439 – The Lookout

 Sigma 70/2.8 Macro  Comments Off on 439 – The Lookout
Dec 272007
 

Oh my, these are a lot of images today, and they are all from a one hour trip by car, just a round through the neighborhood. All images were shot with the Sigma 70/2.8 Macro (what else) and, no, I’m still not tired of it. Actually there was the one or other temptation to change to a wide lens, but I did not give in. I want to learn this lens, want to get a feeling for the frame and what you can do with it.

If it were not so obscenely late, I would probably post even some images more, some test shots for this lens’ bokeh, but that will have to wait, hopefully not longer than for the weekend.

The first image is of a farm on a hill, and this was actually the first and only moment when I was tempted to change lenses. It is always that way when I shoot primes: it takes me some time to accommodate to the way the lens sees, to fall into this particular vision. At this time I still felt awkward, and I think it shows.

The next shot is nothing particularly special either, but it turned out to be a test shot. I took it at f11 first, and then I thought, hey, let’s get the background a little more blurry, let’s do it at f4. I tried and … it did not work. It was not sharp. I tried it again, then at f2.8, tried another focus point, no way! At f8 it was sharp.

Could I have a focus problem? And why hadn’t I recognized it days ago? Well, now that I thought of it, most of my images with this lens have been at f8 or above, and those below, they were focused so near that it was completely insignificant if it was a millimeter back from where I had targeted. I checked it again, using f2.8 on the houses from the first shot, and what I saw was what every lens tester would qualify as “a bit of softness wide open, as to be expected”. Hmm … approaching hyperfocal distance would certainly make things better. Could this “bit of softness” be actually a rest of the focus error?

For a short moment I felt dismay. Of course it would be no problem to get the lens changed. I had this with the Sigma 20/1.8 before, I went to the shop and left it with a brand new one that focused perfectly, but at that moment I was not in Vienna, I wanted to shoot with this lens, and having it not doing what I wanted it to do was annoying.

And then I remembered: AF Fine Tuning! Boy, I had written about it, but I had never used it! And really: It took me three or four shots to find the best value of -15 (on a scale from -20 to +20), and that was it! I love the Nikon D300!

The next shot is of an abandoned farm house by the side of the road. Every time I see it (that’s maybe a hundred times a year), I think that I should take an image of it, but either I am in a hurry, or, more likely on these weekend trips, it is completely in shadows, whatever, today was the day, I remembered, acted, and it was good. Well, at least I like it 🙂

It’s f8 again, and the next one, the Image of the Day, this lookout by the side of the forest, was even shot at f11.

Why did I chose exactly this image? I think it is for the elegantly curved lines, and then because it is another good example for an image shot with a 70, that does pretty well in the field of conventional landscapes. You know, I love wide-angle lenses, but, as I always say, it is so easy to please with the wide-angle, it’s almost no challenge at all.

Again maybe one kilometer further, I shot this image, first at f13, and then I thought, let’s try f2.8 for some more visual depth. I focused on the other lookout tower and, I’m afraid you can’t really appreciate it at these sizes but, it was tack sharp. Not a trace of softness, not at all. The lesson? Never expect softness wide open. Always check if you have a focus problem, and if you can, fix it with your camera. The D300 can do so, the D3 as well, and while in the Canon line I only know for sure that the 1D MkIII can, I expect the 1Ds MkIII will certainly be able to do so.

Two final images to go, both at f8. I greatly like this one, again for the elegant line of the street curving around the glade. I’m not particularly glad about those white posts, but I didn’t want to take them out either. In a way they accentuate the line of the street, but I wouldn’t have been unhappy about something more decent with a bit less contrast. Oh well, I guess aesthetic considerations were an afterthought for the farmer. If at all 🙂

Hey, we’re through! This last one is an image of a ruined farmhouse, and I had this house some time in September. All images of today were converted from RAW in Capture NX. I like the way this program keeps the look of the camera-generated JPEGs. The only thing that I have changed from the camera settings, was to reset all sharpening to zero, and in two cases I have adjusted exposure to salvage the red channel. After saving as TIFF, I have finally post-processed the images in Photoshop. This normally included some color correction, minor cloning and strongly sharpening the luminance channel with “Smart Sharpen”, a radius of 0.3 and a value of 400. Crazy? Try it for yourself. There is a lot of detail buried, even in these already detailed images that the D300 can produce.

The Song of the Day is “Look Out For My Love” from Neil Young’s 1993 album “Unplugged“.

Dec 052007
 

Originally I wanted to write about a new and fantastic feature of the D300, the possibility to calibrate the autofocus for lenses that would otherwise front-focus or back-focus. I mounted the lens that would probably be most susceptible to focus errors, the Sigma 20/1.8, set up a test stage with books, and made a series of test shots. Well, I don’t particularly mind that the combination was spot-on for every distance, but for demonstration purposes it would have been interesting.

What’s the theory? The D300 can remember focus adjustments for 12 lenses, and these must have a built-in CPU. Maybe that is used for identification purposes only, I don’t know and Nikon didn’t tell. Most manual focus lenses don’t have a CPU, but obviously wouldn’t profit from AF adjustments anyway, most autofocus lenses have one, and certainly so anything built in the last 10 years.

Nikon does not recommend setting AF adjustments for lenses that don’t need it (Doh!), and they warn that by using these adjustments, a lens can stop focusing to infinity.

Mount the lens that you want to adjust. From the setup menu, under “AF fine tune”, you can select one of the 12 storage slots and then enter an adjustment value between -20 and +20, 0 being neutral. Positive values move the focus plane away from the camera, negative … you get it. Fine tuning must be enabled to be used, by default it is “OFF”.

You can “name” the storage slot with a two digit number (initially between 01 and 12), they recommend using the last two digits of the serial number. How silly is that? There are already several places in the menus where we can enter text, so using the same text editor gadget wouldn’t have been too hard, would it? Anyway. That’s how it is, and that’s the end of today’s D300 report. Let’s move on to the the images.

In the morning, when I went to work, I had some minutes without rain, and in that time I shot this image of some graffiti. You see, I go to great lengths to avoid having Ted running out of his favorite motive 🙂

The rest of the time it rained, so I was forced to use an umbrella and the all-weather cover of my Lowepro Slingshot 300 AW. It only stopped raining after I had arrived.

At work I immediately was the target of jokes, and they recommended me a job as rain dancer. Well, funnily enough, although I left work in the afternoon under a clear, blue sky, it again began to rain after only 10 minutes. I was less than amused.

Both images, the graffiti and the Image of the Day, were shot with the Nikon 50/1.8 at f1.8. What a wonderful lens that is.

The Song of the Day is “An Unexpected Rain” from Melissa Etheridge’s 2007 album “The Awakening”. Fantastic stuff, highly recommended. Hear a live performance on YouTube.