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  Reviews by: dj dunzie  

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Nikon 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S VR

Review Date: Aug 8, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: IQ in a word... STUNNING AF performance Build Quality
Okay, it isn't cheap... is anything good?

I'll keep it simple. The image quality this lens produces is nothing short of brilliant in every respect. Images have an unbelievable level of sharpness, contrast, and color punch right from f2.8. The bokkeh this lens produces might be the highlight of its IQ, absolutely erasing background elements that would distract from your subject in some of the smoothest creamiest OOF you'd ever believe.

AF performance is lightning quick and locks on hard for tracking in a sports environment. Matched with a pro body, it really doesn't get better than this.

The lens is heavy for anyone who's never handled a serious long tele f2.8 prime, but it is hand-holdable if you have decent strength. Best results will obviously come on a mono or tri-pod. The VR system works well, although admittedly I spend most of my time with enough shutter speed to freeze action and the VR isn't a primary concern of mine.

If you have never experienced the IQ from a 200/300/400/500/600 Nikkor pro prime, you really haven't experienced the "wow" factor these lenses deliver, and I'd venture the 300 is as good as it gets.

The lens also delivers stunning f4.0 images with a Nikon TC-14E2 teleconverter, and AF performance is still blazing quick.

It isn't cheap, but if you count on your lens to get you the shot, there isn't one that delivers any better than this.

Nikon D300

Review Date: Jan 19, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,800.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Huge improvements in the areas the D200 needed improvement - true top-notch pro AF and phenominal high ISO results. A host of features and specs that make you have to question the very reasonable price tag.
I would have been happy with an 8MP or 10MP machine, but that's a nitpick at this point. Also would have been happy with an integrated grip, but I understand the benefit from a removable one.

I now have over 2500 shutter clicks in this, most of them at ISO1600+. Bottom line is this... the camera is built for a sports shooter who wants top AF performance and exceptional high ISO color saturation, detail, and noise control.

A D2H shooter prior to owning the D300, and previously a D200 owner, I tried to keep my expectations in check on this camera. The spec list and feature set sure looked impressive, but I was skeptical Nikon would be able to live up to the hype. They've not only done it, they've completely exceeded my expectations.

It's fast. D2H fast. 8FPS with the EN-EL4a's I use in my D2H. Autofocus is shockingly accurate. My keeper rate actually improved on my D2H's, and that's impressive.

Handling is very similar to the D200, with a better LCD (one of the first things you'll notice... phenominal), better depth of control, and a better overall build (including - finally - a top notch grip).

Some nice features... the lens fine-tune adjustment is the real deal. The built-in d-lighting is nice too for high contrast scenes. There's honestly a ton of nice tweaks and bonus features that only add to a very complete, very polished end product.

I never really disliked the D200, except for two things... an AF system that was clearly not Nikon's best and let the camera down, and less than ideal high ISO capabilities. The D300 not only addressed them, it set the bar higher than I expected it could. Kudos Nikon for seemingly getting things really right. Now my D2H is clearly a backup / spot starter, and it was a camera I didn't think I could say that about.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor

Review Date: May 31, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $350.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp... incredibly sharp. Easily my favorite portrait lens, with amazing bokkeh. Still sharp wide open. Terrific bargain. Reasonably light for use on a second body, where I love the focal range.
For my intended uses, none at all.

In some ways, I consider this lens in the same positive light as the 50mm f1.8. Surprisingly sharp and detailed results for a bargain price. While it's a little more money than the 50mm, it's also better built for that money. For portrait type work, I don't think there's a better lens I've tried. I love the 85mm range for close shots, and the image quality is outstanding, with phenominal bokkeh. It's also pretty sharp wide open, which is a nice advantage for low-light shooting. For the dollar, you can't go wrong with this lens. Nikon has a winner here... and the price makes it more than a worthwhile addition to your camera bag.

Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G AF-S DX

Review Date: May 31, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,350.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness; Image quality equally impressive from 17mm to 55mm; Vivid, punchy results; fantastic build quality; Incredibly useful focal range on DX.
Yeah, it's pricey... but the results are rewarding.

I can't figure out the weakness in this lens. I mean, all lenses have something. Either softer wide open, CA, light falloff, softer at one end than the other... something. This lens seems to be just about perfect. It's sharp... very sharp... almost to the point of a prime lens sharpness, and right from 17mm to 55mm. It's also very sharp wide open, which is the surprising thing to me. Images are punchy and bright and vivid and sharp. Bokkeh is amazing. Really, I can't fault the lens for the results at all.

I do have a couple minor "notes" though... the lens zoom is both very stiff and the way it zooms does take some getting used to. Bigger fingers may have to get used to the positioning of the zoom ring as well, since it's tucked tight to the body. Also, let's face it, it ain't cheap.

But if you want the lens in this range that will leave you NO excuses for image results, this is the one. There is no point in keeping your f2.8 shorter primes any more in my opinion... this one is that good. It's my number one short-range go-to lens now hands down. And after spending time with it I can honestly say I'm impressed every time I use it.

Nikon 24mm f/2.8D AF Nikkor

Review Date: Apr 2, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $250.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Very good performance for the dollar, lightweight and well built
Still not as sharp as the standard set by the ultra-cheap 50mm f1.8

I owned both a 20mm and a 28mm prime and used both for digital, and I can honestly say they both disappointed after having owned the 50mm f1.8. I found the CA / purple fringing unbearable on the 28mm, and the 20mm wasn't nearly up to the sharp, vivid results produced by the bargain-priced 50mm.

So with low expectations I bought this lens and despite other reports I read, found the performance to be at least in the same league as the 50, and the build a little heavier duty. Focussing was accurate and results were sharp - albeit still not quite as sharp as the 50mm. Still, after comparing the 28 and 20, this is the only one in the wider spectrum I found that made an acceptable mate with the 85mm and 50mm Nikkors for a good prime combo on digital.

Keep in mind this review is based on DX sensors only. The lens got a lot of use with the D70s and D200, and I used the lens a LOT. It's a near-perfect focal range for group shots and tighter settings, at least until the need for an ultra-wide arises. I have heard that the 20mm and 28mm lenses do perform much better on film bodies than DX sensors - I can only hope that's true.

So having bought the lens with lowered expectations, I can say I was happily surprised by the results this lens produces. I have since HAD to trade in the lens towards the 17-55mm f2.8 in order to help offset the cost. It's the one lens I could part with without losing some aspect of my kit, other than the 50mm which doesn't bring enough trade value to be worthwhile. Otherwise, I'd still be firing away happily with this lens.

Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM

Review Date: Oct 2, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $550.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: VALUE!!! Sharpness, surprisingly bright and punchy for its speed, build quality.
Terrible lens caps, some difficult distortion between 10-12mm.

I did not intend to buy this lens. I had ambitions on buying a wide prime (20mm) initially, and planned to "look" at the Nikon 12-24 and Tokina 12-24 based solely on reviews of those zooms. My understanding was that Sigma's QC meant huge sample variation in this lens in particular.

Having said that, I believe I have an exceptional copy of this lens. It is tack sharp and for an f4-5.6 lens is surprisingly bright and punchy. I found it sharper and brighter than the 12-24 Nikon I compared it to, which I believe speaks volumes to the top sample of this lens I have. Here's a link to some test shots I took prior to purchasing:

This is the ONLY non-Nikkor lens I own, as I have never been a believer in 3rd party quality. But this lens is solidly built and feels substantial, has decent and quiet AF speed, and produces wonderfully sharp images.

The negatives I have are in relation to distortion at the 10-12mm length. It is difficult to correct, but completely fine by 12-13mm. I can live with that. 10mm is extremely wide and so living with a little "odd" distortion should probably be expected. Other than that, the lens cap design leaves something to be desired, and it takes a little time to get used to the zoom ring.

But for value? Pffffttt... it's a no-brainer if you find a good copy as I did. It's less than half the price of the Nikkor (I paid about $550 US), is extremely sharp, comes with a lens hood and a good-quality bag, and is the best-built 3rd party lens I've used. It's part of Sigma's EX DC line, made for digital sensors and their top line. Test yours out before leaving the store, and do a little pixel peeping. Mine exhibits NONE of the edge fuzziness or light falloff others have observed.

If you're looking for an ultra-wide zoom that produces excellent images, is built well, and is a good deal at the price, I'd highly recommend looking for a top copy of this lens.

Nikon D200

Review Date: Sep 11, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Construction / build quality, image quality, control layout, viewfinder / LCD screen, feature set vs. cost, "pro feel", menus, compatibility with older Nikkors, vibrant results, quick AF.
Battery life, newly-rediscovered addiction to photography hurting family time.

Let me preface this review by stating that this camera is NOT my backup body or "second" camera as a pro photographer. This is an upgrade from a D70s and I am predominantly a hobbyist, although a very keen one, and have only very rarely been paid for my efforts. This camera is now my main body.

Having said that, after two days with the new D200, I couldn't be happier. I have played around shooting sports, landscapes, portraits, and just about everything in and around my home, and I am thrilled with the results. Not making money at it to offset my expenses, I can't afford to make a mistake in judgement, and thankfully, the D200 has impressed me in every way over the D70s.

First off, the controls and layouts are - once you get used to this camera - designed perhaps perfectly for me. I begin to question how I lived with the D70s for so long. The "crown" of controls on the left, the easy shooting mode selector, the brilliant menu navigation... it's perfect. I added the MB-D200 battery grip with my purchase and I'm glad I did. Simply put, this camera really does have a more "pro" feel than anything else in its price range. It feels solid, stable, and significant in your mitts. I couldn't picture going with a 30D or back to the D70s now.

The LCD and viewfinder are monumental improvements on the D70s, both in size, and in usefulness. The ability to zoom in more on your shots is fantastic. The menu system is very easy to go through, and on this LCD it just looks great.

The AF system is improved drastically over the D70s. It's quicker and more accurate and more varied in terms of zone options.

Other advantages for me include the ability to use older Nikkor and MF lenses, which opens up a whole new world of used lens buying fun (or agony if you look at your bank account often). And the 10.2MP jump IS important to me since I shoot a lot of sports and now have the ability to crop down a little without sacrificing my ability to blow up prints.

And finally, the resulting images have been VERY impressive to me. The colors seem more vivid, the contrast better, and of course with the higher resolution comes some advantage too. The D200 seems to pack a great image very easily into those 10.2 MP... I haven't played around with ISO settings above 1600 yet, but noise levels appear better at each level than on the D70s. Then again, I tend to do the vast majority of my shooting between 200-800. I feel I'm more likely to take advantage of the 100 setting as opposed to the steps beyond 1600.

Gripes? OK, I guess if I have to get finicky, I had to purchase a set of new batteries for this one, because my EN-EL3A's won't work. Similarly, my ML-L3 remote doesn't work with this D200, and the remote unit for this camera is very expensive comparatively. Battery life is much shorter (literally less than half of that on the D70s!), so you will DEFINITELY want a backup or two (or the MB-D200 grip which adds vertical controls). And suddenly a 1GB card isn't quite the monster I felt it was on my D70s with the smaller image files. Hand in hand with that, a 10.2MP file is slower loading and working with on the computer. However, these nitpicks are just that... nitpicks, on what is a truly incredible machine.

In summary, I think the D200 fits my needs and wants to a T. Sure, you might get a few more FPS on the D2XS, or slightly better high ISO noise control on the 30D. But for the money, in my books, there isn't a camera better suited to my uses in this price range, or one that competes with it bang-for-buck. As a mid-range body, the D200 definitely seems to lean more towards the pro end of the feature and performance spectrum than the novice in every way. Highly recommended to anyone considering the jump from a more entry-level body, Nikon or otherwise...

Nikon 18-70 f/3.5-4.5G AFS DX

Review Date: Sep 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: When purchased as a camera-lens KIT, this is a fantastic deal. Very decent general purpose lens.
Competition from other Nikkor lenses / combinations.

As a general-duty go-everywhere lens, you'll be hard pressed to find a better "kit" lens. When buying a new camera, Nikon is practically giving this lens away in kit form.

I took some 3000 photos with this lens in ignorant bliss, and it does a great job. It's fairly quick, has a decent range, and images are pretty darn sharp.

However, as a benchmark, I have now upgraded to the 18-200 VR, and while there is a noticeable jump in price, the new lens is better in every way I can see. I have compared images at different focal lengths, ISO settings, and apertures, and the 18-200 (compared without VR on) provides better detail at each. OK, it's close, but the new lens does a better job with contrasting and produces more vivd, vibrant shots, particularly in brighter scenes. Now add in vibration reduction, nearly three times the zoom range, near-equal size and weight, and the 18-200 dulls my enthusiasm slightly for this lens.

However, maybe it isn't fair comparing it to the latest Nikkor offering, especially if you adjust for price (when purchased as a kit lens), in which case - the 18-70 is as I said a terrific general purpose lens and a value that is hard to beat.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR

Review Date: Sep 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,900.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Very, very fast; VR is fantastic; Sharpness throughout range; Wonderful detail even for fast action; Build quality is phenominal.
Much pricier than the 80-200 lens.

OK, it's pricey for a zoom. But if you stop to consider that it's a MUCH newer piece than the old 80-200 design, and adds VR, I guess the price is actually fairly much in line.

With that out of the way, I upgraded from the 80-200 f2.8 D ED, and at first I have to admit I wasn't "blown away". Shooting indoors with mediocre lighting and fast action as a test, I didn't find the images any brighter or more vibrant. However, I soon learned that the lens is far more versatile than the old one, and honestly does allow for many more uses. Once I figured out how to get more out of this lens, my "keeper" rate has actually gone way up. Panning with this lens is fantastic, and the VR really is for REAL. Handheld, this lens far exceeds the 80-200, even with faster shutter speeds. The detail is phenominal, and I doubt you will find a faster AF lens anywhere. I have used the equivalent L series Canon (70-200 2.8 IS) for a brief demo, and despite the salesman's claims, I believe this lens focuses faster, both for single and continuous AF.

I may be in the minority on this, but the only minor gripe I have is that the front focus trim ring rotates (the actual front filter area does not) and having bigger "mitts" I sometimes had to remind myself to keep my left hand away from it. Never was an issue with my 80-200, but that's of course a very minor issue, and one I'm completely adjusted to now.

There are a couple other advantages over the 80-200, in that (1) I can couple it up with a TC-14E2 teleconverter and extend it's range and (2) the new tripod mounting piece is not only extremely TRICK but also removable, which is fantastic for hand-held shooting.

Anyone who has only used kit-type lenses and slower zooms will be blown away in every way by this fantastic lens.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor

Review Date: Sep 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $130.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Extremely sharp, good in low light, better built than I thought, unbeatable value.
No true rear cap, no hood, no case.

I have no idea how the most affordable lens I've seen on the market produces such wonderful images. This lens is becoming the one I switch to for anytime I want to pull out the sharpest details mid-range. It is outstanding as a very-affordable "portrait" lens, and bang for the buck? HA! Nothing compares to this.

I have shot side-by-side now with the 18-70 and 18-200 VR at the 50mm range and this one CONSISTENTLY pulls out slightly better details at that range all the way from f4.5 to f22 in comparing the resulting images. I know it's not a truly fair comparison going up against zooms, but for a $130 lens, why not?

Despite some reports that it's not so finely crafted, I'd put this lens up against anything remotely close to it's price range for build quality, and CERTAINLY better than comparable Tamrons and Sigmas I've used. Autofocus is surprisingly quick and quiet too. OK, so it doesn't come with the soft nylon carrying case, a lens hood or a proper screw-on rear cap. And it seems to be slightly notchier mounting it than my other Nikkors. Those are nitpicks in the grand scheme.

I have nothing but compliments for this fantastic little bargain at this time, and a great new arsenal in my kit. And even after paying for it, I had to smile. Uncanny value for the money.