For whatever reason most of the wildlife photography I do ends up being in less than desirable conditions. Its rare that I get that perfect light, with the animal perfectly posed and the weather just right and me in the right place and time to capture it. A lot of times I am in the right place, but all the other elements needed seem like they are on the extreme limits of what is needed for quality photography. I recently had the opportunity to photograph black bears here in New Hampshire and one thing that a person not from NH must understand is that this is not like going to Yellowstone or some similar place where the bears are more receptive to humans. Here in NH they are the ghosts of the woods, the animal you never hear while hiking or rarely see unless its by accident and then its for seconds before they disappear. I was able to use both the D800 and D4s during this time and I found out some disappointing things about the D800 which has me regretting purchasing it.
If you shoot with the Nikon D800 or the D800E DSLR cameras, you might want to check what firmware you are currently running in order to make sure that you are running the most recent version of the firmware v1.10. A couple of weeks ago Nikon released the firmware update that deals with the most annoying bug that has existed since both cameras were announced, where the camera will occasionally freeze, keeping the memory card access light lit for a very long time. The only workaround was to either wait it out or remove and re-insert the battery. To be honest, I am surprised that it took Nikon so long to fix this issue, as it was one of my personal pains with using my D800E. With the new firmware v1.10, Nikon has made a number of changes to the camera and its menu system, and has added support for larger than 128 GB CompactFlash cards.
Along with the 400mm f/2.8E VR lens, Nikon has also announced the TC-14E III 1.4x teleconverter. The older TC-14E II version has been out since 2001 and Nikon finally decided to update it, most likely to match the performance of the new generation super telephoto lenses like the new Nikon 400mm f/2.8E VR and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR. The now previous-generation TC-14E II has always been praised by our team at Photography Life, thanks to its superb performance and very little performance degradation that is almost unnoticeable to the eye when using with most super telephoto lenses (see our article on how teleconverters impact image quality). In fact, my copy of the TC-14E II stays glued to my wildlife travel companion, the Nikkor 300mm f/4D AF-S (see my in-depth review) and I only detach it when I need to use the teleconverter with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR, 200-400mm f/4G VR or other telephoto lenses.
Nikon has announced a new Nikkor 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens which will be loved by wildlife and sports photographers. As you know from Nasim’s review of the previous version of the Nikkor 400mm f/2.8G lens, this is one sharp lens but weight was a big drawback. Nikon has taken action to reduce the weight by almost 2 pounds and is now actually 3 ounces lighter than the 500mm f/4G, making it hand-holdable for many of us! Some of the weight savings is from using 2 Flourite lens elements. The new 400mm f/2.8E is also lighter than the legendary Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II.
In addition to saving weight, the minimum focusing distance of the new lens is approximately 12 inches less than the old version. There are 16 lens elements in 12 groups in the new lens, compared to 14 elements in 11 groups in the old lens. The front element diameter of the lens remains the same while the overall length of the lens is slightly shorter by 10 mm. Speaking of the front element, it is the first Nikkor lens to receive the fluorine coating, which Nikon claims will “effectively repel dust, water droplets, grease or dirt, ensuring easy removal even when they adhere to the lens surface“. This new fluorine coating will also be used in the new AF-S teleconverter TC-14E III which was also just announced.
One of the biggest knocks against the Nikon 1 series of cameras has been, and continues to be, the small sized CX sensor. While this sensor has some distinct advantages when shooting birds and wildlife with the FT-1 adapter and the resulting 2.7x crop factor, it is challenged with landscape photography where dynamic range and color depth are important factors.
There have been some interesting discussions about the pros and cons of various sensor sizes and how they impact angle of view, lens focal length and the depth-of-field that results. For example, some photographers bemoan the fact that it is difficult to achieve a shallow depth of field at a particular equivalent-field-of-view with a CX sensor using 1 Nikon lenses, while others find it useful to be able to get deeper depth-of-field at more open aperture settings such as f/1.8 and f/2. Some D800 shooters are concerned about diffraction setting in above f/8 when trying to achieve deep depth-of-field with a high pixel density 36mp FX sensor, as are many photographers who use high pixel density sensor DX bodies.
At the end of the day there is no such thing as a perfect camera body or format that will suit everyone’s needs. The camera body and sensor format you choose, along with your choice of lenses,comes down to the creative requirements that you have as a photographer based on the work you do.
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.
One of the frequently asked questions by our readers when we post information on Zeiss lenses (which are often optically stellar), is why Zeiss does not make autofocus lenses for DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon. As you may already known, Zeiss is currently making autofocus lenses only for two specific mounts – Sony E (for NEX / Alpha series mirrorless cameras) and Fuji X. This line of autofocus lenses labeled as “Touit” is limited to a few lenses at the moment, with full autofocus capability and compatibility with both Sony and Fuji mirrorless cameras. So one might naturally ask why Zeiss has finally started making autofocus lenses and wonder if it has plans to start developing autofocus lenses for Nikon and Canon mounts. Although I have known the reason behind this for a while now, I decided to ask the question again from the Zeiss team at the Photo Plus show in NY last year. Specifically, I wanted to find out if Zeiss is planning to change their strategy in the future in regards to DSLR lenses.
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:
There is a lesson here for all, especially when purchasing expensive gear. Expensive is a relative term with a value that varies per individual and can’t be generalized, the stuff being said here applies to all values of items. It comes down to how much value the item has to you and whether you are willing to risk that value versus the warranty programs being offered. Obviously the bigger the expense, the higher the risk.
I usually always buy my all of my camera gear right here in the US of A, because that is where I live and I like to go buy the expensive stuff in person at a Hunts Photo and Video store to make sure it arrives safely.