Stillwater to Minneapolis Lens & FIlter Shoot

A few weeks ago [ in 2010 ! ] I got to spend some time in Stillwater MN on a shoot. I also spent a nite in Minneapolis. This was a chance to try out some vintage glass and filters again along with some modern glass. Many of the shots where taken with a Tiffen Black Softnet 3B filter. Placed in front of my Vivitar 28 1.9, it made for some interesting effects. With my tamron 70-200 2.8, I got some really great organic starbursts around car lights completely with some funky CA.
Right in the middle of this video is a shot illuminated by the full moon. Thats right, F1.9, ISO 1600, and there was an image there ! its truly amazing what these cameras can do. If I get the chance, I’ll put up a version with the lens / filter info on each shot.
Stillwater to Minneapolis from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.

Is the 1976 Vintage Vivitar 35-105 3.5 a Mini Primo ? UPDATED

Vivitar 35-105 3.5  
vivitar 35-105
This bargain lens looks impressive. Its got a big front element, solid metal construction, constant iris, and the perfect range for a lot of the work I do. Is it a little slow at 3.5 ? maybe, but thats really only a 1/2 stop from 2.8. I’m generally working with a light level of about F4 @ 200 for sit down interviews so this easily fits into the comfort range for me.
First Video Test WIth Lee ND Filter
Lets go further, this lens has an internal zoom ! Thats right, the length of the lens does not change when you zoom. Focus on the other hand does cause the front of the lens to turn, and it does move forwards, but only about a 1/4″. The front of the lens barrel is also a perfect fit for one of the doughnut rings on my matte box. It moves and rotates through it fine without worry its going to move too far forwards and hit a filter inside.
The markings in the lens barrel are larger then average which is great. The focus rotation is in the correct direction, and is around 180 deg. If you add on a large gear on the lens barrel and a small one on the follow focus, there is plenty of control here. It overall feels very smooth.
The lens I got is in pristine nearly new out of the box condition, and was really really cheap. So did I really get a bargain ?
vivitar 35-105 bokeh example
Bokeh sample shots from Vivitar 35-105 3.5he upper shot shows its a bit different. Hey its vintage 35 year old glass !
Are there any downsides ?
Well the lens doesn’t focus that close, maybe 4 feet. It does have a macro function which works by going to 35mm, then pulling the zoom collar back to focus close. At the wide end, you can certainly rack from maybe 10 or 15 feet to close using just the macro ring.  Using macro does make the lens extend itself, but nothing too far, maybe 1″.
click on the image for a full res video still. I was focused at about 30ft or so, Lee ND.9 in front, wide open, maybe shutter at 1/60th

I wasn’t happy with the tests I ran on the lens a few months ago, mainly due to the Lee resin filter I had on. This time I went and redid the same tests, and used a new Schneider 4X4 ND .9 EF81.

Overall Image Quality : UPDATED
Now that I have your attention, the big question, how does it look. Well the answer is, it depends. I’ll be putting up a lens test video over the next few days so you can see for yourself. My conclusions are, at 5.6 or slower, it looks great. At 3.5, its a bit soft for stills, but ok for video.  What  happens wide open is that CA starts happening in the out of focus areas. This is typical of the look of lenses from this era. Its something like a diffusions filter, but different because there is some color spread.  Its a very 60’s and 70’s look I like. There is also certain amount of CA going on in high contrast areas that goes away by 5.6. If you want to bump up your ISO a stop in lower light levels, no problem, or drop your shutter to 1/30th while adding a little more light. Outdoors of course its a great general shooting lens. Reasonably wide for general shots, and at 105 goes in close.
I know if I could have  my ideal lens would be something like a 20-120, F2. There is a Olympus OM 35-105 2.8 out there. I’ve found only one, it was $1200, and in Hong Kong. I’m not saying that’s unreasonable as many folks have paid about as much for various canon L lenses. However, what I don’t know is if its any better then what I already have and paid, well $100 for ! This lens may well be the very best bargain lens out there is for shooting video if you can get over the fact its a 3.5 rather then 2.8 lens.

A Nite In Cincinatti Vintage OM Lens Tests

This is a cool little night time test shoot that I did. I was trying out some of my lenses, and ISO settings. I put some cool vintage glass to the job including a Olympus OM 50 1.4, OM 35-70 F4, 1 shot with a Vivtar series 1 28 1.9, a new Tamron 17-50 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. It was fun, gave me sore feet, and I think I learned quite a bit.
A Nite In Cincinatti by Steve Oakley from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
The OM 35-70 F4 would seem to be a dark lens in comparison to the others, and it is, but I still got some quite usable shots. Its a nice compact lens with a solid feel to it. I’ll also say the area was pretty bright, so it wasn’t a problem to use this lens. On a 7D @ 1250 ISO, it would still be very usable for all except the very darkest places.
This alternate version shows which lenses I used on each shot. You might be a bit surprised at a few.
A Nite In Cincinatti by Steve Oakley from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.

If you want to know, I did do some color correction on some shots. It seems the street lights have something of a green cast, and I did do a minus green correction on them. I also think I did adjust one or two shots for exposure too, but it was gentle. I did the editing and color correction in Premiere Pro CS5 Mac using mainly RGB Curves. Having a QuadroFX 4800 let me work on this in realtime, at full resolution which was a real pleasure. It also really let me get done with this a lot quicker.


I’ve got another video in the works, just as soon as I can edit the thing. Meanwhile I’ve been watching as canon announced the new 60D a few days ago.

Sennheiser Evolution G3 Wireless Review : Updated

The G3 wireless units from Sennheiser have been out for a while now. I decided to try a set out since one of my Lectro 195 transmitters bit the dust a few months back on a shoot. I’ve had the G3 unit now for a good month or so, and used it on a couple of real shoots. I’ve also done some simple but I think real word testing that shows both the good and bad in these units.
Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic Review from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
What got my attention with these units was the price and reputation for being considered the low end of pro quality wireless, at least for the G2 series.  I figured the G3 must be better as a newer generation product. I’ve spent a little bit of time using the G2’s in the past, but I have used a lot of Lectrosonics units. I’m quite familiar with how Lectro’s just work and sound great, once you get past the price. The G3’s certainly have their compromises to hit the price point that they do, but still offer solid performance. Lets take a more detailed look at them.
Audio Performance
The overall sound quality of the G3’s is very good. You can certainly get more then usable dialog sound through them. They have a lot more bottom end then I am used to, mainly because the transmitter lacks a LF cut filter. Its really pretty amazing that they left this key feature out. Low frequencies can make for all sorts of badness in the audio gain chain when its not usable sound such as mic or wind rumble messing with your limiters. Even so, I didn’t have any problems with overall signal handling with the units.
The G3’s have quite a bit of headroom overall when used with mics. The transmitter has a large range of adjustment which runs from -60db mic level to line level, adjusted via a menu. While I didn’t get to try running a true line level through these units, I’ve always found a -10db or -20db pad was required when using the G2 transmitters because it was easy to push them into clipping. The closest test was running the headphone jack from my laptop into the transmitter. Once I got the level trimmed, it worked great without any problems. This was a very handy way of running music and dialog through the transmitter to test its overall performance using uncompressed and original sound files.
On a shoot with a lot of air handling noise, I didn’t hear any compander noise. Quite room tests also seemed good. I did my test with a Sanken COS-11 lav.
The Included ME2 Lav Mic
If you don’t have a lav mic, it will get sound for you. If you want to have a mic you don’t care about for use in situations where the mic could be damaged, its fine. Its overall sound quality is very bright and its not anywhere near as good as the sound the G3’s can transmit. I had Trew Audio make an adapter for me to go from Lectro wired TA5 to 1/8″ mini jack. With this adapter I can use my Lectro wired lavs on either transmitter. With a good mic in place, I found the sound quality was somewhat better them my older 195’s. There was more bottom, and more HF. Overall it was better, fuller sound. However, if you don’t put a good quality mic onto the G3, you won’t hear it. So I’d very much recommend that you save the ME2 as a back up mic, and use something better.
The transmitter also has a weird control called “cable compensation”. Reading the manual, this is supposed to be used when simulating a certain length of guitar cord when used on an instrument. My educated guess is that this adds some capacitance to the line cutting HF. I’ll certainly say that the unit does sound brighter then my 195’s with it off. I’d recommend leaving it off.
The receiver’s specs indicate line level output levels of +11dbm. In reality, I have no idea where that number comes from. Setting the receiver to +12db on its output is still a low line level signal that required opening up the channel level higher then you would normally want. The receiver really is a mic level output, and it works best this way. Used with a quality mixer or recorder, you’ll get the best and cleanest gain structure this way. Trying to run at line level will not result in a quiet clean signal.
This brings me to a key point with this sort of lower priced compromise product, every adjustment is done in a menu. There are no external controls on these units such as a easy to get to a trim level. The transmitter does have a MUTE switch, but thats it. This means you must flip the battery cover door down to fiddle with the adjustment, then hit enter to make it stick. I do dearly wish that they had an external level trim control.
On the receiver, its the same thing – no output level, no head phone level, or a headphone jack at all. I’ll note that the 1/8″ output jack will not drive a standard set of headphones, at least not to a useful level. Having a headphone jack is handy simply for checking your signal at the source, as well as having a spare output when you need it.
The receiver is not bag friendly at all. First is that the menu display is on the side of the unit where you can’t see it, and second you don’t have any controls to work with on the top. More annoying is that the output jack is on the top of the unit. If this wasn’t enough, there is also the lack of a real external power connection to run on bag power. There is a charging connection for use with the Sennhieser battery packs, but I don’t know if it can be used to really power the unit.
Can you use it in a bag ? sure. Will you like it ? probably not. My Lectro receivers simply live in the bag and never get moved, the G3’s would require constant removal to adjust them, change frequencies, power them on or off, and change the batteries. If you can find an odd way of mounting them so you can see the display and not over flex the 1/8″ output jack, this might work for you.
The receiver certainly works fine on camera. I had a bracket they were able to grab, or you could remove the wire clip and velcro them on where ever they fit. The kit also includes a plastic hotshot adapter mount. The mount works, but I would not call it a long term mounting solution. It works best as that once in a while problem solver.
The mounting clip is an odd piece of spring steel that is identical on both units and the same as G2’s. Out of the box its way too stiff to slip into most people’s clothes. Bend it out a bit and it looses its grip, but if you don’t, you won’t get it onto thin light fabrics. Sennheiser seriously needs to redo the mounting clip to a more conventional spring loaded clip like those of other brands have. The mounting clip is a serious failing, I’ve seen G2’s bent up and useless way too many times. Perhaps there is an aftermarket bracket that can be found and mounted with double sided foam tape.
The 1/8″ or 3.5mm  Jacks
I’ll say it, of ALL the connectors they could of used – TA5, TA3, Lemo, they choose the worst possible connector. I’m sure this was in part to keep the costs down. Now the 1/8″ jack does have a screw collar to lock the plug in, and its the toughest looking 1/8″s jack I’ve seen, but either way its a poor choice. If anyone could mod these units for TA3/5 connectors, they would have a very steady stream of customers getting their units modified.
Exceptional Battery Life
Using a set of new 2500ma AA’s I got 12+ hrs of continuous use on the transmitter. The receiver went maybe 18hrs or so. Compared to my power sucking Lectros, is is great. It should be noted that the transmitters are only 30mw. This is typical of cheaper units. The lower power of course translates into longer battery life compared to other units at 50, 100 and 250mw.
As much as you may want to argue that great receiver design is critical, and it is, having more RF power always helps. RF power is especially important when you want to go for some distance, because the inverse square law applies now matter what brand of wireless you are using. Put more simply, a hotter RF signal at any distance always wins in my book.
RF Performance
The new G3’s are diversity receivers. There is one antenna sticking out of the top of the unit, and the ground of the output wire is used as the second. Does it work ? yes.
The receivers can scan their frequency ranges for in use channels. It seems to work ok, even when I tried them in a major US city as well as more rural locations. Whats very cool is that once you setup the receiver, and select a frequency, you can transmit your setup info via infrared to the transmitter. This feature is brilliant and works great.
There are 1628 channels in the frequency band my unit covers. They are separated into banks with sub channels. You can use all the frequencies in the bank’s subchannels safely together without worry of intermodulation problems. This is a great feature to have and makes multi unit use much simpler. There is also a user programmable bank as well. You can also manually set frequencies if you want too.
I ran my urban RF performance test. I setup the transmitter and fed it from my laptop’s headphone jack playing itunes. I also used a Y splitter to feed my lectro 195 transmitter for a side by side comparison of a unit I knew well.
I was able to easily transmit through sheetrock and wood walls without a problem inside the house. Outside of the house generally worked fine too. I then went for a walk around my neighborhood. I”ve run my lectros 500 to 1000 feet or more with this test.This warm summer night I was testing, neither unit wanted to go much further then a few hundred feet outside the structure. The lower RF output power of the G3 certainly seemed to limit the distance it would go compared to the Lectro at 100mw of RF power. I think that result was to be expected. However, the diversity design did generally give me better reception then I expected while I was in range.
My conclusion is RF performance is fine for close range work. Walls shouldn’t present much of a problem. You could certainly use these units for mixer to camera hops if you wanted to, and feel safe you were not going to have major problems. Sure I know purists will argue you should be using a digital type transmitter for a camera hop. However not everyone can drop $5k for a digital wireless setup especially if you don’t need it everyday. Sometimes issues of safety, convenience, and the need to move fast in congested situations mean you do what you need to order to get the job done. I think that for close use like this, the G3’s are good enough quality for most people’s needs and reliable enough. I”ve certainly used G2’s a couple of times like this for broadcast gigs and no one has every complained.
UPDATE : Using your Lectro 195 transmitter with a G3
This isn’t supposed to work, but it does. I was able to tune a G3 RECEIVER to 475.375MHZ manually to match a Lectro 195 transmitter, and guess what ? it works ! The G3 receiver was happy to see the 195’s pilot tone, and open up. Sound worked ! This means that G3 receivers can be used as spare or backups for 195 transmitters if you can get every one tuned the same. It did seem like the audio performance wasn’t quite as good, but it worked. OTH, using the G3 transmitter would not get the lectro 195 reciever to work. If I had time to fiddle I could probably of turned off the pilot tone on the 195 and gotten it to work.
UPDATE : Using your modern Lectro Transmitters or Receivers  With G3 or G4’s
If you set your Lectro reciever to compatibility mode of 3 it will work with a G3 transmitter just fine. Likewise if you set your Lectro transmitter to Mode 3 it will work with a G3 receiver.  This is really handly if a camera has a slot in lectro receiver, but all you have are G3 transmitters.
The only real downfall of these units is the lack of top mounted displays and controls for bag use and the mount clips. If you can work around this, the price is right, the quality of the audio is very good, and RF performance is decent. The very long battery life is great for any application where its critically important. If you can deal with the quirky ergonomics of the units, they are a bargain. They are great starter units if you have nothing but spend a little extra and get a better lava mic. The G3’s are also good secondary wireless units for backup or extra channels when you use up all of your primary premium brand wireless.
Special Thanks to Guy Cochran at for special support on this review