The Perils of Dropping your Camera!

•May 14, 2010 • 2 Comments

"Malcolm" Gnome, Columbus, Ohio

I have just returned from a whirlwind tour of the American Mid-West, Florida and Texas.  An exhausting 10 day trip which involved 10 flights, and three time zones (including the UK).  We were on this grand tour making a film about the Glazers – the notoriously unpopular owners of  Manchester United Football Club (thats soccer for those who interpret the meaning of football incorrectly).

As always the filming trip involved a large number of flight cases of equipment (well five anyway) with yours truly, as always these days, being responsible for shooting the material; recording the sound; doing the lighting and also having a minor involvement in the journalism.  Oh! and the stills!  There is, as you can imagine, an awful lot of things to do – especially when everything has to be packed up and ready to fly every other day.

And so it was, early on in the trip, that we arrived in downtown Columbus, Ohio.  Day two of our trip.  We had done all the principal filming with our interviewees, and were now concentrating on the cut-aways (or B-roll, as some people refer to it).  Part of the B-Roll was shooting stills of a gnome (don’t ask), which would feature as a punctuation mark throughout our film.  He (it?) would be photographed in multiple locations, and we would film him also.

I started by taking a number of stills, that way it was easy to see what shots would work best on the video camera (a DVW 790 WSP Digi-Beta camera, for those who care).  After completing this task I put the stills camera on the rear bumper of the car, and then proceeded to get the video equipment out.  It was at this point that the overworked cameraman knocked the stills camera off the back of the car, and it proceeded (aided by gravity) to hit the tarmac two feet below (damned Yankee cars, they’re so high!) with a clunk.  Well, of course, I didn’t think anything of it!  Why should I?  This is a bullet proof Nikon D300 with an equally bullet proof (and recently serviced and rebuilt) 17-35mm f2.8 AF-S Nikkor mounted on it.  I took a quick look, and it looked OK, so I carried on and got the shots on the video.  We then mounted up and drove to a different part of town to get some more Gnome from Home pictures.

When we arrived at that location we found a suitable spot (see picture above), and I started taking pictures.  They were over-exposed?  Whats going on here I thought.  I checked the settings, ISO 100 – good, 1/500th second – fine, f8 – cool.  The suns shining, so whats the problem?  That is the correct exposure.  So I stopped it down a couple of stops – f16.  Same result!  So I cranked up the speed, 1/1600th second.  Correct exposure!  Thats odd…  I took the lens off and checked the iris – by looking through the lens and rotating the aperture.  The aperture was sticking.  The iris blades would settle at around f4 and not open or close.  Bugger.  The camera must have landed on the lens when it hit the ground earlier.  The glass, fortunately, wasn’t damaged, but the lens must have “bent” slightly.  I also noticed that the beautiful smooth zoom still zoomed, but it was quite stiff.  Double bugger, this will be expensive…  I reverted to my plan B lens – the Sigma 10-20…

Back in UK I rang Fixation (http://www.fixationuk.com/) to find out what they thought.  They said they would have a look and to send it to them.  Although the camera seemed to be working OK, I decided to send that to them as well, as it had been slightly water damaged last year, and anyway it needed a service.  So I wrapped it all up and sent it on the Friday by special delivery.

Now for the major plug for Fixation.  They received the camera and lens on the Monday, by the end of Tuesday they had repaired, checked and serviced the camera (which included a new hot shoe, new aperture control ring, new bayonet mount, and replaced a dodgy aperture control circuit board).  By the middle of Wednesday they had also checked the lens and replaced the aperture ring.  By mid-morning Thursday it was delivered back to me by UPS.  The total bill?  Including VAT, delivery, parts and labour? £325.  That is a result!  Yes the bill is of a low order of magnitude (I was expecting it be a lot more), but what have I got?  I have a camera which is working beautifully, a lens which is as it was, and Fixation should be very pleased with themselves for their fast turnaround and utter professionalism in keeping their customer very satisfied.  I write this on the Friday after I sent the camera to them, and tomorrow I board yet another aeroplane to go back out to Jordan on the final leg of my Middle Eastern adventure.  More on this when I return…

The Sony Z1 – a cameramans perspective (I wrote this in 2005…)

•April 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Z1 cameras – A Cameramans Perspective  (November 2005)

By Stephen Foote – Lighting cameraman

I am writing this as I will not be able to attend the meeting on Friday.  What I write here is only my opinion, but I hope that some of my observations about using this camera will prove useful to those who are interested.

Stephen Foote – background

I am a professional Lighting Cameraman/DoP with 23 years experience working in Broadcast Television.  My background is film, 35mm and 16mm, and I have been shooting video since Beta SP came in – around 1992 (ish).  I have worked in all areas of film and television: features, TV drama, commercials, corporates, and predominantly documentary film making.

I have recently shot Z1, for Panorama, on a four camera, 7 day mini OB.  I have also shot a day using it on a more tricky confrontational interview.

The Z1 – overview

The Z1 camera is a natural progression from the PD150/PD170 family of DV cameras.  It can shoot in DVCAM and HDVCAM mode.  It is a small and very portable camera and costs around £3000, and it produces noticeably better pictures than its PD150 predecessor.  Like the PD150, the camera has two methods of viewing images – one through a viewfinder mounted on the back of the camera, the other being a flip out screen on the side of the camera.  The camera also has numerous buttons with varying functions, some of which can be assigned via the multipage menu system.  The camera does have a manual and automatic function for sound, iris and focus.  It does not have interchangeable lenses

Wishing to be objective about the use of this camera, it has advantages and disadvantages, from my own point of view as a professional cameraman:

Advantages of the Z1

The camera is lightweight and very portable, and can be used to get certain shots that cannot be achieved by larger camera, such as shoulder mounted DVCAM or Digi Beta cameras.  You can hold it at arms length or above your head, for instance.  The picture quality is better than a PD150, and the overall sharpness and colour saturation seems to be much improved.  You can shoot in DVCAM or HDVCAM mode.  It is an ideal camera for use in hostile situations, for covert filming, filming in confined spaces (like a car) and in areas where the use of a large camera can be obtrusive or dangerous.

I would consider it, like a PD150, to be a useful tool to be used and carried in a cameramans equipment package.

Disadvantages of using the Z1

There are many practical problems associated with the use of this camera by a cameraman such as myself – I will try to explain them, but I an assuming the reader has a reasonable knowledge of camera work:

  • When used manually (which is the normal approach, as I would want to be in control of the camera, rather than vice-versa) the iris control requires a lot of turning to get to where you want it to go – you can’t just tweak it to from f5.6 to f16 – which you may want to do often for instance when panning from a through window shot to an interior, you have to turn the knob a lot to get a similar result – it is also in apposition where it is easy to knock.
  • The focus control, again in manual, has the same problem, you can tweak the lens by 1/2 cm and it will go from 0.3m to infinity, or you can do the same move more slowly and it will go from 0.3m to 0.4m.  This lack of predictability, based on the speed you rotate the lens barrel is a real problem, particularly when you are filming actuality at wide apertures (ie most of the time).  In autofocus mode, the lens hunts and does not follow focus quickly – particularly on the long end of the lens, which renders it largely useless.
  • The lens is not long enough – you cannot get big close ups of even fairly close objects – faces in an interview are fine, but not a BCU of a pen on paper!  The lens also has quite a distant close focus distance, which limits its use considerably
  • The viewfinder(s) – (yes both of them) are difficult to see, and lack resolution to be able to identify critical focus! There are electronic aids within the camera settings which can assist with this, but that is all they do – assist.  That’s not good enough for me.
  • Everything on the camera is menu driven, so if you want to switch sound from internal mic to XLR you have to go through the menu to do it.  This is slow – indeed last week on a shoot in Zurich, we could get NO sound into the camera from an XLR – we spent 20 minutes trying to figure it out, before re-setting the camera twice via a micro switch – good thing we weren’t in a hurry!
  • The buttons are easy to knock accidentally – I have found the camera changing shutter speed between shots, menus suddenly popping up on the screen and so on.  There is a method to lock the functions – but that includes the iris too! Not much use really.
  • The audio inputs and outputs – XLR’s headphones, video out, are all in very exposed places, and do not appear robust.  In everyday, rough and tumble situations these are very likely to fail – but in a destructive manner, they are likely to break bits off the camera, literally, to a point of no return “early wrap boys!”.  Cameras really do need to be pretty bullet proof, like the equipment a soldier may use.  No difference.
  • There are problems with the timecode from our recent multi-camera experience – four identical cameras running together, synced with a timecode slate, did not hold sync together!
  • The camera is awkward to hand hold at eye height for any amount of time, this forces you to shoot from below the eyeline of the subject, which is unflattering and gives the impression of the person being dominant.  You also, because of the focus issues already mentioned, have to shoot stuff wider rather than closer.  I personally prefer shooting tighter rather than wider (on legs or hand held), since it makes for more interesting shots which are easier to cut.
  • When used hand held, the camera is difficult to hold steady, and if any refinements need to be made to even focus or iris settings, the camera wobbles!  Forget any other things you may want to set whilst hand holding – like checking audio on individual channels whilst shooting – you simply can’t do it
  • The Z1 is 2 stops slower than DSR450 or Digi beta cameras, which means you will have to put more light into a scene where a conventional camera wouldn’t  – and there is no ability, one man op, to mount a top light and radio mics onto the camera for those Ptc’s being done outside Westminster on a dark November afternoon.

Conclusion

The camera is very slow to use.  If you are in a hurry, which is often, you can’t just pick it up confidently knowing that everything is switched to the right setting.  It has to be endlessly checked, via the menu system (with its numerous sub-menus).  Larger cameras can be checked rapidly by scanning switch positions.

The thing is not intuitive, its regressive (even compared with a PD150 which is actually more user friendly).  It lacks precise control and all the things that a skilled cameraman needs and you can’t change lenses!

The type of shots that you can get are limited by the range of focal length, and the cameras focussing abilities – the camera operator is very limited in the types of shot that can be achieved, which leads to a loss of style.

I would also be worried about looking stupid whilst on the street.  That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but a lot of times people take you far more seriously if you have a big camera with you – having a big camera is a positive advantage!

The camera is ideal for camera operators with little experience; in many ways, the camera can help them, however, they will ultimately still  have the same problems that experienced operators have.  At the end of the day this is a consumer camera which has been dressed up to look as though it is professional.

My experience on this camera has always included working with a sound recordist, and I can see a whole host of problems looming on the day that I have to use this as a one man crew.  A lot of those problems will be technical problems associated with the desire to shoot the best pictures, with the best sound – only to be let down by the inadequacies of this camera.  This is a problem not unique to the Z1 – all the competitor cameras have similar drawbacks.

The combination of the disadvantages I have outlined will lead to lost shots, more unusable shots, and inevitably even higher cutting ratios than those being experienced using “conventional” cameras.  I suspect that the material will also need more post production to rectify sound and exposure problems.

I appreciate the need to embrace and use new technologies as they become available, but I do not feel that the Z1 is a viable alternative to a camera such as a DSR450 or Digi Beta.  As a professional cameraman I want to have control of the camera, I want to dictate what it does, and I want to work to the highest standards that I can achieve.  The Z1 does not allow me to do this, but, as I mentioned earlier, this camera is a useful tool to carry.

In my opinion the Z1 should not be considered as a mainstream camera for use by highly skilled “craft” cameramen.

Working with the P2 Varicam, AJ-HPX2700

•April 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

P2 in the Desert...

I am currently working on a film in the Middles East for AquaVita films for the BBC Natural History Unit.  We have just completed the second of three trips, the first being a shooting Recce, the one we have just completed the first part of the mai shoot.

On the Recce trip we were shooting on a tape based Varicam 2 and we shot some magnificent stuff, but, because of where we were (and I’m not saying where, just at the moment), and because of severe constarints on the location and amount of time we could actually shoot, we decided after that Recce that the P2 camera was the way to go.  Basically we are shooting a documentary about life in the Middle East, with a reasonable amount of wildlife footage to boot.  One of the requirements was to shoot high speed images of flying birds.

The drag with Varicam 2 is that, although you can mix and match high speed footage on the same tape, it is very expensive to deal with two different frame rates in post production.  On P2, you can just go quickly into the menus and switch to 50FPS, and because each clip is recorded onto solid state P2 cards, it is possible to change the frame rate on the same card and you get around any of the hassles.

I was apprehensive about going the P2 route as I have been shooting tape for the past god knows how many years.  But having shot some stuff using the EX1 Sony camera, and also the Z7 using the solid state recorder as well, ans well as vast numbers of stills images, I finally convinced myself that it was worth a try.  We were shooting using the DVCPRO-HD codec (so that it would sit comfortably with the Varicam2 footage from the recce, when in the edit.  Had we started the project on the P2 camera we would undoubtedly have shot using the AVC-I 100 codec.  The camera came from Visual Impact in Bristol, with 5 32gb P2 cards, each capable of storing about 69 minutes of material at 25fps, half that at 50fps.  We also took the Panasonic rapid-writer with us to make Raid 1 mirror copies of the shot material onto 500gb Sata drives.  Again we opted for the rapid writer because its fast, and downloads material at about 4 times speed; and since we were shooting around 2.5 hours of material a day, that made the transfer at the end of each day considerably faster.  Whatever happens, transferring data at the end of each day is a chore which you simply do not have with tape.  The upside though, is that you can review and spot check clips easily, and you can even watch the high speed stuff back in slo-mo – an enormous advantage!

Operating the P2 was simple, not having to change tapes a bonus.  I also just let the time code run continuously from card to card.  I did make a point of locking all the cards except for the one I was writing to, to avoid the data being crossed across cards in the same shot.  The viewfinder was impressive, although still in black and white, I found the images easy to check for sharpness, and since we were using the Canon HJ18x28 lens (which gives 1000mm on the end of the doubler), this was very important. The HJ18 is a truly awesome piece of glass, and takes you into the realms of  Hubble telescope kind of images.  Shooting flocks of flamingos from 3/4 mile away was just astonishing, conversley having a frog or dragon-fly filling the frame from 50 feet was equally remarkable.

The were no problems with the P2 at all, it was undaunted by the 35 degree heat!  Although I did have a slight wobbly when one clip got slightly corrupted and wouldn’t transfer, but again, the camera understands these kind off problems, and obligingly, within its menu system, it allows you to re-build the clip.  Once re-built the files transferred as if nothing had gone wrong.  I did miss a heartbeat when it happened though.

I will write further about this trip after the third and final part of the adventure at the end of May.

The state of technical standards in British Television

•March 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

I am seriously concerned about the state of British Television.  I am saying that from my own perspective as a professional cameraman whose main income is derived from the British television industry.

My primary concern is that of technical standards.  I wonder if there any these days?  I don’t watch a great deal of TV, but when I do I am usually appalled at what is allowed to end up on the screen, and I really want to have a moan about that, so I will.

TV is having a tough time.  Theres no doubt about that.  There are a zillion channels, who all want a slice of the advertising budgets of big companies.  Not that long ago there were only four channels, and only two of those were commercial – that is, they were the ones who paid for their programming by selling advertising, and that advertising pot was proportionally quite large.  More cahnnels have to make more programmes with the same money spread between them.  But in those days of two commercial channels technical standards were very high.  Now, with the advent of new technologies, and new channels, those standards are rapidly going down the drain.  How often do I see a programme that I can’t hear?  How often do I see a DV camera hunting to find the focus? How often do I see washed out pictures caused by very poor exposure?  The answer to all of those questions is A LOT.  The problem here is that new technologies make television more accessible – theres nothing inherently wrong with the technology, its the people using it thats the problem.

Why is this happening?  Well the simple answer is money – or lack of it!  Well I’m not sure there is a lack of it actually.  There seems to be a fair amount of cash sloshing around, and a lot of that cash is being siphoned straight into the drain!

I do a lot of work for the main broadcasters who all moan about how tight their budgets are.  To make sure they end up with something on the screen they have to resort to using people who are unqualified!  Well they may have degrees in Physical Education or something, but they don’t have degrees in film (and if they do they were badly taught!).  If they were qualified professionals, they would know what is and is not unacceptable as far as technical standards go.  If the National Geographic published out of focus poorly exposed images in their magazine NO-ONE would read it!  So why does Television?

The sad thing is that highly skilled professional film cameramen and sound recordists, with years of experience, are leaving the industry in DROVES.  They are leaving because they are considered to be dinosaurs, who want to be paid lots of money for doing something which they are extremely good at.  And if they stay in the industry they are being put upon something rotten.  No pay increases for them, long hours too.  These craft skills are being severly eroded, and once they’re gone thats it.

Let me put this into a different perspective which, perhaps, non TV people who may read this might understand.  If you employed a professional painter to decorate your living room, you would really expect the room to look pretty good when he had finished.  The alternative would be to employ the 12 year old kid next door to do the painting for you because thats all you could afford.  Now theres no doubt that the kid next door would do his best, but really it wouldn’t be the same as the work done by a professional painter.  You’d probably have to redecorate again immediately to improve what the 12 year old had done, or maybe you’d redecorate in a couple of years, when you discover the gloss peeling off the skirting boards.  The professional painters work may still be sound 30 years from now, and then may only require a fresh coat of paint at that!

So if you do the same thing in TV, you pay a low fee to someone who isn’t a cameraman, and then you spend a bucket load more money paying someone (usually an editor) to salvage something useable out of the chaos laid before him (or her).  You probably also then have to employ a cameraman to go and shoot a load more material to stitch the whole thing together with some semblance of quality.  This all costs lots of money!  Perhaps if the TV company had, in the first place, done their project in the old fashioned way, using a professional crew, then this wouldn’t have happened.

I watched a programme about John Lewis on the TV the other day.  It was interesting, it was a bit like the old “Modern Times” programme.  It was reasonably well done, but it could have been so much better!  There was one point when the camera suddenly tilted up towards the ceiling, the lens going all over the place, and then they cut to a different shot!  What was that all about?  Thats not good camerawork, in fact it should never have been transmitted.

Then there was somethin else I was watching, I know, it was A Place In The Sun, on last night.  What was going on with sound there?  There were obviously sound recordists there(they were credited) – the pieces to camera looked and sounded OK, but then there were these little vox-poppy interviews with the couple who were looking to buy a property, in Lanzarotte.  Boy!  The sound was appalling – huge amounts of background noise from the sea (so it wasn’t, anyway the most sensible location to shoot this piece), and the voices fighting over the background noise.  When they paused talking the background sound increased because the levels had been setb to automatic, thus causing the background noise to increase in level!  I’m sorry, but thats just not good enough!  The crew had probably gone out for just a day or two to get the good stuff, then someone had done the rest of the filming on their own with a handy cam (because the crew would have been too expensive to have out there for the duration)

There used to be a standard, and there still is, it’s called “broadcast quality”.  That means that pictures and sound should fall within specified limits of acceptability.  But these days these “standards” are being routinely ignored – not only by the people making the programmes but by the broadcasters.

If you agree with my sentiments then please leave comments, it would be interesting to know what you think!  Maybe you think I’m just being a boring old fart, but what do really think of televison in the UK today?  And I’m not talking about content because that whole other ball game, but in terms of quality – what do YOU think?

Fine Tuning Autofocus on a Nikon D300

•March 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

As a follow up to the lens tests that I recently talked about, I thought it would be worth looking at the Aotofocus Fine Tune Function found on some Nikon Dslr’s.

The D300 (and I’m sure this applies also to the D3 and D700, and possibly other cameras), has a setting for “fine tuning the autofocus”.  You may well ask the obvious question: “why would you need to fine tune the AF?”.  The answer is that the camera can go out of calibration.  Its much the same reasoning as why you may have to adjust your watch from time to time (pardon the pun!).

You probably don’t need to calibrate the Autofocus, but if you are getting consistently out of focus pictures – like you focus on somebodys eyes, and find the ears are sharp and the eyes are soft, then this may be because the AF is out.  You will notice this effect more at wide apertures (F2.8 being a “wide” aperture, f16 being a “small aperture”), because your picture will have a “shallow” depth of field.  If you consistently shoot at small apertures then the depth of field increases, and more of the image will be sharp.

So, how do you go about fine tuning the AF?  This is quite a subtle process, and you will ideally need to set your camera up using a tripod, and also maybe a cable release – or if you don’t have one of those, use the self timer.  The other thing you will need to do, ideally, is to “tether” the camera to your computer.  You can do this using a USB cable and software such as Nikon Capture, Aperture, Capture One, and probably Lightroom.  I will use Aperture as the software for this piece as that is what I use 99.9% of the time.

Path to find tether (as shown using Aperture on a mac)

Path to find tether (as shown using Aperture on a mac)

Tethering allows you to capture images straight into the computer, which has the advantage of being able to allow you to scrutinise your tests at high resolution (which you will need to do for accuracy, view full screen at 100%).  You need to take the test images using the widest aperture on the lens – this will minimise your depth of field and give you far more accurate results!

Next you need to find a test target.  I think something like a newspaper is pretty good – you have high contrast, and good edges on the typescript, which allows you to see focus.

Using a newspaper as a test target

There are also test charts available on the internet which may be helpful.  The one I have used, which also works very well, can be found  here – its on page 18 of the pdf document, there are also full instructions and other lens testing things in the document.

On the D300 you can find the AF fine tune setting in the menu using this path: Menu>Setup Menu>AF fine tune.  You will need to have a lens on the camera and it AF fine tune will need to be switched ON.  The camera will remember the lens you are using and apply the fine tune when that lens is put on the camera.

You must remeber that all you are doing is changing the Autofocus of the camera – by using the chart all this does is tell the AF where to set itself.  If, as I described in previous posts relating to the 70-300mm lens, you think there is a problem with the back focus of the lens/camera, this will not necessarily resolve that problem.  Back focus is a different beast, and relates to the adjustment of the camera “flange to focal plane” distance (the flange being the plate the lens butts up to, and the focal plane being the plane where the CCD sensor (or film) sits on a camera).  If you are using a number of lenses and have AF calibrated them all and your pictures are still a bit soft, then this could well be a back focus problem, and the best thing to do if this is the case is to send the camera back to Nikon, or a cheaper and very good alternative repair specilaist in London that I would highly recommend is Fixation

Update on 70-300

•March 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

AF-S 70-300mm; 300mm 1/160 VR ON f7.1

AF-S 70-300mm; 300mm 1/160 VR ON f7.1

Once again, click the image for a higher resolution version.

I am now quite pleased with this lens!  I am still gobsmacked at how a filter can degrade the image so much…  This picture was taken the day before yesterday, there was a big heath fire at Godlingstone, near Studland, and I got up there as the light was fading.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to use this lens in quite challenging lighting conditions, and I ramped the ISO up to 800 to get an acceptable exposure.  As you can see the image is actually pretty sharp.  There are none of the “etching” artefacts that I have been noticing when using with the dodgy UV filter, so my conclusion, really, is that this is actually not a bad lens for the money.  The moral of the story remains – don’t put crap glass on the front of your lenses -0 and I slap myself severely because I should know better!

Nikon 70-300 AF-S, exhaustive test results

•March 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

My friend David Shale came round to see me this morning with his D2X, and we embarked on some exhaustive tests to find out why and where the 70-300 is soft.  I was quite happy with the performance of the lens at 70mm and 200mm, but at 300mm (see previous post), it really was soft at 300mm.  So soft you could use it as a sponge.

The first round of tests involved shooting a subject on my D300, and repeating them on the D2X, to see if we could isolate the problem to a back focus issue with my D300.  The D2X, in this respect, was there as a “control”.  We quickly established that the lens performed in a similar way on both cameras….  therefore concluding that there was no back focus problem with the D300.

The next stage was to check the autofocus function (using the AF Fine Tune Setting, on the D300 menu).  This function allows you to calibrate the autofocus of a particular lens in the camera menu. The two images below are at f5.6 and f22 respectively – they both look quite sharp at a distance of about 5 feet

Full frame f5.6 at 300mm

Full frame f22 at 300mm

So, having established that the lens was reasonably sharp at both apertures (noticeably sharper at f22, as you might expect), then we decided to try at focussing on infinity to check the results.  So here we have that image:

1/320 at f8 should be sharp...If you click any of the images above you’ll see a higher resolution version.  So my infinity test is decidely soft, so back to square one.  If an object is sharp at 5 feet and soft at 500 feet, that then suggests a back focus issue.  So I re-did my tests and no difference!  All very strange.  Incidentally, I also tried different apertures, VR on and off and also Af on and off.

It then occurred that maybe to be equally scientific, I should take off the UV filter that was on the lens.  I have to say that I have never been a fan of UV filters, and most of my lenses have never had them and have had the front element damaged – which is another reason why I was recently looking at new glass!  So, now that I have the new glass, I thought that for a change I should protect them better and start using UV filters, not on the wide lenses as they cause problems with vignetting, but certainly on the long lens.  This is the next picture in the sequence then, without the UV filter:No UV filterOk, so it looks BETTER! wow, so heres what it looks like side by side:

The image on the left (at a slightly slower shutter speed, but same aperture) is with the UV filter, the image on the right is without the UV filter.  If you look at the image on the right there is no ghosting (in the stones) and the writing is a LOT sharper.

I had a look at the UV filter in question, and its made by someone called Regent – never heard of them!  But isn’t it strange that after all my cussing and swearing about the Nikon lens, it was in fact the filter which was causing the grief!  I should have stuck to my reasoning for NOT using UV filters, because that what has been causing all the problems!

There is no reason why you shouldn’t use a UV filter of course, but if you do, make sure they are a proprietary brand like HOYA, Tiffen, Schneider (B&W).  They are expensive, of course, but thats for a reason…  In the meantime MY 67mm Regent UV filter is in the bin!  And when I went to shoot some further tests this afternoon (apart from forgetting to set the camera back to shooting RAW), I was very pleased at how much sharper my lens was – without the crappy filter, so I apologise Nikon if I have offended you.  But the moral of this story really is to to test the equipment thoroughly if you have a problem, and try and isolate where the problem is…

The eyes are sharp!