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Necessary Camera Equipment for Beginners: Photography Basics

Everyone’s favorite part of photography is camera equipment. I’m kidding, of course — although that is the impression you’ll get from certain photographers. But no one can deny that some gear is necessary in order to take pictures. At the very least, you need a camera and lens, but there are also important considerations like software and other accessories. This article dives into the most necessary and important camera equipment you need for photography, including some of our top recommendations.

1) Camera

A good camera is like an extension of your arm. It should be effortless to use, making it as easy as possible to capture the photo you have in mind. So, what camera should you get?

The best place to begin for many photographers is with an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera. The difference between these two types of camera is that DSLRs have an internal mirror, which reflects light directly from the lens into an optical viewfinder, so that you can see exactly what the lens sees. Mirrorless cameras don’t have this feature, which allows them to be smaller and lighter. The market price of a brand new entry-level DSLR or mirrorless cameras tends to be in the range of $300 to $700, not including any lenses or accessories.

DSLR and mirrorless cameras
A DSLR (the Canon camera) and a mirrorless camera (the Fujifilm camera) shown side-by-side to scale.

Some popular entry-level DSLRs include the Canon Rebel series, the Nikon D3400, and the Nikon D5600. Don’t be fooled by the term “entry-level.” These are excellent cameras that we highly recommend for beginning and advanced photographers alike. On the mirrorless side of things, you have even more options to choose from, including popular cameras from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic.

If these cameras are beyond your budget, you can get major discounts by purchasing a slightly older model from the same lineup — for example, an older Canon Rebel, or the Nikon D3200 or D5200. You can also buy used. On the flip side, for a higher price, you can find more advanced and specialty equipment. Either way, all of these are highly capable cameras. Do some research, pick one, and don’t agonize over the decision, because every option on the market today is quite good. (But if you need a place to start, check out our camera reviews.)

Lastly, there’s nothing wrong with using the camera you already have, even if it’s a smartphone camera or a point-and-shoot. You can capture excellent photos with any equipment, so long as you know its limits. There’s always time to upgrade in the future, and it isn’t worth rushing a purchase right now if you haven’t found the right one.

You can read more about DLSRs versus mirrorless cameras as well as DSLRs versus point-and-shoot cameras if you’re still trying to make your decision.

2) Lens

Along with a camera, the single most crucial piece of equipment for photography is a lens. In some ways, lenses are even more important than the camera itself, because the lens is what actually focuses the light to reach your camera sensor.

Certain cameras (including all the DSLRs and mirrorless cameras discussed above) allow you to switch out your lenses. They’re called “interchangeable lens cameras.” You can swap a portrait lens for a huge, expensive sports lens, using the same camera. This is a major benefit, making your system far more flexible for different types of photography.

What lens should you get? Some photographers use kit lenses which come bundled with many cameras. Other photographers buy their cameras and lenses separately. Either way, you definitely need to purchase a lens in the end, one way or another. There are two (and maybe three) that we recommend for starters. From most important to least, you should get:

  1. A kit lens that zooms, such as a 14-42mm, 16-50mm, 18-50mm, 18-55mm, or 18-105mm lens. These are inexpensive lenses that offer a lot of versatility, which gives you a good idea of what specialty lenses to buy in the future. They’re also higher in quality than they sometimes get credit for.
  2. A prime lens that doesn’t zoom, such as a 25mm f/1.8, a 35mm f/1.8, or a 50mm f/1.8 lens, which are especially good for portraits and people photos with a “shallow focus” effect (blurry background — see our article on aperture).
  3. A telephoto zoom lens, such as a 55-200mm. This type of lens lets you photograph distant objects like wildlife or sports, although not all photographers will need that capability at first.

Every lens has a millimeter number, such as 50mm. This is called your focal length. It simply refers to how far “zoomed-in” a lens is — how narrow of an angle it captures. Lenses with a higher number (anything 85 or more) are considered telephoto lenses, which are like telescopes, magnifying things in the distance. Lenses with a lower number (anything 28 or less) are considered wide-angle lenses that show a much more sweeping view. And anything in between, like a 50mm lens, is a normal lens. Keep in mind that the exact numbers are not as important as what they represent. Some people would say that a 35mm lens is a “wide normal” lens, for example.


There is also the important distinction between zoom lenses and prime lenses:

  • Zoom lenses cover multiple focal lengths. You can zoom them in and out.
  • Prime lenses can’t zoom at all — they’re fixed at a single focal length.

Zooming is a great feature, but prime lenses are also excellent choices. They usually have several benefits, including weight, price, sharpness, low light performance, and “shallow focus” improvements (again, covered in our article on aperture). At Photography Life, we tend to prefer prime lenses rather than zoom lenses in many situations. You can read more at Prime vs Zoom Lenses.


An example of a zoom lens is the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens. An example of a prime lens is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s easy to tell that a zoom is a zoom, since it has a range of millimeter numbers in its name. That represents the widest angle and the most magnified telephoto a single lens can offer. For example, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens is a 5x zoom.

All photographers have different lens needs and requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all option, and that’s why manufacturers have hundreds of lenses on the market. Still, the basic kit described above should be a good place to start. Or, if you’re trying to decide on the right lens, you might consider checking out our lens reviews. You should also learn the things to do after buying a new lens.

Every manufacturer makes countless lenses. Here are just 10 different Nikon lenses out of several hundred available (new and old).

3) Camera Bag

Unlike cameras or lenses, camera bags are easy. Picking a good one is mostly common sense — if a bag is comfortable, and it fits your equipment well, go for it. Still, you should choose a good one from the start. The ideal bag depends upon the type of photography you like to do:

  • Landscape photographers will primarily want a camera or hiking backpack, since they end up traveling long distances and carrying a lot of equipment.
  • Street and vacation photographers are likely to want a shoulder bag, since it’s quick to access, and it works well for smaller overall camera kits.
  • Wedding photographers differ, but most will want a camera backpack or rolling suitcase to bring a lot of equipment to the wedding. Also, they may want a shoulder bag for moving around while taking pictures.
  • Studio photographers might not even need a bag, if they never leave the studio, although some will purchase rolling suitcases to carry their equipment via car or airplane.
Hiker with camera backpack
A camera backpack is essential for long hikes to beautiful locations.

There are thousands of options for camera bags out there. Although you could buy bags online, we strongly recommend going out in person and testing this yourself, since you never quite know how a bag fits until you wear it. Comfort is very subjective. If you need to buy online, pick a store with a good return policy, such as Amazon, Adorama, B&H, or REI.

Along the same lines, don’t forget a good camera strap. If you end up carrying your camera around for long stretches of time, the original strap that comes with your camera probably won’t be very comfortable. You can buy large, padded straps at any camera store, and they’re also easy to find online. One very comfortable strap that we recommend is the Op/Tech Pro Strap, or you can check out all the straps that B&H sells.

4) Memory Card

The next item is a memory card. Memory cards store photos and let you transfer them from your camera to your computer. They’re an essential piece of equipment for any photographer. Some cameras even include a memory card when they ship.

The first reason to get a good memory card is storage. You’ll want a card that can hold plenty of photos — ideally well over 1000 photos from your camera, if not more. Get a memory card that is at least 16 gigabytes, and ideally 32 GB, 64 GB, and so on. This is especially important for wildlife, sports, and travel photography, where you’ll be taking a lot of photos. At Photography Life, we stick with 64 GB cards or larger.

The other important consideration is speed. Fast memory cards come with several benefits, and one of the biggest is that they minimize the time your camera spends “buffering” (locking up to process a burst of photos you just captured). This saves time in the field, and it lets you take longer bursts more easily. Getting a fast card is especially important for wildlife and sports photographers, and for video usage.

A fast memory card is crucial for wildlife photography, especially when you are taking long bursts of photos to capture the perfect moment.

Memory cards are cheap compared to almost all other camera equipment, and, in today’s world, there’s really no reason to get a bad one. One card we strongly recommend is the SanDisk 32 GB Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Memory Card, due to its fast speed and reliability, for $22 (and a 64 GB version also exists for $38). You can read much more about why we recommend this card, and others like it, in our detailed article on everything you need to know about memory cards.

5) Tripod

Tripods are incredibly valuable for many photographers, although their importance depends upon the subjects you photograph. Personally, as someone who mainly focuses on landscape photography, my tripod is like an extension of my camera. I almost always use it. But other people — portrait photographers, wedding photographers, or street photographers — may not use a tripod as often.

What tripod should you buy? The truth is that all tripods have compromises. A $50 tripod from Best Buy might be lightweight and inexpensive, but it won’t be very stable in the wind. A $600 carbon fiber Gitzo tripod might be extremely stable, but it’s a $600 tripod. Also, if you want a lightweight tripod, you’ll need to compromise even more in terms of price or stability. This diagram sums it up:

The diagram of tripod compromise
Pick any two.

My recommendation for most beginning photographers is to buy something in the $75 to $150 range, at least at first, and to avoid buying one that’s made of plastic. A moderately lightweight aluminum tripod is a good option at this price. The most popular brand at this price range is Manfrotto.

If you later decide that you need a better tripod, go straight to a high-end carbon fiber option. Don’t buy a tripod in the middle, because it won’t be enough of an improvement, and you’ll end up buying the more expensive one anyway in the end. We speak from experience — If you upgrade your tripod incrementally, you’ll lose a lot of money along the way. The two top tripod brands are Gitzo and RRS, although they are very expensive.

RRS tripod
The RRS TVC-24 tripod in action.

Also, you need a tripod head. Your tripod might come with one, or you may need to buy it separately (in the $50 to $100 range). Tripod heads are important; they’re how you actually move your camera around to take photos. If your tripod doesn’t come with a head, our recommendation is to buy a ballhead rather than a pan-tilt head, since it will be smaller and just as stable. (Pan-tilt heads are good for video, but usually are not necessary for still photography.) In the image above, there is a ballhead on the tripod.

Popular brands at this price include Manfrotto, Oben, Vanguard, Slik, Benro, Mefoto, and Siriu. That’s just scratching the surface, too — this is a very crowded market. The differences from one company to another are not very large, especially in terms of price-to-performance ratio. Find something with the right weight, folded length, and maximum height, and make sure the reviews seem favorable. After that, you should be good.

If you’re thinking about buying a tripod, your should know what to look for.

6) Filters

Filters go directly in front of your lens (or, more rarely, behind your lens), which alters the light your camera captures. They’re an important part of photography, although you might not need as many filters as you would think. There are four main types of filters that are relevant in digital photography. However, you might only need one or two of them, or none at all:

  • Clear filters are transparent filters that protect your lens. Good clear filters are more expensive, but bad clear filters might harm your photo quality significantly. Personally, I only use a clear filter in the most extreme conditions, but other photographers use them all the time. Clear filters are also known as UV or Haze filters.
  • Polarizing filters are crucial for many photographers. These filters darken the blue sky, and they decrease certain reflections in an image. If you photograph plants or water, polarizing filters are very useful, and highly recommended. (Read more about polarizers here)
  • Neutral density filters reduce the overall amount of light that reaches your camera sensor — they’re essentially just darkened pieces of glass. You should use them if you want extra motion blur in your photos, such as smoothing out waterfalls, or if you’re trying to do flash photography in bright conditions.
  • Neutral density graduated filters transition smoothly in a gradient from dark to clear. This is useful if you need to darken a portion of your photo selectively (like the sky), while leaving the rest of the photo unaffected.

At Photography Life, we recommend waiting to invest in filters until you’re willing to get a higher-end option. That’s simply because a bad filter will harm the image quality of every photo you take.

The most important filter is a polarizer, at least for most photographers. It has a huge effect on your photos that is impossible to duplicate in post-processing. Still, you may also want other filters, depending upon your work.

As for brands, some of the most popular are Hoya, Tiffen, and B+W. There are other specialty brands, too, as well as plenty of cheap $5 plastic options available. Some photographers have preferences — often quite strong — between the main brands, but the basic fact is that you get what you pay for. For example, the best filter from Tiffen will be better than the worst filter from Hoya, and vice versa. Of the three, B+W is generally considered the highest-end brand.

You should read more about filter types if you are planning to purchase one or more.

Taken using a polarizing filter, which reduces glare and saturates the green color of the plants.

7) Flash

For many types of photography, a flash is absolutely essential. It matters if you want to take pictures of people in dark environments, or if you want to shape and mold the light that shines on your subject. It’s also a good way to brighten dark shadows, even during the day.

Many cameras have pop-up flashes already, and you also can buy separate, stronger flashes at an additional cost. Some photographers (such as landscape or architectural photographers) may not want a flash at all. Others (like portrait photographers) could find them to be essential.

If you’re interested in advanced flash photography, consider getting a flash that can work without being attached to your camera. Otherwise, all you need to start might just be a flash that tilts up and down, or even the pop-up flash already built into your camera. Also check out all of our flash photography tutorials.

8) Extra Batteries

Any time you buy a camera, it will ship with a battery and charger. Still, that may not be enough. Personally, I have six batteries and three chargers, since I go on long hikes in cold weather, where batteries die quickly. Other photographers have even more. It’s never worth it to lose a good photo because your battery is dead, no matter the reason. So, get at least one backup battery — and more if you find that two isn’t enough.

Some people ask us about buying third-party batteries to get a discount, and our answer is simple: It depends upon which one you buy. There are so many third-party options that it is impossible to generalize. When in doubt, the original manufacturer’s battery is more likely to perform at the highest standards, but plenty of photographers purchase off-brand batteries without any issues with battery life or malfunctions. This is a case where it is important to read the reviews.

Cold morning extra batteries
This was a beautiful morning for photography, but it was so cold that my battery died in less than an hour. Luckily, I brought along a couple spares.

9) Post-Processing Software

To edit your photos, you need some sort of post-processing software. Most photographers will end up editing their photos, often significantly. However, the free software that comes with your camera or computer might not have enough features. So, what software should you get? There is no perfect answer answer varies significantly from person to person.

Many photographers ask about Adobe Photoshop first. However, although it’s a robust editing program, it’s aimed at graphic designers and digital artists just as much as photographers (if not more). For conceptual photography and strongly retouched advertisements/commercial work, Photoshop is a must-have. But, for many photographers, it’s overkill.

The actual software you should get is a bit of an open question. One possibility is to continue down the Adobe route and get Lightroom, which is a dedicated editing program specifically for photographers. Lightroom is $10/month from Adobe, and that price also includes Photoshop, which is a solid deal for a professional package. However, many photographers try to avoid subscription models like this, especially when it is the only option available from a company like Adobe. We’ve written about the issues with this arrangement several times before.

If not Lightroom, what’s left? Beyond Adobe, the playing field gets a bit messy. If you’re looking for a Photoshop alternative, there is an excellent and inexpensive piece of software called Affinity Photo — but no single option is ideal to replace Lightroom for your “everyday edit” needs. In no particular order, here are some of the most popular choices:

  • ON1 Photo RAW
  • Alien Skin Exposure
  • Capture One
  • ACDSee Ultimate
  • DxO PhotoLab
  • Photo Ninja
  • RawTherapee
  • Corel AfterShot Pro

All of these are well-respected, professional products, and you can’t go wrong. The important thing is to stick with the piece of software you pick whenever possible, since you’ll be able to learn it in-depth over time. That way, you’re familiar with how to make your photo match your intended appearance.

Lightroom Screenshot
This is the editing screen in Adobe Lightroom. Typically, advanced photography software will have sliders very similar to the ones on the right-hand panel here.

10) Monitor and Calibration Equipment

It’s important that the colors you see on your computer monitor actually mirror the colors you captured with your camera, at least at a broad level. Otherwise, the edits you make to a photo will be fundamentally flawed.

The problem is that most monitors have major color issues out of the box, or they aren’t good monitors in the first place. It’s important that you purchase a monitor that is an “IPS” panel (In-Plane Switching), and get at least an 8-bit monitor (and ideally a 10-bit or greater wide-gamut monitor). This way, your monitor can display the greatest range of color and give you the best color reproduction. Monitors can be expensive. One of the more reasonable options we recommend is the Dell U2415, for $220. However, you should read our guide to buying a good monitor for photography before purchasing anything, so that you have a better idea of what specs to look for.

After that, you still need to calibrate your monitor. This is where an external piece of hardware measures the monitor’s colors and provides a more accurate profile. The two most popular companies for calibration products are Datacolor and ColorMunki, starting around $100-$120. This may not be the most obvious piece of camera equipment, but it’s an important one for many photographers. You can also read more about calibrating a monitor if this is a topic that interests you.

11) Other Accessories

Along with all of this necessary camera equipment, there are some additional important accessories to consider along the way.

First, to maintain your camera, lenses, filters, and other gear, you’ll want a cleaning kit. This includes microfiber cloths and cleaning spray for your lenses, as well as a way to clean your camera sensor if it gets dirty. There are plenty of options out there, including wet-cleaning solutions and dry-cleaning products like sensor brushes. We also sell our own Sensor Gel Stick at Photography Life for this purpose.

Along with a cleaning kit, you may also want various other accessories like remote shutter releases, GPS attachments, motion triggers, printers, and so on. The market for photography accessories is huge. Our recommendation is to hold off on buying some of this more specialized gear until you have a good idea what genre of photography you’re interested in pursuing. For example, you wouldn’t want to buy a set of high-quality studio lights, only to realize that you prefer landscape photography rather than portraits.

Don’t get bogged down by accessories at first. Start with the core kit of your camera and lens, and see what direction your photography goes after that. Only buy additional accessories as needed.

This photo has more than two minutes of exposure time, which is why the stars in the sky look like streaks. Extremely long exposures like this are easiest to capture with a remote shutter release.

12) Warning: Don’t Buy that Bundle

We’ll wrap up this camera equipment guide with a quick warning: Don’t buy all-in-one photography bundles when you purchase your camera, as tempting as they may be.

On most photography retail websites — Amazon, B&H, Adorama, and so on — you can find kits that include many of the items we’ve discussed so far. These bundles might include a camera, lenses, a shoulder bag, filters, cleaning equipment, a tripod, memory cards, and extra batteries, among other possible accessories. For the “convenience,” these bundles often cost $100+ more than the base kit. The problem? The added accessories are nearly always cheap, bottom-barrel junk.

We’ve seen many photographers throw away money on these bundles, only to repurchase almost all the items later from a higher-quality manufacturer. As tempting as kits like this may seem, they are simply a bad investment for learning photographers. Some bundles out there are good, but a far greater number simply are not worth the price.

13) Conclusion

Picking the right camera kit isn’t as easy as just buying a good camera. You also need to think about tripods, filters, post-processing software, batteries, memory cards, accessories, and more. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get there. Start with an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera, as well as a couple lenses, and expand from there as needed.

Camera equipment matters, but, no matter what gear you have, it won’t be the driving force behind taking good photos. Instead, the most important thing is understanding how to take photos — both the technical and the creative side of things. That’s what we cover in the next chapters of Photography Basics.


Photographing a Kickboxing Class

If you’ll excuse the pun it seemed like a good way to kick-start the New Year. When a friend invited me to her kickboxing class to indulge in some photography while she trained I accepted. Alpha Whiskey needs constant stimulation to get his juices flowing and photography is no exception. Frankly, I’m surprised it took me so long to photograph this subject; having reached 1st Dan in Taekwondo in my youth, I was always enamoured with the flexibility and physical expression these types of sports had to offer, enjoying less the pugilism and more the forms, aerial movement and speed. The various moves were always visually interesting and demonstrative of how capable human anatomy could be.


Purists would argue that kickboxing is more of a martial sport than a martial art, and perhaps they are right. But these guys certainly made it look artistic and to me any kind of expressive movement is an art form regardless of where the blow lands. And when captured in a photograph it summons Yates’ assertion that the dancer is the dance.


While taking these photos I cast my memory back to graphic novels and old martial arts movies, when camera positions and framing were just as important to the visual experience of the audience as the exponent themselves. Indeed today camera angles and editing are what give the likes of Liam Neeson his particular set of skills, enhancing the visceral impact through clever choreography and positioning.

I would shoot from ground level to lend more height to the kicks, sometimes tilting the camera to bring greater dynamism to the movements (a typical technique used in graphic novels). Combined with wide-angle lenses shooting from low enhanced the scope and impact of some of the movements. I even used the good ol’ fish-eye to deliberately exaggerate some of the kicks.

2 2a 3

Any student of graphic narrative art will know that the best way to give a sense of motion from a still image would to be to depict the very beginning or the very end of an action, i.e. the intention or the impact. So while I reeled off a few clicks with high speed continuous shooting I tended to select images at the extremes to edit.

4 5 5a

When I had finished picking my teeth up off the floor I switched over to longer focal lengths to capture more intimate portraits.

6 7 7a

Alas there were no rays of sunlight lancing through overhead skylights and penetrating a fine mist as backlit silhouettes performed reverse roundhouse kicks on a wooden crate. As you can see the lighting in the gym wasn’t ideal, although there was plenty of it, and it occasionally confused the white balance (a good reason to shoot RAW). And the background had plenty of distractions and objects that cluttered the scene, despite using fast lenses. I didn’t want to use a disruptive flash being in such close proximity to the trainees. Thus in processing these images I opted to apply a slightly gritty, urban look, which I felt seemed appropriate to the subject. May or may not have succeeded. And having shot these at a fairly high ISO (to get high enough shutter speeds) I chose to reduce the noise a little bit. I didn’t want shutter speeds that were too fast all the time because I wanted some blur to convey the speed of the movements.

8 9

Anyway, maybe in future I’ll have the opportunity to shoot some competitive contests for a little more rush but I had a lot of fun shooting this training session and hopefully I have captured some of the energy in the action. I hope it encourages you to go out and shoot some images of your own (or take up kickboxing). I wish to thank Chloe (featured in most of these shots) and her instructor George, a former world champion kickboxer, at the GTC Studio for their invitation and hospitality.

As usual this has been reproduced from my blog.


What Are Histograms? A Photographer’s Guide

Histograms are the solution to a fundamental problem in photography: Our eyes don’t always tell the truth. Have you ever been in a dark room, turned on your phone, and felt it blind you like nobody’s business? The same thing can happen in photography. Several times, I’ve taken pictures at night, and they look great on my camera’s LCD — until I open them the next day on my computer and realize they’re all hopelessly underexposed. Enter the histogram. This is one of the best ways to know exactly, mathematically, the brightness of your pixels. So, let’s dive in.

1) What are histograms?

Histograms are graphs of your camera’s pixels that specifically show brightness. This is quite useful. You don’t need to rely on your eyes to tell the brightness of a photo; you can get a more objective understanding by looking at a histogram. Here’s a sample photo paired with its histogram:

Dark histogram
The histogram for a dark photo.

As you can see, the photo above is very dark. The histogram underneath it, too, is shifted mainly to the left. That’s not a coincidence. Here’s another example:

Medium histogram
The histogram for a medium photo.

The photograph above is neither dark nor bright; it’s somewhere in the middle. In other words, a majority of the pixels in the image above are simply “normal” in brightness — and the histogram is roughly centered.

Here’s the last example:

Brighter histogram
The histogram for a bright photo.

In this photo, which is clearly much brighter, the histogram is bunched much closer to the right. Are things starting to make sense? Here’s our tally so far:

  • Dark photo: Leftward histogram
  • Bright photo: Rightward histogram
  • Medium photo: Centered histogram

Essentially, a histogram’s layout is like this:

The anatomy of a histogram

So, histograms are a graph of the brightness of each pixel in your photo, arranged from dark to light. They are a useful way to visualize how bright your photo is in an objective way. Also, you’ve probably noticed that all the photos so far are black-and-white. That’s because color histograms have a bit more information, and they take some extra effort to understand (although they’re still pretty easy, as I’ll cover in a moment).

2) Why do histograms matter?

Aside from what I’ve already suggested — that histograms help you out in dark conditions — there are a few other reasons why histograms matter. Most importantly, this is one of the best ways to figure out if you’ve lost any detail in the highlights or shadows of an image.

It’s a simple concept: When there are pixels all the way to one side of the histogram or another, black or white, you’ve lost some of the information in your photo. For example, in the image below, you can tell that I’ve lost details in the highlights, since the histogram has a tall column on the very right:

Overexposed histogram
This photo is overexposed, and I won’t be able to recover some of the details in the sky. That’s easy to see by looking at the tall column on the very right-hand side of the histogram.

The same goes for this photo, which has regions that are totally black:

Underexposed histogram
In this case, some details in the trees are completely black, which means I’ve lost the ability to recover those details. This is something you can tell based upon the histogram, which has a tall column touching the left-hand side of the image.

When you’re out taking pictures, and you don’t know whether you’ve lost important details, the histogram is a great place to start. Any time that part of the histogram is touching the very far extreme, you’ve potentially lost detail in that region. Personally, I use histograms all the time to make sure that I’m exposing properly, and especially to make sure that I’m not overexposing an image. (Overexposed areas of pure white are impossible to recover, while it’s usually possible to bring back shadow areas even when they look almost completely black.)

3) How to use histograms

It’s very easy to use histograms properly. In fact, you don’t need to look at most of the histogram.

Focus your attention only on the right-hand side of the histogram, where the bright tones appear. Ask yourself if anything is overexposed (which would appear as a column touching the right-hand side). For example, this histogram comes from the sand dunes photo above:

Sand dune example histogram

You can tell from this histogram that the photo is overexposed. You don’t even need to look at the image itself to realize that.  Because of the tall column up against the right-hand side, you can deduce that certain parts of the image are completely white. Not good.

Having a column on the very righthand side isn’t always a problem. For example, if the sun is in your photo, it should be completely white in the center. However, tread carefully. In most cases, it’s something to avoid, especially if more than a small handful of pixels are completely overexposed.

Side note:

Your pixels have to be completely white before it’s impossible to recover highlight detail. Normal highlight regions? They’re perfectly fine and easy to recover, so long as nothing is 100% white.

The most important thing is to avoid blowing out any highlights. If you make that mistake, there’s no easy post-processing fix. That’s why I like histograms so much — they make it easy to know for sure if any highlight detail in an image is gone.

4) Understanding color histograms

The histograms I’ve shown so far are accurate, but they’re only for black and white images. In color photography, histograms get a bit more complex. That’s because your camera sensor has red, green, and blue photosites within every pixel. So, naturally, a color histogram has red, green, and blue components. Here’s an example photo paired with the histogram:

Color histogram
(The magenta and yellow regions just mean that two of the color histograms are overlapping.)

This leads to an interesting result: You can lose information in one color without losing information in the others. For example, you might have a very bright photo where some of the blue channel is overexposed, but the red channel and green channel are fine, like the image below. Is that a problem?

Overexposed color histogram

Yes, that is a problem! It means you’ll be able to recover some highlight information, but the colors in your highlights won’t look quite right when you do. They’ll shift in strange directions, because you’ve lost a lot of blue information.

Overexposing just one of the three color channels is nearly as bad as overexposing all of them.

Luckily, most cameras let you see all the color histograms at once, so you aren’t flying blind. You’ll want to enable this feature (otherwise, the camera might just show a monochromatic histogram by default, which isn’t very precise). For example, on my Nikon DSLR, I’m able to see this screen when reviewing an image:

Camera screen RGB histogram
Pretty useful!

5) How to enable the histogram in your camera

Hopefully, you agree that it’s a good idea to enable the color histogram in your camera. How do you do that? It varies:

  • On most Nikon cameras, go to Menu > Playback icon > Playback display options > RGB histogram. Then, when you’re reviewing a photo, press the “up” button on the direction pad multiple times to cycle through different displays.
  • On most Canon cameras, go to Menu > Playback icon > Histogram display > Brightness/RBG > RGB. Then, when you’re reviewing a photo, press the “Info” button multiple times to cycle through the different displays.
  • On most Sony cameras, go to Menu > Gear icon > DISP Button > Histogram. Then, when you’re reviewing a photo, press the DISP button to cycle through different displays (or the “up” button on the direction pad if your camera doesn’t have a DISP button).

However, every camera is different. If you have a camera from another manufacturer, the process won’t be exactly the same. Even if you do have a Nikon, Canon, or Sony camera, your exact model might have some differences. When in doubt, consult your user manual. Or, just search for the answer online.

6) An alternative to the histogram

Histograms aren’t the only tool for this job. There are also blinkies, which make overexposed regions of a photo blink black and white upon review.

Blinkies aren’t always as good as histograms — specifically, they don’t tell you about individual color channels — but a lot of people find them easier to understand. They also do a good job showing exactly where any overexposure occurs.

If your camera has this option, it’ll be under the same menu as the histogram setting. This is called “Highlights” for Nikon and “Highlight alert” for Canon. For Sony, they’re automatically on once you enable the histogram.

7) A note on the JPEG histogram

A discussion on histograms (or blinkies) isn’t complete without mentioning one corollary: As helpful as they are, they typically don’t reflect the complete set of RAW data that most cameras can capture. In other words, it’s possible that your histogram or blinkies say that a highlight is blown out, but you actually can recover the data without issue — sometimes just barely — in post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom.

The reason is that cameras display the histogram based upon your camera’s JPEG settings, even when you’re shooting RAW files. (Check out our intro to RAW vs JPEG, and why you should shoot RAW.) So, if your JPEG settings include extreme contrast and vibrant colors, your histogram may say that you’ve overexposed a highlight long before you’ve actually lost data in the RAW file.

For most photographers, my recommendation is simply to leave your JPEG settings — called Picture Control settings, Creative Style settings, etc. — set to “boring” values that don’t add much contrast or saturation. Personally, I just use Camera Standard with contrast and saturation set to zero.

Side Note:

If you really want the most accurate possible color histogram, you can go much deeper than these basic changes, including setting your Picture Control to the flattest possible version, lowering contrast as much as possible, and using a specific “UniWB” white balance for all your photos (which will make them appear very green on the back of your LCD screen). These steps are overkill for most photographers, who just use histograms as a basic guide to avoid overexposure. It’s also beyond the scope of this article — but if you’re a histogram maniac, it could be worth exploring.

8) Conclusion

It’s a simple fact that you can’t trust your eyes to be perfectly accurate. You can’t trust the camera’s LCD, either — and with histograms, you don’t need to. The only important thing is to know how to read them. Once you understand how to read a histogram, you’ll be at a huge advantage in photography. You won’t end up overexposing or underexposing an image by accident, since you’ll already know how bright it is.

Personally, I use histograms a lot (and blinkies, too). The same is true for almost every photographer I know. They’re a great tool, and one that is worth learning how to use properly.


Is Fuji X-T2 and XF 100-400mm Ready for Bird Photography?

When I decided to sell my professional Nikon cameras and glass and make the switch to Fujifilm, the question I had was “will I still be able to photograph birds?” During spring migration last year, I was fortunate enough to be able to get a hold of the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens. In this article, I will let you know how the X-T2 and XF 100-400mm combo stacked up for bird photography.


For my testing, I paired the XF 100-400mm with my X-T2 camera and my VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster Grip. In some cases, I also used my XF 1.4X TC WR Teleconverter for a little extra reach.

The one thing that I did not use very often was a tripod! Because of the excellent image stabilization built into the lens and the combination’s relatively light weight, I had no problems hand-holding the camera, lens, grip, and teleconverter.

X-T2 and 100-400

Camera Set Up

Before I talk about how the camera performed, I want to touch on the settings I found returned the highest keeper rate for me. It took a bit of experimentation to find out what worked best. I want to stress that this is what worked for me. You may find that tweaking these settings works better for the way you shoot.

ISO – This varied according to the light and speed of birds in flight. When possible, I tried to stay at ISO 1600 or below. However, that was not always possible. There were several instances where I had to ride my ISO up to 6400.

Metering – If the light was balanced I used multi-metering and shutter priority for birds in flight (BIF) shots. For slower movement and when the light was low, I used aperture priority. If the light on my subject was constant, but the background light varied, I would spot meter to get a reading on the bird, and then switch to manual exposure. Using manual exposure in this instance allowed me to expose correctly for the bird while ignoring the fluctuations in background lighting that would erroneously alter the exposure if the bird moved. I also frequently adjusted my exposure compensation, especially shooting BIF.

Focus – I have been a back button focus type of person for many years now, so this is how I have my X-T2 set up. And, I always had the camera set to continuous focus. But more on customizing the AF-C settings in a bit. I also had the image stabilization turned on and set to continuous.

Function Buttons – When shooting subjects like birds, I find myself switching between single point and zone focusing (usually a 3×3 grid) often. And, I like to be able to adjust the size of the focus point/area quickly. Assigning these functions to the thumb pad saved me from hunting through menus when I needed to make focus adjustments. It also allowed me to make changes without lowering the camera from my eye. I assigned focus area to the top of the selector switch (FN3), AF-C custom settings to the left button (FN4), AF mode to the bottom button (FN6) and select custom settings to the right button (FN5).

Function Button Settings

In addition to assigning functions to the thumb pad, I also turned on the performance boost mode on the grip. This speeds up the frame rate from 8 fps to 11 fps and supposedly improves the camera’s tracking ability.

Continuous Autofocus

The downfall of most mirrorless cameras is their autofocus speed and tracking ability. The X-T2 has five pre-programmed AF-C presets. The camera also allows you to create your own custom setting. After some experimenting and many missed shots, I found that I got the best results using my own settings, as shown here.

AF-C Custom Settings

The tracking sensitivity determines how quickly the camera should try to reacquire focus when the subject disappears momentarily behind something, like another bird or a tree. I found that setting the tracking sensitivity to 2 worked well, especially in tricky situations, where the bird was not moving very quickly.

In each of these images, there was a substantial amount of reeds between myself and the birds. As the birds moved, they became temporarily obscured by the stalks. Please click on the photos to see the high-resolution images!

Black-bellied whistling Ducks
Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 328.7mm, ISO 2000, 1/2000, f/8.0
Tri-Colored Heron in Reeds
Tricolored Heron
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 400, 1/800, f/8.0
Tricolored Heron Fishing
Tricolored Heron
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 200, 1/600, f/8.0

I set the speed tracking sensitivity to 1, the middle setting. This seemed to be the happy medium between steady and slightly more erratic subject movement. This white morph reddish egret changed course unpredictably as it danced in the shallows to catch fish.

White Morph Reddish Egret 3
White Morph Reddish Egret
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/7.1
White Morph Reddish Egret 2
White Morph Reddish Egret
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/7.1

The setting that had the greatest effect on my keeper rate was the zone area switching. When the camera is set to zone focusing (as opposed to single point), zone area switching determines what part of the zone gets focus priority. For me, by far the best setup was to choose ‘center’. Center puts priority in the middle of the zone. So as long as your subject it near the center of the frame, it will be in focus. When the zone area switching was set to either ‘front’ or ‘auto,’ I found the camera tended to focus on the foreground, even if it was obvious that there was a subject several feet back. This was especially true when I was shooting prone (lying flat on the ground). The default for four of the five AF-C custom settings is either front or auto. Neither worked well for me! I became very frustrated before I figured this out and missed many shots because of it. Here I captured some beautifully textured sand and an out of focus mother least tern feeding her baby! I did manage one shot of the youngster … after the mother left and he had swallowed his meal!

Front Focus
As you can see here, the sand in front of the birds is perfectly sharp while the subject is clearly not!
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 1250, 1/1600, f/8.0
Least Tern 1
After frustratingly fighting with the autofocus, I did manage a sharp shot of the young least tern. However, by this time mom had flown off and breakfast was finished!
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 1250, 1/1600, f/8.0


So, how did the X-T2 and XF 100-400mm lens perform when tasked with shooting birds? Well, I must say that once I worked out all the autofocusing kinks, I was pleasantly surprised!

Having used the camera for almost eight months already, I was certain that I would be able to capture good shots of large birds, and “bird on a stick” portraits. What I wanted to know though, was how would the combination do acquiring and maintaining focus while tracking small moving subjects. Especially for birds flying through cluttered backgrounds.

Here are a few traditional bird portraits.

Laughing Gulls
These two laughing gulls posed for me!
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 200, 1/450, f/8.0
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 800, 1/3200, f/8.0
Black-necked stilt
Black-Necked Stilt
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 521.6mm, ISO 250, 1/250, f/7.8

The lens arrived from B&H a couple of days before my trip to photograph warblers during spring migration in Galveston, TX. I try to do this trip every spring. Galveston is the first landfall that birds heading north from their wintering grounds in Mexico and South America find. Exhausted from their 2000-mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico, they land here briefly to find fresh water and food. This trip would be a perfect chance to test the Fujifilm gear.

The first day I went out the light was horrible, and it poured with rain for a good part of the day. And unfortunately, the storm that blew in came from the south. This meant that the small warblers and migratory songbirds used the storm’s tailwind to continue their journey north! The usual migrant traps I like to frequent were utterly void of birds! Regrettably, this weather persisted for all four days of my visit. As it turned out, the 2017 spring migration bird counts were some of the lowest counts ever recorded in the area. Luckily the gulf coast has lots of shorebirds, so I re-focused (pardon the pun) my attention on them.

My first subjects were several black skimmers fishing. The light was quite flat, the birds were far away, and the rain made it hard to focus. To get decent shutter speeds, I had to jack up my ISO to 3200. And although I have been thrilled with the low light capability of the X-T2 for street photography (where I’m often up at 6400 ISO), I was disappointed with these images. Unfortunately, I found the camera hunted for focus in these conditions. I have several series where the photos were either completely out of focus, or focus is slightly in front of the bird (these shots were taken before I adjusted the zone area switching to center). I was also disappointed in how soft and grainy the images were when I got home and looked at them on my computer. Would my D500 and 200-400 f/4 performed better in these conditions? Maybe, but a friend of mine was using a Canon 5D Mark III and 500 mm f/4 lens and was getting similar results.

Black skimmer 1
This was probably the best image I got in the morning of a black skimmer. For this shot, the focus was accurate, but the image lacks sharpness. Notice how hard it is raining!
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 3200, 1/800, f/9.0
Black skimmer 2
The noise in this image and lack of sharpness were disappointing.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 468.9mm, ISO 3200, 1/800, f/9.0
Black skimmer 3
Black Skimmers
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 1600, 1/1250, f/8.0

As the afternoon progressed, I tweaked my AF-C custom preset, which made focus acquisition much more accurate. The light also got better, and the rain let up. We even saw a few moments of sun! With my new preset and brighter light, came much better results. The camera was not only quick to lock focus but was also extremely good at tracking birds in flight with clean, non-competing backgrounds, as shown in these next four images.

American Avocets
A flock of American avocets.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 800, 1/2000, f/8.0
Caspian Tern
Caspian tern hovering before its dive.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/8.0
Royal Tern 2
Royal Tern
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/8.0
Royal Tern 1
Even with a more complicated background, the gear maintained focus on this royal tern.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 1000, 1/1600, f/7.1

The next place we headed was to High Island. High Island has a very large rookery where hundreds of roseate spoonbills, cormorants and several varieties of herons and egrets roost. There are several viewing platforms set up across the slew where the birds nest. The background is extremely cluttered, and birds take off and land from all different angles. These conditions would be a bit more of a challenge for the camera system.

In this shot, the camera had no trouble picking up the Great Egret and maintaining focus even though the background was busy and the bird flew behind some branches before landing.

Great Egret
Great egret bringing in nesting material.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/2500, f/8.0

This spoonbill rounded the corner of the island fast and then flew past directly opposite me. Because of the orientation of the viewing platform, there was very little time to pick up the bird before it flew past me. Nevertheless, the camera was able to acquire focus quickly and accurately. I was pleased with how sharp the focus was on the eye of the bird.

Roseate spoonbill 1
Roseate Spoonbill
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/2500, f/8.0

Here are a couple of shots of birds that were flying, more or less, directly at the camera. Again, the camera and lens combination was able to pick up the bird and adjust focus as the birds flew towards me.

Roseate spoonbill 2
Roseate spoonbill
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/2000, f/13.0
Black skimmer 4
Black Skimmer
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 3200, 1/1250, f/5.6


Although the lens mounted on the camera alone felt a bit front-heavy, I did not notice this with the battery grip attached. I had no problems hand-holding the lens/camera/grip combination either, which was a welcome reprieve for my back and shoulders! I may have missed some shots because the focusing was, at times, slightly slower than my Nikon kit. However, being able to react much quicker without a tripod made up for those missed shots.

I was heading back to my car when I heard this white-tailed kite call. I turned and saw him approaching from behind me. I had maybe three seconds to get my camera up to my eye and capture several frames before he passed by me. I would not have been able to set up my D500 and 7.4 pounds 200-400 f/4 on a tripod, compose and focus in time to get off a shot. I found that the lighter gear gave me much more freedom than my Nikon equipment.

White-tailed kite
White-Tailed Kite
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 2000, 1/2000, f/9.0

Another advantage of not having to lug a tripod around is the ability to get low to the ground quickly. I had been photographing a scissor-tailed flycatcher when I heard two meadowlarks singing. The birds landed in the grass on the shoulder of the road and began looking for food. I quickly dropped to my stomach to get eye-level with the birds and caught one with a small caterpillar. Getting low to the ground in time to capture this image would not have been easy to do with a camera/lens combination mounted on a tripod.

Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern meadowlark with lunch.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 2000, 1/3200, f/9.0

Image Quality

I was more than satisfied with the image quality of the photos created with the XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 and X-T2. The images are sharp and the out-of-focus areas are soft and pleasing. For me, the true test of how good an image is is how it looks once it is printed. I am not as concerned with how the image looks magnified to 100% on my screen because that is not how I view the final product.

I have had several of these images printed 8″x12″, and the quality is excellent. And before I get comments from the pixel peepers out there, I would challenge anyone to distinguish between a print made using the X-T2 and XF 100-400mm lens, and one taken with a Nikon 200-500mm or 80-400mm lenses or an image made with a Canon 100-400mm lens. I consider these lenses to be the closest comparisons to the Fujifilm zoom. I would even go as far as to say that you would be hard pressed to differentiate between prints made with the Fuji gear and Canon and Nikon’s professional 400mm prime lenses, especially in good light. Unless you are making huge prints, heavily cropping your image, or zooming to crazing magnifications on a screen, you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Eastern Kingbird
The bokeh in the background is rendered beautifully in this shot of an Eastern kingbird.
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 1250, 1/1000, f/8.0
American Robin
American Robin
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 500, 1/1250, f/5.6
Black skimmer and Tricolored Heron
Black Skimmer & Tricolored Heron
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 378.8mm, ISO 200, 1/600, f/9.0
Great Egret and Chicks
Great Egret and Chicks
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/2000, f/9.0
Least tern pair
Least Tern Pair
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 500, 1/1000, f/8.0
Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/8.0
Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 400, 1/950, f/8.0
Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR + 1.4x @ 560mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/8.0

A Bonus!

A benefit to using a mirrorless camera for bird photography, which I had not considered when I was taking pictures for this article, became apparent to me a month ago. We had gone on a trip up the Harrison River, not far from Vancouver, BC, to photograph the large concentrations of bald eagles that converge in the area when the salmon run. I was using my Nikon for the first time in almost a year because I had returned the Fujifilm lens and did not have a long enough piece of glass in my existing Fuji kit. Because I am so used to my mirrorless system, where I can see what the exposure looks like through the viewfinder, I did not realize how backlit the birds were. And although I know that a small bird against a bright sky needs several stops of exposure compensation, it didn’t dawn on me until I looked at the back of my D500 screen! As a result, I ended up with many underexposed images.

With mirrorless cameras, when you look through the viewfinder, what you see is what you get! This WYSIWYG feature makes capturing correct exposures easy. Any adjustments made using exposure compensation can be seen in real time. Also, you can display a live histogram of the exposed scene in your viewfinder, allowing you to fix clipped highlights and shadows before pressing the shutter button. None of this is possible looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR. You must guess at the compensation you need, add it, and can only see the results after the shot is taken. The WYSIWYG advantage is particularly beneficial when photographing BIF and in other backlit conditions.

When I took this image of two great egrets nesting, I was using manual exposure mode. I adjusted my exposure until I could see details in the nest while keeping an eye on my histogram to make sure I didn’t clip the highlights in the birds’ wings.

Great Egret Pair
Great Egret Pair
X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/3200, f/7.1


The XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens paired with the X-T2 is a great combination for bird photography. Once I optimized the AF-C settings, the camera obtained focus quickly and accurately. The kit was also excellent for tracking BIF. Even when the birds were flying in front of complicated backgrounds or were temporarily obstructed by foreground elements, the gear maintained precise focus.

My only disappointment was that the gear struggled a bit in low light. The focus was much slower and less accurate in these conditions, and the images lacked sharpness and were quite grainy. However, to be fair, I believe that any equipment would struggle with this type of lighting condition.

Lastly, several months after I captured the images for this article, Fujifilm updated the firmware on the X-T2 (as well as the X-Pro 2). The update enhances AF-C to track subjects moving twice as fast as the previous firmware. The update also improves tracking, so it can capture moving subjects which are up to 50% smaller than before. Although I have not had the opportunity to test the XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 lens on the X-T2 since the update, I have seen improvements in AF-C with my other lenses.


If you are a bird photographer and have held off switching to a mirrorless system because of perceived autofocus issues and image quality, I think you will be delighted with the results you get with the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens and X-T2 camera.

So to answer the question, “Is the Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 100-400mm Lens Ready for Bird Photography?” I feel the answer is definitely yes!  The size and weight of the Fujifilm gear make bird photography easier and far more enjoyable than my heavy DSLR kit. And having fun with my craft is so important. I don’t want photography to ever seem like a chore. I am so impressed with how the lens performed that I now have my Nikon 200-400 mm f/4 up for sale and am looking forward to picking up my own copy of Fuji’s 100-400mm lens.

The Fujifilm XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens is available from B&H for $1899.


Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Announcement

Nikon is under a lot of pressure in 2018, because this is the year that the public is anticipating hot new products from the company, especially the highly anticipated full-frame mirrorless camera that the company is currently working on. The very first product that Nikon has launched in 2018 is a lens – it is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR – a beast of a lens targeted specifically at sports and wildlife photographers and videographers. Many Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR shooters have been waiting for a replacement to the lens and it looks like Nikon didn’t just deliver an update – the 180-400mm is a whole new lens with a completely revamped optical design and engineering. At $12,399 MSRP, it is the second most expensive lens in Nikon’s line-up after the exotic Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR and for a good reason, if you were to look into what Nikon has packed into it. Without a doubt, it is a marvel of a lens, something that is soon to become one of the most desirable lenses in Nikon’s arsenal. Read on to find out why.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR

Lens releases such as this one are very rare in the photography world. We see camera and lens announcements practically every month, but true high-level innovations are not easy to bring out due to the amount of time, effort and resources that are required to make it all happen. That’s why lenses like the 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR are expensive, as they require many years of engineering and testing in the field – such lenses are aimed specifically at professionals who will be using and abusing their gear in the field. Therefore, manufacturers have to pay extreme attention to every bit of detail to make sure that their products are able to function reliably over a long span of time, in any conditions. Nikon and Canon know that their clients choose their systems because of having such options, which is why they never rush exotic lenses into the market. Meticulous precision, careful hand assembly, thorough testing and high attention of detail are critical to make high-level lenses function without any issues in the field, which is why we rarely ever see lens variation in exotic super telephoto lenses. Having tested a number of such lenses both in the field and in a lab, I have to admit that I have not come across a bad lens sample, which is something that happens very often when I test standard lenses.

Anyway, the reason why I am bringing all of this out, is because some of our readers might express their frustration with such announcements, arguing that $12,399 is too much to pay for a single lens, that the 180-400mm f/4E VR is too overpriced. I agree, it is a lot of money, but please don’t forget that this lens is made for a very specific niche of photographers who want a high-performance zoom lens, just like all other modern super telephoto lenses such as the 400mm f/2.8E FL VR, 500mm f/4E FL VR, 600mm f/4E FL VR and 800mm f/4E FL VR. Every single one of those is priced above $10K for the same reasons as stated above.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR II Specifications Comparison

To make the 180-400mm f/4E a stellar lens in terms of performance, Nikon went with a completely different optical design to yield the best performance. Because of this, we can see a noticeable difference in total number of lens elements (27 vs 24), as well as in the number of extra-low dispersion elements (8 vs 4). Due to the use of a fluorite lens element, Nikon was able to shave off a large lens element from the front of the lens, which makes the lens much more balanced to hand-hold compared to its predecessor – it is no longer as front-heavy as the 200-400mm f/4G VR II. Take a look at the new lens construction of the 180-400mm lens and feel free to compare it to the one on the 200-400mm:

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Lens Construction

The addition of the built-in teleconverter adds a total of 8 more glass elements, as well as more metal on the side of the lens to be able to switch the teleconverter on and off, which obviously increases the overall weight of the lens. However, due to the addition of the fluorite lens element, Nikon was able to keep weight under control – the new 180-400mm f/4 is only 140 grams heavier compared to its predecessor, which is not going to be noticeable at all when hand-holding.

Lastly, let’s not forget about the benefits of all the new technology and optical coatings that Nikon was able to incorporate to the 180-400mm. In addition to Nano and Super Integrated coatings, the front of the lens is also fluorine-coated in order to repel water, dust, dirt and other environmental elements. The new electronic diaphragm should yield very high exposure accuracy when shooting in bursts.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR II Sharpness Comparison

Let’s take a closer look at the 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 VR and compare it to the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR II in terms of MTF performance. Below are the MTF charts for both lenses at their widest focal lengths:

Nikon 180-400mm f4E VR vs Nikon 200-400mm f4G VR II Wide MTF

The Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR II is a phenomenal lens, but it looks like the new 180-400mm f/4E FL VR sets a new standard for a super telephoto lens. Contrast levels are exceptionally high on the 180-400mm, but sharpness is where we can expect a huge win – look at that blue line being so close to the red one! Another big benefit of the new 180-400mm is its edge performance. It looks like the lens will be stellar throughout the frame at its shortest focal length, something the older 200-400mm could not deliver. But the big question is, can the new 180-400mm deliver the same level of performance at 400mm? Let’s take a closer look:

Nikon 180-400mm f4E VR vs Nikon 200-400mm f4G VR II Tele MTF

Once again, we can see that Nikon has made the lens noticeably sharper in comparison. On top of that, judging by how close sagittal lines are to meridional, we can expect the lens to yield exceptionally beautiful bokeh, something exotic super telephotos specialize in.

Obviously, these aren’t as flat of MTF curves as we have previously seen on Nikon’s prime super telephotos, but considering that we are looking at a zoom lens, this is pretty darn impressive to say the least. In short, just based on Nikon’s MTF charts, we can conclude that the new 180-400mm is a big step above its predecessor.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Teleconverter Performance

What about that built-in teleconverter? Well, the reason why it is always better to have a built-in teleconverter, or a teleconverter that is specifically made for the lens (and the only two lenses in Nikon’s arsenal that have such teleconverters are the 180-400mm and 800mm f/5.6 lenses), is because manufacturers can fine tune teleconverters with a specific lens to yield the best performance. Since there are manufacturing variances in both lenses and teleconverters, if the two are made for each other specifically, those variances can be minimized. This is why you cannot just go out and purchase a 1.25x teleconverter for the 800mm f/5.6 lens – you won’t find any for sale, since it is only made to couple with the specific 800mm f/5.6 it is shipped with. In the case of the 180-400mm f/4E, the 1.4x teleconverter is built-in, so it can be enabled or disabled by flicking a switch on the side of the lens:

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E 1.4x Teleconverter

Since teleconverters rob light, contrast and sharpness from lenses, it is expected that there is going to be a big drop in performance. Let’s take a look at how Nikon is expecting the lens to perform with the built-in teleconverter switched on:

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR MTF Chart

The above MTF charts are extremely impressive. Looks like the built-in 1.4x teleconverter mostly negatively affects the wider focal lengths, where there is a visible drop in sharpness. However, if you look at the MTF charts of the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR II above, you will realize that the 180-400mm with the 1.4x performs as good as the 200-400mm without one! I honestly did not expect the built-in teleconverter to be this good, but as I have pointed out earlier, that’s what happens with a teleconverter is specifically made for a lens. Now take a look at the right two graphs, where performance at 400mm is shown with and without a teleconverter – this is where I was blown away when I first saw the MTF chart. With these MTF charts, Nikon is basically saying that the built-in 1.4x teleconverter will not affect contrast or sharpness, since the lines are practically unchanged! Only towards the mid-frame and edges of the frame is where we can see a slight drop in performance, but otherwise, this looks unbelievably good. To me, this looks like an invitation to stack another 1.4x on top of the lens…

While I personally cannot afford to spend $12K+ on such a lens, I will most likely have a chance to test it out later this year. Having previously owned the 200-400mm f/4G VR, I am looking forward to testing this lens and I am especially excited about the possibility of using the built-in 1.4x teleconverter to make it a very versatile 252-600mm f/5.6 lens combo. I am also excited about the possibility of adding more teleconverters to get even more reach – with an additional 1.4x TC, this would make a 353-840mm f/8 lens, which is obviously not ideal in terms of maximum aperture, but that’s still a potentially powerful combination when one needs to get closer to action. And based on the above MTF figures, it looks like there won’t be a huge penalty in sharpness either. It will be interesting to see how the 400mm f/2.8 + 2x will do in comparison to the 180-400mm stacked with two 1.4x teleconverters!

Pre-Order Information

If you are a sports or wildlife photographer and you want to pre-order the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR, you can do so by visiting the link below and supporting our efforts. The lens is supposed to be released to public in March of 2018:


How Light Creates Emotion in Photography

At the end of the day, there’s only one reason why people like good photos. It’s a simple concept, really, but it also forms the foundation for all of photography. Emotion. For a photo to succeed, it has to resonate with your viewer. That could happen for a number of reasons, ranging from your subject to your composition. But the strongest tool to capture emotion is far more fundamental than that — it is, quite simply, your light.

Light has extraordinary power to create emotions in a photo. Most photographers know that light is important, but it’s still something everyone should strive to learn about and improve. If you master light, you master photography. Photography is light. Without it, you couldn’t take pictures in the first place.

Light at sunrise
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 155mm, ISO 100, 1/4, f/8.0

Different qualities of light — brightness, contrast, direction, and so on — all carry their own emotions. A dark, backlit photo with high contrast sends a very different message from a bright, airy forest at sunrise. And in photography, your light should complement your subject. If you’re trying to photograph an intense and dramatic waterfall, your light should contribute to that mood, not detract from what you’re trying to say. The same is true if you’re photographing a fun, happy portrait — the lighting should reflect those emotions.

Below, I’ll go into the unique emotional impacts carried by different types of light. Although some parts of this are subjective, others are nearly universal. I suspect that you’ll recognize many of these themes in your own work.

1) Dark light

Dark landscape photo
NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 8 seconds, f/16.0

One of the most emotion-filled types of light is dark, intense lighting. This works well for all sorts of photography: moody portraits, powerful landscapes, and somber documentary work. Dark light is popular across the board, and with good reason.

Quite simply, it’s unique. Dark light conceals information from viewers, making a photograph appear mysterious and — depending upon your subject — potentially ominous or refined. You’ll see many product photographers capture dark images for high-end advertisements, since, again, it does such a good job of conveying emotions.

Dark mountain photo
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 120mm, ISO 100, 30 seconds, f/16.0

The emotions of dark light:

  • Powerful
  • Ominous
  • Refined
  • Intense
  • Somber

2) Bright light

Bright photo with sunlight
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/30, f/16.0

The obvious counterpoint is that bright light also exists, and it carries its own set of important emotions. Say that you want to capture an etherial, airy photograph. Would you rather take pictures under a dramatic storm, or during bright, hazy, late-afternoon sunlight? This shouldn’t be a tough question — the afternoon sunlight will give your photo a much softer, airier quality.

The same is true in other cases. For example, maybe you want to capture a happy and optimistic image. If that’s your goal, you probably won’t go out in search of dim street corners at night. They just wouldn’t fit the mood, while a brighter scene might.

Although bright light is pretty common, it’s still worth seeking out in many cases. If you’re after a certain type of mood — airy, optimistic, or etherial — bright light will be your bread and butter.

The emotions of bright light:

  • Optimistic
  • Airy
  • Light (the adjective)
  • Gentle
  • Etherial

3) High Contrast

High contrast light
NIKON D810 + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/11.0

Many good photos make use of high contrast — juxtaposing extremely bright and dark regions of the image right next to each other. If you have a dark mountain silhouetted in front of the sky, that’s contrast. If you have a bright pond against a dark shoreline, that’s contrast.

A lot of people think that contrast is the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. Although that’s true to a degree, it isn’t the fundamental definition. For example, this gradient contains both white and black, but it has fairly low contrast:

Gradient of low contrast

Instead, contrast occurs when bright and dark elements are right next to each other (or elements of different colors, but that’s an article for another day). The “contrast” slider in most editing software does add to the distance between the brightest and darkest part of an image. But it also makes smaller, side-by-side regions of contrast more punchy.

And that’s one of the key words for contrast: punchy. As far as emotions go, it’s no surprise that high-contrast images draw a lot of attention. They’re dramatic, and they stand out from a crowd. That’s not always a good thing — it depends upon the image — but it’s also why high-contrast images are fairly popular on social media and photography websites right now. Quite simply, it’s a good way to get your photo noticed.

You can find contrast by searching for non-diffused light. In other words, a sunny afternoon or an unmodified camera flash will likely result in high-contrast images (although this does depend upon your subject). Personally, for landscape photography, I look for contrast when I’m trying to make a photo pop — cases when the landscape itself is particularly dramatic and intense.

The emotions of high contrast:

  • Dramatic
  • Loud
  • Vibrant
  • Punchy
  • Sharp

4) Low Contrast

Low contrast light
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/6, f/16.0

As popular as high-contrast images can be, don’t discount the opposite — photos that are low in contrast. Low-contrast images are more muted and subdued. They tend to occur when your light source is heavily diffused (such as an overcast day). It also helps to capture relatively uniform subjects, such as the above photograph of a lupine field.

Often, low-contrast photos won’t stand out as much upon first glance. They don’t shout for attention. However, if you’re after a more subtle look, they work quite well. That’s because successful light doesn’t always need to attract immediate attention; instead, it’s the light that matches the character of your subject. If you’re photographing a quiet, gentle landscape, or you want a soft mood for a portrait photo, my top recommendation is to search for low-contrast light.

Does that sound like something you’re after? If so, add a diffuser to your flash, or move your subject into the shade. For landscape photography, wait until an overcast day, or until the sun has set below the horizon. For many photos, this will be a good way to complement your subject.

The emotions of low contrast:

  • Subdued
  • Gentle
  • Soft
  • Quiet
  • Muted

5) Direction of light

Backlighting at sunrise
NIKON D800E + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/25, f/11.0

So far, it should make sense that brightness and contrast strongly impact the emotions of a photo. But what about the direction of light?

There are five primary directions of light:

  1. Backlighting
  2. Frontlighting
  3. Sidelighting (left or right)
  4. Overhead lighting
  5. Under-lighting

The last one, under-lighting, is relatively unusual, unless you’re going for a Halloween look. But the others are fairly common in most types of photography, from street photos to landscapes. On top of that, you might have multiple light sources, typically for studio work. Indeed, high-end product photography setups may have more than a dozen different lights. There’s really no limit, aside from simple practicality.

But does the direction of light impact your photo’s emotion?

The answer is yes. But the specific way it affects emotion is hard to generalize, since it depends upon the scene. Sometimes, backlighting will be high-contrast and dramatic. Other times — say, on a foggy day — it could cause the atmosphere to light up with bright, etherial sunbeams. There’s no inherent consistency.

That’s even true if you’re capturing a portrait under controlled conditions. You can get many different emotions from a single direction of light. For example, are you altering the diffusion of your flash? What about the color of the background, or even the emotion your subject is conveying? All of these factors mean that backlighting or sidelighting — just to name a couple examples— won’t always carry the same emotions from photo to photo.

Backlit damselfly
NIKON D7000 + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 800, 1/320, f/3.2

So, this is something you’ll have to approach on a case-by-case basis. Look at the scene, analyze the direction of the light, and see which elements of your photo it highlights. Usually, that’s a good way to tell which emotions it is most likely to convey.

The important thing here is that the direction of light does impact a photo’s emotions, but not consistently in one way or another. You need to experiment in the field, and think carefully about which mood the light is creating.

6) Summary

Now that you’ve seen how light can carry emotion, will you seek out any specific looks in your own photography? Are you tempted by the dark side?

The good news is that you can (and should) take photos with all different types of light. There’s no reason to stick with just one, unless you’re working on a specific photo series. However, it’s still important to pay attention to the type of light you are capturing in a particular photo, since you want to make sure it complements your subject and enforces your message as strongly as possible.

We also have another article on finding good light for landscape photography. Check it out if you’re interested in reading more on this topic. Other than that, all I can say is simple: best of luck, and best of light. Perhaps more than any other area of photography, this one can take your photos to another level.


What is GPU Accelerated in Lightroom?

A while ago, Adobe finally added Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) Acceleration to its Lightroom post-processing software. It was exciting news, as many photographers could not wait to take advantage of their fast GPU cards in order to speed up Lightroom, which was getting painfully slower with each new release. Unfortunately, GPU acceleration turned out to be a painful feature for many Lightroom users overtime, because they either saw no benefit at all, or saw very few improvements of it in their post-processing work. In this article, we will explore GPU acceleration in more detail and explain what it is used for and when it is of no use.

First, let’s take a look at the system requirements.

System Requirements and Recommended GPUs

In order to be able to run GPU acceleration, Adobe requires 64-bit versions of Windows or MacOS, along with a video card that can support either OpenGL 3.3 or later, or DirectX 12 (Windows) / Metal (MacOS). There is no support for SLI (two or more video cards) or multiple monitors (only the main / primary screen is accelerated). Adobe recommends a minimum of 1 GB of Video RAM (VRAM), but 2 GB of VRAM or more are recommended for 4K+ monitors. To get the best GPU acceleration performance, you should be running the latest version of Lightroom CC.

As highlighted on this page, Adobe recommends video cards from three different vendors: AMD, NVIDIA and Intel, as long as those cards were made after 2014 and the latest drivers are installed. Adobe specifically lists AMD Radeon R9-series and later cards, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760+ and GTX 900+ cards and Intel HD or Intel Iris Pro cards as “suggested” graphics cards for GPU acceleration.

However, it is important to point out that even if a video card falls into the “suggested” category, it does not mean that it will make Lightroom faster with GPU acceleration enabled. In fact, as many Lightroom users have found out, enabling GPU acceleration can often lead to inferior performance and all kinds of software glitches when a video card is not powerful enough. For example, despite Adobe’s recommendation for use of integrated Intel GPUs, I personally have not seen a single instance where enabling GPU acceleration on those cards helped. The same holds true for most older dedicated video cards found on laptops – they are typically not powerful enough for GPU acceleration.

To take advantage of GPU acceleration, below is the list of video cards I can recommend:

  • AMD Radeon Pro 555+ (for mobile)
  • AMD Radeon RX 480+, 550+, Vega 56+ (for desktops)
  • NVIDIA GTX 960+, 1060+, QUADRO P4000+ (for mobile and desktops)

You will note that I am not listing any older cards from AMD and NVIDIA. That’s because most older cards are simply inadequate for proper GPU acceleration. Unless you have a high-end card from a few years back with plenty of VRAM and CUDA Cores / Stream Processors, you should not consider it for GPU acceleration in Lightroom. Also, I did not list any of the integrated GPUs from Intel, for the same reasons as specified above – they are too slow / inadequate for smooth Lightroom performance with GPU acceleration enabled.

Even if your card is in the recommended list, I would run Lightroom with GPU acceleration enabled, then see how it behaves with GPU acceleration disabled. I have had cases where GPU acceleration introduced many software glitches, where the screen would turn dark and using gradient or spot healing tools were painfully slow (see below for more details). Unfortunately, GPU acceleration in Lightroom is not fully reliable and can vary in performance between different releases, which is why it is best to test it out to see if it offers any benefits in your environment.

NVIDIA Drivers

If you have an NVIDIA GeForce video card, make sure that you are running the latest version of those drivers, which can be obtained from here. However, if you have a Quadro-series video card, it is best that you use the ODE (Optimal Driver for Enterprise) version of the driver. If you don’t specifically install the ODE driver, your computer will default to GeForce driver, which is designed for gaming purposes only. To get the best performance out of Lightroom, make sure to install the latest version of the most appropriate driver.

GPU Acceleration: 2K vs 4K+ Environments

Speaking of the environment, GPU acceleration is mostly beneficial in high-resolution environments where the monitor has more than the typical 2K resolution. So if you have an older or a high-end 2K monitor with 1920 x 1080 or similar resolution, it might be a good idea to turn GPU acceleration off. However, if you have a 4K+ monitor, or one of those large “retina” screens from Apple, GPU acceleration can be more helpful in accelerating Lightroom.

Monitor Connection: HDMI vs DP / Mini DP / Thunderbolt

For best performance, I would recommend to connect your monitor to your machine via either DisplayPort (DP), Mini DP or Thunderbolt. If you use HDMI cable, you might notice sluggish performance and if that’s the case, try to disable Audio output via HDMI in your settings to see if it makes a difference. I have seen cases where HDMI output made Lightroom practically unusable and switching to DP or disabling HDMI audio seemed to take care of the issues instantly.

What Is and Isn’t GPU-Accelerated in Lightroom

GPU acceleration in Lightroom is only available within the Develop module, so no other modules, including the Library module, will be accelerated. On top of that, not all the tools within the Develop module benefit from GPU acceleration either. So if you are wondering what specific tools are accelerated, below is the full list:


  • Basic
  • Tone Curve
  • HSL / Color / B&W
  • Split Toning
  • Detail
  • Lens Corrections
  • Transform
  • Effects
  • Camera Calibration


  • Crop & Straighten
  • Graduated Filter
  • Radial Filter


And here is the list of specific tools and actions that are NOT GPU-accelerated:

  • Spot Removal
  • Red Eye Correction
  • Adjustment Brush
  • Using Brushes with Gradient and Radial Filters
  • Loading RAW Images
  • Generating JPEG Previews
  • HDR Preview / Generation
  • Panorama Preview / Generation
  • Facial Recognition

Please note that the above list is compiled based on Lightroom CC 7.1. Prior versions of Lightroom did not have panels such as the Detail panel GPU-accelerated.

How to Enable GPU Acceleration

Enabling GPU acceleration is very easy. Just navigate to Lightroom Preferences (Edit -> Preferences), click the “Performance” tab, put a checkmark next to “Use Graphics Processor”, then click “OK”:

Lightroom GPU Acceleration

You should be able to see information about your graphics card right below and if you want to find out more information about your computer, you can click on the “System Info” button on the right side of the window.

GPU Acceleration Issues

As I have pointed out earlier, GPU acceleration can introduce problems in Lightroom. Below is the full list of issues I have come across:

  • Extremely sluggish brush performance
  • Image previews disappearing and showing as black or some other color
  • Black image when zooming in or panning the image
  • Slow performance when jumping between images
  • Overall reduced Lightroom performance

If you notice any of the above issues, try disabling GPU acceleration and see if it improves Lightroom performance and its stability. Since GPU acceleration is a hit and miss for a lot of Lightroom users out there, you should experiment and see whether it brings you any performance improvements or not.


Concerns with Quality of Fujifilm GF Lenses

Thanks to the recent Fujifilm rebates, I have been able to expand my lens line-up for the Fuji GFX 50S that I have had the pleasure of shooting with ever since it came out. I am very impressed by the Fuji medium format system, especially its lens line-up, and I consider it to be ahead of its competition in a number of ways, as highlighted in my review. However, having gone through multiple lens samples of different lenses (which I will be reviewing in the next few weeks), I wanted to warn our readers of potential issues they should watch out for. While I am generally happy about lens variation of GF lenses and I am especially happy with their excellent performance, I am not a big fan of Fujifilm’s QA processes. It seems to me that Fuji is almost rushing with the GF lenses, trying to deliver as many units as possible to try to match the demand, while paying less attention to its manufacturing processes. I have already gone through multiple samples of a number of lenses, including the Fuji GF 63mm f/2.8 and Fuji GF 110mm f/2 and I have found debris between lens elements that is impossible to shake off or remove without having to send the lens to a Fuji service center.

As with any lens, you should always inspect every lens you purchase, no matter what source and manufacturer it comes from. One of the basic inspections, even on a brand new lens, is to make sure that it looks new (so that you are not dealing with a previously returned lens), does not have any physical imperfections and that the lens elements are free of large, easy to see particles. And that’s where I have found issues with Fuji GF lenses in particular, which is rather annoying. First, it was the Fuji 63mm f/2.8 that had a large black spot between lens elements – it was very easy to see and it wouldn’t go anywhere, requiring disassembly, removal of debris and reassembly. I didn’t want to deal with the issue, so I sent it back to B&H Photo Video for a replacement. The new copy didn’t have the same problems and turned out to be excellent optically. However, I have not been as lucky with the Fuji GF 110mm f/2. I have now gone through two copies of that lens (waiting for the third replacement) to see if I can obtain a debris-free copy of this lens. While I don’t mind small dust specks between lens elements (and those are perfectly normal to see even on a brand new lens), the stuff I have been finding within GF series lenses is not something that would qualify as “dust specks” – those are more like large plastic particles sitting between lens elements. Take a look at the last copy of the brand new GF 110mm f/2 that I had to return:

Fuji 110mm f2 Lens Debris

See the size of that thing? And that’s not the first time I see it either. The previous copy of the 110mm f/2 had a piece of thick hair, or perhaps a thinly sliced piece of plastic, that was stuck between one of the rear lens elements. While small dust specks will never make their way into images, much larger pieces like this are potentially going to cause more flare, visible dots in lens bokeh and other potential issues. And let’s not forget about the damage they do to resale value, since nobody wants a lens with a piece of something large stuck in it.

I go through a lot of new lenses and I always inspect them, even if they are loaners, to make sure that I test good copies for reviews. The QA issues I see on GF lenses are a bit concerning to me, as I have seen this issue a number of times now, something I normally rarely come across when testing lenses from Nikon, Canon, Sony and even other third party manufacturers. I really hope Fuji ups its QA game and does more thorough inspections before sending lenses to its distribution channels. Big thanks to B&H Photo Video for willing to exchange every bad copy of Fuji lenses.

Lens variation is generally good, but you also have to watch out for potential issues with lens decentering and overall performance. Lenses such as the GF 23mm f/4, 110mm f/2, 120mm f/4 have all been stellar (tested at least two samples of each), but cheaper lenses like the GF 45mm f/2.8 and GF 63mm f/2.8 have shown more variation than I would like to see. The lens to watch out is the GF 32-64mm f/4. While it is a pretty solid performer overall, the samples I have tested so far had uneven corner to corner performance, indicating poor assembly / decentering issues. So if you want to own the zoom, make sure that you test it out thoroughly.

If you are considering the Fuji GFX system, please be aware of these issues and make sure to thoroughly check every lens you receive to make sure that it does not have any problems. And if you already own the GFX system, please let us know if you have similar concerns in the comments section below. I am trying to find out if I have been simply unlucky, or perhaps more Fuji owners are having the same problems out there.


Nikon 1 eBook Published

We are pleased to announce that our Nikon 1 eBook, The Little Camera That Could, has been published and is now available online. This 210-page eBook chronicles my journey with the Nikon 1 camera system and features over 450 original images. I suppose one of the first questions that many Photography Life readers may be asking themselves is, “Why would anyone write a book about Nikon 1?” Well, the answer is pretty simple. First, it was a fun and enjoyable project. Second, I have had numerous Nikon 1 owners contact me over the past couple of years, sharing their intentions to keep shooting with their Nikon 1 gear even if it ends up getting discontinued by Nikon down the road. I decided since there were quite a few people that enjoy using The Little Camera That Could as much as I do, I’d write an eBook on it. What follows are some JPEGs of individual pages from The Little Camera That Could. These were made from the eBook’s PDF file and as such have lost a bit of quality when compared to the actual book.

The Little Camera That Could

I’ve been working on this project for over a year and during that time the original concept title for the eBook, The Little Camera That Could, never changed. It just seemed to fit the misunderstood and much maligned camera system that I use on an exclusive basis. One of the objectives of the book is to highlight the capabilities of the Nikon 1 system by showing a wide range of images covering different subject matter.

The Little Camera That Could

The first portion of the book discusses how I stumbled into the Nikon 1 system, and provides a brief overview of current bodies (J5, V3) and the majority of 1 Nikon lenses (the exceptions are AW lenses and the 11.5-27mm zoom since I’ve never owned or used these). It also identifies some of the challenges using the Nikon 1 system such as low light performance and potential issues when doing video, while also highlighting some of the strengths of the system. I also touch on some considerations when working with Nikon 1 RAW files in post.

The Little Camera That Could

Another section of the eBook discusses using extension tubes with Nikon 1 gear and shows a selection of images captured in this fashion. The eBook points out that there is no native macro lens available for the Nikon 1 system.

The Little Camera That Could

The Auto Focus Performance section features a number of AF-C runs and discusses various considerations when trying to make the most out of the Nikon 1’s auto-focusing capabilities and its fast frame rates.The Little Camera That CouldAbout 75% of The Little Camera That Could features images in specific subject areas, such as the page above from the Aircraft segment. Some of these sections also provide tips on the use of the Nikon 1 system when photographing certain subject matter.

The Little Camera That CouldThe Automotive section contains a selection of images captured at both indoor and outdoor display venues. I much prefer photographing components and details of automobiles rather than entire vehicles. On the majority of pages in the various subject matter specific sections you will find a feature image as well as some additional photographs. The objective of doing this was to provide readers with as many images to view as possible, while keeping The Little Camera That Could to a reasonable size. The eBook is about 145MB and takes about 10 minutes to download.

The Little Camera That Could

Bird photography, both birds-in-flight and static birds are included in two different sections of The Little Camera That Could. Some commentary on some of the typical settings that I use to photograph birds is included.

The Little Camera That Could

Since many people enjoy flower photography I have included a section on this subject matter. There are over 20 sections in the eBook that feature specific subject matter which may be of interest to readers.

The Little Camera That Could

Nine different travel destinations are featured in The Little Camera That Could. These include British Columbia, Colorado, Greece, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Each destination features a selection of images as well as some commentary about the destination, or about specific images in the section.

The Little Camera That Could

I’ve quite enjoyed using the Nikon 1 system for travel photography and have been using it exclusively for this subject matter since the fall of 2014. I have a couple of photography tours planned for 2018. Hopefully both tours will result in a sufficient number of images to produce eBooks for each destination.

The Little Camera That Could

I’ve been working on a New Zealand travel photography book for over a year and it is progressing quite well. Unless something unforeseen happens, I am planning to launch that eBook in the spring of 2018.

The Little Camera That Could

Also included in The Little Camera That Could are two sections that will likely appeal to specific audiences. One has a few examples of Light Painting, the other one deals with Photo Art. The page below is from the Photo Art section.

The Little Camera That Could

As many Photography Life readers who have been following my articles here for the past 3-4 years will know, I can get a little bit philosophical at times. I thought it would be appropriate to end this article with the ‘Final Thoughts’ page from The Little Camera That Could.

The Little Camera That Could

Even though The Little Camera That Could does have a focus on the Nikon 1 system, it showcases over 450 original images covering a wide range of subject matter that may appeal to folks who use other brands and types of camera gear. Hopefully readers who have been following me here at Photography Life will find it to be an interesting general photography eBook. Nikon 1 owners may use it as a bit of a resource eBook. Readers who would like to view the launch article for The Little Camera That Could that is on my photography blog can use the link provided. The eBook is available at a cost of $9.99 Canadian.

The Little Camera That Could utilizes standard anti-piracy encryption including buyer-specific QR coding. I hope readers understand the need for authors and photographers to protect their intellectual property since online piracy is rampant.

Article and all eBook images are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, adaptation, or reproduction of any kind is allowed without written permission. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Readers who call out offending websites that steal intellectual property by posting messages on offending websites are always appreciated!


Amazon Gift Card Pop-Ups – We Have NOT Been Hacked!

Dear readers, it looks like some of you might have been subjected to seeing spam pop-ups that congratulate you of winning an Amazon gift card. Please note that this pop-up ad does NOT come from us and it has nothing to do with Photography Life! The source is banner ads, specifically, those that run on the iPhone when using the Safari browser. Please note that although we are trying to eliminate this advertiser from being able to run ads on our website, it is not us who picks it in the first place – the ads come from an advertising network comprised of tens of thousands of advertisers and we are literally dealing with one or two bad ones that should be banned from being able to advertise.

This is what the Amazon gift card pop-up scam looks like. Do not click “OK”
when you see it.

How to Stop Amazon Gift Card Pop-Ups

We would like to request our readers to help us eliminate this bad advertiser, so we are requesting that whenever you see this spam on your iPhone, please submit a form on this page (note that you must use the Safari browser to submit the issue) of our advertising network to let them know when you saw the pop-up and on which page it originated. Once the issue is submitted, someone will review the incident and try to identify the abuser and hopefully eliminate them from the system completely.

If you would rather not deal with this at all, then simply start using a better and more secure browser than Safari – my recommendation would be to switch to Google Chrome for iOS. I use Chrome pretty much exclusively now on my iPhone and I have not yet seen a single pop-up like this. I know many resist using different browsers, but in this particular case, it is only the combination of the iPhone and Safari that causes the pop-up ads to appear.

Lastly, please report if you have been affected in the comment section below. We would love to hear some feedback from you. And big thanks to everyone who has sent me an email about this problem and letting me know.