I decided I wanted to try some classic manual focus lenses on my Nikon Df. The decision was lead partially because I have been trying to improve my street photography and therefore, decided that zone focusing was for me. Unfortunately, all of the latest AFS lenses have rather poor markings for distance, and just generally unfriendly ergonomics for manual focusing like really loose focusing collars.
So I went to my local camera store and picked up some old Nikkors for a song. One of the ones I got was the 50mm f/1.4 Ai made in around 1977 – and I liked it! But it was clear that it had seen better days with some damage and looseness.
So I decided to bite the bullet and get brand new Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s which works perfectly on my Nikon Dƒ and most mid to high end Nikon cameras. Part of it was the features, but also wanting to own a piece of history and enjoy the classic way of shooting. It’s also really tiny for such a very fast lens, and I’m enjoying slimming down my bag for every day usage.
Wide open at f/1.2
One of the first questions that many ask is if it’s hard to manual focus at f/1.2. Yes, it’s taking practice, but there is something about the Df that seems to make it easier. In any case, the depth of field is minuscule and only a small shift front or back can put you far out of focus. Thank goodness that all modern Nikons have a focus confirmation dot to help.
But how’s the performance!?
Well, at f/1.2, it’s on the interesting side of horrible – not quite Lensbaby horrible, but definitely not sharp all over, and even quite hazy and dreamy in the middle.
There is also a lot of vignetting, but I was able to make a lens profile for this. Unfortunately, there is no Lightroom profile for this lens, but it works seamlessly (and accurately) with the one I made. Feel free to download it here and you’ll find the installation location here. Don’t forget to restart Lightroom.
The bokeh is a little swirly and pleasing with a hint of nervous rings. Early testing shows that the bokeh is best at f/2.8.
Sharpness wide open is usable in the middle, with a lot of smearing towards the edges. A light haze covers everything, but it’s not bad, just different.
Already at f/2, it’s getting quite sharp. Again, from initial usage, it may be that already at f/2, it’s the sharpest 50mm prime I have. I tested it against the 50mm f/1.8G, which is nearly legendary for its sharpness and I think the old one wins it.
See this crop from the above, and it only gets sharper from there!
High contrast and backlit situations are the worst. I had to process this image very carefully to get an old-school look at f/1.2. Look in the corners and you’ll see the smearing I’m talking about. Still, I quite like the effect, but I’ll have to use it wisely, or else stop it down.
So my first impressions are that it’s a beautiful, high-quality piece of kit, no questions asked. The well-damped focusing ring is something out of another era. In fact, it’s a 30 year old design that just has a certain old-world class about it. It feels like it was made by a very patient craftsman by hand.
Focusing at f/1.2 is not as hard as I thought, but it takes some getting used to.
Sharpness is exceptional at f/2. If you go lower than that, have a certain look in mind, and don’t expect perfection.
I’m enjoying this lens thoroughly and I can’t wait to go out tomorrow and shoot some more. Nostalgia and fun-factor are certainly top on the list of qualifications for this classic, and very sharp at f/2 and up.
Thanks for reading and feel free to click through all of the images in this post, including the following additional samples, to see much larger sizes.
To understand exposure compensation, it is useful to first understand how your camera thinks.
Your camera’s metering system: the intelligence that helps it decide how light or dark an image should be, looks at the scene and compares it to a medium (grey) tone. It then chooses the settings that will achieve that exposure. Some parts of the image will be brighter and some will be darker, but the camera’s goal is average it to a medium overall brightness. That works for many situations, but there are situations where it doesn’t.
Example 1: A dark street
When you take a picture of a dark street, you expect the image to be dark, not lit up like the same scene in the daylight, right? Left to his own choice, the camera would see this dark place and think “Whoa! Need to brighten that up!” and it would end up looking too bright.
In this example, I wanted this scene to be dark to match what I saw with my eyes, so I added -1 exposure compensation.
Example 2: Beach and Snow
A snowy landscape or a beach is naturally a bright location. Usually, the camera will look at this and think that it’s too bright and try to adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed to darken this to a nice, medium tone.
To your eyes, snow is very bright. While cameras are getting smarter ever year, it still doesn’t know that it’s looking at snow. It just makes a computation based on light levels.
You need to tell it what to do. The following example uses +2 exposure compensation to have it look like I wanted.
Finding the Exposure Compensation Setting
Most cameras have a button for this that require you to turn a knob, but it’ll look like this. Consult your camera’s manual if it’s not immediately obvious.
Once you’ve figured out how to set the exposure compensation, you’ll not want to forget once you’ve set it. There, all cameras have a display item that shows you how it’s set. In this example, the camera is set to 1 stop over exposed, which means double as bright.
Don’t worry if the plus is on the left or the right, different cameras show it differently, but plus always means “brighter” and minus means “darker”.
While it seems counterintuitive to make a bright scene (to your eyes) brighter in the camera, just remember how the camera works and you’ll have no problem using exposure compensation to help the camera decide on the right exposure to match how your eyes see it.
I really like that full-frame look and have two main FX cameras: Nikon Df and Nikon D800.
My use case for the Df is every-day shooting, low-light and street.
The D800 is for uncompromising image quality.
So why upgrade? What do these two cameras not offer?
I have the following issues with my gear:
I lack trust in the D800 focus
I sometimes shoot sports
D800 Focus Confidence
I didn’t suffer from the dreaded left-focusing-issue, but many did. I did experience generally poor focusing accuracy. All of my lenses needed dramatic back-focus adjustment. Sharp-ears instead of eyes back focus. I do not have the issue with my Df. The same lenses focus better, and much more accurately on my Df. Generally, I just focus fine-tuned and mostly forgot about it. Still, the confidence wasn’t there.
Also, I have often had the case where I know where my focusing point was, but my D800 decided that something else should be in focus. I know I’ll have critics who comment that it’s my fault, but again, my Df with an “inferior” focusing system doesn’t have the issue.
Besides that, the D800 image quality is absolutely stunning at low ISO. Shockingly good!
But it’s slow at only 4 FPS in FX mode. The Df has a different focus: excellent image quality at high ISO.
The problem is that probably half of my shots are sports. Not more than about 10-20% of all of my keepers are sports, but you shoot a lot during sports photography and cull out the bad ones and duplicates.
The first is my D800 that has beautiful colours and sharpness, but the action – not so much. I missed lots of great images on this day. From this angle, on the back side of a ramp, you have less than a second to get the shot. You can’t anticipate because you don’t see the rider until he’s already crested the hill. If he’s going to do something cool, you need three or four shots to pick the peak action.
The second is with my three-year-old, and rarely used D7000. I had several images to choose from, even as the rider was flying by my head! I liked this one for peak action. The image quality is very good, but I would have liked to have a bit more dynamic range in this high-contrast situation.
Yes, I’m aware of the fact that with a grip and AA batteries, you can also shoot 6 FPS in DX crop mode, and I use this, but the image quality isn’t any better than the D800 in this mode. I may as well use my D7000 and avoid changing lenses.
Even without a grip, you still get 5 FPS in normal FX mode, which should be familiar to Df owners like me.
The quieter shutter is also a big deal. The D800 is CLACK! loud. When I’m shooting wildlife, it’s important. Take a look at this patient little guy:
Why didn’t I take the D610? Focusing coverage.
In my very first image, this is on a monopod with focusing Auto Area AF. I didn’t know, and couldn’t predict where the rider would pop up, so I needed a rather large area for the camera to choose from.
I’m also rather concerned with the weather sealing. This is my setup for a typical winter day out:
While it is an incremental upgrade, there certainly is a buzz around this camera – and rightly so! It’s upgrading arguably the most famous DSLR of the last few years. But the D800 was just a little short in a few areas. The D810 makes up for this, in my opinion.
The amber colors are due to the scattering of longer wavelengths of light by dust and pollution in our atmosphere. “It is a similar phenomenon as seen at sunset, when sunlight is scattered towards the red end of the spectrum, making the sun’s disk appear orange-red to the naked-eye,” says astronomer Raminder Singh Samra
Due to the parabolic shape of the moon’s orbit, it is also exceptionally close this time.
Two minutes later, it was gone.
I’m the luckiest fellow in the world. Not only was I able to capture the setting “honey moon” but also the rising moon in the evening with great colour and clouds.
I, like many photographers, have been going back and forth trying to decide which of these are better. I had seen some things that just made me wonder. In my earlier test, it was shown that the bokeh from the Sigma was dramatically different. The Sigma also just had that “wow” factor that I couldn’t seem to get from the Nikkor, even though the Nikkor was seen to be sharper in some cases, the Sigma in other cases. I liked the weight from the Nikon, but the “pop” of the Sigma.
So this weekend, I set out to find out once and for all, what’s the best fast 35mm autofocus prime in the world on a D800. The results may surprise you.
First off, I started out in my darkened apartment to test for both sharpness and bokeh. Allow me to introduce Green, my willing subject.
While you can click through to examine to your hearts’ content, I’ll save you some pixel peeping: in the center, they are effectively identical. But something is going on at the edges of the frame. The Nikkor spanks the Sigma!
Even at f/2.8, the Nikkor is showing a dramatic, visible difference over the Sigma.
Then there’s the bokeh. Neither of them are going to win an award. Onion vs. Donut.
This is not at all uncommon for highly corrected lenses like these.
So, why is the Nikkor so much sharper? I thought it must be field curvature. Ok, no problem. Field curvature isn’t always bad unless you shoot brick walls for a living. It may even be an advantage if you focus-and-recompose. So I focused with live view (like almost all of the samples here) and placed a new focus target towards the edges.
Things aren’t looking good for Sigma at this point, it must be said.
So what did I do then? Drank a beer and went to bed.
Then, the next morning, I woke up bright and early to a poring rainstorm like just about every day in April in Switzerland.
Then suddenly, there was a break in the weather. Out I go! You can’t shoot just charts and boxes I thought. You gotta get out there!
So, using a stable tripod on my nearly-trusty D800, I a couple of landscapes as I’m wandering around the area.
I’ll save you the effort of clicking through, but even at f/11, Nikon wins in an obvious way at near distances and at the edges of the frame.
Ok, I thought, I didn’t buy these primes to shoot landscapes, so let’s go find some more interesting subjects where I can shoot with a narrower depth-of-field.
Don’t ask me what is it about Swiss people and stacking stones, but I quite like the look of this mini cairn against the wet foliage.
Well that’s interesting. Even though the Nikkor is sharper, I prefer the rendering of the Sigma. What’s going on?
Confused, I headed to one of my favourite spots.
Somehow, I quite liked the Sigma image here, although the Nikkor was nearly identical.
I was only able to review the images on the back of my D800 until that point, but even then I was seeing something strange. I had a long walk home to think about the results, but I wanted to review them on the computer before jumping to any conclusion.
Then I did. And it didn’t clarify anything.
It was obvious that the Sigma was as sharp as the Nikon in the centre of the frame at the same aperture but the Nikkor was really ruling around the edges. But sometimes (and always at large apertures) I still preferred the Sigma.
Then I started looking at the shutter speeds. Now, the Sigma is a much more complicated lens, so I expected that the transmission would be lower. (Basically, you lose a little light as it passes through multiple glass elements) But in fact, the opposite was true! The Sigma, at the same aperture as the Nikkor had almost always a faster shutter speed.
What’s going on?
Frustrated, I reviewed the images from the previous night and I had my “AHA!” moment. Now it was all clear.
At the beginning of this review, I showed you the difference in Bokeh between the two lenses. See how the Sigma bokeh balls are larger?Compare the bokeh from the Nikkor at f/1.8 vs. the Sigma at f/2.8. More than a stop difference!
Now it’s clear why I preferred the rendering of the Sigma in some cases. The Sigma actually has a larger aperture than the Nikon at f/1.8! Reviewing my images, I saw evidence of that again and again: Shallower depth of field, larger bokeh and faster shutter speeds.
That is not to say that Nikon is cheating – we’re talking about less than a stop difference. That also can’t entirely explain the difference in sharpness at the edges of the frame where Nikon has a visible advantage. However, consider this 100% crop of the Sigma at f/8 and the Nikkor at f/5.6. Still the Nikkor is a tiny bith sharper, but notice the shutter speeds?
So what am I going to do? I’m going to keep them both. The Sigma shines at narrow depth-of-field photography. It’s beautiful. It has that thing that only Leica people seem to be able to put into words. One must also consider the huge weight difference between the two as well: 665g / 23.5oz. for the Sigma vs. only 305 g / 10.7 oz. for the Nikkor, but that the Sigma goes to f/1.4 instead of just f/1.8-ish.
What will be in my bag every day? The Nikkor, but I’ll be wishing for the Sigma. If I go out for a day of dedicated narrow-depth-of-field shooting like portraiture or some street scenes, you can bet that the Sigma will be weighing me down.
So if I had to buy just one, and my back didn’t mind? Sigma.
I get a lot of questions about a camera to really learn with, so I sat down and made a list of criteria that I thought would be good for a beginner/intermediate user who is looking for his first real DSLR, capable of advanced photography on a budget.
I came up with the following list:
Exceptional image quality
Two dials to learn shooting advanced modes
All the controls you need
A proper mirror
Access to a large range of accessories like lenses and flashes
The last camera I personally would ever sell
I’ve been through several iterations of buying and upgrading my cameras. I’ve moved up to FX now, but when I think about the camera that I still shoot and love, it’s got to be the Nikon D7000.
I recommend this camera because I’ve really used it for thousands of photos, over a couple of years so, you know, I’m not talking out of my ass. Notice that there are NO convenient links to buy any of this stuff.
Also, I’m sure that Sony, Pentax and Canon are all great, but I haven’t used them, so I can’t recommend them. But if you take the above bullet points as a starter, you’ll be fine.
The D7000 is like a mini D800. Literally.
There are cases when I shoot both the D800 and D7000 side-by-side and to be honest, without zooming excessively, I can’t tell the difference. When I switch my D800 to DX mode (where it only uses a smaller part of the sensor) there is NO difference – maybe even a slight advantage to the D7000.
Some users say that they even prefer the D7000 over the newer D7100. I can’t say because I haven’t shot the D7100, but the images on sites like DPReview are razor sharp.
If you’re looking to take your photography to another level and want to learn how to shoot manual, and just basically know what you’re doing, the D7000 has both a command and subcommand dial so that you can set aperture and shutter speed independently. It’s critical to have an actual dial for this without digging into a menu to find them. It also has quick access to exposure compensation, ISO and its focusing system is still used by Nikon on much bigger and more expensive DSLRs. If these aren’t so important to you, get a D5100. It has the same, identical image quality but it’s smaller, cheaper and has a little bit less advanced focusing system.
If you’re here, then you’ve probably also heard of mirrorless systems that are out there. Maybe you’re even considering one of them. I say don’t do it.
A mirror is a feature!
First off, mirrorless cameras use a lot of battery to keep the screen running instead of just reflecting the light through the lens up into the eyepiece. You never have to turn a DSLR off to save battery. NEVER. As soon as you press the shutter button half way, it will wake up and take a shot in less than a fraction of a second – faster than the lens can focus!
Speaking of focus, mirrorless systems are slow to focus too. I’ve used two mirrorless systems and neither performs the way I expect to shoot fast moving things.
These shots, made with my D7000, would have been basically impossible with a mirrorless system:
Support for Accessories like Lenses and Flashes
I don’t necessarily recommend you get a flash right away, but you may want to. You will want to have additional lenses. One lens does not fit all – even one of the new super zooms.
In fact, what I recommend is to find the best deal with the longest zoom lens you can find bundled to save a lot of money.
Then take it off!
Add a 35mm f/1.8G DX lens. That lens is super cheap, awesomely sharp and lets you get those interesting effects like when you throw the background out of focus.
Save the long zoom for vacation or until you’ve learned to get great shots with the 35mm prime (non-zoom) lens. The trick is to keep moving around to arrange things in the frame in an interesting way. If you’ve read my post on how to take better photos, you’ll understand that you have to move around to get things arranged in your viewfinder to make a great photo.
There is one other time you’ll want to use the zoom: portraits. Step back and zoom as far as you can for portraits. Faces just look best that way. Here is another example with the D7000:
There are a lot of accessories that you’ll want to think about getting when you start in photography like remote shutter releases, flashes and filters*.
*Don’t let the camera shop guy talk you in buying a “protective” filter. It’s a trick to increase his margin: a scratched lens isn’t visible in the final photo and a filter does NOT protect against damage from dropping the camera. I don’t baby my cameras; they work hard, get dirty and banged around. I rarely even use the lens cap. You know how many scratches I have? None. Lenses have hard, tough, thick front elements.
Since we’re talking about accessories, the battery grip for the D7000 series is really nice and recommended if you need that extra heft and place to put your hand when the camera is in portrait orientation.
One nice feature of the D7000 family is that it supports what Nikon calls CLS. It means Creative Lighting System, but what it really does is allow that you to use the popup flash to control and trigger other Nikon flashes that are not on top of the camera. This is usually the recommended way to use flash. That’s an advanced subject, but you are looking at the D7000 to learn, right? Check out this example below. If you’re curious, everything you ever wanted to know on www.strobist.com.
Low Price At the time of this writing, you’ll find the D7000 with lens for around $1000 and the 35mm DX prime for under $200. That’s all you need.
If you read this later, don’t worry, the D7x00 series is the one that you want because it’s the “lowest” in the series that has all the buttons, dials and advanced features.
Don’t feel the need to buy the latest version as you can often save a lot of cash by buying the previous generation either new or used. Basically, I say if the difference is less than $100-$200, get the newer one.
Again, if all the dials isn’t important to you because you don’t think you’ll ever want to learn shoot manual (you should!) then go with the D5x00 series. I use A (aperture priority) mode 90% of the time but use manual and S (shutter priority) the rest of the time, but back to choosing a camera.
The Last Camera I Would Ever Sell
Yep, that’s right. While the D7000 isn’t exactly my desert island camera (D800) if times were tough and I had to sell everything I had, it’s the camera they would pry out of my cold, dead, starved hands.
If I wasn’t dead yet, then I would have taken some of them out with me using my tripod. Do get a tripod, you’ll need it.
The D7000 series is really something special. I still use and love mine.
Here are some more images to attempt to convince you and because I just like showing off:
Update! This comparison was far from conclusive, so I did a two-day real-world test with (in my opinion) much better photography and a solid conclusion. Check it out here.
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:
and the Sigma at f/1.8:
Again at f2.8:
Closeup and Bokeh:
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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:
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:
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: