Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blog News - Welcome to 2011!


A bit late but welcome to the New Year, 2011! This past holiday season has been especially eventful and just downright crazy for me. I apologize for the lack of updates etc..

Much has happened since my last post and I still haven't even ordered my business cards! That being said, I will just go ahead and delve right in as I have a lot to say regarding a (now not-so-recent) purchase.

Nikon 50-300mm f/4.5 *ED AIs

Some time back I was trolling eBay as usual and I came across a newly listed Nikon manual focus lens, the 50-300mm f/4.5 *ED AIs. I was the second person to view it and even though I had never looked into this lens or seen it, sometimes you just know. The price was surprisingly low for a lens of that range especially one that bears the desired "*ED" designation (Extra-low Dispersion glass). I quickly googled the lens and checked KEH only to find the same lens selling for nearly $1000. At $250 BIN (in mint condition with leather case, caps, and 95mm Nikon filter) I feverishly navigated back to the eBay tab and within seconds I was gazing upon a "Congratulations! You just bought this item" page.

To be frank, this one lens entirely changed my photographic kit leading me sell off a number of lenses I previously found to be perfectly adequate.

Finding the Right Lenses for You

I have often heard/read of what pro photographers say of great lenses, "Once you get this lens, anything else you have in this focal length will simply be redundant." I contrastingly have always felt each and every lens has a unique perspective and therefore shares a place in my bag. I am not alone, for many of my fellow photographers over at the Manual Focus Lens Forum can attest to the latter as they have at time, 20 or more lenses of the same exact focal length.

Since my disappointing purchase of the $1300+ Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 AF-S some years back it occurred to me that the most expensive glass is not always the best. This blog has been an educational personal exploration into what other optical manufacturers have to offer optically for (hopefully) less money than the camera-brand manufacturers. I have to say, so far, I am very impressed to see the quality that can be had in some of these alternative lenses. While many turn out to be clearly less than the best, others far exceed (see the Tokina 90mm f/2.5 - LOVE that lens!).

Photography is both an art form and a vocation (and sometimes both, but not always). From the artistic standpoint, you are the judge and jury of your work. Photography should be first and foremost, for you. The right lens revolves wholly around whether or not you get what you are shooting for. Photography as a career operates much differently and in many cases will demand more of your optics since you are shooting for clients with their own requirements. In my case, the output for both applications shares a common desired output. I want sharp, bold, clear, colorful, sharp (did I say sharp?), aberration free imagery (or as close as I can get).

I once shot with cheap kit lenses that proved adequate, but not enough. I then read some reviews, bit the bullet and sprung for the best Nikon had to offer on two lenses; a couple of premium AF-S, gold-lined, super-duty optics. To my dismay one of the lenses proved to be quite soft and not nearly as high performing as Nikon touted. I rebounded by discovering the world of third-party lenses. Thus has been the journey noted in this blog.

Buying Gear for the Frugal Photographer

Using this Nikon 50-300mm f/4.5 optic has been amazing. The lens just makes great, clear, sharp images with few aberrations. Consequently, I think it is important to discuss another aspect of searching for gear for the "frugal photographer": Patience.

Having been immersed in the third-party..."party" for some time, I have come to realize nearly all of these lenses tend to have pretty clear shortcomings. Not that all lenses don't. These just tend to be a little more prominent. Best example would be CA. Nearly all of the Tamron SP and Tokina AT-X lenses, even the best, I have worked with demonstrate more severe CA than the few superior Nikkor lenses I have tested. The third-party lenses, as you know, also cost significantly less. So I have learned to deal. Avoid lighting situations which will produce severe CA or don't shoot completely wide open all the time. While this may prove inconvenient and certainly not ideal for a paid shoot in which you have little control over what the client's needs are, it is just about the only solution for the starting photographer with limited funding.

So what are you to do if you have little cash and can't seem to find a third-party lens that lives up to your standards?

While the deal I got on this 50-300mm could be considered a fluke, the truth is, it simply isn't (actually the very next week a similar condition lens went up for BIN for $330). With so much gear in the marketplace, especially in these economic times, people are constantly listing things for arbitrary prices, simply in hopes of meeting their financial needs. Which can often be far less money than the lens is worth resulting in a great opportunity for a beginning photographer. Finding these deals is only a matter of time.

Patience and persistence can bring you some of the best gear out there, for less than the price of the worst.

Why Am I Telling You All This?

As I said, I have been shootings with a combination of a couple really nice "bread and butter" Nikkors and then many third party optics for some time now. They can produce some wondrous results but it doesn't mean I don't still lust for some of these incredible newly designed lenses with built-in VR, etc. Well in this past couple months, patience afforded me the opportunity at two such lenses resulting in a new perspective and drastic reduction in my kit (simply because I currently don't have enough money to have a lot of unused lenses sitting around). As mentioned above, I found the Nikon 50-300mm f/4.5 *ED AIs for $250 BIN on eBay. I also picked up a like-new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II for half the OEM price through a BIN that popped up on the bay.

These two lenses, though generations apart, represent the culmination of Nikon's design and optical knowledge in their respective periods, and I have nothing to say to refute it. They are simply unbelievable. I have been so impressed by their performances, I have sold off many of my other lenses to fund these (and somehow I actually made money?) and also because I just wasn't really using them anymore. I will be doing more thorough reviews on each of these in the future but for now I will leave you with some images I have made from them:

Nikon 50-300mm f/4.5 *ED AIs

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II

This composite (used a second, wider shot for an extended sky) of the Alton, IL Lock and Dam was made at 1/15 of a second in the breaking dawn light out the window of a small corolla crossing the bumpy Clark Bridge. I am simply amazing at how well the VR works!

Neelam's first Christmas (Crazy looking? She only broke 2 ornaments.)

Wrap Up

Patience! Patience is a great approach to finding the best gear. Read, research, know what you want to try, and then just keep your eyes open. You never know!

It looks to be a great new year. Despite a troubled economy, I am optimistic because regardless of what the job market brings, photography is still ultimately for me. I cannot help but do it. Just last night I was reminded by someone how intrinsically beautiful passion for something, anything can be. God has blessed me with an ability and a desire and for that I am always thankful.