Generally a lot of the stuff I review is on the professional, end of the scale, high-performing but expensive. There’s a pretty good reason for that — during the season especially at least 98 percent of the shooting I do is for paying clients, and I want to use the best equipment for the job. But when Tokina recently announced the 300mm f/6.3 Mirror lens for Micro 4/3rds, it stirred my interest. Mirror lenses seemed like things of the distant past, so I wanted to see how they had done balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the design for the new age. But also there seemed to be a unique opportunity when paired with the Olympus OM-D. Generally, the only situation that you can shoot something at 300mm and f/6.3 is under very brightly lit conditions, generally full sun. But with the impressive noise performance and highly effective in-camera lens stabilization of the OM-D, it seemed like it might be possible to shoot in more general conditions.
First: What is a mirror lens? In broad brush strokes, basically it’s a telescope that fits on your camera. They have one fixed aperture and with very rare exceptions are manual focus. They never became widely popular largely because of the fixed, usually very slow apertures, and because the design produces some very strange bokeh, turning any patches of light into swirly donuts:
Ok, so what’s the point? Weight and cost. They tend to be much cheaper than equivalent “real” lenses and much, much lighter — especially when combined with the 2.0 crop factor of micro-4/3rds. Here’s what it’s like to carry the Canon 600mm f/4 (taken from Juza Photo) next to what it’s like to carry the OM-D and Tokina.
These set-ups have similar frames of view, though of course the similarities end there. The tokina is manual-focus, a smaller unchangeable aperture, and in depth of field terms on a full frame camera it is similar to a 600mm f/13. But you can see why this might be the sort of thing a private eye would want in their bag.
As someone who only shoots above 85mm in certain situations, shooting at 600mm was an interesting challenge. For the first few days it was actively jarring to put the camera up to my face, and astonishing how far back I had to stand from my subjects. The Tokina has surprisingly close focus, and functions as a 1:2 macro. But even photographing something as small as a wedding ring meant standing two or three feet away!
It’s almost unfair to compare the optical performance of this little guy to the professional glass I normally use, but in any case do not expect much. When my assistant looked at some photos I had taken with it, he said “I think something’s wrong with your camera, these are really cloudy.” Contrast is not very good at all in most situations — that can be corrected somewhat in post-processing, but post can never make up for that entirely. But when everything works right, it can be sharper than I expected:
As the 100 percent crop shows, even with the good performance of the OM-D, shooting at f/6.3 indoors means learning to live with noise. To shoot this (from way, WAY across the room) in good window light, I had to be at ISO 5,000. This is not a normal use lens.
It’s also not very easy to manually focus an ultra-telephoto lens — shooting motion with this will take both skill AND luck. My diopter was off just a tiny bit on the OM-D, and even that made focusing nearly impossible. Something like the Panasonic 100-300mm is going to be well worth the extra money for most users. It’s almost double the weight, and is a lot more conspicuous … but nothing like walking around with a 600mm. Some of the possible uses for this lens seem well, a little creepy, but we won’t focus on that. For non-creepy users, it’s mostly recommended for people who want to shoot telephoto but very rarely, because this is a lot easier to keep in a little bag at all times than the Panasonic, or for people who really like swirly donuts. With the right subject, even a lens like this can turn out good results:
What a journey. First, they got married, with an uninvited guest named Hurricane Irene. All of the emotion was there, family and friends who had come in town for the wedding managed to make it despite the transportation shut down, but one thing was missing — a really good party.
So Erika and Chip turned to their home town, Boston, and threw a fantastic wedding at the Boston Public Library. And they partied, hard. Not just with dancing, but sharing joy with family, casting a giddy eye to the cloudless sky, and even getting a little crazy and showing some books who’s boss.
(Disclaimer again from the son of a librarian: These aren’t library books. We bought them from the pulping pile for this purpose.)
It was an honor and a pleasure to spend more than two years planning, laughing, and telling stories with Erika and Chip. Thanks to Jason Kan for joining me on this chapter, and doing great work.
This is a story of love and sneakers. Great sneakers.
Eric is a bit of a collector, you see. He has a room full of them. And so they featured prominently in the wedding decor — and the traction came in handy, since I’d already known from Corrie’s cousin’s wedding that she’s a heck of a dancer. Take the glamour of locations like the New York Palace and Central Park Boathouse, add a ball of pure energy in bride form, and throw in some Chinese dragons? Fantastic all around.
Thanks to Julianne Markow for helping me and doing a great job!
Sometimes having access to a wide range of perspective is handy. With the sky the way it was, almost any other lens would have just shown the mostly dreary patch of clouds behind Jingjing and Yixi. At 12mm, though, you see the incoming patch of sun that made their wedding day gorgeous.
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
Place: Blue Hill Stone Barns
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
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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)
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.”
Absolutely a gorgeous day, and I was happy to be joined by Hendrick Moy, who did a really fantastic job.