All Articles by richard wong

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All Articles by richard wong

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Zenit MC Helios 40-2 85mm f/1.5 (2015 version) review

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_04

If you only interested in camera lens with flawless optical design, skip this review as you won’t like the Helios 40-2.
But if photography to you is more like art than a photocopy machine, please keep on reading and see if the Helios is a lens you may fall in love with.
The Russian lens manufacturer Zenit has recently released an updated version of their MC Helios 40-2 85mm f/1.5 lens. It is a manual focus lens and the original version was released back in around 1950s. While many different versions of this lens have been released in the last sixty years or so, the optical formula remain fundamentally unchanged, and that includes the latest version. Some said the optics design is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5 but basically it is a simple Double-Gauss lens.
While the optical design seem to be the pretty much identical to the older version, the external appearance of this new version is quite different. The new version looks more modern and has a big “Zenit 1.5/85 1.5” engraved onto the focusing ring. But frankly I prefer old the version’s more classic design.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_06
It looks more modern now, but I prefer the old classic design

The new Helios 40-2 is slightly lighter than the old version, but at 800g it’s still pretty heavy. The heavy weight is because the Helios 40-2 is mostly made of metal, even the lens cap is made of metal.  As a comparison, the Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.4G is just under 600g. The metal construction makes the Helios feel very solid.
The lens has a long throw focus ring, approximately 270 degree from closest focus distance (0.8m) to infinity. This allows easy and accurate manual focus adjustment which is very important for a fast prime with really shallow depth of field.
But while the focus ring is dampened, it’s not buttery smooth like some of the more expensive manual focus lenses.
Overall, it’s a solidly built lens, but it lacks refinement and definitely feels a bit rough when you hold and shoot with it.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_08 ISO 100 f/1.5 1/1600s
From one of my recent photo session. It’s not easy to nail the focus at f/1.5, at least the long throw focus ring make it easier to focus accurately.

The Helios 40-2 has a pretty special aperture control system. There are two control rings on the lens to control the aperture. The ring closer to the camera body is to select the actual aperture you want to use. While the other ring that is closer to the front of the lens is like an aperture limiter, which limits the usable aperture range. For example, if you set the limiter to f/2.8. It means you can use the other ring to adjust the aperture between wide open (f/1.5) to f/2.8.
It may take a bit of time to get used to it but it is not too hard to understand.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_20Do you know what aperture is the lens set to? (Answer below)

But to make it more confusing, neither the white dot nor the red dots on the limiter ring can directly tell you what aperture you are shooting at.
To figure out what aperture you are using, you need to first look at the position of the two red dots on the lens, then reverse the numbers on the aperture scale between the two red dots, then the white dot will tell you your aperture setting.  So in the example photo above, the lens is set to f/2.
And since the lens doesn’t have electronic contacts, you can’t rely on the camera to tell you what aperture you are using either.
But maybe it doesn’t really matter as you’ll be shooting at wide open 99.999% of time anyway. (continue reading to find out why)
As mentioned in the beginning, the optical design is pretty much the same as what it was in the 1950s. It may work quite well back in the days with the film cameras but it’s showing its age when used with a modern DSLR.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_19ISO1800 f/1.5 1/160s

First thing you’ll notice is the sharpness, or lack of sharpness from this lens.
At wide open, the center sharpness is not too bad especially if your camera has a low pixel density sensor like the 16MP D4/Df or 12MP D3/D700. Anything outside the center region is soft and it becomes really soft near the edges. Stop down to f/2.8 would improve the center sharpness quite a bit, but the edges are still very soft until you further reduce the aperture to around f/5.6 or so. But the problem is, this is a lens you should only shoot at maximum aperture.  (yes keep reading, and i’ll explain why)
And if your scene has strong light source or is very high contrast, there would be some very noticeable glow that makes the image quite soft. I also found that shooting far away object would quite often result in very soft image.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_02
It’s a dumb lens, there is no electronic contacts, and you can’t tell what aperture you are using from the camera.

Even with the soft images output, chromatic aberration can still be quite noticeable when shooting high contrast scene.
Vignetting on the other hand is actually not too bad when compare to similar fast prime lenses. There is a bit of dark corner but nothing really serious.
The lens is multi-coated to help reduce flare. But I have to say this lens is absolutely horrible when it comes to flare resistance. Any light source in front of the camera would easily create a big big flare in your photo. Actually even light source from an angle that is not visible in the frame would also create a very visible flare and lower the photo’s contrast to a point that makes the photo unusable. I have never used a lens that is so prone to flare.  Be careful when you are shooting photos during middle of the day when the sun is high up in the sky as the sun/flare could easily destroy every single photo you took.
Don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t mind, actually love a bit of lens flare especially when taking portraits for artistic reasons, but the flare from the Helios can quite often completely ruin the photo so you have to be really careful when shooting with it.


Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_09
ISO 100 f/1.5 1/1600s
Flare, lots of them, and this photo is only a mild example 

For a lens that is so prone to flare, it really should comes with a lens hood. Unfortunately it doesn’t and Zenit doesn’t even make an optional one. So it is absolutely essential to get an aftermarket one in my opinion. Luckily there are lots of aftermarket lens hood that can fit onto the Helios’ 67mm filter thread.
If you are looking at buying an older version of the Helios 40-2, one thing you need to be aware of is that some of the older versions use a rare 66mm thread instead of the 67mm on the new version which makes it hard to install any filter or lens hood to it. If you end up getting an old version with 66mm filter thread, you can consider getting a 66mm -> 67mm or 66mm -> 77mm step up ring then get a 67 or 77mm aftermarket lens hood.
But keep in mind lens hood can only minimise flare caused by stray light. If you have a strong light source that is visible in the photo, you really need to adjust your camera angle or composition to minimise the flare. I also suggest switch to liveview mode when there is a strong frontal light source, this way at least you can easily see how the flare would affect your photo.
I guess it’s very obvious that the image quality from the Helios 40-2 just can’t be compared with any modern lenses. It’s also heavy and manual focus only. So why would someone even wants one while you have something like the Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.8G for just slightly more (brand new), which is a lot lighter and give you almost perfect optical image quality?

The answer is just one word: Bokeh!

Or two words: Swirly Bokeh!

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_17 ISO1100 f/1.5 1/160s
The world is spinning

The cat’s eye like swirly bokeh around the edges of the photo is pretty much the only reason why we would want a Helios 40-2. The swirly bokeh gives you that special, artistic touch that you would really fall in love with, or for some other people, make them feel dizzy and hate it.
If you are the former type, then the swirly bokeh is probably so attractive to you that you can pretty much forgive all the issues you can have when shooting with the Helios 40-2. And that’s really the whole point of this lens.
But the lens wouldn’t magically turn any background into swirly bokeh. You need to pick a background with lots of little but high contrast objects, for example, trees under sunlight. And you need to be careful with your subject/background distance so the background is blurred, but not completely blurred to create the swirly background.  It seems like you can get the most swirly bokeh if the foreground subject is at around 3-5m distance and your busy high contrast background is approx 20-50m away. It takes a bit of practice and experience to find out how to create the most swirly bokeh but the result is well worth the effort, assuming you like the swirly bokeh.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_03

The swirly bokeh seems to only appear when you are shooting at maximum aperture. When you stop down to f/2, the bokeh already becomes a bit more round and if you go anything beyond that there is pretty much no cat’s eye bokeh at all. Because of that, you pretty much should only shoot this lens at f/1.5. After all, the swirly bokeh is the only reason why we want to shoot with this heavy, soft, super easy to flare, manual focus lens right?
That’s exactly why I said earlier you should and you would really only shoot this lens at f/1.5.
The lens has a pretty interesting aperture blade design. When the aperture is around f/4, the aperture hole becomes a unusual shape which gives you a special shape bokeh.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_05
Interesting aperture blade design and this is the bokeh @ f/4

The Helios 40-2 certainly isn’t a lens for everyone. Manual focus a 85mm f/1.5 lens is not easy. The lens is soft and really prone to flare. It is heavy and big. The 85mm focal length also makes it not a very versatile lens. I almost never use it indoor for example.

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_01

If you are a beginner, I won’t recommend you getting this lens. Get the Nikon AFS 85mm f/1.8G for similar price and that one is a much easier to use and a lot more forgiving.
If you are crazy about that swirly bokeh? Just go and order a Helios 40-2 now. It’s not the easiest lens to use. But once you managed to conquer it, you’ll love the photos from the Helios 40-2!

 

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. 

Some more sample photos: (All photos shot in RAW and edited to taste in Lightroom)

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_07 ISO720 f/1.5 1/160s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_10 ISO 100 f/1.5 1/250s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_11 ISO1800 f/1.5 1/160s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_12 ISO900 f/1.5 1/160s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_13 ISO14368  f/1.5 1/160s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_14 ISO2200 f/1.5 1/160s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_15 ISO100 f/1.5 1/3200s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_16 ISO1100 f/1.5 1/160s

Zenit_MC_Helios_40-2_review_18ISO100 f/1.5 1/1600s

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Nikon Coolpix P900 review

The last Coolpix camera I’ve used was a Coolpix A. Even though the camera’s 28mm fixed lens isn’t really my preferred focal length, I love the APS-C sensor, it’s f/2.8 lens and image quality. So while I’m waiting for Nikon to release a 35mm Coolpix A, Nikon announced the Coolpix P900 last month which immediately grabbed my attention.

It is kind of strange as normally I’m a big fan of camera with large sensor and fixed focal length lens like the Coolpix A and the Coolpix P900 is completely opposite to that. It has a small 1/ 2.3” sensor and a fixed zoom lens.  So why am I interested?
The P900’s lens is 24-2000mm (35mm equivalent)!

Yes you read it right, 24-2000mm, that’s 83x zoom! Crazy isn’t it? That’s exactly why I’m interested in the Coolpix P900.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_01

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_02
Do I look like a DSLR?

The biggest selling point of the Nikon Coolpix P900 is without a doubt it’s 83x 24-2000mm lens. For a superzoom camera, it’s f/2.8 – 6.7 aperture is pretty good too, especially when the maximum focal length is 2000mm.

As a consumer targeted camera, Nikon Coolpix P900 is quite plasticky, but despite that, the build quality is pretty good. The Nikon Coolpix P900 is not really a small camera and at a glance, it looks just like a DSLR! The grip area is big, feels solid and very supportive. There is a tiny amount of play around the lens barrel when it’s fully extended but it’s not really unexpected consider how long the lens barrel is.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_04 The lens fully extended at 2000mm

The camera takes standard 67mm filter and the filter thread doesn’t rotate when you zoom or autofocus. If you want to leave the filter on permanently you can do that no problem. While this may seem normal for a DSLR but it’s not really the case for a non-DSLR like the Coolpix P900. For a lot of cameras, the filter thread would rotate and some you have to get an adaptor or something if you want to use a filter and then there are still lots of other issues. So it’s pretty good to see the Nikon Coolpix P900 has none of those issues.

There is a big “High Speed AF” sticker on the camera. Considering it’s a contrast detection system with a f/2.8-f/6.7 lens, the autofocus system does its job ok in terms of speed and accuracy. But frankly I  won’t call the autofocus high speed. In the future, it would be good if Nikon let some of it’s Coolpix cameras have the amazingly fast hybrid autofocus system from their  Nikon 1 cameras .

The P900 has a 3” vari-angle LCD screen. The colour and resolution are both quite good. And having a adjustable screen just makes taking photos or videos from extreme low or high angle a lot easier. The camera also has a pretty decent built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) as well. The EVF has minimal lag and the only issue I noticed is the quite noticeable rolling shutter effect when you are panning the camera horizontally.  Fortunately this only affects the preview and doesn’t affect the actual photo.

And when you are shooting at longer focal length, using the EVF instead of the LCD for framing can also greatly improve the stability. It’s because your head, arm and body now forms a triangle shape that is rigid and stable. It may not be that important when you are shooting wide angle but for a camera like the Coolpix P900 that can zoom all the way to 2000mm and you are trying to take a photo of  birds that are few hundred metres away, the extra stability provided by the EVF really helps tremendously!

Talk about stability, one of the most essential feature of this camera is it’s 5 stop VR system. The Coolpix P900’s VR system is really effective at reducing camera shake. Without VR, its pretty much impossible to shoot anything at 2000mm when handheld the camera. Just a tiny amount of camera shake would completely blur the image. But with the VR turned on, I can easily shoot at around 1/150s and still get pretty sharp photos.

But if you do plan to take a lot of photos at or near 2000mm (of course you would if you buy a P900?), you really should use a monopod as well. At 2000mm, the field of view is just over 1 degree. So while P900’s optical stabiliser is very effective at reducing the image blur, you still have to point the camera towards your target. And trust me it’s not easy at all if you don’t have anything solid to support you. This is not a problem of the camera, it just highlights some of the challenges when your camera lens has insanely long focal length.

I’m very glad the wide angle end goes down to 24mm, which is a lot better than some superzoom cameras which starts at  28mm.  It may not sound like much but 4mm wider really makes a huge difference at the wide angle end.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_12
nikon_coolpix_p900_review_13
Mega Zoom Showcase #1
Top: 24mm   Bottom: 2000mm

In terms of features, the Coolpix P900 has pretty much everything you expect and more, apart from the vari-angle LCD screen, EVF I have already mentioned, there are also full HD video recording, Wifi, NFC and GPS. You can easily pair your P900 with your smartphone and upload your geotagged photos to the internet straight away.
So how about the image quality?

I won’t lie and tell you the image quality is fantastic like  a Nikon D810 with 600mm f/4 because it isn’t. And it shouldn’t be as otherwise all the sports photographers would be using the little Coolpix P900 instead of their 5kg+ $20000 DSLR combo which can only shoot at 600mm max.

The small 1/2.3” sensor does affect the image quality but we have to understand the use of a small sensor is essential to keep the size, weight and also of the P900 to an acceptable level. This is a compromise we have to make to get that crazy 83x zoom and 2000mm (35mm equivalent) focal length.

But anyway, P900’s image quality really is not too bad.

Picture quality from base ISO all the way up to ISO 800 remains quite good. I probably would go up to ISO 1600 if i really have to but pushing anything more than that is just not fair for the 1 / 2.3” sensor.

Sharpness is reasonably good overall including the extreme wide and tele ends. At 2000mm, there is a little bit of softness, but remember it is 2000mm! If you try stack two 2x teleconverters on top of the big 600mm f/4 lens to get 2000mm focal length and your image would also be a little bit soft as well.

Look at the moon photo below, when I showed it to people, everyone were saying how sharp and nice it is and no one would have guess it’s from a Coolpix.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_08 Nikon Coolpix P900  ISO400 f/7.1 1/320s
Moon, uncropped

I was thinking the 83x zoom would mean disaster when it comes to barrel distortion. But after checking my sample photos, barrel distortion is surprisingly well controlled. I also don’t see much chromatic aberration as well.

In terms of dynamic range, obviously you won’t get the same dynamic range from a DSLR, but unless you are shooting really high contrast scenes the results are still acceptable. The camera also has a high dynamic range mode that combines multiple exposures into one high dynamic range image.  It wouldn’t work when you are shooting moving objects but it works quite well on static scenes. 

The Coolpix P900 has a macro mode for close up photography. Like a lot of fixed lens cameras, the macro mode only works when the lens is at wide angle end.  You can get really close to the object. How close? The lens can get so close that lighting the object can actually be a big challenge sometimes.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_26ISO800 f/7.1 1.0s
The lens is literally almost touching the coin 

So far it seems pretty much everything meet or exceed my expectation, but there are two things I don’t like in terms of picture quality.

Firstly it’s the bokeh. P900’s bokeh just doesn’t look very nice at all. It is harsh with distracting halo around the edges, almost look like the bokeh from a reflex mirror lens. If you want nice and smooth bokeh, sorry the Coolpix P900 can’t give you that.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_09The Bokeh…

The second issue I have is the JPG processing. The camera applies a little too much noise reduction and removes a lot of fine details. It may not be obvious but if you zoom in the photo and view it at 100%, you’ll see the image looks a little bit like a watercolour painting. The heavy noise reduction is probably because most consumer users prefer a noise free photo.  But for those of us who want to preserve a bit more details in the expense of noise free output, there is no way to adjust the strength of the noise reduction filter. And there is no RAW file output either.

A lot of P900 users  probably won’t be bothered by these two issues but they do bother me a bit as otherwise pictures from the Coolpix are really quite good.

So anyway, the most obvious advantage of the 83x zoom lens is that you can take close up photos of objects far far away. Like that moon photo above. But is that all?

What if someone tells you you can always zoom with your feet, or just back up if you need wider angle?

Moving closer or further away doesn’t equal to zoom in/out. The photo’s composition, perspective, foreground and background all changes as the focal length changes. So a zoom lens isn’t all about enlarging or reducing the size of your subject.

With a camera that has a 24-2000mm lens, we now have virtually unlimited freedom in how to capture our photo. You can shoot the scene close up at 24mm wide angle which exaggerates the size of your foreground object, have more perspective distortion and includes a lot of background around your subject. Or you can move back quite a bit and shoot at 2000mm and the scene would be heavily compressed with a tiny view angle and that can help you to hide the messy background. Or you can shoot at something in between to get the perfect balance between perspective distortion, compression and how much background to include.. etc.

 Below is an example of the same scene shoot at different focal length using the Coolpix P900. This is probably not the best example and not too extreme, but you should still be able to see how the same scene look when you shoot at different focal length.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_10 nikon_coolpix_p900_review_11Top: 185mm    Bottom: 24mm

Remember there is no right or wrong about what focal length to use. It’s just how you want to visually present it in your photo. So if you are just starting out learning photography, the P900 could actually be quite a good camera for you to learn the image composition and how to use focal length to improve your image composition and tell your story.

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_03

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_05

Usually one of the main issue with non DSLR cameras is their very short battery life. Luckily the P900 has pretty decent battery life.  I went out and took a few hundred photos and when I got home, the battery indicator still said the battery is full. Another pretty handy feature is that you can charge the battery by just using a standard USB cable. This is definitely great for people who travels a lot as you don’t need to bring the battery charger.

When it comes to camera design, it’s all about compromise. You can create a perfect camera or lens that is highly optimized for a special use but it could be so large, heavy, expensive that no one can afford one.

Nikon wants to put a lens with insane focal range in the Nikon Coolpix P900, but as a consumer camera, it really can’t be too big, too heavy nor too expensive. To achieve all these, Nikon installs a small 1/2.3″ sensor and it means there are some compromises on picture quality. But to be honest, apart from slightly heavy handed noise reduction and the bokeh, the picture quality isn’t too bad at all.

The RRP for the Coolpix P900 is $899 NZD, street price will probably be a bit cheaper.  So for the same price you can buy an entry level DSLR kit. Obviously the DSLR gives you much better image quality and have the freedom to get additional lenses. But no DSLR lens in the current Nikon catalog can give you that 2000mm focal length. Even if Nikon makes one for you, it’ll be so big, so heavy and the price will be more than 20x the price of the Coolpix P900.

If you are planning your next holiday trip and want a camera better than the one on your smartphone, especially with the ability to cover an extreme wide focal range,  geotag  the photos and upload the photos to internet easily (with the help of your smartphone) to share with your friends and family, definitely check out the Nikon Coolpix P900.

The Coolpix P900 is like a swiss army knife, it may not be the sharpest knife around, but it’s 24-2000mm zoom lens and other handy features make it a very versatile camera especially when you are travelling and can’t carry too much camera gears.

And that 83x zoom is just beyond belief, you really have to try it yourself to experience that insane zoom in capability!

 

 

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. 

Some more sample photos: (All photos shot in JPG and edited to taste in Lightroom)

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_06 ISO 100 f/7.1 1/160s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_07ISO 100 f/8 1/640s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_14
nikon_coolpix_p900_review_15 Mega Zoom Showcase #2 Eden Park
Top: 24mm  Bottom:2000mm

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_16 ISO100 f/6.3 1/200s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_17 ISO100 f/5.6 1/500s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_18 ISO800 f/6.5 0.5s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_19 ISO100 f/8 1/10s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_20 ISO100 f/8 1/200s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_21 ISO560 f/6.3 1/2500s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_22 ISO100 f/4 1/800s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_23 ISO100 f/8 1/125s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_24 ISO100 f/4.5 1/800s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_25ISO100 f/8 1/200s

 

 

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Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S (Sports) Review

sigma_150-600mm_s_review01

Sigma has released some really good quality lenses recently, especially the 50mm f/1.4 ART and the 35mm f/1.4 ART which easily match the first-party lens image quality at a fraction of the price. So there were a lot of excitement and expectation when Sigma announced the new 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sports lens a few months ago.

So I received a big and heavy box a few weeks ago. And inside the box is this new super telephoto lens, the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports. And when I said a big and heavy box, I really mean it as this is one of the biggest camera box I’ve ever received! It seems the Sigma engineers are really not shy of creating some big and heavy lenses. Just the 105mm front filter thread alone is enough to tell you that the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is one serious lens. And the weight of the lens? It’s nearly 3kg! That is almost as heavy as two Nikon AF-S 70-200 f/2.8 VR II combined.

Just like the recent Sigma ART lenses, the build quality of the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports is excellent. The metal construction makes the lens feel very solid. Hold the lens in your hand and it tells you this is a premium third party lens and not a cheap alternative that Sigma was once famous for. Things have really changed.

The Sigma 150-600 Sports lens has built-in optical stabilser with 2 different OIS modes. OIS 1 is for normal shooting and OIS 2 is for panning shots. The optical stabliser works pretty good and I can easily shoot at 1/100s at 600mm and get very sharp photos.

With the help of the optical stabiliser, I was mostly shooting handheld when reviewing this lens. But my hands and arms got sore quickly every time I held the lens in shooting position for more than 30 seconds. And I’m someone who would run around and shooting with a 70-200 f/2.8 whole day so anyone wants to shoot for extended time really need a tripod or at least a monopod.  But I’m glad to tell you that the lens comes with a really nice tripod collar. The tripod collar’s rotatable ring is nicely dampened and gives you a smooth premium quality feeling. The tripod collar is extremely solid so I don’t think anyone would need to upgrade it to an aftermarket one. Just remember that with such long focal length, you do need a very strong sturdy tripod as any tiny amount of vibration would greatly affect the image sharpness.

sigma_150-600mm_s_review02My Manfrotto 804RC2 head is not really strong enough. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Autofocus speed is reasonably quick when lighting condition is good. There is a focus limiter to help improve the focusing speed. Under darker lighting condition and the autofocus speed would decrease quite a bit. This is largely because the lens’s f5-6.3 aperture and it’s not any worse than other super telephoto zoom lenses I’ve used. So as long as there is enough light, you should be quite happy with the autofocus speed and accuracy .

If you want to optimise your lens for your specific usage, you can get the optional Sigma USB dock, and then create your own profiles with your preferred autofocus speed, focus limiter settings and then assign it to one of the custom settings. While I believe the default settings are very good and suitable for most users, it’s good to see Sigma is offering some extra features that even the first party manufacturers don’t offer.

In terms of image quality, just like the other latest Sigma lenses, this 150-600mm Sports performs very well. Sharpness at 600mm f/6.3 is better than my expectation. I won’t say it’s super sharp but it’s definitely good enough for 18” x12” prints.

 sigma_150-600mm_s_review06 ISO400  f/6.3 1/200s @ 600mm (Camera: Nikon D800)

sigma_150-600mm_s_review07And this is the 100% crop from the photo above.

Surprisingly, there is very little chromatic aberration. I notice very little purple fringing from all the sample photos. Bokeh is most of the time pleasant and only occasionally looks a little bit nervous.

There is a bit of barrel distortion especially at a few certain focal lengths. But it’s not unexpected for a 4 x zoom lens.

sigma_150-600mm_s_review08Barrel Distortion at 150mm

sigma_150-600mm_s_review09And at 600mm

Just like a lot of big zoom lenses, there is a lock switch that physically locks the lens at a particular focal length. And with the Sigma 150-600 Sports, you can lock the lens at quite a few different focal lengths, not just the widest and/or longest. But I’m not sure if it’s because the front element is just too heavy, there were a few times the lens suddenly unlocks itself when I was just walking with the camera pointing downwards.

There are a few things I don’t like about the Sigma 150-600mm Sports such as the size and weight of the lens, or that focal length lock switch that would mysteriously unlock itself occasionally. But there are a lot of things I really like about this lens. The build quality is great, the tripod collar is really solid, the wide open image quality even at 600mm is better than I expected, the lack of CA and the additional adjustability with the USB dock.
So yes the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S (Sports) maybe not be a perfect lens, but consider the performance of the lens and the very reasonable price, it is really not a bad choice if you want a super telephoto lens that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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. 

Some more sample photos:

(All photos were shot in RAW and adjusted to taste using Adobe Lightroom)

sigma_150-600mm_s_review14ISO400  f/7.1 1/640s @ 600mm

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ISO400  f/6.3 1/400s @ 400mm

 

sigma_150-600mm_s_review11ISO1000  f/7.1 1/1250s @ 600mm

 

sigma_150-600mm_s_review12ISO400  f/7.1 1/640s @ 600mm

sigma_150-600mm_s_review05
ISO400  f/6.3 1/250s @ 600mm

sigma_150-600mm_s_review13
ISO720  f/6.3 1/500s @ 600mm

sigma_150-600mm_s_review15ISO400  f/6.3 1/500s @ 600mm

 

 

 

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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 AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens review

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The long awaited new AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens has finally arrived. We have been shooting with it for almost two weeks, here comes our review of this latest telephoto lens.

300mm f/4 has always been a popular way to get into the world of telephoto photography. While the AF-S 300mm f/4D (released Aug 2000) is still a very good lens in terms of picture quality, it really lacks the modern technology such as VR, Nano coating..etc. So when Nikon announced the new AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens, it excited a lot of Nikon users.

One of the biggest complaint of the old 300mm f/4D lens is that it doesn’t have VR which is really important for telephoto lenses. not surprisingly Nikon has added VR to the new version and they told us the VR is about 4.5 stop effective. I can hand held my D800 and shoot at down to 1/15s and get a good percentage of sharp photos. If I decrease the shutter speed further down to around 1/8s I still can get some usable but slightly blurry photos. So for me the minimum shutter speed is probably around 1/10s- 1/15s which is pretty much the same as Nikon’s claimed 4.5 stop performance. this makes the lens a lot more useful when shooting under low light without a tripod .
Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_02Fluorine coated front lens element

But the most interesting thing with the Nikon 300mm f/4e is it’s PF element which stands for Phase Fresnel lens. this is the first lens in the NIKKOR lineup that has PF element. But what is a PF element anyway?

This is copied from Nikon’s website:

The PF (Phase Fresnel) lens, developed by Nikon, effectively compensates chromatic aberration utilizing the photo diffraction phenomenon*. It provides superior chromatic aberration compensation performance when combined with a normal glass lens. Compared to many general camera lenses that employ an optical system using the photorefractive phenomenon, a remarkably compact and lightweight body can be attained with less number of lens elements.

In other words, it’s an optical element that helps reduce chromatic aberration and allows the lens to be made smaller and lighter.

That’s why even with VR added and a more complex optical design, the lens is much shorter at 147mm when the old version is 222mm . And the weight reduction is even more impressive, at 755g, it’s almost half of the weight of the original 300mm f/4D lens (1440g)!

That is some massive weight and size reduction! It makes a huge difference in portability! All of a sudden carrying a 300mm f/4 lens is just like a 24-70 f/2.8. It’s not the smallest lens in the world but I am happy to carry one with me and walk around the town whole day. This is really a game changer as now I am happy to carry a 300mm lens in my camera bag even if I may not use it at all.
Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_01

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The balance is very good when it is fitted on a full frame camera like the D800

By the way, the E in the f/4E means this lens’s aperture diaphragm is controlled digitally electromagnetically rather than the traditional mechanical way. This  helps improves the stability in auto-exposure control  during continuous shooting. Unfortunately it means it’s not compatible with older body like D2, D200 or film SLR.

Unlike the old version, this new version of 300mm f/4 lens doesn’t come with any tripod collar ring. While some people may think it’s just Nikon goes cheap and try to save some cost, personally I think it makes perfect sense as Nikon has spent all the efforts to make lens is so much smaller and lighter and also included a 4.5 stop VR, the lens is begging you to shoot handheld, Adding a tripod collar ring that most people probably won’t use is just adding weight and size to the lens.

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_06ISO 100 f/16 1/15s
Thanks to VR, 1/15s handheld is not a problem

Now feature wise the new 300mm f/4e is truly impressive, but what about its picture quality? Would the new compact design also comes some hidden cost when it comes to picture quality?

Nikon told us the PF element is not perfect. When there is a strong light source in the scene or just out of frame it could create some colourful ring shaped flares. But out of the hundreds of sample photos, I only saw a little bit of those funny colourful flare in a few photos even though I tried really hard to create them. So the choice between a small lightweight lens and the colourful ring flare in a handful of pictures? Give me the small lens any day I say!

The old 300mm f/4D is a very sharp lens and not surprisingly, the new 300mm f/4E is also very sharp. Even the corners are sharp at f/4 with the 36MP D800.

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_04
And another impressive thing with the 300mm f/4E is the Chromatic Aberration or lack of it. I see virtually no Chromatic Aberration at all in any of my photo, even at f/4 I can’t see any trace of sign of purple fringing. The PF element really works some miracle in defying the law of physics!

Contrast is excellent. Even when you are shooting into some strong light source contrast still remain reasonable level thanks to the Nano coating.

Bokeh is delicious, no nervous halo even when shooting tricky scenes.  And because of the long focal length, you can get a very narrow depth of field and turn everything in the background and foreground into beautiful bokeh.

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_10
Bokehlicious? Yes i think so

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_07
ISO4000 f/4 1/60s

See the swirly pattern in the background? That pattern is really a bokeh killer, but it is melted beautifully by the 300mm f/4E

There is a little bit of vignetting at wide open but nothing severe. Overall, the optical performance is just really good.

Autofocus is powered by a silent wave motor. It is fast and smooth. There is also a focus limiter switch that allows you to increase the autofocus speed. If you turn it on, the autofocus speed becomes even faster! If you still can’t capture some super fast speed action with this lens. Don’t blame the lens. Sorry, it’s you.

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_08ISO 220  f/5 1/640s
Autofocus is fast and accurate

 

The Nikon AFS 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is another great addition to the NIKKOR lineup. Optically the lens is just amazing. While You can say the same about it’s predecessor AF-S 300mm f/4D. The big difference is, with the new technology like Nano coating, VR..etc added to latest version, you can now shoot under a much broader environment and still get very good results. The shooting envelop just becomes a lot wider. And adding the massive reduction in weight and size to the equation, the new 300mm f/4E is just a much better lens in real world.

This lens really shows you how Nikon is designing lenses these days. Optical performance surely is important, but what they want is not just to give you the sharpest lens in the world, it’s the balance between image quality, size/weight and real world performance that is most important to most of the photographers.

With the improvements in high ISO  and low light autofocus performance in the latest full frame camera, the reasons for a big, heavy and expensive f/2.8 is really getting smaller and smaller. If you are looking at buying a good telephoto lens, this lens should really be at the top of your short list.

Now I wonder what’s the next lens that will receive this amazing PF element upgrade? I can’t wait to see more of them!

 

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. 

 

We are now on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/NikonJin

Like us, follow us and see all our latest reviews!

 

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

Some more Sample Photos: (All photos were shot in RAW and adjusted to taste using Adobe Lightroom)

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_12
ISO 100 f/4 1/1600s

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_13
ISO 100 f/4 1/800s

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_14
ISO 10159 f/4 1/640s

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_15
ISO 640 f/4 1/640s

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_16
ISO 100 f/5 1/1600s

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_09
ISO 280 f/4 1/640s