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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

 

Nikon Coolpix P900 review

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

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

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_01

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_02
Do I look like a DSLR?

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

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_04 The lens fully extended at 2000mm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_09The Bokeh…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_10 nikon_coolpix_p900_review_11Top: 185mm    Bottom: 24mm

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_03

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

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

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

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_06 ISO 100 f/7.1 1/160s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_07ISO 100 f/8 1/640s

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

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_16 ISO100 f/6.3 1/200s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_17 ISO100 f/5.6 1/500s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_18 ISO800 f/6.5 0.5s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_19 ISO100 f/8 1/10s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_20 ISO100 f/8 1/200s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_21 ISO560 f/6.3 1/2500s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_22 ISO100 f/4 1/800s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_23 ISO100 f/8 1/125s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_24 ISO100 f/4.5 1/800s

nikon_coolpix_p900_review_25ISO100 f/8 1/200s

 

 

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

sigma_150-600mm_s_review01

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sigma_150-600mm_s_review08Barrel Distortion at 150mm

sigma_150-600mm_s_review09And at 600mm

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

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

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

Some more sample photos:

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

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

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

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_03

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

Nikon_AF-S_300mmf4E_PF_VR_review_05
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. 

 

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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

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

Nikon DF-GR1 grip review

nikon_df_gr_1_review5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nikon_df_gr_1_review3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nikon_df_gr_1_review1

nikon_df_gr_1_review6

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Nikon D750 Review

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

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

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

nikon-d750-review-01

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

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

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

nikon-d750-review-02

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

(Note D800 can only go up to ISO 25600)

nikon-d750-review-06

nikon-d750-review-07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nikon-d750-review-09

the new Multi-CAM 3500FX II 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

nikon-d750-review-21

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

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

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

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

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Nikon / Sigma 50 and 58mm lens comparison review

50mm-lens-comparison-review

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

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

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

We also included

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

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

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

 

Size and weight:

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

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

50mm-lens-comparison-review-2

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

Results:

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

 

Build Quality:

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

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

Results:

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

 

Autofocus performance:

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

Results:

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

 

 Maximum Magnification: 

magnification

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

Results:

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

 

Price:

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

Results

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

 

 

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

Let’s start by comparing the image sharpness.

 

Center Sharpness:

centre-sharpness centre-sharpness2

 

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

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

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

Results:

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

 

Corner Sharpness:

edge-sharpness

 

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

Results:

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

 

 

Bokeh:

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

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

Centre Crop:

boken-center

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

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

And below is a crop near the corner:

bokeh-corner

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

 

boken-centerf4

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

Results:

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

 

Chromatic Aberration

ca

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

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

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

 

Flare Resistance:

flare

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

Results:

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

 

 

Coma:

coma

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

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

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

Results:

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

 

Vignetting:

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

Results:

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

 

vignetting

 

 

 

Conclusions:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

So which is the best 50mm lens?

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

 

 

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

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

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

 

 

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Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART review

 

 

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

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

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

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

That is until year 2012.

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

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

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

 

Design and Build

I said extreme, but how extreme is the design?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Autofocus

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Image quality

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

And have they achieve it?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Bokeh

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Pros

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

 

Cons

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

 

\

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

nikon58mm01

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

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

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

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

nikon58mm16

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

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

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

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

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

nikon58mm15

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

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

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

nikon58mm18

 100% crop from the picture above

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Through this lens, everything is awesome.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

nikon58mm04Bokeh junkie would love this lens

 

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

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

 

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

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

But there is something more about this lens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful photos are priceless isn’t it?

 

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

 

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

 

Sample Photos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

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

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

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