Category Archives: Camera and Equipment Reviews

Sigma 85mm 1.4 for sports photography

I recently tried out a Sigma 85mm 1.4 for sports photography.  Sigma’s new Art series lens has certainly been getting some positive press in other areas so I’d thought I’d try it out for sports photography.  I shot some high school basketball games with it to test the autofocus, sharpness, and vignetting.  All-in-all, the Sigma performed very well.  I tested the lens on a Canon 1DX Mark II at the Denver Coliseum, a moderately well-lit venue.

Autofocus

Perhaps the most important element for sports photography is autofocus.  A lens has to be capable of fast and consistent autofocus.  The Sigma definitely has one of these 2 traits and isn’t too bad on the other front.  Its autofocus is very fast.  In fact, it is faster than a Canon 70-200 2.8 L!  The the lens isn’t quite as accurate as I’d like, but consistency wasn’t a major factor either.  For example, out of 30 shots I might have 3 that are out of focus with the 70-200 2.8 L but the Sigma would get more like 7-8 out of focus over that same stretch. While 75% is still a good hit rate, it’s not in the league of the top Canon lenses for sure.  

Sharpness

As far as sharpness goes, the Sigma 85 1.4 is stunning.  I would say the lens is razor sharp at most apertures except for under f2.0.  This is truly extraordinary performance from an 85mm lens.  

Drawbacks

Well, everything good in life has a price and weight is the price you will pay for the high performance of this lens.  The Sigma weighs in at 40 oz.  If you think of it as a replacement for a 70-200 2.8, the weight won’t bother you so much.  But if you’re used to lightweight primes, the size of this lens will probably bug you a lot.   The narrow depth of field at wide apertures is also a drawback.  I am not one to drool over shots taken at f1.4 with completely blurred backgrounds.  In addition to the background being blurred, so is much of the subject at this aperture.  This was no different for sports.  The extremely narrow depth of field combined with some issues of autofocus inaccuracy makes this lens virtually unusable for moving subjects below f2.0 unless you’re willing to put up with a lot of images going in the trash bin.  

Recommendation

At apertures like f2.5 and 2.8, I really loved this lens for basketball. Having an extra stop of light when you need it like in poorly lit high school gyms is one reason to highly recommend this lens for some types of sports photography.  And of course, this lens just cannot be beat for portraits.  If you are in need of an 85mm lens, look no further than the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art.  

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Canon 5D Mark IV vs Nikon D500 Review

I recently rented a Canon 5D Mark IV and and a Nikon D500 to test which one would be the better camera for my purposes.  The focus of my review is use for sports photography.  I currently use a Canon 5D III for sports.  The camera is adequate but I find myself wishing it had faster and more accurate focusing on a number of occasions and 6fps is also a little slow for sports.  In the past, I have also tried a Canon 7D MKII but found it to be too inaccurate for serious sports photojournalism.

Test Parameters

I shot a high school football game, a college football game, and a high school softball tournament with both cameras.  I paired the Nikon with a 70-200 2.8 II lens to get an equivalent focal length compared to my Canon with a 300 2.8 IS lens (yes, if I really wanted to be perfect I would’ve used a 200 2.0 to give me the same effective depth of field).  I also used a 1.4x teleconverter on both cameras paired with the above lenses.  For the high school game, I was shooting at ISO 8000, f 2.8 at 1/800 second.  For the college game, the lighting was better and I was able to shoot at ISO 3200, f 3.2 at 1/1000th.  I turned off high ISO noise reduction on both cameras and used minimal sharpening on both.  I sharpened the images additionally in Lightroom using the same setting for each.

Ergonomics and Handling

The Canon won the handling battle in my mind.  I just like the Canon layout better.  The lens turns the right way, the buttons are laid out better, and the control dial is quicker and easier to use than the push controller on the Nikon.  Both menu systems are easy to navigate but he menus are more intuitive to navigate through on the Canon.  Yes, I have used Canon cameras since 1998 and that is what I am used to, but I think the system just works better and is easier to learn overall.  The Nikon requires button turing to access some features and I think the small buttons on the Canon are able to access more information quicker. However, for those used to Nikon cameras these complaints would not be an issue.

Both cameras fell great in the hand.  I think the new Canon’s grip fits like a glove.  It is a comfortable camera to hold and the Nikon is no slouch in this regard.

Build Quality

The Canon feels heftier to me and seems like it would stand up to most knocking around a professional would give it.  The Nikon is also well built but the buttons and controls didn’t seem quite as robust as they are on the Canon.

Screens

The new Canon touch screen is amazing.  IT is bright and easy to see, even in bright light.  Flipping through photos on the back works much like a smart phone–simply swipe or spread to enlarge the view.  Ingenious!  This is my most favorite upgrade on the new Canon body.

The Nikon screen also works in much this manner and allows quick review of files.  I give the reoslution edge to Canon, however.

Viewfinder

Canon seems to have stuffed whatever information you want or need into the viewfinder readout.  IT was easy to read.

The Nikon finder is really bright and crisp for a crop sensor camera.  I could;t tell I was using one in fact.  This viewfinder is light years ahead of what Canon used to put in 20Ds and such.

Shutter

The Canon Mark IV shutter is amazingly quiet compared to the Mark III.  The Nikon shutter sound is more reassuringly metallic but not as loud as the Canon Mark III, either.  If working in quiet areas is part of your daily routine, then the Canon is the way to go.  Golf tournaments and weddings require minimal disruption from a camera so the Canon would be the way to go here.

The Canon shutter is rated at 150,000 cycles and the Nikon is rated at 200,000.

Autofocus

I had high hopes for the Mark IV on the autofocus front.  I was hoping that Canon had finally put a capable autofocus system in a non 1 series digital camera.  The Mark IV comes closer to this goal, but the system is still not perfect.  The acquisition speed is faster than with the Mark III, but it is not a huge difference.  Both cameras still struggle somewhat with teleconverters attached. Focus tracking is also improved on the Mark IV, but the camera still will come off an object and hunt a little, even after the target is acquired.

In contrast, the Nikon does not let you down.  Hold the back focus button down, and the focus stays on your target almost without fail.  Yes, like all autofocus systems, the camera with switch targets occasionally if an interfering player comes in the field of view, but usually the Nikon got focus right on almost every frame.  This is an incredible feat for a $2,000 crop sensor body (by contrast, the autofocus in the Canon 7D MK II seems to be always a little inconsistent).

The other feature of the Nikon that I liked is the autofocus-on button is large and raised so it is easier to hit with your thumb than the Canon.  Just like the Mark III, the AFE button is too close to the autofocus-on button and I would occasionally mistakenly hit it instead of the autofocus button.

Frame Rate

The Canon is rated at 7 FPS and seemed noticeably slower than the Nikon which is rated at a higher 10 FPS.  Canon messed up here.  Had they gone to a faster frame rate, this would be a superb all around camera.  As it stands, 7 FPS is still a little slow for sports photography.

High ISO Noise

No complaints with either camera in this regard.  The Canon 5D Mark III was good at high ISOs and the Mark IV is even better.  The grain pattern is less pronounced and I got very good files at ISO 8000 that I could apply minimal noise reduction to in Lightroom.  Surprisingly, the Nikon files looked almost as good.  Some detail was lost at ISO 8000 but not enough to render the files degraded or compromised.  The Canon, as you would expect from a full-frame camera, wins this battle but the differences were not that pronounced.  Again, for a crop sensor the Nikon performed very well indeed.

Canon 5D MKIV ISO 8000

Canon 5D MKIV ISO 8000

Nikon D500 ISO 8000

Nikon D500 ISO 8000

!00% crop Canon

!00% crop Canon

100% crop Nikon

100% crop Nikon

 

Image Quality

The Canon has more resolution (but lower pixel density due to the cropped sensor of the Nikon) and the files are obviously amenable to bigger cropping.  Both produce nice, contrasty files.  Both produce good flesh tones.  I would say the Nikon produces jpegs which have more green to them which can be seen in the football shots in particular.

Canon 5D MKIV

Canon 5D MKIV

Nikon D500

Nikon D500

Canon 5D MKIV

Canon 5D MKIV

Canon 5D MKIV

Canon 5D MKIV

Nikon D500

Nikon D500

Nikon D500

Nikon D500

Conclusion

The Nikon wins in frame rate and autofocus speed so is probably a better choice for sports photography with one caveat: the Canon produces cleaner high ISO shots so is probably a better choice for those working consistently in low light environments. The Nikon produces good results up to about ISO 4000 and still produces decent images above that with some visible noise. The Canon images are really clean even at ISO 8000.

The Canon holds its own in terms of autofocus and frames per second and does perfom better than its predecessor in almost every category, just not in a revolutionary way.

So I would not hesitate to use either camera for some professional sports work although the D5 and 1DX MKII are still the obvious choices for the working pro.

 

Disclaimer: I rented the cameras on my own dime and this review is one man’s opinion on the cameras and is not intended as an endorsement for either brand.

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Olympus 300mm f4 Review

I tried out the Olympus 300mm f4 lens at the Denver Zoo this weekend.  The lens looks and feels like a 300mm f4 for full frame cameras but provides a field of view equivalent to a 600mm lens due to the micro 4/3 sensor size in the Olympus.  The lens is, in a word, impressive.  I had no issues handholding the lens  due to the image stabilization built in to the lens as well as the in body stabilization provided by the EM1 I tried it out on.  The end result–a lightweight combination that makes wildlife photography much more convenient.  Normally, a photographer would be required to carry a 2 pound body and a 7 pound lens along with a heavy duty tripod and gimbal head.  Not with the Olympus.  I had no issue walking around the zoo with this set up.  Using the teleconverter in conjunction with the lens I had the equivalent of an 860mm f5.6 lens!

Autofocus

The autofocus of the lens seemed quick and response.  However, the one limitation of this setup is the camera.  The EM1 simply doesn’t autofocus precise or fast enough to keep up with fast moving people or objects.  The camera was also fooled by objects in front of or in back of an object like grass or fencing.  Word has it that Olympus is working on an updated version of the EM1 that will address some of these autofocus issues, but we shall see.  If it can develop an autofocus system capable of tracking wildlife, this camera and lens combination will definitely find itself in the bags of many more pros who shoot sports and wildlife.  The lens is that good.

Image Quality

The Olympus 300 f4 lens produces great photos.  It even focuses to a relatively close five feet which allows it to take some nice close ups such as flowers.  I did not detect any major flaws with this lens during my time testing it.  It produces sharp, contrasty images even shot into the sun.  This lens is one of the best telephoto lenses on the market.  Period.

Denver zoo, Olympus 300 f4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Denver zoo, Olympus 300 f4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Denver zoo, Olympus 300 f4, monkey

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Denver zoo, Olympus 300 f4, white pelican

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Nikon D500 Review

I had a chance to try out a new Nikon D500 camera at the Denver Zoo on Saturday.  The camera boasts some major improvements over its predecessor the Nikon D300, including 10 fps continuous shooting, a 20.2 MP sensor, and a greatly improved 154 point autofocus system.  My overall impression of the camera is that it is capable of taking pictures that rival full frame in quality, especially from a high ISO noise perspective.

For the test, I coupled the camera with a Nikkor 300 f4 PF ED VR lens.  This made for a lightweight yet relatively powerful telephoto combination for animal photos.  I put the camera through a whirlwind of tests including indoors at Bird World.

Autofocus

The new autofocus system is much hyped.  And for the most part it delivered during my test.  I used continuous autofocus with a 4 point zone.  The autofocus responded well in most situations but had trouble tracking at closer distances.  In particular, I tried to shoot my son doing a standing broad jump, but the camera couldn’t keep up in this situation.  It also had some trouble with birds in the relatively close quarters of Bird World.  I would want to do more testing and pair it with a 70-200 2.8 or 300 2.8 lens for more precise testing.  Ultimately, I would want to try it out at some sporting events and see how it handles erratic moving subjects.  My sense is that this camera won;t live up to the performance of its big brother the D5 but will still be quite good.

erie-balloons-web-3500 erie-balloons-web-3574 erie-balloons-web-3692

Image Quality

The Nikon D500 provides a big step up in image quality.  It lacks an AA filter so images are very crisp and don’t suffer form the slight blurring an AA filter creates.  The images are contrasty and punchy straight out of the camera.  More impressive is the noise or lack thereof.  You’d be hard pressed to tell an image shot at ISO 6400 came from a 1.5 crop DX sensor.  This was quite an achievement.  This shot inside Bird World was taken at ISO 16000!

zoo-nikond500-300 lens-web-3524

The picture of the Lorikeet below shows the crisp color and detail this camera is capable of, even at ISO 2000.

zoo-nikond500-300 lens-web-3770

Here is a photo of an iris to examine fine detail in the beard.

zoo-nikond500-300 lens-3660

Ergonomics

The camera fits very well in my large hands.  I am used to Canon so some of the controls and motions are backwards from what I am used to, however.  Overall, I was able to figure out most functions relatively easily.  The buttons are well-labeled and laid out. The one thing I wish was easier to access was focus mode.  It wasn’t obvious how to change between continuous and single shot and then the various other modes like zone focus or tracking.

Metering and Dynamic Range

The metering in this camera was okay.  The camera underexposed some shots in the shadows.  I had also heard so much about the dynamic range of Nikon and Sony sensors as compared to Canon.  I was underwhelmed in this regard.  This shot of a Cassowary shows what I am taking about.  Some areas of the beak are blown out while some areas like the eyeball are quite dark.  I was able to pull some detail back in Lightroom.

zoo-nikond500-300 lens-web-3670

Overall, I thought the D500 looks to be an amazing camera for the price but will require further testing to see if it can be used reliably for sports photojournalism.

 

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Canon 16-35 f4 lens review

I recently rented a Canon 16-35 f/4 IS lens for my trip to Coyote Buttes in southern Utah.  Since I knew I would be shooting swirling rock and large canyons, a 16mm is a necessity in this type of environment for good landscape photographs.  I discounted a number of other options.  The 16-35 II f/2.8 does not have a stellar reputation for sharpness.  The Tokina 16-28 f/2.8 is really sharp but also has significant issues with CA.  The 14mm f 2.8 would have only usable for some shots.  I would have needed a different lens for many other shots.  The same applied to the 17mm TSE.  It’s a good lens but not very flexible.  The Zeiss 15mm is considered the sharpest lens of the bunch but again I would be limited in use.  The 16-35 f/4 seemed like the best of the options for what I was going to be shooting.

After using the lens for a week, I have to say I liked the lens a lot.  It is is significantly lighter and easier to hold than a 24-70 f/2.8.  It balances really well on the camera (in this case, a 5D MKIII) and the IS certainly comes in handy in certain situations.   The 16-35 f/4 delivers very sharp pictures.  I had very good sharpness except for the extreme corners at 16mm.  I had no issues getting sharp images at 1/30 and 1/60 second.  I used a tripod for images below that level.

I also tried out the lens on a couple of astrophotography shots. It has a lot less coma (lens aberration that elongates stars in the corners) than my 24-70 2.8.   While the 16-35 is still not perfect in this regard, it at least produces a usable photo.  I’d like to do further testing against one of the Rokinon lenses which are supposed to be much better in this regard in comparison to most of their Canon counterparts.    The downside of this lens for astrophotography, is of course, its maximum aperture of f4.  This means that to utilize the 25 second shutter speed rule to prevent star trails with this lens at 20mm or so, you will have to use ISO 6400.

The one downside I noted is that lens hunted a lot to focus on fine detail such as lines in the rock at close distances.  This could of been due to a couple of things: my rental lens was not up to snuff or the rock lines didn’t provide enough contrast to focus on. I didn’t have any issue focusing on larger objects like trees or mountains so again, I will have to do more testing to see what was causing this phenomenon.

Overall, I really like this lens and would consider adding it to my bag if I end up needing an ultra wide zoom on a regular basis.

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