Frequently Asked Questions


Not the April fool answers, but the real ones.

Original: 3/20/2010

What's the difference between the 50mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.4G?
The former is a D lens and has an aperture ring, the latter is a G lens and doesn't. The former has screw-drive autofocus, which only works on D90 and above bodies, while the AF-S focus on the latter will work on all current Nikon DSLRs. Beyond that, the faster lens (f/1.4) is a newer, more complex design and considerably more expensive. At f/5.6 the optical differences between the two are indistinguishable, so the real issue is how often will you be shooting wide open? Always? Then get the f/1.4G. Rarely? Then get the f/1.8D if your camera supports it; otherwise, you're stuck with the f/1.4G.

Which of my lens(es) should I take to Yellowstone?
Yellowstone is a bit bipolar in photographic opportunities. On the one hand you have large geographic features that you can approach closely, so a good wide angle zoom is handy. On the other hand you have wildlife that may be some distance from you (and in some cases like bears, should be a long distance away if you're following park regulations). There you need a fast, very telephoto lens (fast to remove distracting backgrounds, very telephoto to bring the animal in close). Of course, most of you reading this probably have your family along, so a mid-range zoom or primes to take "family vacation photos" is probably going to keep you out of the doghouse. In spring (which is usually a bit late in Yellowstone), a macro lens is useful for flowers.

Should I get the 16-35mm, 17-35mm, or the 14-24mm?
We can pretty much eliminate the 17-35mm these days. As good as it was during its day, both the other lenses surpass it, especially in terms of corner sharpness. The big questions then become: do you need to use filters (get the 16-35mm), do you worry about linear distortion (get the 14-24mm), do you know how to frame extremely wide angle (get the 14-24mm), do you need faster apertures (get the 14-24mm), and do you need the most versatile focal range (get the 16-35mm). Resolve those questions and you have your answer.

Why can't Nikon make a stable tripod collar?
Good question for which there isn't a good answer. Funny thing is, older Nikon lenses do seem to have very good tripod collars. It's only been in recent times that we've seen slop in the connection between the collar and the lens that impacts results. Perhaps Nikon thinks that having VR on most of these lenses now obviates the need for a tight, locking collar. If they think that, they are wrong. Very wrong. The final answer is this: they CAN make a stable tripod collar, they just AREN'T.

Where's the 80-400mm replacement?
Good question. Several key lenses seem to be very slow in getting updated (the 300mm f/4 needs VR, the 80-400mm needs AF-S, the 24-70mm needs VR, the 200mm Micro-Nikkor needs AF-S and VR, the 180mm needs AF-S and VR, and the primes are a mess). My theory is that Nikon plans lenses more on the whim of the lens designers than on any carefully researched survey of user demand. If true, then the lens designers simply see other "problems" as more interesting to solve than adding AF-S to the 80-400mm. Memo to Nikon bean counters: look up Lost Opportunity Cost in your MBA handbooks.

Will there be a D900?
By this I assume you mean a high resolution sensor in a D700-like body. This seems like a logical extension of Nikon's lineup, especially since the Canon 5DII is doing so well and makes the hole in Nikon's lineup so visible. However, having a competitive product successfully exploiting a product hole doesn't seem to bother Nikon very much. They sometimes just ignore the irritation, much to the irritation of their user base. Still, I think Nikon has no real choice but to eventually produce such a camera. Ultimately, the high-end (above D90) is one place that Nikon has and remains the fiercest competitor. There may be some reluctance to overpopulate their lineup with high-end bodies, though. Thus, I suspect that they've put less emphasis on getting such a camera ready than the user base would demand (see Lost Opportunity Cost, above). In my surveys of serious Nikon users, both a D700s and D900 would produce about equal sales to the current user base, and both would sell very well. I've shared those survey numbers with Nikon executives in Japan, so they can't say they haven't seen the demand. Many of you probably know that I had a bet that a D900 would appear by the end of March 2010. It didn't, so I lost that bet. If I were to refresh my bet, I'd just change the year to 2011. If a D4 appears in July/Aug 2011 as expected, a D900 starts to lose the interest of the serious users, as everyone will want the new technology in the D4 to be rolled into the D300/D700/D900 types of cameras. Thus, if Nikon going to produce a D900, it has to be in the next twelve months.

Should I buy a third party lens for my Nikon body?
Maybe. It's clear that the third-party makers have offerings that fill in many, if not most, of the gaps in Nikon's own lens lineup. The question then becomes whether those lenses are up to the level of the Nikkors. I'm going to do a lot of generalizing here, so be careful of over interpreting my remarks. Let me first take this by cost. In general, at the lowest cost points, I've found the Nikkors to be almost universally significantly better than the third-party lenses, though the gap in performance has lowered over the years. The 18-55mm Nikkor VR essentially sells for US$99 when you buy it with a body. That performance and price point is hard to top: the 18-55mm Nikkor VR is a very good lens, has little sample variation in my experience (I've now tested six), and comes at a pretty unbelievable price. What I've seen in the low-cost third party lenses is poorer corner performance and chromatic aberration control, poorer quality control, and prices that really don't undercut Nikon. Now let's take this by brand. Sigma tends to produce very sharp lenses, but seems to have somewhat erratic quality control. I've gotten far too many "bad samples" of Sigma lenses in the past few years. But the good samples tend to test very, very well. Just make sure you know how to test for bad samples and have a good return policy from your dealer if you buy Sigma. Tamron seems to be fairly consistent on quality control, much like Nikon. I've rarely encountered a bad sample of a Tamron lens, though I have encountered bad reverse engineering (the 28-300mm caused DBS on my D700). Again, fairly sharp lenses in most of my recent tests. But one thing I've noticed recently is that Tamron hasn't perfected the in-lens motor. Many of the in-lens motor versions of Tamron lenses autofocus more slowly (and noisely) than the screw-drive versions. On the flip side, Tamron's optical stabilization seems better than Nikon's. Tokina lenses have a reputation as being very sharp. Indeed, every one I've tested has been. But I've also had a lot of flare issues with Tokina lenses, enough that I tend to avoid them when I have a different choice. All that said, if a third party maker has a lens variation that Nikon doesn't and you need that, don't be afraid to try them.

Is there a better set of lenses for FX shooters than the 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm?
Not really. The only complaints you'll usually hear from those that have these three lenses is that the 24-70mm doesn't have VR and the 14-24mm doesn't take filters. That's pretty incredible when you think about it. Two missing feature complaints, but no real performance complaints. That said, some FX shooters probably would be better served by primes (or at least mixing in a few primes). The f/2.8 aperture of the lens trinity removes some ability to isolate backgrounds.

Why does my 18-200mm not seem like it gets to 200mm?
Lenses are labelled based upon performance at infinity focus. Many very complex lenses (e.g. superzooms) lose focal length as you focus closer, a trait called "focal length breathing." Optical designs balance an enormous number of variables, and in aggressive designs (e.g. superzooms) something has to give. What "gave" in the 18-200mm design is focal length reach at close distances. The very first superzoom--the Tamron 28-200mm back in film days--also made the same compromise. So the 18-200mm's performance isn't anything new.

Can I use a teleconverter on my 16-35mm f/4?
Nikon says no and I agree. First, the rear element of the 16-35mm is very exposed, and many teleconverters would hit that element. Second, teleconverters aren't very useful on anything other than telephoto lenses. Third, even putting a 1.4x teleconverter on an f/4 lens puts you in a range where autofocus performance begins to be compromised (usually only slightly, but on zoom lenses, often more than slightly). Fourth, teleconverters always rob some acuity, so you've probably already got another lens in the focal range you'd get with the teleconverter on the 16-35mm that's better. Finally, good teleconverter design takes into account the lenses it will be used on. Since Nikon's teleconverters aren't designed with anything other than the longer telephoto lenses in mind, there wouldn't be an optical match, anyway.

Which filter should I buy to protect my new lens?
I don't believe in filters for protection on lenses, with the possible exception of a situation where I know dangerous chemicals might be thrown at the front element of the lens (e.g. in a chemical factory). Filters always rob a bit of light (and in some cases, a lot of light), increase flare tendencies, and add to your equipment cost. To date, I've not seen a single controlled study that shows that filters actually offer real protection. Indeed, some of us believe that the opposite is sometimes true with cheap filters: if a glass filter shatters it tends to scratch the front element of the lens. The real reason why every store salesman asks you if you'd like a protective filter with that lens you just bought is because it increases the stores profit margin. Considerably. Consider a US$1000 lens and US$50 filter. The store will make US$150 on the lens, US$25 or more on the filter. Thus, even though the filter added only 5% to the cost of your lens, it added 17%+ to the dealer's profit. The only thing that's more lucrative is if they can sell you an extended warranty with that lens (in the US, a Nikkor already comes with a 5-year warranty, by the way).

Why won't NikonUSA repair gray market products?
Don't get me started. I believe this is one of the most consumer-unfriendly policies I've ever seen a global company ever embrace. Basically, the bottom line for Nikon Japan, the corporate parent, is more profit at the expense of consumers. It's amazingly transparent, actually. Some years ago, Nikon used to include an "international warranty" slip with all products. This slip had on it an address to which you could send a product for warranty repair, even if it had been bought via gray market. True, that address was typically in Japan for US residents, which made such returns more cumbersome and time-consuming. But at least you knew that there was someplace that would honor the warranty. Today you'll see no such slip in the DSLR boxes, and often not in any of the other Nikon product boxes, either. Technically, there's still a repair station in Japan you can send a gray market product to for warranty repair, but good luck finding out what the current address is and the procedure for doing such a return. In other words, Nikon has found a loophole that lets them essentially disclaim warranty repairs on gray market products. Shameful. But profitable to them. The non-repair of out-of-warranty products is also a problem, though there are now third-parties that will do it. At least here the answer is slightly more customer friendly: it appears that Nikon subsidizes out-of-warranty repairs. For instance, if you were to buy a replacement shutter from Nikon for your D3 and install it yourself, you'd be surprised to find that having NikonUSA do the replacement may actually cost you the same. Say what? Free labor? Apparently. NikonUSA uses a tiered repair charge (A, B, C) that is close to a prix fixe policy: many repairs are charged to users at costs that NikonUSA can't possibly make a profit on. Thus, NikonUSA would object to fixing something they didn't sell in the first place, as then they'd get no profit out of the deal (original sale and repair) at all. Of course, they could change this repair policy, but we need to be careful what we ask for, as repairs might get more expensive if they start trying to make that a profitable business, too. Still, no matter what the reasons for them, Nikon's repair policies on gray market products are very consumer-unfriendly.

When should I use VR? When should I turn it off?
VR should always be off unless you explicitly require it. It should always be off for shutter speeds over 1/500. It should be off if you're on a stable tripod even if the VR system says it is tripod aware. Basically, VR should be off unless you can guarantee that without it, you'll get camera motion in your shots.

Are Nikon's warranties transferrable?
No.

My new lens seems to back focus with my camera. What should I do?
First and foremost, make sure that it really back focuses. Most advice on testing for this is just dead wrong, because it doesn't account for what the autofocus sensors actually see and do. Putting an autofocus sensor on a test target that's at an angle won't get you confirmation. That's because the autofocus sensor is really an array of sensors and they "vote" on where the subject is. If more of the array is on the background than the foreground, guess where the camera will focus? Nikon sort of mentions this in their manuals when they talk about use of wide angle lenses shooting small subjects with busy backgrounds. What they're trying to say is that more of the autofocus sensor is likely to see the busy background than the small foreground subject in such cases, and thus the camera will focus on the background. If you look at the design of the LensAlign product, for instance, it does things right: you focus on a target that is absolutely parallel to the sensor, thus eradicating the potential for the autofocus sensor array to pick up something at a different distance. Then you READ the answer on the diagonal chart that's attached. But if you already have a LensAlign you already know the answer to the question: use the LensAlign and AF Fine Tune to correct the focus. I'd add a bit of a caveat to that: if you use multiple bodies or zoom lenses, AF Fine Tune doesn't necessarily fix your problem. Moreover, lens/body combinations that are far out of alignment (>10 on the AF Fine Tune adjustment) probably ought to be looked at by Nikon. In my experience, something that needs 15 in AF Fine Tune means that something is near or beyond manufacturing tolerances, and only Nikon can really fix that permanently.

Why is Nikon always behind Canon?
They aren't. In many things Nikon has always been ahead of Canon, in others it has been behind. For every thing that a Nikon user complains is better on a Canon, there's a Canon user that complains that something else is better on a Nikon. You'll note that most of these endless "who is better" discussions tend to revolve around factual numbers, like megapixel count. That's because it's easy to prove that 18 is greater than 12, even third-graders can usually do that with aplomb. It gets a little more difficult to prove that Camera A focuses on random bird-in-flight motion than Camera B because skill and understanding of all the potential settings also come into play. Third-graders don't do so well with making solid arguments on subjects like that, though they'll often try to reduce it back to numbers (e.g. "I got X in-focus images from Camera A and only Y from Camera B"). Bottom line: there are plenty of pros producing great images from Canon cameras and plenty of pros producing great images from Nikon cameras. If you're not producing great images from either a Canon or Nikon, it isn't the camera.

I just dropped my new lens in the ocean, what should I do?
Click on the B&H link on my home page and order a new one? Oh, wait, this is supposed to be the real answer not the facetious one. Okay, let's break this into a couple of categories: lens versus camera, ocean versus fresh water. Let's start with the bad news possibility first: camera dropped into any water. You have a miniscule chance of recovering a camera dropped into fresh water and no chance of recovering one dropped into ocean water. But to maximize what little chance you have: remove the battery IMMEDIATELY. On the D3 cameras, that means the clock batteries, too. Electrical current plus water is a no-no for electronics. Next, clean off the water you can, as well as you can. If you know how to disassemble a camera, I'd do that and get as much visible water out of the insides as I can, but very few people would be capable of doing this. Next, put the camera in a warm, 0% humidity environment with all doors, caps, etc. open. Wait two days minimum before doing anything else. If you're really lucky, not enough water got to the internal circuitry with power still active to start the corrosive processes that usually occur. Ocean water (and some bad freshwater sources) have too many salts and contaminants and trigger corrosion pretty much no matter what. If that happens, the camera may be gotten to work for awhile, but the long term prognosis is terrible. Once corrosion sets in, the electronics are compromised. Nikon will not repair equipment with corrosion damage. With a lens you have a slightly better chance, even with salt water. That's because it isn't quite as electronic. Indeed, older manual focus lenses may come through dunkings relatively unscathed, though if water gets between elements they need to be disassembled and each element cleaned, then the whole thing reassembled. But the same is true: remove power (get the lens off the camera), dry as much as you can, put into a 0% humidity warm environment until the moisture is all gone.

Is it true that bigger is better when it comes to sensors?
Only if everything else is relatively the same (megapixel count, ADC read noise, etc.). And there's definitely a point where the advantages aren't worth the costs.

I read on another site that film cameras are still better than digital ones. Is that true?
If I read your question literally, the answer is no. Today's cameras are better than yesterday's. They have better shutters, better meters, more features, have fewer mechanical parts to wear out, and so on. But I suspect you're referring to image quality. There the answer is less precise. Film had a different response to light than does digital. For example, in very low light (for example, taking star trail photos) film had reciprocity failure, so exposing it for longer periods of time actually didn't build much exposure on the image. Digital has noise issues associated with time. But what most people are responding to when they say they like the look of film over digital is that the tonal curves are different. Film tended to have a long toe and shoulder, digital is linear. You can process digital to be more like film, but not perfectly so. So if you like the look of film, shoot film.

Do I really need to shoot NEF? Isn't JPEG good enough?
The answer is in the question. Sometimes JPEG is good enough. But from a technical standpoint, when you shoot JPEG you start throwing away information. First, you reduce the data set from 12- or 14-bits to 8. Second, you transform actual pixel data into formulas that approximate the pixel data (compression). Third, you instantiate all your camera setting decisions into the image data permanently. Maybe that's "good enough" for your purpose (small image on the Web). But be aware that you've lost a lot in the process, and you can't recover any of it.

Which Color Space should I use, sRGB or AdobeRGB?
When shooting JPEG, sRGB. When shooting NEF, it doesn't really matter what the camera is set to, it matters what your raw converter is set to. For optimum results, you need a Color Space larger than AdobeRGB. It's not a coincidence that Aperture and Lightroom use such larger Color Spaces without you having to set anything.

How come my prints don't look like what I see on my camera's LCD?
Because you haven't managed the color process. That means understanding and correctly using Color Spaces. It means using a calibrated monitor for editing. It means using the right paper profiles while printing. And the way you verify that you're doing that is to shoot a known color reference, such as a ColorChecker chart, and follow the resulting colors through every step of your workflow making sure that no step introduces a distortion. See QAD Color.

How should I store my camera?
Battery out, body cap on, camera either facing lens down or the bottom of the camera sitting on a flat surface (do not store a digital camera on its back). Camera should have been put away clean, too. And the environment it is stored in should be low in humidity.

 


 

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