Ross_Alford's reviews

  • Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF VR AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    VR allows handheld shooting at low ISO in low light, actually very sharp and contrasty when stopped down 1-2 stops
    Very few; front section feels wobbly but several samples all do so it must be by design

    I think the narrative description of the test results for this lens is far too negative about image quality. If you look at the performance over the zoom and aperture range, it is not perfect wide open, but stop down 1-2 stops and it is superb. It is almost universally true, even of extremely good lenses, that really great results do not occur wide open. The criticism of results at f/30 or so is also unfair, at those apertures diffraction is the major factor for any lens, as the MTF testers at say, at small apertures almost all lenses are equally bad.

    Because this lens has VR, you can afford to shoot at the "sweet spot" apertures of about f/8-11 even in low loght. I routinely handhold about 1/8 sec at 24mm, 1/15 to 1/30 at 120. Results are spectacularly sharp and contrasty. When I moved to a d2x I suddenly realized several lenses I had thought were perfectly useable couldn't cope with the high demands it makes on lens quality; this lens was not one of them, it remains the lens most often on the camera.

    Example: taken at 120mm (180mm equivalent) at 1/10 second f/5.6 handheld, and cropped a bit too

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Nikon 12-24mm f/4G ED-IF DX AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    High image quality across zoom range at all but widest aperture
    Apparent negative interactions with filters

    I bought this lens to replace a Sigma 12-24, which had taken nice pictures on a D70 but fell over badly on a D2x, with uneven sharpness, relatively low contrast, and serious problems at edges and corners, particularly at longer focal lengths (it probably had those problems to some extent on the D70, but they were not noticeable because of the lower density of pixels on the sensor, or at least that's my theory).

    The Nikkor has not disappointed. I almost never shoot wide open, and as mentioned in the test report, as long as you avoid that, this lens is very sharp and contrasty across the field at all focal lengths, delivering image color and contrast that match other Nikkors well. It does have some noticeable complex distortion at the 12mm end, but not enough to be a problem for anything but an architectural subject.

    I have had one interesting problem though; with a filter mounted, I do not get any evidence of light falloff, which would indicate vignetting, but I do get far more CA at edges and corners, and corner sharpness at the 12mm end deteriorates. This is a repeatable problem, encountered with two different Hoya HMC filters that do not have any obvious flaws. Since writing the above, I have found a Hoya UV filter that does not produce the problem. Maybe some interaction between the exact thickness or coating of the filter and the lens?

    Sample images:

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very wide zoom range, surprisingly good image quality, good macro ability, reasonable build quality
    Not the greatest wide open, focal length shortens at closer focusing distances, autofocus problems at 18-28mm range

    This lens surprised me with its image quality. I have not done formal testing, but have done some comparison shots, and have taken a fair number of photos with it, and it is good enough throughout the focal length range to produce useable results on a D2x as long as it is stopped down at least one stop from maximum, preferably two. On the D70, its results look even better when compared with other lenses of similar focal lengths.

    Corner sharpness does fall off a bit in the 18-28 mm range, even stopped down, but only a bit, and contrast remains reasonably good and there is relatively little visible CA. The close focusing ability is great, and for this the fact that the maximum focal length decreases as you focus closer doesn't hurt--by the minimujm distance, field of view is about the same as a 100mm macro lens, meaning so are depth of field and perspective effects, and I like 100mm macros.

    The focal length decrease (which does happen in this and many other close-focusing zooms; if you are feeling skeptical do some comparisons at different distances with fixed focal length lenses--shortening the focal length is one way of getting higher reproduction ratios with the same lens extension, and clearly zoom manufacturers take advantage of this) can be annoying if trying to shoot telephoto shots of, for example, small birds at relatively close ranges. By my rough estimation, for example, at about 10 feet the field of view is about the same as that of a 125mm fixed-focal-length lens. You only get the real 200mm at near-inifinty distances.

    The real minimum focal length is somewhat understated by Sigma, coverage at "18mm" falls almost exactly between the 18-70 Nikkor and my 20/2.8 fixed focal length Nikkor so I would guess it is really about 19mm.

    Both the D2X and a D70 have trouble with autofocus at focal lengths between about 18 and 30 mm. In this range, their autofocus hunts back and forth quite a bit, and can settle at a place that yields quite unsharp results. I nearly sent the lens back when I first received it, because I was getting very poor results at the wideangle end. Then, alerted by the hunting behavior of the autofocus, I started zooming to 35mm or so, focusing, and keeping focus locked while zooming back out to wider focal lengths. That fixed the problem. I sometimes get some hunting with all wideangle lenses on these cameras, but for some reason this lens is far worse in this respect than others (18-70 Nikkor, 12-24 Nikkor and Sigma) I have used extensively.

    Build quality seems quite good. It has a pretty solid feel, more like metal than plastic although I guess there is a lot of plastic in there, and mine has survived a horrifying drop about 3 feet onto a linoleum floor while mounted on the D70. It landed partly on the lens, which does not seem to have been affected at all (and neither was the D70).

    This lens is a compromise in many ways, but it is a compromise that works, and works well, producing very nice photos, if you need to use an all-in-one lens. I haven't used it as much as I had thought I might, but have carried it and the D70 at times when I otherwise would not have had an SLR, and have captured some great images that have printed nicely at 12 X 18 inches.

    Sample image:

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye Nikkor

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    excellent image quality, small, light, well-built

    This is a superb lens. Image quality is really stunning; sharp from corner to corner even near wide open (I have not done careful tests, so am not sure about f/2.8 which I rarely use, but even 1 or 2 stops down it is superb, easily coping with the dense pixels of a D2x). There is little if any vignetting, CA is pretty well under control , but there is some, worth correcting in post-processing, particularly at wider apertures.

    Even when remapped to extreme-ultrawide rectilinear using Nikon Capture or Panorama Tools it retains excellent quality, except at extreme edges (which cannot be avoided as distortion due to mapping onto flat projection gets to be extreme and every pixel is smeared out). You can get about 120-130 degrees with very high quality by doing this.

    Physical quality of the lens seems excellent, it is solid and feels well-built. Interestingly, it appears to cover edge-to-edge on full-frame 35mm. Top and bottom are vignetted by the lens hood, but corner-to-corner appears reasonably sharp and covers well over 180 degrees. Unfortunately, due to almost never shooting on film anymore, I have not yet gotten any full-frame photos developed; it will be interesting to see how they look.


    image remapped to panorama

    images remapped to ca 120 degree ultrawide

    (note that, amazingly enough, the built in flash on the D70 actually covered the whole frame on the second one!

    reviewed October 23rd, 2005
  • Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG Aspherical HSM

    7 out of 10 points and recommended
    covers full 35mm frame, very low distortion and CA
    relatively low contrast and sharpness, particularly at longer focal lengths

    I bought one in April 2004, used it happily for over a year with a D70. As mentioned in the pros and cons section, it does have remarkably low linear distortion and almost no evidence of CA, both very good points. Relatively low tendency to flare, probably helped by the built-in hood. Somewhat low contrast and slightly different color rendition as compared to Nikkor lenses. Sharp enough that I was quite happy with it on the D70.

    That said, its resolution limit must fall somewhere between the demands of the D70 sensor and the D2x sensor. Shooting with a D2x it is noticeably unsharp near corners at 12mm, and this gets far worse at 24mm, extending to whole edges to about the outer 1/6 of the frame on each side. This is at my typical shooting apertures of f/8 or so. It's possible that mine has had a knock at some point in over a year of use, but it still looks sharp on the D70, so I suspect that it really just can't cope with a need for 1.4 times as many lines in each direction on the same size sensor. Never did try it with film so cannot comment on full-frame performance.

    in summary, if you are shooting with a 6 or 8 MP APS sized sensor, this lens should work well. It may also work nicely on a full frame sensor. High-pixel-density sensors may reveal problems. I recommend it, but with reservations.

    examples with the D70:

    reviewed November 3rd, 2005
  • Vivitar 100mm f/3.5 AF Macro

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Outstanding image quality, small, lightweight, very inexpensive, great "starter" macro
    feels very plasticky, only focuses to 1:2 without adapter, AF relatively slow

    (added April 2006--this lens may no longer be available as a Vivitar, I am not sure, but the exact same lens is still available under the Phoenix brand name. It has in the past also been marketed by Pentax under their brand name for K-AF mount cameras, and I am told by reasonably reliable sources that it is made by Cosina; mine certainly says it is made in Japan, at any rate)

    I am a very experienced macro photographer, concentrating on small animals using flash. My photos have been published in books and specialist magazines. I always use flash, usually multiple flash setups, and shoot at small apertures (f/11 and below, usually f/16 or f/22 and I used to use f/32 on 35mm but it is unusable on digital due to diffraction) to maximize depth of field.

    Since the mid 1980s, I had been using Nikon macro lenses, a 55/3.5, 55/2.8 and 100/4. When I moved to a D70, I decided to experiment with AF macros. The 105/2.8 AF Nikkor is a great lens, but is heavy and expensive. The Vivitar has optics made in Japan, has an optical formula very similar to the 105/4 Nikkor I have gotten great results from in the past, and costs about as much as a set of Af extension tubes, so it seemed like a good lens to start experimenting with. I sort of wish I hadn't started with this lens, because now I really can't justify the cost of the AF Nikkor; it cannot perform better, at least at smaller apertures, and I suspect I wouldn't carry it because it is so much bigger and heavier.

    The AF Nikkor, and, I believe, similar lenses from other manufacturers, also suffer in comparison because they alter focal length as you focus closer. I believe the Nikkor is actually something like 65mm when it is focused at 1:1--this means you lose the advantages of a longer lens, flatter perspective and greater distance to the subject, as you focus closer. Because of its relatively simple design, the Vivitar maintins focal length until you put the 1:1 adapter on it, so the front ot the lens is a fair bit farther from the animal when you are in the 1:5 to 1:2 range, where I do a lot of my shooting. The 1:1 adapter is a specially matched closeup lens, so it does shortern the effective focal length, but you still get a good lens-subject distance even at 1:1.

    The Vivitar really is a great performer optically. Sharp and contrasty, and its small size means it is easy to walk around with the lens on the camera without it pointing downward, which is a pain, particularly when a multiple flash bracket is attached. I could not believe how good it is, so have done very careful comparisons with the 105/4 Nikkor, a legendary lens, on both the D70 and a D2x, and at f/8 and below the Vivitar cannot be distinguished from the Nikkor, with the possible exception of being very slightly less contrasty. At f/8 and 11, both of them resolve at least to the limits set by the camera sensor, even on the D2x, and ave good contrast near this limit. As you stop down to f/16 and below, both start to lose a bit of sharpnes, but this is due to diffraction, and will happen with any lens. I haven't tested wider apertures because I never use them.

    The lens does have its downsides--it really feels cheap and plasticky, and equipment snobs will laugh at you. Because of the cheap construction, there may be a lot of sample-to-sample variation, so you may not get the great results I'm getting. It comes with a matched front-element converter that changes its focusing range from infinity to 1:2 to 1:2 to 1:1; this is a bit of a pain to use, but yields very high quality results. Also, its smallest aperture is f/22 (but this is not really a disadvantage on digital, where, at least with an APS-C sized sensor and 10 or more MP, diffraction makes f/32 completely unusable, with a blur circle that covers about 9 pixels). However, its small size, light weight, ease of use, and great camers-to-subject distances mean it is still my macro of choice. I certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to get into macro but doesn't want to spend $500 plus for a camera-maker's 100 mm macro.

    Note that I gave it an 8 for construction quality because it does seem to be fairly rugged, I've had mine in the field quite a bit and it hasn't broken. It is very definitely plastic except for the camera mount , the optics, and I am sure a few cams, etc, but it seems to be solid plastic (if there is such a thing).

    example images taken with this lens:


    a frog:

    a spider, taken with the 1:1 converter

    reviewed December 2nd, 2005 (purchased for $129)
  • Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED VR DX AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Wide zoom range, great macro ability, sharp, high contrast
    lots of distortion, some CA

    I was a bit nervous about this lens; it seemed too good to be true, but had to try it. So far, I'm not disappointed.

    The build quality is excellent; feels solid without being too heavy, and unlike the 24-120 VR, the front section does not wobble. Focus and zoom controls work smoothly, but with enough resistance for precise operation.

    In my informal testing, the lens performs really excellently in terms of resolution and contrast. At all focal lengths, resolution in the center exceeds what can be recorded by a D2x sensor even wide open. At shorter focal lengths it needs to be closed down 1 stop or so to reach that sharpness. At longer focal lengths it manages to be sharper than the D2x can use across the field, even when wide open. Contrast is relatively high and color rendition is typical Nikon at all focal lengths and apertures, although as with resolution, the corners lose out a bit wide open at shorter focal lengths, but only a very small bit. I will not hesitate to use this lens at any focal length/aperture combination, and expect really excellent results.

    The VR works extremely well. I can reliably handhold it at 1/4 second at the wide end, and at about 1/30 at the tele end, both at least 3 stops better than without VR.

    There is a downside, but most people will have no trouble either living with it, or correcting for it. If you take a few shots of buildings with it, you will see immediately what Nikon has traded off for the relatively reasonable price with high sharpness and contrast and VR. The lens has distortion galore. Really obvious barrel distortion at 18mm, with a higher-order component, creating "mustache" (wavy) distortion. this can be removed using the PTlens plugin or Panorama Tools Correct plugin in Photoshop, but cannot be entirely removed with Photoshop's own lens correction filter which corrects only simple distortion, as far as I know. By about 24mm it is almost distortion free, and then somewhat complex pincushion sets in with a vengeance; by 35mm it is pretty bad, stays bad through 70-80mm, and then actually gets less severe at longer focal lengths.

    I may be making the distortion sound worse than it is; for subjects without straight lines, I will probably seldom bother to correct for it, and for those with straight lines, full correction is easy to accomplish.

    There is also a moderate amount of red-green chromatic aberration at 18mm with a D2x; this may differ among cameras. It diminishes at longer focal lengths, and is easy to correct for, and not bad enough to make uncorrected images unusable.

    As with every other complex zoom I have used recently, the effective focal length shortens as you focus closer. At infinity, you really have about 18-200 mm to work with. At a couple of meters, the maximum effective FL is more like 120-130 mm, and at the minimum focusing distance, I would guess it to be ca 80-90, although I have not measured. Image quality stays very high, and there is enough distance between the front of the lens and the subject at minimum focusing distance to allow flash illumination. My measured minimum field is about 60 X 90mm, very good indeed.

    Another reviewer commented on focusing problems at near-infinity between 18-24mm. I have had the same trouble, and in fact I initially thought the the first wide ratio zoom I tried (a Sigma) was useless because I was getting very blurry results at near-infinity distances. I have discovered by experimentation that with this and other zooms with wideangle ends, the autofocus systems on both the Nikons I use do not do all that well at the shorter focal lengths. My solution is to zoom to a somewhat longer focal length, focus, and zoom back out while holding focus. How necessary this is seems to vary among lenses, but I find I get better and more consistent focus with all of them by doing this. It works for me, anyway.

    All in all, this is a spectacularly good lens, one most people, me included, will keep on the camera a lot of the time. Image quality can be improved by post-processing, but it isn't really necessary except for architectural subjects.

    Some sample images:

    Maximum telephoto, and cropped to less than half of the original frame, too:

    18mm wideangle building shot, corrected for distortion using Photoshop's filter and therefore with a bit of remnant waviness:

    18mm wideangle shot of a more natural scene

    zoomed in a bit:

    reviewed January 8th, 2006
  • Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    macro focusing to 1:2
    slightly soft, particularly at macro and full tele wide open

    I used one of these for a while for long tele and macro work on a D70 and a D2x. The macro mode is really nice; although the effective focal length gets shorter as you focus closer, it still gives a really good working distance for things like veomous snakes that you don't want to get too close to, and things like dragonflies, which are hard to get close to. I suspect the real focal length is about 200 mm at 1:2, making it a far less ecpensive alternative to the 200 mm prime macro lenses by camera makers.

    Its drawback is that it does seem to lose a bit of sharpness and contrast in the macro mode, and also when used wide open at the longer telephoto settings for distant shots. I have for now swiched to an older Nikon 75-300, which is bigger, heavier, focuses to 1:4, but is sharper in macro and wide open in distant tele work.

    reviewed December 1st, 2006
  • Nikon 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro Nikkor

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Excellent build and image quality, great with R1 macro flash
    A bit large and heavy, focal length shortens as you focus closer

    This is an excellent lens. I have been shooting macro images of small animals and plants, mostly with Nikon equipment, for over 30 years and overall this is my all time favorite macro. Image quality is great, better than good enough to take maximum advantage of the demanding sensor on the D2x. I almost always shoot using flash at about f/16-22, so I can't say much about wide open, but stopped down it is superb.

    The ability to focus to 1:1 without any additional supplementary lenses or extension tubes is a major plus, makes it easy to move in for detail shots of very small animals or parts of animals or plants. The fact that the lens has an extra threaded ring that can carry the mounting ring for the R1 closeup flash set is great, too--the weight of the flashes is carried by the main lens tube, but not the focusing mount.

    I do wish that it did not shorten focla length when focusing extremely close. lens to subject distance can get a bit short, particularly in the 1:2-1:1 range. I have read in a review somewhere that its effective focal length at 1:1 is something like 60 or 65mm, and that is easy to believe.

    All in all, a truly great lens, and I hope they do not discontinue it in favor of the new VR model. For someone who never uses autofocus for macros, and almost always uses flash, that one seems ot have no advantages, and it is far heavier, larger, and more expensive. If you can afford the price, this is the best macro to get for nature macros with a Nikon.

    Sample images:

    A gecko, shot with just an SB-800

    A very short-legged skink, shot with dual flashes

    reviewed December 29th, 2006
  • Nikon 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Excellent build quality, my sample is extremely sharp
    focal length too short for small animals, and shortens as you focus closer

    I would recommend this lens, but with reservations.

    This is a great lens, at least the one I have is. Tack sharp, high contrast, great build quality. I bought it when I moved from film to digital, thinking that its 90mm equivalent would make it about as ideal for small animal photos as the 105mm micro Nikkor I had been using for film shots.

    I quickly realized that was a mistake. As with many modern macro designs, this one shortens its focal length as it focuses closer. Lens to subject distance is far too short for small shy lizards and insects, in general. The problem gets worse as you focus closer. I still own the lens, and still use it occasionally for plants and other things that are not likely to be worried by a short lens to subject distance. the extra depth of field is nice. However, for animals I always use a 105 Micro, and I would recommend that focal length as an all-around macro lens above the 60.

    (added later--a later reviewer commented that themaximum aperture of lens dropped to f/5.6 at minimum focusing distance; this is completely normal; the Nikon DSLRs report the actual effective aperture, and for any physical lens opening, this decreases as the lens extends. You will notice that if you set it to minimum aperture you can get down to at least f/45, although actually using this is a mistake because of the huge effects of diffraction at such tiny lens openings; there is lots of depth of field, but everything looks blurry).

    reviewed December 29th, 2006
  • Tamron 1.4X F AF

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Works well with most AF lenses, small, light, and high image quality
    does not work with AF-S lenses

    I bought this mostly to use with a Sigma 70-300mm zoom I used to own. I also ended up using it with a Tamron 28-300 I used for a while with my D70, and with a Sigma 18-200 I still use. It worked admirably well with all three lenses, though I haven't experimented with it at the wider end of the wide-to-tele zooms. It does not degrade image quality appreciably, and gives a nice boost to the reach of telephoto lenses.

    Combine the effect of this converter with the multiplier effect of an APS-C sized sensor as on Nikon DSLRs, and you can get amazing telephoto effects; for example a 300 becomes a 420, which is multiplied to a 630.

    I don't use it much anymore because it doesn't allow AF with AF-S lenses. Still carry it occasionally when I take the D70 out with an 18-200 Sigma zoom; having this available increases the tele end of the zoom and makes the macro ability stunningly good.

    Photo taken using this converter with the 28-300 Tamron:

    Photo taken using this converter with the 70-300 Sigma

    reviewed January 1st, 2007 (purchased for $79)
  • Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Ultrawide angle, very sharp except in absolute far corners, good contrast
    blurry in extreme corners and lots of CA (but correctable) at 10mm

    This is an amazingly good lens. I have owned a number of other Sigma lenses, and have had pretty variable experiences with them; some great, some so-so. I have been pretty happy for a while now with a 12-24 Nikkor as my main wideangle, but have had an eye on this lens for some time, as the difference between an 18mm equivalent on the Nikkor and a 15mm equivalent on this lens is significant.

    Now that I have given this lens a good tryout, I may well end up putting the Nikkor up for sale. The extra wideangle ability is definitely worthwhile. The resolution of the lens is good enough to keep up with the sensor on my D2x, and it is consistently sharp across the frame, top to bottom and edge to edge. There may be a slight loss of sharpnes at the edges wide open, but I almost always shoot at about f/8, so that isn't a worry, and it is so slight I'm not sure if it is there. I compared it directly to the Nikkor in a couple of series of test shots, and I cannot tell the difference in sharpness or contrast in most respects. This lens does seem to produce slighly warmer images, but only slightly.

    It does have 3 failings:

    1. the absolute corners of images taken at the widest settings are sometimes not as sharp as they could be. this only applies to about 5% or less in from the corners, and about half of it disappears if you use a tool like PTlens to correct for the slight barrel distortion the lens exhibits, since that crops out the extreme corners anyway.

    2. It sometimes has lots of CA, at least with the D2x, at the widest settings. Sometimes it seems very free of CA. I have not worked out what causes the difference--it may be an interaction with some filters. At any rate, CA can be corrected when loading raw images, or using PTlens even on jpegs, and so isn't really a problem if you don't mind fixing it. Might be more of a problem if you like to shoot direct to JPEG with no post-processing.

    3. It has substantially more vignetting than the 12-24 Nikkor at the wide end. Not enough to be really obtrusive, and again easily corrected in Photoshop.

    All in all, I like this well enough that I suspect I will end up with it as my usual ultrawide angle lens. Any tiny advantages the Nikkor has are negated by the ability of this lens to get really stunningly wide perspectives. If I was starting over, I'd buy this lens without a second thought.

    By the way, construction quality seems fine to me. I like the slightly rough finish. Auofocus accuracy may well be off, as I find it often is with extreme wideangle lenses. I find with most really wideangles that the focus mechanism tends to "hunt" if you focus repeatedly, a sure sign that the camera just can't decide what the point of best sharpness is. I so far have used it mostly on manual focus, just close it down to f/8 or 11 and set focus to between 3 feet and infinity and pretty much everything is in focus anyway.

    Sample images:

    reviewed January 1st, 2007 (purchased for $500)
  • Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di AF

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very useful zoom range, great macro ability, small and light
    Image quality very good but could be better

    I had a pretty good experience with this lens. On a D70, I could not fault its image quality. I used it through a trip to Africa, and brought back some very memorable images, including ones that I have printed as 12 X 18 prints that look just fine. See for example:

    However, when I upgraded to a D2x, I checked all my lenses to see how they did on the higher-resolution sensor that camera has, and the Tamron fell a bit (not hugely, but a bit) short. Particularly at the wider apertures (if you can call f/6.3 to f/8 "wide") at the telephoto end, it could not keep up with the D2x sensor in resolution,a nd its contrast was not as good as other lenses I had, such as a Sigma 70-300, and (even more so), a Nikkor 75-300 (an older AF lens). I have since sold my Tamron and Sigma, and use the Nikkor if I really want 300mm tele.

    I sometimes regret selling it, though, as the focal length range makes it a really great companion lens to a 12-24 wideangle. The extra reach you get at the long end really helps, as compared to an 18-200, and if you are carrying a wideangle anyway, losing a bit at the wide end is not such a problem. Its macro ability is really excellent, getting down to what I recall as around 1:4 or better, and although that happens at the extreme tele end of the zoom, because the focal length shortens as you focus closer, the effective focal length at minimum distance seems pretty close to 100 or 135mm, which is my favorite focal length for macro work.

    For a 6 MP or maybe an 8 MP DSLR, I would certainly recommend this as a carry-around lens, particularly if you are also going to be carrying a separate wideangle.

    reviewed January 6th, 2007
  • Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED-IF DX AF-S Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    High image quality, solid build, AF-S
    Not quite enough macro or telephoto ability, no VR

    I bought this lens along with my D70 in April 2004. it served me well, and I still have it to use as a second-string lens for snapshots. It has been overshadowed by other lenses, though, and I'm not sure I would bother getting it now unless it came with a camera for very little extra money.

    That said, if you are a casual shooter, only want one lens, and don't want to spend a fortune, this may well be a better choice than the less expensive 18-55 Nikkor, although if you like to do macro, maybe not as I gather that focuses substantially closer.

    Pros: Its image quality cannot be argued with. It is very sharp with excellent contrast. It is not prone to flare. It feels quite solidly constructed, and mine has certainly held up very well.

    Cons: It doesn't have a great enough zoom range for me to be quite happy with it as a "walk-around" lens. the wideangle end is wide enough for that purpose, but the tele end is short; only about 2x, not enough to really pull in anything distant. It lacks VR, which is very useful in a do-everything lens. Its maximum magnification in macro focusing isn't high enough for the sorts of closeups I do. In short, it is very high quality, but except for the wideangle, none of its extremes are extreme enough.

    If you want an inexpensive, do-everything lens, I would recommend the 18-200 Sigma over this lens. It is not very expensive, is smaller and lighter, focuses closer, and has a much more useful telephoto end. I find its image quality to be about as good. If you want an expensive, relatively large and heavy do-everything lens, you cannot beat the 18-200 Nikkor VR ED IF AF-S, which is what I use now.

    Sample images:

    reviewed January 6th, 2007
  • Sigma 8mm f/4 EX Circular Fisheye

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    relatively inexpensive and quite reasonable image quality
    circular image only on full-frame cameras

    This lens is great, given that the alternatrives are either a very expensive (even used) camera maker's lens or a relatively poor quality converter. Image quality is very high, though there is CA.

    With this lens it is possible to produce an immersive VR image with only three exposuresif you have a full-frame camera, or with a few extras if you mount an APS-C sensor camera vertically; on those cameras the top and bottom edges are cut off but you can still cover the full circle with plenty of overlap with 6 images and could probably get by with fewer.

    On an APS-C sensor camera you get the full 180 degrees horizontally, but less, I think about 120, vertically, and the top and bottom of the frame are cut off. Images can still be remapped quite effectively to very wide panoramics, or to very interesting ultrawide shots.

    One thing to watch out for if you are looking for one of these lenses; the older version of the manual-focus Sigma 8mm only covers 170 degrees or thereabouts, and should be avoided if you are looking for easy immersive panorama shooting. Even that lens can produce some very interesting results, though--a sample image from that lens, remapped to rectilinear using Panorama Tools (with some subsequent editing of the pictures on the wall):

    reviewed January 15th, 2007
  • Nikon 20mm f/2.8D AF Nikkor

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    high build quality, small and compact, moderately ultrawide on film
    lots of CA on film and digital, not very wide on digital

    I have the older AIS version of this lens, but have read that the optics were unchanged in the move to autofocus. As other reviewers have noted, this was one of my favorite lenses when shooting on film, but its usefulness on digital is limited by the fact that it becomes a 30mm equivalent; instead of ultrawide it is only moderately wide.

    However, it is a joy to use simply because it is so small and light, and because it is relatively fast, it makes manual focuing easy. My main use for in in digital has been doing near-infrared using a Hoya R72 filter--its relatively small filter size means that you can buy an infrared filter that will fit it without spending hundreds of dollars (the price of 77mm IR filters is pretty horrifying, while 62mm ones are very reasonable), and because my MF lens, and judging from the product photo on, the AF lens too, has an infrared focusing mark, it is a lot easier to focus correctly without so much guessing. I put the lens on a D70, expose using the histogram, focus by guess and setting to the IR mark, and frame using a 28mm auxiliary finder for a rangefinder camera in the flash shoe of the D70 (with electrical tape on the bottom of it to avoid shorting out the flash contacts). At ISO 400, I can shoot at about 1/60 to 1/125 at f/2.8 handheld in full sunlight and get very nice IR effects.

    reviewed January 15th, 2007