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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

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

sigma_150-600mm_s_review10
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 D600 Review

After releasing the D800, D800E and D4, Nikon has released it’s 4th full frame FX DSLR this year, the Nikon D600. Unlike the previous full frame cameras, the D600 is mainly targeting the enthusiast user market. It’s Nikon’s smallest, lightest and also cheapest full frame DSLR so far.

 

When I first saw the D600, I nearly mistaken it is a D7000! It’s design looks very similar to the D7000 and it’s only slightly bigger and heavier. The D800 is quite a bit bigger, taller and heavier than the D600.

D600 and D800 size comparison (Left: D800 Right: D600)

It shares the same metering system 3D color matrix metering II 2,016 pixel RGB sensor as the D7000.
And the autofocus system is based on D7000’s 39 point AF system. 9 of the autofocus points are cross type and seven of them can now focus at f/8. Like all the Nikon FX camera, all the focus points are within the central DX crop area and spot metering is linked to the active AF point. While I haven’t really spend much time testing the AF tracking or use some test chart to test the autofocus accuracy, the AF system seems pretty accurate and responsive when I was shooting real life photos.

The D600 also shares a lot of improvements and new features with it’s bigger brother, the 36MP FX D800. For example, the LCD screen is the same as the D800, it uses the same Expeed 3 processor, it has very similar video mode including uncompressed HDMI output, headphone out, external mic in and 1080p30 mode…etc


Videographers would love all these ports!

 

The camera has a partially magnesium metal body. The shutter rating is 150,000 and I was told the weather seal is same as the D800. So while it’s not as heavy or solid as a D4 or a D800, it is still a very solid and reliable camera that you can take it anywhere, and shoot it under pretty much any weather condition.

There are also infra red sensors on the camera so you can use an infra red remote trigger to trigger this camera. In additional to that, you can use the optional wifi module and control it with an Android or iOS device. Unfortunately there is no 10 pin remote Connector so you can’t use a normal remote shutter cable with the D600.

The camera is pretty responsive because of the Expeed3 processor. Going through the camera’s menu is quick and easy.

If you are a street photographer, you would also love the D600’s quiet shutter sound. It is a lot quieter than the other Nikon full frame cameras and won’t draw as much unwanted attention when you are taking photos. I’ve used the D600 to take some photos of a newborn baby during the review period. The little one was only 1 day old and was sleeping peacefully when I arrived. I switched the camera to the quiet mode, and took probably a dozen photos at short distance. The shutter sound didn’t upset the baby at all. I’m pretty sure it would be a different story if I was shooting with my D700 or D800 as those camera have a much louder shutter sound.

And for those of you who care about how the camera look, I think it’s a very good looking camera. It’s not too boxy nor too curvy, and with a medium sized zoom or prime lens attached, it looks and feels very nice and balanced.

 

As i’ve said in the beginning, the D600’s design is very similar to the D7000, but with some new changes. For example, the new live view control, the position of the video record button is the same as the new one on D800. There are now 5 buttons instead of 4 on the left hand side of the main LCD screen. The ISO button is now moved to the buttom most, allow user to adjust ISO easily when you are shooting. Auto ISO can now be enabled by pressing the ISO button and turning the front dial, just like the D800. So you don’t have to go into the menu to turn the auto ISO on/off anymore!


Zoom in at top, Zoom out at bottom. It just makes more sense isn’t it?

 

The D600 has dual SD card slots. You can assign the second slot to act as overfill, backup or storing a JPG. Just a few years ago, the only camera that has dual card slot was the flagship camera like the D3!

While the D600 doesn’t have the circle shape viewfinder like other FX cameras, it’s viewfinder is a 100% pentaprism and is really bright and large! There are also tonnes of information displayed in the viewfinder. And if you are using the Auto ISO mode, the actual ISO the camera selects is now also shown in the viewfinder.

 

The camera has a built-in RAW converter and some postprocessing ability. It also has a built-in HDR mode. The camera creates a “HDR” style image using 1 or multiple shots automatically for you. The HDR JPG output captures a wider dynamic range then normal photo. It works pretty well especially when you are shooting a high dynamic range scene, for example part of your photo is indoor and part of it is outdoor. Just don’t expect the crazy Photomatrix style effect as it’s designed for more subtle HDR effect.


Normal Mode


HDR Mode – Smooth Setting = low

 

But you need to remember the HDR mode can only be enabled when you are shooting in JPG mode with bracketing turned off. The camera will only grey out the HDR option unless you met all the requirements. I wish Nikon can improve this in the future and either offer to adjust all the settings to allow HDR mode, or at least tell you explicitly what is causing the HDR mode disabled. It’s not only the HDR mode, there are also a few other menu options that could grey out depends on other settings/conditions and if you are not familar with the camera it really can take you a bit of time to find out how to re-enable it.

 

D600’s live view mode is pretty much the same as the D800 and D4 and uses the new live view button/level design. It’s a lot easier to use when compare to the older live view design, The autofocus in live view mode while not as fast as some of the fastest mirrorless system, is still quite fast and doesn’t hunt too much. Unlike D800, you cannot adjust the aperture size once you are in liveview mode, unless you are using a AF lens with mechanical aperture ring. Unfortunately, the live view display’s framerate also drops quite a bit when you zoom in the picture, just like the D800. It makes manual focus using live view harder than it should be.

 

To differentiate the D600 from their own and more expensive D800, Nikon has to tune down some of the otherwise amazing D600 spec list. Fortunately, most of the missing things (when compare to the D800) like limited number bracketing frames, or the lack of AF-ON button I mentioned earlier..etc are minor and there are usually some workarounds. But the slower maximum flash sync speed of 1/200s (which can actually be boost to 1/250s) and the max shutter speed of 1/4000s are probably the biggest complains from me. If you are a landscape photographer or street photographer then you most likely don’t care but if you shoot a lot of sports, or you are a strobist, then the lower max sync and shutter speed (also with the lack of PC Sync jack) could really annoy you. But then Canon’s newly announced 6D (which is D600’s direct competitor) also has the maximum shutter speed of 1/4000s and max sync speed is even slower at 1/180s. So maybe I shouldn’t really complain too much?

 

When I first pick up my D800, I found that it requires me to pay a lot more attention to my shutter speed, aperture setting, lens selection and also I need to try to be steady as possible if I want to get maximum quality photos. With the D600, probably because of it’s lower 24MP resolution, I find it is a lot more forgiving as it doesn’t reveal every tiniest mistake I’ve made. The smaller image size probably is more computer friendly too for most people that doesn’t have the latest and fastest computer with the biggest storage space.

 

During the review period, 90% of the time I was using the camera with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR kit lens. The 24-85VR is one fantastic kit lens! While it’s a little bit plasticky, it’s also a lot more compact and lighter (and of course cheaper) than the 24-70mm f/2.8G and the picture quality is nearly as good under most situtations. And at f/3.5-4.5 it’s not too much slower neither. Some of the photos I took at wide open, look awesome even when viewed at 100%. A short review of the 24-85 lens will come soon!
So if you are upgrading from DX and need a standard full frame zoom lens, I would highly recommend you to check out the 24-85G.

 

So how’s the image quality?

 

After using the camera for about a week, under daylight, moonlight, shooting various kind of photos, I’ve to say I’m really impressed by the photo comes out from the D600.

The dynamic range is very good, a lot better than the D700 and probably just as good as the D800 which is the current king of DR according to DXOMark.
Combined with the clean image it generates, you have a extremely large amount of freedom to push the shadow details or recover highlight during post processing especially if you are shooting at low ISO.


Left Half: RAW -> JPG in Lightroom, all default settings
Right Half: RAW -> JPG in LR Exposure increased 6 stops, otherwise default settings, no noise reduction applied

For the photo above, the Correct Exposure should be around 1/15s but I shot the actual photo at 1/1000s so this photo was 6 stops underexposed. I pushed +6EV in post processing I’m guessing if I didn’t tell you the original photo was 6 stops underexposed you probably wouldn’t know.

Yes 6 stops!

 

When Nikon released their first FX DSLR Nikon D3. It’s high ISO performance completely blown everyone away. Maximum 5 digit ISO was something we never thought of being possible and it started the new high ISO war between different camera manufacturers. D700 uses the same sensor as D3 and it was the camera of choice for low light shooting for many professional and enthusiast users. So how does the new D600 and D800 perform when compare to the original low light king?

I did some quick tests to compare the picture quality of these three cameras at different ISO.

I tested each camera from ISO 100 all the way to 25600. All cameras were in manual Mode, all the photos were shot with the same lens, same shutter speed and aperture for each ISO setting. Same white balance was used and the camera was on a tripod. The RAW file is then loaded in Adobe Lightroom 4.2 , all default settings, no noise reduction, no sharpening, output to 10MP JPG to allow us to compare the results at same zoom level.

This is the test photo:

And here are the 100% crop results from the 10MP JPG.

[CLICK ON PHOTO TO SEE FULL SIZE]

Crop 1: Green Box


Crop 2: Blue Box

 

All test photos were taken indoor during daytime within an approx 10 minutes period. It was a partly cloudy day and the sun went behind the cloud from time to time, so the ambient light varies slightly. If you are wondering why some images are brighter than other, this is probably the main reason.

Up to ISO 800, there is virtually no visible difference between the three cameras. The D700 starting to show a little bit more noise at ISO 1600 but it’s not until ISO 3200 then the difference become very apparent. At higher ISO, the D800 still managed to retain a lot of fine details. But while D600’s photo has slightly less details, the chromatic noise seems to be much better controlled compare to the D800. So overall, I would say the D600 and D800 is pretty similar overall at high ISO.
The D700, which was once the best high ISO camera just not too long ago, really got beaten by his younger brothers. It’s approximately 1 stop behind the D600 and D800 in terms of overall image quality. Looking at the performance at ISO 25600 (remember these are photos with no noise reduction applied), I felt Nikon can easily push another 1 or maybe 2 stop and claim a maximum ISO of 51200 or 102400 if they want. But they probably want to be a bit more conservative and therefore limited the maximum ISO at 25600.

 

 

Conclusions

Nikon has released some really nice DSLRs this year, the latest D600 doesn’t disappoint either. In some way it’s probably the most exciting release this year as it’s the most affordable full frame camera that still comes with a very impressive spec list. And more importantly, the actual performance of the camera in real world is just as good as the spec sheet.

If you are a strobist, the lack of sync port, 1/200s sync speed may annoy you a bit. But for most of it’s target users, it’s really hard to find any major thing to complain about.

It’s probably the best ever camera for enthusiast photographers.

Even for the professional photographers the D600 would be a great lightweight 2nd camera to go with their D4 or D800. If someone is offering to swap my D700 (which is my 2nd camera at the moment) with a D600, I would accept his offer immediately! Anyone?

Now Nikon has completely refreshed the complete full frame DSLR line up and also their entry level DSLR this year. I wonder what the next DSLR release will be like?

 

Pros
– Fantastic dynamic range
– Great high ISO performance
– Small and light but still with decent build quality and weather protection
– Decent autofocus system and metering system
– Lots of features for a enthusiast level camera: Dual SD card, 100% viewfinder, mic in, headphone jack, uncompressed video out…etc. hm… my D700 doesn’t have any of them!
– More forgiving and computer friendly than the D800 because of it’s lower resolution
– Great quality kit lens

Cons
– 1/200s sync speed and the lack of PC Sync jack would disappoint strobists
– Cannot adjust aperture size once live view mode is turned on (unless you are using a AF lens with mechanical aperture ring)
– Live view mode still low framerate when you zoom in.

 

 

Sample Photos
(Nikon D600 + AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR, all photos are unedited JPG straight from camera)

 

[CLICK ON A PHOTO TO SEE THE LARGER VERSION]


f/6.3 1/800s ISO100

f/7.1 1/400s ISO100

f/7.1 1/400s ISO100

f/7.1 1/500 ISO720


f/6.3 1/13s ISO1600

 f/4.5 1/30s ISO1600


f/18 0.3s ISO100 (Handheld, don’t you love VR!)


f/9.0 1/0s ISO100


f/4.5 1/200 ISO180

f/6.3 1/13s ISO1600

f/4.2 1/1000 ISO100


f/6.4 1/100s ISO6400

f/4.5 1/200s ISO1400


f/7.1 1/13s ISO3200


f/8.0 1/400s ISO100

f/5.6 1/200s ISO220

 


f/7.1 1/132 ISO3200

 

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Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is an award winning wedding/portrait Photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Photo-by-Richard/113755425305636

All photos and text Copyright© 2012 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Review: Phottix Odin TTL flash triggers

 

Updated 2012/10/11  We did a quick test of the Odin with the newly released Nikon D600. From what we can see, everything seems to be working perfectly. All the basic controls, high speed sync…etc It’s good to see the Odin is working great with new cameras without the need  to wait for new firmware.

 

Nikon has a pretty decent camera flash system called CLS (Creative Lighting System) that allows you to trigger and control remote speedlights from your camera. It’s pretty easy to use and most of the Nikon DSLR can use it’s built-in flash as the commander to control the remote speedlights. Unfortunately because it’s an infra red based system, it requires direct line of sight and the working distance can be quite limited. While there are tricks and workarounds, a lot of photographers also use aftermarket radio based trigger system when the Nikon CLS is not the perfect solution.

There are two major types of radio based triggers: Non-TTL triggers and TTL triggers

Non-TTL triggers pretty much do only one thing, trigger the remote speedlight(s). The Non-TTL triggers are generally more simple, more reliable and cheaper.

TTL triggers on the other hand are more sophisticated. They don’t only allow you to trigger the remote speedlights, you can also adjust the power and some other speedlight settings remotely. TTL triggers doesn’t mean you have to fire the flash in TTL mode, you can control the power in the good old manual mode as well. The obvious advantage with the TTL triggers is that you can adjust the power of the remote speedlights quickly and easily. Imagine if you have mounted multiple speedlight(s) behind a softbox, up on a light stand. If you are using non-TTL trigger, you have to bring the speedlights down to adjust the power and put them back up when you are setting it up. Not only it takes time, and you may have changed the position or angle of your speedlights when you are adjusting the power. If you are using TTL triggers, you can just press a few buttons on your camera’s transmitter unit. Unfortunately, the TTL triggers are usually quite expensive and a lot of them are not that reliable as well.

Phottix has released their Odin TTL flash triggers for Canon system last year and just a while ago they have also released the Nikon version as well (They have just announced the Sony Alpha version recently too). After reading some positive feedbacks on our forum and some other websites, I have decided to try out the Phottix Odin TTL triggers and see how good or bad these TTL flash triggers are.

The Phottix Odin TTL Triggers

The Phottix Odin TTL Triggers consist of two main components, the Transmitter and Control Unit (we’ll just call it the TCU) and the receiver unit (we’ll just call it the receiver).

So this is the Phottix Odin “Flash Trigger” set:

And this is what you can find inside the box:

Phottix did a pretty good job and included most if not all the accessories you’ll need. My only complain is that the User manual is only a PDF file on the CD. It may have saved a little tree, but I personally always prefer a printed version that I can take and read anywhere easily.

The Odin TCU looks very similar to the Nikon SU800. It has a decent size LCD at the back and a group of buttons below the LCD.

The LCD displays all the important information, like the channel, flash mode, battery level indicator ..etc The LCD and buttons on the TCU are all backlight.

This is how the Odin TCU looks like when mounted on a camera: (Front View)

(Rear View)

The TCU doesn’t have any hotshoe mount so you cannot attach a speedlight on top of it. It is probably partially because of the shape of the TCU (which is quite tall). It is a bit of a shame as it means users can’t mount a on camera flash for a bit of fill flash, and you have to remove the TCU every time you want to use a on-camera flash. Personally I would prefer the TCU and the receiver to be a bit smaller but at least they all use AA batteries so it’s easy and cheap to replace them. I am using rechargable AAs on both the transmitter and receiver and they seem to work great.

The receiver doesn’t have any LCD screen, instead it has a small LED light, it will light up in different colour under different conditions. The receivers can also be powered by 5V power supply if you want.

If you have more than 1 speedlights, you will probably want to order some additional receivers:

The Odin triggers operates at 2.4GHz frequency so there is only 1 version for every country in the world and you don’t need a special radio license to use them. This is great for photographers who travel to different countries regularly.

Both the TCU and receiver are mostly made of plastic but feels reasonably solid (for a plastic device anyway), maybe just a little bit too light. When I placed the Odin TCU and receiver next to my Nikon SB900 speedlight, the build quality of the Odin is almost as good as that of the SB900. While I haven’t drop or tested how strong the hotshoe mounts are, it seems strong enough and doesn’t have too much play when the Odin units are mounted onto the camera/speedlights/lightstand.

 

Using the Odin

The Odin Triggers are quite easy to setup. When I received the Odin triggers, I haven’t actually read the manual (as it was a PDF file and I was not in front of a computer). Basically I just took them out from the box, insert the battery, mount the TCU on the camera, mount the receiver onto a flash. Turn everything on, set both to the same channel (and remember set the flash to normal TTL mode) and it just worked straight away! You don’t need to link/sync the pairs or do any other setup steps. If you have used a SB900 or SB910 before, you should know how to setup the Odin TCU as they have a very similar user interface. You should have everything working within a few minutes or even seconds.

While the big LCD makes the system quite easy to understand and use, I personally actually prefer the mechanical dials on Pocketwizrd’s AC3 control unit and believe it is faster than having to go through the menus on the LCD screen. But it’s a personal preference and the disadvantage of the smaller Pocketwizard AC3 unit is that it doesn’t have a LCD display which also displays a few other important information.

With the Odin triggers, you assign your remote speedlights in one of the three different groups. And then you can fire each group in either TTL mode or Manual mode. You can adjust the power in 1/3 stop steps (either in TTL or manual mode). Or you can set the power of your remote speedlights in A:B ratio if you want. You can adjust the speedlight’s zoom as well. Either set it to follow your len’s focal length or you can set the zoom manually between 20 – 200mm.

The remote speedlight’s focus assist light can also be switched on if you want. There is also a modeling light mode which flashes all the speedlights for 1 second. That helps you to preview the lighting setup or help you do the focusing under dark environment when the built-in AF assist light is not enough.

When you are changing the settings on the Odin TCU, the remote speedlight would update immediately, just like they are directly attached to the camera. For example, when I change my camera’s ISO setting from ISO 100 to ISO 1600. I can see my remote SB900’s display updated pretty much at the same time.

Phottix claims the Odin TTL triggers support high speed sync so you can shoot at maximum shutter speed of 1/8000s (but it depends on camera/speedlight). This is a very important feature and I will test it and see if it works a bit later in this review.

 

Working Range Test

Phottix claims the Odin’s working range is 100m+ which is quite a long distance. So I took my camera, SB900 speedlight and Odin triggers outdoor to see whether the claimed 100M+ range is true or not

I connect my SB900 to an Odin receiver. The TCU was mounted on my Nikon D800. And set the flash firing mode to MANUAL.
I started the test by standing at approximately 15m from my remote speedlight. 3 consecutive shots was fired and I reviewed each photo to see if the flash was triggered successfully in all of the 3 photos. If true, then I walk a bit further away and repeat the test. Although the radio base trigger like the Odin doesn’t require a direct line of sight to work, the trigger signal strength will be reduced if there is any object in between the TCU and the receiver. And the signal strength reduced will depend on the size, shape, material of the object in between. So to keep things simple and consistent, I made sure there is a direct line of sight with the receiver during the working range test.

So the flash got triggered successfully 100% at 15m, 30m, 45m (which the CLS would normally stop workng), then 60m, 75m, 90m.

Then at 105m, eveyrthing still worked perfectly. So the claimed 100m distance is true. I decided to conitnue the test and see how the Odin response.

So 120m, 135m, the flash was still triggered 100%

And this is the results at 150m:

In case the photo is too small to see, the remote SB900 150m away was triggered successfully in every one of the three test shots.
Unfortunataely I ran out of space and couldn’t really continue the test.

 

Working Range Test 2

In the previous test, I found out the triggers still working perfectly in an open area up to 150m away. I want to see how much further away can I go, so I went to another bigger outspace and retest the maximum working range.

I started at around 150m distance. Just like the previous test, the trigger worked perfectly at that distance:

So I continue walk further and further away from my remote SB900. And repeated the test every 15-20m. Very soon, i couldn’t see my speedlight anymore (partly because it was quite dark already) while the trigger was still working 100%.

And this is the last photo I took before i ran out of space again!

The distance from my speedlight at that point? 350m !!!!

Yes I was 350m away,and the trigger was still firing the remote speedlight perfectly at that distance!

I don’t know how much futher I can go before the trigger will stop working, but to be honest, at 350m away, I can’t even see my remote speedlight anymore and the output from the speedlight was really pretty weak even I was shooting at ISO3200 and f/1.4 already. So yes I’ll probably have to come to the conclusion that the Odin’s working range is more than anyone ever needed!

 

Hi Speed Sync

Phottix claims the Odin TTL flash triggers support hi speed sync and the maximum shutter speed is 1/8000s. This is a very important feature if you are a wedding photographer  as it’s very difficult to keep the shutter speed before your normal sync speed (e.g. 1/250s) when shooting outdoor at daytime at large aperture.  So I want to test and see if it really works. I’ve assigned my speedlights to 3 remote groups. And I shot a number of different photos at very high shutter speed (up to 1/8000s) to see if the hi speed sync really works.

The result?

Yes it works.

I’ve took around 50 photos, most of them at 1/8000s, with my speedlights at different distance and position. And every single photo the speedlights light up the scene sucessfully from one corner to the opposite.

1/8000s? Not a problem for the Phottix Odin!

 

TTL Mode

To see if the TTL mode really works, I’ve assigned my speedlights to different remote groups, all in TTL mode. And then I placed the speedlights in different position and I shot a number of different photos and at different TTL power settings.
So does TTL works? Yes it works, even at hi speed sync mode. But my testing seems to suggest the Odin fires the remote speedlights at different power than the Nikon CLS would do. Usually I got a brighter image with the Odin. But at least the result is fairly consistent so it’s still very usable.

 

Apart from the testings I didabove, I’ve also used the Odins at a dozen of weddings and portrait sessions. Overall my result is very positive. My remote speedlights (that is triggered by Odin) fire and at correct power 99% of the time. I did have some occasional issues with one of my receiver. But apart from that, the Odins are very reliable.

 

Conclusions

When I first heard Phottix has released the Odin TTL triggers, I was a bit skeptical. I was skeptical because even the TTL flash triggers from some big name companies are not reliable and have many issues. So i told myself no way Phottix could just release a good and reliable TTL flash trigger. Turned out i was wrong. The Odin TTL triggers have lots of features, easy to use but most importantly, they are very reliable! The 350m+ working range is unbelivable, shooting at 1/8000s works perfectly and the TTL mode also works quite well. Apart from a few minor complains, the Odin flash trigger is almost perfect! So if you want some good and reliable TTL flash triggers, you definitely need to have a look at the Phottix Odin!

 

Pros

It works! And it works consistently!
Very long working distance, works perfectly at 350m+
Use AA batteries on both the TCU and receiver
Decent Build Quality
Firmware upgradable by USB
High Speed sync up to 1/8000s
Lots of features, e.g. modelling light, remote AF assist lamp, flash zoom adjustement
Works perfectly with the latest cameras like the Nikon D800 straight out of box

 

Cons

The size of the transmitter and receiver can be a bit smaller
TCU doesn’t have a hotshoe mount so you can’t attach any on camera flash when using the Odin system
TTL mode seems to fire the remote speedlights at different power compare to the Nikon CLS
While it’s not the most expensive TTL triggers, buying a set of Odins with multiple receivers can still be quite expensive.

 

Welcome to  add your comments, experience and discuss about the Phottix Odin trigger on our forum:

http://www.nikonjin.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=1801&pid=13555#pid13555

 

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is an award winning wedding/portrait Photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)

Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

 

All photos and text Copyright© 2012 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 C Review

The Nikon F-mount is basically the same since 1959. You can get some classic Nikkor SLR lenses and just mount it on your latest Nikon DSLR and shoot straight away!
The Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 lens is one of those classic lens from the film age.

Reflex lens (or catadioptric lenses or mirror lens) has quite a distinctive look. There is a small circular plate at the center of the front element. If you are wondering how it works, basically, incoming light first gets reflected by the main mirror located at the back of the lens, then goes towards the secondary mirror at the front (that’s the small circle plate you see from outside). Then it finally reflects back towards the image sensor. If you are interested, you can read more about mirror reflex lens on wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catadioptric_system

Nikon has made a number of reflex lenses in the past. The first 500mm reflex lenses was made back in 1960s and the latest version, the 500mm f/8 N was still in production until 2005.
Not surprisingly, the latest 500mm f/8 N is the best of them. It is not only the smallest and with the best optical quality, it also allow you to focus as close as 1.5m (which gives you a very good magnification ratio of 1:2.5). Unfortunately they are extremely rare and when one finally pops up, it also comes with a very high price tag.
The one we are reviewing here is the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 C. The “C” version is one of the later model, just before the latest “N” version. It has multi-coating, but is not as compact as the “N” and the minimum focus distance is around 4m.

Like most of the old Nikkor lenses, the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 C is made of metal and it feels like a tank, yes it’s very solid! Obviously, being such an old lens, it has no autofocus, no VR or any fancy features like Nano coating.

The metal focus ring is pretty smooth and the tension is just about right, with quite a long travel. The long focus ring travel is essential as the 500mm lens has a very narrow depth of field so you’ll need to adjust the manual focus ring very carefully and precisely. With the small f/8 aperture, the camera’s viewfinder is quite dim even during the day and that makes it hard to see if you object is in focus or not especially if you are shooting it with a DX camera. Good luck if you want to shoot under low light as you will have a very hard time just trying to locate your target through the very dim viewfinder. If you are like me shooting with a full frame DSLR like the D800, the larger viewfinder with the AF arrow indicators together would make the manual focus a bit easier and quicker. But still, I got a large number of shots that were out of focus. Using the liveview to zoom in would be a good way to improve the focus accurarcy. Unfortunately when you are shooting in liveview mode, it is really tricky to keep the camera steady. I have to use a tripod or monopod if I’m shooting in liveview mode.

Because of it’s long focal length and lack of VR, it’s also quite hard to keep the camera steady without help from a tripod or monopod. I need to keep the shutter speed above 1/500s when I’m not using a tripod/monopod. As a result, I am regularly shooting at ISO 800-1600 or above during a bright day.

Since it’s not easy to have the focus 100% correct and have virtually no camera shake, a large number of photos I took with this lens were blurry (either camera shake, or misfocus). But if I manage to nail the focus and keep the camera shake to minimal, the photos can be pretty sharp. Just don’t expect every single photo to be tack sharp unless you are shooting static objecct with a solid tripod.

The CAT design means the aperture is fixed. It means two things:
1. We can’t use the aperture to adjust the exposure. Since we have to keep the shutter speed quite high to reduce camera shake, most of the time we can only use ISO to control exposure.
2. We can’t control the depth of field and the depth of field is always very shallow. This is a bigger limitation than #1 as it greatly limits our photo composition and also what kind of photo we can take. For example, you cannot take photos of a group of people and have everyone in focus unless they all line up in a straight line perpendicular to you.

The lens comes with a pair of beautifully made metal lens cap and lens hood. The metal lens cap screws onto the metal lens hood, which can then screws onto the lens. So you can either just remove the flat lens cap and leave the lens hood on, or remove both together. I quite like this design but I can see the disadvantage is that the lens hood were made shorter than it should to minimse the lens’s overall length.  There are really a lot of interesting designs in the  older generation Nikkor lenses, for example, the Nikkor AF 135mm f/2DC has a built-in retractable metal lens hood which i quite like as well.


Lens cap and lens hood both attached to the lens


Lens cap removed, leaving the lens hood on the lens.


Both the lens cap and lens hood removed.

One of the biggest advantage of the reflex lenses is that they are a lot smaller and lighter than the traditional lenses with the same focal length. For example, the Nikkor AFS 500 f/4VR lens is nearly 4kg and 400mm long, while the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm is less than 1kg and the length is about 150mm. So the Reflex-Nikkor 500 f/8 is not really a small lens, but it’s small and light enough for me to carry and walk around and shoot handheld whole day. Don’t think I can say the same thing if I’m carrying the AFS 500mm f/4VR.

The lens also comes with a set of 39mm rear filters. If you are shooting digital, the L37C UV filter is probably the one you’ll use. I remember reading somewhere saying you have to install one of the rear filter as it’s part of the optical design. Personally I haven’t take off the L37C and check if that is true or not. But if you are looking at buying a second hand one, it’s safest to make sure the 39mm filter is included as well.

 

The most special characteristic of this lens, or any mirror reflex lens in general, is it’s bokeh. The bokeh matches the shape of the front element, looks like a donut ring. If you have any bright light source in the background, you can easily get that funny looking O ring bokeh in your photos which look very very busy. So if you don’t want a distracting background, you need to try find a smooth low contrast background when shooting with this lens.
But the funny bokeh is actually a double-edged sword. Try to be creative and the unique bokeh can help you create some interesting photos.

Be creative, and turn the enemy into your best friend

 

Most of the photos from this lens has low contrast, and the colour doesn’t seem to be as vibrant as well, especially when compared to the photos from the latest nano coating lenses. Fortunately, with DSLRs, this can be fixed easily by increasing the contrast/saturation settings either in camera or in post processing. You also have to be careful and try avoid any bright light source in front the camera as it’ll lower the contrast even more. The contrast can become so low that you can’t even fix it in photoshop. But if you are looking for that “artistic low contrast film” look, then you may see the low contrast as a good thing.


Unedited JPG straight out of camrea, notice the low contrast.

There is a hot-spot near the center of the image due to the catadioptric optical design, fortunately this is not really visible in most of the photos.

On the positive side, I didn’t notice any chromatic aberration at all, even when i was shooting some high contrast scenes.

The lens has an integrated metal lens mount that can be rotated but cannot be removed.

The reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 is a very special lens. It’s not suitable for everyone as it has a lot of limitations and it’s not easy to create nice and sharp photos. You will probably be frustrated if you are trying to use it to shoot a evening sports game. But if you understand what are the limitations and be careful and creative, this 500mm lens can become one great, low cost telephoto lens.

Pros:
– A lightweight, small and affordable 500mm lens
– no chromatic aberration
– Decent sharpness, but only if you got everything right.
– Funny bokeh
– Solid build quality and interesting lens hood/cap design

Cons:
– Manual focus, with very narrow depth of field
– Fixed aperture, which means you cannot increase the depth of field by stopping down.
– No VR, tripod/monopod is essential to keep the camera steady under low light.
– Low contrast, especially when there is strong light source in front of the camera
– Funny Bokeh

Feel free to discuss or add your comments on our forum:
http://www.nikonjin.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=1706&pid=12775

Sample Photos
(Edited to taste with Adobe Lightroom, click to enlarge)

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is an award winning wedding/portrait Photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Photo-by-Richard/113755425305636

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Comparing the two high resolution Nikon DSLRs: D800 vs D3x

The 24MP Nikon D3x was the Nikon flagship DSLR camera and also the highest resolution DSLR available. That is until Nikon recently announced the 36MP D800.
While everyone is busy comparing the D800 with the D4 and the Canon 5D mk3, we thought it would be a good idea to see how the D800 compares with the D3x as well.
We have summarise some of the most important features and differences in this table below:

So while D3x’s build quality, shutter life and a few other things are still superior to the D800, the D800 has improved on so many areas. It has a higher resolution, better performance sensor (check dxoMark for the sensor review), much more powerful processor, improved autofocus system, a brand new metering system, can do full HD videos, a slightly bigger LCD screen  and a few other upgrades. It also has the 100% viewfinder and dual card slot which was previously only available on the full frame flagship model.

The D3x was and still is a very impressive camera, but the new D800 shows us very clearly how much technology has advanced in a short 3.5 year time.

And look at the price difference between the two cameras!

For discussions and comments, please visit the forum:

http://www.nikonjin.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=1561