Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS

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A few years ago, my wife arranged for a group of my friends to surprise me for my birthday.  My friend Steve surprised me even more with the very generous gift of a Nikon FM2 and an assortment of AIS lenses.  Among them was this absolute gem, the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS.

It is small, it is light, it is one of my all-time favorite street photography lenses, and it is still being manufactured by Nikon (since 1984!).  In fact, not only is this lens still sold new, but it is more expensive over the counter than Nikon’s AF-D version.




Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G Lens

Posted in 35mm, perception, photography, technique by Jason Gray on June 19, 2011

This lens was a popular model offered originally as a kit lens with the Nikon D70.  Although an inexpensive option, this lens can produce some extraordinary results when compared to other lenses in its class, and really is a wonderful value, considering its surprisingly good image quality (decent out-of-focus, good acutance, and good contrast) when shot wide open.  It is pretty compact, falling in size somewhere between the 28-80mm G kit and the 18-105mm G kit lenses, but feels closer to the 18-105, in terms of build quality.

The lens that I used for this review was supplied by my friend, Joe, and everyone knows my fondness for the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G, so I will be comparing Joe’s lens to my own favorite compact zoom.


Vintage Sigma Zooms

Posted in 35mm, black and white, film, photography by Jason Gray on February 6, 2011

Recently, a friend of mine lent me two, vintage, Sigma zooms to evaluate before he started using them on his film bodies. Joe (the friend) knew that zooms of a certain era can be hit or miss (some still are, in my opinion), and he didn’t want to waste the film testing them. Well, I am happy to report that both zooms are functional, and neither appear to have noticeable mold growth. This means that I was able to use and test the lenses without worrying about superficial factors intervening. There were some caveats though, but I will get to them a bit later.

Note, all of the shots featuring either lens were taken with the other. Reviews after the jump–>

Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G Lens.

Posted in 35mm, photography, technique by Jason Gray on September 26, 2010

For DX shooters on a budget, there is no Nikon lens out there which better combines cost, performance, and size into a standard/”normal” focal length (for DX, normal is between 28mm and 35mm, depending upon whose formula you use). In my opinion, if you are interested in one of the entry level models in the Nikon line-up, I would start with the camera, this lens, and the sb-400, and see where that takes you (sell the kit lenses to subsidize the purchase of this lens and the flash). Some would argue that having 18-200/300mm covered is more important than owning a fast, normal prime, and to those, I would suggest sticking with a Coolpix (which will give you that coverage, in a more compact package) because you are not yet interested in all that the step up to a DSLR can provide.

Anyway, I am digressing a bit. This little lens gives you so much and costs so little that it is virtually a non-decision about whether or not to purchase it. Performance wise, it focuses relatively fast (and internally and with the entry models), is nicely sharp, and features decent out-of-focus rendering.

All lens pics, Nikon D300 with Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G.

More shots and stats after the jump–>

Tokina 80-200mm f/2.8 AT-x PRO Lens

Posted in photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on May 11, 2010

Easily the best value I have ever stumbled across (I found mine used for $15!!; more likely they are from $150-300 used), this Tokina is some serious glass! Like I said before, I rarely shoot at focal lengths over my Nikkor 105mm f/2.8, but when I do, this is the lens that I reach for. It is a solid metal construction that just works (the guys behind Tokina are Nikon runaways). If you don’t need the AF/VR of the more expensive, newer lenses, you’d be foolish to pass this one up for any other reason.

All pics Nikon D300 with Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G lens.

More shots and stats after the jump–>

Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G Lens

Posted in photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on May 11, 2010

This Nikkor lens is a little secret-ok, not really since it was packaged with a very popular selling Nikon DSLR, but the standard view is that it is merely a kit lens-, but the big secret is that this former kit lens has staying power. First, the bad, it is all plastic, pretty slow at the long end, and is prone to flares. Now, the good, it is remarkably fast for a kit at the wide end, relatively sharp, and a good all around performer. When you throw in its used price to the mix, the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G is a great value, and an excellent walk-around lens. On that note, if you have read the rest of my lens reviews, then you should know that the lenses that are most typically on my cameras when I am out and about are: for older film, the Nikkor 35-135mm or the Nikkor 50mm; for newer film and digital, the Nikkor 50mm or the lens in this article. I am so comfortable shooting this lens that it is one of the two lenses that I took with me to shoot behind the scenes at St. Louis Fashion Week! Plus, this lens is fully compatible with the Nikon sb-400 Speedlight; barrel shadow is a non-issue.

If you are looking for a good-performing, used gem to add to your line-up, look no further. This lens is a consistent over-performer in an under-appreciated bracket.

All Pics with Nikon D300 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G Lens.

More shots and stats after the jump–>

Nikon 50mm f/1.8E Lens

Posted in photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on May 10, 2010

Say what?! A Pentax lens on a Nikon F Mount? Nah, I just use a Pentax lens cap that I found to protect my 30 year old, Nikon E Series 50mm (cheaper than buying a Nikon one). This lens may be old, and manual focus, but it is definitely not obsolete optically. I’ve already gushed about how great a value the “Nifty Fifty” is, this because of its price versus performance ratio, but this little Nikon might be even better. I know that I prefer it optically over the Nikkor D lens (on paper it’s hard to pinpoint why, since they appear virtually identical), so really the only reason why it doesn’t stay on my camera bodies instead of the later version are 1. no AF (necessary when shooting events) and 2. it only meters on one of my current, digital bodies (the D300). That said, I do still take it out a great deal on shoots for when I have the time to gather the shot (more a lack of trust in my manual focusing capabilities than in the lens’).

Anyway, the E Series was released simultaneous to the Nikon EM, and it was meant to sell to a more casual caste of photographer. For this reason, the E Series lenses were the first to feature large portions of plastic in their makeup, among other concessions from the established Nikkor prototype. This is why this lens is a “Nikon” versus a “Nikkor”. However, don’t let that fool you; in today’s camera market, plastic has long had a place in even lenses that are considered “professional” and Nikkor no longer reserves its nomenclature for those with strictly an all metal makeup. Fact is, this is a tough lens, and it feels that way (especially up against the current “Nifty Fifty”).

All shots Nikon D300 with Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G Lens.

More shots and stats after the jump–>

Nikkor 35-135mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Lens

Posted in 35mm, photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on May 9, 2010

The Nikkor 35-135 f/3.5-4.5 AF is a push/pull lens with very decent performance. Before I begin, it is worthwhile to note that this lens is the DX equivalent of a 55-200mm zoom, so it is up to you whether you would prefer the actual lower f-stop on this lens or the equivalent offered through VR technology in the newer 55-200 DX. I’ve read great things said about Nikon’s 55-200, and it goes without saying that this older model takes some great pictures. If I were making the decision today, I don’t know which one I’d choose; generally, I prefer an actual lower f/stop to just VR though (especially at the telephoto end). I am positive, though, that the older lens is heavier and larger than the newer one, but it also contains more metal components as well.

Anyway, this lens works for me mostly in the context of what I shoot on film. It is the lens that lives on my 8008s and frequently finds itself on the 6006, also. This lens was a steal when I bought it used, and it still is. If you decide to go this route, don’t look back. However, if you own one of the lower-end Nikons (D40, D60, D3000, D5000, etc.), this lens will not auto-focus. The push/pull feature took some getting used to, but I got the hang of it eventually, and I actually kind of prefer it.

Note: There is a “D” version of this lens, which offers slightly better metering because of “distance” information supplied to the metering equation.

All pics with Nikon D300 and Tokina 80-200mm f/2.8 AT-x PRO lens.

More pics and stats after the jump–>

Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G

Posted in photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on May 9, 2010

As I write this, I am still suffering from a mysterious, late spring, flu bug, so if it comes off as slightly crazy, well, then I blame it on being sick. In any case, every photographer has at least one lens that they just know to go to for certain types of photos; a lens that reaches this level of confidence for the photographer because it has characteristics that go unmatched anywhere else in his/her arsenal. For me, the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G lens is my obvious choice for macro work, product photography (evidenced by most of my camera and lens reviews), and portraiture. Granted, some photogs don’t like to use the 105 for portraits because of its extreme sharpness, but I disagree (after all, you can always edit out sharpness, but seldom edit it in). When I am shooting weddings, I generally have this lens on at least one of my camera bodies (it operates superbly with my Nikon N80), and this is because it gives me flexibility in low-light, a nice working distance for candids, and wonderful bokeh (the best of all my lenses).

If you have been considering purchasing this lens, it definitely gets my endorsement. In terms of weaknesses, I can only speak of its tendency to “search” for focus in low-light (has to do a bit with its macro capability). However, this can be gotten around by manually correcting the focus. And in all fairness, it is usually a non-issue, anyway. Nonetheless, this lens has a nice hefty weight that balances out most camera bodies, is solidly constructed, features excellent optical performance, and focuses completely internally (that’s why I don’t have any pics of it, below, in different focus positions).

All Nikon D300 with Tokina 80-200mm f/2.8 AT-x PRO lens.

More photos and stats after the jump–>