Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Review - A Lens From Yester-Year

image © Tamron USA


Reaching back into the archives, I've never really reviewed for you all my very first "Pro" workhorse zoom.    I say "Pro" because back then, if anything was f/2.8 constant aperture, we all called it that. 

The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 was my first lens I purchased specifically for my photography business.  I wanted something versatile and with a fast aperture.   Money being scarce, you sometimes take chances on things....and that is what I did with the Tamron 17-50/2.8.

Shooting wide open at f/2.8 on an APS-C sensor


Tamron always surprised me in how they could make relatively equivalent lenses for less money as well as smaller size and lighter weight.  The 17-50mm was no exception as compared to what Nikon had at the time, the 17-50 just made a lot of sense.  This lens was put to work on the Nikon D50 at first, then later on the D300.

It balanced well, and relatively was a light lens that wouldn't burden you if you needed to use it all day.

The focus ring and zoom ring were covered in a rubbery coating that helped when shooting in the cold.  No frozen fingers.

Long exposures during the 4th of July

Product photography, sure the Tamron could do that too!

A pseudo-macro, showing the close focusing ability of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8

Image Quality

Right off the bat, the f/2.8 aperture was a blessing and a curse.  You wanted to shoot there all the time because that is why you bought the lens in the first place!  However, f/2.8 is where this lens is at its worst.  Don't get me wrong, it is usable, but it was not the sharpest there and you had to make sure that you nailed focus because of the shallow depth of field.   Even on an APS-C sensor, f/2.8 can be tricky if you are shooting portraits.

All you really need to do, though is stop down to even f/3.2 and the lens sharpened right up, and in spades!!

A street scene at a drive through safari near Port Clinton, OH

In the early DSLRs, you did not want to push the ISO very far.  The D50 was about ISO 800 limit for me and the D300 was ISO 1600...maybe 2500.  so having something better than the kit lens apertures was refreshing.   My first lens for the D50 was a Tamron 28-200/3.8-5.6.  This was a 135 sensor size lens, so right away your field of view is going to be 42mm.

The Tamron, starting at 17mm, gives you roughly 25.5mm.  A big step up in the width department, for sure.

I'd love to get my hands on one of these and see how the IQ stacks up with the 20mp sensor on the D500 I have.  The 6mp and 12mp sensors worked quite well with it.

stopping down to just f/3.2 and the sharpness ramped up nicely.


The focus was always very accurate, but the speed was lacking.  Quite slow, which made tracking moving subjects a challenge and it was very noisy.   This lens did not sport a silent motor.  It was driven by the old screw and gear system.

It did not have a full time override of the AF either, so going from AF to MF was a 2 step affair, switching the lens to MF as well as the camera to MF.

An unsung point of the 17-50 was how close it was able to focus.  Before I purchased a dedicated macro lens, the Tamron served as a pseudo-macro.  It was able to get close enough and with some cropping made for some great close ups.

Below are some examples of this lens used for reportage and portraiture.

Bottom Line

This is one of the lenses that helped me go from mediocre snap shooter to producing professional results.  Yes, I know that gear is not what makes you a pro, but having gear that allows you to make the images you envision easier...well, that is what we are looking for here.

I still have fond memories of that Tammy lens.  I can still hear the grunting and grinding as it racked focus, feel the rubberized zoom barrel.  As I went back and looked at the images I made with that lens, it reminded me of a much simpler and less expensive time.   I was just a noob back then trying to find out where I fit in.

With the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, I could fit in anywhere.  It was very versatile and the workhorse I needed at the time.

Some additional images for your viewing pleasure!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Nikon 300mm f/4.5 AI Lens Review


I already have a great 300mm f/4 lens, so why did I get this one?  Good question readers!  The newest Nikon 300mm f/4E PF lens is a fantastic creation.  Much sharper than I could imagine, focus' fast.

What I cannot do with it is adapt it to my mirrorless cameras and I could never get this lens as cheap as I can the 300/4.5 AI.


You'd think a legacy 300mm lens would be heavy.  To the 300/4.5AI's credit, it has a noticeable weight to it, but it is not something that is off putting, even on a mirrorless camera.  It did originally come with a removable tripod collar.  Hopefully if you find one of these in a store, the lens collar will still be with it.  I was lucky enough to find one with the tripod collar.

The aperture ring is what you have come to expect with a Nikon of this age.  Positive clicks by the numbers.

The focus ring is smooth, but does have quite a long throw to it.  I noticed it can be a bit picky to get precise sometimes, however, this is an old, used lens so I'm not sure if that is just a symptom of use/abuse or if that is the way it was from new.

Image Quality

Many reports that this lens is a decent performer wide open.  Stopped down, as with most lenses it is supposed to really start shining.   Do those statements from others hold true?

On the Nikon Df:
1/500, f/4.5, ISO 100

1/500, f/4.5, ISO 100

1/1000, f/8, ISO 450

1/320, f/4.5, ISO 1800

1/320, f/4.5, ISO 2200

1/320, f/4.5, ISO 1250


Manual focus and pretty decent.  Not the best I've ever used with the Nikon 180/2.8 ED AIS and 105/2.5 besting it in feel.  It was a little bit of a struggle at times trying to balance the weight with my left hand and also turning the focus ring.

Bottom Line

For the $50 I nabbed this for I can't really complain too much.  With my Olympus Micro Four Thirds kit, you have very few options at the longer end. A handful of 300mm zooms that are not very fast (f/5.6-6.7) and the ones that are fast like the Olympus 300mm f/4 prime are $2500+ USD.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing the IQ of the Olympus to this legacy Nikon.  But this is a decent way of getting that 600mm field of view for not a lot of money if you don't mind having to manual focus.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN For Micro Four Thirds

Image © SigmaPhoto


We've reviewed the Sigma 60mm f/1.8 for Micro Four Thirds before and had good things to say about it.  IQ, size and price making it a quality consideration for someone looking for a 60mm focal length (120mm field of view).

Now, we look at another Sigma.  Highly regarded in most places, again for many of the same reasons as the Sigma 60mm.  This new review, though has a much faster aperture, wide open it is an f/1.4 - the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN with Micro Four Thirds mount is the subject of this review.

Is it as good as the chatter would have us believe?  Let's journey together and find out if this third party lens we got direct from Sigma as a refurb for $259 is worth keeping!


The field of view (FOV) on this lens is 60mm on a 135 size sensor camera.  This falls within a competitive range of lenses both OEM and third party.  There are plenty of 20 through 35mm lenses out there for people to choose.

Upon unboxing, I found that the lens was a bit bigger than you'll see lenses like the Panasonic 25/1.7 or Olympus 25/1.8 and even the ZhongYi Mitakon Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95 has a smaller footprint.  It does have a little more weight to it than the above mentioned OEM 25mm, but it is much lighter than the Mitakon 25/0.95.  The Mitakon is 100% metal construction, where the Sigma uses a metal mount with plastics in the construction of the body.

The focus ring is dampened and feels good when you turn it, and this is a focus by wire lens, so power is needed to get it to focus.  There is also no hard stops at minimum focus or at infinity.  The lens also has no focus scale on it.

The front element is 52mm, which is common standard filter thread.

A lens hood is supplied with the lens.

The physical size of the lens is because it was designed around APS-C size sensors.  This can be a benefit to m43 cameras as the "sweet spot" of the lens fits squarely to the m43 sensor.

The lens may seem a little big on smaller m43 bodies, but it feels right at home on a PEN-F or an EM5.2 or larger body. 

Image Quality

No surprises here if this is not your first review of this lens.  Even at f/1.4, this lens delivers the goods!  Sharp wide open and 100% usable for most anything.

I find that Sigma lenses have a unique rendering that I find pleasing when using their lenses on mirrorless cameras.  A bit more contrast and a nice bokeh than some other lenses.

I had wanted this lens to replace the Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens I bought and as far as I can tell it will be able to do so.

Yes, the focal length and field of view are different, but if I really need a 25mm, I can utilize the Mitakon Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95 in it's place when I need very low light performance. Otherwise, I can pull out the Panasonic 12-32/3.5-5.6 or the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 when a zoom makes more sense.

Images taken in JPG mode with the Olympus PEN-F

1/1250, f/2.8, ISO 200

1/5000, f/1.4, ISO 200

1/60, f/1.4, ISO 400

1/5000, f/2.8, ISO 200

1/5000, f/4, ISO 200


My history with Sigma lenses was severely tainted in DSLR land.   I've had poor luck with them in focus and function, even as recently as a short foray with the Sigma 12-35/1.8 on the Nikon D500.  This combo had severe focus issues with anything outside the middle focus point.

When we come to using Sigma's lenses with Micro Four Thirds mirrorless and have had nothing but great results in IQ, function and focus.

1/60, f/1.4, ISO 200

1/60, f/1.4, ISO 640

1/20, f/1.4, ISO 320

AF speed is excellent in S-AF. While not at the same near instantaneous speed as an OEM Olympus prime lens, it is not very far behind.  I do not use my current m43 cameras for C-AF, so cannot comment on those performance benchmarks.

I've not had an issue with missed focus with this lens, even at f/1.4.

1/250, f/2.5, ISO 200

Bottom Line

So, what is the deal with getting this lens when I already have a lot of other lenses in the same focal length/FOV range?  Yes, I have the Mitakon Speedmaster 25/0.95, but it is an all manual lens.  I did have the Panasonic 25mm f/1.7, but never really bonded with it.  It takes excellent images, for sure....but I was intrigued by the images I was seeing, the other reviews I've read about the Sigma 30/1.4.

The Panasonic 25/1.7 has gone up for sale and I'll be keeping the Sigma 30mm.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Amazon Basics DSLR Flash Review - Is It a $27.99 Wonder or Dud?

Image ©

Sometimes you just need to see if a deal that is too good to be true is really bad or if you find that diamond in the rough.  Here is another one of those, the Amazon Basics DSLR Flash.

I originally saw this on a news post advertised for $25 a few months ago.   I got around to thinking about picking one up to just see....and they were sold out.  A few days ago, I got a notification that they were back in stock.

I snagged 2.

So lets get into it!

Initial Impression

They arrived in a plain brown box with an Amazon Basics sticker sealing the box. Words in different languages reads "Electronic Flash for DSLR Cameras".

Opening the box, you get a manual with instructions in 8 languages, the flash unit itself, a ripstop-like pouch for the flash and a little hot shoe stand. Everything wrapped up in anti-static type plastic wrapping.

Image ©

The flashes are big. A few millimeters taller and wider than a Nikon SB-26. My SB-28 and SB-600 are much smaller in comparison.

<pics of flash units lined up together>

It takes 4 AA batteries. I initially tested with Eneloop Pros the flash fired up almost instantly and just popped away, even at 1:1. Manual claims that it could take up to 3 seconds to recharge after a full power pop.  I did not notice this.  Recycle time seemed almost instant.  Another thing I noticed is the sound.   There was no capacitor charging "whine" that I'm used to hearing from other flashes.  Just a few very quiet clicks and that was it.

Guide number is listed as 33 @ ISO 100 at 1M. Power is rated from 1:1 through 1:128 in 1 stop increments.

The flash has a power port for external power, the standard one with 3 metal pins. It also has a PC sync port for off camera triggers. 

Image ©
On the back part of the fresnel is a built in wide angle diffuser and a white bounce card.

It states in the manual that the flash will sleep after 5 minutes of inactivity, but can be woke by pressing the test button or by turning on the camera. I will have to test if this will power on by half pressing the camera or by waking the remote flash trigger.

A bit of a shocker, but the hot shoe is metal. I was expecting plastic. While we are on the subject of plastic...this is one of the small let downs of the unit. The plastic seems flimsy, but not sure if that is because of the quality of the plastic or if it is just not supported well with an internal frame of some kind.

Image ©

All the buttons have a positive press and are labeled well.

Image ©

There are 3 modes. Manual (M), Slave 1 (S1) and Slave 2 (S2).
Manual is what you expect it to be. You trigger the flash and it goes off. 

The slave modes are the interesting part. S1 is a built in optical slave. It fires as soon as it sees another flash fire off.

S2 claims to understand TTL signals and in theory ignores the TTL preflashes and only fires at the "correct" time. I did a quick test with my Ricoh GR II in TTL flash mode and it appeared to do as advertised. I will need to test this a bit more to see if it really does work.

The head does swivel and tilt, however, there is no lock. If you have a heavy mod on the flash, it will not be able to lock into an angled position or stay straight up and down while the whole unit is angled.

Image ©

I tested the optical slave as well as remote triggers. Radio triggers of choice were the Radio Popper JrX. Flash fired every time with no failures, probably did 20 low power pops and 10 full power pops.

Full Test

We are going to run these through a full photo shoot.  I have a a few events coming up where people get portraits done.   Those sessions normally run between 100-300 shots depending on the number of attendees.

This will be a great initial stress test.

These test were done using the AmazonBasics Flash as a hair light.

Light quality

Light quality is generally more about the modifier than the light itself.  The important thing for the light is color temperature consistency a well as power output being consistent from pop to pop.

From what I can tell the consistency in both color temp and power is the true.

Here, we can see what the light looks like when the Amazon flashes are used as the primary or key light and secondary light.  The same umbrella boxes used in the three portraits above were used in this series below.  The flashes had no problem filling the softboxes fully with light.

Shooting info for those interested:
Nikon D700 and Nikon 50mm f/1.8D
Amazon Flash at 1/4 power (2 flashes)
1/250, f/5.6, ISO 320

Over the course of an hour and a half, I took over 100 images.  The lights were set at 1/4 power.  They never missed a beat and worked as expected.

I did get a chance to test the flashes in sleep mode.  Half press of the camera does not send a signal through the remote triggers, so that did not wake the flashes.  What does, though is getting a signal from the transmitter.  So, when the flashes went into stand-by mode (the power light flashes and all the other indicator lights go off) I just tapped the test button on the transmitter to wake them up.  Easy as can be!

I know this is but one test, however, this one test was a very successful one.  I plan on continuing to test the flashes out on more jobs here in the next few weeks.  If they work as well as they did here, I'll continue to highly recommend them.