The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 3

In my vintage lens adventures, I’ve rarely come across any that were truly awful. Indeed many have initially been underdogs on paper, but have then surprised me in use.

So I decided to set myself a challenge that encompassed the two aspects of my 35hunter approach – finding a lens that met certain criteria, then finding some tiny pockets of beauty to photograph with it.

Being something of a cheapskate, I decided to set my spending limit to just £5. Could I find a usable lens for £5 or less, and get some decent results with it?

Read part 1, with the MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro here.

Read part 2 which featured the Paragon 300mm f/5.6, in M42 mount here.

Part 3 then today, highlights a Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom in Pentax KA mount. 

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I previously had a similar Tokina on a Minolta, although that was Autofocus and physically quite different.

Nevertheless, its performance really impressed me, so I was going (back) into the world of Tokina completely blind.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

I came across this lens on the auction site with a starting price of £5, watching until the dying seconds then putting in a bid, which it turns out was the only one.

£5 plus a few pounds postage puts it neatly in the running for this cheap lens series.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

So the Tokina is a zoom (not my favourite kind of lens), with a very useful focal range of 28-70mm and reasonably fast at f/3.5. Minimum focus is 0.7m, which is not so great but at the 70mm end this actually gets you pretty close.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

Plus it has a “macro” range, enabled by turning the zoom barrel beyond 70mm.

Whilst you can focus much closer, the actual focal length seems to revert to about 50mm, rather than just making the 70mm end closer focusing like some other lenses I’ve used.

Either way it’s a pretty useful addition, and 50mm is a field of view I’m well used to on film and digital APS-C cameras.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

The lens is also KA mount, meaning it has a manual aperture ring, but also an A (Auto) setting, so with compatible cameras you can set the aperture to A and control it via the camera, not the lens.

On my two Pentax K DSLRs this makes it very easy to use on Aperture Priority (Av) mode, and of course you have open aperture metering too.

There’s not a lot else to say about the Tokina SD 28-70mm.

It handles well enough, but the zoom or focus rings inevitably aren’t as smooth as a Pentax-M or Takumar.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

It’s fairly compact and light for a mostly metal and glass lens, and balances well on the Samsung GX-1S, which is what I’ve mostly used it on so far.

Optically, the Tokina has been the best of the three in this cheap lens series so far.

On the GX-1S with its 6MP CCD sensor, the colours are pretty vibrant and smile inducing.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

I’ll let the photographs here say the rest. 

For £5 the Tokina is a steal, and you could argue that with its 28-70mm focal range covering classic wide, normal and portrait perspectives, it could be the only lens many photographers would need.

Which makes it an astonishing bargain.  

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

What have been your most satisfying results with cameras and/or lenses you’ve only spent peanuts on? How do you feel using cheap kit compared with far more expensive?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 2

In my vintage lens adventures, I’ve rarely come across any that were truly awful. Indeed many have initially been underdogs on paper, but have then surprised me in use.

So I decided to set myself a challenge that encompassed the two aspects of my 35hunter approach – finding a lens that met certain criteria, then finding some tiny pockets of beauty to photograph with it.

Being something of a cheapskate, I decided to set my spending limit to just £5. Could I find a usable lens for £5 or less, and get some decent results with it?

Read part one, with the MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro here.

Part 2 of this series features the Paragon 300mm f/5.6, in M42 mount.

IMG_3230 This lens I saw looking neglected and forgotten under a pile of ornaments at a car boot sale.

A quick inspection revealed mechanically it was fine, with a preset aperture and lots of aperture blades, but with pretty serious condensation inside one of the rear elements.

I asked the seller what they wanted for it, and they had no clue, so I offered £1. And she accepted immediately. Maybe I should’ve opened at 50p…

Not having used a 300m lens before, I was surprised how light it is. But it is huge in length, even on my not insubstantial Pentax K10D.

IMG_3228The Paragon also has a strange arm attachment (part of which I removed) which I think is to mount it on a tripod.

So, with its cloudy rear elements, slow speed (f/5.6 max remember!) and cumbersome handling, could I possibly get any decent images from it?

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

Not too shockingly, yes!

With experience I’ve realised that dust, minor fungus, even serious scratches, don’t have the apparently terrifying impact on images that some people fear.

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

True, the haze does make an impact, and the images are quite soft and, well a little hazy.

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But for me it makes the photographs romantic somehow, especially with the long focal length giving such shallow depth of field.

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

These were all shot handheld too, and mostly wide open. I wonder if a tripod was used a couple of stops down the sharpness would increase.

But that kind of preparation sort of defeats the unique strength of the Paragon, and that is its dreamy romantic charm, from a bygone era.

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

For the grand total investment of just £1, the Paragon offers amazing performance per pound.

Given its long focal length (for me!) and the relative difficulty of focusing at f/5.6 with a DLSR and hazy elements, it’s not something I’ll pull out at every opportunity.

But it’s probably worth another play before deciding whether to attempt to dismantle those rear elements and see if they can be cleaned, or to just donate it as is to a local charity shop.

What have been your most pleasing results with very cheap cameras and/or lenses? How do you feel using cheap kit compared with far more expensive?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 1

In my vintage lens adventures, I’ve rarely come across any that were truly awful. Indeed many have initially been underdogs on paper, but have then surprised me in use.

So I decided to set myself a challenge that encompassed the two aspects of my 35hunter approach – finding a lens that met certain criteria, then finding some tiny pockets of beauty to photograph with it.

Being something of a cheapskate, I decided to set my spending limit to just £5. Could I find a usable lens for £5 or less, and get some decent results with it?

Game on…

After a little research on eBay, and dismissing a few based on either their brand name (Optomax, Makinon, Prinzflex), focal length or incompatible mount, I found a promising looking Sun Zoom in Pentax K Mount. It was listed as faulty, due to a dented filter ring, for just £4.99 + postage.

Though I no longer have any Pentax film bodies (aside from my M42 Spotmatic F), I still have the PK > NEX adapter for my Sony NEX I bought a few years back. So I clicked Buy It Now.

A few days later, the cheap wonder arrived. 

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To give it its full name, it’s an MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro, and first impressions were promising.

Overall it’s quite compact for the range it covers. The focal length adjustment slides, the focus ring rotates. One thing I like about zooms like this is how wide the focus grip is.

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The throw of the focus is amazingly short, less than quarter of a turn to go from 2m to infinity.

Which brings us to the first potential problem.

Hang on, two metres minimum focus? That’s usually around the maximum distance I focus!

Fortunately, it has a second ring labelled MACRO, and after pressing a small button to enable it, this adds much closer focus.

It means at 80mm you can focus down to around 0.8m. But at the 28mm end you can go to less than 0.1m. Much better!

The way I use zooms is a little untraditional (essentially as a set of primes within one lens, using only one at a time), so the sliding focal length barrel is slightly odd, but actually works well for me. Once I set it to the focal length I want, I don’t need to touch it – only rotate the barrel to focus.

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So I set my NEX to its usual neutral settings, shooting RAW at ISO400 (I like the added grain/noise compared with ISO200), and set off.

Because I shoot pretty close most of the time, I set the focal length to 80mm, enabled the macro ring to its shortest distance, and set about shooting. 

Struggling with the decided non-macro-ness of 0.8m, I decided to instead switch extremes to 28mm, and get much closer.

So how did the photographs come out?

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Sony NEX 3N, MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro, Pentax K mount

Yellows can be difficult, especially in bright sunlight, and sometimes blow out so you lose detail. No such issues here for the Sun it seems, and the richness of the dandelions is pretty impressive.

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Sony NEX 3N, MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro, Pentax K Mount

Plenty sharp enough for my needs for the main subject, and even a hint of some swirly bokeh, thought the contrast is maybe a bit lacking. Very happy with this one overall though.

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Sony NEX 3N, MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro, Pentax K Mount

Again the sharpness seems more than acceptable, decent contrast and colours too. Whilst the bokeh couldn’t be described as buttery smooth on the fence, the highlights above are really quite pretty and not harshly angular and distracting like some far more renowned lenses I’ve used can create.

Conclusions

The Sun Zoom has already performed much better than I expected a £4.99 28-80mm zoom lens to.

The reasons I’m happy with the results could be down to a number of things –

  1. My judgement of the criteria for a decent photograph is pretty lenient.
  2. Viewing images on a computer screen won’t reveal major flaws in a lens in the way making a life size print from the original file would.
  3. My eyes aren’t as good as they were.
  4. I’ve been very lucky in finding a lens for a fiver that’s actually genuinely quite good.
  5. Any combination of the above.

[Edit: Another factor I thought of some hours later was of course I’m using a lens designed for 35mm film cameras on a digital APS-C sensor.

So the 28-80mm of the lens equates to a field of view of 42-120mm with the 1.5X crop factor of the sensor. Which also means the sensor only records the central part of the lens, and crops out any potential edge and corner imperfections.

The lens might be terribly soft at the edges on film!

This is another reason I enjoy using old film lenses on a digital APS-C camera (Sony NEX and a100) – they naturally optimise the best performing area of the glass, without the need to consider and/or manual crop any edge defects afterwards.]

I think another factor might be the kind of reverse psychology of using cheap lenses.

If I have a lens that cost me next to nothing (seriously, what else does £5 buy these days?), I’m kind of freed of any expectation. Plus I also like the challenge of trying to make something beautiful with such humble tools, in a way it makes me try harder and focus more.

These two elements aren’t really measurable or tangible, but I am aware of them, and can’t deny they have in some way contributed to the respectable results I’ve seen so far from the Sun Zoom.

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Sony NEX 3N, MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro, Pentax K Mount (Yes I know you’re supposed to shoot into the sun, but I wanted to see what the Sun Zoom would do. And liked it.)

I plan to give my new frugal friend another run or two in the near future and will update with another post.

What have been your most pleasing results with very cheap cameras and/or lenses? How do you feel using cheap kit compared with far more expensive?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.