Category Archives: Reviews

Nikon 500mm f/4 VR: Hands-on first impressions and images

Male house finch, Fountain Colorado. Nikon 500mm f/4 AFS G VR lens and Nikon D810. 1/1600s @ f/4.5, ISO 360.
Male house finch, Fountain Colorado. Nikon 500mm f/4 AFS G VR lens and Nikon D810. 1/1600s @ f/4.5, ISO 360.

Spring is still a ways off here in the Rockies, but I did take advantage of some recent nice weather to field test my new Nikon 500mm f/4 AFS G VR Nikkor telephoto lens. In case you missed it, I switched to this lens recently after selling my 600mm f/4 VR. You can check out my podcast to hear about my rationale for switching.

I hit up the local nature center, where numerous bird feeders are set up. We don’t get much in the way of colorful birds here at this time of year, but the small ones are out in force, including chickadees, house finches, juncos, and the occasional woodpecker. Continue reading Nikon 500mm f/4 VR: Hands-on first impressions and images

Why Fast Cards Matter: Nikon D810 Performance

The Hoodman Raw Steel USB 3.0 card reader delivers fast download speeds from CF and SD cards.
The Hoodman Raw Steel USB 3.0 card reader delivers fast download speeds from CF and SD cards.

I won’t be the first one to tell you that fast cameras need fast memory cards. However, even the fastest cards differ in their read/write speeds between the theoretical and the actual achieved speeds. Read/write times not only depend on the tech specs of your card, but also your camera and transfer devices.

In the field, card read/write speed affects not only how fast the camera’s buffer can clear, but also how fast you can copy images to your computer. When transferring your images to a computer, the following factors are important to consider:

  • Card Speed
  • Reader Speed
  • Reader Interface (eg. USB/Firewire)

D810 Performance with CF Cards

I compared download speeds for 27 images (14-bit, lossless compressed) from the Nikon D810 using two different cards:

I tested each card using the Hoodman Raw Steel reader via USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 interfaces.  I downloaded my images to my computer using Photo Mechanic 5 and my typical settings. These settings included file renaming and adding IPTC data to each image as it was copied.

I tested the buffer performance by setting the D810 to capture 14-bit lossless compressed full-size raw images (NEF format) in continuous high-speed release mode (5fps). I determined the number of images I could capture before the buffer was full, and I timed how long it took for the buffer to clear. With these settings, the buffer count shows 19 frames. Continue reading Why Fast Cards Matter: Nikon D810 Performance

Review: Nikon TC-14E vs. TC-14EIII

The Nikon TC-14EIII has been completely redesigned and is compatible with select Nikon telephoto lenses.
The Nikon TC-14EIII has been completely redesigned and is compatible with select Nikon telephoto lenses.

I’ve been using the Nikon TC-14E teleconverter now for years. Even though it was “updated” to the MkII model a while ago, the only differences between the TC-14E and TC-14EII were the exterior cosmetics (finish). The optical formula remained the same (5 elements in 5 groups) between them.

Recently, Nikon completely redesigned their 1.4x teleconverter, and released the TC-14EIII. This new teleconverter uses a different optical formula (7 elements in 4 groups) and includes fluorine-coated front and rear elements to improve resistance to dirt and oil. The body of the TC-14EIII was also redesigned, to include a more prominent grip. It also includes weather-sealing (gasket) on the F-mount.

The real question is whether the new TC-14EIII is better optically than its predecessor. While all teleconverters will degrade an image, the 1.4x versions are usually the least destructive. The TC-14E/EII has long been considered to be an excellent teleconverter, delivering sharp results across a wide range of Nikon telephoto lenses.

Caveats

Before I go on, let me remind you of a couple key points about teleconverters.

  • Teleconverters restrict light coming into your lens. A 1.4x TC results in a one-stop loss of light. Thus a f/4 lens becomes a f/5.6 lens when shot wide-open using the converter.
  • Teleconverters magnify imperfections in your lenses. If you put a teleconverter on marginal glass, you’ll notice soft corners and other imperfections that you may not have seen. The better your base optics, the better results you’ll get when using a TC.
  • Nikon teleconverters (TC-14E, TC-17E, and TC-20E models) only mount on certain AF-S lenses. The F-mount is modified to work only with a specified list of telephoto lenses. You cannot physically connect a Nikon TC to lenses it is not compatible with.
  • On lenses with maximum apertures of f/5.6 or greater, autofocus may not operate well or at all unless you are using a newer Nikon DSLR, such as the D4, D800, D810 or D750.

Testing Methodology

In order to compare the TC-14E with the TC-14EIII, I set up my Nikon D810 on a tripod. I used mirror lock-up to eliminate camera shake. For each converter, I focused using Live View and then set the camera to manual focus to lock the lens focus. My test target was a newspaper taped to my wall about 8′ from the camera.

I tested each teleconverter on my Nikon 70-200mm f/4 AFS G VRII lens. I know from experience that this is an incredibly sharp lens that handles teleconverters well. I examined the teleconverters performance from f/5.6 (wide-open) to f/11. My rationale being that most of the time you’ll be wanting to use your lens as close to wide-open as possible to maximize shutter speed.

Once I captured the images, I viewed them side by-side in Lightroom 5 with all lens corrections disabled. I wanted to see any effects of vignetting or distortion on the images. I compared the center and corners of each aperture pair.

Results

Overall, both the TC-14E and TC-14EIII were excellent in the center of the image frame across the range of tested apertures. As I moved to the outer third of the frame, The images from the TC-14EIII had slightly better contrast and sharpness. In the extreme corners, the TC-14EIII images were sharper than those using the TC-14E.

I also noticed that despite identical exposure settings, the images from the TC-14EIII were between 1/6 and 1/3EV brighter than those captured using the older TC-14E. This may be due to slight differences in optical coatings. Nevertheless, the histograms clearly indicated that the shots captured with the TC-14E were slightly underexposed as compared to the new teleconverter. Both converters handled light fall-off well.

At f/8 and f/11, both teleconverters delivered excellent results, with the TC-14EIII having a very slight advantage in the image corners.

Comparisons

For each of the images below, click to see a larger view.

Full-frame comparison of TC-14EIII (left) and TC-14E (right). Notice that the right image is slightly (about 1/6 stop) darker.
Full-frame comparison of TC-14EIII (left) and TC-14E (right). Notice that the right image is slightly (about 1/6 stop) darker.
TC-14EIII (left) vs. TC-14E (right) image center, captured at f/6.3 (1/3 stop down from wide-open).
TC-14EIII (left) vs. TC-14E (right) image center, captured at f/6.3 (1/3 stop down from wide-open).
Image corner viewed at 100% of TC-14EIII (left) and TC-14E (right), showing a slight improvement in contrast and sharpness of the TC-14EIII image.
Image corner viewed at 100% of TC-14EIII (left) and TC-14E (right), showing a slight improvement in contrast and sharpness of the TC-14EIII image.

Conclusions

The TC-14EIII is Nikon’s latest redesign of their venerable 1.4x teleconverter. Optically, the new design delivers slightly brighter and sharper image corners than the previous version. For photographers looking to maximize image quality on pro glass, the TC-14EIII is an excellent teleconverter. It also adds weather-sealing and dirt/oil resistant coatings, making it desirable for outdoor/nature photographers.

Overall, the optical differences between the new and old teleconverter designs were quite subtle. Unless you’re using top glass, such as Nikon’s telephoto primes, and a high-resolution camera like the D810, you probably won’t notice too many differences in everyday images. In fact, if your images are close-ups with out of focus backgrounds, then the improved corner sharpness won’t have any bearing on your photos whatsoever.

The Nikon TC-14EIII teleconverter lists for just around $500. The TC-14EII has been discontinued, but can be found on the used market.

Review: Domke “Ledger” Shoulder Bag

Most photographers have a dirty little secret: a closet full of camera bags. That’s because no single bag can meet every possible need for carrying your gear. Backpacks are great, but they can be awkward to work out of and don’t fit into tight spaces easily. Roller bags are perfect for airports and carrying lots of gear, but they are cumbersome to use for street photography. Shoulder bags are easy to work out of, but they can get really heavy if you pack a lot of gear. Belt packs are really nice, but you can’t carry everything in them as they quickly get overloaded.

I’ve used just about every style of bag, and most of the time I end up using some combination of backpacks and roller bags, depending on how I’m traveling and what I’m packing. The one style I don’t typically use is the shoulder bag; for me, I usually have too much stuff to comfortably carry one for extended periods of time. However, when Tiffen USA contacted me about testing one of the Next Generation Domke shoulder bags, I thought it might be a nice way to pack a mirrorless kit. Continue reading Review: Domke “Ledger” Shoulder Bag

Nikon 20mm f/1.8 AFS G: Example Images

The Milky Way stretches over Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. You can see the Andromeda galaxy at center right (click to enlarge).
The Milky Way stretches over Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. You can see the Andromeda galaxy at center right (click to enlarge).

I spent last  weekend leading a photography workshop to one of my favorite places, Carhenge. We specifically set out to shoot star trails and the Milky Way, and I thought it would be a great test for the new Nikon 20mm f/1.8 AFS G Nikkor lens. Here are some example images. After looking at my files, I’m exceptionally pleased with the performance of this lens. And for less than $800, it’s a great value, in my opinion.

More samples after the jump… Continue reading Nikon 20mm f/1.8 AFS G: Example Images