Friday, April 24, 2015

Nikon D750 (Part 2)

After looking over my images from the Nikon D810 and D750, I've decided to purchase a D750. Both cameras produce very nice images, and I didn't see enough difference to justify the extra cost of the D810. I suspect that my technique wasn't (and often won't be) good enough to fully capture all the resolution of the D810. I don't make prints large enough to put all those pixels to good use. At least, not so far. And using that extra cash for better glass makes sense to me.

Speaking of which: the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM lens is backordered, with no estimate of when it will become available (a couple of shots with the Sigma I rented are in this post). Instead, I ordered the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, based only on its positive reviews. I didn't see a comparable Nikon lens in that zoom range that has vibration reduction. 

For a longer lens, I chose the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR. I liked the results from the borrowed 70-200mm f/2.8 (thanks again, John) but the f/4 is 1.5 pounds lighter, and I don't do a lot of low-light work. It also focuses closer and takes a smaller filter. Oh, and it costs $1,000 less.

So my Pentax era draws to a close. My Pentax kit (Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50MM F/2.8 SMC DA* ED AL IF SDM, and Sigma 70-300mm F/4-5.6 APO DG Macro) is on its way to the folks at KEH who I trust will defray the cost of my new gear by buying my old (if you have gear you don't want, it's worth looking at their can get a quote and sell gear very easily).

My apologies for not including more images, therefore making you take my word about the comparisons. Useful comparisons are very hard to do, especially when you don't have both cameras at the same time. In any case, the web is bursting with D750/D810 comparisons: images, handling, focusing, controls, and overall sexiness for all I know. Go ahead: spend 59 hours reading and watching them if you like. In my case, I wanted to have my new camera in hand so I can get some time with it before my next trip.

Thanks again to everyone who shared their thoughts and experience!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Borrowing and trying out the Nikon D750 (Part 1)

(A tip of the hat to my friend John Gunnison, lifetime Nikon user and proprietor of online pulp bookstore Adventure House, for the generous loan of his well-loved D750, AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8, and AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 GII ED. Results with these lenses to follow in Part 2.)

This morning I had a new experience: I shot with a lens I hadn't used in about 30 years. It was surprisingly fun.

One of the things Nikon does well is lens compatibility. Its F mount lenses date to 1959 and its cameras continue to use the F mount. My second SLR* was a Nikkormat FT3, manufactured around 1977 or 1978 and furnished with a Nikon 50mm f/2 lens. I haven't shot film in decades so the Nikkormat has languished in the garage gathering large amounts of dust. Today I dug it out, dusted off the 50mm and mounted it to John's D750.

Nikkor 50mm, circa 1977

The gorgeous spring morning was pleasant, but the real fun was rediscovering focusing with this old non-autofocus lens. The focus ring on the 50mm turns more than 180 degrees, making it smooth and easy to focus just where I wanted. The viewfinder on the D750 was crisp and clear in the morning light. Very, very nice. At the risk of cliché: I felt like a kid again, and I didn't miss autofocus a bit.

Alas, the passage of time and the dirt inside the lens were unmasked in the images. They are hazy and misty, reminding me of the old trick of smearing vasoline on a filter. The soap-bubble bokeh is rather unusual, too:

Forest Floor
But I'd bet you could find a reasonably clean old 50mm for less than the price of a nice dinner. If I end up buying a Nikon DSLR, I'll be looking for one.

*My first SLR was a Minolta SR-T 101. No idea what became of it, but it was my first love.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Renting and trying the Nikon D810

In the previous post I promised an A/B comparison between my Pentax K-5 and the rented Nikon D810. The Nikon is back with and I've had a chance to compare a number of nearly-simultaneous shots.

Spencer (our youngest son) and I carried the cameras and tripod to one of my favorite locations, the C&O Canal Historical Park. We had lovely, sunny weather to shoot across the Potomac and the many rocky bluffs and islands.

I continued to be impressed with the Nikon's speedy, no-fuss focusing. It's not critical in long landscape shots like these, but it's very nice. The Pentax displayed its typical sluggish-to-nonexistent autofocus behavior. I can't explain it but it's annoying, especially compared to the snappy Nikon. So it may be that some of the Pentax shots aren't perfectly focused. Exposures weren't exactly the same, either. 

We attempted to adjust for the crop factor by shooting images on the Nikon at 1.5 times the focal length of the Pentax (recall that the D810 is full-frame and the Pentax, APS-C). We didn't hit that exactly, so I've adjusted the cropping in Photoshop to give approximately the same image sizes. 

The results are impressive. The Nikon has outstanding resolution and the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 lens seems to make good use of it. Here are two uncropped shots, followed by two crops showing approximately the same area. Remember that these are all JPEGS with no sharpening added in Photoshop.

Rocky Island (Nikon D810, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 at 75mm, f/8, 1/320 sec., ISO 400)

Rocky Island (Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50 f/2.8 at 45mm, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 400)

Rocky Island (Nikon crop)

Rocky Island (Pentax crop)

The overexposure in the Pentax crop unfortunately biases the eye against it, but you can easily see the difference in resolution...look at the trees, for example. Being able to crop that closely without going to mush would be very nice. The largest print you could make would be a lot bigger.

Some of you will say "Use primes! Zoom with your feet!" Fine, but in this location you would need to zoom with a boat. Prime lenses are sharp, low-cost and lightweight, but they don't always get you where you need to go.

One more thing I like about the Nikon: they have an app that lets you easily view manuals on your phone. It's well-designed and pretty easy to use. Nice touch.

Time to decide whether to add this expensive box to my kit. Very tempting.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

OT: More Auditions (update)

The search for my next camera has taken a rather scatter-shot approach so far. I've tried mirrorless, iPhone, and small travel-size cameras. I've tried Apple, Fuji, Olympus and Canon products. About the only thing missing has been a pinhole setup. 

I haven't given up, but I have changed course again. Today I get got my hands on a Nikon D810 and a Sigma 24-105 f/4 zoom, rented for a week from This set-up is neither small (4+ pounds) nor cheap (don't ask), making it appear that I've abandoned my search for a travel camera. Maybe I have. But the D810 has (reportedly) the best resolution of any DSLR on the market at the moment and I'm seduced by that (I've daydreamed about working in medium format). And using mirrorless cameras made me realize that I prefer optical viewfinders.

Others have influenced me, of course. Tony Northrup's buying guide suggests this camera and lens for landscape photographers. My friend and long-time Nikon owner (and proprietor of Adventure House books) John Gunnison has often nudged me toward Nikons and seems quite smitten by his new D750. He mentioned something I'd read about: with enough resolution, you can crop instead of packing a longer lens; a sports pro told John he does it. Even my next-door neighbor is carrying a new D810...I mustn't get left behind, right? 

A week is too short to learn much about a new DSLR, crammed as they are with features and settings. But the demise of the bricks-and-mortar camera shop leaves few options but to rent and try. Even if I was ready to buy today, the Sigma is back-ordered at B&H, so this is the fastest way to try out the combo. At very least I'll have some images to compare against all those others, and I'll know whether I'm still fit enough to lug it all around. Dear God, I hope I don't break it.

Update: The camera arrived and I took it for a walk. It focuses very quickly, even in rather low indoor light, which is a welcome change. Quietly, too. The D810 body isn't too heavy, but with the 24-105 lens mounted it gains a lot of weight. I'm beginning to see why normal lenses are regaining their popularity. Overall, though, it's responsive and fits my grip nicely.

Naturally I wanted to see lots of resolution. Here's a couple of shot and a detail from it, to give you an idea. The shot is wide open. The Sigma has noticeable vignetting at f/4 (look at the upper left corner) that mostly goes away by f/5.6.

And here is a tight crop of the same shot (less than 19 percent of the original pixels):
Daffodil (detail)
These aren't jaw-dropping images, but they give you a sense of how many pixels are in play. Bear in mind that these are JPEGs, though with minimal Lightroom manipulation, and were handheld.

There's a lot more work to do before I know if this camera (and this lens) is for me. I hope to do an A/B comparison with the Pentax K-5 in my favorite landscape location before my week-long rental comes to a close. Stay tuned.

The details:
Daffodil: Nikon D810, handheld, 1/1600 sec. at f/4, ISO 100, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 at 24mm.
Detail: same as above at 3013 x 2260 pixels (original: 4912 x 7360 pixels)