Monday, February 26, 2007

Which budget telezoom should I buy?

Is another common theme in most places where Nikon DSLR gear is discussed. Here's my $0.02 on the issue.

First of, my personal favorite:

Nikon 70-300 f/4-5,6G aka the 70-300 g-type
A decent size lens with a usable manual focus ring. You'll read many reviews where it says it's soft past 200mm. Not entirely true, it tends to softness unless you can stop it down a bit. Starting at f7.1 you'll already see major improvements. At the long end it also has some CA problems, especially in contrast rich situations. It does have a very nice bokeh!

There's also a ED version of this lens where one of the element is replaced by an element of ED glass. Supposedly this helps with the CA problems.

70-300G used goes for around 100 euros, a ED can be had for around 150 euros. Here's a close crop of a shot in my flickr album.

Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG MACRO
NOTE! There's also a non-Apo version which is not nearly as nice.

What can I say? It's rather popular due to it's 1:2 macro option. I've handled it a few times and in my opinion the ergonomics aren't as nice as those of the Nikon. I also like the bokeh of the 70-300G more. Those are personal opinions though, this is still a very capable and popular lens.

Can be found used for around 150 euros.

Tamron AF70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2
Well... what can I say? Handled one in the shop once. This is one of those weird lenses where it's hard to find anything wrong but I just couldn't "connect" with it. Optically it's very, very decent as you can see here and in this crop. I did find the macro option, just like the Sigma's, rather cumbersome to focus.

Can be found for very good prices, certainly cheaper than the Sigma, possibly cheaper than the Nikon. Try it in your local shop, if you do find the "click" you'll have a very capable lens for a very good price.

55-200mm lenses:

A lot of salesmen will try to sell you one of these and claim that with the crop factor this will be an adequate focal range. Maybe true but the extra range of the 70-300 can come in handy. Most of these 55-200mm lenses are nice and compact so if you're looking for a telezoom hardly bigger than your kit lens this may be the solution for you.

Tamron 55-200mm F/4-5.6 Di II LD Macro
What a piece of crap! I really, really didn't like it at all! It's lousy at focussing, has bad ergonomics and the results totally failed to impress me.

Sigma 55-200mm F4-5.6 DC
Looks good on paper, never seen it.

Nikon 55-200mm f4-5.6G DX AF-S
This is also sold as part of a dual lens kit with the D50. Really amazing performance for such a tiny little telezoom. Have a look around flickr and you'll see some excellent pics with this lens. I personally didn't buy it because the sample I tested had a rather heavy zoom action. Ended up not buying this lens because I'm so old fashioned that I prefer more bulk to my telezoom, makes it easier to steady it.
If you're in the market for a telezoom and want something compact and/or just don't expect to need the 300mm range I'd seriously advice you to consider this lens.

Second hand lenses:
70-210 f4-5.6 D and non-D: Both good, solid lenses. A D version will go for 160 euros or more thanks to this review. From my own experience it's good but hyped.
There's also a 70-210 f4 which is even older. Very slow autfocus but very, very sharp. Can be found for a lot less than the D version.
Then there's a 80-200. Nice retro design, not bad optically but just not a popular range any more.
Another interesting lens on the used market is the 75-240. Due to an unusual tapered design it will take the same filter size as your kit lens, 52mm. Nice compromise, rather light and yet bulky enough to focus properly. Only made for about a year, can be found for good prices used.

Older Sigma lenses: I'd recommend to avoid these. I've had a late 1980s 70-210 which was extremly temperamental and took a lot of effort to procude anything decent. Quality control back then was a BIG problem for sigma. I've seen some very, very good samples and some samples that shouldn't have left the factory. Only consider if you're on a budget and can give the lens a good test drive.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dark, moody and beautiful

If you want music like that I suggest you listen to Virgin state of mind by K's choice.
I found on a buffy sountrack album.

Got a knife to disengage the voids that I can't bear
To cut out words I've got written on my chair

Like do you think I'm sexy
Do you think I really care

Can I burn the mazes I grow
Can I, I don't think so

Can I burn the mazes I grow
Can I, I don't think so

Where can I run to, where can I hide
Who will I turn to now I'm in a virgin state of mind

I've also been watching some of the old episodes. Interesting how that show starts out rather light and airy and drifts towards darkness in the later seasons.

The song reminds me a bit of when I was sitting in cafe Berg in Vienna on a lonely thursday evening in November downing three beers and listening to a Garbage album for the first time.

Would be interesting to try and capture some images to go with this but that's probably a bit beyond my current skills and time constraints. I'd love to do some dark and urban shots sometime but the place where I live doesn't make for good nighttime scenery.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nikon and the 50mm

Back in the old days just before the zoom lens and autofocus came into fashion the standard kit lens was a reasonably fast fixed focal length lens somewhere between 45 and 55mm. For most brands this ment a 50mm f1.8. Nikon was no exception, there's still a 50mm 1.8 in their product range today and more and more people discover this sharp and fast gem of a lens. So many that over here in the netherlands a used one in good condition can easily fetch 80-90% of the going rate for a new one.

Here's my $0.02 on the various Autofocus incarnations of this lens.

My $0.02. on the 50mm AF in it's various incarnations.

The current:

Nothing wrong with this. Build could be better but it does offer a D chip as a bonus. Check current prices whereever you live. I've seen 70% price differences between retailers in my country. This one's being made since early '02

The previous version:

Newer build but without the added bonus of a D chip. When givven the choice I'd avoid this version. Build quality is not nearly as good as the old one and you don't even get a D(istance) chip in return. Build from 1990 up until late 2001.

the old version:

No D chip but built like the current 1.4. Can be found used in excellent condition if you care to look for it. When buying used let it AF from infinity to closest rapidly a few times and see if that works without a coffee grinder sound. Weak point of these is that they're prone to AF gear slippage when dropped. Only made from september 1986 until early 1990.

All three of these are optically identical and very close if not optically identical to their late Ai siblings. Get a hood such as the HR-2 or a HS-1 for extra retro look and don't bother with a UV filter as protection. The front element is deeply recessed already and a good filter will easily set you back half of what you paid for the lens.

There's also loads of the old 50mm 1.8 E-series around. A kit lens from just before AF. Can safely be mounted on your D-series. Since Nikon made about a billion of these they can be found extremely cheap on the used market. You're own your own of course for focussing and metering. Do watch out for fungus on these classics. (spidery vague tendrils on the glass or a structure like water dried on your mirror)

Friday, February 09, 2007

What I like to do in weekends

Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
Is drive over to a spot near an active runway and just stare at the planes for half an hour or so. Just me and my Nikon. Something to do with my childhood perhaps when I often did that?

Ah well.... all I know it's a simple, cheap and effective way to relax.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

We've had a mailbox exchange server of a client suffer a major hardware failure. After sorting that out by swapping out the box we were left with the nice task of getting the stores back online. Surprisingly enough Windows 2003 was still in a decent state after 10 blue screens.

Anyway, things that helped me were:
To understand that a 551 error and a 1216 are almost identical. to figure out which log files were needed to get the stores consistent again. Eseutil /cc to get the log files played back into the stores.

Still means we need to take a good long and hard look at the way we backup our exchange enviroments. Looks like our software once again dropped the ball just like I experienced earlier with an authoritive restore of a domain controller that didn't work and where I had to "touch" objects enough times to get the USN of the object I was trying to restore high enough .