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on Jan 8, 2014 in Gear Head Wed

GearHead Wednesday 14-01

It’s pretty simple, you send your gear questions to Gear Questions and every Wednesday, I’ll answer as many as I can. Keep in mind the answers are just my $.02 worth and you have to take what works for you and embrace it and ignore the rest. So here’s this weeks questions ….

Body or Glass?
I have been shooting with the d7100 for quite a while and using FX lenses exclusively, it has help to create some great images.  The question for 2014, is do I add more glass such as the 80-400 or 70-200 VRII; or do I trade up to a FX camera?

I know it is a chicken or the egg type of question, but when I have the opportunity capture what my mind is thinking, I want the result to be the best it can be. As someone who has experience with both, I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Doug asks a question that has been asked for a hundred years and the answer is really just as old. You need to have gear that solves the problems you face in your photography. Now the D7100 is less than a year old so there isn’t a whole lot of features you could step up to going to FX and sensor size really isn’t a critical element. Sensor quality is and the D7100 does an excellent job.

The two lenses you mention are as different as night and day so I’m a little confused how they work into the equation. They do two different jobs, one has f/stop speed and the other has focal length. Both are very fast autofocus and both are very sharp. Now since you leave out the most important information for me to be of much value, what’s the subject, I can’t advise between these two.

But that is really what you have to ask yourself in any gear purchase, what’s the subject and what are the problems that need to be solved to photograph it? The subject is what dictates all we do, especially gear. And if the question were new body or new lens, just that generically, I would answer lens every time.

Window on the Pixels
What is the minimum size computer monitor that you recommend for photo processing?


Greg, there are all sorts of formulas for working distance between the user and the monitor and as I get older, I find these formulas are pretty much useless in the real world. There are three important variables in this equation as I see it, the monitor, your eyes and final image quality. I am assuming of course that the final image quality being only the best is a given, I’ll touch on the other two.

I use to be of the school that bigger was better, but technology has changed that. During this past year, 80% of my image processing has been with the Wacom 13HD. What might be thought of a couple of years ago as a small screen, it’s big quality makes critical image processing a snap. The 13HD is used in conjunction with my Mac Retina and is basically in my lap or hotel desk. It’s physically close so these days, it means I’m wearing my reading glasses to work.

Once back in the office where the monitor is physically further away from me (and I don’t need glasses), the Wacom24HD rocks. Both of these monitors besides having very accurate color and very sharp offer one other huge benefit, tablet speed.

So when traveling, the minimum size would be 13” and when back at home/office as a workstation, 24” I would say is the minimum.

F/stop on a Budget
I am looking to upgrade glass on my Nikon D5100 DSLR. I shoot a lot of low light events sports, pets, horses and related events. I would love to get the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII but it is a bit out of my budget. I have been looking at the SIGMA and TAMRON versions of this and I would like to know your opinion and maybe even recommendation as to which might be best. Keep in mind that I do plan to move to an FX frame in the next 12 months.

Wayne, you pose the questions that thousands of photographers face on a nearly daily bases. The first question I would ask if I could is how often are you going to really use this lens for your low light photography? If it is not continually throughout the year, I would rent the Nikkor. If it’s going to be constant, than I would seek out those who use these lenses, A LOT!

I have no doubt that both of these lenses are tack sharp right out of the box, providing you the quality you seek. I could obtain a sample of both of these lenses and shoot the side by side tests but I bet that without doing that, they would both be equal performers delivering the quality you seek. The question I would have and could not test for is, after a year of heavy use, what kind of performance do they deliver? Since receiving your email, I tried to find out that answer and couldn’t so I don’t know. But that is an important part of the equation when I personally buy a lens. I want the same quality five years from now as the day I bought the lens.

When I first started to buy camera gear, my brother gave me advice I still go with today when such quandaries arise. By the best you can afford. It has always served me well.

Starting Wildlife Gear on a budget
I am a huge fan and an avid follower of your work. I especially love your Yellowstone work. I am a newer photographer and trying to find out what gear you’d recommend for me. I used to have a D5100 nikon with the standard kit lens and a 50mm 1.8G. I sadly had to get rid of it but now have a Nikon P520 for the time being. I want to do wildlife and nature work with occasional work in NYC. Let me know what you’d recommend for me to start with and what I should build to.

Greg. thanks for an easy question! D7100 & 75-300 hands down!

Which FX
Hi Moose, I’m in the market for a new Nikon body with full frame sensor, and need your advice on this.  I’m follow your blog closely to see all your current shootings with the Df. I like what I see, but still a bit afraid of this will be my next work horse. I need a fast camera which can do all round shooting incl. in studio (portrait) work as well as landscape and travel photography. My current short list is D4, 800e, Df.   You know I’m a Nikon guy for almost 20 years, but the weight of the current line up becomes more and more an issue as you see Sony had comes with a nice mirror less camera the 7r. Any opinion about that?  Looking forward to hear from you, and Thanks for your advice and support.
Best regards,

PF,when it comes to FX bodies from Nikon, the D4 is still my star with the Df nipping at its heals. You mention needing a “fast camera” and then said the D800e in on your short list. That confuses me a little. If you’re looking for fast FPS, you only have one option and that’s the D4. If you’re looking for fast overall operation, all the bodies listed along with the D610 fit that description. And when you look at studio, landscape and travel, that brings you to the Df and D800e (D4 is large and in these days of travel that can be a negative).  There isn’t one technological advantage of one body over the other in this equation that makes one a clear answer.

I realize this will offend some and for that, I apologize in advance. I’m not a mega pixel shooter, that’s no secret. I don’t have clients or personal need for them. At the same time, the D800(e) just doesn’t fit me as in, my hands. Lastly, I’ve seen it used way too much to make up for bad technique, ie, crop the hell out of a spec in a photo to make it a mountain and call it photography. Now I’m told I brought a D800 owner to tears last fall with my comments about the D800, but I’m just not a fan and it has nothing to do with image quality. It has to do with all those other experiences that go with photography. Why I so love the Df.

I think mirrorless is great, I don’t think it will take over the world and all its sale reports for the last two years say the same thing. There is a Nikon V2 in the office, or more accurately, it’s Sharon’s camera and she loves it. It does an incredible job and can shoot 60FPS! And there is no way in hell I would take it to a shoot with a client and that’s not because its not a great camera. It is! The mere size of the camera would give me no credibility in the clients eyes. Now if I was given the opportunity to do the shoot and the work were judged on the final product, I would have no issue shooting with it. But we’re talking human nature here and in the real world, size matters.

My recommendations would be in this order, D4, Df and then D610.

Upgrade or Convert?
HI. I have Canon 450d and looking for upgrade for landscape and wildlife (mainly birds) photography. Is Nikon D300 good for my need? If not could You suggest other body within price range.

Jakub, I think when you’re looking in this price range for a body, genre of photography doesn’t really come into play since all features are basically the same. With that said, I would look at the used market at the 7D or D7000.

Two Birds in the Bush
2 pretty specific questions for you:  1.  birds in flight, what AF mode do you use to optimize the number of sharp shots you get?  2.  also for birds in flight.  I have the nikon 70-300, which is a great value for a relatively long tele zoom.  but the AF seems just a little bit too slow to really keep up with a fast moving bird, and I wouldn’t mind a little more reach.  how much better is the 80-400?  I know from reading your blog that you are a huge fan of that lens, I’m just running into resistance from the financial department. 


Scott, for birds in flight, planes in the sky, cars going around a race course, I’m using Auto Area AF. The 80-400 is WAY better and in all honesty, it’s not even a comparison.

If you want to improve your percentage of sharp shots, perfecting you panning technique is the best place to start. It can trump better AF system or lens reach and is free (which makes the financial dept happier).  As your lens gets longer, sharper images become more difficult as any movement in the camera/lens are magnified. Want a simple test to see if your panning is up to snuf? Get two friends to play catch with a tennis ball. Stand 20’ away and when you can consistently capture sharp images of that tennis ball, than you’ve got a technique that will rock your world!