J R learns the D200 - Day 25
trees & birds: Testing a new lens
Day 25 — March 30 2006 - The fact that the Nikon D200 works with elderly Nikon lenses, including old, manual focus ones enabled me to learn significantly without buying all new lenses. I wanted to feel my way with my old lenses, before I decided on new ones. But there became a well defined hole in my coverage.
Sounds like a mess o lenses. But since all but two are manual focus, some more than 40 years old, and one won't focus at all, there's only four useful lenses in the bunch, including the one that came in the mail yesterday. The 20, the 17-55 (my only zoom), the 105 and the 180. The 105 is marvelously sharp, but it is a hassle to focus. Which leaves three, and the new 17-55 supercedes the 20, so that's two, particularly useful autofocus lenses that are good enough for journa-photolist work.
I got what I needed — a people lens, good for individual portraits, crowds, groups and close-in performance. Something I could use to shoot art and artists at openings, art for individual artists and galleries, my close-up still lifes and all those unexpected possibilities in-between shots I've yet to explore.
I did not want one of those clunky cheap or expensive lenses whose maximum aperture dwindles as I zoomed out, especially in available darkness. I always have, so it's likely I will in future, take photographs in very iffy light. I need something that will suck in plenty.
I needed a fully-automatic, medium-length, everything-in-between zoom with a large maximum aperture that did not change and the ability to focus down to inches, not feet.And that's what I got.
Most places I go, I take only one lens and alter my vision to suit it. All the photographs on this page were shot with my new 17-55mm f/2.8 (note no string of bigger numbers after that one f/stop) AF lens.
Digital SLRs' main claim to fame is their ability to use multiple, interchangeable lenses, one at a time. Unfortunately, dSLR's sensors attract dust, especially during lens changes, so we avoid changing them. Using zooms instead of a group of incremental prime (non-zoom) lenses saves changing. It also saves hauling around a lot of lenses.
I won't be throwing any of my old lenses away. Beither will I be bothering with my 35mm (Maybe I can get it looked at by a professional. Maybe I'll mount it on the wall). Also, unless I absolutely need to get in 1:1 close (meaning the image rendered on the sensor is the same size as the object being rendered), I probably won't use my elderly 55mm manual everything super macro.
My new zoom fills my most important gap I figured out over the last month. The remaining gap is out from 55 to 180 and up. The new lens is spectacular in many realms, but it is not a Sunset Bay lens for shooting birds high or far away. Unless the pelicans come in a lot closer, the short zoom won't work for them or for other distant objects.
The 17-55's range is middle, not telephoto. Though I love the reach possible with my 180, I want to be able to zoom back to relatively wider angles and out to much more telephoto visions, so I know there's a longer zoom in my near future, maybe a month or two ahead. Kinda depends on taxes.
Some of the possibilities include:
I can, and sometimes do, use flash, but I'd almost always rather not. I like natural modeling (capture of as many as possible tonalities that yield real human expressions and forms) that direct, on-camera flashes usually destroy.
Although I do expect to work up to using a two-flash setup like I used in the late 70s to make amazingly dimensional photographs of jazz musicians. So in near dark situations, I could still come up with fully modeled subjects. But that's a way off yet.
It's nice that my new lens focuses fairly close and is incredibly sharp, even when I'm shooting "wide open (at maximum aperture). This lens stays a full f/2.8 throughout its 3:1 zoom range. By reading the fine print on the tabloid sized (multi-language) instruction sheet that came with the new lens, I learned that it focuses closest (14 inches) at 35mm.
It's not a light lens, but as someone on the Nikon forum said, it was easy to get used to. It balances well on the camera. I even shot it a couple times using only one hand, although I wouldn't recommend it. All of the images on this page (and tomorrow's) were shot with my brand new AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm 1:2.8 G ED DX lens, and as you are seeing, it is remarkablly versatile.
As soon as I signed the UPS slate for it, I mounted the new lens on the D200 and started shooting. I didn't have anything specific in mind. I rarely do. I wandered around the house shooting some of the same old stuff, some things I'd never tried before.
The central, arrow design, stained glass frame is 20 inches high.
This bug couldn't have been more than 1/4-inch long, if that, but I didn't think to try to measure it. It is here in very close to full, 100% original size — a tiny portion of the full frame. If I had made the usual size image from that shot, it would look like it was right on target, focus-wise. Even here, its left antenna and hind legs are.
Remember awhile back when I couldn't figure out how to set the flash to slightly underexpose an already sun back- lighted subject? Well, I figured how to use the regular Exposure Compensation Button, then applied that understanding to the similarly marked button near the flash.
Synchro-Sunlight Flash means shooting flash at something at least already partially exposed by the sun. Usually to fill in the shadows. Without the flash here, except for his edges, the Yo would be rendered in dark shadow, sitting on a dark sill.
The colors are true to life, and that 3.75-inch diameter yellow wood flower is surprisingly sharp, hand-held, and the leaf, other wood flower, painting and wall behind it are all rendered soft.
I didn't fuss with these or the image above's colors. They came out of the camera in almost perfect alignment with what I can plainly see on the wood wall across my office. My dear friend TJ Mabrey sent me those symbols many years ago. The Xeroxed postcard of Luchas images was by Dallas artists Steve Cruz and Rosemary Meza.
The Roo gave me the small white table to show off the original Dallas NOTES typesetter (It's identical to the justifying typewriter that Shrubya's National Guard boss had when Shrub never showed up to meetings, and the national media said was too complicated for a dumb old colonel to operate, which was sheer horse-pucky, since we had rank amateurs typing on the thing in a matter of minutes back in the day). The plastic chair is a plastic chair, and the now elder grapefruit was picked off one of his trees by my father the day after Christmas (his birthday).
This is the first lens to pass my Easter Lites Focus Test on my front porch. Note the tiny threads of webbing attached to the twisted electrical cords and the filament visible in both bulbs — and the soft bokeh in the tree leaves well behind.
Interesting juxtaposition of textures.
The shadow on the lower wing of this artwork, U.S. Peace Initiative by Greg Metz and Son is because sometimes the largish lens hood blocks off the on-camera flash. Which only hastens the day I'll get a real flash. But since I use flash so seldom, first comes a bit of research.
Sharp, but not well-exposed, this is a grab+bed pan shot of a Red-winged Blackbird speeding along the shore of White Rock Lake. A few minutes earlier, one flew directly toward me, showing off large, brilliant red shoulders and causing me to pay enough attention to Redwings thereafter that I eventually caught one on the wing.
I'll have to really pay attention to catch one flying at me (and this remarkably fast-focusing lens will help me in that task). This shot may be too dark, but I like its shape, smidgen of color and background texture in lake and land.
I often rotate images in post, so the distant lake-level align horizontal. But here, I'm happy with the climb. The bird's tail, head and beak and some trailing feathers appear to be in focus. And the tiny glimpse of red-yellow shoulder spectra helps. The wing-end flight feathers, even if they are almost totally out of focus, help make this bird live in this photograph, which was not post-produced.
[These following comments
refer to the Redwing Blackbird above,
Grackle just below and the Shape-Shifter image now near the top of this page.]
All three of these images are almost exactly the size they were on the camera's original JPEG exposure (full size 36 x 53 inches). I hope to learn about RAW soon and have already downloaded some software, but there are still many more overt modes on this camera that baffle me. So there's a few steps to toddle before that giant leap.
These are two of the many times I wished I were dealing with a zoom that zoomed further out. After wielding that 180, 55mm seems pretty short.
Mrs. Grackle started out as a dark blob lost in the ever so lighter blobs in a dark blob of an underexposed photograph (what happens when the spot of the spot metering is not carefully placed; in fact, what happens when the photographer forgets his new camera is in spot mode, at all.
At first I did not expect to place her here, because her photo was so dark. Luckily, there's more in a dark photograph than there'll ever been in a too-light one, and after some careful adjustments in Photoshop, we got a very nice image of her flying past the reeds at the edge of the lake.
I don't mind the relative darkness of the first two birds-in-flight shots, but having it set on spot metering didn't help anything. I suspect, especially with this lens that is more integrated with the camera than any of my others, pattern metering — Nikon calls it "Color Matrix" when a new AF DX lens like this one is used — might have brightened the two images significantly.
Thus destroying utterly the dark magic of them.
I read a quote from a more or less famous professional photographer who said that his vision changed every time he changed lenses. I know that sensation. When I'm waving the big black brick of my elderly 180mm lens around, I can rarely fathom needing any other lens.
With this new zoom, many more, intermediary angle visions are possible. I'm only beginning to understand which they are, and I still haven't shot a people event. The big anti-Iraq war protest that was so definitively rained about a couple weeks ago was a major Which lens dilemma for me. Now there'd be no doubt. This one.
This one's too dark, too. But there's darned little magic in it.
Me, showing off the wide-angle end of my new zoom. Except the demonstration is too subtle. I would like to have had my shadow fall somewhere out of the picture, but I couldn't shoo it away. It just stayed there.
Image is very nearly 100% of its original exposure size. Close and sharp.
Crawling around in the grass shooting close-ups of flowers, my hand touched this thing that I originally thought was a worm, then I realized what it was and posed it on the cement abutment of the bridge.
I am sometimes remembering what exposure mode I should be in. Pattern for this. Spot or even center weighted would have been a little silly. Pattern's perfect.
I have been trying for years to get a good shore splash during windy weather. But my old camera's multi-second digital lag prevented it. So nice now to have a camera and lens combination that not only focuses almost immediately but shoots when I push the shutter button, not seconds or milliseconds later. On time, every time.
Many inlets into the lake are equipped with long, shaped, plastic booms that rake the surface to gather or prevent movement of scum. This is part of one and its haul. Another real abstract.
The truck is sharp, and so is the driver. But the dog that leans and stares is not quite. I shot five shots in rapid succession, but this is as close to sharp as I rendered that dog, and it was that dog that I wanted sharp. Only later did I realize what a snazzy truck that old Chevy (I think) is. Pretty color contrasts well with the dogs in the back. Great separation with the neighborhood, though. Could almost pass for sharp.
To be fair, the camera assumed I was trying to focus image dead center, on the truck. And it did that.
Another, slightly less successful pan. Gotta work on my pans with this new lens. I gotta remember that wide open is possible with this camera. It would simply change the shutter speed. My old camera would not shoot faster than 1/1000 of a second. This baby goes to 1/8000.
I love the juxtaposition of what is probably stored in that tank and the hoity-toity neighborhood behind. Cute caboose, too. I like that it seems squeezed by the strap tying it to the truck. We get the sense of motion, but it would have been nicer if the text on the truck were easier to read.
The spot metering mode setting was probably left over from an earlier shot. It appears to have been right at the point where the white and red came together, not helping the exposure much, but not hurting too much, either. Brighter exposure would have helped it look sharper, however.
The only reason I found the snake below, is because I became enamored of the dropping tree over by the trestle on the lake side of the neighborhood park on Williamson Road that cuts through the raised track area, just to the right of this shot.
I like the cool, bright green of the leaves on the drooping branches, the slight mysteriousness of the dark trestle shapes behind and the simplicity of the composition. I wish the sky's blue would shine through more, but I didn't want to mess up the rest, so I didn't darken it.
When I found this poor dead snake, it had a large branch club smashed squarely on its big middle, where the indent is above. I keep seeing signs about keeping our lake clean. How about some signs saying things like "Don't Murder Our Lake's Animals. They live here and do good. Do you?"
I realize many people are afraid of snakes, and many others think it is a good thing to kill the creatures almost no matter what. Leave White Rock Lake's other citizens alone, people. And teach your kids to respect them. Don't you or let them throw rocks at the ducks or any other creatures. Live and let be.
Spot metering did not help this image, which is much less contrasty than I expected. Pattern metering would have been better. Shooting it at 17mm focal length probably distorted the snake, besides. I shot it several ways, including using some fill flash. This is the best exposure of the bunch, which ain't saying much.
Both the dead baby snake and this large, probably slow when he got murdered because his middle was thick with a recent meal, dead snake's mouth area was insect-deteriorated. I knew cows and horses and other mammals have soft tissue there. I guess snakes' lips are, too. Flies dotted the creature's long fuselage, but the ants concentrated on his mouth and nostril areas.
I didn't want to crawl around in the sand, with all those red ants, so I held the camera out from my eye, sighted through the viewfinder (sorely missing being able to focus via the big LCD on the back) and fired away. I could see individual ants that way, and it worked well.
About the only improvement would have been to find a better background, but this creature had endured enough indignity already.
It's even difficult for me to believe, but except for darkening the sun bleached top of the steering wheel hub, this is exactly as the camera rendered it. The exposure was absolutely dead-on accurate, and so was the the nearly universal (interior) focus. Nice of it to blur out the grass beyond the windshield, keeping our attentions inside the vehicle, where there's plenty local color.
Even the bright, translucing beads hanging from the rearview mirror are perfect and sharp and densely colorful. I think I could make a 24 x 36-inch print that would look fabulous (if I had a printer that would print that big). I haven't printed any of my D200 images yet.
Maybe I'll print that rowboat from last time. It's a beaut.
Roses on the coffee table at Anna's. I shot it many times, sometimes even letting the camera's weight hold it on a nearby couch arm, but this hand-held shot is the best. A tripod would have been better, but I don't lug those things around much, if I don't have to. And with this lens, I don't.
[All shots above taken with the Nikon 17-55 2.8 AFS lens.]
Total images, so far = 3,295