Monday, January 23, 2006

Why I Skipped the Fuji S3 Pro

Well,since my name is mentioned in it, I feel justified in commenting on Mr. Stay-C's thread asking if the Fuji S3 buffer upgrade will allow sequential shooting at slow shutter speeds. In answer to Mr. Stay-C, no, the buffer upgrade will not change the nature of the dark frame subtraction noise reduction process at slow speeds,and there will STILL be a pause after each slow-speed shot is taken.

The thread is here:

Roger Monroe alleges that I used to criticize the S3 "without context". I call bullshit on that allegation; the S3 has so many areas of design negligence and cost-cutting and bare-bones engineering that my "context" for criticism is in almost every single area of body limitations/AF performance/price/ and also in price-to-performance metrics as well as expected product lifetime and expected durability in relation to price. In short, I came to the conclusion that the S3 Pro was/is a niche product which makes very beautiful six megapixel digital captures, with expanded HIGHLIGHT rendition capabilities. The small highlight-sensitive pixels are NOT activated at lower illumination levels, but are use to help hold highlights in lighting conditions which other D-SLR's simply can not handle as well.

My "context" for S3 criticism has always been in relation to the other,non-Fuji-branded D-SLRs I have owned,such as the Nikon D1,D1h,and D70,the Fuji S1 and S2 Pro, and the Canon EOS 20D. I simply disliked the S3's slowness in almost every single facet of its design and use. I felt the S3's file-storage and file-handling carried with it several penalties,and overall the Fuji S3 RAF file came up well short of what Nikon's NEF file is capable of doing. Nikon's NEF files can be edited in Nikon Capture,and a list of changes to the files is all that is re-written during the editing process; this means with a Nikon D70 6-megapixel camera, an in-camera compressed NEF file takes up roughly 5.2 megabytes in storage size. One can open a NEF,edit it in Nikon Capture, and then SAVE the CHANGES so that the NEF file is still the same,exact SIZE it was when shot,only it is has been perfected in the editing software but there is absolutely NO NEED to make a bloated, 16-bit or 8-bit TIFF file to save the edits. I shoot a lot. By shooting a Nikon camera, I can get a RAW file that is always kept unharmed, and which merely has noted the CHANGES needed to perfect the image--there is not need to make 35 or 70 megabyte TIF files with a Nikon D-SLR in order to have optimized images. My "context" for criticism of the S3 was that the camera was priced at $2,499 and still failed to include a really first-rate,or even a mature, professional RAW converter software application. Fuji's S3 Pro software is still immature compared with Nikon or Canon software, and is missing some very important features which Nikon software has. Fuji files are achiving storage space hogs.

My contention was that at $2,499, the tradeoffs in performance of the S3 did NOT outweigh the speed and build quality/feature/handling/workflow benefits of better-designed cameras such as the EOS 20D, the Nikon D2x, and also the news/sports/event camera the EOS 1D Mark II. Hell, for many assignments, the Nikon D70 is a fine camera. In a nutshell, my criticisms of the S3 were in the context of all the OTHER D-SLR cameras which I had/have owned when I was considering if an S3 Pro was really worth $2,499 to me. As a D1 owner,and an S1 Pro owner, and an early,early adopter of the $2,400 S2 Pro,and as somebody who later bought a D1h for sports shooting, I felt that the PROFESSIONAL Nikons D1 and D1h offered excellent imaging,high speed,ultimate reliability,adequate battery systems, and enough battery to power the 80-400VR and 70-200VR lenses, and offered both professionally-capable viewfinders and AF systems. To me, the consumer-body limitations of the S1 and S2 were seriously OUT OF DATE and dis-advantageous to me in a number of shooting situations,and yet-another-N80-derived D-SLR priced at $2,499 did not appeal to me. My criticisms of the S3 were from the point of a guy who ALSO owned an EOS 20D, and then a D2x and a D70 and an S2. In other words, my criticisms of the S3 were that it was slow to shoot, slow to write,slow to review,and incapable of doing ANYTHING while the buffer was being cleared. My criticisms of the S3 were that it was a $2,499 camera based upon a $329 Nikon N80. I've been shooting Nikon 35mm SLR's since 1982,and feel that the beginner-level N60 and N80 bodies which Fuji has used to build THREE generations of D-SLRs upon,were or might be a limiting factor in some areas of photography that I anticipated I'd need to do over the life of the camera.

Most of my criticisms of the S3 are related to engineering/design choices and sub-standard performance based on contemporary AND prior camera models. Undoubtedly, the S3 writes its files very slowly onto CF storage cards. Very slowly. It has the smallest buffer of all the major D-SLRs. It has only average autofocus performance. It has only ONE BUTTON which will wake the camera up from sleep. The vertical grip has a shutter release button which can not wake up the camera, and the vertical trigger is missing TWO control wheels, as well as an AF-ON and/or AF-Lock or AF/AE lock button; the S3's entire vertical grip and trigger is a very bare-bones system,missing the ability to keep the camera's meter and its other systems "awake". The S3's vertical grip is,again, missing a shutter speed control wheel and an aperture control wheel. Plus, the vertical trigger can NOT wake up the camera, and thus can NOT SHOOT a photo, unless the camera has been awakened by leaving the metering set to always ON, or by first pressing the "real" shutter release,and then moving one's hand to the vertical grip. Homey don't play that shit.

As a Nikon 35mm motorized SLR user since the early 1980's, and a user of the motorized Bronica SQ-M motor-integral 6x6 and 645 combo medium format camera, the idea of a trigger which is not "live" at all times is absolute anathema to me. It's like a brake pedal that's not always active,or which ceases to function every 20 seconds.

The S3 also has HUGE, 25 megabyte wide dynamic range RAF files, with NO compression available, and no RAW+JPEG capture available, and a three-frame wide-RAW buffer. Six megapixel captures, and either 12.5 or 25 megabyte RAF files,depending on the dynamic range setting.Slow writes, slow reviews,and also NO ability to do ANYTHING to or with the camera while the buffer is writing itself out,slowly,to the storage media. The S3 has also a pretty screwed up menu adjustment button-poking sequence, and is very severely in need on major re-design. Thom Hogan called for an immediate RE-DESIGN and re-badging of the original S3 Pro in is review of it--and that is a dismal commentary.

As if it were not enough, Walter Matthews,as well as Thom Hogan, both had notable criticisms of the S3 Pro's tendency to go blue in the shade as a result of poor white balance performance. Walter also had very persistent criticism's of the S3's white balance performance in mixed indoor tungsten+flash lighting situations, which is one place where my PERSONAL camera is used a fair amount--in social photography situations, with incandescent light and bounced fill-in flash being one of the things that I do a LOT OF, and which, for me, the Fuji S2 is perhaps one of the better cameras I've ever seen,and a tool which I find better than anything I have so far found.

Besides its small buffer, CAM 900 consumer grade AF, and small,squinty viewfinder system, the S3 Pro still has those coarse, half-stop and full-stop exposure compensation and shutter speed and f/stop settings. I've long noted that _precision camera control_ and exposure metering accuracy and precision are fundamental building blocks on the way I do my photography. I eschew TTL flash much of the time, and actually shoot and control my flash exposures using ISO control, all of the time. I also like precise f/stop control, and I like a finely-graduated shutter for precise control of motion stopping in my sports photography and my VERY frequent telephoto photography. I seldom shoot wide-angle stuff, and rely a LOT on 85-300mm telephoto lenses, where shutter speed increments are worth their weight in gold as one approaches the limits of f/4 lenses and even f/2.8 lenses and long focal lengths.

My "context" for criticisming the S3 Pro was that shared by many, S2 shooters: that the upgrade from the S2 to the S3 did not justify spending $2,500 to get an extra f/stop's worth of highlight capture in very bright,high-ratio lighting scenarios. Hell, I own an S2. Hell, I bought the EOS 20D after shooting the S2 for two years, and found the Canon offered incredibly nice performance, for a reasonable price. I bought a Nikon D2x at the time when S3 Pro's were $2,499 and had been on the market for about 30 days....I waited until I could compare the S3 Pro and the D2x side-by-side in my regular professional photo dealership so I could get a hands on,side by side comparison of how to spend two and a half grand for a $329 camera,or to drop $4995 on a professional Nikon. I had also extensively looked at the EOS 1D Mark II, the 8.3 MP model....and I had done two in-store demo's of the Minolta Maxxum 7D testing its anti-shake CCD system. I demo'd the S3 Pro and the D2Hs side-by-side. In short, at one point after the S2 had grown long in the tooth,and my D1h had been damaged by being out in the rain over a six-hour track meet shoot, I was in need of a GOOD,dependable camera. I gave the S2 a good run for over two years, then added a D70 for about 5 months but went back to the S2, and then bought a 20D to test the waters and to see what Canon was all about. Frankly, after the 20D experiment, I could not see spending $2,499 to get what an S3 would have given me--another stop, stop and a half of highlight rendition in the few scenes where I cannot control my lighting ratios. And, that slow synch speed of the S3....and those big,clunky half-stop changes in exposure,and that gutless N80 focus module. Most of MY AF Nikkor lens lineup is screwdriver focusing lenses,and frankly the D70,S2,and S3 offer pretty much second-rate AF performance compared to a D1-series; and with the introduction of the D2-series, the S3's AF system was relegated to third-tier Nikon, and compared with the EOS 20D, the S3 would have been a fourth-rate camera in terms of AF performance.

So, let's recap. My "context" for critcism of the S3 was in terms of its slow 1.5 frames per second maximum firing rate, its sloooow shutter release lag time, its slow mirror return, its N80 viewfinder system with cropped down, dim, tunnel-like finder image, small buffer, high price (almost twice the EOS 20D's price, and 2.5x that of a D70, and a full HALF of the cost of the D2x), slow image review, screwed-up settings navigation and menu system, lack of wake-from-sleep, stripped down vertical grip with NO CONTROLS over f/stop OR shutter speed when using a 70-200mm or a 300mm prime lens for sports assignments, or for the portrait shooting I like to do. Poor Auto WB system, tendency toward blue images in open shade, where I like to shoot a lot in the afternoons. Software immaturity. Lack of RAW+JPEG. Huge file storage penalties in the field on CF cards. Glacially slow CF card performance in write speeds and in image replay. Need I go on?

The S3 Pro has one saving grace: it is a Fuji D-SLR. Anybody who lived and breathed with the S2 as his main D-SLR for well over two years knows what it means to shoot a Fuji D-SLR. As with the S1,and the S2, the S3 had some very real,very serious limitations,especially to a fellow who has at his disposal other,very serious cameras. The S3 was simply NOT THE UPGRADE I wanted if I were to continue shooting a Fuji D-SLR, with all the good things and bad things that the Fuji brings to the table. The S3's saving grace lies with the pictures. The p-i-c-t-u-r-e-s. The S3 can make great pictures. Beautiful pictures. Really beautiful pictures. However, to me, the tunnel-vision viewfinders of the S2 and the S3,and the Nikon D50, are all real deal-breakers. To me, the viewfinder is the eye of the camera,and the better the finder, the better I shoot on a consistent basis.
To the staunch S3 supporters, I ask--have you actually gone out and LOOKED THROUGH an EOS 20D? Have you held and looked through the Maxxum 7D? Have you actually held the D2x in your hands and really looked through the viewfinder? Have you not heard about the high-magnification viewfinder image Pentax is trying to cultivate? Using the Nikon N80's mirror,and viewfinder screen,and autofocusing system to make an S2 and an S3 might seem acceptable if you've never owned an EOS 20D or a D1-series Nikon or a D2-series Nikon.

My criticisms of the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro were always within the context of somebody who had owned the professionally-oriented D1 and then D1h models, as well as Canon's EOS 20D, which made it to market by the tend of thousands many months before Fuji had managed to eke out its first couple hundred S3 Pro bodies. My criticisms of the S3 Pro were in the context of somebody who had payed $999 for a brand new Nikon D70 on 21 June,2004, which was 18 MONTHS prior to the time Fuji managed to get the S3 Pro into stores. My criticisms of the S3 were in a market where I had, myself, owned a D70 for 18 months before the S3 was available, and about 11 months AFTER I had decided to buy myself an EOS 20D. IOW, before the S3 was available at retail, I had already owned my 8.2 megapixel CMOS 20D for 11 months. And the S3 was a thousand dollars more than the 20D, and 2.4 times as costly as my OTHER 6MP camera, the D70. So, in essence, my criticisms of the S3 were made after having spent 18 months with the 6MP D70 (a $999 wonder),and almost a year with an 8.2MP Canon 20D, which with three lenses was almost identical to the S3's body-only price. In context, the S3 was delivered a year to eighteen months late and $1,500 to $1000 over the price of competing models. Here came the S3: no raw compression,no raw+jpg,slow writes,slow reads,slow reviews,only average Auto WB, a stripped down vertical grip with no-wake/secondary-priority release status,and no shutter speed or f-stop wheels when using the camera in portrait mode. I'm sorry, but what the hell good is it to have a portrait grip,if that grip has no shutter speed and no f/stop control wheels? I mean, what happened with the grip's design team? For $2,500 I expect to be able to adjust the f/stop or shutter speed when using the camera in tall mode. Cripes! Poor viewfinder image compared with 20D,7D,D1,D2,etc. Slower synch speed than D70. Small buffer. Real-world capture speeds below mfr.-claimed speed of 2.5 fps. Very slow shutter release lag times. Inability to perform any multi-tasking while writing files. Got the picture? In any context except that of the p-i-c-t-u-r-e-s themselves, the S3 comes up short when compared with Canon and Nikon cameras as picture-making devices.

Fuji-loyal Dynamic Rangers have,for the most part, seen the need to own a Nikon D2-series camera to perform some tasks truly well. A lot of the S3's early boosters have moved to the D2x as well,and have cooled their enthusiasm for the S3 since having adopted a camera which does not have to boast that it is a "pro" model by incorporating the word "Pro" in the model name.

I really hate being singled out as the "only voice of dissent" and as the S3 Pro's chief critic. Thom Hogan and Phil Askey each wrote very,very,very influential camera reviews of the S3 Pro. Both those men had their reputations trashed by the Dynamic Rangers, who seemed to think early on that DR is the single best measure of Image Quality. Funny how the earliest S3 boosters have switched to D2x's, and one of them,Mark A., is now even thinking of trying the Canon system. Bernie E., a longtime Derrel-basher and early proponent of the S3 has also mellowed, his fancy now drifitng toward the full-frame EOS 5D. In Phil Askey's review of the S3, the S3 garnered the lowest ranking he'd ever given a D-SLR. Thom Hogan's review suggested that the S3 needed a major overhaul and re-designing ,and he commented very pointedly on a number of flub-ups in the S3's design and implementation of such things as Auto WB and the vertical grip/trigger debacle. So, both of those guys deserve to be labelled the S3's chief critics,right? Or would it be the tens upon tens of thousands of buyers who bought Nikons and Canons in preference to the S3 Pro? How about all those good Fujista's who love(d) the S2, but just could not see the lure of the S3? The S3 simply was NOT well-received by the majority of the D-SLR buying public,and there were many S2 users who never went the S3 route because they 1)had 18 months to buy a D70 and had 2) a damned long time to get derailied into the Canon 20D or 1D systems, or 3) bought fire-sale D2H models at $1995 before Fuji could glue together enough S3's. NIKON itself killed off the S3's sales by flooding the market with $1995 fire-sale D2H bodies which dropped 40 percent in price overnight, and were out there on the market roping in sales while Fuji slowly prepared for the trickle-out of the S3 Pro.The criticisms of the S3 are largely about its speed,and its low-specification body underpinnings--no metering with Ai or AiS lenses, no metering with non-meter-coupled devices, no i-TTL, no new technology flashes but old-tech ones,low synch speed, coarse exposure controls,etc. In the context of the marketplace, the S3 had simple, 5-area AF with only a single cross-type sensor. Nowhere near capable enough for the most demanding AF uses. Beautiful pictures, when the camera can pull focus in time. Or at all. And basically, a really slow-handling digital camera.To me, if one wants a small, hand-held camera that handles like the Nikon SLR cameras I have owned for 22 years, I expect 3.5 frames per second, 1/250 flash synch, and a decent viewfinder image,and a shutter that fires very close to the time when the release button trips. I want a camera that shoots with a very brief shutter release lag time, like a real Nikon should. Not like a camera designed for an entry-level shooter, but a camera that allows me to capture moments I see, as I see them, in the same type of fluid style as the motorized 35mm film Nikons I've used for over two decades. If I wanted to shoot three pictures and then have to wait one minute, I'd still be shooting the Bronica SQ-M, only with the Bronica I could fire off an entire roll of 12 exposures without needing to spend three minutes to make 12 frames. And, I could pop on a freshly-loaded 12-frame back in 8 seconds. With time to stick the dark slide in my back left pocket.

One area where the D70 and D50 shine is extended shooting, with buffer depths like 125 Medium sized, Fine-quality JPEG frames over a minute, or other such amazingly deep buffer specs. In the case of the D70, the camera's write speeds are so quick in JPEG mode that with a fast SanDisk card, there is,effectively, almost NO BUFFER limit, and one can set the camera up so it can cover lengthy sequences of action pretty much from card empty to card full. The S3 has a smallish buffer in Wide-DR JPEG, and in standard DR its buffer seems adequate. But again, the write speeds on CF card media is slow.

In terms of shooting sports,or action,or on-location outdoor portraiture,using top-grade Nikon lenses, the autofocus module can be one of the deciding factors between KEEPER! and Damn--I missed focus by four inches! Cull! Compared to the D1-series, the S2-D70-S3-14n-SLR/n all shared a common AF module, the Multi-CAM 900 module. And along with the module and its software, there's the focusing motor in the camera which in the consumer cams is nowhere near as Zippy! as in the professional D1-D2 series Nikon bodies. And, the S3's focusing motor and the VR system of the 70-200VR draw all power from a set of four 1.5 volt rechargeable AA batteries.

My criticism of the S3 was never in the context of its image quality,or the quality of the images the camera can make,nor in its superior dynamic range. My criticism was on engineering compromises Fuji had to make to get the S3 to market-and very late to market they were, missing their announced ship date in an embrasssing procedure that involved Re-DESIGNING the camera's dual-pixel S and R sensor configuration, after having announced the camera along with lovely color schematics of the new sensor's design principles. It took Fuji about 11 months to do a post-announcement sensor re-design and to deliver a trickle of cameras to eager enthusiasts. I think,among the six megapixel D-SLR models the S3 must be considered the image quality champion. Fuji files have a very nice look to them when exposed well. I can SEE, literally SEE with my own eyes why Fuji S3 images have wide acceptance. Fuji images can be exceptionally beautiful. Many of my favorite images have been made with Fuji digital,and not Nikon digital.

The S3 has a very crude white balance system, with no user-selectable Kelvin settings, and only two WB pre-sets. And no deflection value settings either. Pretty basic,compared to what I am used to. Sub-par in terms of the Kelvin dial-in and pre-set and deflection values way to slightly warm or cool the pre-sets or the custom WB settings? This was a $2,499 digital SLR. According to everything I was able to ascertain, the majority of the first S3's needed the firmware update to rectify the auto white balance problems, the lockup problems with AF-S lenses when lens changing was accidentally or absent-mindedly done with a powered-on camera, and also to make the image auto-rotate feature actually work. Overall, the first S3 cameras were delivered to market with an auto-rotate glitch, an AF-S lens hiccup issue, and white balance problems. I was not all that thrilled. Compared to the 20D,the S3 was a fairly simplified machine,control-wise.

In the context of the marketplace in March of 2005,when S3's actually became available at retail in my area,the S3 fared very poorly in direct comparison with the D2Hs and D2x and the EOS 1D Mark II (the 1.3x FOV camera). I even felt that,for me, the superior viewfinder system of the K-M Maxxum 7D was vastly superior to that of the S3,and almost a match for the D2Hs and D2x bodies. I even contemplated making the full leap to Canon with the 1D Mark II and 20D as my two-body Canon system. BUT, the after my third look at the D2x side-by-side with a Fuji S3, I decided to buy the Nikon D2x. That was May 3,2005,and the very day I purchased the D2x I shot some photos I was very happy with. Having used a D1 or a D1h for a little over four full years prior to buying the D2x, I had zero problems handling and shooting the D2x just as if it were my D1 or D1h. Only with a much peppier AF system, and higher frame rates, and also a full-bore 1.5x or a cropped-off,smaller-file 2.0x FOV factor capture choice. Sure, when I was in the market for a camera of the generation of the S3 and the D2x, I chose the D2x. My reasoning was that although it cost twice the price, I felt the D2x's shutter and body might last easily three or FOUR or even five times longer (more clicks) than an S3 would,negating the price advantage entirely,and actually maybe being in FAVOR of the D2x by a 3.5x factor as my best guess. As Thom Hogan advised a few years ago-Nikon users might just as well buy in on the best model very early, 'cause Nikon runs its best bodies for lengthy, useful lifespans, and one might as well enjoy using Nikon's best technology for the longest time span. I took his advice,and enjoyed the D2x all spring and summer and all autumn.

Bottom line is that, even when the D2x is superceded by its follow-up in the Nikon lineup, I am going to want to KEEP the D2x as an imminently high quality,useful camera for a good number of years. When the S3 Pro is superceded by the next Fuji, I really could not see myself wanting to keep the camera as a shooter. I would of course be VERY,very interested in a FinePix S4 or FinePix S6 or some type of seriously re-engineered, re-designed,or otherwise re-purposed follow-up camera to the S3 Pro. In the marketplace of last year,2005, the camera choices for F-mount shooters were very difficult,very costly,and sometimes very painful. VALUE, as in value-for-dollar, was the one area the S3 was handicapped,since Fuji's original price of $2,499 USA at introduction held remarkably steady for months, in the face of industry-wide downward price pressure,with $699 and $799 and $899 D-SLR models being sold by other makers when the S3 was at a full 3x to 2x more than the price of "comparably spec'd" competing bodies. And the doggone D2x was $5k. And the D2Hs was $3,500 USA. No real workhorse-type semi-pro oriented 20D and grip camera for $1399 for a good solid litle body with an optional,ADD-on grip (the best kind IMHO).

So, basically, when it came time to buy a camera to replace my S2 Pro, my "high-quality photography camera body", I chose the Nikon D2x. The Fuji S3 Pro was exactly,to the dollar, HALF the cost of the D2x, but damned if the D2x doesn't feel and perform like five times more-responsive and capable a camera than the S3 Pro is; in 9 out of 10 sub-systems compared the D2x is more-refined than the S3 and better-specified,and better-performing. Half the money, one-fifth the camera, or twice the money and five times the camera. I chose the latter option. I chose the D2x from Nikon. It meters with every lens I can mount on it. It is the highest-resolution Nikon ever made. With studio flash it can create images so detailed my eyes were astounded. With the best lenses I own, the D2x makes the highest-quality photographs I've ever been able to achieve. As I said, when the D2x is superceded,I don't plan to let it go as an image-making tool, since as a capture device the D2x has many very real mechanical and electronic advantages over lesser-specified cameras, and is an exceedingly responsive,fast,and capable SLR body with close to fifty years's worth of Nikon SLR building and refinement under the hood. The S3's a nice little camera, but it's harder to see through, and is much slower and less-responsive mechanically than the more-costly D2x,and slower and less-responsive than my 20D, and so on and so on.

One of my points of contex was as a former camera salesman,and ergonomic issues and the issue of "fit" in a camera has always been important to me. Hand feel, fit and finish, and tactile appeal and other "human factors" are things I consider. One sales approach I've found is to hand a potential buyer one of EACH model in the class he/she wants to own and to force them to go through the cameras and play with them, mock shoot a few frames, and to just HANDLE the merchandise. Eight times out of 10,an honest ,real buyer will lock on to one model based on fit,or feel,or personal taste,or some other "human factor". Since I'm always interested in seeing what's on the market in the Nikon system, I've examined ALL of the digital SLR bodies in F-mount as they have been current, and have made several Yes/No decisions. I said No to the D100, No to the D1x, and No to Canon's D30,D60,and 10D models, but Yes to the Fuji S2 Pro. I said No to the Kodak 14n, and No to the SLR/n, and then I said No to the D2h, then no to the D2Hs,t hen No to the S3 Pro and then,finally YES to the D2x. Judging from the marketplace, the Kodak 14n and SLR/n turned out to be the ends of their evolutionary lineage.The S3 Pro has not been the cult classic that the S2 was, and the S3 has been a poor example of a follow-up camera; while the S2 Pro was a big improvement over its S1 predecessor, the S3 was not nearly such a quantitative leapfrog over its predecessor. The S3 Pro was in fact a huge sales boost to the Nikon D70s and the EOS 20D, in my opinion. My criticisms of the S3 Pro have always been about the camera part of it, the nuts and bolts of the machine. The S3 pro is capable of making some very beautiful p-i-c-t-u-r-e-s. I eagerly await a PMA 2006 announcement of an S3 follow-up camera from the fine folks at FujiFilm. I really,truly do hope that FujiFilm builds a nice D-SLR based around a very high-quality Nikon-produced SLR body,such as the F6 or the D200. I pray that the S4,if it is made, is not something like a D50 body stripped and then fitted with digital innards--then we'd be right back to where we were with the S1 Pro, with a one-wheel camera like the lowly Nikon D60 on which the S1 Pro was based. With Nikon announcing the cessation of film body production,except for the F6, I do hope the next Fuji D-SLR is F6-based. If all Nikon produces are the F6 and then its digital lineup,I suppose it's possible the D50 could be the next 'vehicle' FujiFilm might consider as a potential chassis for the S4 Pro.

My context for evaluating cameras has been about how well, how easily, and how consistently a camera will allow ME to MAKE the shots I want to make. With a very high success percentage. Based on such simple criteria, the S3 Pro is and was out-ranked by any number of cameras on the market. I will take superior AF, superior metering, superior flash metering, metering with AiS lenses, 5 to 8 fps over 1.5 fps, and a huge buffer over the industry's smallest buffer any day of the week. In 9 of 10 areas, the D2x is simply a better-performing instrument than the S3 Pro.The pictures are another matter however--the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro is a very,very capable image maker on some types of subject matter. In types of photography where the action directs the photographic process, the S3 Pro would be an absolutely idiotic first choice, while in more-controlled shooting environments or in slower-paced situations where the action allows shooting slowly, I see the S3 Pro as a very viable instrument which is in some ways better than the D2x.

I hope there's been enough context supplied to make it perfectly clear why I did not decide to buy an S3 Pro. I have other cameras for one thing. The S2 was revolutionary, the S3 was evolutionary and LATE to market, and the D2x was revolutionary and a substantial advance over the D1x. I, like the majority of S2 users, bit the bullet and bought the D2x as the real,needed upgrade from the S2 Pro's capabilities. If you own an S2 Pro, a D2x is the camera representing an upgrade truly worth moving toward. I did not see the S3 as enough of an upgrade from the S2 to justify its high price,slow speed,and software/workflow/file storage hassles. And in the context of the market, Canon and Nikon were Number One and Number Two in the D-SLR market last year. So,apparently, the numbers show that I'm not a freak, but am instead, in line with the vast majority of D-SLR users who voted with their dollars and did not buy a Fuji S3 Pro.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Increasing Expectations in the Mid-range D-SLR Market?

I was at my long-time professional photography retail store today,and while I was there there were two men in their 50's in,looking to buy midrange D-SLR models. On the sales counter were the Canon EOS 20D, the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro, and the Nikon D200. Neither buyer was swayed by the Fuji's open box price of $1799,nor the in-store retail price of $1999 on unopened box S3's. Both men REALLY wanted the Nikon D200, but of course, the store had absolutely NO D200's in stock.
FujiFilm is _still_ dicking customers around, with widely varying prices for the small buffer upgrade they are willing to perform for prices ranging from $600 US in Spain, to 250 British Pounds in England, to $349 US in the USA.A few longtime Fuji users are now venting their displeasure at this buffer upgrade debacle at this URL.
The funny thing is, S3 owners in this thread express some of the exact types of frustration,and make some of the same comments and criticisms that I made when I was on Fuji SLR Talk.It seems that now,after as much as a year of S3 ownership, even the formerly calm,composed Fuji users are finally fed up enough with the treatment they're still receiving from the company that made their cameras that they are willing to go on a public message board to complain.
In my roughly 30 minutes of observation today, I quietly listened in on sales presentations,and heard a number of objections from a couple of potential buyers of a mid-range D-SLR. The BIGGEST objection was that both men wanted a D200 to BUY and to take home! The second objection was the speed of the Fuji and its small buffer--apparently, even the two 50-somethings knew about the limited buffer and the actual-world speed of about 1.5 frames per second of the S3. The specified 2.5 frames per second firing speed of the S3 is a JOKE--it can NOT shoot that rapidly,no matter what FujiFilm says. There's no way in hell that you can tell a fellow he's going 65 miles per hour when he is travelling at a little less than HALF of 65 miles an hour. Customers are not stupid, and they expect a certain level of speed of operation from a D-SLR,and the S3 can not deliver rapid shooting NOR can it review images very quickly,nor can it move from image to image to image anywhere near as rapidly as,well, any other D-SLR on the market. Demo'ing a D200 and then an S3 is an exercise in stark contrasts. Fast,fast,fast and then slow,slow,and slow.Fuji says the S3 can shoot at 2.5 frames per second. For the first two S3 owners who can document that their S3 fires at 2.5 fps or faster, please post your results someplace,and then come here and apply to be given your free guest column of up to 8,000 words.
As an experienced,top former camera salesman, I enjoy watching younger,less-savy sales people perform demostrations. Now, the EOS 20D is a camera that's easy to demonstrate: it feels solidly-made, offers an accessory dual-battery capable power grip with trigger,is fast in operation,has a good,bright,contrasty viewfinder image,as well as basically 5 frames per second firing--not 1.5 frames per second which is called 2.5 frames per second in company literature.Lying to customers on specification sheets sets up potential customers to be sent to the competition,and Fuji seems completely unaware of what customers are "expecting" these days. And,although the 20D is a good camera, and priced several hundreds of dollars LOWER than either the Nikon D200 or the FujiFilm S3 Pro,it seems that two 50-something men looking to buy a D-SLR both know that the 20D is probably about to be replaced by Canon, and is somewhat "old hat". And although the 20D is a nice D-SLR, it was clear to me that when shown to two prospective buyers, the D200-S3-20D trio has a clear winner,and it's the D200. The D200 is so compelling that both buyers were willing to AVOID purchasing a 20D or an S3 Pro,and were willing to walk out the door and to WAIT for a D200.
I myself bought a Lensbaby 2.0 in Nikon mount, after having earlier bought a used 50mm 1.8 AF Nikkor for $29.95 from a pawnshop. My expectations today were not that high....I was glad to part with the thirty bucks for the 50 and the Nikon L37c filter on it. It's too bad that rising expectations kept two people from enjoying shooting with a brand new D-SLR this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shoo,fly, shoo! Bzzz,bzzz,bzzz. Splat! A Message To Hackers

Shoo,fly, shoo!
Splat! (fly swatter's sound).
Manure draws a lot of flies,which do a lot of buzzing around.Flies have very little weight behind them, but their wings do beat rapidly,and flies can be quite annoying when they want to be. They have very little actual weight behind them, but once in a while they do manage to bite. Sometimes they may even draw a little bit of blood when they bite. And after a long enough period without nourishment, a fly may grow bold,and try and take on something out of his league. He may plan a bold attack, and enter a hive through an unguarded entrance.And once inside, he may flit around and create some mischief.The fly might even try and pretend he's a busy bee,in order to avoid detection. Not this time fly-you've been spotted.
Shoo fly,shoo! Head back to your cow piles.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nikon Quits Film Camera Business!

Nikon's UK web site has a startling press release dated January 11,2006. Read it here:
Bottom line for Nikon? Except for the Nikon F6 and the cheezy FM10 (a Cosina-manufactured,el-cheapo body with a Nikon nameplate slapped on the pentaprism front) Nikon will no longer manufacture or offer film cameras for sale after current dealer stock runs out. No F100, no F5, no FM3a, nada. No more decent film cameras, except for the F6. And also, no more enlarger lenses, no more large format Nikkor lenses. Nikon is leaving the film business behind, but will continue to manufacture a select few manual focus lenses, such as the 35mm 1.4 and the 85mm PC Nikkor, as well as a few other models which almost nobody is interested in.
Who da' thunk it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Nikon D200 Banding Issues: Unfortunate Situation

I got a lame put-down comment from an anonymous Fuji SLR Talk regular the other day,criticising me for referencing dPreview here in this blog space. "dPreview this,dPreview that," was his closing put down (weak I know), but it begs the question, why dPreview as a point of reference? Well, I think dPreview is _the_ most influential and widely-visited digital photography web site in the entire world. dPreview has the most readers, the most news articles,the most reviews,the most hits,the most distinct forums, and the broadest user base. dPreview is simply THE most influential digital photography web site,and since this blog appears on the web it is only natural to use dPreview as an occasional basis for discussions here. With great power goes great responsibility; with high readership goes great influence; with widespread popularity goes widespread discussion. It's really simple, anonymous critic--dPreview is the equivalent of the town square of digital photography on the web; there are professional writers and reviewers, as well as common folks of all abilities and ages gathering at dPreview; dPreview is also quite egalitarian,and rabble mixes with royalty all the time.

The Luminous Landscape, Fred Miranda,and the Rob Galbraith web sites also command a lot of respect, along with other sites in the UK, Europe,and the USA. One thing that I have seen in the last few days on these different web sites is the Nikon D200's apparent issue of banding, with vitriolic accusations and slanderous put-downs from those who try to dismiss, sweep over,and brush aside the many banding complaints coming from owners of new D200's. Many self-styled experts seem to take the position that in cases of 1)severe under-exposure or 2)severe overexposure, banding can occur. What's funny is that there are self-styled experts claiming that under exposure is the culprit,and others who claim banding is the result of gross over-exposure; the "funny" part is that these blowhards have been attributing banding problems to nothing but operator error and extreme exposure situations.

I've spent a fair amount of time looking at samples of banding from as many different users as I can, and I think the issue might be electromagnetic interference. There's also some evidence that the problem might stem from the Blue channel in underexposure situations such as when doing nightscapes or under tungsten lighting. Another possible cause of banding might be demosaicing errors particular to individual RAW converters, with Nikon's own Nikon Capture perhaps being the worst converter at either causing ,or "enhancing" the banding problem. Incorrect white balance could be a contributing factor some say. Basically, there seem to be two types of problems. The first banding problem is from people whose cameras seem to exhibit banding on a LOT of frames, all the time,and on normal and not on extraordinary scenes, and within the limits of normal exposure situations. Those people seem to be in the minority, but it surely seems to me that they have particularly bad problems. Bad cameras perhaps, with some type of faulty component causing easily-seen banding. There are very few people who make this claim, but I have seen some examples of banding that is SO SEVERE it just looks like some type of component in the afflicted camera is out of specification. These people have LEGITIMATE complaints.

The second type of banding does seem to be similar to the Fuji S2's old "track noise" issue, where people try and lift the shadows up on severely underexposed captures, revealing banding. There also seems to be banding in the dark portions of images which have some very over-exposed areas. Quite a number of very competent photographers have stated that they cannot get their D200's to show ANY banding problems.

As I said earlier,with great readership goes great influence,and I think it's kind of a shame that the "D200 banding issue" has gotten so,so much negative press on the dPreview forums, and especially the D1/D2/D100/D200 forum. As it stands now, there are quite a number of people who have been scared away from the D200 due to worries about potential banding problems. I think Nikon is losing some face, and some sales, as a result of the high readership and the tremendous amount of influence the big web sites bring with them. Overall, my gut feeling is that there are a few cameras with faulty components or faulty firmware, and the vast majority of D200's are perfectly fine. What irritates me the MOST however are the few self-styled experts who have made exceedingly arrogant posts about how the D200's banding issue is ENTIRELY the result of inexperienced operators. The sanctimonious a-holes who have repeatedly posted that the D200 banding issue is nothing but the natural result of "extreme" under- or over-exposure make my blood boil. There have been a handful of prominent forum posters who have repeatedly put down D200 owners as being the culprit behind D200 banding problems. These same posters have repeatedly shown their arrogance by defending Nikon hardware, for months on end. These arrogant A-holes need not be named; they are the same old group of grouchy Nikonophiles who defended Nikon's D2h camera, and said that problem of the light meters going dead in D2h after D2h after D2h was somehow a "myth"; these same A-holes overlooked the B-GLOD problems of the D70; these same jerks also stated on-line that those who had focusing issues with their brand new $5,000 Nikon D2x bodies were sufering from "technique" problems, and "lack of experience". An excellent thread on Nikon Cafe shows that no less than world-famous Nikon authority Bjorn Rorslett had a HUGE banding issue with a Nikon D200. Bjorn prefers to call the problem "striping". Check out what he has to say here,in this thread from Nikon Cafe:

It seems that Nikon has a very unfortunate situation here with the D200 and the banding or striping issue. SOME cameras show VERY BAD banding problems. The fact that Nikon HAS made great products in the past is irrelevant, and just because some sanctimonious web poster has a good D200 in fine working order does NOT mean that those complaining about banding/striping are merely inexperienced newbies or those who are "pushing" the cameras beyond normal,expected limits. What we are seeing is a group of people who are such Nikonphiles that they show an utter and TOTAL lack of respect for the opinions and experiences of those who have been sold bad products from Nikon.

First there were the 70-200VR electrical problems (hey, it happened to my 70-200VR),then the D2h dead light meter problems, then the D70 and its Blinking Green Light Of Death [BGLOD for short] sudden death syndrome, and then the D2x focus problems. What has happened is that Nikon has refused to acknowledge these issues publicly, and a whole cadre of self-appointed Nikon defenders have taken to public character assasinations of those people who have the balls to state on the web that, "Hey--my new Nikon product is defective!" Instead of being met with sympathy, there has been a loose cabal of Nikonphile defenders of the faith who have repeatedly and very aggressively refused to acknowledge that there HAVE BEEN numerous,genuine problems with the 70-200VR lens, the D70, the D2h,the early D2x's, and now with some D200's.
It is an unfortunate situation that this small minority of Nikonophile Defenders of The Faith have been allowed free reign to dismiss and to denigrate the unfortunate people who have been sold _defective_ products which happen to bear the Nikon brand.

BAD components can bring down otherwise solidly-engineered problems,and Quality Assurance standards can fail to be met. In the vernacular, "shit happens". What pisses me off so much is to see the number of self-styled experts who have so,so aggressively gone after people who have payed good money for a Nikon product, and who have had their abilities and their integrity openly and pointedly questioned when they pointed out that THEIR Nikon product is not performing satisfactorily. I think in fact that dPreview ought to start moderating its forums,and begin a process of culling out some of the Nikonophiles who ceaselessly defend Nikon products and who shout in the most-popular forums of the world that *everything* going wrong is the fault of newbies,and that *all*Nikon products are somehow perfect.

It's really unfortunate that the cadre of Nikon defenders have grown so used to troll-calling and verbal bashing that they cannot even show five minutes' worth of empathy and open-mindedness before they post lengthy defenses of the Nikon company, and all of its products, and that they are allowed to repeatedly slam people who raise legitmate complaints with the products which they have payed good money for. I've been a Nikon shooter since 1982, and frankly, the web has been good for consumers who want to be able to go to the various web resources to find out the unvarnished TRUTH about various pieces of photography equipment. Before the web, we would have never known about the bad batches of CCD's which made their way into the FujiFilm FinePix S2 Pro's 32,xxx series bodies, which FujiFilm is repairing almost free, even on out of warranty bodies. Before the web, the 70-200 VR's electrical problems and their widespread nature could have been kept secret, but thanks to dPreview and other leading web sites, product deficiencies and design errors and bad components are all openly discussed on the web. It's a sad fact, but there are a good number of Nikonophiles who act as if their cameras are their "units", and who feel that any and all criticism of Nikon products somehow reflects poorly on their units (read unit as 'penis'),or reflects poorly on their judgement or on their buying decsions.The rampant Fanboi nature of a small segment of self-styled Nikon experts has become increasingly reprehensible to me; these are the guys who suggest that people with complaints merely "post a picture", or "go take some pictures", and so on. What's funny is that many of them can barely shoot!

Overall, the Nikon D200's banding issue has been a very unfortunate public relations debacle for the Nikon company,not just in terms of allowing some bad cameras to get out to the general public, but also in the way some people who think they are leaders of the digital photography movement have behaved like total A-holes in the wake of yet another Nikon campaign of silence in response to widespread product defects.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nikon Cafe Post of the Day

From the Nikon Cafe board, commodorefirst (Wade Dowdy) has a really excellent photo post entitled "best minute of birding in a while",locatd at
Stop by and see some lovely photos of an American kestrel hovering in mid-air,as Wade got off around 140 frames in a very,very short span of time, using his 200-400 VR Nikkor zoom lens with the fairly new Nikon 1.7x TC unit attached. Wade has some lovely,lovely motion blur effects on the bird's wingtips. This birding photo opportunity is a case for using a camera that has a decent buffer and FAST write speeds to CF storage media.
Imagine hoew pissed off Wade would have been had he encountered this rare photo opportunity and been granted 3 frames, or 7 frames, or a mere dozen frames,and then had the bird fly off. 140 captured frames means more photos,more chances,more nuance,more sales.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Equipment I Like the MOST

Brevity is not my strong suit,but I'll try to highlight the equipment I like and use the most often. First off, the easiest thing-flash lighting. I like three flash units: the Nikon SB800 flash with the supplied fifth battery drawer installed and fitted with 2,000 milliampere hour or higher batteries. That 5th battery is SWEET! The Nikon D2x and D70 both work great with the SB800 fitted with its supplied white plastic flash diffuser; indoors, click the flash head up one notch and shoot at up to 20 feet away at ISO 250 to 400 for the best flash+ambient exposures with acceptable noise. Outdoors, take off the diffuser and shoot with the SB800 pointed straight ahead. After several years of NOT using them, I've recently gone back to my trio of Vivitar 285HV flashes with their 1-meter pigtail power cords for the Quantum Battery 1,which can power two 285HV's,since it has two power outlets.The 285HV offers very old-school Manual and fractional manual power settings, as well as simple color-coded AUTO F-STOP automatic flash control. No TTL, no i-TTL,no stroboscopic or FP flash,none of that. The 285HV + Quantum gives FAST recyle,and simple,easy flash power settings for horizontal bounce flash or off-camera flash shooting using a Pocket Wizard. I have the Pocket Wizard, the simple 4-channel model, and cords to hook it up to 285's and to my Sunpak 622 Super, which is _the_ most-powerful handle mount (aka hammer-head, aka potato-masher) flash unit made.

The Sunpak 622 Super has a VERY high guide number, and is in fact as powerful as many cheap monolights, and is a wonderful flash for slow-shooting uses for location lighting where you want to use just ONE battery-powered flash for higher-EV type flash exposures....where a bounce exposure off a 16-foot vaulted ceiling in a large living room can be done at f/13 at ISO 100,for example. I currently power the 622 with its grip and built-in flash mounting bracket.The 622 uses four C-cell batteries. My Quantum Turbo battery is now dead, but that was "the" battery for the 622 Super.The 622's "Super" designation refers to the head with a mechanically zooming flash head with a Fresnel lens, and has wide-norm-tele settings. There are seven total different heads available for the 622 base unit. The 622 offers a boatload of AUTO- f/stop settings to choose from, with precise, 1/3 stop ISO and DIN adjustment settings covering all ISOs I'd ever wish to use. This is a flash that's only about $350 or so,and is as powerful as the Quantum Q-flash, but for 1/3 the price. When you need a LOT of flash power, this is once again, the most-powerful handle mount flash made. It's not sexy and sleek like a Metz 60-series,or the Q-flash, but has more raw Guide Number, for 1/3 the dough.

To recap,for accurate and easy and consistent daylight fill-flash, the Nikon D2x or Nikon D70+ SB800 are both great combos. The SB800 is the simplest and best-designed Nikon flash,with the best control buttons of any of the new-era Nikon flashes,and it gives good,predictable results with a fairly minimal need for +/- flash compensation. So ,for flash: SB800, Vivitar 285HV + Quantum battery 1, and Sunpak 622 Super with either 4 C-cells or the Quantum Turbo battery powering it.
Studio Lighting: Speedotron D1602 model 1600 watt-second Brown Line pack and three M-11Q heads, which use all Black Line accessories. Two 2403B model 2400 watt-second Speedotron Black Line power packs and three 102 light heads. All reflectors fit both the M11Q and the 102 light heads,which is one reason to standardize on M11 series heads in the Brown Line. I use 7 inch reflectors,11.5 inch reflectors, a 16 inch pan reflector,set of three honeycomb grids for the 11.5 inch reflectors, barn doors for the 11.5 inchers,three boom stands, (two HD,one medium duty), seven light-weight and portable Bogen light stands,one rolling reflector flat, two Liteform 4x6 panels and assorted fabrics,48 inch softboxes,a mini-softbox,ten various sizes and types of photographic umbrellas, FoamCor boards in white and black on the back,9 foot wide seamless paper rolls, Bogen/Manfrotto portable AutoPole backdrop system,Minolta AutoMeter IIIF,Paramount brand synch cords, Pocket Wizard,Wein peanut,Wein Safe Sync and Speedotron slave triggers. One home-made stainless steel/painted white reversible under-chin reflector with tripod light stand,for direct under-chin reflector placement which gives a lower-eyeball catchlight.Gaffer tape,Stanley steel tape measure,lighting situation notebook-sketchbook,homemade bellows correction and ISO correction factor cards and measuring devices, Wratten Gel holder and multiple gel correction filters,electronic calculator,photographic lighting and reference manuals,aluminum foil, putty,Play Dough,soft wire,monofilament fishing line, loads of A-clamps,black velvet. Pretty simple,basic stuff.

The newest light modifiers I have are two British-made Lastolite brand umbrella soft-boxes....these are very neat. See which is where I heard about these units. These enclosed-style Lastolite umbrellas have several advantages over the traditional types of umbrellas I have been using since the mid 1980's.The Umbrella Box looks similar to the Photek brand's enclosed umbrella,or the Larson "starfish" type of enclosed umbrella.Umbrella Boxes do a lot of light scrambling, which yields highly-diffused and very soft lighting,with fast set-up time and no heavy Fibreglas™ rods like square softboxes use. Best of all,since these are enclosed umbrellas, there is almost no stray light bouncing around the shooting area, AND you can safely shoot from the rear side of these umbrellas with the camera peeking from between two of them in either side-by-side or over/under, dual-umbrella lighting setups and have NO WORRY about blowback light coming thru the umbrellas and hitting your lens' front element. These are not cheap umbrellas, but are very good units.

Second Category:D-SLR cameras, I like the Nikon D2x and the EOS 20D the most, followed by the Fuji S2, the Nikon D1h, and the Nikon D70, in about that order. The lowly D1h is/was a pretty damned good sports camera,with good results over a wide range of situations. I have high respect for the Fuji S3's beautiful files and file depth,but loathe the idea of 25 megabyte RAW files with 6MP worth of data,and the small RAW buffer. I shoot RAW+JPEG most of the time,and like the D2x's compressed NEF mode a lot. The D2x is a poor high-ISO camera,but a FANTASTIC,INCREDIBLE low-ISO camera at 100,125,160,and 200 ISOs. Under 800 to 2400 watt-seconds of flash power, the D2x might be the only camera I'll ever need. The D2x costs a lot of money, but it shoots almost instantaneously,and makes captures at the precise moment you want captured,not before,not after. After using slower cameras, switching to the D2x found me shooting too far in advance of the moment--the D2x does not demand incredbily long and frustrating pre-release of the shutter like the slowpoke Fuji S2 and Nikon D70 do. With the D2x,one can actually watch as a sports moment develops, and can shoot JUST prior to anticipated peak action,and not 1/10th of a second prior. There's absolutely NO comparison between the D2x's responsiveness and that of the S1,S2,D70,and even the EOS 20D. The D1h was fast on the trigger, but the D2x offers substantialy faster lock time and noticeably faster mirror-return times than ANY digital slr I have ever used.

Third Category: Prime Lenses I like the MOST. Well, there are a lot of primes that are pretty good. Prime lenses like the 24mm f/2.8 AF-D, 35mm f/2 AF-D, and 50mm 1.8 AF are three small,light,good ones which fit in well with MY PERSONAL idea of how to shoot indoors using bounce flash as supplementary fill-in or with flash as main light. The 45-P Nikkor is a simply superb lens, but focusing it can be a bit tricky on faster action, but as a pictorial lens the 45-P Nikkor is among my favorites. The 85mm 1.4 AF-D, 105 AF-D DC, and the 135 D.C. Nikkors are the three medium teles I like the most, with the 105 DC and 85 being my favorites. For indoor sports or night football, the 135 f/2 is a good lens actually. I no longer like the 180 AF-D prime as much as I used to ,but it is an excellent lens, albeit one with some AF/MF issues.

The 300 f/4 AF-S Nikkor is a very nice lens,and very useful for natural world close-up scenes,as well as for scenics and general use. The 300/4 AF-S focuses rather poorly for an AF-S lens, and in open shade from stadiums, it will fail to focus many times on solid-tone uniforms, making this lens NOT the best lens for sports using the D1h or D2x. For sports/action the 300mm f/2.8 AF-S II (the pre-VR, magnesium-barreled model) is absolutely the BEST autofocuser I have ever used for fast,reliable AF on rapidly moving targets. The difference between the 300/4 and 300/2.8 in terms of focus reliability,time after time, is HUGE, with the 2.8 model being almost totally reliable,and the f/4 model being "okay" much of the time, but often times unreliable under many real-world outdoor sports situations. For macro shooting, the 60 AF-D micro is good for close-range, flat-field shooting, but I have little love for it, but it fills a niche.

The Tamron 90mm 2.8 AF-SP is a fine macro lens,and does aceptable duty as a portrait/scenic lens; overall, the Tamron 90 is one of my favorite 3rd party lenses. Rounding out my list of favorite primes is the 400mm f/3.5 ED-IF Nikkor with a CPU installed. This 1982-made manual focus Nikkor has absolutely incredible build quality and is a VERY good lens for use with a monopod; the internal focusing system of the 400/3.5 is designed for hand focusing,and is very,very close to a perfect system,and achieving accurate focus with it is surprisingly easy due to the IF system's design, the long focal length,and the shallow DOF a 400mm 3.5 lens has when wide open. It shoots fantastically well at f/3.5 to f/4.8,and it weighs around what a 300/2.8 weighs or seven pounds,and it is a very affordable lens on the used market. With the tiny DX-sized sensor in Nikon D-SLRs, it takes a 400mm focal length to get any degree of foreground/background separation,and for outdoor sports like daytime football,soccer,baseball/softball, the 400/3.5 is my favorite lens. I prefer the 400/3.5's "look" to that of the 300 AF-S II in many situations.

Except for exotic, or niche prime lenses, I have little love or favoritism for any manual focusing Nikkors these days, but there ae some good ones. The 200mm f/4 Ai and AiS are nice and small and surprisingly good lenses in the Best Buy category, as is the 50mm f/2 Ai and the 135mm f/2.8 AiS. The 85mm f/2 in Ai or AiS is as small as a 50mm 1.4 lens is,yet I have litle use for it. The 24mm 2.8 AiS is a quality lens, but focusing it precisely on a Nikon d-slr is difficult. The 50mm 1.4 Ai I own is only a so-so performer on digital. The 105 f/2.5 AiS is a beautifully made lens, and probably the BEST BUY in terms of what it produces on-sensor,and how well it works even in 2006.

The 180mm f/2.8 ED in AiS is a quality optic even today. The 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF is still an acceptable,and light tele lens with decent internal focusing on clean samples. Rounding out my list of manual focusing lenses is the Lensbaby special-effects lens. I like the Lensbaby,and often use it with a 2x Tokina or a Nikon TC-201 teleconverter. Of all these lenses in the MF category, the 105/2.5, 135mm/2.8, and 200mm f/4 and 400mm/3.5 are the four lengths/speeds which are actually worth investigating,since they offer something impossible to buy new these days in an AF lens.

For the Canon EOS 20D, I have the Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF-II, the new featherweight plastic model which is one of the WORST lenses I've EVER owned in terms of resisting flare and ghosting when shot toward the sun. Adequately sharp, this econo-50 is significantly worse than the flarey 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E of the 1980's. Shot toward the sun, this Canon has absolutely disgraceful contre jour performance,and demands careful shading of the front element in order to render good images when shot toward the sun. Indoors or out, it's adequately sharp, but has a pentagonal diaphragm opening and renders OOF highlights as big, old-style 5-sided blobs, and not the more-pleasing rounded shaped one gets with new-style rounded diaphragm openings (as found in the Nikkor 45-P, 85 1.4, the Defocus Control 105 and 135mm Nikkors, and the 70-200VR,etc). The Canon 50/1.8 EF generation II lens is a very cheap,low-priced, adequate optic under most conditions, but when shot toward the sun (and yes, the glass is immaculately clean and grease-free), this new 50mm 1.8 EF-II is the shittiest modern, multi-element,coated lens I've ever owned. It is sometimes called the "Plastic Fantastic" or "the Nifty Fifty", which are signs of internet Fanboy love for a sub-par optic. Seriously, this lens has the most pathetic contre jour perormance I can imagine being allowed to go out the door. It's worse against the light than a 30-year-old 58mm f/2 Auto Cosmogon Russian lens I own in M42 mount. This lens is neither "nifty", nor is it "fantastic".

Canon's 100mm f/2.8 USM EF Macro is quite good when shot against the light, but has a sharp-sided, 7-bladed diaphragm and correspondingly geometric OOF background highlights, but with very superb image quality at macro and portrait distances. Adequate AF speed,but nothing great, full-time manual focus override while in AF mode with no stupid switch, this 100mm Canon prime is not considered L-series, but delivers sharp and contrasty images as both a macro and as a portrait/scenic lens. A fine macro lens.

Next category: Zoom Lenses. There are a lot of zoom lenses available, but the ones I use the most are the Nikkor 70-200VR, the 24-85 AF-S G,and the Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8~4 Di, and the Sigma 100-300 f/4 EX.Occasionally I will use the Nikkor 80-400VR,which I felt was one of the best lenses on the Fuji S2 when used carefully.In good light,at smaller apertures, the D2x's super focusing motor and superbly-designed focusing algorithms drive even the slowpoke 80-400 reasonably well,and the 80-400 can be used as a manual focuser also. Its schtick is VR,which is indispensible in windy conditions OR when doing panning work. When you wanna' pan,or use 2nd curtain shutter synch, you WANT a VR Nikkor.

The Nikkor 50-135mm f/3.5 in AiS mount is,according to Bjorn Rorslett, a top performer on the D2x, but my sample has come up missing. I've looked for it, but damned if I can actually find it,which pisses me off, since I really did like the lens for day trip type outdoor shooting,and since it apparently is a fantastic match for the D2x's sensor and I would LOVE to try it on the x. On the Canon side, I have the Sigma 18-125 DG lens,which is small,light,and an average to merely good performer--ideally suited as a one-lens solution for casual,daylight use but not a worthy lens for serious shooting or for anything but stopped-down shooting.

I no longer see the need with a 1.5x camera for a 28-70 or 28-80 zoom,although I have a couple kicking around. Same with the 35-70 zoom lenses...not as useful on 1.5x aka DX as when on full-frame, yet still there are some good uses for a 28-70 or a 35-70 but simply not for me. I'm not a particularly wide angle type of shooter,and so for me Nikkor AF-D WA prime lenses of 20,24,and 35 are adequate for my fairly limited need or desire for wide angles of view, and a modest-speed 17-35 zoom range is all the wide angle zoom I need. I do not wish to carry around NOR to point a coffee can-sized,48-ounce Nikkor 28-70 in social photography situations--it's too large a lens first and offers a sucky range of focal lengths on DX,neither wide enough nor long enough to justify its existence on my cameras.

Accessories:Accessories are everything not detailed. I dunno....Kenko 3-ring Autofocusing extension tubes, with the 11mm being most useful, the 24mm next ,and the 36mm tube not very useful to ME. BR-2 lens reversing ring. 77 to 72mm B+W step rings for filters and large,rubber telephoto lens hoods for the 70-200 and 80-400 which are longer and smaller-dia. than the supplied Nikon hoods.Canon 500D closeup lens.Pentax microfiber lens cleaning cloths. Hurricane blower.San Disk CF cards in 1- and 2-gig sizes.

Special Considerations:I think sometimes using a physically small,diminutive lens brings better results than could be obtained when using a massive,pro-caliber Nikkor lens; in such cases the 35-70 3.3~4.5,28-80 D,50 1.8 AF,or 45-P,or 24mm 2.8 or 85mm f/2 AiS or the 135mm 2.8 AiS are what you really ought to use,paired with a small camera,like the D70. Here, the 28-200mm G series Nikkor has been my all-time favorite zoom lens for flexibility with reach in an inconspicuous package. I lament the passing of the late 70's-1980's lineup of 20-24-28-35-50-55-85-105-135-200mm prime lens lineup all with 52mm front threads,and petite,compact barrels. Special consideration is sometimes warranted when you want to shoot photos and not be obtrusive or 'creepy',and in those situations the 2.8 zooms and big,hulking prime lenses ought to be left at home.

In conclusion, I'd say that overall,I consider the D2x, the Lensbaby soft focus lens with or without a 1.4x or 2x TC unit added,the 45-P,the 105 AF-D D.C., the 70-200 VR, the 80-400 VR,the 300/2.8,the 400/3.5 and the Tamron 90 Macro as my most-liked lenses and camera equipment. There are other pieces of equipment, like the SB800, the 35/2, the 85/1.4 and the 300/4 which I also consider right up there in terms of utility and value and consistent production of good results.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Best Nikon D200 Review on The Web

There you go. The best Nikon D200 review on the world wide web. The D200 earns a score a 91%,and costs $1,699 (US dollars). They describe the D200 as clearly superior to the EOS 20D, and write that,"Nikon has delivered the best mid-range digital SLR yet," which is high praise,since the mid-range is where the majority of consumer interest lies in D-SLR-dom.
I looked at this site's test results,and if I wanted the BEST noise performance at higher ISO settings of 1600 and 3200,and also to a lesser extent ISO 800, I can see the EOS 5D as being _the_ camera body for the serious enthusiast or semi-pro shooter who really WANTS/NEEDS the type of clean, high-resolution images we've all been craving at 1600 and 3200 for low-light shooting without the need for raw files and painstaking Noise Reduction processing on ALL ISO 800 and 1600 or higher frames.
For half the price of an EOS 5D body, the D200 looks like a terrific bargain. For the D2x user like me however, I still can see the lure of the Fuji S3 Pro camera and the Fuji file formats and the Fuji ideas about color and highlight handling,and think the S3 might actually be the best mid-priced body to compliment a D2x-toting photographer's kit. Not that the D200 is not a fine,fine camera in its own right, but simply that at 1600 the S3 is a pretty solid imager for an F-mount camera,without a ton of massaging of the files, a la D2x at high ISOs.

Digital And The Influx of "The Masses"

Digital photography has brought about perhaps the largest single rejuvinating and reinvigorating influx of newcomers into photography as any one development since the introduction of color print film. Now more than ever, men,women,and children and youths are getting their FIRST camera. Or their first digital camera. The promise of film-less picture taking and the ease and convenience and the instant gratification that little image on the LCD sreen of a digital still camera brings with it--man, all those factors seem to have brought a teeming mass of newcomers into the field that used to be called amateur photography.Hell, even cellular telephones can have a camera built into them. Digital still capture devices, aka digital cameras, aka digicams--they are indeed everywhere these days.And there is a subtle to not-so-subtle bias or prejudice against this invasion of "The Masses".
What I think is fun to do is to go to a photo sharing site,like pBase or SmugMug,or any one of the other hundreds and hundreds of such sites around the world, and to peruse galleries there, by user, or by category,just to get a feel for what kind of photography is being done today,in the digital photography era. Film sales are down,down,down. And besides,the chances of actually SEEING film-captured images on the world wide web is pretty small. The majority of film-captured images never see daylight,especially on the web. The web lends itself to ditgitally captured images. Scanning film or scanning finished photographic prints,as a way to get a digitized image for the web, is the province of very,very few people these days.Except for professionally created images designed for commercial uses, the web is an unlikely place to see traditionally made ( IOW,shot-on-film) "photographs". Oh sure, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of the pictures or photographs taken in 2006 will be digitally captured images.And a good many images captured in 2006 will be by made by indivudual members of that often-villified group known as "the masses". You know, the unwashed, unkempt,uneducated rabble who gather each day outside the palace walls. Those uncultured cattle who dare bellow their dismay outside the Master's castle....these are the people who are now over-populating the land and bringing with them pestilence and filth and, well, yuckiness!
At least that's the undercurrent of the message now emanating from the so-called opinion leaders in photography today. A number of these so-called leaders display what is,to me at least, a really alarming amount of contempt and resentment for these newcomers,even though the sheer numbers and Dollar Power of these newcomers have been of tremendous benefit to those of us to for which picture-making is more than a new,passing fancy. These "masses" have helped spur the development of exciting new photographic and computer peripheral equipment.Lowly consumers and pro-sumers and the dreaded amatuer photographers have driven the development of the most exciting new digital technologies,and helped to lower prices for everybody. New cameras, new printers,new accessories like color calibration software,better hard disk and networking solutions,portable storage devices to which we can downloading computer memory cards while afield,and also new technologies like wireless transmission from camera to computer--the development, the R&D and the manufacture of all of these new developments have been payed for mostly by their widespread appeal to these "masses". The same "masses" that the rich and powerful love to thumb their noses at,whilst they enjoy shooting photos with their Canon 1Ds Mark II's and their Nikon D2x's and so on.
It is humorous to me that the new "Doctor's Camera" has become the Canon 1Ds and 1Ds Mark II series, supplanting the venerable Leica rangefinder as the camera with the most Money Appeal. Hell, the prototypical and the BEST 35mm camera and lens line, that of Leica, has finally been supplanted by a digital camera! If that does not tell you that the ditial age is firmly here, then nothing will. I myself am glad that Canon and Nikon are selling more cameras and more lenses than they did in the 35mm film heyday of the 1970s and 1980's. I myself am glad to see more people beginning to enjoy photography. Within the past two years,I have seen almost everybody I know buy themselves a digital camera.People who had never really been much into photography suddenly saw the light and went digital. Pretty incredible,really. If this sudden spike in interest would have been in something like voter registration, or personal health and exercise, we would have had people shouting from the rooftops about this wonderful new trend. Instead, I hear from some of the so-called "leaders" and opinion leaders that all these newcomers are a bad thing, and that they are lowering the standards for the proper,established community; there are a growing number of so-called opinion leaders who are bemoaning the size of the mob and the stench emanating from the unwashed,unkempt masses huddled outside the palace walls. Revolutions bring with them very,very nasty masses of people. And the rulers,especially the tyranical or despotic ones,are quite often deposed in these revolutions carried out by "the masses". Marie Antoinete's cavalier, "Let them eat cake," is a pretty chilling reminder of what hubris and deafness to revolutionary tendencies can bring. And,in that light, I've been trying to really identify, to really decipher for myself, what this influx of newcomers has meant to photography. If you want to SEE what is happening, go right now to and spend an hour surfing. If you PAY a small fee, you will have access to searching capabilities, as well as a space on pBase where you can upload your photos to,and you'll be able to use search terms to help you find images taken by people from all over the world. I myself am trying to better understand the nuances of digital photography,and the reasons why people are getting involved in it,and I am also trying to understand the motivations behind several different "types" of practitioners of digital photography. I'm realizing that there are many among "the masses" that have very little understanding of the craft of traditional photography,as well as basically NO conceptor knowledge whatsoever of those who pioneered in the field of photography, and damned little appreciation of the field of photography from any type of historical perspective. In other words, there really are a lot of people for whom digital photography is a very unexamined,casual thing.And that's fine....there is a place for snapshooters,and photos of the grandkids,pets,and travel destinations.A few years ago, the "elite" were some of the first to experiment with digital capture,and to brag about their use of digital capture methods. Soon I think, these same "elite" will be the first ones to proclaim and to brag that they have gone back to film,in an effort to differentiate themselves from the digital-shooting masses.Which will be a good thing, since it'll get their pictures off the web,and back into those dusty galleries and those printed books!

Skin Tone Comparison:Fuji S3 and Nikon D200

Check out Fotomat's quick in-studio comparison of skin tone rendering characteristics between the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro and the Nikon D200 at this dPreview URL.
Fotomat states that the set-up,shooting,and image post-processing was all done in less than 30 minutes,so this is a QUICK test. It features a model holding a color chart,and wearing an orange,striped sweater,standing in from of a light colored seamless background, using a softbox as mainlight illumination. Both cameras were shot in RAW mode,using AUTO white balance, and images were converted pretty much straight across from RAW to JPEG, and were saved for the web as sRGB JPEG files (as it should be done,for the web, IMO).
Conclusions? Well, I myself have shot tens of thousands of images under studio lighting,including many,many "slate" shots of a color chart, and one of the CARDINAL RULES of shooting a "slate" (aka color chart/gray card/info slate) is to make absolutely sure there is NO GLARE from the lights....and honestly, I can spot the glare on the color chart in the D200 images, which makes the color charts patches look weaker and less-saturated than they should. This is a very,very easy thing to have occur.
As I said I have considerable experience in long-roll studio portraiture, and shooting the "slate" demands that the lights not cast ANY glare on the front surface of the reference target...the angle the model is holding the slate at in the D200's sample shot is catching the glare of the softbox. A softbox gives a terrible glare in many circumstances--a softbox and its FLAT, broad surface can easily interface wrongly with a FLAT-surfaced card, like a "slate". All flat-fronted softboxes can easily create a big,broad glare on a flat surface.Not that many people are practiced at shooting a slate shot, but the start and end of each roll in a long-roll camera must have PERFECT and absolutely GLARE-FREE illumination if the color references and gray values of the "slate" are to be of any use to automated printing machines.
Still...look at the flesh tones of the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro and the Nikon D200 in Fotomat's comparison. Very close. As to the other colors in the scene,the sweater looks more orange,and more-saturated in the Nikon image than the S3 image has. The hair color is very close from both cameras. Fingernails,teeth,eye coloration,background coloration,all are very close between the two cameras.Looking at the background's light fall off pattern is interesting,and personally I think there might be a_slight_ difference in the sensitivity of the sensors relative to their stated ISO settings.The exposures both do look very close, within about no MORE than .4 stop difference. I would say,based on my experience with +/- exposure correction in Nikon Capture,that the difference is around .27 stop difference. Overall, the mythical Fuji S3 skintones seem to be missing in action. All the "tonality" and "gradation" and "unparalleled Fuji skin tones" I've read about in the Fuji SLR Talk forum seem to be a lot of hyperbole. Check out the test and see for yourself how CLOSE the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro and the Nikon D200 look on Caucasian flesh tones.