Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Having Fun with the Cheapest Lens I Could Find

Confession: I bought a new lens. I just could not help the itch to get this tiny, cute little creature when it was advertised in the local buy sell directory for photography equipment, and as soon as I saw the post I immediately fired an email to the seller, and there and then I booked a meet-up session, which was just last night. It was the CCTV Lens 25mm F1.2 C-mount, and the lens comes with C-mount to Micro 4/3 adapter, meaning I can instantly mount the lens onto my beloved Olympus PEN E-PL1 and take it for a spin right away. I did just that, immediately after work today, I went to Kuala Lumpur city area and had plenty of fun shooting with this dirt cheap lens. How cheap? On Ebay, you can probably get it below USD30, no kidding !!

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus PEN E-PL1 and CCTV 25mm F1.2 lens, unless otherwise mentioned

At wide aperture F1.2, you can get bokeh even when shooting wide angle. 



The lens is still decently sharp for a close up portrait shot, and the unusual bokeh added characteristics to the  shot. Say hi to Luke Chua, a skillful photographer friend whom I have come to admire a lot. Check out his beautiful photo-blog here (click). 

Image taken with ,my HTC phone camera. Luke Chua was trying out the CCTV lens. 

As I was just about to start shooting with the CCTV lens, I bumped into a dear friend and great photographer, Luke Chua. He invited me to join him for coffee, which I initially thought of passing, but I figured one thing definitely more important than shutter therapy, is spending time with friends. Hence I bought my drink and sat with Luke for a while. And as I pulled out my camera with the CCTV lens mounted on it, you should have seen the shock on Luke's face !! He did not realize such tiny lens exist, and can be mounted on the actual camera and do some shooting with it. The CCTV lens was indeed very tiny in size, and it did look out of place, and it screamed fashion disaster. But hey, the fact that I am using a real CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) lens is a rather cool fact in itself !!

For those of you who do not know about this CCTV lens, well it was a lens used for CCTV surveillance system, mostly security cameras. The lens was initially designed for a C-mount, which fitted for much smaller sensor (about 1/2 inch). Therefore, it can be used with micro 4/3 system, but there would be slight loss of light at the corners, causing some vignetting, which was not too much of a problem to me. The lens is a fully manual lens, meaning you have to control the aperture and focusing manually. There is no aperture indicator, and everything is operated by feel, including the focusing distance. Not exactly an easy tool for beginners to use, you have got to have your understanding on aperture and focusing right, and you must have the willingness to experiment, going through the process of trial and error, while finding what works best for the lens and your camera system. I dare say, most people can't be bothered with understanding and controlling the technicalities, and give up. I find myself having plenty of fun with the manual controls !!

This is probably one of the unpredictable decisions, even to myself, which I have made when I purchased the CCTV lens. I treasure Autofocus above anything else, and I always complain of a camera or lens has slow and unreliable focusing system. I strongly stressed on the importance of having very fast autofocus in order not to miss important moments, and the camera should not slow the photographer down. In contrary to that, now I am using a manual focus lens. Not only that, I have always been very particular when it comes to image quality: sharpness, technical perfection which this CCTV lens surely is lacking. I guess, in order to push myself beyond my limits and move out from my usual comfort zone, it is advisable to try out something completely different, something I have not done before, and something I know I will have some difficulties mastering. Challenges will pose as the chisel to carve a better shape out of you. I need the chiseling and I need to be in a better shape. Sometimes, in order to improve in something, we have got to go right back to the basics. 

The bridge to KLCC from Pavilion

Vertical Light

Escalator. It was an intended out of blur shot. Even the blur shot from this CCTV lens comes out very pleasing. 

The New KLCC Musical Fountain

Shuttle Service

The iconic Twin Towers

The Moon was shining bright


I admit this lens was not easy to use. As I was shooting on the street, the manual focusing slowed me down tremendously. I have missed many shots, but that was not something I have not anticipated. Hence I was concentrating on non-moving subjects instead. This is the part where I was being pushed: to open up my eyes and look for different kind of subjects, out from my usual hunts. 

The CCTV lens 25mm F1.2 exhibits many characteristics, which modern photography would describe most of them as flaws. The characteristics, or technical flaws are as follows:

1) Vignetting.It happens in every shot, even at wide open. It gets worse as you stop the aperture down. 

2) Corner Softness. You lose sharpness if you place the subjects in the corner. 

3) Bad barrel distortion. Curvature at sides of the photograph is quite evident, bending straight lines to curves

4) Flare and ghosting issues. You get very bad flare if there is a strong light source present.

5) Unusual shaped bokeh. The bokeh is not exactly as smooth or as creamy as most modern lenses, but it has some shapes to it, which seemed stretched. This was probably due to the earlier mentioned heavy distortion. 

6) F1.2 is not exactly F1.2, and if you have done some research online, it might be F1.4 or F1.8. 

I can list on more flaws of the lens, but seriously, for such a dirt cheap price, do I really care? 

The vignetting is an effect I love, and I sometimes added a little vignetting in my B&W photographs in post processing, hence the vignetting of the CCTV lens was not an issue to me. Corner softness is perfectly fine, I rarely place my subjects at the extreme corner anyway. Barrel distortion? So what? I am not going to sell my CCTV lens images to some architectural firms anyway. And I thought the unsual bokeh looks really unique, and tasty. And who really cares of it is F1.2 or not, even if it was only F2, it still beats the kit lens in terms of brightness and ability to gather light in a dim lighting condition, such as shooting the street at night. 

Oh did you see the bokeh? It is not to everyone's liking, but I do like the background blur of this CCTV lens !

Floating Elephant

Floating cars

Cosmetics

Everyone needs their break

Hug the Fire Hydrant

Smoke it in and out

They Glow in the Dark


What are my expectations when I bought this CCTV lens, and when I was using it? To be honest, I did not have any expectations at all. It was a harmless purchase, being such a dirt cheap bargain, and surprisingly I am loving what I can with this lens. I know that this lens will not be any useful for anything serious, without the availability of autofocus. However, I have been reminded by many friends lately to slow down, and really take a look at things in a slower manner, and open my eyes before firing my shutter button randomly. Slowing down may just be the key to improving my photography for now. The CCTV lens may have many flaws, but the results it managed to produce was quite charming on its own. Perhaps this is just what I needed to remind myself that photography is a lot more than just technical perfection (which I have mentioned many times in this blog) and most times, the gear does not matter. There are many ways to improve photography, so why not take a step or two back, and rediscover myself?

I brought the E-PL1 with the CCTV 25mm F1.2 out for a run earlier this evening. I set the camera to Aperture Priority mode, and trusted the camera's metering, which I used "center weighted". On the lens, I opened the aperture to the widest, which is probably F/1.2 (not sure how accurate this is) and stayed wide open throughout the night. I did adjust the ISO setting manually, depending on lighting condition, the darker the available light, the higher I bumped the ISO to. I did turn on the Image Stabilization, customized to 24mm, and the IS worked very well with the CCTV lens. While manual focusing with the lens, I did use the live magnification preview on the live view (I do not have an electronic viewfinder). I was shooting all JPEG, while I did post process some of the photographs to a certain extent, I did not crop any images at all in this entry. 

I started out at Pavilion, heaving toward KLCC Twin Tower direction, using the newly completed connecting bridge. As I arrived at KLCC, I took some quick shots around the park area, and of course shooting the tower itself. I made a round back to Pavilion, and walked along Bukit Bintang streets, and took a stroll along the famous Jalan Alor. The final stop was at Low Yat Plaza, where I had a chance to try out the Nikon D3200, which I have been lusting a little for a while now. And that evil Kirk Tuck writing about his experience on D3200, and his glowing review did not help me at all to try to shake aside my deepening thoughts of purchasing one for myself. It would be really great to start a new camera system altogether, but at the moment, my current system works just fine, and the D3200 is not a necessity. Nonetheless, keeping the option open is always a wise thing to do. If you have not known me by now, my main consideration when it comes to photography equipment has always been budget. 

In some small ways, the CCTV lens is a cheap, temporary, yet very effective cure for my gear-lust at the moment, stopping me fro making regrettable purchases. Hey, I know I have blogged on how to improve photography without upgrading your gear, but I am just like you and anybody else, I am human, and the downside of that is being susceptible to temptations. Who does not have gear lust?


It was extremely difficult for me to make quick focus. I did still come home with some usable shots. I always believed that if I want something bad enough, I will get it. 

If you place your subject in the center, and if your focusing is spot on, the subject can be very sharp. Not bad for such a cheap lens. 

Look at how the bokeh curved at the edges. 

Aaahhhhhhhhh D3200. 

Sony A57. For some reasons, this camera does not really appeal to me. The siblings A77, or NEX7 are sexier. 

Nikon weaponary

Rush

Christmas in June


If you are looking for some cheap, harmless fun, something to refresh your photography perspective, something challenging to play with, why not give a CCTV lens a try? After all, that is the main advantage of using micro 4/3 system, you can basically mount anything on your camera, as long as you find the right adapter to the camera, and are willing to do some manual focusing works. 

As I have mentioned in my previous blog, something "exciting" is coming, and I was not referring to this CCTV lens. Check back on my blog soon, more details will be updated. 




28 comments:

  1. Donald W Leitzel6/28/2012 02:42:00 AM

    Robin it just proves that it is more about technique than it is about equipment. I have an old Canon FL mount 55mm F1.2 that I use on my E-P1, it is manual of course and has a paper thin depth of field. But it is still capable of some interesting images, and as we all know it's the image not the equipment that matters.
    Manual focus most certainly forces you to slow down but I used manual focus for the first twenty years of my photography.

    Don from America

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Donald,
      Wow, I can only imagine how thin the depth of field is for the 55mm F1.2 lens !! Indeed, manual focus never was an issue before autofocus was invented.

      Delete
  2. Cheap doesn't mean bad. Very pleasing entry Robin. I also have a manual lens, m4/2 mount helios 58mm f/2, and its serve me well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Amiruddin,
      Glad to hear you are playing with manual lens too.

      Delete
  3. ...but despite your comment here, I see the photos are decent enough for me. Maybe it's the photographer?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Cyril,
      Haha, thanks for the kind compliments, but the photos do exhibit high level of technical flaws. But yeah, like I mentioned, sometimes good photography is not just about technical perfection, its a lot more than that.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting lens! :D A lot of fun with it, eh?

    ReplyDelete
  6. It look like the CCTC lens is fun, cost a little but provide high satisfaction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes kelvin, no regrets even if I dont like the lens !

      Delete
  7. Hi Robin

    I am in Toronto and reading your blog frequently.

    Very nice pictures using CCTV lense. Did you try Minolta MD/MC lenses using on M4/3 body ? I think it should be a good combo and will give a better result.The Minolta MD/MC lenses are dirt cheap too.

    Francis

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Francis,
      Thanks for your constant support on my blog.
      I have not encountered the lens you have mentioned. Dont think any of my friends have it. Would love to try it out if I have the chance to.

      Delete
    2. check out this link if you have time http://www.rokkorfiles.com/olympus.htm they are more on 4/3 at that time, I presently using Rokkor 50mm 1.4 on E-1 with very good result. will like to try on the m4/3 body too.

      Regards
      Francis - Toronto

      Delete
  8. I also bought a similar lenses from the same company on ebay. Mine is a 1.4 and shares the similar circular bokeh. I love it though

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Robin,

    Somebody posted your blog link in DPReview on the Zuiko 75mm sample shots that led me to this, and I have to say that I'm loving your blog (already bookmarked it), maybe once I get back to Malaysia we should have a photo "therapy" together.

    Btw, the bokeh of this lens reminded me of a Russian lens, Helios-40, 85mm f/1.5, it's very unusual.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Robin,
    First time to comment but long time reader of your blog.

    Great review. You know what, i also just purchased a similar cctv lens, mine is a 24mm f1.4. Now after reading your review, i can't wait to receive my order and have fun with this unique lens on my em-5.

    ReplyDelete
  11. i have this lens and i love it.
    i use it very often, you can see my pictures here http://luke-photoblog.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very impressive work. I really enjoy your photoblog. I feel it is quite educational for photographers.

      Delete
  12. Mr Robin,
    Can my Olympus E620 use this sexy cctv lens ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awang,
      Sorry, you can only use it on micro 4/3 or sony NEX bodies. Reason is that without the mirror, the distance between the back of the lens and the sensor has been greatly reduced, this allows for the usage of many lenses such as the CCTV lens. Hence you can't use it on any DSLR system.

      Delete
  13. Robin I have linked this great post in our little C Mount Community on Google Plus. Thank you! Libby

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/103317797050569563916

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hey Robin, great pics and it's convinced me to get a CCTV lens off eBay for my wife's Panny GX1. We've been waking around, she with her GX1/Panny 20mm f1.7, while I'm hoisting my D7100/Sigma 17-50mm f2.8. No wonder I've got slightly sore shoulders at the end of the day! I'm starting to steal the GX1 off her when I can :)

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  15. Hi Robin, thank you for your post sharing, keep it up!
    www.iwatchs.com.my

    ReplyDelete