Nikon Lens

Best Travel Lens For Nikon DX Format DSLRs

If you have to carry only one lens, which lens would you choose? After purchasing a DSLR, it can be an overwhelming experience to select the right lens for the camera, specially if it is your first time purchase. There are so many camera brands to select from and they all have their own set of lenses. My first DSLR, Nikon D60, came with the kit lenses (18-55mm and 55-200mm) which removed my confusion on lens selection. Since then, I have owned two DX format DSLRs, two FX format DSLRs and various lenses from Nikon. Even though my first lenses were not my choice, it worked pretty well for me in all kinds of shooting scenarios. Later, when I upgraded my camera to D90, I bought it in a combo package which came with a 18-200mm lens along with other accessories including the memory card and the cleaning kit. Later, I sold all of my lenses and purchased a 18-300mm lens. All of these lenses are designed for different purposes and different shooting environments. Some of them are designed for all purpose shooting, some of them are for indoor shooting only and others are designed to reach long distance subjects. Some of the lenses are heavier and hard to carry around all day and some of them are light weight and made for traveling purposes. It’s hard to cover all of them in one blog post, but today, I am going to discuss one particular lens that might be an ideal for traveling purpose and specially if you want to carry only one lens that covers the variety of ranges.

When I purchased 18-300mm, I got AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR lens which seems to be discontinued now and replaced by the newer model, AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 G ED VR, which I am going to discuss in today’s post. Let me briefly summarize the technical details and then we can go to the practical aspects of the lens.

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Nikon's Telephoto Lenses Under $2,500 - Which One Is Your Best Option?

If you are interested or just getting into wildlife photography, you have to keep in mind that it's not always possible to reach to your subject physically closer most of the time. And in that case, you have two options; you can either get a mid-range telephoto lens and add a teleconverter to get an extra reach or get a long-range telephoto lens. Unless you are a pro wildlife photographer and making your living out of it, it's very hard to justify the cost of expensive telephoto lenses. In my previous blog, I wrote about should you buy a telephoto lens or get a teleconverter where I talked about the best possible route you can go. In short, if the budget is not an issue, get a telephoto lens by all means but if the budget will be an issue, you can get a mid-range telephoto lens and a teleconverter. In this blog, I am trying to discuss about two Nikon mid-range telephoto lenses under $2,500 and onto which you can attach a teleconverter to extend your reach. When you are shopping for the lenses, usually, you encounter with the two choices; whether to get a prime lens or a zoom lens. Most of the time, the deciding factor would be what is more important to you; speed of the prime or the flexibility of the zoom? Today, we are going to take a look at two lenses which are in similar price and focal range but one is prime and another one is zoom lens. Let's take a look at them one by one.

Prime Lens: AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

This lens has an effective focal length of 300mm on FX Model and 450mm on DX Model DSLR. Since it is a prime lens, the widest aperture is also constant at f/4 with the smallest aperture of f/32. This lens is made up of 16 elements grouped into 10 groups with the minimum focus distance of 4.6 ft. This lens has an aperture with 9 blades diaphragm, with the lens diameter of 77mm (takes 77mm filter) and weigh 755g and comes with the price tag of $1,999.95.

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F4E PF ED VR

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F4E PF ED VR

Nikkor 300mm f/4E has an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism (E) in the barrel which provides highly accurate electronic diaphragm or aperture blade control, whereas in conventional D/G type lenses, the diaphragm blades are operated by mechanical linkage levers. But this lens is most famous for a Nikon-designed Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, a first for the Nikkor DSLR lens lineup. It helps to get sharper and clear image with virtually no chromatic aberration or ghosting. Due to it's revolutionary PF technology, this lens is relatively compact and lightweight.

It also includes one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element and the Nano Crystal coat (N) combined with the Nikon's Silent Wave Motor (SWM) to deliver clear and accurate images with an ultra-quiet and ultra-fast auto-focusing system. It is weather sealed and the front element is coated with fluorine to repel dust, water, grease or dirt and ensures easy cleaning.

This lens comes with 4.5-stop of Vibration Reduction (VR) which provides an image stabilizing effect equivalent to a shutter speed increase of 4.5-stop in a Normal mode. It helps to capture sharp and clear handheld images in low light, Sports and Action. Image sharpness and contrast are fabulous from f/4 all the way through to f/16, and they don't drop off much at f/22-32. Color fringing and distortion are negligible, while resistance to ghosting and flare is very good and the overall image quality is superb.

Zoom Lens: AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

This lens has an effective focal length of 80-400mm on FX Model and 120-600mm on DX Model DSLR. Since it is a zoom lens with a variable aperture, the widest aperture is f/4.5 at 80mm and f/5.6 at 400mm with the smallest aperture of f/32-f/40. This lens is made up of 20 elements grouped into 12 groups with the minimum focus distance of 5.74 ft. This lens has an aperture with 9 blades diaphragm, with the lens diameter of 77mm (takes 77mm filter) and weight 1570g and comes with the price tag of $2,299.95.

AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR

AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR

Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G doesn't come with a Fresnel element but it does have four ED elements and one super ED element. There is no fluorine coating and only the mount is weather sealed, but as with the 300mm lens, the Nano Crystal Coating helps to combat ghosting and flare. With a minimum length of 203mm, this lens is at least a third longer than the 300mm and it extends considerably at longer zoom settings. It also weigh about twice as much as the prime lens, but comes complete with a tripod/monopod collar which is an optional purchase on 300mm prime. The 80-400mm has the same triple-mode focusing system as the 300mm, and there's also an autofocus range limiter and a zoom lock switch, but AF speed is slightly slower. It comes with the Nikon's second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR) technology which is rated at up-to 4-stop, and has a conventional normal and "active" modes.

Because of it's weight, it makes hard to shoot handheld for a longer period of time but you can get the versatility of the zoom range. This lens comes with the mechanically controlled aperture (G) which is less accurate in high-speed continuous shooting. The image quality of this lens is not as consistent as that of 300mm. It has an impressive sharpness throughout most of the zoom range but drops off quality little bit near 400mm. This lens is not as sharp as 300mm prime even at 300mm and the color fringing and the distortions are slightly more noticeable, but they're still pretty negligible.

Conclusion

I think based on the price, size, manageability and the overall image quality, Nikkor 300mm prime is easily a winner. It's also good value for a Nikon telephoto prime, and standout features include an electromagnetically-controlled diaphragm and a more effective VR system. However, if you can put up with the extra size and weight, the 80-400mm is almost as good, has a greater reach, and is much more versatile lens.

Understanding An MTF Chart For Lenses

If you own DSLR or planning to buy one in near future, you will be looking for lenses sooner or later and when time comes, you have to be very careful while choosing lenses. There are limited types of camera bodies (which are upgraded pretty frequently) but there are wide varieties of lenses and stay longer in the market before it gets upgraded to newer version. Usually camera bodies get upgraded in couple years whereas lenses get upgraded in 5 to 6 years or even more in some cases. Having said that, investment on lenses is long term than bodies and hence you have to be more careful when choosing correct lenses. Choosing lens depends on what kind of work you do in photography. If you are doing sports photography, you may want to choose fast telephoto lenses; for macro photography, you need macro lens; for landscape photography, you may want to choose wide angle lenses and for portrait, you need medium range prime lenses. Now you may be wondering which particular lens to choose among so many varieties and how do we know which lens is good over the other. It is very important to know that you have to compare lenses within its own category. That means you have to compare wide angle lens from one brand to wide angle lens of another brand because every lens is made with different components and materials to serve different purpose. OK then, do we have a tool to compare lenses? And the short answer is yes, we do. There is something called an MTF chart which gives us graphical model of the lens performance and describes behavior of particular lens in different conditions. You may find this article bit technical but I will try to explain as simple as I can.

What is an MTF Chart?

MTF is an abbreviation for Modulation Transfer Function and is widely used standard measurement to evaluate the performance of the lens. In a generic language, Modulation means the process of modifying signal to result an output from given input. In ideal case, lens should transmit all the lights it receives as an input but no lens is ideal and can't transmit all the lights because glass is not 100% transparent. So with the help of an MTF chart, we see graphical representation of how much light one lens can modulate (transmit) to the sensor in different scenarios.

The quality of lens depends on its resolution and contrast which are closely related to each other. If the lens can transmit high contrast, it can have better resolution power. But lens resolution is also dependent to other factors and that is why an MTF charts are preferred method to study optical performance but not the only one measure to determine its quality. An MTF chart consists two axis; X-axis and Y-axis.

The X-axis (horizontal axis) shows the distance from the center of the image (based on film or 35mm equivalent censor) toward the edges. In the graph, "0" represents the center of the lens and the different numbers represent the distance from center towards the edge of the lens in mm (millimeter).

The Y-axis (vertical axis) represents what percentage of light the particular lens can transmit. It is represented in percentage with maximum value of 1 meaning 100% transmittance of light (which is ideal case only). So in real case scenario, higher the Y-axis value better the lens performance will be (lens having 0.9 Y-axis value is better than lens having 0.7).

How to read an MTF Chart?

Below is an example of an MTF chart.  It has two pairs of lines (two solid and two dotted) plotted in different number values. Those different lines and numbers indicate how well the lens performs with different measurements.  When measuring the lenses performance for an MTF chart, the test is carried out with the lens working at its maximum aperture value.  An MTF chart consists of measurement for the Sagittal (Solid line) and Meridional (Dotted line) lines at both 10 lines per millimeter and 30 lines per millimeter hence producing a chart with 4 separate lines. In this case, you can think of 10 lines or 30 lines sketched inside 1 mm size area and we are going to see how well any lens can transmit the contrast between each lines so that quality of image can be produced in the sensor; better the contrast, better picture quality will be.

MTF Chart for AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens

Wide (14mm)                                                                         Tele (24mm)

MTF Chart Wide Nikkor 14-24mm

MTF Chart Wide Nikkor 14-24mm

MTF Chart Tele Nikkor 14-24mm

MTF Chart Tele Nikkor 14-24mm

MTF chart for AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G lens

MTF Chart NIKKOR 35mm

MTF Chart NIKKOR 35mm

Here are the few key things you have to know to understand an MTF chart. The red line (10 lines per millimeter) indicates the lenses ability to reproduce low spatial frequency or low resolution.  This line indicates the lenses contrast values and the higher and straighter this line is the better.  The higher the line appears the greater the amount of contrast the lens can reproduce. Similarly, the blue line (30 lines per millimeter) indicates the lenses ability to reproduce higher spatial frequency or higher resolution. This line relates to the resolving power of the lens and again the higher the line the better.

As the line starts on the left of the chart this represents the center of the lens and as the line moves to the right it indicates the edge of the lens.  So you can see how much the contrast and sharpness of the lens decreases from the center to the edge of the image.

Using an MTF chart to determine the Bokeh effect of the lens

Another factor that can be read from the MTF graph is the 'bokeh'. Bokeh is a term used to describe the quality of the out of focus areas a lens produces. The bokeh effect varies between lenses and the effect is influenced by the quality of the lens elements used and also the number of aperture blades in the lens design (more blades produce a better circle and therefore a better 'bokeh' effect). The closer the solid line and the dotted line are together, the better the 'out of focus' effect will be on a particular lens.

Nowadays all the major lens manufacturers include MTF Chart along with their lens specification.

Reference: Nikon Europe and Nikon USA

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S Nikkor Lens

Nikon is a very well known brand in photo industry for it's high quality Digital SLR cameras to both amateur and professional photographers. Nikon is popular among many photographers not only because of it's well designed camera body but also wide variety of lenses it offers. Nikon is probably the best brand to use wide variety of the lenses for the older body as well as the newly designed body. They offer wide angle lens, telephoto lens, macro lens, prime lens and few other types to reach out the varieties of users all over the world. I will continue to write about their other types of lenses in the future but today lets talk about the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens. Among many other prime lenses Nikon offers, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is one of the best prime lens and the favorite of many photographers. It is very well designed and built from the high quality materials. It got the metal lens mount and the high quality plastic to protect the internal lens glasses. It has a smooth rubber ring with a very nice grip for the manual focus.

Nikon-50mm-f1.4G-AF-S-Nikkor-Lens.jpg

It works perfectly on both FX format and DX format DSLR cameras. This lens has an Autofocus (AF-S) feature which works brilliantly on Nikon's entry level DSLRs like D40, D40x and D60 as well as high end professional camera like D3 or D3X. It is built with an Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) which enables fast, accurate, and quiet Autofocus. This prime lens is perfect for the low-light conditions because of it's wide open aperture. Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating (SIC) on the glass enhances the light transmission efficiency, offers superior color consistency and also reduces the flare. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is the ideal lens for travel, event, environmental and general photography in a wide variety of conditions, with superb optical formula and an ultra-fast f/1.4 maximum aperture. It is an ideal portrait lens when used on a Nikon DX-format digital SLR, approximating the angle of view similar to that of a 75mm lens on a Nikon FX-format digital SLR. This lens can focus close up to 1.5 feet and can also be used to produce nice bokeh as well.

Despite of being very fast and high quality lens, it doesn't offer few common features that you might be looking for. If you are used to with the zoom lenses and composing the shots sitting in one position, this lens might disappoint you. Since, this lens doesn’t have a zoom feature, you might need to move front and back time to time to adjust the frame and compose your photograph. It's focal length is fixed and that's why it is called the prime lens as well. And also, this lens doesn't have an aperture ring (denoted by G letter) and will not work on manual focus camera where you need to set the aperture from the lens barrel. This lens doesn't have a Vibration Reduction (VR) feature which may be useful for taking handheld shots in a low light condition, specially, if the subject is moving or the photographer is not using a tripod. As of writing this blog, it was priced at $434.95 on amazon which could attract some of the buyers as well.

It may be an expensive piece of glass but when compared to the other wide-angle lenses or the zoom lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens might be the most affordable and yet more versatile lens. It's build quality and the small size also makes it an ideal lens for the travel.