Something To Remember

From Stephanie Cook’s “Muse & Sparrow” blog, Something To Remember for beginning Enthusiast Photographers…

The message? Keep working, keep learning, keep growing and have a good time!


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?
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
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!


What do more X’s get you?

If you’re shopping for memory lately, you’ll see a dizzying and probably confusing array of performance indicators on the label or in the name of the product.  I guess one way to know which is faster is to just buy the more expensive ones within the same brand, but that isn’t the best way to shop or get the performance you want.

One increasingly common way of denoting card speed is “X” (e.g. 133X, 400X, etc.) – which is a carry-over of the way we used to measure the speed of optical drives.  Ultimately, it isn’t a guaranteed way to measure speed, and even “speed” is a reference to two different things that usually have different performance.  So what do you you want to look at?  Read Speed and Write Speed.  What are the benefits of each one?

Write Speed:  There are a couple of related advantages to a card with a fast write speed.  If you’re shooting at high speed (maximum frames per second), you’ll be able to take more shots before you have to stop due to the camera’s buffer hitting its memory limit.  This is because the camera is able to write the shots from the buffer to the card more quickly.  When you do hit the wall, you’ll wait less time for the buffer to clear so you can shoot more photos.  You’ll notice the little light that means your camera is writing images to the card goes out more quickly.  At the end of the day, if you don’t shoot a lot of continuous shots, you won’t see the benefit of fast write speeds.

Read Speed:  Do you get tired of waiting for your photos to download from your card to your PC?  I definitely do.  I have three spawn and a wife who I constantly compete with for time on the family PC (the one with the big screen).  The longer I wait for my shots to import the more people I’ve had to defend against for the rights to my chair.  The benefit of read speed is easy.  Faster is always better – it helps eliminate the “watched pot” syndrome.  You’ll get the benefit every time you transfer photographs off your card.  A caution:  I’ve heard that 1000X cards (currently the fastest available speed, only available on CompactFlash) require a USB 3.0 port and a USB 3.0-based card reader as well.  It is unclear to me whether that is a true compatibility issue or just getting the full performance of the card.  I’ll try to get some clarification.  I haven’t heard similar issues with speeds under 1000X.  When looking at cards, the premium brands tended to have better performance here.  For example, the 16GB Lexar Professional 1000X CompactFlash card is rated for 95MB/sec. write and 150MB/sec. read where Delkin 1000X cards (the only other 1000X cards currently available at B&H) are rated for 150 MB/sec. read but only 50-80MB/sec. write depending on which capacity you choose.

Even those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Rob Galbraith has a great collection of speed testing on a huge variety of cards.  See the results here.  What you’ll find is the premium cards like Lexar Professional and SANDisk Extreme are the fastest in their class (pretty much in that order) and then you see the less-expensive guys.  Net: when it comes to speed, you get what you pay for.  Or maybe it is you pay for what you get.  Whatever.  🙂

On the subject of compatibility, you might have questions about whether your camera is compatible with the latest cards.  We’re kind of left on our own here: camera manufacturers don’t spend too much time testing new cards on old cameras, and the information isn’t always complete or easy to find from the guys who make the cards.  So what do you do?

The good news is that for the most part, the cameras use nearly any card that fits the slot.  You might not get the highest in-camera performance possible from the card, but it will probably work.  That said, if you have an older camera – let’s say more than 5 years old – I wouldn’t bother investing money in the latest card technology or the biggest card.  My D300s, the flower of 2009 technology, works fine with the 1000X UDMA 7 CompactFlash cards from Lexar.

Is it worth it?  It really depends.  I don’t typically fill my buffer – I can shoot several seconds of RAW shots at 7 frames per second before filling up my buffer, and in JPEG mode I’ve got even more than that.  I don’t know if I’m getting any benefit while shooting from UDMA 7 (I doubt it).  But I noticed a huge bump in speed pulling my shots off the card when I moved from my 133X SD cards to my current 400X.  I’m waiting for my 1000X CompactFlash cards, and I’m expecting even faster transfers.  That is worth it to me.  If the price is too high for your budget, the good news is there are usually several tiers of performance available with lower prices to match.  Pay attention to the write and read speeds specifications, and buy the best you can afford.  For the same money, I’d buy smaller cards of better quality/speed than bigger cards from the cheapo guys.

As far as brands, I’m personally a fan of Lexar, and all my current cards are from their Lexar Professional series.  I like them because they make their own chips and have direct control of virtualy all aspects of their components and manufacturing.  Even SANDisk can’t say that.  Lexar’s warranty and support are excellent.  I wouldn’t shy away from SANDisk (who also makes some of the fastest cards along with Lexar, in their SANDisk Extreme line).  Kingston and Transcend both seem to have loyal followers.  I buy Lexar cards because I think memory is a poor place to get cheap.  If your card is bad, your photos are likely gone forever (though Lexar does have some software that can sometimes help if you have a corruption issue, formatted the card, etc.).  From my work in the technology industry, I know a little about the world of component sourcing, and the cheap guys are cheap for a reason – they are often buying chips that don’t meet the quality and/or performance specifications of the big guys, among other things.  The price differences between the premium brands isn’t much, and I think it is worth it not to worry about it.

I’d love to hear your comments – what brands do you use?  Any horror stories?  Got a good experience?  Do you prefer several smaller cards or one big one?

Touristy Photos

I wanted to briefly share a simple contrast between a “snapshot” and a “photograph”.  So often you hear about people coming back from exotic places with a lot of boring photos that just don’t make anyone happy – they don’t excite the people who look at them and they seem only a vague shadow of something amazing to the person who took the photo hoping to catch a sliver.

I did a lot of traveling around the world recently, and my renewed dedication to photography gave me the chance to see different photographic opportunities than I did just a few years ago.  I wanted to come back with as few snapshots as possible, and I wanted my images to mean something to me as well as make an impression on anyone else who sees them.

My vacation was exactly that – a vacation – so I didn’t want to turn the whole trip into a photography exercise.  However, I wanted to use my understanding of composition, aperture and other mechanics to bring home images that told a story and communicated how I felt when I took the shot.

The best example I have of this from my trip came from Prague.  Along the waterway, there are occasionally fences where lovers place locks for good luck.  The most popular one is very close to the John Lennon wall.  It is a really cool site, but the snapshot I took of it just doesn’t do it justice:

This is what a touristy snapshot looks like. It physically captured the scene, but isn’t visually very interesting and doesn’t really tell a story.  Shot at f/5.6, shutter 1/80.

Standing next to it, this scene is a lot more striking and cool than the above photo.  I really wanted to show off the brilliant colors and the diversity of the locks as well as create a sense of drama for the shot.  Here’s another view of the same scene:

Here the locks are the stars of the show. The composition and narrow depth of field create a much more dramatic perspective, and bring the colors to life. This was shot with the same 35mm lens, but shot at f/1.8 to create the thin zone of focus (focal plane) and composed to create drama and an opportunity for the creamy background (bokeh).  I manually chose the focus point for this shot, and tried several moving left to right down the frame to get the one I ultimately liked the most.

This shot speaks far more strongly to me as a memory of a cool place I visited, and it stands alone as an image, too.  All it took was a few seconds of thought about how best to tell the story of this place, select the best aperture for the job, compose the shot and shoot a few frames.  In this case, the “rule of thirds” applied more to the point of focus than the composition itself.

So often when I’m taking pictures, it is specifically about the pictures.  Whether it is photos of my children at a family event or outings specifically about creating images, my priority is photographs.  On vacation, only slivers of my attention were focused on the photography.  My main goal was to relax and enjoy two wonderful weeks with my wife.  A secondary goal was to bring back images as warm as my memories of the places and the experience.  Getting very comfortable with the hardware, theory and practice allowed me to do just that.

Has photography changed how you take vacation photos?  Did it help you enjoy your vacation more?  Anyone want to share a link to your favorite vacation photo?

Cool on-line tool!

Apologies for the long absence!  Two weeks of work traveling in Asia, followed by a week at home followed by two weeks of vacation in Europe (including five cities in five different countries) means one pretty crazed and time-zone straddling Enthusiast Photographer!

I’ve got a number of posts lined up, but wanted to make a quick note of a tool I discovered that I find really helpful.

If you’ve ever wondered how the term “Depth of Field” translates into the real world based on all the settings (especially aperture), your camera and the distance you are from your focal point, this site helps you not only gives you the numbers, but helps you think about it in real-world terms.

The site is called “DOFMaster” ( and allows you to enter your camera, the focal length, the f/stop (apterture) you’re using and the distance from the subject.  Select your settings and hit the “Calculate” button and it shows you the values and a visualization for what it means in front of the lens.

I don’t need it all the time, but it has been handy several times lately.  More importantly, it is one more layer of understanding added to the subject of depth of field!

Photos from China and Japan

Apologies for the long gap between posts!  I just got back from a business trip that took me to China and Japan, and luckily afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit of time with a photographer buddy taking pictures.  I tend to focus too much on hardware sometimes on Enthusiast Photographer – I hope you enjoy them!  Some of them are kind of touristy, which is fine – I was a tourist!  🙂  I did try to be a little creative, but my main focus was having full command of my camera and having fun.  A D300s looms in my immediate future, and I wanted to be fully comfortable without the nanny “Auto” mode.

So here are a few from my travels.  Comments and feedback are welcome!

Dinner in Beijing


A Manhattan in Beijing

Woman watches a Fountain Art installation in Beijing

Pipes in the 798 District of Beijing

Impromptu parking garage…

Biker takes a break from the mid-day sun in Beijing

View from the top of the Mori tower in Tokyo

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.  This one is an example of where composition and zoom can actually reduce the scale of the subject.  The tourists in the foreground make the Buddha seem much smaller than it is…

A better composition of the world’s largest Buddha.

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan

A monument near the great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan.

It was a really enjoyable trip, even if it was work!  Even better, my wife and I are heading to Europe for two weeks early next week, so I’ll be a traveling Enthusiast Photographer once again!

By then, all the D600 rumors will probably be sorted out… 😉

As a quick equipment note, this was my first big trip with the all my gear, plus a couple other items – my Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the Snoop insert performed well – if anything, it holds too much!  The Gitzo 2531/Sunwayfoto XB-44 performed well, but the setup is really too large to fly with.  I took my new Sirui monopod and the monopod head/clamp setup provided by Sunwayfoto, and these were a great solution.  The head and clamp gave me excellent flexibility with the monopod, and allowed me to shoot in some pretty low light.  Unfortunately, even monopods weren’t allowed on the top from the Mori Tower, so that shot was hand-held.  I’m debating whether I can/should take the tripod to Europe.  I want to find a way to take it, but I’m thinking it is going to be hard to get on the plane, and I’m not taking a suitcase big enough to put it in.  More on that later…

Don’t fear the FUD

One of the most-viewed posts on Enthusiast Photographer is about my solution to the dilemma of using the Black Rapid Strap with the Arca-Swiss plate system, in my case my RRS-L-bracket on my Nikon D90.

For those of you who haven’t seen what I’m using, here it is:

A phone-cam picture of Black-Rapid/Arca-Swiss bliss…
Note that I’ve added a safety strap in case of some kind of strap/clamp failure (somewhat unlikely) or in the event I’m a forgetful doofus (somewhat likely).

Note I’ve attached my “safety strap” to the D-ring. That is the most likely of the very unlikely failure points on the strap.

On the various forums I frequent, there is invariably a mention of a series of e-mails Bosstail (a Black Rapid competitor) has on their website from Nikon and Canon support regarding the use of the tripod mount for attaching the strap. Predictably enough, they are negative on the idea.

Personally, I think that information from Bosstrap is disingenuous – Given the popularity of these types of straps, you’d think there would be an official word from Nikon/Canon, etc. on this matter, especially if there was risk to the equipment. As best I can tell, there is no official word or warning from Nikon or Canon on their website or in their user manuals referring to the use of straps in the tripod mount.

No – I’m not an engineer, but I don’t think the forces applied to the mount are significant compared to use with a tripod plate/clamp/head setup. It seems to me that a 70-300 lens (with no foot) mounted on a tripod would put significantly more stress on the mount than the lens hanging down on a Black Rapid or similar strap. I don’t think that is the common use case anyway – the biggest lens I’m using when mount to the BR strap to the tripod mount is my 18-200. When I’m running around with my 80-200, I’m using the mount on the foot for the strap, which I’d think would have the same benefit on the strap as it does on the tripod – more balance and less stress.


The massive 80-200 set and ready to go. I put the knob on the right side of the lens to keep it out of the way.

Unless I see an official warning from the camera OEM’s, I’m not going to worry about it. A copy/paste of e-mails (that might be legit, but sound more like CYA than policy) and 2nd-hand statements from “Nikon staff” aren’t very compelling arguments. Additionally, it seems like Black Rapid and similar guys would be opening themselves up to lawsuits if their design inflicted damage on the camera.

Lastly, on FredMiranda and Photograhy-on-the-Net (POTN) (and others) I’ve seen many, many comments from working pros who have been using these straps with big lenses and flashes for multiple years and reported no issues with damage to the camera base.

Net: I think Bosstrap is being a little shady and using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to drive sales. Show documented, engineering-based proof or publicly official statements from the camera manufacturers, not anonymous e-mails from some pimply-faced Nikon support tech trying to keep his job and nebulous “Nikon staff”. If you can’t do that, innovate, engineer, market and compete fairly. FUD is a sign of the weak who can’t compete with a better solution.

I’d really like to see something official from Nikon/Canon on their site and in their user guides. I think my use of the Arca-clamp on the L-bracket further mitigates any concerns by spreading the weight and stress beyond just the screw-point of the tripod mount, but I doubt it makes any real-world difference. I strongly doubt there is an issue for anyone using the Black Rapid FastnR in their tripod mount (the standard way if your tripod mount doesn’t live on your camera).

I do wish Nikon and Canon would declare one way or the other. In the meantime, I love my Black Rapid RS-7!

(I did a quick check on Black-Rapid’s site – no mention of the Arca-Swiss-compatible solution they alluded to at CES…)

Nikon D600: a step closer?

NikonRumors has posted some additional details on what they say are specs for a full-frame (FX), 24 megapixel D600, set to be announced before September. Since I mentioned it as a possible tradeoff I was willing to live with, it is pretty funny to me that the updated information purports the new camera to have a 39-point autofocus system (presumably similar to what is in the D7000), which I mentioned in my D400/D600 post.

If that is true, this really sounds like something other than a camera that would be called a D600. With dual SD card slots, no AF motor, U1/U2 preset modes and the 39-point AF system, this sounds a lot like a four-digit model (D8000?) for consumer/prosumer than a pro model (D400/D600).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the prices are rumored to be as low as $1500, but I’m thinking that is Euros (around $1900), lower than the current D700 price of $2199, but high enough and with a feature set that won’t drag too much away from the D800 (though the D800 could use a little easing of demand given the massive-if-likely-inflated orders out there…). That price would give them room for a D400, too…

Whatever they call it, I think the D600 will be a big hit. If there is no D400, I can only hope it pushes used prices down on the D300s and D700, because it won’t be a camera for me – I’m too invested in lenses that require a screw-drive to change now…

What do you think? Is a D600 the right camera for you?

Great Sand Dunes NP – 4×5 Velvia 50 drum scan

Great Sand Dunes NP - 4x5 Velvia 50 drum scan
Zach is a young guy just bursting with talent. He goes to cool places to shoot, sleeps in his car and brings back images like this.

Zach is the kind of photographer I aspire to be – he understands his equipment and his medium and has a broad awareness of photography theory, but most importantly he knows how to extract a story and make compelling photographs.

I think it is hard not to be captured by the technical details in photography, especially starting out, but Zach is doing it all on muscle memory. He’s an amazing photographer!

(he also happens to be a pretty nice guy, too… 🙂 )

A D800 Review to Remember

My favorite of the series of “NikonJin’s” commentary photos on the D800 (from the Facebook page, link below)

We all get very serious about hardware, so it is refreshing to see something that is not only on-point and informative but really funny and creative as well.  Go check out the post about the D800 on NikonJin’s FaceBook page or on DPReview…