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DSLR lens selection for Nikons + suggested accessory gear (sorry, no ski photos . . . yet!).

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Studio460's "Ultimate-Minimalist" Photo Expedition Nikkor Lens Line-up:

This thread hopes to address the question, "If you could only take three lenses on your photo expedition, which lenses would you take?" Your mileage will definitely vary, but here's my take on it:

If I had to choose just three lenses, I would take one from each category:

1. A super-wide.
2. A super-fast "normal" lens.
3. A super-telephoto.

My personal selections are the following:

1. Nikkor 18mm f/2.8D AF (discontinued: $700-$1,300, used)
2. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D AF-S G $439 (import)
3. Nikkor 300mm f/4.0D AF-S ED-IF $1,369 (import)

Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 lens on a DX-format Nikon D70.

For those less-inclined to go with all-fixed lenses, here's a more-affordable choice which keeps two, short fixed lenses (which I highly recommend):

1. Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D AF $539 (import)
2. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D AF-S G $439 (import)
3. Then, for your long lens, you could select from a number of affordable (and one, not so affordable) Nikkor zooms:
     A. Nikkor 70mm-300mm f/4.0-f/5.6G $135
     B. Nikkor 70mm-300mm f/4.5-f/5.6D AF-S VR version $539 (import)
     C. Nikkor 55mm-200mm f/4-f/5.6G ED AF-S $155 (import)
     D. Nikkor 80mm-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6D AF VR ED $1,499.95 (import) 
     E. Nikkor 200mm-400mm f/4.0G AF-S ED IF VR $5,899 (import)--top pick!

Sure, the slower zooms won't win any speed contests or be able to produce shallow depth-of-field effects at their short- and mid-lengths, but at their long ends, they should look pretty good (see sample shot below of Nikkor 70mm-300mm f/4.0-f/5.6, zoomed to 300mm, irised at f/5.6).

Notice that in the first list (my personal selections), these are all fixed-focal length lenses--no zoom lenses. After owning a pile of zooms over the years (including the much-favored, Nikkor 70mm-200mm f/2.8, which I still own), I've finally realized that I'm always either on the shortest end of my short zoom, or on the longest end of my long zoom. So, I think I'm done with zooms. Now, I want to spend the money on speed and focal length alone.
The rather spartan lens choice above represents what I use (and will use) the most. For general editorial shots, I plan to use my newly acquired, Nikkor 18mm f/2.8 almost exclusively. For people shots, I'll use my new 'S' version, 50mm f/1.4 AF-S. Lastly, my long lens selection . . . a fixed-focal length, Nikkor 300mm f/4.0 AF-S. It's long, pretty fast, sort of affordable, and has a Nikon 'S' internal-focus motor (but no vibration-reduction). Conversely, the Nikkor 80mm-400 f/4.5-f/5.6, my second-in-line, long-lens candidate, does have vibration-reduction, but no S-motor. I'm actually still on the fence between the two: the fast, 300mm f/4.0; or the 400mm f/5.6 zoom. What to choose--speed or length? Tough call.

[A note about "import" lenses. These are so-called "gray-market" lenses. The only difference between an import and a USA lens, is that Nikon doesn't warrant these in the US. They're exactly the same lens. I own mostly import lenses and have never had to send a single Nikon lens in for service. Caveat emptor, but in my experience, imports have been fine.]

1. The (almost) Super-Wide.

Nikon D70; Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF; w/Nikon polarizer.
ISO: 200; exposure: f/4.0 @ 1/1,000th; lighting: daylight.
Digital manipulation: none.

Personal Super-Wide Top Pick: The Nikkor 18mm f/2.8D AF wide-angle [27mm equivalent; $700-$1,200 used]: 

Sorry, no sample shots with the Nikkor 18mm f/2.8 yet! Although I also own a true super-wide, the Nikkor 14mm f/2.8 (photo below), but, it's just too darned big and heavy to want to bring anywhere. I typically have had the much lighter, far more compact, Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 on my body, 99% of the time (soon to be replaced with the Nikkor 18mm f/2.8). Not just for landscapes, both, the 18mm, and 20mm lenses are great for just about any subject you can get close enough to. They're great travelogue lenses--you see both the people, and their environment. Get close enough to an action sport, and you have an exaggerated-perspective shot that's full of dynamic form and scale.

Nikon D70; Nikkor 14mm f/2.8
ISO: 800; exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/13th (handheld); lighting: fluorescent, neon, daylight.
Digital manipulation: none.

2. The Super-Fast "Normal."

Nikon D70; Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8
ISO: 400; exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/250th; lighting: electronic flash (Nikon SB-800 + SC-29 remote TTL cable).
Digital manipulation: none.

Personal Super-Fast "Normal" Lens Top Pick: The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D AF-S [75mm equivalent] $439:

On a Nikon DX-format DSLR, with a crop factor of x1.5 (x1.6 for Canon), a 50mm lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens on a full-frame camera, so it's not really a true "normal" [a true normal lens on a DX camera would be the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 AF-S ($195), which has a 52.5mm, full-frame equivalent focal length]. But, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens on a DX camera is actually a short-telephoto, that's great for shooting people. Even better . . . the Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 macro lens (shown above). Capable of 1:1 magnification, with a 90mm-equivalent 35mm focal length, this exceptionally sharp, flat-field lens is also excellent at shooting people when on a DX-frame camera. But utility wins . . . and the near-unbeatable speed, ultra-fast focusing silent-wave motor, and versatility of the new Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S enables it to shoot in situations where others just can't.

Nikon D70; Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
ISO: 800; exposure: f/1.4 @ 1/60th; lighting: incandescent.
Digital manipulation: none.

This image of fresh Ahi above, was taken under available light, where often, the existing light sources are the most interesting--and, a super-fast lens allows you to capture that without overcranking your ISO. At an exposure of 1/60th of a second, this is barely hand-holdable, plus, I'm all the way open to f/1.4. I try never to shoot above ISO800, whenever possible--I just think the image suffers too much above that. Keeping your ISO low helps to preserve image quality, maintain more-accurate colorimetry, and minimize noise.

3. The Long Lens.

Nikon D70; Nikkor 70mm-300mm f/4.0-f/5.6
ISO: 640; exposure: f/5.6 @ 1/250th; lighting: daylight; selected focal length: 300mm.
Digital manipulation: none.

Personal Long-Lens Top Pick: The Nikkor 300mm f/4.0 AF-S ED-IF [450mm equivalent] $1,369:

The photo above is not from a 300mm f/4.0 (since I don't own one yet), it's simply there for illustration. The 300mm f/4.0 would have even more pronounced "bokeh" (the out-of-focus effect of fore- and background objects at large apertures) being a full-stop wider than my present 70mm-300mm zoom. Note that a 300mm lens on a Nikon DX-format camera is equal to a 450mm lens on a 35mm SLR. And, f/4.0 is fairly fast for that length. Note, however, that buying into a fixed-length telephoto of this length means that you absolutely must be able to freely adjust your subject-to-camera distance, at-will, to fit your subject into the frame.

So, above, I've summarized the ultimate kit lens assortment for my particular needs. Again, your mileage will definitely vary, but I think these are the fewest number of lenses I would personally take on a photo expedition, which, in my view, would offer the most speed and creative possibility for my particular shooting style. Yours could be and probably will be different. In my next post, I'll detail additional essential accessories for the "minimalist" kit.

Next . . . carbon fiber monopods.

all images copyright studio460.

Edited by studio460 - 5/4/10 at 4:41am
post #2 of 22
Thread Starter 
Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D AF

Nikon D70; Nikkor 85mm f/1.8
ISO: 200; exposure: f/5 @ 1/400th; lighting: electronic flash, daylight.
Digital manipulation: none.

The "Portrait" Lens:

One of my all-time favorite lenses--the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 . . . this speedy, yet, affordable ($425), short-telephoto is great for people shots. At f/1.8, it's a pretty fast lens. And on a Nikon DX-format body (x1.5 crop factor), the Nikkor 85mm has a 127.5mm full-frame equivalent focal length. On 35mm film SLRs, traditional "portrait" lenses were defined as being anywhere from about 105mm-180mm in length. Short- and medium-telephotos are popular for portraiture due to their "foreshortening" effect, where perspective appears "flattened" or "compressed." This effect is typically flattering when shooting people's faces.

An even better choice for people is the acclaimed Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 ($820), or even better, the exotic 'DC' Nikkor 105mm f/2.0 ($1,020). The 'DC' stands for "defocus control," and Nikon claims this extra control ring on the lens barrel introduces a shallow depth-of-field effect, on-command. I spoke to some photographers who were testing one of these DC Nikkors at a press junket once, and their opinions on the effect's "effectiveness" weren't all that conclusive. Never tried this rather specialized lens, but thought it worth mentioning anyway for those interested in portraiture (try it, before you buy it!). And, possibly the "best" length for portrait photography . . . the Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ($850). It's a great lens and a helluva lot lighter than the Nikkor 70mm-200mm f/2.8. I was able to find a used AF-D for $400 a few years ago.

[Note: all prices quoted are for "import" versions of the lenses from the bhphoto.com website as of April 2010. US-warranted versions are clearly marked on the website, and sell for slightly more.]

copyright studio460.
Edited by studio460 - 4/26/10 at 2:46am
post #3 of 22
Great thread/post, studio.  As a budding photography enthusiast, I've quickly learned the fixed lens route definitely gives you the most bang for your glass buck.  I love my 50 f1.8, and the low price I paid for it still amazes me.  

For my other lenses I've so far gone the zoom route, simply because so far the much of what I'm shooting does not allow me to use my feet as the zoom.  I also have a 70-200 f4 IS that produces fantastic images.  My understanding is it offers the best image quality of canon's family of 70-200's.  I sacrifice a stop of speed by not getting the 2.8, but I saved some bucks, and don't have to haul around the extra weight all day. So far the compromise has not been much of an issue.   Current price is around $1200

After using the 70-200 for a while I was finding I was often longing for more magnification, so I just purchased canon's 100-400 F4-5.6 IS. It arrived 2 days ago.  I've only had a moment to play with it, but WOW, I'm impressed with the IQ even beyond the high expectations I had for it.  I was consistently getting tack sharp handhelds out to 400mm.  $1600 for this one.  I think I'm going to enjoy this lens for a long time.  

On the low end of the scale I currently only have the kit 17-55.  It gives me something to use in that magnification range, but it's definitely the weak spot in my arsenal.  This is where my next upgrade will come, but I haven't decided on a lens yet.  I'll first spend some time working on my skills with the lenses I have.  

Thanks again for sharing your photos and knowledge.
post #4 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the high compliment, Rick! Yes, I realize for many, zooms are a necessity. Since I'm not shooting on any particular assignment, I have the freedom to adjust my subject distance, rather than have the optics do it for me.

Congrats on the Canon 100mm-400mm! Handheld at 400mm is impressive! Yes, that's tempting as well. The equivalent Nikkor is about the same price, and I'm still not completely convinced on the fixed-length 300mm f/4.0 myself, especially since there's no vibration-reduction on that lens, just an 'S' motor. Plus, another 100mm in focal length sure sounds good. You may have single-handedly destroyed my fixed-lens argument I so carefully crafted last night!
post #5 of 22
Rick, at the wider end, either go for the 17-40, 24-105 or 24-70. The last is the fastest, heaviest and most expensive. The first will give you better wide angle range on your crop sensor. Don't bother with the 16-35, it's not worth the extra.
post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 
Carbon fiber monopods:

Carbon fiber is best for its lightweight and strength. Search bhphoto.com for carbon fiber monopods, and 35 monopods come up. At the top of the list are the $700 Sachtler monopods we use where I work, designed to hold 33 lb. broadcast video cameras. Obviously, this is overkill for a DSLR. I have a lot of Manfrotto products, so I'll go with a mid-priced Manfrotto:

Manfrotto 694CX carbon fiber monopod $179

The 694CX collapses to 21" and weighs 1.3 lbs. Max height is 65" and max weight capacity is 11 lbs. You could go beefier, lighter, shorter, etc. There are many to choose from.

This Miller 311 below is kinda neat because it has a built-in strap. Miller is a good brand, known for its professional film and video tripods and fluid heads. I tend to prefer flip-locks, however (these are threaded locks). But believe me, there's nothing handier than having a shoulder strap on a monopod.

Miller 311 Solopod carbon fiber monopod $159

I was wondering how extreme temperatures could adversely affect a threaded lock. In their product description, they claim, "axial sleeve stage locks are temperature-independent." Not sure if that's a guarantee against potential binding in the cold, but it sounds good.

Quick-release systems:

If you plan you use a variety of camera supports (monopods, tripods, video heads, window mounts, etc.), I would recommend a third-party quick release plate. You can buy multiple plate-receivers so that every one of your camera bodies can attach to any one of your camera supports. The Stroboframe quick release plates, I think work the best, because they're spring-loaded, so that they self-lock (just insert the camera plate and wait for the "click"), very secure, and only require a single-thumb to release:

Stroboframe QRC300 $57.95/set

Kinda pricey, but worth it. I have over ten of these sets. They also sell just receivers, or just plates. "Permanently" attach (they are removable) one plate to every camera body and video camera you shoot with. Then, "permanently" attach a receiver to every one of your camera supports. Since many tripods come with a built-in, quick-release plate of some sort (typically of a far lesser, more inconvenient design), you would just mount the Stroboframe receiver to that plate (and never take it off). With Stroboframe receivers/plates on everything you own, you'll be able to change and interchange cameras and supports instantly--no more "screwing around."

Longer telephoto lenses often come with tripod collars, so that your camera support will be more centered between the body and the lens' CM. This is a perfect place to install a Stroboframe plate for quick attachment to a monopod. If your telephoto doesn't have a collar, they sell after-market collars that do the trick as well.
Edited by studio460 - 4/18/10 at 11:31pm
post #7 of 22
Thread Starter 
Carbon fiber tripods and ball heads:

First, I'll do the complicated one--buying tripod legs separately from the head.

Carbon fiber tripod legs:

Again, I have all Manfrotto camera support for stills (a Vinten Vision 5 fluid head for video). The Gitzos and Sliks are great, but the Manfrotto line keeps coming up with cool products that are very competitive. On the bhphoto.com site, drill down to "tripod legs" and filter out only "carbon fiber" and you end up with 90 results. For "general" use, I chose mainly just on price, and got the mid-line, $300 Manfrotto for use as my primary tripod:

Manfrotto CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod (legs only) $300

If you're taking it to the field, and looking to save on weight, this one below weighs only 2.09 lbs! Combine these legs with the 0.95 lb. Manfrotto 324 joystick head (shown at the bottom), and you have a compact, lightweight camera support that's only 3 lbs, total! I think I may have to get one of these for use as a "pack" tripod!

Manfrotto 732CY M-Y carbon fiber tripod (legs only) $200

Single-lever, "grip-style" ball-heads:

Now, the head. It's certainly not the lightest or most compact, but it's a great head, as long as you're not lugging it around in a backpack. At 1.7 lbs., it's actually heavier than some tripod legs (it's the one I happen to own perhaps only because I bought it before either of the latter two had become available). But, it's a great "studio" head, and certainly sturdy enough for a larger, medium-format camera as well:

Manfrotto 222 Joystick head $105

Thankfully, Manfrotto innovated again, and developed two new, single-lever, ball-head products, the 322 RC2 grip-action ball head at 1.4 lbs., and the 324 RC2 joystick head at just 0.95 lbs. I haven't tried these myself, yet, but I would tend to recommend these sight-unseen just based on their extreme lightweight (for a single-lever style head): 

Manfrotto 322-RC2 grip-action ball head $130

Manfrotto 324-RC2 joystick head $125

For speed and ease-of-use, these are unbeatable in my opinion (they just wouldn't be your first choice for panning shots--a small video fluid head would be far better.). For those who really want to travel compactly, Manfrotto also makes an array of other ball head products that are even smaller and lighter.

For most, however, I would recommend the $125 Manfrotto 324-RC2 joystick head I described above. It's a slick-looking product in a small form factor in a super-lightweight design at just under a pound. I'm definitely looking into possibly adding this to my kit to replace (at least, in the field) my nearly two-pound Manfrotto 222 head. Combine this with the also, super-light, two-pound 732CY carbon fiber sticks, and you've got an extremely lightweight camera support. Don't forget to get a Stroboframe receiver-plate set to make getting on and off the tripod a breeze!
Edited by studio460 - 4/20/10 at 12:40am
post #8 of 22
 Fox, I hear 24-70 f2.8 IS is soon to arrive.  Sounds nice, but with the crop factor I'd still be left a bit unarmed on the wide side.

Studio, again great information.  You mentioned fluid heads for panning.  Here's a suggestion for new videographers who want to rid their videos of the shake.  
I used this head to produce my Instructional DVD series.  It worked very well, at an extremely economical $180.  For those looking for the type of panning quality this head provides, I'd also strongly suggest getting a wired remote to operate the camera. It mounts onto the control arm of the head, and allows you to start/stop/zoom without ever having to touch the camera.  Makes a huge difference in the quality of the footage you get.  
post #9 of 22
this thread should totally be made into a wiki!
post #10 of 22
The 200-400 is a very popular nikon super zoom and really the only super zoom from any manufacturer that gets taken seriously
 among pro's.
post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D AF: low-light, shallow depth-of-field sample shots 

Nikon D70; Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
ISO: 200; exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/30th; lighting: fluorescent.
Digital manipulation: slight color correction.

Nikon D70; Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
ISO: 200; exposure: f/1.4 @ 1/80th; lighting: metal-halide, LED.
Digital manipulation: slight color correction.
post #12 of 22
Rick, the 24-70IS has been "about to be launched" for the last 3 years, if you were to believe the mags/blogs. It will be great when it comes out, but I would be surprised if there was an annoucement about it anytime in the next 6 months. Perhaps it will come out at the same time as the fabled 60D.

I suspect you'll see Canon announce a new 400mm fast lens and the 1DsIV (32MP?) in time for the world cup.
post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 
Dedicated TTL Flashes:

This one's simple!

1. If you own a newer Nikon body, get a Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight ($449).
2. If you own a newer Canon body, get a Canon 580EX II Speedlite ($445).

"Dumb" Flashes:

You can also supplement your expensive, dedicated TTL flash by buying a pile of "dumb," high-guide number Vivitar 283s. They're cheap and powerful. But you'll also need Vivitar's "VariPower" accessory dial, and a cheap optical slave (about $10). Use these as inexpensive "fill" flashes in multiple-flash set-ups. Just manually dial the power up or down, depending on your test-exposures. Sure, you could also choose to go 100% TTL-wireless, with multiple, DSLR-controlled Nikon or Canon speedlites, but that gets pretty expensive, pretty fast! A one- or two-Vivitar 283 set-up, and a couple of cheap slaves, can easily supplement your TTL-controlled, Nikon SB-900 or Canon 580EX for multiple-flash photography. Experiment a bit, and soon your stuff will look like the pros'!

[Unfortunately, Vivitar changed the design of the 283--the above information is no longer applicable to the current model. Need to research another model.] 

Flash Accessories:

Off-camera TTL cables:

Perhaps the number-one flash accessory I would recommend for improving the quality of light in your flash photogaphy is the off-camera TTL flash cable. With the cable mounted on your Nikon or Canon hot shoe (and the other end, connected to your dedicated Nikon or Canon TTL flash unit), you can now point your flash at any white wall for instant, super-soft lighting, while the remote TTL sensor automatically performs all the exposure calculation work, regardless of the actual subject-to-flash distance. The photo below was taken by just hand-holding the flash unit, and pointing it toward a white vertical wall to the left:

Photo of Alejandra, taken with a Nikon D70, SB-800 flash (no diffuser), and SC-29 off-camera TTL cable.
[unedited image--no Photoshop work]

Nikon and Canon off-camera TTL cable models: For Nikons, it's the SC-29 off-camera TTL shoe cord with AF assist $79.95. For Canon cameras, it's the OC-E3 off-camera TTL shoe cable $69.95. Also, the cool thing about the Nikon SC-29 is that they also incorporated an AF-assist, IR illuminator into the cable's shoe. A little help for your auto-focus is always a welcome thing!

Flash diffusers:

For flash diffusers, one member mentioned the Gary Fong diffusers. Though good, I prefer the soft-box style diffusers. They're designed in similar fashion to professional soft-boxes, like those often used in studio-strobe photography, only these products are meant to fit portable flash units like the Nikon SB-900 or Canon 580EX Speedlites. They have a much larger illumination area than most diffusers, and therefore deliver softer light (the larger-area your light source, the softer the quality of light). Several manufacturers make these types of diffusers, including:

1. Westcott.
2. LumiQuest.
3. Photoflex.
4. Demb.

[Westcott 5" x 8" MicroApollo soft-box $29.95]

My favorite are the Westcotts, though all are good. The Westcotts use a wire frame and a fabric softbox (some others use plastic), and they just "feel" better. The one I have is the Westcott 5" x 8" MicroApollo soft-box $29.95. But, to each his/her own, and among the above manufacturers, there are a number of different models and sizes from which to choose. I also own a LumiQuest "Big Bounce" which has an even larger reflector, and therefore produces even softer light.

While the Westcott and LumiQuest products are great, I really love the simplicity of the Demb "Big Flip-It" and plan to order one as soon as I finish this post. It's basically a 4.5" x 5" piece of hard white plastic that mounts to your flash unit in the bounce position. It's simple, compact, and really gets the most "bang" out of your flash unit, although I do wish they made a larger reflector panel for it (e.g., 6" x 8").

Demb Big Flip-It

For those wishing for less bulk, the popular Stofen line of slip-on diffusers is about as compact as you can get. Although they're designed to mix both direct-transmission of light from your flash head, combined with bounced light from the perimeter of the diffuser (to soften the light even more), because the size of the direct-illumination area isn't increased by much, the light-softening effect isn't nearly as great as other types of diffusers with larger direct- or reflecting-surface areas. Still, photos do look slightly better with the Stofen than not. At only $10.45, it's probably worth having one in your bag anyway. Here's one made to fit the Nikon SB-900:

[Stofen OM-900 Omni-Bounce for Nikon SB-900 flash $10.45]
Edited by studio460 - 4/27/10 at 6:15am
post #14 of 22
Thread Starter 
Lens Tissue & Fluid:

This may be the most important "accessory" in your entire kit: choosing the right lens tissue and fluid. I keep multiple packs of these two products everywhere. The Rosco lens tissue is the best lens tissue, period. There's a lot of sheets in a pack, and they're not too small. Not cheap at $5.00-$6.00 a pack, but excellent tissue. The Kodak lens tissue packs are a joke (too few and too small).


Also, Rosco makes an excellent lens cleaning fluid as well. Cleans oily fingerprints great, with no residue. Safe for all modern multi-coated lenses. The Kodak lens fluid is worthless, in my opinion. If you own like a $40,000 mirror telescope or something, then I would also suggest the Pancro lens fluid. Awesome stuff, but it's $15 a bottle. But, don't bother--the Rosco fluid is totally good.
Also totally worth keeping in your bag is a Mikros (or similar) microfiber lens cleaning cloth. Good when you don't have your tissue and fluid handy, or if it's just too inconvenient to break out a bottle of fluid and try to pull out a few tissues. When you just need to do it quickly, without any hassle, these things are great.
post #15 of 22
Originally Posted by reducedfatoreo View Post

this thread should totally be made into a wiki!

I totally agree!
post #16 of 22
Thread Starter 

Protective Filters: (clear optical flats)

Personally, I never put a UV, haze, skylight, or clear filter on any of my lenses. When you put an extra piece of glass in front of your lens, you reduce image contrast and can introduce flare and other optical artifacts into your sensor. Not recommended for optimal image quality.

Circular Polarizers:

You need a circular polarizer for AF cameras, since linear polarizers confuse the auto-focus sensors. I do like to use polarizers for wide-angle, landscape-ey type shots. Hoya's series of "Super Multi-Coated" (S-HMC), "thin," circular polarizers are mounted in a thinner filter ring, since thick polarizers can sometimes vignette on some very wide-angle lenses. Most other manufacturers also produce "thin" lines. Nikon also makes excellent thin polarizers (these are the ones I own).

Neutral Density (ND) Filters:

These are what you use when you have "too much light." If you want a shallow depth-of-field effect on a bright sunny exterior scene, then you may need an ND filter to allow your lens to open up to a nice, wide f/2.8 or whatever. They come in varying degrees of density, where each difference of 0.3 equals one f/stop in light reduction (e.g., 0.3 ND = 1 stop, 0.6 ND = 2 stops, 0.9 ND = 3 stops).

Graduated Filters:

Both neutral density grads (ND grads) and color grads are great for darkening bland-looking skies. Grads can also lower your overall scene contrast by taking down a too-bright sky (or, a too-bright sandy beach), making the maximum use of your camera's dynamic range. These effects are easily accommodated by products such as the Cokin filter system. Cokins are fun filters to have in your bag for some instant-cool looking landscape shots. Although these effects can be simulated in Photoshop, doing it in-camera, while permanent, is better for capturing more highlight and shadow detail.

Filter Brands:

Common brands are Hoya, Tiffen (inventor of the ProMist series, used in television and film), B+W, and Nikon (polarizers and soft-focus filters). They're all pretty good. B+W, from Schneider Optics, Germany, are considered to be the top of the heap. Both Tiffen and Hoya filters are also good, and seem to be most available on a retail level. The only significant performance difference would be between multi-coated, single- or uncoated. Multi-coated offers the highest contrast, and is considered best. Hoya's H-SMC line are all multi-coated. A unique differentiating feature to B+W filters, is that their rings are made of brass and are much less susceptible to binding. B+W also uses high-quality Schott glass. But I'm sure Hoya's Japanese-supplied glass is just as good.

[Cokin filter system]

Cokin is kind of in a different product category since many of their products are specialty filters (most, made of optics-grade plastic), and designed to go into their special, rotating, sliding-stage filter holders (shown above). A slew of no-name, Chinese brands have flooded camera retailers as well. My guess is that there shouldn't be a whole lot of visible quality difference among different brands, although, I personally wouldn't trust a Chinese, brand-X filter (even though it may be perfectly good). Buy what's reasonably priced, or what's within your budget. Also, there's no such thing as a "high-definition" or a "digital" filter.


Edited by studio460 - 4/29/10 at 1:28am
post #17 of 22
 Sudio460, you have got some incredible advice and information, but man-o-man, do you ever sleep!?

So, here's a filter question for you......
Since most of your sample pics are indoor shots, and most of us are looking for advice and information on equipment that we'll be using on the ski slopes or bike trails, how much of this filter information translates to the EpicSkier application?

I'm still reaaaaally new to this DSLR stuff and am hoping to become more acquainted with the subtle difference between shooting in the trees and out in the stark white bluebird conditions.
post #18 of 22
Thread Starter 
No! I never sleep!

Originally Posted by Trekchick View Post

Since most of your sample pics are indoor shots, and most of us are looking for advice and information on equipment that we'll be using on the ski slopes or bike trails, how much of this filter information translates to the EpicSkier application?

Thanks for the compliments on the thread, Trekchick!

I would say that all of the filter information is applicable to daylight exterior ski scenes. The protective filter recommendation is a personal preference, and many may just feel a whole lot more comfortable with a protective filter, which is fine. Protective filters are most problematic when shooting directly into light sources (the sun, artificial lights, etc.).

UV, haze, and skylight filters claim to provide better clarity by filtering out some of the UV and upper-blue spectrum, theoretically reducing the effect of haze. But, I believe that any actual benefit would be barely detectable. On the slopes, while there is a lot of stray UV light (but, perhaps, very little haze), the original intention of UV and skylight (pinkish) filters were to partially correct for overly high-color temperature daylight (bluish-light) for nominally daylight-balanced film emulsions (i.e., 5,600-degrees Kelvin).

Modern DSLRs, however, allow you to electronically compensate for high-color temperature light (e.g., the "cloudy" setting). Nominal daylight color temperature is about 5,600-degrees Kelvin. Cloudy days can be as high as 7,000-12,000 degrees Kelvin, and will photograph noticeably bluer if not first corrected by setting the camera's white balance (color temperature setting) to a "cooler" setting.

Certainly, polarizers look great on any exterior scenes, including ski slopes and summer biking trails. They improve your contrast and give the sky a neat dark-blue tint. On a press tour to French Polynesia, I had my pola filter on my Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 pretty much 100% of the time when outside during the day. 

Neutral density filters would also apply. Say you wanted to have an out-of-focus background, but want to have your subject, a skier, tack-sharp. There's so much light, you've maxed out your shutter speed, and your camera tells you that you still need to iris down to f/8 to make a shot. Screw an 0.9 ND filter on your lens, and you can now expose at a very bokeh-ish, f/2.8.

Check out the Cokin ND- and color-grad filters--they're really neat, and would make for dramatic-looking skies on either the slopes or the trails! For wide-angle, scenic shots in general, they're just a lot of fun!
Edited by studio460 - 4/27/10 at 5:47am
post #19 of 22
 Example of use of a Polarizing filter on a rainy crapomatic day while birdwatching.
My reason for using the polarizing filter is for lens protection because it is the only filter I have at this time for that lens and I didn't want to expose the lens itself to the rain...
This was one of the first days I had a chance to really experiment with different settings, no cropping and no touche ups, just the raw pic
post #20 of 22
Thread Starter 

If using a polarizer on the shot above, I would've expected to see less reflection in the water. On your next outing, try turning your pola's rotating ring to see the effect of the polarization through your viewfinder.

Here's some totally random shots taken within the last 24 hours with my new Nikon D90:

Night exterior; storefront on Robertson and Beverly, Los Angeles, California:
Nikon D90; AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

Shot of my dusty synths:
Nikon D90; AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

Some girl's hand with her phone:
Nikon D90; AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D
Edited by studio460 - 5/6/10 at 6:10pm
post #21 of 22
 Studio, in regard to the polarizer filter and Trek's photo;  not only the rotation of the filter, but the effectiveness will also depend on the time of day and angle of the light, right?
post #22 of 22
Thread Starter 
You are correct, Rick!

Note: the optimum angle is "56-degrees from vertical"--the Wikipedia article found here is specific to polarizers as they apply to photography, and is quite good (with examples).
Edited by studio460 - 4/28/10 at 6:09pm
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