If you’ve ever been confused by all the different labelling on memory cards, then you’re not alone, it’s almost as if they’re trying to confuse buyers, with multiple different speed ratings and labels all on the same card. Here we dive into the different options available, and help give you a better understanding of different memory card technology.
SD memory cards
SD memory cards are the most commonly used memory card in digital cameras, so let’s dive right in and find out what all the labels and logos mean on the front of an SD card.
SD Memory Card labelling explained
SD Class and speed ratings explained…
Unfortunately, there are multiple ways in which companies will tell you how quick an SD card is. Originally it was simple signified with a large C with a number in the middle, the “Speed class”, however, this was replaced after they reached Class 10.
What does V30/V60/V90 mean?
Video speed class, V30 supports a minimum of 30MB/sec sequential write, V60, 60MB/sec, and V90, 90MB/sec. These higher speeds will be particularly useful for high quality 4K and 8K video recording, and you should check what rating is needed by your camera if you plan on recording video.
What does U1 / U3 mean?
The UHS speed class, U1/U3 has been effectively replaced by Video speed class. U1 means the card has a minimum of 10MB/sec sequential write speed, whereas U3 means the card has a minimum of 30MB/sec sequential write speed. The number is found in the middle of a capital U.
300x, 667x, 1667x, 2000x what?
Just to confuse things further, some cards will display another speed rating on the front. It’s all well and good saying a memory card is 300x, but 300x what? A card that supports 45MB/s speeds, has 300x on it, and therefore the 300x is 300x 150KB/s. A 2000x card supports 300MB/s speeds. However, be aware that these are the maximum READ speeds, and write speeds are often slower.
Many cards will display the MB/s (Megabytes per second) speed the card supports, however, it’s worth noting that this is often the maximum read speed, and it’s worth checking the maximum write speed the card offers. On some cards, both the read and write speeds are shown with the read speed shown with a small R, and the write speed shown with a small W.
And what about SD/SDHC/SDXC?
SD cards are up to 2GB, SDHC more than 2GB, and up to 32GB, SDXC above 32GB, and up to 2TB, beyond this there is SDUC, which is more than 2TB and up to 128TB.
SD Cards – UHS-I next to UHS-II (right)
What’s the difference between UHS-II and UHS-I cards?
UHS-II cards are a newer, faster breed of SD memory cards, and with additional contact points offer quicker read and write speeds. However, to take full advantage of the higher speeds, you’ll need a camera that supports UHS-II, as well as a memory card reader that supports UHS-II, otherwise the memory card will be used in the slower UHS-I mode. If you’ve bought a UHS-II card, but have a camera that only supports UHS-I, don’t worry, you can still use the UHS-II card in your camera, but as mentioned, it will run at UHS-I speeds.
You can tell the difference by the number of contacts on display, or by looking for the letter I or II next to the SDXC logo.
A 64GB UHS-II SD card is around £30, but a high-speed tough version is around £99, with 300MB/s R/W speeds. A UHS-I card is around £20 for a branded memory card, from Lexar.
Samsung MicroSD EVO Plus with SD card adapter
MicroSD cards are used in some of the more compact cameras available, and due to them being used in numerous other devices such as Smartphones, Dashcams, and security cameras, they are often available for cheaper prices than SD cards.
However, they don’t always offer as high speeds as UHS-II SD cards, and as they are small, they can be quite fiddly to use. You can use them in SD card slots with an adapter, but these are fiddly and not as reliable as a dedicated SD Card, but could be good for bargain hunters, if you want to save money.
A 64GB MicroSD card with SD adapter will set you back around £8-9.
CFexpress was introduced in 2016, and designed to give higher read and write speeds using technology standards that are already widely in use in computing technology. The first cards introduced are physically the same size as XQD cards, with the same contacts*.
*If in doubt, check your camera manual to see what card is best for your model
The release of CFexpress 2.0 in 2019 introduced type A and type C cards, with type A being more compact, type C being larger, and the existing cards, type B sitting in the middle. CFexpress cards often display the speed in MB/s, with some displaying both read (R) and write (W) speeds. If both speeds aren’t shown, then it’s safe to assume that the card is showing the read speed.
Find out more on these cards below.
CFexpress Type A
Supported by Sony and others, Type A offers performance three times faster than the fastest UHS-II cards, with 800MB/s read, and 700MB/s write on SONY and PROGRADE cards.
Sony CFexpress Type A
A 160GB CFexpress Type A card will set you back around £299, but shop around and you might find better offers.
Cameras that use CFexpress Type A = Sony A7S III, Sony A1, Sony A7 IV.
Available from brands including Sony, Sandisk, and Lexar, the read and write speeds available are impressive, with 1700MB/s read, and 1480MB/s write on the Sony CFexpress Tough G series 256GB card.
Lexar CFexpress Type B
A 64GB Lexar CFexpress Type B card will set you back around £92.
Cameras that use CFexpress Type B = Nikon Z6 (II), Z7 (II), Z9, Canon EOS R3, Canon EOS R5.
XQD memory cards have been around for a long time, since 2012! But has mainly been used in high-end Nikon DSLRs. The price of the memory cards put many people off using them, especially when CompactFlash cards are available for much less. However, the benefits of XQD cards are the ability to have quicker read/write speeds, which can be useful if you’re shooting high-speed continuous shots.
Sony XQD Card (64GB)
A 64GB Sony XQD G series card will set you back £128.
Cameras that use XQD = Nikon D6, D500, D850, Z6 (II), Z7 (II), Z9, Panasonic S1 series.
Compact Flash cards have been around since 1994, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the first camera was released with support for CompactFlash cards, the Kodak DC25. Considering they were introduced so long ago, they have survived a surprisingly long time. CompactFlash cards use “UDMA” labels to signify speed, with UDMA 7 being quicker than UDMA 6. There is also a video speed rating, inside as video clapper board.
Sandisk Extreme Pro CompactFlash Card
64GB CF cards are available for around £40 – £70 depending on speed, however, it’s worth noting that the fastest cards available offer around 160MB/s, a speed surpassed by UHS-II SD cards, as well as other cards such as XQD, and CFexpress.
Not to be confused with CFast
CFast is yet another memory card format, designed primarily for video, CINE and broadcasting use. Unless your camera specifically requires a CFast card, then it’s likely you won’t need one. Cameras that use CFast include the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon XC15, Canon EOS C200, BlackMagic, ARRI, and others.
Redundant memory card formats: XD, Smart Media, Sony memory stick
We’ll keep this short… XD (used by Fujifilm and Olympus), Smart Media, and Sony Memory Stick memory card formats are no longer used in new cameras and will only be needed if you are shooting with an old camera. If you do need one of these, then you should be able to find them on second-hand sites such as eBay.
FAQ: Frequently asked questions about memory cards
Q. What is the best memory card?
A, The best memory card is the fastest you can afford, in the right format for your camera. You may also want to consider the brand, and whether there are any extras included, for example, some companies provide free recovery software, so that you can recover deleted images. It’s also worth checking the warranty provided, and any “tough” credentials.
Q. Can I use a microSD card instead of an SD card?
A. Short answer, yes. Yes you can, as many MicroSD cards come with an adapter to let you use them in cameras (or devices) with an SD card slot. However, they are smaller, and can be fiddly in comparison, with the adapter adding an extra level of connection that could go wrong.
Q. What are the disadvantages of an SD card?
A. SD cards are small, and fragile, with small, thin plastic pieces that can easily be damaged if they’re not taken care of. Some companies, such as Sony, offer a range of “TOUGH” SD cards, designed to be stronger than normal, and if you’re concerned about breaking a card, then these are worth the extra cost.
Sony Tough SD Cards
Q. How do I choose a memory card?
A. Look for a card with the fastest WRITE speeds. Often a card will say how quick it is in MB/s, and the majority of the time the READ speeds are quicker than write speeds, so you could have a UHS-II card with an impressive 260MB/s read speed, but only 100MB/s write speed, which whilst still quick, isn’t as impressive as the higher number. Why does this matter? Well, the read speed is how quickly you can get your photos or video off the memory card, which is useful for copying and backing up your data, BUT it’s the write speed that matters when it comes to taking photos and video, and any slow-down here could result in your missing the shot (when shooting continuous), or video recording stopping, if the card can’t keep up with your camera.
Beware of fake memory cards
As the old saying goes, if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. There are a number of no-name memory cards available, but if you see a 1TB card available for the same price as a 64GB card, then it’s likely it’s not going to work, or even offer that much storage. Similarly, we’d recommend sticking to trusted retailers when buying a memory card, rather than trying to find a cheap deal on eBay. If you do end up with a fake or faulty memory card, then you could end up losing precious photos, and being unable to recover them.
Memory card readers
If you have a high-speed card, then you’re going to need a high-speed memory card reader, so make sure you get the latest USB 3.x memory card reader that is compatible with your computer. To get the full speed benefits of the card, you need to make sure it supports your memory card, so if you have a UHS-II SD card, make sure you get a high-speed memory card reader designed for use with UHS-II cards.
Fujifilm’s GFX mirrorless camera series has brought medium format into direct competition with the upper echelons of full frame systems, opening up an entirely new format to many creatives and making it a potentially appealing option for a lot of landscape photographers. This awesome video follows a professional landscape photographer as he uses the camera and also talks you through his thought process for his images.
Coming to you from Andrew Marr, this neat video shows the experience of shooting with the Fujifilm GFX 100S medium format mirrorless camera. The GFX 100S is easily one of the most interesting cameras available right now. The original GFX 100 was offered a 102-megapixel medium format sensor and a lot of modern capabilities not traditionally found in larger-sensor cameras all at a price that significantly challenged the prevailing paradigm. The GFX 100S continued that trend, keeping almost all of the GFX 100’s features (perhaps most importantly, its sensor) and cutting the price almost in half, bringing it in line with upper-level full frame cameras. Add in top-notch dynamic range and Fuji’s excellent colors, and it looks like the GFX 100S is one of the best options out there for landscape photographers. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Marr.
My favorite season is about to hit the Northern hemisphere, autumn. With its riotous color and vibrancy, the forests of autumn transform into a landscape and nature photographers’ playground. Here are my tips for planning your ultimate fall color adventure.
Go at the Right Time
When photographing fall color, timing is of the essence. If you go too early, you just have green leaves, too late, and the trees are brown and bare. Autumn hits each region and location at different times. Even in one forest, elevation changes or bodies of water can affect the timing of when the leaves will change. I calculate the timing of fall color each year in the areas that I visit based on experience from prior years, rainfall, and temperatures leading up to autumn. For a first-timer, it is best to just average the timing based on previous years as there is a slight margin of error. If you don’t hit the perfect peak, there will still be plenty of colors.
For your first go at estimating the best fall color timing, check online (Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, 500px, etc.) and search keywords or hashtags for your intended locations to see the exact dates when others in prior years found the color at its best. You can also Google search the location and just look up the fall color estimator chart. These are graphics put out by local organizations and forestry groups, but be warned that they are broad estimates and can be very off for specific photography locations. It is best to hone in on your exact locations and look at the photos from previous years. For my favorite fall color destinations of New England in the United States, the very end of September into mid-October is the timeframe in which to look. Also, each state and area has a different specific peak timing which lasts only a few days to a week. While it might be a hassle, planning your bookings ahead through research rather than just guessing can mean the difference between photographing glorious color or showing up to brown, dead-looking trees.
There are a lot of factors if you want to calculate the perfect peak timing, but you are on nature’s schedule. If a bad storm comes through, it can knock down a bunch of leaves. Be flexible and roam a bit. If the color is sketchy in one small area, explore a bit farther south or at a lower elevation. When the color turns, it isn’t all at the same exact time or place; don’t be discouraged if your planning is slightly off. Just adapt and keep moving to find more color nearby.
Alternatively, if you have the flexibility of being able to plan at the very last minute you can also check ski resort webcams for forest conditions, check hashtags again on social media, or check the location’s social media page for exactly what the color looks like and just go right then. Many state parks and national forests post regular updates about the fall color conditions in autumn, as it is a huge source of pride and tourist attraction for them each year. The downside to waiting for the last minute is that hotels and campsites may be completely booked out. However, if you live close by or want to risk it, you can just wait for the perfect color and weather to go on your fall color adventure.
To summarize, when planning your fall color trip in advance, check previous years and average the dates. If you have a wide range, err on the side of going slightly earlier rather than later in case of storms. It is better to see a mix of colorful and green leaves than to go too late and see brown leaves and bare trees.
One last aspect to note is that timing also means the time of day. I won’t harp on this one too much, as I am sure you have heard of golden hour a thousand times. However, I will give you a better tip. In autumn, when the temperature drops at night, so often does the wind. In the morning, as the sun rises and begins to heat things up, fog and mist often form over the water and wet low-lying areas. Even if the mist doesn’t form, water surfaces without that wind will have the best reflections. If you want to get fall color reflection shots, go at sunrise. You can check the forecast to confirm the wind hour by hour and see how still the morning will be. If your fall color spot has a lake or pond, go 30-45 minutes before sunrise and wait for the show. Watching the sunrise over a cool, misty lake is the best way to enjoy fall color.
Understand the Trees for the Best Rainbow Effect
Part of the fun of fall color is how gorgeous and vibrant the trees become. An overlooked factor for many photographers however is the understanding that different trees turn different colors and how to use that to your advantage. Color theory is an important part of photography and can help you create stronger and more colorful compositions or conversely to focus on specific hues for same on same tonal studies. In plain terms, you can focus your fall color trip on the type of scene you want to see by understanding the flora of the regions.
In autumn, when the trees turn, different species take on a completely new look. Aspen, ash, American elm, birch, sycamore, yellow poplar (tulip tree), and some maples, oaks, and more turn brilliant yellows in autumn. The aspen trees in particular are famous for their golden color. So, if you dream of seeing trees dripping in gold, you would want to head to the Rocky Mountains. There are quite a few places in Colorado, United States, and Alberta, Canada that are iconic for aspens.
If your style and eye are drawn to bright pops of color instead, you will want forests with more diverse tree species that mix together to create that visual autumn feast. This is what draws me to New England in the United States every year to bask in the fall color. This region has a unique temperature zone and geographic habitat that allows multiple different species of trees to coexist. In my experience, the best reds I have ever seen are in New England. The area is famous for its red sugar maples. In autumn, when they turn, it is like a kaleidoscope of color, with those vibrant reds as the star of the show.
In the United States, you can get a decent color range on the East coast, from the Appalachian Mountains of Maine all the way down to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. There are iconic road trips to explore fall colors like Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah Mountains, Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, Green Mountain Byway in Vermont, Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway in Maine, and so many more. The best part is that each area is invested in its fall color and the forest and park systems are a great resource. They have routes with scenic lookout spots, fall color hotlines, maps, itineraries, and more for you to browse on their websites.
Gear to Help You Make the Best of Your Trip
Other than my basic kit of camera and accessories, there are three tools that I find invaluable for my fall color trips, the first of which is a combo: my circular polarizer (CP) and tripod. I am often shocked when I find out how many photographers don’t own a circular polarizer, do not know what they do, or haven’t even heard of one. I know that some of you will read this and think it is silly, but I get so many comments from folks asking about circular polarizing filters that I have to mention them for anyone who needs to know.
Circular polarizing filters are a game-changer for landscape photography, full stop. They act like sunglasses for your camera. When you use this filter, it cuts the glare off reflective surfaces of your photos. While most people only associate this with water and then only use the filter for waterfall or lake images, that is a mistake. The polarizer can boost the color in the sky by cutting through the haze, bring out greens in foliage and color from all plants by reducing that glare on their surface, and yes, cut the glare off the water, making the colors darker and objects in the water more visible. Leaves are shiny, and when you twist on your polarizer and activate it, the color will pop in a way that you can’t replicate with post-processing. With the circular polarizing on fall color, you are cutting through foliage glare to record that fine detail and vibrancy data to your image file. It makes a big difference.
If you are one of those people who mostly photograph nature images and keeps a UV filter on your lens for protection, swap that for a circular polarizer right now. It is a circular rotating filter. If you don’t need it at any moment, twist it and the effect goes away. Then when you need it, twist the filter back around to activate the magic.
The tripod part of the combo is a trouble spot. I know. Tripods are annoying, and you don’t want to carry the thing around. It is so easy to just stand there, take your photo, and move on. But this is fall color, and let me tell you something, the leaves are not perfectly still. Even a slight breeze, and the branches are swaying. If you want to tack-sharp images you need to slow down and take the time to set up your tripod. If you are looking at me funny, let’s compromise. For the regular touristy photos, just take them as you walk by, but for the really breathtaking spots, bust out the tripod, slow down, and stay in one place, notice any distractions and adjust your composition, wait for the clouds to move into the frame or out of it, and explore different perspectives or angles. Really invest in the good locations that are worth a more critical eye, and use of all of the tools at your disposal.
The last thing that I use to help me get the best fall color photos is the PhotoPills app on my phone. I use this to calculate sunrise and sunset times. I also use it to see if the peak fall color time that I calculated will line up with a full moon, milky way, or meteor shower. This year, I have a new moon during one of my fall colors trips and a meteor shower just after that. So, if the forecast keeps the clouds away, I can hope for fall color, Milky Way, and a meteor shower all in the same trip.
By using the PhotoPills Night AR mode, I can even plan out the exact compositions in advance to see if everything lines up with precision. There is also a Planner map view to check it on a bird’s eye view and an exposure calculator to help me decide if I want a single sharp image or to use interval shooting and get star trails. I will probably do both! I was able to plan a few exact spots with compositions for this year, and if the clouds stay away, I have everything set up. I just need to go, set up my camera, and push the button.
Go With a Group
If the idea of planning out your trip seems overwhelming, you can always join a fall color photo tour or workshop instead. These are great for people who just want to take photos and not worry about the logistics. They are also beneficial if you need a helping hand with how to photograph the fall color and make the best setting and composition choices for each location. In addition to learning from a professional, you will also have the benefit of being with peers to make friends a enjoy nature’s show together.
To find a group to join, you can check if you have a local camera club that does outings, look up workshops in the area you want to see, or even post online and grab some of your friends for a trip.
As a professional photography guide, I look forward to teaching fall color workshops every year. I find that they are an invaluable resource for so many people for different reasons. Ultimately, many join my trips for my knowledge of hidden off-the-beaten-path locations and my experience with the areas where I photograph. I take people both to places that aren’t in the guidebooks and the iconic popular spots for the full experience. In whatever way you choose to enjoy the fall color, whether on a workshop, your own road trip, or just a local park nearby, don’t let that camera collect dust this autumn. I hope that my tips were helpful and you can get out there and create some new photographs and memories this fall.
For more information about Kate’s workshops, you can see the full list of trips on her website www.TorvaTerra.com.
The Fujifilm GFX mirrorless camera series has rewritten a lot of industry paradigms, bringing medium format to the market at prices that compete with upper-level full frame options, making it a tempting choice for landscape photographers. This great video follows a professional landscape photographer as he uses the camera in the field and shows you the experience with and image quality from it.
Coming to you from Andrew Marr, this neat video shows the experience of shooting with the Fujifilm GFX 100S medium format mirrorless camera. The GFX 100S is definitely one of the most intriguing cameras on the market right now. The original GFX 100 was mightily impressive, offering a 102-megapixel medium format sensor and modern features normally reserved for cameras with smaller sensors at a price ($9,999) that significantly undercut those of other medium format options. And so, the GFX 100S was all the more impressive, as it offers almost everything the GFX 100 did at only about half the price ($5,999). And beyond that extreme resolution, you get fantastic dynamic range and Fuji’s highly lauded colors, making it seemingly one of the best options out there for landscape photographers. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Marr.
My name is Daniel Stein, and I am a passionate astro and nightscape photographer living on the East Coast of the USA. I’m an avid hiker and backpacker and love to get out and shoot whenever I can. Photography is my escape, and it’s also my story.
This review of the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens focuses on nightscape and astrophotography, which I think is a huge draw to most folks interested in a fast aperture wide-angle zoom. I will be scrutinizing how this lens performs from an astro state of mind, which is extremely taxing on optics.
I will also be putting it up against the legacy Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G for F mount as well as the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art which is available for Nikon F Mount, Canon EF mount, Sony E mount and L-Mount cameras, and is a worthy competitor.
Full disclosure: Nikon provided me with a Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S for the purpose of this review. No other product featured, pictured, or described in this review has been provided to me. This includes, but is not limited to, the Really Right Stuff, Gitzo, Vello, iOptron, William Optics, and other Nikon equipment shown. All additional Nikon products aside from the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S are solely paid for by me.
Note: One more quick thing before we get started: this piece is constructed as a subjective opinion for this particular lens based on astrophotography and nightscape use, meaning that the opinions formed are based upon facts presented from my usage of the lens. Take that as you wish…
Our first stop on this magical journey will be to chat about the lens’s design basics before I go full astro dweeb with the technical aspects.
What I Love
First and foremost (and this is important): the lens’s portability. This is, without a doubt, the smallest and lightest lens in its class. The old F mount model 14-24mm, the Sigma Art 14-24mm, and even the Sony 12-24mm are no match in size and weight when it comes to this lens. More on that later, as this is a party piece.
A Less Bulbous Front Element
This next one also ties into the lens’s overall size and portability, but having a less bulbous (meaning that it doesn’t protrude as much) front element that is completely shielded by the lens makes it less accident-prone. When it comes to landscape shooting, the less glass “overhanging” from my setup, the safer I feel. I know this doesn’t seem like a major concern, but I can’t be the only one who looks at those large front elements of ultra-wide lenses and becomes frightened that thing is just gonna fall somehow and smash into bits. Heck, I DID have a near-miss with my old Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art which had glass protruding from the barrel.
The Multifunction Button and OLED Screen
At first, I wasn’t a fan of the lens’s multifunction button or OLED screen on the top of the lens, but after some use, they have both actually grown on me to the point where I prefer them over a traditional analog-style one. I can use my setup with full confidence and have no lights on whatsoever thanks to it. This might not seem like a big deal, but having to reach up to my headlamp constantly to turn off/on the red light to make minor adjustments becomes annoying after a while. The lens display, coupled with the top display on my Z6 makes it possible to have all of the information I need (focal length, aperture, etc) at a glance, especially if I am in a position where it is easier to see these screens instead of the LCD panel.
The Rear Filter Holder
Okay, I know for astro work this might not seem like it would be necessary, but hear me out. My Z6 is astro-modded (as I’m sure many other astro-specific photographers’ cameras are). To use it during the daytime requires an external UV/IR cut filter, and with the old style lenses using front-mounted filters, this was impossible. As far as I know, no manufacturer makes a UV/IR cut to fit to work with the drop-in filter systems like the Lee SW150. And even if they did, I am sure it would cost a small fortune and would also require lugging along a bulky filter system (not ideal for heading into the backcountry). With the rear mount holder, it is significantly less complicated to use filters, like light pollution or even starglow filters.
Performance on Modified Bodies
This next one is niche, but performance with a modified camera body has been outstanding. What I mean by this is some lenses have an internal IR light emitter that can cause issues with modified bodies, but I am happy to say this Z 14-24mm does not have this problem!
Focus Position Memory
This is an awesome software-related property of the lens. When the Z body is switched off then back on again, the lens will automatically revert to its last focus position.
Finally, the overall build quality of this lens is fantastic. Nikon has shifted their lens design significantly with the Z system and this lens is no exception. All of the control rings feel outstanding, and it seems like it is made out of materials that won’t suffer from oxidation or peeling like some of the older F mount pieces did.
What I’m Indifferent About Not necessarily things I don’t like, just things that I don’t find applicable to my use and potentially others looking at this lens from a similar perspective.
I haven’t really found a use for the lens control ring. I tried playing around with the various functions I could set it to control (ISO, aperture, etc), but for astro (and even landscape) there was really nothing notable there for me.
The ability to add front filters – while this could be useful for some users, from an astro perspective there’s not much use for this. Especially when considering the rear mount system discussed above, I did not find myself using (nor planning to use) this feature.
What I Actually Don’t Care For
These are things that I am not a fan of about the lens’s design. Some I feel could possibly improve down the road with software.
Focus by Wire
For those of you who may not know what that means, focus by wire is when the lens’s focus is controlled electronically, and not directly connected to the lens’s focus mechanisms. While all Nikkor Z glass (including the 50 and 35 primes that I love for astro work) are all focus by wire, I found that feature to be rather cumbersome with this lens. Ultra-wide lenses are already the toughest in terms of focusing on the stars, and the focus by wire system adds a bit more complexity to the mix here. While I am fairly used to it thanks to my other lenses, as I was bouncing back and forth between the Sigma Art 14-24mm and the Nikon Z 14-24mm, I still thought it was easier to achieve focus with a traditional style mechanism, as found in the Sigma Art lens.
While I love the feature itself, the top OLED display turns off far too frequently. This is such a handy feature of the lens, and I know I would like it if it stayed on until a picture is taken. This could be a potential software fix down the road.
Now, it’s time to take a deep dive into what’s most important for astrophotography: optical performance.
This is where things get interesting. No lens is perfect, but at $2,400, I expect near-perfection in most areas, especially when compared to the Sigma Art 14-24mm (which is half the price). What I found left me with mixed feelings, at least at first.
How I Put This Lens to the Test…
To keep things short and sweet, I took test shots at 14mm, 20mm, and 24mm at f/2.8 and f/4. I did the same with my Sigma 14-24mm (using an adapter). I’ll also show you some older shots that were taken with the same camera body, but using the legacy F mount 14-24mm f/2.8G. Each shot was taken with a 2-minute exposure and an ISO of 1600 using a star tracker.
It should be noted that I do not have the capabilities to perform these tests side by side, so I had to first shoot with the Nikon lens before switching to the Sigma. As a result, atmospheric conditions varied between the shots, so while there is some slight haze in the Nikon shots, the haze had started to clear during the Sigma shots. Branching off of this point, I also want to stress that these tests are not considered scientific in the sense that they were not performed in a controlled environment. Although conditions were changing in between each shot, the results achieved are realistic and you should expect similar results upon usage. This is all real-world stuff here. Each shot was posted as RAW as it gets. No noise reduction, sharpening, or lens corrections were performed.
At 14mm, things are looking promising for the new kid on the block. The Nikkor lens clearly has an edge at rendering the stars in the corner with minimal astigmatism. The stars also tend to shift towards more rounder, pinpoint sources of light closer to the edge than the Sigma, where they often appear as less rotund streaks.
As far as vignetting goes, I struggle telling the two lenses apart. I think the Sigma has a slightly less intense vignette, but the “fall-off” of light on the Nikkor is slightly more attractive. I would call it a tie in this regard.
Chromatic aberration seems well controlled on both, but I can’t help but notice that the star color on the Nikkor is a tad more realistic, reflecting the blue and yellow colors better.
Now at 20mm, this is where things take a turn for the worse for the Nikkor. At an aperture of f/2.8, the astigmatism in the corner is significantly worse than the Sigma. Fortunately, things do improve TREMENDOUSLY at f/4 and the gap is significantly smaller between the two, but the performance of the Nikkor here against a lens that costs half the price left me a bit underwhelmed.
In regards to vignetting and chromatic aberration, I would say the Sigma has the edge. Overall, it looks flatter and the stars are a tad tighter.
20mm is my favorite focal length (amongst wider focal lengths) to shoot at, so this left me questioning if I was better off picking up the Nikkor Z 20 1.8 S instead of using this 14-24mm. More on that below…
Now all the way zoomed in at 24mm, once again I found Sigma to have the more attractive stars in the corners with much less astigmatism. However, the Nikon lens does come through with a much faster correction to pinpoint stars closer to the corners. This leads to kind of a toss-up here. The stars in the corner are a little larger at first, but they become round more quickly with the Nikkor than the sigma. However, the stars on the Sigma only start becoming round closer to the center. It is easier to notice the corner of the Sigma when zoomed out, but when pixel-peeping the Nikon lens is more pronounced with distortions.
When it comes to the vignette, I would say the Nikkor has the edge. It seems brighter overall, with flatness fairly equal between the two. One thing to note about vignette, however, is that it is fairly easy to correct. The chromatic aberration seems to be about the same on both, but again the Nikon lens has slightly better star color.
Ghosting (when the stars look bigger and softer than they should be) at all focal lengths also looks to be handled better by the Sigma. However, this may be a small result of the hazier conditions during shooting with the Nikon lens.
Optically, the Sigma Art lens seems to be a slightly better performer than the Nikon Z lens.
The Legacy Nikon 14-24mm G Lens
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at the legacy Nikon 14-24mm G lens.
In this comparison, I found that the features of the new Nikkor stood out the most. Nikon was able to shrink down the size and weight of the lens significantly, while also making it far better optically over the outgoing model. These samples are all taken from real-world photos I have shot with both lenses and are different from the above set of shots. This should hopefully give you a better idea of performance in that the sample size with the new lens is now increased than just with the direct comparisons to the Sigma Art lens.
All images were taken at 120 seconds, aperture where noted, and ISO 800-3200. Exposure was adjusted in post-processing to all equal the same ISO, as the Z6 is ISO invariant.
Corner Comparison @14mm f/2.8
At 14mm, differences between the two lenses seem negligible.
Center Comparison @14mm f/2.8
The new lens is much sharper in the center. Star color appears far better.
Overall 14mm f/2.8
Corner Comparison @20mm f/2.8
Astigmatism is present on both lenses at 20mm. The newer lens tends to have larger artifacts but corrects them faster than the older lens. The vignette also seems less dramatic on the newer model.
Center Comparison @20mm f/2.8
Once again the center on the new lens is significantly sharper than its predecessor. The legacy lens has significant ghosting.
Overall 20mm f/2.8
Corner Comparison @24mm f/4
The new lens produces far better-managed corners than the outgoing model. Chromatic aberration is extremely well corrected fairly quickly.
Center Comparison @24mm f/4
The center on the newer model has much less chromatic aberration.
Overall 24mm f/4
Who Is This Lens For?
This lens is a perfect fit for the adventurous nightscape photographer shooting on a Nikon Z mount camera who is looking for a way to cover the ultra-wide focal lengths while slimming down the weight and size of items in their backpack (aka, someone like me). I would venture to say that most nightscape photographers seeking a lens of this caliber are those hitting the trails like myself, so I feel that the target audience of this lens is substantial.
This lens is a stellar replacement/upgrade to the legacy F mount 14-24mm f/2.8G. If you can afford it and want to ditch the adapter, this is the lens for you.
Last but not least, this lens is great if you are a nightscape photographer but also plan to shoot some daytime landscapes as well. The versatility of a fast aperture zoom is hard to beat. If you already have the lens in your bag and have been up all night shooting the Milky Way, why not catch the sunrise with it while you’re at it, am I right or am I right?
Who Isn’t This Lens For?
It kind of goes without saying (but it needs to be said), if you do not have a Nikon Z mirrorless camera, then this lens is not accessible for you. But on that note…you might as well switch (and no, Nikon did not pay me to say that). I firmly believe that this system is the best-suited for astro work; I chose Nikon for many reasons after having both Canon and Sony.
However, this lens is also not for those who don’t need to or want to hike to their shooting locations. If you are the type of photographer who drives to most of your spots to shoot, and you park within a fairly short walking distance, you could save the money and get the Sigma.
I’ll be blunt here: this lens is not going to win any awards for being the most budget-friendly option out there. If that is a primary concern for you and you do not think you will mind the extra size and weight of the alternative lenses and adapters, then this Nikkor is not the lens for you.
Why Do I Love This Lens?
I will start out with a famous Chase Jarvis quote I heard when I was in high school, “The best camera is the one that is always with you.” So while the Sigma lens is optically a worthy competitor and even better in some cases, it is not the lens I want to have in my bag.
You see, 90% of the time I am shooting nightscapes, I am hiking into my shoot locations, and oftentimes these hikes are technical, long, and require me to have quite a large (and significantly heavy) amount of gear and food to be able to complete them safely. The extra grunt of the Sigma and even the old F mount 14-24mm left me with a decision I was forced to make before packing for my hikes. That decision was that there was no possible way I was taking that huge hunk of glass up that mountain….it just wasn’t worth the extra weight. However, with the new Nikkor Z 14-24mm, that mindset has changed to, “Yeah I can fit that, it will be worth a little more weight, I think I can get some great shots if I have this lens with me.” The size and weight difference in this lens really are that immense and impactful.
My original plan was to release this review earlier on in the summer. However, I decided to hold back my opinions until after I came back from an 11-day backpacking adventure along the John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Yosemite National Park. Without this new Nikon Z 14-24mm, I would not have captured some of what I believe are my favorite shots I’ve ever taken. This lens is the GOAT. This lens made these shots possible. I standby my words to the fullest and am thrilled I was able to call this lens my favorite along my trip!
Verdict and Final Thoughts
The lens is a huge improvement over the legacy F mount Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G. It is leaps and bounds ahead optically and comes in a significantly smaller form factor that is native to Z mount. It also fixes all of its shortcomings in terms of design.
However, the lens does fall short ever so slightly in a few areas; mainly, in terms of astigmatism and distortion in the corners when compared directly to the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art lens. While the Nikon seems to have the advantage at 14mm, the Sigma looks to perform a little better once you start zooming in. 20mm, in particular, seems to be the Nikon lens’s weak point, and for me personally, this was a bit of a letdown as it is one of my favorite focal lengths to use when shooting the Milky Way.
Some of you may be thinking “Why not just get the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S prime?” Well, the versatility of having 14-24mm is far more important to me than having perfect corners. In fact, I used to have the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art but switched to the Sigma 14-24mm because I wanted that focal length versatility, even though the prime was better optically. That trade-off of prime versus zoom can easily be a matter of opinion, but when it comes to composing shots, having that variable range can really make or break a shot.
I did find that most of the distortions tend to clean up at f/4 on the Nikon, so if the scene permits straying from f2.8, there is that option as well. After all, I am using a tracker, and I highly recommend you take a look at that route BEFORE committing to ANY new lens if you are planning to pursue astrophotography.
So, what about the Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S lens? Well in my research, the Z 14-30mm S has some really bad astigmatism in the corners. Far worse than the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S stopped to f/4, so that is a no-go in my book. From my tests, it seems like the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S just happens to be the perfect happy medium amongst all of these lenses.
If it were my own money, would I buy this lens?
In a word, yes. In a few more grammatically incorrect words, very much yes. Very VERY much yes. But in a few sentences, I would start by trying to look for one used! I’m all for secondhand gear (if its previous owners treated it well).
However, if I had no choice and nothing was coming to the market and I had a big hike coming up, then I would absolutely splurge for this lens brand new.
One last thing to sum up; I said it just a few paragraphs ago, but I’ll say it again. I. LOVE. THIS. LENS. Lately, I’ve found myself enjoying shooting nightscapes at 35mm and 50mm, but this Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S made me enjoy going wider once again.
If it were not for this lens, my adventure into the Sierra would not have been complete. My eyes and other senses would not have opened as wide as they did. My appreciation of the hobby has been further expanded, and this shall continue. I think this is a critical part of this activity; we, as artists are the storytellers, and cameras and lenses are our tools. It’s how we use them which helps bring forth our stories, and this lens is a wonderfully beautiful tool in telling those tales.
About the author: Daniel J. Stein is a passionate nightscape photographer working full-time in New Jersey in his family’s commercial plumbing contracting business. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Stein’s work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.
Portrait lenses are some of the most widely used optics on the market, and so, photographers have plenty of options available, with something out there at just about any price point. At the top end, there is the Fujifilm GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR, and this excellent video review takes a look at the sort of performance and image quality you can expect from it in practice.
Coming to you from Dylan Goldby, this great video review takes at the Fujifilm GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR medium format lens. In the past, wide-aperture medium format portrait lenses often sacrificed sharpness to get to those extreme apertures, but with a modern design, the GF 110mm f/2 uses some impressive design to maintain good image quality even at its widest aperture along with other useful features. Such features include:
Four extra-low dispersion elements for reduced chromatic aberrations and increased clarity
Linear AF motor for quick and quiet autofocus
Dust- and weather-sealing
Rounded nine-blade diaphragm for extra smooth bokeh
Altogether, the GF 110mm f/2 looks like an awfully impressive lens that offers the sort of top-end performance sought after by a lot of portrait photographers. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Goldby.
Phone cameras have become remarkably competent and versatile in recent years, to the point that they can deliver professional-level results in certain situations, particularly when the light is good and you do not need extreme focal lengths. The Sony Xperia 1 III offers some of the most impressive capabilities yet, and this great video review takes a look at how it performs.
Coming to you from Kai W, this awesome video review takes a look at the Sony Xperia 1 III phone. The Xperia 1 III comes with an impressive combination of rear cameras, sure to catch the eyes of many creatives. One thing that I particularly love is that its maximum focal length is 105mm. Most multi-camera phones’ “telephoto” lenses actually sit around 50mm or maybe 70mm, which can feel a bit limiting, but 105mm opens up a lot more possibilities. On the other hand, there is a bit of a focal length gap between the 24mm and 70mm, which may annoy some users, but still, having 16mm, 24mm, 70mm, and 105mm in a phone, with optical stabilization available at 24mm, 70mm, and 105mm is quite impressive and makes the Xperia 1 III a versatile performer. Check out the video above for the full rundown on the phone.
Many street photographers might claim that the Leica M series is the best street photography camera. While they are not wrong, necessarily, I think the Ricoh GR Digital IV offers more flexibility and value.
The Ricoh GR Digital IV is not a new camera. In fact, it was released 2011, making this year its 10th anniversary. Indeed, there is much to celebrate when it comes to this cult classic. If one merely looks at the specs of the camera, they will seem underwhelming in a 2021 environment. For example, the camera sports a 1/1.7 10MP sensor. As I said, nothing impressive. However, the real gold lies in what the camera is able to do with that little sensor.
Many photographers today believe that a huge sensor is the ultimate feature of a great camera. This is not true. Sure, in some situations, bigger is actually better. I think portrait photography would be a good example, as would landscape work. But on the street, bigger is not necessarily better, as a large sensor slows down the focusing and can rob you of depth of field. Using a small sensor allows you to achieve more depth of field (a necessity in street photography) at a wider range of stops. This should be a priority over a larger sensor, as most street photographs are shot in decent light (outdoors) and will not be printed at billboard size. If we put the conversation into analog terms, this is like using a compact 35mm camera over a view camera for street or documentary work. When put this way, most people can immediately understand the advantage. Small sensors coupled with slow lenses can be an issue, however, but not to worry, the Ricoh GR Digital IV has you covered. The lens on this amazing camera is an impressive 28mm f/1.9.
Speed is also a necessity on the streets. Put differently, shutter lag is your enemy. This is where the Ricoh GR Digital IV model really shines and even stands apart from older and newer models in the GR lineup. The IV model uses a unique hybrid focusing system that couples contrast autofocus with an external autofocus sensor on the camera’s body. This setup, which is unique to the Ricoh GRD IV, is pure gold for street photographers, as it allows the “snap focus” system to not only eliminate shutter lag but also to auto-detect your shooting distance. Put another way, not only do you not have to wait for an autofocus system, but you don’t even have to pre-focus the lens to a set distance! Utterly amazing stuff. The end result is the ability to take photographs in a fraction of a second without making any manual adjustments. This is where the Ricoh beats the Leica M series.
Some may feel that the resulting image quality is not good enough to warrant giving the Oscar to the Ricoh GR Digital IV. Fine. We are all entitled to our own opinions. However, think about this for a moment. In the analog era, street and documentary photographers used all kinds of simple (low-res) cameras to make their photos. Whether or not something was high resolution, or even perfectly in focus, was not an issue. Go to the press museum in Washington, DC and look at all the famous press photographs from the 20th century. Most are not in focus, and nearly all are shot on 35mm film (the analog equivalent to a small sensor). Getting the subject matter was paramount, and the incredible speed of the Ricoh GRD IV allows you to get your subject every time.
I have been shooting with the Ricoh GRD for ten years, ever since the model hit the market. I also own all the other models of Ricoh GR cameras (even the 35mm versions), as well as a Leica M. Nothing compares to this one specific model. It is king. But, just like the Concorde and speedy snail mail, technology has actually regressed with the newer Rioch GR models. Gone is the hybrid focus system. Everyone whined and complained for bigger and bigger sensors, and Ricoh complied. With each sensor upgrade came a slower and slower camera. The end result is that we can now shoot photos that can be printed to fit on the side of a building but at the expense of sometimes missing the shot (or getting the shot and having it be totally out of focus, which is even worse).
All this pining for larger sensor cameras has made the Ricoh GRD IV a real gem on the used market. No one much wants this model anymore, as they see it as out of date. This camera model can now be had for about $250-300 in near-mint condition. The only downside is that most ship from Japan and may incur import fees and taxes, etc. If you are going to buy one (and I highly recommend that you do if you shoot street), then be patient and wait for one that ships from the USA. I also recommend getting the 28mm viewfinder for the hot shoe.
The Ricoh GRD IV and the Ricoh GV-1 viewfinder make a winning street shooting combo. Oh, and don’t let the naysayers below discourage you from trying this camera, as I can promise you one thing: anyone who crap-talks this camera has obviously never used one (despite the fact that they will claim to have done so). To use a Ricoh GRD IV is to love it. Pure and simple.
Softboxes are among the most popular light shaping tools. Few photographers have never shot with softboxes, and more often than not a softbox is a go-to modifier for beginners. In this article, I will break down the anatomy of a softbox, from physics to possible applications for it. Read on to become a master of using softboxes.
What Is a Softbox?
In the simplest terms, a softbox is a light modifier that is shaped like a box and produces soft light. Softboxes come in different shapes, with each one having a distinct function and look to them. Here are the most popular ones:
A square softbox will produce an even soft light that will have gradated shadow edges. A great use for a square softbox would be for creating soft window light since a softbox is shaped exactly like one. The square shape means that both horizontal and vertical shadows will be the same size.
One difference between this softbox and an octagonal one would be the catchlights. The sharp corner in the softbox will produce much more distinct pointy catchlights when compared to a round softbox.
As one side gets smaller and the other bigger it will produce a somewhat narrower light spread. The light will cover a larger area on one side while covering a smaller one on the other. This shape is very popular among fashion and portrait photographers for it allows to light a half-body shot without spilling light on the background too much.
A word of caution: this softbox will create softer shadow edges on the larger side while creating harder edges on the smaller side. Nonetheless, if you’re using a 4×6 softbox to light a portrait that will be barely noticeable, this will be predominantly seen when using a smaller softbox on longer distances.
A popular choice for lighting a background, this softbox will create a strip of light. This is a softbox that is narrow on one end while extremely wide on the other. For this, it will create a smooth gradated shadow edge on the longer side and a fine shadow edge on the other.
A stripbox is often used for full-body shots as it covers the whole body on one hand while giving a lot of definition and contrast on the other. A cautious photographer will be wary of using a long stripbox with a flat-end flash as there is a 1-3-stop difference between the center and edge of the modifier.
A classic among softboxes, the octagonal softbox is preferred to the square one for the round catchlights in the eyes. For all intents and purposes, it gives off a very similar, albeit slightly rounder and wider, light as a similarly sized square softbox.
Deep (Fake Parabolic) Softbox
It has become quite popular nowadays to purchase deep softboxes because they give an unusual light. However, a deep direct softbox is no different than an octabox. An indirect parabolic softbox, on the other hand, is very useful but it won’t be discussed in this article.
Accessories For a Softbox
A softbox isn’t complete without accessories, here are some common ones that you can put on most softboxes:
Softbox grids often are 50deg, meaning that they limit whatever light spread the softbox has (often 180deg) to a much finer one. This, however, makes the light harder.
Soft light is defined as a light that hits the subject from a large family of angles which causes the shadow edges to be gradated. Since the grid limits that family of angles, the light becomes slightly harder. Often it is advised to move the softbox closer to compensate for this.
Stripmasks are made primarily for stripboxes. They make the edge finer and the light source smaller (in one dimension) This can be useful when trying to create fine reflections or horizontally hard but vertically soft light. A common use for a stripmask is on automotive photography when long but fine highlights are required.
A round mask will, as the name suggests, make the softbox perfectly round. Another way to control how light modifier reflections look, the round mask has its use in fashion and portrait photography. Using a round mask will make the softbox smaller, and in order to achieve the same level of softness.
There are also custom masks that exist for softboxes. Some will block out the center, while others can be customized. In fact, you can make your own softbox masks by creating custom gobos or using flags. The way you mask your softbox is just a matter of imagination.
How Does a Softbox Work?
The principle behind every softbox is that it produces a light that hits the object from a wide family of angles. This is achieved by taking the point light source and reflecting it inside the modifier first through the first and then the second diffuser.
The role of the first diffuser is to take the direct specular rays and modify the angles at which they travel. However, with particularly large softboxes, this will still leave a hotspot in the middle. Often the difference between the center and side is 2-3 stops. This is unwanted, so a second layer is necessary.
The second diffuser further diffuses the light, which produces a much more even corner to corner illumination. The distance between the two layers of diffusion is relatively unimportant, but if you fancy diffusing the light even further you can shoot the softbox through a scrim placed a meter or so from the softbox.
I couldn’t possibly list all uses for a softbox, as it is a very versatile and popular modifier. Here are some common places and setups where a softbox will be appropriate:
Being a soft and often large light source, a softbox is ideal for creating portrait light. The soft quality of light of it ensures that skin texture appears smooth, while the large size ensures that the coverage is sufficient for even illumination. A softbox placed at 45deg to the subject will produce a classic portrait light.
A classic softbox might not be as useful here, but a strip box is. It will be perfect for lighting a full body shot of an athlete vertically while keeping the punchy quality of light horizontally. The hard light will bring out the muscle and other detail in the subject.
Most cars have long lines that define their shape. Bringing out that shape with a directed long strip of light will be pleasant for the viewer as it shows the essence of the subject.
One of the most important ingredients in a successful product image is good highlights and direct reflections management. A softbox will be useful when trying to create even linear highlights. Another use would be as a fill source, or as a source of even diffused light which is great for bringing out the color in images.
Fashion photography is another common place for softboxes. As it produces a soft diffused light it is flattering for models’ faces which reduces the amount of retouching required. Moreover, a softbox is used to light certain fabrics such as ones that produce diffused reflections (wool or cotton).
You can choose your own brand of the softbox, however, I will strongly recommend going with a quality brand such as Elinchrom, Broncolor, or Profoto. Their modifiers are durable and worth it in the end.
Read also: Are Expensive Light Modifiers Worth It?
Here are some sizes that will be useful for your studio setups:
Picking the right softbox is difficult. Hopefully, this guide has been helpful in showing you the uses for each one. Personally, I use softboxes here and there but they are not instrumental to my work. The same can be said about every other modifier. What is crucial is the theoretical and practical knowledge of light that pays a dividend in the form of being able to charge more.
I strongly suggest deepening your knowledge by exploring light just by using one modifier. Pick up a softbox that is most interesting for you and dive deep into exploring it. Have fun!
The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 is the freshest iteration of the Megaboom line, with an emphasis on bringing the music — and the party — outside. It can be paired with multiple other Megabooms or other Ultimate Ears devices to create expansive soundscapes. The company says that the rechargeable lithium-ion battery will keep the music going for as long as 20 hours between micro-USB charges. (If you want the fast-charging dock, it comes separately.)
If the Megaboom’s name didn’t already give you a clue, the marketing makes clear this device is not aimed at those who would like to listen to classical music quietly while doing crossword puzzles: “MEGABOOM 3’s extra size and larger woofer create intense bass you can both hear and feel – 50% deeper than BOOM. But unlike most other portable speakers, it’s true to your music. No exaggeration or distortion.”
Our engineers put the Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 through our rigorous DXOMARK Wireless Speaker test suite. In this review, we will break down how it fared at audio playback in a variety of tests and several common use cases.
Speakers: Two 50 mm (2 inch) 4 ohm full-range drivers and two 55 mm x 86 mm passive radiators
Tested with Motorola HSPK
Communication protocol used: Bluetooth
About DXOMARK Wireless Speaker tests: For scoring and analysis in our wireless speaker reviews, DXOMARK engineers perform a variety of objective tests and undertake more than 20 hours of perceptual evaluation under controlled lab conditions. This article highlights the most important results of our testing. Note that we evaluate playback using only the device’s built-in hardware. (For more details about our Speaker protocol, click here.) The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 falls into the Essential category of devices in the DXOMARK Speaker rankings.
360-degree sound is a plus
Attack sub-score is not bad
Spatial attribute measures up to some other devices in segment
Does not produce very loud volume compared to competitors
Distortion is problematic at high volume
Timbre isn’t great
With a global score of 108, the performance of the Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 is shoulder-to-shoulder with that of other Essential category wireless speakers such as the Amazon Echo 4th Generation at 109, and the Bose SoundLink Revolve II at 107, but it’s down the list a ways from the class-leading Sonos One at 129.
The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 does produce 360-degree sound, which is actually a little better on the sides, but it doesn’t reach the “thundering bass” or “carefully balanced and perfectly clear” music at every volume (as it says in its sales pitches). In fact, the timbre was very low, mid-centric and blurry. Bass precision was poor, and punch was weak. The spatial performance was inadequate. At high volumes, harsh distortion emerged. And the digital signal processing (DSP) produced erratic results, with random multiband compression getting in the way of the listening experience.
The DXOMARK Speaker overall score of 108 for the Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 is derived from a range of sub-scores. In this section, we will take a closer look at these audio quality sub-scores and explain what they mean for the user, and we will show some comparison data from two of the device’s competitors, the Sony SRS-XB43 and the LG XBoom Go PL 7
Playback attribute comparisons
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Harman Kardon Citation 200
Best: Harman Kardon Citation 200 (148)
DXOMARK timbre tests measure how well a speaker reproduces sound across the audible tonal range and takes into account bass, midrange, treble, tonal balance, and volume dependency.
Playback timbre comparison
The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 had a below-average score for timbre for a number of reasons. In most use cases, our engineers found the tonal balance to be focused on a very muddy, blurry low midrange. With flimsy bass and no low-end extension, the sound lacks power. Distortion taints not only the low end, but also the whole range of timbre at higher sound pressure levels (SPL).
High midrange is dull, treble is faint, and high-end extension generally missing, except at high volumes, where the tonal balance seems to be over-boosted at about 6k Hz, which makes it quite aggressive (and not in a good way).
When the listener is at the side of the Megaboom 3, the device delivers a bit more treble and high midrange, but tonal balance is still not pleasant.
Another drawback here is the functioning of the DSP, which causes the details of timbre performance to fluctuate over time, whether it be faulty multiband compression or other kinds of processing happening inappropriately..
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Harman Kardon Citation 200
Best: Harman Kardon Citation 200 (127)
Our dynamics tests measure how well a device reproduces the energy level of a sound source, taking into account attack, bass precision, and punch.
Playback dynamics comparison
Dynamics are not a strong selling point for the Megaboom 3, although it does measure up to some competitors in terms of attack. The device gets in its own way with erratic compression and odd internal processing. Speaking of attack, it feels rounded in most cases, although it rises to the occasion at times.
Punch is seriously lackluster, even for the abundance of low-mid frequencies the speaker cranks out. It sounds flat, and energy is weak and blurry. It does perform better in some cases, but not consistently enough. Bass is very imprecise, preserving only the attack part of the envelope — with some caveats — while sustain and decay are not respected.
At high SPL, the dynamics sub-attributes are even worse, with additional distortion damaging the transients and the envelope.
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Bose Home Speaker 500
Best: Bose Home Speaker 500 (99)
Our spatial tests measure a speaker’s ability to reproduce stereo sound in all directions, taking into account localizability, balance, wideness, distance, and directivity. Please note that wideness is 0 on mono speakers and on speakers that cannot deliver a significant stereo effect.
Playback spatial comparison
The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 did better than some other wireless speakers in the spatial attribute, but at the same time it has some interesting quirks. Being a 360-degree device, it can’t produce true stereo sound as advertised (at least not without being paired with another device, which is something DXOMARK does not test). Localizability is mediocre; it’s difficult to pinpoint where sounds are coming from. Wideness is difficult to evaluate because any stereo effect is artificial and the device sounds essentially mono.
The chart below shows the unusual profile in how the speaker distributes sound. Bass and midrange are very evenly distributed around 360 degrees, but treble is more prominent on the sides.
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Best: Yandex Station (136)
Our volume tests measure both the maximum loudness a speaker is able to produce and how smoothly volume increases and decreases based on user input.
Playback volume comparison
Playback volume consistency comparison
The loudness of the Megaboom 3 doesn’t measure up to its competitors, reaching a mere 82 dB, and that at the price of severely compromising the signal. You can see how it compares in the charts above. The volume steps were not particularly consistent either: the first step hardly produces any change.
Here are a few sound pressure levels (SPL) we measured when playing our sample recordings of hip-hop and classical music at maximum volume:
Correlated Pink Noise
Uncorrelated Pink Noise
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
LG XBoom Go PL 7
Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Denon Home 250
Best: Denon Home 250 (132)
Our artifacts tests measure how much source audio is distorted when played back, along with such other sound artifacts as noise, pumping effects, and clipping. Distortion and other artifacts can occur both because of sound processing and because of the quality of the speakers.
Playback artifacts comparison
The Megaboom 3 has some problems with artifacts. First off, there are some user-related artifacts. For example, the music glitches for a second after hitting play or pause.
But the biggest issue is the dubious digital signal processing (DSP). At whatever volume, there seems to be a randomly firing multiband compression that damages the sound in an erratic manner. Distortion is proportional to volume, and quite harsh at high volume.
Playback total harmonic distortion
The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 has some qualities that will endear it to hard partiers — namely that it will float in the pool and survive other forms of rough treatment. Purely considering its worth as an audio device, however, its scores place it in average to below-average territory among its primary competitors in the Essential category. Considering the name, the shortfall in loudness is especially concerning. The 360-degree sound is a positive, but the Megaboom 3 is burdened by poor timbre and erratic application of DSP. The amount of distortion at high SPL is also problematic.
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