In this part it gets to what I think is the most interesting stuff in my kit – my telephotos.
I find it interesting that many landscape photographers believe the wide end of the equation is the one we should be sharpening our skills on, producing image after image with endless depth of field. Honestly for me it couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only have my specialist telephoto lenses grown in use over time but the depth of field I often deploy ensures that my photography is often about small parts of the image being entirely in focus. For that I need the help of some very special glass…
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S
Boy has this particular focal length cost me some money. I’m on my second Nikon 85mm f/1.4G having made the huge mistake of selling this lens during the second half of 2014. The reason for the distraction was periods of ownership where I’ve shot with both the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G and lately the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZF.2. I’ve also previously owned the Nikon 85mm f/1.8D which sparked my interest many years ago in this focal length.
Yes, this is a classic portrait focal length and actually I take a lot of portraits and don’t show any of them. But i’ve also adapted my landscape photography towards this focal length, particularly with projects like Backwater which until 2015 was being exclusively shot with my Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, the reason being the spectacular smooth bokeh which was necessary for such a project. Use of narrow depth of field has become a huge draw for me and I’m firmly of the belief that this will continue to shape my photography from here much more. Endless depth of field is nice but there are times it’s both predictable and very, very boring. I didn’t get into photography to record the landscape, I got into photography to interpret things artistically – using narrow depth of field certainly lends itself to the latter at least.
One thing I just want to say here, and it’s another personal judgement, in respect of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S – it’s a very highly regarded lens, and fantastic value for money no doubt. For those photographers who use this sort of focal length only very occasionally then the 1.8G is a great choice. Personally I think it is it’s money. What I mean by that is that by comparison to the 1.4G which absolutely reels in the light, images from the 1.8G seem flat, often uninspiring, have a different tone, more nervous bokeh and do not have the same contrast and punch. I think a few of those differences are to do with the Nano Crystal coat on the 1.4G which you pay a lot of money for. Some commentators say the 1.8G is 95% of the lens for 30% of the price – my assessment is it’s more like 60-70% of the lens for 30% of the price. Take it or leave it. If you can’t see the difference between Nikon’s 1.8 primes against their 1.4 bigger brothers then you would be wasting your money anyway but for me the differences are often more like night and day than tiny inconsequential nuances. There, I said it, and I know that won’t be a popular view. I already discussed similar points in relation to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art v the Nikon 35mm f/1.4g AF-S, a great lens isn’t necessarily made by ultra-sharpness, it’s what it delivers for you personally that really matters.
I should mention the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZF.2 while I’m here too. It didn’t last long in my lineup. The reason for this is because it’s near impossible to get sharp images, handheld using manual focus only at this focal length and f/1.4. So much so I gave up and sold it. As a studio lens on a tripod however, the colour, contrast and overall delivery is quite staggering. In the end it really is a lens that relies on perfect technique but without a tripod it wasn’t working for me. A travesty and a damn shame. I sold it to bring home my second Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and immediately my keeper rate returned to the level it needed to be. I won’t make the mistake of selling it again.
A fabulous lens for use with conventional subject matter and infrared, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G has provided me with some frames I’m very happy with:
Zeiss 100mm f/2 ZF.2 Makro-Planar
I don’t have enough superlatives for this lens. A huge discovery to me when I bought it in 2014, I made a big decision half way through that year – I had shot endlessly with the magnificent Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VRII but it was killing me. At 1.5Kg the 70-200mm f/2.8 was no fun on days out and as much as I still pine for it now, (every part of me apart from my wrecked left shoulder which it definitely played a part in creating), selling it for the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 AF-S at almost half the weight was exactly the right thing to do. But what I did in the process was to cover losing that wonder f/2.8 aperture with the Zeiss 100mm f/2 and an 85mm f/1.4. This would mean choosing a tele to go out with and lately the Zeiss 100mm f/2 has been a very regular choice indeed adding extensively to my Backwater series amongst other things.
When I went to buy the Zeiss 100mm f/2, I took a very long look at the Zeiss 135mm f/2 ZF.2 and although everything I read had said that the 135mm was ‘better’ (read sharper), my instinct said the smaller, lighter, 67mm front filter, close-focussing macro capable 100mm was the right choice. I trusted my instinct and absolutely adore it. What is interesting is that where I couldn’t get a sharp image out of the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 wide open hand held, the Zeiss 100mm at f/2 actually feels easier to control in some way. Certainly my return with that lens comes up trumps a lot anyway. I’ve previously owned the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AF-S (twice I think) and I can tell you it’s absolutely not in the same league. I can categorically say that the Zeiss 100mm f/2 gets a top recommendation from me, a truly wonderful beautifully put together piece of glass.
Here’s some photographs I made with it earlier…
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S
Last but by very no means least is the Nikon 70-200mm f/4. Interestingly, this is the only lens I own that isn’t made in Japan, I don’t consider that to mean anything when it comes to image quality but to some these things matter – I can tell you that at f/5.6 I don’t think this lens can be out-gunned by anything. It might well be the last lens to get reviewed but it’s often first into my bag. I’ll level with you here however, when I bought the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 it was my head ruling my heart. I absolutely loved the all metal Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S VRII which I shot with for years but it was slowly breaking my back. I was carrying too much gear around with me and the 70-200mm f/2.8 went everywhere – at 1500g it was the equivalent of carrying three decent sized primes and that was becoming too much. When you added the weight of the Nikon 45mm PC-e and a wide it was getting silly. It remains a super-special lens I would recommend anytime but as time has gone on the 70-200mm f/4 has filled that void almost completely, with the obvious help of the Zeiss 100mm f/2 ZF/2 too when having a wider aperture really mattered.
Nikon really smacked this one out of the park though. It’s absolutely made for landscapers if you ask me, not too bloaty at 850g (lighter than the Fuji 50-140mm which is meant to be optimised for a crop sensor), another lens I enjoy for its 67mm filter size, and what I often do is take it out with a wider option like the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art or a really light option like my Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s. It’s not my absolute best loved lens in all truth (I think the Zeiss 100mm wins that) but it’s one hell of a work-horse for me, I can easily shoot all day with this alone having got into habits like that with the 2.8 version before. All I know is I couldn’t possibly be without a 70-200mm, no one makes a crap version out there regardless of what you’ll read and they are in my view an absolute must-have lens in the bag.
Here are a handful of faves from my baby: