The last of Autumn, and a fresh look at an old lens

The turning and shedding of Autumn foliage seems to come later and later in the year here in Chico. It’s the beginning of December and many red and yellow leaves are still clinging to trees that are waiting till the last possible moment to commit to winter dormancy. However, recent rain has given some Fall leaves a head start.

My Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 macro lens is among the earliest of my old manual lens finds on eBay. The serial number indicates it was a Komine lens made around 1970 (Vivitar outsourced manufacturing of their branded lenses). It has spent the last 6 or 7 years either sitting on a shelf or bumping around in one of my camera bags, for that occasion of need that never came. I own a few lenses that I’ve “grown out of” due to my taste exceeding their quality, but this isn’t one of them - it’s among my sharpest lenses and makes a surprisingly good portrait lens. Upon reflection, the reasons for it’s disuse come down to:

  • It’s a pre-AI Nikon F-mount, which was no problem for my Nikon D40, but would damage the mount of the D7000 I bought a few years later (it has an AI tab, allowing metering of AI and AIS lenses). My D40 would join my Vivitar 90mm macro on the shelf as the D7000 became my everyday camera - until Sony and Fujifilm mirrorless cameras came along.

  • I purchased a Nikkor AF-D 85mm f/1.8, and demoted the Vivitar 90mm macro for portrait duty. The Vivitar renders people well, but the Nikkor 85mm is just better.

  • The Vivitar macro lens, like all macro lenses, really needs to be on a tripod to get the best out of it for macro work, and I would rarely venture out with a tripod.

Which isn’t to say you can’t go around shooting macro hand-held, provided you have enough light and are comfortable with the ISO range of your camera to sustain high enough shutter speeds for mitigating camera shake…and that’s just what I did on a recent walk, with the Vivitar 90mm macro attached to a Fujifilm X-T10 via a Zhongyi Lens Turbo II adapter, which provided a “free” extra stop of light on top of the 800 ISO I leaned on.

My transition to mirrorless cameras means mounting non-AI lenses is no longer a problem, and I have “rediscovered” the carrying bag with the shoulder strap that originally came with my travel tripod, which works quite well for occasions when I don’t even want to bother with a camera backpack on my frequent “one camera, one lens” walk-a-bouts. None of the photos above were true, 1-to-1 macro shot, which fully extends the lens barrel to more than double it’s original length and makes steady, in-focus, hand-held shots just about impossible. I think a proper macro shoot or two is in my future - probably next spring when insects and other tiny critters emerge.

At the edge of disaster

“Oh, a storm cloud. Good - we could use some rain”, I thought to myself staring out at the dark, billowing clouds that filled the southern portion of the sky that was visible from my window. It was still early in the morning, and I had not yet checked the news.

Upper Bidwell Park. The small orange dot is the mid-day sun.

The town of Paradise was already engulfed in flames from a wildfire that started early that morning, and the smoke flowed above Chico like a river, cutting through an otherwise clear, sunny sky. Later that afternoon, I took a break from terrible news on TV and grabbed my camera and headed out to Upper Bidwell Park to get a view just outside of Chico.

The light of the clear, sunny northern horizon cast a blue highlight on the trees - contrasting with the warm shadows of the smoke in a discordant, unsettling manner. I spent about 45 minutes taking photos, then headed back home.

I spent the rest of the day glued to the local news on TV, as well as the Facebook app on my phone. Many of my friends, acquaintances, and former clients lived in Paradise and the surrounding area, or had family who did. Many of them can be seen in the photo galleries of this site. Most of them confirmed the loss of their homes in the days that followed.

A week later, the wildfire is still making its way south, and the air is a thick, dirty, brown haze - keeping everyone indoors as much as possible. My feelings about these photos are complicated, as I can’t quite square the strikingly beautiful colors with the devastating consequences felt by so many, but it felt more wrong for them to simply stay hidden from view on my hard drive, so I’m posting them here.

For anyone wanting to donate to the victims, my general recommendation would be to emphasize that cash and gift cards are often more helpful than supplies. My condolences to everyone affected by this fire, and my best wishes to you all going forward.