Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back to the 70's with a Soligor Zoom on my 4/3 Evolt

The truth is, camera bodies don't matter. Any of them. Never did, never will. Film or digital they are just the vessels for recording the image. It doesn't matter what the media is. All you need is a light-tight body and a light-sensitive something to fix the image in time. The camera is admired as being the brains of the picture-taking activity, but it's the lenses that are the eyes. The sharper the better. And manufacturing folks have been making extraordinary optics for many generations. Lenses have always done the heavy lifting in photography.

I picked up a used Olympus Evolt E-500 a few years back. At 8 mega-pixels, it offers plenty of image size for my needs. I don't make money with my cameras, I document my family life with it. Works great.

One thing the E-500 has is the ability for me to mount vintage optics on it by means of an adapter. That formed one of the prime reasons for its purchase. With all my vintage film equipment about, it was natural to want to mount some cool old lens on my DSLR.

I've played with mounting all my Olympus OM system lenses. Some results are great (like the 50mm f/3.5 macro), some not so much. The 4/3rds sensor doubles the magnification of whatever old lens I place in front of it. My 500mm f/8 Tokina becomes a whopping 1000mm f/8 just like that. But all those wideangle lenses become either "normal" lenses or "portrait" length lenses. No matter, it's all fun.

Soligor two-touch 85-205mm zoom lens
I purchased an old Soligor 85-205 f/3.8 (OK, let's call it an f/4) zoom in an Olympus mount from an antique shop. The lens was made in the early to mid-1970's. Five-bucks. It's a clunky old optical design of the "two-touch" variety; one collar (the front ring) for focusing light, the next ring back is a collar for setting zoom magnification. Oh, and there's a third and FOURTH ring, too. Number three is a macro-enabling ring that allows very close-focusing at any focal length. At it's maximum setting, it allows for a 1:3 magnification. Gets you within a couple feet with the equivalent of an 8-power telephoto. Wow. The fourth ring is a very large aperture setting ring. Yeah, lots of finger dancing on this stovepipe to get a shot.

The Soligor was never designed to go head-to-head with a Nikon, Canon or other OEM lens as far as resolution. Manufactured by a third party and badged with the Soligor name (a brand name by the American distributor AIC, Allied Impex Corporation), it did a fine job for those folks who could not afford OEM lenses.

Once you mount a non-digital lens, like the Soligor, on the E-500, you're left with aperture-preferred automation. You set the lens to an f-stop, and the camera selects the correct shutter speed. And just like it was done around 1963, as you move the aperture ring on the lens, the light is reduced through it. So, you compose and focus at full aperture, then stop-down to shoot. Can get really dark in that viewfinder. This combination of camera and lens is best left to non-moving subjects that afford you the time to do all this fiddling.

Flowers shot at about five feet away.
Results? Modern digital lenses blow the Soligor away for clarity, color rendition and ease of use. That's not the point. The fun of photography can also be about seeing what you can do with something that gives you a new or distinct view of the world. I mean, the old zoom works with the Olympus. IF you stop down to at least f/11. IF you use a tripod. IF you have enough light, like mid-day sun.

But the Soligor has a, um, vintage look about it's images. The contrast is much lower. After all, when you processed film and made prints, contrast got added as a natural part of photo-processing. Maybe it's a modern sensor/ancient optics issue. Maybe it's just a crappy old lens.

No matter. This is fun. I'm gonna do it again with some other piece of glass to see what happens.

If you've got a DSLR that can accept older lenses via an adapter, try it out. You'll find you get WAY more involved in taking a photo, even (horrors!) planning each one out before you shoot. You'll chimp each shot less as you concentrate on the viewfinder more.

4 comments:

  1. This lens is actually pretty good even wide open.
    No need at all to go to F11. Your sample shot doesn't do justice to this lens.

    There are a lot of modern lenses that won't be able to reach the quality of this one, such as cheap 75-300 zooms.

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  2. Monster lens!

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  3. I must say, I still have a Soligor 300mm lens for my Nikon Photomic FTn of the day (early 70's) and the one thing I that still rings true is the absolute lack of contrast in negatives (B&W) created with this lens. It seemed so soft and so flat in terms of every other brand which made use of this T-4 mounting system (created for use with appropriate T-4 adapters for either Nikon or Canon I believe. Lenses could be used by camera owners of either brand with the correct adapter for that manufacturer. Vivitar lenses of the day were much better at resolving and rendering proper contrast. Unfortunately, I no longer possess any of those early Vivitar lenses. But could not, in all honesty, even give away the lens as it had such poor overall image resolving power. Some people might consider it advantageous in the soft contrast rendered, but at 300mm it doesn't give you much of an opportunity to make use of it for say a soft portrait. That is unless you don't mind standing away at a distance?

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  4. I want to use this lens on food photography. Is great for that?

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