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Thursday, October 30

Swirly bokeh? From a Nikon Series E?

Back in September I mentioned that I'd won a Leitz Focomat 1C at a local auction. What I didn't say was that I also picked up a Nikon F100 with a Sigma zoom at the same auction for less than half of what I'd expect to pay on Ebay.

I didn't go along to the viewing day with the intention of buying the Nikon but it just looked in wonderful condition and had obviously seen very little use. The Sigma zoom isn't great - I tried it out on the D700 - but, strangely, it goes on Ebay for not far short of what I paid for it and the camera combined. So once I've sold it, I'll effectively have a free F100 - my kind of deal.

No, I didn't need the F100 at all and its purchase probably seems somewhat hypocritical after the last couple of posts bemoaning the G.A.S. we're all prone to from time to time. But I've got a couple of nice primes - a 35mm f2 AF-D and an 85mm f1.8 AF-D - that I thought might work really well with it and that swung it for me. In the past I've used the excellent Nikon F90X with these lenses but the F100 is just so much more refined.

The F100 had been sitting in a bag since September so I thought it was about time to give it a try - after all, it's always possible that a camera that looks almost new might still have a fault that renders it useless. So I loaded up a roll of Silvermax and went for a walk around the university campus, my standard location for trying out a new camera.

Rather than take the AF-D primes with me I opted instead for a tiny 50mm Series E lens that came in another cracking deal from a year or two ago that delivered a nice Nikon F to me again for effectively no cost. I tried it out back then on the D700 but wasn't too impressed. The images lacked contrast and weren't as sharp as I expected. Would it be any different on film?

The quick answer is, no. It still isn't too sharp and it has some dodgy-looking corners wide open and at f2.8 that lead me to think it's badly decentered. Take a look at the pic below (you've seen this one a few times before: I sort of use it to check a lens's quality), particularly, the bottom corners.

Swirly bokeh or lens decentering? Looks like a fault to me.

Maybe if it was an old Sonnar the swirly bokeh would be acceptable but this looks like something else to me. There's no gradual dissolution into the out-of-focus area - just a fairly abrupt jump into swirliness. You can see it in the top left hand corner as well. It's not really noticeable in the other pics probably because the lens was stopped down for most of them.

On the plus side, it's a great size on the F100 and completes a nice package for just walking around on a nice day and snapping away at whatever catches the eye. And the F100? If you're in a mood where you just want to concentrate on the image and not have to pay too much attention to exposure then it's great. I'd rather use the OM2 on a day-to-day basis but if I'm out with Cath for the day then something that makes picture taking quick and spontaneous comes in useful.

The camera's matrix metering should be almost full-proof but I wasn't able to test it out as the old Series E doesn't allow it, "just" spot and centre-weighted. Where the F100 scores for me over the OM2 is in the viewfinder department. The OM2's is bigger but I can't really see the edges when I've got my specs on which is all the time now since I gave up wearing contact lenses. The F100's is quite bright but it's smaller so I can take the whole picture in easily enough.

As for the pics, well, they're nothing special - just snaps. I'm trying to train myself to really look at what's in front of me. That paid off in the case of the pic below. I've passed this window plenty of times before but this is the first time I've noticed the tiny doll's head in amongst the leaves, feathers and muck in the corner. A bit surreal. Wonder if it will still be there the next time I pass.

The chair below is in an area outside a building that I think is used as an impromptu smokers' corner. On this day, a strong wind had blown all the leaves up against the chair whilst the sun had cast the shadows of their brethren, who were still clinging to the branches, all over the scene.

Nothing much to say about the following pics. The bottom one was to see what the bokeh of the Series E was like - not bad as it turns out. It was shot at f2.8 and you can see the dodgy corners again although it's not quite so clear in this example if it's just limited depth of field or something more sinister.

It's tempting to pair the F100 up with a 40mm f2 Voigtlander Ultron, a lens that's about the same size as the Series E but, by all accounts, a very well made and sharp optic. But that's getting perilously close to another G.A.S. attack… 


Michael Stevens said...

I think you're right Bruce, you bagged a wrong'un there.

I used to have a copy of that lens which I used on an FE-2 (a very compact combination) and always got extremely sharp results across the frame even wide open.

Nick Davis said...

I agree with Michael. I have the mark one version of this lens and it an excellent performer and can't see any difference between it and my other Nikkors apart from it being lighter and more compact.

Anonymous said...

You better not rely on Matrix with your F100 as long as you shoot B&W film. It's not foolproof in contrasty lighting situations. The film era Nikon Matrix was designed primarily for slide film in mind and it meters from the highlights. With b&w film you sometimes end up blocking the shadows unexpectedly.

I've used weighted average metering with mt F100 for years without any metering problems at all.

Bruce Robbins said...

That's interesting. I've always used matrix with my Nikon F90x and get great exposures without any input from me other than when there's strong backlighting or if the subject is predominantly very dark or very light and fills a large area of the scene. I'll have to try another film in the F100 and a newer lens.