Search Results for: 28-300

Review: A controversial lens: the Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G


Image from Nikon USA.

This lens is the full-frame equivalent of the very popular 18-200/3.5-5.6 DX VR; and like the DX equivalent, it’s an optic that seems to breed two kinds of people: blind fanboys who think it’s the one and only lens you need to own, and others who think it’s a horrible compromise that does nothing well, and is best avoided.

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Dayabumi. The first marble-facaded skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

I picked up this lens together with the new (at the time) AFS 85/1.4 G at the latter end of 2010; I never intended to use it as a one-size fits all, but rather as as more flexible replacement for the AFS 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR – itself which was great up to about 200mm, but required much smaller apertures to be useable at 300mm, and it never got as sharp as it was at shorter focal lengths – despite stopping down.

Bottom line: the 28-300VR does the job. My sample, at least, matches the 70-300VR optically in the 70-200mm range; neither one is really great at 300mm, but I’d give a slight edge to the 28-300VR. Never mind the fact that it isn’t 300mm all the time – I’ll talk more about this later.

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Honda HSV-010 detail. Super Japan GT, Sepang International Circuit. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Let’s start with the physical stuff. It isn’t a small lens – in fact, it’s similar in size and heft to the 24-70/2.8 without the hood – but it’s made entirely of textured polycarbonate. It also extends considerably when zoomed out, which shifts the weight in the hand quite noticeably. Fortunately, the extensions are quite robust. The lens is gasketed, and I’ve shot with it in light rain; I probably wouldn’t do this under more adverse weather conditions, because the water will naturally go inside the lens as you zoom in and out – you can see evidence of this as water streaks are left behind. There’s a narrow, very short-throw focus ring with rudimentary distance scale, no DOF markings, and very little feel. Clearly, this lens wasn’t mean to be manually focused – good luck doing it precisely. In front of that is a wide rubberized zoom ring. Zoom spacing is nice and linear, though a little stiff – you can feel the plastic-on-plastic action inside the lens. The remaining controls are switches for AF/MF, VR ON/OFF, and VR ACTIVE/ NORMAL mode. There’s also a lock switch to prevent the lens extending past 28mm – clearly Nikon learned something from the self-tromboning 18-200VR, though the zoom action is actually stiff enough not to require it.

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GT500 at Sepang International Circuit. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

It’s a proper AF-S lens, which means that you have full time manual override. Focusing is midrange-fast, even at the long end of the zoom. It isn’t as fast as the pro lenses, obviously. Fast enough.

The stabilizer uses Nikon’s second generation technology – denoted by the gold VR plaque, rather than red as on the first versions. It’s quite effective – with good technique, critically sharp shots at 1/15s 300mm on FX or 1/50s 450mm equivalent on DX are possible. It has automatic panning detection, and an ACTIVE mode that cancels out all subject motion – i.e. panning off. However, you should be turning the stabilizer off if your shutter speed is above the safe speed required – the time required for the stabilizer to move into position can actually create a weird double-image effect if left on at very high shutter speeds. VR is much more effective if you give it a couple of seconds to ‘lock in’ before shooting. Curiously, it also works much better if the camera is held horizontal – extreme up or down shooting tends to render it mostly ineffective.

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Polo. Cue panning mode. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Let’s talk about optics: I strongly suspect with a lens this complex, there’s some sample variation going on. And this might well be the source of the strong polarization between user camps. Mine isn’t so hot at 28mm – in fact, it’s downright crappy (flare, aberrations, lack of sharpness and contrast) at 28mm until f5.6; curiously, you can manual focus it to a sharper image – however, using that AF-fine tune calibration throws out every other focal length. From 35mm to 200mm or so, this lens is right up there with the rest of them – it’s sharp, contrasty, and has plenty of bite. It’s lacking micro contrast though, which I suspect is a consequence of having a huge number of elements and air-glass interfaces: a little bit of contrast is lost at each one, no matter how good your coating is. Above 200mm, things soften to the point that 300mm isn’t that good wide open, and requires f8 to be useable.

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A swimmer’s portrait. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

That was for FX. Curiously, the lens seems a little sharper on DX (16MP D5100); this might be because it’s using only the central portion of the image, though that doesn’t explain the much improved results at the extreme ends of the range. Curiously, it works much better on the D800 than it did on the D700 – it could be my sample – in fact, it’s much the same as on the D5100 which has similar pixel density. On the 12MP FX cameras, I’d use it from 28-100 at f5.6, and 100-200 at f8 or lower. On the 36Mp D800, 28-300 at maximum aperture is useable but a little soft; improves greatly one stop down, and is actually pretty good by two stops down from maximum. There’s always vignetting, at pretty much every aperture; however it’s an easy fix in Photoshop. Weakest performance is actually at 28mm on all formats and sensors – on the high density sensors, it’s sharp but hazy; on the D700, it’s just hazy.

It seems that slightly better results may be obtained at 28mm on the D700 if live view is used, which points to an AF calibration error – however, if one calibrates for 28mm, every other point in the focal range becomes soft. I think this is very much a design or batch QC issue as all of the samples of the lens I’ve tested have exhibited the same issue.

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Rear fuselage. Every rivet is sharp in the full size version, despite being shot at 28mm. Nikon D5100, 28-300VR

Sharpness is about the only optical thing that the lens has going for it. It flares in a dramatic, cinematic way; distortion is horrible and complex; (as you’d expect from an optical design that has to correct for wide-angle and telephoto aberrations) and high contrast edges exhibit lateral chromatic aberration, though not as bad as you’d expect from a lens of this complexity. Bokeh is actually neutral to good.

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Aeroplanescape. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

By far the worst thing about this lens is the focal length shortening. You didn’t think you were really going to get 300mm at the near limit of 0.45m, did you? If so, that would be one hell of a macro lens. The reality is that up close, it’s probably giving you no more than 135mm, no matter what the position of the zoom ring. This is an optical trick that allows for less movement of the focusing group to deliver the same minimum focus distance. Out to infinity, the lens delivers around 290mm.

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Fountain. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Curiously, Canon also makes a 28-300mm lens – but it’s a heavy duty, L-series weather sealed push-pull zoom monster, costing at least four times as much as the Nikon. I used one briefly with a 1D Mark III, which has similar pixel density to the D700 – the Nikon is much, much better. There’s a general softness and slight edge flare to the Canon that makes images feel ill-defined. I hear a replacement is in the works, however. There’s also a Tamron version, which I can’t comment on as I haven’t used it – other than it’s f6.3 on the long end. I think though then physical aperture of the Nikon or Tamron may be f5.6 or f6.3, the T stop is much, much lower – possibly as bad as f8 or higher.

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Morning mountains. Would have been better with a little more micro contrast; the original file was very, very felt indeed. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Practically, what is this lens good for? What do I use it for? Basically, two things: it’s a Swiss army knife, for times when I know there’ll be plenty of light out, and I’m not aperture-limited; when I don’t know what I’m shooting or know that I’ll require a lot of perspectives; and finally, when I need telephoto reach. I shoot most of my work below 85mm, so this is a kind of emergency tool for when I need to go longer. It works, and having said all of the above, it is capable of delivering pretty good images – if you use it within its limitations. Just don’t try and shoot architecture in the dark hand-held with it. MT

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Sky hole. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

The Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G is available here from B&H and Amazon.

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

On making lenses, inside Sigma, and the 18-300…

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Monochrome images in this article from the factory were shot with a Leica Q. Color images were shot with a Nikon D5500 and Sigma 18-300/3.5-6.3 DC OS Macro C.

Following the interview I conducted with him last year, Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki invited me to ‘visit home’, as it were, should I ever be in Japan. I took him up on that offer following the Tokyo Masterclass in November. Of course, Sigma’s production facilities aren’t located in Tokyo (even though the design and marketing parts of the firm are): far from it; a number of modes of transport brings us to Bandai, where the factory is. We were graciously hosted by Kazuto-san and Shinji-san, who works in international marketing and is Kazuto-san’s cousin. Sigma, as I found out earlier, has always been a family business. And that allows them to take an interesting approach to lensmaking.

[Read more…]

Repost: Aspect ratios and compositional theory

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Round plate in a square frame. The composition is ostensibly balanced, but a little randomization is created by the uneven lighting. Leica D-Lux 5

Today’s article is a repost of a classic from two years ago (has it really been that long?) I bring it up again on the back of an interesting offline discussion I’ve been having with one of my email school students. How many people think about the relationship between idea, subject, composition and the final presentation format before hitting the shutter? The missing link is usually the last one – and almost always results in a necessary compromise in composition. But, there are ways to fill the empty space, as you shall see…

[Read more…]

Equipment reviews

This page will contain an archive of all of the main articles I’ve written by category and sorted with the most recent first – it seems that there are some fundamental navigational issues with WordPress that I can’t get around other than by manually updating this page with every new article. It’s a work in progress, of course…

Last update 6 March 2019

Nikon
The Nikon D810 review: a worthy D800E upgrade? (29 Jul 2014)
Photoessay-review: A rainy evening, and summary thoughts on the Nikon D4 (7 Jun 2014)
Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I (30 May 2014) (30 May 2014)
Rational love: the D800E long term report (2 Apr 2014)
Tested: the 2013 Nikon Df (24 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part II (18 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part I (17 Dec 2013)
Retro for the sake of retro: thoughts on the Nikon Df (5 Nov 2013)
FD Shooting with the legends: the Nikon AI-S 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor (6 Aug 2013)
FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F6 (25 Jul 13)
FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F2 Titan (23 Jul 13)
Battle of the 28mm compacts: Ricoh GR vs Nikon Coolpix A (7 May 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N (2 May 2013)
Review: The Nikon Coolpix A (26 Apr 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
Major D800/ D800E firmware update (additional: more Nikons, ACR 7.4 final) (2 Apr 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro (2 Feb 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 85/1.8 G (23 Nov 2012)
Mid term report: The Nikon D800E (27 Oct 2012)
The Nikon D600 review: full frame for the masses? (24 Sep 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D3, part two (3 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D3, part one (2 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D200, part one (26 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D200, part one (24 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D2H, part 2 (20 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D2H, part 1 (18 Jul 2012)
Nikon D800/ D800E left focus problem update: fixed successfully! (4 Jul 2012)
Review: The Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G (4 Jul 2012)
How to tell if your D800/ D800E/ D4 has the ‘left focusing problem’ (3 Jul 2012)
Recommended lenses for the Nikon D800E (30 Jun 2012)
Good news: there’s an official Nikon D800/D800E focusing fix! (29 Jun 2012)
Minor firmware update: Nikon D800/ D800E (29 May 2012)
May 10, Part 3: Bayer vs. non-Bayer: Leica M-Monochrom vs. Nikon D800E (27 May 2012)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 85/1.4 G (7 May 2012)
An unfair fight? 35mm vs Medium Format: Nikon D800E and the Leica S2-P (5 May 2012)
Just arrived: Nikon D800E (3 May 2012)
Long term review postponed: The Nikon D800 (1 May 2012)
Review: A controversial lens: the Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G (26 Apr 2012)
And the Nikon D800 autofocus saga continues (with some comments on specific lens performance) (5 Apr 2012)
Nikon D800 quick update: diffraction and studio work (2 Apr 2012)
Update on Nikon D800 focusing issues (30 Mar 2012)
Popular Nikon D800 woes, problems and solutions (29 Mar 2012)
More D800 autofocus observations (27 Mar 2012)
A very long term (and final) review: the Nikon D700 (25 Mar 2012)
A quick note on D800 autofocus… (24 Mar 2012)
A couple more D800 images, and some commentary (24 Mar 2012)
Nikon D800 review update: daylight shooting (23 Mar 2012)
A (very detailed) first impressions review: the Nikon D800 (23 Mar 2012)
Nikon D4 ergonomics (18 Mar 2012)

Zeiss
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part II (18 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part I (17 Dec 2013)
Review: The Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon T* (12 Sep 2012)
Revisited and reviewed: The Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar T* (27 Jul 2012)
Long term review: The Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T* (19 Jul 2012)

Leica
World premiere: The 2014 Leica T (Typ 701) review (24 Apr 2014)
The 2013 Leica X Vario (Typ 107) review (29 Jun 2013)
The missing Leica X Vario review (13 Jun 2013)
Photoessay: Monochrome vignettes from Shwedagon Pagoda with the Leica M Typ 240 (4 May 2013)
Photoessay: Chinatown cinematics, and using the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH on the OM-D (16 Apr 2013)
Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 (25 Mar 2013)
B&W samples from the Leica M Typ 240 (1 Mar 2013)
Lens review: The Leica 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE (28 Feb 2013)
The 2013 Leica M Typ 240 (22 Feb 2013)
Just got interviewed on the Leica blog… (8 Nov 2012)
Quick hands-on: The 2012 Leica M (Typ 240) (25 Oct 2012)
New: Photoshop Workflow DVD for the Leica M Monochrom! (4 Aug 2012)
Review: The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for Micro Four Thirds (2 Sep 2012)
Revisiting the Leica M8: a cheap entry into digital rangefinders? (12 Jul 2012)
More street images from the Leica 50/2 APO-Summicron ASPH and M9-P (21 Jun 2012)
Leica M rangefinder calibration service (8 Jun 2012)
More street images from the Leica M-Monochrom (1 Jun 2012)
Landscapes with the Leica M-Monochrom (28 May 2012)
May 10, Part 3: Bayer vs. non-Bayer: Leica M-Monochrom vs. Nikon D800E (27 May 2012)
May 10, Part 2: The Leica APO-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH review, and a comparison (25 May 2012)
May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review (23 May 2012)
More B&W sample images from the Leica X2 (14 May 2012)
Exclusive premiere: The full Leica X2 review (11 May 2012)
An unfair fight? 35mm vs Medium Format: Nikon D800E and the Leica S2-P (5 May 2012)
Catwalk fashion with a Leica M (21 Apr 2012)
On assignment and studio review: Watch photography with the Leica M9-P (13 Apr 2012)
Breaking news: Leica + Apple partnership! (it appears that six months later, I was actually correct – Ive is designing a custom M…) (1 Apr 2012)
Review: The Leica X1 (30 Mar 2012)
Quick tip for the Leica M9: toggling images while zoomed in (21 Mar 2012)
Quick review: The Leica D-Lux 5 (5 March 2012)
Long term review: The Leica M9-P (3 March 2012)
Review: The Leica 50/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH (1 March 2012)
The perils of lots of ideas, but not enough sleep (25 Feb 2012)
Featured on the official Leica blog (12 Feb 2012)

Medium Format
The Pentax 645Z review, part III: SDM lenses and long exposures (15 Jul 2014)
Review: The Pentax 645Z, part II: compared to the 645D, Nikon D800E and Hasselblad CFV-39 (29 Jun 14)
Review: The Pentax 645Z, part I (27 Jun 2014)
MF digital goes mainstream: early thoughts on the Pentax 645Z (18 April 2014)
Medium format digital in the field (12 Apr 2014)
How I landed up going medium format digital… (7 Sep 2013)
A quick introduction to Hasselblad V-series cameras (26 Jan 2013)
Experience log: the Hasselblad H4D-40 and medium format (25 Nov 2012)

Micro Four Thirds/ CSCs
Review: the 2019 Olympus ZD 12-200 f3.5-6.3 (27 Feb 2019)
New Olympus E-M1 firmware (1 Apr 2014)
Review: The Panasonic Lumix GM1 (7 Mar 2014)
Review: The 2013 Sony A7R (8 Jan 2014)
Preview: The 2013 Fujifilm X-E2 (18 Oct 2013)
Quick thoughts on the Sony A7 and A7R (16 Oct 2013)
Olympus OM-D E-M1 review updated with thoughts on RAW quality (18 Oct 2013)
Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO (13 Sep 2013)
The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part two: some comparisons (11 Sep 2013)
The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part one: the camera (10 Sep 2013)
Just updated the Olympus E-P5 review… (18 Jun 2013)
Lens review: The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G (14 Jun 2013)
Working preview: The OIympus PEN E-P5 (10 May 2013)
Photoessay: Chinatown cinematics, and using the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH on the OM-D (16 Apr 2013)
Review: The Panasonic Lumix GH3 (17 Mar 2013)
Project: Creating a multispectral camera (6 Jan 2013)
Lens review: The Olympus ZD 12/2 (27 Dec 2012)
Comparative lens review: The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17/1.8 (17 Nov 2012)
Quick review: The Olympus 15/8 Body Cap Lens (15 Oct 2012)
The Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite review: a mini-OM-D (25 Sep 2012)
Macro shootout on Micro Four Thirds: four lenses, one winner (22 Sep 2012)
Review: The Olympus ZD 60mm f2.8 Macro and FL-600R wireless flash system (21 Sep 2012)
Review: The Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 Lumix G Vario for Micro Four Thirds (20 Sep 2012)
Review: The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for Micro Four Thirds (2 Sep 2012)
Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system (31 Aug 2012)
Review: the Voigtlander 25/0.95 Nokton MFT (16 Aug 2012)
Review: The Olympus ZD 75/1.8 for Micro Four Thirds (22 Jul 2012)
Lens review: The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12-50/3.5-6.3 EZ for Micro Four Thirds (7 Jul 2012)
Olympus OM-D lockup problems (19 Jun 2012)
Shooting professionally with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (7 Jun 12)
Full review: The Olympus OM-D E-M5 (2 Jun 12)
Lens review: The Olympus ZD 45/1.8 (17 May 2012)
POTD: The man with the microphone, and some OM-D first impressions (9 May 2012)
Mirrorless system lens compatibility recommendations (2 Apr 2012)
Long term review: The Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini (15 Mar 2012)

Compacts/ Large-sensor fixed lens
Review: Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Mark III (25 Jun 2014)
Review: The Sony RX10 (3 Jan 2014)
Review: The Sigma DP3 Merrill (7 Jul 2013)
Decision time (28 May 2013)
Battle of the 28mm compacts: Ricoh GR vs Nikon Coolpix A (7 May 2013)
Review: The 2013 Ricoh GR (digital V) (6 May 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
The trouble with compacts (24 Apr 2013)
Review: The Fuji FinePix X20 (19 Apr 2013)
Thoughts on the Apple iPhone 5 camera (31 Mar 2013)
Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 (25 Mar 2013)
Review: The Fuji FinePix XF1 (13 Nov 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Panasonic LX3 (13 Aug 2012)
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review (6 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Ricoh GR Digital III (30 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Canon SD780IS/ IXUS 100 IS (28 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Panasonic TZ3 (15 Jul 2012)
The iPhone as a camera (10 Jun 2012)
Professional photography with compact cameras (12 Apr 2012)

Other cameras and lenses
Review: The Schneider PC-TS 2.8/50 Super Angulon and 4.5/90 Makro Symmar (18 Mar 14)
Revisiting the past: the 2003 Olympus E-1 (7 Feb 2014)
Xmas 2013 picks (3 Dec 2013)
What am I using now? (4 Nov 2013)
Tilt shift world cup: Korea vs. Japan: Rokinon/Samyang 24/3.5 T-S vs Nikon PCE 24/3.5 (1 Sep 2013)
Ultimate tripod heads, part two: the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball (20 Aug 13)
Ultimate tripod heads, part one: the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube (18 Aug 2013)
Review: The 2013 Ricoh GR (digital V) (6 May 2013)
A quick post-USA trip gear evaluation (18 Apr 2013)
Announcing the Ricoh GR (Digital V) (17 Apr 2013)
Thoughts on system choices, part two (10 Apr 2013)
Thoughts on system choices, part one (8 Apr 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
The recommended gear list (2 Mar 2013)
Great Nikon lens deals (17 Feb 2013)
Review: The Ricoh GR1v (16 Feb 2013)
Review: The Contax T3 (14 Feb 2013)
Project: Creating a multispectral camera (6 Jan 2013)
My end-2012 picks – or a Christmas gift list for photographers (8 Dec 2012)
Lens review: The Voigtlander Color-Skopar 28/2.8 AI-P SLII (7 Dec 2012)
Quick thoughts/ hands on: The Hasselblad Lunar (28 Nov 12)
Photokina 2012 commentary and opinions (23 Sep 2012)
Hands-on-preview: Sony A99, NEX-6, NEX-5R (13 Sep 2012)
For the curious, a dissertation of opinions on my current equipment choices (10 Jul 2012)
Some thoughts on digital camera lifespan (22 Jun 2012)
2012 Equipment picks for travel photography (20 Jun 2012)
The ideal camera (8 Apr 2012)
Some of my favourite lenses (17 Mar 2012)
CES 2012: thoughts on the new cameras (12 Feb 2012)

General equipment, books and accessories
OT review: a thousand kilometers in the 2019 BMW M5 (5 Mar 2019)
OT review: the 2018/9 BMW M2, midterm (28 Sep 2018)
Analysis: Photokina 2016 (28 Sep 2016)
Exclusive: an interview with Nick Brandt (9 Dec 2013)
Book review: Across The Ravaged Land, by Nick Brandt (7 Dec 2013)
A very OT review: the 2013 BMW Z4 28i (27 Nov 2013)
Book review: On This Earth, A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt (21 Sep 2013)
Ultimate tripod heads, part two: the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball (20 Aug 13)
Ultimate tripod heads, part one: the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube (18 Aug 2013)
Review: the Wacom Cintiq 13HD tablet (16 Jun 2013)
Quick review: CarrySpeed DS-2 sling strap (5 Feb 2013)
Book review: Vivian Maier, Street Photographer (10 Aug 2012)
Stability, tripods, and reviews: The Gitzo GT5562LTS 6x Systematic and GT1542 Traveller (29 Jul 2012)
Book review: Workers, by Sebastiao Salgado (6 Jul 2012)
Book review: Supercell by Kevin Erskine (18 Jun 2012)
Book review: Magnum Contact Sheets (14 Apr 2012)

____________

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com). Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPadYou can also get your gear from Amazon.comhere. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Nikon

This page will contain an archive of all of the main articles I’ve written by category and sorted with the most recent first – it seems that there are some fundamental navigational issues with WordPress that I can’t get around other than by manually updating this page with every new article. It’s a work in progress, of course…

Last update 1 January 2016

Nikon
Review: The Nikon D5500 (or, a solution to the compact 50-e problem) (21 Dec 2015)
Long term lens review: the Nikon AF-S 24-120 f4 VR G (1 May 2015)
Nikon 300/4 VR: anybody else seeing double images? (30 Mar 2015)
Long term review: The Nikon D810 (22 Mar 2015)
So…I bought a Nikon D750. Here’s why (17 Oct 2014)
The Nikon D810 review: a worthy D800E upgrade? (29 Jul 2014)
Photoessay-review: A rainy evening, and summary thoughts on the Nikon D4 (7 Jun 2014)
Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I (30 May 2014) (30 May 2014)
Rational love: the D800E long term report (2 Apr 2014)
Tested: the 2013 Nikon Df (24 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part II (18 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part I (17 Dec 2013)
Retro for the sake of retro: thoughts on the Nikon Df (5 Nov 2013)
FD Shooting with the legends: the Nikon AI-S 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor (6 Aug 2013)
FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F6 (25 Jul 13)
FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F2 Titan (23 Jul 13)
Battle of the 28mm compacts: Ricoh GR vs Nikon Coolpix A (7 May 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N (2 May 2013)
Review: The Nikon Coolpix A (26 Apr 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
Major D800/ D800E firmware update (additional: more Nikons, ACR 7.4 final) (2 Apr 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro (2 Feb 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 85/1.8 G (23 Nov 2012)
Mid term report: The Nikon D800E (27 Oct 2012)
The Nikon D600 review: full frame for the masses? (24 Sep 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D3, part two (3 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D3, part one (2 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D200, part one (26 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D200, part one (24 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D2H, part 2 (20 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D2H, part 1 (18 Jul 2012)
Nikon D800/ D800E left focus problem update: fixed successfully! (4 Jul 2012)
Review: The Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G (4 Jul 2012)
How to tell if your D800/ D800E/ D4 has the ‘left focusing problem’ (3 Jul 2012)
Recommended lenses for the Nikon D800E (30 Jun 2012)
Good news: there’s an official Nikon D800/D800E focusing fix! (29 Jun 2012)
Minor firmware update: Nikon D800/ D800E (29 May 2012)
May 10, Part 3: Bayer vs. non-Bayer: Leica M-Monochrom vs. Nikon D800E (27 May 2012)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 85/1.4 G (7 May 2012)
An unfair fight? 35mm vs Medium Format: Nikon D800E and the Leica S2-P (5 May 2012)
Just arrived: Nikon D800E (3 May 2012)
Long term review postponed: The Nikon D800 (1 May 2012)
Review: A controversial lens: the Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G (26 Apr 2012)
And the Nikon D800 autofocus saga continues (with some comments on specific lens performance) (5 Apr 2012)
Nikon D800 quick update: diffraction and studio work (2 Apr 2012)
Update on Nikon D800 focusing issues (30 Mar 2012)
Popular Nikon D800 woes, problems and solutions (29 Mar 2012)
More D800 autofocus observations (27 Mar 2012)
A very long term (and final) review: the Nikon D700 (25 Mar 2012)
A quick note on D800 autofocus… (24 Mar 2012)
A couple more D800 images, and some commentary (24 Mar 2012)
Nikon D800 review update: daylight shooting (23 Mar 2012)
A (very detailed) first impressions review: the Nikon D800 (23 Mar 2012)
Nikon D4 ergonomics (18 Mar 2012)

____________

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com). Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPadYou can also get your gear from Amazon.comhere. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Reviews

This page will contain an archive of all relevant category articles, sorted with the most recent first. It’s a work in progress, of course…

If you have questions on Hasselblad equipment or would like to share some feedback, please contact me at this email address.

Click to go to section
Medium format (mostly Hasselblad)
Drone diaries
Nikon
Leica
Micro Four Thirds and CSCs
Compacts and large sensor fixed lens
Other cameras and lenses (including Zeiss)
General equipment, books, accessories etc.

Last update 29 January 2020

Medium Format (mostly Hasselblad)

Major firmware updates for X1D and H6D (9 May 2018)
Leica M mount lenses on the X1D (17 Mar 2018)
Long term review: the Hasselblad X1D (31 Jan 2018)
Major firmware update (1.20) for X1D and H6D (19 Dec 2017)
Video: Dispatches from land’s end, and FW 1.19 (25 Nov 2017)
E-shutter firmware for the Hasselblad X1D (24 Aug 2017)
Some big changes… (29 Mar 2017)
New Hasselblad X lenses! (1 Mar 2017)
Cropping, sufficiency, resolution: take three (or, thoughts after shooting with the H6D-100c) (21 Jan 2017)
Hasselblad X1D on location – ‘Modern Heritage’ mini-movie, and status update (8 Oct 2016)
Coming soon… (14 Jul 2016)
Hasselblad X1D: Very early shooting impressions (with full size samples) (6 Jul 2016)
Announcing the Hasselblad X1D-50c: medium format mirrorless is here. (22 Jun 2016)
Hasselblad announcement – 22 June lifestream (18 Jun 2016)
Mid term assessment of Hasselblad H lenses (29 Apr 2016)
Mid term review: The Hasselblad H5D-50c and CFV-50c (25 Apr 2016)
Announcing the Hasselblad H6D, in 50 and 100MP flavours (7 Apr 2016)
The Switch (22 Feb 2016)
A question of value, accessibility and medium format… (12 Feb 2016)
Reportage and medium format: Thaipusam 2016 with a Hasselblad H5D-50C (25 Feb 2016)
Long term experiences: the Pentax 645Z, six months in (10 Dec 2014)
The Pentax 645Z review, part III: SDM lenses and long exposures (15 Jul 2014)
Review: The Pentax 645Z, part II: compared to the 645D, Nikon D800E and Hasselblad CFV-39 (29 Jun 14)
Review: The Pentax 645Z, part I (27 Jun 2014)
MF digital goes mainstream: early thoughts on the Pentax 645Z (18 April 2014)
Medium format digital in the field (12 Apr 2014)
How I landed up going medium format digital… (7 Sep 2013)
A quick introduction to Hasselblad V-series cameras (26 Jan 2013)
Experience log: the Hasselblad H4D-40 and medium format (25 Nov 2012)

Drone diaries

Drone diaries: slices of green (more from the Mavic 2 Pro) (26 Aug 2018)
Drone diaries: the 2018 DJI Mavic 2 Pro review (24 Aug 2018)
Photoessay/ Drone diaries: Postcards from Europe, part I (2 Sep 2017)
Drone diaries: differentiated aerial perspectives (30 Aug 2017)
Drone diaries: Watch out, he’s got an aircraft… (10 Mar 2017)

Nikon

Cheap and long: The Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G review (22 Jun 2019)
Wider please, but on a budget: the Nikon AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR review (1 Jun 2019)
By popular demand: Nikon Z7 and D850 JPEG picture controls and ACR profiles (14 Jan 2019)
Long term thoughts on the Nikon Z7 and system (12 Jan 2019)
Guest review: the 2018 Nikon Z6 (12 Dec 2018)
Full review: The 2018 Nikon Z7 and Z 24-70/4 (29 Sep 2018)
Review: The Nikon D5500 (or, a solution to the compact 50-e problem) (21 Dec 2015)
Long term lens review: the Nikon AF-S 24-120 f4 VR G (1 May 2015)
Nikon 300/4 VR: anybody else seeing double images? (30 Mar 2015)
Long term review: The Nikon D810 (22 Mar 2015)
So…I bought a Nikon D750. Here’s why (17 Oct 2014)
The Nikon D810 review: a worthy D800E upgrade? (29 Jul 2014)
Photoessay-review: A rainy evening, and summary thoughts on the Nikon D4 (7 Jun 2014)
Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I (30 May 2014) (30 May 2014)
Rational love: the D800E long term report (2 Apr 2014)
Tested: the 2013 Nikon Df (24 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part II (18 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part I (17 Dec 2013)
Retro for the sake of retro: thoughts on the Nikon Df (5 Nov 2013)
FD Shooting with the legends: the Nikon AI-S 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor (6 Aug 2013)
FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F6 (25 Jul 13)
FD Shooting with the legends: The Nikon F2 Titan (23 Jul 13)
Battle of the 28mm compacts: Ricoh GR vs Nikon Coolpix A (7 May 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N (2 May 2013)
Review: The Nikon Coolpix A (26 Apr 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
Major D800/ D800E firmware update (additional: more Nikons, ACR 7.4 final) (2 Apr 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro (2 Feb 2013)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 85/1.8 G (23 Nov 2012)
Mid term report: The Nikon D800E (27 Oct 2012)
The Nikon D600 review: full frame for the masses? (24 Sep 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D3, part two (3 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D3, part one (2 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D200, part one (26 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D200, part one (24 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D2H, part 2 (20 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: the Nikon D2H, part 1 (18 Jul 2012)
Nikon D800/ D800E left focus problem update: fixed successfully! (4 Jul 2012)
Review: The Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G (4 Jul 2012)
How to tell if your D800/ D800E/ D4 has the ‘left focusing problem’ (3 Jul 2012)
Recommended lenses for the Nikon D800E (30 Jun 2012)
Good news: there’s an official Nikon D800/D800E focusing fix! (29 Jun 2012)
Minor firmware update: Nikon D800/ D800E (29 May 2012)
May 10, Part 3: Bayer vs. non-Bayer: Leica M-Monochrom vs. Nikon D800E (27 May 2012)
Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 85/1.4 G (7 May 2012)
An unfair fight? 35mm vs Medium Format: Nikon D800E and the Leica S2-P (5 May 2012)
Just arrived: Nikon D800E (3 May 2012)
Long term review postponed: The Nikon D800 (1 May 2012)
Review: A controversial lens: the Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G (26 Apr 2012)
And the Nikon D800 autofocus saga continues (with some comments on specific lens performance) (5 Apr 2012)
Nikon D800 quick update: diffraction and studio work (2 Apr 2012)
Update on Nikon D800 focusing issues (30 Mar 2012)
Popular Nikon D800 woes, problems and solutions (29 Mar 2012)
More D800 autofocus observations (27 Mar 2012)
A very long term (and final) review: the Nikon D700 (25 Mar 2012)
A quick note on D800 autofocus… (24 Mar 2012)
A couple more D800 images, and some commentary (24 Mar 2012)
Nikon D800 review update: daylight shooting (23 Mar 2012)
A (very detailed) first impressions review: the Nikon D800 (23 Mar 2012)
Nikon D4 ergonomics (18 Mar 2012)

Leica 

Premiere and review: The 2015 Leica SL (Typ 601) and lenses (21 Oct 2015)
More images from the Leica Q Typ 116 (13 Jun 2015)
Premiere and review: The 2015 Leica Q (Typ 116) (10 Jun 2015)
Review: The 2014 Leica X Typ 113 (11 Oct 2014)
World premiere: The 2014 Leica T (Typ 701) review (24 Apr 2014)
The 2013 Leica X Vario (Typ 107) review (29 Jun 2013)
The missing Leica X Vario review (13 Jun 2013)
Photoessay: Monochrome vignettes from Shwedagon Pagoda with the Leica M Typ 240 (4 May 2013)
Photoessay: Chinatown cinematics, and using the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH on the OM-D (16 Apr 2013)
Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 (25 Mar 2013)
B&W samples from the Leica M Typ 240 (1 Mar 2013)
Lens review: The Leica 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE (28 Feb 2013)
The 2013 Leica M Typ 240 (22 Feb 2013)
Just got interviewed on the Leica blog… (8 Nov 2012)
Quick hands-on: The 2012 Leica M (Typ 240) (25 Oct 2012)
New: Photoshop Workflow DVD for the Leica M Monochrom! (4 Aug 2012)
Review: The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for Micro Four Thirds (2 Sep 2012)
Revisiting the Leica M8: a cheap entry into digital rangefinders? (12 Jul 2012)
More street images from the Leica 50/2 APO-Summicron ASPH and M9-P (21 Jun 2012)
Leica M rangefinder calibration service (8 Jun 2012)
More street images from the Leica M-Monochrom (1 Jun 2012)
Landscapes with the Leica M-Monochrom (28 May 2012)
May 10, Part 3: Bayer vs. non-Bayer: Leica M-Monochrom vs. Nikon D800E (27 May 2012)
May 10, Part 2: The Leica APO-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH review, and a comparison (25 May 2012)
May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review (23 May 2012)
More B&W sample images from the Leica X2 (14 May 2012)
Exclusive premiere: The full Leica X2 review (11 May 2012)
An unfair fight? 35mm vs Medium Format: Nikon D800E and the Leica S2-P (5 May 2012)
Catwalk fashion with a Leica M (21 Apr 2012)
On assignment and studio review: Watch photography with the Leica M9-P (13 Apr 2012)
Breaking news: Leica + Apple partnership! (it appears that six months later, I was actually correct – Ive is designing a custom M…) (1 Apr 2012)
Review: The Leica X1 (30 Mar 2012)
Quick tip for the Leica M9: toggling images while zoomed in (21 Mar 2012)
Quick review: The Leica D-Lux 5 (5 March 2012)
Long term review: The Leica M9-P (3 March 2012)
Review: The Leica 50/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH (1 March 2012)
The perils of lots of ideas, but not enough sleep (25 Feb 2012)
Featured on the official Leica blog (12 Feb 2012)

Micro Four Thirds/ CSCs

Testing the E-M1 Mark II’s AF with updated FW v3.0 (28 Jul 2019)
Heresy and sacrilege: MT and SOOC experiments (18 Jun 2018)
Second take – the Sigma 16mm f1.4 in the field (16 May 2018)
Review: the Sigma 16mm f1.4 DC DN C (10 May 2018)
A blast from the past II: revisiting the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (5 Mar 2018)
A blast from the past: Robin Wong on the Olympus E-1 (2 Mar 2018)
Review: the Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4 ASPH for Micro Four Thirds (25 Feb 2018)
Review: The 2018 Olympus E-PL9 (8 Feb 2018)
Review: the 2018 Panasonic Lumix G9 (22 Jan 2018)
Review: The Olympus M.Zuiko 17/1.2 PRO (1 Jan 2018)
Review: the Panasonic DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60 f2.8-4 (21 Nov 2017)
Review: the 2017 Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.2 PRO (26 Oct 2017)
Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM (22 Oct 2017)
Review: The 2017 Canon EOS M6 (2 Oct 2017)
Review: The Olympus Zuiko Digital ZD 12-100/4 Pro (8 Sep 2017)
Street photography with the Olympus E-M10 Mark III (5 Sep 2017)
Premiere and review: The 2017 Olympus E-M10 Mark III (31 Aug 2017)
The un-camera camera (25 Jun 2017)
Review: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 ASPH (13 June 2017)
Review: The Olympus E-M1 Mark II (2 Nov 2016)
Premiere and review: The Olympus PEN F (27 Jan 2016)
Review: The Olympus E-M5 Mark II (21 May 2015)
Opinion-review: the Panasonic LX100/ Leica D-Lux 109 (12 Nov 2014)
New Olympus E-M1 firmware (1 Apr 2014)
Review: The Panasonic Lumix GM1 (7 Mar 2014)
Review: The 2013 Sony A7R (8 Jan 2014)
Preview: The 2013 Fujifilm X-E2 (18 Oct 2013)
Quick thoughts on the Sony A7 and A7R (16 Oct 2013)
Olympus OM-D E-M1 review updated with thoughts on RAW quality (18 Oct 2013)
Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO (13 Sep 2013)
The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part two: some comparisons (11 Sep 2013)
The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part one: the camera (10 Sep 2013)
Just updated the Olympus E-P5 review… (18 Jun 2013)
Lens review: The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G (14 Jun 2013)
Working preview: The OIympus PEN E-P5 (10 May 2013)
Photoessay: Chinatown cinematics, and using the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH on the OM-D (16 Apr 2013)
Review: The Panasonic Lumix GH3 (17 Mar 2013)
Project: Creating a multispectral camera (6 Jan 2013)
Lens review: The Olympus ZD 12/2 (27 Dec 2012)
Comparative lens review: The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17/1.8 (17 Nov 2012)
Quick review: The Olympus 15/8 Body Cap Lens (15 Oct 2012)
The Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite review: a mini-OM-D (25 Sep 2012)
Macro shootout on Micro Four Thirds: four lenses, one winner (22 Sep 2012)
Review: The Olympus ZD 60mm f2.8 Macro and FL-600R wireless flash system (21 Sep 2012)
Review: The Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 Lumix G Vario for Micro Four Thirds (20 Sep 2012)
Review: The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for Micro Four Thirds (2 Sep 2012)
Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system (31 Aug 2012)
Review: the Voigtlander 25/0.95 Nokton MFT (16 Aug 2012)
Review: The Olympus ZD 75/1.8 for Micro Four Thirds (22 Jul 2012)
Lens review: The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12-50/3.5-6.3 EZ for Micro Four Thirds (7 Jul 2012)
Olympus OM-D lockup problems (19 Jun 2012)
Shooting professionally with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (7 Jun 12)
Full review: The Olympus OM-D E-M5 (2 Jun 12)
Lens review: The Olympus ZD 45/1.8 (17 May 2012)
POTD: The man with the microphone, and some OM-D first impressions (9 May 2012)
Mirrorless system lens compatibility recommendations (2 Apr 2012)
Long term review: The Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini (15 Mar 2012)

Compacts/ Large-sensor fixed lens

Brave new world: the surprising iPhone 11 Pro (10 Dec 2019)
Quick review: the 2019 Fuji XF10 (2 Oct 2019)
Review: The Canon G1X Mark III, an impulse buy (13 Feb 2018)
Quick Review: the Panasonic LX10 (6 Feb 2018)
Review: The Sigma DP2 Quattro (12 Feb 2015)
Review: Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Mark III (25 Jun 2014)
Review: The Sony RX10 (3 Jan 2014)
Review: The Sigma DP3 Merrill (7 Jul 2013)
Decision time (28 May 2013)
Battle of the 28mm compacts: Ricoh GR vs Nikon Coolpix A (7 May 2013)
Review: The 2013 Ricoh GR (digital V) (6 May 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
The trouble with compacts (24 Apr 2013)
Review: The Fuji FinePix X20 (19 Apr 2013)
Thoughts on the Apple iPhone 5 camera (31 Mar 2013)
Review: The Leica D-Lux 6/ Panasonic LX7 (25 Mar 2013)
Review: The Fuji FinePix XF1 (13 Nov 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Panasonic LX3 (13 Aug 2012)
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 – a somewhat comparative review (6 Aug 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Ricoh GR Digital III (30 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Canon SD780IS/ IXUS 100 IS (28 Jul 2012)
Inspirations from older cameras: The Panasonic TZ3 (15 Jul 2012)
The iPhone as a camera (10 Jun 2012)
Professional photography with compact cameras (12 Apr 2012)

Other cameras and lenses

Review: The 2019 Sony RX0 Mark II, as a still photographer (12 Aug 2019)
Digital classic: Robin reviews the original Canon 5D in 2018 (20 Aug 2018)
The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part II) (18 Nov 2016)
The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part I) (16 Nov 2016)
On making lenses, inside Sigma, and the 18-300… (19 Jan 2016)
Xmas 2015 hardware picks (1 Dec 2015)
Battle of the best 20/21s: Sigma 20/1.4 Art vs Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia (23 Nov 2015)
A guide to Zeiss lens choices for Sony FE (15 Nov 2015)
Review: the Zeiss 1.4/28 Otus APO-Distagon (16 Oct 2015)
News: Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 APO-Distagon, 2.8/21 Loxia, RX1RII, 19 October (15 Oct 2015)
A visit to Zeiss and thoughts on the Milvus line (12 Sep 2015)
The Sony A7RII (25 Aug 2015)
Long term review: Canon 5DSR (19 Aug 2015)
Review: The Canon 5DSR, part I – solo (2 Jul 2015)
Fresh off the boat: Canon 5DSR and some early thoughts (20 Jun 2015)
A question of enjoyment: ‘fun’ cameras (9 Apr 2015)
Review of a rare bird: the Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar (6 Mar 2015)
The mystery camera, revealed (26 Feb 2015)
Review: The mystery camera (18 Feb 2015)
Review: The Sony A7 Mark II; nearly there…(Updated, 21 Jan) (19 Jan 2015)
Thoughts on the Photokina 2014 announcements (19 Sep 2014)
What’s in the bag – USA workshop tour (11 Sep 2014)
Lens review: The Zeiss ZF.2 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar (9 Sep 2014)
Review: The Schneider PC-TS 2.8/50 Super Angulon and 4.5/90 Makro Symmar (18 Mar 14)
Revisiting the past: the 2003 Olympus E-1 (7 Feb 2014)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part II (18 Dec 2013)
Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part I (17 Dec 2013)
Xmas 2013 picks (3 Dec 2013)
What am I using now? (4 Nov 2013)
Tilt shift world cup: Korea vs. Japan: Rokinon/Samyang 24/3.5 T-S vs Nikon PCE 24/3.5 (1 Sep 2013)
Ultimate tripod heads, part two: the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball (20 Aug 13)
Ultimate tripod heads, part one: the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube (18 Aug 2013)
Review: The 2013 Ricoh GR (digital V) (6 May 2013)
A quick post-USA trip gear evaluation (18 Apr 2013)
Announcing the Ricoh GR (Digital V) (17 Apr 2013)
Thoughts on system choices, part two (10 Apr 2013)
Thoughts on system choices, part one (8 Apr 2013)
Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 (7 Apr 2013)
The recommended gear list (2 Mar 2013)
Great Nikon lens deals (17 Feb 2013)
Review: The Ricoh GR1v (16 Feb 2013)
Review: The Contax T3 (14 Feb 2013)
Project: Creating a multispectral camera (6 Jan 2013)
My end-2012 picks – or a Christmas gift list for photographers (8 Dec 2012)
Lens review: The Voigtlander Color-Skopar 28/2.8 AI-P SLII (7 Dec 2012)
Quick thoughts/ hands on: The Hasselblad Lunar (28 Nov 12)
Photokina 2012 commentary and opinions (23 Sep 2012)
Hands-on-preview: Sony A99, NEX-6, NEX-5R (13 Sep 2012)
Review: The Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon T* (12 Sep 2012)
Revisited and reviewed: The Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar T* (27 Jul 2012)
Long term review: The Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T* (19 Jul 2012)
For the curious, a dissertation of opinions on my current equipment choices (10 Jul 2012)
Some thoughts on digital camera lifespan (22 Jun 2012)
2012 Equipment picks for travel photography (20 Jun 2012)
The ideal camera (8 Apr 2012)
Some of my favourite lenses (17 Mar 2012)
CES 2012: thoughts on the new cameras (12 Feb 2012)

General equipment, books and accessories

Field test: the Scarabaeus camera clip (5 Aug 2017)
Book review: ‘The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee’, by Sebastian Salgado (5 Apr 2017)
Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13″, late 2016 with touch bar (22 Dec 2016)
Available to order: The ultimate photographers’ daybag, a collaboration with Frankie Falcon (7 Oct 2016)
Understanding AF and MF: focusing aids tested (24 Jun 2015)
Apple PC hardware choices for the photographer (27 Apr 2015)
Quick review: the Lumu light meter (14 Oct 2014)
Exclusive: an interview with Nick Brandt (9 Dec 2013)
Book review: Across The Ravaged Land, by Nick Brandt (7 Dec 2013)
A very OT review: the 2013 BMW Z4 28i (27 Nov 2013)
Book review: On This Earth, A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt (21 Sep 2013)
Ultimate tripod heads, part two: the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball (20 Aug 13)
Ultimate tripod heads, part one: the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube (18 Aug 2013)
Review: the Wacom Cintiq 13HD tablet (16 Jun 2013)
Quick review: CarrySpeed DS-2 sling strap (5 Feb 2013)
Book review: Vivian Maier, Street Photographer (10 Aug 2012)
Stability, tripods, and reviews: The Gitzo GT5562LTS 6x Systematic and GT1542 Traveller (29 Jul 2012)
Book review: Workers, by Sebastiao Salgado (6 Jul 2012)
Book review: Supercell by Kevin Erskine (18 Jun 2012)
Book review: Magnum Contact Sheets (14 Apr 2012)

____________

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com). Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPadYou can also get your gear from Amazon.comhere. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Great Nikon lens deals

I got an email from Amazon this morning – some good news for all of you Nikon shooters in the USA: a lot of the lenses on my recommended list appear to be offered at a discount, and a lot of the discounts are healthy. At these prices, the official USA versions are not only cheaper than the gray imports, but also often cheaper than their predecessors. It might be a bad time for the industry, but it’s certainly a good time to be a lens buyer. So, if you’re interested in any of the following, I suggest ordering before prices go up or stocks run out…too bad I live in Malaysia and they won’t ship internationally. MT

Zooms
AFS 24-70/2.8 – $200 off
AFS 24-85/3.5-4.5 VR – $100 off
AFS 24-120/4 VR (currently my general-purpose lens) – $300 off
AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR (reviewed here) – $150 off
AFS 70-200/2.8 VR II – $300 off
AFD 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR – $350 off

Primes
AFS 24/1.4 G – $200 off
AFS 28/1.8 G (reviewed here) – $100 off
AFS 35/1.4 G – $200 off
AFS 50/1.4 G – $100 off
AFS 50/1.8 G – $20 off
AFS 60/2.8 G micro (reviewed here)
AFS 85/1.4 G (highly recommended if you’re not shooting a D800; if you are, get the 1.8G version below) – $200 off (reviewed here)
AFS 85/1.8 G (reviewed here) – $100 off

DX
AFS 18-200/3.5-5.6 VR II – $250 off
AFS 18-300/3.5-5.6 VR – $300 off
AFS 16-85/3.5-5.6 VR – $100 off

Full disclosure: these links will take you to Amazon, and if you purchase something, a small percentage of the price goes to me as a referral fee. It doens’t cost you any more, but it does help keep the site running (and keeps me in gear to review).

Edit: I now have a B&H affiliate link! It’s here.

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Understanding autofocus, and tips for all cameras

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Levitation (and prefocus). Nikon D700, 85/1.4 G

A side effect of the ever-increasing resolution of today’s cameras is that autofocus must necessarily get more precise, too. The Nikon D800/ D800E issues have shown that even a small misalignment or miscalibration in the focusing system can basically cripple the camera into resolving at a far lower level of performance than it would be capable of under ideal circumstances. Short of using manual focus and magnified live view for everything – I would still recommend doing this for critical work, and I do it when working under any controlled lighting situation since I’m more likely to have the time and be using a tripod – it is therefore highly beneficial to pay closer attention to exactly what is going on when the camera acquires focus.

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A situation where fast, reactive autofocus can help. Nikon D700, 300/4 D

For DSLRs, SLTs and some mirrorless cameras (the Nikon 1s and Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6), a phase detection system is used. This involves taking some of the light from the subject area, passing it through a beamsplitter and comparing the difference in phase of the output; a CCD is used to measure light intensity as a function of position, and the lens is moved until light from both arms of the beamsplitter is coincident upon a single point. This entire module constitutes the AF sensor array that’s either located at the bottom of the mirror box (DSLRs) or embedded in certain specific photosite locations (mirrorless cameras). If you select a specific AF point, then the camera uses only the sensors corresponding to the location of that point; if you let the camera pick, it will usually sample all points to find which is the closest subject covered by the AF sensor array, and focus on that.

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En masse. Nikon D3, 70-300VR

Phase detect autofocus is fast and generally does not require racking the lens back and forth – otherwise known as ‘hunting’ – because the sensor is able to tell whether the light is positively or negatively out of phase, and thus in which direction to move the lens in order to correct this and bring the light coincident, thus achieving focusing. The precision of focus depends on several factors: firstly, the resolution of the AF sensor; secondly, the alignment of all secondary optics involved in transferring the light to the AF sensor – specifically, the main and submirror assemblies; any microlenses involved; thirdly, the alignment of the AF and imaging sensors (both must be perfectly perpendicular to the lens mount); fourthly, any calibration data the system requires to establish a perfect zero or null position; and finally, the ability of the lens’ focusing groups to move precisely in small increments that maintain perfect alignment with the optical axis.

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Turning on the inside. Nikon D800E, 28-300VR

Focusing with wide angle lenses is generally less precise with this method because the differences in phase are a lot less; to complicate things, the lens itself may have optical limitations in its design, introducing field curvature, coma etc – all of which can send potentially misleading data to the AF sensor, resulting in incorrect focus. It also doesn’t help that subjects tend to be a lot smaller, and not filling the AF boxes completely. (It’s also worth noting at this point that the AF boxes themselves are an indication of where the sensor grid lies, but there’s no documentation covering precisely where the active areas are located. For greater precision, perhaps the sensors should be crosses instead of boxes.)

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Precisely a fast as a speeding bullet. Nikon D3, 24-70

For moving subjects, phase detect systems either continuously change the focus distance, depending on the instantaneous phase information received at the AF sensor, or alternatively employ a predictive algorithm and multiple focusing points in order to track the subject. The most sophisticated systems also employ information from the metering sensor in order to track the subject by color. None of these systems are infallible, and can be fooled by objects of a similar color or larger size coming between the camera and subject – for instance if your subject happens to duck behind something. Although the level of processing power and sophistication of these systems has significantly increased over the past years; I have yet to see any autofocus system that can 100% reliably track an erratically moving subject – especially if it leaves the area of the frame covered by the autofocus sensor array.

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Cyclist, Nepal. Nikon D700, 24/1.4

I’m sure you can now see why the challenge of achieving perfect focus gets more and more difficult as sensor resolution increases: if any one of these is out of tolerance by a very small margin, you’re not going to have a sharp image.

Most mirrorless/ CSC cameras, compact fixed-lens cameras and DSLRs in live view all use a much simpler method of focusing – contrast detection. This involves moving the focus point of the lens back and forth to test which direction delivers the highest contrast. The camera will then iterate this process until highest contrast is achieved; although hunting has been minimized with the new generation of contrast detect cameras; it is still necessary to rack focus back and forth simply because there is no way for the camera to know which direction in which to move the lens. Because of this contrast detect autofocus will always be slower than well-implemented phase detect autofocus, with all other things being equal. However, it will also be more accurate simply because the imaging sensor is used to determine the point of optimal focus, and there are far fewer potential issues with tolerances and alignment of components.

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Point of view. Canon IXUS 100 IS

It is also worth noting that the size of the sensor actually plays an important part in determining just how fast contrast-detect autofocus systems can be; this is because larger sensors have shallower depth of field for a given field of view and aperture, requiring more movement of the focusing groups within the lens in order to determine where the point of highest contrast (and correct focus distance) lies. This is especially noticeable when comparing a compact camera to a DSLR; compounding this is the fact that small sensor cameras require much shorter real focal lengths to achieve the same angle of view; this results in extended depth of field for a given angle of view, requiring less focus precision because any potential errors can be covered up by increased depth of field. The slow focusing of DSLRs in live view mode is not due to the lens’ focusing motor speed; the same combination often is capable of delivering blazingly fast results when used with the regular phase-detect system.

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The instant of terror when you’re base jumping and not sure if your chute is going to open or not. Nikon D200, AI 500/4 P

There’s one added method that used to be common in older cameras, but is now only to be found on some of the Ricoh compacts: active phase detect. This uses an infrared beam to light the subject, and the reflected light is measured by two phase detection sensors on the front of the camera to assist the contrast detect system. It can greatly speed things up, but range is limited because it requires active illumination from the camera – and the power of these secondary lights is always limited.

Now that you have some understanding of how autofocus systems work, let’s talk about some tips to maximize the accuracy and speed of your camera.

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Through the flood. Nikon D80, 17-55/2.8

All cameras

  • Don’t let the camera pick the focus point for you. Unless you are shooting and erratically moving subject which you cannot follow manually selecting the focus point; always shoot in single point mode and pick your focus point carefully to be over your subject. Many cameras also weight the metering in favor of the focus point; it is therefore important to ensure that it corresponds with your subject – it is almost always what you would want to have correctly metered anyway.
  • Make sure your subject is larger than your focus point. If it isn’t; you need to either move closer (this also becomes a compositional issue) or focus on something at the same distance which presents a larger target.

Phase-detect cameras (DSLRs, Sony NEX-5R, NEX-6, Nikon 1)

  • The camera will always focus on the closest object underneath the focusing point. It may sometimes be fooled by a higher contrast structure – for example, a barcode instead of a blank piece of paper immediately behind it – but in general it will pick the closest subject providing it completely covers the focusing point.
  • High-contrast subjects (again, like barcodes) make ideal autofocus targets. It is also worth noting that some autofocus points are sensitive to detail in one direction only; i.e. horizontally or vertically, and not both directions. (Cross type points are sensitive to detail in both directions; but these are generally only found at the center point, or distributed around the AF-sensor arry only on high end cameras.) It is therefore important to find a suitable target for your camera – a QR code rather than a barcode, I suppose.
  • Use continuous autofocus, unless you are shooting a static object with the camera on a tripod. This is because any small motion of either you or the subject can be enough to move the plane of focus away from the intended point; this is especially critical with fast, shallow depth of field lenses. With continuous autofocus, the camera is always focusing right up to the point of image capture. The one exception to this, is slow, or wide angle lenses. Smaller format cameras are a bit less sensitive to this issue because they have more depth of field for a given angle of view, which tends to compensate for any errors in the focusing system.
  • Try to avoid focusing at the center and recomposing your image where possible, because there are potential issues with field curvature – especially at the edges and corners of wide angle lenses. Use the autofocus point that is either directly over your subject or closest to it in order to minimize any potential issues with the lens’ design.
  • Assign a button to locking focus (AF-L) to use in conjunction with continuous autofocus; this saves you having to switch to single autofocus with static subjects. Alternatively, decouple focusing from the shutter button by assigning an AF-ON button that activates focusing when pressed; I don’t use this method as it requires you to press two buttons to shoot; I prefer to minimize the number of controls that must be attended to especially in fast-moving situations.

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Panning in the rain. Apple iPhone 4.

Contrast detect systems (DSLRs in live view, compacts, CSCs, mirrorless cameras)

  • Once again, do not let the camera pick the focus point for you; select it yourself. If anything, cameras that use contrast detect systems tend to be far more flexible in where you can put your focusing point; this is because they use the entire area of the imaging sensor.
  • Avoid continuous autofocus. This seems counterintuitive in light of my advice for phase detect cameras, however this is because continuous autofocus on a contrast detect system is constantly hunting back and forth around the point where expects to subject to be; imagine a car trying to follow a curve that the driver can’t see until it’s almost immediately in front of him – the path (here, the focusing distance) will be erratic and not match the curve exactly. This tends to result in a very low hit rate. It also helps that contrast detect cameras tend to either have an alternate system to deal with moving objects (in the case of DSLRs); or employ much smaller sensors that are very forgiving of minor focusing errors or changes in subject position due to their extended depth of field.
  • If you have to use continuous autofocus because your subject is moving; there are two other alternatives. The first option is to set your camera to maximum contrast (for obvious reasons) – the live view image is usually a preview of your current camera settings and will match the JPEG output. If you’re shooting raw; your file will not be affected by in camera processing. The second option is an old trick using the days of manual focus photography; it’s called ‘trap focusing’. First, decide on your composition and where your subject must go in order to complete it; ensure your shutter speed is high enough to prevent motion blur of the subject; finally, choose single autofocus and prefocus the camera at that position, releasing the shutter when the subject is in the intended position. One added advantage of this technique – especially for compact cameras – is that it significantly reduces the shutter lag to the point where it is very easy to release the camera at the precise moment you intend. Note that if you cannot get a high enough shutter speed; then you will need to pan through with the subject in order to only blur the background out and keep the subject sharp; this is a combination of panning and trap focusing techniques and works best when the subject is moving across your field of view; it is pretty useless if the subject is coming towards you.
  • Some cameras have a continuous pre-focus or full-time autofocus option that is always adjusting the lens based on whatever subject happens to be under the focusing point at the time. This is generally a good option if you absolutely must reduce shutter lag and are unable to pre-focus. However, note that the system can also be fooled, most notably by moving the camera around rapidly – especially if you are not pointing it at anything in particular. It is also an enormous drain on (usually already short) battery life because the lens’ focusing groups are constantly in motion so long as the camera is switched on.

It is worth practicing all of these techniques until they become second nature; you’ll be surprised by both the increase in your keeper rate, as well as the improvement in acuity and sharpness at the individual pixel level. It is just one of the many elements of shot discipline; which is critical in achieving the highest possible image quality from your camera. You’ll also be surprised at just how much more responsive your camera has seemingly become. MT

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Ignorance, fear and photographic freedoms in Malaysia

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Photograph all you want. Prague, Leica M9-P, 50/1.4 ASPH

Several recent experiences in Kuala Lumpur have prompted me to write this article. They’re all pretty similar: I’m out and about walking on a public road, photographing various objects – never people – and I will be accosted by a rent-a-cop or security guard telling me that I am not allowed to photograph. Photograph what, specifically? Everything and anything which he deems is under his jurisdiction. There are two problems here: firstly, photographing from a public place is allowed so long as you are not on private property; the intended use is actually irrelevant – at least in Malaysia. The second problem is that these people are often immigrants who have both a very poor command of any of the local languages, zero to no education, and often questionable immigration status.

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Think carefully. Though this was shot a few years ago from the street and a good 50m away, I still subsequently had unhappy people waving and holding out stop-hands at me. Nikon D3100, 28-300VR

What this means is that even though you might be able to legitimately convince another person that you’re within your legal rights to photograph where you’re standing, you’re at a dead end because the rent-a-cop you’ve got to deal with is both ignorant and incommunicable. It’s extremely annoying because I’ve had this happen four times in the past week; I know my legal rights and won’t push it in a situation where I’m on private property and I’m trying my luck. The trouble is that this seems to be a worrying trend; it’s happened with increasing frequency over the last year or two. And it’s not because I’m photographing any different subjects than normal, or any more frequently – if anything, I’m shooting a bit less of my own personal work.

Although you could try very hard to convince them that you are a) harmless and b) within your rights, I’ve since found it less frustrating to simply move on to the next place and try to continue shooting – assuming of course that I’m still in the mood at all.

I can see why some of the more interesting places might be off limits – building owners have a legitimate interest in protecting their property rights after all; the problem comes when somebody is trying to protect rights that are not legitimately theirs in the first place. In fact, smart building owners should generally encourage non-commerical photography – in a world that is now full of social-media savvy consumers, you’d be stupid not to do otherwise. I can’t see any downside in having hundreds of images – some of them probably quite good – of your property out there, especially if it’s a commercial building and high tenancy rates are one of your objectives.

This level of ignorance is a very sad thing for Malaysia, because it compounds the existing lack of appreciation for art the population at large already suffers from. People are very happy to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a stack of PowerPoint slides that contain absolute garbage and executionally impossible strategies, or for life insurance schemes with an EV far less than parity – yet something that actually requires skill such as the production of a photograph, or copywriting – goes completely unappreciated.

The underlying problem is twofold: firstly, education, and secondly, something a little more deep-seated that’s a cultural mentality which we shouldn’t be proud of – and certainly shouldn’t keep encouraging. The lack of education keeps the population as a whole focused on assigning value to tangible things only – ignorance keeps people from realizing the added value of service, design, packaging, visuals – in short, the whole customer experience. It seems that repeat customers are not really a high priority for most businesses here – they just want your money; whether you come back or not is not their problem. It certainly isn’t the problem of the minimum wage employees actually doing the work.

A viciously destructive cycle is born: you don’t get repeat customers because the service is crap, so you have to cut costs to maintain profitability, which means even worse service, and even fewer customers. Do something wrong, and everybody is reading about it on Facebook or Twitter in a matter of minutes. Make the wrong person angry, and that number can easily run into the tens of thousands. The inverse is also true, of course. (It’s just one of the many reasons why I try to reply to every single message I get.)

I can’t help but wonder if a lot of why we’re stopped from photographing things is because there may be some borderline illegal elements at play – foreign workers without permits or operation without permits or licenses are at the top of the list, and both are rampant in Malaysia. In cases like this, I can understand why proprietors get understandably nervous about any form of documentary, especially cameras. A government that seems to turn a blind eye to this kind of thing for the right amount of ‘convincing’ does not help things, either. Once again, it boils down to a lack of education – forget prioritizing a sustainable business over a profitable one – and the cultural obsession with making money any way possible. Again: if you’re running a legitimate operation, a smart person would want as much publicity as possible to create awareness. It would seem that there are not so many smart people here.

On the whole, I’m both saddened and frustrated. Malaysia remains one of the most rich countries for photographic opportunity because of both the pace of change, depth and variety of cultural traditions and large social contrasts. It’s a great place to practice social documentary and architectural photography – or it would be, if we could just photograph within our rights. Interestingly, I’ve almost never experienced this kind of restriction overseas – I don’t know if it’s because I fit the stereotypical Asian tourist profile, or because the general level of education is higher, but the difference can be felt. In fact, I think I only remember being stopped from photographing something once in London – and I was at fault because I was trying to be stealthy despite the liberally posted ‘No Photography’ signs inside a private museum.

There is one workaround, however. Despite proliferation of cameras and variety, the perception of ‘big black camera equals threatening’ remains; use a small, nondescript compact and you’re generally ignored. (In fact, I was most frequently stopped when shooting with the F2T; it probably doesn’t help that I’m very, very slow with this camera due to a lack of built in metering, manual focusing and general care with film.) Fortunately, compact camera technology has evolved enough that using one doesn’t entail as much of a compromise in image quality as it would have done a few years ago – even under low light conditions. Granted, I love the D700+85/1.8G’s ability to make beautifully cinematic stills at night, but I can still do exhibition-grade work with the RX100 and it’s 28/1.8 equivalent. What it does mean is that a change of style is in order; mainly because I no longer have the same freedom of choice in equipment if I want to shoot the same subjects – or, I simply have to shoot different subjects.

I suppose one really has to look at the bright side of things here – I could continue to bemoan the ignorance and diminiution of photographic freedom, or I could embrace the forced change as a challenge to push me out of my comfort zone which would in turn force my evolution as a photographer. I might not like it, or think the overall change in societal attitude is a good thing, but it’s not as though we have much of a choice is it? MT

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Mid term report: The Nikon D800E

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I’d long ago intended to post a full review of the Nikon D800E, but somehow that got lost in a flurry of work, left-side AF problems, and repeatedly having to answer the question of ‘which camera should I buy?’ – note that this has now gotten even less straightforward now that the D600 is an option, too. And then there was the fact that it wasn’t really that different to the original D800, which I already reviewed here (I believe it was the first complete one up on the internet, actually). But now, I think enough time has passed, and I’ve used the camera under enough situations (and somewhere in the region of 20,000 images – almost all of them on-assignment) that I think it’s about time for a mid-term report card. This won’t follow the form of my historical reviews; rather it will take the form of a series of annotated comments. Some apply to both the D800 and D800E.

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Apples. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

One general observation is that it seems Nikon got the product mix wrong – most of the photographers I know bought the D800E over the D800, figuring that if they were going to go all out with resolution, they might as well really go for broke. I suspect this is contributing to the limited availability of the camera, despite the D800 being in stock – Nikon’s facilities were probably geared up to produce more D800s, but the demand is in favor of the D800E. I was recently told by NPS in Malaysia that while the D800 is readily available, the D800E is still back-ordered for a month or more.

I’m going to start with the bad first, to get all the negativity out of the way upfront.

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Dragonfly. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

Something still doesn’t feel right with the autofocus system.
Although my camera no longer exhibits any asymmetry with its focus points following the recalibration and fix by Nikon Malaysia, it just doesn’t seem to be as positive or accurate as the D700 was (or D600 is now). There are situations in which the camera nails everything perfectly, and situations under which it just seems to miss by a hair; far more of the latter exist than the former. And no combination of AF settings seems to work; this means that the D800 is effectively an unviable proposition to me as a documentary/ reportage camera. Bottom line: I’m not 100% confident that it’s going to focus where I tell it to.

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Up or down? D800E, 28/1.8 G

The viewfinder is nearly useless for manual focusing.
Sure, it’s big and bright and covers 100% of the frame, but the problem is that it just doesn’t have enough focusing ‘snap’; it’s very difficult to tell when things are in critical focus or not, which is made doubly critical by the extremely high resolution of the sensor. It seems that all modern focusing screens are really just optimized for brightness with slow zooms. I would have done the same thing I did to my D700 – namely, cut and fit a custom screen from one of the other cameras I like – the F6 type J and FM3A type K3 are my favourites. However, the D800’s focusing screen is so enormous that this simply isn’t an option – I think it actually has the largest focusing screen of any Nikon to date, which means there are no suitable donors. I’m trying to get hold of an original screen to see if I can make it more matte on my own, perhaps by grinding it down with 1200 grit sandpaper. (You’re probably wondering how I use the camera at all without AF and a good finder – since most of my work with this camera is tripod-based anyway, live view comes to the rescue.)

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The ZR012. D800E, 60/2.8 G Micro

Demands on lenses and technique are high.
It’s not the pixel density, but the pixel density for a given angle of view – this is the highest it’s been for any consumer/ prosumer level camera (i.e. non-medium format) to date. I think a lot of people confuse this with pixel pitch. The bottom line is that if your lens covers say 90 degrees horizontally, then the D800E puts much more resolving power per degree in the hands of the average photographer than they’re used to; this places corresponding demands on lens quality and technique (focusing, camera shake etc) than the vast majority people can manage handheld except under good light. I can’t even get a consistently sharp image unless I’m over 1/2x focal length – and I’m certain I’ve got better technique than average. This, and the size of the files (a throughput issue) make it impractical for a documentary/ travel/ journalism camera. Oh, and you’ve got to use good lenses too, which tend to be large and heavy – not ideal for walking around with.

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Eleven. D800E, 28/1.8 G

The live view exposure implementation needs work.
If you shoot manual exposure, live view mode always shows you a preview of the actual exposure. Guess what this means if you’ve got things set up for a studio strobe exposure with zero ambient: a black frame! You’ll have to toggle back and forth between P and M modes to focus, which wastes time and is unnecessary – especially since they fixed this on the D600. I hope it’s something that gets addressed in a future firmware update. Or, at least give us an option…

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Bored. D800E, 28-300VR

There are a few ergonomic fails.
The mode button is more and more annoying the more I use the camera – it’s just impossible to reach without contorting your grip, and muscle memory from using every other Nikon pro body means that you will almost inevitably try to change exposure with the video record button and back dial. The D-pad lock switch is too loose, and easy to activate, meaning that you may not be able to change focus point at a critical moment – and then be left wondering why, while your shot disappears. By a similar token, the metering mode switch is too stiff, and difficult to operate with the edge of your thumb. Aside from that, ergonomics are spot on. What I don’t understand is why Nikon seems to make minor changes between generations to both things that need fixing, and things that work fine as they are…

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Polo. D800E, 28-300VR

The shutter appears to have a vibration issue around 1/30s or so.
I’ve noticed a strange blurring/ double image that occasionally pops up in the 1/20-1/40s range; even with everything locked down on a heavy – Gitzo 5 series systematic – tripod and studio lights; the only conclusion I can come to is that somewhere in the shutter or mirror mechanism, something is vibrating at that natural frequency and creating a bit of camera shake. The solution around this has been to use live view and the self timer when required; it of course doesn’t require the mirror to cycle.

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3T MRI. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon

File handling is…chunky.
This isn’t a flaw of the camera. But the increased amount of detail means even larger files than the D800; you’re looking at 40-50MB routinely for a compressed NEF. It would be a waste to shoot jpeg with this camera, of course. This is one of the reasons why I tell prospective buyers to think very, very carefully about whether they really need such large files: it has a knock-on effect on everything else from processing to storage. I usually open my raw files in batches; with the D700, my current laptop can happily handle 20; for M9, OM-D and RX100, it’s about 15; for the D800E…I think a threshold has been crossed somewhere, because it’s more like five.

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Sarpaneva Korona K0. D800E, 85/2.8 PCE

Now for the good news:

Visible diffraction is offset somewhat by the lack of an AA filter.
My work requires small apertures on a regular basis; the diffraction limit for the D800 was visibly between f8 and f11, with all other things equal. The lack of an AA filter allows you to claw back some perceptual sharpness (though remember that diffraction is a property of the pixel pitch, and still sets in at the same point for both cameras) – all other things being equal, this allows a D800E image at f16 to have the same perceptual sharpness as a D800 one at f11 or thereabouts. Handy. Needless to say, at smaller apertures, the D800E provides a noticeably crisper image – there isn’t necessarily more resolution, but the pixel acuity is definitely higher.

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All about the hair. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

Moire is a non-issue for the majority of circumstances.
I don’t shoot a lot of fabrics or repeating patterns, but on the occasions I have done, I’ve seen very, very little moire. And these tend to be studio situations anyway, which means that I’m at small apertures; I can always have the option of removing any aliasing by stopping down a little bit more and letting diffraction take care of things for me should the situation arise. Conversely, I can’t add the acuity back to the D800’s files.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon detail. D800E, 60/2.8 G Micro

Image quality is impeccable.
After working regularly with good D800E files, it makes me feel as though my other cameras are all lacking something; however, the knowledge that you really have to have all your ducks lined up in a row to make the D800E sing is enough for me to remain happy with the image quality from the rest. That said, the D800E is easily the best DSLR at the moment for any form of controlled lighting or tripod work; color accuracy and dynamic range are both superb; pixel acuity is beyond reproach (with the right lenses, of course) and – barring the aforementioned issues – usability is excellent.

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Spiral. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon

Battery life is outstanding.
Both the D800 and D800E have excellent battery life – easily 2000+ shots per charge without use of flash, or 1500+ if the built-in is used as a CLS trigger – which means that I only have one spare battery. This is a first for me: even my D3 had two spares. In fact, I think the real-world battery life of this camera is bested only by the D600.

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Omega Speedmaster 9300. D800E, 85/2.8 PCE

It doesn’t feel that heavy.
Even though the camera isn’t much lighter than the D700, you do notice the difference after a day of shooting with it – my hands just don’t feel as tired as they did when I was using the D700. Perhaps it’s also a function of grip shape. I don’t know if this has negative consequences for camera shake and stability, though – probably not, since the D600 is even lighter and seems fine (though admittedly it also has a much lower-vibration and slower shutter).

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How the other half live. D800E, 28/1.8 G

Overall, the impressions are good: very seldom is there a camera which I would consider perfect or close to it (the D700 was probably the last one) – the D800E pushes the image quality envelope forward by a significant margin, and with this necessarily comes compromises. The mistake I think most people make is in thinking that if you used the D700 with great results, you should be able to do the same with the D800E; no. Even for somebody who pays constant attention to shot discipline, you will find situations under which the demands of the sensor exceed your ability at that moment to achieve a pixel-level, critically sharp image. I know, because it’s happened to me several times.

This brings me to the final portion of this report card: I want to conclusively answer the ‘what should I buy?’ question once and for all.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Latitude. D800, 60/2.8 G Micro

Buy the D600 if:

  • Size and/or weight is a priority.
  • You are coming from a DX body that doesn’t have the same controls as the pro bodies (anything except the D2H/D2x/D300/D200)
  • You just want a general purpose FX body, and getting the large sensor ‘look’ is your priority.
  • You want resolution for large prints but can’t afford a D800E.
  • You shoot mostly handheld
  • You shoot a lot of live view work in the studio
  • You don’t print larger than 40×60″ or so

Buy a (or keep your) D700 if:

  • Budget is a priority – second hand D700s are abundant now, and cheaper than new D600s. They’re still capable of producing excellent images – I still use mine for reportage work.
  • You need speed or AF tracking ability – it has more coverage than the D600, and (I feel) higher precision than the D800E. It also runs at up to 8fps, which none of the others can.
  • You do a lot of low light or marginal shutter speed work – it’s just more forgiving for handholding.
  • You shoot in hostile environments
  • You don’t print larger than 20×30″ or so
  • Workflow throughput is a priority – events, weddings, sport etc.
  • You shoot mostly handheld
  • You don’t need video or live view

Buy the D800E if:

  • You need to have the absolute best image quality in a DSLR available now (due to lenses, or budget vs MF, or whatever)
  • You don’t mind using studio lights and/ or a tripod to maximize image quality
  • You don’t mind re-evaluating your lens lineup
  • You shoot a lot of video – it has manual exposure controls and power aperture than none of the other cameras do
  • You need to print larger than 60″ wide
  • You don’t mind (and have the hardware to) handle enormous files

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Nadiah. D800E, 45/2.8 P

And what about the D800? Well, I honestly can’t see why anybody would bother unless money is super-critical, or you shoot a lot of fabric –  the price difference to the D800E isn’t big enough to be a factor if you’re already committed to spending that much money, and it requires almost as much shot discipline and lens quality anyway. Finally, if you do a lot of long lens work – wildlife or similar – then you should probably look at a DX body instead; cropping isn’t going to up your frame rate much, or improve AF ability; the D600 and D700 probably won’t have enough resolution for demanding applications in DX crop mode, either.

I think what says the most about this camera is the fact that I only use it on assignment – it isn’t my first choice when I’m shooting personal work, or teaching (except in studio), or just going out for a while and feeling like I want to do some photography; something’s missing. And I don’t know if it’s the file sizes and processing that subconsciously puts me off, or something AF-related, or perhaps I’ve just moved on from feeling the need to carry a big camera for reassurance. Bottom line – I’m just not bonding with it in the same way I did with my D700, or even D2H for that matter – and those were even larger and heavier cameras. All of that said, I wouldn’t dream of using anything else for critical commercial work. MT

The Nikon D800E is available here from B&H and Amazon and the D600 here from B&H and Amazon.

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