Monday, May 14, 2018

Nikon 300mm f/4.5 AI Lens Review

Background

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.

Handling/Size/Weight

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


Focusing

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

Background

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!


Handling/Size/Weight

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

Focusing

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 © Amazon.com


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 © Amazon.com


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 © Amazon.com
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 © Amazon.com

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


Image © Amazon.com


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 © Amazon.com

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.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ricoh GR II Review

 © Ricoh Imaging USA

Background

Always on the lookout for the perfect fixed lens camera, we've been through a few.   Hoping that the Fuji X100 series would be it, we've owned and tested the X100, X100S and the X100T.  While the X100T was the best iteration we've had...it still fell a little flat in system and AF performance.  The optical viewfinder was great and Fuji does put out some good JPGs.

Ultimately, those cameras were sold.  The just didn't "do it" for me enough to want to keep it.

The other big players in the fixed lens compact were the Nikon Coolpix A and the Ricoh GR.

As luck would have it, a recent trip to a local camera store had a reasonably priced Ricoh GR II.  Snapping it up, we run it through the paces.

Is it something worth keeping?  Is it better than the Fuji?  All that and more on this episode of Best Light Photographic Review!

© Ricoh Imaging USA

Handling/Weight/Size

Small and light, but there is enough of a grip to be able to hold it comfortably, even one handed.  Handling is also enhanced by the roughly textured materials that the body is composed of.

Throwing this into a coat pocket...it disappears.  It even does well in the back pocket of your jeans.

The dials and controls are in a good place.   The mode dial can only be moved when the button next to it is pressed.  No accidental turning.  My one complaint is the location of the exposure compensation rocker.  It sits right by your thumb and can be bumped accidentally when carrying the camera about.  I've done it several times while walking around.

© Ricoh Imaging USA
One thing you will notice is that this is a rear LCD only display.  No OVF or EVF comes with the camera, but Ricoh does make a $200 optical viewfinder add on.

The rear LCD is quite good and somewhat usable in full sun.  I do plan on getting some kind of viewfinder setup for this camera, for those times when the LCD gets on my nerves.  I think it could be a decent, low cost option for these compact fixed lens companies to either bundle in or sell for low cost an old type sports finder.  For those unfamiliar, a sports finder was used on older film cameras that is essentially a wire or metal frame that gave you an approximate field of view.  This was an option to use instead of the ground glass back or the optical tube common on cameras of that age.

I'm thinking of making my own or perhaps plunking down $40USD on eBay and getting a low cost viewfinder.

Image Quality

A16mp sensor is at the heart of the GRII.  It performs very well.  I've no qualms shooting this up to ISO 6400.  The Ricoh JPG engine is pretty robust, but you can pull a lot more from the sensor shooting in RAW.  Even so, if you just wanted to shoot JPG, most people would be very happy with the output.

The three images below were all shot in JPG and minimally processed in Lightroom.

1/40, f/2.8, ISO 400

1/40, F/2.8, ISO 400

1/40, f/2.8, ISO 280
in camera cross process effect used


Auto Focus

Don't expect DSLR or even mirrorless interchangeable lens camera performance, however it performs very well.  In good to moderate light you get excellent performance.  Solid locks, and a quick acquisition.  You do get that signature "pump"at the end of the focus typical of a contrast detect AF system.

In low light, speed slows down quite a bit, but I found the accuracy was still very high.

Moving the AF point is not the best either.  The rear direction pad cannot be re-assigned to be something else.  I like to have my direction pad be a direct button to move the AF point.  On The GR II, only the left pad is setup for initiating AF pointer movement, after pressing it the other direction buttons allow for moving the point.  Fuji did address this in newer X100 iterations to allow for these direction buttons to be full time AF point selectors.  Not a deal breaker on the GR II, but definitely slows down the functionality of the camera in some situations.

RAW Images Processed in Lightroom below:

1/40, f/2.8, ISO 1600

1/40, f/2.8, ISO 400

1/40, f/4, ISO 3200

1/40, f/4, ISO 640

1/40, f/4, ISO 640


Battery Life

Much better than I expected.  I was able to shoot with it for most of a day and not deplete the battery fully.  The big rear LCD does use up a bit more power than I would like, but that is not a major concern as after market batteries for this camera can be found for under $20.


Video

Nothing really special here.  A typical 1080p offering in a camera like this.  It would work in a pinch but not something you would want to use as a main camera for a video project.  As with most cameras like this, the video specs are most likely there to tick the spec sheet.

Other Misc. Items of Note

Shutter Sound:
The shutter sound is quite, plus you get the all electronic shutter modes.  Quiet is good.

Snap Focus:
I'm not a big fan of zone focusing, but I know a lot of people are.  My way of shooting is a bit more dynamic, so I've not really used this feature.  For those that like to have your focus set precisely at a specific distance and then get your aperture setup to have a "ribbon of in-focus", then this is definitely something that you'll love to have available.

Built-In ND Filter:
Great to have if you are pushing the 1/4000 shutter or want to shoot the very usable f/2.8 lens wide open.  It can be set to on/off/auto.


Bottom Line

While not having the pleasure of using a Nikon Coolpix A, it would be a hard road for the Nikon to beat out the Ricoh GR II.  This little camera can slip into a pocket and be there with you when other cameras cannot.

The fixed 18.5mm lens at 28mm field of view may not be for everyone, also, not having any viewfinder of any kind may not make the camera suitable for every application.

What the Ricoh GR II gets right, and there is a lot that it does in handling and IQ is well worth your consideration.

I know this is a keeper in my book.