Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Missing Lens Focal Lengths for Crop-Sensor D-SLRs

It depends on what I'm shooting. I've become very partial to the 70-200 VR,since the bokeh is nice, the focal length range is fairly wide,and the lens can be made to autofocus very,very well. At times, the 1.5x FOV factor makes this lens simply TOO LONG,even when set to 70mm, such as when the action approaches the sidelines near your camera position at a football game or at a soccer match,or at abasketball game with end-line shooting position,etc.,etc. The angle of view reduction of 1.5x simply makes a 70-200 or 80-200 2.8 too long to get much more than a half-body when the action gets close. This is a big,PITA area for me when using 1.5x or what Nikon calls the "DX" sensor size, a missing lens area for Nikon,with its 1.5x or DX Format cameras.Among other lenses,Nikon is missing a wide-aperture, AF-S focusing "event/sports" zoom lens that's got a wide a wide enough angle of view to handle occasional close-up action without the need to reach for another body mounted with a 20-24 or a short normal lens like the 35/2 AF-D or a 50mm AF lens.
In good light, something lightweight and with high-geared AF screw-drive, a little plastic wunder like the 28-200 G Nikkor can actually achieve ample AF speed on close-range action--albeit only at slowish apertures of f/3.5 at 28mm,then slow death at f/5.6 at the 200mm length.I can actually see shooting baseball from the 3rd base area or the 1st base/homeplate/1st base dugout using the 28-200G and D2x. But still,Nikon is missing a zoom lens for 1.5x cameras and sports/action.
Also, there's a huge DEAD ZONE between 200mm and 300mm. And yet another DEAD ZONE spanning 300mm to 400mm with "speed". Nikon is missing lens speed (aperture) at prices people can afford.What about the 80-400 VR you ask? Well,it's variable maximum aperture and slow f/stop wise,demanding decent light and/or elevated ISO's to build shutter speeds high enough to stop motion. And,as if that's not bad enough, the AF system is stutter-prone;normally,it's adequate,and with a D1- or D2 series driving it, the 804VR(shorthand) can actually do "okay", but when the 804VR stutters or stumbles, it's slow to recover,and it has the M/A switch problem that virtually all screw-drive Nikkors are cursed with.
One of the missing lengths Nikon could make would be a 400mm f/5.6,stabilized lens,just to have parity with Canon.However I wish Nikon would go one better, and imitate Minolta's 400mm f/4.5 lens for $1899.A 400mm prime of/4.5 speed? Hell yes, sign me up! 400mm is very useful for background suppression when shooting on the tiny 1.5x DX format.
For sports/action/available light tele work, ANY aperture gain is a big thing,and as ISO's continue to perform better and better, today's an f/3.5 lens will seem amply fast once sensors advance to where ISO 1600 of "the Future" images comparably to 2005's ISO 400.In that vein, I can see the beauty of Nikon offering a 300mm f/3.5 and a 400mm f/3.5 or even the 400/4.5, like MINOLTA MAKES TODAY, all of course in AF-S for the full-time manual focusing override, and with 3rd Generation Nikon VR. I doubt Nikon will do any such things however.
What I truly,truly wish for is something built with 1.5x and 2.0x FOV in mind. Get off your ass Nikon, and do your part for the users of your 1.5x cameras. C'mon Nikon, address the sports/action/tele-zoom category. Offer to sell us a tele-ZOOM with wide aperture and a decent range when used on 1.5x! You made the 12-24 and 17-55 for the DX format you MAKE us purchase. Now, please Dear Nikon, make us a similarly valuable,useful,BestWhenShotOnDX-Zoom lens solution for sports/action photography when using a Nikon Dx-format camera. Like the D2x. Or the D2Hs. or the D70s. Or the D50. Or the D200.
Sigma's 120-300mm f/2.8 EX-HSM would be a good lens for Nikon designers to copy for ideas of what DX users really do NOT HAVE AVAILABLE in the Nikon lens lineup. Nikon offers NOTHING even remoteley comparable to this lens. The Sigma's slight problem area might be that for some sports situations, the 120mm bottom end is still a liability. The Nikkor lens of my dreams,which I'd pay $2295 or more for, would start at 50mm and go to 250mm at f/2.8 or even f/2.5 or even f/3.2--ANY reasonably fast maximum aperture with a 50mm bottom end and a 250mm top end would be a FANTASTIC lens on a 1.5x camera, like the D1h,D2h, D2Hs,D200, whatever. On the D2x, with its 1.5x or 2.0x FOV choices, again the 50mm bottom end is still a 100-500 angle of view when shot at 2.0x. Failing a 50-250mm design, Nikon would do well to build a "pro" 70-300 with once again, a fixed maximum aperture across the zoom range. I could live with f/3.5 or f/3.2 in a 70-300mm lens. The problem is, Nikon has this 200-400 VR-G lens,and it costs as much as some small automobiles. Even Sigma has a 100mm-300mm f/4 constant maximum aperture zoom lens for $899 new--so why does NIKON not offer a similar, professional-grade lens like a 100-300 f/4 AF-S Nikkor? The Sigma 100-300 f/4 is very,very,very hand-holdable,even for hours. It feels very light, very well-balanced on a heavy pro SLR like D1-D1h-D2x. Only problem is the focusing isn't as reliable and dead-on axccurate under fast action,like the 70-200VR is; the 100-300 f/4 misses AF at inexplicable opportunities,and is signigificantly worse, and I mean by a LOT, than the 70-200 VR is in terms of AF reliability shot after shot after shot in sports or action shooting,or even portraiture.
A light, hand-holdable, but built for monopoddin' 50-250mm f/3.5 or f/3.2 would be a splendid lens offering for sports shooting. And how about,Please God, Let It Be Made, a 50mm-250mm f/2.8 ED~IF, AF-S Zoom~Nikkor? A non-G lens, with VR, and a real aperture ring fer' gosh sakes, and f/2.8 all the way from 50mm to 250mm. I'd buy it, even at a high price. The 200-400 looks very,very nice for daylight shooting from stationary positions--and as long as the action is 40 meters away or farther. A 200-400, with f/4 aperture, would still mean a two-camera day, with one camera on a monopod,and the other camera around your with a slowish f/4 tele-tele-tele zoom,and then still a need for an f/2.8 lens, or even two...
What we need here is a ONE-lens solution, with f/stop,f/stop/f/stop. And with AF-S focusing!And with an aperture ring, please. And, with VR. I mean, VR is absolutely the BEST thing ever invented for panning. I personally think the VR's most useful trait is the way it stabilizes panning,and stabilizes the camera platform also, for greater ability to explore the temporal aspect of photography by using slow and slow-ish shutter speeds. Slow in sports terms can be 1/200 second, as well as 1/8th, but VR and panning are like JD and Coke. A VR zoom lens is a wonderful tool for panning and for shooting when you simply MUST try and keep steadiness at all costs.
I've been combing EXIFs for various sports....125 to 200mm is VERY,very useful, but 70-90 mm is also very commonly found.And, 300mm shooting,well, the 300mm is fine for longer reach shots, but when players come too close, the 300mm becomes very tight, very constricting,very rapidly. With a 1.5x camera, a 300 is now too doggone LONG. AND, there's no wide-aperture, fast-focusing,high-quality 200 to 300mm spanning zoom lens from Nikon.
Nikon makes a sports-capable 200mm f/2 AF-S VR-G for well about $3,995. And there's no top-grade,wide-aperture zoom between the 200mm f/2 and the 300mm f/2.8 prime Nikkors-just a five thousand dollar, 200-400mm f/4 zoom lens which is fine for moderate to longer distance shooting, but which is once again, too LONG on the bottom end of the zoom scale for sideline sports shooting. 120mm to 300mm is a vastly preferrable range for baseball and soccer and footbal and track and field compared with 200mm to 400mm. For sports use, I'd actually really RATHER have a 240 or 250mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens than a 300mm 2.8 model,especially with the D2x with 1.5 and 2.0x FOV options. Additional aperture would be nice, like f/2.5 and 240 to 250mm. VR would be sweet and welcome as well.
With Nikons at 1.5x for the most part, there's a fairly annoying selection of focal lengths where Nikon has NO ZOOM that offers class-leading aperture speed, with AF-S focusing, and with a focal length that allows for ONE lens to be used to cover sideline sports with the kind of versatility one gets when a full-frame camera is used. As long as FOV factors remain 1.5 to 2.0x with Nikon these 70-200 and 80-200 and 200-400 zooms continue to suck, and the four thousand dollar 200mm f/2 and the similarly very costly 300mm f/2.8 VR-G lens just mean a nuisance situation all too much of the time.
Nikon has adressed the 10.5mm fisheye with de-barrelizing software in Nikon Capture, and has done well with the 12-24 Dx, and has the 17-55 Dx.Nikon has done very well to address the wide-angle problem with DX-sensored cameras.But Nikon has no 50-250mm f/2.8. Nikon makes 55-200mm in cheap-o grade. Nikon does 70-300 in cheap-o grade and consumer grade, but has no PRO-grade and PRO-speed 70-300 with AF-S focusing and a wide aperture,like f/2.8 or even f/3.2 or f/3.5. Nikon's really not done squat to optimize actual sideline usefulness for DX-sensored cameras. I think full-frame Nikon is not that far away, but it has been very annoying to see basically NO top-quality, even semi-affordable normal-to-tele zoom lenses designed for sports/events/news from Nikon. 70-200 times 1.5x....ERRRRRRR! Too damned LONG! And not long enough on top! Jeezis, get a clue, and make a frickin' 50-250mm f/2.8 lens, put this new 3rd generation VR isn it, put an aperture collar on it, make the barrel lightweight magnesium, and slap a $3,500 price tag on it. Problem solved. For good. With 1.5 and 2.0x in-camera modes and the D2x, you'd be in heaven with a 50-250mm f/2.8.

1 comment:

BP Kev said...

You Derrel, I would settle for a 50-250 f2.8-4. Give me the reach first, then the speed.