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06-11-2010, 06:30 PM   #1
Pentaxian




Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Oklahoma USA
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generic lens purchasing question

Hi,
I have noticed that it seems like, perhaps more so than in the film era, there are a lot of reports of sample variation in lenses. I myself have a lens, not an inexpensive one (nearly $500 now), that I think may have centering or other issues, although under the right circumstances (notably, stopped way down, and manually focused very carefully to a compromise point between the left and right sides of the image) it can produce good images. I have returned this lens to the manufacturer twice, with no (pardon the pun) resolution to the issue. Their own test images (which they sent me) show the problem I see in my own pictures (similar with my two different camera bodies), but it's a question of degree.
In any case, my question is, how as a consumer can we best deal with sample variations? Here is what I'm thinking:
1. If we live in NYC (and pretty much nowhere else), in theory we could visit your store or a similar store and perhaps test a lens (bringing our PC, etc.) before buying. The problem of course is that unless we get just outrageously amazing results with the first lens you test, we're going to want to compare the first sample against a second, and a third... At some point you're going to get a bit tired of dragging out sample after sample, and having us ask for a place to plug in our PC, which would probably run out of battery power long before you ran out of lenses for us to test.
2. If we don't live in NYC and have to buy by mail, I'm not sure how you'd react to us buying, say, four copies of a lens and returning three. If we don't, and go the one-at-a-time route, buying the lens can become a multi-month process, and will be especially irritating to you when we ask for #2 of 4 back, because it turned out to be the best. Some stores like Amazon will happily exchange items indefinitely, but often don't carry the specialty lenses we may want to purchase. Having visited your retail store, admittedly in the 1980s, I didn't get the impression that you'd be thrilled with the whole try-and-buy process, or that it would be quite compatible with your business model.
3. Maybe you should offer pre-purchase testing as a service (for a fee, of course.) That would open up a lot of logistical questions, but it's a thought. Obviously the high-end manufacturers have always done this, and sometimes provided the test results with each lens, but if you could figure out a way to automate it, it might be a cost-effective competitive advantage for you. Hey, I might not have abandoned B&H, where I'd bought my camera and two lenses, for Abe's (for $20 less than your price) if you'd offered me a tested version of that lens for $30 more. Even $49.99... maybe. More than $50, probably not.
So, how would you suggest we approach this problem?
Paul

07-08-2010, 05:53 PM   #2
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I think the best way to fix the problem is learn how to use equipment properly. Even more so today than before, since lenses are built by machine and not assembled by hand in many cases, there is hardly ANY difference between two. I got consistently soft photographs before I learned to hold a camera properly and balance shutter speed with focal length. Now I am capable of making almost tack sharp images in most situations.

If getting the lens repaired didn't solve the issue, perhaps the lens isn't the problem.
07-09-2010, 08:19 AM   #3
B&H Photo Specialist
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Join Date: May 2010
Location: New York
Posts: 867
Hello,

It's hard to know where to begin. Firstly, any testing you are doing if not done with a tripod using a cable release is futile. For testing purposes, you must eliminate any possible causes of error, in this case camera shake. Next, I would shoot an inanimate object to reduce the chance your subject moves. One of the ways I test a lens is to set it up on a level tripod near a textured exterior wall. I set the camera to Aperture Priority and set the lens to it's closest focus point. I then move the camera and tripod until the wall is in focus. Making sure the camera is level I make exposures beginning with the lens wide open and then stopping down and then moving back and repeating exposure sequence. With the lens focused to it's closest focus point wide open, this would be the lens weakest optical setting. Any exposure combination after this point will be an improvement. I would then repeat this with an object close to the camera with plenty of textured background (for this I use my deck railings, the wood has a lot of detail to judge the lens resolving power). This is how I would test a newly acquired lens to see if it was working correctly.

With reguards to your questions;

1) While an excellent suggestion, in practile terms would not be possible.

2) B&H has a very generous return policy. If, for whatever reason, you are dissatisfied with your purchase, you can return it to B&H within 15 days of receipt of item(s).
Return & Exchange Policy | B&H Photo Video

3) We get this request alot an unfortunately as an authorized dealer for the products we sell, we cannot open and use an item even if only for testing and then rebox it and sell it as new. With regards to back focusing, how a lens peforms will depend on the camera body used. A lens can work fine for us here and then not focus correctly for you. In many cases, a focusing problem is remedied by servicing both the lens and the camera it is to be used on.


C h u c k C a p r i o l a
Live Chat and E-Mail Sales Manager B&H Photo-Video

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07-09-2010, 10:27 AM   #4
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I think we are beginning to obsess a bit too much about our equipment. I suspect that in the film era quality was the same but people shot much less pictures, and had no instantaneous feedback.

If you live outside of New York city, chances are that you can still find a store somewhere, don't you think ? Here in Quebec city, we even have at least 10 :P

The last time I purchased a new lens, it was not in stock, so I ordered it, took it home, mounted it on the camera, and started shooting happily. If I had noticed something wrong then I would have reacted, but I purposedly avoided comparing it to any other identical lens so that I would not start to obsess. And I still love that lens now.

07-09-2010, 10:51 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by bdery Quote

If you live outside of New York city, chances are that you can still find a store somewhere, don't you think ?
.
Actually, no. It is a major complaint by some about Pentax.
07-09-2010, 06:34 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by bdery Quote
I think we are beginning to obsess a bit too much about our equipment. I suspect that in the film era quality was the same but people shot much less pictures, and had no instantaneous feedback.

If you live outside of New York city, chances are that you can still find a store somewhere, don't you think ? Here in Quebec city, we even have at least 10 :P

The last time I purchased a new lens, it was not in stock, so I ordered it, took it home, mounted it on the camera, and started shooting happily. If I had noticed something wrong then I would have reacted, but I purposedly avoided comparing it to any other identical lens so that I would not start to obsess. And I still love that lens now.
There are a lot of areas that don't have a brick & mortar store anymore much less one like BH etc. The ones that carry Pentax gear are even slimmer. I remember the pickings in Atlanta were relatively slim for a city that size.
07-11-2010, 11:15 AM   #7
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Original Poster
Thanks to everyone for the replies. Comments:

I agree that ordinary users now have a much better capability for lens testing than in the film era. In the film era, with transparencies we'd typically use an 8x or 10x loupe, or of course a projector, both of which added additional optics and other factors into the mix. With B&W could crank our enlargers up to maximum height, but again there were other components involved. Now, with digital - and increasingly large monitors and high megapixel sensors - we can display greatly magnified crops from images side-by-side and compare. And we can also afford to take hundreds of pictures specifically for testing purposes, which would have been cost-prohibitive with film. So maybe to some extent we're seeing problems now that we hadn't before.

I do disagree with the claim that most people live where it's possible to purchase Pentax or Pentax-mount lenses at a local brick-and-mortar store, even if they are willing to pay somewhat of a price premium.

Paul
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