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Zooming In

18th March 2021

Zambriskie Point is of my favorite areas to visit in Death Valley. I am awed by its magnificent landscape created by millions of years of erosion. When climb the steep path from the visitor entrance, you’re immediately greeted by the heavily textured, sandy colored alluvial fans.

This day as I walked up the path I could barely see two people standing on one of the flat areas in the distance. They looked like ants on the rocks. The juxtaposition of the tiny figures against the huge backdrop of these badlands was an interesting view.


My equipment was a Sony NEX-7 camera with a medium 18-200mm zoom lens.

This is the image that I captured of the couple.

The EXIF data tells me that the lens was zoomed to 44mm.


The above photo was the only one that I took of the couple.

When I viewed the image in my “computer darkroom”, I wanted to see how the scene would look if I had used the zoom feature of the lens. I magically zoomed by cropping the original image.

The result is that the the couple and the rocky landscape show up in much more detail.

Which one do you preferr?

While I like both images, I prefer the zoomed in version. This is an example of composing your image after the fact.

Am I Equipped Right?

30th September 2014

Like many other dedicated photographers, I’ve somehow accumulated a sizable stash of photo equipment over the years. I’ve also gained a lot of experience knowing what equipment I’ll need for a particular type of shooting.

My last two assignments were a combination of travel and outdoor shoots. My aging back and wobbly knees beg me to travel as lightly as possible for two reasons: a) to minimize the size and weight of the load that I carry and b) to reduce the amount of time I need to get ready for any given shot.

Since I don’t like carrying camera bags or backpacks, I rarely carry extra lenses. On hikes, it’s a chore for me to search for the right lens and change it on the fly, especially if wildlife is the subject matter. It’s far faster for me to slide the desired camera/lens setup on its shoulder strap up to my eye and be ready to shoot in a few seconds.

After these two recent assignments, I’ve zeroed in on a reasonable set of cameras and lenses to use when traveling long and far. I based my choice on the range of the lenses that I typically use: a very wide angle, a medium range telephoto zoom and a long range telephoto zoom.

For several years, I’ve come to rely on Sony’s NEX series of mirrorless cameras. Not only are they compact and lightweight, but they have several features that I appreciate such as the electronic viewfinder which instantly previews your exposure adjustments and a mode that captures in-camera panoramas. One drawback of these mirrorless cameras is that there isn’t a long telephoto lens available. For this I have to stick with a full-frame Nikon DSLR.

Here’s the short list that I’ve found works well for me:

For very wideangle, I use a Sony NEX7 with a manual focus Rokinon 8mm fisheye.

For the medium telephoto, I use a Sony A6000 with a Sony 18-200mm lens.

For the long telelphoto, I use a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-400mm lens.

As you can see, the Nikon DLSR setup is monstrous next to other two cameras. But lugging this heavyweight around is the price I have to pay for the lens’ long reach.

The NEX7 is a very a very capable camera. I like its large 24mp APC-C sensor, excellent electronic viewfinder and brightly lit tilting LCD.

The 8mm Rokinon lens is about 1/4th as large as my expensive fisheye lens for Canon DLSRs. Using the Rokinon lens I have to manually focus and set the exposure so it’s less convenient than the Canon setup. But the savings in bulk is a major plus for me.

Below are a few photos using this setup. The extra wide angle lets me record everything in front of me. I especially like how the fisheye exaggeratingly bends the horizon.

The A6000, Sony’s successor to the NEX7 is also mirrorless. Feature wise it is very similar to the NEX7 except that it has a superior autofocusing mechanism. This enables high speed captures at frames rates up to 11fps.

When not traveling, the A6000/18-200mm setup is my everyday camera. With a large zoom range I have a wide angle to medium telephoto in a single lens.

When traveling, it becomes my primary camera with the other two cameras reserved for special points of view. Below are a few examples that illustrate the versatility of the 18-200mm lenss.

The Nikon D600 is a full-frame DLSR with a 24mp sensor. It weighs in at two pounds which is twice as much as the A6000.

The Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens weighs just under three pounds making this setup a combined five pounds. Although this is hefty to carry, the lens lock (prevents the zoom from unintentionally sliding) keeps it secure while carrying it with a shoulder strap.

This long telephoto comes off of my shoulder mostly for the long distance shots such as these below.

So there you have it, my equipment of choice for outdoor photography. Of course, not everyone has the same preferences or requirements in the field as myself so this set up may not work universally. But for me being properly equipped has proved to be an ideal way for me to work comfortably, quickly and efficiently.
Written by: Arnie Lee

A Long Lens Story

12th June 2013

Avoiding the $8,500 shock

Those of us who like to hunt wildlife with a camera know that you can never have enough mm of lens. But sticker shock kicks in when you look at the prices for a fast super-telephoto lens. Last year I made it a high priority to seek out an alternative way to acquire one of these highly sought after gems and ended up with a prized lens at a bargain basement price.

My lucky catch doesn’t have the features of late model glass, but neither does it doesn’t carry an $8,500 price tag. Instead of the a brand spanking new 400mm f/2.8 with auto focusing and vibration reduction I picked up a used 400mm f/3.5 manual focus lens. As you’ll see, although it lacks the convenience of the high price spread, it performs very well for my type of shooting. And at a price of about $600, it is a steal. If you’re a lover of long lenses that isn’t willing to take a mortgage out to buy one, follow along to see if the used lens approach can satisfy your equipment wants.

To be exact, my “find” is a Nikkor ED IF AI-S 400mm f/3.5 lens. There are no marks or scratches on any of the lens surfaces. The lens body shows heavy wear and a few scratches to the paint. It has a tripod collar, a built-in lens hood and accepts affordable 39mm drop-in filters or expensive very 122mm external filters.

Mechanically, this lens has high quality optics; manual internal focusing (lens barrel does not extend or retract as it is focused) and automatic indexing so that the camera can determine the aperture setting.

To try out the lens, I mounted it on a Nikon D600 body. Notice the white dot on the lens.

Simply line up the white dot on the lens with the white dot on the camera body and twist counter-clockwise.

This monster of a lens weighs more than 6 pounds. You won’t want to handhold this camera and lens combo for very long.

While it is possible to mount this combo directly onto a tripod, a more practical solution is to use a gimbal mount.

Here’s one that I use.

Using the tripod collar on the lens, the combo is screwed onto the gimbal. The gimbal itself is mounted and balanced onto the tripod.

With the arrangement, you can now frictionlessly tilt, swivel and pan the camera and lens combo to take aim of your subject.

There’s one final step to complete before we can use this older lens with a newer camera body.

Newer Nikkor lenses owe their intelligence to a tiny CPU which controls the exposure settings. Since this lens does not have a CPU, you must “register” this lens to the camera by setting its maximum (widest) aperture. The Tools menu has an item for doing this.

Having registered the lens, there are two options for setting the exposure: ‘M” manual, where you set both the shutter speed and aperture or “A” aperture priority, where you set the aperture and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed.

In either case, you rotate the aperture ring on the lens to the desired lens opening. In “M” mode, you also dial in the camera shutter speed. In “A” mode, the camera automatically sets the shutter speed.

You’re all set to take aim, carefully focus and fire away. Here’s a few of my first shots with the lens.

This photo is a full frame capture of a colorful duck. The lens’ large focusing ring lets me easily bring things into sharp focus.

To give you an idea of the quality of the lens, this is an enlargement of the duck’s head taken from the photo on the left.

How sharp is this lens? Full frame shot at f/5.6.

The enlargement here looks pretty sharp to me.

In this comparison of the same capture at f/3.5 and f/5.6 you’ll see a noticeable drop in sharpness when using the widest opening. The lesson for me: stop down to achieve the sharpest photographs.

At first I was a little hesitant about buying an older lens without the autofocus and autoexposure features that I’ve come to expect from newer lenses. After all, this lens comes from the early 1980s; isn’t it obsolete? Now that I’ve had some positive experience, I realize that quality equipment lasts for many years.

I feel that I hit the jackpot with this lens at a great price. Now I’m hoping to find some time to capture many more birds in the future.
Written by Arnie Lee
NOTE: While this article featured Nikon equipment, I’m hoping to look for similar money-saving angles for my Canon equipment.


Tech Tip #1

07th November 2009

For the most part, we’ve stayed away from the “techie” stuff so far. We’re going to stray slightly to explain how more pixels can come in handy.

When Pixels Count

Although I was using a 400mm lens, I was unable to get any closer to this bald eagle. He was sitting on a small branch in a pine tree 200 feet away and 50 feet off the ground.

This photo shows the full frame. It has a resolution of 5600 x 3700 pixels.

To keep the eagle from remaining a speck on my print, I tightly cropped the image. This yields an 870 x 1300 pixel image. Had my original image had fewer pixels, the cropped image would have lost detail.