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15Apr/14

Gear Review: The Slim UV Filter

I’m a fan of UV filters for DSLR cameras (here’s why). With a high-quality UV filter, you can get some peace of mind from a small investment without any penalty. High-end UV filters won’t degrade image quality regardless of what the Flickr forums tell you and they will protect the front of your expensive lens from sea spray, dirt, scratches, and even some serious falls.

I’ve also written about what I think is the best UV filter on the market (read that article here). So then what’s left? You know I’m for ‘em and you know what brand I like...

Well there’s one sneaky little option when it comes to purchasing a UV filter that you should know about: the slim UV filter.

The only difference between a slim UV filter and standard UV filter is that the slim version has no front thread on it. See, regular screw-in type photography filters have a male thread on the back that allows you to attach it to your lens (duh) and they usually have a female thread on the front of the filter that allows you to attach another filter on top of it, and another one on top of that, and another and another...

Gear Review: Slim UV Filter
Standard UV Filters have a front filter thread like this

The slim UV filter, on the other hand, typically does not have a front thread. You can’t attach a filter on top of a slim UV filter. They are basically flat on the front - the outer ring is flush with the glass.

The idea is that with ultra wide-angle lenses, there’s a risk of vignetting from a standard UV filter. Vignetting is when the corners of your photo are darkened because the filter sticks out in front of the lens too far. It’s like looking through a tunnel. So someone came up with the bright idea of slicing off that front filter thread to reduce vignetting. It’s a smart idea. And hey, it’s not like anyone was using that front filter thread anyway...

So some say that for wide angle lenses, you need a slim UV filter otherwise you’ll get vignetting. Well, not exactly. A standard UV on even the widest angle lens might create vignetting, it might not. Depends how they engineered the lens. For instance, I have a Canon 16-35mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is the widest angle available second only to fisheye. My standard B&W 77mm UV filter (not slim) creates no vignetting even at 16mm. Take a look:

Standard UV at 16mm
Even at 16mm, a standard UV gives me no vignetting

But maybe your wide angle lens does get vignetting with a standard UV filter. If that’s the case, you really have just 2 choices: either use a slim UV filter or don’t use one at all. Just remember that this filter is going to be on your lens all the time. So if you use a slim UV filter, your lens will no longer have a front filter thread available. And here’s the thing about having no front filter thread: you can’t use any other filters (goodbye polarizer and split ND filters) and you can no longer use a lens cap.

Sure, you could remove the UV anytime you want to use a polarizer or split ND, but that kind of defeats the whole point of having a UV filter to protect your lens. I’m betting that if there’s any time you’ll drop your camera, it’ll be when you’re trying to unscrew a UV and replace it with a polarizer. And sure, slim UV filters come with a replacement lens cap that slips over the top like a glove, but it’s going to pop off your lens much more often than a standard pinch cap.

So before you buy a slim UV filter, weigh the pros and cons of having no front filter thread in exchange for no vignetting. But most importantly, see if a standard UV filter is even going to create the vignetting you’re worried about.

And by the way, if you’re interested in learning more about filters for digital photography - a subject I’m very passionate about - check out my Filters for Nature Photography online course.

5Nov/13

Mad Respect for the New Nikon Df DSLR

The New Nikon Df DSLRThe New Nikon Df
Pre-Order Yours at B&H Today!

I normally don't give a damn about new camera releases. But today Nikon announced a new full-frame DSLR camera that finally got my attention: the Nikon Df DSLR.

Except for gear heads who are really only into photography for the sake of getting new toys, newly announced cameras aren't that exciting. For one, they are just too frequent, and two, they generally offer new features and specs that actually aren't that big of a deal. "Ooo, more megapixels that no one needs? Awesome! And higher ISO limits even though everyone still won't shut up about digital noise? Fantastic! AND there's an in-camera HDR feature so I can create god-awful image composites without the need for Photoshop? I'm in!" We have enough megapixels already, the ISO goes high enough as it is for 99% of shooters, and we don't really need 63 auto focus points - a dozen or so is fine.

But here's the thing that irritates me most about modern digital cameras: It seems every manufacturer is moving away from buttons and dials, towards touch-screens and menu-based navigation. In other words, "Let's make our cameras more like an iPhone and less like a camera." Cameras should have buttons and dials on them. Things you can actually touch and see without the need for a blaring LCD screen. I've talked before about the importance of tangibility. Tangible buttons make adjusting your settings way quicker and easier. I've gotten my hands on almost every DSLR on the market through my classes and private lessons and I can say for certain that the slowest cameras to control are the ones with fewer buttons and more menu-based navigation (I'm talking to you, Nikon D5200).

Enter the Nikon Df DSLR.

Nikon clearly took a cue from the film SLRs of old. This thing has tangibility written all over it. Big clearly marked dials for shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, shooting mode, and drive mode rise proudly from the top of the camera - all the most important functions easily accessible. And the LCD screen up top isn't big and obnoxious displaying every single function from shutter speed to your current blood pressure. It just has the shutter speed, aperture, battery life, and images remaining - the only things you really need on the external LCD screen. And all of this in what I would describe as the most beautifully designed DSLR camera body since the F100. This camera is gorgeous, no doubt about it. With styling very similar to the Nikon FE from way back when, this camera will turn heads whether you get it in sleek black or throwback silver.

Now, of course, this thing has awesome specs inside like a 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor with a max ISO of 12,800 (which can be pushed all the way to ISO 204,800), 100% viewfinder coverage, 39 auto focus points, a rugged body...all of these things are worthy of praise. But this camera is really about the design with the functionality of external dials, buttons, and levers. And don't think this radical departure in design is just for looks. Listen to a guy who has worked extensively with SLR cameras from just about every generation since their inception: these tangible controls make shooting quicker, easier, more intuitive, and much more gratifying. This new camera is a big deal in the war against intangibility. For that, I give it mad respect.

The Nikon Df DSLR, I think, will be one of those cameras displayed proudly on people's shelves 50 years from now as an iconic example of when camera manufacturers got it right. I hope to get my hands on one soon.

Read the Nikon Df press release here and preorder yours at B&H in silver or black.

27Aug/13

Gear Review: Best UV Filter

Best UV FilterAs I covered in a previous blog post, UV filters are a great investment to protect the front of your lens. I use them on all of my Canon DSLR lenses. But like I said in the previous post, if you get a good quality UV filter, it will protect the front of your lens without affecting the image one bit. If you get a bad one, it might degrade image quality or create more lens flare.

There’s the key. You need a good one. After all, your lens has high-quality glass with high-quality coatings, better get the same in your UV filter. It’s going to be on your lens 24/7, so this is no place to skimp on quality.

So what’s the best UV filter?

Well, it’s like I tell my students: “You get what you pay for. If you spend $10 on a UV filter, it’ll be crap. If you spend $50+, you can bet it’s good.” And by the way, filters get more expensive for bigger filter thread sizes. The best UV filter in a 58mm filter thread size should run you about $32.00. In a 77mm filter thread size, the same high-quality UV will run you $72.00.

But I’ll make it simple and just tell you my personal recommendation: I use B&W brand UV filters and I love them. Very high-quality stuff. They don’t degrade image quality one bit and their MRC (Multi-Resistant Coating) line of UV filters features some pretty important optical coatings...several of them...and they’re resistant. These coatings help to reduce reflections on the filter, which equates to more light transmission to the lens, and helps keep dust and fingerprints off the filter.

These coatings do make a big difference. It’s what separates the cheap-o stuff from the serious glass. Make sure your UV filters have the MRC coating (or equivalent).

For instance I use this B&W 77mm UV Haze MRC filter from B&H on my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, my Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, and my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens. Keeps ‘em safe and I don’t have to worry at all about sacrificing image quality.

Best UV FilterNon-coated cheap UV on the left, B+W UV Haze MRC on the right
Notice how much dimmer the reflection is in the multi-coated B+W filter
(The green tinge is just a side effect of the coating, it won't turn your pictures green)

It can hurt a little bit spending over 50 bucks on a filter that won’t improve your photos at all, but resist the temptation to get the cheap Sunpak UV filters at your local Best Buy. You’re better off having nothing on your lens if that’s the case. Get the B&W UV Haze MRC filters. And to make it easy for you, here are links to all the most common filter sizes at B&H in New York (that’s where I buy all of my gear):

Make your expensive DSLR lenses last a long time. Invest in one of these filters for each one of your lenses and replace old filters if they get scratched.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/W34Bettgamg[/youtube]




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