Nikon Df, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF Nikkor

After my birthday every year, I look to make a photograph where the number of my next birthday is in the image. On a Michigan Road trip earlier this year, I came upon this just south of Rochester, and it was perfect.

Today I complete 55 trips around the sun and begin my 56th. For most of these years I sought after perfection. In my 50s, I’ve finally come to accept that seeking it sets me up for disappointment and disenchantment. I’m a recovering perfectionist! But it’s good to be open to perfection when it finds you. Then stop and enjoy it as long as it lasts.

I’ve written a birthday reflection every year since I turned 44. See them all here.

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Stories Told

The day, aged five, I lied to my ophthalmologist

When I was born, the doctor used forceps to pull me out. He misjudged, caught my right eye instead of my right temple, and did some damage. I had surgeries on my right eye at six months and three years to repair that damage.

I remember a little about the second surgery. I was badly frightened by the black mask that was brought down over my nose and mouth to put me under. When I woke up, I was in a crib in a room, and I was instantly angry because I was a big boy who slept in a bed. Dad came in and gently picked me up. I vividly recall floating through the air up to his shoulder; resting there was a great comfort and calmed me. I don’t remember this part of it, but Dad told the story frequently: at his shoulder I proclaimed, “They’re never going to do that to me again!”

Once a year I visited the ophthalmologist who performed the surgeries, a grandfatherly man named Hall. He looked around inside my right eye to check on things. He also checked my vision while he was at it, and it was always 20/20.

After the first surgery he patched that right eye, I’m guessing to let it rest while it healed. Here I am wearing my patch, aged about two in 1969, with my brother and my great grandma Grey. I have a vague memory of often pitching my head back like that, as it was easier to focus on subjects that way.

I think my parents and Dr. Hall were concerned because my left eye tended to wander toward my nose, especially when I was tired. I was concerned too, because the kids were all calling me cross-eyed. I think Dr. Hall was also working to help my eyes work in concert so I would have three-dimensional vision.

At some point Dr. Hall switched the patch to the left eye. I don’t remember why. Here I am with my brother at age three, at Easter in 1971, on my Grandpa Frederick’s garden tractor.

It’s hard to remember everything from those years as I was so young. But I remember well the day I lied to Dr. Hall and my parents.

I was five, or maybe four, at an annual visit to Dr. Hall where there was talk about whether my eyes were working together yet. I think Dr. Hall did some tests trying to figure that out for himself.

My eyes weren’t working together, and I knew it. I used one eye at a time, and I could easily switch between them. I favored my right eye. But whichever eye I was looking out of, the other eye let the view be wider, and provided peripheral vision, but that was it. When I looked out of my left eye for too long, I felt some strain. My right eye was strong and I could use it all day. But I was okay with all of this. I could do everything I cared to do at that age using my right eye. I was sick to death of wearing the patch, and of the other kids all teasing me about it.

Dr. Hall asked me if I saw out of both eyes together. With as much enthusiasm as I could pull together, I said yes. Dr. Hall and my parents didn’t seem convinced. One of them asked, “Are you sure?” With seriousness, I said yes again. They backed off, and after that I didn’t have to wear the patch anymore. Mission accomplished!

As a result, I’ve never had full three-dimensional vision. I’ve adapted well to a mostly two-dimensional view of the world as it’s all I’ve ever known. But there have been a couple of distinct drawbacks.

The first was in sports. When a ball was headed my way, I usually couldn’t track its location well as it came near to me. I missed catching a lot of footballs because of it. Worse, I got hit in the face by a lot of basketballs. That was especially problematic during the years I wore braces. Basketballs to the face tore my inner upper lip to shreds. Fortunately, I didn’t enjoy sports much and wasn’t that athletic anyway. I just gave up sports.

The other is in driving. I can tell I’m getting close to something because it gets larger. Occasionally I misjudge a little and either brake too early, or have to brake hard. The biggest challenge is the vision test at the BMV. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve had to put my eyes up to a viewfinder in a little machine. When you peer inside, you see a few rows of letters and numbers that you’re supposed to read aloud. But the machine is sneaky. Some of the letters appear for only the left eye, and some only for the right eye. To pass the test, I have to silently read each row with one eye and then the other, put the letters in the right order, and then recite them from memory!

I’ve had one unexpected benefit of being able to switch between my eyes. In high school my vision went nearsighted, my right eye considerably and my left eye slightly. Long story short, I’ve worn a gas-permeable contact in my right eye for going on 40 years. After taking out my one contact lens at night, if I want to watch TV before bed I do it with my left eye. My left eye also lets me find the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Telling that lie so many years ago had lifelong effects that I couldn’t predict then. So far, I haven’t regretted them. I hope that as I pass out of middle age I don’t start to.

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15 brick streets

Cushing St.
Cushing St., South Bend, IN; Kodak EasyShare Z730
Brick Lincoln Highway
Old US 33 (Lincoln Highway) near Ligonier, IN; Canon PowerShot S95
Old brick road
Unnamed street, former State Road 46, Terre Haute, IN; Nikon F2, 50mm f/2 Nikkor AI, Fujicolor 200
Old brick road
Bob Gay Parkway, Martinsville, IN; Apple iPhone 5
Brick Route 66
Snell Rd., former Route 66, near Auburn, IL; Canon PowerShot S95
Brick New Ross Road
New Ross Rd., former Dixie Highway, near New Ross, IN; Canon PowerShot S95
Brick Rd.
Brick Rd., former US 40/National Road, near Norwich, OH
Brick segment of old US 40/NR
Fairdale Dr., former US 40/National Road, near Cambridge, OH
Peacock Road
Peacock Rd., former US 40/National Road, near Old Washington, OH
Brick road leading to the Blaine S Bridge
Abandoned Old US 40/National Road, Blaine, OH; Canon PowerShot S95
Main Street, South Bend
Main St., South Bend, IN; Kodak EasyShare Z730
Brick segments of old US 50
Abandoned Old US 50, in Illinois across the Wabash River from Vincennes, IN; Kodak EasyShare Z730
Brick street
5th St., Sheridan, IN; Yashica-12, Kodak Tri-X (x-6/1981) @EI 200, L110 Dilution B
On the brick street 2
Main St., Zionsville, IN; Reto Ultra Wide and Slim, Kroger 200 (expired)
Brick streets of Bloomington
Park Ave., Bloomington, IN; Pentax K10D, smc PENTAX-DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL

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A Shaker Heights sunset

My wife and I visited her sister and brother-in-law recently. They live in a condo in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which is a near suburb of Cleveland. In 1911 and 1912, the area now known as Shaker Heights became a city of its own, on the eastern end of Cleveland.

Their condo is in a multi-story building in the heart of Shaker Heights. They have access to the roof, which gives a commanding view of the city, including Cleveland proper. I brought my Nikon Df along with a 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-G Nikkor lens, and made the best images I could manage. Here are a whole bunch of them.

From a Shaker Heights rooftop
From a Shaker Heights rooftop
From a Shaker Heights rooftop
Shaker Heights sunset
Shaker Heights sunset
Shaker Heights sunset
Cleveland skyline from Shaker Heights

The Cleveland Guardians, f.k.a. the Cleveland Indians, played ball that night and shot fireworks after. One little fireworks burst is visible in the image above.

This photo session made me wish for a deeper zoom. This led me to buy the 28-200mm zoom lens that I wrote about yesterday!

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A 28-200mm zoom lens for my Nikon Df

Even though my Nikon Df came with a lovely special-edition 50mm f/1.8 lens, I usually use my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF-D Nikkor lens because it’s so darned versatile. Sometimes I want a deeper zoom, so I mount my 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF-G Nikkor. But when I’m on a road trip or traveling, I prefer to bring just one lens. Could I find a zoom lens that does it all?

I found a few options, a few from Nikon and a few from Tamron and other manufacturers. The lens that appealed to me most was the 28-200mm f/3.5-54.6 AF-G Nikkor. It is relatively inexpensive used but offers a pretty good zoom range and promises good image quality.

I bought mine used from UsedPhotoPro. It’s sort of a funny story — I was searching eBay for one, and saw one at a price I was willing to pay. The listing showed a good-condition lens, but noted that there was a ding in the front element.

Then I noticed that the eBay seller was Roberts Camera, which is UsedPhotoPro’s alter ego. I happened to be in my Downtown office just a mile or so away from Roberts, so I walked over there and asked to see it. The mark on the front element is barely perceptible, so I bought it. Because I saved them eBay fees and shipping costs, they gave me a discount! Woot!

This lens is surprisingly compact. I own manual-focus 35-70mm zooms that are longer than this. It’s also light, but that’s because it’s made with a lot of plastic. Even the mount is plastic, a sure sign that Nikon built this lens for consumer use.

Any zoom lens is a bundle of compromises that lead to limitations. If you want the sharpest images with the least distortion and the fewest aberrations, bring a bag full of primes. The limitations in my 28-80 zoom are fairly minor and easy to live with. Would that be true with this 28-200?

One critical compromise with zoom lenses is distortion. Reviews say that this lens suffers from it horribly. Fortunately, my Df corrects it well enough in camera. I can use this lens on my Nikon N90s 35mm SLR, but it can’t correct for distortion at all and would leave me with a lot of post-processing to get usable images.

There’s only one way to find out if I can live with this lens’s limitations: take it on an outing. We had plans with friends to spend a weekend in southern Indiana, which was a perfect proving ground. We stayed in French Lick, a resort town. Here are a smattering of images I made with this lens. First, a few images where I zoomed to the max.

West Baden Springs Hotel

These images are fine at snapshot sizes. But when you look at max-zoom images at full resolution, you see softness and shake. This lens doesn’t have image stabilization, so you’ll get best results when you brace yourself or use a tripod.

St. Meinrad Archabbey

Also, the Df defaults to choosing apertures and shutter speeds that lead to shallower depth of field for good separation of subject from background. Frequently when I’m shooting a landscape or other scene where I want everything to be in focus, the Df focuses on something in the foreground, as in the image above. At full size, you can see that the background details are slightly out of focus. Either I need to find a setting that gives me narrower apertures in program mode, or shoot in aperture-priority mode so I can select the aperture.


You can see this best in this image of my wife. She was a good distance away from me, so I zoomed to 200mm. The Df focused on her and set aperture and shutter speed so that everything behind her was out of focus, which was appropriate in this case. But even at snapshot size you can see that she’s not perfectly crisp in the image.

When nature won't, Pluto will!

Sharpness improves and shake reduces as you zoom out. In the image above, the lens was at 45mm. It’s still not perfectly sharp at full size, but it’s not that different from the results I get from my 28-80mm zoom, a lens I know well.

West Baden Springs Hotel

The wider the angle, the better the sharpness. I made the image above at minimum zoom, 28mm.

West Baden Springs Hotel

I made the image above at 85mm and it turned out okay. The first rocking chair, especially the rocker at the bottom, is a little out of focus. But otherwise there’s pretty good sharpness here.

St. Meinrad Archabbey

Finally, even at full zoom as above, this lens yields lovely bokeh.

I’ve focused on sharpness and shake here because I’m not fully satisfied with what I see. However, the lens is light and easy to handle and renders the light beautifully. It focuses fast enough for me, but some reviews pan it for focusing too slowly. If you’re shooting auto racing I can see how that would be a problem.

I need to keep using the Df with this lens to refine my technique with it, to remove my own foibles as much as possible from the results I get. As I said earlier, I also need to set the Df for greater depth of field in the documentary work I like to do. But my suspicion is that after I do all of that, I’m still going to get softness from this lens, especially at deep zoom levels. Given that the vast majority of ways I display my work yields sizes where this softness doesn’t matter, I may choose to live with it. But when I know I need deep crops or large display sizes, I’ll probably be better off with one of my primes.

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Recommended reading

💻 I didn’t know an outdoor drama was even a thing until Brandi B wrote about the longest-running one in the nation. This isn’t just a play on an outdoor stage — the very ground itself is the stage, including some features like a small pond. Read Going Home: The Outdoor Drama Tecumseh

Nikon Coolpix 950, 2022

💻 There’s a lot of negative press about TikTok, especially how this Chinese-backed app is killing Facebook. Cal Newport says that this is probably a good thing — and we should remember that all social-media products are temporary. Read TikTok’s Poison Pill

💻 There are different “rules” for living as you compare socioeconomic classes in the US. One distinctive “rule” about the middle and upper classes is that we like things quiet. Kevin Drum reflects that this might be an underlying reason people don’t want affordable housing in their neighborhoods — the people that move in don’t share the same values around quiet. Read What’s the right amount of noise?

📷 The cheap Chinese Diana camera was a lo-fi wonder in the 1960s when it was introduced. You can buy new ones today, but fupduckphoto tests an original. Read Lady Diana

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Get yours here.

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