Jun 192012
 

I continue to be amazed by the resolution that the D800 offers, perhaps because this is enhanced by something I didn’t adequately appreciate in advance – autofocus capabilities that are a step above what the D7000 offered.  The combination of these things allowed just walking up to a flower in my garden and taking this snapshot, with the 105mm f/2.8 VR:

There’s nothing great about the above as a macro shot, and if you’re into macro you can get far closer and more detailed. Having the leaf in the foreground obscuring things is distracting too, and perhaps I should have cropped that out. But to able to see this much detail in the world with no preparation, no tripod, and no lighting is new, at least for me. I had taken the random macro potshot in the past when the kids were being less interesting than insects, but a big camera at close range tends to convince most other lifeforms to fly away, and being off even a little with focus totally blows a macro shot. So I was kind of surprised by how easy it was to get something like the above.

Also, we went to Twanoh state park a bit over a week ago, since once a year they open up for anyone to come clam digging. We didn’t actually bring any clams home or eat them, but it was a fun activity for the kids. I was kind of amazed to see a seagull flying by carrying what appeared to be a whole clam in its mouth. It was kind of far away, and I only had the old 85mm f/1.8 AF on the camera, but I took a picture of it anyways.  Unfortunately, 85mm really doesn’t provide very much reach:

But fortunately, 36MP provides the flexibility to crop… a lot:

I’m still glad I’m not into taking pictures of birds, as that’s one thing that seems even harder (and more expensive) than taking pictures of uncooperative offspring. I was just pretty impressed that the seagull was able to get such a large object into its mouth, and then to fly around with it!

While my PC is definitely feeling the strain of dealing with RAW files from my camera that weigh in at over 40MB each, I have to think that with the way that things are going in the display world, that all this resolution is going to help some day.  My 5-year old 30″ monitor displays roughly 4 million pixels – 12 million camera dots – and feeding it with a 36 million dot image is overkill (camera pixels are not monitor pixels; there’s just one color value per “pixel”, not three). But with Apple creating attention around “retina” displays that pack a similar resolution into a 15″ display, and Viewsonic offering this 31.5″ 4K display (albeit at “about the price of a car”), it seems pretty clear that the detail that you may have to zoom in to see today will be baseline requirements for looking good on displays of the future.

 Posted by at 8:51 am
May 122012
 

I sold my Nikon 10-24 ultra-wide lens today. A little over a year ago, I wrote a post titled “How Wide is Wide Enough“, and concluded it was personal choice.  I’ve definitely continued to make heavy use of the 10-24, which is why when I looked back on 2011, I found that it was my second most used lens, behind the 24-70. I also enjoyed my short time with the 14-24, which is huge and inconvenient, but takes incredible wide angle shots.  So why did I sell it?  As I noted in that post, while most full frame lenses are useful on a crop camera, the one place where this isn’t true is on the very wide end of things.  The 10-24 was a DX lens, and now that I’ve moved to the full frame D800, it’s really not useful anymore. So alas, I took a few last photos of it, and put it on Craigslist:

It turns out that the D800 isn’t the only thing that Nikon has a tough time making enough of; the 10-24 is also back-ordered at all major U.S. retailers. I finished up my post just before 4:00am (it took longer than expected photograph the lens, find sample pictures I took with it, and write up a post). An interested gentleman contacted me at 9:45am, and by 3:00pm I was no longer the owner of the lens you see above. I’ve kept roughly 1,000 photos taken with this lens, which means I likely took about 4,000 shots with it – in spite of having and using the 14-24 for a decent stint during my ownership.  If the slightly more expensive full frame 16-35 delivers results that are on par with the 10-24, I’d probably already be satisfied.

The point of this post isn’t just to comment on having sold the lens rather quickly, though. Even without the current stock issues, the asking prices on Craigslist for this lens on the rare occasions it actually shows up are usually in the $700-800 range.  I sold my copy, which was in very good condition, for $725.  I paid $798 for the lens shortly after its release, in July 2009.  So for almost 3 years of use, 4,000 exposures, and 1,000 keepers, it cost me a grand total of $73. I’ve definitely rationalized (many times!) the purchase of nice but expensive lenses with the theory that good ones don’t depreciate much, but this was the first time I’d really put the principle to the test. And had I bought the lens used in 2010, it’d probably have cost about… $725, making my use of the lens over the years free.

Not every lens is going to hold it’s value quite this well (though some actually appreciate) – but this is certainly helping me feel OK about the cash that’s locked up in the rest of the lenses I own! Interestingly, the 10-24 is also the last lens I purchased new; the rest have been used purchases on Craigslist, at prices that effectively haven’t changed over the years. It’s absolutely stunning to think that I could box up my 24-70 tomorrow, sell it, and have gotten the use of that fabulous glass for several years for free.  Where are you going to find a $1,500 stock that generates that kind of guaranteed return on investment?

(Below, a SmugMug gallery/slideshow of some of the shots I’ve liked with the 10-24 over the years – though it’s more places than people since I put it together as part of the Craigslist posting)

 Posted by at 9:05 am
May 102012
 

My very first impressions of the D800 were posted after just a small handful of shots, indoors under terrible lighting conditions. I was impressed! Now that I’ve had all of one weekend to use it outside too, I’m impressed even more.

As I said previously, the cost of the D800 ($3,000) still puts it at a point where it’s really hard to recommend for people like me who are shooting pictures of their kids and capturing other memories. Serious shooters will be far better of reading the in-depth (as always) review of the D800on dpreview.com (they like it a lot too, and go into a ton of depth). Still, within 5 years or so, it’s reasonable to expect that sub-$1,000 cameras will match or beat what the D800 can do today, and that’s great news if you’re the one in your family tasked with taking pictures. I apologize to any actual photographer who is still waiting for a D800, seeing this awesome piece of technology used for my dull family photos must be painful!

Part of why I’m bothering to write this – besides that when you think something is really cool you usually want to share it – is that most reviews seem to compare the D800 and it’s immediate predecessor, the D700. My perspective – the D800 vs. D7000 – is hardly a fair fight and is probably much less useful in general. But I suspect there’s at least a few other DX shooters that ponder – as I did for years – whether it was the right time to go full frame, so I’ll just provide an opinion on that.

So that said, what did I find noteworthy that wasn’t already captured in the many photographer-oriented reviews out there?

Resolution

Okay, so this one is covered to death in every mention of the D800; but yes, 36MP is pretty stunning. Here is a really poorly framed snapshot of our friend George:

Here’s a 100% crop from this snapshot:

 

If you look at what a tiny part of the original image this represents, it’s pretty amazing. If there were any more detail, aliens would be able to clone us from a photograph alone.

There’s been lots of commentary on how you need really good lenses to get the most out of the D800, and that’s true. But keep in mind that the D7000 made exactly the same demands on central sharpness of a lens; in fact, this photo would look identical on the D7000 (high ISO isn’t a factor), except the “zoomed out” version would a center crop of the image above. This really matters, though; you can crop the heck out of a D800 image and still have a ton of detail to work with.  If you were satisfied with 12MP photos (I am), then considering resolution alone, you can get a full body shot and a head shot with the same exposure!

Highlight Protection

At base ISO, the D7000 had incredible shadow detail and really low noise. What this meant is that if you mess up like I do and underexposed things, you had a lot of room to fix the mistake later by brightening things up. However, if you overexposed on the D7000 and blew the highlights by more than a little, there was often no chance of recovery. The D3 and D700 seemed to be much better at highlight protection; even up to a full stop overexposed, you could probably fix things. As a result, I set my D7000 to -0.7 exposure compensation by default; this was safer for outdoors shots, but gave up a little quality indoors if I forgot to reset things.

By contrast, the D800 seems as clean (unscientifically) as the D7000 in shadow detail, while providing lots more headroom on highlights. Thanks to the metal slide reflecting the sun, this shot of George’s son Patrick would probably have been unusable on the D7000 due to blown highlights:

Kids don’t give you a second chance and don’t always have a natural expression when looking at the camera, so reviewing the shot, adjusting exposure, and asking Patrick to hold still in the process would simply not have worked. Fortunately, even with -1.7 exposure compensation in Lightroom – almost two full stops! – the shot turned out to be one of the nicer ones that day:

I feel almost guilty thinking about how much insight the film photographer would have needed back in the day to take the shot correctly – while I managed to get things quite wrong, yet easily correct things later. It was literally just basic exposure and levels, with a little cropping and vignetting, to go from the top image to the bottom one.

Mid ISO

Landscape and nature photographers mostly focus on image quality at base ISO, because shutter speed isn’t so important and they’ll carry a tripod around. For sports photographers, especially indoor sports, speed is paramount, and thus high ISO performance becomes important. Pretty much every review focuses on quality at those two extremes.

I find things are a little different shooting memories. You’ll have quite a few shots outdoors in good light where even a decent compact camera will produce perfectly good images. You’ll have plenty of indoor, poor light situations where either you need good high ISO capabilities or a decent flash (though shots are always a little less natural looking with flash) – and as I mentioned previously, the D800 does great here. But I find that there’s a good chunk of family shots that are in fading light on a cloudy day, where you’ll be between ISO 800 and ISO 3200 at the shutter speeds you need.

The D7000 was pretty decent for getting family shots at the lower end of that range, but often needed at least a little noise reduction (which takes some detail along with it), and you started to be able to see some reduction in dynamic range and/or color performance (I don’t know the right way to technically describe it). So far, it feels like the D800 is really solid and a definite improvement in this fairly important ISO range that gets little attention in most coverage.

This is an example from yesterday; it’s 7:30pm, we’re completely shaded by trees, and it’s completely overcast on top of that. Even opening up fully to f/2.8, and going with a shutter speed of 1/200th that really is on the low side for kids on bicycles, ISO was still up at 1250, but the resulting shot felt a good notch above what I would have previously expected:

Olivia is pretty impressed with her ability to ride without any hands. Just wait till I take off the training wheels!

On the D7000, I’d probably have applied a little vibrance to get the colors to look a little more like what they do at base ISO (and to match my perception of real life); indeed, +10 vibrance was my default setting in Lightroom for the D7000. On the D800 and the above shot in particular, I find this unnecessary – colors look great out of the camera even into middle ISOs. There’s also no noise reduction at all in the above, I just didn’t feel it was needed!

Other Things Worth Mentioning

While the above stood out most and seemed to call for examples, a few other observations:

  • AF is awesome. The number of focus misses is noticeably lower than on the D7000 (which was already decent), and focusing speed is notable faster.  Maybe this wasn’t a huge improvement over the D700/D3, but it’s definitely a step up from the D7000.
  • The AF-ON button is great, use it! I configured my D7000 not to focus when half-pressing the shutter; instead, the AE-L/AF-L button was assigned to focus. The D800 has a dedicated AF-ON button positioned just perfectly for this. I strongly prefer this mode of doing things. Normally, you need to use a tiny switch + button to go between manual focus, AF-S (single focus), and AF-C (continuous). AF-ON is a much better solution; don’t press it = manual focus, press once = AF-S, hold down = AF-C.
  • Video AF still sucks. This is really too bad, and it probably can’t be addressed without changes to lens design and overall mechanics, but full-time AF in video mode still sucks. It’s loud (so you need a microphone), it’s slow (dpreview is spot on about contrast-detect AF performance in Live View mode), and instead of smooth focus transitions, things are abrupt and focus bounces back and forth as things converge. Video quality seems a little higher than the D7000, but things sadly still don’t feel great for kids that move unpredictably in and out of focus.
  • Shooting banks are still poor. I already found the D7000s U1/U2 modes sub-optimal; I was usually in U2 (using aperture priority) but if I ever switched to manual mode (e.g. to force higher shutter speed on a flash shot) and back, it would reset everything including exposure compensation, aperture, etc. The D800 seems inexplicably even worse. Shooting and Custom settings are in independent banks despite being related, certain things and covered and certain things are not, and while the D7000 had dials, you need to use menus to switch banks on the D800. Even for simple family shots, it’d be nice to easily switch between a “still” setting (AF-S, lower minimum shutter speed, etc) and “action” setting, or between settings optimized for flash vs. natural light. No such luck. This is inexplicably poor.
  •  The built-in Mic seems OK. An external mic will still do much better, but the built-in Mic seems significantly more competent than before. Any focus-related noises are still really audible, though.
  • Video activation is confusing. There is a dedicated red button beside the shutter for video recording. Just press it, right? No. So far as I can tell, you have to put the camera in live view mode, make sure that video is selected on the live view switch, and then use the red button to start recording. I don’t understand why pressing the video record button, which has no other purpose, wouldn’t automatically do all the other steps.

All in all, I really feel like the D800 is a fantastic piece of equipment that I wish every non-photographer capturing their life could have. At $3,000, it’s still hard to recommend for that purpose. If you don’t have Lightroom or an equivalent, if you don’t have a good flash for indoor shots yet, if you don’t have lenses you really like, those things are all more important. Saving for your kids college education and your own retirement are also more important! But if you’re fortunate enough to be able to justify the price tag, it definitely won’t disappoint.

 Posted by at 9:53 am
May 052012
 

It certainly took long enough, but my D800 finally arrived today! I haven’t really gotten a chance to use it yet – but I don’t think my opinion matters much anyways. When I pondered whether the D90 or D7000 would be a better choice for other non-photographers that like me were primarily going to take pictures and capture memories as opposed to creating art, that might have been useful. On the other hand, the D800 seems awesome, but it is clearly overkill for the non-photographer, and if you’re going to spend a big chunk of money on a camera followed by a potentially bigger chunk on full frame lenses, then you probably should read through the 25-page professional reviews and make an informed decision.

That being said, highly preliminary use has been pretty encouraging – with some of the anticipated drawbacks:

  • I’m comfortable raising my Auto-ISO limit to 6400. Per-pixel noise indeed beats the D7000 by perhaps a half-stop at the same ISO setting… and at any given viewing size, there’s a little over twice as many pixels in a shot from the D800 vs. D7000. In practice, that means in low light situations, I’ll have twice as much shutter speed (or more depth of field) than before, and since the kids seem to increase their top speed faster than Moore’s law, that really helps.
  • A DX crop looks better than a DX camera. The D7000 was generally considered to have the best image quality in a DX form factor (though the new entry-level D3200 has a new 24MP sensor that hasn’t been fully evaluated yet).  With any lens, DX or FX, the D800 indeed seems to produce a slightly better image when cropped to a DX level. This is actually pretty amazing; with the 24-70, I can get full-frame quality in the 24mm to 70mm range, but I can crop all the way to an equivalent of 105mm and still have slightly better results than the same lens on the D7000 with no cropping.
  • Great viewfinder! I forgot how nice the big viewfinders on the D700 and D3 were – but this is instantly apparent the first time you raise the D800 to your eye. It’s not better than those cameras, but is nice if you’ve used something smaller for a while.
  • Not too bulky. My earlier speculation based on weight stats (900g vs. 700g) holds up in reality; it is a little bulkier, but not by much, especially when you consider total weight with a lens attached. It’s a far cry from the D3, which was the last camera besides the D7000 that I used in any depth before this one.
  • Files are huge! RAW files at default settings are 50MB a piece, and slow Lightroom (and other software) significantly. JPEGs at the Quality 100 setting I was using (since I backup the JPEGs; RAW files are only backed up within my home) were 24MB on something that was a little cropped. I’ve changed JPEG quality to 90 to compensate; I can’t tell the difference visually, and it cut at least the file size in my experiment by 50% to 16MB.
  • No ML-L3.The Nikon ML-L3 was a cheap ($18) remote trigger for the D90, D7000, and many other models. I use it on tripod shots like the above to avoid effects of camera shake. For the D800 and up, Nikon expects you to buy a $125 non-wireless remote trigger instead.

It’s not really fair comparing the D800 vs. D7000, since one costs almost three times as much as the other; almost everyone would be better getting the cheaper D7000 since you can get a whole range of top-tier lenses or accessories with the $2000 price difference, and except in very specific conditions, that will have more positive impact on your results.

I really haven’t had time or opportunity to take real pictures with the camera yet, though here’s one shot of Leo in the worst possible conditions:

What do I mean by “worst possible conditions”? Our living room is the most dimly lit room in our house, and this is 8pm on a cloudy evening so there was very little natural light. The above shot is at 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 6400, 1/125th. The 50mm f/1.4D isn’t a great lens wide open, but it’s the only f/1.4 lens I have. The 24-70/2.8 would have dropped the shutter speed to a mere 1/30, too slow to handle either camera shake or kid shake. I used minimal noise reduction (10 in LR4), and while there’s plenty of pixel-level noise, the end result is still usable even with terrible light (quality and quantity).

For comparison, the same conditions with my Galaxy Nexus:

I’ve talked about the magnitude of the difference that exists between smartphones and cameras, but low light conditions are really where those differences become visible. The D800 is shooting at 10 times higher ISO yet it looks 10 times better, even on static things like the piano which aren’t affected by the vastly lower shutter speed that the Galaxy Nexus was using. That said, what you see in the Galaxy Nexus picture is far closer to what things looked like to the eye – very dim, with the last light of the day in the background. The D800 absolutely has better vision than a human being!

 Posted by at 9:35 am
Apr 292012
 

Last weekend, we spent a little time at the playground and park/path of the elementary school near our home (which Olivia and Leo will presumably some day attend). It was around 6 in the evening, so the sun was getting a little lower in the sky, a giving off a nice warm light – but it was still direct enough to make many shots very challenging for one reason or another. As always, neither the kids nor the playground could be adjusted, and unlike one dad I saw today holding a reflector/diffuser in one hand and a camera in the other, I still don’t ever head out of the house with equipment to bend the sun to my will. Valerie reminded me, as I pointed out the reflector dad, that she will pretend not to know me if I ever head out that conspicuously. Reflector dad did joke to me that it was easier to hold both camera and reflector himself than to give instructions (his wife was standing next to him); in my case, I’m pretty sure handing over a reflector disc to Valerie would result in it being repuropsed as a frisbee!

This post is essentially yet another appeal to other non-photographers shooting their kids to shoot RAW and use Lightroom 4.  The new local adjustment features really help a lot, and compared to something like Photoshop, Lightroom is pretty simple and fast to learn and use.  But rather than write an 8,000 word post about this, I’ll just share 8 pictures (4 before & afters) that say it better. These are 4 shots I’d probably have discarded, but even my amateur level of skill with Lightroom was enough to make them worth keeping (to me).

     

Example #1: I may have overdone this a little – it almost looks HDR-ish – but the new shadow slider (both the global one, and the one on local adjustments) really make it easy to make simple adjustments like this.  The nice thing about something that’s too dark against a light background is that when you do local shadow adjustments on it, even if you aren’t precise with the area you select, it doesn’t spill over and create a halo.  Likewise with highlight adjustments.

Example #2: I’m always astonished at how much the D7000 captures that can’t be seen by default. With the sun directly behind her, salvaging a shot like this seems hopeless, but ultimately winds up being possible. No adjustments to a JPG could possibly have worked here.

     

Example #3: The whole original was too bright, and with no cloud cover, the original shadows were very harsh. But it was really easy to selectively bring down the highlights on the ground while pushing up the shadows a bit, preserving more or less what Olivia looked like. I like the picture mostly because the sun makes the fern Olivia is carrying look like some kind of magic wand. The original framing was terrible, but I was far away and that was the longest my lens could go (70mm). This is one of those cases where more megapixels helps.

     

Example #4: Shooting towards very strong light from the sun totally destroyed contrast in the original, but with some adjustment, things worked out in the end.

It’s still true that the best shots seem to come when little to no adjustments are needed; in the last shot of the evening, there started to be some cloud cover softening the light, and I had to do almost nothing to the following shot. Too bad I can’t control the clouds at will!

 

 Posted by at 9:34 am
Apr 222012
 

One of the seemingly small things that Adobe Lightroom 4 added was the ability to do localized white balance adjustments. Localized adjustments have long saved many “bad” photos of mine from deletion; even when faces and such are underexposed by a stop or two (see the second example here), you can wind up saving a photo that otherwise just isn’t worth keeping. For example, this one was borderline for a number of reasons:

The framing is pretty bad and there’s hard ugly shadows, and nothing is really particularly good about the photo. But Valerie will usually scowl at the camera, and since I usually have to take pictures like this walking backwards while hoping the kids aren’t falling into the water, I can only hope for so much. The same approaches as were always possible address most things, but still leaves an issue:

Things aren’t as blown out as before, but the reflected light on the shadow areas is really cool (blue) compared to the warm light directly from the setting sun. Before, there was nothing you could really do about this.  Now that you can tweak white balance on selective regions (which I already had to lighten the shadows areas), it’s one slider to warm things up a little:

An actual photographer, especially if working with the subject, would use a reflector, position the subject differently, shoot at a different angle, or any number of other things that are far superior solutions. But if I had a reflector (I don’t own one), I can pretty much guarantee that my kids would see how well it floats. Besides, I almost never set up or pose pictures, I just take them as they are (not that Valerie would have listened anyways). The final picture isn’t fabulous, but it met the threshold to not get deleted:

This also came in handy of a shot Valerie took of me. It’s a miracle when (a) Valerie uses the camera, (b) the resulting shot isn’t completely out of focus (in no small part to non-default focus behavior), and (c) it’s aimed at me. There were lots of problems with the original shot, but after some corrections it was OK but had a blue cast to it (though not as pronounced as the example above):

One slider adjustment, and things balanced a little better:

While I doubt I’ll often have to use this adjustment, it’s certainly nice that’s available!

 Posted by at 11:36 am
Mar 152012
 

On account of good behavior, Olivia and Leo got to share an ice cream (okay, frozen yogurt that seems to have far too few calories to possibly be tasty) after dinner. Olivia took delight in being the arbiter of the ice cream, controlling exactly how much her little brother received – but to her credit, she was reasonably fair with the occasional reminder that the treat wasn’t hers alone.

(Courtesy break here to save your RSS reader from too many photos)

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 Posted by at 9:36 am
Mar 082012
 

One of the very early things I posted here were thoughts on processing, part of a few pages I created to share my thoughts from a non-photographers perspective – that is, someone more oriented towards getting nice shots of their kids than hanging their work in a gallery someday. That page essentially argued that processing your photos after taking them is of great value to non-photographers, in particular for fixing mistakes that a professional would never have made or would have caught before it was too late.  I ran through the various tools I had tried, before expressing my tremendous satisfaction with Adobe Lightroom 3.

Well, Adobe Lightroom 4 became available yesterday, and while it’s box shot is mildly perplexing – I’m not sure it’s really representative of what most are likely to turn to Lightroom to create; in fact, you can’t really create images like that in Lightroom unless you stick feathers into people’s eyes for real – it’s phenomenal and well worth the purchase.

How can I be so sure just a day after release? No, it’s not because I used the beta extensively or anything to that effect. It’s that I thought it was fantastic before – and Lightroom 4 takes nothing away, while dropping the price by half to $149 (for a full copy). Even if nothing was new (and a lot is), it supports the old process version and tools, so at an absolute minimum, it’s a half-price version of Lightroom 3. I understood that $300 for software might be a lot to ask if you spent a total of $300 on your compact camera, but at $150, it’s cheaper than almost any lens or accessory you could buy for even an entry-level SLR – yet the capabilities it provides are profound. Especially if like me, you don’t do everything (or anything) perfectly in-camera when shooting.

There’s a good review up at dpreview.com that’s well worth reading, especially if you want to see what’s different between LR3 and LR4.  Though if you have LR3 (or any prior version), it’s hard to imagine that it’s not worth the $79 upgrade price, because LR4 adds a large number of very significant features:

  • Reworked basic controls. I struggled to see and figure out when to use Exposure vs. Brightness; people made entire videos on that topic. The new panel makes a lot more sense, and for black levels, also seems to provide a lot more control. It’s definitely easier on new users!
  • Books! I haven’t tried this yet, and it sounds like a v1.0 attempt, but I’ll bet it’s a ton better than my recent experience with the software Photobook Canada provides – and it creates books that are publisher independent.  It takes many hours to put together a book, and while some publishers supported PDF for a while, many didn’t and your books were locked into their service. Want a reprint in 10 years and they’re out of business? Too bad. I hope Adobe really iterates and makes this feature top-class.
  • Geotagging! I stopped Geotagging when a bug in Picasa destroyed EXIF data on a whole batch of my JPEGs in an irreversible way (though all I really lost was the detailed information about what lenses I used, etc). Lightroom had no effective way to support this before. It’ll add some overhead to manually geotag my photos since I don’t carry one of those position logging devices, but at least now I can.
  • Automatic Chromatic Abberation (CA) removal. I tried some photos where I struggled to control CA using LR3’s manual CA controls – and LR4 did a fantastically better job, instantly. This is really pretty huge if you’ve ever had photos that were marred by red/blue fringing (the kind that I think corrects easily).
  • Video. I always wished there were some basic Lightroom-style adjustments like white balance that I could easily apply to a video without creating a new video editing project, and it looks like LR4 provides this. I haven’t tried this yet to know how well it works, but I intend to give it a shot, and it’s a worthwhile addition especially now that most current cameras do competent video.
  • More local adjustments, including noise reduction & white balance. I’ve never wanted to do local noise reduction. But when you light a face with flash against a background with natural light, it did make you wish for this sometimes.
  • Reduced Clarity halos.  You had to be really careful in LR3 about pushing up Clarity because of the halos it would create on high contrast edges. Reviews don’t seem to make a big deal of this, but if it bothered you like it bothered me, you’ll really like this.

I think Lightroom was well worth what Adobe used to charge for it. At it’s new price, it’s a steal. That it comes with quite a few great new capabilities is just icing on the cake!

 Posted by at 8:38 am
Feb 252012
 

(Image is Nikon’s, and links to their D800 page). In an earlier post on the announcement of the D4, I decided that the D4 was too big and too expensive to reasonably consider – and that the D800 was looking like it wasn’t the camera for me. Almost three weeks ago, on February 7th, Nikon announced the D800 (and D800E) full frame cameras. And in spite of what I had said earlier, I pre-ordered a D800 the day of the announcement.  Did something change my mind – why did I preorder?

Well, pre-ordering alone doesn’t take much guts – you get to pore over all the samples, analysis, and early user feedback in the month or so that follows until the camera actually starts shipping, and if you don’t like what you see, you can cancel at no cost. And if Nikon’s past launches have been indicative, there won’t be enough D800s anyways, so it’d probably be trivial to sell it perhaps even at a profit if it didn’t meet expectations. I intensely dislike secondary markets that offer new goods at inflated prices (because it results in lots of non-customers buying solely to make a profit, making it more difficult and expensive for legitimate fans to actually get the products in question, without providing any value back to the product creator – see the first year of the Nintendo Wii for examples), but it does take any risk out of pre-ordering.

However, as I’ll explain below, I went a step further and actually committed to this for real. Given that the D800 isn’t intended to address my primary need – good enough high ISO performance to shoot the kids in ambient indoor light at shutter speeds that accommodate their constant state of motion – why did I commit anyways?

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 Posted by at 1:17 pm
Jan 192012
 

As I was out taking some of the pictures I shared yesterday, I wound up with a few shots that highlighted the one part of D7000 ownership that’s been pretty negative – recurring dust/oil spots on the sensor. I’ve already sent my camera back to Nikon twice to have them removed under warranty (losing my use of the camera on both occasions, though I did have the D3 as a “backup” during one repair).  I don’t even have that option now that I’ve moved to the U.S., since I’d have to send it for service in Canada which would be quite a pain with customs and shipping.  I mostly just ignored the problem, until hitting conditions yesterday that greatly exacerbate it – narrow apertures.  Here’s a few pictures that I kept just to highlight the issue.  First, at f/4.5, this looks like a pretty normal picture:

When stopping down to f/8.0, though, something became a lot more visible:

See all the little dots along the right, especially towards the bottom? That’s caused by the oil spots on the sensor.  They’re in the same place in every frame, regardless of what I’m shooting.  Their appearance does change with aperture and even by lens, but they are really annoying.  At f/11, they get even more “well formed”:

Those tiny little branches, just one drop of water wide, are the same ones in that shot from yesterday, in which more than an inch of snow somehow stacked nicely on these narrow branches!

Although the branch looks bigger in successive shots, that’s just because I’m getting closer to the branch; focusing is changing, but the lens isn’t (105mm f/2.8 micro). As I got closer, I needed more depth of field and that’s why I was stopping down, revealing the extent of the issue. Once I realized this, it was trivial to check for dust spots – indoors where it’s not super-bright, at ISO 100 (or 200), use a wide aperture (f/11 or higher), and take a shot of something like a wall while moving your camera around. The shutter speed will be low enough to make everything out of focus. Except the oil spots!

Since Nikon service was no longer a real option, I looked for information on whether I could clean this up myself.  A few interesting discoveries along the way:

  1. This is a fairly widespread issue with the D7000, even though Nikon hasn’t acknowledged it.  It seems to be oil, not dust, because air blowers rarely remove the spots (they didn’t for me), and the spots always appear on the right side of the frame whereas dust would be a little more random.
  2. There’s a menu option on the D7000 to lock up your mirror and shutter for cleaning.  Sometimes, it seems like it doesn’t work because the option is grayed out. On a past attempt, I set the camera to manual, exposure to bulb, and held down the shutter button while blowing air inside!  It turns out that you need to be at 75% battery or higher, or that function will get disabled.  So charge up, it’s much better than trying to hold down the shutter release!
  3. Touching the surface of the sensor seems super-scary, but while you won’t want to be scratching at it with a knife, it’s surface isn’t made of an unstable jelly either, and there is a layer over the sensor.  The risk of making the sensor dirtier seemed to be greater than the risk of scratching it from what I read.

There are various wet cleaning solutions that were recommended by various forum-goers as being effective – but to my great benefit, one of the recommended cleaning tools that worked for many turned out to be something I already had, by pure chance:

Pictured above is a Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly 724 that my friend Herman and I got when buying a big batch of camera equipment about 8 months ago. The front of the brush goes in a plastic cover, which then goes into a styrofoam + plastic case, which then goes into a leather-like case. There’s a button to make the front of the brush spin around. When it was explained to us (as an option we could buy), the seller said it used some kind of electrostatic mechanism to rid the fibers of the brush from any dust. Though the seller was a really honest guy, I was thinking of this as an enormously unnecessary tool for cleaning lenses when microfiber cloths and a $10 blower work just fine. I mean, the thing came in more cases than you’d expect for Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses. We said no to buying this particular item – but the seller just threw it in anyways at the end. It sat on a shelf (and in a box) since then, and wasn’t used once, till Googling for sensor cleaning revealed that this tool was not in fact an overpriced cloth, it was specifically design to clean sensors!

Sadly, it was only after successfully cleaning the sensor and putting things away that I found a piece of paper in the case that said “do not spin brush while cleaning the sensor”. I thought that was the point, but actually, you’re supposed to spin it outside the camera to get all the dust off, then use the brush to clean the sensor. Fortunately, my D7000 sensor is now clean, and I won’t fret too much if I see oil spots cropping up again.

Finally, the above is what worked for me, but it is not professional advice on how to clean your sensor and I’m not advising you to do what I did. In other words, I don’t want you to try and hold me responsible if you try this and it doesn’t work for you.

And no, that dot in the top right of this last picture is not an oil spot on my sensor, it’s a spot on my carpet which will require something other than an Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly 724 to remove!

 Posted by at 6:45 am