Friday, December 09, 2005

dPreview gear threads Derrel'sTake: 2005 Dec. 9

Top thread of interest at dPreview comes from Nikon D2x shooter Jim Fenton,whose thread entitled "Incredible Raptor Opportunity D2x" has 70 replies as I write this,and it helps illustrate the underlying principle of my essay, "It's not the frame rate, it's the focusin system,stupid."
Please visit Jim's post and see just how wonderfully he covered a really nice raptor photo op[] . Jim's results demonstrate in successful photographs how a 5 FPS-or-better camera with a decent RAW buffer can help spell the difference between being able to capture sequential action,and bringing back GREAT SHOTS, or merely watching great shots wither and die off into mere memories while waiting for a slow buffer to write to the damned card, or being hampered by a three-frame RAW buffer or some other such nonsense.Had Jim been in this situation and had he been using a Fuji S3 Pro or a Nikon D70 in RAW mode,well,this sequence might have been merely memories in Jim's brain, and not high-quality,high-rez,moire-free D2x captures.Using a 500mm Nikkor and a 1.4x converter at less than forty feet,Jim Fenton got some damned nice hawk pictures.An awesome sequence! The hawk is hopping and digging in the snow,and is captured with awesome highlights in his eyeballs,dead-on focus,with detail rendered right down to the delicateness of the snow the hawk dug up with his own feet! This was,indeed, an Incredible Raptor Opportunity,captured with ample Dynamic Range,ahem, and beautiful colors.As if this post wasn't enough, Jim also uploaded additional,ancillary frames the next day,from this same incredible sequence.When suddenly confronted with a once-in-a-lifetime situation like this, the deep buffer depths of the newer,more-expensive D-SLR's offer the ability to shoot more frames,over more seconds, with fewer delays, than ever before.
Question:Anyone using Nikkor 180mm AF-D on S2?
Derrel's take: nice lens, have it, small,light,sharp, AF is acceptable with S2 driving the lens. AF is reasonably good, but not reliably as good as an AF-S lens.Lens barrel has M/A switch which must be slid to engage either 1) Manual focus or 2)Auto focus.This lens works reasonably well as a manual focus lens, but must be switched to A mode to Autofocus, and out of A mode when you need to go to Manual focus. So...mechanically kind of kludgy on the 180mm AF's (2 models) and the AF-D model which is current as of 2005.180 AF-D is a very solid optical performer on the S2.Plenty sharp, works acceptably well with Kenko's Autofocusing 11mm extension ring as a sort of macro lens for 3-D subjects like bugs,plants,etc. No tripod ring, so not nearly as handy for tripod-mounted macro shooting as a dedicated 180 or 200mm macro with tripod collar, but nice for sports/scenics/landscape details/some action photography especially if the FASTEST and MOST-sure autofocus is not critical. Did I say light? It's LIGHT. And damned sharp. Buy it used from a secondary market dealer in the USA or eBay.There is an older, pre-D or "early model" that has a plastic-finished barrel and a very far-forward focusing ring,which is often available for only $300 or so and is best defined as being "the plastic-barreled 180".Most people like the later, AF but pre-D crinkle-finished model,or the AF-D model,also with a crinkle finished barrel. I've owned both the AF and AF-D,crinkle-finished models,and both are optically excellent and very sturdy. I think this lens is a bad buy new,and that used is the way to buy this tough little nugget.
Which macro lens:Nikkor 105mm 2.8D or the Tokina AT-X 100mm 2.8? Derrel's take: Tokina 100mm AT-X, which is a new, f/2.8 macro lens recently tested by Popular photography & Imaging magazine,and their results for the Tokina AF are absolutely stellar. The SQF test results it earned were so darned good, the Pop Photo editors said this lens gives pause to Canon and Nikon owners as to whether their own system's lens are actually worth the additional (substantial) price premium over this truly excellent,new Tokina macro lens. Cash-wise, the Tokina is around $369-$399--while Canon's 100mm f/2.8 USM EF Macro and the 105mm f/4 AF-D Micro-Nikkor are both well,significantly more money.I own the Canon 100mm f/2.8 EF USM Macro, which is a pretty damned good lens,I must say. On the EOS 20D, the Canon lens is a fine lens at detail resolution and contrast,but the shape of its OOF highlights is pretty on backlighted scenes where there are a lot of highlights, the Canon does not render those OOF highlights as prettily as,say,the Tamron 90 does,and compared with the 105 DC, the OOF highlight rendition of the Canon macro is,well,crap, while the 105 DC yields simply lovely OOF highights.So, as a pictorial lens, I prefer the Tamron's 90mm AF-SP over the Canon 100mm macro. The Tamron 90 AF-SP is a cult classic macro lens,with pretty decent bokeh--better than Canon's, prettier to my eye in both the shape and the rendition of OOF highlights than the Canon EF Macro on the same types of scenes. The AF-SP designation is still available as new stock, but the lens has recently been updated to the 90mm f/2.8 Di, for Digitally Integrated. The AF-SP, while an exceptionally sharp lens, DOES,at times, suffer from diaphragm-shaped ghost images on the Fuji S2,particularly under studio flash illumination levels and situations where some spill light off of umbrellas/or 45 or 60-degree reflector grazes the front element,or occasionally when in intense contre jour lighting situations outdoors,when the sun is really slanting in badly and hitting the naked front element directly. Otherwise, the 90 AF-SP model has a deeply recessed front element + the lens hood and you're "normally" pretty resistant to ghosting when this lens is shot against the light,or in some studio situations. Perhaps the newer Digitally Integrated coating and other changes (?) make the 90mm Di-series Tamron macro better than its already excellent predecessor on the S2 Pro. Used, the AF-SP is often a bargain. It's well worth as much as $250 used in recent vintage and in good condition. The Nikkor 105 AF-D Micro is very sharp,but I really don't like the way this lens draws the scenes it captures. I think its overall look is very sterile,ultra-sharp,and well,not very sweet. I'd rather shoot the Tamron 90. I own the Canon 100 EF Macro,and consider it as sharp as the Tamron in practical shooting, but the Tamron renders scenes more to my liking than the Canon does. I've seen quite a few Sigma 105 EX macro samples from the model that was out in 2003,a lot of them shot on the Sigma SD-9,and was very favorably impressed by the lens's sharpness and fine detail retrieval.VERY favorably impressed. I would rather own this Sigma 105 EX Macro lens than the Nikkor 105 Micro.It is not that difficult to design or make a 100 or 105mm macro lens,and even the el-cheapo Phoenix AF macro lens at around $100 (yes, AF, and around a hundrd bucks) renders macro-range scenes quite sharply and adroitly from everything I've been able to see from it.
Remember,we're talking about single focal length,purpose-built lenses here, with a fairly small number of lens elements,in pretty well-conceived formulas,nothing radical,no ED glass needed,with focal length short enough that apochromatic design parameters are not essential,and so on.Each lens is a bit different from each other model, but Tamron's 90mm Di macro and Tokina's 2005-released 100mm AF macro have both earned good reviews.Based on what I have seen,and read from numerous owners web-wide,I would not hesitate for one second to buy a Sigma,Tamron,or Tokina,or even a Phoenix AF macro lens in the 90 to 105mm autofocus class,for F-mount or Canon EF mount,particularly if you're going to use it sparingly.I say buy a 90 to 105mm macro FIRST,and only then buy your 50 to 60mm macro lens or your 180-200mm macro lens.
From T-ball: Which is the best TTL flash for the Fuji S2 pro?
Derrel's take:I'll side with Anthony and hy,two sane Fujistas,and go along wholeheartedly with their answer that the Nikon SB800 speedlight is the best unit for the S2,offering easy operation,good results,LOGICAL controls on the flash itself, and speed of recycle. As commercial photographer Jean Bernier points out, the SB 800 comes with good accessories, and can use a nicely made Nikon aded-on battery pack,although I think Jean's recommendation of no more than 15-full-power flashes followed by at least a 10-minute rest might be a bit too cautious in terms of really pushing this flash to the maximum. However, using FULL, manual power flash pops will always create the maximum amount of heat possible with each flash.Usually when I'm shooting sequential flash,my flash bursts will NOT be anywhere near full-power, but at a TTL or fractional power setting of something more along the lines of 3/4 to 1/2 of what the flash's maximum discharge is (ie...400 ISO or perhaps ISO 500 or even 640 ISO flash at a wide-ish aperture of f/4 to f/5.6) and so for that type of use, there's no need for lengthy cool-down periods. Or, the flash will be used as fill-in,and will be outputting a mere 'wink' of light,or used at 1/4 to 1/32nd power,at which levels the SB800 will keep up with even the D2x's Continuous High at close ranges for moderate burst shooting,if needed.The fifth battery option with the SB800 is a good alternative to a Quantum or Sunpak or other brand of external battery pack. Recycle times with five well-charged batteries are excellent. Just make sure ALL the batteries are good,solid cells! I personally find the performance of the SB800 with its fifth battery to be so good that I leave the SB800 set up that way all of the time. For sticking on a bracket,or in the hot shoe of an S2,or D70,or D2x, the SB800 is a very,very good flash choice. Nikon's finally succeeded in building a digitally-precise flash with imitation analogue control buttons,with good icons and easy,sure button-press controls. The control design of the SB800 is better than my second-favorite choice, the SB-28 DX flash from Nikon. TTL control is not the cat's meow,and good AUTO-flash units like the Vivitar 285HV and the Sunpak 622 Super PRO also work wonders with the S2,provided the operator knows how to fine-tune his flash unit's ISO and/or his S2's ISO settings to get the best results.
55mm Micro-Nikkor images from Classic Man.As he put it,a self-assignment he gave himself, with one subject...with a twist.
Derrel's take:Very nicely seen AND executed. This is not earth-shattering, yet it's also better than run of the mill, by far,creatively conceived,and fun to look at. Worth of posting,worthy of seeing.
From the poster streussel, a post entitled "some B&W thumbs".
Derrel's take:A contact sheet-like presentation,nothing fancy really,but some nice-looking images of a good male model and a nice-looking female model. Worth looking at,nicely presented,easy look for those on dial-up, really just thumbnails,a contact sheet if you will,only better. Call it a mini-collage of thumbnail sized selects.Kudos.

From e-mail: Which 180-200mm macro lens would you buy for F-mount?
Derrel's Take: I don't shoot a lot of tele-macro scenes,but in 2006 I would say look to the Tamron 180mm Di macro lens as a top pick. Nice background bokeh on sample photos I have seen, a nice defocused character, a nice way of drawing scenes, lovely as a pictorial lens for travel scnes,scenics, landscape detail isolation,and also macro-range images involving 3-D objects. Sharp,new,modern coatings,fairly priced,attractive. Sigma's 180 mm f/3.5X APO Macro, with HSM focus and internal focusing (constant,fixed barrel length),well I own it, and I think it's acceptably good,but I am not really 100 percent happy with it for fast action, but it's pretty good overall. Has some quirks, but overall, a good value especially at used prices. Nikon's 200mm f/4 AF-D Micro...costly...bokeh looks less attractive to me than the nwer Tamron 180. And finally, two very nice alternatives to a macro lens: Consider the 300mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor with a high-quality,two-element Canon 500D closeup lens or a Kenko AF extension tube as very viable options. Also consider the 105mm f/2 Defocus Control Nikkor as a beautiful close-range lens on many 3-D scenes,especially with an extension tube added. Try the 105 D.C. paired with an 12mm extension ring and experiment with the defocusing capability for some unusual effects that are simply not possible with anything except a defocus control Nikkor. Or use the 300/4 AFS to pop off nice closeups from rather long-ish distances,especially with a flash unit.

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