Boston Trip Pictures Are Up

Finally sorted through 370 pics from Boston and got them posted up on Picasa. Take a look. Check out the night shot from MIT at the end of the gallery, I did a bit of HDR magic on it since the lights up on the dome were super bright compared to the interior lights.

Boston 2009

My Review of the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX

I posted some thoughts and pictures right after I got my new lens, The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX arrives – First Impression, and now that I’ve used it for several weeks I wanted to post a follow up review.

For St. Patrick’s Day we had dinner and hung out with friends and babies. Lighting was fairly low with a chandelier fixture in the dining room and one floor lamp bouncing off the ceiling in the living room. Even wide open at f/1.8, AUTO ISO was getting bumped up to keep the shutter above 1/40 second in some shots. Combine that with babies who don’t politely sit still for pictures and you have yourself a difficult shooting situation. With one of the kit lenses or even the 18-200mm VR, most of these shots wouldn’t have been possible. I had some ISO to play with on some, but most of them are hitting 1600 or 3200. If I stepped up to a minimum f/3.5 lens, my shutter would have dropped even more and my “keeper” rate would have dropped from 10% to maybe 3-5% without adding flash.

I’m extremely pleased with the lens. I swore off pixel peeping so I’m not going to go into boring details or shooting test charts. All I cared about initially was if the lens let me get indoor shots without using flash all of the time. If you’re happy with the DX format (and happy not spending thousands more on a new FX body and lens) then I suspect you’ll find the image and build quality of the lens more than satisfactory. What surprised me is that I’m starting to like the 35mm f/1.8 more than the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR AF-S DX .

One thing to consider with lenses is the size and weight. Compared to the 18-55mm the 35mm isn’t a whole lot smaller or lighter, but next to the 18-200mm it is night and day. I got the 18-200mm as a walk around, jack of all trades lens and now the size and weight have become deterrents to taking it out with me. The 18-200mm weighs 1.23 lbs. The 35mm weighs 0.45 lbs. The D90 weighs 1.6 lbs by itself. That’s a lot of weight to carry around all day on vacation or on a night out and I’d rather have 0.78 lbs less most of the time. The other difference is the 35mm situates it’s weight closer to the body of the lens. The 18-200mm is front heavy and more awkward to carry around, it usually ends up pointed straight down with the zoom fully extended when I hang the camera on my shoulder.

I could never use the 50mm f/1.8 as a walk around lens because it was simply too long. I use the wider end of the 18-200mm more than I use the long end so I don’t think I’ll miss the extra reach. The 35mm f/1.8 isn’t perfect, but it is such a well rounded lens that it might replace my 18-200mm and never leave my camera. At $200 I think it packs the best bang for your buck in the entire Nikon DX lens line up.

I got my Nikon 35mm f/1.8 at Amazon.

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX arrives – First Impressions

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 was created specifically for the DX shooters who were lacking the classic 50mm “normal” focal length fast prime. The 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but is just a tad too long for normal use. The 35mm and 50mm are pretty comparable in size with the 35mm being just a bit wider around, but both are dwarfed in size and weight by the 18-200mm:

Nikon 35mm, 50mm, 18-200mm size comparison

The 50mm becomes a 75mm with the DX crop factor and the 35mm becomes a 52.5mm. The difference between the two focal lengths is quite apparent when viewed side by side:

35mm view50mm view

Getting up close and personal with a subject is a little easier now since the 35mm focus 5-6 inches closer than the 50mm. That difference more than makes up for the difference in focal length.  Here we can see the 35mm (top) was able to reproduce a slightly larger view of my lamp:

35mm view50mm view

So far I’m very happy with the lens. It’s lightweight, pumps out some great pictures wide open and focus quickly. I love my 18-200mm, but I see this spending a lot of time on my D90. Focus noise is also much lower. The 50mm f/1.8 is fairly noisy and when it hunts for focus it can give a nice thud when it hits infinity. 52mm UV filter is on my list to buy to protect the front glass. Look for some more pics and comparisons coming up.

D90 vs D70: Image Quality and Pixel Peeping

I typically don’t like pixel peeping and encourage myself to just go take pictures, but I wanted to see how my shooting might be affected by the D90 and if I need to change my post-processing. These shots were all done with AUTO WB in “Program’ mode with no post-processing. Click each comparison for a bigger image.

Quick shot of my home theater system in difficult light. The D90’s white balance is much better and the Active D Lighting brings up shadow detail on the front of the speakers without blowing out the window.


Quick outside shot. Color on the D90 is just better overall. No idea what the D70 is doing with the sky.d90d70-2

Zooming in at 100% shows some more significant differences. The bigger sensor translates to more detail, but the D90 also includes built-in chromatic abberation correction. In the D70 image, chromatic abberation rears its ugly hard along the roof and on the very right side of the trim. The D90 corrects this with magic.d90d70-3

Another tough indoor shot. Active D Lighting brings out detail in the chair and the bricks on the left.d90d70-4

Wow 100% view of my checkbook! Testing a little low light/high ISO performance here and the difference is just night and day. When the D70 cranks up the ISO its color performance plummets. The D90’s performance here is incredible compared to what I’ve had to live with on the D70. Before I’d be wary of shooting at ISO 1600, now I wouldn’t think twice.d90d70-5

Last little comparison highlights low light performance again with the compact Canon SD700 thrown in for a sense of how different point and shoots and dSLRs are. The SD700 does a good job with white balance, but the noise at just ISO 800 is appalling. The D70 fails miserably on white balance here (indirect sunlight bouncing into the kitchen) and the level of chroma noise further degrades the image. The D90’s sensor handles chroma noise much better which results in a more useable picture.d90d70-6

Just putting the D90 in “Program” with AUTO ISO and AUTO WB (tweaked warmer with A3) results in much more useable shots. In fact, since switching to the D90 I haven’t had to process an image in Photoshop. Now I can import straight into Picasa, crop, make any other quick tweaks and export straight to the web or out for printing.

Amazon has a very competitive price on the D90, but if you order one somewhere else be sure to stay away from the shady Brooklyn photo dealers.

D90 vs D70: The Body and Controls

The Nikon D70 was one of the first dSLRs targeted at the amateur photography market. It ran rings around it’s older brother, the D100. After the introduction of the D70s, D60, D50, D40, D80, D200, D300, D2x, D2h, D3, and D700 comes the D90.

D70 meet your replacement. The D90 is slight shorter and includes a customizable function button below the autofocus assist lamp. The mic for recording video is over on the right. Nothing else to see here really. Think of the D90 as a mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

The D90’s 3 inch LCD simply dwarfs the D70’s diminutive 1.8 inch screen and boasts a much higher resolution. The D70’s bracketing button moved to the side under the flash button and shooting mode moved to the top panel. The delete button takes the spot in the top left and is replaced with a nifty INFO button that brings up the current settings on the LCD and gives quick access to some settings. The autofocus sensor selector lock is more compact and the 4 way directional pad gets an OK button (performs menu selections, resets autofocus sensor to the middle and starts recording video in Live view). The top panel now sports the exposure mode, exposure compensation, shooting mode and autofocus mode buttons.

The other big visible change is the viewfinder. Using my SD700’s macro mode I actually got a shot of each viewfinder to compare the size of each. The D90’s viewfinder is noticeably bigger. Like the LCD, bigger is better here.

Not readibly visible are a lot of interface changes inside the menus. It is now possible to save and name customized picture settings, store 5 preset white balances and setup a custom menu with all your frequently accessed items. All of that makes changing settings much easier. On the D70, I got things where I wanted 2 years ago and left all the settings alone because they were a pain to adjust and then remember what to switch them back to.

Some prelimanary shots and tests of the D90’s “Active-D lighting”, high ISO performance and built-in chromatic aberration correction up next. If you’re already sold, grab it from a reputable dealer like Amazon.