Category Archives: Gear

NiSi ND-VARIO Pro Nano Variable ND Filter

NiSi Pro Nano1.5-5 Stops Enhance ND-VARIO paired with the Panasonic Leica 12-60mm F2.8-4 and GH5
NiSi Pro Nano1.5-5 Stops Enhance ND-VARIO paired with the Panasonic Leica 12-60mm F2.8-4 and GH5

I knew variable ND filters were immensely useful since you could continuously shoot at the optimum aperture without the need of changing the filters according to the situations. I, however, had never used any variable ND filters that satisfied me in terms of image quality. Variable ND filters I knew could not reduce the light entering into the lens evenly, resulting in poor image quality.

This unevenness is called the X effect as the darker part creates an X-like shape. NiSi claimed that they completely eliminated the X effect with their new ND filter, ND-VARIO Pro Nano. So I decided to give it a try. As usual, I chose the bigger one, 82mm, so that I could use it with most of my glasses. The available filter thread sizes are 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, 82mm and 95mm.

When I opened the box and checked the product, First thing I noticed was the good built quality. After toying it for a while, I also noticed that it rotated very smoothly. As the name suggested, it seemed like a real professional tool.

Usage

When do you need to use an ND filter? There are four typical uses.

1. Prime Lens During the Daytime

Panasonic GH5 + SIGMA 35mm F1.4 via Metabones Speedbooster XL 0.64x with NiSi ND VARIO Pro
Panasonic GH5 + SIGMA 35mm F1.4 via Metabones Speedbooster XL 0.64x with NiSi ND VARIO Pro. 1/8000 at wide open (approx. f/0.9)

Firstly, you’d need an ND filter when you use a very fast prime lens during the daytime and shoot at wide open apertures. I like using my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 with the Panasonic GH5 via the Metabones Nikon G to Micro Four Thirds Speed Booster XL 0.64x. This speed booster changes the focal length of the lens 0.64x shorter, that is, 35mm becomes 24mm (48mm in full frame equivalent), while boosting the aperture from f/1.4 to f/0.9. The lowest settable ISO of the GH5 is 100 and the shortest exposure time is 1/8000 sec., which means, if you wanna shoot at f/0.9 during the daytime, you’d need an ND filter.

2. Synced Flashlight During the Daytime

Yuga Kurita NiSI Vario Sakura_E125724
Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR with NiSi Vario Pro ND 82mm (flashlight synced at 1/200 sec. shutter speed).

Secondly when you want to use a flashlight during the daytime outdoors particularly when shooting backlit. The variable ND comes in handy as flashlights can’t sync with the camera when the exposure time is too short. The fastest sync speed is typically about  1/250 sec.  You usually want to use the shortest available shutter speed (such as 1/250 sec.) to avoid motion blur or hand shakes but you wan to control the depth of field too. A good variable ND filter comes in very handy in such a case as it lets you shoot at desirable shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings.

3. Long Exposure Shots

_A108368-KegonWaterfalls_Yuga_Kurita
Nikon D810A + 24-70mm f/2.8E + ND16 + NiSi 82mm ND-VARIO Pro Nano (3 sec. exposure)

The third case is where you take a long exposure shot. I often use an ND filter when shooting waterfalls to extend the exposure time to capture the smooth water flow. I used the NiSi ND-VARIO to take the picture of the Kegon Waterfalls in Nikko shown above.

I often combine the NiSi ND VARIO PRO with an ND1000/3.0 (10 stops) filter at sunset or sunrise. As the brightness changes quite rapidly at dawn or dusk, the NiSi ND VARIO PRO comes in handy. I sometimes take experimental shots at dawn or dusk. For example, when I shoot a long exposure shot at dusk, I set the NiSi ND VARIO PRO to the max at the beginning of the exposure and gradually move the knob to set it to the minimum at the end of the exposure, that way, I can capture the light more evenly when taking a long exposure shot during the twilight.

Nikon D810A + 24-70mm f/2.8E + ND1000 + NiSi 82mm ND-VARIO Pro Nano
Nikon D810A + 24-70mm f/2.8E + ND1000 + NiSi 82mm ND-VARIO Pro Nano (900 sec. exposure)

4. Videos
At last but not least,  the VARIO ND PRO comes in super handy when shooting videos during the daytime. If you shoot videos often and your camera doesn’t feature internal variable ND filters, you’d need a good variable ND filter. This is because, if the exposure time is too short, say 1/400 sec, any moving element appears unnaturally in videos. Ideally you set the shutter speed  to double the frame rate, that is, 1/60 sec when shooting at 30fps to capture motion blur necessary for smooth footage.

I shoot videos quite often these days with my Panasonic GH5. When I shoot videos during the daytime, I always use the NiSi ND VARIO Pro. I shot the video shown below at the same exposure setting (1/60 sec. shutter speed) and rotated the knob of the NiSi VARIO PRO ND filter to adjust the exposure. As you see in the video, the transition is very smooth and it reduces the incoming light evenly without causing the X effect problem.

A good variable ND filter is more preferable than using just one ND filter and unwillingly narrowing down the aperture to get an optimal shutter speed or using multiple ND filters and having to busily change them according to the scene or depth of field you want. You will never regret your purchase if you shoot videos often.

Effects on the Color
OK. The product seems pretty good but how about the color cast? Does it change the color at all? If it does, how does it change the color? Someone asked something like that so I’m now quickly adding this part. Unfortunately it’s cloudy today so I didn’t go down to the lakeshroe to shoot Fuji. I took a tree in the yard instead.  I shot these example shots with my Nikon D800E paired with the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR in Aperture Priority Mode. Note that the brightness of each photograph is slightly different because the camera can only set it in 1/3EV steps.

With no NiSi ND-VARIOWithout ND ()Without ND (1/50sec., f/6.3, ISO100, WB Cloudy)

NiSi ND-VARIO 1.5-stop NDWith NiSi ND Vario Minimum (1/13 sec., f/6.3, ISO100, WB Cloudy, Aperture Priority Mode)With NiSi ND Vario MIN (1/13sec., f/6.3, ISO100, WB Cloudy)

NiSi ND-VARIO 5-stop NDWith NiSi ND MAXWith NiSi ND Vario MAX (1sec., f/6.3, ISO100, WB Cloudy)

The color changes slightly when using the NiSi Vario ND Pro but the change isn’t necessarily adverse one. In the above examples, some people may prefer the color of the photographs taken using the NiSi Vario. Anyway, it can easily be  corrected in the post processing.

Sharpness
I also checked if the NiSi ND-VARIO affects sharpness. Let me show you the 100% crops extracted from the above 3 shots.

No ND
No ND
NiSi ND VARIO Minimum (1.5stops)
NiSi ND VARIO Minimum (1.5stops)
NiSi ND VARIO Maximum (5 stops)
NiSi ND VARIO Maximum (5 stops)

The camera slightly moved when I attached the NiSi ND Vario. As you can see, there is no negative effects whatsoever as far as judging from these photographs.

Bottom line
I find this product super useful and can recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who needs an ND filter. I recommend you to get the ND VARIO with bigger filter thread than that of your go-to lens and use it with step-up rings. When you buy step-up rings, be sure to get ones with knurled sides as you need to change them at times. If they are not knurled you often find it is difficult to remove the rings.

Because the NiSi ND VARIO is always attached to the lens when shooting videos during the daytime and you cannot use it with the lens hood, it is subject to scratches or damage. I hope NiSi will provide some kind of filter cap or cover for protection. That’s my only request.

Gitzo New Traveler Tripod GT2545T Review

Shooting Fujisan with the Gitzo GT2545T captured with the Nikon D800E + SIGMA 35mm f/1.4DG HSM | Art
Shooting Fujisan with the Gitzo GT2545T captured with the Nikon D800E + SIGMA 35mm f/1.4DG HSM | Art

I’ve used a Gitzo G1228MK2 Mountaineer tripod for mountaineering and travel. Although it is a good portable tripod, I’d always wanted to reduce the weight of my backpack. Gitzo just renewed their Traveler Series tripods. The latest models seem to have some great advantages over their predecessors:

1) By adopting the Carbon eXact technology, the final leg of the new traveler tripod is 22.5% thicker than its predecessor, and thereby providing better stability

2) Provides near eye-level shooting without extending the centre column._9E64534

A Sunway Foto levelling base is installed in the tripod. The height of the car in the pic is 1665mm. If your height doesn’t exceed 6 feet, you don’t feel the viewfinder is too low.

3) Although it provides better stability, the weight remained nearly the same (1.34kg/2.9lb)

4) The folded length is 44.5cm (17.5″) also remained nearly the same, and so it can be carried in the hand luggage.

The tripod comes with two centre columns, one standard column (31cm, 119g) and short column for ground level shooting (8cm, 42g). For me, the standard one is too lengthy but you cannot put on the weight hook to the short one because it has no screw hole. I also noticed that the centre column weight hook was not included in the package, which was rather disappointing. Because the tripod is light-weight, the weight hook can be handy when the wind is strong.

_A001326

Honestly speaking, I don’t want to carry two centre columns and change them frequently. I ended up purchasing a GS2511KB short centre column (19.5cm), which comes with the weight hook. The ground level shooting  isn’t possible in a strict sense but you just need to extend the centre column by 1.5cm to do near-ground level shooting. The weight is slightly lighter (97g) too. I wanted them to include a 18-cm centre column with a weight hook rather than providing too lengthy and too short centre columns, since the short column doesn’t have to be that short. It just shouldn’t touch the ground.

DSC07400

I attached to the tripod a Gitzo GLEVEL2 bubble level and the Benro B00 arca-swiss compatible ballhead, which weighs only 227g and features a separate pan lock function. Because I sometimes take panoramic photographs by stitching multiple shots, the bubble level is necessary. Needless to say, if you can carry a levelling base, it would be much more handy but they usually weigh over 200g. I want to make my setup as lightweight as possible. To perform flawless panorama stitching, the ballhead must rotate on the base and be locked separately. So far I’ve never found any usable ballheads lighter than the Benro B00. For example, an RRS BH-30 Pro with B2-mAS clamp weighs 280g and Markins Q3iTRQ-BK weighs 380g.

SIGMA 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | Art

Diamond Fuji from the Southern Alps
Nikon D800E + SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM | Art
HDR image created out of 4 brackets to expand the dynamic range.

Many photographers with a big budget buy the so-called trinity, that is f/2.8 constant aperture wide, standard and telephoto zoom lenses. Why? Because it is the common knowledge that is the way to go for any serious photographer. But my ‘go-to’ standard zoom lens is a f/4 constant aperture zoom lens, SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM | Art, although I can afford more pricey standard zooms. I’ve taken tens of thousands of shots with this lens . Let me explain why I prefer this lens.

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Nikon AN-SBR2 Black Rapid Quick-Draw Strap

Yuga Kurita Nikon AN-SBR2 Black Rapid Quick-Draw Strap _9E53013jpgYuga Kurita taking a photo of Diamond Fuji with a camera attached to the AN-SBR2

I have been using the AN-SBR2 Black Rapid Quick-Draw Strap for nearly a year. I can say this is one of the best items I ever got. Before I got it, I had been using normal straps that came with cameras I bought. They are, of course, usable. But the product has some remarkable advantages over them.
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NiSi 150mm Holder System for the Nikon 14-24mm

Yuga Kurita NiSi Half Grad 14-2430 sec. LE shot at sunrise. Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED + NiSi Filter Holder + Soft Nano GND8 (0.9)

The Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is one of my favourite lenses. It is sharp from the widest open, and provides very dramatic perspectives. There is, however, one drawback that could cause photographers to hold back buying this awesome lens, that is, the bulbous front lens prevents users from attaching filters.

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Protect Your Fingers! Nikon Offers Great Gloves for Photographers

Yuga Kurita Nikon Photographer's Gloves_DSC1441Nikon D5300 w/ AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G

When someone wants to take beautiful photographs, he probably buys a DSLR with a kit lens at the begning. Since he’s a novice, he doesn’t understand all jargons written in the spec sheet, and so he makes a decision based on marketing categories defined by manufacturers such as “Professional Grade” and “Consumer Grade.” As he gains knowledge on photography gradually, he realises he needs a wide aperture single-focal length lens. Then, he continues to things he never imagined that he would need such as flash units, tripods, L-plates, Arca-swiss compatible ball heads and so on.  Do you know what he wants when he eventually becomes a pro level photographer? Quality gloves and a quick draw strap. No doubt about it.
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