Thursday, August 28, 2014

Firefly Digital Sensor Cleaner Review

When it comes to sensor cleaning, you do the cheap and easy thing first. An air blower is inexpensive, easy to use and is the method that you are least likely to damage your sensor with. That said, it isn't foolproof. Air blowers don't remove oil spots and have difficulty removing stubborn particles that stick to the glass surface because of electrostatic charge. Eventually, particles and debris accumulate to the point where a physical contact approach, like wet cleaning, is required. This is where the  Firefly Digital Sensor Cleaner comes in; its unique selling proposition is that it has the easy of an air blower, but with better cleaning power. It works, but there are some caveats. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nikon AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR with D610 Review

Let's face it, some people just don't want to change lenses. Even those who do might want a break from it from time to time. Hence, the existence of super-zooms. Jack of all trades, master of none. The Nikon AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR  falls into that category. Given that Nikon's post-D600 full frame focus, it seems natural that they filled in this particular checkbox in the product lineup, but is it relevant in today' world?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sony E-Mount 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS (SEL-55210) Review

"Small" is relative. By the standards of the film era, modern digital cameras... DSLR's and compacts alike... are all smaller than their 35mm film precursors. That in itself is a good thing, but for many people, cameras cannot be small enough given how much bigger they are relative to cell phones. When you shrink a DSLR into what is the modern mirrorless class of cameras, "small" not only becomes relative, it actually reveals itself as a situation quality. Mirrorless cameras are only small when they have small lenses attached to them. If you need longer or brighter focal lengths, the practical working size of the cameras isn't that much less than your average entry-mid-level DSLR.

Inevitably, compromises have to be made. The Sony SEL-55210 is one such compromise. On the one hand, it gives a very useful extension as a 55-210mm zoom in APS-C format. On the other hand, it's a slow variable-aperture lens that only ranges between f/4.5 to f/6.3. By DSLR stands, that would make it a mediocre lens, but in the context of Sony's mirrorless system, it's a sensible buy. It's all about context

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nikon D810 High ISO and Fixed Pattern Noise (Updated)

Though the Nikon D800 was arguably already the best camera on the market from an image-quality standpoint, the natural progression of things means that the D810 has been tweaked somewhat. The most significant improvements come for videographers with the lower base ISO.... but that won't stop traditionalists from asking: "How is the high ISO image quality?"

It's fine, thank you very much.

Aug 2014 (Update 1): Nikon has now issued a service advisory for bright pixels accumulating during long exposures. See the follow-up below for details. 

Aug2014 Update (2):  An example of a post-service advisory unit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 F2.8G ED Review (Mostly on DX)

"Real pros don't use normal zooms."


It would be a brave event shooter who didn't have a AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 F2.8G ED in his/her camera bag; after all, few would dare juggling with primes during a wedding shoot. The truth is, even if photographers end up specializing on specific focal lengths, the versatility of he Nikon 24-70mm speaks for itself; hence, one of Nikon's best-selling FX zooms.

Another reason why that ascertain doesn't seem to ring true is because of the sheer cost of this lens; maybe it's true that the majority of shots are done between 24mm and 70mm, but the truth is that the majority of people don't have, can't afford or are saving up for the 24-70mm lens. Though its practically a bargain compared to the price that Canon is asking for their version of this lens, it still tends to occupy a lot of Nikon shooter's wish lists.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Street Shooting With the Nikon D810

The problem with having a capable camera is that it asks a lot of its user. That is precisely what stepping into a high-end DSLR like the Nikon D810 is like; if you are a conscientious user, you will be constantly asking yourself how this camera is better than the one that you had before. Why is that? The reason is because the Nikon D810 is perhaps one of the most capable sub-medium format cameras on the market, and its price tag gives pause for thought for many people. This is both true of those who have already been shooting with the D800 as well as those who have longingly lusted after a full frame camera. The problem is that cameras like the D810 usually require some form of justification, whether that be as a productive professional tool or as an admittedly non-professional but affordable hobby. Rise higher into the rarefied air of the Leica M system and the camera non longer requires justification: an M240 is indefensibly expensive; you either have it or you don't... there's no point justifying it. The D810 is premium but it doesn't command this kind of

Why should that matter? The problem is that the D810 is a massively capable camera that currently (the month after its launch) asks a premium price for its newness. That cost is quite hefty considering the price gap to the remaining D800 units. There isn't enough improvement to financially justify the switch to the D810 for the majority of D800 owners, but nevertheless, there are enough improvements to make the D810 a notably better camera. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 Review:

You could make an argument that Panasonic products are Sony products which are "done right." Sony by philosophy and intention aims for the high ground when they are in an innovative mood. On the other hand, Panasonic is your prototypical Japanese corporation that produces high-quality and high-performance products, but often with a little bit of the techno-geekery polished into something a little more human and usable. Sony products tend to be great technological pieces, where as Panasonic products are more like great tools.

"Premium technology" was certainly the case with the RX100, which redefined what people were willing to accept in a high end compact, and which was carried forward to the RX10, which raised the bar for what an all-in-one camera could do... and cost. So it is inevitable that you cannot mention the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 without mentioning the RX10. Sony certainly thought so, and lowered their premium pricing in advance of the FZ1000 arriving on store shelves. The pertinent FZ1000 specs are:

  • 20.1 megapixel 1/1"- sized sensor
  • 25-400mm equiv. F2.8-4 "Leica" lens
  • 5-axis lens-based image stabilization
  • 4K (3840x2160) video at 30p, 100Mbp
  • 1080p at up to 60p, 28Mbps (MP4/AVCHD)
  • 120fps slow-motion 1080p
  • 3.5mm microphone socket
  • Clean HDMI output
  • Zebra pattern and focus peaking
  • Wi-Fi and NFC

Even though these are similar cameras, the traditional pattern holds true. In most ways the FZ1000 is a more usable camera, but in some ways the RX10 has the technological edge.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them by Haje Jan Kamps

"You've got to know the rules before you break them." 

If it were only that simple. "The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them" sounds like solid subject matter for the aspiring photographer, but it's method of presenting the material is based on a faulty assumption: you either follow the rule or you don't. This creates the logical fallacy of equal presentation time: if you have two sides to the story, then you must devote equal attention to both sides. That's not the best way to critically think about things, but it is the way in which the subject matter is presented: here is the rule and here is how to break it. The problem that arises from this is that there isn't a deep discussion about how often a photographic rule should be broken, and when it is best to stay within the lines.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nikon D3300 Review: Comparsion with D3200

Left: Nikon D3200    Right: D3300

Though mirrorless cameras are ostensibly the way forward for the future of the camera market, there are still good reasons to have a DSLR. DSLR's are faster, have longer battery life and for the same price, have better autofocus performance than their mirrorless competitors. A huge advantage for the North American DSLR market is that it constitutes the large bulk of the interchangable lens sector, meaning that Canon and Nikon have economies of scale to keep costs down. Indeed, one of the biggest hindrances of the mirrorless segment is that you almost always have to pay more money for the equivalent image quality and performance of an entry-level DSLR.

Though the Nikon D3300 and its predecessor D3200 are often looked down upon by owners of upmarket cameras, Nikon has been successful with luring in new-DSLR owners with cameras like this ever since the D40. The one disadvantage, though, is that for new camera owners, anything larger than a cell phone is "big" even though cameras like the D3300 and the Canon SL1 are positively lilliputian by DSLR standards. This is perhaps the single biggest threat to entry-level DSLR's, as it takes a bit of educating on the part of Nikon and Canon to dissuade consumers from looking for something smaller.

Nikon has taken a subtle approach and has tackled the problem in a less overt way than Canon's SL1. The SL1 is possibly too small to have broad appeal. The D3300 takes a different approach. Rather than shrinking the body at all costs, it does various nips and tucks that don't immediately jump out at you, but add up to an improved shooting experience. Even though they look similar, the D3300 feels substantially smaller and lighter in your hand than the D3200.