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Richard Wong is an award winning professional photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine.

Nikon D4s review

Nikon has recently announced the Nikon D4s, an update to it’s 2 year old flagship professional DSLR Nikon D4. We have borrowed one from our friends at Nikon NZ and have been shooting day and night with it for the past week. So do we like it? Is it better than the original D4? Here are our thoughts and comments about this latest flagship camera from Nikon.

d4s_1

If you are reading this review,  chances are, you probably know quite a bit about the Nikon D4. But in case you were living in a cave for the last 2 years and know nothing about the D4, the Nikon D4 was released in Jan 2012, replacing the highly successful D3s. The D4 basically followed the same formula as it’s predecessor, a full size, high speed professional DSLR with tank like build quality. It has a full frame (FX) 16MP sensor and has amazing high ISO performance. It was also the first Nikon flagship camera to have full HD video recording capability (D3s can only do 720p). Now two years later, here comes the D4s, an updated version with improvements in many areas. Here is a summary of some of the changes:

- New image sensor, maximum ISO increased to 409600
- EXPEED 4 processor with more processing power
- Improved autofocus and new group AF mode
- Maximum burst speed of 11fps with continuous autofocus
- 1080p 60 video recording
- Spot white balance
- Small RAW image output option
- Bigger battery

There are many other changes as well, for example, the ethernet port speed is now increased to 1000Mbps and there are some improvements to the time lapse feature but to be honest we didn’t have enough time to go through every single improvement during our review period. So, we’ll focus on some of the main changes and also the general performance and feel of the D4s in this review.

“The whole camera feel very solid, very tough and build quality is simply excellent.”

Just like its predecessor, the new Nikon D4s is a full size professional DSLR. This flagship camera has a magnesium alloy frame and everything else is made of heavy duty material. The whole camera feel very solid, very tough and build quality is simply excellent.

Overall the body design is mostly the same as the D4 but there are a few minor improvements in the ergonomic design. For example, the 2 joystick at the back feel slightly better. The main grip has been redesigned and should fit and feel better when you held it in your hands. Because of that, your hands just wouldn’t feel tired easily when holding the D4s for long period, even with a heavy lens attached. In comparison, the secondary/portrait grip is a bit smaller. It still not bad but just not as good as the fantastic primary grip. All the controls and buttons are logically placed and you should be able to adjust pretty much all the common settings easily and very quickly. Overall D4s’s ergonomics is just fantastic and there isn’t much you can complain. This is very important as thousands of reporters, photojournalists, sports photographers around the world will be using their D4s as their main work camera everyday and a friction of second delay could be enough to cost them a priceless photo opportunity.

d4s_2D4s’s ergonomics is just fantastic

 

“I found myself keep wanting to take a few more photos so i can listen to that wonderful shutter sound”

The D4s has a very crisp and beautiful shutter sound. It may sound like a trivial thing but just like how a sports car’s engine sound can make or break the ultimate driving experience, the shutter sound is big enough to affect how I feel about a camera. When reviewing this camera, I found myself keep wanting to take a few more photos so i can listen to that wonderful shutter sound. Oh the camera sounds like a machine gun too when firing at the maximum frame rate.

As a professional camera, the D4s has full weather seal to protect it from bad weather conditions. While I have not really tested the D4s under heavy rain, I’ve previously used my D700, D800 when it was pouring under many occasions with absolutely no problem at all. So I can only imagine D4s can handle bad weather even better. Just remember to use it with a weather sealed lens as well.

Following the Nikon tradition, this updated “s” model’s image sensor output resolution remains identical to the original D4 at 16MP. But it is of a new design, and combined with the new and more powerful EXPEED4 processor, it allows the camera is output cleaner images and have better high ISO performance. As a result, the maximum ISO has been increased one stop to astounding 409600! Yes it’s almost half a million ISO. At low ISO, the image quality is very similar to the D4 as it was just very clean, with nice colors and dynamic range already. But as we increase the ISO, then we notice how good the D4s’s high ISO performance really is, especially the JPGs straight out of camera.

d4s_sample_13When shooting with a D4s, you very rarely need to worry about if the scene is too dark. Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/160s ISO 2200

 

“ISO25600 is the new ISO800!”

It was not too long ago when I was shooting with a D200, I’ve to limit the ISO to 800 or below to get decent image quality. With the D4s, anything shot in four digit ISO range are just great. And ISO25600 is the new ISO800! Yes ISO25600 maybe a bit noisy, but the colour, contrast all both remain at very acceptable level! In fact, photos taken at pretty much any 5 digit ISO range still look alright after a bit of noise reduction. Once you entered the six digit ISO range (i.e. ISO102400+) then the image quality start to drop very quickly. Having said that, I have a few photos shot at six digit ISO that is still usable. Not great, but still usable.
So while you may not need to take photo at ultra high ISO all the time, with a base ISO at ISO100, the D4s has over 10 stops of usable ISO range (ISO100 – ISO51200+). This extreme wide ISO range opens up a lot of possibility and flexibility. It also allows photographers to take photos at place/time that was simply impossible before. For example, you can now shoot with a smallish aperture (so the DOF isn’t too shallow) under light low without any camera flash.

d4s_4So, you tell me, who is the Dark Lord?

The 51 point Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus system is based on D3’s 51 point autofocus system and many other high end Nikon DSLRs. Nikon has improved it when they release the D4 and now with the D4s and the more powerful EXPEED4 processor, Nikon has refined the AF system again to improve the accuracy and speed. This autofocus system has being well tried, tested and proven to be very reliable and the latest version works great on the D4s. When shooting in AF-S mode, it is more snappy and gives you a higher accuracy especially when shoot with fast prime lenses at maximum aperture. It works very well under low light too just like the D4. But what seems to be most improved is when I was shooting In AF-C mode, the continuous focus just reacts faster, has less chance of tracking the wrong target and the overall successful rate is just noticeably better. I’ve spent quite a lot of time testing the AF-C performance and I was more than impressed when I review the photos on my computer. As long as you can tell the camera what exactly you want to focus when you start, the camera would do a pretty good job in following your target. There is also a new group AF mode, which basically uses your selected AF point plus four surrounds it. This new mode is quite useful when you want to track some small or unpredictable objects.

d4s_sample_02

The autofocus tracking works very well even under challenging conditions. Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – AF-C 3D Tracking – f/2.0 1/1600s ISO 100

The 91k pixel RGB metering system is basically the same as the D4. I noticed there is a new option in the settings menu that allows user to specify whether he wants to prioritise the exposure using the detected face or not.

Another pretty handy new feature is spot white balance. Unlike the normal custom white balance feature which tries to measure white balance from the whole frame , the new spot white balance allows users to manually measure white balance from a very small white or gray portion of the frame in liveview mode. It makes manual white balance measurement a lot easier as you don’t need a large white/grey object anymore.

“…following object when shooting at 11fps is actually pretty easy.”

D4s’s burst speed has been increased to 11fps with continuous autofocus. When shooting in burst mode, there is usually quite a long blackout time (i.e. time when the viewfinder is completely black) between shots and that makes it really hard to pan your camera correctly. But with the D4s,  I was quite impressed that the blackout time seems to be minimal and following object when shooting at 11fps is actually pretty easy. And yes continuous focus works very well even when shooting at maximum speed.
The camera’s 200 full size JPG image buffer means there is enough buffer to capture a 100M sprint race from start to end and a few more seconds to spare.

The original D4 has two memory slots, one is a XQD and one is a CF. XQD is the new card format and it is supposed to be the new format for professional users replacing the CF cards. The D4s uses the same XQD + CF dual slots configuration so its a good news for existing D4 users and also photographers upgrading from the older cameras such as D3s. My only concern is that it’s already 2 years since the D4 release and there still isn’t another DSLR that uses XQD cards. (the only other device that uses XQD is the Sony PXW-Z100 video camera) Hopefully there will be more cameras with XQD support soon.

You can now save a small RAW file with the D4s. While all Nikon DSLR allows you to output to small JPGs, the D4s is the first Nikon to have a small RAW feature. The small RAW file is half the width and half the height of the full size image is the size is approximately 4MP (in 3:2 FX mode anyway). While I am not too sure what kind of user would benefit most from this new small RAW format, it’s always good to have more options and it appears the small RAW also improves the high ISO output file as well (compare to downsizing the full size image yourself). Hopefully the rumoured D800s will have a 9MP small RAW output option as well?

d4s_3I AM D4s

Battery life is never a problem with any DSLRs especially Nikon professional DSLRs. Having said that, Nikon paired the D4s with a new bigger EN-EL18a battery. This new battery has 25% more capacity than D4s EN-EL18. During the whole review period I’ve only recharged the battery and I’ve took a lot of photos, a few videos and spent a lot of time going through the menu, trying out different settings and reviewing a lot of photos.  And before someone says not another new battery again, the EN-EL18a is compatible with the original EN-EL18.

Nikon has also made a few improvements to D4s’s video features. The camera can now capture 1080p video at 60/50fps. You can get the camera to record to internal card and output to external uncompressed HDMI output simultaneously. You can also select the audio range and level for your video recording. However there is still no zebra/focus peaking display on the LCD screen.  Unfortunately due to time constraint, we’ve only briefly use the video feature.

 

Summary

The original D4 is an amazing camera, it’s image quality, autofocus system,  metering, handling, build quality..etc are  all pretty flawless even when judged by today’s standard.  And now the D4s brings a lot of improvements over the original model.  Better image quality, faster, better autofocus, better ergonomics, better video, a lot of better.  While none of them are really revolutionary, together they make the D4s a much better and even more mature camera.  It raise the bar of what a flagship camera should be like.

So should you upgrade to D4s? This is always a tricky question to answer. If you are a D3/D3s user, I guess my answer would be yes. The improvement in the autofocus system and the better overall image quality are two reasons big enough for you to upgrade. If you are a D4 user, now this becomes harder, the D4s is a better camera, there is no doubt about it. But fundamentally they are still the same camera, just one does pretty much everything better. So if you need or want absolutely the best camera, upgrade it. If not, you really need to see how many improvements would benefit you and work out the cost vs benefit yourself.

In our Df review (http://www.nikonjin.com/2013/12/nikon-df-review/), we said if Df was a car, it would be a classic sports car re-released with a modern engine. So what about the D4s?
If D4s was a car, even though it has virtually the same engine (image sensor) as the Df, it would be a completely different kind of car. The D4s would be a latest 4WD turbo racing car that comes with every latest technology you can think of. It’s super fast, it’s super reliable and it’ll help you release all your potential!

Nobody would be disappointed by it’s performance as it’s really the ultimate choice.

 

Pros

  • Amazing high ISO performance
  • Excellent autofocus system
  • Tough as tank build quality
  • 11fps burst rate baby!!
  • Excellent Ergonomics
  • That shutter sound!

 

Cons

  • Weight and size (but it’s a nature of full size professional camera)
  • I have to return it after the review

 

Sample Photos
All photos RAW -> JPG using Adobe Lightroom 5.2, edited to taste.

d4s_sample_01Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2.0 1/800s ISO 100

 

d4s_sample_08Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G – f/4 1/50s ISO 2000

 

d4s_sample_05Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR – f/2.8 1/2500s ISO 400

 

d4s_sample_07Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/5 1/320s ISO 91228

 

d4s_sample_09Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR – f/2.8 1/8000s ISO 400

 

d4s_sample_10Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR – f/5 1/5000s ISO 800

 

d4s_sample_03Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2.0 1/5000s ISO 100

 

d4s_sample_04Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2.2 1/640s ISO 100

 

d4s_sample_06Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/320s ISO 2200

 

d4s_sample_12Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/200s ISO 720

d4s_sample_11Nikon D4s + Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G – f/2 1/250s ISO 100

d4s_sample_14

 

Nikon D4s + Nikon AF 135mm f/2D DC – f/2 1/250s ISO 2000

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

Making of the welder Lego photo

If you follow my facebook page, you probably know one of the little project I work on is photos of various Lego minifigures.

I posted up a welder Lego photo about a week ago, and asked if anyone would be interested to see how I created the photo. Some of you said yes, so here is the article to show you how that photo was created.

Just like taking almost any picture, first thing I need is always an idea, a story, a picture in my head, and this is especially true for my Lego pictures. The idea could come from anywhere. Sometime I got an idea from a movie, a book, or someone else’s photo. This time, I found this interesting looking computer parts from a pile of old computer equipment. I don’t really know what it is but guessing it’s from an old Mac server as the memory modules on it have some big heatsink attached. A picture of a robot Lego inside a factory suddenly appeared on my head. That evening I got a bit of free time so I decided to try create the photo that was in my head since the morning.

lego_welder_02

Don’t really know what exactly it is, but it doesn’t really matter anyway

My original idea was to use a robot Lego but I quickly changed my mind when I saw this welder Lego in my minifigure collection. I just felt the welder would suit the photo more. Now I got an idea, a Lego and the prop, the hardest part of creating this photo is solved.

lego_welder_01Okay Mr Robot, I promise you’ll have your turn next time!

 

The next step is to figure out what’s the best way to put everything together to create a visually interesting photo. Normally I would already have a photo in my head and I’ll start with it. Sometimes it would work and I can move to the next step straightaway.

lego_welder_03This is the photo I had in my head, but  once I took a test photo I found that it doesn’t really work

But this time, the photo that was in my head (the Lego standing on the motherboard, in front of the RAM slot) doesn’t really work, so I tried a few other composition, about 15 minutes later and tried a dozen of different camera angle and setup, I finally got something I’m happy with.

lego_welder_04

A bit better, but nah, still doesn’t really like it

lego_welder_05After trying a number of different setup, I was finally happy with this composition.

 Now I found the composition I want, I put the camera on a tripod and fixed the camera angle. The next step is to figure out how to light the scene.

Lighting is very important in my Lego photos and usually I want complete control of how the scene is lit. I turn the camera into full manual mode, and adjust the settings shutter speed/ISO/aperture to kill all the ambient light.

lego_welder_06With the photo virtually black, I can then decide how to light up the scene myself.

I want the background to have some kind of mystery red glow, maybe it’s a military factory that makes secret weapons? Or maybe it’s a submarine’s engine room? Anyway I put a speedlight with a red colour gel to the camra right pointing towards the scene. I did a few test shots and then decided to add a little softbox to soften up the red light a little bit. This is what I got.

lego_welder_07 Next I added another speedlight directly above my scene. I want it to look like there are some overhead spotlights so I use no colour gel or any modifier this time.

lego_welder_08This is how the picture looked like with with the 2nd light added.

With two speedlights added, the picture was starting to take shape. But I thought it was still missing something. I wanted to add a bit more mystery atmosphere to the photo therefore I added a 3rd speedlight to the camera left with a blue colour gel.

lego_welder_09

With the three speedlights lighting up the scene from different angle. I got roughly what I want, but there were still lots of thing can be improved. For example, when I first started, I’ve removed the RAM from the 2nd RAM slot as I thought it would make the RAM the Lego welder standing on look like a deck or something. but I found the missing RAM at the bottom of the picture made the composition slightly unbalance so I added the RAM back to the 2nd slot

lego_welder_10

 

Oh yeah the circuit board is sitting on my Tamron macro lens’s lens hood

I also felt the lighting could be better so I spent another 15 minutes adjusting the speedlights and the photo below shows you how the final setup looked like.

lego_welder_13

I also played with various aperture setting, in the end I picked f/5 so the computer circuit board is slightly out of focus and you can’t tell easily that the background is just a normal electronic circuit board.  This is the photo I got in the end.

lego_welder_11

Nikon D800 + Tamron 90mm Macro Lens – ISO100 1/250s f/5

3 remote speedlights: 2 X Nikon SB900 + 1 x Nikon SB600  controlled by Phottix Odin triggers.

I then loaded the photo into Adobe Lightroom and this is the final photo I got after post-processing.

lego_welder_12

While every photo is different and may require different techniques or tools, the process of creating the photo is fundamentally the same. You started with an idea,  then build up your scene one step at a time until you get exactly what you want. Sometimes things didn’t work out straightaway and I might have to go back to the drawing board and re-think from the start. But as long as you keep trying and try to understand what is missing and what is not working, you’ll get the photo you want eventually. I hope this article can give you a bit of inspiration on how to create some interesting photos. And If you have any questions re this, feel free to contact me on my facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Kodak Professional Gold Award 2013 – 2 Gold Awards

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve recently received 2 Gold Awards from the 2013 Kodak Professional Gold Award. Kodak Professional Gold Award is a competition open to all professional wedding and portrait photographers and I am extremely honored to receive 2 gold awards this year.

Below are my two award winning images. Both of them are from Lilly and Steve’s wedding. You can find more photos from their wedding at the Riverhead here.

kodakgoldaward2013-1

kodakgoldaward2013-2

Nikon Df Review

NikonDf-1

“Taking photos with the latest cameras is a bit like driving a modern sports car with semi-automatic gearbox, launch control, traction control and all those computer assisted technology.”

We are now living in the insta-photography age. People want to take photos instantly and with minimal efforts and modern cameras heavily depend on electronic automation. Taking photos with the latest cameras is a bit like driving a modern sports car with semi-automatic gearbox, launch control, traction control and all those computer assisted technology. It’s fast and it’s very easy, but it does not necessarily give you the most rewarding experience. If you are a driver who enjoy driving rather than just getting to the finish line in shortest time, you may feel like you lost a lot of fun with all those modern technology and design, compare to the oldies where everything is very simple and manual .

If you feel the same, you will probably be interested in the Nikon Df.

NikonDf-3

The Df kit comes with a special edition 50mm f/1.8G lens

The Df is Nikon’s latest full frame DSLR. It’s quite an usual camera and Nikon uses “Pure Photography” as the slogan for the camera. This is the company’s first DSLR that doesn’t follow the usual D then some number naming convention (e.g. D90, D800, D4) as it’s doesn’t belong to any of the normal Nikon  DSLR lines.

The Df is a fusion of modern technology and old style and control. The retro styled body resembles the F2 and F3 series SLR cameras from 1970s and 1980s.  Internally it shares some of the latest technology from the latest Nikon DSLRs. Nikon told us the Df is their smallest full frame DSLR. However, it’s more angular design makes it look bigger than it’s actual size. When I first saw the camera. I put a D800 next to it immediately to compare the size as I thought the Df looks slightly bigger than a D800. Of course Nikon didn’t lie and the Df is the smaller camera.

The camera comes in two colours,  silver or black. Silver one pays homage to Nikon ‘s traditional film SLR camera and is probably the signature colour for the Df  But personally I prefer the black one’s understated look and the black finish seems to have a slightly better feel than the silver Df.

Choosing the right setting and rotating the dials between each shot give you that wonderful feeling that is long lost in this DSLR age”

At the top of the camera, there are separate metal mechanical dials for setting the shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO. The design and nature of the dials mean you will never be able to change the settings as fast as a normal DSLR. You have to slow down and think. Choosing the right setting by rotating those beautiful dials give you that wonderful feeling that is long lost in this modern DSLR age. You feel like you are the one that is controlling the camera.

NikonDf-2

NikonDf-4

The mechanical dials are beautiful

If you really really want, you can configure the camera so it can be used like a normal DSLR and shoot without using those dials at the top. But why would anyone buy a Df and not use those attractive dials?

“when Nikon was designing the DF, they have to sacrifice ergonomic for that retro style look and control”

Camera manufacturers have spent a lot of time and effort on body design and all modern cameras have excellent ergonomic design. Pretty much any DSLR would fit into your hands nicely and all those multi-purpose controls are designed to allow you to change settings as quick as possible. Unfortunately what it means is, Nikon have to sacrifice ergonomic for that retro style look and control when they were designing the Df. For example, Df’s main grip, like the old film SLR, is quite small. This makes holding the Df not as comfortable as holding a modern design DSLR with full sized grip.  My hand would be really sore if I have to shoot a full day wedding using a Df. But for more causal use (which is what Df is designed for), it’s not too bad.

The top LCD screen is pretty small and simple. It only display the most important information such as the remaining photos and battery life.  There is no AF point, no output format, no WB info. To illuminate the LCD top screen, you have to press that little button next to it, just like a lot of the SLR cameras back in 1990s. Just one of those little nostalgic touch by Nikon.

While the front and top of the Df have the retro design, the back of the camera looks just like a D610 with it’s large LCD screen, directional pad and array of buttons. It means any existing Nikon DSLR users would feel right at home, but personally I would love to see a more retro and simplified design at the back, to give the whole camera a more consistent look and feel.
NikonDf-5

Apart from the silver colour, the back of the Df looks very similar to the “normal” Nikon DSLRs 

Df’s retro theme doesn’t stop at it’s body style and controls, Nikon has included a retractable AI coupling tab which means the camera can accept the old pre-Ai Nikkor lenses (pre-1977) as well as the modern age Nikkor lenses. The older Nikkor lenses is perfect match to Df’s retro body style!

NikonDf-6

 The Df looks the best when paired with an older Nikkor lens

 

“it make perfect sense the Df uses D4′s 16MP sensor”

The Df shares the same full frame sensor and EXPEED 3 processor as the flagship camera D4.  As mentioned earlier, Df supports all the older Nikkor lenses even the pre-Ai one. I imagine a lot of users will be using the camera with those old lenses which has lower optical quality, no VR and maybe  manual focus.  So it make perfect sense the Df uses D4′s 16MP sensor as it would not reveal every single tiny artifact in your photo as clearly as a high resolution sensor would do .

D4 is famous for it’s high ISO performance, and Nikon might have made some more improvement to the sensor/processing when they were designing the Df as DxOMark reports Df’s high ISO performance is even better than D4. The Df is the best high ISO performance camera they have ever tested. During the review, I spent a lot of time trying out the camera’s high ISO performance, anything under ISO 6400 is not even testing the camera’s high ISO capability. When we go into 5 digits ISO region, then we start to see some noticeable image degradation. At ISO 12800 the picture quality is still pretty good and ISO 25600 (Hi 1) is what I would normally go up to to maintain reasonably good picture quality. Having said that, I would not hesitate to push to ISO 51200 (Hi 2) or even 102400 (Hi 3) if I really want to get a photo in a dark place. Photos took at those crazy ultra high ISO are noisy with poor colour and contrast, but with a bit of post processing, they are still perfectly usable for web or even small prints.

NikonDfSample-11

Photo of my daughter taken at Hi3 ISO setting, yes that is ISO 102400!

One controversial feature, or missing feature with the Df is the lack of video recording. You cannot take any video at all with the Df. Why take away a big feature that won’t cost much to implement? Maybe it’s to match Nikon’s pure photography theme? Maybe it’s to help clean up the camera design a bit? Or maybe Nikon knows whoever buying a Df should at least have one or two camera that can take video?

The camera has the same 39 point AF system as the D600/610. While I would love to have the same 51 point AF system from D4 (who wouldn’t?), in real life I found the 39 point AF system more than enough for the type of photos people would take with the Df. I mean, no one would buy a Df to shoot a basketball game or formula 1 racing right? So apart from the fact that all the 39 AF points are located quite close to the center of the frame, there isn’t much to complain about this AF system. It’s pretty fast and reliable.

NikonDfSample-2

The 39 point AF point is pretty fast and accurate

“With great power, comes great responsibility”.

Although the camera doesn’t have any AF assist lamp, the AF works reasonably well under low light without any external assistant. But  “With great power, comes great responsibility”. With the camera’s amazing low light performance, there were quite a few times when I was in almost pitch black places, I knew I can still get some decent shots by crank the ISO to six digit region, unfortunately the AF system just can’t see it’s target and failed to focus. To be fair, I can’t really blame the AF system as it was really really dark and no human made DSLR can autofocus when it’s so dark. But it just highlights the fact that the latest full frame sensor’s low light performance is so good that the autofocus system just can’t keep up. Camera manufacturers really need to improve autofocus system’s low light performance significantly to fully utilise the sensor’s amazing low light performance. Maybe Nikon’s R&D is already working on some new hybrid active/passive AF technology that works in absolute darkness?

NikonDfSample-7

Df shooting dance under low light – ISO 51200 f/2.5 1/500s

Yes Df’s autofocus has it’s weakness and limitations, but as long as you understand what they are and work around with it, you can get pretty good results from it. What actually disappointed me is the absence of split prism focusing screen for manual focus lens user. While there are still the usual green dot/arrows in the viewfinder can guide you to get the focus correct, they are not the most accurate nor fastest manual focusing tool. One of the biggest selling point of the Df is that it accepts the pre-AI manual focus lenses. So a lack of dedicated manual focus aid really surprised me and is my biggest disappointment about this camera. 

I was a bit annoyed that the Df comes with the EN-EL14 battery that is normally used in the small DX DSLRs, not the larger EN-EL15 that comes with the D610 or D800. But when I opened Df’s battery door,  I can see why the reason. Df’s small grip design means there simply isn’t any space for a larger battery. Fortunately Df’s battery life isn’t too bad at all. With a single charge, I can easily take a few hundred photos including reviewing the photos, playing with liveview quite a bit, and also play with different settings in between the shots, that is very similar to what I can get with the D800 and the EN-EL15 under similar usage pattern.

NikonDf-7

Behind the battery door is the EN-EL14 battery

Some critics complain about Df’s price and say it is an overpriced camera.  Is it really an overpriced camera?

Df is an expensive camera, it is a premium consumer DSLR camera, there’s no doubt about it. But is it overpriced?

Internally, the camera shares the same sensor and processor as the flagship camera D4 and both camera can output identical quality photos. While Df is missing some of the features such as video recording, D4′s tank-like build quality, dual card slot (but you get the more common SD card slot on the Df)  and super fast frame rate, in return you get that special retro style design and controls, pre-AI lenses support and also a 50% discount compare to the D4.  So is the Df really an overpriced camera? I wish the camera could be a bit cheaper so it would be a bit easier for me to convince my wife that this is the last camera I need in my camera cabinet. But no I don’t really think it’s an overpriced camera, just the ability to capture usable photos at five to six digit ISO range alone pretty much worth the Df price tag in my opinion.

“If the Df was a car, it would be a classic sports car re-released with the latest engine upgrade”

After using the camera pretty much everyday for 2 weeks, it becomes really clear what the Df really is.

If you are a amateur who want a good, easy to use  full frame camera, or if you are a professional photographer wanting a camera you can use whole day non stop, the D610 or D800 (or the D4) would be the safer choice.  And they would most likely be disappointed if they buy a Df, because the Df  simply is not targeting  most ordnary users. The Df is designed for a very niche market, the DF is designed for a very special group of photographers.

The Df is for photographer who doesn’t just love taking beautiful photos, but also enjoy the whole process of capturing a photo. Photographer who would take his time when taking photo. Photographer who would pause, think, then click the shutter button and enjoy every second of it.

If the Df was a car, it would be a classic sports car re-released with the latest engine upgrade. It still has all those old quirky design that you either love or hate. For most people, driving a modern sports car would be be faster, easier and probably make more sense.  But if you love that classic look, feel and raw control, this reborned classic is definitely one of the most exciting camera release this year.

While Df is designed for a niche market, it is a very important product for Nikon. If Df becomes successful (which I think it will be, judging by the number of people I know that have ordered one already), then we will probably see a Df2 or similar products in the future. It will also be  a green light for Nikon to create more cameras outside their normal product lines.

Dear Nikon, if you are really designing the Df2, please consider take this pure photography concept one step further and create us a pure manual camera.  I don’t mind if the FPS is lower, the camera doesn’t have live-view, HDMI output, postprocessing filters, face detection, weather seal, wifi connection..etc.  Remove the optional modern control completely and give us a camera for a small group of photographers who wants that basic manual mechanical control and feel, something like a FM2 with an electronic sensor would be pretty amazing. :)

 

Pros

  • Amazing picture quality
  • Unbelievable ultra high ISO performance
  • Retro style design and control
  • Good battery life despite the small battery

 

Cons

  • No proper manual focusing aids
  • Design of the rear of the camera is not consistent with the rest of the camera

 

Sample Photos  

 (All photos RAW -> JPG using Lightroom edited to taste)

NikonDfSample-1Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G   f/1.8 1/320s ISO 50

 

NikonDfSample-5Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/3.2 1/100s ISO2500

 

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 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G    f/1.8 1/250s ISO100
 

NikonDfSample-8Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/2.8 1/125s ISO 6400
 

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Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G   f/1.8 1/250s ISO100
 

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Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/2 1/125s ISO100
 

NikonDfSample-9 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/1.8 1/320s ISO 2500

NikonDfSample-4 Nikon Df + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.8G  f/2.8 1/4000s ISO 100

 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for the D-Photo magazine. (www.dphoto.co.nz)

 

All photos and text Copyright© 2014 www.nikonjin.com. All photos and text may not be copied or reproduced in any format without obtaining written permissions

 

 

Lilly and Steve at the Riverhead – 2013 Kodak Professioal Gold Award winning photos

I’ve known Steve for many many years so when he told me he’s getting married and asked me to be his wedding photographer, I was so happy and was really excited about it!
Only minutes later when I checked my calender, then I noticed I already got another wedding booked on that exact same date. I felt really quite bad when I told Steve I won’t be available that day.
A few days later, Steve and Lilly came back and said they are considering to move their wedding date so I could be their wedding photographer. I felt very honoured but at the same time quite guilty but anyway that’s how I still end up being their wedding photographer.
Steve and Lilly picked the Riverhead as their wedding venue. For those of you not familar with the place, the 153 years old tavern is New Zealand’s oldest riverside tavern at west Auckland. A beautiful place with lots of history. The weather wasn’t the best in the morning when we arrived Steve’s place, it was raining and the sky was grey. Luckily the weather god seems to have noticed that and the weather changed from bad to good within an hour or so. By the time we arrived the Riverhead there was a beautiful blue sky waiting for us. Both the ceremony and reception took place at the Boat House there and we headed out for a few photos nearby in between. With the families and friends there celebrating this great day together, there were so much laugh and happy tears! I’ve selected some of my favourite photos from that day and hope you like them as much as I do.
Oh, two of the photos from this wedding have won me Gold Awards from the 2013 Kodak Professional Gold Award. Do you know which photos are they? (I’ll announce it in my next blog post) lillysteve-01 lillysteve-02 lillysteve-03 lillysteve-04 lillysteve-05 lillysteve-06 lillysteve-07 lillysteve-08 lillysteve-09 lillysteve-10 lillysteve-11 lillysteve-12 lillysteve-13 lillysteve-14 lillysteve-15 lillysteve-16 lillysteve-17 lillysteve-18 lillysteve-19 lillysteve-20 lillysteve-21 lillysteve-22

Panasonic GX7 Review

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Panasonic released the Lumix GF-1 back in 2009, it was their first compact style micro four thirds camera, which soon became a very popular camera among enthusiast and even I bought one myself. With the 20mm f/1.7 it is only slightly bigger than some of the compact cameras but with much better picture quality! Since then Panasonic has released probably a dozen or so micro four thirds cameras, with better sensor, better technology, but in many people’s heart, none of them really can really replace the GF-1′s status.
Panasonic has just released the Lumix GX7,the second camera is the newer GX series, so is it finally a camera a lot of GF-1 owners would probably want to upgrade to?

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(Photos taken at the New Zealand GX7 launch event)

The GX7 is a little bit bigger and heavier than it’s predecessor GX1. When I first saw the GX7, it reminds me a lot of the Panasonic L1, their first Four Thirds camera. It has a very nice looking and classic body shape. I really like the two tone silver and black colour scheme. Picking up the camera, GX7’s solid build quality (metal body inside) and decent rubber grip gives you a very nice feel.

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The image quality from it’s new 16MP sensor is very good. The colours, dynamic range are both impressive. The high ISO image quality is equally as good. I shot a lot of photos at ISO1600+ and they are more than useable. I did not do any direct comparison with the Olympus OMD EM-5 or the EP-5 but I expect them to be very similar, especially for RAW shooters. The latest micro four third camera sensors are really so good if you look at the photos, it’s hard to tell if they are from a micro four thirds or a APS-C sized sensor camera!

The JPG image straight out of the camera looks quite pleasant too, an improvement over Panasonic’s previous efforts for sure.

The review unit I got came with the Panasonic 14-42mm zoom lens. While it’s a pretty decent kit lens, you definitely need a high quality lens to unlock the full potential of the camera. I’m talking about lenses like the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 or the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Olympus 75mm f/1.8. You can definitely capture some stunning photos with one of those high quality lenses attached to the GX7.

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One feature a lot of GF1 or GX1 users wanted is a built-in EVF. Finally Panasonic has added a high resolution (2,760k dots) EVF to the GX7. The EVF is big and covers 100% Adobe RGB range. The EVF extend slightly so there is less chance your nose touching the camera when you are shooting with the EVF. Another good thing with this EVF is that you can tilt it up by 90 degrees and this makes it a lot easier when you are shooting in some tricky camera angle. I’ve read some reviews report seeing colour tearing, personally I never notice that when I was using the GX7.

Gone are the days when the micro four-thirds camera has slow and sub-par autofocus system. The GX7’s autofocus system is just fantastic. It almost never hunt and just snap to the correct focus pretty much instantly. When you are shooting with the EVF, you can use the LCD screen as a AF track pad. i.e. just move the thumb that is naturally placed on the LCD screen and the autofocus area will follow the thumb movement. This may not sound very special but once you tried it, you’ll love it and wonder why no one else is doing it already! At the New Zealand GX7 launch party, Panasonic representatives emphasis the camera’s low light autofocus performance. I can’t really confirm if the camera can autofocus down to -4EV as claimed by Panasonic, but I can tell you the GX7’s low light autofocus ability is definitely very good. I’ve tried shooting inside a very dim room with the GX7 and another APS-C mirrorless camera side by side. The GX7 has absolutely no problem locking the autofocus while the other mirrorless camera gave up completely.

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For people who use manual focus lenses, there is focus peaking display and also picture in picture and with the high resolution EVF, it’s quite easy to manual focus with the GX7.

The maximum shutter speed is now 1/8000s, same as the new Olympus EP5 which makes it great for shooting wide open on a bright day. The maximum burst rate is 5fps which is not the fastest but isn’t too bad neither. But if you switch on the electronic shutter, the burst rate can now be increased to an amazing 40fps. The electronic shutter also allow you to shoot completely silent, which is great when you don’t want to attract too much attention. But electronic shutter is not good if you are doing a panning shot as you can get some bad results like this one below. So beware of that when you are using the electronic shutter.

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The electronic shutter allows you to take photos quietly and at high frame rate but don’t use it when you are taking a panning shot unless you want a photo like this

The camera is very responsive. Both the traditional physical buttons and touchscreen LCD response quickly. The touchscreen interface is very intuitive and easy to use no matter you use it to take pictures, play back pictures or adjust camera settings.

Among the micro four thirds alliance, Olympus has always use IBIS (in body image stabilisation) while Panasonic opted for lens based stabilisation. But with the GX7, Panasonic has made a big decision and it is their first micro four third camera that has IBIS instead of lens based stabilisation. While the stabiliser on the GX7 does not seem to be as advance or effective as the 5-axis image stabiliser on the Olympus EM5 or EP5, it is still a good news as a large percentage of micro four third lenses are not stabilised. It sounds like Panasonic will be slowing switching to IBIS in the future and I’m hoping Panasonic will have a more effective IBIS when they release their next generation micro four thirds camera.

The camera has both Wifi and NFC built-in. With the free iOS/Android app installed on your smartphone, you can use your phone to remote control the GX7 to take photos and transfer the photos to your smartphone. I’ve tried similar apps from various brands, the Panasonic implementation is easily the best. It’s very easy to use and setup, has a nice user interface and has lot of features. While I did experienced a few unexpected wifi disconnection every now and then, the wifi connection works pretty well most of the time. There is almost no lag between the remote liveview and the camera. The whole app is just very well polished and a pleasure to use!

The camera also has a built-in flash which I haven’t have much chance to use during the review period. I’m a big fan of built-in flash, even a tiny one like the one in the GX-7 which is not too powerful but it is still very handy when you want a bit of fill flash, either when it’s too dark or your subject is strongly back-lighted . If you want more flash power, you can always attach a bigger flash to it’s hot shoe mount.

Compare to Panasonic’s video-centric GH series, the lack of external mic input tells you that GX7 is primarily designed for photographers rather than videographers. Having said that, the full HD video from the GX7 is still very decent and have a lot of features to suit most casual videographers.

The GX7 is really a beautiful camera and feels great in your hands. The autofocus system is simply superb, the tilt-able high resolution EVF and the long list of innovative features make it a very versatile camera. But most importantly, it takes great photos as well.  While the camera’s internal stabiliser can be a bit better, there really isn’t much I can complain about this camera.

It’s good to finally see a camera that is better than the GF1 in pretty much every single area.

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Corina & Cameron’s Wedding at Gracehill Vineyard Estate

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If you are a long time reader of my blog, you might remember the engagement photos I took for Corina and Cameron back a while ago. I was so excited when the lovely couple asked me to be their wedding photographer! A few weeks ago, I captured their wedding at the beautiful Gracehill Vineyard Estate.

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It was a lovely Autumn day. There was a little bit of cloud in the sky but also heaps of sunshine! The wedding ceremony took place at Gracehill Vineyard Estate’s lovely courtyard in the late afternoon, the warm golden hour sunlight light up the Gracehill Vineyard beautifully.

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After the ceremony and the big group photo, we quickly moved on to do the location photos with the  bridal party. Since the ceremony finished just before sunset, we knew we wouldn’t really have a lot of time for the location shots. But having shot the engagement photos with Corina and Cameron before was definitely a good thing as it allowed us to do the location shots a lot quicker than usual. So even with very limited time, we still managed to create some beautiful photos.

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So finally we had to stop when it got too dark.  If you are wondering how dark it was? For the photo below, my assistant had to hold his iPhone next to the couple so i can see their face through the camera’s viewfinder.  Without that, I can only see roughly the couple’s silhouette.

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The reception started pretty much straight after that. With so many family members and good friends together, there were lots of laughs, lots of old stories shared throughout the night.

Oh Gracehill Vineyard Estate must have a very good chef as their food is just fantastic!

I hope you can also feel the happiness and the love through my photos.

 

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My Nikon 1 V2 review in D-Photo Magazine

A few months ago when I was in Brazil, I received an email from D-Photo Magazine’s editor Adrian. He invited me to become one of their contributing writer and of course I accepted his invitation as it’s my pleasure to write for New Zealand’s biggest photography magazine.
So the first article I did is the Nikon 1 V2 review which is in the latest issue (Mar-May 2013) of D-Photo magazine just released this week. There are also many other interesting articles in this latest issue so go and pick up a copy when you walk pass a magazine store next time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunny Summer Day

I’ve known Jarod for many years, so when Jaord asked if I can take his wedding photos. I just couldn’t say no to him and Helen even though I already have quite a busy schedule and normally wouldn’t want to take another job,

Photographer loves beautiful sunlight and we had a beautiful sunny summer day when we shot this set of photos. Actually it was a VERY sunny day and the sun nearly melt us just a few minutes after we started our location shots at Cornwall Park. It was so hot that we were forced to move to the more shaded area and temporary leave the beautiful (and hot) sunlight behind!
But as I said, photographer love beautiful sunlight, so it wasn’t too long before I can’t resist the temptation and asked everyone to go back and take some more photos under the beautiful sunlight.
So anyway, below are some of my favourites from that day. I hope you’ll like them

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review

*** 2013/03/31: After writing this review, I’ve bought an Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens and have been quite impressed by it, you can check out some of the photos I took using this lens on my facebook page
 

When I’m shooting professionally I completely rely on my Nikon full frame DSLRs as they have been extremely reliable and output amazing photo quality throughout the years. But when I go out and not doing jobs, I still always have a camera with me as I just love to photo anywhere, anytime. And for that, I use all sort of cameras from different brands, DSLRs, compact cameras, mirrorless cameras or even iPhone as sometimes I just don’t want to carry the big heavy DSLR with me.

So not long after I’ve sold my Fujifilm x10 last year, I started looking for another small camera. There are really so many great cameras available and choosing my next camera is really a lot harder that I thought. In the end, I picked the Olympus OM-D E-M5 weatherproof kit which comes with the 12-50mm kit lens.

This is my second micro four third camera. My first micro four third camera was a Panasonic GF1. So why E-M5?

I think the camera strikes a very good balance between photo quality, feature and size. Also the micro four third system and the cameras are really quite mature now with lots of excellent lens available.

I’ve now got the camera for about two months, and took about 5000 photos. And I would want to share some of my impressions about this camera with you. This is not really a comprehensive review but just to share some of the things I really like or don’t like about the camera. I will also share with you some photos I took using the camera.

So let’s talk about the camera body first.

The build quality of the camera is pretty good. It feels pretty solid in my hands but some part of the camera still give me that little bit of plasticity feel. There are quite a few well known issues with the camera body. For example, the plastic cover on the viewfinder fall off quite easily. The LCD screen’s bezel cracks very easily and the top dial may fall off easily. Unfortunately my LCD bezel also cracked just a week or so after I bought it. Luckily Auckland Camera (where I bought the camera from) and the NZ Olympus repairer were very helpful and they got my camera fixed within a few days. Thanks guys! But these little issues made me feel the camera is not really as tough as most DSLRs.

One of the selling point of this camera is it’s weather proof capability. I have not really tested it yet as we are having a really really sunny summer here with almost no rain at all. But I saw some videos on youtube and they made me believe I should have no problem using the camera (with the 12-50mm weatherproof lens) under normal rain/weather conditions.

The camera is a lot smaller and lighter than most DSLRs but not small enough to fit in your jean pocket. There are lots of customisable buttons on the camera and even the 12-50mm lens. This is really good for more advanced users who want to change settings quickly. Unfortunately because of the compact camera size, some of those buttons are quite close together and quite often I pressed the wrong button by mistake especially when I was in a hurry.

The new Sony sensor used by the OM-D is excellent! It has very good dynamic range and decent high ISO performance. Ok it can’t compete with my full frame Nikons but for a sensor that is only a quarter of full frame sensor size, I think the photo quality is excellent. It can even rival some of the APS-C DSLRs!

ISO6400 is a bit noisy but still quite usable after a bit of noise reduction

I remember when Olympus released the PEN EP1, I was really excited and rushed to the camera shop and tried it. Unfortunately the camera’s autofocus was just quite a bit slower than I like so I didn’t buy that camera in the end. Now a few years later, OM-D’s autofocus system is a completely different story! It’s as fast as DSLR and it’s pretty accurate too! And with the option to select autofocus area using the touchscreen, it’s very easy to use as well! My only complain would be that the AF area is a bit too big and makes it a bit hard to do very precise autofocus control. But 99% of time it’s not really a problem. The only mirrorless camera I’ve used that has a better autofocus system would be the Nikon 1 cameras, which has an amazing hybrid autofocus system.

Autofocus is fast, shooting action is not too hard with the OM-D E-M5

So while the picture quality and autofocus are both very good, I find the auto white balance a bit unpredictable and jumps quite a bit. Fortunately if you are shooting RAW, you can adjust and fix in during the post processing.

The camera has some very interesting features, like the Time Bulb. Which basically show you a preview of your long exposure shot at pre-selected time intervals.  It makes taking long exposure shots a lot easier and with a lot less guess work. Sadly, there are quite a few (understandable) limitations when using time bulb, I hope Olympus can remove, or at least reduce those limitations for their future cameras so this feature can be even more useful and powerful.

OM-D has a new 5 axis image stabliser. It works very well and it’s a body image stabiliser which means I can mount any micro four third lens (from Olympus, Panasonic, or any other brand) or even my Nikon lenses (through an adaptor) and will still have image stabilisation! Hooray!

1 sec handheld!

The camera can take full HD video, with autofocus. I have not really took too many videos but so far I found the quality not too bad. Of course it’s not as good as the Panasonic GH cameras but most normal users should be happy with the videos from the OM-D E-M5. One thing I was quite disappointed is that this camera still doesn’t allow you to use the touchscreen to adjust autofocus point when you are shooting a video. I can’t imagine it is too hard to implement so I don’t know why the camera doesn’t have this feature.

While the camera has a hump at the top, it doesn’t have an internal flash. Instead a small external flash is included. But installing the external flash is not as easy or quick as I thought. It requires removing 3 different plastic bits from the camera/flash and you also have to find a place to store those removed bits carefully as they are small and you can lost them easily. Why can’t the designers/engineers at Olympus come up with a more elegant way to install the external flash?

The camera’s fastest shutter speed is 1/4000s, like most mid range cameras. Unfortunately, with a minimum ISO of 200 and no built-in ND filter, it means we can easily overexpose the photo when shooting on a bright day, with a fast prime at wide open. My solution is that I’ll bring a ND or CPL filter for each of the fast prime lens I got. Not really the best solution.

As I said at the beginning, I got the 12-50mm weather proof kit which comes with the 12-50mm lens (i.e. 24-100mm 35mm equivalent), I also got myself a Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens as I’m a prime shooter. There are pros and cons with each of these lens, but together they make a very nice and light everyday kit.

I heard people complained about E-M5′s battery life but I don’t think it’s too bad. Since the camera always have a screen turned on (either the EVF or LCD) so I guess it’s fair to say we can’t really expect it to have DSLR battery life. I found the battery life is better than most of the mirrorless or compact cameras I’ve used recently. It’s not very often I can go through a completely charged battery in one day. Having said that, I don’t shoot too much video as I’m sure shooting video (on any camera) would use up the battery very quickly.

So overall I’m pretty happy with my Olympus OM-D E-M5. I don’t think it can replace my full frame Nikon in terms of picture quality and reliability and it’s not supposed to. But it is a great small camera and as long as you are shooting within it’s limit (which is quite high), you can still capture some very nice photos with this nice looking camera!

All sample photos on this page were taken using a Olympus OM-D E-M5 with either the Olympus 12-50mm kit lens or the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens. Then processed to taste in Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop