Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nikon D700 and beyond

I have recently had discussions with some Nikon engineers and execs visiting Australia. Of course, absolute details don't exist, but I can gauge reactions, and read between the lines.

I expressed surprise about the D700's announcement. I thought surely Nikon would have released it maybe next year. There was of course, great enthusiasm with the Nikon guys when talking about the Nikon cameras, but there were some things I noticed.

It seemed Nikon were very eager to release the D700 now, rather than later. My tea leaf readings on this are; most of the professionals that wanted the D3 , now have it. The long wait for a D2H replacement was grabbed the moment it became available.

The major rush to buy the D3 has slowed so releasing a D700 now will not cannibalise sales of the D3 like some people think might happen. In fact, many D3 owners are talking about picking up a D700 has their second camera.

It would also be fair to say that some D3 owners would never have bought the D3 had the D700 been available at the same time. THAT would be cannibalising sales, though there will always be those that need the requirements of the D3 (extra fps, dual cards, 300,000 shutter life etc).

The words 'only 12MP' came up a few times. I am of the belief that there's a couple of things happening here. Nikon wanted to ensure they could maintain the momentum they have been creating especially with the release in about a month of Canons 5D replacement.

And since the 5D will be at least 16MP (and my guess possibly even 18+), the D700 would have been criticised for not matching it. Releasing it now, means it's not 'behind' Canons latest release when it does appear.

This below is pure speculation rather than anything concrete but speaking with the visiting engineers, it seems Nikon have something left up their sleeves. The D700's release seems to almost be the beginning of something new. It doesn't feel like the usual D3x rumours though, ie a 24MP camera in a D3 body.

I also know it's been discussed (or wished for) in the past but the feeling I'm getting is the new camera is more substantial. Could it be the modular system that has been rumoured? Wouldn't it be great if you could just 'drop in' the sensor you wanted. Be it a native 25,000 ISO black and white sensor for surveillance work or a 26MP 'studio' sensor or a full colour sensor when that becomes available.

Could we even get manufactures like Fujifilm developing a 'drop in' sensor module? It may be closer than we might think.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Canon 5D replacement

Last year, in 2007, Nikon who held their collective breathes when Canon were announcing the 40D and 1D MK III cameras. Canon didn't 'blow Nikon away' was the thought.

Stupid grins and smiles all round was the order of the day when the D3 and D300 were announced. And rightly so, it's what the professionals were hoping for. When the D700 was announced in July, it had the Nikon staff buzzing all over again at head offices around the world.

I must admit, I actually wasn't a fan about the D700 coming out so soon. What a strange strategy since it was only 7 months earlier that D300/D3 were available. Why rush to get something out so quickly, since surely the correct strategy would have been to wait at least 6 more months. That was of course the old Nikon.

It's also assuming you don't know what the opposition is up to. When word and rumour of the imminent D700 had reach Canon, many a rep was thinking 'oh no, not again'. But this time, it's been Canon to breathe a HUGE sigh of relief when the specs of the D700 were released. In fact, the camera is actually seen as 'old hat'.

When you think about it, it does indeed make sense for Nikon to adopt the strategy they did. My reading of what's happening in the market is that if Nikon had announced the D700 after the 5D replacement, the camera would not have had any momentum.

My contacts at Canon have told me that the 5D replacement will not split into two lines, at least in the next release. The current 5D will be discontinued. I would actually have preferred to see the 5D stay around and just bring in the new camera into the line. Keeping the 5D would have kept an 'affordable' 12MP camera in Canon's arsenal.

It appears the 5D replacement camera will not be glossed over upgrade like Canon has been done with the 400/450D and 20D/30D/40D. If true, that will be good news These guys For Canon to almost laugh at the D700 has me asking how revolutionary will it be. Could it just be Canon trying to keep the faith? Talking it up?

Could it have 18+ MP, 16 bit processing with full weather proofing? Could it have other technology not yet implemented in a dSLR off-the-shelve today? I think it will, but again that's my reading of the reactions.

The 5D was released and seen by Canon and it's users as a brand new concept and market; and I think it's replacement will do exactly the same. September can't come around fast enough for Canon.

Monday, March 24, 2008

16-85mm f3.5-5.6 VR

"Not another kit lens" was what I thought when I first heard about this lens. But it is almost exactly what I was asking for, a 16 - 85 VR DX lens, a direct DX equivalent for the 24-120mm. What I was definitely hoping for was something like a f2.8-4, or maybe a f3.5-4.5. With an aperture of f3.5 - 5.6, it was on the 'they missed it list' for me.

But that aside, I decided to give it a go, prejudices aside. Here's what I've found.

One of my favourite consumer lenses was the 24-85mm f2.8 - 4, along with the 17-80mm. 16mm is exactly what the doctor ordered on the wide end. Take the 18-70 and tweak it just a touch.


This lens was used on the D300. I'll say from the outset now, this is a very fine handling lens. It feels more comfortable on the camera than does the 18-200mm VR which I consider the best walk around on the market. But he 18-200mm is heavier, not by much, but for perfect handling ,the 16-85mm is it. It's light but feels really right and quite soild, like the 18-70mm did.

The zoom ring was a little stiff, but this is no bad thing. The 18-200mm lens had a tendency to zoom creep. The 16-85 doesn't. So you can feel confident that if you're shooting up or down, the zoom will stay put.


The VR operation on this lens is very quite and smooth. On the other Nikkor lenses like the 70-200mm, you can really feel it working. You can hardly hear or feel the whirling sound on this one though. It's And it's quite effective too.

I was shooting at 85mm at 1/10th sec and was pretty happy. My hands gave up the ghost with VR off at about 1/30th, so if I had to squeeze a bit more out of it, I knew I could.


Some people may have read that I thought initial focusing on the D300 wasn't as fast as I hoped. I realise that because of my shooting style, I wasn't using the cross sensors in the middle all the time and I just never realized this was slowing me down. There is a marked difference in the initial focus speed depending on whether you're using the X AF sensors of the other ones, at least in low light.

However, using any of the 15 points yielded fast, accurate results. Very fast actually. This lens rarely hunted, 'if' using the cross sensors on the D300. I tried focusing in various lighting situations around the house. Although the below doesn't say a whole bunch, it says a little. The metering was telling me the following (at ISO 200):

kitchen: 1/5 sec at 5.6 Bedroom 1: 4 sec at 5.6 Bedroom 2: 10 sec at 5.6 (yes , it's very dark).

Point this lens at an edge and it focused on it. Other lenses were much slower and hunted for focus more often using the same 'walk-around-the house' test.

The focusing on this lens is faster than the 50mm 1.8 AF (as expected), and it's faster than the 70-300mm AF-S. It looks to me to be a new and improved AF-S and perfectly matched to the new AF in the D300, in my most humble opinion. :)


There is some light fall off at the wide end up to about the 20mm mark I think. There are much better reviews for the actual technical numbers than mine. It is something you'll have to keep an eye on.

There is distortion at both ends. Another area you should be conscious of if shooting horizons, but otherwise acceptable for this type of lens. Of course, that can be corrected in post. If shooting jpegs and you want little/no distortion, shoot at about 18mm.

Corner sharpness appeared very good. In fact, this is a super sharp lens. I consider the 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor and Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 as wonderfully sharp lenses. I can say that this lenses is probably their equal. I do need to do more testing here though, but I liked what I saw. Again, I'm talking real world here, not just some numbers.

The out of focus areas in the background were ok, but I have seen better. Flare wasn't an issue. I tested the lens both directly into the sun and off to the sides at 16mm, 24mm, 50mm and 85mm. It handled all of that very well. Flare just was not a problem at all with the tests I did.

For versatility, you can't beat the 18-200 VR.But if you don't mind taking a two lens kit, the 16-85 and the 70-300 VR should probably be in your bag.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Consumers Guide to an Entry level DSLR

The Nikon D60

The problem with many Internet forums and technical web sites talking about cameras is many of them are irrelevant. The information they provide isn't aimed at the consumer, it's aimed at the gear head.

Here is part 1, a quick guide to help you work out if the Nikon D60 camera is for you. Technical specifications can be found else where. Here, I'm going to give you reasons to get a Nikon D60. You'll know whether or not this is what you want. and if it suits.

You want really easy to use. You probably have a small compact digital camera, but you've become aware of it's limitations. Low light performance is terrible, there's a lot of shutter lag.

You don't want to become a world renowned photographer, you just want to be able to take nice pictures of your kids, or pets, or landscapes or whatever.

The D60 , and it's predecessors the D40 and D40x, were created for this reason. Nikon saw a market that needed a simply camera. The metering, which is the process to give you well exposed pictures, is very accurate much of the time. Pictures are bright and punchy straight from the camera.

The camera is deigned to take a photo and go and print it. Out of the box, it probably takes a better picture than the D200. Why, because the D200 is designed to take a photo, tweak it in a post processing software package such as Photoshop , Lightroom, Aperture or Capture NX... and then print it.

The camera has limited buttons and control on the body. These things can be found within the menu, just like many people would be used to from their little compact cameras. The camera is not intimidating like other models, so the learning curve for the camera is very quick. Other cameras like the Canon 400D have steeper learning curve.

You can't use all the older Nikon lenses, and some current third party lenses. Here's a point that get's brought up a lot. The D60 can only use AF-S lenses, and AF lenses. The difference is the AF-S lenses have a motor built into them to auto focus, the AF lenses rely on the camera body to have a motor and provide the auto focus.

Quite frankly, the most overblown issue you can hear. Most people who are in the market for the D60 will be happy with the twin lens they'll probably get with the kit. If you have an assortment of lenses such as a AF 50mm 1.8, then you probably are not the market this camera is aimed at. Start looking at the D80 and up. That's it.

3 focus points. The camera provides the user with three focus points. Let's be honest here, most users will only ever use the middle focus point anyway. It's true. 99% of people I speak to in the shop tell me this. They are thrilled they can have three. I'll have to explain to them a little bit about composition, and trying to get things out of dead centre. They're happy to get the advice. More often than not, they're also happy to just press the shutter half way down and recompose. They want to keep it simply, pick the camera up, take the shot. Excellent, the D60 is just the camera.

Small size. At this point, I've got to say that Pentax have shown everyone how to make solid well built cameras in the entry level. Olympus and Nikon do very well. Nikon have at least shown that you can have a small, light and comfortable camera that is well built. Along with the twin kit lenses, this is a very nice little camera to lug around.

The D60 is an excellent camera, put it in auto mode to start, but I hope you'll venture into the more manual settings as you go and learn. Please do. You're photography will improve. Grab a book on photography, you'll wow yourself.