Equipment Planning for 2015

As part of my year end photography assessment, I did an assessment of my camera equipment needs. Hopefully, this process I used will be helpful.

 My new 24 - 85 mm lens

My new 24 - 85 mm lens

Photographic Goals

At the beginning of the year I set new photography goals. This year I plan

1.  On spending more time photographing landscapes and places of interest in Southern Louisiana. 
2.  On focusing on creating panoramic photographs for many of my subjects. 
3.  To continue with my normal bird photography.
4.  To Photograph art for local artists and teach a course on the subject.
5.  To Photograph landscapes and birds from the boats on my tours.

Photographing the work of artists requires a full compliment of macro lenses.

Photographing from the boats requires handholding the camera under challenging conditions. Using a tripod in the boat is impractical and holding the camera steady is challenging. I frequently use focal lengths from 20 mm to 400 mm. Vibration Reduction / Image Stablization Technology is major benefit with this type of work.

My photographs are used in resolutions ranging from small web display to 20” x 30” ink jet prints.

Assessment and Testing

Knowing what I intend to photograph and how it will be used allows me to assess my needed equipment. For the year I know I will need:

1.  Two digital camera bodies with reasonably high resolution. A primary and a backup. Ideally one with “full frame format” for my landscape work and one with a cropped formal for photographing birds.
2.  A sturdy tripod, ball head, nimble head, and panoramic head.
3.  Lenses ranging in focal length from 20 mm to 60 0 mm. With lenses in the 20 mm to 400 mm range that can be hand held on a boat. Vibration Reduction / Image Stabilization is desirable for the hand held lenses.
4.  55mm, 105mm, and 200mm macro lenses

In the fall I noticed my normal format 28-70mm zoom lens was not properly stopping down to apertures smaller than f8. This lens has been my most used landscape lens both on the boats and photographing on land with a tripod. While a very good quality lens, it was purchased approximately 15 years ago and would require a major repair at a large expense. So I need a strategy to replace the function of this lens.

My inventory of lenses at the end of 2014 was:

1.  20 mm Nikkor f2.8 AF D
2.  28-70 mm f2.8 AFS in need of repair or replacement
3.  50 mm Nikkor f1.4 AF D
4.  55 mm micro Nikkor f2.8, in need of repair or replacement
5.  105 mm micro Nikkor f2.8 AF D
6.  200 mm micro Nikkor AIS
7.  70-200 mm Nikkor f2.8 AFS VRII
8.  600 mm Nikkor f4.0 AFS

Over the past month I have tested each of my camera bodies and every lens I own at each aperture. The camera bodies are performing well. All of my lenses tested OK with the exception of the 28-70 and my 55 mm macro lens. The 55 mm macro lens exhibited the same behavior as the 28-70.

Therefore my needs are:

1.  Replace the function of the 28-70 mm zoom lens
2.  Repair or replace the 55 mm macro lens

This is the only camera equipment needs I have for 2015.

Research Options & Alternatives

I want to have an option with Vibration Reduction in that range to cover shooting from the boats and I want to maintain at least the quality of the 28-70. The 28-70 would require a major repair by Nikon and would be a minimum of $600. In addition, it is likely the Focusing Motor will fail over the next several years and it will be at least another $600 to replace that. I don’t think it is a wise investment to repair the 28-70.

Unfortunately the Nikon 24-70, which replaced the 28-70, is not a VR lens. The best option in that range is the Nikkor 24-85 f3.5-4.5 VR. Reviews of the lens suggest it is an average performer, so I expected it would not be up to the quality of my 28-70. Nikon has recently added 24 mm and 35 mm prime lenses to their inventory. However, they are both large aperture, heavy and expensive lenses. Not meeting my budget and much larger and heavier than I would like. The only f2.8 mid range zoom lens with Image Stabilization available is the Tamron 24-70. I would prefer not to go to a third party lens. It is also preferable to use prime lenses to make panoramas, so I would prefer a solution that includes prime lenses rather than a zoom.

Based upon what I knew at this point I decided the best alternative would be to:

  1. Purchase a 24-85 for use on the boat where VR is valuable.
  2. To purchase the older 24 mm f2.8 and 35 mm f2.0 AF D prime lenses for use on the tripod.
  3. Try and repair the 55 micro myself and if I didn’t succeed I’d replace it with a good used lens.

Purchase and Repair

I was able to locate a refurbished 24-85 at half the price of a new lens. This really eased the pain of replacing the 28-70. I also purchased used 24 mm and 35 mm lenses in like new condition from KEH camera at greatly reduced prices. This fullfilled the requirement of replacing the 28-70.

The problem with the 55 micro was oil on the Aperture Blades. This is a well documented problem and I was able to find step by step repair information on the web for disassembling and repairing this lens. I was able to complete the repair in approximately 3 hours and the lenses is now functioning properly.

Test

Each of the new lenses was using a test chart inside and then tested outside photographing the front of the house. The prime lenses produced as expected at least as good images as the 28-70 had. The 24-85, again as expected, produced acceptable images. However, it does exhibit a significant amount of distortion throughout the zoom range and a significant amount of chromatic aberration. The VR is indeed effective in allowing sharp images at very slow shutter speeds and should improve the keeper rate for images shot from the boats.

 Test shot 24 - 85 mm lens at 24 mm f8

Test shot 24 - 85 mm lens at 24 mm f8

 Crop of the Above shot showing Chromatic Aberration

Crop of the Above shot showing Chromatic Aberration

 Same crop of the above image with Chromatic Aberration Corrected using Apple Aperture

Same crop of the above image with Chromatic Aberration Corrected using Apple Aperture

So the steps I took were:

1.  Set photographic goals for the year
2.  Take inventory or existing equipment and test to make sure everything is in proper working condition
3.  Research alternative solutions
4.  Purchase and / or repair
5.  Test