Cliff Beard's reviews

  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX AF-S Nikkor

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Good value, decent build at price level, good performance wide open
    some loss of contrast wide open, some CA esp at close focus

    This lens is well built at the price point with a metal mount and internal focus so there is no vulnerable barrel protruding from the front should the lens take a knock. The plastic is solid and well finished.

    Performance wide open is surprisingly good, at least in the centre area of the frame.. even lots of expensive lenses are quite weak wide open so this is a great design feature as we buy these lenses for the speed after all. Peak..probably about F2.8-F4.

    Despitethe relatively short focal length the bokeh is well developed and probably peaks around F2 to F3.2, where the background is nice and smooth. Occasionally very bright highlights can cause a bright outline, but there are no nasty doughnuts or ghosting etc.

    Performance seems good right through to F16 (where all DX lenses seem to suffer from diffraction) and the DOF develops progressively, so the lens has a large usable range.

    Focus is generally accurate. I notice a slight tendency for the lens to focus slightly closer than the focus point on my D80 when close up and aimed at an angled target...this may be the camera (not tested on D300 yet). Face-on its spot-on. You have to be seriously careful to focus accurately as DOF is so small at F1.8. I recommend continuous focus (AFC) so the camera constantly corrects. Focus is not that fast ...about average for consumer SWM lenses and comparable to 18-135 etc. Its nice to be able to simply turn the focus ring to tweak focus rather than switching to manual. I lament the demise of distance scales as they are great when AF is failing in poor light or for landscape etc.

    There is CA, especially at close focus and around some highlights. Close up it appears as green and colour each side of the focal plane. Its a soft halation rather than the hard blue CA you get from some lenses. Its not ideal but not too bad and often not relevant unless viewing at 100%. Some of it is correctable in camera (if shooting Jpeg on newer bodies) or in PP in camera RAW.

    I got this lens primarily to get a standard prime for my DX bodies, as the 50mm is simply too long to fit that bill (although it is great as a short tele) and it does exactly what I want it to do. Its a great carry-around if you want one of those creative days without a bag full of kit and offers users of the cheaper zooms something fast, sharp and with less distortion at a sensible price.

    I also got it for travel as I never go away with pro kit...too pricey and way too heavy. As most consumer lenses are rather slow (F3.5-5.6) I wanted a fast lens to widen my shooting options and that I could pop in the bag without concern about the weight, size and value. This lens does exactly that so I can highly recommend it.

    reviewed May 7th, 2009
  • Nikon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED DX AF-S Nikkor

    7 out of 10 points and recommended
    Light, good zoom range, Sharp, versatile travel lens
    Not so sure build, plastic mount

    I got this as a kit with my D80 and have found it sharp and versatile as a carry around or travel lens. Yes its slow at the long end but that makes it small and light.

    The perceived build quality is actually fine for the money and target user with a decent zoom action and reasonable quality feel to the plastics. I feel they could have put a metal lens mount on for the money as the lens isn't that cheap when bought alone and lenses such as the F1,8 35mm have one.

    My first copy died when the silent wave motor packed up but Jessops and Nikon replaced it under warranty. This Didn't convince me of the longevity.

    I use it less locally now I have fast pro lenses but as a travel lens and walkaround its still a great little lens. Nikon seem to have optimized sharpness, perhaps at the expense of some distortion at the wide end and a bit of vignetting, but its generally miles better than most superzooms and as sharp as many very pricey lenses. This means that the only real compromise is the small max aperture.

    reviewed May 15th, 2009
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF VR AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Excellent build and handling, image quality generally outstanding
    Some types of image suffer on full frame cameras, heavy

    This is a stunning lens to look at and handle on the camera. Images generally have that lovely, well-saturated and contrasty look you get from pro-glass. The bokeh is top notch.

    On a D300 it is sharp across the frame and there is no vignetting of relevance.

    On a D700 its still a great lens for most subjects, including portraits, action and wide aperture shooting where only the subject is sharp. There is quite noticeable and slightly uneven vignetting. The edge of the frame may also be a bit soft (writing it off for landcsapes etc) but for most uses this doesn't actually matter as it only tends to be the subject that is sharp on such a fast lens anyway.

    Works great with the TC14 for extra reach.

    Its certainly a lump to carry about and needs a bag like a Thinktank holster 50 or Lowepro slingshot 300 to carry it attached to a body. Not a travel lens for me.

    reviewed May 15th, 2009
  • Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Great value, compact for type, Awesome VR, Build quality
    slowish max aperture, ugly bokeh with VR on

    Considering the price and performance I think this is one of the best lenses in Nikon's line.

    Yes its a bit slow, but that keeps the price sensible and makes it portable. For a consumer grade lens the build is definitely a cut above with a solid feel and smooth action.

    It is my travel zoom of choice for wildlife and action shooting as its so portable and handy when you can't justify lugging a 70-200 F2.8.

    Optically its very sharp indeed and very decent even at the long end where many similar lenses fall apart. It lacks the contrast of a pro lens here ( at least wide open) but is capable of outstanding work. I recently shot an egret at F8 300mm and was staggered by the detail in every feather.

    This lens is better on a FF body than the 70-200 in respect of vignetting and corner sharpness, though you will never get the same speed, or bokeh of course. In fact with the awesome high ISO performance of the D700 the lens becomes very versatile and usable in lower light.

    The VR is the most effective of any lens I have ever used and I have 2 other Nikon VR lenses.

    I have noticed that while bokeh is ok much of the time it gets ugly using VR when there are objects like twigs in the background. It tends to produce a ghost or double image of these items which is distracting.

    reviewed May 15th, 2009 (purchased for $400)
  • Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Tiny, fun, optical quality
    as with any fisheye limited use

    Tiny lens I always tend to keep in the bag as it takes up so little space.

    Dense and solid build quality.

    Wonderful distortion and angle of view for the right shots. Its sharp where it matters and very good into the corners, with the lovely contrast and colour rendition of the pro lenses. Some inevitable CA in the corners.

    Mind that front element as the lens can focus very close and make you feel a long way off even when you are about to knock it on the subject!

    As with any fisheye, it has limited use but is a little jewel and a lot of fun when the inspiration strikes.

    reviewed May 15th, 2009
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Value king, speed at low prce, distance scale
    nothing at this price

    Its certainly not a glamorous lens but is an absolute value king for anyone looking for a fast lens (compared to a typical kit lens) at a sensible price.

    The build is plastic but perfectly decent and the mount is metal. There is no built in AF motor but this is no issue on my bodies (not so good for D40/60) and AF speed is fast. One could say the lack of SWM is one less thing to break and keeps it compact.

    At max aperture it certainly lacks contrast and is a bit soft but stopped down even a fraction it improves hugely and by F2.8 its getting very sharp. From F4 on its pretty much as sharp as anything.

    Its a great creative walkaround lens on a full frame body. Not as versatile on crop, but a good short portrait lens.

    Bokeh is a bit busy, especially around highlights.

    Its so light and cheap there is no point in not popping it in the bag!

    reviewed May 15th, 2009
  • Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* 1.4/85

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Seriously fast aperture, Sublime build quality, manual focus handling, Contrast rendition, distortion free
    Manaul focus only, weaker performance close up and min focus distance of 1 metre

    A classic portrait length on full frame and crop frame cameras and the distortion free images flatter subjects.

    This is a niche lens that has to be used appropriately...forget shooting moving subjects and trying very close up shots....even Zeiss market the lens as being optimized for mid to longer distance work and if used within its optimum settings and on appropriate subjects it can give awesome results. Manual focus and manual setting of aperture on a ring...will only work properly on Nikon pro-level bodies...D300, D700, D3 etc as these can meter fully.

    The rendition is typically Zeiss, with natural yet saturated colour and bitingly sharp contrast at F2 and smaller apertures. The effect can be almost 3D. Wide open its a bit soft and fuzzy, with a small sweet spot in the centre, which you can use to advantage for dreamy portraits. If you want more reach or to fill the frame with a portrait close to the min focus distance, you can use a crop frame camera to get a free 1.5x magnification.

    The quality and feel of the lens, including its focus ring, is awesome.

    This is a lens you buy in addition to more general purpose lenses and you will know if you need it, in which case it comes highly recommended.

    reviewed September 28th, 2009
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Fast, compact, light, Great image quality on full and crop frame
    Slow AF, slightly soft and lacking in contrast wide open

    This is a classic all-rounder on full frame and a short portrait lens on crop frame. I find it far more useful on full frame, where it can be put to almost any use and has to be the most versatile lens overall.

    In conjunction with the high ISO capability of modern bodies its low-light potential is fantastic and I find that subject isolation and smooth bokeh can be achieved very easily.

    As with all fast primes, wide open it lacks a bit of contrast and sharpness outside the centre, but stopping down to even F1.8 sees an improvement and by F2 its really good. Great for portraits at F2 to 2.8. Stopped down to F4 and smaller its bitingly sharp across the frame and doesn't seem to suffer significantly from diffraction softness at F16.

    The SWM is quiet and accurate though AF is a bit slow...not an issue with real-world shooting with this lens. The MF ring is surprisingly good for low light and close up work. It even has a focus distance scale.

    In real world situations I don't find the vignetting at widest apertures an issue, nor the slight CA you see either side of the focal plane when test shooting text on paper for example.

    Overall, its a similar story to the 35mm F1.8...a great performing and top value lens with immense versatility. If I had only one lens, this would be it.

    reviewed September 28th, 2009
  • Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Great image quality, weight and handling, build quality
    Uneven weight on zoom ring, weight, stowage of hood

    This is most definitely a pro-quality lens as it should be for the price.

    Image quality is top notch with plenty of sharpness and contrast. There is a fair bit of distortion on full frame in the corners, which can be a bit soft...I think this seems due to field curvature placing the corners out of focus rather than a resolution issue, so use depth of field carefully.

    The weight and form of the lens makes for great handling and I have used it as a portrait lens with great success on both crop and full frame. Overall its more versatile on full frame where 24mm is suitably wide for landscape. It takes filters, unlike the 14-24, which is nice. The zoom ring feels a bit under-damped and has uneven weighting, probably owing to the weight of the zoom group.

    The supplied hood does a great job but I do find it niggling to carry the lens in most bags as the hood is simply too has to be detached and take up another space in the bag, but if it does its job well, I guess that's the most important thing.

    As with all pro-optics I find it too heavy to justify travelling with for all but the most special of trips.

    Overall avery nice lens with the usual pro-level benefits of great optics and handling and penalties of weight and bulk.

    reviewed September 28th, 2009
  • Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM APO Macro

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Optical quality, good build quality, takes teleconverters, good working distance, doesn't extend
    Easy to get motion/camera shake blur if technique not spot-on

    I use this lens along with a Sigma 105mm macro.

    The 150 probably just has the edge in sharpness but its effective depth of field is notably smaller, which makes it harder to get focus where you want it. The 150 definitely copes better with being stopped down for more depth of field, with little diffraction limiting.

    I tend to use the lens for macro only so use manual focus but the HSM does give it good focus performance for telephoto and other work.

    The focal length gives useful working distance for bugs at 1:1 and makes it a great dragonfly lens for lower magnification work, where extra reach means less chance of spooking them.

    Being able to add the 1.4 teleconverter is a big bonus as you get 1.4x extra magification for tele or macro work.

    Owing to the effective focal length of over 200mm on crop frame you have to watch your shutter speeds in the macro range as its easy to get shake which softens or blurs images. Its good to use short duration flash to help alleviate this (get the flash close so it fires at lower power and short duration). Even at max sync shutter speeds of 1/200 or 1/250 it is possible to see motion-induced blur, so I tend to use a bamboo cane as a versatile prop to grip and add stability when chasing bugs about.

    A great macro lens with no real cons at all.

    reviewed September 28th, 2009
  • Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Image quality, compact, lightweight
    extending barrel, slow and hunting on AF

    This was my first macro lens and I still kept it after buying the 150mm as it has a lot to offer.

    Ultimately the bigger lens may just have the edge on image quality but this is sharp and capable of great results. I kept it because the 105 is actually easier to use as its effective depth of field is greater (sharpness rolloff from focal plane is less severe), making focus easier and its compact and lightweight form makes it ideal to carry around all day or when travelling. I have shot some great macros abroad for this reason.

    For bugs its a great reach, being a good compromise between working distance, size and the dangers of camera shake owing to effective focal length at typical shutter speeds.

    It works well with extension tubes, as its weight doesn't strain the mounts.

    The barrel extends, which means there is probably more possibility of mechanical wear over time and it looks a bit ungainly...a side effect is that its easy to rest it on a prop or your hand.

    Fab little lens and a great intoduction to macro with reasonable price and ease of use. I would recommend it over the 150mm for a beginner as its easier to get good results.

    reviewed September 28th, 2009