Category : The Learning Center

1 week, 3 days ago 4

 

There was a day that when asked about third party lenses, I would have simply said, “avoid them”!  That day has passed.  I still believe that in most cases you should buy the lenses made for your camera, by the camera manufacturer.  There are times now when you might should consider a third party lens.

 

(1)  If your camera maker does not offer a particular focal length or speed,  you need.

 

(2)   If the lens you need from your manufacturer is simply too expensive for your budget.

 

(3)  If an independent lens maker makes a particular product that you need and your camera maker does not make the same product!

 

What about quality?  That is a good questions and it is not easy to answer.  First know that all lens makers even the big boys like Canon and Nikon make several levels of lenses in terms of quality.  If your camera maker offers two 70-300 lenses and the price difference is very significant, you can bet the build quality and optical quality probably is too!  When your grandfather said,  “You get what you pay for!”  He knew  what he was talking about!  Twenty years ago a independent lens was rarely as good as the manufacturers original lenses, but the third party folks have really gotten their act together and now produce some very fine optics.  The mechanical quality is all over the board, but honestly it is too, even with the major manufacturers.

 

How about the premium brands like Zeiss?  Zeiss lenses are expensive, very expensive, and if you can afford them, probably worth it.  Zeiss has a very long history of making extremely good glass, well designed and set in premium quality constructed barrels and mounts.  Some Zeiss lenses are clearly superior, others pretty close to the quality of the other best lenses in their focal length.

 

How good is the consistency from lens to lens within a manufacturers line?  Let’s say you buy a 70-200 f 2.8 zoom lens from any major manufacturer or third party company.  If there are six lenses new on the shelf at the dealer, does it matter which one you buy?  You bet!  All manufacturers will have small differences from lens to lens in the manufacturing process.  The better companies have tighter quality control which makes the performance more consistent, but does not eliminate the fact that an occasional lemon slips through.  Does your lens maker pull one out of every 3 from the line to test, or 1 of every 10, or maybe one of every one hundred!!!!!

 

So what can you do to make sure you get a good value for your dollar spent on lenses?  I have several suggestions that will at least put the odds in your favor!

 

A.  Be your own quality control department.   Deal with a dealer that has a return privilege.  When you buy a lens make a thorough test the day you buy it.  Have some comparison shots of the same test subject that you’ve made with a lens you have high regard for, and compare them.  I have a old building with a brick wall in my town, and at the right time of day when the bricks are cross lit, I can test a lens and see what the sharpness is, corner to corner.  I have a couple of other color targets I can shoot.  Since I’ve done this with hundreds of lenses, I can tell right away how a lens stacks up.  If it doesn’t, it goes back in the box and back to the dealer and I try another.  * Now honestly in 45 years of being a  serious photographer I’ve had very few lenses that were lemons, but I have had a few!!  A great relationship with your dealer is your best insurance against getting stuck with a lens that will be a disappointment.

 

B.  Check the lens for build quality.  This is hard without taking a lens apart but ask a camera repairmen what they think of the quality of certain lenses.  Trust me they’ve taken enough apart to know what’s inside!  You can also compare the weight and smoothness of opposing lenses right in the store, and if you trust your sales person, (and why would you be shopping with him if you didn’t!) ask his advice.  A good retail sales person that will shoot you straight is incalculable.  You can also ask friends who have purchased lenses your interested in about their experience!  Lastly you can read test reports, but be careful, some publications accept advertising from the same companies whose products they review!  This does not always create a conflict, but it’s wise to be careful!

 

C.  Be realistic about your needs.  Are you constantly traveling and shooting around the world in harsh environments using your gear everyday?  Or do you shoot a couple of times a month and on holidays?  You don’t need the highest end, seriously built,  lenses for occasional use.

 

D.  Talk to friends, associates, and people you meet about their lenses. Ask them if they have been happy with them, if they seem to be holding up.  Visceral information is valuable!

 

Lenses are one of the very most important parts of the imaging system.  Do your homework, check around and test your selections and then go out and use them to make great images!!

 

Blessings,

 

the pilgrim

1 month, 1 week ago 10

The subtle beauty of Kodachrome film.

 

With apologies to the late, great Lewis Grizzard, (humorist and columnist for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution and my brother in arms, born in the same year I was 1946!…..and we lost him all too soon!),  who wrote a book by that title, today’s post requires a trip back to his era!  In the 70′s  and 80′s when Lewis wrote most of his  dozens of great books, (Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You  -  Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself  -  They Tore My Heart Out and Stomped that Sucker To Death  -  Shoot Low Boys, Their Riding Shetland Ponies  -  Chilli Dogs Always Bark At Night  and I Haven’t Understood Anything Since 1962!!)  Do yourself a favor and buy a book or two, you’ll end up buying them all!  If you live north of the Mason Dixon Line, don’t bother, they won’t be funny to you!!!  O.K. enough of my love affair with Lewis and his writing, what on earth is this blog entry about?????

 

This morning by good buddy Zak Arias posted a report on the new Fuji X100T, and update to the current X100s camera.   As always, an excellent report from Zak,  http://dedpxl.com/fuji-x100t-first-look/   One of the new features in the camera is a film simulation called Classic Chrome.  Now this where the story get interesting!  If you go back and visit the history of film emulsions, you would find that a massive, all powerful company called Eastman Kodak had the film that most professionals loved dearly called Kodachrome.  It rained supreme until an upstart little Japanese company called Fujifilm introduced a film called Velvia!  Since that day the photography world has never been the same.  If you had been a photographer in those days you would remember what an intense war was waged between these two companies. I’m not going to declare a winner, but Kodak, for all practical purposes, no longer exists, certainly not as it did back then.  Now three decades later Fuji introduces a camera that allows the photographer to shoot in the color palette of a film they helped become extinct!

 

Now, I’m not being critical, I actually loved Kodachrome and I miss it, and look forward to shooting some images with it’s lovely color palette!  I think it’s just an interesting “historical” turn of events!

 

So the question that always comes when new products are released by Fuji, “Will you buy it?”  Not sure.  I love the current X100s and I’m not sure I need the upgrades, though it is very tempting and I would love to have the X100 series in Black, and the “T” is available in black, so who knows, maybe a sum of money will drop out of the sky!  What I do want is the new lens that was finally “officially” announced as well.  The new 50-140 f 2.8  (equivalent to 80-210 focal length with the APS-C sensor).  the new lens has a tripod collar, takes 72mm filters, and is “claimed” to be one of the sharpest lens of this focal length ever.  It will sell for $1,600. which is about right compared to Nikon and Canon’s similar lenses for their full frame cameras.  The 55-200 is extremely sharp and is nice and compact so I will keep it too, but a fast medium telephoto zoom was a big hole in the system.

 

 

 

The new lens, based on Fuji’s record on optics , should be spectacular, sure hope so. One of the most important features in internal focus and zooming so the lens does not extend in physical size.  Fuji also announced a new 56mm f 1.2 APD, which allows the lens to get even softer bokeh and vignette for portrait photographers!

 

Exciting times today, some of the best of yesterday, works for me, and as Lewis said, “There’s no such thing as being too Southern.”

 

Blessings,

 

the pilgrim

 

 

1 month, 1 week ago 8

 

Welcome to the First Annual Pilgrim’s Picks!  Please let me set the ground rules!  These are in my opinion some of the top photography products for the year 2014!  Key phrase my opinion!  Am I qualified to make these choices?  that’s for you to decide, but I have been a working professional photographer for 45 years, worked as a Nikon tech rep for 11 years, have studied gear pretty much as hobby for ever, and talk to photographers constantly so I know what  lot of other folks think too.  Doesn’t hurt that many of the people I talk to are the top shooters out there, so yes, I think I can make these suppositions!!  Ah, but am I biased?  I don’t think I am, I certainly have preferences, but I believe they’re based on genuine information!  So here goes!

 

First, the Best All Around Digital Single Lens Reflex bodies.  Best all around means for general photography not sports action or specialized uses.  I feel the new Nikon D810 and the Canon 5D Mark III are a dead even tie!  Of course the D810 is the resolution king, but the 5D Mark II is a better all rounder and a great video camera.

 

 

Now we move to the new hot category in the industry the High End Mirror-less interchangeable lens camera.  I believe the Fuji X-T1 is the current best camera on the market for many reason, and  I proved it with my wallet!  My choice or second place is the terrific Olympus OM-D1, which I tested for Olympus and was very impressed!  In third place is the new Lumix GH4 which is a great camera that does stunning 4K video and has access to a great series of Micro 4/3rd lenses, just like the Olympus too!  How about Sony and the slick new A-7 and A-7r?  I have some experience with the Sony, and I have a pretty strong opinion about it, it is a great step forward, but I think it needs a couple more things!  The jpegs are not nearly as  nice as the RAW files from these cameras, if you are a jpeg shooter it’s disappointing.  The other issue is the lack of a full lens line at this time, of course eventually, (not sure how eventually), this will be solved.  the Sony has great potential and I bet, it may certainly make the 2015 list, maybe!!??  It’s up to you Sony!

 

 

In the High End Compact Mirror-less category we have three terrific cameras,  In first place is the Fuji X100s, called by Zak Arias, “the best camera I’ve ever owned….”  I don’t disagree with him!  The Sony RX-1s is a great camera but pretty costly, and the Nikon Coolpix A is a third place finisher, and a great very compact camera.

 

 

In the Category of Single Lens Reflex lenses the winners in each category are; (1) the Canon 24-105  f 4 IS lens, (2) Nikon 14-24 f 2.8 AF-S  Wide angle zoom is simply the best in the works, many Canon shooters have converted to use on their cameras too!  In the telephoto zoom category we have another tie, both the (3) Canon 70-200 f 2.8 IS II  and the (4) Nikon 70-200 AF-S VR II f 2.8 are both stellar to say the least!!!!

 

 

 

For me three longer telephoto lenses are standouts, (1) the Nikon 200-400 AF-S VR II f 4 lens is one of the best and most affordable long zooms. (2) The Canon 500mm F4 IS is one of the sharpest Canon long lenses. (3)  Nikon’s 400mm AF-S VR f 2.8 is not only fast, but extremely sharp!  Warning, all of these lenses are very expensive.

 

 

 

One of the reasons I went with the Fuji X System is the extraordinary, ever growing,  selection of truly great glass.   The Fuji lenses are very well made, and they offer a good selection of fast single focal lenses. I  red starred the ones I have below and included the Lens Road Map from Fuji.

 

 

This is the Road map for the Fuji lenses they have now and that are coming later this year and in 2015.

 

 

You guys know how  much I depend on a great support system and my choices are below;  (1) My favorite legs are the Really Right Stuff TVC 33 Versa tripod, (2) My ball head of choice is the Really Right Stuff BH-55-LR, (3 & 4) L Brackets from Really Right Stuff, (5)  Kirk’s fabulous Low Pod for shooting close to the found and their fabulous, (6) focusing rail FR-2!

 

 

 

O.K. so you have to have some way to carry and transport it all!  My favorites are (1) Think Tank Airport Security Airport 2.0, my favorite rolling bag,, (2) The Guru Gear Batafle 22L backpack, (3) the wonderful Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack and the (5) Low Pro Flipside Airport 10L AW, smaller and perfect for the Fuji system!

 

 

 

One last item is how to carry your memory cards and extra filters, especially the large split neutral density filters.  (1) I use the Filter Hive by Mindshift for the filters, and both the Think Tank Pocket Rocket, (2) and the Guru Gear Tembo card holder!

 

 

 

So there you have it, the First Annual Pilgrim’s Picks, but then, just my opinions, would love to hear your thoughts, really, post your thoughts below!!!!

 

Blessings,

 

the pilgrim

 

As soon as I finished this entry I checked the mail and found this clothing catalog, check out ht camera, the X100s!!!  Wow, my picks got out fast!!!!!

 

 

2 months, 1 week ago 9

 

Got a few emails, bet you knew that already!  Quote from one, “Please make sure I get this right, you are dumping every single piece of Nikon equipment you ever owned!!??”  No, and I didn’t say that, I said I hadn’t used my Nikons for over a year, and that I was selling off some Nikon equipment, not that I’m washing my hands of Nikon altogether.  So what am I keeping and why?

 

For 99% of my day to day work I’m shooting the Fuji X-System, I love it, it meets all my needs, and it’s a kick to use.  I do still have an ember in my heart of Nikons and Nikkor lenses.  I have a particular love for the Nikkor lenses of the AI-s era.  These mechanical jewels are a beauty to behold and hold.  Translation they provide a tactal  sensation going back to the days of Leitz lenses from Wetzler!  These Nikkors are amazing in quality and fun to use.  So, I’m holding on to a single Domke bag, filled with a manual system for the occasional times I need a Nikon manual fix!

 

 

 

So what’s in that bag?  The body is a D700.  In my opinion one of the best DSLRs Nikon ever made. It is essentially a D3 in a smaller package.  Image quality is superb and it plays well with the manual lenses. Just in case you were wondering, These same lenses are also suberb on the D800/D800e and I’m sure the D810 as well.  So why is my body not a D800 series camera?  Too much resolution for me, just don’t need it, the storage issues or the slow computer blues!

 

 

 

The lenses I chose are some of the “Legendary” Nikkors of all time, AI-s lenses.

 

The Nikkor 24mm f 2.8

 

 

The Micro Nikkor 55mm f 2.8 AI-s

 

 

 

 

The 25-50 AI-s f 4 Nikkor zoom lens.  An incredible zoom with super sweet color.

 

 

The Nikon 105mm  Micro Nikkor f 2.8 AI-s

 

 

The Nikon 80-200 f 4  AI-s Nikkor zoom.

 

 

 

 

Nikon 50-135 f 3.5 AI-s Nikkor

 

 

 

 

I also threw in a set of Automatic Extension tubes and some electronic cable releases.  So for those that are worried, I still have some Nikon stuff and enjoy it on rare occasions.  Does this mean that I think the new auto-focus glass in inferior?  No the modern glass is certainly great, but in order to allow micro motors to move the focusing mechanism the lenses must be made lighter internally, and there goes the smooth, old world feel!  A part of my past is using these old type lenses for the majority of my early career, and to be honest, I have a real love for the gear and the memories!

 

So all our decisions are not based in hard cold facts and specs!  Photography is a part technical but even more aesthetic and this is some of my aesthetic love affair with the gear of photography!!!!

 

 

Blessings,

 

 

the pilgrim

 

 

A special thanks to my buddy Ken Rockwell for his wonderful product images.  I’ve checked out gear for years on  his site!

 

Oh yes, and I use my 400mm f 3.5 IF-ED AI-s, 300mm f 4.5 IF_ED AI-s, and 200mm Micro Nikkor f4 AF on both the Nikon body and with adapters on the Fuji X bodies.