Canon Crop Sensor Gear – Just Like Condoms

Apparently, and I had no idea solely due to assuming that Canon’s eternal rivalry with Nikon led to their cameras sharing most of the basic features, but I guess not.

So Nikon’s full frame bodies support crop sensor lenses with smaller glass elements by using an equivalent portion of the whole sensor that the crop lens will cover – crop mode. Though you lose more than 1.5x the megapixels, you can still enjoy the old lenses; especially if you’ve invested into pro-level, f/2.8 ones. Since Nikon offers pro-level crop bodies, it surely does lenses and they cost about as much as their full frame counterparts. In short, no Nikon lens ever becomes useless even as you climb up the body ladder.

Seems that on the contrary, Canon made a straight and simple split between two sensor formats AND with them all of their lenses. So if you’ve saved up for that sweet pro-grade 2.8 crop lens before you scraped the money to move to a glorious full frame body, you’d have to save ALL over again for a different lens to do the same exact thing in a larger format.

So never mind Canon cutting off their vintage selection of glass from all their modern bodies, that’s honestly not what enough of the population is even interested in, but essentially splitting up their current selection in half forcing you to re-acquire everything per jump into full frame is simply retarded.

So my Canon folks, why do you even bother with the company?

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Final Reflections Before I Jump… to FX.

So a year some went by since I realized that I wanted to man a camera seriously with 48032 clicks on my D5100 (via camerashuttercount.com).

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This thing was a real trooper and survived more than your average camera gets put through these days- various lenses, traffic slalom, snow, poorly lit conditions, and not that much rain due to its lack of weather sealing (snow doesn’t count since its magical substance that simply shakes off before getting inside of anything).

It saw the kit lens days, including 55-200 that quickly made me realize that I DO want a long telephoto and I want it in a much better quality than ‘5-200 had to offer…

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Not that I didn’t take some neat snaps with this one,

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But it really does not compare to my realistic tele-zoom dream- 70-300 VR.

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But this thing came much, much later on since I went through a dirt-poor photographer stage and couldn’t event squeeze enough cash out of my pockets for this guy. I did get weary of kit quality, despite upgrading to a much more capable 18-70 DX along the way, and fiddling around to fix its busted manual focus ring (that I honestly seldom used anyway)…

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So budget days brought about the biggest revelation and my best to-date photography teacher: Nikkor-H 50 f/2.

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This was a true, full-manual bargain that also came with an extension tube that I didn’t fully and properly break in until way, way later.

This lens required me to truly learn aperture as a whole and rewarded me with a realm of speed being an f/2 lens, which IS miles better than kit 3.5 and up. Not to mention its sharpness that really impressed me given that the 50 survived all the way from 1966 (via some internet serial number sleuthing) and that it only cost me ~$45 with postage.

And drove my enthusiasm through the roof, making me try crazy stunts like shooting bees using an ancient piece of glass coupled with some insanity.

This combo (or rather, mostly the 50 since I neglected the 18-70 hence after) lasted me until my decision to invest into some fast auto-focusing glass for the sake of night-time action shots.

Did I like this $200 worth of plastic and silent focusing? Even despite it leading to my discovery of chromatic aberration that I’ve never seen prior to shooting this little guy? Given the power to trust my 5100 to focus for me third of a stop faster, it was quite refreshing indeed.

And the round bokeh! This lens became the new workhorse given the season for DC road skating and me not wanting to have to worry about poor aperture vs manual focus.

Consistent and terrible CA in direct light still bugs the heck out of me, but I just can’t deny the usefulness of this little guy.

Eventually the 18-70 found a new home and has been treated and treating the new owner very well from what I hear, feeling right at home on another D5100 to boot.

I finally mustered up the funds for the glorious 70-300 and it became my primary workhorse of a lens unless I absolutely needed a wider angle than it offered. I absolutely abused it at the National Zoo, which eventually led to some collaborations with a good new friend.

I worked my stubborn, natural-light mentality towards a proper flash that changed the game very substantially towards a positive new level and started to miss <50mm kind of field of view since my 18-70 was no longer at my side. I’ve also come to miss having a mid-range zoom since the flash took care of having relatively low aperture and having a zoom would have been much more convenient indoors than dancing around with my primes. My solution? Another bargain hunt- Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 for a whopping $40 shipped, and it even came with the original leather case!
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This guy had surprisingly awesome color rendition and plenty of angle for me to work with too.
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Somewhere in between all of that I got lucky with my research tendency and actually narrowed down a dream lens, that I got lucky enough to be able to find and afford around past October- Nikkor 45mm f/2.8 AI-P pancake. The modern remake of the old one, and pretty much the only duo of true pancake lenses Nikon ever made. It sported uncanny thin profile and the oldest, Zeiss-like Tessar lens design.
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And once this went into action, I would rarely take it off despite being forced to use manual focus and only having f/2.8 as my highest aperture. This lens simply felt perfect for me, and this is speaking with the DX field of view, so of all others I can’t wait to use it as it was intended to be on a FX body.
The ghosting/flare rendering is extremely unique thanks to the Tessar design and I love having something that produced unique images. A lovely flower of light instead of the standard straight scatter.

I’ve done some odds and ends with this thing too, like mounting it onto my neglected macro extension tube and using a ring light on its front via step-up rings.

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With surprisingly decent results to boot.

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And so, now I’m ready to enter a whole new world of full frame sensors and plethora of useful settings to help me fight my ideas and framing more than the ISO and shutter speed on the camera. D5100 has been a solid starter, with pretty capable video capability, but it’s simply not a body I want to trust with small things and feel confident in its judgement of my idea of utmost quality. Hopefully my D600 that should be here in couple of days will rise to the challenge with confidence and quality. Based on all the reviews I’ve watched and read, as well as user opinions, it should be able to do just that for where I am on my learning curve.

Guide: Starting DSLR Photography (On a Budget)

Lately more and more of my friends are starting to really get into photography just as I have 8 months ago, and their top question is the same as mine: can I get a real bang-for-the-buck deal without selling a kidney?

Answer is, of course, yes, and with a very pleasant learning tool on top- Nikon + older/vintage full-manual lenses.

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Brand Preference

Typical follow-up question is: well, why Nikon over Canon? Inherently, because of lens selection versatility and thus budget. There are other contrasting differences, and I will go over them for the sake of a less blindly-biased guide.

Canon bodies offer built-in auto-focus, better video recording capability, and extremely cheap looks (haha). The in-house lens selection is vast and fits all grades of quality and prices, but the ones in question here are the lowest-priced, beginner consumer ones that sport equally cheap look and feel (especially the manual focus rings on the primes, like the 50mm f/1.8). You’re also limited to using EF mount lenses that only date back to 1987. So you can forget about using your father or grandfather’s gems out-of-the-box (aka without a special adapter). And now, onto my choice of Nikon over Canon.

Nikon beginner bodies (D3x00 and D5x00 series, as well as older ones like D40, D40X, D60) lack that built-in auto-focus motor, so that feature will depend on getting a modern day consumer level lenses with built-in AutoFocus-Servo (AF-S). Quite crucial for sports and nature, but not other types of photography (and definitely not helping you learn how to shoot film camera style). Nikon offers lower ISO noise than Canons (low-light photography) and are thus much better for classic, still photography. Video features are still quite capably, but Canon does win in this category marginally. The real gem however, is actually lack of internal auto-focus servo and Nikon’s F mount.

Brief History

The F mount dates back to 1959 and thus adds an enormous choices of lenses from all generations. Prior to 1977, all Nikon lenses were completely mechanical, simple, and offered solid image quality without any of the modern coating. At the turn of 1977, Nikon introduced the AutoIndexing (AI) so that the camera body could tell the user how bring or dark the scene is based on the lens’ current aperture.

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(Left is 50mm f/2 non-AI, right is a 24mm f/2.8 AI)

The design of the mount became slightly different, and modern Nikon bodies in the D7x00 series and higher require AI lenses to avoid damaging the auto-focus servo. This translates to inability to use lenses prior to 1977 on fancier bodies without the AI conversion (that Nikon did for a long period of time, and several private individuals do today). So, having a more simple body can be good for your budget when you’re just starting out.

Vintage vs Modern

So, why the fixation on vintage lenses? That bang-for-the-buck factor in its purest form. These lenses may be old, but back in those days there was no consumer and professional grades of equipment. Everything was professional quality, and people often could not even afford to buy a lens even if they could get a camera body. And the only thing that has changed since for these gems is simply their age, not their solid performance.

Here’s a sample with a modern 35mm f/1.8G lens ($200) and then a sample with my 1966 50mm f/2 (~$40):

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Both are sharp, both are fast, but the older 50mm has far less frequent fringing than the 35mm (see my reviews under my photography page). The bokeh is perfectly round on the 35mm due to having modern, curved aperture blades unlike straight ones on the 50, but it’s a mere matter of preference. For the most part, aside from being (able to be) full-auto or being full-manual, these lenses run neck to neck; aside from the price tag.

So here is the real nitty-gritty benefit of using old, full manual lenses: they teach you how to shoot. You HAVE to know the aperture and how it, shutter speed, and ISO work together in order to get a good shot. You HAVE to be able to focus by hand (though camera’s focusing algorithm still works and it will blink a green dot in the viewfinder when you are in focus for sure). So, you will have to learn how to shoot a film camera without having to waste money and time on actual film, developing it, and other inconveniences.

So, what befit does this serve? You learn how to be a photographer and not some monkey pointing a computerized camera at something and clicking a button to get that perfect quality shot. You have to think about what you’re doing. You have to know what settings to use. And since these lenses will get you thinking, you will automatically begin applying other aspects like composition into the whole equation. Your ability as a photographer will progress much faster than if you just used automatic settings and lenses, and at a fraction of the cost of those to boot!

YellowFlowers

(Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 Macro)

Equipment Suggestions

So the big question- what to buy? Either D3x00 system or the D5x00 system is fine, and pick whichever suits the needs you think you’ll have better (do specs research yourselves).

Keep in mind that vintage glass is designed for the full frame sensors/film cameras, and our crop sensors add a x1.5 “zoom” in the field of view. Perspective of the lens does not change, but how much you will see through it reduces by 1.5. So for instance, a 35mm lens on a DX Nikon will have the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a film/FX camera. Now, there is the sweet-spot benefit to this loss of viewing angle- since vintage lenses are designed to project the image on a bigger area, the DX APS-C sensor only covers its projection area closer to the center thus avoiding any flaws the edges of these lenses may hide.

What lens to start with? Here you have 2 potential routes.

  • 1st route: get Nikkor 18-70 f/3.5-4.5 AS-F DX or either of its brothers (18-105 or 18-135) as your “kit” lens. Then simply play around with its full zoom/focal range and try to find your favorite one in order to decide what prime lens to get, since that prime of your choice will be your daily driver and photography teacher all in one. Just be mindful that the prime you get will really feel like its x1.5 “zoom” equivalent.
  • 2nd route: I will call this one the Point And Shoot route. Try to get a prime lens between 24mm and 50mm tops. Whatever you choose to get will become your default (since it’ll be your only lens), and your path of growth will come from feeling what your default is missing that you wish it could do (could be to have a farther reach, could be macro, could be actually having a zoom capability).

So, plan your purchase accordingly, and happy shooting to all of the newcomers!

YellowFlowers

I’ll update this guide if I have something else to add.

First Impressions – Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G

On my quest for a wider field of view than my 50mm f/2 I was debating what lens to try and get. Most budget, full-manual, excellent quality old geezers wouldn’t fit sports nor low-light sports shooting for their inherit lack of auto-focus and metering on my D5100. This sadly narrowed down my choices to either 24 or 28mm D series lenses and being stuck with manual focus, or the 35 DX. Price point is neck-a-neck with some D lenses’ used prices exceeding the 35’s new price, so I went ahead and bit the bullet.

Build is naturally utter crap compared to the oldies, but it does help shave weight and balance out the addition of all the electronics and the Silent Wave Motor. I can live with that, I think. The focus ring is plasticy and hisses at you ever so slightly when you turn it. Might loosen up with heavy use from what I can tell. Another note about the focus ring is that its made to be able to slip past its end points like the ring on my 18-70mm, and that was most likely made to prevent breaking the mechanism in the rough kind of hands. Now, the good parts about the build are the metal mount and internal focusing that allows easy use of polarizing filters and hoods.

Onto the impressions.

First of all, the field of view:

Is it superbly wide? No. Is it enough to actually work with? Much more so than the 75mm-like 50mm I have. And well, auto-focus capability and metering.

Now, something I noticed RIGHT away and its one of the main downsides of this, budget lens- fringing. Oh god does it fringe from f/1.8-2.8. It’s funny to me that my 1966 50mm lens is absolutely flawless compared to this 2009 technological gismo with glass, but this is a price to pay for on-board auto-focus motor, metering, and <$400 price tag.

This can be taken care of via our digital dark rooms, but its sheer presence makes me cringe. Quite hard.

So, how does it perform in the environments I feels its really made for- lower light? Quite well if not excellent considering the auto options it offers. Ability to just point and click does come in handy for situations of opportunity, so here are some of the first sample shots.

Granted I like the old-school hex/angular bokeh, but fully circular “smooth” one is quite nice as well (and preferred by most out there, right?).

So, prior to testing out actual close-proximity sport shots, this lens is a very decent contender for low-light quick-draw situations.

Would I use it as a walkabout prime? Sure, since my 18-70mm is f/3.5-4.5 and f/3.5-4 on the 35 G makes quite decent snaps and its half the size and wright to lug around.

Would I use it for creative still shots? From my impressions, probably not since my 50mm has absolutely 0 issues that this lens has save for having a more blockeh bokeh (which I actually prefer).

I’d say, stay tuned for my action shot impressions once I get a chance to snap some.

This Is How We Do It – Fixing Nikkor 18-70mm Focus Ring

So when repairs would cost more than the lens itself since apparently even most trusty places have no idea what they’re doing or simply want to charge you out the ass in our economy and when parts are nowhere to be found online, what do you do? You take matters into your own hands with help of styrene and superglue.

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Not quite the final product, but it does work well. Rough on the eyes? Perhaps, but once again nothing some EVA/craft foam and more glue couldn’t fix. And a final note, I did have to sand the plastic casing down a bit to avoid binding the new focus, ummm, “ring.”

Sniper Zoom – Nikkor 55-200mm VR Lens

Got a pretty solid deal on one of these via craigslist- only $90 with the ability to see it for myself prior to buying it. Seller was a very cool guy, so this thing was in as good of a shape as when he got it himself.

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Came with the back cover, Canon-style front cap I swapped for a spare Nikon-style I had, and the stock reversible lens hood.  Best part- it’s still a 52mm lens and I can share all the caps and filters between this guy and my stock 18-55. Not as good for zoom itself, but for a budget beginner its awesome.

It didn’t take me long to start snapping some test shots and they go as follows:

This was our local theater’s sign taken from ~400 feet, at night. I believe I cranked ISO to 1600 to be able to shoot at at least 1/40 shutter speed to avoid blur. VR was indispensable for these long range shots.

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Other shots were just random local ones to test both the zoom and the overall glass quality.

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And as they say, save best for last-

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