Tag Archives: 20mm

Q&A: Recommendation for a Full Frame Starter Kit

(This post is from an email conversation with a friend. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  I suppose I should begin to look seriously at a good digital setup and begin practicing.

What are your recommendations?  Nikon has new FX models to replace the DX models. Apparently the FX CMOS has larger surface area. What is your recommendation about a multi-purpose lens?

Any acutal user opinion would be appreciated.

A:  First of all, if I were starting to put together a kit today, I would seriously consider a mirrorless four-thirds camera.  They are easier to carry in both size and weight, and have good lens options.  What you lose is a bit of AF speed (but nothing like the point and shoots of a few years ago) and low-light performance (again, not as bad as you’d think).  Here is a site with the formats illustrated.  The main players are full frame (what we were used to shooting 35mm; Nikon calls theirs FX), APS-C (typical for early or consumer digital SLRs; Nikon calls theirs DX), and four-thirds (which is about half the full frame in both dimensions, or 1/4 the overall area).  The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is a highly rated example.  I’ve never used a four-thirds camera, but based on what I’ve been reading I would definitely consider it if I didn’t already have such a large investment in Nikon DSLRs and lenses.

It’s really amazing how much bigger DSLRs are than the SLRs we used with film.  And you’ll feel it even more since Pentax’s SLRs were some of the smallest.

Because of the strong capabilities of the four-thirds cameras, I wouldn’t mess with DX (APS-C) cameras.  To me, they are the worst of both worlds:  the size and weight of the full-frame DSLRs with the poorer low-light capabilities of the four-thirds cameras.  (The Nikon D7200 is a good one if you want to consider one though.)

If I decided I was going with a full-frame DSLR, I would choose one of two Nikon FX bodies – either the D750 (24MP) or the D810 (36MP).  The D750 is smaller and very quick.  The D810 is an incredible camera – decently quick (5FPS), but the highest quality images you can imagine.  I wouldn’t consider the D610 or Df.  They are all pricey.  The DPReview site has a good table comparing the D610, D750, and D810.

Another thing to consider is how large the files are that these bodies produce.  My D810’s RAW images are close to 50MB each, and nearly 250MB when converted to TIFF or PSD files for editing in Photoshop or other destructive apps.  They’ll eat up your CF/SD cards and disk space, and really tax your computer’s CPU and GPU.  On the other hand, you can make 4’x6′ prints from the D810.  Everything is a tradeoff.  Unless I need RAW files, I often shoot in low res JPG formats for 9MP, which is often still much more than enough.

Finally – on the bodies – I LOVE having a battery grip on the bottom of whatever camera I’m using.  Feels better (though bigger and heavier) and gives me another set of controls for shooting vertical.  And on the D810, it can bump you up to 7fps.

For lenses, the choices are endless, and I have most of them.  🙂  There are three main sets of lenses that’ll get you from very wide to at least 200mm.  I’ll not list the option of just using primes, but here are the other two:

Lowest cost, weight, and size:

Nikkor 28-300 FX
Nikkor 20/2.8

Those are the two lenses I carried up into the Himalayas.  28mm is not wide enough for many settings, so carrying the relatively tiny 20mm gets the wide end taken care of.

Considerations:  The zoom’s maximum aperture is usually f/5.6, so you’ll be a little hard-pressed to blow the background out of focus.  The zoom is sharp enough at f/8-f/11 to be perfectly fine on my D810, which is actually pretty amazing considering the 11x range.  It’s great to be able to go to 300mm, and not to have to switch lenses as much – especially in dusty (typical) locations.

Here are a few shots with that zoom:

Street vendor - Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Street vendor – Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Himalayan peak

Himalayan peak

Waiting to die - Kathmandu, Nepal

Waiting to die – Kathmandu, Nepal

Greatest versatility, and higher quality:

Nikkor 16-35/4 FX (optional – for wider reach)
Nikkor 24-70/2.8 FX
Nikkor 70-200/2.8 FX Mk. II

This is the kit I carry most often.  They’re very sharp, fast, and durable.  Often, 24mm is enough, so you might go without the 16-35.  Not sure what kind of mission activities you’ll be doing, but looking over my trips, 95% percent of my shots were (or could have been) shot just with the 24-70.

Considerations:  Really the only downside of this kit is the cost and size / weight.

Here are a few shots with them:


Young Kenyan girls - Marigat, Kenya

Young Kenyan girls – Marigat, Kenya

London, UK

London, UK

Young Kenyan siblings - Marigat, Kenya

Young Kenyan siblings – Marigat, Kenya

Young lion cub - Maasai Mara, Kenya

Young lion cub – Maasai Mara, Kenya

I wish we lived closer.  I have all of this gear plus the full set of primes and would love for you to be able to try it out and see what you like.  I think I will be driving to [your state] in either two or three weeks and could bring stuff for you to get your hands on.  BTW, I have a D700 (12MP) body (discontinued, but a fantastic camera) I don’t use.

Anyway, if you want to move quickly to get a DSLR, I’d get a D750 with either the 28-300+20/2.8, or the 24-70/2.8.  And if you don’t have a preferred camera dealer, I’d strongly endorse Brad Berger at Berger Camera up in NY.  They typically meet B&H/Adorama pricing, but with much more personalized service.  He’s gone way out of his way for me many times.

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Q&A: Fast Primes vs. Flash

(This post is from an email conversation with two friends. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  How can I cause flash pictures to not look so much like they were taken with a flash?

A:  Up until I got the D70 I never used a zoom lens. I tried to get a series of lenses that roughly doubled the focal length from lens to lens.  My normal kit was a 20/2.8, 35/2, and 85/1.8 (like a 14, 24, and 55 on DX). When I needed telephoto, I carried the 180/2.8 and 300/4. With that kit, I generally had a lens that was close to right and moved around or cropped. But I was carrying a lot of lenses and had to change lenses all the time. (That doesn’t even include carrying multiple bodies so I could shoot color and b&w.)

Back then zooms had visibly inferior image quality. And they were slow. I really got used to having sharp, fast glass.

But I’ve gotten lazy. These days, I hardly ever shoot with primes except the 300/2.8. It’s great to just carry one lens, the 18-200, and have the right focal length for nearly anything. In my mind, the one big negative about the 18-200 is that it is f/4.8 or slower for most of its range. And it’s not because that makes me use slower shutter speeds, but just because it affects the look of the shots. When I’m shooting with a fast lens, like the 50/1.8 or 85/1.8, I’ll usually be shooting at f/2 or f/2.8 and very seldom smaller than f/5.6. The 18-200 starts at f/4.8 at 50mm and to be honest I shoot it at f/8 when I can to maximize the sharpness. If it were just about brightness, I would just get a new D300 or D3 and jack up the ISO a couple of stops to make up for the slower lens.

I just like the look of a sharp lens shot around f/2 or f/2.8 with great out of focus blurs in the background. You can’t get that from a slow zoom. But you can get it from lenses like the 14-24/2.8, 17-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, and 200-400/4.

What I’ve seen from my 70-200 so far makes me think I will never use my 180/2.8 lens again, even though that’s one of the great Nikon lenses of all time (http://www.naturfotograf.com/index2.html).

So I think my opinion has changed now that there are some truly excellent quality, reasonably fast (f/2.8) lenses available. I don’t see any special virtue in primes, so if a zoom is as sharp, fast enough (and sharp wide open), attainable, and luggable, then I think it’s an easy decision to go with the zoom.

Well, maybe there is some virtue in primes:  they are less expensive; they are smaller and lighter; they force you to think more about composition and shooting distance.

My perfect kit would definitely include the 14-24/2.8 and 70-200/2.8. Possibly the 24-70/2.8, but I’m not real thrilled about the limited range on that one. And then a very fast prime or two in there, like maybe the 50/1.4 or the 85/1.4. But I would also keep the 18-200 for the times I don’t want to lug all that other stuff around.

And relating this all back to the original question, a fast lens gives you all sorts of flexibility when it comes to flash photography. As Jim mentioned, there are two things you can do to extend the range of your flash:  open up to a wider aperture and / or increase the ISO. But in normal settings like you are shooting at church, both of those options can also reduce the need for flash or at least how apparent the flash is.

Whenever I use flash, my goal is to make it look like I didn’t use a flash. There are two main ways to get there:  diffusion / bounce, and balancing with available light. Both techniques will reduce or eliminate the tell–tale shadows. Sometimes due to distance or, more often high or colored ceilings, I can’t bounce or diffuse the flash effectively (I haven’t figured out Jim’s 45 degree method yet), so then I will do what I can to raise my ISO and shoot wider apertures so that I can get my exposure to within one or at most two stops of what I would use w/o flash. Then the flash will help stop the action and keep the color balance, but the shadows won’t be horrible and there won’t be the possibility of the people in front being blown out while those in the back are too dark. The shot at the top is an example.

BTW, your camera meter tells you how close the ambient light is to your flash exposure. With the flash turned on and exposure set, look at the “analog” exposure indicator and see how much to the right (-) the exposure shows. I try to keep that to between one and two stops.

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