664 – So Long

Yes, I’ve done it. This image was shot with the Nikon AF-S VR 70-300mm 4.5-5.6G IF-ED. Wow, what a name 🙂

It’s not more than a test image, simply a boy on rollerskates, speeding past me on the sidewalk. This was only minutes after I’d bought the lens and, to be honest, I have not used it for anything really useful since. I intend to make a point though.

The general tenor about the 70-300 is, that it is quite a good, slightly overpriced lens, not overly sharp on the long end, and certainly not wide open, so let’s see if this verdict is justified.

This particular image was shot at 300mm and f5.6, i.e. wide open. I simply pointed at the boy and pressed the shutter. Later, in Photoshop, I’ve cropped from the sides to a square.

If you click on the thumbnail to the right, you get a 600×600 pixel 100% crop of the image. It’s a crop of the JPEG that I saved in Photoshop last night, thus there is some sharpening, but please believe me, it is about the same amount that the camera had applied, it’s only that I have thrown away the original JPEG. Now, what do we see? There are stitches of the seam, there are single hairs, there is some texture in the shirt, well, for me this looks pretty sharp. Pretty damn sharp, I’d like to say. Add the fact that the lens focuses very fast, and you can imagine that I am happy as a puppy.

Remember yesterday’s confusion? Why did I resort to this lens? More than one reason: First of all, it was the cheapest candidate. Quite a good reason if you ask me. Second: it was by far the lightest. The two Sigmas (120-400 and 150-500) weigh 1.750 kg and 1.910 kg, that’s more than double the Nikon. The Nikon AF VR 80-400mm 4.5-5.6D ED, another stabilized alternative with seemingly good optics, slow autofocus and a notoriously unusable tripod collar, is only 60% heavier than the 70-300, but it costs triple. The “Weapon of Choice”, the Nikon 200-400, is obscenely expensive and with its 3.250 kg is unusable for street photography.

Here you have it. Given my constraints, the Nikon was definitely the best choice, and it performs a good deal better than I had expected, in fact it is quite impeccable. Due to nine rounded blades, even the bokeh is pretty attractive.

Another thing you may notice is, that this image is square. I rarely do square images. The butterfly two weeks ago was, and there may be some square images at times, but they are exceptions. Well, recently I’ve seen lots of squares on two blogs: Ted Byrne’s recent works are mostly square, and the other master of the square is Mark Hobson, aka “The Landscapist“. I have asked both for their reasons to shoot square images and for their method of composing for the square while using a rectangular viewfinder.

Let me make it clear: I like the results of both, in fact both have produced some masterpieces. Just look at “Dixie #10” or “Framing“, and when you check out Mark, don’t forget his new “Shore Light” site! It is only that I really enjoy the process of composing through the viewfinder. I wouldn’t mind a square viewfinder and then I would compose squares, but as it is, I rather use the given format than accepting an intermediate step.

Ted answered my question in a comment to “Street People ’08e“, and when I interpret it right, it is mostly a mix of nostalgia and a sense of rebellion against the dictate of a certain German engineer 🙂 Ted discovers his squares after the fact, while working in Photoshop.

Mark dedicated his “ku # 531 ~ it’s hip to be square” to answering my question, and for him it is a preference for the tighter composition and for the way that the square leads the eye. Mark explicitly composes for the square and says that it is only a matter of practice.

Here we are. This image was less than a snapshot and had no recognizable composition at all. Cropping to a square may have salvaged it at least a bit.

Expect more and better squares from me in the future. The two guys got me hooked 🙂

The Song of the Day is “So Long” from Sopie Zelmani’s 1998 album “Precious Burden“. See a live version on YouTube.

One thought on “664 – So Long”

  1. On the square… Yeah… Paul Strand once wrote something like, “I resent the tyranny of the 35mm frame… the world is never framed so precisely.” Besides, the 35mm frame is simply an accident of engineering by some Leica guy who, as you point out, I resent.

    One thing though, while when using the square, I do discover in the post processing, however I frequently recognize that an image will conform wonderfully to the square as I capture the image in the wild. Technically a nice thing about the square is that you can exploit the sweet spot in the very center of you lens.. and compose by centering. The rule of third composition does force us to place the subject off-center which is not the area that those engineers designed to be max re. lens performance.

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