Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I

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This will be the first in my new review format for ‘light’ reviews – pieces of equipment that perhaps don’t necessarily need a full blown magnum opus, but benefit from some context in deployment and typical usage. A short piece on the D4 will follow next.

One of the few lenses in the Canon system I’ve long been jealous of is their 70-200/4 IS (in addition to the 17TSE). Until not so long ago, Nikon users have been missing a light/ compact high quality telephoto option. Sure, there’s been the 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR, but that was only a decent performer up to 200mm; anything else was emergency territory. And it simply wasn’t that good on the D800E, nor a pro build. Finally, we have the AF-S 70-200mm f4 G VR ED IF (what a mouthful). I’m going to address two questions in this review: firstly, is it any good, and secondly, f2.8* or f4? I suspect the latter question is going to be of interest to many still sitting on the fence.

*It’s important to note there are two versions of the 70-200/2.8 G VR. I’ll go into the differences in more detail later.

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Photoessay: The people of Taipei

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An obsession with things on sticks, I

Whenever I travel, I find the people more interesting than the location: they give a place character, and say a lot about the local culture. It is therefore natural that we photograph people as part of a travel photography set, and seek to capture a little bit of everything: some culture, some uniqueness, some context – in essence, the spirit of the location. Things that stand out are behaviours that I find unfamiliar or inexplicable; but this must be balanced with normal people going about their lives to avoid a biased view of extremes and stereotypes. I found Taipei to be a quirky blend of China’s modern awkwardness at attempting to copy the west; Japan’s tech-obsession, and a little of that old dynastic elegance. Enjoy! MT

This set was shot with a Ricoh GR, Nikon D800E and Zeiss ZF.2 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon.

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Photoessay: Underground workers in mono

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Today’s photoessay contains images I initially shot for a client much earlier in the year; the German tunnel-boring specialists Herrenknecht and MMC-Gamuda for the greater Kuala Lumpur mass transit project. The project itself will bring a unified rail system to Klang Valley over the next five years; in the meantime, it’s utter chaos while everything is being dug up or diverted so overhead pylons can be put up. I was hired to document some of the underground work.

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Photoessay: Tokyo architecture

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Buildings, architecture and abstract geometry are amongst my favourite subjects. Actually, I got that back to front: the idea of abstraction and deconstruction of composition into considerations of pure colour and form is probably the underlying linkage between all of my images. As a result, buildings and architecture rank high on my list of preferred subjects because they are very conducive for doing just that: they’re static, so you can take your time with the composition; they reflect their environments – or not – and change in personality as changing light plays off different surfaces and textures in different ways; finally, there are always interesting details incorporate into the structures which are a reflection of their architects; much as a photograph is a reflection of the photographer.

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Photoessay: Tokyo street monochromes, part II

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This is part two of this mini-series. It’s simply impossible to go to Tokyo and not do any street photography; between the overall camera-friendliness of the people, the unusualness of the settings and the quality of light…

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Photoessay: Tokyo street monochromes, part I

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It’s simply impossible to go to Tokyo and not do any street photography; between the overall camera-friendliness of the people, the unusualness of the settings and the quality of light…

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Photoessay: Architectural juxtapositions

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I’m pretty sure none of the architects or designers involved with this project could have envisioned the sightlines I used for these images, or if they did, it’s almost uncertain that they would have been able to forsee the changes in the environment surrounding the buildings. Some believe that photography is no more than a derivative work of somebody else’s primary creation; I of course disagree – and that will be the subject of a future article.

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Photoessay: Trees revisited

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Following on from the previous article on improving the digital B&W workflow process, it’s only fair that I show you some examples. I’ve chosen near-field landscapes – effectively, trees – as the test material, because I’ve always felt that this has been the most difficult subject to capture in a convincingly natural way*.

*Yes, I know, nature is in colour and monochrome images are by definition unnatural, but bear with me here.

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Photoessay: Following the crowd

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Same same but different

Today’s photoessay is the precursor to isolation and the concept of man – to be the subject of a future photoessay. People seek each other’s company and now congregate in their individuality – no man is an island, and all that. This is an intermediate, transitory stage before people become deindividualized again: at the end, they flow like water. And like water, even though at the microscopic level there is discreteness, at the macro level, there isn’t. Perhaps it is inevitable because there’s simply not enough space; perhaps it’s inevitable because fundamentally, humans are social creatures and deep down, most of us need some sort of affirmation and acceptance. Remember, I did say some time ago that we photographers are really also philosophers as a consequence of the way we interpret, filter and re-present the world…MT

The making of a lot of these images, and the ones in the previous photoessay, were featured, deconstructed and explained in detail in How To See Episode 2: Tokyo and Street Photography Episode 1.

This set was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CF 2.8/80 and CF 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital back.

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FD Photoessay: A little casual jazz

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Sometimes, you can’t help but feel that the mood of a particular event or evening fits a particular camera; some time back I was invited out to a casual evening jazz concert/ jam session. There is something about black and white film and jazz; I don’t know what it is exactly, but I think the two compliment each other perfectly. Perhaps it’s the way the smooth richness of the brass instruments is the auditory compliment to the rich 3/4 tones of film*; or perhaps it’s because the whole affair invokes another, earlier, era. That said, the relatively low light was challenging due to the inherent sensitivity limitations of film, traded off against image quality – the tonal look I prefer for film requires mid tones, which tend to be pretty thin with faster emulsions. Not to mention the challenge of focusing under such low light – fortunately, I had the F2 Titan, whose focusing screen is really quite excellent – snappy, and easy to discriminate the focus transition even with very fast lenses. I hadn’t used that camera in so long, I’d forgotten how transparent a photographic experience it was; your view of the world is reduced to what’s inside the large finder, and your fingers are only the three controls – focus, aperture and shutter, with a thumb cocked around the winding lever to help secure the right-sized body, and nothing more. It’s what the Df should have been.

*A discourse on the relationship and similarities between photography and music is something I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but I’m still trying to learn enough about music to have enough descriptive language to adequately convey the concepts. Increasingly I’m starting to feel that the written/ spoken language really is inadequate for the description and explanation of visual ideas; perhaps that too is another article for another time.

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