Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's RIGHT with the Canon EOS 5D?

A few months back I wrote my second experience report after having shot the Canon EOS 5D for a few months. That blog article was entitled "What's Wrong With The EOS 5D". I pointed out the various weaknesses of the camera. But in all fairness, I think it's only fair to take a look at what's "right" with the EOS 5D. Let me right off the bat, summarize what the EOS 5D has gotten "right". Size. It's almost the same size and proportions as the Nikon D70, but with a grip that's a little bit clubbier-feeling than the D70's grip. Simply stated,the 5D is compact, and *if* one wants or needs a bigger camera, then the accessory grip can be added. Picture quality is excellent at the lowest ISO's of 100 to 400. At 800 and 1600 the image quality is very good. At Hi-1, the image quality is pretty good. And, to boot, the ISO ratings are very,very conservative. Put it this way, the 5D shoots a bit "hot" to my taste, and dialing in negative EV compensation is no problem whatsoever with the 5D. And finally, with the 580 EX-II flash unit, the 5D can shoot beautiful, rich flash shots at up to ISO 640 indoors. The 580 EX-II is a well-designed speedlight. For documentary-style bounced flash pictures, there's no need to shy away from using the 5D at 500 or 640 or even ISO 800 with flash to cut down on flash power needs and to fill-in shadows.

The 5D's sensor performance is pretty good in relation to overexposure. The ability to recover "lost" highlights, or just "kinda' hot highlights" from the CR2 raw files is an area where the 5D really beats the D2x. Actually, the look can be quite, quite good with the 5D on generously-exposed images, where D2x files' highlight tones would be hopelessly unrecoverable. To me, the workability, the malleability, of the 5D's raw CR2 files is one of the absolute strengths of the 5D camera. The 5D gives you a BETTER RAW file to start with than the D2x does, in many conditions, at many light levels, at more ISO settings,and across a broader range of over- or under-exposures. Especially over-exposure. Again, as I wrote the other day, if the D2x had the sensor capabilities of the EOS 5D, there wouldn't be a damned thing wrong to complain about in the D2x. As Evan Effa wrote in a comment to me on my pBase site, the 5D's sensor is the one Nikon ought to have put into the D2x two years ago. How true.

Overall, the 5D offers an excellent value proposition to my way of thinking. Full frame digital SLR's have tended to be priced at $4500 to $8000, from Kodak and Canon. Nikon's first full frame d-slr,the D3, is selling as fast as Nikon can make and ship them, and they cost $5,000.The Canon EOS 5D began its life on the market in the mid-$3000 range, but has for the past 18 months or so, been available at a little over $2,000 to $2199,depending on Canon rebates/printer bundles/e-Bay ridding one's self of said printer,etc,etc. Canon's body and lens rebate programs and special promotions have at various times, allowed many Canon 5D buyers to get their 12.8 MP full frame image sensor camera for a little over two grand. That's a good value, I think.

The 5D is compact,portable,and comfortable to use. The body itself is smallish but not small, and it uses an accessory grip with dual battery capability and an added set of controls for vertical format shooting if you need that added grip,or the added battery capacity. While some prefer the large size of the 1-series Canons and the D1-D2-D3 Nikons, there is something to be said for a camera that allows half-height use and carry AND which can accept an add-on dual battery pack-control wheel-handgrip accessory. The mono-body construction of the 1-series and the pro-series Nikons gives them increased weather resistance, but it drives up the size and weight tremendously, and always saddles you with that Big Brick camera, even if all you want to carry is a light-tight box fitted with a 10-ounce 35mm f/2 or a featherweight 50mm lens. The 5D has the body size, and weight, and versatility advantages of a half-height camera, combined with a BIG VIEWFINDER image.

While the 5D's finder does allow a lot of dust inside, the camera offers a BIG VIEWFINDER. The image you see through the viewfinder is LARGE. And easy to SEE. It's got a nicely-padded eyepiece that does not scratch your eyeglasses. The viewfinder is transparent. It just works. There's absolutely no tunnel vision feeling and no cropped-down viewfinder effect. The view through the 5D's finder is excellent. It's easy to frame and compose and to actually SEE what you're getting, as you look through the camera in actual use.

With the 5D, you can shoot at ISO 400,and ISO 500,and ISO 640 and get images which do not suffer from obvious image quality compromises, such as the D2x suffers from at those three ISO values. With the 5D, ISO 800 can be used without the clear, significant, and very real IQ hit that the D2x takes at ISO 800. The 5D is good when you need to shoot without flash, and WITH flash added for shadow fill-in indoors, the 5D is a very capable camera. Under studio electronic flash with umbrella or softbox lighting, the 5D and Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens offers beautiful quality images, especially at lower ISO settings like 100 to 200. The degree of fine detail the 5D can reveal under studio lighting is stunning.

The 5D adapts extremely well to Nikon manual focus and autofocus lenses. The 5D allows Manual match-LED metering with Nikon lenses, and also allows aperture-priority automatic shutter speed setting with Nikon lenses. Pretty impressive. With top-quality Nikon optics, the 5D does pretty good light metering, and makes pretty good images; the better the lens, the better the image quality. The Nikon autofocus 85/1.4 and 105/2 Defocus Control lenses perform very,very well on the 5D,as does the 300 f/4 AF-S. Telephoto lenses focus the easiest by hand and eye, and all of the mentioned lenses perform quite well as manual focusers in their optimum aperture ranges. Canon's 85mm f/1.8 EF lens is a very NICE imager for very little money. Canon's 135mm f/2 L is a very good telephoto lens. The 5D's sensor makes great images with both Canon autofocus lenses, and with many, but not "all" Nikon lenses, using F-to EF mount lens adapter rings that cost me $17.99 each in a 10-pack carton from a USA eBay importer.

The 5D's small size, reasonable weight, big viewfinder, half-height body form factor, well-designed 580 EX-II flash unit accessory, excellent adaptability to Nikon lenses, and its excellent, large sensor with its wide useful ISO range all combine to make the 5D a very,very good value at the $2199 price point it's at right now, in late January of 2008.

[Addendum March 4,2008: The EOS 5D also works very well with Pentax thread mount lenses, yielding full infinity focusing with my Asahai Optical Co. 135mm f/3.5 and 200mm f/4 Super-Takumar lenses ,as well as the nifty 1970's-early 80's era Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Auto Macro in thread mount.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Evaluating D-SLR Features Camera by Camera

So, I was thinking, what matters in a d-slr? It's gotten to the point that the limitations of earlier generations of cameras have largely been overcome. The earliest d-slr's might have had SINGLE-area AF (like the Fuji S1 Pro had),instead of five-area,or nine-area, or 11 area, or 45-point ,or 51-point AF systems,as various Fuji,Canon,and Nikon bodies now have. Auto-exposure and shutter and aperture control mechanisms now offer 1/3 stop precision on all bodies (with user-settable 1/2 stop capability on many bodies),and exposure systems have become pretty good, although not infallible by any means. As one marketer said of household and consumer goods, "It all works now. The cleaners all clean, the shampoos all clean your hair well, you know, it all just works. Nowadays the difference is in the marketing message,more than the products themselves." I think to a great extent, that's the current state of things in the d-slr market.

The way I view things, Newer is Better. Usually. At least if it's got to do with flash units or camera sensors. Onboard or pop-up flashes now,like laundry soaps, just work. Newer pop-up flash units deliver better exposures,under a wider range of distances than older pop-up flashes did. Nikon's D40 does pretty well with its pop-up flash; the D40 gives much better exposures on the whole than the D70's pop-up flash did,based on my own experience. Canon's Xti does pretty well too. Selling millions of cameras involves making one that has a GOOD pop-up flash. Nikon's D40 is the best selling consumer d-slr for a good reason. The flash works great. The D40's onboard pop-up flash can do some amazingly subtle balancing with ambient light.

The EOS 40D versus EOS 5D versus EOS 20D comparison photos I have seen show that the new $1,300 40D does ALMOST as well as the older 5D,even though the 40D has a 1.6x APS-C sensor,and the 5D has a no-crop or full-frame sensor. See above: Newer is Better, when it comes to sensors. The Nikon D300's 1.5x APS-C or Nikon DX sensor shoots faster and with higher resolution than the Nikon D2x pro camera from 2005,and as far as I am concerned, that means that if you had wanted the D2x's imaging capabilities, the new D300 at $1899 represents a very,very good buy. The D2x's sensor was ISO-challenged,and operated best under a fairly narrow range of ISO settings,and lost color very,very badly at the extremes of its ISO range,and demanded rigorous post processing to achieve the kind of results that more versatile sensors can do without post work. But the D300's sensor is newer,and better,across a wider range of ISO settings than the D2x's sensor. Bottom line--the serious enthusiast/semi-pro camera segment has finally seen a SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in imaging potential and imaging quality that makes users of older-generation 6- and 8-MP models probably realize that _this generation_ of cameras is really worth having,and offers great value for many types of shooting. Buffer depths are now very good, frame rates are now as high or HIGHER than "pro" cameras before,and in the case of the D300, Nikon is installing the identical flagship-level focusing system in both the D3 and the D300. Hooray!

Currently, in the 1.5 and 1.6x 10.1 to 12.2 MP semi-pro serious enthusiast camera class, Nikon,Sony,and Canon all have very nice cameras. The Sony A700 has in-body stabilization and is $1,400 body only. The Canon 40D costs the same. The Nikon D300 is more, at $1899 MSRP,but is arguably a "better body"" than either the Sony or Canon offerings.

So,what matters in this class of camera? Features and suitability for your shooting style,mainly. The Sony A700 and Nikon D300 both offer high definition HDMI-out which will allow them to play images directly on high-definition TV's and the reports I've read of the Sony's output are of excellent image quality on High-Def Sony TV's. If you wish to project your work onto a large,high-definition TV set, the Nikon D300 and Sony Alpha 700 are the only game in town. Features,you say? Canon's direct print button is a feature I don't give a rat's ass about. The Nikon and Sony have the newest,state-of-the-art LCD screens,with vastly superior image review quality over other cameras. This is a big advancement,technologically, but not absolutely a critical feature--just a new technological milestone. The new 920,000-spec screens blow away all the older ones.

Some people ares still enthusiastic about the FujiFilm S5 Pro as a serious enthusiast/semi-pro body,and I can understand why. I'm currently waiting on PMA 2008 to see if Fuji announces an S5 Pro follow-up (I doubt they will,unfortunately) because I think I'd like an F-mount 6MP d-slr that can be optimized several ways for OOC JPEG shooting,and also because I think the way the S5 handles tonality and skin tone is pretty nice. The sensor's not the best,not the highest-resolving,and does not produce the type of artifact-free,high-resolution images the 5D does, but I think the Fuji has richer tonality,and more color variation,more nuance, than other cameras can output in JPEG capture mode,and I kind of LIKE the way the S5 can put an impression on its pictures with its decided Fuji color tendencies. This is a camera more about tonality and color and nuance and "feel",and less of a cold,crisp,faithful camera like the 5D. Fuji S5 Pro images often have a decided "look" that I do not see from Canon or Nikon digital images,and I can understand why somebody who has a family or child to photograph, or who likes to do portraits and people and pet pictures and general day-trip type shooting would absolutely LOVE shooting with an S5 Pro. It's not a camera for pixel-peepers, and it does have its share of small artifacting problems,especially when shot in 12 MP mode, but the "look" and the "feel" of the S5 Pro's images both make this camera viable in its class. The S5 Pro uses pretty heavy Noise Reduction at elevated ISO's,but then it's designed that way,and the pictures look acceptable without a lot of post work,so...

What has me conflicted is the D40 versus S5 Pro conundrum....I could buy three D40 kits for the price of one S5 Pro body. And the D40's a pretty good little imager, and very small and light. Both are really GOOD 6 megapixel cameras,offering roughly 3,000 pixel wide images that have pretty good file size economy in JPEG mode. The D40 is an excellent RAW camera, but offers only a very tiny, BASIC size jpeg capture (704 k. apprx.) in its RAW+JPEG mode.The S5 Pro shoots big raws;no let's call the raw's from the S5 what they are:huge,inflated 25 megabyte RAWs when in Wide-DR RAW mode and 13 Megabyte raws in Normal DR RAW mode,and it writes raw files rather slowly,and so all together the S5 Pro would probably be considered a poor raw camera by some people. Both the Nikon D40 and the Fuji S5 Pro do a good job of controlling image noise,and both allow good High ISO captures to be made. I'd like to own both cameras, but cannot justify buying both. Maybe I'll just continue to borrow my wife's D40 until she actually demands that I buy my own; she has already suggested,directly, that I might like to buy my own D40,since I like shooting hers so much. The D40 offers good in-camera image processing, and excellent file size economy in a small,light,affordable camera. The S5 Pro uses more storage space than a conventionally sensored camera,and its files can actually be seen as bloated for its resolution class, and yet the images one can obtain are prettier and more,well,Fuji-good than one gets with other systems,so what's the use worrying about a few gigs more in hard drive and DVD storage per week?

One of the things that I've found is that once I get used to a particular camera's control layout and the shutter's exact timing, I can shoot the best with that camera. Period. The one area where the Nikon D2x has been the absolute best camera I've ever used has been in its incredible speed,with the shortest shutter lag,fastest mirror return time,and all that stuff. The simply incredibly SHORT time between pressing the shutter and making and exposure makes the D2x seem to me a camera that is as quick as my thought processes. It's a camera you do not have to wait for. At all. I keep image review turned off with the D2x, to make it the absolutely fastest it can be,since turning off the image review reduces the D2x's shutter lag time. For shooting sports assignments where timing has been critical, I've always felt that the D2x's title as world's quickest camera was a big advantage in getting my timing down. On events like pole vault and high jumping, there's really only ONE best moment,and the lag time difference between a D70 and a D2x is truly significant in terms of keeper rate. The pro-class cameras offer much shorter lag time,and when timing is critical, the less time the camera takes to make the exposure, the more time you've got to sit there and be a slow,human being,with human-like reflexes. With the D70, on a field goal or place kick,you must begin the press of the shutter as the kicker's leg moves forward--you have to allow a rather lengthy period of pre-firing to get the kick contact; with the D2x, you can wait much,much longer until you need to press the button to actually GET the image. In my estimation, one of the biggest advantages the Nikon pro-d-slrs have always brought to the table is their extremely short shutter release lag times compared with consumer models. The pro-class cameras also shoot more frames more quickly, which can turn some things from one-frame opportunities to two-frame opportunities.

Seeing Through The Viewfinder Matters! To some people! This is one area where the full frame cameras,both digital and 35mm film SLR bodies, have a big advantage. Eyeglass wearers often benefit from longer eye relief specifications of full frame cameras,which have viewfinder systems that have with slightly lower magnification factors than those of crop-cameras. Nikon's F3 HP camera, with its High Eyepoint prism,was a huge success for millions of eyeglass wearing camera buffs. Seriously, it allowed better composing by giving photographers a better VIEW through the viewfinder compared to earlier cameras and compared to its contemporary competing models. Earlier-generation d-slr's often had tunnel vision finders. Squinty,cropped-down finders that made composing in poor light or following fast action more difficult than it ought to be. The newer-generation cameras, even small-bodied and ultra comapct ones like the Nikon D40 have MUCH better viewfinder systems than many prior d-slr cameras had. I find the larger capture cameras that shoot to 24x36mm, have more useful information that I can see easier,and better, than on APS-C cameras. Finder quality varies widely. The better the viewfinder, the easier it is to shoot in challenging light with that camera. Under good light, almost anything modern is workable; at twilight, the best viewfinders offer you a decided advantage.

Flash Matters in a D-SLR. At least, if you shoot flash pictures. I dunno....I'm impressed with how well the SB 600 works on the D40. I'm impressed with how well the 580 EX-II works on the 20D and the 5D. I was not that impressed with the SB 800 on the D2x--the D40 is a better flash camera,in many respects. But overall, I think the modern serious enthusiast camera class is where the benefits of high-end flashes (costing $399 to $459 or so) has become a marketing ground for claim after claim,without a lot of real user input into the engineering or even the feature sets the makers are coming up with. Wireless remote control and slave/commander flash technology has made Nikon's flash marketing the best flash marketing. Canon's E-TTL II might be where Canon finally figured out how to do TTL flash more or less right. For use with a single,on-camera or bracket-mounted speedlight, all the makers have you covered. Nikon has more-capable wireless remote flash technology than any other maker, and Canon is surprisingly NOT in second-place in wireless flash technology,but is the laggard. Not that that's all that bad, since I don't think wireless flash command capability from the body is all that needed in most situations,and I think Canon feels the same way. But,electronics being what they are, Nikon is the clear leader in wireless flash tech. But, on a one body-one flash basis, the 5D + 580 EX-II flash unit gives superb results,and the D40 + SB 600 gives good results;bottom line, in this newest generation of cameras and flashes, I think the top flash unit from every mfr will give acceptable results at least 90% of the time when used correctly. Exceeding distance limitations and flash units confounded by misguided camera setting don't count.

What matters in a d-slr varies greatly from user to user. I'm very,very impressed with the Nikon D40 in the ultra-small d-slr category,and when the SB 600 is added, it does pretty good flash work. It does surprisingly well with its pop-up flash too. The D40 has the somewhat intense,punched-up color look Nikon premiered with the D50,and for good measure, it allows flash sync to 1/500 second,and has in-camera image editing and filter effects. The Nikon D300 looks like the most feature-rich d-slr the semi-pro segment has ever seen.

Canon's EOS 40D at $1,300 and 10.1 MP looks like the latest new Canon in the 10D-20D-30D series family body,but with a really significant increase in image quality at HIGH ISO being the main area Canon has improved over the 20D and 30D models that came before. From what I have seen so far, the 40D looks like a very,very solid imager right up to ISO 1600. I know among a certain set of feature snob type hobbyist shooters, the 40D is kind of looked down upon compared with Nikon's new D300,with the Canon being perceived by these folks as "trailing" on body features and trailing in megapixel count too. But, the price difference is $500,and I think the 40D and D300 really are not competing for the same dollars. What I see in this current marketplace is Canon beginning to feel the effects of Nikon's increasing feature-packing of its cameras. The D200 and D300 certainly have a LOT more high-end features than the 20D-30D-40D EOS models that Canon has had and in this higher-end amateur segment of the market,Nikon's attracting tremendous reviews for its excellent work in R&D and camera deign too. The inclusion of the professional Nikon's focusing system in the lower cost D300 is an example; Canon's 40D has added some more cross-type sensors apparently, but I still find Canon's diamond-shaped array too tightly centrally-biased,and do not like the diamond-shaped array which leaves the left and right margins,and the top and bottom,represented too "thinly" as it were.

What surprises me the most is that Canon has not figured out how to implement an Auto ISO feature that works like the ones Nikon has had now for several years. Canon is clearly,clearly behind on the Auto ISO feature,which is something many hobbyist (and many serious shooters) can put to good use. On this one feature, Auto ISO,Canon lags behind Nikon QUITE badly. Of course,Canon has that awesome Direct Print button that three people in Illinois asked for, so...let's give props to Canon.

Nikon's broader,much higher AF point count of 51 AF points in the D300 makes me think that Canon's prosumer/semi-pro models are suffering right now from sort of a feature disadvantage on AF. At least on paper. However, from actual,practical experience, I just do NOT like Canon's diamond-shaped array in either the 20D or 5D; it's too-centrally weighted in the 5D.
Speaking of which, Nikon's new 51 Point System looks to ME to be a bit more-center weighted than the D2x's AF layout with its fewer, 11 AF points and broader grouping of AF zones. The Canon and Nikon families have become more similar now; in both brands, the same basic AF point pattern is shared,and in the 20D-30D-40D models, the diamond-shaped 9-point array covers a wider percentage of the frame than it does on the larger-framed 5D. The same hold true on the D3 and D300 Nikon's with the 51-point AF rectangle now more dispersed toward the center parts of the frame, with a less-broad area where AF brackets are located. To me, the D3's 51-point AF system looks,well, too-centrally weighted for my taste. There's been a reduction by one in the number of AF mode selections between the D2x and the D3,and that's causing me a little bit of angst. Not to mention that the D3 has the exposure meter info on the RIGHT hand SIDE of the viewscreen! Where that brain fart of an idea came from,I'm not sure. Moving the exposure info there is not to my liking,and is just inscrutable. A true "what the fuck were they thinking" kind of mental lapse from NIkon. The sides of virtually every viewfinder offer LESS visibility than the top or bottom. Nikon really screwed the pooch on the move to the right hand side of the finder for the D3 exposure info,and a VERTICAL display of the information to boot. It's not only a locational switch, but a psychological representational change of aperture ring direction and camera control representation in dial direction and display. The switch to a VERTICAL representation of exposure does not jibe with the old Nikon ethos which was basically set by the N8008. But then again, why should the direction the display moves,and the control wheels move,mimic the direction the lens's aperture ring moves when there is no longer an aperture ring on the newest G-series Nikons?

In some very interesting operational ways,like the wholesale adoption of this fucked-up G-series Nikon lens mount and the switch to centrally-located,high-point count AF systems,Nikon and Canon seem closer than ever before. With the development of E-TTL II flash and the newest EX flash units, Canon finally seems to be able to provide pretty good flash performance. With Nikon dropping the concept of aperture rings on its lenses,and getting more AF-S focusing zooms on the market, Nikon has made its lenses and cameras handle more like Canon equipment,with all aperture control being inputted on the body,and with even things like "macro" lenses losing their aperture ring (Nikon's new 105mm f/2.8 AFS VR-G Nikkor for example), Nikon is throwing away a lot of the backward compatibility and off-list use that made their original F mount lenses so versatile. The G-series is harmful to the macro lens category,and it diminishes the off-list value of many exotic lenses by limiting their use only to NIKON-made bodies,of today's current specification.

What matters in a d-slr is that it fits the need you have for it to fulfill. Right now, almost all of the choices look reasonably good to even excellent. The bargain-priced Nikon,Pentax,and Canon bodies are quite impressive. Pentax's practically giving away the farm to get people to buy its product,and is working very hard on new,exotic yet affordable lens designs that leverage their 6MP-10MP APS-C bodies.Sony's offering a lot of features and great design,plus some seriously good Zeiss lens offerings. Nikon is packing more and more and more features and goodness into each camera design. Canon's moving smoothly upward in MP count and offering good values at several price points, while adding a few high-end optics and some nice consumer and serious enthusiast lenses every 18 months or so. So, whatever matters to you in a d-slr, you can find it today.If you get the chance to go to one of the really large camera stores,you really,really owe it to yourself to look at what a fine state of affairs we're in right now!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Planning Out Gear Purchases For The Next Two Years?

Are you perhaps planning your gear purchases for the next two years? Well,maybe you should wait until PMA 2008 is over. By then, the first week of February 2008, you'll know what the major photo industry players are gonna be up to for the next year or so. Product development cycles between Canon and Nikon can vary between synchronized and discordant. Who is "on top" in the market is of little concern,except to amateurs and hobbyists and the prosumers,who can/want to/like to/feel compelled to own the latest and greatest photo equipment. However,new cameras with much better imaging potential have been released by all the major players within the past six months or so,and so...many people will feel a need to get new stuff!

Since the advent of the internet and the explosion of digital photography web sites and forums the number of pretty serious,devoted system-switchers has grown to a fairly sizable number. When one camera maker's products seem to demonstrate better performance, there are quite a number of small time studios and part time pros and serious hobbyists who will move with decisiveness to "a new system" of body,lens or two or three, and flash system,and will use that system only until something X times better debuts,and then it's time for another switch--often only a switch in camera body, but at times, a switch to an entirely different camera brand. Well--if you're interested in updating, 2008 might be a very,very interesting year; for some people,2008 might be a good year to SWITCH to an entirely new system.

Phil Askey predicts that 2008 might see as many as 25 d-slr's introduced. Yes, he wrote that just a few days ago in a pre-PMA piece. Personally, I cannot imagine that that many d-slr's could even theoretically be announced in 2008. I really do not see that much excess production/market fragmentation in the next 11 months. I just do NOT think it possible that any more than eight d-slrs will be introduced in 2008. I think we've already GOT what we're gonna get,all year long, from Nikon, with the D300 and the D3. I do not forsee another Nikon pro or semi-pro body hitting store shelves until Q-1 2009. I hope that I am wrong about that,but I suspect that the pro-semi-pro bodies will be two from Nikon for all of 2008. I do expect that another one, or maybe even two lower-priced d-slrs "could be" announced by Nikon this year. But what has happened now is that,finally,Nikon is offering people some really serious,viable competition to Canon products,in several categories. Over the past few years, the state of technology has changed and shifted considerably,and we're now on the cusp of a new era in d-slr photography. 2008 could be a good year for people to switch to Nikon's d-slr and lens line,with its impressive flash system.

I do not see Olympus doing anything else this year,or in 2009: they have just announced the E3, their follow-up the underwhelming E1.That's where Olympus will be in 2008 and 2009. Not many people care about Oly any more,and the E1's dreadfully poor AF system saw to that;the one credible review I've read of the E3 faults the camera for its ergonomic and field operational problems that result due to the clunky,ill-conceived body controls. Sony's gonna go with what it has already on hand I think all the way until 2009,and will concentrate on more Zeiss-branded lenses and lens design panache and on improving its advertising and distribution.The higher-end Sony branded zooms are solid performers and are significantly better optics than their low-level lenses are. I've handled the new Sony Apha 700, their 12.2 MP camera that uses the D300 imager made by Sony, and the Apha 700 feels great in the hands, has nice controls,and really has a fine human/machine interface. I LIKED the Apha 700,quite a bit. The Alpha system is adequate,and has a very nice "analog control" ethos that is missing from all but the very highest-end Nikons. In terms of a nice feel,heft,and design touches, the Alpha 700 is a winner,and would make a nice serious enthusiast's camera.

Pentax is doing okay,and is gaining a lot of entry-level buyers by offering value and by being handled in big-box stores like Wal-Mart and chain camera stores like Ritz/Wolf/Kits/et all. Pentax has a nifty history as a camera company,and has some boutique lenses and their legendary decades-long lens compatibility on their d-slrs (like Nikon,only more-adaptable to legacy lenses than Nikon) and there is a place for the Pentax brand in the camera world, but I just see them struggling in the US market. I do not think they can compete well against Sony,and I predict that Pentax's market share over the next two years will stagnate or decline slowly.while Sony's market share climbs slowly.If you bother to pick up and handle and trial the Sony d-slr's,you'll see why I think they'll do well. And also, the name Sony has some clout among many consumers. It's a brand that's been built for years,and my experiences with Sony products have been very good ones generally,over two decades.

Canon will almost surely announce an EOS 5D iteration or replacement at PMA 2008. The new 40D's 10.1 MP imager yields images that are rich in information and with good color and nice tonality,in an affordable,fast,large LCD,half-height,proven Canon 1.6x semi-pro mold of the 10D-20D-30D evolution. The 40D's images look very,very close to the quality of those produced by the 5D's full-frame CMOS imager and image processor,and this 40D-EOS 5D image quality near-parity holds right up to ISO 800. Seriously, the 40D in side-by-side shooting is performing almost as well as the 5D. And so,I think Canon will soon be making an updated 5D-type camera,with a better imaging potential and higher ISO settings. THIS AREA, the prosumer FF market is a market segment where Nikon really does not have a competing product, and this market segment, that owned by the 5D for the past two and a half years, is where image quality,usability,and versatility all come together to make the 5D one of the best camera values we've yet seen in the d-slr arena. This segment, the 5D segment, is where most people are waiting on Canon's announcement at PMA 2008,to provide them with some clarity in terms of future product.

Let's just suppose that Canon's 5D-Mark II will start at 200 ISO and not 100,and work Up to a Hi-1 of 6400, with a calibrated, Canon-good range of real ISO's of 200 to 400 to 800 to 1600 and to 3200 all in 1/3 stop progression as real,tested ISO settings, and then with a Hi-1 setting of 6400. Is it possible that Canon merely moves the 5D's successor toward better images at higher ISO settings as a way to exploit the potential of both slower lenses and also keep its sales appeal to so many types of shooters? What if Canon can get to the 12000 to 25,000 ISO levels that the Nikon D3 can shoot at very easily?

Nikon's new Expeed processor seems to be capable of processing large amounts of data,and there's some reason to believe that the Expeed processor itself is reducing chromatic aberration that the processor "sees" or "finds" during the processing of images. Wow! That's great,because there are a number of very fine Nikkor telephotos and wide angles and zooms that have CA problems which a small amount of processing power can cancel out,and if Nikon's newest generation of processor can help reduce the small residual CA that so many lenses have, it'll be a great thing. With modern lenses, their CA profiles are fairly well-known,and the CPU in the lens tells the processor what lens images the picture. Nifty,this communication between lens and processor. Bjorn Rorslett's Nikon Forum writings seem to suggest that MANY of the CA problems that older lenses showed on the D2x are now eliminated or very greatly reduced; to me, that's a good thing. The D2x's high-density sensor, with 12.2 MP on a DX sized sensor,places very,very high requirements on the lens on the camera. You will note that currently, about 12 MP is all ANY maker has on a crop-sensored camera. At this stage of d-slr development, that's about the theoretical top end for good performance. Moving to a FF or FX format sensor size, like the EOS 5D and now the Nikon D3 use, makes the pixels larger,boosts Higher ISO performance by keeping noise at bay,and is also less-demanding on the lens's absolute optical performance. Simply put, the FF or FX sensor size makes everything a little bit less critical. The larger capture area means that a number of areas are a bit less strained,and a bigger sensor delivers a bigger,better image than a smaller sensor does,all things being equal.

Used D2x bodies are now in the $1900 range. Not a bad deal,really,if the D2x will suit your requirements. As a crop-sensored camera for low-ISO work,with top-shelf lenses only, the D2x is hard to beat,image quality wise. For controlled lighting,like with studio lights, the D2x has an excellent focusing system for indoor use under modeling lamps,and it has ultra-high resolution--with excellent lenses. Used D2x's will be valuable for lower ISO work and are a very good deal at $1900 IMHO. I personally think the D2x is/was optimized for use under controlled lighting conditions more than field use for such things as sports or photojournalism. The D2x is a good sports camera as long as the lighting levels are GOOD or you are using strobes for supplementary lighting; it really is outclassed by the better sports/PJ cameras when there's a need for ISO speed to get shutter speeds adequate to ensure good photos. let's face it: the D2x is very ISO-limited. Period. But under good light levels, the results at ISOs like 100-160-200 are staggering. Crisp,clear images that are as good as the LENS you happen to have. With the absolutely best Nikkors, the D2x can deliver very,very good images. With good light. And as long as the exposure is right. And you are willing to expose to preserve highlights and then post-process the NEFs. That's the D2x. Unforgiving and demanding,but very rewarding if everything is just right.

The D2x is defended by many people. As long as you can make your pictures at low ISO settings, it's quite good. But it has a narrow dynamic range, and it does tend to blow highlights quite easily,and it's a very *demanding* camera,and its range of ISO settings is narrow; the range is from 100 to 800; anything above 800 is a Hi-setting and is not necessarily up to ISO standard. But please note, the official range is a mere 100-800. You know, if the D2x had the 5D's sensor in it, there wouldn't be a thing to complain about about the D2x. I'm serious. The D2x's sensor really tops out at about ISO 250 or 320. Above that and the image quality performance of the D2x is easy to equal or to beat using many "lesser" cameras. I want to repeat: if the D2x body had a sensor that was as good as the one in the Canon 5D, there would not be a damned thing to complain about. And that my friends, is what makes the D3 such an appealing camera; its a pro Nikon body with a full frame sensor,like the Canon 5D has inside its serious amateur body.

The Nikon D3 is currently $5,000,just like the D2x was in early 2005. If you buy one, expect that its replacement will not be here for another two years. Or maybe a little bit over two years. If you're waiting for an ultra-high resolution Nikon,like an 18-21 MP model, I think you'll be able to buy one in Q4 2008,and if not by then by Q1 2009. Nikon's gonna move to a high-density,high MP FF (aka FX-format) sensor camera as soon as it can,feasibly. And that's why they've built the awesome new lenses 14-24,24-70,200 f/2 VR, 300 VR,105 VR, and the superb 70-200mmm f/2.8 VR and the super-duper 200-400mm f/4 VR zoom, and the new VR-equipped line of 200mm f/2,300mm /f2.8, 400mm f/2.8 and 500mm and 600mm f/4 superteles; Nikon's already designed and built an entire line of new,high-definition,high-performance lenses for its upcoming high-density sensored d-slr models. Nikon has gotten the lenses into place over the last several years; their newest pro-class lenses are all exceptionally good performers,designed for a new generation of cameras soon to come. If you want a D3, buy it and use it,'cause it'll be state of the art in High-ISO pro Nikon for two more years. And I can assure you, the D3 is a very,very exciting camera that has High-ISO capabilities that absolutely WILL make it EASIER to get better sports and PJ and wedding images,under lighting conditions that were previously only the province of electronic flash. The 25,600 ISO setting looks pretty darned good converted to monochrome,and will allow low-light shots that were previously IMPOSSIBLE to get with f/2.8 teles like the 70-200 f/2.8. Sports coverage like nightime football and soccer under the will be able to be reduced in power,speeding up recycling rates and extending battery life....the new ISO cushion will allow you an extra stop or even two stops smaller to provide a focus safety cushion. If you wanna shoot low-light, the D3 really looks to be worth $5k.

Nikon's more-modest lenses could use a refresh; their high-end zooms are great,and their superteles are great,but the rank and file Nikkor lenses in the prime focal lengths are rather long in the tooth. The announcement of a VR-equipped 85mm 1.4 during 2008 might just spark a sell-off of a lot of AF-D 85 1.4's,and the sell-to-raise-cash-for-D3 syndrome will swell inventories of used and consignment gear throughout 2008,so be on the lookout for good deals on used Nikon glass this upcoming next 12 to 18 months. The D3 costs a LOT of cash,and much gear will be traded away to raise money for D3's,since they are so desirable. I expect that Nikon will address the 85mm lens rather soon,and I PRAY they add some speed to the wide-angle domain. Nikon is seriously deficient at high-speed wide-angles. They have NOTHING. Right now, Nikon's best lens offerings are probably their 14-24mm which is likely the best wide angle lens made at 14 and 16 and 18 and 20 and 24mm; it's an amazingly sharp lens and it's very wide and it has some real *range* across the wide angles of view. A lens that delivers sharp,well-corrected images to a full frame imager from 14mm to 24mm at f/2.8 is simply unprecedented. Wow. The lens testing people at 16.9 are simply agog at how good the 14-24 Nikkor is. It's a worldbeater. It's a crowning achievement in lens design and manufacture.

Meanwhile,Canon has completed its update of the prime line L-glass with their new 50mm f/1.2 and their 85 1.2 iteration. Both are very costly full-field lenses. Add in their 24/1.4 L and 35/1.4 L and Canon seems to hold the edge for ultra-high speed lenses for available light and shallow depth of field/selective focus effects from wide to short telephoto. I've seen some wedding work done using these ultra-speed lenses,and the dreamy, color wash backdrops the 50mm 1.2 and 85mm 1.2 are able to make are very beautiful. To be fair, I've also seen excellent shallow DOF and selective focus work done with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4,Nikon 85mm 1.4,Nikon 105 DC, Canon 135/2 L,and the Nikkor 200mm f/2 VR. What has happened is over the years, as ISO speeds have gone up and slower zoom lenses have hit the market, and now we see LOTS of event photography shot at small apertures,and very little shot at wide apertures. Most people will stop their f/2.8 lens down a stop or two to get better image quality, a bit more DOF, and just easier,surer image-making. But the real shallow DOF and selective focus photography is done at apertures usually wider than f/2.8. The cheapest route to shallow DOF/selective focus is in the 85-100-105mm focal length range,from both Nikon and Canon,with the 85mm f/1.8 lenses from either maker being just under $400,and offering a tremendous image making potential in the short tele range. Canon's 100mm f/2 is also a nice social photography lens that offers good shallow DOF/selective focus images. Dirk Vermierre uses the inexpensive Canon 100mm f/2 to good effect,and he's also used Nikon's 105mm f/2 DC lens quite a bit with equally good results.

If I were to think about a lens lineup for the next two whole years, it would be muchly determined by what format I was going to shoot: DX or FF,and the lens choices would be quite different. What I see for 2008-2010 is the era of very high quality zoom lenses and of Nikon updating its big teles to VR, and people upgrading from non-VR 300's,400's and 500's to VR models,and of Nikon's new lineup being 14-24, 24-70,70-200VR,and then adding VR to some of the oldest prime short tele designs like 85-105-135-180. Canon's expensive wide-aperture prime lineup of 24-35-50-85 L-series lenses is where I expect Nikon to get to by 2010. If you want ultra-speed primes from 24 to 85mm,now, Canon is the only choice. If you want some of the BEST lenses, Nikon's still edging Canon out in the 17-35 category,and also the 14-24 wide zoom Nikon has is untouchable by any Canon lens. Nikon's 200 f/2 VR is unmatched by any current Canon lens,and is an optical secret weapon.
Nikon has solidified its lens offerings reasonably well over the last year, and I think will continue to bolster the lens line over the next two years--while I do NOT THINK that Canon has devoted the same resources to lenses. I think Canon's lens line is not going to fill-in or be updated to the same extent Nikon's line is. Nikon is in the middle of the supertele VR completion,and is spreading VR to its low-end stuff almost as fast as it can. I don't think Canon's prepared to do that right now,and besides,their lens lineup is solid,for the most part, and reasonably vast.

The biggest two-year planning I think involves whether you're going to switch platforms,and what lens choices you're going to make. Lenses outlast bodies by a wide,wide margin. Lenses last for decades,but bodies come and go. And while lenses might seem expensive,often costing $800-$1800 for some of the better ones, over a decade that's not that much per month. Given the increasing quality lenses are demonstrating these days,it's worth the time to investigate what some of the new lenses can do. What sucks to me is having to pay $5,000 to Nikon for the pleasure of using their best camera. They've been pulling that shit for four generations of digital flagships. That sucks. But the advantages of full frame digital are so many that it's come down to 2008 and Nikon's charging $5k for a full frame camera. And pretty soon Canon's 5D's successor model will be announced and you'll probably be able to buy a slightly discounted 5D at a store or two. What to do? Based on the past, Nikon's not going to update the D3 to a high-rez camera for almost a year and a half. I do NOT think that Nikon will introduce a serious-enthusiast type FX body,like the 5D with a simple feature set,within 18 months. I'm afraid that Nikon's not going to be able to make its "5D" until 2010. Gosh, I hope I'm totally wrong, but Nikon's pace of development doesn't make me think they've got it in them to have been designing a "5D" niche camera. NOR does Nikon have the factory capacity to make another high-selling body at this time,or in the forseeable future.

As I see it, 2008 is the year where many people will decide to either piss,or get off the pot. The advantage of full frame capture is now so apparent to me. My Sigma 100-300 f/4 HSM is a marginal performer on the D2x's high pixel density sensor. The lens just ain't quite good enough to make the D2x shine. But on the 5D with an adapter, that same exact lens yields significantly better images. If you're going to stick with APS-C 1.5 or 1.6x cameras, you've simply got to get the best lenses possible. There's no way around that. The highest performance lens-wise is gonna be on full-field,larger sensors. That's why the 5D's performance has been so widely hailed,and why the Nikon D3's performance is so widely acclaimed--the full frame capture size demands a lot less of lenses. Full frame is available now,at two price levels from Canon,and available from Nikon in one costly professional body. I can see a lot of people switching from Canon to Nikon and vice versa in the next two years.
There are going to be some products that the "other" camp will not be able to match,and for some people, the lens offerings will make an actual difference in which system is the most appealing.

What To Buy in Early 2008?

Christmas 2007 sales were terrible. The worst since 2002. We are headed into a recession. The market barometers have fallen in the last couple days of trading. Stores need some money from us consumers,so get out there and buy,buy,buy! But, what to purchase now that it is early 2008? And,provided you're not in the mood to wait for the next best thing,what items can you buy right NOW,and use and enjoy even IF the next model comes out within the coming year?

Buffalo TeraStation Live network attached storage drive,1 Terabyte capacity model available for $499 from

Nikon D40 kit $499 from many on-line retailers, $549 in-store. New stock D40 kits will soon include a VR-equipped 18-55 kit lens, the third iteration of this light,decent little zoom. An amazing little d-slr that can produce jazzy,punchy JPEG images.

Nikon D300 $1899 to $2099,when in stock. D300's are sold out at MOST larger retail and internet stores across America.

Canon EOS 40D, $1300 and available. Make sure to add the accessory grip for $199,and pick up the amazing EOS 580 EX-II weather sealed shoe mount flash unit,$450, which gives really good results.

EOS 5D $2199 or so. C'mon. You know you want a full-frame camera. And you know you do not want to pay $5,000 for it. The 5D will allow you to use millions of Nikkor lenses with adapters that cost as little as $17 (seventeen dollars!) from eBay dealers in the USA. Canon's 85mm f/1.8 lens is cheap and amazing, and Tamron and Sigma also make some sweet lenses.

Canon EOS 580 EX-II shoe mount flash. $450. Amazing unit. Well-built,good ergonomics,simple controls,powerful,battery-efficient. In a word, an excellent flash unit on the 5D,in my experience. Works great. Wonderful design.Easy to use.

Nikon 70-200 VR-G f/2.8 professional zoom lens. It's an amazing zoom lens for Nikon or Fuji d-slr cameras. If you do not own it,you are missing out on a wonderful tele zoom;good sharpness,good focusing,good ergonomics,great bokeh. This lens can be the cornerstone of a 2-lens system; if you only own TWO Nikkor zoom lenses, this ought to be one of the two zooms.

Fuji S5 Pro, apprx $1550 now. Sure it's only a 6MP camera, but so is the D40! The S5 Pro delivers beautiful color and tonality and that decidedly inaccurate but PLEASING Fuji skintone rendition. If you have F-mount lenses and want a camera for people pictures or family photography or available light portraits and many types of social photography, the S5's really worth a look. The Fuji has an image quality that's hard to define,since the S5 can be set up so,so many ways, but the best thing I can say about S5 images is that they have nice tonality,and a subtleness in the way colors are rendered--when the images are well-processed or when the in-camera settings are all appropriate to the shooting conditions and artistic intent of a capable photographer. I've also seen excess DR,like 400%, thrown at flat,low-contrast scenes or moderate contrast scenes,and have seen some drecky results where people went overboard with that type of excess DR application. I have also seem Fuji S5 film simulation results which were wayyyy overboard on saturation, resulting in heavy-handed,clownish,eye-candy images that look,well,kind of like bad 1980's photofinishing. Hopefully,the S5 is not the last d-slr Fuji releases,but if it is their last model,make sure you buy one or two before they are all gone. Now that Fuji has a D200-level body,it's a respectable,capable camera for many applications,and well worth $1500.

A fast single focal length lens for your Dx-sensored camera. Sigma 30mm f/1.4 wide angle. Or the Nikon or Canon 85mm f/1.8 telephotos. Or the Canon 100mm f/2 for $399. Something WIDE-aperture,and useful for YOUR shooting needs. But it must be a prime,and it must be a fast aperture lens. Even a 50mm f/1.8 will qualify. Fast. Prime. Light weight. Portable. Predictable. Non-threatening profile for use in social photography situations. Ya' gotta' own and use a nice prime lens or two!

That LONG zoom lens you've wanted. Two lenses spring to my mind as being the best values; the Tamron 200-500mm f/5~6.3 zoom for about $899, or the Sigma 80-400mm OS, for around the same general price. The advantage of the Tamron is its nifty build and sweet design and good handling and fair price,and the fact that it is a 200 to FIVE hundred, while the Sigma offers Optical Stablizer technology, and a versatile 80-400 FL range with acceptable weight and good handling.

Of course,all of the above stuff is what I'm giving you permission to buy. Spend freely at your local photo dealer's shop. Or at B&H,or Adorama,or KEH,or Camera World, or wherever people treat you right,and where you feel comfortable conducting business. And hey, if you've got your eyes on a 300/2.8, 400 or 500 or 600, or some other $4,500 to $7999 big lens, what the heck, buy that too! And of course, if there's something I've forgotten,like a new tripod,or a monopod,or a new small studio flash system,then why not spring for that too?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The State of D-SLR Photography as 2008 Begins

Welcome To My 2008 Digital Photography Blog! Yeah, it's January 2 of 2008 and Nikon D3 camera bodies are out of stock at Adorama, B&H,and just about every other large store. If you're in need of a D3, look to smaller stores,and secondary markets. As with several recent launches of 'hot' Nikon products like the 70-200 VR, 24-120VR,200-400VR,18-200VR,D200,and now the D300, Nikon's distribution channel is simply starved for product. Currently D300's are being scalped on e-Bay by those who have the items. Oh well...that's the way it's going to be I suppose.

PMA 2008 is when many serious enthusiasts look for Canon to announce the EOS 5D follow-up/iteration; currently, 5D body prices are reasonable at just a little over 2,100 US dollars most places,and with some rebates it's possible to get the price down even lower if you're willing to jump through some hoops. I honestly do not think we'll see $1,500 5D bodies on clearance; instead,I think the body stands on its own merits,and $1999 at retail will empty the channel of 5D's almost as soon as the 5D successor is announced.

Once Nikon D300 bodies flood the market, Nikon will have a great seller on its hands. Currently, the camera is going for $2,099 at two well-known and very large New York City retail/online/mailorder houses,which is a $200 price gouge over the MAP of $1899,but then the demand is SKY-high and D300 bodies are in short supply,so some retailers will take advantage. Right now it is a seller's market for the Nikon D300.

2008 seems like a year in which a number of enthusiasts and serious shooters will feel the need to move up to newer bodies than what they are currently shooting. And making it easier to do that will be the ever-more-favorable prices on d-slr bodies and body/lens kits. The entry level Nikon D40 and EOS Rebel XTi prices are very low compared with what we had 18 months ago at the entry level; prices since Christmas 2006 have not fallen all "that" much on D-40 kits, but still, it's now under $500 for a D40 kit with the 18-55 lens. Late in 2007, Nikon suddenly announced that they would be adding VR or Vibration Reduction to the 18-55 kit lens,which is a good thing considering the len's slow maximum aperture and target audience. Still, for serious shooters, VR is a very worthwhile feature which greatly improves most panning shots, particularly slow-speed ones like at 1/4 to 1/8 second which is where a lot of panning shots will look good. The cancelling out of up-and-down camera movement during panning shots is one of the easiest places to see the benefits of a stabilized lens.

From my vantage point, it looks like a good time to be a Nikon shooter. And a good time to be a Canon shooter. And, if one looks at the price/value proposition, Pentax is sitting very,very pretty, with a very good deal on the K10D with in-body stabilization,and the redoubtable Pentax K-mount lens advantages. I think Pentax is giving a lot of value to serious hobbyist shooters,and they have some very,very interesting and truly UNIQUE prime lens designs which other mfrs. do not offer. At pretty good prices too! If I were not tied to a system, I'd give the Pentax system serious consideration. Very serious consideration.

One interesting thing I've recently read about is a Nikon G-series to Canon EF-mount adapter ring that allows electronic control over the aperture of Nikkor G-series lenses when used on Canon EF mount bodies! That the adapter actually works has been proven.The final price and manufacturing status are uncertain. It ought to be a highly useful adapter to own.

Speaking of adapters--EOS digital bodies like the 20-30-40D and EOS 5D allow the use of pre-Ai Nikkor lenses,with no problems. And so does the Nikon D40! It can mount pre-Ai Nikkor lenses too! Useful feature if you'd like to spend just a couple hundred dollars browsing the big,on-line used departments at or at Lenses which are still pre-Ai usually have chrome and black,metal barrel designs, with the scalloped (wave-like,with deeply-cut,machined finger grooves to aid in gripping the focus and aperture rings) and they also have a narrow,metal ring that encircles the lens,near the lens mount portion,with a black dot as a lens alignment point. The front-most part of the barrel and the focusing ring area is usually a bright aluminum color,and back by the diaphragm ring, or at the back of the focusing ring, there is often also the same aluminum-colored metal on the barrel--lenses that look like that are quite often in their native state, which is now called pre-Ai. Anyhow--there are some fine lenses from that era like the 35mm f/2 O or OC, the 85mm 1.8, the 105/2.5,and 35/1.4 which are pretty good optics, with pretty good imaging characteristics. The 50mm f/2 lens of this era is also quite good. The 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor is a lens from this era that works pretty well on the EOS 20D and 5D. So,keep in mind, the D40 will mount anything in F-mount,except for a couple of very rare,esoteric ultrawide lens designs. I've almost talked myself into getting a D40.

Well, getting caught up on the camera's a changing time now in both Canon and Nikon-land. It looks to me that the EOS 40D is finally an upgrade worth getting if you've been shooting a 20D or 30D. Michael Reeichman's original review of the 40D noted that he found its performance quite comparable to that given by the full frame EOS 5D. A few of the measurebators gave him flak, but he,and some other careful testers have demonstrated that the 40D's smaller 1.6x CMOS imager delivers very rich,saturated,sharp,clear 10 MP captures,and that the tonality of the images is lush,and well, about as nice as what the EOS 5D delivers. Wow...that's good image quality from a crop-sensored camera. I looked at a 20D-40D-5D comparison test referred to by Recihman, done by veteran photographer Miles Heckler,and Heckler's sample files of a studio scene were pretty impressive. The 20D images look rather dull and washed out compared with the 40D and 5D,especially at the higher ISO settings. But most impressive is how CLOSELY the 40D mimics the 5D's color and tonality,at least on the test scene. Image sizes were kept the same,by moving the 5D back from the scene, so that scene-to-scene comparisons were with the same sized images. The 5D beats the 40D image-quality wise mostly at the highest ISO settings of 800 at 1600 ISO,and the 5D is the winner only by a smidge,which speaks exceedingly well to how much Canon has done with its 10MP imager and image processing engine and all the other associated stuff that goes into a d-slr,like microlenses,AA filter strength,fill rates,noise reduction or not and if so then,when,where; image capture and processing bit depth and when does it go to 8-bit,dynamic range expansion processing routines,etc,etc.

I think it's obvious: based on how awesome the 40D's 10MP images look at even high ISO's of 800 and 1600,expect that the 5D successor camera will have an imager that performs *significantly better* than the 5D does,especially at elevated ISO settings. The 5D's imager is amply good,and the body is amply good to continue selling well I think. I don't see a real need to eliminate the 5D from the lineup at this time, but I do think Canon has the technological prowess to have a 5D replacement camera ready to announce at PMA 2008,which will be held January 28 through February 1 if my memory serves me.

Nikon and Canon are now engaged in a period of very healthy,intense competition,and Nikon's probably going to win the Japan market in d-slr sales this year,according to an article on dPreview's news page. No surprise that, that Nikon will win sales over Canon,since the D40 kit is such a hit,and enjoys a price advantage over the Canon Rebel Xti model that my friend Steve recently bought. Nikon's lower price attracts more first-time buyers,and also the D40 boasts in-camera image editing and cropping and redeye reduction and filter effects,plus two-level d-lighting which is pretty good at salvaging accidentally underexposed JPEGs,and other types of oddly-lighted scenes where some digital fill-flash type image processing is needed to give the images more "snap". Plus the D40 has that clever "beginner mode" hand-holding interface,and it's a superior product for camera counter demonstration. THe D40 is kind of,shall we say,Apple Macintosh-like in its clever beginner mode,and I think it's superior image processing and gadgety,Japanese-fun-time-like design makes it a better demonstration camera, and thus a better seller over the Xti,or almost any other camera of the lower and mid-classes. The D40 has got a UI advantage,and its beginner modes are very,very confidence inspiring. I used to sell cameras. The D40 is a fantastic featured camera,with easy,high-impact demo features,like in-camera cropping, or redeye reduction, or BW image conversion,or d-lighting. For the computer-less kid or grandma, the D40's in-camera editing modes make it more desirable than the Xti,at least to Japanese camera buyers.

Nikon's D3 is taking the High-ISO bastion by storm. The concert shooters are absolutely grooving on the 6400,and 12,800 ISO settings. The camera is at least three stops better than the D2x at the elevated ISOs,according to concert shooter Todd Owyoung's blog,located at

The only direct,lens-to-lens comparison of the 5D and D3 that I have seen was done by Ken Rockwell at

Rockwell did his head-to-head D3 and 5D comparisons using the SAME 180mm f/2.8 ED AiS Nikkor on both the Nikon and the Canon bodies. This 180mm lens has ED glass,and is a large,well-built, apprx. $650 lens from twenty years ago. I own one,and have since 1986,and it is a fine lens. Rockwell's comparisons show me that the 5D and D3 are about equal at up to and including ISO 800,and that at each progressively higher ISO beyond 800, the D3 shows an advantage. And at the ridiculous ends, the 5D tops out and post-process pushing is the only way to get to the very-highest settings of 6400-12800-25600. For those who must shoot at the very-highest ISO settings currently possible,the D3 looks to be an excellent machine. Resolution-wise, I think other cameras actually better the D3,so if ultimate resolution is a concern, the D3 is currently not the best answer. As a sports/PJ/low-light machine, the D3 looks to me to be a dream camera based on specifications and the feature set and the sensor size; the High-ISO performance of the D3 is simply amazing. Amazing.

Nikon's D300 is a highly sought-after camera. My impression is that most users will like it quite a bit. I think the pictures I have seen out of the D300 prove that it is a vastly better High-ISO camera than the D2x or D2xs,and so,it will be adopted by many D2x users as an accompanying camera that's significantly better at elevated ISO shooting than the bigger,heavier D2x body,and that it'll work quite well for newspaper/wedding/portraiture work of most types,at a fair price for a nice camera body that's got a lot of pro-grade features but in a lighter,more-configurable half-height body,like Canon has been offering for some time. I think many people appreciate a half-height body to which a motor/dual battery/booster kind of effect is added AS NEEDED or IF needed, rather than being forced to always carry the "brick" body of an EOS 1 or D-single digit body.

I think 2008 is going to be a year in which a LOT of shooters get new equipment. 2008 is poised to be a transitional year,with great new models becoming available over the year,and with prices that are favorable,I think the amateur-serious enthusiast and pro segments of photography are going to see lots of people buy new bodies,and new lenses. Nikon has made two very nice new pro lenses for full-frame, their 14-24mm and their 24-70mm f/2.8 models,and has now added VR available in 200,300,400,500,and 600mm pro supertele lenses,at supertele prices. Bu also a 16-85mm VR lens,and an 18-55 kit lens with VR,and a 70-300 with VR and a 55-200 with VR, and then of course add to this the highly desirable and much sought-after 18-200 VR,and Nikon has made some very,very shrewd lens moves in the low- and mid-market,AND some spectacular moves in the pro-glass market. All within the last couple of years.

Consumer's like,and want stabilized lenses. Nikon now has a good lineup of VR lenses,and they range in price from dirt-cheap,to moderate,to upscale, to supertele. Including one hybrid field tele/macro, the 105 VR-G,which is an f/2.8 that functions well as a field lens,and does acceptably well as a macro lens. And including the 200 f/2 VR,which is one of the most-spectacular lenses ever created. Nikon's consumer/prosumer/enthusiast lineup loooks great these days.

Nikon's recent sales successes are related in some measure to its development of a full range of soccer-mom lenses,but also to their development of a group of lenses designed for burgeoning digital photography enthusiasts,many of who will pay around eight bills for an 11x zoom well as some other highly-capable lenses in the $800-$1699 price range. Stuff like the 17-35,70-200VR,17-55 DX,12-24 DX,and the new 14-24mm and 24-70mm f/2.8 nano-coating FX pro zoom models. Nikon's lenses have just gotten better and better,and Nikon seems to love selling lenses that cost $1100 to $1699,or more. The expansion of the serious enthusiast market means that expensive lenses like the 200-400 f/4 VR-G and 200mm f/2 VR-G lenses at roughly five thousand and four thousand dollars, are selling in numbers that would have been unheard of a decade ago. I think that 2008 will be a year in which MANY Nikon enthusiasts will increase their investment in the system.