Photos of New Zealand | Leaning Rock, Central Otago

Central Otago sunrise leaning rock-1 alexandra

Sunrise over Leaning Rock on the Dunstan Range, Central Otago New Zealand. Photography By Todd Sisson.

I have been getting right into my Panoramic stitching recently – as we are finding more and more demand for large scale canvas prints of  New Zealand scenics.  This image was made on the Nikon D800e with the utterly superb 85mm f/1.4G (my new favourite landscape lens).

This image has a native resolution of 22,000 pixels and prints at about 2 metres without any up-rezzing – you can get an idea of the detail in the image by checking out the sample images in my Nikon 85mm f/1.4G outdoor photography review 

Enjoy and feel free to share!

Cheers – Todd


Nikon D800 Recommended Lens | Nikon 85mm f/1.4G – Landscape Photography Review



Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens for landscape and nature
The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G – Does A classic portrait lens belong in a landscape photographer’s bag?  It’s damn well staying in mine!

You can read my full Nikon 85mm f/1.4G landscape lens review on sisson – New Zealand photography


I don’t recall having been on a drunken bender last April, but it may explain why I have little recollection as to how I ended up owning a Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.4G.  This lens is really not a traditional fit for a landscape photographer, in-fact the B&H description for the lens has “Traditional Portraiture Lens” splashed all over it.   Anyhow, I did order it,  so it was time to see how I could incorporate the lens into my landscape photography repertoire.  I am pleased to report that the 85mm f1.4 is now one of my favourite landscape lenses. Thank God – it wasn’t cheap…..

In all seriousness, I purchased the 85mm f1.4 in preparation for the delivery of my new Nikon D800e.  Prior to the D800e I had been shooting Nikon DX and Canon Full Frame (5dmkii), I had wanted to return full time to Nikon for several years, but the right DSLR body for my needs had not been in the Nikon line-up.  When the D800 was announced it was obvious that it’s 36MP sensor would settle for nothing short of premium optics and I had nothing in my bag that would stand the D800’s onslaught of pixels.

The 85mm is an ‘overlap lens’ in my bag as I also own the superb Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii (review) however, I purchased the prime mainly because I love defocus in my portrait photography (mainly my kids these days) – the 85mm f1.4 is renowned for it’s silky bokeh and after 12 years of professional photography, I figured it was time to treat myself to something a little exotic.

Unfortunately, that is not sound business practice for me – I make my money from landscapes, so I had to figure out a way to make the 85mm f/1.4G earn it’s keep – here’s how I use it for landscape photography…..

What’s It For?

I consider the Nikon 85mm f1.4G to be one of the most ‘creative’ lenses in my camera bag.  By that, I mean that I rarely shoot ‘standard’ landscape images on the 85mm f/1.4 – I find that have to consciously seek uses for the 85mm.  Now, that may seem like putting the tractor before the haybale but for me that is a good thing – I need to stretch my photographic boundaries –  I think that the 85mm makes me a little bit more complete as a photographer.  So far,  I use this lens for four primary uses:

1. Subject Isolation Via Defocus

Frosty Tree: D800e, Nikon 85mm f/1.4G – @ f/1.4.  Shooting at f/1.8 delivered the razor thin DOF required  to successfully isolate this frosty little tree.  I enoy the creative overlap of applying portrait techniques to nature photography. 

(Download full resolution D800e & Nikon 85mm f/1.4g sample jpeg – password = freeD800pics

2. Panoramic stitching

I like to shoot panoramic stitches that compress distance, primarily to give greater visual presence to distant mountains – I find 50mm and 85mm to be my most commonly used focal lengths for this purpose.  The 85mm f/1.4 provides unparalleled sharpness and detail when paired with the Nikon D800e.

I always shoot in vertical orientation in order to gain the maximum resolution from my stitched files – 85mm provides an excellent field of view when used in this way.

The following stitched panorama is 21,000 x 6,600 pixels wide and prints at 2.1 metres @300 DPI without any enlargement.

Panoramic Stitch from Nikon D800e and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Lens. It’s a little hard to get impressed this wide – how about a 100% crop….

100% crops from the above panoramic Stitch from Nikon D800e and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Lens. The level of detail is simply stunning (a little sharpening has been applied) – this would happily enlarge to a 4m+ wide print. Please note that these look slightly better in the original file – pre-JPEG compression.

read the full nikon 85mm f/1.4 review  >>>>>

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii User Review | For Landscape & Nature Photography

Seeing as my Nikon Prime v Zoom review seemed moderately popular earlier this week, I have decided to post my thoughts on the 70-200mm f2.8 VRii here on WordPress – enjoy & share.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.  Cheers – Todd.

I won’t mess about – the Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 VR II is an incredible weapon for landscape photographers – quite simply, this lens has been a revelation for my long lens landscape photography, particularly when paired with the D800e and D7000.

If you think you need this lens, you need this lens.  Read no further – just buy it.

Nikon 70-200 VRII f/2.8

The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII: a landscape photographer’s best friend – assuming you have no human friends…..

Before we start:

I am a landscape & nature photographer – a simple man. I am not a lens designer, lens tester, or nuclear physicist – I don’t know a Bayer pattern from a sewing pattern and I have yet to come across an MTF test chart in the wild (I dread that day – I hear they can be viscious).  The results here are no more than my opinions and observations and are based on exactly zero scientific research.  With that said, I hope that this is of some value to you – enjoy!


I purchased the 70-200 f2.8 VR II in April 2012, in anticipation of receiving a brand spanking new Nikon D800e.  At the time my long lens option was restricted to the surprisingly capable (with caveats) Nikon AF-S 55-200mm f4-5.6G VR IF ED for use on the nikon D7000.  

I had previously owned a nikon 80-200 f2.8 AF-D, a lens that I never came to love.  I may have had a poor sample but the 80-200 f2.8 ‘s weight and poor handling never seemed to be adequately offset by stellar image quality. The 80-200 seemed to suffer from focus accuracy issues out towards infinity.

If truth be known, I actually didn’t want to buy the 70-200 f2.8 VR II thanks to it’s cost and weight.  This was compounded by the fact  that I had been using the Canon 70-200 f4 L IS for over three years.  The Canon lens is spectacular from wide open and incredibly light – if Nikon had built an equivalent f4 lens I would have taken it.  Nikon doesn’t make such a lens and I was pretty much forced into buying the 70-200 f2.8 VR II as my only tele zoom option for the D800e – I am glad that I did.

Technical Specifications

Tech specs deplete my will to live.   After 20 years of photography I am no closer to understanding why I would care about the number of optical elements in a lens design – it either works or it doesn’t.  Hence I present you with no lens cross section diagrams, discussion of lens coatings or tech specs – just practical results and findings. You can find the specs on the B&H product page.

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 In The Field

Field Handling: The 70-200 f/2.8 VRII handled being in this field really well. (Attached to a D800e and clamped down to a Benro Tripod)

But seriously, on to handling. The 70-200 f2.8 VR II weighs in at a relatively hefty 1530g – about 250g more than my old 80-200 f2.8 AF-D.  Now, given that I ditched the 80-200 largely due to it’s weight this should be an issue, but it’s not.

Somehow, somebody did something to something within the design of the 70-200 VR II.  That something that somebody did has made the lens wonderfully balanced to work with – I just don’t notice the weight, and as we will see soon, the results more than compensate for the inconvenience.

When it comes to handling, the lens is terrific.  VR controls are well positioned, manual focus override is a cinch compared to the 80-200 (which involves pushing buttons and turning rings to move from AF to M) – just grab and focus. The zoom ring has a wonderfully positive tension to it and it’s position is excellent for use when hand-holding.

Of course zoom and focus are handled internally on a lens of this calibre so there are no protruding extensions during operation – everything just happens on the inside – all very deep and meaningful.

Build Quality

The 70-200 f2.8 VR II is an exceptional piece of engineering – it is one of those rare cases where you can see and feel where your money went.  The lens housing is reassuringly metallic – I believe that it is constructed of the same magnesium alloy used in Nikon’s pro camera bodies.  Yes, that mottled metallic finish that nikon moulds into it’s plastic products is actually for real this time – nice.   All this metallic heft and bulk leaves you with the impression that, if money were no object, one could happily use the lens to hammer tent pegs while on a photo-safari.

I have yet to test the weather/dust sealing of the lens to extremes. I have never had any issues with weather sealing even on my cheapest Nikkors, so I presume that this will be the case with the 70-200 f2.8 VR II.

Evidence of build-quality can be found by simply twisting the tripod collar locking nut.  The collar swivels around with a velvety motion and the locking is extremely positive, going from free to locked in about half a turn.

But my favourite example of this build quality is the HB-48 lens hood. To me, it is a thing of great beauty, with a stylish yet manly petal shape and, for want of a better term, it mates beautifully with the lens.  This coupling is consummated audibly when the metal locking mechanism clicks into place.  A better lens hood I have not owned.

Focus Performance

The  70-200 f2.8 VR II is the fastest and most accurate lens that I currently own.   It locks onto subjects rapidly even under dim lighting conditions.

Nikon’s silent wave motor has not always been that silent in my experience but on the 70-200 f2.8 it truly lives up to its name, operation is quiet and fast.

When paired with a relatively high performance body it tracks focus effortlessly – I am no bird or sports photographer, but I am father to two hyperactive kids and this lens just gets the shot when used on the D7000 or D800e.


Too Cute To Need A Title: AF-C Performance: Nikon D800e in DX mode (6fps) : f/2.8, 1/5000, ISO 400 at 140mm 35mm equivalent . Sure, the D800 has state-of-the-art AF, but paired with the 70-200mm f2.8 it delivers incredible tracking performance with the press of the AF-start button.


AF-C Performance: Nikon D800e in DX mode (6fps) : f/2.8, 1/5000, ISO 400 at 140mm 35mm equivalent – 100% crops – no sharpening applied, focus point set to Indi’s chest. I am too lazy to give you a crop of every shot in this sequence, so here are some loupe screen shots at 100% – I couldn’t cram a loupe onto every shot so you will have to believe me that every shot in this sequence was technically usable. The 70-200 f2.8 VR II delivers stunning AF performance.

Vibration Reduction (VR) Performance

The 70-200 f2.8 VR II is the first top of the range Nikon VR lens that I have owned and I am very, very, impressed by its stabilisation performance.

I have had my reservations about the performance of Nikon’s VR on my first generation 18-200mm VR DX and 16-85 VR DX lenses.  To me it has never seemed that effective.  This impression was only reinforced when I purchased the Canon 24-105 f4 l IS and 70-200 f4 L IS lenses.  The Canon IS system just seemed more aggressive or ‘active’ to me – it may not be the case but that is the way it seems and I have come to rely upon it when shooting handheld – especially with people.

I am happy to report that the VR on the 70-200 f2.8 is stellar, and easily in the same league as the IS on my Canon lenses – probably better in fact, and certainly quieter. Check it out.

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II vr test

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II – VR Effectiveness: 1/30th Second, 200mm. Check out the sharpness in that loupe – and Nikon issued warnings about the D800e not being hand-holdable. Nuts! to that I say – I got two in a row like this at 1/30th at 200mm. VRII works wonders. Did I mention that I am very impressed with the VR on this lens?

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II vr test  copy

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II – VR Effectiveness: 1/10th Second, 200mm. I needed to shoot something that didn’t move to go this slow. 75% of these images at 1/10th were usable. I even managed to get a sharp shot at half a second at 200mm! Did I mention that I am very impressed with the VR on this lens?


Zoom versus Prime Review – Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4G


Zoom vs Prime – which is better for landscape photography?  I decided to pit two of Nikon’s best lenses  ( 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii & Nikon 85mm f/1.4G) against each other in a field test death match. This is Chevy vs Ford, PC vs Mac, Coke vs Pepsi for nikonians. Let the fun commence….

If you have read my nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRii user review and my nikkor 85mm f/1.4G user review you will know that I was less than stoked about the prospect of dropping $5,300NZ (Pacific Pesos) on two lenses.  I was especially freaked about my impulse decision to buy the 85mm f1.4, as it seemingly made very little practical sense for landscape photography (which comprises the bulk of my work).

So, now that the D800e is finally with me I decided to have a bit of a side by side shoot off between the big zoom and the rotund prime just to see if there were any noticeable differences between the two.

To be honest, I have always viewed prime lenses as somewhat of a throwback and a pain in the butt  – the convenience of zoom lenses has always won out for me.  I was hoping that the results of my tests would validate my impulses to fill my bag with convenient zooms.

Frankly, the results of my testing freaked me so much that I had to re-shoot them to make sure I hadn’t messed it up somehow.  I don’t want to spoil the rest of the review, so I won’t elaborate – enjoy the review and be sure to share it around if you think it may be of interest to others.
The fine print – all shots are:

  • Made on the Nikon D800e
  • Locked down on a Really Right Stuff BH55 ballhead & Benro tripod
  • 3 second mirror lockup delay
  • Aperture priority
  • All other camera settings remain the same between shots
  • Images straight through Adobe Camera Raw with no adjustments (except sharpening 25 to all shots)
  • 100% crops
  • focus set manually by Liveview on the grey willow tree in centre frame
  • if this methodology infuriates you in any way please go straight to here

Centre Sharpness

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G – at f/2.8 – click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 vs 85mm f/1.4G at f2.8

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G – Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/2.8

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G – at f/5.6 – click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/5.6

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G – Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/5.6

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G – at f/8 – click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/8

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G – Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/8

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G – at f/11 – click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/11

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G – Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/11

f/11 notes: centre sharpness on the zoom really falls away at f/11 on the D800e while the 85mm still looks pretty good.  Diffraction really is something that you need to consider before paying the premium to purchase a D800e vs a D800 – any resolution gains that you may make on the D800e are rapidly eroded after f5.6.

Centre Sharpness Roundup

Frankly, there is not much to separate these two premium lenses when looking at the centre of frame in terms of landscape photography performance. Not many landscape images are made at f/2.8 where the nikon 85mm f1.8G trounces the zoom – not a surprise given that it is already stopped down two stops by this point.

By f/5.6 results are so close that only a nit-picker would give a toss and by f/8 diffraction has equalised both lens’s centre sharpness performance, with maybe a slight edge to the 85mm.  Where the game changes is in the final 30% of the frame heading towards the edges – take a gander at these comparisons…..

Edge Sharpness Tests >>>>