The new super wide angle Distagon T* f/2.8 15mm lens for Canon and Nikon mounts is neither lightweight nor inexpensive (1.6 lb for Nikon, 1.8 lb for Canon mount, $2950) but what you get from this manual focus lens is exceptional image quality and facility that is perhaps unmatched by any other lens in its focal length class. With a 95mm filter thread and integral and fully compatible lens shade, the lens offers an extraordinary 110-degree angle of view that is pleasure to work with on a wide variety of subjects. The fast f/2.8 aperture is matched on the narrow end by a minimum aperture of f/22, which at 15mm means there’s potential for extraordinary depth of field effects using the 10-inch closest focusing range. While decidedly not a portrait lens, the 15mm is ideal for landscape, street photography and creative advertising work, as well as architectural and urban photography, as I discovered in mybrief time working with it.
There are two general classifications of lenses that define how you use them in the field—zooms and single focal length, the former being a variable focal length lens that has many convenient advantages, and the latter being a single focal length that, in the group we’re covering here, is what’s known as a “fast” lens. Fast doesn’t mean that it focuses quicker than its zoom cousins, though it might—it usually means that it offers a wide maximum aperture, anywhere from f/1.2 to f/2.8, and that aperture stays put, unlike some zooms where the aperture varies by going narrower as you zoom into longer focal lengths. And to help refine the group we’re covering here we’re also topping out the focal length at 50mm, which makes these lenses prime for street and low-light photography, candid and photojournalism work.
The 85mm VR Micro Nikkor ($529.95, MSRP) benefits from next-generation VR II technology and is stated to deliver usable results at up to four steps below the optimum shutter speed. Keep in mind that we’re dealing with a DX-dedicated lens for an APS-C sensor camera (like my D300). So the optimum shutter speed when shooting handheld and without VR on translates into 1/(Lens Focal Length x Sensor Factor), or 1⁄85mm x 1.5, or 1⁄125 sec (rounded off). (Because this is a DX lens and this is Nikon, the multiplication factor is 1.5, so the effective focal length is approximately 128mm.)
Canon offers five different 70-300mm zoom lenses in its product lineup. Why so many? They obviously think this is a popular and practical focal length range and I happen to agree. I even own one of them myself—the EF 70-300mm
f/4-5.6 IS USM—but the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM tested is the mac daddy of ’em all. Part of the reason for its high price tag ($1599) is that it’s the only one of the five lenses that is resplendent in white paint (the better for TV cameras to see), making it part of the “L” series. (See “Just For The ‘L’ Of It.”) Canon’s L lenses typically have wide apertures fixed throughout the zoom range but in this case all five lenses in this focal length range have identical f/4-5.6 apertures. The new Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM telephoto zoom lens features two Ultra Low Dispersion (UD) elements for improved image quality and reduced chromatic aberration. It incorporates a floating focusing mechanism for sharpness from close-up (3.9 feet) to infinity plus an Image Stabilization (IS) system that Canon claims increases usability by approximately four stops. The IS system includes a function that allows it to continue to operate even when the camera or the lens, the latter being a better idea, is mounted on a tripod. There’s an optional ($189.95) Canon Tripod Mount C for mounting on a tripod or monopod but I was unable to get one for testing. The lens is dust- and water-resistant and features a Fluorine coating that resists smears and fingerprints and significantly eases lens cleaning, but that doesn’t make me suggest less vigorous lens protection. More later.
With the availability of sky-high ISOs on digital cameras and VR on slower lenses, some have argued that it’s not practical or economical to work with fast, prime lenses anymore. On the other hand, lenses like the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED (list: $2200) and 50mm f/1.4G (list: $485) serve a distinct purpose for not only the obvious low-light advantages but also for the very, very shallow depth of field they can deliver.
I really like extreme lenses. Extremely wide, extremely fast, and extremely long lenses will all allow you to create unique images that stand out from the crowd. When I heard about the Sigma 8-16mm lens I wanted to get my hands on one and start shooting, so I asked my editor if I could borrow one from Sigma for testing. He wanted to know what I was going to do with it, so naturally I told him: take portraits. You might, as he did, find this a little odd—taking portraits with a wide-angle lens, and a very wide lens at that. After all, don’t photographers usually use long lenses for portraits?
Why are photographers taught to use long lenses for portraits? There are four basic tenets behind this reasoning: narrow angle of view, shallow depth of field, flattering perspective, and a comfortable working distance between you and your subject. However, flip these “rules” on their head and you’ll see why I like working with wides: wide angle of view, great potential depth of field, unique perspective, and, oddly enough, working right in your subject’s face. In short, I use the special nature of a wide lens to give my portraits a new and unique look.
Every lens maker offers standard types of lenses: wide angle, normal, and telephoto zooms plus several primes in popular focal lengths. Although highly useful, these lenses alone do not represent the breadth of offerings available. Hidden away within the lineups of many lens makers are specialty models which, even if they aren’t suitable for one’s purposes at any given time, are fascinating not only for their unique qualities but also because they might someday be the perfect tool for a specific shooting situation.
Perhaps the most versatile of all moderate tele zoom focal lengths, the 70-200mm or thereabouts range is a hallmark and standard-bearer for many optical companies. Being a constant aperture (fast) zoom, this lens opens up numerous focusing, depth of field and perhaps as important low light shooting possibilities that make it a lens most Canon photographers aspire to own. Introduced last year, we got a chance to work with one and were so impressed we thought we’d revisit it with a quick review.
Tamron has always been a pioneer in the do-everything zoom lens category and their new AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD lens is no exception. Don’t be intimidated by those initials—it’s all good stuff—and I’ll get to them shortly. The 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 is part of Tamron’s Di II family of lenses that are engineered specifically for digital SLRs with image sensors measuring 24x16mm, typically referred to as APS-C. The sensor size of the Canon EOS 50D I tested the lens with measures 22.3x14.9mm so I guess that’s close enough. The 15x zoom range of the lens provides a 35mm focal length equivalency of 28.8-432mm with the Canon EOS 50D’s 1.6x multiplication factor, but that will be slightly different for the Nikon and Sony versions that are also available. Shooting full frame? Check out Tamron’s Di lens series for 35mm film cameras or digital SLRs featuring larger (24x36mm) sensors.
For the first time, Tamron has incorporated an Ultrasonic Silent Drive, or USD, with full-time manual override in this zoom lens, making it a competitive technology with Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor, Canon’s Ultrasonic Motor (USM), and Sony’s Super Sonic wave Motor.
One of the great things about photokina is that you find a lot of “straws in the wind”: not necessarily major introductions from major manufacturers, but intriguing indicators of which way the wind is blowing.
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Lens Sigma introduced their new 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens. This large aperture, standard zoom lens was created for APS-C digital cameras and features Sigma’s Optical Stabilization functionality, which allows you to shoot handheld at shutter speeds nearly four steps slower than would otherwise be possible. It also features their...
Nikon’s S-Series COOLPIX There are three new S-series COOLPIX cameras from Nikon. The S8000 features a 10x optical zoom ED glass lens, a four-way Vibration Reduction (VR) Image Stabilization System, ISO settings to 3200, and a 3” LCD screen. It can record HD movies with stereo sound and has a Sport Continuous mode. Colors for the S8000 include black, red...
Fisheye optics are an unusual beast. The bulbous nature of the front element is one characteristic trademark, but the unique view this lens affords us is what makes it truly appealing—and at the same time challenging to work with.
My fisheye lenses have literally widened my view of the world around me and given me a new perspective on my photography. Admittedly, some...
Nikon’s entry into past universal 80-200mm f/2.8 lenses started back in 1978 with a manual focus, push-pull lens checking in at 4 lbs. Ten years later the autofocus model arrived sporting ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass; ’92 marked the “D” package. In ’96 the AF-S version came along, followed by the new generation of front motor drive “G” models. Now we...