Cheap and long: The Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G review

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A little while ago, I reviewed the other end of Nikon’s discount spectrum: the equally-a-mouthful AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR. Together with the equally plastic AF-P 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 DX VR G, these three lenses make up the antithesis of the usual professional ‘holy trinity’. They are not fast, they are not weather sealed, they are not built like tanks, they are not bristling with switches and cutting edge features, and they’re most likely to be the first thing any hobbyist getting ‘serious’ is going to upgrade out of their kit. Hell, they’re the most likely things to be given away as promotional loss leaders in said kit to begin with. Yet – somewhat unexpectedly, I find myself rather liking them. The 10-20 is a solid lens with some caveats, but unbeatable at the price. Today’s post will examine the AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G* – and it has even fewer caveats than the 10-20 and 18-55, making it honestly downright impressive. Read on if you feel like making your other glass uncomfortable.

*Nikon apparently couldn’t decide what to make, so we have in current production:
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX G (new)
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G (new, this review)
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 E VR G (new, FX version)
AF-S 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR G (old, and barely held up on 16MP FX let alone today’s cameras)
AF-S 55-300mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR G (old)
AF-D 70-300mm f4-5.6 G (very old, very bad)

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Wider please, but on a budget: the Nikon AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR review

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Most of you know me for being at the bleeding edge of hardware and being able to deploy the difference – that was true at least until my back injury last year, which has severely limited what I’m able to carry for any length of time. It has forced me to look at things I would normally have ignored; for whatever reason, in this industry light and small is usually also synonymous for ‘entry level’ and ‘cheap’. But in doing so, I’ve found some surprising hidden gems: hardware that most people pass over at face value for lack of bragging rights or seemingly ‘obvious’ deficiencies. Be prepared to be surprised, I was. This will be the first in a series of el cheapo reviews.

When I started off with DSLRs, the king of Nikon wides – DX only at the time, of course – was the AF-S 12-24/4. It was a decent performer even on the 12MP bodies, but started to fall apart with anything much more resolving than that. Distortion was…spectacular and not easily correctable. It was also very much a prosumer build lens, with light plastic everything, the slower AF-S motor and a non-prosumer whopping $1200 price tag or thereabouts. Fast forward fifteen years and we now have a successor (there was also the AF-S 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 DX, which sits somewhere between the two in price, build and optics). It takes many things away: it isn’t as long (20mm vs 24mm); it has an even plastickier build – even the mount is plastic – and it’s pretty much a stop slower across most of the range. BUT: it is $280 or so, new, from your choice of online outlet, and has VR, the new fast AF-P pulse motor, and weighs just 230g. It even covers FX from 13mm upwards, though the Z6 and Z7 will auto-crop to DX and you can’t override this. If you are not a fan of long reviews, then just enjoy the images, skim through the rest, and click the buy link at the bottom of the post.

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Photoessay: hard line

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Great light and crazy architecture one morning in Tokyo – best to make the most of it. I thought of hitting multiple destinations, but the truth is anybody who’s been to Tokyo will know there’s so much of interest architecturally everywhere that it doesn’t really matter where you go. I suspect this is because underlying land costs in Tokyo are so high that anything you put up on the site will be (relatively) cheap in comparison; unlike in other parts of the world where construction is equal to or greater than the real estate. Even straightforward buildings have a personification of that Japanese obsession for imperfection, and as a result usually sport one or more very nice details to break pattern. Okay, I just can’t help myself: I like graphic subjects. MT

With the exception of one image (D850), this series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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Photoessay: Urban form

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Just as the previous photoessay focused on the distilled shapes and forms of the organic, today’s does the same for the inorganic. Hard shadows play off hard lines and angles and deep blacks create a sense of spatial discontinuity that turns the unknown into a solid anchor, intentionally inverting perception. Sorry, sometimes I forget I’m not writing for a society art critique. Most of the time, I just like the shapes. MT

This series was shot with the Nikon Z7 and contains SOOC JPEG images using my custom Picture Controls, available here. Similar results are available with other cameras by following the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photoessay: Park form

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A walk in the park can sometimes be more than easy and better than creative – a refreshment of the mind and eye, and some good light to make things interesting. I’ve found myself working increasingly in monochrome these days to focus on forms and shapes and remove the distractions of color; there’s a time and place for it but the color really has to carry the story. In a high-density and high-contrast environment that’s monochromatic anyway – taking away the color pushes the eye towards the core of the story. MT

This series was shot with the Nikon Z7 and contains SOOC JPEG images using my custom Picture Controls, available here. Similar results are available with other cameras by following the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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By popular demand: Nikon Z7 and D850 JPEG picture controls and ACR profiles

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I’m giving in to the large number of people asking me for Z7 and D850 Adobe Camera Raw profiles that are compatible with Workflow III. Now available is a supplementary pack that includes these profiles, as well as a bonus: what are arguably the best SOOC JPEG profiles available at the moment for the Z7 and D850. I’ve been looking at ways to make my own workflow more efficient for the majority of cases where I don’t need perfect files, so I can spend more time shooting (or doing other things) rather than being stuck behind a computer. Inspired by the results from the PEN F, I spent some time using Nikon’s byzantine picture control management software to make a set of curves that plays nice under the majority of situations. The monochrome picture controls were calibrated specifically for velvety rich shadows and smooth highlight rolloff; I think of it as ‘Acros Plus’ with a light orange filter; for some odd reason getting monochrome right was much more difficult than color – I put it down to the sensitivity of Nikon’s curve implementation.

Included in this pack are:

  1. Nikon Z7 ACR flat color profile, for use with Workflow III and PS
  2. Nikon Z7 ACR flat monochrome profile, for use with Workflow III and PS
  3. Nikon D850 ACR flat color profile, for use with Workflow III and PS
  4. Nikon Z7 monochrome picture control (SOOC JPEG)
  5. Nikon Z7 high contrast color picture control (SOOC JPEG)
  6. Nikon Z7 low contrast color picture control (SOOC JPEG)
  7. Nikon D850 monochrome picture control (SOOC JPEG)
  8. Nikon D850 high contrast color picture control (SOOC JPEG)
  9. Nikon D850 low contrast color picture control (SOOC JPEG)

The profile/picture control pack is available to purchase here for $60.

All sample images in this post were shot with the Z7 and one of the three picture controls; PS was only used for batch resizing. More samples and notes after the jump. Expect an email from me after purchasing, within half a day at worst in case I’m not at the computer.

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Long term thoughts on the Nikon Z7 and system

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I’ve now had a few months, a few assignments and what I’d consider a decent amount of time with the Z7: long enough to be familiar with its various peccadilloes and figure out exactly where it fits in my arsenal. Think of it as an extended field test, and perhaps more important than the initial review that people seem to expect me to produce within hours of a camera’s announcement. Truth is, you don’t really know a camera until you’ve had a chance to use it as you normally would, for the kinds of subjects you normally shoot, for an extended period of time – it’s just not physically possible to cover that many scenarios in a short test. Trouble is, not many of us have the time to do that (and especially not sites that have dozens of cameras to cover every month). It also requires consistency in the way one works to provide a baseline of expectations. As usual, I preface my thoughts with the caveat that not everything will apply to everybody, and validity of course increases the more similar your photographic style is to mine. I may not cover some things that matter to you, and I may obsess over other things that are trivial. With that, and assuming we have a mature audience, let’s move on.

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Guest review: the 2018 Nikon Z6

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MT: Today’s thoughts on the Z6 should be thought of as an accompaniment to my Z7 review and are courtesy of the man behind the scenes and one of the partners in my watch venture, Praneeth Rajsingh, who’s the one keeping me organised and pointing in the right direction these days. I tried to get him to buy the Z7, but he knows his sufficiency threshold…

Hello! While I’m usually involved behind the scenes, Ming thought it might be interesting to have me share my thoughts on the new Nikon Z6 – which I recently acquired. As an amateur photographer who only buys gear to meet his needs (and budget), my review will not be the comprehensive and in-depth coverage that MT excels at, but I hope some of you find it useful.

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Full review: The 2018 Nikon Z7 and Z 24-70/4

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Executive summary: the last bastions of mirrors have both joined the brave new world. Nikon’s effort feels like a D850 and an E-M1.2 met in a bar and had an illegitimate child. Yes, it’s expensive; yes, for the most part, it performs pretty much how you’d expect. It doesn’t feel like a first effort except for a couple of relatively minor things (as it shouldn’t given how long Nikon took to release it) – if anything, they should be commended for releasing it when ready rather than as soon as possible. And yes, I bought one.

I’ve now had a couple of days to do shoot my production/ retail Z7, 24-70/4 and FTZ adaptor, and my thoughts follow. More images to come as I have time to shoot with the camera; I rushed this out in the middle of a family vacation – the first one since before I started photography professionally.

Updated 23/10/18 after extended battery testing.

Updated 28/10/18 after long distance testing of the 24-70.

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A question of value, accessibility and medium format…

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Let’s say you’re in the market for a new camera – which face it, most of us find ourselves in frequently, often for reasons of our own doing. It has to be something reasonably exciting, and having played this game and gone through this cycle many times, for argument’s sake, it’s probably going to be at the higher end of the spectrum. We have a lot of choices. What I’ve shown above represents the full spectrum of choices, from the best of conventional high performance DSLR, to the top end of mirrorless, to entry level medium format, to something a bit more unconventional. Figure on spending say ~$12k by the time you’re done – body, a lens or two, and the usual plethora of system-specific accessories.

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