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  • Nikon D5300 vs. D5200: What’s the difference?

    We take a closer look at the differences of the Nikon D5300 and D5200

    Customers are constantly asking us, “what’s the difference”? There are a lot of great products out there, and product features often overlap. Is one brand better than the other? Is one product better than another? The answer is not often an easy, definitive “this one’s better”. There are many aspects and features of a product that will require taking a closer look. In addition, each individual person has different requirements, so not all products are the same to each person.

    The issue gets especially blurred when new products are made. And beyond that, camera makers now have the tendency of keeping older products around for longer. When a new product comes out, the old product is discounted, and kept in the line-up. The tendency used to be to completely discontinue a product, and take it off the shelves, so there was less confusion when making a choice. Newer was better, and that was all you could get. Now, newer may be better, but the older model may be good enough, and the lower price tag is always attractive.

    The new Nikon D5300 and the now older D5200 are perfect examples of this problem at large. We know the D5200 is going to be cheaper, and the D5300 should be better, but “what’s the difference”? It’s not until we take a closer look at the main differences that we can make an informed decision. So let’s take a closer look.

    Image Sensor

    24.2 Megapixels (D5300) vs. 24.1 Megapixels (D5200)

    For a digital camera, the image sensor is a huge part of the equation when making a purchasing decision. Unlike a roll of Kodak Gold 200 film that would be the same from camera to camera, image sensors and the quality of the picture produced by that sensor differ in almost every incarnation of a model line. The easiest difference to spot is megapixel count. In the case of the Nikon D5300 and D5200 they’re essentially the same. Unfortunately, that information alone is not helpful, but let’s take a closer look.

    The D5300 is missing the Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) that is typically placed in front of the image sensor. The D5200 still has the OLPF in tact. We first saw Nikon removing the OLPF from the D800E. The Nikon D800 actually has the OLPF, but the D800E does not. This is true with the D5300 and the D5200 too. What is an OLPF, and what is the big deal anyway?

    The OLPF is used to slightly soften an image. You would think that with a high-resolution image sensor you’d want to keep things sharp. To avoid issues with moire, however, camera makers place a filter in front of the image sensor to ever so slightly blur the image. Moire is an effect caused when the pattern in a subject is overlapped with the pattern of an image sensor’s pixels, and you get a strange, additional patterned effect. Well, with high-resolution image sensors, you certainly would like to keep things sharp, so Nikon has started to remove the OLPF. There are really not many situations where moire will be an issue, and with modern software, this issue can often be resolved post-processing. The benefit is ever-so-sharper images.

    If you take pictures of intricate textiles or patterns of colors and shapes, the absence of an OLPF will be a definite downside. For most other situations, the D5300 is going to be a sharper choice.

    OLPF Moire Effect Comparison This image was taken directly from Nikon's website. Here you can see how intricate patterns can create a moire effect when with the absence of an OLPF.

    Processing Engine

    EXPEED 4 (D5300) vs. EXPEED 3 (D5200)

    Along with the image sensor is the image-processing engine. Image processors are small, specialized computers that take all of the information recorded by the camera’s image sensor and turn that into a (hopefully) beautiful picture. Each incarnation of a model line typically has an improved processor. This usually translates into a faster camera, better video, increased low-light (better ISO) performance, etc.. Nikon’s EXPEED 4 is an improvement over the EXPEED 3. One of the biggest benefits includes 1080 60p HD video. The D5200 has 1080 60i HD vdieo.

    Video

    1080 60p HD (D5300) vs. 1080 60i HD (D5200)

    Although the Nikon D5200 is capable of shooting progressive 1080 HD video at lower frame rates, the D5300 expands the video shooting capability of the product line by featuring progressive HD video at 60 frames per second. The D5200 is capable of 60 frames per second too, but the video is interlaced.

    Interlaced video is essentially video with half the resolution, but shown twice to get full resolution. One frame of video is essentially split in two. One frame will feature even lines of a picture, while another frame will feature odds. When the frames are flashed quickly on a screen, one after the other, the human eye perceives the image as having full resolution, not separate frames of alternating lines of resolution. This usually works out fine, until there’s action. When watching fast moving objects you can observe “artifacts” with interlaced video. It will look like the moving object is slightly blurred at the edges and has horizontal lines through it. Progressive video displays every line with each frame, so there is no potential for artifacting. The overall quality will look much better, especially when viewed on bigger TVs or screens.

    Interlaced Video Example of Fast Moving Object This photo is courtesy of Wikipedia. It shows the artifacts of interlaced video, especially for moving objects.

    Wi-Fi

    Built-in (D5300) vs. WU-1a Adapter (D5200)

    The Nikon D5300 and D5200 are both capable of connecting to Wi-Fi, but the D5300 has it built-in. The D5200 requires an adapter, the Nikon WU-1a, which is an additional $60 purchase.

    Wi-Fi in these cameras is really cool, and for at least two reasons. The first is for being able to share images quickly and easily. The smartphone camera has become wildly popular for several reasons, but a big part of it is being able to easily and instantly share images on social networks. The only problem with smartphone cameras is that the quality of the images is still lacking overall. The Wi-Fi capability of the D5300 and D5200 with the optional WU-1a, allows you to connect to your smartphone to share your images instantly like you would with pictures taken by your smartphone. This is a win-win. Instant sharing, plus exceptional image quality.

    Another benefit of Wi-Fi is being able to control these cameras remotely. Although this benefit is used less often, it is pretty cool that you can control the cameras from your smartphone. I know of a customer who set their camera on a tripod near a hummingbird feeder and went around the corner of his house. He was able to capture some amazing pictures of the birds by snapping away from his smartphone, and didn’t have to worry about scaring the birds away.

    In addition to Wi-Fi being built in, the D5300 also features built-in GPS. Again, the D5200 is capable of GPS, but requires a Nikon GP-1A adapter, which is an optional accessory that costs over $200. GPS can be really cool. Each image capture can record and save the GPS coordinates of the location where the image was taken. You’ll never forget where you took a picture again. Using Google Maps or Nikon’s software you can view on a map the locations of each of your recorded shots.

    Build/Construction

    Monocoque design (D5300) vs. More traditional structure (D5200)

    The Nikon D5300 is even smaller and lighter than the already light and compact D5200. This is due to the monocoque design of the D5300. What exactly does this mean? Think of a monocoque structure as like an exoskeleton. Instead of the insides supporting the structure of the outside, the outsides help to give the overall structure support and durability. The D5300 uses some specialized materials and design in its outer coverings to reduce joints and increase the support and durability of the camera, all the while reducing its overall weight and size. The D5200 weighs approximately 555g to the D5300 at 530g.

    Final Thoughts

    Overall there’s no doubt that the D5300 is an improvement over the D5200. In addition to the differences noted above, the D5300 has a bigger, higher resolution LCD screen. It is 3.2” and a 1037k dot resolution screen over the D5200’s 3” and 921k dot resolution screen. The D5300 also added a couple more picture (art) modes, which include Toy Camera Effect and HDR Painting.

    The biggest features to stand out are the removal of the OLPF and the built-in Wi-Fi. Right now there isn’t really a big difference in price. Actually, the starting prices are the same. The D5200 has been on sale for $100 off, however, and we assume this will only increase. Are these features worth $100 or more? It depends on what you are using the camera for and how these features meet your needs. If you are going to use it, the built-in Wi-Fi saves you $60 for that feature, and the GPS will save you more. If you want the best resolution possible, and are not afraid of some moire at times, the D5300 will be tack sharp. Whatever you decide, both cameras will overall take great pictures.

  • Nikon D3X vs. Sony A77 ISO Comparison

    Sony SLT-A77 and Nikon D3X Side-by-Side

    Sony A77 and Nikon D3X

    You might be wondering why we would want to compare the Sony A77 and Nikon D3X in terms of ISO performance. A better match might be to compare the Sony A900 to the Nikon D3X. After all, it is rumored the D3X uses a sensor manufactured by Sony. Considering that, and both the A900 and the D3X are 24 megapixel (plus some change) full-frame cameras, one might conclude those are the two cameras to compare. And, especially when you realize the A900 retails for $2700 and the D3X retails for $8000. So, you are probably still wondering, why the A77 and D3X?

    Well, the Sony A77, like the D3X for Nikon when it first came out, is the first camera of its kind. It has a 24 megapixel (plus some change) APS-C sized (1.5x crop) sensor. A lot of people are weary of packing more pixels into a sensor without increasing the sensor size at the same time. The idea is that if each pixel, or photosite, is smaller it will likely get bombarded with more photons of light than a larger photosite in a given amount of time. Oppositely, the smaller photosite is like a "net" and, being a smaller net, it is less likely to capture as many photons in a given instance. So, if you have a lot of light the smaller photosites will get saturated and turn white, and if you don't have much light the photosites will stay dark. Either way, you will have a loss of detail: blown out highlights, and blocked shadows. This may also translate into a noisier or "grainier" image at higher ISOs.

    Our fascination and the reason for comparing these two cameras is to see how the APS-C 24 megapixel sensor of the $1400 Sony A77 compares to the full-frame 24 megapixel sensor of the $8000 D3X. The full-frame size of the 24 megapixel D3X means each individual pixel is physically larger than the pixels of the A77. This means the D3X may likely have greater dynamic range in capturing scenes with more contrast than the A77, but that kind of comparison is not our goal here. We wanted to strictly take a look at the noise levels/sharpness of each.

    Please see the following comparison shots below. We set up a quick scene and shot both cameras with similar settings, changing only the ISO in between each shot. As we used Aperture Priority mode, the exposure evaluation was up to each individual camera. In addition, we shot both cameras at their highest-level JPG setting. How these cameras handle JPG processing may be very different, and seeing the RAW images from these cameras may be a lot different than what you see here. We have included 100% crops, side-by-side. We won't tell you which one was shot by the Sony A77 and which was shot by the Nikon D3x, until you get to the bottom. Which do you think are the A77 images, and which do you think are the D3X?

    Nikon D3X vs. Sony A77 ISO Comparison

    ISO 400

    Nikon D3X vs. Sony A77 ISO Comparison

    ISO 800

    Nikon D3X vs. Sony A77 ISO Comparison

    ISO 1600

    Nikon D3X vs. Sony A77 ISO Comparison

    ISO 3200

    Nikon D3X vs. Sony A77 ISO Comparison

    ISO 6400

    OK, so you are probably wondering which is which? Or, maybe you've already figured it out. The left side of each image is from the Nikon D3X, and the right side of each image is from the Sony A77. We noticed the D3X tends to look sharper (at least in the brush), but at the expense of more noise or "grain". The A77 images look less noisy/grainy at higher ISOs, but it looks like you can't pick out as many bristles in the brush. What do you notice? Which one do you think looks better overall?

  • First Look at the Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS Lens (SEL50F18)

    We recently discussed Sony's plans for expanding the E-mount lineup of lenses for Sony's NEX camera system. At the time of this discussion the Sony E-mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS (Optical SteadyShot Stabilization) lens had already been announced. Now, at that time, although the 50mm f/1.8 had been announced, it had not yet been released and shipped. We just received our first shipment of the Sony E-mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS lens a few days ago, and were curious how it performed. We decided to slap it on a Sony NEX-7 and take the 50mm f/1.8 for a stroll.

    Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS lens on Sony NEX-7 Digital Camera

    Sony E-mount 50mm f/1.8 mounted on Sony NEX-7

    Sony 50mm f/1.8 Build and Construction

    The Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS lens construction feels solid, and the design is minimal and elegant. The lens has a good weight in the hand, and it feels like Sony used a good amount of metal in the construction. Although this lens is more expensive than 50mm f/1.8 lenses from other manufacturers, the construction feels nicer than some of those other lenses. Where other manufacturers are building lenses with plastic lens mounts to cut costs, Sony's 50mm f/1.8 has a metal bayonet mount. This is nice to see as many of our customers's lens repairs involve broken plastic bayonet lens mounts. The focus ring is set flush in the lens barrel, but still gnarled with a good feel for accurate manual focusing.

    The first thing that struck us was the size of the lens. This 50mm f/1.8 lens is larger than similar lenses from other manufacturers. The Sony 50mm f/1.8 is approximately the same size as the Sony E-mount 18-55mm zoom lens.

    Sony 50mm f/1.8 and 18-55mm zoom lenses side-by-side

    50mm f/1.8 and 18-55mm lenses side-by-side

    The size of the lens is a little perplexing considering that it is designed for the Sony NEX camera system, which are small cameras by design.

    Nikon 50mm f/1.8 compared to Sony E-mount 50mm f/1.8

    Compared to Nikon 50mm f/1.8

    Sony 50mm f/1.8 Image Samples

    The Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 lens and the Sony NEX-7 make for a great pair. Except for a slow, hunt-and-peck autofocus in low-light or dark subjects, the image quality is superb. The Sony 50mm f/1.8 is able to take advantage of the high, 24 megapixel count of the NEX-7. Take a look at the image of Charlie below:

    Sample of Charlie taken with the Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS Lens and NEX-7

    If you zoom in on the eye and take a look at the image at 100% , the detail is all there:

    Cropped image sample of Sony 50mm f/1.8 and NEX-7

    100% crop of eye

    Sony NEX camera users have been waiting for an affordable, fast-aperture lens. The Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 was the first to come out, but at $1000 is a little out of reach for most users. In addition, the Zeiss 24mm is a wide-angle lens, and, although good for low-light, does not make a good lens for portraits. The Sony 50mm f/1.8 is effectively a 75mm lens on the current NEX cameras, and, therefore, makes for a better portrait lens. The fast F1.8 aperture creates nice, soft out-of-focus backgrounds:

    Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS Lens Image Sample with out-of-focus background

    Although the 50mm f/1.8 has a fairly close focus of 1.28 feet, it is not a macro lens. The above image was cropped from its original composition to make this image look like a macro shot. The 24 megapixel NEX-7 sensor provides plenty of resolution to be able to crop images, even this close.

    The Optical SteadyShot Stabilization in conjunction with the fast F1.8 aperture allows for hand-held, low-light shooting:

    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS low-light image sample
    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS low-light image sample

    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS low-light image sample

    Even in low-light and hand-held, the Sony 50mm f/1.8 is able to produce sharp images with the NEX-7:

    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS low-light image sample detail

    Here are some other images taken with the Sony E-mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS lens on the Sony NEX-7:

    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS image sample
    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS image sample
    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS image sample
    Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS image sample

  • Canon PowerShot G1 X Unboxing and Sample Images

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Digital Camera

    Canon PowerShot G1 X

    We recently received our first shipment of the Canon PowerShot G1 X digital camera. Since Canon first made the announcement of the G1 X back at the beginning of January we have been pretty excited to get our hands on one. Now that we have finally received the Canon G1 X, we've created a short unboxing video so everyone can share in our delight of seeing the G1 X for the first time (scroll down for video). In the video you will see the G12. We were curious to see the size difference of the two. The G1 X is certainly larger, but, surprisingly, not by too much. We have also included sample images taken with the G1 X at different ISO levels. Scroll down below the video to see those sample images taken with the G1 X.

    The Canon PowerShot G1 X sells for $799 and is available at our website here.

     

    Here are the sample images taken with the G1 X at different ISO levels. The first image is a picture of the overall scene. We then provide crops of the image at increasing ISO levels. The image holds up incredibly well through ISO 3200, but starts to fall apart at 6400. The difference between 6400 and 12800 doesn't appear as great as the difference between 3200 and 6400.

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Images

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image at 400 ISO

    Detail of Image at ISO 400

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image at 800 ISO

    Detail of Image at ISO 800

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image at 1600 ISO

    Detail of Image at ISO 1600

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image at 3200 ISO

    Detail of Image at ISO 3200

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image at 6400 ISO

    Detail of Image at ISO 6400

    Canon PowerShot G1 X Sample Image at 12800 ISO

    Detail of Image at ISO 12800

  • First Look at the New Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IIR MSC Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 2R MSC Zoom Lens (Silver)

    Today we received our first shipment of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IIR (2R) MSC lens. We received them in both black and silver. We were curious to see how the lens looked and felt compared to the previous version (II, non-R). So, we decided to place the two lenses next to each other and take a couple pictures. What we quickly discovered is that both lenses are essentially identical in size. After the photo shoot we even gave them a quick weighing and found them to be essentially identical in weight too, both weighing in at approximately 110-112g.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 2R MSC Zoom Lens

    As mentioned, and as you can see, the two lenses are approximately the same height when collapsed. The newer lens (on the left), does appear to be a little bit taller, but this is just an optical illusion. There is actually a cosmetic cap that covers the bayonet mount, where you can add a dedicated lens hood (not included). We like this cap. We think it keeps things looking really clean. The only problem we can foresee is, what do you do with it when you use the dedicated hood? Seems like a piece that can get easily lost...

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 2R MSC Zoom Lens

    Here is the lens with that cover removed (don't lose it!). Just a simple bayonet mount under there.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 2R MSC Zoom LensEven with the lenses fully extended, both are essentially the same size.  Here you can see that both lenses are fully extended to 42mm.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 2R MSC Zoom Lens

    Here's a top view of both lenses next to each other. Everything looks pretty much identical. The new lens still uses a 37mm filter. At this angle you can see how that cover we've been talking about really makes the lens look sleek and clean.

    You might now be wondering, what does the lens look like on camera? Well, here it is on an E-PL2.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 2R MSC Zoom Lens

    Looks pretty good, but not as good as on the E-P3. The E-P3 and E-PL3 are definitely designed with this lens in mind. The silver of this lens, as you may have already noticed, is different in shade than the silver of the previous version lens. It is a darker shade, and so it doesn't match the shade of the silver E-PL2 as well.

    Finally, it looks nice, but how does it feel? The lens feels good, but you can definitely feel the difference in the gnarling of the grip around the zoom and focus. The grip doesn't feel as "catchy" as the previous version. Having said that, we didn't have any problem with our fingers slipping while on the grip. We did notice, to our surprise, a big improvement in the feel of the manual focus. The manual focus ring felt better dampened. Whereas, with the previous version, the manual focus felt loose and airy, the manual focus of the newer version lens feels tighter and more firm.

  • A Review of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    We have to honest. Any time there is an announcement for a fixed-focal length, fast-aperture lens, we get pretty excited. Actually, that is a lie. We get VERY excited. When Olympus announced the 12mm f/2.0 and the 45mm f/1.8 we were happy for the micro four thirds market. Now that there are some years behind the mFT movement, and there are many individuals who have become entrenched in the system, it is great to see some serious additions from Olympus. That is not to say lenses like the 17mm f/2.8 or the 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 are not serious, but these lenses simply feel necessary, unlike the 12mm f/2.0, which took a lot of people by surprise with its announcement. In addition, the physical design of the lens looks like more effort was put into thinking about its look, feel, and use.

    We have heard some people say differently, but we think the 12mm f/2.0 looks great. The compact, clean, and metallic design complements the PEN cameras brilliantly. In addition, the 12mm f/2.0 is extremely light weight at a mere 130g. Normally we are a little hesitant with light lenses. Typically when you feel a light lens in your hand, it feels cheap. And, in our experience, that is usually the correct assumption. A lot of plastic is substituted where metal should have been used. In the case of the 12mm f/2.0, although it is very light, it does feel very solid. It may use a lot of plastic (we aren't sure, but we can see the mount is metal), but it certainly does not feel that way.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Metal Mount of Olympus 12mm f/2.0

    The dimensions of the lens are compact, which is great for use with a mFT camera. The lens does not protrude too much, and the balance feels great in the hands.

    Olympus PEN E-PL2 with 12mm f/2.0

    Olympus PEN E-PL2 with 12mm f/2.0

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus 12mm f/2.0 Next to a Nickel

    One of the really neat things about this lens is the "snap focus" feature. This is one of the reasons why we feel like the 12mm f/2.0 is a more "serious" product for the mFT market, and why we feel like Olympus really put a lot of thought into this lens. In many of the lighter, made-for-digital, and more plastic lenses we have seen, the manual focus is horrible. The manual focus usually feels very loose and "disconnected" from the lens. With the 12mm f/2.0, the focus ring actually snaps from auto to manual focus, just by pulling back (towards the camera) on the focus ring.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Manual Focus Engaged

    Once the manual focus is engaged, a distance scale is revealed, and the focus has a well-dampened movement. The dampening is excellent and reminds us of dedicated manual focus lenses, which is exactly the feel Olympus was trying to recreate. In addition, the manual focus with this lens is extremely easy. Easy in the sense that fine focus just seems to "snap" in to place. It is difficult to describe without seeing or feeling. We did create a short video to highlight the manual focus of the 12mm f/2.0, and we hope it gives you a better idea of how it all works.

    In talking about the manual focus, we should not let it distract us from the autofocus of this lens. The 12mm f/2.0 autofocus is extremely quick for mFT, and it is also extremely quiet, which Olympus attributes to the MSC (movie-still-compatible) mechanism. MSC essentially eludes to the fact that the quiet autofocus will not ruin videos produced with this lens because of annoying autofocus noises being recorded by the camera's internal mic. The fast, quiet autofocus is certainly a big advantage for both stills and video.

    With the compact size, light weight, solid feel, and fast autofocus, this lens was a treat to hold and use. In looking at and feeling the lens, it seemed like it had everything going for it, so we were anxious to take it out for some sample images. As much as we were pleased with the aspects of the 12mm f/2.0 mentioned above, we were thrilled with the image quality. Shot after shot taken with the lens left us impressed with the results. We found the sharpness to be top-notch, the contrast to be, well, contrasty, but not overly so, the chromatic aberrations were a minimum, the distortion was manageable for a 24mm (in 35mm terms) equivalent, and the color and clarity was superb.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThis was a difficult shot for a lens, but from this image you would not necessarily think it so. Just out of frame in the upper, right-hand corner was the sun. There were no clouds covering the sun, so it was directly approaching the front of the lens, although there were some trees to shield some of its power. I was surprised that the image held up as well as it did without any flaring or overall decrease in contrast.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThe level of detail retained by this lens is very impressive. You can see how sharp the above image really is from this crop.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensWe liked really liked and appreciated the overall brilliance, clarity, and color produced by this lens. The colors are pleasing, but still realistic to how we remember the scene.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensWith this image I took some artistic liberty. When I saw this booth, I thought it would be cool if you could see the back and the front at the same time. So, I decided to do just that, and cropped two images and spliced them into one.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThe image of Charlie was taken indoors and so the ISO was higher than some of the other images I took. Although the higher ISO detracts from the overall detail of the image, you can still see that with this lens there is still plenty of detail even when cropped in close.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensIn this image taken outdoors with a lower ISO, there is a great amount of detail. You can pick up spots of dirt on the towrope attachment. Also, notice the color of the overall image. You can feel the warmth of the evening light, and the blues are great.

    Inside the studio, we ran some shots using the 12mm f/2.0 on our lens test chart. We were very impressed with the results. The lens was across the board sharp, from the largest f/2.0 aperture down to the smallest available aperture of f/22.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/22

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/8

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/2

    We displayed the images above in reverse order on purpose. Normally you would expect the corner sharpness of a lens to improve as the aperture diaphragm is stopped down. In this case it almost seems like the opposite is true. For an aperture of f/22 it is expected that the sharpness will not be as good as, say, f/8 due to diffraction, so that is a little unfair on our part. But, it is pretty impressive how sharp the 12mm f/2 is at a wide open aperture of f/2. In addition, you can see that the chromatic aberration is pretty well controlled at the corners.

    Distortion for wider angle lenses is typically expected and the 12mm f/2.0 is no exception. The image below shows the barrel distortion caused by this lens.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensNotice how the center of the image is closer to the bottom of the frame than either of the edges are.

    If you haven't already concluded, we really like the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens designed for the micro four thirds camera system. From its looks, to its usability, to the image quality, this small lens has everything going for it. It does have a price tag that will put it out of reach for some people, and for those who can't afford it, we suggest saving your pennies (as my mother used to say). If you are interested in purchasing this lens, we offer it in our store or on our website here. If you are looking for a fast aperture, wide-angle fixed focal length lens for the mFT system, we just don't see how you can go wrong.

  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens vs. Non-L Lens Comparison

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM L vs. non-L LensesWhen Canon announced the 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens late last year, we took it as very welcoming news. We could not think of a customer who was not happy with their 70-200mm L lens in terms of performance (whatever version it may be, although the f/4 non-IS is our most popular seller most likely due to the size, weight and price), but many of those 70-200mm owners wished they could have just a little more reach without the heft and weight of the 100-400mm L lens, in addition to the more awkward "push-pull" zoom function (the 70-200mm f/4 L is approx. 1.5 lbs., the 70-300mm L is approx. 2.3 lbs. and the 100-400mm L is just over 3 lbs.). The 70-300mm L lens now fits perfectly in that void of L lenses: a good compromise in size, weight, and focal length.

    The non-L 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens has always been a good seller for us. The price is right for the quality and features packed into this lightweight and portable zoom telephoto lens. Our customers on the whole have always been pleased with this lens, although we normally do not market it to the most discerning enthusiasts or professionals. One question that we have been hearing for a little while now is how does this lens compare with the newer L version of the same focal length zoom? In terms of L lenses, the 70-300mm L lens is not necessarily considered expensive, but compared to the non-L 70-300mm lens, it certainly does seem expensive, considering it is close to $1000 more. So, again, customers wonder, how do they compare? Is the L lens really that much better? We decided we had to definitively find out for ourselves, so we got out our old lens test chart from the basement, and had a look. What we found was interesting.

    We first tested both L and non-L 70-300mm lenses at the 300mm focal length. Customers purchasing a longer focal length telephoto lens are most likely purchasing it because they are planning on using the longer focal length. So, it only makes sense to start testing the lens at the longer focal length end of the zoom. We decided to try the testing with the Canon 60D, which is currently our most popular selling Canon digital SLR camera body. We set up the camera on a tripod at 26 times the focal length being tested, and shot with the exact same settings, only changing the lens in between shooting through a couple of apertures. We made sure to turn off any in-camera corrections, like Canon's peripheral illumination correction, noise reduction, etc.. The differences between these two lenses at the 300mm focal length are very, well, different. The L lens, hands-down, wins. Browse through the images below to see for yourself. Each image is a 100% crop of the lowest most right-hand corner of the lens test chart.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/16

    non-L @ f/16

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/16

    L @ f/16

    We took a shot at f/16 to see both lenses closed down a bit. Looking at just the non-L image, you would consider that fairly sharp considering it is a 100% crop at the very edge of an image taken with a lens at 300mm. But, when you scroll down to see the image taken with the L lens, you realize the first is really not all that good. The clarity of the image taken with the L lens is phenomenal. The green and red Chromatic Aberrations of the non-L lens are very unsightly and distracting. The L lens holds them in check quite wonderfully.

    We then wanted to check the lenses both wide open. At the largest aperture, the optics of a lens are put to the test.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/5.6non-L @ f/5.6
    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/5.6

    L @ f/5.6

    As you can see, the non-L lens falls apart and turns to mush while at the largest aperture of f/5.6 for this focal length. Although no longer tac-sharp, the L lens still maintains definition--you can make out what some of the numbers are supposed to be.

    We then wanted to see what the images looked like at the shortest focal length of both these lenses--70mm. S0, we moved the tripod closer to the test chart and gave it another go. Here we are including just the image taken with these lenses wide-open, at f/4.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/4

    non-L @ f/4

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/4

    L @ f/4

    As you can see, at 70mm, there is not as great a difference between the two lenses as there was at 300mm. Both lenses are very sharp. If you quickly scroll up and down the L 70-300mm appears to have a little bit more clarity. As the aperture was stopped down, the differences between the two became less apparent.

    Although we did not have the time (this test was to just quickly see if there was a noticeable difference between the lenses) it would be interesting to try the lenses at other focal lengths to see how they compare. We imagine that most people purchasing a telephoto zoom will be leaning more towards the longer focal length end than the shorter focal length end of the zoom, and in comparing the two lenses at 300mm the L is therefore a much better lens to have in your camera bag. If you are looking for a telephoto zoom that will produce tac-sharp images, the L 70-300mm is an obvious choice. Also, you have to keep in mind that when purchasing this lens, the image quality is not the only part of the equation. The L lens is more solid, and better weather sealed. It just feels more sturdy in the hand. In addition, the speed of the autofocus is phenomenally fast. If you are looking to capture images of wildlife, the L 70-300mm is a great choice for getting quick-moving animals (think birds in flight) in focus and capturing them in a tac-sharp image.

    If you are interested in purchasing either of the lenses mentioned here, please visit our retail website by clicking here.

     

  • Hoodman RAW STEEL SD Memory Cards: Why you need one (or two)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Most major camera equipment manufacturer's are now making almost all of their digital cameras with Secure Digital (SD) memory for the storage platform. The once popular compactflash card is slowly being pushed aside, and for very good reason--size. Using a smaller storage device allows equipment makers to either decrease the size of their cameras, or to pack more image-crunching electronics inside the same sized body.

    Another benefit of SD memory: less breakdowns. As often as once every week we see a customer walk through our doors with a very sour look on their face. The culprit for the poor mood is a bent pin in their camera's CF card reader. If you have a digital camera that takes CF memory, take a look inside the door where the memory card goes. Inside there you will see two rows of gold-colored pins. If a CF card does not align just right when being inserted into the card reader, you can very easily bend one or more of those pins. Once that happens, lights out, and time to send the camera in for a repair. SD cards have electrical contacts on the back side, and they do not require intrusive pins to transfer data--just other electrical contacts to press up against them.

    Hoodman has been making innovative products for a while now, and we like their products and them as a company. Recently they developed a more ruggedized version of the standard SD card. These cards cost a little more than the ordinary card, but for good reason. More care is put in to the manufacturing of these cards, and it means better results and longer life for your precious photographs.

    First, these cards meet class 10 specifications, so they are fast. Fast enough for the highest resolution, video-shooting DSLRs currently out there. Second, they are waterproof, so go ahead and forget them in your pants's pocket and throw them in the wash. If you do a lot of shooting, you most likely know what that is like. Third, the actually memory chip is physically smaller. Why would that matter? The plastic housing has more plastic in it because the memory chip and associated electronics are taking up less room, which makes it more rigid and stronger. Fourth, there is an actual steel plate affixed to the top of the card. Again, more rigidity to help the card from being cracked or ruined. Fifth, and the coolest part, there's no soldering. These cards have acid-etched circuitry right on board. Less solder means less additional conduits for the data to travel through where noise can be induced in your photographs (and you thought a photograph was just a photograph).

    The product manager from Hoodman was recently at our store, and he allowed us to take his sample RAW STEEL memory card apart to photograph the insides. He also had a very well loved traditional SD card already taken apart for us to photograph too.

    Here is the top view to showcase the steel plate of the Hoodman RAW STEEL card:

    Hoodman RAW STEEL SD Card Steel Plate ViewHere is the card taken apart. The part with the gold electrical contacts is the entire memory chip. The rest of the plastic housing where this chip does not sit is filled in with more plastic to be more rigid (32GB memory chip is larger, so this does not apply for that card).

    Hoodman RAW STEEL SD Memory Card Internal Components

    Here is a closer look at the memory component and associated electronics:

    Hoodman RAW STEEL SD Memory Card Memory ComponentCompare that to a traditional card where everything is laid out in the open and not as compact (probably not good if the card becomes water-born):

    Traditional SD Memory Card Internal ComponentsDue to the larger size of the internal structure the external plastic housing is thin and frail (and as you can see cracks and breaks easily):

    Plastic Housing of a Tradition SD Memory Card

    If you are serious about your photography and use your equipment hard, you should definitely consider the RAW STEEL cards available by Hoodman. We carry the full line of Hoodman Raw Steel SD memory cards, and they can be found for sale at our website here:

    Hoodman 4GB RAW STEEL SDHC Memory Card
    Hoodman 8GB RAW STEEL SDHC Memory Card
    Hoodman 16GB RAW STEEL SDHC Memory Card
    Hoodman 32GB RAW STEEL SDHC Memory Card

  • First Impressions of the New Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Nikon has been going through some of their most popular lenses and updating them with enhanced features like, but not limited to, SWM (silent wave motor, designated by the AF-S), the addition of an aspheric lens element (to help correct spherical and optical abberations), and full-time manual focus override (allowed by the SWM). The AF-S 85mm f/1.4 and AF-S 50mm f/1.4 are a couple of other lenses that I can quickly think of that have also gone through this type of updating. The latest to this updating is the very popular Nikon 50mm f/1.8. We recently received the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G lens, and were curious how it stacked up.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    The older version Nikon 50mm f/1.8 was considered a must-have lens, if for no other reason than the $134 price tag. The new AF-S 50mm f/1.8G is over 60% more expensive, but still very reasonably priced at $219. There aren't many quality lenses out there in this price range. We've been seeing a lot of more modern, inexpensively priced lenses being made with plastic lens mounts. Although this will not hinder the image-making performance of the lens, we've seen a lot of broken lenses having to go out for repair due to the plastic mounts cracking, snapping, or wearing over time to a state of being loose from mounting and unmounting the lens to camera bodies. The new 50mm f/1.8 to our excitement has a shiny, all-metal mount:

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G LensWhile staying on the topic of build quality, the build quality of this updated lens is great. The focus ring is larger and more burly than the previous version, making for an easy grip for manual focusing, and the overall design and finish of the lens is clean. This lens even has a rubberized gasket around the metal mount to help keep out dust and moisture when mounted to a camera body.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G LensThis Father's Day weekend, I had my nephew's birthday party to attend, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to take the new 50mm f/1.8 for a stroll. I gave the lens a test drive with the Nikon D7000. I was extremely impressed with the results.

    The first thing I noticed with this lens is that it was still very sharp wide open, especially for a lens in its price range, and provided an excellent overall wide-open image quality with the D7000. This lens is compatible with FX cameras (full frame digital and film cameras), and it would be interesting to see how the corners look there. But, on a DX (crop) camera, I was impressed.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Lens set at maximum aperture: f/1.8

     

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Same image with 100% crop on in-focus area

    The silent wave motor was fast and silent. I was able to pop off several shots of my 6 year old nephew (who, like any 6 year old, changes his expression every fraction of a moment), and I couldn't even hear the lens working. Although I did not test the video much, anyone shooting video with the autofocus engaged will appreciate the silence of this lens, instead of hearing the whir-clink-whir-clink-whir-clink of a more noisy, non-SWM lens.

    Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 made for some extremely sharp images. In a couple of cases (do I dare say it?), the images were so sharp I felt it detracted from the photograph. Sometimes seeing every nook and cranny is not the most aesthetically pleasing experience for a photograph.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Lens set to f/5.6, 100% crop of portrait

    Overall I was very pleased with my experience over the weekend of using this lens. Compact, quick, silent, sharp, overall pleasing bokeh, with minimal aberrations for my lighting conditions, and good build quality...all at an affordable price.  Throughout the day I kept looking at my images and thinking, these look really good, which, to me, makes for a worthwhile lens. Please see some more examples below to get a better overall feel for the lens:

    For the money, I really don't see how you could go wrong with this lens. For full-frame users, it might be a different story, if the edges fall completely apart. All of the images shown in this article are unaltered, except for the 100% crops, which were cropped...of course. I didn't need to apply any unsharp mask, etc., although I was using the D7000 saving to JPG, so there was some sharpening going on there. In conclusion, I would recommend this lens to a friend.

    If you have any questions about the lens, please feel free to comment on this post. If you are interested in purchasing this lens, please visit our website by clicking on this text.

  • Nikon Coolpix P7000 Real World First Impressions

    We've had the Nikon Coolpix P7000 in the store now since September, but we've been so busy we haven't had time to really try the camera out. Yes, there are always the moments in the store when we have a few minutes between customers and we sneak a chance to play with the latest and greatest, but it wasn't until this weekend that we really got to try out the new P7000.

    Nikon Coolpix P7000 High-End Digital Point & Shoot

    For those who are not aware, the Nikon Coolpix P7000 is Nikon's high-end digital point and shoot. This relatively compact digital camera has a lot of advanced features, and many external buttons for the advanced user who wants quick manual control over their picture taking experience.

    The P7000 features a 1/1.7" 10.1 megapixel CCD image sensor. It also features a very useful 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens with a maximum aperture range of 2.8-5.6. Some of the advanced features include a 1/4000 sec. maximum shutter speed and the ability to shoot in RAW. Unfortunately the RAW file type is not the same as Nikon's D-SLRs (NRW instead of NEF), so Nikon D-SLR users won't find it a seamless process editing the P7000, and their D-SLR RAW, files. For a full list of specifications, please feel free to visit Nikon's website, www.nikonusa.com.

    This weekend we took a few pictures of a barn being built in Milton, VT, and a couple other shots during a short walk in the woods in Williston, VT. First, we will show you the images, and then we will talk about real world first impressions.

    Overall we found the P7000 to be a great, relatively compact digital camera. The image quality is impressive for a point and shoot, and we found the lens to be very sharp. As you can see, we really enjoyed the in-camera black and whites. The camera is extremely light, and especially for how rugged it feels, so carrying it around was a breeze.

    The P7000 offers a lot of external buttons, and at first we found this to be a drawback. The number of buttons, and the overall button layout seemed to slow us down during our picture taking. Of course, and as with anything, once we got familiar with the button configuration, handling the camera was a lot more fun. We did find the exposure compensation dial to be one of the most useful external controls, and the camera seemed to react quickly once the exposure compensation was adjusted, and the LCD instantly displayed a preview of what we could expect. The dial on top of the camera that controls ISO and other functions was unlike the exposure compensation. Using this dial felt "laggy", and changing the ISO seemed to take longer than it really should.

    As mentioned above, we found the lens to be impressively sharp. In addition, the zoom range is very useful. We never really found ourselves wanting more, be it wider angle or more telephoto. For a compact, the 28-200mm zoom range seems to hit a sweet, useful spot for us. We did find the autofocus to overall be very quick for a compact camera, but when we were taking a picture of a darker scene, or something without a lot of contrast, the autofocus had a difficult time. In low light or low contrast we often had the camera hunt for focus, stop, and then give us a blank screen with a message that the lens was initializing. We can see how this could be extremely frustrating, especially if something important was waiting to be captured.

    When taking digital photographs we usually like to take advantage of the instant feedback at our fingertips. So, we often review our photographs, checking for sharp focus. With the P7000 we did find this to be a slower process. Zooming in during playback was "laggy", and then zooming back out just doubled that effort. What we saw when we did zoom in made us happy, however; because there we saw accurate, sharp focus.

    Overall we really enjoyed the P7000. We really liked its light, rugged feel. Carrying it on us wasn't a chore, at all. We thought the bulkier size for a point and shoot would be noticeable, but the light weight kept it from being a drag. Our only qualms with it didn't really have to do with image quality. For a point and shoot, it is definitely at the high-end. We did notice reduced color saturation in dimmer lighting, but this is to be expected. The combination of a longer zoom lens that is also very sharp helped with our creativity. As you can see, we really enjoyed the in-camera black and white functionality of this camera, and thought it made some really dramatic black and whites, which, for us, is the joy of black and white photographs. Many photographers looking for a high-end point and shoot will want this camera to function like an SLR. The reality is that this camera is still a point and shoot, and, therefore, very portable, so it should not be expected to handle like an SLR. For those not expecting it to handle like an SLR, but are still looking for a very high quality, portable camera, we definitely recommend the P7000.

    Interested in purchasing the Nikon Coolpix P7000? Find it by clicking here.

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