The Sigma Bigma 50-500mm

Ever since my 70-300mm lens was stolen I haven’t had a telephoto beyond 200mm, which ain’t very long, even at a 1.5 crop factor. Another 300mm would be okay, but for wildlife it would be swell to get something longer.

Dx0Mark likes the Sigma 50-500m lens, AKA the Bigma. It tested just a whisker width’s behind the Nikon, but for a thousand dollars less scratch. One of the guys in my videography class last fall is a stringer for the local paper, and he loves his. The next time I have $1,500 burning a hole in my pocket I’ll have to list the pros and cons of buying one versus buying all of the other stuff I want. Ain’t that always the way?

New Industry Standard for IS/VR Lens Performance

Canon offers IS and Nikon offers VR – technologies that reduce picture blur when handholding a camera. There’s always been some debate about how well those systems worked, and the companies keep coming out with new versions that area supposed to be more effective, but there’s never been a standard for measuring effectiveness until now.

Nikon has published the results of their CIPA testing. Results range from a low of 2.5 stops to a high of 4.5 stops. 4.5 stops means that the image-stabilizing technology is as effective as increasing shutter speed by 4.5 stops. So a photo taken with VR at 1/60th of a second would be equivalent in sharpness to a photo taken without VR at 1/1500th of a second.

VR (and Canon IS) mean you can get a sharp picture using shutter speeds that are slow enough to get a good exposure in a broad range of lighting conditions. They also mean you can get the shutter speed down in the range where you can use a flash at full FP sync – typically 1/200 to 1/250th of a second.

P.S. VR/IS lenses are also great for handheld video. You shoot video at a shutterspeed of 1 over twice the frame rate – so 1/60th of a second for 30 fps video -  so you can’t get sharp images by using a quick shutter speed.

New Nikon 800mm Lens

Nikon 800mm Lens

And they say gun owners are trying to compensate for something.

Test of Seven 50mm Lenses for Nikon

Test of Seven 50mm Lenses for Nikon. Good stuff. The $239 Nikon AF-S 50mm/F1.8g comes out really well.

As you can see, these lenses perform very differently at each aperture. If you shoot mainly wide-open and don’t need to go faster than f/1.8, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G is your best bet and was the sharpest of the lenses tested @ f/1.8. If you prefer a faster f/1.4 lens, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM EX DG is great, as is the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G – both are sufficiently sharp at f/1.4 and sharpen up nicely as you stop them down. If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll be stopping down most of the time; the Nikon Ai-S 50mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 were absolutely excellent stopped down and had the best contrast as did the Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D.

Nikon D7100, Nikon Lens Rebates

The D7100, the replacement for the D7000 I’ve been using for two and a half years, has been announced. Specs and press release. It has a new 24mp sensor vs. the 16mp in the D7000. The megapixels aren’t as significant as the improvements in the sensor quality, if it’s similar to the one in the D5200. Other major changes:

  • Video supports 30 fps in 1080 mode, and 50 and 60 fps in the new “1.3x crop mode” which I confess I don’t yet understand.
  • There’s now a headphone jack for monitoring audio as it’s being recorded. This is a small feature that’s a godsend when recording video.
  • Processor upgraded from Expeed 2 to Expeed 3.
  • Another stop of ISO.
  • Slightly larger 3.2 inch LCD with 30% more pixels.
  • Works with the $60 WU-1a wireless adapter for sending pictures to cell phones and other devices over WiFi.
  • Compatible with the new WR-1 Transceiver for wireless control of the camera.
  • New Spot Balance feature for setting white balance in Live View.
  • Water and dust sealing upgraded to the professional level of the D300.
  • Price is the same as the D7000.
  • LATER – a couple more:
  • 51 point autofocus system in place of the 39 point AF in the D7000.
  • Like the D800e there’s no anti-aliasing filter, which should improve sharpness.

Seems like a mighty fine upgrade. If you passed on the D7000, the D7100 is going to be mighty tempting. If you’re like me and have a D7000 it’s a tougher decision. I was planning on skipping a generation (to a D7200) or making the move from DX to FX. Nice as the D7100 is I don’t think it changes my opinion.

Lens Rebates

Nikon has rebates on a number of lenses. Thom Hogan has some suggestions on which ones are worth buying.

Photography Links and Focus Talk

The Noir Photos of Brassai

5 Tips for a Faster Lightroom Workflow


Photography Life (formerly The Mansurovs)How to Use Prime Lenses in Low-Light Environments This is by Romanas Naryškin, rather than Nasim Mansurov. Naryškin is young and his stuff is just OK. I’m linking this to say that the article has a couple of good tips (like shooting in bursts if you have to be sure to get focus and the subject is moving, calibrating your lens if your camera supports it), but that it misses some of the big points.

Use single point (center) focus for best precision or when shooting cameras with poor focus systems
My first DSLR was a Nikon D40. Great camera, but the focus system had just three focus sensors (for comparison, my new D7000 has 39 and some pro cameras have 50 or more). I quickly discovered that the only way to get food focus was to use single point/single area autofocus and pick my focus point instead of using area focus and letting the camera do it for me. Naryškin hints at this when he discusses cross-type focus sensors and mentions that the center sensor is usually of the cross type.

Single point means that you get one dot in the center of the viewfinder. You aim that at what you want to be in focus. Then you either take the picture or press the shutter release halfway down to lock focus then recompose the picture and then press the shutter the rest of the way down. Compared to other focus options such as area or matrix you get complete control and you always know exactly where focus will be. For people and animal pictures I prefer to focus on the eyes, for instance. An example of a time you wouldn’t want to use single point focus is when you’re shooting very fast and don’t have time to pick a focus point. In that situation you could accidentally pick a focus point in front of or behind your subject.

Use continuous focus to track moving objects
The focus system usually locks in the focus point and doesn’t change. This is called AF-S on Nikon and (I think, correct me if I’m wrong, Canon guys) One-Time on Canon.. If the distance between you and the subject changes (because your or the subject moved) the focus will be wrong. The way to prevent that is with continuous autofocus (AF-C on Nikon and AI-Servo on Canon) which updates focus up until the picture is taken. Turning on the Sports scene mode will usually activate continuous autofocus; check your manual.

Another nice thing about continuous autofocus is that it will take a picture even if it doesn’t have definite focus. Some scenes (like tall grass swaying in a breeze) will throw off AF-S and keep it from locking focus and taking a picture.

Note that continuous focus will disable the half button press method of locking focus and recomposing with single point focus (at least on Nikons; I’m not 100% sure about Canons). In that case you have to lock focus using the AE-L/AF-L button or AF-ON button.

Back button focus
Speaking of which, pressing the shutter release halfway sets focus. Pressing it the rest of the way trips the shutter. Some DSLRS have a dedicated AF-ON button that will set focus. With others you can program one of other back buttons for focus lock or AF-ON, and all DSLRs have an AF-L button to lock focus. Even if you don’t use single point focus you’ll find that AF-L makes the shutter button more responsive and gives you manual-like control over focus, with less hunting.

I’ve experimented with configuring the AF-E/AF-L button on my D7000 as an AF-ON button a few times for sports photography in situations where I knew something was going to happen quickly at a fixed distance and liked it. Here are a few articles explaining some of the advantages of back button focus.

On-camera autofocus assist lights – hate ’em
Naryškin recommends using them. I took Thom Hogan’s advice and turned them off on my cameras for reasons of etiquette. They shine in people’s eyes in dark settings and draw attention to your picture taking.

On-camera AF assist lights are only good to maybe 10 or 15 feet if you’re lucky. They’re often blocked by large lenses or even lens hoods, which I always use. If I really need AF assist I’ll bring along my SB-800 flash. It has a bigger, stronger AF assist lamp that’s red instead of white. Since the flash sits on top of the camera the AF lamp isn’t blocked by the lens.

Become passingly familiar with depth of field
Another term for depth of field is depth of focus. Henri Cartier-Bresson I ain’t. I don’t have depth of field tables memorized, but I’ve got an app on my phone now and I try to consult it now and again. Here’s a video where I explain exactly how my depth of field mistakes destroyed the focus in that video. Distance and small apertures and wide angle lenses are your friends. Back up a little and stop down a little, especially with longer lenses and group shots.

Some Photography Links

60 Watt Bulb in a Floor Lamp

David Handy reviews new books by Dan Winter. I’ve asked for the America book for Christmas. I’ve been a Winters fan since the first time I visited his site.

Mike Johnson at The Online Photographer was interested in the Nikon D800e for its potential in digital black and white photography, so he rented one for a week before cracking open his checkbook. Mike is a thoughtful photographer and writer and it was fascinating to follow him through the process. He wasn’t reviewing a camera so much as he was reflecting on his photographic career, pondering his ideal digital camera, and deciding if the D800 was a match. The posts are collected here.

Photoshop Masks 101.

Bjørn Roselett is writing Nikon lens reviews at

The Kirk Tuck Section

Kirk Tuck on video microphones.

Tuck: My final, exhaustive, fawning, cynical, exuberant review of the Sony Nex-7. He’s opened my mind a bit more on mirrorless cameras.

Pretty funny comparing that to his experience using a $50,000 camera/lens combo that he didn’t enjoy.

Speaking of Kirk, he’s really good at shots like this GTO (scroll to the bottom of the post) that show just part of the subject. I always want to get the whole thing, but sometimes just a side or a facet of the subject can look damned good when someone does it right.

Compact Flourescent in a Table Lamp

Nikon 70-200mm/F4 Released, D5200, Nikon V2

The Nikon 70-200mm/F4 is available for pre-order. Nasim Mansurov looks at the MTF charts and sees good things. Nikon Rumors has sample images.

Rumor is the Nikon D5200 will soon replace the D5100.

There’s a V2 version of the Nikon V1 MILC/EVIL camera. Better ergos and has a built-in flash. There’s a new hotshoe flash that bounces, which is good, but if they had used a pin-compatible Nikon hotshoe to begin with there wouldn’t have been a wait.

Small Nikon mirrorless rant

My beef is that as a Nikon DSLR owner if I want a MILC/EVIL/mirrorless camera there’s no reason for me to automatically go Nikon. For one thing, Nikon’s mirrorless cameras aren’t that hot. DxOMark hasn’t tested the sensor in the Nikon V2, but last year’s V1 was disappointing. It wasn’t as good as my six year old D40 (which was half the price) and miles behind my two year old D7000. The D7000 costs more, but the D5100 has image quality just as good as the D7000 and costs less than the V1.

DxOMark Table

The user interface on Nikon’s mirrorless cameras is enough different than Nikon’s DSLRs that I’ll have to learn a new system anyway. Because the hotshoe is incompatible none of my flashes will work and I won’t have the flash trigger options I’d have with Nikon’s DLSRs. I’m not even sure you can get a flash sync cable.

My lenses will work, albeit with a $200 adapter. The point of these little guys is to go small, so if I’m using big lenses I might as well use my big DSLR body. I guess if you’re using both systems it’s helpful to occasionally be able to share lenses, but I can’t personally afford to keep big and little DSLRs systems with their own flashes and lenses. Just keeping one DSLR system up to date is expensive.

If I were going mirrorless I’d go to Sansmirror and DxOMark, read the reviews, and then sell off my DSLR gear to fund the purchase. The Sony NEX-7 has the sensor performance and gets great reviews. On the other hand with Micro Four Thirds you can buy lenses that will work across different brands of cameras and I think it’s less likely to wind up as a dead end product. M4/3 is also quite a bit cheaper. Tough choice. But I don’t see me leaving DSLRs anytime soon.

DxOMark Table

Nikon 70-200mm/F4

For my Nikon fellow travelers, our factory is about to crank out an F4 version of the 70-200mm, which is something folks have been whining about for a while. As in, “Canon users have one. Why can’t weeee???”

The current, second-generation F/2.8 version costs a have mercy $2,400. There’s a joke that lenses cost somewhere between the cost of a good lunch and the cost of a used car. The F/2.8 is on the used car end. Wild-assed guesses on the prices of the F4 version range between $1,000 and $1,600, which is still a used car, but with bad AC busted shocks.

I’ve got the first-generation F/2.8, which I bought used on Craigslist from a wedding photog who was retiring. I paid less for it than I expect the F/4 will sell for new. It’s a downright amazing lens. The picture of Natalie I use as the background of my blog was shot with that lens. Occasionally I entertain the idea of selling it, but so far I’ve never come across another lens I’d rather have in its place.

I must say, though, that due to its size, weight and replacement cost I don’t take the F/2.8 out as often as I might. A smaller, lighter, less expensive F4 lens definitely has its place. If I didn’t have the F/2.8 I’d be mighty interested in this new lens.

Canon 40mm Pancake Lens

If you have a DSLR you’ve noticed all the little DSLR-like cameras with interchangeable lenses. EVIL/MILC, Micro 4/3rds, and all that. I see those Nikon 1 commercials on TV and two things pop into my head:

  1. I’d sure like to smack Aston Kutcher.
  2. That Nikon 1 is tiny.

So something that would reduce the size of a DSLR would be swell.

And along comes the Canon 40mm F2.8 STM pancake lens. It’s about the size of a thick lens cap and disappears on a DSLR body. Weighs 9 ounces and costs $199, which is cheap by DSLR standards. The only downside I see is that compared to other primes is that it’s a stop and a half slower, but that’s typical of pancake designs.

Canon 40mm Pancake

Cool stuff and the reviews are good. Canon and Nikon users tend to take turns being jealous of each company’s stuff. I’m a Nikon user and right now I’m a little jealous of this.

Get a prime lens

This is a prime lens, meaning it doesn’t zoom. Want a tighter shot? Walk closer. Want a wider shot? Back up. It works better than you’d think, as long as you’re at a personal scale (as opposed to shooting landscapes where you need a wide lens or wildlife where you need a telephote).

Something in the 30-60mm range is good for general use. Wider angles are preferable for general photography, since you can’t always back up enough, but you can always crop. If you have a crop sensor camera, be sure to factor that in.

What’s the advantage? Primes are smaller and lighter than an equivalent zoom. They’re faster (they have a larger maximum aperture) so they’re better for low light and allow for shallow depth of field when you want. They also tend to offer higher picture quality for the same price, or lower price for the same picture quality.

My most-used lens is a 35mm F1.8 on a crop sensor Nikon (making it effectively a 52mm lens). I won a local photography contest with it and Knoxify published a couple of pictures I took with it.

Primes can help you learn how to see. It sounds goofy, but you’ll learn to frame and compose and move, as opposed to standing still and zooming like a tourist. I’ve used that Nikon 35mm lens enough that I know its field of view. I sometimes find myself taking a few steps forwards or backwards before I even raise the camera to my eye, because I know how far I need to be from the subject to get the picture I want.

I wouldn’t mind having another prime, but I’m having a hard time deciding what focal length I’d actually use. 50mm, maybe, though I wonder if it’s a little too close to the 35mm to be worthwhile.

PreviouslyWord of the Day: Tessar Lens or Pancake Lens

New Nikon Firmware for Cameras with Built-in Distortion Control

Nikon updates lens distortion control data for many DSLR cameras.

Nikon Releases D3200 Camera, 28mm F/1.8 Lens, WU-1a Wireless Adapter

Nikon D3200, WU-1a, Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G officially announced.

The WU-1a is a little $60 doodad that lets you send pics to your WiFi-enabled smartphone or tablet so you can share them over the Internet. For now it only works with the D3200 and Android phones, with iOS support scheduled for autumn.

This is a sensible way to connect a DSLR to the Internet. Everyone already has a cell phone. Let the camera talk to the cell phone and let the cell phone talk to the Internet.

Nikon D3200 Coming Out in April

That’s the rumor.

Nikon D800 and D4 take the #1 and #3 spots at DxOMark

And #2 is a $40,000 Phase One.

Nikon Releases D800/D800E

Nikon released the D700 replacement, the D800. They’ve gone nuts with megapixels, going from 12 to 36. The new camera is a hair smaller and about 4 ounces lighter, with advanced features. MSRP is $2,999.95. The D800E is the same camera with the anti-aliasing feature removed for maximum sharpness and will list for $300 more.

Nasim Mansurov has a discussion of how removal of the anti-aliasing filter can affect image sharpness

Nikon 800E High Resolution Image Samples

UPDATE: And it’s the first SuperSpeed USB camera.