Urban Lifestyle Specialist, ATMTX, pens a short (very short) review of the Lisbon Portfolio.

Worst Best Zoom Lens I've Played With Lately.

Oh my. I love/hate this lens so much.

The lens pictured above is the kit lens I selected to go with the Nikon D7100 body I recently purchased. My overarching rationale for its selection still stands firm. It's a camera and lens (and flash) combination to be used to make photographs at dimly lit galas and events. Places where accurate and well controlled flash is a must. In those situations having a wide range of focal lengths in one tidy package is a big plus and, for these things, the lens does well. Even more so because photographing groups of humans is one place where wonky geometric distortions aren't very noticeable. 

The lens sells for around $500 but they had some sort of special Summer pricing and if purchased as a kit the lens came out to around $250. So, let me talk to you about this lens.....

Here are the things it does very well: 

1. The range of focal lengths is custom made for event shooters. At 18mm you've got a 27.5mm equivalent that's perfect for big groups and fun, dramatic juxtapositions. If you are shooting groups with anything wider you've probably noticed that your lens (no matter how superb) is morphing the people next to the left and right (and top and bottoms) of the frame into giant blogs. Head grow like balloon heads in cartoons and hips become wider than billboards. I try not to do groups with anything wider than a 35mm eqiv. but sometimes you need what you need. 

2. This lens is a VR king. Nikon says more than four stops and I am a believer. This lens has almost convinced my photographer friends that all I'm drinking is decaf. Rock solid. It's in the same class as the OMD EM-5's I've been using. We don't need no stinkin tripods.... (But, of course we really do).

3. Can you say "sharp?" In the center two thirds of the frame at nearly any focal length, at maximum aperture, this lens is sharp, sharp. As in looking into the pores sharp. I tested it all the way out to the end and the results were pretty consistent. A bit sharper at the wide end but no slouching at the long end. 

4. For the number of focal lengths this lens replaces it's small. It's a comfortable and nicely designed package and it has both aspheric and ED elements as well as being an internal focus design. For $500 it's a pretty good "go everywhere with one lens" lens and for $250 it's easy to classify as a bargain....unless:

Here are the two things that the lens sucks at but you can only really blame the designers for one....

1. The lens has a slow maximum aperture. It's f3.5 at the wide end and f5.6 at the long end. With enough money and the allowance of enough weight you could design a lens with these focal lengths and an f2.0 constant aperture but no one would be able to buy one. And few photographers would want to carry it. The low max. ap. used to be a deal killer in days of old but now every camera does ISO 25,000 with dignity and aplomb so who really cares (sarcasm). But really, if you consider that f3.5 is less than a half stop over f2.8 and that f5.6 is just two stops over f2.8 and that camera sensors really have improved a lot in the past few years I think we can get by this. Especially for the price and convenience. 

2. And that leaves what, for some, will be a real deal killer.  The lens has the most extreme distortion I've seen in ages. At the 18mm end it's barrel distortion. And I mean a real barrel. Like a beer keg. It requires a minus 7 or minus 8 correction in raw conversion to get it into the ball park and even then it's not perfect. So at the wide apertures you're dealing with expansive lines bowing outward but at around 50mm it goes into a weird inversion and all of a sudden you've got pincushion distortion that's just breathtaking. Not sure if there's a lens profile out there for this one but I'm not seeing an auto correction in D7100 Jpegs or in Photoshop....

I'm keeping mine but if you do architecture or anything else with straight lines don't even ask for the sales guys to take this one down off the shelf for a demo. You'll be wasting everyone's time. I'll do my haphazard corrections and put a note on the lens hood reminding me to "never, never point this puppy at any straight line that I want to keep straight. 

And that's my review of the Nikon 18-140mm lens. Good for fast moving people mania! Horrible for straight lines of any kind. 

Yesterday's Historic Assignment. New camera, old artifacts.

This image of a Berlin street is included solely for blog decoration. 
It has nothing to do with the content below. 
I shot it with the quirky Samsung Galaxy NX camera
and the solid little kit lens.
I like the pretty colors.

I've said recently that we've been busy over the last two weeks. Last Weds. I spent a full day making wonderful available light portraits for a software company in a downtown bank building. I spent most of the next day doing the necessary post production and also having phone meetings about upcoming video production. Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend most of the day on an assignment for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. It was a straightforward job but one that was almost meditative and very satisfying. 

The museum has a constant influx of artifacts that need to be well documented and I've been providing photographic documentation for them throughout this year. Since nearly every object must be kept on the museum grounds and can usually only be handled by a curator wearing gloves we definitely do each of these assignments on their turf. All of the artifacts are photographed on white backgrounds and during post production I create very detailed clipping paths so they can drop out backgrounds where necessary. 

Yesterday I loaded up the Airport Security case with the Nikon 7100 camera. A 35mm lens, a 50mm lens, a 55mm f2.8 manual focus micro lens and the wild kit zoom. I had a back up battery and, in case of catastrophic system failure, I had a Panasonic GH4 with assorted lenses in reserve. I also brought along a flash meter, gaffer's tape and some black wrap. Always black wrap. As an afterthought I tossed in two Yongnuo slave-able flashes.

In another case I had four Elinchrom moonlights with cables and speed rings and accessories. In the stand bag were a couple of soft boxes, a few umbrellas and my little, Benro tripod. Riding along with no case was a stout, tall C-Stand with an arm. It was joined by a thirty pound sand bag. I also brought along assorted chunks of white foamcore and black foamcore which is wonderful when you need to add or subtract light from a composition. 

I wheeled the case in right at 9am and we got set up with a white background sweep table in one of the big work rooms on the first floor. I used a medium sized (3 feet by 4 feet) soft box on the C-Stand's side arm (using it as a boom) and positioned it directly above the set. I used this light for almost everything, repositioning it and fine tuning it to match the subject matter. 

Occasionally I wanted to supplement the top light with fill from a spot near the camera position. I grabbed a Yongnuo flash, set it to "slave" mode and aimed it into a 42 inch white umbrella with a black cover. Being able to dial the power levels up and down and to not work about radio triggers or cords was efficient. 

As I intended I used the D7100 and the 55 macro lens for just about everything. I wanted to see if the combination of a "known" great lens and the 24 megapixel sensor with no anti-aliasing filter would give my images some sort of extra mojo. Having now imported everything into Lightroom I can see that the images, shot at 100 ISO with the lens at f5.6 to f8.0, are sharper than what I had previously gotten with good lenses on the full frame, 24 megapixel Sony a99 camera. Score one of the APS-C, next generation. 

My working method was to set the camera to the live view mode, zoom in to 8x or so to fine focus and then shoot a single frame, chimp the hell out of it, make whatever course corrections were necessary and then shoot two more frames: one to use and one as a safety. 

This shooting method ameliorates any battery advantages of OVF cameras and, as expected, I ate up 50% of the battery charge getting about 125 shots done over the course of five hours. I was also surprised to see, already, a dust bunny appear when we started veering toward f11.5+ to get more depth of field in shots of really small objects. I haven't seen dust on the sensor of a Panasonic or Olympus camera in.....forever. 

I did take time to shoot several of the images with the Panasonic GH4 and the 12-35mm lens. I wanted a direct comparison I could mull over. Here's what I found: The Nikon D7100 has a resolution advantage and the files seem more color correct right out of camera. If you were going to make huge paper enlargements the judges would immediately side with the bigger sensor-ed camera. But, at our final delivery size the advantages disappear (or are equalized by the common denominator of size).  From a working perspective I will probably switch back to micro four thirds for the next round of artifact documentation at the museum. There is a distinct advantage to the additional depth of field at the same angle of view when you are working in tight with a subject. 

Also, cameras that are designed to be in permanent "live view" via their EVFs are much more facile in operations like this with much faster focusing. Finally, I've gotten spoiled by the touch screens. Being able to touch the screen at the spot at which you'd like to see the focusing point is wonderful.
In DXO, up to the full native resolution of the Panasonic files there are few discernible quality differences. Certainly the trade off between a perceived small increase in shadow noise in the GH4 at 100% is handily offset by its ability to generate files that don't show dust spots....

You read a lot about the "overwhelming" superiority of one system or sensor class over another and even the most level headed among us can succumb to moments of doubt as to whether they've made good equipment choices. That's why I feel it's important to test things out first hand. To see what the reality of a comparison is. The nature of writing and blogging leads writers to exaggerate small differences to provide more exciting contrast in the written content. Nothing sells like bold statements and controversy. But once again I've found that careful lighting and technique are far more important than camera attributes and, that at conventional working sizes, the cameras and their files are less different than the fans and the manufacturers would like you to believe. 

Tonight I'm diving into the Nikon flash system. That may be an area where real differences make themselves known... But we'll see. Objectively. 

Hope you have great day.