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The Big Apple, Grand Central Station and a Tokina Wide Angle Lens

I’m back!!! And judging by the drastic drop in traffic to this blog, you all missed me too!! That’s so sweet of you…

As I mentioned in my last posting, my employer needed me to attend a series of meetings in NYC this last week. For some delusional reason, I thought that I’d be able to post something after work hours since I brought along my laptop. Boy, was I wrong!! Between the late evening dinners followed by the many hours of drinking and schmoozing, there wasn’t even time to break open the laptop. I did, however, bring the camera along, and as I mentioned in the previous post, had an agenda of a few sights that interest me. I had a little down time here and there, so off I went with my trusty Canon 1D Mark II N. In that respect, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!

Accompanying me this time around was a Tokina ATX 16-28mm f/2.8 wide angle lens that I rented for the week. I had extremely high hopes for this lens for several reasons. First, all of you already know of the Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0 that I really love. So, I have high hopes with all of Tokina’s line-up and that the image quality and sharpness is consistent throughout the different offerings. Secondly, with a constant f/2.8 aperture setting throughout the range, you have to assume that this is good glass. And finally, it’s built like a tank!! It does have its few plastic parts, but set in a metal frame with a metal mount. This thing is heavy and I was confident that had I run into any trouble on the streets of New York City, I could have easily defended myself with this beast of a lens!! Luckily, everything went smoothly and I didn’t have to explain why I was bringing back the lens all banged up after sending my assailant to the hospital…

If you are like me and have a DSLR with interchangeable lens capability with a limited working budget for purchasing new equipment, then likely you have found that your new best friends are the camera rental houses found locally and on the internet. This Tokina was rented from the folks at Borrowlenses.com down in San Carlos, CA. I was down that way for one of my son’s baseball games last Saturday, so it made sense to make the reservation for a local pickup (which is free of additional shipping charges) and got to test out the lens prior to making the commitment of renting it for the week. Last Saturday had slim pickings, but I had a good feeling about the Tokina and chose it over the equivalent Canon lens at double the rental price for the week.

So, if you rent lenses, I am sure that you have found a lens that you find yourself renting over and over simply cause you love it so much. Unfortunately, the Tokina ATX 16-28mm f/2.8 was not one of those for me. Would I ever rent it again?? Yep, but only under the right conditions. What are these conditions, you ask? Well, don’t you always just ask the best questions!! I would need to have a full-frame sensor camera for starters. Next, I would need to make sure that this camera has an ISO Auto function. And, finally, I would need to travel with a tripod. To explain why I have these conditions, I’ll start with the ISO Auto function. My Canon does not feature an ISO Auto function and requires that I manually change the ISO setting. This is simple enough, but if you consider that you have to depress two different buttons on the left hand side of the camera while operate the wheel on the right hand side, you can imagine that this is not a function that can be performed with the camera up to your face or done in a quick manner in order to capture the action happening in front of you. Next, since my sensor is a 1.3X crop, I am truly limiting the focal range of this lens to an estimated 21-36mm, so I am defeating the purpose of the wide-angle. Lastly, the tripod comes in extremely handy simply because the lens does not come with any type of image stabilization capabilities.

With my small 2.5 inch LCD screen on the back of the camera, a good deal of the photos taken appeared that they were tack sharp. Once I downloaded the images upon my return, I noticed a few things. First, most of my images SUCKED ASS, so I blamed the lens. But, upon closer inspection, it appears that user error was more to play in this than the lens. With that established, what did I really hate about the lens? Well, f/2.8 was a bit soft. Once you hit f/3.2, the lens was tack sharp and had great color contrast through the rest of the aperture range. Had I been able to inspect my images on my laptop after the first time I headed out, I could have made the adjustment and stayed away from f/2.8. Fortunately, not all was lost, since I tend to pick a few different aperture settings as I photograph the same subject for “just in case” measures. That was my saving grace on a bunch of these images. I also loved the simple AF/MF clutch switch. With a simply push or pull of the clutch, I was able to quickly manually adjust the focus when there wasn’t enough light for the evening shots. So, if I consider that I would want a full frame camera with ISO Auto function and a tripod, I would have to seriously consider renting or purchasing the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 if I was in the market for a wide-angle lens. Especially, when the Canon equivalent is double the price tag!! And, to boot, the Canon doesn’t even have Image Stabilization.

I’ve decided to share my photos of NYC in stages so that I don’t bombard the blog with dozens of photos all at once. That way, I can focus on a process or location per post and field any questions that may come my way on a one by one basis. So, my location of interest for this evening is Grand Central Station. This is a beautiful structure that has fascinated me since I first visited back in 1989. Although I am sure that the building has had to perform a few upgrades throughout the years, you still get that old school vibe when this train station was a major transportation hub for all of New York’s train traffic. The vast halls and huge walkways are proof that it was built to house and withstand great amounts of foot traffic. Although today it sees its duties in a reduced capacity, it still sees a fair amount of foot traffic on a daily basis.

So, if planning a visit to Grand Central, here are a few photo and tourist pointers that I can offer after having just been there.  As a tourist, Grand Central offers many beautiful sights and interesting points to photograph. There is a self-guided audio tour that lasts approximately 30 minutes and is $7 for adults and $5 for children. The audio tour takes you through a few halls and interesting points in the building, but I can’t give you any more specifics, as I didn’t have time to take it myself. Also, you can find guided tours given in groups, but I did not ask if those were offered by Grand Central or part of another service. Whether you visit GCT to take the audio tours or just to take a stroll around this fabulous building, please keep in mind that this is still a very busy train terminal with local residents that depend on this service to get to and from work. So, one must keep in mind that you will probably have people breathing down your neck cause you are in their way. Rush hour during the morning and afternoon commute would be the WORST time for you to decide to stop and take photos in the middle of the station. Not only will you be bumped all around the floor like a freakin’ bumper car, but you’ll probably be called a few choice words in the process. Just don’t do it, folks.

The flip side is that GCT is most interesting during rush hour. It presents the opportunity for a few good motion shots with long exposures. Motion in photography gives the image a different perspective to display the busy nature of the station. An image taken with fast shutter speeds that stops time only gives you the split second view of what was going on. But, if you happen to have a tripod with you to set up away from all the foot traffic, you can capture great images of the true nature of GCT and all the “busy bees” going to and fro.

Also, GCT has two elevated courtyards at either end of the terminal that offer access to the street level above. One of these courtyards is occupied by Apple in the form of an open Apple store with full service techs ready to tackle any problem you may have with your Apple products. The other end has a bar owned by Michael Jordan or some other famous basketball player. These offer an interesting view-point to the terminal that allows for great wide-angle images from an elevated point. I returned to GCT a total of 6 times during my visit to The Big Apple. This is how much I love this building, not to mention that it was the closest subway station to all the spots I wanted to hit. Some of these images were taken from the terminal floor. All of the action shots were taken from the Apple store railing overlooking the terminal floor. I did not have a tripod with me, but I was able to balance the camera and lens on the marble railing that overlooks the floor to keep movement to a negligible level. Ideally, a tripod would have given me more options for different locations on these kind of motion shots, but I didn’t have that luxury, so I improvised. These motion shots were taken with an aperture setting of f/22, which gave the shutter speed approximately 1.5 -3 seconds of open time. Enjoy and have a good evening!!

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