Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Canon vs Nikon

I don't mean to be boring... I HATE the whole Canon vs Nikon debate. But unfortunately, that's what it's boiled down to for me in the last day or so. Let me explain...

I've talked about reassessing my camera kit in the last few posts - and I'd gone a good way to achieving just that. The 24mm f2.8 Nikkor has been sold, as has the 85mm f1.8, 75-300mm f4/5.6 and the Sony A200 DSLR with Minolta 35-70mm f4. I've just got the Tokina 19-35mm f3.5/4.5 to go.

I'd decided that with the money I made from the sales, I would get a wide-angle lens for my Nikon D300 (the Tokina 12-24mm f4 is the front runner). I've been looking around on the internet for a few days while all the selling had been going on, and was almost going to make a purchase, when I came across my Canon 5D body. It's been in storage for about a year because the top LCD and inside viewfinder info had stopped working, but I didn't really have the money to get it checked out/fixed. But now I have...

So, having been convinced just a few days ago that I was a happy Nikon shooter, the Canon 5D has thrown a spanner in the works!

I've sent the body away to a camera repairer and asked him to give me a quote for repair. If it's not astronomical then I will go ahead with the repair - and then I really will have a decision to make.

Fully functional, the Canon 5D is a beautiful camera to use, with a full framer sensor and ergonomics that I really love using. And given the fact that I'm still paying the thing off (and will be for quite some time), I really need to be using it - don't I?

What makes the decision even harder - especially for wedding shooting, is the fact that my assistant who helps me when I shoot weddings owns some of the best glass you can get for Canons (24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8) and I'm sure she would let me use them. So I wouldn't necessarily have to buy any glass for the 5D (although I would). That's the kind of quality glass that I can't even dream of getting for  my Nikon - not in the foreseeable future at least.

Of course this is all dependent on the cost of the 5D's repair. If it's a few hundred dollars then I'll go for it. Any more than that, and I'll have to think even more seriously. But even so, I really should get it fixed while I can.

If I get it fixed, and if it's a reasonable price, then I may be moving back to Canon! Boy oh boy. Never say Never!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Nikkor 24mm f2.8D lens review

Nikkor 24mm f2.8D on the mighty Nikon D300!

As per my previous post, my beloved 24mm f2.8D is up for sale - and as of today, has actually sold! So before it goes to it's new owner :-(  I thought I'd better do a quick review of it!

This won't be a brick wall and newspaper type pixel-peeper review, but more of a practical user-experience review of my impressions of this little lens. And the first comment to make is that it is, indeed, a small lens. It doesn't make much of an impression on the semi-pro D300, and all but disappears when you put the vertical grip on the camera.

That said, because it is all metal and glass (made in Japan, not plastic from Thailand), it has good heft and weight, and is very useable on the heavier mid-range to pro Nikon bodies. On the DX format bodies such as the D300 it has a field-of-view equivalent to a 36mm lens in traditional 35mm film camera terms, while, of course, on the full frame FX bodies like the D700 or D3x, the 24mm is - a 24mm!

Although thought of traditionally as a wide angle 'landscape' lens, the 24mm on a DX body becomes more of a 'standard' photojournalist lens (many photographers were famous for using 35mm prime lenses in the film days) and can easily be used for portraits - even wide open.

This shot of my son Joshua (at home recovering from the flu), was shot at f2.8 - and is tack sharp on his eyes and face. As an 'environmental portrait' lens, the 24mm on a cropped sensor digital camera is superb.

At f5.6 to 8, optimal sharpness across the whole frame is achieved, and I couldn't imagine many other lenses would be sharper. The 24mm f2.8D is well known as a sharp optic, and I can see why. Colour, tone and contrast is also excellent, and flare is well handled due to the relatively simple construction of the lens elements.

I should also mention that though not quite silent, the screw-type autofocus isn't overly noisy - and is quick and accurate given the small distance it needs to turn to obtain focus. As with all earlier Nikkor AF lenses, the 24mm f2.8D has an actual aperture ring so f-stops can be selected manually if needed, and it also has a distance scale window with an infra-red focusing mark, and distance markings for f11, f16 and f22. the manual focusing ring at the front of the lens, although smallish, has a chunky rubber surface, and rotates smoothly. It only takes a quarter turn from closest focusing to infinity. And speaking of close focus, the 24mm focuses down to  30cm, as can be seen in the shot of the 'Viento' logo on the back of my car. This was also taken at f2.8 and as you can see, the background blurs out of focus smoothly - creating reasonably creamy bokeh (although admittedly this isn't probably what this lens was designed for).

The Nikkor 24mm f2.8D really is a beautiful lens that produces fantastic results. Stopped down to f5.6 or 8 it's sharp across the frame, producing true colours and great value in a very small package. If I was shooting landscapes with a D700 full frame camera, or was a photojournalist who took a lot of environmental portraits with my D300, then I wouldn't even consider selling this lens, it would be on the camera 90% of the time.

But as a landscape and wedding shooter, who isn't interested in street photography, the 24mm focal length is an 'odd' size for me - so it is no longer in my bag.

I will be sad to see it go, but I also hope that its next owner gets a lot of use out of it and takes some cracking images with it. It's capable of all that - and more.

Pssst... anybody wanna buy a Sony A200?

For the last few posts (and over the last month) I've been raving about the Sony A200 digital SLR. And with good reason. It's a cracker of a camera, and I've thoroughly enjoyed using it. So why the heck, you might ask, am I selling it!

Very good question... and one answer might be "Because that's what I do". I buy and sell cameras. Mostly.

Another answer might be "Because I really needed to qualify what I used, and why I used it." And the logical conclusion to this technological naval-gazing, ultimately, was that I'm a Nikon shooter (love my D300), so the Sony A200 - as much fun as it was - had to go.

And really, that's my answer, and I'm sticking to it.

Winter is always a time for me to take stock of my gear (quite literally), and look back over the last wedding season to decide what worked, what didn't, and what I can improve on. Perhaps because I purchased the Sony, I've also been looking very seriously at my whole system - what I'm using, what I'm not using - and maybe even more importantly, what I'd like to be using. Quite frankly, the answers surprised me.

I've decided that 1.) I am a Nikon shooter. So the Sony has to go. If I want a second body it will be a Nikon - and in the meantime I will continue to take my wife's D70 with me on shoots as backup. It's been working fine like this, and I see no reason to change it for the next wedding season. Together with this decision is the fact that I am still very happy with the D300, and see no reason to 'upgrade' the camera at all. I don't feel the need to go 'full frame', and have always been more than happy with the quality (and file sizes) I get with the APS-C sized sensor - so that's another decision in the D300's favor. Nor do I yearn for HD video capabilities in my SLR's - so that gives me another few years grace from upgrading. I'm sure that the next camera I get will have HD video capability, but not because I want it - simply because all cameras will have it as standard whether we want it or not :-(

I've also decided that 2.) Most of my lenses are redundant! I've finally realised (after 25 years) that there is a huge difference between lenses I want to own, and lenses I'll actually use. If I'm being brutally honest (and I am), there are currently only two lenses that I use (regularly) when I go to a wedding - my Nikkor 18-70mm standard zoom, and my Nikkor 50mm f1.8 prime. If I use any other lens, I make myself get it out and use it. So what am I carrying the rest of them around for?

My 24mm f2.8D is a gorgeous lens - but it isn't wide enough for landscape work on a DX body like the D300, so I don't use it. Likewise, my 85mm f1.8 is a beautiful lens, but again I find the focal length (135mm) on the D300 less than practical for my style of shooting. I much prefer the 50mm (75mm) view and so find myself using that instead. On traditional 35mm film cameras, the 24mm and 85mm prime lenses are 'classic' lenses to own and use - so I own them. But I'm finding that, on a DX digital body, I'm not using them.

Do I keep them for when I go 'full frame' with a Nikon D700? Well, no, because I've already decided that I have no intention of changing to a full-frame camera anytime soon (never say never), so I need to look at what I might actually use on the camera I have.

So the final decision is that 3.) I need to buy an ultra-wide lens for my landscape photography. As mentioned I can, and do, shoot weddings with just two lenses - and I am more than happy with the results. But when I go out to take my own landscape images, I am constantly wishing I could go wider. My current lens collection is lacking an ultra-wide for my landscapes.

After a week or so of internet trolling and review reading, I've decided to sell my 24mm, 85mm and 70-300mm f4/5.6 ED - and get a Tokina 12-24mm f4 ultra-wide angle lens. Why this particular lens? Well, for a start, with the money I get from selling the other lenses, the Tokina will be in my price range (the Nikkor 12-24mm won't be) - and of all the third party lens manufacturers, I like Tokina's quality the best (Tokina was started by ex Nikon lens engineers who wanted to make their own range). I'm not an ultra-wide junky, so the 12-24mm (18-36mm 35mm equivalent) focal range is a good compromise (as opposed to the 10-20mm Sigma which was the other lens I was interested in).

If, between now and then, a used Nikkor 12-24mm comes on-line in my price range, then I'll probably grab that instead. But if I buy brand-new, then it will be the Tokina.

So my Nikon kit will go down from a 6 lens kit to a three lens kit - but it will be three lenses that I will actually use. The other good news? A much lighter camera bag :-)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Landscapes with the Tokina 19-35mm and A200

Finally got a chance to get out and take some landscapes tonight with the new lens. It's been pouring down with rain over the weekend, so I spent a frustrating time watching the rain instead of out taking photos. But tonight that was all forgotten.

Went out after work to a beach not too far from hone - along the coast road. It's a place that I have taken wedding photos at before, but never explored it for my own landscape images.

I went out there with a pre-conceived idea of what I was going to capture - and as per usual, as soon as I arrived all those ideas went out the window. There are some very cool tidal pool areas to explore, but when I arrived the tide was in, and the waves were pounding against the shore (not surprisingly given the amount of aforementioned rain we've had).

So I had to re-evaluate what I was going to shoot, and came across this very cool log formation well above the tide. A perfect subject for the Tokina to really sink its teeth into!

I was getting some very dramatic sky, and had fortunately fitted the lens with a Cokin Grey ND Graduate filter. I use the larger 'P' type filters, so there was no vignetting in the corners, even with the Tokina set to its full 19mm (which is pretty much where I left it all evening).

I also put the A200 on a tripod (turning Steady Shot 'off' on the Sony),  and set the aperture to f16 for plenty of depth-of-field. I also focused manually on the log to make sure that was my sharpest area of focus.

As expected, the Tokina captured some beautiful images (matched with the Sony A200 of course), and was a joy to use. Even with the sun full in the frame, flare wasn't too big of an issue (the ND Grey Grad filter helps to cut down glare as well), and the resulting images are sharp, punchy, contrasty and bang-on in terms of color rendition.

The more I use the A200, the more I enjoy using the A200. I'm getting used to its quirks, and loving the images I'm getting out of it.

Sony have a host of new cameras soon to be released (at Photokina at the end of this month), and the buzz about them is very positive. Match that with some fantastic, but cheap, Minolta and Tokina lenses, and you have a winning formula as far as I'm concerned.

Sony, I think you may have a new convert...