Saturday 8 September 2018

Where I'm At - September 2018

King at Dusk
D300, 35/1.8DX

So I've not posted much on where my shooting has gone over the summer. That's mostly because the combination of work, RC Soaring and hot & sticky weather kept things quiet on the shooting front.

That said, since the end of May I've taken just shy of 1500 shots on the A7II and another 400 or so on the D300. That brings me up to about 5000 shots for the year, a very healthy amount.

I'm changing some of my personal behaviours to improve my shooting opportunities as we head into fall, so I'm hoping to end up at 7-8000 images for the year.

As to gear, while I'm very interested in the new Nikon Z cameras, I don't see any major changes happening. I'd like to add a 105 or 135mm, a fast 35, an ultra-wide of some sort and maybe a normal zoom of some sort for the A7II. All but the zoom are likely to be F mount. The priority here is the mid tele and the UWA, those are actually things I'm really missing when out shooting.

Friday 7 September 2018

New Mirrorless - What Should You Buy

Yellow on Pink
Sony A7mII, lens unrecorded

So, which of the new FF mirrorless systems should you buy.

Sony Shooter - Investment in E, FE or A lenses - Just stick with Sony unless you really need a line of f1.8 primes. You're already invested in the most mature system and neither of the other options provides enough advantages to offset your current investment.

Sony Shooter - Investment in adapted lenses - Take a close look at the Nikon Z's if you aren't on an A7RIII or A9, as their non-CPU lens data interface solves a major workflow issue for adapters and the Z6 EVF is decidedly better than the A7III (the A7RIII and Z7 are comparable for EVF quality). You'll want to wait for adapters to show up unless your lenses are primarily F mount.

Nikon Shooter - Modern AF lenses - Look at the Nikons, they're a no brainer unless you need speed for wildlife/event photography, or dual card slots, at which point wait for the Z8/Z9 which will inevitably follow

Nikon Shooter - Screwdriver AF lenses - Sucks to be you, if you need to move, it's time to invest in newer glass at which point you may want to look at the more complete Sony system

Nikon Shooter - MF lenses - Nikon's the best option here, but Sony is very viable as well, and faster plus equipped with dual card slots and better battery life. If you're a Zeiss fanatic, the Batis & Loxia lenses argue for Sony.

Canon Shooter - EF or EF-S lenses - Buy a Sony + MC-11 or Metabones adapter for the best experience. Only reason to get the R is weather sealing.

Canon Shooter - EOS M shooter - Buy a Sony or Fuji if you don't adapt EF lenses. Canon has abandoned you in terms of any ability to keep your investment as you move up in cameras.

Note I don't see any category where there's a real argument for the EOS R. It's not a bad camera, but there's no use case other than Canon Diehard where it's the best option.

For me, I'm in the Nikon Shooter - MF lenses category for the most part. And that means that I'm in the one area where there is no really set differentiation there.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Next Steps in Mirrorless

Late Afternoon Car
D300, Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6

Here's what I think the 3 FF mirrorless makers need to do over the next 2 years.

1. Sony. Sony's concentration should be on Software and lenses. They need to fix their menus badly. Spend some time with some GOOD UI designers, fix the menu layout, improve some of the silly gotchas (like no ability to assign EVF/LCD to a button, no way to write IBIS focal length to EXIF) then release for the mkII and later bodies. That would keep the mkII's viable as less expensive bodies for a while longer.

On lenses, Sony has the clear advantage for native lenses, but lacks the large selection of DSLR lenses that Nikon and Canon can easily leverage. Sony also has the most inexpensive body options on the market with the 3 mkII A7's and the original A7 still available new. So leverage that. Give us a complete-ish consumer line by launching a FE 70-300 f4.5-6.3 (slower for smaller & cheaper) and a FE 18-35. The first should be no more than $500USD and the second should be $1-200 more expensive. That would give Sony the only reasonably complete consumer lens lineup to match their inexpensive A7 and A7mII bodies

Sony also needs to continue to build out their super-tele line. They'd do well to bring out a 300/2.8 and 600/4 with the same weight loss strategy as the new 400/2.8, and they should look closely at Nikon's 300/4 PF and 500/5.6 PF to fill the remaining gaps. But the faster lenses should be the priority for next year with the Toyko Olympics coming up in 2020.

Sony's at least a couple years away from the next A7 iteration, but an improved A9mII should be due in late 2019 or early 2020, with refined AF tracking and a pair of XQD/CFExpress slots to eliminate the biggest weakness of the A9, it's poor write speed.

2. Nikon. There's two things Nikon needs here. The first is AF & battery life improvements via firmware. Even if the AF complaints from pre-production bodies turns out to be a real nothingburger, Nikon needs to add the very useful AF area functionality that's in the DSLR's but not the Z series. And Nikon needs to fix the fact that they get the worst CIPA performance from the largest battery. Also the lack of a proper vertical grip is disappointing, Sony & Canon did that right. But that's a next-body question, we're pretty much stuck with the current bodies for the next couple years. Nikon should iterate fast.

Nikon should also leverage its long-lens weight advantage from the 300/4 PF and 500/5.6 PF and release 4 additional adapters. One should be a cheap ($100USD or less) ETZ adapter, dropping all mechanical connectivity and only supporting E lenses for full coupling and aperture ring equipped lenses for stop-down metering (and thus giving two major groups a cheaper adapter)

The other 3 should include 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x TC's integrated into the adapter, to save weight and reduce complexity for backpackers using the PF teles and Z bodies to cut weight. These also should be E only (and when a high-speed Z body arrives, these will make the current E superteles the obvious choice and reduce the need for exotic Z lenses).

3. Canon. First thing Canon needs to do is communicate. What happens to EF-M? What lenses are coming? Will there be an EOS Rs high-MP body? Nobody can tell where the R line is going given the products launched yesterday, while Nikon and Sony have some clear direction.

The next thing Canon needs is to pick a consistent set of lenses and start iterating. This should probably be prosumer lenses given the body positioning. Get a 16-35/4, a 50/1.8, a 85/1.8 IS and a 70-200/4 announced as early as possible in 2019. Right now there's no lens line, just 4 scattergun options. The biggest mistake was the 50/1.2L, it probably should have been a 50/1.4 at $600 or so, which would have been consistent with the 24-105 and 35 IS.

The third thing Canon needs to do is get decent AI Servo performance. 3fps with tracking is pathetic, inferior to the A7mII which can be had for 2/3rds the cost of an EOS R. In terms of actual performance where Nikon aimed at the mkII's and hit a triple with a scoring threat, Canon bunted and barely made it safe on first.

Wednesday 5 September 2018

The New World

Rust, Brick and Blue Sky
Sony A7mII, Zeiss ZF.2 1,4/85 Planar

So we've seen Nikon and Canon drop new mirrorless systems in the last two weeks, with somewhat different approaches.

Nikon's Z series essentially targets the two most successful Sony's (the A7 and A7R models) directly, matching each variation with one of their own, and coming in somewhere between the mkII and mkIII revisions. Nikon clearly targeted the mkII Sony's and beat them in pretty much all regards, although the mkIII's have some advantages (battery life, AF, dual card slots.). Nikon's lens choices are both safe and sane, mirroring 3 of Sony's original lenses with slightly better thought out choices. The 50/1.8 is cheaper than the ZA 55/1.8, while it looks to be comparable or better, and the 35/1.8 may be larger than the ZA 35/2.8, but it's both cheaper and faster, a win (Sony users have long lamented the lack of a relatively compact but fast 35, the tiny but slow & pricey 35/2.8 is largely unappreciated by Sony users). The 24-70/4 again matches a Sony launch lens, but hopefully will be better than the underwhelming ZA 24-70/4. And then there's the 58/0.95. It's manual focus, it's stupidly fast and it's huge. It may just be the first Otus-beater. With the largest & shortest-register mount, IBIS included and the Z series inheriting the non-CPU lens data interface from the Nikon DSLR's, these will probably become the new standard for manual lens use. Nikon delivers 1 adapter with a stop-down lever but no screwdriver AF support, it should prove popular since Nikon has a great lineup of AF-S lenses for it. Nikon chose 1 XQD slot, again targeting the single-slot Sony mkII's, but avoids the performance slowdown inherent to the second SD slot in the D850 and D500.

Canon on the other hand played it safe on the body, delivering an overpriced & underwhelming product that will no doubt be a very competent camera. It really reminds me of the 6D's, a pair of overpriced and underwhelming FF DSLR's that nonetheless actually work pretty well for a lot of people. The EOS R is largely a mirrorless 5DIV, with a UI that's a mix of EOS DSLR and the EOS-M mirrorless line. And it introduces Canon's third current mount in R mount, leaving them with 4 mounts, each of which has a measure of EF compatibility, but little cross-compatibility (while EF-M mount supports EF and EF-S lenses via adapter, it's a dead end otherwise, with no R mount compatibility). Lenses are pretty much a 1 of each set, with a prosumer zoom (24-105/4), prosumer prime (35/1.8 IS), pro prime (50/1.2L) and ridiculous halo lens (28-70/2L). However Canon gets significant AF limitations (5fps max in AI Servo, 3fps with tracking, vs 8fps+ for Nikon and Sony) and becomes the only player without IBIS. Video is also 1.7crop for 4K, making this the worst option of the three, especially with the A7SmIII expected to drop in the next 6-8 weeks and the price is $300 more than the A7III and Z6's $2K USD. Canon chose a single UHS-II SD slot, lacking Sony's dual slot for reliability as well as Nikon's XQD speed advantage. Canon does bring 3 adapters, a cheap but fully-functional straight adapter, a second more expensive one with the control ring from the RF lenses integrated and a third with a filter holder integrated. The last should be copied by others, it's a great idea.

The end result is today I think the Sony MkIII's remain the market leaders overall. Nikon IMHO is the clear second here, with a well thought out pair and a solid lens lineup, with a clear roadmap.

Canon I think dropped the ball. Their body is in a lot of ways the least of the 3 ~$2k bodies for the most money and their lenses are pretty much a scattergun approach. While I could readily see a Nikon user buying all 3 of the Nikon lenses at launch, Canon will do well to sell 2, as most who want the fast 50 won't want the small 35 and vice versa.

Tuesday 10 July 2018


A7II, Zeiss ZF.2 1,4/85 Planar

Not the post, just the sign. Very nice little corner garden but a little light on the flowers

Tuesday 26 June 2018

It's Not The Gear

The Creek 
D200, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

I've a tendency to focus on gear, largely because I'm still searching for the camera/system that truly fits me perfectly. I've not found it yet, although the A7II is working well.

But the reality is pretty much any DSLR or Mirrorless body from the last 10 years can produce more than acceptable work for 90% of situations. Maybe not in the real edge cases, where you need the speed, high ISO capability or some other aspect of the newer, higher-end bodies, but otherwise any reasonably skilled photographer can deliver the goods with most anything.

That's worth calling out, because too many chase the latest & greatest because it's 'Better'. But most only actually need 'Good Enough'. If you're looking to upgrade something, the first question that should be asked is 'what will it give me that my current body can't?'

For me, with both my upgrades this year, I'd had that pretty much nailed down.

When I got the D800, it was going to give me better compatibility with my manual focus lenses than my D300 did (specifically the angle of view & rendering I expected). I was also gaining high ISO performance (significant) and dynamic range (less important but still quite useful for a landscape/cityscape shooter like myself). It delivered on all three expectations, and also proved to be generally a better DX camera than the D300, which I didn't expect.

When I swapped the D800 for the A7II, it was to give me a better hit rate when manual focusing, as well as a smaller, lighter carry kit when not using my Zeiss 85/1.4. It's also delivered in spades.

So if you're looking at the shiny new toy, be sure you know what you're going to get. The quickest way to be disappointed in your new camera is to have unrealistic expectations of what it can deliver.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Lost Crown

Lost Crown
A7 II, Zeiss ZF.2 1,4/85 Planar

This image hit Explore on Flickr recently and is a great example of what I love about the 85 Planar's rendering. Such a lovely lens.

Monday 18 June 2018

First Takes on the A7 II

The Vent 
A7 II, 28/3.5 H

The above shot I'd never have gotten with the D800. Just too hard to get reliable focus with the 28/3.5 H.

The A7 II is really a mixed bag for me. It's a little odd, as it's a camera with a whole lot of issues, but very few of the problems get in my way.

What's wrong with it? Well the menu's are a mess, battery life is terrible, there's a few things at the firmware level that it should do but doesn't, the button layout is adequate at best and it's really not all that refined.

However for me, and how I shoot, there's really only 3 issues.

1. Terrible battery life (solved with A7 III). The small (1050mAh) battery combined with how power hungry mirrorless bodies inherently are gives a 3-400 shot battery life (vs around 900-1000 with the D800). The larger Z series battery in the A7 III solves this, but a few extra 3rd party batteries get me enough life for it to be a non-issue in practice.

2. Overly-sensitive EVF/LCD auto-switching. This is a problem for a couple reasons. The first is that it makes waistlevel shooting an issue unless I manually set it to LCD, which I can only do in the menu (no way to assign this to a button, unlike the NEX-7 or the SLT bodies). The second is that the detector keeps the camera awake, meaning I need to hold the camera in a particular way for it to go to sleep (and preserve precious battery). The A7 III solves the first (it disables the sensor when the LCD is flipped out) but not the second.

3. Card formatting. I can deal with all the rest of the 'buried in random menu section' issues, but reformatting cards is a right PITA. For now I've solved that largely by a change in import workflow, I'm now using the option to delete on import completion to eliminate the need for formatting in-camera.

Admittedly the fact it doesn't write IBIS focal length to metadata is annoying, but not really a show-stopper (Nikon gets this more right with Non-CPU lens data settings)

Now what's right about the camera?

For me, there's a lot.

1. Size. With my smaller lenses I get a much smaller/lighter package than the D800 was. This is a big deal for me given my right shoulder issues. I have problems carrying heavy kit in my right hand. And it just doesn't scream 'Pro with Camera' like the D300 and D800 do.

2. Focusing. While it's not perfect, I can much more reliably hit focus manually with the A7 II than a DSLR. This is most notable with the 85/1.4, but a big deal with both the 28/3.5 and the 300/4.5 as well. After trying the 300 on the A7 I was surprised that I was getting acceptable results, which I didn't on either the D800 or the D300. It by no means makes the 300/4.5 into a great lens, but it's surprisingly usable at f8, to the point where it's likely to actually get used semi-regularly (it got one test run on both the D800 and D300). I tend to use a mix of both peaking (for faster shots) and magnification for focusing. Peaking gives a hit rate around 75% or so with my most difficult setup (ZF.2 85@f2-2.8) while magnification is around 95% (beating <50% with the OVF+AF Confirm on the D800).

3. Seeing exposure. You get a pretty decent preview of your exposure in the EVF and LCD. I find the LCD not really useful for fine exposure tuning, but it's good in the EVF. And of course I can always bring up a live histogram to get an even better idea of what I'm dealing with.

4. Flip-out LCD. So useful for low-angle and high-angle shots that are really just a guessing game with most DSLR's, especially since the LV experience is wildly better with any mirrorless than a DSLR.

So overall, the A7 II is decidedly less well sorted than the D800, but very well sorted for my uses. I'm quite happy with it and hope to keep shooting it for the foreseeable future.

Friday 15 June 2018


The Bun 
A7II, Zeiss ZF.2 T* 1,4/85 Planar

First a quick shooting update. I passed 4000 shots for the year at the end of May and am now less than 1000 shots under what I shot in 2014, the last year before my shooting collapsed. And I continue to actively shoot several times a week. I'm very happy with this and expect the full year will bring me back to my typical 10k or so shots for the year. Mostly it's walkabout shooting city & macro work, but a little nature & street too.

That said, I became increasingly frustrated with the D800. Not because it's not a great camera, but for two other reasons.

1. It's heavy. It's just too large & heavy for regular walkabout days of shooting. It's fine when I'm carrying the full kit and headed out for some serious shooting (since a bag full of lenses weighs a lot more than 1 body), but it's a pig for days when I just want to throw the 50/1.8 or 55/3.5 and go explore.

2. Increasing frustration in using the 28/3.5 and 85/1.4 on it, especially the latter. The 28 is one lens I just could not get to work well on the D800, although I knew from my film bodies that it was actually pretty good. The low contrast wide open was just too much of a challenge to use with the D800's somewhat sketchy AF confirm. The focus shift on the 85/1.4 made focusing wider than f4.5 a crapshoot unless I was wide open. A pity, since I love the results at f2-2.8 when I hit focus.

The NEX-7 could solve the first one, which is why I traded a D300+lenses for it. For the second it was either replace the lenses or the body. And I'm almighty fond of my Zeiss 85, regardless of its flaws.

But a week after I bought the NEX-7, I found a Sony A7II in the same store for an irresistible price. So after some deliberation, I returned the NEX-7 and traded in the D800 for the A7II, and came out cash even (actually, a little ahead, but I bought a spare battery for the A7II, since I know it's bad on batteries).

This nets me a main camera light enough to do light carry with my smaller lenses, and with the ability to accurately focus my 85/1.4 at working aperture. The above picture was at f2.8 with the Zeiss 85 and focus is dead on. That shot would have been a complete gamble on the D800 but focus peaking & EVF magnification made it dead easy on the A7II. As much as I like the OVF view, focus accuracy is more important.

Overall I shot just shy of 3000 shots on the D800. And I loved shooting it, I just didn't love coming home to 50% out of focus shots. don't get me wrong, it's actually a great camera (and IMHO a better overall camera than the A7II for most applications), just for my uses and lenses, the A7II can deliver in focus shots where the D800 cannot for reasons that really are the fault of the lenses in question, and that seals the deal. Bodies come and go, but lenses are the core of the system. As a bonus, I now have a body for my beloved Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM lens. That's my cold dead hands lens, and I've not had a good body for it in several years.

Oh, and I get IBIS (stabilization) for all my lenses.

So for now I'll have the A7II with adapted F mount glass as my main camera, and the D300 for speed/beater usage. We'll see how things evolve from here. I'm not planning any investments, so far everything's really been just horse-trading. I've been lucky in that.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

A Brief Sojourn - NEX-7

Burst of Purple 
NEX-7, E 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 OSS

A couple Friday's ago I traded one of my D300's as well as my 10-20 and 35/1.8DX in on a NEX-7.

Why? Well, I needed a light carry body and hadn't been seeing what I wanted show up in Nikon mount. The NEX-7 is another body I used to own and got along with very well and I found a great deal on one with the 18-55 kit lens.

So I did the trade. And then I spent a week shooting with it, clocking 244 exposures during that week.

It reminded me mostly of what I liked about the body. Sure the AF is pedestrian, the high ISO performance marginal and the battery life on the short side, but it handles well, has a nice viewfinder and rear LCD, great focusing aids and the low & mid ISO performance is excellent even by today's standards.

In particular, the control dial setup is IMHO better than the newer A6x00 bodies (I see little need for  a mode dial over having an extra control wheel).

I could be pretty happy with the NEX-7 as my light carry camera, complementing the D800 (serious shooting camera) and D300 (speed/beater).

That didn't happen, as I ended up returning the NEX-7 in favour of something else. The answer to that riddle is coming Friday.

Monday 11 June 2018

Mini Review - Nikkor K 300mm f4.5 AI'd

Redwing Blackbird 
NEX-7, Nikkor K 300mm f4.5 AI'd

I've owned 2 of these, the first a really beatup one with a cracked foot that I used back in my pre-digital and early digital days and the second a cheap one I picked up as a telephoto for mirrorless bodies back in 2012 or so. I still own the latter.

These are extremely cheap on the used market. There's a reason. Frankly, it sucks. Most every semi-modern 70-300 is as good or better at 300mm.

What's wrong with it?

Low resolution. You can see detail smearing on the cattails even at web resolution
CA and purple fringing at wide apertures. It's bloody useless at f4.5 and merely poor at f5.6. It's usable at f8
Poor MFD. Yeah, it doesn't focus close at all. Unlike most every 70-300.

What's good about it?

Very well built
Includes tripod foot
Easy to focus

If you still shoot film, and have a body that takes AI lenses but not G lenses, it's not bad for what it costs if you aren't a regular long-lens shooter. If you can use G lenses, even the cheapest 70-300G is as good, and probably better stopped down.

Skip this one. Only reason I still own it is that it's the one 300mm option I own that works on every body I own, which is occasionally useful. And it's worthless on the used market.

If you really must have a slower 300 with an aperture ring, look for the ED or ED-IF versions. They're FAR better. Or just get the original AF-S version, it's a D lens with an aperture ring and also FAR better. I'd skip the regular AF version, it's not enough cheaper than the AF-S to justify not getting the AF-S version instead of the screwdriver version, and the AI-S ED-IF is the same glass with better manual focusing.

Friday 8 June 2018

Mini Review - Zeiss ZF.2 T* 1,4/85 Planar

Faked Fenced 
D800,  Zeiss ZF.2 T* 1,4/85 Planar

The ZF.2 85 is a complex lens to review, and one that's driven most of my gear decisions of late.

In short, it's a brilliant but flawed lens that requires care and thought to get the most from it, but the end results are well worth it.

Fundamentally the design is an evolution of the 85/1.4 Planar from the Contax SLR system, with about 25 years of experience injected.

Wide open it's a little soft, especially at close focus distances, and subject to very noticeable CA. Stopped down it's sharp, with excellent contrast & resolution. It's in between the two where things get awkward.

Fundamentally it does have the classic Zeiss signature. Lovely colour, lots of microcontrast in the in-focus areas, a drop in microcontrast as you transition to the out of focus areas and the resulting 'Zeiss 3D' look.

But between f1.6 and f4, it suffers horrendously from focus shift. This is where the act of stopping down the lens to shooting aperture from wide open shifts the plane of focus away from its position wide open (which is focusing aperture on a DSLR). There's a couple ways to compensate for this, mostly in using DoF preview (awkward), using Live View (if your DSLR supports LV at shooting aperture) or simply adapting it to a Mirrorless camera and using the EVF & focus aids to get around focus shift (since you are always focusing at shooting aperture, most mirrorless systems don't suffer from focus shift).

That said, I do love the results when I hit focus. It's just brilliant. But I can't recommend it to folks shooting high-MP DSLR's due to focus shift. You simply have to stop it down to smaller than f4 so DoF covers the shift, and there's better options for slow lenses in this range.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Mini Review - Nikkor 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR G

Around the Corner 
D300,  Nikkor 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR G

Introduced in 2006, the 70-300VR G was Nikon's first real consumer VR telezoom (the earlier 80-400 was out of reach of most consumers). It was also a brilliant value, sharp to 250mm, acceptable at 300mm, fast AF, great stabilization.

It isn't anymore.

The short answer is this is quite a good lens on bodies up to 14MP or so, and increasingly mediocre on newer bodies. It's a little soft at 300mm, but at 250mm or below it's very good on low and mid megapixel bodies (or film for that matter, if you have one of the few film bodies that support VR, AF-S & G lenses)

Over the last couple years Nikon released 2 new AF-P 70-300's, a cheap f4.5-6.3 DX version (in VR and non-VR form) and a more expensive f4.5-5.6 FX version. In short, both are better than the VR G, and noticeably so on any body with AF-P support. Given the low cost of refurbs on the DX VR version, that's the way to go today unless you have an old body. Get the FX version if you have any FX body other than the D3/S/X or D700 (none of which support AF-P). Skip the VR G unless you shoot FX and need a telezoom on a serious budget.

That said, if you own one, I wouldn't toss it. Just don't expect it to hold up to 24MP DX or 24+MP FX.

Monday 4 June 2018

Mini Review - Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI

The Kids 
D800, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI

For a couple decades the 55/3.5 Micro was the answer for Nikon shooters to the question 'I need a really sharp normal lens'. Not fast, but extremely sharp, reasonably priced and a great focal length for many uses on 35mm and DX crop bodies.

I've had at least 2 of these over the years, maybe three (I don't recall exactly). The current one was a gift from my Aunt, who had bought it new with an FE body around 1980 or so (I also have that FE body, it's my last film body).  

In short, it's a brilliant little lens. It can be a bit finicky to get accurate infinity focus via an optical viewfinder, but at any other shooting distance it's quite easy to focus accurately. It is a daylight lens, at f3.5 it's just not bright enough for real low-light work off a tripod, unless you have an EVF and world-beating high ISO (think A7SII and maybe an A9 or A7III). The issue is focusing more than anything else. Surprisingly, it's also a pretty good portrait lens on DX, if you can live with manual focus. You don't really need f1.8 or faster for portraits and the 55 is a nicer length for portraiture than the 50's (it's 82.5mm-e vs 75mm-e, closer to the classic 85 FL).

Overall though, this is my go-to lens very everyday use. I've definitely used 2 other lenses more of late (My 85/1.4 and 70-300), but when I pick up a single lens to put on the camera for walkabout or any sort of general shooting, it's the 55/3.5 that gets the nod 9 out of 10 times.

If you shoot F mount, or shoot something that you can readily adapt F mount lenses to, this cheap & cheerful lens is well worth adding to your kit. Possibly more so than a 50/1.8.

Monday 14 May 2018

A Little Update

Balke on Blue
D300, 16-85VR

Well, it's mid-May now and a little while since I last posted. What's been going on? Well, some shooting, I'm over 3200 shots for the year, and 2750 of them are on the D800. That's more shooting in 2.5 months on the D800 than I did in any of the last 3 years. I'm on track to shooting the typical 10,000 frames of digital that was my average before I started struggling with motivation back in 2013.

I'm rapidly coming to realize I generally prefer the D800 over the D300's for pretty much all shooting. The better frame coverage for AF and more optimized UI tend to outweigh the extra FPS and better viewfinder (in DX mode) of the D300. I still do like the D300's though and intend to keep shooting them alongside the D800, but I can definitely see the possibility of replacing them in the future, likely with a smaller, lighter body (D7x00 most likely).

The above shot hit Explore yesterday, which is why I've featured it. It's a pretty classic view of this building against a strong blue sky in late winter. A pretty clear example of just how good the D300/16-85VR combo can be.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Mini Review - Nikkor 16-85mm f3.5-5.6 VR

Bluffs and Blue 2 
 D3200, Nikkor 16-85 VR

Above is the single most popular image I've ever posted to Flick, with almost 29,000 views. It was shot with a lowly D3200 and Nikon's 16-85 VR zoom.

This is the 5th most used lens for me in terms of images uploaded to Flickr, and in terms of zooms, only the two Zuiko normal zooms have been used more (the ZD 14-54 II and the m.Zuiko 12-50 MSC), largely because they were pretty much welded on front of their respective cameras (E-M5 for both, also E-30 for the 14-54). Of the three, I liked the ZD 14-54 the most and the 12-50 the least.

As to the 16-85, it's a very competent but largely average lens. It's got a great range, is unusually wide for a Nikkor DX zoom (where 18-everything is more common) and is reasonably sharp and has good colour. It does quite well up to the 16MP bodies, but it's stretching on the 24MP bodies, although it still can deliver. Close focus is a surprising strength, it's probably best at 85mm and under 3m. Not that it's a macro, but it'll handle flowers and larger insects just fine. Focus is again OK, although I've found my borrowed example can miss unpredictably at times. That said, I purchased that lens new in 2008, passed it on, and have borrowed it back periodically so it may just be a little long in the tooth now.

In general, I'd recommend this over most Nikkor DX normal zooms. The 18-70 is IMHO optically better, but is less wide, less long, lacks VR and is getting difficult to find good copies of (it's long out of production). The 16-80E beats it in everything except price (real high) and compatibility (as an E lens you need a D300 or newer body, not including the D90 or D3000). There are better 3rd party options, but all are less flexible. It really just is a good do-everything hiking lens. If you can't swing a 16-80, get the 16-85 instead.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Mini Review - Nikkor 50/1.8 Family

Purple Rain 
 NEX-7, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AI 'Longnose'

This will be a little different, as I'm basically covering all 3 lenses of this spec Nikon's made. I've owned a bunch of them over the years.

The family starts off with the 50mm f1.8 AI. This was introduced in the late 70's to replace the legendary but ancient 50mm f2. About the same size as the f2 version (and comparable to today's 50mm f1.8D in size), this was an excellent performer that would last to the beginning AF era as an AI-S lens in non-US markets. It's often referred to as the longnose 50/1.8.

Shortly after Nikon designed a small and simple 50mm f1.8 near-pancake for the Series E lens line for their new and simple EM SLR. This was a single-coated optic in a small package. It would get multicoating to become the standard AI-S 50/1.8 for the US and Canadian markets, then get re-used in the first three AF 50mm f1.8 variants (AF, AF-N and AF-D) and remains on sale today as the 50mm f1.8 AF-D. The only optical difference is coating, but there's about 8 different barrel variations from minor (the various AI-S versions differing mostly in MFD) to major (the original AF barrel, the AF-N barrel).

Finally Nikon brought out an all-new optical design as the first entry in their new line of f1.8 AF-S G primes. This one is comparatively huge and the most expensive of the lot, although it just might be the sharpest of the lot, rivaled only by the original Longnose design.

I've owned one of the longnose AI's, uncounted numbers of the Series E and derivatives including both original AF and AF-D and one AF-S. I prefer the former and latter, although even the least of these is a pretty darn good lens and you can't go wrong. Right now there's a borrowed 50/1.8D in my bag, as I sold off my last Series E on an FG. I find the small Series E and AI lenses don't handle well on larger AF bodies like my D300's or D800. The later AF-N and AF-D versions handle alright (avoid the original AF version, as the manual focus ring is almost useless).

The 50/1.8 is to FX as the 35/1.8 is to DX. You should own one. Given how useful 50mm is on DX, that really applies to DX shooters as well (although I do prefer a 55-60mm on DX to a 50mm, a pity Nikon doesn't do a 58/1.8 DX).

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Mini Review - Nikkor 35mm f1.8 G DX AF-S

Posing While Waiting 
D200, 35mm f1.8 G DX AF-S

The Nikkor 35mm f1.8 DX is one of my go-to DX lenses, along with the Sigma 10-20. If I'm shooting DX, I will have one of these in my bag guaranteed. I've owned 3 of them so far. One with my D7100 (the only DX kit where I didn't end up with the 10-20), one with the D200/D3200 and then acquired one when I bought my D90 2 years ago that's still in my bag. The only reason I never had one with my original DX kits (the D50 and original D300/D40 kit) is it didn't exist yet.

It's cheap. It's sharp. It's remarkably small for an AF-S prime. It just about covers FX. This is the nifty fifty for the DX crew, and it's frankly better than any of the Nikkor 50/1.8's except maybe the old AI (which still is my favourite of those). Flare control is excellent, AF is the same pretty OK AF of all the f1.8 AF-S Nikkor primes. Handling is OK, build is adequate, focus ring is meh, but what do you expect for a lens I've never paid more than $200 for.

If you shoot DX, buy one. Even if you have a better option, stick it in the bag, or on a D3x00 body as a light walkaround option. You won't regret it.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Mini Review - Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5

The Pumpkin Pile

FE, Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5, Superia 400

My Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5 was picked up to provide an inexpensive mild wide for my film kit. It's AI converted with a factory AI kit.

This was Nikon's go-to wide angle lens during the Nikkormat era, and my example is the early single-coated version from the 60's or very early 70's. It's got the classic knurled metal focus ring and the factory AI kit has the knurled aperture ring to match. This is the second Nikkor 28/3.5 I've owned, although the previous one was an AI version with modern cosmetics and NIC multicoating.

On film I find it competent, with reasonable sharpness, although it's low in saturation and contrast and has a higher tendency to flare than newer versions. Look for a classic 60's rendering, especially if paired with a lower contrast colour film like Portra.

I don't find slower 28mm's useful on DX for the most part, so I've few comments on performance on the D300's.

On the D800 things get complex. My initial take was that the 28 purely sucked on high-MP FX, being soft and low in resolution. More shooting, done simply because this is currently the only FX wide I own, shows that the situation is far more complex.

The reality is that the 28/3.5 is actually quite good on FX aside from outer corner performance, especially if stopped down to f5.6-8. The caveat is that the combination of large DoF and low contrast make focusing difficult via the OVF. The solution is to use hyperfocal markings for handheld shooting and LiveView.

A note for people trying Hyperfocal markings on digital. If you want good results, use the markings for 1 stop wider open. IE if shooting at f8, use the markings for f5.6. The reason is that the Circle of Confusion that the markings were calibrated for is too large for good results on digital cameras. The markings were calibrated for film and 4x6 prints. Going one stop wider open gives approximately the results you'd expect for an 8x12 print, which is pretty close to a standard monitor presentation. Do not expect that hyperfocal will ever look good at 100% view. Live view is the answer there for difficult to focus lenses like the Nikkor-H 28/3.5.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Mini Review - Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX HSM DC

Standing and Running

D200, Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6

This is the first in a series of short lens reviews that I'll be posting over the next few weeks.

The Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 is Sigma's consumer DX UWA zoom. It's relatively compact, relatively cheap and surprisingly good.

I've owned 3 copies of this. The first with my original D300 back in 2008/9, also used on a D40, the second with my D200 in 2014, also used with a D3200 and the current copy, used with a D90, D300 and even with a D800 in 1.2x and DX crop. It will cover 1.2x crop from ~12mm through 20mm, it never covers a full 35mm frame.

Best aperture is f8 in my experience, and I pretty much tend to set it to f8 and leave it. I'll occasionally open up to f5.6 or wider when shooting handheld in lower light.

I find colour to be nicely saturated, contrast is quite good even with a point source in the frame, edge performance is good at f8, adequate at f4-5.6. It will flare with point sources in the frame and sunstars are not a strong suit. Handling is good, the focus & zoom rings are good for a consumer lens and the size is small enough to handle well even on a D3200 or D40. It's a fun walkaround lens on a D3200 in the city.

It's a personal favourite of mine and one of the core lenses of a minimalist DX kit for me. I recommend it with one caveat, if you have an AF-P compatible DX body the Nikon 10-20 VR AF-P is smaller, cheaper, stabilized and optically comparable. If you have a body without AF-P support and/or shoot FX with 1.2x crop, get the Sigma.

Sigma also offers a larger f3.5 version. Get that if you need f3.5, or better corners in the f4-5.6 range. Otherwise I wouldn't both, the slower and smaller version is a better deal.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Shooting Kits

Street Racing 
 D300, Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6

The way things are right now I've basically got 2 shooting kits, plus the option of going single lens only.

1. D800 kit - 28/3.5, 50/1.8D (on loan to me), 55/3.5 Micro, 85/1.4

This is my go-to photowalk kit. I tend to walk around with either the 50 or 85 mounted, then swap on the 28 or 55 if needed. Depending on what I'm doing, the 10-20, 35 and/or 70-300 could get added.

2. D300 kit - 10-20, 35/1.8, 70-300

This is my car/beater/always available kit. Tends to end up being the 10-20 on one D300 with the 35 or 70-300 on the other one (getting changed up). The 55 may get added, and the 85 can sometimes replace the 70-300 there. The 4 lens version with the 55 really does cover all my needs for typical shooting (UWA, Tele, fast normal, macro/short tele).

3. One-lens kits. - D300+35/1.8, D800+any prime - for when I want light and or as discreet as these big bodies can come. My beater D300 + the 35 is the high risk kit, as I'm out little if something happens to it. I've paired the D800 with all 4 lenses currently in its bag successfully for single-lens shooting, although the 55 is probably the best all-round single-lens option.

I could also see in some cases going 2 lens. For the D300, 10-20 + 55 could work, and the D800 could readily go with 28+55 with the other in my pocket. This does make me want an AF 24/2.8 though, which could work as the wider lens in a viable 2 lens pocket kit for both D300 and D800, and they're dirt cheap these days.

Monday 2 April 2018

1101 Shots In

Snow On King 
 D800, 50/1.8 Series E

I've learned that there's basically 3 stages to digital camera ownership for me.

1. New Toy - typically lasts for the first couple weeks or couple hundred exposures. Camera is the new cool thing and almost assuredly going to last. It's very rare that I ever get rid of something during this period, and only if the experience is poor from the get go.

2. Equivocation - This lasts from the end of Stage 1 to typically a thousand exposures. At this point I'm wondering if it's the right camera for me and shooting typically either tapers off to a point where I just don't have any motivation to shoot, or I keep a tempo up that moves me into Stage 3. All but 2 of my mirrorless bodies failed to survive Stage 2, and most of the DSLR's as well.

3. Comfort - I've got a solid number of exposures under my belt and am comfortable with the camera and will keep shooting at a steady pace. At this point the camera will last until one of two things: external needs drive a change or I upgrade bodies for IQ. Usually it's a combo of both.

As of today, I'm now in a position where all my bodies are in Stage 3. I've just passed 1100 shots on my D800, and my current pair of D300's are at a little over 2600 between the two (not counting the 9000+ shots on my original D300). The last body I owned to hit 1000  shots was my D200 all the way back in 2014, a body I never should have sold.

The D800 is working very well for me. It's well sorted, I mostly like the UI differences between it and the D300 (and it solves the #1 annoyance on the D300 for me, accidentally knocking the AF switch to AF-C). One thing I definitely like about the D800 is unlike the previous FX bodies I've owned it's generally as good a DX body as the D300's. I give up a bit (1fps ungripped, viewfinder size in DX) but gain a bit too (3.3mp extra, better high ISO even in DX, a few improvements in handling).

One thing I'm coming to love is 1.2x crop. 25.5MP, 5fps if needed, almost as good ISO as FX crop, and not only does my 35/1.8 DX cover it, but my 10-20 covers it from 12-20mm, giving me a 14.4-24mm equivalent in 1.2x crop as well as being a 15-30mm equivalent in DX crop.

As to lenses, my current setup works, with caveats. I'm planning on slowly building the lineup out over the next year or two, largely by adding AI or AI-S lenses at low cost. I am going to post a series of short reviews of each of my lenses over the coming days & weeks, but here's a quick rundown.

1. Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6 HSM - A personal favourite, ultra wide, quite good, quite cheap.
2. Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5 AI'd- I liked it on film, but getting a handle on it on digital has been a challenge
3. Nikkor 35mm f1.8 G DX - Nikon's best bang for the buck and a favourite. Works on FX with slight vignetting
4. Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI - A legend in its own right, both in terms of performance and value.
5. Zeiss ZF.2 T* 1,4/85 Planar - Brilliant but complex lens. Fully deserving of both the accolades and disparagement it receives.
6. Nikkor 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR G AF-S - Competent but unexceptional. Reputation is better than performance today, but performance is still pretty good.
7. Nikkor 300mm f4.5 K AI'd - been in my bag for a long time (at least 7 years). Not a great performer, but adequate and dirt cheap.

Sunday 25 March 2018


Spotted Lake 
 D300, 16-85VR

Spotted Lake is a unique find, located just west of Osoyoos on Band land, but visible from the Crowsnest Highway. It's a lake filled with mineral salts, giving it's unique spotted character.

It's pretty difficult to photograph, as there's really a single vantage point on the side of the highway and the lake itself is inaccessible and access is strictly controlled by the local Band.

Friday 23 March 2018

The $20 Camera

A Burst of Yellow 
Nikon D70, 35mm f1.8 DX G

This shot was taken with a free camera. I was given a D70 last year for free (no accessories), and shot a little with it. Not bad at all for a 15 year old camera and a 10 year old lens, eh? Body didn't last long (it expired recently from the common CHA error), but for the price, who cares.

Today I did even better. For $20 and an old film camera, I got another D300. Same deal, no accessories (Battery, charger, etc) but I have all of that already, at last count I had 6 batteries, 3 chargers and around 30GB of cards usable in a D300 or other compatible body. This one's a bit of a beater, peeling rubber and some definite wear, but full functional.

It's an interesting world when a completely competent, even by modern standards, body like the D300 can be had for essentially beer money with a little horsetrading. heck, you can walk in to most stores and buy one for $250 or so with zero dickering, and that will even get you a 2 month or so warranty. Want to get into shooting? You'll get a lot more out of a D300 and an old 18-70DX than from any D3x00 or D5x00 body. Sure the newer consumer bodies have better IQ, but everything else is better on the D300, from battery life to AF to build and speed.

So live a little, grab a cheap little Pro body and experience one heck of a camera for very little cost.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Revisiting The Beginning / 2018 Goals

Just Hanging 01 
Not sure what camera, probably a Nikon FA with a 50/1.8 AF, definitely a B&W Conversion from Kodak E100VS slide film.

This is currently the oldest image posted on my Flickr, and may actually have been my first post (after 13 years, I don't remember). It's not a great image, but it is a decent street candid.

I joined Flickr in May 2005, a few months before I started shooting digital seriously with a Pentax *istD, the camera that started me on that near-endless hunt for the Right System.

That brings me around to my photographic goals for 2018. I've tried setting goals and it's rarely worked. I'm doing something a little different this time.

For 2018 my goals are:

1. Produce 365 high quality images for posting on Flickr. That's 1 a day for a 1 year period.
2. Raise my average daily views on Flickr to 1500. Right now I'm averaging around 1000.
3. Photograph 6 completely new locations.

Goals 1 & 3 are intended to refocus me from gear considerations towards shooting. #2 is largely about getting more engaged on Flickr.

My stretch goal is to post at least once a week here for the duration of the year. I've neglected this blog too much over the years.

Saturday 17 March 2018

New Beginnings

The Whatsit

 D300, 35mm f1.8 G DX

It's no secret that I've been struggling with shooting motivation over the last 5 years. I've been pretty open about how that's affected my film shooting, but less so about how that's affected my digital. Largely because I'd always assumed that film was my 'real' shooting and blamed a lot of my motivation issues on equipment struggles on the digital side. To be blunt, I love the promise of mirrorless, but the reality has never quite worked out and I was over

To elaborate, I shot the following number of digital images in each year since 2012 (my last year of full-time school, I finished school in June 2012, but didn't officially graduate until 2013)

2012 - 10233 images
2013 - 7220 images
2014 - 5224 images
2015 - 1789 images
2016 - 1640 images
2017 - 2653 images
2018 - 617 images (to date)

As a rule, I usually have a bump in production in around March, then things taper off until June, with July/August/September as my main shooting season. It's pretty clear that whatever was affecting my motivation, it bottomed out in 2015-2016 and things started looking up in 2017. I suspect the numbers are a bit off the actual trend as 2014 was the year I made a kick at the can shooting Nikon again, and that bumped the numbers up for the fall by a large amount. Never should have traded that stuff away.

Chasing the Dragon has been a big deal for me, and a major negative impact on my work. It's no surprise that my shooting started to recover when I quit fooling around and just bought an older Nikon that I knew worked for me (D300), although the decision to get rid of the mirrorless stuff and swap it for a D90 in mid-2016 was a solid idea. I think if I'd ended up with a D300 then, I would have seen my numbers recover then, rather than a year later, but that really was a matter of what I could get from trading in my m43 stuff (it's been a long time since I've actually invested real money in camera gear, it's always always been swapping plus beer money since I left Verizon in 2011, the one real exception was getting the EM-1 in 2015). It's now been nearly 2 years since I quit chasing the perfect system and I think I might just have got things finally sorted on that front.

The reality is that I'm quite comfortable shooting older Nikon kit, it's cheap, I like the results and I'm motivated to shoot. That has other benefits (especially health related, if I'm shooting, I'm walking and health & exercise is another area I've struggled with for the last few years.). And well, if my D300 dies, I'm $200 away from a replacement (amazing considering it was a $2200 camera when new and is still very capable)

As to mirrorless, I think there will long be a place in my kit for a small body with a 28mm equivalent. But nothing beyond that. As much as these systems appeal to me, what I've got works, and I shoot more when I'm using it.

Monday 12 March 2018

DoF Games

Get on The Six 
D800, Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/85 ZF.2

Shallow DoF shots are in my opinion one of the most abused photo techniques in existence. Far too often I'll see shots that are quite frankly ruined due to the use of too little DoF, especially portraits where only the eyeball(s) are actually in focus.

That said, there's a time and place for shallow DoF and shooting wide open with fast glass in good light. It comes when you're isolating a subject from its surroundings, such as the woman in the above shot. That was in broad daylight at f1.4 and the lack of DoF pulls the woman and  the bust stop pole out of a very busy shot.

I personally have long tended to shooting with lots of DoF, and of late have been looking at a lot of environmental portraiture and short-DoF landscape/cityscape work and have been enjoying it a lot more. While some fast glass aficionados do need to remember their lenses include a diaphragm, I need to remember that there are apertures other than f8 and my shutter can safely go above 1/1000

Thursday 8 March 2018

Still Shooting

D300, 35/1.8 G DX

While there hasn't been much posting, I did keep shooting regularly through the end of October, before a combination of weather and minor health issues stopped me for the winter. Ended up with about 2500 shots for the year on the D300, which is the most I've shot with one camera for quite a long time.

This year I intend to concentrate on getting out more and shooting more nature & landscape work. I do love it and haven't done nearly enough of it of late. City photography is somewhat boring me, but even then it's interesting when I get to see some new sights. Expect more from smaller-town Southern Ontario and less Toronto-centric work for the year. Also likely some more low-light work, another area I enjoy and haven't done enough of lately.