Tag Archives: Tamron

Sigma brings back the moiré

3 Feb

I believe I’ve written on this subject before. DPReview just exclusively announced the results of DxOMark testing of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 “Art” lens, announcing it to have achieved a perfect 36 “perceptual megapixels” on the Nikon D810’s 36 megapixel sensor. It therefore sort-of-ties with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 macro lens, which achieved 42 perceptual megapixels on a 42 megapixel sensor.

Discussion immediately broke out on whether the Zeiss Otus 85/1.4 or Nikon 105/1.4 provided nicer bokeh and whether this was, in fact, more important than sharpness. The Zeiss, in particular, is almost tied with the Sigma for sharpness, and like it excels in many other technically measurable characteristics. The Nikon may be half a step behind, and in fact has a focal length of 94.8mm vs. the Sigma’s 79.9mm, so is more comparable than it sounds at first.

But back to my original point, which is the following:


Excerpt from DPReview sample image no. 30, of the Sigma 85mm samples.

That’s right, moiré. It is a physical certainty that if the sensor has no anti-aliasing filter on it, and the lens outresolves the sensor, you will see moiré on certain subjects (you can find technical details of moiré and aliasing on the Wikipedia pages, moiré pattern and Nyquist frequency). Many manufacturers have dropped the anti-aliasing filter to squeeze more resolution out of their images and as a small cost-saving, or installed a second filter that cancels the first (slight cost increase). Wisely, Canon added the 5Ds without the R to their line-up, which cuts back on moiré much better than the 5Ds R.

In Nikonland, it seems the highest resolving lenses and highest resolving sensors do not make a good pair. That being so, should we buy high resolution cameras at all, and what other choices do we have? Both the Nikon D600 and D610 have weak AA filters (link in Polish) – a bad idea for a lower-resovling camera as the range of lenses that outresolve it will be greater.

Pentax now releases its cameras with an AA filter that works up to shutter speeds of 1/1000s – presumably adequate for most portrait work, and hopeful that anything you’ll want to shoot above that shutter speed will be moving so fast that aliasing is not likely.

In spite of this, Pentax remains, as of this writing, a stalwart of compact lenses that value bokeh over resolution – partly, perhaps, owing to the fact that some of its lenses have been available for quite some time.

It’s well known that Tamron and Pentax have been sitting in a tree lately, and so it is fitting that Tamron somewhat recently launched a line of f/1.8 primes – more compact than the competition’s f/1.4 standard. DxOMark allows comparing Tamron’s 85mm lens with Zeiss’ Otus and Milvus, for instance, and there’s hardly a hair between them. Most surprising perhaps is the performance of the Milvus at less than half the price of the Otus.

Incidentally, while the three aforementioned lenses max out the D800E’s sensor at 36 perceptual megapixels, Sony’s new Gold Master 85mm lens reaches no more than the same value – 36 P-Mpix on an AA-filterless 42 megapixel sensor.

It’s worth asking therefore whether the trend for the second half of this decade is going to continue with lenses increasing in size, resolving power, and price, as exemplified by the Art and Otus, or a reconsideration of traditional values.* If the former, I hope consumers will be asking for strong anti-aliasing filters, and that camera makers, in spite of mobile phone cameras nipping at their heels, will grant that gift.

*An opportunity, perhaps, for Chinese lens makers trying to push into the market.

Update 7 February 2017: For differences between the Art and Otus, check out Roger Cicala’s blog post.


APS-C vs. full frame – whither the future?

21 Feb

In a previous editorial, I suggested that Nikon had recently focused on full frame cameras, and this is true. Over the last 24 months, Nikon released a number of new models and substantial upgrades. The Nikon D600/610, Df, D750 and D810 were all aimed at what one might roughly describe as the enthusiast market, with the D810 and D750 also being serious considerations for the “professional”. (But see my previous editorial on the value of such classifications.)

The logic in this is sound: “Serious” cameras as a product category are under much less threat than those whose performance can be more easily approximated with a mobile phone camera. But is the market really going to see a long-term shift towards such models? Some indicators suggest this is true. Sony showed with its A7 series that full frame cameras no longer have to be substantially bigger than those from the film era. Furthermore, its cameras are also much more comparable in size to most APS-C models than was previously the case. However, the lesson is also being learned that the camera grip has substantially developed since the film era to give more control to the photographer, and that this improvement cannot be dropped by the wayside, meaning that a major determinant of the size of future cameras will be whether they try to adhere to the needs of the human hand, or those of the human shirt pocket.

However, many seasoned photographers will urge the newbie to invest in lenses, not camera bodies, and they are right. Lenses do not depreciate in value as quickly, and enhance the range of one’s abilities far more. Many general purpose photographers will end up with a number of lenses for various different purposes: the standard zoom, the telezoom, the wide angle or fisheye (or both), the macro, the portrait prime, the walkaround prime, etc. Often, the quality of the lens influences the quality of the final image far more than the quality of the camera does, especially when cameras are approaching the limits of physics as they have been doing recently.

Therefore, advances in lens technology improve our photography more than advances in camera bodies, and can currently be seen as predominant drivers of the industry. So which lenses have improved more, full frame ones or crop lenses? For me personally, some of the most exciting developments are happening in “cropped format” zoom lenses. I’ll pick on three examples. Just under two years ago, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens created a huge sensation for managing such a wide, constant aperture in a zoom lens, and at such a generally useful range of focal lengths. It is mostly very sharp with minimal chromatic aberrations, something of a Sigma specialty. The year after, Tamron announced its 16-300mm superzoom lens – with a zoom range that is unprecedented among APS-C lenses, and beats anything available for full frame by a very good mile. The image quality is said to be quite good considering this versatility. Then just recently, Samsung came out with its 16-50mm f/2-2.8 standard zoom – monstrously sharp in the centre, although corners suffer more than in other lenses. In all other respects, this lens keeps up flawlessly with the new 28 megapixel Samsung NX1 body – in itself a major, unprecedented breakthrough for superior image quality.

The APS-C format has been broadly adopted for new and successful camera systems such as the Sony E/NEX system, the Fujifilm X and the Samsung NX. Even Canon, with its so far unsuccessful EOS M system, has opted for a 1.5 crop factor rather than the 1.6 used in its Rebel DSLR line. So I think it’s fair to say that APS-C is a safe place to be, with a bright future.

Update 2/2/2017: You may also be interested in my recent piece, Craving full-frame? Read this first.

16mm is the new 18mm

1 Feb

Over the course of 2014, the kit lens landscape has changed significantly, with Samsung announcing not one but two new standard zooms, the 16-50mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 and its weightier sibling, the f/2 to f/2.8 with the same focal length range, both stabilised. Fujifilm also followed up its 16-50mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 from mid-2013 with a new f/2.8 variant at the same focal range just recently. Also during 2014, Tamron announced a 16-300mm superzoom lens for APS-C, at f/3.5 to f/6.3. Pentax has had a 16-50mm standard zoom at f/2.8 for many years, and in 2014 announced a new 16-85mm f/3.5 to f/5.6.

Man and Camel, Morrocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm. Promotional image by Tamron.

Man and Camel, Morocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm.

The most active on the 16mm front is probably Sony – they’ve carried a 16-80mm f/3.5 to f/4.5 since 2006, 16-105mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 from 2007 and 16-35mm f/2.8 from 2009 as well as the 2014-introduced 16-35mm f/4 in collaboration with Zeiss – all in A mount. In E mount, there’s the 16-50mm f/3.5 to f/5.6, and again in A mount the much weightier and stabilised 16-50mm f/2.8. But with four major manufacturers fully embracing 16mm as the new wide angle limit standard, 18mm zooms may become a hard sell.

Woman pauses near vendor display. Fes, Morocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm. Promotional image by Tamron.

Woman pauses near vendor display. Fes, Morocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm.

Meanwhile, Nikon’s 16-35mm and 16-85mm are a few years old now, and while Canon released a 16-35mm f/4 in 2014 (and has an f/2.8 variant from 2007), it feels like Nikon is not really on top of this story (seemingly betting most of its money on growth in full frame cameras), and Canon does not see going wider as a priority – perhaps sensible given its 7% narrower field of view in the APS-C segment (Canon’s APS-C crop factor, due to a smaller sensor size, is 1.6 vs. most other cameras’ 1.5).

One wonders whether 2013’s star new lens, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, feels a bit left out – undoubtedly a compromise in design the lens to achieve the f/1.8 constant aperture, but a similar compromise will now have to be made by the buyer where wide angle shots are concerned. Ultimately, you’ll never escape the desire, in some situations, to zoom with your feet.

Nikon and Olympus need to shorten duration of repairs

22 Sep

I’ll excerpt here a very interesting graph from lensrentals’ (LR) recent review of the lens repairs they needed from mid-2012 to mid-2013:

Lens repair times

Days taken for lens repair by manufacturer.

In the light of many saying that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is targeted at professional photographers currently using Nikon or Canon gear, it is noteworthy that said professionals, if they choose to go the Olympus route, are currently looking at long stretches of lost earnings if any of their Olympus lenses ever fail. In the Micro Four Thirds world, Panasonic lenses may be a better bet given this consideration – they’re usually back same time the following week. That said, Sigma, Tamron and Fuji are even faster, with Canon the best service provider. LR also presented data showing that Panasonic was the most affordable repair provider, followed by Sigma and Tamron.

The corollary for Nikon camera owners would be to go with Sigma and Tamron as much as possible, since these give fast and affordable repairs, where Nikon typically takes 24 days and has recently developed a history of poor customer relations. Sony, meanwhile, has the piglet-in-the-middle position in this listing – anything worse than Sony (Zeiss, Nikon, Olympus) should be avoided, while Sony itself might be bearable. That said, its products, such as the TX30 “waterproof” compact, don’t always have the best reputation in terms of needed repairs. The best brand is still the one that doesn’t break. In that category at least, Micro Four Thirds doesn’t seem to be doing too badly, with none of their lenses among the 19 most frequently broken ones. No data were presented for Pentax or Leica because these items are too rare in the inventory to produce any meaningful data.

Q: Who is the most collaborative camera manufacturer?

13 Sep

A: As of June this year, the answer would have to be Panasonic. They are working with Olympus on the Micro Four Thirds standard, with Leica on compact and bridge cameras, and now with Fujifilm on sensor technology. An honorable mention goes to Sony, who provide their sensors to a number of other companies, including Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus, but do not integrate others’ technology into their own products, with the exception of Zeiss lenses. Sony has also been allowing Hasselblad to rebadge some of its cameras as fashion accessories, in a move that many believe is ill-fated on Hasselblad’s part but carries little risk to Sony.

On the flip side, the title of least collaborative company may go to Canon, and there’s not much to say about that, really. Among other less collaborative companies, we find Samsung, Pentax, and Nikon. Samsung uses Schneider-Kreuznach lenses in some of its cameras, and has previously shared sensor technology with Pentax, prior to the latter’s move to Sony. Nikon has recently switched its sensor supplier from Sony to Toshiba, for the D7100. Pentax also apparently takes Tamron lens designs and rebadges them as its own.