Rocky Mountain High – Canadian Style

My wife, Tanya, and I recently vacationed in the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. We settled on this location after reading a variety of reviews and looking over some stunning photos of the many attractions and wildlife. We planned a series of activities that would take us to some of the most scenic, historical, and cultural locations, provide some challenging hiking expeditions, and enable us to take a “few” photographs along the way. After receiving a new Nikon D800 (review), which I tested thoroughly, I was eager to put it to work in the field. Most of the photos in this article were taken with the D800, although some were shot with my infrared D90 (converted by Lifepixel.com). For those of you reading this on an RSS feed, you may want to consider linking to the main Mansurovs site, as there are quite a few photos associated with this post.

From Calgary To Canmore

We flew into the Calgary airport, and after renting a car, began the 74 mile drive from the Calgary Airport to the town of Canmore. This trip is an interesting study in transitions. Near Calgary, everything seems to be under construction. Bulldozers, heavy earth movers, building cranes, and construction signs dot the landscape in every direction. The terrain is pretty flat apart from a gentle mountainside slope on the western side of the city. Off in the distance, we could see some purplish mountains but didn’t have a good sense of their scale. 25 miles or so outside of Calgary, the scenery changes quite a bit. Green rolling hillsides of farm land become the dominant theme, with the familiar golden yellow hay bales lining the bright green fields. The purplish mountains have risen in stature quite a bit and we quickly realize that they are far different than those we left behind in western Pennsylvania. We also unfortunately discover that there are few exits for gas or food!

At the 50 mile mark, the landscape is changing quite a bit. Those little purple mountains seem to grow larger by the minute. Green fir trees that seem to have been cloned, now begin to populate the landscape like huge blades of grass. At the 60 mile mark, we are at the base of the mountains. The term “majestic” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in describing what we now see. The mountain peaks require you to edge closer to the car window and strain your neck in order to see them. Even in August, we can identify snow patches that never completely melt.

The road begins to roll gently as we wind toward the valley between the mountain peaks. The number of signs warning you about the local wildlife population increase, and based on the fences that line the woods along the road, we suspect that the signs are not to be taken lightly. We had taken 3 exits hoping to find a restaurant or gas station only to conclude that the notion of modern facilities next within 25 miles of the exit is a mirage. We begin to imagine that grizzly bears and wolves have posted these exit signs to lure gullible travelers, low on gas and food, off the main highway where the animals can leisurely dine on them.

Within 5 miles of Canmore, we are deep into the mountains that seem be growing larger before our eyes. I am constantly trying to keep my eyes on the road as the rocky towers on both sides of the road continue to command my attention. By now, we are seriously wondering if we have been transported to another planet, since it couldn’t possibly be part of the one which we came from. Soon we arrived at the Falcon Crest Lodge, which proved to be the excellent “base camp” for our adventures.

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Nikon 24-85mm VR Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR lens, also known as “AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR”, which was announced together with the Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX in June of 2012. The Nikon 24-85mm VR is an affordable consumer-grade lens targeted at photo enthusiasts that need a mid-range zoom lens with optical stabilization for everyday photography. It is an update to the short-lived Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED that was introduced in 2002 and discontinued in 2006, and it might also replace the older Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF that is still in production as of today. With an equivalent focal length of 36-128mm on DX sensor, it is better suited to be used on full-frame cameras. When the full-frame Nikon D600 budget DSLR was announced in late 2012, Nikon included the 24-85mm VR as a kit lens option, so I think we will be seeing this lens bundled with FX cameras in the future.

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR

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Best Nikon Lenses for Wildlife Photography

What are the best Nikon lenses for wildlife photography? Our readers often ask us about lenses for nature photography and while I have already written about which Nikon lenses I consider to be the best for landscape photography, I have received numerous requests to write about lenses for wildlife photography as well. In this article, I will not only talk about which Nikon lenses I believe are the best for wildlife and nature photography, but also when I use a particular lens, along with plenty of image samples from each lens. Please keep in mind that the information I present below is a personal opinion based on my experience so far, which is subject to change. If you have a favorite lens of yours for wildlife photography that is not listed below, please feel free to add a comment on the bottom of the page with some information and links to pictures (if you have any that you would like to share).

When photographing wildlife, whether shooting bears in Alaska, or capturing birds in flight, one of the most important factors in choosing a lens is its focal length. Generally, the longer the lens (in focal length), the better. Unlike landscape and portrait photography, where you could get away with a cheap lens and still get great results, wildlife photography pretty much requires high-quality, fast-aperture telephoto optics. This obviously translates to a high price tag, with the lowest end of the spectrum averaging between $500 to $1,500, and the highest-quality / best reach lenses costing as much as $10,000+. Without a doubt, wildlife photography is a very expensive hobby to have (unless you are so good that you can sell your pictures and make good money), especially once you add up all the gear and travel costs.

1) Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR

If you want to get into wildlife photography on a tight budget, the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR is the lens you want to get. It is a great buy that will get you to 300mm at under $600 USD. Its autofocus is pretty good in daylight and its versatile zoom range of 70-300mm is great for large animals and perched birds. The lens is light and compact, making it easy to carry it around when scouting for wildlife in parks and wildlife spots. It is capable of producing relatively good bokeh, especially on its longest end, although its sharpness performance also drops quite a bit at 300mm. Having VR is a definite plus when hand-holding the lens.

AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED

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Best Nikon Lenses for Landscape Photography

What are the best Nikon lenses for landscape photography? After I posted my last article on “Best Nikon Lenses for Wedding Photography“, I have been getting many requests from our readers to also talk about lenses for photographing landscapes, nature and wildlife (another post on best Nikon wildlife lenses will be published soon). In this post I will not only talk about which Nikon lenses I believe are the best for photographing landscapes, but also when I use a particular lens, along with plenty of image samples from each lens. Please keep in mind that the information I present below is a personal opinion based on my experience so far, which is subject to change. No third party lenses are presented either, although some Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron and Samyang lenses are phenomenal for landscapes. If you have a favorite lens of yours for landscape photography that is not listed below, please feel free to add a comment on the bottom of the page with some information and links to pictures (if you have any that you would like to share).

1) Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

I want to start out with a lens that I have a love and hate relationship with. On one side, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G is one of the sharpest lenses ever produced by Nikon. It has phenomenal optics (center to corner, throughout the frame and aperture range), beautiful colors, super fast autofocus and an extremely useful focal range for wide-angle photography. On the other hand, it is a heavy, bulky and expensive lens that cannot accommodate filters. Sadly, not just circular filters and filter holders but pretty much any kind of hand-holdable filter. Its round front element shape and the built-in lens hood just make it impossible to use filters. Sure, you can buy a filter holder system from Lee and other manufacturers for this lens to accommodate filters, but it is not cheap and you would have to purchase a set of large 150mm filters, so forget about using your existing filters. I really wish Nikon allowed us to use small replaceable filters close to the lens mount, just like on telephoto lenses and this lens would have been irreplaceable.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

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Nikon 400mm f/2.8G VR Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens that was released in August of 2007, along with Nikon D3 and two other exotic super telephoto lenses. In this review, I will not only provide general information about the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR and its performance, but also how it works with all current Nikon teleconverters (TC-14E II, TC-17E II and TC-20E III) and how it compares to other telephoto lenses such as Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR, Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S, Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon 500mm f/4G VR. The Nikon 500mm f/4G VR was kindly provided by Pro Photo Rental – a great lens rental company based out of Boulder, CO.

Nikon 400mm f/2.8G ED VR

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Nikon 24-120mm VR Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens that was released in August of 2010. The constant maximum aperture, mid-range Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR zoom lens is a major update to the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR that was released back in 2003. The older, variable-aperture 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 had some optical problems that did not make it a popular lens among photographers, so Nikon decided to address those problems by releasing this highly-anticipated Nikon 24-120mm f/4.0 lens. Why highly-anticipated? Because the 24-120mm focal range is very useful for photographers who use full-frame cameras like Nikon D700/D3s/D3x and who find the 24-70mm f/2.8 either too short on the long focal end, or too heavy for everyday use. In addition, having VR on a mid-range lens like the 24-120mm is crucial for low-light photography, even on the wide end.

Nikon 24-120mm f/4 ED VR

Did Nikon address all problems the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G had in this new f/4 update? How does it compare to the legendary Nikon 24-70mm and the new 28-300mm lenses? Is it really on par with the 28-300mm when it comes to performance, making it a worse buy than the 28-300mm like some of the reviewers stated? In this review, I will do my best to provide a detailed analysis of the lens’ performance, including sharpness tests and comparisons against other mid-range lenses and answer the above questions.

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Nikon 55-300mm VR Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lens that was released in August of 2010 together with three other lenses – Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and Nikon 24-120mm f/4.0 VR. The Nikon 55-300mm VR lens is a major update to the existing Nikon 55-200mm f/4.0-5.6G ED VR lens that was released in 2007. Just like the 55-200mm VR, it is designed to be used with the Nikon 18-55mm DX VR kit lens to provide expanded focal range for telephoto shots. Nikon 55-300mm is currently the cheapest way to get to true 300mm focal length in Nikon’s current line of lenses, with a little more shorter range to work with than the Nikon 70-300mm VR lens.

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

It is an ideal lens to be used for family events and vacations to capture distant subjects, and the use of Vibration Reduction (VR) technology makes it easier to get sharp photographs at slower shutter speeds, especially when shooting at 300mm. Similar to the Nikon 28-300mm VR lens, the Nikon 55-300mm VR comes with two Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Elements, which due to less air bubbles and glass deformities within the glass elements help minimize chromatic aberration and deliver sharper images at large apertures. The Nikon 55-300mm VR lens is only designed to work on Nikon DX (cropped) sensors and has an equivalent field of view of approximately 82.5mm-450mm (in 35mm equivalent), which makes the lens particularly good for reaching distant subjects. Autofocus is practically silent, thanks to the Silent Wave Motor (AF-S) within the lens.

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Nikon 28-300mm VR Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens that was released in August of 2010 along with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR DX lenses. It is no secret that Nikon released the 28-300mm largely due to the popular demand of the 18-200mm lens. The large zoom range of the Nikon 18-200mm and its generally good performance made it a lens of choice for those, who wanted to have a good lightweight travel lens or only wanted to use one lens on their DSLR cameras. Despite the fact that the lens suffered from some serious issues such as lens creep, heavy distortion and sharpness issues beyond 105mm, some photographers and reviewers praised the 18-200mm so much, that the demand increased significantly, resulting in heavy lens shortages around the world. During this time, Nikon had a hard time keeping the lens on the shelves and the only way to obtain it was to either pay a premium and buy it from Ebay, or order and wait for months until Nikon sent another batch to retailers. I remember this period of time very well, since I had to wait for 3 months to get my copy of the lens. Ever since Nikon released the FX full-frame sensor, more and more photographers have been switching from DX to FX. Since Nikon 18-200mm is a DX lens, an FX camera would fall back to DX mode, giving less than half the resolution – a problematic situation for most photographers that use the current 12 megapixel cameras. Therefore, photographers that made the switch from cropped sensor cameras to full-frame, ended up selling or trading their DX lenses for the above reason, including the much loved Nikon 18-200mm.

Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

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Nikon 200mm f/2G ED VR II Announcement

It surely has been a busy year at Nikon, with a total of 9 lens releases, which is quite high for the company. A large number of the released lenses are prime lenses, certainly a good move by Nikon, since prime lenses are quite popular among professionals specializing in different types of portraiture work. The Nikon 200mm f/2G is no exception – it is a popular lens among portrait and sports photographers that need to work with fast apertures and isolate their subjects from backgrounds with soft and creamy bokeh. Similar to the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II lens, the Nikon 200mm f/2G ED VR II is a minor update to the legendary Nikon 200mm f/2G VR lens.

Nikon 200mm f/2G ED VR II

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Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR DX Announcement

NOTE: A full review of this lens can be found in my Nikon 55-300mm VR Review article.

The last announcement from today is the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR DX lens, an update to the existing Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED VR DX lens that was announced back in March of 2007. The lens was announced together with the Nikon D3100, because it is a DX lens and will most likely be a part of the future two lens kit for the D3100.

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

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