Monday, December 31, 2012

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 Review

In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Nikon D600, I described it as "a camera that needed no review" because of it's combination of known qualities (essentially D7000 technology and construction) with the addition of an improved sensor. By those virtues, the mere fact that it was a well-regarded camera with a larger sensor pretty much guaranteed that it would be a good camera, with the only thing that could ruin the equation being if Nikon couldn't deliver on the expected "affordable" price point. If you factor in the 2012 year-end bundling with the 24-85VR, everything about the camera pretty much sells itself.

A couple that I know are expecting their first child and are shopping for a camera. I knew the RX100 was big when I started seeing all of the non-camera friends on Facebook recommending this camera because of its "dSLR-like quality." You can only roll your eyes at that. It's good, but it's not that good. But the hype around this camera... yes, there's been that much hype. So they were interested, until the inevitable topic of price came around...

It's been a while since the Sony DSC-RX100 has been out, which was launched just around the same time. Similar situation, on paper, stuffing a 1/1" sized sensor into a small compact body ought to make the it clear that the RX100 would out-perform every other camera in this class, and it certainly does... but is being the best in class an "automatic marketing" virtue? That depends, as the equation isn't so simple. The D600 (and now the Canon 6D) are by virtue, value-oriented products, as every other full-frame alternative is much more expensive, but the RX100 runs into the problem of being more expensive than even some dSLR's. Does that matter? It likely depends on the buyer's situation.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AF-D Review: Just Another Classic 35mm Shot

"Raincouver"  earned its reputation this week, so for smiles I decided to revisit a sunny summer afternoon. This is a greatly expanded review of the Nikon 24mm f/2.8AF-D. Count the number of photographic "rules" being broken in this picture...

  • "Portrait" taken with wide angle lens
  • Subject not placed far enough away from busy background
  • Subject isn't in optimal focus.
  • "Burnt" highlights

Yet, this picture is still a favourite of mine...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Nikon AF 35-70 f3.3-4.5 Review: A Tripod Makes Any Lens Sharp

Getting closer to another New Year, now. This is an expanded re-post of an old article, but to me, there's something appropriate about ringing in the new by honouring the years gone by at the same time.

Steveston Harbour, Richmond, B.C., Canada

This picture was taken with an old Nikon AF 35-70mm f3.3-4.5 lens... the kind of kit lens that came on the consumer F-401 way back in the days of film. These lenses earned a reputation for producing a 'dreamy' picture rendition, which is a nice way of saying that they were not very sharp. This reputation is not unearned, but was made worse by the high probability that the camera store clerk upsold you a UV filter to "protect" the lens, which further degraded the image quality. Nonetheless, this was the first lens that I ever used on my old D80. Not the greatest choice, but this particular image is fairly sharp despite being shot at "only" f/4.5. Even though I probably should have gone to f/8, it was windy out there and I wanted to keep the exposure time down as the boats were rocking gently in the wind.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Clear-Coat Scratch Protection Review for iPhone 4s

I've gone through a number of screen protectors over the past two years (see here and here). Though I think that some are better than others, my advice remains pretty much the same: if you like using protectors instead of cases, buy the cheapest one that you can, because these aren't permanent solutions. The various companies out there offer replacement programs, but truth be told, they're counting on you not bothering to mail in your used protectors in much the same way that rebates anticipate that a certain proportion of the customers never redeem them.

Just as a caveat, though: don't buy the no-name stickers that come in a slim pouch without an applicator kit. These wear out quickly, don't have the same spring-back properties as the big name varieties and aren't as clear. On top of it all, they are terrible to install if you try to apply them in one-go instead of using the wet method.

The most recent product that I've been using with my iPhone has been the Clear-Coat, which I can say has also been the least expense brand that I've come across so far. For roughly $20 CDN, you get a full body kit, whereas larger brands give you only front and back for that price. My first one wore out (more about that later), and my local retailer replaced it with a brand new set for $3. The second set has gone almost half a year and is in good shape.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Robson Square, Vancouver, Canada

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and happy holidays. May you have many wonderful memories and pictures this season.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Buying Broken Equipment on Craigslist

Seen today on my local Craigslist. Price got my attention, until I read further:

Nikon 18-200mm VR1 - $320

"Nikon 18-200 VR1 lens. The VR doesn't work anymore, but the lens performs perfect otherwise. Photos are very sharp, focuses fast and accurate, zoom smoothly. No scratch on the glass element. "

Good used copies of this lens will still go for above $500 CDN... however, I am also starting to see more listing below that for wear and tear issues... dropped lenses, focus motor issues, etc. This is a high quality lens compared to a kit lens. It's well built, but it's also mechanically complex. So would I buy it? No. The price discount is about right, as the broken VR system essentially renders this lens the same as an older 18-200 non-VR type lens, but with better optics. A big downside is that used copies on eBay list for around $350 already (shipping extra), so while the discount is fair, it might not be enough to compensate for the loss of functionality. Remember that Nikon warranties are not transferable. However, just pricing in the cost of the lost functionality isn't the complete story. If you are willing to make this calculation, there is no guarantee that a future buyer would be willing to do so if you yourself decide to re-sell the lens later. If you have your heart set on buying something that is damaged, be prepared to keep it forever; if you can re-sell it, consider it icing on the cake.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Emulating Different Nikon Cameras with Picture Control

Starting with the D3/D3x generation, newer Nikon cameras moved to a unified picture control menu, which makes adjusting camera output consistent across different types of cameras. However, from time to time you hear of people wishing for the JPEG output of older cameras, particularly the famed D2X Mode I that is a favourite of portrait photographers. Picture Control gives you something to approximate that. However, since image output is a culmination of many things hardware and software, you won't be able to exactly replicate different cameras. Here are Nikon's suggestions on how to emulate the D200 and older cameras:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Is it Safe to Clean Your Lenses by Breathing on Them?

A mild bit of controversy over the weekend in the Nikon world with a December 7 blurb about cleaning your lenses on Nikon USA's support page.  The original text went like this:

"How do I clean the camera lens?

The best way to clean a lens is to use a piece of lint free lens cleaning tissue and a small amount of Lens Cleaning solution. Do not use anything containing abrasives or  solvents, only use Lens Cleaning Solution. First we recommend taking a small blower brush to blow off or brush away loose dust or debris.
Next, place a drop or two of cleaner on the tissue (never directly onto the lens) and then wipe the lens in a circular motion, beginning in the center and working your way outward, removing any marks or smear. If the above supplies are not available a clean, dry, soft, lint free cloth can be used to clean the lens.
Do not breathe on the lens to fog it for cleaning. There are harmful acids in breath that can damage lens coatings. Just use the blower bulb, then brush, and wipe the lens in a circular spiral from the center outward. The same method can be used to clean the viewfinder eyepiece of Nikon cameras."

The is posting was updated on December 10, 2012, with the underlined text removed, but not before it made the rounds with Nikon Rumors and PetaPixel.... and drawing the predictable ire of the comments sections on both websites. The more suspicious out there tended to see this as a ploy to scare people into buying lens fluid, whereas your breath is ostensibly free. Darn those evil corporations!

Depending on how you react to the printed word, your first reaction might have been to resolve to duly hold the camera away from your mouth at all times henceforth, or it may have been to immediately scoff at the poor soul who put this wording up on Nikon USA's site. Since they eventually modified it, I'll let you figure out which reaction would have been the appropriate one to take... Still, this raises two questions for the curious: is your breath acidic and would it in any way be harmful to the coatings on your lenses?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Nikon D7000 Review

This is a long overdue review. Obviously, it is not a review about the newest and greatest D7000; it's a review about the D7000 as a great value near the end of its model lifecycle. Originally, I had thought that I was not going to write a review, since my thoughts about the D7000 have trickled out here and there throughout other blog posts this year. However, this seems as good a time as any to sum them up because of a number of factors, not the least of which is that the price as of  the end of 2012 is at an all-time low for the amount of performance the D7000 is capable of. You also have the 24mp DX era ever so slowly dawning on us, with the D3200 and D5200 having come, and the presumed D400 announcement around the corner.

That said, Nikon's mid-level cameras have always been stalwart performers. Users of the D70, D80 and D90 tend to hold onto their cameras for a long time simply because they are well made photographic tools. So in that sense, we are nearing the end of one part of the D7000 story, where the first time users have already fallen in love with it (and occasionally fallen out of love with it), and are now just entering the time when the secondary market is going to hunting for it as well. Regardless of what comes next, it's important to keep a little perspective; this is a lot of photographic horsepower in an affordable body, which means that the D7000 will have a place in the Nikon photographic world even after the introduction of it's eventual successor.

Update: For a look at the so-called "ISO-lessness" of the D7000, read here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

ProCamera Review for iPhone

I'll be the first to admit that a lot of the pictures that you see on this blog are actually taken from my iPhone, thus proving that the best camera is the one that you have with you at the moment. What's really remarkable about the camera unit on the 4s and iPhone 5 is how well the images hold up, beating output produced by consumer cameras from the earlier part of the last decade. In good light, iPhone output is serviceable for casual keeper photos if you aren't too picky, and even in poor light, the files downsample well enough for blogging and web photos.

ProCamera with various features activated.
That said, there's still room for improvement, which is where the ProCamera app fits in. To be upfront, you shouldn't expect dSLR-like levels of control and quality, but what you get instead are a lot of usability improvements in an interfrace that looks like the iOS camera app, only augmented. These features include (but are not limited to):
  • Live histogram
  • Exposure and focus targeting can be de-coupled
  • Ability to use the camera's flash as a spot light
  • White balancecontrol
  • Ability to adjust JPEG output compression levels
  • Framing grid and virtual horizon
  • Volume buttons as the shutter release
  • Self Timer
  • Burst mode for multiple shots
  • Electronic image stabilization for stills
  • An improved zooming interface
  • QR Code reader
  • Location Tagging

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Fried Rice Recipe

Absolutely nothing camera or tech related, but I thought I'd put it up for American Thanksgiving anyway.

If you live in a Chinese family (like I do), rice is your birthright. In fact, "Have you eaten rice yet?" is an idiomatic phrase in Cantonese used to greet people, indicating how important rice is to the people and to the culture. So that means that even for something as wholly western as a turkey dinner, there's bound to be rice if you are eating at a Chinese dinner party. Turkey also means leftovers, so here is one of my favourite ways to combine the two: fried rice.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday Deals, 2012 (Updated)

I love American Thanksgiving, if only because it puts a definitive and immovable start date on the year-end holiday season. In Canada, we have no such November date, and consequently, the commercial entities begin pushing Christmas on us the day after Halloween. However, when it come to Black Friday and the Canadian equivalent, Boxing Day (December 26), I prefer our version because it pretty much signals the end of the spend-spend-spend portion of the holidays, with New Year's being more of a denouement than a climatic event. However, in this puttering economy, you can't begrudge anybody the need to save on every dollar possible. That said, I think we lose a little bit of meaning in our holidays when you wrap up dinner and then immediately head for the nearest store lineup. Relax, slow down, enjoy the company and the conversation. Have some more pumpkin pie. Enjoy life without having to buy things... That's a bit of idealism, of course, something that I haven't adhered to. However, I do want to say that my years living in the U.S. are fondly remembered, especially with all the Thanksgivings spent there.

 Of course, as a Canadian living in the States, that meant having two Thanksgivings every year, so what's not to like about that? Did did I mention that I still love American Thanksgiving, because it means that productivity in Canadian companies that do business internationally grinds to a halt on Wednesday afternoon because all of our U.S. business partners are rushing off to the airport to get home? That said, here's a run down of some camera related stuff.  All prices USD. Happy hunting. (Note: This post will be updated through the week)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kobo Arc e-Reader Tablet Review

By any measures, the Kobo Vox was a letdown that mercifully did not see much exposure, thereby limiting any lasting damage to it's company. This isn't a snarky comment so much as a fact of business life. As a an extension of the Chapters/Indigo francishe here in Canada, Kobo is ostensibly a way for a company that sells physical and tangible books to not get left behind by the electronic publishing revolution. To that end, the Arc is a much better second attempt at the tablet/reader hybrid market, and is out in time for the holiday shopping season. (Can I just say, enough already with the earlier and earlier commercialization of Christmas every year? Christmas is for December, and only December, okay? If there is one thing that I like about America, it's that the holiday season has a definite start right with American Thanksgiving. Here in Canada, the retailers would have you believe that Christmas starts the day after Halloween.)

Though Kobo is now owned by Rakuten Inc. of Japan, the e-reader brand is very much associated with the Chapters/Indigo chain here in Canada, who were the original majority owners of the company. That is to say, it is the Amazon Kindle of the Great White North. Most Kobo devices have a simple charm to them, with a design that is pure and austere, unlike the vaguely over-sized calculator appearance of the Kindle devices. The majority of Kobo's devices are E Ink based, and offer crisp to read text, but sluggish performance if you use them to do anything other than read books. They also quite frankly suck as touch devices, and generally have unresponsive screens... a pain if you are only used to full-on tablets. However, as dedicated e-readers and at the price that they are sold at, they more than do the job.  This also illustrates the need in Kobo's lineup for somebody who wants to read books, but who also wants some of the functionality of a tablet. The original Kobo Vox tried to fill that void, trying to be a value priced version of what the Kindle Fire was. It basically suffered the fate of all neither-nor devices: neither good enough as a heavy duty reader, nor was it fastest enough to do anything significant with it as a tablet.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sony SLT-A99 Review

The SLT-A99 was launched at Photokina 2012, and were it not for the Nikon D600 and it's industry leading pricing, the Sony would be a camera that we would be buzzing about today. Unfortunately, the SLT-A99 also got upstaged by the RX1. People like specs, and theylike talking about specs... but in the wake of this year's Photokina show, I don't think there is any better example that there is more to product buzz than just specs.

This is an "out-there" kind of a camera. Any Nikon resembles any other Nikon, but the SLT-A77 and now the A99 are making a break from the traditional Minolta-looking cameras of yesteryear... these cameras are even a bit more smoothed-out than the A65. What the online reviews so far don't convey is that this feels like a big camera. It's not quite as heavy as the D700 or D800 , and though it's wider than the D600, it's actually shorter and  narrower than that camera. The camera grip feels great in your right hand, but over all, the way the D600 is shaped and the lighter weight just make it seem like a less ostentatious camera. And a little bit ostentatious is the way I would describe the A99. Nikon's of all sorts look like traditional cameras, through and through. The A99 loses the stodginess of the A900 in favor of a more melted-blob shape. It feels like a Canon in some ways, but more gadgety.  If I were to compare the two, the Nikon D600 would be the like the Honda Accord; the A99 is little more in the stylistic vein of the Hyundai Sonata.

Two small likes to single out: I like the flip out LCD, and especially the top mounting of the microphone, where it is moved away from the noise of the lens motors. No pop-up flash, but I'd like to make a case for pop-up microphones; if you are going to shoot serious video, you are not going to use the on-bard microphone, but if you are going to have an on-board microphone, it has to be usable. I think Nikon falls down in this regards, and still hasn't addressed this since the introduction of video in the D90.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nikon D5200 Launch Impresions

And now finally, a DX camera update from Nikon. It's been a long DX drought, cause célèbre for Thom Hogan, and a long period of inactivity for photography bloggers who specialize in the middle ground (yours truly). There's a reason why this blog is "mostly photography"... Nikon made it easy to talk about other things during the DX lull. DX is not dead,of course. It was just waiting to see if you would have bought a D600 instead. Of course, this wasn't the camera launch that the enthusiasts and semi-pros were hoping for, but an important camera for Nikon nonetheless.The D5200 is impressively spec'd, basically taking a D3200-like sensor (but with upgrades in the imaging system), and pairing it with the D7000's 39-point autofocus system and more advanced exposure meter. This is a lot of sophistication for a camera in this segment of the market.In fact, I find it a disappointment that the shape of the camera body is so similar to the D5100. The sum of these parts make this a significantly greater shooting experience than the D5100.

I want to stress "D3200-like" in describing the sensor. Nikon's literature describes it as"new", though they've not always been transparent in describing their sensor origins. (In fact, the never are, you only learn about the sensor after the fact after the whole internet has dug around.) Nikon's literature describes the D3200 sensor as "24.2" megapixels, which we now know as being different from the 24mp sensor used in the Sony NEX-7. They're using "24.1" to describe the D5200 sensor. Depending on how the chip is utilizes, this could still be the same sensor, but the pixel count isn't the tip off that this is something new (or at the very least very upgraded): it's the video specs that do that. The D5200 can now do 1080i at 60fps, all in all, it seems very similar to the NEX-7 chip. Nonetheless, that's still a lot of data to move off of the chip; it's going through the same EXPEED 3 processor that Nikon uses in the full frame camera line. The addition of the WR-R10/WR-T10 radio-based wireless system further pushes this class of camera into more and more serious videography territory.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Apple iPad Mini: Hands on First Impression

"So does that mean that we're going to be calling the original iPad the 'Maxi-pad' from now on?"
                      - Kyrie O'Connor on NPR's Wait! Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Continuing on with this year's tablet rollouts. (Yes, this is still mostly  photography blog!) today was the iPad mini retail roll out. The lines aren't as long as before, but at this stage in the game, we are talking about a maturing market; the increasing segmentation is a sure sign of that. In any case, my suspicion is that things like the iPod and the iPad, which most customers don't opt for a cellular plan, don't get the major spikes in launch day traffic that the iPhone does, which is of course, is very much subsidized by the telecoms.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet: Hands-On, First Impressions

 It's time for another tablet to enter the market. This week the Microfot Surface launched, along with Windows RT. You've been seeing bits and pieces of the new Microsoft era in the revamped, the brave if stunted entry of Windows phones, and now finally  in Windows 8 and RT. It seems familiar... and not. Familiar in that it has entered our consciousness over the year and unfamiliar in that you won't know how to navigate it coming from Windows 7. The new OS is gorgeous, but I have little to say about it for now. Everything that you've read about it taking some getting used to is true. It's more ambitious than iOS, way swipes and gestures work sort of reminds you of the Blackberry Playbook OS, but in a more sophisticated way and with better graphics. Underneath it all is Windows and there are ways of getting to that familiar way of working with things, but this is a device that will take some getting used to. Overall, I like the Metro-esque era for Windows, the new colorful word is so not 50 shades of grey. Very refreshing coming from the pristine and austere world of iOS.

The screen resolution is 1366 x768, which has been maligned somewhat by the Retina Screen and Nexus10 fanboys, but pixels aside, the display is crisp and very readable. As we say in cameras, it's not just the number of pixels, but also the quality, and the Surface has good quality pixels. Screen crispness matters to me more than screen resolution, since eyestrain is a personal problem for me now that documents are no longer printed out and everything is read in electronically. In any case, the lower resolution count gets put to better use when you add the Touch Cover keyboard, as a virtual keyboard wouldn't be intruding into your visual space.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ThL V11 4.0 Inch Android 4.0 Phone Review

ThL is a Chinese maker of mobile phones, based out of Shenzhen (where else?) and established in 2002. I had never heard of them until I saw this phone. The V11 was something a family member picked up for less than $100 USD on a trip to Hong Kong, and much to my surprise, has not fallen apart yet. Of course,  that is unfair of me, considering that I am a reasonable fan of Ainol products. What we have here is the something that is obviously derivative and cheap, but some people like things like that. In fact, there are people who are positively enthusiastic for cheap and cheerful.... like said named family member who bought this phone. The phone is not that much chunkier or bigger than an iPhone 4s. It's quite lightweight, being mostly plastic in construction. It's not wafer thin like the brightest and best of this year, but it's in keeping with a 2010, early 2011ish level of technology. The design is very obviously a mashup between the Samsung Galaxy series and the iPhone 4, with a not so subtle call-out to the iPhone with a metal (actually metalized plastic) band running along the side of the device.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

dSLR Autofocus Fine-Tune with Moiré Interference Pattern Technique

Autofocus calibration is a useful feature on the D7000 and other Nikon and Canon dSLR's equipped with it, but it can also be one of the most tedious things that you can do with a modern camera. If you've tried it and don't think so, then chances are that you're probably not doing it right... or at least not as rigorously as you should be. I was talking with a a guy about the 50 times focal length test distance that is spec for autofocus calibration, and it was amusing watching him do the math for how much setup distance would be required for a 300mm f/4.

Because I don't have the space for a dedicated setup... and because my eyes are going... and also because I have perpetual coffee hands (this is Vancouver, after all), I've switched to the moiré interference method of autofocus fine-tuning. I've grown to prefer it to over other methods because the setup isn't as fussy, and it's very easy to gauge the degree of lens calibration.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

SynthCam Review for iOS

Very few apps doing anything truly innovative with the camera on a modern smartphone. That is not to say that apps like Instagram are not useful, it's just that they don't do anything new.  Most photographic apps perform either some measure of in-camera alterations or have some kind of photo sharing capability. Released in early 2011, SynthCam does something entirely new. Very shallow depth of field shots can look beautiful coming out of a dSLR equiped with a fast aperture lens, but are impossible to replicate on devices with very small sensors, such as those found in camera phones. This is not a limitation of technology, but one of physics and geometry. In fact, as I pointed out in this post, sometimes the extreme amount of focus that you get in a small sensor device is actually useful.

Straight Capture from iPhone 4s
SynthCam takes the advantage of the video and gyroscope/motion sensing capabilities of a smart phone (iPhone 4s in this case) to simulate a larger light capturing area than what the phone actually has. It does this through continuous capture of a given scene, with synthetic computation to construct a shallower depth of field. Think of it as a physical-world ray tracing application; during the capture process, you have to keep the phone parallel to the scene; by slowly moving it in a circle, you are tracing out a virtual area that would be analogous to a larger sensor/lens system.
SynthCam Capture.
So how does it work? In takes, well, some practice. The key is to move the camera slowly, and accurately within a 2D plain; tilting or rotating the phone will produce suboptimal results. Accurate captures can produce results that look like they were downsized from a dSLR. Poor captures produce pictures that look like they suffer from excessive motion blur. The key is slow and deliberate hand motion during the capture process. A rule of thumb  to remember is that shallow depth of field is not a cure for poor composition. Even though a fast dSLR lens can blur out the background, you still wouldn't place your subject behind a busy background (like tree branches) because of the harsh bokeh that can result. The same applies to SynthCam; don't expect pretty results if the background is busy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Review

This might sound strange, but when you think about it, kit lenses are an endangered breed. We may be entering an era where the best kit lenses may be in the making, but their relevance is growing less and less over time. It's like that old saw about how the last buggy whips on the market were also the best ever made. If you were one of the first to get a D7000, which only came in kit-form for the first few weeks, what did you do with the 18-105VR lens? Probably Craigslisted it, since you already had lots of lenses, some which were likely better. Kit lenses make a lot of sense with the D3200 and D5100 models;  they are getting a lens with their camera body for less than the retail price of of the two separate.

However, at the serious enthusiast and professional levels, kit lenses make less sense, since many of us have have been shooting for a number of years and have lenses already. If you have a lens that you like, the chances are that you are looking to move up in the world, not settle for another entry-level model. For this type of shooter, a packaged kit lens is an added expense, not a value proposition. Thankfully, Nikon hasn't done what they did with the D7000 and D90, are going with body only straight from the start with the D600.

However, there's also a little bit of truth to the sentiment that the camera market really doesn't need any more kit lenses... dSLR's are a mature replacement market. Eerybdy who wants a dSLR has one by now. Growth is slowing, and being eaten away at the bottom by Micro 4/3  and the Sony NEX systems. If you have any of the later model Nikons, chances are that you can continue to use it for many years.  So basically, any additional 18-105VR's entering the market now stands a higher chance of sitting in the closet than ever before. Don't believe me? What was the kit lens of the film era? That's right the nifty-fifty. The last time I checked, there's no shortage of 50mm primes... for any SLR manufacturer.

Regardless, I'm not here to bury the kit lens, but to praise it. We the consumer don't really have a need for more kit DX lenses, but we've also been weened off of FX for so long that we are in need of full frame lenses for that magical upgrade to the D600. Like me, for example. So, does it make sense to have a "kit lens" for a $2,099 USD camera?  Entry level FX camera, but not entry level price for most people; if you are spending that sort of cash, is there a point to have an entry level lens?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nikon D600 Review

Okay, so I said that the Nikon D600 was the camera that needed no review because it was the culmination of a number of known positive factors that Nikon had already been offering, both feature-wise in other cameras, and service-wise across all of the product range. You didn't think that I could resist getting my hands on it first chance that I got, did you? Well, here it is, in the flesh. That didn't take long did it? Photokina 2012 is over and just like that, it pops up in your store.

Nikon D600
It takes months of planning to roll out a whole new line, and if nothing else, serves to illustrate how serious Nikon is about pushing the affordable full frame market. I assumed that my local independent shop would only get a few trickle-outs, but the answer to "How many do you have in stock?" was actually, "Lots." Nikon has heard you, oh long suffering FX wannabe: the promised land is here. No elusive high-end halo product this; this is the big time now, mass production, mass consumption. Just to give you an idea of what the D600 will mean to Nikon, the bulk of their unit sales historically fell between the D90/D300 cameras. Since there isn't a D400 (not yet anyway), that should give you a really good idea of the volume that the D600 is expected to do. Just a recap, the D600 has been one of the worst kept secrets to come out of Nikon in quite some time, and judging by the scale of the operation, it's not hard to see why. This is a consumer camera, expected to do consumer-like levels of volume, and it's produced in their consumer-oriented plant in Thailand. The only thing not consumer-like about it is the image quality. We're talking about better than D3x output for less than the D700 introductory price. Oh what a difference three years makes.

Nikon D600 with 50mm f/1.4 AF-D

Friday, September 21, 2012

iPhone 5 Review: Hands On

Quick, do you remember where you when the Samsung Galaxy SIII launched this year? Think hard, it wasn't that long ago...

Yes, it's iPhone rollout day, and depending on how you view it, the annual lineups are either tradition or cliché. But one thing you have to hand it to Apple, you know when the phone is out. The lineup outside the store is living, breathing advertising banner. Samsung advertises as if specs are what sells phones; it's sort of like how McLaren is pursuing track time numbers with it's new road cars as a means of competing against Ferrari. Few people will take a Ferrari all the way to the limit, just as few will ever use the full potential of their phones... that's not why people chose brands. You buy a Ferrari for all of the qualities that make it a Ferrari, and you will never beat Apple on specs alone. This has nothing to do with the so-called 'Cult of Apple', but rather, it is the way of the world. No matter what market you are in, if you want to compete against the market leader, you have to have better specs....that's the beginning, but it's not the end. Ask Hyundai how it feels about the supposed demise of the inferiorly spec'd Honda Civic.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nikon D600: The Camera that Needs no Review

By now the enthusiasts have been saturated with full frame coverage coming out of Photokina 2012, and it's very good news for DX shooters looking to upgrade to full frame. With the Nikon D600, the chance has never been more affordable, notwithstanding the mild sticker shock when people found out that the camera wasn't going to retail for the rumored (and midly ridiculous) price of $1,500 USD.
Camera people love pouring over reviews and tests, but I'm going to say something very Ken Rockwell here:
The D600 is the greatest camera ever.  
Ugh. I threw up in my mouth a little. (Update: On his October 3, 2012 posting, it only takes two sentences for the magic to happen. Am I good or what?) But the point still stands: All signs point to the D600 being the perfect camera if you've been waiting to upgrade to full frame, and realized long ago that the D700 was still a very expensive piece of equipment for pro use.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nikon D600 Launch Impressions

Big launch day today. Now that the iPhone 5 hoopla has cleared, it's D600 time. And just like that, it's everything the rumors said it was except for the price. For a couple of weeks now, somebody, who knows who, started a snowball of a rumor that the D600 was going to come in at $1500 USD. And for the whole time, I was saying that that figure was absurd. Why? Because it's less than the inflation adjusted introductory price for the D300. Don't let reason get in the way of internet chatter though. Tonight, it's the inevitable deflating of the bubble.

However $2,100 is still a remarkable price, and now for Nikon shooters, the long dreamt of upgrade path to full frame is a little bit easier. It's just not so cheap that everybody will jump en mass. This is is is less than the D700, and in today's dollars is about equal to the Sony A850, which came out in 2009. Similar mega pixels, but you are getting far more with the D600 than you could ever have gotten with the first batch of 24mp cameras... D3x included. Making the least expensive FX camera on the market or 2012 seems like disruptive market behavior, but it also seems inevitable. Nikon's cadre of DX users have been stewing for years about moving up to FX, if only for the price. We lusted longingly for the D700, but once the D7000 arrived, we discovered that 80% of what we wanted in a much more affordable package didn't seem like such a bad deal. Nikon would have needed something exciting to keep the game moving; they aren't competing just against Canon, in many ways, they are competing against themselves.

The price is still enough to make people pause for thought, and rightly so. If you have a D7000 now, what would you need to buy lens-wise to reconstitute your portfolio for full frame? It seems that reality is sinking in for some. However, the revolution is here, this is the future. One day amateurs will be shooting with full frame regularly; but by then it won't be such a big deal and the pros will have moved on. If you have a D7000, now is a good time to remember how impressed you were when you first got it, because it's still a leading edge camera. If you weren't using all 16mp, then 24mp isn't really going to help much more. If you were always shooting at ISO 6400 and hoped for better, now is a good time to ask why you aren't reaching for a proper flash unit.

Another pause for thought: Is this what Nikon thinks of me? To elaborate: there is a a lot of nip and tuck to get to this new price point; thankfully none of it is offensive. I can't wait to get my hands on it, but there's just something about the D600 that seems less permanent than the D700. The D700 seems destined to be an fondly remembered classic... the D600 seems like a harbinger of a more down market future. Just like how the all of the leaks proved to be true, we are a little too aware of the man behind the curtain, and how this is cleverly designed to lure enthusiast shooters further upmarket. Remember, the initial reaction to the D700 was "Wow, I'm almost getting a D3!" I don't anybody will have that reaction this time. It's kind of like how you always wanted a Burberry piece, only now that you can have it, it seems to have lost it's lustre because everybody can get it now. Even in bikini form. Oh dear, how very common. If just anybody can have FX, what must the pros be getting?

You can see Nikon's marketing brain at work here. The D800 came out and it was cheaper than the competition and cheaper than expected. My bet is that it took with it a good proportion of the well to do FX upgraders... that would have settled for a D600 had one been available. That's how it works. Dazzle first, pick off the rich and price insensitive, and then bring out the product for the masses. Think D100 to D70, D200 to D90, D300 to D90, etc. etc. Some things never change; yet every generation, we keep thinking that it will, and that this new generation of cameras will change all of that. The game works like this: not many of us can make a living as pros, but a lot of us would like to think that it would be possible. Hence, you have the phenomenon of amateurs buying pro equipment... it keeps the dream alive. That was the D800. The D600 isn't that, it's solidly in the enthusiast camp. Rectangular eye-cup, anybody who knows Nikon code knows what that means.

So cheap isn't as cheap as we hoped for. Sigh. Back to reality. But that said, the D600 will be a big seller.  The D700 and the D800 were not saddled with such expectations, cost more, and were still sales successes.  It's a great day to be a Nikon fan, just spend your money wisely, as always.

iPhone 5: Bigger, Longer (An Uncut first Impression)

The liveblog for the iPhone 5 is rolling in as I type. The details are coming in fast and furious, but it looks like a pretty worthy and substantial update. Every year the internet gets excited over broken video feeds and stuttering liveblogs (shoutout to the folks at iMore, you've become my number one source for Apple news, great content) It's the modern equivalent to the huddled masses peeking into a crowded carnival barker's tent, and for some reason every year it seems interesting.

The upgrades to the iPhone 5 are substantial, if not a little predictable. New panorama mode, picture taking during video is very welcome. Sounds like the image quality has gone up slightly. FaceTime over cellular is long overdue, but of limited use so far. There are other apps that let you do videophone over cellular  data, but so far they haven't been a prime time product. LTE will change that, so true to Apple, they haven't released an implementation before it was truly workable. Of all the things about the 4s, the phone was probably one of the most surprising. You know when you clip a mini Swiss Army knife onto your key chain and it can do many things, but there's one tool that you go back to over and over again: the scissors. The camera on the iPhone is like the scissors of a Swiss Army knife now.

Mixed feelings about the taller display. More is obviously better, but my preference has always been for a more compact device. The iPhone is now a legitimate business phone (if you don't need the security or keyboard of a Blackberry), and the 4 and 4s were svelt enough to slip discretely into work trousers without being noticed. Glad they kept the focus on one-handed operation. One thing though. In two years time, maybe all phones will be gigantic. Might the iPhone 6 go a step further and add in an extra column, pushing the width to 800 pixels?

Has anything changed if you're not in a position to upgrade?  Not yet. The 4s is a pretty mature device. For 90% of what you need it for, it does with alacrity. Smartphones are about making the in-between time in your day go faster or be more productive, and most modern phones do that well now. Still, I wouldn't hesitate to say that the jump from the 4s to the 5 looks pretty big at the moment, but your mileage may vary, especially depending on LTE availability.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Post Some Bills

A few from a series of "Post no Bills" signs that I came across a construction site barrier earlier this summer. Well played.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

And I'm Back

A week goes by quickly... well, actually not for me it didn't. When you're eating yourself silly breakfast lunch and dinner time goes by very slowly.... very slowly indeed. Lot's of natural beauty, in a week, and for that, there was not enough time. But time off is time off, and did I find the extra source of creativity that I was looking for? Maybe, but it's all so hazy and swimming somewhere in my mind along with all of the Hollandaise sauce that I consumed.

This pretty much sums up the tourist traps they dropped us off at along the way.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Off the Grid for a Week

It's been a gloriously hot summer here in Vancouver, and this is the first year in a number of years that I've actually been able to enjoy it. If you have ever wanted to visit here, July and August are the beach months, it's just as warm, or warmer than a Southern California day, except the water is a bit cooler. However, it will be nice to get away from the heat for a while, so I'll be going offline for a bit over a week. That means that I'll be missing out on the torrent of news that will be sure to come from Photokina, but I can live with that, every year brings something new, and it's always about the next thing.... and the next next thing.

Here's a little bit of inspiration for all of you workaholics, like me, who find it hard to detach and rest. Keep enjoying your summer!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Panasonic Lumix DMC LX7: First impressions

In a surprising move, rather than jumping on the compact large-sensor bandwagon à la Sony RX100 and Canon G1-X, Panasonic actually went down in size, from 1/1.6" to 1/1.7". This move seems surprising at first, but it allows for the lens to operate at a full stop wider aperture throughout the zoom range. This also means that the the size of the body and the lens don't change much, and it keeps it's 24mm equivalent wide angle, which is always a plus.

Monday, July 30, 2012

2012 Vancouver Honda Celebration of Light, Night 1

If it's the end of July, then it's fireworks time again in Vancouver. Last year I wrote a guide about the techniques that I was using to capture the fireworks. Most of that still applies, so here's a little rundown of what I was able to capture the first night of the fireworks. Since Vancouver is very much about the water, the mountains and the sky, I've always tried to keep all three in mind when shooting these shows... it's not easy, since you have to balance the exposure needs of the ambient environment against the ever-changing intensity of the light show.

Night one (July 28, 2012) of the festival  was Vietnam, of which their team had their first international showing that night. These were shot with a Nikon D7000 and a Tamron 17-50 on a tripod using a Ml-L3 remote, everything is in bulb mode at varying apertures between f/3.5 and f/11, ISO 250.  And just a reminder to all the photobugs out there... when you're shooting fireworks, don't forget to look up from your camera and to enjoy the show!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ainol Novo7 Advanced II Review

Tablets are all about the Apple iPad. At least in North America they are. However, there are alternatives, both here and in Asia, and usually those alternatives are much cheaper. An astonishingly large number of generic tablets are showing up here in discount stores and under various no-name brands at the lower end of the electronics retailing spectrum. The question then, what can you do with a generic budget Android tablet, and will you still be wanting and iPad when you're through?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Genius Scan for iOS Review

Many, many years ago I packed up all of my worldly possessions into my Honda Civic and headed back home on a long and winding road trip from Los Angeles back to Vancouver. The car was so weighed down that it was almost sitting on the rear shock absorbers... driving down the highway with that nose-high tail-low stance of the classic  60's muscles cars. The thing was, I didn't have very many personal possessions, the thing that was weighing down the car was all of the notes and books that I can accumulated throughout professional school.

Genius Scan on iPhone
This was some time ago, back when digital storage meant painstakingly laying out a page at a time on a flat bed scanner. It wasn't everybody who had one back then, but I searched high and low for somebody willing to lend me one so that I could ditch the paper and shove everything onto one CD-Rom. Never mind that the actual act of scanning everything would have taken a month to do, I nonetheless could not find one before I had to leave.

How the times have changed.

Everything has a camera on it, and if I were in school, I'd see little point to photocopying or scanning. Not everybody can live a paperless life, but life is much easier with out in many respects. Just the other day I had to return to my Alma Mata to do some library research, and without thinking, I loaded a brand new copy/print card from the dispensing machine. I never used it once the whole day I was there. Everything is online now, and everything comes in PDF form... if I hadn't mindlessly defaulted back to my school days I would have remembered that.

Which brings us to Genius Scan. It's a great app. If I had it all those years ago, I would have had a lighter nimbler car to fling down the Pacific Coast Highway. Glowing reviews all around for this app. And yet, it's profoundly simple. It's really no more than a camera app with a tiny bit of functionality added to it, but the functionality makes all of the difference. The ability to save a picture directly to PDF without monkeying around with a third party converter is an incredible time saver. Just hover your phone over the document, take a picture, and let the app clean it up, and you're ready to go. And unlike taking a simple jpeg picture of the document, Genius scan can stitch together shots into multipage PDF documents.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD IF (Nikon) Lens Review

I think it says something about the basic usefulness of the Tamron 17-50 lens that I haven't as of yet gotten around to formally reviewing it. It's something that I've taken for granted for so long. There are some opinions out there that real pros don't use normal zoom lenses, and to be truthful, there is merit to that. If everybody else is using the normal zoom range, then how will your pictures be any different?

However, a more pragmatic approach is to look at what you need for a given situation, and if you aren't trying hard to come up with the one shot in a hundred that few others would produce, then normal zooms are eminently practical. The Tamron 17-50 covers 27mm to 75mm, full frame equivalent. Think about that for a minute. What are the basic primes that Leica shooters and film aficionados have in their collection? That's right, 24/28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm. So, that is to say, you can produce some very creative work in the normal zoom range, as pedestrian as if is. It's not stopping the guys with the Leica M9's, that's for sure.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Totally Not Suspicious Craigslist Post

I present this one without much comment, except that I've blocked off a portion of the telephone number  to save the poor victim any further abuse.  I think the situation speaks for itself... it's pretty mean, but I'll admit I did get a laugh out of it. This is definitely "Best of Craigslist" material.

nikon 70-200mm f2.8 vr II - $1150 (e van)

few scratches on the lens but none on the glass. bought it 2 years ago still have receipt.

call *** *** nine o nine nine

its a land line so dont text and i dont have time to read email so just call

my hateful son always pranks on people who call our landline, if he say we are not selling anything just tell him to get sam on the phone. and he will say i am not there so u just have to call again so i can pick up earlier than he does 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

If You Are Thinking About the Nikon D600

Either it's an elaborate long running hoax, or it's a bona fide leak, the Nikon D600 looks imminent. For a lot of DX shooters, this could very well be the chance that they have bee looking at to jump into full frame. However, the cost of the body is only a small part of it, you also have to consider the lenses, and at the prices that new high end lenses are going at, its not going to be cheap buying new. Of course, a general theme here on this blog has been about scrounging around for perfectly good legacy lenses. They say that markets are forward looking, and if that were true, prices would have started edging upwards in anticipation of cheap(er) FX, but for the most part, the used lens market doesn't work that way. Craigslist and eBay prices will probably stay static for good quality legacy lenses until supply goes down, but not before. Of course, you may want to ask why you would spend $1800 or more on camera equipment to use older second hand gear, but that's a different discussion.

Here's a list of older lenses that offer good value. Start hunting these down before the FX market picks up speed, assuming you are moving up from a mostly DX kit. I picked the following to be a good combination of value for money, resell-ability and decent optics to pair with the potential D600:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Craigslist Red Flags

Today I impulsively clicked on an Craigslist ad for a lens that I don't really need right now, but which would be nice to have. What got my attention was that the advertised price was about $80-$100 below the current going market price of $400 CDN. I'm not quite ready to call this one a scam, but there are were three really big red flags:
  • The unfortunate use of the ;) emoticon in the posting title
  • The fact that the price was at least $30 less than the next lowest posting seen in the past two years
  • When asked about where the lens was purchased, the seller mangled the name of the store.
Of course, it could be that the seller just wanted to get rid of the lens quick and was a little bit ESL, but why take the chance? If you wait long enough, another item will come up; it's important to never let your guard down to dangers on Craigslist. I've said it before, you have to know what your minimum price is for Craigslist goods...this one was so low it made me uncomfortable. Sellers, if you legitimately do want to sell below the going rate, make everything as clear as possible so that the buyer knows you are legitimate. This guy didn't.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review - Fred Herzog: Photographs and a Musing On Instagram

We love our local heros here in Vancouver. One of mine (not hockey related) is Fred Herzog, who was born in Germany and settled in Vancouver in the 1950's. His work has captured a lot of the town as it was, and is a reminder of how much things have changed. Vancouver didn't see the sea change of offshore money until the mid-80's, so even though the body of his work was from the 50's and 60's,  the streets that he captured are faintly evocative of the town as I new it in as a (very) young child in the 80's. Parts of the Strathcona neighborhood still look the same as in Herzog's photos, especially the neighborhood corner stores which have all but disappeared from the rest of the city. Equinox Gallery - Fred Herzog

Saturday, April 28, 2012

iShieldz Screen Protector Review

New screen protector. It was only a matter of time before the  Zagg invisibleSHIELD protector wore off my iPhone 4s. Total time was about six months, and it didn't fall off so much as I got tired of it not sticking properly that I just peeled it off. I'm not disappointed that this stuff doesn't last longer, it's the prices that they charge that I have a bigger issue with. The invisibleSHIELD actually did quite well until I left the phone in a couple of hot steamy places. (If you must know, I was showering with the phone playing podcasts. Happy?) I think the heat degrades the adhesive backing of the product, making it much easier to come off. It never fully loses it's stickiness, but what ends up happening is that the corners will flap around freely if you rub them the wrong way. A firm press and it comes back into place, but by then, it's pretty much the end.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Placeholder Post

It's been that kind of spring. Office work is not kind to the hobby photographer, which isn't to say that the blog hasn't gone unattended. We will resume regularly scheduled service right after stuff stops falling out of the sky and all of the fires are put out. And if I've successfully dodged that bullet, all will be good. The corporate world is so cliché...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sometimes an iPhone 4s is Better Than a dSLR

It's been a wacky weather time here in Vancouver. The two weeks before the start of spring I've counted at least five days where he had spurious snow/sleet/hail flurries. This a snap that I caught on one of these days. And as the title of the post indicates, this would have been almost impossible to capture with a dSLR.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hello D800 (And why it's a good time to stick with DX)

Most readers of this blog are at a reasonable proficiency with their skills, and would have at one time hoped to jump to full frame, perhaps the D700. I was in that camp at one time, and originally built up my lens collection to suit an eventual jump to full frame.

Then the D7000 arrived. It's not quite the D700, but in some ways, it is better. So then the question becomes... did you want the D700 all along or did you actually want a camera that was better than what the average user was shooting with? Well, better than average has just arrived. 36-megapixels solidly cements it into professional territory. This also means 20mb jpeg files. Don't want to think about how big RAW files would be. Actually, I'm using 36mp images already. Software stitching opens up many avenues for landscape photography for us amateurs.It also lets you get by without having to buy ultra-wide lenses.

On one of my many Craigslist excursions, I ran across a gent who was learning to shoot on a D1x. That camera was ahead of its time, and like all over-engineered products, it was still a viable product long after the cheaper contemporaries had passed on. I was using the D80 at the time. His camera was built like a brick. Mine was the cheaper, lower-market consumer model, and it was now the better model of the two.

There are still many good reasons to use a D700, but age catches up to everything. As cameras get smaller and more capable, carrying the full weight and size of one of those things gets a little less persuasive over time. Certainly, if you can afford one, there are also good reasons to buy the D800/D800e, but the continuing cycle of innovation/obsolescence shows us that its always best to go for something that you can get the most use of out of now, instead of buying for some as-yet-undetermined future.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Slow Start to the Year

As the tagline says, photography isn't my day job, so a lot of things tend to get in the way of posting here. Just as things get sorted, here's to wishing for good things this year.