Nikon Lens Abbreviations

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What do those initials mean in the side of your lens?

 Getting the right lens for your Nikon camera

A detail of a nikon lens Different manufacturers identify the different features of their lenses with different initials or abbreviations. These can be quite confusing and so we thought it would be a good idea to go through the most common ones, so that you know what to look for. It is important to know what your Nikon lens can do, because some lenses will not be appropriate for your camera.

Firstly though, two very basic settings

MM or focal length of the lens. So the larger the number, the longer the focal length, the higher the magnification and the further you can see with it. The human eye is about 30mm (though there are different interpretations of this), so if you want to see more than that you want a higher number. For example, sports lenses tend to be big, perhaps 300 – 1000mm, so that they can get close to the action. They also tend to be fast…

Which brings us on to aperture. The aperture of a lens is known as the F number or F-stop. Often the widest aperture is shown on the lens. So an f4 means that the widest aperture on that lens is f4 – though it will have other settings, probably going down to f22. If the lens has two numbers – for example f4-5.6 – then it means that the lens has a variable aperture. This means that when you zoom the lens in and out, the aperture will change. This can be annoying when shooting stills, but a nightmare if you are shooting video. The bigger the number, the smaller the aperture. Again, a sports lens would be f2.8 or so, so that the shutter speed can keep up with the action.

Now some of the abbreviations:

DX Means that the lens is built for DX cameras like the D3000, D5000, D7000 series cameras. They tend to be smaller and lighter than FX lenses and the focal length doesn’t change – if you put an fx lens on a dx camera the focal length will change. It will be increased by a factor of 1.5 or 1.3, so a 50mm lens would become a 65mm or 75mm lens. If you buy a 50mm dx lens and put it on a dx camera, the focal length will remain 50mm

IF Means internal focus. This means that the front of the lens doesn’t move – so you can attach filters to the lens either clear filters to protect the lens, or polarisers or neutral density filters to change the light going into the lens.

ED Means extra low dispersion. This is supposed to reduce the amount of chromatic abberation, which is the blue/red tinge you can sometimes see on edges when you blow pictures up.

AF-S Means Autofocus the lens has an internal motor for focusing, it might also use the initials SWM for silent wave motor. Because the D5200 doesn’t have an internal motor, if you want your lens to auto focus, it must have an internal motor

VR Means vibration reduction and is designed to reduce the effects of camera shake. Very useful for low light hand held photography, and in big lenses which are hard to keep steady. Because this is automatic, you must switch this function off if you are on a tripod or it will increase blur.

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Using a Reversal Ring on your Nikon D5200

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Using a reverse ring with your D5200

 This is a  great way into to Macro photography

If you have ever wanted to dip your toe into macro photography, but were put off at the thought of having to buy an expensive lens, the reverse ring – or reversal ring – is for you. It is a simple, but very clever, bit of kit that lets you turn a standard lens into a makeshift macro lens. Basically, you attach the ring to the front of your lens and then turn the lens around and attach it to the camera via the ring. This reverses the optics and can make a macro lens out of any standard prime or zoom lens.

A key shot with a nikon d5200The great thing about the reverse ring is that it takes you back to very basic photography, because the reverse ring sits between your lens and your camera, there is no physical contact. That means that you lose all automation – no AutoFocus, no AutoAperture etc – you have to work it all out for yourself.

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Because the lens is reversed, the best focus setting to use – which allows you to get up close to your subject – is infinity. Likewise, if you are on a zoom lens, the best focal length to use is the widest. The closer you get to the subject the bigger it will appear in the frame. You will need to focus by moving the camera (or the subject). Also, you will have to manually set the aperture settings and shutter speed. This is a wonderful return to the trial and error photography that many of us will remember from your early photographic experiences. Of course, you still have the advantage of being able to immediately see the results in the viewing screen, rather than having the process, so you can make changes to lighting etc. straight away. I would always recommend using a tripod, as this removes one of the many variables you will be dealing with.

a reverse ring for a nikon d5200You can pick up a reverse (reversal) ring for a few dollars and they are a great way to try out macro. What’s more, going back to the very basics of photography for an afternoon is tremendous fun.

For more information about using a reverse ring with the Nikon D5200, click here

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The D5200 is getting cheaper

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Nikon D5200 prices drop

The best entry-level DSLR is getting more competitive

buy a Nikon D5200 front with screenThe Nikon D5200 only fully launched in January and already the prices in the UK are dropping, making this highly rated DSLR even more competitive. Nikon have really taken the entry-level category apart with their successive launches of the D3200, D5200 and, more recently, the D7100. Canon, their main rival have responded by launching the Rebel T5i (If you can work out the difference between the T4i and the T5i please let me, and the rest of the world, know).

When launched, the D5200 was selling at  priced at £650/$800 for the body and £720/$900 for the body and lens kit. In just a couple of months, the prices have dropped down to around £550 for a body in the UK which suggests that the prices in the USA will soon follow.

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However, I don’t think that they are going down because the camera isn’t selling well. After all, this DSLR has had some superb reviews, especially from the likes of DxOMark, who have rated it higher than the newer D7100 and only a few points short of the Nikon fully professional cameras. I think that the manufacturers are aggressively targeting the entry-level market because they see they enormous potential there. The technology available now to the amateur/enthusiast is so good that I think Nikon see this selection of DSLR cameras as the corner stone of future expansion. The file 24MP sensors produce such astonishing results, both for stills and for video, that it is doubtful that customers will be looking for anything better for a while. With Canon only offering 18MP in their T5i/T4i, Nikon believe that this advantage will work in their favor for a couple of years. This gives them the ideal opportunity to attract point-and-shooters who want to move up and also the disillusioned Canon user.

Nikon D1 digital cameraProfessional photographers have seen this sort of seismic shift before. When Nikon launched the F series of SLRs, they were the best cameras around as far as the Pros were concerned. Their dominance lasted until Canon brought out the revolutionary EOS system cameras in 1987. Professionals migrated en masse to Canon and your couldn’t give Nikon gear away. Finally Nikon caught up and released the D1 in 1999 and, again the Pro’s changed allegiance. But it took 12 years of hard work to make them think seriously about buying Nikon cameras again. I think Nikon are hoping for a similar shift in the enthusiast market. If they can attract the enthusiast with great quality and technology, they have a great chance of keeping them locked into their lenses and accessories (and why not? Their lenses are superb). That is the main reason why the Nikon D5200 prices are dropping….

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The Nikon D5200 and selective color

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The Nikon D5200 selective color mode

Nikon have a winner with their Schindler setting

I must admit, I am not a great fan of some of the scenes and effects on modern cameras. I think some of them are more for show than anything else. Someone somewhere has decided that this camera or that camera should have 16 effects and so the designers and engineers have to come up with modes that will never get used. If you buy a Nikon D5200, will you ever use the Dusk/Dawn setting? or Autumn colors? (and why is it autumn, British season and colors, American spelling?) Will you ever find yourself in a situation when the silhouette effect will be just what you were looking for?

However, the selective color settings on the D5200 open up a whole new perspective on shooting both stills and video. That dramatic scene of the little girl in the red coat in Schindler’s list has spawned a thousand imitators and has made the part color, part monochrome image a right of passage for many photographers. Of course, it is relatively easy to do in photoshop – you just draw around your color object, select the rest of the image and grayscale it. But if you want to have multiple objects colored, you have to draw around them all, and even with the Magnetic Lasso Tool is can get quite laborious. That is the price of having a software that defines color by pantone and is very specific and exact. The selective color option on this digital camera is a blunt tool by comparison. When you choose a color, every object in the image that has that general color will keep it. This sounds pretty rubbish, but I think it works really well. In these two pictures, I chose orange and removed all other colors.

selective color on a Nikon D5200

selective color in a D5200

I particularly like the detail in the lampshade and the fact that the software found orange in the cabinet. Obviously, you need to be careful. I don’t particularly want the buildings outside keeping their color, for example but, used with some forethought, this can be a great effect.

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There are two ways of using selective color for stills. You can either chose it from the Effects menu on the Mode Dial or use it in the retouch menu after you have taken the shot. The pictures above were changed in retouch. This picture was shot having selected yellow through the Effects menu.

selective color in the nikon d5200

With video, you cannot use selective color in retouch (imagine the processing power you would need for that) but you can choose it through the Mode dial. If you choose your color wisely, it can have a very dramatic effect. Which, I guess, is why it was so appealing to Steven Spielberg…

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Should you buy a Nikon D5200

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Should you buy a Nikon D5200?

Should you buy a Nikon D5200? Nikon D5200 digital camera with standard lens

Buying a new camera is a big decision, not least because it is quite a big ticket item. If you buy a Nikon D5200, you will also be tied into other Nikon products, like lenses and Flashguns. Nikon produce great quality kit, although it can be expensive. But I think buying this DSLR is worth serious consideration. Launched in the States in January, every photo enthusiast in America had already seen the D5200 and examined its features ( it was launched in Europe and Asia at the end of 2012). This could explain why there was not a huge buzz that accompanied the launch of other cameras like the Compact System Camera updates, the J3 and the S1, or even the sibling Nikon D3200 last year. However, the D5200 is a superb camera that can produce high quality stills and astonishing HD video. It was recently rated higher than the Nikon D3200 by DxOMark and was only a few points behind Nikon’s Pro cameras.

Nikon have furnished their DSLRs with different sensors from different manufacturers. The D5200 has a brand new 24MP sensor, supplied by Toshiba. As a result, nobody knows how well this sensor can perform yet, but it is assumed that it will be even better than the similar Sony sensor in the Nikon D3200. Certainly the D5200 gives quite splendid color saturation and clarity. The sensor produces a 68MB file, which will satisfy almost any requirement, and the Expeed3 processor –  which has already proved itself to be very quick and efficient in the D3200 – it quite at home in the D5200. It has also inherited a couple of excellent features from the D7000 – the 39-point Auto-focus system – up from the 11-point Auto-focus system in the D5100. This gives you much greater accuracy when focussing and is especially useful for shooting landscapes. The D5200 also has the D7000′s metering system, which gives makes the exposure settings far more accurate and takes it into the realm of professional cameras (in fact DxOMark place the D5200 only a few points behind the professional Nikons the D3x and the D4). It has also upgraded the internal Mic from mono to stereo which produces very good sound for videos. There is a side port which allows you to attach either a GPS receiver, or a WiFi connector, so that you can receive and transmit with your computer. It can also be used as a remote control for the camera, even operating the Live-view option. Nikon have worked to address some of the criticism directed at the D5100. For example, there are now two customizable buttons on the camera that give you the chance to to change certain parameters instantly, rather than find the settings in the menus.

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Of course, if you are considering whether to buy a Nikon D5200, you will need to have a look at the alternatives. The main rival to the D5200 is the Canon T4i. Out for over a year, the 18MP files aren’t as impressive as they once were, but it is a superb camera and, like the D5200 is designed for both stills and video. Like the D5200, the T4i also has a an articulated viewing screen which canon have made a touch screen. It is fair to say that opinion is divided on the value of the touch screen option, but Canon loyalists insist that it is an extremely useful feature and much quicker for navigating the menus.

You might also like to look at rivals closer to home. The Nikon D3200 and D7000 are both in the same entry-level category as the D5200. The D3200 was launched last year and also has a 24MP sensor. This file size blew the opposition away at the time and that, combined with the great picture quality and the very competitive pricing, has led it to dominate its class. However, it has a poorer build quality and no articulated back screen which is becoming a requirement for those who want to seriously shoot video. The D7000 is probably going to be replaced this year and that is reflected in current prices. Only offering a 16MP file size, it seems to be a poor relation in that area. However, there are many photographers who are not dazzled by the file size debate and see other qualities in the D7000, like the internal motor (for older lenses), the tough magnesium alloy body, twin memory card slots and 6FPS burst speed. Not flash or up to date, the D7000 still holds a place in the hearts of the Nikon stalwarts for its reliability and ruggedness.

Other things to think about if you are wondering if you should buy this digital camera are the accessories. The Nikon lenses are second to none and there is a healthy second hand market for them. If you do buy a Nikon D5200, get the 18-55mm kit lens or, if you can afford it, the 18-105mm lens. They will give you some great flexibility for shooting video and stills. Make sure you buy a decent memory card and, if possible, a tripod – as you may be enticed by some of the scene options that require a slower shutter speed. If you are still unsure, I would advise that you to find a good camera shop and ask to pick one up and see how it feels in hand. I have seen many new cameras over the years and I don’t think that the D5200 is revolutionary or the next technological leap forward. It is however an excellent performer across stills and video, in different lighting conditions and quick enough for action photography. So, should you buy a Nikon D5200? Well, I have.

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The miniature effect in more detail

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How the Miniature effect works

Miniature effect on the Nikon D5200Ok, anyone who has been reading these blogs, or watching our videos, will know that I am slightly over fascinated by the miniature effect, both in stills and in video. On one level, I guess this effect just brings out the inner child in me. The stills are designed to make the subject look like a toy and the video option has everyone moving around as if they are in a Charlie Chaplin film. But I think it is mainly because, whilst most of the effects can be reproduced post shot if needed, miniature effect is an effect which could only really be done in camera while shooting.

A park bench shot with the miniature effect in the Nikon D5200So what makes the miniature effect so different? Well the idea is to draw attention to the middle of the image. In order to do that the effect pushes the rest of the image out of focus. In fact, it pushes the top third and the bottom third of the image out of focus. Interestingly, the middle band of the image is kept sharp. This pulls the middle band into sharp relief, making it stand out more. It also seems to saturate the colors so that it looks like it has been shot through the a highly saturated vivid option (an option in ‘set picture control’ in the shooting menu). This has the effect of making the colors bright and bold – like candy in a sweetshop. I think the combination gives the image a visual simplicity and concentrated color, which we find attractive for its lack of subtlety.

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A statue shot with the miniature effect on the nikon d5200

Of course, the idea is that you shoot miniature from a distance, so that the effect is compounded, but shooting close up gives quite an interesting semi-bokeh effect. Whist this isn’t something you would want to do every day, it can enhance an image and make it much more eye-catching. Turn the camera and shoot vertically and you can get a really punchy image.

With Video, the effect is excellent. As well as blurring the top and bottom thirds, the camera effectively takes a time lapse video. Consequently it takes about 5 minutes to shoot 20 seconds. The overall effect is a vibrant, miniatured jerky video. How would anyone hope to use it for any serious movie making? I have no idea, but it’s comic possibilities are endless….

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