Photographers have an interesting dilemma when choosing a bag for long hikes. Camera backpacks are great at holding cameras, but they tend to be poor choices for comfort on long hikes. For some people – those who rarely need to trek with their camera equipment – a traditional camera backpack may be more than enough. For landscape and travel photographers, however, or those who need to carry their equipment longer distances, technical hiking bags tend to be the only option. The issue with these bags is that they aren’t made with photographers in mind, meaning that gear access and tripod attachment is quite difficult. One of the companies trying to fix this problem is F-Stop Gear, who makes trekking-style backpacks with separate compartments for camera equipment. I have owned the F-Stop Loka UL since it was first released, and it has never disappointed me. So, when F-Stop announced their newest line of Mountain Series backpacks, I was excited to see some of the improvements that had been made. In this review, I will take a look at the brand new Sukha bag – at 70 liters, F-Stop Gear’s second-largest backpack.
Ever since Sigma announced their new direction with reorganizing new lenses into three different “Contemporary”, “Art” and “Sports” product lines, the company has been successfully rolling out a number of truly groundbreaking lenses. We were blown away by the optical quality of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens, which topped our lens charts as one of the sharpest lenses we have seen to date. Then we welcomed the updated Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and were quite inspired by world’s first f/1.8 constant aperture zoom lens, the 18-35mm f/1.8 Art. Earlier this year, Sigma announced yet another addition to the “Art” line of lenses, again in the “world’s first” category, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art. Built on the concept of the 18-35mm f/1.8 Art, the 24-35mm f/2 was redesigned to cover the full-frame image circle, while maintaining the superb optical performance. The result was a larger and heavier lens, but one that was to challenge primes from 24mm to 35mm focal lengths. Set on to go head to head with such primes specifically, the biggest question I had was – could this lens actually optically challenge prime lenses? If it performed well optically, that’s a single lens which could potentially replace such lenses as the Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G, 28mm f/1.8G and 35mm f/1.8G in a single package – a rather tough challenge, as those lenses are quite strong performers on their own.
It is hard to visit any photography website without noticing extensive fanfare being paid to the mirrorless camera niche. Some tout it as the savior of the mid-to-high end camera market. Others have dubbed it the “DSLR killer.” A number of prominent photographers have created videos and articles articulating how mirrorless innovations caused them to shed pounds from their bag and reintroduce them to the joy of photography. And why shouldn’t they? The market for traditional point-and-shoot cameras is in a free fall as smartphones increase in usage, quality, and capabilities. Traditional DSLR sales continue to fall as well. The industry certainly needs something to cheer about. And of course, photography websites need something to write about.
Drone photography is an exploding market, and with good reason — an aerial perspective opens opportunities in nearly every field of photography. Despite the amazing potential of drone photography, though, it is surprisingly hard to find a kit that works well for high-quality stills. Drones built for larger mirrorless cameras or DSLRs are often unreasonably expensive and frustratingly large, forcing many photographers to compromise on image quality. With this problem in mind, 3D Robotics designed the X8+ drone, a customizable and affordable platform that is capable of carrying a large-sensor camera with ease.
When I first got access to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC lens (which we recently reviewed), I got curious about other potential lens options already available with the similar focal length range, build and fast aperture of f/2.8. After a quick search through our lens database, I found the Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX. This little gem has been available for a while now and although I have heard a lot of good things about it, I never had a chance to actually try it out. After receiving the lens along with a few other lenses like the Tokina AT-X 11-16mm f/2.8 Pro DX-II (which I will be also reviewing very soon), I headed off to Death Valley National Park. Although I primarily used the lens with my infrared-converted Nikon D800E, which as I painfully found out later turned out to be a bad choice for IR as explained further down in the review, I was really curious to see how it would do, given its extremely attractive price of $629. At this price, I was expecting the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 to be a poor performer, because the price just did not seem to be right for such a fast zoom lens with a “pro” label on it. After using the lens and testing it out in my lab, I realized that I was wrong – it turned out to be a hidden gem.
This is an in-depth review of the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, world’s first f/2.8 image stabilized ultra-wide angle zoom lens for full frame cameras, the development of which was announced in September of 2014, with the lens officially released in January of 2015. It is a very unique lens not just because of its very useful focal length range with a constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range, but because it features image stabilization – something you practically never find on ultra-wide angle lenses. For many years now, I have been shooting with the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens, which is a monster of a lens when it comes to size, weight and performance – it truly is a legendary lens optically. But with its $2K price it is far from being an affordable choice, so Tamron decided to challenge the 14-24mm with the 15-30mm f/2.8 VC in a number of ways: longer focal length coverage extending to 30mm, built-in image stabilization and a more affordable price point of $1,200.
If you’re an enthusiastic still photographer who’s started to dabble with video a bit, you’ve likely run into issues with fine visual footage, but substandard audio. Crappy audio can ruin the viewer’s experience every bit as quick as lousy visuals. It soon becomes apparent that your camera’s built-in microphone records not just your subject, but also the camera’s noises (focus motors, VR, heavy-breathing operator) as well as the nearby highway, airport, dragstrip, playground or pig farm. The first step taken usually involves buying a hot shoe-mounted directional mike, AKA shotgun mike. This is great for emphasizing the sound coming from the direction the camera is pointed, but it gets not just the subject speaking or softly purring, but also the jackhammers in the construction site across the street behind your subject. It is a poor choice if you want to record dialogue. For recording talking subjects, the next step is to add a lavalier microphone system. A lavalier microphone, AKA lav, AKA lapel mic, is a tiny microphone that clips to the user’s lapel, collar, or ZZ Top beard. It is very sensitive to sound coming from very close to the microphone and not to sounds further away. Therefore it is ideal for recording the wearer’s words without too much interference from background noise.
During the past few years, Nikon has been slowly replacing its high-end super telephoto lenses with newer technology using lightweight fluorite lens elements, shredding off a lot of weight and making additional improvements to lens designs, making the already strong lenses even better. After the 800mm f/5.6E VR monster, it was time for Nikon to update its legendary 400mm f/2.8G VR with the newer version, so that’s how the Nikkor 400mm f/2.8E FL VR came to life. Although Nikon is planning to update every super telephoto lens in its line-up with lighter lenses featuring fluorite elements (which includes the 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses), Nikon decided to start with the 400mm f/2.8, because it is one of the lenses that would get the most benefit from the fluorite lens design. Weighing in at a whopping 4.6 kg, the previous generation 400mm f/2.8G VR was a monster of a lens to handle and impractical to hand-hold (it was quite a bit front-heavy). Although it is quite a versatile lens and works remarkably well with all three Nikon teleconverters, its weight and size were its main disadvantages, making a lot of photographers opt for other super telephoto Nikkor lenses like the 500mm f/4 instead. The newly designed 400mm f/2.8E FL VR is a whole different lens in comparison – weighing 3.8 kg, the lens is now similar in weight as the 500mm f/4G VR, which is a great engineering achievement! Let’s take a closer look at this lens.
I used to have a wooden tripod. It was kind of cool, actually – other photographers were always fascinated by its design, and it was pretty sturdy. Unfortunately, despite weighing 4.2 pounds, it had a maximum height of just three feet. Plus, it was bulky. I brought this tripod along on a hiking trip, thinking that these problems wouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong. It was too big to sit well on my backpack, and its weight started to bother me on long hikes. I researched my other options, and carbon fiber tripods began to come up in my searches. I wanted the best possible weight-to-stability ratio, so I knew that I needed to save some money.
Through the course of my research, the tripod brand Really Right Stuff (RRS) began to emerge as the universally-acclaimed “best” manufacturer. I already had the BH-40 ballhead, which I was quite happy with, so I began to save up. I ultimately ordered the Really Right Stuff TQC-14, a top-of-the line travel tripod.
It has been 15 years since Nikon produced the last iteration of its budget 300mm lens, so the new Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR was something many enthusiasts and professionals have been patiently waiting for. Although the previous generation Nikkor 300mm f/4D AF-S is an excellent lens optically, it lacks image stabilization, new generation coating and other new technologies that Nikon has been integrating into modern lenses. I have personally been a huge fan of the 300mm f/4D AF-S lens and have owned it for many years, loving the lens for its superb optical performance, fast autofocus, light weight and compact size, making it my ultimate travel lens for wildlife photography – a perfect companion for hand-held shooting. Because it was so good with the 1.4x teleconverter, I practically always kept the teleconverter attached to the lens, making it a very nice 420mm f/5.6 combination. When Nikon finally announced the new 300mm f/4E VR lens, I got very excited, because Nikon completely redesigned the lens. In fact, with close to a 50% reduction in weight and a 30% reduction in physical size, we are not dealing with another redesign or update – this is a completely different lens.
Please note that this is an active and ongoing review of the lens. I am planning to expand coverage and update the review with a lot more information within the next few weeks.