D800 Preview Revealed

It drives me crazy that Ken Rockwell has declared the D800 the best camera Nikon has ever made without ever holding one.  At least Thom Hogan and others are circumspect enough to be clear where they are inferring from the specs instead of a lot of hyperbole.  But whatever.

I followed a link from FredMiranda to the blog of a really terrific photographer named Cliff Mautner.  I was thrilled to see what a pro could do with the D800, but it was also great just to see the work of someone as talented as Cliff.  It might not be the camera for me, but it is clearly an amazing tool!

So hop on over and check it out at cmphotography.com.

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Apple opens a door with iBooks

A sample of one of Apple's templates from their website

In my post-CES haze (my feet have almost forgiven me), I missed an interesting announcement from Apple about iBooks.  Luckily, Scott Bourne (who was also at CES, but is veteran-savvy… :)) is awake and aware, and posted an article about it on his site: A New Way For Photographers To Self-Publish.

This is a really interesting play from Apple, and there are significant implications for schools, publishers and small authors.  Google, Amazon and others are paying attention, to be sure.  Scanning through the materials, there will likely be a whole ecosystem of content providers (stuff to put in books like movies, photos and more), companies who publish books, affiliates (people who will promote the books, even down to blogs like this one) and, of course, the people who write the content itself.

This ecosystem is only likely to expand, too.  In the next ten years, the meaning of the word “book” is going to change as much as the words “album” or “phone” have in the last ten.  It isn’t unexpected – it is the obvious evolution of what Kindle started and the capabilities a tablet offers.  Apple, Amazon and Google are going to fight it out in this space.

For photographers, publishing collections, “How To” books and more will get easier than ever before.  I’m not sure how Amazon and Google are playing in this game, but they surely will.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft in the mix, either.  It is one thing to publish the book, but finding it is the trick.  It will be interesting to see if the Search guys (Google and Microsoft) and stronger than the Point of Sale guys (Apple via iTunes book store) and Amazon (via…well…Amazon).  Guys with very established content like Scott Kelby, Trey Ratcliff, Bryan Peterson, Thom Hogan and even our buddy Scott Bourne will have some very interesting opportunities and decisions.

For me, I own Scott Kelby’s books in Kindle form.  Honestly, I wish I had it in book form, too.  There are some things I like just fine in electronic form, but for really engaged reading, I like a physical book.  For something like Scott’s book, I;d love to have both – I’ll be scanning through it today on my ThinkPad tablet during my daughter’s ice-skating lesson for tips on indoor flash techniques… 😉

What are your thoughts on where this is all going?  Do you like a “real” book or are you going e-book?

Legs or or no legs?

Maybe it is the specter of Scott Kelby telling me the first step to sharp photography is a tripod, the kind of photography I do (lots of landscape/cityscape shots) or just the plain great results I’m getting when I use one, but I’m a pretty big fan of my tripod.  I look for excuses to use it, especially since I got the RRS head and L-bracket (which is still a post for another day).

But what about you?  Do you use one?  I’d love to hear comments on why you do or don’t, if you love it or hate it!

Patience is a virtue. I’m lacking virtue.

I got the chance to upgrade my tripod setup, and I jumped at it.  I was able to sell my existing Manfrotto legs and head for good money, and I found a great deal on a Gitzo 2531 with a Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-40 ball head.  They are on the way.

And so now I wait.

I hate waiting.

I really, really, really do.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the new setup.  Honestly, it is probably what I should have gotten starting out, but lots of factors determined what I bought the first time, and now I’ve gotten a chance to take a big step up.  I’ll write up a full review with details, comments, photos and thoughts, but here’s a few things to chew on if you’re an Enthusiast Photographer thinking about tripods (hopefully you’ve already read my post “The least sexy upgrade, and it isn’t in your bag…”).

First – think ahead in your purchase.  If there is any chance you’ll wind up with bigger lenses later, take that into account now when you’re buying your tripod.

Second – buy the best tripod and head you can afford.  The good news is that these are pretty much like good lenses – they don’t tend to lose much value over time.  This isn’t to say you have to buy a $1200 tripod and head setup.  If you can’t afford carbon fiber, go with aluminum.  Manfrotto’s 055XPROB is a very nice, affordable, solid setup with great height and a nifty optional carry strap.  But as usual, I’m ahead of myself.  Look at your future potential weight needs and buy the best stuff you can.  Much like in the world of laptops, the lighter you go, the faster the price escalates.  Unless weight or travel size is absolutely critical, I’d go with a nicer head with heavier, less exotic lenses until you can afford nice everything.  A bad head will make you miserable.  More on heads and legs in another post – it is another example in the photography world of a subject that has huge dimension, learning curve and spread of opinions.

Third – don’t be intimidated by the brand snobs.  Some say if you don’t have Manfrotto, Gitzo or RRS, you’ve got a bad tripod.  Here’s the net: most of us aren’t professional photographers out with a bag shooting for paychecks and running our gear hard.  We’re Enthusiast Photographers, right?  That means we’re out mainly on the weekends (if we’re lucky) and on the occasional set shoot or vacation.  We don’t need the stuff built to survive a war zone.  Benro, Induro, Sirui and Vangard have pretty decent products and lower prices from what I’ve read and the limited amount I’ve been able to handle them.  Yes, the cheap ones are probably built in China.  There is nothing wrong with that.  You won’t get ultimate features or ultimate quality, but I suspect you’ll get a fine level of both.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider the nice brands.  They are great – I have no doubts I’m going to love my Gitzo.  The fact that Really Right Stuff is entirely made and sourced in the USA is terrific, and they are just plain beautiful – the pinnacle of tripods.  But I can’t afford or justify them at this point.  Net:  You can get a very nice tripod for reasonable money.

Fourth – start at the top and work your way down.  I’ll cover this more in the head and legs section, but you would do well to think about the plates you’ll be using to attach the camera to the tripod.  There are proprietary plates on the least expensive heads that will limit you later.  Manfrotto’s heads work only on Manfrotto tripods and have some limitations I’ll cover later, too.  Then there is the Arca-style plates used by Arca-Swiss, Acratech Kirk, RRS and others.  It is a standard, sort of, and it offers the broadest flexibility.  I’d venture to say it is the preferred platform for most of the most serious photographers.  Your plate decision is generally going to make your head decision (generally Manfrotto vs. the Arca crowd), and from there you are about budget, load and usability.

Fifth – for tripods, less sections is generally better than more sections.  Prefer three sections to four.  It isn’t an absolute, but it isn’t far from it.  The higher-end CF 4-section legs are fine (RRS, Gitzo, et. al.).

Anyway, this is a lot more than I intended to write.  Mainly I’m really hating that I’m waiting.  If you have tripod thoughts, suggestions or questions, let’s hear ’em and I’ll incorporate them into the head and legs post.  Which I’ll write after I’m finished waiting for my new toys.  In the meantime, Thom Hogan has a good read on tripods and the process most photographers go through when it comes to support.

Separating the wheat from the chaff…

I’m pretty active and knowledgeable about polishing and waxing cars, and I notice a parallel in the auto detailing world that there are lots of people intimidated by the process, products or equipment who are seeking help.  What they often get can make things worse:  conflicting information, “experts” who give out incorrect information and generally more opinions that facts.  I try to help the people I can in the detailing world with simple, fact-based information and guidance, and help.

So as an enthusiast photographer, someone looking to expand my skills and knowledge and acquire the best gear for the money, where do I turn?  If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’m a fan of Scott Kelby.  His books are an excellent place for photographers using the “Auto” setting to get away from it completely.  His website is pretty useful sometimes, too.  I’ve debated about subscribing to his Kelby Training site – it is $199 a year (~$17 a month) or $24.95 for a single month.  Over the holidays I’ll take advantage of the 24-hour free trial and report back.  I have every expectation it will be very useful.  Honestly, $14.99/month or $149 a year would make it a no-brainer, but that looks stupid even as I type it – there aren’t many $50 things that improve your photography much.  The books I referenced in “Breaking Through the Wall” are a terrific place to start.

On-line forums can be useful, too – Nikonians and FredMiranda.com have both been great.  Dpreview.com is just too chaotic, and frankly their forum software is hard to use/follow.  The key in the forums is to follow a few regularly, see if they are giving you something useful, and figure out who the useful experts are and identify the blowhards, too.  That will take some time, but will be worth the patience.  It will also give you a feel for how to write your posts/questions for the best responses.

For hardware reviews, I think there are 3 main sites – dpreview.com, bythom.com and kenrockwell.com are all really useful.  You’ll find Thom is opinionated, a little cranky but very consistent and dependable with his reviews and guidance.  Some people don’t like him, and reviews have a lot of opinion in them, but he strikes me as a very balanced guy, and I like reading his stuff.  dpreview has a very technical approach, but it is easily the best site to see what the bodies can do and compare them to others.  They are extremely thorough, and though they are more “fact” than “opinion”, sometimes it is a little hard to tell which is which – an occasional opinion gets thrown in amongst a lot facts and comes off stated as fact, but I suppose that is difficult to avoid.  As I mentioned in my previous post, you can get some idea of head-to-head specs of cameras at SnapSort.  Just remember that specs don’t tell the whole story, and some aren’t represented at all.

Then there is Ken Rockwell.  A lot of folks in the photography community hate him, and it is easy to see why.  He has a healthy opinion of himself, he states opinions as if he is a god of the photography pantheon and tends to have a controversial way to putting things.  I’m an odd mixture of technical and non-technical, but there are times when he’s stating things as fact that are not only opinion, but are just plain wrong.  Personally, I think his rants on RAW vs. JPEG are misleading, and they are the epitome of his arrogant style.  To read through his site, I have to put a filter on or I get annoyed.  He’s shouty, egotistic and generally kind of an ass.  He’s also a cheerleader – you’ll have to learn to ignore all the “world’s best” and “best such-and such in history” blurbs, since he seems to throw these around with abandon and at times even in conflict with each other. But his site can be really useful.  It does a terrific job of indexing the features and settings for lenses and cameras, and giving some comparison to the previous generations, etc. It is a site absolutely worth your time, if you can stand it long enough.

YouTube is another resource I’ve found useful, but it is also a place of high chaos.  I haven’t found one that is consistently good.  Jared Polin has some interesting and funny stuff, but boy does he need an editor!  I’m not sure I have a recommendation here other than to search on your topic – there will eventually be one that is useful.

So that’s how I do it – how do you get your information and how happy are you with it?

Who do you trust?

Buying photography equipment can be tough. Lots of technical stuff, lots of complexity, and especially lots of opinions. So how to separate the wheat from the chaff? In my next post, I’ll talk about how I approach getting the scoop on equipment and photography topics in general (like RAW vs. JPEG).

While I’m getting my thoughts together, any readers have an opinion or resource you like or hate?