Aug 17

Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR Long Term Review

I have been using this lens as my go to wide angle zoom since 2011. I own many other Nikon mount lenses yet continue to use this lens because it is has outstanding build, sharpness, rendering and value. Wide angle lenses are a Nikon specialty and the 16-35 f/4G ED VR is a fine example of that tradition.

The 16-35 f/4G ED VR was announced in February 2010 and was originally intended to be used for travel, architectural photography and photojournalism. It is a full frame G type lens featuring a metal barrel and weather sealing consistent with Nikon’s professional series of lenses. There is a rubber gasket on the rear where the lens attaches to the camera via the Nikkor F bayonet mount. The lens is 3.2 inches (82.5 mm) in diameter and 4.9 inches (125mm) in length. It weighs 24 ounces or 680 grams, has internal focusing, and a constant f/4 aperture with 9 rounded blades. The VR II image stabilization gives up to 2.5 stops of increased low light hand hold ability.

Venice, Italy. 2017. Nikkor 16-35 f/4G ED VR and Nikon Df.

So how does the lens feel and function? It’s comfortable in the hand and balances well on both the D810 and Df bodies. The AF-S autofocus is smooth and reliable while autofocus speed is average, a lot of this depends on the camera. I don’t shoot fast moving sports or wildlife so I can’t tell you how fast it would be on a D5 or D500. The VR II works great and I love to shoot it in dim interiors and low light. The f/4 maximum aperture is plenty for a full frame wide angle lens for it’s intended use. I own the 24mm f1.4G and rarely if ever shoot it wide open under those conditions and if I did need that particular rendering and shallow depth of field, the 24 is the lens I would use. I might also take along a tripod, but that’s a different style of shooting and defeats the purpose of having a stabilized wide angle zoom.

Paris, France. 2017. Nikkor 16-35 f/4G ED VR and Nikon Df.

For the sake of argument let’s take that f/4 maximum aperture and apply 2.5 stops of increased hand hold ability, f/4  f/2.8  f/2  f1.4. We end up at the same place. The f/4 with VR II has the same low light hand hold ability, under the same circumstances as the f1.4 prime. The question you have to ask yourself is “what are you trying to say with your photographs?” Which lens better suits your intended purpose under the conditions you intent to shoot?

Tomb Raider, Cambodia. 2017. Nikkor 16-35 f/4G ED VR and Nikon Df.

The 16-35 f/4G ED VR is a walk around lens, it’s designed for shooting on the move and in this role it functions very well indeed. I’ve used it extensively for travel, architecture and street photography. In low light, no light, crap light, in the dust of the Sahara desert, on moving boats, in the rain, the back alleys and jungles of North Africa and India and just about everywhere in between. The lens just works and does what I want it to do.

Toymaker, Morocco. 2017. Nikkor 16-35 f/4G ED VR and Nikon Df.

Because I travel and photograph often under adverse conditions I value the fact that this lens is weather sealed and can stand up to heavy use. Are there better lenses on the market? Sure, I have access to several superb Nikkor and Zeiss primes, but then I’d be changing lenses more frequently and carrying more bulk and weight. The value of a rugged sealed zoom is that I don’t have to swap lenses and expose the interior of my camera to all the environmental junk that can foul things up. Certainly there is a time and place for gorgeous primes but I try to pick the appropriate tool for the job at hand.

Venice, Italy. 2017. Nikkor 16-35 f/4G ED VR and Nikon Df.

The 16-35 f/4G ED VR has a 77mm filter diameter. I always use B+W XS-Pro UV filters on the front of all my lenses. The only other filter is use is a B+W XS-Pro Kaesemann Polarizer. I have two of them in different sizes. I have not had any vignetting issues on this lens with the XS-Pro filters.

All images in the post are hand held available light photographs.

Aug 16

Back to Basics, a Return to Film Photography

I grew up with the vinegary smell of stop bath so when I made the switch to digital I swore I was done with film. Yet here I am today, prepared to take the plunge back into the world of analog imaging. Why?

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic but it seems like the analog process feels more like making art, it feels more thoughtful and personal. There is something to be said for the act of pre-visualizing a scene, contemplating exposure, anticipating how it will look on the developed film and what sort of paper and printing process you’ll utilize. I think shooting and developing your own film materially teaches you proper exposure and self discipline. When you know you only have 36 frames on a roll of film and that the film will need to be developed and contact printed before you really know what you’ve got, you think very carefully every time you press the shutter. And that’s not to say there isn’t spontaneity with film, surely there is but you have to be prepared to say it within those 36 frames then reload, or carry around a second body. Film invites economy, digital lacks economy. Finally, I don’t necessarily need the speed of the digital process. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital but it feels like the difference between using pen and paper and using a computer.

Nikon FM and Nikkor 105mm f2.5

Nikon FM and Nikkor 105mm f2.5, Vintage Agfa Scala film. 

In preparation I went through my old camera bag and pulled out my two film bodies. One was an F100 purchased at the dawn of the digital revolution. The second was my first “real” camera, bought used in high school, a Nikon FM. Digging deeper I grabbed my old Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens. For years the FM, the 105, a 24 f/2.8 and a 50 f/1.8 were my kit. They accompanied me on my first European adventure with a brick of Kodachrome 64. Good times. I’m going to see if I can find, scan and post some of those slides. Sadly the FM is now unusable, the mirror return spring needs to be replaced. I want to shoot film with a manual camera so the F100 will stay in retirement.

Enter the Nikon FM3a. The greatest manual focusing film SLR camera Nikon produced. I need to have one. Searching the web, I found a gently used copy that had obviously been loved by an active photographer. At the risk of sounding like a Leica-phile, it has black paint with just a hint of warm brassing. Perfect. It’s on it’s way to me now from Japan.

More to come.