Archive | January 2014

Tamron SP 24~70 Di VC USD Review

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This is going to be a quick review of this lens. There’s not a lot to say since the lens pretty much works as advertised. I’ve used this lens for a couple of months and have tested it and compared it to my other lenses.

The lens is intended as a ‘walk-around’ workhorse for full frame cameras and is in direct competition with Canon and Nikon offerings. The first point to make about the lens is the cost. Canon’s 24~70 f2.8 has a list price in NZ of $3,390, Nikon’s 24~70 f/2.8 is $2,400. The Tamron is only $1,398. Of course all of these lenses would be available cheaper if you shopped around, so this is for comparison only.

The focal length range is very useful. At the wide end 24mm gives you a decent wide angle. I find 28mm a little conservative, and I much prefer 24mm. At the long end it is just long enough for looser portrait shots. With a wide maximum aperture you have plenty of scope for shallow depth of field shots. But if you have an APSC camera (Canon 700D, Nikon D5200 and similar) the focal length range is not so useful, taking you only from standard to moderate telephoto range, with no wide-angle)

At first glance the lens looks like it would be the ideal companion to a Canon 6D or Nikon D610.

In terms of sharpness the lens performs very well. The lens is as sharp as my prime lenses. In the centre the lens retains its sharpness very nicely except for the most extreme apertures. In the corners there is some loss of sharpness and vignetting at wide apertures, but compared to other lenses this is nothing more than what one could expect. Stopping down from f2.8 to f/3.2 produces a noticeable improvement with very little loss of light. The lens performs brilliantly at f5.6 and f/8, with only a slight fall off in quality as you move away form the ideal apertures.

The lens does exhibit some rather obvious barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion at the 70mm end. Seeing the rather obvious results on my shots of a test chart I went into the dojo and photographed a rack of naginata – this subject being full of horizontal and vertical lines which should be about the worst case scenario to show this up. Fortunately the results are not nearly as bad as I expected. You can see the distortion if you look for it, but it’s not too much in the way, especially considering the subject.

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Can you tell which is which? I’m sure you can if you know what you are looking for, but if you can’t, then the distortion will never worry you. The distortion can also be corrected by applying the Lens Profile correction in Lightroom.

In terms of construction the lens is well put together, and feels more solid than most Tamron lenses I’ve used in the past. The switches for manual/auto focus and the on/off switch for the VC (image stabilisation) are a little small and fiddly. For the VC this is not a problem since it is not something that I would want to accidentally knock out of  place, but I would prefer a more accessible autofocus switch since this is one control that I will access during shooting.

The focus ring can be adjusted during autofocus, but the manual warns against doing so, saying that this could cause damage to the autofocus system. This does seem a little confusing – if indeed the lens can be damaged this way it would be a very easy mistake to make, especially if you did not bother to read the manual. The auto focus is fast and silent.

The closest focusing distance is not a true macro lens, but better than I expected for a general purpose lens. The shot below will give you a practical idea of how close you can get. The battery is an AA size.

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The lens appears to be weather sealed, but to what extent it is I do not know. I don’t plan to leave it out in the rain, but it’s nice to know there is some attempt to prevent weather damage in the design, should an emergency arise.

The lens is not small. when you put it on a full size DSLR you have quite a big camera – here the lens is mounted on a 6D, beside a more compact Canon 350D.

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But overall how do I think it stacks up?

I think this is an excellent lens. The image quality is excellent. The fiddly auto focus switch is the only real niggle I have with it, but I can live with that especially at the price.

And the price really is an issue. What we have here is a well built 24~70 with great optical performance and good build quality that is half the price of the Canon or Nikon lenses, and it is stabilised. Neither the Nikon or Canon equivalents are stabilised and that really sets the seal on the lens for me. Stabilisation is a really important factor in low light photography. I always seem to be shooting in situations where there is not enough light, and I know form the student work I see that this is true for most people.

So we have to ask… I’m sure the Canon and Nikon lenses are very nice – but why would you pay twice the price for a lens that is probably no better optically than the Tamron, yet is not stabilised?

In short this lens would seem to be the obvious lens to own if you have a Nikon 610 or Canon 6D. And the more I think about it I can’t see why you’d want to spend more money even if you had a 5DIII or D800E

The shot below is taken at 70mm, f/5, 1/30th of a second at 1600 ISO. I could have probably dropped down to f/8 or maybe even f/11 if I had needed more depth of field, but if the lens had not been stabilised I’d probably be thinking about opening the aperture until I had a higher shutter speed.

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Photography: Getting to the heart of creativity

Every now and then I get an email from a student saying “I went out and looked everywhere, but I could not find anything to photograph!”

I know the feeling well – there just doesn’t seem to be anything in your part the world that’s worthy of being photographed. You look in photography books and see that all those famous photographers seemed to have wonderful locations – exotic, photogenic places that look so cool. But everything around you is just so mundane. Believe me – I’ve been there.

But surely the exotic locations that those famous guys had were actually mundane and boring to the people who lived there? Sometimes, like Robert Frank in America or Marti Friedman in New Zealand it helps to be an immigrant to see a location with fresh eyes. But if that was the only way to take photos we’d only be able to take photos when traveling. Surely the point about photography is that we need to be able to open our eyes to our surroundings to find interesting subjects. If we can open our eyes the world can sometimes transform in a magical way. It’s not ‘out there’ that has changed, it’s the way we see it that can transform our reality.

To illustrate this I’ll tell you about the last photos I took in the ’12 days of Christmas’ photography challenge that we ran on Facebook – take a photo a day for 12 days (https://www.facebook.com/OnlinePhotoInstitute).

On day 11 my family and I were traveling  (so according to the ‘exotic location’  theory things should have been easier, but as you will see they were not). Since I was basically on a family trip and using the ’12 days’ challenge as an excuse to get some photography in, I needed to piggy-back my photography onto family trips. Scheduled for this day was a family trip to Auckland Zoo, and eventually we’d end up back at the hotel which was near the airport. We needed to return the rental car before 5 pm, and as we were flying home early the next morning it didn’t really matter that we’d be stuck at the airport for the evening. My idea was that I’d take the advantage of being at the zoo to do some Garry Winogrand style street photography. I’ve always loved Winogrand’s work, and a zoo is a great place for that style, and we don’t have a zoo in Dunedin.

But things didn’t go as planned.

My first photo was of an obese family eating ice creams next to the elephant enclosure. Ironic; cutting; humorous.

But not long after I ended up having a brief conversation with them. They seemed like nice people. Then, as we walked around the zoo, this family was often looking at the same animals we were. I noticed how the parents interacted with their kids. They didn’t just seem nice – they seemed good. And I’d feel really mean if I put the image I had of them on Facebook – it would be cruel to make fun of them in a public forum. They didn’t deserve that.

So I trashed my Winogrand idea. One of my daughters was recovering from scarlet fever, and her energy levels were low, so we ended up back at the hotel before schedule, without me having got my photo for the challenge.

Now, the hotel we were staying at was especially bland, and, because we had booked the cheapest room that could fit us all, the place was crammed with baggage, clothes and grumpy kids. Not much scope for a photo there. And the area around Auckland Airport is pretty much antiseptic and un-photogenic. To cap things off, the weather was bland with a featureless sky, on the edge of rain, but without any definition in the clouds.  The most boring possible light. I thought that maybe I could get some photos in the terminal, and at the worst I could hang around after dark and get some long exposures of car headlights or something to satisfy my obligations to the ’12 days’.

I went out with the camera to take the rental car back, hoping I’d find something to photograph on the walk back. I really didn’t want to send in low quality work for the ’12 days’ challenge – there were too many people who I liked, including present and former students, following the challenge. To post a lousy photo would be embarrassing.

I dropped the rental car off, thinking that really I wanted an abandoned building or a field of rusty cars – that’s the sort of location I’ve done some of my best work in. Sharee McBeth had shared a link to photos of exotic abandoned locations and that was in my head. The airport surroundings were just too neat and tidy.

Then I walked out of the rental yard and looked around, and there, across the road, on the other side of a paddock, was an abandoned building. I couldn’t resist it – I had to check it out. As I got closer I realised it wasn’t just one building – it was a field of abandoned buildings and rusty old cars.

I climbed over the barbed wire fence and into the field. There wan’t anyone around, and it looked as if no one had been there for years. It looked like a yard that had once been operated as a wrecker’s yard, for both buildings and cars, but a wreckers yard that no one had tended for decades. I recognised a mark I Jag and and Austin J Type – both vehicles had been discontinued around 1960, so I’m guessing that this yard had not been active since around 1970. (below the J Type and Mark I wrecks)

(Double click to see the images larger)

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I love the red colour on the dash of this one…

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Saddest was this dead kitten, which almost looked as if it had been posed.

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What I like best about old cars is how anthropomorphic they can be. I like the twisted grin on the one below…

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This is the view from beside one of the houses looking back to the car rental yard.

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Some of the houses reminded me of pictures taken after natural disasters. Here’s a pair of shots of the same building that show the importance of framing with a foreground object. the first one is a document, the second is a photograph…

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This is probably my favourite shot from the place – here the house becomes anthropomorphic – us humans are hardwired to see faces.

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But my creative streak didn’t end there. By the time I got back to the hotel the view from the window was starting to look good, in a ‘New Topography’ kind of way… (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-photographs-american-landscapes)

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We walked over to the International terminal to find some dinner, and I explored with the camera. The observation deck…

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The shot above is an OK shot, but I like the one below more since it has a sense of narrative (who is she seeing off?). The central composition seems to make her look more lonely.

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Even the corridor to the viewing platform seemed interesting

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The shot below is probably the most interesting one form the terminal. Of course it’s a photo of a photo, but if Richard Prince can get away with that (http://www.richardprince.com) then so can I. What makes it work is the rubbish bin.

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And on the way home from dinner the early evening sun was shining on a parking space…

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Now, the point of all this is that there were plenty of images just waiting to be taken, but only when my eyes were open.

Good photos are not out there.

They are in your eyes.