Friday, February 27, 2009

Nikon MB-D10 vs Phottix grip vs other third party grips

 My main DSLR is the Nikon D700 and to get more fps I decided to try the optional battery grip. Nikon offers the MB-D10 grip and there are numerous third party grips available. The Nikon grip is almost twice or even three times as expensive as some third party grips. I first decided to try the Phottix grip. I ordered this on ebay. I used this for several days. 

My impressions on the phottix grip.
 My usage pertains to D700. The Phottix grip was good and works as advertised though it feels cheap and you know where they cut corners.  My Nikon D700 immediately recognised the grip.
Actually it has all the features that the Nikon MB-D10 offers. There is a shutter button, AF-ON button, front and rear control wheels and the multifuntion selector. The wheels and buttons feel good and work fine. I did not try the additional remote that comes with this grip. My biggest gripe was the threading screw was not very secure and the whole grip wobbles a bit when being used. I was also worried about the electronic contacts too. And I will never mount this on a tripod since this does not feel sturdy and I am woried it is going to break (no i am not worried in fact I am sure that with a heavy lens like 24-70mm this will break).

Due to these concerns I bought the Nikon MB-D10. 
This a solid piece of gear and has a nice rubberised surface which just feels part of the camera. Most importantly the grip fit snugly to my Nikon D700. I used the AA batteries and the 8fps is sweet. The control wheels, vertical grip and shutter buttons feel so smooth compared to the third party grips that you will never feel this as an attachment but an integral part of the camera.

The camera recognizes the grip and uses the battery in the grip. (You can change this setting if you need to). You can shoot 8fps but you need 8 AA batteries. They last longer compared to EN-EL3e battery. If you use the EN-El3e though you do not get 8fps. You can use the optional EN-EL4/a battery also to get 8 fps but you need the additional BL-3 cover. Well I find this unacceptable since for the price this should have come with the grip. It does come with some nice touches though. The battery holder comes in a nice pouch. The electronic contacts in the Nikon D700 have a solid rubber cover which can be stored snugly within the battery grip without having the risk of loosing it. These some small but nice touches.

There are 2 disadvantages to the MB-D10 though. First it is very expensive (in my opinion) and second it is very heavy and the combination of D700 with MB-D10 is heavier even than a D3. 

My recommendation is to buy the Nikon MB-D10 and save yourself the trouble of having to buy a third grip and also the MB-D10 which you would end up buying anyway.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR vs Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR

I had mentioned in my blog about the Nikon 70-300mm VR that I will add some comments and comparison with the 70-200mm VR. Here's my thoughts on these lenses in response to the many emails I got. I have tried the 3 different Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR lenses. One briefly at the local shop and 2 extensively which belonged to my friends. My impression is solely for FX format.

This is a very good lens with super sharp optics especially near the 70mm end. The build quality is excellent, AF is super fast and with f2.8 and VR steady shots are easy.

As I had mentioned in my previous blogs I had used the legendary Canon 70-200mm F/2.8 L version as well as the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS. So I am very used this focal length range and my expectations are pretty high.

The most important thing I noticed when I tried this lens was the soft corners especially close to the long end and the vignetting. When shooting wide open with standard or wide angle lenses, soft corners are usually not a problem since the subject is usually close to the center and the corners contain mostly the blurred background. But at the long end of the telephoto the subject occupies most of the frame usually and soft corners are more apparent in this situations. This may not apply to everybody but in my style of photography I found that the corners were too soft and noticeable for my liking. The vignetting though a little bad can be corrected with RAW processing.

The second issue I had is the weight of this lens. This is very heavy and not something that you would want carry all day. I understand that I have to accept the weight for the sake of optical quality but (this is a big but) the image quality wide open is not at a level where I want it to be. For the price and the weight of this lens there is simply very little optical advantage offered.

In comparison, the image quality of 70-300mm is superb especially when you consider the 70-200 range in this lens. At f/5.6 both lenses have the same superb optical quality. On top of it the Nikon 70-300mm lens is very light (comparatively)and very cheap. Hey it can also zoom to 300mm. There may be complaints about this lens at 300mm but you do not have this 300mm option at all in the other lens.

The inference, no the Nikon 70-200 VR AFS is not a bad lens but you must know its strengths and weaknesses when you go for this lens.
My recommendation for this lens is this. If you shoot fast moving action in low light, if your subject is going to be somewhere around the center without going too much to the corners and if you are willing to accept the weight of this lens then you can go for this lens. But remember you are paying 3 to 4 times the price of Nikon 70-300mm VR. You are paying for this lens to shoot at f/2.8 at this zoom range. If you understand this clearly and if this what you need then you should be happy with this lens.
For most others I recommend the Nikon 70-300mm lens at 1/3rd to 1/4th price and similar optical quality (albeit without the option of shooting at f2.8) but with added advantages of longer zoom range and low weight. What's not to like about this lens.

As for me unless Nikon releases any other version of new lens in this zoom range with better results in full frame I am going to stick with the 70-300mm VR. I really like it and by the way it is almost .... almost as good as the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR

I bought the Nikon 70-300mm VR lens along with my Nikon D700 as part of the package. The following review pertains to its use in FX or Full frame format aka Nikon D3 D700 and D3x. Obviously the lens is going to perform better on DX frame bodies compared to full frame, but just to note that I have not yet used it on crop sensor body.

There are 2 other Nikon lenses in this focal length range the G lens and the ED lens without VR. I do not have any significant experience in any of these lenses other than the fact that I briefly mounted the G lens on D700 and the autofocus was so bad that I did not bother anymore. It may be a bad sample but I do not know for sure.

I come from Canon world and this focal length is very familiar to me. I have used the Canon 70-20mm f/4 L IS lens and the legendary 70-200mm f/2.8 L (non IS) lens. So I am aware of what to expect from lenses in this focal length range.

I am going to include this next paragraph in all my consumer lens reviews.
This is the current lens in the Nikon line up so though it is not weather sealed but of adequate build quality. I am not the person who looses sleep overbuild quality since half of those who comment on it do not have a clue about the materials used. In modern lens standard the only relevant question is weather sealing. All else is immaterial. Most people do not realise that expensive lenses withstand the same amount of abuse as this one baring weather effects. I will try to expand on this in some future blog. But suffice to note that this lens will take a lot of abuse before showing signs of it. The zoom is smooth and precise. There is no creep or other issues.

As I have noted several times before I was a canon user for a long time. When I got the Nikon D700 the Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR was the second lens that I tried. I had already used the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 D before and was pleasantly surprised with the good image quality especially considering it is a so called “consumer grade” zoom. I was expecting something similar in the 70-300mm also but I was totally taken by the superb image quality that this lens produced. The images were simply superb for any zoom consumer or otherwise, even when compared to the excellent canon zooms in this range. I also had the option of getting the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR. I also got to try the Nikon 70-200mm VR several times when shooting with my friend. My thoughts on Nikon 70-300 vs 70-200mm AFS VR lenses.

Lets see how the lens handles the usual parameters.

Chromatic Aberration:
Any long zoom lens especially of this range covering such a wide range is going to have chromatic aberration as it is almost impossible to remove it. So this lens has some chromatic aberration but it is in very moderate amounts. As far as I am concerned the key question is how easy is it to remove the chromatic aberration using a single slider in Lightroom (or similar software) without compromising image quality in any manner. In this regard I never had any issues. The chromatic aberration is very much within acceptable and should never be an issue.

Just like chromatic aberration distortion will be present in any lens be it Samyang or Canon or Leica. The key question again is whether is it visible in real world applications and if it is removable. Yes there is minimal barrel distortion at the 70mm end which is extremely minimal and easily correctable if need be. There is moderate pin cushion almost in the entire zoom range except may be at the end of zoom closer to 300mm. This is not easily seen in routine photography but when it does you do have to spend time to remove it. It is not as easy as removing say light fall off. But overall this is not a significant problem with this lens.

There is light falloff throughout the focal length range, but once again this is minimal and easily corrected in the RAW work flow without compromising image quality. This should be even better with crop sensor cameras and you should not see any light fall off at all.

This is one which differentiates a mid priced zoom from a super expensive prime. The good aspect of this lens is it handles Flare really well. For the most part I was shooting without the hood on but even then it did fine in most of the situations. There was not ghosting that I could see either. In contrast the 24-85mm lens exhibits severe Flaring without the hood. So the Nikon 70-300mm VR is excellent in this regard, being one of the strong points.

The lens is optimized for autofocus and with the Nikon D700 this simply zips through. It is extremely fast, quickly locks on to the subject, very little AF noise and very accurate. This lens handles AF as good as any lens constrained only by its widest aperture of f/4.5-5.6.

(For in depth explanation of various Auto focus settings and custom modes in auto focus for users of Nikon D700 D3 and D300 please see

Any telephoto lens will have a good bokeh and this lens is no exception. The bokeh becomes smoother as the focal length increases. The bokeh characteristics of this lens is very good to excellent.
(Just my take on bokeh, this is a new fad in lens evaluation in the recent years, this is one parameter that is given undue overimportance to the point of neglecting the image for the background. My thoughts on this in my latter blog).

Sharpness & Resolution:
A very important parameter for any lens. This is where the Nikon 70-300mm VR AF-S showsits true potential. Whether you use wide open or stopped down the lens is extremely sharp and at the same time has exceptional resolution. From 70 to 250mm or so it is sharp corner to corner. After 250mm there is slight decrease in corner sharpness albeit better than most lenses at this focal length. The resolution is exceptional especially considering the zoom range. Thereis some complaints of sharpness at 300mm but it may be due tothe reason it is too sharp from 70-250mm. To put things in perspective the resolution at 300mm is as good or better than the Canon 100 to 400mm F/4 L lens (which by itself is a very highly regarded lens). This lens is only bettered by the latest Nikon primes (VR) in this focal length range.

The size and weight of the lens is very low for this focal length zoom. This is very light and compact compared to the 70-200 VR. The zoom ring is smooth enough does not distract from framing. The AF noise is almost unnoticeable. The minimal focus distance is 1.5m which is a tad long but usual in a zoom of this range.

If you notice I have been very optimistic about this lens. Well as with any lens there are compromises and so there are drawbacks. The main drawback is its aperture range f/4.5 to f/5.6 in its focal length range. At 70mm it is f/4.5, becomes f/5.0 at around 135mm and is a f/5.6 lens at above 200mm. With good light this is not an issue. If you shoot with D700/D3 then the excellent VR of the lens combined with the camera's good ISO, for most situations this is a non issue. But VR and ISO cannot stop motion and if your subject motion is a little fast then you really feel the need for wider apertures. This is the most important and only significant drawback that you must consider before purchasing this lens.

If the slightly slow aperture is acceptable then this lens is a bargain considering its image quality, handling, zoom range and price. For FX cameras currently (Feb 2009) there is no better VR lens at this zoom range.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nikon D700 vs Canon 5D Mk II weather sealing & adverse conditions.

This is something that I did not think worth mentioning in my previous blog ( The 5D Mk II felt a little bit flimsier and Knowing that D700  is weather sealed whereas the  5D MkII is not, I did not care. I had a Canon 40D and I was wondering vaguely if the 5D Mk II was not even up to the Canon 40D but I was not sure.

Here is another take on this issue from 2 very respectable sources.

The first is from Jim Reed Photography, granted the camera was loaned by Nikon to him and they use his images for advertisements. But dont let this take away anything from the camera or phtographer.

Here is what Jim Reed writes
  "The camera held in my right hand is the D700. Our storm chase vehicle, the camera, and yours truly were covered in dirt and dust by day's end -- but safe and uninjured. It literally took two days to clean everything. Although VERY dirty, the D700 performed flawlessly and never stopped working!

As weeks passed, and the record-setting severe weather season continued, the D700 was subjected to heavy rainfall and, believe me, the camera got SOAKED. It was constantly around lightning and, at one point, was hit by a falling hailstone. Still, not so much as a hiccup. It performed reliably on every level.

While hurrying toward the end of a mission, the D700 was even dropped onto a concrete driveway. The circular polarizer was destroyed, but the camera was fine, and continued to perform as if nothing ever happened. So, with respect to durability and weather-resistance, I give the D700 an "EXCELLENT" rating."

Here is link to the web page -
Here is the link to the images which speak for the photographer and the camera - the landscape images are by Jim Reed.

Next is the link from Luminous Landscape. Again Michael Reichmann who has enough experience and credibility states the following comments about equipment failures during his recent trip to Antarctica. Please note that he went there during this January which is summer time in Antarctica and temperatures are relatively mild in the 30s to 40s. He also explains about the conditions during equipment failure which included some drizzle and the 5D IIs that failed were protected to some extent.

Basically his experience was that 25% of the canon 5d Mk II cameras failed. This is quite a high number and unacceptable for even a camera which does not have weather seal. Also note the fact that the Loaner Canon 5D Mk II from Canon itself failed.

Here is the link -

Please read the entire article and come to your own conclusions.

This is interesting for me since I have the D700 and not the Canon 5D mark II since I was so close to keeping the 5D II instead of D700 considering my then investment in Canon lenses. I just wish to add one more aspect for those who consider these 2 cameras, since photography in adverse weather conditions may be a factor for some individuals, though not much in my case since I usually quit to retire to the comforts of home/hotel long before my camera quits, one advantage for me being an amateur rather than a pro.

I am adding some of my own pictures with the Nikon D700 in extreme conditions of explosion with fire and flying cars, flash flood and snow storm. I never had any problems with the D700 in any of these conditions.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4 ED IF lens review

I was looking for a standard zoom for my Nikon D700 when I made the purchase and got a very good deal on this lens so I bought it. I was more interested in the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AFS G lens at the time so I tried one at the shop and also tried my friend's lens. The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a very heavy lens and I decided to give the 24-85mm a try before I decide to sell it.

I was primarily using the 24-85mm as my main lens and I have been shooting extensively with this lens. This is my very subjective opinion about this lens. This pertains to FX format but most of it holds good for DX format also but this becomes a 36-129mm in DX format so something to keep in mind.

This is the current lens in the Nikon line up so it is not weather sealed but of adequate build quality. I am not the person who looses sleep overbuild quality since half of those who comment on it do not have a clue about the materials used. In modern lens standard the only relevant question is weather sealing. All else is immaterial. Most people do not realise that expensive lenses withstand the same amount of abuse as this one baring weather effects. I will try to expand on this in some future blog. But suffice to note that this lens will take a lot of abuse before showing signs of it. The zoom is smooth and precise. There is no creep or other issues. The lens is internal focusing so the front element does not rotate, makes it useful if you use a polarizer.

This is a Screw-drive lens meaning that there is no internal motor but relies on the camera to focus. This translates to the effect that the AF speed will depend on your camera also. On a D700 AF is fast and precise. You will not loose any shots due to the AF speed. The closest focus is 0.5 m.

(For in depth explanation of various Auto focus settings and custom modes in auto focus for users of Nikon D700 D3 and D300 please see

Manual Focus:
This lens is optimised for AF. MF is possible with a switch. It is easily workable as a MF lens if need be but not as fluid as dedicated MF lens.

There is some vignetting at the widest end (24mm) which is easily correctable with software (I have used both lightroom or Capture NX2 to good effect). The vignetting is gone by the time you stop down to f/4 or f/5.6. There is also decrease in vignetting as you go from wide to tele. For practical purposes vignetting is not a problem.

Chromatic Aberration:
This lens handles CA very well and I could not recall any photos where I had any significant CA.

There is moderate barrel distortion at the wide end with curvature of field. This is typical of a zoom lens. The 24-70mm G lens also has similar distortion.

This lens has excellent resolution that is better than 35mm f/2 at 35mm and almost as good as 85mm f/2 Nikkor. I have no experience with 85mm f1/8. You will be hard pressed to fault this lens based on its resolution.

Not a true macro. Excellent close focus of about 21cm. You cannot go wider than 35mm in macro mode. But at 85mm you get 1:2 which is very decent macro for a zoom lens.
Important tip: Switch to normal mode from macro when you want to zoom wider than 35mm otherwise you will not be able to go beyond 35mm. Another important consideration is to focus beyond 50 cm before you will be able to switch from macro to normal mode. Remember this otherwise you will think that the lens malfunctions.

There is some loss of contrast wide open but contrast become very good as you stop down. This is where the 24-70mm G pulls ahead. The expensive zoom has spectacular contrast even wide open.

I still have the 24-85. The reason is this is such a good walk around lens for Nikon full frame. The lens has excellent resolution and decent in most parameters. Most importantly this is such a light weight lens. Personally the weight is the only factor that prevents me from switching to 24-70mm AFS. By no means am I suggesting that the 24-85mm is a better lens. What the 24-70mm gets you is slightly better distortion control, better contrast, uniform aperture of f/2.8 and better build quality. Only the user can determine if it's worth more than $1000 price difference.

For FX format Nikon this is the best walk around lens considering the price, performance and weight factors. I have briefly used the 28-105 but was not impressed either with resolution or with the wide end. No its not a bad lens but the 24-85mm is definitely better. If you are buying this lens used there is no better bargain. For comparison let me put this in a way I am familiar with. I have used most Canon zooms which are excellent by the way and this 24-85mm is as good as the Canon 24-105mm f/4L which I owned and is a great zoom in its own way. This is one of the few things that Nikon has impressed me with. They really don't hold back on consumer zooms and give the best possible within that price range.

Check my impression on the Nikon 70-300mm VR AF-S here

Some photos with this lens: