Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Finally! - Really Right Stuff TVC-34L is on it's way to me.

This is a short, quick post. Well, it only took a little over a month, but I recently got word (email) from Really Right Stuff that a brand spankin-new RRS TVC-34L tripod was on its way to me.  I have to give some thanks to Casey over at RRS as he was one of the best CS reps I have had the pleasure of dealing with.  He even forwarded my requests to the Higher Ups to try to get me my tripod in time for my trip to Alaska.  Not sure if it helped, but it definitely made me feel good knowing that they are looking out for people wanting their products.  I will be getting the RRS TVC-34L tomorrow and will work on a comparison between it and the Gitzo GT5541LS as well as pictures showing them next to each other.  I hope to get this up tomorrow night.  Stayed tuned!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Nikon DSLR's - D4 & D400

Well, it is always inevitable, new technology comes out every year eclipsing the latest and greatest that just came out.  Camera bodies are no exception.  We have been riding the latest revision of the FX D3 body, the D3s, for some time now.  While it had great improvements and a completely different sensor than the D3, it is still a little behind the game in terms of Megapixels.  ISO sensitivity will be hard to beat in the new bodies, but I am sure they have figured out how to get another usable stop or more out of the new sensors.  

With the latest news of a new body (D4 and D400) rumored to be announced in August of this year, I can only imagine how Nikon is going to improve photography once more.  I can only imagine that the megapixel (MP) size of the sensor will increase.  What I do not know if the ISO sensitivity will also increase.  The issue with packing more MP's into the same size sensor is that ISO quality decreases.  This is one of the main reasons why the D3x only goes to 6400.  I think that is also why the D3s packs more of a punch than the 1D Mark IV from Canon as it is a higher MP sensor, ISO quality at high levels is left behind by Nikon.  

Because the latest and greatest always seems to come out year after year, I say put your money into quality glass as it tends to hold its value a lot more than a body as the lenses are not revised year after year.  I think quality glass is more important than what body you have.  You can get excellent results from a D80 or a D200 with a great lens, than with a D3s and a crappy kit lens.  Now, I am not a pro, nor do I make any money doing this, it is just from my experiences and results.  Can't wait till August!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nikon Teleconverters Test with the Nikon 600mm VR II & D3s

I have always wanted and needed more reach for some of the subjects that I want to photograph.  The longest AF lens that Nikon makes is the 600mm.  I am very fortunate to have and to shoot the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR II lens. Since going full frame (FX) with the Nikon D700, then the D3 and now the D3s, you lose a lot of the telephoto reach of the crop or DX sensors from Nikon.  You gain a whole lot of wide angle (which I love) and a true (to an extent) focal length of the lenses made for FX bodies.

That being said, I need a little more reach with the FX cameras and the 600mm VR II lens.  Since going back to DX was not a desired option, I decided on the teleconverter route as so many others have.  Unfortunately with a teleconverter, you lose small amounts of light hitting your sensor.  Starting with f/4 on a bare lens, a 2x teleconverter, you are already starting at f/8.  In low-light conditions, this is not the best choice unless you bump the iso up which will then introduce a good amount of noise into your picture.  Another downside to teleconverters is that if you start past your effective f/stop for your camera, your autofocus abilities also diminish.  I believe f/5.6 if the effective f/stop for autofocus to work (Nikon) and the 1.7x and 2.0x theoretically will kill that on an f/4 lens (f/6.3 and f/8 respectively). I have had some success with AF and a 1.7x tc, but it is sluggish.  Forget AF on moving subjects with a 2x tc and an f/4 lens (even the new III version).  

Since I am planing on heading to Alaska this summer and more importantly heading out to Katmai National Park , I wanted to make sure I had all the reach I could should the need arise.  For that, I have the: Sigma 1.4x, Nikon TC-17e II, and Nikon's new Nikon TC-20e III teleconverters to use with my 600mm VR II and 70-200mm VR II lenses. I will not have time to adjust focus of the lens with each teleconverter while there, so I decided to take the time this past weekend to dial in each teleconverter with the 600mm VR II lens on my Nikon D3s camera. The results are shown below, but first pictures of teleconverters:

Sigma APO 1.4x EX DG Teleconverter

Nikon TC-17e II Teleconverter

Nikon TC-20e III Teleconverter

Now on to the photo tests.  I decided to shoot a flat object that is in the same focal plane as the sensor.  This way I could get somewhat accurate results with the AF Fine Tune in the Nikon D3s.  I won't bore you with how I went about adjusting the fine tune for each image, but basically too the same image everytime adjusting the AF Fine Tune up or down (-20 to +20) in order for each TC and looking on my computer to see which setting yielded the sharpest photo.  For my current set-up, it seems that +5 for each TC combo yielded the sharpest for me, although 0 was pretty close!  0 was used for the bare lens as it is pretty damn sharp right out of the box wide open (f/4).  Now another note about the picture tests, these are all taken wide open, f/4, f/6.3 and f/8 (note about this is the camera did not recognize the sigma 1.4x tc to change the apeture to f/5.6 on the top lcd). Yes, I could have easily stopped down to make these super sharp, but I am not a pixel peeper and the results below I think are beyond acceptable if not really great based on the criteria used.  

Enough of the rambling, here are the photos :

Nikon 600mm f/4G VR II bare lens - full field of view

Nikon 600mm f/4G VR II - Crop

 Sigma 1.4x TC - 840mm - full field of view

Sigma 1.4x TC - 840mm - Crop

Nikon TC-17e II Teleconverter - 1020mm - full field of view

Nikon TC-17e II - 1020mm - Crop

Nikon TC-20e III - 1200mm - full field of view

Nikon TC-20e III - 1200mm - Crop

Now, I think they are all pretty sharp.  Focus point for each photo was between the 2 raised dots, on the "T".  There was absolutely no processing of these images other than importing into light room, cropping the selected crop photos shown, and exporting out .jpg's to post here.  I did not adjust any sharpening, contrast, color, etc...  That being said, I feel that the Sigma 1.4x TC had the best contrast in the image, with the 1.7x coming in a close second.  The 600mm VR II bare at f/4 was the best in my opinion (as it should be!).  

I almost did not use and was ready to discount the 1.4x as it seemed cheap to me, but it actually proved me wrong and produced stellar results.  The 1.7x I have had for some time and really liked it, but wanted more reach. The TC-20e III is really why I decided to try and post this test.  I had the previous TC-20e II and man, did it suck.  The images were soft and AF was almost non-existent.  The new 2x III version is absolutely amazing in my opinion.  It is smaller in size and better in optical IQ.  Pared with the 600mm VR II lens, it produced great bokeh, great contrast and most importanly, a sharp picture wide open at f/8.  I can not be happier with the results and I look forward to posting the results when I return.  In the meantime, more equipment testing and comparisons for my trip to come.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rethinking RRS TVC-34L Tripod Choice for upcoming trip to Alaska

Well, after giving it a lot of thought, I am rethinking my tripod choice for an upcoming trip to Alaska.  I currently have the Gitzo GT5541LS which is a beast of a tripod - strong and stable.  The big issue is the weight.  I am 6'-1" and it is plenty tall for me along with my wimberley head.  I originally wanted, and am currently on the waitlist for, a RRS TVC-34L as it goes plenty high, packs small and weighs almost 2lbs less than my Gitzo.  Now the reason I am rethinking is solely based on packing.  I do not have a lot of room for things and a huge tripod is a big concern.  Katmai is the main place for the trip and I feel I might be on my knees most of the time while photographing, which would negate the need for a tall tripod.

After reading many blogs and forums and asking a few questions from a fellow photographer Michael Fullana, Creative Edge Photography, about what he brought to Alaska when he went this past September, it made me re-prioritize my needs.  He told me he just brought a Gitzo 3 section 3 series tripod.  After seeing the Amazing Alaska Images he captured while in AK from the lesser tripod of the 5 series, I seriously am considering getting a 3 series again or trying the RRS TVC-24 or the TVC-24L. The TVC-24 collapses down to 18.7" and can hold 40lbs.  More than enough for a D3s, wimberley and a 600mm VR, especially if all legs are not extended.  The only downfall to the 24 is that it only extends to 49".  The 24L goes to almost 67", holds 40lbs and packs down 1" smaller and is 1lb lighter than the TVC-34L.  I might have to buy the TVC-24 and the TVC-34L to compare and see what will work best.  I will add a follow up post as soon as I can on this.