Category Archives: Lens Review

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

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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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

 

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