Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Leaving the Safety of the Typical Zoom Combo

Yesterday, we went to Disneyland (surprise).  Since my wife was coming, I decided to bring a two-camera combination.  Usually, I bring the event photographer's typical combination of a standard zoom (24-70 or similar) and telephoto zoom (70-200 or similar).  Specifically, I liked to use the 24-70 2.8G on a D600, and the Sigma 50-150 2.8 (non-OS) on an APS-C body.  That combination of zooms covers virtually any situation and perspective, from a very wide 24mm to 225mm equivalent and at f/2.8 all the way.  Pretty darn good combination.

However I think the combination falls a little short in some ways.  Specifically, the 24-70 is one of my most often used focal lengths, and is probably the lens I would choose if I could have only one lens period but I sometimes find the images from a 24-70 a little too tame.  I like images with shallow DOF and to some extent I get that with the 24-70 on a full frame (compared to a 17-50 on APS-C) but it's not shallow enough to really wake my eyes up.  Another kind of image that I find interesting is one with zany lines like those of an ultrawide or fisheye.  Again, at 24mm the 24-70 can somewhat be used to get those lines, but nowhere to the same extent as a true ultrawide.

As for the Sigma 50-150, yes it does deliver the shallow DOF that I like but at the telephoto focal lengths that I typically associate with shallow DOF.  It's what I expect.  So even with the shallow DOF, the images don't make me do a double take.

I decided to try a different lens combination: for very shallow DOF, an 85 1.8G on a D600.  For the crazy lines and wild angles, the Tokina 11-16 2.8 on an APS-C.  Because it was sunny, I decided to use the Fuji S5 Pro.  So, no standard zoom.  Are there shots that I could miss because of the wrong focal length?  Possibly.  Fortunately, I'm not an event photographer or a documentarian.

As a footnote, one benefit of this combination is that my gear can all fit into a smallish Lowepro Nova 3 AW camera bag.

Anyway, here is how the shots turned out.

I didn't expect the park  to be so full yesterday.

With my family in the shade, the sun's rimlight highlighted them nicely.

Photo opp with Pluto.  My family was getting ice cream inside so we didn't get a shot ourselves, but I took a shot of this happy kid.  Note that the background is definitely blurred even though I was shooting from a distance away.

Come on, Sophia!  Why would you be afraid of a 6-foot tall rat?
This shot was taken by a Disney photographer who took it with my S5 with Tokina 11-16.

Lifelong friends. 
I wish I can be as cool as this gentleman when I'm his age.  Mickey was created in 1928.  I am supposing he has known Mickey all his life.

Ice Cream in January

As my son was eating ice cream, I asked him to sit with the sun behind him to... er... not have the sun in his eyes. ahem.  Meanwhile I saw this colorfully-dressed lady a distance away.  When she moved into the background, I took the shot.

I liked how the sunlight reflected off the table to uplight my wife.  Meanwhile a balloon vendor stood in the background and I took a shot as he moved into the right place.

I liked how the sun added a rim light on everyone.

On the go.
I ran ahead of my family to be in a position to take their shot.  I looked around and saw the sun would give a nice rimlight, while they were in shadow, and the swoopy yellow line would add some energy to the shot.  When they moved into the frame I took the shot.

The rimlight accentuated my son nicely.

World of color
As we approached this sign, I saw a balloon vendor far away but coming closer.  I got into position and waited for him to move to the left side of the sign.

f/5.6.  Just wanted to see how sharp the 85 1.8G could get.

This was at f/5.6 as well.

Shopaholic training.  I positioned the shelves on the left to act as leading lines.

Added vignette in post to reduce the distracting elements around the edges of the frame.

There was a fountain show going on as we walked by this ferris wheel.  I waited for the fountain to frame the gondola.

I liked the reflection.

The long wait to have pictures developed.
I chose a perspective that would have foreground and background elements surrounding the subjects.  When those elements got blurred, they acted as a frame around the subjects, surrounding them with blur.

This scene was made for ultrawides. :)

Fireworks in Daylight

Sun flower

Sunny smile.
Here, the S5 was exposed +1.3 exposure comp (because I prefer clean shadows).  The S5 managed to hold the detail in the sky.

I like how this balloon looked like a sphere hovering in mid-air.  The shallow DOF emphasized the effect.
This new (for me) combination worked very well.  I definitely prefer it over my typical 24-70 + "75-225" combination.  I did "miss" some shots where a normal focal length was more appropriate.  For those I just used the Tokina 11-16 at 16mm then cropped it.

Something that may be of interest is that a full frame is probably not absolutely necessary here.  An APS-C camera with the 85 1.8 or the Sigma 50-150 could also fill the need for shallow DOF.


  1. Or a m4/3 with a 45mm or 75mm f/1.8. ;-)

    Really, I did enjoy the 85mm pictures a lot, especially the tighter head-shots, that's a favorite perspective of mine. And I still don't prefer the ultra-wide look in people photographs.

    There is this rule I made for myself that I go by, I don't consider a shot that I could have taken with a different lens that I don't have with me, so when I'm shooting with a single prime, I only "see" what this lens can shoot, and never consider a different perspective a "missed" shot. That way, there are no missed shots at all, there are only the shots that I can take with what I have, and funny enough, it works.

    Good work coming out of your comfort zone.

    1. Thanks Mohammad. That's an interesting and wise rule. A good exercise for me would be to shoot with only one lens, one that is not general purpose (such as 50mm or 24-70). I'll try that next time.

      Looking forward to more shots from the m4/3!

      Best regards,

  2. The 24-70 f2.8 is a great travel lenses too and do a great job generally, but I also sometimes feels the lack of the high IQ produced by my 85 f1.8 and have to change from 24-70mm to 85mm f1.8 only for the better IQ and the bokeh.
    The IQ from Nikkor 85mm f1.8 is very hard to beat!

  3. Hi Marcel. Yes just like you i'm a big fan of the 85 1.8g! What i like most about it is that on fx the 1.8 aperture is actually usable and makes the subject clear while the background is unmistakably blurred. As for the bokeh if the background is far enough it looks great but when the background is near it's a little harder than i would like. Nonetheless im very happy with it. Glad you are too!

    Best regards,

  4. Before buying the 24-70mm I bought a 24-85vr. I did not like. Although much lighter, did not offer the same IQ and for shoot moving kids indoors f3.5-4.5 already requires much of the ISO. The 24-70mm is expensive, heavy and is not perfect. It's not sharp equal to the full extent. But there's still best option

    1. Hi Marcel. Thanks for letting us know about your experience with both the 24-85 and the 24-70. It does seem like the 24-70 is the optically the best standard zoom for Nikon... At the same time I realize that I don't always need the best lens :)

      Best regards,

  5. Mic,
    I especially liked the shot of your daughter with the ice cream cone, and the one with her putting on the hat while your wife looks on.

    At the Nikon booth at Imaging EXPO, the rep who assisted me said that Nikon considers the 85/1.8G a better overall lens than the 85/1.4G at equal aperatures. When I asked why it wasn't Nano coated, he said that the main use for Nano coating is on the rear element to prevent reflections from the sensor onto the back of the lens which degrade the image, and that the 85/1.8G didn't need it. Anyway, seeing your images confirms that the 85/1.8G would be a very useful addition. I can't get that look with the 85mm end of the 24-85VR zoom (which I like.) If Nikon will ever make a 24/1.8G I will buy it. Then, I can have a two prime lens kit.

    The 70-200/4 VR fits on the D600 nicely and feels very smooth. However, I could have (and probably should have) bought the Tamron 70-300 VC at the show for $325, so the 70-200/4 VR seems way overpriced. I also handled the Sigma 35/1.4 and it had a high build quality. I'm glad Nikon and Canon have some competition in the lens market!

    1. Thanks Ken. Good to hear from you again! And those are some of my favorites too.

      I've never tried the 85 1.4G but I have read of some people who have had both and kept the 1.8G instead, so I can see why that rep said that. The only drawback of the 1.8G is the bokeh when the background is close to the subject but otherwise it looks great -- huge improvement over the 1.8D. See this forum post from Neil's Tangents forum

      Also, if you haven't seen it, you may want to check out my previous post on the 85 1.8G:

      Another potential cotender may be the Sigma 85 1.4. Significantly more expensive than the 1.8G but way cheaper than the 1.4G. When Ryan Brenizer lost his 85 1.4G (ouch) he bought the Sigma 85 1.4 instead.

      As for a wide lens, what do you think of the 28 1.8G? Is it just not wide enough? One of the photographers I admire, Ming Thein, uses that lens a lot.

      Congrats on getting the 70-200 f/4. I've heard only good things about it. As for the Tamron 70-300 VC I'm very happy with it. It is like the 85 1.8G in that when I first took shots with it, I found that the images had a striking appearance (I think due to acuity). It's variable aperture but I figure it's only a stop slower than the 70-200 f/4 or even the 300 f/4, lenses that cost far more than the 70-300 VC.

      Yes I agree about competition. I don't hesitate to buy Tamron, Sigma or Tokina. And if I didn't have my Tokina 10-17 fisheye, I would probably buy the Rokinon/Promaster/Samyang fisheye. I just get whatever lens fits my needs best (though my needs do take into account resale value).

      Best regards,

    2. Mic,
      I didn't buy the Nikon 70-200, just looked at it. Other than Teriyaki Noodles for lunch one day, I didn't spend a dime.

      If Nikon can get the price on the 70-200/4 close to $1000 via rebate or whatever, I might get it. I'll keep waiting.

      I'm sure the 28 is good, even considering the strong field curvature, but I'd prefer a 24mm as I'm hooked on that focal length. (Sony has a Zeiss 24/2 for the A99.)

      I forgot to mention that I looked at the new Tamron 90mm F2.8 Macro with VC. That is a super nice lens, internal focus, good build quality. I think it is somewhat expensive at $749, and not much less than the Canon or Nikon counterparts. For my needs, it might be a better choice than the Nikon 85/1.8G. The Tamron rep doesn't think they will release a 70-200/4 because they already have the 70-300. The 24-70/2.8 VC was impressive, btw.

  6. Love these shots - especially your son being a fighter pilot, where the flare in the lower right makes like a virtual propeller for his imaginary plane!

    You talked about the harsh bokeh of near highlights in the 85 1.8. Is the picture of your wife and the ice cream an example of this? I love the three shots of the the ice cream eating but I find the distorted-looking highlights in the top left of that one distracting. I would probabaly see what a 5x4 crop looks like in this case. Is that shape of highlight normal for any similar fast short tele or particular to the 85 1.8?

    I hope you are making progress on determining if you can live without the 24-70!
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi and thank you very much!

      Re the 85 1.8 ice cream shot, I believe those 'cat's eye' bokeh blobs just happen sometimes when the light source is not round. I've seen it on the 70-200 I, or even the vaunted Sigma 50 1.4.

      The hard bokeh I'm referring to can be seen on some of the shots on this post about the 85 1.8G:

      Regarding the 24-70, the more I think about it, the more I think that I can live without it. For me it's purely a money issue. If I had more disposable income for photography I would keep it. But as it is, with a wife and 2 kids, I have better uses for that money.

      Thanks again!

      Best regards,

  7. I think the combination you chose served well for this occasion, good trade off between weight and versatility. Tokina and 85 1.8 combined weights the same as 24-70, so you save the weight of Sigma 50-150, which is not light. Sure you might miss some shots at the long end, but that is not terribly important. I think we all miss more shots because we don't "see" it than don't have the right equipment to capture it.

    I like the ultrawide shots towards the end, very bright and colorful.

    1. Thanks Xiaoli. For me the weight savings was just a bonus. The biggest benefit was to get more of the kinds of shots I wanted - very shallow DoF and crazy angles/lines. The tradeoff was losing the very "useful" ranges from 24-70, but I'm ok with that.

      Best regards,


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