Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM (Canon Mount) Review

The Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM has been a hard lens to find since it became available a month ago on the Canon mount. The Nikon version, as I write, has still to hit store shelves. There was a lot of interest created by the constant f/1.8 aperture, but beyond the headline spec, does this lens deliver?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nikon Camera DSLR Comparison Updated

The comparison article between the D5200, D7000 and D7100 has been updated to include the D5300. Though the D5xxx series has always been the value-performance line in Nikon's consumer DSLR range, that seems to be less the case with the D5300. Why? It's the way the kit lenses are bundled. More discussion in the the respective links.

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Improve A Cheap Tripod

Here's an easy way to improve the performance of a cheap tripod. The example above is with an old Optex camcorder tripod, which is woefully under spec'd compared to what you should be using to support a DSLR.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: Photography: The New Complete Guide to Taking Photographs - John Freeman

Can a photography book from 2003 be of any use to the modern digital photographer? Yes, most definitely yes. John Freeman, along with Tom Ang and Michael Freeman, is one of those authors that is likely to be regularly stocked in your local bookstore. This particular title dates back to the early dawn of the digital age, but was written in a manner about photography that has withstood the passing years. Like many of the classic "how to" books,  Photography: The New Complete Guide to Taking Photographs maintains its focus on picture taking rather than mere camera operation.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Shooting at Night in the Fog with a Nikon D7000

Nikon D7000, ISO 100, f/8, 30s

For the past week, Vancouver has been blanketed by fog. A little bit of fog this time of year is normal, but every so often we get what amounts to a fog tsunami; think pea soup that blankets the whole city. It makes for treacherous driving, as it can produce white-out conditions during the day time and reduces visibility to only a few car lengths at night. However, fog is one of the most interesting times to go shooting. As Ansel Adams said, "Bad weather makes for good photography." That said, fog is like most things; a little is good,  a bit more is interesting but too much is, as always... too much. However, the above image has potential...

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Easy is it to Switch Between Canon and Nikon?

Though camera systems by design lock consumers into particular lens mounts, there are the intrepid few who will switch whole systems... more so if their professional earnings depends on it. However, buying a new camera every two years is one sort of expense, but changing over a collection of lenses is another issue... or is it?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Nikon D600 is Not This Bad...

This Craigslist wanted post took some gumption...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Launch Review: Nikon D5300 First Impressions

Another year, another new iteration of the D5xxx series. Though it may seem boring now, the D5200 was a closely watched camera launch at the end of 2012, as may though that it would bear the sensor to the eventual (and still mythical) D400. Fast forward a year, and it's back to boring. The differences between old and new cameras are:

  • Same sensor as the D7100, no anti-aliasing filter
  • Video recording to 1080p at 60fps
  • New 3.2" LCD
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
  • Improved battery life.

Update: Since the D5300 was launched, we now know that the sensor is not the same as  in the D7100, and has different deep shadow noise characteristics.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Launch Review: Sony A7 and A7R First Impressions

Given the critical success of the RX1 (and RX1r variant), it was only a matter of time before Sony proliferated the concept of a compact full-frame camera into the more mainstream interchangeable lens format. Hence, the A7 and A7R:

Update (October 26, 2013): Supplies will be very limited for the latter portion of 2013. I've heard word that general retail units won't be hitting store shelves until December, and supply will be limited, if not already spoken for. Translation: If you want one in time for the 2013 holidays, you have to pre-order. Chances of just pulling one off the store shelf when it rolls out will be slim.

Key Features:

  • A7: Has a 24mp sensor with phase detection, similar to the SLT-A99
  • A7R: 36mp variant of the Nikon D800e sensor, no AA filter 
  • A7R sensor has offset microlenses like the Leica M
  • New FE-mount. Short sensor-flange distance, compatible with adapters
  • Tilting 3" display
  • Weather sealed magnesium body
  • Electronic diffraction correction

What's Not Included:

  • In-body image stabilization: OIS in lens only
  • No built in flash
  • No intervalometer for timelapse shooting

These cameras are being priced aggressively, at $1,700 and $2,300 USD respectively for body only. Some of the cost savings comes from the fact that Sony is the manufacture of the sensors (i.e., they aren't charging themselves the profit margin that they would in providing sensors for Nikon). Cheap for full frame? Not quite:

Friday, October 11, 2013

How Were Used Nikon D600 Prices Affected by the D610?

Now that that D610 has been announced, it's not hard to see that used prices for the D600 will be depressed. However, it's arguable that the used value was already affected by the much publicized excess-debris issue. In the wake of of the D610 announcement, the benchmark price for a used D600 on Craigslist is clear, as the retailers have now been given free reign to price their remaining units as they see fit. The more interesting question is: how did D600 owners respond to the impending news of a replacement camera?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Is it Safe to Buy a Repaired Nikon D600?

If you are wondering whether replacing the shutter on an affected Nikon D600 solves the problem of excessive debris/oil accumulation. I'll skip straight to the answer. Yes, it seems to be the case; there is now a documented instance of the fix 'sticking.'

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Would the Nikon D600 be Subject to a Class Action Lawsuit?

Because of the way that the transition of the Nikon D600 to the D610 has been handled, the inevitable talk of a class action lawsuit is making it's rounds on the internet. Is this a case for it?

Updated February 2014

Monday, October 7, 2013

Launch Review: Nikon D610: This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things... err, make that a D400

The Nikon D610: It's "1" better....

Going back to Photokina 2012, Nikon made the biggest splash in the year of "affordable full frame." Canon had also announced the EOS 6D and the Sony the DSC-RX1  but those cameras shipped months later. Nikon was the most prepared; they had retail units of the D600 in mass circulation within days of the announcement. This proved to be the culmination of a year-long push to move the high-end DX crowd into full-frame camera systems. The FX lens set had already been refreshed, but curiously, there were no significant DX lens upgrades, nor was the mythical D400 anywhere to be seen despite multiple rumors and hints of what the company had been testing.

The answer to this was obvious; "low-end FX" and "high-end DX" have a measure of overlap, and ostensibly, Nikon wanted to keep their marketing message clear to anybody who was going to spend $1800-$2000 USD that the camera to have would be the D600 and not a DX camera.  If everything had gone according to script, this should have been mission accomplished; Nikon got into this market space first, they had a well-featured camera that was cheaper than any other full-frame camera before it, and they had fleshed out the more affordable end of their FX line to support the camera. New product category created, back to our regularly-scheduled programming and on with the D400. If only it were that easy....

In short, this is what's new for the D610:

  • Presumably a new shutter
  • Improved automatic white balance
  • New 3fps silent mode

Note the inclusion of the word "presumably" in the first point. How Nikon is describing the D610 is that it has new features, faster overall fps and a new 3fps silent mode. I think this emphasis is deliberate on their part; the words "improved shutter" raise too many uninvited questions about what was going on with the D600.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mirror-Slap Versus Shutter Shock

via Wikimedia Commons

Seasoned DSLR enthusiasts will be familiar with the phenomenon of mirror-slap, which is the vibration caused by the mirror swinging out of the way of the light path during an exposure. The problem with this is that it occurs while the shutter is open and the sensor is recording an image. If the exposure time is very long, then the vibration generally has little impact as the light is too faint to record during the time that the vibration's are subsiding. If the shutter speed is very fast, the exposure finishes before a cycle of the vibration frequency completes; again, the camera body movement is not recorded. However, within a certain shutter speed range, mirror-slap can be recorded, and will be exacerbated if the camera is mounted on a rigid surface like a tripod or a table top. Depending on the camera and the mounting, mirror slap's effects are most pronounced between exposures of 1s-1/60s. However, when performing long exposures, it's important to watch for bright light sources, which 'expose quickly':

Mirror slap. Note the 'dancing' street lights.

Given the improving quality of mirrorless cameras, many DSLR owners have been tempted into the possibility of shedding the weight of their systems for something lighter. One might be lead into thinking that the grass is greener with a Micro Four Thirds or Fujifilm X-System camera because there isn't a mirror to (literally) slap around. Lower safe shutter speeds for hand-holding, right? Nope, it's another case of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Olympus, the Medical Company

Most laypeople know Olympus as the champion of Micro Four Thirds, but those in the know are familiar with the fact that Olympus is actually a better medical device company than it is a camera company. In a stark dichotomy of fortunes, Olympus has been struggling to earn profits in the competitive digital camera landscape, but has remained the long-time market leader in endoscopes and endoscopic-related surgery equipment. In its 2012 fiscal year, Olympus reported a loss of $235 million USD for its camera division while producing net earnings of $890 million USD in medical related sales.  Remember, this was in a "renaissance" year for the camera division, while it was riding the success of the OM-D E-M5 and Sony imaging sensors were breathing new life into their products.

In the wake of the accounting scandal of early 2012 many thought that Olympus would have spun off their camera division to preserve the profitable medical division, and were it not for a helping hand from Sony this might have been the case. Yet, despite all of this, Olympus still maintains a reputation as a "camera" company in the general public's mind. The fact is, most of the major Japanese camera companies have medical divisions, with the exception of Nikon, which at one time did serve the ophthalmic community, but no more. As you would expect, Olympus' commercial activities in the medical field revolve around optics and scopes, but extend far greater than that. Even more off the beaten-path, there are fewer still who are familiar with Olympus the medical company being involved in orthopaedics, which is another step removed from cameras and optics.

What's also surprising to the uninitiated is that Olympus, despite its reputation in optics, is not a "medical imaging" company: it's a full-blown surgical services supplier. When you think of imaging devices like X-rays, CT scanners and MRI machines, the actual dynamics of the market change and you're in the territory of companies like Siemens and GE. However, when you look at the most frequently performed surgical procedures such as colonoscopies and laproscopic hernia repair, Olympus is often the company supplying the tools used in the diagnosis and treatment. Olympus is also something of a model for other Japanese camera companies. As the world market for digital cameras continues to weaken, other companies are looking enviously at Olympus' continued performance in the medical sector.

Updated June 2014