Wild Beasts in Norway

A lone musk-ox in the mountains. Shot with Nikon D4s and Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR @ 500mm, 1/1000sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600.

A lone musk-ox in the mountains.
Shot with Nikon D4s and Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR @ 500mm, 1/1000sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600.

It’s only about a month since I got back from my trip photographing bears and wolves in Finland, but chance would have it that last weekend I got the opportunity to go on a second photo trip. A little closer to home this time. The destination was Dovrefjell, a mountain range and national park, in Norway and this time I was hunting musk-ox!

The musk-ox is a big mammal and is typically about 2 meters long and weighs about 200kg. They are herbivore and live in arctic climate hence their wool is about 40% warmer than sheep’s wool! The musk-ox was extinct in Norway, but after some railroad workers discovered a fossil at Dovrefjell in 1913 some people started to play with the idea of bringing the musk-ox back to the Norwegian fauna. After a few failed attempts elsewhere, they released the first animals at Dovrefjell in 1932. During the second world war however, the population died out. They released a new population in 1947, and this population still survives till this day at Dovre.

Photographing musk-ox is somewhat easier than a lot of other animals. We did not need any hides or bait, nor did we have to sit and wait for the animals to come by. Quite the opposite, we had some great professional guides who did research and kept track of where the animals were. It was just a matter for us to load up our gear and start hiking.

There’s a general warning to stay at least 200 meters away from the animals. However, the aforementioned guides knew how we could safely maneuver closer without upsetting the animals. It was all about taking your time. Our group would stay close together and slowly move closer to the animals a few meters at a time, then stop for a while. This way we were letting the musk-ox get used to our presence. We did spend a couple of hours with two animals and they got so used us being there, and realizing we did no harm, they would just ignore us and let us wander about with our cameras. The result was that we would get quite close to these impressive animals!

Photo tip! Get low. It can create a more interesting angle as well as a nice out of focus foreground.

Review: Nikon AF 85mm 1:1.8D

I consider this a great value for money lens. It’s focal length along with its f/1.8 max aperture makes this an ideal portrait lens for beginners, amateurs and even professionals, and you can find this lens fairly cheap second-hand. However, is it really a bargain? Does the quality hold up?

Nikon AF 85mm 1:1.8D

About the lens
The Nikon AF 85mm 1:1.8D is an older, now discontinued lens. It’s a simple lens and it does not feature image stabilizer, and it does not have an internal focus motor. The lack of focus motor means smaller cameras like the D3xxx and D5xxx series can only use this lens in manual focus mode. Nikon has released this lens in two versions. First there was a version labeled just AF, then in 1994 came the AF-D version. Optically they’re the same, however the AF-D supported 3D Matrix Metering and may have been coated with an improved coating.

Build & handling
This lens is the little brother of the 85mm 1.4 lens and build quality is one of the major differences. This lens does not have the same quality build its bigger brother has. This lens has a plastic casing and does not feel as sturdy. It doesn’t have the professional build quality and feel to it. Never the less it’s build quality feels much better than say a cheap 18-55mm zoom lens. One thing feels solid about the lens though; it’s lens hood! The all metal screw in lens hood is in a different league than the modern plastic ones.

The 85mm 1.8 is a fairly small and handy lens. At 380g it’s a little heavier than the newer AF-S model. However, it’s a well-balanced lens on the camera and my D800 with this lens feels like a rather compact and light kit.

Unlike it newer AF-S sibling, this lens features an aperture ring. This means it can be used on older manual cameras or mounted on different cameras by adapters and still be in full control of the aperture. This can also be a nice feature for video shooters for easier and quicker adjustment of exposure.

The manual focus of this lens is one thing that did not impress me. The manual focus ring is very light and there’s very little resistance. It’s not at all as smooth as a proper manual focus lens. This makes it very easy to focus fast, but hard to be precise. However it does feature good distance from close focus to infinity, and a focus distance window which is a great feature for those shooting manual focus photo or video.

Performance
The AF 85mm 1:1.8D is a solid performer when it comes to image quality. It’s sharp even wide open and it’s performance improves if stopped down. Corner sharpness is a little weaker wide open, but all in all it’s fairly uniform. The newer 85mm 1:1.8 AF-S is a little step ahead when it comes to image quality, but considering its double the price for a new lens the AF-D does good! This is a lens that renders nice colors and contrasts and is still sharp enough for the D800.

In difficult conditions with highlights and contrasts it may show some CA, however this is easily removed in post processing, so I don’t consider this a big problem. At f/1.8 this lens shows some vignetting, but not at all bad. It’s mainly just visible in the far corners and it decreases rapidly as you step down.

The auto focus on this lens is quite noisy, but actually quite fast. I shot a session with my dog at an agility coarse and the auto focus kept up with the action.

Conclusion
This lens can be found second-hand for half the price of the new 85mm 1:1.8 AF-S. If you’re starting up with photography and don’t want to spend a lot of money, or if you’re just on a budget this lens is definitely something to consider. While newer and more expensive lenses may perform better this lens is still a solid performer! It’s capable of delivering stunning images even on modern high-resolution cameras.

Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.

 

Further reading:
– Bjørn Rørslett has a short review

– More info on Nikon 85mm lenses at mir.com

– Info and user experienced at DPreview.com

Review: Nikkor 400mm 1:5.6 ED-IF Ai

I don’t do a lot photography that requires a long tele-lens. My 70-200mm usually covers it and so I’ve never considered investing a lot of money in something longer. However, I stumbled across this older lens at a cheap price and thought that it might be interesting. I’ve been playing around with it for a while and here are my thoughts on this lens.

Nikon 400mm 5.6 ED-IF Ai

Nikon 400mm 5.6 ED-IF Ai

Before you read further I only want to note that my lens was quite beat up and not exactly in good condition when I bought it. This may affect some of my views on this lens. However the glass on my lens is flawless, so it should not affect the image quality. It’s usually sold for around $600 on eBay. I paid about $120 for mine so let that tell you something about its condition.

Build & handling

The build quality on this lens is very good! It’s metal and glass all the way like most older manual Nikons and it comes with a screw on cap, a built-in retractable lens hood and a tripod mount that can rotate. It also has a little focus stopping feature. If you’re lucky you’ll even get the original leather case.

This lens is very light considering the focal length. It’s almost a little too light for shooting hand-held, because it’s very prone to shake. I would recommend using it with a good and steady tripod on slower shutter speeds, but I’ve used it mostly hand-held and with a high shutter speed and a good and steady pose it’s still possible to shoot hand-held.

However there are a couple of things that annoy me about the design. First the screw-in cap. It’s a hassle to screw the cap on and off every time. At least now that we’re used to the snap-on caps. Second it’s the hood. It’s nice to have a built-in hood as older second-hand lenses almost never comes with the original hood. However it slides back if you tilt the lens up. This is probably a result of a beat up lens, but still. Third it’s the focus stopping feature which hardly work on mine and is mainly just annoying.

Apart from that this is a fine little lens. It has a good focus pulling distance and while the focus on mine is not as smooth as I’d like, after many years of wear and tear there are still no mechanical problems.

Performance

As I don’t do a lot of work on long lenses I don’t really have anything to compare it to. Earlier I’ve tried a Nikon 500mm 1:8 reflex lens. This did not impress me. On my D800 it was never properly sharp. F/8 also made it a very slow lens, however it was compact and otherwise nice.

Unlike that 500mm this lens is sharp. I’ve seen a lot sharper, however it’s not bad. It’s certainly usable. I’ve used this lens mainly at 5.6 and it’s no problem. It gets a little sharper stepped down, but on the D800 diffraction starts kicking in at f/8. At f/5.6 this lens performs nicely. It’s sharp enough and renders nice colors and contrast.

At f/5.6 this is not a very fast lens, but not particularly slow either. At least not if you’re shooting on a full frame camera and can boost the ISO a bit. For general use I never had trouble with this lens being too slow. It also quite easy to focus. For me focus hit almost every time when focusing both by eye and with the help of the in-camera focus confirmation. Being a manual focus it’s a bit harder to focus on moving subjects, but not impossible.

Conclusion

This lens does not give you the same image quality as a newer or faster lens. I would not recommend or talk about this lens as a pro lens. However, for someone like me who don’t do a lot of long tele shots and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a big hunk of a lens this one is a very good alternative. It gives you a bit more than say a 70-300mm or a 70-200mm and the quality is not bad at all! It’s also light weight which makes it a very portable lens.

Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.

Further reading

– Bjørn Rørslett has a short review

– More info on this lens at MIR.com

Review: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* F2/35 ZF

I got an offer to buy a Carl Zeiss Distagon T* F2/35 ZF lens and so I took it for a test spin for a couple of days just to decide whether to buy it or not. As always, this is not going to be any scientific lab test. You’ll find plenty of such elsewhere on the Internet. This is simply my thoughts on this lens.Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm ZF

Build & handling

It’s a Zeiss and like all Zeiss lenses this lens is like a tank! The all metal casing and hood is admirable. All the mechanical parts operates really smooth, and you really get the feeling that this is a high quality lens, and let’s face it; it is!

While the build quality is very solid, it does come at a price. All the metal makes this a heavy lens. Weighing in at over 530g this is no lightweight. It’s also quite big. Especially considering it’s a manual focus lens at just F 2.0. Compared to Nikon 35mm F/2.0 AF D the Zeiss is over twice the weight and size.

Like any Zeiss this lens offers a very smooth focus ring. It focuses from 0,3 meters and it handles very nicely. There’s almost no focus breathing, meaning the angle of view does not change when focusing. The lack of focus breathings is a very important feature for videographers. Making this lens a good candidate for those shooting video on their DSLRs.

If I were to say anything negative about the focus on this lens it is that I would prefer a longer focus pull and that I found the focus somewhat temperamental. It was quite hard to focus on my D800. I tried just focusing visually and by using the camera’s focus confirmation, but it always seemed slightly off. This could just be my lens (it was a second-hand lens), it could be my camera or it could be me. All I know is I missed focus on this lens way more than on any other manual focus lens I use.

Performance

Well, just like the build quality the image quality of this lens is very good. It produces fully usable images even at f/2, but performance increase greatly if stopped down. If you hit focus this lens is sharp as a knife, comparable to Nikon 28mm 1:2.8 AiS, one of the sharpest lenses I own. In addition it renders beautiful colors and gives you a very nice bookeh.

There is very little to complain about when talking about the performance of this lens. It does have a bit of vignetting wide open, but improves when stopped down. At f/4 or 5.6 this it’s a great performer. Distortion is very low in general even at f/2, and I consider neither the distortion nor vignetting of this lens a problem in general photography or landscape, and I would not hesitate to use this lens wide open at f/2.

Since it’s usable at f/2 it’s able to shoot in low light conditions, but it also handles difficult conditions with lots of light well. While I did notice some purple fringing in very difficult highlights, I would not say this lens suffers a lot from CA in general. In real life conditions CA will not cause a lot of problems unless you’re pixel peeping. As for flare, I did a couple of shots with this lens with the sun in the frame and the results was extremely little flare! It was a worst kind scenario and it surprised me it didn’t produce more flares and reflexes. Of course it was not without flare, but what flare it produced was a couple of good-looking nice and round rings.

Conclusion

This Zeiss is a great lens, and many regards it as one of the greatest. In the field it produces images of very high quality; it’s solid, very sharp, renders nice colors and there is little to complain about when it comes to image quality and build.

This lens is a safe bet, so am I buying it? Well, actually no. Despite I really love the focal length and lack a proper 35mm prime I’m not going with this particular Zeiss. One of the main reasons is the size and weight. It’s big and heavy to haul around. Second it’s the focus. I never got the feel for this one and missed focus on way to many shots. Whether it’s the lens (it is second-hand after all), my camera or me I don’t know, but apparently we just don’t go well together. Third it’s the price. Okay, so it’s mainly about the budget. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to buy a lens I’m not 100% sure about at the moment, and I do already have an excellent wide-angle lens that focuses perfectly. However, should I come across another one I would definitely consider it!

Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.

Further reading

PhotoZone.de has a good review of this lens

LensTip.com has a good summary

Photography Life also has an in-depth review of this lens

A day at the Zoo

My girlfriend and I went to the zoo last weekend. I hadn’t been to the zoo for years, and was looking forward to it like a little kid!

This was not a photo trip, and so I didn’t want to bring a lot of gear. I wanted to travel light, but at the same time have a large aperture lens with the purpose of blurring the background, and making the zoo setting less obvious. My choice of gear for the trip was a 50mm, and a 85mm 1.8. They’re light, and have large aperture, so it was exactly what I was looking for.

While I brought both, I actually just used the 85mm. The 85mm is great for both portraits, and as it’s a short to medium telephoto lens, it’s also great for animals that are not too afraid of humans. That being said, I was missing my 70-200mm for some shots.