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

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


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.


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

Wannsee Pokal 16 im Hagelschauer

Wannsee Pokal 16 in Hagelschauern –

Klasse Saisonstart mit dem Wannsee Pokal (FD, 420er, Finn, 29er) des VSaW/PYC mit über 80 startenden Boote. Außerdem erster ernst zu nehmender Test für die 400mm Optik. Ein großer Teil der recht kernigen Hagelschauerzellen schrammte an der Südgrenze von Berlin entlang, aber eine schob sich perfekt über die Havel und brachte tolle Szenen im Regattafeld. Zeitweise war die Sicht derartig reduziert, dass der Autofocus einen massiven Frontfocus entwickelte. 30 Minuten später klarte es wieder zu dieser sauberen Frühjahrsatmosphäre auf, die so herrlich starken Farb-Kontrast mit brillianten Highlights bringt.

Das 400er ist im Handling eindeutig ein anderes Kaliber als das 300f2.8, allerdings auch vom Gewicht her eine Herausforderung, vor allem zum Ende des Wettfahrttages hin wird man doch etwas schwach um die Schulter herum : – ). Autofokus snaps „in place“, allerdings muss man aufpassen nicht aus versehen die AF-On Tasten unter dem Lens-Raincoat zu drücken, die Linse also möglichst weit vorne – knapp vor der bzw. auf der Gegenlichtblende stützen. Bei f2.8 ist die Tiefenschärfe auf einen Abstand von 30-50m hin minimal.  Man muss sich noch genauer überlegen, wo man den AF-Sensor initial hinlegt, wenn die Renner angeschossen kommen. Die Focus Nachführung (Nikon AF-C/3D) ist völlig smooth und ruckelfrei – unscharfe Shots sind so zumindest von der Nachführung her unmöglich.

Erster Preview auf die WP16 Galerie kommt hier:

Volle Galerie dann in den nächsten Tagen auf www.sailpower.de.















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 :).












Nikon AFS 400mm f2.8G VR Testing

Update: some nice bokeh shots with this lens (had half an hour yesterday with wonderful sun light to do some tests – its easy to send every for/background into a creamy bokeh fog with a 400mm f2.8 system. However the lens isnt a dedicated macro device – hence it will be important to see how the lens performs in the mid to far range shots and with full reflecting highlights. Especially the resolving power with very distant objects is usually a problem – even with these top-of-the-line tele lenses. My first impressions indicate that the 400mm f2.8 works fabulous with the TC14E II and also very good with the TC20E III but the AFS 300mm f2.8 mk1 wasn’t bad with the TC14E II either. The weak part was the resolving power focusing more distant things with more than 300m distance.






First tests with the new 400mm lens – the f2.8 AFS VR version – pretty much a dream tele lens and optical performance is just as what you would expect. First lens align tests seem to be spot on. The lens snaps to focus – clearly faster than my old 300mm f2.8 AFS Mk1. Some bokeh tests will follow.


The lensAlign target with the long ruler installed – approx. 20m distance – this equals 50times focal length. At f2.8 this gives a depth of field of 40cm and the lens is pretty spot-on on the 0-Mark of the ruler. No chromatic aberration  at all … . Damn cool lens – only point to think of right now is the how-to-story of “hand-holding” this lens, its just bigger than anything I used before.



Some bokeh shots:




Background Blur with Tele Lenses

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


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!


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


The Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED
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).

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. :)





The Sharpness & Darkness Queen – the Nikkor AFS 14-24 mm f2.8G

Nikon AFS 14-24 mm f2.8G: This lens is the end of the (endless) search for the perfect wide angle lens. Its as simple as that. Get this one and stop (and forget) all the testing : ).  Since photography went digital a sharp wide angle has been like the mythical unicorn – it just wasnt there anywhere. The 14-24 is the magical solution for all that wanted this full frame edge-sharp wide angle lens. The wide open performance without any degradation in  sharpness etc.

In short:

+ Sharp wide open in the center and in the far corners,

+ sharp at 14 mm,
+ sharp at 20 mm and
+ nearly as sharp at 24 mm though it wee bit softer in the edge than at 20 mm,
+ creates nice sun stars closed down,
+ has (on the D800) only minimal CAs at 14 mm (that can be easily corrected in post),
+ focus is fast and silent,
+ build is absolute top notch (the lens virtually melts with a D3 – there are no mount tolerances),
+ manual focus is super smooth without any glide coupling offsets.


Front element is protuding and exposed to some degree at 14 mm setting.


With the heavy duty Single Digit Nikons the 14-24 just pairs perfectly and weight balance is nice.


The lens is heavy but sits in your hand like a tool that asks to be used with precision and knowledge – somehow just stimulating.
The lens has low coma at f2.8 –  so,  for night time photography this is just the dream of “shooting a wideangle without need to close the aperture” coming true because the f2.8 shots at iso1600 wide open are in no way a compromise. So far my experiences with all wide angles were always a mixed bag. The fixed focal lenses with 20 mm and less did not deliver (Nikon 20 mm f2.8 AIS, 18 mm, 14 mm and the Voigtländer 20 mm f3.5 or the Sigma alternatives were not much better). Some praised the new Zeiss ZF 15 mm and the legend – the older Zeiss ZF 21 mm f2.8 but they sell for the same or higher price, no AF and only one focal length, other alternative at least for the night time photogs: Rokinon (also known as Samyang). Rokinons are very affordable priced and are nicely coma corrected. A great start would be the 14 mm Rokinon.
On the plus side for the 14-24: it also works nicely with an IR converted camera. There is no hotspot with this lens.
If you have to use a wide angel lens wide open, than the 14-24 is the tool that will deliver.  The edges will even improve sligthly if you close the lens down to f4 and f5.6 though hardly in a range that is very much relevant.
Only “problem” with the lens is its big front glass – you pay for the uncompromised engineering of this construction unaffected by accountancy or management restrictions. This is a product of a 100% performance oriented and engineering dominated design decisions.
Minor moanings:
– the lens cap is a problem – I just dont like that solution – it just shouldnt be slip on, they could have easily created a locking mechanism that
snuck fits on the sun shade.
– And for some a problem: no easy filter solution – you have to get the big special 1424 designs – expensive and huge glas plates.
– The lens can also show some strange flare  when you directly shoot into the sun. It creates rainbow like reflections that are hard to remove.
So overall the best around for the available light freakes, indoor interior, astro photographers, star trail and polar light /aurora photography or for night time shots of urban scenes, light house shots at night and so on – you get the message. If you only need a coma free lens for astro shots I would suggest the 14 mm Rokinon, but if the lens is to be used also for other applications than the 1424 will deliver. I sold my old Tokina 124 DX lens and will also leave the Nikkor 28 mm f2.0. That feeling of wide open top performance makes me even rethink if I shouldnt sell my Nikkor 20 mm. … mmh the 20 is sooo small its just a very different horse ähem pony maybe.
Some shots from this year:



Pretty much the perfect lens for fireworks at 24 mm but occasional you will likely grab the 24-70 for these events.











Full frame 14 mm shot at f22 – sun in the corner with strong flare.


Subset from the full frame shot above – the color halos are nasty, but you can avoid them easily when you change the direction of the lens a wee bit. Therefore here I really just wanted to show how it could look like if you do not take care but it is avoidable.


























Small and Powerful? The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition

The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition for Yacht Photography:

Within the action camera segment “GoPro” is successful since a while marketing their cameras for swarm like applications. They also started a very successful marketing campaign  when they introduced the GoPro Hero3 and launched the camera with a mind blowing teaser video. Nikon did an attempt to position the Nikon 1 System in a comparable niche but they basically failed to do that, although the Nikon 1 system is much better suited for still photography than the GoPros but it lacks the crazy movie modes, the under water housing is an addon and it isnt as compact and versatile and has no WIFI. The new  Garmin Virb is likely the closest competitor right now.

So how about using the GoPro as a camera for the submerged out of the water “from below” shots. For those shots usually you buy yourselve into one of the various under water housing systems (Ikelite, Aquatica or AquaTech). They all provide DSLR housings for various cameras and they will set you back for around 1500-2500 Euro. Doing so you in fact put your DSLR and a wideangle lens in that housing and you trigger quasi-remotely by cord. IR receiver or high freq. receiver are not directly mountable within these housings.


The Hero3 Black Edition side by side with an iPhone – the camera is just tiny – there is no viewfinder no display and you basically operate this camera with only two buttons. The camera however makes a solid and well build impression and the water proof housing is made of tough plastic and will likely take some beating.

The GoPro H3 Black comes with an integrated Wifi connection with remote control and can be even triggered, controlled and previewed with an ipad or iphone. The GoPro H3 Black Edition (the top model of the Hero3 with integrated Wifi ) costs only about 450 Euro (with battery BacPac).

The critical question is the one about image quality. The GoPros are clearly optimized for 1080/60p footage (movie recording in FullHD and 60 frames/second). There are various other movie settings avail with the “Black” edition – just check the following sites for reference:




The most interesting footage setup for the still photographers however is the 4K movie mode!

With this mode you capture nearly 8 Megapixel motion files with 12-15 frames/second. You can also shoot in a JPEG still burst mode but these bursts (f.e. 30 shots in 1 second) create compressed JPEGs that have lots of artifacts.

The 4K movie mode delivers astonishing sharp and well defined stills if you activate “Protune”. The Protune setting will switch off some of the automatic color balancing and saturation settings – also compression seems to be handled better. From a 4K clip you simply drag the stills you need. Overall this is imo. the best choice to create stills with the GoPro H3Black and you have lots of material from the dense time series of the 4K footage available. Adobes MediaEncoder is also able to drag all Frames into one directory. That is handy because scrolling frame/by/frame through 4K footage really istnt too much enlightening –  especially when the footage is upside down ; ). Large movie files quickly generate thousands of JPEGs. It than really gets difficult to find the few keepers that you wanted.

The question remains: how good is this tiny sensor (its just 5,73 x 4,29 mm – 1/2,5″). This is just ridiculous from a signal to noise ratio point of view. And if you look at the area statistics of these different sensors its even more obvious.


Sensor sizes from different imaging systems (source: wikimedia commons, wikipedia)

 Obviously the sensor cannot compete with a full frame DSLR sensor. Dynamic range is disappointing if you are used to work with full frame 14Bit RAW files. Highlights are easily blown out. Sharpness is also a bit compromised but not as much as one would expect from frame captures of 4K film. There is also some color fringing with the GoPro Wide angle (blue/yellow) but this is easily corrected in post processing. More difficult is the precise color correction and white balance. The files clearly do not “behave” the same way as original RAW files from a DSLR. I would rate the 4K frame grab at somewhere around 5-6MP instead of 8MP. These files do not qualify for huge plots but they are good enough to work for the usual plot size around A3 sizes.

Overall I believe the GoPro H3Black is a good addition for these extreme low “below water” perspectives and it is a system that can be setup very quickly and can be controlled and positioned to generate crazy perspectives easily mounted on a 2 – 3m monopod.

What is missing:

  1. larger files (4K is limiting when you are used to full frame 35MP DSLR Raws) and the 12MP still jpegs are full of compression artifacts!
  2. dynamic range is disappointing, you need all the light you can get.
  3. raw modes (or fine detailed artifact free jpegs) are missing for stills (why oh why is a real raw format missing? – a real bummer for the high image quality fanatics out there)
  4. battery performance is a joke – buy the battery BacPac addon (also adds 50 Euro),
  5. needs all the light it can get to create dynamic range! not a low light hero at all (tiny sensor)
  6. make sure you update the firmware! the camera needs the last firmware update to work with some accessories
  7. no control over exposure parameters – its fully automatic – your flying in P Mode only

What there is to like:

  1. small and powerful video FullHD machine – gives clean and sharp 1080/60p footage, also 1080 frame captures are clean and sharp.
  2. various video settings, also usable for time-lapse projects
  3. Wifi setup works out of the box and the GoPro is very well controllable from iphone or ipad devices (though with 2s delay in liveview update -> this is unusable for action)
  4. size and format makes it the perfect “go everywhere” trick of a tiny camera for water sports and outdoors.
  5. endless options for mounting the tiny thing through additional accessories.
  6. “4K cine” footage still capture with Protune set to “ON” is very usable


the GoPro Hero 3 Black is a powerful addition for very specialized still applications. It is optimized for 1080&60p footage but its super compact size makes it a very interesting for extreme viewing angles. Its likely the most affordable solution for the semi-dived shots where a full water proof housing would bee needed. Due to the low weight the GoPro H3 has the potential for extreme shooting positions that are hard to achieve with standard housings. But imo we are not there yet. The still captures are just not good enough for full professional use. The camera works fine if you only use the footage options – want film in FullHD 1080/60p. Photography is however not the focus of GoPro and it shows. It is really strange that they do not provide a RAW option or an JPEG uncompressed option and even if this means 5fps – that would be fine but this option isn’t there! So finally  I am right now also looking furtively at the Nikon V1 and might give that camera also a test drive. Its still capabilities and AF with full frame lenses has also some potential for slomo filming using the burst modes but the accessory list seems to be a bit of problem because the “1” must be triggered together with my usual DSLR /Tele combo for the slomos and there is no wired trigger avail. for the “1”.

There is also one other aspect: you get used to these extreme viewing positions and the original “wow” perception effect just vanishes quickly imo. So the whole concept should be used only in low concentrations.

Some examples from the last regatta shootings:


Original 4K capture unprocessed with ProTune “On” taken from a 5 min 4K footage


4K footage still capture with Protune after Adobe Lightroom 5RC2 color correction, CA correction, lens correction (distortion and vignetting) and WB correction and with additional sharpening using a high masking setup (LR: 48/1.0/25/77).

Bildschirmfoto 2013-09-10 um 16.14.11

Overview with Lens profile applied

Bildschirmfoto 2013-09-10 um 16.13.28

Full Resolution subset from above.


Bildschirmfoto 2013-09-10 um 16.18.58

Full resolution subset from above

Some more shots from the 4K frames:


CAA-SMH-GC-Webres-GoProDemo-20130910--0926117 CAA-SMH-GC-Webres-GoProDemo-20130910--0932232














For those interested here is a full res version of the file above

14-24 and back online

Back from the summer break – what a summer! Did some nice shots with the Nikkor 14-24 f2.8G. This lens seems to be worth every penny (but if you spend so much pennies for a lens – than this is a good thing! isn’t it?  : ). I will have some more thoughts about the lens but here are some uncommented samples from the last weeks. If you havnt been a wide angle fan so far than you become one with that piece of glass. At least thats my impression.