Zeikos vs. Nikon Grips

If you find yourself shooting in portrait (vertical) orientation a lot, you probably get tired of the awkward pose required to hold the camera:  your right arm and elbow are high in the air and bent over to your forehead.  Beyond a lack of comfort, this isn’t necessarily the best posture for sharp shots, either.  Other than moving to a tripod (which doesn’t work if you’re highly mobile), one solution is getting a battery grip.

There are two big benefits.  First, you can now hold your camera in the standard way in portrait (tall) or landscape (wide) orientation.  Second, the grip contains a second battery that gives you serious battery life – especially useful if you’re shooting a lot of flash.

The downside is the camera makers tend to charge some relatively serious money for them.  The grips for Nikon’s full-frame cameras get progressively more expensive:  $230 for the D610, $370 for the D750 and $439 for the D810.  Even the D7100 grip is $250.  As you might expect, third-party providers have stepped in and offer the same function for less than $100.  The question is “How good are they?”

I’ll start by saying the grip I’m “reviewing” here is an old one, so it is completely possible that improvements have been made for the newer cameras.  However, I doubt the conclusion is any different at all (provided here for those of you already chafing to click close and hit Reddit):  For the money, they are a very good deal and work well enough.  If you use one a lot, you may want to spend the extra bucks on one from the manufacturer.  Read on for details.

I just got a Zeikos grip with the D700 I purchased, so I did a quick comparison (Nikon left, Zeikos right):

LH7_0460 LH7_0464Nothing big to report here. The radius in some of the angles is a little less subtle for the Zeikos (which is consistent in general). The mounting screw for Nikon seems slightly beefier, and has a half a turn more thread or so…

LH7_0467The plastic on the Zeikos is smoother and shinier. The feel of the power button is similar, but the shutter button is smoother/more progressive than the Zeikos, which has a slight but definite “break” for the shutter release. I don’t classify that as a negative outside of the fact that it isn’t consistent with the body – It felt fine when shooting.

LH7_0463The Zeikos feels a little less “full” in my hand. The Nikon grip is rounded out toward the front, and has a cavity for your fingertips (you can see that well in the first shot). This is definitely preferred. The Nikon rubber is slightly grippier as well. The Nikon wheels are slightly rubberized vs. hard plastic for the Zeikos.

LH7_0462Nikon obviously has a rubber bottom area where Zeikos continues with the grip rubber. Probably a wash unless you put your camera down on the bottom routinely. I’m not sure how well the Zeikos grip would hold up if you’re using an L-bracket (probably fine). The tripod mount seems beefier on the Nikon.

LH7_0461More rubber on the Nikon grip on the back, along with the rubberized wheel. I think if you’re using the grip sparingly this isn’t an issue. If you use it a lot in portrait mode, I’m guessing the hard plastic at the thumb might get tiring. The AF-ON button is labeled on the Nikon. The button feel is pretty similar here, though the edges of the Nikon button are smoother and more integrated into the body of the grip. Joystick feel is similar, with the Nikon feeling a little tighter/more refined. The click action for the Zeikos isn’t as defined as the Nikon, which made 1-click zoom less certain. This is the biggest single issue I have with it. Not a killer if you don’t use that a lot (I do).

LH7_0469

Battery trays are nearly identical. Again the Nikon tray seems…beefier…and a little smoother when installing and removing from the body. The shape of the tray handle is a little more elegantly molded for the Nikon, though that is just aesthetic.

Conclusion:  Overall I think the Zeikos grip is fine. If you aren’t using a grip a lot, I think the function-for-value equation is really good. There are a few things that clearly aren’t up to Nikon’s standards, but you’re not paying Nikon prices.  I haven’t seen the Canon equivalents, but I’d guess the conclusion is the same.  If little things bother you, grab one from the manufacturer.  Buying used is often a way to save some money, too.

Key Lenses

LensfamilyI own six lenses now, and a post by Richard Harrington on Photofocus made me think about lenses I’d choose I was starting over or starting out.

My first lens was my Nikon 18-200 VRII.  For some reason, this is a really controversial lens.  You’ll see lots of people on photography forums malign it, say it isn’t sharp, talk about distortion (which is an automatic two-second fix in Lightroom) and generally look down their nose at it.  Luckily, I listened to Scott Kelby, Trey Ratcliff who recommend it heartily.  Heck – even Ken Rockwell likes it!  It is really versatile, reasonably light and I’ve gotten very sharp shots from it.  As a travel and walkaround lens, it is hard to beat.  Lately prices for used copies of this lens have dropped close to $500, which is a steal.  The older “VRI” model sells for even less, which is crazy – the only difference is that the “VRII” has a switch that locks the lens so it won’t extend while you’re walking around (which is called “lens creep).  If you see a good deal on one, grab it and get this $5 solution for lens creep from B&H.  For most of us Enthusiast Photographers, this takes care of most of our zoom needs.

This brings me back to Richard’s advice – the next lens should be a prime.  Primes give you the ability to shoot in really low light, are usually sharper than zooms and give you more ability to generate “bokeh” – that pleasing blurred background that is so useful for portraits and creative photography.  Here’s the big news – they are really affordable too!  For only a few bucks more than the list price of the 18-200, you can buy the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G and 85mm f/1.8G!  Even better, the 35mm f/1.8 sells brand new for less than $200. On Nikon DX cameras and other “crop sensors” (which include pretty much all both the most expensive DSLRs out there), this gives you the “nifty fifty” field of view – a “normal” view of the world that is pretty much as your eye sees it – not zoomed out or in.  If you’re on a full-frame camera, you’ll want a 50mm lens (hence “nifty fifty) to achieve the same thing.

I started with my 35mm 1.8G and it is the lens I reach for when I want to get creative.  It is also really, really light and really sharp.  Later I added the 85mm, which is just plain outstanding for portraits.

If you’re wondering whether to invest in the more expensive, wider-aperture primes (like the f/1.4 lenses), my advice is generally “No” – there isn’t that much difference in light and they are usually significantly more expensive – from more than twice the money to as much as 8 times as much!! (from the $200 Nikon 35mm f/1.8G to the over-$1600 f/1.4G). The exception to that might be the 50mm if you’re shooting FX or full-frame Canon, etc.- you’ve already spent some serious money and the $500 f/1.4G is outstanding as are the Canon equivalents (and are less expensive than their Nikon cousins…).  If you need to save the $300, you won’t be unhappy with the f/1.8G model, either.  For 85mm lenses, the Nikon f/1.8G is actually sharper than the f/1.4G and far less expensive.

To net it out, get a flexible zoom and a 35mm or 50mm 1.8 prime to start and build from there.  The more you shoot, your needs beyond that will begin to become more obvious to you and you won’t regret having those two lenses in your bag.  (here’s my obligatory “What’s in my Bag?” post)

What lenses do you own?  Any you especially like or dislike?

Really Right Stuff LC-A12 Collar Review (Nikon 70-200 f/4)

rrsf4collar-2One of my few complaints about Nikon’s new 70-200 f/4 was the lack of an integrated foot for mounting on a tripod. A lens of this length and weight is going to have best stability when mounted on a foot, and while Nikon is probably assuming most of these lenses will be in walk-around mode mounted to a D600 or D800, I really wanted a collar.

There are three main options: Nikon RT-1 ($170), Kirk ($160) and the Really Right Stuff LC-A12 ($195).  I rejected the Nikon collar because it doesn’t have the Arca-Swiss dovetail on the base.  Kirk does, of course, but the foot has to be removed with screws and has less flexibility than the RRS.  It has a lens support on the end I feel is unnecessary.  So I ordered the RRS LC-A12 package.

After a bit of a wait, I finally got it.  After having a chance to play with it a bit, here are my thoughts:     (you can also see my video review here on YouTube):

Features

  • Removable Foot Design:  Excellent for minimizing space consumed in your bag
  • Rotation Markings:  On the top and both sides (though Nikon doesn’t make good use of them – detailed below)
  • Dual-Dovetail:  The foot allows use of the very slick (but pricey) flash bracket (better explained in the video)
  • Hole in Collar Mount:  Allows mounting to a tripod or strap if you don’t have the foot
  • Slip-stop:  Helps ensure your lens doesn’t slide off your ball head when you loosen the clamp.  Handy.

Handling

Handling is very good, as you’d expect from RRS though surprisingly I did have a couple of concerns.

The Good

  • Removable foot:  Allows you to save space and weight in your bag when you don’t need the foot.  I toss the foot in a side pocket if I think I’ll need it.  Otherwise, the collar stays attached without the foot.
  • Dual Dove-tail:  Enables you to use RRS’s very cool (if pricey) line of flash brackets.  If you don’t have an RRS foot, you’ll have to attach a heavy bar on the bottom of your L-bracket, which is heavy and complicates switching between tripod and hand-held.  The spacing on the ring to the lens is less optimal, too…
  • Easy to remove:  True of both the foot and the collar itself.

The Not-so-good

  • Knob:  The big silver knob used to adjust tension is…well, big.  I really wish it could be smaller.   Mine also squeaks a bit when tightened (I’ll be calling RRS about that as their manual specifically says not to lubricate the parts)
  • Rotation:  Not as smooth as my 80-200 f/2.8 (which had an integrated, non-removable  collar).  It feels a little dry.  I’m not sure if that is the lens or the collar.
  • 90° Markings:  The RRS collar has great markings.  Unfortunately the Nikon lens only has one, so when you go to portrait mode you have to look a the side of the lens.  My 80-200 had markings that allowed me to look at the top of the lens to match up.

Build

What do you expect of RRS?  The thing is extremely solid and has all the hallmarks or RRS design. Entirely made in the USA, it matches colors of the lens perfectly.  Other than the squeaky knob, I’ve got no complaints or worries here at all.

Value

Value is subjective.  You can save $30-$40 with the Kirk or Nikon collar setups, and I have no doubts about their quality.  The extra money gets you a more flexible setup, and the removable foot in particular is a big plus for me.  Yes, you can find far, far less expensive ones on eBay, but remember the value of the lens and camera that depend on the collar to avoid a nasty fall.  A poor place to economize.  I’ve also heard reports that there is a little slop in some of those cheapie collars, which defeats the purpose.

Photos

LC-A12 Collar and LCF-10 Foot.

LC-A12 Collar and LCF-10 Foot.

rrsf4collar-9 rrsf4collar-12rrsf4collar-5rrsf4collar-3

The single alignment dot offered by the f4

The single alignment dot offered by the f4

Front View

Front View

rrsf4collar-7

LC-A12 foot with an RRS flash bracket mounted. Very cool.

rrsf4collar-8 rrsf4collar-13

rrsf4collar-1

A mounting hole is available for tripods or straps even if the foot isn’t connected.

Summary

I’m a fan of RRS.  I can’t say I find the “dry” rotation or the squeaky knob were expected, but I still think this collar/foot combination is worth having.  I wish they didn’t cost as much as they do, but for $30 more than the Nikon offering, I think RRS is an easy choice.  If I didn’t care about the removable foot, I’d still but the Kirk over the Nikon collar.

What do you think?  Anyone have the Nikon, Kirk or one of the knock-offs?  Please comment with any experiences or thoughts.  Thanks for stopping by!

Black Rapid / Arca-Swiss Solution: Mr. Blurrycam Edition

I get enough questions about my setup that I thought a video might help:

Black Rapid and Arca Solution – Enthusiast Photographer from Lee @ Enthusiast Photographer on Vimeo.

The full write-up can be found here.  I’ve carried this setup literally all over the world, and it has performed flawlessly.  If you’ve got a Black Rapid Strap and an Arca-Swiss-based tripod head/plate system, I think you’ll like this rig a LOT.  I think it even acts as a quick-release system for Black Rapid users who don’t have Arca-Swiss, too…

Apologies for the poor camera-work – I’ll try to improve on that in the future!

Here are some updated photos (though still camera-phone pix):
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Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 v2 Quick Review

ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60 v2

ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60 v2

Summary for the impatient:

Want a bag that has a clown-car-like ability to absorb your equipment and still feel manageable? Want to carry a fair bit of equipment and still have a longer lens mounted and ready on your camera? Want to do those things and not look like you’ve got a lot of expensive camera equipment? The Think Tank Urban Disguise is just the ticket.

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The demands of being an Enthusiast Photographer will probably mean you’ll need more than one bag. I think most serious photographers will really need at least two, and three isn’t a big stretch. Depending on how much you want to carry, how obvious you want to be about having a camera bag and what else you’re doing while you’re out, having multiple bags can be the difference between having a successful outing and being miserable.

Now that you’ve been able to show your spouse those words and leave the room with your credit card, let’s talk about the next target on the list of many camera-bag-junkies: the Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise.  (By the way, there aren’t enough camera bags in the world. I don’t have a camera bag problem. I really don’t!)

There are a lot of models of this bag, which are all generally the same configuration with more and more space as you go up the line. I saw a good deal on a used Urban Disguise 60 v2 and jumped on it. If you’re a regular reader, you know I also own a couple Timbuk2 bags, both built around the medium Snoop insert. I’m still a big fan of my Timbuk2 bags, but I’m finding there is a pretty hard limit to the amount of gear they absorb, and there are a couple things that nag me when I travel. And I travel a lot, especially on business when I need to have my work stuff and I want to have my camera stuff.

I’ve decided that some reviews are greatly enhanced by video, but in the meantime, here are a few thoughts on the bag:

Pros:

  • Massive capacity
  • Durable ballistic nylon and amazing zippers. Zippers are important.  The other hardware on the bag is robust, too.
  • Great flexibility – the bag comes with a ton of inserts to configure the bag like you want, and there are an astounding number of pockets and nooks.
  • All the camera stuff, and computer stuff too – I was able to put my ThinkPad X1 Carbon and my ThinkPad tablet in the bag.
  • Comfortable – you wind up with a lot of stuff without feeling like you’re hauling another whole suitcase
  • Sleeve for use with a roller bag – I’ve had a couple spills with the Timbuk2, which makes me nervous when it isn’t on my shoulder.

Cons:

  • Not as flexible as the Snoop once you get inside the plane – the camera stuff and the bag are a package deal, which means you’re going to be in the overhead compartment on smaller planes.
  • Pricey (but you pretty much get what you pay for…)
  • Not much style – they come in any color you want as long as you like black.
  • I’m finding it hard to configure it when I’m in camera-bag-only mode to hold more than the Snoop.  That is probably my own limitation.

If the “Cons” look a little weak, you’re right.  This is a really impressive bag.

The bag comes with a rain hood, and there is a strap kit that gives you the ability to carry it as a backpack, which is pretty interesting.  My bag came with that kit, so I’ll report on that later.

Here’s what I was able to put in it:

TTUD60v2Contents

Working from the back to the front, that is:

  • ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
  • ThinkPad Tablet 2
  • Nikon D300s with L-bracket
  • Nikon MB-D10 and L-bracket
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/4
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.8
  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8
  • Nikon 18-200 VRII
  • Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
  • Tamron 28-75 f/2.8
  • Cough drops, headache powders, lip balm, a luggage tag and some napkins (I always want napkins on a plane)
  • Ear buds in a case
  • Remote for advancing PowerPoint
  • ThinkTank media wallet (comes with the bag)
  • Two microfibers (I wrap my  camera in one)
  • Cable release
  • Two LensPens and two real pens
  • A headcap for cold mornings
  • My phone (this is actually my old phone, I used my Lumia 920 for the pix)
  • My filter wallet
  • My Singh-Ray variable filter
  • SB-700 flash
  • Black Rapid strap with my Arca-Swiss hack
  • My travel AC/DC adapter
  • My bag-o-cables
  • My sunglasses
  • My car keys

Believe it or not, there is room for more that wouldn’t add volume to the bag if you’re careful packing.

Obviously, lenses are the majority of the bulk here, and it is impressive.  I use the sleeves because I’m overly anal about my stuff, but here’s a look at them all with my keys for scale:

Lensfamily

The bag is easy and comfortable to carry.  I like that the strap has swivels so I never have to take it off to “unwind” it.  I’ll try to get a video tour put together sooner than later, but hope you find this useful.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post ’em up!

As always, feel free to follow this blog, “like” the FaceBook page and/or “Follow” Enthusiast Photographer on Twitter!

Should I buy a Nikon D7100?

D7100_heroIf you’re in the Nikon world you’ve heard about the recent announcement of the new Nikon D7100 (unless you were under a rock somewhere).  Predictably enough, the Nikon sections of the various photography forums are ablaze with questions of whether a given photographer should upgrade.

If you’ve found your way here, you might be wondering the same thing.  Regular readers of Enthusiast Photographer are probably predicting my answer already:  for the vast majority of people, it is “It depends, but probably not.”

Heresy.  Crazy talk.  Doesn’t a new camera make your images better?

Usually not.

Here’s the thing – why do you want to upgrade?  What isn’t your current camera doing for you?  In what way or ways are you exceeding the capabilities of the camera? Do you know the camera inside and out?

If you can’t answer those questions in some detail, you probably don’t need to upgrade (but you want to ;))

The desire is always there for the latest thing, and certainly the D7100 is a compelling camera.  If you’re carrying a D90 or D7000 (especially the latter), my recommendation is probably to sit tight.  Yes, the autofocus system is more capable and sophisticated as you go up from the D90 to the D7000 to the D7100.  Yes, you get more megapixels at each step.  The D7000 has a pretty big jump in ability to pull details out of shadows (dynamic range) vs. the D90, and we can assume the D7100 offers even further improvement.  There is a small bump in low light (ISO) performance – likely to be less than a stop between the D90 and the D7100, which isn’t much.

As I’ve said many times here, you can generally get better and more enduring benefits from investing in high-quality lenses than buying a new body.  The lenses will usually work on your next body.  If they don’t they tend to keep their value extremely well, especially compared to a body (which is more like a car – the older it gets, the less it is worth).

Maybe you can answer the questions above, know your camera inside and out and you have a clear idea of what problems the D7100 solves for you – you’ve wrung every bit of performance out of whatever camera you own.  Maybe you’ve got a complete kit of great glass and you’re ready to take the next step with the body.  If one or more of those is true, the D7100 will be a great camera to have.

If you’re on an older body, a D70 or a D80, I think the case for replacing your body is stronger.  There are a LOT of improvements in features, usability and performance in a D7100 over those cameras.  It might be wise to save a few bucks and grab a D7000 as it begins its ride into the sunset, too…

There are a lot of sensor-bullies on the internet who will say your aren’t getting good images quality unless you have the latest sensor, which is ridiculous.  Every other camera that went before didn’t suddenly become less capable – Nikon just took another step forward.  There are lots of ways to improve your images, and the top three are, in order most to least:

  1. Improve the photographer
  2. Shoot with better lenses
  3. Shoot with the best camera you can

OK – that is a little arbitrary, but it is pretty darn true! 😀

At the end of the day, it is hard to get away from the desire to buy a new body.  My general advice is to resist and focus on the other two things.  The next body will always be there…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the D7100, upgrading or any other topic – feel free to comment!

Enthusiast Photographer Lens? Nikon Announces the 70-200 f/4

The net: Lower-priced, fairly fast glass gives Enthusiast Photographers a compelling and (relatively)  lightweight choice, but there are lots of options in this price range. It isn’t a mistake to get one, but my advice is look at other new and used options. In this price range, it is hard to wind up with a dud…

Being an Enthusiast Photographer has a lot to do with affordability.  Most of us never make any income from our photography, so the equipment you own is mainly about enjoying the process of capturing images.  And since I’m guessing most of you are like me, the amount of money you have to spend on that equipment is limited.

There are lots of great reasons to own a long zoom.  They help you get in tight on kids at recitals or on playing fields that are a long way away or the birds or animals that run away if you’re close.  On my recent trip to Europe, I spent a lot of time taking pictures of what I called “texture” for a project my niece was doing, and having 200mm of zoom was extremely useful.

Nikon just announced a new zoom aimed directly at Enthusiast Photographers – the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR telephoto zoom lens.  It offers a constant aperture of f/4 throughout the focal  (zoom) range.  This means that you can set the camera “wide open” for the best low-light performance and/or shallowest depth of field and it won’t change at all as you zoom, as apposed to my 18-200 VRII, which will automatically change to higher apertures as I zoom out, all the way to f/5.6 at 200mm.  How big a difference is that?  One full “stop” of light.  That means at f/4 the camera has twice as much light to work with, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed or a higher ISO if you need to.  Lots of people say “only one stop”, but for me twice as much is a big deal, and often the difference between getting the shot and *not* getting the shot.  One stop of ISO performance is a lot in a body – the D7000 only has “only” 1.1 stops better ISO performance than the ancient D70 (though it has many, many other advantages!).

Anyway, I’ll let you read the Nikon page on the 70-200 f/4 for the specs and full details, and offer up my opinions.

At $1399, it is a pretty pricey lens.  Yes it has the latest generation of “VR” (Vibration Reduction) technology that will let you hand-hold at very low shutter speeds.  I have to say that walking around Europe and Asia in low light with this camera and, say a D600, would have been a magical hand-held shooting experience.  That is because for shooting stuff that isn’t moving at very low shutter speeds VR is a huge help, and you won’t need a tripod.  Add that to clean files at ISO 6400 from cameras like the D600 and D7000 and you can have a lot of fun.  One word of caution, however: it won’t help you nearly as much if what you’re shooting is moving.

Also – it doesn’t have a tripod collar!  The collar is what gives you a tripod foot for good balance and stability, plus allows you to rotate from “landscape” to “portrait” orientation (horizontal to vertical) without taking the lens off the camera).  I’m sure Nikon’s logic was that VR means a tripod isn’t necessary, but there are plenty of landscape shooters shooting panoramic photos with a long zoom, bird-in-flight shooters and others who use a tripod a fair bit.  Having this 30 oz/850g lens hanging off the body isn’t going to do much for stability on the tripod.  If you want a tripod collar, Nikon is happy to sell you one for $223.95 (who came up with that price?? For that kind of money, I’d wait and see what Really Right Stuff or Kirk come up with).  That said, this lens is a much lighter alternative to the Nikon f/2.8 “pro” zooms – 30oz. vs. over 54oz. for the current 70-200 VRII and almost 52oz. for the older 70-200 VRI (so a little less than 1.9lb vs. roughly 3.4lb and 3.2lb).  1.5 pounds is a lot when you’re running around all day with it on your shoulder or back.

New 70-200 f/4 with the collar

The optional RT-1 collar…

Even without the collar, we’re now talking about money that gets you close to the older, $2399 70-200 VRII, which is f/2.8 throughout the range and one of Nikon’s best zoom lenses ever.  Of course, that isn’t chump change, either.  (but it does have a collar 😉 )

Inside Nikon’s product line, that makes me look at the old 80-200 ED f/2.8, which is great “Pro” glass for under $1100 brand new.  It doesn’t have VR, but fast glass makes up for a lot.  Or you can find a nice used copy of the first generation 70-200 “VRI” that has stability control and is a terrific lens for about the same money as the new f/4 model (though it is slightly better for DX than FX, where the new lens is optimized for FX or DX).

If you’re looking for affordability, the 70-300 VR is still a great lens for under $600 brand new and is even lighter than the 70-200 f/4 (a bit over 1.6lb), though it isn’t capable of the low-light performance.

Outside Nikon’s product line, Tokina has announced they’ll offer a similar lens, though pricing and availability haven’t been published.

Lastly, Tamron and Sigma have f/2.8 long zooms for similar money.  These are generally well-regarded and are “faster”, though I have less confidence in Sigma’s consistency when it comes to quality (which is just a personal impression – I have no data to back that up and there are many Sigma owners thrilled with their lenses).  User reviews of both of these makers tend to complain that low-light focus performance doesn’t match the Nikon-branded lenses.

Should you buy one?  Hard to say.  If you have a D600, this lens is designed for you, and is as-good or better than anything out there for the price.  I think the Tokina lens will be a very interesting and high-quality product, probably at $1299 (though it apparently doesn’t have a collar, either).

If I had the money to buy a lens in this price range, I’d be a little flummoxed.  Especially with the collar, there are a ton of options.  The good news is any of the options will net you a really nice lens.  Personally, I’d probably go with a used 70-200 VRI, though the weight and the likely quality of this lens would make it a tough call.

If you’re debating about a new body vs. this new piece of glass, the old saying comes to mind – always invest in glass.  Good lenses make any camera better (see my posts on fast glass and “should I get a new camera” for some additional thoughts), and this lens is good for any modern Nikon DSLR whether it is DX or FX.

Please feel free to post any questions, thoughts or comments!!

Ooops! Card vs. Port Performance Updated!

If you read “Are you like me?” or “Who the heck is this guy?“, you hopefully read in the very first sentence of the disclaimer: “I’m not an expert, I’m going to make mistakes (and learn from them).”  Well, here we are.

My test results confused me a bit, and I went digging for answers for why I didn’t see as much difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 as I expected.  Looking at the USB Wikipedia page, USB 2.0 should be capable of 60MB/sec. (theoretically) and USB 3.0 should be 625MB/sec. (!). Since the 400X card is rated for 60MB/sec. minimum sustained transfer speed, it should pretty much fill the USB 2.0 bus.  The 1000X card has a whopping 150MB/sec minimum, so clearly you’re going to need USB 3.0 to get the performance the card offers.

So what was the problem?  Drivers.  My ThinkPad T430s was running a generic load of Window 7 that didn’t have the USB 3.0 drivers installed, so I didn’t get the speed benefit on my first run of tests.  I updated everything and re-ran the tests using the same methodology as before, though I had to use a different set of files – I’d uploaded the ones I wanted and deleted the rest.  The new batch was more files but smaller on average, totaling 2.02GB.

So how did it all come out?
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Updated Results
400X SD from USB 3.0 Reader: 51:0
1000X CF from USB 3.0 Reader: 11:0

Internal Reader: 1:02

400X SD from USB 2.0 Reader: 2:29.5
1000X CF from USB 2.0 Reader: 1:09.8
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The updated drivers didn’t change the USB 2.0 or internal reader results, but saw the USB 3.0 performance crush the previous tests and USB 2.0.  The 1000X card was over six times faster on USB 3.0 where it could run at full speed, just 11 seconds for over 2GB of photos!

So the new takeaways:

  1. If it sounds wrong, it probably is.
  2. Always, always keep your drivers up to date.
  3. If you want maximum performance from newer cards, USB 3.0 rocks!

 

Card Test: X’s aren’t the only thing that matters…

[UPDATE: If a search engine has brought you here, I found an error in my testing – a quick scan might be useful here, but the final information is found in the “oops!” update.

I recently posted about the benefits of “X’s” – one measure for measuring the performance of our digital film cards, both SDHC and Compact Flash.

Now that I have the 1000X Lexar Professional Compact Flash cards in-hand to go along with my 400X Lexar Professional SD cards and both USB 2.0 and 3.0 card readers, I figured I’d test the combinations and see how things turned out.  The results were surprising…

Here was my methodology: I had 2.03GB of JPEG files from shooting the day before.  I would attach the reader with the card and dragged the DCIM folder from the card to a new folder on the drive.  I timed it from the moment I released the mouse button until the moment the copy window disappeared.  After each test, I deleted the folder so the same amount of space remained on my hard drive, which is a 180GB SSD (which is pretty fast, so your times might vary on spinning hard drives).

First up were the cards on the USB 3.0 reader, a Kingston model with good reviews on Amazon, though sometimes I wish I’d bought the Lexar version, which looks smaller and is less cluttered with other card types I don’t care about.  The 400X SD card finished copying in 2:05.4, where the 1000X Compact Flash card took only 1:09.1, not quite twice as fast.

Next I plugged in the much older USB 2.0 reader, which was also a Kingston product.  I bought the USB 3 reader when I thought one of my kids had lost this one.  Since I knew I was soon getting a ThinkPad T430s with USB 3.0, I went ahead and got the latest thing.  Then my wife found the old reader.  Oh well, at least I have my own now.

Anyway, after running the tests, I was a little dumbfounded.  The SD card took 2:31.8, which gives USB 3.0 a decent 26 second advantage.  Since this was only 1/8 of the card capacity, that can really add up.  However, the 1000X card finished in 1:10.7, giving USB 3 a modest 1.6 second advantage.

I heard back from Lexar when I asked about incompatibility issues, and their reply was they were maintaining compatibility and would work with any customers experiencing issues., so I guess this is good news for people with USB 2.0 readers and PC’s with USB only 2.0 slots.  At some point I’ll try to re-run these tests on a USB 2.0-based machine.

The last test surprised me quite a bit.  I copied the same files from the SD card using my built-in SD card reader on my machine.  The 400X SD card was exactly ten seconds faster than the 1000X Compact Flash card!

I’m sure someone can explain the reasons why, but the lesson I take away from it is this:  just like all cards at the same rated speed don’t deliver the same performance, overall performance isn’t limited to the card.  Your reader makes and the machine itself can make a big difference, too…

Knowing what I know now, I’d probably buy 600X SD cards and slower Compact Flash cards as backup – my goal in buying 1000X cards (which are not-quite-twice the price of the 400X cards) was to get faster transfers off the cards.  My guess is 600X cards off the built-in reader would be faster than the 1000X cards for about half the price.

If your PC doesn’t have a built-in reader, the faster CF cards give you a big benefit, but if you do, the SD cards might be a faster an more affordable alternative…

The future of Pro DX: Dark

I was reading an article today from Thom Hogan, titled “The DX Problem”. In the article he essentially states we’re getting two more DX cameras this year and that Nikon’s mentality has devolved to a sensor/form factor view as opposed to a customer/user view. Where I’d see Consumer, Prosumer and Pro with use categories underneath (e.g. family shooter, advanced consumer, serious amateur, sports, wildlife, etc.) that would slot into products that fill the need, Nikon sees Coolpix, 1, DX, and FX, at least in Thom’s view.

I think he’s right, and it makes me feel like Nikon is removing a product from their current lineup. Two more DX cameras sounds an awful lot like a D7100 and a D5200, replacing/updating two products that are a tad paler with the D3200 announcement (especially the D5100).

What is left out? A D300s replacement.

As someone who went from a “prosumer” D90 to a “pro” D300s, this is a big disappointment.

Why, you ask? Why wouldn’t a D7200 or a D600 replace a D300s? Why isn’t the latest DX sensor or a new prosumer FX enticing to me? Easy. The answer is handling.

When the PC industry went through a phase where the megahertz and megabytes, it devolved in to a morass of slapped-together, mainly disposable junk. Anything more than a couple years old was bad, and you needed a new one. Cameras are apparently heading this way too. Megapixels rule the day.

The D300s wasn’t an upgrade for me in terms of sensor or megapixels, but it is a liberating camera. The “pro” handling, where switches and knobs allow you to set most key settings instead of a bunch of buttons and menus in the camera’s software, is a terrific thing. It gives me much more instant command of my camera, allowing me to stay focused on the shot in front of me. I can switch all the important stuff without looking at the camera. Awesome.

And it has spoiled me. The D7000 is a terrific camera, and I have no doubt the D600, which appears to be an FX sensor in the D7000 body, will probably be a game changer in the prosumer area. For me, it would be a return to menus and buttons, and I’m just not going to do that. What good is a great sensor if you’re fiddling with buttons and missing the shot? I think the consumer and prosumer cameras are getting the handling just right for the people who are using them, but expecting the wildlife, sports and other folks who want a DX sensor and are used to the “pro” handing of the D200/D300/D300s (not to mention the older D1x, D2x, D2h, etc.) to move to the prosumer models is crazy.

No matter how good the sensor is, those guys and gals aren’t going to be very happy, because the handling is a core part of how they shoot. I don’t think I’m at that level yet, but I can tell you that I’ve benefited a lot from the D300s, even though I didn’t upgrade my sensor at all. Do I want ISO 100, a nice 24MP sensor with the dynamic range of the D7000? A few other things? Sure! (though I’d settle for 16MP, which of course won’t happen). But I want it in a D400 package, not the D7100 or D600. It looks like Nikon is getting out of that business.

I guess the good news is this my wallet is safe from Nikon for a long time. Outside of the blog, I can stop thinking about the next camera so much and focus more on the next shots.