Category: Gear

Gear | One Prime Lens Challenge

Seaweed on the beach in Destin, Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/400th, f5.6, 100 ISO, Crystal Beach, Destin, FL  ©Rick Lewis

The Challenge | The Gear

I read a lot.  Well, I read a lot of other photographer’s blogs and I’m a gear head.  One of the professionals I like to follow is a chap by the name of Sean Tucker. (Website)  In his blog post, “Island of Gozo”, (watch his video), he talks about pairing down his camera equipment for a trip to the island of Gozo, where he was to meet up with an old friend.  He talked about the “challenge” of using just one prime lens, his camera, his feet, and his imagination to create beautiful images.  I thought, hmmmm….  I had been thinking of this same “challenge” for some time and thought his video was very timely.

I had a couple of photo opportunities coming up.  The time was right to embark on this challenge. Now, I have been a zoom guy since I can remember.  Back in the day, I shot hundreds, if not thousands of prints and slides using a 43-86mm f3.5 Nikkor, and an 80-200mm f4.5 Nikkor.  By the way, that 43-86mm Nikkor was pure crap, but, it made it so I didn’t have to change lenses a lot, and I liked that.  I’ve just always had zoom lenses.  You name it, I’ve probably shot it.

So, I challenged myself to shoot exclusively with a 24mm f1.8 Nikkor on my Nikon D500, crop sensor camera.  That would give me as close as I could get to my favorite single focal length of 35mm, (FX sensor equiv).  On my D500 I would have a 36mm lens and that would be it.  I would leave my 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor home.  Now all I needed to do was dial up Lens Rentals and rent the 24mm Nikkor for a week.  About three clicks with the computer mouse and it was ordered.

The Venues

Stacked muskets with bayonets stand next to Civil War soldier actors.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/640th, f4, 100 ISO, Confederate Memorial Park, Marbury, AL  ©Rick Lewis

My first shooting opportunity came at a Civil War reenactment encampment at the Confederate Memorial Park in Marbury, Alabama.  It is an annual event that draws a fairly large local crowd.  They have static displays and educational seminars for students and the grand finale; the battle.  There are plenty of authentically clad actors that stroll about and provide photo opportunities in formation.

Civil War actors stand in formation with their muskets standing ready.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/1600th, f2.8, 100 ISO  ©Rick Lewis
A Civil War era covered wagon on display with barrels and boxes.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/1250th, f2.8, 100 ISO  ©Rick Lewis
Civil War reenactment actor in a seated pose.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/320th, f1.8, 1250 ISO  ©Rick Lewis

Shooting this type of event is a lot of fun.  Normally I would have been using my 17-55mm (26mm-83mm equiv).  Using just one focal length did provide some challenges.  Space was tight in some areas, so getting far enough back was sometimes difficult.  In some cases I had to move in very close to my subject which definitely gathered attention.  Did I miss some interesting angles?  Yup, sure did. And, I found I really had to work harder to get what I wanted, but, that’s not a bad thing.

The second location for my challenge was the Destin area in the Florida panhandle, as is represented in the opening image.  My wife and I spent a few days there eating a bunch of seafood!  We travel there several times a year and I’ve photographed most of the sights several times over so I thought this would be quite a nice little diversion.

Orange Adirondack deck chairs on a front porch in a seaside town in Seaside Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/400th, f7.1, 640 ISO  Seaside, Florida  ©Rick Lewis

Most of our time is spent either walking on the beach, shopping, or eating.  Just normal stuff, right? While my wife shopped, I looked around for anything that looked interesting to shoot.  The fact I only had one prime lens (36mm equiv), was not as limiting in this environment.  There were a few occasions I wish I had a little longer reach but rarely did I feel I needed a much wider view.  Gear is important, but, imagination can make up for lack of gear in many cases.

Garden art work on display in Seaside Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/250th, f4, 320 ISO  Seaside Florida  ©Rick Lewis
Parked bicycle on display in front of a store in Seaside Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/250th, f4, 900 ISO  Seaside Florida  ©Rick Lewis

Trying to get what I wanted in the area of landscape photography was where I found myself a little limited.  This is where I wished I had a little longer lens available. I had no option of getting closer to my intended subject, in this case the iconic long leaf pines of Draper Lake near Grayton Beach. Draper Lake is one of the many coastal dune lakes found along Scenic Hwy 30a.  A true gem of the Florida panhandle.

Coastal dune lake, Draper Lake, on Highway 30a, Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/320th, f8, 720 ISO Draper Lake  ©Rick Lewis
Coastal dune lake, Draper Lake, on Highway 30a, Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/640th, f7.1, 100 ISO Draper Lake  ©Rick Lewis

Thoughts & Observations

I had fun!  The lens was superb.  I am currently shooting with the new crop sensor D500 powerhouse. The lens was magnificent on this body.  This isn’t a lens review and I’m hardly competent enough to evaluate a lens, on a technical level, but, this is a great lens on a crop sensor camera.  I really don’t see why it wouldn’t perform very well on an FX body.

The experience was interesting.  I found myself thinking more about what I could get out of an image, knowing I only had the one focal length available.  But it really wasn’t all that limiting.  I may, in fact, do this again.  I was thinking maybe next time I’ll rent a 35mm Nikkor (50mm equiv), and see what I can get.  I believe anytime you take the time to think through a shot, it’s a good thing.  Sometimes I seem to be on auto pilot.  I needed a change.  This was fun and challenging.

Finally, if you find yourself in a photographic rut, find a way to get yourself thinking.  This may be one way to get a new perspective, (pun intended), on your craft.  Now, go to the link I provided in the first paragraph and listen to what Sean Tucker has to say.  Maybe it will inspire you too.

The Garage Games | Nikon D500

Photography of Garage Games Contestant
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f4, 1/500th, ISO 140, ©Rick Lewis 2017

The Garage Games started in Woodstock, Georgia, in 2010.  Athletes from around the entire United States compete in scores of competitions around the country.  Many athletes come from a CrossFit® gym or that type of training.  I learned though that CrossFit® is not affiliated in any way with the Garage Games.  Combat on the Coosa is a Garage Games event held each year at Gold Star Memorial Park in Wetumpka, Alabama and I wanted to photography it using my Nikon D500 with it’s amazing continuous autofocus ability.  The local event is called Combat on the Coosa, with the Coosa River a stone’s through away.  This Blog post is about my efforts at editorial photography using the fairly new Nikon D500, APC-C flagship.  I used the 17-55mm f2.8G ED Nikkor lens for all the shots.

Photography of Garage Games Series Event
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f8, 1/800th, ISO 560, @Rick Lewis 2017

I shot this event last year using a Fuji X-Pro2 and had limited success trying to focus on the competitors.  They move very quickly in an up and down position and sometimes hold a position for several seconds before dropping the weights.  The continuous focus and focus tracking just could not quickly acquire, track and then hold focus about 60% of the time.  It was very frustrating.  I can’t really fault that camera because it was never intended to be able to shoot sports confidently.  That’s not what the X-Pro2 was designed for.  It is great for street photography and general travel photography but for sports; not so much.

This year I took my Nikon D500 and my hit rate for in-focus images was probably around 98%!  I’m not kidding.  I took 599 images, all using continuous focus with a variety of the focus tracking options, and I had around 12 images that were soft.  None were total losses.  That is amazing to me.

I really enjoyed shooting this event; Combat on the Coosa.  The contestants were mostly on the young side but you will see in the ensuing images that not all were in their teens or 20’s.  They all had tremendous confidence and competitive spirit.  The people not competing were all cheering them on. There were all body types and sizes as well.  The one common denominator was that they all wanted to win!  

Editorial photography is what I love to do.  And this event did not disappoint. It was difficult getting quality images that showed the individual efforts and sacrifices each contestant made.  Judges wandered in and out of frame, constantly, monitoring each contestant rep to make sure it counted for score.  In addition, those that came for moral support, to cheer them on, all had cell phones, video taping the events.  It was tough and somewhat frustrating.  I did manage to get a few good images.  If you are interested in The Garage Games Series, go to their Website Here for more information and locations for the events.  Take a look below at some of the action.  

Thanks for looking and if you wish to make a comment, please do so.  My contact information can be located at the top of the page under “Contact Rick”.

Nikon Photography of Garage Games Series
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/800th, ISO 250, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Garage Games Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/800th, ISO 320, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Photography of The Garage Games, Combat on the Coosa, 2017.
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f8, 1/800th, ISO 250, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Photography of the spectators at the Garage Games
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/800th, ISO 900, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Photography of contestant at Garage Games Combat on the Coosa
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/800th, ISO 560, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Photography of Dead Lift
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/500th, ISO 125, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Garage Games Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/500th, ISO360, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Garage Games Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/500th, ISO 500, ©Rick Lewis 2017
CrossFit Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f4, 1/500th, ISO 220, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Garage Games Nikon Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f4, 1/500th, ISO 180, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Garage Games Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f4, 1/500th, ISO 180, ©Rick Lewis 2017
Garage Games Photography
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8G ED, f5.6, 1/800th, ISO 400, ©Rick Lewis 2017

Nikon D500 – Not Just for Birding – Alabama Editorial Photography

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve been meaning to do this for some time.  It seems every time I see an article about the new Nikon D500 it is about birds in flight, wildlife, or sports photography.  It almost seems as though this camera is only suited for these genres of photography.  Not so; and I’ll attempt to prove that in this post.

When the Nikon D500 was announced, I could not believe my eyes.  This camera was a long time coming and many think, too long!  (Myself included in this group.)  In 2013, after retiring from my professional career, I switched from my extensive Nikon gear (D3, D4 & a bunch of pro glass), to all Fuji APS-C gear.  I wanted to go smaller and lighter with good quality lenses and great image quality.  It seemed a no brainer.  The D500 was still just a dream.

I soon learned after investing in a Fuji X-T1, X-E2, and X-Pro2, and many lenses, that the cameras were just too small and light for me.  They produced great images but I had a very difficult time using them.  Along came the D500.  I did not want the bulk of the D810 nor did I want to spend that kind of money on a body again, so the D500 looked perfect.

I bought it, along with a used (9+) 17-55mm f2.8G ED Nikkor lens.  I later added the MB-D17 battery grip.  It’s a brick, I know, but still, a smaller brick than my beloved D4!  I paid $1995 for the D500 and only $730 for the lens off Ebay, through a trusted store.  Not a bad deal.

Most everything I was reading about the camera pertained to using long lenses, along with the incredible D5 focusing module.  These articles hit mostly on the focusing ability and really didn’t get into image quality and the real versatility of the camera.

I found the camera to be very well suited for travel, editorial and any general assignment photography a pro would come up against and certainly what any non-pro would need. From the images you’ll see it is superb at higher ISO’s and has a very wide dynamic range for an APS-C CMOS sensor.

Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 23mm, 1/250th, f5.6, -⅔ EV, 3200 ISO, ©Rick Lewis

I was able to try out the fantastic focusing abilities of the D500 at the 2016 International Firefighters Combat Challenge.  It takes a little practice but it worked flawlessly and will make any non-pro photographing their active children quite happy, not to mention the pro that needs the speed, and reach, for sports or wildlife photography.

Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 55mm, 1/500th, f5.6, 100 ISO, ©Rick Lewis

I took the camera to Old Alabama Town to see how the camera would perform at a little editorial travel photography.  Even though this is an outdoor museum, most of the interesting imagery is inside and in very dark and challenging settings.  I shot for a couple of hours and doubt I got much below 2000 ISO except for a few outdoor images.

Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 32mm, 1/250th, f6.3, 125 ISO, ©Rick Lewis

I am really impressed with the color depth and the workability of the files in post.  I processed all of these images using Adobe Lightroom CC ®.  I use VSCO presets most of the time, as a starting point, and work from there.  I tend to like high contrast, saturated, images, as you will see.  This does tend to bring out the digital “noise” in any image but I really don’t care.  I think you will see the Nikon D500 noise pattern is exceptional and, to me, looks more like film grain.  I actually like this look on my images.

Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 19mm, 1/250th, f3.2, 2200 ISO, ©Rick Lewis
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 24mm, 1/250th, f2.8, 2200 ISO, ©Rick Lewis

Now, I know there is a lot of marketing hype by “Canikon” pushing the so called “full frame” cameras.  They do this because those cameras have a higher profit margin.  Can’t blame them for that, I guess.  But, don’t think for a minute you have to have one to get good quality images, even in very low light.  It just isn’t so any longer.  There are other reasons to own that full frame camera, of course.  But for my current needs, this D500 will be quite enough.

Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 38mm, 1/100th, f5.6, 160 ISO, ©Rick Lewis

One thing that really impressed me about this camera was the Auto ISO function.  I tend to  use this setting when not shooting in a studio.  In the early days, it was hit or miss on getting the right exposure.  Not so now.  I shoot either in manual mode, controlling both my shutter speed and aperture depending on the subject or in aperture priority, both in Auto ISO.  Shooting in RAW (NEF), I rarely have to adjust the exposure value more than a half stop.

Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 34mm, 1/50th, f4, 2200 ISO, ©Rick Lewis
Nikon D500, 17-55mm f2.8, 17mm, 1/50th, f5.6, 3200 ISO, ©Rick Lewis

The bottom line; the D500 is not just for birding. 🙂  The only real drawback that I can see is Nikon’s pathetic DX lens line up.  They are pushing the FX concept to the point that I really don’t see a follow-up to the D500.  Maybe I’m too cynical.  This camera can be a lot of things to a lot of people with just a little more attention to producing quality, fast, DX lenses, especially on the wide end.

Don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t turn down a Nikon D810 and a couple of pro lenses, but until someone is in a generous mood, I’ll stick with my D500 and 17-55mm f2.8G ED.

Nikon D500 | Back to Nikon from Fuji?

This is not a review, but rather a collection of some thoughts for the serious non-professional photographer, about the Nikon D500.  I say for the non-professional because if you are making money with photography you pretty much know what is going to work for you and what is not.  And, by “serious” I mean folks that tend to shoot mainly or always in RAW.  If you are shooting in Jpeg, and there is nothing wrong with that at all, I still recommend Fuji cameras over all others.  Again, this is not scientific, just my thoughts.  Your milage will vary!

A few days ago I took delivery of the D500.  I’ve shot quite a number of images now, using most all of the features that are touted by Nikon.  One exception is shooting fast action.  I don’t get much opportunity to do so, and, to be quite honest, if this thing has the same focus system as the D5, well, my guess is it’s pretty darn good at tracking.

Why did I buy the D500 when I’ve shot Fuji exclusively since 2013?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.  The first, and major reason, is the speed of the camera.  I missed the speed of my D4.  The second reason is the size.  I originally switched to Fuji cameras to go smaller, lighter, and cheaper, which they are.  But, after shooting with an X-E2, X-T1 and X-Pro2, I’ve discovered they are just too small for me.  In fact, I really use the X-T1 the least and I figured out why.  It’s just too cramped, ergonomically for the way I shoot.

So, I’ve decided to keep my Fujijilm X-E2 and the 18-55mm f2.8-4 OIS lens and sell all my other Fuji gear.  I’ll use the X-E2 to shoot exclusively in Jpeg.  I do love that little camera. Mated to my new Nikon D500 is a used 17-55mm f2.8 DX Nikkor lens.  I bought a used one in near mint condition for $740 off Ebay.  You’d be a fool to buy one new.

Some thoughts on comparison:

HIGH ISO

Everyone wants to know about high ISO image quality.  All I can say is the D500 delivers. Is it better than the Fuji X-Pro2?  I guess if you like to nit pick, I’d say yes, but only marginally at best, and I’ve looked at comparative shots processing the Fuji image in both Lightroom CC and Iridient Developer, looking for optimal sharpness.  Below is an image I took with both my X-Pro2 and the D500.  This is a 50% crop of the image after I processed the D500 image in Lightroom CC, using a VSCO preset I prefer.  I like high contrast images.  The only noise reduction that was done was default chroma NR.  No luminescence NR was used.  The noise pattern when viewed at 100% is just so even and grain like.  Nikon has been very good at this since the D3.

12,000 ISO f4 @ 1/160th ©Rick Lewis
12,000 ISO f4 @ 1/160th ©Rick Lewis

 

Yes there is some grain to it but, in a pinch, this is entirely usable and printable.

Metering

One of the best features of my Fujis and of all mirrorless cameras, is having a live histogram in the viewfinder or on the LCD.  Obviously the D500 is not mirrorless so it does not have this feature.  I took a serious of images to see if “chimping” every image would be necessary to keep from clipping highlights.  I used Matrix Metering only, for this test, with no exposure compensation for highlight protection.

I found the metering on my Fujis to be good but I usually had to use exposure compensation for scenes with rather high dynamic range.   I chose a location with bright sunshine in the background and shade in the immediate foreground to see how the D500 reacted.  I remember from my brief stint with the Nikon D750 that I basically could not clip a highlight.  The metering system just would not let that happen.  Let’s see what I got.  The following images were processed in LR CC using a VCSO preset only.  I clicked on the preset and we’re done.  The best example would be of the three story tower with large trees in the foreground.  If anything would fool the meter to over expose the highlights, this would.

100 ISO, f5.6 @ 1/640th ©Rick Lewis
100 ISO, f5.6 @ 1/640th ©Rick Lewis
100 ISO, f5.6 @ 1/640th ©Rick Lewis
100 ISO, f5.6 @ 1/640th ©Rick Lewis
100 ISO, f8 @1/400th ©Rick Lewis
100 ISO, f8 @1/400th ©Rick Lewis

I did not use the highlight protection metering feature on any of the images above.  I did try it out in a very dark setting, comparatively, that had a strong highlight in one area.  It did fine but I took a second image of the same subject but in standard Matrix Meter mode and found I could easily reproduce the highlight recovery in LR.  I thought because the scene was predominately flat the highlight protection metering would mess up the image but it didn’t in this case.  Take a look at the image below.

800 ISO, f4 @ 1/250th © Rick Lewis
800 ISO, f4 @ 1/250th     ©Rick Lewis

LIVE VIEW

One of the best features of a mirrorless camera, including Fuji, is the live view feature of an electronic viewfinder (EVF).  Live view is a wonderful thing and combine that with a tilting rear LCD and new opportunities open up.

The D500 has both a tilting rear LCD and live view capability.  Granted, it does not have that wonderful live histogram on the LCD that mirrorless cameras have.  I wanted to test the new live view function with touch screen focusing on the D500.  I picked a suitable subject well over my head and needed only two shots to get the right one.  The tilt screen was great and the exposure was right on.  The focus is perfect.  I’d say the D500 got it right.  Take a look below.

400 ISO, f2.8 @ 1/160th ©Rick Lewis
400 ISO, f2.8 @ 1/160th ©Rick Lewis

OVERALL CONCLUSION

I’m keeping the D500.  I think it is a much more refined camera than the Nikon D750.  I know, the D750 is “full frame” and perhaps has a ½ stop or ⅔ stop advantage at super high ISO (6400 and above), but I think the D500 is a better camera.  This stuff is highly personal so I know there are many that will disagree.  Image quality is superb.  I would definitely use this camera in my business if I were not retired.  Are the images better than the Fujis?  I don’t think so.  The Fuji cameras produce beautiful files and I would feel comfortable with them in the studio or other portrait settings.

It is a very quick camera.  I love that I can now use continuous focus with back button focus 100% of the time as I did with my D4.  I don’t care if my subject is static.  It just works for me.  I was very frustrated with the continuous focus function on the X-Pro2.  It tracks well with moving subjects coming toward or going away from you but continuous focus was pretty much useless for anything else.  I know Fuji will improve it in the future.

Battery life is fair.  It uses a common battery with the D810 and the D750 but my experience with the D750 was that it lasted longer.  There is a lot going on inside the camera, including 4K capability, that must be more of a drain.  A very simple solution is to buy more batteries.  I would say battery life is just slightly better than on my X-Pro2 but I use continuous focus so that is something to consider.

The D500 with the 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor is huge compared to the Fujifilm cameras.  For stealth or if I just don’t want to lug around a camera, I’ll be using my Fuji X-E2, no question.  But the D500 by itself is surprisingly light and it just fits my hand better than the X-T1 ever did.

If you own a Nikon D7200 should you sell and move up?  I am certainly not one to tell you yes, or no.  A friend that has a D7200 loves his. I’ve seen his work.  He gets great images, even at very high ISO values.  My 2¢ worth of advice, if you don’t need 10fps frame rate, don’t upgrade yet.  I know, I said I wasn’t one to tell you yes or no:-)

The missing link with this camera?  Lenses!  Nikon have let the DX shooters down in this regard.  The 17-55mm f2.8 G Nikkor is a decent lens but it was designed around the turn of the century and released in 2003 I believe.  If you are a zoom guy, like me, you have darn few options for that very popular 24-70mm (35mm equiv) range.  And don’t even think about a super wide Nikkor for that D500.  They don’t exist.  Will Nikon step up to the plate and deliver pro quality lenses now, for DX?  I doubt it.  Pretty cynical I know but Nikon has never been one to answer the needs and desires of it’s customers.  Fuji has.  I just wish they made the D500.