I decided I wanted to try some classic manual focus lenses on my Nikon Df. The decision was lead partially because I have been trying to improve my street photography and therefore, decided that zone focusing was for me. Unfortunately, all of the latest AFS lenses have rather poor markings for distance, and just generally unfriendly ergonomics for manual focusing like really loose focusing collars.
So I went to my local camera store and picked up some old Nikkors for a song. One of the ones I got was the 50mm f/1.4 Ai made in around 1977 – and I liked it! But it was clear that it had seen better days with some damage and looseness.
So I decided to bite the bullet and get brand new Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 Ai-s which works perfectly on my Nikon Dƒ and most mid to high end Nikon cameras. Part of it was the features, but also wanting to own a piece of history and enjoy the classic way of shooting. It’s also really tiny for such a very fast lens, and I’m enjoying slimming down my bag for every day usage.
Wide open at f/1.2
One of the first questions that many ask is if it’s hard to manual focus at f/1.2. Yes, it’s taking practice, but there is something about the Df that seems to make it easier. In any case, the depth of field is minuscule and only a small shift front or back can put you far out of focus. Thank goodness that all modern Nikons have a focus confirmation dot to help.
But how’s the performance!?
Well, at f/1.2, it’s on the interesting side of horrible – not quite Lensbaby horrible, but definitely not sharp all over, and even quite hazy and dreamy in the middle.
There is also a lot of vignetting, but I was able to make a lens profile for this. Unfortunately, there is no Lightroom profile for this lens, but it works seamlessly (and accurately) with the one I made. Feel free to download it here and you’ll find the installation location here. Don’t forget to restart Lightroom.
The bokeh is a little swirly and pleasing with a hint of nervous rings. Early testing shows that the bokeh is best at f/2.8.
Sharpness wide open is usable in the middle, with a lot of smearing towards the edges. A light haze covers everything, but it’s not bad, just different.
Already at f/2, it’s getting quite sharp. Again, from initial usage, it may be that already at f/2, it’s the sharpest 50mm prime I have. I tested it against the 50mm f/1.8G, which is nearly legendary for its sharpness and I think the old one wins it.
See this crop from the above, and it only gets sharper from there!
High contrast and backlit situations are the worst. I had to process this image very carefully to get an old-school look at f/1.2. Look in the corners and you’ll see the smearing I’m talking about. Still, I quite like the effect, but I’ll have to use it wisely, or else stop it down.
So my first impressions are that it’s a beautiful, high-quality piece of kit, no questions asked. The well-damped focusing ring is something out of another era. In fact, it’s a 30 year old design that just has a certain old-world class about it. It feels like it was made by a very patient craftsman by hand.
Focusing at f/1.2 is not as hard as I thought, but it takes some getting used to.
Sharpness is exceptional at f/2. If you go lower than that, have a certain look in mind, and don’t expect perfection.
I’m enjoying this lens thoroughly and I can’t wait to go out tomorrow and shoot some more. Nostalgia and fun-factor are certainly top on the list of qualifications for this classic, and very sharp at f/2 and up.
Thanks for reading and feel free to click through all of the images in this post, including the following additional samples, to see much larger sizes.
I really like that full-frame look and have two main FX cameras: Nikon Df and Nikon D800.
My use case for the Df is every-day shooting, low-light and street.
The D800 is for uncompromising image quality.
So why upgrade? What do these two cameras not offer?
I have the following issues with my gear:
I lack trust in the D800 focus
I sometimes shoot sports
D800 Focus Confidence
I didn’t suffer from the dreaded left-focusing-issue, but many did. I did experience generally poor focusing accuracy. All of my lenses needed dramatic back-focus adjustment. Sharp-ears instead of eyes back focus. I do not have the issue with my Df. The same lenses focus better, and much more accurately on my Df. Generally, I just focus fine-tuned and mostly forgot about it. Still, the confidence wasn’t there.
Also, I have often had the case where I know where my focusing point was, but my D800 decided that something else should be in focus. I know I’ll have critics who comment that it’s my fault, but again, my Df with an “inferior” focusing system doesn’t have the issue.
Besides that, the D800 image quality is absolutely stunning at low ISO. Shockingly good!
But it’s slow at only 4 FPS in FX mode. The Df has a different focus: excellent image quality at high ISO.
The problem is that probably half of my shots are sports. Not more than about 10-20% of all of my keepers are sports, but you shoot a lot during sports photography and cull out the bad ones and duplicates.
The first is my D800 that has beautiful colours and sharpness, but the action – not so much. I missed lots of great images on this day. From this angle, on the back side of a ramp, you have less than a second to get the shot. You can’t anticipate because you don’t see the rider until he’s already crested the hill. If he’s going to do something cool, you need three or four shots to pick the peak action.
The second is with my three-year-old, and rarely used D7000. I had several images to choose from, even as the rider was flying by my head! I liked this one for peak action. The image quality is very good, but I would have liked to have a bit more dynamic range in this high-contrast situation.
Yes, I’m aware of the fact that with a grip and AA batteries, you can also shoot 6 FPS in DX crop mode, and I use this, but the image quality isn’t any better than the D800 in this mode. I may as well use my D7000 and avoid changing lenses.
Even without a grip, you still get 5 FPS in normal FX mode, which should be familiar to Df owners like me.
The quieter shutter is also a big deal. The D800 is CLACK! loud. When I’m shooting wildlife, it’s important. Take a look at this patient little guy:
Why didn’t I take the D610? Focusing coverage.
In my very first image, this is on a monopod with focusing Auto Area AF. I didn’t know, and couldn’t predict where the rider would pop up, so I needed a rather large area for the camera to choose from.
I’m also rather concerned with the weather sealing. This is my setup for a typical winter day out:
While it is an incremental upgrade, there certainly is a buzz around this camera – and rightly so! It’s upgrading arguably the most famous DSLR of the last few years. But the D800 was just a little short in a few areas. The D810 makes up for this, in my opinion.
Update! This comparison was far from conclusive, so I did a two-day real-world test with (in my opinion) much better photography and a solid conclusion. Check it out here.
I’ve been on the quest for the lightest FX kit I could find. As I see the world in 35mm framing, I decided to give the new FX 35mm f/1.8G ED a try and see how it stacks up to the much heavier Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens.
I’ve been publicly critical of the new Nikkor, calling it “uninspiring” after some preliminary shots, but do I have to eat my words? Was my first reaction because I’ve been under the weather with the flu.
I decided to test and find out.
Here is the Nikkor at f/1.8:
and the Sigma at f/1.8:
Again at f2.8:
Closeup and Bokeh:
I think the Sigma pulls away at close distances and has nicer bokeh. Do you see any other noticeable difference, other than the Sigma goes to f/1.4? Maybe at the edges of the frame, the Sigma has some advantages, but I may have to eat my words – the Nikkor is a good performer! I’ll be shooting it a lot over the new few weeks and I’ll keep this space updated with my findings.
It’s kind of a tradition for me to post my first DSC_0001 shots for each camera that I get, so I though I would take this opportunity to give my first impressions for the Nikon Dƒ.
Please note, it’s also my tradition to screw up the DSC_0001, so this one has the exposure adjusted.
The attention to detail and gloss and trim are really something to behold. It’s exceptional. Yea, I know that someone is going to object and say “plastic front bits.” Ok, sure. But you don’t see it, and you don’t feel it. When you have this in your hand, it has a very premium feel. It shames the X100s. In pure bling-factor, the D800 feels pedestrian.
Feel in the Hand
Not too heavy, not too light, in my opinion. My eye went automatically to the viewfinder (same as the D800 as far as I can tell) and my finger found the shutter button instantly. The locking exposure compensation dial is annoying, but the rest kind of make sense. The grip is just ok – made for primes (and very small zooms).
The Sigma 35mm f1.4 or 24-85 3.5-4.5G (yes, the cheap kit) zoom is about the maximum lens size and weight that felt comfortable to me. I’m a fan of 24-85 as well as the Sigma, so they’ll be on the camera a lot.
If you’ve ever shot the D7000, it sounds similar with just a bit more pronounced “tick”. The D800 is a smack in the face compared to this. Quiet is very nice.
What did you expect? D4 sensor. Pleasant noise and not nasty until well over H1. H4 is colored sandpaper – emergency use only!
If anyone knows the guy who decided to put the D7000 focusing system in this wonderful camera, kick him in the balls, really, really hard, right now.
An example: I took the 50 mm f1.8 that’s supplied with the camera (meh) and put the camera on H 0.3. Aperture priority mode, f1.8. Then I walked around the house to find something with strong contrast that would give me a shutter speed of about 1/50. Do you know what I was able to focus on? Nothing.
Square in the balls. Really, really hard.
Strong contrast started to work decently at f1.8, 1/50th, ISO 12800. With no adjustments, all my lenses focused more accurately than my D800, so kick that guy in the balls too.
Nothing from Adobe yet, and I’d rather have my eyes gouged out while being kicked in the balls before I would use any camera manufacturers’ software, I’ve only shot JPEG so far.
Stay tuned: SOOC, unedited sample shots with the Sigma 35 f1.4 and size comparison mounted to the Dƒ.
Build Quality Excellent. It’s rugged and feels high quality.
For snowboarding and snorkelling, I was delighted to find that both doors are double-locked. You have to unlock one lever before you can use the other lever to open the door. The rubber seal around the lens makes putting it on a little bit harder than most mounts, but it feels reassuring and not difficult.
I think it’s an all-metal body, but I couldn’t confirm it with the specs.
The NIKKOR AW 11–27.5mm f/3.5–5.6 kit lens, likewise has a high quality, premium feel. The zoom ring is a very quick throw from wide to tele, and no external parts extend on zooming – it’s water sealed after all.
The Nikon 1 AW1 comes in several colors, but I chose white because my girlfriend liked the way it looks with the orange protective cover, which I have on the way as well.
Looks? Yes, it’s a “fun” camera, mostly and she’ll be using it as well.
One of the reasons I wanted the AW1 is because the 1″ sensor, while small compared to a DSLR is actually pretty large for compact cameras – and the largest yet for an underwater digital camera.
One advantage of a smaller sensor (than APS-C or full frame) is that the depth of field is expanded a corresponding amount. As one of the important use-cases for me was no-fuss deep depth of field product shots of small objects, I think this is going to work out.
The CX sensor will have less low-light performance than a D-SLR, but much better than your typical point and shoot. My first images prove this out.
And, it shoots Raw! I’ve been looking for years for a underwater camera that shoots Raw. This is the “one” if you’ll pardon the pun. Thank you Nikon. I was a skeptic, even a critic, but you finally enticed me to the 1 series with some really unique features.
As of this writing, Adobe Lightroom 5.2 doesn’t support the AW1 .NEF files. There is some noise in the blacks, but I’m going to wait a bit to make my final judgement on image quality.
Nassim Mansurov reports that the beta 5.3 supports it.
As I predicted, I think this is going to work out well for quick product shots when I don’t want to mess around with shooting my D-SLR at tiny apertures and using focus stacking software.
It’s fast – faster to start and focus than my X100s.
The rear screen is pleasant, but I’m usually not a fan of shooting that way. There is no option for a viewfinder, as you can imagine.
To retain the maximum waterproofness, it doesn’t have a lot of external controls. It took me a trip user manual to find out how to get out of the scene mode and into aperture priority and again to learn how to turn off auto ISO.
The tripod hole is offset far to the edge, which will irritate some users, but I like it because you have access to the card and battery slot while firmly mounted to a tripod.
The flash is subtle and works under water also.
Conclusion In conclusion, I think this is going to work out well. It’s rugged, fast, decent image quality, the sensor is small enough for deep depth of field but larger than any other underwater camera on the market and it shoots Raw.
I can’t wait to hit the slopes!
Happy Thanksgiving to all the North Americans out there.