Thursday, September 08, 2011

Nikon D7000 & PC-E Tilt/Shift Lenses

A while back I posted that the D7000 didn't work with PC-E lenses, in fact it was difficult to mount them (and I wasn't alone in this opinion). Now, time for an apology and some humble pie. Yes, they do mount, and yes you can use them, with some caveats.

First off, the easy ones - 45mm & 85mm. Both these lenses mount without problem, no matter how the lens is rotated (tilt/shift lens have a rotating mount to change the plane in which the movements act).

The 24mm PC-E however is a different matter, as it's shorter barrel brings the shift controls perilously close to the flash housing, and the lens body itself will foul the body in certain positions.

So, here's my advice when mounting the 24mm. First, before attempting to mount the lens, rotate the mount to the 'normal' position: that is with the white indexing dot next to the mount aligned with the gold lens 'label'. This should mean the shift lock knob will be uppermost when the lens is mounted. In this position, it's safe to mount the lens on the camera, but the lock knob comes very close to the underside of the flash housing, so care is needed to avoid scratching the camera.

In this position, with the camera horizontal (i.e. landscape format) you can operate left/right shift, just about - it is quite tight! What if you want up/down shift? Well it is possible to rotate the lens through 90 degrees - but my advice is to remember to return it to the 'normal' position before removing it to be absolutely certain of avoiding contact between lens and body.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hejnar Arca Swiss adapter for Manfrotto 405/410

The what I hear you say? The Hejnar Photo Arca Swiss adapter for the Manfrotto 405/410, of course!

Brilliant piece of kit that entirely replaces the quick release platform with an Arca Swiss quick release on the Manfrotto 405/410 geared heads. What's a geared head? It's basically a head where the adjustments in 3 planes are adjust by gears - you simply turn each of the 3 knobs to achieve the perfect composition, making it the ideal for macro, landscape and architecture. No need to worry about locking off the head like you would with a ball head, just dial it in precisely where you need it.

Unfortunately geared heads tend to be bulky and expensive, and even the most economic model, the Manfrotto 410 'junior' geared head (which I use) has an enormous quick release plate (designed for medium/large format cameras) that gets in the way even on a pro-sized DSLR and looks ridiculous.

Up until now, I've used a Kirk Arca-Swiss style plate on the camera and a Kirk QR platform bolted onto the Manfrotto plate - a bit of a kludge to say the least, and I've always fretted that I'd accidently release the Manfrotto QR and see the whole lot tumble to the floor, or that the Kirk QR platform would simply twisting off, being attached by a single 3/8" bolt.

Enter the innovative Hejnar Photo adapter, essentially a precision machined plate that replaces both the Manfrotto plate and the Manfrotto QR platform, bolting instead directly to the head. A Hejnar Arca Swiss QR clamp is then attached to the plate by 3 bolts. You do need to disassemble and remove the Manfrotto QR mechanism, but the result looks neat and feels a good deal more secure.

I assembled mine with a little thread-lock, but since the attachments (head-to-plate and plate-to-clamp) are by 2 and 3 bolts respectively, there's no real possibility of either twisting off. Available from Hejnar Photo ebay store here, and if you prefer to use a different clamp, the adapter plate is available on it's own.

As supplied, there are a couple of minor downsides: firstly the supplied clamp is a little wider than the plate and partially obscures the bubble level on the 410 head - but then again this is totally obscured once a camera is mounted; and, when the camera is in portrait mode, it is impossible to tilt the camera up or down, making composition tricky. Fortunately, both problems can be completely resolved by simply unbolting the QR platform and swinging it through 90 degrees - tapped holes are provided for either orientation.

Overall this is an excellent niche product that solves a tricky problem for those that want to use a geared head with DSLR cameras.

Wow! Time flies

I can't believe I haven't posted for so long! I've been busy with a number of projects, including packing up to move house! This is always a good time to have a little re-think and a spring clean, and my camera gear hasn't escaped unscathed. By coincidence I was also involved in a project that involved learning a little about 'Lean' methodology, and this prompted me to have a hard think about what gear I was actually using, when I needed it and how to carry and store it.

Over the years I've accumulated a number of camera bags, but with a little application I managed to make 2 redundant, and focus the remainder for specific photographic needs. First of all, I put my main landscape kit into my Billingham 550. Now this bag can swallow a whole load of gear, and the consequence is it can get pretty heavy. But, for most of my landscape work I'm not generally walking far, and I'm not rushing, so the weight of a Nikon D3x, 3 tilt-shift lenses, filters etc. is not really a problem.

At the other extreme, I have a small Billingham Hadley, which just about accommodates a Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm, Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and a nifty 50 (more on this shortly). This is just perfect for casual carry-around work. It's small, discrete and works superbly well, and will even accomodate a D3-sized body (with lens removed) and a standard lens.

For wildlife, my other main photographic interest, I have a Lowepro Dryzone rucksack. This swallows a 300mm f/2.8, teleconvertors, 70-200mm and 105mm macro lenses, and remains comfortable even with all that weight. I'll pack a D3 or D7000 with this depending on the size of the subject and light conditions.

Now that I have focussed (pardon the pun) my gear into 3 distinct setups, it's thrown up some anomalies. First of all, I realised I had collected 4 'standard' lenses: a 45mm PC-E tilt/shift lens, a manual focus 50mm f/1.2, autofocus 50mm f/1.8 and a manual focus 55mm macro. The 45mm was a given in my landscape work, but of the other lens I was finding critical focus at wide apertures tricky on the 1.2, and although the AF f/1.8 kind of worked, it wasn't really comparable in image quality to the 1.2 at these wider apertures on full-frame. The excellent 55mm macro has practically been superseded by a 105mm AF macro, which has a more practical working distance for macro work.

So, in the end I am selling on both the 50's and the 55mm, and replacing them with the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF-S G lens. I tried the f/1.4 version but found the bokeh 'noisy', and actually preferred the slower lens, which takes it's place in my carry-all-day kit bag. Less to carry, less to store, more money in the bank. I will no doubt miss some aspects of the f/1.2 and the 55mm, such as build quality and a certain tactility that modern lenses don't give you, but the new lens simply seems a more effective (efficient?) tool for the job.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not Bad For a 40-year Old ;-)

Took a little stroll tonight with the D7000 and Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 H Auto (Ai converted). Shot in RAW, a little shadow recovery in NX2 and cropped to 5:4. I can't see much ghosting here, just the sun stars (not unexpected at f/8, could have gone for a wider aperture, but might have struggled for depth of field). I had a UV filter on the lens as well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just Out of Curiousity...

...I timed the 30s shutter speed on my D3, and the mirror flips back down after 31.6 or 31.7 seconds, which explains the strange behaviour of the intervalometer.

Doesn't explain why 30 seconds isn't 30 seconds though.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nikon Interval Timer

I find Nikon's intervalometer in their D3 and D7000 cameras to be a bit peculiar. It's pretty obvious that if you set an interval shorter than your intended shutter speed, the intervalometer will fail at the second exposure, since the shutter will still be open when the second frame should be fired. So, you can't for example, set a 1s interval and a 2s exposure. Nothing wrong with that.

But if you wanted to take a 30s exposure, you would think that setting a 31s interval would be fine, yes? No! In fact, even 32s doesn't work. For some bizarre reason, you have to set the interval at 33s, and then it will happily click away. I can't see the reason for this: I don't imagine that the shutter speed is inaccurate (although I haven't timed it), and I can't seeing if being a buffer/card writing issue on a camera like the D3 that shoots 9 frames per second (besides, there isn't a 3s delay between exposures anyway, more like less than 1s), but it works and does the job.

As I see exactly the same behaviour with the D7000 and D3, my assumption is that this is how it was designed to work.

Having finally figured this out, I now know that a D3 used like this with a fully charged EN-EL4a battery will take around 370 30 second exposures before the battery dies completely. Obviously this will vary a bit with temperature, but I guess you are looking at 2 to 3 hours of star trails under most UK conditions, which equates to around 30 to 45 degrees of rotation. It will be interesting to see what the D7000 can do, as I have an idea for a project that using this technique that the lighter D7000 will be better suited to and where external power won't be an option.

For now though I am going to concentrate on the D3, as I have an EH-6 mains power supply (a legacy from D2x days when you had to power that camera from the mains in order to clean the sensor), so there's the prospect of capturing some pretty spectacular star rotation.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Another One...

Slight Correction

First up, there was an error in the post below, of course the orange glow has nothing to do with moonset, it's just the result of light pollution from the surrounding towns and villages.

Also, as I've tried to go for longer sequences, I've hit the limit of the continuous shooting mode on the D3 i.e. 130 shots (100 on D7000). Given that the maximum shutter speed is 30s, we're limited to 50-65 minutes. It doesn't look like either cameras intervalometer helps either, as whilst at first glance it looks like you can set up to 999 exposures, that's not actually how it works... more on this and a possible solution shortly.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Star Trails - Part Two

Nikon D3, Tokina 11-16mm @ 16mm, 132 exposures at 30s & f/5.6, ISO800

For my next session I switched to a wider lens (note how the DX Tokina has not vignetted, even on a full frame camera). This sequence was started just after moon-set, hence the glow at the horizon. Caught a couple of airplane trails, but still very happy with this image.

I really like using this composite process, it's reminds me a little of the days of film, in that you don't quite know what you're going to get until the files are processed. It's great watching the image form and appear in Startrails.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

My First Ever Star Trails!

Nikon D3, 20mm Ai-S, 30 seconds @ f/5.6, ISO800

This is a composite of about 120 30 second images, stacked using a freeware application, startrails.exe (see below). Initially I was going to use the D3s built-in interval timer, but frankly it was such a faff that I gave up, stuck the camera on continuous drive and locked off the MC-30 cable release. With the shutter set on 30s on manual, it just keeps clicking every 30s until you stop it, or the batteries die! If you have a D7000, I'd advise getting the MC-DC2 wired remote - the intervalometer has a similar menu to the D3, and so it's also a pain to use.

I had to take out a couple of images due to airplane light trails, that's why if you look closely you can see some small gaps in the star trails! This is one advantage with stacking, but there are others: for example, you might even getting away with swapping the battery part-way through the sequence - if you are quick - which might be handy on cold nights. Plus, if your battery does fail you won't have wasted the whole session, which you will if attempting one long exposure.

Lessons learned? I normally shoot Raw, but for this jpegs are definately the way to go - you could be dealing with 100's of images from each session and although I could batch process them, this seems over-the-top for this application.

Also, a ultra-wide angle exaggerates the curvature, so in future I'll be using the Tokina 11-16mm (works on full frame at 15 or 16mm). Focusing in total darkness is impossible, so you'll need to know where infinity focus is on your lens, and set it at that - or the hyperfocal distance if you have objects in the foreground (note: infinity focus is not necessarily where the infinity symbol is, and it may well change at different focal lengths on a zoom).

I took a dark frame (leave the lens cap on) at the end of the sequence at the same shutter speed (30s). This helps to remove any noise from the final composite, so long as you specify which frames are 'dark' when you load the images into startrails.exe. I take the dark frame at the end, when the sensor will presumably be 'warm' and therefore at it's noisiest.

It's important to have your camera's long-exposure noise reduction turned off with this technique, otherwise your camera will take a break equivalent to the length of each exposure between shots, to process the noise reduction, and you'll end up with dotted lines!

Overall, I was quite satisfied with this first attempt, now that I have the technique pretty much sorted, I just need to work on composition (it would be nice to get some foreground interest).

Useful star trails links:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

£100 of Photographic Value

Recently a friend of mine bought a Nikon D7000 body, but he was unsure of what lenses to get, so I invited him over to try some of my gear. His needs were for a general purpose 'walk-round' zoom plus a 'proper' macro lens. Macro lenses aren't cheap, so we needed to squeeze the budget on the zoom. I had already dissuaded him from the Nikon 18-105mm 'kit' lens, reasoning that he could do better for less money by buying second-hand (the 18-105 is around £150 when bought with the camera).

It was an interesting exercise for me, affording me the opportunity to see all my lenses lined up and then re-assess what I like and don't like, and therefore what I need and don't need. I can see a bit of a lens cull coming up...

Anyway, back to the £100 of value, here's 3 ways to spend £100 on lenses for your Nikon, all of which are terrific value, but all in different ways:

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF-D

Humble and often overlooked, the current 50mm f/1.8 AF-D is a cracking little lens. Image quality wise, all you seem to lose here against the more expensive standards (I have a 50mm Ai-S f/1.2 as well) is performance below f/2.8 (at f/5.6-f/8 you'd have to be very picky and doing enormous prints to tell!). Bear in mind though, consumer zooms don't even go to f/2.8, so this lens is going to offer low-light capability that your 'do-it-all' zoom won't!

Admittedly construction is plasticky, the depth of field scale is pathetic as only f/11 and f/22 are shown - practically useless for digital. On the plus side it's very light, compact, focuses fast and works on FX and DX, and new can be bought for less than £100. We even spotted some mint second-hand examples from £60 - testament to how unfashionable these excellent optics are, as most people favour a zoom these days.

If you don't like the plastic, and can forego autofocus, a secondhand 50mm Ai f/1.8 or f/2 does the job for about £10 less, plus you get a proper depth of field scale.

Nikon 18-70mm AF-S G DX ED IF

This lens was offered up as a kit lens around the time of the D70, and in the context of consumer grade standard zooms is quite well regarded (see here and here). You're getting three ED glass elements, AF-S, a metal lens mount (18-105 has plastic) and a reasonable zoom range of 27-105mm. This latter point probably partly explains the better-than-expected optical performance, as there are less compromises to be made than a wider-ranging zoom. No depth-of-field scale at all though, and it is DX only.

Nikon made around 2.2 million of these over a period of about 5 years, and today these can be picked up in mint or excellent condition from dealers or ebay for around £100, and you shouldn't have to pay more than £120 for a boxed example with hood. As I explained to my friend, use it for a year or two, then sell it if you decide to upgrade, you will probably get back 80 to 100% of what you pay for it...

My friend was able to use the £50 saving to put towards a good used 105mm f/2.8 AF-D macro, it will be interesting to see how he feels the two lenses compare!

I was somewhat tempted by the 18-70 myself, but it doesn't really suit my style of shooting...but the next lens does.

Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 H Auto (Ai converted)

This lens dates from the early 1970's, when Nikon only made expensive things, and made them out of metal. This lens has the lovely scalloped focus and aperture rings that not only feel good to use, but are very practical with gloves on. Focussing doesn't have quite the 'damped' feel of later Ai & AiS lenses however. By contrast to the 18-70 above, Nikon only made around 500,000 of these over a 23 year period (if you count all the variants of the f/3.5 lens that is).

(Image courtesy of

Ok, I'll admit this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but as I was looking for a 'standard' lens for my D7000, this one came into mind. Manual focus down to only 60cm, it's quite slow and not 'native' Ai. But, despite all that metal, it is light, compact, has an excellent depth of field scale and apparently it's performance into the light is fantastic - hopefully we'll get a few summer sunsets to try it on!

I quite like a slight wideness for a 'standard' lens (42mm on DX), and of course it will work on FX to (although that's not what I intend to use it for, as if I am lugging around a D3, I might as well lug a PC-E lens as well!).

Despite the age, it's relatively easy to find a good example, I got one in excellent condition that had a factory Ai conversion, for £100. This will complete my 3 lens 'hiking' landscape setup for the D7000: Tokina 11-16mm, Nikon 28mm, and Nikon 50mm (or 55mm macro if I decide to keep it!). The Tokina can be substituted for a 20mm when I want to go really light.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


As photographers we often have a need to share photographs easily with clients, friends and family. Whilst my Photoshelter website has features for private, password protected galleries with configurable downloads, I haven't found anything easier than Dropbox for sending proofs etc.

2GB of storage is free, more space seems reasonable at (50GB is $9.99/month) and if you use multiple computers, it's really simple to sync all of them up to your Dropbox folder. I'm particularly impressed that I can do this across Windows PCs, a Netbook running Linux and an Android phone, that's very cool. There is a Mac client as well, and, of course you can also access your files over the web without installing the Dropbox client.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TC-14e II vs TC-17e II vs TC-20e III

Teleconvertors are often seen as stop-gaps, but today's offerings, when used with an appropriate lens, they really can deliver great results. In fact, under some circumstances, they even have advantages over a longer lens, as the closest focus distance of the original lens is retained.

I have been fortunate to be able to use all of Nikon's current offerings, so what follows is my subjective impressions, based on my experience of these with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR and 300mm f/2.8 VR (mark one versions both).

First, up the TC-14e II. This is easy: you lose one stop and gain 40% in focal length. That's it. In my experience, with the aforementioned lenses you lose nothing else - no significant drop in autofocus performance and no significant drop in image quality, even wide open. Bearing in mind that makes my 300mm a 630mm f/4 on a DX camera, that's a fantastic result. Also, the lightweight, portable, hand-holdable nature of this TC on the 70-200 on a light camera like the D7000 is a great shoot-all-day combo when lugging a bigger lens around is impractical.

So, since teleconvertors are all about adding length, what's the TC-17e II like? Well, perhaps surprisingly, it performs just as well as the TC-14e, except instead of 40%, you're getting 70% more focal length (so 300mm becomes 510mm on FX, 765mm on DX!). Yes, you lose another half-stop, but even shot wide open (f/4.8) on my 300mm, the results are stunningly good. I don't even detect much slow-down in AF performance, at least not on a D3 series body. Again, no problems on the 70-200mm, just a very portable solution that delivers great results.

In terms of adding length, the TC-20e III is obviously the daddy. This latest version of the 2x TC has an aspherical element and is supposed to deliver exceptional image quality. First of all, my disclaimer: I never use this lens on my 70-200mm. Why? Well, if I really need that extra length I just switch to the 300mm and the 1.4x. In my opinion, if you're even contemplating buying a 2x convertor to extend a zoom you are barking up the entirely wrong tree. Get the longer lens you really need or get closer to your subject (buy a hide, improve your fieldcraft, whatever), or just go with the 1.4x or 1.7x.

On the 300mm, at first, the TC-20e III delivered disappointing results. After the other two, I naively expect to click it on and go, but it's taken a while to get to grips with it and get it to deliver results near to the other TC's (note, I'm saying near, not identical to). I discovered quickly that I needed to close down 1.5 to 2 stops from wide open to avoid disappointment with the image quality.

Not a huge problem perhaps, but we're now down to f/11 on the 300mm, and that two stops has an impact on shutter speed that is perhaps related to another issue that I have found. Previously I would leave VR switched on whether the lens was mounted on a tripod or not, as per the manual, but with this TC the image quality seems noticeably better with VR off. Since discovering this, I routinely disable VR except when handholding, whether I am using a TC or not.

So, with VR off and stopped down the TC-20e III does deliver reasonably good image quality on the 300mm f/2.8 (see previous post for some examples). That loss of 2 stops is a problem when photographing small garden birds in the UK though - they move so quickly we really need to keep those shutter speeds short, so inevitably it involves raising the ISO, potentially degrading the image quality further. But, bearing in mind that these birds are so small, this compromise seems reasonable to achieve an effective 900mm lens (DX), especially when you consider the price of super telephoto lenses...

To sum it up, I could only recommend the TC-20e III if you were shooting DX (I don't see the point in adding this on a FX camera), and you really needed the longer length for specific subjects but couldn't justify the cost of a longer lens (which is fair enough as these days, new, they cost as much as a small car).

The TC-14e II & TC-17e II are harder to separate, but if you can only choose one, then the only thing that I can see to separate them is half a stop. Given that the whole point of a TC is to give you extra reach, I would wholeheartedly recommend the 1.7x, and right now it's actually marginally cheaper than the 1.4x in the UK.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More Birding

Shifted the bird feeder to a sunnier spot this morning and set up some perches, here's some of the results from this afternoon's session.

Blue Tit, Nikon D7000, 300mm f/2.8 VR plus TC-20E III (effective 900mm lens), tripod (VR off) auto-ISO 1250, 1/640 @ f/8, cropped.

Robin, same setup as above, ISO 1000, 1/800s @ f/9.

As humans, we when we think of camouflage, we would not think of painting our heads blue and white and our bodies yellow, but it sure works for this little fella.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pancake Lenses

Judging just by the number of hits to this blog from people searching for the Fuji X100, it may well be way more popular than I estimated. I still don't get it though, at least not at the price.

Amateur Photographer magazine ran an almost gushing article in the issue published on 22nd March, but what caught my eye more in that issue was an article about 'pancake' lenses. Especially as they had a nice big picture of a D7000 with a silver 45mm pancake lens on.

For those who don't know, pancake lenses are simple fixed-focal length lenses designed in such a way so as to protrude less from the camera body. The intention is to make something light, compact and discrete for travel, reportage and candid shots. Typically, but not always, they are close to the focal length of a 'standard' lens, i.e. 50mm for 35mm/full frame digital.

The article also mentioned the Nikon 50mm E series lens, but failed to mention that there are two other lenses that may be even more suitable for the D7000, as also part of the E series were a dinky 28mm and 35mm.

The E series were produced to compliment the Nikon EM, FG and FG-20 cameras, Nikon's compact range of 35mm SLRs, launched from 1979 to 1984. The E series were cheap and did not have the robust build quality of their corresponding Nikkor counterparts. However, they are optically pretty good (but not the best), and are very compact and lightweight.

These days they can be picked up for a song, especially the 50mm which was probably sold with practically every EM (you might even have an uncle, parent or grand-parent with one of these stashed away, possibly still in it's box!). One thing to note about the 50mm lenses is that it came in two versions. The later version, which is easily identified by a silver ring around its midrift, had a little more robust feel and wider focus grips, but was actually no smaller than the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS, i.e. only about 8mm shorter than the AF-D version still on sale today. So, for our purposes, despite the thin focus ring, the older, more compact all-black models might be preferred.

So there you go, pick up a D7000* body and an E series 'pancake' lens for less than an X100. Ok, I know it's a lot bigger. Ok, I know it's a lot heavier. But it's still not big or heavy :-)

*I mention the D7000 as it is fully compatible with AI lenses, other DX bodies are not, so, as always, check the manual!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Once Round the Goldfish Bowl

In the quest for my holy-grail of camera gear, my photographic equipment life-cycle has followed this pattern, over some 25 years:
  1. 35mm film - consumer grade autofocus zooms from system and third-party (cheap construction, small minimum aperture, mediocre image quality).
  2. 35mm - some fixed-focal length ('prime') autofocus lenses from system and third-party (better construction, better image quality, slightly bigger minimum apertures).
  3. Medium and large format, 1 or 2 manual focus prime lenses from the system manufacturer (excellent quality, heavy, bigger minimum apertures).
  4. Digital - pro-grade autofocus zooms (fast, excellent quality but big and heavy, not very discrete).
  5. Today - a mixture of ~30-year old prime manual focus lenses at the shorter end (fast, excellent quality, compact, light, great value secondhand, superb tactile-feel), Nikon's superb tilt-shift PC-E lenses, with a pro grade autofocus zoom and super telephoto at the longer end (see comment to 4. above).
That zoom mentioned in 5., the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR was the only zoom I owned. However, the D7000 now forces me to re-evaluate things at the wide end. Whilst my 270g 20mm f/2.8 AiS does just fine for me on a D3, the equivalent 30mm on the D7000 is just not wide enough.

Trouble is, anything ultra-wide tends to be quite heavy (400-500g or more), and/or does not allow the use of filters, (which is essential to me) or gives massive amounts of distortion. The solution? Turns out to be quite simple, and with a little bonus item as well.

Enter the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 DX, effectively 16.5-24mm. OK, so it's failed already on my first point, weighing in at 560g - but, hey, you don't get a lens built like this without it packing a few grams! Seriously, this is one well-built lens for the money. It's at least as good, if not better, than any recent Nikon zoom near this price point. The focus ring has a good feel, and the simple clutch to engage/disengage autofocus by moving the focus ring back and forth works better than expected (I'll probably leave it on manual though).

It's a 'G' type lens in Nikon speak, which means there is no aperture ring, the aperture has to be set on the camera. Focus and zoom orientation is the same as Nikon's own lenses. Comes complete with a hood, and the filter thread is 77mm, just like Nikon's own pro-zooms and PC-E lenses. I've tried a Lee wide-angle adapter and 2-slot holder and it doesn't vignette even at 11mm.

How about that weight though? Well it is a bit of a lump, but lighter than a couple of ultra-wide primes and although there are lighter ultra-wide zooms out there from Sigma and Tamron, it's nearest competitor is Nikon's own 10-24mm, which is only slightly more expensive. The Nikon does weigh 100g less, but that's reflected in the build quality.

But what about that bonus item? Well, the Tokina lens also works on full-frame! Obviously this is not what it was designed for, so there is vignetting at the wider end, but at 15 or 16mm it works just fine, if stopped down. You can even go a little wider if you crop to 5:4 (thanks to Ken Rockwell for pointing this out!). This in itself was enough to persuade me to Tokina away from the Nikon 10-24mm, which only manages 18mm on full frame, according to Ken. Obviously if you never intend to shoot full-frame then you may be better served by the Nikon, but it you truly 'never-say-never', then may be the Tokina is a better long-term investment, coming as it does, with a 'free' 15/16mm full frame lens.

Back to my evolutionary journey to photographic nirvana: save yourself some money, ignore the first three in my list above: we're in the age of digital now and none of these cuts it in my opinion any more. Which leaves you with 4 or 5, pro-grade zooms or pro-grade primes, same as it's always been really.

The choice here comes down mainly to what you shoot and where you shoot it. I don't need autofocus for many things, and I don't need to switch from one focal length to another in an instant: but if you're a sports or wedding photographer, these things are probably vital to you. The important point is buy the very best glass you can afford: treat it as an investment that should span the lifetime of many digital bodies!

One more thing, if the budget is tight, then a beaten up old fast prime, as long as the optics are good (and it's so easy to test now with digital), is worth 10 slow plastic 'kit' zoom lenses, any day. Can't get the exact focal length you want or is not having a zoom the end of the world to you? Try using your legs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

D7000 ISO 1000 Sample

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 300mm VR f/2.8 MK1 and TC-17e (effectively a 765mm lens). ISO1000, 1/500s @ f/4.8 (wide open), handheld. Shot in RAW and post processed with NX2, Noise Ninja and Nik Sharpener Pro.

Oh, and by the way this is a 2.6 megapixel crop from the original ;-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dear Mr Nikon

Finally got to have a play with one of your D7000's, and I must say, a very nice camera it is. Light, compact and sturdily made. Image quality looks mighty good to, right up to ISO 1600-3200.

I love that the dinky little IR remote can operate properly in mirror-up mode (first click raises mirror, second click fires shutter), and there is even an IR sensor on the back of the camera. Perfect for landscapers like me, and a lot less hassle than the 10-pin remote on your professional cameras! I stuck on a DK-21M magnifying eyepiece and even the viewfinder did not seem too 'claustrophobic', and the simple switch that takes you into Liveview is really cool.

However, nothing's perfect. Most shocking is that your PC-E lenses won't fit, and bizarrely, this is not because the control knobs foul the camera body, but it's actually the lens barrel itself that threatens to scratch the underside of the flash housing. I tried rotating the lens to all sorts of combinations before attempting to mount it... to no avail (apart from a little scratch on the flash housing).

So, here's my challenge to you: make a D7000m. It's a simple idea, a stripped-down version aimed fair and square at real enthusiasts, not just those that had megapixel-envy. Here's the recipe:
  1. Remove the flash (I'll never use it). Presumably there's a microswitch that tells the electronics that the flash is raised: hard-wire it or leave it open so the camera never thinks the flash is raised (cost: probably a net saving on parts).
  2. Make a new moulding to replace the one that surrounds the lens mount and forms the underside of the flash housing. You could make the front of the camera flush to the lens mount, or leave the vestiges of a pentaprism bulge if you must, just as long as the PC-E lenses work (cost: a fair bit for re-tooling, but it is only one part of the body moulding that has to be changed).
  3. Take out the AF systems and the motor - I don't need it - at the same time you can remove the AF/MF switch, and as it fits through the moulding you're replacing in 2., just blank it off in the new moulding (cost: net cost saving, subsidising the new tooling required for 2.).
  4. Replace the mode switch on the top left of the camera with one that has only 2 positions, 'A' and 'M'. The new switch can use exactly the same form factor as the current one, but will probably be cheaper (cost: another net saving on parts).
  5. Blank out all the now redundant menu options (AF, flash, anything to do with those awful 'scene' modes (cost: not much, probably just a few engineer days editing and testing a new firmware version).
Sell it about 10% below the D7000, but may be get a well-known photographer to endorse it and perhaps produce a 'signature' version and/or a limited production run. Make some dinky wide angle DX lenses and offer 20% off PC-E lenses when bought with the camera. Ok, may be I've gone a bit too whacky now.

Oh, and I'll have 2 please.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Backing Up Your Digital Images

One advantage of digital over film that is often overlooked is the ease with which you can make backup copies of your image files to protect against loss. I have heard people bemoaning the apparent fragility of computer hard disks, but given that storage is so cheap* these days, you have no excuse for not creating backups!

It is important to consider the other risks, apart from hard disk failure, as well. Loss due to fire or theft is probably a considerable risk to, especially given that our hard disks tend not to stay in use for too long as we upgrade for more capacity or even replace whole machines after a period of years.

The first and most important thing is to consider the risks and then devise a strategy to deal with them. For most people these are:
  1. Loss due to hard drive failure
  2. Loss due to fire or theft
  3. Loss due to accidental deletion
Next, consider how more or less likely these are. For example, most of my work is done and stored on a desktop workstation. If this was a laptop, then I would consider the risk of theft to be higher, especially if I transported that machine from place-to-place frequently.

My strategy to deal with item 1., is that my desktop workstation has 3 disks: one contains the Operating System and programs; the other two contain my image files, in a mirrored RAID configuration. Mirrored simply means that my image files are written to both disks, and should one of these drives fail, the Operating System (Windows 7 64 bit) will warn me. Once the faulty disk is replaced, the files on the 'good' disk will be 'mirrored' again automatically, thus restoring protection for my files.

To cover item 2., fire or theft, I use a pair of external hard disks, on each of which I make a backup of my image files using EMC Retrospect. I alternate the disks and never have both disks in the same location, i.e. one is always stored off site. Retrospect also takes care of item 3., accidental deletion, as it allows you to restore earlier versions of individual files quickly and easily.

I also have a laptop and a netbook which occasionally have image files on when on location, these are backed up onto a rugged portable hard drive, and are copied to the desktop machine as soon as I return to base. To back up the laptop I use Acronis True Image, and I also use this to backup the Operating System disk in my workstation. As it's name suggests, True Image creates an image of the whole disk which can be used to re-instate the machine should the laptop disk fail - the image is simply copied to a replacement disk and the machine is restored complete, as it was.

* Maplin are currently selling 2TB external hard disks for around £85!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

D7000 Price Softens

Wow, look at that, according to, since it's launch in mid-October, D7000 bodies are now shifting (or not shifting?) for £850, that's 23% down on the launch price!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Fujifilm Finepix X100

A few weeks back I wrote that Fujifilm's Finepix X100 would probably have a UK price tag of around £700, and how I felt this was a bit steep and that if I was in the market, I would probably go for an entry-level DSLR and small fixed-focal lens, like Nikons' 35mm f/1.8 DX instead.

Well, Fujifilm have commercially launched the X100 now, and it's available to pre-order at many UK dealers for around £1000 (the RRP in the UK). Wow! Good luck with that Fujifilm!

We've not seen any reviews yet, but the image quality from this camera would have to be truly outstanding at this price point for it to become anything else than an expensive accessory for the style conscious person who has not yet discovered the Leica X1.

Still, if anyone from Fujifilm UK reads this and wants to ship me one for review....

Monday, February 07, 2011

Craft And Vision

If you're looking for a little inspiration for your photography, you could do worse than taking a look at the ebooks now available at Craft and Vision. The books are available to download as either PDF files or as iPad applications, if you're lucky enough to own such a device!

I tried 'Close To Home: Finding Great Photographs In Your Own Back Yard' by Stuart Sipahigil, and I thought it was well worth the $5.00 asked (a little over 3 of your British pounds). It is more of a pamphlet than a book at 38 pages, but it does contain some excellent advice and wise words from someone who obviously knows his stuff. There are also plenty of insightful quotes from the likes of Ansel Adams and Proust which nicely support the authors' points.

A great idea, and very welcome in these cash-strapped times, and likely to benefit your photography (and bank balance) more than the latest gadget will. I will be sampling a few more titles, I am sure.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Paramo Outdoor Gear

I've been using Paramo outdoor gear for about a year now, and I'm suitably impressed. Paramo take a slightly different approach to most other outdoor gear manufacturers, claiming that their garments are analogous to animal skin or fur and provide class-leading levels of breathability.

I have to say, at first, I was not that impressed by my first purchase, the Cascada waterproof trousers, as I found them unbearably warm. After a while though, I realised I didn't need to wear thermals underneath in cold conditions, and that the full length ventilation zips do really work well - if you remember to use them! Once you've adjusted to the warmth, you soon realise that these are excellent - hard-wearing, very waterproof, articulated, breathable (provided you use the zips) and priced competitively with similar products. Not the most stylish bit of gear, but bear in mind if you shop online with Naturally Paramo, they sometimes offer different colour-ways than are available through Paramo dealers.

A year on, and these have been joined by a Halcon jacket. These are expensive, and a little heavier than, say, a Goretex jacket, but once you factor in Paramo's reputation for longevity, and the fact you don't need to wear as much underneath, it doesn't look so bad. Get your under-garments right and you have a great waterproof that won't leave you soaked with sweat. The Halcon is Paramo's top-of-the-line jacket, and offers a fantastic range of pockets for filters, lens caps, shutter releases and even lenses.

Underneath the Halcon, I have a Mountain Vent shirt. This is made from a reversible fabric, meant to be worn next to the skin, and is cut a little closer than a normal fleece. Worn with the fleece-like surface inwards, it offers warmth, but reverse it and the smooth face against the skin helps to keep you cool. There are also zips for ventilation at the front of the armpits, which correspond with those in the Halcon and some other Paramo jackets.

The fourth and final element is a Torres gilet, worn over the Mountain vent shirt when conditions are colder. It's quite thin and light, but seems to offer good insulation without bulk (it even packs down into one of it's own pockets). If you prefer, you could order your gilet in a larger size and choose to wear it over your waterproof jacket.

For me, just these four garments seem to cope well with most UK conditions. I would still choose a down jacket for winter sunrises, but for just about everything else the Paramo system really seems to work, with the right layers underneath.

Here's a couple of buying tips: first off the RSPB often have good members offers in their magazine (my Torres gilet was free when I ordered my Halcon jacket); second Paramo have their own outlet store, Paramo Extras, on ebay. I bought my Mountain Vent shirt through the latter at about a third off the retail price (accepting that it was an obsolete colour and made from a very slightly heavier fabric than the current garment). Oh, and as mentioned above if you buy direct from Naturally Paramo, you may get more colour choices.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Fujifilm X100

Available in the spring, this looks like a very nice camera for the enthusiast. I've mentioned it before, but the price worries me, as at £700 (estimated), I think it's too steep. I'd probably suggest a budget digital SLR with a compact prime lens like the Nikon 35mm AF-S G DX f/1.8 would be a better and cheaper option.

In fact you could squeeze a budget DSLR, kit zoom lens and a digital compact out of that budget, if you really needed the portability.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Photo Logistics

I've been planning a bit of a photo getaway, just me, a couple of cameras and a bunch of top locations. Trouble is, where to stay? What I want from my accommodation on these personal trips is comfortable convenience. Although a hotel might seem to offer the most in the way of convenience, I don't want to be tied down to particular meal times.

Most hotels here in the UK seem to offer breakfast between 7 and 9am. Well, this time of year I probably want to be out by 7 or thereabouts, and I am unlikely to be back by 9. And, I don't want the distraction of having to be back for breakfast by a particular time, I want to concentrate on photography, not bacon and eggs!

Self-catering solves this problem, but I don't want to spend too much time preparing food (except after dark in the evening). For this reason, whilst remote locations appeal, finding somewhere with a pub, restaurant or cafe nearby is not a bad idea.

Camping is great, as suggested here, but to be honest camping in prolonged winter weather can often descend into a drudge of what the British Army calls 'admin', i.e. the need to keep things dry, to keep warm, to keep yourself and equipment clean, etc. These are all distractions that I just don't need, and can easily sap your morale and make it difficult to motivate yourself for photography.

I'm keeping an eye on the weather, and likely will book self-catering at a few days notice. Load up the car with groceries (no point in spending too much time in the supermarket whilst on location) and off I'll go.