Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Final Comparison!

Hi everyone.  I'm sorry for being gone for a long while.  It's a long story but I've decided to sell most of my gear (currently, 3 DSLRs and 11 lenses, plus 2 medium format lenses).  I will be keeping a few lenses and in this post, I will discuss the gear I decided to keep, and my reasons for choosing them over their alternatives.

A mild case of gear acquisition syndrome. Cough, cough.

Left to right: Sigma 35 1.4, Nikon 28-70 2.8D, Tamron 28-75 and Nikon 28-105 3.5-4.5D.
The first lens I would like to keep would be a standard lens.  I currently have 4 lenses in this range, and each one has its strengths and weaknesses.

Tamron 28-75.  My copy is the one without built-in motor.  The Tamron is the softest among these lenses when used wide open, but is decently sharp at f/4.  The advantages of the Tamron are its low cost and its flare resistance.

Nikon 28-105 3.5-4.5D.  This lens is quite sharp and it is very low cost.  It also has a 1:2 macro mode.  Somewhat slow, but in my opinion Nikon full frames (even the D700) have pretty good high ISO capabilities therefore they can somewhat compensate for the narrower aperture of this lens.  Its weaknesses are vulnerability to flare and chromatic aberration.

Nikon 28-70.  A great value, in my opinion.  Almost as sharp as the 24-70 but significantly cheaper these days.  My copy focuses quickly and accurately (after AF fine tuning).  Its drawback is that it's more expensive than entry-level lenses.  I would choose this over a 24-70 unless the 24-70 was dirt cheap.

Sigma 35 1.4.  There are plenty of reasons I really like this lens.  First, it's sharp even when used wide open at f/1.4.  To date, this is the sharpest lens in its class available for Nikon.  Second, when used wide open on a full frame camera, the depth of field is noticeably shallow (and the bokeh is smooth), even at a somewhat wide 35mm.  Other lenses, such as the 85 1.8G can also produce a shallow DOF but this one does it with sufficient context and at typical conversation distances (i.e. the kind I spend most of my time in with my family).  The downside of the Sigma 35 is decreased versatility (compared to a standard zoom), cost (it's not prohibitively expensive, but it's not cheap), and the autofocus accuracy which is somewhat spotty.  I did get a USB dock to fine-tune the autofocus but I haven't used it yet.

The standard lens I've decided to keep is the Sigma 35 1.4, although I realize that would not be everyone's choice under the circumstances.  The Nikon 28-70 would be more practical, but the images from that are just too predictable for me.  I'm willing to give up the versatility of the 28-70 to get the more interesting look of the Sigma 35 1.4.


The next lens I would like to keep is an ultrawide.  Ultrawides offer a unique look that is capable of a powerful visual effect.  Not everyone likes them but I think they're fun and challenging, and there is no substitute for them.  Here are the ultrawides I have, and the one I chose to keep.

Sigma 10-20 f/3.5:  This was the most recent lens I bought.  I got it because I wanted an ultrawide lens that was also long enough to function as a general purpose lens.  I had its predecessor, the 10-20 f/4-5.6 and found it pleasantly sharp, though somewhat slow for my DX camera at that time, the Fuji S5.  On the wide end, it wasn't that bad.  However, at the long end, it was quite slow.

The 10-20 f/3.5 is 1.5 stops faster on the long end, which is a significant advantage.  It also has much less chromatic aberration than the Tokina 11-16.  And it is sharp even when wide open -- that is, in the middle of the frame.  Unfortunately, the corners of this lens are soft, even when stopped down to f/5.6.  For some shots the corners won't matter but this is something to be aware of.  Flare resistance was ho-hum.

soft corners (f/3.5) and flare at lower right corner
Sometimes the soft corners don't matter
Tokina 11-16 2.8: Personally, I think I would stick with the Tokina 11-16 compared to the Sigma 10-20 f/3.5.  Yes it's a little shorter, but I would rather crop the Tokina than have to worry about corner sharpness on the Sigma 10-20.  To be fair, the Tokina 11-16 has terrible purple fringing, but I'm willing to deal with that in post (through Lightroom).  If you want corner sharpness and don't want purple fringing, then you may be better off with the Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6, as long as you're fine with the narrower aperture.

Tokina 10-17 Fisheye:  The Tokina 10-17 is my favorite ultrawide because the fisheye distortion is wild and fun.  The other advantage of fisheyes is that people look more normal (instead of stretched out).  Although most straight edges will look curved (unless they pass through the center of the frame) I usually take photos of people, not buildings.  Nonetheless, if I had to choose only one lens between the fisheye and the Tokina 11-16, I would have to choose the 11-16 for better versatility.  Moreover, I can intentionally add barrel distortion in post-processing to make people look more normal.  Doing the reverse -- straightening a fisheye image is also possible, although a little harder.

If I had only one ultrawide therefore I would choose the Tokina 11-16.


The last lens I would keep is a telephoto lens.  I will cheat a little and keep two of this class.

Nikon 85 1.8G:  I've said several times before that my favorite lens of any class is probably the Nikon 85 1.8G so that's a no brainer.  It's great either on an FX or DX body.  I love how it focuses quickly and accurately, and I love how, despite having a shallow DOF, the DOF is usable wide open.  Although the bokeh is not perfect, it's nice enough for me.

Nikon 50-135 f/3.5 AIS:  This is an old lens I got mostly for curiosity about AIS lenses.  It is quite sharp and has gorgeous bokeh, enough to rival even the Sigma 50 1.4 in my opinion.  Of course, being only an AIS lens it has no autofocus so it has limited practical use.  But it's usable for setup shots.

Tamron 70-300 VC.  This lens is great when you're a spectator (such as when traveling, or watching a show).  The image stabilization is phenomenal.  The acutance appears very high and makes images appear to pop, even though the actual detail (resolution) is not as impressive.  Still, it performs very well for the cost and I find it very reliable.

The drawback is that the bokeh is not very good unless the background is very far from the subject.



Sigma 50-150 non-OS: I thought about selling this lens before, because it is not sharp when used on a higher-resolution camera such as a D7000 or D7100, and the absence of image stabilization can make it even more of a challenge to get a sharp shot.  However, on a recent trip I tried the Tamron 70-300 VC and I have to admit I liked my shots from the Sigma 50-150 much better when I took it on the same trip last time.  It also has a significantly wider aperture than the 70-300 VC.

Choosing between the Sigma 50-150 and the Tamron 70-300 VC is tough for me.  Insofar as I'm already keeping the Nikon 85 1.8G, I guess I'll keep the Tamron 70-300 VC.

This one is not too hard.  I'm obviously going to keep the Nikon D600, which I really love.  Between the Fuji S5 and the Nikon D7000, there's not much of a contest, even though I feel sentimental about the S5.  In the future, I may sell even the D7000 and just keep the D600.  I'm not attached to having two cameras anymore.

BTW, you may be wondering why, seemingly all of a sudden, I'm giving up photography.  Without going into too much detail, I just want to focus more on being true to my faith and helping other people.  (No one persuaded me to do it.  It just happened as a chain reaction that started from learning about the lives of saints and mystics of the church.)  Thank you for your support.  I'm confident the blog will thrive under Mohammad's capable hands!  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.