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.