A last point, the Pentax have the advantage of having SR (Shake Reduction) in the cameras, i think that any kind of image stabilisation is useful even with a WA lens. Sometimes you’re shooting handheld at arms length and every help you can get is welcome. Sure you can boost the ISO but there is a limit when you want to maintain IQ.
Here is how close the Pentax DA14 is to the subject at it’s minimum focusing distance.
Enough of the technical talking, now in the field with those 2 WA lenses. They are both great lenses at their minimum focusing distance, i used them especially for photographing close-ups of frogs but also for flowers and mushrooms. When i’m using a 14mm lens for taking close-ups of frogs i don’t put the hood on the lens because it almost touches my subject and can scare it away. With some practice you get to know which frog will let you close enough to have a good shot.
This Green Frog was taken near the minimum focusing distance of the Fuji XF 14mm at f/8 on an X-E1.
One from the Pentax DA 14mm at f/7.1, sorry about the dead Red Squirrel but i like that photo because it shows that wild animals are always in danger even in our towns.
Mushroom in it’s habitat taken with the Pentax DA 14mm.
The photo of this Male Bullfrog was taken from a Canoe with the help of my wife and kids to get close enough. (Fuji XF14mm at f/6.4)
Mushrooms growing in a mossy forest close to a big river, taken handheld but braced on my camera bag at a shutter speed of 1/8 sec. at f/6.4. (Fuji XF 14mm)
This photo was taken at my parent’s summer cabin, they are wild young Black Ducks but peoples around the Lake gave them foods since they were very young when they came with their parents. I was able to get really close to them by getting down on my belly. Taken with my Fuji XF14mm at f/9.0, some even tried to eat my fingers or X-E1!
I prefer to use MF at close distances, especially with the Pentax K-01 and Fuji X-E1 because of the Focus Peaking which makes it easy to get perfect focus. It takes some practice to get good composition and don’t forget to get very close to the subject so your shot will have more impact. With a WA lenses you get a lot of things into the frame so you have to pay attention to the background and the corners, because you will see things in your photo later that you didn’t saw when you took your photo, so look carefully in the field to be sure you can remove or recompose to get the distracting objects or plants out of your frame.
So get close and down to the level of your subject and have fun while getting interesting perspectives!
My first Macro lens i bought back in 1992 was the Tamron SP 90mm/2.5 (1:2 ratio, Manual Focus) , i really liked that lens, very good for the price. I used it until i switched to digital in 2006 and found that it was prone to sensor flare. After that over the years i’ve used many Macro lenses from Nikon, Olympus (OM and m4/3), Vivitar 90-180mm Flat Field but mostly from Pentax. Before switching from Pentax to Canon i was owning 3 Macro lenses: Pentax DA 35mm/2.8 Macro Ltd, SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm/4 and Pentax DFA 100mm/2.8 Macro WR. The Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR is my favorite Macro lens that i’ve ever used, so when i switched to Canon i wanted to have the same advantages …. Weather sealing and IS (IBIS for Pentax) since i like photographing frogs i often shoot in wet and muddy habitat and also often handholding my camera because a tripod is not always practical.
At first, i wanted to buy the Canon 100mm Macro IS L, price, size and weight were cons for that lens compared to what i was used with my Pentax (FF lens also). Then i found that Tamron was making a 90mm Macro with VC and weather sealing (Unfortunately not available in Pentax mount), smaller and lighter than the Canon. Sure it does not feel as solidly built than the Canon and especially the Pentax which the barrel is made of metal, but it’s good quality plastic and should be able to survive regular use in the field. A Canadian store had a good rebate on the Canon but especially on the Tamron (600$ CDN) … more than 400$ cheaper than the Canon! So after reading reviews and user opinions i finally pulled the trigger on the Tamron 90mm Macro VC USD, as a bonus here in Canada the Warranty from Tamron is 6 years.
For the moment i will be owning only 1 Macro lens for my Canon kit so a lens in the 90mm-100mm range was my choice. A longer Macro lens is helpful for insects that are difficult to get close, for the moment i will use Ext. tubes on my 70-200mm/4 L if i need more reach when photographing Frogs.
This lens is Weather sealed but couldn’t find a definitive answer on how much weather sealed it really is, so i did sent an E-Mail to Tamron Canada and the next day i received the following answer:
“The weather sealing on your 90mm F/2.8 VC lens is provided by the gasket on the rear of the lens. There are no other gaskets or seals in the lens.”
Compared to the Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR, which have several gaskets inside the lens also, the Tamron can’t be used in constant rain like the Pentax can, but there is no gap between the focusing ring and the plastic barrel, so maybe it can take some light rain, the weak point might be the switches. The seal around the lens mount doesn’t look as tough as the one on the Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR but i will have to wait and see how well it will hold-up in the long term.
I made a short video showing the gasket on the rear mount of the lens:
The lens is made of plastic but feels solid, i like tha it’s an IF lens, it will not extend when getting close to my subjects. The focusing ring is large and easy to grip. I would have liked the focusing ring to be more progressive, by that i mean taking more turn from infinity to minimum focusing distance (it takes 1/2 turn from minimum to infinity). Because of that, at close range, just a little turn of the focusing ring and it makes a big difference on where the focus is made, compared to the old Manual focus lenses it’s not as easy to use … but most of the AF lenses suffers from that unfortunately.
On the lens you will find 3 switches (focus limiter, AF/MF and for the VC On/Off), all 3 are easy to use and i have no complaint about them.
Before going to results in the field i want to talk about a little thing that i like about that Tamron lens …. the lens caps ! They are the best i’ve seen on a lens, thick enough and easy to use with a good firm lock, easy to use even in winter with cold fingers, same for the lens hood. Compared to the Canon front lens caps which are the worst i’ve used , too thin and difficult to use.
Results in the field
Modern Macro lenses are all very good, the choice of one over another is based more on features and focal length. Depending on your needs and the subjects you want to photograph there is a Macro lens that is more suited for the task.
The lens also performs very well at normal shooting distances, like this shot of a frozen waterfall, taken at f/11, tripod.
I finally had some time and opportunities (spring was late this year and subjects were difficult to find), this lens performs really well and IQ is very good. I have no doubt and use it at any aperture, sure there is a little drop of resolution as you stop it down to f/11-16 but still very usable, wouldn’t use f/22 as the drop in IQ is too much for my taste.
The Bokeh looks good even if there is some Bokeh fringing (green in the OOF background), which is not that evident at normal viewing distance, i can live with it. In the photos posted here the OOF area are smooth and doesn’t distracts the eyes from the main subject.
This lens is bigger and heavier than my previous Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR but it handles quite well on my 7D and T3i and it works well for ground level subjects with the VC and the articulated LCD of the T3i.
Tamron produced different versions of this 90mm (f/2.5 and 2.8) over the years and they all have a very good reputation for delivering great results and this one is no exception, Tamron did another great version of their 90mm Macro. It may not be as weather sealed as my Pentax DFA 100mm Macro WR was, but it’s a great lens that fits my needs and at a very good price. If you’re looking for another option than the Canon, Nikon or Sony brand Macro lens in that range this one certainly deserve a good look before taking a final decision. I will post updates when i will have more experience with that lens for photographing Frogs at my favorite pond.
Macro and Close-up photography is a lot of fun and it can open a whole new world of opportunities for a photographer. You don’t necessarily need to buy a dedicated Macro lens, there is other options, we will look at that later.
A true Macro lens can go to a reproduction ratio of 1:1 but some lenses (often older manual lenses) can be found that only goes to a 1:2 repro ratio and needs an extension tube to go to 1:1. Many zoom lenses have a Macro position but at best they will go down to a 1:3 ratio. Some wide angle lenses have a Macro position, i have an old Clubman 24mm/2.8 Macro that can go down to 1:4 repro ratio. Currently on the market you can find many Macro lenses in different focal lengths ranging from 35mm up to 200mm, some are stabilized and some rely on the image stabilisation in the cameras (IBIS). If you really want to get close with excellent IQ Canon makes the MP-E 65mm 1-5X which can go from 1:1 to 5:1 repro ratio. Macro lenses are the best way to go because they are easier to use in the field, you just turn the focusing ring as you get closer and the IQ is excellent, but they are not cheap unless you can buy old ones are some newer models on the used market.
From left to right: Pentax DA 35mm/2.8 Macro Limited, SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm/4 and Pentax DFA 100mm/2.8 Macro WR. As a side note you can see the big difference here between the lenses from the old manual focus Takumar to the modern Macro lenses when you look at the distance scale, the focus throw of AF lenses is so short that those scale are pretty much useless compared to the old time.
Here is my Clubman 24mm Macro, you can see the reproduction ratio on the front of the barrel.
A small Macro lens like the Pentax DA 35mm Macro is easy to carry around and can give effect that a longer Macro lens can’t. Here i was so close that the lens was touching the flower and the result is that we feel like we are in the flower with the insect.
A longer Macro lens gives you more working distance which can be useful for insects or potentially dangerous animals like this snapping turtle. Here i was using my 100mm Macro lens handheld but a 200mm lens would have been even better to be safer.
Here is a comparison between 2 Macro lenses to show how the focal length affect the background. The photo above was taken with the Pentax DA 35mm Macro Ltd.
Now, this one i tried to kept the same subject’s size with a Vivitar 90-180mm Flat Field at 180mm at the same f-stop. Also notice the different color cast of the 2 lenses.
Reversing rings are a cheap way to get into Macro photography, you just screw the reversing ring into the filter thread of the lens and then mount it to the camera (BTW they came in different sizes, like filters). You need a lens with an aperture ring to do that if you want to control the aperture ring of the lens even if you don’t gain much DOF by doing so. The wider the lens the closer you can go and gain more magnification but you will be very close and the rear of the lens is exposed to the elements. You can’t vary magnification much by focusing the lens, so if you want a different magnification you need to use another lens. Another advantage is that you can mount whatever brand of lens you want.
A reversing ring is a cheap way to get into Macro photography, you can use it on your kit lens or a small prime like a 28mm, 35mm or 50mm.
Here i used it with my SMC Takumar 35mm/3.5 to photograph this lady bug.
Close-up lenses are like filters and when used on any lens they make it focus closer. They come in different strengths, size and quality. I have a Nikon close-up 6T, but Canon makes very good ones also, you will pay more for those 2 brands but the IQ is worth it. The advantage is that you don’t loose light when you use them but depending on the lens the IQ can suffer. You can still use them on a Macro lens for more magnification.
Even if you have a Macro lens extension tubes are worth having in your camera bag, i use them with my Macro lens and also with my longer lenses to make them focus closer. There are many choices on the internet, you don’t need to pay for the ones from your camera brand since this is only tubes without any glass elements in them. They come in a set of tree but you can also buy them separately (Canon does that). I use Aputure extension tube set (13mm, 21mm and 31mm) for my Canon gear and they work very well with my lenses and AF works very well also even on my 400mm lens when needed.
Extension tubes uses the same mount as your camera brand (if you use Pentax you need to buy K mount tubes, Canon EF mount for Canon ….) and you mount them between the camera and the lens. So if you want to use your 50mm/1.8 lens with extension tubes you need to add 50mm of extension tubes to get to a reproduction ratio of 1:1. So here comes the biggest drawback of extension tubes,as you add extension tubes you loose more and more light and you quickly loose 1 or 2 stop of light which results in a longer exposure time. I like to use extension tubes with a zoom lens because the magnification varies as you zoom, so if you add about 50mm of extension tubes to a 70-200mm lens you will gain more magnification as you zoom from 200mm to 70mm.
Here is a photo taken with a 70-300mm lens with 64mm of extension tubes, not in the Macro range but we can call it Close-up.
Another photo taken with extension tubes added to a lens, this time it was to my Tele-Takumar 200mm/5.6.
Yes they can be useful, i use my TC 1.4X with my 100mm Macro lens when i need more magnification but want to keep the same working distance and don’t want to disturb my subject. You can add a Teleconverter between your camera and the extension tubes to gain more magnification or to your lens alone. A good teleconverter is not cheap but the older Tamron 1.4X AF for my Pentax was working very well with my DFA 100mm Macro WR. The TC also cost you light, 1 stop for the 1.4X and 2 stops for a TC 2X.
Sometimes a TC 1.4X is needed even with a 100mm Macro lens.
There is also bellows that acts like a variable extension tube but they are not very practical to use in the field, too big and easy to damage. You can also reverse a 50mm on a 200mm lens but i’ve never tried it myself. I will post another article soon that will talk more on the use of the options above and techniques for using them.
Another cold week, but it makes for good opportunities for photos. You just have to dress well and be ready to endure some cold and be ready to shoot. That morning when i took that photo it was -30C and the Old Canal was all frosted …. like i was hoping for.
Pentax K-01 with DA 20-40mm Limited, tripod.