Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nikon 55-200mm AF-S DX VR

With a price tag of only 12,000 pesos, the Nikon 55-200mm AF-S DX VR is the cheapest telephoto lens to feature VR (Vibration Reduction). When I first heard of this lens, I thought cheap and cheap quality of course, but when I got to try it out for myself, I must say that it was a pretty impressive lens. AF is pretty fast and accurate, faster than the Nikon 18-55mm AFS DX. Image quality is very good but not great. The VR also does a good job at allowing for handheld shots at 200mm with 1/15, great for static objects but not good for moving subjects. VR is good but the lens is slow in itself at f/5.6 at the longest setting, but thats what you get for the price tag. So overall, it is a lens that is well worth its pricetag, in fact IMO it is priced very cheap for what you get, but then again it is a DX lens. Its a lens that's great for outdoors work, maybe for hiking, birding, travel and such, but just about average indoors, unless you have a dedicated speedlite, it is not at all recommended for indoor use.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Nikon D60 - Why?

This is something I do not think I will ever understand. Why did Nikon replace the perfectly good Nikon D40x with a model with almost exactly the same features? In fact its not even an upgrade, the only noteworthy thing about the Nikon D60 is its kit lens, which now includes VR. Maybe its solely because of this that they had to re brand the D40x to a different name. Oh well, hopefully the D90 will be for the D300, what the D80 is for the D200.

3rd Party Speedlites (Flash, Flashguns)

Flashes traditionally have been underrated, because if you have a built in flash in your camera, chances are it is ineptly underpowered and lacks the capabilities that a flash is supposed to afford you in the first place. In any case, as Nikon users we have been accustomed to the best flash and metering systems in the market, so why risk going with 3rd party speedlites? Well, quite frankly, cost... For the cost of an Nikon SB400 (which is just a tad better than your on board flash) you can purchase a 3rd party speedlite with the power of the top of the line Nikon SB800, without the CLS capability of course. I have come across three brands that stand out, the Sunpack PZ42X, the Nissin Di622, and the Sigma EF530 DG Super.

All these flashes were reverse engineered from Nikon Flashes and will work with all the current DSLR/SLRs using Nikon's sublime i-TTL. Of the three, the Sigma is the most expensive and costs about the same as an Nikon SB600, which is really a mistake. I would definitely go with the Nikon SB600 because it can be used with CLS on D70, D70s, D80, D200, D300 with on board flashes. It comes down to the Sunpack and the Nissin, both are very good, with good history of making durable flashes in the past. Both have zooming heads (24mm to 105mm), wide angle diffuser (16mm coverage), tilt/swivel heads, manual output option (up to 1/64 for Sunpack and 1/32 for Nissin), the Sunpack has a built in rear LCD and Flash output can be adjusted +/-1.5 EV in 0.5 EV steps, the Nissin has no such rear LCD but a simplistic LED light arrangement for manual power adjustment, Flash output can be adjusted on the Nikon body itself, the Nissin has a built in catch light reflector also. Its a tough choice between the two, but you can't go wrong with either, so if you're on shopping for a flash on a budget (if you don't have one yet this is the first thing you should consider) try the Sunpack PZ42X or the Nissin Di622.

Friday, March 28, 2008

My Equipment

I love Nikon. I love their handling. I love their ergonomics. It's all very logical to me. Below is a list of the Nikon Cameras I have owned or own at one point or another and what I like the most about them.

1) Nikon F3HP - Whats not to like. Great build, large, bright viewfinder, accurate metering, the sound of the shutter is just intoxicating, just can't get enough of it.
2) Nikon FM2 - A lot like the F3HP, only with a smaller viewfinder but another mechanical marvel.
3) Nikon F100 - Lightning fast AF (faster than my D200), great metering, 5fps
4) Nikon Coolpix 8400 - Great lens, produces great color and contrast.
5) Nikon D70 - Accurate metering, and great resolution for 6MP, printed 60" x 45" great
6) Nikon D200 - The perfect camera, excellent resolution and metering, quick accurate AF, perfect ergonomics, big bright LCD
7) Nikon D80 - a baby D200, smaller, lighter but almost the exact same camera

1) Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AIS
2) Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AIS
3) Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AFD
4) Tokina 12-24mm f/4.0 AF SD ATX PRO
5) Tokina 16-50mm f/2.8 AF SD ATX PRO
6) Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 AFS ED DX
7) Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 AFS ED DX
8) Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 AFD EX Asph.
9) Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AFD ED
10) Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR AFS ED

What I wish to have: (its always good to have a wishlist)
1) Nikon D3 -Who doesn't have this on their wish list?
2) Nikon 70-200mm AFS VR ED - Been thinking up excuses to replace the 80-200 hehe
3) Nikon 105mm f/2.5 Macro AFS VR - I've always wanted a dedicated macro lens
4) Nikon 200mm f/2.0 AFS VR - A beast of a lens
5) Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 AF-G ED

The Evolution of Digital Photography - The Rise of the DSLR

During the past 5 years, there have been awesome advances in the Digital SLR, along with this came the great leap for Photography. It used to be that only professionals could afford to buy a DSLR, during the era of the D1 and D1X, those were considered the pinnacle and at a huge premium as well. It was easy for photographers to charge a good amount of money and make a decent living out of his/her talents. The release of the D100 and eventually the D70 (prompted by Canon's own 300D) started a revolution and made DSLRs accessible for start up photographers who didn't want to invest too much but still it was a sizable investment. Now, with the D40/D40X and the newest D60 DSLRs are made affordable to the enthusiast. Digital SLRs and Digital Photography in general have been great for photography, you can view the shots in an instant, see what adjustments are needed, make those adjustments and viola the results speak for themselves. Long gone are the times when you had to nail the settings or else make endless adjustments at the darkroom. It has made the learning curve of striving photographers much easier. The Digital SLR has become more than a tool but a status symbol as well. Digital SLRs now are not only cheaper but produce the best image quality ever and that has been great for amateurs and enthusiasts but it has also been a real bane for professionals.

With the cost coming down on DSLRs and entry level DSLRs being able to produce just as good (to the untrained eye) images as the top of the line DSLRs, more and more amateurs are taking away jobs from professionals. Why? Its simple. Amateurs hardly charge anything and for most the experience is the reward in itself, which is not exactly evil but the fact that this is happening means that the pro is almost obliged to lower prices just to be considered by some clients. And to be honest there are a lot of these kinds of clients in our country; why pay more when you can get it for much less or even for free. I have even heard of amateurs taking away jobs from known fashion photographers at a lingerie show, for the price of an admission ticket. Photography is starting to be taken very lightly and skill is not anymore a gauge of worth, clients are measuring worth as they would in divisoria, the cheapest with good enough value wins.

This I feel is really bad for the industry and even worse for professionals. The photography business was really good back when the DSLRs were reserved for the professionals. But I do not blame the success of the DSLR rather the mentality of the people who feel like they're saving a lot because they are hiring a much 'cheaper' amateur. For the amateur its an easy decision, get experience and then charge once they feel they are good enough, but whose to say that they are. As with most disciplines, having a proper mentor or teacher is the best way to learn. I advise amateurs to get with a professional photographer for a shoot (most will let you come and help, some will even allow you to shoot). Learn the trade and proper pricing and respect those who have established themselves as some of the best in the country. Lets not drive pricing for photography services down. The perception is that Digital is free, no film, no prints required, but skill and experience are also factors and it seems that the rise of the DSLR has masked this.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Using Thrid Party Lenses for Nikon DSLRs

This is a very interesting topic indeed. Is using third party lenses a good enough alternative to using Nikon lenses? Well, the simple answer is yes it is a good enough alternative, but if you can afford to get a Nikon lens, go for it.

I have used a couple of third party lenses like SIGMA, TAMRON, and TOKINA for paid shoots (Carl Ziess ZF lenses are of course excluded from this discussion). They're actually very good at what they're supposed to do, they won't win in a pixel peeping side by side comparison with original NIKON branded lenses but at 1/3 the cost they do a good enough job that you might not even notice the difference. IMHO, sharpness is where the third party lenses have concentrated on, to the point that they are (almost) just as sharp as their NIKON counterparts. But there's more to lenses than their sharpness. Color, contrast and saturation are big factors as well, and here's where most third party lenses fall a bit short. BOKEH, or the appearance of the out of focus area is also important. And of course there's build quality and reliability, which is good for others and mediocre for some third party lenses.

To sum it all up, I have built a small pros and cons of each of the three third party lenses I have tried and used. (note: I have used; Sigma 28-70 f/2.8 EX, Sigma 28 f/1.8, Tokina 12-24 f/4 ATX PRO, Tokina 16-50 f/2.8 ATX PRO and Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 LD)

Sharpness - Very good, even at wide open and near excellent stopped down to f/5.6-8.0
Color - Has a slight yellow color cast, which oddly some people find pleasing
Contrast - A bit on the lower than what I would like, tends to smudge some detail on slight gradiations
Saturation - Very good saturation a bit too much on the reds and oranges, but overall very nice
BOKEH - nice and pleasing, great for portraits (due to the 70mm end)
Build Quality - Crinkle finish wears of very easily, lens cap is impossible to remove when the hood on the lens, made of (what feels like) very sturdy plastic and some metal parts. AF ring rotates and can be a problem if snagged by loose articles of clothing.
Reliability - Varies from sample to sample, my first Sigma had a back focusing issue but my subsequent copies have been spot on, it is also important to note that SIGMA has a lot of Quality Control issues, so if you're buying one be sure to give the sample a thorough testing before paying up.

Sharpness - Wide open its just good enough, stopped down it to f/5.6-8.0 its excellent
Color - Emulates the color produced by genuine NIKON lenses very well
Contrast - very good, does have the tendency to flare a lot and produce chromatic abberations under extremely high contrast scenes
Saturation - Good saturation all throughout
BOKEH - good but a bit lacking for portraits (due to the 50mm, not really a good range for portraits)
Build Quality - This is the forte of TOKINA, who recently is building a reputation of building tank-like lenses, very rugged and durable metal alloy with an excellent "armalite" finish, a pleasure to hold, really good double clutch mechanism that makes shifting from AF to MF really easy. It's in the same class as the NIKON in this department.
Reliability - Never had a problem with my now 3 yr old 12-24 but the 16-50 seems to have some focusing issues in the beginning, (my guess is that the mechanism was strung out too tightly from the factory) the focus was slow and erratic at best, I had to stop down to f/5.6 to ensure that subjects were in proper focus. After 3 weeks of use, it finally gave me the results I wanted and focussed accurately enough for me to be able to use f/2.8 which is the primary reason you would buy such a lens in the first place.

Sharpness - Probably the sharpest of the thrid party lenses I have used, even at f/2.8 it (looks to be) as good as my NIKON 17-55 f/2.8
Color - Produces Similar color to NIKON lenses but looks slightly cooler.
Contrast - great contrast, very high
Saturation - IMO a little bit lower than what I'd hoped for, easily fixed
BOKEH - good but a bit lacking for portraits (due to the 50mm, not really a good range for portraits), the TOKINA has much better BOKEH though
Build Quality - A lot of plastic, I think it is the lightest f/2.8 lens that I've used. The focus ring turns as the AF motor drives the lens. Looks and feels like a cheap lens, same build quality as the 18-55 kit lens of NIKON.
Reliability - I cannot comment on this as I only used the TAMRON for a month (had it together with the TOKINA, kept the TOKINA and returned the TAMRON). But for that month AF was spot on and very fast, contemplated on returning the TOKINA during the first 3 weeks, but then the TOKINA came good and its build quality won me over, sorry TAMRON.