Having been testing lenses extensively for the past few years, I have seen all kinds of optical defects on even the most expensive / exotic lenses that cost thousands of dollars. One of the most common issues I have seen so far is lens de-centering, where a single optical element or a group of elements are not properly aligned with others, resulting in uneven performance across the frame. Some lenses have very slight de-centering, which only software like Imatest can reveal, while others have very noticeable de-centering (particularly lower-end zoom lenses), where a portion of the frame would always appear less sharp in images. Then there are other optical issues that also impact the overall contrast and sharpness of lens. And testing lenses with all kinds of optical issues can often be a challenging task.
Grimsby Ontario is on the raptor migration route and every year the town holds an indoor “RaptorFest” event at the local hockey arena during which various presentations of live birds, and educational initiatives are conducted. A fast, mid-range telephoto like the Nikkor 200mm f/2G VR would be the perfect lens to photograph birds during this indoor event. Like most people, I don’t have the $6,000 or so it would take to own the 200mm Nikkor…but I thought I might have a reasonable solution in my camera bag.
This article is written in response to “The Question of 18-300mm Lenses” article written by Romanas Naryškin. I used to like my 18-300mm zoom – I called it my Guilty Pleasure Lens (GPL). It was hands-down the most fun lens I ever shot with. When I wanted to just go out on an adventure outside and had no idea what I’d run into, instead of grabbing my FX body, my 16-35mm zoom, 50mm prime, 105mm macro, 80-400mm zoom and of course a manservant to carry all that gear, I’d grab GPL and my D7000 and blast on down the trail. Sure GPL wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but neither am I. In our shared ignorance we’d shoot grand vistas or cool nature abstracts or maybe even crawl through the dirt for a close-up or two. What a fool I was thinking I’d found a partner that liked to do all the things I liked to do.
Well, I’ve seen the light and it was time to get even with GPL for deceiving me into thinking we had something special. Before tossing GPL into the dumpster I was going to show it how a real lens behaved. Enter the 10 lb 1 oz Baby Jesus, AKA the Nikkor 800mm, AKA BJ. Yep, the top stud in the Nikon stable. The lens that doesn’t have a MTF curve – it has a WTF curve. And GPL, well suffice it to say we know what gets shoveled up from the stable floor. I figured I’d go out on one last shoot with GPL, ostensibly for “old times sake”, but really to show GPL how a real lens like BJ would handle those situations.
Right off the bat I think GPL knew something was up. GPL insisted we shoot a selfie. This is what it looks like when an 18-300 owner takes a selfie:
Today, Nikon has announced a new DX zoom lens for beginner photographers. Covering a vast focal length range of 18-300mm, it’s not the first Nikkor with such parameters – the similar 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens has already been announced a while ago, not to mention all the third-party competition from Tamron and Sigma. However, the new lens is designed not to just deliver a very wide zoom range, but deliver it in a smaller, lighter package. To put it into perspective, the new lens weighs a whopping 280g less than the bigger version. Quite an achievement and will surely be tempting for those few who need such a lens, but it came at a bit of a price both literally and figuratively. And that raises a question – who is actually going to need such a lens?
I have been playing with the new Nikon NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED FX lens for a week now and have taken it out a few times when the weather got a little better (it has been snowy and extremely windy during the past week here in Colorado). So far the lens seems like another winner. It is small, lightweight and is capable of rendering images with beautiful colors and high contrast. While I have not performed any lab tests, judging from the images I have captured so far, it seems to be very sharp optically, from the center to the corners at infinity:
I got a lot of feedback and questions from my last two posts and it seems like there is some interest in my articles, so I am yet again inspired to give this writing thing another shot. I just want to re-iterate that what I suggest or talk about here is what I do and what works for me – you will have to find your own way to your photography success.
1) Focus Point
I am going to start with focus point and where it should be, and that would be on the eye of the subject. There are many things that can be forgiven in photography, but a blurry eye is not one of them. All the power is in the eyes and your own eye will always be drawn there without you thinking about it. I am shooting with a Nikon D4 so this is Nikon terminology, I use Single Point AF Mode, because I am a control freak and don’t let the camera make the decisions for me. There is Dynamic Area AF Mode you might want to consider trying and see if it works for you, but don’t try it on a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
The insert in this photo will show you what I mean about ideal focus point location. The longer the focal length of your lens is and the shorter the distance to the subject, it becomes that much more important to precisely place your focus point on the eye. In a multiple subject shot, your focal point should be on the animal that is the closest to you.
You are going to like this. Each time Nikon did a rebates program for its lenses, one had to buy a DSLR body first to take advantage of the savings. It has really been a while, but not this time. The savings range from a welcome $20 for the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens all the way to frankly impressive $400 for the likes of AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR. More than that, there are a total of 15 lenses that are part of the rebates program. The offer expires on the 1st of March.
Told you you’d like this!
I had the opportunity at the end of 2013 to re-visit New Zealand for three week self-drive holiday and take a wide range of photos. Since New Zealand is on the ‘bucket list’ of many photographers, I thought I would share some thoughts on which areas of the country provide some of the best photographic opportunities. All of these suggestions are based on personal experience, having spent about 6 weeks driving thousands of kilometers throughout the country on a couple of different trips.
I recently wrote an article on hand-holding large and heavy lenses, which attracted quite a bit of attention and some nice comments and questions from PL readers. I am not really a writer, but a few people asked me about my technique for getting those shots. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert and there are many ways to skin a cat. So this is the way I get my shots and you will have to find your own way to achieving what you want. Let’s start with a “money shot”: what I would say is the shot of the day, the shot that made it all worth it.
I recently bought the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR (see Nasim’s review) and took it out for my first field test. It turned out to be extremely poor light and rough snowy weather, but sometimes that’s when you get some great photos. I have some samples to show here and even though they are not tack sharp because the conditions didn’t really allow that, they are moody and show nature in its true beauty. I also wanted to talk about gimbals on tripods versus hand-holding on large lenses to get flying or action shots. I hear so many times you cannot hand-hold that 600mm, but I do and some of my best shots are because I hand-held.
Since the snowy owls have moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts because of a shortage of food on the tundra, we have been travelling down to photograph them and here are some sample images taken with the new Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR lens. This first photo is taken on a tripod with the Wimberley II gimbal, there was no real panning involved and the conditions for photography were pretty terrible. The light was low, the snow was in the way but I would try anyways because the Nikon D4 has shown me it can handle tough situations. It was captured at ISO 2000 @ f/5.6, resulting in 1/1000th second speed. I needed at least a thousandth of a second to stop motion as I was hoping for a landing pose: