Category Archives: Reviews

On a morning safari in Kabini(in South India), we have spotted a wild dogs pack chasing spotted deers.
One deer fawn ended up in the pond surrounded by the wild dogs and had been dragged out of the waters.
A pack of 7 dogs disassembled the fawn in no time and the head was the only part left out for which two wild dogs started tug of war.
This was the Top Dog.

Nikon D500 Hands-On Field Test

By | Reviews | One Comment

This is a long post about my experience with Nikon D500. First I start with Summary for those who have a little time to go through the entire post.
Please note that the photos posted in this review are processed with Adobe RGB color profile, not sRGB.

Quick Summary

Pros

  • Outstanding Image Quality with great tonality and Colors for a DX sensor
  • Printable card size images even at ISO 1 Lakh (102,400)
  • Usable till ISO 8 Lakhs (819,200) for inspection/record
  • Excellent Auto Focus even in challenging light (with Center focus point)
  • Outstanding 3D tracking even in very low light. I have never seen this kind of a Speed in tracking too.
  • 10 FPS with great buffer even on 95 mbps cards with no interim auto focus issues
  • Almost instant focus in majority of the situations even with Nikon consumer lenses
  • Improved Auto Focus (AF) in Live View with Touch focus and capture
  • Excellent Auto White Balance Performance, produces colors very near to the actual scene
  • “Spot On” exposures. No Negative Exposure compensation is required in general
  • Interestingly I found Matrix Metering is usable and exposure are very good for the first time compared to other Nikon cameras I have used
  • Beautiful Skin Tones are produced in general, even better with excellent skin texture when paired with lenses like Zeiss Otus/Milvus
  • Tack Sharp shots even with Kit/Consumer lenses. Good it lacks Low Pass filter
  • Another great feature to set ISO separately for Flash, no link to general shooting ISO setting
  • 4K Video is crisp and awesome for Amateurs like me, 4K footage is far more superior to Full HD when viewed on high resolution monitors
  • Wide Spread focus points are very helpful in composing the images quickly
  • Very sensitive shutter button, optimized for speed
  • Articulating LCD gets you the photos where no other fixed LCD cameras can capture in reality
  • Exposures with Flash are also reasonable despite the options in the Menu are limited
  • Flicker Reduction implementation is outstanding and produces great images indoor under different lighting conditions
  • Electronic Front Curtain, a good feature, saved me multiple times
  • Electronic VR for non 4K videos is also a good option but tripod is always preferred for video shooting
  • Audio quality from the internal mic in the Videos is outstanding
  • Illumination of rear Buttons is a helpful feature when shooting in dark environments especially for night photography in forests
  • Remote triggering the Camera through Mobile is another good feature though very slow
  • SnapBridge is an Incredible feature though majority of the people complain. It saved me multiple times
  • None of the lenses I have used till date required any calibration.
  • Excellent grip too

Cons

  • Big Problem: “Dancing Focus Points” in AF-C mode in Portrait orientation
  • Issue with Focus Points: Outer Most Focus Points are Very Unreliable, as per my experience they worked in around 10-15% cases.
  • Focus tracking fails generally with busy backgrounds but retains well with distracting foregrounds
  • 25 Points AF fails more than other AF modes in acquiring and retaining focus in AF-C
  • Another Bigger problem is, no dedicated metering switch like Nikon D800E.
  • Also metering button is moved to left and both the hands must be involved to change the setting each time
  • Battery discharges pretty fast in cold climate (<18 Degrees Celsius), otherwise also battery life is shorter only
  • The top projection in the grip hurts fingers badly, wish a softer material is used and a bit curvy too
  • Live View Operation using Hand held is a challenge compared to operating on a Tripod
  • Wish there is a Flash Shoe cover supplied like other Nikon DSLRs
  • Wish the ISO button has an option to set the Maximum ISO value for Auto ISO than Minimum ISO value, applicable to all Nikon DSLRs
  • Working in Manual Flash mode is a challenge and not many Flash configuration options are available
  • As usual useless menu/custom setting banks in Nikon D500 too. Few things can be configured but no where near to U1, U2 settings in usability like few Nikon cameras

In Depth

Now let’s see in detail what Nikon D500 is all about.

Image Quality

ISO Performance (With respect to Visual Noise)

There was huge debate everywhere on the ISO ceiling of Nikon D500 when announced. Thereafter too many samples and comparisons were posted too.
But I personally did not find any conclusion on where exactly this stands compared to other cameras where I can get better idea on ISO performance.
So I personally conducted few tests myself to get an idea against Nikon D750 a Full Frame camera which I occasionally use.
My tests answered all my questions.

RAW file Image Quality of Nikon D500 is Exactly Half Stop Behind Nikon D750 at all ISOs from ISO 400 to ISO 51,200.

This is a great accomplishment for Nikon, not a full stop difference when compared to one of the best Full Frame cameras on the market in this area.

ISO Performance (Usability stand point)
  • Images either imported from Adobe Camera Raw default settings/ViewNX-i with low High ISO NR photos can be printed at 10×15 inch at ISO 16,000. No additional Noise reduction is required.
  • Images can be printed at 10×15 inch with Noise Reduction till ISO 40,000
  • Images can be printed at 8×10 inch with little Noise Reduction at ISO 51,200
  • Images can be printed at 4×6 inch with little Noise Reduction at ISO 102,400 (A big Wow! That’s it.)

Below Images are Out of the camera JPEGs with In Camera Noise Reduction Set to “Low” and no other post processing performed.
ISO 16 Lakhs
ISO 8 Lakhs
ISO 4 Lakhs
ISO 2 Lakhs
ISO 1 Lakh

Image Sharpness

There is only one answer: Tack Sharp.
Thanks to Nikon for not including the low pass filter. This is one of the strongest reasons I bought this camera otherwise I wouldn’t have.
This was the same reason earlier I bought Nikon D800E instead of Nikon D800.
If anyone has any complaints on Image Sharpness then they have to understand their Lens and may need Lens calibration.
That’s all about it.

Tonality

The image tones of Nikon D500 are simply fantastic. Hence the overall look is very good even at very high ISOs.
Nikon D750 does not produce these kind of smooth tones compared to Nikon D500.
I have shot ~20,000 images on each of these cameras in different genre from Portraits to Wildlife.

Dynamic Range

Nikon 500 has excellent dynamic range especially at High ISOs and very High ISOs. I really wondered seeing the details I recovered in the range from ISO 16,000 to ISO 102400 without introducing much noise.
This was a total surprise. At lower ISOs as everyone knows and like every other review mentioned, Dynamic Range is very good but still not as good as Nikon D800E.

Exposures

Exposures at default 0ev on Nikon D500 at majority times are Spot On. No exposure compensation is required for any general shooting/scenes.
On side by side comparison with Nikon 750, Nikon 750 yielded me +0.3 ev more exposure with little more highlights blown out compared to Nikon D500.
So one needs to set -0.3 ev while shooting with Nikon 750 to get correct exposure. That effort can be avoided with Nikon D500.

Post Processing

Unlike Nikon D750 RAW files, Nikon D500 files respond very well to post processing. I know this opens lot of questions to me, how?
The reason is simple. Nikon D500 images are Tack Sharp not soft as Nikon D750 (yes, compared to Nikon D500 with same lenses and also in similar environment).
So with Sharp images, Noise reduction becomes easy and correct exposures of Nikon D500 also helps in recovering highlights as well as shadows equally.
Better Tonality adds to it too. Nikon D500 post processing response is very similar to Nikon D800E files than Nikon D750 files.

Auto Focus

Nikon D500 focuses instantly in every focus mode that’s available in camera except in extreme low light.
It supports Auto Focus upto -4ev with center focus point, all other focus points are sensitive upto -3ev.
Outer most focus points are the only ones which are not reliable at all, all other focus points locks almost instantly with focus.
The above is also true with fast lenses, not specific to slow lenses (considering new AF and cross points layout).

AF-S

Basic & Simple AF mode which works very reliability.
Center focus point (with -4ev) works perfectly with instant focus in extreme low light also.
So focus and re-compose works good for extreme low light photography.

AF-S is very dependable for non-action photos. But below one is frozen with AF-S mode only.
Taken using AF-S Focus Mode

AF-C
  • Excellent tracking and Locks the focus and never loses in continuous shooting (10fps) unless encounters a busy background.
    This typically means, all the 10 photos shot in 1 sec at 10 fps are in perfect focus in general.
  • Wildlife: As said above. With busy background the tracking loses quickly and takes time to regain but no issues with foreground elements anytime.
  • Outdoor Sports: My hit rate with a 18-105mm Kit lens is almost 997 shots out of 1000 were in perfect focus where those 3 misses were where I experimented a little.
    Busy background does not matter much in sports. Hit rate is almost 100% only.
Group-Area AF

I had a lot of expectations when I saw this new AF mode in Nikon D750. I tried it on variety of subjects.
This works good for kind of architecture or the plane of focus is well defined like some Landscapes/Cars/Flights etc
I had to abandon it for my style of shooting for the reasons

  • When critical focus is required at one point like focus on just “Eye”
    Applicable to Wildlife (Birds, Mammals etc) and Human Portraits etc
  • Subject with busy background where one of the assisting focus points is falling out of the subject
  • We can’t select outer most focus points
  • Confusing as the center focus point which is actually focusing is not displayed!
  • Another option to display the assisting focus points as dots than squares also not addressing above

The above are also applicable to Nikon D500.

Video (For Amateurs)

  • 4K footage out of the camera are Crisp & Outstanding for all the general use.
  • Outstanding Audio quality like Nikon D800E, not like Nikon D750.
  • No rolling shutter effect either in 4K or Full HD footage even in low light
  • Videos in low lights are also awesome
  • One can configure the settings using Nikon Picture Control which is very good option.
  • ISO also can be configured separately using Auto ISO
  • There are lots of configurations/customization available for Video settings.

Canon 7D MK2 Vs Nikon D500
(real time, in the field, with real wildlife action)

The below is not a Canon Vs Nikon debate but performance comparison in challenging situations in the Field when shot side by side.

This is not a side by side camera specification comparison too.I would suggest not to judge any camera/lens by their specifications alone.

  • Nikon D500 has more keepers than Canon 7D MK2 when shot side by side wrt missed focus in 10fps continuous shooting.
    Canon 7D MK2 missed focus occasionally (~40%) but Nikon D500 didn’t. Nikon D500’s every image was a keeper.
    In the above comparison, very interesting point to note was that Canon 7D MK2 was paired with Canon 600mm IS2 prime lens whereas
    Nikon D500 has Sigma sports 150-600mm, which is unfair to Nikon D500 :-p
    also Canon 7D MK2 with Canon 600mm IS2 is on a Gitzo tripod with Wimberley Gimbal head and
    Nikon D500 with Sigma sports 150-600mm was shot handheld, which is again unfair to Nikon D500!
  • There were a total of 2 other instances where Canon 7D MK2 was head-on with Nikon D500 in Wildlife safaris where
    in all the 2 instances Canon 7D MK2 was a total failure and was unable to even focus in that low light where
    Nikon D500 was capturing at 10 fps. I was the only person who were able to shoot with Auto Focus and
    no other Canon camera too was able to fire a single shot.
  • Nikon D500 has better dynamic range to work and Canon 7D MK2 introduces strong pattern noise while lifting the shadows which I wasn’t happy with.
  • Nikon D500 has more than half stop visual noise advantage especially shooting from ISO 1600 and above
  • AF of Canon 7D MK2 completely failed in few specific scenarios which is even worse than my Nikon D90 (yes D90).
    Repeated the test around 16 times to confirm this.
  • Though Canon 7D MK2 has better AF in Live View, it’s not an articulating screen with touch focus & capture.
    Few images are “simply impossible” without a tilt screen.
    I was shooting few images where others just packed up their gear. They just have to admire at others images with no other option.
    Also with every inch above the ground when taking ground level shots the
    POV changes.
    Uniqueness will simply be missed sometimes if camera is not completely flat on the ground.
    Workaround for the above is to dig under the ground. This is the ground reality :-p

Nikon D750 Vs Nikon D500

  • If a half stop more visible noise is not your primary concern then
    Nikon D500 is a better camera though Nikon D750 is a Full Frame camera
  • U1, U2 setting are not available in Nikon D500 which are Nikon D750’s most usable feature
  • Nikon D500 has advantages in below areas compared to Nikon D750
  • 1/8000 shutter speed vs 1/4000 shutter speed of Nikon D750 which is helpful when shooting with f/1.4 prime lenses during day time on a sunny day
  • Default Flicker Reduction implementation in Nikon D750 is terrible but it’s outstanding in Nikon D500 & Auto option is also available than just 50/60Hz options.
  • Sharper images
  • Better tonality
  • More responsive (ex. In Ch, the effort I put on shutter button for one single image in Nikon D750 results me every time 2 images in Nikon D500)
  • Better AF
  • 10 fps
  • Wide spread focus points
  • Better Metering
  • Live view AF is faster and touch focus is again instant & captures image too
  • In Ch mode, I think Nikon D500 is one of those few cameras which captures two images in Live View with one shutter click :) :)
  • 4K video
  • Very sensitive internal mic, produces excellent Audio quality in Videos compared to Nikon D750
  • Nikon D500 can shoot at ISO 102,400 and sometimes a life saver for Wildlife photographers which Nikon D750 can’t do as in below sample image.

Nikon D800E/D810 Vs Nikon D500

Things are pretty clear here. All these are great cameras.
If speed is only you priority then go for Nikon D500, if not go for Nikon D800E/D810. If you can effort both you can be even more happier :)
Also, if you shoot wildlife “and also” regularly shoot in DX mode with
Nikon D800E/D810 then better to include Nikon D500 to your kit.

DX vs FX – At this point

Over the time quite a few things have changed.
Nikon D500 & Sigma is reducing the gap between DX and FX cameras.
Nikon D500 reducing the gap from it’s Half Stop only visible noise Vs traditional One Stop and also
With it’s superior AF and sharpness, reducing DOF to 1/3 stop!
Ex. whatever the reason I had to always stop down my Nikon 50mm 1.8G lens to f/2.2 to get sharp photos on Nikon D800E and Nikon D750.
But I am getting tack sharp images at f/1.8 with Nikon D500, no more need to stop down to f/2.2

Also Sigma is supporting DX line with fast lenses in recent times. So Nikon can’t just push anyone anymore to FX to use fast lenses.

Ex. Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 DC HSM Art, Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens etc.

Finally a word on DXOMark sensor results on ISO performance

DXOMark does not comeup with ISO performance score based on the visible noise.
It’s strongly computed on SNR 18% parameter when touching at the score of 30.
This is how Nikon D5 is not better compared to quite a few cameras
though they have lot more noise.
So going forward it’s better to ignore this parameter out of their sensor reviews.

Picture Stories @Real world and Handheld

Performance at ISO 40,000
ISO 40,000
Performance at ISO 25,600
ISO 25,600
ISO 25,600
Details at ISO 16,000
Details at ISO 16,000
Details at ISO 16,000
Details at ISO 16,000
Details at ISO 16,000
Image Quality at ISO 6400
Image Quality at ISO 6400
Image Quality at ISO 5000
Image Quality at ISO 5000
Details
Details
Details
Colors & Tonality
Tonality
Advantage of 10fps (can get exact moment)
Advantage of 10fps
Advanced AF
Advanced AF
Can create moody images too not just action
Vintage

Conclusion

Nikon D500 is a great tool for very demanding photographers especially for those who are able to find the short comings of it :)
Outstanding image quality till ISO 102,400 and usable ISOs (for a good record) all the way till ISO 1,600K for a DX sensor is not a small feat and not a total marketing gimmick too.
This kind of an image quality combined with excellent auto focus which can focus in near dark opens new creative horizons to explore.
With all the above new features mentioned in Pros section, definitely Nikon D500 is a great modern camera every demanding photographer can consider.

Have a nice time.

Thanks,
Sravan

 

8258614984e292e4786c46

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G – A Quick Review – DX Bodies

By | Reviews | No Comments

Date: 27-May-2011

Actually I was looking for reviews on net before buying this lens but it is too early to get, so I took a bold decision to go for it and got it yesterday.
Today I got some time to test it and want to share a quick view on it so that it will be useful for others who are considering this on a DX body.

f/1.8 – Very Sharp with flash for portraits with Creamiest Background I have seen ever.
Without flash on tripod with timer – Center is very sharp and corners are very soft because of its large aperture 1.8
f/8 – Sharpest Edge to Edge (without flash on tripod with timer).
f/4 – Corners are average (without flash on tripod with timer).
f/5.6 – Corners are good (without flash on tripod with timer).

Overall, at all apertures, the Bokeh is very smooth and pleasant.
Also the focus is fast.

So if considering for low light (In my lighting conditions f/1.8 is roughly at 1/15 sec equals to f/8 at 1 sec) for portraits, I don’t think people will be disappointed at f/1.8 on DX.

Cons – 7 Blade aperture, you may see some circles (very few) in the bokeh
Sample Photos – Shot with timer at ISO 100, placing the camera on bed Smile
This may not be adequate to see the edge sharpness as the subject posted here is different but will give the idea on BG.

After spending little more time with this lens on DX, I feel

Best for
1. Portraits

A. Outdoor from f/1.8 to f/2.2
With this aperture, one can achieve shutter speed around 1/3000 to 1/4000 in morning low light itself.
The BG will be too smooth, creamy.
Face detection will not help too much in this case.
Only caution is to make sure the subjects focus plane is uniform across the frame,
otherwise most of things will be out of focus.

B. Indoor from f/1.8 with Flash it will be super sharp.
Face detection will help little more here.
so the most of area will be in good DOF and rest especially BG will be creamy.

Good for
2. Flowers

A. From f/2.2 to 2.8 for close shots with less DOF and good BG
B. From f/4 to 5.6 for super sharp corner to corner details with little compromise in BG.

Better avoid f/1.8 to f/2.2 for very narrow DOF.

Sample Photos

3. Wild life

Never use it, AF will not be accurate and VR is not there, and 75mm will be most of the times too less other than Mammals with habitat probably.
Yes you will see that you are missing VR in continuous shooting mostly 100% shots are useless.
I would have had a better shot with 70-300mm VR in the below shot, where the subject is too close.
Ewen after having little challenge with light as it was raining heavily but this was not the results which I was expecting.
Only below one with heavy crop is atleast not completely shaken out Smile

Sample Photos

4. Landscapes

Can try with at f/8 to get edge to edge super sharp shots with good color and contrast in good light or mounting on tripod.

Will post some samples in this category in a year or two Smile

Thanks for your time,
Sravan

Flora & Other - 121

Nikon D800E Image Quality

By | Reviews | 2 Comments

Date: 26-Nov-2012

I want to share my experiences about the Image Quality (only) of a full frame DSLR camera, Nikon D800E (which I bought accidentally without any intention) against some OLD crop sensor DSLRs I have used/using (Nikon, Canon & Olympus) and here are my initial thoughts.

Actually I should say this is the realization I got after using a Full Frame Camera First Time Smile

It looks like comparing apples and oranges but unlike those with different tastes and vitamins etc, here the end product is the same, a photo Smile

But the only thing I don’t compare here is the detail and resolution, it’s definitely unfair.

Always full Frame DSLRs have better IQ compared to small sensor bodies.
And the difference I felt here is about 5 Stops (yes, 5 stops) at the same image size (12MP) between D800E and D90.
I felt that D90 at ISO 400 is same as D800E at ISO 6400 and some times even D800E at ISO 6400 matched to D90 ISO 200 when compared at the same size (out of the camera with no post processing) at 12MP.

I am sharing some images here, except in focus test all images are down sampled to 12MP.
Why I stick here to 12MP is that it is good enough for my needs. I occasionally print 16X24 inch prints and mostly I print 12X18/10X15 inch. With 36MP at ISO 2,000 I am planning to print 20X30 inch to see the print quality (but this is once in a blue moon). So for me the IQ at 12MP is very important for the max 24 inch prints when needed (people are able to print with similar resolution using D3S some beautiful gallery prints too).
Typically these requirements change from the nature of work and purpose of each individual.

And all the images here are without any post processing (shot in RAW with in-camera NR low) except resizing to 12MP using View NX2. All images have full EXIF to check the camera settings.

The ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 are not getting displayed in the Picasa EXIF, so please check the file names to get the ISO value.
Also I have added couple of samples with suffix _NR for which I have applied noise reduction to compare the results with their equivalent ISO 25,600.

I did not capture them with utmost care and precision/manual mode as most of the real world shots are not so accurate but generally shot in very similar conditions.

Very unfortunate thing here is Picasa reduced the IQ by around 10-20% with thin vertical/Horizontal lines and some random pixels while uploading even though uploaded with Original Size option. So there is around 10-20% IQ loss from the original with thin lines and random pixels.
I have now realized that its applicable to all the images uploaded to Picasa irrespective of resolution, can’t get away with it.
The total files uploaded in the below links are around 160 MB.

Also note that when an image is viewed after clicking magnifying glass (zoom) icon even after pressing the + sign to the maximum, 12 MP files will take that status to half after a couple of seconds based on the Internet speed so one has to maximize further to see full 12MP image. In addition, there are couple of 36MP images.

These photos are with the light falling directly on the Subject (Manual WB setting to test, hence not so natural).
Front Light

These photos are with the light falling from TOP (Subject is not lit and it is slightly darker, other scenario).
Top lit

And also adding some more images for details comparison at different ISOs, the technique used for these has the limitation to get more DOF.
Details

Focusing speed for high end cameras is not at all an issue from the past, irrespective of the conditions, light, background or foreground or even backlit. The same here too.
To get the best, the only limitation now is the lens reach and lens quality. Cameras now are capable of extracting maximum out of the lenses.
Here I uploaded the images (shot mostly in DX mode for reach) where the subjects are at different positions in the frame, not just in the center. The advantage in DX mode is that the focus points are spread across the complete frame, so all these focus points help in tracking the subject.
Focus Test

Wildlife photos were shot in DX mode with 15.3MP resolution and re-sized to 12MP, so little bit more noise compared to FX.
Some Real World Photos

Skin tones are far more better at ISO 12,800 on D800E compared to D90 at ISO 1600 (I have captured around 300+ portraits till now and not able to post even one as I need their permission Smile ).

So my conclusion is YES, the camera matters.
Colors, Contrast, DOF and Skin tones are immediately apparent with the same lens on both.
To observe the rest one has to view big.

End of the day, I set max ISO on my D90 to 800 and on D800E I will go up to 6400 in FX without a second thought for general photography, and in D800E DX mode I set it to max of ISO 2,500.

  1. My estimation as per my experience is all 36 Megapixels are useful till ISO 1,600 on D800E, can be printed till 24X36 around 200dpi
  2. At ISO 3,200 one can print 20X30 inch(16X24 in bad light)
  3. At ISO 6,400 16X24 (12X18 in bad light)
  4. At ISO 12,800 10X15 (8X12 in bad light)
  5. At ISO 25,600 8X12 (5X7 in bad light)

Good post processing will definitely help in increasing the print size.

I got an opportunity to shoot ISO 25,600 in overcast weather where even ISO 12,800 failed to get decent shutter speed, (just rained, hence the BG water droplets) and the subject is perched in a dark bushy place.
Auto focusing itself is impossible for my D90 in this situation not just because of the poor light but also because the subject is black. But D800E auto focus locked instantly on all the images and I am able to get the following Full Frame shot Handheld!
This is exactly where I like D800E exposures.

This is out of the camera full frame jpeg (Shot RAW, converted in-camera to jpeg, with Active D-Lighting and Noise Reduction OFF) and only did careful noise reduction, no other post processing (in-camera or software) is performed.
(EXIF: Aperture Priority, F/5.6, at 300mm on 70-300mm VR, 1/100 Sec, 0 EV, No Flash, ISO 25,600)
This requires very minimal adjustments like slight increase in Brightness/Contrast/Saturation and Sharpness to get a good 12X18 inch print.

Other DX mode shot at ISO 2,500 with post processing.

One more for auto focus.

The last and the best of D800E is its amazing exposures in worst/horrible/terrible light (please check above link of ISO 25,600), D90 is nowhere near. Its impossible to know the lighting condition when shot with D800E and its always mind boggling.

What is missing in D800E is the battery life compared to D90 and Auto WB is not accurate.

Please do not mistake me here that the other cameras cannot produce good images.
I was able to get good images with Nikon/Canon/Olympus/Yashica/Samsung Point and Shoots & iPhone/Mobiles too, and some awesome ISO 1,600 images right out of my D90, but now with D800E the keepers are even more and no need to worry about the light especially in places like Bangalore where light won’t be good in most of the seasons.
We have fabulous images from decades, it’s getting easier now a days with new technology.

With any camera, the composition and the creativity still lies with the photographer only, cameras atleast are not that intelligent yet, giving gyan (enlighten) to the photographers Smile

Finally, to conclude, with the modern cameras like D4, D800, 1DX or 5DMK3 etc. nothing is left to blame the camera or even the LIGHT like before!

 

Update: 11-Dec-2103

Self evaluation of my above observations shared.

Below is my self evaluation of my previous observations shared in the above post (in Bold below) w.r.t. other renowned reviews on net.

Focusing speed for high end cameras is not at all an issue from the past, irrespective of the conditions, light, background or foreground or even back-lit. The same here too.

Reference
“If you shoot in indoor/low-light environments, you will be surprised by just how well the new AF system works in poor conditions. I took the D800 for a short tour with me to Denver downtown at night and I was surprised by how well the AF system worked in street light.

Reference
“Autofocus System
In terms of performance, it’s quite good. Basically similar to my D4 experience so far (but I’m still testing that camera). I had no real complaints about the previous FX focus system, so it’s not likely I’d have any about the new one.”

Skin tones are far more better at ISO 12,800 on D800E compared to D90 at ISO 1600 (I have captured around 300+ portraits till now and not able to post even one as I need their permission ).

So my conclusion is YES, the camera matters.
Colors, Contrast, DOF and Skin tones are immediately apparent with the same lens on both.

Reference
“If anything, there’s a bit more “magic” to the automatic bits, probably due to the fact that the camera recognizes skin tones so well.”

Reference
“2) Colors and Skin Tones

One thing that surprised both Lola and I, was the color reproduction of the D800E for portraiture and the skin tones it produced. While this topic is always a matter of debate, especially when it comes to Canon vs Nikon colors and skin tone comparisons, we both agree that the D800E by far had the best colors compared to previous generation Nikon DSLRs, including the D3s. I have praised the sensor of the D800 quite a bit before for landscape photography, because colors just looked so good straight out of the camera. After our first wedding with the D800E, Lola opened up images in Lightroom and she was blown away by the richness of colors and beautiful skin tones the camera produced. ”

My estimation as per my experience is all 36 Megapixels are useful till ISO 1,600 on D800E, can be printed till 24X36 around 200dpi.
And at ISO 3,200 one can print 20X30 inch(16X24 in bad light), at ISO 6,400 16X24 (12X18 in bad light),
at ISO 12,800 10X15 (8X12 in bad light) & ISO 25,600 8X12 (5X7 in bad light). Good post processing will definitely help in increasing the print size.

Reference
“Print Quality
Excellent 40 x 60-inch prints from ISO 100 to 400; ISO 3,200 shots look good at 24 x 36; and ISO 25,600 images make a great 8×10!

ISO 100 images look pretty amazing printed at 40 x 60 inches, with good detail and great color.

ISO 200 shots are a little softer at 40 x 60 inches, but only by comparison. We’d still call them quite good.

ISO 400 images also stand up to printing at this very large size of 40 x 60. Though some luminance noise starts to appear in the shadows, it’s not objectionable.

ISO 800 images are a little soft for printing at 40 x 60 and 36 x 48, but look good and sharp printed at 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 1,600 shots are quite usable at 30 x 40 inches, but we prefer prints at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots hold up well at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 6,400 shots are usable but soft at 20 x 30 inches. Printing at 16 x 20 looks quite a bit better.

ISO 12,800 images are good at 13 x 19, but really tighten up at 11 x 14.

ISO 25,600 shots are usable at 11 x 14 inches, but shadow noise is distracting enough that we prefer 8 x 10-inch prints.

Overall, it’s a very impressive performance from a high-megapixel camera, far exceeding our expectations. At very low ISO settings, it’s a little like looking at our targets through a large magnifying glass.”

The last and the best of D800E is its amazing exposures in worst/horrible/terrible light (please check above link of ISO 25,600), D90 is nowhere near. Its impossible to know the lighting condition when shot with D800E and its always mind boggling.

Reference
“I have been shooting in aperture priority mode for about a week now and I have had very few occasions when I wanted to dial in exposure compensation the exposure was spot on, especially when photographing people.

The Nikon D800 does not seem to have any of these exposure problems. I started with 0 EV in matrix metering mode and the camera pretty much nailed the exposure every time. Lola and I photographed weddings with the D800 and metering on people was spot on, definitely more accurate than any other DSLR I have used to date, including the D3s.”

Reference
“And with the much better 91K RGB metering system, the D800E seemed to require a lot less exposure adjustments than previous generation DSLRs when photographing people.”

Others can share their thoughts too.
Thanks for reading and for your time!

Have a great day,
Sravan

Flora & Other - 012

Tamron 150-600mm VC – First Impressions

By | Reviews | One Comment

Date: 15-June-2014

Recently a lot of members were suggested this lens in INW and with lot of positive feedback on Internet, I want to share my first impressions on this lens.

With some luck, unexpectedly acquired the Tamron 150-600mm VC Nikon mount lens yesterday (Saturday).
I spent around 3.5 hours till now (in field 2.5 hours) and here are my first few observations. I will start with negatives first.

Negatives:

  1. “VC” spoils the images with complete shake when shooting on tripod even with timer in low light
    which is very strange and I have never faced this with Nikon’s “VR”.
    Turning “off” “VC” and using timer in shooting low light on a tripod produces excellent images.
    I suggest to Turn off VC when shooting with a tripod.
    (Please confirm whether this is a problem only with my copy)
  2. Due to weight which includes the camera too and also when shooting at 600mm, tripod is a must for best results.
  3. Lens hood feels like made with cheap plastic, should be handled with care.
  4. It’s a f/8 lens where one can get very sharp results.
  5. No lens cover is supplied.
  6. Slightly tight zoom ring from around 300 to 600mm range.

Positives:

  1. Excellent Colors and Contrast.
  2. Captures superb details in low light too.
  3. Excellent focus speed even at 600mm and focus acquisition is very fast for moving subjects too.
  4. Sweet spot is between f/8 and f/11
  5. Zoom till 600mm is a great feature for versatile compositions.
  6. Can lock the lens at 400mm
  7. Very less CA in challenging light, otherwise not noticeable.
  8. Excellent cost for this 600mm range and image quality.
  9. No micro adjustment was required for focus for my D800E, focus is spot on throughout the zoom range.
  10. Balances well on tripod even when zoomed in full length.
  11. Can shoot static and BIFs too handheld, but a tripod is always preferred.
  12. Software bundled too (not in CD but includes product keys).
  13. Lens build quality is good. Zoom creep is very less.
  14. Manual focus/focus override is smooth and fast.

My first shot, surprised with the colors and contrast in low light at ISO 3200 (Out of the camera without PP).

Other than the kite shots, all the below images (original ones, not the re-sized below posted ones) are large crops of around 2 to 3 MP from 15 MP.
Except two shots (2nd and 3rd) below, all other were shot in worst lighting conditions. Please also note that even wind was heavy, can check the waves in the water in below pics. Bushes were moving around 30-50 degrees. Also please note that all the below images are “quickly processed” and other than the Prinia ones all were exposed +2 to +3 stops in PP due to low light shooting.

So this gives the idea on how this lens performs and final processed images look in very challenging/adverse/bad lighting conditions with distant subjects.

Non-Static Subjects (due to wind) :)

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Image 6

Image 7

Image 8

Image 9

Flight shots to check focus speed (better light would definitely help):

Flight Shot 1

Flight Shot 2

Flight Shot 3

Flight Shot 4

Flight Shot 5

Flight Shot 6

Flight Shot 7

Flight Shot 8

Flight Shot 9

Last but not the least, can shoot Swallows in flight too!

Personal recommendation: Very good lens in budget, but too early to judge the longevity :)

Thanks,
Sravan

Birds 320 - Slaty-backed Forktail

Sigma Sports 150-600mm OS – First Impressions

By | Reviews | 4 Comments

Updates: 11-Nov-2016

On a Full Frame Camera in Field: To get an idea about the details this lens can capture, auto focus performance, bokeh etc in real world please check the photos taken with Nikon D750 at Gujarat

This lens is also rocking on my new Nikon D500 :)

Updates: 18-Mar-2016

I recommend the latest firmware update for faster auto focus, I can see improvement on my age old Nikon D90 with focus limiters and significant improvement in speed when “Full” is selected with focus limiter switch.

This lens sweet spot is f/9  where it produces remarkably sharp images, somehow majority of the reviews are not testing/providing the information at this aperture. Ideally when shooting at 600mm focal length, we need more depth of field (DOF) so we need to stop down the aperture around f/8 or f/9 and in some cases to f/11. The most positive aspect of this lens is, it is sharper/sharpest at these apertures (f/8 and f/9) unlike few exotic primes where their performance is not the best :)

On a Crop Sensor Camera in Field: To get an idea about the details this lens can capture, auto focus performance, bokeh etc in real world please check the photos (post processed) taken with Nikon D90 at Bharatpur bird sanctuary.

Updates: 5-Dec-2015

Test on Nikon D750 Full Frame Camera:
No post processing is performed on below sample images, some of the images were shot at Bangalore Zoo on an overcast day.

Optical Stabilization (OS):
Shutter speed of the sample images in below features give the idea of Optical Stabilization (OS) in Normal mode (OS1).

Auto focus in Very low light (at 600mm, f/6.3, ISO 25,600, Handheld) :
One has to use proper Auto focus modes in Camera as well proper focus limiters in this lens to get the optimum focus speed.

  1. Case 1: When the View Finder is Complete Dark (subject is not initially visible in view finder and try to locate through view finder)
    Initially this lens will hunt for 4-5 seconds moving the elements back and forth but locks if it finds even little contrast in subject and there after never looses the focus (a positive aspect).
    Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 1/25 sec, Handheld)
  2. Case 2: When the View Finder is dark and subject has little contrast and is visible
    Focus locks within 1-2 seconds and never looses the focus subsequently
    Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 1/25 sec, Handheld)
  3. Case 3: When the subject is visible through view finder but a Dark Subject
    Focus locks immediately and never looses the focus subsequently
    Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 1/20 sec, Handheld)
  4. Case 4: When the subject is visible through view finder but not a Dark Subject
    Focus locks immediately and never looses the focus subsequently
    Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 1/15 sec, Handheld)
  5. Case 5: Subject is lit by a torch light
    That’s too much light for auto focus, you can try with a candle again :)
    Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 1/125 sec, Handheld)

Auto focus in overcast condition (Birds-in-flight) & Vignetting:

Auto focus is fast and reliable with good acuity, Vignetting is more but easily correctable in one step using Lens profiling through various software.
Sample 1 (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 400, 1/2500 sec, -0.3 Ev, 100% Crop, Handheld)
Sample 2 (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 800, 1/2500 sec, 0 Ev, Handheld)
Sample 3 (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 800, 1/2500 sec, 0 Ev, Handheld)
Sample 4 (500mm, f/6.3, ISO 640, 1/2500 sec, 0 Ev, Handheld)
Sample 5 (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 560, 1/2500 sec, -0.3 Ev, Handheld)
Sample 6 (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 200, 1/4000 sec, -0.3 Ev, 100% Crop, Handheld)

Chromatic Aberration:

Yet to find an instance where I can see this even on a full frame.
Sample Image (600mm, f/8, ISO 3200, 1/400 sec, 100% Crop, Handheld)

Bokeh:

Very pleasing and uniform
Sample Image (600mm, f/8, ISO 3200, 1/800 sec, 0 Ev, Handheld)

Shot in drizzle, Cage Mesh is transformed beautifully!
Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 3200, 1/40 Sec, -0.3 Ev, Handheld)

With both foreground and background elements
Sample Image (600mm, f/6.3, ISO 3200, 1/200 Sec, -0.3 Ev, Handheld)

Details & Corner performance:

Pretty good with no complaints at all.
Sample Image 1 (Center extreme bottom, 490mm, f/8, ISO 3200, 1/800 sec, -0.3 Ev, 100% Crop, Handheld)
Sample Image 2 (Image Center, 600mm, f/6.3, ISO 3200, 1/2000 Sec, -0.3 Ev, 100% Crop, Handheld)
Sample Image 3 (600mm, f/8, ISO 3200, 1/1250 Sec, -0.3 Ev, Handheld)

For ART

We can use this lens to produce some ART images
Image Link (Post Processed – Converted to B&W,  Removed Vignetting, Removed Noise and Applied Sharpness)

 

Date: 23-Nov-2015

Please Note:

  • All the below are with reference to Nikon D90 (released in the year 2008) APS-C Camera.
  • No image in this review is post processed other than Cropping/Resizing to 1300 pixels using Adobe Camera Raw/Photoshop default settings, WITHOUT lens profile correction too.
  • This lens went through a torture test and came as a winner (Indoor images posted below in sample images)
    Please check the below

    • All the indoor images (Monkey carving out of a single coconut, Kerala men art) were shot at night with mixed light
    • Used 5 seconds timer on a tripod
    • Long exposures starting from 4 seconds to 30 seconds were used and majority were shot at 600mm from f/6.3 to f/29 in Aperture Priority at ISO 100
    • Such long exposures at an effective focal length of 900mm (APS-C body) is a real challenge to get Sharp shots even on Tripod but this lens produced really good images.
    • Generally, a photographer needs 1/600 sec at 600mm on a non-demanding 12MP body to get sharp images (even Optical Stabilization (OS) requires good hand holding technique on Super telephoto lenses)
  • Outdoor images are shot in HEAVY overcast conditions where I never used to shoot with Nikon 70-300mm VR on Nikon D90, but with this lens I am now comfortable and getting excellent colors and contrast.

Most Important Observations:

  1. Excellent High ISO performer: Wondering that this is not a camera but Excellent ISO performance? Yes, not all the lenses can produce excellent image quality (IQ) at high ISOs, few lenses show excessive noise. This typically suggests that this lens is built with high quality glass.Image quality is excellent even at ISO 3,200 on a 7-year-old sensor, Nikon D90 camera.
    This is one thing that is very important for Wildlife photographers.
  2. No need to Turn OFF Optical Stabilization (OS) when shooting long exposures on tripod unlike Tamron 150-600mm VC lens.

What’s Very Good:

  1. Custom settings C1 & C2
  2. Focus limiters (3 options)
  3. Push-Pull Zoom also along with a rotating Zoom ring
  4. Build Quality with Weather Sealing
  5. 2 stabilization (OS) modes along with “Off” option
  6. Zoom Locking at multiple focal lengths
  7. Sigma USB Dock support (for firmware updates, Custom settings & Auto Focus(AF) fine tuning, OS settings etc)
  8. FREE Sigma’s lens cleaning brush & cloth!

What’s good to me:

  1. Fits in my Kalabhai Digi-cabi AD-060 Dehumidifier
  2. Fits in my Lowepro flipside AW-400 Backpack
  3. Compatible with my Manfrotto Tripod
  4. Lens profile for this lens is available in Adobe Camera Raw to apply quick lens corrections
  5. Lens Firmware update hardly took 5 mins. at home using the dock!
  6. Best part – Working fabulously on my Nikon D90 – Out of The Box!

What’s biggest challenges:

  1. Zooming when Hand holding – Because of small Zoom ring and its placement & tripod collar length
  2. Tripod mounting & Hand holding due to front heaviness when zooming towards 600mm

Image Quality:

  1. Nice Colors and Contrast
  2. Smooth Bokeh
  3. I did not observe any Chromatic Aberration (either green or purple) yet
  4. Sharpness, in simple words, at 600mm (general weaker side of zoom lenses are towards longer focal length), perfectly usable from f/6.3 through f/29 (yes f/29) on a 7-year-old technology Nikon D90 camera.

Generally, when shooting around 600mm, the DOF is required little more compared to shorter focal lengths.
Hence f/8 to f/11 is better before the diffraction takes the toll on sharpness.
Majority of the super telephoto lenses perform very well from f/8 to f/11 and the same case here too with this lens.
As mentioned above, this lens performs excellent on Nikon D90 even at ISO 3200.
So slow apertures are not a problem on modern cameras and one can get sharp images.

Auto Focus:

  1. I was able to shoot birds-in-flight with a 11 point focus 7-year-old technology AF system on a Nikon D90 camera without any AF fine tuning at 600mm at f/6.3
  2. 7-year-old technology AF system on a Nikon D90 did not miss even a single shot of an Action Sequence I shot using Continuous AF (AF-C) due to focus.

So this lens overall has a very good AF system and performs even better on recent cameras.

Optical Stabilization:

  1. I am able to get TACK Sharp Pictures at 1/13 second at 150mm when OS is ON in Normal mode (OS 1) when Hand holding
  2. I am able to get Sharp Pictures at 1/60 second at 600mm when OS is ON in Normal mode (OS 1) when Hand holding
  3. This lens supports OS for Panning too (OS 2) and can also be switched off

(Vs) Tamron 150-600mm VC

As an ex-owner of this lens, I feel the following are some differences I can quickly figure out.

Favorable to Sigma:

  • Sigma is far more reliable in focus for Birds-in-flight than Tamron
  • Acuity is more than Tamron, hence post processing sharpening could be minimal and keepers are more
  • Focus quickly than Tamron
  • Push-Pull Zoom also along with a rotating Zoom ring
  • Sigma’s metal lens hood quality is fabulous compared to Tamron’s very bad plastic one
  • Sigma lens build quality is far more superior and feels robust & even better weather sealed compared to Tamron
  • Sigma’s image quality wide open is better than Tamron’s
  • Sigma’s dock compatibility is notably a great feature
  • No need to worry about leaving “OS On” on Sigma while shooting on tripod in very low light and long exposures compared to Tamron (where we will lose almost every shot due to shake)
  • Can lock the lens at multiple focal lengths and a simple twist releases the lock compared to Tamron
  • Supports Tele-converters
  • Lens strap & a nice carry case !

Favorable to Tamron:

  • Almost costs half !
  • Light weight & smaller size compared to Sigma
  • Easily handholdable for longer durations & quickly Tripod mountable than Sigma
  • Removable tripod collor which reduces weight further for hand holding shooting
  • Lens caps are easily fixable and feels more secure
  • Bigger zoom ring and well balanced while hand holding & zooming
  • FREE Software for image editing

(Vs) Nikon 200-500mm VR

Favorable to Sigma:

  • 150mm more reach (100mm on longer side and 50mm on shorter side)
  • Push-Pull Zoom also along with a rotating Zoom ring
  • More consistent focus
  • Birding lens which also accepts 1.4 Tele Converter supporting Auto focus on few high end camera bodies
    (Cameras supporting auto focus at f/8 like Nikon D750, Nikon D810 etc.)
  • Build & Weather sealing
  • Supports older generation camera bodies like Nikon D90 with full Auto Focus, OS & Metering etc.
  • No need to send back to Service center for firmware upgrades like Nikon (like recent AF issue of Nikon 200-500mm VR),
    can be done at home within 5 mins using Sigma dock, a huge advantage saving lot of time
  • More customizable using Custom settings C1 & C2 which can be done using Sigma dock at home
  • Mount replacement service if changing the Camera system, no need to abandon/sell the lens

Favorable to Nikon:

  • General purpose telephoto lens with lighter weight with good IQ & Focus
    (though sometimes little longer for Mammals at 200mm & shorter for Birds at 500mm)
  • More consistent exposures on cameras like D3s, D4 & D4s etc.
  • Very smooth bokeh as per many online reviews
  • Costs pretty less

(Vs) Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm OS

  • No company cannibalize their own sales of the higher end lens giving such a quality for a lower end lens which costs almost half releasing on the same day. Hence the Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm OS is more equivalent to Tamron 150-600mm VC (a direct competitor) than this Sports version.

Using Sigma Dock for Sigma lenses calibration & configuration:

Software Required: Sigma Optimization Pro
Instructions: LINK or Direct Video

 Sample Photos (100% crops)

Sharpness wide open at 600mm (f/6.3, ISO 1600)
Bokeh wide open at 600mm (f/6.3, ISO 1600)
Birds In Flight wide open at 600mm (f/6.3, ISO 560)
Colors & Contrast wide open at 600mm (f/6.3, ISO 1600)
Chromatic Aberration wide open at 600mm (f/6.3, ISO 1600)
at ISO 3,200

Sharpness Test: All at 600mm at 12 feet distance – I have chosen this subject to emphasize the importance of DOF at 600mm when shooting close

Full image resized to 1300px at f/22 (Out of the camera JPEG) at 600mm for an idea about the subject

100% Crops with Adobe Camera Raw:
f/6.3 & 4 seconds exposure
f/7.1 & 5 sec
f/8 & 6 Sec
f/9 & 6 Sec
f/10 & 8 Sec
f/11 & 13 Sec
f/13 & 15 Sec

Another set at:
f/16 & 25 Sec
f/22 & 30 Sec
f/29 & 30 Sec (little darker as I restricted exposure to 30sec)

External Links:

Which Telephoto lens?

Birders (budget not limited)

  • Nikon 800mm f/5.6 VR or Nikon 600mm f/4 E VR
  • Canon 800mm f/5.6 L IS or Canon 600mm f/4 IS II
  • Sigma 800mm f/5.6
  • Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 (Sigmonster)

Budget Birders

  • For Full frame cameras – Sigma Sports 150-600mm OS
  • For Crop sensor cameras – Tamron 150-600mm VC

Mammals (budget not limited) – Primary lens

  • Nikon AF-S 200-400mm f/4 VR II
  • Nikon 400mm f/2.8 E VR
  • Canon 200-400mm L f/4 with built-in TC
  • Canon 400mm f/2.8 L IS II

&

  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II (For closer proximity)
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II (For closer proximity)

Mammals (With a limited budget)

  • Nikon AF-S 80-400mm VR
  • Canon 100-400mm L IS II

&

  • A Kit lens like 18-XX (For closer proximity)

Professional Sports (Typical)

  • Nikon 400mm f/2.8 E VR
  • Canon 400mm f/2.8 L IS II
  • Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR II
  • Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II
  • Nikon 200mm f/2 VR II
  • Canon 200mm L IS
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II

For those weight is a BIG constraint

  • Nikon 300mm f/4 pf VR
  • Canon DO lens lineup

300mm lenses are short for bird photography in many situations without a tele-convertor and always using a tele-convertor is not the right technique as it suggest you need more reach which indicates longer tele lens is required.

Even on APS-C (crop sensor) cameras 300mm + 1.4 TC (420mm) is ~630mm effective focal length (considering 1.5x instead of 1.6x/2x for easy understanding) and 600mm on a crop body is ~900mm effective focal length. Hence lenses with 600mm reach are recommended against 300mm+TC combination.

500mm is again falls short for birds and longer for Mammals sometimes, so it is a compromise lens especially a prime, zoom lenses till 500mm are useful for Mammals but Birds they are a compromise unless use hides or proper technique. Again frequent use of a tele-convertor on 500mm Prime indicates a longer reach is required so better to use a Prime 600mm or 800mm (careful use) as already 500mm Prime is lot of money.

So I personally do not recommend these interim 300mm/500mm focal lengths (other than special case of compromise on weight & size).

Please feel free to agree/disagree on my findings.
Thanks for all your valuable time. Have a great day.

Thanks,
Sravan

Flora & Other - 102

Extension Tubes

By | Reviews, Tips & Tricks | No Comments

Tip: Using Extension Tubes

The above image was taken using Extension Tubes.

Saturday, without any prior planning purchased Kenko Extension Tubes (ET) for Nikon F-Mount AF lenses, first time without doing R&D on internet. Tested them for an hour on the night on my AFS 50mm f/1.8G and AFS 70-300mm VR.
Want to share “my thoughts” on them, may be useful for others.

WHY Extension Tubes?
1. To get macro shooting capabilities on non macro lenses.
2. Or to get more magnification than 1:1 on macro lenses

Focus
1. Auto focus works on individual ET, not recommended to rely on stacked, and little slow but sufficient for any work.
2. Have to sacrifice shooting at INFINITY, this never worked on any of my lenses tested, so, no birds in flight and no focus on any subject farther than the lens specified maximum focus distance.
3. Should be very careful on focus and DOF. Slight shake of camera will spoil the image.
4. Best results with tripod, where you can use tripod, otherwise shoot as many as you can to make sure you will get enough keepers.

Results on AFS 50mm f/1.8G

1. For medium sized flowers, 12mm ET is a best fit, please check the result posted in the link.
http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=250722

2. For small flowers, 20mm ET will be good.
3. For smallest objects, like 1cm flowers/jewelry like ear rings, 36mm will be the best.

I found the closest focus distance is around 2 inches with this and very much suitable for the above.

Please check this image http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=252546
Stacking of External Tubes, found not much required as the above are sufficient.

Results on AFS 70-300mm VR
As the zoom lenses are known for their versatility, ETs on this zoom are really versatile and absolute fun using this combination.

1. 12mm ET is not much useful as we will not gain much magnification, but AF is good, can shoot Birds with AF!

Please check the following link.
http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=251589

2. 20mm ET, here the fun starts. When there is no subject in the view finder and you are at 70mm, then start zooming in… Suddenly you will find the subject which means, you lens has acquired focus at that zoom, suppose 200mm, then lock the focus there. Your auto focus works and you can recompose you subject in the same way what normally we do. Manual focus is still not required.

A Butterfly http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=250720
Another one http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=251588

And again, you lens is also ready for Bird photography at the same time, check the link below, the subject I was waiting to get a clean shot from last 1.5 years!

http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=250723

This one again with Camera AF, able to shoot around 10 shots without even a single AF failure in absolute low light!!!

3. 36mm ET is good with good AF speed.
Please check this: http://www.indianaturewatch.net/displayimage.php?id=252551

Where best suits?
1. Places like parks/gardens for shooting different types of subjects like flowers/butterflies/insects/birds
2. Other places where you may come across such occasions where you may need a macro suddenly like you may go for dedicated bird photography but may find interesting macro subjects.

Disadvantages
1. One has to decide in advance what he/she will be shooting, otherwise one has to change the corresponding ETs always.
2. No focus at infinity in my test scenarios
3. Focus must be very accurate and should counter check after the shot
4. Extra added weight
5. Extra investment too!

Definitely one can try ET.
Have a great time and have loads of fun!

Thanks,
Sravan