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.




Drip, drip, drip (or how to take photographs of water droplets)

Despite appearances this is actually one of the easiest techniques to master.

Equipment needed – flashgun (built in will do at a pinch), tripod, kitchen tap … that’s it!

Fill the kitchen sink till the water is nearly overflowing (so that you can mount your camera at near water level).  Use a long lens (the longest macro in your bag will be ideal, a telephoto is a good substitute). Set the camera on a tripod at near water level.  Then set the tap to drip very slowly.  Hold the flashgun off the camera – 45 degrees or so works nicely.  And just fire away.  You are aiming to catch the moment when the water droplet hits the water, or just before, or just after.  Almost all of the shots will be nice in one way or another.  That’s it!

Opinion is divided about whether you want to photograph in low lighting so the flashgun does all the work or to have some ambient light in there too.  I took the example below in the middle of the day with lots of ambient light.  I used a gel filter on the flash to get the gold colour on the water and the ambient light mixes in some of the colour from my stainless steel sink rather nicely I think.

I probably should have used a lower ISO – click on the picture below to see the full size image in all its grainy glory.

Photographic notes:  Nikkor 105mm macro, f32, 1/60s, SB-800 with orange gel filter, ISO 1000, D700.  Here for full EXIF and more details

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