30 January 2009, Friday
NEW: Leica M7 Review. Finally, an inexpensive and superior solution to the D3X problem.
Am I crazy? Yes, but I'm even cheaper than I am crazy.
You can buy a new Leica M7 for half the price of a D3X, and in 2011 when the Nikon D4 is forecast to be announced, you can sell your used M7 for twice what you'll get for an old D3X.
The M7 has been out since 2002. I bought this used M7 for one-fifth the cost of a D3X.
I'm sick and tired of sending thousands of dollars to Japan every week they come out with a new camera. The guys you see swooning over new cameras in advertisements are compensated for their endorsements.
This time, $8,000 was too much. It turned me to looking for better solutions, and found it. I sent that same money to Americans (used) and Germany (new) for some real cameras and lenses.
I'm dead serious: I don't have a D3X. I got my $8,000 back, and I know others who've done the same thing. If you've got eight grand to burn, the D3X is the best there is this week, but I'd rather keep my eight grand. I'm waiting for the D700X.
29 January 2009, Thursday
NEW: Leica M vs. Contax G Systems. Which is the world's best compact full-frame camera system? The Contax G if you want to shoot fast or are on a budget, or the Leica M is you're working with long exposures or need precise focus and optimum depth-of-field.
Leica Lets You Pretend You're Among Millionaires
Even though full-frame and digital Leica gear costs far less than the Nikon D3X, Leica likes to let you pretend you're a millionaire.
Look at nosey marketing question #2 from the warranty card of the 28mm f/2.8 ASPH I just bought to get their $300 rebate, which expires on Saturday.
Honestly, though, if you're getting Leica M lenses or the old M8, do check out their rebate.
28 January 2009, Wednesday
NEW: Second Route 66 Photo Tour, February 8-10 2009 (Sunday-Tuesday): The first Rt. 66 photo tour this year was an instant sell-out, so to give more people the chance to make it, Dave Wyman added a second Rt. 66 photo tour which still has some openings.
24 January 2009, Saturday
NEW: Leica Lens Names. Cutting through Leica's BS, only now that I've started shooting Leica have I realized that most of Leica's funny names are totally meaningless.
23 January 2009, Friday
Color Calibration on Sale
If you don't have one of these, you need it to get your computer screen to match your camera and match your prints.
The Spyder 3 Pro is a complete setup with sensor and software. It works on Mac and Windows.
I don't go on much about color calibration since once I've calibrated each new LCD computer monitor I never worry about it again, but if you're running with an uncalibrated screen, I'd definitely recommend getting one of these.
I've used the same old Spyder 2 on all of my computers I've bought for the past several years.
I never bother calibrating printers, scanners or cameras since they are always close enough for my work, but I would never fire up a new computer without calibrating it first.
Once my monitor is calibrated, I can see what I'm doing and everything looks great. Without a calibrated monitor, you'll probably go crazy trying to get your colors to be consistent.
CRT (tube) monitors need regular calibration, but I've never seen any drift in any of my Apple LCD laptop or stand-alone monitors once calibrated. In other words, checking the calibration months or years later, my Apple (and probably other) LCDs have not shifted, so I have seen no need for regular calibration, but I do see the need for one-time calibration.
Nikon DSLR LCDs are usually very good. If what you see on your monitor doens't match your Nikon DSLR's LCD, you need to calibrate your computer.
Leica versus the World
Even though Leica's full-frame cameras are a fraction of the price of Nikon's current digital full-frame wares, the Contax G system has lenses equally as good as the Leica, and you can buy the Contax G system for one-third the price of Leica. The Contax G1 and G2 have far better finders than any Leica M.
For even less, a Nikon FE and a few AI or AI-s Nikkor lenses are almost as good as the Leica or Contax G systems' optics, and you can get a complete Nikon RealRaw EX-Stm compatible system for one-tenth the cost of a Leica full-frame system.
22 January 2009, Thursday
Leica M7 on a small ball head at Stovepipe Wells.
I was out shooting in Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra this past week.
For laughs, I brought a Leica system. I didn't bring any SLRs, film or digital. Like most serious shooters, I'm so done with digital. All I shot was film, and it was so much more fun, easy and inexpensive — and gives better results to skilled users.
The Leica system is a fraction of the size of a serious DSLR system. I had forgotten just how out of control digital cameras and lenses have gotten in regards to size and weight. Forget the big zooms and FX cameras for hiking.
You could hear my evil cackling ricochet off Manley Beacon on Sunday morning as I hiked in from Zabriskie Point to get some shots at dawn.
Line-up at Zabriskie Point (2007).
All the digital shooters were rendered immobile by their heavy gear. They were all clustered like sheep in the same spot taking the same boring snapshots that a hundred other people snap every day.
Why was I giggling so uncontrollably? Mostly because I'm immature, but also because my complete Leica system, with M7 body, 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/2 and 90mm f/2.8 German Leica lenses, cost me just under $4,000, or half the price of a D3X body alone.
The complete Leica M7 and three lenses weighed less than three pounds wet (1.35kg). The D3 (or D3X) weighs more than three pounds (1.4kg) with no lens at all! By the time you add the lenses to a D3X system, you're at almost nine pounds! (D3 is 3.3 pounds, 24-70mm f/2.8 is 2 pounds and 70-200 f/2.8 is 3.3 pounds).
My Leica lenses, even the 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M, are each smaller than a 77mm Nikon lens cap. Ha ha!
The real benefit isn't the technical superiority of 35mm film. The real benefit of the Leica over clumsy old DSLRs is that it's so light that you want to go hike and find better images. That was Galen Rowell's philosophy all along.
The Leica lenses are much better than the Nikon SLR lenses if you're counting pixels. With the Nikon lenses, you want to stop down a stop or two for the best results at 24MP, but with the Leica lenses, you can shoot wide open and get great results. This means I didn't need to bother with a tripod, either.
In the 1990s I'd never have looked at the expensive Leica gear, but now that the whole Leica setup cost me half of a D3X and gives better results, I'm sold.
I got the M7, 50mm f/2 and 90mm f/2.8 Tele used for far less than new. I bought the 28mm brand-new because it costs about the same as used. You can't get the same deals on used D3X, and you certainly will never be able to resell an $8,000 D3X for anywhere near what you paid for it in a few years. With Leica, it never goes out of style.
Call me crazy, but I'm shooting the best for far less that a fraction of the price of the bloated, overpriced Nikon gear today.
15 January 2009, Thursday
News: OnExposure.net changed its name to 1x.com. It's loaded with the best photography on the internet; check it out for some inspiration to what a good photo really is.
Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH.
NEW: Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH Review. I returned the D3X I borrowed. I spent a fraction of that $8,000 on this superior Leica lens, which in 2, 10, 20 or easily 50 more years from today, still ought to be making great photos, even if I'm long dead.
Auf wiedersehen, Nikon D3X. The D3X is the world's best DSLR at any price (the H3D is too big), but the D3X isn't worth $8,000 to me. I can't throw money away like this, but if you have the $8,000, the D3X is extraordinary. I still need to update its review to reflect this. All I want to afford for now is Leica, which is a give-away by comparison.
Ken Rockwell up in lights! Check out Bulldog Neon.
14 January 2009, Wednesday
NEW: The Canon 5D Mark II's in-camera JPG processing is awful if you're making huge prints. The in-camera processing of the raw data oversharpens harsh edges, adds too much contrast and smudges subtle textures into mush.
For the Canon 5D Mark II, if you're making huge enlargements, shooting CR2 files and processing them with Adobe Lightroom 2.2 makes a world of improvement over in-camera processing. Shooting CR2 files in the 5D Mark II and processing them in Lightroom 2.2 makes files almost indistinguishable from the JPGs that come directly out of the Nikon D3X.
I added the processed CR2 file from the Canon 5D Mark II, and just for fun I added two minilab scans from 35mm and 645 film to my Nikon D3X, D3, D40, and Canon 5D Mark II, 5D and SD700 Sharpness Comparison. Check it out, it's much more interesting today than it was two days ago.
Have I been asleep the past 10 years, or is this the first reasonable direct comparison between film and digital formats? I've never bothered doing this before because scanning was always such a pain. Today, since my lab scans everything as its developed, it's trivial to check this.
For the first time in my life, I've finally answered the question "How many Megapixels must a DSLR have to be about the same as 35mm film?" Answer: About 24MP.
Lightroom 2.2 Upgrade
I realized that I'm only on Photoshop CS2, so forget using raw files from recent cameras, but that I do have Lightroom 2.0.
Maybe Lightroom can read all the raw files from my recent comparison.
It was trivial to upgrade to Lightroom 2.2, but I did have to go find the updated version once it was downloaded. Clicking the Lightroom icon in my dock still opened to old version. I now have both the old and new versions.
Lightroom 2.2 can read the 5D Mark II, yay, but you're screwed if you think you can open D3X NEF raw files. It can't read them.
This is one of the many reasons I never shoot raw: you're SOL with the D3X, unless you dare load Nikon's own software. I won't: the Nikon software I've used is usually so buggy it clogs my computer.
This said, the 5D Mark II looks much better after coming from CR2 through Lightroom and back into an image.
Forums, Posts and Comments
You guys keep asking to be able to leave comments at the bottom of my articles.
This sounds like fun, but isn't likely to happen.
I do this site by hand, all by myself. I spend all day and all night shooting and posting what I've learned.
Any time spent adding more frills, like up-to-date graphics or chat rooms, is time I'd have to take away from creating more new content.
Also, as if its not already obvious, I do this site for laughs. If it's not fun, why do it? I'd rather be shooting and writing about what turns me on than hacking away programming a chat room.
If anything this year, I want to get the Japanese to take the year off from introducing more forgettable digital dross so I can write what's really critical, which is how to and what makes a really good picture.
If I can write up how to recognize and then create the basic structure of a strong image, I will have made a major accomplishment.
Pixels and resolution are irrelevant if you don't have the right pixels in the first place.
Check out the colors at NikonMiami.
13 January 2009, Tuesday
D3X Frame Rate Measured
The D3X measures up. I clocked it at 5.02 FPS with a still target, and at 4.74 FPS in AF-C tracking a slowly moving target in release-priority (not always in focus) mode.
DX is less than half a sensor.
NEW: The Half-Frame Fiasco. We've been scammed!
NEW: Nikon D3X, D3, D40, and Canon 5D Mark II, 5D and SD700 Sharpness Comparison. This is a harsh-light comparison. I also gave the 5D Mark II an unfair advantage and let it try to run with its noise reduction turned off, while everyone else ran as sent from the factory.
NEW: Nikon D3X Suggested Lenses. I just certified a suite of lenses for the D3X.
You have to be careful with the D3X, just like with the 5D Mark II, because its great resolution makes it much tougher to find lenses that are worthy of the higher resolution. Good lenses look better, and worse ones look worse.
I just added these to my Links page:
Eric Meola One of the world's foremost color visionaries. He's been around for decades, and now has a killer website, too.
TimeCatcher.com I have no idea who this is, but it's good stuff.
The British are screwed: Apparently our Nikon D3X boycott is working so well that Nikon is trying to bluff us back into buying it.
With the boycott pretty much eliminating sales of the D3X as photographers wait for the real price, Nikon UK decided to try an interesting sales ploy of raising the price to scare people into wanting it even more.
In marketing, sometimes raising the price increases sales if people somehow are led to believe that the product is even better, or in this case, Nikon did it to try to scare people into thinking the price is going to continue to inflate, and that they'd better buy it now. Fat chance.
Photographers aren't budging. We know as no one buys these, that Nikon will have to lower the price to get then to move. Nikon has to sell the D3X to stay in business, but none of us has to buy it to keep shooting.
We're in the driver's seat in this test of patience.
12 January 2009, Monday
Nikon D3X Price Fiasco and Correction
Some readers rightly write, suggesting I get over the ridiculous asking price of the D3X, and get on to discussing what it actually does.
As last week's tests show, the D3X is fantastic. It easily outdoes the D3, and even outdoes the D3 at its own high-ISO game at the D3X' maximum of ISO 6,400.
Do I want to swap my D3 for a D3X? Absolutely! Will I pay $8,000? Absolutely not.
What some individuals might not realize is that we, especially we Americans, have far more power in numbers than any individual.
If we stand united against the enemy, in this case Nikon, we can get the price to any level we demand. Winners never give up.
I realize that most people don't work in marketing, but I have. The market, at least in the free world, defines the price. If a maker thinks he can get away with a silly price, and if he has a unique product (as Mamiya has had in the USA for years), he can get away with crazy prices.
If people succumb to this and buy it, the price stays.
If no one buys it, the maker has to get real, otherwise the marketing guy who set the price has to find a new job. That's right, the price is picked out of the air ultimately by an individual person.
If we stand united, the price of the D3X will adjust to the correct market level. Even better, by not whimping out and buying a D3X today, we'll all be in a better position to buy the D700X. I expect the D700x to be much better than the D3X for most people, just as the D700 is much better than the D3 for all but full-time newsmen.
You readers underestimate your own power. I doubt anyone buys a digital Nikon without checking here first.
I'm not buying. The best thing we all can do is nothing. Wait and the price gets real. If you cave in, as Canon 1Ds Mark III users have, then the price stays up.
The D3X is a zillion times better than the 1Ds Mark III, just because of its handling. That's why Nikon tried to get away with $8,000, as Canon did back when they were the only 20MP+ game in town.
Now that the floodgates of competition are open, Canon shooters are better off with the 5D Mark II, which in Canon's own words has better image quality than the 1Ds Mark III, and if we Nikon shooters hold our horses, we'll get the incomparable D3X at a real price. Rebates this summer? If you hold off, you can bet on it.
If the rich guys cave in (to a rich guy, 8 grand is like a normal guy buying lunch), then the price might not get real as quickly. (If you are going to buy a D3X, of course please use my links which is what supports all my testing. Do you have any idea how much the insurance costs me when I return the stuff I borrow? I think its going to cost me around $100 to return the D3X later this week.)
Remember: no one needs 24MP. I shoot my D3 at 6MP most of the time anyway, and I've made great 20x30" (50x75cm) prints from my 6MP D40.
What makes a great photo has nothing to do with resolution.
Oh well, nice weather today. Time for some more D3X tests, like how fast is its "approximately 5FPS" frame rate, and how does it look set to lower resolutions. For instance, the 5D Mark II looks spectacular set to lower resolutions because it cancels out the Bayer interpolation, while Nikons historically haven't gotten sharper as set down. We'll see.
The next worst thing about the D3X, after its price, is just how good it is. It's so good I almost want to think about buying one, under an assumed name of course.
11 January 2009, Sunday
Has anyone else noticed how the cover, all the "Showcase" and "Last Frame" images in this month's (February 2009) Outdoor Photographer magazine were, as usual, shot 100% on film?
Is this because film is what's shot by serious (non-hobby) outdoor photographers, or is it because digital doesn't look good enough for showcase and cover images? Do you suppose it's all because film just looks better?
How about that. A magazine that does nothing but talk about meaningless fluff like Photoshop and endless reviews of digital gear, which serve no purpose other than to placate the advertisers who sponsor the magazine, and they still can't find enough decent digital images to fill out the rest of magazine. How sad.
Don't try to make yourself believe that they've used film images because there are so many more of them from which to choose winners made over the years. There are more digital shots made every month than all the film that's been shot in all of recorded history.
Film does look better when shot carefully. Sure, I shoot digital for snapshots of me and the kids so I can publish them five minutes later, but for serious outdoor work, save yourself the expense, hassle and embarrassment of digitally-captured images that just don't measure up and shoot film.
Film is easy to process digitally; I send mine to NCPS and have digital files in my computer just hours after I've dropped off the unprocessed rolls. Film services have come a long way since most of you stopped shooting it in 2003. If you have no lab near you, NCPS is as close as your mailbox — worldwide.
A magazine that does show images shot digitally is Shutterbug magazine. Gag, I was choking at all the boring images used to illustrate the articles. The best shot in the current (February 2009) Shutterbug is Michael Burnham's vibrant and moving shot on page 43. That shot isn't part of the magazine; it's an ad. At least Shutterbug wasn't completely devoid of interesting photos this month.
09 January 2009, Friday
Kodak Ektar 100: I'm not quite sure why everyone is asking me about this new Kodak color print film, but since so many of you asked, I just used some of the $8,000 I didn't spend on a D3X to order a few rolls to try out.
When "testing" print film, you can't see what's going on as you can with slides like RVP Velvia below. With print film, you're more seeing how well your local lab prints this particular film than any absolute quality level of the film.
Notice how Kodak uses the weasel words of "finest, smoothest grain of any color negative film available today," meaning that it's not the finest grain of all films today, and that other color negative films of the past were better.
That said, I'll let you know. If you really want fine, smooth grain, dump 35mm and shoot any old garbage in 120 size.
NEW: Nikon D700X Forecast.
A 35mm frame: your 175MP raw file.
NEW: Film: The Real Raw.
08 January 2009, Thursday
Nikon D3X: World's Sharpest Consumer Digital Camera.
NEW: Nikon D3X versus Canon 5D Mark II Sharpness Comparison. Unfortunately, the D3X completely annihilates the 5D Mark II. It's unfortunate because the D3X costs three times the price of the 5D Mark II.
07 January 2009, Wednesday
Pentax 645 120mm f/4 Macro.
NEW: Pentax 645 120mm f/4 Macro Review. A dream to use, but not the sharpest if you misuse it.
Pentax 645 150mm f/3.5.
NEW: Pentax 645 150mm f/3.5 Review. A winner!
06 January 2009, Tuesday
Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM.
NEW: Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM Review. A 50mm f/1.4 is mandatory for available-light shooting. Even f/2.8 zooms don't cut it as well as an f/1.4 light-sucker.
Bored with static photography? Try a wingsuit.
A local paper in Rochester, NY has an article on Kodak film. As most folk, like my mom, gravitate to digital for snapshots, the article points out that Kodak's film marketing guy, Scott R. DiSabato, surveyed the pro market and found that most pros use film at least some of the time. I've seen the same: people like me doing serious art and landscape work are a small part of the larger market, but all the serious art and landscape people I know use film.
NEW: Weasel Words. Another way marketing people lie.
02 January 2009, Friday
NEW: Tamron 10-24mm Review. They can't all be winners. This Tamron sets a new (lower) baseline for ultrawide lens performance. Oh well.
What part of film don't people understand?
New year, new deal.
See this perfectly swell shot? I snapped it with a 54-year-old Leica M3, made seven years before I was born. It's so old the shutter speeds go 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 etc. It's so old you rewind the film with a twisty-knob, not a crank, and certainly not a motor. It's so old you can't wind the film with a single stroke of the lever; you have to use at least two small strokes.
Did I make it with a magic Leica lens? Not really; I used a 54-year-old collapsible 50mm f/2, with haze that needs to be cleaned internally and very sticky mechanics. It's probably the crappiest of all Leica 50mm lenses for the M cameras.
Did I use magic pro film? No; I shot it on an old roll of Fuji/Wal-Mart 400 print film that had probably expired a long time ago. I lost the box and found the roll at the bottom of a dumpster. The colors would have been a lot better if I used in-date film. I didn't want to waste a good roll of film in case the old camera didn't work; this was just my first test roll through it.
Did I use a special pro lab? No; NCPS was closed for the week, so I dropped the film at Costco for developing, scanning and printing for about $8 for the whole roll.
The old Leica has no light meter. I used a clip-on CdS meter and prayed.
Is it a great shot? Not really, but it's a perfectly decent shot, and I could have made it on any other old crappy camera badly in need of overhaul and cleaning.
What makes it a decent shot is gesture and lighting: the kid's making a cute face and smiling, and the light from the drive-though window is soft and highlights his face just right. These two factors are 24 million times more important than 24 Megapixels!
What Was New in:
August 2007 (Loads of new Nikons and Canons)
2006 October - November (includes photos from a trip to NY)