Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC Lens Review

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This review covers the pros and cons of the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC, including its biggest feature: image stabilization. Being the only 24-70mm f/2.8 lens to have stabilization (Vibration Compensation in Tamron parlance), this lens is a pretty big deal. It’s also significantly cheaper than its Canon and Nikon OEM counterparts, thus almost begging the question: “is this lens too good to be true?”

That’s what I wondered when I first purchased this lens. I had previously purchased the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and returned it after a few weeks of use because I was disappointed by its performance versus its cost. (Perhaps my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 had created unrealistic expectations?) It’s not that there was anything wrong with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, but for its price, it was sort of a blah lens. Sure, it produced some really sharp photos and as a mid-range walk-around zoom it covered arguably the most important focal range, but I just didn’t feel like the lens had any tricks up its sleeve.

With that very subjective description, now is probably a good time to mention that this is a “real world” review, meaning that it’s based on my use of the lens in the regular course of taking photos in the field and how I felt about it as a result. It’s not based on arbitrary photos in a sterile lab–because no real photographer is out there shooting lab charts for fun or for clients. As an actual photographer taking real photos, I see more value in how the lens performs during ordinary shooting, and how edited photos from it look. If you want to stare at a bunch of photos of sharpness and color charts cropped to 100%, this is the wrong review for you. 

Anyway…after returning the Nikon, I decided to buy the Tamron. The 24-70mm is a lens most full frame photographers should have in their bag, and I was intrigued by the image stabilization. Plus, I figured if it was going to be a boring lens, I might as well ‘downgrade’ and save a bit of money. I knew I would end up needing this focal range, anyway.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be the boring lens I was expecting… (more…)

Nikon D810 Review

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This real-world Nikon D810 review features photos I’ve taken with the new camera, comparison photos to the Nikon D600, and my thoughts after using the camera in the field. Note that this review covers an “off the shelf” production model of the Nikon D810 that I purchased and have actually used to take photos, not a pre-production model that a rep let me hold for like 5 minutes. Most “reviews” I read prior to pulling the trigger to order the camera were of the latter variety, so I thought I’d mention that this is a real review of the real camera. I’ve actually used the Nikon D810 and have edited a number of its RAW files in Adobe Photoshop CC thanks to the new ACR 8.6 release candidate.

If you’re reading a Nikon D810 review, chances are that you’re already read like 57 other pre-release articles and could recite the spec sheet in your sleep (I know spec sheets are the stuff of my dreams!), but in case you haven’t, here’s some perfunctory spec information. The Nikon D810 is a 36.3MP DSLR with no AA filter and an EXPEED 4 engine that makes image processing faster and improves autofocus speed and accuracy. The camera features native ISO of 64 to 12800 (expandable to ISO 32-51200), 51-point autofocus with Group Area AF mode, electronic front-curtain shutter and redesigned mirror mechanism to reduce camera shake, an increased buffer size, sRAW capability, 5 FPS in full frame mode and up to 7 FPS in DX mode, higher resolution LCD screen, split screen zoom in live view for leveling, and a variety of new video features (albeit no 4K). These are the big new things for the D810…but you probably already knew all of that.

Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll get something else out of the way up front: if you’re reading Nikon D810 reviews because you’re on the fence and are half-hoping for a reason not to purchase the new DSLR, you’ve come to the wrong place. The Nikon D810 is the stuff dreams are made of. It’s the camera I’ve wanted since the Nikon D4, D800, and D600 were all announced within months of one another in 2012.

As you’ll read in this review, I think the Nikon D810 is basically the perfect camera, at least for my purposes as a landscape photographer… (more…)

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens Review

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The Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX is a 180 degree autofocus fisheye lens for full frame cameras that offers a less-expensive, third party alternative to fisheye lenses by Canon and Nikon. This review of the Sigma fisheye will cover it as compared to the more expensive Nikon 16mm fisheye and to the budget Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye (see our full review of the Zenitar fisheye) to give you an idea of which fisheye lens might be the best option for you.

I’ve long been a big fan of fisheye lenses, as I really love photographing aquatic life. (A little corny fish eye humor for you to start this review off on the wrong foot…) I’ve owned or tested seven different fisheye lenses, so I’m fairly familiar with the strengths and weaknesses various lenses bring to the table. I also have to admit that while I am an avid fisheye user, there is a lot of potential for overusing the lenses because they are so fun, and that not everyone will like the (what’s sometimes called) gimmicky look.

When used in moderation, a fisheye lens is a great lens to have, but it may not be the best lens to devote significant funds towards unless you will be using it regularly. Whether this Sigma fisheye lens is perfect for you as a less-expensive option or whether you should go for more of a budget fisheye lens is something to give consideration before buying.

Before going any further, if you’re using a crop sensor DSLR (and if you don’t know whether you are or not, chances are that you are shooting on a crop sensor camera), this is not the lens for you. Instead, opt for the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, which remains my favorite crop sensor fisheye lens. My Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 review praises that lens for its cheap price, great optical quality, and unique characteristics. 

As is the case with all of my photography reviews, this is a “real world” review, meaning that it’s based on my use of the lens in the regular course of taking photos in the field, not arbitrary photos in a sterile lab. Some people love to photograph lab charts and look at straight out of camera shots at 100% to take a pixel-peeping look at things, but I’m not one of those people. As an actual photographer who actually takes photos, I see more value in how the lens actually performs in actual scenarios, and how edited photos from it actually look. As such, that’s how I review lenses. Actually! ;)

With that said, let’s take a look at what makes this Sigma fisheye special… (more…)

Sony RX100 III Review

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The Sony RX100 M3 is the newest advanced-level point and shoot camera, and further improves on Sony’s RX100 line to maintain its place as the best point & shoot camera currently on the market. I’ll make that much clear from the outset: the Sony RX100 III is without a doubt superior to every other pocket point and shoot camera, and for many people it will rival a mirrorless or DSLR system. This camera is that good. It is loaded with features and so much excellence is crammed into this little camera that it really is a feat of engineering.

This should really come as no surprise to photography enthusiasts. For each of the past three years, Sony has released a new camera in the RX100 line, each of which has taken the crown as ‘best point and shoot’ with its release. I won’t bother going into the line’s history or explain why it’s so technically impressive–if you’re interested in that, check out my original Sony RX100 Review. In terms of image quality, everything that I wrote of the original Sony RX100 is true of the new RX100 III, except perhaps to a greater degree. The new Sony Rx100 camera always has new bells and whistles…and has a higher price tag. In this Sony RX100 III review, we will take a look at the newest Sony RX100, and judge whether it’s worth the added cost over previous models in light of the new features it brings to the table.

For this version of the Sony RX100, a lot has changed. Much more than changed with the Sony RX100 II, which was an improvement, but the model many photographers skipped. The Sony RX100 III is a very worthy upgrade that brings a lot more to the table, but it also brings a considerably higher price, too. This is what has me torn on the camera: on the one hand it does take the ‘enthusiast point and shoot’ camera concept to the next level with upgrades in both features and image quality, but on the other hand, might the money be better spent elsewhere? (more…)

Easy Tips for Better Photo Composition at Disney

Photography composition can be a tricky thing, especially in an eye-catching and frenetic environment like the Disney Parks. Many people know some vague basics about composition, like the Rule of Thirds, but it can be tough to apply any “rules” when actually running around the parks taking photos. With so much going on and such a rush to do other things (you know, those pesky “attractions” that your families always want to do while you’re trying to get down to important business and take photos!), it’s often easier to snap a photo of something nice-looking than slowing down and taking the time to worry about composition. After all, with a pretty subject like Cinderella Castle, does composition really matter?

Yes, yes it does. Composition is the bedrock of photography, and without solid composition, photos can lack that what it takes to be compelling to viewers. Photos certainly can still be pretty, and often pretty is enough, but pretty and visually compelling are two totally different things. A pretty photo is well, pretty, whereas a visually compelling photo grabs the viewer’s eye and speaks to them for some reason or another. Especially in the setting of the Disney Parks, it can be very difficult to distinguish the two, because virtually everywhere you turn, you will encounter something that is pretty.

In this sense, photographing Walt Disney World or Disneyland is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. The environments are so beautiful that even a compositionally weak photo can look great. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with these simple photos of pretty subjects. I do it all the time with Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth, and a multitude of other subjects, and I will be the first to admit that many of my photos of the parks are incredibly basic in terms of composition, and are instead just pretty. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this, so if you look through your own Disney photos and see a lot of weak compositions, don’t feel bad. At all. With that said, I think the best photos are both pretty and visually compelling.

Ever done Expedition Everest at night? It's a BLAST!

If you’re already confused, that’s okay. Composition is one of those topics that’s incredibly difficult to fully master, and it can be very tough to learn. In fact, some people say that you can’t learn composition. It’s more a naturally intuitive thing, and either you have an eye for it or you do not. While I think this is true to a degree in that some people have a natural eye for what makes a compelling photo without really ever thinking about it, I do not believe that others cannot train their eyes to pick up on compelling composition in scenes. To me, it’s sort of like baseball: there are those individuals who naturally have a sweet swing, but there are also those who spend thousands of hours in the batting cage tweaking their swing and doing everything they can to set themselves up for success.

Let’s take a look at 5 basic things you can do to improve the composition of your photos. Even if you don’t understand all that abstract jibber-jabber above, these are quick fixes that just about anyone can employ! (more…)