Thursday, December 30, 2010

Time for some new photos!

Ok, I promised new photos from the Tamron SP 70-300mm f-5.6 DI VC USD, so here they are! BTW-memo to Tamron; please shorten the name of your lenses!

BTW-DXOMark has tested this lens and doesn't think very highly of it. I feel they may have had a bad sample because it tested just so-so on every Nikon body. I've tried it on my D300 and a friends D700 and was amazed at how well it worked with the full frame sensor and giant light-gathering pixels. It's almost enough to sway me to buy a D700!

Clicking on a photo will bring up a larger version of the photo. The eyes are cropped 100% from the first photo. All were shot on my D300 in 14-bit RAW and converted to JPG by Photoshop CS4.

What makes a camera "great"?

On the eve of the CES show, I've been giving some thought to the weighty topic of what, exactly, constitutes a "great" camera body. It's not the sheer number of pixels a manufacturer can cram on one sensor (although the ad people would have you believe that). What use is 21 or 24 megapixels if the AF is so slow that you miss the shot? Or if the frame rate drops so slow in 14-bit RAW as to nearly make the camera as slow as a point-and-shoot? Of course, I'm exaggerating for effect, as none of the higher-end prosumer or professional camera bodies are nearly this bad, but it highlights a point; camera MFGs are driven by what they think photographers need, or more importantly, will buy. And they're also governed by their own corporate culture, which is a big factor in Japan.

My needs are interesting at the moment. On one hand, I'd love to have high megapixels, for high detail capture. On the other hand, I want the cameras to blast off a high frame rate. Finally, I want incredible clarity and sharpness from my images. The D300, on paper, looks mighty capable. 12.3 megapixels, with a lot of color capturing potential, and decent resolution. What it does not deliver is speed (falls to around 2.5 FPS maximum in 14-bit RAW color mode) or clarity (have you seen straight from the camera JPGS?). So... I can shoot slowly in RAW, and take forever converting each image by hand (no, CaptureNX does not do a great job with batch-processing RAW files; blacks get blotchy), or I can shoot relatively fast (5-6 fps) in 12-bit color and suffer the wrath of camera-butchered JPGs. Thom Hogan assures me that Nikon camera bodies are the sharpest, when shot in RAW. But what happens when I need faster performance. Nikon has no answer for that.

Then there's Canon, whose current pro bodes, the 1D MarkIV and the 1Ds MarkIII, are the fastest things out there. A burning 10 fps for the 1D model, and 5 fps for the 1Ds (which is processing 21 megapixels!). The Canon D700 is marginally faster in JPG mode, but has 9 megapixels less on it's full-frame sensor. Where the Canon's deliver sharp, clear JPGs from the camera, the Nikons don't.

So, if I am to move from the D300, which way do I go. Either way, for a pro-level body, it's a ton of money. If I stick with Nikon, I don't have to swap out my lenses (although I wouldn't mind because Thom also assures me that AF speed and accuracy will improve if I'm using Nikon lenses). If I go to Canon, the price goes up, especially for image-stabilized "L" lenses.

What about a combination of older Canon "1D" body and a sharp L lens like a non-IS f2.8 70-200mm lens? Both can be had for less than the cost of just one new Nikon D700. If I'm dealing with these questions, how many others are too? Tax time is right around the corner, and camera MFGs need to realize this, and begin to time new camera releases for this important time. Will there be any fantastic new camera bodies from Canon or Nikon at the CES show? I sure as heck hope so, and that the prices will be more in line with our new world economy. My career is hanging on it

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nothing much to say. This is good.

Anyone at all who follows my little blog knows I typically have a lot to say about any subject, however, lately, I haven't felt like saying much at all. There's work to be done, and the D300 it focusing well now, so I haven't had cause to complain. In truth, I should be complimenting that little bugger. It's robust, produces amazing colors, exposes photos generally well, if a little on the light side (I think the shutter is slowing down now), and offers adjustments for almost every possible feature a person can think of... except... fully-customizable AF points. There should be more AF point options. Like a diamond-shaped box of points, a straight-line of points, or three vertical lines of points. My point being, simply having 51 schizo points in a 3D self-predicting matrix, or 51 "dumb" points, or 21 or 9, all arranged in rectangular orientations, is not adequate.

My first digital camera had just one AF point. My first DSLR, an old Canon D60, had three. My Konica-Minolta 7D bodies had 11, but some were wider than others, which worked better for diagonally-framed panned shots of cars. The D300 takes the cake for the body with the most useless AF points. Only the 9 in the center are super-sensitive cross points, able to pick up both vertical and horizontal lines for contrast. The other 42 points are like an NFL team's Special Teams unit. Sure, they're useful occasionally, but if you depend on them to win the game you're going to be sorely disappointed.

What I find myself doing, is simply using only one point. Period. Why? Because I control it fully. It doesn't migrate around the image, choosing semi-random spots based on similar contrast and brightness to the original focus point. Nor, do I ever have to wonder "Did I nail the focus on that critical image? Should I shoot it again?". Light is fleeting. Doing what I do involves shooting cars at sunset or sunrise, in sometimes less than optimal conditions, and doing so in a rapid manner. Reshooting photos because the 3D-Tracking 51-point AF mode missed the key point in the photograph is silly and time-consuming, which then wastes light I can never get back. Does this make me a control freak? I sure hope so!

The next time you go to purchase a camera, ask yourself, does it have the capability to focus EXACTLY where I need it to focus, time after time? You'll find you'll be making far better photos with a camera with just one AF sensor, than a camera with one hundred!

New Tamron lens; Hubba hubba!

Just got the new Tamron SP AF 70-300mm LD Di VC, and I've got to say, this is the first time I've had a "Wow!" moment with my Nikon D300 body. I had the chance to shoot some models in Texas last month (November 2010) and all I can say is, "What is Tamron thinking selling this lens for as little as they do? Every review says that the image stabilization is like "magic" but until you try it, I guarantee you've never seen anything like it before. One caveat, it does not work as well for slower speed panning as you might think. There's a good reason why (I suspect). When the camera body refocuses, as it does in Continual AF mode, the VC system attempts to "recenter" on the new point. If you're using just one AF point, it's not too bad, and the image only jumps occasionally in the viewfinder. But, if you, like many people, like using the 51, 21, or 9 point AF modes, the action of the VC becomes a bit helter-skelter. Often, it jumps right as the shutter is released, causing just a little bit of unnecessary blur in the resulting image. I found the best panned images came from turning off the VC, at the 1/125 and 1/160th second shutter speeds I was using as a test. It badly needs a panning mode switch.

With that said, however, it is pure magic for kids, people, pets, and anything much slower moving. Image sharpness and contrast is excellent, even wide open, on the Nikon D300 APS-C sensor. Don't look at this as an expensive consumer-grade zoom lens. Consider it a very sharp, image-stabilized 70-200mm f4.5 lens with the added benefit of another 100mm of focal length. A viable alternative to Canon's 70-200mm f4 "L" IS lens which has just come out, but at less than half the street cost. THAT is money you can take to the bank!

I'll have some photos to share, posted in a little bit.