Tag: review

AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

A long telephoto lens like the Nikon 200-500/5.6 is a significant piece of kit. It has the potential to open up areas of wildlife and landscape photography not previously encountered. But it also requires some fine and careful technique to get the most out of the lens. High magnifications mean greater potential for unsharp images, particularly in less-than-ideal lighting situations. The additional size and weight also demand a commitment to photography beyond casually walking around with a camera slung over the shoulder. So it is with trepidation that one considers such a significant addition to one’s lens collection.

For me, photography is a passion, not a vocation nor anything close to a full-time job. As my day job does not generate enough extra cash to finance this passion, I fund it through the sale of photographs, running workshops, and giving presentations. Recently, I made a fairly significant sale of photographs to Saatchi Art in the US which has provided the funds to purchase the AF-S Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 lens. Why am I telling you this? Well, for many of us, money doesn’t grow on trees. We scrimp and save, hoping to upgrade our equipment. Some photographers work as I do: sell a bit, buy a bit, gradually building up their equipment “arsenal’. We don’t take our equipment for granted. When you’ve had to work and save, it certainly raises the appreciation and value of the equipment you are able to purchase.

I checked online for pricing and found Henry’s to be competitive with Amazon with the added bonus of being a Canadian company with bricks-and-mortar stores. To me, this makes a difference. How many people walk into a store, check out the goods and the prices then walk out and purchase the same things from different online sources such as Amazon? Me? I’d rather give my business to Canadian companies that employ the people who live around me. So, on Wednesday evening I checked the availability of the lens at my nearest Henry’s – in Kitchener. Sadly, it was out of stock, so I ordered the lens from Henry’s online, chose the free shipping option, and on Friday it arrived! Talk about quick service!

Bluebird @ 100%. Perhaps slightly ‘crunchy’; I’ll work on my Lightroom sharpening technique.

Saturday morning, Laura and I were up and out by 6:30am to her favourite local birding haunt – Ignatius Jesuit Centre just north of Guelph – to try out the new lens. While walking there over the past couple of weeks, Laura has seen all the regular birds – cardinals, robins, blue jays, various sparrows and tree swallows – but also species we don’t regularly see at the Arboretum or the Little Tract, including bluebirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks. Ignatius Jesuit Centre has a great diversity of habitats including an organic farm, community plots, unmowed fields (critical to bobolinks and meadowlarks), cedar forests, deciduous forests and wetlands, and is open for walking at all times. BTW: In winter, it’s also a great local area for Nordic skiing with trails formed by the Guelph Nordic Ski Club.

Now, there’s no getting around the fact that the 200-500mm is a big lens. It weighs in at 2.3kg (5 pounds) and has a 95mm front filter size. At 200mm, with the lens hood on, it is 34cm long (13½”). When zoomed out, add another 8cm or 3 inches. Thankfully, it comes with a sturdy tripod collar allowing me to attach it to my ages-old monopod. It’s not a lens I could hand-hold confidently for any length of time, at least not without a few trips to the gym! Although, that being said, I will try it as I want to see how well the VR works. It is reported to be excellent.

Tree Swallow @ 100% (click to open)

Despite it’s relatively low price (CAD $1600) – compared to typical Nikkor lenses of this focal length – the quality is top notch. No, it won’t compete with Nikon’s finest telephotos like the 300/2.8, 400/2.8 or the 500/4, but they are also 4 to 9 times the cost. Even the new 300/4 VR is a $1000 more. So, what the 200-500/5.6 gives up in speed, price and quality it more than makes up for in versatility. And it really hasn’t given up much despite it’s price. I was very careful to check this out in some detail before hand with some of the most honest reviewers online (Thom Hogan, Will Nicholls, and Dan Carr)

In the field, the lens did not disappoint. It focussed smoothly, quickly and quietly with just a bit of extra sound from the VR. I shot front lit, sideline and backlit shots and all had crisp contrast with fine feather detail, which is what counts. I was able to quickly raise the camera+lens, focus and shoot, although Recognize, I still need to work on my technique. Was it heavy to carry around? Yes, and no. I found carrying it by the tripod collar the easiest and well-balanced, but I did feel the extra weight. Except for the 300/4 PF lens (at CAD $1000 more expensive), there is no avoiding the weight of any significant telephoto lens.

So with a summer free of international travel, I will be spending my time capturing Ontario wildlife in ways that I’ve always wanted to: quietly, at first light and with a proper telephoto lens. I still have much to check out and learn about this lens so stay tuned.

Nikon D800e – OMG!

Between household chores today, I’ve managed to spend some time working with the D800e photographs I made early this morning. “The sound of jaws hitting the floor” is an understatement. The results are fabulous – more fabulous than my Nikkor 20mm lens and more fabulous than the now apparent diffraction at small apertures with the Micro Nikkor 105mm. Oooops! What they’ve said all along is absolutely correct: the D800e will show all the flaws like you’ve never seen them before.

My shooting technique involves sturdy Manfrotto 055 tripod legs with a head heavy-duty enough for my 4×5 wood field camera. I religiously use mirror lock-up and an electronic release. I also expose to the right to drive exposure up into the most valued area of the histogram (so that signal is significantly greater than noise resulting in cleaner images once processed).

This morning was designed for nature photography – beautiful soft light before sunrise and after, with not a breath of wind. I could take my time to look and compose and look again then set up for the exposure. I didn’t use LiveView for focussing this time, but instead made use of the hyperfocal distance markings on the 20mm – the markings limited (up to ƒ11), but still helpful. I should have used LiveView for focussing the milkweed flowers with the 105mm as I notice I am few millimetres out of perfect focus.

Presented below are four photographs from today I’ve spent some time working on. They were processed through Lightroom 4.1 using any and all of the tools necessary to recreate the scenes as I experienced them and wish to portray them. They are not “finished” by any means; no doubt when I re-vist these photographs a week or a month from now, I will look at them differently and make the necessary improvements, but here they are as they exist now. While I’m not the expert in LR as are others like Michael Reichman, Jeff Schewe, et. al., as an LR Instructor at Mohawk College In Hamilton, I think I have a fair command of it. I have made various and best use of adjustments in the Basic Panel (including Gard Filters, Adjustment Brushes and Spot Removal as needed), as well as sharpening in the Detail panel and Lens Corrections built in for the Nikkor 20mm AF-D lens.

Paired with each photograph is a 100% crop of the centre of the frame. This will be useful for those interested in seeing what the D800e is capable of under near ideal conditions. I’ve provided the centre crop only as this is a review of the camera, not the lenses. That being said, the flaws with the 20mm including chromatic aberration towards the corners, become readily apparent. As well, the effects of diffraction begin to appear (as you will see in the milkweed flowers at 100%), but that’s for another post. In the meantime, have a look. If you want to see the photos at maximum size, when in “gallery mode” (dark screen), right-click and choose “Open Image in New Window” or “Open Image in New Tab”.