About two months ago to this day, I reported on a couple new tools I had acquired for more stable shooting, a manfrotto tripod and geared head. I was ecstatic with the combination, everything felt generally tight and secure. I believed I had a solid tripod setup, one which would last many, many years. After all, the geared head took the weight of my 300mm f/2.8 like a champ, and the tripod raised up to an extremely tall height even without the center column extending. The multi-degree legs allowed for great macro positioning on subjects literally on the ground, and the aluminum legs locked into place tightly.
But then, the problems started.
Cameras with an APS-C sized sensor are generally not thought of as low-light performers. Despite recent gains in 16 megapixel APS-C technology (NEX-5n, Fuji X-Pro 1), digital noise due to tiny pixels not getting enough light can become a problem at high ISOs starting at about ISO 3200. When packing a 24 megapixel sensor of the same size, these even smaller pixels are all the more susceptible to image degradation. On my NEX-7, I have generally stayed away from low-light (handheld, anyway), simply out of the fear of a low signal-to-noise ratio at high ISOs. But when the job calls for it–an acoustic/electronic music show hosted in a bar–pictures have to be made, so I grabbed my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 S-Auto, and went to work. :)
To give an idea of the (lack of) stage lighting, this guy’s computer was illuminating him more than anything else in the room!
Soprano Sax and the Macbook
50mm, ISO 1600, f/1.4, 1/60
For fraternities in college, Bid Day is a special occasion which marks the end of recruitment for new members into the fraternity. Some colleges, such as Transylvania University, make an interesting spectacle out of the event. Fraternities parade with their painted colors, costumes, and flags to a common area and gather en masse to await run-outs. These new potential members, known formally as pledges, literally “run out” to their fraternity of choice to be swept up into the group of fellow future brothers and lifted into the air. What follows is a unified show of almost simultaneous excitement and anticipation; the fraternities are grouped very close together, so they often do not know which pledge will run to who until he is already barreling toward them.
All of the following were captured with the NEX-7 and Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AI-s (all shot at f/2.4 and ISO 100 as well), the same lens which I have fallen in love with ever since Holi Day this year due to its unique rendering of detail and depth-of-field separation even at a distance.
First up, the parades:
I feel it’s time for me to lay out a guide, of sorts, for how I review my lenses. This way, I can keep commentary centered towards how a lens actually performs, rather than explaining all the technical jargon each time. This post will be updated as new terminology/review sections are added. Currently, the NEX-7 is both my camera and review body of choice for its demanding 24MP APS-C sensor. If a lens performs well on it, it’s almost guaranteed to perform at least as good on less-megapixel-dense sensors. The order below will generally follow that of every review: Continue Reading
What better way to finish up my return to sports photography than a true test of both my manual focusing skills and the capabilities of my camera than indoor volleyball? Sure, soccer was much more difficult to chase focus, and field hockey didn’t fall too far behind in the challenge department, but both of those sports are generally played outside; where there is a lot of sunlight. Shutter speeds can top out very fast and ISOs can stay at a cool low thanks to the abundance of natural light.
Not so for indoor sports!
Save for professional arenas well-lit by tons of floodlights or corner-mounted room strobes, getting high shutter speeds with low ISOs under artificial light is pretty much impossible. Staying around ISO 1600-3200 with a shutter speed of at least 1/500 will stop most motion in sports such as basketball and volleyball (and should have controllable noise with modern cameras). Only problem for this situation, a fast aperture is needed to get what little light there is to the sensor. If a lens isn’t at least f/2.8, forget about it, and if the optic doesn’t perform well at this aperture, consider it a nail in the coffin for trying effective indoor sports photography.
But I came prepared. Enter the 180mm f/2.8, 105mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/1.8 E (not used this time, but I brought it just in case), three lenses that perform very well at f/2.8. With these I get the light, I get the shutter speed, and I also get the “pop” from the large aperture allowing subject separation. In other words, no worries. :)
All of the following captured with the NEX-7. I decided to not apply any noise reduction to maintain as much detail as possible. Pretend it’s just like old-timey film grain. :D
105mm, ISO 1600, f/2, 1/500
I guess my first excursions into sports photography this year will all be trials-by-fire. Following up my first time shooting soccer last week, I shot my first field hockey game this past weekend, and will be photographing indoor volleyball for the first time later this week!
I won’t lie, field hockey is a strange sport. It’s essentially ice hockey (which is interesting enough by itself), but with shorter sticks, a ball instead of a puck, and it’s played on short grass. Oh, and there’s no real pads or helmets, so players feel every push and shove from their adversaries. It isn’t as fast-paced as soccer, but when the ball gets in-between two players, chaos ensues—what I try to capture, in other words.
Conditions were bright and sunny for this match, helping keep ISOs low and shutter speeds very high. Harsh shadows are no match for Lightroom 4’s excellent shadow recovery tools. All the following taken with the NEX-7 and Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AI-s ED and Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED, two lenses I love more and more every day.
300mm, ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/1250
The second 2x zoom in the “consumer” rated Series-E lenses by Nikon, the 36-72mm E comes in as the most compact zoom of the three, thanks to its pancake design. When at 72mm (collapsed), the lens is actually about the same size as the 100mm E. Despited my general dissatisfaction with zoom lenses, the convenience they offer to photographers by having multiple focal lengths in one lens makes traveling light easy, and, theoretically, more shots are possible at any given time since composition can be more flexible. In my case, personal habits acquired from shooting prime lenses still carry over even to zooms: I either use this lens at the wide or tele end. Rarely do I zoom to get a shot. As such, I treat it as two prime lenses in one.
As many know, features such as fast maximum apertures, non-distorted lines, and close-focus abilities are often sacrificed to gain convenience, especially in the smaller zooms. The question here then is does the compactness and generally useful focal range (on APS-C) of the 36-72mm E outweigh likely performance drops? Let’s find out! Continue Reading