Nature’s Best Photography Exhibition

This weekend, a very exciting display opened at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. – the twentieth anniversary of the Nature’s Best Photography exhibition. Every autumn for the past twenty years, the Windland Smith Rice Nature’s Best Photography International Competition has collected its winning images for a year-long display in the museum; the 2015 exhibit is a “Best of the Best” retrospective of the work from previous years. It features all the past Grand Prize and Youth winners, alongside the photos awarded in this competition 2015. In total, the exhibit features 113 massive prints, selected from nearly 500,000 submissions over the past two decades. I am very happy to announce that Spencer Cox won in this year’s Youth Category, and his “Brown Anole” image will be included in the 2015 retrospective exhibition! Congratulations to Spencer for winning this very prestigious award!

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Sigma Strikes Again with a 20mm f/1.4 Art Lens

While the new Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 seems like a wonderful chunk of glass for those who do not mind a 1.35 kg beast, Sigma has just released its new 20mm f/1.4 Art-series lens, which is a much wider lens, while being as fast as the Otus. In fact, Sigma claims this one to be another “world’s first” as far as the focal length and the aperture – the next fastest lens is the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G. With its MSRP of $899, the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art is only $100 more than Nikon’s excellent 20mm f/1.8G, so the big question is, is 2/3 of a stop worth the $100 premium Sigma is asking for? Well, the answer to that question is not so simple, because there is a lot more than just stops involved here. Sigma’s 20mm f/1.4 Art is completely different optically compared to the Nikon. First of all, we are dealing with a lens that has more superior optical glass inside, with 5 low-dispersion, two ultra low-dispersion and two aspherical lenses. One of those aspherical elements is particularly difficult to make, because it is a “double” aspherical lens with a large 59mm diameter. Essentially this element was the reason that Sigma was able to produce a 20mm f/1.4 – something no other manufacturer was able to achieve to date. So in a way, we can consider the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 to be in a different class of its own when compared to the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G. However, there is one major pitfall – due to the large element on the front of the lens, it cannot take any regular screw-on filters!

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Zeiss Lens Announcements

Having been crazy busy with travel, workshops and the launch of our first video, I have not been able to fully keep up with all the latest news and announcements. With Photo Plus 2015 around the corner, there is a lot going on in the industry, so I am planning to catch up with all the newly-released gear this week. The first highlight is Zeiss, which has been very active lately, announcing one lens after another for different systems. Being a Sony partner, Zeiss is currently offering three native mount lens lines: Manual Focus Loxia and Touit and the new line of Batis autofocus lenses. Both Loxia and Batis are specifically developed for Sony’s full-frame E mount, while the Touit line was only targeted at Sony’s APS-C E mount cameras. Although the future of Touit lenses is under question, since Zeiss did not do so well there and there have not been any new announcements, the Loxia and Batis lines are coming very strong, thanks to the increasing sales of the new Sony A7-series cameras. The new 21mm f/2.8 looks like another stellar lens in the Loxia line and both Batis 25mm f/2 and 85mm f/1.8 lenses have been crazy popular (which I am also planning to review, hopefully later this year). In addition to the Sony FE mount lenses, Zeiss made a big surprise earlier last month by announcing a total of six lenses for both Nikon F and Canon EF lines under the new Zeiss “Milvus” name. And the most recent announcement today is another “reference” lens for wide angle lenses, a sharpness monster, the Otus 28mm f/1.4. Let’s take a look at all these lenses in more detail.

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Sony Will Finally Fix the Lossy RAW Issue

While I am getting ready to leave for the upcoming PL fall workshops this week, it was exciting to hear today that Sony is finally going to address the Lossy 11+7 bit RAW issue we have seen on all Sony A7-series cameras (you can read about the Lossy RAW issue in my Sony A7R review). Although the press release below states that Sony will feature uncompressed 14-bit RAW beginning with the A7R II and the newly announced A7S II, I really hope that the company adds this must-have feature to its older A7-series cameras as well, since landscape photographers could really benefit from shooting true 14-bit RAW, without worrying about seeing artifacts in images. This is great news and I am glad that Sony responded to our complaints – it is great to see such a large company listen to customer and expert feedback.

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Software Gone Bad – ACDSee’s Annoying Pop-Ups

I have been using ACDSee Pro for many years, because I found it to be pretty convenient to use for viewing different image formats. It has great built-in tools for viewing EXIF / exposure data and customizing exactly what I want to view, which is great. Although I have switched to FastRawViewer for fast viewing of RAW files and culling images, ACDSee can be a great tool for reviewing other images and graphics – it can literally open any image format out there. We have previously published a detailed review of ACDSee Pro 8 and although we found it to be quite messy and cumbersome for photo editing when compared to Lightroom, ACDSee still worked out great as a general purpose image viewer. However, since we published the review, I have been very annoyed by all the pop-ups and ACDSee’s attempts to lure me into upgrading to their Ultimate version (which started out at around $70+, then eventually came down to $40), showing up way too often, sometimes several times a day! And now I am getting pop-ups for the new upcoming version 9 of the software, as seen below:

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Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Announcement

Today Canon announced the updated Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, which promises remarkable performance for a 35mm prime, thanks to its updated optical formula and the new “Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics”, which is designed to further reduce chromatic aberration to new levels. With a total of 14 elements (2 of which are aspherical), 9 diaphragm blades for beautiful bokeh, fluorine coating and a dust / water-resistant construction, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM will surely be a popular choice among Canon enthusiasts and professionals. The only issue might be the added weight – at 760 grams, it is 180 grams heavier than its predecessor. It will retail for $1,799 in October of 2015.

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Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Announcement

Nikon’s last announcement today is the new Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, a super telephoto zoom lens designed for sports and wildlife enthusiasts. This lens is a very interesting announcement, because it is very different from all other super telephoto Nikon lenses we have seen in the past – it is Nikon’s first zoom lens with a fixed aperture that covers such a long range. Many enthusiasts have been asking for a 400mm f/5.6 lens and one wonders if this lens could address such needs. The 200-500mm f/5.6E VR supposedly can work with all three teleconverters and if it proves to be as versatile as it sounds, this might be something many wildlife photographers have been waiting for. The best part is the price – at $1,399.95 MSRP, it certainly falls into the “affordable” category when compared to other super telephoto lenses. Let’s take a look at this lens in more detail.

Update: We have already published our detailed Nikon 200-500mm VR Review. Please see the review for up-to-date information, image samples and comparisons!

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Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Announcement

Being a huge fan of the 24-70mm f/2.8G for many years now, I am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It is a superb lens for landscape and many other photography needs, but its rather weak wide open performance in the corners, heavy weight and lack of image stabilization have been leaving me wondering if there would be a replacement coming out soon from Nikon. Today, Nikon finally revealed such a replacement – the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is finally out and it is a monster of a lens! Looks like Nikon has completely changed the optical design of the new 24-70mm f/2.8E compared to its predecessor. Not only does it look a lot more beefed up, with its huge 88 x 155mm barrel and 1,070 grams of total weight (compare that to 83 x 133mm and 900 grams on the 24-70mm f/2.8G), but it also comes with a large 82mm filter thread diameter, which might present additional expenses for working pros for purchasing new filter holders and filters. Speaking of expenses, the updated 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR will leave a lot of people scratching their heads, since it is one of the most expensive zoom lenses made by Nikon, at $2,399.95 MSRP. Let’s take a closer look at this lens and see what Nikon has changed and why there is such a high price tag attached to this 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.

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Nikon 24mm f/1.8G ED Announcement

Today Nikon revealed another addition to the f/1.8 family of prime lenses, the Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G ED. This fast, enthusiast-level prime lens fills the gap between the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G and the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G, giving Nikon shooters yet another excellent wide-angle choice in a lightweight and affordable package. While the professional Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G has been out for over 5 years now, its high price point and heavy weight have been deterring many photographers, who have been waiting for a lighter and cheaper option ever since. The wait is finally over – at only 355 grams and $749.95 MSRP, the new Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G ED will surely satisfy many photographers who have been craving for such a lens.

Update: A very detailed Nikon 24mm f/1.8G Review has already been posted! Please see the review for up-to-date information, image samples and comparisons.

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Affinity Photo Launch – Photoshop Alternative

Today is a big day in the photography world, because a rather serious competitor to Adobe Photoshop has been launched – Affinity Photo. We have written about Affinity Photo in the past and our readers really enjoyed the teaser and provided a lot of feedback and commentary about this software. Well, it is finally out today and you can already get it from the Mac Store. Sadly, Affinity Photo is currently only available for Mac, but the developers are promising to work on a PC version soon.

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