Gear

Most of my current kit

Most of my current kit

What I’m currently shooting:

D810 – The most amazing body I’ve ever used.  You’d think that the relatively minor changes from the D800 wouldn’t make that much difference, but they do.  The most important differences for me are:

  • No AA filter – The pictures out of the body could cut you they’re so sharp.  Yes, there is a dramatic difference between unprocessed shots between the two bodies.  Certainly post-processing can reduce the difference.  But still…
  • Improved AF – The focus system on the D810 is much better.  I especially notice it with pictures of people.  The D810 seems to be able to always know the subject, know where their eyes are, and focus on the correct one.  The difference is amazing.  And it helps with birds, too!
  • Faster frame rate – My biggest issue with the D800 was that it was much slower than the bodies I was trying to replace with it.  Even though it was slower than the D700, that really didn’t matter too much since I didn’t use the D700 for much action stuff.  But the D300 could do 8fps with the D3 battery in the grip, so 4 fps (or 5fps in DX or 6 fps with the ridiculously priced grip and D4 battery) feels like molasses when shooting birds, whales, or any other wildlife.  The D810 gives you 5fps base, 6fps in DX, and 7fps in DX with the grip and battery.  That’s close enough to the D300 that the D810 can replace both the D700 and D300 in every way.
  • Quieter – I didn’t think I cared until I used the D810.  Now any other Nikon body sounds like my Pentax 6×7.

D800 – When I got it, I thought I would never buy another body again.  The resolution is amazing and it does everything pretty well.  But I have to say that Nikon is crazy if they think they can get by with charging what they do for the grip, D4 battery, and battery charger.  They want nearly 2x for the D800 grip, etc., than for the equivalent D700/D300 bodies.  That’s unacceptable.  So, for the first time since moving to Nikon in 1983, I bought a third-party battery (DSTE) and charger instead of the Nikon products.  Now that I have both the D800 and D810, I am still contemplating whether to get a third party grip for the second body.  Nikon, why are you making me consider this?

D200 (IR) – I’ve always been interested in IR photography and had many disappointing (failed) attempts with various IR film stocks.  One thing I liked about my D70 was that Nikon hadn’t yet mastered the IR cut filters on their bodies so I could shoot IR using a filter on the lens.  When I bought the D300 and D700, the D200 became surplus so I had LifePixel convert it to deep IR.  I like shooting with it because you don’t have to worry about filters (and the resulting glacial shutter speeds) and you can actually see through the viewfinder.  But the limited dynamic range of the body requires you to do at least three-stop RAW brackets to eliminate the banding.  And without LiveView, focus is always a guess.  These days, I’d love to get at least a D700, or maybe even a D800, converted for a truly high performance body that has LiveView.

Nikkor 14-24/2.8 – Yes, this is an incredibly sharp lens, but I’m not sure I love it. It’s really big and it doesn’t take filters. And it sure would be handier if it went to 35 or at least 28. And BTW, it doesn’t work well with IR.  As good as it is, this lens seldom makes it into my bag.

Nikkor 16-35/4 – When I figured out I wasn’t thrilled with the 17-35/2.8 (took about 5 minutes) I decided to try this lens since it is nearly as wide as the 14, has a better range, and takes filters.  I like it a lot.  It addresses the shortcomings of the 14-24 pretty well, is adequately sharp, and is easier to carry.

Nikkor 20/2.8 AF – An old design, and not necessarily super-sharp below f/5.6, but what a wonderfully easy lens to carry!  Whenever I’m limited by weight or size, I often carry this lens with the 28-300 to cover the wide end.  Compared to other modern lenses, it’s tiny!

Nikkor 24-70/2.8 – Sharp, but big!  As I look over all of my photos, I shoot more with this lens than any other.

Nikkor 24/1.4 AF-S G – Because of a rebate/sale, I bought all four f/1.4 Nikkor AF-S lenses a year or two ago.  I enjoy shooting with this lens, but don’t carry it much.  As is the case with all f/1.4 lenses, it’s actually pretty hard to shoot wide open or at f/2 and get consistently in-focus pictures.  And if I’m shooting at f/2.8 or below, why not have the flexibility of the 24-70?  And this lens is very large and heavy, in fact, nearly as big as the 24-70!

Nikkor 28-300 – This is a surprisingly decent 11x zoom lens that is perfect for situations where you have to limit the size and weight of your kit.  You can read the reviews and know that it isn’t great wide open.  I try to always shoot the lens at f/11, which seems to be the sweet spot between improving resolution from the wide end and decreasing resolution due to diffraction.  Since 28mm is nowhere near wide enough, I often pair this lens with the 20/2.8 mentioned above for a full-range kit.  And I love having the ability to go to 300mm since that gets me into the range where I can effectively shoot birds without carrying my 300/2.8.

Nikkor 35/1.4 AF-S G – Because of a rebate/sale, I bought all four f/1.4 Nikkor lenses.  I enjoy shooting with this lens, but don’t carry it much.  I use this lens pretty often around the house for family events.  As is the case with all f/1.4 lenses, it’s actually pretty hard to shoot wide open or at f/2 and get consistently in-focus pictures.  And if I’m shooting at f/2.8 or below, why not have the flexibility of the 24-70?  And this lens is very large and heavy, in fact, nearly as big as the 24-70!  I have read that Sigma has a 35/1.4 lens that’s sharper and cheaper.

Nikkor 35/2.0 AF – Adequately sharp, and tiny!  I’ve had this lens forever, but I rarely use it after getting the 24-70.  It was a great lens for people and panoramas when I shot DX.

Nikkor 50/1.4 AF-S G – Because of a rebate/sale, I bought all four f/1.4 Nikkor AF-S lenses a year or two ago.  I enjoy shooting with this lens, but don’t carry it much.  I use it sometimes around the house for portraits when there’s not enough room for the 85.  As is the case with all f/1.4 lenses, it’s actually pretty hard to shoot wide open or at f/2 and get consistently in-focus pictures.  And if I’m shooting at f/2.8, why not have the flexibility of the 24-70?

Nikkor 70-200/2.8 Mk. II – I bought this lens under the same rebate/sale as the f/1.4 lenses I picked up when I started noticing the shortcomings of the earlier version of the lens.  I haven’t used it a whole lot yet, but it definitely is sharper across the frame and has less vignetting.  It’s fatter, but slightly shorter, and thus just barely can fit in the Think Tank Airport Security bag standing up.

Nikkor 85/1.4 – Because of a rebate/sale, I bought all four f/1.4 Nikkor AF-S lenses a year or two ago.  I am kind of disappointed with this lens, but probably just because my expectations were so high.  This was a lens I had always dreamed of having, and it’s not as magical as I imagined.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great lens.  But it just didn’t blow up my skirt like I thought it would.  As is the case with all f/1.4 lenses, it’s actually pretty hard to shoot wide open or at f/2 and get consistently in-focus pictures.  And if I’m shooting at f/2.8, why not have the flexibility of the 70-200?

Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S VR – I upgraded to this lens from the AF-S version, and really like it.  Since most of my birding requires travel, and most of my travel is for business with birding as a secondary activity, it is important for my kit to be as small as possible.  While I would love to have a 500/4 VR, the 300/2.8 gives me the flexibility and size I need.  Using the teleconverters gives me a lot of focal length options, admittedly, though, at the expense of ultimate sharpness.  Most of the time this lens has the TC-20E III attached, and stopped down one stop, it is adequately sharp.  The TC-14E II on this lens is quite sharp.  Since I shoot most of my birds hand-held, the VR is a nice addition.

TC-14E II, TC-17E II, TC-20E III – Great, good, and good on the 300/2.8 VR.  Occasionally I’ll pack the TC-20E III when I might need longer reach on a trip, but don’t want to pack the 300.  It works fine, though the long skinny lens + body is a bit awkward on straps around the neck.

Opinions about other gear I have used:

Camera Bodies:

D300 – The D300 pairs wonderfully with the D700 since it uses the same batteries, grips, and QR plates. The D300 has nearly identical controls, has the same great focusing system as the D700 (in one way it’s even better), and it has the telephoto advantage of the smaller DX sensor, so it’s the perfect camera for birds (and whales).  Does 8fps with the EN-EL4A.

D700 – I LOVE the D700! It’s incredibly functional in all the ways I need. Super fast focus, incredibly low-noise at high ISOs, and, of course, a return to the good old days of being able to do real wide angle.

Lenses:

Nikkor 17-35/2.8 – I bought this lens as an alternative to the 14-24.  Better range, smaller, and takes filters.  But it’s not as sharp and it squeaks sometimes when it autofocuses.  See this for more.

Nikkor 18-70 DX – A surprisingly good kit lens.  I used this lens for years with no complaints.

Nikkor 18-200/3.5-5.6 DX Mk. I – A good lens when you want to carry just one. Not super sharp, but what do you expect for an 11x zoom? Creeps. I still use this lens as my main IR lens with the D200(IR)

Nikkor 50/1.8 – I wish I had liked it, but I didn’t. Too cheap feeling and the results didn’t impress me.

Nikkor 85/1.8 – My favorite lens for people back in the day. Sharp and a great look.

Tamron 90/2.8 Macro – Easily as sharp as the Nikkor Micros. Much cheaper. I hardly ever shoot macro so it’s fine. (I usually use the 300/2.8 + TC!)

Nikkor 70-200/2.8 Mk. I – Another great lens. Very sharp. I’ve not had many issues with vignetting or softness at the corners with the D700 like others have.  I also shoot this lens with a TC on the D300 when I don’t want to carry the big lens and I get generally very good results.  The latest tests say the Mk. I lens is actually sharper in the middle than the new one and thus is better with DX and TCs.

Nikon 180/2.8 AF – This is one of the legendary Nikon lenses so I was excited when I picked one up.  I don’t know why, but I’ve never fallen in love with it.  I do have a couple of shots in my portfolio from this lens, as it was a frequent part of my early digital kit.  Now it sits on the shelf.

Nikkor 300/2.8 Mk. I – I have the first AF-S version, which has super-fast focus, but is heavy as a tank. (I have a permanent pain in my left arm from using this lens.) It is just an incredible lens and is always attached to the D300 (nearly always with the TC-20).  Sometimes there are distracting OOF specular highlights.  All reports say the 300 w/TC-20 is not professionally sharp, but until I can come up with the funds to get a 500/4 AF-S VR or the like, it’s the only way I have to get to 600.  Sitting on the shelf.

Nikon 300/4.0 AF – Very sharp and light.  Barely useful for birds.  Amazingly easy to get sharp telephoto shots with this lens compared to the much much heavier 300/2.8 lenses.

TC-20EII – Good match for the Nikkor 300/2.8 Mk. I.

Other stuff sitting on the shelf:  N90s, FE, Pronea 6i, Pentax 6×7 w/55, 105, 150, and a beautiful Takahashi 4×5 wooden field camera w/Schneider SA90/8 and Nikkor 150/5.6.

Older film gear that I'm still hanging on to

Older film gear that I’m still hanging on to

Current surplus gear:

D70 – with about 11k clicks.  But why would anyone want this?  And what would I use for pictures of all the other gear?

D300 – with about 19k clicks.  Perfect condition.  My daughter was using it a bit for stop-action videos, but hasn’t touched it for probably a year.

Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 AF DX – Thought I had given this one away…  I don’t love it, because it just didn’t seem to be super sharp.  But many people have gotten along with them just fine.

Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 AF – Wonderful lens.  Replaced it with the 85/1.4 AF-S.

Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 AF-S mk I – Excellent lens.  Great AF.  Completely refreshed internally with new AF motor.

Nikkor TC-20E II teleconverter – Excellent with the 300/2.8 AF-S.

Lowepro Rolling Computrekker – Wow I hate this bag!

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