Nikon D600

After three years of shooting with the Nikon D5000 I have upgraded to the D600.  Not that there was anything wrong with the D5000, it is a great camera and I created some great images with it but there were a couple of things I wanted that the D5000 didn't have, here is my list in order of importance:

  1. Full frame sensor
  2. Higher resolution photos
  3. High speed sync
  4. User programmable settings and buttons
  5. Mirror lock up

Obviously, the D600 has a lot of other features the D5000 doesn't that I am enjoying but the ones above were what made the decision for me.  Also, it helped that there was a fairly substantial price drop recently. After a couple of weeks I am really happy with it!

There are a lot of people complaining about problems with dust on the sensor.  Before making the purchase I ready numerous blog posts and review that mentioned the sensor dust.  People have even done video tests and reviews regarding this issue.  I was worried about this when I made the purchase so I bought it from a store with a no questions return policy so I could return it within two weeks if I encountered the problem.

Well after 3 days I noticed dust spots in the top left corner of some of my landscape photos.  At the time I was really disappointed and concerned, until I found that that cleaning dust off the sensor takes about two minutes with a little air blower I already had.  It literally took me longer to write this paragraph then it does to clean the dust of a sensor.  So, it is really a none issue and I have no idea what all the fuss is about.

I will update this post in the future once I have more to say and review.

Tokina 17 - 35mm f/4 AT-X PRO FX

At the time of this writing the vast majority of the photos posted on my site were taken with the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 Lens with my old D5000 camera.  So, when I upgraded to the full frame D600 I know the first lens I needed as the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X PRO FX.  This is really just the full frame version of the Tokina 12 - 24mm lens that I have loved shooting with over the past couple of years.  

I have only been out landscape shooting a couple of times with this lens but I already like it every bit as much as the  Tokina 12-24mm f/4.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR

I upgraded from the Nikon D5000 to Nikon D600 and although DX lenses do work on the D600 I wanted to take advantage of the full frame sensor so decided to sell my old DX lenses.  However, I didn't have the cash to buy the Nikon 24-300mm to replace my Nikon 18-200 DX lens right off the bat, so decided to get the Nikon 24-28mm lens that comes as the D600 kit lens.  

I have been using this lens for a couple of weeks now and am really enjoying it.  It doesn't totally replace my 18-200mm but since most of my shots are landscape and travel shots it does the job for 90% of what I want to shoot.  So far the quality I am seeing from this lens is impressive and am looking forward to using it more. 

Sirui T-2005X Tripod and K-10x Ball Head Review

I made a mistake when I purchased my first tripod.  I had just started taking landscape photographs and understood enough to know I needed to start shooting with a tripod, but at the time I didn’t realize how important a tripod was to get great landscape photographs.  I went to the store and purchased a cheap (non Sirui) lower quality tripod without doing any research and I regretted the purchase within three months.  So, when it was time to make my second tripod purchase I was much more analytical.  First, I made a long list of all the options I was looking for in a spreadsheet.  Here is a copy of the travel tripod comparison spreadsheet I created.

At this point I was already more experienced at landscape photography so I better understood the key features I needed in a tripod. There are included as columns in the spreadsheet.  This list may be different for other photographers but I am sure most landscape photographers would include these when looking for a good tripod.  Here is my list:

  1. Stability - I used load capacity to compare this.
  2. Maximum Height - Although I rarely extend the top middle cylinder, it is nice to have for those occasions when you need it to get the shot.
  3. Min Height - For me this is more important than max height.  I often need to get the camera close to the ground to capture an interesting foreground or reflection.
  4. Weight - I am often hiking to my photography destination so I want the lightest possible.
  5. Folded Length - Since I am often travelling and hiking with my tripod, I want it to be compact as possible.  This is why I preferred the five section version.
  6. Price - Of course I want all of the above for as cheap as possible. That being said, I learned my lesson from choosing a cheap tripod that broke one week before I arrived in Angkor Wat so I wasn’t going to just look a price.

After narrowing down my options using the numbers in the travel tripod comparison spreadsheet.  I went to the store to try out the top choices.  After a good hour of trying the different tripods I walked out with a Sirui T-2005X Tripod with K-10x Tripod Head.  At the time I thought I was taking a chance because this was a new model and there weren’t many reviews on the Internet yet, but I liked the feel and sturdiness so I took that chance.

Well, it has been a year since I started using it and the T-2005X has stood the test of time.  I like it as much today as that first day in the store! It has helped me capture thousands of amazing low light landscape photos. Here are some examples of why I need these features.

Waterton Rivers

As you can see from this photo, I don’t mind getting a bit wet to get the photo.  The tripod legs have seen their fair share of rivers, streams and even salt water.  I normally rinse out the legs after they have been in salt water but that is the only maintenance or cleaning I have done and they legs still move in and out as smoothly as when brand new.


To get this shot I needed the camera to be close to the ground and completely stable on the loose rock to capture the blurred water.  What you don’t see in the photo are the half dozen photographers behind me standing behind their tripods.  I have my camera set less than one foot off the ground which lets me capture a much more interesting composition.  This is the power of the removable center column and 180 degree leg joints!

What you don’t see in this photos is that right below the frame are treetops trying to peek into the bottom of my photo.  This is one of the rare instances when I needed to raise the top middle cylinder to the max height to get the shot.  If I had chosen a tripod 10 cm shorter getting the shot would have been a lot harder. For a full list of other types of photos I have taken with my tripod checkout the photos tagged with Sirui tripod section on my blog.

For the past year, almost every time I shoot landscapes my Surui tripod is with me.  The only exception is when I am hiking a long distance and can’t carry the extra weight.  I definitely miss the tripod in the circumstances and will probably end up buying a smaller lighter tripod or a monopod next year, it will be one of the Sirui models.  If you are planning on purchasing a tripod I definitly would recommend checking out my travel tripod comparison spreadsheet I put together and choose the one that is right for you, but I have been happy with my choice.

Nikon 77mm Circular Polarizing II Filter Review

A polarizing filter screws on to the front of the camera an has two main purposes as far as I have found (for my photography)

 

  1. Darken skies to make them look better
  2. Remove glare from objects or water

 

#1 can be done in photoshop so it isn't worth the investment but #2 can't.  I must say, I don't use this that often but there are times when I want to take a photo of water and it adds to the photo to remove the glare and see what is actually in the water, and a polarizing filter is the only way to do that.  I splurged and purchased the Nikon version which was more expensive than other brands because I saw a lot of reviews saying the other ones can fall appart.  Also, I bought this with some money I made shooting a wedding in the summer so I was willing to splurge a bit more.  Overall I am happy with it so far and hope to find more uses for it this summer when I am up in the mountains taking photos.

To see what this filter does check out the photos I have posted where I used the Nikon 77mm Circular Polarizing II Filter.

Metz 44AF-1 Flash Review

I didn't buy an external flash until two years after I bought my Nikon D5000, before that I would just use the on camera flash.  I didn't want to spend a lot of money so I went with the cheapest decent quality one I could fine, which was the Metz.  I don't have much to compare it to because I have never used the Nikon brand ones that cost twice as much but I am happy with the photos it takes.  I primarily use it for taking photos of the family which I don't post here but recently all my facebook profile photos were taken with this flash.  I haven't figured out a way to take the flash off the camera yet because I think I need to buy another connector for that but I have some great photos of my daughter using this flash so I am happy with it so far.

 

 

COKIN P121 G2 Grey Graduated Filter Review

Graduated filters are used for landscape photography to make the sky darker so the whole picture is exposed properly.  I really tried to figure out a good way to use this to make good photos but never really got it figure out.  I had two problems:

  1. There was always dust on the filter that I could never quite get off.  It was a like a dust magnet!  There was also dust in the carrying case that came with it so even when I spent 5 minutes to get all the dust off the filter, it was added back on when I put it back in the case.  The most annoying thing was the dust was in the case when I first opened it.
  2. The photos always looked better using HDR.  The way I tested it was, I would take three photos for a HDR to be processed in Photomatix.  Then I would take some shots using this graduated filter.  I would compare the HDR to the ones shot with the graduated filter and the HDR ALWAYS looked better. So, I stopped using it.

Maybe I just got a bad brand, or maybe I just never really figured out the best way to use it but my opinion is that HDR produces better images than graduated filters so I don't use this much anymore.

Hoya 52mm ND filter Review

ND filters fit on the front of the lens and limit the number of light that enters the camera.  I bought this one to use with my Nikon 18-55mm lens and really enjoyed playing with it.  The main reason I got it was to make water look better.  If you have every seen a picture where there is a river or body of water that looks silky smooth, they probably did that with and ND filter.  I don't use it much more, only because I don't use my 18-55mm lens much since I purchased a 18-200mm lens.  The problem with these filters is they only fit on a lens of the same size (thats where the 52mm comes from), so I will probably sell this filter when I sell my 18-55mm lens and buy a new one for either my 18-200m lens or maybe the 12-24mm lens that I use for landscapes.

To get a better idea what a photo with an ND filter looks like check out the photos I have posted where I used this ND filter.

Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod Review

Before I purchased this tripod I was using a $10 tripod I picked up in the boxing day sales, it was terrirble and fell apart after a couple of months.  So, I decided to get a better one for a trip to Asia, but I wanted to spend less than $150 for the tripod and head.  I went with this model from Slik and it was a huge mistake.  One of the legs fell off one week into the trip!  I managed to fix it with duck tape but the leg that broke needed to be carefully extended each time.  In the process of putting back together the leg extensions and figuring out how the leg lock worked, I realized a cheap plastic piece had broken which is why the leg fell off.  I know $150 may be considered cheap for a tripod but I still don't think I got my moneys worth.  As a hobby, there is a limit to how much I can spend on camera gear so I used the taped together tripod for another year, carefully pulling out the one leg each time I needed to extend it.  I now how a Sirui tripod which was fairly inexpensive (but not as cheap as this Slik) but is sturdy and well made.

Although I really didn't like this tripod, I couldn't afford to buy a new one for quite a while so I ended up taking a lot of photos with it, check them out here.

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens Review

Officially called the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens, this is my go to lens when I am just walking around with my camera.  The great thing about this lens is the range, the 18mm is great for landscapes and the 200mm is great for zooming in on stuff that is far away.  The best part is that I don't need to change the lens.  Since I already owned the Nikon 18-55 kit lens, I could have bought a Nikon 55-200mm lens for a lot cheaper but I hate changing lenses when I am outside, and I know my self, sometimes if I need to change the lens to get the shot I want, I just wont take the picture. So, this is was worth the extra cost beacuse now I take more photos because I don't need to stop and change the lens.  So, if I am out taking photos, this is the lens I will have on the camera, then I will carry the Nikon 50mm if I want a low fstop for a picture and the Tokia 12-24mm for wide angle landscape shots but most of the time I will just use this lens.  Great buy and I am really happy with it.

Here are examples of the types of photos that can be taken with the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6.

Tokina 12-24mm f/4 Lens Review

Officially known as the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X 124 AF Pro DX II Lens, this is the lens I use for my landscape photos.  This is the only non-Nikon lens I own but I couldn't rationalize spending an extra couple hundred bucks for the Nikon version.  I don't regret my decision to by this off brand lens at all.  I use it for all my landscape photos and am really happy with the results.  The auto focus isn't that good but I just don't use it and do manual focus all the time.  I would guess more than half the photos I have posted on this blog have been taken with this lens, the results speak for themselves.  Maybe the Nikon version is better but I have never tried it so I don't know any better and I love the photos I am able to take with this lens so thats all that matters.

At the time of writting, most of the photos I post to his site are taken with this lens, check out all the photos I have posted that were taken with this lens.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens Review

The full name of this lens is AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G.  I bought this lens for the soul purpose of photographing my daughter.  When I got it my wife was 4 months pregnant and I spent 5 months playing and trying to figure out the best way to use it before the birth and I wasn't disapointed.  The advantage of a lens with a low f stop (like 1.4) is that you don't require as much light to take photos at the low f stop.  Also, at the low f stop it can make the background blurry which allows you to focus on the subject (for me the baby).  I got lots of great photos of my daughter with this lens and it is still my go to lens whenever she is doing anything cute at home or if we want to take some "family photos".   I may not post many photos to my photo blog with this lens because I don't post family photos here, but I still use this lens A LOT, probably on almost half of the photos I take!  This is the best lens out there for family photos or any photos of people for that matter.

Check out how the low f-stop of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 looks in the photos I have posted.

Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Kit Lens Review

The lens that comes with the Nikon D5000 when you buy it with the "kit" is an 18-55mm lens, otherwise known as the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR AF-S DX Nikkor Lens.  When I bought my first DSLR, I had know idea about lenses, I didn't even know what 18-55mm meant.   However, over the next year I used and loved this lens.  I didn't purchase a second lens until a year later once I had the basics of DSLR photography figured out.   Really, it was a great lens to learn photography with.  I took lots of great photos with it and really enjoyed using it.  Also, it is really small compared to the lenses I use now which is a huge advantage.  I don't use it very much anymore because I have a Nikon 18-200mm lens which as the number imply, does what the 18-55mm does plus more.  That being said, even though I don't use it much any more, I have no complaints about this lens and definilty got my moneys worth out of it.

Check out all the photos I posted that were taken with this lens.

Topaz Clean Review

Topaz clean is cool because it has effects that are different than all the other photo editing software.  It is meant to "clean" up a photo by removing details.  THe only preset I like with it is the "Curly Smooth" preset, it removes the details form the photo but keeps the curves.  It looks really cool on trees limbs and such, other than that the rest of the presets are interesting but I have never posted a photo that has used any other than "Curly Smooth"

YOu can see the "curlyness" in these photos I have posted that were processed with Topaz Clean.

Nik HDR Efex Pro Review

To be honest, I haven't really used this software very much.  I have read reviews that say it isn't as good as Photomatix for creating HDR photos so I haven't invested much time in learning it.  So, why am I writting this review page? Well, I plan to learn it sooner than later so I am going to link to this page when I post the photos from the blog and come back and write my opinon after I figure out if it is any good or not!

Here are the photos I used Nik HDR Efex Pro when processing.

Nik Silver Efex Pro Review

I am not that good at Black and White photos, and to be honest, am not really that interested in doing to much black and white photos.  We have color cameras now, for the most part I think colors make photos look more realistic so I want to include them.  However, there are times when I am editing a photo and the colors just don't add anything, or I don't like them, that is when I fire up Silver Efex pro.  Usually, I can find a preset that make the photo look better in black and white.  There are also a lot of sliders to adjust the black and white settings but I haven't learned how they all work yet (and I don't know if I need to).  What I do know is the presets in Silver Efex Pro are a lot better than the black and white presets in Lightroom so it is a good tool to play around with if you are looking to play around with Black and White photos.

Here are examples of how the Silver Efex Pro plugin can be used.

Nik Vivenza Review

Nik Vivenza is a cool little tool for making adjustments to photos.  It is similar to Lightroom in that there are a bunch of sliders that you can play with to fix up the photo and make it look beter.  However, it has one cool feature Lightroom doesn't have, control points.  In all photo editing software it is easy to change everything in the picture, but what if you just want to change one portion of the photo.  That is where control points come in, they offer an easy way to make adjustments to only one portion of the photo.  I must say, I really like the feature, it is possible to do something similar in Lightroom and Photoshop but it is just a lot easier.  There is a 15 day free trial on the Nik Software website if you are interested in trying it out.

I usually use Nik Vivenza with other plugins so the photos don't have a distinctive "look". Here are all the photos I have posted where I have used this software.

Nik Define Review

Nik Define is a piece of software that removes noise from photos.  It works pretty well but I don't really notice the differance from what is in Lightroom.  However, the great thing about Define is it automatically detects the noise in the photos then automatically adjusts the settings for the noise.  I have never really learned how the other features work because I am always pretty happy with the default settings.  What it does is find automatically find areas of the photo where there aren't many color changes then detects the noise and auto corrects.  It is better than lightroom in this way because you don't have to play with any sliders.  For the most part, if I am working with other Nik products like Color Efex Pro then I often end up using Define, but if I am in Lightroom then I just use the Lightroom noise reduction slider.

These photos where I used Nik Define are pretty noise free.