Archive for the ‘Nikon’ Category

First impressions of the Nikon 24-120/4

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Northern Lights

Ever since I sold the venerable (and really quite excellent) 18-70/3.5-4.5 kit lens that came with my old D70, I’ve been wanting a new “walk-around” lens to slap onto my camera for general purpose use and for travel. By “walk-around” lens I mean a relatively compact zoom lens that covers midrange focal lengths but also reaches a bit into the wide territory and a bit into telephoto territory as well – something that would be useful in a wide range of situations so that I wouldn’t need to be changing lenses all the time.

When I travel I often just bring my 24-70/2.8 as a walk-around lens, and throw in a prime or two to have some more options. But the 24-70, as much as I love it, is freaking enormous and really heavy, and while 24mm is the sweet spot in the wide-angle range for me, 70mm isn’t quite long enough on the telephoto end for some things like street photography and certain kinds of landscapey stuff. I basically looked at two full-frame options for Nikon glass in the walk-around category: the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 and the 24-120mm f/4.

I went with the 24-120/4 AF-S N VR despite a couple of drawbacks – it’s big and heavy, and it’s nearly twice as expensive as the 24-85. I really, really value constant aperture, and having f/4 on the long end of this range is going to be something I take full advantage of – both in terms of low light capability and shallow DOF. And I wanted a bit more reach than 85mm on the long end. While the 24-85 was tempting, particularly given the price difference, the 24-120 ended up seeming like the best compromise for me. So when Nikon’s recent round of lens rebates kicked in ($300 off this lens and a free Tiffen filter kit from Adorama), I jumped.

This is an interesting lens in that it sits somewhere between a consumer midrange zoom and a more professional-level piece of glass. It has all the modern pro Nikon frills like nano-crystal coating (which is way more than just a marketing gimmick), vibration reduction, ED glass, a rubber gasket on the lens mount, 77mm filter threads, and that telltale gold band around the business end of the lens body. The build quality is a step down from the true pro lenses – I wouldn’t want to drop it off a stage like I recently did to both my 24-70/2.8 and my 80-200/2.8 – but it still feels pretty rugged. It’s also priced almost like a pro lens, at only $400 less than the 24-70/2.8. I suppose in some way I’m the exact target audience for this lens: someone who is used to full-featured, well-built lenses with constant aperture, but who wants something more portable than, say, the “trinity” of f/2.8 zooms (14-24, 24-70, 70-200) for casual use.

I just got this lens and have had very little opportunity to play with it, but took it around town this past weekend on my D4 and got a few shots in. My first impression is that VR is fantastic – despite owning something like 10 modern Nikon lenses, this is the first lens I’ve ever owned with VR. (My autofocus telephoto lenses are all at least one generation before VR was a thing.) For non-moving subjects, VR makes up for the f/4 aperture, at least compared to the f/2.8 zooms I’m used to using, and especially when combined with my willingness to use high ISOs. The focal range is great; being able to rack out to 120mm really makes a huge difference compared to the long end of, say, the 24-70. Autofocus was quite fast and accurate. Image quality is good enough for me (I’m not a pixel-peeper, but I can usually tell the difference between a top-of-the-line pro lens and something like this).

As for the down sides, there’s considerable distortion at the wide end, and quite noticeable vignetting at f/4, both of which are easily corrected in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. When I carried my camera on my shoulder lens-down, there was some zoom creep, but nothing terrible, and in actual shooting situations it never bothered me. The biggest problem is that I’m a bit disappointed at how big the lens is – in girth it’s no smaller than the 24-70, though it’s maybe an inch shorter and quite a bit lighter. As far as “walk-around” lenses go, this one is definitely on the larger end of what I would want – certainly big enough that I would forego it in some situations where I want to be as inconspicuous as one can be with a DSLR.

In the meantime, here are a few samples from that set showing what I got from the lens this weekend. Sometimes I wished for something wider than 24mm, and sometimes I wished for something faster than f/4, but all told, I was pretty happy with this piece of equipment. Excepting the two photos of cars on the street, most of the below photos are corrected for distortion and vignetting and shot wide open at f/4 and fairly high ISOs (1600-6400) on a Nikon D4.

I Street

Nordic Cool 2013

Northern Lights + Migration

National Portrait Gallery

Dupont Circle Metro

Dupont Circle Metro

To I-66

National Portrait Gallery

Portrait Gallery Portrait

I’ll be taking this thing as my primary lens on a few international trips in the next couple months, so I’ll have lots of good hands-on time with it and will let you know what I think!

The magic of nano-coating (also, photos of old dudes)

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Yes 13

I photographed Yes at the Warner Theatre in DC last night. It was fun. Their setlist included almost exclusively songs that are 30-40 years old or more, but I’m not complaining about that – at least they know what their best work is. It was a little bizarre to watch a group of 60+ year old men grooving earnestly while playing “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” but when they were rocking out to the likes of “Siberian Khatru” and “Heart of the Sunrise,” all was well.

Anyway, the headline photo was shot with the fancypants Nikon 24-70/2.8 AF-S N lens on my D700. That “N” in the lens designation refers to Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat technology, which supposedly helps mitigate flare and ghosting. You know what? It works. That spotlight in the upper right was shining directly into my camera, yet there’s no lens flare to speak of. There was a minor decrease in contrast that I managed to overcome with a bit of curves tweaking in Photoshop, but that’s it – pretty amazing. In comparison, the very similar shot below was taken with the older generation Nikon 80-200/2.8 AF-S, without the benefit of the nano coating. I get this bizarre flare pattern a lot and it often bothers me. (But it doesn’t bother me enough for me to shell out for a newer version of the 70-200 with the nano coating.)

Yes 12

More photos of the prog-rock elder statesmen here.

Snowstorm through the 35/1.8

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Snow @ 35mm

You may have heard that it snowed a lot on the Eastern seaboard the past couple days. The Washington Post is saying that DC got 25 inches or so, which sounds about right to me – when I stepped outside on Saturday morning, the snow came up to my knees, and there were still several hours of snowfall still to come at that point. On Friday night, I wandered around a bit with a few friends, shooting some typical documentary snow photos using only a Nikon 35/1.8 DX lens. I’ve heard that this lens works well on FX bodies with just a bit of vignetting. All the photos in this set shot with that lens (which is all but the last two) are totally uncropped so you can see how true or untrue that is.

Snow

I like how this lens works on my full-frame D700. Yes, there are limitations: it has to be shot wide open or the vignetting gets much worse, and the further away the focal point, the more pronounced the vignetting is as well. That said, when shot wide open with a close focus, the vignetting actually almost disappears. This isn’t evident in any of the photos in this set because I didn’t get really close to any subjects, unfortunately. Still, in a lot of cases the dark corners actually give kind of a cool, claustrophobic effect. (Not to mention that, in some applications like concert photography, they are often not even noticeable at all.)

Snow @ 35mm

Again, here’s a larger set of photos with this lens, from Friday night.

Another Nikon service experience

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Some time ago I sent my D300 in because of the autofocus flakiness I’ve described in previous posts. I sent it in on Thursday, January 7th, got an estimate for the repair work on Thursday, January 14th, and got the camera back on Wednesday, January 20th. So just under two weeks’ turnaround, including shipping times. Not bad at all.

The repair was classified B2 – “moderate repair, major parts replaced.” This is what was done, according to the paperwork I received:

RPL BAYONET MOUNT
ADJ AUTO FOCUS OPERATION
CLN CCD
GENERAL CHECK & CLEAN
ADJ FLASH OPERATION
REPLACE RUBBER GRIP

Total came to just under $250. For that sum I have a D300 with theoretically fixed autofocus circuitry (nice), a brand-new lens mount (great), and a replacement for my well-worn rubber grip (cool, but I don’t care about cosmetics so whatever). Also, the camera came back safely and spiffily packaged, per the above. I haven’t actually had a chance to test it yet. But assuming all works well, this was a pretty good repair experience.

ISO 102,400

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

St. Vincent 16

OK, this is just getting ridiculous. I guess Nikon knows its target audience for the new D3s – photojournalists and sports photogs who can actually use these insane ISO values. And concert photographers! Except concert photographers don’t make any money and so can’t afford this thing. I sure could have used a better ISO 12,800 (which the D3s can now do without the artificial “HI 1.0” boosting) at some of the shows I covered recently.

More on those later, perhaps; for now, the headline photo is one of the best-looking ISO 6400 photos I’ve ever captured. St. Vincent at a very dim Black Cat. Below, one of the best-looking ISO 12800 photos I’ve ever captured… Bloody Panda at an even dimmer The Red & the Black (f/1.4, 1/25 sec).

Bloody Panda 4

If the D3s really has a stop better ISO performance than the D3/D700, I can’t wait to see what the next generation of sensor technology brings.

Farewell D70

Monday, July 6th, 2009

DSC_09209092

I purchased a Nikon D70 with 18-70/3.5-4.5 kit lens back in July or August or 2004, a few months after it was released. By that time, it was clear that the D70 was the first affordable “prosumer” DSLR to hit the market, and I think a lot of people like me made the jump from film to digital with that camera.

Now that I have a great tandem of D700 and D300, the D70 was the odd camera out, and I recently gifted it, along with a 50/1.8 prime (I sold the 18-70 a few months ago). I felt a little nostalgic giving it away. That camera took some wonderful photos, including many of my most popular ones, and although it pales in comparison to more modern DSLRs, it was more than capable of making great images in challenging conditions.

As an example, the above photo was shot in a small theater; fast action, very little light. ISO 1600, the D70’s max, using a manual focus lens (an old Series E 50/1.8) and without the aid of a light meter since the D70 doesn’t meter with non-AF lenses. No noise reduction and I shot JPEG, not RAW – for all that the photo looks quite good. I wouldn’t want to push the D70 much above its base ISO for landscape shooting, but for this sort of thing, 1600 was perfectly passable. (There’s much more from that dance performance here at Flickr.)

Dolly Sods 08

My last extended usage of the D70 was a backpacking trip to Dolly Sods, WV in April 2008, literally days before my D300 arrived in the mail. This trip, like some of my others, was extremely damp, but the camera performed flawlessly. The worst thing that ever happened to it was condensation buildup inside the 18-70 lens (on a 2006 trip to Dolly Sods), which went away after a few hours without any permanent harm. I got some wonderful shots from that 2008 trip, such as the above, with many more in this earlier post.

Of course, technology marches on, and my current cameras make the D70 look like a small toy. The larger viewfinders, larger LCD screens, pro-level autofocus, faster fps, and vastly improved high-ISO performance made the D300 and, even moreso, the D700, very good upgrades for me. I am fond of the D70 but I won’t really miss it. Also, after gifting a 50/1.8 with the D70, I replaced it with a 50/1.4, and this combined with the high-ISO magic of the D700 enables me to handhold photos like this one:

.:.

D700, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/25, ISO 12800. I took some of my favorite photos with the ol’ D70, but I couldn’t have taken this one with it.

Avant Fairfax and five-digit ISOs

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Anduin 1

A few Saturdays ago there was a great avant-garde music festival, Avant Fairfax, held in Fairfax City’s Old Town Hall building. This is no concert hall, of course, so lighting was minimal; a couple acts used two lighting trees that helped enormously, but most played in relative darkness – just the house lights dimmed to almost nothing. I had brought my D300 with 17-55/2.8 and my D700 with 50/1.8 and 24/2.0. Because of the low lighting, the majority of my shots were with the D700 at ISO 3200 and 6400. The above shot is at ISO 6400, f/1.8, 1/25 sec shutter.

Stag Hare 2

The above shot was even more extreme: ISO HI 1.0 (12,800 equivalent), f/1.8, 1/10 sec shutter. It was basically almost pitch dark except for that blue LED. I am absolutely amazed that I got anything at all, much less this, which is hardly printable at a large size but is quite usable on the web. Yup, this D700 thing is a pretty nice machine.

Full photoset here.

DX lens (Nikon 17-55) on an FX body (D700)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

D700 + 17-55/2.8 test @ 17mm

How well does it work? The above is shot at 17mm on my D700 using my Nikon 17-55/2.8 DX lens. Obviously, the image circle doesn’t cover the FX frame. No surprises there. I’ve been told that the Nikon 17-55 is usable on FX bodies (D3x, D3, D700) at 28mm onwards. I did a few very quick and unscientific test shots to see for myself. Results after the jump. You can click through to each photo on Flickr to view the full-size 12 megapixel image, if you really want to.

No lens hood and no filter mounted on the lens (using the hood results in much more severe vignetting). Settings: manual exposure at ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/40 sec. Manual white balance at 4,917 Kelvins. D2XMODE3 picture control. None of this stuff changed from shot to shot, the only thing I changed was the focal length. But, I didn’t use a tripod, and note that at f/5.6 the darkening in the corners will be slightly milder than if I had shot wide open at f/2.8. So take this all with a grain of salt.

(more…)

Back in the world of 24x36mm

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Happy birthday Amy

That’s right, I got myself a D700. Wide is wide again! Normal is normal again! Long is… uh, not quite as long again!

And, of course, the high ISO technology is cutting-edge. The above photo was shot at ISO 3200, underexposed, brought up about two-thirds of a stop in post (so effective ISO 5000), with high ISO noise reduction set to “low” and no other noise reduction done after the fact. The noise is definitely there, but the it’s mostly luminance noise, not a whole lot of chroma noise, and the pattern is actually pretty appealing, closer to film grain than any other digital noise signature I’ve seen. It looks a lot better in larger sizes – available at Flickr – than at the compressed, small version above.

Back in my pre-DSLR (and therefore pre-DX crop) days, my favorite lens was a Nikkor 24/2.0 AI-S. I absolutely loved the 24mm field of view, and the lens was fast, reasonably sharp, and built like a tank. After I got my first DSLR, if Nikon had made a 16mm DX prime I would have snapped it up in a second. After getting the D700, I slapped the trusty ol’ 24/2.0 on it and used it for my first real shots tonight. Felt like an old friend. On the other hand, a true 50mm is now something I’m a bit uncomfortable with; I don’t like it on DX, but on FX it now seems like this weird in-between to me, which is funny because for a long time all I had was an old 50/1.8 Series E lens handed down from my brother, and I loved it.

More to come, of course!

The Nikon repair saga concludes

Friday, December 26th, 2008

17-55!

Well, that ended up being pretty easy, initial delay aside. I dropped off my Nikon 17-55/2.8 lens for repair at Penn Camera at the beginning of November. I was told it would take a couple weeks for an estimate to come down the pike. It ended up taking almost a month for reasons unknown to me. After I approved the estimate – 10 days after it came in from Nikon to Penn Camera, because somehow I wasn’t notified and had to call to find out – it was only 10 more days before the repair was complete and the lens was back at Penn Camera for me to pick up. All told, exactly seven weeks’ wait, although if you subtract the 10-day delay that was Penn Camera’s fault instead of Nikon’s, the total wait was well within the 4-6 week range that I was told. Not bad.

The timeline looked like this:

  • October 31 – I drop the lens about 4 feet. The impact embeds the AF contacts into the bayonet mount of the lens. Glass is fine but AF does not work.
  • November 4 – I drop the lens off at Penn Camera for repair, am told it will take up to 2 weeks to get an estimate and up to 4-6 weeks total before I get the lens back, barring unforeseen delays involving parts shortages or whatnot.
  • December 2 – Nikon finally gets an estimate in to Penn Camera. Penn Camera fails to notify me.
  • December 12 – I call Penn Camera, they look up my ticket and find the estimate, and I approve it.
  • December 23 – Penn Camera calls me to tell me the lens is back in their hands. I pick it up; it looks good. End of story.

The lens itself looks great – the above AF contacts were what had gotten bashed into the body of the lens by the impact when I dropped it on the sidewalk on Halloween night. Things that were done at the Nikon repair shop, according to my receipt, include “Replace bayonet mount unit,” “Repair Helicoid Assembly,” “Repair Aperture Ring Assembly,” and “General CLA to Specs.” Total cost? US $225 – far less than I had feared; I was braced for anything up to and above $500. Sweet!