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Gear Reviews

Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED Real World Review – The Most Strange Lens I Have Ever Tested – Nikon D750

The Nikon 18-35mm is one of the most unusual lenses I have ever tested. Let’s explain. First of all, I want to preface this review by disclosing I am coming from a Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS, which is over double the cost. According to DxOMark, this strange lens is sharper than both the Sony and Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR lenses at the sharpest aperture (see my sharpest aperture for this lens in my independent testing later). Given the price difference, smaller size and weight and seemingly better optical performance in terms of chromatic aberration, vignetting, sharpness transmission and distortion, what’s the catch?
Turns out it’s the sharpness at varying apertures. As shown in DxOMark’s data bellow, the sharpness at varying apertures varies hugely in all the lenses. However, the Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR performs best, being sharpest at most apertures comparative to the other lenses.

 Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED

Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED

 Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS

Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS

 Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR

Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR

Sharpness at Varying Apertures (Center of Frame)

I have also tested the Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 at varying apertures on my copy of the lens. The results are as follows. Quality of focus can be thought of as optical resolution (higher numbers are better).

 18mm - click to expand 18mm

 35mm - click to expand 35mm

As the results illustrate, the lens doesn’t follow the typical lens sharpness curve. Typically, it is expected a lens becomes sharper as stopped down, plateau around 2-3 stops down from wide open and then drop in sharpness past around F14 due to diffraction. Although the latter point is true, the lens at 35mm is sharpest at F5, only half a stop down from wide open. At 18mm, the lens follows a more traditional sharpness curve, sharpest at the centre of the frame at F5.6, 1.5 stops down from wide open. Past this, the sharpness drops consistently all the way to F22 (18mm). At 35mm, the sharpness continuously drops from F8 to F29.

Build Quality, Ergonomics, Features and Design

The build quality is as you’d expect for a lens less than half the price of comparable lenses. It lacks weather resistance, it has no weather and dust sealing gasket at the mount, and the lens hood is a crappy piece of plastic with no foam or texture. These light absorbent foam materials or padding embedded in the lens hood prevent light from reflecting from the lens hood into the lens, causing ghosting, flaring and reduction in contrast. This is found on both the Sony and Nikon 16-35mm lenses, but not on the 18-35.

Another thing the lens omits is any form of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). I don’t really mind, as I generally use my ultra-wide angles on a tripod, where you’ll want to disable OIS anyway.

Ergonomically, the AF/MF switch is tiny and hard to change. This also doesn’t affect me, as I use back button focus, meaning pressing the shutter button on my D750 doesn’t engage autofocus.

The obvious drawback to the 18-35 is the fact it is 18mm at its widest. The other two lenses are 16mm at their widest. If 18mm is not wide enough, don’t buy this lens. Personally, this limits me in my use of this lens for real estate photography, as I often find myself needing to go wider than 18mm.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is the most unusual lens I have ever tested. If you don’t care about the omission of OIS, weather sealing, and sharpness either doesn’t matter to you or your happy to shoot at a very limited range of apertures, the lens is a great value. If you want more flexibility and don’t mind the price, size and weight penalty, go for the Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR. It’s simply a better lens and doesn’t have any of the aforementioned drawbacks.

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Gear Reviews

Tamron SP 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens Review – Nikon D750

Here’s my real-world review of the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD. After I sold my Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens to upgrade to this lens, I have compiled some user notes aggregated from my real-world experiences.

Let’s start by breaking down the full name of the lens:

SP – Super Performance (Sounds ambitious, though, I suppose it’s true)

Di – Digitally Integrated (??????)

VC – Vibration Compensation

USD – Ultra Silent Drive

Ultra Silent, or Ultra Loud?

The lens is not silent at all. The lens is very audible when focusing, one of the loudest focusing lenses I have ever used. Does this affect image quality? Is the focusing slow per se? Definitely not. But the USD designation is ironic, to say the least.

Infuriating Tripod Collar

 Screw on Tripod Collar Screw-on Tripod Collar

On my previous Sony F4 version of this lens, the tripod collar required maybe one rotation of the knob to fix the collar to the lens. The same is true of the Nikon and Sigma versions of the 70-200 F2.8. However, the Tamron version is a simple screw-on tripod collar, which takes maybe 5 rotations of the knob. If you want to take off or put on the tripod collar quickly, this lens will slow you down. It also feels flimsy in comparison to the Sony mirrorless version as well. Additionally, it’s more difficult to attach as well, as the collar isn’t “funnelled” into the groove as it is on other lenses. Overall, although not a big deal to many, the tripod collar seems like an afterthought.

The Nikon 70-200 splits the tripod collar into two parts. The ring wrapping around the lens, and the part where your tripod plate attaches to. This has been found to be a more durable design, absorbing impact if your camera happened to fall off a tripod. I hope Tamron incorporates these improvements into this lenses successor.

Build Quality

In terms of build quality, the lens is probably what I was expecting for the price. Many lay into the name brand lens manufactures for being overpriced. Though, the name brand lenses are generally in my experience far better built. Similar to the Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD, the zoom ring feels like it gives way slightly when you press on it. The exception in my experience are the Sigma Art lenses, which are one of the best-built lenses I have seen. Happily, the lens has a weather sealing gasket around the mount.

 Weather Seal in the Mount Weather Seal in the Mount

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, I dislike how the focus ring is further towards the back of the lens, and the zoom ring is towards the front. I constantly find myself accidentally adjusting focus while zooming. The Sony, Nikon and Canon 70-200 lenses arrange the focus ring at the front, with the zoom ring towards the back. My suspicion is the lawyers had their way on this one…

Optical Performance & Focusing

The lens has similar if not better optical performance to the name brand Nikon and Canon lenses. However, the Canon is the only one that doesn’t exhibit severe focus breathing at close distances. This can come into play when taking tight headshots, as the Nikon and Tamron have a similar field of view at 200mm as the Canon at around 150mm. This can be remedied by extension tubes, as the expense of being able to focus beyond close range. The vibration compensation is great to have on a telephoto lens, and it works great.

Sharpness at Varying Apertures (Center of Frame)

 Lens sharpness at 70mm - click to expand Lens sharpness at 70mm

 Sharpness at 200mm - click to expand Sharpness at 200mm

The graphs illustrate that the Tamron 70-200 is sharpest at F4 at 70mm and F5.6 at 200mm when examining the centre of the frame. Additionally, there is a rapid gain in sharpness when initially stopping down from F2.8 and F4. Past F14, the lens shows the usual reduction in sharpness due to diffraction.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the lens is a great upgrade from any 70-200 F4 lens. The shallower depth of field and roughly 2/3 stop increase in light is well worth it, especially considering most first-party 70-200mm F4 lenses are less sharp and more expensive. My only hesitation is the loud focusing, somewhat poor ergonomics, comparatively worse feel in the hand and hateful tripod mount. If any of these are of particular importance to you, spring for the first party 70-200mm F2.8 lenses. If these can’t justify the significant gulf in price though, this is a great option. Either way, I don’t think you can really go wrong.

Further reading: Mirrorless vs. DSLR. Sony a7ii vs Nikon D750 – Comparison Between Brands & Why I Switched to Nikon

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Gear Reviews

Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art Real World Review – Is it worth it?

 Large 77mm Front Filter Thread. AF/MF Focus Switch

Large 77mm Front Filter Thread. AF/MF Focus Switch

The Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art has become probably more popular than the less expensive, smaller, first-party versions of the 50mm F1.4. Why? It’s a T1.8, meaning it zaps one stop of light before it reaches the camera sensor. It’s almost 100% longer than the first-party options, 3 times heavier and costs 2-3 times more!

To answer the question, it’s because it generally isn’t compared to the Nikon or Canon 50mm F1.4 lenses, more often to the ~$4000 Zeiss Otus 55mm, one of the sharpest DSLR lenses available.

When we look at the Canon, Nikon and Sigma 50mm F/1.4’s, the Sigma’s primary advantage is sharpness when shot wide open. Any lens, especially a prime can be sharp at 2-3 stops down from wide open. However, excellent wide open optical performance is a hallmark of a quality piece of glass. After all, what’s the point of an F1.4 lens if you’re going to stop it down to F2.8?

 DxOMark's comparison of the Sigma, Nikon & Canon 50mm F1.4 lenses when shot wide open.

DxOMark’s comparison of the Sigma, Nikon & Canon 50mm F1.4 lenses when shot wide open.

Additionally, the Sigma has significantly less barrel distortion, vignetting and slightly less chromatic aberration.

For many, this simply won’t matter. Shot wide open at F1.4, so little will be in sharp focus that the Sigma’s wide-open sharpness advantage will barely be noticeable. Additionally, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration are also easily fixed in Lightroom or Capture One Pro.

I came to this lens having used the Sony Zeiss 55mm F1.8 ZA lens, which had a very similar optical performance. Most importantly, it was also T1.8, but significantly smaller and around the same price.

Topic of Debate: Aesthetic of F1.4 vs. T1.8

F Stop refers to the aperture or the theoretical amount of light than will enter the lens. It also indicates the amount of background blur you will get out of the lens. T Stop is a more practical measure of the amount of light that actually makes it through the glass elements to the sensor.

The amount of light the lens lets-in may be important, but the aesthetic of F1.4 is still mesmerising. But this brings me back to the original question, why aren’t more people seen with the smaller, cheaper versions of the 50mm F1.4 from Canon and Nikon. After the above discussion, I don’t really know. The lenses are even similar stopped down to F2.8. Can a 25% sharpness increase at F8 really justify 2-3 times the price amongst other sacrifices? Don’t get me wrong, I like the lens, but I believe for the aforementioned reasons, that it is not the right 50mm for most people. It’s not like the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, which has a T stop rating of T1.6, half a stop more than the Sigma 50.

Pros

The build quality far exceeds any 50mm F1.4 from Nikon or Canon. It’s on par with the Sony 55mm F1.8 ZA, which is also a very well built lens. Build quality amongst lenses doesn’t get much better than this. The lens may be heavy, but for many, the large and heavy construction screams premium quality and professionalism. The lens is an amazing value, especially considering the lens delivers F1.4, autofocus (unlike the Zeiss Otus) and is cheaper than the first party and optically inferior first-party options.

The lens also has great focusing when attached to my D750. Congratulations to the engineers at Sigma, as large-aperture lenses generally require a larger distance for elements to move to acquire focus.

 Lack of Weather Sealing Gasket on Mount

Lack of Weather Sealing Gasket on Mount

Future Improvements

The lens does exhibit quite a bit of focus breathing. It’s definitely not the worst I’ve seen, but it does limit its possible uses in video or close range portraiture.

The lens isn’t exactly what you’d call feature-packed. It has no optical image stabilisation or weather sealing. I have to cut Sigma some slack here. As of the date of the publication of this article, there is no stabilised and weather-sealed 50mm F1.4 on the market. However, it is a possible future improvement. The closest thing to what I’ve been describing on the market is the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, which offers image stabilisation and weather sealing, but is F1.8.

This isn’t really a gripe, but the lens hood is absolutely huge. In itself, this can also be considered a pro as it is very well built, far higher in quality compared to my Tamron F2.8 zooms.

Sharpness at Varying Aperture Settings (Centre of Frame)

 Click to expand

The above graph illustrates the sharpest aperture when examining the centre of the frame is F4. Additionally, there is a huge difference in sharpness when stopping down from F1.4 to F1.6. The usual reduction in sharpness (due to diffraction) when stopping down towards F16 is also evident, however not as much compared to other lenses. This can become handy for Macro photography. Keep in mind, you’ll be needing extension tubes to allow the lens to focus close enough for Macro purposes.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I’ll be keeping the lens. I am a sharpness geek, although I know in reality this doesn’t really make that big a difference in real-world use. I’ve wanted to give the lens all the praise it deserves, whilst being practical in my comparisons, and laying out why one might pick this lens over the Canon and Nikon versions. If you crave sharpness, want fantastic build quality and don’t mind the T stop rating of T1.8, this lens is definitely for you. Studio, portrait and wedding photographers will absolutely love this lens. If on the other hand you are happy with still good but not world-class wide-open sharpness, the same F1.4 aesthetic, lighter weight and smaller size and appreciate the money savings, don’t be afraid to try out the Canon or Nikon 50mm F1.4 lenses. Their smaller size and weight are great when travelling or when used in street photography settings. The money you save can then be reinvested elsewhere. I don’t think most people will be disappointed with either of the Sigma, Canon or Nikon 50mm F1.4 lenses, just get out there and start shooting!

Any thoughts? That’s what the comments section is for.