My Nikon lens kit is a pretty basic, do anything kit. I don’t have any of Nikon’s Holy Trinity f/2.8 zooms because they are extremely heavy and expensive. Instead, I picked up the newer, sharper, cheaper, lighter & slower f/4 zooms. 16-35 & 70-200. I don’t have the 24-120 as to my eye, there is nothing interesting happening in those focal lengths. Same goes for the do-it-all, ever versatile, ready for anything 24-70. I’ll never buy it. Too close to uncle Bob’s kit lens focal lengths. Nothing cool optically is happening there. Wide and telephoto is where it is at.
That being said, I’m primarily a prime shooter. I just like them better. A little sharper glass. Lighter in the hand. Easier to transport. Etc, etc, etc #PrimePraise. So for my prime kit, I have a Nikkor 50mm 1.4G & 1.8D, 85mm 1.8G & 105mm 2.8G Macro (And the Fuji X100s at 35mm equivalent f/2). I didn’t have a fast wide angle lens though. I thought about picking up Nikon’s new 20mm 1.8G. It looks awesome. Nassim just got his review done, check it out here. It’s affordable and awesome, a true winner. But I am honestly tired of spending money on photography gear. And, even more so, I didn’t want the 1.8 form factor. The new G lenses are larger and bulkier. Optically better, but just also bigger. I didn’t want that.
I wanted to pretend I had a Leica. 😎 I love the smaller form factor of the rangefinder systems, another reason I love the Fuji so much. But I also have my trusty Nikon Df with all of its awesome old school film inspired manual controls. So I started to think about picking up an old school lens to match. Nikon made some really killer glass back in the day. No AF. No weather sealing. No Magical Nano Crystals. Just glass & metal. So I looked at a couple of fast(er) primes and I settled on the old 28mm Nikkor f/2.8 AI-S. The old lenses in this form factor take the small 52mm filers. They are light and pocketable, much like Fuji’s X-series lenses, but fit full frame sensors.
It’s a sweet gem of a lens. It’s eagle talon sharp, even wide open. Very little lens distortion. Hardly any Chromatic Aberration (unlike much of Nikon’s new G stuff). It as hard stops on each end of the focus which is great for locking the lens into infinity focus for landscapes and astro photography. It’s all sweet, smooth manual focus baby – which is a rather sucky experience on Nikon. They do give you the green-dot-O’-focus but it’s not as good as using focus peaking on the mirrorless cameras. However, the focus and distance marks are still engraved on the old lenses which is awesome, especially for a technique known as zone focusing.
I’d never heard of this before but stumbled across it while looking into the Street Photography Genre. Suffice it to say, in a world without modern Auto Focus, how would photogs get sharp shots in the fast paced, ever changing world of the street? They would stop down and preset the focus on their lenses. This would essentially give the photographer a “zone of focus” – an area in the photo that would have an acceptable level of sharpness. Say f/8 at 5 feet away. This gives you roughly 6 feet of in focus area to work with, 1.7 feet in front of the subject, 4.2 feet behind. You just had to get good at manually guessing how far your subject was from you when you made your shot. If they were in that 5 foot range, you’d nab the shot. It’s actually quicker than auto focus because you just pointed the camera and clicked the shutter button. That’s how they did it.
I wanted to try it out. But I don’t really live near any streets. LOL. 😎 I’ll try it for real when we go to the city. But it does work pretty good, especially with the Df’s low light capability. I can crank the ISO and still have clean images for the small f/8 & f/11 apertures.
Just compose and boom!
It’s a pretty cool technique. And you can do it on the cheap. I picked up the 28mm off eBay for like $250! I was leery of buying glass unseen off eBay and vowed never to do so. But I took a chance and it worked out great. The lens shipped from Japan and was in BETTER condition than what the seller had indicated. It’s essentially brand spankin’ new. Gotta love that!
Optically it’s really sharp, even wide open. I was blown away by the quality. Even on the D800, this puppy holds up. I thought that sensor would eat it for breakfast but it does a great job.
F/1.4 is pure awesome. 🙂 There’s no other way to laud the sheer quality and sweet bokehliciousness. I highly recommend picking one up. 😉 I’m utterly impressed with my new AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G. It’s tack sharp, even when it’s wide open, and it makes shooting inside in natural light a dream. Of course, when you shoot any lens wide open they suffer from Chromatic Aberration – a pink or blue fringe that shows up on the edges of your images. The good news is that you can get rid of it by stopping down a stop or two. Which is the other good thing about f/1.4 – it’s beautiful at f/2 and completely usable. Contrasted to my 50mm f/1.8, it wasn’t at it’s best until f/4 which is sub-par for indoor natural light shots. Anyways, take a look at some of the candid shots, pretty much all shot at f/1.4 (occasionally f/2). 🙂
Finally got my new 50mm f/1.4G lens. It was on back order but I got word that it arrived at Donna’s Den yesterday. So, I loaded up the kids and went down to the Den to pick it up. And, to top it all off, I had NO border hassle, either going or coming back. Because I already paid tax on the lens, they didn’t make me go through the hassle of filling out 18 thousand metric tonnes of paper work to get my $25 bucks back. 🙂
Being gun shy from the last lens that was defective, I brought this one home and immediately did my pop-can sharpness test again. f/5.6 is the sharpest usable aperture for this lens, so I dialled it in and viola! It’s sharp!
And, just to be safe, I did my Auto Focus test again too. But when I did it, it seemed like this new lens was front focusing (whereas the other lens was back-focused into the next county)! CURSES!!! I thought, surely this can’t be?! What are the odds?! All those Canon people aren’t crazy after all! 😉 . . . But, silly me, I forgot to de-activate the AF Fine Tune settings from the last time I was trying to calibrate the defective lens. Once I turned that compensation off, the Auto Focus was bang on even at f/1.4! 🙂
I got an email from B&H that my 50mm f/1.4 has been back ordered. Swell. Who knows how long it will take to arrive now. Bummer. 😦 But, it’s grounds for a blog post. 🙂
What should you do when you buy a new lens?
First, take a look at it. Make sure that the mount on the back is OK, make sure the body of the lens isn’t cracked or damaged. Then inspect the front glass element for nicks or scratches. Take a flashlight/desk lamp and shine it through the lens while opening the aperture at the back to look for dirt or other big crap that might be inside the lens. Little dust isn’t such a big deal but huge chunks of stuff should be grounds for a return and exchange right away.
Most return policies on defective equipment are only at most 2 weeks from the company you bought it from so you want to do all these checks immediately so you can return any defective items to the seller rather than have to ship them off to Nikon or Canon. B&H was really good to me in that I got the lens on a Saturday, did my checks, found it to be defective and got a return (RMA) form Sunday.
After you have done the initial physical checks, it’s time to do actual lens focus/sharpness tests. I have already posted some links to YouTube vids that explain this process. [But here they are again for fun: Part 1; Part 2] The tests should be done immediately as defects will be very apparent. Do the can test to check for sharpness and then do the ruler test to check to see if the autofocus is on or not. There are lens tolerances that can be adjusted for on higher end camera bodies through the AF Fine Tune settings that can actually pull the auto focus back into alignment with where it should be. But, as in my case, if the focus is way out, then the lens is crap and it must go back from whence it came.
Don’t be a naïve sucker face. Do your lens tests and make sure you are getting the quality that you are paying for. The manufacturing process is pretty darned awesome, but the world is a sinful place and errors do creep in. Now if they could only come up with solution for speeding up back orders… 😉
When eyeing up lenses across the two major competitors (Nikon & Canon) one notices something rather odd. A conundrum of sorts, really. It makes sense to me to have lens focal lengths stop and start in complimentary places. For example, the holy trinity of Nikon’s f/2.8 glass line up go from 14-24, 24-70, 70-200 meaning that you have the entire range of focal lengths from super wide to long telephoto all at the magical f/2.8 aperture. Makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is Canon’s line up. There you have 16-35 and then 24-70 & 70-200 all L series at f/2.8. There’s a mismatch in the focal lengths from the Canon ultra wide zoom to the standard zoom. Does it really matter? No, not really. Am I nitpicking the competition? Maybe. 😉 But the more curious thing is that Nikon ALSO makes a 16-35 (f/4) & a 17-35 (f/2.8). [FYI: Both Canon & Nikon have no VR/IS on these lenses].
I got to thinkin’ – why do that? Why make 2 lenses that seemingly double up the focal lengths?? That also was a conundrum. I found a Flickr forum discussing the issue and the general consensus was that the 14-24 was a “fun” lens while the 17-35 was a “useful” lens.
Meaning, that because the 14-24 has an aspherical front element, you can “bend” your photos to have some really cool artistic lens distortion, even using it as a super wide portrait lens at concerts or what have you. The advantage of the 17-35 is that because it isn’t aspherical, you can use neutral density filters on it, making it perhaps more suitable for landscapes or photo journalism. The point was made that if you were photographing a large crowd of protestors with tear gas and rocks and debris flying everywhere, a lens filter would better protect your lens. You can’t outfit the 14-24 with lens filters because it is aspherical. So, the 17-35 has the advantage of adding armour in combat situations. 🙂
But back to Canon being bizarre with their focal length mismatch in the lens line up, well, that’s just weird. 😉 Go Nikon.
Beginners to photography always ask what lenses should I buy (after they ask what camera should I buy). 😉 It is good to have a plan in place so that you don’t spend money on junk glass that you will want to sell later on to buy better stuff. I came across the whole 5 year plan concept on one of Jared Polin’s YouTube blogs and I thought the idea was superb. Have a plan in place that allows you to save your money and upgrade to the very best of lenses and camera bodies over time. Quality is everything! And we pay dearly for it! But it is worth it. 🙂
The plan I present here is for the beginner who has gotten into photography and really likes it & wants to take it to the next level – either hobby or business wise. As such, it starts out with the entry level camera body and kit lens. Then, it encourages buying professional level glass as the next step. Why? Because if you waste your money on junk glass now (because you can afford it), then as you get better and want to upgrade, you’ll have a bunch of junk glass nobody wants. But if you purchase higher end glass, you’ll be fine and dandy as sour candy for your entire photographic career. Camera bodies come and go but lenses last forever (well, a LOT longer than camera bodies!) 😉 As for camera bodies, you want to jump from the entry level body to the top of the pro-sumer line, then to the top of the professional line. It’s not advisable to simply buy the next update of the entry level camera body you already have. They don’t change that much from update to update.
This proposed plan may take you shorter or longer to accomplish and that’s OK. It’s totally up to how aggressively you want to pursue photography and how much cash you have on hand to bank roll it.
Check out this plan for both Canon & Nikon lenses & bodies and let me know what you think. Lists of accessories are also included. The over arching goal is get good glass in your hands that covers the focal range from super wide to long telephoto. But it really depends on what kinds of photography you want to do. For example, if you really want to do Macro photography, that lens will be further ahead on your list than say a 300mm f/2.8 wildlife lens 🙂
Ever since we bought the all new AppleTV, we’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos. Naturally, I searched photography and found zillions of videos and channels dedicated to it. I have posted the links to some of the better known photography channels on the sidebar of my blog.
One of the channels that I find totally hilarious (in a dry British/Chinese kind of way), is DigitalRevCom. They do all kinds of crazy videos and more serious camera/lens reviews. It’s a lot of fun! One of their videos that I watched last night had to do with a comparison of camera bodies and lenses. What’s better? A pro camera body with crappy glass or a cheap camera body with awesome glass?! I’d highly recommend you watch the video to find out!
Or, I’ll just tell you the right answer. 😉 It’s always glass. ALWAYS. Lenses are always a better investment because you have them for years whereas bodies change all the time. Most people get sucked into the “bigger mega pixel count” = better game. It’s simply not the case. In fact, one theory I heard recently is that the more megapixels you have the more chance there is for blurry images because the slightest of movement can be captured by the higher/finer megapixels. It could make for crisper shots in good light, but in poor light, it might actually make the shot worse – or at the very least, require the *need* for faster glass. Anyways, it’s an interesting idea. And, the video is great. Check em’ out!!
A while ago my dad bought some lenses off another photographer. On the lenses was a small piece of tape that had various f stop numbers written on them. I wondered about what it all meant. Dad graciously enlightened me. The f stops written on the tape were the apertures that the particular lens was sharpest at. Essentially, they were where the lens was at its best performance for sharpness and optimal image quality.
This can be referred to as “lens tuning” or “lens diagnostics” – whatever you want to call it, its the process of finding out where your lens shoots the sharpest images at. I went digging around the internet and came across some really great videos on how to sharpness test your lens. The people who provided the videos also provided a comprehensive list of Nikkor and Zeiss lens sharpness. When I tried their techniques in the video I came up with the same results they did and they were startling!
If you want to try this, watch the videos and follow them exactly.
I tried three of my lenses in these diagnostics: my “nifty-fifty” 50mm AF f1.8, my 105mm AF-S VR Macro and my 16-85mm AF-S VR zoom lens. The primes were quicker to test because you just sail through the f stops shooting at various apertures. But with the zoom lens, you have to do it at various focal lengths which took a little longer.
Anyways, we will look at the findings of my favorite lens for portraits, my trusty 50mm. In the past, I’ve almost always shot it at f1.8. Why? Because it can shoot f1.8!! It can open up super wide in junk light, making shots possible you might not have otherwise got. But, after doing this sharpness test today, I’m rethinking some things. According to the sharpness chart, the optimal apertures for this lens are:
DX: F/4.0, F/5.6, and F/8.0 (For FX & Film:F/4.0, F/5.6, F/8.0, F/11.0, & F/16.0)
When I compare my test images at f1.8 and 7.1 the difference in sharpness is truly incredible. The 7.1 image is far sharper.
Also, for the 105mm Macro at f2.8 and f8, the difference is wild. It confirms the chart which says DX (normal use/non 1:1 close up): F/4.0, F/5.6, and F/8.0 are sharpest.
And finally, for my 16-85 zoom, the chart’s findings were: DX: 24mm-50mm at F/8.0.
Which tells you that the sweet spot of this zoom is f8 in that range. I included a test shot of the 16-85 at 85mm f8 vs f32 for comparison. It’s striking!
What all this nerdy stuff tells us is two fold. 1) It can confirm for you that the lens you have is accurate and not a dud. If in your comparisons, you see soft images where they should be sharp, you may have a bum lens. 2) It confirms in your own mind where your particular lens should be shot to be at it’s very best (sharpest). Of course lighting conditions, situations and artistic intent play into this, but it’s safe to say if you know where your lens shoots sharpest, you’re more likely to get consistently sharp images if you know the sweet spots.