Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NIkon Lenses - Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S

I will admit, I am definitely a Nikon fanboy.  I love all things Nikon from the super telephotos down to the small primes.  Speaking of small, Nikon just announced the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens last night.  The D version of this lens is actually the first lens I ever owned.  I bought a used nikon d50 off of craigslist and part of the deal was the 50mm f/1.8.  I did not know much about it at the time but I learned to love it and make great pictures (well, ones that I enjoyed anyway). I learned about depth of field, minimum focal distance, aperture, etc..  I had never owned an slr camera before, let alone a digital slr. I have come a long way since, but I still have a TON to learn as I seem to be challenged everyday I am able to go shooting, whether it be still objects or moving.  I have since sold the lens along with that camera to another person that was just starting out and seeing the new incarnation of this lens, I might just get it for kicks as it is super small and lightweight. I can just throw it in a bag and not worry about it.
    I have had all sorts of f/1.4 lenses - 50mm f/1.4G, 85mm f/1.4G and I have learned that for at least what I like to do, the 50mm and less seems to be the best as the minimum focus distance (MFD) on the 85mm f/1.4G that I had just seemed to be too long for the way I wanted to use it.  Can Nikon make an 85mm f/1.4 with a super short MFD similar to the 24-70mm or the 24mm f/1.4G?  I am sure it can be done, but at what cost, I have no idea.  I know that because of that, the 50mm f/1.4G seems to be the lens I go to for shallow depth of field when I need to be a little bit closer and f/2.8 of the 24-70mm just won't cut it.  Can't wait to see how the new 50mm f/1.8G is when it comes out as I am anxious to give it a try again...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sharpness and long lens technique.

    I was reading a recent blog from Moose Peterson (one photographer that I look up to) regarding sharpness and have always struggled a little, as I am sure most have, with getting really sharp shots when using a super telephoto lens.  In my case, the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR lens when it is used in conjunction with a teleconverter.  I have practiced the proper long lens technique that Moose describes here as much as I can. 
    When I have the 600mm VR on naked (no teleconverter) I can get very clean, sharp shots.  Once I throw on a TC, the whole game changes for me.  I try to keep the shutter speed at least the same as the focal length that I am using, which would be at least 1/640 for 600mm and so on.  This does not always work for me as I tend to get shots that are less than sharp and sometimes I have to crank the ISO up to get the shutter speed where I want it at the aperture I set (I tend to use aperture priority on my Nikon D3s) which gives me more noise than I care for when it is first light or last light.  I know it is not the tc as I have gotten razor sharp shots with the Nikon 400mm VR of birds in flight.  I suppose I just have to keep practicing.  What do you all do? I am quite curious to see if others are in my situation or if I just doing it all wrong.....

Here are a few shots with the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR with a Nikon TC-17e II teleconverter:

Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR with the Nikon TC-17e II
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR with the Nikon TC-17e II

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gitzo & Really Right Stuff Tripods - TVC-34L

    I currently use a Gitzo GT5541LS tripod for most of the shooting that I do with large glass.  Previously I have used the Gitzo GT3541LS, GT3531s (I am sure you have seen a picture of it if you have googled "nikon 600mm f/4" when I had my afs II on a crappy ballhead at the beach), Gitzo GT5530s, and the GT3541XLS.  The GT3541xls was great, sturdy and tall but was too long for traveling when completely closed up. The GT3541ls was almost tall enough for me (I am 6'-1") and alright with a 500mm f/4 or less.  The GT5530s was massive, heavy and sturdy as hell.  It unfortunately was just too short for me and I hated the center column on it.  I have taken the GT3531s with me to Alaska as it proved to be great for packing in checked luggage and strong enough for the 300mm VR that I took along (I wish I took longer glass!).

Nikon 600mm f/4. Gitzo GT3531s
Nikon 600mm f/4 AF-S II w/ Gitzo GT3531s
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR w/ Gitzo GT5530s

    Now, the GT5541LS is a great tripod and it has been my go to for some time now.  It is a bit on the heavy side at a tad over 6lbs for just the legs.  Add a wimberley head at 3 pounds and you are carrying some weight.  I had always thought that Gitzo was the only way to go as I could not find a comparable product in the market place.  
    Now, I know Really Right Stuff was going to be making tripods for some time now, but I never saw any in action or much advertising of them.  I have been reading a lot about their Really Right Stuff TVC-33 in many online photo forums and really enjoying what I am seeing and reading.  Looking at the specs, the weight of the tripod looks fantastic, but it seems it might come up a little short for me when fully extended and a little long when folded up.  
    Enter the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L.  I am excited about the prospects of this one as it has a full height of 70" when extended and a tad over 24" when fully closed up.  The best part, 4.7lbs and a smaller overall diameter of the top plate.  This is almost 2lbs lighter, opens up taller and more compact than the GT5541LS that I am currently using.  I am heading back to Alaska this summer and will be packing the 600mm VR and I need a good tripod to pack.  Weight and size savings will be welcomed like a new family member.  I am anxiously awaiting the release of the TVC-34L and can't wait to give my review.
Nikon 500mm f/4 VR. Gitzo GT5541LS
Nikon 500mm f/4 VR w/ Gitzo GT5541LS
Gitzo GT5541LS vs GT3541LS
Size Comparison of the Gitzo GT5544LS vs. Gitzo GT3541LS

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Really Right Stuff PG-CC Cradle Clamp for Wimberley Gimbal

I decided to replace my Wimberley version II gimbal clamp with the Really Right Stuff PG-CC cradle clamp as I have always adored the lever action from their quick release clamps.  It is much simpler and quicker (in my opinion) to pop open the release, slap the plate in and close the release.  I do not think there is anything wrong with the Wimberley set-up, it just has become a little pain to screw and unscrew the small diameter knob.  

Here is a quick view of the set-up:
Nikon 600mm f/4 G VR. RRS PG-CC
Nikon 600mm f/4 G VR. RRS PG-CC

The above pictures were taken at a local marsh and the quick flip of the lever let me get set up a lot quicker and sometimes just a few seconds is the difference between getting a shot and not.  
My Take: Overall, there is not really any weight savings as they are very comparable in weight.  I like that the lever is more compact than the screw knob, which makes it easier to fit a lenscoat pouch over the set-up.  The fit and finish of the RRS cradle clamp is perfect.  Machined and anodized to perfection.  Definitely worth the money.  The set-up shown above is a Nikon 600mm f/4 G VR lens with the Really Right Stuff LCF-13 replacement foot, Nikon D3s on a Gitzo GT5541LS tripod and of course, the Wimberley Version II gimbal head.