Wednesday, 2 May 2012

After the dust has settled...

It seems that all the buying and selling is now over, and I can sit back and reflect on my new kit.

I did buy a D200, and am very happy with its condition. Very good nick - low shutter count, clean lcd, and overall 8 out of 10 condition. Having used it over the last couple of weeks I have found it responsive, with very sure auto focus and quick processing times. Yes, it's a little more 'noisy' at high ISO's, but I certainly don't worry going up to 800, and would use 1600 if I absolutely had to get the shot.

So with the body out of the way, I obviously turned to lenses. And the first lens I went for, given my reasonably tight budget, was the Nikkor 18-70mm f4.5/5.6 EF-S lens.

Yes, it's a 'kit' lens - but I still maintain it's one of the best kit lenses ever built - period. I even saw it recommended by a pro wedding photographer in England as his favourite wedding lens and I have to agree. For a Nikon shooter on a budget, there's just no better walk-around, everyday medium-range lens than this beauty. For the price (I paid $250NZ) it's fast to focus, silent, smooth, well built (metal lens mount) and very sharp. It's not perfect - no lens is - and I would like VR, but you can't have everything (especially not for that price). It stays on my camera 80% of the time, and is my go-to shoot anything, walk-about lens. Brilliant.

My next lens purchase took care of the wide-angle / landscape end of my shooting needs, and is another high quality lens that I consider a real bargain - the Tokina 12 to 24mm f4. At half the price of the equivalent Nikkor, but with almost exactly the same image performance and quality construction, the Tokina is a no-brainer.

It may be a little soft at f4, but that's not what this lens is geared towards. At f5.6 through to F16 this baby is tack sharp, right where you need it to be for a landscape lens. I will probably use it on weddings for the large group shots - again at f5.6 of f8, right in the sweet spot. But it will get most of its use out in the field, shooting landscapes. I will review this lens when I get a chance and post some landscapes I take with it. Can't wait.

Early on, when deciding on the lenses to get for my new kit, I knew I wanted a 'standard' lens that was reasonably 'fast' (large aperture) that I could use in fairly low light, indoors, that could double as a portrait lens (roughly in the 80 to 90mm field of view when taking the cropped sensor of the D200 into consideration).

I figured this would be a Nikkor nifty fifty (50mm f1.8D) that I always recommend to my photography students and use a lot myself on weddings for hair, make-up, getting ready and assorted detail shots - especially in doors.

But I have always wished I had a Macro lens on these occasions as well - especially when doing detail and ring shots on a wedding - so I decided to combine both and found a 60mm f2.8D Micro Nikkor for a fantastic price - basically the same price I would have paid for the standard 50mm. What do I loose? Well - two full stops of light for a start - but after that, not much else. And to be honest, I'm often wary of using the 50mm at f1.8 because of the very shallow depth of field, so usually open up to around f2 to f2.8 anyway. And what I'm gaining, of course, is the macro capabilities - as well as a super sharp lens. I haven't tested it out yet, but I also expect it will perform well as a portrait lens, wide open, for bride and groom shots. Again, I will test the lens out for both macro and portraiture and report back.

No kit would be complete without a telephoto lens, but to be honest, it's not a lens that I use a lot. I didn't want to go for the ultra-cheap Nikkor 70-300mm G lens - the reviews aren't great and I have an aversion to lenses with plastic mounts. But since it's not a lens that was high on my priority list, I also didn't want to have to fork out almost $1k for a 70-300mm 4/5.6 VR lens!

I briefly considered the new Tamron 70-300mm with Image Stabilization and a Sonic Motor - it's getting some amazing reviews and I almost bought one. But even $600 was a bit too much for a lens I knew I wouldn't use much, so I held out until the lens that I really wanted eventually came up for auction - the Nikkor 70-300mm f4/5.6 ED.

A 'little' better built than the 'G' lens (it's got a metal lens mount) and fitted with one ED lens element, it's a lens that I've owned before, and is a solid performer (if a bit soft at 300mm). But again, for a lens that I really won't use all that often (but is there when I need it), it was an absolute steal! It cost me $150NZ - less than some of the basic 'G' lenses are going for, so I was very happy and at that price really can't complain (even with poor 300mm performance).

So that rounds out my lenses now, right? Well no, not quite. My last lens was an impulse purchase that I bought almost out of curiosity more than anything - and is very 'left of field', even for me.

While looking on-line at Trademe one night, I came across an auction for an 85mm f1.4 for $350NZ. I almost fell out of my chair and had to re-read the auction to make sure I'd read it right the first time around. An 85mm f1.4 for $350.00 is just crazy stupid - even second hand they should go for $800 to $1000 (and up). What was wrong with this one?

And then I read further and the 'catch' dawned on me - the lens was a 'Rokinon' and is only manual focus - so it's got to be crap, even at that price, right?

Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search for the Rokinon 85mm f1.8, expecting to come across numerous reviews moaning about 'horrible this', and 'rubbish that'. But instead, what I actually read were glowing reviews, very happy owners, and excellent test scores when compared with the equivalent Canon and Nikon 85mm f1.4's. I got very excited!

The Rokinon is sold in America, but is actually a Korean lens (it just seems to get worse really, doesn't it?), made by Samyang and also sold as Bower and Vivitar branded lenses. As mentioned, it is a manual focus only lens, with an aperture ring, although the Nikon version I ended up getting (yes, I couldn't help myself) does have an electronic chip that allows full aperture control on the D200. It also means that the focus confirmation dot lights up in the camera viewfinder to confirm you're in focus, so manual focus needn't necessarily be a chore without the aid of a split-focusing screen.

With so many glowing reviews, both in terms of build quality and lens quality, I just had to grab it and see for myself what this lens was like to use. I have always loved the 85mm focal length for portraits, and have owned both the Canon and Nikon versions of the 85mm f1.8. The f1.4 versions have always been far too rich for my humble bank account to cope with - but here we have an 85mm f1.4 with outstanding image quality - all be it with the 'limiting' factor of no auto focus. Is this really such a problem? Well, apart from getting it out of the box and taking two random shots indoors with it set to f1.4 (and focusing wasn't a problem), only time - and a decent hands-on test, will tell. But ironically, out of all the lenses I've purchased for the D200, this is the one that excites me the most. I can't wait to get out and take some photos with it.

So five 'new' lenses, to go with my 'new' Nikon D200. It might sound like a lot, but I got them all for really great prices on-line, and managed to sell my existing Canon gear for equally good prices (this time in my favour), so came well within budget. I even managed to buy a brand new flash - a Chinese rip-off of the Canon 580EX. But that's another blog post...

1 comment:

  1. Wayne, congrats on the D200! I think I may be going full circle & revert back to a kit lens, quality of the images is not to bad. I look forward to seeing your lens reviews & images. Five new lenses!, wow good score!
    I just bought the Sony a57 instead of the a580 (a580 not available in Canada..) The a57 has the translucent mirror & I was very hesitant to purchase but so far so good!
    Enjoy your newly aquired gear! Long live photography! :-)


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