Trying again... Need a **super fast** focusing lens...

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by leighmcmullen, Feb 11, 2010.

  1. Since apparently last time I didn't provide enough information to garner even a single suggestion, I will try in this post to be more complete. I apologize if it's a long post, but I want to make sure that folks have all the information they feel they need to offer a suggestion.
    A really, really fast focusing lens, somewhere around 100mm, but anything between 50-150mm would be fine. I'm willing to entertain both primes and zooms. I ask because how fast a lens focuses is not a data-point most reviewers capture scientifically, other than, "seems fast to me". Though a f2.8 or better lens is preferable, I'm willing to sacrifice a 1-1.5 stops for focus speed, since the bodies I'll be using them on produce reasonable results at "high" ISO.
    Usually on my D700; sometimes on a backup D300 body. Both bodies are well configured, and I have a reasonable technical knowledge of each, including how to set up 3d tracking continuous servo focus. I also know that if I don't set these up correctly it can cause abnormal focus hunting in challenging lighting conditions.
    I generally set up the camera appropriate to the conditions of the subject. I frequently use focus tracking, because, well, folks move. However, they are not usually camouflaged, or using “Predator-Like” cloaking shields. I almost always use point focus.
    I'm what you wanna call a columnist (with a highly under-paid editor, as I'm sure having said that, someone, somewhere will find some grammatical, punctuation, or spelling error in this post, as use the previous as a reason to "ping" me. All I can say there is: dude, congrats on memorizing the Chicago Manual of Style... I'm sure it will come in handy). I bring that up, only because, well, magazines and blogs and such that I write for don't like paying photographers any more than anyone else does anymore. As such, I often have to shoot my own art. This means IQ is relatively important. I usually take photographs of people doing things that people do (eating, drinking, dancing, glaring at me suspiciously, coming over getting ready to hit me, and in general carousing in circumstances where I have little to no control over lighting).

    Now, I tried getting me one of those fancy-schmancy mini-LED flashlights --the kind cops use to burn out the retina of kids caught making out-- but when I use that to try and help the lens focus it irritates the natives. Flashes also tend to disturb my subjects, causing me to not be able to capture them authentically in their natural habitat (and sometimes gets me kicked out of said venues). That said, I have been known to keep a PW'd speedlite in my pocket just in case.

    I have considered the 80-200 AF-D, but find that lens to be too large and mostly useful as a battering ram.
    I have also been known to take pictures of my kids, who, when I grab my camera, seem to suspect I’ve metamorphosed into some kind of alien paparazzi as they regard me with equal parts curiosity and fear & suspicion.

    In almost all circumstances I’ll be shooting human moving subjects indoors in available light from 10 feet or less away. My current preferred lens is the AF-D 50 1.4, and I find it slow-ish. I’ve tried the new AF-S version of that glass to no great improvement.
    Up to 1K I'm fine with good used glass, so out of circulation lenses like the AF-S 24-85 (which I just bought) are options.
    I generally prefer to dress similarly to the natives, finding it easier to fit in. I have considered wearing a tinfoil suit as a means to direct more light to my subjects, but that usually just gets me kicked out of where ever I might be going including my own living room. Though I will say that the children do seem to be enthralled when “Daddy wears his crazy hat”, I preserve that mostly to keep the CIA from reading my brainwaves.
    I will say this, though, on the completely irrelevant subject of attire, suits are underrated. Not only will they gain you entry to just about everywhere, but are highly mobile and flexible attire, and when worn with boxer shorts provide the kind of “freedom” that can ordinarily only be gained while shooting nude.
    I am explicitly forbidden from having a camera with me while at family dinner, though this is one of the rare shooting opportunities when the kids are locked down in their chairs like death row inmates at Sing-Sing. When shooting folks other than my children, I’m generally not permitted to eat either, though I often stuff my pockets with hors d’oeuvres and Kashi trail mix bars. I find the weather sealing of the D700 to be sufficient to protect it from most of the foods I eat or spill on it, and I understand that dipping a lens in a fruit smoothie might effect focusing performance, I promise to be careful so we shouldn’t consider these possibilities when making recommendations.
    My favorite food is macaroni and cheese, preferably from Twin Peaks.
    Having spent five years of my life wearing green and living in a muddy hole in the ground, I refuse to sleep anywhere other than a hotel anymore. Me and my gear, while not pampered, are usually protected from the elements. Though I have to say that some of the Parsian hotels I’ve stayed in lack sufficient climate control to ensure a completely consistent humidity and temperature. Nevertheless, from my research, they are well within the operating limits of most modern camera gear.
    There is this smoking hot girl (waitress at the afore-mentioned Twin Peaks) that I’d love to hire as an assistant, but the wife objects due to her lack of qualifications. Also, since we travel on a tight budget, its usually just me. I do drink a lot though, so we should factor in the ability to operate while impaired, as well as resistance to drops, spills and such.
    I will be locked in my saferoom, with an AK, and .45 USP. In the event that those break down, or I run out of ammo, it would be nice to have a lens that could be used as a blunt-force weapon. I will, however, otherwise, not be engaging in photography, instead I’ll focus on surviving as long as I can until the National Guard arrives. I will leave the Pulitzer opportunities to you. That said, opportunitistically, I might take a photograph or two, though I suspect any lens recommendation will do as most zombies are slow moving and not photo-shy (except those fast moving ones from 28 Days later – I hate those).
  2. Bonus points for amusing snark. And zombies - you know my weakness. Well done, Leigh. Hope this thread goes better than the last. ;>
  3. What about a Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Macro. I found the lens to be very fast at focusing, although I'm used to manual focus, so my perspective might be off a bit. The lens is well built, not too heavy and should deal well with bits of mac and cheese and blood from zombie splatter (although i have never tested it for blood).
    If the 50mm f1.4 wasn't quite right, I doubt something like the 85mm f1.8 would work. Of course, the standard solution would be a 80-200 2.8D, but that is a bit big and bulky.
    The 105 macro does have a focus limit, just for the fun of it, but from what i remember shooting it for a couple days, the auto focus is just plain old fast (like 70-200 f2.8 VR fast), which, as far as I can tell, was instant compared to what I'm used to...
  4. Sorry what was the question?
  5. Several reviewers have noted that the 50/1.4 AF-S is slow to focus, and have noted that Sigma's 50/1.4 HSM is quite fast. This is because the Sigma's optimized around shooting wide open, and without manual fine-tuning or normal manual focusing (with a longer throw) as part of its DNA. Used in AF-S-style mode, that lens is very, very nimble. Speaking from experience, here.

    Have you considered mounting a Nikon speedlight (say, SB-600/800/900), and using it only for the IR AF-assist? You don't have to let the strobe fire in order to let it help you with AF in dim rooms. And because the IR is invisible, it won't upset the natives you're studying.

    On the longer side, I'll mention the ever popular 70-200/2.8, which is very fast. Unlike the "D" 80-200, whcih is screw-driven, slower, and doesn't let you do the AF-S grab-and-fine-tune, it's quite versatile that way. The VR is just (expensive) frosting on that cake. But it's is large and heavy, to be sure. I have only used it to kill zombies a couple of times, and had to replace the B+W filter I keep on it once, because it was a teenage zombie and had been wearing braces.
  6. I have not used the 50mm 1.4 but I have found the 50mm 1.8 to focus very fast with my old D1h and only a touch slower but still very fast with my D80. My Tamron 28-75 2.8 seems to focus very fast on my D1h if I don't try to focus from one extreme to another. The fastest method I found for shooting candids with flash was by prefocusing the lens at say 8 feet and stopping down to f11 and using enough flash power to ensure correct exposure at 8 feet that was using film though which gives a good amount exposure latitude.
  7. I didn't find the "snark" at all amusing, it was way over the top in terms of both quantity and tone. So, I'm not contributing any comments on lenses.
  8. TL, DR.
  9. Ten feet or less? I'd opt for a 35/2 and a Sigma 50/1.4. You should practice pre-focusing, too. If this is for a newspaper or even magazine use, image quality is not as big an issue as you think it is. Look at the work of Jane Bown when you have the time.
    A really, really fast focusing lens​
    Can you at least qualify what speed you want, e.g. faster than the 70-300 f/4-5.6 AF D (a relatively slow lens if I recall correctly).
    Speed of focus depends on more than the lens. It depends on the body that you're using and the subject that you're focusing upon. If you focus on a smooth blank wall with no shadows, good luck. You could try all day before the camera achieves focus.
    The 24-70 f/2.8 G seems to focus faster than my other lenses, but I haven't measured this time. I'm not even sure how I'd do so. But that lens is a bit quicker to lock on than any of my other AF lenses.
  11. ha! i love the snark. beats long-winded technical analysis anytime...
    but as you can see, much of your conundrum comes with the fact you are asking for a lot. essentially you have a DX budget and FX needs.i say that because the one lens which does fit your requirements perfectly, the sigma 50-150/2.8 HSM, is DX-only. but you knew that going in.
    besides the 50-150, there's the 28-75 tamron, which is good optically but prone to hunting in low-light and not super-duper fast to focus, so not sure that would be the ultimate solution, though it would at least be of use on both bodies.
    with a $1k limit, you're pretty much looking at the 80-200/2.8 or the 105VR. you could consider the nikon 85/1.4 (and the sigma 24-70/2.8 HSM) too. what you really want is the 70-200 VR I or the 24-70/2.8 G, but those cost a bit more. and what you really really want is the 85/1.4 AF-S, which isnt even out yet and wont be for several months, and when it is will be far outside of your budgetary constraints. yes, the gods are laughing at you.
    so you are either going to have to compromise somewhere or increase your budget.
  12. I can vouch for the Sigma 50mm f/1.4. I don't think you can get faster than that. Maybe the new Nikon 24mm f/.14?
  13. Hilarious post - well done. The list of lenses that I own is rather modest, however, I agree with Dan, the AF-S 24-70 focuses very fast on both the D300/D700 bodies (though it appears to be outside of the price range that you specified). I've also had pretty good luck with the AF 50 f/1.4D, having used it successfully for indoor sports.
  14. @Sam: the 105 micro AF-S VR is probably my leading contender... can anyone comment on how fast she focuses relative to the 50 1.4 (either AF-D or AF-S as they're about the same)
    @Matt: Thanks for the tip on the Sigma... I looked at that.. and I'm not bias against their glass my second favorite lens is a sigma 28-70 f2.8. I do find, however that lens to be a little... uh... I guess I'd say pale, it doesn't seem to pop color the way nikon glass does. I don't know why, could be my own goofiness, I'm not an optical physicist. Does your sigma 50 pop? Good contrast, good color, sharpness? etc?
    I would agree, also that the weapons potential of the 70-200 AF-S VR is unmatched. Certainly the sigma 500 F2.8 is bigger, but unwieldy. The Nikon is got just the right amount of heft and umph to do the job... If that job is zombie killing. For my purposes it'd be too big.
    I discovered that Nikon made a 35-135 3.5-4.5 which if modernized could be perfect, anyone got experience with this lens? I might get it anyway as they're so cheep used right now, if it turned out to be a doorstop, I could use it for that purpose and not have over spent.
    @Eric: We've talked about it before, the sigma 50-150 is about the perfect lens (for DX, great size, nice handling). I'm actually hoping that there's some old film lenses out there that might be gems in the rough.
    @Joe -- Can I call you joe? Snark in my experience is best when it's "over the top in both quantity and tone", otherwise a lot of folks won't get that i'm being intentionally ridiculous, farcical, whimsical, sarcastic and goofy... most often cutting right past that and assuming that I'm an A-hole. (which is also pretty much true... but hey it pays the bills...)
  15. @Mat (pt 2.) You wrote:
    Have you considered mounting a Nikon speedlight (say, SB-600/800/900), and using it only for the IR AF-assist? You don't have to let the strobe fire in order to let it help you with AF in dim rooms. And because the IR is invisible, it won't upset the natives you're studying.​
    That is quite possibly the best freekin suggestion since the time the one cave-man said to the other, "Make it round, Dude." Seriously, I'm totally gonna give that a go, at a minimum it will help with focus hunting in low light, and might make smaller aperture glass more viable.
  16. You might have to do a little menu-rootin'-around to get the camera and the speedlight to work that way, but it can be done, and really helps, if you don't mind the extra payload.

    As for your other question (about the 50/1.4 HSM's color/contrast) ... yes, I find that to be a gorgeous lens. Sure, it loses a wee bit of contrast when you use it wide open. But that's so easy to deal with in post. And in the meantime, it's remarkably sharp when used wide open. If you stop it down a twitch (f/1.8? f/2?) it's all the more lovely. But it certainly delivers a nice bright viewfinder and lots for the AF system to chew on. I like that lens a lot.
  17. Have you considered mounting a Nikon speedlight (say, SB-600/800/900), and using it only for the IR AF-assist? You don't have to let the strobe fire in order to let it help you with AF in dim rooms. And because the IR is invisible, it won't upset the natives you're studying.​
    How to do what Matt suggests?
    Leigh, nice writing in your post; I suspect your columns are interesting.
  18. "because the IR is invisible" It is not exactly invisible - the flash emits a dim red cross pattern beam.
  19. The red AF assist lamp option, at least on my SB-800, is fairly bright, enough to be seen in typical gym lighting, around EV 6 or so. It's far more discrete than using the flash, but it's not quite invisible. It's been very useful for AF in very dim lighting where even the D2H and a fast lens struggled, or in oddball situations where there isn't enough subject contrast for quick AF lock.
    I'm not sure about the SB-600/900, but the option to disable the flash while retaining the AF assist lamp is accessible on the SB-800 via the menu - scroll down to the bottom. There's also an AF assist lamp built into the SC-29 cord. With the D2H (and presumably most or all compatible Nikons), the AF assist lamp functions only with the camera set to single servo AF (AF-S), not continuous (AF-C).
    The biggest difference I've found for quick and reliable autofocusing in difficult situations is to switch to a single sensor option. Even the relatively slower screwdriver type AF Nikkors will work pretty well in dim lighting with the optimal settings.
  20. Your right about the AF assist Lex - both on the camera body and on the flash. It only works in AF-S so can't be used for any kind of tracking.
  21. PS. I just track using the AF-On button and have the shutter set to release priority so I can fire even if the focus point is slightly out (but still within usable DOF of the subject). Focus needs to be relegated to the cross sensor points only. I don't use AF-assist at all as I find this method better.
  22. Leigh, I've read your post thoroughly :). But I'm not sure why you actually need auto-focus at all. Try zone focusing, and once you get the knack, you may dismiss af altogether. In alot of cases, af will slow you down. It may take a while to get out of that auto mode, but once you do, you will likely find a sense of freedom in your photography, and this may even influence your lens selection. ai-s manual focus lenses will now be a viable option, that will also save you $$$. it sounds like you are into candids, and i'm not sure that flash photography mixes that well. get yourself some nice fast primes, and avoid zooms - they're all too slow.
  23. I find the 85mm 1.8 nikkor AF, a nice fast lens that also will focus quickly, at least on my D3.
  24. Update:
    I got my hands on an old AF-S 24-85 3.5-4.5... "Bargain"* from KEH for 299. Nice, Nice piece of glass, very fast focusing, very fast focus tracking (faster than my fifty). I'll drop some images when I get a chance...
    With the shutter set day-light fast (~800), IQ of a slow moving kid who'd never seen snow before is pretty crisp and sharp (for my purposes), at least zoomed in on the camera's LCD. Certainly worth the 299, and a real alternative to my Sigma 2.8 in a much more compact format, at the cost of just around a stop.
    we'll see how it does at night, and if I can keep sharpness wide open.
  25. Leigh
    why not just stick at being at being a "professional" writer and let a "professional' photographer worry about all these silly thing like F stops and lenses and such, because that's how it was in the good old days. These people might not like paying for photographers but they should.
  26. bmm


    The two lenses I have in your desired range are 85/1.4 and 135/2DC. The former focuses very fast (even driven by my humble D80) and doesn't seem to 'hunt' unlike some of my other AF-D primes and the latter, while being an awesome lens, is opposite and focuses relatively slowly.
    Of course the dilemma is that the 135/2 has a little more size and weight for dealing with those pesky zombies... (Fabulous post by the way, the most random laugh I've had in ages... you've made my Friday morning).
  27. Whatever lens you decide on will be OK. But if you really want to focus in dark places (bars, night clubs, caves) you will need to learn how to zone focus. i.e. - if you set your lens at f5.6, and are 20 feet away, you probably can set the lens to 17 feet and have enough depth-of-field to get a decent shot. If you D700 works well at ISO 6400, you should get a decent image. [With the AF switched off, the camera won't hunt for a focus point...] Nikon auto-focus generally needs something of contrast to focus cave-like lighting -> not so good.
  28. Nothing can replace the touch of human fingers. Learn to manual focus.
  29. @Steve: I think the days of "professional" media are pretty much dead... I write for 2 print magazines, and 2 blogs, and I still have to have a pretty demanding day-job just to be able to afford to keep the zombies at bay. I'd like to see us all get paid (or paid more), but that is what it is... Hopefully the iPad (and it's like) will turn around stuff for content producers, enabling folks to monetize their work without the dilution the current "free" internet has caused on all of us.
    @BM Mills : You have both of my dream lenses. How would you compare the 85 f1.4 against the 50 f1.4 in focusing speed. Even screwdriver powered, I hear it's pretty quick.
  30. Regarding the 105mm micro VR - As I said in the previous thread, this is NOT a fast focusing lens, at least not in my experience.
    I would opt for an 85mm f/1.8 - D or not - mine is a non-D version and it is the fastest focusing lens I own on my D300 and my D70S. It is very sharp from say f/2.8, which is probably about right for the kind of shooting you'll be doing. (To provide a reasonable sharp DoF while still providing good separation from your background.)
  31. I don't really know how to measure lense focus speed other than by impression. I have a Sigma 18-50 2.8 EX DC Macro on my D2x and it SEEMS to focus by thought alone. I never hear the motor engage it seems so fast. As far a color ,snap,IQ they all seem good to me.
  32. bmm


    Leigh - 50/1.4 is good if the light is very good, but it does tend to 'search' a lot. For some reason, like I said, the 85/1.4 and 35/2 are the 2 lenses I own that are the fastest and truest at focusing. For its size, and for a screw-drive lens, again even on my little D80, the 180/2.8 is not half bad either. I can't wait to see how they go on D700.
  33. Sometimes AFS is overrated when it comes to focus speed. Quiet yes but not always fast. I agree with above statement on the 85 1.8. I love the images I get from it and it snaps to focus quickly.
  34. I've come to the conclusion that, while some posters don't like the camera as a photographic tool, if you get the version with the larger battery holder, the F4s, working or not, but loaded with the max clip of double A batteries would make an excellent zombie basher. Just make sure you get a strong strap to hold onto it with. You don't want the zombies to have a reason to smile, as your weapon flies over their heads and into that lake behind them. Yeah, it's not a lens, but it would not be a unitasker, if you got one that still worked.
  35. @John, "Unitasker" Williamson: I see Alton Brown has gotten to you too... welcome to the reserves. Pick up your zombie spray and stand mixer (itself an awesome zombie basher).
  36. AF-S 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 image tests (it focuses crazy fast relative to the 50 1.4)
    Original re-sized to fit post. Hunter outside experiencing snow in Texas for the first time...
    1/125 f/5.6 ISO 200
    and the crop:
    I'm pretty happy with this For a 299 "Bargain" lens from KEH (whose "bargain" rating is better than "Like New" on ebay, as I've discovered). It certainly doesn't compel me to upgrade my fast sigma mid-range to the nikon. Low light is gonna be a bit of an issue... but perhaps the 85 1.8 will answer that problem? Let me find one, and I'll let you know.
    **note the look on hunters face... Alien Paparazzi on the move...

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