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30 September 2008, Tuesday

Scanning News:

La Jolla

La Jolla, California. (© 48MB scan (5MB JPG))

Here's an example of a scan I had done from a roll of 35mm Velvia at NCPS. It was made on Fuji Velvia 50 in a ten-year-old Contax G2 with a 28mm lens and a Hoya 81A filter at f/5.6, hand-held (of course). This was frame 37. This particular G2 seems happiest set to EI 64 for Velvia.

NCPS processed the film and scanned all 37 images to CD with their new higher-resolution service for a whopping $11.99, in addition to the processing.

The scan on CD was just over 15MB, which is too big to post for you to download. Therefore I opened it in Photoshop, branded it with my © while I was at it, and "Saved for Web" at 51% quality, which reduced the file size to 5MB. I can't see any quality loss, but know that what I got from NCPS were file sizes three times as large on the CD.

This looks pretty good to me for the equivalent of 33¢ a frame, and more importantly, the convenience of having everything I shoot already scanned a few hours later when I get my film. It's sharp from edge to edge (look at the grain), something I don't get unless I unmount the film and scan it later. These scans are done before the film is cut and mounted.

I asked, and they already do mail order.

 

Deal: I see the Nikon D40 body-only, refurbished, at Adorama for $369.95. Personally I'd spring for a new kit with the superb 18-55mm lens, but if each dollar counts, I've had perfect luck with Nikon factory refurbs before.

Hey - hold on - the price of the brand-new D40 and 18-55mm kit has dropped to $449.95. Wheeee!

The Nikon D90 is the new best camera for most serious photographers like most of you folks reading this, but costs over double what the D40 does. The D90 is twice as good if you know what you're doing, but for my mom, the D40 is still the camera to get.

 

New Ghost Town Photo Opportunity: A pal in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, tells us that as property values sag, that zillions of former highly-leveraged home owners have simply walked away from property on which they owe more money than the property's current market value.

These abandoned properties have become so prevalent in Las Vegas that there are so many unattended pools that mosquitoes are flourishing and spreading deadly West Nile Virus in almost Biblical proportions. A special task force has the job of running around and draining these abandoned private pools.

Not only are people walking away from their houses before the banks repossess them, but they also are abandoning pets to fend for themselves. The dead pets then attract even more insects.

For fans of abandoned architecture (that's me), it sounds like Las Vegas is a new location to photograph all sorts of private property in all sorts of states of disarray.

I used to enjoy photographing the seedier downtown sections of older Las Vegas, but next time it might be interesting to scout out residential neighborhoods.

I'll have to ask if these are the new homes that have been constructed as fast as possible the past 15 years, as anyone who's driven from downtown to Red Rock Canyon can attest, or the older homes, or all of them.

It seems as if large sections of Las Vegas are becoming new ghost towns. I haven't studied this, but I'm sure modern anthropologists have.

Caveat to new residents: there also is a fraud problem where owners in the process of vacating a foreclosed property rent it out, and offer the prospective tenants a fat discount if they'll pay the next 6 months or a year in advance. The former owners pocket the cash, and the bank soon shows up and evicts the unsuspecting tenants.

 

RIP: The Passing of Whitehouse.com, a private website.

Do you remember back in the 1990s that Whitehouse.com was an adult site? I hadn't visited it since the 1990s. Sadly, today it looks legitimate.

When the site's operators were asked back then by concerned parents how they could, in good conscience, operate a porno site at Whitehouse.com where kids invariably would go to research their homework, the site's operators pointed out that "every kid knows the White House is at whitehouse.GOV, not .com, " and they were right.

 

Deal: 16GB SanDisk Extreme III card at Adorama for $114.95, with a $90 mail-in rebate, makes it $24.95! Not that I have any idea why anyone would shoot that much in a day, but it is a great idea to use in the second backup slot in a D3. I'm serious about using for backup, because you want a huge card but don't need download speed.

If you're nutty enough to shoot 16GB and try to download it all at once, the slower Extreme III card, nowhere near as fast for downloading as the Extreme IV, will take forever! Sane people prefer using an 8GB Extreme IV instead, from which you can download all 8GB in about four minutes. Some fast math tells me, since the Extreme III is more than three times slower than the Extreme IV (see my actual tests as compared to marketing claims), that downloading 16GB from an Extreme III card will take 2 x 3 x 4 minutes = almost a half hour to download all 16 GB, which is strictly amateur territory.

I'd love one of these for my second slot, but not for daily shooting.

 

Paradox: The Enigma that is China.

Maybe some of you folks who live in China can explain this to me.

Everything we buy here in the USA is made in China. Japanese Nikon cameras, like the excellent professional 50mm f/1.4 AF-D and 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, are made in China. Even if some Nikon lenses are made in Japan or Thailand, the cases are made in China. Most Canon gear is made in Japan, but plenty is still made in Taiwan, a Republic of China. Casio? The great new keyboard we got our kid, as well as the new EX-Z150 I got yesterday? All made in China.

Our brand-new state-of-the-art American Apple iPod Touch? Made in China. My 5-year-old Apple iBook, such a masterpiece of industrial design that it's part of the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art? It's also made in Taiwan, Republic of China.

I've always enjoyed looking at the bottom of everything to see where it's made. Its sad how few companies are proud of where they make things, and put their HQ location in huge, bright letters, like NIKON JAPAN, and hide the "Made in China" in black-on-black where you won't see it. The Japanese Leica cameras do the best job of hiding "Made in Japan" as if there's something wrong with that.

The only thing not made in China are Gossen light meters. I just got a Digisix for use with cameras that can't meter, and it is still Made in Germany.

Here now is the great paradox:

Last night my wife goes to a local Japanese restaurant to pick up dinner. Of course in San Diego, almost everyone is from sunny México, which is what San Diego was up until 1849. A little kid goes up to the counter in the restaurant and asks the guy if they "have Chinese helpers." I giggle when my wife tells me this, since obviously the helpers are todos mexicanos y mexicanas. They guy answers "do you mean chopstick helpers?" and the kid says yes! The guy hands the kid something.

Curious, my wife goes up to the counter and asks. She gets this little package with a weird piece of plastic in it. It's a little contrivance that holds chopsticks to help kids learn how to use them! FUN!!!! I gave it to my 1-3/4 year old kid, and he picked them up and was chowing down immediately.

As I said, I always love to look and see where things are made. The Chinese chopstick helper? MADE IN USA.

What's up with this? That's the paradox.

Last year I noticed the same paradox when the fortune cookies at another Chinese restaurant were made in Los Angeles. I asked a photo friend of mine, a Ph.D. born in China, and he astutely shared that "we don't have fortune cookies in China."

OK, I can handle that shocking little bit of reality, but I can't fathom that there are no chopsticks or children in China. I'm baffled! How is it that the only things not made in China are Chinese things?

The Answer: As soon as I wrote this, the great people of China wrote me to explain: 1.) Fortune cookies really aren't from China, and 2.), the big enigma, is that in China, kids see everyone using chopsticks from the day they are born, so they need no help figuring it out any more than American kids would need a fork helper. Thus chopstick helpers aren't needed in China either. Aha, and xie-xie!

 

29 September 2008, Monday

New

Digital Rot. Why digital cameras are bad investments.

US Stock Market

The US stock market, which is a kind of gambling in which rich people take money from middle-class people, took a slight dive today in the USA. No big deal, if you learn to enjoy your money and get good film cameras instead. Especially if you get lenses instead of valueless stocks, you get to enjoy them, and their value goes up over time. See The Smart Money is in Lenses.

Canon 5,200mm f/14 reflex lens

For you crazy types, some guy has one of these refrigerator-sized behemoths for sale on . Check it out, especially if you have a motorized mount for tracking spacecraft.

Olympus Micro Four Thirds

Here's a bigger picture of the concept mock-up shown last week at Photokina. Micro Four-Thirds will use the half-size four-thirds-system sensor in compact camera bodies, finally giving digital SLR quality in compact cameras, yay!

Olympus Micro four thirds prototype

Olympus Micro Four Thirds prototype. enlarge.

iPod Touch

Holy Guacamole, I just got a $229 iPod Touch, and Apple is keeping the fact that it's a fingertop computer that anyone and everyone can use to do just about anything on the Internet for free as a big secret! It's also superb for browsing and displaying your photos.

The iPod touch, 90% thae same as, and far less expensive than an iPhone and requiring no stupid extra expense, contracts or commitments, gets free wireless internet (as in WiFi, not the slow cellular services for which you get billed), and does a great deal of what most consumers of information need in a computer.

I paid full price at a local Apple Store, but it looks like they are less at Amazon. Look out: the year-old first model is also out there, and the model you'll find at most places like Best Buy and Circuit City. This new model, which adds a volume control and speaker, only got announced on September 9th 2008. Retailers are still trying to push the old one at full price to innocent customers like my wife, so beware if you're shopping anyplace other than The Apple Store.

Few people are actual producers of information (like me) and the iPod can't run Dreamweaver or Photoshop that I use for publishing this site, but for anyone with good eyesight, you can send email, buy things from Amazon, and pretty much do what most people need in a computer so long as you don't try hooking up your camera to it.

I remember back in the 1960s - 1980s when Americans looked to the Japanese as leaders of miniaturization and efficiency. One play with an iPod Touch, which is only about as thick as a memory card and does most of what a laptop computer does, makes today's digital cameras and everything coming from Japanese companies look clumsy. (The American iPod Touch is assembled in China, as are most Japanese cameras.) The iPod Touch sets a new bar for the next generation of consumer electronics.

Watch it, though. I said it does the important stuff most people do on the Internet. It doesn't do everything, so hackers, beware.

To get the Internet you need to be someplace, like your house, your friend's house, an apartment building parking lot, or a motel with free WiFi access, which is just about everywhere. You never have to pay for this, unless you want to.

The best news is that you don't have to be a hacker to figure it out, like most consumer electronics products. As soon as I initialized it with iTunes on my computer, it was already up and running on the internet. I'll bet you it's far simpler to get an iPod Touch connected to the Internet, which was instant, that it takes to fire up a new windows laptop out of the box (if anyone still buys them).

I'll try to get to a review soon.

My point here is to forget the iPhone and dealing with idiotic contracts, and just get an iPod touch, and so long as you have access to WiFi, you're set for just $229, forever!

The one thing the iPod doesn't do is make phone calls, but if you buy a microphone attachment and are willing to do a bit of a hack, you can make free internet phone calls all you want, just like from any other computer. Good luck! Even I'm not that cheap; I use a recycled PCS phone with my old SIM card on AT&T.

The iPod touch is lighter, thinner and less expensive then the iPod Classic. The iPod touch has 8GB of bullet-proof solid-state flash memory, while the iPod classic stores more, but uses an old-style mechanical spinning hard drive. You can pay more for 16GB or 32GB of memory in the iPod Touch, and the iPod Touch uses about 1GB of its memory for itself, meaning the basic 8GB model only has 7GB for your stuff. I've got 3GB of music on mine, which will play for about 2 days continuously before it repeats.

Busted Update:

Someone asked about my desk, seen in the photo of me and the baby on Thursday. It's a big showpiece my wife bought cheap someplace for looks, but it's crappy and the drawers are all warped and don't work. You'll see how none of them are pushed in all the way in the photo, and that's why: they don't slide unless you use two hands! I prefer the industrial surplus Steelcase desk I used to have, but my wife wouldn't have any part of it.

D300 Picture Controls:

I was asked if I bounce back and forth between picture controls when I photograph a person and then photograph a thing.

YES! I have to change these from shot to shot.

For photos of things I usually run VIVID and +3 saturation.

For people I run NEUTRAL and +1 saturation.

In rare cases where I need a studio shot of a product's packaging to look natural, I use STANDARD.

I swap between my stored presets as I turn my camera back and forth between subjects. A photo of my kid looks nasty made at VIVID +3, and and a photo of a thing looks boring at NEUTRAL and +1.

The only way to swap among these on the old Nikon D300 and Nikon D3 is to save these preferred Picture Control settings in the Manage Picture Controls menu, and select one or the other through the menu system. It takes too many clicks for fast photography.

This is why I suggested Nikon add an easy, direct way to swap among these as Canon has done for the past few years. Most recent Canons allow you to program the central SET button to call up Canon's Picture Styles, which works great since you hit SET, spin the knob, and hit SET again. Nikon listened, and the D90 and D700 are the first Nikons to allow fast changing between Picture Controls.

You have to set them up as I outline in my D90 Users Guide and D700 User's Guide, which is to put Manage Picture Controls at the top of the My Menu menu, and program the FUNC button to call up the top item in My Menu.

Now you tap one button at any time, click up or down to your Picture Control, hit OK, and you're there.

This is critical if you photograph different sorts of things from shot to shot, and an important reason for me to buy a D90 over a D300, and to buy the D700 over the D3. (Nikon's not stupid, which is why Nikon introduced the D300 and D3 first, so I bought both of them a year ago instead of the newer, smarter and less expensive D90 and D700 today).

Even before I before I had kids, I used Canon's ability to swap among these controls to select different contrast settings as scenes changed. Nikon is superior to Canon in that Nikons have adjusted themselves to different contrasts automatically for quite a few years, eliminating the need for this selection on previous Nikons that didn't offer much in the way of color settings.

Now that every day I'm photographing my kids and turning to shoot every other crazy thing that catches my eye the next instant, this fast-change ability is crucial.

Even with the old D3 and D300, it's faster for me to select these in the menus than to jerk it around in raw. I never shoot raw, except once every six months to remind myself of what a pain it is, and how it looks the same or worse than JPG.

If I'm outdoors in direct sunlight light, I often also have to change exposure compensation between 0 in NEUTRAL, and to -0.7 in the contrastier VIVID and +3 saturation setting. Nikon's Matrix meter still isn't smart enough to read the effects of Picture Control settings, nor do the saved Picture Controls recall the compensation settings; that will have to wait for newer cameras.

 

26 September 2008, Friday

Top Secret: This is the most significant news I've heard all year: I just heard that northern San Diego's North Coast Photo Services (NCPS), a lab I use for my processing Velvia and traditional B&W in any size, is now offering a brand-new inexpensive and complete high-resolution scanning option at the same time you have your film developed.

I already have NCPS scan each roll of Velvia to a CD as it's developed for about an additional $5.49 per roll. These scans are about 3,000 x 2,000 pixels, and more than enough for most uses. I get my CD, and never really need the film again. This way I can shoot my film cameras as if they are digital.

Just for fun, we tried a higher-resolution scanner setting, and got the incredible results you saw last Saturday, where a scan from a 52-year old camera was sharper than my D3 and Nikon's latest lenses. I didn't mention where I got the scans, since NCPS didn't know if they could offer them to me, or anyone, on a regular basis. We were just experimenting, so this was secret.

The results are impressive. Not only was resolution better, but there also was less grain than the lower resolution scans.

I wanted to get these higher-resolution scans all the time, so NCPS looked into it, and now for an additional $11.99 they'll scan your entire roll at about 5,035 x 3,339 pixels, which is 16.8MP. They can do this inexpensively because each frame is scanned as it automatically runs through the equipment uncut; no one has to sit there and baby sit each frame.

As I showed on Saturday, these 16.8 MP scans are sharper than a D3's 12MP images, but there's more. The D3, like all digital cameras, uses Bayer Interpolation, meaning the 12MP D3 isn't really 12 MP; it's less. Every pixel of a proper film scan has full R, G and B resolution, just like using a 16.8 MP Foveon sensor, which means if NCPS was Sigma, they'd call these 50MP scans. Opened in Photoshop, these scans are 48 MB. On the CD I got, they have about 14MB file size as big, fat JPGs.

As I write this, I have another roll running though, and I'm asking for the $11.95 per roll high-resolution scans, and I'l let you know how they look. They may still be fine-tuning, so the technical figures may wiggle around a little bit.

These scans let me see more detail from my slides than I can see off them with a loupe, and every roll is already scanned when I pick up the film a few hours later. (NCPS does mail order, too.) I don't have to go home, pick a few frames, and go back to the lab and pay top dollar for individual scans.

While I'm on the subject, NCPS, like Chrome, is a real lab with real people running your film. If you phone, you're talking to the people running your order. Each of them offers just about every custom scanning and printing option as well.

The news is that we now can get scans right when the film is developed that exceed the resolution of anything from Nikon digital. It still takes a $100,000 Heidelberg scanner and a very experienced operator to get a really great scan for Arizona Highways or National Geographic, and of course the $11.99 is in addition to the $8.25 or so to develop, mount and imprint the film, but for most uses for 33¢ each (CD included), these scans from NCPS are well worth it. I have a Minolta Multi PRO scanner, but I haven't bothered to plug it in in over a year because it's too much work.

Since the great price comes from the ability to scan the whole roll at once, no one can scan this well this cheap after you get your film mounted. Chrome also does scans, but not this efficiently (cheap) when scanning the whole roll.

NCPS can run anything I've brought them, including discontinued sizes of C-41 color negative roll film and large-format film. Both these labs offer more services than I'll ever be able to use, so if you're looking for a lab or digital services, try these guys.

I just heard about this high-resolution by-the-roll scanning service today. Now that I know I can get it again, I'll try some of the same shots on film and on the D3 with the same Nikon lens and see what happens. (My D3 is out for repair because the lens release button was falling off, aparently a common problem.)

Caveat: If you're new to film, be forewarned that it takes lot more talent to get good results on film than it does on digital, that film always has grain (noise), and that unless you're paying for expensive custom scans, that colors and levels never match your slides exactly. I've been working with film scans since the 1990s, so I'm impressed whan I can get results this good and this fast for this cheap.

Nikon 18-105mm

Nikon 18-105mm VR.

New: Nikon 18-105mm VR Review. I'll pass on the 18-105; it's not worth the $400, the VR is not great, and the 18-55mm is sharper. That's too bad, because the D90 is the new world leader, and it's so new that I only find it in stock kitted with the 18-105mm.

Kodak Retina IIIc

1956 Kodak Retina IIIc. enlarge.

Just in case you were curious, this is the camera that's got higher resolution that made the shots in last weekend's 35mm film vs FX digital comparison.

I've learned that this one seen above, which has some play in the focus mount, needs some adjustment (does anyone know who services Kodak Retinas in the USA? Chris Sherlock in NZ is often suggested). This sample has its focus a little off from the slop, and it still can smoke a D3 with Nikon's hottest new 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S.

Even 35mm film has higher resolution than any consumer (under $10,000) digital. Even an Olympus Trip 35 outdoes the Canon 5D (concrete examples are in the Olympus review), but takes a very good photographer to be able to extract great results from film.

Not that this is any sort of extraordinary camera; an Olympus Stylus 35mm point-and-shoot ought to be at least as good.

How crazy am I? I jump over 50 years from the hottest new stuff we can't even get yet, like the fantastic new D90 body-only, to ancient cast offs, as if they address the same markets. Well, they do: they all take pictures, and if I paid more attention to taking pictures, instead of reviewing all this gear, my photos would be much better. Likewise, only idiots have more than one camera, because the best photos come when you are intimately familar with everything about how your one camera does and responds to everything.

 

25 September 2008, Thursday

Nikon D90

Nikon D90.

New: My Nikon D90 User's Guide.

News: Canon announced a new CPS (Canon Pro Services) program for pro photographers, starting in the beginning of 2009.

Everyone who is now a member gets kicked out, and everyone has to reapply, just like any good reorganization.

There are three levels:

CPS Silver: Free (only to qualifying pros), and gets you 20% off repairs.

CPS Gold: Costs $100 annually (only to qualifying pros). Gets you 30% off repairs, faster repairs, loan equipment, and two free cleanings.

CPS Platinum: Costs $500 annually (only to qualifying pros). You get better access to loaners, even faster repairs, and a 60% repair discount.

News: Hasselblad announced price reductions on the cameras used by real pros, the H3D system. No, I don't know that the prices are.

Busted by Mom!

Dad and Katie

Baby Katie and Dad, 8:45AM PDT.

Mom brought in the baby as I'm working on the top-secret Nikon D90 users's guide. I handed mom the D90, and Pow!, great shots happen. Mom is a much better photographer than I am: she just shoots when she sees the picture, and I'm always piddling with settings. Mom does nothing other than push the button.

I hit the D90's green-button reset from whatever idiotic mode I was in, set it as I explain in the guide I'm writing, handed the D90 to mom, and bingo, great photos.

I'm busted: from left to right you see a D300, a battery-powered slide viewer that set me back $2 at a thrift store in San Luis Obispo last week, my 30" screen writing these pages (small cut-out of wedding photo of wife glued to top right of monitor), a B&O phone I bought used from the local classifieds, the awesome Nikon Pronea S I leave on my desk for inspiration (a Canon APS IX Lite and Kodak Retina IIIc are hiding behind my chair for future review), and I have a glass of milk in the yellow glass on the right.

This shot made with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-D at f/4.5 and 1/80 second exposure in Program mode, NEUTRAL and +1 saturation Picture Control, which reminds me: for $100 less than the 18-105mm kit lens, you can get the current-model fully professional 50mm f/1.4 AF-D separately instead.

I just checked: the D90 is in stock in most places with the ho-hum 18-105mm kit lens, but no one has it as body-only yet.

The more I use the D90, the more I like it. It does everything the old D300 did, but better, in a lighter package. Except for the ability to program the center button to zoom way in on playback, the D90 is better than the D300 in many ways. This is as expected: the D90 is more than a year newer than the old D300 and D3.

 

24 September 2008, Wednesday

Nikon D90

Nikon D90.

New: How to set the Nikon D90's Autofocus System.

Canon 5D Mark II: The AF system seems the same as the old 5D, which was excellent. The old 5D was super-fast and usually accurate. Remember, the 5D is a camera for still subjects, not for news or sports. Precision is more important than speed or a zillion sensors on the 5D Mark II. When I shoot my old 5D, I set it to All Sensors, shoot, and get great results.

More New Stuff: Large-Sensor Compact Cameras! A new format, Micro Four Thirds, is the digital rangefinder format I've been proposing for a couple of years.

It uses the same half-frame sensor of existing four thirds SLR cameras, but puts the lens mount twice as close to the sensor, skipping the reflex mirror of SLRs.

This will finally allow practical compact cameras with sensors far bigger than any previous compact cameras. You'll have to wait for Nikon's SPX rangefinder coming at WPPI in February for real full-frame, but at least for an amateur DSLR-class sensor in a shorts-pocket camera, it look like we're headed in the right direction. (I don't count Sigma's DP-1 as practical.)

I always carry a compact digital in my pocket, but for the past year or so all I use it for are voice notes and making movies of my kids. Picture quality of compacts is so grainy and cartoon-like (textures smoothed by noise reduction), and operating speed is too slow for moving targets (kids), so I can't stomach using compact digital cameras for photos anymore. This is why Nikon makes the D40.

 

23 September 2008, Tuesday

Secret Workshop: I often give a workshop at my local photo club's annual lodge retreat weekend. I don't mention it here because we like to keep it for the locals. Well, the locals have had their chance, and we'd love to have you in San Diego's mountains the weekend of October 11-12th in the few spots left.

What about my article? Sorry, all the stuff I was working on a few weeks ago got thrown to the side these past two weeks with all the new products that have been coming out at Photokina. I'm first trying to get a plain-English user's guide to the D90 written, then a PDF for the D300 guide, and then on to more.

Photo Lab Suggestions: As more and more people are turning to film for the best quality, and fewer and fewer labs are around, so more people are sending their film out.

If you're looking for a lab to run your Velvia in addition to downtown San Diego's Chrome that I've been using since 1990, I've also had good luck at northern San Diego's North Coast Photo Services, who also will cheerfully run your film, slides, prints and even real black-and-white, by mail at very reasonable prices.

Both can have your film scanned to CD inexpensively, so when you get your slides back, just pop the CD in your computer and you're ready to get to work. It's like getting a full-frame digital camera for free.

Want to shoot the new Leica f/1.4 lenses on full-frame? You still have to do it on film.

Market Analysis: Why Kodachrome Died in 1990. Some people saw a filler article on CNN about how Kodachrome is still alive and well.

What the article forgets is that Kodachrome died the day anyone tried Fuji Velvia. My day was in June 1990.

My first roll of Velvia gave me the colors I always wanted, instead of the nasty green-fringed highlights of Kodachrome. My KM and KR is still sitting unused in my freezer from 1989, while I buy more Fuji Velvia 50 all the time.

I showed you all on Saturday that a really good automated minilab (Noritsu) scan of a 35mm Velvia frame has higher resolution than a Nikon D3.

Kodachrome was killed when a better product came out, not by anything else. For those who love Kodachrome 64, which uses my initials, KR, you can buy all you want from stock in two grades. It's not going away any time soon.

18 years ago, when most serious landscape photographers upgraded to Velvia, the nay-sayers warned "who cares how much better the colors look today, you'll be sorry when they fade in 10 years!"

My Kodachromes from 1973 look just like they came back from Fairlawn, New Jersey. My 18-year-old Velvias also look like they just came back from Chrome. Big deal, unlike Ektachrome, Velvia lasts, too.

New: Leica 21mm f/1.4 and 24mm f/1.4 lenses for the M rangefinder cameras. Yay! Where's my M7 full-frame film camera? Now the two leaders, Canon and Leica, both have 24mm f/1.4 lenses, while the leader back in the 1960s-1980s, Nikon, has no AF f/1.4 lenses shorter than 50mm. Sayonara, Nikon, what have you done for us lately? Nikon discontinued its only wide f/1.4 AF lens, the 28mm f/1.4, back in 2006. (Nikon still makes the 35mm f/1.4 manual focus, which came out in 1970, and leaders Canon and Leica make a dozen different 35mm f/1.4!)

Actually, Nikon makes the most-usable and fastest-handling and best-exposing SLRs on the planet, which is why I use them, instead of making interesting lenses or sensors wrapped in cameras more suited to sitting on the shelf, but I'm still waiting for an 28mm f/1.4 AF-S and 12mm f/4 AF-S (both FX), arrigato.

New: Adobe Photoshop CS4! It arrives in October 2008 for $699 (full price, upgrades less). Yay!

Lexar 233x UDMA CF

8GB Lexar 233x UDMA CF Card.

New at Photokina: Lexar 233x UDMA CF Card Review. Lexar has just bumped the speed of their basic 133x series of CF cards. This is great news, because I've already tested the 233x cards and found that these 233x cards are just as fast as the top Lexar 300x UDMA and SanDisk Extreme IV cards, at a better price. Hooray!

Leica S2

Leica S2 prototype. enlarge.

New at Photokina: Leica talked about a new digital SLR, the S2, which has a medium-format 30x45mm sensor in a body a little smaller than other pro 35mm-based DSLRs. The Leica S2 DSLR is a man's camera, not a wimpy half-sensor runt like the M8. Scour the Internet all you like, but there are no solid specifications, prices or dates announced yet. The Leica S2 is still just fluff.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of Nikkor rangefinder lenses, it's obvious Leica has named their first DSLR after Nikon's S2 rangefinder camera of the mid-1950s. The Nikon S2 was 2nd-line competition to Leica back when Leica was mainstream. The Nikon S2 was Nikon's last amateur camera, made just before Nikon's landmark first pro camera, the legendary Nikon SP rangefinder. Don't ask me what this means, it's all steeped in legend, mystique and the "fascination" that hovers around Leica, but now camera cognoscenti will always have to say "Leica S2" or "Nikon S2" to keep from confusing the two. (The old tethered Leica S1 has no relationship to the S2 SLR.)

Leica S2 back

Leica S2 back. enlarge.

Scheiße, was this designed as a tribute to German torture, as a video game, or what? Where is the rear thumb controller? If it has to be jacked through menus, Leica can kiss my $28,999 goodbye. Leica has either got to be kidding, only has one AF sensor, or hired some Human Factors Engineers from Apple to do something brilliant, the way the iPod does more with fewer buttons than anything.

Hey — hold on — Leica still hasn't developed AF technology yet, so this could be just a klunky manual focus SLR! The AF systems of the 1980s weren't very good, but today, AF systems get better, more precise results, especially with fast f/1.4 and f/1.2 prime lenses, than focusing manually.

The Leica S2 uses a bigger sensor than any of the piddly stuff from Nikon or from Canon, and hands you a man-size 30x45mm sensor with 37 MP.

Unfortunately Leica is using the wrong aspect ratio, the dopey 3:2 ratio of old 35mm film. Leica should have used 3:4 or 4:5 if the S2 is intended for pros, as opposed to rich amateurs. With the too-wide 3:2 rectangle, most pros will be cropping off the sides and wasting pixels, but the S2 seems to have enough for now.

Hopefully Leica designed it properly, without forgetting the necessary anti-alias and IR-cut filters it forgot on the M8.

Leica S2 Lenses

Leica S2 Lenses. (enlarge to see each lens)

Of course it needs all-new lenses, and I see prototypes of a 24mm, 30mm tilt-shift, 30-90 zoom, 70mm f/2.5 (82mm filter), 100mm, 120mm f/2.5 Macro, 180mm cs, 210mm, 350mm f/3.5 (105mm filter), and two other anonymous lenses. The 24mm is the same as a 19mm on 35mm film.

The crop factor of the Leica S2 is 0.8, meaning it's bigger then 35mm film, but still smaller than 645 medium format.

If it works, and isn't a design dud like the old M8, it could be awesome compared to the klunkier medium format digital systems out there today. This could be Leica's' first professional-level digital camera.

With this announcement, I sure hope Leica is breaking out of its past 50 years of rehashing 1950s designs and moves ahead to become a competitive innovator as Leica was 50 years ago. That's the one thing I'd like to see Leica rerun. How about a commemorative edition that commemorates innovation for a change, as does the Leica S2? Danke Leica!

Am I a fan of real (not made in Japan) German lenses? YES! The sharpest lenses I've ever used are my Schneider lenses from the 1950s for my 4x5, and you saw on Saturday, a 52-year old Schneider Xenon on film is still sharper than Nikon's best and latest on the D3. German lenses: there is no substitute.

Price? I'll guess competitive with other medium-format systems, or about $28,999 for the body alone (€ 8.000 in Italy on speciale). I haven't see any real numbers yet, and let's hope it makes it to production, and not flame-out like the Contax N-1 digital that put Contax out of business.

 

22 September 2008, Monday

(Monday readers: don't miss Saturday's shocking 35mm film vs. digital example.)

Photokina: The world's biggest trade show is Photokina, which is happening this week in Germany. It happens every two years, and is why you're seeing a slew of new product announcements. It will all be old news by the end of the week, so stay tuned!

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AFS

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S

NEW: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S. Long overdue, the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4 G is announced today. Finally, Nikon gets with the program and has now at least one fast fixed lens that can autofocus on the D40, D40x and D60. The best news is that it's not as overpriced as the other recent lenses, with an MSRP of $440 for delivery in December. Yay!

As every Canon user knows, the similar electronic focus, instant manual focus override Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 has been around since 1993 and sells for $325. Canon may be 15 years ahead, but at least I still can use all my old manual focus classics like the 15mm f/3.5 on my D3 and D300, while Canon made its manual lenses useless with new cameras back in 1986.

Want to know how important the 50mm f/1.4 is? While I was in the middle of writing my review, my wife interrupted me to take pictures of the cute baby. I just made 177 shots with my old 50mm f/1.4 while I was in the middle of writing up the new 50mm f/1.4!

News: Nikon has now cranked out 45,000,000 Nikkor lenses. I still wonder: who got the one-billionth burger at McDonalds?

News: While the Nikon F6 remains in production as the world's best 35mm film camera, I see that the FE-10 and FM-10 have evaporated from Nikon Japan's film camera page. Note that the F6 is so significant that FILM CAMERAS get more space on Nikon's photography page than most other topics. I have cash here waiting for the F7, bring it on!

New from Leica:

- M8.2
- 50mm f/.95 Noctilux
- 21mm + 24mm f/1.4 Summilux
- 24mm f/3.8
- C-LUX 3
- D-LUX 4
- Pradovit Projector
- New M System Accessories

Tomorrow, a new platform from Leica is to be anounced! Will Leica ever step up to pro-grade digital with full-frame along with Nikon, Canon and Sony? We'll see.

 

21 September 2008, Sunday

Does anyone still read print?

Sitting here on a lazy Sunday afternoon reading my pile of magazines, I finished off Popular Photography and Outdoor Photographer in a few page flips. Where is the "Photo" part of these magazines? Pop used to feature big gravure sections by famous photographers back in the good old days, but not today.

I saw a few nice photos, but I saw far more articles and ads about computers, software and forgettable digital cameras than I saw anything about photography.

The funniest thing about print is that the production cycle is about three months, meaning that printed magazines are completely useless for reading about the digital products about which they talk almost exclusively today.

These October 2008 issues were talking about the Nikon D700 as if it was brand new (things change so fast that the D700 was off my plate a month ago), and both magazines were still talking about the old Canon 5D as if were still current news.

Then I cracked open Arizona Highways and National Geographic. Ahh! These magazines still do it like they used to, but better!

Want to see real photography, well reproduced? National Geographic built their own huge gravure printing plant about a decade ago so that they could print the best possible photographic quality in huge quantities, and have complete control over the process.

Each issue of National Geographic is a work of art. It's printed with an entirely different process than your junk mail and other magazines, which is why the pages stick together with static electricity. I remember the huge difference in quality between the same photo of a dead gorilla being hauled out of the jungle as reproduced in National Geographic, and the same photo in another photo magazine I read on another lazy Sunday.

Not only are the photos in National Geographic among the world's best and most inspiring work by the world's best photographers of almost every genre, the vivid and subtle colors, and whites, grays and blacks, are the most vivid you'll see on paper.

Want to be inspired? Want to see the worlds' best photography? Spend less than you'd spend on a memory card and enjoy a subscription to either or both of these. Arizona Highways doesn't even have advertisements, and heck, if you participate in Arizona Highway's free photo contest, you might win more free stuff! Arizona Highways has also been back up to its usual world-class reproduction standards these past few months.

Am I imagining this?

The lens release button on the front of my D3 appears to be coming off!

I may be crazy, but it was sticky, and when I look at it, I can see some air between it and the body as it appears to be moving out and away from the body.

Has anyone else seen this? No big deal since every D3 ever made is still under warranty, but it is weird.

Have I upgraded?

A reader asked if I had "upgraded" to Expression Media, the current iteration of iView. I chuckled. I have a free "upgrade" path, and my answer is a firm NO.

I use iView 3.1.3 to manage, sort, organize and select my zillions of images and graphics. I've been using it in various versions since at least the dawn of the millennium. I've been using it since it was only available only for Mac.

iView was bought-out by Microsoft a couple of years ago. Because of grave concerns over professionalism, security and productivity, I don't use Microsoft products.

Why would I want to downgrade to a Microsoft product? iView works perfectly as version 3.1.3 on both my PowerPC and Intel Macs. Undoubtedly if I were to take the pusher's "free" upgrade path, I'd be forever addicted to needing constant costly upgrades for no reason other than to stuff Microsoft's coffers and keep my Mac bogged down with programmers' mung.

I don't use Lightroom, I don't use iPhoto, I don't use Picassa, I don't use Bridge, I don't use Aperture, I don't use Photo Mechanic (but many pros do) and I don't use BreezeBrowser. I use iView to see what I got. Nothing works even h alf as well when it comes to speed and flexibility to show me what I got, and how I want to see it.

Once I've selected an image out of thousands shot every month, I'll format it in Photoshop CS2 if it needs it, otherwise, the camera-original JPG goes out.

My time really is money, because that's how I get paid (I'm not on anyone's salary). I'll spend lots of money to save even one minute a day, but I can't spend time changing hardware or software unless there is a proven improvement to productivity. When it comes to time logged on my Mac, I am not a hobbyist and cannot fool around experimenting.

 

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What Was New in:

The first half of September, 2008

August 2008

July 2008

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

March 2008

February 2008

January 2008

December 2007: Loads of details about the Nikon D3, D300, 14-24mm and 24-70mm, much of which still isn't on the individual review pages.   

November 2007: First hands-on details about the Nikon D3, D300, 14-24mm and 24-70mm, much of which still isn't on the individual review pages.   

October 2007

September 2007

August 2007 (Loads of new Nikons and Canons)

July 2007

June 2007

May 2007

April 2007

March 2007

January and February 2007

2006 November - December (includes birth of Ryan Rockwell)

2006 October - November (includes photos from a trip to NY)

2006 June - September

2006 Jan - May

2005

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