Gear Review: Nikon 10.5mm F/2.8G DX Fisheye lens

in Lens Review by on March 15th, 2008

Queen for a day
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

A fisheye lens is defined as an ultra-wide lens, giving a close to 180 degree angle of view. There are two sorts of fisheye – a circular, or a full frame fisheye.

Back in the days of film, fisheye lenses were either very cheap (and subsequently rather unsharp) or very expensive, large, and out of the reach of the average photographer.

However, with the advent of the cropped DX sensor, not so much glass was required in order to get the full 180 degree view favored by the full frame fisheye, and Nikon’s answer to this was the 10.5mm fisheye, which only works on the DX range of Nikon digital SLRs. (using this on a full frame camera will lead to vignetting, and a fairly unusable image). The 10.5mm is a compact lens of similar diameter to the 50mm F/1.8, and a little bit longer. Due to a bulging front element, the lens has a built in, non removable lens hood.

When I was in the States last year, i picked up the fish for around $600, after looking at it online and wondering whether to buy it in Europe for around €600. $600 was a very good price for this lens, and in fact, having used it for the past year, I would be more than prepared to pay the full €600 for it, should I ever need to replace it.

Images that come from full frame fisheye lenses are easy to spot, due to the curvature that gets applied to straight lines within the frame. Whilst a straight line through the center of either axis will stay straight, anything away from that will be bent to varying degrees, as you can see from the image above.

If you think back to photography 101, you will remember that the wider a lens is, the greater the depth of field in the image, and the 10.5 is no exception to this. So much so, that focusing is almost unnecessary, but with it having a f2.8 maximum aperture and in spite of not having AF-S, focusing happens fast and accurately in any case. It’s not a lens for everyday shooting, due to the issues with curvature, but used sparingly, it gives fun images.

Car park management is not liable for any loss or damage to your vehicle......

I find the images to be nice and contrasty, with good colors. Due to the large angle of view, light pours into the lens, and it can be handheld at low shutter speeds without noticeable lens blur.

Obviously due to the large angle of view, if you are using the lens as a portrait lens, as I did for the first image, you need to be very close to the subject – I was probably around 50cm from his face. The way I like to shoot when I am using it for portraits is to shoot into the sun, but use a flash either on or off camera to fill in the details in the foreground of the shot.

Unconventional use of a 70-200

It is possible to ‘defish’ the images taken with this lens using Nikon’s software, but personally I don’t do this. When an image is defished, it is straightened out, and the image no longer fills a rectangle, so cropping is necessary to get it back to a frame filling image, and the edges of the frame are lost. I have other lenses, such as the 12-24mm, that I will use if I want to take an ultra wide shot with limited distortion.

So in summary, this is a fun lens, ideal if you want to give an image an extra level of interest. It does distort images, but that also adds to the image in many ways. Due to it’s compact size, it is easy to throw in the bag and carry all the time, just in case the opportunity arises to use it…….

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Gear Review: Nikon 85mm F/1.4D lens – the cream machine

in Lens Review by on September 9th, 2007

Sigal 9
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

Back in the days of 35mm film photography, 85mm was seen as the ideal focal length for a portrait lens. It was slightly longer than a ‘normal’ 50mm lens, and this was felt to be more flattering to models, as it compressed the background just enough to look good.

Nikon has had two 85mm AF portrait lenses for a number of years – one that has a F/1.8 maximum aperture, and the other with a F/1.4. At first, with the exception of the aperture, the main difference between these lenses is the price – the 1.8 comes in at around €400, whereas the 1.4 is three times the price, at around €1150. But there is a lot more to the 1.4 – having a wider aperture lets approx 50% more light in than with the 1.8, and this means for a brighter viewfinder image when focusing, as well as a more useful lens for low light photography. The 1.4 also has a more pro build to it – the majority of the construction is a dappled metallic finish (similar to the 105mm DC), whereas the 1.8 is primarily plastic. And the 1.4 also takes the pro standard 77mm, whereas the 1.8 takes a 62mm filter.

Since the introduction of the of the DX format digital SLR, 85mm lenses have fallen out of favor with some photographers, feeling the 85mm lens (which becomes 127mm after the DX conversion) is a little too long to be used as a portrait lens, and this is part of the reason that they can be picked up on eBay relatively cheaply (I think I paid around €550 for mine a couple of years ago.) This is likely to change shortly though, as Nikon has now announced the full frame D3, so the 85mm becomes an 85mm lens again….

Probably the main selling point for the 85mm F/1.4, and the reason for it’s nickname, ‘the cream machine’, is the bokeh that this lens can produce. Bokeh is a Japanese term for the area of the photo which is thrown out of focus through the depth of field used in the image, or basically the blurry bit.

Natalia

Bokeh depends on two things – the aperture used, and the distance between the subject and the background – the wider the aperture, the better the bokeh, and the further the distance between subject and background, the better the bokeh. The examples accompanying this blog both show good bokeh – the first one of SIgal was shot at F/3.2, whereas the second one of Natalia was shot wide open at F/1.4.

The use of bokeh in a portrait helps the viewer to focus on the subject without the distractions of the background clouding his vision, and the 85mm F/1.4 allows just this – the autofocus parts of the image just melt into one another, making the background barely recognisable.

The F/1.4 is known as a superior performer, providing images that are sharp and contrasty. It is sharp all the way to F/1.4, and should be in every portrait and wedding photographer’s arsenal of tools. Although this lens focuses relatively quickly on any modern Nikon body, due to the wide aperture and the amount of light that is available to assist the camera, if I have wish for the following release of this beautiful lens, it would be to add AF-S to the list of features.

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Gear Review: Nikon 50mm F/1.8D lens

in Lens Review by on May 19th, 2007

Sigal in the studio
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan.

I’ve got thousands of Euros worth of camera lenses. All of them Nikon, and all of them great in one way or another. But in terms of which lens gives me the best bang for the buck, it’s got to be the standard 50mm F/1.8D lens….. it’s sharpness, contrast, and colour rendition is equal to many of my lenses costing ten times the price. It’s great as a low light lens also, with a maximum aperture of F1.8, meaning it can still keep going in low light situations where other lenses have given up a long time ago. But probably the best thing about this lens is it’s price: only 100€ to you, sir….

A 50mm lens has pretty much always been in Nikon’s lens line up, and in the times of 35mm film, and before zoom lenses had become as popular as they are today, was considered a ‘standard’ lens to have – the reason for this was, at 50mm, it gave the closest field of view to that of the human eye, which for most people is around 55mm. This meant that in terms of perspective, what you saw through the viewfinder of a 35mm SLR fitted with a 50mm prime was pretty much as you saw it when the camera was taken away.

In the 90’s, as the quality of zoom lenses became better, and their respective prices lower, the 50mm lost it’s popularity, as people preferred to go for something a little more flexible, but now we are into the digital age, with a crop factor of 1.5x, the Nikon 50mm becomes a useful 75mm in 35mm terms. So right in the middle of the range considered good portrait lenses in terms of perspective.

The first picture in this blog entry, taken of Sigal using studio lighting, is an example of this. It enabled me to get a good working distance to the model, and by using selective focussing and a wide aperture (in this case f2.2), I was able to throw most of the image out of focus, keeping the eyes sharp, and making sure that is what the viewer’s attention is naturally drawn to. If I recall correctly, with this image I had absolutely no need to apply any sharpening in post processing.

Due to the size of the lens, it always goes into my bag when I go out taking portraits, and invariably gets as much use as its bigger brother the 85mm f1.4D.

Air Traffic

Another situation where I have found having the nifty 50 in my kit bag invaluable is when shooting gigs. In fact, so much so that now I typicaly go to gigs with just the 50mm attached, leaving all the other lenses at home. This has the advantage of a camera setup that is relatively compact, and no need to worry about all the other gear getting knocked or covered in beer. And again the field of view of the 50 is just right to get frame filling portraits, providing you have managed to get a good position near the front of the stage, as can be seen here in the shot of Air Traffic when they played at Paradiso in Amsterdam earlier this year. But of course the most important characteristic of shooting in low light situations such as concert halls, is this lens opens right up, giving enough light for the AF to work, and a wide enough aperture to keep the shutter speed high enough to get sharp results.

Lily Flower

The gig shot was taken wide open, at f1.8, as was the lily above. The 50 can focus relatively close, and gives good opportunity for creative shots with limited depth of field, allowing the photographer to focus on a specific part of the image, and leave everything else to fade away to blur. The 50 is also an ideal way into macro photography, since it can be used either in combination with an extension tube, with a close up filter, or with a lens reversing ring (such as the Nikon BR-6)

So again, this is a great little lens that is small enough to take anywhere, sharp enough to cut your finger, and cheap enough to fit into anyone’s budget. The only downside of the lens is that it hasn’t yet been upgraded to a AF-S lens, but in the sort of photography I use this lens for, fast focussing speed isn’t that important.

And for those of you shooting Canon, I’ve heard equally good things about their 50mm F1.8 EF lens…… 🙂

You can see more examples of shots taken with this lens in my flickr photostream.

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