Monday, February 26, 2007

Imaging Resource gets 1D Mk III Prototype,dPreview Snubbed

Well, the Imaging Resource web site got a prototype Canon EOS 1D Mark III for testing and hands-on evaluation, and the job they're doing with it is pretty good. Good sample photos, nice comments on what's improved, and especially how Canon has made significant CHANGES to their long-criticised,almost idiotic 1-series control and menu system. Canon has brought some very nice NIKON touches to the 1D Mark III body, like an AF ON button,right where the Nikons have the AF ON button. And Canon's brought a pseudo-Nikon-like joystick to the 1D series. Canon has actually brought some of their prosumer body control concepts and ethos to the 1D series after premiering the Nikon-like multi-controller button aka "the nipple" first on the 20D/30D model line, apparently finally admitting that the 1D series's "press-spin-select-adjust-oops-I-screwed up-press-spin-select-DAMNIT!!! " pseudo-logic needed some serious control revisions. Canon said they looked at re-designing the EOS 1D Mark III camera from the ground up,and it's about time Canon started emulating Nikon's control concepts, like the AF ON button and more-logical control functions and ways of adjusting a camera.

Still, it's apparent from the hands on preview that Canon hasn't YET quite figured out how to make an AF point navigation system with the brilliance of the Nikon D2-series with its fool-proof 4-way controller + AF mode selector switch. Canon has added the 20D/30D mini-rocker switch,aka "the nipple" to the 1-series for the first time, but it just isn't the same thing as Nikon's 4-way controller switch. Sorry Canon, nice try, but your dinky little button is too small still...well, maybe by one or two more generations down the road,perhaps Canon will finally be able to achieve parity with Nikon's camera control concepts and functionality on a multi-direction input thumb-operated pad system, because while imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, Canon is still missing another entire SWITCH to help control this 45-point focusing system. Canon ought not to try and innovate, but to copy Nikon's idea very much more closely and slavishly. As in almost verbatim. You know, by adding the needed missing switch to control "how" the AF system will work. And while Canon hasn't YET gotten it quite right, they have added a dedicated AF ON button,RIGHT where a NIKON body has the same-named button. Forget that stupid star button shit Canon's been using with a Cfn 4 setting--it was in the wrong place for what it does,and the newly-added AF ON button is RIGHT where Nikon feels it should be,where the thumb has a natural placement,and where the thumb is in a position to work with good dexterity,especially important when covering a longer event where the thumb is going to be used for focus actuation for hundreds of shots. The star button's control is unnaturally far right as an AF ON button,completely counter to the thumb's natural placement when shooting with a horizontal mode camera;not surprisingly,Canon has located the new Nikon-style AF ON control right where Nikon puts it-- in the perfect location.

Now that Canon has ADDED a significant NIKON focusing control button, and ditched the old 1-series' interface quirkiness,by making it work more like a pro-sumer Canon, Canon has doubled the audience for the 1D Mark III;as I see it, they've made the 1-series EOS much more appealing to many Nikon users, and I think that's actually deliberate. But still,Canon's AF point selection point engineering solution seems just a bit cheesy. It's not 'quite' there yet. Nikon's still got a better concept and execution for user-supplied AF area selection and adjustment,since canon hasn't added the missing Focusing Mode/Pattern button this generation.Menus are fine, but big,easy-to-shift selector BUTTONS determining how the AF system can be customized on the fly is what the D2 series Nikons have,and Canon still lacks. But still, Canon's AUTO AF area selection might be just the ticket for pointing and following action with excellent camera performance with the camera picking the AF points,and lighting up and showing you which AF points it's using. Time will tell, but I think Canon may well have super-duper all-auto AF performance,with the camera being smarter than many a shooter. Canon's got a lot of faith and experience in AUTO-everything camera design,with the photographer more of an End User,if you know what I mean.

Allowing a modern,flagship-level Canon to select the AF points to use might work better than some people want to think. I think Canon has a reputation for AUTO-everything shooting that's based on sound engineering principles being applied across the entire camera. I think maybe Canon engineers strive to design the best fully-automated routines that they can design,so that the camera functions well with a sort of "End User/hack/newbie" running the camera. Maybe that's my prejudice, but I think Canon,and Minolta, long assumed that better automation equals better shots on a strict percentage basis, and that throwing numbers at the problem is where the solution is to be found.

It seems as is dPreview owner Phil Askey might have some reason to feel a bit slighted,as do other reviewers and site owners who got absolutely NO prior notice of the camera's unveiling some five days ago now,and of course who got NO cameras to see early. As it stands now, dPreview is not bringing the world much more information than the bare bones press release Canon issued, and you've got to look hard to find the link to the 63-page Canon white paper detailing this soon-to-be-shipping new pro body. The sensor layout has been improved,and the fill factor and the microlens array have both been improved,so this new sensor really should deliver pretty good amounts of detail for a 10 MP sensor. It seems to be a significantly better-performing sensor than you might expect at first thought.

Stop by Imaging Resource and see quite a few images sized at 3,888 x 2,592 pixels. Photos range from 3.8 to a little over 7 megabytes in size, depending on how much fine detail the shots contain.

I have downloaded quite a few of these images, many made with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF-II lens, which I own. As long as there's nothing resembling contre jour lighting,or the sun anywhere NEAR the front element, this cheap $79 50mm lens yields a sharp but rather boring-looking image,with harsh bokeh in many situations. The 100mm f/2.8 EF Macro lens is also sharp,quite sharp, and was used on many of the Imaging Resource indoor test target photos, and is a very good lens at indoor distances, such as those the Imaging Resource use for their test scenes. I mention the lens issue here simply because the 50 1.8 EF-II makes really "boring-looking" images,and the outdoor test photographs convey a boring,dull,uninspiring look,and the pictures really lack much "impression". I want to point out to unsuspecting viewers that those street-type scenes shot with the 50mm EF-II lens look weird largely because of the awful,awful impression this lens delivers at the ranges and apertures most of those storefront-type scenes were shot at. It's fashionable to call cheap 50mm lenses "Excellent Lenses",and while Nikon's 50mm 1.8 AF is a good lens, it's not great, but it's WORLDS better than say the two 50mm 1.8 Series E Nikon 50's I've owned,and this Canon 50 1.8 EF-II lens is right down near the bootm,even below the 30-year-old 50 1.8 Series E lens design.

The Canon 50 1.8 EF-II, the modern one, is a $79 lens of poor ghost and flare resistance; it is a TERRIBLE optical design when shot towards any bright light,and when shot directly toward the sun, the 50 1.8 EF-II has the weakest ghost and flare resistance of _ANY_ normal lens I have owned. Ever. Ever. It is sadly,and incredulously awful against the light! The coatings,and the optical design are very primitive, which is a simply inexcusably basic problem. This lens has a chunky, five-sided diaphragm opening, and complete,total,utter inability to shoot toward not just the sun, but toward almost any type of bright light source; a bright reflector in front of it, or a building reflecting the bright sky anywhere near the front of the lens, you name it,this design cannot handle it. Bokeh-wise it's crappy, and the aperture looks like a big pentagonal-shaped dinosaur turd. Neither the lens's anti-reflection coatings nor optical formula can cope with the sun without MASSIVE image ghosts and flares. The shots are fricking USELESS unless the lens is shaded,deeply, from ALL bright stray light. Say to yourself, "compendium lens hood, and an assistant with a black card to throw a shadow ONTO the front element." Never take this lens to the beach,unless you like green-headed people. I own a Russian 58mm f/2 Auto-Cosmogon in m42 thread mount that's actually a tad bit BETTER against the light. Since the I-R test shooters didn't shoot toward the sun, the pictures look serviceable, but there's a soul-less, dull, boring feeling that comes from this lens design. This Canon 50 has really LAME image characteristics. It's hard to overstate how poor a performer this lens is, with the worst ghosting and flare I've ever seen in a modern prime lens. As if that's not bad enough, it has crummy bokeh,and ugly OOF specular highlight rendering due to its primitive five-bladed diaphragm.

Oh, guess what....Canon has a brand-NEW,professional caliber 50mm f/1.2 EF L-series lens design....hey, whadda' ya know! It costs $1,499 and is brand new for 2006-2007. Canon also has a $309 50mm f/1.4 lens. I mention the f/1.4 model and f/1.2 models because I would NEVER recommend the 50 1.8 EF-II lens to anybody. It's a 4.6 ounce plastic toy-like lens that can easily ruin photos in only moderately challenging light,and when the light is sweet and angled,as in the afternoon or early morning, the f/1.8 EF-II model is just,well,like a toy lens.

I'm going into such length here about the 50 shots because,unless you're a bokeh freak,and sort of a lens junkie, you've probably,thank your lucky stars, not owned a lens like the Canon 50mm 1.8 EF-II. It has adequate sharpness. It renders fine detail quite well at f/8,which is where a lot of people will test it. The problem is that at moderately larger apertures,like f/3.2 at closer to mid-distances, this lens has butt-ugly out of focus areas, both in front of and behind the point of sharpest focus. In scenes where there is a slightly out of focus background, this particular Canon 50mm 1.8 design renders the OOF portions with a very,very negative "vibe" that many people cannot put their finger on. There's a reason huge, pentagonal-shaped diapragm openings have been abandoned, and more-round aperture blades have been moved into lenses since the 1970's; why the Canon 50 1.8 EF-II has this 1950's-shaped aperture opening, and why it has such poor flare and ghost resistance, is beyond me. The lens, while "sharp"enough,is fine on test charts, but it has absolutely no business being used on 3-D objects,especially if conditions will see large-ish apertures and out of focus areas included in the composition to any significant degree. If the lens is not stopped down enough to render MOST of the scene's area entirely in good,sharp focus, this piece of crap design makes your pictures look,well,not good enough for the modern era. I'm not making this up--this 50 is one of the lowest-quality prime lenses I've ever owned. Why does a modern,multicoated,single focal length lens 50mm have almost NO resistance to ghosting? WHY is the lens so,so poor when shot against the light? Price is no excuse; this problem was handled many,many decades ago,and yet this thing ghost like a SOB. Why? It's a simple 50mm lens design that performs well below 1950's standards,and it's 2007 now.

I've gone to the trouble of writing this so that you'll be able to appreciate the Imaging Resources street scenes which were made with this ultra-lightweight,economy-designed 50mm f/1.8 EF-II lens. Shooting anything except test targets ought to be made illegal with this lens. This lens renders scenes in such an ugly way, and often ehibits hashy,downright ugly bokeh. Knowing that the 1D Mark III street scene samples were shot with this unfortunate lens design makes me VERY,very aware of how awesome the sensor on the 1D Mark III actually is.

Bottom line: I've seen JPEG images this camera makes under studio lighting,and the images are very,very clean and smooth,and reveal detail right down to what I consider the be the limits of the drecky 50/1.8,and the 100/2.8 EF Macro shots look great. This camera is delivering EXCELLENT resolution across a wide range of ISO settings. This camera is a nice imager. Going by the Imaging Resource comparison photos, I'd say the Mark 3 has about a full stop cleaner-looking images at the top two settings than the Mark 2 model did! Yeah, ISO 6400 on the new camera looks as clean,vibrant,and detailed as 3200 on the Mark 2, and 3200 on the new camera looks as clean,vibrant,and detailed as 1600 did on the Mark 2. Which is an amazing improvement which will be welcomed by many shooters. 1600 on the new camera looks pretty DAMNED good for 1600.

[ Addendum,March 1,2007: A few days after I wrote this, I found this thread about an EOS 350D owner adapting a Yashica-Contax mount Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 Planar manual focus lens for use on his EOS body using a Kindai adapter. See Peter Spiro's comment about the awful bokeh of the 50 1.8 EF-II at this thread ]

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Wish For A Nikon D3h: Reasonable MP Count, FF

It seems to me,and to other people who follow the current trends in d-slr photography that the Nikon D2Hs suffers from a poor sensor design that has problems with excessive infrared and near-infrared, meaning that synthetic fabrics (like sports uniforms) are often rendered incorrectly in color, and that flash exposures (which have plenty of near-infrared) are not the strengths of the Nikon-designed, Nikon-made LBCAST sensor in the D2Hs. The D2hs camera's megapixel count and image quality is too low to compete with Canon's two 8.2MP 1D series iterations, and now Canon has announced a 10.1 MP 1D Mark III model, thus pretty much effectively neutering the D2Hs as a legitimate top contender in this category.

What I would like to see Nikon do in its D3h camera is to go to a larger sensor, like a full frame sensor, not a 1.5x sensor. That would allow Nikon to get better High ISO performance by going to larger pixels, and would also solve one real problem for the sports/news/event/generalist shooters, which is that the 1.5x sensor makes many perfectly good lenses a hell of a lot LESS useful than they were designed to be. The 28-70 AF-S, now a pretty bland 42-105 sub-normal-to-short tele lens would go from being a 40-ounce piece of crap on 1.5x, to a useful lens offering wide-angle to short telephoto views on Full Frame. The argument that the DX sensor allows for smaller and lighter lenses really has not panned out. There ARE NO DX telephoto lenses from Nikon--we're still using Full Frame image circle capable lenses that weigh as much as 7 to 14 pounds on many outdoor sports assignments,since there are *no* DX teles. The 17-55 DX lens is not really a lightweight lens. The DX argument's promise of smaller and lighter lenses is a straw man argument, a moot point, a red herring, a bunch of B.S. when applied to telephoto and telephoto zoom lenses--their image circles are already small,and there's no physical way to design or make a smaller,or lighter DX-optimized telephoto,so the "lighter" part of the DX lens advantage is,truly, a non-issue,a moot point. No weigh savings or size reduction can really be gained on any of the telephoto lenses by reducing their already very small image circles,so a DX-sized 300mm f/2.8 lens is still gonna be, well, the same size and weight as one designed to cover a 24x36mm film frame. Moving from a 1.5x sensor to a larger-sensored camera would also bring improved performance at higher ISO's,leading to higher image quality under marginal lighting conditions. Better High-ISO image quality is the area where Nikon needs to improve their camera performance in the D2 line's successor models.

Widening the angle of view of the 200mm f/2 and the 300/2.8 lenses would make them MORE-useful for sports like volleyball,basketball,baseball,softball,track and field,and American football. I do not actually buy into the argument that sports shooters always like,or want, the 1.5x factor. In my own personal experience shooting sports assignments over the last two years, I think the 1.5x GREATLY hurts the 85mm lens, the 105mm lens, and the 300mm lens lengths. The 300mm lens on 1.5x gains some depth of field per aperture value, which is a plus/minus kind of thing. The REAL,persistent problem is that using a 300mm lens means that athletes that approach too closely are reduced to a tight close-up....arms and legs are...GONE, cropped off...the opposing athletes in the competition are...GONE,and OUT OF THE PICTURE, cropped off too. The idea that PJ/sports/event people all want or like the 1.5x FOV reduction assumes that the most impotant problem to solve is being situated too FAR FROM the action, but that is not the problem,usually. The problem is that your lens is too LONG for the distances actually encountered, and you always find yourself needing shorter and shorter and shorter focal lengths to get the scene captured, to show what's going on within some type of context.

By the time one gets to fairly short focal length settings on a 1.5x camera, pretty much everything is in focus,and there's NO WAY to get subject/background isolation due to the short focal lengths. Also, the wide angle of view extends not just TO the main subject's distance, but that wide angle of view also extends BEHIND the subject, out to the farthest distance in the scene; the problem is two-fold; the subject is shown with a ton of crap in the background, and it's almost impossible to control the crap shown in the backdrop by throwing it out of focus because the inherent DOF at short focal lengths is so great.

The cropping-off of what each lens projects affects the way the actual,current lens models and focal lengths render their images. The "pictures" just don't come out the same way using a cropped-sensor camera and trying to stand farther and farther away from subjects at the 50,85,105,and 135,etc lengths; your studio is now wayyyyyy too short, and now,using the wider end of your short zooms, 9-foot wide seamles rolls and all backdrops are suddently, well, too narrow! The backdrops (paper,muslin,canvas,rooms,sets,gyms,offices,whatever) and backgrounds are now all pretty much IN-FOCUS in most all of your studio-type setups, thanks to that teeny 1.5x capture area and 33mm shooting lengths...and so on.

While birders and nature photographers may say they like and want the 1.5x factor and see it as a positive, in sports and indoor event photography,I disagree,and feel that it's actually a major drawback,given the actual pool of lenses ON THE MARKET,and what those lenses were/are designed to do; the 300/2.8 is a very,very expensive lens,and the 300/4 is not cheap either. We have reached the resolution point now where we can crop out and throw away as much as HALF of a frame to make a publishable sports shot with a good 8-12 MP capture to start with. When an athlete or a person gets too CLOSE to the camera, the longer, very costly,high-performance AF lenses like the 300/2.8 are simply too damned cropped-off on 1.5x bodies to make pictures that you can actually use in many situations, both indoors and outdoors. There are few lenses which can track focus as fast and well as the 200/2 VR and 300/2.8 Nikkor lenses; they have almost the ultimate in optical quality available,and the images they make can easily,easily stand up to terrific cropping at the computer if the file is clean and well-shot (adequate shutter speed, good focus), and when those lenses are rendered too narrow-angle because of the 1.5x factor of your body, WHICH lenses do you switch to to replace them? Well, most people have NO substitute for their 300/2.8; it is their big investment lens, the one with the best rez, the sharpest wide-open, the best flare resistance,and the best autofocus performance in all ways. Stepping down to the 70-200 2.8 VR from the 300/2.8 is a huge step down in focus performance and against the light performance.

No, for birders and outdoor photographers who can never get close enough to their subjects, 1.5x seems like a good deal. But for PJ/sports/event photography, cropping each and every lens's angle of view down seriously makes the camera a LOT LESS useful than a camera with a 1.3x or 1.0 aka Full Frame angle of view. 99 percent of the Nikkor lens line was designed for 24x36mm photography, also commonly known as Full Frame or 35 Full Frame or 135 format or 35FF. You KNOW what I mean. You know, with a big,huge viewfinder image,coming off a full-sized reflex mirror, onto a nice modern viewfinder screen,and then sent to your eye with a top-quality optical glass pentaprism that gives the best possible viewfinder image for the easiest,fastest framing and the best composing under tough conditions. Indoors,at events, the lighting is often kind of dark....a bigger,better viewfinder image is always a PLUS....a 1.5x cropped-down tunnel-like viewfinder image is not a plus.

Megapixels and resolution are overrated by many people,I think. The D3h crowd really wants to be able to have a pro Nikon body that has better High ISO performance,more so than high resolution. From my own experience with the EOS 20D, which delivers pretty doggone good and printable High ISO images, it seems that with the right image processing in-camera, the 8.2 MP CMOS sensor of the 20D actually delivers HIGHER RESOLUTION than the 12.2 megapixel CMOS sensor in the D2x when both are used at higher ISO values. Statistics can be misleading,and I feel that MOST D2x owners were a bit mislead if they happened to read certain reviews of the D2x,or looked at noise graphs of the D2x and thought that it'd be a good camera at medium and elevated ISO settings. But the painful truth is that LBCAST and CMOS-sensored Nikons have been three models in number,and all of them have been poorly-received cameras for sports/event/PJ shooters who want state of the art performance for their $3,500 or $4995. So, I'm not really interested in a sports camera that has an extremely high megapixel count--what I want is High ISO performance with good color saturation and good detail, not a bunch of shadow noise, screwed up colors on synthetic fabrics, and weird colors on things shot with flash. Oh, and I want a good in-camera JPEG engine.

The easiest way for Nikon to get its act together in the PJ/sports/event/generalist professional camera segment would be to boost sensor size away from APS-C and toward APS-H (1.3x) or all the way to 35 full frame sensor size. Nikon ought to keep the megapixel counts reasonable, like 8 to 10 MP, but stuff in as physically LARGE a sensor as they can fit in there. I'd be very,very happy if the D3h had a 10.2 MP FULL FRAME sensor that shot at 8 fps down to 1 fps, and which also offered four different down-sized image capture sizes. I can imagine that if Nikon engineers really worked at it, they could see their way clear to getting their LBCAST technology to the point where they could double the pixel count from 4.1 MP to 8.2 MP by simply scaling the sensor size all the way up to full frame size.

Right now, Nikon needs to also keep in mind that the D200 was a big success because it finally offered serious enthusiasts some of the features that had previously been offered only in the D1 and D2-series bodies. Offering customers MUCH more than they have a right to expect,feature-wise, is why the Nikon D200 is so well-regarded a camera, and why Canon's EOS 30D is viewed as basically a lukewarm re-hash of the 20D with not much new in the way of feature improvements except incremental ISO settings and a few new picture style modes. Nikon can simply NOT skate by by making a D3h that's a re-hash of the already inadequate D2Hs design. No, Nikon needs to put on its thinking cap. Nikon users want a camera that can compete on ISO performance indoors,under artifical light,and which can render colored synthetic fabrics the RIGHT colors, without the need for a 77mm Canon hot mirror filter over each lens, and Nikon users want a camera that can make flash exposures without weird off-color casts due to the excess IR and near-IR sensitivity.

I could care less who makes the sensor for the Nikon could be a JFET LBCAST sensor,or a CMOS sensor, or it could be a CCD sensor....the kind of sensor isn't important, it's the sensor performance.The D3h has simply GOT TO DELIVER EXCELLENT image quality at ISO 1600,and it had better be damned good at 3200 as well. Since I feel that the 85mm f/1.4 and 105mm DC and 300mm focal lengths are rendered much LESS useful on 1.5x than when shot natively on 35FF format cameras, my personal hope is that Nikon decides that the D3h, the PJ/sports/event/generalist camera goes Full Frame, with huge pixels, and stays right around 10 megapixels or so. If the D3h sensor is full-frame, even as little as 8.2 MP would be fine by me,since it'd give better High ISO performance. Right now, if one looks at how poor the D2x is with 12.2 megapixels at ISO 640, I think that even as few as 8.2 MP spread over a FF sensor would blow the DOORS off of the D2x resolution-wise at ISO 640,and ISO 800,and 1600,and 3200.

We'll see what Nikon does.Canon has just announced the EOS 1D Mark III,and the pre-production camera samples from the Imaging Resource web site show that the High ISO performance of the upcoming Canon makes what Nikon's "pro bodies" can do look sub-par. I do not expect that Nikon will make the D3h PJ/sports/event/generalist d-slr with a 35FF sized sensor, but I really,really hope they do go 35FF. Couldn't they also have it switch to a High Speed Crop-type mode, with smaller capture size and a narrower capture angle? Seems like they could-they've done HSC in the D2x and D2Xs models. I really think that the 1.5x sensor's advantages have been vastly,vastly overrated by all the bird photographers, and that the real way to get Nikon truly back in USE and ON THE JOB at newspapers and magazines all around the world would be to make their PJ/sports/event/generalist camera a full frame D3h with maybe only 10.2 or 11 megapixel capture size. Throw in a cropped-down capture mode or two and four sizes of captures, and put a DECENT JPEG ENGINE in there, and bingo....a huge sales hit for people who know that cropping down the angle of view on all your best Nikkor lenses really isn't an advantage.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Canon vs. Nikon: Nikon's Low-And Mid-Level Success

Yeah, the old Ford versus Chevy wars are back on, only this time it's Nikon versus Canon. Or is it Godzilla versus Mothra? Regardless of who's duking it out, or where they are duking it out, you can rest assured there's somebody keeping score of how the battle is going. That's what makes a fight interesting, watching the give and take,and keeping track of the score. Once the event has been decided, there's not much interesting to see. It's kind of anticlimactic. Unless of course, the event ends with a stirring comeback, or a thunderous knockout, the end game or final stages of a battle are often not all that interesting. And unfortunately for the loser, oftentimes he's unaware that he's soon going to end up down, on the canvas, the loser, knocked out and on his ass. Yeah, the battle can be going along,going along,going along, and then suddenly there will be a trendous swing in the momentum, and the battle can be over in a flash. Am I talking about Chevy and Ford here? Or am I talking about Canon and Nikon? A little bit of both.

Let me say, we recently bought some Ford stock. We think they're on the verge of a good,solid turnaround. But right now, Ford stock is very much almost worthless compared with where it has been in recent memory. American consumers have expressed a lot of unwillingness to buy Ford products. Ford last year announced they were killing off the long-standing Taurus line, and stopped Taurus production. They fired 30,000 plus good people. Toyota products outsold Ford products in the USA for the first time in 2006. And as recently as two weeks ago, Ford announced that it was going to be bringing the killed-off Taurus line BACK into production. WTF is up at Ford ??? I dunno exactly, but I think it'll climb from the eight dollar range to into the high twenties within two years or so. Why? Because it's Ford Motor Company, and because I think they have what it takes to stay the course,right the ship,and get things back in order. But not without some effort and some good decisions. Ford's made it big on the F150 pickup, as well as the heavier-duty pickup lines, and high gas consumption (low MPG) engines have long been something Ford buyers never worried about. American Ford buyers have not really minded the gas hogs Ford has been making...but now the market is demanding higher fuel economy. It's kind of like image sensor's gotten to the point that now, we can have high performance AND GOOD FUEL ECONOMY. But not in today's Fords. In two and three years' time, I think the Ford lineup will be re-tooled significantly and brought more in line with what people actually WANT to BUY, and not what FORD has been telling the American public it wants. People ain't buying into Ford any more. The market has changed. That bad fuel economy that was not a concern, has now become a concern. As a company Nikon is similar to Ford,in some ways.

I think Nikon is in a similar position as Ford now finds itself stuck in--an old and established company,with a good reputation, a wide range of products, and a good name that's understood to be a name with a long tradition behind it,and which symbolizes the CAMERA COMPANY mentality. Some of the other camera companies remind me more of consumer electronics companies. Not that that is a bad thing. Call the consumer electronics camera companies the new kids on the block. Interestingly, about a year ago Canon announced that it had plans to try and drive ALL of the "non-traditional camera companies" out of the camera business. WOW, what a ballsy move to announce such a business intent to all the world. Meaning, look out Sony and Samsung and Panasonic and all other newcomers to the camera market, we are Canon and we are planning on driving you and your consumer electronics newcomer butts right out of the c-a-m-e-r-a business. Simply an amazing declaration from Canon, that they want to drive non-traditional camera makers out of the camera business. Sublimely ballsy.

A lot of people in the next few weeks are going to be talking about what does or does not come out in 2007. There are going to be some new cameras arriving in stores in the next few months--confirmed new cameras will be the new Sigma SD-14, the new Fuji S5 Pro, and the new EOS 1D Mark III, and hopefully there will be a mid-2007 anouncement of a Nikon D3-series body. In terms of a segment that needs a shot in the arm, it's the Nikon PJ/sports/event/generalist pro camera; the D2Hs slot in Nikon's lineup has been a most disappointing seller, and it has not been a well-received camera. Many people who tried it felt that the sensor was the weak link. Great body, wonderful subsystems, but a weaker than expected sensor. The D2Hs suffers from too low of a megapixel count at 4.1 MP to compete well with Canon's doubled count 8.2 MP 1D Mark II-N. And now Canon has announced a Mark III variant in this category,with a 10.1 MP sensor capable of shooting at up to 10 frames per second. If one is keeping score, it looks like Canon is now two generations ahead of Nikon by some metrics, especially at the highest end of the market, where Canon has already built two professional-level Full Frame offerings to Nikon's zero offerings. A more Canon-like bias could be used to say that Canon is ahead by three generations over Nikon; two flagship full-frame models, the 1Ds and 1Ds Mark II models, AND a mid-priced Full Frame 5D model, the likes of any of the three which have never been offered by Nikon. Add in the EOS 1D Mark III,and some might say that Canon offers four solutions that Nikon has absolutely no counter-offers for. Nothing.

But let's not get bogged down in adding up the scoring that's taken place so far in this fight. The real fun in watching is the see-saw thrill of battle,not adding up the round by round score, right? A fight's not really fun to watch unless it's had some actual give and take. In a round from the last month's issue of Popular Photography & Imaging,the cover-story shootout article awarded the image quality nod to the Nikon D80 as the best of the five 10-megapixel d-slr's now being sold in the United States market. That endorsement alone, will probably allow Nikon to sell thousands and thousands more D80's to people who just go with whatever the big magazines and reviewers determine is "the best in class". And according to a pretty broad-based analysis and evaluation, in the 10 megapixel lower-level class, the Nikon D80 is the best overall imager. Score one for Nikon. (The Nikon D200 was not in the shootout, nor were the Canon EOS 20D or 30D models.)

In the mid-to serious enthusiast market, my feeling is that the Nikon D200 has outsold the EOS 30D by a very large margin. The D200 has a really nice feature set, with pretty good performance overall,especially considering the price. The D80 seems to actually be a little bit better camera than the other competing 10-MP models in its price class,and the D40 seems to be a pretty doggone good performer in what is now ostensibly calld the "hobby d-slr segment". It seems to me that the entire hobbyist end of the market is well-covered by a Nikon lineup that represents the best offerings Nikon has ever had in all of the segments.The D40-D50-D80-D200 span really is as good as Nikon has ever been able to come up with, and that span encompasses users with wide variety of different needs, and I think Nikon's doing quite well all the way from their entry-level models to their most-costly cameras in the non-professional lineup.

But in the higher end offerings of full frame professional, full frame advanced amateur, and PJ/sports/event/generalist d-slr models, Canon has the best products. Seriously. It doesn't bother me to say that the 1D Mark II-N is a better camera than the D2Hs, as say a "generalist d-slr",which is my category for the best all-round compromise camera that's capable across many disciplines, which offers rugged construction,and offers a WIDE WINDOW of reasonably easy and productive shooting across a wide range of disciplines, be it PJ, sports indoors, sports outdoors, event coverage,and well, "general assignments" of various types. Imaging Resource has been given a prototype 1D Mark III to test and evaluate,and has been given the authority to post pre-production samples from the camera.

The good news to take away from the current state of affairs is that 1) Nikon's NEWEST PRODUCTS, like the D40, have incorporated more of the best Nikon has to offer,at ever lower and lower prices. I'd rather have a D40 than a D70, if offered either for the same price, the D40 is THAT much of an improvement in image quality and so much less of a pain in the ass to shoot with. 2) Nikon has started to realize it needs to offer better image quality and better image optimizations in JPEG mode right off the card. and 3) Nikon seems to be doing a fine job at the beginner,intermediate,and serious enthusiast segments of the market camera body-wise and 4) the very-newest Nikon lens designs are offering VERY good performance,at fair prices. As a consumer and mid-level camera body maker, Nikon is now, finally, doing pretty well with a product matrix that has some really neat cameras in it.

For the wedding photographers who cannot seem to get the Nikon D200 to shoot decent JPEGs, my advice is to quit bitching about the D200's image sensor, forget the D200, and buy yourself a D40 and see what a CONSUMER-ORIENTED JPEG engine will do for you....go back to an sRGB JPEG camera, like the D40, so it'll deliver the kind of straight out of camera JPEG images that you want,s o you can ship 1,000 or more images off to print without having to custom alter hardly any images at all. If 10 megapixels' worth of imager is not needed, and it is NOT for most wedding pictures, why not go for the best 6 MP d-slr on the market, the D40? Sending native sRGB JPEG files to an automated printing system, from a camera that offers highly saturated image processing with good shadow detail and nice highlight handling, is kind of what a lot of these high-volume photographers want. If one wants to spend almost NO TIME adjusting images at the computer, one needs to learn how to either adjust and custom tune the camera, or one needs to depend almost totally on the camera to make the right choices. Pejoratively characterizing the D200's out of camra JPEG's as "Nikon's color" is putting a lot of the blame on the camera, when some of the problem is prior experience with pretty much highly-processed SOOC images from cameras like the Fuji S2 or the Sony or Olympus higher-end P&S cameras, and so on. A lot of people actually want an "eye candy" type look to their images, and they want that look right off of the storage card. This is what a lot of the Straight Out of Camera JPEG shooters want, and it's what Nikon has done with D40 JPEG images.

My feeling is that the many,many,many newbies who've only recently joined the Nikon system will enjoy their D50's, D200's,D80's,and D40's and will stay with the Nikon system for quite some time, enjoying the many new consumer-priced zoom lenses and nifty flash systems that Nikon is now making. What I would ask though is for people who feel perfectly content with their D200,or D80,or D40 to not be so all-fired happy with the entire Nikon system as a whole, and that they stop to consider that right now, Nikon appears to be spending a lot more R&D and time and money and focus on low-end stuff,and not nearly as much money on high-end equipment. Nikon _is_ losing a lot of serious amateurs, a lot of small-time professionals, and a lot of photojournalist/event/wedding shooters to the Canon onslaught. I think Nikon has taken the attitude that, in the consumer realm, no matter what the price of the camera, the newest Nikon cameras will delight and startle and thrill their buyers, delivering MORE than they had anticipated. And that is the way to turn things around, one new customer at a time. So, if you're happy with your first or second Nikon d-slr, fine, that's great. But don't pretend that Nikon's doing just wonderfully in the professional/serious end of the market. And please, let's stop with all this talk about how nobody needs a "better camera". Who seriously thinks the Nikon D2Hs is a better PJ/sports/event/generalist d-slr than the 1D Mark II-N or the soon-to-be-here 1D Mark III?

While I think Nikon as a company has what it takes to stay the course, right the ship, and get things back in order at the beginner,mid-,and advanced amateur market segments, I am not sure at all that Nikon has what it takes to stop the migration of so many top-level Nikon shooters to the Canon system. If you're interested in watching, I think the arrival of the 1D Mark III is going to mark the beginning of yet another fairly substantial exodus of shooters who finally call it quits on the F-mount,abandoning either Nikon or Fuji or a Fuji-Nikon camera body mix, and making the switch to Canon and the new 1D Mark III. The less equipment you have, the easier it'll be to switch to Canon. And the less time you've been with Nikon, the easier it is to stay with them. It's a great time to get INTO either Canon or Nikon gear, it really is. It's a great time to be leaving Nikon for Canon. It's a great time to be interested in digital slr photography, since if you look around you can get almost anything you NEED. OR want. The next year is going to be very rough and stressful and disappointing for Nikon users at the top end of the market,and it's gonna' be great for the buyers of the newer, D40-D80-D200 class Nikon bodies.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Well,Canon Today Announced a D2Hs Killer

Top Story Today:
Eight "official sample" JPEGs are available here for downloading.

EOS 1D Mark III announced by Canon with the headline, "Twenty Years of the Canon EOS System Leads to This Moment: Canon Releases the EOS-1D Mark III."

As I wrote earlier,back in 2006, Canon HAS been working on a camera that offers expanded dynamic range,and the 1D Mark III will feature a highlight optimization tone curve option that will allow a wider range of highlights to be captured, as well as showing more gradation in the highlights. Check out the Mark III's amazing highlight retention capabilities at this URL

Just a few of the specifications of the new pro Canon include a 1.3x FOV factor 10.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, capable of up to 10 frames per second, a 3 inch LCD monitor with Live View option, and a new 45-point AF system with 19 cross-sensitive AF sensor points and some fancy grouping and tracking options that sound sort of similar to what the D2X offers. According to Canon, the camera can shoot ,"110 Large JPEGs or 30 RAW files because it employs the new Dual DIGIC III image processor engine..." which sounds good for sports/action use where opportunities sometimes exist for rather lengthy sequences where the key is covering ongoing action,be it mundane action, or rare once-a-season action,or even once-in-a-lifetime action. There is also a new "silent mode",designed to greatly minimize shutter sounds, which would be very,very nice at times. There is also a new focus adjustment/calibration system for each lens you have in your kit, which sounds nice on paper,and might really be nice. Being allowed to assign your own,repeatable,adjustable user input into lens AF behavior and such might be very welcome,right? I think so.

What intrigues me the most however is Canon's statement that they have re-evaluated everything in this camera from the ground up,and have incorporated some better camera and lens control methodologies, and have worked on improving the function of the camera. Canon has also made some very Nikon-like design choices with the Mark III. The addition of a small rocker-type switch or button on the back of the camera, a-la Nikon is welcome, to me at least. I have my 20D set up to adjust my AF points NOT in the normal Canon way,using the big wheel,but with the small ricker switch,so that it's "sort of" Like the way my D1,D1h,and D2x have worked since 2001. Canon copying Nikon on the battery metering down to 1% increments, and shaving 8 ounces off the weight by switching to a modern Lithium Ion battery (like Nikon) is a big plus.

ISO Range is 100 to 3200, with extensions to ISO 50 and to what Canon describes as, "a highly usable 6400." Canon claims the new sensor offers 50 percent lower shadow noise than the Mark II-N's sensor. Contrast the top official ISO of 3200 with the D2X's top ISO of 800...this new Canon is designed for low light proficiency; the Mk III actually makes the specification for 3200, which is nice. Currently the lowest-noise Nikon at ISO 1600 is the D40 and it's a very usable,very good ISO 1600 in my experience,but the D40's images lose color saturation and noise up very BADLY at 3200.

DUAL image processors, with eight channels reading data out, an automated sensor and shutter curtain cleaning system at startup (user-cancellable with a mere tap of the shutter button at startup) with automatic dust mapping of sensor debris and specs being stored with the images files, so that post-shoot automatic dust-removal can be done by Canon's supplied Digital Photo Pro RAW developer. Self cleaning sensor, self-cleaning shutter blades, and automatic mapping and removal of sensor debris...sounds good.

Nikon had better have something very,very impressive to counter this new competitor in the sports/PJ/wedding/generalist professional camera category; the Nikon D2Hs seems somewhat lame in comparison to the current EOS 1D Mark II-N, and totally lame compared with the design parameters of the EOS-1D Mark III as detailed in today's official Canon press release. While my title calls the new 1D Mark II a D2Hs killer, I also think it might be the final nail in the coffin for the D2Xs Nikon--many,many shooters would gladly trade away the D2x's nominal two megapixels' worth of on-paper resolution advantage for vastly,vastly superior High ISO performance and,well,maybe even more detail and greater acuity. My feeling is that above ISO 640, the D2X does not allow you to capture and show much more detail than a good 6MP camera can show when shot at ISO 200...look closely at mid-ISO and High-ISO D2X series captures you've made with your D2X series body...I have....I'm NOT impressed with the D2X in terms of the fine detail captured at the mid or upper ISO ranges.

Addendum, Feb 25, 2007: well, there's now more info and an ISO 6400 sample image from the 1D Mark III at the Imaging Resource web site. Unfortunately for Nikon and Fuji, it looks as if the EOS 1D Mark III is EVERY BIT AS GOOD in the real world,as a pre-production camera, as it does on paper. This camera has so many features it's not even funny. The Mark III is going to be a hugely successful camera. Nikon's D3 series will have its work cut out for it. The D2Xs looks almost dead in the water to me.

Addendum: dPreview got "scooped" on the 1D Mark III by Imaging Resource web site, which as of today, Feb 25, 2007 has the best hands-on comments from their actual use of and examination of a 1D Mark III prototype camera.

Monday, February 19, 2007

February 2007 Thoughts on D-SLR Cameras and Lenses

Well, just wanted to get a new post out,much shorter and easier to read than the normal blog posts. I saw Nora Efron on Charlie Rose a while back,and she said that if it takes longer than about ten or fifteen minutes to write a blog post, then "you're not blogging, that's something else." Huh. Well, I dunno' what the definition of blogging is really--I think of these as little thought exercises. If I'd outline and proofread better,these things might be considered essays, or editorials, diatribes, or even articles. But hey, if you want articles, you buy a magazine,right? Well, on to my Miscellaneous February 2007 Ramblings!

*The little Nikon D40 is a reasonably capable,inexpensive d-slr. Its low-light AF assist lamp does a pretty good job,and the pop-up flash does a fine job of balancing flash and ambient lighting at LOW light levels. I shot some JPEGS at a wedding reception,using the pop-up flash in a room that had plenty of candles, small tungsten bulbs, and swirling lanterns that projected small beams of light around the room and was very wife's little D40 set on Program did a DAMNED fine job of producing straight out of camera JPEGS with the pop-up flash giving a nice what I call TTL-BL look,but in low light! I have since shot some family photos in my own home,where I have photographed for years using various flash units and cameras (Vivitar 285,Sunpak 622 Super,Nikon SB-28DX and SB 800 from least-used to most-used) and I have to say, the Nikon D40 and SB 600 (six hundred) are the BEST COMBO I HAVE EVER USED for indoor,family flash photography where the goal is consistently good and PLEASING exposures,shot after shot,with bounce flash in our white-painted, cathedral-ceilinged rooms (14-18 foot ceiling height in room-center). The in-camera JPEG processing,the exposure computation,and the reliability of the D40's light metering have made me very envious of the D40's flash and metering capabilities. The D2x sucks at flash in these SAME three rooms,at least in comparison to how the D40 computes the exposures with flash. The D2x is much more prone to WB shifts, and frame-to-frame exposure variations than the D40 is. The D40 plus SB 600 (six hundred) combo is a significantly easier-to-shoot camera than the D2x with SB 800 (eight hundred) is. The Nikon D40 is an easy to shoot little camera, with doggone good light metering, Auto ISO, and pretty good AF even in crappy lighting as long as the AF assist is on. And ALL of this positive shooting has been done with the 18-55 kit lens-no other lenses have been tested on my wife's D40. I have simply got to say this, the fellow who left the comment on my blog that the D40 is a "little shitbox" of a camera--Uh,dude,that's totally wrong. It's a significantly BETTER camera than I expected it to be,and it performs MUCH,much better than say a Fuji S2 or a D70 or a D2x,at least with flash exposures and with in-camera JPEG output. I think the D40 puts the D2X to shame with flash. Seriously.

I'll say this--all things considered,and I mean ALL things considered, I would RATHER have the the 6.1 Megapixel D40 sensor and image processing engine in my D2X than the 12.4 Megapixel Sony CMOS sensor my D2X is saddled with. Seriously. The type of pictures the D40 produced at an indoor basketball game this weekend would put my D2x to SHAME. At just ISO 500, the D2x demands NEFs, noise reduction on those NEFs,and careful post,and as you go toward higher ISO settings, I don't think the D2x image quality keeps up with the D40's IQ when both are shot at elevated ISO's. Of course, the D2X's offical top ISO is 800--anything higher is a Hi-setting which is not really an ISO equivalent.

**Canon's going to be updating the 5D this year I think, and I'm really interested in what that will do. PMA this year is going to be very,very,very interesting. I sense a huge,lemming-like mass of Nikon shooters are assembling near of high bluffs everywhere, prepared to rush headlong toward uncertainty after Canon's PMA announcements hit. Nikon today announced something like five new compact cameras, two weeks prior to PMA. Hmmm....

**I think people who compare the D200 to the EOS 30D typically feel that the D200 is a "better camera" than the EOS 30D. I do think it's interesting how MUCH of the "good stuff" Nikon put into the D200,such as the ability to meter with Ai and Ai-S lenses, the tricked out i-TTL flash control protocol, and the high-quality body and nice build for under $1699 at introduction (D200 prices have dropped lower now), but what I think the Canon 20D and 30D offer over the D200 is better High ISO performance. Rob Galbraith at wrote, "Of all the Canon and Nikon digital SLRs we've ever used, the 20D produces the cleanest, most printable RAW and JPEG files at the upper ISO settings. " end quote. Of ALL of the Canon and Nikon d-slr's the Rob Galbraith staff has used, the EOS 20D was the winner for the "cleanest, most printable RAW and JPEG files at the upper ISO settings." And, BTW, they've shot MOST ALL of the Canon and Nikon d-slr's there. For PJ use, or for ambient light basketball, Gabraith himself states unequivocally that the 20D is a vastly better camera for ambient light basketball than the D200 is. His opinion. I do not own a D200....I own a 20D though,and I shot an ambient light basketball game this weekend with the 20D,and was ASTOUNDED at the quality of the images at ISO 1600. Very,very pleased. Typically, I shoot basketball with portable flash units mounted on light stands about 60 feet from the hoops,and use Pocket Wizard flash triggering,shooting ONE or TWO frames per possession,using the D2x at ISO 400 or 500 and a Cusatom Curve that yields a Minus 1.3 to Minus 1.7 stop boost in "apparent" ISO speed or aperture or shutter speed, making my ISO 400 on the D2x work more like ISO 1000 or ISO 1250,which is "acceptable" for newspaper publication. But High 1 on the D2x without flash--fuggedabout it. In-print,in 4-color, D2x pictures shot at above ISO 800 look like shit, even in the newspaper. In black and white, they look a little bit better, but EOS 1D and 1D Mark II files from other guys I know look better. The D40 looks better, from what I've seen, and is Nikon's BEST ISO 1600 imager,overall.

**Nikon needs more VR and more AF-S focusing lenses. I do think that with a 1.5x crop camera, the 300mm f/2.8 lens has lost a tremendous amount of usefulness for sports like track and field and soccer and indoor basketball at the far end of the court. MOST of the arguments about the beauty of the 1.5x crop stem from people who are interested in photographing very distant things. However, if you have press credentials or are just there, on the sidelines where you want to be, a 300mm lens on a 1.5x camera is still too damned LONG for many,many shots. A 300mm lens is wayyyyyyyyy too frickin' long for baseball from the third base line or the first base dugout areas, where I like to shoot basebal froml. For track and field, most facilities are simply too crowded with athletes and officials,and the areas are simply too SMALL to use a 300mm lens with a 1.5x body--you risk having others get in between you and the action,since you're standing sooooooo far away that people don't really realize what you're shooting. The 200mm f/2 VR is a MUCH,much more-useful lens for track and field on a 1.5x Nikon body or for baseball than a 300mm lens is, with some exceptions; for javelin and discus and baseball outfield,300mm is actually not as useful as a 400mm lens on a 1.5x camera.

**The need for a 50-150mm f/2.8 zoom lens was recently disputed or questioned by somebody who left an anonymous comment which is published here in the blog. They also wondered why I advocate a 250mm lens or a 50-250mm FAST-aperture zoom lens. I do not care about the weight--it is the focal lengths that we actually NEED updated if Nikon is going to stay 1.5x FOV crop on all bodies. A 70-200 is simply TOO LONG for many events,forcing you into a 2-camera setup with a tele or zoom on a monopod and a second body with a much,much shorter lens around your neck....this is the way you have to shoot soccer, for example,or baseball, if you really,really want to cover things right. There's a need for a fast lens that goes down to 40 or 50 millimeters at the short end, which obviates the need for that Godd^%N#d 28-70 or 17-55 and the extra body weighing you down.....c'mon Nikon...get something NEW in a DX tele or a DX wide-to-telephoto zoom of professional capability. Sigma's 100-300 f/4 HSM EX is a lens I's as close as I can get for daylight baseball and track and field, but the focusing and optics are not up to the D2X level....if it were a bit shorter, say a 50-200mm f/2.8, Sigma would really,really have something. Their 120-300 is,once again, simply TOO Damned LONG at the short end for sports shooting in indoor arenas,or at tracks, or on baseball diamonds,forcing that second camera/lens combo onto everybody. I still maintain that a 40-250 f/2.8 or something close to that,like a 50-250, is what's actually needed for on-field or in-gym sports shooting with a 1.5x body.

**Nikon's 200/2 VR is a G-series lens that costs $4,000. I own one. It's one of the best lenses I have ever shot. But I hate the G-series aperture system,with no aperture control on the lens...this prevents the lens from being used on a Canon d-slr body unless you rip the diaphragm out,and use it wide-open. This prevents it from being used on video cameras or cione cameras without extensive modification. Stripping off the aperture ring on a $4,000 lens to save $19 really,really pisses me off. Making the 105 VR Macro lens a about 'effin asinine....a macro lens that has no diaphragm control on the lens itself....shit....Nikon ought to realize that their 200/2 VR lens could and would be bought by Canon pros who want a lens of consummate optial quality and astoundingly beautiful bokeh--but the G-series castrated lenses are USELESS on anything but the MOST-modern Nikon bodies. I'm pissed that my 200/2 is useless on anything but a modern Nikon body...not adaptable to video with adapter, not adaptable to Canon with adapter, not adaptable to anything,all because they castrated the lens. Stupid fucking decisions seem to be a Nikon specialty these days. Nikon is throwing AWAY one of its MAIN strengths--the F-mount. The F-mount has featured a mechanical f/stop ring on EVERY lens made since 1959,until the cheap,piece of shit G-series appeared with the 70-300G--and having that aperture ring on the lenses is what makes F-mount lenses adaptable to video,cine,and Canon cameras, As well as to older Nikons like F2,F3, FM3a,etc,etc. Castrating a lens by removing its aperture control ring means the lens is USELESS on anything,except a new Nikon made within the last few years. Useless. if you want to charge people $4,000 for a lens, why not make it a migratable lens that has at least SOME potential for off-list use? Or is saving $19 a smart move on a $4,000 lens?

**Let's say I wish to use a G-series lens reversed,or on a bellows, or on a K-series extension tube or hooked up in any number of ways,like in an optical relay system or to a non-Nikon camera....a G-series lens used on a bellows,or reversed,or on any camera except the most-modern Nikons will be STUCK stopped all the way down to f/16 or f/22. Stuck at minimum aperture. Useless as teats on a boar for off-list use. Canon was first to ditch the aperture ring on lenses. Nikon following suit throws AWAY one of its biggest advantages--the ability to move the lens around to any F-mount accessory made since 1959,or to be used on a Canon d-slr,or on a video or cine camera. The G-series also forces you to take your trigger finger OFF the shutter release button to make aperture changes that you could otherwise make with your unused left hand manipulating the aperture ring. The G-series forces you to work in ONE way; conventional lenses allow you to work as you'd like to,with F/stop control ALWAYS WITH THE LENS, where it belongs, or, by adjusting using a control wheel on the body. The old system offered tremendous versatility and migration ability of lenses...the castrated G-series lenses are useful ONLY in a limited niche,and only on Nikon CAMERA bodies. They are USELESS with extension tubes, bellows,reversed,or in other so-called off-list uses. Eighteen months ago,I predicted that the D200 would meter with Ai and Ai-S lenses, and I urged Nikon to "leverage the F-mount". Not that they are listening to ME (of course they're not), but *leveraging* the F-mount means stopping this G-series shit,and taking a look at the big picture. Fuck, if you're gonna strip off the aperture control from the lenses, then where the hell are the CPU-equipped bellows units, extension rings, and other accessories? If Nikon continues to strip off the aperture rings to save $19 per lens,we might as well all shoot Canons, which have no aperture control on any EF lenses.

**The Canon EF mount offers a *REAL* advantage brought about strictly by virture of its aperture ring-less design,and that is that the diaphragm mechanism is actuated electronically in Canon EOS bodies. In Nikon bodies, there is a mechanical lever in all slr bodies, and all Nikkor lenses with diaphragms are made with a diaphragm stop-down lever can get bent,hit,or damaged. Inside of ALL Nikon bodies made since 1959 in the infamous aperture stopdown lever. The body has a lever. Every lens has a lever. It's a purely mechanical interface which depends on the body lever allowing the spring-loaded diaphragm inside each Nikkor lens to stop down to taking aperture when the shutter is fired.This is old-fashioned, but this is the protocol set up for the 1959 F-mount lens system and all F-mount bodies. Canon ditched their mechanical body-to-lens diaphragm control and adjustment interface when it went from the FD mount to the EF mount in the 1980's. Nikon still maintains the mechanical interface for diaphragm actuation between each body and each lens, and the G-series Nikon still has all the problems of the mechanical linkage on EACH lens in the G-series. Removing the aperture ring from a lens designed for an F-mount body is not a "real" advantage, but merely an imitation of Canon's lens barrel design. Nikon has stuck with the mechanical lens diaphragm system in EVERY,and I mean EVERY slr body and every diaphragm-fitted lens Nikon has ever made. Stripping off the aperture ring from lenses makes your system "LOOK like Canon's system", that is to say, with lens barrels that have no apewrture control rings. But it's only skin deep! Canon got rid of the clunky mechanical lever in the body and on each lens,and went with an electrically-relayed system. Benefit: more-accurate,and more-precise diaphragm control,due to an all- electronic communication between lens and body. The advantage remains with the EOS system for simplicity and modernity of design, but I'd prefer to have aperture rings on all my lenses, for several reasons!

**Maybe Nikon could re-think manual focusing on its telephoto lenses. The old 1976 400mm/3.5 ED~IF has superb manual focusing. Superb. Adjustable tension from one-finger feather-touch to moderate to quite stiff,depending on the set screw's tension. The 400/3.5 also has a pre-set focusing distance detent,which can be "overrun" or moved past, and which is part and parcel of the set screw system. One simple knurled knob controls both the forced needed, and the pre-set distance you set. You can also use the detent to keep the lens from focusing past infinity (which is does,as do as do most ED-glass Nikkors), or for setting the back-focus range to say, 250 feet so that you're working ONLY from closest focus and out to no farther than 250 feet as the far focus limit. Focus on any distance, and turn the screw,and pre-set that distance into the simple,mechanical memory,and you've suddenly got a pre-set, a little automated manual focusing supertele. All these features of the 400/3.5 are all well and good, but what we really need, IMHO, is better manual focusing "ACTION" on most AF-D and AF-S lenses. Better action,and better feel, and better arrangement of the distances involved on the focusing rings of the lenses. In a word, Infinity to 10 feet focus on most AF Nikkors has become way,way to COARSE and crude for decent manual fousing. Especially on the Micro-Nikkors, and also on the wides, and many zooms too.

**Nikon announced in early 2006 that it was discontinuing all manual focus 35mm and all large-format and enlarging lenses,and the implication was that slimming down the lens catalog would free up more resources and thus help Nikon in getting out some new lenses. Nikon's primes are old designs, most of them with 1980's mechanicals--screw-driven focusing, button-and-ring switches for Auto/Manual focus on the lens barrels of many of them, so no AF-S and no focusing override, and of course no VR. The 180 AF-D design dates to 1988, the 60 Micro with that infernal button-and-ring A/M switch system, and the the 135/2 Defocus dates to to 1990,and the 60,105 DC and 135 DC all share that stupid button-and-ring A/M switch. The 60 Micro was introduced because the 55mm AF Micro was a total sales failure,probably because it was one sloppy-sloppy lens. The 60 is very sturdily-built--and is MUCH nicer a design than the 55 AF was. Basically, most of Nikon's standard autofocus "professional" prime lens designs originated in the 1980's,or the early,early 1990's. I hope that Nikon re-tools some of its popular primes with AF-S focusing, looks at improving the manual focus feel and performance in its AF lenses, and continues with the aperture ring on ALL upcoming lenses. And I hope Nikon gets off its butt and designs a few lenses specifically for the DX format and for serious use--they have plenty of soccer mom and kit lenses,and some doggone good ones.

**What has Nikon done in the wide-angle prime segment in the last four years? They have introduced the 10.5mm fisheye,and discontinued the 28mm f/1.4 AF-D aspherical. IOW, Nikon hasn't done a damned thing in the wideangle prime market in four years. No net gain in wide primes. I hope they replace the 28/1.4 with an AF-S version,and make another few wide primes. Nikon also needs to address the huge gulf between the 50mm 1.4 AF-D and the 85 1.4 AF-D if they're really serious about APS-C aka 1.5x aka DX sensors....where the heck is that 60mm f/1.4 AF-S lens??? Huh? Where for that matter, is a single wide angle lens of f/2,or faster aperture speed? Right now the fastest and widest Nikkor is the....12-24mm f/2.8 zoom. Hmmm....WTF is Nikon's lens problem. Really, what the hell is the problem Nikon?

Well, those are a few things on my mind tonight. I might decide to pull the G-series stuff and write a separate post on why the G-series with its aperture ring removed ( the castrated G-series mount,as I think of it) really is not a good thing for the Nikon system,nor is it a good thing for people who have a LOT of years and time and money invested in the Nikon system; the G-series offers no real advantages,and it makes lenses tremendously LESS-VERSATILE and lower in value. Try reverse-mounting a G-series lens. Hell...examine a used G-series lens and see how difficult it is to check the lens for dust or decementing or diaphragm problems.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thom Hogan Blasted on dPreview In Nikon Commentary Flap

I just spent the better part of a night wading through several dPreview threads (150,111,and 87 posts) in which Thom Hogan was blasted by a few Nikon loyalists who took him to task for written comments he has made recently. I'm not surprised,either. Hogan has made many written comments that aren't flattering to Nikon,and in recent weeks he's made a few of what he characterizes as "provocative" comments. The reason he's made so many unflattering comments about Nikon is that Nikon has some real problems with its performance as a company,and with some of its equipment lineup,and with the way it handles NPS issues and problems, and with its insular nature. Yeah, Hogan got kind of blasted on dPreview, and most all of the criticism he received was undeserved. I've been blogging about most of the issues Hogan has identified as problems with Nikon and their products for quite some time. The Fanboi culture that has sprouted up among new digital converts to Nikon reared its head throughout these threads,along with sane writings from a few people like Scrutneys Nut Pea Funch, ednaz, and a few others who are longtime shooters. It's weird that so often,the people newest to Nikon are the staunchest defenders of the company,the company,the company, while others show the ability to maintain open-minded ideas about Nikon,and about the other companies and their products which compete with Nikon and its products.

As Hogan recently wrote, Nikon does a lot of things right, and he brings up some of the things Nikon does not do right so that they might be able to improve on those things too. I think that's a good thing. He's on the side of Nikon USERS, Nikon shooters, and Nikon-using and Nikon-buying photographers. Trashing on Thom Hogan for "negativity" is stupid. Hell, he's advocating for better products...for clear company-to-consumer communication....for new lens designs...for some improved camera models with better performance....for better NPS support for pro members. Cripes, what _is_ the problem people? He's not attacking a company you own or run or even work at. He's advocating for better equipment and more-modern lenses and for better business practices. Am I missing something? Who loses when Nikon responds to pressure and makes better equipment? The internet has spawned the growth of something almost like college football rivalries--where "companies that compete with" (and against?) Nikon are viewed with a degree of derision that's like old-time college football rivalry hatred. A small but noticeable segment in the Nikon Stadium is the Fanboi Zone.

I think that the careful,critical analysis and comments about how to approach customers,how to approach markets, and how to approach and deal with NPS members is something Nikon could listen to Hogan about. I'm not impressed with how Nikon has handled Quality Assurance issues in the digital era--there have been a number of widespread QA problems with various Nikon gear in the d-slr era.The D1 and its bad banding and the "D1 silent upgrade program" ,the D2h dead meter syndrome, the D70 blinking green light of death issue,and the D200 banding fiasco, as well as the supply problems with D200 batteries due to the recall of so many bad batteries, the 12-24, the 17-55, D70 supply problems, D200 body supply problems,etc. My second Torrance repair job got me a $704 repair bill for a depth of field preview button failure from Nikon,Torrance which I had my dealer reduce to $500--then I found out at home that the repair had been BUNGLED, with only 50% of the DOF preview function restored! Not pleasant! The widespread electrical malfunction that crippled so many 70-200VR lenses was one mass QA bungle that affected me personally--the early 70-200VR lenses were done in by a pretty basic design fault that rendered them useless due to electrical contact $1,699 70-200VR functioned for only a very short time, then needed to be returned for upgrading,as did countless other peoples' lenses. Frankly, Nikon as a company is not without faults and weaknesses, and frankly the imaging market is changing,and people demand a lot,and deserve a lot of value for the kind of money they are paying for today's better cameras and lenses. Nikon can stand a little heat from Thom Hogan,or any other industry observer. There's no need to defend Nikon from mere words. Nikon ought to be glad it gets any press and ink at all--I bet Olympus would love to be in a position where anybody even cared enough to write about them as a company.

Where to begin is difficult. Here are some URL's for those of you who missed the flap. I missed the flap myself,and only went back and read about it three days afterward. A big can of worms was opened up in this thread, which was entitled
"Next Generation upgrades for D3". It went eight pages and 150 posts, and spun off several threads with Thom Hogan being sort of the fulcrum point of the threads,except for the thread "Thom Hogan's remarks", in which others basically stepped in after all the fallout,and sort of said their piece.

A thread entitled simply "Thom Hogan"

Thom says here,"...we can all just sit here and twiddle our thumbs until the Nikon Designers bless us with another product and we can then accept it fully as it is, or we can speak up and say what it is that we want and why."

Thread entitled "I'm still confused Thom.continuation" is at and shows some ire being aimed Hogan's way.

A third thread entitled "Thom Hogan's remarks" begins at

These long threads basically center around Hogan's comments about Nikon and Nikon products. The issues are really not just Thom Hogan's issues, but issues that are much bigger than he is. Nikon does not acknowledge Thom Hogan as a Nikon expert,and the company and he have no official ties,and he has by his own account, no direct ties to the company,and his inside sources at Nikon are not what would be considered numerous nor are they "main-line" type sources shall we say. But he HAS MADE A LIVING and he has developed a base of knowledge from his various Nikon equipment e-books, and he's also done a very nice CD-ROM Complete Guide To The FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro, which I own and think was a nice guidebook on disc. Basically, Thom Hogan has recently distilled Nikon's woes down to about four main areas where Nikon is performing poorly. And of course, he's also touched upon some other real,significant problem areas with Nikon, both in terms of its products and its roadmap and business plans for the future.

Hogan's comments surrounding the next-generation Nikon D3 camera(s) drew a lot of heat. If there's a thread that you OUGHT to read, it's this one of the four at

Hogan has made it clear that Nikon has been unable to stop the migration of top shooters away from Nikon and to the Canon system,and that Nikon's current actions and products and unclear marketing message/lack of public roadmap are seriously failing to stop the migration toward Canon gear. Nikon has maintained for a long time that the DX-sized sensor is "the way to go". And Hogan's top camera of choice is still the Nikon D2xs, and he'll also select the Nikon D200 for some uses. But he's not a Fanboi,and he's not a newbie who needs brand-loyalist yes-man talk about Nikon to make himself feel good about his investment in Nikon cameras and flashes and lenses. Check out his Nikon writings at

The underlying problems with Nikon and its products, as Hogan sees it, are pretty closely in line with my own opinions about Nikon,and I think the blasting Hogan got was largely from people who misconstrued what he was saying,and also from people who by and large are a little bit too insecure about their favorite brand. I know what it is like to take heat and flak from brand loyalists who absolutely can not stand criticism of their "brand", and who can not stand cold,hard,factual comparisons between cameras and equipment where the facts do not happen to agree with preconceived,brand-loyalist dogma. Nikon has some problems,both as a company,and with its products,and with its manufacturing and distribution arms. Nikon has LONG been a very cold, stand-offish,insular,Japanese company with very little interface with its actual customers. That's my experience,as a Nikon user since 1982. Nikon has always been kinda' slow to respond,in my experience.

It's hard to write about somebody else,and who said what,and who was right about what and who was wrong.I've been using Nikon cameras and lenses as my main 35mm film system since 1982,and have been shooting Nikon digital since I bought my very first digital camera, which was the Nikon D1 in early 2001. I've owned the D1, D1h,D70,and D2x Nikons and the Fuji S1 and S2 Pro models, as well as the EOS 20D. Each of those cameras had strong points and weak points. And that's really the issue now with Nikon as a company, and as a product line--it has both strong and WEAK points, or weak areas. The Fanboi culture cannot seem to understand that Nikon has *real* issues, and real *gaps* in its product matrix. Nikon is not perfect.

As Hogan pointed out, the D1 garnered a lot of interest in Nikon digital,and was a landmark camera. But since that time, Canon has continually managed to pull ahead of Nikon,and to stay ahead of Nikon. Hogan's recent writings have lead to the topic of the Nikon D3 generation of cameras,and how Nikon is positioned in relation to Canon,as well as the rest of the imaging industry. Hogan's contentions are those of a guy who has made a living off of being a Nikon writer and Nikon "expert", as well as an avid outdoor/nature/backpacking photographer/writer/instructor. His guidebooks on Nikon cameras and flash have earned him respect and a fan base, and his web site has a lot of useful articles and essays. He has recently conducted a lens survey (a copy of which I filled out and submitted via the web) to determine some points of view on the Nikon lens lineup and what current Nikon shooters say they want,and how badly they want what.

Thom Hogan is not anti-Nikon. He's not overly negative. He's a realist.He calls 'em as he sees 'em. Check out one of Hogan's newest Nikkor lens reviews, for the 18-200 VR at around $700. Read the review and you'll find one of the most-popular consumer lenses for the D200 earning a very,very positive review. The 18-200 is the lens that most newbies aspire to own,since it does perform so well,over such a wide focal length range,at such a fair price for quality optics and high utility in a one-lens solution or "superzoom". Oh, and the lens has VR too!

One of the things that got Hogan blasted was the way he called attention to deficits in the D2H and D2hs camera models.He's positive on a great product, the 18-200 VR. But he's never been all that positive on the D2H or hs models. The D2x series models, despite vastly higher retail prices, have vastly,vastly OUT-SOLD the lower-MP D2H and hs models, which is kind of a problem, in that the D2H and D2hs models have represented a big,fat failure in the face of the Canon 1D Mark II at 8.2 MP and 8 frames a second, and the re-work of that to the EOS 1D Mark II-N with the larger 2.5 inch LCD screen and a tweak here and there. Nikon's been losing professional market share to Canon steadily, and Hogan is pointing out that the Nikon company is not approaching the market as well as it could, or as well as say, Canon is actually approaching and interfacing with the customers,through business channels and through product lines,and company press releases. AS Hogan points out, Nikon has offered customers nothing but DX-sized sensors, and diffraction isues prevent cramming more megapixels onto a DX-sized sensor without coming up against the noise demons and DIFFRACTION issues that severely limit one's f/stop choices. The D2x is about the end of the line...12.4 MP on a DX-sized sensor is about it,right now. Or so it seems. Nikon's simply going to have to go to BIGGER SENSORS,and soon. But when????

Nikon's D2H and D2Hs at 4.1 MP with wacky sensors have been clobbered by the 8.2 megapixel EOS 1D Mark II and the 1D Mark II-N cameras. The D2H and 1D Mark II class cameras are the sports/photojournalism/wedding/generalist type cameras of professional grade and high ruggedness. Nikon has simply not been able to be competitive in this class. And professionals have looked to Canon cameras in this class in ever-increasing numbers. Nikon's own IN-HOUSE developed sensor, a 4.1 Megapixel LBCAST sensor, has been in the D2H and D2hs. The LBCAST sensor premiered in the D2H. Sony's first CMOS sensor premiered in the Nikon D2X. D2H, D2X, both had first-of-their-kind sensors as features. Think about it for a bit.

The simple truth is that Canon is pulling away from Nikon at the "Serious User" end of the market,and Nikon's lens lineup and body offerings are starting to seem,well, too narrow to satisfy the "majority" of the serious user market. The higher-end shooters like to have the biggest,best system from which to assemble their kit. With three types of bodies, Canon has the body thing down well. And Canon has a decided advantage in many lens classes. Not all, but many. I myself think Nikon needs to consider changing the way it approaches the market of making cameras and lenses. I've felt for over two decades that Nikon's higher-end amateur models were the best Nikon cameras available in terms of bang-for-dollar spent, and the FM/FE, FM-2 and FE-2, N8008,and N90 series models offered tremendous apability for their price,size,and weight. Today, the Nikon D200 is the high-end amateur camera oofering the best bang-for-dollar-spent value proposition. Where I myself would like to see Nikon go is slightly away from the traditional pro lens lineup and into something more modern and discretely different from the pack. But Nikon's not actively working to expand its system to cover the type of things a lot of pros and serious shooters want and expect these days. More MP, better ISO performance, and better software integration with Adobe Photoshop are problem areas for Nikon products,as compared with Canon products. The white balance encryption stunt with the D2x was a major,major Nikon boner. A total screw-up. Totally without provocation,and just a major screw-up on Nikon's part,on behalf of Nikon shooters everywhere. Nikon Capture 4.x and Capture NX? Serious work still needs to be done on the software end by Nikon. Or better yet, serious software work needs to be contracted to a company fa,far outside Nikon--a company that understands how to develop modern software and write effective code and to find bugs BEFORE releasing the product.

I tell you what...I bought a D2x in May of 2005,and have been annoyed with the software hassles with D2x files and Adobe Photoshop and ACR and Capture 4.xx and Capture NX. Nikon got a few things right in Capture NX, BUT, and this is a big but, it's a buggy,crash-prone piece of software that's got a lot of weird quirks. Oh, and it crashes. And did I mention it has a lot of weird quirks and interface problems not found in Photoshop's ACR or Bibble or SilkyPix or DPP? Sigh.

Nikon cameras are all DX-sized sensor models. Canon has given its customers three lines: Full-Frame, 1.3x high-speed-high-res generalist cameras, and the lineup of 1.6x cameras spanning beginner and semi-pro type models with the EOS Digital Rebel line and the 60D-10D-20D-30D series and now, the affordably-priced,high-resolution-low-noise camera, the EOS 5D, a 12.8 megapixel model that's not a 1-series, but is full-frame in its imaging chip size. Canon customers know a good deal about what Canon offers,which is a camera sensor size for every segment of the market. Nikon on the other hand, is offering only one sensor size, not three sizes, across all segments from beginner-amateur-serious amatuer-sports/event/generalist and finally the flagship segment. Nikon is being coy about full-frame,but the problem is that Canon will very soon announce a 22 megapixel full-frame 1-series body. Nikon's got nothing like that. But even worse, Nikon has no semi-pro, $2,000-$2,500 body that has a high-res sensor in a moderately-nice serious enthusiast type body like the F100 film camera of yore. In other words, Nikon is missing a full-frame sensored option in a D200-like body.In other words, Nikon is missing an EOS 5D, an economy full frame model.

But, even more significantly, Nikon is missing a killer sports/PJ/nature/generalist camera that has 8 or 10 megapixels,high FPS, high-performance AF, the awesome Nikon i-TTL flash system, and the killer battery system of the D2x. With, and this is the important part, a sensor that can deliver beautiful images at ISO 800,and doggone good ones at ISO 1600. With good color,and not this damned excessive infrared/excess magenta problem that renders so doggone many synthetic fabrics and black things as off-black. Nikon is getting its proverbial ASS KICKED in the sports/photojournalism/generalist camera market, where the D2H and hs models have been total sales FAILURES, with a lot of sensor-related complaints,such as too few MP for cropping, funky IR response making blacks look magenta and purpleish,shadow noise problems, color shifts, and in general a feeling that the sensor does not deliver image files on par with those from the 8.2 MP Canon competition. The EOS 1D Mark II and Mark II-N models have met with good,almost stellar approval,and eight-point-two QUALITY megapixels is a wonderful compromise that offers cropping capability, high resolution,reasonable file size economy, and good workflow speed and modest archiving needs. WITH a fully professional camera body to go with a damned good CMOS sensor.

Nikon's counter-offerings to the EOS 1D Mark II and Mark II-N, the D2 series models H and hs,have been sales failures. Failures. There have been vastly more D2X and D2Xs-series camera sold than the h-variants. Which is not right. Nikon's generalist camera I recommend to people is the D200, not the D2Hs. It's a sad state of affairs. Nikon's best High-ISO camera might now be the D40,'cause it sure as heck isn't a D2x series model. What I did not really realize when I bought the D2X was that it was really a high-resolution studio camera. Not a field camera. It is clearly best at the lowest ISO ranges,and it does very poorly at anything other than moderately high ISO settings. But at lower ISO settings, under "controlled conditions" or in-studio, the D2X is a phenomenal camera. I bought it after reading the Thom Hogan review of it, and I was disappointed in the camera's performance at the highest "elevated" H-series ISO notches,which I think was and is a lot weaker a performance than his review described it as being. At lower ISO's the D2X is a quite amazing machine, but its small,high-density sensor has very tighly-packed,small photoreceptors,and it is prone to diffraction,so using the smaller apertures (smaller than about f/13, like f/16 or f/22) are really killer on the final image quality. The D2x demands a lot of shot discipline and paying attention to the technical fundamentals,and it is,in my opinion, a pretty poor "generalist" type of camera.

The D3H needs to be one heck of a camera,in my opinion. Nikon's simply got to do one hell of alot BETTER against the EOS 1D Mark II-N. That means 10 MP, fast firing,and damned good image quality,at all ISO's. With good autofocus,and a reliable body. And did I say Nikon finally needs to get a handle on this excessive near-infrared sensitivity that's been screwing things up? Oh,and with no banding either,thank you.

Where Nikon does seem to be doing better is in the image processing arena,with its newer cameras D50,D80,and D40. Nikon's gotten better at implementing the right kind of curve application to the capture to give the in-camera JPEGs or the RAW+JPEG file jpegs some snap and has moved away from the heretofore typical dull-drab,kinda' blah "Nikon look" on RAW captures and even JPEG files. The consumer and advanced amateur camera segment with the D200-D50-D80-D40 models is really Nikon's best lineup ever in terms of fitness for purpose, in my opinion. But at the generalist or PJ camera level, Nikon's D2H and D2Hs models have been,well, a bit disappointing. And so have Fuji's oferings for the past couple years with the S3 Pro,which had a very low adoption rate until its price got to about 60% and then 50% and then 40% of its premier price point...the S3 Pro was perceived as overpriced and under-performing,as was the D2H and D2hs model duo. Nikon's been missing with the pro-level cameras D1h and D2H and D2hs,and to an extent, the D2X series of two models has been a bit of a missi in that the D2X and D2xs models are not really generalist cameras, but are really much more capable as studio cameras and low-ISO cameras.

Nikon is losing professional and serious enthusiast shooters to the Canon system. Nikon has had some pretty serious supply problems on many popular,new,key cameras, key lenses and key accessories since 2001. The NPS system has become a joke. Nikon seems quite out of touch with the wants and needs of the top end of the market,and has been beaten in two of the more prestigious camera segments. I would not mind seeing Nikon shift its emphasis away from the pro market,and more toward what I like to call the serious enthusiast market, with more lenses that are ABOVE the current standards for mid-level lenses, but below the prices for the really exotic lenses. In other words, I'd like to see Nikon focus its lens design efforts on creating some NEW LENSES that are not derived from 35mm film-based lens designs that have been kicking around for years and years. Instead of the 300 2.8, Nikon ought to consider developing say a 250mm f/2.5, or a 50-150 f/2.8 or a 70mm f/1.2 or 1.5, as well as a 50-250 f/2.8 or any number of straight 1.5x equivalent wide-angle lenses with fast maximum apertures. Nikon really,really,really needs to plug in the lens system gaps. Many lenses need re-designs,or complete re-thinks. Nikon's prime lens designs are aging,and the wide-angle,fast lenses are MIA.

PMA 2007 is just a short ways away. We'll see if Nikon has any significant announcements. Nikon sure could use some good news to get people more enthusiastic about Nikon as a system choice. I think for the hobbyist shooters and general mom and pop professional photography, Nikon has an amply broad and deep system to choose a kit from. But I do think that Nikon is *lagging behind* is some lens segments. With some seriously OUTDATED mechanical designs that have poor focusing characteristics, and which are simply nowhere near state of the art, despite representing the high end of the Nikon lineup. The good thing is that the NEWEST Nikkor professional lenses, like the 105 VR micro and the 200 f/2 VR and the 200-400 VR and the new 300/2.8 VR and the 70-200 VR, are major hits with those that can afford them. The bad thing is that the majority of the Nikkor lens lineup is,well, kind of old now,and there are still a lot of missing lenses for a camera company that's just about hit the end of the Dx-sized sensor gravy train at 12.4 MP.

Nikon needs to find a way to get its cameras into higher resolution with lower noise levels and better imaging quality,and it seems that the Dx-sized sensor has about topped out at 10 to 12 megapixels, or we need to have some massive breakthroughs in sensor design and performance. Canon's moving quite fluidly and well through the 1.0x-1.3x-1.6x sensor size fields,as appropriate,to get the best mix of performance and imaging characteristics....Nikon is still sticking to 1.5x or DX-sesored cameras,and as the D2x proves, there's a limit to how small the photosites can be and still give the kind of imaging we all demand from a professionally-priced camera. Nikon's got some sensor issues to solve. Nikon needs to get a full-frame sensored option on the market,or make an announcement about it reasonably soon if it wishes to stop the migration toward Canon at the higher end of the market. At the consumer end of the market, the NEWEST small Nikons offer a lot, and the D200 and D80 and D50 and the very-newest D40 models are offering a lot. But those two "professional cameras" Nikon has right now, D2Xs and D2hs, are really not offering Nikon the kind of market penetration Nikon gets with its newer,more-competitive lower market cameras. Nikon's REALLY got some issues in the higher-end product line. I payed $5,000 for a D2x....I'm kind of disappointed that as a total "generalist tool", the EOS 20D at 1/3 the price offers 80 percent of the same quality and capabilities, but better PICTURES at higher ISO's than the pro Nikon.

The D2x is a lousy sports camera, and it's a lousy generalist tool as well. It's a studio camera, and a low ISO camera. When I bought the D2x, my only other professional body choices in F mount were the D2Hs for $3,499 or the FujiFilm S3 Pro for $2,499. There was no D200 then. No D80. Adding an 's' to a D2x has not been enough of an update for Nikon. It has been two years since the D2x was introduced,and it still represents the best Nikon can do in a professional camera. No wonder so many people are disappointed, and no wonder so many people have switched to Canon's 1D Mark II N 8.2 MP model,and to the EOS 5D,or to the 20D or 30D for that matter.

Nikon still has a lot of work to do in the serious camera and serious lens segments. Nikon's doin' great at the consumer end of the market and product matrix, but they do indeed have some serious issues that just are not inspiring confidence at the higher end of the market.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The S5 Pro's Sample Photo Rollout Has Been Rocky

So, people are wondering what's up with the Fuji S5 Pro's image quality. The mere four official FujiFilm images are unremarkable.

The PC Home web site's sample images made with the 24-120 VR Nikkor and a Tamron 28-75/2.8 and look very,very awful--just a drecky lens,their 24-120 VR,and the subject matter--Ack!. Will Crocket of Shoot Smarter University has recently put up a portrait sample taken with a Tamron 28-75 shot at f/5.6,and it looks very average in terms of resolution.Get the file here and examine it

Crocket also has posted two ISO 1600 samples,one with the 28-75,the other with the 70-200 VR Nikkor, and while they do look nice, they do have pretty heavy,obvious Noise Reduction issues; there's a pretty high loss of detail,and quite pronounced, patterned noise reduction artifacts quite visible at 100 or 200 percent views, but when down-sized the images do look pretty good for 1600 ISO images in my opinion. According to Crockett, these two shots have fill-flash as 20% of the exposure and ambient light makes up 80%.

Crocket started a thread on the dPreview web site at

and his thread has quickly hit 70+ replies.If you stop by, you can see a couple of 100% crops showing the breakdown of hair detail in the S5 Pro photo Crocket offers as a sample; there's a lot of artifacting, where the individual hairs appear in the picture to just clump together,and are rendered as blotches,and not as discrete strands of hair. Image processing side-effect or noise reduction at work in the darker,hair tones, perhaps ruining the differentiation of the hair strands? Or lousy demosaicing of strong,closely-spaced lines, as found in things like hair, fabric,etc? I guess time will tell.

The DC Watch or Impress "Photogenic Weekend" samples from Japan are the BEST two sets I have seen so far from the S5 Pro, but there are some issues with the amount of detail resolved--the images are downsized to 2,300-pixels roughly, so we're not seeing original images and we're not being told what type of noise reduction,if any, was being used in-camera, nor are we privy to what types of post processing has been performed on the original captures. DC Watch has profiled the S5 Pro on the weekends of February 2 and February 9. Today's Photogenic Weekend is at

The four Photogenic Weekend shoots for January of 2007 were devoted to the Nikon D40,and I compared photos from those four shoots with all the two shoots' worth of Fuji S5 Pro images, all of which were made using the 35/2 and 50/1.4 AF-D Nikkor primes. The four January Nikon D40 shoots were made with a 28-70 AF-S Nikkor zoom, and the image quality of the files seemed to me to be fairly comparable between the D40 and the S5 Pro, but with the D40 prone to more color moire effects than the S5 Pro, but with the S5 Pro more prone to weird artifacts and jaggies,and a lower overall per-pixel sharpness level. There's no advanced EXIF information on these Photogenic Weekend shoots, but the S5 Pro images posted just today look okay to me. Not a lot of sharpness, but low noise,and pleasing colors,and generally agreeable image characteristics. Considering the type of lighting used on these shoots, which is typically window light or diffused daylight,augmented by not much more than a 4x6 foot reflector, the S5 Pro seems to me to be a decent camera for this type of photography. While I am concerned by the overall softness of the images, I realize that looking at d-slr images sized down into the 2,000-2,300-x pixel range is nothing at all like evaluating FULL-sized captures, which can take a lot more post than downsized files.

I'd love to see some well-lighted flash portraits done with a top-quality 85 or 105mm Nikkor lens using something in the f/4.8 to f/6.3 range with 800-1200 watt seconds pumped through a 3x4 foot softbox, just so we could see how a top-flight lens and electronic flash lighting will look when shot with the S5 Pro. So far, there are a number of unanswered questions, but today's February 9 Photogenic Weekend portfolio gives me a bit of hope for the S5 Pro. Overall, I have to say, the S5 Pro's sample photo "rollout" has been poor. So poor in fact that it can hardly be called a "rollout". The four sample photos FujiFilm posted have been very poorly-received samples among the installed Fuji d-slr user base. Let's keep in mind however that Canon's EOS 5D official samples were *EQUALLY AS LAME* as the Fuji S5 samples. Yes, Canon,mighty Canon had a paltry few sample photos available before the 5D's launch,and the pictures were LAME samples. As it turns out though, the sample photo fiasco Canon had with the 5D rollout was of no consequence, since the camera could actually deliver in spades. Let's hope the same holds true for the S5 Pro--that once the camera is in the hands of skilled shooters, that it too delivers.