The Wedding Lens Song

Haven’t blogged on photography in a while. Sorry

On [2006/12/31 6:48PM], I sat on an article that I started months before. Good thing! because it would have been embarassing to blog on something I wouldn’t get until six months later!

Back then, Boris speculated on what my next lens was going to be.

Here is the answer:

Ahh, new lens
Ahh, New Lens
Tagged, Financial District, San Francisco, California

Nikon D200, Tokina AT-X 165 PRO DX (16-50mm f/2.8)
1/15sec @ f/2.8, iso 1250, 50mm (75mm)

Can you believe I haven’t bought any photo equipment in half a year?

[Wedding lenses and the Tokina AT-X 165 after the jump.]

Everyone has an addiction. For some the addiction may be shoes; For me the addiction is photography equipment. Let’s feed that addiction. In the spirit of Kelly Loves Shoes

“Let’s get some lens.”

The Tokina AT-X 165 PRO DX. (16-50mm f/2.8)

I’ve been waiting almost a year for this lens.

How did that happen?

Are you thinking this lens is the photography equivalent to a pair of limited edition rerelease Manolo Bahnick’s? But no… the truth is much more prosaic: this lens was supposed to come out in the fall, but it didn’t.

I thought that since I didn’t need the lens. I could afford to wait. So I waited

…and waited.

“This aperture runs small…”

Back then, on a message board on Flickr, I wrote:

“The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 has great coverage and aperture for close distance photojournalism and street photography. On average, it’ll take better looking shots than the Nikon 18-200.”

To which, a person asked me:

Is there any way you could elaborate on the above. I have an 18-200mm VR and want an f2.8 zoom. I’d be really interested in any more info.

The answer? Faster shutter and background separation.

Faster shutter.

First, the simple one. Basically every time the aperture doubles, the amount of light quadruples and the shutter speed goes up by a factor of four. This means at 50mm, this lens will have a constant aperture of f/2.8 while the kit lens that came with your digital camera would be at f/4.5: That is 1 1/3 f-stops difference. Imagine a shot where you might have shot at ISO 1600 to get the shutter to 1/30 of second (just passed the shake limit of the lens), now you can still shoot at ISO 1600 and get the shutter enough to stop the subject cold at 1/90sec or the ISO down to a silky smooth 640 (on digital anyway), or you can split the difference.

Background separation.

Nearsighted people, ever notice that when you squint you can see further? What you are doing is making the aperture in your eye (pupil) smaller and this increases the depth of field. How does that work? Basically as the aperture gets smaller the light is only allowed in from smaller angles—more stuff is brought into focus.

If you have a larger aperture, then the stuff out of focus will be more out of focus. And when this stuff is in the background, the subject will “pop” or separate from the background.

To give you an idea, look at the shot in my last entry.

Mother and son
Mother and son
St. Joseph Parish, Mountain View, California

Nikon D200, Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR
1/60sec @ f/5.3, iso 3200, 120mm (180mm)

According to this handy resource, the depth of field of this shot was around 9 inches. So by focusing on the eyes of the baby, the mother is in focus but everything in front and behind is out of focus. If you notice I was very dependent on the vibration reduction built into this lens: 1/60sec “180mm” shot is way passed the shake limit. Also notice that I pushed the camera to the very limit in speed.

If I had the Tokina, I could have gotten twice as close, opened the shutter a full stop, and shot the same shot at the shake limit and had a noisy but printable ISO 1600. (I’d also have had more of the stained glass window in the frame.) Not only that, the calculator says my depth of field would drop to 6 inches! They’d pop even more. See?

There is a third unmentioned reason. A lot of photography is about finding a different perspective on things. On this simplest level this may mean taking a shot that is impossible to take with a pocket camera. Naturally lit shots in low light with a small depth of field is definitely a shot your pocket camera can’t take.

“Hey, my pocket camera does f/2.8!”

Well yes and no. It really is f/2.8, but the sensor is really small so you aren’t really shooting at 50mm, you’re shooting at 8mm. Even if you get up-close-and-personal, everything will still be in focus, which you can tell when you start plugging in numbers into that tool I linked above…

I wait for Pizza with my Nikon camera (from side)
I wait for Pizza with my Nikon camera (from side)
Patxi’s Pizza, Palo Alto, CA

Lumix DMC-LX1
1/3 sec @ f/2.8, iso 200, 6mm (28mm)

Less than a foot away from me at “28mm” (6mm in reality) f/2.8, this pocket camera has a real depth of field of .3 feet. Enough so my mussed up hair is in focus. But in the shot at the top of this article, the effective distance was over two feet (accounting for the mirror), and the depth-of-field was around .06feet. That’s so small that you can’t see I have severe hathead—it just looks like I’m stylin’.

“OMG, (Wedding) Lens”

Perhaps calling this lens the “wedding kit lens” might be more apropos, because, at weddings, this will replace the kit lens. First of all, note that this does not give up much next to a standard kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-4.5) since you can always stop down the aperture. The reason this is idea for a “wedding kit” is because the focal range allows the documentary photographer to go from ultrawide to portrait without having to change out lenses.

What is the meaning of the focal lengths? Well, on an APS-C camera here are the rules of thumbs:

Less than 22mm is ultrawide angles. These are great for environment shots and group shots where the working distance isn’t good. Because you’ll probably be shooting wide open, a nice wedding photography tip is to arrange the groups in a semicircle instead of a line when shooting in this range. Most pocket cameras kick in at 23mm, though some ones (notably the Panasonic Lumix) go down as far as 19mm. Remember, that each millimeter in this range makes a big difference in the angle field of view.

26-40mm is “normal.” What this means is that the relative dimensions are roughly like what your eye sees and therefore nothing will seem distorted in this range. This is the idea range for street photographers so the same shots that reflect the spontaneity of street photography would apply to wedding photography.

50-90mm is “portrait.” What this means is that the telephoto will flatten facial features to create a more pleasing look, but the working distance isn’t too far as to be unmanageable for someone who has a little control of the situation.

What about the killer kits from Nikon—18-70mm, 18-135mm, and 18-200mm, that sounds ideal? Well those long zooms aren’t needed when you are the designated photographer. You can approach closer if you need to or will have a complimentary prime lens on your second body—like how Ryan uses the 85mm f/1.4.

Ahh, you might notice 18-70mm sounds ideal. The problem is these wedding lenses are constant f/2.8 and the two factors I mentioned above rear their ugly head. In wedding photography and many forms of documentary photography, it is easier to move your feet to get the right portrait than control the indoor lighting or what people are doing in the background you need to separate the subject from. I’d love to see a constant f/2.8 aperture 16-80mm, but it isn’t going to happen due to physical limitations. Besides, at the price that lens would cost, you’d be better buying a second body with your favorite portrait lens (50mm f/1.2 to 105mm f/1.8)

As a personal style, I prefer more range on the lower side than the upper. It must be the nature photographer in me.

“These lenses rule…”

Let’s start with the most obvious choice given my NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrom) problem: The 17-55mm f/2.8 Nikkor.

There is nothing wrong with the that lens. Or rather there is only one thing wrong with it: the $1200 price tag.

I own the Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G and it’s easily my favorite lens. When I got it, it was the only lens of its class available, but I paid nearly $1000 for it. I should have waited for Tokina AT-X 124 Pro, which by all accounts is almost as good.

So I said, “This time around, I’m waiting.”

…These lenses suck.

Tamron makes the SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]. And I’ll admit, the Tamron doesn’t really suck.

But why this lens later, instead of the Tamron now?

Basically the Tamron just didn’t feel right. It feels like plastic; it looks fragile; it’s too small. It just didn’t act like the Nikon, and to me that makes a difference. To you, probably not so much. :-)

Here, let me show you what I mean…

table.sidebyside { width:100% }
table.sidebyside td.best { background:#9f9; }
table.sidebyside td.worst { background:#f66; }

Tamron 17-50 Tokina 16-50 Nikon 17-55
Cost (Adorama) $450 $650 $1200
widest aperture f/2.8 f/2.8 f/2.8
widest 17mm 16mm 17mm
longest 50mm 50mm 55mm
elements/groups 16/13 15/12 14/10
length 3.2″. 3.8″ 4.4″
diameter 2.9″ 3.3″ 3.4″
weight 14oz. 21.5oz 26.6oz
ED glass yes 1 3
Aspherics yes yes 3
close focusing 10.6in 11.8in 14.2in
aperture blades 7 9 7 curved
filter size 67mm 77mm 77mm
Extras focus clutch mechanism, WP coating wave motor, case included

“This lens is $650 fucking dollars… Let’s get it.”

As I mentioned in a linked article above, Tokina and Pentax now belong to the same parent company, glass-making giant Hoya. The recent lenses from Tokina are actually identical to the ones released for the Pentax K-mount dSLRs except for a different proprietary formula of multicoating (coatings sprayed on the surface of lenses to reduce reflection and therefore increase contrast and decrease ghosting). Pentax has always been a leader in value and that translates directly to the Tokina.

Other recent Tokina lenses are Pentax-designed and manufactured by Kenko (Tokina’s parent company).

I preordered this lens from Adorama. I highly recommend them as an online merchant as it is hard to figure who are the reputable sellers out there. (BTW, after I got my 18-200mm on a great deal, I also highly recommend Roberts Imaging. The price I paid for it last year os still less than what it is selling for now on eBay!)

“This lens is mine…bitch.”

Tokina AT-X 165 Pro DX

The Tokina actually feels a fair bit more solid than my 12-24mm Nikkor. That’s probably because the body is a metal alloy. The construction is top notch and it feels well balanced on my Nikon D200 body. It takes a little getting used to the reversed order of the zoom and focusing ring (remember, my favorite lens is the 12-24mm so to me it’s reversed). It is a “G-type” lens so there is no aperture setting.

The only time I got lens creep was when I shook it vigorously. However it is still too early to tell. The lens does extend a fair bit when you get near 50mm.

One thing I greatly miss from the new Nikkors is the piezoelectric motor (a.k.a. “wave motor”). The first implication nowadays is that the Tokina will not autofocus on the D40 or D40x. This means the Nikkor version of this lens focuses silently and allows adjustment after focusing. A common belief is that the AF-S motor also focuses faster than traditional screw motors. The truth of it is that the focusing speed of traditional screw motors depends on the body it is attached to—bulkier body = focuses faster.

Tokina alleviates this problem by basically allowing you to push the generous dial in to manually focus and out to release the manual focus to the autofocus system. On the plus side, this means auto-focusing is a fair bit quieter that I’m used to. On the minus side, it’s no replacement for AF-S.

One big worry is that the only review on the internet doesn’t look to good. When you read the article, it actually sounds like they had a bad copy of the lens. This can happen to all sorts of lenses but the conventional wisdom is it happens more with third party lenses. (I can’t really say because before this, my only “third party” lens was the Lensbaby and a “centering defect” is sort of the point of such a lens. :-)

A final tiny caveat. Since the lens is very new, there is no DxO Optics Pro lens formula for it. Some of you have known me for years on Flickr as that guy who tells everyone to ignore the others and use DxO as their RAW conversion software, so that hurts a little. I’ll be patient.

“I think you have too many lenses.”

“Shutup! Stupid Boy! Let’s Party!”

Since I don’t have time to do much travel and nature photography anymore, but I still go to events (and run Lunch 2.0), this lens will replace my Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR as my “kit” lens. You should see a lot of shots coming from this lens in the coming months.

(See my Tokina AT-X PRO 165 shots on Flickr.)

You can see me with this lens today at Lunch 2.0 @ Ning in Palo Alto. It’s free food and everyone’s invited.. Also, I’ll be at WWDC this afternoon and sflickr in the evening so stop by and say hi—I’m the guy with the Nikon D200 and a blue 1948-49 Pittsburgh Pirate cap. No excuses!

21 thoughts on “The Wedding Lens Song”

  1. @carpeicthus: Thanks. It’s probably not very much different. But it’s a surprising boost from my 18-200mm. I’ll be posting a lot of shots from this lens in the next few days. As you already know, I love the wide end the most. :-)

  2. What do you think now after having the lens for a while. I’ve been waiting for this lens and I’m worried about 1 of the reviews that I read.

  3. @Craig: It’s now my kit lens. I like the slightly extra wide. There is some play on the front group that I think if I have time, I’ll send it to Tokina to get looked at. The smart shift feature is loosy goosy because I have a habit of playing with anything that clicks when I’m nervous, but since it is so large, I almost never have it out of position (wish I could say the same about the AF switch on my D200).

    I’ll be posting more photos taken with it to my Flickr account. Also, if you friend me you can always view the originals.

  4. To A comment here.

    @Scott This is my review, I’m not a lens tester, just a photographer. The Tokina 165 is a APS-C specific lens. If you are a Canon photographer, then I highly recommend the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS over this lens, despite its price. First, because it has image stabilization and almost all photos taken with this sort of lens will be handheld. Second, because Canon specifically designs for the EF-S mount (there is extra register distance they can exploit) which means they can push a little better optical value than a third party system which has to design for the most generous specification.

    Not that the Tokina is bad. I sort of like it. It has excellent corner contrast (sharpness), very little distortion. Apparently it has bad CA (The Photozone review link moved here).

    If you have a full frame, then this is not the lens in this class. The lens would be Canon 24-70 L, by all reports an excellent lens.

    The lens you have would be a great stop gap until a 5D or 1Ds purchase. On those cameras it becomes a documentary lens in the news/street photography style. I’m really sorry to hear that it died, I don’t think I’ve ever shot that lens, but I have shot the baby L version (17-40 f/4L) and it’s a wonderful lens. :-(

    BTW, a caveat here in my article and this comment that I realized yesterday talking to someone. Which is when I say “wedding lens” or “documentary lens” I mean this in an ideal or suggested usage sense, not as an absolute. I tend to think the best photos come when doing things different from “the usual” especially if that means using a lens different from its suggested use. Even today we see wider and wider angles in news photographs (remember when 35mm was considered wide angle? Now we have portraits done with 21mm lenses!) and we’re starting to see a lot of wedding photography follow this. This probably magnifies if you are a two body wedding photographer. I guess what I’m saying is it’s about finding your style, whatever that is, so take my suggestions with a large grain of salt.

    I hope this helps.

  5. A little update since I wrote this article: I found that the lens developed some play on my front element. I don’t think this has affected the focusing. Also the lens vignettes at ALL focal distances on my FX (“full frame”) camera. OTOH, this is a sign of a good telecentric design.

    Fred Miranda user reviews

  6. “I’d love to see a constant f/2.8 aperture 16-80mm, but it isn’t going to happen due to physical limitations.”

    What physical limitations would this entail? One would think it would be possible since there are numerous lenses “close” to this focal range at that aperture.

  7. @Jeremy Johstone: Already the 24-70mm f/2.8 is quite bulky. The extra distance on the low end is quite difficult. Imagine the differences between a 17-35 f/2.8 and the 24-70, then imagine combining the two.

    1. I'd recommend the Tamron 2.8 image stabilized version instead.

      This model eventually crapped out on me and I had to get repaired. The front element can go loose easily. Another weakness of this model is it won't AF on my D5000.

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