Third Party Lens Manufacturers are On The Rise

I remember not that long ago there were two types of lenses. Brand lenses, those designed by known manufacturers for their own cameras, such as Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus, and the cheapskate third party lenses you’d buy if you couldn’t afford the first type. Brand lenses were more expensive, but well worth the extra price. Better build quality, better optical capability, better dependability, better compatibility, better autofocus and fewer quality control and manufacturing issues were what you got for your hard-earned cash. Not to mention respectful nods from anyone spotting letters Nikkor or a red ring around the front of that lens barrel. A few years have gone by now and situation seems to be changing, however. Third party manufacturers have moved the game up and started producing some serious alternatives. Sigma is very keen to prove the point with the launch of its latest lens, the new 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM for APS-C DSLR cameras. In this article, I will introduce you to this new lens and give insight as to why it is such an important step forward in current smaller-format lens market.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM

What is it About This Lens?

In a nutshell, this new lens sports a useful wide-to-normal focal length range of 18-35mm on an APS-C sensor camera (27-52.5mm full-frame equivalent), for which it is designed. It also has Sigma’s fast HSM AF motor, which is similar to Nikon’s SWM and Canon’s USM technology. Zooming and focusing are internal, so length remains constant. The new Sigma also has 17 elements in 12 groups and sports 9 rounded diaphragm blades for smooth out of focus highlights. Some of the optical elements are aspherical while minimum focus distance is 0.28m. The lens accepts 72mm filters and is, unfortunately, not protected against dust and moisture. It’s also quite hefty at around 810g. The lens sits in Sigma’s Art lineup alongside Sigma 35mm f/1.4 HSM and is designed with aesthetic flexibility in mind. But the spotlight is the f/1.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. Oh yes. This is the first ever f/1.8 zoom lens for DSLRs.

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Nikon 50mm f/1.8G for Wedding Photography

As promised in my Nikon D800 for Wedding Photography article that I wrote a couple of days ago, I am continuing the series and this time with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens. As I noted in my Nikon 50mm f/1.8G review, Lola and I really love this lens for everyday and commercial photography. Because I was so impressed with the lens, I ended up replacing the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G with the f/1.8G version last year. While we still own the 50mm f/1.4G, we made it a backup lens, which is now pretty much permanently attached to the Nikon D700 (also used as a backup camera).

Nikon 50mm f/1.8G Weddings (10)

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Nikon D800 / D800E for Wedding Photography

While I had talked about my plan to use the Nikon D800 / D800E for wedding photography on our site a few times before, I never had a chance to post sample images and talk about my experience. Part of the reason, was that I wanted to give it some time and get a good feel for the cameras, rather than making hasty conclusions. It has been over a year since the D800 was announced and about 10 months since my D800E was finally shipped to me. As you may already know, I decided to go for the D800E instead of the D800, because I wanted to use it primarily for landscape photography and occasionally for weddings, when helping Lola out as a second shooter. Due to a busy 2012 wedding season, I ended up using the D800E for weddings a lot more than I expected. So I gathered some thoughts from my experience with the camera and decided to share them with our readers today.

Nikon D800E Sample (7)

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DX or FX for Sports and Wildlife Photography

It seems like the debate of DX vs FX for wildlife and sports photography is a never ending one. DX shooters argue that they get more reach, stating that DX is like a “built-in 1.5x teleconverter”, or that DX setups are lighter due to smaller lenses and less expensive, or that DX chops off the corners of lenses, thus reducing vignetting and other optical issues. On the opposite side of the fence, FX shooters argue that they get better image quality at pixel level, better viewfinder, less diffraction issues, better AF performance in low-light, etc. Seems like we have two camps, each defending their own side for various reasons. Having spent a number of years shooting both DX and FX starting from the first generation Nikon FX cameras and every single DX camera manufactured by Nikon to date, and having talked to a number of other photographers that shoot for a living, I came to a conclusion that there are some myths surrounding the DX format that need to be debunked. In this article, I will provide my personal insight to this topic and explain why I believe that FX is always better for photographing sports and wildlife. This article evolved as a result of recent discussions of the subject with some of our readers.

American Pika

1) The Myth of the DX Built-in 1.5x Teleconverter

A lot of people seem to be very confused about the effect of a crop sensor on the focal length of a lens. Stating that a crop sensor increases the focal length of the lens or acts as a teleconverter is completely wrong, since focal length is an optical attribute of a lens and has nothing to do with the camera. I talked about this in detail in my “Equivalent Focal Length” article that I published a while ago. Simply put, a DX sensor can never change the optical parameters of a lens, so if you are shooting with a 300mm lens, it stays as a 300mm lens no matter what camera you mount it on. The confusion of “equivalent focal length” comes from manufacturers that initially wanted to make people understand that the field of view on a cropped sensor camera is tighter than 35mm, because the image corners get chopped off. The word “equivalent” is only relative to 35mm film. So you cannot say that your 300mm lens becomes a 450mm lens on a DX body. It does not and never will. All you are doing, is you are taking an image from a 300mm lens, cropping it in the center area and magnifying that center with increased resolution.

2) DX Pixel Size and Resolution

The only reason why some people thought that DX provided longer reach, was because DX sensors historically had similar resolution as FX. For example, both Nikon D300 (DX) and D700 (FX) have about the same resolution – 12 MP. So despite having sensors of completely different sizes, the two cameras produce images of similar size / resolution. Ultimately, this means that the D300 can resolve more detail from the center of the lens (which is typically the sharpest on any lens) and thus magnifies the subject more, which led people to believe that DX was better than FX to get closer to subjects. One aspect that was rarely talked about, however, was the fact that the D300 has a lot more noise than the D700 due to smaller pixel size. So despite having this magnification advantage, photographers had to constantly deal with cleaning up apparent noise even at relatively low ISO levels. I personally had to constantly down-sample images and clean them up via noise-reduction software to get rid of the artifacts visible at anything above ISO 800 (and noise was visible even at base ISO!). So at the end of the day, taking a DX image and down-sampling it aggressively, versus simply cropping an FX image produced somewhat similar results, with a slight advantage on DX that resulted in more detailed shots, thanks to the down-sampling process.

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Image Degradation with Nikon Teleconverters

A fellow photographer recently asked me how much image degradation one would see with each Nikon teleconverter. As a nature photographer, I have been wondering myself about this for a while, but never had a chance to actually quantify what the image degradation figures would look like when using the TC-14E II, TC-17E II and the TC-20E III with Nikon lenses. I have been relying on field use and my vision so far and here is what I have thought about each teleconverter.

AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E II

The Nikon TC-14E II is excellent. I have not seen it degrade image quality on any Nikon lenses to the level where I could see obvious loss of contrast or sharpness. I have used it with the 105mm VR, 70-200mm f/2.8G VR (the old one, as well as VR II), 300mm f/4 and pretty much on every expensive super telephoto lens. I take it with me everywhere and mine stays pretty much glued to my favorite Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S the majority of the time – that’s what I use primarily for birding. When shooting with my Nikon 200-400mm, I don’t hesitate to use the TC-14E II, because it does a very good job sharpness and contrast-wise and AF stays accurate and fast. It is obviously the smallest and the lightest of the three.

AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E II

The Nikon TC-17E II is a mixed bag. It works with many Nikon lenses, but it slows down AF and impacts AF accuracy. Not as good of a TC to be used with slower f/4 lenses, which includes the 300mm f/4, 200-400mm f/4 and 500mm f/4 lenses. I tried to use it with my 300mm f/4 and it makes the lens hunt a lot, especially in anything but good light environments. The same thing with the Nikon 200-400mm f/4, even with the latest camera bodies like Nikon D4. Because of this, I rarely use mine. On fast f/2-2.8 lenses, however, it does pretty well. It works great on the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and it does not disappoint with the 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 lenses.

AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III

The Nikon TC-20E III is much better than its predecessor (which was very disappointing with many lenses). I was pretty shocked to see it perform very well with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (stop down to f/8 for best results), because the 2x TC was always known to be bad with zoom lenses. It works like a champ with the 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 lenses. On slower f/4 lenses, however, it is still pretty disappointing. It is unusable on the Nikon 300mm f/4 and 200-400mm f/4 lenses and while it will work with the 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses, you will have to stop down to f/11 to get anything reasonably good and you will need to use one of the latest Nikon DSLRs like D4 that can handle f/8 lenses. Not a great setup for fast action, but could work for large animals from a very long distance.

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Could Compact Camera Systems Replace DSLRs?

“I’d rather have a DSLR for the money” – I’ve heard these words one too many times when talking about mirrorless cameras with beginner photographers. DSLR cameras have been the staple of image quality for a very long time now, and a sort of natural companion to any professional shooter. Many beginner photographers asking for advice on which DSLR to buy, especially those coming from point-and-shoots, find it very difficult to understand how a camera barely bigger than a compact can be a match to a big, solid-looking DSLR. After-all, wedding photographers, photojournalists, sports, wildlife photographers – basically anyone who is serious about digital photography – all carry DSLRs (with the exception of select few that rely on medium format and other specialized cameras).

Nikon 1 V1 Image Sample (5)

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Nikon D3200 Review

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This long overdue review of the Nikon D3200 is based on my 2 months experience with the camera – first when it came out and later when then I received the Nikon D5200 for testing. Due to an extremely busy schedule and a huge number of lens and camera reviews that I went through in 2012, I did not get a chance to review this camera. So before I start working on any other articles, I decided to first post the Nikon D3200 review.

Nikon D3200

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Canon 700D/Rebel T5i and 18-55mm STM Lens Announced

Along with the diminutive 100D, Canon has also announced a replacement for the upper entry-level 650D, the 700D (Rebel T5i). The new 700D, however, isn’t actually all that new, but a mild refresh. Despite Canon’s claims, improvements are as minor as they get. There’s the same 18 megapixel sensor with built-in phase-detect AF points, the same DIGIC 5 processor with the same ISO sensitivity and the same 9-point AF system with cross-type sensors. In fact, almost all the specifications are identical between the two models, except that 700D comes with a slightly different mode dial, has live preview of Creative Filters and a slightly different body finish. Are camera manufacturers taking the habit of announcing cameras for the sake of announcing? In any case, 650D was a popular and likable model. There’s no reason to think 700D will be any different (pun intended). What’s likely more interesting is the renewed kit lens. The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM now comes with Canon’s stepper AF motor for silent video recording during focusing.

Canon 700D Rebel T5i

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Canon Announces World’s Smallest APS-C DSLR

Camera industry has been obsessed with size lately and Canon has moved the standards of small DSLR cameras with the introduction of 100D (Rebel SL1). As of today, this is the smallest and lightest APS-C DSLR camera. At this point, you could say – big deal! Mirrorless cameras are the way to go if you want small. Well, perhaps in most cases. But the 100D is indeed tiny, not just as a DSLR, but even compared to some mirrorless cameras. The Panasonic GH3 – a compact system camera with a smaller sensor – is actually bigger in every dimension. Quite a feat by Canon, I’d say.

Canon 100D Rebel SL1 Announced

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Nikon Quality Assurance and Marketing Gone Wrong

As I was writing my Nikon D7100 vs D600 comparison article a while ago, I had a lot of conflicting thoughts that crossed my mind and made their way to the article. I then decided to refrain from making the comparison article negative and rather move my thoughts to a separate post, because I thought that it would be worth the discussion with our readers…

Reikan FoCal Nikon D800 Test

Nikon Quality Assurance Gone Bad

Nikon has been quite active since last year. We have seen a lot of ups and downs of the company, most notably with the amazing D800 and D600 cameras that became available last year, both of which were accompanied by quality assurance issues and escalated into the “Nikon D800 autofocus fiasco” and the “Nikon D600 dust issue“. And as you may already know, these problems were covered rather extensively on our website through detailed posts and reviews.

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