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.
Barrel racing is one of those things that runs in the blood, like farming or hunting or so many other things that exist in a symbiotic relationship with people and animals. My friend Maria wanted some photos of her and her horse Honey. So we picked one of the coldest days of the year when the light was falling fast! LOL 😎 The cloud cover was thick and it was quite dark. We were able to do a bunch of natural light stuff rather quickly but then the sky burst forth a wee silver of gold for us. We had a good 5-7 minutes to work the light before it completely faded into blue. We had to work quickly but we managed to hammer out a bunch of different looks using flash and ambient. The EXIF of the top image was 1/8 of a second at f/7.1. I was trying to drag the shutter as much as possible to get adequate ambient exposure and then use flash for the subject exposure. This relatively longer shutter speed allowed both Maria hair and Honey’s mane to motion blur in the wind but the flash exposure keeps them sharp. Handheld at 1/8 is no sweat with my 16-35mm f/4 Nikkor with VR.
I quickly moved from ambient to flash and back to ambient again to nab the amazing sky for silhouettes. The color was so juicy and rich that it made for the perfect background! You can’t sunset shots. They are like peanut butter and chocolate! The veritable Reese’s Pieces of the photographic world. They make for great photos & happy clients . . . and happy Photographers! 😎
Can you imagine if this thing was people life-sized?? 😯 It would eat you and your family. I often think that, whilst doing macro photography. Blech!
Gear Acquisition Syndrome! Yeppers, got my new lens today. Came in a couple days from The Camera Store in Calgary and, no pay-pay to ship-ship! 😎 This Nikon 16-35mm f/4 AF-S VR G ED IF N Aspherical lens is a stunner! All the reviews I read about it said it is sharp and they ain’t kiddin’! It’s spooky sharp. It’s spooky sharp wide open at f/4. Not many lenses are this good at their base aperture but this one is. I did some lens tests and the AF is bang on. I nabbed some quick hand held no VR shots of the kids and they peeled out of camera TACK-Smurfing-SHARP. And, the colours are rendered beautifully. I took this one of Ethan and it is straight out of camera. No editing at all, watermark aside. The camera is set to neutral too so the picture control is zeroed out. This lens is fantastic. I can’t wait to go nab some landscape shots with it. 😀
I also picked up a ThinkTank Retrospective 20 bag too. It’s a sweet bag, built to last forever (like everything ThinkTank makes) and its the perfect bag for events or light trips where I don’t want to bring all o’ my kit. I can get at least 3 lenses into it and 2 flashes, as well as a whole host of other goodies. It’s the cat’s pyjamas.
So, my lens collection is almost complete, nearly all gold rings. I’m fully prepared to go full frame now as all my lenses are FX compatible going from 16mm all the way to 300mm! Pretty much ready for anything. That’s a nice milestone to reach. Full reviews (probably video) to follow on the lens for sure. Tons of great vids on the ThinkTank bag on YouTube. Check it out!
CRAP! 😦 My 50mm f/1.4G just arrived from B&H and I have to ship it back. As soon as I opened it I started doing some focus testing with it and realized it was back focusing. Essentially, when you put your focus point on the subject, the focus point wasn’t in focus. The stuff a couple inches from your focus point was in focus. Which is completely unacceptable to me. I called B&H and they sent me a RMA thing but I have to go to Bowbells to ship it. Bummer!!!
Anyways, its fodder for a blog post. 😉
My D300s gives adjustment for fine tuning lenses in the menu system which is really nice. You can correct the focus somewhat and compensate for a lens that isn’t quite bang on. Then it saves the information and any time you attach that lens, the camera uses the information to correct the focus which is super handy. But testing for focus problems can be a bit of a bummer. Fortunately there is YouTube to the rescue. Consult these helpful vids if you expect you are experiencing back focusing or front focusing.
Back Focusing Sample Shots:
One of the gaping holes on the Internet was a comparison of the 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens and the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lens. Fortunately, I was able to borrow the f/2.8 glass and compare it with my 70-300. And, I made a YouTube video of it to share the goodness. Both lenses are great, but they are definitely for different tasks. If I was a wedding or concert photographer in low lighting conditions, I’d want the f/2.8. But it is one heavy piece of glass and in my opinion isn’t as desirable as a walk-around street lens. Enter the 70-300. It’s waaay slower than the 70-200 (autofocus and aperture) but it’s lighter and more balanced on DX camera bodies. But alas, it sucks in low light, and the auto focus hunts around like a blind hyena. Anyways, here’s the video. 🙂
Recently on an episode of Fro Knows Photo, I watched the Fro & Greg edit a RAW file of some girl posed in a sitting position on a concrete ledge with a forest type background. At the end of the show, they were critiquing the shot such that it had been taken with a 50mm f/1.8 Canon. The general gist of what was said was that the bokeh on the 50mm 1.8 was not as pleasing as it could have been had the portrait been taken with a 70-200mm f/2.8.
Now, I happen to love 50mm primes. They are almost the perfect portrait lens on crop censor cameras, producing a sweet 75mm on my D300s. In fact, my new 50mm f/1.4 G lens should be arriving any day now. So while I wait, I decided to borrow a 70-200 f/2.8 lens from Jocelyn, setup my own miniature wedding photo shoot for John & Marsha and do a “which has better bokeh” test. 😉
There are two main things going on that we need to be aware of: Bokeh & Compression. Bokeh is the Japanese word for “stuff that is out of focus in a photo.” Compression is described as an effect produced by a long lens (longer than 35mm) that smooshes and flattens backgrounds. It gives the effect of even more buttery bokeh. There are some people who contest this as a myth though.
For simplicity’s sake, longer telephoto lenses *should* produce more pleasing bokeh because it is “compressed” in addition to being out of focus. This is where Greg was coming from on the Fro episode. So, let’s check the results of my mini-field test and you can make up your own conclusions.
The situation was that John and Marsha surrounded by background and foreground elements (pineapple, spiderplant, gerbs and a happy face flower resting on two toddler chairs and a brick wall). This simulates a wedding couple in a park area with some trees & shrubs and thick forest behind them. The lenses used were Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, 105mm f/2.8 VR macro, and a 50mm f/1.8. All the lenses were mounted on a D300s on a tripod using mirror lock up and a cable release with VR off. Light levels and ISO remained constant. Distance was slightly changed to try and maintain similar perspective.
Here is a gallery of the results:
What do you think? Which lens has the most pleasing Bokeh? Which lens produces the most pleasing portrait? 🙂
The greatest challenge I have in photography is covetousness. I’m talking about photography equipment here – drooling over newer, faster, crisper glass from Nikkor. 🙂 We all know that the paintbrush didn’t make Picasso, but I’m sure it didn’t really hurt things either!
One of my all time favourite lenses is my nifty-fifty. AF 50mm f1.8. I have used that lens to take literally thousands of shots across three camera bodies (D40, D80 and now my D300s). I love it! It’s fast. It’s sharp. It’s crisp. It’s cheap! That is, it’s inexpensive. However, my covetous eye has spied the newer 50mm f1.4G – it’s designed for FX bodies, which someday I hopefully will have. But a 50mm on a DX body gives you a nearly perfect portraiture lens at 75mm. And f1.4 is pure awesome. So, I now I am having crazy thoughts that I should have it. Ah, but life is full of small children for us at the moment who need food, clothes and diapers and other miscellany.
Life has a way of getting in the way of Photography budgets! 😉
If I could assemble an “essentials” list of Nikkors, this is what I would have in my bag:
AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G – ideal portrait lens on a DX body
AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED – HAVE IT! YAY! 😀 – Super fun Macro & telephoto portrait lens
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8 ED VR II – perfect for wildlife, especially with a teleconverter
AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f2.8G ED – Incredible wide angle lens for landscapes
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II – Awesome for portraits and even wildlife with a teleconverter
Estimated cost: just shy of $9000.00 CDN . . . It never hurts to dream! 😉
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.