Jun 152010

Some lone image of yesterday, when I was on my way to the lake. This is not far from where I lived for many years, thus I have taken images of this church more than once. I think this is the first on the blog though.

I was not sure if I should make this part of the lens review thread, but then, what I’m writing here is one solution to a typical wide-angle problem, and to a problem, that is only multiplied, when you use something as wide as the new Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens for Nikon.

Basically that’s a fake. Even with the new Sigma 8-16 on its widest, I never could have taken this image, and if I had, it would have looked different, less natural.

There is a big sign directly at the stairs, totally ruining the view, thus I tried to take the image from between sign and stairs, basically leaning against the sign. This forced me to point the camera upwards, causing enormous distortions.

Later, in Photoshop, I used the PTLens plugin, not only to remove the linear distortions that this lens has at 8 mm, but also to correct the perspective and to slightly rotate the image. Doing so horizontally expanded the image at the top and compressed it at the bottom. I would have had to crop substantially from the sides, and the result would have looked very unnatural. Thus I decided to fake it.

The only thing that we really have an idea of how it should look like, is the tower of the church. The stairs, well, here was my lever. I selected the lower part of the image, copied it to its own layer, chose “Edit / Transform / Free Transform” and began to pull the compressed lower part to the left and to the right, careful to only pull at the lower segments of the raster, thus leaving the transition zone intact.

In the result, the stairs are similar to the original, but the church looks relatively undistorted and natural. Thus we still get the feeling of an ascent that goes steeply upward, while the church looks bigger. I think I still get away with it, and the reason is exactly, that only the background needs a correct geometry. The foreground is pliable.

The Song of the Day is “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” from the “German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms. My most favorite recording is that of John Eliot Gardiner, with Philippe Herreweghe not far behind.

1334 – These Foolish Things

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Jun 092010

Here’s part four of my ongoing review of the new Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens for Nikon. This is about foolish things 🙂

What can you say when there’s nothing really to say? This lens is wonderful. It feels solid, precise, there is a nice feeling to the zoom ring and a very long way of the focus ring. Not that I ever focus this lens manually.

Being here in the city, all the problems of using such a lens apply, and then some. Forget about isolating things, forget about simple subjects. You have to be creative, fool around, try things you’ve never done.

Here is one more reason why I have bought this lens, although I already have the superb Tokina 11-16/2.8: The Tokina focuses only to 30cm, but this one (like all the Sigma wide-angles and the Nikon 10-24) goes to 24cm. It’s only six centimeters, yes, but you must not forget, that the minimum focus distance is measured from the sensor plane. On the other hand, perspective is determined by the distance between the subject and the virtual focal point, and although these lenses are 10 cm long, their effective focal distance is between 8 and 10 mm, thus roughly 9 cm in front of the sensor plane. If you take that into account, this is not the difference between 24 cm and 30 cm, this suddenly becomes the difference between 15cm and 21 cm, thus the relative difference is bigger, the perspective difference is more pronounced.

What I am doing now is fooling around. I try to use lines on the ground, put the camera very low, see what happens. One of the problems with this lens is, that it is not so easy to predict what a particular scene will look like. This would really be a case for live view and an articulated screen, especially when I have the camera so low, that I can’t possibly look through the viewfinder.

Anyway. The lesson is, that with such a lens you need experience. Only experience can give you any predictability, only experience can help you judge a situation, only experience can bridge the gap between what your eyes see and how different the world looks through such a wide lens.

Apropos fooling, just an experiment. Mount your widest lens, put it to its widest setting, be on a sidewalk in a street, look through the viewfinder while holding the camera horizontally, and then just go at normal walking speed.

It’s frightening. Well, at least at 8 mm it is. Try to avoid this with people coming your way 🙂

The Song of the Day is “These Foolish Things” by Ella Fitzgerald. I have the 1960 version of “Ella In Rome – The Birthday Concert” in mind, but YouTube’s 1957 version live at the Opera House (which one?) will do fine as well.

1331 – I Want To Be Straight II

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Jun 062010

Here’s a quick part three of my ongoing review of the new Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens for Nikon. This is about two things, distortions and flares.

As you see, both of today’s images have the sun inside of the frame. Both images have been post-processed, but in both I have left the flares and ghosts in. That’s pretty much as bad as it gets – and it is not bad at all.

I have tried to clone out the reflection of the aperture blades in the Image of the Day, but in the end I decided, that with all that symmetry, I actually liked the slightly surreal effect.

This is a lens that you can use to photograph even tall buildings without having to tip the lens upward, thus without converging vertical lines. This is something I frequently don’t care about, to the contrary, I use those lines, but in classic architectural photography, people use expensive shift lenses to get the effect.

PTLens already supports this lens, and although the barrel distortions are pretty much nil above 10 mm, at 8 mm they are pronounced enough to make an image like the Image of the Day look bad. I strongly suppose that the latest version of Adobe Camera RAW also supports it or will support it soon.

Sharpness of this lens is excellent, and chromatic aberrations are extremely well controlled. All that makes it a fantastic choice for architectural photography.

The Song of the Day is “I Want To Be Straight” by Ian Dury and The Blockheads. I have it on a collection that’s not available any more, thus I suggest you get “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – The Essential Collection”. Hear the song on YouTube. I have already used this song in “159 – The Prospect“, thus the numeral in the title 🙂

Jun 062010

Here’s part two of my ongoing review of the new Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens for Nikon.

In the last post I said you’d see me struggle, and indeed this is not an easy lens. The problem is, 8 mm are incredibly wide. Of course nothing forces my to go that wide, but that’s the whole point of this lens, isn’t it? I already have a Sigma 10-20 (that may need a firmware update, as it never worked too well on the D300) and a remarkably good Tokina 11-16/2.8, so the only reason why I was interested in the new Sigma 8-16, was that it is incredibly wide. Now I’d better use that or I’ll have to ask myself what I’ve paid 900€ for 🙂

So, how wide are 8 mm anyway? Well, on a Nikon DX camera (and this lens will only work on DX), this lens is equivalent to a 12-24 on full-frame, and there is exactly one FX lens in that range, another Sigma, the Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG, a lens that renowned wedding photographer David Ziser successfully uses on his Canon 5D (MkII), as a landscape lens, but also for epic wedding portraits in dramatic landscapes, of course with the subjects centered, to avoid unpleasant distortions.

12 mm, that’s two millimeters wider than Nikon’s widest zoom, the famous 14-24. 12 mm, that’s three millimeters wider than the effective focal length of a Sigma or Nikon 10-2x zoom, and even 10 mm on DX is extremely wide, in fact so wide, that many photographers happily settle with a 12-24 or an 11-16 DX zoom (18 mm and 16.5 mm equivalent).

Working with an 8 mm lens very much reminds me of my fisheye, the Nikon 10.5/2.8, and you have pretty much the same kind of problems: It’s extremely hard to keep anthing out of the frame. Well, it’s not just as hard as with the fish, where I regularly find my feet somewhere protruding into the image, but especially on low shots, you have to be careful to keep the feet of your tripod out of the image.

And it’s not only that. When you have so much in your image, chances are, that you have extreme contrast as well. With a normal or moderately wide lens, you can often avoid the brightest parts of the scene. Got an overcast sky? Great, leave it out. You will have subtle contrasts in the rest of the scene, and that’s something that’s easy to work with. Good luck keeping the sky out at 8 mm 🙂

Wide angles distort. That’s the whole point. I don’t mean barrel or pin cushion distortions (we’ll look at them in the next post), no, I mean that things get stretched out the nearer you get to the edges and especially the corners. There’s nothing wrong with that, but of course the shorter the focal length, the more pronounced these distortions will be, and going near to a subject will only magnify the effect. Thus you should try not to place things or even people into corners. In general, try to avoid distortions of shapes that we see as characteristic. We are very sensitive to distortions of a person’s head, but even a ball put into a corner would make the whole image look wrong. Don’t do that.

This is further aggravated by the fact, that in vertical images, much of the immediate foreground will be extremely near, and even more so, when you specifically work with the foreground, and therefore shoot low. Due to diffraction, sharpness of this lens already maxes out at f5.6, but I can tell you that even at f11 you won’t have any visible sharpness falloff, that couldn’t be corrected by sharpening.

“F11 at 8 mm”, you say, “is that not an absolute DOF overkill”? Yes and no. If you include foreground (as you should), shoot vertical or go low, you’ll see that the image includes an enormous distance range from extremely near all the way to infinity. In the Image of the Day I used f11, and although the foreground is extremely sharp into the corners, the far background is already borderline. Here it does not matter, everthing important is in the sharp range, and with experimenting, I could have set the lens at hyperfocal distance, which it most likely was not at. In general you have plenty of DOF at 8 mm, but you also need it. Keep that in mind.

Obviously using this lens needs some planning and a lot of experience. For casual snapshots it is definitely the wrong tool. Using it you will battle information overload, extreme contrast, still too shallow DOF and extreme wide-angle distortions. Everything you have read about other ultra-wide lenses still applies, only doubly so.

An ideal scenario for this lens is the desert. Lots of texture, no familiar shapes, an essentially empty landscape where you can easily arrange the few subjects. A rocky sea shore is the other obvious landscape where such lenses excel, but that’s what everybody knows, so try not to fall for clichés 🙂

The Song of the Day is “how much can you take?” by Botany Bay. I recently discovered this German group, and their music is outright excellent. Just follow the link, you can hear it in full length on their site. It’s published under a Creative Commons license, but they happily accept donations (scroll down for PayPal link) 🙂

Jun 052010

I think it’s quite funny what Ted Byrne commented on “1327 – Como La Lluvia En El Cristal“:

Hmmm… Okay, I know that the song of lenses from the store windows is so sensuous that we will have to lash you to the mast Ulysses-like lest you run your wallet into the rocks each time you pass.

Of course Ted knows me well, but sometimes I think he has a secret telepathic interface right into my brain.

I received the comment on Friday, it only came too late, I had already bought the new Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens for Nikon on Wednesday 😀

Obviously this is the beginning of a new review series. If you don’t know my reviews, well, I don’t concentrate on charts. In fact, I’m as interested in charts as every other gear head, but when I want to see charts, then I don’t make them myself, I trust the professionals.

For instance Photozone.de already has a very technical review up. It’s about the version for Canon, and although there is a theoretical difference due to the different focal length multipliers (1.6 for canon, 1.5 for Nikon, thus the Nikon sensor covers a slightly larger area), the difference can’t turn a good lens into a bad lens. Please go there for numbers.

What I can give you, is an impression of what it is like to use such a lens. I can tell you how it behaves in normal use, how snappy or precise the autofocus is, how it behaves regarding flares and ghosts, and so on and so forth.

Doing so takes time though, and, you’ll see me struggle, with this lens it may take some more 🙂

More about general usage in the next posts. What I can already tell you, is that this lens is small, at least compared to the Sigma 10-20, the Tokina 11-16/2.8 or the Nikon 10-24, and of course it is dwarved by the Nikon 14-24 full-frame lens. It shares one property with the big Nikon though: you can’t use filters. At least you can’t screw them on, because of the bulbuous front element and because you can’t take off the petal-shaped lens hood.

I have Lee graduated ND filters, and when I hold them directly in front of the lens and if I am very careful, they just cover it fully in a vertical image. In a horizontal, I have no chance. Lee filters are equvalent to Cokin Z Pro, thus a Cokin X-Pro filter might be big enough. What you really want though, is one of these.

Another thing that bothers me more, is the fact that the supplied lens cap consists of an aluminium ring and a standard lens cap (notice it in my image though: Sigma finally has lens caps that you can remove with a hood on!). The problem with this arrangement is, that I can’t stow them away as easily as a normal cap. Thus I tend to hold the cap in my left hand while taking photos.

That’s it for the first post in this series. All images taken of this lens were made with the Sigma 70/2.8 Macro.

The Song of the Day is “X-tra Wide” from the 2000 Giant Sand album “Chore Of Enchantment”. Hear it on YouTube.