Tag: nikkor

Killarney

Morning, George Lake, KillarneyNow that the bulk of my “day job” has wound down, I have a bit more free time to write and share (and to complete the jobs on this summer’s “honey do” list!) It also means some time to do the things we most love to do… travel, camp, hike, canoe and, for me, photograph. So, in the last week of June, Laurie and I packed up the car and made our way up to Killarney.

Killarney Shield from Granite Ridgeif you’ve never been to that part of Ontario, then you are missing a real gem. You can either choose among the 20 best rv rentals in Florida – rvrentalscout.com or take your minivan but travelling to Killareney Provincial Park by road is a must things to do. Killarney Provincial Park is uniquely located on the Canadian Shield where a 1.5-billion-year-old batholith is up against the eroded roots of 2.25-billion-year-old mountains that were once the height of the Himalayas – they are now the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Range. What makes for spectacular photography, though, also makes for difficult hiking. The 87km La Cloche Silhouette Trail (which we did not do!) is one of the most difficult in eastern Canada.
OSA Lake and Killarney RangeInstead, we opted for car-camping at George Lake combined with day-hikes along the Cranberry Bog Trail, the Chikanishing Creek Trail and the Granite Ridge Trail. We also spent the better part of day canoeing and portaging the 23km round-trip to OSA Lake. OSA (Ontario Society of Artists) Lake is a gorgeous vermillion blue colour set against the deep green of the boreal forest and the white quartzite of the La Cloche Range. Its moniker comes from the fact that AY Jackson and the Group of Seven painted extensively in the area and had a hand in having the area protected from logging. In fact, one of my favourite places is AY Jackson Lake – a 15-minute hike from the George Lake Trailhead.

We camped in the eastern part of the campground in the radio-free (but not necessarily noise-free or idiot-free) part of the park. The idiots I refer to are the twenty-something “guys weekend” group who were not only loud, but also messy campers, leaving food, etc. out which ended up attracting a young bear. Luckily it was one of their tents that was trashed, not ours.

_D8E8724-WEBOur second full day was rainy – a perfect time to spend photographing the wonderful lupines along the Hwy 637 corridor. They were an unexpected splash of gorgeous colour we could not pass up. Given the beautiful, soft light and the light rain, Laurie’s photos from the iPad rival mine made with the D800E! I went to Killarney expecting wonderful landscapes, but came home with some lovely wildflower shots as well.

One of the styles I’m working on with wild flowers is replacing my 105mm macro lens with a wideangle lens, typically my 24mm. It takes just the right set of conditions since the wideangle shows so much more background. I think I was successful with the blue flag iris and the harebell, but less so with the bunchberry.

20mm
20mm

Of course, in landscape mode, I love working ultra-wide with the 20mm. Given a detailed foreground, the 20mm is unrivalled for giving the feeling of being able to walk into the scene. The 24mm also had a good workout. For both the AY Jackson Lake and George Lake morning ‘scapes, I used my Dawn, AY Jackson Lake, KillarneyND400 filter to get much slower shutter speeds of five to 15 seconds which removed slight ripples on the lake providing a glossy surface for reflections.

Needless to say, it was a fruitful trip, photography wise, and it re-invigorated our love of northern Ontario. The sad part was returning to the bustle of southern Ontario – and the NOISE! It’s really surprising how much noise we put up with down here – and don’t even realize it becasue we’ve become to used to it. The noise of the city becomes painfully obvious after being in a place devoid of that white noise.

For more photos of Killarney, head on over to my Flickr album

Thanks for reading.

AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm ƒ3.4-4.5 VRII Lens Test on a D800E

I love my prime lenses and I love the whole approach to using primes: choosing specific focal lengths to capture specific perspectives then moving to carefully compose the photograph to make best use of the film or sensor perspectives. The alternative is a zoom lens.

Zooms have their place too. While travelling around Africa, Europe and the UK, I found my two zooms, which covered the complete focal length range from 24mm to 400mm, ideal for quick hand-held shots in a rapidly changing environment. They were both Zuiko Digital zooms and simply the best combination out there. In fact, the only reason I moved away from them was Olympus’ reticence (or lack of R&D) in coming out with a sensor with enough pixels to emulate the detail I enjoy with 6×7 and 4×5 photography.

However, since switching to the Nikon D800E and prime lenses, I have, on a few occasions, missed having the flexibility of a zoom lens, especially when shooting family snaps and shots around the school. Now, the D800E is definite overkill for snaps – quite often I have it set to capture 9MP jpegs. And, perhaps buying a zoom lens for this camera is a bit dumb as I could buy a decent point and shoot that has greater range for less than the cost of a good zoom. However, it’s also nice to have the flexibility of an excellent auto-focus, zero shutter delay and, if needed, 36mp (which, by the way, is great for cropping sports photos when the action is on the other side of the field – even when using a300mm lens!).

So what did I do? I have a wonderful family who generously assisted with my purchase of the newest Nikkor zoom, an AF-S 24-85mm ƒ3.5-4.5 VRII. The focal range is almost ideal. I would have preferred stretching it to at least 100mm as my previous zoom was a 24-120 Zuiko Digital and it was ideal. The Nikkor is also a bit slow, but when you put it in perspective, this lens covers four times the sensor size as the Zuiko 4:3s lenses, so losing half a stop and 1/3 in focal length isn’t really a big deal. If 85mm isn’t quite long enough, I can always crop with plenty of pixels “to spare”.

But how is the lens quality. I always fell that when you choose a zoom lens, it’s not for quality, but rather for convenience, so I always expect to give up some lens quality. That being said, my primes are not necessarily Nikon’s best: they are all AF-D (older designs) and cheaper builds than the newer ones. I have a 24mm ƒ2.8, a 28mm ƒ2.8, a 50mm ƒ1.8 and a 105 Micro ƒ2.8. So it was against these lenses that I would test the new zoom.

This afternoon, I set up the tripod and electronic release, set the camera to ISO 100 with Mirror Lock-up and full frame raw capture and shot a series with each lens at wide open, ƒ11 (my most-used aperture) and closed down. It was really ƒ11 that is most important to me. I know lenses are a bit mushy at larger apertures and go soft at smaller apertures due to refraction, so those are the details I will show here.

Observations

I’ll not go into a detailed account of each focal length and aperture. You can see for yourself, the differences between the primes and the 24-85mm zoom as I have included a small gallery of comparisons at each focal length at ƒ11, showing the corners only. In the gallery are comparisons at 100% of the top right corner in Lightroom’s “Compare” mode. The files have had no additional processing or sharpening. NOTE: When you look at the gallery images, be sure to click on “View Full Size” in the bottom right of the window that opens.

Needless to say, the centre of each frame is quite good and not significantly different at comparable focal lengths and apertures. What is most important to me are the corners as that is where a lens falls apart. The 24-85mm zoom didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t match the quality of the primes, either. As expected, the zoom showed more light fall-off in the corners, but quite unexpectedly, it did rather well up against the 105mm Micro-Nikkor. I also didn’t expect the 50mm ƒ1.8 to perform as well as it did – it looks great in the corners.

One unexpected difference was in colour saturation and exposure. While the primes had slightly higher contrast (as expected), the zoom has slightly richer colours which may be a result of exposures from the zoom being 1/3 to 3/4 of a stop darker. Not a big problem, but unexpected. Perhaps the stated maximum aperture of the zoom is not as wide as claimed meaning the ƒ3.5 is really a ƒ4 or 4.5. That is one real bonus of prime lenses – they are generally faster than zooms in the sae relative price range and primes are of higher quality at maximum aperture.

So, is the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm VRII lens good enough to walk around with? Yes it is – just. I am well aware of its shortcomings – which are not too serious, really – and plan to make good use of this lens. However, I will not be using it for my dedicated landscape and nature shots. I will forego the convenience of having a range of focal lengths in one lens and will gladly switch primes when I feel the shot really deserves the kind of quality I can get from prime lenses.

The Nikon D800e and ISO

In various reviews, one of the “jaw dropping” features of the Nikon D800e that has been identified is its amazing image quality, not just at ISO200 and 400, but all the way up to ISO 3200. I thought I would put it to the test under conditions that are, for a nature and landscape photographer, somewhat “normal” to ideal. Yesterday morning was one of those perfect early summer mornings with soft lighting and no wind. It would have been nice to have a little more dew, but hey, when it comes to nature, you take what you can get and say “Thank you!”

The photographs were made using a Nikkor 20mm ƒ2.8 AF-D lens mounted on sturdy Manfrotto 055 legs with a heavy duty head. They were exposed using mirror lock-up and an electronic release. They were shot at ƒ22 – typical for landscape work where I want everything from the immediate foreground to the “far hills” in focus. ƒ22 does introduce diffraction issues, but more on that in my next post.

The 100% crops were all taken from the centre of each frame as I am trying to show how the camera performs, not the lens. The 20mm is a great all-around wideangle – a focal length I love for landscapes – but it does have chromatic aberration issues in the corners that need a bit of TLC to correct.

Shown below is a series for each of the ISO200, 800 and 3200 shots. The images have been processed in Lightroom 4.1, all in the same way at default sharpening. The values are shown for each photo in theLR  panel at the right of each screen capture. You will see Full image views of each photo plus a view at 100% for the pixel peepers and a view at 50% for the realists. I then applied what I would call “appropriate” sharpening to each image to bring out its best qualities and there is a 100% view of each. Yes, the sharpening is different for each, but that’s what one would expect when working to achieve highest image quality at each ISO.

So, now you can be the judge. How well does the D800e hold up at different ISOs? While you can click on an image and scroll through the gallery one at a time, once you are in the gallery, you can also right-click on an image and select “Open Image in New Window” or “Open Image in New Tab”. That way you can do direct comparisons right in your browser. Alternatively, from within the gallery, you can right-click and choose “Save Image As…” (or whatever the equivalent is in Windows).

If you’re like me, you just might be somewhat astounded at what the D800e can do at ISO3200. Under ideal conditions (“normal contrast”, properly exposed images with no excessive recovery of lost detail in shadows which generates noise) and with appropriate sharpening, it is possible to achieve truly printable images at high ISO. In this case, “truly printable” includes large format prints as ISO3200 at 50% and even 100% is pretty amazing.

Prime Lenses for the Nikon D800

Once I made the decision to move to a Nikon system and prime lenses, the question became which lenses? From the start, I am a landscape and nature photographer, so my lens choice is dictated by the needs of this type of photography: wide angle lenses to capture the three-dimensional foreground-background style of landscapes I enjoy creating; a close-focussing lens for natural details; plus a telephoto lens for wildlife. For me, that means focal lengths of 20mm, 24mm, 105mm, 200mm and 300 or 400mm.

This is born out by my shooting stats. The beauty of Lightroom is that I can use the Library Filter to see what focal lengths I most common shoot at. One would expect that with using zooms for the last 8 years there wouldn’t necessarily be a strong pattern but, intact there was. By far, the most common focal length for me was 24mm – almost 25% of all images shot! The next biggest spike is in the 100-120mm range, then the 35mm range then the 400mm range.

In creating my “lens road map”, I started by listing the “most desirable” lenses from a technical and image quality perspective. Since much of my photography is done from trails and canoe portage routes, weight is also an issue as I have to carry all this gear, plus a proper tripod. I have always tried to create a system of lenses whereby each lens is 1/2 or double the focal lengths of the lenses on either side of it. This is less true in wide angles as even a few mm difference make s huge difference in angle of view. Traditionally, I’ve worked with 24mm – 50mm – 100mm – 200mm – 400mm.

My “most desirable” list includes in order of importance:

  • Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 – ideal for super-wide with strong foreground elements. I have been shooting with 24mm for years and often found that it wasn’t quite wide enough;
  • Nikkor 24mm – The f/1.4 version is the crème-de-la-crème for image quality, but it is also very expensive, I will have to settle for the f/2.8 version for now;
  • Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4 – An amazing lens – sharp as a tack and a wonderful working distance. Unfortunately, with it being in the $1500 range, I will have to settle for the 105mm Micro-Nikkor for now.
  • Nikkor 300mm f/4 AF-S – A wonderfully sharp lens that’s not too large and heavy, comparatively speaking. It is the f/2.8 version that you see at sports events along with its 400mm f/2.8 bigger brother – both of which are too big and wieldy for hiking and canoeing, so the f/4 is more appropriate. As well, with today’s improved quality at higher ISOs (400 now-a-days compared to ISO 100 in the film days), f/4 will be fine, even with the 1-stop loss if I should add a 1.4x or 1.7x teleconverter. Furthermore, with the D800 set to DX mode (still with 15MP of real estate), the 300mm becomes a 450mm without a teleconverter.

Whether or not these are AF-D or AF-S was of little importance to me as both versions are technically sound and in many cases optically identical. The 300mm is not available in AF-D (only the earlier AF) so, the AF-S is one for me.

After a couple of weeks of buying and selling on eBay and Kijiji, I’ve ended up with the following – not quite ideal, but a healthy start that will allow for further expansion and changes:

  • Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF-D – Perfect and the first lens I purchased;
  • Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-D – A great start for macro work and it’s a lens that keeps its value;
  • Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AF-D – not ideal, but I bought it along with the 105mm (and 50mm) and it will help “fill the gap”. Anyone want to trade for a 24mm?? (email me! – I’m serious!);
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D – again, not ideal, but it fills the gap for now.
  • UPDATE 16 May 2012 – Just added a 300/4 AF-S – a spectacular lens – read more…

This gives me an appreciable range now with the top end – yet. More importantly, these lenses appear to be better built than the zoom I used to carry around and, while a bit heavier overall, each is more agile than the zoom. Yes, I will need to switch lenses more frequently and my system won’t look as “professional” with a big honking zoom out front with the petal lens hod, but I certainly won’t be suffering from any “lens envy” that others might feel with the smaller primes 😉

A new beginning with a Nikon D800e

Over the past six months, various aspects of my photographic and non-photographic life have caused me to think hard about where I am going with my photography and the equipment I am using.

Up until 2004, I was an ardent film user having started my photography in 1977 with a Praktica camera. My first serious system was a Minolta with their wonderful lenses. Eventually I “graduated” to a Nikon FM system with Nikkor lenses, but, upon moving to Pentax 67 (selling my Nikon gear to purchase the medium format system), I began using my wife’s Olympus system which I have stayed with all these years. The OM system with its small bodies and prime lenses was ideal for carrying alongside my 4×5 system which I began using in the mid-1990s for my serious work.

In 2004, I made the leap and bought a digital SLR. I agonized over the decision and lamented the fact that my Olympus lenses would not work on their new line of 4/3s DSLRs. However, Olympus once again won out as I could get the full range of focal lengths from 28mm to 400mm in two zooms that also had the same filter size – an ideal kit for travelling as by that time we were living and working overseas. It meant giving up my wonderful prime lenses, but zooms made sense at the time. Not long after returning to Canada I upgraded that system to a 12mp body with a zoom that finally allowed be to reach 24mm – my personal “sweet-spot” for landscapes. In fact, the 12-60mm f/2.8-4 (24 to 120mm equivalent in 35mm terms) was one of the finest zooms ever made – a brilliant range for the nature and landscape work I do.

But alas, the writing was on the wall. With Olympus’ new “flagship” E-5 only carrying 12mp (although a very sharp 12mp), the 4/3s system was quickly being out-paced by APS systems and Olympus began putting its efforts into mirrorles-4/3s. Many argue that it’s not megapixels that make an image and they are absolutely correct for the vast majority of photographers. However, I come from a 6×7 and 4×5 background where image quality and every little detail is absolutely essential.

The second big revelation came back in September of 2011, when I finally began doing some serious printing again after a 12 year hiatus. This meant re-tooling and relearning having spent more than 2 decades in the darkroom creating both black-and-white and colour prints. I don’t care what anyone says – a 12mp sensor simply does not hold up on a 17″ print, especially when I am trying to express the amazing detail found in grand landscapes. That being said, I have 5mp images that look stunning in large prints and many 12mp images that look even better, but they are few and far between and suffer from image breakdown upon close inspection.

With my photography moving more and more into fine art prints, I knew it was just a matter of time before my work would begin to take a back seat. Besides, if I am going to invest time and energy into getting myself in the right place at the right time, I want the resulting digital files to be worth it. Yes, I could just pick up my 4×5 and start shooting film again and scanning it, but the beauty of digital is just so tantalizing. The Pentax D645 with 39mp was just about ideal for this kind of work but it started at $10,000. The same-sized Leica system was also ideal but even $30,000 would’t be enough to do it justice.

With the demise of the 4/3s system and my quest for ultimate image quality at a price I could afford, I began looking seriously at the Sony ?900 and 850 bodies and the wonderful Zeiss zooms available for them. But even those cameras began to look outdated. Word began spreading of a new Nikon body with megapixels galore. Really – 36mp! You’ve got to be joking!

Meanwhile, my brother Charlie who lives and photographs down in Naples, Florida helped to bring me back to my photographic roots when he sent me a booklet and calendar showing the work of Clyde Butcher. If you’ve never seen his work, think Ansel Adams in the Everglades. Amazing – you must visit Clyde’s website! His vision in making gorgeous photos of his “home turf” has re-kindled my desire to do the same here in Ontario.

So, now I’m thinking – while I’ve done some very rewarding work with zoom lenses, I enjoyed photography even more when shooting 6×7 and 4×5 (and 35mm) on a tripod with prime lenses. There is something about prime lenses and working on at tripod that makes you slow down, think and look a lot more closely. It’s not that you can’t do that when hand-holding a zoom lens, it’s just that with primes and a tripod, a certain discipline develops and that discipline of careful thought and placement and composition begins to seep into all areas of the craft and vision of photography. I, for one, benefit from that discipline.

Thus, the various alignments of the demise of 4/3s, the move to fine art prints, the arrival of a breakthrough, full frame 36mp DSLR and my recommitment to prime lenses have resulted in this new beginning. Over the past week or so, I have begun that metamorphosis by purchasing a variety of Nikkor prime lenses and selling my Olympus gear (thanks eBay and Kijiji). The metamorphosis will be complete when I begin shooting with the Nikon D800e that is currently on order and not yet available. Hopefully, my name isn’t too far down the list that I won’t be waiting too long to take delivery.

I have scoured the ‘Net for professional opinions of these new, ground-breaking DSLRs. Everyone who has used one arrives at the same conclusion: the D800 and D800e are truly game-changers. They bring what was once only possible with a minimum $15,000 investment into the hands of photographers like myself for whom that kind of expenditure was simply out of the question. In many ways, the Nikon D800 represents a democratization of image quality like we’ve never seen before.

Check out the Internet and you’ll see all the usual splash about new cameras on dpreview.com, but two things have helped me most in making up my mind. First were the numbers posted by DxOmark.com – a whopping 95 for the D800 – better than any camera of any sensor size, right up to 180mp. Phenomenal. While this is only a measure of the sensor, for me it was the D800’s amazing dynamic range of 14.4 stops that counts most – ideal for the kind of nature and landscape work I do. (In comparison, my E-30 scores 55 and the E-5, 56; the Pentax D645 scores 82 while the Sony 900 scores 79.)

The second bit of help I had in making this decision came from a photographer whose work I have greatly admired for many, many years – Jim Brandenburg of National Geographic fame. His 20-minute interview with WhatDigitalCamera.com and his work for Nikon on this project was a revelation. Granted, he would be a bit of a fan-boy as result of his close association, but, given his reputation, I’m sure he’s also not one to jump on a bandwagon that doesn’t have a solid foundation.

So, consider this my first post on the Nikon D800e. I will add more as I continue this exciting new beginning…

Note: Call it serendipity, but having sold my two Olympus zooms yesterday, just as I was writing this post, my E-30 sold on eBay. I am now completely divested of Olympus (yes, with a tear in one eye), but am now looking forward with even greater anticipation to the next week or so.