Friday, December 30, 2005

As 2005 feels like 1986 Again

As the year 2005 ends, I've decided to finally order myself the 200mm f/2 VR lens. It's a crying shame that the 200 VR is one of only TWO Nikon prime lenses that have both VR and AF-S focusing with the full-time manual focusing override of AF-S.The other Nikkor prime with AF-S focus and VR is the new 300mm f/2.8 VR model. Also,unfortunately,both of these very costly Nikkors are G-series lenses. What a pity. As a long-time Nikon shooter, I've accumulated many Nikkor prime lenses from 20mm to 300mm in their modern AF dress,and I have to say the button-and-ring Autofocus/Manual Focus switches on a good percentage of Nikon prime lenses really do offer _IMPAIRED_ functionality compared to top-quality lenses which offer concurrent autofocusing capability AND full-time manual focusing override capabilities.

Nikon has some pathetically clunky, 1980's technology holding back an otherwise solid FIVE-lens span stretching from 60mm to 180mm. I own all of these standard lenses, and like them all, but yet I have some degree of concern that FIVE of the premier Nikkor primes in their respective focal lengths suffer from the backward compatibility that Nikon has worked so hard to build into the so-called "Nikon System". Ancient screwdriver focusing technology is one thing in the low-price 50mm 1.8 lens and the economical 85mm 1.8 lens, but in the very high-priced "pro glass" 85,105,and 135 high-speed teles which are the absolute cream of the Nikkor crop? As well as the 180/2.8? And the 105 Micro? And the 200 Micro? How can it be that $1,000-$1400 prime lenses with 1980's technology represent the best that Nikon can muster? Cripes sakes, there are some mechanical engineering options available short of AF-S motors, yet these premier lenses are still relying on the focusing protocols and switching ideas developed in the era of that oh-so-piece-of-shit little N20/20 AF SLR body of the mid-80's. Nikkor lenses of the current AF-D generation work FINE on 1980's bodies, albeit with poor manual focusing. But today's lower-echelon cameras like N80,D70,D100,Fuji S2, Fuji S3 all have fairly gutless focusing motors that do NOT drive screwdriver lenses all that well.

Besides the aforementioned five top-class primes from 60mm to 200mm,other premium Nikkors also lack AF-S focus, like the 28mm f/1.4. The 60,105,and 200mm Micro-Nikkor lenses are all screwdriver focusing models.In point of fact, ALL of Nikon's prime lenses under 300mm are screwdriver focusing except for the $4,000 200mm VR Nikkor. AF-S focusing in Nikon prime lenses begins at $1,100 with the 300mm f/4 and goes up to four grand or more with the 200 f/2 VR and the 300/2.8 VR, and then extends to the 400mm 2.8,500mm f/4 ,and 600mm f.4 AF-S II models. Backward compatibility in the Nikon lens mount is a good thing,but tying 1980's autofocusing protocols to AF Nikkor lenses made in 2006 is hampering the MODERN BODY users. Look at Canon's use of USM focusing in prime lenses, and then look at Nikon's use of AF-S.

Basically, 95% of Nikon's prime lenses of under 300mm are saddled with screwdriver focusing systems,and several lenses use clunky Autofocus/Manual focusing switches or button-and-ring switches which basically turn the lenses into EITHER autofocusing lenses, or manual focusing lenses, in a number of shooting situations. The lenses I speak of are the 60 Micro, 85 1.4, 105 and 135 DC, and 180 models,and 105 and 200 Micro-Nikkors in their AF-D designations. I applaud the way Nikon has steadily updated its autofocusing Nikkor lenses from the original AF designation to the more modern AF-D or Distance-aware designation. AF-D has paved the way for 3-D Color matrix metering, as well as the D-TTL and i-TTL flash metering and control protocols. But the problem is that AF-D lenses do NOT permit manual focusing overrides to be done while the lens is in AF mode. There's a stupid A/M switch involved in the 85,105,and 135mm high-speed Nikkor lenses,lenses which are ideally suited to fast-moving action subjects and/or subjects often photographed under poor prevailing lighting conditions. All in all,that sucks! The 180 also has a switch, but unlike the 85-105-135 trio, the 180 is NOT ideally suited to any subject where fast autofocus is needed.

While I do like Nikkor lenses and their optical performance and mechanical reliability and long lifespans, I do feel that the 60,85,105,135,and 180mm, as well as the 105 Micro and 200 Micro and 28/1.4 AF-D lenses ALL WOULD BE BETTER PERFORMERS, under more conditions, for more people, if those lenses were updated to AF-S focusing. Just simply because a slight to moderate AF error with any of those lenses can take as long as two or three seconds to correct,at best.Under the wrong set of circumstances, the clunky button-and-ring A/M switch arrangement can cause a focusing siituation so slow that entire shot opportunities simply vanish.

Tokina has a better A/M switch than Nikon does. Tamron has a better focusing switch system than Nikon does.I mean, for crying out loud, the simple focusing ring-as-clutch and shifter has tremendous merit. Plus, there's that damned S-C-M focusing switch on the BODY....some lenses require that BOTH the body's focusing switch AND the lens's focusing switch be set to Auto and Auto or Manual and Manual. As if ONE fricking switch was not enough, Nikon actually has some pairings where two switches need to be in accord in order to do something as simple as touch up a focus point. Positively in pre-flood, as in before Noah's Arc.

Nikon's tendency to bring in the BEST of the best technologies, like VR technology, nano-crystal coating or whatever, ED glass, Internal Focusing, has been annoying to me ever since the 1980's. It's a shame that the 135 and 180 have not been updated for indoor sports shooters,and it's a crying shame that Nikon has NOT MADE a universal sports/action lens for the Dx format sensors they keep pushing. Nikon badly could use a 50-200 or 50-250mm zoom lens with a relatively fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/3.2 or even f/3.5.

I shot an indoor basketball game the other night using my 70-200VR instead of my 85-105-or 135 primes,and while I liked the focal length flexibility of the zoom, I was less than impressed by the focusing performance of the 70-200 zoom when used on the D2x in Continuous AF using the center AF focus point, as well as in dynamic AF mode on shooters who were captured with the flash output of a stand-mounted Vivitar 285HV electronic flash set up remotely on NORM zoom head about 50 feet from the center of the court. The flash was set to half power manual output and powered by a Quantum Battery One and hooked up to a Pocket Wizard receiver unit. At ISO 800 and with a Custom Tone curve that yields an effective ISO 2000, the needed aperture is only f/5.6 at a measured 50 to 55 feet. This helps quite a bit for depth of field. Shutter speed is 1/250 for a slightly darker than expected background.

For one-shot target acquisition,I actually think the 105 DC or 135 DC are both better-focusing lenses for basketball than the 70-200 is,at least in a dimmer gymnasium. Still, the inability to rapidly rack focus or to even minutely adjust my focus with both those screwdriver primes is a bit disconcerting to me. Also, and this just comes with the territory, but when a screwdriver-type lens goes on a focus hunt, recovery is inevitably slower than with the best of the AF-S focusing lenses.
Just as it was in the 1980's,and then the 1990's, Nikon's best technologies are simply NOT BEING PUT INTO the majority of the product line, but are as they have always been,merely being trickled in, to the Nikon System.And frankly, I think Nikon is extremely,extremely remiss in not building some solid advanced amateur/enthusiast/professional prime lenses which cater to the STRENGTHS of the modern DX Nikon system. And that means AF-S focusing. And if possible, VR. And some decent tripod collars. And some lens hoods designed to protect front elements from stray light when being used on Dx angle of view cameras.

I think Nikon is extremely remiss is not having made a Dx-optimized sports/action zoom lens, as well as two or three AF-S short telephoto lenses suitable for low-light work and spots shooting with 100 percent MODERN technology driving the lenses, and not this 1980's Nikon 2020 screwdriver focusing system. If possible, Nikon ought to look at how Minolta has placed the focusing clutch on the camera body, similar to where the AF ON button is on the D1-D2 series. It's like, Christ, Nikon, get with it and bring some of the prime lenses into the modern era,to go with the modern cameras.And don't charge us $3,900 for the priviledge of having AF-S focusing in a prime telephoto Nikkor lens.What blows with Nikon is that they have SO MANY PREMIUM LENSES which still rely on 1980's autofocusing mechanics,1980's ideas about autofocusing,and 1980's engineering concepts for AF lenses. And these are costly lenses are not just the cheapies, but single focal length top-rated lenses in the $700 to $1400 range. Meanwhile, the soccer mom zoom and kit lenses are being built with slowish aperture ranges, and with AF-S focusing! While the killer 85 1.4, the 105 DC and the 135 DC, and the redoubtable 180/2.8 are still saddled with very slow,clunky,dual-mode,switch-reliant A/M focusing systems--built around concepts which originated in the 1980's. All do a passable job as manual focusing lenses too, but the inability to recover from focus hunts while switched into AF mode,and the way these lenses can lock up "tight" when the AF switch is engaged mean that these lenses must be used as either AF or as MF for the most part. That cuts usefulness and utility for me. The Full time manual focus override capability AF-S lensesbring with them is MORE important than the focusing speed advantages the AF-S focus system brings to Nikon D-SLRs.

What irks me, as a long-time Nikon buyer, is this new G-series lens mount,which precludes the use of exotic,high-dollar Nikkor lenses on Canon bodies via an adapter, AND which ruins these high-dollar exotics for use on classic manual focus film Nikons like the F3 and FE-2 and FM-2.The aperture ring-free Nikkor G-mount lens is one Nikon engineering decision I absolutely,positively loathe.Backward compatibility in screwdriver focusing is one thing I do NOT mind giving up that much....I would rather a lens had AF-S focusing than screwdriver focusing any day,on almost any lens I can imagine. But by gosh, taking away the simple,reliable,mechanical aperture control ring on a lens that costs 4 grand makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The G-series concept's sole advantage in my experience is if you want to never,ever have a lens slip off of its minimum aperture setting and lock up and cause the camera to fail to shoot at a critical time. This fault can sometimes happen with a lens with an aperture ring--it's happened to me. With a G-series, the aperture ring never moves off minimum and can never lock the trigger when you least expect it.

And so,while the G-series is actually more fail-safe and idiot-proof I guess,it still smacks of cheapness in my opinion and it hurts total usefulness within the entire Nikon System.I find it annoying that Nikon preached for so long about the Nikon System's compatibility due to the F-mount, and has now seen fit to BREAK backward compatibility with these damned G-mount lenses. G-mount lenses which Nikon sells for the highest prices the market will bear. It pisses me off because the very BEST,absolutely top-shelf Nikkor lens designs are now coming out as G-mount models,and meanwhile,the professional-grade prime and macro lens LINES (plural), both offer old-technology,scredriver focusing at premium price points.Ah, it's always been this way--as a Nikon shooter 20 years ago, you always realized that Canon guys could buy more or less comparable lenses, but a lot lot less expensively. That situation has only grown worse,to the point now where Nikon is charging top dollar for older technology,and has allowed some lens designs to span the better part of two decades with NO substantial improvements in design or performance levels. Look at the 35 f/2 AF lens as an example. Look at the 85mm 1.8, the economical lens which really ought to be refreshed and brought up to AF-S. The 85 1.4-105 DC -135 DC trio really is ARE the heart of Nikon's pictorial short telephoto lenses.It's a shame they and the 180/2.8 perform in such 1980's manner with the kinds of Nikon and other F-mount cameras that are on the market today (Fuji S1-S2-S3, Kodak 14n and SLR/n series).

It just sucks that a thousand to thirteen hundred-plus smackeroos buys you an A/M lens in the year 2005. And so, as 2005 ends, it feels like it's 1986 again, with Nikon corporate messing with the mount specification in the WRONG way.It also feels like 1986 in the sense that I wonder if staying the course with Nikon really is the right way to go. Could this be the era of the Canon T90 versus the Nikon F3? The era when Canon left Nikon in the dust, and when Nikon was unable to produce a decent autofocus camera AND a decent AF lens line? Dropping just under 4k for a new sports lens means a lot of lost opportunity cost that could have bought me a substantial chunk of new Canon equipment--like maybe five different Canon prime lenses to flesh out my 20D outfit. Or an EOS 5D full-frame camera and a nice Canon lens or two to accompany it, like the 85/1.8 and a Sigma 30mm 1.4 or something like that.

I'm sitting here thinking that Nikon is still behind the times, but that great glass lasts around two decades,and that there's a body coming that I'll finally be 100 percent satisfied with.I'm also sitting here thinking that Nikon's lens offerings are just not where I want,price-wise for the features offered. I want full-time manual focus overide on my prime lenses,not these shitty old buttons and rings and switches on both the body and the lenses. I want AF-S focusing in prime lenses which cost $800 to $1400, like the 85 1.4,105 and 135 DC, and the 200 Micro. I want VR in more lenses, not in only the 300/2.8,200/2, the 70-200 VR and then the ridiculously expensive, niche-market 200-400mm f/4 zoom. I do not begrudge owners of the $5,000 200-400, but the focal length range,size and weight, and the unsuitability of the focal length range for sports/action with 1.5x cameras really torques me off.I feel that Nikon has been exceedingly remiss in not having developed and marketed a 50-250mm, FAST lens, for sports/action use on DX sensor Nikons. Nikon has sorely neglected the telephoto and tele-zoom lens line since well,well before the Advertisng Department at Nikon coined the term DX for their sensor offerings. Nikon needs to move its VR capability down into the rest of the lens line, to address the missing lenses,and to update almost ALL of its prime lenses from 50mm to 400mm in length. Nikon needs to move VR technology and AF-S focusing down into the workaday,normal lenses, like 50mm lenses, and 85mm lenses, as well as the 105-135-180 trio.

Friday, December 23, 2005

New Year's Resolutions 2006

New Year's Resolutions 2006 centers around trying new things throughout the new year. So,here goes, some resolutions for 2006. Why not join along with me and declare it resolved that I (you) will:
1. Try Silkypix, the new raw image developer from Japan. It's available as a totally free demo that so far, works flawlessly under Windows XP,and which has a very comprehensive set of image adjustment controls,all with a simple interface that's very logical. Speed is quite good, and the way the program works is just a few degreees shy of sheer end user nirvana. Do a Google search,download Silkypix in the demo version, for Windows or Macintosh, and then give it a try. You'll want to own the very,very affordable full version.
2.Learn or re-learn the behavior of at least two good prime lenses this year--beginning in January with the first prime focal length, and a second prime lens beginning in June.
3. Get rid of at least ONE piece of unused or sub-par glass.
4. Buy at least one new or pre-owned lens to replace above sold item.
5. Shoot at least one roll of film!
6. Try to learn five new Photoshop tricks that will really help overall image presentation.
7. Try one NEW type of imaging device. Examples could be,but not limited to an extension tube, a bellows,a Holga 120 camera, a lens reversing ring,a + diopter filter like the Canon 500D,a telescope or microscope adapter,a pinhole body cap for your D-SLR,a Lensbaby or better yet the newly designed Lensbaby 2.0, a bulb-type flash unit,a monolight,some type of umbrella, a soft box, a flash extender,or a flash diffuser system. Be it resolved to TRY something TOTALLY new and never-before-tried.
8. Try out some of the new self-serve photofinishing equipment that's popping up in camera stores,malls,larger grocery stores, as well as large chain stores like RiteAid,Walgreens,WalMart,Costco,and so on.Just see what's out there.
9.Who's kidding who here? Eight resolutions is enough,already.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Oh-My-Gawd-The-D200-Is-A-Mess! (Newbies Invade)

Five days ago, I wrote a piece on the upcoming D200 onslaught--the onslaught of terrible test photos. But it's even worse than I had anticipated. dPreview is filled to capacity with hectic,frantic,and mostly useless D200 postings. Today I stopped by the home forum for the D200,and the front page's oldest post was 33 minutes. Thirty-four minutes and posts were second page news! There has been a simply incredible flood of newbie mistakes and horrible results from brand new D200 owners. I've seen mostly bad sample photos, but enough very good photos to know that the majority of problems are simply operator error and unfamiliarity with a MUCH more sophisticatd camera than the majority of Virgin or One-D-SLR-Prior users are used to. There's a surprisingly high number of people who've made the D200 their very first D-SLR. The D200 has both scene modes (often derisively referred to as Idiot Modes) and advanced,customizable settings banks. The D200 is simple enough for a newbie, but capable enough for serious use as well.
Guys who have had their D200 two hours, three hours, or even one whole day,are starting to ask pointed questions about the D200's fitness for duty. Old veterans, those who have had their D200's for at least two days--well, those guys are starting to notice some minor image flaws. Scenario: Hi-1 (ISO 3200 more or less), tungsten light from streetlamps, 20 second exposures, some hot pixels! Oh-My-Gawd-New User--please,send that Piece of Crap to ME,and I will dispose of it properly!
There are STILL some people who have not bought a digital SLR yet. They're starting to ask if the D200 is suitable for novices, wondering if it's worth the investment,and so on. My take is that it's a good value for a modern,high-performance,semi-pro to pro-caliber digital SLR,and if you have $1699 to spend on a camera body, well, the D200 is the best Nikon in that price range. I do think however, that there's a lot of people who'd be a LOT happier if they owned a simpler-to-operate D-SLR like the Fuji S3 Pro or the Nikon D50. There's a lot of people who want to shoot JPEGs,and the S3 and D50 are noted for pretty jazzy color right out of the camera. I think Nikon's decision to tune the D50 toward richer,more-saturated color is in response to what consumers (prosumers) are expecting to get out of entry-level D-SLR's--namely, rich,saturated,vibrant color images with minimal to no post-processing work needed. There's a group of people who want NO post-processing work required,and for them that's what the best of the consumer digicams have been offering for at least a few years now--"ready" images,right from the camera, provided that digital and photographic basics have been followed (ie good WB/adequate support/appropriate exposure/accurate focus).
The problem is, achieving accurate White Balance,and adequate exposure, and accurate focus seems to be a problem for quite a few folks who are not used to doing those three things in the way the D200 does those things.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

New F-mount Lenses Coming from Zeiss? Rambling thoughts,and a Yes!

Here's a post I did at regarding the possibility of new lenses from Zeiss, designed to be used on Nikon F-mount cameras.

Noted Leica writer Erwin Puts reviews the "theory behind" the very new Zeiss ZM lens line's designs here in a part 2 of a 3-part series on these lenses located at He goes into some of the opto-mechanical aspects of three Biogon lenses, a 25mm,a 28mm,and a 35mm, then a 50mm f/2 Planar-T design which Puts says is as good as the Summicron lens,and a bit better in terms of curvature of field,which puts the 50/Planar in very good company. Read his conclusions,and the third part of the series, and you'll have little doubt that the Zeiss ZM lenses for Leica M-mount means the leaked ZF means F-mount. As far as metering compatibility,I have the D2x,so to me that means there's not an absolute NEED for CPU,or P-series manual focusing lenses from Zeiss for my own use. Still, MF lenses are not as attractive as AF lenses, and I don't think there's a LOT of market demand for manual focus AiS type lenses,like the beautifully-made Voigtlander SL series of F-mount primes like 40mm/2 Asph.,75mm/2.5,etc,etc and sold thru in the US. I forget sometimes,to change the non-CPU Lens Data field on the x quite when mounting an AiS mount lens,so hey Zeiss, P-series those babies,pretty please! I would LOVE to see a Zeiss 110-mm ZF Macro, and would like to see a very small,very high quality 85mm of f/2 aperture which means a profile not much bigger than a 50mm 1.8 AF-D. The thing I miss most about the older manual focus Nikkors is the small profile,short overall lengths, and 52mm filter size from 20mm 3.5 to 50mm, 85mm to 200mm, all SMALL lenses. These current ZM lenses Erwin reviews sound like pretty danged good lens designs,and so I really hope there's a nice ZF line introduced soon; maybe, a ZF line would be fodder for the Lens Lust forum. Price might play a role in the success or failure of a ZF line. [end of my quoted post]
And now THE INTRO. Yes, we've seen the leaks. Zeiss has some ZF lenses coming. New,modern Zeiss lenses were introduced at Photokina 2004,and are on the market right now in Leica-M mount,and so the idea that Zeiss intends to test the waters of selling F-mount lenses is not a total surprise to me since I've been to the web site a fair amount since 2001.Stop by and take a peek at the beautiful lens lineup,which includes 21,25,28,and 35mm Biogon models, and the 50mm f/2 Planar model.
Zeiss has some experience you might say,at lens design and assembly.Much of lens-making depends on mechanical design tolerances for the utmost in lens performance. Quality manufacture and assembly means better-performing lenses,but quality manufacture and assembly drives up COSTS.How much money are we talking? I think the current prices of the Voigtlander SL series lenses is about as high as the "mass market" as a whole is willing to go for manual focusing, AiS type lenses which lack a CPU for EXIF recording and for truly FULL and TOTAL integration with the Nikon system's better cameras of the last decade or so.The "specialty prime lens market" Nikon user might be persuaded to pony up as much as $800 for a single lens,especially if it's a really great performing lens.The current Zeiss Biogon series wides are commanding $800,and the 50mm Planar $600.The F-mount has no rangefinder coupling system, so F-mount lenses could be made less expensive than M-mount lenses I think. If you shoot a D2x,or a D1-series,D200,or other pro Nikon body, AiS lens mounts give you pretty good light metering and exposure control integration as far as the Ai-AiS mount can provide, BUT without a CPU in the lens there is no AUTOMATICALLY entered and reliably CORRECT EXIF reporting, and there's no chance for a D-series distance-aware signal either.Thus, the desire for a P-series lens,which has the Digital Goodeness factor and the ability to tell a New Nikon a lot of info about the lens mounted, it's f/stop,and its focused distance,as well as plugging into the 3D Color Matrix metering and into the i-TTL flash and T-TTL flash systems with the most info for the camera's metering systems.
The presence of a CPU determines if an AF lens can be designed as a G-series or not. And that brings up the first killer question: Would Zeiss consider making new ZF lenses for Nikon using the G-mount protocol? Quick Answer:No, they're not that stupid.The G-mount lacks an aperture ring on the lens itself, and requires basically the "NEW Nikons" with command dials in order to work well in more than two exposure modes. While I detest the G-mount because it breaks backward compatibility with the entire Nikon line, and because I LIKE to have an aperture RING control on every lens the G-series protocol might make it easier and lower-cost to produce than a lens with a traditional,mechanical,click-stopped aperture ring. BUT, and this is the big deal-breaker, G-series lenses are anathema to mechanical camera purists--G-series lenses are useless on the F-F2-FM-FM-2-FM3a cameras that appeal to MANY of the types of people who might want a Zeiss lens for their Nee-cone camera. No, a G-series lens gives up the all-important FULL-system comptibility that might assure Zeiss a second and third production run of these lenses.If Zeiss issues a G-series lens without absolutely killer AF performance and some simply excellent optics, these lenses will be very short lived.
If a company wishes to market a line of expensive, high-prestiege lenses for Nikon F-mount, if the lenses are manually focusing models, they had better have CPU's installed in them if Zeiss wishes to sell many of them. If the ZF lenses are autofocusing, they surely ought NOT to be G-series lenses; having the aperture ring on an AF lens is actually a key factor in that lens's overall,total usefulness as an F-mount optic,and a key ingredient in that lens's usefulness with the widest-possible range of F-mount bodies. A scrimped-on marketing department wrong choice in the ZF line could spell early exit from the F-mount market.
If they have done their homework, the folks at Zeiss will introduce a line of Zeiss ZF lenses which will work,as I said above, on the widest-possible range of F-mount bodies. Meaning a two-row aperture readout, with the smaller row of ADR f/stop numbers for the persiscope-reading 1970's-80's models, the Ai-S speed notch just for the heck of it (Nikon FA Owners Anonymous,anybody?) and the AI coupling ridge for every other AI-body, and a CPU in the lens to communicate with the "NEW Nikons", and screwdriver AF focusing. AF-S focusing probably would be the wrong choice I think,for maximum compatibility with the widest-possible range of F-mount bodies. It would be a nice thing to incorporate a half-decent A/M switch,like that found of the 80-400VR,for example. The 80-400VR's A/M switch was unique when it was introduced,and it's the lesser of all evils when one has to have an A/M selector switch within the relm of current House-of-Nikon designs. The forward-and-backward, sliding focusing ring implementation of Tokina and Tamron,for example, would be better than the shit designs Nikon has given its stamp of approval to in A/M switch designs. As I said, the 80-400 Nikkor's A/M switch, with LOCKABLE A and M settings, with two soft detents inside for A and M positions is a half-decent design, yet still in the so-19th Century engineering department. Tokina's push-pull sliding focusing clutch system has been imperfect in its shift point in two Tokina's I've owned,yet it was STILL a superior system to any A/M switch Nikon has ever done on a screwdriver focusing lens.The Tamron 90mm AF-SP Macro uses a similar system, with a push-pull design for shifting from Auto to Manual focusing, while maintaining the old-fashioned screwdriver focusing system that ALL Nikon AF bodies can use. Only the best of Nikon bodies can utilize AF-S focusing, and the original Nikon autofocus system AKA screwdriver focusing, is the most universal standard for Nikon autofocusing bodies.Screwdriver AF lenses from Zeiss would work quite well as manual focusing lenses on an FM-2 or an FM3a or an F3 or any of a zillion other Nikon bodies,and would not add the complexity and cost of an AF-S focusing motor,so my feeling is that IF,and it's a big IF, Zeiss makes a ZF AF line or model(s) of lenses that the regular,plain vanilla screwdriver AF will be the protocol they use. If they have a collective brain, they will use all the appropriate buzzwords in this age of vanity and shallowness. ED-glass, Aspherical,their old T* (pronounced T-star) moniker whenever possible,as well as some of the old and venerable Zeiss designs like the venerable Tessar,the wide-angle Biogons,the various Planar,Makro-Planar,Distagon,etc,etc. The NAMES of the old-line lenses from Leica and Zeiss are part of the lore,part of the allure,part of the pretentiousness,part of the clubbiness that makes expensive,luxury designed lenses so,so different from merely numerically named lenses from Japan; when you have a Planar lens design, well, you know it's a pretty good formula,but it also has a cool "name". (A name is important--look at the Lamborghini Countach;without such a cool name,would it have been in production for almost two decades? I think not.) I just do NOT expect a series of AF lenses designed to fit Nikon F-mount from Zeiss. I expect manual focusing lenses from the ZF series. If we're really lucky, the new Zeiss ZF lenses will be P-series manual focusing lenses,sort of like the Nikkor 45-P, but made better and costing more, but with that oh-so-handy little CPU in there. The P-series designation would allow D70 users and Fuji S2 and Fuji S3 users,as well as Nikon D100 users and D50 users to get good light metering with manual focusing lenses, and would also keep happy all the manual focusing purists who cling to their FM2's and FM3a's and such. And,to top it all of, why not include the "buckhorns",so that the owners of pre-AI Nikons can happily mount, rack to full-aperture, and later dismount at f/5.6 with their old Photomic heads and aging Nikomats and Nikkormats!
Bottom line, I don't see much widespread sales success coming from a Zeiss ZF line of manually focusing lenses introduced in 2006-2007, but I full expect the ZF lenses to be manually focusing, AiS lenses and not much more. I think the age of manual focusing cameras is mostly gone,and so manual focus lenses are no longer seen as desirable except among a small group of shooters whose numbers diminish every year. Still, the ratio of Nikon shootersto M-mount rangefinder camera users is probably at least 500 to 1,and probably more along the lines of 5,000 to 1.The sheer number of Nikon users world-wide is surely much,much larger than the number of M-mount users and if Zeiss can fairly easily enter the F-mount lens market by making a few small changes to its current ZM series of lenses, I can see that they might figure there's at least some opportunity there to establish some business, even if it's at the 600-800 US Dollar range,per lens.
Well,so much for my ramblings on the Zeiss ZF line of lenses for Nikon F-mount. Let's hope Zeiss can offer something really nice,really top-rate, which Nikon's not curently making. And with a CPU built into each lens!
I think short and medium telephoto lenses,as well as longer,wider-aperture manual focusing lenses work the best on crop-field D-SLR bodies,and are among the very easiest lenses to focus by hand and eye. With today's modern D-SLR's lacking both split image rangefinders and microprism doughnuts, todasy's manual focusing aids are the groundglass and the small green LED focus confirmation dot. Using the hand and eye and the focus confirmation dot, I think that lenses from 85 to 200mm and longer are reasonably easy to focus by hand and eye. I think that MAYBE Zeiss lenses will offer some type of optional focusing tabs,since improving the "hand" portion of hand and eye focusing could actually be of real benefit to some people. Frankly, I think the LED focus confirmation system is one are where a much more sophisticated display readout from Nikon would help people if it were actually researched,designed, and then put into cameras. I envision a system similar inh principle to todays, but larger and easier to see.An LED readout of focus distance would be nice, as well as some type of system which could show your focusing ring's needed travel amount,and direction, by means of a constantly updated bar graph display. Instant rangefinder readout in meters and feet from 1 to 100 feet, and a "progress bar" showing the focus ring's Travel Direction with BIG, and easy to SEE arrows! Not this dinky little crappy thing we have now,but something larger. Show the travel direction needed for ring focusing with arrow-shaped LED's, and show the target distance as a Green X, and the show under-run and over-travel on the focusing ring with a rapidly-response,rapidly updated yellow progress bar that runs right underneath the GREEN target distance. When the focus ring turning progress bar gets to the Green X or target distance, it would go to Green as well, and once the progress bar went past the target distance, the progress bar LED's would switch to Red arrows pointing the opposite direction,indicating back-focus conditionand showing you which direction to turn the focusing ring.ANd, in my Dream World, this system would compensate for the bass-ackwards focusing ring direction of third-partty lenses like Sigmas and Tamrons,which focus the wrong direction.With CPU-equipped lenses, designers could tailor a more-sophisticated,graphically-aided LED design that would make hand-and-eye focusing more like a video game,with a logical,simple system which I think would really HELP people by providing better mechanical engineering and better overall,total camera design. Focusing AIDS like a split image+microprism ring really help old-timers like me who know how to use a split image screen. And one focusing aid is sheer focal length--so c'mon Zeiss, bring us an 85mm lens. And a 110mm macro.And wait maybe 15 years for Nikon to implement a better MF aid system.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Which camera do I get rid of now?

I'm not sure people understand my question. I have an S2, an S3, a D-70, and may have just acquired a D2x. Which ones should I keep?Henry F. Smith Http://

I saw that question on dPreview's estimable Fuji SLR Talk, and thought,hmmm...I'm in almost the same boat.
I have a 20D instead of an S3,since in February of 2005,instead of $2499 for the Fuji S3, I spent $2,531 to buy an EOS 20D body and accessory grip, a 50mm 1.8 EF, a used 100mm 2.8 EF USM Macro and a Sigma 18-125 walkabout lens, for $2,531. But I still have my S2, still have my D70, and have the D2x. So....which camera to get rid of?
Since Mr. Smith is a landscape shooter, I would say, ditch the D70,for sure, unless you need a camera that shoots very small,compressed RAW files to the tune of 5 megabytes per frame. The D70 is a master of file size economy in its always-compressed NEF capture mode. On a weekend getaway, one can shoot the D70 in RAW mode and be assured of the maximum of post-production WB correction, as well as the best moire-resistance, and just,well the wonderful way Nikon NEF images can be adjusted in Nikon Capture. With Capture, your original NEF file is never actually modified; only the CHANGES you make to it are recorded, and ride with the file as it is modified. S2 JPEGS in 12MP mode are larger than other cameras,and the D70's compressed NEFs are smaller in size than the S2 or S3's beefy SuperCCD JPEG files.D70 raw files are smaller than S2 or S3 JPEGs for approximately comparable resolution. But, for workability, the Fuji RAW images are superior to D70 NEF images,usually. Color-wise, the Fuji cameras S2 and S3 have more-pleasing color in daylight than D70 images do. It's hard to define actually, but for some subjects Fuji's S2 and S3 cameras have an overall "look" that's very pleasing,very compelling,and very "Fuji".
Not knocking the D70, but for a fellow who owns an S2, a D70, an S3, and a D2x, clearly I think the camera to move along would be the D70,particularly if the owner is an experienced landscape shooter...the D70's forte is speed of handling, small and economical files, and flash photography,and particularly bright-sunlight fill-flash; the D70 and SB800 allows very flexible,good flash performance, and Nikon has figured out a pretty pleasing way to balance ambient and flash with the D70 and SB800 combo. High synch speed of 1/500 second minimizes the chance of double exposure "ghosting" when shooting fill flash in bright sunlight with rapidly-moving people (kids,sports fill-flash,etc.), or fast-moving macro subjects like butterflies in the bright,summertime months when flash + a macro lens equals great pictures--it is THEN that the D70 is vastly superior to a camera which syncs flash at 1/125 or 1/180 second. Despite ISO 200 as its lowest ISO setting, the D70's 1/500 flash synch speed makes it a very useful tool for shooting synchro-sunlight flash.There is NO substitute for raw,actual shutter speed when subjects are in fast motion under bright ambient light levels and you wish to shoot flash to provide fill-in lighting.What is truly a tragedy is when people shoot flash in daylight at 1/125 or 1/180 X-and then find that they have an AMBIENT LIGHT GHOST image,plus a flash image--this is a crushing image flaw when it occurs,and it occurs all too often at 1/125 second,but almost never at 1/500. ISO-speed "equivalence" arguments about how a camera that goes to ISO 100 and 1/250 X-synch is "equivalent" to 1/500 at ISO 200 are missing the absolute,simple fact that at 1/125 in bright sunshine, it is easy to accidentally get a ghost image at 1/125 second; it is less-likely to get blurring at 1/250; and at 1/500 second, the shutter speed itself is fast enough to stop "MOST" motion in the daylight part of the synchro-sunlight exposure equation. ONE-burst flash photography in bright sunlight is safer at 1/500 second by FAR, than it is when there's a 1/125 or 1/180 second ambient exposure being made in concert with the flash pop.High-Speed or repeating,strobospcopic-like High Speed Flash protocols actually render fast action in sunlight with a lot of blurring,at times. Suffice it to say, the D70 is a better synchro-sunlight machine for some tasks than the D2x is,and certainly far,far better in sunlight than the Fuji S2 is. AND, 1/500 second in daylight is a motion-stopping speed. 1/125 second in daylight will record blurring is ambient makes up a lot of the exposure. Most people don't understand the nuances of speed and ISO and absolute shutter speed and motion stopping WRT to flash used as fill-in, but quite a few people do. It's hard to decribe all the ramifications of why a 1/500 second, non FP-flash camera holds benefits when using flash in bright lighting. Most people are kind of baffled by the way there are two exposures,combined, when flash+ ambient light is mixed.
The bottom line is that Nikon's i-TTL flash protocol is in Nikon digital SLRs and in Nikon electronic flash units. Other cameras are using older prtocols,and Nikon has moved into the era of the multi-unit, remote flash era with the i-TTL protocol and the Creative Lighting System.Nikon is in total control of the Creative Lighting System's development and implementation.
For the landscape photographer, I cannot really see keeping the D70 in a lineup that includes a D2x, or a 20D, or an S2 AND an S3. In SMith's case, ditching the D70 makes sense. Keeping the S3 makes sense. Either keeping,or selling the S2 makes sense. But the D70's gotta' go.
It is indicative of the current state of camera development that there are an ever-increasing number of dedicated,serious practitioners of photography who have bought three,or four,or even five D-SLR's over the past two to three years, and now the time has come to winnow out the less-needed cameras. It's always a personal decision to let a piece of equipment go. Sometimes,logic and reasoning make no sense. But I do see a lot of D70's being let go. I like what my S2 gives me over the D70. I'd rather have what an S2 gives me than what a D70 gives me. Others may prefer the flash capabilities and flash consistency that the D70 can deliver. To each his own.
There are niche areas where one,specific camera has a real edge over most competing models. Software features, file handling characteristics,end use of photographs,quantity of photographs,ease of capturing photographs,color reproduction accuracy, color reproduction acceptance by the client,and overall "look" of the files as they are created--all these things are part of what separates the various D-SLR cameras from one another.Some D-SLRs seem to generate files which are so large that they tax the entire image capturing,post,and archiving solutions we have today; it IS POSSIBLE to have too large of a file size for some uses.D2x uncompressed NEFs are around 20 megabytes per image on CF, on hard drives,on archive discs.Ouch! I shoot compressed NEFs, almost halving that storage requirement for my 12.2 MP captures.
How large is the JPEG size? That is where the Fuji cameras have a pretty big storage penalty,compared with Canon and Nikon models. Although,to be fair, very high-detail scenes shot in JPEG Fine/Maximum Quality mode with the D2x can be 10 megabytes! Almost as large as a RAW file! The S2's in-camera 12MP JPEGs are an easy 4.5 to 5 megabytes per image shot Org-Org-Off. A comparably-detailed Canon or Nikon 6- or 8.2 MP JPEG can be 1.9 to 2.8 megabytes,and have pretty much a very,very similar amount of information, but at half the file size of the Fuji file.In RAW mode, the Fuji cameras S2 and S3 have 12.5 megabyte 12-bit RAW files (standard DR raw you might say), while the S3 has huge 24.5 megabyte WIDE-Dynamic Range RAWs, or 14-bit RAW files as some put it, with the added highlight DR response of the SR sensor in the S3. Basically, D2x 12.2 MP RAW captures and Fuji Wide-DR RAW capturing is a 20- to 24.5 megabyte affair,per shot. Overkill in many cases I think.
I guess the real heart of the matter is that the D2x is THE Nikon camera one wants to be shooting at ISOs of 640 and under. Using a D2H or Hs or 1x or D70 or D100 doesn't bring a lot of advantage to the photographer or to the files until the ISO's get elevated to 800.At which point, the S3 or EOS 20D and 5D start to make real sense as competition for the D2x. The D2x's full-field 12.4 MP image is overkill for a number of uses,and much glass cannot make full use of 12.4 MP worth of sensor. Canon's aim at 8-8.2 MP worth of data in three distinctly different lines of cameras (the 8.0 or 8 mp second gen D-Rebel/ and 8.2 MP 20D and the 8.2 1D Mark II-series' two iterations) hits a very,very sweet spot with good compromises between file size,amount of captured data in terms of CF/storage/CPU processing needs,and lens performance. Stated another way, 6 megapixels might not be enough, but eight is enough,and 12 might be too many MP. Nikon's new 10.2 player sounds like a nice capture size too!
Yuppers, there's folks now who need to thin out their D-SLR stables.It's kind of a hard thing to do.The way I look at it, they're hardly worth selling..they make better shooters than they make as items for sale.
The most annoying part of it all is how beautiful Fuji images look,but what low-end bodies we've been forced to use to get Fuji imager technologies, and how many times the autofocus fails to get a good lock, or how long it takes to write bloated files out to CF media,and so on.I'm praying that 2006 sees the announcement of a Fuji S4. I expect an EOS 20D successor announcement within just a few months from Canon. And I expect legions of D70s to flood the used market very soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Here Comes the D200 Onslaught

It's December 17,2005 and within a scant few days the D200 onslaught will begin in earnest. Be prepared for _potential_slowdowns and problems with pBase as people go searching for D200 photos there. Be prepared for slow,stuttering web connections to countless private servers hosting D200 photos from all across the globe, as web-heads seek out the latest underexposed, shot-while-standing-at-a-sales-counter "example photos" shot with D200 cameras by people who've only just recently managed to insert their flash cards into a store's demo D200, and who've then rushed home to upload a handful of "example photos" to show how good--or how bad--the D200's image quality is.
Remember, early "example photos" or "sample photos" often look like crap,no matter what camera they've been made with. Often this is because the cameras are set to factory default settings, and because the nut behind the eyepiece has absolutely NO FRICKIN' CLUE about how to use the demo camera,or how to manipulate its controls, or even how to take a fundamentally sound photo in the first place. Standing-at-a-camera-sales-counter "example photos" are often worthless. The more sophisticated the camera, the less likely it is for a person to be able to pick one up, stuff in a CF card, mash the shutter button 20 times in one minute,hand the camera back to the shop attendant,rush home and then to be able to post ANYTHING of any value after a mere sixty seconds' worth of snapping. So, be prepared to see this type of "D200 example pics" postings on the web over the next few weeks. Consider the source.
Also, be prepared to hear some severe criticisms of the D200's image quality by at least one or two or three disgruntled novice users, and also be prepared to hear the Brand Fanboi's and One Brand Zealots "dissing" the D200's image quality,its handling,or any one of its traits. There are bound to be _plenty_ of One Brand Zealots out to convince others of the superiority of Camera XXX or Camera YYY. Count on it. I recall one "Jillon Dames" who posted during the early release phase of the 5D that the Canon EOS 5D was a, "Low-ISO camera at best", with absolutely ,"unacceptable noise levels at any ISO above 400". What a laugh! Simply a seriously misguided piece of disinformation! The EOS 5D offers almost state of the art noise reduction and some of the current BEST-available low-light D-SLR performance, with numerous,sane,impartial testing organizations praising the EOS 5D as being among the very BEST at higher ISO shooting both in terms of focusing,and of image quality.
Anyway, be prepared for an onsalught of D200 photos shot in many case by very inexperienced D200 "testers" armed with their own CF cards, but no D200 to call their own. It's all part and parcel of the introduction of EACH new D-SLR. Whenever Nikon comes out with a new model, there are certain people who will always try to devalue the new Nikon, or to dismiss it, or to spread unsupported bullshit and lies about it. The same goes when Canon introduces a new model--there are Nikonistas who will do their misguided best to unfairly portray and mischaracterize whatever new camera Canon has.You know,bitching and moaning about how CMOS sensors are no good, bitching about corner vignetting on full-frame Canon D-SLR's, or critcising Canon's low-noise,high-resolution images for being "plastic",or carping about how the 1.5x FOV concept is inherently better than full frame 24x36mm sensor size. Same with the Fuji Boosters who will often criticize either Canon or Nikon cameras for any number of supposed faults particular to Nikons, or Canons.
Please gird yourselves for a bunch of lame comments on the D200's picture quality,much of it from sour grapes folks who are secretly very envious of the D200's sheer bang-for-dollar and wide,encompassing feature set. This world is full of people anxious to get the best deal in a Digital SLR, and of people who are looking to buy a camera that can really help them deal with whatever photographic tasks they want to fulfill. I cannot blame anybody for searching out sample photos from the D200, or for anybody searching for actual OWNER reports and User Reports on the new D200. But please, be aware that within the next few days there will be both innocent AND malicious information about the D200 circulating all over the web. It happens EVERY time a new D-SLR is released.Already,before the wide release of the D200, I have seen both very excellent and very poor world wide web "example photos" from the D200.The right guy can make the best camera look like crap.Or,maybe it's the wrong guy? Depends on who is trying to spin who,doesn't it?
Somebody posted a link to some EOS 1Ds Mark II (Canon camera with 16.7 MP, priced at $7999) samples which showed just how BAD a grandfatherly snapshooter could make the 1Ds Mk II look.Image after image of BAD results from the magnificient Canon flagship. Just God-awful stuff, and I mean that the pictures often looked very,very technically messed up. Bad WB, focus slightly off,camera shake problems,exceedingly poor color under tungsten theatre lighting, etc. And yet I personally have a few 1Ds Mark II samples which show the camera in a very,very favorable light, as in, "Among the very,very best images I've seen from a D-SLR over a wide number of frames of different subject matter". Yet, this single owner's $8k FF Canon's image results looked like crap.What was at fault--all that resolution and image quality? Does the 1Ds Mark II have too much resolution for its own good?
I actually expect thousands of very,very satisfied owners of the D200 to choke internet message forums within the next thirty days with tales of joy and pride of ownership, and as soon as March,2006 the D200 is going to be so,so popular that it will be a major feather in the cap of Nikon's design teams. I think the D200 might take over the D70's position as All-Time Sales Unit Leader for Nikon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fuji STILL doesn't GET IT and also a follow-up post to this at

Have a look at what Fuji S3 Pro shooters have to deal with, as the FujiFilm Professional division dilly-dallies around with users who desperately want to have their S3's retrofitted with increased buffer memory. Let's face the truth,which is that the vast majority of current Fuji S3 users have been sold a D-SLR with a very small RAW buffer and glacially SLOW card write times.The slowest write times in the D-SLR industry. The S3 also has the crudest and most screwed-up image review "system" of any D-SLR today. The S3's design shortcuts and low-budget engineering decisions are laughably bad for a camera that began its life priced at $2,499. Thom Hogan's initial review of the S3 called for the camera to be "redesigned",and THAT my friends is a bad review point.

It's almost impossible to describe what it is like to sit there and WAIT for a D-SLR to write a handful of images to the card more SLOWLY than a digicam can do the job.It's almost impossible to describe the feeling of running into an image buffer limit after spending half of an afternoon getting into position to make a wildlife shot from close range,and MISSING THE BEST SHOTS because the designers of your camera took the cheapest way out. I've suffered through both situations with my Fuji S2 Pro. The S3 Pro is even s-l-o-w-e-r at writing files and even slower to review files on the LCD than the S2 Pro is. Slow writes are not bad if your camera has enough of a BUFFER to shoot the occasional extended sequence of photos which span, say, two minutes of continuous time passing.Two minutes of a day, with say 20 photos taken. Not six photos, but 20 photos,over two minutes. Can't make 20 pics in two minutes as needed to cover an event? Unacceptable.

Fuji annouced a buffer upgrade program--for its customers in Japan. But nothing for its United States customers. Months ago,Fuji was shamed into admitting it had released entire serial number batches of S2 Pro digital SLR bodies fitted with BAD CCD's, thanks to pro-active customers, and people like "Karbo" who created a well-publicized,on-line database where owners of defective S2s posted their serial numbers and the fault their cameras suffered from. Karbo's S2 Failure Database,and the world wide web's many public forums, brought powerful and tangible benefits to S2 customers across the globe.The squeaky wheel got the grease!! There's a neat book available entitled The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual. It describes how the modern,internet/web culture allows consumers to go on-line and to SHARE their experiences,and to share their actual,true feelings about products and services. Let me explain...

In this, the internet age, wired consumers SHARE their experiences, and by COMPLAINING about badly-made or badly-designed products, or products which are just sub-par, consumers warn other consumers about lousy products, shoddy workmanship,and bad customer sales practices.The Cluetrain Manifesto is a really important book. It tells those who are unfamiliar with the new world dynamics that there IS A WAY for consumers to avoid being mistreated by large corporations. You know, the large companies that tell buyers, "Why NO, we've NEVER heard of a problem with that part failing so,your next step is to send the product to us,and we'll issue an estimate,and then you can decide if you'd like to go ahead with the repair or not." That's the OLD-world order of things, where customers are kept in the dark,and ripped off by companies which have made bad products--sometimes thousands of them. In the new, wired world, potential customers can go online and within an hour or so,can uncover the hidden flaws and weak areas of almost any product. AND, if you buy the book, you'll find out that COMPANIES can also have an impact, by making contact with these on-line forums and their members. And,as Karbo's S2 Failure Database proved, public discussion and criticism can bring consumer-favorable response from companies. Following the database's publication,I think Fuji got great free PR for their low-cost or free repairs on 32-series (and other series) S2 sensors which had failed.

Nikon has no worldwide or even European web person or presence.Nikon has no ombusdsman, no factory face that we in the US are aware of. But Canon, USA has Chuck Westphall...a real person...he answers questions about Canon's D-SLR products at user-based participation sites all over the web. Nikon has nobody. Fuji has nobody. Kodak is out of the D-SLR business.Nikon and Fuji give customers the cold shoulder,and little more than form e-mails.Is it any wonder that Canon is the number one seller of D-SLR cameras? Fuji executives need to read The Cluetrain Manifesto,because they are doing business "as usual", and unless they improve their treatment of customers, it will be the END of their D-SLR business. The Fuji user base has spoken--they want the buffer upgrade, and they want it NOW, and they don't want to be reamed. They already paid a premium price for a product that has just about the worst sub-systems of any modern D-SLR body, but which has expanded dynamic range in the HIGHLIGHTS. C'mon Fuji, give your loyal customers access to the buffer upgrade, and do it at a FAIR price. FujiFilm have already charged a $1,000 price premium over the comparably spec'd EOS 20D and $1,500 more than the Nikon D70 (another 6 megapixel D-SLR)--and now it is time for them to step up and do the right thing,just like they did with the defective CCD's installed in so many 32-series S2 Pro bodies.

If all you do is meekly accept what manufacturers sell you,and you don't complain when you get the shaft, then you get exactly what you deserve. Problem is,in this instance,FujiFilm has customers complaining, but those customers are getting the shaft from FujiFilm. Oh well, more customers for Nikon and Canon I guess!

In the new age, the wired age, consumers get together on-line and SHARE INFORMATION amongst themselves,and that is a key point of The Cluetrain Manifesto:The End of Business As Usual. Why so many manufacturers are not reacting to the new reality of the marketplace is beyond me,especially when the products they make are targeting PRECISELY the type of consumer who has an internet connection and a sense of community. Continuing to crank out sub-par products,which legions of actual owners complain about,strikes me as a very stupid business practice. Of course, the Japanese have always seemed somewhat inscrutable to westerners, but now that the market is global,it might pay to act like it,and to offer customers in New York and New Delhi the same courtesy that is offered to customers in Japan.Even if that "courtesy" involves paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars to upgrade a camera so that it's almost up to a the point where it should have been had it had decent engineering in the first place. Will it soon be Kodak Curtains for FujiFilm's Professional division? That would be a crying shame, since Fuji sensors yield lovely image quality and very deep,beautiful image files in both JPEG and raw capture modes.I want to see FujiFilm succeed in the D-SLR business,but they need to get their act together and start treating customers right,world-wide.

Addendum, Dec. 30,2005: see a Fuji e-mail notifying European customers how much money they expect to charge for what SHOULD have been installed into the S3 at the stage of original design and manufacturing.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Leica Guy Says Photography is Now Dead!

I recently started reading some essays written by noted Leica author Erwin Puts.On October 2,2005 he wrote a short piece entitled "time out!" which he began with this comment:
>I have received an EOS 5D for an extended study of the properties of >silver and silicon with a capture area that is now identical with the >24x36mm film format. This makes technical comparisons more easy to >conduct as you do not have to factor in a number of concessions.
>It is slightly amazing to read at the Canon site that they seem to have >rediscovered the classical Barnack format of 24 x 36mm as the new >standard for digital photography, in the same period where Leica >seems to abandon its own classical format.
[ end of quoted passage]

Whoa--he's put his site on hold to take time to investigate the SSI or solid state imaging capabilities of the newest Canon EOS digitial SLR! Erwin Puts writes a lot of lens reviews about Leica optics I'll never own,and he does it well. I find his lens reviews well-written and very descriptive, but Leica's ain't my thing,so I don't care about that line of equipment. But I have just discovered his essays ABOUT Photography, about SSI and SHI,and his essay about the modern prosumer and the modern digital hobbyist which he calls "Adam",and I feel as if I have been given a huge gift of understanding. I don't think I'd ever really considered his points of view about A. the prosumer and B. the new digital "Adam" and the basic difference between solid state imaging or digital photography, and silver halide-based imaging, AKA photography.
Here are links to two interesting essays written by Erwin Puts:
paradigm shift!

2004-the watershed year [a must-read essay by Mr. Puts, IMO]

I do have to really thank Mr. Puts for his observations on how prosumers and "Digital Adams" have changed the face of what I actually thought was "photography". But you see, as Puts points out, photography as we knew it in the pre-digital era, is now dead. Solid State Imaging has vastly different fundamental underpinnings, and now that digital is here, photography as we know it is dead. And that's the part I didn't really fully comprehend--that traditional photography is now dead,and the people who are practicing solid state imaging are in many ways, fundamentally different from those of us who consider ourselves photographers. Puts has given me what I consider to be valuable insight into the mindset of this new generation of people who are in it for the ability to make images AFTER THE FACT, in post-production, and who are more interested in doing their creative part LATER, in Photoshop. The prosumers and the new Digital Adam types are not trying to do the type of photography I was trained in; a type of photography in which the goal of the photographer is to capture a moment that is pretty much "fixed" in time, and which would have until recently,been "locked" into an emulsion on some substrate, in the very old-time ways of photo-graphy.
Susan Sontag may have written about photography, but she's dead now,so she has nothing to say about solid state imaging or digital photography. Ansel Adams said he harbored great expectations for digital imaging, but he never lived to see digital imaging make anything of itself. There really isn't a lot of criticism (in the academic sense) about solid state imaging or digital imaging that I've been exposed to; I'll profess that until last week I'd never really considered the influence of the prosumer camera buyers and the Digital Adam types over a field of endeavor that I thought was still "photography",only being done with digital cameras! I'd long been critical of Photoshop Jockeys, to use my own words, and about Digital Newbies, but I'd never really considered why my own views about photography and about cameras were sometimes so out of line with the views of so many of the modern internet "photography" people I've been associating with for the past few years. I knew that the signal-to-noise ratio, and the "my-dick-is-better-than-your-dick" type of juvenile crowing at places like dPreview has been growing worse and worse, but I basically attributed it to the availablility of low-priced,introductory D-SLR's like the Canon Digital Rebel,and then later, the Nikon D70.I'd sort of figured the new conflicts were really just reflecting a younger,more brash,more gear-headed type of photographer coming in. But that's not it...these people are not photographers...these people are the "imagers", the prosumers, and the Digital Adams. I thought that since so many of them used some of the same equipment that I did, that they too were also interested in photography, in the traditional sense. I had never understood why so many internet'photographers' were possessed with such fierce,blind brand loyalty to one brand or one specific MODEL of camera to the degree that acknowledging said equipment's weaknesses was considered tantamount to critcising their lifestyle,their children,or their religion. These internet 'photography buffs' typically confuse gear talk with personal criticism, they confuse their equipment with their egos (penises?),and so on. I thought it was about photography, but the discussions were really more about them trying to validate their egos by brand association. There are quite a few one-brand zealots, who are very intent on "proving" that Fuji, or Canon,or Nikon equipment is "the best",and these people are all over the web,posing as photography enthusiasts or as photographers; but for the most part, they really are NOT involved in photo-graphy, they are involved with high-tech toys and the latest computers and software applictions much more so than they are involved with cameras,or lenses, or lighting equipment,or technique and methods discussions,etc.
I've never was fully AWARE of my degree of mis-understanding of this massive, new wave of people who had been drawn to what I thought was still "photo-graphy",and which us lucky ones have been doing with digital SLRs since around 2000 or 2001.In the past,I had made disparaging remarks about internet forum people who as I put it,"went digital when the D70 came out" in 2004,and those who suddenly created web sites touting the Nikon D70, and so on. See, I've actually not understood these two new classes of people, the prosumers and the Digital Adams. I've failed to understand the strong tribal allegiance tendencies of the many new,wealthy,pro-active consumers who almost demands new gear on six-month product cycles with the newest features,at the lowest prices,constantly. I'd never understood the Digital Adams who are more interested in post production "imaging" than in being able to pre-visualize and to capture a desired image in the field or in the studio, using the camera as the MAIN tool. I never really understood the Digital Adam types.And now, thanks to Erwin Puts I've begun to see where these people are coming from.
Erwin defines the "Adam" in this quote:
>The 'adam' in the actual world of digital imaging is more likely to be a person who is keen on >using the newest technological tools and software programs. The more the burden of quality >imagery is shifting to the stage of image manipulation (which can be quite satisfying in itself), >the less important the basic tools like cameras and lenses will become. [end quoted segment]
See, to me, I've never really been aware of why I felt such a separation from so many people who are involved in digital photography. I almost never crop my 35mm or digital SLR images. I don't do a lot of post-processing work on my images. I don't look toward radical re-alteration of my digital RAW files if they suck,as a way to make something out of flat light,or haphazard snaps--I look for better material,better light, or a better camera position. I want a camera that allows me to control exposure very precisely,using old-school ideas about ASA, shutter speeds, f/stop, and focal length and associated angle of view control. I have a very old-fashioned set of ideas about how the mechanical parts, the camera and its lens, needs to function. I am interested in what used to be called "straight photography." Jerry Uelsmann I am NOT!

I bitch and moan about the camera because I do NOT share the view of this new-age Digital Adam guys who,as Erwin Puts puts it value COMPUTER re-arrangement of the pixel matrix more so than,as Puts writes "the basic tools like cameras and lenses ". I've always approached my photography with the idea that the 1)the camera,and 2) its lens, are the two MOST important parts of photography,followed by 3)knowing exactly where to position the camera and learning 4) WHEN to fire the shutter. To me, the camera and its lens are the control center, the nerve center, the BASIC and most CENTRAL tools. But the new Digital Adam guys all have learned,or accepted, that the camera is not the MOST-central part of photography, but that the real craft is now in the image-manipulation stage. Case in point: I like the Canon 20D because of its on-chip,pixel-level noise reduction at ISO 800 and 1600. I want to be able to shoot and have nice,clean,basically low-noise images right off the CF card. I LIKE the EOS 20D because it takes care of a lot of the post-processing headaches of pesky problems like noise reduction....a couple of die-hard Nikon web gurus each like to intone that a real digital photographer can overcome noisy images,and that part of a modern-day digital photographer's prowess comes from his ability to de-noise his Nikon-created high ISO files with Noise Ninja or Neat Image. Some of these new digital gurus boast that it's good to have the choice of NR on or NR OFF,and that removing noise is what separates the good photographer from the poor photographer,and apparently what in today's world separates the master from the novice photographer. I call Nikon-brand loyalty bullshit on that one! Canon's CMOS-sensored cameras have pretty much all had better on-chip NR potential than what Nikon has been selling in the same product classes,and I'll state my opinion that at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 the 20D is about as good as the Nikon D2x, but without all the hassles involved in de-noising each and every frickin' frame in post. I want to shoot images, not mess around with noise reduction all the time. I'm old enough to expect the camera to be a tool that just WORKS,and works great. If a $4995 Nikon does not work great at 1600 ISO and a $1399 Canon delivers the same image quality or better, with less work,well I give props to the Canon,and don't try and "spin" my dismay about the performance of the Nikon D2x at ISO 1600, or act like noisy sensor performance is somehow "better" than noisy sensor performance which a master-level operator can de-noise in Noise Ninja.
I'm a lousy Photoshop guy...I'm very poorly schooled in Photoshop. See, I've been laboring since 2001 under the idea that I was doing photography. I've never viewed things from the point of view that the way to get "quality imagery" is found at "the stage of image manipulation",as Puts so eloquently puts it. I guess that is why I am so confused by the attitudes of so many of the new digitial photographers who are so prevalent across the web and web boards and forums.
I've never really understood the prosumer and the new Digital Adam types. I'm so obstinate that I complain about half-stop shutter speeds and half-stop shutter speed and whole-stop ISO jumps on digital cameras. I'm so stodgy that I expect to be able to incrementally control exposure through third-stop ISO shifts on either my body or on my flash unit. I want a very HIGH degree of fucntionality and precision from my camera simply because I learned to do my photography with film and a good Nikon 35mm camera. I learned most of what I know all in the PRE-photoshop era. When things had to be done "just so", in the camera, with the camera,with the idea that things had to be based on meter readings. I've never been one to look to the answers in the image manipulation stage. Out of 2,000+ images of mine, I will crop about ten images. If the framing isn't right as I shot it, nobody sees the image. Nobody. It goes nowhere. I still labor away under the idea that 99 percent of what I shoot is total crap,and that out of 700 sports images, maybe four will be of real interest. I just don't think in terms of somehow being able to instill "quality" into images AT the stage of image manipulation. if the framing isn't the way I want it, to me the shot is a failure. If the exposure isn't very close to optimal, I'm perturbed. I shoot B&W images with the S2 and the 20D because they allow me to review my aptures on the LCD in , black and white!!! I use RAW mode, so I have access to all my bit depth, but I want the images seen as B&W,so I shoot them that way.
I guess I'm slow...I've been hanging out on the web,associating with hundreds of people who have a fundamentally different world view than I have...many of them younger than me, many of them much BETTER and MORE-skilled at photoshop manipulation than I am. I've never really understood this new breed of digital photographers, the prosumers and the Digital Adams. I realize now that I have been laboring away with self-imposed restrictions against cropping,against sophisticated retouching,against multi-layer image processing and fakery, and that maybe I'm expecting wayyyyyyy too much control and precision out of today's Digital SLR Cameras. There's no NEED to make the camera BETTER when everybody now knows that the image MANIPULATION STAGE is where the quality is put into the images. Right?
See...that idea is news to me. And I mean that in all earnestness...I've never quite understood the new breed of Photoshop jockeys, or those who are willing to use a cheap,low-end camera and to put up with its compromises only becasue they knoiw they can, LATER,create their images at the computer stage. I'd been happy to use the same four,old motorized Nikon bodies for the better part of a decade and a half,with nothing but routine service and needed repairs done on the same old stuff until the D1 came along and I figured I needed new camera bodies. Unlike the new Digital Adams populating the web, I never augmented my signature file with small photos of my entire line-up of lenses and bodies...I never filled out a dPreview profile with a list of gear a mile long, trying to build myself up via showing off a checklist filled in with the high-dollar,prestiege Nikkors...I don't have a cool "avatar" likeness of me with my 300/2.8 on a body...
I just want to do photography,but I now realize that photography as I knew it has been declared dead,and has been replaced by solid state imaging.Today's digital SLRs have been the among the very FIRST of their breed, while the 35mm motorized Nikons I grew up with were the product and evoluion of some fifty to fifty-five years of the development of the 35mm cameras,and about 20 years worth of Nikon-exclusive SLR development. The degree of refinement,perfection,and elan which Nikon 35mm film camera users have had since the late 1970's and early 1980's is still a few D-SLR model generations in the future.I'm not 100 percent happy with the state of D-SLR development and refinement in the lower-end bodies from Canon,Nikon,or Fuji,and have been very openly critical of camera body and camera control limitations. Because to me, photo-graphy is done at the camera stage more so than at the computer stage. To the prosumer and the Digital Adam, the image capturing stage is a passing thought, an "almost-good-enough-is-plenty-good" stage of the process. The value of highly-refined tools, camera and lens, is really of little concern to the new Digital Adam,who is willing to accept (buy and use) pretty crude tools in some cases,since much of his system involves imaging created or enhanced at the computer stage MORE so than at the image capture stage. The solid values of mechanical precision,optical excellence,and design excellence of the 35mm film camera era has been replaced by a black plastic, cheapie-bodied experience for many people.The Fuji S1 and S2 were so "plastic" it was simply a shock coming from old bodies like the FM, FE, FE-2,and F3 and the D1 to the all-plastic Fuji S1 Pro, and then the S2 Pro,since both those Fuji's were steps back to beginner bodies which I had never owned before. So many people were so enthralled at being able to make digital pictures that they were/are willing to overlook the mechanical shortcomings of inexpensive D-SLR cameras,and for them, this is the age of digital "imaging". Photo-graphy as I new it has,apparently, been declared dead. Wow....I never realized that.

Using a Custom Tone Curve

The Fuji S3 CAMERA can NOT utilize a custom tone curve. A Fuji S3 owner can NOT load a custom tone curve into his camera using a computer and software,simply because the Fuji S3 has no provision for a user-installed Custom Tone Curve.

Curvemeister. Problem is, Curvemeister works ONLY under Windows, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any CAMERA and it does not automatically work at the time of shooting. Using Curvemeister means that each file must be processed and must have a curves adjustment applied to the files AFTER they have been shot.

Uploading a Custom Tone Curve allows one to apply a Curves adjustment IN THE CAMERA, at the moment of shooting. There have been numerous free and widely-distributed Custom Tone Curves,particularly for the Nikon D100 and the Nikon D70. With names like "Point & Shoot", "White Wedding", and "Provia", a quick Google search using the string of Nikon + Custom Curves will lead you to several pages of links explaining the situation and which have curves offered for free use.
Bottom line: Nikon allows users to envision,create, and save customized tone curves using Nikon Capture software. Then,using Nikon Capture, the D-SLR is connected to a PC or Macintosh,and the curve is "uploaded" or "transferred" DIRECTLY TO one's D-SLR camera. Then, when the Custom option is selected on the appropriate camera (like a D70 or a D2H or a D2x or a D100,and so on), the camera then CREATES images which come off the storage card already modified by the Custom Tone Curve being selected.

Check out this web page for valuable Nikon D100 and D70 curves:

I've been using a custom tone curve at times with the D2x. It allows me to get the widest-possible dynamic range with the D2x,artfully pegging my highlights just shy of clipping, along with establishing a decent black point, with good contrast throughout the midtones, all with Point and Shoot ease. And, it allows me to set the EV Comp to a whopping Minus 1.3 to Minus 1.7 stops at the time of shooting, which builds shutter speed, or which allows smaller f/stop values. If there's a fault with the D2x, it is that it allows me to use Nikon Capture to load JUST ONE custom tone curve to the camera at any one time....I wish the D2x had provision for three different custom tone curves. But it,like other Nikons,only allows ONE custom tone curve to be installed in the camera. (NOTE from early 2009: a firmware update Nikon released well after this was written allows four custom curves to be loaded into D2x bodies which have had the new firmware applied.)

It's clear I think that there are a number of people who really do not understand exactly HOW and WHAT a custom tone curve DOES,nor how one would go about loading a custom tone curve INTO their D-SLR.

Custom Tone Curve design,modification,and sharing was part and parcel of the Nikon D100 user group on dPreview for well over two solid years. I have two custom D2x curves which are,to me, exceedingly valuable tools which allow me to shoot high-volume assignments with almost perfect results,right off the card. I have a carefully-tweaked cutom curve loaded into my D2x at this very MOMENT....and the curve is IN THE CAMERA'S MEMORY,and to put the curve into the camera I used a cable and a computer and Nikon Capture 4.3.2 software. Here is a link to a dPreview thread with a custom curve designed for the D2x,as well as ample feedback and instruction on its use.

And for those of you with the Nikon D70,here is a post that shows illustrations graphing out 10 different D50 curve responses,as well as having a lot of good information on custom tone curves.

If you have a Nikon D50,D70,or D70s, check here at this URL for a small piece of freeware that will allow you to design and modify custom tone curves for uploading to your Nikon camera, OR for use in post-production after the fact. ANd for those who want to see just HOW a curve can be uploaded to a Nikon D-SLR body, take the tutorial tour here:

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Missing Lens Focal Lengths for Crop-Sensor D-SLRs

It depends on what I'm shooting. I've become very partial to the 70-200 VR,since the bokeh is nice, the focal length range is fairly wide,and the lens can be made to autofocus very,very well. At times, the 1.5x FOV factor makes this lens simply TOO LONG,even when set to 70mm, such as when the action approaches the sidelines near your camera position at a football game or at a soccer match,or at abasketball game with end-line shooting position,etc.,etc. The angle of view reduction of 1.5x simply makes a 70-200 or 80-200 2.8 too long to get much more than a half-body when the action gets close. This is a big,PITA area for me when using 1.5x or what Nikon calls the "DX" sensor size, a missing lens area for Nikon,with its 1.5x or DX Format cameras.Among other lenses,Nikon is missing a wide-aperture, AF-S focusing "event/sports" zoom lens that's got a wide a wide enough angle of view to handle occasional close-up action without the need to reach for another body mounted with a 20-24 or a short normal lens like the 35/2 AF-D or a 50mm AF lens.
In good light, something lightweight and with high-geared AF screw-drive, a little plastic wunder like the 28-200 G Nikkor can actually achieve ample AF speed on close-range action--albeit only at slowish apertures of f/3.5 at 28mm,then slow death at f/5.6 at the 200mm length.I can actually see shooting baseball from the 3rd base area or the 1st base/homeplate/1st base dugout using the 28-200G and D2x. But still,Nikon is missing a zoom lens for 1.5x cameras and sports/action.
Also, there's a huge DEAD ZONE between 200mm and 300mm. And yet another DEAD ZONE spanning 300mm to 400mm with "speed". Nikon is missing lens speed (aperture) at prices people can afford.What about the 80-400 VR you ask? Well,it's variable maximum aperture and slow f/stop wise,demanding decent light and/or elevated ISO's to build shutter speeds high enough to stop motion. And,as if that's not bad enough, the AF system is stutter-prone;normally,it's adequate,and with a D1- or D2 series driving it, the 804VR(shorthand) can actually do "okay", but when the 804VR stutters or stumbles, it's slow to recover,and it has the M/A switch problem that virtually all screw-drive Nikkors are cursed with.
One of the missing lengths Nikon could make would be a 400mm f/5.6,stabilized lens,just to have parity with Canon.However I wish Nikon would go one better, and imitate Minolta's 400mm f/4.5 lens for $1899.A 400mm prime of/4.5 speed? Hell yes, sign me up! 400mm is very useful for background suppression when shooting on the tiny 1.5x DX format.
For sports/action/available light tele work, ANY aperture gain is a big thing,and as ISO's continue to perform better and better, today's an f/3.5 lens will seem amply fast once sensors advance to where ISO 1600 of "the Future" images comparably to 2005's ISO 400.In that vein, I can see the beauty of Nikon offering a 300mm f/3.5 and a 400mm f/3.5 or even the 400/4.5, like MINOLTA MAKES TODAY, all of course in AF-S for the full-time manual focusing override, and with 3rd Generation Nikon VR. I doubt Nikon will do any such things however.
What I truly,truly wish for is something built with 1.5x and 2.0x FOV in mind. Get off your ass Nikon, and do your part for the users of your 1.5x cameras. C'mon Nikon, address the sports/action/tele-zoom category. Offer to sell us a tele-ZOOM with wide aperture and a decent range when used on 1.5x! You made the 12-24 and 17-55 for the DX format you MAKE us purchase. Now, please Dear Nikon, make us a similarly valuable,useful,BestWhenShotOnDX-Zoom lens solution for sports/action photography when using a Nikon Dx-format camera. Like the D2x. Or the D2Hs. or the D70s. Or the D50. Or the D200.
Sigma's 120-300mm f/2.8 EX-HSM would be a good lens for Nikon designers to copy for ideas of what DX users really do NOT HAVE AVAILABLE in the Nikon lens lineup. Nikon offers NOTHING even remoteley comparable to this lens. The Sigma's slight problem area might be that for some sports situations, the 120mm bottom end is still a liability. The Nikkor lens of my dreams,which I'd pay $2295 or more for, would start at 50mm and go to 250mm at f/2.8 or even f/2.5 or even f/3.2--ANY reasonably fast maximum aperture with a 50mm bottom end and a 250mm top end would be a FANTASTIC lens on a 1.5x camera, like the D1h,D2h, D2Hs,D200, whatever. On the D2x, with its 1.5x or 2.0x FOV choices, again the 50mm bottom end is still a 100-500 angle of view when shot at 2.0x. Failing a 50-250mm design, Nikon would do well to build a "pro" 70-300 with once again, a fixed maximum aperture across the zoom range. I could live with f/3.5 or f/3.2 in a 70-300mm lens. The problem is, Nikon has this 200-400 VR-G lens,and it costs as much as some small automobiles. Even Sigma has a 100mm-300mm f/4 constant maximum aperture zoom lens for $899 new--so why does NIKON not offer a similar, professional-grade lens like a 100-300 f/4 AF-S Nikkor? The Sigma 100-300 f/4 is very,very,very hand-holdable,even for hours. It feels very light, very well-balanced on a heavy pro SLR like D1-D1h-D2x. Only problem is the focusing isn't as reliable and dead-on axccurate under fast action,like the 70-200VR is; the 100-300 f/4 misses AF at inexplicable opportunities,and is signigificantly worse, and I mean by a LOT, than the 70-200 VR is in terms of AF reliability shot after shot after shot in sports or action shooting,or even portraiture.
A light, hand-holdable, but built for monopoddin' 50-250mm f/3.5 or f/3.2 would be a splendid lens offering for sports shooting. And how about,Please God, Let It Be Made, a 50mm-250mm f/2.8 ED~IF, AF-S Zoom~Nikkor? A non-G lens, with VR, and a real aperture ring fer' gosh sakes, and f/2.8 all the way from 50mm to 250mm. I'd buy it, even at a high price. The 200-400 looks very,very nice for daylight shooting from stationary positions--and as long as the action is 40 meters away or farther. A 200-400, with f/4 aperture, would still mean a two-camera day, with one camera on a monopod,and the other camera around your with a slowish f/4 tele-tele-tele zoom,and then still a need for an f/2.8 lens, or even two...
What we need here is a ONE-lens solution, with f/stop,f/stop/f/stop. And with AF-S focusing!And with an aperture ring, please. And, with VR. I mean, VR is absolutely the BEST thing ever invented for panning. I personally think the VR's most useful trait is the way it stabilizes panning,and stabilizes the camera platform also, for greater ability to explore the temporal aspect of photography by using slow and slow-ish shutter speeds. Slow in sports terms can be 1/200 second, as well as 1/8th, but VR and panning are like JD and Coke. A VR zoom lens is a wonderful tool for panning and for shooting when you simply MUST try and keep steadiness at all costs.
I've been combing EXIFs for various sports....125 to 200mm is VERY,very useful, but 70-90 mm is also very commonly found.And, 300mm shooting,well, the 300mm is fine for longer reach shots, but when players come too close, the 300mm becomes very tight, very constricting,very rapidly. With a 1.5x camera, a 300 is now too doggone LONG. AND, there's no wide-aperture, fast-focusing,high-quality 200 to 300mm spanning zoom lens from Nikon.
Nikon makes a sports-capable 200mm f/2 AF-S VR-G for well about $3,995. And there's no top-grade,wide-aperture zoom between the 200mm f/2 and the 300mm f/2.8 prime Nikkors-just a five thousand dollar, 200-400mm f/4 zoom lens which is fine for moderate to longer distance shooting, but which is once again, too LONG on the bottom end of the zoom scale for sideline sports shooting. 120mm to 300mm is a vastly preferrable range for baseball and soccer and footbal and track and field compared with 200mm to 400mm. For sports use, I'd actually really RATHER have a 240 or 250mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens than a 300mm 2.8 model,especially with the D2x with 1.5 and 2.0x FOV options. Additional aperture would be nice, like f/2.5 and 240 to 250mm. VR would be sweet and welcome as well.
With Nikons at 1.5x for the most part, there's a fairly annoying selection of focal lengths where Nikon has NO ZOOM that offers class-leading aperture speed, with AF-S focusing, and with a focal length that allows for ONE lens to be used to cover sideline sports with the kind of versatility one gets when a full-frame camera is used. As long as FOV factors remain 1.5 to 2.0x with Nikon these 70-200 and 80-200 and 200-400 zooms continue to suck, and the four thousand dollar 200mm f/2 and the similarly very costly 300mm f/2.8 VR-G lens just mean a nuisance situation all too much of the time.
Nikon has adressed the 10.5mm fisheye with de-barrelizing software in Nikon Capture, and has done well with the 12-24 Dx, and has the 17-55 Dx.Nikon has done very well to address the wide-angle problem with DX-sensored cameras.But Nikon has no 50-250mm f/2.8. Nikon makes 55-200mm in cheap-o grade. Nikon does 70-300 in cheap-o grade and consumer grade, but has no PRO-grade and PRO-speed 70-300 with AF-S focusing and a wide aperture,like f/2.8 or even f/3.2 or f/3.5. Nikon's really not done squat to optimize actual sideline usefulness for DX-sensored cameras. I think full-frame Nikon is not that far away, but it has been very annoying to see basically NO top-quality, even semi-affordable normal-to-tele zoom lenses designed for sports/events/news from Nikon. 70-200 times 1.5x....ERRRRRRR! Too damned LONG! And not long enough on top! Jeezis, get a clue, and make a frickin' 50-250mm f/2.8 lens, put this new 3rd generation VR isn it, put an aperture collar on it, make the barrel lightweight magnesium, and slap a $3,500 price tag on it. Problem solved. For good. With 1.5 and 2.0x in-camera modes and the D2x, you'd be in heaven with a 50-250mm f/2.8.

Friday, December 09, 2005

dPreview gear threads Derrel'sTake: 2005 Dec. 9

Top thread of interest at dPreview comes from Nikon D2x shooter Jim Fenton,whose thread entitled "Incredible Raptor Opportunity D2x" has 70 replies as I write this,and it helps illustrate the underlying principle of my essay, "It's not the frame rate, it's the focusin system,stupid."
Please visit Jim's post and see just how wonderfully he covered a really nice raptor photo op[] . Jim's results demonstrate in successful photographs how a 5 FPS-or-better camera with a decent RAW buffer can help spell the difference between being able to capture sequential action,and bringing back GREAT SHOTS, or merely watching great shots wither and die off into mere memories while waiting for a slow buffer to write to the damned card, or being hampered by a three-frame RAW buffer or some other such nonsense.Had Jim been in this situation and had he been using a Fuji S3 Pro or a Nikon D70 in RAW mode,well,this sequence might have been merely memories in Jim's brain, and not high-quality,high-rez,moire-free D2x captures.Using a 500mm Nikkor and a 1.4x converter at less than forty feet,Jim Fenton got some damned nice hawk pictures.An awesome sequence! The hawk is hopping and digging in the snow,and is captured with awesome highlights in his eyeballs,dead-on focus,with detail rendered right down to the delicateness of the snow the hawk dug up with his own feet! This was,indeed, an Incredible Raptor Opportunity,captured with ample Dynamic Range,ahem, and beautiful colors.As if this post wasn't enough, Jim also uploaded additional,ancillary frames the next day,from this same incredible sequence.When suddenly confronted with a once-in-a-lifetime situation like this, the deep buffer depths of the newer,more-expensive D-SLR's offer the ability to shoot more frames,over more seconds, with fewer delays, than ever before.
Question:Anyone using Nikkor 180mm AF-D on S2?
Derrel's take: nice lens, have it, small,light,sharp, AF is acceptable with S2 driving the lens. AF is reasonably good, but not reliably as good as an AF-S lens.Lens barrel has M/A switch which must be slid to engage either 1) Manual focus or 2)Auto focus.This lens works reasonably well as a manual focus lens, but must be switched to A mode to Autofocus, and out of A mode when you need to go to Manual focus. So...mechanically kind of kludgy on the 180mm AF's (2 models) and the AF-D model which is current as of 2005.180 AF-D is a very solid optical performer on the S2.Plenty sharp, works acceptably well with Kenko's Autofocusing 11mm extension ring as a sort of macro lens for 3-D subjects like bugs,plants,etc. No tripod ring, so not nearly as handy for tripod-mounted macro shooting as a dedicated 180 or 200mm macro with tripod collar, but nice for sports/scenics/landscape details/some action photography especially if the FASTEST and MOST-sure autofocus is not critical. Did I say light? It's LIGHT. And damned sharp. Buy it used from a secondary market dealer in the USA or eBay.There is an older, pre-D or "early model" that has a plastic-finished barrel and a very far-forward focusing ring,which is often available for only $300 or so and is best defined as being "the plastic-barreled 180".Most people like the later, AF but pre-D crinkle-finished model,or the AF-D model,also with a crinkle finished barrel. I've owned both the AF and AF-D,crinkle-finished models,and both are optically excellent and very sturdy. I think this lens is a bad buy new,and that used is the way to buy this tough little nugget.
Which macro lens:Nikkor 105mm 2.8D or the Tokina AT-X 100mm 2.8? Derrel's take: Tokina 100mm AT-X, which is a new, f/2.8 macro lens recently tested by Popular photography & Imaging magazine,and their results for the Tokina AF are absolutely stellar. The SQF test results it earned were so darned good, the Pop Photo editors said this lens gives pause to Canon and Nikon owners as to whether their own system's lens are actually worth the additional (substantial) price premium over this truly excellent,new Tokina macro lens. Cash-wise, the Tokina is around $369-$399--while Canon's 100mm f/2.8 USM EF Macro and the 105mm f/4 AF-D Micro-Nikkor are both well,significantly more money.I own the Canon 100mm f/2.8 EF USM Macro, which is a pretty damned good lens,I must say. On the EOS 20D, the Canon lens is a fine lens at detail resolution and contrast,but the shape of its OOF highlights is pretty on backlighted scenes where there are a lot of highlights, the Canon does not render those OOF highlights as prettily as,say,the Tamron 90 does,and compared with the 105 DC, the OOF highlight rendition of the Canon macro is,well,crap, while the 105 DC yields simply lovely OOF highights.So, as a pictorial lens, I prefer the Tamron's 90mm AF-SP over the Canon 100mm macro. The Tamron 90 AF-SP is a cult classic macro lens,with pretty decent bokeh--better than Canon's, prettier to my eye in both the shape and the rendition of OOF highlights than the Canon EF Macro on the same types of scenes. The AF-SP designation is still available as new stock, but the lens has recently been updated to the 90mm f/2.8 Di, for Digitally Integrated. The AF-SP, while an exceptionally sharp lens, DOES,at times, suffer from diaphragm-shaped ghost images on the Fuji S2,particularly under studio flash illumination levels and situations where some spill light off of umbrellas/or 45 or 60-degree reflector grazes the front element,or occasionally when in intense contre jour lighting situations outdoors,when the sun is really slanting in badly and hitting the naked front element directly. Otherwise, the 90 AF-SP model has a deeply recessed front element + the lens hood and you're "normally" pretty resistant to ghosting when this lens is shot against the light,or in some studio situations. Perhaps the newer Digitally Integrated coating and other changes (?) make the 90mm Di-series Tamron macro better than its already excellent predecessor on the S2 Pro. Used, the AF-SP is often a bargain. It's well worth as much as $250 used in recent vintage and in good condition. The Nikkor 105 AF-D Micro is very sharp,but I really don't like the way this lens draws the scenes it captures. I think its overall look is very sterile,ultra-sharp,and well,not very sweet. I'd rather shoot the Tamron 90. I own the Canon 100 EF Macro,and consider it as sharp as the Tamron in practical shooting, but the Tamron renders scenes more to my liking than the Canon does. I've seen quite a few Sigma 105 EX macro samples from the model that was out in 2003,a lot of them shot on the Sigma SD-9,and was very favorably impressed by the lens's sharpness and fine detail retrieval.VERY favorably impressed. I would rather own this Sigma 105 EX Macro lens than the Nikkor 105 Micro.It is not that difficult to design or make a 100 or 105mm macro lens,and even the el-cheapo Phoenix AF macro lens at around $100 (yes, AF, and around a hundrd bucks) renders macro-range scenes quite sharply and adroitly from everything I've been able to see from it.
Remember,we're talking about single focal length,purpose-built lenses here, with a fairly small number of lens elements,in pretty well-conceived formulas,nothing radical,no ED glass needed,with focal length short enough that apochromatic design parameters are not essential,and so on.Each lens is a bit different from each other model, but Tamron's 90mm Di macro and Tokina's 2005-released 100mm AF macro have both earned good reviews.Based on what I have seen,and read from numerous owners web-wide,I would not hesitate for one second to buy a Sigma,Tamron,or Tokina,or even a Phoenix AF macro lens in the 90 to 105mm autofocus class,for F-mount or Canon EF mount,particularly if you're going to use it sparingly.I say buy a 90 to 105mm macro FIRST,and only then buy your 50 to 60mm macro lens or your 180-200mm macro lens.
From T-ball: Which is the best TTL flash for the Fuji S2 pro?
Derrel's take:I'll side with Anthony and hy,two sane Fujistas,and go along wholeheartedly with their answer that the Nikon SB800 speedlight is the best unit for the S2,offering easy operation,good results,LOGICAL controls on the flash itself, and speed of recycle. As commercial photographer Jean Bernier points out, the SB 800 comes with good accessories, and can use a nicely made Nikon aded-on battery pack,although I think Jean's recommendation of no more than 15-full-power flashes followed by at least a 10-minute rest might be a bit too cautious in terms of really pushing this flash to the maximum. However, using FULL, manual power flash pops will always create the maximum amount of heat possible with each flash.Usually when I'm shooting sequential flash,my flash bursts will NOT be anywhere near full-power, but at a TTL or fractional power setting of something more along the lines of 3/4 to 1/2 of what the flash's maximum discharge is (ie...400 ISO or perhaps ISO 500 or even 640 ISO flash at a wide-ish aperture of f/4 to f/5.6) and so for that type of use, there's no need for lengthy cool-down periods. Or, the flash will be used as fill-in,and will be outputting a mere 'wink' of light,or used at 1/4 to 1/32nd power,at which levels the SB800 will keep up with even the D2x's Continuous High at close ranges for moderate burst shooting,if needed.The fifth battery option with the SB800 is a good alternative to a Quantum or Sunpak or other brand of external battery pack. Recycle times with five well-charged batteries are excellent. Just make sure ALL the batteries are good,solid cells! I personally find the performance of the SB800 with its fifth battery to be so good that I leave the SB800 set up that way all of the time. For sticking on a bracket,or in the hot shoe of an S2,or D70,or D2x, the SB800 is a very,very good flash choice. Nikon's finally succeeded in building a digitally-precise flash with imitation analogue control buttons,with good icons and easy,sure button-press controls. The control design of the SB800 is better than my second-favorite choice, the SB-28 DX flash from Nikon. TTL control is not the cat's meow,and good AUTO-flash units like the Vivitar 285HV and the Sunpak 622 Super PRO also work wonders with the S2,provided the operator knows how to fine-tune his flash unit's ISO and/or his S2's ISO settings to get the best results.
55mm Micro-Nikkor images from Classic Man.As he put it,a self-assignment he gave himself, with one subject...with a twist.
Derrel's take:Very nicely seen AND executed. This is not earth-shattering, yet it's also better than run of the mill, by far,creatively conceived,and fun to look at. Worth of posting,worthy of seeing.
From the poster streussel, a post entitled "some B&W thumbs".
Derrel's take:A contact sheet-like presentation,nothing fancy really,but some nice-looking images of a good male model and a nice-looking female model. Worth looking at,nicely presented,easy look for those on dial-up, really just thumbnails,a contact sheet if you will,only better. Call it a mini-collage of thumbnail sized selects.Kudos.

From e-mail: Which 180-200mm macro lens would you buy for F-mount?
Derrel's Take: I don't shoot a lot of tele-macro scenes,but in 2006 I would say look to the Tamron 180mm Di macro lens as a top pick. Nice background bokeh on sample photos I have seen, a nice defocused character, a nice way of drawing scenes, lovely as a pictorial lens for travel scnes,scenics, landscape detail isolation,and also macro-range images involving 3-D objects. Sharp,new,modern coatings,fairly priced,attractive. Sigma's 180 mm f/3.5X APO Macro, with HSM focus and internal focusing (constant,fixed barrel length),well I own it, and I think it's acceptably good,but I am not really 100 percent happy with it for fast action, but it's pretty good overall. Has some quirks, but overall, a good value especially at used prices. Nikon's 200mm f/4 AF-D Micro...costly...bokeh looks less attractive to me than the nwer Tamron 180. And finally, two very nice alternatives to a macro lens: Consider the 300mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor with a high-quality,two-element Canon 500D closeup lens or a Kenko AF extension tube as very viable options. Also consider the 105mm f/2 Defocus Control Nikkor as a beautiful close-range lens on many 3-D scenes,especially with an extension tube added. Try the 105 D.C. paired with an 12mm extension ring and experiment with the defocusing capability for some unusual effects that are simply not possible with anything except a defocus control Nikkor. Or use the 300/4 AFS to pop off nice closeups from rather long-ish distances,especially with a flash unit.