Tag Archives: Lens

Adventures with the 50mm f/1.2

I have a bag with a range of lenses – but sometimes months go by and I haven’t touched one of them for ages!  So over the Christmas summer break, I stuck on my Nikon 50mm f/1.2 lens on to play for a few days again.   It was fun – sort of like getting re-acquainted with an old friend.

It brought back memories – firstly, that it was an ALL MANUAL lens!  Manual exposure and focussing.  But the results were AMAZING!

Yep, a bit of inconvenience to get the exposure right, but I only need to do that once per setting.   I’m so glad I’m using digital that lets me choose the ISO and preview shots.  Imagine if I was using this on film?  I could stuff up a whole roll!!

The manual focus thing is a pain, but made me learn to shoot with my hand on the focus ring the whole time – as well as really looking at what’s in focus before I press the trigger.   The tiny depth of field of this lens at 1.2 aperture made this a really challenging lens to use, especially for portraits.

I really love the bokeh on this lens too.  It’s just silky smooth compared to my 50mm f/1.8.

I don’t recommend using this lens to shoot kids.  They move about so much that the chances of getting something in focus is REALLY LOW!  Nearly every shot was out of focus.  But here’s a good one of my niece that I managed to get 🙂   Even so, only her eye on the right is in focus!

Using this lens really makes me think I need to get a 50mm f/1.4 to replace my 1.8.   I just love the effect of the narrow depth of field!

Last blog post about this:  https://jasechong.wordpress.com/2009/01/12/nikkor-50mm-f12/

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 lens

Interestingly, both my father and my father-in-law are photography enthusiasts too! I think this is partly why I’ve taken up the hobby myself.   And like me, my fathers have accumulated various photographic gear over the years…  but old gear!

I’ve recently found that my father has a Nikon 50mm f/1.2 lens!   That’s a huge aperture!  I wonder if there’s anything larger.  Anyway, I borrowed it recently and tried it on my D80.   Unfortunately, it’s a manual focus lens.  But I was hoping that the D80 would be able to read or even set the aperture on the lens.   But after trying it on, no such luck.   After some googling, I’ve confirmed that the D80 does not support metering with non-CPU AI lenses.

Oh well, I decided to have a play today- having to set exposure manually (shutter speed on the camera, aperture ring on the lens) as well as focus manually.  But it was fun – and the pictures are amazingly silky smooth!   The bokeh at f/1.2 is amazing, and the depth of field is so thin!

The lens looks mighty on the FE2.

Nikon FE2 with 50mm f/1.2
Nikon FE2 with 50mm f/1.2

Here’s a comparison of my cheap but excellent value for money $150 50mm f/1.8 with the 50mm f/1.2.  You can see that the 50mm f/1.2 has no CPU contacts on the mount.

50mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.2
50mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.2

I took some shots of the music of the Presto from Bach’s G minor violin sonata.  This is at f/1.2 on my D80.   A nice small depth of field and creamy out of focus areas.    The only problem I see is that there seems to be a slight green aberration just outside the in-focus area.   And I seemed to have some problems getting the right area to focus – it was almost like something was causing a back or front focus (I haven’t quite figured which yet).   I wonder if my diopter isn’t adjusted correctly, if it’s the lens, the combination of lens and body, or just my lack of experience focusing manually.

Music manuscript with 50mm f/1.2
Music manuscript with 50mm f/1.2

Later this evening, I thought I’d try the lens out with some low light shots.   Unfortunately, with manual focus, and no viewfinder split image focus screen on my D80, I found it extremely hard to get a shot with what I wanted in focus correctly.

My only other complaint is no metering support on the D80.   I don’t mind shooting manual once in a while (especially when the lighting is quite constant), but when I do, I usually rely on the camera to tell me about the exposure.   With this lens, I have to either chimp, or use a light meter.

I think I’ll leave the lens on my D80 for a while to play with.  It’ll definitely be a learning experience, and hopefully force me to learn how to focus manually and judge exposures manually.

Photo of the 50mm f/1.8 taken with the 50mm f/1.2
Photo of the 50mm f/1.8 taken with the 50mm f/1.2

More info here:

Nikon’s Product page – http://www.nikonusa.com/Find-Your-Nikon/Product/Camera-Lenses/1435/NIKKOR-50mm-f%252F1.2.html

Ken Rockwell’s Review – http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/50mm-f12.htm

PBase photos – http://www.pbase.com/cameras/nikon/50_12_ai

Flickr photos – http://www.flickr.com/groups/nikkor50s/

Lens reviews on the web

So once I’ve decided what type of lens I want to get, one of the next steps is to do some research.  I normally group review sites into 2 types – the ones where an individual does a detailed review, sometimes quite scientific;  and the community sites where people can contribute their own personal reviews, often a mixed bag with some praises but often reporting faults and problems.  

One thing to remember is that there can often be a range in quality of lenses that come out from the manufacturer.   Sometimes I come across quite opposing reviews, related to lens quality.   Like any community review site, it’s hard to know whether it’s the expectations or expertise of the person reviewing it, or whether they just got a bad sample.

But as a general rule of thumb, more “reputable” brands, like Nikon and Canon, probably have better quality control than some of the “cheaper” brands.   So if you do buy a lens made by Tokina, Tamron, Sigma, etc.  it’s worth trying the lens out yourself in a shop before buying it.  If that’s not possible, ensure that they have a returns policy that you can use if you think the lens is not up to scratch.

Review Sites

Detailed tests on lenses at Photozone.de

Photozone.de – http://www.photozone.de/all-tests – The reviews at Photozone are good if you’re into scientific analysis of the lenses themselves.   They publish results of tests on distortion, vignetting, MTF (resolution) and CA (chromatic aberration) that other sites don’t get into.   Many people look for “bargains” in Sigma, Tamron and Tokina lenses by comparing the numbers from this site.  If you’re a professional who wants quality down to the numeric level, then this site is for you.    

Solid personal reviews of lenses at KenRockwell.com
Solid personal reviews of lenses at KenRockwell.com

KenRockwell.com – Ken is a Nikon enthusiast and US photographer who runs his own personal website with lots of photography information and reviews.  His reviews are very personal, candid and he tells it as it is.  His experience with a wide range of lenses means he gives good comparisons and alternative suggestions.  http://www.kenrockwell.com/index.htm

Lots of detailed articles and reviews at ByThom.com
Lots of detailed articles and reviews at ByThom.com

ByThom – http://www.bythom.com/index.htm – Thomas Hogan is a nature photographer who has published many books, including many photography ones.   He has written an amazing number of articles on his website including many reviews on lenses too.  His reviews on Nikno lenses have a personal feel with good practical comments, drawbacks and positives on each lens, and again Thomas is able to draw on experience with other lenses in the Nikon range to compare them. 

Fancy scientific results of lenses at DPReview.com
Fancy scientific results of lenses at DPReview.com

DPReview.com – http://www.dpreview.com/ – I find DPReview a good site to use to keep in touch with the latest photography news.  They have good functional reviews on camera bodies, but their lens review section is fairly small.  Of the reviews that they do have, they cover the functional and physical elements of each lens, as well as tests on Sharpness, Chromatic Aberation, Distortion and Falloff.  

Community Review Sites

Lists of lenses with community reviews at FredMiranda.com
Lists of lenses with community reviews at FredMiranda.com

FredMiranda – http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/index.php – Fred has built up a great site with many good community reviews.  This is one of the ones I usually go to when I start researching lenses. 

Lens reviews at PhotographyReview.com
Lens reviews at PhotographyReview.com

PhotographyReview – http://www.photographyreview.com/reviewscrx.aspx – This site doesn’t just have lens review sections.  It covers nearly everything photography related!  They have a good number of consumer reviews on lenses.

Creating a lens upgrade plan

A major part of upgrading your SLR equipment is buying new lenses.   When I bought my first SLR and digital SLRs, I opted for “kits” – basically, the digital SLR body, and a “kit” lens.    The kit lens is usually a general purpose lens.  By this I mean, a medium zoom lens with variable minimum aperture – this is probably what the majority of amateur consumers need.  Something with maybe 3-5x zoom.

But after a while, you may get the urge of “How can I take better photos?”.   Of course there’s things that one can learn and improve on like technique, composition, style, etc, but there’s also the equipment.    Different lenses gives the photographer different options for capturing the moment.    When I started out, I was first overwhelmed by the number of lenses!   How do I know which one to get?  They all seemed so similar!  Some seemed so expensive! 

The first thing I did was to start doing a lots of reading up on apertures and lenses.  Understanding aperture and how it can affect your photos, its relationship with shutter speed and depth of field, is important so that you can determine what lens will suit your particular shooting needs.  There are many photography sites on the net with more info on this.  Here’s one site to get started – http://thepioneerwoman.com/photography/category/basic-photography/what-the-heck/

Then I sat down and tried to determine what type of photos I took the most and how I wanted to improve these.   By looking through my photos and thinking of the times when I usually take out the camera, I discovered lots were of the kids, photos of them doing things but also semi-posed portraits.   I basically wanted to take better shots of the kids at home and at parties and family outings.   From looking at other people’s photos and portrait photos, I know I wanted to blur out the background and capture their face sharply.   I knew I could get close to the kids and they’d be mostly stationary – so a fixed short focal length lens would do.   To blur the background, a large aperture is required (which means a low aperture number, eg. 1.4, 1.8 or 2.8).   So, out of this analysis, I bought the 50mm 1.8 lens.   The great thing about this lens is that it’s pretty cheap too!   And the photos of friends and kids that this lens can take are amazing – definitely a step up from the kit lens.   

When looking at the type of shots I found also found a lot of other types of shots that I take, for example:

  • Landscape/scenery type shots, usually on outings or when travelling
  • Shots of the kids at concerts where it can be quite dark and I’m seated quite far from them
  • Holiday shots where I go out on a trip so I want to travel light, but there’s a mixture of portraits and scenery shots

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a single lens that specialises in all these different scenes.  For example,

  • Landscape shots would benefit from a wide angle lens.  And since I want all of a landscape to be in focus and not blurred, a large aperture (ie small aperture number) is not really required.  
  • Concert shots are usually in low light.  To capture low light shots with a reasonable shutter speed, this means a large aperture as possible (ie small aperture number).   The focal length should be long like 200mm so I can get my kids faces, but a zoom may be useful to take shots of the whole stage since I can’t exactly move from my seat during a performance.  
  • Nice holiday shots would benefit from a medium zoom lens, maybe with a large aperture too for dark churches and building interiors.  

In the end, I wrote up a lens buying plan – which ones I wanted, in which order of priority.  Mine went something like:

  1. Large aperture for kids’ portraits, fixed short focal length
  2. Wide angle lens for scenery, landscapes, architecture
  3. Large aperture zoom for kids’ low light concerts and events
  4. Travel lens that can take inside churches, buildings, landscape, portraits
  5. Large aperture mid zoom, for events, travel 
  6. Macro lens

Of course, this is a plan that has to be refined later based on lens model and cost.

For family and friends that ask me about how to start upgrading up from their kit lenses, I usually recommend that they think about what type of shots they want to improve on.   And ask questions like, “Will they subject move a lot?”, “Will it be quite dark?”, etc.   Once the general lens focal length and aperture requirements are determined, the fun begins!   It’s time to choose the lens model and lens manufacturer within your budget!

Review: BH Photo Video

My new toy finally arrived!  But what a journey!

After toying between the Nikon 18-200 VR and the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8, I decided that I’d make more use of the 17-55 f/2.8, especially since I love low light photography and minimal depth of field.  I know the VR would also help in low light in certain situations, but VR doesn’t help stop a moving object.   I know both of these are expensive purchases – but I’m considering this my belated birthday present to myself 🙂  (plus I don’t really go out drinking or gambling hahahaha!)

So my next decision was – where to buy this lens from?  As in my earlier post, price is a huge factor for me.  I really can’t bear to pay the retail store price in Australia.  So I went comparing online.  Here is a snapshot of prices (all prices in Australian Dollars except otherwise marked):

  • Dirt Cheap Cameras $1999 (product link)
  • Cheaptronics $1579 + $16.80 postage (product link)
  • Local Camera House ~$2200 (before bargaining)
  • Cameraland Camera House $2199, $1999 duty free (product link)
  • Digital Rev eBay $1480 + $79 postage + 10% GST = $1707 (Gray Market!) (product link)
  • BH Photo Video US$1199  + US$49.60 = $1262 + $52.21 (on 9/July/2008) + 10% GST = $1440 (USA & Worldwide Warranty – not Gray Market!) (product link)

I suspect the Cheaptronics lens is a Gray market one.   So looking at the above prices, with the Australian dollar at an all time high, it’s clear that buying from B&H Photo Video is a no brainer!

The only hassle is the time – it took just over a week until it was attempted to be delivered, but in the end I drove to the depot to pick it up myself.  Spent 10 minutes trying to find the darn building as there was no clear UPS sign out the front (there will be next week apparently!).

So how was the experience through BH Photo Video?  Good – I have nothing to complain about.  The order was processed quickly, and once my credit card went through, it was shipped almost immediately.  I can’t complain about the price.  Haven’t really used the customer service as I haven’t had to.  The site is extensive with a huge number of photography products being sold.   I can track my package electronically through UPS.  All good!

My only complaint is that they would only allow me to ship to my personal/home address and not to my work address.

Now to sell my 18-70 kit lens 🙂

Removing a stuck lens filter

So, on the first day of our Italian adventure, my Wifey picks up my camera bag and accidently drops my SLR with new lens attached onto the floor – lens first!! Aargghh!!!

I picked it up, turned it around to look at the lens and saw cracked glass.  It was devastating 😦 😦  Now, I do use filters on all my lenses, and this is one thing I can recommend to all.  A filter is basically another piece of glass that screws/mounts onto the front of a lens.  There are ones that change the image either by colour or amount of light coming through, etc.  But the most useful purpose I’ve found is to protect the actual lens itself – it’s much cheaper to replace than to buy a new lens.

So I tried to look through the cracks to see if the actual lens was damaged, but I couldn’t tell.  I tried to unscrew the filter, but it seemed quite stuck.  Eventually got out the pocket knife and proceeded to remove the broken glass of the filter by leveraging it off into the hotel bin (I wonder what the cleaners thought!).

It seemed that the actual lens was not cracked.  Whether it was warped or not, I couldn’t tell.  Once all the filter glass was out, I tried again to unscrew the filter but I still couldn’t.  I think it might have jumped a thread, or warped or something in the impact.

Anyways, lens back on the camera and it worked!  The picture looked fine and I used it for the rest of the trip.

Now I’m back in Perth, I googled how to remove the filter.  I’ve read some suggestions from using a rubber shoe sole, to rubber gloves, to using pliers to peel it off like a sardine container or buying a filter wrench.  The first 2 suggestions didn’t work and I was not going to try to peel the metal filter off with pliers so close the actual lens of the camera, so it was off to a camera repair shop.

It seems the official Nikon repairers in Perth are Hartland Camera Repairs in Brisbane Street, Perth.  Literally 1 minute later, the filter was off and for free too!  Excellent!  It made my day 🙂  I’ll have to get my gear serviced there one day.

So now to buy another 77mm filter…