Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art vs. Nikkor AF-S 35 f/1.8G ED (FX) on a D800

I’ve been on the quest for the lightest FX kit I could find.  As I see the world in 35mm framing, I decided to give the new FX 35mm f/1.8G ED a try and see how it stacks up to the much heavier Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens.

I’ve been publicly critical of the new Nikkor, calling it “uninspiring” after some preliminary shots, but do I have to eat my words?  Was my first reaction because I’ve been under the weather with the flu?

I decided to test and find out.

Here is the Nikkor at f/1.8:

Nikkor 35mm f1.8G ED (FX)
Nikkor at f/1.8

and the Sigma at f/1.8:

Sigma at f/1.8

At f/2


Again at f2.8:


Closeup and Bokeh:

Nikkor Closeup and Bokeh Test at f/1.8
Sigma Closeup and Bokeh at f/1.8

I think the Sigma pulls away at close distances and has nicer bokeh. Do you see any other noticeable difference, other than the Sigma goes to f/1.4?  Maybe at the edges of the frame, the Sigma has some advantages, but I may have to eat my words – the Nikkor is a good performer!  I’ll be shooting it a lot over the new few weeks and I’ll keep this space updated with my findings.

7 Steps to Great Black and Whites in Lightroom 5

Originally posted on Photofocus:

Nikon D7000, 85mm f/1.8 D lens, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 400.

Great black and white images require more than simply removing the color, and Lightroom 5 is a really powerful tool for making memorable black and white photographs. Take a look at this video to see the seven steps I take to make a terrific B&W image from any color image.

Rob Sylvan and I will be doing a Google+ hangout on February 19th at 1pm Eastern (10am Pacific) to discuss how to finish great black and white images using Adobe Lightroom 5 (we’ll also share some organizational gems, so don’t miss it!). You can join the event here, and these are links to Levi and Rob.

Following are some of the settings I mentioned in the video:

Real Iris

These are the settings I use in the Adjustment Brush to gently enhance eyes (K is the shortcut for…

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How to Take Better Photos (Beginner)

Did you just get a new camera?  Have you been looking at your images and wondering how they could be better?  Something just not right?  Well, read on.

In this post, I’ll give a few tips on how to take better photos right away, and you don’t even have to know any technical stuff about your camera, how it works or any of that!

The most important thing about making better photos is composition.  Composition is just arranging the objects in the rectangular frame in a pleasing way.  Composition is a deep topic that even masters never stop learning and improving, but for now, I’ll just try explain these few simple compositional rules to follow:

  • Don’t photograph a thing, tell a story
  • Zoom for portraits
  • The rule of thirds
  • Keep the background clean

Please note, none of these images are especially good, but they’re pictures where I left some room to explain these simple, but important concepts.

First off, you’ll probably want to take a lot of photos, that’s ok!  That’s a benefit of digital cameras.  Delete the bad ones and keep only the best.

Delete.  The.  Bad.  Ones.
If you keep your memory card full of every image you take, you’ll never be able to find and enjoy the good ones!  So shoot a lot, experiment with angles and keep moving around and practicing these concepts that I explain here.

The first rule that I tell every new photographer is don’t try to photograph a thing, try to tell a story.  One of the ways to do this is to not put the person or thing you want to photograph in the middle of the image.  Use the “rule of thirds.”

I’ll say this very clearly: do not put your subject in the middle of the frame, not the thing, not a person’s head, nothing!

There are reasons to break this rule, but it’s an advanced topic.

Consider this simple, pleasant image:

Beginner Photography Rule of Thirds

The bee is obviously my subject.  Do you see how the bee is both about a third of the way down from the top, as well as a third of the way from the right edge of the frame?  That’s because I used the Rule of Thirds. The rest of the image is clean except for the yellow flower in the background which helps to tell a simple story: It’s spring and there are lots of flowers.

Every part of the frame is purposefully used, and there are no distractions.

Here is an example if I had put the bee in the middle of the frame:


Yuck! In this crop, there is way too much empty space at the top of the frame.  The background is ugly, useless and there is no balance to the photograph: an important concept and one benefit of using the rule of thirds.  It’s a more advanced topic that you get almost automatically by using the rule of thirds!

I’ll tell you a secret: I got these two nearly identical images  with a different framing because I cropped it.  You should always try to get it right the first time, which is why some of these images aren’t especially good – I didn’t. You can crop it in the camera or use a program like Adobe Lightroom or even your iPad.

Use the rule of thirds!
For example, if you want to take your kids picture in front of the Statue of Liberty,  by all means don’t put your kid in front of the statue of liberty.  Put him on one side and fill the other two-thirds of the picture with the story about being at the statue of liberty!

Here is another example of the rule of thirds.  See how I’ve placed the gentleman on the right side of the frame, and used the rest of the image?

Man in an Ally

Other than telling a story, and showing some interesting lines, the background is clean: just enough, not too much.

This story is simple: it’s a man in an alley that has something to do with bicycles.  The best stories are simple.  Leave the complex stories for when you’ve advanced more.  Take a look Joe McNally if you want to see examples of a master who tells interesting and complex stories using simple frames.

The concept of a clean background is an important concept of photography.  Keep the clutter to a minimum, and most importantly, don’t have a object, like pole jutting out of the subject.

Clean Background!

Last is another example that illustrates a tip that every new photographer should know: step back and zoom in for nice portraits.

The first reason to do this is because nearly everyone (except small babies) looks best when you step back and zoom.  Everybody.  I zoomed as far as my lens would go for this simple portrait:

Zoom for Portraits

The second reason is because the farther you zoom, the less in focus the background will be.  This is the same image as the one above, again just cropped differently.  It still follows the rule of thirds, but illustrates that zooming can make what would normally be a very distracting, ugly background (it was!) blur out into something kind of nice:

Zoom for Portraits II

As with any subject, don’t focus on photographing the thing, in this case, the girl, but tell a story.  They say that the eyes are the window of the soul, that’s why her eyes, in both cases are a third from one edge of the image, and they are the focus point.  You have to focus on the eyes to tell a story about the person’s soul.

If you follow these basic, simple practices, your photography will improve dramatically, and as I hope you’ve seen, these rules fit together:

  • The rule of thirds
  • Don’t photograph a thing, tell a story
  • Zoom for nice portraits
  • Keep the background clean

I hope you’ve learned enough to help you start making better photos right away!

These are just some basic tips.  If you want to dig deeper, I can recommend the following resource:

Digital Photography Composition Tips from Digital Photography School:


Sigma 35 and Df

More Nikon Df Images

I’ve had nearly two weeks of daily shooting on the Nikon Df to capture some images that, I hope, are worthy of your consideration.

Just remember what I always say:

  • If the images are crap, it’s the camera
  • If the images are good, it’s the photographer, not the equipment
Sunrise over the Alps and Fog (Click through any image for a larger view)
Colors in the Fog
Sunset over the Mountains Obscured by Fog
Landscape after the Fog Rolls In
Enjoying a Morning Break

Nikon Df Zoom-1

Compact zoom for the Nikon Df?

One of the advantages of the Nikon Df is that it’s the smallest full frame camera with a proper mirror.

Therefore, everyone seems to think that the Nikon Df is only made for primes. I like primes too, but some occasions work better with a zoom.  Plus, I don’t own any wide angle primes because – and at f8, what lens isn’t sharp?

I’m not a grizzled Nikon veteran like some early adopters of the Df, so I’m not blessed with an extensive collection of vintage glass.  So I looked through my collection and came across the Nikkor 24-85 f3.5-4.5G.  Even though it’s just a kit lens with some recent bodies, I like even better than the 24-120 f4G.

It’s a very nice size on the Df, not too heavy, not too big – very nicely balanced.  Frankly, I enjoyed it on the Df even more than on my D800.

It’s sharp, focuses reasonably close, doesn’t “creep” or extend when hanging front-element-down in the sling.

My my most used lenses on the Dƒ:

Nikon Df Zoom-2From left to right:

  • Kit 50mm f1.8 SE
  • Nikon 85 mm f1.8G
  • Nikon 24-85 f3.4-4.5G
  • Sigma 35mm f1.4 “Art”

Here are some shots that I took while hiking this weekend.

Note: The EXIF reads D4 because I used Exifchanger (Mac app store) so that Lightroom would recognise them.  As always, you can click through to pixel peep if you’re so inclined.

So if you don’t have any compact and light classic zooms, and you’re looking for something modern that won’t cost the world and is nice to use on the Df, try it out!

I’m always on the search for the best standard zoom for all of my cameras, so if you have any recommendations, put them in the comments!


Nikon Df News-1

Nikon Df with the Sigma 35mm f1.4

Those of you who know me know that I’m a huge fan of the Sigma 35mm f1.4 “Art”.  See my long-term review here.

Of course now that I’ve taken possession of the new Nikon Dƒ, I knew that I had to try it out.

The weight wasn’t too front heavy, but it’s about the limit of what I would call comfortable on the Dƒ who’s grip isn’t very deep.  You’re going to want to have your left hand around the lens most of the time or your fingers on your right hand will get fatigued.

The size isn’t too bad actually, though the lens hood is coming off.

So how do the images look?  Of course if it’s great on the D800, this is going to be astonishing. Amazing.  Love at first pixel-peep.

Shot with the Nikon Df
Straight out of camera, unedited.  Click to pixel-peep.

The Sigma focuses positively and fast, and more accurately than on my D800. But, you know.

Overall, I’m very excited about this combo.

Update: The sigma won’t autofocus in live view.   Reported by Matt and I’ve confirmed it.

Nikon Df DSC_0001 and First Thoughts

It’s kind of a tradition for me to post my first DSC_0001 shots for each camera that I get, so I though I would take this opportunity to give my first impressions for the Nikon Dƒ.

Please note, it’s also my tradition to screw up the DSC_0001, so this one has the exposure adjusted.

Clicky for pixel-peeping.

Build Quality
The attention to detail and gloss and trim are really something to behold. It’s exceptional.  Yea, I know that someone is going to object and say “plastic front bits.” Ok, sure.  But you don’t see it, and you don’t feel it. When you have this in your hand, it has a very premium feel.  It shames the X100s.  In pure bling-factor, the D800 feels pedestrian.

Feel in the Hand
Not too heavy, not too light, in my opinion.  My eye went automatically to the viewfinder (same as the D800 as far as I can tell) and my finger found the shutter button instantly.  The locking exposure compensation dial is annoying, but the rest kind of make sense.  The grip is just ok – made for primes (and very small zooms).

The Sigma 35mm f1.4 or 24-85 3.5-4.5G (yes, the cheap kit) zoom is about the maximum lens size and weight that felt comfortable to me. I’m a fan of 24-85 as well as the Sigma, so they’ll be on the camera a lot.

Shutter Sound
If you’ve ever shot the D7000, it sounds similar with just a bit more pronounced “tick”.   The D800 is a smack in the face compared to this.  Quiet is very nice.

ISO Performance
What did you expect?  D4 sensor.  Pleasant noise and not nasty until well over H1.  H4 is colored sandpaper – emergency use only!

Focusing System
If anyone knows the guy who decided to put the D7000 focusing system in this wonderful camera, kick him in the balls, really, really hard, right now.

An example:  I took the 50 mm f1.8 that’s supplied with the camera (meh) and put the camera on H 0.3.  Aperture priority mode, f1.8. Then I walked around the house to find something with strong contrast that would give me a shutter speed of about 1/50.  Do you know what I was able to focus on?  Nothing.

Square in the balls. Really, really hard.

Strong contrast started to work decently at f1.8, 1/50th, ISO 12800. With no adjustments, all my lenses focused more accurately than my D800, so kick that guy in the balls too.

NEF Support
Nothing from Adobe yet, and I’d rather have my eyes gouged out while being kicked in the balls before I would use any camera manufacturers’ software, I’ve only shot JPEG so far.

Stay tuned: SOOC, unedited sample shots with the Sigma 35 f1.4 and size comparison mounted to the Dƒ.

Nikon 1 AW1-1

First Impressions – Nikon 1 AW1

Here are my first impressions of the Nikon 1 AW1, which Nikon claims it’s the world’s first rugged, waterproof MILC.

Update: See some snowscapes here.

For me, the standout features are:

  • CX Sensor with 14 megapixels
  • Waterproof to 15 m
  • Shockproof from heights of up to 2 m
  • Freeze-proof to -10°C
  • Dust proof
  • Up to 15 frames per second
  • It shoots Raw (.NEF)

The use-cases that I expect it to fill are:

  1. Snowboarding
  2. Beach/Snorkelling
  3. Small Product Shots

Build Quality
Excellent.  It’s rugged and feels high quality.

(Click on any of the images in this post for high-res viewing)

For snowboarding and snorkelling, I was delighted to find that both doors are double-locked.  You have to unlock one lever before you can use the other lever to open the door.  The rubber seal around the lens makes putting it on a little bit harder than most mounts, but it feels reassuring and not difficult.

I think it’s an all-metal body, but I couldn’t confirm it with the specs.

The NIKKOR AW 11–27.5mm f/3.5–5.6 kit lens, likewise has a high quality, premium feel.  The zoom ring is a very quick throw from wide to tele, and no external parts extend on zooming – it’s water sealed after all.

The Nikon 1 AW1 comes in several colors, but I chose white because my girlfriend liked the way it looks with the orange protective cover, which I have on the way as well.

Looks?  Yes, it’s a “fun” camera, mostly and she’ll be using it as well.

One of the reasons I wanted the AW1 is because the 1″ sensor, while small compared to a DSLR is actually pretty large for compact cameras – and the largest yet for an underwater digital camera.

One advantage of a smaller sensor (than APS-C or full frame) is that the depth of field is expanded a corresponding amount.  As one of the important use-cases for me was no-fuss deep depth of field product shots of small objects, I think this is going to work out.
The CX sensor will have less low-light performance than a D-SLR, but much better than your typical point and shoot.  My first images prove this out.

And, it shoots Raw!  I’ve been looking for years for a underwater camera that shoots Raw.  This is the “one” if you’ll pardon the pun. Thank you Nikon.  I was a skeptic, even a critic, but you finally enticed me to the 1 series with some really unique features.

As of this writing, Adobe Lightroom 5.2 doesn’t support the AW1 .NEF files.  There is some noise in the blacks, but I’m going to wait a bit to make my final judgement on image quality.
Nassim Mansurov reports that the beta 5.3 supports it.

As I predicted, I think this is going to work out well for quick product shots when I don’t want to mess around with shooting my D-SLR at tiny apertures and using focus stacking software.

Good guys wear white
(for the record, they wore white because they were the good guys)

It’s fast – faster to start and focus than my X100s.

The rear screen is pleasant, but I’m usually not a fan of shooting that way.  There is no option for a viewfinder, as you can imagine.

To retain the maximum waterproofness, it doesn’t have a lot of external controls.  It took me a trip user manual to find out how to get out of the scene mode and into aperture priority and again to learn how to turn off auto ISO.

The tripod hole is offset far to the edge, which will irritate some users, but I like it because you have access to the card and battery slot while firmly mounted to a tripod.

The flash is subtle and works under water also.

In conclusion, I think this is going to work out well.  It’s rugged, fast, decent image quality, the sensor is small enough for deep depth of field but larger than any other underwater camera on the market and it shoots Raw.

I can’t wait to hit the slopes!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the North Americans out there.

Thanksgiving with the Nikon 1 AW1

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