Thursday, August 23, 2007

More from the 55-200 VR

I'm really digging this lens! No, the slow-shutter-speed telephoto shots aren't totally sharp, but for on-screen viewing, they're "acceptible." Consider that it was so dark that I had to use the little LED "flash" on my cell phone camera as a flashlight to walk through the woods to get this image, well after the sun had set on the horizon:

1/8th @ 200mm ISO 800
, a little sharpening and NeatImage.

It's not perfect, of course, but considering I was shooting in near-total darkness, literally catching the last light hitting this mountain, I think it's pretty cool that I was able to catch something hand-held...

Here are a few more images, some with VR needed, and some without:

1/90th @ 200mm ISO 200

Mmm. Huckleberry. Some of the softness is probably because I was a little too close. I actually wanted to slap the macro on, but since we were too busy picking huckleberries, I decided to leave the 55-200 VR on and step back beyond the 3-feet minimum. Here's where the 18-200 VR would've shined a little more, since its minimum focusing distance is only .5 m (compared with the 1.1m of the 55-200 VR). Again, pay a lot more, get a bit more...

The clarity of this lens, even when VR may not be needed, is still pretty amazing.

I can tell that the images I'm going to get in the 55-200mm focal length will be much better than what I've gotten out of my other lenses in that focal length. Nikon has produced yet another low-budget beauty (to accompany the 50mm f/1.8 AF).

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

First Impressions: Nikkor 55-200 AF-S VR

We're on vacation this week, and as hard as it is to be away from the piano, it's been nice going out in the back woods on our family property and snapping away. We made the trip into Portland yesterday afternoon, and I found the camera shop I was looking for in order to compare a couple of lenses I was considering. I didn't have a whole lot of time, since my son was asleep in the car, and my wife was waiting in the car with him, but they had both lenses I was considering purchasing in stock, and I got just enough time to play with them.

After a quick series of in-store tests, I decided to indeed purchase the Nikkor 55-200 VR lens that recently came out. It dawned on me in the store that I'd never purchased a new lens, other than the lens that came with the first 35mm SLR I bought (the original Canon Rebel). All of my other lenses I've bought either at camera shows or on eBay. I hadn't actually sprang for a lens brand new.

Even though I had two lenses that basically covered the same focal length (my 70-210 F/4 Series E and my Tokina 80-200 f/2.8 -- both manual-focus), and I probably need to replace my 75-300 AF (since it took a 25 foot plunge onto a linoleum floor, even after being somewhat braced for the fall by hitting a woman's arm first), I wanted to get a VR lens. Sure, the 18-200 VR lens would be nice, and I'd like to get my hands on one, but I didn't have the budget for that lens, nor for one of my dream lenses, the 70-200 f/2.8 VR. I wanted to see, however, how well the 55-200 VR that just came out worked with my D2H. After reading some extremely positive reviews, I wanted to check out this lens, and compare it to the twice-as-expensive 70-300 VR.

The 75-300 VR felt a lot more solid (read: heavy) vs. the 55-200 VR, and you really could feel the VR kicking in. With the 55-200, it's a lot harder to notice when VR's working its magic. The 75-300 VR seemed noticably slower in focusing than the 55-200 VR, which sorta surprised me. Might just have been some other variables, though, since I was quickly running these tests, making sure I was OK with only getting 200mm at the long end. In the end, I decided that the 55-200 VR was certainly good enough to at least temporarily sate my VR cravings, and certainly the price was the most deciding factor.

I mean, heck, $250 for a VR lens? One that's light, compact, and could definitely stay on my camera? Score!

And after putting it through the wringer in the woodsy back acreage on our family property, I'm very glad I bought this lens.

On with the first sample shots!

1/8th second, focal length 150MM, ISO 400
Straight out of the camera -- no sharpening, no color adjustment - just JPG conversion in Capture NX and cropping/resizing in Photoshop & Fireworks (batch processing for web done in Fireworks).

1/6th @ 90mm

1/4th @ 70mm

1/40th @ 60mm

More testing the AF speed than VR here. Seems a little slow, as expected, but not anything unmanageable. Espcially since I've been using MF lenses for awhile, with less-than-desirable results.

1/40th @ 100mm

1/6th @ 200mm

Yes, that's right. One-sixth of a second at 200mm. Now, of course, it's not entirely sharp, and I did apply both USM in Photoshop CS and sharpening in Capture NX, but for on-screen viewing, it's certainly acceptible.

1/20th @ 135mm

All but the first image here have been post-processed in Capture NX and Photoshop CS. But considering I was shooting hand-held at ISO 800 or less, and the highest shutter speed I used was 1/40th in these images. I must say that my first impression is very favorable for this lens. The bokeh, in spite of the max. aperture being 5.6, is very solid -- which was one of my big hesitations in buying a "prosumer" VR lens. After all, my forays into the world of f/2.8 and lower were founded during a discussion about the 18-200 VR lens with a friend. I like bang-for-buck values, and this lens is definitely no exception. If the 18-200 VR were only $100-200 more than this lens, then I probably would've bought that lens instead. But since it's 3X the cost of this lens, I'm happy with what the 55-200 VR offers, price-performance-wise.

It's probably worth a bit more than the $250 retail it currently sells for.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

...And Sometimes, Dreams Come True

I can't believe it fit in our living room...

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

My Dream Piano.

One of the most beautiful pianos in the world -- Mason & Hamlin has been my quiet favorite above Steinways and Bösendorfers, even though I've played both. The action has always fit my playing style precisely.

I love playing a good hammer-weighted keyboard like my Alesis QS8, especially with its awesome piano sound clearly resounding through the monitors in my music studio. But there's nothing like playing a REAL piano...

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