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Nikon D3 vs. D700 vs. Canon 5D


Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


31 October 2008, Friday

Genius Strap

I keep forgetting to mention the strap I prefer, especially for for heavy cameras like the D3: The UPstrap.

It's a simple, thin, strong strap with a big rubber pad that sticks where you put it on your shoulder. It makes cameras seem much lighter because you don't have to keep sliding the camera up and down where you want it as you walk around.

The only gotcha is that t pad is very grippy, and could damage delicate clothes like silk shirts if you're packing heavy cameras.

UPstrap makes a lot of models and accessories. The one I use is called the SLR/LT on the strap, and called SLR Classic on their website. Check it out!

These are tough straps: there are no quick releases or other things to let your camera fall to the ground. It's a strap, a pad, and stainless-steel buckles. Done.

The fat pad holds your camera and spreads out the weight, and the narrow webbing means the strap never gets in the way of your hands shooting.


Boring Picture

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes. Contax G2, Zeiss 90mm, Velvia 50.

Here's a shot from last week, from film, for free! This image, except for resizing and branding to post it here, is exactly what came off my scan from NCPS when I had the film run.


Marketing poo versus what products do

The Canon SD880 seems much faster in operation than the G10, and others confirm this.

Marketing baloney like "DIGIC blah blah blah" means nothing. Marketing departments make all this up to ensure that more expensive cameras always have better on-paper specs than the cheaper ones.

When I was in marketing, we often under-rated our cheaper products so that even if they did work better than the more expensive ones, it never looked that way.

Anyone who reads Consumer Reports knows performance rarely has anything to do with the price of the product.

I this case, the SD880 is a fantastic camera, and so is the G10. With the G10, you're paying for a big, heavy body and dedicated exposure mode, exposure compensation and ISO knobs. Inside the case, the G10 certainly seems to have the same guts s any of the smaller cameras. In the SD880, the LCD looks as good, the images look as good (or very slightly better), and it works faster and fits in my pocket. Bravo Canon!


New Canon Rebates

OK, not that new since they started on October 19th while I was out shooting in the Eastern Sierra, but new to me today. They are good through January 17th, 2009, and they are instant rebates, meaning you get your discount when you buy them, with no stupid forms to send in. The rebates are:

70-200/2.8 L IS
100-400 L IS
16-35mm L II (my favorite)
300/4 L IS

70-200/2.8 L (not IS)

24-70/2.8 L
70-200/4 L IS (my favorite)
17-55/2.8 IS (1.6x cameras only)
10-22mm (1.6x cameras only)
17-40/4 L (another favorite)
18-200mm IS (1.6x cameras only)
70-300mm IS
100mm macro
60mm macro (1.6x cameras only)
1.4x II and 2x II converters
580EX II flash
430EX and 430EX II flashes


D90 Video

Nikon's D90 is one of the world's very best DSLRs at any price; better than even the older D300. Only the D700 is slightly better for use in low light, and the D3 is better for professional sports.

I wasn't that impressed by the quality of the D90's video, and I was only half kidding when I suggested that with its 24p frame rate that it could be used to shoot theatrical motion pictures, but lo and behold, Hollywood's wizards at RedRock Micro and Zacuto already have posted data on various professional mount systems. I haven't shopped for price, but I'm sure that even the accessories to these hand-made mount systems cost more than a D90, which tells you a lot about the D90.


30 October 2008, Thursday

Canon SD880

Canon SD880

Canon SD880.

I just borrowed a Canon SD880 (3" LCD, 4x 28mm IS zoom), and it seems like a huge winner for a pocket camera.

The subtle and critical reason I love it over many other compacts, is that the buttons, controls and speed seem almost perfect. Canon has finally perfected the scroll wheel on a compact, and I can run everything in one hand.

Picture quality is as good as anything else from Canon; I can't see any difference between images from the SD880 and the G10, in fact, if I had to pick one, often the SD880 images are better.

I'll have a full review in a few weeks and all Canon's compacts are great, but off the top of my head, I think the SD880 is my new top pick in a recommended compact camera.


$4.95 16 x 20" Prints

Adorama has them on special until 25 November 2008. For the same price, they'll do them in any of three finishes, including (if I read this right), Kodak's awesome metallic paper, which looks 3D! Adorama, already low-priced, usually charges $14.95 for that same size in metallic.


Canon 14mm

Canon 14mm

Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II.

NEW: Canon 14mm f/2.8 L II Review. Canon's newest 14mm improves significantly on their original EF 14mm lens. Unlike most of my reviews, this one is profusely illustrated with examples.


Nikon 180mm

180mm afd

Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AF-D.

NEW: Nikon 180mm f/2.8 History. Nikon's been making these continuously since at least 1970, so here's an illustrated guide to which is which.


29 October 2008, Wednesday

Canon G10 Review

Canon G10

The Canon G10.

NEW: Canon G10 Review.

NEW: Why We Love Film.


24 October 2008, Friday

No Firewire on 13" Metal MacBook

I'm still wondering why Apple dropped FW on the 13" metal MacBook. You still get it on every other man's Mac, especially the 15" MacBook Pro and the cheapest $999 13" plastic MacBook. (The MacBook Air is for the ladies.)

Apple is always the first to introduce new technology we need, like the mouse, the 3.5" floppy, the CD and the optical mouse, and also the first to take it off. I would suspect Apple suspects that the majority of consumers don't need FW, but as a content producer, I do need FW.

I use FW for transferring files from my card readers to my laptop. As my tests showed, FW is about three times as fast as USB2.

I use FW for cloning an exact, bootable duplicate of my hard drive — every night.

When I return from a trip, I copy everything I did and shot via the Target Disk Mode, which lets me plug my laptop into my desktop Mac with a FW cable, and the laptop appears as a hard drive from (and to) which I can drag and drop anything.

Continuous vs. Sustained Data Rates

USB2 is rated at 480Mb/s and FW400 is rated at 400Mb/s, but that's where most people get scammed.

FW is rated for 400Mb/s continuously, as it was invented for live, full-bandwidth studio video. USB2's 480Mb/s rating is a lie, and refers only to its burst rate. You can get 400Mb/s over FW, but you can't get 480Mb/s transferring files via USB. Even if you found a USB2 - FW converter, you'd be hung up by the slow transfer rates of USB2.

I don't do video, but when I did, our cameras plugged into our Macs via FW.

I was considering buying a new laptop, but it won't be a 13" metal MacBook. I might get a $999 plastic MacBook, or continue to stick with my 5-year-old 12" 800MHz iBook, which has a matte screen and FireWire. A 12" computer fits my luggage; adding an inch or two means a cased 13" computer might not. Right now, I just jam my cased iBook into my travel backpack.

I prefer plastic exterior cases. They are tough, made of the same polycarbonate as motorcycle helmets and riot gear. Plastic feels good on my lap, while metal is too cold (I always wear shorts).

I'm a content producer, which is a small minority of people compared to the vast majority of people who are merely content consumers. I need a compact machine for field use. It needs ample data transfer ability since I move a lot of data around. The lack of FW is why I stopped considering the MacBook Air as soon as I saw it lacked professional I/O.

Heck, all most content consumers may need is an iPod Touch instead of a computer, but I have gigabytes to move around each day.

Canon 5D Mark II Users Manual

Canon USA has the users manual for the 5D Mark II posted here. No one has their camera yet, and its always the best idea to read the manual now, while we're waiting, than to get the camera and forget to read the manual in our excitement to open the box.


23 October 2008, Thursday

I'm back from the Yosemite workshop, and just dropped off 20 rolls of film at NCPS for processing and scanning while my digital camera files combobulate themselves.

Big Cards are Nuts

Who needs big memory cards? I can't shoot more than 2GB in a day, so why do some people love 8GB and 16GB cards?

The only reason I'd want a 16GB card is for use in the second slot of a pro camera as a continuous backup.

I brought an 8GB Lexar 300x card in my Canon 5D this past week out shooting all day, every day.

Just for fun, I did the wrong thing and left the old files on the card after I downloaded them each night. I started a new folder each day, so I had everything I shot on the trip on my 8GB card when I returned. (I had everything on my old Apple 800MHz 12" iBook, from which I copied the sorted and cataloged files using Target Disk Mode; I didn't use the files from the card once downloaded into my iBook each night.)

Today, after over seven days of continuous shooting, I only filled 3.8GB. I also shot a total of 2GB on a Canon G10 on a 4GB SD card.

Cards get bigger all the time, but hard disks don't grow as fast. I have a 750GB HDD in my desktop Mac today, but back in 2000 I had a 160GB drive. I have no idea what people are doing with these giant cards, even if they're shooting sports in raw.

22 October 2008, Wednesday


Trees Behind The Ahwahnee Hotel.
(Canon 5D, 16-35mm Mk II at 16mm)


21 October 2008, Tuesday

Yosemite Fall Color Update


Sugar Maple, Yosemite Valley.
(across from chapel, 8:35AM. Canon G10, exactly as shot.)

There are loads of color in Yosemite. More and more is turning each day. Get up here!


20 October 2008, Monday

Showing Up

90% of photography, and life, is showing up. It doesn't matter what kind of camera you have if you're not there.

That hit home even hard this Monday morning at 7AM as I write this. I'm in Yosemite Valley, about to head out for a day of shooting, and this is also the busiest day for people reading the Internet.

Over 100,000 people will be reading my site today, but only a few people are away from their computers and out shooting.

Who's going to get better pictures, you, stuck in your office with your expensive gear sitting at home without you, or my grandma with a disposable camera up here?

The color's great, so ditch work and get out here. Getting fired is the best thing that's ever happened to me; try it!

Taking more time off from work and earning thousands of dollars less each year, but getting out and shooting an extra week or two, will get you photos far better than wasting that same few thousand dollars on the camera gear you probably came here to research.

Shut off your computer, get in your car, and go shoot today. If the boss notices, invite him, too. This is ditch work week!


19 October 2008, Sunday

New Apple Laptops

The newest Apple laptops are swell, but the 13" aluminum MacBooks just lost their Firewire ports, crippling them for serious photography.

You need either the new 15" MacBook, too darn big for travel, or, yes, the cheapest new white plastic MacBook to get a professional Firewire port. Firewire is how you download your cards fast enough to be able to post your work each night while traveling, as I have done below. I'm not a fan of USB, but most people wouldn't notice the lack of FireWire. I use Firewire all day, so I'd skip the new 13" aluminum MacBooks.

An hour ago here at the Yosemite Lodge, four of five strangers banging away on their laptops in the lobby were using Apples of various vintages. If you count me and the other instructor here at Yosemite, that would be six out of seven.

Apples don't go obsolete. I'm doing this site live on a 5-year old 12" 800MHz iBook, and others banging away in Yosemite were on older black Powerbooks!

Twin Lakes

Digital (finger) Clouds at Twin Lakes, 8:14AM today.
(Canon 5D, 14mm Mk II.)

Daily Fall Color Update

There are loads of color in Yosemite. Half the trees are yellow, with the other half still green, and one sugar maple that's red.

Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple, Yosemite Valley. (Canon G10, exactly as shot.)

Yosemite Lodge

Yosemite Lodge. (Canon G10, exactly as shot.)


18 October 2008, Saturday

Eastern Sierra Daily Color Update

Dawn was good today at Mono Lake. The sky went magenta about 15 minutes before sunrise, then went gray, then the sun came up.

Silver Lake

Silver Lake. (Canon 5D, 14mm Mk II, exactly as shot.)

Yay! Things are turning. Silver Lake seems to be the best, along with Lee Vining Creek. Much of the June Lake Loop is pretty good.

Sunset last night at Mono Lake was great, complete with the Sierra Wave for clouds.


17 October 2008, Friday

Eastern Sierra Daily Color Update

Yay! This afternoon things started to turn. We had good results at Lundy Canyon, and especially up Lee Vining Creek. Trees that were green yesterday are starting to turn yellow today.


16 October 2008, Thursday

Eastern Sierra Daily Color Update

When I drove it this morning, the trees are still mostly green, gray or brown. Your best bet is June Lake Loop, especially Silver Lake.

Convict Lake Marina

Convict Lake Marina, 10AM this morning. (Canon G10, exactly as shot.)

Thanks to a tip passed on to me from a reader who recognized me wandering around Lee Vining, I also checked out Convict Lake. Convict Lake has a very little bit of color, better than most areas, but still not as good as Silver Lake. The best shots at Convict Lake are the boats and the bait shack, not the trees. Also check out the commemorative plaque, which is the first time I've seen a modern hero with a mullet memorialized in bronze.


15 October 2008, Wednesday

Nikon D90 body-only now in-stock!

Yay! The D90 is the best DX camera out there, beating out the old D300. The D90 has identical image quality to the D300, sometimes even a little better, and handles much better due to much improved firmware and hardware, like a new INFO button that lets me get to what I need faster.

Ritz finally has the body-only in stock. Amazon also has it, but it looks like the orders are going through Ritz anyway.

The D90 previously has only been available as a kit with the ho-hum 18-105mm lens. I would not buy the old D300 today; I'd buy either the D90 or the D700. If you're considering the old D300, I'd get the D90 instead while saving up for the D700.

Canon G10

The Canon G10 is too big to carry everywhere all day in a pocket, but when you're out on a dedicated photo outing, it fits great in a shorts pocket. To my surprise, I don't bother to pull out the 5D unless I need to shoot a 14mm lens; for everything else, I'm shooting the G10!

Two things missing from the G10, typical of point-and-shoots:

1.) No diagonal scrolling on playback; just left-right and up-down.

2.) No true zoom lens. The lens only changes focal length in steps, thus you need to take your own steps forward or back to frame precisely.

So what! The Canon G10 sure beats hauling around a 5D.

Eastern Sierra Fall Color Report

June Lake Loop

June Lake Loop, 1:51PM local time today. (Canon G10)

I'm up here as I write this. Fall color is still coming; most trees are still green at most elevations.

Even with the color well before its prime, business is booming. Many motels are completey sold out!

The best bets are around Lee Vining and June Lake and at about 8,000.' Here are specifics today.


Blah. No color. Mostly gray and light gray leaves .

Conway Summit

Still green.

Virginia Lakes

Bare! All the leaves have fallen off at 9,000.'

Lundy Lake

Still mostly green, but there are some orange trees in Lundy Creek leading up to the lake.

Lee Vining

Most trees are still green, but some are starting to turn.

June Lake Loop

Silver Lake

Silver Lake, 2:07PM today. (Canon G10)

This is your best bet. Most trees are green, but around Silver Lake, some have started to turn.

June Lake Loop

June Lake Loop, 3:08PM today. (Canon G10, fishtank WB to make it more orange!)

McGee Creek

All green.

Good Film Scans


Pine, Foster Lodge. Contax G2, Velvia scanned at NCPS, Zeiss 21mm.

I'm having a blast getting high-resolution scans with all the film I shoot.

One thing I'd never noticed before, since back in the old days I'd only scan my very best images, is that with 16MP film scans of every frame, you can see every depth-of-field issue.

Slides that look excellent under my 8x Peak loupe may have only a very small region in perfect focus when seen at 100% in a 5k scan. This is especially apparent shooting the Zeiss lenses on the Contax G2, since they are so sharp in the tiny region that is in perfect focus. I've never seen such an obviously tiny depth-of-field, and it serves me right for looking so close. The slide above looks great online and under the loupe, but when you split pixels, I should have stopped down more.

Canon 5D: Just like film!


Dead Man's Tavern. Canon 5D at ISO 400, 14mm f/2.8 L II, f/8 at 1/13, hand-held, -0.7 exposure compensation.

Dead Man's Tavern is called so because legend has it that bad things befall anyone who visits. It's not owned by a dead man, silly; death is what becomes of those who visit. That's why it's left open along the side of the road, and no one dares to visit. I was stupid enough to drop inside, and I kid you not: my wife's grandma died just an hour after later I posted this photo last night. Weird, but true.

I'm also out shooting my 5D. Last October I was in Yosemite looking forward to the arrival of the Nikon D3 I had on order, and so had to make do with the old 5D instead.

Now that I've had the D3 for 10 months, and it's obvious that the 5D gives me superior image quality for landscape and nature shots, I left the D3 in the safe deposit box. The 5D is sharper, and more importantly, I prefer its color rendition. When set to +4 saturation, I love it. When I set the D3 to VIVID and +3 saturation the results are wilder, but all the colors head towards the primaries, while the 5D gives the sense of more distinct hues. (I bet if I turned down the D3 it would be better.)

The 5D Mark II doesn't show up for another month, so the old 5D is still the king. Not bad for a three-year old digital camera. No one has seen production 5D Mark IIs yet; all the Internet chatter is with prototypes.

Here's where the "just like film" part comes in: what does the 5D and a film camera have in common? You can't really see how your pictures came out until at least a few hours later! The 5D's LCD is so dim and off color it's useful for little. You have to wait to get back to the studio to download the shots to see what you got.

Not only is the 5D's LCD dim and off-color, it also doesn't show the full image resolution when zoomed, nor does it show the highlights properly (it pre-clips them to look worse than what you really got).

Thus with the 5D you have to be good enough to know what you're doing blind, because the LCD is little help. I sure hope the 5D Mark II's LCD is as good as the fantastic one on the G10.

Outer Los Angeles. Canon 5D at ISO 100, 14mm f/2.8 L II, f/11 at 1/400.


13 October 2008, Monday

Nikon D3 Owner's Survey: I'm impressed. Nikon sent us an owner's survey, and it shows that the guy who wrote this survey really knows what to ask.

When Nikon asked about image quality, Nikon asked about what really matters, like chromatic aberration correction, ADR, ISO range (not high ISO noise), vignetting correction and tonal rendition. Nikon didn't bother asking about trivial items like high ISO noise and sharpness that distract too many non-photographers.

Even more important than image quality, were Nikon's numerous pages asking about usability. Nikon was fishing around seeing how much, or if, we used things like the Picture Controls (YES!), the card second slot (YES), Live View (no, that's a feature for people used to point-and-shoots), and the virtual horizon (sometimes).

Thanks Nikon! Many multi-billion dollar organizations collect input like this, and then proceed to ignore it. Let's hope Nikon acts on the input they get.


09 October 2008, Thursday

Contax Zeiss 16mm Hologon

Contax Zeiss 16mm f/8 Hologon.

New: 16mm Comparison among the Nikon D3 and 14-24mm AF-S, the Canon 5D and 16-35mm L II and the 16mm f/8 Zeiss Hologon shot on film. The results are illuminating.


07 October 2008, Tuesday

Nikon's Repair Service

Yay! My D3 is back.

I had a common problem where my lens release button became loose, and wiggled so that it often became difficult to unmount lenses.

I sent it to Nikon, and it returned just fine in less time than estimated. Nikon estimated about 2 weeks, and it came back in a week and a half.

The only boners were that all D3s are under their 1-year warranty, but Nikon tried to charge me $325 until I had to phone in and wait on hold a half hour for someone to give me a number to which to fax my receipt and pray. By comparison, Canon's online check-in process asked me all this up front, but Nikon didn't and wasted my time.

Nikon fixed the button, and looking at my paperwork, also replaced my shutter, and of course cleaned my sensor. Nikon didn't address the fogging of the inside rear glass of my LCD; my D3 came back just as I sent it to them. You only can see this fogging with the LCD off and bright light shining on the rear LCD.

I'm happy. I got my D3 back soon enough so I can get back to work with it. Nikon wasted my time with a defective online check-in process that failed to ask for my warranty info up front, and wasted more of my time on hold and faxing paperwork that should have been part of the initial check-in, and didn't fix the foggy rear LCD glass, but so what: I got my D3 back repaired, and ahead of schedule so I can get back to work. I have photos to make, especially next week.

Thanks Nikon!


Film Beats Digital — Again!

I just got back some inexpensive scans from a roll of 120 Velvia 50 from NCPS, a local San Diego photo lab. In addition to processing, the whole roll was scanned to CD for an additional $12.

Heh heh, the scans are 5,902 x 4,815 pixels (28MP), and sharper, pixel-by-pixel, than any digital camera because there is no Bayer interpolation.

I scared myself: the first shot that came up on my Mac had a sign with nasty pixelation. I got scared that the scans were bad.

Looking more closely, the sign in the corner was rendered just as it was on my film. What I was seeing are the individual dots made by the tiny perforations in the vinyl sign! This is actually on my film when I pulled out my 22x loupe; I missed it when I first reviewed my film!


Full 6x7cm image. Legoland, Mamiya 7, 43mm, RVP.


Unsharpened crop from NCPS scan at 100%.
(These are prices for annual and lifetime memberships, not for the day!)

Digital camera images are never this sharp at 100%, and this is from a 28 MP image!

Print the whole image this big, and it's 4 x 5 feet (125 x 150 cm).

That's right: go pull out your Mamiya, Hasselblad or Yashica-MAT and shoot some film if you want resolution. Screw digital cameras.



A reader asks how I don't need glasses, working in front of a screen 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, on this site.

Easy: I use a 30" monitor, and keep it 2-1/2 feet (80cm) away from me.


06 October 2008, Monday

New folding camera

It looks like Fuji's prototype medium-format camera, seen at PMA this spring, will be sold under the Voigtländer brand name.


Hot Memory Card Deals

Adorama's got a bunch of SanDisk cards with deep rebates. The rebates accelerate as you buy more cards, so check out the details at the links.

They usually sell out within hours, like the 16GB card deal last week, so don't dawdle.

These rebates make the cards nearly free.

SanDisk Extreme IV, my favorite pro card with super-fast download speeds:

Ducati Extreme IV+ 4GB CF

4GB Extreme IV SD

8GB Extreme IV SD


Extreme III, just as good, but take longer to download. Personally, cards that can't dump 2 gigs into my Mac in 60 seconds drive me crazy, but you might not care:

2GB Extreme III CF

4GB Extreme III CF

8GB Extreme III CF

2GB Extreme III SD

4GB Extreme III SD

8GB Extreme III SD


Canon 5D Mark II Update

A reader said that he found them in at retail, and I was very curious since they're not due for another month or more.

Nope, there are no 5D Mark IIs available yet. They are still slated for the end of November, and when they do start shipping, they will be hard to get for at least a few months. I'd expect they will be hard to get: why should Canon rush to ship a product which, for most people including myself, replaces the 1Ds Mark III, a camera which costs three times as much?

Nikon 24mm f/2

Nikon AI Nikkor 24mm f/2s.

Lens Test Update

Nikon 24mm f/2 AI-s Review. I updated my 1999 review for use on FX and DX cameras. More will come when Nikon returns my D3 which is out getting its lens release button repaired.

Gotta Love Costco

I ran over to Costco for a hot dog for lunch, and to make some prints.

I poked a USB drive in the kiosk, and asked for four 4x6" and four 5x7" of the photo of me and the baby for the wife, and for one 12x18" print of the high-resolution (5,000 x 3,333 pixel) scan I had made when I had a roll of slides developed and scanned at NCPS last week.

Katie and I

Four 4x6" and four 5x7," please. (shot on D90)

La Jolla

One 12x18" please. (semi-original © file, 5MB)

Costco told me they'd be ready in an hour, so I planned to eat my hot dog and get the prints later when I circled back to NCPS in the afternoon to pick up more film I shot this weekend. (NCPS also says they can do scans with developing of 120 and 220 film, which if true, will eliminate the need to wait around for the Canon 5D Mark II when I can shoot my Mamiya 7 instead.)

Just for laughs, 30 minutes later when I was done with my hot dog, I check to see if the prints were ready to save me a trip. YES! After just 30 minutes, my prints were hot and ready, fresh out of the Noritsu printer. Yay! Costco beat their promise time. Thanks!

As always, the prints are a zillion times better than an inkjet, my whole order took me no time (Costco did the work while I enjoyed a $1.50 hot dog and drink), and the whole order only cost me $5.63 for seven prints, including tax and the 12x18." Yay!

The 12x18" print, made from the Velvia scan, looks great, heh heh. I worked from the 15MB JPG I got from NCPS; that link is a slightly more compressed 5MB file you can download and print for yourself to see. I can't see any difference between the two.


03 October 2008, Friday

Nikon versus Canon

Even though Canon has been ahead of Nikon in designing way-out pro lenses the past 20 years (for instance, Canon just announced what is probably their fourth 24mm f/1.4 lens, and Nikon's fastest 24mm is the discontinued 24mm f/2 manual focus), I just realized that 25 years ago, I made the right choice to go with Nikon.

I used to shoot Minolta from 1973-1983. I was an expert at every technical nuance, but my photos stank. Like most photo hobbyists, I thought buying a better camera would improve my photos since it didn't dawn on me until 1990 that vision and an art background are what leads to great photos, not equipment. I shopped for pro cameras, which was Nikon, and also compared Canon. I went with Nikon because it had been the camera of pros since the 1960s. (I worked at a newspaper at the time.)

In addition to the fact that Nikon was the pro leader, with the ability to rent any lens I might need from any pro house, I compared it to Canon, especially looking at the lenses.

The AI-s Nikkor lenses, even the cheapest 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/2.8 AI-s lenses of 1983 when I was shopping, were works of art. They were all made of metal and made to the most extraordinary mechanical standards.

By comparison, many of the competitive Canon FD lenses had plastic aperture and focus rings. The better Canon lenses were mostly metal, but the basic ones were more cheaply made, and the better ones just didn't feel as good as even the cheapest Nikon AI-s lenses.

The Nikon AI-s and Canon FD lenses sold for the same prices as each other.

I chose to go with Nikon based on the superior mechanical quality of their lenses in December 1983, and the rest is history. I still have my first Nikon, an F2AS, and it still works great.

Recently, reviewing canon gear of that era, I suddenly realized I made the right choice 25 years ago.

I was shooting a Canon A-1 and some FD lenses yesterday. The FD lenses are fine, but when I compare 25 year old FD lenses to 25 year old AI-s lenses, the differences in quality have become all the more obvious over time. The A-1 is a clumsy, noisy beast that feels like the 1970s, while Nikon's comparable FE and FA still feel great.

The Nikon AI-s lenses are still perfect today, while the FD lenses feel like toys. The focus of my 25 year old AI-s lenses still flicks with a fingertip, while the grittier plastic rings of the FD 28mm f/2.8 or older 50mm f/1.4 SSC FD need a whole hand to wrench.

AHA! I was right! I would have been silly to have paid the same price for Canon FD lenses instead of buying pro grade with Nikon AI-s. I would have been an idiot to invest in a Canon FD system, instead of going with Nikon, especially since they all sold for the same prices back in 1983~1984 when I bought into Nikon.

I kid you not, another thing didn't dawn on me until later last night.

The Canon FD lenses are orphans. They are paper weights today, since they don't work on any Canon camera made in the past 20 years. If I had bought them, I'd have had to replace them years ago.

My Nikon manual focus lenses still work great on today's digital cameras, especially the D3 and D700. These lenses can still perform as well, or better, than the latest AF lenses.

Manual focus lenses are better for use on the D90 in movie mode because they focus more smoothly than AF lenses used manually.

Canon abandoned its FD lenses 20 years ago.

Nikon still makes manual focus AI-s lenses, and you can still buy them brand-new today!

Buying the better camera did nothing to get better photos, but it made me feel good.

Today isn't 1983. Today, Canon is used by the pros and Canon has a much broader and more advanced line of AF lenses, although the Nikon D3 is winning pros back to Nikon.

Which is better? Today, Canon and Nikon are different, and which is better depends on what you want to do. For landscapes, go with the Canon 5D or 5D Mark II, and for news, sports and people, go with Nikon for its superior handing and ergonomics.

Novatron Brackets and Adapters

Novatron strobes are what I've used for all my studio work (a.k.a. every product shot I make, like the one below) for years. Now that I know better, I'd never waste time with battery powered flashes for a multiple strobe setup.

I use a professional plug-in-the-wall Novatron system, which only cost me $550 for the complete set of lights, stands and reflectors, bought used.

I just had a call from the owner of the independent machine shop which has been making most of the brackets and adaptors for Novatron strobes since 1990.

Novatron is alive and well, but sold to a new owner who moved it away from Dallas, Texas.

This Texas machine shop offered to supply these brackets and stand adapters to dealers and we end users directly at deep wholesale prices. For instance, brackets that usually sell for $25 can be had for $9.95 directly from the shop which has been making them by hand all these years.

Give them a call at (214) 388-4274 and see if they have what you need. They are a machine shop, not a web site, so you'll have to call them. If you get their telephone answering machine, its message doesn't say their name. As I said, they are machinists, not a marketing operation.

They don't make the strobes or the electronics, just most of the adapters and brackets.


01 October 2008, Wednesday

Nikon FE

Nikon FE and 50mm f/1.4 AI-s.

NEW: Nikon FE Review. I love the Nikon FE. If I had to pick my four favorite Nikon cameras of all time, they are the FE, the FA, the F4, and today's F6. (The F5 can't matrix meter with manual lenses, while the FA, F4, F6 and better digital Nikons all can.) The FE came before the Matrix meter, and for under $100 used, can't be beat at any price in a lot of ways.

The Nikon D700 and D90 are the best digital Nikons at the moment, but I'm sure we'll all have forgotten about it in a year or two.

Nikon 13mm

A Nikon FE clinging to the back of a Nikon 13mm lens.

Nikon's Glory Days of the 1970s: It just dawned on me as I wrote up my FE review, that with over twenty years since the dawn of autofocus, that Nikon's AF lenses still don't cover as broad a range of professional applications as did their manual focus lenses.

What's up with this?

Then I realized that pros bailed out to Canon when autofocus came out, since Canon's AF was so much better. The pros have never had any good reason (other than exposure and flash metering, ease of use and now the D3) to come back to Nikon. Since the pros bailed out 20 years ago, Nikon has never had good reason to fill out their AF lens line with the crazier lenses.

Nikon's longest lenses? The 800mm, 1,000mm, 1,200mm, 1,200~1,700mm zoom and 2,000mm? Only made in many versions of manual focus.

Nikon's widest lenses? The 13mm above and 6mm fisheye only came in manual focus.

Nikon's fastest lenses? Nikon makes no f/1.2 AF lenses, but still makes the 50mm f/1.2 AI-s, which is the latest in a long line of many f/1.2 manual focus lenses.

Fast wide lenses? Nikon's best fast wide AF today is the meager 35mm f/2 AF. Nikon discontinued the 28mm f/1.4D AF back in 2006 from lack of interest. Want an f/1.4 wide lens, of which Canon has about three and Leica has dozens? You'll have to settle for Nikon's 35mm f/1.4, which is still made today, but only in manual focus. Whoops! Can't wait till the Canon 5D Mark II ships!

Contax G2

Contax G2 and Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Biogon.

NEW: Contax G System Overview. If you're tired of blowing thousands of dollars on great plastic digital cameras like the Nikon D90 (which is extraordinary), you can spend just hundreds of dollars on some of the world's best cameras ever made, and shoot them digitally instead, as seen below.

One fine day I'll have detailed reviews of the various Contax pieces, but some of you still want me to flesh out the Nikon D90's movie mode.

Of course, for much less money, a Nikon FE is still one of my all-time favorite cameras. I blew off a roll of Fuji Velvia on an FE yesterday and this morning, and the results are stunning as always. Likewise, the 25-50mm f/4 AI lens is an incredible lens on film, but watch out for vignetting with thick filters like the TIffens at the 25mm setting.


< < Back to Today's news

What Was New in:

The end of September, 2008 (Photokina)

The beginning 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


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