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Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens Teardown

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Last post, we took apart the Canon 35mm f/1.4 Mk II lens. Continuing the 35mm theme, today we're going to do the same to the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens.  And chill out, we'll do the Sigma 35mm DG HSM f/1.4 Art lens next and one of the Zeiss after that.

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Before we start, let's be sure we're all on the same page because this teardown is going to be very different from the other lenses we generally tear down. The outside of the Sony lens may look fairly similar to the Canon in the picture above, but their internal construction is very different.

Sony FE lenses do NOT have all of the same things inside that other lenses do. Sure, they have glass elements, barrels, and weather seals. But where other lenses have helicoids that move focusing elements along grooved tracks, Sony FE lenses use electromagnets to move the focusing elements along a set of rails. Which system is better? I have no damn idea and neither do you. I doubt Sony does either, yet. But give credit where it's due: Sony thinks outside the box and tries new stuff no one else is trying.

Last week we opened up a Canon 35mm f/1.4 mark II lens and were excited about the great build quality. Today we'll open up the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 lens and I'm excited about seeing some new and different technology.

There are a couple of specific things I am curious about. We've noticed is the 35mm FE f/1.4 doesn't seem to have autofocus failure as frequently as some earlier FE lenses did. We did a teardown of the Sony FE 24-70 f/4 lens, showing some weaknesses in the electromagnetic AF system. We've been inside the 55mm FE f/1.8 lens and it has a very similar system. So we suspected the system was different in the 35mm lens, which hardly ever fails. Sony also states this lens is dust and moisture resistant, and I'm always interested in seeing how well those claims are backed up.

So Let's Take Stuff Apart!

I usually make a joke about getting out your own lens and following along at home as we do teardowns, but really, don't try this one at home. It's a complex and difficult teardown and if you mess it up, well, repairs for this lens, in the U. S. at least, are breathtakingly expensive.

The first step in this disassembly is simple but hard to do. As with most lenses, the front makeup ring has to come off. But on the Sony isn't a simple decal, it's a metal ring stamped with the serial number and heavily glued in place. Removing it requires heat, glass friendly prying tools, and patience.

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Looking under the makeup ring, we see the usual 3 screws holding the filter barrel in place. Like the Canon lens we just tore down, this makes replacing a dented filter barrel (this lens has a metal shell, so a dent is more likely than a crack or break) simple.

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The filter barrel fits snugly but comes off easily, and there is a nice ring of foamed rubber to provide sealing.

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Once the filter barrel is removed, we got an impressive surprise. Underneath the filter barrel, around the top of the focusing ring, is a thick rubber seal providing another weather shield.

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Now that we can examine the front group we can see there are shims underneath each of the three screw locations holding the group in place.

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After removal, it's apparent that there are different numbers and sizes of shims at each of the three locations, so these are adjusting the tilt of the front group, not just the spacing between lens groups.

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The front group can be removed now. Probably the thickest rubber seal we've ever seen in a lens is in place around the base of this group. With all of the seals we've seen already, I'm most comfortable this lens is really weather resistant, at least in the front.

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I want to emphasize that what we call the front group is the optics for the glass for the entire front half of the lens in one unit -- everything in front of the aperture assembly.

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There are spanner rings around the front element and the rear element (shown in the picture below).

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Removing the front spanner ring lets us take out the front element (sitting in a rubber cone in the photo below).

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You may have noticed the white ring under the front element. That is yet another thick rubber gasket, both seating the element firmly in the barrel and of course, providing more weather and dust resistance. You can see it more clearly from beneath the element in the image below.

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The internal spanner holding the rear group in place is nice and sturdy.

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The rear element is fairly thick and tightly seated in the barrel.

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There is one element left inside the front assembly, held tightly in place from a spanner ring behind it. We had a reason to check for all this: In some lenses the central elements are simply stacked with spacers, only the front and rear groups are held in place with threaded spanners. Internal groups can shift around with a drop or jar in that case. With the FE 35mm f/1.4 that won't happen, each group has its own spanner ring. On the other hand, there are no optical adjustments that can be made here. The entire group can be tilted on shims in the front. The group can also be rotated and inserted in one of 3 directions (which may help with tilt if the shims don't adjust it enough). But that's it.

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With the front completely disassembled we can look into the barrel and see all the way down to the aperture ring. You can see several screws holding the filter barrel and aperture assembly in place, but we can't remove them yet because their flexes are still attached to the rear barrel.

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it's time to get around to the back end of the lens and start taking that apart. The bayonet mount comes off in the usual fashion.

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With Sony lenses, it's generally simpler to unhook the flex from the electrodes to the PCB, rather than remove the electrodes from the mount.

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The PCB is pretty usual, although it has one interesting feature: there is some heat-sink putty behind one of the chips, I assume to avoid any overheating.

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With the PCB out the 4 screws holding the rear barrel on can be removed.

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The aperture click switch is then taken out as the rear barrel is removed.

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The switch itself is strictly a mechanical lever with no electronics. It's good to see that even this switch has a rubber gasket.

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With the switch removed, the rear barrel slides right off. Notice there's another rubber foam gasket sealing the rear barrel to the aperture ring.

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Now we can see where all those flexes from the PCB were going.

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The one held in place by a screw perked our interest right away. It is the sensor detecting focus position. If you look to the right edge of the picture below, you'll see a small silver square. That is actually the back end of the focusing electromagnet.

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While we're looking around the rear barrel, here is the slot where the aperture click mechanism, which we removed earlier, inserts (red line). Moving the click-declick switch shifts the plastic tabs of this inner piece from one slot to the other.

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With the barrel off, this piece lifts right out of its location.

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The little post (out of focus and pointed to with the forceps) inserts into a white plastic plate with spring loaded ball bearing that actually provides the clicking sensation you feel when you turn the aperture ring. There isn't a lot of stress on any of this and it may well hold up forever, but I'm always a little nervous when I see a plastic post moving another plastic post that moves a lever.

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There's one long flex to unthread through the rear barrel, then the filter barrel and aperture ring can slide off. The long flex cable relays manual focus adjustments to the PCB. Despite the mechanical ring with its nice mechanical clicks, the aperture is controlled electronically.

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This white plastic slider with brushes underneath is the aperture sensing / controlling mechanism.

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With the focusing barrel removed the screws holding the aperture assembly in place are exposed.

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The aperture assembly comes out in one piece.

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Underneath where the aperture assembly was, is a thick metal plate, held in place with 4 screws.

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With the metal plate removed, we've exposed the plastic plate that is the top of the focusing assembly. You can see the indentation for the aperture motor at the top. The forceps are pointing to a round area where one side of the AF system anchors, while the half circle across the lens from that is the other side of the AF track over the electromagnet. The glass element we're seeing here is the actual focusing element.

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Notice also there's a set of soft rubber bumpers on the plastic housing of the focusing element, separating it from the metal plate we just removed. You can't see them yet, but there's an identical set on the other side of this plate.

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Now that we're down to the focusing part of the lens we can finally get a look at the mechanism and motor and see if it's different than what we saw in the Sony FE 24-70 f/4 teardown. We can see the electromagnet for the focusing system from the back of the lens now. It's the silver cube you see near the orange flex.

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To take the focusing system out, we have to desolder the electromagnet from its electrical supply.

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With the motor wiring disconnected we can remove the screws holding the focusing assembly in place and slide it out of the barrel.

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You can tell already that this is a very different from what we saw in the FE 24-70 f/4 lens. The magnet is is deeply encased in a plastic holder, the rods the focusing element moves on are thicker, and the plastic encasing the focusing group is wider and thicker. Notice the (out of focus) peg across from the motor.  When you look at the now empty barrel you can see the metal post that inserts inside the peg, across from the hole the electromagnet fits in. The inner ring in the assembly above slides up and down on the two poles (the second pole is just visible under the electromagnet) when the lens is focusing. Even these are a lot sturdier than what we saw in earlier Sony lenses.

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Looking back at the focusing group we also note that the focusing element is secured not just by a dot of glue (as with the 24-70), but also by a screw tightened metal C-clamp where the forceps are pointing.

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That's what the Sony FE lenses do instead of having rollers, collars and helicoids, and why you won't read comments about how heavy duty the collars are in this lens. It doesn't need any. All I can compare this focusing group to are the two other FE lenses (24-70 f/4 and 55 f/1.8) that we've taken apart. Compared to those this does indeed appear to be a much more solid construction and I can see why we don't see AF failures with this lens.

Summary

Let me start with the things that are obvious. This lens has the most rubber gaskets I've ever seen. The weather and dust resistance in the lens itself should be superb. I'm still concerned that there is not rubber gasket where the lens mounts to the camera or under the bayonet mount. I would suggest, therefore, if you're taking this out in weather a little additional seal at the lens-to-camera mount would be a good idea. A thick, snug, rubber band would probably do the trick, or a plastic bag around the camera and lens mount. Other than the mount, I think the rest of the lens would be fine in a hurricane. I'm always cynical about weather sealing, but this lens is amazing in that regard.

The lens has a 'metal shell over polycarbonate internals' construction, which is pretty standard for 'metal' lenses. The inside components do seem well constructed, held in place with numerous long, heavily threaded screws through fairly thick polycarbonate pieces. That metal plate that separates the focusing assembly from the aperture should add additional strength and stability (although I doubt that is its primary purpose). Overall, I think this lens is well made and should hold up well to normal use and abuse.

From a repair standpoint, the filter barrel should be easy and inexpensive to replace. The front element could be too, but Sony doesn't sell just the front element; the part for replacement is the entire front group, which is unfortunate. Front elements get scratched and in this case, it's very expensive to replace. This is one of the rare lenses where I would recommend using a protective front filter and keeping the hood on. (I will add this may not be just an arbitrary decision on Sony's part. We've replaced just the front element in-house and found that the front group then had to be reshimmed and rotated to get the optics back to OK. It was time consuming.)

The one negative is that the Sony 35mm f/1.4 does not have much in the way of adjustable optics; just some shims to adjust tilt in the front group. That doesn't make the optics bad, and some good, low variation lenses don't have much in the way of adjustments. But that is why I've said several times that optically adjusting a decentered copy of this lens isn't likely to be successful; there's not a lot of adjustment to work with. Whether this is just the norm for all lenses made for this mount, or whether other manufacturers making lenses for FE mount cameras have more adjustment options I can't say. Yet. We have some more teardowns to do.

And let me close by saying the malignant fanboyism, both pro and con, that the hate that the new Sony lenses are generating is just inappropriate and not useful. Sony is boldly going where no camera manufacturer has gone before. They've brought out more new technologies in the last couple of years than everyone else combined. We all want new technologies. But new technology often takes a couple of generations to fulfill its potential.

The Sony 35mm f/1.4 doesn't give me everything I want in a lens. But it really does show that Sony is learning and improving with each product. The autofocus system is much more robust in this lens than in previous ones. The weather / dust resistance is phenomenal. The build construction is good. The optics, well, I think perhaps that may be a generation away.

NOTE: I should have been more clear when talking about the optics (yes, pun intended). A good copy of this lens is superb. But the copy-to-copy variation problem will, I think, take another generation to clear up.

 

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

December, 2015

 

 

5 Pieces of Photography Gear to Spark Your Creativity

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When the weather is colder and the days are shorter going outside to shoot may become less appealing. A good way to combat a winter rut is to try something new and shake up your photography routine. I have put together a list of 5 pieces of gear that will help spark your creativity.

 

Lomography x Zenit Petzval

The Petzval is a recreated version of a classic 19th-century portrait lens for modern SLRs. Characterized by a brass barrel and drop in Waterhouse stops, this lens will give you a feel for the golden days of photography. We carry this lens in Canon and Nikon mounts.

Suggested Use: The Petzval lens is so fun for portraits, yielding swirly bokeh, field curvature, and vignetting great for a dreamy feel in your photographs.

 

Canon Powershot D30 Underwater Camera

The Canon D30 is a waterproof point and shoot camera. It’s small and durable, making it an easy and fun camera to carry into any situation.

Suggested Use: Normally used in a pool or at the beach during the summer, but can also be used to create interesting effects without compromising the integrity of the camera body. Stick it in a fishbowl, smear the lens with Vaseline, or use the macro mode in any messy or wet situation.

 

 

Nikon Coolpix P900 

The Nikon P900 is a 16MP point and shoot camera that can zoom from 24-2000mm, with a 332x digital zoom.

Suggested use: While this is a great walk around and family camera, it also gives anyone the ability to photograph the moon or spy on folks a few blocks over. (Seriously, it even has a moon mode.)

Between the small 1/2.3” sensor size and lack of RAW shooting, these images won't be largely editable. And the image quality at the long end of the zoom isn’t the sharpest. That being said, you can’t beat the zooming power in such a small package and such a low price.

 

Pixelstick LED Lightpainting Tool

The Pixelstick is a light painting tool designed to read images from a memory card and project them into a long exposure image. It also has pre-programmed light patterns to create many different cool effects.

Suggested use: Anything goes here. You can upload a logo, photo, or any image and use it in a long exposure or time-lapse. We channeled out inner children with this toy.

 

Circular North Star Effect Filter

The North Star Filter from Tiffen creates multiple points of light, or “stars,” streaking outward from a central light source. This filter comes in a rotating mount for critical placement of the star effect.

Suggested Use: This is a great item to add a little magic to some of your photos. It attaches to the front of the lens and rotates similarly to a circular polarizing filter to adjust the look. It can give a very romantic feel, but can easily be overdone.

Trying something new is often all it takes to add a bit of excitement to your shooting and ignite new ideas. These are a few I find fun, but simply shooting with a different camera system can be enough to change your view and your photos.

 

Sarah McAlexander

LensRentals.com

Canon 35mm f/1.4 Mk II Teardown

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As soon as we optically tested the Canon 35mm f/1.4 Mk II lens we couldn't wait to tear into one for a couple of reasons. One was that Canon has been making a lot of interesting advances in lens mechanics lately, so we're always excited to look inside their new lenses. Another was that Canon claimed this lens had increased weather resistance and durability. You know I'm pretty cynical about claims like that until I see what's inside for myself. And finally, well, it's been really busy all fall and Aaron and I really just haven't had time to tear apart some new lenses, so we were having withdrawal.

We got a little time this week, so we used it to take apart the new Canon 35mm f/1.4 Mk II. Those of you who like to follow along from home with your own lens go get your #2 JIS screwdriver and a spanner wrench and let's get to work!

First the makeup decal on the front of the lens has to be peeled off.

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Next we use a spanner wrench to take off the front plastic ring.

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In most lenses rings like this hold the front element in place, but in this case, it seems the entire purpose of this ring is to improve weather resistance.  (I refuse to use the term weather seal, and always will. No lens is weather sealed). It fits tightly around the glass and into the front barrel of the lens, and it has a rubber gasket for further sealing internally.

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With the weather resisting ring removed, we can looking into the barrel front and see two sets of 6 screws. The brass ones that are open to view hold on the filter barrel. The partially covered set appear to be holding the front group in place.

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We were impressed with 6 screws to hold onto the filter barrel; most lenses use 3. We were even more impressed when we removed them. Each of the 6 screws is long, strong, and deeply threaded. Not the usual tiny screw assigned to a task like this.

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And when the screw was removed, we found that each hole contained a brass reinforcing spacer with a spring around it. So basically each of the 6 screws passes through the brass spacer and screws into the front barrel, with a spring maintaining tension. This is an expensive way to do things and obviously serves a purpose. It may be to maintain even tension on the focusing ring (which is right below the filter barrel), to provide a more even stress distribution, or probably is for something else entirely. But just because I don't know what it's for doesn't mean I can't appreciate the careful attention to detail taken here.

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With the screws taken out the filter ring barrel comes right off. This will be a quick, simple replacement when the inevitable broken filter ring occurs.

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With the filter barrel off, we can see that the front group is attached with 6 screws through 6 thick plastic tabs. It's not visible in the picture, but there's also a copious amount of loctite around the screws and silicone glue under the tabs.

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At this point, Aaron decided that the amount of glue on that element meant he might be doing some prying to get it out. Rather than do that blind, he decided to do some back-end disassembly first so we flipped the lens over and removed the bayonet mount.

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There is the usual thick Canon rear weather gasket around the bayonet.

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Underneath the bayonet is a black plastic spacing ring. The fact that it's numbered suggests it comes in different thicknesses to adjust infinity focusing distance. Canon tends to use various-thickness bayonets or spacers like this rather than shims.

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A fairly standard Canon PCB with lots of flex connections is underneath the spacing ring.

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The rear glass does make a nice Selfie-Cam for Aaron.

 

With the PCB off, the screws holding the rear barrel in place are evident - again, multiple robust screws are used, not the minimal 3 screws we usually see.

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Removing those let us slide the rear barrel off and reveals the more interesting stuff; primarily at this point the rear group and focusing motor.

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A closer look shows a couple of nice details. First there are two more layers of rubber felt sealing gaskets (red lines) between the rear of the lens and the AF Motor (green brackets). There's also a very, very robust eccentric collar set (blue arrow) used to optically adjust the rear group. We consider thick nylon collars robust, brass collars very robust, but these massive heavy collars with a center locking screw are beyond anything we've seen outside of super telephoto lenses and the 70-200 f/2.8 IS II.

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You can also see that once adjusted into position, Canon has sealed the adjustment collars in plastic cement to prevent them from moving. For you that means they're not likely to get moved during the life of the lens. For us that means we'll have to pick the plastic cement out when we do adjustments. That's OK, the pink cement isn't too hard to get out.

Rather than take out those adjustment collars we went back to the front of the lens and removed the focusing rubber. Underneath that the ring is completely sealed in tough tape, covering all the holes (you'd be amazed how many supposedly 'weather resistant' lenses have huge gaping holes under the rubber).

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With the tape off, the three plastic keys (white and round in the picture below) that hold the focus ring in place are exposed.

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These are large and require a special tool to remove properly, but once they're out the focus ring slides off the front of the lens. Notice the part of the lens in Aaron's left hand still contains all of the optical elements. Basically, all we've done so far is remove the mount and coverings.

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With the focus ring off, we can see another set of robust optical adjustment collars that adjust group 2. (Later experimentation hinted that these were primarily centering collars, with the rear collars primarily adjusting tilt.)

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Turning the focus mechanism exposed the stays that the inner barrel rotates on. They aren't the usual nylon bushings over screws, they are very large brass posts held in place by oversize screws. Again it's something we'd expect to find in a large telephoto zoom, not a standard range prime.

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Since we discovered that group 2 and not group 1 was an adjustable group, we felt much more comfortable with prying up the glue and removing Group 1. At this point we weren't at all surprised to find that not only was group 1 held in place by 6 screws (3 is the norm) but that they were some big, long screws at that.

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With the screws removed and a little heat applied to the glue, we were able to pry group one up and remove it. You can see that the top of the front group has a spanner ring holding the first element in place, so a scratched front element can be replaced separately without having to replace the entire front group. That's a good thing. While I don't know the cost of a front element yet, front groups like this are expensive, costing as much as $700. Being able to replace just the front element is a good thing, it will be less expensive and the front group doesn't have to be removed to do it.

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Here's a view inside the barrel with the front group removed. There are two points to make here. The first is minor, and hard to see from the photo, but the front of group 2 is really different and unusual. It's a concave element with a large band of ground glass around the edge. It's not important; just different, looks cool, and when one of these comes back dead from water damage I'm making a Christmas ornament out of it.

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The more important part the thick gray barrel of this lens. That's heavy gauge metal. All the pieces of lenses we've removed attach to this heavy metal center barrel. This is unusual, but it's so logical I want to weep with joy just for having seen it. I have rolled my eyes for years when people say a lens is "Built like a tank" because it has a heavy metal shell. Then we open it up and see the insides are tiny little screws and weak nylon collars set in thin sheet metal helicoids. That kind of 'built like a tank' is probably useful if you want your lens to stop a bullet, but doesn't make the lens reliable.

This is my kind of built like a tank. There is a flexible polycarbonate shell over a very solid metal core with really heavy-duty rollers, screws, and bearings. That's a logical way to build things; make the core the strongest part, not the shell. It sounds so simple, but like I said, this is the first time we've ever seen this kind of construction in a prime lens of standard focal length. We take apart A LOT of lenses (we passed 20,000 in-house repairs some time ago) and this is the most impressively built prime I've seen. This is an engineer's lens.

At this point we had to decide whether we wanted to take apart the optical core of the lens. Doing so meant removing the large adjustment collars for the front group, and having to readjust the lens optically during reassembly. I spoke at length about why we should just stop here and put things back together. Aaron took out the collars and large brass posts we showed you earlier while I was talking, so I guess he didn't hear me. After that the front half of the optics came right out of the central barrel (it's being held in a rubber cone which is not part of the lens in the picture below).

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And rotating it to line things up, the rear group could slide out from the focusing motor and barrel as well.

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With the USM motor and barrel off we can see the focusing helicoids and the heavy metal rollers that move the focusing elements within the helicoid. In almost every lens, these would be small nylon washers over a screw, not the relatively huge metal rollers we see in this lens.

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When you look close up you see these aren't just sliding posts, there are actually tiny ball bearings inside them. There's also a spring tensioning system around one of the rollers. I keep repeating myself, but by this point I was really rather awestruck by the amount of careful over-engineering that went into making this lens. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, else is engineering lens mechanics like the newer Canon lenses.

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Of course, we took one the rollers out to get a better look at it. This may look small to you, but the nylon collars used in other lenses are at most 1/4 of this size, aren't metal, and don't roll, they just slide.

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I'll close with another view of the internal barrels in extended position, this time also showing the aperture control motor.

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OK, this concludes the disassembly portion of our program. Those of you who have been disassembling your own lenses at home, just reverse the steps and it will go right back together, probably. Since someone always freaks out when we do a teardown and thinks we've made a sacrifice to the lens gods, I will mention that the lens was fully reassembled, Aaron optically adjusted it back to perfection, it's been completely retested by our techs, and is working fine. Yes, it's back in the rental fleet and no, it's not going to have problems. This is what we do all day long.

Comments

I'm sure you can tell we're impressed with the Canon 35mm f/1.4 Mk II. The weather resistance appears better than most weather resistant lenses. (As always, I'll add that weather resistance still means water damage voids the warranty.) The mechanical construction is beyond impressive. This lens is massively over-engineered compared to any other prime we've ever disassembled. It's built like a tank where it counts; on the inside. Moving parts are huge and robust. Six big screws are used in locations where 3 smalls screws are common in other lenses. Heavy roller bearings move the focusing group, it doesn't slide on little nylon collars.

It's also designed thoughtfully and logically. Things that will inevitably get damaged on any lens, like the front element and filter ring, are designed to be replaced easily.  There are some things inside, particularly with the tensioning screws and springs, that I'm not certain I understand the purpose of, but I am certain there is a purpose. If I had to summarize the mechanical design of this lens, I would say simply that no expense was spared, no corner was cut.

Sometimes things are expensive because they're worth it. Sometimes they're heavy because they're so solidly constructed. This is one of those times.

 

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

December, 2015.

Tamron f/1.8 VC Prime Lenses Sharpness MTF Curves

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OK, for the first time I can remember, I've been browbeaten into doing a test I didn't plan to do. When Tamron released their neat little Tamron 35mm f/1.8 SP Di VC and Tamron 45mm f/1.8 SP Di VC lenses, I thought, well that's interesting, and the price point is reasonable and didn't think about them anymore. But I got enough emails, notes on other lens tests, and all around forum nagging to test them on our optical bench that I caved and did them last week. Now I do see the attraction.

We did our usual optical bench MTF testing, using 10 copies of each lens to arrive at the average MTF chart and variation scores. If you don't know what all that entails, please read our earlier post on testing methods.

You didn't read it, did you? That's OK. If you don't speak MTF, don't worry. It's not hard. Higher on the vertical axis is better. Dotted and solid lines of the same color close together are better (far apart is astigmatism). The horizontal axis goes from the center of the lens at "0" to the edges of the lens at "-20" and "+20". Lower lp/mm have an association with strong contrast while higher lp/mm are associated with an ability to resolve fine detail. So, without further ado, here are the MTF curves.

Tamron 35mm f/1.8 VC

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015

 

Some of these comparisons aren't quite fair (the two Canon lenses are either tested at wider or narrower apertures, and, of course, the 35mmf /1.4 II is at a very different price point). But basically the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 is competitive with the other 35mm prime options. It's probably just a bit better than the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and competitive with the Canon 35mm f/2 IS (the Canon's a tiny bit better on the MTF charts, but remember it's being tested at a slightly smaller aperture, which helps MTF).

Overall, it's a good showing by the Tamron. On the other hand, the Tamron is about the same price as the Canon and Nikon lenses. I'm not sure the f/1.8 to f/2 difference would make me pick a third-party lens over the Canon. The Vibration Control might be a strong advantage for some people on the Nikon said, but not all that many, probably.

Copy-to-Copy Variation

 

Variation graphs are quite positive for the Tamron. It certainly is more consistent copy-to-copy than the Nikon 35mm f/1.8, which has a lot of variation, and very similar to the Canon 35mm f/2 IS lens, which we consider to be excellent.

Tamron 45mm f/1.8 VC

We don't have a lot of other 45mm lenses to compare, so I used some similar aperture 50mm lenses for this comparison. This does cause a little role reversal because the Tamron is now by far the most expensive lens in this comparison. On the other hand, it's the only one that has Vibration Control, too.

 

 

The Tamron is clearly better than either of the other 50mm f/1.8 choices as far as the MTF curves go. It was so good I decided to also compare it to one of the better (and more expensive) 50mm options, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art. The Sigma is at a bit of a disadvantage here, being tested at a wider aperture, but still the Tamron is very competitive with the Sigma, which is a superb 50mm lens. Plus, the Tamron still has vibration control.

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015

 

Variation

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015

 

The Tamron 45mm f/1.8 demonstrates pretty remarkable consistency, one of the most outstanding lenses we've tested as far as low copy-to-copy variation is concerned.

Conclusion

Well, I have to admit, for some lenses I didn't want to bother testing, the new Tamron VC primes are eye openers. Let me be clear, I haven't done anything but test them on the optical bench, I haven't taken a single picture with either of them. But the bench-test results are pretty impressive. Both lenses show excellent sharpness. Combine that with vibration control at a reasonable price and I suspect that more than a few people are going to be very interested in these two lenses.

There is one caveat that needs to be shouted loud and hard, though. The obvious use for these lenses is shooting in low light situations: night clubs, bands, street shooting at night. For many photographers, low light autofocus performance is going to be of critical importance to that kind of work, and I wouldn't rush out and buy one until you read some reports about how these lenses perform in that regard. But the MTF curves certainly indicate these are lenses worth investigating.

 

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

December, 2015

 

NOTE: For those of you who want to look at other lens MTF comparisons, I just wanted to remind you that all of our MTF and variance graphs are available through The Digital Pictures Comparison Tool.

The Challenges of Transitioning into Video with your DSLR

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Over the past couple years, video has become a major player in the photography world. Just a few years ago, the two markets were separated, where cameras largely either shoot video or stills, but rarely both. Since the announcement of the Canon 5d Mark II and the Nikon D90, video has become a standard feature for many of the latest DSLRs. In fact, since those announcements, video has become a standard feature on DSLRs across the board. Let this be a guide for those who are looking to use the video functions on the DSLRs, and are slowly making the transition from stills, into more video.

The first thing to note when shooting video on a DSLR, is that it’s not perfect. While video has become a standard feature in many of the most popular DSLRs on the market, the cameras are still first and foremost for stills photography. For example, high-megapixel sensors, while great for stills, tends to degrade the quality of video on DSLRs. Many would agree, that if you’re looking to shoot specifically video, there other options which will provide greater quality than what is currently attainable with most DSLRs.

Sensor Size

Perhaps the biggest thing to note when shooting video is that a large sensor is not nearly as important as when shooting stills. For many photographers, full-frame sensors are ideal when shooting stills, as it provides a nice shallow depth of field, especially when compared to crop-sensor cameras. When shooting video however, a full-frame sensor can be a hindrance more than a feature.

When shooting video, it is not always advantageous to have a razor thin depth of field, which is achieved when using fast lenses on large sensor cameras. This is especially inconvenient when your subject is moving; a super shallow depth of field can make it nearly impossible to keep that subject in focus. Since most DSLRs do not have the capability of continuous autofocus during video recording, tracking a subject can be incredibly challenging when shooting at f/2.8 or faster. A smaller sensor will provide a deeper depth of field, which is much more manageable when shooting video. For reference, the standard sensor size for video cameras is Super 35mm, which is a 1.5x crop when compared to full-frame.
Camera Recommendations: Full Frame: Canon 5d Mark III, Nikon D750, Sony A7sII | Crop Sensor (Super 35): Canon 7d Mark II, Nikon D7200, Canon C100 | Micro 4/3rds: Panasonic Lumix GH4, Olympus OM-D | Super 16mm: BlackMagic Cinema

Audio

When it comes to DSLR video, many mistake people make is neglecting the importance of capturing quality audio. While most DSLRs have onboard mics, the quality is generally only good enough for scratch audio. In order to have basic usable production audio, you will need to use a supplementary audio system. There are many different solutions, including shotgun mics and lavalier mics.

Shotgun Mics

Shotgun mics are very sensitive, directional microphones with off-axis rejection. This basically means that whatever the mic is pointed at will be louder than, or isolated from, what is not directly in front of the mic. There are many types of shotgun mics, all with various features. Some are super directional and allow almost no off-axis sound, which is great for interview situations. Others are a bit more forgiving and allow more off-axis sounds, which might be good for run-and-gun/documentary style audio. Some shotgun mics are easily mounted to the hot shoe of your camera or they can be attached to a boom pole to get close to a subject and achieve even cleaner audio. Keep in mind that some shotgun mics will require power to work, Some are powered by a battery, but most will require phantom power which DSLRs do not supply. So when using a shotgun mic with a DSLR, be sure find one that is powered internally with a battery (AA or 9V).
Shotgun Mic Recommendations: Rode NTG-2 Shotgun, Sennheiser Compact Shotgun

Lavalier Microphones

Another common audio solution is using a lavalier microphone. These are small, typically omni-directional, microphones that are easily affixed directly onto a subject. These mics do great when you are capturing audio from only one subject. A lavalier mic can be wired directly to the camera or used with a wireless transmitter and receiver.
Lavalier Mic Recommendations: Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic Kit

Stabilization

Perhaps one of the most commonly overlooked tools needed for video is stabilization. When shooting stills, you’re freezing one fraction of a second in time. This allows you to handhold the camera and produce sharp images. When shooting video it is necessary to have some accessory to eliminate camera shake when shooting.

Video Tripods

Tripods are the most basic forms of stabilization, not only are they ideal for achieving a locked down shot but they can also be used to incorporate motion to a shot. It is very important to keep in mind that video tripods are different than tripods used for still photography. Video tripods feature a fluid head which make panning and tilting silky smooth. High end tripods also include features such as drag control, counter-balance, and other additions which assist in achieving perfect stability and fluidity.
Tripod Recommendations: Kessler Hercules 2.0 Head & K-Pod Tripod Kit, Manfrotto 504HD Head w/ 546B 2-Stage Tripod

Shoulder Mount Systems

A common option for stabilizing a camera in order to achieve a run-and-gun style is a shoulder rig. They are typically compact and are low in profile which allows you to be more flexible with where you are able to shoot.
Shoulder Mount Recommendations: Redrock Eyespy Deluxe Kit

3 Axis Gimbal Systems

Among the most advanced in stabilization technology comes in the form of 3-axis gimbal systems, like the Freefly Movi M5 or the DJI Ronin. These products use brushless motors to balance and stabilize the camera. These devices allow you to get incredibly smooth video footage while still shooting handheld.
Gimbal System Recommendations: Freefly Movi M5, DJI Ronin

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density (ND) filters are a very popular tool used when shooting video. If you’ve used professional level video cameras, such as the Canon C300 or a Sony FS7, you’ll find that ND filters are actually built into the body of the cameras. DSLRs, however, do not have this feature since the body size is too small to accommodate built-in NDs and because ND filters are not necessarily as important in photos as with video. Let’s break down why we need ND filters when shooting video.

If you’re shooting stills on a sunny day at f/5.6, it’s not uncommon for your shutter speed to be upwards of over 1/1000th of a second. When shooting photos, a faster shutter speed is almost always preferable because it eliminates camera shake and motion blur in a still image. When shooting video, however, motion blur is actually desired to achieve a certain cinematic quality. This quality is attained by setting the shutter speed to twice the frame rate. For example, when shooting at 24 frames per second, the shutter speed should be 1/48th of a second (or 1/50th of a second when using a DSLR, since they are unable to set the shutter speed at 1/48 exactly). Since the shutter speed should never change in video, the exposure should only be set using aperture or ISO. If you are trying to achieve a shallow depth of field and want your lens to be wide open or close to it, you’ll need to put an ND filter on your lens to control the amount of light coming through the lens.
Neutral Density Recommendations: Tiffen ND Filters (Various Sizes)

 

As you further transition into video production, you'll run into other unique challenges specifically for working with video. However, this guide should help get you started on the tools needed to properly get started in video. If you have any other suggestions for gear needed during video work, feel free to leave your comments below.

 

Zach Sutton & Justin Kelly

LensRentals Editor & Video Tech

 

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