TALE OF TWO LENSES – Nikkor superzoom and prime lenses compared

Why spend a fortune on lenses?

I have a very natty little superzoom Nikkor 28-300mm, nice and light to carry, does everything you want in one lens from landscapes to portraits and everything in between.  No messy lens changes in difficult conditions.  Great for travel and very tempting to use for other things too.  Retails at about £700 and most people will be very pleased with the results it produces.

I also have a very big heavy Nikkor prime, 300mm, f2.8.  Needs a case all of its own to carry it, and I hate to carry it more than a few hundred yards from the car. My arms ache after using it for an hour or so.  And it costs quite a lot more than my trusty little superzoom.  It rarely sees the light of day.

This wasn’t meant to be a direct comparison of two very different lenses, but I took both to the woods with Coco last Saturday, and took the same image from the same distance with each lens.  Nikon D810 and on a gloomy overcast day the ISO was bumped to 1600 for the superzoom, which is not ideal on this camera; I was able to use a much cleaner 400 ISO for the prime. Both lenses produced results which looked very pretty on the back of the camera. For example see the image below which was taken with the prime at f2.8, ISO400, 1/320s.

Dog photographer in Norfolk

Zoom in close on a large computer screen and the results are very different.  Below are 100% crops of the image with (top image) prime at f2.8, ISO 400, 1/320s and (bottom image) superzoom at f5.6, ISO 1600, 1/320s (you’ll need to click through to Flickr to see the image uncompressed and really appreciate the differences).  Not a very scientific comparison, but that, in a nutshell, is why it pays to invest in good glass.





I’m always on the lookout for new products to offer clients so I was very excited when Saal Digital offered to send me one of their wall decor products for review.

I decided to ask them to send me one of their Acrylic Glass panels as these are probably my personal favourite wall display option and they are hugely popular with my clients right now.

Their design software was quick to download and easy to use. Saal Digital offer a good range of sizes up to 100x50cm as well as custom sizes, and they offer ICC profiles for all their products so you can soft proof your image in Lightroom.

I chose to use my World Galgo Day image for the acrylic. It is very typical of the low key, directionally lit style of studio dog photography that pet owners come to me for.  And the wide range of colours of the dogs in the photograph, from black greyhound (Jasmine) through to blonde saluki lurcher (Lindy) with red lurcher Fawn in between, is very typical of the challenges that  dog photographers face when doing group shots of mixed packs.

Delivery time was very quick, just four working days for production and delivery from Germany which I think is very good.  Alas, the Parcelforce courier was off and away before I could answer the doorbell; and then the local Post Office couldn’t find the parcel when I went to collect it the next day.  It took three trips to the Post Office before the parcel was eventually found.  Not Saal’s fault, I know, but that’s three hours of my life I won’t have back again and it put me in a very grumpy mood!

The panel was well packed in a flat cardboard parcel, with an additional protective film over over the front surface to prevent scratches.

I thought the panel was well made, the colours seemed true to the original image, the blacks were not blocked and the highlights were not blown, all of which ticks the right boxes, though perhaps the processing did not bring out quite the crispness and “pop” that my regular supplier of acrylic panels seems to conjure out of my images.

The panel was a substantial 5mm thick (they also offer a 10mm thick option) which gives an interesting dimensionality to the image, and the edges were crisply cut and nicely finished.  Alas there was a tiny inclusion or air bubble of some sort halfway down the right hand edge of the piece which catches the light at certain angles and this would not be acceptable for supply to one of my clients.  I didn’t approach Saal about this but they do offer a Satisfaction Guarantee and I’m sure they would be willing to sort any problems.

This is a competitively-priced product, much less expensive than my regular professional lab which I use for wall art products.  Maybe not quite what I’m looking for as a professional photographer, but I think Saal products would be particularly attractive to consumer buyers wanting a product which is a step up in quality from the usual consumer suppliers.

Saal Digital Acrylic
Clean cut edges
Alas a small inclusion/flaw on one of the edges

Choices, choices – Studio Dog Photography

I’m planning to get an extra wide seamless background roll for my studio dog photography and know I want to go for grey.  It works beautifully with almost every colour of dog, strong neutrals make for wonderful canvases and it can be lit in so many different ways.  But the question is, which grey? I have two that I use regularly in the smaller sizes.

Dark grey (Roll A) is the one I currently use most often. It can be lit any colour from mid grey to almost black.

But I’ve recently started using a lighter grey too (Roll B) This is somewhat lighter and warmer, but can be make darker too through lighting and processing.

So, which do you prefer?

Roll A Colorama Charcoal Dark Grey
Roll A Colorama Charcoal Dark Grey
Surrey studio dog photographer
Roll A Colorama Charcoal Dark Grey
Surrey studio dog photography
Roll A Colorama Charcoal Dark Grey
Surrey Studio Dog Photographer
Roll B Colorama Smoke Grey
Surrey Studio Dog Photographer
Roll B Colorama Smoke Grey
Surrey Studio dog photographer
Roll B Colorama Smoke Grey

Horse photo cards: Surrey horse photographer

I’ve seen the light!  I finally understand what it is about Fine Art photographic papers that makes grown men go weak at the knees…

Wrapping up a horse photoshoot I did earlier this year, and I wanted to send the very special client a little thank you present in the form of a couple of my hand-made photo cards.  I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to use my favourite professional lab that I use for all client print orders.  So I thought I’d try a high street chain.  Terrible mistake.  Since when were black and white prints supposed to have magenta casts?  And the contrasts in the prints were truly ghastly.  I won’t name the high street chain here, but it was a salutory lesson in why I always use a professional lab for client prints.  They may be more expensive but photography is one area where it never pays to skimp on quality.

But what to do for these photo cards?  I blew the dust off the superb photographic printer I have at home (never used these days because the inks are just way too expensive), checked my paper stocks, and discovered some specialist fine art photo papers I’d bought last year and never got round to using.

The results were so beautiful they took my breath away.  I thought the pictures looked pretty on screen, but this paper turned them into something just exquisite.  Wonderful subtle tonal range, terrific richness and depth to the colours, creamy finish, stunning.  I think I might be becoming a paper junkie…

Footnote for the photographers amongst you:  Canson Infinity Baryta Photographic, to know it is to love it.

I love my monopod

Haven’t used it for years (always prefer a tripod if I need to hold something really steady).  Then, the other day I was doing a day-long shoot, using my lens of choice, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 (aka Big Bertha).  Together with my camera, this kit weighs in at a neck-punishing 2.96kg (or 6lb 8oz in old money…).  And I always carry my camera round my neck, never felt secure with it over my shoulder.

Towards the end of the day, when I was using my teleconvertor too and my neck and back were really starting to tell me about it, I slipped the monopod onto my lens.  What a difference!  I felt ready to stand up straight and shoot for another couple of hours.

With the rotating collar on my lens, this set up is very easy to switch between landscape and portrait format.  And although the monopod does constrain your ability to switch between eye level and low shots, it’s very quick to pop off the monopod using the quick remove tripod mount.

Many thanks to photographer Nicki Feltham www.nfelthamphotography.co.uk/blog for this great tip.  I’m going to be using this set up a lot in future.

Technical stuff

I use the Manfrotto 679B monopod, and screw direct into the tripod mount on the lens (no head used).

There’s a good article here on how best to use monopods for stability.

Nifty fifty

Took out one of my old prime lenses the other day to give it a quick once over on my new D700.  I am so glad I did.  My nifty fifty always felt cramped and uncomfortable on my old DX cameras.  Too short for portraits, too long for everyday.  Pretty limited in fact.

On the new FX format (or rather the old FX format which is now back in vogue again) it is quite another story.  It’s found the camera body it was made for and it just sings!

This lens is absolutely sublime wide open, with lovely bokeh and creamy out of focus backgrounds.  It has dramatically shallow depth of field and can create some stunning effects.

Stop it down just a little bit and it’s one of the sharpest lenses you’ll ever put on your camera.

It’s great for indoor work.  You can put that nasty flash away, open up to f1.4 and photograph hand-held in natural light in almost all conditions.

Optically, it can hold its head high with professional lenses costing over £1000.  But because it’s a humble prime lens it retails for a mere £200 or so.

Or get yourself one of the new G versions of this lens if you are feeling rich, and you can enjoy the added refinement of the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enabling smooth and quiet autofocus, and still walk away with change from £300.  Always assuming you can find one – there’s been a run on the new lens and most shops are out.

I’m happy with mine and not in a hurry to upgrade!

Photographic notes

Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AF-D used above at full aperture.  Click here to access full EXIF data and see larger sizes of the image (click the “All Sizes” tab).  The focus is slightly soft but that’s probably my shaking hands rather than the lens’ fault.  Hand held at 1/400s.

Suddenly the world looks different

Got me a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens for Christmas.  As a die-hard telephoto junkie, I’m finding this lens feels very strange and still working out how to make it sing like a canary.

Ken Rockwell says, these ultra-wide angle lenses are emphatically not about “getting it all in”  – unless of course you like boring photos with your subject lost in an expanse of nothingness.  The trick seems to be to use the foreground to background distortion to create weird and wonderful effects,  And to get in close, check the viewfinder, then get in even closer.  Watch the edges of the photo for extraneous detail  – you’ll get used to shouting at your family and friends to get out of the frame and you’d better warn them right now it’s nothing personal.

You’d also better get used to being very, very careful with handling if (like me) you were born with the clumsy gene.  The curvature of the front element means you cannot mount a filter.  The lens comes with a tough, built in lens hood and you are going to need it.  Keep the lens cover on all the time you’re not shooting.

As all the reviews say, this is a real corker of a lens, sharp way out into the corners.  You need a full frame lens to get the best out of the lens, and it feels balanced and right on my D700.   We’ve been together for just over a month now and I know I’m going to love and learn so much from this lens.

Check out Ken Rockwell for some great tips on using this lens and similar ultrawides, and for some inspirational examples of their use.

Or click here to see the image full size