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Soligor 85-300mm f/5 two-ring zoom yields surprising results
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2018 4:26 pm    Post subject: Soligor 85-300mm f/5 two-ring zoom yields surprising results Reply with quote

Okay, I gotta start this off with a bit of background. My first "name brand" zoom, even if it was an aftermarket one, was a Soligor 85-300mm f/5 two-ring zoom in Canon FD mount. I bought it in 1984, right about the same time I was transitioning from the Canon AE-1 and A-1 to the FTb and original F-1. Yeah, I was going retro, but I was loving it. Anyway, I bought the Soligor for a few reasons. First, I wanted a zoom with 300mm reach. Two, I'd "heard" that two-ring zooms tended to be better optically than push-pull zooms. And third, I liked that it had an f/5 maximum aperture whereas all the others in my price range had f/5.6. I think I paid close to $200 from one of the mail order NYC photo houses.

I dunno, maybe the copy I got was a mediocre example, but I did not have much luck getting good, sharp photos with that lens. Maybe it was poor technique, but I think what was more likely was the lens just was a mediocre lens until it was stopped down a ways. I say this because I've gone back and looked at some of my slides and there are a few from 1984 that were obviously taken with a telephoto but one with more reach than my other zoom, which was an 80-200. And these few slides were nice and sharp with plenty of contrast.

Nonetheless, I grew weary of its mediocre quality and replaced it with a Tamron SP 60-300mm f/3.8-5.4. I paid around $300 discount for that Tamron and I was oh-so-glad to get it. The Tamron was reasonably sharp from wide open and only got better the more it was stopped down. Besides it had this killer 1:1.55 macro mode, whereas the Soligor's was "only" a quite respectable 1:2, same as most macro lenses, in fact. The Tamron also focused closer than the Soligor. The Soligor comes with a built-in hood, whereas the Tamron uses an accessory plastic bayonet hood.

The Soligor under discussion here today, I found on eBay for $17 and something. It is in Canon FD mount and came with the original box and looks to have been used quite seldom. It is a nice, minty lens. Not bad for something around 35 years old.



I shot with it some and it seemed to be doing a reasonably good job, but then I decided to put it to a real test and paired it up with my Tamron 60-300. For my camera, I used my Sony NEX 7, set to ISO 100. I shot four different subjects at five different aperture values, and after comparing the images from the two lenses, I feared I'd once again bought a dud because the Tamron's shots were clearly superior. Until I compared the photos of the last sequence of shots.

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING IMAGES WERE TAKEN AT 300MM AND F/5 WITH THE SOLIGOR AND F/5.4 WITH THE TAMRON. Why do I compare the lenses only at f/5 or f/5.4 and at 300mm? Because these two settings are where a zoom is at its weakest, and I wanted to exploit both zoom's weaknesses for this test. For the comparisons, I'm sharing only two of the subjects. The other two had results similar to the first subject shown below.

Here is a pair of photos taken of a healed over section of an oak tree limb. Distance was about 15 meters from the camera. First are the full-view images, followed by 100% crops.

Soligor 85-300


Tamron 60-300


And the 100% crops:

Soligor 85-300


Tamron 60-300


Next are pics of some rocks and debris. The tree debris lends itself very well to sharpness evaluations. You'll note, especially with the crops, that I ended up focusing on different areas of the scene, but still useful comparisons can be made.

Soligor 85-300


Tamron 60-300


And the 100% crops:

Soligor 85-300


Tamron 60-300


Now, as you can clearly see with the healed over tree branch, the Tamron was way better than the Soligor. But when we examine the tree debris and rocks, it isn't so easy saying which is best, is it? Honestly, I'd have to say they were equivalent. Which makes me wonder -- was I really that bad at focusing with all the other subjects except for the last one? It doesn't make any sense. When shooting, I used the NEX's magnification feature, plus I had focus peaking turned on. So this is a real puzzler to me. I'm going to go out and shoot with it some more, see if maybe I can invalidate some of the shots I took earlier.


PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2018 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the last pics, I actually preferred the results from the Soligor. I have a copy of this lens, it needed some attention when first purchased due to some fungus. Fortunately the lens is fairly simple to disassemble and service. According to the 'Soligor Compendium' website, my copy was manufactured by Sun Optical during the early 80s. You can also find the lens badged as Sun. I have a second copy of the lens, badged as (and presumably manufactured by) Osawa, which I purchased to try, not realising it was the same lens, as it does not become apparent until seen close up. The Osawa version has a very noticeable 'halo' internal reflection issue which becomes apparent when taking photos outdoors which feature a large area of the sky (if there are no clouds). I isolated the problem to the rear half of the lens, by using the Soligor rear lens assembly with the Osawa lens front assembly (and vice versa). I also unscrewed the rear optical assemblies and sswapped them over, it seems to be caused by some part of the lens body, possibly in the area of the aperture, although the aperture blades are nicely darkened on both lenses. I haven't gone much further, although a some point I may using black flock paper in various internal parts of the rear assembly, although there really isn't a large area where it could be coming from.
Anyway, enough of my thread hijack... bottom line - modern camera aids do enable much easier manual focussing than previously, due to that I found the 85-300 a fairly competent lens, although my evaluation may change, as I have a Tamron 60-300 on the way to try...


PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2018 9:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Something just occurred to me. The Soligor's closest focusing distance is quite a bit farther away than the Tamron's -- don't have either handy to give you the exact numbers. I know I had to engage the macro mode on the Soligor for one shot I didn't show, and I'm thinking I was probably using it for the rocks photo because they were almost as close. Now, could it be that the Soligor is much sharper in macro mode? I don't exactly know why it should be, but just sayin'.

I'm off to shoot some more stuff.

Just got back from some more pics. Haven't processed the photos yet, but just looking from the viewfinder, I'm not seeing those muddy photos that I was getting yesterday. Curious. I'll try get get some examples up in a short while.


PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 9:41 am    Post subject: Re: Soligor 85-300mm f/5 two-ring zoom yields surprising res Reply with quote

cooltouch wrote:

Now, as you can clearly see with the healed over tree branch, the Tamron was way better than the Soligor. But when we examine the tree debris and rocks, it isn't so easy saying which is best, is it? Honestly, I'd have to say they were equivalent. Which makes me wonder -- was I really that bad at focusing with all the other subjects except for the last one? It doesn't make any sense.


The explanation may be quite simple: mechanical tolerances e. g. in zooming or compensator group.

About ten years ago - using the brand new Sony A900 - i was testing different 200mm lenses including the Minolta AF 2.8/200 APO G, the Minolta AF 2.8/80-200 APO, and the Minolta AF 2.8/70-200 APO G SSM. The latter gave slighty inconsistent results at f=200mm. After quite a few trials i found that my (quite worn) copy of the 70-200 G SSM had a slight "mechanical play" in the zooming/compensator groups: Turning the zoom ring directly to f=200mm delivered slightly worse results compared to turning the zoom ring to f=200mm and then turning it back slightly. The effect was absolutely reproducible.

It is known from Tamron and from Nikon sources (e. g. for the AF Nikkor 28-200mm) that often mechanical problems are limiting the real performance of a high performance zoom, and not the optical construction.

Try several shots with the Soligor (on a tripod, of course), moving the zoom ring slightly (without actually changing the focal length!), and check if the performance is changing.

Stephan


PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 8:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the suggestion, Stephan. I'll give this a try. And now that you mention it -- that much sharper debris photo was taken using the Soligor's macro feature and to get everything in focus, the zoom was retracted to about 135mm. So, far from 300mm and perhaps one reason for the sharper photo, eh?

It's worth noting again that this Soligor is in almost mint condition and shows no evidence of slop at all. But I'll go ahead and try shooting some with the zoom varied some.

BTW, the above pics I mentioned, I did get them translated from raw to jpg format and the results were better than that first shot was. I even shot pics of one of the grown-over branch stumps -- another one this time -- and the sharpness was better. But the Tamron was still sharper. I still need to sort through them though before I can post any follow-up photos. Real Soon Now.