Get it Right In the Camera

Man on the Chau Phraya

Man on the Chau Phraya

If you hang around on photography forums or blogs enough, you’re eventually going to hear someone say “Get it right in the camera”, “I never edit my photos” or “You shouldn’t need to tweak your photographs.” While I understand where these people are coming from (especially in the first one), I think these kinds of statements are extremely damaging to beginning photographers.

Here’s the thing: You should never feel scared to press the shutter button. While I appreciate (and agree with) the idea that a photographer should have full command of his/her equipment, the learning and creative process is far more important as you start out. Editing photos isn’t a crutch – it is a way to extract what you were looking for to begin with. There is nothing wrong with making adjustments after the fact – Ansel Adams made plenty of adjustments in the darkroom. Editing will help rescue images that didn’t come out quite right as you’re trying new things, too.

Also, the “get it right in the camera” crowd are getting tweaked whether they know it or not: The camera applies a certain amount of adjustment for saturation, contrast, sharpness, etc. for JPEGs by default, and most editing software like Lightroom does the same thing for RAW files as well (though of course in the case of RAW you can change/undo 100% of what the software applies).

At the end of the day, your goal as a photographer is to end up with the best composition and exposure possible. As a learning beginner, both of those things can be improved after the fact. Hopefully you wind up with an image that makes you happy and learn what to do next time that makes editing less necessary. As I’ve improved my photography, the kind of editing I do is different. It is probably fair to say it is a lot less and certainly I strive for an image that is as close to done as possible when I press the shutter button. That said, I’m a lot more interesting in having a photo I’m proud of, and if editing gets me there I have no issue with that at all.

So that’s it: Edit, learn from what you’re having to adjust and improve. And most importantly: have fun with your camera!

Waiting…for nothing? D400 thoughts

D400The search term “D400” still brings a lot of people to this site.  This puzzles me since I haven’t written a lot about it, especially recently.  I see a lot of (sometimes chippy) dialogue about it on the various forums – did Nikon intend to merge the prosumer (D7000) and semi-pro (D300s) with the D7100?  Is there a market for a D400?  How should it be priced?  What features would it have?  Would a D800 in DX mode be an acceptable substitute?  (as a note, I use the term “semi-pro” as a reference to the build of the camera – full magnesium frame, non-integrated grip, pro-style handling and controls and top-class autofocus.  I don’t mean it as a reference to whether it is used to earn money.  I’d call it a “pro” body, but folks in the industry seem to equate that to a body like the D3/D4 or Canon 1Dx, which have integrated grips)

The price point and features of the D7100 make me think there is still an unfilled slot in the product line, and one Canon hasn’t abandoned (though it will be interesting to see if there is a C7D MkII…).

Thom Hogan and Nasim Mansurov among many others have speculated a bit on the features (Mansurov’s poll was pretty interesting, too).  I think the core elements are:

  • Same 51-point autofocus as the D7100 (CAM 3500DX)
  • Big buffer for the sports and wildlife shooters that love the DX platform
  • 7-9 frames per second (also mainly for the sports/wildlife folks)
  • Same build/controls as the D800 (including the AF ON button so important to the crew above)
  • $1799 price

People who argue that the price is too close to the D600 (at $2099, $1999 street) are missing the point – the D600 has literally none of the features above, and isn’t a suitable camera for the core D300s/semi-pro DX shooters.  Whether there are enough of them out there for Nikon is open for debate.  There are lots of opinions on the internet, but precious little data about volumes.  The D800 is over $1000 more than than we’re talking about and still doesn’t match the 7 to 8 frames per second (FPS) shooting speed of the D300s (the D800 only shoots 5 FPS in DX mode or 6 FPS with a grip attached).

Personally, I think the D400 was impacted by the tsunami disaster in Japan – I believe Nikon had to make a choice about what they could get out the door with limited resources and chose the D800 and D4.  Re-slotting a product isn’t easy – technology development isn’t a flexible process.

So the question is whether they killed the entire product, merged it or it is still in the pipeline, presumably this year or early next.  Personally, I’d love to see Nikon take this opportunity to do something really next-generation and deliver it by or before CES 2014 (which is in January).

Time will tell, and in the meantime, Nikon isn’t saying much.  That might be the biggest clue something is coming…

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!

Top 5 Pieces of Advice for an Enthusiast Photographer (100th Post!)

locks

I started Enthusiast Photographer because I thought it might be useful to someone to track what I learned over time about photography – tips, equipment, industry news, whatever.  This is now the 100th post on the site, so I thought it would be appropriate to boil things down a little.  Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Learn more about photography: What makes photography fun (and sometimes intimidating) is the vast amount of knowledge out there to acquire – there is always something to learn!  I’ve said many times that the best upgrade in photography is improving the person behind the camera.  Find some good books (Kelby, Peterson, et. al.), Blogs (byThom, PhotoFocus, etc.) or videos (FroKnowsPhoto) and always keep growing!
  2. Learn more about your camera (and lenses): I don’t think it is unfair to say most Enthusiast Photographers haven’t maximized the capabilities of their equipment.  I was astounded how much I didn’t know about my camera (especially the autofocus system) when I read Thom Hogan’s guide to my camera.  What I learned greatly expanded my understanding of the piece of equipment in my hand, my comfort level while shooting and ultimately my photography.  I’ve read it a couple times, and I’m getting ready to do it again – each time I walk away with more.  The same thing is true about some lenses.  Does your lens have switches or buttons?  Do you know what they do and when you should use them?  Generally we’re limited to the owner’s manual here, but read RTFM 🙂 and check reviews to make sure you’re getting the most out of your glass, too…
  3. Decide if you’re a tripod shooter or not (if so, get a good system): Kelby, Hogan and others say that you should invest in a good tripod off the bat.  I’m going to disagree with them…sorta.  If your thing is kids, street or travel photography, a tripod might not be as big a deal – modern lenses with vibration reduction give you much better hand-held results at slower shutter speeds, and your money might be better spent on glass.  If you love landscapes, portraits, macro or any other area of photography where the sharpest picture is key or you’re dealing with very low light (think dawn, dusk or inside dark buildings), then a tripod is one of the most important things you’ll buy.  If you do, spend money on a good one. That doesn’t automatically mean a super-expensive one, but don’t go cheap either.  Find a nice one used or save up for a good one.  I’ll have a post coming on buying tripods and heads later.  For the record, I love my tripod and use it constantly.  I also have a monopod that has come in extremely handy, too.
  4. Always prioritize glass over body when it comes to upgrades:   The latest “sensor” is always sexy.  More megapixels, better low-light performance (ISO), more detail in shadows (dynamic range), whatever.  But here’s the thing – A good lens is going to make any camera better.  An average lens is going to make every camera and photographer work harder.  Icing on the cake comes from the fact that your glass will probably work on your next body, too.  If it doesn’t (for example if you switch from crop-sensor to full-frame), lenses keep their value far better than bodies.
  5. Have fun!: There are so many details to remember and settings to fiddle with that you can wind up missing out on the cool stuff going on around you!  Frankly, if you’ve been diligent about #1 and #2 above, this is probably less of an issue.  One other way you miss the fun is when everything becomes a photo-walk.  During my trip to Europe last Summer, I went light in my bag and shot for fun as much as expression.  It was great – we had a ball and they camera never got in the way of my vacation.  I wound up with some shots I really love, like the one at the top of this post.

So there it is!  Honestly, there are probably more than those five, but that is what is coming off the top of this hair-thinning dome… 🙂

One last note – if you enjoy this content, please feel free to “Like” the Enthusiast Photographer FaceBook page or “Follow” @enthus_photo on Twitter

[EDIT:  It has been a day or so since I posted this, and I just happened to wander by Thom Hogan’s site – he has a very-similar 5 things on his site (called “Last Camera Syndome II)!!  All I can say is I didn’t see his until just now, but it makes me feel good that my thinking tracked pretty closely with Thom’s (though that might worry him!! 🙂 )

Sometimes, you have to learn your own way…

Thanks for visiting Enthusiast Photographer! For those of you coming from search engines or links, the post below was my “First Look” review of the DT-01 and DDH-02 setup.  Since then, I’ve taken it all over the world and written a full review.  Please feel free to read the post below, but click the link at the bottom for the complete story.  Also, feel free to follow the blog, “Like” Enthusiast Photographer on Facebook or follow on Twitter if you’d like to join me on my photography journey or just want to read something different once in a while.

I’m not ready to post a review about the Sunwayfoto DT-01 Monopod Head yet, but I learned something tonight.  Women can be pretty clever.  Either that or Winnie from Sunwayfoto has been talking to my wife…

It all started during some correspondence about my XB-44 ball head review.  I mentioned to Winnie that I was going to be taking two trips soon, one to Europe and one to Asia, and was going to buy a monopod to use while traveling.  Since my 80-200 plate has a different orientation than the L-bracket on my D90, I was looking for a solution that I could quickly change to accommodate the orientation of whatever I was using.   Winnie suggested their DT-01 monopod head and the DDH-02 plate.  I’d noticed that head previously (it was on display when I visited their booth at CES) and the DDH-01, which looks similar to the RRS MH-02 setup – a monopod head with an indexing clamp.  Honestly, when I looked at the DDH-02 on their website, I thought it seemed too small and a little delicate to handle my 80-200 on the monopod.

Winnie surprised me when she suggested that I have a look at the head with three clamps – the standard DDC-50 screw-clamp, the DDH-01 I’d been looking at and the DDH-02 she had recommended.

The package arrived the other day, and I just had a chance to try out the various configurations.  I learned a lesson:  Listen to the people who do it for a living.

While I can’t fully speak to the handling and other features yet, I can say this:  if you want something more than the standard screw-clamp, the DDH-02 is the way to go.  When I fit the larger and more substantial DDH-01 on the monopod head, the whole setup is pretty bulky.  This is clearly the reason Sunwayfoto developed the DDH-02 and why Winnie was patiently suggesting that pairing to me.

So when I was failing to listen, Winnie took the direction my wife often does, which is to let me see for myself that she was right. 🙂

Let’s have a look at some photos:

The DT-01 with the standard screw clamp

The DDH-01 and DDH-02 side by side

The DDH-01 panning clamp mounted to the DT-01 Monopod head. I need to try to see if one of the standard screws fits directly to the head, but it doesn’t appear to. Mounting it using the standard clamp worked fine, but the package is bulky.

Last but not least, the svelte and effective DDH-02 panning clamp.

It will take a while to post a full review, but I’ll mention a few basics:

The DT-01 bears some similarity to the RRS monopod head.  They both have a pendulum design and an Arca-compatible dovetail at the base of the head.  Both are all-metal and stoutly made.  Sunwayfoto chose a single-arm base, where RRS has two outboard rails for the swivel base of the head.  The Sunwayfoto design appears to be beefier – my guess is they both perform well.

The Sunwayfoto DDH-01 is a panning clamp that offers similar function to the RRS PCL-1 Panning Clamp.  I thought that made a nice choice to rotate the clamp orientation for use with my 80-200.  As I mentioned previously, it is a fairly substantial clamp, and even directly attached to the monopod it is over-large for good ease of use.  It is a terrific solution to use when shooting panoramic shots on your ball-head, however, and the included dovetail makes using it very simple (you can add a dovetail to the RRS PCL-1 for  $30).

Then there is the DDH02:

It is small, clamps very securely and has a nifty flip-lever that allows it to rotate or pan in 360°.  As soon as I’d mounted it on the head, I knew I had the right solution.

I’m still going to take all three out on my trips so I can see how everything handles, and I’ll write up a full review in a couple of months.  But over and above some things I’ve already learned as a enter the world of monopod users, I learned again a lesson for so many of us:  Listen.   🙂

The DDH-01 panning clamp is available at B&H, but for now I can only find he DT-01 head on Amazon and eBay.  As a new product, the DDH-02 hasn’t popped up anywhere yet…
Update: My full review on the DDH-02 and the DT-01 can be found here.  Both products are now available at B&H and Amazon.

UPDATE:  I’ve completed a full review!  See it by clicking here.  Enjoy!

Note/Disclaimer:  You might have noticed these products have “SAMPLE” serial numbers.  As with the XB-44, these were provided to me by Sunwayfoto for review at no cost.  If you’ve read my blog, I hope you believe that I’m a very straightforward guy – I say what I think, I admit what I don’t know and I’d never let anything sway my review of a product: It works or it doesn’t.  I like it or I don’t.  I hate fiddly stuff and poor design, and I’ll never hold back on those issues.  I always try to be fair, whichever way that cuts.

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…)

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… 🙂 )

Filling the Void: Nikon D400 Wishes

Now that we’re safely past the D800 and D4 announcements, all eyes turn to Nikon for the third piece of the trifecta, the successor to the D300s: the D400 (at least that what I assume they’ll call it).

Honestly, I thought the announcement of the D7000 in the Fall of 2010 really made the D300s look a bit long in the tooth. The D300s was only a year old, a light update to the D300 announced two years before that, but it was outclassed by the D7000 is several areas – ISO performance, dynamic range, resolution and more. Only the fully pro build, a deeper buffer and Nikon’s best auto-focus system gave the D300s an edge. I actually value the auto-focus performance more than the megapixels and even the ISO performance: Low light capability and dynamic range don’t matter much of the shot is fuzzy.

But D7000 had pretty darn good auto-focus and a big step forward in metering, which put the D300s under fire almost immediately. A lot of pros and BIF shooters didn’t care – the D300s was a pro tool, had a deep buffer and served the purpose well.  Some hopped on the D7K and liked it a lot.

But we’re now 18 months beyond the D7000 announcement, and the D300s doesn’t look like a camera worth anything close to its $1699 on-line price (B&H, etc.). Nikon’s recent sorta-announcement of the D700 at $2199 also puts pressure at the relative price point. And the D7000 sits at $1299. Nowhere for the D300s to go…

Thom Hogan said somewhere that you’re either a DX shooter or an FX shooter. Generally I agree with that, but I really sorta want a blend. I love the image quality of the D700, and I love the reach of DX. So what am I looking for in the D400?

  • Resolution: Honestly, I don’t really care. In today’s spec-war environment, megapixels are going to be more than the 12MP of the D300s. I’ll take anything from the D7000 resolution of 16MP all the way up to the rumored 24MP that is out there. Beyond that, the burden on my PC and storage is more than I want.
  • ISO Performance and Dynamic Range: I’d really love to have the ISO/low light performance of the D700 with the Dynamic Range of the D7000. Honestly, I don’t know how these things trade off against each other, but we’re talking wishes here, right?
  • Auto-focus and Metering: Since I’m going hybrid, I want the D700 auto-focus with the new metering ushered in with the D7000. We’re talking about a pro-class body, so this needs to be the good stuff!
  • Other stuff: This is the D300s replacement, so the build, buffer capacity should be consistent with that product. I love the concept of the U1/U2 buttons from the D7000, which let you store a whole set of camera settings. Video should be as good as the D7000. USB 3.0 would usher it into the 21st century. I’d like to see the same seven frames-per-second performance of the D300s as well. I’d prefer dual SD card slots, but Nikon seems to prefer one Compact Flash and one SD card in this category, so I could live with that.
  • Oh – and price: Keep it at $1799 list.

As I said in my Open Letter to Nikon post about the perfect Enthusiast Photographer Full Frame camera (which is nicely answered with the existing D700 reduced to $2199), I’d love to see a market research site that would let you design your perfect camera, trading price and weight for features. It would be a really cool way to gather some information, plus get some other ideas for features.

Readers: Do you want a D400 or whatever the heck a D7100 is? What features aren’t on cameras that you’d like to see?

A bad habit…

I was sitting around watching March Madness and playing with my D90.  During a commercial break, I was goofing around shooting my DirecTV receiver that was ten feet or so away.  Since it was a black box with blue lights, it was obvious that I wasn’t cleanly pressing the shutter.  In fact, I realized I was “punching” it.  Maybe I’m guilty of skimming the books I’ve recommended here a number of times, or maybe the lesson on good shutter technique was too subtle for me.  So I shot at a deliberately absurd hand-held shutter speed of 1/2, played around with a couple lenses and experimented a bit.  Before get to what I came up with, let’s look at what I was doing until today:

Tokina Punch Big Crop

Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, f/2.8 - heavily cropped (approx 300%).

80-200 Punch

Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, f/2.8 - Re-sized only

So…now I know why some of my hand-held shots aren’t as sharp as I’d like – my technique is terrible. I have always tried to be smooth as I pressed the shutter, rolling my finger across the button (I do recall this from my first read of Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography series, but this made it pretty clear I was bouncing the camera.  It was clear after a few minutes that the biggest culprit was not pressing the button, but actually releasing it!  After a few minutes of trial and error, I found a style that made a big difference.

Net: I roll smoothly across the button and don’t move my finger at all until the shutter cycle is complete.  The improvement was pretty significant:

New technique with Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, same crop, etc.

Better, right? The heavy crop and very low light don’t make this very sharp, but it certainly illustrates how much less movement is in the release. What about the big, heavy 80-200?

New technique with Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, just re-sized.

I’ve still got room for improvement here, but I was still in my Al Bundy couch pose and the 80-200 really is a big piece of glass.  Net: the shake is reduced by at least 2/3, and I’d say good posture and a little more focus on my hand-holding technique would give better results – it ain’t bad for a hand-held shutter speed of 1/2 with a station wagon strapped to the front of my D90!  Realistic shutter speeds would help, too.

I’m sure there are photographers reading this and saying “Well duh!” and I’m hoping that when I re-read my Scott Kelby there isn’t a completely obvious tip on this.

In the meantime, I hope it is helpful to other Enthusiast Photographers.  For me, I’ll be doing a little more research and reading on the basics of shutter and hand-holding techniques!