Slowly but surely I am upgrading the lenses in my kit to be full-frame compatible. Longtime readers of my site already know I sport a deep collection of Nikkor AI-s lenses, ones that I could easily adapt to a full-frame a9000 or the like. As time goes on, however, I begin to notice the problems the old optics exhibit almost universally: low sharpness/contrast wide-open, mediocre flare performance, and relatively pronounced chromatic aberrations at larger apertures. I’m starting to see the benefits that modern optical formulas can provide where vintage lenses can rarely match.
With the Laowa 15mm f/2, I have found my wide-angle option to cement itself as part of a full-frame-ready kit. Featuring a native E-mount optical design, the compact and fast lens feels right at home even on an a6500, and performs quite admirably all-around. Does the lens perform up to its steep price point compared to the competition? Let’s take a look! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check this post first! Continue Reading
I knew it would happen eventually. As I gradually grew out of my telephoto lens bubble I was so happy to stay in for a few years, it came time to look around for a decent wide-angle lens for travel photography, wide street shots, and one-shot landscapes (constantly having to stitch together shots with my 32mm Touit anytime I wanted a wide shot got tedious fast). So, about three years ago I scrounged around for a deal on a used Rokinon 16mm f/2. Although it was APS-c only, 16mm is still decently wide and f/2 is a nice aperture for low-light handheld shots.
Unabashedly a “plastic-fantastic” lens, does the Rokinon 16mm f/2 hold up on the a6500? After three years of shooting, let’s find out! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check this post first! Continue Reading
Longtime followers of my website may know that the 105mm focal length is one I have gravitated towards for many years of my photography. From my beginnings with the classic Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AI-s, I enjoyed the pleasure of dabbling with other lenses such as the up-close Nikon Micro 105mm f/2.8 AI-s and even the super-compact Nikon 100mm f/2.8 Series-E. All three of these lenses provide a medium-long telephoto on the APS-c cameras I used them on, and they all served their uses in my photography. In fact, I still dust off the Micro 105mm f/2.8 for all of my product shots! However, until late last year, I had all but abandoned the focal length for general photography and transitioned to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s instead for my moderate telephoto needs. The 85mm has less chromatic aberration than the 105mm f/1.8 at equivalent apertures, focuses close enough for quasi-macro shots, and provides much more separation than the Series-E lens ever could.
At the same time, there was always a lens that intrigued me in the Sony lineup: the 135mm f/2.8 STF. With a special apodization element, the lens rendered out-of-focus backgrounds unbelievably smooth, giving “creamy bokeh” a whole new meaning. Even ignoring the current $1400 price tag, the lens wouldn’t make a lot of sense for my style of shooting on an APS-c camera. So for a while, the 85mm f/1.4 remained my go-to for low-light medium telephoto work. That is, until Venus Optics came onto the scene with their unique 105mm f/2 STF lens in mid-2016, promising the same kind of bokeh-smoothing effect with its own apodization element, all at a moderate price tag of $700! At this price point, and with these kinds of features, the obvious curiosity concerns its performance wide open as well as the effectiveness of its apodization element. Does it deliver? Read on to find out! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check out this post first! Continue Reading
In the world of fast primes, not often are the specs of “200mm” and “f/2” combined in the description of a single lens. Inherently large and heavy, the ultra-fast design of a 200mm f/2 has long enabled photographers to effectively shoot telephoto in very low light as well as create stunning subject separation simply not possible with a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. Though the available light advantage afforded by the f/2 aperture is somewhat offset by the high-ISO abilities of modern digital sensors, the extra depth-of-field control still has its place in creative photography. Additionally, when used on an APS-C sensor camera like the NEX-7, a 200mm f/2 helpfully acts as a 300mm f/2.8 would on a full-frame camera.
Though it should come as no surprise, telephoto primes such as the Nikon 200mm f/2 are somewhat bulky and cumbersome even used with a suitable DSLR like a d300 with its vertical grip. When a lens of this caliber is mounted onto a comparatively tiny mirrorless camera such as the Sony NEX-7, the combination looks outright comical. That said, it is far more important to see how the lens performs in front of an unforgiving 24-megapixel APS-C sensor in making photographs rather than how the kit may turn heads at an event. Read on to find out how the 200mm f/2 stacks up as the professional fast telephoto it aims to be. As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, please read up on this post first! Continue Reading
***October 2017 Edit: I have used this lens for over four years now, and it is still my go-to choice for a “normal” APS-c lens. Firmware updates over the years to both Sony bodies and the lens itself have made all focus accuracy issues go away, though the motor itself is still noisy. Regarding sharpness, the lens performs better on the more recent a6500 due to a better on-sensor microlens design. Throw in the in-body image stabilization the camera sports, and it makes the Zeiss another clear winner.***
Click here for my first impressions of this lens. IMPORTANT! If you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, please reference THIS POST first! If you are only interested in my comparison of this lens to the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS, scroll down to the bottom of this page. 🙂
Well it’s about time! Ever since Sony released the specifications for the E-mount in April of 2011, NEX photographers have longed for attractive alternative lens offerings from third-party lens manufacturers such as Tamron and Sigma. Sony liked Tamron’s more-compact 18-200mm so much, it was rebranded as the SEL18200LE. Sigma’s low-cost, zero-frills 19/30/60mm f/2.8 primes all provide outstanding image quality for their price. Even Rokinon/Samyang/Bower/(you name it) surprised everyone with their surprisingly affordable and high-quality 8mm f/2.8 fisheye!
It’s better to arrive late to the party rather than never at all though (the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 is a Sony-branded lens so it doesn’t count), and Zeiss decided 2013 was the year to introduce their new “Touit” (pronounced like “too-it”) line of lenses for both E-mount and X-mount. In addition to the 32mm f/1.8, a super-wide 12mm f/2.8 is available now, and a 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar (how Zeiss spells “Macro”) should be available by fall. These lenses are all designed with the serious mirrorless shooter in mind, providing optics that are lightweight and compact, yet powerful enough to resolve fine detail across the large APS-C sensors found in the tiny camera bodies.
What many wonder though: are these premium lenses worthy of the Zeiss name, usually associated with outstanding overall optical performance, loads of micro-contrast, and stellar build quality? I can’t say much about the 12mm f/2.8 (other than that it looks very nice), but let’s take an in-depth look at its more “normal” brother! Continue Reading
I don’t like buying new lenses. Not only are they less tactile in use, weaker in build quality, and–in the case of E-mount–often relatively worse-off in image quality compared to my AI-s’, but new lenses are also expensive! Okay, sure, a lot of the money for a lens can go to fancy features like optical stabilization and autofocus, but for my style of shooting, these features always play second-fiddle to what really counts: image quality.
What’s nice, then, about the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8, is that it tries to go against some of the conventions of new lenses–sans the expensive aspect:
- The all-rubber focus ring is an absolute treat to turn. It’s a real shame that, like all autofocus mirrorless lenses, the focus is fly-by-wire, because I’ve never turned a smoother focus ring, including every Nikkor I’ve ever used.
- The build quality and overall aesthetic of the lens is beautiful. Though there are some polymer parts on the inside to help reduce weight, the entire body of the lens is of a very nice semi-matte metal. Though the lens hood is plastic (again, to cut down weight), once it locks in, there’s no play.
- Unsurprisingly, this is the first native e-mount lens I’ve used that performs notably well on the NEX-7. The sheer resolving power of this lens, thanks no doubt to the Planar design, is impressive.
Though I did give high marks to the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS, and I still stand by what I said, the Zeiss is in another league in areas of performance like sharpness and aberrations. I currently have both lenses, and plan to do a direct side-by-side comparison at the end of the Zeiss’ review (to come hopefully in a week). It’s still a toss-up whether the Zeiss 32mm ($900) is worth twice the price as the Sony 35mm ($450).
Until then, I’ve taken some time the past few days to make some photographs with the new Touit. All ten below captured with the NEX-7:
32mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1/125
Allow me to get some formalities out of the way before anything else. It’s been about three weeks since my last post. Thanks not only to student teaching, but also a commitment to a multi-night pit orchestra production, I haven’t had any time to write new posts, let alone make more photographs outside of my formal photographic assignments.
That’s the bad news.
The GOOD news, it’s officially summer on my end! This means an abundance of free time, or at least, more time I can set aside for photography, lens reviews, and other ramblings I may deem fit for the website. 😉 I’ve got lots of things in store for the next few months, so lets get right to it!
IMPORTANT: If you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, please reference this post first!
The “fast 85”. About every single lens manufacturer has a lens with a large aperture that covers the wide end of the typical portrait focal length. Canon has an 85mm f/1.2, Zeiss currently makes their own 85mm f/1.4, the m4/3 crowd will soon have a Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2, and even the lowly Nikon 1 system has a 32mm f/1.2 on the way. All of these lenses, when used on their respective camera formats, give a semi-wide portrait field of view that begins to give telephoto compression to images—essential to maintaining natural perspectives on subjects. Combined with their fast f/1.2-f/1.4 apertures, extremely shallow depth-of-field control is possible for marked subject separation from any background.
So then, we have the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s, yet another hunk of metal and glass from Nikon’s film days. This lens has been superseded many times by AF-D and AF-S versions, both sporting fast f/1.4 and f/1.8 apertures. But there has to be an optical reason this lens still fetches a pretty penny online, besides for the allure of collectors, right? Let’s take a look! Continue Reading
IMPORTANT: If you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, please reference this post first!
Ahh…back to writing another lens review. It feels like it’s been ages since I wrote my last one back in January. Though I can attribute most of this delay to a lack of free time, another part of it is due to the fact that old man winter decided to hang on a little past his welcome this year. As a macro lens, the Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8 AI-s has a penchant for taking close-ups of flowers and what-not—with plant life just now starting to come back to life, the photographic subjects are slowly increasing.
But the neat thing about a macro lens is that they tend to be well-corrected at all focus distances. Combined with its fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, the 105mm micro might be a strong performer for landscapes, portraits, or even sports. The question is, can it deliver outside its forte of close-focusing? Let’s find out! Continue Reading
It’s that time again, the weekend update, right? Not exactly! Unlike previous weeks where I either haven’t had the time to go out on photowalks or have been taking pictures with multiple lenses, I looked back through my Lightroom catalogues and found that nearly every photograph I took this week was with the stunning Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s! So, I’ll treat this post as a first impressions of the lens; though you’ll soon see, photographs here cover the typical gamut of my weekly style. 🙂
To sum up what the 85mm f/1.4 is in three words is simple: fast, long, (and) sharp! The maximum f/1.4 aperture provides not only excellent depth-of-field control, but also a lot of light to work with in all conditions. The 85mm focal length normally covers the “short portrait” field-of-view on a full-frame camera–but on APS-C, a very nice “long portrait” view, similar to a 135mm lens. Finally, this lens is killer-sharp, even wide-open! There are only two problems I’ve seen shooting at this exotic aperture, both of which are related. The difficulty in nailing focus is hard enough, but the gotcha is that anything that is even slightly out-of-focus is prone to heavy longitudinal aberrations. Thankfully, they can mostly be edited out, but it’s something to keep in mind. I’ve found the 85mm f/1.4 to really hit a sweet spot at about f/1.8, where it’s not only easier to focus, but the aberrations are also very manageable.
Also, the bokeh is simply beautiful. Hands-down amazing.
All of the following taken with the NEX-7, ranging from formal portraits to street photography to sports photography to stage photography (in that order!). What a mouthful!
85mm, ISO 100, f/2, 1/200
I may have stated in my last post that there would be no “weekend update” post today. Though that is technically the case, I was able to make some time to go on a much-needed photowalk with a friend downtown yesterday with my NEX-7 and trusty 105mm macro to get some more impressions on the lens for all types of photography. Just as I wrote about my “first” impressions with my 300mm f/2.8, I’ve had this wonderful macro for many months now, and it has been my go-to lens for product shots and “serious” macro work for its crazy edge-to-edge sharpness stopped down (just exactly how sharp remains to be determined via formal testing). However, with it’s fast f/2.8 aperture (providing the same shallow depth-of-field control as the 100mm f/2.8 Series-E), the 105mm f/2.8 can be used for anything from sports to portraits, if need be.
I hope to do some testing on this lens for the next few weeks when I can make some time, so don’t hold your breath for a full review by next weekend. 😉 All of the following taken near sunset through a walk in the city with the NEX-7 and this macro, handheld. First up, for most of the photowalk I had this strange fixation on seeing and capturing patterns. I’m not sure why, but so many stood out to me:
105mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1/400