Monday, March 24, 2008

16-85mm f3.5-5.6 VR

"Not another kit lens" was what I thought when I first heard about this lens. But it is almost exactly what I was asking for, a 16 - 85 VR DX lens, a direct DX equivalent for the 24-120mm. What I was definitely hoping for was something like a f2.8-4, or maybe a f3.5-4.5. With an aperture of f3.5 - 5.6, it was on the 'they missed it list' for me.

But that aside, I decided to give it a go, prejudices aside. Here's what I've found.

One of my favourite consumer lenses was the 24-85mm f2.8 - 4, along with the 17-80mm. 16mm is exactly what the doctor ordered on the wide end. Take the 18-70 and tweak it just a touch.


This lens was used on the D300. I'll say from the outset now, this is a very fine handling lens. It feels more comfortable on the camera than does the 18-200mm VR which I consider the best walk around on the market. But he 18-200mm is heavier, not by much, but for perfect handling ,the 16-85mm is it. It's light but feels really right and quite soild, like the 18-70mm did.

The zoom ring was a little stiff, but this is no bad thing. The 18-200mm lens had a tendency to zoom creep. The 16-85 doesn't. So you can feel confident that if you're shooting up or down, the zoom will stay put.


The VR operation on this lens is very quite and smooth. On the other Nikkor lenses like the 70-200mm, you can really feel it working. You can hardly hear or feel the whirling sound on this one though. It's And it's quite effective too.

I was shooting at 85mm at 1/10th sec and was pretty happy. My hands gave up the ghost with VR off at about 1/30th, so if I had to squeeze a bit more out of it, I knew I could.


Some people may have read that I thought initial focusing on the D300 wasn't as fast as I hoped. I realise that because of my shooting style, I wasn't using the cross sensors in the middle all the time and I just never realized this was slowing me down. There is a marked difference in the initial focus speed depending on whether you're using the X AF sensors of the other ones, at least in low light.

However, using any of the 15 points yielded fast, accurate results. Very fast actually. This lens rarely hunted, 'if' using the cross sensors on the D300. I tried focusing in various lighting situations around the house. Although the below doesn't say a whole bunch, it says a little. The metering was telling me the following (at ISO 200):

kitchen: 1/5 sec at 5.6 Bedroom 1: 4 sec at 5.6 Bedroom 2: 10 sec at 5.6 (yes , it's very dark).

Point this lens at an edge and it focused on it. Other lenses were much slower and hunted for focus more often using the same 'walk-around-the house' test.

The focusing on this lens is faster than the 50mm 1.8 AF (as expected), and it's faster than the 70-300mm AF-S. It looks to me to be a new and improved AF-S and perfectly matched to the new AF in the D300, in my most humble opinion. :)


There is some light fall off at the wide end up to about the 20mm mark I think. There are much better reviews for the actual technical numbers than mine. It is something you'll have to keep an eye on.

There is distortion at both ends. Another area you should be conscious of if shooting horizons, but otherwise acceptable for this type of lens. Of course, that can be corrected in post. If shooting jpegs and you want little/no distortion, shoot at about 18mm.

Corner sharpness appeared very good. In fact, this is a super sharp lens. I consider the 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor and Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 as wonderfully sharp lenses. I can say that this lenses is probably their equal. I do need to do more testing here though, but I liked what I saw. Again, I'm talking real world here, not just some numbers.

The out of focus areas in the background were ok, but I have seen better. Flare wasn't an issue. I tested the lens both directly into the sun and off to the sides at 16mm, 24mm, 50mm and 85mm. It handled all of that very well. Flare just was not a problem at all with the tests I did.

For versatility, you can't beat the 18-200 VR.But if you don't mind taking a two lens kit, the 16-85 and the 70-300 VR should probably be in your bag.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Consumers Guide to an Entry level DSLR

The Nikon D60

The problem with many Internet forums and technical web sites talking about cameras is many of them are irrelevant. The information they provide isn't aimed at the consumer, it's aimed at the gear head.

Here is part 1, a quick guide to help you work out if the Nikon D60 camera is for you. Technical specifications can be found else where. Here, I'm going to give you reasons to get a Nikon D60. You'll know whether or not this is what you want. and if it suits.

You want really easy to use. You probably have a small compact digital camera, but you've become aware of it's limitations. Low light performance is terrible, there's a lot of shutter lag.

You don't want to become a world renowned photographer, you just want to be able to take nice pictures of your kids, or pets, or landscapes or whatever.

The D60 , and it's predecessors the D40 and D40x, were created for this reason. Nikon saw a market that needed a simply camera. The metering, which is the process to give you well exposed pictures, is very accurate much of the time. Pictures are bright and punchy straight from the camera.

The camera is deigned to take a photo and go and print it. Out of the box, it probably takes a better picture than the D200. Why, because the D200 is designed to take a photo, tweak it in a post processing software package such as Photoshop , Lightroom, Aperture or Capture NX... and then print it.

The camera has limited buttons and control on the body. These things can be found within the menu, just like many people would be used to from their little compact cameras. The camera is not intimidating like other models, so the learning curve for the camera is very quick. Other cameras like the Canon 400D have steeper learning curve.

You can't use all the older Nikon lenses, and some current third party lenses. Here's a point that get's brought up a lot. The D60 can only use AF-S lenses, and AF lenses. The difference is the AF-S lenses have a motor built into them to auto focus, the AF lenses rely on the camera body to have a motor and provide the auto focus.

Quite frankly, the most overblown issue you can hear. Most people who are in the market for the D60 will be happy with the twin lens they'll probably get with the kit. If you have an assortment of lenses such as a AF 50mm 1.8, then you probably are not the market this camera is aimed at. Start looking at the D80 and up. That's it.

3 focus points. The camera provides the user with three focus points. Let's be honest here, most users will only ever use the middle focus point anyway. It's true. 99% of people I speak to in the shop tell me this. They are thrilled they can have three. I'll have to explain to them a little bit about composition, and trying to get things out of dead centre. They're happy to get the advice. More often than not, they're also happy to just press the shutter half way down and recompose. They want to keep it simply, pick the camera up, take the shot. Excellent, the D60 is just the camera.

Small size. At this point, I've got to say that Pentax have shown everyone how to make solid well built cameras in the entry level. Olympus and Nikon do very well. Nikon have at least shown that you can have a small, light and comfortable camera that is well built. Along with the twin kit lenses, this is a very nice little camera to lug around.

The D60 is an excellent camera, put it in auto mode to start, but I hope you'll venture into the more manual settings as you go and learn. Please do. You're photography will improve. Grab a book on photography, you'll wow yourself.