Thursday, March 19, 2015

Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens.Recently I had a chance to acquire a lens that is made by an old Soviet factory (KMZ — Zenit) near Moscow from an old friend who was selling off his Nikon gear for a good price. I wanted to experiment with a fisheye lens for quite some time, but buying a new one made by Nikon or even Zenit didn’t make sense for such a specialty lens.

Autoportrait through a fisheye.The lens is a manual focus lens and even though it doesn’t feel as good as my f/1.2 Nikkor it is decent enough to achieve decent focus. In camera digital focus confirmation works most of the time. Also the lens achieves infinity focus at about 1.2 meters. It also is the first lens in my collection that make SLR self portraits possible. Not that it’s what I’m going to keep using it for.

Fisheye view from the window.The next thing that I want to try with it is taking landscape shots and seeing what kind of interesting or peculiar results I can achieve. I was told that it is decently sharp at f/8 which seems to be the case, but I haven’t tried shooting at a wider aperture myself yet. Overall it is proving to be a fun toy.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Lens

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens.I’m happy to report that I’ve become an owner of a portrait lens that I coveted for several years now — Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. Over the years I’ve read multiple reviews and saw a lot of images taken with this lens. But the price is quite steep, so we waited, pretty much since its release in August of 2010.

Alёna. On the fly shot taken at f/1.8.Portraiture is what this lens was made for. The focal length of 85mm is great for rendering faces in a flattering way and the maximum aperture of f/1.4 is perfect for separating the subject from the background and washing out said background into a milky smooth blur. This is my first 85mm prime lens and my first f/1.4 lens. I think it will solve a number of issues for me in certain situations.

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.I have a great manual 50mm that I love, but it’s not always ideal. First of all manual focus limits the number of quality shots I can take of Arosha — he is too quick. Also it makes me uncomfortable asking to take somebody else’s photo knowing that I’ll have to fiddle with focus for too long. Another issue is that it measures the exposure only at the center, making explaining to other people how to properly take a shot is close to impossible and is also a time constraint on when I’m using it.

Daniеl. Taken at f/1.4 with +9 AF tune. Check out that bokeh.All in all, I got the lens from B&H fairly quickly and had to exercise a great deal of patience before getting my hands on it — it was my New Year gift from Alёna and my parents. The lens itself is quite a lot bigger than my 50mm is. It also is quite heavy as it turns out. I saw the technical specifications on the lens beforehand, but it’s hard to know how it will feel until you actually touch it. It does pair up quite well with my trusty Nikon D700.

Cyclist. Taken at f/16. The blur on the cyclist is my hands shaking. Has nothing to do with the lens.However nothing comes easy. Soon after I had a bit of a disappointment. When looking through some experimental shots I took I noticed that the lens exhibits an obvious front focusing issue. In simple terms when you try to focus on the eye you end with focus plain falling on the nose and eyes are not sharp. The issue becomes quite a bit less noticeable by stopping down to f/1.8, but if I wanted to shoot at f/1.8 I would’ve gotten a lens that costs 1/3 of the price of this one.

LensAlign test target.Luckily D700 allows one to performing auto-focus fine tuning. And while it’s something that becomes quite complicated for a zoom lens a prime is much easier and more practical. I did some quite unscientific testing and arrived to +9 adjustment on the scale of -20 to +20 with 0 being default. But to make a final decision of whether to keep it or try to exchange it I placed an order for LensAlign kit — something that I wanted to get for some time now anyhow. I also bought of copy of their FocusTune software. FocusTune1 in itself is a great tool allowing one to tune the lens not by eye and not from a single sample, but from a bulk of shots.

One of FocusTune chart.I took a large number of test sets — each set consisting of 100+ shots and actually ended up with fairly consistent test results2. The recommended value that I arrived at on multiple instances is +6. I also read that pretty much everyone of these lenses will need to be tuned due to variations between the bodies and lenses — which in reality are extremely small, so exchanging the lens is as much of a gamble as anything. On most lenses it will just not be noticeable, but when you deal with a long and bright lens — you want it to be very precise.

Family. Taken at f/1.4 and +9 AF tune. Great bokeh again.Either way — our testing at +9 produced some nice shots and we won’t know how well +6 does until we go out on the upcoming weekend and do some testing in the wild. But if practice agrees with theory — and I don’t see why it wouldn’t — the lens is a keeper.

Arosha's BMW. Taken at f/1.4 with +6 AF tune and focus point on the plate.

  1. FocusTune actually doesn’t need LensAlign target to work. It can be used with a number of targets that can be printed out by the end-user himself. []
  2. I will not go into detail of properly setting up for a good end results as the author of the system provides great info on his site. []

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G Lens

I’m a lucky new owner of a brand-new Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens. I want to share a couple of thoughts on how that came about, choice, acquisition and planned use.

Wide-Angle Decision

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens.I mentioned earlier that there exists a possibility of us taking a trip to Grand Canyon in the near future. As I was looking through my old shots of the canyon taken with my old D70 camera — a lot of them were taken at 18mm (the widest I had — 27mm equivalent on full frame) and a lot of them feel kind of crammed — like there just wasn’t any more room left in the frame. Landscapes are the primary reason why I would want to own a good wide-angle lens.

There is always an alternative to using wide-angle lenses that could work in a lot of cases for landscapes. Just take several shots with a normal lens and then stitch them together in a panorama. However there are certain problems with that approach — taking an HDR shot for example would be much more complex. Using a long exposure filter such as Big Stopper would be it impossible.

And then there is a number of other types of photography that can be done with a wide-angle lens forcing a photographer to get much closer to the subject, thus changing the perspective — an interaction of the subject with the background.


Wide-angle Shublik.I had my eye set on a prime Nikon lens for portraiture — 85mm f/1.4G — for a long time now. The problem of course is the fact that this particular lens costs $1,700, however all the reviews confirm that the lens is worth it. Or at least that was the case until Nikon released a new 85mm f/1.8G lens.

I read a number of reviews on the new lens and a lot of them show that it performs as well as its big brother in a lot of cases. It doesn’t have nano-coating which reduces the flares and it loses 2/3 of a stop as far as aperture goes. But the kicker is that it costs $499. Now that’s is a huge difference. For a professional photographer that 2/3 of a stop might be worth it, but I as an amateur just cannot justify paying an extra $1,200 for something that would be simply a nice-to-have at my level. I just can’t.

By settling with a f/1.8 lens I was able to free up a large chunk of change from the budget that was allocated for 85mm purchase towards the New Year.

Wide-Angle Lens Options

Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G vs Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G.Choosing an actual lens from the available options was surprisingly easy. I was not considering any 3rd party choices as I am extremely happy with all my Nikkors. Out of available Nikon option there were really only two lenses that were in the final “competition” — 16-35mm f/4G and 14-24mm f/2.8G lenses. The older 17-35mm f/2.8D lens has been bested and at this point doesn’t make much sense.

To break it up I ended up picking out 16-35mm lens over 14-25mm lens for the following reasons:
  • It has filter thread, while the other one does not. Even thought 14-24mm can be outfitted with filter it becomes a huge expense on its own with the need of a special and expensive mounting bracket and much larger filters.
  • Cost — $1,139 vs $1,996.
  • Better flare control — the other one has a very spherical front element.
  • Not as wide, but bigger range — really nice thing to have for walking around, without constantly swapping lenses out.
  • Weight — 680g vs 969g for 14-24mm and 900g for 24-70mm.
  • VR II — Nikon’s lens stabilization system that promises 4 extra stops. Not really a factor for me, but I guess it’s nice to have.

Arosha playing on iPad.The lens doesn’t let in as much light at f/4 as the other one does at f/2.8, but as far as landscape photography goes this is a non-issue at all, since most of landscape shots will be taken at least at f/8 and on a tripod. Even though 14-24mm is a superb lens and 16-35mm has a lot of distortion at 16mm (easily fixed in post), 16-35mm was clearly the best choice for me that offers great sharp results with a lot of versatility.

Buying The Lens

These days it seems that after doing all the research and making a decision, actually buying a Nikon lens is the hardest task of it all. There was no stock at B&H, Adorama, Amazon or any other vendors that I’m familiar with. The price at Adroma was at $1,159, at B&H it went up to $1,179 and there was still no stock and Amazon kept getting them 1 item at a time (returns?) and was pricing them at $1,259.

Difference in perspective. Flash heads at 16mm.I saw a mention on one of the forums that Samy’s Camera has them in stock, but since I was unfamiliar with that store I decided not to risk it. Meanwhile I kept checking all the verified sources and ended up stumbling on a seller offering these up for sale through Amazon for $1,139. And what do you know? It was Samy’s Camera. They had 4.8 out of 5 stars rating with more than 2,800 votes in the past year.

Considering that it was the best price that I’ve seen and having the safety of ordering through Amazon I placed an order. The lens was shipped to me the same day and I received it soon after. I’ve done some minor testing within the confines of our apartment and I like how it handles and performs so far very much. Here is another good vote for Samy’s from this happy customer.

Difference in perspective. Flash heads at 70mm.Now I just need to get outside an do more shooting and start learning to work with a wide-angle lens — I didn’t have one in a long time and for some reason I never used the one I did have for my DX camera. We’ll see how I do with this one.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Manual 50mm Lens Observations

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens mounted on Nikon D700.I’ve been thinking about putting more of my thoughts together on my new Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S manual focus lens for a couple of weeks already, but I wanted to provide a good number of sample shots along with it. I believe I have enough material now. A collection of photographs taken with this lens can be viewed in the posts tagged with 50mm f/1.2 tag.

The Feel

Looking through the lens at f/1.2.The first big surprise with this lens to me was its weight. My old Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens used to weight 156 grams. This one weights 360. When you take it out of the box you realize right away that you are holding something special.

The lens which was in production since 1981 is still made of all metal — black enamel over black anodized aluminum and stainless steel. All the markings on the lens are engraved and filled with paint. When you look through the lens at wide open you see a lot of glass and very thin lens walls. It’s an illusion caused by optics. It’s not really as thin as it appears.

Focusing ring is rubber covered metal. Each lens has a serial number engraved on the front of the focusing element. Numbers after 400,000 denote lenses produced after 2006. They are still made in Japan.

Manual Focus

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens mounted on Nikon D700.This is the fastest lens that Nikon currently makes and the only available version is a manual focus one. There is no auto-focus. This makes it a specialty lens. Majority of people most probably are better of going with the latest 50mm f/1.4G lens or a very good and cheap 50mm f/1.8G or f/1.8D lenses.

I wasn’t sure how manual focus would work out for me as I never had a lens specifically made for focusing manually. I had very little luck focusing my old 50mm f/1.8D lens by hand. This lens’ focusing ring however can’t compare to any of the lenses made for AF. Even my $2,000 Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G lens’ focusing ring feels extremely cheap compared to this retro manual marvel.

The focusing ring movement is very smooth. The ring provides a very pleasant tactile feedback-resistance. When you rotate the ring fully you get a nice distinct ding sound and a dead stop of the ring — no play whatsoever. All this gives you an ability to be very precise and at f/1.2 it means everything.

Camera indicates that the lens is in focus with a green dot.However the best part for somebody as inexperienced with manual focusing as I am is the fact that D700 light meters and focus confirms through this lens just fine. What that means is that when I get the lens in focus it will show me a green dot on the LCD screen. If it’s not in focus it will show an arrow pointing left or right, telling me which direction to rotate the focusing ring in. And from experience it seems to be pretty accurate.

Lens is not in focus and the focusing ring should be turned left as indicated by left pointing arrow.Having said all that it is close to impossible to use on fast moving targets like kids and animals. Nor Aroshka nor Shublik are photographable with this lens in most situations. Although with a little bit of practice now I do manage to catch Arosha’s eye in focus in time on some occasions. Also one must keep in mind that at minimal focusing distance of 50cm at f/1.2 the depth of field is under 7mm. So even if you do get focus confirmation, but you or your subject moves you will lose focus.

Overall it came out to be much less “scary” than I thought it would be and the lens is very much usable and fairly easy at that. And it will only get better with practice.

Performance, Rendering & Bokeh

The quality of bokeh and general image rendering is a very subjective topic and you should make that determination yourself by looking at the sample photographs. As for myself — I am pleased with the results.

Taken at f/1.2.Alёna was doubting my decision to buy a manual lens, but after looking at the results I can’t tell you how many times she has said that the photographs taken with it are top notch.

Taken at f/2.As for sharpness of the lens — I did not do any sciencific tests. Just by reaching f/2 lens seems to be alreading performing at its peak. Having said that I will say that I am very happy with the results starting right from f/1.2. A lot, if not majority, of my shots were taken wide open.

Taken at f/1.2.The only negative is the amount of purple fringing that the lens is producing wide open. It’s easy to fix in post-production, but some basic proficiency with Photoshop is required. Left uncorrected fringing will surely ruin the shot.


Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens. Too bad I forgot to take off the back cap before taking the photo.I’m very happy with my purchase. I’ve already taken several great photographs with it that I added to my portfolio. The fact that you have to manually focus the lens makes you think more about the composition which in turn makes you better with the craft of photography, instead of just pointing and shooting.

For most people one of the AF versions of 50mm will work better, but the artistic possibilities that this lens opens the door to are vast.

Article Illustrations

Most of the shots for this article were taken with my old (t)rusty Nikon D70. The LCD shots were taken directly through the viewfinder of D700, hence the “awesomeness” of the quality.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S Lens

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S manual focus lens.I can’t help but share my excitement over my newest photographic acquisition — Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S manual focus lens. I’ve been reading and looking at pictures of this lens for months now, drooling all over my keyboard.

Box from 50mm f/1.2 lens.On Friday, while looking at it yet again on B&H site, I impulse-bought it. It just couldn’t be helped any longer. It was delivered by UPS today to my office. And I’m holding it in my hands and still drooling. It is so nice.

Shot of a keyboard taken at f/1.2. RAW to JPEG conversion done in Photoshop. Straight out of the camera shot otherwise with no post-processing of any kind.Nikon has been making this lens in this exact form since 1981. It can still be bought brand new today. I’ll most probably end up making a more detailed post about it all in the coming days. Today I’m just posting 3 photographs. The last one is made with this lens at f/1.2. Look at that DOF.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Sigma 105mm EX DG Macro lens.I pulled out my old Sigma 105mm macro lens from my treasure chest — the only prime lens that I have at the moment — to remember what this lens is all about. Sadly it rarely gets any use. I don’t do any macro photography and this thing is capable of 1:1 reproduction.

UV filter degrades the quality.At first I tried taking a coupe of portrait shots and it really is not usable inside. 105mm is just too long. However a bigger problem was a lack of contrast or a visible haze. I didn’t figure it out until later, but the culprit turned out to be the UV filter on the lens. Moral of the story? Don’t put cheap glass on top of a lens — either buy the ones that are too expensive to make sense or don’t buy any at all.

Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.Overall the shots come out pretty sharp and the manual focus for macro shots works well as well. In the test shots that I took bokeh did look pleasant. Auto-focus itself is rather slow.

100% crop of 1:1 macro shot of 50mm marker. You can see it on the actual lens on the shot above.I should try to take it out more and try taking a couple of portraits shots outside. Maybe I’ll start using it more often.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Selling Sigma 10-20mm Lens

Sigma Zoom Super Wide Angle 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Lens.I decided to sell my DX wide angle lens — Sigma Zoom Super Wide Angle 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM for Nikon. I had it for a number of years now, but did not use it very often. Now that I’ve switched to FX format I do not use it at all. I’m planning to put the money towards new FX lenses.

The lens is in a pristine condition and comes with everything the new one came with — both end caps, lens hood, case, manuals and box. My price is $394. The new one sells for $477.

I’m selling it through Amazon, but you can contact me directly as well.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Old Lenses, New Camera

Macro lens shot. Much easier to work with less focal length and much faster AF.I did a couple of experiments with old lenses on the new FX sensor. First of all most of them has gotten into a much “apartment” friendlier range. 50mm acts as one, not as 75mm on DX. So is 105mm macro. I’ve noticed it focusing much faster on the new camera as well.

As wide as it gets. 10mm on 35mm sensor.Wide angle though is really something. It really is a DX only lens, hence the black circle. However 10mm on FX sensor is weirdly impressive. Talk about wide.

The mega cat.All the distortion also creates interesting effects. Here is a mega-cat for you. The camera actually has a DX mode which produces close to 6 mega-pixel images, same as D70 did. Or you can crop the circle out manually, which I prefer to do.

"Meow. Let me sniff that lens."And this one is a great shot. Too bad it’s not sharp. Shublik got extremely close to the camera to “distort” so much, but since it’s not a macro lens it doesn’t focus at such close distances.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nikon D700

Nikon D700.Well, I finally bit the bullet and pulled the trigger on D7001. Sounds painful, I know. But I’m happy that it finally happened. I’ve been saving up2 and waiting for this since the end of August.

Nikon D700.I’ve done a LOT of reading and was convinced that my old trusty D70 was needed to be replaced and that Nikon D700 was my dream camera. There are multiple raving reviews all over the net. The camera has an amazing ISO performance and one of the best AF systems. A lot of that is contributed to by it’s full frame sensor3.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens.There are multiple other distinctions which are covered in numerous reviews, so I’m not going to go through the list. ISO and 51 AF points (as opposed to 5) were among the main reasons for me.

Sample D700 shot, fresh from the camera.Initially I decided to wait for the next iteration of the camera. And then several weeks ago I saw a whole different perspective on the issue. The price has came down from $3,000 to $2,399. I think its safe to assume that the new one will be introduced at the same price point. Is there any new future that I would pay $600 more for? I can’t think of anything.

Sample D700 shot. 100% crop. Sharpness.Video? Nice, but it would be 1 week of play for me and never would be used again. A second CF slot? Again, nice, but not $600 nice. Improved sensor from D3s? Again, nice, but not $600 nice. And resolution bump for sacrificed ISO performance? Would be a downer for me. I was happy with 6 mega-pixels, I sure will be happy with 12.

Sample shot. 100% crop. Noise levels at ISO 1600.Either way the upgrade for me is huge and most of it is positive. The only negative is that the new combo is noticeably heavier and bigger then the old setup, but I’m more than happy to live with this trade off for all the benefits.

Color sample.I also did buy a new “main” lens. The jump from DX to FX have rendered a pair of my lenses somewhat useless. Beside that my D70 kit lens was never anything to write home about. The new lens is one of the top Nikon lenses — Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED. According to reviews the lens is extremely sharp in all of its extremes and has very little distortion of any kind. After all, the body is going to only perform as nice as the glass attached to it.

In short, I’m very happy and very excited. Have a lot of learn about the new body, get rid of some of the habits that formed over the years with D70 and then have fun.

  1. Ordered from B&H on Friday night, delivered on Tuesday morning. []
  2. Thanks to my great friends and family for their contribution. []
  3. D700 has FX sensor, D70 has DX sensor. FX is the equivalent of 35mm film sensor. DX is significantly smaller. []
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Shublik The Model

I really like the amber color of the eye. Although his eyes are not nearly as amber as his father's.I managed to take a few photos of Shublik’s eyes today. Normally it’s a hard task since he just does NOT sit still for a second, and today wasn’t any different.

This one is funny. He was playing with his "mouse", lost it, and switched to his paw.My trick was to use a lens with a focal length of 105mm at f/2.8 and a flash. This way I could stand far away and the amount of light allowed me to freeze his movement — very short exposures. The macro lens has performed well, I think.

"Mouse" hunt.I still had to discard most of the photos, but these 3 are the best of the series. Hope you like them too, as I’ve become very biased with things related to this little monster. teeth
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens

Sigma Zoom Telephoto 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM lens.A friend recently asked me my opinion on Sigma telephoto lens that I happen to own. The truth is that I use it quite rarely simply because of it’s sheer size and weight — I simply can’t haul it with me everywhere I wish. As a result whenever we travel I chose to carry some of the smaller optics that I own and this telephoto lens spends most of its time at home.

Mini-review of the lens and a teleconverter that I bought for it follows:
  • Sigma Zoom Telephoto 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM
  • Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter

The lens has a constant aperture of f/2.8. With 2x teleconverter attached it loses 2 stops of light, but gains double the zoom.

Below is a series of shots taken out of my window. Camera must be mounted on a sturdy tripod and I prefer to use a remote to trigger the shutter if one hopes to achieve any kind of sharpness. Images have been slightly altered in Photoshop, but should provide a good idea of the quality that can be obtained with this optical combo.

Shot taken at 70mm, f/8 with lens attached to Nikon D70 camera.Shot taken at 70mm, f/8 with lens attached to Nikon D70 camera.

Shot taken at 200mm, f/8 with lens attached to Nikon D70 camera.Same setup as above at 200mm, f/8.

Shot taken at 400mm, f/8 with lens and teleconverter attached to Nikon D70 camera.Lens and teleconverter on Nikon D70 at 400mm, f/8.
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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lens Galore

Shot of Nikon Kit Lens taken with Sigma Macro Lens.I just love getting presents! This birthday has been especially good for my photography hobby. I got 2 great new lenses. One is a wide lens that I mentioned yesterday was given to my by Alёna, my parents and my sister Lina. Today I got another one. An awesome Sigma macro lens (check out the shot on top) from Eldar and Moisha! Last year was great as well, when I got a super zoom lens from Maruks for my birthday. Thank you, everybody!!!

Here’s my current list of lenses (all autofocus), listed in the order I got them:
  • Nikon Zoom Super Wide Angle AF 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor
  • Sigma Zoom Telephoto 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM
  • Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter
  • Nikon Normal AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D
  • Sigma Zoom Super Wide Angle 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM
  • Sigma Telephoto 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

I can’t wait to take more pictures with my new ones now. Niagara Falls will be a good test for wide angle lens, weather permitting.
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