Tag Archives: equipment

Nikon Df Initial Impressions

Last Monday I managed to quickly test the very new Nikon Df in one of the retail stores here in Brisbane. At that time I also happen to have my old Nikon FM3A with 50/1.4 AiS with me and still loaded with an unfinished roll of the discontinued Kodak Ektachrome slide film. The good thing is I actually got to test my fully manual lens with the Df to check if I can at least nail the focus without the help of a split prism finder. 

The salesperson was very kind and very helpful and he was there to teach me how this camera works. The Df is not your typical digital SLR. It has way more physical dials than my FM3A and each one of them behave differently. 

My initial impression was “wow this is lighter than I thought!”. Being a D700 owner, the Df is definitely light. It probably weighs closer to my much smaller Pentax K5. I have mixed feelings about this. Light is good but then you can’t help but think if the Df has more plastic than metal in it compared to the tank that is the D700. I wonder…

My second impression was that the Df is thicker and taller than my FM3A. It’s bulkier. The size matches the new 50/1.8G that was attached to it quite nicely. The grip though does not feel right. There is no “catch” for your middle finger that would help you grip the camera when you are fiddling the multiple dials with your index finger. 

I couldn’t help but to start taking shots inside the shop. Since this is a display unit, naturally it won’t have any strap. I had to be very careful not to drop it. Like I said, the grip isn’t quite right so I made sure that both my hands were always holding on to the camera. I am a very tactile person. Touch is very very important for me. This is why I’m still using a very old IBM Model M keyboard for my iMac. That is why I suck at any ballgame that I do not have direct contact with the ball (tennis, baseball, etc…). Unfortunately the Df is one of those cameras that doesn’t feel right for me unlike the Olympus E-M1 that fits like a glove. In practice, this may not be much of a problem because you will be using a neck strap so the chances of it dropping while shooting is almost nil. It will be a problem though when you are setting it up on a tripod or when you attach the heavy 70-200/2.8 and have to rely on your weaker left hand to carry the whole weight of the camera and lens. Basically, your right hand is just there to work on the dials and buttons and not much else. I have a theory on why they made the grip this way which I will discuss later.

Dials. I love physical dials. I have never felt this way since I bought my Canon G10. Dials for ISO, aperture, shutter speed, shooting mode, exposure compensation. What’s not to like? If only they behave the same way. What I mean is, to turn the shutter dial for example you have to push a button on top of the dial. To turn the shooting mode dial, you have to pull it up first. To turn the ISO dial you push a very tiny button outside of the dial. And so on… The most annoying is the awkward aperture dial which is situated in front of the body and quite small for what it does. Hello! Aperture adjustment is probably one of the most important dials for adjusting exposure. People who are used to shooting with film cameras for example usually peg the shutter speed to the film’s rated speed and adjust the aperture accordingly as the light changes. That small aperture dial doesn’t cut it. And if you have short fingers like I do, adjusting it without taking your right hand away from the grip is not good. And what the hell is with that tiny PASM dial?! It only adds to the confusion. For example, if the mode is set to A but the shutter dial is set to 125, which one is the source of truth? You are forced to double-check that you are indeed in A mode and check in the viewfinder if the shutter speed does automatically change as you change the aperture with that clumsy dial. If you feel macho and set it to M mode but the shutter dial is set to the weird 1/3 speed, where is the source of truth? That PASM dial is totally unnecessary. My FM3A doesn’t have it. The FM2 doesn’t have it. Nobody shoots in S mode anyway (those who do are those who do not understand exposure). 

I can probably live with the dial annoyances (except for that aperture dial) but for me the biggest annoyance is the grip. For a camera as bulky as the Df, it deserves a better grip. My theory is that the grip has to be made that way so that they can position that awkward aperture dial in that location. That’s two really annoying “features” put side by side. It’s no use complaining when you can’t offer a suggestion so here’s mine: the aperture dial should have been positioned on the left hand side of the body near the lens mount so you can operate it with your left thumb. That way it would feel more natural for us film shooters because that is how we adjust the aperture wheel in our lenses. Or better yet, make the aperture dial big and concentric with the lens mount so that it will feel exactly like how real lenses with aperture adjustments work. By doing this, you can now have a grip that has a catch for your middle finger so you can hold the camera with just your right hand without fear of dropping it. Both problems solved!  You’re welcome.

The sensor would have been nice. At 16Mp, it’s really not bigger than my 12Mp D700 in terms of image size but a significant increase in terms of file size. I have not compared a D4 image with a D700 so I can’t comment on the quality. What I can say though is that I really love the film-like noise profile of my D700.

My verdict? I’ll pass until they redesign the aperture and PASM dials and improved the grip.   

 

Landscape Photography Appreciation #1

I have decided to create another series of posts that deal specifically with landscape photography. I hope that this will make others be aware and appreciate what goes into creating landscape shots.

Among the different types of photography, I find landscapes to be the most interesting, fun and, in some cases, very frustrating. I have been in this hobby for about four years now and I think I have some ideas as to what makes landscape photography tick. I will attempt to describe my own experiences, compare it with other types such as portraiture or sport and generally point out why you should try it if you haven’t yet.

I understand that most people who visit my blog are after topics that discuss equipment so let me cover that first. What I like about landscape photography is that it does not require expensive gear to get fantastic shots. Even ordinary point and shoot cameras will get you there.

The photos below were captured by my Canon G10:


It does not matter if you have the cheapest small sensor m43 camera like my old E-P1 with 17mm/2.8 lens:


or E-P3 with 40-150 kit zoom:


Even inexpensive APS-C and kit lens are good enough such as the Nikon D60 and 55-200mm that I borrowed from my friend:


You want full frame? Then shoot with an old FILM camera:


Gear does not matter at all in landscape photography. Compare with sports or wildlife photography where you will need super telephoto lenses and cameras that shoot high FPS. Even portraiture calls for wide aperture telephotos that cost thousands of dollars. In landscape photography, any camera will do, even an iPhone can capture fantastic shots:


It’s all in your hands … and eyes. Gear has got nothing to do (figuratively speaking) with taking landscape photos. So go out there with whatever camera you have and start your own photography journey.

I’ll see you next time.

N00bism #2

Welcome to the second installment of the N00bism series. This time I will tackle probably one of the most highly debated aspect of digital photography. Note that I am very specific about “digital” here and you will see why in the next few blocks.

The topic I am about to discuss is the use of UV FILTERS.

Let me tell you right now that this is probably the biggest scam in the history of photography. Every sales person would sell an unsuspecting buyer a UV filter together with the entry level DSLR and kit lens. Sometimes they would even make them feel that they just made the greatest bargain by giving them a free UV filter after they sold the last remaining stock of last year’s entry level DSLR model.

Well actually, let me take that back. This is not the scam. The scam is when a buyer is forced to feel that they need the most expensive UV filter to pair with their very expensive lens. Let’s see: you already spent thousands of dollars on that lens so why ruin the image quality by screwing a cheap UV filter?! Doesn’t make any sense, no? So you buy each of your holy trinity of lenses the best UV filter you can find. Now THAT makes a lot of sense.

Or does it?

Back in those days when the word photographer actually meant something — back when people shot with film — a UV filter was part of the arsenal. Film is sensitive to UV light and that actually made the photos look cold and hazy without them. Photographers used UV filters because they do help make the photos look clearer. Not so with digital photography. Digtal cameras are corrected against UV light. Yes, your DSLR has a built-in UV filter. You do not need another UV filter.

But wait, UV filters are meant to protect your lenses!

Ok, so now you know that it’s useless as the accessory it was meant for so let’s discuss this positive side effect of doubling as a lens protector. Does it really protect your lens?

Let’s put this in proper context. What kind of protection do you expect from it? Protection against impact? Please consider the fact that a UV filter is just a very thin piece of glass bound by some metal screw mount attachment. Even a very light knock will scratch or break it because it is what it is: a very thin piece of glass. A serious knock will break the glass AND bend the metal mounting and ruin the thread of your lens’es screw mount. You’d be lucky if you can still unscrew the broken filter from your lens without further ruining your lens. It’s not really much of a protection, no? Use your lens cap and/or hood if you want real protection.

So how does the front element of your lens compare to a UV lens in terms of toughness? Firstly, it is so much thicker so it won’t break that easily. Glass is actually a very tough material. To cut through glass, you need the world’s toughest natural substance: a diamond! In the very unfortunate circumstance that you do break the front element, a UV filter would have not been able to save it either. If you do break the front element, expect that something in your lens’es internals would be broken as well due to the force of impact. The point is, don’t be stupid.

How about minor scratches? Front elements are quite tough buggers. You would think that lens manufacturers would consider fortifying this most exposed part of the lens, yes? And even if you do scratch it, you would have to scratch it very very badly before the effects would even start to show in your photos. I’m serious. If you don’t believe me, then check THIS

What about dust? Doh?! Just clean your lens with a cloth. If dust gets on your lens then surely a UV filter will get dusty too so what’s the deal? Even dust INSIDE your lens won’t affect your photos. I have a few old manual lenses with dusts in them but they still make very good shots.

Allow me to summarize those points: a UV filter does not provide enough protection. Your lens is way tougher than any UV filter. Minor lens blemishes do not affect image quality.

So enough with what a UV filter does NOT do. What does a UV filter do really? Unfortunately, nothing but negative 😦

Firstly, it causes flare. Some have lesser effects than others but when subjected to point light sources, UV filters will cause flare in images. This is especially true when shooting at night with light sources coming from different directions.

Secondly, with UV filters glued to your lens, you can’t attach other filters (that do matter) without causing image degradation. Stack a CPL and/or an ND filter in there and you will have bad vignette.

Thirdly, you are just supporting the scammers by buying expensive UV filters.

And that’s it folks! So now you have another method of detecting n00bs — they are the ones with UV filters on their lenses.

N00bism #1

In the next few blog posts I will try to cover some of the most common newbie mistakes that even a lot of experienced photographers fall into. I expect that not everyone will agree with my observations and opinions but I hope these posts will make you seriously think about what you are doing.

So numero uno (#1) in this list is ULTRA SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD.

Most newcomers to DSLR photography have this wild obsession on shallow depth-of- field. It’s quite understandable because point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras have very small sensors such that everything from the foreground to infinity are in focus all the time. They don’t want that anymore. Those everything-is-in-focus shots look very amateurish. They want their subjects to “pop” and look pro. It won’t be long before they learn new terminologies such as “bokeh” and “fast lens”, and start the endless craving for expensive, heavy, wide aperture telephotos.

Those who have the money are the first ones to post portrait shots where only the eyes are in focus, the nose blurry and the ears barely recognizable. Their 85/1.2 lens has made the human subject look like a puppy with ears folded back waiting for a good pat on the head. I mean, come on…why the heck did you even waste your time looking for a “nice location” for the photoshoot when the background in all your shots all look like a big blob of blurry mess?!!! You might as well cut and paste your subject into a pre-made wallpaper image. The conflicting ideas are just too funny: they want a nice location but aim to blur everything except the subject.

Look at how real pros do it. Watch them use the background to complement their subjects. Good backgrounds add context to the image. They shoot at f5.6 or f8 and some even shoot at f16. If they do have to shoot at f2.8 they would normally step all the way back to achieve enough DoF.

And it’s not just with portraiture. Macro n00bs do this as well. The lenses focus very close to their subjects and they shoot at 2.8 such that they can’t even get one eye in focus. Stop down to f16 or f22 for Pete’s sake.

I haven’t stressed this one enough but I have always thought that reliance on ultra shallow DoF is for those who can’t compose a shot.

I’m not saying that portrait shots with nice blurry background don’t look good. They do and that’s why everyone is doing it, n00bs included. Especially if you are an experienced photographer, if most, if not all, of your shots look like this then what’s separating you from all the newbies?

Think about it.

On Ken Rockwell

Why oh why would I even write about Ken Rockwell?

He is easily one of the most hated in the industry. That’s why.

If you haven’t read or heard about him then you are one of the lucky few. It probably means you are out there shooting instead of lurking in forums and hurling shit at other “photographers”. Some forums even have strict rules of “no KR discussions”. Some “togs” are very quick to tell n00bs not to read Ken Rockwell.

But WHY?!

Here’s my own conclusion based on common observation: Those who hate him are primarily jealous gear heads who can’t stand the blunt opinions of KR.

Hey, Rockwell isn’t perfect and some of his views are kinda outrageous. Consider his opinion on not using tripods for example. I’m not sure if he is just masochistic but I will bet my unused Nikon D700 that I can take better photos than him if we go on a one-on-one photoshoot contest on the same location as long as he doesn’t use a tripod. I can guarantee that I will have more keepers and more interesting shots than him. Does that make me a Rockwell hater? Far from it. Have a read on his other articles especially those that tackle composition and FARTing and why your gear does not matter. Every newbie should read them. If you visited Rockwells page and totally missed his excellent tutorials then there is no denying that you are a gear whore. Yes, Rockwell is a gear head. What differentiates him from other gear heads is that the guy can shoot. Compare him with FroKnowsFoto or Kai of DigitalRev (if you don’t know them then consider yourself lucky for the second time). Compare him with those “photographers” who hate him. If you don’t believe me then check out his gallery at 1x.com. Now try submitting your own shots to that group and see if you can even get one image approved by their expert curators. Gear whores, on the other hand, think that Rockwell can’t shoot. Guess what, he owns everyone’s dream gear. So if you think that he can’t shoot then truly gear does not matter if you suck at photography. So touche. Every gear whore who hates him is shooting himself on the foot. Gear heads hate him because they can’t beat him. Rockwell is everything a gear whore wants to become but can’t. Rockwell can buy any gear he wants yesterday. Heck he could probably get any camera before they are even released. I said BUY. Not borrow. Kai or Fro don’t even own the gear they “review”. Rockwell BUYS his gear. He buys them and make very blunt reviews about them. Fan boys will kill anyone who makes blunt criticisms about their chosen brand. That’s why they hate him. Gear whores feel like Rockwell just told them that their mothers are ugly. They feel that it’s cool and that it makes them more credible if they hate Rockwell. They can’t accept the fact that after they upgraded to the latest and greatest camera and acquired the holy trinity of lenses their photos still suck. Rockwell was right after all!!!

I’m not saying that Rockwell is God but some say he is the Chuck Norris of photography. If you have not read about that then consider yourself unlucky. It’s easily one of the funniest posts I have read.

I’m not saying you should believe whatever Rockwell says but he is more credible than any other “photography” magazine when it comes to gear reviews. It’s quite funny because there won’t be Rockwell haters if they did not visit his website frequently. How could you hate someone at first glance? You have got to be a frequent visitor to develop a hatred for the guy. These same gear whores keep coming back for more! And rightly so. Rockwell is easily one of the most honest reviewers out there unlike magazines who are scared to say something bad for fear of being abandoned by gear manufacturers.

So you really hate Rockwell? Then I would like to see your photo gallery.

Upgrades

Q: What is more shocking than the release of the iPad 4?

A: The thousands of angry iPad 3 owners.

Unbelievable! Why would somebody get angry at Apple for releasing the iPad 4 within just six months of the iPad 3’s release? Will the iPad 4 suddenly render the iPad 3 a useless paperweight? Heck, my old iPad 2 still works like the day I bought it. What has the world become?!

I have several theories but my best guess is that the iPad 3 does not really mean anything to these owners. The gadget has absolutely NO VALUE to them. It’s just bling.

An item of value is something that you will keep and use until it breaks or until you have outgrown it. It’s not just the Apple iDiots but “photographers” are on the same spectrum of gear whoring. A new camera suddenly renders the old one unusable and so an upgrade is a must. Unfortunately, there is no stopping this insanity. It will only get worse.