Sneak peek from the Nikon D600

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I did a shoot with the new Nikon D600 today. Had a great time with it, and lots more to come very soon, but I can’t wait until my favorite RAW converters start supporting it. Luckily I use custom camera profiles in-camera, and the JPGs aren’t too shabby.

My first pet peeve is that you can’t make the photographic Live View reflect the exposure how the photo will actually look, but I’m finding some work-arounds.

Camera: Nikon D600
Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

Review: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G

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Specs and pricing info

It was not all that long ago that Nikon prime users had few good options. There was a slew of old manual-focus glass, but if you wanted fast, wide lenses you were either stuck with kludgy older lenses like the 35mm f/2 or the extremely expensive, and then discontinued, 28mm f/1.4. But things quickly turned themselves around with first the 24mm f/1.4 and then the 35mm f/1.4, among others. Combined with cameras like the Nikon D3s, it was literally night and day from the low-light shooting experience of Nikon gear just a few years before, as well as opening the world to depth-of-field control.

But these lenses, as well as others like the 85mm f/1.4G, were priced well out of the hands of most shooters. Luckily, once the professionals had been taken care of, Nikon started to update their more compact primes list as well, with the recent releases of the 85mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.8G. So what would they do with the wide-angle? Would we get a 24 f/1.8 and a 35mm f/1.8 (Nikon already has one, but it’s DX only — although it works well in the 1.2X crop of recent pro Nikons). No, they split the difference, releasing a 28mm f/1.8.

Which leads us to the most important thing to understand the 28mm:

It’s a 28mm lens.

Honestly, with computer-aided designs today, you can learn about 90 percent of what you need to know about most lenses just from the specs — what is the focal length and maximum aperture, weight, filter size, etc. It’s really rare for companies to release prime lenses that are optical duds these days, so what’s left to figure out is which are the true optical standouts — lenses like the crazy Zeiss 100mm f/2 — and general usage notes, especially autofocus performance. With Nikon especially, while I trust the optics of their lenses, some recent designs like the 50mm f/1.4G have had slower autofocus than I’d like.

I used to use the 28mm f/1.4 fairly regularly (a secret that I didn’t want to tell anyone at the time is that, while it was $3500 to buy, you could rent it for three days from Adorama for less than $20.) But most Nikon prime users probably aren’t all that used to shooting at 28mm. I’ve spoken to people who simply can’t get used to it — and indeed, if I were shooting with just one camera at a time, I’d prefer the 35mm for a more general usage. But I am almost always shooting with two cameras, one with a wide-angle and one with a telephoto lens, generally an 85. And I’ve often found myself doing a dance of “24mm or 35mm?” with that wide-angle. The 35 produces cleaner images with less worry about the nuances of the frame, but when things get really active and emotional I want a wider lens. For example, I’ve spent many weddings running to my bag to make sure I’ve had a 24mm lens on in time for the horah.

So for me, the 28mm has hit a sweet spot. Ever since I got it, it’s stayed on my camera for most of the day. It’s wide enough for great dance shots, once I adjusted my brain a little bit, but not too wide for general coverage. Again, though, this is all personal preference. If you haven’t used a 28mm much, make sure to buy from a store with a good return policy (like … hey … the store where all these links go…) You may love it or not.

I dig it.

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Usage and performance

Size and weight:

As you can see here, the 28mm is smaller than the 24mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4 (which flank it), but not precisely tiny:

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But what this doesn’t show is how light it is: It is just over half the weight of either lens. It’s really the first thing you note when you pick it up. Even on a heavy camera like the D3s, when I handed the combo to a second-shooter of mine for the first time, he said “Something feels different … did you leave the battery out?” Pair it with a camera like the D600, and you have a lightweight powerhouse. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of the morning dreaming of a lightweight wedding combo of two D600s, the 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, and Sigma 150mm.

Because here’s the deal: Weight matters. The Internet is filled with macho nostalgic types who loathe any tiny bit of plastic in any photography equipment, and want everything to be big, heavy, metallic rocks. I also love the feel of old equipment as a collector’s piece, but if I’m doing work, I want my gear to be as light and ergonomically sound as possible without causing severe structural weakness. I keep very fit — I do five or six hard workouts a week, not counting the 10 or so miles I walk every wedding day. My photo backpack tops out at more than 55 lbs, and I can do multiple dead-hang pull-ups with it on my back. So I feel I’m the one that needs to say this: Heavy cameras are a problem. Lift a five-pound camera and lens combo? No problem. Do it for 12 hours? Maybe you start to get sore. Do it for 12 hours a day, for 30 years? Now you’re talking severe problems. I’ve been in the business long enough to start looking forward in terms of decades, and whatever gets me the same quality in a lighter weight is fine by me, and I can leave the totally metal stuff on my collector’s shelf.

Would I take the extra 300 grams to make this a 28mm f/1.4G? Possibly — I do like my depth-of-field control. But I don’t miss it much, and this has gotten a lot more use than either my 24 or 35 in recent weeks.

Performance: Happily, the autofocus on this lens is nice and snappy, and locks well in low light. It works significantly better than my 24mm f/1.4 at locking focus during dancing, but of course my 24 has been around a few blocks. I find myself stopping down a couple notches to make sure everything is nice and sharp by default, but wide-open it is much sharper and more contrasty than Sigma’s 28mm f/1.8, which has a sort of veiling haze around things when shot wide-open. 28mm and f/1.8 gets you enough depth-of-field control to give things a little “pop,” but overall this is just a workmanlike lens, and it’s the moments in front of you that will make the image strong or not (and moments are important). If you want a lens that does most of the work for you, shoot with something like the 85mm f/1.4.

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Flare is pretty well-controlled with this lens, like most recent Nikon lenses it’s almost too well-designed and nano-coated to give very interesting flare, but it’s nice in the end to be able to have a flash firing back at you or the sun in the frame without losing much contrast, and you can see both below:

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Like all Nikon Nano lenses I know, color transmission is very good, slightly on the warm side, which ends up being great for skin tones:

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Overall, this is a great little gem. It might not survive being hit with a baseball bat (though I haven’t tried), but it balances extremely well on the D600. (It’s almost too light for the D3s — when I put it down, the weight of the lens doesn’t make the camera tip forward like I’m used to, and it once almost fell backward off a table because of that).

My highest recommendation is that I bought one, and I almost didn’t want to tell you about how much I liked it, because I wanted it all too myself.

More photos with the 28mm:

Buy it here!

Diva.

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One more of Kelsie before things start to get really geeky around here … I’ve got some exciting stuff coming in, and that means I finally need to get around to reviewing my new secret weapon first.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 7-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 50mm f/0.8 according to Brett’s calculator)

Roxbury Barn Wedding: Catherine and Jeff

Catherine and Jeff’s wedding at the Roxbury Barn was a fantastic respite from a scorching New York City August. Not that it was precisely cool, but heat is a different beast when covered by lush forest. Catherine is a photographer herself, and used that expertise to plan a gorgeous, intimate wedding. I mean, a giant high five over the idea of giving the array of adorable flower girls hand-made tutus. I asked Catherine, “no one family has this many adorable children so tightly congregated. Admit it: Some of these kids are rentals.”

Apparently not.

Absolutely a gorgeous day, and I was happy to be joined by Hendrick Moy, who did a really fantastic job.

Teaser: Shoot with Sophisticated Weddings, Kleinfeld Bridal, and more

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I had a grand old time shooting a cover and some inside editorial photos for Sophisticated Weddings’ New York Edition yesterday. This is broadway and tv actress Synthia Link sporting a gown from Kleinfeld’s bridal, one of the many fabulous dresses they donated to the shoot (yes, we said “yes” to them.) Thanks also to Maria Perry Atelier, Ariston Flowers, Oasis Day Spa, Lisa Hubbard and Jessica Vargas for their help. This was a blast.

I’m not giving too much away here … I had to shoot under very different constraints for layout of the cover photo. But I had a horizontal in my heart.

More to come.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6

She’s Got Kelsie Fields Eyes…

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Some of you may remember Kelsie from my adventures in Boise. Well, she’s been visiting the city and is off to Italy soon, so I knew we had to shoot even though my schedule is crazy. I’ve been inspired by the Brenizer method contest, so I wanted to get a bit ambitious with it. Thanks to perspective and parallax error (among other things), it isn’t easy to use this technique from close-up. But of course the closer you are, the more dramatic the effect. Here I really wanted to show the sort of depth-of-field effect that you can only get in one shot with a large format camera and some really exotic lenses, all calling attention to those darned eyes.

Kelsie, by the way, is an insanely talented singer. You’ll be hearing more from her. And more photos to come.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 12-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 39mm f/0.56 according to Brett’s calculator)

Trump SoHo wedding: Jody and Simon

Jody and Simon are that special sort of couple that can work together, play together, spend every waking moment together, and still laugh and love every moment. Honestly I can barely stand myself for that long, so it’s amazing to see that sort of bond in a couple. They wanted to put on a grand show to celebrate this union with their loved ones, and what better show than the 46th floor of the Trump SoHo, the best seat in the house for New York’s July 4th fireworks show?

I knew that Jody and Simon had a wicked sense of humor, but I hadn’t known how much it carried through to their families, with Simon’s daughters in particular keeping assistant Jake Whyman and I laughing throughout the day.

It was a beautiful, perfect day to spend with Jody and Simon, their friends and family, and 5.5 million home viewers.

Brenizer Method Contest Results: THE WINNERS!

Drum roll please…

(Honorable mentions are here and here)

It’s been a long road putting together the first contest on this blog. First, securing the generous support of B&H Photo and Video, and then putting together a team of judges and procedures that would make the contest as fair as possible and the final set as artistically excellent as possible. I put together two judges — myself and Sam Hurd — who were very experienced in creating Brenizer method photos, and paired us with two judging teams — Nordica Photography and Feather and Stone photography — who do not regularly do these, but create fantastic portraiture and documentary work in their own genres. With very different styles and aesthetic circles, it made for a lot of healthy debate in the judging process. Interestingly, not one photo of the hundreds received an initial “YES” vote from all four judges … well, sort of.

You see, as a publisher I know that it is important not just to avoid impropriety, but also the appearance of impropriety. Since the only major place this contest was announced was on this blog and associated pages, it’s no surprise that I knew a large percentage of the people who entered, either from attending my workshops, commenting on my blog, or other work connections. To avoid bias, I fed all the e-mails into a program that scraped the photos without associating them to the sender, and have only connected them as I prepared these blog posts. But still, there were some where I felt too closely connected to the photos, and where I knew who had taken them anyway, and I recused myself from the voting. This actually penalized the photos, since the first round of judging was based only on how many judges had voted for them.

Why am I saying all this? Because two of these photos were so fantastic they won anyway. It was a weird situation where I felt I had to argue against photos I loved and the other judges said “Are you crazy? These are the winners.” And so here they are…

Third place

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By: Adam Baruh
Info: 62 images with a Nikon D3s and 85mm f/1.4

Comments: Since the Brenizer method is technically challenging to pull off, we got a lot of photos with great depth-of-field but bad poses. The poses and expressions are great here, and the framing is perfect. It is not easy at all to create an interesting compositional framing when you have to completely pre-visualize the photo, and the use of the foreground plants is just perfect. Great job Adam.

Second place

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By: Nessa K
Info: 17 photos with a Canon 5D Mark III and 85mm f/1.2

Comments: This both shows off the depth-of-field power of the method but maintains a sense of subtlety. The colors, processing, depth-of-field transitions, and sense of mystery are just perfect. This would have been a unanimous YES if I had allowed myself to vote on it. Worse still for the ego, this was Nessa’s first attempt.

First place

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By: Sara K Byrne
Info: 29-image pano with a Canon 5D Mark III and 85mm f/1.2

Comments: In the end, what I wanted from this contest — why I chose two judges who barely had ever tried the Brenizer method — is that in the end it’s not about depth-of-field, but doing whatever it takes to make great photos. All I’m saying is “here’s a way to have a 35mm f/0.4 lens, now what will you do with it?” And Sara has done great work here. Masculine, feminine, soft and hard. The depth-of-field contributes one part of a great photo. Also, on the technical side, long thin trees are difficult to shoot without stitching errors, and this looks great.

Congratulations again to everyone who entered! I hope this gives all my readers new ideas and inspiration about how to use the method in your own work — I know it’s inspired me.