Thursday, October 28, 2010

D300: Craigslist Value of the Momment

Thinking of upgrading to a D7000?

Consider the D300 for a moment. They're going for under $900 on Craigslist, and there are a number of good reasons to consider one if you are upgrading from a D90 or lesser camera:
  • Build quality. It's a machine far tougher than what you're used to
  • It's a workhorse. Lots of units out there, most of them working reliably
  • It's optimized for detail. If you've used a D90, the sensor output is not exactly the same as the D300... it's the same chip, but there are subtle differences in how the jpeg engine works. The D90 was made for consumers, and emphasizes noise reduction; the D300 was targeted at working pros who shoot with NEF.
  • The D7000's high ISO abilities aren't quite what they are cracked up to be. Yes, the initial samples were impressive, but don't be too hasty. There are a lot of good reasons to consider this camera, but too many people got caught up in the apparent noise handling characteristics without considering how the camera was applying it's tone curve or how much noise reduction was actually being laid down by the jpeg engine.
  • If you have a D90,the D7000 is realistically an incremental improvement over your current camera. You're most likely to get the most benefit out of an upgrade if you skip camera generations; by going from D90 to D300, you're staying on the same generation image quality wise, but you are opening yourself up to a host of other new capabilities such as improved exposure metering and more sophisticated auto-focus tracking. 
  • Picture submissions. Most agencies and purchasers of pictures have a list of 'approved' cameras. If they don't, the list is more of an unofficial one. These lists are not so much about excluding inferior cameras as they are about excluding inferior photographers; it saves the poor editor from sifting through mounds of submissions from amateurs shooting on consumer cameras. Because not everybody can afford a semi-pro camera, the chances of finding a suitable submission go up for the editor.  When it was new, the D90 would have been on most of the approved lists because it was current technology, but I'll bet that it would have fallen out of favor by now. The D300 will remain on for some time. Yes, this is discrimination; yes it is snobbery. Yes, it is a fact of life.
Look for low shutter count bodies used by serious enthusiasts. Cameras from paid professionals will likely have high shutter counts, especially if they've shot weddings.The rubber hand grip tends to unpeel, but can be cheaply put back into place with a little bit of rubber cement. Be extra careful looking over these machines; Nikon warranties are not transferable. Also be careful not to pick up a unit that was originally bought outside of your country, your local Nikon center won't even bother to fix it.

Also look out for unusally low priced D300s bodies... the probably of encountering a scam post is higher. This cameras should still command relatively high asking prices above the $1,000 mark, which doesn't make them that appealing on the used market.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Hold Your DSLR

This is a just a gentle reminder about how to hold your DSLR properly. For most camera's, it's pretty obvious what you should be doing with your right hand because that is the side of the camera that has the grip. For whatever reason, the proper positioning of the left hand is not obvious, as so many new photographers invariably pick up their camera the wrong way.

The proper position of the left hand is:
  • Palm up with the fingers cradling the lens near the lens mount and the left side of the camera body resting in your left palm
  • Left elbow tucked into the chest
  • While we're at it, the right elbow is also tucked into the chest as well
Most new photographers pick up a camera and hold the lens with an overhand grip. This has some rationale from a bio-mechanical point of view, as the elbow will naturally pivot inward somewhat when you raise your arm, thereby turning your hand palm down. This is categorically the wrong way to hold a lens, because it is not stable. If your hand is on top of the lens, that means it is exerting a downward force on it. If your hand is under the lens, your fingers are not doing as much work, and the lens rests passively in your hand. By the same token, if your elbow is not tucked into your chest and is out in space in a chicken-wing position, you are are relying on your shoulder muscles to keep your arm steady as it fights against gravity. By tucking your elbow in, your body is performing less work and is able to hold the camera much steadier. The key principal is to form a stable base that requires the least amount of muscle tension.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Anatomy of a Yet Another Craigslist Scam

This posting showed up today on our local Craigslist. I give you the full posting for scrutiny.


F.S. Nikon D700 Pro Lens Kit ( LNIB ) - $4300

Date: 2010-10-18, 5:36PM PDT

1. LNIB D700 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED .

This was purchased as a Pro Kit and paid $5300.00 in Jan 2010. Never had chance to use it as planned. Complete with all boxes and software. Has less than 300 clicks and is as NEW. It has a Warranty that is transferable , and covers loss , damage, theft etc; worldwide floater .
The price is $4300.00 no tax. Still $500.00 less than the store and a Warranty. Please do not haggle over price or show up with less cash than asking, this is a waste of your time and mine. Let's respect each other.


Nikon MB D10 Grip for D700 Sells for 350.00 incl. tax. Buy New never used $300.00 no tax. Firm Boxed.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 D lens in perfect/mint shape in box. $295.00 firm

Tamron AF70-300mm f/4.5.6 LD Macro 1:2

Nikon Mount Incredibly sharp Lens. $100.00 firm in Box 4 years left on Tamron Warranty.

Manfrotto 190QCB Tripod with Manfrotto 352RC ball Head. Looks nice $95.00

Photoflex Gold/zebra and white panel fabric w homemade 39x72 frame $50.00

Photoflex LightDisc Holder as New Sells for 125.00 alone, i will include a 7 foot Lightstand and a 5x7 collapsable diffuser panel for $150.00

Great for knocking down High Noon Shadows. Fabric is Transparent.

Here is some links for Nikon D700 and 24-70mm 2.8 ED Lens

Here is what the D700 looks like with the MB D10 grip Photo courtesy of someone other.

Serious Buyers Please

Initial contact via this post.
If i Agree to show the Equipment further contact info will be provided . Thank You.


First, to understand why this is an insidious post, you have to understand what the poster did right -
  • The retail purchase price is right. A Nikon D700 with a 24-70 would have cost over $5000 after taxes at the beginning of the year. (Yes, it's that expensive here...)
  • The asking prices for the misc equipment are about right, though nobody in their sane mind would call the that particular Tamron 70-300 "sharp"
  • Though I didn't include it , the suburb is "right". The posting lists a suburb that is known for being an upper-middle class 'bed-room' community.
And now the red flags...lots of them.
  • The illness story. If you've followed the previous Craigslist guides, you'll remember that a legitimate posting never needs a SOB story to sell it. And to be quite honest, if you where going through troubling illness, would you put it all over the internet?
  • Nikon warranties are never transferable. That is an outright lie. 
  • He quotes Ken Rockwell... people who shoot D700's don't need to learn about the camera from Mr. Rockwell. In fact, it's a dead give away that the ad is targeted at least sophisticated shooters who rely on KR for their web reading, not realize that there are many, many better choices....
  • "Please do not haggle over price..." Even if this was a legitimate post, words to this effect are the surest sign that you are dealing with a jerk.
  • No picture of the actual camera  in the ad. They copied in a promo picture, but what's the point? Every experienced shooter knows what a D700 looks like...
  • And the biggest clue...... he's asking way to much. The asking price for D700's is about $2300, and for the 24-70 it's about $1400. That's right, combined, you should be paying no more than $3700
If you remember the last D700 scam breakdown...
... you may be asking why there are so many illegitimate D700's floating around our locale. There aren't. It's the work of a few... maybe even a single person working the ad space. And in case you are wondering, the current price of the body + lens retail is $4589 after taxes... with a real warranty.

Tamron 28-75: An Introduction for DX Use

The Tamron 28-75, in it's various incarnations, has a well deserved reputation for quality optics at an affordable price. It's even more affordable if you find one on Craigslist, which is not that difficult a proposition considering how popular this lens is. Most would compare it to the Nikon 24-70 AF-S, but it's really apples to oranges. The Tamron is very competent on full frame, but the Nikon is better... albeit, much, much more expensive.

Mounted on a D80, D90 or the new D7000, the weight and size of the 28-75 balance nicely. It's a little bit longer and heavier than the Nikon consumer lenses in this range, but it's much shorter and lighter than the Nikon equivalent. The barrel is plastic, and not metal like a professional lens, but it's build quality is in keeping with the cameras in this price range. The older screw-drive versions are more desirable than the ones with built in focusing motors (BIM). The older lenses auto-focus faster; when Tamron added built in motors to their lenses, it was pretty much a kludge on top of the existing lens design...  in other words, the BIM versions aren't a true implementation of AF-S focusing.

One aspect of this lens that doesn't get mentioned much on internet forums is how nice it is to manually focus. The focus ring is nice and wide, unlike the rubber-band like afterthought on the 18-105, and it has a nice smooth dampened feeling... not quite as good as the old fluid-dampened manually focused lenses, but much nicer than the majority of the lenses out there.

On DX, the 28-75 is a bit of an awkward focal length, as it is the equivalent of 42-112mm. The limiting factor is the wide end... to be honest, if you keep this lens in your bag, you will need something wider to supplement. This usually isn't a limiting factor except in the tightest of places. It's still a great landscape lens, especially if you do stitching. To be honest, this is a lens that you tend to use a lot of at 28mm, as it's closer to the natural viewing angle of human vision than the so called 50mm "normal" (A topic for another day....)
However, the extra length that the DX-crop affords does make this a nice portrait lens. If you like shooting headshots with a 50mm wide open, try this lens at 75mm and f/2.8... you don't get the extreme subject isolation that you would get with a f/1.4 aperture, but you do make up for it with the longer focal length (which enhances foreground background isolation). The perspective at 75mm is pleasing, and at f/2.8, you have more depth of field than with the 50mm's wide open. Think of it as a flexible compromise for the 85mm lenses... not as good as what they do at this focal length, but with the added flexibility of zoom.

The constant f/2.8 is a breath of fresh air, especially if you've only shot with variable aperture lenses. However, don't be tricked into thinking that f/2.8 zooms are low-light lenses... they're not, they're just better than the consumer lenses. In most indoor situations, at f/2.8 the light still required a fair bit of ISO boost. What the f/2.8 means is that the long end of the lens is more usable than a variable aperture lens. If you stop down, this lens gets really good at f/4 and basically sits on a plateau of goodness up to f11.

If you are paying attention to your safe shutter speed (the minimum shutter speed for acceptable hand-held shots, usually defined as the inverse of the effective focal length, or 1.5x your focal length on DX), you'll notice that you run out of safe shutter speed pretty quickly on a variable aperture lens. Say you are using the venerable 18-70... Your safe shutter speed at 70mm is 1/135 seconds. However, that lens is f/4.5 at the long end. In comparison, the 28-75 is still f/2.8 at the long end... meaning that at the same ISO, the Tamron will be able to use a minimum shutter speed that is about 2.6 times faster than the Nikon 18-70.

Fans (or people who spent a lot of money) of the Nikon 24-70 like to point out that the Tamron 28-75 has only average resolution wide open. This is a given, but to be honest, the Nikon is not at it's best wide open lens is. At f/2.8 the Tamron is reasonable sharp in the center and average in the corners. If you've ever used a 50mm AF-D, the resolving power is similar. In fact, if you look at the MTF curves, the Nikon 50 AF-D from f/1.4 to f/2.8 looks like a continuation of the Tamron's MTF curve. In other words, it's quite serviceable, it's just not exemplary

One final note: In many ways, the Tamron 17-50 is the DX version of this lens. Tamron has recently updated it with their VC image stabilization technology, and by all accounts it's brilliant (provided you get a decent copy, but  quality control is another post). My bet is that the 28-75 will get stabilization before the Nikon  does.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weddings - Flash or no Flash

If you are like most people (and like me), your camera probably sees the most amount of work during weddings. And if you are like most people, you probably have an aversion to using the on-bard fill-flash because it produces harsh and unflattering exposures. This, of course, becomes all the more important if you are attending one of those weddings were the bridal party, or more likely the case, the officiant, requests that no flash photography be taken.

Just as an aside, if you are considering getting married, the officiant/priest/pastor/etc is dead set against flash photography, my kind suggestion is to find one who isn't. The worst memory I have was the minister of a church who insisted that none of the guests use flash during the ceremony.... including the official photographer. I suppose this was not to violate the sanctity of the wedding ceremony...of course, my opinion was that this particular minister had completely lost touch with what weddings were supposed to be about, a shared community experience. (And just as a poke, I have been of a lot of religious weddings over the years, many much more theologically deep and satisfying than his one. The only thing the venue had going for it was stained glass and pomp and circumstance.) I spoke with the photographer after wards... this was when most wedding photographers were using Nikon D200's... he had been forced to use ISO 1600 and looked like he was in a lot of anguish over how the pictures were going t turn out.

But enough about that. The point is, if you are shooting at a friend's wedding, don't be afraid of your flash, because it will save you big time. Here's a quick use/don't use suggestion. (Assuming you don't have a flash unit like a SB-600 that will bounce off the ceiling.)

Wedding Procession - Don't Use
You'll probably be surrounded by gusts with compact point and shoots, which will invariably need to use flash. When exposing a picture, one flash is good; more than one flash from multiple sources is bad. I prefer not to use flash out of respect to the bride, who is probably  bundle of nerves anyway. 

Ceremony  - Don't Use
This is a no brainer. The bride and groom are relatively stationary, and the chances are that you will be able to stabilize your camera on the pew or chair in front of you.

Presentation of the Bride and Groom - Use
With the formal ceremony over, the bride and groom will move pretty fast down the isle. I prefer to use smaller apertures and flash to get plenty of light and depth of field.

One Person - No Flash
With one person, no flash is less intimidating to pose for pictures.

Multiple People - Flash
Don't even try to use wide aperture with multiple people, you won't have enough depth of field to get all of the faces in focus. Aim for something past f/5.6 and use flash to compensate for the loss of light. Even if the exposure turns out to be a bit harsh, it will still be better than a nicely exposed out of focus picture.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Autofocusing with Non-Cross Type Sensors

Was reminded of a neat trick with the non-cross type sensors. These are usually the sensors on the periphery of the AF array. They work by detecting contrast in vertical line detail. The downside is that they are not as sensitive to detail that is predominantly horizontal.

So in low light situations, when you are using the edge AF sensors and the the camera is struggling to focus, a neat way to encourage focus lock is to turn the camera 90 degrees. If the camera acquires focus, continue half-pressing the shutter and return the camera to the orientation that you want, then full press.