400mm at its best – shooting the background-blur-king

The mother of all lenses: the Nikkor AFS 400mm f2.8G VR ED

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This is one of the lenses that most serious sports photogs have in use regularly. Its THE bread&butter lens of the soccer/football/car racing and swimming/athletics sports photographers. This is a really heavy lens (4.62 kg) and even if you come from a 300mm f2.8 lens design, the size and weight upgrade in significant. Also the price of this lens makes it mostly appear in the hands of those that get assignments and sell some shots. An equipment insurance is pretty much a given when you buy yourself into this level of equipment. Dropping an 7-9k investment is kind of horrifying. However when Nikon upgraded this lens in 2015 the old VR version plummeted in price to the 4500-6000€ region on the second hand market. Its never less a heavy investment and the lens better delivers image quality at this price point.

Well it clearly does. Sharpness is crisp @2.8 also into the far edges and even a wee bit better than my trusty Nikkor AF-S 300mm f2.8 MkI and depth of field at f2.8 is minimal to a point where lens AF calibration plays a critical role to achieve perfectly focused images. Background blur and bokeh are just what you expect. The lens clearly puts every background into a creamy fading soup of smooth changing color tones. Bokeh-balls are well defined without being too edgy. If you up micro contrast to the max some minor onioning is visible within the bokeh balls but you have to search it. Bokeh is a bit “better” (less nervous) than using the AFS MkI 300mm  f2.8 and adding a TC14mkII. You can also add the TC14 to the 400mm and you get a nice and very sharp 550mm f4 lens (you will also need a new AF-lens-calibration set for that combination).

smh-gc13-v2-20161216-6114683-3260Fig.: This lens is big, it even dwarfs the 14-24 or the 70-200 – getting used to this size makes you feel liberated when you hold the 70-200 setup.

Autofocus is the fastest I can remember when compared with other lenses and the Nikkor AF-S 300 mm f2.8 designs are already fast focusing (I can only compare to the AFS mkI version – the most recent incarnation focuses possibly as fast as the 400mm AFS VR). There is no color fringing at all @f2.8. Even the far edges seem to have no signs of CA. You will hardly need any CA-control in post processing. Even in out-of-focus areas CA is nearly absent – there is a tiny amount of green/purple tint but its hard to find. VR (its Nikons VRII generation) is very efficient and clearly helps to stabilize some shots. I usually do not test the VR function much. Its a pretty much an overrated feature imo, for some sports its just useless as you will need very short exposures anyway to get the shot. Its however very useful when you do stabilized pans of moving objects.

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Continue reading “400mm at its best – shooting the background-blur-king”

Nikkor 400mm f2.8 bits

Some more shots from the 400mm lens. Bokeh is clearly where the lens extra shines :) – as expected and wanted but it also delivers sharpness and acuity. I am not so sure right now about the converters – the TCs seem to need more AF-calibration attention. Here some shots from the last weeks trying to get used to all these whistles and options to control the beast :).

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Background Blur with Tele Lenses

Recently found this nice webpage where You can calculate the background blur of your Telelens-Camerasensor combination:

 http://howmuchblur.com

Very handy to get some ideas on how the isolation power of the various lenses behave in comparison. If You look carefully  the 400mm f2.8 and the 600mm f4 seem to create the most blur but its distance and background-distance depended. It also doesn’t tell you anything about the blur QUALITY and/or depth of field in that context.  If you however always choose the same size of your object/subject in your frame (modify the distance to the object with different lenses) and you keep the same aperture – the resulting DOF should be basically the same.

Anyways – the 400mm f2.8 looks really as if it is the blur king in these medium distances!

  Backgroundblur

The AquaTech Elite Sport Housing

The AquaTech Elite sport housing – submerged and split level imaging concepts

Initial text upload: 15.11.2015 – by Sören Hese

1st update: 20.11.2015

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Some comments about the AquaTech Elite sport housing that I acquired early in 2015.

This was on my list since some years but I never had the budget to do this. The situation hasnt changed much in that respect – especially since the Dollar/Euro ratio hasnt moved into the right direction to order lots of gear in the US.  After checking the market for diving houses it was obvious that I do not need a diving setup. These DSLR housings for diving are much bigger and heavier and rated for more water depth than “sports housings”. The latter are more for the near surface water sports (sailing, surfing, swimming, canoeing and so on). To go for the Aquatech housing was primarily defined by the supported lens selection. The 14-24 mm from Nikon was only supported by Aquatech as far as I was able to see online.

I used the gear for approx. 15 regatta sailing events now and also tested it for waves for 4 weeks and doing numerous shots in lakes. I can already conclude that its what you expect from a professional package and/or its elevated price point and its totally reliable.

To get a maximum of image sharpness and dynamic range I wanted my Nikon D800/D810 + Nikkor 14-24mm  combination in a housing concept – here you clearly end up with an ELITE sport housing from AquaTech.

After all its very hard to develop new perspectives in the domain of yacht and regatta photography – the split level approach isn’t new but it hasnt been used too much so far and there are lots of ways to develop new imaging ideas in this domain – from below water shots or split level shots and images that include the water as abstract art are often more appealing than shooting the yacht with the usual extreme tele lens setup. Help for reasoning is however that the housing can also be used to do more of the wave/water photography that I envisioned often when traveling the northern coasts in summer.

#Construction & Components:

So what is it? The AquaTech housings are not really designed for diving – the depth guarantee is for 10 meters. Thats not much if you are into diving. The AT housings are for waves, surfing and sailing. They are made for this transitional domain between the elements – between air and water – thats where the more graphical and more interesting stuff happens as light hasn’t been absorbed and water can play its sculpturing thing (sorry all you underwater photographer … although I found it pretty exciting to shoot in these clean lakes with lots of vegetation shadowing everything and creating a wild underwater vegetation land/sub-aquatic-scape ).

Construction is pretty much heavy duty with massive polyurethan housing construction, stainless steel controls, 10 mm acryl back-plate, durable aluminium tubes and 5 mm aryl domes, solid metal locking fasteners, interchangeable anodized metal lens ports with a knurled grip surface that makes it easy to tighten everything when mounting the ports. The grip surface is so knurled that you easily scratch everything you touch with the lens port. Overall „fit and finish“ of the housing with its snap fasteners and its big enough screws is just perfect. The setup screws together and is sealed with O-rings everywhere. Weight of the housing is 1.6 kg and the PD135 f.e. adds another 600 gr. Together with the pistol grip/pole extension and other accessories installed you easily reach 3 kg. The DSLR is mounted within the housing with an Arca Style plate that snug-fits precisely into the dove tailed Arca mount that is installed in the housing. The DSLR just moves exactly into place that way and the mechanical trigger of the housing sits exactly above the DSLR trigger. 

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Figure: Arca style plate setup that keeps the camera within the housing precisely in place.

Key for the functioning is an acryl dome element that is avail for a number of popular lenses. The dome construction is superb but it has one slighty anoying drawback. The sunstar of your lens is slightly distorted and not as accurate as when shot without the dome. If you like to use the sun star reflection as part of your visual concept sometimes – than this has to be taken into account. Overall sharpness and chroma aberration of  your lens isnt changed much imo. At least I couldnt find any difference in spatial resolution with the Nikon D800 NEF files after processing in LR. There seem to be some internal color reflections but its a minor issue and not at all comparable with the well known Nikkor 14-24 color reflection/flare issue at 14mm.

Continue reading “The AquaTech Elite Sport Housing”

versus Nikon D8(1)0

Zweite D800 vor einer Woche eingetrudelt. Um etwas flexibler zu werden, hatte ich mal eine zweite D800 geordert. Im Prinzip greife ich nur noch zur D800 und meine D3 ist eigentlich das Backup geworden. Der Unterschied im Post ist enorm.
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D800
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Bei den aktuellen Preisen für neuwertige D800 Bodys ist diese Kamera ein absoluter „No-Brainer“. Der Geschwindigkeitszuwachs der D810 ist zwar spürbar und nice to have, insbesondere der größere Speicher-Puffer der D810 und das etwas bessere AF-System sind angenehm. Eigentlich ist die D800 jedoch ein  derartig gelungener Wurf von Nikon gewesen, dass der aktuelle Premium Preis der D810 sich nicht wirklich in realisierbarer Bildqualität niederschlägt m.E..  Die D800 ist einfach DER Allrounder. Mit der D810 hat Nikon die Kamera nochmal einen Tick besser gemacht – thats it. Der D810 Sensor hat aber praktisch die gleiche „Dynamic Range“, die gleiche ISO-Leistung und dürfte unter optimalen Bedingungen nur etwas schärfer aufnehmen, da der Lowpass Filter fehlt. Fand den Unterschied zur D800e aber schon damals eher zu vernachlässigen. Einen Unterschied macht die Kamera unter Umständen bei Sport/Wildlife Fotografen, die Geschwindigkeit um jeden Preis brauchen. Für die wäre jedoch auch die D4s wohl die bessere Wahl, da die Anhebung von 4 auf 5fps keinen umhaut, im DX Crop gehts von 6 auf 7fps – ist sicher schon recht schnell, aber der DX crop ist eher etwas für die Wildlife Leute. Ich nutze den nur selten.

Wannsee-Pokal 2015 Galerie Online

Wannsee-Pokal 15 Galerie vom letzten Wochenende online:

http://soeren.zenfolio.com/wpokal2015

Nach einem etwas zu fixen upload nochmal das Histogramm global einen Tick nach rechts verschoben. Schwierig eine ausgewogene Selection zu finden – Wind kam ja erst am Nachmittag auf.

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Schöne Veranstaltung zum testen des AT Gehäuses. Erstes  Resümee  fällt erstmal recht positiv aus. Die D800 RAW Files verlieren durch den Plexiglas Dome kaum an Qualität und lassen sich im Post im Prinzip vergleichbar behandeln wie die RAWs die direkt durch das 14-24 geschossen wurden. Es braucht aber noch einiges an Erfahrung, um den Fokuspunkt zu kontrollieren. Man hat ja keine Kontrolle über den Sucher, wenn man im Mobo sitzt und sich nicht schwimmend durch das Feld bewegen will :).   Außerdem ist natürlich der Abstand entscheidend – in vielen Fällen will man näher ran, wenn ein Weitwinkel zum Einsatz kommt – viel näher ran … das ist in der Wettfahrt sicher problematisch an den Tonnen jedoch z.T. möglich – hier kann man mit dem 14-24 recht gut variieren. Allerdings braucht es viel Tiefenschärfe. Um keine Bewegungsunschärfe in das Bild zu bekommen liegt man dann schnell bei hohen ISO Werten und DAS merkt man natürlich schon im Post.

Bei den ersten Tests hat das interne 10Pin Kabel offensichtlich einen Knacks weg bekommen. Aquatech hat mir aber ohne Zucken per FedEx innerhalb von 3 Tagen Ersatz zugeschickt. Klasse! – überhaupt ist der Support von Aquatech sehr gut. Schnelle und kompetente Replys bei Fragen. Mit dem neuen Kabel kamen auch Ersatz Dichtungsringe und einige andere Zubehörteile, die ich mal gleich hätte bestellen sollen. Etwas mau sieht es für den Transport aus – hier muss wohl ein neues PeliCase her.

Mehr zum AT Gehäuse demnächst hier.

Sören

Changing Perspective

AquaTech Elite Gehäuse eingetrudelt. Nach 4 Wochen Wartezeit ists jetzt doch mal geliefert worden, aber das Teil wird wohl in Batches produziert und da sind solche Lieferzeiten wohl normal. Mit dem AquaTech Elite Gehäuse kam auch ein Setup mit Plexiglas Dome, um das 14-24 Nikkor einzusetzen. Erstmal hab ich nur das 10.5 mm getestet und soweit bin ich total happy. Die Steuerung der Kamera durch das Gehäuse funktioniert problemlos, das Gehäuse ist massiv gebaut und der Plexiglas Dome erzeugt keine nennenswerte Degradation in der Bildqualität. Hier mal eine Auswahl erster Testbilder – mtk.

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The Nikkor AFS 24-70 mm f2.8G – fast all-rounder

Standard zoom range at its best …  – best bokeh: the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8G
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The Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED
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The 24-70 wasnt on my priority purchase list for quite some time. Its focal range was just not too important for my type of regular shootings. But since I started doing circus and artistic performance events  and also occasionally dancing events – I found the 24-70 range to be a „must have” here. The 24-50 mm range is where you need to go quickly when you work directly in front of the stage. In combination with a second body and  85 f1.4 or the 70-200 f2.8 this provides lots of flexibility.
There are various comments in the net about the Nikon 24-70 and to sum the critics up: „no VR” and “edge sharpness is missing on the D800“ are the most common complaints. There is also indication that the front tubus is damaged easily when lens drops without a hood.

The 24-70 isn’t a small lens but it packs a lot of performance into the typical range of the 24-35-50-( not really 85).
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Nikon V1 Slomos – Sessan-Cup 2014

The old Nikon 1 V1 of the one-inch sensor series that Nikon called just the „1“ was likely one of the strangest newcomers for the Nikon camera system for a while when it surfaced in 2011. The camera had/s the leading AF performance for the small sensor compact type of cameras. It also shoots raw in very fast series although unfortunately not for long as the buffer fills up just very quickly. AND: the V1 is available for under 300€ right now (May 2014) and this is a reasonable price to get into this system.
But likely the best: it can use every F-mount lens build in the last decades.

The 1 systems has been underspecified by Nikon in order to avoid any overlap with the Nikon DSLR lineup (some believe). It has so many nice features that it makes me always scratch my head when I find out that I cannot use these features the way I would like to as the interface is just crippled at exactly that aspect. Thinking of the missing cable release for the 1, missing connectors for cable releases, missing buffer for the 4K film crowd, missing manual setup possibilities of the 30/60fps modi etc. Its just so stupid because SOME OF IT is a firmware thing. The camera is just not meant to be used by serious pros – but than why did Nikon build a camera for soccer moms and put some pro specs and a price (when it was released) on it that no-one was willing to pay (for)?

One very interesting aspect of the Nikon V1 is the strong crop factor with FX lenses in combination with high speed full res RAW shooting. The V1 shoots 30 fps for a buffer time of one second or 30fps in 0.5 second (this equals 60fps but it only last for 0,5 seconds). As the camera stores these shots as NEF (RAW) files in 10MP resolution it is usable as 4K footage. From 4K you can easily stabilize the film in post processing and you can get to comparable steady 1080p footage. The V1 has a 2,7x crop factor with FX lenses using the FT1 adapter – together with a quick AF system a 70-200 lens becomes a 200-500 f2.8 mm lens!

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So practically this would be a nice setup for slomo footage of sailing action scenes. There are however some restrictions: the high speed modi cannot be used with a remote trigger (why?) and these modi do not work with anything else than in P-Modus. So you are flying with autopilot in a way. Even more a problem you are also flying in Auto-ISO mode. Than there is this buffer-issue. You might argue that 1 second with 30fps is enough, but I think it is not. To move the level a wee bit higher on the market and to put competing manufactures under stress we would need a buffer of at least 3 seconds. 4K footage is the next quality level that all DSLR manufacturer have to deal with and being first would clearly open up access to a new user community for Nikon. The amount of memory shouldnt be a problem or too much a cost factor and I would also argue that size isnt a problem. The Nikon 1 is too small imo – its just smaller than is practically useful.
And finally the 1 cameras cannot be synced with triggering a DSLR. So either you shoot with your DSLR rig or you look through your 1 systems EVF. You cannot make both systems communicate: focus at the same time pull the trigger at the same time. Shooting high res D800 shallow depths of field RAWs of the action and pushing 120 10MP NEFs onto a card using the 1 system simultaneously? This would be a game changer for all action/sports shooters. Alternatives are right now very expensive (RED camera system with a hardly hand holdable tele setup  or a NEX-FS700 kind of system). Other options: the new Sony 7s or a Panasonic Lumix GH4: but again to get to 500 mm tele lens equivalent with quick AFS functionality you will have a hard time to find this setup with these cameras.

Than the cost factor: the V1 was really expensive when it hit the market and the only performance where it received an „outstanding“ was AF performance. Not enough allthough AF performance is very high on my list.

So summarising the design descisions: too expensive, specs are partly crippled, firmware functionality has been not designed for power users. The Nikon 1 could be clearly a very different beast but Nikon tried to avoid overlap with DSLR performance and doing that it created a strange mixture of capabilities with that device in user-needs-nowhere-land.

The recently announced Nikon 1 V3 isnt making much of a change (but HD with 120fps might be cool). Same concept with same basic limitations and even more expensive and with some design decisions nobody can really understand (new battery type, smaller&slower card specs, EVF is add-on, nearly no change in buffer land, same crippled remote driving capabilities as far as I can see from the online handbook, no 4k mod).
Why dont they just give us a 4K camera with clever specs and rock the market?! The „1“ System would sell like hot cake and even for the price they ask right now. The HD120fps modus looks promising, but here the proof is in the eating – is it sharp enough?  is it working without stabilization? on a boat?

So here are some preliminary results from first test drives with the V1. I used the Sessan-Cup (an international regatta race) as a test race to create some footage from the 30fps modus. The slomos looked acceptable within the saturday beamer show but when you have a wee bit more time to check the footage you clearly can identify some problems. 30fps is basically not enough “fps“ to slow down water movements. To receive smooth water slomos faster than 60fps  is a must and this shows – interpolation just cannot replace 60-120 fps here. Same applies to boat rig structures.

Look at the water movements and at the rig supporting shrouds in seconds 00:19 and 00:22 – interpolation clearly fails to create smooth transitions here and Twixter – (a special frame interpolation software plug-in for AE and supposed to be one of the better solutions for frame rate conversions) isn’t really any better in that respect from what I can tell with initial testing using a demo version.

The workflow is straight forward:
1. Import of the raw NEF Files from the V1 to Lightroom,
2. basic correction, sharpening and de-fringing,
3. export to uncompressed JPEGs into one folder,
4. import to Adobe After Effects,
5. Motion Tracking using Warp Stabilization with „Position“ Option, stabilize & cut,
6. AE composition setup set to 400% length & 30fps,
7. Time stretch to 400% and frame interpolation set to overblend,
8. rendering the full resolution footage out in 1080p/24. H264 mov HDTV

That is basically it.

As Tom Hogan put it recently in his article “The Cost of 4K“: going 4K and beeing an “early adopter is costly”.  And it clearly isn’t always needed but when you have to stabilize the footage in post processing than capturing action in 4K is actually like  shooting in 1080p because in the end this is what remains after stabilization. This is also the reason why I do not believe that HD120fps is a solution. This remains to be tested however especially when the V3 descents from its current price point. Than I will definitly give it a try.

mtk, Sören

Slomo Footage with Nikons 1 …

Schon eine Weile auf der Agenda, aber immer wieder wg fehlenden schnellen (und bezahlbaren) 4K Kameras auf die Bank gestellt.  Neuer Anlauf mit der Nikon 1. Die macht immerhin 30 oder 60 Bilder/s in 4k. Klaro das geht nur lächerliche 1 oder 0,5 Sekunden lang, aber mit Stabilisierung und Interpolation (Adobe AfterEffects Warp + Twixtor) kann man durchaus 2-4 Sekunden Slomo generieren.  Hier ist nur die Frage wie stabilisiert man das und ist die Auslösung parallel  mit dem DSLR Kit möglich (no way bei der Nikon 1), denn auf den Vollformat HighRes-“Schuß” will man ja nicht verzichten.

Leider hat Nikon das 1er-System derart verstümmelt, dass kaum kreative Dinge gehen: kein Kabelauslöser, kein 10pin, der IR-Auslöser lässt sich nicht zusammen mit dem 60fps-Modus nutzen. 60fps gehen nur im Auto-Alles Modus (Häähh?=>sehr ärgerlich).  Langzeitbelichtungen gehen gar nicht (max 1 Sekunde). Mit dem FT-1 Adapter geht nur ein AF-Feld! Immerhin macht ein Firmware-Update jetzt AF-C mit dem FT-1 und den Vollformat AFS-Linsen möglich. Besonders ärgerlich ist jedoch das Nikon das mit der neuen Nikon 1 V3 nicht erheblich anders gemacht hat – nur das die V3 mit allen Extras 1200Euro kosten wird. GoPro hat gezeigt was mit einfachen Systemen bereits geht. Warum das (bis auf Panasonic vielleicht) kein Hersteller  aufgreift ist schleierhaft.

Bleibt zu testen wie sich die V1 auf dem Wasser macht, mit dem 2,7x Crop Faktor ist zumindest genug Telepower im Rennen. Das 70-200mm f2.8 wird ganz fix eine 190-540mm f2.8 Optik und der Autofokus ist ordentlich fix.

Vielleicht ist aber etwas mehr Arbeit im FitnessStudio nötig demnächst. :)

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