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Apr 18 10

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by Jim

A Blog for Photo Ideas

I have put together a few pages on various photo topics that are important to me. Mostly based on my opinion, and experience in photography starting with 35mm film. Hope you like the site, if you do tell others!

 

Nov 5 11

Panasonic DMC-FZ150

by Jim

I purchased the DMC-FZ150 to see if it could be a low cost surf video solution that records in MP4 for easy viewing on a PC with default media players. A requirement was the need for very simple work flow, no special applications are needed to play back video, just copy and play the MP4. The FZ150 excels in that area, and its Leica equivalent 25-600mm f2.8-5.2 lens is sharp zoomed out to the long end.

 

The very first clips are not the best representation of the video quality due to inexperience, the wrong tripod head and a lot of back light. The first clip #01 was taken at 1280×720 and clip #02 at 1920×1080 with the same tripod. Each  short clip was cut with the included Photo Fun Studio 6.5 software and then inserted as a link into the blog. No issues with copying the MP4 file directly from the SanDisk to our Windows 7 PC, and playing it with excellent quality on Windows Media Player.

FZ150_clip01
1920×1080 Full Clip

The LCD is close to 3″ and folds out, it also rotates up to 180 degrees forward. It is fairly bright with good contrast, and I had no issues viewing the LCD in sun light at the beach. The video record features are pretty sparse; you don’t have a pause, except in play back mode. However the tracking and AF, and stabilization work very well to produce nice video clips, in decent light. Even in severe back light conditions that my son was surfing in late in the day, the video AF tracking managed to keep him in focus.  One of the first things that I did this weekend was to purchase a video specific fluid tripod head, to help smooth out the vertical transitions on a wave.

The image of my son was taken in photo mode which is equally sharp as the video. The view finder is on the smaller side, and is somewhat difficult to use compare to the full size view finders that are typically found in most DLSR cameras. However optically the quality of the photo was close to what we normally achieve  with our Sigma 18-250 super zoom at the long end on a D300. The built in Leica lens is of course much lighter and shorter, due to its 4:3 format.  One thing to note is that AF tracking in the photo mode drops the frame rate from 5.5 fps to 2 fps and the number of continuous images in a photo sequence is less than advertised. I am using a SanDisk Extreme SDHC 16 GB class 10 card that is rated at 30 MB / sec.

Crop Photo

Summary:

I think that for the money, approximately $429 new from B&H Photo, the FZ150 is a good value for entry level video. Having been spoiled with a quality Nikon DLSR camera for still photography, I would prefer my D300 which cost 4x as much for sports due to the better view finder, durability and handling. The goal for the FZ150 was to obtain the best quality MP4 video available for under $500 dollars, in a video camera that had an optical zoom with enough reach to catch my son surfing. I can say that while watching 1920 x 1080 MP4 clips on my Samsung monitor, the quality of the video exceeds my expectations. My son can clearly see the position of his feet in the middle of a wave, and use the feed back to improve his surfing. 

Not bad for $429 dollars!

Nov 5 11

Forums

by Jim

 A lot of forums have minimal participation, one of the better ones has been Nikonians. Unfortunately in recent times, it seems like revenue is more important than helping others. In the past you could register ask questions and share knowledge for free. Then a culture shift took place, and if you wanted to post or use more advanced features an annual fee was required. Now the site has backed off from the payment a little, by giving you credit for posting. However, if you fail to post regularly and choose not to pay, you are prevented from reading posts.

It just so happens that certain founding members collect a good deal of revenue from advertisements and new memberships. But the whole concept that made them successful was a free exchange of ideas and support for fellow photographers. Why should experienced photographers have to pay a fee to volunteer their time to a forum answering questions. I think the premise of charging to participate stifles ideas and is counterproductive.

I hope that another forum with photographers devoted to Nikon equipment will evolve that keeps the door open to the free exchange of ideas and support. It would be nice to see American photographers put together a new site that host sections for both Canon and Nikon. A site that is not competitive, and just leads to a healthy exchange of ideas, support and opinions would be welcomed.

One forum that is worth checking out is:  http://www.dpreview.com/forums/  They have a good deal of active posts daily and the site is free.

May 20 11

Nikon MF85mm f1.4 AIS vs AF85mm f1.8D

by Jim

AF85mm f1.8D

• Both wide open the f1.8D lens looks better. I know this would not be true if I was comparing it to the 85 f1.4D lens, but compared to the AIS lens the center sharpness is actually better.
• Stopping the D lens down to f2.0 adds a bit of the WOW to the photograph, and the two lenses are basically equal even when viewed at 100% crop.
• At f2.8 the two are very close again, but the AIS lens has just a touch more contrast and detail. I think the AIS version is actually best shot at f2.8.



Garden flower left pedal, mid frame

AF85mm f1.8 @ f1.8

MF85mm f1.4 @ f1.4

AF85mm f1.8 @ f2.0

MF85mm f1.4 @ f2.0

AF85mm f1.8 @ f2.8

MF85mm f1.4 @ f2.8

Nikon AF 85mm f1.8D

MF 85mm f1.4 AIS

Alternate background bokeh at f2.8

AF85mm edge sharpness @ f1.8

Dec 24 10

Nikon 24-120 f4G VR Review

by Jim

  

My initial impression is that the lens is sharp, and focuses faster than the 35-70, not quite as fast as the 24-70 f2.8, but close enough that the lens could be used for sports assuming f4 isn’t an issue, such as outdoors. 

The lens is a bit bigger in diameter than I had expected, certainly bigger than the 24-70 f2.8 almost everywhere but the very front. If you compare the 24-70 at f2.8 to the 24-120 at f4 (both wide open) they are very close optically, including distortion at 24mm and pin cushion at 70mm. However, comparing these lenses at aperture f4, the 24-70 is sharper stopped down and has a little nicer brokeh. If you didn’t have either lens, it would really depend on what the main use was. 

If you need a fast rugged lens the 24-70 f2.8 wins. It not only has a faster aperture, but it’s AF is faster as well. Fast is relative, given that the 24-70mm is one of the fastest focusing lenses that I have used. The 24-120 f4 is no slow poke, and is certainly faster than the Nikon 35-70 f2.8D lens. The 24-120 shines as a people, candid, wedding, and  photo journalist lens. It’s lighter than the 24-70 f2.8, and has VR. In low light,when subjects aren’t moving much this is your tool of choice. 

The photos below are comparing the Nikon 24-70 f2.8 to the 24-120 f4 at two focal lengths. It does very well almost everywhere, and can certainly be shot wide open when needed. You will get more contrast if you stop down to f5.6.  I have read other reviews that indicated that the 24-120 was soft at the longer end. I am happy to say my copy is not at all soft between 70- to 120 mm. 

The tough part is comparing one lens stopped down to one that is not. A fairer test might be with the 24-70 at f2.8 to the 24-120 f4, that way both lenses are wide open. In that scenario it is very difficult indeed to tell them apart, and differences are more in the position of the photographer and changes in light, than any real differences between the two lenses.  

24-120 @70mm

The shots on the left are the 24-120mm, and the ones on the right are the 24-70mm, both that within about 20 minutes of each other, and both shot at f4, ISO 400 in all the cases. 

24-70 @ 70mm

The center of the flower was the focal point. Again either lens pops a little more when stopped down a little. 

24-120 @ 24mm

I think the deciding factor can be summed up quickly. If you truly don’t need f2.8 for sports, and want a lens that weights 230 grams less, with a wider range, look no further. This lens has a lot of flexibility, and is very sharp for a 5x zoom. 

24-70 @ 24mm

I have read comments on line that indicate the lens is overpriced.

I think that is deceiving, because, the speed, build quality are not obvious at first glance.   Just be careful to keep your plam / hand away from the focus ring when you zoom. It is a bit narrow and close to the rear mount (just opposite of the 24-70mm).

24-120 @ 24mm f4

The distortion at 24mm wide open is more apparent in the 24-120mm at the short end , although if you stop it down it does seem to help. Also, it is more noticeable in the 24-70 when the same wall is shot at f2.8.  

 
24-70 @ 24mm f4

I will update this blog again with more photos, this is just a quick first impression. I also want to thank B&H Photo for their help in obtaining the equipment. They are a truly good place to deal with, and have excellent customer service, that will go the extra mile when needed.

 

Dec 18 10

D700 Decision

by Jim

Many people who would like to stay with Nikon and buy into FX for the true 35mm film based FOV, are trying to decide on the  D700 now or wait for its replacement. FX can be more of a want then a need for a lot of us. I personally hoped that the next model would be the perfect one camera solution with a combination of lower noise, higher ISO’s, 16-18 MP’s. It would do low light, portraits, sports, candid’s all in one body.

The decision to buy a D700 now should in part be based on what do you currently have, and do you want a one or two camera solution for your photography.  Most serious photographers would want two bodies as part of their system regardless. So if you’re working with two bodies, it would sure be nice if those two were similar, maybe share a grip and batteries.  I know that I would want to feel comfortable going between both, and be able to set them up in a similar fashion, so that either could be used without thinking.

The cost of moving into any new model will be a lot more, and plays into the decision as well. The D800 will most likely not share grips, batteries and memory cards with the D300, but possibly the D7000 (which does have a different battery, grip and memory card). Buying two new cameras, say D7000 (DX)  and D800 (FX) would not be an option for many people. Should you hold onto something like a D200, sell it now at a loss, or sell it for a bigger loss in six months. If it is your only DX camera my suggestion would be to keep it for those candid’s and family shots.

In reviewing the D700 my first impression is that almost everything is good. The only thing that I am not crazy about is how the memory card door opens, I would rather have the D300 card lever on the back rather than the sliding door. I like the fact that you can force a FX lens into DX mode and get the crop factor, but you only have the one 1.5x crop option. I am not sure forcing DX  is a good choice,  a typical jpeg will be about 2,500 KB, so you would be better off cropping in post processing. The D700 is a very nice FX camera with less noise at higher ISO settings.

If the D800 is a 16 MP camera, the file size in DX would go up to about 3,400 KB. Not a huge difference but a bigger file. If it is an 18 MP camera then you’re looking at some very useable DX crops over 4,000 KB.  The high ISO performance of the D800 will likely be very close to the D700, given that the MP’s are increasing. So the D800 would gain more MP’s, a 100% view finder, more crop factors, video and an extra card slot. Certainly items that would be nice to have in a FX or any camera, but not a deal breaker over someone looking to buy  a D700 for the holiday.

May 22 10

Nikon 10-24mm Review

by Jim

Since it is hard to find reviews on this newer DX lens, I thought I would do a quick first impression of this lens that I recently purchased.  Although I am interested in FX, I know that I will have my D300 for the long haul and wanted a wide angle lens that would cover the equivalent FOV of 16mm in FX. The new Nikon 10-24mm was the logical choice, although the Sigma 10-20mm and Tokina 11-16mm are probably the closest non Nikon equivalents, and of course  it’s older Nikon brother the 12-24mm f4G that’s more money.

Unfortunately I did not have any of those lenses to compare against, so I can only tell you my observation of  how it performs relative to the Nikon 16-35mm f4. I have three photos that I uploaded with the review. No editing for distortion or sharpening was done.  Just a couple of small light balance tweaks, and they have been resized for the web. All four photos were shot at ISO 800, f3.5 at 10mm to show its results at the wide end. The shutter speeds varied from 1/40 to 1/350 of a second based on available light.

I did not post 100% crops, because I wanted to show the performance across the whole photo. Center sharpness is outstanding at 100% crop though, and you will not be disappointed, it is better than the 16-35mm f4 at 16mm without a doubt. I wish this was a FX lens, if it was I would sell the 16-35mm f4. I understand it may be possible to use this lens on a FX body,  but since I only own DX cameras, I  cannot verify how corners might vignette on full frame.

 

 Summary:

  • 10-24mm f3.5-4.5G AFS DX
  • Max angle of view 109 degrees
  • 14 Elements in 9 Groups
  • IF /ED Glass
  • 77mm filters
  • Weight 460 grams
  • Min focus dist .79 ft
  • Length  3.42 inches
May 16 10

Sigma 18-250 OS Review

by Jim

My wife uses this lens on her D200,  I happen to read a review in one of the digital photo magazines that compared this lens, to the Tamron 18-270 VC and Nikon 18-200 VR equivalent. They seem to think the Sigma was the overall winner in that price range.  I have briefly tested the original Nikon 18-200 VR lens,  and I would have to agree that in this case the Sigma is the better over all lens. The Sigma has a wider zoom range and can be found in the US for about $300 dollars less. I think the lens is very good  in the 18-70mm range. It compares very closely to other consumer DX  lenses that stop at 70mm. The aperture starts out at f3.5 at 18mm, around f5 at 70mm . The long end from 200 to 250mm is where it is the softest, but stopped down to f8 or smaller it isn’t too bad.

The top shot above was just resize for the web, with no editing. The second set are both a 100% crop of the birds head from the first photo. The only difference in two side by side images, is that one has a little sharpening added. It was taken at 250mm, f8 at 1/750 sec with OS off, ISO 200. Yes there is some loss in detail at 100% crop compared say to a17-55 f2.8, but this lens is one third the cost. The only other lens worth mentioning in that price range would be the Nikon 70-300 f4.5-5.6G. It would be sharper at the long end, but you miss out on the 18-70mm range, and would need a second lens to get there.

Given its compact size, HSM and OS, make this lens very versatile for walking around or travel. My wife hates to change lenses, which makes  this a good one stop solution for her.

May 8 10

Smart Lenses

by Jim

I predict that in the future, lens development will allow photographers to real time program their lenses and optimize them for certain events. Fine tune focus, bokeh, contrast and general lens performance all from your PC or next generation pro camera. It’s the next logical step after VR in lens adaptability.

When will it happen, probably in the next five years on professional lenses.

May 2 10

Use VR or Not

by Jim

In reviewing on line post regarding lenses, I came across one by someone who stated they leave VR / OS / VC on all the time on my lens. I though here is a classic example of someone who does not understand how VR works or when to use it. Probably came from the misconception that expensive lenses come with it, so if I want to have the highest quality photos I should just leave VR on all the time.

Unfortunately, VR is not the panacea for perfect photos. There are situations where it can make a photo look better by reducing the negative effects of movement of a none stable platform at low shutter speeds. Hand held shots of something not moving in low light, perfect example of when VR should be used. Action shots, high shutter speeds over 1/500 second or on a tripod, then  leave VR off.

There are many times when VR is not only not needed, but  can actually reduce image quality as well. The whole concept is to improve image quality right? So the photographer should know when to use it and when to leave it off. Rather than go through a full discussion, Tom has done that at the link below:

http://www.bythom.com/nikon-vr.htm

Apr 25 10

Non Nikon Lenses

by Jim

 

Why use a non Nikon lens, well there are a couple of reasons. Either Nikon doesn’t make the required range such as the 120-300mm f2.8 zoom or Nikon does make the lens but it cost two or three times more than non Pro’s can afford to pay.  I have found that certain non Nikon lens can be a great value and deliver fine results. The down side in some cases can be a particular lens  has front of back focusing issues and is widely reported. A camera store that I use to deal has the solution,  just send it back under warranty and the manufacturer will fix the lens.

I guess I have a few concerns over the repair suggestion:  One is they may or may not fix the lens correctly and then I have exceeded my return window. Too often tech support will require both the camera and lens to check how the two work together. That’s fine as long as they don’t adjust the camera, which then adversely affect how all my other lenses focus. Next how difficult would it be to have a mechanism to adjust the lens firmware to fine tune the lens at home with your PC. Why should I have to send off a brand new lens for warranty repair, when I could  program it at home.

If a store receives lots of marginal products and they are returned, that hurts their bottom line. So rather than telling customers to send off their brand new lens for a warranty repair. They would be better off asking the manufacture to improve their own QC process. Granted the task is tougher because generic lens manufactures are trying for compatibility across multiple brands, not just Nikon. I asked Sigma about their sample variations, and was told that their lenses are calibrated properly. The real issue is with camera to lens calibration and system performance.

Cameras of course have their own range of tolerances, and there can be system issues that combine to present a worst case focus problem. Better cameras  have  fine tune adjustments, but those only tend to work well with the camera’s brand specific lenses. I would like to add that in general I just have not seen the same problems with several Nikkor lenses. So the software being used by Nikon to test lenses across several bodies, might be worth duplicating to provide consistent  lens performance.

“In short I think there is room for improvement, not that every lens should  be perfect, but not more than a few percent should have compatibility issues. A test software investment would pay for itself in increased sales, win over market share, and improve customer satisfaction.”

Tech Infohttp://www.pentaxbody.com/pentax-lenses/front-and-back-focusing