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Super-fast Lenses for Super-cheap!

When I say fast, I mean fast. Try f0.75. And cheap? How about $20 on a good day when browsing eBay. And searching for cheap glass is exactly how I’ve stumbled upon the series of f0.75 to f1.5 lenses.


Roden-who?

Manufactured in Germany by a company named Rodenstock, these lenses go by the names of TV-Heligon and XR-Heligon, and are designed for television and x-ray applications respectively. I’ve seen them range in focal lengths of 50mm to 100mm, with apertures rated at f0.75 on the short end to f1.5 on the long end. Some Googling tells me that upon failing to find suitably high-quality and fast lenses required for x-ray imaging in the 60′s-70′s, Rodenstock developed their own. With the advent of computing, however, the systems which utilized these lenses were no longer needed and so the lenses can now be had for quite cheap.

My 68mm f1.0 XR-Heligon

My 68mm f1.0 XR-Heligon


From x-ray machine to SLR…?

So what does this mean for us? You can’t attach a Heligon to an SLR as there’s no way to mount it (no screw threads, nothing), and even if you could the required distance of 7mm from the film plane means that it can never sit close enough to your camera sensor and so it’s relegated only to macro work (Nikon or Canon lenses sit 44mm+ from the plane plane). As these lenses were primarily developed for x-ray imaging, there is no need for a focus mechanism nor adjustable aperture (wide-open only). They’re also theta or so-called flat-field lenses and have a pronounced curvature surrounding the centre of the frame with an extreme of amount of chromatic abberations (purple fringing in bright areas). But that’s the best part!

Abstraction, as seen by an x-ray lens

Abstraction, as seen by an x-ray lens

Using a Heligon on your SLR is a perversion in every sense of the word and violates all known laws of physics. These were never meant to leave an x-ray machine, and even the lack of filter threads should tell you that. But don’t let any of this stop you from buying one. Here’s why:

  • I’ve discovered a $10 set of extension tubes that can be glued to a Heligon to use as a mount, for either Nikon or Canon. I’m awaiting their arrival in the mail. These are the exact ones I’ve purchased.
  • Being useful only for macro work opens a whole new world of photographic possibilities to those who haven’t shot macro before.
  • The lack of being able to focus isn’t important, as shooting macro requires lots of physical moving around anyhow.
  • Only being able to shoot wide-open? Well the fast aperture is the reason you’re reading this!
  • And best of all, the curved image circle surrounding the centre is like a Lensbaby on steroids. I will post example photos of this later.

After it was determined that this could eventually be mounted to an SLR, I promptly picked up an XR-Heligon 68mm f1.0 for $20 on eBay, as well as the cheap extension tubes so I may hack them into a suitable lens mount. I’m still waiting for the extensions tubes, but received the lens and have taken only a few shots when held against the camera. I must say, the optical qualities present themselves quite well on an SLR, for that dreamy, other-wordly macro look, and I highly recommend buying one.

Look up!

Look up!


The secret’s out! Pick one up on eBay along with cheap tubes and please stay tuned, as once I receive the extension tubes myself I’ll share instructions on how to make a Heligon fit your SLR.


Links of interest:

  • w8jsb sold me my 68mm f1.0. Highly recommended!
  • Cheap extension tubes, sold by jiakgong DIGITAL which is where I bought mine. Search for macro extension tubes, and you will find plenty under $10 which suit our needs perfectly.
  • A test of these ultra-fast lenses. My 68mm is in that list.
  • I’ve stumbled across a thread in which someone has accomplished the same conversion! Check it out for detailed pics.

Thanks for reading!

I’m in Love with Film

I’ve recently taken a liking to shooting film instead of digital. Maybe it’s because over the years I’ve slowly built a growing collection of retro film cameras that have done nothing but occupy shelf-space, but most likely it’s just the feel of cocking the shutter and the anticipation of waiting for the film to develop at a local lab ;)

My choice of 35mm film. TMax B&W and Centuria 100 to 200.

My choice of 35mm film. TMax B&W and Centuria 100 to 200.


The Dawn of Digital

I love my digital Nikon’s and have no idea where I’d be without them. They make shooting faster, cleaner, easier and more cost-effective. It’s infinitely free, as opposed to shooting film that requires development costs. And it’s these things that have allowed me to learn photography without costing an arm and a leg and ultimately give up early on. But at the same time this is what urged me to appreciate the older tools-of-the-trade and try shooting film every once in a while.

I take for granted the fact that if I shoot something on my D40 or D300 and make a mistake, so what, I can just review the LCD, change some settings, and try again. Obviously film doesn’t allow that (well, it can…but at the cost of more money!). My old film cameras have taught me to better prepare a shot before firing the shutter, and to make each shot really count. My girlfriend’s not too keen on spending cash on film when she knows I have digital cameras at home, so each shot really does have to matter! Not to mention there’s something special about winding the film to advance to the next shot that makes shooting film so much fun ;)

My film cameras? A Nikon FEOlympus Trip 35Fujica GERLOMO LC-A and Konica AutoReflex T, all aquired for very cheap mind you. It pays to spend time in thrift stores :)


Anyway, on to the photos! All have been shot on the above pool of cameras.

Nikon FE

Nikon FE

Olympus Trip

Olympus Trip

Olympus Trip

Olympus Trip

Nikon FE

Nikon FE

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

LOMO LC-A

Olympus Trip

Olympus Trip


Links of interest:

  • Why your camera doesn’t matter. I’m a self-professed geek, but I must also admit that shooting with any of the above cameras will in no way improve my photography…but it’s just plain fun!

Thanks for reading!

It’s Too Big…

…that’s what my girlfriend keeps on telling me. That’s right, my Nikon D300 is too large and cumbersome for her. And this got me to thinking how nice it would be to have SLR-quality features in a pocket-size camera.

I love my D300 for everything it provides. It’s fast, it’s durable, but most importantly it has the features I need. But that’s part of the problem… it has too many features and this sometimes ruins a photo-op. Less is more, and a camera that is portable and scant on features is better to shoot with. Take for example my Nikon D40, which I’ve been shooting with more often merely because of its small size. Its image quality is the same as that of the D300 so there are no sacrifices, but yet it’s so much more fun to shoot with. And I’m always surprised to find my creative Muse coming out more often versus the time I spend with the D300.

From yesterday's outing with my D40.

From yesterday's outing with my D40.

Is it the D40′s diminutive size and lack of extra features that make me more successful in shooting with it? I believe so. It’s so light that I forget it’s there, and with its simple list of functions it prompts you to take more pictures instead of thinking of what unnecessary settings to change before taking the shot. All I bother with on the D40 is the shutter, aperture and ISO instead of thinking of useless things like bracketing or color saturation, benefits of the D300 that can’t help a lackluster shot to begin with.

Thus I’ve learned how important it is to carry a simple camera that gets out of the way of taking a shot, without introducing added complexity. What options do we have for such a camera? There are countless point-and-shoots, but they lack the creative options offered by SLRs, such as a fast aperture, and are also limited by their verysmall sensor size. I know I’m touting the less-is-more adage here and shouldn’t complain of a smaller sensor, but with the state of technology being where it is there’s no reason to not be a little demanding about it.

So with point-and-shoots scratched off the list, our next choice is a new micro 4/3rd camera, namely those from Olympus and Panasonic. These are great as they have most of the features found in a typical SLR, can fit in your pocket, have a much larger sensor than a point-and-shoot (but still smaller than a cropped dSLR), and have interchangeable lenses, allowing for all the creative control you can want. However, the micro 4/3rd standard in a small camera is still a relatively new concept and so the offerings from Olympus and Panasonic are not without their faults when it comes to slow focusing speed and shutter-lag. They’re an awkward fit between a point-and-shoot and my D40, sadly leaning toward the former in quality.

This is why I was excited to read about the just-announced Leica X1, a point-and-shoot size camera, with a fast standard lens and basic features, without the sacrifices of a typical point-and-shoot. I think it’s revolutionary in what it offers street photographers, as it harkens back to the days of rangefinders, which are quiet, simple and fast to work with.

My favourite rangefinder-esque cam to shoot with. It fits in my back pocket!

My favourite rangefinder-esque cam to shoot with. It fits in my back pocket!

In fact I was so excited that I had to really distance myself from it to not waste $2,000. That’s right, it’s rumored this thing will cost upwards of $2,000. I know it carries the Leica badge of approval, but there’s no way its technology can demand the high price. Hopefully Leica’s introduction of this beauty will prompt other manufacturers to stop producing so many Tonka truck size cameras and introduce a Hot Wheel instead.

So, until someone fills the gap, I’m married to my D40 for casual street shooting :)

My D40 is magic in the hands...even in pieces.

My D40 is magic in the hands...even in pieces.


Links of interest:


Thanks for reading!

Updating my HDR Tutorial

You gotta love the improvements that newer technology brings to the scene of digital photography and post-processing. Referring specifically to HDR processing, newer camera bodies with higher-quality sensors and extra speed make shooting for HDRs much easier, though nothing beats sheer practice, practice and more practice.

I have learned quite a bit about HDR processing since writing my HDR Tutorial and so it is in need of a refresh. In the coming week I expect to share an updated tutorial covering the following:

  • Improved techniques for shooting HDR, handheld and without a tripod. No need to carry extra gear when you don’t have to!
  • Creating the HDR with different applications. Because variety is the spice of life, and what works for me may not work for you.
  • Step-by-step example of HDR processing using RAW files, straight from my camera. Learn along with me.
  • Further enhancing subtle details in the HDR and reducing unwanted noise for a more realistic look. I don’t know about you, but HDR has gained a bad rap thanks to all of our early days of trial and error using this technique.

Stay tuned!

Questions or comments? E-mail me!

A bracketed 3-exposure handheld HDR, created in Photomatix and enhanced in Adobe Photoshop.

A bracketed 3-exposure handheld HDR, created in Photomatix and enhanced in Adobe Photoshop.

Fisheye for your cam – Conclusion

Ipart 1 of this conversion I’ve merely removed the lens from the LOMO Fisheye camera. Needless to say, that was the easy part as I’ve soon discovered that it’simpossible to use the lens natively on a dSLR because of how close it needs to be to the camera sensor. So I have decided to attach it to a lens cap to place in front of a wide-angle lens instead (for which the kit lens at 18mm is perfect, but in this case I prefer my Sigma 10-20mm).

As the conversion has taken a sharp detour away from my goal of using the lens natively on my camera, I’m not going to bother to write an exhaustive walkthrough on how to instead fit this to a lens cap as that has already been done here and here.Those are the exact steps I’ve followed, and so I urge you to do the same.

Here’s what I’ve used to accomplish this when following the links above:

  • A spare lens cap to place on your kit or wide-angle lens. In my case it was a 77mm lens cap to fit on to my 10-20mm.
  • A drill with a 2.5cm bit to drill a hole in the centre of the lens cap. The tutorial does not fully describe how to plug the lens into a lens cap, so I can only tell you that you need to cut a 2.5cm hole in the centre of your lenscap. After that, following the rest of the instructions will result in being able to firmly snap the fisheye lens into the cap.
  • Dremel for the cutting required as per the instructions.
  • A utility knife for fine-tuning.

Here are pictures of the finished product mounted on the lens cap:

The rear of the hacked lens.

The rear of the hacked lens.

The hacked lens cap.

The hacked lens cap.

The lens mounted in place.

The lens mounted in place.

The lens mounted in place, showing the rear element.

The lens mounted in place, showing the rear element.


And here are some sample shots!

Fisheye Pug

Fisheye Pug

Fisheye Bimmer

Fisheye Bimmer

Fisheye Wychwood Barns

Fisheye Wychwood Barns

Fisheye Mariko

Fisheye Mariko

So far I am in love with the poor quality of the lens, and it is a perfect mate to my Sigma 10-20mm. The shots above were taken at approximately 14mm on the Sigma. Zooming in any further results in the top and bottom of the frame being slightly chopped.


Links of interest:

  • Part 1 of the instructions, which includes removing and cutting the lens barrel.
  • Part 2, which describes how to mount the lens.

Thanks for reading!