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May 2010's Updates
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DEALS:

NEW: Canon S90 for $364 at Amazon and ($370 at Adorama).

NEW: Nikon 55-200mm VR for $225 at Amazon and Adorama.

NEW: Nikon D3X for $7,400 at Amazon and Adorama.

Canon 5D Mark II, brand-new, at Adorama for $2,399 after $100 instant rebate.

Popular Films (select "Sort by Top Rated" for the best results)

Qualified students and teachers can receive huge discounts on everything from Adobe.

Recommended Memory Cards

Refurbished Nikon D5000 kit $520, with free shipping. It's refurbished by Nikon, includes the 18-55mm VR lens and has a 90 day warranty from Nikon. Would I buy a refurb? When it comes from Nikon, sure.

Nikon Package Deals Return!

Refurbished Nikon D3000 at Adorama for $375.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 at Adorama and at Amazon for $440.

 

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio
I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

31 May 2010, Memorial Day

Today is a day everyone gives thanks for those who gave everything in the past, so that the rest of us can enjoy our freedom today.

I give thanks each and every day, because if it wasn't for these brave folks who put duty before self, I wouldn't be able to enjoy just sitting here in peace and quiet and taking pictures and doing this website. Without these sacrifices, we wouldn't have much of anything except total chaos.

As I watched Tom and Jerry cartoons with my 3-year old last week, I noticed that the copyright dates were 1943, 1944, and etc. That was World War II, and while some were making cartoons in Hollywood, hundreds of other Americans were getting killed each and every day, including the Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays so many of us take for granted.

Today we have an all-volunteer military, and at least one American is killed every single day in the Middle East. I hope everyone realizes that you folks serving could have wimped out and stayed home, but instead chose to join our military to risk everything to serve all of us instead of yourselves.

I give thanks every day to all of you out risking your lives in the military, police, fire and every other kind of public safety operation. I wish everyone else appreciated that you choose to risk your own lives every day to help total strangers. There are no more honorable professions than these. If you folks weren't out there every day, we'd still have total chaos!

I wish I had better words to express the thanks you all deserve. I'm a photographer, not a poet.

THANK YOU!

 

28 May 2010, Friday (75th!)

Katie's 2nd Birthday! Yay!

 

Nikon or Canon, LEICA or Contax?

So what is Rockwell using today? Does it matter?

One of the hazards of reviewing cameras is that people will loan me whatever I want to try, so I'm always using something different. I use everything, which is the only way I can review things well. It makes me a less-focused photographer, but it's a living. The less gear you use, the better you become.

I usually use Nikon, especially if I'm in my studio or making deliberate family pictures, because the Nikon D3 has the best AF of anything I've used for chasing action in any light, and lets me change aspect ratios on the fly with my programmed FUNC button, needed for vertical shots.

If I'm shooting 35mm, I'll probably shoot LEICA because it's the smallest, and that it also has the best optics. Or then again, the Contax G2 system has optics at least as good and weighs even less, but in an electronic AF camera less well suited to the landscapes I shoot on 35mm.

If I'm shooting landscapes, I'll be shooting film, for which the LEICA, Mamiya 7 or Contax 645 are ideal. A 4x5" is even more ideal, but I'm usually out with others I don't want to inconvenience.

If I was shooting landscapes digitally, I'd use the Canon 5D Mark II, since Nikon makes no lightweight, high-resolution digital cameras. Even if I had $7,400 to spend on a D3X, I'm not going to carry it around all day out in the field. Sadly, the D700x or D500x have yet to be seen. The Nikon FX cameras still weigh too much, which hopefully the D500x will resolve.

Honestly, the 12MP of the D700 is more than enough for most shooting, which is why it is so rightly popular with so many people. I'd just rather carry less, like the plasticy Canon 5D Mark II, which has twice as many pixels, for the same price.

The D700 is an awesome camera, just that I got suckered into buying a D3 a year before the D700 was announced. I'd be using a D700 today if I hadn't bought the D3 earlier.

I've recently been shooting the Canon 5D Mark II because I discovered how well it can be programmed to address multiple kinds of subjects with its C1, C2 and C3 dial positions. That, along with its relatively light weight and super-high resolution, have had me shooting it this past month.

Here's anther secret: the 32GB Lexar 600x CF card I've been shooting this past month still has over 20GB free space, and that's with everything I've shot still on it!

Last night my new SanDisk Firewire 800 Extreme IV CF card reader died, and it was new because it replaced the first one I bought that also died. It looks like I need to dig out Lexar's Firewire reader and see how long it will last before its electronics go south.

Firewire readers scream when you use them with fast UDMA CF cards, which is why I prefer CF cards to any SD cards.

These fast CF readers and CF cards download so fast that I had an SD card already downloading from a short day's shooting with the LEICA M9, and I was able to pull the card from the 5D Mark II, pop it in the reader, select what I needed, download twice as much data from it, dismount and return the 32GB Lexar 600x CF card back into the 5D Mark II, while the SD card was still not done sucking data. I had only half as much data on the SD card, and it was a hot one, too, as SD cards go, and it was still downloading. Fast CF cards are the way to go, unless you actually have the time to wait for downloads.

Since my second SanDisk Extreme IV reader died on me in the field, I wanted to get the images from the 5D Mark II into my MacBook, so I connected the 5D Mark II to the computer, and as a big flaw in Canon, it doesn't just work.

I had to update my copy of Canon EOS Utility, which is good, because I was also able to set the 5D Mark II to encode every image file with my name, copyright, address, phone number and email address. I do this on my Nikons, even my D40, and I can do this right on the camera in Nikon. On Canon, you need a computer, which I avoid.

In any case, we also have these new reports:

 

NEW: Canon EOS Utility Review.

NEW: Canon ImageBrowser Review.

 

27 May 2010, Thursday

Emancipation!

The world's best image editing, culling and sorting program, iView, has finally been wrangled back from Microsoft, who had bought it around 2006. It has just been bought by Phase One.

Hooray!

I've never touched Microsoft's version, renamed Expression Media, since my authentic v3.1.3 copy of iView works flawlessly. In fact, my old copy is working in the background losslessly rotating the JPGs from today's shooting with the Canon 5D Mark II as I write this! I use it all day, every day to see what I shot.

Now that Phase One owns it, I'll finally have a piece of software I can recommend that you can buy today. The problem has been that there has been no place to buy the old version I love so much, and since I never bothered to try the Microsoft version, I couldn't recommend it.

I don't use Aperture and I don't use iPhoto and I don't use Bridge and I don't use Lightroom because none of these programs has the flexibility need to show me what I've shot, as I want it shown.

I need to get all my thumbnails the size I need them, with the data I need, displayed with as much image and as little fluff as possible, as fast as possible, so I can see as many thumbnails as big as possible on my screen at one time. I need to pick the colors of text and backgrounds, the size, color and font of the text, and what text fields are displayed.

And it's got to be fast. Once iView catalogs, I can open that catalog and scroll through thousands of images instantly. Unlike the other programs people use that pause for a moment every time you scroll, iView just shows me what I've got with no backtalk.

iView is flexible. It lets me save preset layouts of how I want things displayed, so it's easy to see what I want, how I want it. Differently-abled programs like Lightroom and Aperture are swell, but they force me to do things their way, which isn't my way, and are too darn slow even if they did what I needed. (I haven't tried Aperture 3 yet, for whatever it's worth. Those Apple guys are brilliant.)

Now that Phase One owns it, it's still called "Microsoft," and as the months roll on, the name will be corrected as the world's best sorting program gets even better.

My workflow is to use iView to catalog everything (as well as losslessly rotate the actual image data in all my vertical shots, instead of simply setting flags), and when I find a good image, to drag it into Photoshop CS4 to format it for print or whatever purpose I need.

Yay! A new era in photography begins! iView, or whatever it will be called next, is half of everything I do on a computer. No other program lets me see what I shot, as I want to see it.

I'm looking forward to trying the new version as soon as a version that doesn't say "Microsoft" becomes available. For now, I'm still using my 3.1.3 copy of iView, which works perfectly on both PowerPC and Intel processors.

 

25 May 2010, Tuesday

NEWS: Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX inducted into Nikon's 10 Best Lenses Hall of Fame.

 

The best keeps costing less:

NEW: Canon S90 for $364 at Amazon and ($370 at Adorama).

NEW: Nikon 55-200mm VR for $225 at Amazon and Adorama.

NEW: Nikon D3X for $7,400 at Amazon and Adorama.

 

24 May 2010, Monday

NEWS: Canon just made its 40,000,000th EOS SLR. The first was the Canon EOS 650 of 1987, and the 5D Mark II and all the other DSLRs continue the spirit today.

NEWS: Kodak Ektar 100 now in 8x10" size, as well as 4x5," 120 and 35mm. All we need now is 110 and APS.

Updated: I added two more camera-original sample images I shot on the Canon 5D Mark II yesterday with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 to my Canon 50mm f/1.8 Review.

 

22 May 2010, Saturday

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 5D Mark II.

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II Review.

I completely re-wrote my old review from 2008, now that the new v2 firmware has made the 5D Mark II a completely different and better camera.

I also added about 8 new pages, including:

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II Specifications

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II Comparisons

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II User's Guide

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II Diagrams

NEW:Canon 5D Mark II: What's New   

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II: What's Old

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II Sales Fluff

NEW: Canon 5D Mark II Recommended Lenses    

Whew! It will take me a while to fine tune them all. I'll be working on them next week. There are still plenty of typos to correct and things to organize, and I know you folks have wanted to know how I set mine up, so here's what I have so far.

It's been a lot of work, and it's a start. You know what I'll be working on next week.

By the way: I did pick up a Nikon F5, and its awesome for under $400, and it's even a little less heavy than the D3X. Look for a real review, too.

 

LEICAfest, Orange County

Don't forget the free LEICAfest today at OC Camera in Orange County, California.The LEICA factory is bringing a ton of LEICA M9, LEICA S2, LEICA X1 and V-Lux 20 cameras so everyone can try them out.

I'll be there to check it out myself. Hope to see you there!

LEICA 35mm f/1.4 ASPH new

LEICA 35mm f/1.4 ASPH (neu). bigger.

In celebration of OC Camera's LEICAfest, LEICA also chose this week to announce a new version of the LEICA SUMMILUX 35mm f/1.4 ASPH, with a floating element and 46mm filter. I have no idea what they could have done to improve a lens that was already pretty much perfect, but we'll see as soon as I get my hands on one.

 

21 May 2010, Friday

NEW: Why DSLR Video Doesn't Matter.

The good news is that I'm finishing up about 7 brand-new pages all about how great is the 5D Mark II for everything else.

The problem with DSLR video is that it's really only useful for productions with large budgets.

For use by a single photographer, you can't get it to focus on things that move. If you can't shoot anything that moves, then why are you shooting video?

 

20 May 2010, Thursday

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D

Nikon 24mm f/1.4 AF-S G.

NEWS: Nikon 24mm f/1.4 inducted into Nikon's 10 Best Lenses Hall of Fame.

 

19 May 2010, Wednesday

DEAL: Canon 5D Mark II, brand-new, at Adorama for $2,399 after $100 instant rebate.

 

Nikon D70 Card compatibility

I just popped a new 32GB Lexar 600x CF card in my D70, and lo and behold, the top LCD clearly shows that it will shoot 26,200 more images on my card that still has a week of heavy shooting on it from Maui. Thus even the D70 can write to all 32GB.

 

Canon 270EX

Canon 270EX Flash.

NEW: Canon 270EX Flash Review.

Nice, but not as shootable as the older 220EX flash it replaces. It's weird that Canon made the mistakes it did.

 

Canon 220EX

Canon 220EX Flash.

NEW: Canon 220EX Flash Review.

A great little fill-flash I took everywhere last week on my 5D Mark II.

 

NEW: Canon 220EX, 270EX and Nikon SB-400 Flashes Compared.

 

18 May 2010, Tuesday

Housekeeping

I cleaned-up my How to Take Better Pictures index page, and took all the older items that weren't fitting and moved them to their own 1999-2008 archive.

It was fun looking at the bottom of that page, which still had articles from 2004, like the hot new Nikon D70, heralded as NEW!!!! That was back in the day that the D70 came out, and I got my hands on one of the first copies months before it hit the stores. Truth be told, when I look at my shots from my D70, they still look awesome. The biggest difference is that the older DSLRs had tiny 1.8" LCDs; the images themselves were great.

This page, published since 2005, is all archived at the bottom of this page.

I also organized my main Nikon index page.

I never throw anything away. It's all still here.

 

Canon 100mm f/2

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM.

NEW: Canon 100mm f/2 Review.

A small, light, fast telephoto with better optical quality than any L zoom, for a third the price and half the weight.

I loved taking it to Maui all last week, where I enjoyed carrying it everywhere all day and all night with the family, instead of lugging even the 70-200mm f/4 L IS, which still weighs twice as much as this little gem of a lens.

 

Think Tank Wired-Up 10.

Think Tank Wired-Up 10.

 

Think Tank Wired-Up 20.

Think Tank Wired-Up 20.

NEW: Think Tank Wired-Up 10 and Wired-Up 20 Review.

Two new bags especially designed for DSLR journalism.

 

17 May 2010, Monday

Free Canon 5D Mark II!

Just win the new Canon Photography in the Parks Photo Contest, and Canon will throw in a 24-105mm L and a free trip to a national park, too!

 

16 May 2010, Sunday

50th anniversary of the LASER

50 years ago today, on 16 May 1960, Theodore Maiman lit off the first LASER at Hughes Research Labs in the hills of Malibu, California.

Without LASERs, we'd have no CDs or DVDs, we'd have no LASER interferometers to adjust lenses, no LASER rangefinders for hunting, our ground-glass screens would be much, darker than then are today since almost every SLR screen's ground glass has been LASER-formed since the 1970s, the USA wouldn't have it's highly secret space-based nuclear-pumped LASER which can direct the full force of nuclear blasts from space to any precise target — or targets — on Earth in an instant, there'd be no ring-LASER gyro inertial navigation systems, no LASER printers, no holograms, and nothing much that we take for granted today.

Without LASERs, there'd be nothing to drive signals through fiber-optics for the Internet.

Without LASERs, there'd be no drum scanners, since the good ones use LASERs to separate the colors precisely and see at extremely high resolutions.

Without LASERs, there's be no real photo prints from film or digital cameras as we get on real photo paper, as almost all of these Lightjet and similar printers use LASERs to expose the paper.

Without LASERs, we'd all still be back in the 1950s, which I think was a fine time, but most people prefer modern technology.

Even with 1950s cameras, the reason that printed material suddenly started to look so much sharper and clearer in the late 1970s is when LASERs became common in the printing industry for scanning and color separation. Before LASERs, all printed pictures, even with gravure, were much fuzzier and duller. With LASERs, camera brochures from the 1980s through today still look better than prints almost anyone can get on paper.

 

15 May 2010, Saturday

How NOT to look like a photographer

We just got back from a week in Maui. My wife found us a screaming deal during the slow season, so we jumped on it.

Paparazzi

Paparazzi, a cute little baby, and a big turkey. bigger.

When we went to the beach on Tuesday, I stuffed each lens in a sock, and chucked it all in the gayest shoulder bag I could borrow from my wife. Yes, it stands out, and completely hides the fact that I'm carrying cameras.

Since my wife's bag is an insulated, waterproof picnic bag, no problem leaving it on the wet sand or in light surf. If anyone wanted to go through it, all they would see are socks:

inside my bag

Inside my bag, loaded with gear inside socks. bigger.

Did I look like I was packing cameras? No. I looked like I was packing diapers. I could go anywhere. The key here is deliberate disinformation: the bag looks like something as far away from a camera bag possible.

While all the paparazzi were dodging security along the perimeter of the beach in front of the Grand Wailea where Hollywood is shooting the movie "Just Go with It!," I could go and shoot as I pleased.

Chapman

Chapman camera supports. bigger.

 

Arri

Big ARRI lights. bigger.

I asked, and the paparazzi were busy shooting Brooklyn Decker and Adam Sandler. Amazing is that by the time we got back to our room and I researched the commotion, the paps had already published their shots here, here and elsewhere. They used Mac laptops at the beach. The paps tote their gear in ordinary dark backpacks like this:

Arri

Paps' backpacks. bigger.

This way a pap looks like any other bum as he walks around. Some paps do shoot out of shopping bags; they can draw a DSLR and 300/2.8 instantly when least expected.

The biggest compliment we got was when my wife was walking back up from the beach along a path with Ryan. A golf cart with some lady who looked a little like Jennifer Aniston was coming the other way, and as my wife went to move out of the way, the lady said "oh, no don't bother, and OH MY GOSH, WHAT A CUTE LITTLE BOY!"

When my wife researched who was there, it turns out that it really was Jennifer Aniston looking just like this. Great; big-time movie stars are already chasing after my three-year-old. Lo and behold, in my wife's People magazine (prescient 24 May 2010 issue), there's another shot of Jennifer Aniston in Maui holding what looks like a Nikon D700 and 24-120mm VR (OK, maybe its a D200). You know she's a star because it's obvious to anyone observant that she has not a common Tiffen, Nikon or Hoya filter on her lens, but yes, a B+W F-PRO filter on her lens.

They've been shooting this movie there for the past couple of weeks. Do I care? No, but I did want to share how I hid my stuff. I was more interested in the lights and gear to show you folks what's involved in getting good lighting to get natural-looking shots than sneaking photos of people without asking first. If you don't get to know someone, don't go snapping their picture — that's the best way to get the worst people pictures.

We had no idea anyone was filming anything before we got there; I always like to stay incognito when packing, and the paparazzi were a great background to get a picture of myself with my wife's swank picnic bag.

I brought a 5D Mark II and three fixed lenses: the 28/1.8, 50/1.8, and the 100/2, and I brought too much for all week. Next time, the 50/1.8 is all I really need.

I carried this, and a real camcorder, in a Speed Demon bag the rest of the time. I wore it 16 hours a day; I took all this everywhere because it's a comfortable bag and little enough gear. The picnic bag was only for when I expected to leave it on the beach.

These three fixed lenses gave me sharper results, less distortion, less weight, smaller size and faster apertures for hand-held low-light than my heavy 16-35mm L II, 17-40mm L or 70-200mm f/4 L IS zooms that I would have had to have hauled instead. Pro zooms are great for pro use, but not for carrying on vacation.

Hoolei

Ho'olei. bigger. 28mm at f/1.8, hand-held 1/10 sec, ISO 3,200.

 

Hoolei

California last night, 9:36PM. 28mm at f/1.8, hand-held 1/25 sec, ISO 3,200.

IS can't help you at 250 knots. If I used a 24-105 f/4, I'd need 1/5 of a second and lose the shot. The blurs at the upper right are coma, not motion. If I had packed a Nikon 24mm f/1.4, it doens't have this problem.

The 5D Mark II rules for multi-modal shooting: light enough to pack for kid shots, and still packs the highest-resolution punch for serious digital landscape shots.

I simply flick the dial between C1, C2 and C3 as targets presented themselves, and get perfect family or nature shots, each exactly as I had preset. I'll share all my settings soon.

 

14 May 2010, Friday

Canon 5D Mark II

I've been shooting the 5D Mark II for about a week, and loving it.

What stands out from my Nikons, in addition to its lower weight, and double the resolution, are its three Total Recall Camera State Memories: the C1, C2 and C3 positions on the top dial.

These memories make the 5D Mark II three different cameras, each selectable with a click of the dial. I can select which camera I want in an instant without removing my eye from the finder.

Resetting a Nikon from one sort of shooting to another takes too much time, and I usually forget one or two things each time I try.

Nikon's two different setting banks for the CSMs and the shooting settings are horrible. First, they take too many menu clicks to save or recall; second, you have to do this for both the settings and CSMs to try to recall a camera state, and third, both banks together still can't remember everything, like if you want Image Review on or off, so even after twelve button clicks to change both banks, you still have more things to change! Poo.

Nikon's banks can't be locked; they move around as you change things. Nikon's banks only store about 3/4 of all the possible camera settings.

Because of this, I'm not good enough to use one Nikon digital camera for two different kinds of photos. I keep my D3 bolted down in my studio for studio shots, and pull out my D40 for family and people shots. If I need to chase wiggly kids in the dark, I'll bring the D3 home on special occasions for its awesome AF and low-light performance, but otherwise, I can't shoot my Nikons when I need to shoot two different kinds of things at the same time.

On the 5D Mark II, I save all the settings I use for landscapes into C1, and all the settings I use for people into C2. I can be shooting outdoor landscapes, and if Ryan or Katie does something cute, turn and fire, and the 5D Mark II just became a totally different camera.

If you change things for one shot while using one of the C positions on the 5D Mark II, the next time you select it — or after the camera times-out in a minute — you're back to your original saved settings for the next shots. Never again will you start shooting each day at ISO 6,400 in tungsten white balance as you were shooting the night before. (The wimpy buttons of the 5D Mark II occasionally do get knocked by carrying it around, either turning off the power, or resetting WB or ISO to something stupid at random from the Quick Control screen, keeping things fun.)

The 5D Mark II, like most Canons, saves and recalls everything in its C positions.

Among them are resolution, color space, file types, autofocus settings, exposure compensation, the brightness of the LCD, ISOs, image review (and its hang time), the advance mode, all the image tweaks like highlights and noise reduction, the meter pattern, white balance, exposure mode, and more.

The entire bank of "picture styles" color settings are saved, with each of the many different presets saved exactly as you saved them. It even remembers different Kelvin settings for the K position in the WB control. Thus, I might have one set saved in C1 for landscapes, and a completely different set saved in C2 for portraits.

I love this. It lets me tote the lightweight 5D Mark II for landscapes, and use the same camera for family snaps.

All this, and the 5D Mark II still has a third C3 setting, heh heh. I set C1 for landscapes with highlight preservation and auto ISO, C2 for kid photos with less saturation and Small resolution (still more than enough for 20x30" prints), and C3 for ISO 50 daylight landscapes with -2/3 exposure compensation.

I still bring a real camcorder for video; no DSLR autofocuses for video, making them just about useless unless you have a three-man crew manning the camera as they do when using DSLRs for professional movie work.

 

Nikon D700X

So where is the 24MP D700X? At this point, I wonder if Nikon will wimp-out and think we'll settle for a minor update to a 12MP D700s instead?

I mean, seriously, the old Canon 5D, available used for about $1,250, gives higher technical image quality than Nikon's newest D700 or D3S.

Heck, the 5D Mark II weighs even less than the D300. What's up with this? I love my Nikons, but I now see why the 5D Mark II is so popular with landscape shooters. Even if you gave me a D700X or D3X, would I want to carry it all day out in the woods?

 

13 May 2010, Thursday

Nikon F5

The Nikon F5 (1996-2004) is Nikon's toughest, fastest 35mm camera ever made. For people shooting sports, news and action on 35mm, it's fantastic.

However, people shooting sports, news and action have shot it on digital since about 2003, so Nikon replaced the F5 with today's newer, quieter, smaller and smoother F6. The F6 is even better than the F5 for the things most people shoot on 35mm today: portraits and landscapes, but not news and sports.

What's new is that the used price of the F5 has finally fallen below $400.

Even a year ago it was still going for around $700. When new in 1996, it sold for around $3,200, and fell to about $1,800 after rebates by 1999 when the newer F100 came out. Even at about the same price as the F100, I got an F100 instead of the F5 in 1999 since the F5 has always been way too heavy for my taste, and I'm not shooting sports with it.

I have an old, moldy review of the F5 from 2005. At these low prices, I'll probably pick up an F5 to give this heavy beast a much more hands-on review.

The F5 still excels for action. It has an insanely fast and powerful autofocus system to support its crazy 8 FPS frame rate. It also weighs a ton, and if you're shooting action on 35mm Nikon, there's nothing like it at any price.

The F5 is also the first Nikon with the infallible 1,005 segment color meter.

The F6 still sells new for $2,500, so for under $400 for a used F5, you can't go wrong.

 

 

12 May 2010, Wednesday

Help Wanted

NCPS is getting so busy that they need another film scanner technician.

 

Canon SD4000

Canon SD4000.

NEW: Canon SD4000IS.

Canon's latest micro-compact.

 

10 May 2010, Monday

NEW: Why Fixed Lenses Take Better Pictures.

Why did it take me 40 years to figure this out?

 

08 May 2010, Saturday

Photo Book Deal

Ritz Pix is having a special on photo books. Use the secret code of KENROCKS25 and you should get an extra 25% off photo books.

Ritz Pix is a way you can upload photos, and pick them up right away at your local Ritz, Wolf, Kit's, Inkley's or Proex store. It sure beats inkjets.

A reader asked why I don't bother reviewing inkjet printers. Simple: they went obsolete around 2003. Ever since, I stick my memory card in the machine or upload to Costco, and I get real photos printed on real, light-sensitive, chemically dark-processed photo paper, as fast as I can.

Inkjet prints fade (Rockwell's law: if they have to tell you they're archival, that's because you know they aren't), and even if they were archival, they don't look anything like a real glossy print.

I use Costco because my wife's a member, so I get in free and they are close. There are a lot more Ritz stores than Costcos, so if one's local, try the Ritz Pix service. If you prefer, of course they'll mail you your prints.

No, I can't vouch for the printer at your local Ritz store, but all the Ritz' I've seen have $250,000 Fuji Frontier machines. You can't beat that quality with a $10,000 inkjet printer, much less a $1,000 inkjet printer.

 

LEICA M9 In Stock!

As I check this, the LEICA M9 is in stock at Amazon in black, for $6,995.

Even if you hate it, last I checked, they sell used on eBay for about $1,000 more, due to their scarcity.

I suspect these will sell-out fast.

 

07 May 2010, Friday

Secret Digital Nikonos

As you can see in the press release, our SEALs could be packing Nikonos SLRs modified to digital by Kodak for recon work.

Also note the nice clean pair of Canon IS binoculars in his hands.

Odd is that the Canon and Nikon logos are so clearly presented. Even I black-out my camera logos with black tape so I'm less visible, so I find it curious that this PR photo has guys in camouflage face paint, with perfectly clear logos. Even more curious is if these PR photos are pitching brand preference so clearly, then why would Canon and Nikon be on the same page?

Truth is stranger than fiction, but this is all a PR game. I have no idea what they're really trying to get across.

 

06 May 2010, Thursday

Canon vs Nikon

When Canon completely changed their lens mount from FD to EF in 1987, they completely screwed every pro who shot Canon, since they would have to rebuy everything all over again. When you're a pro, your investment is lenses, which stay the same as you update and replace bodies.

When Canon went autofocus, Canon's FD mount was a kludge. They trashed it, and started over from scratch. This begat the EF (Electronic Focus) lenses and the EOS (Electro-Optical System, also a subliminal cue for "Eros) mount, which we have today.

The designed-for AF and electronics Canon mount is superior to the Nikon F mount, which dates from 1959. Nikon's AF-S lenses, like Nikon's 24mm f/1.4, are only starting to get electromechanically where Canon was 20 years ago, because Canon started with a clean-sheet design for their new lens mount.

So how did Canon win the pro market in the 1990s?

Simple: even though Canon screwed pros in 1987 by trashing the FD mount, Canon wasn't a pro camera back then. Very few pros shot it. Duh, pros shot Nikon. Canon only lost the pro market when they went to the EOS mount, which they didn't have anyway.

Thus when pros finally accepted AF in the 1990s, Canon was way ahead of Nikon's klunky mechanical AF system, and Canon won away the bulk of the pro market, most of whom had never even shot the FD cameras.

By taking a big chance and redesigning their lens mount from scratch, Canon positioned itself to win back the market they never had. By owning the pro market, the hobbyists and the rest of the market follows.

Personally I prefer the Nikon AF system because it's a little slower, but more accurate a larger percentage of the time, but for news and sports, which is what digital and 35mm is all about, there's a reason Canon is so big.

 

RIP: Jim Marshall

Jim Marshall passed away on 24 March, 2010. Jim was best known for his decades of work gracing the Rolling Stone.

 

Canon 5D Mark II Noise

While much cleaner than any 35mm film, now that I've been piddling with the 5D Mark II, amazing is that it's got visible noise. The old 5D never did, nor does the Nikon D3. These other full-frame cameras always look delicious at normal ISOs, while the 5D Mark II has a noise character more like a D300.

Sadly as expected, adding more pixels to have to share the same light means more noise.

I was wondering if I really was seeing noise in the shadows of the 5D Mark II at ISO 200 in broad daylight, and yes, I do. Worse, darker details get smeared.

If you shoot with D+ (highlight recovery, or "Highlight Tone Priority" in Japanese, MENU > CFNs > C.Fn II: Image > 3), then you start at ISO 200 in broad daylight. At ISO 200, you've got noise.

Force the 5D Mark II to ISO 50, and the noise goes away. It's worse at ISO 100, as expected.

Oddly, the High ISO Noise Reduction menu option (MENU > CFNs > C.Fn II: Image > 2 High ISO NR) applies to all ISOs.

So yes, turning that NR option off or on has a small effect on shadow noise, but for every improvement in noise, it also smudges over shadow details.

Here's an experiment for you: go shoot a nice sunny scene with some part of the image as foliage or textured concrete in shade, and a flat darker mid-toned area. Shoot at ISO 50, 100 and 200, and try it with NR set to Standard and to Disable.

I see differences at each ISO.

With NR Enabled, I see less noise, but the details in darker foliage or concrete are smudged over! Even when set to Disable, NR is still working, and smudges shadow details at higher ISOs more than it does at lower ISOs.

Automatic Lighting Optimizer (MENU > CFNs > C.Fn II: Image > 4) doesn't change the noise, but it can lighten the shadows which will make the noise more obvious. Likewise, Highlight tone priority (D+) doesn't increase the noise, but it defaults to a minimum ISO of ISO 200, which is much noisier than ISO 100 or ISO 50.

The difference in the shadows between ISO 50 and ISO 200 is remarkable. ISO 200 looks fine, until you see what the 5D Mark II does at ISO 50. Once you've seen them both, it's like a blurry veil has been lifted from the shadows at ISO 50. At ISO 200, the shadows, even with NR OFF, still have NR blurring applied to them, while at ISO 50, they are suddenly filled with clean detail that was missing at ISO 200. ISO 50 lets you hit the sensor with four times as much light as ISO 200, which fills the shadows with clean detail.

Shooting the 5D Mark II at ISO 50 versus ISO 200 is like suddenly getting a larger-format camera: it's just cleaner and clearer.

The moral of this story? Shoot at ISO 50 with NR Disabled for the technically best results. Leave the Automatic Lighting Optimizer ON; it doesn't affect the noise but gives better pictures in bad light.

Now someone in the back has his hand up asking "But doesn't ISO 50 lose highlight detail?" Go try for yourself, I see little to no difference, and in fact, for what highlight detail you may lose, you get it back with higher highlight contrast. If you know How to Get Great Highlights and Shadows, it doesn't matter.

The super-high resolution of the 5D Mark II demands the best lenses. Since it has none of Nikon's ability to correct lateral color fringes, you'll see even more limitations of your lens' designs. If you're shooting normal or wide zooms, except for the 24-105 L, go try a 50mm f/1.8 and see what you've been missing. Can your zoom do this? (a 7MB JPG directly from the camera.) The 50/1.8 is worlds better than the 24-70mm f/2.8 L, if you're looking too closely.

 

DEAL: Adorama's Slinger Bag for $29.95.

This bag is a classic; the immortal Herbert Keppler wrote it up; heck, I think he may have helped design it!

 

05 May 2010, Wednesday

Canon 50mm f/1.8

Canon 50mm f/1.8.

NEW: Canon 50mm f/1.8 Review.

Canon's cheapest lens is one of their best!

 

5D Mark II and 50/1.8 II in no light

Ryan with the remote

Ryan Changing Batteries. D-size.

I shot this with a Canon 5D Mark II, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, ambient tungsten light, f/1.8 at 1/40 hand-held, A3 2,500K WB, Standard picture with +2 saturation, shadow tweak turned on, ISO 1,600.

In case you were nosy, I ordered a Canon 50mm f/1.8 II in my overnight order yesterday.

Playing with it in the dark on a Canon 5D Mark II, I now realize why Canon's smallest lens is its biggest secret. It works GREAT!

In fact, this $99 plastic lens gives sharper results than the 50mm f/1.4 USM I've used, especially in no light. The f/1.4 is soft at f/1.4, and worse, I rarely get in-focus results with it.

The 50mm f/1.8 II weighs less, costs less, and is sharper in practice because it autofocuses more accurately.

Do what you want to try to hate the plastic-mount made-in-Malaysia 50mm f/1.8 II, but when you look at the images, you'll be convinced.

Also impressive was how I managed to get great color right out of the 5D Mk II in dim home lighting. I set 2,500K WB and +2 saturation in its Standard picture mode, and Bingo!, what you see is exactly what came out of the camera as a JPG.

I could never have made this shot with Canon's 24-105mm L IS because it's only f/4. At f/4 instead of f/1.8, I would have needed grainy ISO 8,000, or a 1/8 second shutter speed for which Ryan would not have held still.

In cars, there's no replacement for displacement, and in low-light photography of things that move, there's no replacement for fast lenses.

 

04 May 2010, Tuesday

Wow — Fast Shipping!

I placed an order at 5PM last night (New York time), selected overnight shipping, and lo and behold, my new gear was on my doorstep this morning here in California, 3,000 miles away.

Goodness gracious!

Apparently, if you get your order in by about 5PM, Adorama is still picking and packing, and the big UPS trucks are still making pickups, so the next day, your stuff can arrive. I'm told 5PM is about the cutoff.

Of course the earlier in the day the better, but if you push it as I did yesterday afternoon, my stuff's already here!

As soon as I move my family back into my mom's basement on Long Island, regular UPS is usually next day, but out here in California, I had to pay for next-day service. I'm just kidding, but NY is sure more convenient for all the gear I have to ship and return than California (all the stores and US offices on Canon, Nikon and etc. are al within about 5 miles of my mom's house!)

I'm amazed. I go to bed, and almost as soon as I get up, it's here already. Wow!

 

Contax 645 Sighting

I somehow saw part of a poker competition on NBC TV (has network TV really come this far — down?), and one of the interstitial pieces showed a proof-sheet of head shots.

I recognized it instantly: looking at the edge numbers, they were from Fuji Velvia ("RVP"), along with the shooting data imprinted by the Contax 645.

Of course those frames most likely weren't really how the head shots were shot, but simply used as a graphic device by the designers to add an air of authenticity to the graphics.

I don't watch TV, but in any case, it's the first broadcast I've seen of the edge imprints from a Contax 645, which is still a very popular camera in the studio for both film and high-end digital.

 

03 May 2010, Monday

Amazing Raw Converter

I never realized it, but Apple's free Preview application (on all Macs) not only opens most raw files; if you go to TOOLS, you can edit, resize and save changes to them!

I'm not even mentioning Apple's iPhoto, which pretty much can do everything Photoshop can do, also usually free.

That all said, I'm looking forward to playing with CS5, one of the few pieces of software I will review.

 

Polaroid Never Left

See The Impossible Project.

 

If you're in Phoenix

Don't miss the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Especially don't miss the pages in a display case showing, among other things, a two-page list of the topics covered in a two-week photography class Ansel gave.

The first nine days out of ten covered what really matters, like composition, previsualizing, framing images by looking through rectangular cut-outs in cardboard, and so forth.

Only on the last day did some discussion come in on some technical items.

Today, with all the automation available, this should be cut down to a few minutes out of a few weeks.

Let's face it: people are too hung up on technology for its own sake, especially today.

When I teach, I only need to spend about 10 minutes covering white balance and exposure compensation (the basics of running a camera), and you're all set. The rest of the technical stuff about which too many people waste too much time should even be imagined until you've mastered the seeing part of photography.

 

Once-in-a-Lifetime Photo

Orange cars

Do you see anything odd here? bigger.

Call me weird, but when was the last time since the 1960s that you saw two different cars from two different continents (Mercedes and Honda) parked next to each other that were matching metallic orange?

Always carry a camera. (Shot with 5D Mark II and Canon 50/2.5).

 

Nik Summit: 13-16 May 2010

For those of you looking for an excuse to come to San Diego, check out the Nik Summit.

It's $600, and includes a lot of field sessions with big-name photographers (not me), here in sunny San Diego.

 

Lexar 600x 32GB CF Cards

My goodness, I just got one of the newest Lexar 600x 32GB CF cards to try, and it really works!

I have no idea why you'd want 32GB on a card, but I don't shoot video, either.

In any case, the 600x 32GB card works smashingly well in a 5D Mark II, storing about 10,000 LARGE NORMAL JPGs, and with the high-speed in a firewire reader, downloads much faster than any SD card.

10,000 shots means about ten full battery charges. It would take anyone quite a while to shoot that much; you could shoot for a year with that card if you really wanted to procrastinate about downloading.

 

Canon 5D Mark II: Reborn!

Canon 5D MArk II

Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.4 USM.

Aha!

Enough has finally come together for me to love the 5D Mark II.

When it came out in 2008, I wasn't that excited because it still carried a lot of 5D ergonomic baggage, and for crying out loud, the menus took a few moments to respond to inputs, and the viewfinder display LCD actually had a delay in responding to manual aperture changes. This drove me crazy.

When it tried a 5D Mark II in December 2008 when they first shipped, the AF system, when used with the 50mm f/1.4 USM wasn't good enough to get the quality I take for granted with the Nikon D3 and old 50mm f/1.4 AF-D. My low-light shots of Ryan's 2nd birthday on the 5D Mk II were out of focus enough to be too soft, so I never even published them. Thus, I didn't give the 5D Mark II much attention.

Today, with the newest 2.0.4 firmware, Canon quietly worked out the bugs in the user interface, so the rear and finder LCDs now respond instantly to inputs. Yay!

I don't know that the AF at f/1.4 with the EF 50mm is any more accurate for wiggly kids, but I do know that the AF is dead-nuts on with the Canon EF Compact-Macro 50mm f/2.5.

The 5D Mark II, with that 50mm f/2.5, works like a champ. f/2.5 is faster than any Canon or Nikon SLR zoom, ever, and at ISO 3,200, works fine in daylight or dim light. f/2.5 gives a lot more depth-of-field than f/1.4, too, and the Canon 50/2.5 weighs next to nothing, and focuses super-close, super-fast.

The 5D Mark II and 50/2.5 is about the only lens I might need for anything, and on the 5D Mark II, probably outperforms the LEICA M9. The last time I did a run-off, I used the EF 50mm f/1.4 versus a 1964 LEICA SUMMILUX; armed with this EF 50mm Macro, the 5D Mark II ought to be as good as the LEICA M9. (at 28mm LEICA still wins, but that's another story until Canon's wide lenses catch up.)

Another Aha! is that the 5D Mark II weighs so much less than a D3, or even much less than the Nikon D700, and has about as many pixels as both Nikons combined.

Hmmm, the 5D Mark II is starting to look like a real winner! No wonder it's so popular.

Another big tip is that I turned off the automatic LCD brightness control. That Auto control is nice because it turns it up in direct sunlight, and turns it way down at night, so in those special conditions it shines, but most of the time, it's always varying up and down and driving me nuts.

By fixing the brightness, it's a whole 'nother camera: better!

I set the MY MENU Menu to include LCD brightness, so in direct sunlight I can turn it up to BURN and see it clearly, and shooting at night, I can turn it down so my exposures look right. Whoo hoo!

Looks like I'll have to be writing a 5D Mark II guide one of these days.

Now if someone could only petition Canon to let the scroll wheel and zoom controls work on Image Review without requiting us to hit the PLAY button first, we'd really have a winner. In any case, the fact that the full-frame 21MP 5D Mark II weighs less than even a Nikon D300 makes it a very powerful tool for outdoor nature, landscape and travel photos — but you Canon shooters have known that for years. Heck, even the old 5D outperforms the image quality of the D3 and D700; I showed that a year ago.

The only technically distressing thing is if I have both D+ Highlight-fixing turned on at the same time as shadow optimization. If I do, it brings up noise in the shadows, even in broad daylight, just like the small-format Nikon D300. I never see that on my D3.

A key to this is that the Canon 50mm f/2.5 Macro is so good that it really lets the 5D Mark II make use of all its resolution. You need a very good lens to excite all 22MP.

Also the three dedicated camera-state memories of the 5D Marl II (the C1, C2 and C3 positions of the dial) are fantastic. UNlike Nikon's bogus Settings and Shootings memory banks, each of which remembers 45% of the cameras settings, the C1, C2 and C3 positions on the 5D Mark II remember everything.

Having kids now, I want one setting for them, and another for landscapes. I'll be out shooting, and suddenly need a kid picture. These C settings let me save everything: resolution, file types, focus modes, white balance settings, color parameters, nd they all change instantly as I dial one. The 5D Mark II even saves every setting of every color profile together as each of those C settings, so if you have a bunch of different portrait profiles and different landscape profiles, each all come up as fast as you can twist the knob.

On my Nikons, it takes twelve button pushes to swap both the settings bank and the shooting bank, and there are still 10% of the settings not recalled that have to be set manually, so it's a pain photographing family and scenic stuff at the same time.

 

For Sale: The Tools of a Pro.

My pal, humanitarian photojournalist Karl Grobl, the guy who suggested I start this website back in 1999, is selling the gear he has used for the past six years.

Sure, it works great after all this real pro use, but the reason to get it is more to own a piece of history and support Karl's humanitarian work than just to buy another professional camera system. Karl's cameras have been everywhere.

These tools have raised untold amounts of funds for humanitarian causes around the globe; their karmic value is unimaginable.

 

01 May 2010, Lei Day (my 5th Anniversary)

Gold Country

Chico, California, 19 April 2010.

NEW: Photos from California's Gold Country.

What I did last week, along with lots of "How I Did It" for those who asked.

 

What Was New in:

April 2010

March 2010

February 2010

January 2010

2009 back to 2005

 

Help me help you

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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