What’s new is old again...
I was really debating whether I wanted to write this blog post, because the majority of wedding couples won't care. ...then again, I'm not trying to photograph 99% of the wedding couples out there. So the more I thought about this, the more my inner-nerd got the better of me, and BOOM! Here we are. Me writing about techie stuff most people don't care about.
But... if you're a wedding couple who fancies things to be a bit different, or you're a photographer who somehow stumbled upon my website, this is the juicy stuff that may interest you.
Back in the day, I started my wedding photography journey with a Nikon D50. ...and bag of groovy old Nikon auto focus lenses. The metal crinkle-painted AF-D kind. I had the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D, 105mm f/2 DC and the Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED (Stop it. I know what you're thinking. ED stands for Extra-low Dispersion glass). I also had a plasticky 20mm f/2.8D, and a 50mm f/1.8D. I still have both of these lenses and the 85/1.4D with my old trusty Nikon D750. I've since sold the 105mm f/2DC and the 180mm f/2.8ED (stop it already). Lenses have a longevity most camera bodies lack. And since I first started, I moved on from my old Nikon D50 to the D200. Then the D300. Then I sold the D200 and D300 and bought a pair of Nikon D3 bodies + plus the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR and the 14-24mm f/2.8. I sold one D3 and upgraded to the D3s, and sold the 14-24mm f/2.8 for the 24mm f/1.4G. I lived with these two bodies for quite some time. But as time went on, and hearing the clacking of that kevlar shutter - to the point where one wedding guest complained about the shutter during a ceremony, literally saying he was going to "grab your camera and throw it out the window"... apparently this guy was a bit neurotic if the shutter bothered him that much. BUT! the weight and noise was getting on my nerves as well. SO...
At the end of 2013, I sold both of my big heavy bricks that were the Nikon D3 and D3s, and bought an inexpensive used Nikon D600 and an inexpensive new Nikon D610. I was taking a gamble here, as these smaller quieter cameras didn't have the AF prowess of the legendary Nikon D3 and D3s, much less the new Nikon D4, which I opted to ignore. Nor did the D600/D610 have the kevlar shutter, and were far quieter than the D3 and D3s. The size and weight of these cameras was fantastic. And I loved them.
I should note: in 2013, I dabbled with film. But really, film, which is wonderfully gorgeous, was such a PITA. Buying film. Shipping film. Receiving scans. Editing scans. ...and the anxiety of, “will the film get lost in the mail”, and light leaks... only having one copy of images. So back to 100% digital I went.
Also at the end of 2013, Sony announced/released a groundbreaking camera. The Sony A7 mirrorless camera. The game changing part was, it was a small body, without an optical viewfinder, and without a reflex mirror. It was a.....mirrorless camera. There were other mirrorless cameras from Olympus (micro 4/3 sensor) and Fuji (APS-C sensor). Both sensors were smaller than Nikon's 35mm 'FX' sensor. This Sony A7 had the larger FX-sized sensor - which photographers affectionally call a “full frame” sensor. I read the reviews of this thing, and while the performance wasn't quite what I wanted, the direction this camera was going was certainly promising.
Around the same time this Sony A7 was launched, Nikon announced the Nikon Df. A digital camera with old school features. They were totally playing off the new popularity of the Fuji X-T1 camera body style, inspired by the old film cameras. I eventually sold my D600, and bought this DF, as it sported the Nikon D4 low-light sucking sensor. And I absolutely loved the dials. Everything was right there on top of the camera. But... Nikon has a tendency to scalp features with their cameras. They did this with the D600 and D610. And they did with the Nikon Df. They left the D4 AF module out of the DF, and used the lowly D610 AF module instead. This was heartbreaking in a way. So you're not getting a full robust camera. I certainly made them work, but knowing certain feature were pulled, was more than annoying.
2014 was also a time when I had a great interest in old Nikon manual focus lenses. There was something about the way these lenses ‘painted’ a photo. It felt very much like film. I still love the look and feel of film, and if these old 1970's old school lenses could give the digital images a film-like quality, that's the best of both worlds. I ended up buying an entire Nikon Manual Focus lens kit: 28mm f/2 AIS, 50mm f/1.2 AIS, 85mm f/2 AIS, 105mm f/2.5 AIS, 135mm f/2.8 AIS, and the 200mm f/4 AIS. I typically brought the 28mm f/2, 85mm f/2, 105mm f/2.5 - because they were so tiny and awesome.
And I have to say - I absolutely LOVED shooting with these old manual focus lenses during weddings. However, there was one caveat with manual focus lenses. Digital SLR cameras didn't have a great way to see if your image was in focus. With Nikon, you had to rely on the “green dot” inside he viewfinder. And this...was iffy at best in many cases. The moment you saw the green dot as you turned the focus ring, you popped the shutter... and hoped it was in focus when you got home. So in a way, it was a bit nerve wracking. But... I still loved it. Using this method really forced me to slow down and “create and image”, rather than just “shoot an image”.
Below photo captured with the Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AIS. There's just a well-round quality about this rendering love, because it's not hyper sharp. These old lenses are just so good on these new digital sensors. ...Hello manual focus addiction...
Wedding portrait of Megan and Max captured with the old Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AIS manual focus lens and the Nikon D610.
The tech pivot...
In 2015, I sold my D610, and added the new Nikon D750 to my kit, as this camera was what the D600 and D610 should have been. So my new kit was this: Nikon D750 and the Nikon Df. The D750 was a full featured camera with a kick-ass auto-focus module. And for a DSLR camera, it was amongst the very best of it’s time. It quickly became a wedding photographer favorite, and the old giant D3, D3s and D4 wedding workhorses were showing up on the used-gear sites left and right. I loved this D750 camera. It also had a bit chunkier body and deeper hand grip than the D600/D610 camera bodies. And strangely enough, this was also a welcome feature. D750 was my workhorse.
In March of 2015, Sony announced and release the Sony a7II Mirrorless camera. This was significant, as the camera body had an upgraded auto-focus (AF) system, and the reviews coming back were impressive. By August, I sold my Df and bought the Sony a7II. At that point, the D750 was my total workhorse camera, and the DF was supplementary. I was going to treat the a7II the same way. I bought the Sony 35mm f/1.4 lens, and was astounded by the optical quality. It was far better than any Nikon prime (single focal length lens) I had ever used. And the AF, while sometimes a bit slower in poor light, it was dead-nuts-on. Zero back focus. Zero front focus. When this camera and lens locked focus, it was locked on the subject - not a random branch in the background, or a visually complex background. That was refreshing.
I began reading about adapting lenses to the Sony system. Because the Sony A7II was mirrorless, virtually every lens on the planet could be adapted to this camera body. I also learned, there is a specific feature that made the Sony a7II the perfect manual focus lens camera ever. Because the camera has a electronic viewfinder, and not an optical viewfinder found in DSLR cameras, the EVF is like a tiny TV screen. With the push of a button, you could zoom-in... as in, you could magnify the image in the EVF in a way that was entirely impossible while looking through the an optical viewfinder. This meant, you could zoom in, and verify what you wanted in focus, WAS in focus. Um....“Hello! My imagination was on fire”.
Partway through the 2015 wedding season, I sold my 70-200mm zoom lens (which was a heavy beast), and decided I was going to go super light. My primary lens kit consisted of a 35mm f/1.4G to handle wide-angle shots, and an 85mm f/1.4D to handle longer shots and portraits. My back was thanking, and not having to think about zooming and which lens in my bag I should grab was rather freeing. I could walk into any scenario, and start shooting, with either the 35 or the 85, depending on the situation.
In September, I finally took the plunge, and bought a Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M. This lens just legendary. I had gotten to the point where I was shooting this lens with the Sony during getting ready and portraits. I so loved this combination. In 2016, I sold the A7II and bought the A7rII. I also started playing with other manual focus lenses in the 50mm range, as I loved this focal length. Nikon never had a 50mm lens I loved, but this Sony opened up a whole new door, and I couldn't test enough 50mm lenses. It was so much fun.
One other lens that was so much fun to use with mirrorless - the Zeiss 100mm f/2 ZF.2. This lens has such an incredible resolution, it makes a modest Nikon/Sony full-frame sensor feel like a digital medium format sensor. And because that Zeiss Lens is manual focus, the fact the Sony has focus magnification, made using this beautiful lens, an absolute breeze. It quickly become one of my favorite portrait lenses.
There was one big drawback to using the Sony a7II and a7rII as wedding cameras. They only had a single memory card slot, while the Nikon D750 had two. The more I used these Sony cameras, the more I felt like I was playing Russian roulette with my client’s wedding photography. I was constantly worrying one of those cards would fail, and I'd lose all that wedding day photography. YIKES! But there was another new mirrorless camera system that had two card slots - the Fuji X-T2...
I'm not sure what I was expecting with the tiny Fuji X-T2, but I had done enough research to know these were capable little workhorses. Still; I wasn't ready for how well they performed in some very difficult situations - dark reception venues during cocktail hour and speeches. And the image quality all the way up to ISO 12800 was fantastic. Far better than my old Nikon D3 and D3s, which were supposed to be low-light monsters. To be fair - at the time, the D3 and D3s were very much that: low-light monsters. But the little 1.5x crop sensor Fuji X-T2 was wildly good. And the Fuji colors? Lived up to their well deserved hype. The X-T2 cameras were so good and equally fun to use.
There was only one problem. ...the X-T2 wasn't that good when the action amped up on a dark dance floor. For that portion of the wedding day, I continued to used my Nikon D750 with a 20mm lens. I've been using my tiny 20mm f/2.8D lens for open dance floor photography for as long as I can remember - I just love the wide angle perspective it brings, and I can sneak my arm and camera between bodies to get shots I'd otherwise miss. But wow, the little X-T2 cameras were definitely good enough for me over the past 4 years.
OH! There was one other problem, so make that two issues - and the second problem was more personal, really. I loved shooting manual focus lenses with my previous Sony a7II and a7rII. I did not, however, enjoy shooting manual focus lenses with the Fuji X-T2. There were a three issues here:
- The 1.5x crop sensor meant my 50mm f/1.4 lens would behave like a 75mm f/2 lens. My 100mm f/2.5 lens, would behave like a 157mm f/3.75. Just not what I wanted from those fantastic old lenses.
- The focus magnification was awfully limited. Instead of being able to zoom way into an image (at least 4x) to verify focus, I had could only zoom in 2x. The zoom wasn't nearly as equal to Sony's.
- The Fuji EVF (electronic viewfinder) lacked the clarity of the Sony. Which made it more difficult to verify you nailed focus; even when zoomed in to the max allowance of Fuji's capability.
So I more than made due with the Fuji lenses - which were very good (if not a bit noisy) lenses, and I just quit using my old manual focus lenses.
A couple years ago (2019), Nikon dropped a bomb, and released their first full frame mirrorless cameras: The Z6 and Z7. I was so pumped to see Nikon make this leap -- even though it was literally 4 years too late for me. I certainly wasn't ready to jump into this new system, as it was all new to Nikon, so I gathered their autofocus would be lacking - even compared to that of the quickly aging Fuji X-T2. But more importantly, it only had one memory card slot. Nikon and their brand ambassadors tried to convince other pros a single card slot didn't make a difference, considering this camera used a single XQD card, and they said it was vastly superior to the old-timer SD card. But as with all media - it will eventually have a failure rate I'm not willing to chance. So I stuck with the X-T2 for the rest of the 2019 wedding season.
Late in 2020 (almost two years after the first Nikon Z cameras were release, Nikon released two new updates: Z6 II and the Z7 II. With it, they upped their game with the AF algorithms, and they added a second card slot. Finally. Finally. I felt like I could vacate the trusty old Fuji X-T2, and move to the new Z6 II.
In late March and Early April of 2021, I began my transition. I bought my first Nikon Z6 II and the Nikon lenses I wanted to work with. The new Nikon 85mm f/1.8 S, the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8 S, and the old Nikon 28mm f/1.4E AF. The 28mm lens is (an older DSLR lens adapted to the new Nikon Z6 II with an FTZ adapter. This will happily due until Nikon releases an native Z mount Nikon 28mm f/1.4 S. I haven't used the 28mm focal length in ages, and I really missed this specific focal length/fast aperture lens on the Sony and the Fuji mirrorless systems. ...The new Z cameras made this match-up possible.
Best of all. All those old manual focus lenses I was no longer using? I'm now all kinds of excited to put them into play once again. In fact. Once I realized how good the Electronic Viewfinder was with the Z6 II, and I could zoom WAY into verify critical focus, I began researching other old lenses I might want to adapt and try with the Nikon Z6 II. the good thing is, I have my highly dependable sources where I can go to research so goodies. ...Oh Lordy, am I now feeling inspired to find and buy all kinds of new old lenses — lenses full of beautiful unique rendering character.
Of course, I found precisely what I'm looking for. While I'm still keeping a small kit of my old Nikon manual focus lenses, I'm now adding the three following lenses:
- Contax Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 CY
- Contax Carl Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 CY
- Contax Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 CY
The three new kids in my lens bag. All three lenses are set up to be "virtually native" to the Nikon Z.
A little "after-school" portrait of my kiddo testing out the new Contax Planar 50mm f/1.4 CY.
He was a little disgruntled during this quick 5 minute shoot — wanted to play with his friends...
Kerah + Mike engagement shoot with the Nikon Z6 II + Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 CY.
Yes. It's possible to get an organic film quality with digital — without having to add image processing pre-sets and actions. 95% of that quality comes from those beautiful manual focus lenses.
Kerah + Mike engagement shoot with the Nikon Z6 II + Contax Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 CY
Kerah + Mike engagement shoot with the Nikon Z6 II + Contax Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 CY.
The bubbly bokeh (out of focus rendering) this little lens produces is magical - and very much portrays many of the same characteristics of the legendary 645 Contax Zeiss 80mm f/2 lens used
by film photographers.
Kerah + Mike engagement shoot with the Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 CY + Nikon Z6 II. This lens doesn't smooth everything out into oblivion. It creates a dreamy painterly texture, which adds an additional organic layer interest to the image.
Kerah + Mike engagement shoot with the Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 CY + Nikon Z6 II. The Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 CY speculars are beautifully rendered into soft bubbles of bokeh deliciousness.
Kerah + Mike engagement shoot with the Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 CY + Nikon Z6 II. Even the Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 CY doesn't throw the background into an overly smooth Coolwhip bokeh. Instead, it leaves plenty of beautiful organic creamy texture that give the images a painterly quality.
The good thing is; the old CY mount lenses already have a ‘CY to Nikon Z’ mount adapter, and they work flawlessly. All three lenses are now set-up and ready to go; each mounted to their own adapter. I can easily pop-off an autofocus lens, and mount any of these Contax lenses as if they were native mount to the Z camera. I don't have to deal with mounting and un-mounting any lens to the adapters, then mounting the adapter to the camera body. This will make working with these lenses much more efficient.
And with this new pivot in my photographic technology journey, I'm more excited now than I have been in a LONG time. This new gear is allowing me to use the old gear I've been craving over the past four years when I was using the Fuji X-T2 system. I'm wildly inspired to creatively experiment and explore with my wedding and portrait photography in ways I haven’t in the past.
I really can't wait to unleash these old Contax lenses on a wedding. Stay tuned. :)