Monday, February 19, 2007

February 2007 Thoughts on D-SLR Cameras and Lenses

Well, just wanted to get a new post out,much shorter and easier to read than the normal blog posts. I saw Nora Efron on Charlie Rose a while back,and she said that if it takes longer than about ten or fifteen minutes to write a blog post, then "you're not blogging, that's something else." Huh. Well, I dunno' what the definition of blogging is really--I think of these as little thought exercises. If I'd outline and proofread better,these things might be considered essays, or editorials, diatribes, or even articles. But hey, if you want articles, you buy a magazine,right? Well, on to my Miscellaneous February 2007 Ramblings!

*The little Nikon D40 is a reasonably capable,inexpensive d-slr. Its low-light AF assist lamp does a pretty good job,and the pop-up flash does a fine job of balancing flash and ambient lighting at LOW light levels. I shot some JPEGS at a wedding reception,using the pop-up flash in a room that had plenty of candles, small tungsten bulbs, and swirling lanterns that projected small beams of light around the room and was very wife's little D40 set on Program did a DAMNED fine job of producing straight out of camera JPEGS with the pop-up flash giving a nice what I call TTL-BL look,but in low light! I have since shot some family photos in my own home,where I have photographed for years using various flash units and cameras (Vivitar 285,Sunpak 622 Super,Nikon SB-28DX and SB 800 from least-used to most-used) and I have to say, the Nikon D40 and SB 600 (six hundred) are the BEST COMBO I HAVE EVER USED for indoor,family flash photography where the goal is consistently good and PLEASING exposures,shot after shot,with bounce flash in our white-painted, cathedral-ceilinged rooms (14-18 foot ceiling height in room-center). The in-camera JPEG processing,the exposure computation,and the reliability of the D40's light metering have made me very envious of the D40's flash and metering capabilities. The D2x sucks at flash in these SAME three rooms,at least in comparison to how the D40 computes the exposures with flash. The D2x is much more prone to WB shifts, and frame-to-frame exposure variations than the D40 is. The D40 plus SB 600 (six hundred) combo is a significantly easier-to-shoot camera than the D2x with SB 800 (eight hundred) is. The Nikon D40 is an easy to shoot little camera, with doggone good light metering, Auto ISO, and pretty good AF even in crappy lighting as long as the AF assist is on. And ALL of this positive shooting has been done with the 18-55 kit lens-no other lenses have been tested on my wife's D40. I have simply got to say this, the fellow who left the comment on my blog that the D40 is a "little shitbox" of a camera--Uh,dude,that's totally wrong. It's a significantly BETTER camera than I expected it to be,and it performs MUCH,much better than say a Fuji S2 or a D70 or a D2x,at least with flash exposures and with in-camera JPEG output. I think the D40 puts the D2X to shame with flash. Seriously.

I'll say this--all things considered,and I mean ALL things considered, I would RATHER have the the 6.1 Megapixel D40 sensor and image processing engine in my D2X than the 12.4 Megapixel Sony CMOS sensor my D2X is saddled with. Seriously. The type of pictures the D40 produced at an indoor basketball game this weekend would put my D2x to SHAME. At just ISO 500, the D2x demands NEFs, noise reduction on those NEFs,and careful post,and as you go toward higher ISO settings, I don't think the D2x image quality keeps up with the D40's IQ when both are shot at elevated ISO's. Of course, the D2X's offical top ISO is 800--anything higher is a Hi-setting which is not really an ISO equivalent.

**Canon's going to be updating the 5D this year I think, and I'm really interested in what that will do. PMA this year is going to be very,very,very interesting. I sense a huge,lemming-like mass of Nikon shooters are assembling near of high bluffs everywhere, prepared to rush headlong toward uncertainty after Canon's PMA announcements hit. Nikon today announced something like five new compact cameras, two weeks prior to PMA. Hmmm....

**I think people who compare the D200 to the EOS 30D typically feel that the D200 is a "better camera" than the EOS 30D. I do think it's interesting how MUCH of the "good stuff" Nikon put into the D200,such as the ability to meter with Ai and Ai-S lenses, the tricked out i-TTL flash control protocol, and the high-quality body and nice build for under $1699 at introduction (D200 prices have dropped lower now), but what I think the Canon 20D and 30D offer over the D200 is better High ISO performance. Rob Galbraith at wrote, "Of all the Canon and Nikon digital SLRs we've ever used, the 20D produces the cleanest, most printable RAW and JPEG files at the upper ISO settings. " end quote. Of ALL of the Canon and Nikon d-slr's the Rob Galbraith staff has used, the EOS 20D was the winner for the "cleanest, most printable RAW and JPEG files at the upper ISO settings." And, BTW, they've shot MOST ALL of the Canon and Nikon d-slr's there. For PJ use, or for ambient light basketball, Gabraith himself states unequivocally that the 20D is a vastly better camera for ambient light basketball than the D200 is. His opinion. I do not own a D200....I own a 20D though,and I shot an ambient light basketball game this weekend with the 20D,and was ASTOUNDED at the quality of the images at ISO 1600. Very,very pleased. Typically, I shoot basketball with portable flash units mounted on light stands about 60 feet from the hoops,and use Pocket Wizard flash triggering,shooting ONE or TWO frames per possession,using the D2x at ISO 400 or 500 and a Cusatom Curve that yields a Minus 1.3 to Minus 1.7 stop boost in "apparent" ISO speed or aperture or shutter speed, making my ISO 400 on the D2x work more like ISO 1000 or ISO 1250,which is "acceptable" for newspaper publication. But High 1 on the D2x without flash--fuggedabout it. In-print,in 4-color, D2x pictures shot at above ISO 800 look like shit, even in the newspaper. In black and white, they look a little bit better, but EOS 1D and 1D Mark II files from other guys I know look better. The D40 looks better, from what I've seen, and is Nikon's BEST ISO 1600 imager,overall.

**Nikon needs more VR and more AF-S focusing lenses. I do think that with a 1.5x crop camera, the 300mm f/2.8 lens has lost a tremendous amount of usefulness for sports like track and field and soccer and indoor basketball at the far end of the court. MOST of the arguments about the beauty of the 1.5x crop stem from people who are interested in photographing very distant things. However, if you have press credentials or are just there, on the sidelines where you want to be, a 300mm lens on a 1.5x camera is still too damned LONG for many,many shots. A 300mm lens is wayyyyyyyyy too frickin' long for baseball from the third base line or the first base dugout areas, where I like to shoot basebal froml. For track and field, most facilities are simply too crowded with athletes and officials,and the areas are simply too SMALL to use a 300mm lens with a 1.5x body--you risk having others get in between you and the action,since you're standing sooooooo far away that people don't really realize what you're shooting. The 200mm f/2 VR is a MUCH,much more-useful lens for track and field on a 1.5x Nikon body or for baseball than a 300mm lens is, with some exceptions; for javelin and discus and baseball outfield,300mm is actually not as useful as a 400mm lens on a 1.5x camera.

**The need for a 50-150mm f/2.8 zoom lens was recently disputed or questioned by somebody who left an anonymous comment which is published here in the blog. They also wondered why I advocate a 250mm lens or a 50-250mm FAST-aperture zoom lens. I do not care about the weight--it is the focal lengths that we actually NEED updated if Nikon is going to stay 1.5x FOV crop on all bodies. A 70-200 is simply TOO LONG for many events,forcing you into a 2-camera setup with a tele or zoom on a monopod and a second body with a much,much shorter lens around your neck....this is the way you have to shoot soccer, for example,or baseball, if you really,really want to cover things right. There's a need for a fast lens that goes down to 40 or 50 millimeters at the short end, which obviates the need for that Godd^%N#d 28-70 or 17-55 and the extra body weighing you down.....c'mon Nikon...get something NEW in a DX tele or a DX wide-to-telephoto zoom of professional capability. Sigma's 100-300 f/4 HSM EX is a lens I's as close as I can get for daylight baseball and track and field, but the focusing and optics are not up to the D2X level....if it were a bit shorter, say a 50-200mm f/2.8, Sigma would really,really have something. Their 120-300 is,once again, simply TOO Damned LONG at the short end for sports shooting in indoor arenas,or at tracks, or on baseball diamonds,forcing that second camera/lens combo onto everybody. I still maintain that a 40-250 f/2.8 or something close to that,like a 50-250, is what's actually needed for on-field or in-gym sports shooting with a 1.5x body.

**Nikon's 200/2 VR is a G-series lens that costs $4,000. I own one. It's one of the best lenses I have ever shot. But I hate the G-series aperture system,with no aperture control on the lens...this prevents the lens from being used on a Canon d-slr body unless you rip the diaphragm out,and use it wide-open. This prevents it from being used on video cameras or cione cameras without extensive modification. Stripping off the aperture ring on a $4,000 lens to save $19 really,really pisses me off. Making the 105 VR Macro lens a about 'effin asinine....a macro lens that has no diaphragm control on the lens itself....shit....Nikon ought to realize that their 200/2 VR lens could and would be bought by Canon pros who want a lens of consummate optial quality and astoundingly beautiful bokeh--but the G-series castrated lenses are USELESS on anything but the MOST-modern Nikon bodies. I'm pissed that my 200/2 is useless on anything but a modern Nikon body...not adaptable to video with adapter, not adaptable to Canon with adapter, not adaptable to anything,all because they castrated the lens. Stupid fucking decisions seem to be a Nikon specialty these days. Nikon is throwing AWAY one of its MAIN strengths--the F-mount. The F-mount has featured a mechanical f/stop ring on EVERY lens made since 1959,until the cheap,piece of shit G-series appeared with the 70-300G--and having that aperture ring on the lenses is what makes F-mount lenses adaptable to video,cine,and Canon cameras, As well as to older Nikons like F2,F3, FM3a,etc,etc. Castrating a lens by removing its aperture control ring means the lens is USELESS on anything,except a new Nikon made within the last few years. Useless. if you want to charge people $4,000 for a lens, why not make it a migratable lens that has at least SOME potential for off-list use? Or is saving $19 a smart move on a $4,000 lens?

**Let's say I wish to use a G-series lens reversed,or on a bellows, or on a K-series extension tube or hooked up in any number of ways,like in an optical relay system or to a non-Nikon camera....a G-series lens used on a bellows,or reversed,or on any camera except the most-modern Nikons will be STUCK stopped all the way down to f/16 or f/22. Stuck at minimum aperture. Useless as teats on a boar for off-list use. Canon was first to ditch the aperture ring on lenses. Nikon following suit throws AWAY one of its biggest advantages--the ability to move the lens around to any F-mount accessory made since 1959,or to be used on a Canon d-slr,or on a video or cine camera. The G-series also forces you to take your trigger finger OFF the shutter release button to make aperture changes that you could otherwise make with your unused left hand manipulating the aperture ring. The G-series forces you to work in ONE way; conventional lenses allow you to work as you'd like to,with F/stop control ALWAYS WITH THE LENS, where it belongs, or, by adjusting using a control wheel on the body. The old system offered tremendous versatility and migration ability of lenses...the castrated G-series lenses are useful ONLY in a limited niche,and only on Nikon CAMERA bodies. They are USELESS with extension tubes, bellows,reversed,or in other so-called off-list uses. Eighteen months ago,I predicted that the D200 would meter with Ai and Ai-S lenses, and I urged Nikon to "leverage the F-mount". Not that they are listening to ME (of course they're not), but *leveraging* the F-mount means stopping this G-series shit,and taking a look at the big picture. Fuck, if you're gonna strip off the aperture control from the lenses, then where the hell are the CPU-equipped bellows units, extension rings, and other accessories? If Nikon continues to strip off the aperture rings to save $19 per lens,we might as well all shoot Canons, which have no aperture control on any EF lenses.

**The Canon EF mount offers a *REAL* advantage brought about strictly by virture of its aperture ring-less design,and that is that the diaphragm mechanism is actuated electronically in Canon EOS bodies. In Nikon bodies, there is a mechanical lever in all slr bodies, and all Nikkor lenses with diaphragms are made with a diaphragm stop-down lever can get bent,hit,or damaged. Inside of ALL Nikon bodies made since 1959 in the infamous aperture stopdown lever. The body has a lever. Every lens has a lever. It's a purely mechanical interface which depends on the body lever allowing the spring-loaded diaphragm inside each Nikkor lens to stop down to taking aperture when the shutter is fired.This is old-fashioned, but this is the protocol set up for the 1959 F-mount lens system and all F-mount bodies. Canon ditched their mechanical body-to-lens diaphragm control and adjustment interface when it went from the FD mount to the EF mount in the 1980's. Nikon still maintains the mechanical interface for diaphragm actuation between each body and each lens, and the G-series Nikon still has all the problems of the mechanical linkage on EACH lens in the G-series. Removing the aperture ring from a lens designed for an F-mount body is not a "real" advantage, but merely an imitation of Canon's lens barrel design. Nikon has stuck with the mechanical lens diaphragm system in EVERY,and I mean EVERY slr body and every diaphragm-fitted lens Nikon has ever made. Stripping off the aperture ring from lenses makes your system "LOOK like Canon's system", that is to say, with lens barrels that have no apewrture control rings. But it's only skin deep! Canon got rid of the clunky mechanical lever in the body and on each lens,and went with an electrically-relayed system. Benefit: more-accurate,and more-precise diaphragm control,due to an all- electronic communication between lens and body. The advantage remains with the EOS system for simplicity and modernity of design, but I'd prefer to have aperture rings on all my lenses, for several reasons!

**Maybe Nikon could re-think manual focusing on its telephoto lenses. The old 1976 400mm/3.5 ED~IF has superb manual focusing. Superb. Adjustable tension from one-finger feather-touch to moderate to quite stiff,depending on the set screw's tension. The 400/3.5 also has a pre-set focusing distance detent,which can be "overrun" or moved past, and which is part and parcel of the set screw system. One simple knurled knob controls both the forced needed, and the pre-set distance you set. You can also use the detent to keep the lens from focusing past infinity (which is does,as do as do most ED-glass Nikkors), or for setting the back-focus range to say, 250 feet so that you're working ONLY from closest focus and out to no farther than 250 feet as the far focus limit. Focus on any distance, and turn the screw,and pre-set that distance into the simple,mechanical memory,and you've suddenly got a pre-set, a little automated manual focusing supertele. All these features of the 400/3.5 are all well and good, but what we really need, IMHO, is better manual focusing "ACTION" on most AF-D and AF-S lenses. Better action,and better feel, and better arrangement of the distances involved on the focusing rings of the lenses. In a word, Infinity to 10 feet focus on most AF Nikkors has become way,way to COARSE and crude for decent manual fousing. Especially on the Micro-Nikkors, and also on the wides, and many zooms too.

**Nikon announced in early 2006 that it was discontinuing all manual focus 35mm and all large-format and enlarging lenses,and the implication was that slimming down the lens catalog would free up more resources and thus help Nikon in getting out some new lenses. Nikon's primes are old designs, most of them with 1980's mechanicals--screw-driven focusing, button-and-ring switches for Auto/Manual focus on the lens barrels of many of them, so no AF-S and no focusing override, and of course no VR. The 180 AF-D design dates to 1988, the 60 Micro with that infernal button-and-ring A/M switch system, and the the 135/2 Defocus dates to to 1990,and the 60,105 DC and 135 DC all share that stupid button-and-ring A/M switch. The 60 Micro was introduced because the 55mm AF Micro was a total sales failure,probably because it was one sloppy-sloppy lens. The 60 is very sturdily-built--and is MUCH nicer a design than the 55 AF was. Basically, most of Nikon's standard autofocus "professional" prime lens designs originated in the 1980's,or the early,early 1990's. I hope that Nikon re-tools some of its popular primes with AF-S focusing, looks at improving the manual focus feel and performance in its AF lenses, and continues with the aperture ring on ALL upcoming lenses. And I hope Nikon gets off its butt and designs a few lenses specifically for the DX format and for serious use--they have plenty of soccer mom and kit lenses,and some doggone good ones.

**What has Nikon done in the wide-angle prime segment in the last four years? They have introduced the 10.5mm fisheye,and discontinued the 28mm f/1.4 AF-D aspherical. IOW, Nikon hasn't done a damned thing in the wideangle prime market in four years. No net gain in wide primes. I hope they replace the 28/1.4 with an AF-S version,and make another few wide primes. Nikon also needs to address the huge gulf between the 50mm 1.4 AF-D and the 85 1.4 AF-D if they're really serious about APS-C aka 1.5x aka DX sensors....where the heck is that 60mm f/1.4 AF-S lens??? Huh? Where for that matter, is a single wide angle lens of f/2,or faster aperture speed? Right now the fastest and widest Nikkor is the....12-24mm f/2.8 zoom. Hmmm....WTF is Nikon's lens problem. Really, what the hell is the problem Nikon?

Well, those are a few things on my mind tonight. I might decide to pull the G-series stuff and write a separate post on why the G-series with its aperture ring removed ( the castrated G-series mount,as I think of it) really is not a good thing for the Nikon system,nor is it a good thing for people who have a LOT of years and time and money invested in the Nikon system; the G-series offers no real advantages,and it makes lenses tremendously LESS-VERSATILE and lower in value. Try reverse-mounting a G-series lens. Hell...examine a used G-series lens and see how difficult it is to check the lens for dust or decementing or diaphragm problems.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In your earlier post you mention a 50-150 or 50-250 f/2.8 (and a 250 prime). I responded that to beg to differ between a 50-150 and a 70-200 is nitpicking. You focus your response here on the 50-250 and ignore the 50-150 about which I said the differences between it and a 70-200 are minimal (20mm wide/ 50 long). I understand your preference for a one camera/one lens solution to certain types of shooting. You can buy a 50-150 f/2.8 today: it's made by Sigma (
I appreciate you'll argue it's "DX/DC" and for all I know it may be "G" and not D. Yes, these things are a pain but DX has brought that pain along with it. The good news is it's HSM.

As for your mention of weight, I never mentioned weight. I mentioned price. If Nikon were to make all these fancy lenses to suit DX, (a) can you not already find a lens approximately suitable to fill the need, (b) carry a two body set-up (don't be so lazy) to have the range you need at your finger tips and (c) IF the lenses are made specifically for DX, because you are specifying focal length/focal ratio, the entrance pupils of the DX "equivalent-to-traditional 135" will be more or less the same size and hence more or less the same price as the traditional lens: you may as well stick to tried and true rather than have Nikon invest time and money into lenses whose lifespan may last only one or two more generations of DSLR body should there be a migration to a larger format even if it's not full frame (latest speculation is something around 1.1 crop factor rather than 1.5). If you can't find, for instance, 250 f/2.8, buy Nikon's 200mm f/2 AF-S VR lens and a teleconverter and you're about there (280 f/2.8... or just use a 300/2.8). My point is: the glass you are seeking already is out there but the constraints of those lenses (G & DX particularly) are turn offs... but the options are there if you 'need' them.

Hey, I'm not a fan of DX or G lenses but the fact is that DX is the F mount format available at this time: buy and use the tool appropriate to the task. That means buy whatever you have to to get the job done and stop whining like a 2 year old.

Yes, Nikon could and should evolve it's excellent AF-D lenses into AF-S modern equivalents and I suspect they will. While they sit on the fence addressing the reality of today, however, at least they continue to evolve their products. You may recall how long it seemed to take for Nikon to release a DSLR after the D100: it seemed like an eternity. Since then, however, they've taken hold of the DSLR market in terms of sales (citing recent comments from jeff-c and thom hogan among others at DPReview). The lenses will follow BUT again my point is there are options out there today that address your needs even if they are imperfect. As for advancing fast prime lenses, while I agree this should be a priority, others are pushing for VR and AF-S to be in more lenses. I won't suggest AF-S, VR and "fast primes" cannot exist in one lens but at some point, when your DSLR has very good ISO6400, do you really need VR AND f/1.2 or 1.4? Yes, a 60 or 70mm f/1.2 AF-S lens would make for a nice DX portrait lens but will you settle for it being DX or must it be full frame? If for the sake of price Nikon opts to build it for DX, what will your sentiment be when the sensor format migrates to something larger or will you stay with the DX format then? Do you really want to load up on two sets of lenses? I don't but the fact is that I and many have already bought one, two or more DX lenses because they are the right tool for the format. As suggested previously, I think Nikon should get the format question sorted out first and after that commit to the right lens solutions. Although our lifespans are so short (measured hopefully in decades), the infancy of the digital photography era sometimes seem to feel like a rather slow and painful lifetime rather than the just the few years that it actually is. Signed Anonymous