Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Great Light

Why is it the Internet fora are full of photographers mainly discussing gear, but hardly ever discussing great light:

Nikon D3x, 55mm f/2.8 Ai-S macro

Friday, May 10, 2013

Graphics Cards for Photoshop CS6

Following on from my previous post, I know it can be difficult to identify a suitable graphics adapter for use with Photoshop, so I thought I would share this link.

I would have chosen an Asus nvidia GTX650 1GB card, which seems to be excellent value for money - it's performance in these tests was mostly just 5-10% off the performance of the top-performing adapters, yet it can be found for a shade over £100.

In the event, the heatsink and cooling tubes weren't a great fit in my Dell Precision 490, so I had to drop to a GT640, which is slightly smaller physically, and cheaper but came with 2GB of memory instead of 1GB. It wasn't around when the above test was run but ought to be fairly similar to the 650.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Adobe 'Cloud'

Adobes' recent changes to their pricing structure has caused quite a bit of a backlash from photographers, if the Internet fora can be used as a measure of this. Me, I take a more positive view, at least in the short term.

Basically Adobe is shifting away from selling boxed products, instead selling applications by subscription. Once you subscribe, for a monthly fee, you can then download the latest versions of the applications you are eligible for under the subscription plan you chose. As long as you keep paying the fee, you can carry on using the software. Once you cease your subscription, then at some point Adobe will block your use of that software, until or unless you re-subscribe. That 'at some point' is currently 90 days but this is due to increase to 180 in the near future.

Adobe use of the phrase 'Creative Cloud' (CC) has caused a bit of confusion. To be clear, the applications bought through CC are downloaded and installed on your computer, and run on it just as if you had installed from DVD/CD. The application then periodically checks with Adobe that your subscription is still valid. To get around the issue of users being away from an Internet connection, there's effectively a 90/180 day grace period. So, plenty of time to go on an 3 month assignment then (are you listening National Geographic?).

I use two Adobe Products, Lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom will continue to be sold as a boxed product according to Adobe, but Photoshop is moving to CC. I thought I had foolishly missed the opportunity to upgrade from CS4 to CS6, but in hindsight this may have been a wise move, because for less than £9 a month, I have now not only been able to upgrade to CS6, but will also be able to move to the next version, Photoshop CC, when it becomes available later this year, for no additional cost.

Given that previous upgrade costs have been around £180, short term I'm quite happy with this. It remains to be seen what the cost will be in year two, as Adobe is currently giving introductory discounts to encourage users to subscribe to CC. For now though, I'm happy to be running the latest version for the next 12 to 18 months.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Using an Old Router as a Wireless Access Point

These days, many of have a collection of 'free' wireless DSL or cable routers, as these tend to be given away when we change to a new provider, and usually these end up unused in a drawer or cupboard (as I type this I can think of at least 2 we have lying about).

This happened to me recently, and I really wanted to keep using the old router (BT Home Hub 3), as it had a natty power save feature (it switches off WiFi) that I could use to prevent the children accessing the Internet from any of their devices outside of the hours we had agreed. Having the WiFi just switch off automatically and on again at preset times seems much easier than trying to setup firewalls and VLANs to try and limit their access.

Also, with the BT Home Hub 3 it's very easy to bypass the power save feature and extend their access time, so the kids can watch movies, for example, at weekends and sleep overs. So, the challenge was to re-use the BT Hub as a dedicated access point (AP) for the kids PCs, phones and iPods.

A quick bit of 'research' (aka google) revealed that this should be relatively simple, but I thought it worth documenting the simple steps required. Below is what I did (the order is important!). I've assumed that you haven't re-configured the old router too much, but you could always factory-reset it before starting (which I would recommend if you customised it's setup a lot):
  1. Firstly, disconnect your computer from any networks (wireless and wired).
  2. Attach the old router to your computer using an ethernet patch cable.
  3. Login by browsing to the old router's address (usually or, but often printed on a label underneath).
  4. The username and password are usually on the label to, but you should change these to something more secure.
  5. Go to the WiFi settings page and configure the access point's SSID as you want it (I took the option here to restrict this network to the slower b/g standards as a way of throttling the bandwidth being 'hogged' for Skype etc.!).
  6. Next, change your old routers IP address to something that is in the range used by your new router, you'll probably find this setting on the 'LAN' settings page. In my case, the new router was, so I chose to set the old router to Just make sure you're not selecting an address already in use - you'll need to login to your new router to check, or download fing.
  7. Next, again usually in 'LAN' settings, disable DHCP (this is the service that issues out IP addresses, and you only want one device on your network doing this, and your new router is doing this and will continue to do so).
  8. Disconnect your old router from your computer, and instead connect it to a spare ethernet port on the back of your new router.
  9. Now, logon to your new router and in the LAN settings, look for a setting called 'reserve addresses' or similar, and reserve the address you selected in step 6. This ensures that the address will not be dynamically allocated to another device, for example if the old router (which is now just an AP) is switched off.
Finally, logon to the new SSID and check that it connects to the Internet. That's it, and for no extra cost I have a separate access point for the kids, time-limited and restricted to the theoretical 54Mbps of wireless 'g', while the adults and the Apple TV get to connect to the new router by wireless 'n', which theoretically offers 6 times the bandwidth (300Mbps). In practice, real throughputs will be a lot lower so this is a crude way of carving up the 25Mbps or so we have from our fibre broadband.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Print Size vs Resolution

I should probably inject some clarity into my comments below about D7000/D7100 choice, and why you might actually need more resolution.

The accepted rule of thumb for printing for display is 300 points-per-inch, so to determine the 'native' print size from your camera, simply divide it's horizontal and vertical resolution by 300 to give your print size in inches.

Thus the D7100 should be easily good enough for 18"x12" prints. But here's the rub: you can get to this size from a D7000 file by only slightly reducing the resolution to around 250ppi.

Such a reduction will be practically unnoticeable at normal viewing distances - chances are a carefully shot and post-processed D7000 RAW file will compare very well to a D7100 jpeg.

So, if you never print beyond A3, and if you're not already routinely shooting RAW, with good shot discipline and are completely competent in your RAW conversion and processing, then the D7100 is probably more camera than you need.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dxomark Nikon D7100 Review

See here, image quality doesn't appear much different to D7000, which is either:

1. A very good thing if you like the D7000's IQ but really need the extra resolution.

2. A really good thing if you don't - because it means you can stick with your D7000, if you have one, or if you don't, save yourself about £500 over the D7100 and buy a D7000 instead (but be quick!).

But there are a couple of reasons that might be compelling reasons to buy a D7100 for sports or wildlife, the expansive AF system that covers much of the frame, and the 1.3x crop mode (2x the lens focal length).

Samsung Phablets News

Following on from my post on Helicon Focus, I just saw Samsung have announced even more 'phablets', with even bigger screens than the 5.5" Note II I used, see here for details.

Focus Stacking for Macro

A great article with some excellent examples of focus-stacking in macro photography on dpreview.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Helicon Focus mini review

I got the opportunity to try Helicon Focus recently, which is a software package that automates taking a sequence of images at different focus points, and then 'stacks' these to produce an image with massive depth of field. Applications are macro work, product photography and landscapes, the latter being my particular interest.

For landscapes you ideally need an Android or Apple iOS tablet, as carting a laptop around is not really practical. I chose the former as iOS support seems a bit clunky, and I was able to get hold of a Samsung Galaxy Note II Android 'phablet' which with it's 5.5" AMOLED display makes it viewable in daylight and it is also extremely portable at under 200g.

With the Helicon Focus Android app downloaded and installed, the Note was connected to my Nikon D3x camera via a USB Host Adapter (I used a genuine Samsung item, about £8 from Amazon) and a standard mini USB cable. The app worked flawlessly with the D3x and 50mm 1.8G AF-S lens.

You simply select the near and far points you want in focus using the liveview image shown on the Notes' touchscreen, and the app works out the number of images required and then takes them in sequence. The resulting images (jpeg only in trial version, full version supports RAW) are then imported into the desktop application on your PC and stacked to form single image with vastly increased depth of field compared to a single image.

For landscapes this means you can get the depth of field you want without degrading quality by stopping your lens down beyond it's diffraction limit, or resorting to fiddly and expensive tilt/shift lenses. Instead you can shoot with a relatively modest lens at it's optimum aperture, like f/5.6 or f/8.

Given that a single Canon or Nikon tilt/shift lens retails for around £1400, the cost is competitive - even the Note II retails for around £500 SIM free and the Helicon Focus lifetime license is about £180 i.e. about half the cost of a single tilt/shift lens. A Galaxy Tab 2 7" halves the price down to a total of £350, but it is heavier and I haven't used one so I cannot vouch for the screens viewability in daylight.

I'm still evaluating this setup for landscape use and will post an update when I have reached a conclusion. At the moment it all still seems a bit cumbersome but I sense some real possibilities.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Nikon DSLR Firmware Updates

Nikon launched a gaggle of Firmware updates for their DSLRs yesterday.

The main feature for older models is EXIF data for the new 800mm f/5.6 lens, so, if you sprung £15K on one, you might want to check this out ;-)

Some more interesting stuff for current DSLRs though! Nikon Support Centre (Europe) is here and a some detail of the updates are here from Thom Hogan (bear in mind Thom rolls these articles off his home page every few weeks, so if you're looking at this post mid-April 2013 and don't see it there, you'll need to search his site).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

D7100 in stock, D7000 savings

The Nikon D7100 is now finding it's way into UK dealers, at the time of writing, Wex had it in stock.

Note though that they also have D7000 for £642, and Nikon are offering £100 cashback, giving a net price of £542. That's a great deal.

It's also about half the cost of the D7100, IMHO it's difficult to find a compelling reason to spend twice as much, unless you need to print A3 or bigger.

Of course soon we will start to see some authoritative in-depth reviews, and really begin to understand the impact of the omission of a lowpass filter, at which point I might change my opinion!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Nikon 80-400mm AF-S

At long last, the venerable 80-400 AF-D gets an update....ouch look at that UK price though! Wex have it listed for pre-order at a shade under £2500!

Even though the price will soften, it probably still makes it worth looking at the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II as an option - after all a 70-200 and a D7100 are in the same ball park, price wise, as the 80-400. You would still get the equivalent of a 140-400mm lens using the 15Mp 2x mode.

Add to this that you'll be able to shoot 2 stops faster, i.e. brighter viewfinder, more subject isolation, potentially better results with a teleconvertor, faster AF, as well as a higher shutter speed (remember VR doesn't help you avoid subject motion blur).

Personally, I can't see much reason to buy the more expensive lens - unless you really, really need lots of reach and will combine it with a D7100 to give a very portable 160-800/5.6 equivalent!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Focus On Imaging 2013

It's been time for my almost-annual trek to the NEC for Focus On Imaging, Britains' premier photo geek-fest.

And it really is a geek-fest, judging by the propensity for grey hair, no hair and/or a paunch in the predominantly male crowd outside (I count myself as having 2 of the 3!). But one thing I've never understood though is why people take their cameras and even tripods to this show?

Sorry, I just don't get it, unless just possibly you're hoping to put your body onto a lens you're thinking of buying in order to take some test shots? Even then, you don't need the camera dangling round your neck like some grotesque bit of male jewellery!

Anyway, enough of my whinging. I don't spend hours trawling round and getting into conversations with salespeople about thing's I've no interest in buying, I just home in on the half-dozen or so things I might be interested in.

So here's my list of what I personally found interesting and some observations from this years show:
  • Paramo are now distributing F-Stop camera bags. Long story short is some pretty well-designed and made rucksacks with separate Internal Camera Units (ICU) available in various sizes, allowing you to customise your bag depending on how much photographic versus hiking gear you want to carry. I already have some good rucksacks, but the ICUs look interesting and could fit in one of these.
  • Paramo also had the £130 Halcon Traveller jacket. I'm a big fan of the full-fat Halcon jacket, but this is a different beast, lighter, not waterproof (probably OK in a shower though, as it should dry quikly), but it does inherit the capacious pockets of it's big brother. It could almost be fashionable to, just may be not in green though!
  • Gitzo - always like to look at this stand as it's a rare opportunity to see most of the line-up in one place. Shocked though that the tripod I bought just 3 years ago seems to have gone up by nearly 50%!
  • Elinchrom - I'm not a big user of studio lights, but the new D-Lite RX Ones are tiny and feel robust as well as being compatible with loads of accessories, including the Skyport wireless transmitter. If you can live with the 100Ws power then they represent superb value.
  • No D7100 brochures on the Nikon stand - why?
  • The Focus On Imaging iPad app resolutely stuck on the countdown page (at around 9 days!) as I queued to go in, so my hopes of going 'paper-free' were thwarted as I couldn't access the online floorplan (this despite trying ee's 3G and 4G networks). The app got removed before I got in the hall.

Monday, March 04, 2013


As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a quote in to part exchange my D7000 for a D7100. It equates to depreciation of roughly £350 for each of the years that I've owned the older camera. Of course it's only realised if I actually go through with the deal.

I wonder though, how many of us would have spent £350/year on 35mm film and processing, prior to the rise of the DSLR in the last decade?

Of course, back then we bought a film SLR and usually kept that for decades to, so depreciation wasn't really an issue!

And, others will benefit by finding a good used D7000 will soon be available at very reasonable prices - they're already going on ebay for c£500.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nikon D7100

Nikon's announcement of the successor to the D7000, the D7100, contained some surprises, namely the lack of a low pass filter, and the 1.3x crop mode. Overall, the D7000 has been my favourite and most heavily used DSLR out of all the Nikon F-Mount cameras I own or have owned, the others being Fuji S2, Nikons D80, D200, D300, D2x, D3, D3x (I still own the latter).

The D7000 scores highly in my book for image quality, ruggedness, value and compactness. of course there are other cameras in that list that surely score higher in at least one of these categories, but the D7000 strikes a great balance.

The absence of the low pass filter in the D7100 is intriguing, not least because it screams 'enthusiast' about this camera. Sure, a lot of people who buy this camera will neither know (nor care) about this, and will probably buy it with the inadequate 18-105mm 'kit' lens, which probably offsets any advantage in acuity gained by removing the filter. Oh well.

But, the fact that Nikon is also shipping the D7100 with the 18-105 is further proof of Nikon's confused approach to DX. Here we have an advanced camera (possibly the only camera you'll ever need!), yet pitched at people who can't rationalise a lens choice, and are perhaps instead striving for the bragging rights of 24 over 16 megapixels. I'd warrant that most people would be better served by a D7000 and the Nikon 35/1.8 lens, which together are something of a bargain at the moment.

Pitched so close to the full frame D600 in price, it will be interesting to see how the D7100 image quality compares under critical reviews. Is Nikon really hoping that it's apparent reluctance to iterate the DX lens line, especially at the wide end, is really enough to drive consumers to a 50% more expensive FX model, if the reviews are more favourable to the D7100?

The 1.3x (1.3x1.5=1.95x) crop mode harks back to the 2x crop mode of the D2x, except with a 15 megapixel resolution rather than just under 6 for the older camera. This is great news for those with telephoto needs. I will be delighted to gain 600mm/2.8, ~800mm/4 and ~1000mm/4.5 from my 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x & 1.7x TC's, more than enough for anyone's needs I would have thought!

The use of the EN-EL15 batteries continues, which is great news for those like me that already own spare batteries and chargers. It's a shame though that yet again Nikon see's fit to iterate the camera base plate and require users to purchase a new MB-D15. Seeing as, yet again, the new grip brings no new features, this seems like a cynical approach to extract yet more cash from it's customers without any value-add.

But, the only other downside I can see is I like my D7000 too much to part with it. That doesn't mean that I haven't already got a part-exchange quote though ;-)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Customisable Cameras

I can't claim to be the originator of this, apart from anyone else, Thom Hogan has been banging on about this for years.

Consider your smartphone or tablet, which is a batch of fairly complex hardware (GPS, camera, phone, Bluetooth, WiFi, 2/3/4G radio, touch screen, proximity detector) all interconnected by the devices Operating System, typically Android or Apple iOS.

The device comes with a standard set of software, plus the ability to install additional software that does what the standard software does, but better, or lets you use all that interconnected hardware in some new or special way.

We've seen a couple of cameras recently that are architected in a similar way to your smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy camera and the Nikon S800c, both using the Android OS. The main driver behind these is their ability to easily share images using social media using the devices net capability i.e. WiFi or mobile broadband.

But what if someone produced a Compact System Camera or DSLR with the ability to adapt the functionality to your particular photographic needs or tastes? Potentially, you would need only 3 hardware sets in your line up: consumer; prosumer; professional. Much of the internals could be shared, but the functionality limited by software.

So for example, all 3 bodies might share the same AF system, but the consumer version software has less features and is slower. The professional model would have fully featured AF, and the prosumer sits somewhere in the middle. Now suppose I buy the consumer model but I later decide that I need faster AF (aka 'the sports pack'). Well, I can buy and download the software to do this, priced perhaps in a way that draws me to the next camera in the range.

By offering a range of such packs (portrait, landscape, black and white?), potentially the user could buy the cheapest hardware and then upgrade it's performance to that of the most expensive model (I'm ignoring here build, weatherproofing, battery life etc. - the sort of hardware features pro models tend to offer). Of course, in this instance, you'd price this in such as way as to make the professional model more attractive from the start.

This dramatically reduces your manufacturing costs, is less confusing for the buyer and gives the manufacturer the opportunity to sell the customer 'value-added' features, at high margin and low distribution costs, as they would be software 'packs'. You could also offer micro packs, for example film types or effects filters.

Mirroring even more closely the smartphone 'eco-systems', you could license 3rd parties to produce software, licensed by the manufacturer and only available through the manufacturers portal, with commission going to the hardware manufacturer.

You could of course sell the hardware including an optional pack, so that your single consumer hardware could come with, say, a sports pack, or portrait pack (priced at a slight discount compared to adding the pack after) depending on the customers requirements.

Will it happen? Well, if it did I don't see any of the established camera makers driving this forward, it would need a more radical and disruptive player to enter the market, and they'd need buckets of cash to get it off the ground.

iCamera anyone? Sign me up for the pro body with the 'manual-only film-era' option please.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Paramo gear - 2 year update

I've used my Paramo Halcon jacket almost daily for the past 2 years, and it shows almost no signs of wear, despite being snagged on thorns, sat on and generally abused. The design of hood, pockets etc., now tested over time, has proved to be as good as I first thought. The Torres gilet, which has not had as much use has some slight 'bobbling' of the tape that runs around the hem, and the Cascada trousers have shrugged off numerous snags and abrasions without a mark.

All in, I think this is excellent gear and well worth the investment - you just need to get used to wearing less underneath, in order to let the fabrics breath as they were designed to do!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fuji X100, take two....

It's 2 years since I wrote this, where I naively hoped the forthcoming Fujifilm X100 would retail at somewhere around £700.

Well, today you can get a brand new silver X100 for £530, and even better the black, 'limited edition' model, which comes with a leather case, filter adapter, protective filter (essential in my opinion) and lens hood - about £200 worth of extras - can be had for £700.

Although now over-shadowed by the reportedly much-improved X100S (£1100?), it is tempting to grab one of the LE versions of the older camera, specially as many of the handling and performance foibles have been addressed through firmware revisions.

At the original price I contrasted the X100 with the D7000 in terms of value and capability, and today you could have a D3200 plus the 35mm f/1.8 DX for around £500.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: Arca Swiss Dual Pan Ballheads

For a few months now I've been trying a couple of Arca Swiss ballheads. Before I get into what I think of these, lets first explain how/why I got to choose these over my previous setup, or rather, set-ups. To put this into context, I'm using around 4.5Kg maximum load (DSLR and lens).

Over the years, I've bought and sold a few tripods, but I'm settled on two that I am very happy with for different reasons: an old Manfrotto 441 carbon fibre jobbie, and a Gitzo 5 series (GT5532S). The former is light and portable, the latter is rock solid with practically any camera/lens combo, and relatively light given the stability on offer - although you wouldn't want to carry it more than a few miles.

In hindsight, a 3 series from Gitzo would cover both scenarios: not much heavier than my 'light' tripod, and almost as sturdy as the 5 series. The moral here is 'go expensive early' - a tripod is a long term investment, so don't skimp, you'll spend more in the long run if you buy too cheap!

With the 'legs' sorted I really had 4 needs to cover with heads: everyday landscape head, lightweight landscape head, long telephoto head and panoramic. As a result I accumulated: Manfrotto MN410 Junior geared head (main landscape head), FLM ball head (lightweight landscape), Manfrotto MN393 'gimbal' head and a Nodal Ninja 5 panoramic head.

Quite a collection, and all good in their own rights, but the MN410 and NN5 are both heavy (~1.6Kg). The MN393 is excellent and great value, but the reality is I didn't really use it that much, and I was constantly swopping heads around, or finding myself with the wrong head when, say, a panoramic opportunity presented itself.

So, I decided to rationalise my choices to just two heads, one for light duties to go on the Manfrotto, and another more beefy version to go on the Gitzo. It soon became apparent that a ball head was the only type that would really deliver all my needs described above, especially if combined with L-brackets for my camera bodies.

Panoramics was still a bit of an issue though, until I discovered the Arca Swiss Double-Pano (DP) versions. This clever design puts a rotating pano platform (the kind that would normally go between the head and legs), on top of the ball, just below the camera clamp.

The result is you can level the camera platform using the ball, and then rotate the camera using the pano platform, and it stays completely level to ensure good alignment and error-free stitching. It works remarkably well in the Z1 DP model I bought to attach to the Gitzo. This is a very beefy ball head in terms of stated load capacity (59Kg!), yet not over-heavy (about 750g, depend on which QR platform you choose - there are several choices). It has adjustable friction, and this plus the elliptical ball makes using it with my 300/2.8 and a pro camera body less anxiety-prone than I had expected. Once locked-off, it is rock solid with this combo.

After a few months, I was so impressed I sold all my other heads and bought a second Arca, this time a P0, again the Dual-Pano model and with an identical QR platform as my Z1. With this on the Manfrotto 441 I get all of the capability I need (except long lens use where I would automatically go for the Gitzo/Z1 anyway), but in a light and compact unit. Specs are up to 20Kg load and weight ~400g.

The P-series are in 'inverted ball' design, i.e. the ball is attached to the tripod and the head moves around it. They are unusual in having no knobs protruding, but a single knurled ring runs around the head, and turning this locks or unlocks the head. There is no adjustable tension (the main reason why I don't envisage using this with long lenses), but the ball is elliptical. An advantage of the inverted ball is the exposed surface faces down, so ingress of dirt and moisture is likely to be less of a problem than a conventional 'right-way-up' design.

The DP function works as excellently as with the Z1 (why shouldn't it), the locking mechanism is quick and easy to operate, even with gloves on, and it's design means it doesn't matter how the head is orientated, so there's no scrabbling around looking for the right knob to adjust. It locks down solid to, and it doesn't seem to shift position like some cheaper ballheads do as you lock them. Which is, I suppose, to be expected at the price!

So, overall, I think you've probably gathered that I'm really happy with these heads. The DP system is a great solution and works very well, although you might want to consider adding a nodal rail depending on what lenses you are using, although I haven't found this necessary on lenses 50mm plus.

The heads are slightly let down by a couple of design foibles though. Firstly, the QR clamps do have bubble levels (as befitting any head with panoramic pretensions), but these are impossible to view with a camera mounted! So, you'll be relying on a hotshoe-mounted level or similar. Not a major issue but it would be nice if this could be fixed, as that extra level is another thing for me to lose or forget!

The second and more minor issue is that there is a white indexing mark on the edge of the rotating QR platform and a scale marked on the fixed part of the pano base. Unfortunately, with the QR clamp release facing towards you (i.e. 6 o'clock, which is how I would normally have it), the index mark is at about 2 o'clock, and is thus impossible to see from the shooting position with a camera mounted. May be I'm nit-picking here, but why can't we have this mark at say 5 or 7 o'clock?

To summarise, I'm lucky to be able to have the use of both these heads, but I'd be happy with either (taking into account the limitations mentioned above). Perhaps a P1 (a beefier version - 30Kg/600g) on the aforementioned 3 series Gitzo would be a great single solution, especially if you work in harsh environments and/or wear gloves often?