Nikon Lenses

Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR for Shooting Hummingbirds

Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4 and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR @ 1000mm

1/1600s – f/7.1 – ISO 6400

 I apologize for my absence as of late, however I have been working on a number of very large long term projects that I hope will pay off for me and my website in the future. That being said, I have still been shooting (in fact more then I was previously was it seems) and I have a number of exciting reviews coming. I’ll briefly outline some of them at the moment, they include the Lytro Illum and Sony RX1r two new pieces of equipment I have, as well a number of other topics including using the Nikon D800e with tilt-shift lenses, a review of the Arca-Swiss RM3Di, and a review of my experiences as a Nikon shooter, shooting Canon 1Dx’s at the 2014 US Open Tennis championships and sort of in tandem with this a review of Photo Mechanic 5 a very powerful ingestion tool I was introduced to to sort through the 1000′s of pictures I took.

But lets face it, that was all very self aggrandizing and presumptuous as to the number of dedicated followers I have as compares to visitors who found me through google. Your here because well Nikon 800mm enough said right? I don’t own this lens, I rented it because I thought it would be fun to try out for my now annual summer hummingbird shoot at my house in Connecticut. I rented this through Lensrentals.com, I only mention this because they are where I chose to go for all of my online rental needs, I haven’t tried anyone else, but Lensrentals and their support has always been perfect, and to be clear they are not paying me to say that, but they totally should ;). Moving on, this article is going to be pretty short, because its about something pretty specific, this isn’t an overarching review of this lens, but rather a review of my experiences using it for a very specific task, shooting hummingbirds.

Both Canon and Nikon’s (though notably Nikon’s) 800mm lenses are very good, and they better be for their five digit prices. From a little bit of other playing around I did with this lens it offers superior sharpness and exhibits no aberrations to speak of. Unfortunately I shot these images with my Nikon D4, when my D4s arrived about a week later, I can only imagine with its improved AF this lens could have been an even more powerful image making tool in this situation. The Nikon 800mm comes with a very special 1.25x Teleconverter. This is no ordinary teleconverter for a number of reasons. First of all its a weird magnification size (most TC’s are 1.4 / 1.7 / 2) and brings the lens to a clean 1000mm which leaves it with a reasonably sized aperture of effectively f/7.0.  But what really makes this teleconverter stand out is how it is made. The 1.25x teleconverter is build from the same glass, and as if it is part of the Nikon 800mm lens that its been made in tandem with. That means it has been ground and tested as if its elements were elements of the lens itself. It also means DON’T EVER LOSE IT. Firstly, it can never be replaced. You can send back you lens and have a new one made but assume this will be very expensive and a yield less then ideal pairing then the original. The pairing of teleconverter and lens in production is absolutely genius, and something that you can do with a high-price low-volume product like this that makes it really stand out. Aside from being rather poetic, it also means that the image quality of the teleconverter when used in tandem with the its matching Nikon 800mm (also it should be noted, It can’t be used with any other telephoto lenses) yields insane results that you would never expect from a teleconverter. Practically speaking there is absolutely no degradation of image quality or introduction of risk to chromatic aberration when adding this teleconverter like there would be with almost any other teleconverter on almost any other lens. It’s simply stunning, maybe the autofocus is a hair slower but nothing noticeable like when adding other teleconverters.

The title image, is probably my favorite image from this year, and it happened partially by chance. I was attempting to pan with a moving hummingbird (no small feat) and was spraying and praying and upon review later found this really great image, it was in focus, a great position and well lit, triple score! Jumping from last years Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR to this years 800mm was a bit of a jump. A 400mm, and even a 600mm lens can be reasonably used on a monopod (not in this situation but speaking generally), however using an 800mm on a monopod is exceedingly difficult for the inexperienced user (me) and it took some getting used to. You working with such a restricted FoV (duh) that sometimes you can get “lost” looking for your subject. Another issue with the 10 degree angle of view is that any slight movements you physically make move the lens (which can lead to the aforementioned problem) but also can make using the lens difficult since its hard to clearly see what your composing and shooting at if your not completely stable. The best solution I have found for this is to place my left hand on the lens hood to add stability. Now I was shooting on a large tripod with a gimbal head, and this was still necessary but worked very effectively.

Hummingbird-2014-Nikon-D4-800mm-f5.6-2

Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4 and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR @ 1000mm

1/1600s –  f/7.1 – ISO 3200

In last years great hummingbird shoot I learned some very good shooting technique through research which I believe is worth a read since it synthesizes a number of online source into what I found to be true from my personal shooting experiences. I didn’t deviate from this technique much this year, other then I added a number of new feeders which helped to bring in more hummingbirds, and luckily a ruby-throated hummingbird which thrilled me since this is what I had wanted from last year but didn’t get. Other then that the system I developed worked pretty well. It’s unfortunate but the best way to get great hummingbird pictures (and I know its clichéd) is to put in the time. More so then just from the practice side of things, when you think about it considering how fast hummingbirds move, and how how long they stay in one place for only a few seconds usually, you have to be there for as many of those ~20 second episodes as possible. Finding out when the hummingbirds are most active for you will be pretty obvious after a day or two, then the only really limiting factor is how long you can spend out there and how long before its too dark for you to shoot at a fast enough shutter speed with good image quality (ISO wise). Hummingbirds seem to be most active in the later afternoon, and early evening. Also apparently they are active in the early morning, but I wouldn’t know because well I’m asleep then). 

In conclusion, is it necessary to use a $20,000 lens and an $8,0000 camera to get images of hummingbirds? no. But lets face it, its fun and it yields some unique results. There are many examples out there of people accomplishing amazing results with much more affordable equipment, most of which are as good or better then some of my images. Like anything specialization helps and if you commit yourself to it with whatever gear you have you can get amazing results. Not does a super-telephoto lens help? in my estimation absolutely. Does an advanced autofocus system in a Nikon D4 help? absolutely, but people once shot images of hummingbirds with manual focus lenses, so remember that whenever you question whether you can do this with your equipment. Buying a super-telephoto lens isn’t necessary (and 90% of the year would gather dust for me) but renting one is good fun and can also let you get some great images; I’m a strong proponent of encouraging people do try and rent things so that they can experience these sort of things for themselves. These sort of lenses can often seem out of reach however renting lets you access them and get some great experiences and most importantly some great images!

Shooting Hummingbirds with the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR & Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Lenses

Image of a Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4 and a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF Lens

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens – 1/1600s – f/4.0 – ISO 1000

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that shooting hummingbirds, even if its in your backyard is exceedingly frustrating and certainly requires some practice. If you put in the time though, you can get some super cool shots out of it which (almost) make up for the time, effort and mental anguish required to take pictures of them. We got a hummingbird feeder since they are my mothers favorite bird and had had great success with it all summer. In late summer, the hummingbirds seemed to be most active around our feeder, and having run out of other things to distract myself with I decided I would focus my creative energies towards capturing some hummingbirds. Sounds simple enough right? Well, you work, its not. Thankfully there are many many many good websites with all sorts of helpful hints and tips about photographing hummingbirds. Generally speaking these articles are very good, but you should really read a handful of them before arriving at your final strategy since there was no “complete” guide anywhere that I found. Also it will help to know your camera inside and out, there are many settings that can be tweaked to ensure the best autofocus speed possible (which you will need), and if you are not fully-aware of your cameras capabilities there are also many many resources which can help discover these features buried deep in your menus. For this “project” as it were, I used my Nikon D4, along with an SB-900 flash unit (at times) and initially my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens sometimes with my Nikon 2x teleconverter II; later on in the project I rented a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens from lensrentals.com which helped me achieve some of the best results of this project. In this article, we will look at the technique, camera settings, and equipment that I used. We will look at images chronologically from my initial captures, through to the cover image.

Early images taken of hummingbirds with my Nikon D4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Lens

 Nikon D4 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII – 1/1000s – f/2.8 – ISO 2000 @ 200mm

These very early examples were highly ambitious (since I really wanted to get the bird on a solid background) because of the limited equipment, camera settings, and experiences I had. In fact, I am shocked that I managed to capture these images early on. Hummingbirds move exceedingly fast and don’t stay anywhere for terribly long (except for when the are feeding) so even more so then good technique it is very important to have your camera settings optimized for the task, since if you do not then you are throwing away advantages that you have in being able to capture images of them. The images above are crops of photos taken at 200mm’s which is in no way long enough (from my experience) to capture hummingbirds. There are people who use remote setups or people who seem to be able to get inexplicably close to hummingbirds when photographing them, but that is not the way that I found to photograph them.

Image taken of a Male Ruby Throated Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens, and Nikon 2x TC Teleconverter II

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, Nikon 2x TCII – 1/1250s – f/11 – ISO 2000 @ 400mm

As we  can see from the image above you can get some somewhat decent shots without too extreme of a setup with the help of a teleconverter. The Nikon 2x TCII teleconverter is excellently paired with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII and I have not found there to be an significant degradation of image quality when using this combination. This somewhat pleasant image above (also the only image I have of a male) is also a crop and comes from one of my first days of shooting the hummingbirds. Here, even though I had the ability to “reach” to 400mm, I had not spent enough time to understand that I can position myself closer to the hummingbirds (even if it scares them away initially) and then sit there and wait and eventually they will get acclimated to me and come back (since apparently hunger outweighs chance of capture / and or death to these guys) because they are always hungry.

Image taken of a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens, and Nikon 2x TC Teleconverter II

taken with Nikon-SB-900 flash unit

Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, Nikon 2x TCII - 1/1250s – f/5.6 – ISO 2500 @ 400mm

Now we are a few days in to my great outdoor (backyard) adventure and I have done some research and a lot of small tweaks have been made to my setup. Firstly, as we can see, now I am using a Nikon SB-900 flash mounted on the camera for some fill light to allow me to use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the hummingbird. Of course, this brings in its own set of challenges while I tried to balance flash power (fairly low power settings) with shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get enough light on the background as well. Overall, I would say that flash is not your best bet for photographing hummingbirds, especially from a plastic feeder. Flash will obviously illuminate everything and this can be a major issue when you have a glossy red feeder which also happens to be positioned in front of a cast-iron fence which means that there will be a shadow behind the birds. But more about this later. For now, we will focus on the camera settings I eventually used with my Nikon D4 to make the following images possible.

I realized early on that my camera was letting me down, I certainly wasn’t doing myself any favors by not taking advantage of everything it has to offer. I mean, come on, its a Nikon D4 theres no way a little bird can get the best of it right? On the stock settings, yes, yes it can. But with some tweaking its possible to give yourself that extra little advantage. One of the more important minor little details that should be noted is that you should / can put custom settings into “Custom Settings Banks”. I have my “Normal” settings on A and then I created a custom settings B for “Action”. First we will start simple, It was recommended to me, to do something that I normally do not like (though some people love), I moved my autofocus control from being a half press of the shutter button to being the “AF-ON” button on the back of the camera. This allows for autofocus to be controlled via my thumb, and lets the shutter button be simply used for its namesake. This is extremely helpful since if you rely on locked autofocus to take the picture, then you will almost never get any pictures of hummingbirds. For me the best solution was to pair “Continuous High” (CH) shooting mode with this first AF tweak, which allowed me to get 10 fps continuous shooting for as long as I needed. I found that using “AF-C” with “d-21″ (21 point AF) to work best. This setting is accessed by the “AF/M” button on the left side of the camera. Within the menus, “AF-C priority selection” was set to “release”. “Focus tracking with lock” on was brought down to “1 (Short)” I did this because I found that while its good to have a little bit of stickiness in the autofocus, I was better served by having the camera constantly refocusing allowing for the slight variations in movements of the hummingbird, which especially when shooting at f/2.8 can be the difference in the world between sharp and out of focus. Luckily with modern cameras like the Nikon D4, it is possible to use high ISO’s and get very clean results, while you cannot be too aggressive with this especially if you are going to consider cropping anything, you can safely push into the ISO 3200 range with very good results (with the best coming at around 2000 IMHO). With these settings, I found the cameras AF performance was excellent, when light permitted I shot stopped down to give my self some extra DoF, however I found that even at f/2.8 the camera was highly capable. At this point all thats left to do is to throw the camera into manual mode, confirm exposure and begin shooting.

Image taken of a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens, and Nikon 2x TC Teleconverter II with flash

taken with Nikon-SB-900 flash unit

Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, Nikon 2x TCII - 1/500s – f/11 – ISO2000 @ 320mm-400mm

The example above was a good example of an image taken with the Nikon SB-900 flash because I shot low and the background was only the trees behind the hummingbird. In these next examples we can see where some distracting issues arise. We see that the hummingbird casts a shadow on the cast iron fence behind it which is, in my opinion, heavily distracting. Another thing to consider is that in my situation the feeder was a red glossy plastic and this meant that it was reflective and would show the flash. The flash is very good however at allowing you to freeze the hummingbird in flight providing good fill flash especially during the day. I purchased a Better Beamer flash extender for testing since I thought it might help by pushing more light down range. It acquits itself of its duty admirably, though I found that it was not terribly necessary for my application. It was useful at times however, since it vastly magnifies the light coming out of the flash allowing for lower flash settings, and thus faster re-cycle times from the flash. The flash is pretty good at keeping up with the camera, however you are more or less stuck shooting in Single (S) mode but you can shoot as fast as your fingers can manage and the flash should keep up for a while.

Image of a Hummingbird taken with my Nikon D4 and a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF Lens

Nikon D4 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens – 1/1600s – f/4.0 – ISO 1000

Moving along back to our cover image, which while somewhat heavily photoshoped retains all aspects of the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR lens which is an absolutely insane $9,000.00 giant of a lens. Its everything you would expect it to be and more. From various conversations I had on the forum, I determined I would try renting the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR lens since it had the largest aperture and best close focusing distance of a Nikon super-telephoto lens. I had found from my use of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens with the 2x TC that 400mm was pretty much where I needed to be to get great images. So, I went to lensrentals.com which is my preferred rental house (no affiliation) I have had no problems from them and when I have had questions their staff has always been super helpful and responsive, once your cleared to rent their more expensive items your good to go and can do so freely and without an delay in your shipments. Their prices seem to be no better or worse then any other online rental houses out there and so, I am happy with them and see no reason to go anywhere else, personally. Of course, for my smaller (physical size) needs, I prefer K&M Camera however schlepping myself all the way into the city and lugging around a 10lb lens didn’t sound particularly attractive in the height of summer heat. Theres really no way to get around this, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR is a superior professional lens which delivers the ultimate in performance. Other lenses I considered were the Nikon 600mm f/4 ED VR AF lens as well as the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens which but with minimum focusing distances of 15.7′ (4.79 m) and 19.36′ (5.9 m) respectively they didn’t seem to offer enough extra pull to be worth the extra focusing distance. I may be wrong, this may be naive of me, but it was my gut feeling. I do plan however to test out these other two lenses and see whats what next spring and summer since shooting hummingbirds was good fun and a great excuse to cradle some superior glass for a week.

Nikon D4 with Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens and Nikon 2x TCII at 800mm shooting Hummingbirds for some backyard bird photography

Some flaws

Nikon D4 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF, Nikon 2x TCII - 1/320s – f/5.6 – ISO 1600 @ 800mm

I found using the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF lens with the Nikon 2x TCII provided some challenges, which I assume would have been improved with the Nikon 2x TCIII which, if I had realized existed, I would have rented along with the lens. The 800mm focal length, slapped onto the 400mm f/2.8 worked decently well. Of course with a TC there is no change to the minimum focusing distance of the lens, so I cannot comment whether the change in minimum focusing distance (touched on above) would have changed my opinion. Especially when working at a relatively close distance, putting on the 2x TC can be a bit jarring at first since you are so zoomed in, even from what I got acclimated to when shooting at the 400mm focal length. Everything happens faster, which is a little hard to get used to especially when you have a limited number of a seconds with your subject per feeding session. The above images show some flaws when using the 400mm + 2x TC combination at 800mm. We see the background has become beautifully out of focus which is very nice, however there are some clear signs of the degradation of image quality here. It also might have been better for me to rent some of the smaller Nikon Teleconverters like the 1.4x or 1.7x TC’s. Previously I had never really understood a reason for these smaller TC’s existing. Now I do, since they would allow for less “pressure” (in terms of IQ) to be put on the set up while still providing a full-resolution zoomed in focal length.

A Nikon400

Backyard, with the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VR AF

In conclusion, shooting some hummingbirds in the backyard sounds like a somewhat simple task, however as I found there are a lot of small complications which need to be overcome and experienced to finally be able to adapt to. Especially in the beginning, though frankly throughout the process, I was frustrated and upset a number of times because of a lack of success. This was in no way helped by the fact that hummingbirds are a bunch of fat little jerks who felt it necessary to chase each other away from the feeder (instead of just sharing). This meant that my time with a subject near or at the feeder was in the > 10 seconds range for the majority of the time. Though, thankfully at times, especially later in the week things calmed down and I was able to get a solid 20+ seconds with a few subjects. However, when you consider I’m shooting at 10fps thats still a lot of frames racked up. Because of the difficulties of focus and micro-movements of the hummingbird though this meant a number of these shots were not keepers. While I attempted to wait until the camera confirmed focus via the dot in the viewfinder, at times I would be able to sense when it was close to focus and begin firing away. And while I say all of these things which might make it sound like I was just blasting away whenever something roamed near the lens, this is not true. I would call them “controlled bursts” based on the movements of the hummingbird. If you spend enough time staring at them you will find there is a pattern to their movements. In fact, you can even hear the pattern of their movements with enough time spent out there with them (and you have to put in the time to get the shots). Initially they will hover somewhere around 20-30 feet away from the feeder to size it up. I didn’t even bother attempting to capture them at these times since it is difficult and will screw you if you also want to shoot them near the feeder since moving yourself takes time, and sudden movements scare the hummingbirds. So basically what I was left with was when they were close to the feeder, and while they were feeding. The shot of them feeding would be cool if it was an actual flower, but since its a plastic flower there isn’t much magic to that. I would wait, with my eye just above the viewfinder until one was in the 1-2 foot away from the feeder range and begin shooting while it dipped in to the feeder and as it moved backwards to swallow the nectar. When the bird comes on “near approach” to the feeder is probably the best time to get shots since at least for this set up it was where they would be out of the view of the fence; though when they moved slightly back to swallow provided some good moments as well. All and all this was a nice end of summer experience for me allowing me to soak up some gorgeous afternoons by spending 3-5 hours a day outside waiting for hummingbirds, which maybe would come every 15 minutes, though sometimes more, sometimes less. It should be noted that mornings and afternoons are (apparently) when they are most active, and since I’m not a morning person, I opted for the afternoons. Considering I don’t generally get outside that often it was a nice change of pace. This is in no way a physically intense photographic activity, in fact its the opposite, I was sitting in a comfortable chair for the majority of the time (except for when I opted to change angles for some variation early on). It is a mentally taxing task considering everything you have to prepare and execute in a small amount of time. As I have said though, it was highly rewarding and I plan to do it again next summer at some point since its good fun for the afternoon.

More examples can be viewed on my flickr page at flickr.com/brianhirschfeldphotography

P.S

Mamiya-500mm-f/4.5-APO-PhaseOne-IQ180-Hummingbird-Photography

backyard with PhaseOne IQ180, Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO, Extension Tubes, and Nikon SB-900

Hey! do you know what totally does not work as a set up for shooting hummingbirds? You guessed it! the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lens and my PhaseOne IQ180! While it does not work for this nature set up, you can read about how it works for some less extreme stuff in my Field Report on the Mamiya 300mm f/2.8 APO and Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 APO lenses from Costa Rica. As an aside, you can shoot the Nikon SB-900 mounted on the PhaseOne 645DF. While you have to manually control the power setting, the camera will trigger the flash. I had the cable attached to the flash from a pervious use and did not bother to take it off, it was not used in this failed set up. In case your wondering why it failed, well, for starters it was an f/4.5 lens, and then this is brought down significantly with the use of ALL THREE extension tubes (and the lack of serious high-ISO from the PhaseOne IQ180), and finally, oh you know the fact that its a manual focus lens. I figured “well people shot everything with manual focus lenses before, how hard could it be right?” well the answer is exceedingly; exceedingly difficult. ;)

In-depth review of the Hartblei Hcam B1

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The Hartblei Hcam B1 is a unique fusion of different formats and photographic ideas, which brings together some of the best elements of each. The Hcam body itself, is essentially the shutter, and aperture control. Various removable and customizable parts do everything else. The Hcam comes with a a Hasselblad V mount for its viewfinder. This allows you to use any viewfinders you have in this mount. This is especially useful if you already own a V system (I own the 503CW with two viewfinders) since you have access to some great, viewfinders. The camera comes native with a Canon EOS mount, with full aperture communication with the lens. You don’t have autofocus, but this is ok because of the way that the camera functions. With adapters (notably those from Novoflex), you have the opportunity to use lenses like Nikon’s F mount (and G with a specific adapter with aperture control) Leica R, Pentax 67, Pentax 645, Mamiya M, Hasselblad V and many other lenses with the plethora of adapters out there.

Also please note, the areas which are intended like this, include comments from the creator of the camera Stefan Steib of Hartblei (Hcam.de). These are direct quotes from conversations that I have had with him, which I think bring extra information to the review, which I was unaware of, but are indeed comments from the creator and sell of the camera.

The main purpose of this camera, is to allow you to use your medium format digital back with 35mm lenses for even wider perspective then that achievable with standard lenses within your system. Leica’s widest lense currently for its S system is a 30mm (with wider planned), PhaseOne/Mamiya/Leaf have a 28mm and Hasselblad as well has a 28mm lens. However, there are times, especially when shooting Landscape and Architectural scenes, that you may desire wider. Typicaly this would mean transferring to a view camera, with large format lenses, or a plate camera (if you are less concerned about camera movements). However these offerings from companies like Arca-Swiss, Cambo,  Linhof, and Alpa among others, are expensive in terms of the body price as well as the prices for the excellent Schneider or Rodenstock optics that these cameras accept. These systems have a few draw backs, mainly their mechanical nature, and price point. The Hartblei Hcam addresses these two points.

While the Hartblei Hcam B1 commands a similar price to a Plate / View camera body (€6295, or $8275 on February 5, 2012), it has some unique offerings. First, it lets you use 35mm lenses. This drastically shrinks the price of the system, especially if you are already a Canon or Nikon user and have ultra-wides or tilt shifts, then you can use them with your digital back to achieve great wide-angle results. It also offers you the opportunity to use faster lenses then those available for medium format. The fastest lenese currently available for medium format include the Mamiya C 80mm f/1.9 and the Hasselblad 110mm f/2 (for focal plane shutter cameras). These lenses are limited in their usage because of their systems and focal lengths. Lenses for 35mm cameras go (typically) from f/1.4 up for most focal lengths. The Hartblei Hcam B1 is most ideally suited for Tilt-Shift lenses because these have larger image circles, to accommodate for tilt and shit, which means that they can cover the full 53.7 x 40.4mm of my PhaseOne IQ180’s sensor. Other lenses, as you will see, can be mounted on the camera and achieve wonderful results, with wider angle lenses typically covering more of the sensor then telephoto lenses. The areas not covered by the Lens, will result in a black region around the image circle projected on the sensor. This is easy to crop down to whatever aspect ratio you wish. Especially when using higher megapixel count digital backs, like the 80mp PhaseOne IQ180, this loss of data due to the image circle is easily overcome, because even if you have to crop out 25-35% of an image because of this effect, you are still left with a 50 – 60 megapixel image which is still much greater then anything you’d get on a 35mm system. Of course this only takes into account the megapixel count, and not other features, like low noise and dynamic range which also contribute to excellent results with this camera.

Note from Stefan Steib: With the 17mm we keep the wideangle worldrecord for any (built and freely available, there have been similar military special cameras) Camera on this planet. The image angle of the 17mm with the IQ 180 is 126,3 degr diagonal which no Rodenstock or Schneider lens can achieve. We are even having less Light falloff, close to none colorfringing and no color cast for wideangles as the viewcameras show now with the 80 Mpix backs. This is becaus we use retrofocus lenses with a longer flange focal distance that do not exhibit these problems. The shorter 23/24mm/28mm and still 32mm real wideangle lenses from Schneider have only 9,7 millimeters of distance from the back lense to the chip and do cause heavy problems With color cast and  light falloff, they need Centerfilters which remove another 2 stops of light sensitivity from the camera. Rodenstock is better, they changed to retrofocus designs Some years ago the start at 22mm flange focal distance, but even this reaches a limit now with the actual 80 Mpix technology and the Microlenses hit slanted in the corners and borders of a Large 645 chip .

This is true, the 17mm provides an insanely wide image from this camera. I did not personally use this lens with the camera, but tried the camera withs some extreme wide angles like the Canon 8-15mm f/4 and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and found that it preformed very nicely at the wider settings. I frankly, found them to wide for my purposes, but that really depends on your applications. I would say that light fall off and color fringing would be more determined by what lens you are using, and what conditions from my experience; garbage in garbage out and all that. The point about center filters is especially valid, because center filters are used to balances and corrects for light fall off in the corners of an image taken with lenses from Rodenstock and Schneider (among others), which will make the image darker, and take away from the capabilities of the camera in certain situations. This fact, combined with the already faster apertures of 35mm DSLR lenses compared to large format lenses, is certainly an advantage of this camera system.

History and Design 

Front and Logo of the Hartblei Hcam B1

Attaching 35mm lenses to a medium format digital back is not a new concept. Horseman had created the Digiwide and the Digiflex. The Digiwide, was very similar to plate cameras like those from Alpa or Arca. It was fairly well received. The Digiflex, was very similar in that it also took Nikon lenses, however this solution had a reflex mirror that made composition easier to visualize. Kapture Group had also created the TrueWide which was specially adapted for older Nikon perspective control, tilt-shift lenses. These solutions filled the niche market to some extent, but lacked the polish and over all appeal that the Hartblei Hcam brings to the table.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Features including illuminated Displays, spirit levels, and a Hotshoe

Through my discussions with Stefan Steib about the camera, I learned that these cameras were not really considered when the Hartblei Hcam was being conceived. The camera is truly a modern solution. It house sophisticated electronics that these other solutions could only dream of. One of the most notable features of the camera is Mamiya designed shutter. The shutter is the same shutter used in the Mamiya 645DF camera, which is to say it is very accurate. And because there is no mirror to influence vibration, it is virtually vibration free, making long exposures a breeze. The cameras Canon EOS mount, is very robust and well built. Its as study as anything from Canon, and easily accepts adapters for other lens types. When placing a Canon lens on the camera, there is no question that the lens is on there, like you would expect. The camera also features two different screens. The one on the top of the camera is for controlling the aperture of the lense, when you have a Canon mounted lens on it. This is because the Hartblei Hcam, is fully integrated with the electronics of Canon lenses. This means you can control the aperture, which is very convenient, especially since there are so many great lenses now that do not have manual aperture rings. This screen is very bright, and visible in any conditions. Next to it are two buttons, which control the aperture of the camera. They are well placed, and are used to open the lens wide open for composition and then stop it down when your ready to shoot, just like the same concept as a view camera, which the Hartblei Hcam shares a lot of shooting technique with. The rear screen, controls all of the other functions of the camera including shutter speed. One of the most unique features of the camera, which I will give my opinion on later, is it’s motorized back. I have been told that this was done to ensure the best alignment with the back and lenses, and it’s a pretty cool feature, you hit a button and it moves to and from shooting position, like other manual sliding backs for Technical and View cameras. The camera also has some other standard features including a hotshoe and two integrated spirit levels. The hotshoe allows you to use things such as pocket wizards for triggering lighting set ups. One of the best things about this camera is the illuminated back display, but also the illuminated spirit levels. This shows a little bit of extra thought and is especially useful when attempting to compose in darker conditions. The battery for the camera is placed on the front, into a sliding holder which is very easy to use and operate and not finicky or difficult, which again speaks volume to the thought that was put into the design of this camera. Also the parts of the back include the Hasselblad V mount viewfinder, and the mount for the digital back.

Design and Functionality, my opinion

 Hartblei Hcam B1 Top showing aperture controls

The build quality of this camera is superb; all metal construction makes you feel like you are holding something very substantial. Of course you will never really be holding it since its always used on a tripod. As I said above I think that there are a lot of really well thought out features. Everything on the camera is designed so that it is an asset in the studio, but also in the field. All of the buttons are easily useable with gloves, and are firm enough that you can get the result you want by pressing it once, but not difficult to the point that you will have to go out of your way to press a button. The aperture is controllable, as discussed from the top of the camera, but there is also a +/- button on the back of the camera where the aperture can be controlled from again. Also very convenient depending on how you are using the camera, one of the selectors might not be as easily accessible, so redundancy is good. The back of the camera also contained the “Time” setting which will determine the shutter speed of the exposure. The system for controlling the major functions of the camera works incredibly well, and is very precise, and there is nothing to complain about. Again, the integrated spirit levels, which are also illuminated, along with all of the displays, shows the thought that was put into this camera, which makes it so much more interesting and enjoyable to use.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Triggers and Cable Releases Wired and WirelessThere are two different ways of triggering the camera. The digital back, is connected via its sync port, to a cable which connects with the camera body, and allows for precise timing of the shutter and digital back firing. This is of course; the same way things are done on technical cameras with large format lenses. The cables provided with the camera contain a shoot off from the cable, which ends in a very simple single button shutter release. This was my preferred method for triggering the camera. The button provides a solid click, and is large enough to be pleasant to use with or without gloves. It also is very easy because it allows you to simply let it drop, and you don’t have to worry about it being a separate part coming out since its integrated into the cable.  The other, more unique accessory is the integrated radio trigger. This trigger allows for you to remotely control the camera. It has a simple design and offers two functions. The first is to control the camera, and the second is used as a release for longer exposure shots based on how you wish to use the camera. This accessory is nice, especially if you are using the camera indoors since it adds convenience if you are doing a still life or similar work. Again a nice feature, but not as useful for me personally when using it in the field, because it just became one more thing to carry around with me, and eventually lose.

 

As I have said, this camera offers a motorized sliding back. The concept of the sliding back is nothing new, and is most often seen in technical large format cameras. It is a system, which allows you to compose, and then slide the digital back into position for image capture. On large format cameras, you are typically focusing on a nice big ground glass, which is a unique experience, that I have never seen replicated in any other form of photography. Because of the precision and extra thought needed to compose in this manner (bending over, moving in the opposite direction of where you want it to go because of the lack of a reflex mirror etc) large format photography, has lent itself to a more methodical and deliberate approach which is a nice thing to have at times, to make you slow down and think more. This camera replicates this experience exceptionally well. The viewfinder is very similar to the Hasselblad V viewfinder, mostly because it is has the same mount and operation. You can mount all forms of Hasselblad V viewfinders to this camera. There are 90 degree viewfinders (what is shipped with the camera is a Hartblei version of this), as well as 45 degree viewfinders among others. The one which I found to be most useful however, was the standard flip-up viewfinder from my 503CW. This viewfinder is the most compact, lends itself to use outdoors, has a self-contained magnification accessory and allows for easy access to the digital backs CF card slot and sync ports. While I cannot speak to other backs, on my back the PhaseOne IQ180, but I believe most (possibly excluding the Hasselblad’s) the CF card slot and the sync ports are on the left side of the camera. And this area can get a bit cramped with the other viewfinders like the Hartblei viewfinder or my Hasselblad PME45 viewfinder combined with the addition of the sync cable into the port which remains directly in-front of the CF card slot. For me, the flip-up Hasselblad viewfinder worked best, but I can certainly see how other viewfinders could be well applied for different uses.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Viewfinder - Hasselblad 503CW

All and all I had a very positive experience with the camera ergonomically, and functionality wise. Nothing to complain about, it is as advertised and it works. However, one of the features that I found the most unusual was the motorized sliding back. Most sliding backs, are simply mechanically and user positioned into place. When they are for smaller formats, they typically have a stop, or marker in place so you know when the digital back is properly aligned for image capture. However, Hartblei, has done something different. As can be seen in my video review, they offer a motorized sliding back. This would be a fine feature if there were still the option to manually position the back into place, but in fact there is not. I do not know why, on a camera that was so well thought out, this feature was included. First of all, It eats battery, I don’t know exactly how much, and never had an issues with battery life (since it takes the same batteries as PhaseOne digital backs, and in fact can take larger versions of these). Second, it takes time, and is kind of annoying if you like to have rapid succession between composition and capture, especially when working in the field. When I asked Stefan Steib about this feature, I was told that it was done to ensure optimum alignment with the back and the lens for best results. To this, I say ok fine, that makes sense for including the feature, and is certainly marketable, but why not include a manual override. What happens if the motor fails? Especially since the sliding back is integrated into the camera, simply putting a stop in the slider, where it would be perfectly aligned, would seem to me, to be just as accurate. This feature did not exactly fit my shooting style, because I found myself always waiting for the back to slide into position, and wishing I could just push it along myself.

Note from Stefan Steib: About the motorized Slider. The problem with making an override to this would be loosing calibration of the positioning stop which is also electronically Achieved. Also the Motor and the Belt are directly connected, so without using a lockable gearbox, which would make the camera more complicated and prone to defects We would not be able to do it manually. The battery on the Camera lasts longer than the battery on the backs, when you use a larger 4800mHa battery mostly for the whole day, So battery consumption is also not a point to worry about, this is valid for temperatures down to 20degr. Celsius (and less) but then the back gets a problem!

While this explains why it isn’t possible to have both with the current system I believe it should be something to be considered. Yes, with the ability to use larger batteries this does help things, but I would still continue to point out, its still using power and so on. Stefan also mentioned later that there is a possibility that on a later version of the camera it is possible that there will be a manually sliding option. I think many, especially those who plan to use the camera in the field, will greatly appreciate this feature.

Desmond Arca Swiss AdapterOne other negative feature of the camera is the fact that it only has a Arca-Swiss dovetail mount for tripod use. This is a very nice, large and accommodating dovetail mount, but not helpful if you are like me and don’t use an Arca-swiss mount tripod quick release system. So, for the first day I had the camera, I was unable to use it because I had not been aware that this was the ONLY mount that the camera has. Of course, I understand that having an integrated Arca-Swiss dovetail mount is a wonderful feature, and their quick release system is arguably the best in the world, but it is strange that this is the only mount. I would certainly recommend a standard tripod screw if not for use with other quick release systems and tripods, but also as a back up. For me there was a bit of extra difficulty. I ordered a cheap 20 buck adapter off of Amazon, simply because it was the only Arca-Swiss adapter to fit a standard screw that I could get overnight, ah the wonders of Amazon. But I digress, this adapter, however was slightly too big for the quick release plate. Since Novoflex, which has a very good reputation, makes the quick release plate I believe it was the adapter I had purchased which most likely not made to the strictest standards. To rectify this situation I cleverly, cut some strips of paper, and inserted them into the adapter between it and the Novoflex plate on the camera. Shimming the adapter in this way, allowed for me to get a very tight lock on the camera, and it was not an issue for the rest of my time shooting with the camera.

Correction from Stefan Steib: About the tripod mount: You can of course remove the Novoflex Q-PL 4 / Arca style rail and use whatever you want. The camera has 2 standard drilled large Tripod mount threads that can attach any Manfrotto, RRS, or whatever you have plates.

I was unaware of this during my time with the camera, and while writing the review.

Image Quality 

Now this is really the $60,000 question, can 35mm lenses resolve enough resolution for a high-resolution 80mp sensor? And I am here to tell you that they can. That being said, I was using some of the best optics in 35mm photography, so it is reasonable to assume that lesser lenses would have less performance, just like you’d expect on a 35mm DSLR. Since the camera has a native Canon EOS mount, I rented a Canon 24mm f/3.5ii lens from lensrentals.com, which was one of the best performers. I also borrowed a Canon 17-40mm f/4 USM and 90mm f/2.8 Tilt shift lenses from a friend. The 90mm also worked incredibly well and was I believe sharper then the 24mm on medium format digital. I also rented a Novoflex Canon EOS to Nikon G Adapter ring from lensrentals.com, which I used for my Nikon Lenses. I talk about and demonstrate the finicky nature of the design of this adapter in my video review, but I will say again, that it is not that functional with this camera. And for this reason I would mostly recommend sticking to Canon lenses or lenses, which have aperture rings for overall ease of use. Nikons lenses used include my 50mm 1.4G, 85mm 1.4G, 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, and 14-25mm 2.8. The lenses I will illustrate below are the 50mm and the 24-70mm simply because these were lenses which I got the best shots with from my time with the camera.

Obviously a medium format digital sensor is significantly larger then a 35mm sensor. Just like large format lenses, which have an extremely large image circle to accommodate for camera movements (titl and shift, etc), Tilt-Shift lenses for 35mm cameras also have larger image circles. This makes them the best lenses to be used with the Hartblei Hcam. This is because they are capable of movements, and full coverage of the medium format sensor. Other lenses require cropping of the image to make an image from within the image circle. As discussed above this is a non-issue when working with ultra-high resolution backs where loss of a certain percentage of the image will not greatly impact image quality. Please note all of these images were processed using standard settings in Capture 1.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image 1 from my review This one was of the first images I took once I had acclimated myself to the use of the camera. This image was taken with the Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens mounted on the Hartblei Hcam with my IQ180 digital back. As you can see here, this image is very sharp from corner to corner and no significant vignetting occurs. There is not even that much distortion, or at least not more then would be expected from a 24mm lens on a medium format camera, which provides an effective focal length of 15mm on a full-frame 35mm sensor provides a very wide field of view. This image was taken stopped down and exhibits excellent depth of field and sharpness.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Nikon 50mm 1.4G

This image was taken at the same time as the first image but in a slightly different location. It was also taken with my Nikon 50mm 1.4G using the Novoflex adapter ring on the Hartblei Hcam. While this image was stopped down, as you can see this is a very useable image from a lens, which has possibilities to be, stopped all the way down to f/1.4 which is like nothing possible on medium format. While this camera is a bit bulky to be used for portraits, if you demand the highest quality and desire shallow DOF effects, this could be a solution for you. This image, was cropped, from the image seen below.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image with Nikon 50mm 1.4G Uncropped

This was the original image that was taken straight from the camera without being cropped. As you can see, this lens was not made to cover the full frame medium format sensor. Consequently you get the black edges, which show the end of the image circle. This is a perfect example of how you must crop when using lenses like these, and how it does not affect the image. Cropping here, does not loose significant quality as can be seen from the final image proving the viability of the Hartblei Hcam for all 35mm lenses. And again, it should be noted that the PhaseOne IQ180, did not out resolve the Nikon lens.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8

This image was taken with my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 mounted on the Hartblei Hcam, again with the Novoflex adapter ring for Nikon G lenses. It is nice having the zoom range available to you as an added tool for composition of images, and it makes life easier. I would have personally expected the zoom lenses, even the highest quality, to have preformed worse then their prime counter parts, since any small differences in image quality on a full-frame 35mm sensor would be multiplied that many times larger on a full-frame medium format sensor. However this was not the case, and this image yielded me possibly my favorite image from my time with this camera. Again providing tack sharp results, and an extreme wide angle.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Canon EOS 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II

I believe this picture may have been my favorite image taken with this camera setup. It demonstrates so many of the capabilities of this camera. This image was taken, out in about 15-degree weather. The camera preformed all of its functions beautifully in this situation, and the only limiting factor was my ability to withstand the cold. This image was taken with the Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens, tilted towards the extreme still providing tack sharp results.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Canon EOS 90mm TS-E

This image was taken with the Canon 90mm f/2.8 Tilt shift, and exhibits excellent quality wide open at f/2.8. The Shallow Depth of field provided this wide, combined with some minor although aesthetically pleasing vingetting in this shot makes for an interesting image. As you can see from this crop, this lens also provides tack sharp results, which I believe are some of the sharpest I got with this lens.

Hartblei Hcam B1 Sample Image Canon EOS 90mm f/2.8 TS-E

This still life, of a ceramic basket of vegetables, demonstrates the capabilities of the Hartblei Hcam combined with tilt-shift lenses for product photography. Utilizing the perspective control features of the Canon 90mm f/2.8 tilt-shift lens, I was able to extend and control the DOF of this image to allow for a greater portion of the subject to be brought into focus. This image was left unsharpened in post work, because it was so sharp straight out of the camera. This image especially solidified in my mind, 35mm DSLR lenses abilities to preform with the highest resolution medium format digital backs.

Conclusion

This camera does a lot of things really well. I believe that if you are shopping for this camera, you know it will work for you. Especially if you need wide angle, and are using a medium format digital back, and happen to have a 35mm kit, like most photographers, this can provide a compact solution for you without too much of an investment. That said, The Hartblei Hcam runs about $8500, However this is pretty reasonable considering other options, and the situation you would most likely be in if you are looking to purchase this camera. You will most likely already have the digital back, which is the most significant investment to build a kit with this camera. You will also more then likely have lenses which you can use on the camera, which again takes out another major cost center. That said, 35mm lenses, even the most expensive that you would use on this camera, are still cheaper then larger format lenses. Building an Alpa kit for example will run about 14k for one or two lenses, a body and back adapter and viewfinder, if not more depending on what you need, and pricing will similarly run above the 10k mark when looking into many other systems including one lens. In this way the versatility and unique niche of this camera is exposed. If I were to ever to be doing architectural photography, either interiors or exteriors, I would certainly add this capable camera to my kit. It can also be very well utilized for fine art landscape and general photographic applications. It is also very well suited for studio and technical applications. The things, which differentiate it from its competitors, will either make you love it or hate it, namely its extensive use of electronics which for some may be a deal breaker in one way or another. I would certainly recommend anyone looking to ad an extreme wide-angle solution to their kit to consider this camera.

***DISCLOSURE****
For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted that I was sent this camera to review, at the request of Stefan Steib, after conversations I had had with him about it. I did not receive any financial compensation from Stefan Steib or Hartblei.de in exchange for my review of the camera.

 

PDN Photoplus 2011

Originally published: November 2, 2011

Featured on Photorumors: http://photorumors.com/2011/11/01/pdn-photoplus-show-2011-report/

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Left: Inside the Javits Center. Right: A poor representation of the scene outside the Javits center since the image fails to capture the blizzard of snow and ice whipping by every second with the wind.

Saturday October 29, 2011 was a day to remember. Leaving my house in Connecticut at around 11:30 with flurries falling I wasn’t to concerned about the weather; I was going to PDN Photoplus after all. Around Greenwich when the snow intensified I continued on but started to question my resolve. Nonetheless I made it into the city and to the Javits Center. Usually when I attend these sort of shows, I take with me some significant camera either my D3s or my M9 because I like to have a nice camera for me for the rest of my time wherever I am. Of course they don’t hurt your credibility when asking to see expensive gear. This year however I only took my D-Lux 4 point and shoot tucked away in my pocket. As a whole I was pleased with the way I was treated and glad to confirm my suspicions that it wouldn’t affect my credibility if I was clearly knowledgeable about different products. I didn’t address Leica in this review because, as always they are amazing, they let you play with everything, and love talking about it. And of course again much to my torment, they have all of their glass their, all of that rare glass that is impossible to get new from a dealer. They had M9P’s which look great. I will have mine converted when the demand or the conversion is lower and the back order isn’t at January for the conversion. It looks good and adds to the camera’s aesthetic and functionality by making it that much more subtle. The only new thing with the S system was the 30mm Lens which no one really cared about anyway. They need more lenses there is no denying that, and I harp on that many times in the reviews below. But they are a great company with great service and that’s undeniable, even more importantly they make the best optics in the world (if you ask me, which you did since you are reading this). There are pictures of some lenses and the M9P and S2 on my Flickr page. I should add that these are as much my opinions as well as coverage of the show since I really only talks about things that I found interesting and because I’m a narcissist how they relate to me. This should be noted before giving me too much grief in the comments section although I welcome corrections and criticism in a friendly and proper manor icon wink 2011 PDN Photoplus show report For more pictures see http://www.flickr.com/brianhirschfeldphotography.

COOL THINGS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED – SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH PC TS SUPER ANGULON’S

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It would’ve been very easy to walk by the Schneider booth at PDN Photoplus simply because its kind of intimidating. Its German, and its not Leica. They make great optics, most of which you’ll never use because they are large format. And they are pretty damn expensive since they are pretty damn good. Not to mention there are D3’s, 1D’s and Leaf Backs being shown with GIANT TILT SHIFT LENSES on them. Since most people (myself included to a slight extent, although I’m getting better) don’t entirely grasp the concept of tilt shift lenses. All of this leads to a pretty quite, although quite large booth.   First off, these lenses are amazing, they really are. They are built so well they almost defy explanation. They can’t be compared to Leica’s because they are not. They are Schneider’s. Leica’s lenses are very simply; straightforward and streamlined like the brand. This lens is big, bulky and high in functionality and all metal. It has so many moving parts it defies description and I won’t even endeavor to explain all of them. It’s a fully manual lens, no communication with the camera, you set your aperture and everything on the lens and set your exposure on camera and bam there you go. It’s a perspective control, tilt shift lens on steroids. Its mostly similar to Nikon and Canon’s tilt shift lenses in that they tilt and shit. Schneider’s is inherently bettered designed because of the optics house it hails from. This goes without saying. What doesn’t go without saying are the different an amazing ways this camera interacts with cameras. Most interestingly to me is the mount to the camera. It is possibly by turning a nob at the back to have 360 degree rotation of the camera, but not the lens. The lens will stay in a fixed position but the camera can be repositioned. This is an amazing feature for stitching. Although I don’t remember the dimensions exactly, its possible to take an image, flip the camera mount upside down, so the camera is upside down, take another exposure, merge them together and have it was either a 6x17or a 6×24 image. I thought this was great. Combined with many other perspective modifying features of this lens its really amazing for architecture and landscape work. While less relevant to me in the Nikon and Canon mounts because these are quite small and don’t benefit a huge amount from lens/camera movements, I was more interested in the PhaseOne mount version which has all of the same features of the Nikon Canon models which apparently also have interchangeable mounts according to the sprite and chipper German Schneider rep who clearly knew what he was talking about. I was really pleased with this lens as well as the service delivered by the Schneider rep by his in-depth knowledge and eagerness to talk about the product to someone. I will definitely try and find an excuse to buy this lens.

IOSHUTTER

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Despite appearances, ioShutter had a rather prime location at the end of an isle and right next to borrow lenses; this product may have been overlooked by some. It is a fairly simple idea that you would’ve expected to come about by now. The App is currently available for download in the app store but it won’t really do you much good without the cable which will be available in December according to their website. Also I THINK NOT SURE it might just be for Canon at the moment and will be available for Nikon and I think Hasselblad was mentioned and PhaseOne in the pipeline. Anyway it’s a shutter release cable driven by your iOS device. It has time functions as well as interval release functions useful for time-lapse photograph. While I don’t know if only as a shutter it is that useful since how much room does a cable release really take up anyway? But with the added time-lapse and easy locking features combined with the fact that almost every person on the planet has an iOS device, and the ones that don’t are currently in-line to get one, and so many people have DSLR’s and pro-sumer models that might benefit from this feature, I really hope this concept succeeds.

GIGAPAN SYSTEMS GIGAPAN EPIC SMALL UPDATE

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First of all, my first victory in my crusade for the underrated 300mm f/4 lenses! There’s one mounted on a canon on a Gigapan Epic. Second since my primary interest is in medium format photography, anytime I see anything cool and techno-gadgetry as relates to camera’s I ask, does it work with PhaseOne 645DF? What about a Hasselblad H? So often the answer is no, but here the answer was YES! Kind of. Works with Hasselblad which is great, except I’m trading that in for a PhaseOne. The rep pictured left, explained that they are currently working with PhaseOne to get the cable right to communicate properly between the Gigapan Epic and the Phase 645DF body, just an interesting note, no real thoughts on it one way or another.

FUJI

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Fuji has come a long way in the last year, and I am very impressed with them. They released the X100 and its ridden a wave of hype to almost being widely available a year later. It’s a great little camera, really vintage looking, and kinda sorta opening up peoples mind to the arcane but magical world of rangefinders once again. After holding the X10 and being able to directly compare it to the X100, I have to say I walked a way with a very favorable impression of the X10. That is not to say the X100 isn’t a pretty cool camera but it isn’t that valuable of a tool to me as an M9 shooter. It is a very fun camera and certainly has some novelty value masking its true potential as a camera. But anyway back to the X10 I thought it took everything that was good about the X100 and added in some useful point and shoot features like, smaller size and zoom lenses. Again being an M shooter as well as a fan of prime lenses the X100’s lack of a zoom lens was by no means a deterrent from it in my mind. All that said about Prime lenses, the lens most often on my D3s is my 24-70mm 2.8 because it is the most convenient for general and most travel photography for me. The X10 adds a nice little zoom lens into the equation and it preforms admirably. The X100 had a pretty fast autofocus speed and the X10 seemed to be faster to me. In terms of functionality the X10 seemed on par if not better then the X100. The X10 however, excelled in the size war. I felt that it really did take the good things about the X100 and put them in a smaller, more point and shoot, sized body. It clearly can compete with the big pro-sumer model’s from Canon and Nikon The G12 and P7000 respectively. It does beat them if you ask me, it looks better, it is faster, it has better controls and its manual zoom lens is nicer if you ask me. It gets you more involved in the photography. While you loose the fun and total involvement of an aperture ring it does get both of your hands on the camera and gets you more into being a photographer which I like and think will do wonders for those who use it and photography as a whole if more cameras follow this trend of reverting to the basics (so well exemplified in the M series) and bringing thought and understanding back into mass photography. Again, that said it’s a double edged sword you get all these really cool, back to basic features, but you still wind up paying a premium, not Leica insane but its still kinda like buying a Porsche GT3 where you pay more to have them take stuff out of the car. A note about the upcoming Fuji interchangeable lens camera system. I after fondling the X100 and X10 in silence and not acknowledging the presence of their rep since there really wasn’t any need to talk to him, surreptitiously snuck in an out of no where question, catching him completely off guard, which I hoped would lead to him slipping up and revealing something. “So when will this new interchangeable model with an M mount be announced?” rep “Uh Hi, well it will be out in the spring [I already knew that part] and I should add no one said anything about it being an M-mount system.”. And this guy was really no fun at all so I didn’t bother mentioning about the m-mount patent being up and all that stuff. At the same time I would and wouldn’t be surprised if this new system was a modified m mount to allow for autofocus and a like while accepting all Legacy M lenses. But that’s not a prediction, that’s a hope.

NIKON

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Left: Red Rock Mirco with an appropriately blue styled DSLR rig with large LCD finder and Nikon’s Microphone Right: Zacuto HDSLR rig with their new-ish electronic viewfinder solution which I thought was really great. It can be used with or without the hood and give a really nice BIG electronic viewfinder for precise focus control with the attached follow focus.

Oh Nikon you wonderful behemoth the things you give us are so great. You even Dane to support other brands that compliment your system, how wonderful! I was really intrigued to see that Nikon had a Zacuto and Red Rock Micro DSLR video kit available to be fondled to advertise not only their cameras and lenses but the viability of their cameras as a HDSLR solution. I had never held one of these contraptions before and as the eager sales rep pointed out “they take a little while to get used to” but once you have figured it out they become fairly natural and easy to use. Both setups are pictured with a Nikon D7000, 85mm 1.4G and Nikon Microphone attached.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York7 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Nikon had a really great display of a lot of their future concepts for the mirrorless system including of course lenses as well as some very nice viewfinders and LED lighting setups for photography and video; not to mention a almost tasteful myriad of color options that totally blew Pentax’s mind since some of theme even seemed tasteful. Pictures of these can be seen with many others on my flickr page. I thought the Camcorder design pictured above was one of the best. It adds a side handle, which has a built in continuous light source for easy video recording. It also featured a hot shoe mounted large viewing screen for control over the various options while recording video. Not to mention it does this all off of one body and with interchangeable lenses. I wouldn’t ever really consider it since it isn’t my thing but I can really see this catching on if they can implement enough different accessories that it lens itself to creativity as well as convenience for the less creative consumer segment. Also its really great that they feature all of these different lenses as future concepts and describe who they will be useful for on the description cards for each but they decidedly aren’t working prototypes since they aren’t touchable or even if they are working no one would know it since you cant touch them. I understand Nikon is having a tough time at the moment but wouldn’t have been better to wait and have a fully developed lenses line when the camera launched? For the moment Canon is still without a mirror less system and there haven’t been any leaks of a Canon mirror less prototype, which suggests they, are either holding the designer’s and production staff’s families hostage or it doesn’t exist. Nikon probably could’ve waited, designed, and produced a few more lenses and released them with it, but then again that’s kind of like back seat driving since I’m sitting on my bed and not in the Nikon boardroom. But seriously if Pentax could do it, couldn’t Nikon? (and I know the Pentax lenses feel like you got them out of one of those gumball machines with the prizes but still you get the point.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York81 2011 PDN Photoplus show report 1

Continuing my purely scientific interest in Nikon and Canon’s 300mm f/4 telephoto lens offers, and confirming that no one has every actually used one by talking to multiple Nikon reps, I investigated the Nikon Offering. It is certainly better built then the Canon equivalent in terms of weather sealing and overall build. It’s a true Nikon lens through and through. That said I liked the way the Canon version felt more, honestly. They both autofocused about the same speed (very unscientific test) with a slight favor towards the Nikon in this respect. They both seem to be really nice compact lenses and I don’t know if people buy them but are ashamed of it or if they haven’t been deemed to be worth anyone’s time to review? But I’ve decided to make it my personal crusade to do these lenses justice!

PENTAX

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After being acquired by Ricoh I was curious to see what Pentax would bring to the table. See that was funny to me since all Pentax really had were to tables, albeit very nice open wooden ones with a nice aesthetic. I was expecting a heavier focus on the Ricoh product line, but there was only one camera present. One that frankly I was a bit remiss in not investigating further, the A12 M mount cartridge for the Ricoh GXR. The rest of the combined Ricoh/Pentax space other then the limited corner of the table the Ricoh GXR M mount was on (it had its own sales rep though) was taken up with Pentax Products. Essentially one of the whole tables was devoted to the new and amazing Pentax Q the cutest damn little camera I’ve ever see. From what I’ve seen its images haven’t been that impressive, but look at it! Its so Tiny and cute and you can fit all the lenses (including the zoom), and optical viewfinder in a small-medium sized pocket! And don’t even get me started on that cute little faux leather case, it just makes it look so quant and old fashioned!PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York10 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

All joking aside though, it is tiny. I mean tiny. I mean I’m pretty sure a PhaseOne battery weighs more. And better yet (all other manufacturers should note this) IT WAS ANNOUNCED WITH A FULL RANGE OF LENSES granted collectively I’m pretty sure they use as much glass as a 20 fl oz plastic coke bottle but they are all there, in the flesh, and touchable. They aren’t carefully protected from the public behind glass like the Nikon V1 / J1 concept lenses, or promised like Leica S lenses, they exist. They are there, and they are damn cute. The Jury is still out on this camera, I don’t expect it to be that great image quality wise, but hey its tiny, its complete, and its got all the buttons, who am I to badmouth it. Did I mention its absolutely adorable?PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York11 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Pentax 645D – I’ve always had a bit of interest in this camera. It’s the closest I can come to saying that a reasonably priced new medium format system exists. Of course like the S system from Leica, it is a closed system, the back cannot be removed. But especially for Pentax this is less of an issue since they have all of the legacy 645 lenses a large number of which have autofocus. It can also use Pentax 67 lenses with an adapter that expands the lens range even wider. It seems like a nice entry point considering its cool 40mp and weather sealed body for more then half the price of a Leica S2 (don’t give me crap I’m being a jerk, of course the S is superiorly designed, built, and has better although limited optics.) At Photoplus, the camera wasn’t on display. I asked the sales rep who had shown me the Q about this and he said that it was because the 645D rep had left the day before, awkward. Anyway the Pentax sales rep did give me an interesting line which I thought may be obvious but anyway….He said that Pentax is treating the 645D as a response to Pentax users who want a step up from the K-7. This make sense although I did want to point out that there is a major gap in their pricing structure between the price of a K-7 and the 645D. But I guess if you can afford a D3x category camera you can afford a ~10k medium format system alternatively. I think the 645D does a lot of what the S2 doesn’t that is to say, be affordable. It really does a good job of this. It has all the buttons of, controls, and functionality you want in medium format, it has nice (not superior) build quality, a developed system of lenses and some cool features like the tripod mount hidden by my thumb in the below picture. Pleasing entry-level system (although this has an awful awful stigma [stigma not sigma, sigma does have a stigma attached to it] it shouldn’t) or an amazing go anywhere backup to a large mp sized medium format system. Honestly, I think the S should be more in the 15k range and that would convert more people to Leica and competitively compete with a system like this.

CANON

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Frankly in stark contrast to the jumpy and excited Nikon floor staff the Canon staff were all seated in chairs and look unenthusiastic. This doesn’t lend itself to inspire you to engage these people. But being the brave soul that I am I dared to disturb them and once you broke the ice they were more then happy to talk with you about any aspect of the camera and eager to let you put different lenses on it. OMG OMG it’s the Canon 1Dx have you seen those videos of the 12 FPS!!! CRAZY!!! And the 14 FPS in mirror lock-up WOWZERS. Pretty cool stuff but its hard to get to excited about it. It’s pretty amazing to operate the camera in motor drive at 12 fps but not life changing. I liked the 1984 F-1 Canon High Speed Motor Drive which had 14 fps a long time ago. Anyway the most important development I noted was in talking with a Canon rep. That is, that the limit on video length has been raised and will not be limited like on the IDs Mrk IV. This is important since more and more these cameras are being used on film sets. One thing I made a point of looking at at the show were the Canon 300mm f/4L and Nikon 300mm f/4 because I had never had any experience with them or read anything coherent about them. I found the Canon version to be nicer actually, pretty nice and an interesting, compact fairly fast telephoto lens. Overall this was really all that Canon had to offer, frankly the show as a whole didn’t present that many new products, but it did showcase some of the latest and greatest which have been announced over the past few months. A little disappointing but I’m not one to complain.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York13 2011 PDN Photoplus show report

A BRIEF VISIT TO POLAROID

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Frankly one of the stranger booths in the room was Polaroid’s. It kinda sorta seemed like they pulled some stuff from storage, threw in some of their new products and put some poor sales reps in for good measure. They had some strange things there, like legacy polaroid land cameras and other peculiar eclectic treasures. They also had some I assume new to them reflex-mirror lenses which I don’t understand since these are typically now a days made by second-rate manufacturers and I think that these may mean that Polaroid has gone off the deep end. They had there new little pocket printer thing in a case with some sample images printed from it which weren’t very impressive. I don’t really see the point to this item, I guess its supposed to make it like a polaroid addition to digital since it prints it on the scene? I don’t know or really care. The most interestingly strange part of the already peculiar Polaroid booth was the new camera flashes and LED hybrid. I guess its cool and a good concept. Why carry around an LED continuous light for when your doing video and a strobe with your HDSLR. It works as a concept. But I question whether anyone can feasibly put all this into a cohesive package that works, especially Polaroid. But who knows brands like quantum exist so go figure. Maybe Polaroid will be the next great camera peripheral maker, who knows, with Lady Gaga on the team (she still is right?) the sky is the limit and nothing can go wrong.

DIGITAL TRANSITIONS ~ PHASEONE AND ARCA SWISS

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Arca Swiss RM3Di Technical Camera

Tucked away in the far corner of the convention area was the Digital Transitions booth. They are PhaseOne, Arca Swiss, and Schneider dealers among others. After finishing up a deal to trade in my H3Dii-39ms for a IQ180 I explored some of the other wares they had there. They had the other IQ series backs there (IQ140 and IQ160) and they preformed just as nicely as the IQ180, no complaints about any of them.

PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air – Of course they had the PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air which are a wonderful combination that I think is one of the most comfortable out there for medium format.

Lenses – They also had some of the newer PhaseOne (some Mamiya and some Schneider lenses). The Schneider LS lenses are beautifully made and are definitely a step above the focal plane shutter Mamiya rebranded lenses. Now, don’t get me wrong a good sample of a Mamiya or PhaseOne 645 lens preforms very nicely, I don’t mean to cast them in a bad light by saying that they are Mamiya lenses rebranded. The Schneider lenses other then being built like tanks are of course optically better. This is a fact that may be overlooked when seeing their headings as “Leaf Shutter” lenses.

1. PhaseOne 120mm AF Macro Another highlight of the PhaseOne lens lineup present was the new 120mm AF Macro. I am sure there are some macro diehards and persnickety people who will suggest you don’t need autofocus on a macro lens. To which I will present the following. I own a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro; I don’t do that much macro photography. Since it is not my main area of interest I don’t use for its intended purpose that often, and when I do it is more as a novelty. But rather it is a close focusing short telephoto portrait lens (its also weather sealed and the 105mm f/2 DC is not). And this IS something that needs autofocus for convenience. This is where the 120mm AF Macro will really shine. As a fashion and portrait lens allowing the photographer different working distances with the subject. Also like the new Schneider 110mm and 150mm LS lenses, the 120mm AF Macro has a really nice new non-fluted bayonet hood. It is made of metal I believe and very solid and capable of protecting the lens. This is a feature I have disliked on many of the Mamiya designed lenses, their lens hoods are too plasticky. The 120mm AF Macro will definitely be a lens that I will be adding to my lineup in the near future.

2. Schneider 110mm f/2.8 LS lens Unfortunately as my time with Hasselblad winds down, I have come to appreciate one of its lenses in a new light. The 100mm f/2.2 has become one of my favorite lenses recently preforming admirably wide open and stopped down. Aside from its optical performance, I have found, the focal length (which is exactly 78mm in 35mm format but effectively 85mm) is my favorite focal length. I don’t leave for any shoot without either my 85mm 1.4D or 85mm 1.4G, more recently the 85mm 1.4G because of its G series weather sealing. Anyway I digress. The 100mm f/2.2 has been great and yielded some of my favorite images of all time in the past few months. The Schneider 110mm f/2.8 while lacking the widest aperture of the Hasselblad 100mm f/2 retains the focal length that I enjoy and will also be coming home with me in the near future if I have my way. It is a superiorly built lens and a real stunner optically.

Arca Swiss RM3Di – While not my main area of expertise by any means and I know there are certainly others better versed in this field, I was interested in this technical camera. It is a competitor to the Alpa series of cameras and is also in a category of non-bellows technical cameras. I like the way Micheal Reichman called it this subset of technical cameras “The Worlds Most Expensive Point and Shoot” specifically referring to a Cambo in this case. Again, anyway I digress. Having handled Alpa’s in the past (actually at PDN Photoplus 2010), I would say the Alpa’s have an edge on build quality. However I have heard from a dealer that they are rather slow in sending out simple part requests for replacements and orders. Apparently Arca Swiss is better and this should be a noted consideration. Also because of its modular nature, I understand that a lot of other Arca accessories can be used in Tandem with it. System development should be noted and is important when considering a camera, one of the clear advantages when choosing a PhaseOne over something like the Leica S2. The Arca Swiss uses a different focus system then these other technical cameras which usually use a focusing system that is on the lens which is arguable more imprecise. The Arca uses the silver knob on the front, which is more precise and takes many turns to rack the focus from minimum to infinity or visa versa which is beneficially to typically OCD landscape photographers (the OCD is one of the reason they are so good, not an insult). The RM3Di also has a full line of its own accessories like viewfinders, reflex hoods and so on and uses many large format lenses (pictured with a Schneider). The RM3Di also accepts either film backs or digital backs like those from PhaseOne. Something interesting that should be noted about the

IQ Series backs is that they have a special mode, which allows them to detect when the shutter on a view camera has been released, and an exposure made. This means that you can use view cameras without a sync cable, which is very nice, if you work outdoors or in conditions where a sync cable would get in the way (or you just hate wires like me.) For the most precise work and long exposures, I understand that it is better still to use a camera-lens sync cable anyway though. The RM3Di is a very nice camera and through my limited knowledge of the niche, I see no major complaints with it other then size issues and some lackluster build quality (everyone else uses wood why did you choose resin grips Arca?). I personally would lean towards Alpa in these matters because of finish and build quality. But in the end these systems are all about facilitating the use of typically ultra-wide but also regular large format lenses on medium format sensors with the theory that they large image circle will yield a sweeter sweet spot on the smaller medium format sensor. It should also be noted that they allow you to shit and tilt the lens and back for stitching possibilities.

 

Please buy a 50mm lens

Have you ever been in an aquarium or dimly lit room with your Canon Rebel T1i, Nikon D5000 or any other DSLR and got blurry images. Ever wondered why? well its a big day for you, your about to find out why. The answer will change your life, You want the answer? well read on.

A camera’s sensor records light. Ever lens has a number which tells you how wide the lens opens to let in light. This doesn’t mean the lens is wide angle, it simply means at the back of the lens how big the opening are. Standard kit lens have F-stop (or f/ ) numbers of f/3.5 or f/4.5. For reference, professional photographers use lenses of f/2.8 to shoot sports.

Now with your f/3.5 or f/4.5 you can still take pictures where every things is standing still. This can be done by raising the ISO. The ISO adjusts the camera sensors sensitivity to light. This can be brought up to very high levels. However there is a compromise, the images will appear more “noisy”, this is to say have more grains on them. These take away from the image quality. Unless you are going for something artistic and film looking this is not what you want.

Another way that cameras can deal with darkness is with a flash. Now most non-pro DSLR’s have a built in flash. However this does not mean that your problems are solved. Using the built in flash limits your options because the flash is limited in where it can give light. Without using a speed-light flash you cannot bounce light throughout an entire room. Speed-light flashes (or strobes to some) allow you to fill a room with light. These are what you imagine a professional photographer or paparazzi having affixed to the top of their camera. Of course this is an option however it is increased bulk. If you are at a concert or a party you probably don’t want this option.

The fastest production lens in the world is f/0.95, it is made by a german company called Leica. Their lens named “Noctilux” and dubbed “king of the night” can take pictures in darkness. However their are a few serious deterrents  to you running out to your closest camera store and grabbing up one of these beauties. First, they are not sold everywhere. Second it can only be used with their M series cameras (which run $7,000 new). Third their M series provides superior optics and control meaning precise focus (what this really means is that its manual focus). Fourth, and this one is the kicker, it costs more than a new smart car. Thats right the “king of the night” will set you back $10,000 before tax.

So want a solution that is 1/100th of the cost? Yeah, you probably do, well here it comes, you ready? buy a 50mm lens. These gems are often dubbed nifty-fifties because of their versatility. Nikon, Canon (and other manufacturers) make these lenses with apertures of f/1.2 , f/1.4 and f/1.8 being quarter stops from each other you will not see much of a difference between them, f/1.4 is the standard. These lenses are everything you need for around $100. Again their is a catch (when isn’t there a catch?) they are a fixed focal length. This means you cannot zoom in and out with them. Many reviewers online will astutely and smugly observe “the zoom is your feet” or something to that affect. I have always found the way people have worded this to be obnoxious. However this is true…you want something to be bigger in the frame? get closer. You want a more panning shot move back away from your subject.

Every place that sells DSLR’s will  sell 50mm lenses for the cameras that they stock. When you buy your shiny new DSLR or pay your camera store a visit, I implore you to buy one of these lenses. So next time you are at a Jay-Z concert or visiting the aquarium or even out partying please pack one of these. It will stop you from being dumfounded when your pictures come out awful. Sorry about my rant, but admit it you know more now then you would have if you just read the exec. summary.

 

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED

This is the best wide angle zoom lens ever made. It is distortion free all the way through. It takes amazing pictures all the way through its zoom range, not to mention to mention wide open. I could use this lens all the time for a l most everything I do. it is maybe the best lens design Nikon has ever produced.

My example had an internal problem. I did not do anything to it and the zoom ring unfortunately jammed. However I brought it back to Harrods Photographic.

They promptly shipped it out to Nikon repair and it is on the way back to me. Since it was still under warranty it didn’t cost me a dime to fix. All and all very good. It had the problem only recently after I got it and I waited a while to take it back and get it fixed so its on the way back to me right now. Here are a few pictures I took with this superior lens.

Also there is no reason to bother with this lens if you have a DX camera, you can get the DX version of the 14-24mm lens and be perfectly happy. With this lens you are paying for more coverage that you would not be taking advantage of the extra coverage on a DX camera.

 

85mm f/1.4D

Originally published on April 3, 2011

***Note*** this lens has been replaced by the newer Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens which adds a silent wave motor as well as VR. depending on where you are shooting a silent autofocus system could be an advantage. The VR isn’t that big of a deal because it is already a very fast lens.

This lens is my favorite lens for portraiture and stage photography. It produced ridiculously sharp and crisp results at f/1.4. I have not see

 

n another Nikon lens that comes close to this lens in performance. If someone asks me to take a picture of them this is the first lens that I reach for. Its fast aperture allows me to get creative with the lighting, its f/1.4 aperture also creates a lovely Bokeh (Blowing the background out of focus). Again I will let the results speak for themselves.

D700 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4D

Nikon 50mm 1.4G

Originally published: April 2, 2011

A 50mm f/1.4 (or f/1.8 basically the same thing) is a must in any photographers bag. It is fast and versatile. It lets you take pictures in low light without a flash opening up many new creative options for you as a photographer. Read my article here “Please buy a 50mm” for more in-depth information.

The following examples were used for an advertising campaign for my school that has been used in many magazines and promotional materials as well as the website. They were taken with the Nikon D700 and the 50mm 1.4G with continuous stage lighting.

 

 

 

 

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII ED

Originally published: April 2, 2011

For the telephoto range, I had initially bought the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens. However this became to slow for some of the shooting I was doing. When I was outside in bright sunlight it was able to take wonderfully sharp images at fast shutter-speeds.

Anyway it can take great pictures in this environment however it cannot do stage photography or even photography in lowlight. Enter the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII ED. It is faster and even though it has less zoom it is a superior lens. It autofocuses like a champ and if your willing to carry the extra weight it is the best you can get. It is the third in final lens in Nikons pro line of lenses. Starting with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED and the. It does its job very well and if you find your self having issues taking photos in low light with your telephoto lens, go and pick one of these up.

 

 

 

Nikon D3s and 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII ED at 150mm f/2.8 1/2500 ISO 200