Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR – First Review

Good afternoon, you.

Well I have been using the Nikon 80-400mm lens this week, and what sort of person would I be if I didn’t let you lovely people know what I thought about it?

Not a very good one, that’s what.

Ergonomics

Well let’s get started then. This lens is very big, that much should be obvious before you actually get your hands on it. It completely dwarfs many cameras, and is not light at all. So be aware that you will probably want to build up those muscles before you spend a day with this thing. It actually weighs in at over 1.3kg.

To be honest, I didn’t find this a problem at all. You know what you are getting yourself in for with a lens like this, so if you complain of size and weight then you are the one to blame.

Because of this lens’s size and weight, it is incredibly well built. It feels like you could drop it many times and it would just soak it up. Even the inner barrel is made of metal.

While on the subject of the ergonomics, I have to talk about the manual focus setting. The actual focusing is absolutely fine, no problems with that at all. It is switching this damn thing on to manual focus which really gets to me. It is not a simple switch on the side, but a button to press down, while you rotate a small focus ring. This is not so difficult to do normally, but when you are composing a shot and want to switch focus modes, it is near impossible.

In Use

I have been using this lens with the Nikon D300s, which is an excellent camera. However, I have only had the chance to test it while out taking wildlife shots.

The main, well-known flaw of this lens is it’s AF speed, so this was probably not the best place to test this lens. I was hopeful for some animals that would like to stay still for more than a second, and I think I got some good shots. However, this is just not the lens for the job. It doesn’t grab focus quick enough, and it was almost impossible to track fast moving animals and get a decent shot. The focusing is actually very reminiscent of the cheap and cheerful 70-300mm zooms from Tamron and Sigma.

Never mind, I fully expected this.

I will hopefully be taking this lens out for a nice test later on this week, but it will be at an air festival. So instead of animals going 10mph, it will be jets flying at 1000mph. Good idea, right? Well hopefully I will be able to take some shots of more static attractions, and maybe some candid portraiture.

At the same air festival, I will also have the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 which I reviewing recently. I should therefore be able to return with a direct comparison of these two lenses, showing the benefits of each, and the downfalls.

The focusing issue really isn’t that much of a problem if you know the limits of this lens. The same can be said about any lens, but this one can produce some excellent photos when used in its comfort zone.

The 400mm reach came in very useful for getting close-up portraits of many of the animals, and when used with the crop sensor of the D300s, it is effectively 600mm. While on this little shoot, I was with another photographer, who was using a 300mm lens on his full frame body. So I had double the reach he had, which really showed in some of our comparative shots.

This lens has a maximum aperture of 4.5-5.6 as you go up the zoom range. This is not so bad, but it is far from great. Obviously to get a wider aperture, or a constant one, you’d probably have to double the cost of this lens. But for a lot of situations I found I wanted that extra stop, that extra speed, and some more light in to the camera. For a lot of the shots I was boosting the ISO right up to around 1600, which although is no real problem for a higher end Nikon, but it did mean I had to be careful when it came to processing shots.

Now on a side note, there is also a very slight chance that I will be able to test the D300s against the Canon 7D while at this air show. These are direct competitors, so using them both simultaneously could be interesting. Now it is obvious that I am a Nikon man, but I already think the 7D is better than the 5D mark II, so the bias is already dwindling, and I hope to give a fair test.

Both cameras have their strengths, and I fear the 7D’s 8FPS shooting may put it ahead for this little test, couple that with the fact it will have the Tamron 70-200mm lens, where as the D300s will have the 80-400mm.

I shall report back with more soon. But for the time being, here are some shots taken with the 80-400mm.

Test shots

Final Verdict

This lens definitely has the ability to be very sharp, and produces some great photos, especially when stopped down a little. Now I know I was testing this in the wrong setting, but I will continue to test it and will add to this review. However, it is already clear that speed and low-light are not this guy’s friend. However, I have no doubt that lighter conditions and still subjects will be a home away from home for this lens.

T.

Advertisements

Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro Review

Good morning, you.

I was going to try and avoid doing too many reviews on this blog. But it is probably a good idea that I do them on some bits of kit, especially third party lenses. These are often discarded as inferior in quality compared to the big guns from Canon and Nikon. So the odd review, good or bad, should be a welcome addition to the interwebs.

Now I’m not a die hard fan of any lens manufacturer. I own Nikon lenses and a Tamron lens. I have used mostly big brand lenses, but my future lens purchases will more than likely steer away from these for a number of reasons.

This lens has a quality feel to it, much like a big brand lens. It doesn’t feel cheap, although is made of plastic. It is also fairly compact and lightweight. It is available for under £350, which is quite frankly ridiculous, especially because the Canon and Nikon equivalents are around twice that.

This lens is a dedicated macro lens, capable of producing 1:1 macro images. This is very important for taking true macro photos, allowing reproduction of subjects at life size. It has a fixed focal length of 90mm, which is a great length for macro. The 105mm from Nikon is possibly a little better, as that extra little reach really helps. But 90mm meant this lens was also brilliant for portraits, which I used it for a lot.

This lens has a constant 2.8 aperture; meaning when stopped down it was very sharp. The 2.8 was excellent for portrait shots, but not ideal for macros. Anyone who has used a macro lens and gotten really close to the action knows that such a wide aperture will create an unusable depth of field.

Much like most Tamron lenses, the focusing is switched using the large focus ring on the front. Using the manual focus is very necessary with macro images, and this was a delight to use. It is easy to focus precisely and without much creep.

One point to mention here about this lens is that the barrel extends. Most macro lenses do not have extending barrels, but simply internal focusing. This is not necessarily a problem when it comes to portraits, but for very close macro shots it can be irritating. I did have a number of occasions when I was focusing the lens, and managed to knock a leaf with the end of the lens. Just being aware of this before hand should stop this though, I’m just clearly not intelligent enough for such sophistication.

Optically, this lens is brilliant. It produces excellent photos, in all shooting situations. As with any lens, stopping it down to around f3.5 brings out its sharpest images, but 2.8 was still excellent for portraits.

Many others will agree to this testament of mine, and the 90mm Tamron is definitely a popular macro lens to choose.

Yay, a happy ending!

Anyway, here are a couple of macro shots I took with this lens. Check out my recent posts, Winspit and friends and Macro, macro man. All of the photos in these posts were taken using the 90mm.

 
T.

Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Review

Hello, you.

Well the weekend just gone I had the chance to test out a lens I have had my eye on for a while, the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8. Lets get this in early, it is a quality lens, with a constant aperture, and can be had for around £500.

Now I have developed quite an interest for portraits recently, and think I could see myself doing more of them in the future. Natural, location based photos, rather than forced studio nonsense.

Right, so I had this lens mounted on the 5D mark II. See the previous post for my opinion of this. I set out to take whatever photos I could, but knowing I’d want it for portraits.

The first thing you notice is the size of this lens. I have used a lot of lenses, from beginner to pro (see my camera gear page), and this is bar far the largest. It has a diameter of 8.9cm and a length of 19.4cm, with a weight of 1.3kg. Mounted on the camera it looked very large, and dwarfed even the 5D.

I’m not ashamed to say that I am attracted to the larger lens. I think it is my childishness, or the sheer impressive look of them, but a big lens always has my attention. And, it seems, the attention of the general public. Many a person decided to comment, and I had hundreds of old men perving on it (you know they do it).

The impressive size of this lens is replicated in its build quality. It definitely feels like a pro lens, and the weight is easily forgiven when you feel the sturdy construction. I’d have no problems using this lens in a number of weather conditions, and without having to worry I’d knock or damage it.

Now on to the insides of this lens. It is designed to go up against the big boys of Canon and Nikon with their own 70-200 f2.8 lenses, as well as compete with Sigma’s entry, which is more reasonably priced. I have not tested any of these lenses, however, I am sure the Nikon and Canon are superior. But that is not the point here. These two lenses are over twice the price of the Tamron, and I’m pretty certain they are not twice as good.

Check out DP Review’s basic comparison here.

The optical quality of the images definitely have the wow factor. I have used some great optical lenses (namely the 85mm f1.4 G), and this impressed me just as much. Viewing the photos on screen and on camera showed great contrast, and sharpness pretty much throughout the range. I found stopping the camera down a couple of stops brought out the best results, but f2.8 was still excellent.

Here is one of the shots i took of the day. Not the best, but i blame the camera for this.

This lens has the one main flaw, which is the auto-focus. Yes it is slow, and yes, it can be noisy. But in normal, every day conditions, I didn’t notice it at all. It is obviously not the fastest focusing lens I’ve used, but considering what this lens can do optically, and its price, I’m just happy it focuses at all!

I did have problems with the 5D I was using, so switched to the manual focus for most of the portraits I took. Changing to manual is very easy, and I found the manual focus to be very easy and precise.

May as well chuck this shot up of me. If nothing else, this kind of shows the lens is not too big or heavy for smaller hands.

So after a weekend with the lens, it is now on my to buy list. I was originally looking to get a replacement for the kit lens, but I think this lens will be much more useful, especially for portrait shots. I will be putting it through further tests soon enough, but for now I’d highly recommend this lens to absolutely anyone and everyone, even if you don’t have a camera.

T.

G3.

Good afternoon, you.

This weekend I had the chance to play with the new Panasonic G3. This is Panasonics latest micro four-thirds/interchangeable lens/compact system/baby SLR/mirror-less, ummm, thing.

Essentially it is a high end compact camera with interchangeable lenses and a bigger sensor. OK? Good.

These cameras have always been a pet hate of mine. Sure, they are small. But not really. They appeal to the masses because they are pretty much small DSLRs, but when you attach the 100-300mm lens to the G3 it is huge. So what’s the point?

Another factor I guess is the cost. Im sure many beginners like these little things because they are perhaps cheaper than the DSLR alternative. But surely when the cameras cost between £500-£800, and additional lenses cost around £500, they are no cheaper at all. In fact I’d argue that for like for like lenses they are more expensive than a beginner DSLR.

Now I’m not trying to jump on the band-wagon of the bigger the camera the better the pictures. But if you want something small, get a superzoom or high-end compact. If you are serious about taking pictures and will start to spend millions of pounds on lenses, get a DSLR. There will be more lenses and accessories available anyway, and you won’t grow out of it very quickly. You also won’t feel slightly annoyed when someone with a bigger camera comes wondering past. Camera envy is a real problem at the moment, so don’t become victim to it.

Anyway, enough of my little rant. The G3. What did I think. Generally quite a good little camera. The images taken with it turned out really well, and the different lenses were quite impressive. The many features of these modern little things made it enjoyable to use – especially the tiltable LCD.

I tested out 4 different lenses with this camera, and each had their merits.

– The 14mm pancake was brilliant purely because of its size. It actually brought this camera in to the compact size and helped to justify the camera.

 

 

-The kit 14-42mm was good, what you’d expect really. However, considering most people will leave this on their camera forever, I think a little more range on it would have been good.

 

 

 

– The 100-300mm was good. Nice long zoom, and built in image stabiliser helped. However it turned the camera from compact to a chunky piece of kit.

 

 

– The star of the show though – the 8mm fisheye. I have always had a dislike of fisheye lenses, purely because they are one-trick ponies with a hefty price tag. Despite this, the glass element on the front is just amazing, and the angle of view is constantly baffling. Here is a quick shot from sitting in the drivers seat of a van, incredible.

So all in all quite impressed, and I actually do really like the G3. I just can’t understand why these cameras exist, or why someone would exchange their hard earned money for them. But hey, I have the same thoughts on Canon gear.

T.