Some ideas about Nikon new cameras

Being a die-hard Nikon user, I always monitor any new announcement from that Japanese camera company. During the last few months, Nikon has announced four new cameras, the D4, the D800/D800E and the D600.

Now, clearly the D4 and the D800/D800E are professional level cameras, the first one characterized by the word “speed”, while the second one characterized by its huge resolution (36 Mpixels).  The question is: who’s the target market of the D600?

Let’s see what bothers me with the D600.

Spec-wise, the camera appears to be perfect. Nikon raised the sensor resolution to 24 Mpixels, i.e. double that of the D700 I currently own. Actually, 24 Mpixels is the maximum resolution I would be willing to upgrade (if I was looking to upgrade my D700), anything higher for me, is a waste. I do not print bill-board size prints, and even if I was, there is no reason to go any higher than what the D600 offers. It features twin SD card slots, which is a great safety feature if you are interested in backing up your pictures as soon as you shoot them. It also has two dedicated “shooting adjustment banks”, U1 and U2, which is great (why not U3 and U4?!? I would need at least two more setup banks for my kind of shooting). It also has several other interesting (read: wanted) features, but there are things that Nikon left out. What are these?

First, and for me that’s an important omission, there is no AF-On button, at the rear of the camera. Yes, the camera allows you to set up the AE-L/AF-L button as an AF-On button, but then you can’t lock exposure, per wish. Those of us who are used to using the AE-L and AF-On buttons at the rear of the camera, this is a serious handicap.

Second, all AF sensors in this camera, are gathered in the center of the viewfinder. It appears as if Nikon took the D7000 AF system (the D7000 is a DX camera) and incorporated it into the D600, which is a full-frame camera. This arrangement limits the camera capabilities to track your subject movement, if it moves outside the central viewfinder area. Not good!

Third, the camera doesn’t have a PC flash connector. For some of us, this is important. Why did Nikon left this out, is anyone’s guess.

Fourth, and this is a major one. On previous generation cameras, the AF selector at the front, allowed you to select between Manual focus, AF-S and AF-C. On the newer cameras, the selection is only between AF and MF, but in order to select between AF-S and AF-C you have to go into the menus! That’s a huge step backwards for me.

Fifth, the shutter and its flash sync speed. Not very important for me, but for some people, the difference between 1/250th of a second and 1/200 of a second is very significant. See Strobist article on this issue at http://strobist.blogspot.gr/2012/09/nikon-d600-think-twice-before-you-jump.html .

Sixth, while Nikon gives us the twin SD cards slots with this camera, one has to question the type of card used. Typically, a pro (or an advanced amateur) user of previous Nikon cameras, has a large collection of CF cards. Why didn’t Nikon stick with that standard and decided to go with SD cards?

Finally, and while I understand that Nikon had to play catch-up with Canon, the video mode. Why did Nikon included a video mode in this camera?

Well, the answer to all of the above is simple: the D600 is NOT targeted to the professional market or the advanced amateur market. It is targeted to those people who own a DX Nikon camera and want to upgrade to something full-frame. It is clear that the issues mentioned above, affect mainly professional or advanced amateur photographers, but not the consumers, not those who were very happy with their D90 or even the D7000 but want to upgrade to something more … serious. For these folks, the D600 is the perfect camera. They already have the SD cards for it, the D7000 owners even have batteries for the D600, they do not care of the flash sync speed, nor do they use PC-connected flashes, and most probably they never shoot fast moving subjects, so the AF issues mentioned above do not affect them. And of course, consumers love video, hence its inclusion in the D600 features list.

And now the obvious question is: a D700 owner, what does he upgrade to? And the answer to this, is the D800. Nikon wants people to upgrade to the D800/D800e. And for some people (pros mainly), this is the right path to upgrade to. Pros have the top Nikon lenses, which can do justice to the D800 resolution, and most of them would welcome the increased Megapixels. But what about advanced amateurs?

I for example, can not find any camera in Nikon’s new line, that would make me switch from my three years old D700. I do not need the additional megapixels, I only print up to A3 size, so the additional resolution means nothing to me. Add the fact that with such huge picture files, I’ll need a new, faster computer to process them, with more disk space than my current one, which makes the upgrade an expensive proposition.

So thanks Nikon, I am sticking with my D700, which I personally consider the camera with the best features/price ratio and which still covers my needs perfectly.

 

Cameras, or another nugging post

Being an amateur photographer, I consider it my duty to use my cameras to record instances of our life (our: meaning me, my wife and our twins and pets). Over the years, I’ve collected several nice cameras and lenses, which I try to use as often as possible. My latest endeavor are my son’s football matches. The kiddo is 10 years old, and it appears that he is indeed a talent, marking 2-3 goals in every match. So taking pictures of him is expected both from him and his proud mother.

Now having a Nikon D700 with the battery pack and a 70-300mm Nikon lens, I believed that I was well-equipped to handle these matches. I guess I may be OK equipment-wise, but I am not very well prepared technique-wise. Or maybe, my equipment is faulty? My 70-300mm lens had an accident in July, which resulted in repair being needed. Nikon replaced the mount of the focusing motor (I think) and send it back to me. Now the lens works OK when focusing on stationary items, but when I am using it on moving targets, like my son, the results are less than stellar.

The way I have the camera set up, is to use AF-C (Continuous Focus), with 51-AF Points and Auto Tracking. What I notice is that as soon as I press the AF-On button to initiate focus, the focus point jumps all over the place, in other adjacent focus points, instead of sticking with my target and following it as it moves. Yes, it does stick with my son some times, but not always. I wish someone could explain that to me.

Is it the lens that has a problem? Is it the camera? Is it me?!?!

 

Various tidbids from Summer 2012

This post, being written on the last day of August 2012, qualifies for the end-of-summer entry for this blog. So I decided to collect some thoughts and issues I faced during summer and post them here.

First of all, a Fujifilm X-100 issue, that I was aware of, but never remembered. Don’t try to use the build-in flash of the camera, with the lens hood attached. It’s a known issue, but since I store and always carry my camera with the lens hood attached, I didn’t remember to remove it, when I shot some pictures with the flash activated. Results? Bottom left corner of the pictures is significantly darker than the rest. Just remember: flash and hood do not go together on this camera.

Second, Apple Mountain Lion server has significant issues. I am now officially back to Lion server, since the new version has so many issues that I do not want to upgrade. I have spend several summer days trying to fix the issues with the Mountain Lion server, unsuccessfully, so I decided that it was about time to go back to the previous, stable, Lion server and call it a day. Thanks Apple, as if I had nothing better to do with my summer days.

Third, spending almost a whole summer month with a broken foot, is not fun. I broke a bone in my foot, as I was climbing down from a chair I was on, doing some rearrangements of my network equipment. As I was coming off the chair, my right foot stepped on my shoe and the ankle turned. I heard a “crack” and felt an acute pain at the right side of my foot. A visit to the hospital (after two days) showed a broken bone. A cast was applied for almost 20 days, which severely reduced my mobility. Not fun.

The weird thing is that at least eight other persons I know had foot issues this summer. Isn’t that strange?!?!

Fourth, vacations. We spent our vacations in the island of Crete, in the apartments of a friend, but more about that you will read in another, dedicated post, with pictures and everything. Needless to say we appreciate Spyros hospitality.

Apple Mountain Lion Server

After living with Mountain Lion for some days now, I have some comments I would like to share with you.

First of all, the upgrade from Lion to Mountain Lion, went just fine on my iMac. I wish I could say the same for the Mac Mini Server. The upgrade of the server was a frustrating experience. In my server, the user directories are located on an external disk drive. The Server upgrade had a hard time understanding this, so I spent several days trying to fix things up, with the help of Apple Support engineers. a huge CPU consumption issue (and hence high temperature issue) didn’t help either. Eventually, the problems were solved and the server is working OK now, but the upgrade was not a swift experience.

Coming to the things I noticed after the upgrades:

  1. Unfortunately, Mountain Lion Server (or more correctly OS-X Server, as it is now named), is lacking several useful features from the previous versions. Apple has decided that a firewall is not necessary for its new OS, so they did away with it. There is no longer a Firewall management page, where you could define your firewall rules. Instead, they suggest that you use the CLI (Command Line Interface) and enter your new rules manually. IPFW (the Lion firewall) still works, but is deprecated, which means that it will stop working in a future OS version. I wish someone could make a Mac OS port of iptables!! Apple’s rudimentary firewall setup is too simple and too cumbersome to be trusted for protecting your server.
  2. The log displaying facility is also seriously reduced in the new Server app. Several logs that could be seen in Lion’s equivalent app, are not shown now. For a sysadmin that’s a serious problem.

In general, the server side of Mountain Lion seems to be very administrator unfriendly. This reduction in capabilities didn’t happen for the first time, it occured when we moved from Leopard to Snow Leopard and then to Lion and now it occurs again. It seems as if Apple doesn’t want SysAdmins to set up the machines in they way they want, but in the way Apple wants them. Strange!

Apple Mountain Lion

Most Apple users are aware that Apple just released the latest version of its Mac operating system, namely Mac OS-X 10.8 or Mountain Lion, as it is known. While I usually wait for a week or two before installing a new OS, this time I decided to install it, the day it was released. So far, no problems, except the fact that the bulbs below open applications, on the Dock are very small and hence difficult to see. I think I had a patch installed in Lion, which made them bigger, but I can’t find it right now.

So if someone knows how to get back my bigger, lovely Lion bulbs, drop me a note, I would appreciate it.

Some more thoughts on the Fuji X100

While my rants about the X100 may make visitors think that I do not like the camera, the contrary is true. I love it. The pictures I get from it, have the same IQ (and for the uninitiated that means “Image Quality”) as those I get with my Nikon D700 when used with some of my prime lenses. Only the Fuji weights about 500 gr while the D700 about 1,0 Kg.

I do use the Fuji more than all my other cameras these days, and if it wasn’t for the bad feelings I have for not shooting some of my film babies lately, I wouldn’t mind at all leaving the D700 and the D300 in the closet.

The issue I have with the X100, is just that I can’t stand some of its peculiarities. For example, why can’t focus be initiated by the AE-L/AF-L button, in all modes?!? Or why the Focus rectange in MF is not resizeable, while it is in AF-S. These things are easily fixable in the camera’s firmware, so I am wondering why isn’t Fuji fixing them.

Oh, yes, there are also some morons on the Internet, who are supposed to be close to Fuji (is that the only relation they have with the company?!?!?), who try to justify these inconsistencies with crazy excuses. Today, in another forum dedicated to Fuji X-cameras, where one of those “Fuji cameras are perfect as they are” morons frequents, a member asked this same question “Why is the focusing rectangle in MF not resizeable?”. And here is the moron’s answer:

There isn’t an AF box in MF mode. The box you mean is a magnifier frame, bit since there’s currently only one magnification setting available (16x, I guess), there’s currently no reason for an adjustable box. There’s simply nothing to adjust to. This will change once Fuji update their firmware to allow multiple magnification settings. Then, the box will change along with it. Wait until June.

He had given me the same answer some time ago, when I had asked the same question and when I asked him which area of the viewfinder is used to focus the camera, in MF, when I press the AE-L/AF-L button, he had no answer to give me. There is certainly a section of the viewfinder, that is used for focusing the camera in MF mode, and that section corresponds exactly to that rectangle, as the awful firmware 1.20 has shown to every X100 user. Except that according to this moron, that is not a focusing rectangle, it is a magnifier frame. So which is the area used for focusing, if it is not that rectangle? And this guy should be close to Fuji, because he knows that these things (or at least some of them) will be fixed in the next firmware version, which will come out (according to him) in June.

Fuji, those people are not doing you any justice. They are destroying your image in their effort to defend the issues your cameras have. If they are so close to you, as they want to appear in public to be, may I humbly suggest that you put some ice on their heads?

The X100 issues are by now well-known to the entire photographic community. Why don’t you guys address those issues and come up with a time schedule for fixing them? We would all applaud and no one will hold you liable if you are off a few days or weeks. But pretending there are no issues and having those morons defend you in public, is much worst than acknowledging them.

Another round in the X100 match

Well, yesterday, Fujifilm released the new firmware for the X100, version 1.20.

From Fuji’s web site here are the “improvements”:

  • 1. Some functions, which can be set to “Fn” button and shown as “Fn BUTTON” in SET-UP menu, can be also set to RAW button. After pressing the command dial to right in the SET-UP menu of “Fn BUTTON”, “Fn” and “RAW” are displayed and each of selectable them,
    Also, by holding down RAW button for more than 3 seconds, same type of selection menu for RAW button is displayed, just as short-cut procedure.
  • 2. By selecting in “ISO” menu in the shooting menu, either ISO sensitivity value or “ISO AUTO CONTROL” can be selected.
  • 3. When AF MODE is set to “AREA” in Single AF (AF-S) mode, active focus point is zoomed in (magnified to approx 5x) by pressing center of the command control.
  • 4. When “ND FILTER” is set to “Fn” button or “RAW” button, setting between ON (“ND” is displayed) or OFF (“ND” is NOT displayed) can be changeable by pressing “Fn” button or “RAW” button, which is set for “ND FILTER”.
  • 5. When the image is shot with vertical angle of the camera and played back the shot in the LCD, the image is displayed with whole area of LCD even after pressing “playback zoom in” button.
  • 6. When the human face is shot, the detected face is displayed during the playing back, and pressing the command dial to down, detected face is magnified during displaying.
  • 7. AE control system and AF performance including AF speed has been improved for movie recording mode.

Unfortunately, while it appears that Fujifilm did listen to some user complaints, again, in reality Fuji is taking two steps forward and one step backwards. Here is an explanation.

1. While it appears that Fuji has improved the response of the autofocus mechanism when the camera is set to AF-S mode, a lot of users are complaining about problems with the camera set at MF mode. I still didn’t had time to shoot any tests of my own, but I am sure all those complaining about these issues are NOT crazy.

2. While the ability to have some function assigned to the RAW button, at the rear of the camera was something every X100 user has been asking for, since the day the camera was launched, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Say for example you set the RAW button to activate/deactivate the ND filter the camera has. This will be next to useless for one simple reason. The RAW button (and its assigned function) gets locked, when you lock the control wheel at the rear of the camera. The control wheel is used for things like turning on the flash, changing the white balance, entering the lens macro mode, or changing the shooting mode (from pictures to video for example). All these are not changed very often, when you are out shooting pictures. The ND filter though needs to be switched on for one picture and off for the next one. That button shouldn’t get locked, when you lock the control wheel.

3. It is reported by some users that the turns required to manually focus the lens from infinity to its closest focusing distance has been reduced from ten plus, to two. If this is possible, then why not reduce the number of turns to 3/4 of a full turn? I have never seen a lens that needs two full turns to go from infinity to 30 cm. Why not reduce it even further?

Again, Fuji firmware programmers seem to be a totally disorganized team, with no central guidance or with guidance by someone who has never used any camera to take pictures. Who decides how new features are implemented and why? Who gives photographers a very useful feature (for example the ability to activate/deactivate the ND filter at the press of a switch) and then negates it, by allowing that button to be locked when the control wheel is locked? Who authorizes the reduction of turns required to focus the lens from ten to two and doesn’t understand that two full turns are way too much for a 35mm lens?!?!?

Fuji, wake up. You have in your hands a camera that has become a cult object among photographers. It has the capability to become the Leica M3 of the digital era, the revolutionary camera of our times. Assign a photographer as the head of your firmware team, someone who can understand what photographers want and need. Someone who understands how a camera is used by photographers. Fix the bloody camera and I am sure all X100 users will love you. Keep doing the same mistakes and I can see a flood of X100 being sold in Ebay.

X100 issues (continued)

I’ve been puzzled with this camera. On one hand I love the pictures I take with it, and on the other, I hate the way it works so much, I feel like selling it and forget about it.

Last issue I discovered has to do with the way the camera handles its external flash.

I already have two Nikon SB-800 flashes, but the X100 uses a special, dedicated flash (well, Fujifilm offers two dedicated flashes, the EF-20 and the EF-40, I got the EF-20) so I got one, in order to have a complete X100 system.

After trying out the flash though, it looks as if the programmers who wrote X100 firmware, have never taken a single picture with a digital camera. Let me explain to you what I mean.

With my Nikons (they both have a build-in flash, like the X100), if you mount an external flash on the camera, it is immediately ready to be used. If you switch the flash on, it will fire. If you remove the external flash and open the internal one, then the internal flash will fire. Not so on the Fujifilm. After you mount the flash on the camera and switch it on, the flash will stay there and will not fire, until you turn it on, by pressing the right arrow on the camera’s turn-wheel controller and select the “Always fire” from the menu that will appear. OK, let’s accept that, it’s one more step but you can live with it, right? Well, yes, you can, until you remove the external flash from the camera. Next time you fire the camera, the internal flash will fire!!! Ah? I do not want that, I can hear you say. And right you are, you do not want the internal flash to fire, you set the “Always fire” mode for the external flash, right? Well, not according to Fuji programmers.

Oh wait, there is another menu setting, called “Set external flash” and you can set it to “Off”, “On” or “On (Commander)”. OK, you set it to “On” and everything seems to work as it should, except that …. if the external flash is not mounted on the camera, the internal flash can NOT be used. Ah? Come again? Why the setting for the external flash affects the operation of the internal one?!?!?

No, seriously, the people who wrote the X100 firmware, have they ever shot one picture with a camera? Have they ever been sent out to take some pictures? Have they ever tried a camera from a competitor and compare it with the X100? I can’t believe that these people have written this firmware with those stupid flaws in it.

What is even worst, is that it appears that Fujifilm is very happy with the number of X100s they have sold so far, and they do not plan to come up with a firmware upgrade any time soon. They are too busy with their new camera, the interchangeable lenses X-Pro1, to worry about the X100 issues. I sincerely hope this is not true. If it is, then I believe that the X100 purchase was the worst decision I’ve made in my photographer’s life. Even worst than my decision to buy the Leica M6.