Jordan and I were naughty this year and Santa put something in our stocking that was less useful than a lump of coal. Naturally, we decided to review our gifts and see if there was any merit to mass-produced photo gear on the cheap.
My present was the LightDow 420-800mm Manual everything telephoto. It features a formidable f/8.3 to f/16 maximum aperture and can be mounted to almost any camera known. Jordan was cursed with an NBD 4K vlogging camera which certainly has a lens and a sensor. What more could you ask for?
The LightDow 420-800mm f/8.3-16
These products can be found en masse in most overseas internet stores. They both hovered around the $100 mark and came with sparse instructions. Extreme telephoto lenses are by their nature, notoriously expensive and physically large. The LightDow 420-800mm is neither of these things but it is largely of metal construction and has a manual focus ring that turns fairly smoothly, that is until exposed to colder temperatures.
I struggled with the overall handling of the LightDow. As the temperature dropped outside, the grease lubricating the focus ring thickened up, and focusing to the right often caused the whole lens to unscrew, either at the T2 mount or where the push/pull zoom engages. There is a locking ring that can help prevent the zoom from coming apart but makes zooming the lens impossible. Regardless, manipulating the lens controls is an exercise in constant frustration.
Worse still is the complete lack of sharpness or optical corrections. The 420-800mm does its best work at 420mm with a whisper of detail present in the center of the image and a whirlpool of blur fanning out to the corners. Focusing on subjects towards the edges of the frame makes little difference. Blurry is what you’ll get anywhere outside of the very center of the image. At 800mm the overall sharpness somehow manages to get worse and beyond 640mm the corners of the frame are blocked by the lens barrel itself, so there isn’t much point going beyond the midway mark.
I hope you like the color purple because your image will have an overall color cast which is especially egregious anywhere that light meets dark. You also get a lovely smattering of green or magenta chromatic aberration in any zone beyond the point of focus. So, three vibrant shades of purple, magenta, and green stand out against the otherwise muted color rendering of this lens. Artsy indeed. The flare is especially beautiful with a general washed-out appearance across the frame, even when pointed towards relatively small lights. Get a strong light source near the edge of the frame, however, and you are treated to a dynamic-looking cone of flare and some perforated rings of light. It’s actually quite dramatic looking.
No matter how you look at it, the images made by the LightDow 420-800mm are largely unusable. Even if you approach the images with the most Lo-Fi of attitudes, the results are disappointing. The only image that I even remotely liked was the portrait of Jordan taken with proper studio-quality lighting. I still would have rather taken it with almost any other lens. Whether you are on a strict budget or purposefully want a low-quality look for artistic effect, the money is better spent elsewhere. I’d happily take a used SLR telephoto lens with an adapter any day. But how did Jordan fare with his 4K camera?
The NBD 4K Vlogging Camera
The first struggle that Jordan encountered was the misleading technical spec list provided by the manufacturer. This camera is most certainly not a full-frame camera and most certainly does not have a 1/1.6-inch sensor either. Scrapping the tech specs, Jordan instead divined some rough estimates about the 4K camera and it seems to have a 28mm full-frame equivalent lens. There is a viewfinder but the term is used loosely. This plastic tunnel can be used as a quick and dirty way of composing but the only thing it has going for it is that it points in a similar direction to the lens. There is what looks like a fully articulating LCD screen on the NBD camera and it does indeed show a live view composition of what the lens sees. However, the screen does not fully articulate. Rather, it simply folds on one axis, facing the user when placed against the camera housing, and facing the user when in vlogging mode. It has no way of tilting or rotating the LCD otherwise.
The footage is at least 4K as advertised but with heavy doses of over-sharpening and some of the worst rolling shutter anyone will ever witness. Skin tones are a plasticky mess, with no detail whatsoever, and often go from various shades of pink to a spray-tan orange. Although the specs list optical stabilization as being present, this is not truthful in the least. The NBD does have an autofocusing capability which is not capable at all. Often, the focus will search for a subject at minimum focus ranges even though no subject is there to be found.
Lastly, what vlogging camera would be complete without advanced audio control? This one apparently. There is a 3.5mm mic jack which only seems to be for show but the camera does have a built-in microphone that goes from peaked volume levels to what sounds like an interview in a diving bell at random. Jordan cannot in good conscience recommend this camera to anyone, ever.
Sadly, it is Not a Christmas Miracle
I’m all for photo and video products that sacrifice some usability to provide amazing value for the dollar. However, none of these items or the countless clones under different brand names that follow them should ever be purchased. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some good knockoffs out on the market. I remember in particular a nifty fifty made by Yongnuo that was a carbon copy of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. The autofocus was very noisy but the lens itself was optically decent for almost no money. I feel that a lens should at least have usable image quality or unique character to justify purchasing it. The 420-800mm sadly doesn’t deliver anything worth even a small amount of cash. I’d much rather get a good used telephoto lens for a similar bargain, even if it doesn’t magnify as far. There are tons of cheap adapters to make use of old glass and the results will be head-and-shoulders above what I endured.
Likewise, a video camera has to deliver a fairly high standard of quality to really be effective nowadays. There is no situation where Jordan will ever pick up the NDB vlogging camera again, and we will only hold on to them so that they don’t end up in a landfill. Sadly, the vast majority of products like the ones we tested end up in the garbage all too often. Buyer beware when hunting for deals that are too good to be true.