goldenpiggy's reviews

  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Sharp, sharp, and sharp even wide open
    Visible barrel distortion, falloff in the corners

    I'll cut to the chase: EVERYONE WHO OWNS A DX SENSOR NIKON SLR NEEDS TO PLACE AN ORDER FOR THIS LENS NOW! You NEED this lens. It is going to be a very hot item, much like when the 18-200VR came out.

    I picked up this lens today at Yodobashi Camera in Japan. It was the last one they had. Price was 29,900 yen before their customary 10% discount. Ouch. It's significantly more expensive in Japan than elsewhere. What can I do, I currently live and work in Japan.

    I don't have equivalent lenses to compare to, so I'll make a lot of comparisons to other lenses I own. Sorry.

    Quick takes:

    Lens made in China
    Comes with hood, pouch, front/rear caps.

    Build quality: Very good. Surprisingly good for the amount of money. Yes it has metal mounts and rubber gasket, which I didn't expect for the price. It does not look or feel like a low end lens. Feels more solid than the older ( non AF-S) 50mm f/1.4 and 1.8. Those 50mm lens look and feel cheap in comparison. My only complaint with the 35mm f/1.8 DX is the somewhat wobbly manual focus ring which has play in the horizontal axis. I think it's the same issue with the new 50mm f/1.4 AF-S in that the ring is all the way in front, so it's not sandwiched into the lens body. The manual focus ring on my 18-200VR feels much better.

    Size & Weight: This lens is bulkier than the older (non AF-S) 50mm f/1.4 and 1.8 due to the silent wave motor around the glass. But it's light as hell, and that's what makes it so great on the D300 which is a heavy body. I do not miss the weight of the 18-200VR.

    Filter: takes standard 52mm filters. Not sure if you need filter as a protection since the glass is fairly well-recessed, the front element doesn't rotate, and the price isn't that much.

    Viewfinder: wow, what a difference a fast lens can make. The image in the viewfinder just got really bright. It's great.

    AF: very fast but not snapping fast on the D300. Probably fast like all AF-S lenses, although I was expecting it be instantaneous. There's no focus hunting whatsoever. Minimum focusing distance is about 1 foot, which is great. The lens is just about silent when focusing.

    MF: great because being an AF-S lens, you just leave the focus switch on the lens to "M/A" and grab the focus ring anytime. The focus ring has good resistance, but it is not totally fluid or smooth when you rotate. You can feel small "steps" as you rotate the ring. When you go from clockwise to counterclockwise and vice versa, there's a little play. My 18-200VR has none of these problems. There is no distance scale.

    Sharpness: AWESOME. This is an extremely sharp lens, center to almost corners. I don't have equivalent lens to compare, but it is subjectively sharper wide-open than all my other lens stopped down to their best f-stop (18-200VR, 80-200 f/2.8 AF-D. 300 f/4. Tokina 11-16). Stopped down to f/2 through f/2.8 and it gets ever so slightly sharper in the center and noticeably sharper in the corners. Going beyond f/2.8 didn't seem to improve sharpness for me. Don't get me wrong, corners are already good wide open. Which is what makes this lens so good. It's one you can truly use wide open. (For example, I have to stop down to f/4 on my Tokina 11-16 to get really sharp images).

    Note: I don't have test charts to test sharpness. My testing is not scientific: I take close-up shots of things printed on an offset printing press such as product packaging, magazine covers etc. I then zoom in and look at how well defined the halftones are. On very sharp lens you can see very well defined halftone shapes and edges. On soft lens, these halftones are kind blurred. This method worked well for me.

    Image quality: contrast is as good as my other lenses (better than Tokina 11-16). I have not shot outdoors yet, so I can't tell you about ghosting and flaring. I shoot JPEG on the D300, so it takes care of CA problems and I couldn't detect any. My only complaint in the image qualiy department are: some corner light falloff and barrel distortion. No big deal, as we can fix these things with Photoshop, DXO, etc.

    Conclusion: This is a remarkable lens for the price. I don't know how they did it. The sharpest lens I owned prior to this was, believe it or not, the 18-135mm Nikon. I sold that to get the less-sharp 18-200VR. The 35mm DX blows the 18-135 out of the water. Not even close. I wouldn't be surprised if the 35mm DX tests out sharper than the new 50mm AF-S. With this lens, looking through the viewfinder and looking at the subject with my eyes give the same distance and depth of field. It will be the lens to stay on my D300 most of the time.

    You will not regret buying this lens.

    reviewed March 7th, 2009 (purchased for $269)
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 PRO DX SD

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Third time's the charm. Now it's truly spectacular.
    It took 3 tries to get a good copy.

    UPDATE 3/12/09

    Sun was out in force this morning so I took outdoor shots with the second copy of this lens (first one was very soft across all aperture and FL -- I exchanged it). It quickly became apparent that some of the glass was not ground properly on this one. In some parts of the image, the CA exhibited was truly atrocious (it was cyan color), far worse anything I've ever seen. CA was far beyond anything the D300 could correct. I don't even know if you can call it CA -- the lens behaved like a prism, splitting out cyan color. For $700, I said no way and took the lens back to the store.

    They gave me hell, saying there was nothing wrong with the lens. This time I brought my D300 and showed them picture after picture with CA visible on the tiny 3" LCD and fuzzy shots galore. They finally caved in and let me exchange for one last time, making a note so there'd be no more exchanges.

    This time I tested the lens right in front of the sales people. Difference was truly night and day. This third copy was spectacularly sharp even wide open. I saw no CA that I can detect zooming in (the D300 does a great job getting rid of CA if shooting in JPEG). I finally got a good copy that substantiates the good reviews all over the net.

    It's unfortunate that 2 out of 3 lens were unacceptable. I've never had any experience like this. I've never had to exchange any of my Nikon lens, which includes 18-135, two 18-200VR, 80-200 f/2.8D, 300mm f/4, and the 35mm f/1.8G DX. They just worked right straight out of their boxes.

    It would be unfair to rate the Tokina 11-16 poorly based on what were definitely two defective lens. I am extremely happy with the third one. It is supremely sharp even wide open. At at f/4 - f/8, the Tokina obliterated my (very sharp copies) 18-200VR. I would dare to say the 3rd Tokina is encroaching on sharpness territory of my 35mm f/1.8G DX, which is truly amazing.

    Thus, I am re-rating this lens' image quality to 10.

    Hopefully it was just my bad luck to get a couple from a bad batch. Nobody should have to go through 3 to find one good one on a $600+ lens. Sure hope Tokina gets their act together soon. I can't stress enough that if you're in the market for this particular lens, make sure you buy it from a place that will let you exchange. There's definitely QC issues going on here.

    Good luck to you and hope you find a sharp copy the first time around. Make sure you test the hell out of it.

    ORIGINAL REPORT 3/10/09:

    After reading all the reviews I could find on the net, I decided to take a plunge. This lens is not cheap in Japan, where everything is overpriced. But it is readily available here, and the store allows exchange if I wasn't happy.

    Thank goodness for that exchange policy. The first copy was soft even in the center at all focal lengths and aperture. CA was good though, and corners wasn't far worse than center.

    I did my usual sharpness test by shooting a product packaging that was printed using an offset press via process color (halftoning). I picked a product packaging that has small black text on a light background. In process color, black text is usually printed in only black ink, so it is sharp and high contrast. The light background has halftoning.

    I get the lens as close to the packaging as possible, turn off auto ISO, use a tripod and remote release, and shoot at all apertures at 11mm and 16mm.

    On truly sharp lens, the black text is tack sharp, very high contrast, and is truly black. I can see the halftone patterns of the background right down to the well defined shape of the halftone cells (usuall hexagonal or octogonal).

    Sad to say, my 18-200 VR at 18mm wide open was significantly sharper than the Tokina. I was astounded. I own two 18-200 VR's (don't ask), and am lucky to have very sharp copies. I repeated my test a couple of times, and every time the Tokina would turn out low contrast, soft images. Only when I did auto focus adjustment on the D300 to +15 did it get significantly better. Now mind you, the lens was less than a foot away from the test target. Stopping down to f/4 helped, but not by much.

    I also noticed a speck and a very fine scratch on the lens front. That was enough to make me go exchange the lens. I could have exchanged it for the newer version of the Tokina 12-24 f/4, but decided to get a different copy of the 11-16.

    The 2nd 11-16 was significantly sharper, by a wide margin. Actually I only need to stop down to f/3.5 to get very good sharpness. But this second lens has much worse CA than the first. Even the built-in correction on D300 couldn't get rid of it all. Also, the 2nd copy was softer than the first in he corners (much sharper in the center).

    Needless to say, I'm a little disappointed with the IQ of the 11-16. Build quality is top notch, but contrast, sharpness, and CA are all below my expectation. I guess I was expecting this thing to blow away the 18-200 in terms of sharpness, which it didn't. There's just too much variance in these lenses. Maybe they're just cranking them out now and QC is a little lax.

    Well I'm not going to push my luck and exchange it again. I decided to keep the lens since the CA can be corrected. I don't want to spend so much on the Nikon 12-24, and I'm gun shy about Sigma and Tamron. But I second-guess myself whether I should have gotten the newest version of the Tokina 12-24 instead.

    I've owned only one Tokina before this (28-70 f/2.6-2.8). That one had backfocusing issue -- I never could get it to be tack sharp. I also owned a Sigma and Tamron, and the build quality on them were pretty shoddy.

    All my other lenses are Nikon. I hate to say it, but variation from lens to lens is much better controlled in Nikon lenses.

    What should you take away from all this? Buy from a place that you can return or exchange if the lens does not meet your expectation. I could have saved money buying from the States and shipping over to Japan, but the savings could vanish quickly if I had to mail the lens back a couple of times.

    reviewed March 10th, 2009 (purchased for $700)
  • Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR AF-S Nikkor

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Insanely sharp from 70-250, VR lets me do 1/15th at 300mm!
    None really

    First, I have an 18-200VR, 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S and an older 300mm f/4 (non-AFS), so this lens was not on my list at all. I don't usually carry the pro zooms as they are big and heavy. The 18-200VR is what I use most of the time. When I saw a used 70-300mm VR in the store that looked like it was never used for $420, I could not pass it up.

    I wasn't expecting a miracle since there's not too many zooms that will top the 80-200mm AF-S in terms of sheer sharpness, focusing speed, and contrast. Well I got a mirable, thanks no doubt to modern engineering. This has got to be one of a few true bargains left in Nikon's increasingly expensive lens lineup.

    This lens, like my 80-200 AF-S, does not need to be stopped down at all (a good thing given it starts at f/4.5). I get razor sharp images of reasonably high contrast wide open. In the range of 70-250mm, there is no reason to stop down. It is that good. Significantly sharper than my sharp copy of 18-200VR in the same range. Almost as sharp as the 80-200 AF-S when wide-open, but less contrast and pop. (Which says a lot about just how good the 80-200 AF-S is. However, if I stop down the 80-200 AF-S to f/4 or f/5.6, it quickly pulls away from the 70-300VR by a good margin).

    From 250-300mm, sharpness does decrease just a tad, more so if you pixel-peep than look at 4x6 prints (I couldn't tell on a 4x6 print). However, my copy is still quite sharp at 300mm and f/5.6 so I don't really need to stop down. Stopping down does get me more contrast, however.

    Focusing is very fast and silent, and rarely hunts except in extreme low lights or aiming at the sky at 300mm (basically little contrast). I think people who experienced hunting with this lens might be using single-point AF in extreme low contrast situation or very bright light at 300mm? With the D300's 51point AF, I rarely get any hunting. I would say AF speed is a tad slower than the 18-200VR, but not really noticeable.

    There's instant manual focus override without flipping a switch as with other AF-S lenses. The manual focus ring is reasonably smooth, way better than the 35mm f/1.8G DX AF-S which has one of the worse-feeling manual focus rings.

    Distortion is barely noticeable, SIGNIFICANTLY less than the 18-200VR, and seems to be consistent throughout zoom range. I use DXO for distortion correction (an absolute must for 18-200VR), and A/B/A between original and corrected shots reveal very minor distortions.

    CA is not noticeable anywhere, maybe due to D300's CA removal for JPEGs and the fact that I'm using the sweet spot of this fullframe lens on a DX camera. Yes, this is a fullframe lens that will go with you when you upgrade to a FX camera. Corner sharpness blows the 18-200VR out of the water. As does corner falloff -- very little.

    Build quality is superb for a consumer-class lens. I love the nice and tight feel of the zoom, its big grab area, and its spacing. Sorry, that sounded a little perverted. This lens has metal mount, of course. It has a distance scale. The barrel doesn't wobble like the 18-200VR when zoomed out fully. I especially like the fact that the "lip" of the lens barrel is smaller than the body of the lens, unlike the 18-200VR where the lip is bigger than the barrel. I don't have to be as careful when the camera down and the weight rests on the lens body, not the lip/front element.

    The lens is also light (compared to the 80-200 AF-S anyway) and balances very nicely on the D300. It's a joy to carry and hold all day. My wrist is in pain after an afternoon with the 80-200 AF-S.

    One thing I would like to mention is that at 300mm, it seems VR works better when I set the minimum shutter for auto-ISO to kick in at 1/15th shutter speed rather than at 1/30th through 1/60th. That is to say I get more keepers when shutter speed is SLOWER with VR engaged. Weird huh? At 1/80th and up, VR becomes less crucial and I have not noticed this behaviour. Fine with me!

    Now if I want sharp and light, this is my lens. If I want truly spectacular pictures with the "pop" afforded by f/2.8 DOF or need to stop action, I go with the 80-200 AF-S. Makes me rethink if I should get rid of the 18-200VR and get a used 18-70 and pocket a few hundred...

    Yes, it's a mini-miracle that I can take sharp pictures at 1/15th shutter speed and 300mm with this lens. It's a combination of VR, center of gravity, and manageable weight. Something I could never do on the 80-200mm AF-S or 300mm f/4 without a tripod. It's no 80-200 AF-S, but comes darn close in terms of sharpness.

    I strongly recommend this lens. It will be a good compliment to most 18-xxx kit lens. Make sure you buy in person, or from a place that accepts returns. Bring your camera to test it if possible. If you get a truly good one, it should be acceptably sharp wide open at 300mm. If you get an average one, you may have to stop down to f/8 at 300mm as many folks have described.

    reviewed April 19th, 2009 (purchased for $420)
  • Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC LD Aspherical IF SP AF

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Another wide open, crazy sharp @ f/5.6, VC is fantastic
    focus ring moves during AF, soft case/pouch not included.

    This is fantastic lens, period. The lens is sharp right off the bat at f/2.8 (particularly at the telephoto end on my sample). So it's fully usable wide open. Stop down to f/5.6 and it becomes truly spectacular -- sharp, sharp, sharp and great contrast. Very happy in the sharpness and contrast department.

    The amazing thing about this lens is the VC (image stabilization). I can shoot at 1/4 sec shutter and get crisp images at 50mm. Truly amazing. Coupled with the sharp wide open performance and it's a winner. The VC makes a high pitch noise every, but nothing to be concerned about. Very effective, as good as or better than Nikon's VR.

    AF accuracy is good, but not as good as Nikons which alway seem to nail it right the first time. Once in a while AF will be slightly off, but nothing bad. AF speed is fast, and now almost silent.

    The lens is well-balanced on my D300. The zoom ring is damped just right. There is no zoom creep, but then again, the barrel only extends out about an inch and a quarter. There's a lock switch to keep the lens at 17mm just in case.

    The VC version is noticeably bulkier girth-wise than the non-VC but doesn't weigh that much more. It is amazing how light this lens is for what it is. Construction is good -- not in the same league as metal Nikon gold ring lenses -- I would say it is on par with Nikon consumer lens like the 18-200VR. But it is better constructed than Tamrons of yesteryears. No complaints. Mine is made in Japan.

    This lens takes 72mm filter. My only gripe is that the focus ring moves when it's autofocusing (like the non VC) and you can't just grab the focus ring to do instant manual focus like on most Nikon AF-S. The Tamron does use built-in motor for AF so it's compatible with motorless Nikon DSLRs like D40 and D5000.

    I was originally going to get the Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 which has a loyal following for its excellent IQ. Someone told me to check out the Tamron 17-50 non-VC which can be had for about 31,000 yen in Japan -- about half the price of the Nikon. I was leery of Tamron, having had bad experience with their original 28-200 ages ago. The reviews for the 17-50 non VC have all been very positive. It was a no-brainer to get a faster lens for less money.

    I ended up going with the newer VC version for about $200 more than the non-VC. The VC version lists for 70,000 yen (73,500 with tax) and street price is around 50,000 yen. Some may argue that the extra money for VC is not worth it for a lens of this focal length and speed. IMO having VC even on a lens like this is definitely a plus.

    Never thought I'd buy another Tamron in my lifetime, but I'm a believer! You will not be disappointed with this lens. It will give the Nikon 17-55 a run for the money, a lot less money.

    As with any lens, I recommend you buy from a local store and bring your camera to test before you walk out. Each copy is different.

    reviewed October 7th, 2009 (purchased for $584)
  • Sigma 100-300mm f/4 EX DG HSM APO

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Simply unreal how sharp this lens is wide open across entire zoom range
    She's a beast! That big MF ring gets in the way. OS would be nice.

    I own the fabulous Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 AF-S and the very good 70-300VR. Always wanted more reach than the 80-200, and wasn't happy with the 70-300VR at 300 (70-220 is really, really good). Anyway, I picked up a used Sigma in Nikon mount based on various reviews.

    This Sigma lens is simply unreal. It is so sharp wide open, across the entire frame, from 100-300mm! At 300mm, it is a tad softer and less contrasty than from 100-200mm, but stop down just one stop restores that magic. I am floored by how sharp this lens is, not to boot the great contrast and color rendition.

    Autofocus is very fast, almost as fast as the lightning quick 80-200 AF-S, and quicker than the 70-300VR. It has superb target acquisition, never hunting. Has full time manual focus override, although I wish the MF ring wasn't so darn big! The MF and zoom rings are just silky smooth, far cry from the 70-300VR's cruddy MF ring.

    It's built as well as any Nikon gold ring pro glass. All metal barrel. The tripod collar is a little weak, but usable. The lens is fairly heavy for handholding, but manageable. Quality glass can't cheat gravity.

    Comes with a nice softcase. Lens cap sucks, so I'm putting on the Canon 82mm cap. Yes, it takes 82mm filter. She's big.

    This lens just about matches the image quality of my 80-200 AF-S (although the 80-200 AF-S, being a fast lens that's truly usable wide open, gives more pop and has warmer colors). The Sigma has longer reach, and is a lot cheaper. I can't say enough good things about this phenomenal lens. It is world class, right up there with the best from Nikon.

    If they come out with a optical stabilized version, I would jump at it in a heartbeat. For now, a monopod will have to do.

    reviewed November 12th, 2009 (purchased for $700)
  • Nikon 24-120mm f/4G ED VR AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Scary sharp wide open, superb flare/ghost resistance, accurate AF, great color rendition
    Build quality could be better, slight zoom creep, expensive

    I bought this lens to replace the 18-200 VR on a D7000. It has not disappointed. It is in a different league than the 18-200 VR. This is what I find:

    1) This lens is absolutely tack sharp wide open throughout the entire zoom range. No need to stop down at either end. So it is truly usable at f/4.

    2) Contrast and color rendition is fantastic wide open -- images just pop out rather than look flat. Must be the nano-crystal coating.

    3) I've never experienced a lens so resistant to flare and ghosting. You can pretty much leave the hood at home. Truly fantastic. Great lens for sunset shots or bright outdoor (although the D7000 tends to overexpose in high contrast scenes.)

    4) AF accuracy is very, very good. Dead on, actually. AF speed is not lightning quick like the pro Nikon lens with metal bodies (e.g. 24-70, 70-200), but still very quick. I have no problem with fast moving subjects like speedboats or motorcycles. AF is totally silent.

    5) The focal length is what it is -- this lens doesn't breathe like the 18-200. This is great. I can get pretty damn close (about a foot) and get the magnification close to a macro lens.

    6) VR works superbly. Yes it is an f/4, but because it is truly sharp at f/4, you can do 1/4s or 1/8s shutter and have reasonably good night time shots. I don't really miss fast glass with this.

    7) 24mm on a DX body is not really wide enough, but good enough for everyday use. For wide angle, I still need a separate lens like the Tokina 11-16. 120mm at the far end is enough for me. This surprised me, as I thought it would come up short.

    8) My copy unfortnately has some play in the zoom ring. And it has a little bit of zoom creep (nowhere as bad as the original 18-200 VR). I wish Nikon would have put a zoom lock on this lens.

    10) Takes 77mm filter -- great!

    11) Lens is big, but feels light. I can have the D7000 with this lens around my neck all day no problem.

    12) It is overpriced for the construction. No doubt. This lens should be $1000 or less. Not $1200.

    All in all, a truly fantastic walkaround lens. Don't know why it has gotten some bad reviews; my copy is just about perfect. You won't be disappointed on a DX or full frame.

    reviewed December 1st, 2010 (purchased for $1,200)