San Francisco with the Leica M-E

If you read my post from earlier in the year, you’ll see I made the decision to try out a Leica M6 in an effort to find a system camera that was more suitable for taking along with me when I travelled. After putting a bunch of films through the camera, I was quickly convinced […]

Gear Review: Nikon 200mm F/2G VR

I’ve owned this lens now for 5 years, and have been meaning to provide a write up for a long time. I guess I just haven’t used the lens enough, for reasons I will explain during my blog, to do it full justice, but enough is enough, it’s time to write up my experiences….. This […]

Back to Analogue – Leica M6

I began ‘serious’ photography back at university, when digital was only just getting going. At the time I didn’t have much money, so scrimped and saved to buy myself a semi decent analogue camera kit based around the Nikon F601. I was the picture editor/photographer for the college paper, so ended up spending a fair […]

Gear Review: Nikon 24mm f/1.4G

I’ve been using the Nikon professional zoom lenses for a while now, and have built up quite a nice kit. However, when combined with a full frame body such as the D3, it becomes a heavy outfit to use when traveling. So for my recent trip to Japan, I decided to travel lightweight (by my […]

Camera Stores in Tokyo

I am currently on vacation in Japan, and we started our trip by spending a couple of days in Tokyo. One thing that always impresses me when I am in Tokyo is the abundance of photography equipment that can be bought in the shops. There are a couple of large camera stores in Japan, and […]

Safari Photography: Supporting a big lens

I’ve been lucky enough to visit South Africa a couple of times now, and knowing what gear to take is always the big question before I leave. In discussing this with other photographers, through my blog, and on forums, one question that people often ask me is what sort of camera support system they should […]

Giromania reaches Amsterdam

Today the first stage of the 2010 Giro d’Italia started in Amsterdam with an 8.4km time trial. With just under 200 starters, the cyclists kept the streets of Amsterdam busy for over 3 hours. I went out with the D3 and my 200mm f/2G VR lens and took some photos along the Ceintuurbaan in Amsterdam […]

Nikonians Amsterdam Get Together

Some time ago we put a call out on the Dutch Cafe at Nikonians for a get together in Amsterdam. This is something we have organised a couple of times in the past, although the previous trips were more based around out of town vendors. This time we decided upon a city meet, so planned […]

Gear Review: Nikon 24mm f/1.4G

in Gear Review, Lens Review by on July 23rd, 2010

I’ve been using the Nikon professional zoom lenses for a while now, and have built up quite a nice kit. However, when combined with a full frame body such as the D3, it becomes a heavy outfit to use when traveling. So for my recent trip to Japan, I decided to travel lightweight (by my standards, at least) and take a couple of primes.

Green Tea ceremony at the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. Shot at f/1.4

I initially settled on taking the 24/2.8D, along with the 50/1.4G and the 85/1.4D, but shortly before I left I was able to pick up the 24/1.4G at a reasonable price, so I decided to replace the 24/2.8. I also packed the 70-200/2.8VR for some shots I was planning to take of the snow monkeys at Jigokudani, but I decided I would leave that one behind in the hotel when we were out on day trips.

Shooting an entire trip with primes requires a different thought process than shooting with a zoom would. Although a 24/50/85 combo covers a similar range to the 24-70/2.8 that I normally travel with, I would obviously only ever have a single focal length on the camera at any one time, so any ‘zooming’ I would need to do would have to be done by foot. Since a lot of our trip would be spent inside the city (initially Tokyo, and then later Kyoto) I needed wide, so the 24mm f/1.4G stayed on the camera for probably around 80% of the shots. This blog post covers my experiences thus far with the lens.

Prayer boards at a Japanese shrine. Shot at f/1.4

When I was convincing myself to buy this lens, I looked at my lens collection so far, and realised that I had a number of lenses that covered the 24mm focal length already – 24/2.8D, 17-35/2.8D, and the 24-70/2.8G. All of these lenses serve their purpose very well, and at around f/8 it is very difficult to tell the difference between shots taken with each lens. However none of them give me the flexibility that the 24/1.4G gives me – and that is the ability to shoot at f/1.4. This makes the lens very flexible if I want to shoot at night, or when I want to provide some separation between the subject and the rest of the shot. Combined with the high ISO performance of the D3, I can shoot in very low light conditions without having to rely on flash for illumination. And to me, that makes the lens worth the price you have to pay to get one.

Buddha at shrine. Shot at f/1.4

The 24/1.4 is a fairly bulky, but lightweight, prime. This is down in part to the material used for the barrel construction – plastic. At first I was surprised that a 2000Γ’β€šΒ¬+ lens would be constructed from plastic, but after using the lens for a couple of months, I am more than happy with the build of the lens, and it balances well in the hand when mounted on the D3. Being from the pro line, it is also a plus point that the lens shares the same 77mm filter thread, allowing filters to be shared with the other lenses in the series.

The lens is a G lens, meaning it doesn’t have an aperture ring, as is the case with pretty much all of Nikon’s recent new lens releases. This isn’t a problem for any of the Nikon Digital SLR range, but should be taken into consideration if the lens is intended for use on an older film body which doesn’t have the ability to adjust aperture in camera. The lens does however have a depth of field scale in the focus distance window.

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. HDR shot at f/7.1

Talking about depth of field, this is one of the great things about this lens. With it being a wide angle, depth of field is a lot deeper at any given aperture when compared to a longer lens, but when used close up at f/1.4, the lens provides pretty good subject isolation. At the same time, focusing at further distances when using f/1.4 still gives enough depth of field for this to be a very useful low light lens. The next two shots were both taken at f/1.4 at night – note the difference in apparent depth of field due to the distance I focussed at:

Tokyo Night Lights. Shot at f/1.4

Kyoto Tower. Shot at f/1.4

The lens appears sharp at every aperture, and although I have taken a high percentage of my shots with this lens at f/1.4 to take advantage of the creativity this offers, it also provides excellent results when stopped down a bit (all the HDR landscape shots in this post were made at f/7.1 or f/8). I have noticed a slight amount of vignetting wide open occasionally, but in most cases this adds to the atmosphere of the shot, and can be corrected in post if necessary.

All in all, the lens is very versatile, providing an excellent solution regardless of whether it is being used for portrait, night/low light, landscape, or architecture photography. Whilst the price point makes this lens inaccessible for many photographers, for those that do get a chance to shoot with it, the results are worth the money.

Flowers, shot close to minimum focus distance at f/1.4

Waterfall at Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. One shot HDR, shot handheld, 1/10s @ f/7.1

Tabatha. Shot at f/1.4

Nagano Mountains. HDR shot at f/8

Kyoko. Shot at f/1.4

4 Comments

Camera Stores in Tokyo

in General, Travel by on June 18th, 2010

I am currently on vacation in Japan, and we started our trip by spending a couple of days in Tokyo. One thing that always impresses me when I am in Tokyo is the abundance of photography equipment that can be bought in the shops.

There are a couple of large camera stores in Japan, and all have multiple branches in Tokyo. Our hotel was in Shinjuku, primarily in a business district, but within a couple of minutes from the hotel I had access to a large BIC Camera store, and a Yodobashi Camera. Out of the two, I think Yodobashi is my favorite – this particular branch had 5 or 6 floors, and each floor had a different ‘theme’ – the ground floor covered ‘consumer’ cameras, the first floor was for Digital SLRs, the next for Medium Format and Studio, the next for Tripods and Darkroom, and so on….

The nice thing about these stores is that they always carry a wide range of photo gear – this particular Yodobashi had stock of all the exotic Nikon telephotos, as well as the small accessories that always seem to be impossible to get in Europe.

There are also a number of photo stores, and further Yodobashi and BIC branches, in the Ikebukuro region.

Tokyo also has a thriving second hand market for Nikon gear, and there are a couple of stores worth visiting. Probably the best known is Nikon House in Ginza, but you can also find good second hand selections at a small shop in Ikebukuro (just keep walking from the Metro down the road with all the electronics stores, and you will find it on a corner on the right) and a very complete store in Shinjuku (kind of inbetween the park and the New South Entrance to the Metro).

(I realise the above descriptions without shop names and addresses are pretty useless, for which I apologise, but looking at kanji on a roadsign or shop front doesn’t work for me)

One thing that hasn’t helped in my quest for Nikon gear is the exchange rate. Whereas when I was here a couple of years ago I was able to pick up a 24-70/2.8 for a couple of hundred Euros less than it cost in the Netherlands, it now is much more expensive to buy lenses in Tokyo. Probably the most outrageous example I saw of this was a 200/2VR for around 5000 Euros (3500 in NL), but even the cheaper lenses cost a lot more (for example a 14-24 was around 1800 in Tokyo, compared to 1350 in NL). I realise that shopping on the high street is never the best place to get the cheapest prices, and I am unaware of what they would cost via mail order, but it is certainly in stark contrast to the prices I experienced a couple of years ago.

The good news though is that accessories are still significantly cheaper.

So what did I buy? Two 77mm neutral color filters. Just couldn’t find anything else I needed πŸ˜€

The photo accompanying this blog is a HDR image of a rice field before the storm in Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, where we are spending the rest of our vacation (obviously not literally in the rice field). Taken with the 24/1.4 and D3 at f/5.6

4 Comments

Safari Photography: Supporting a big lens

in Shooting reports, Technique, Travel, Wildlife Trip Reports by on May 30th, 2010

I’ve been lucky enough to visit South Africa a couple of times now, and knowing what gear to take is always the big question before I leave. In discussing this with other photographers, through my blog, and on forums, one question that people often ask me is what sort of camera support system they should be using whilst on the safari vehicles.

Often the initial thought is something along the lines of, ‘I’m taking a big camera lens, therefore I need to take the heaviest tripod that I own in order to support that lens.’ A logical way of thinking if you are intending to sit in the bushes for a day to wait for your prey to approach. Problem with that in Africa is if you sit in the bushes for any length of time, you’re likely to get eaten by a lion πŸ™‚

You might also think that the safari vehicles will have enough space to mount a tripod. However, even if you are lucky enough to have a whole row to yourself, mounting a tripod is not going to be practical. Asides from the fact that there isn’t enough space in the footwells to put the tripod up, the rough ground you may be traveling across will quite likely throw the tripod outside of the vehicle, lens and body along with it.

So what is the solution? Well, you will probably be either shooting from the window of a 4×4, or traveling along in a typical safari vehicle such as the one in the following image (passenger normally not included….)

As you can see from the construction, it is a very open setup, designed to give the most flexible vision in any direction. You may be sharing your row with one or two other people, or you may have it to yourself. The way I work, when shooting with one of my big guns, such as the 200-400mm or the 600mm, is to take along a couple of bean bags with me. The most useful one I have is around 20cm (8″) square, and has a velcro fastening on it. The first day I arrive in Africa I go to the local supermarket, and buy around 2.5kg of maize or dried beans, and fill the bean bag up with this. They only cost around 2Γ’β€šΒ¬/3$, so it’s not worth taking up 2kg of my luggage allowance to bring them with me from home. I then have a very flexible solution that I can use to support the lens, either on one of the chair supports, or on top of a fellow passenger body part. It is very easy to quickly change from one side of the vehicle to the other, without having the hassle of moving a tripod, monopod, or other support system, and easily gives enough support to get sharp images.

The bean bag solution also works well if you are shooting out of a car/4×4 as it will rest on the opened window, or, if you do have the chance to shoot from outside the vehicle, on top of the car roof. (Edit: the following image was not taken standing outside of a vehicle, as I value my limbs too much….)

All animal shots in this article taken with the D3/600mm, using a bean bag support, at the Krugersdorp game reserve, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Giromania reaches Amsterdam

in Shooting reports, Sport by on May 8th, 2010

Vasil Kiryienka

Today the first stage of the 2010 Giro d’Italia started in Amsterdam with an 8.4km time trial. With just under 200 starters, the cyclists kept the streets of Amsterdam busy for over 3 hours. I went out with the D3 and my 200mm f/2G VR lens and took some photos along the Ceintuurbaan in Amsterdam de Pijp.

Maciej Bodnar

It was the first time I had tried shooting a cycling race, and I learnt some valuable lessons:

– It’s better to shoot wider and crop later

– Shoot in full manual mode, and keep an eye on the light levels. Don’t rely on aperture or shutter priority modes, as this will mess you up

– On the D3, use AF-C, turn focus tracking off, and use the 9 AF area mode – 51 3D can confuse the camera too much

– Keep the ISOs up as the light drops – remember you need a shutter speed of at least 1/500s to freeze the action (unless of course you are planning on doing some panning with slow shutter speeds, but I wasn’t in the right location for that)

– Placing your self on a bend is a good place to get some shots as the cyclists slow down. However make sure you get there early to get a good spot (which I didn’t)

Here is a short slideshow of some of the images I took. More are online at http://bit.ly/8XuYJw

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Nikonians Amsterdam Get Together

in Travel by on May 7th, 2010

Some time ago we put a call out on the Dutch Cafe at Nikonians for a get together in Amsterdam. This is something we have organised a couple of times in the past, although the previous trips were more based around out of town vendors. This time we decided upon a city meet, so planned to start off at Centraal Station in Amsterdam at 10am on the Sunday morning.

Unfortunately we chose the worst day of the year in terms of weather, and it rained torrentially the whole day. This had an effect on the turn out, and the group was rather small – Albert, Jeroen, and myself.

Red - Waterlooplein

Our plan for the day was to spend the first couple of hours walking around the Jordaan, and then get to the city archive for 1200pm, to allow us to join in with the Foam Museum Foam Lab Safari, a photo walk through Amsterdam. The theme for the Safari was ‘Structures’, and photographers were open to interpret that as they wished. Foam had organised a ‘refuel point’ in Amsterdam Noord, so we walked up from the archives to behind Central Station to catch the boat to North. Along the way we were able to take a few shots, using umbrellas as protection, as the rain really wasn’t planning to stop any time soon.

ARCAM - Amsterdam Center for Architecture

Wet - Bridge near Nemo

One interesting solution that Amsterdam has to the student housing problem is to make temporary accommodation by stacking up shipping containers, cutting a window in the side, and painting them funky colors. Not sure it would be my first choice of living quarters, but they seem very popular. There is such a ‘commune’ in the north of Amsterdam, at the NDSM Wharf.

Light at the end of the tunnel aka A student's life

I said No

There are also a number of old warehouses in North, and these have been handed over to artists who use them for their creative purposes. We wandered inside one, but upset one of the residents, who didn’t want ‘professionals’ taking photos….. πŸ™‚

D is for...

Blue

Saint in training

It’s always nice to wander round a city that you know very well looking for some different photos, and it was a good day’s walk……

All the photos in this blog post were taken using the D3 and the 24-70mm f/2.8G lens. The waterproofing of both the lens and the camera certainly proved to be valuable…..

Albert demonstrating how to take a photo whilst holding an umbrella.....

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