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Comparing RF & SLR wide open
Old 02-23-2017   #1
Timmyjoe
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Comparing RF & SLR wide open

This is one of those times when I really miss Tom A.

Did a test today, shooting the same subjects, with a Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens and a Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens (and Kodak 5222, Double XX). Both lenses were in very good condition.

The Nikkor OC is about a twenty year newer design than the W-Nikkor-C, but I was surprised to see the W-Nikkor-C was sharper wide open, sharper stopped down to f2.8 and even sharper on some shots stopped down to f4. I was wondering what the theory is as to why rangefinder lenses are sharper wide open than their newer SLR counterparts.

Does it have to do with the lens being closer to the film? Are rangefinder lenses easier to design to be sharper wide open? Wasn't expecting this result.

Best,
-Tim
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Old 02-23-2017   #2
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Would you have any examples we might be able to compare ? Or are the differences kinda lost on web postings ? Peter
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Old 02-23-2017   #3
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SLRs have the weakness of poor focus accuracy for wide angle lenses. Even if you use the split image RF in the screen of the SLR, the effective baselength is far less than that offered by your rangefinder camera.

At the other end of the spectrum, the RF camera is weak with focusing long focal lengths. Here, the SLR shines. Hence, even Leica makes you use a Visoflex to focus a 180mm+ lens on a rangefinder camera.

Erwin Puts has a detailed mathematical development to illustrate this. I can't find the actual text at the moment, but my recollection is that somewhere around 75mm or so, the SLR and RF are equivalent in focusing accuracy.

So, I suspect that your lenses are equally sharp, but the SLR may be very slightly misfocused.

Here's Erwin's public domain article on RF accuracy:
http://leica-users.org/v04/msg07362.html
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Old 02-23-2017   #4
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The fundamental difference between RF and SLR lenses that are less than 50mm focal length is that SLR lenses need to be retro-focus designs to clear the swinging mirror where RF lenses can be simpler designs. The retro-focus lens requires more lens elements, better lens coatings to eliminate flare, and more precision in centering to work well. Faster lenses require even more lens elements, more precision, and better coatings to perform well.

For example, your W-Nikkor-C 3.5cm is a basic symmetrical design with four elements in three groups. Excellent examples of this lens type have been made since the 1930s. The Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 for the SLR is not only a stop and a half faster, it has eight elements in six groups to work on the Nikon F SLR body. This is quite an early 35mm SLR lens: it was made long before multicoating existed and so suffers in comparison to the simpler, slower RF lens.

Lenses for RF cameras were getting excellent quality results in the 1930s and 1940s before SLRs were even available... SLR lenses with their more complex designs hit their stride in the 1970s and later, after the invention and popularization of multicoating by Zeiss and Pentax became generally available on all high quality lenses.

G
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Old 02-23-2017   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
This is one of those times when I really miss Tom A.

Did a test today, shooting the same subjects, with a Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens and a Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens (and Kodak 5222, Double XX). Both lenses were in very good condition.

The Nikkor OC is about a twenty year newer design than the W-Nikkor-C, but I was surprised to see the W-Nikkor-C was sharper wide open, sharper stopped down to f2.8 and even sharper on some shots stopped down to f4. I was wondering what the theory is as to why rangefinder lenses are sharper wide open than their newer SLR counterparts.

Does it have to do with the lens being closer to the film? Are rangefinder lenses easier to design to be sharper wide open? Wasn't expecting this result.

Best,
-Tim
Adding to what Godfrey said, you say the RF 3.5/35mm lens was sharper than the SLR 2.0/35mm lens when the SLR lens was at f/2.0, f/2.8, and "sometimes" when they were both at f/4.0? Can we say that at f/4.0 they perform similarly, while at f/2.8 and f/2.0 the SLR lens is obviously far better as the RF lens doesn't open that wide.

In other words, at f/2.8 there is only one choice (the SLR lens) and at f/4.0 they are similar.

So while your premise that RF lenses are sharper wide open than SLR lenses (for wide angle lenses anyway) may be correct, your test does not actually test that hypothesis. Your will need to test f/2.0 vs f/2.0, rather than f/2.0 vs f/3.5.
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Old 02-23-2017   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelwj View Post
In other words, at f/2.8 there is only one choice (the SLR lens) and at f/4.0 they are similar.
Re-read, he is using the f/2.5 variant.

However a comparison to the 3.5cm f/1.8 would be interesting.

Either way, comparing on a fast, grainy film to me would be the weak point here.
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Old 02-23-2017   #7
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Thanks for everyone's input.

Yeah, it's the f2.5 W-Nikkor-C. The test was both shot wide open, so f2.5 compared to f2.0 (not an exact comparison I know), and then both shot at f2.8, and then both shot at f4.0. Then I shot a number of pictures with both lenses set at f2.8. The rangefinder lens was sharper in all those shots.

The 35mm SLR lens is a Nikkor-OC, so I assumed that meant it was coated. Maybe it doesn't have the multi-coating like the current SLR lenses do, but I still thought it would outshine a lens designed in the late 1940's, as it was new in the early 1970's.

And I don't find the Double XX to be that grainy when processed in HC-110 at a dilution of 64:1. Comparable to Tri-X.

Again, thanks for the input.

Best,
-Tim
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Old 02-23-2017   #8
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I would love to see your results.

As for film, funny you mention XX in HC-110 as I just developed my first roll of that, and for the first time used HC-110 with it, so I'll reserve judgement till I scan the negatives. However, I've shot plenty of Tri-X and at least 1000' of T-Max 100 though, and there's no comparison obviously. Any serious "test" IMO should be on a 100 speed T-grain film if you want to actually see the real resolution differences.
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Old 02-23-2017   #9
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OR . . .

If the difference shows up with Double XX, then it would show up much more with 100 speed T-Grain.



I'm looking at a project that will be shot on Double XX, and trying to determine which camera/lens combo to use. That's why I'm shooting the test on Double XX as well.

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-Tim
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Old 02-23-2017   #10
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Okay, a couple of samples. Again, Double XX, processed in HC-110. 100% crops of the part of the image I used for focus (which also happened to be the center of the image). Yes I know it's grainy. Both lenses set at f2.8 for all shots.

Close up shot (approximately 4 feet from camera)
Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens @f2.8


Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens @f2.8


Distance shot (approximately 100 feet from camera)
Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens @f2.8


Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens @f2.8


Best,
-Tim
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Old 02-23-2017   #11
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I don't necessarily disagree with your statement, having shot both the lenses in question, but honestly the images shown from the SLR lens look out of focus to me. Or a really bad sample?
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Old 02-23-2017   #12
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Thanks for the images, the SLR lens looks well out of whack, mis focus maybe? Something else?
Apologies on the 3.5-2.5 misread, but you still need to compare apples to apples...
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Old 02-23-2017   #13
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I agree, I'm surprised the SLR lens looks this bad. In the first sample I didn't even notice the writing under the rock until I scrolled down to the RF version.

Is anything in the SLR frame as sharp as you expected? Or is it like that everywhere?

I wonder if your F body needs to have the focusing screen shimmed... I don't know if it's possible on an F, but I had to do it on a D700. That problem drove me absolutely nuts until I worked out what was going on.

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Old 02-23-2017   #14
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Then there is also to consider differences in development (won't affect sharpness but could influence grain and perception of sharpness), flatness during exposure, flatness during scanning, possible auto settings that cannot be changed (of scan and/or lab if used) and very likely a dozen other thing I'm forgetting. And a tripod was always used, just like a remote release I assume.

What were we comparing?
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Old 02-24-2017   #15
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There seems to be a reluctance here amongst some to see that maybe the old rangefinder lens is sharper than the newer SLR lens when shot at the wide open end. I too was surprised, but after looking at the results, shot at the same time, using two cameras and lenses that had been recently serviced by folks who are experts in the Nikon SLR & Rangefinder fields (APS & DAG), using the same batch of Double XX film, processed in the same chemicals, in the same tank, at the same time, and scanned with the same film scanner, actually on the same film tray, at the same time. And the results above are what came out. They are crops of the VueScan output with only slight curve adjustment.

I think what Robert and Godfrey are talking about is coming in to play here.

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-Tim
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Old 02-24-2017   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
There seems to be a reluctance here amongst some to see that maybe the old rangefinder lens is sharper than the newer SLR lens when shot at the wide open end. I too was surprised, but after looking at the results, shot at the same time, using two cameras and lenses that had been recently serviced by folks who are experts in the Nikon SLR & Rangefinder fields (APS & DAG), using the same batch of Double XX film, processed in the same chemicals, in the same tank, at the same time, and scanned with the same film scanner, actually on the same film tray, at the same time. And the results above are what came out. They are crops of the ViewScan output with only slight curve adjustment.

I think what Robert and Godfrey are talking about is coming in to play here.

Best,
-Tim
We all agree that the RF lens can be sharper (from a pure design standpoint at least), it's just that those two shots are like night and day. It's almost like you smeared the front of the SLR lens with vasoline

If it's not too much effort, it would be interesting to see the f/4 shots you said were not so clear cut.
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Old 02-24-2017   #17
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Here's both camera/lens set ups shot at f4.

Close up shot (approximately 4 feet from camera)
Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens @f4.0


Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens @f4.0


The SLR lens sharpens noticeably when stopped down to f4.0.

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-Tim
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Old 02-24-2017   #18
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^ I think we can agree that the older RF lens is certainly a competent performer . Peter
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Old 02-24-2017   #19
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Were you using a tripod and cable release on these shots?

That can make a large difference at slower shutter speeds.
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Old 02-24-2017   #20
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Mirror shake wil ruin slr sharpness to 1/000 sec. Test with flash or heavy tripod + cable release and mirror lock up.

Then there is issue of retrofocus lenses required which complicate the design.

Test with same film.
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Old 02-24-2017   #21
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It all depends on each camera really. My Rolleiflex SL35e can be a pain sometimes, but produces some pretty sharp negative, equal to those from my Leica M6 ant Summicron 35.

On the other hand, my Olympus OM1 sometimes gets unsharp results, mostly due to mirror shake. I've test this by making the same shot, same camera, same lens, same speed and apperture. First one hand held, second with mirror lock and tripod. Result where sharper with mirror lock up and tripod, so no related to lens really.

Rolleiflex sl35e has sharp results at 1/30. Havent tried at slower speeds though.

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Old 02-24-2017   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronald M View Post
Mirror shake wil ruin slr sharpness to 1/000 sec. Test with flash or heavy tripod + cable release and mirror lock up.
All things being equal, if the image improves as you stop down that would rule out camera motion as your shutter speed is actually slower.

Am I missing something??

Joe
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Old 02-24-2017   #23
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In the stop sign photo from the SLR, the curb at extreme lower right looks sharper than a few yards farther away near the bottom center, and the depth of field falls off quickly as you look at the fence at left.

Looks to me that your OC is front focusing significantly.
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Old 02-24-2017   #24
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Quote:
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All things being equal, if the image improves as you stop down that would rule out camera motion as your shutter speed is actually slower.

Am I missing something??

Joe
+1 Agree to that.
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Old 02-24-2017   #25
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Bright cloudy day with shutter speeds from 1/250 - 1/1000, so I doubt shutter speed was an issue.

Never heard of front focusing with an SLR still camera lens. If your camera is set up properly, with the ground glass the exact same distance from the lens flange as the film plane, what the lens is projecting on the ground glass is what it's projecting on the film. If it's tack sharp on the ground glass, it should be tack sharp on the film.

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Old 02-24-2017   #26
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Maybe you just have a bad sample.

The Nikkor "O" 35mm f2 was widely used and respected by photojournalists for years and years. It was known as a sharp and reliable lens. Most every PJ of that era owned one.

I've never gotten results as soft as you are showing here.

I bought one in 1976 and just replaced it last year with the newer Nikkor G f1.8. Probably 20% of the shots in my old B&W professional portfolio were taken with the 35 f2 lens.

Old film shots:
http://www.hamel-lambert.com/days/index.html
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Old 02-24-2017   #27
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Tim, were the stop sign photos focused at infinity? If not, can you repeat the test with both lenses focused at infinity, at, say, f2.8, 4, and 8? Preferably with a lot of depth + detail in the frame, such as down a tree-lined street with a distant background. On a tripod with cable release, preferably, and mirror lock up on the SLR. The Nikkor-OC stop sign result definitely looks unexpected. As does the unsharp looking close up.
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Old 02-24-2017   #28
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I bought the Nikkor OC 35 last year and have gotten some really wonderful images out of it. Most were shot between f4 and f11. I'm prepping for a project where I know the light is going to be an issue, so I want to get as much out of my lenses as possible, hence the f2.8 and wider tests.

Nice work there Larry, thanks for the link.

Lynn, if I get around to testing these two cameras and lenses again, I'll try your suggestion. Thanks.

Best,
-Tim
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Old 02-24-2017   #29
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Hi Tim. In low light, the rangefinder will most likely be the best tool for the job. You should be able to hand hold at least one stop slower in shutter speed, so the fact that it has the sharper lens just lends weight to it being your ideal choice for this job.
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Old 02-25-2017   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radi(c)al_cam View Post
Take ONE specimen of group A and ONE specimen of group B, and you have a «comparison»?

Is that the (new?) «scientific standard» in the U.S.A.?

Where do they teach that? Faux News University? Breitbart College? Milo's Dangerous Academy?
Certainly, this would never occur in another country. I can't think of a single time a poster, outside of the U.S., drew a hypothesis about something based only on examples they had readily at hand.
Incidentally, isn't it only Americans who write stupidly bigoted things on the internet about other countries?
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Old 02-25-2017   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
Okay, a couple of samples. Again, Double XX, processed in HC-110. 100% crops of the part of the image I used for focus (which also happened to be the center of the image). Yes I know it's grainy. Both lenses set at f2.8 for all shots.

Close up shot (approximately 4 feet from camera)
Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens @f2.8


Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens @f2.8


Distance shot (approximately 100 feet from camera)
Nikon F w/35mm Nikkor-OC f2.0 lens @f2.8


Nikon S2 w/3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 lens @f2.8


Best,
-Tim
It would be interesting, perhaps educational even, to see the whole image and not just a crop.
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Old 02-25-2017   #32
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The Nikkor 3.5cm/2.5 is just a very good lens, and short registration distance does make designing a good wide angle much easier. Similar 6/4 design as the 35/2.8 Summaron, which is known to be one of the highest resolution Leica lenses ever made (~400 lp/mm stopped down ?), higher resolution than for instance the modern 35 Summicron ASPH. Only mentioning the Summaron as you can find MTF charts and resolution tables on-line.

Now, resolution is not everything, there is distortion (where your 3.5cm/2.5 will also do better than your SLR lens), and vignetting, micro-contrast, etc., where your SLR lens will do better.

Roland.
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Old 02-25-2017   #33
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So: you're comparing two different lenses on two different bodies with two different focusing systems; and single samples of rather elderly cameras and lenses at that. This does not sound to me like a terribly meaningful basis on which to compare all RF lenses with all SLR lenses, even if everything has been recently serviced.

Cheers,

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Old 02-25-2017   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
So: you're comparing two different lenses on two different bodies with two different focusing systems; and single samples of rather elderly cameras and lenses at that. This does not sound to me like a terribly meaningful basis on which to compare all RF lenses with all SLR lenses, even if everything has been recently serviced.

Cheers,

R.
Hey Roger,

Being a photographer, not a research scientist, I've got a project coming up, and I have the equipment I have on hand. It's gonna be a low light situation, I want to shoot it on film, I want to shoot it with a 35mm, and I have a Nikon F with a 35mm and a Nikon S2 with a 35mm. So I took them out to compare how they would do on the wide open end. And was surprised that the rangefinder lens did better than the newer SLR lens. Now would another sample of the 35mm SLR lens beat another sample of the 35mm rangefinder lens, who knows. But I don't own those other samples, and have no access to those other samples, so I "shot with what I got".

And I posted here, (as I was surprised by the results) to ask if anyone had a theory of why these results might be as they are.

Not trying to make a "Rangefinders are always better than SLRs" thread. Just asking, "Why do you think this came out this way?"
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Old 02-25-2017   #35
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TimmyJoe, thanks for attempting to show this, good job. You are running up against what always occurs here during testing. People look for reasons to invalidate your obvious results and conclusions. I've done some comparisons of vintage lenses on digital bodies to reduce the "yeah, but..." questions. You'll still get people pointing out the adapters are different, or that the lighting changes in the 1 minute it takes to change lenses.

I for one thinking seeing is believing. And talk is cheap. You've done the hard part, offered an experiment and a hypothesis. The scientific method demands others try to duplicate/refute your results doing the same experiment. Or maybe the same model lenses, but different copies, and on a digital body. Your hypothesis could have easily been "SLR cameras don't age well....SLR cameras contribute to many poor resolution situations..." etc. But just smug internet writing about how you are wrong holds a lot less weight than looking at your results. To me.
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Old 02-25-2017   #36
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Someone with those two lenses, please slap them on a digital camera and take some shots, and we can eliminate blaming the SLR camera or the particular copy of the OP's lenses.
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Old 02-25-2017   #37
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Thanks Garrett. Really wasn't trying to start any controversy, just found the results surprising.

And again, this is where I really miss Tom A., because I know he would have had an interesting explanation. I remember talking with him many years ago over the phone, about just this type of thing, comparing vintage rangefinder optics to vintage SLR optics, and the theories of why one was easier to design, or optically superior, to the other and vice versa.

Again, thanks for your comments.

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Old 02-25-2017   #38
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Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
Hey Roger,

Being a photographer, not a research scientist, I've got a project coming up, and I have the equipment I have on hand. It's gonna be a low light situation, I want to shoot it on film, I want to shoot it with a 35mm, and I have a Nikon F with a 35mm and a Nikon S2 with a 35mm. So I took them out to compare how they would do on the wide open end. And was surprised that the rangefinder lens did better than the newer SLR lens. Now would another sample of the 35mm SLR lens beat another sample of the 35mm rangefinder lens, who knows. But I don't own those other samples, and have no access to those other samples, so I "shot with what I got".

And I posted here, (as I was surprised by the results) to ask if anyone had a theory of why these results might be as they are.

Not trying to make a "Rangefinders are always better than SLRs" thread. Just asking, "Why do you think this came out this way?"
Sorry to have misread you -- but I still think you're reading too much into your results. Sample variation with the same lens can be surprisingly large, and it is likely to get larger as the lens ages. I've had two Linhof-selected Zeiss 100/2.8 Planars. The first was stunning. Like a fool I sold it. Then I bought another, maybe five years later. It was nothing like as good. So I sold that one too, and didn't miss it.

Of course it is difficult for a retrofocus (reverse-telephoto) design to be as good as a "plain" (non-retrofocus) lens of the same focal length. When the retrofocus lens is faster (f/2 instead of f/2.5) it grows more difficult again. It can probably (just about) be done but it's going to be more expensive, and bigger and heavier.

So: the 35/2.5 Nikkor starts with two inherent advantages (slower and non-retrofocus) and one inherent disadvantage (older design). It was however a cutting edge design, and probably impossible to equal with a retrofocus for some years. Multicoating would be all but essential, for a start. Also, though I don't know, I suspect that the 35/2 was probably designed without a computer and using ray tracing rather than wavefront optimization.

Then there's focus. If both cameras are perfectly adjusted, the RF will often have the advantage with a 35mm lens, even an f/2, and in any case you'd need the right screen (Nikon recommended the A, D, F, G1, G2, H1 and H2) and to take some time and care.

It would have been extremely interesting to compare a brand new 35/2 SLR Nikkor with a 35/2.5RF Nikkor in pristine condition but as I say, with as few decades' age, all you can realistically say is that your RF lens performs better than your SLR lens. It may well be that this would be true of other samples of the same lenses in similar condition, but I don't think I'd draw any broader conclusions than this.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-25-2017   #39
Timmyjoe
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Thank you Roger. That is the kind of information I was hoping to have a discussion about.

It seems like I ended up with a good copy of the 3.5cm W-Nikkor-C f2.5 for my S2, which I'm really happy about, as buying such old lenses from the auction site can be a pig-in-a-poke.

One other question, if you happen to know. My rangefinder lens has the red C on it, which I'm assuming means coated, and my SLR lens is a Nikkor-OC, which again, I assume the C means coated. The 35mm SLR OC lens was made somewhere around 1973 and the 3.5cm Rangefinder lens was made somewhere around the early 1950's. Are we talking totally different kind of coatings on these two lens designs?

Best,
-Tim
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Old 02-25-2017   #40
tunalegs
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Originally Posted by radi(c)al_cam View Post
And, recently you drew the hypothesis that I'm a fellow citizen — I shall reveal: I am NOT a WASP, at least
I just find it interesting that you always act in exactly the same ways you say Americans act.
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