Site Performance and Other Updates

Burrowing Owl - Nikon 80-400mm + 1.4x TC

Some of our readers are probably wondering what our team has been up to lately, so I wanted to give a quick update on our activities. I apologize for not being able to post articles lately – I have been extremely busy with a number of projects, so I asked Lola to fill in for me. I have been working hard on expanding the lens database (which has been enhanced with even more useful information) for the past few months and this past week I was able to migrate our previous comments system to “Disqus” – a robust commenting system used by some of the most popular websites on the Internet. If you have tried commenting on some of the reviews with over a few hundred comments lately, you probably noticed how slow those pages respond, sometimes taking up to several minutes to load. All those subscription options and other comment features we implemented in the past took their toll on load speeds, so I pretty much was forced to migrate to a better commenting system. I am sure most of you will appreciate this change, but I do want to let you know that there are some drawbacks to the new system. There was no way for me to migrate previous post subscriptions, so if you used to receive updates whenever someone posted a comment in a particular article, you will have to re-subscribe to those posts via Disqus (please note that your general subscription to receive email notifications when we post articles is unaffected, this is only for comment subscriptions). Aside from this, you will love the new commenting system. And for those that hate Facebook and other social media, there is no need to register for an account at any of those sites, so you can still post as a “guest”. In addition, many of our readers reported site performance issues, so I was also able to migrate most of our content to better and faster hosting. The pages and images should now load extremely quickly in comparison. On top of that, I have been evaluating options for more social interaction between our readers via forum and other means (no, we will not be integrating our site with Facebook or Twitter, this will be completely separate). But this is not something I want to roll out immediately – integration and testing will take some time to complete. I am hoping to do this sometime before the end of the year.

Burrowing Owl - Nikon 80-400mm + 1.4x TC

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Wildlife Photography Tips: Use a Bean Bag

Bean Bag for Photography

It’s been a while since we had a tip for beginners, so here is a quick post for the wildlife photographer. It’s not uncommon for friends of mine to see a photo like the one below and for them to ask where I took it. Quite frequently my response to them is, “From the window of my car.” They usually laugh thinking that I am joking and then I tell them that I’m serious. If you take many wildlife shots, you will quickly realize that oftentimes, animals are acclimated to cars and if we stay inside them, we don’t stress them as much and they don’t flee as fast.

Fighting Eagles

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DX or FX for Sports and Wildlife Photography

Dolphin Jump

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

AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III

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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Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Announcement

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

In a rather surprising announcement today, Nikon released a major update to the existing 12 year old Nikkor 80-400mm AF-D lens. The new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR has a completely redesigned internal focus optical formula with Nano Coating, Super Integrated Coating and extra-low dispersion glass elements. On top of that, the lens sports a second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR II) system for up to 4 stops of shutter speed compensation and a silent wave motor (SWM / AF-S), which means that autofocus will function on any modern Nikon DSLRs, including entry-level models like D3200. This is one of the few Nikkor lenses to have “Super ED Glass”, which has a lower refractive index and light dispersion than ED glass, making the new 80-400mm a premium lens for both enthusiasts and professionals. And with a versatile focal length of 80-400mm, the lens is well-suited for sports and nature photography.

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

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Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR Review

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

Nikon has a long history of making professional 70-80 to 200mm focal length zoom lenses, but aside from the very old 70-210 f/4 AI-S and AF lenses, it has never had an affordable and lightweight constant aperture f/4 model in its line. With its arch-rival Canon making a 70-200mm f/4L lens since 1999, and the high cost of the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II model, Nikon was often criticized for not providing an f/4 alternative. After many years of delays, Nikon finally announced a lightweight alternative to the f/2.8 version in October of 2012 – the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, which is designed to work on both full-frame (FX) and cropped-factor sensor (DX) DSLR cameras.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

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Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR – Incredible!

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

I know that many of our readers have been patiently waiting for me to publish my upcoming Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR Review (Update: the review has been posted right here). While the review is under way, I have a lot of gear in my hands that I need to test and hence, it is a little delayed. Thanks to my friend David Bassett, I had a chance to play with the 70-200mm f/4 for the last couple of days until I receive my copy from B&H (should be arriving later this week, along with the Sigma 70-200mm and Tamron 70-200mm). One of the first things I did after I got the lens, was mount the lens on my D800E and test it in a lab environment for its resolution capabilities. As you can see from the below comparisons with my beloved Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, the 70-200mm f/4G VR performed incredibly well. I am stunned and seriously in love – wife said that she doesn’t mind :) Once again, Nikon produced an absolute winner, a true gem that will quickly become a favorite lens by many. First, we had the 50mm f/1.8G, then the 85mm f/1.8G and now the 70-200mm f/4G. As I have said before, it is a good time to be a Nikonian! Superb camera bodies, excellent lenses – a great system overall.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

So here is the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 70mm:

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Which Nikon Prime Lens to Buy First?

Which Nikon Prime Lens to Buy First?

Buying a DSLR often means having several accessories to go with it, among which are lenses. But choosing your first lens isn’t easy – there are so many choices available at so many different price points, which can make it quite confusing for a beginner to find a lens for a particular need. In this article, I will discuss several budget Nikon fast prime lenses most suitable as a first step into the fixed focal length world. Which Nikon prime should you buy first? Which one would make the most sense? You need a lens to stay on your camera for years to come, you need it to be good for family portraits and some occasional snaps. Or maybe even for your future photography business – who knows?

Which Nikon Prime Lens to Buy First?

Well, read on as I highlight the strengths of each affordable fast prime Nikon has to offer. I hope this article will help you with this tough choice most of us had to make at one point or another.

1) Why Buy a New Lens?

So you bought yourself a brand spanking new DSLR and now you want better pictures. Where do you start? When our images do not turn out good, we usually blame the camera, without even having the patience and time to learn how to use it. Do you find yourself using the camera in Auto mode all the time? If yes, then why don’t you first educate yourself and learn what those other “PASM” modes are for? We have plenty of beginner tutorials on this website and our photography tips for beginners page is a good place to start.

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Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Announcement

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

Just like we covered last week, Nikon today officially announced the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens, a cheaper and lighter version of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. While we knew about the lens and some of its basic specifications, more detailed information, including pricing was not yet available until today. I was really hoping that Nikon would price the 70-200mm f/4G VR right and I am excited to see that the price of the 70-200mm is $1,399.95, right what I thought it would be. This is exciting news for many of us that want quality optics at an affordable price point.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

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Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR Lens to be Announced

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f4G VR Lens Patent

Looks like Nikon is finally going to announce the long-awaited Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR Lens at the PDN Photo Plus Expo in New York, according to our friends at Nikon Rumors. Many Nikon fans have been complaining for years about not having a cheaper and lighter alternative to the superb Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (see our Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II Review). Nikon has never had a 70-200mm f/4 lens in its history – a 70-210mm f/4 lens was produced way back in 1986, which was later replaced by a variable aperture 70-210mm f/4-5.6 AF-D version in 1993 (discontinued later). Canon has had its 70-200mm f/4 model since 1999 and an updated (current) IS version came out back in 2006. The Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS has been a very popular lens among the Canon user base ever since, because of its excellent price/weight/performance ratio. It will be interesting to see what the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR will offer.

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f4G VR Lens Patent

It is also rumored that the new Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR lens will have a “new generation VR system”. For now I do not know what this truly means and what this new VR system does differently from the current VR II technology, but I am anxiously waiting for details from the official press release. If the VR system does turn out to be new, then we can expect minor updates to the high-end pro lenses fairly soon (Nikon will probably start from the expensive super telephoto lenses like 600mm f/4 first).

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