Sep 052013
 

The Nikon D800 and the Holy Trinity of Lenses

by Valerio Trigari

25480_D800_right

Hi Steve,

I’m a big fan of your website and so I decided to contribute to it by writing a user report on the Nikon D800 and the Nikon Holy Trinity of zoom lenses. I hope my review will be interesting and useful to the many readers and contributors to your website.

Before I move to the report itself, I’d like to introduce myself briefly. I’m an Italian born professional photographer from the UK and I’m based in Ipswich, about 80 miles north-east of London. My professional career started very recently, in April of this year, after I decided to quit my job in the IT industry and follow my dream. A lot of people thought I was mad, but I don’t regret my decision at all and I’m very happy!

The Nikon D800

Since its announcement in February 2012, the D800 caused a stir in the photographic community, due to the astounding amount of pixel Nikon was able to fit into a full frame sensor. Those 36.3 MP, in a way, divided the community between those who thought it was too much, and those who thought it was exactly what they were looking for. I have to admit that initially I belonged to the sceptical side, but then reviews started to appear, as well as lots of pictures, which gave me the opportunity of forming a more discerned opinion. As I said, there are plenty of reviews on this camera already, which go through every single technical detail of the camera; for those interested in those aspects I suggest reading this article, http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d800-d800e/, from the DPReview website. My report will skip on the technicalities and focus on my personal experience with the D800 over the past year.

Let’s begin with the main features of the camera:

  • 36.3 MP FX (24 x 35.9 mm) CMOS sensor
  • 51 point AF system
  • ISO 100 – 6400, expandable to ISO 50 and ISO 25600 equivalent
  • Shutter speed between 30 s and 1/8000 s
  • 100% coverage viewfinder
  • 4 fps in FX mode
  • 3.2″ LCD display with 921K dots
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 146 x 123 x 81.5 mm / 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 in
  • Weight (camera body only): 900 g / 31.7 oz

I’ve been a Nikon user for many years and my previous camera – which I still use – was a D90. For a long while I was thinking of making the jump from a crop sensor to a full frame, especially after I bought the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8. For a while I was thinking about buying a D700, but along came the D800 and things became confusing… Which one should I buy? Do I need all those MP? Should I look into a second-hand D3X? After months of indecision – and reading all I could about the D800 – I decided to go for it. And I’m glad I did!

When I first hold the D800 in my hands it looked massive compared to the D90, but it doesn’t fell heavy and actually fits my hands much better. I find the layout of the buttons well thought and all major settings (ISO, white balance, exposure compensations, etc) can be set while composing the image at eye level. The number and position of the buttons is slightly different from older Nikon models, but it didn’t take me long to get used to it. The settings menu is clear, though sometimes it takes quite a few clicks to get to the setting you want; however, in my opinion, that’s only a minor inconvenience. On the day I bought the camera, I was able to use it without the need of reading the manual, which is rather thick, I must say.

So, what about the big 36.3 MP full frame sensor? Is it as good as it’s supposed to be? Yes, it is. The amount of details it captures is simply astounding, beyond my imagination and hope. It’s been said that this camera can compete with the very expansive medium format digital backs, the likes of Phase One and Hasselblad. I can’t comment on that, because I never used one them, but the jump in quality between the D90 and D800 is blatantly obvious. Of course, the improved quality is not only due to the sensor size, but also to the new EXPEED 3 image processor and four years of advance in technology.

Happisburgh_Lighthouse

Unfortunately all this quality comes at a price, and I don’t just mean money: so many megapixels require a more accurate technique when shooting, especially handheld. The usual rule of setting a shutter speed equal to 1/Focal Length is not enough for the D800, especially with a telephoto lens. In my specific case, I need to use a shutter speed of 1/3*Focal Length to get a shot that it’s not blurry. That means that in low light conditions you need to increase the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed. However, I must say the camera produces good quality images up to about ISO 3200, with very little noise. Above that, noise is very obvious, but unlike many people, I don’t find it such an issue. To me noise is part of the picture and I try to use it in a way which adds character to the image.

Fog_in_Ipswich

Another important “issue” arises from the this massive sensor: the RAW files are rather large. I shoot exclusively in RAW, at 14 bits with no compression and, on average, a file size is about 70 MB. My iMac is almost four years old and sometimes it struggles when many filters, layers and so on are applied to an image. I expected that image post-processing would have been slower, so I wasn’t too worried, though I could definitely do with a newer and more powerful computer. Of course I could reduce the bit depth and add compression, but I don’t see the point in doing that, because I want to the sensor to its full potential.

The main reason for buying the D800 was to use it for landscape and architectural photography. I love printing photos large and show every single detail, and the D800 is certainly up to the task. Of course, to get the best out of the camera, not only you need a sturdy tripod and rock solid head, but also high quality lenses. That’s the reason why I decided to opt for the so-called Holy Trinity of Nikon zoom lenses: 14-24 mm, 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm all at constant maximum aperture of f/2.8. I’ve been debating for a while if I should have gone for prime lenses, but in the end I had to take into account practical reasons, such as number of lenses and cost. I’m happy for the choice I made, because all of them are exceptional zooms and cover all my needs. All these lenses are weather and dust sealed, and have a solid and rugged feel. I will talk about each lens separately.

My everyday lens: the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8

J2164_AF-S-NIKKOR-24-70mm-f-2.8-ED_front

  • 15 elements in 11 groups (3 ED glass elements, 3 aspherical elements, 1 Nano Crystal coat)
  • Closest focusing distance: 0.38 m / 1.2 ft
  • 9 rounded blades
  • Filter thread: 77mm
  • Diameter x Length: 83 x 133 mm / 3.3 x 5.3 in
  • Weight: 900 g / 31.7 oz

This is certainly the lens I use the most and that’s why it was the fist of the Trinity which I bought, even before I bought the D800. The lens is heavy and big, but it is incredibly good in terms of sharpness, contrast and colour rendition. The only issue I have is a bit too much chromatic aberration on the borders, but that is easily corrected in post-production. Distortion is well controlled on both ends of the zoom range and, again, it can be fixed easily in post. The pictures below were taken with the Nikon D800 in a jazz club in London. The only source of light was on the stage and I was forbidden to use my flash, so I had to use very high ISO to get the shots I wanted. The first image is shot at ISO 3200, the 2nd at ISO 6400 and the 3rd at ISO 12800 (all photos had noise reduction applied in Photoshop). The band is a wonderful gospel group (http://www.606gospelgroup.com) and they use my photos on their website, so I’m very pleased!

606GospelClub_1

606GospelClub_2

606GospelClub_3

Going beyond wide angle: the Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8

J2163_AF-S-NIKKOR-14-24mm-f-2.8G-ED

  • 14 elements in 11 groups (2 ED glass elements, 3 aspherical elements, 1 Nano Crystal coat)
  • Closest focusing distance: 0.28 m / 0.9 ft
  • 9 rounded blades
  • Filter thread: n/a
  • Diameter x Length: 98 x 131.5 mm / 3.9 x 5.2 in
  • Weight: 1000 g / 35.3 oz

This is a lens like no other. As far as I know, this is the widest wide-angle lens made by any manufacturer and the quality of images it produces is almost incredible. When I used it at 14mm for the first time I was really and truly shocked by how well corrected it is in terms of aberrations and distortion. At the other end of the scale it’s almost distortionless and that’s just incredible. As you may know, using filters is a bit of an issue, because you need to buy a purpose made holder and filters just for this lens, but that didn’t deter me. I use this lens primarily for architectural and landscape photography, as you can see by the shots below. The lens is rather large and weighs as much as the 24-70mm, because of all the glass elements it contains. One word of advice, be careful when using this lens on the ultra-wide end of the scale: you’re going to be much closer to objects than you think, so you must be careful not to scratch that bulbous front element…

Forest_around_Lake_Fusine

Christchurch_Mansion

Weeds_and_River_Alde

There’s only one negative point for this lens: I had to have go through three of them before I could find one that didn’t have so much front focussing, that even maxing the fine tune adjustment, images were still soft. The one I own isn’t perfect, but it was the best the retailer had in store! So, please Nikon, get stricter tolerances in terms of focussing, before you send lenses out of the factory, especially expensive lenses such as this one!

The ideal telephoto zoom: the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8

J2139_AF-S-VR-Zoom-NIKKOR-70-200mm-f-2.8G-IF-ED_front

  • 21 elements in 16 groups (7 ED glass elements, Nano Crystal coating)
  • Closest focusing distance: 1.4 m / 4.6 ft
  • 9 rounded blades
  • Filter thread: 77mm
  • Diameter x Length: 87 x 205.5 mm / 3.4 x 8.1 in
  • Weight: 1540 g / 3.4 lb

This zoom comes close to the perfect lens, in terms of build construction and quality of the images it produces. It is long and very heavy, but I do not care, so good are the images it takes! VR is essential, even more so on the D800; without it would be nigh to impossible to get a steady shot, at least with my hands. The VR system can be set to different settings, depending on the shots you’re taking, or completely switched off, if working on a tripod. At the beginning of August I was on holiday in the Alps in north-est Italy, close to Austria and Slovenia, and unfortunately there were many wildfires raging in the area, which lasted about a month. Luckily no one got injured, or worse, but many acres of alpine forest were reduced to ashes and charcoal. The 70-200mm gave me the chance to capture images of the brave and tireless firefighters and volunteers, who fought with every mean in their hand those fires. I believe the lens and camera allowed to produce photos that give justice to their incredible work and perseverance.

Wildfire_at_Night

Canadair_in_Action

Last_Tree_Standing

 

The final word

To conclude my user report, I can only say that I am incredibly happy with my gear and it’s worth every penny I paid for it. The proof of the quality of this camera really came after I looked at prints of some photos. These were 24″ x 16″ C-type prints and the pictures looked even better than they did on the screen. That was the moment when I realised I bought the right camera. Would I recommend the Nikon D800 and the Holy Trinity? The only answer is: Yes!

Thank you for reading my review and I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful.

Cheers!

Valerio Trigari

 

Aug 262013
 

Going on World Tour with Leica, Voigtlander  & Nikon

By Mike Villa

Earlier this year, my typically spastic lifestyle was settling into quite a nice groove. I was putting in huge amounts of time and energy at Motor Trend, working as a video producer for their YouTube channel, while taking on weddings on the weekends, and saving for a motorcycle. And then, one fine March afternoon, the good people from Life Without Limbs called.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Life Without Limbs is a non-profit organization founded by Nick Vujicic, an incredibly joyful individual who was born without arms or legs. Nick seeks to inspire others, help those in need, and spread the hope and joy that he’s found to those who need it most.

Life Without Limbs asked me to join Nick and a 4-man video team from Sypher Films on his 2013 World Outreach Tour and provide photo and written documentation of his journey – essentially acting as their own in-house photojournalist. Less than a month later I was on a plane to Hungary for a “test run” to see how well I meshed with the rest of the team. Shortly after, I left the (rather spectacular) Motor Trend parking lot for the last time, and the motorcycle fund went to the good fellows at Leica and Voigtlander.

There aren’t very many practical reasons to pick up a Leica these days. My D800 offers far better files, and (in my opinion) my little Fuji X-E1 isn’t too far off in image quality, while being even more compact and discreet. Nearly everything on the market provides a more “efficient” way of taking a picture. But if I based all of my life decisions on practicality, I likely wouldn’t be a photographer – there are certainly more efficient ways of making a living. I picked up a Leica for the same reasons I picked up a camera in the first place – I simply enjoy it.

The first leg of our journey took us through eight countries in Southeast Asia and made for an excellent torture test of the M9. I used the Leica with either a Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 or Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 for about 80% of my shooting. Without an M-mount telephoto handy, my D800 and Sigma 85mm 1.4 made up most of the rest of my shots, although I had the rest of my Nikon kit on standby. Needless to say, it rarely left the hotel rooms.

Documenting everything means I touched on just about every genre of photography. Many days were based around speaking events – everything from a class of 30 to a stadium of 30,000. The video team and I played tourist quite often as well, as capturing and understanding the local culture of each country was important. We trekked through slums and palaces, showing our equipment no mercy when it came to dirt, rain, or rough roads. The conditions were rough on the cameras, and often rougher on our hearts. Every epic panorama was balanced with an intimate hug backstage in the green room. Every portrait of a president or prime minister was followed by journalistic shots of sick orphans dying in their cribs.

After 27 days of non-stop clicking of the shutter and furious typing of team journals and blogs, I touched back down on American soil with cards, hard drives, and heart full of incredible experiences.

 

1. Mount Fuji, Japan  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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2. Okinawa, Japan  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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3. Okinawa, Japan  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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4. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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5. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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6. Manila, Philippines  | Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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7. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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8. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 + Nikon SB900

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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9. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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10. Manila, Philippines  |  Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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11. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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12. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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13. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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14. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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15. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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16. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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17. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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18. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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19. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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20. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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21. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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22. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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23. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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24. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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25. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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26. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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27. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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28. Venetian Resort, Macau  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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29. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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30. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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31. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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32. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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33. Seoul, South Korea  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

http://mikevillavisuals.com

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34. Seoul, South Korea  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

http://mikevillavisuals.com

So what will I do differently for the next sections of Nick’s World Outreach tour? Not much, although I’ve since added a Voigtlander 75 1.8 in hopes of using my Nikon kit even less. Last time around, I did feel limited having 85mm as my longest focal length for the bigger events, so I’ll swap that out for my 70-200. For a more complete look at my load out, you can peek inside my two camera bags here  and here.

If you’ve already checked out the Life Without Limbs World Outreach blog  and still can’t get haven’t gotten your travel photography fix, you’re in luck: I’m typing this while en route to join the rest of the team in Indonesia for part two of the tour. I’ll be continuing to blog on the Life Without Limbs site, and possibly a bit on my own site as well (as time permits).

Questions? Thoughts? I can’t promise a timely response, but if you comment here on Steve’s site, I’ll do my best to get around to responding.

Thanks for reading folks, and a huge thank you to Steve for letting me share my experiences with his readers.

 

Life Without Limbs 

Mike Villa Visuals 

Images processed with VSCO Film 04 

Sypher Films 

 

Jul 152013
 

The Great Shootout – LEICA M240, NIKON D800, Sony NEX 7

By Jim Hale

More posts coming today but to start it off I thought some of you may find this interesting. Jim Hale sent me a video he made comparing three cameras in a very “non scientific” test. Enjoy!

Jim also made a very cool video with his M and Noctilux that looks pretty good :) Tough to beat that Leica glass!

Nov 292012
 

USER REPORT: CV 25/0.95 on NEX VS Nikon 35/1.4G on FF

By Kolen Cheung

I forgot how long I have been reading your site, probably started by googling reviews on some Leica/Voigtlander lens. And the review I love most is the one on the Voigtlander 35/1.2 II. While other people might focus on the technical aspects, saying it is not sharp wide open or what, from time to time I’ve gone back to your review on this lens and read through it again. Again and again, I forgot how many times I did read through it. You showed me the passion you have and how much you enjoy from the lens. With the examples, you show great photos can be achieved with this lens. So some day I decided this is the lens I want. But just I don’t have a FF M mount camera (M9). I need the DSLR system for work, so while I have been tempted to sell all my gears and buy an M9 and some lenses, I just can’t do it. And then I love the 35mm focal length; I don’t want to put it on a crop sensor making it becomes somewhat normal…

So far when I just want to have a 35mm focal length, I would bring my D800E and 35/1.4G with me. It is already quite light in the DSLR terms and at such depth of field. But it is still quite heavy so more and more often I would just left it at home if I don’t plan to shot something. But sometimes opportunities cannot be planned…

Long story short, one day I suddenly think that why don’t I try to put the Voigtlander 25/0.95 for micro four third on the NEX camera to see what happened? I did see samples from one guy on the Internet. Strong vignetting and no infinity focus would be the deal breaker for many. However after much thought I decided to give it a try to see how well it can go.

So I bought it, the Voigtlander 25/0.95 with NEX C3!

First, I want to see how it compares to the usual kit I bring, the D800E with 35/1.4G. I know the latter must be better (just like you know the Leica 35/1.4 FE would be better than the Voigtlander 35/1.2II), but I want to see how well they compare and if it can satisfy me. This is the origin of this “crazy comparison”.

A quick calculation will show why I am interested in this combo. The NEX C3 has a crop factor of 1.54. So a 25mm F0.95 lens would be equivalent to a 38.5mm F1.46 lens on full frame. Hence close to 35/1.4 on FF. And this a little bit longer reach account partly for the differences you see on the photos below (and partly because I’m lazy not using a tripod).

Voigtlander 25/0.95 on NEX C3, at F0.95

 

Nikon 35/1.4G on D800E, at F1.4

I shot RAW only. I imported them into Lightroom 4. I use Adobe Standard as the color profile, and leave all settings to its default settings except adjusting exposure and white balance. Which one do you like?

There’s some technical flaw on the Voigtlander 25/0.95 on NEX. The extreme corners are totally dark, even worst than strong vignetting. The corners have some smearing (look at the bokeh at the lower corners). More glowing. Etc, etc. But that doesn’t stop one to use that. Just remember to do some cropping. At worst it would be like shooting from a micro four third camera.

But what’s more fatal is this: with the only micro four third to NEX adapter available in the world, infinity focus is not possible.

(All photos starts below have been applied some post processing)

Voigtlander 25/0.95 on NEX C3, at F0.95

Here I am shooting at “infinity” but the actual focus distance is about 14 Ft or 4m. These will stop most people from using this combo. But I actually know all these before I bought this combo.

 

Voigtlander 25/0.95 on NEX C3, at F0.95

Just get closer and one can shot wide open and in focus! And crop slightly to kill the dark corners. The crop factor for this is 1.74 making the lens equivalent to 43.5mm F1.65.

 

Voigtlander 25/0.95 on NEX C3, at F2.8

Want to go beyond 4m? Stop down a little bit. (Here I didn’t optimize it well. By looking at the EXIF data I can slow down the shutter two more stops and tune the ISO two more stops. And at post processing I boost two stops so it means I still have two stops to play around. If I were more careful I would shot it at 1/50s and ISO800 at F5.6.)

People may say why bother to shot this F0.95 lens at F2.8~5.6. And I’d say this is the compromise I have to make with this combo. After all short distance and thin depth of field are correlated so this is not as bad as one may think. Depth-of-field-wise, all I lost is to throw something at around 4m out of focus but in focus at a farther distance.

I cropped in the above two examples. But in some cases it is not necessary.

Voigtlander 25/0.95 on NEX C3, at F0.95

And an even better example would be some scenarios (e.g. at night) that the corner position are actually dark.

Hope that you enjoy the photos! And actually I like this combo. For a nice walk around I can bring this combo and use this solely. And of course I won’t forget the Voigtlander 35/1.2II I mentioned in the beginning. Rumors say that 2013 will have a full frame NEX and if it’ll be true I would replace this combo by that FF NEX plus 35/1.2II. That would be so much better but this is as good as I can get right now.

The last two things I want to add which may interests some of the others are: I calculated the biggest possible crop factor without absolute dark corner is 1.57, making the lens about 39mm F1.5 at FF equivalent. And the infinity focus issue is, as far as I know, not inherent. It is the maker of the currently only micro four third to NEX adapter who made a mistake. Maybe they didn’t use a real lens to test it? Or may be the lens they use has a too narrow aperture so that it looks sharp. Actually the seller claims that infinity focus can be achieved. Obviously they made a mistake and hope that they would know it by now and correct it!

My Portfolio is here.

 

Jun 072012
 

 

My time with the Nikon D800 and Zeiss 35 1.4 – A quick 1st look report.

I have only had this Nikon D800 for a short time so instead of writing a big long-winded real world use report, I decided to just keep it basic and short, much like I did when I wrote my old original D700 review almost 3 years ago (So this is only a 1st look report). The D700 was and still is a pretty special DSLR. It was the camera to come along and take on the original Canon 5D and in my opinion, it beat the 5D (Mark I) in every way. IQ, AF, Build, etc. I loved the D700. The build, the feel, the control, the whole Nikon thing…yea, I preferred it to the 5D though I also had a warm spot for the 5D’s creamy rendering. The reality is that the D700 and original Canon 5D are both beautiful cameras capable of professional output. Which one to choose back then came down to ergonomics and lens selection. Also, personal preference. I’ve had my love affairs with both Nikon and Canon DSLR’s over the years but it was the D700 that really hooked me into full frame digital for some reason, I think because back then when I was in to DSLR’s more the Nikon’s always seemed to have better and more rugged body styles. Better ergonomics as well. I also always seemed to see more documentary photos shot with Nikon cameras over the years, whether it was film or digital. Nikon’s have always had a way of putting out rich color and I enjoyed the files coning out of their DSLR’s for many years. From the D100 to the D700.

The richness of the D800 files can be intense at times. This is a shot with the Zeiss 35 of the AZ wildfires still smoking

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Full Frame – There is still an advantage

90% of cameras today are not full frame. What I mean by this is, that most cameras today have smaller than full frame 35mm format sensors. Point & Shoots have teeny tiny sensors, hobbyist cameras go a little bigger, enthusiast models go for APS-C and finally we have a couple of “full frame” sensor cameras which belong to Nikon and Canon. The D700, D800 and the Canon 5D and 1ds series. These cameras are considered “pro” cameras because they have the build, the speed, the low light capabilities and the overall image quality that can satisfy just about anyone. A DSLR has the capability to shoot just about anything. Sports, wildlife, macro, portraits, fashion, studio. They are the true workhorse of the industry and while I love my Leica M9 and shoot it in pro situations (weddings, converts, and even some studio work over the years) you can not deny it is the DSLR that is the tried and true camera of the professional.

With full frame you can take amazing images with shallow depth of field or even crisp images with HUGE depth of field. As mentioned, DSLR’s are the most versatile cameras you can buy and can shoot everything from still life to portraits to sports to macro to wildlife, all without a hiccup.

When I reviewed the NIkon D3s I was BLOWN AWAY at what I could get out of that camera inn low light. ISO 102,000? yep. Didn’t even break a sweat. While I was amazed I was also sore! That D3s was and is a beast of a camera and taking it out for a few hours killed my wrist. It was much more enjoyable at that time take out my Leica M9. So while I really appreciated what the D3s brought to the table, I knew it was not a camera for my personal use as it was just too big.

Since that review we have had so many new cameras come out that are much smaller and really good enough for most shooters. The fact is that a huge percentage of D800 buyers will be hobbyists, enthusiasts and passionate people who just want “the” hot DSLR and for many, it is overkill IMO. The D800 will pump out AMAZING results and image with high dynamic range and superb color and detail, but if you are just going  to resize for web use…you can save money and your arm with a much less expensive camera that will also give gorgeous results.

Cameras that come to mind that have tremendous IQ in a small package? Leica X1 and X2, Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5…all fantastic. Are they a D800? NO they are not but each of these cameras can give you output that is just as pleasing as what comes out of a D800 (minus the crazy resolution of course). But for full-time or part-time pros or those who really want the best bang for the professional buck, the D800 is a winner and at $3000 it is not overpriced as you do get what you pay for and  the D800 gives you quite a bit for that cashola.

The file sizes are huge, the files are sharp and detailed and rich, the color is nice and you will have really good low light performance as well. The build is solid and pro and  the speed is as fast as anyone can ask for. In my eyes, the ONLY weakness of this system is the SIZE and WEIGHT. That is about it and users of this camera really do not seem to care about size and weight :) The full frame sensor here is really nice but it is my personal opinion the 12MP of the D700 was plenty though I feel 18MP is the sweet spot in the digital world. Yep, 36MP is almost overkill for my uses but it does give you nice Medium Format results.

Is this TOO much resolution for a digital 35mm format camera?

Sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much. The D700 was 12MP of sweetness. Easy to work with and open the files, gorgeous prints, nice fat quality pixels on that big sensor. Yep, it was and still is a winner. The D800 is now more advanced with HD video, 36MP of resolution and a slightly differently designed body. But damn, opening these files on my iMac (3 years old) reminded me why I prefer 12-18MP cameras :) For me and my needs this kind of resolution is ridiculously too much. Why on earth would someone need this much resolution when a few years ago there were billboards being printed with a 4Mp Nikon D2hs file? Hmmmm.

My Leica M9 can produce the most amazing prints I have ever seen at 18MP. What does this much power bring to the table? I really don’t know besides more memory card space and a more powerful computer needed. Lol. Well, I really DO know but for me it is not needed. For you? Maybe.

I could easily be happy with the D700 today, probably more so than the D800 only because I will never need this kind of resolution in a camera, unless it is doing something crazy magical but overall what I see in the D800 is a similar look to the D700, just not as much detail and resolution. Does that mean I am trashing the D800? Hell no, it is one hell of a camera with gobs of power and features. Owning it means you have the capability to create some true art, but again, that capability lies in YOUR hands more than the camera. DSLR fans are flocking to this camera and there is a reason why this is so, the D800 is a flat-out amazing DSLR.

OK, sorry for that MegaPixel rant :) Just letting some of my personal thoughts through as I always tend to do. My time with the D800 was short. I did not have the ability to really put it through its paces in a way that I would have liked so what you are reading here is only a 1st look report. Maybe for a full review I will be able to grab a D800E and take it on a nice photo trip.

Resolution

The detail and resolution of the D800 is remarkable. The fat 36MP files are huge and there is a reason for this. If you like zooming in on details in your photos while browsing them at 100% (like it or not, many do this every day) then you will love the D800. If you want resolution, this DSLR has it.

Click image for larger view and full 100% crop – D800 with Zeiss 35 1.4 at f/5.6

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The 35 at 1.4 – click image for full size

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one with the cheap Nikon 50 1.4 at 2.8

and the crop – you MUST click it to see the full 100% crop – pretty nice and this is with the cheap-o 50 1.4 lens!

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The Zeiss 35 1.4 Manual Focus ZF.2 lens

a quick snap I shot with my phone of the D800 and Zeiss 25 1.4 next to my Olympus OM-D :)

Just about 98% of the images in this report were all shot with the $1850 Zeiss 35 1.4 ZF lens on the D800. I have always had a weak spot for Zeiss glass on Nikon DSLR’s and this lens is GORGEOUS in its build, feel and 3D rendering. The only problem when shooting with a lens like this is that it is manual focus only, and it is not always easy to nail the focus on a stock D700 or D800. There are times when you think the image is in focus and it is not. The camera does have a focus indicator in the viewfinder that displays a dot when you are in focus, but even that can be wrong when shooting with a lens like the Zeiss 35 1.4.

The depth of field is amazingly shallow for a 35mm lens and helps to create that magical Zeiss look and feel. The lens is larger than my entire OM-D camera though and heavy as a brick (literally). Magical but Heavy.

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So what did I think with my limited time with the D800?

If you want a truly state of the art DSLR with gobs of power, resolution, speed, color, and a medium format feel – the Nikon D800 may be your camera. If you do not mind size and weight it would due nearly impossible to dislike this camera. The files are gorgeous and have “pro” quality written all over them. By that I mean the Dynamic ranges HUGE, the color is beautiful and the files are very hardy so when editing you can get away with just about anything. The D800 is an improvement over the D700 but I could still be happy as a clam with the now classic D700, as that is also a gorgeous beast or a camera. As for high ISO I did not have the time to do a thorough test but can say the high ISO is a step back from the D3s which was the most incredible high ISO camera I have ever experienced. Still, the D800 offers superb low light performance that would please anyone.

I did not even get a chance to dip into the video modes on the D800 which are said to offer jaw dropping quality.

If I were a DSLR guy today I would have already bought a D800 or the D800E. If I get to spend more time with one or shoot something cool with one I will write a much longer thorough review, maybe even the D800E, which does not have an AA filter so the files are insanely sharp and detailed. I admit, I love full frame sensors and the look they are capable of. After shooting smaller sensor cameras for a while and then coming back to a full frame you can immediately notice the richness and depth and while cameras that I mentioned earlier (X100, X2, OM-D, etc) are more than capable for the majority of us, there is always something sweet about the power of a nice big fat sensor :)

I hope you found this an enjoyable read and thank YOU for reading it! More to come soon so always check back!

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May 312012
 

Crazy Comparison! The Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Nikon D800 vs Leica X2 for High ISO

I know, I know..I have been having way too much fun lately with all of these comparisons, new cameras, new lenses and reviews. So much here to do but I still like to do these “just for fun” side by sides. Stuck at home all morning I thought..”wouldn’t it be amazing if the OM-D E-M5 could even come close to the full frame D800 or APS-C Leica X2 for higher ISO performance”? I have been shooting the OM-D when I can and have been marveling at how far Micro 4/3 have come in regards to higher ISO performance. The PEN models are OK up to 1600 but even then it can get a bit mottled and mushy at times.

The Nikon D800 is a full frame marvel with all of the latest tech and of course, gorgeous IQ. I have not had the time to concentrate fully on the D800 but what I have shot so far with it and the Zeiss 35 1.4 has been some of the nicest and richest files I have had through my computer to date. I will have a short write-up and “my thoughts” of the D800 soon and even though I am not a DSLR shooter anymore, I find the D800 to put out beautiful quality. It’s basically like a medium format camera IMO.

But I will save that for another day. Right now I just wanted to post some high ISO samples from the D800, Leica X2 and OM-D E-M5, with the D800 and Olympus using a 50mm lens (or equiv). The little Olympus does not do better than the D800 of course nor does it even do as well BUT it is not too far off! The X2 is of course using its built in 24 2.8 which is a 35 equiv, but this is not a sharpness, detail or bokeh test – it is a noise test. So let us take a look..

First, the simple image of my vacuum cleaner in my living room

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and the crops are below, each one has the text embedded to tell you what it is but first set up is at ISO 3200

The D800 is smoother and cleaner but the OM-D is not doing so bad here at all for being a much smaller sensor. Lens used on the D800 is the Nikon 50 1.4 and the OM-D has the Panasonic 25 1.4 – all shot at f/2

Here is what gets me scratching my head. In my review of the X2 I have found that anytime you shoot at ISO 3200, even if you convert the RAW and use ZERO Noise Reduction you still get details smearing. This does not happen at ISO 6400 or 12,500, only 3200. You can see the X2 crop below is smeared and blurred from in camera NR that is even applied to the RAW file when you do not want it there.

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now let’s take a look at ISO 6400

These are crops from direct RAW files. No editing, no NR, no enhancements. Just opened the RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw and cropped.

and here is the X2 at 6400 and as you can see, no smearing of details. You can also see the way the Leica renders the yellow differently than the others. The Leica will also have more DOF here so just look at the noise, which is what this test is about.

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How about 12,800?

The OM-D starts to get noisier here but this is 12,800. The D800 is also much noisier here but they aren’t as far off as I would have thought.

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OK, dare I even try ISO 25,600 on the OM-D?

First of all I have to say that this was done as a “just for fun” Crazy Comparison, and it is indeed crazy as the D800 is known as a full frame masterpiece with great low light capabilities (though I believe the 5DIII is better in this area). Still, a full frame technological super force against a little micro 4/3 camera, who in the past had a rep for awful low light performance..well..that is pretty crazy. While the OM-D did not meet or beat the D800 here it came damn close, and to me that is impressive. I have to say that the more I shoot the OM-D E-M5 the more I love it. It really is the BEST Micro 4/3 to come along to date. I have not really heard from anyone who has bought one and disliked it.

As for the X2, it also has a larger sensor than the OM-D but it appears it performed about the same noise wise though you can clearly see the Leica color signature coming through. Again, all were RAW files with ZERO NR added. Not sure what is happening with that X2 ISO 3200 noise but it is smearing at that ISO even though I took away any and all NR. I can state that I really am enjoying the Leica X2 AND the OM-D. The D800 is not for me but if you are a DSLR guy, it is the real deal.

BTW, as I stated in my OM-D review..if you buy one I highly recommend the grip and a decent lens (12mm, 14mm, 20, 25, 45) as the glass makes all the difference in the world.

May 182012
 

UPCOMING REVIEWS

Leica Monochrom and Nikon D800 with Zeiss 35 1.4

Hello everyone and Happy Friday to you all! This weekend I will be a busy man as I have a Nikon D800 and Zeiss 35 1.4 in hand to test out for the next week or so. THIS THING IS A BEAST! After shooting with all of these small mirrorless cameras and a Leica M9 for so long this D800 feels like a monstrosity and my wrist starts to hurt after 20 minutes of use BUT that is just because I am used to the small guys. Take a look at the image above with the D800 parked next to the OM-D and 12mm. The D800 makes the little Olympus look tiny and this is one reason why I appreciate those great Olympus lenses. Small size AND great quality.

But as you may well be aware, this Nikon D800 is a 36 Megapixel machine capable of beautiful rich quality. I have not yet taken it out for serious shooting (hope to get out this weekend with it) but did snap a few “snapshots” in my yard and around my house. The RAW files bring my aging iMac to its knees but other than that there is nothing to complain about. The files seem to be gorgeous. Rich full frame color quality, depth and some of that Zeiss magic from the $1800 35 1.4.

The very 1st snap I shot with the D800 to see how the image quality looked with the Zeiss wide open. 

This would be an amazing combo for serious pro work. Probably a live convert shooters dream. Then again, I am still happy with my Leica but you can not ignore the fact that the D800 and Zeiss 35 is still $2k less than a new M9. body. It appears that for all out image quality the D800 may be THE ticket for those searching for high res full frame magic. Maybe the M10 will share a similar sensor? Hmmmm. Look for a D800 review soon :)

Again, wide open to test DOF and Bokeh/Sharpness – click it for larger

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The Leica Monochrom

To date I have only had an hour with this camera, and I really liked it. I liked it enough that I put my name down on Ken Hansen’s pre-order list. (you can get on his list by e-mailing him at khpny19@aol.com). I have been trying to get a review sample and just found out today that I will have a Monochrom next week and I will have ONE WEEK with it to review it. I was hoping for 3 (for a 3 week road trip to test the camera) but one week will do for a review. I will NOT be getting the new 50 to try so I will be testing it out with other glass.

So look for  this one in about 2-3 weeks from today. I will do as much as I can while I have it and I am excited to put it through its paces and see how it differs from the M9 when it comes to B&W performance.

So check back here often for Monochrom and D800 updates! 

Monochrom Pre-Orders – B&H Photo, PopFlash, Dale Photo

Apr 072012
 

Hello to everyone! Hope you are having a great Easter weekend. I have been trying to take it easy on weekends lately so I can get other things done like house stuff, paying bills, laundry, grocery shopping, AND shooting! So today I am going to post a youtube video that has been getting some attention. It is a video comparison of the Nikon D800 vs the Canon 5DIII. When these were announced I was planning on buying myself a D800 but lately have been thinking of NOT doing that. Remembering that I am not a fan of bigger cameras I asked “WHY? Id never use it as I would rather take out my M9 or the new upcoming Olympus OM-D or even the NEX-7.

So I decided to NOT buy one for myself. I’d never use it.

But I should be getting these soon to review anyway. Also, a good friend of mine recently picked up BOTH cameras and he has been sharing his thoughts with me about them. Sending samples, and telling me what his opinions are. He is RAVING about the new Canon 5DIII and the high ISO samples I have seen have been incredible as well as the general tonality and colors. He says shooting this body with some manual focus Zeiss glass has been very nice. Also, high ISO video is MUCH better on the Canon, not even close.

Check out this video below. It is NOT mine, I am just linking to it which all youtubers love anyway. Both of these are the hot ticket DSLR’s right now so if you are a DSLR shooter and can’t decide…maybe this will help you! Regardless, it is a fun video to watch.

 

Mar 012012
 

Hot on the heels of the Nikon D800, The Canon 5D Mark III will hit tomorrow for $3499

IT HAS OFFICIALLY BEEN ANNOUNCED AND CAN BE PRE-ORDERED AT B&H PHOTO NOW!

So tomorrow, March 2nd we will all be hearing about the new Canon 5D MKIII camera and we now have yet ANOTHER new camera shipping soon. WOW. I mean, all of this camera madness! I feel overwhelmed :)The Canon 5D MKIII will of course be pretty damn special as the Mark I and Mark II were superb. I am assuming that Nikon users will be sticking with the D800 and the Canon users will be going with the 5D MkIII. The question is, will there be anyone switching systems? We now have the specs of the 5DIII so which would you prefer? This or the new Nikon D800? The D800 comes in at $500 less than the 5DIII.

I placed a poll here so you can let everyone know what camera would be your preference IF you were to buy a DSLR and were starting from scratch…if you were not invested in any system whatsoever. Which camera would YOU go for?

The Canon 5D Mark III Features and Specs

22.3 Megapixel Full Frame CMOS sensor

DiG!C 5+ Image Processor

ISO 100-25600 (expandable to L:50 H1:51200, H2: 102400

Full HD Movie (ISO 100-12800 (H:25600)

61-point high-density reticular AF (up to 41 crosstype points)

6.0 fps for high continuous shooting

Intelligent viewfinder with approx. 100% coverage

3.2-type, approx.1.04m dot (3:2 wide) Clear View LCD II

iFCL metering with 63-zone dual-layer sensor

Shutter durability of 150,000 cycles

Silent & low vibration modes

Dual card slots (CF & SD)

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Mode

Multiple Exposures

Comparative Playback function

Improved durability & water and dust resistance

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Available Colours – Black

Megapixels – 22MP

Sensor Size – 36 x 24mm

ISO/Sensitivity – 100 – 25600

Autofocus Points – 61 points

Lens Mount – Canon

LCD Size – 3.2″

Liveview – Yes

Viewfinder – Optical TTL

Min Shutter Speed – 30 sec

Max Shutter Speed – 1/8000 sec

Continuous Shooting Speed – 6 fps

Self Timer – 10 sec, 2 sec

Metering – Centre-weighted, Spot, Evaluative, Partial

Video Resolution – Full HD 1080

Memory Type – Compact Flash

Connectivity – USB 2, HDMI, Mic Input, Wireless (optional)

Battery – LP-E6

Battery Type – Lithium-ion

Charger – Includes Li-Ion Charger

File Formats – AVI, RAW, H.264, MOV, MPEG-4

Dimensions – 152 x 116 x 76mm

Box Contents – Battery Pack LP-E6 .. Battery Charger LC-E6 .. AV Cable AVC-DC400ST .. Interface Cable IFC-200U .. Eyecup Eg .. Wide Strap EWEOS5DMKIII .. CR1616 Lithium Battery+

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