Josef “Jeff” Sipek

D750: A Year In Statistics

It has been a year since I got the D750 and I thought it would be fun to gather some statistics about the photos.

While I have used a total of 5 different lenses with the D750, only three of them got to see any serious use. The lenses are:

Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D
This is the lens I used for the first month. Old, cheap, but very good.
Nikon AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED
I got this lens many years ago for my D70. During the first month of D750 ownership, I couldn’t resist seeing what it would behave like on the D750. It was a disaster. This lens just doesn’t create a good enough image for the D750’s 24 megapixel sensor.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 ED VR
I used this lens when I test-drove the D750, so technically I didn’t take these with my camera. With that said, I’m including it because it makes some of the graphs look more interesting.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
After a month of using the 50mm, I got this lens which became my walk around lens.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
Back in June, Nikon had a sale and that ended up being just good enough to convince me to spend more money on photography gear.

Now that we’ve covered what lenses I have used, let’s take a look at some graphs. First of all, the number of images taken with each lens:

Not very surprising. Since June, I have been taking with me either the 24-70mm, or 70-200mm, or both if the extra weight is not a bother. So it is no surprise that the vast majority of my photos have been taken with those two lenses. The 50mm is all about that first month when I had a new toy (the D750!) and so I dragged it everywhere. (And to be fair, the 50mm lens is so compact that it is really easy to drag it everywhere.) The 230 photos taken with the 70-300mm are all (failed) attempts at plane spotting photography.

First, let’s look at the breakdown by ISO (in 1/3 stop increments):

This is not a surprising graph at all. The D750’s base ISO is 100 and the maximum native ISO is 12800. It is therefore no surprise that most of the photos were taken at ISO 100.

I am a bit amused by the spikes at 200, 400, and 800. I know exactly why these happen—when I have to adjust the exposure by a large amount, I tend to scroll the wheels a multiple of three notches.

Outside of the range, there are a couple of photos (52) taken at ISO 50 (which Nikon calls “Lo 1”) to work around the lack of an ND filter. There is actually one other photo outside of the native ISO range that I did not plot at all—the one photo I took at ISO 51200 (“Hi 2”) as a test.

Now, let’s break the numbers down differently—by the aperture used (again in 1/3 stop increments):

I am actually surprised that so many of them are at f/2.8. I’m well aware that most lenses need to be stepped down a little for best image quality, but apparently I don’t do that a third of the time. It is for this kind of insight that I decided to make this blahg post.

Moving on to focal length. This is by far the least interesting graph.

You can clearly see 4 large spikes—at 24 mm, 50 mm, 70 mm, and 200 mm. All of those are because of focal length limits of the lenses. Removing any data points over 500 yields a slightly more readable graph:

It is interesting that the focal length that is embedded in the image doesn’t seem to be just any integer, but rather there appear to be “steps” in which it changes. The step also isn’t constant. For example, the 70-200mm lens seems to encode 5 mm steps above approximately 130 mm but 2-3 mm below it.

I realize this is a useless number given that we are dealing with nothing like a unimodal distribution, but I was curious what the mean focal length was. (I already know that the most common ones are 24 mm and 70 mm for the 24-70mm, and 70 mm and 200 mm for the 70-200mm lens.)

Lens Mean Focal Length Count
24-120    73.24138 87
24-70    46.72043 6485
50    50.00000 1020
70-200    151.69536 4438
70-300    227.82609 230

Keep in mind these numbers include the removed spikes.

Just eyeballing the shutter speed data, I think that it isn’t even worth plotting.

So, that’s it for this year. I found the (basic) statistics interesting enough, and I learned that I stay at f/2.8 a bit too much.

Septemberfest 2016 - Birds of Prey

This past weekend, the Dunstable Rural Land Trust had its annual Septemberfest event (yes, it ended up being in early October this year). Holly and I went to it armed with the cameras hoping to get some nice images of birds from the “Birds of Prey” program. We were not disappointed.

So far, I have managed to sift through only the bird photos. I still have to go through the other ones (e.g., the colorful autumn shots) and figure out which are the keepers. I set up a gallery which I’ll update with the non-bird photos in the near future.

Without further ado, here are the birds!

The peregrine falcon:

The screech owl:

The great horned owl:

The Harris’s hawk:

The red-tailed hawk:

The American kestrel:

The golden eagle:

This is only a fraction of the photos that are in the gallery, so make sure to check it out for more avian goodness.

2015 Lunar Eclipse

You may remember that there was a lunar eclipse back on September 27th, 2015. That evening, I set up our 90mm refractor telescope (1000mm focal length, f/11) in the driveway and spend a fair amount of time sitting on the ground. I used a t-mount adapter to mount my Nikon D70 instead of an eyepiece—effectively using the telescope as a big lens. (This is called prime focus photography.) Every minute, I took a shot of the moon hoping to make a collage. It took me nine months, but I finally remembered to do it.

(4 MB full size image—8750 by 1750 pixels)

To keep the overall image aspect ratio reasonable, I ended up using every sixth image. Therefore, each step is six minutes apart and the whole sequence spans about 42 minutes. Each of the photos was taken at ISO 1600, which the D70’s CCD does not handle very well, hence the noise.

I am looking forward to the next total lunar eclipse. It should be a whole lot easier to do with a modern camera like the D750. Sadly, it will be a while before there is another total lunar eclipse on the east coast of United States.

D750 Star Trails

I have tried star trails photography once before—7 years ago. Back then I was using the D70 which was a good camera but there were two problems with it for astrophotography: first, its CCD sensor wasn’t the best at higher ISOs, and second, long exposures were not possible because of some interference (thermal or electric) which resulted in ugly purple fringing. That experience made me not really bother with astrophotography—hence the seven-year hiatus.

A week ago I decided that I should try again with my D750 and the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Since they are both significantly newer than my old setup and are superior in just about every way, I thought why not try again and see exactly how much better the results would be.

I ended up with only three shots worth sharing. As always, I made a gallery with them. The one difference from the other photo galleries I make is that I will continue to add star photos to this gallery until the end of the year (when I plan to make a 2017 gallery).

After setting up the camera in the general direction of Polaris, I needed to figure out the exposure. So, I cranked up the ISO to 10000 and took a 5 second test shot at f/2.8. The hope was to see how the sky exposed, and then “trade” the ISO for time to get the same exposure but less noisy and with star trails. (E.g., changing the ISO from 10000 to 160 is 6 stop difference, so the shutter speed needs to change 6 stops in the other direction to compensate. That is from 5 seconds to 320 seconds.) When I viewed the image on the back of the camera, I was blown away:

While there is certainly noise in the image (which you can’t see in the resized version) and the composition is not great, it’s cool how both the foreground and the sky are equally well exposed. The trees are essentially light-painted by the neighbor’s driveway lights which were on at the time. And before you ask, no, that’s not the milky way, that’s just a wispy cloud.

Then, I proceeded to take a back-to-back series of 15 second exposures. After five minutes (21 shots), I was sufficiently bored to try something else. After heading back inside, I stacked the 21 shots using StarStaX. Here is the resulting image (slightly tweaked in Lightroom):

The orange blur on the right of the image is a small cloud that moved across the frame during the five minutes without me noticing. Unfortunately, there is plenty of light pollution to the northeast of us because of the neighboring city of Wikipedia article: Nashua. I am definitely going to experiment with stacking.

The final couple of shots I took were all various long exposures—ranging from 8 to 20 minutes. This is one of the 20 minute exposures:

Again, the light pollution from Nashua is unfortunate.

The 74 degree horizontal field of view at 24mm is pretty good. Of course, a wider lens would provide for an even more interesting shot. For example, a 15mm focal length would produce a 100 degree horizontal field of view. With that said, I am certainly going to experiment more with star trail photography—even if I have “only” a 24mm focal length.

Earth Day

For Earth Day, Holly and I went to the nearby Sherburne Nature Center for their Earth Day celebration. The three hour event included a walk through the woods there as well as a demonstration of some owls. We showed up a bit early, so we meandered in the woods for a bit on our own. I was armed with my D750 and the 24-70mm lens, and Holly sported the D70 with the 18-70mm kit lens at first but switched to the 70-300mm not too long after. While I did all the post-processing, some of the following photos are Holly’s. As always, there are more photos in the gallery.

While meandering, we found a large-ish Wikipedia article: garter snake—I’m guessing it was about 1m long.

After about an hour of roaming around, we joined the narrated nature walk. The guide, Mark Fraser, was quite good at spotting assorted nature that I was totally unaware of. For example, he took all of 15 seconds to find this (much smaller) garter snake.

The nature walk was followed by the owl demonstration by Eyes on Owls. As you can see, the owl demonstration attracted a lot of kids.

After a brief intro to owls, six different owl types got shown. Of the six, I post-processed photos of four. (We got photos of the remaining two as well, but none of them struck me as interesting enough to post-process.) All of the owls they brought suffered from some sort of injury that made them unable to survive in the wild.

The screech owls:

Screech Owls

The barn owl:

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

The spectacled owl:

Spectacled Owl

Spectacled Owl

The snowy owl:

Snowy Owl

I wished I had a more telephoto lens than the 24-70mm, but thankfully the owl demonstration was pretty close to me—and the 24MP on the D750 let me crop quite a bit. At the same time, it is my understanding that for birding one wants the longest lens possible anyway. I’ve even heard that birders prefer DX camera bodies because of the crop factor. I think I understand them, but I’ll just stick to photographing mostly non-bird subjects and keep the FX sensor. I guess the world’s birds will have to be photographed by someone else. :)

Manual Exposure Thoughts

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently bought a Nikon D750. There is one big thing I did not anticipate happening—I have been shooting mostly in manual mode. (On the D70, I was almost always in aperture-priority mode.)

Using manual mode makes me think about the exposure which leads to thinking about the other stuff—composition, DOF, etc. I am not going to say that my shots are spectacular as a result, but I certainly think that they are better thought out. I do not know how long it will be before I decide that it is a terrible idea and I revert to aperture-priority. :)

I always thought that manual mode was too slow to set up for capture-the-moment type photography. It turns out that in general, it is not slower than semi-automatic modes like aperture-priority.

The secret here is that one can get close to the correct exposure way before the decisive moment. For example, while walking around on a sunny day, one can meter the surroundings and select a good ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Then, when something interesting is happening, it is a matter of tweaking the exposure—by changing the aperture or shutter speed a little bit. This is something one has to do anyway in the semi-automatic modes. Of course as one continues walking around one needs to notice the light changing and adjust the approximate exposure.

Worst case, the exposure is off a little bit. Shooting raw however means that even if it is off by 2EV, the shot is not lost. This is very similar to how things were back in 35mm film days.

While it sounds like extra work, it really is not. Even if one is in a semi-automatic mode, one needs to have a reasonable exposure setting to begin with. On my D70 in aperture-priority mode, I have missed a number of shots over the years simply because I was at f/22 and it takes forever to scroll through 5EVs worth of aperture settings in 1/3 EV increments, or worse yet my ISO was set either too low or too high. Had I paid attention to available light and pre-adjusted the exposure in anticipation of taking a shot, I would have lost fewer shots.

With that said, semi-auto modes make a ton of sense in certain situations, but I am sticking with manual-mode for now.

Photo Gear Upgrade

It is 2016 and the digital SLR landscape is very different from what it was back in December 2004 when I bought my trusty Nikon D70. While the D70 is still going strong, it is obvious that DSLRs have dramatically improved in quality and upgrading would let me play with light in ways that the D70 just cannot handle. So after about a year and a half of telling others that I should upgrade my camera, I somehow managed to convince myself that I should actually upgrade instead of just talking about it.

The Body

Since so much has changed over the past 11 years, I had to essentially survey the land from scratch. I even glanced at the Canon lineup, but ended up focusing only on Nikons simply because I like how Nikon SLRs feel in my hand as well as the layout of the controls. (Already having a Nikon F-mount 50mm f/1.8 helped a little as well.)

Nikon has a decent lineup of cameras and choosing one is not the easiest of tasks. One of the more interesting questions I had to answer was: do I want a full-frame (FX) or a crop-sensor (DX) camera? Having “suffered” with the DX D70 for 11 years and envying all the people with full-frame DSLRs, I decided to bite the bullet and pay for the privilege of having a full-frame sensor. This narrowed the field down to D610, D750, and D810. The D810 was simply out of my price range ($2800). Between the D610 and the D750, the D750 wins at everything (technical specs, as well as the feel in hand) except the price—the D610 currently sells for $1300 while the D750 is $2000.

After about a week of deliberating and reading everything I could about the D610 and the D750, I decided to go with the D750.

The Lens

An SLR camera is useless without a lens. My arsenal of lenses has only one that is full-frame friendly and worth putting on a D750—the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.

My D70 came with a 18–70mm kit lens (which behaves as 27–105mm due to the crop factor), and I think this is a good range for a general walk-around lens. So based on this, I am thinking that I want something similar. Now, there are a number of options. I spent a good week trying to figure out what I should do lens-wise before I even bought the camera.

First of all, there is a D750 kit. It comes with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 ED VR lens. By itself the lens costs about $1100, but the kit is only $300 more than the body alone. So, one could get that and if one does not like it one should be able to sell it for about $300–$400. Financially it makes sense.

So, I had a choice whether I should only get the body or if I should get the kit and either keep the lens or sell it and use the proceeds toward a lens I really wanted. If I got the body by itself, I would have my trusty 50mm prime to play with until I got a new lens.

Here are some lenses I found. I have only had a chance to play with one—the D750 kit lens.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 ED VR (kit, +$300)
I got to play with this lens on a D750 and I had a couple of observations. While the room I was playing in was relatively decently lit (it certainly is not dark), I had some serious problems with exposure trying to keep the ISO below 1000 and the shutter speed within hand-holding range. Even at f/4. This is not surprising, since I know that I would have the same kind of problem with my 18–70mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom. I bet this would be a great lens outside. There is definitely some distortion. Near the edges there is noticeable barrel/pincushion distortion which makes straight lines look obviously “bent”. There is also some vignetting. In a “creative” shot of the dull carpeting on the floor, I saw that the corners were noticeably darker than the center. Lightroom fixed it up in no time.
Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM A ($900)
People seem to be raving about Sigma’s Art (“A”) lenses. Based on the sample images I have seen this is a good lens. The f/4 however is not very exciting at all. Much like the D750 kit lens, it is just too slow for anything other than daytime outdoors photography. In theory the vibration reduction (“OS” in Sigma’s lingo) should help with that, but I am not sold on VR as the solution to low light.
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM ($750)
A bit shorter than the 24-105mm Sigma Art lens, but it makes up for it (in my opinion) with a fast f/2.8 aperture. It also loses the VR but I would rather fast aperture than VR.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED ($1700, $2300 for f/2.8E)
This is a very nice lens. The only negative thing I have ever heard about it is that it is way too expensive. Indeed, $1700 is way too much for a hobbyist to spend on a single lens. Recently-ish, Nikon made a new version of this lens (the f/2.8E) which features VR as well. Sadly, this new version is even more expensive.
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD ($1100)
Price-wise, this one is between the Sigma 24-70mm and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. I hear good things about the image quality, but I have not spend enough time looking at it…yet.

It is rather unfortunate that good fast lenses are so expensive.

After a week of going back and forth on whether I should get the kit or not, I decided that I was going to take the easy way out, and get it. Amusingly enough, the evening I decided to place my order, B&H updated the product page with a banner saying that the combo has been discontinued by the manufacturer. Since I was so torn about the kit lens to begin with, I just shrugged and bought the body only. (The next day, the kit was available again.)

B&H threw in a 32GB SD card and a 4TB USB3 external hard drive—both useful. This way, I did not have to try to figure out which SD card I should get and I have an external hard drive to backup my photos to!

The shipping was prompt and uneventful.


Keep in mind that I did not yet buy one of the zooms I talked about earlier.

So far, I spent most of my time running around with a 50mm f/1.8 prime (which is finally usable thanks to the FX sensor). The image quality is great regardless of how much light is present. I have used it indoors, for a white background “product shot”, as well as outdoors (under clear skies with tons of harsh sunlight and shadows, during a sunset, by a fog-covered pond on a rainy day, by a poorly lit church at night, …) and I am constantly blown away at how much detail can be extracted from the shadows. Even at night with ISO 8000 the performance is amazing—autofocus very rarely hunts and the noise is manageable.

There is one thing I miss that my D70 had—the 1/8000 shutter. The D750’s 1/4000 is still quite good, but on a bright day it would be convenient to have the option to have a shorter exposure than 1/4000 instead of having to reach for ND filters (which I do not have) or venture into extended ISO to cut down on the amount of light.

The body is rather hefty (750g), but since the 50mm f/1.8 is so light (156g) it does not bother me at all. The weight seems well distributed, and gives the camera a feel of quality—not just a body with a ballast. I may start minding the weight a bit once I get an FX standard zoom which will be a whole lot heavier than the 50mm prime I have now (e.g., 790g for the Sigma 24–70 f/2.8).

There are 51 autofocus points. 51! This is an insane number compared to the 5 that are on the D70. Sadly, as most D750 reviews point out, all 51 AF points are clustered in the center of the frame. As a result, it is possible that one may have to use a nearby AF point and recompose. It is a bit annoying, but it is nowhere near as bad as what I had to deal with on the D70 where a very large number of shots required a bit of recomposing. (Yes, I realize this is a crummy comparison.) Of the several hundred shots I took on the D750, I think I had to recompose maybe 1% of the time. I expect that to be an exaggeration too since I have been trying various extreme scenes to see how the camera reacts so the in-focus portion is not always near the AF points.


Almost four years ago, I blahged about how Adobe Lightroom 4 makes it easy to manage and edit photos. I have been happily using Lightroom ever since.

Needless to say, I was disappointed that I could not import the D750 raw files (NEF) into Lightroom 4. It has been a while since Adobe updated Lightroom 4’s camera database and I don’t blame them. Thankfully, Adobe has a free DNG converter program which can batch convert NEFs to DNGs. Lightroom 4 then happily imports the generated DNGs.

I did this pre-import conversion for about a week. Then I found out that I can get the Lightroom 6 upgrade for $79 and that there is no need to do this import dance. Not only that, but Lightroom 6 has a number of goodies that are not in Lightroom 4. For example, built-in panorama and HDR merging, and facial recognition. I bought the upgrade, installed it, and started importing NEFs directly without any problems.

The raw files that come out of the camera are huge (~30MB) compared to what I was used to on my D70 (~4.5MB). As a result, disk space fills up quickly, and transferring them between computers takes longer. It is a small price to pay for the amount of detail captured by the camera.

Related Posts

There are two other posts to go along with this one. In the first, I include some sample photos taken with the D750. In the second, I describe my latest thoughts about manual exposure mode.

Star Trails

It was a dark and stormy night…wait a minute…it was a clear and calm night; the night sky glistened with the light from thousands of streetlights releasing billions upon billions of photons, only to be scattered by the atmosphere and to rain down upon Ann Arbor — to pollute the otherwise perfect night sky. So, Jeff, a twenty-odd year old who can be best described using Dungeons & Dragons character alignment as "chaotic good," decided that it was time to escape the particle bombardment to attempt the astronomically difficult, and equally arcane, task known as astrophotography…

Anyway…Here are the exposure details and the photos (from February 24, 2009):

826 seconds
ISO 800
Nikon D70
18—70mm @ 18mm (35mm equiv: 27mm)
Location: McCollum Rd, MI


Here’s the same photo, but with a very well known constallation outlined.

Ursa Major

My precious... - Day 3, supplemental

I will make a gallery of all these photos and some more.


My precious... - Day 3

Ahh…what a good day…I kind of gave up on the few dust particles on the CCD (well I forgot for a major part of the day :-) ). I had 3 shooting sessions…

  • Strolling around the dangerous streets of Bellmore and Merrick :-)
  • Car light trails
  • Goofing off in darkness (sounds kinda bad..)

During the car light trails session, my battery died. That was still the original charge. I’d say not bad, ~300 photos (about 11% long exposure) in cold weather (ranging from -2 to 5 degrees Celsius). Today I also switched to Adobe RGB color space. The only drawback I see is the filenames are different :-/ oh well.

Here’s a sample (the first and second sessions)…

The Hydrant

The Intersection

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