Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory
185mm & 600mm Lens Tests
ABOVE - The Griffith Observatory sits in Griffith Park above Los Angeles and is surrounded by miles of hiking trails from which you can snap shots of the amazing view.
In 1896 Colonel Griffith J. Griffith donated 3,015 acres of land on the South face of Mount Hollywood for the specific use of building an astronomy observatory for the public. His desire was to make astronomy more accessible to the masses and in his will he stipulated that the Observatory always be free to the public.
Opened in 1935 the Griffith Observatory offers one of the best views of the Los Angeles basin and skyline in addition to offering the best public access view of the now famous "Hollywood Sign", and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean to the West.
I took two old all-manual Pentax lenses that I'd had converted over to Canon EOS mount lenses to test their focus sharpness and overall quality.
There are several reasons why old non-automatic focus lenses that can be converted to Nikon or Canon mount should be including economy and optical quality.
First thing is first - why would you choose to shoot with an all-manual lens when there are numerous AF lenses that provide better metering, better color representation, and better center to edge quality?
The most compelling answer is money. The images above were shot with a $25 camera shop discount bin lens. Add another $20 for a quality Pentax M42 screw mount to Canon EOS mount adapter (one with the contact strip that tricks the camera into metering through the lens) and you've got a 185mm f/3.5 lens for $45 that takes sharp, crisp, beautiful photos.
Unless you are a still photographer that likes taking their time to set up a shot these "discount bin" lenses are really much more appealing to the videographer on a budget. Since the "movie mode" on most DSLR cameras emulates true motion picture digital cameras and only shoots in full manual mode, the playing field is leveled and these lenses can become the better choice.
Especially if you are going to shoot in a location where you may not want to expose a ridiculously expensive lens to the elements.
ABOVE - Always fun to capture a moment like this - a hiker takes a photo of the LA cityscape below him with his cell phone while about 1/2 a mile above him I take a photo of him taking a photo. These are the moments a photojournalist lives for. Unplanned, unscripted... just being at the right place at the right time.
The Griffith Observatory is a great place to get panoramic shots of Los Angeles. LA is an amazing city where the sprawl of urban development meets the beauty of the ocean and mountains of the Pacific Coast.
The photos above were shot with the same 185mm Pentax lens as the previous group. This lens when opened up to f/16 provided a high level of optical clarity from center to frame edge.
Everyone has heard about "smog" - and for many years LA has been ranked as one of the worst cities in North America of air quality. An estimated 122 days of each year the mix of automobile emissions, ozone, and fine particulate matter conspire to tip the LA basin's air quality over the American Lung Association's levels of acceptable air pollution.
The good news is that LA has been one of the most aggressive cities in the United States in fighting air pollution and over the past two decades it has improved each year. LA, which topped the list of large US cities with the worst air quality, has been moving down the list from the top spot for several years now.
Ozone pollution is 1/3 less and fine particulate matter is 1/2 less than levels recorded 15 years ago. The thing about air pollution is that heat from sunlight makes it worse... so hot, sunny, summer days are the days where smog becomes a factor, especially if the air is stagnate and devoid of significant breezes.
You can see in some of the photos above that there appears to be odd dark spaces in various sections of the frame... this is air pollution. These photos were taken on one of the hottest days of the summer and therefore air quality was affected. But don't let it stop you from visiting LA... the city for more than 2/3rds of the year has air that meets or exceeds the guidelines set for air quality by the American Lung Association.
ABOVE - After taking several shots with the Pentax 185mm f/3.5 lens it was time to test the hulking monster of a telescope that is the Vivitar 600mm f/8 lens.
The sharpness was pretty poor. The length was cumbersome and truthfully it just wasn't a very well made lens. But for $50 - it's a freakin' telescope! LOL. I think using it for pure knock around stuff like watching a sporting event from the hill behind the stadium - it's perfect. Shooting professional quality images that you can use commercially - no so much.
There's an interesting phenomenon in Los Angeles that has to do with real estate... the higher you can place your house on a hill; the more valuable your house (and property) are.
What is really interesting about most of LA that you almost never see in movies and TV is just how mountainous the area is. The neighborhoods surrounding Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory are all connected by snaking mountain roads.
I took photos starting at the base of the mountain that the observatory sits on and started working my way, street by street back towards the base of the observatory.
It's about 1/2 mile down the slope where the homes end and the protected land of the observatory and park start.
As you move closer to the top of that boundary, the homes become larger and more grandiose.
Some of the houses sit on estate sized properties with garden paths, gazebos, and pools. Others are terraced and appear to sit right on top of each other.
Granted, these homes cost upwards of $10-20 million dollars each.
In the end I kept the 185mm lens and sold the 600mm lens.
The 600mm - although quite capable of bringing far away subjects in close, lacked the sharpness and detail I'd have preferred for a video or astronomy lens (another thing a super-telephoto is useful for).
In regards to the Griffith Observatory - it is an amazing landmark and utterly beautiful facility that is one of the 10 must-see attractions (in my opinion) when you visit Los Angeles. The views are stunning and if you are worried about air pollution - don't be - the Observatory sits high enough and far enough away from the city that air pollution isn't a factor there.
BELOW -A stitched panorama made with about 10 individual shots taken with a Nikon 105mm f/2.5 lens. This is about 90 degrees of the view from the Griffith Observatory.