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Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Review

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review01

Shooting birds or just any wildlife animals is lots of fun, I’m talking about shooting  with your camera and your camera only of course. But you’ll need a good telephoto lens. For Nikon users, there are many good telephoto lenses you can get. The AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 ED VR is fairly decent and very affordable choice. But if you want longer reach,  400mm or maybe even longer, unfortunately you’ll be looking at some of the most expensive lenses in the Nikon catalogue that would cost you an arm and a leg.

But the good news is, Nikon has just released a new super telephoto zoom lens, Nikon AFS 200-500mm f/5.6E VR. And it comes with a very attractive price. How attractive? I’m talking about pretty much the same price as the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR. But with this new 200-500mm lens, you get more than double the focal length. It’s only 1 stop slower and it’s not lacking in features either. But how does this lens perform in real world? What are the good and bad things about this lens? Let’s find out.

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review02All the usual buttons are there

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review03The only thing missing is the Nano coating

The Nikon AFS 200-500mm f/5.6E VR feels pretty well made. The lens weights 2300g so it’s a lot heavier than the average lens. But remember it is a 500mm lens so for a zoom lens that can reach up to 500mm lens (and with a f/5.6 constant aperture), 2.3kg is actually pretty light. I was shooting without any tripod/monopod when I was reviewing it and walking around everywhere. So yes, it’s heavy, but it is still handheldable. And you can save some money by cancelling your gym subscription if you take this out for a walk every evening. 😉

The lens comes with a detachable and rotatable tripod collar. The tripod collar has a pretty simple design, has only 1 tripod mounting hole but is really strong and rock solid. Just make sure your tripod is strong and sturdy as well and you should be able to take some nice and sharp photos.

But on the other hand,  the tripod collar doesn’t feel quite as nice as the new Sigma 150-600mm Sports lens when you try to rotate it. I also found that when I’m hand-holding the camera, the tripod collar does get in my way a little bit no matter which direction I rotated it to. So if you are planning not to use a tripod, it might be a good idea to just remove the tripod collar and leave it at home. It also reduces the weight of the lens by 210g,

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review05The 210g detachable tripod collar

The zoom ring travel is quite long, almost 180 degree travel from 200mm to 500mm. Combined with the fact that the zoom ring is a bit stiff (probably due to the large and heavy elements inside) and the lens’s large diameter, changing from the wide end to tele end (or vice versa) takes a bit of effort and time. And while there is a switch on the lens to lock the lens at 200mm, I have never experienced any zoom creep problems even without locking the lens.

If you shoot a lot of outdoor sports events, run or rain, or you are planning to wander into the nature with your camera, be aware that the 200-500mm f/5.6E VR doesn’t have the same level of full weather seals like the professional Nikkor lenses. So while use it under light rain shouldn’t cause any issues, be very careful if you want to shoot under heavy rain or in very dusty places.

To support f/5.6 at 500mm, the lens has a monster size 95mm front filter thread. It does seem to help with the image quality (more about that next), but it also means if you plan to use any filter, you have to buy those very expensive 95mm filter.

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review04So you think your 77mm filters are big?

Nikon rated the VR as 4.5 stop effective. From my tests, at 500mm, when shooting at 1/15s, around 80-90% of photos I took are still sharp, this is roughly the same success rate I got when shooting at 1/500s with VR turned off. In other words, the VR system on the 200-500mm VR allows me to shoot at approximately 5 stop slower shutter speed. Even at 1/8s which is almost 6 stop slower, around 60% of photos are still quite sharp. Now that is REALLY impressive. Probably the best optical image stabiliser performance I’ve ever tested. Better than the other super telephoto lenses, even better than the Panasonic GX8’s dual IS system. Top mark in this area!

Autofocus operation is quiet and reasonably fast, especially if you turn on the focus distance limiter. Tracking fast moving objects with my D800 works pretty well and I got very good success rate. The main issue I have is largely because of the f/5.6 aperture. While autofocus works quite well on a bright sunny day, as soon as the sun go down the horizon, the autofocus starts to struggle and in the worst case  fails to acquire the target. Unfortunately this is the price you have to pay when you can’t afford those expensive (and heavy) f/4 or f/2.8 prime lenses.

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review13Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 350mm – ISO 100 f/5.6 1/1000s
On a bright day, the autofocus works flawlessly

When it comes to the image quality, the AFS 200-500mm f/5.6E VR doesn’t disappoint me at all.

In terms of sharpness, at f/5.6 it’s quite sharp already, especially near the centre. It can resolve a lot of fine details and good contrast. Edges are a little soft, and the softness is most noticeable near the 500mm end. Having said that, the overall sharpness is still quite good at maximum aperture. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot in f/5.6 whole day if I don’t need extra DOF.

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review17aSlightly off centre f/5.6 100% crop from the image below (default sharpening)

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review17Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 200mm – ISO 110 f/5.6 1/200s

Probably to reduce the cost of the lens, or maybe it’s just a way for Nikon to differentiate it from the more expensive super telephoto lens, nano coating is missing from the Nikon AFS 200-500mm f/5.6E VR. What it means is, flare control is not as good as the best Nikon lenses. When you are shooting with a very strong backlight, you could see a bit of flare and contrast could drop a bit. But I’m talking about when there is a really really strong backlight that is visible inside the frame. The overall flare control is still very good and comparable to most mid range lenses.

Barrel distortion is minimal throughout the range, pretty much non-detectable in normal daily photos. Chromatic aberration is also very well controlled. Only in a small number of my photos I can see some colour fringing, but they are all quite minor.

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review21Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 200mm – ISO 140 f/5.6 1/200s
These are not barrel distortion

Vignetting is barely noticeable in all my photos. It is definitely better than all the other telephoto lens I’ve used recently. I can imagine this is because of the large front element and hence the huge 95mm filter thread.

Overall, while the lens isn’t really exactly as good or as sharp as the Nikon AFS 500mm f/4 VR, it has exceed my expectation in pretty much every single area. It can easily matches or in most cases exceed the other super telezoom available in the market.

Before the 200-500mm was released, the Nikon AFS 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR was the only affordable zoom lens if you need 300mm+ reach. Comparing these two lenses, the biggest benefit of the 80-400mm is that it has a higher 5x zoom range and can go much wider down to 80mm focal length which makes it more versatile. And looking at the aperture numbers, the 80-400 also has the advantage of having a larger aperture at the wide end. But remember the AFS 80-400mm VR’s f/4.5 maximum aperture is only available at the wide end. The maximum aperture size  reduces to f/5.3 at 200mm and it reaches the same f/5.6 aperture at around 250mm. So in reality the 200-500 f/5.6 VR is only marginally slower than the 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 VR. The other advantage that the Nikon AFS 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR has is that it weights only 1570g, about ⅔ the weight of the 200-500mm f/5.6 and it’s also a bit smaller in size.
But then the 200-500mm gives you an additional 100mm zoom. Overall picture quality is just as good as the 80-400 but the price is pretty much half of the 80-400mm VR! Having spent quite a bit of time with both lenses and also shooting with both lenses side by side, I would highly recommend you the 200-500mm f/5.6 unless you really need the 80-200mm range.  Even if you need the 80-200mm range, you can consider buying an AFS 200-500m f/5.6 and an AFS 70-200mm f/4 VR instead for very similar price.

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review06Size Comparison, from left to right:
70-200mm f/2.8 VR I (tripod collar removed),  80-400mm VR, 200-500mm f/5.6 VR

Nikon shooters, you are so lucky that Nikon has created such a wonderful super tele lens. The optical quality is as good as the best super tele zoom lens available in the market. And while f5.6 isn’t really very fast, it’s not too bad consider it’s a 200-500mm lens and it is a constant aperture lens as well. And most importantly, at just a bit over NZD$2000, this is almost half the price of the Nikon AFS 80-400mm VR, it’s really a steal!

Back in the film SLR days, or even the early DSLR ages, we only had very limited useable ISO range and autofocus technology wasn’t as good as what we have today so it was really important for super telephoto lens to have large aperture like f/4 or faster. But with the crazy high ISO performance from the latest image sensor we have these days, and improvements in the camera’s low light autofocus performance and also the help of optical stabiliser, the importance of a fast super telephoto lens has decreased quite a lot. Of course a f/4 or f/2.8 telephoto lens would still be better, but the AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E VR with a latest DSLR can easily give you nearly just as good performance under a lot of situation at a friction of price. Personally with the type of photos I shoot normally, I don’t have much use of a super telephoto lens. But one day if I decide to start shooting motorsport again, getting this lens is a no-brainer for me.

Highly recommneded!

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for a few photography magazines. 

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All photos and text Copyright© 2016 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

 

Sample Photos
(RAW Convert to JPG, edited to taste in Adobe Lightroom, but with zero CA correction,  distortion correction and vignetting correction)

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review07Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 200mm – ISO 100 f/5.6 1/800s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review19Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 350mm – ISO 400 f/5.6 1/400s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review22Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 200mm – ISO 125 f/8 1/200s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review08Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 500mm – ISO 125 f/8.0 1/250s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review10Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 500mm – ISO 640 f/10.0 1/250s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review11Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 440mm – ISO 100 f/5.6 1/250s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review12Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 500mm – ISO 720 f/8.0 1/250s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review14Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 500mm – ISO 100 f/7.1 1/250s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review15Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 350mm – ISO 110 f/8.0 1/100s

 

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review16Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 460mm – ISO 800 f/8.0 1/500s

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review18Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 500mm – ISO 1600 f/8.0 1/500s

 

NikonAFS200-500mmVR_Review20Nikon D800 + Nikon AFS200-500mm f/5.6E VR @ 500mm – ISO 1400 f/8.0 1/500s

Nikon DF-GR1 grip review

nikon_df_gr_1_review5

I have been using a Nikon Df as my second camera for weddings for a while. Even when not shooting weddings and stuff, I carry it around quite a lot as I love how light and small it is. But it is not a perfect camera, one thing I really wish it could be a bit better is the grip design. It’s retro style design means the grip is small and doesn’t provide too much support. It’s ok when I use it casually. But shooting a full day wedding with the Df (even just as my second camera) makes my hand really quite sore and I want to get an add-on grip to improve the support. Unfortunately the only add-on grips available are the third party battery grips, which greatly increased the size and weight of the camera, and make the camera look quite ugly too. In my opinion those battery grips single hand destroyed more than most of the reasons why I bought a Df as my second camera instead of something like another D800.

I want something that improves the grip so my hand won’t be so sore after a 12 hour wedding. Probably something like the add-on grip for the Olympus OMD EM5 but only the top half without the battery box. Turns out i am not the only one with the same thought, many Df users especially some of the wedding photographers I talked to agreed that’s exactly what they want for their Df as well. A small add-on grip that makes the camera more comfortable to hold, nothing more. We don’t care about extra battery, we don’t carry about Arca Swiss plate, or the portrait grip. Despite there is obviously a demand for such a product, surprisingly no one is making anything like that,.

Then about a month ago, Nikon suddenly announced a new accessory for the Df called Nikon DF-GR1, yes a grip designed for the Df!!

nikon_df_gr_1_review4
Surprise! Nikon suddenly released an add-on grip for the Df!

Its a big surprise because 1. Nikon normally would only release camera accessories when they announce the camera. I can’t remember there was another occasion when Nikon released a new accessory long after the camera has hit the market. 2. This is exactly what I wanted!! A little add-on grip that doesn’t transform the Df into a big heavy beast. Fantastic!

Now after the initial excitement, I noticed some bad news. Firstly its a Japanese market only release. I contacted my friends at Nikon New Zealand asking if they could bring some in and the answer is no, well not at this stage at least. Secondly, the price is 16200 yen, its really expensive for basically a piece of metal.

But it’s something I really want, so I decided to import one from Japan myself and a brand new DF-GR1 showed up at my door a few days ago.

nikon_df_gr_1_review3

When I saw the official product photos, I kind of know the DF-GR1 grip is no where as big or deep as the add-on grip for the Fuji XE2 or Olympus OMD EM5. The DF-GR1 design is quite a bit smaller. But when I took it out of the box, I realised it is even smaller and thinner than I thought. The grip area look really shallow. It worried me quite a bit and made me wonder does it actually make any difference to the handling of the camera? Or Is it a complete waste of money?

On the bright side, the aluminum DF-GR1 is really light (only 95g) and doesn’t increase the size of the camera too much which is great as I don’t want to make my Df too big and heavy. The grip is very solid and quality is excellent..

Unlike the battery grip for the other Nikon cameras, the DF-GR1 locks to the camera using only the tripod mount with no secondary locking pin to stop the grip from rotating around the tripod mount. I guess it means the DF-GR1 is indeed an afterthought and was designed after the Df was released. Having said that, once you tighten up the mounting screw, the grip wouldn’t move or rotate at all under normal use.

So the most important question, does it improve the grip?
Yes it does. The extra grip at the front make the camera more comfortable to hold. And the slightly increased height also give my little finger a bit more support. At first I didn’t think the difference is very big. But after using the camera for a few days with the grip including a wedding, I took off the grip and all of a sudden I found the camera really uncomfortable to hold with the grip removed. So while the DF-GR1 may not give you a day and night difference like the big add-on grip for some other cameras, it definitely works and improves the grip. Holding the Df with a heavy lens for a long period of time is a much less painful experience.

nikon_df_gr_1_review7
While the DF-GR1’s grip area look quite shallow by itself, it actually makes the grip quite a bit deeper and more comfortable to hold

While the DF-GR1 may look pretty simple , it is beautiful designed and really matches the shape of the camera. The subtle design means it looks almost like part of the camera and not so much like a separate piece of accessory stick onto the camera. A cut-out hole at the base around the battery door allows full access to the battery and memory card without having to remove the grip. The little hump around the cut-out hole allows easier access to the memory card slot. The little hump also gives a bit more support to the base of the thumb.

nikon_df_gr_1_review2
You still have full access to the memory card and battery

Since the Df’s tripod mount is used to mount the DF-GR1 onto it, there is another tripod mount on the grip which sits a little bit more forward than the original tripod mount.

Just like not everyone like the Nikon Df, not everyone would like or even understand why Nikon has made the DF-GR1. The DF-GR1 is really designed for photographers who likes the Df and appreciate the design and concepts behind it. It’s designed for people who loves DF’s retro style design, the compact and light body, but also need to use the camera for extended period of time. If you are a Df wedding photographer like me who enjoy shooting with the Df but also need to hold the camera whole day long, the DF-GR1 is probably the best accessory you can buy for your camera. It won’t transform the camera to a modern DSLR that is super comfortable to hold and shoot. But it will definitely make it a more pleasant experience when you need to hold the camera for long period of time and without making the camera too bulky or ruin the original camera design.

My biggest concern with the DF-GR1 is it’s price. As there is no electronic components, 16200 yen is really expensive for basically a piece of aluminum and a mounting screw, even though they are very nicely made. While I didn’t regret buying one, I also can’t say it a good value purchase. 10000 yen may be a more reasonable price. But after using it for a week, I can’t imagine shooting another wedding without the DF-GR1.

nikon_df_gr_1_review1

nikon_df_gr_1_review6

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All photos and text Copyright© 2015 www.photobyrichard.com & www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Nikon D750 Review

nikon-d750-review-24Nikon D750 + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – ISO100 f/5 1/4000s 

It wasn’t that long ago when the Nikon D3 was released. The first full frame DSLR from Nikon with never seen before low light performance and a number of other improved features that completely redefined the limitation of DSLR and how we can take photo. It also came with a big full size body and huge price tag to match it’s flagship status which keeps it out of reach for most photographers. Fortunately not long after that, Nikon released the D700, a camera with the same image sensor, autofocus system and many other features from the D3, but with a more affordable price and a smaller professional body.

A few years later, Nikon announced the D3(s)’s successor D4, they also announced the D800. In some way the D800 was the successor of the D700. They are both professional DSLR with full frame sensor without the integrated portrait grip. But one major difference between the D800 and the D700  is that the D800 has a really awesome high resolution sensor but also much slower burst rate as a result. So for photographers who want fast burst rate and don’t want a D4, they are still waiting for their real D700 replacement

nikon-d750-review-01

And finally there is a new full frame DSLR with the model number starts with a 7, it has a lower resolution sensor (still double that of the D700) and faster burst rate, here comes the Nikon D750.

“There are a number of very important things that make the D750 a much more serious camera than its similar looking brother.”

While the model number may suggest it is the long awaited successor to the D700, the D750 comes in a enthusiast level body like the D610, not a professional body like the D700 or D800. Actually if you put the D750 next to a D610, they almost look exactly the same. A small but weather sealed body, with very similar button and dial layout. Even the image sensor is the same at 24MP resolution and both cameras have dual SD card slot, built-in flash..etc. The only obvious difference from outside is that D750 has a tilt-able LCD screen. So is the D750 just a D610 with a tiltable screen and new model number?
Absolutely not. There are a number of very important things that make the D750 a much more serious camera than its similar looking brother.

nikon-d750-review-02

I am Nikon’s first DSLR with a tilt-able screen

Nikon said the 24MP FX sensor in the D750 is a new design even though the specs look very similar to the one on the D610. And just like the D610, the D750’s  sensor also has an AA filter. It seems like Nikon only remove the AA filter on cameras with really high pixel density, 36MP on full frame and 24MP on cropped format. The ISO range is from 100-12800, expand to 50-51200. The maximum ISO is one stop higher than the D610.

Some early reviews I read say the D750 has the best high ISO performance in the whole Nikon DSLR range, better than the D4s and Df.  But could that be true?  The only way to find out is shoot some comparison photos myself and see

I don’t have a D610 to compare it side by side. But I do have a Df (still the king of high ISO from Nikon) and a D800 so I did a comparison test between these three cameras. All full frame sensor, one low resolution, one medium resolution and one high resolution. How do they look like when we compare them side by side?

To allow fair comparison, I’ve equalised the images to same size and all the comparison photos were resized to 16MP which is Df’s original resolution.

 

nikon-d750-review-05This is the original picture

And below are the 100% crop from the resized images. All are from RAW with no noise reduction

(Note D800 can only go up to ISO 25600)

nikon-d750-review-06

nikon-d750-review-07

 (Click on the image to see it at 100% size)

Looking at the 100% crops, the differences between these three full frame cameras are quite small. At ISO 12800, the Df, D800 and D750 are really very similar. Even when go up to ISO 25600 and 51200, the differences are still not dramatic but you can see a bit of red tint on the D800 photo caused by chromatic noise. The Df’s colours, contrast and details are all maintained at better level than the D750 but the D750 really isn’t bad at all even when sitting next to the lord of darkness Df.

“D750’s high ISO performance is so good that the difference between these two full frame camera (Df) is really small. So small that it would be very hard to tell under real life usage.”

So D4s/Df beating high ISO performance? Probably not. The Df and  D4s are still the king of high ISO, but D750’s high ISO performance is so good that the difference between these two full frame camera is really small. So small that it would be very hard to tell under real life usage.

nikon-d750-review-15D750 handles ISO 12800 easily

So the D750’s high ISO performance is really not bad at all, how about it’s low ISO performance?

At base ISO, the image is clean, just like pretty much every modern camera these days. To test how good the low ISO image really is, I tried something a bit more extreme.

“Would you have thought the original image was underexposed by 6 stops before I tell you that?  6 stop is a massive difference!”

At the beginning of the review, there is an image of an intersection I took using the D750. My regular readers know that I like to provide real life images in my reviews but some of you might wonder why I picked that photo and place it at the beginning of the review?  There doesn’t seem to be anything special about that photo.

Now I tell you why,  that photo was originally underexposed by 6 stops.  And then I tried to recover it in post processing.  And the photo I put up is the result .

Would you have thought the original image was underexposed by 6 stops before I tell you that?  6 stop is a massive difference! That photo was shot at 1/4000s but I should have shot it at 1/60s  instead if i were to expose correctly .
That’s how good the D750’s image sensor is.

nikon-d750-review-08Left: Original image    Right: Push the exposure up by 6 stops

The Nikon  D610 both uses the Multi-CAM 4800 autofocus system which has 39 autofocus point. It’s not a bad autofocus system at all. To me the biggest issue is that all the autofocus points are closely packed near the middle of the frame. And the low light autofocus performance could be a bit better.

With the release of the D750, Nikon finally bring it’s professional 51 point autofocus system to their (full frame) enthusiast body and the Multi-CAM 3500FX II autofocus system is what you’ll find on the D750. Notice the “II” at the end of the name?

“As you can see, the focus is pretty much bang on in all the photos.”

Yes this is the new mark II version which has better autofocus performance and also better low light autofocus performance. And this new autofocus system does work really good in real life. The autofocus is fast and accurate.  Tracking seems to be very reliable too and the percentage of good in-focus photo is very high when you are shooting in continuous focus mode tracking moving objects.

Below is a sequence of photos took in continuous focusing mode. The photos were shot at 6.5fps with a 70-200mm lens at f/2.8.
Left is original image, right is a 100% crop of the front of the car. (Click on photo to see it at 100%)  As you can see, the focus is pretty much bang on in all the photos.

nikon-d750-review-09

the new Multi-CAM 3500FX II 

 “The success rate when under extreme low light is much better than the D810 and D4s and of course a lot better than the D610.”

If you have read my Df review, you might remember I’ve said that camera manufacturers really need to improve autofocus system’s low light performance to fully utilise the sensor’s amazing low light performance. The autofocus system is now the weakest link of the system when it comes to low light.

The engineers at Nikon obviously know about this as well, and the D750 can focus under really low light environment and can autofocus down to -3EV.   For comparison, the Multi-CAM 4800 on D600/610/Df can only autofocus down to -1EV,  the Multi-CAM 3500FX on the D4s/D810 can autofocus down to -2EV.  So yes the D750 can autofocus at places one stop darker than the D4s can. The success rate when under extreme low light is much better than the D810 and D4s and of course a lot better than the D610.

nikon-d750-review-22ISO 51200, 1/80s f/1.4
That was -2EV and yes the autofocus still works 

Traditionally Nikon release their latest and greatest inventions on the top model camera first then make them available on lower models later on. This applies to the image sensor, metering system and also autofocus system. So I am really surprised that Nikon put this new system on the D750 first as the recently released D4s and D810 are both using the original Multi-CAM 3500FX.  I would have thought the D4s with it’s excellent high ISO performance would greatly benefit from this new autofocus system. So maybe this new autofocus system was not ready back then? Anyway, the new AF system is here and wedding photographers or photojournalist who have to shoot under extremely dim environment regularly would definitely love it.  I really wish my Df has this new autofocus system.

Another thing I complained in my other review is the lack of built-in Wifi in all the Nikon DSLRs. For most of the recent Nikon DSLRs, there is an optional and external wifi adaptor available, but while it’s quite small and not too expensive, you still have to attached it externally and carry it separately which is a bit of pain. The great news is, finally the D750 has the wifi built-in the camera! No need to carry that external wifi adaptor and worry about losing it anymore!

“you really should get a high speed SD card. I was using the latest Sandisk Extreme PRO 280MB/s card when doing the review.”

The D750’s burst rate is 6.5fps which makes it the second fastest full frame camera in Nikon’s current lineup. And it should be fast enough for shooting most kind of action photos. However, I am slightly disappointed about the camera’s tiny buffer size. If you are shooting with the highest quality RAW setting, the buffer size is only around 15 images, which is just over 2 seconds when shooting at highest frame rate.

Lower the output setting a bit can help the buffer size. For example, output to 12bit compressed RAW would increase the buffer size to 33 images, or 87 images if you are JPG shooter (large, fine quality).

But anyway if you do shoot a lot in continuous shooting mode, you really should get a high speed SD card. I was using the latest Sandisk Extreme PRO 280MB/s card when doing the review. The fast writing speed helped clearing the buffer as quick as possible so I don’t have to wait forever for the camera to clear it’s buffer.

nikon-d750-review-23ISO100 f/1.4 1.640s
Shooting a Zombie definitely won’t be a problem for the D750

“if you like to shoot at f/1.4 a lot during the middle of the day, then you might need to carry some ND filter in your pocket.”

The D750’s maximum shutter speed is 1/4000s. While it is fast enough to freeze pretty much everything,  if you like to shoot at f/1.4 a lot during the middle of the day, then you might need to carry some ND filter in your pocket.

The camera’s metering system is the same as what the flagship D4s is using, the 91k 3D color matrix metering III. Metering is very consistent and reliable, you just can’t complain. The D750 also has the new highlight-weighted metering mode which is really useful when you want to preserve the highlight details, such as stage photography.

nikon-d750-review-03See the little WiFi logo there? Yes I have WiFi built-in 

“the D750 is the Nikon camera I would use for any serious videography work.”

The D750 is the first full frame Nikon DSLR to have a tilt-able LCD screen at the back of the camera. This is not only good for taking photo at tricky camera angle but also very useful for videographers. If you are a videographer,  I can tell you the video quality from the D750 is just fantastic. The footage from this camera is super clean and sharp. And unlike the D610 which has some of the more advanced video features missing, the D750 has pretty much every single video features that is available on the D810 and D4s.

You can now shoot 1080P video up to 60fps. You have all those external input/output ports,  full manual control including ability to change aperture during live-view. You have the new flat picture control from the D810.  And together with it’s light weight body and tillable screen, the D750 is the Nikon camera I would use for any serious videography work.

 

nikon-d750-review-04I’m half metal, half carbon fibre composite

 “the camera feel very secure and comfortable to hold, possibility even better than the already excellent D4s and D810.”

When I picked up the D750, I immediately noticed how comfortable the camera feels in my hands. The much deeper grip, the rubberised memory card door make the camera feel very secure and comfortable to hold, possibility even better than the already excellent D4s and D810.

The D750 uses the ENEL-15 battery, same as D600, D800, D7000 series. Battery life is very good as expected. If you are using it for photos, the battery last pretty much forever. But if you use it mainly as a video camera, then a couple of spare batteries in your camera bag is never a bad idea.

“the D750 offers you professional level performance in an enthusiast class body,  it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

As an enthusiast camera, there really isn’t much to complain. Build quality is good, image sensor is great. It has Nikon’s best autofocus system, metering system, 100% viewfinder, weather sealed body, latest image processor, built-in Wifi, dual card slots, tillable LCD screen and really good video recording capability.  Apart from 1/4000s shutter speed limit and small buffer size, there isn’t much that set this apart from Nikon or other brand’s professional DSLRs.

If you are one of the person who has been waiting for a real D700 replacement, would you get the D750?   Would you be put off by it’s enthusiast body? Would you rather Nikon increase the price of the D750 to D810 level and give you a pro body instead?

And when I’m out shooting with the D750,  it does make me think about one thing. With such an amazing list of features and image quality to back up on an enthusiast camera, what will the next Nikon professional camera be like?

Anyway, we won’t see any new professional camera from Nikon for another year or two at least but in the mean time, the D750 offers you professional level performance in an enthusiast class body,  it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

 

nikon-d750-review-10Nikon D750 + Nikon AF135mm f/2D DC –  ISO140 f/2 1/320s  

nikon-d750-review-11Nikon D750 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART –  ISO9000 f/2.5 1/100s  

nikon-d750-review-12Nikon D750 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART –  ISO2800 f/2 1/100s  

nikon-d750-review-13Nikon D750 + Nikon AFS 70-200mm f/2.8VR –  ISO280 f/2.8 1/160s  

nikon-d750-review-14Nikon D750 + Nikon AFS 70-200mm f/2.8VR –  ISO12800 f/2.8 1/80s  

nikon-d750-review-16Nikon D750 + Nikon AFS 70-200mm f/2.8VR –  ISO25600 f/4.5 1/400s

 

nikon-d750-review-17Nikon D750 + Nikon AFS 70-200mm f/2.8VR –  ISO100 f/2.8 1/400s

nikon-d750-review-18Nikon D750 + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC –  ISO100 f/2 1/400s

nikon-d750-review-19Nikon D750 + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC –  ISO160 f/2 1/320s

nikon-d750-review-20Nikon D750 + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC –  ISO400 f/2 1/320s

nikon-d750-review-21

Nikon D750 + Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G VR –  ISO100 f/22 1/8s

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo and ProPhotographer magazine.

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

 

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Nikon / Sigma 50 and 58mm lens comparison review

50mm-lens-comparison-review

If you have a DSLR, there is a good chance you have or had a 50mm prime lens in your camera bag,  After all, the 50mm standard prime lens is one of the most popular prime lens because of it’s close to human eye vision angle and it’s relatively affordable price.

There are quite a few different 50mm prime lens options available on the market.  So in this review,I am going to compare the three current model 50mm autofocus prime lenses available for Nikon DSLR:

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G (Nikon 50mm f/1.4G)
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G (Nikon 50mm f/1.8G)
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Sigman 50mm f/1.4 ART, reviewed previously here)

We also included

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G (Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, review here)

in this comparison test as the 58mm focal length is close enough for direct comparison.

So let’s start looking at the obvious things like size and build quality first.

 

Size and weight:

These are the four 50mm lenses (ok one is 58mm, but i’ll pretend it’s also a 50mm lens in this review), from left to right:

Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, NIkon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART.

50mm-lens-comparison-review-2

As you can see from the photo,  the two Nikon 50mm lenses are smallest and of very similar size.  The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and f/1.8 lenses both have fairly simple design (8 elements/7 groups and 7 elements/6 groups respectively). They are pretty light weight at 185g and 280g respectively.
The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is noticeably bigger than the two 50mm Nikons and has a slighly more complicated design with 9 elements in 6 groups. But at 385g, it still doesn’t feel too heavy.  The heavy weight champion definitely goes to the Sigma which weights at 815g. It is almost as heavy as all the three Nikon lenses added together. Actually the Sigma is only a little bit lighter than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and the size is almost exactly the same as the Nikon AFS 24-120mm f/4 VR.  The reason why the Sigma 50mm f/1.4ART is so big is because it has a really complicated 13 elements in 8 groups optics design. 

Results:

1. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G (The f/1.8G is lighter but the f/1.4G is 2/3 stop faster)
3. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
4. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART

 

Build Quality:

Just like most modern lenses, I didn’t find any build quality issues with any of these four lenses. The cheapest Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is clearly the most plastic lens out of the four and the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G has a more solid build than it’s 50mm Nikon brothers. But I just really love the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART’s build quality and design. I guess it’s 800g+ weight also help making you feel it’s a very solid lens as well.

[EDITED 21 Nov 2014] Our reader Guido points out an important fact that the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the only lens that has weather seal.   Thanks Guido!

Results:

  1. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  2. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

Autofocus performance:

While Sigma have a reputation of inaccurate and inconsistent autofocus performance, surprisingly the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART’s autofocus accuracy is just as good as the Nikons and there is also the optional Sigma USB dock for fine-tuning the autofocus settings.
It’s actually the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G that I had some autofocus issues. Fortunately after a bit of AF fine tune adjustments on the D810 body seem to have fixed it.
Sigma’s autofocus speed appears to be slightly faster than the three Nikon lenses. The autofocus operation is quiet and smooth for all the four lenses.

Results:

1. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
2. = Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
4. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

 

 Maximum Magnification: 

magnification

All the photos above were took at the closest focus distance. You can see the Nikon  58mm f/1,4G is the last lens you would use if you want a small object to fill the frame. The two Nikon 50mm lenses have virtually same maximum magnification while it’s the Sigma that give you maximum magnification.

Results:

1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
2.= Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
4. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

 

Price:

The easiest comparison in this whole review. All prices are based on local (NZ) price from official dealers
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is by far the cheapest lens out of the four. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4 is still quite cheap, but is approximiately double the price of it’s little brother. Sigma 50 1.4 ART’s price is almost the price of the two Nikon 50mm lenses added together. And last the Nikon 58 f/1.4, it is definitely the most expensive out of the four, and will cost you roughly the total of the three 50mm lenses (Nikon 50mm f/1.8G + Nikon 50mm f/1.4G + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART) in the review

Results

  1. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  2. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  3. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  4.  Nikon 58mm f/1.4G

 

 

Next we are going to compare the image quality from the four lenses.  All the comparison photos were taken at each lens’s maximum aperture, which is f/1.4 for the all the lenses except the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. This means the f/1.4 lenses has a 2/3 stop advantage or disadvantage over than Nikon 50mm f/1.8 depends on how you look at it.

Let’s start by comparing the image sharpness.

 

Center Sharpness:

centre-sharpness centre-sharpness2

 

(click on the photo to see it at original size)

Looking at the 100% crops, you can see the two Nikon 50mm lenses are softer than the Sigma and the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G. Between the two Nikon 50mm lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is slightly sharper than the 50mm f/1.4G. But remember the photos were taken at each lens’s fastest aperture, i.e. f/1.8 for the Nikon f/1.8G and f/1.4 for the Nikon f/1.4G respectively.  If the 50mm f/1.4G stop down to f/1.8, the sharpness is pretty much the same as the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G at f/1.8.

For the other two lenses, there really isn’t much difference between the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART in terms of centre sharpness. Both are really very sharp.

Results:

1= Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
3= Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

Corner Sharpness:

edge-sharpness

 

Once again, the two Nikon 50mm lenses are not as sharp as the more expensive Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G’s corner sharpness is really good, just marginally not as sharp as the monster Sigma. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART is amazingly sharp at the corner, almost as sharp as the two Nikon 50mm lenses at the centre. The amount of details the Sigma can capture at f/1.4 is really incredible.  That probably explain why the Sigma is such a huge lens with such complicated optics design!

Results:

  1. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  2. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

 

Bokeh:

It’s not unusual to use 50mm prime lens to shoot portrait. You can easily create foreground isolation by blurring the background. The quality of the bokeh is an important characteristic of the 50mm prime lens.

Here are some 100% crops comparing the bokeh from the different lenses. All photos were taken from the exact same location at maximum aperture.

Centre Crop:

boken-center

At wide open, all the lenses creates smooth circular  bokeh. The bokeh from the two 50mm Nikon lenses has strong highlight around the bokeh edges which could make bokeh look nervous. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and Sigma f/1.4 ART are both much smoother and a lot more pleasant looking in comparison.

Note: The bokeh from the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the biggest because of it’s longer focal length

And below is a crop near the corner:

bokeh-corner

The corner bokeh is quite different from all the four lenses. The bokeh from the Sigma 50mm f/1.4G still look almost like a circle,  while the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is a bit more distorted but still roughly a circle shape.  The bokeh from the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G are both rugby shape/cat’s eye. Once again, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma bokeh have a smoother transition around the edges while the two Nikon 50mm lenses have pretty strong edge halos.

 

boken-centerf4

Above is a comparing when the lenses aperture is closed to f/4. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G look relatively smooth and have minimal halo around the edges. The bokeh from the Sigma turns slightly into a polygon but it’s the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G that looks really like a polygon with all the hard straight edges. This is because the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G only has 7 diaphragm blades while the other three lenses all have 9 blades.  Interestingly, it’s the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G that renders the best looking bokeh that is round with almost no visible halo around the edges.

Results:

  1. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  2. Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

Chromatic Aberration

ca

Chromatic aberration is quite visible for all the four lenses at maximum aperture. But this is pretty common for most fast prime lenses anyway and it is usually not a huge problem unless you are shooting very high contrast scenes.

Out of the four lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G appears to have the most visible CA. The 50mm f/1.8G is slightly better than the 50mm f/1.4G, but it’s the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G that have the best overall CA control

1.= Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, Sigma 50mmf/1.4 ART
3. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

Flare Resistance:

flare

The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the only Nikon lens that has the nano coating and the Sigma has something called “Super Multi-Layer Coating”. If you look at the comparison photos above, you can see the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART does have much better flare resistance than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. But surprisingly, there isn’t much flare visible in the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G photo despite it does not having any fancy coating on the elements.

Results:

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
  2. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  3. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

 

Coma:

coma

One of the biggest selling point for the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the lens is highly optimized for handheld night landscape photography because of it’s excellent coma control. And it does show in the comparison photo above.

Not as good as the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, but coma is still reasonably well controlled with both the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.

Unfortunately, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G shows some pretty nasty  comatic aberration, it’s almost like the city was under attacked by lots of glowing bats!

Results:

  1. Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
  2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
  3. Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

 

Vignetting:

At maximum aperture, vignetting is quite obvious for all the four lenses. The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G has the least amount of vignetting compare to the three 50mm lenses.  But this is pretty common for most fast prime lenses anyway and can be improved by stopping down to around f/2.8-f/4.

Results:

1.Nikon 58mm f/1.4G
2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART
3.= Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

 

vignetting

 

 

 

Conclusions:

I was going to added up the result from each individual comparison and use the total score to rank the four lenses. But I decided not to do that in the end as even though they are all 50mm lenses, each of them were created with very different goals and requirements. So to pick the “best” lens, one must understand what are the pros and cons of each lens and depends on what is most important to you then you can find the most suitable 50mm lens for you.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
The cheapest, smallest lens out of the four, and the only f/1.8 lens in this review. The price is definitely one of the most important design factor when Nikon was creating this lens. So it’s not really a surprise that this lens doesn’t give you the best picture quality or build quality when compare to the three more expensive 50mm lenses. But it’s sharpness is not bad at wide open and easily beat the three other lenses in terms of size, weight and price.  If you have a very tight budget and don’t mind a slightly plasticky lens, this is probably what you should get. For the best bangs for your buck, you can’t beat the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is an interesting lens. It is the cheapest f/1.4 lens in this review, and is also the smallest, lightest (current model)  f/1.4 lens for your Nikon DSLR. This alone is already a very good reason for you to get this lens. But on the other hand, the picture quality  doesn’t really stand out and you can even argue the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G gives you better overall image quality at the maximum aperture. One thing you need to remember is that the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G offer you an extra 2/3 stop of speed when compare to the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G . And with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, you can always stop down to f/1.8 and get better image quality while you can’t do the reverse with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. This lens doesn’t have exceptional image quality, but it is exactly what a 50mm lens should be, small, light and cheap (for a f/1.4 lens).

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G
If you have read my Nikon 58mm f/1.4G review (here), you should know I absolutely love this lens. It renders picture beautifully and it is a lens with special characterisitc and look.  While the Sigma maybe a tiny bit sharper, the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G beats the Sigma in terms of bokeh, coma control, I think the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is the best lens out of the four in terms of overall picture quality. Unfortunately it’s huge price tag means not many of us can afford this beautiful lens from Nikon.

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
The Sigma delivers exceptional image quality and is sharp like a Japanese sword. If you want the sharpest possible photo with your D810, you don’t need to look any futher, this is the lens you should get. (Unless you can afford the mega expensive Zeiss Otus 55 1.4)
Autofocus was one of the biggest problem with the old Sigma lenses, but it appears Sigma have completely nailed it this time in terms of autofocus accuracy and consistency.
Before Sigma announced their new ART series lenses, it was hard to imagine a Sigma lens that is more expensive than the equivalent lens from Nikon. But the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART is more expensive than the Nikon equivalent and by looking at the comparison photos in this review, you will agree the price is well justified. The Sigma’s picture quality is simply exceptional. Amazingly sharp, with decent bokeh (but not as good as the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G) and performs very well in pretty much every area. The biggest problem (no pun intended) with this lens is it’s enormous size and weight.  A 50mm lens that is as big and heavy as a med size zoom lens means the lens may end up sitting on your shelf instead of travelling everywhere with you.

 

 

So which is the best 50mm lens?

It really depends on what you want.  They are all good in some areas but none of them are perfect.

 

 

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine and Pro Photographer magazine.

 

 

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Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART review

 

 

This review is also published on my gear review blog: http://photobyrichard.com/reviewbyrichard

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-01

Third party lenses are usually associated with words like “cheap”, “cost effective” but rarely you would think about excellent image quality or build quality. That is unless the third party lens is from some certain company from Germany.

Sigma is one of the most popular Japanese third party lens manufacturer. Their lenses are famous for affordable price but not necessarily the best optical performance.

That is until year 2012.

Kazuto Yamaki became the new CEO of Sigma Cooperation that year, and soon after that, Sigma announced some major changes to their products. One of the new product line is the ART series lenses. While they have rebranded some of their existing lenses with the ART name, the 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART was the first real ART lens with a 100% new design. And that lens surprised everyone. It does not only give you great price / performance ratio, but it also has excellent image quality and a brand new look.

Sigma has recently released the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART. It also is a brand new design and it’s quite an extreme design as well .

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-02

 

Design and Build

I said extreme, but how extreme is the design?

How about it’s 815g weight? That’s almost the weight of three 50mm f/1.4 lens from either Canon or Nikon (which is around 280-290g each). It’s a very heavy 50mm lens. The lens optical formula consists of 13 elements, including 3 SLD glass elements and 1 aspherical element. That is double the number of elements from a typical 50mm f/1.4 lens. And the size? At 100mm length, it’s nearly identical to the Nikon AF-S 24-120 f/4 VR zoom lens. And it takes 77mm filter too.

So yes it’s a pretty crazy and complex design for a 50mm lens. The only 50mm lens that is bigger and more extreme is the Zeiss Optus 1.4/55. (ok that’s not a 50mm, but close enough) Even the Canon 50mm f/1.2L is smaller, shorter, lighter and has less lens elements than the Sigma. That’s how extreme this new Sigma lens is.

I LOVE the new Sigma ART design. To me, the previous Sigma lenses have a “I’m a good quality alternative for budget users” look. Not true anymore for the new ART lenses. The new ART lens looks elegant and reminds me of the Zeiss lenses, maybe just a bit plasticky. But when I say plasticky, it’s only if you compare it to a Zeiss lens. The construction and material used to build the Sigma 50 f/1.4 ART is every single bit as good as the first party professional lenses. The build quality of the lens is really good and feel extremely solid. The only disappointment is that it’s not a weather proof lens

While the focusing ring is quite smooth and well dampened, the short travel tells you it’s not really designed for manual focus.

The lens also comes with a reversible lens hood and lens pouch. The lens hood is made of plastic but has a nice finish and design that doesn’t feel cheap at all.

 

Autofocus

One common criticism for the Sigma prime lenses is it’s autofocus accuracy and consistency or the lack of them. For a fast prime lens that has a shallow depth of field, it doesn’t matter how sharp the lens is, if the autofocus is off, even just slightly, then the photo would be soft, or even unusable.

A couple of years ago, I bought a Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.4G instead of the Sigma 50 f/1.4 EX DG HSM purely because I found the Sigma couldn’t focus consistently with my camera. Otherwise I would had bought the Sigma instead. So the autofocus accuracy and consistenency are my biggest concerns I had with this lens.

So anyway, some early reviews suggested the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART’s autofocus accuracy and consistency are much better than their previous lens. Now after using the lens for about 3 months and took hundreds if not thosands of photos with this lens, I can say the autofocus accuracy is just as good and consistent as my Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. While there are some occasional photos that the focus was not quite right, they are usually user error (i.e. me) or just the limitation of the camera’s autofocus system.

Even when under very low light condition, the autofocus performance is still pretty good. Just remember to find a high contrast object as your AF target or your camera may struggle to figure out what you really want to focus on.

In terms of autofocus speed, its quite fast, faster than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G but not the fastest autofocus lens ever. Unless you want to shoot some extremely fast action with it then you should be happy with the AF speed.

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-06
Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art – f/1.4  1/30s  ISO 12800
It was pretty dark.  But the autofocus was still pretty accurate.

 

And if you do find your Sigma 50mm ART’s autofocus is slightly front or back focus, there is a special USB dock you can use (buy separately) to fine tune your autofocus settings. I haven’t use one myself as I’m pretty happy with my results. But this is definitely a good selling point as the USB dock give you a lot more flexible in  adjustement than what you can do on your camera (which is just one single AF fine tune setting).

 

Image quality

Look at the size of the lens, it’s pretty obvious this lens was created with one main purpose, image quality.

And have they achieve it?

The first thing you’ll notice is how sharp the photos are. Even with the most demanding camera like the 36MP Nikon D810, reviewing at 100%, everything is extremely sharp.
At maximum aperture, the sharpness is very good. And I’m not just talking about the center sharpness. Even the edges are pretty sharp at f/1.4.  I had some problems in the past with my Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.4G when I want to shoot at wide open and put my main subject in the corner, and the image quality was just not good enough. It won’t be a problem with the Sigma 50 ART.  And if you really want the corner to be very sharp, just stop down to f/2.

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-13100% crop from a photo took at f/1.4 with a Nikon D810

 

Colour and contrast from the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART are both very good. Sigma’s Super Multi-Layer coating may not sound as fancy as Nikon’s Nano Coating, but it is quite effective in reducing flare and maintaining contrast. I have to try really hard to get the lens to flare.

Coma is a common problem for most prime lenses, but it is controlled reasonably well with the Sigma. The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has better coma control but the Sigma is a lot better than most other prime lenses such as the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G or Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. (A detailed 50mm comparison review will be coming soon…)

 

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-03
It comes with a pretty lens hood that looks and feels good.

 

Chromatic aberration
Chromatic aberration is not too bad with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART. At f/1.4, there is quite a bit of CA especially near the corner (LoCA) but it’s not really a concern or any worse than most prime lenses.

 

Distortion
50mm lenses normally have very minimal barrel distortion and this is also true for the Sigma. Barrel distortion is minimal and shouldn’t be a concern at all.

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-10
Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/4 1/800s ISO 100

Barrel Distortion? Yeah Nah, it’s just a little bit ….

 

Vignetting
At wide open, vignetting is pretty noticable. And it appears to be slightly worse when focus on close object. You have to stop down to f/2.8 to get rid of most vignetting.

 

Bokeh

Bokeh is quite an important character for a 50mm prime lens. The difference between a good and bad 50mm lens is quite often down to it’s bokeh, or the quality of the bokeh to be precise.  So, how does the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART perform in this area?

Fairly good I would say. Under most situations, the bokeh is nice, round and pleasant. When your focus is at close distance, you can easily melt the background into creamy painting and everything look great.  The problem happens when you shooting objects at medium distance say 10 meters away and the background is slightly blurred, quite often if the background has high contrast area then the bokeh could look quite nervous. It’s not terribly bad, but definitely not bokehlicious and is the major downside of this lens in terms of image quality

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-09
Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/1.4 1/100s ISO 220
Bokeh is generally quite good

 

Conclusions
It’s obvious when Sigma was designing this new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART, the engineers were told not to worry about the size or weight of the lens and just focus on making the best 50mm lens possible. And they didn’t fail us as the result is an amazing lens. The image quality is just fantastic. While the bokeh could be a bit better, professional users or any photographer who want best image quality won’t be disappointed by this 50mm lens. Price wise, it’s not cheap, but consider the performance it still offers fantastic value. Autofocus used to be a problem for Sigma lenses, but I found this new ART lens focus accurately.

But before you go and buy one, make sure you go to a shop and try it on your camera. Hold it, have a walk and shoot a few photos with it.

Its extreme size and weight is really not for everyone. A lot of people like the 50mm prime because of it’s compact size, So if you want a small light weight lens that you can carry around easily, the Sigma is not what you want. It’s really a lot bigger than most 50mm prime lenses and heavier than some of the zoom lenses. But if weight and size doesn’t worry you much, then this is one excellent 50mm lens.

 

Pros

  • It’s sharp!
  • Build quality
  • Autofocus is accurate

 

Cons

  • It’s heavy and it’s huge!
  • Bokeh could be a bit nervous

 

\

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-07
Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/1.4 1/1600s ISO 100
If you don’t mind the size and weight, it’s a really good street lens.

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-05

 Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/3.2 1/800s ISO 100

 

 Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/2 1/125s ISO 100

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-11
Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/1.4 1/5000s ISO 100

 

sigma-50mm-f-1.4-DG-HSM-ART-review-12

Nikon D800 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – f/1.4 1/100s ISO 320
Notice the tree branches bokeh in background looks a bit nervous

 

 

 

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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G Review

nikon58mm01

Nikon released the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 lens in 1977. Apart from it’s really fast f/1.2 maximum aperture, it is also a lens specially designed for night photography and hence the word “Noct” in it’s name.

Because of it’s exceptional image quality, the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 is considered one of the legendary Nikon lens by a lot of Nikon users. Only around ten thousands copies were ever made (including the original and the later Ai-S version) and if you really want to get one today, prepare to pay at least NZD$5000 for a good condition second hand copy. In comparison, a brand new Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS can be bought at around NZD$1000.

So what is so special about this “Noct” lens and what does it mean when they said it’s designed for night photography?

Take some photos at night time with a fast prime lens at it’s maximum aperture, you will notice all the tiny point light sources near the corner of the photo are rendered as comet-shape blurs. It’s called coma and to reduce that problem you usually have to stop down your lens quite a bit.

nikon58mm16

Is it a bird? Is it a bat? No, it is coma!
(And it’s NOT from the 58mm f/1.4G)

Having to stop down the lens to get rid of coma really affects how you can shoot your night scenery photos especially when you don’t have your tripod with you. But it’s not a problem tho if you are shooting with the Noct-Nikkor. Even when shooting at maximum aperture, you get very good image quality without those nasty looking coma . But it’s not an easy task to achieve, one of the thing Nikon did was putting a large hand polished aspherical (read expensive) lens element at the front to assure optimum correction for coma.

Nikon discontinued the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 in 1997, just when the Nikon DSLR era began. Since then a lot of people has been waiting for a new Noct lens from Nikon, but it’s not until late 2012 we knew a new 58mm lens could be coming soon as Nikon had submitted quite a few 58mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 design patents. Finally, at the end of 2013, Nikon announced the new AF-S 58mm f/1.4G. While there is no “Noct” word in the official name, Nikon told us the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is indeed paying homage to the legendary Noct-Nikkor.

As mentioned above, Nikon has submitted patent for a few 58mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 design, and in the end they decided to go with the f/1.4 instead of the f/1.2. This move must have disappointed quite a few people. But I believe Nikon have compared all the various prototypes and options and there are some solid reasons why they picked the f/1.4 design and not the f/1.2. So let’s have a look at this new “Noct” lens.

Build and Design:
The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G looks quite similar to the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G but on steroids. It is a bit bigger and a bit heavier. If you are concerned about the weight and size, don’t worry as it’s still one of the smallest golden ring f/1.4 lens. It’s nowhere as big as the ginormous Sigma 50 f/1.4 ART.

nikon58mm15

The optical formula is more complex than the typical 50mm lenses. It consists of 9 elements in 6 groups including two aspherical elements. The shinny golden N label on the lens reminds you about it’s Nano coating element.
Build quality is typical Nikon professional quality, solid and well made. With the front element deeply-recessed in the barrel, it’s quite unlikely you’ll damage the front glass even if you don’t use the supplied lens hood.
Just like most Nikon lenses, a lens pouch and lens hood are both included in the box.

Sharpness:
Before doing this review, I’ve read quite a few comments saying the 58mm f/1.4G is just not sharp at all. Some even said it’s little brothers Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G and AF-S 50mm f/1.8G are both sharper than this 58mm lens. Is the 58mm f/1.4G really such a softy?
To test the sharpness, I used the highest resolution and most demanding DSLR that is available on the market today, the 36MP Nikon D810. I also took a number of comparison photos with other 50mm lenses, including the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART and load them all up on my computer and compared them side by side. (A more detailed 50mm lenses comparison review comparing a number of latest 50mm lenses is coming soon to www.nikonjin.com ), so how does the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G perform?
The AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is a pretty sharp lens and contrary to what some people said on the internet, I found it definitely sharper than the AF-S 50mm f/1.4G and the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. But it is not the sharpest 50mm (50ish) lens available as the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART is really a monster in terms of sharpness so the 58mm f/1.4G can only take the second place in terms of sharpness. Having said that, the Nikon isn’t doing too badly even when compare to the razor sharp Sigma that is nearly twice it’s size. What really shines about the Nikon is it’s edge-to-edge sharpness. Even at the extreme edge or corner, the sharpness still remain pretty good at maximum aperture. Stop down slightly to f/2 and the corner sharpness becomes excellent.

nikon58mm16Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G  – f/4 1/1250s ISO64

nikon58mm18

 100% crop from the picture above

Coma:
At f/1.4, there is a tiny amount of coma at the edges but it’s really well controlled and there is no crazy big comet or crazy shape coma.

nikon58mm08Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4  1/6s ISO64

nikon58mm19100% crop near the left edge. At f/1.4, there is a little bit of coma, but it’s so much better than what you typically see from other lenses  (For comparison, see an example of bad coma near the top of this review)

“AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has definitely live up to it’s “Noct”  heritage”

Once I stop down to f/2, pretty much all the coma has disappeared. Also, if you are shooting with a DX camera, I don’t think you can see any coma at all even at maximum aperture.

While it’s not perfect, the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has definitely live up to it’s “Noct”  heritage and has really good coma control.  I would be happy to shoot at f/1.4 if I don’t have my tripod with me.

 

Vignetting:
Vignetting is a common problem with most fast prime lenses. For example, the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G has very obvious vignetting issue at wide open. This is another area that the AFS 58mm f/1.4G performs really well. There is only very limited light falloff at the corners even at maximum aperture.

 

Distortion:
The 58mm f/1.4G doesn’t suffer too much from barrel distortion. The distortion is quite minimal and definitely won’t bother you much unless you are a serious chess board photographer.

 

“Through this lens, everything is awesome.”

Colours, Flare, Contrast:
Colours are rendered beautifully by this lens. Through this lens, everything is awesome. Even a boring scene looks stunning with vivid colours and good contrast! Thanks to the Nano coating, flare is very well controlled and contrast remain pretty high even when shooting directly towards a strong light source.

nikon58mm05Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/ s ISO 00

 

Autofocus:
The AFS 58mm f/1.4G’s autofocus is driven by a ring type ‘Silent Wave’ ultrasonic motor which allows manual adjustment at any time. You can also flick the “M/A – M” switch to “M” position if you want to operate in full manual mode. The manual focus ring is well dampened, but not as smooth as the one on a high quality manual focus lens.

nikon58mm13Autofocus is fairly accurate once I adjusted the AF microadjustment settings
(Performance by Last Aid Kit – Last Aid Kid Facebook page  ) 

The autofocus operation is quiet and the autofocus speed is decent. With a high resolution camera like the D810 and narrow DOF from a 58mm f/1.4 lens, it’s always a big test on the autofocus accuracy. During the review period, I did notice some of photos were slightly misfocused. I suspect it was because my review lens was not calibrated properly.  Once I spent a bit of time to adjust the camera’s autofocus micro adjustment settings, the autofocus accuracy seems to have improved significantly.

 

“If you are a bokeh junkie, this is definitely the best 50mm autofocus bokeh machine you can buy for your Nikon.”

Bokeh:
Nikon’s marketing material emphasis this lens bokeh quality and out of focus area indeed look nice and pleasant . At maximum aperture, there is some swirly bokeh which adds a bit of character and I personally really like. The lens handles some of the more challenging scenes easily without producing any ugly nervous bokeh. The transition between in focus and out of focus area is also handled smoothly.
When you close the aperture a bit, the bokeh remains relatively circular and smooth thanks to the 9 rounded blades diaphragm design.
If you are a bokeh junkie, this is definitely the best 50mm autofocus bokeh machine you can buy for your Nikon.

nikon58mm04Bokeh junkie would love this lens

 

Chromatic aberration:
Chromatic abberration is really handled very well. At maximum aperture, there is a bit of CA mostly near the edges of the frame and only a very tiny amount near the center. Most of the CA disappears when you stop down to f/2.8.

nikon58mm06You don’t see much purple fringing with the 58mm f/1.4G

 

Conclusions:
Some products are easy to review. Unfortunately the Nikon AFS 58mm f/1.4G is not one of them. If you look at the MTF chart, aperture size, and compare it with the AFS 50mm f/1.4G then it you may wonder why it is such an expensive lens.

The night shooting capability is definitely one big selling point for this lens. If you want to shoot night scenery without or can’t carry a tripod, this lens is probably your best friend. The lens delivers very good edge to edge image quality at maximum aperture. Combining this with the excellent high ISO performance from the latest FX cameras, you can pretty much just handheld the camera, shoot any night scenery photo and get very decent results.

But there is something more about this lens.

After taking over a thousand photos with this lens on a wide range of subjects, I’ve to say there is some magic dust inside this lens that you can’t see if you just look at the spec of the lens.

Is it the creamy and swirly bokeh? Is it the fantastic color rendering capabilities? Or is it the slightly unusual 58mm focal length? I don’t really know but I just love the photos I took with this lens. There is some special characteristic that the ordinary 50mm lenses don’t have.

nikon58mm09The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G has some special characteristic that ordinary 50mm lens doesn’t have

I wouldn’t hesitate this lens to put it on my camera if I’m shooting a wedding or doing a portrait session tomorrow. The images from this lens are just beautiful.

While I do have a bit of concern about the lens’s autofocus accuracy, the main issue I see with this lens is the price. If it’s a f/1.2 lens, I think most people would say immediately yes it’s worth the price. People would pay for the brag factor even if at f/1.2 the lens is very soft and unusable. . But it’s “just” a f/1.4 lens, and it’s more expensive than the fantastic AF-S 85 f/1.4G which is pretty much the standard professional portrait lens.

If you give this lens to a photographer to try, especially a portrait or wedding photographer, I’m sure most of them will come back and tell you they fall in love with this lens. Now if you ask me does the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G really worth the price?

Beautiful photos are priceless isn’t it?

 

Pros:

  • Excellent edge to edge image quality from f/1.4
  • Well controlled coma
  • Bokeh!
  • Good build quality
  • Some special characteristic that other 50mm lenses don’t have

Cons:

  • Price
  • Some concerns about the autofocus accuracy (could be my review sample was not calibrated properly)

 

You can find the spec and details of the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G from Nikon’s website

 

Sample Photos:

(Either unedited JPG straight from camera or RAW -> JPG using Lightroom 5.6   Edited to taste)

nikon58mm14Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1250s ISO64

nikon58mm10Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/60s ISO900

nikon58mm03Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/ 8 1/250s  ISO64

nikon58mm02Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/640s  ISO64

nikon58mm07Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/7.1 1/3200s ISO64

nikon58mm11Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/60s ISO100

nikon58mm12Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/60s ISO 1800

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo and ProPhotographer magazine.

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Nikon D810 review

d810review_01

When Nikon announced the D800, the camera’s 36MP was a big surprise and quite opposite to Nikon’s low resolution, big pixel trend back then. But it became a big success and the D800 quickly became the camera everyone go for when you want the best picture quality, no matter you are a enthusiast or professional photographer.

At the same time Nikon also announced the D800E, a twin brother to the D800. The only difference was that the filter in front of the image sensor was modified to remove the effect of the antialisiing, and that gave us sharper image. While I’m not too sure what D800E’s E officially really stand for, to me it means “Experimental”. It’s an experiemental product to test the results of removing the anti-alising filter.

So 2 years have passed and it’s time for Nikon’s engineer to show us what they can do to improve the D800, and the new camera is called the D810.

d810review_03

D800 and D810 (right),  similar but different.

“Most of these are actually quite small changes, but when combined together they make the camera feel better and more refined.”

The D810 is largely based on the D800 (and of course D800E). It has the similar weather sealed metal body. In fact, when I first saw the camera, I thought the D810’s body is exactly the same as the D800. But once I picked it up and had a closer look, i realised that’s not the case. The camera feels quite a bit lighter and fits better in my hands. I noticed there is a new “i” button at the back of the camera. The bracketing button that was at the top of the D800 has been replaced by the metering button. The focus mode selector button now has some texture pattern on it. On the left of the camera, the big rubber cover for the connection ports have now being divided into three smaller one so they can be open/close separately. The memory card door is covered by rubber and provides better grip. Most of these are actually quite small changes, but when combined together they make the camera feel better and more refined.

d810review_04
The rubber cover for the connection ports is now seperated into three smaller one. Also notice the new Qc mode

As mentioned earlier, when the D800 was released, Nikon also released a D800E, which outputs sharper photos than the normal D800 (but downside is you have a higher chance of visible moire effect). This was achieved by having a special filter in front of the traditional low pass anti-alising filter which cancels the effect.

Now this time with the D810, there is only one version of the camera and Nikon have completely removed the low pass filter.

In theory, the complete removal of low pass filter should give us even sharper images and I’ve seen some photos on other websites showing the D810 output sharper photos than the D800 and the D800E. But my quick comparison with D800’s RAW files didn’t reveal any difference in terms of image sharpness. So whatever the improvement is, it is quite small and probably not noticeable in most daily photos. On the flip side, I didn’t notice any increase in moire effect caused by the absence of the low pass filter neither.

d810review_05

 The 36MP D810 captures insane details.
Top: Full Photo
Below: Small Center Crop (click on photo to see it at 100%)

d810review_06

 

“I’m mostly excited about the fact that the minimum ISO that has been decreased to ISO 64 “

While the images from the D810 may not look any sharper than the D800(E), the camera can capture insane amount of details, as long as you have the right lens and settings. But what really excited me is the wider ISO range.
D810’s maximum ISO is increased one stop to ISO 12800 (expands to 51200). Comparing the results with a D800, if you shoot in RAW, D810’s high ISO performance is actually very similar to the D800. But if you shoot in JPEG, thanks to D810’s improved noise reduction algorithm, the high ISO output is noticeably cleaner. But to me, I’m actually most excited about the minimum ISO that is now reduced to ISO 64 (expands to ISO 32). That is around ⅔ stop lower than the previous ISO 100 limit.  I’m excited because finally this allows me to shoot wide open with my f/1.4 lenses under bright sunlight without the need of any external help. Previously I have to either use a ND filter (that means I have to carry multiple ND filters for my different lenses!) or stop down to f/2 to avoid blowing the highlight. Also, when shooting landscape photos, I can nearly double my exposure time for smoother waterfall or sea effect. In the last few years, camera manufacturers have been battling on who can do high ISO the best. As a result, even the entry level APS-C DSLR today have very decent high ISO performance. So while it’s always good to have better and better high ISO performance, I’m even happier to see Nikon shift it’s focus on improving low ISO and other areas that is just as important to us photographers.

The camera’s autofocus system remains the same 51 point system.  Nikon has finetune and improved the autofocus performance. I found AF tracking more reliable than D800 when shooting moving target and performs very similar to the D4s. There is also a new “Group-Area” AF mode that has less chance of missing a smaller target.

d810review_08
The D810 has no problem handling high dynamic scenes

While I do wish the 51 autofocus point can spread out a bit more and not all of the cross type AF point are placed at the center, the autofocus performance is very good and there isn’t really much I can complain about. So let’s see if we will see a new autofocus system when Nikon release the D5 in a few years time?

“I found that I can indeed shoot at slower shutter speed with the D810 and still manage to get a similar percentage of sharp photos.”

When shooting photo with a D800/D800E handheld, most user would use higher than normal shutter speed to avoid image blur caused by camera shake. With the D810, Nikon has redesign the shutter/mirror module and also added an electronic 1st curtain to reduce the internal vibration. I found that I can indeed shoot at slower shutter speed with the D810 and still manage to get a similar percentage of sharp photos. This means I could use lower ISO and get better quality picture.
And because of the new shutter/mirror design, the shutter sound is much quieter and better dampened. It’s almost as quiet as a D7100. While some users may prefer D800’s more crisp and louder shutter sound, the quieter D810 is definitely great if you want to shoot without attracting attention.
The Q (Q for quiet) mode is still available if you want even quieter shutter sound, and there is also a new Qc (Quiet Continuous) mode as well.

d810review_10

The D810 ‘s shutter sound is much more quiet. than all the previous FX cameras. I shot this photo with a 58mm lens and the shutter sound didn’t wake up my newborn baby from his sweet dream.  I wouldn’t dare to do this with my D800.

The camera uses the same metering system as the D800 which is as good as you can get from any camera.  There is a new ‘highlight-weighted’ metering mode, which is designed to preserve highlight detail in contrasty scenes. If you have shot stage/concert photos before where your main subject is always under strong spotlights, you would have found it very hard to get the correct exposure using the normal metering modes. Matrix metering would overexpose your main subject easily. Spot metering and lock the exposure wouldn’t work as well as normally the stage lighting is changing constantly and quickly. This new highlight-weighted metering mode would be perfect for shooting this kind of photos. I also found this new metering mode useful for shooting sunset/sunrise landscape photos so you don’t get completely blown out sun and highlight area.  Now Nikon, how about share some love to us D800 users and release a new D800 firmware with the highlight-weighted metering mode? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t require any additional processing power compare to the existing metering mode.

d810review_09Top: Matrix Metering
Bottom: Highlight-weighted Metering

Live view mode always feel like a last minute added feature on most Nikon DSLRs. While Nikon has improved their cameras’ live view mode quite a bit in the last few years, it is still slow and clunky. I’m glad to tell you that D810’s live view mode is a lot more usable when compare to the D800. Turn on the live view mode is quick and everything in live view mode just works a little bit smoother. Most importantly, taking a photo in live view is a lot faster and doesn’t lock up the camera for 2-3 seconds like other previous cameras. There is also a new ‘Split screen zoom’ display in live view which allows horizons/lines to be leveled precisely. Overall, te whole live view interface is just a lot more refined.  Because of that, I found that I actually used the live view mode a lot more when reviewing the D810.
Now if Nikon can improve the autofocus performance in live view mode and make it as fast as some of the best mirrorless cameras, then the live view mode would be perfect

d810review_20

The new split screen zoom mode is quite handy when shooting landscape

The D810 has a sRAW output option which outputs 9MP raw files. To be honest I’m still not too sure why people want to buy a high resolution camera and shoot in small size as memory cards, storage space and fast computer are so cheap these days. But anyway for those who wants to use sRAW,  thanks to D810’s high resolution sensor, it’s 9MP sRAW is a lot more useful than the D4s’s tiny 4MP sRAW. With a good 9MP image,  a decent size and quality print is possible even after some minor cropping.
I’ve also compared the sRAW and full size RAW file taken at high ISO, and I didn’t see any advantage in picture quality with the sRAW files.

D800’s maximum burst rate is 4fps, this is largely because of the high resolution output. While 4fps is not painfully slow, sometimes I do wish it could go slightly faster. So I’m quite happy when I heard that the D810’s maximum burst rate is increased by 25% to 5fps. Or 7fps if you shoot in DX mode with supported batteries (which requires the optional battery grip). It’s still not a 11fps D4s, but it makes shooting fast actions a lot easier.

d810review_11
Nikon D810 + Nikon 58mm f/1.4 – f/1.4 1/8000s ISO64
This is not a wedding photo, (not wedding season at the moment) but wedding photographers shooting with prime lenses would love the new ISO64 setting!

For people who want to upgrade from a D800, you are lucky because the D810 uses the same battery and same optional battery grip as the D800.  Not only that, Nikon tells us the rated battery life has been improved from 900 shots per charge to 1200 shots per charge. This is probably due to the more efficient EXPEED4 processor and it’s great for wedding or event photographers who need to take thousands of photos per day.

Just like the D800, the camera has dual card slot, 1 SD and 1 CF. I completely understand why Nikon choose this setup.  But after using the D800 for 2 years, I would really prefer a single card format for both slots. Either make it both CF or both SD.  It’s just a lot easier when you don’t have to carry 2 type of cards.

The D810’s 100% viewfinder is pretty much the same as the one on D800. It’s large and bright. But it now has a OLED display panel which has higher contrast and easier to read.

“After using so many cameras and smart devices with touchscreen, I do really want a touchscreen on the D810. “

The camera’s main LCD screen has been upgraded from a 3.2” 921k screen to a 1229k RGBW screen. The increase in dot count doesn’t actually increase the resolution, instead the new screen has better brightness and that makes screen easier to see at outdoor. After using so many cameras and smart devices with touchscreen, I do really want a touchscreen on the D810. Imagine you can just pinch to zoom when reviewing photos, or touch on the screen to select AF position in live view mode. It would make reviewing photos and liveview operation a lot quicker and easier.

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D800 (Left) vs D810 (Right)

Just like the D800, the D810 doesn’t have built-in WIFI support. Instead, it requires you to buy the optional Wifi adaptor.  Not only the Wifi adaptor is expensive and more importantly it’s another piece of accessory you have to carry and add externally to the camera. A few years ago when D800 was released this was not too bad but it’s now already mid 2014. Having the ablility to wirelessly transfer photos to other computer or smart devices and to the internet is very useful for both professional and consumer users. Even a lot of compact cameras comes with built-in WIFI these days  so come on Nikon, make the Wifi built-in and make it standard feature for your future DSLRs please.  Similar but maybe slightly less important is the  GPS  receiver for geo-tagging photos.

” if you are a videographer, you will definitely find the D810 a lot more attractive than the previous Nikon DSLRs.”

For the videographers, there are tonnes of improvements for you You can now shoot 1080p video at 60fps, there is zebra display, a new flat picture control for maximum post-processing flexibility, auto ISO is now supported in manual mode, the built-in mic is now a stereo one. You can also record to memory card while simultaneously outputting video over HDMI. While I haven’t really done too much testing on the camera’s video features, but if you are a videographer, you will definitely find the D810 a lot more attractive than the previous Nikon DSLRs.

The camera has many more little touches and improvements here and there that you may not notice straight away. For example, the top LCD displays a looping animation when you are doing a long time exposure. While some are quite minor, they all add up to a more refined shooting experience.

 

Summary

As a D800 user, when the D810 was announced and I read about the press release, to be honest I was not that excited. I thought it’s just a D800s, a small update to the D800 and there are only a few things I really want that my D800 can’t give me.

Now, after using the camera for two weeks, in some way that’s still true. There are a few things I really want, for example the ISO 64, the highlight weighted metering mode, the faster FPS. But there are so many other improvements that individually may not be too important, but when you add them up, the sum equals to a much better camera than the orignal D800.

I’ve used the word “refine” a few times in this review, and this is exactly what the D810 is.   It’s not a revolutionary new camera, it’s not a camera that would WOW us (unless you never heard about the D800), instead the camera is all about refinement.

The D810 has a better image sensor, handles better, autofocus better, responses faster, is more quiet, battery last longer. The camera is just does everything a bit better.

A lot of these improvements are not really noticeable if you just read the spec sheet, but after you spend some time shooting with a D810, you’ll then see the efforts and improvements Nikon has put into the D810.

If you have been thinking of upgrading to a D800 for a while but still haven’t done it, do yourself a favour and go order a D810 now.  It’s not a flawless camera, but it’s pretty damn close.

 

Pros

  • that insane 36MP output!
  • native ISO 64 
  • excellent image quality
  • More quiet and better dampened shutter
  • Much more refined than the D800
  • The new Highlight-weighted metering mode
  • Long list of improvements for video recording
  • Better battery life
  • Refinement!

 

Cons

  • Liveview autofocus speed is still nowhere as fast as the mirrorless cameras
  • A touch screen LCD would be nice
  • No built-in Wifi/GPS
  • The SD/CF dual slot configuration

 

 

Sample Photos
All photos RAW ->Converted to DNG and edited using Adobe Lightroom 5.5, to taste. (click on the photo to see a larger version)

 

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 Nikon D810 + Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G – f/2 1/40s ISO12800

 

d810review_12Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/8000s ISO100

 

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 Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS 58mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/8000s ISO64

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Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.4G – f/5 1/400s ISO100

 

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 Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS24mm f/1.4G – f/6.3 1/500s ISO64

 

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Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.4G – f/1.4 1/2000s ISO100

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Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS 58mm f/1.4G – f/2.5 1/4000s ISO64

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 Nikon D810 + AFS 85mm f/1.4G – f/1.6 1/8000s ISO100

 

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Nikon D810 + Nikon AFS 58mm f/1.4G – f/6.3 5s ISO64

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo and ProPhotographer magazine.

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Nikon D4s review

Nikon has recently announced the Nikon D4s, an update to it’s 2 year old flagship professional DSLR Nikon D4. We have borrowed one from our friends at Nikon NZ and have been shooting day and night with it for the past week. So do we like it? Is it better than the original D4? Here are our thoughts and comments about this latest flagship camera from Nikon.

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If you are reading this review,  chances are, you probably know quite a bit about the Nikon D4. But in case you were living in a cave for the last 2 years and know nothing about the D4, the Nikon D4 was released in Jan 2012, replacing the highly successful D3s. The D4 basically followed the same formula as it’s predecessor, a full size, high speed professional DSLR with tank like build quality. It has a full frame (FX) 16MP sensor and has amazing high ISO performance. It was also the first Nikon flagship camera to have full HD video recording capability (D3s can only do 720p). Now two years later, here comes the D4s, an updated version with improvements in many areas. Here is a summary of some of the changes:

– New image sensor, maximum ISO increased to 409600
– EXPEED 4 processor with more processing power
– Improved autofocus and new group AF mode
– Maximum burst speed of 11fps with continuous autofocus
– 1080p 60 video recording
– Spot white balance
– Small RAW image output option
– Bigger battery

There are many other changes as well, for example, the ethernet port speed is now increased to 1000Mbps and there are some improvements to the time lapse feature but to be honest we didn’t have enough time to go through every single improvement during our review period. So, we’ll focus on some of the main changes and also the general performance and feel of the D4s in this review.

“The whole camera feel very solid, very tough and build quality is simply excellent.”

Just like its predecessor, the new Nikon D4s is a full size professional DSLR. This flagship camera has a magnesium alloy frame and everything else is made of heavy duty material. The whole camera feel very solid, very tough and build quality is simply excellent.

Overall the body design is mostly the same as the D4 but there are a few minor improvements in the ergonomic design. For example, the 2 joystick at the back feel slightly better. The main grip has been redesigned and should fit and feel better when you held it in your hands. Because of that, your hands just wouldn’t feel tired easily when holding the D4s for long period, even with a heavy lens attached. In comparison, the secondary/portrait grip is a bit smaller. It still not bad but just not as good as the fantastic primary grip. All the controls and buttons are logically placed and you should be able to adjust pretty much all the common settings easily and very quickly. Overall D4s’s ergonomics is just fantastic and there isn’t much you can complain. This is very important as thousands of reporters, photojournalists, sports photographers around the world will be using their D4s as their main work camera everyday and a friction of second delay could be enough to cost them a priceless photo opportunity.

d4s_2D4s’s ergonomics is just fantastic

 

“I found myself keep wanting to take a few more photos so i can listen to that wonderful shutter sound”

The D4s has a very crisp and beautiful shutter sound. It may sound like a trivial thing but just like how a sports car’s engine sound can make or break the ultimate driving experience, the shutter sound is big enough to affect how I feel about a camera. When reviewing this camera, I found myself keep wanting to take a few more photos so i can listen to that wonderful shutter sound. Oh the camera sounds like a machine gun too when firing at the maximum frame rate.

As a professional camera, the D4s has full weather seal to protect it from bad weather conditions. While I have not really tested the D4s under heavy rain, I’ve previously used my D700, D800 when it was pouring under many occasions with absolutely no problem at all. So I can only imagine D4s can handle bad weather even better. Just remember to use it with a weather sealed lens as well.

Following the Nikon tradition, this updated “s” model’s image sensor output resolution remains identical to the original D4 at 16MP. But it is of a new design, and combined with the new and more powerful EXPEED4 processor, it allows the camera is output cleaner images and have better high ISO performance. As a result, the maximum ISO has been increased one stop to astounding 409600! Yes it’s almost half a million ISO. At low ISO, the image quality is very similar to the D4 as it was just very clean, with nice colors and dynamic range already. But as we increase the ISO, then we notice how good the D4s’s high ISO performance really is, especially the JPGs straight out of camera.

d4s_sample_13When shooting with a D4s, you very rarely need to worry about if the scene is too dark. Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/160s ISO 2200

 

“ISO25600 is the new ISO800!”

It was not too long ago when I was shooting with a D200, I’ve to limit the ISO to 800 or below to get decent image quality. With the D4s, anything shot in four digit ISO range are just great. And ISO25600 is the new ISO800! Yes ISO25600 maybe a bit noisy, but the colour, contrast all both remain at very acceptable level! In fact, photos taken at pretty much any 5 digit ISO range still look alright after a bit of noise reduction. Once you entered the six digit ISO range (i.e. ISO102400+) then the image quality start to drop very quickly. Having said that, I have a few photos shot at six digit ISO that is still usable. Not great, but still usable.
So while you may not need to take photo at ultra high ISO all the time, with a base ISO at ISO100, the D4s has over 10 stops of usable ISO range (ISO100 – ISO51200+). This extreme wide ISO range opens up a lot of possibility and flexibility. It also allows photographers to take photos at place/time that was simply impossible before. For example, you can now shoot with a smallish aperture (so the DOF isn’t too shallow) under light low without any camera flash.

d4s_4So, you tell me, who is the Dark Lord?

The 51 point Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus system is based on D3’s 51 point autofocus system and many other high end Nikon DSLRs. Nikon has improved it when they release the D4 and now with the D4s , Nikon has refined the AF system again to improve the accuracy and speed. This autofocus system has being well tried, tested and proven to be very reliable and the latest version works great on the D4s. When shooting in AF-S mode, it is more snappy and gives you a higher accuracy especially when shoot with fast prime lenses at maximum aperture. It works very well under low light too just like the D4. But what seems to be most improved is when I was shooting In AF-C mode, the continuous focus just reacts faster, has less chance of tracking the wrong target and the overall successful rate is just noticeably better. I’ve spent quite a lot of time testing the AF-C performance and I was more than impressed when I review the photos on my computer. As long as you can tell the camera what exactly you want to focus when you start, the camera would do a pretty good job in following your target. There is also a new group AF mode, which basically uses your selected AF point plus four surrounds it. This new mode is quite useful when you want to track some small or unpredictable objects.

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The autofocus tracking works very well even under challenging conditions. Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – AF-C 3D Tracking – f/2.0 1/1600s ISO 100

The 91k pixel RGB metering system is basically the same as the D4. I noticed there is a new option in the settings menu that allows user to specify whether he wants to prioritise the exposure using the detected face or not.

Another pretty handy new feature is spot white balance. Unlike the normal custom white balance feature which tries to measure white balance from the whole frame , the new spot white balance allows users to manually measure white balance from a very small white or gray portion of the frame in liveview mode. It makes manual white balance measurement a lot easier as you don’t need a large white/grey object anymore.

“…following object when shooting at 11fps is actually pretty easy.”

D4s’s burst speed has been increased to 11fps with continuous autofocus. When shooting in burst mode, there is usually quite a long blackout time (i.e. time when the viewfinder is completely black) between shots and that makes it really hard to pan your camera correctly. But with the D4s,  I was quite impressed that the blackout time seems to be minimal and following object when shooting at 11fps is actually pretty easy. And yes continuous focus works very well even when shooting at maximum speed.
The camera’s 200 full size JPG image buffer means there is enough buffer to capture a 100M sprint race from start to end and a few more seconds to spare.

The original D4 has two memory slots, one is a XQD and one is a CF. XQD is the new card format and it is supposed to be the new format for professional users replacing the CF cards. The D4s uses the same XQD + CF dual slots configuration so its a good news for existing D4 users and also photographers upgrading from the older cameras such as D3s. My only concern is that it’s already 2 years since the D4 release and there still isn’t another DSLR that uses XQD cards. (the only other device that uses XQD is the Sony PXW-Z100 video camera) Hopefully there will be more cameras with XQD support soon.

You can now save a small RAW file with the D4s. While all Nikon DSLR allows you to output to small JPGs, the D4s is the first Nikon to have a small RAW feature. The small RAW file is half the width and half the height of the full size image is the size is approximately 4MP (in 3:2 FX mode anyway). While I am not too sure what kind of user would benefit most from this new small RAW format, it’s always good to have more options and it appears the small RAW also improves the high ISO output file as well (compare to downsizing the full size image yourself). Hopefully the rumoured D800s will have a 9MP small RAW output option as well?

d4s_3I AM D4s

Battery life is never a problem with any DSLRs especially Nikon professional DSLRs. Having said that, Nikon paired the D4s with a new bigger EN-EL18a battery. This new battery has 25% more capacity than D4s EN-EL18. During the whole review period I’ve only recharged the battery and I’ve took a lot of photos, a few videos and spent a lot of time going through the menu, trying out different settings and reviewing a lot of photos.  And before someone says not another new battery again, the EN-EL18a is compatible with the original EN-EL18.

Nikon has also made a few improvements to D4s’s video features. The camera can now capture 1080p video at 60/50fps. You can get the camera to record to internal card and output to external uncompressed HDMI output simultaneously. You can also select the audio range and level for your video recording. However there is still no zebra/focus peaking display on the LCD screen.  Unfortunately due to time constraint, we’ve only briefly use the video feature.

 

Summary

The original D4 is an amazing camera, it’s image quality, autofocus system,  metering, handling, build quality..etc are  all pretty flawless even when judged by today’s standard.  And now the D4s brings a lot of improvements over the original model.  Better image quality, faster, better autofocus, better ergonomics, better video, a lot of better.  While none of them are really revolutionary, together they make the D4s a much better and even more mature camera.  It raise the bar of what a flagship camera should be like.

So should you upgrade to D4s? This is always a tricky question to answer. If you are a D3/D3s user, I guess my answer would be yes. The improvement in the autofocus system and the better overall image quality are two reasons big enough for you to upgrade. If you are a D4 user, now this becomes harder, the D4s is a better camera, there is no doubt about it. But fundamentally they are still the same camera, just one does pretty much everything better. So if you need or want absolutely the best camera, upgrade it. If not, you really need to see how many improvements would benefit you and work out the cost vs benefit yourself.

In our Df review (http://www.nikonjin.com/2013/12/nikon-df-review/), we said if Df was a car, it would be a classic sports car re-released with a modern engine. So what about the D4s?
If D4s was a car, even though it has virtually the same engine (image sensor) as the Df, it would be a completely different kind of car. The D4s would be a latest 4WD turbo racing car that comes with every latest technology you can think of. It’s super fast, it’s super reliable and it’ll help you release all your potential!

Nobody would be disappointed by it’s performance as it’s really the ultimate choice.

 

Pros

  • Amazing high ISO performance
  • Excellent autofocus system
  • Tough as tank build quality
  • 11fps burst rate baby!!
  • Excellent Ergonomics
  • That shutter sound!

 

Cons

  • Weight and size (but it’s a nature of full size professional camera)
  • I have to return it after the review

 

Sample Photos
All photos RAW -> JPG using Adobe Lightroom 5.2, edited to taste.

d4s_sample_01Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2.0 1/800s ISO 100

 

d4s_sample_08Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G – f/4 1/50s ISO 2000

 

d4s_sample_05Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR – f/2.8 1/2500s ISO 400

 

d4s_sample_07Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/5 1/320s ISO 91228

 

d4s_sample_09Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR – f/2.8 1/8000s ISO 400

 

d4s_sample_10Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR – f/5 1/5000s ISO 800

 

d4s_sample_03Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2.0 1/5000s ISO 100

 

d4s_sample_04Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2.2 1/640s ISO 100

 

d4s_sample_06Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/320s ISO 2200

 

d4s_sample_12Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/200s ISO 720

d4s_sample_11Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G – f/2 1/250s ISO 100

d4s_sample_14

 

Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/250s ISO 2000

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Miggo Strap and Wrap + Grip and Wrap Review – Kickstarter Project

Earlier this month, we were contacted by a new company called Miggo. They told us they have a new revolutionary camera bag which they’ll start fundraising on Kickstarter very soon. And asked if we are interested to try out their early samples.

So I watched their introduction videos, and it is really quite an interesting new idea, so I said yeah I would be keen to give it a try and a box with some pre-production Miggos arrived my door the following week.

Miggo was started by people who have previously designed bags for KATA. I’ve used quite a few KATA bags so I’m pretty interested to find out what the Miggo team came up with.

The concept behind Miggo is actually pretty simple. Usually when we go out with a camera, we carry a camera bag to protect the camera, but we might also carry another bag for the our normal daily items and it means we end up carrying two separate bags which is just cumbersome. While there are some camera bags that are designed as a multi purpose bags, they are usually camera focused and not the most suitable design for you to carry your non-camera items. So the team at Miggo came up with the idea which works the other way round, instead of putting your camera into your camera bag, you still use your normal day bag and you put your camera inside it. But your camera will be wrapped around and protected by the Miggo which is also a camera strap.

Miggo has designed two products. One called “Strap and Wrap” and the other called “Grip and Wrap”. As the one I received are early pre-production samples, they came with no packaging or instructions but Ohad from Miggo has also sent me some video instructions on how to use the Miggos. To be honest even without the instructions, its still not hard to figure out it by myself.

Miggo Strap and Wrap

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miggo07

miggo06

The “Strap and Wrap” is a bit like a camera neck strap, with the camera attached to one end using the camera’s tripod mount and provided steel screw. There is a little pocket on the strap for you to store your lens cap when you are shooting. But the most clever thing about the Strap and Wrap is the big zip in the middle which allows you to transform it from a neck strap into a long wrap so you can wrap the camera inside it in literally a few seconds. You can then put the wrapped camera into a normal bag and no need to worry about it being damaged or scratched.

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 It’s a neck strap

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And now it’s a camera wrap

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A built-in pocket for you to store your lens cap

Even with its unconventional design, the Strap and Warp feels really comfortable when you wear it around your neck. The slightly elastic fabric with the paddings inside and shape of the strap make the Miggo Strap and Wrap one of the most comfortable camera neck strap I’ve ever used, on a cold day at least. On a hot day, my neck does feel a bit uncomfortable.

There are two things I don’t really like with the Miggo strap and wrap. Firstly, the strap near the base of the camera is quite wide ion order to protect the camera, unfortunately it also makes holding the camera a bit harder as the strap is blocking your hand slightly. The second thing is, with my Olympus EM5 attached to the Miggo, the camera has a tendency to point downward or even towards my tummy instead of forward when I’m wearing it around my neck. This is not really a biggie but I just prefer the camera hangs vertically with the lens is pointing forward.

 

Miggo Grip and Wrap

The Miggo “Grip and Wrap” is quite a bit smaller than the “Strap and Wrap”. Instead of being a neckstrap with a big zip in the middle, it’s much shorter and is a wrist strap. You attach the camera to one end just like the “Strap and Wrap”, and you can put your arm through the big hole in the other hand and the “Grip and Wrap” is your camera wrist strap. When you are not shooting, you can remove the camera from your wrist, and quickly wrapped the camera around with the “Grip and Wrap” and throw it into your normal bag. There is even a little handle so you can just carry the camera by itself if you want. Just like the “Strap and wrap”, there is also a little pocket for you to store your lens cap when you are shooting.

miggo01

miggo02

miggo03

miggo12

miggo05

There is also a pocket for storing the lens cap just like the Strap and Wrap

The quality of both Miggos are as good as what you can expect from any leading brands. High quality fabrics, zips and steel screws are used and everything is stitched together professionally. The samples I received are designed for the smaller CSC (mirrorless) cameras but they also have a bigger version for the DSLRs. The DSLR version of the Strap and Wrap is also quite a bit longer so you can wear it like a sling strap.

Frankly the Miggo isn’t the best for photographer who’s carrying multiple lenses, as each time you mount a different size lens, you should adjust the mounting position on the Miggo (and you probably want to use a proper camera bag anyway). But for people who only carry one camera with one lens when they go out, the Miggo is really a great new way to carry your camera. It’s easy and simple to use.
While both Miggos are very creative designs, personally I prefer the “Strap and Wrap” a bit more as I find it more comfortable to use with my Olympus micro four thirds camera.

It’s really good to see people who can think outside the square and came up with innovative ideas on something as common as camera bags/straps which have been around forever. While the Miggoes are not perfect, the guys at Miggo has done a great job designing the Miggo and turning them into actual products. Their kickstarter campaign starts today so if you are interested into getting one, you can go to their website and support them.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/580723045/miggo-cameras-best-amigo

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)

 

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

 

 

Nikon Df Review

NikonDf-1

“Taking photos with the latest cameras is a bit like driving a modern sports car with semi-automatic gearbox, launch control, traction control and all those computer assisted technology.”

We are now living in the insta-photography age. People want to take photos instantly and with minimal efforts and modern cameras heavily depend on electronic automation. Taking photos with the latest cameras is a bit like driving a modern sports car with semi-automatic gearbox, launch control, traction control and all those computer assisted technology. It’s fast and it’s very easy, but it does not necessarily give you the most rewarding experience. If you are a driver who enjoy driving rather than just getting to the finish line in shortest time, you may feel like you lost a lot of fun with all those modern technology and design, compare to the oldies where everything is very simple and manual .

If you feel the same, you will probably be interested in the Nikon Df.

NikonDf-3

The Df kit comes with a special edition 50mm f/1.8G lens

The Df is Nikon’s latest full frame DSLR. It’s quite an usual camera and Nikon uses “Pure Photography” as the slogan for the camera. This is the company’s first DSLR that doesn’t follow the usual D then some number naming convention (e.g. D90, D800, D4) as it’s doesn’t belong to any of the normal Nikon  DSLR lines.

The Df is a fusion of modern technology and old style and control. The retro styled body resembles the F2 and F3 series SLR cameras from 1970s and 1980s.  Internally it shares some of the latest technology from the latest Nikon DSLRs. Nikon told us the Df is their smallest full frame DSLR. However, it’s more angular design makes it look bigger than it’s actual size. When I first saw the camera. I put a D800 next to it immediately to compare the size as I thought the Df looks slightly bigger than a D800. Of course Nikon didn’t lie and the Df is the smaller camera.

The camera comes in two colours,  silver or black. Silver one pays homage to Nikon ‘s traditional film SLR camera and is probably the signature colour for the Df  But personally I prefer the black one’s understated look and the black finish seems to have a slightly better feel than the silver Df.

Choosing the right setting and rotating the dials between each shot give you that wonderful feeling that is long lost in this DSLR age”

At the top of the camera, there are separate metal mechanical dials for setting the shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO. The design and nature of the dials mean you will never be able to change the settings as fast as a normal DSLR. You have to slow down and think. Choosing the right setting by rotating those beautiful dials give you that wonderful feeling that is long lost in this modern DSLR age. You feel like you are the one that is controlling the camera.

NikonDf-2

NikonDf-4

The mechanical dials are beautiful

If you really really want, you can configure the camera so it can be used like a normal DSLR and shoot without using those dials at the top. But why would anyone buy a Df and not use those attractive dials?

“when Nikon was designing the DF, they have to sacrifice ergonomic for that retro style look and control”

Camera manufacturers have spent a lot of time and effort on body design and all modern cameras have excellent ergonomic design. Pretty much any DSLR would fit into your hands nicely and all those multi-purpose controls are designed to allow you to change settings as quick as possible. Unfortunately what it means is, Nikon have to sacrifice ergonomic for that retro style look and control when they were designing the Df. For example, Df’s main grip, like the old film SLR, is quite small. This makes holding the Df not as comfortable as holding a modern design DSLR with full sized grip.  My hand would be really sore if I have to shoot a full day wedding using a Df. But for more causal use (which is what Df is designed for), it’s not too bad.

The top LCD screen is pretty small and simple. It only display the most important information such as the remaining photos and battery life.  There is no AF point, no output format, no WB info. To illuminate the LCD top screen, you have to press that little button next to it, just like a lot of the SLR cameras back in 1990s. Just one of those little nostalgic touch by Nikon.

While the front and top of the Df have the retro design, the back of the camera looks just like a D610 with it’s large LCD screen, directional pad and array of buttons. It means any existing Nikon DSLR users would feel right at home, but personally I would love to see a more retro and simplified design at the back, to give the whole camera a more consistent look and feel.
NikonDf-5

Apart from the silver colour, the back of the Df looks very similar to the “normal” Nikon DSLRs 

Df’s retro theme doesn’t stop at it’s body style and controls, Nikon has included a retractable AI coupling tab which means the camera can accept the old pre-Ai Nikkor lenses (pre-1977) as well as the modern age Nikkor lenses. The older Nikkor lenses is perfect match to Df’s retro body style!

NikonDf-6

 The Df looks the best when paired with an older Nikkor lens

 

“it make perfect sense the Df uses D4′s 16MP sensor”

The Df shares the same full frame sensor and EXPEED 3 processor as the flagship camera D4.  As mentioned earlier, Df supports all the older Nikkor lenses even the pre-Ai one. I imagine a lot of users will be using the camera with those old lenses which has lower optical quality, no VR and maybe  manual focus.  So it make perfect sense the Df uses D4′s 16MP sensor as it would not reveal every single tiny artifact in your photo as clearly as a high resolution sensor would do .

D4 is famous for it’s high ISO performance, and Nikon might have made some more improvement to the sensor/processing when they were designing the Df as DxOMark reports Df’s high ISO performance is even better than D4. The Df is the best high ISO performance camera they have ever tested. During the review, I spent a lot of time trying out the camera’s high ISO performance, anything under ISO 6400 is not even testing the camera’s high ISO capability. When we go into 5 digits ISO region, then we start to see some noticeable image degradation. At ISO 12800 the picture quality is still pretty good and ISO 25600 (Hi 1) is what I would normally go up to to maintain reasonably good picture quality. Having said that, I would not hesitate to push to ISO 51200 (Hi 2) or even 102400 (Hi 3) if I really want to get a photo in a dark place. Photos took at those crazy ultra high ISO are noisy with poor colour and contrast, but with a bit of post processing, they are still perfectly usable for web or even small prints.

NikonDfSample-11

Photo of my daughter taken at Hi3 ISO setting, yes that is ISO 102400!

One controversial feature, or missing feature with the Df is the lack of video recording. You cannot take any video at all with the Df. Why take away a big feature that won’t cost much to implement? Maybe it’s to match Nikon’s pure photography theme? Maybe it’s to help clean up the camera design a bit? Or maybe Nikon knows whoever buying a Df should at least have one or two camera that can take video?

The camera has the same 39 point AF system as the D600/610. While I would love to have the same 51 point AF system from D4 (who wouldn’t?), in real life I found the 39 point AF system more than enough for the type of photos people would take with the Df. I mean, no one would buy a Df to shoot a basketball game or formula 1 racing right? So apart from the fact that all the 39 AF points are located quite close to the center of the frame, there isn’t much to complain about this AF system. It’s pretty fast and reliable.

NikonDfSample-2

The 39 point AF point is pretty fast and accurate

“With great power, comes great responsibility”.

Although the camera doesn’t have any AF assist lamp, the AF works reasonably well under low light without any external assistant. But  “With great power, comes great responsibility”. With the camera’s amazing low light performance, there were quite a few times when I was in almost pitch black places, I knew I can still get some decent shots by crank the ISO to six digit region, unfortunately the AF system just can’t see it’s target and failed to focus. To be fair, I can’t really blame the AF system as it was really really dark and no human made DSLR can autofocus when it’s so dark. But it just highlights the fact that the latest full frame sensor’s low light performance is so good that the autofocus system just can’t keep up. Camera manufacturers really need to improve autofocus system’s low light performance significantly to fully utilise the sensor’s amazing low light performance. Maybe Nikon’s R&D is already working on some new hybrid active/passive AF technology that works in absolute darkness?

NikonDfSample-7

Df shooting dance under low light – ISO 51200 f/2.5 1/500s

Yes Df’s autofocus has it’s weakness and limitations, but as long as you understand what they are and work around with it, you can get pretty good results from it. What actually disappointed me is the absence of split prism focusing screen for manual focus lens user. While there are still the usual green dot/arrows in the viewfinder can guide you to get the focus correct, they are not the most accurate nor fastest manual focusing tool. One of the biggest selling point of the Df is that it accepts the pre-AI manual focus lenses. So a lack of dedicated manual focus aid really surprised me and is my biggest disappointment about this camera. 

I was a bit annoyed that the Df comes with the EN-EL14 battery that is normally used in the small DX DSLRs, not the larger EN-EL15 that comes with the D610 or D800. But when I opened Df’s battery door,  I can see why the reason. Df’s small grip design means there simply isn’t any space for a larger battery. Fortunately Df’s battery life isn’t too bad at all. With a single charge, I can easily take a few hundred photos including reviewing the photos, playing with liveview quite a bit, and also play with different settings in between the shots, that is very similar to what I can get with the D800 and the EN-EL15 under similar usage pattern.

NikonDf-7

Behind the battery door is the EN-EL14 battery

Some critics complain about Df’s price and say it is an overpriced camera.  Is it really an overpriced camera?

Df is an expensive camera, it is a premium consumer DSLR camera, there’s no doubt about it. But is it overpriced?

Internally, the camera shares the same sensor and processor as the flagship camera D4 and both camera can output identical quality photos. While Df is missing some of the features such as video recording, D4’s tank-like build quality, dual card slot (but you get the more common SD card slot on the Df)  and super fast frame rate, in return you get that special retro style design and controls, pre-AI lenses support and also a 50% discount compare to the D4.  So is the Df really an overpriced camera? I wish the camera could be a bit cheaper so it would be a bit easier for me to convince my wife that this is the last camera I need in my camera cabinet. But no I don’t really think it’s an overpriced camera, just the ability to capture usable photos at five to six digit ISO range alone pretty much worth the Df price tag in my opinion.

“If the Df was a car, it would be a classic sports car re-released with the latest engine upgrade”

After using the camera pretty much everyday for 2 weeks, it becomes really clear what the Df really is.

If you are a amateur who want a good, easy to use  full frame camera, or if you are a professional photographer wanting a camera you can use whole day non stop, the D610 or D800 (or the D4) would be the safer choice.  And they would most likely be disappointed if they buy a Df, because the Df  simply is not targeting  most ordnary users. The Df is designed for a very niche market, the DF is designed for a very special group of photographers.

The Df is for photographer who doesn’t just love taking beautiful photos, but also enjoy the whole process of capturing a photo. Photographer who would take his time when taking photo. Photographer who would pause, think, then click the shutter button and enjoy every second of it.

If the Df was a car, it would be a classic sports car re-released with the latest engine upgrade. It still has all those old quirky design that you either love or hate. For most people, driving a modern sports car would be be faster, easier and probably make more sense.  But if you love that classic look, feel and raw control, this reborned classic is definitely one of the most exciting camera release this year.

While Df is designed for a niche market, it is a very important product for Nikon. If Df becomes successful (which I think it will be, judging by the number of people I know that have ordered one already), then we will probably see a Df2 or similar products in the future. It will also be  a green light for Nikon to create more cameras outside their normal product lines.

Dear Nikon, if you are really designing the Df2, please consider take this pure photography concept one step further and create us a pure manual camera.  I don’t mind if the FPS is lower, the camera doesn’t have live-view, HDMI output, postprocessing filters, face detection, weather seal, wifi connection..etc.  Remove the optional modern control completely and give us a camera for a small group of photographers who wants that basic manual mechanical control and feel, something like a FM2 with an electronic sensor would be pretty amazing. :)

 

Pros

  • Amazing picture quality
  • Unbelievable ultra high ISO performance
  • Retro style design and control
  • Good battery life despite the small battery

 

Cons

  • No proper manual focusing aids
  • Design of the rear of the camera is not consistent with the rest of the camera

 

Sample Photos  

 (All photos RAW -> JPG using Lightroom edited to taste)


NikonDfSample-1Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G   f/1.8 1/320s ISO 50

 

NikonDfSample-5Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/3.2 1/100s ISO2500

 

NikonDfSample-10 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G    f/1.8 1/250s ISO100
 

NikonDfSample-8Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/2.8 1/125s ISO 6400
 

NikonDfSample-3 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G   f/1.8 1/250s ISO100
 

NikonDfSample-6 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/2 1/125s ISO100
 

NikonDfSample-9 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/1.8 1/320s ISO 2500

 

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)

 

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