Tag Archives: Lenses

Q&A: Thoughts about Bodies and Lenses

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

Q:  Since I have not been shooting anything for months,  a buddy of mine who still shoots sports has offered to trade D800 (used to be mine) and Nikon 105 2.8 and $3,000 for my D3, 24-70, and 70-200 VR II.  Value seems close but these lenses of mine are like new.  I probably would use D800 more, but wanted to get your thoughts if you have time.

A:  Not sure about the dollars – that’s your deal – but I think the D800 is a more flexible camera for someone not needing scary FPS.  You’ve had / used a D800, so you’ll know how it fits your shooting style.  Honestly most of what I shoot these days is with my D700, which is the same sensor as the D3.  I have gotten along very well, though, with the “enthusiast” bodies versus the pro bodies because I’ve never needed more than the 6 or 7 FPS they can give me (D700 / D300) and I can pull the battery pack off and have a more reasonable size / weight.

I do love the fact that I can I can easily switch the D800 to DX mode and have a 15+MP 1.5x crop factor body for birding, and still be able to see the view around the cropped frame in the viewfinder.  Sometimes I wish it were more than 4FPS, though, when shooting birds.

The video capabilities are good on the D800, though I have only shot maybe two clips since I’ve had it, and only then so I wouldn’t feel bad about never using a major feature.

I only have two issues with the D800.  One is the 4FPS I mentioned earlier.  The other is that for 95% of what I shoot these days, 36MP is way too much.  I’ve tried shooting it at the lowest JPG setting, but at that point I might as well use the D700, since it’s faster and a little better in low light noise-wise.  That’s why I usually end up shooting the D700 for most family stuff.  I constantly fight with the amount of space all of my pictures take, and also how slow Aperture is when messing with 36MP RAW = 42MB files, especially when I might do a 3 or 5 frame exposure bracket for HDR and then may use a plug-in or Photoshop, which will end up taking up around 220MB per frame as a TIFF file.  A single shot can end up 1.5GB.  That’s completely out of hand.

If I had time to actually shoot fun stuff like landscapes / travel / etc., then I would use the D800 every time regardless of the file size. It’s just too awesome to have that kind of file size / quality / flexibility.  But most of what I shoot these days is perfectly fine in a 12MP JPG.  You may be in the same situation.

My bigger thought about your decision would be about the lenses.  Since lenses are much more enduring than bodies, and more important for the overall image, I’d pay much more attention there.  If I were to list the most important really good lenses someone should have for Nikon full frame, the 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 II would definitely be on the list.  If I already had those, then I wouldn’t get rid of them.  And unless you’re a macro shooter or shoot stills or portraits of people with very good skin, the 105/2.8 isn’t that useful a lens, regardless of how good a lens it is.

If I were me, I would hang onto the 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 II, regardless of what I did with other lenses and the bodies.

Currently my list of best mainstream lenses for the ultimate kit is:  14-24/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8 II.  I add the 16-35/4 since you can use filters with it.  If you’re into primes, then you add the 24/1.4, 35/1.4, 50/1.4, and 85/1.4 AFS lenses.  And I add the 300/2.8VR with the TC-14EII and TC-20EIII for birding.  The only question is for the 35/1.4, since the Sigma lens (amazingly) is purported to be even better.

So, I have worked toward getting all of those lenses, and once I’ve added them to the kit, I’ll keep them.  Regardless of the body I have at the time.

I know this is far more than you were looking for, but it was a chance to jot down my thoughts about body and lens choices.

Let me know what you decide to do!

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Q&A: Super-wide Zooms

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

Q:  What do you guys think about [the 14-24/2.8]? I’m looking for a wide angle lens.

A:  It’s one of the sharpest ever.  Very very impressive.

It has a few things that might be called negatives, though:  It is big.  It is heavy.  It doesn’t take filters of any kind any way any how.  And it’s expensive.  And the zoom range is less than 2x.

I can’t remember if you have said you are going to move into an FX body sometime.  If not, then there’s little reason to go with the 14-24, because although it’s probably the sharpest lens you’ll see at every one of it’s focal lengths, the weight / size / expense penalty just doesn’t work out well for DX.

I have the 14-24/2.8 FX, 17-35/2.8 FX, and the 12-24/4 DX.

If I were going to just shoot DX, then I would definitely go with either the 10-24/4 Nikkor DX or find someone (like a friend / co-worker / [me]) who has the 12-24 and has moved to FX and no longer uses it and pick that up.  I understand the 12-24 is slightly sharper, but the additional range on the wide end with the 10-24 would be handy on DX.

If I were going to plan for FX, then I would look closely at the new 16-35/4 lens.  If it turns out to be a good super-sharp design (and the MTF chart makes it look like that will be true except at the very edges of the frame at the wide end) then that might be a good choice and would be pretty useful on DX and extremely useful on FX.

I am considering ditching both the 14-24 and 17-35 for that lens, but will have to wait and see what the reports are.

I love the sharpness of the 14-24, but the fact I can’t put a filter on it and its limited zoom range make it too heavy and big to carry around for the infrequent use it sees.

I got the 17-35 thinking it would solve both the filter and zoom range issues, but I’m just not in love with that lens (and am probably still mad that the great deal I thought I got on eBay was thwarted by the $400 repair the lens required).  And it squeaks.

The 16-35 has the range and takes filters.  It’s 33% lighter in weight than the 14-24, but longer than the 17-35.  I’m a little put off by the likely frame edge softness that will likely be there and am not thrilled with the slower f/4 speed, but truth be told, I doubt I’ve ever shot either the 14-24 or the 17-35 at f/2.8.

So the bottom line is I’ve not yet found the perfect super-wide zoom, but I doubt your hot buttons are the same as mine, so maybe all these random thoughts will help.

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Q&A: Fast Primes

(This post is from a forum conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  I was looking to expand my lens cache a bit, and wanted to see if any of the Nikon users have any experience with these lenses, if there are any impressions to be had?

Tokina 11mm-16mm f/2.8

Nikon 50mm f/1.8

A:  I agree with [another forum member] about using fast glass. There is just nothing like it. I’m using my 18-200 less and less and returning to my fast primes whenever possible.

That said, I have the 50/1.8 and haven’t gotten that excited about it. I think it’s probably just not a focal length that I gravitate to (once again, like [another forum member]). With a 1.5x crop it’s a little long for indoor stuff and a little short for portraits. I like the 85-105 range full-frame equivalent for portraits. Anyway, I use the 35/2 so much more often than the 50/1.8. Or it may be that the current 50/1.8 is just too cheap and plasticky feeling compared to my other lenses. I love the 35/2, not only because I like the focal length, but also for the speed and quality. I’m not even too concerned that it’s not AF-S. The 35/2 can be had on eBay for a decent price, and I think the money you spend over the price of a 50/1.8 would be very well worth it.

BTW, I love to use the 35/2 for panoramas. I know it goes without saying, but there’s just no comparison between a single horizontal shot from my 12-24/4 and a stitched panorama of the same scene with the 35/2. (Click on the Panoramas link to see some examples:  http://web.mac.com/jbingham1/My_Photography/Photography.html )

Nikon has been ignoring their primes for years now. It’s good to see them update the 50/1.4 to AF-S and a new optical formula. Let’s hope that means they are going to visit some other primes, too. The first on my list would be the 85/1.4. Then probably a fast new 28 or even 24.

All this simply to encourage you to add a fast lens to your kit, but also to second [another forum member]’s recommendation to consider other focal lengths along with the 50.

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Q&A: Fast Primes vs. Zooms

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

Q:  [Friend 1] and I have talked in the past about brighter lenses. And at the time, he and I both had a theory that a brighter lens took a better (brighter) picture even at the same settings as a not-as-bright lens. So as an example, a 50mm prime @ f5.6 took a better picture than an 18-200 set at 50mm (or is that 75mm?) @ f5.6. What are your thoughts? I haven’t spent any time testing this theory in a methodical way, but I still have a gut feeling that it’s true.

A:  Lenses have two different metrics for defining how much light they are letting through. The one we’re familiar with is the f-stop. It is simply the focal length of the lens divided by the effective diameter of the lens. That’s why it’s written f/2.0 for instance. The lens’ aperture is f (the focal length) divided by two. What that means is that any simple lens whose ratio of the focal length to the lens stop is the same as another’s, regardless of absolute focal length or lens diameter, will let through the same exact amount of light.

Then there’s the T-stop. T stands for transmission. The above paragraph was about theoretical light transmission. The T-stop is the real transmission of a lens. The T-stop deviates from the f-stop mainly because of the number of elements within a lens. Whenever light travels through a surface of a lens, a small amount of the light is reflected away. With normal uncoated glass surfaces and refractive indices, that amount can be up to 5-10% of the light per surface. That causes two different issues. One is that your image is measurably dimmer than it should be, especially when you have a number of elements. Second is that reflected light has to go somewhere, and where it goes is both random (reduced contrast) and focused (flare) depending on the other elements and internal blackening of the lens.

The fix for that is multicoating on the lens surfaces (which can reduce the reflectance to less than 1% per surface) and minimizing the number of elements.

Your theory is correct that some lenses are brighter than others at the same f-stop. What causes it, though, is not the different speed of the lenses, but the number of elements in them, type and number of layers of coating, and lens design.

Thus, if you compare two hypothetical lenses, a 50mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/2.8 (focal length doesn’t actually matter here, but if you were comparing pictures of the same scene side-by-side, it would be best to use identical focal lengths to make the comparison easier), that both have six multi-coated elements, pictures taken with both of them at f/5.6 should be identically exposed.

But if you took your 50/1.4 and your 18-200 @ 50mm and took an identically exposed photograph at f/5.6, it is very likely that the one with the zoom would be noticeably darker, possibly by half a stop or more. That is because the 50mm prime has seven multicoated elements and the 18-200 has 16 multicoated elements.

I haven’t read a lens review in a magazine in a long time, but I remember that they used to list the transmission of the lens so you could see the actual light loss.

Note that all of this stuff is automatically compensated for whenever you use your TTL (through the lens) meter. Although the exposure may be different between the two lenses at the same f-stop due to this T-stop reality, your TTL meter is seeing the scene through the two different lenses, so it will expose either of them correctly.

Lenses that are designed for use with studio lighting, and / or hand-held meters (like movie camera lenses) are even marked in T-stops instead of f-stops so that the meter reading from a hand-held meter will result in a correct and consistent exposure across different lenses.

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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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