First Weekend with the Fuji X100S

As you can see from my last blog posts (here and here), I’ve really enjoyed the simplicity of traveling with a 35mm lens or at least a 35mm field of view. The problem is that the D700 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART make for a seriously heavy and bulky combination, not to mention something that screams “I’m a photographer!” What I’ve needed is a small, reasonably lightweight camera what won’t make me miss the D700 + Sigma 35mm combo while on a trip.

Well, as a birthday present to myself I picked up a Fujifilm X100S. It’s much smaller and a lot lighter than the big FX body. It has a fixed 23mm f/2 lens and an APS sensor, giving the field of view of the D700/35mm. It has a brilliant hybrid viewfinder that combines an optical rangefinder-style finder with a LCD via a beam splitter.

I’m really looking forward to getting to know this quirky camera and I’m sure I’ll put together a more complete review sometime in the near future. For now, here are some photos from my first weekend with the X100S (including a couple of in-camera panoramas). All were shot as JPG with various in-camera film simulations.

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Nikon 135mm f/2 DC Show and Tell

In my previous post I showed how the Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G filled my needs for a wide lens. As one of Nikon’s newest lenses it has a compact, light build and modern design. Needing a telephoto at the opposite end of the focal length spectrum I had the option of the brand new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4 VR, recently on sale for a reasonable price. What I really wanted was a nice, fast prime. I scoured online every once in a while and last week hit the jackpot. A used Nikon 135mm f/2 DC!

This is a highly regarded portrait lens and short telephoto. It’s one of the oldest lenses that Nikon still sells and has remarkable build quality with an all metal body. Mine is the non-D version (something I didn’t even notice when buying it) but that only limits flash metering. It’s somewhat rare, too, as it’s expensive when bought new. The cost of this used copy was much more reasonable.

‘DC’ stands for ‘Defocus Control’, something of a misnomer as it is actually a ‘bokeh fine tune’. A control ring at the front of the lens shifts a pair of optics to tune the spherical aberrations to optimize either the foreground or background blur as I’ll show shortly. Even without using the defocus control, the blur is spectacular. Truly.

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2.8

f/2.8

Like I said… truly spectacular. And, thanks to the super-shallow depth of field when wide open, it’s great for Brenizer Method bokeh panoramas.

15+ shot Brenizer Method bokeh panorama at f/2

15+ shot Brenizer Method bokeh panorama at f/2

Now, while the autofocus is reasonably quick for a screw-drive lens, the accuracy leaves something to be desired. When researching this lens in forums and reviews, AF accuracy was the number one complaint. I’ll demonstrate below. Here is a shot at f/2.8 that took four tries to nail the focus on my dad’s face.

f/2.8

f/2.8

With focus nailed, it’s razor-sharp, but when it’s off you really notice! Here are a couple of crops. The first is of the image above while the second is from a previous attempt.

f/2.8 (well focused)

f/2.8 (well focused)

f/2.8 (slightly out of focus)

f/2.8 (slightly out of focus)

Now on the defocus control. The method for using this feature is as follows:

  • Set the lens to the desired aperture.
  • Turn the ‘Defocus Image Control’ ring in either the forward or reverse direction from 0 to the R or F number that matches the aperture.
  • Turn to an R or F number that is greater than the set aperture and you get an unpleasent soft focus

Turning the control ring in the R direction improves the quality of bokeh behind the subject (but has a negative impact on foreground blur). Likewise, Turning in the F direction improves the bokeh in front of the subject (but noticeably hurts the background blur). Here is a demonstration, with three images of the same subject at f/4. The first is with the control ring at 0. The next is with the control ring at 4 in the R direction. The third is with the control ring at 4 in the F direction. Notice the subtle difference in bokeh at the foreground and background.

f/4 with DC ring at 0

f/4 with DC ring at 0

f/4 with DC ring at R4

f/4 with DC ring at R4

f/4 with DC ring at F4

f/4 with DC ring at F4

Here are some crops to demonstrate even further:

135mmDC-at-f4-background 135mm-DC-at-f4-slight-backbround 135mm-DC-at-f4-foregroundI’m in love with this lens. I really am. However, I hope that I can figure out a way to work around the focus inconsistencies to really get the most out of it. I know it will take some work… and I’m looking forward to it!

I’ll leave you with some more examples, including mandatory cats and Mitzy.

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/4

f/4

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/2

f/4

f/4

Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 Show and Tell

In the past month I’ve sold off the majority of my DX lenses. The fantastic Tokina 11-16/2.8. The go-anywhere 35/1.8. The reliable and bullet-proof 17-55/2.8. And the D7000. I just didn’t have the money and space to have redundant systems. What I was left with was four prime lenses covering a range of 35 to 85mm, not exactly a dire situation as these are the focal lengths I have always used the most. Still, I needed something wider than 35mm. My choices were:

  • The affordable, small, light Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 with no VR, no nanocoating, no constant aperture.
  • The middle man Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR N, a lens with mixed reviews but with great build quality.
  • The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8, a fast and affordable lens.
  • The ultimate. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 N. This lens truly is the best wide angle lens you can buy for any system. But it’s big, heavy, bulbous.

What I’ve realized in collecting lenses is that the famous saying is completely true. The best lens is the one you have with you. Sure, I could have invested the money and bought the 14-24. But it’s size and weight would keep it out of my camera bag for most of the times I would want a wide-angle lens: when traveling or hiking.  Instead I chose the new 18-35, a lens that costs and weighs less than half that of the 14-24. And I have no regrets.

The 18-35 weighs less than my f/1.4 primes and it’s about the same size. It’s as sharp as I would ever want. AF is fast enough and completely reliable. The negative features of the lens, some distortion and vignetting, are easily fixed in post processing. Chromatic aberrations are negligible.

This is a lens that I can keep in my camera bag without feeling weighted down. I can see bringing it with me on every adventure I take.

Here are a few shots with the D700.

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Danny Michel with the Garifuna Collective – Starlight, Waterloo – June 25, 2013

Last night I got to try out the D700 in a concert photo shoot at the Starlight in Waterloo. Danny Michel brought the Garifuna Collective up from Belize for a tour as his backing band. They were simply amazing and definitely a contender for Top 5 acts seen in my 14 years in Waterloo. Danny and band traded off between his songs and theirs every two numbers to keep the night flowing and dynamic. Coolest thing of the night was the turtle shell and donkey jaw percussion.

The D700 performed as I had hoped it would. Fast AF, low noise, great dynamic range at ISO 3200 and 4000. The photos below were taken with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 and Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8.

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This Weekend I Bought a D700 Part 5 – Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Pro DX

Yes, this is a DX lens and I shouldn’t expect its image circle to cover the D700 sensor… but let’s try anyway. Here are images of my ceiling at f/2.8 at 11mm through 16mm with no lens corrections applied:

11mm

11mm

12mm

12mm

14mm

14mm

16mm

16mm

If we add lens correction to the 16mm image, it doesn’t look that terrible!

16mm with lens correction

16mm with lens correction

Here are a few examples at 16mm. They aren’t perfect but I would consider the lens useable in a pinch… at least until I figure out what to use for my wider-than-35mm lens.

DSC_1268 DSC_1273 D700 with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

 

This Weekend I Bought a D700 Part 3- Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8 G

The 85mm G has a reputation of being one of the sharpest Nikon lenses out there and I see no reason to argue with that. For it’s price it really does a great job with bokeh, sharpness and colours. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

First, the comparison from f/1.8 to f/5.6:

f/1.8

f/1.8

f/2.8

f/2.8

f/4

f/4

f/5.6. Note the slightly hexagonal bokeh.

f/5.6. Note the slightly hexagonal bokeh.

And a few more examples:

D700 with Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G D700 with Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G D700 with Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G