Category Archives: Gear

ZEISS Milvus 1.4/25 mm and ZEISS Otus 1.4/28 mm Lenses

As mentioned on my Gear page, I almost exclusively use ZEISS manual focus prime lenses. I’m sold on their consistent color, sharpness, micro-contrast, and precise manual focusing ability. But before buying any new lens, I’ve gotten in the habit of renting one from LensRentals www.lensrentals.com. I can’t recommend the practice of renting before buying, and of renting from LensRentals highly enough.

For a recent trip to the Smokies, I rented a ZEISS Otus 28mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* lens. I already own, and love, the ZEISS Otus 55mm and Otus 85mm (my favorite) lenses, and figured I’d love the 28mm Otus, too. Sure enough, it was the most amazing wide angle lens I’ve ever used. It was bitingly sharp corner-to-corner, with negligible aberrations or distortion. Even stars in the corners of night sky shots showed almost no coma. Silky smooth, beautiful, and incredible. I hated to return it, but still was not sure that I would find the 28mm focal length particularly useful—especially considering the price and the giant size of the lens.

With ZEISS’s recent announcement of the new Milvus 25mm f/1.4 lens, I decided to wait to try it before deciding on a new wide angle lens. I already own the ZEISS 25mm f/2 Distagon T* lens, which I regularly use for my engineering work. It’s wonderfully small and light, and perfect for my work kit. It’s quite sharp across much of the image, yet is just a little soft around the very edges and corners.

Abandoned motel with 4Runner. (ZEISS Milvus 25mm f/1.4 on Nikon D850.)

Abandoned motel with 4Runner. (ZEISS Milvus 25mm f/1.4 on Nikon D850.)

The 28mm Otus proved that a wide angle lens can be sharp from corner-to-corner, with negligible distortion. But I wished it was just a little wider.

Before my return trip to the Smokies a couple weeks later, I noticed that LensRentals had the brand new 25mm f/1.4 Milvus lens available to rent. After nine days of shooting with it, all I can say is it was magnificent. It’s near-Otus quality for about half the price, in a smaller package with a smaller filter size, and less weight—plus it has weather sealing the Otus lenses lack. I absolutely loved it. I was only a little sad to send it back, though, because I put my name on the list at B&H to buy my own copy once they become available.

On my way home from the Smokies, I stopped by a long-abandoned motel near the GA/TN state line. I then parked my Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro at one end of the motel, and made the image above with the rented ZEISS Milvus 25mm f/1.4 lens on my Nikon D850. It’s a single frame, with some of the top, a little of the bottom, and a tiny sliver of the right side cropped off. There was no cropping of the left side. Because the lens was so new, there was no lens profile available in Adobe Camera Raw, so what you’re seeing is how sharp and distortion-free this lens is right out of the box. Neither the bricks at the left nor my 4Runner at the right are distorted.

Images from my field testing were all incredibly sharp edge-to-edge and corner-to-corner. The lens was easy to focus and a joy to use. Can’t wait to get my copy.

A Dark Cover-up

When I travel for a work or a personal photography trip, I either drive my 4Runner TRD Pro or rent an SUV so I can easily access my gear in the field. Years ago, my friend and mentor Bruce Dale suggested a cheap, easy way to keep prying eyes from cargo and luggage in the back. It’s a black flat bed sheet. I bought two of them at Walmart; one for my 4Runner and one to keep packed in my travel bag. They’ve become the black sheets of my family. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Black Sheet Over Gear

Black Sheet Over Gear

If I’m going to be hiking any distance when I get to my shooting location, I try not to keep valuables in my vehicle, if possible. But I’ll still cover extra jackets, water, snacks, or empty camera bags or luggage. I find the black sheet most useful when going to and from my shooting location, the airport, meals, the hotel, and when stopping at any store or gas station. It’s cheap, simple deterrence. I even use it day-to-day when I’m at home.

Apple Does It Again

In an earlier post, I lauded an experience I had while contacting Apple. Well, it’s happened again.

Except for a brief flirtation with a MacBook Pro in 2003, I’ve strictly been a PC user until 2013, when I bought my second MacBook Pro. This time I’ve kept if for more than a few weeks. In fact, it’s been the only laptop I’ve used since I bought it. And I love it. Although my desktop computer is still a Window-based PC, I permanently retired my PC laptop I was using at the time.

Back when I bought my current MacBook Pro, I also bought the Parallels app to be able to run Windows alongside Mac OS X. I had no idea what I was doing when I first got the machine, and apparently either corrupted or maybe even deleted at least part of Parallels. Over the past couple years, I’ve tried to revive it on my own, but with no luck. Since I had configured my Mac with versions of the apps I used most often, it was never a real problem.

Recently, I’ve been wanting to do more writing on my Mac, but really missed using WordPerfect like I do on my PC desktop. A couple weeks ago, I decided I finally going to figure out how to get Parallels working, and install Windows 10 and WordPerfect on my Mac. (Yes, WordPerfect still exists, and is as great as ever. I’ve been using it since the DOS days. It just keeps getting better.) Continue reading

Thom Hogan’s Nikon Complete Guides

Late summer 2001, I swapped my beloved Nikon F5 film camera for a Nikon D1x. While I had been dabbling in digital using a Nikon Coolpix 990 compact digital camera, the D1x was my first digital SLR. I had been keeping up with the Nikon DSLR developments through Thom Hogan’s website, and decided it was time to make the switch.

Of course, the fundamentals of using a camera (aperture, shutter speed, focusing, etc.) were the same between film and digital. But digital brought so many other tools and techniques to learn (white balance, instant review, histograms, blinking highlight warnings, etc.), I decided to take a workshop with Thom so I could start to master using a DSLR. It was a wise choice, as I came away from that workshop with a good working knowledge of my new camera.

Well, Thom didn’t stop with workshops. Since the earliest days of Nikon DSLRs, Thom has written a series of incomparable users manuals, which he justly calls ”Complete Guides”. I download the fully searchable PDF e-books, then read them (and refer to them) on my iPad. They thoroughly explain every button, switch, wheel, and menu item in unsurpassed detail. If that’s all they did, they would be worth the read.

But they do much more. Thom suggests specific settings, and recommends against others, based on his long-time real-world use of the cameras. But, again, he does even more than that. For each recommendation, Thom discusses how and why those settings will affect your photography. These discussions allow you to understand what each function or setting does, why it does it, and how you can best use it. If you own a Nikon DSLR, whether FX or DX, I cannot recommend Thom’s guides highly enough.

  • Even though I’ve been shooting with a pair of Nikon D810′s for over a year (and with a fairly similar D800E before that), I’ve been looking forward to his D810 book all along. Well, it’s now here. Even if you’re an experienced Nikon owner, if you own a D810 (or any other Nikon DSLR), you owe it to yourself to buy and read Thom’s Guides.

    ThomHoganNikonD810ManualCover

    Here’s a link to his D810/D810A Guide: http://www.dslrbodies.com/books/bythom-complete-guides-/nikon-d810-guide.html. Any of his guides can be accessed with the link to his home page: http://www.bythom.com/.

    ©2015 Tom Vadnais Photography

  • Amazing Service from Apple

    This isn’t strictly photography-related, but can be for anyone using any Apple product. All customer service should be like this!

    The weekend before this past one, I upgraded to an iPhone 6. While I was in the AT&T store, I had to log into my iTunes account with my Apple ID in order to get the phone activated. When I went to do that, I was told (well, on the screen) that I had to change my Apple ID to an email address. My Apple ID had always been a series of letters, but not an email address.

    I changed it as requested, and it worked great in the store.

    When I got home, I tried to get all my apps on my new phone through iTunes. The apps copied over just fine, but I couldn’t use the ones I had bought, and none of them would update. I kept getting an error message that they were bought using a different Apple ID, so were not authorized on this phone. I checked all settings, and tried several things, but to no avail.

    After searching the Apple site for a solution, I sent a message via their site stating my problem. Within a second of clicking Send, my phone rang. It was Apple. I was shocked it was even possible for the call to have been made so quickly. The message said they had received a request for help, but there might be a delay on the phone due to call volume. Yet within a minute, I was talking to a live person! He checked a couple things, then said I would need to talk to a specialist. He said they were quite busy at night (and this was a Sunday night); it would likely be at least 45 minutes on hold. Mornings are always better. Could they call me at 8:45 in the morning? I was impressed, but still skeptical. Continue reading

    Digital Camera Sensor Resolution and Print Sizes

    After a presentation to the 4th annual Western North Carolina Foto Fest in Montreat, NC, in September 2013, a couple participants asked me to post my two slides showing the resolutions of digital camera sensors, and effect of resolution on print sizes.

    The first slide is reproduced here:

    Typical Image Sizes in Pixels

    Typical Image Sizes in Pixels

    As you can see, a 1.0 megapixel (mp) camera has more resolution than the old NTSC television and more than most PC displays used to have. You might be surprised that a 3.0 mp sensor has more resolution than HDTV! Even more shocking, perhaps, is that the incredible iPad with Retina display has a resolution of 2048×1536 pixels—-exactly what you could capture with a 3.0 mp camera.

    So what in the world do we need a 12 mp or 24 mp, or goodness knows, a 36 mp sensor for? That’s where the second slide comes in:

    Print Sizes at 240 dpi

    Print Sizes at 240 dpi

    This chart shows the native print sizes you can make at 240 dpi from the various digital camera sensor resolutions. (Note: I’m not suggesting that you always print at 240 dpi, but that resolution was chosen as a constant to make a comparison. Selecting the appropriate print resolution is a topic unto itself.) Continue reading

    Is It Equipment, Photographer, or Both?

    It all started innocently enough when a friend e-mailed our group of photography friends asking if he should get a Nikon D600 or D800, and why. Since most of our group happens to shoot Nikon, it was a sensible thing to ask.

    For my personal work, I currently use a D800E, and briefly owned a D600 (which is a fantastic camera, but since it’s so close in size to the D800E, I stuck with just the D800E), so I replied with what I saw were the pros and cons of each. Of course, one of the main differences is the greater resolution of the D800, and I mentioned that higher resolution might allow him to create more detailed images, depending on what he was most interested in photographing. But one of the working pros in our group (who currently shoots Canon, but I understand is in therapy for it—-just kidding) took umbrage and said it was the photographer, not the gear, and we were concentrating on all the wrong things.

    The ensuing flurry of e-mails has been a really interesting discussion, with no right or wrong, and no definitive answer. But the topic of the importance of good equipment is certainly worth thinking about for yourself. Continue reading

    Some Thoughts About Equipment

    Okay, two posts in a row about gear that either didn’t work or was just plain missing. It’s time for the brighter side of photo equipment. Several of the next few posts will feature equipment I’ve used for a long time, and have come to rely on in the field.

    Before getting to any specific piece of kit (as my British friends say), it’s worth repeating something my friend and early mentor Bruce Dale (of National Geographic fame) said to me during the first workshop I took from him back in 2002. As I was about to photograph at the Pecos National Monument in New Mexico, he came over and looked in my overstuffed Lowepro Photo Trekker. In essence, he said, “What in the world are you going to shoot with all that stuff? You have way too much gear to ever do much serious photography.”

    I must confess the wisdom of those comments didn’t sink in for longer than I’d like to admit. But he was right. Reading tons of photography magazines (remember them?) convinced me I needed every gadget that came along. There might have been a few extraneous lenses in there, too. Continue reading

    Comfort Zones & Proper Equipment – Part Two

    (Note: Part One is just below this post.)

    When we left off, I discovered I didn’t have the right lenses nor the right techniques for capturing birds and critters. But that’s not the end of the story. Hence, Part Two.

    As I briefly mentioned in Part One, I also quickly discovered a geared tripod head can be next to worthless for moving subjects. My usual head is an Arca-Swiss C1 Cube, which I absolutely love. Its extreme precision results from its fine-tooth gears that separately control up-and-down (pitch) and side-to-side (roll) motions.

    Here’s the beauty of a geared head. Let’s say something’s perfectly aligned from edge to edge in the viewfinder, but is a tad low. Rotating the proper knob will raise the front of the lens without affecting the side to side tilt at all.

    Sunrise at Anhinga Trail

    By contrast, loosening the tension on a ball head allows it to move freely in any direction, and may reposition the camera in a way you don’t want. To add insult to injury, many ball heads shift by even the tiniest amount when they are locked back down. You finally get the image perfectly aligned in the viewfinder, but then it moves when you lock the ball head down. Frustrating.

    What makes the geared head so perfect for stationary subjects makes it completely worthless for moving subjects (glaciers excluded). By the time you crank the adjustment knobs to capture that bird taking off, it has migrated to another state. But you can precisely frame where it was! Continue reading

    Comfort Zones & Proper Equipment – Part One

    Thanks to Bill Lea, in February I visited Everglades National Park for the first time as one of the co-leaders of the NANPA Regional Event there. This is the first of two posts about what I learned during that trip.

    Before I saw Bill’s photographs for his forthcoming book, I hadn’t thought too seriously about shooting in the Everglades, despite how relatively close the Park is to Atlanta. It seemed like a flat, grassy, swampy area, where the big attractions are birds and critters. I don’t typically shoot birds and critters, nor flat, grassy, swampy areas. It didn’t sound like much of a destination for a landscape and travel photographer. Boy, was I ever wrong.

    Fortunately, for several days before the Event, Bill gave us an extensive (and photographically rewarding) tour of the Park, based on his five years of photographing there. I would never have figured out nor enjoyed the Everglades as quickly without Bill’s expert guidance. I found birds and critters fun and challenging to shoot (especially with my equipment), and found the landscape remarkably variable and beautifully photogenic. Now I can’t wait to go back.

    As an aside, living with Atlanta traffic, I misunderstood the concept of traveling to a park to shoot birds. During any given rush hour here, you could see so many birds shot within such a short time that it gets old pretty quick. But I get it now.

    Believe it or not, just like in many other parks, there are signs denoting elevations in the Everglades. Unlike my experiences in some of the Western parks, however, it wasn’t any harder to breathe even at the highest elevations. I felt pretty much the same at the Elevation 4 Feet sign as I had earlier at the Elevation 3 Feet sign. Guess I’ve stayed in pretty good shape.

    My first morning in the Park started with a sunrise shoot over Florida Bay at Flamingo. So far so good. I’m in my comfort zone with my lenses, geared tripod head, focusing cloth, remote release, and the rest of my usual landscape kit.

    Sunrise at Flamingo

    Sun’s fully up now, so landscape photography is done. It’s off to nearby Eco Pond to shoot birds. Hey, these bloody things move! What’s up with that? And they’re relatively small. And relatively far away. And just as soon as I compose my shot, it’s either changed or gone. There goes my comfort zone. Continue reading