Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 2011 Astrophotography

Yes, the month is not over, but I know I'm already done with astrophotos for this April, which is the wettest in Northeast Ohio's history and that shown no sign of getting any better for the remaining couple of days, either. Here's hoping for a clearer May!

For anyone who's into wide angle astrophotography, consider buying an ultrawide lens with a field of view of 100 degrees or more, they're truly amazing for all-sky shots. The photos below were captured with my Tokina 17mm f3.5 ATX-PRO on a full frame Nikon D700, which results in a 104 degree angle field of view.

 The Southern Summer sky.

 Note how tiny the Summer Triangle appears with a 104 degree FOV lens!

The entire spring sky!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

March 2011 Astrophotography

Yes, back to being late about posting photos again, but here are the astrophotos I managed to get for March. Not much by any means but I've just beentoo busy (until now) to even get around to uploading them to the computer. Anyway, enjoy.

As for the photos themselves, all were taken with the Nikon D700 with about 10 seconds exposure time ona  fixed tripod. ISO ranged from 800-1600 for most images. Some of the shots have been cropped, too.


 Canis Major


 The Little Dipper

 Moon and Venus

 Orion (duh!)

 The Pleiades (7 Sisters)

Taurus (note the 'V' shaped Hyades at bottom)

And now, for some event shots. . .

 The "Supermoon" of March. Nikon D700 with 80-400 Tokina lens at 400mm. Now, all I need to do is shoot a Full Moon near apogee.

The Equinox sunrise. It's been a couple of years since I did a sunrise composite, so I thought I'd try another one this year. Here's the firsst leg of that endeavor.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth: Our Pale Blue Dot

Earth as seen from a distance of about 3.7 billion miles away via Voyager 1. Can't find it? It's the tiny speck about mid way down the right, brown column.

Today is Earth Day, a  holiday designed to promote environmental awareness. Now, while many people take our world for granted, opinions may change upon viewing our home, so far as we know, the only world capable of supporting life in the entire universe, from a distance of about 3.7 billion miles.

On February 14, 1990, its mission completed, Voyager 1 turned back towards the Sun and started snapping photos of the solar system. Being a narrow-field camera, it took 4 months to finally get enough images to assemble a composite image of our planetart family. One of the images was especially stirring: the Earth, less than a pixel in size, silhouetted against the blackness of space. This photo and the name attached to it by Carl Sagan, who referred to Earth as a “pale blue dot,” would forever alter our perception of our place in the universe.

Suddenly, our world, not to mention ourselves, seemed a lot less important in the greater scheme of things.

So, on this April 22, 2011, take a moment to cherish the Earth, our only home in the cosmos and the perfect set of circumstances that, by the longest of odds, came together in just the right manner so as to make life here possible.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Brief History of Alien Hoaxes

This 'alien' is really painted bread and chicken!

A few days ago, a Youtube video purportedly showing a dead space alien in Siberia went viral, getting over 3.5 million hits in less than 3 days before the video was revealed to be a hoax. In short, the space alien turned out to be painted chicken and bread. Now, story over, this video will now go into the historical vault of alien hoaxes, some interesting, some far-fetched, others very convincing, and some all of the above.

Now for some of the most famous alien hoaxes in history.

A scene ran in the New York Sun that supposedly depicts life onthe Moon.
The New York Sun's “Great Moon Hoax” (1835)
In August, 1835, a series of sensational claims of life on the Moon came to the world via the New York Sun newspaper. In the article, the Sun announced that John Herschel (son of William Herschel) had invented a new, giant telescope that was so powerful that he could see life on the lunar surface. The first article in the series dealt with the 24 foot diameter telescope that was also armed with a magnifying lens that gave it its previously unheard of power. In this article, there were hints that, should there be life on the Moon, Herschel would find it. The following days dealt with Herschel's discoveries of plant and animal life on the Moon, which included human-like creatures. Next came claims of architecture, signifying complex lunar society. To some, this all seemed too incredible to be true, which is exactly what it was, the hoax being unmasked when newspapers in Europe (where the story is supposed to have originated), failed to corroborate the Sun's claims.

Orson Welles in his radio studio.

War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (1938)
On Halloween Eve, 1938, many people were convinced that the end of the world was at hand. Why? Radio broadcasts were claiming that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were using heat rays and gas to kill all the humans they came into contact with. Everything seemed normal that night until the regularly-scheduled broadcast was interrupted by a special news bulletin, claiming that a strange meteor had fallen to Earth in New Jersey. After that, the music resumed, only to be interrupted again with further developments, which included how the meteorite was actually a space ship containing killer Martians. Needless to say, mass panic ensued despite several statements during the broadcast saying that everything was a dramatization. The following day, the man behind the play, a young Orson Welles, held a press conference where he apologized for any panic that his show caused the previous night, stating that he was profoundly “embarrassed” over the fiasco. Yes, while Welles may have been embarrassed, he probably wasn't half as embarrassed as all of those people who ran panic-stricken into the streets and to their cars in order to make an escape from what they thought was certain death.

Despite long being known as a fake, Aztec's hoaxed UFO crash is still making money.
The Aztec/Scully Hoax (1948)
In 1947, the American public started seeing strange objects in the sky en-mass. After the reported flying saucer crash at Roswell, NM in July, 1947, saucer mania gripped the jittery nation. Then, in March, 1948, two men, Silas Newton and Leo Gebauer, claimed to be in possession of wreckage from a flying saucer that crashed near the town of Aztec, NM. However, not being content making up stories about the flying saucer itself, the pair tried to cash in on their discovery by selling the wreckage. Unfortunately, this proved the pair's undoing. When some buyers closely examined the wreckage, they found it to be of very Earthly origin. One of the buyers then reported the pair to the FBI. In 1953, both men were convicted of fraud. In an ironic twist, seeing how the residents of Roswell capitalized on their supposed UFO crash, Aztec started holding similar, money-making UFO gatherings. Well, at least this is legal profit as stupidity is not a crime!

This is not a Roswell crash victim, but a dummy.
Alien Autopsy (1995)
Perhaps the most sensational alien hoax of them all, the alien autopsy video came at the right time at the hands of the right people. In the mid 1990s with the millennium right around the corner, general interest in the paranormal was on the rise. As for the video itself, it was 'discovered' by Ray Santilli, a music producer who knew a thing or two about putting a marketing campaign together. First announcing the find in may, Santilli carefully fed the press tantalizing tidbits of information in a lead-up to the film's airing on national TV in August in a special titled “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction”. The special took top ratings in its time slot in its original and subsequent airings. However, experts were divided over authenticity of the film in a debate that would rage for over a decade. Ironically, the hoax was exposed after Santilli himself produced a documentary about the alien autopsy footage, obviously trying to milk the story for all it was worth. In a 2006 interview, Santilli admitted that the footage aired on TV was a fake, a recreation of real footage that had deteriorated too much to be aired on TV. Obviously, this admission destroyed any remaining belief in the autopsy film's authenticity, which was marketed as “100% authentic” a decade before. Oh yes, the real footage has never come to light, either.

The Morristown Lights, which were really flares tied to balloons.
The Morristown Lights (2009)
In January and February, 2009 reports of strange lights over Morris County, NJ started to flood local police departments. After reviewing reports, the police wee skeptical; but UFO believers were adamant that the lights were real and, assisted by a lack of skepticism in the media, the story quickly took off and went national, even being featured on “UFO Hunters,” a History Channel program. A few months later, on April Fool's Day, several men came forward saying that they had hoaxed the lights by tying flares to helium balloons. Proof of the duplicity? Photos of the perpetrators in the act. The motive: to show how easily a gullible public can be led to believe something that's not real. Well guys, by and large, you succeeded.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Case for Manned Spaceflight

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon: the pinnacle of exploration

A week ago today, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic Vostok 1 mission, the first to place a human in orbit. Now, come 2011, the drive to reach for the stars has stagnated in the face of excessive government spending, demands for more financial responsibility, and the lack of national pride being on the line with a superpower adversary racing us to the Moon. Basically, while it was full speed ahead to the Moon in 1961, in 2011, the attitude is often one of “why bother exploring space at all?”
Well, on the most basic level, our survival as a species depends on it.

Nothing, not even the Earth, will last forever. If in the course of a few billion years we do not destroy our civilization through war or make our one and only home in the universe uninhabitable through uncontrolled population growth, resource depletion, global pollution, or any combination of the above, our life-giving Sun will evolve into a world-devouring monster that will, without question, destroy Earth's potential to support life, if not the planet itself.

In time, the Sun will expand, destroying the Earth in the process.

Like people, stars are born, mature into 'adulthood,' grow old, and die. The glowing clouds of nebular gasses that so enchant modern astronomers and astrophotographers are, in reality, stellar corpses, the remains of stars that have died after using up all of the fuel that kept them shining brightly for millions, perhaps billions of years. When a star is in the prime of life, it fuses hydrogen atoms into helium, releasing untold amounts of energy the equivalent of billions of thermonuclear explosions a second. Why does the star then not blow itself up? Gravity. While the force of the nuclear fusion seeks to push out a star and make it expand, the star's own gigantic mass produces a gravitational force that keeps the star in a state of equilibrium between these two, competing forces.

A star begins to die when it uses up all of its hydrogen fuel. The nuclear fusion stopped but gravity still going strong, the star contracts into itself thanks to gravity. However, as the star contracts, it heats up to the point where it can start fusing helium nuclei together, releasing far more energy than it would with hydrogen fusion. Result: the extreme amount of energy released by the helium fusion somewhat overcomes the force of gravity, thus causing the star to swell to several times its original size, its outer atmosphere cooling as it expands. So, despite its growth in size to the red giant phase, the star is living on borrowed time as it will continue the cycle of burning an element, contracting, fusing an even heavier element, expanding, and so-on until iron is the next material in line for fusion. Unfortunately, iron fusion cannot occur because it takes more energy to fuse the nuclei than the fusion itself will generate. Result: fusion stops and the star dies. In the case of the Sun, the Earth will have long since been engulfed by the swollen star itself by the time fusion stops. However, the Sun need not engulf Earth to destroy its life-giving potential. As the Sun expands, all the water will evaporate, the planet will heat up, and eventually the atmosphere will dissipate, leaving a hot, irradiated world inhospitable to life. So, if we are to survive as a species, we must journey back to the stars from which we came, hence the importance of space exploration.

Now, some may be saying “that's billions of years from now, so why worry about that now?” My response? In all likelihood, we don't have billions of years to ponder our fate.

Right now, the Earth itself is at a precarious point in its history. The Industrial Revolution, a common study in history books in the Western world, is an in-progress event in much of the so-called “Third World.” Right now, the world's two most populous countries, China and India, are on an incredible rise to industry in an unbelievable rate. Result: these emerging world economies are polluting themselves as they modernize, supposedly for the better. Right now, China and Indian urban areas are among the most polluted on Earth. In fact, it's a wonder that Beijing got the Olympic Summer Games in 2008, considering its horrid air quality, which it managed to improve, at least temporarily, for the Games. Now, while the pollution may be somewhat nationalized (at least at this point), the demand for energy is a worldwide problem.

The Industrial Revolution was built on fossil fuels: first coal, then oil, and finally gas. Right now, all three fuels are being utilized to drive the world economy at an ever faster pace. Problem: as more countries modernize, more sources of energy will have to be found as, right now, we face the probable depletion of both oil and natural gas within our lifetimes if more sources are not found. Coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, will hold out longer with current reserves. Obviously, when the world's energy sources are depleted, the world economy will grind to a halt and our very way of life will be changed irreversibility. In a way, the planet itself will be used up.

We need not have to wait for the Sun to turn into a monster in order to destroy our world. We're doing a “good” job of that already, which creates a more pressing need to journey to space.

The old adage goes that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. One way or the other, we will be forced to leave our current home, the Earth, at some point in the future. Hopefully, by the time that event comes, we will have sufficiently learned enough from our history to do better on our second try at establishing a home, whether it be on a spaceship or on another planet. However, why should we have to wait for our current world to fail us before we start to correct our erroneous ways? By journeying into space, we are immediately forced to confront many issues that Earth-bound leaders are desperately trying to put off for the time being.

Those shiny metal panels aren't for decoration!

 First up: sustainable use of energy and resources. There are no fossil fuels in the cosmic expanse that is space. Result: we must learn to live self-sufficiently. On the current International Space Station as well as the past Mir and Skylab, power has come from a very practical, yet often ignored on Earth source: the Sun itself. Thanks to today's high technology, sunlight offers more potential than ever to be converted into other forms of energy, as is currently being done on the International Space Station. The best part about solar energy is that, at least in some areas, it is limitless, virtually free after the initial investment, and creates no pollution, either. In short, lessons on efficient use of energy learned in space can be used to improve life on Earth.
Second: food production. Right now, Earth is on an unsustainable path when it comes to an expanding population. Until the Industrial Revolution came about in the 1800s, world population growth was a very linear, slow process. However, since the boom of industry, population expansion has gone from arithmatic to geometric. One of the first men to warn of such unchecked growth was Thomas Malthus. In his writings, Malthus warned that, should humans fail to take the necessary steps to voluntarily curb population growth, outside checks in the forms of famine, disease, and war would do it for us. However, more often than not, the warnings of Malthus were ignored in favor of optimistic visions of the future wherein improved technology would solve food production problems. So far, the technology has, by and large, averted the catastrophes predicted by Malthus. However, while technology may be winning the race today, who's to say what will happen in the future? So, with the prospect of technology failing at a point, what better time than now to explore alternate methods of food production in space? Right now, hydroponic gardens are nothing new, so why not try them in large scale on the ISS? Think about it, if new, efficient techniques of food production could be developed in space, they could be transferred to Earth where they could be applied in places that would otherwise be unsuitable for farming. Such as the roofs of big city highrise buildings. So, besides observation decks and communication towers on the top of skyscrapers, why not greenhouse gardens?

Earth from space: can you see the national borders?

A third lesson learned from space exploration already proving fruitful is international cooperation. It's funny how national boundaries disappear when the Earth is viewed from hundreds of miles (or hundreds of thousands of miles in the case of the Moon) up in against the blackness of interstellar space. Only from this perspective can we humans realize that we live on what amounts to a tiny island in the vastness of an infinite, inhospitable sea that is the universe. Like it or not, we're all in the endeavor called global civilization together and, thanks to weapons of mass destruction, we are now a species that has the potential to, through a few rash actions, destroy not only our high civilization but also all life on our planet itself. By looking at our history, this is as very real possibility. For over 50 years, the world was held hostage in a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, each nation promising to destroy the other in the case of nuclear attack. Ironically, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction can be acronymed as MAD. Now, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of nuclear proliferation, these same weapons can fall into the hands of rogue nations and terrorists, neither of which would likely hesitate to use them against perceived “enemies.” Even more frightening is the prospect of germ warfare unleashed by a rogue nation or terrorist group. Unlike nuclear weapons, a germ holocaust would not be difficult to unleash. Take a tiny amount of a super germ, release it in a major city with airports, and, in the course of a few hours, simultaneous outbreaks all over the world could turn into a global pandemic before science could have a chance to mobilize a counter attack to try and halt the spread of disease. In stark contrast, international relations in space have been very productive. By looking at the videos of the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975, one would forget that the two sponsoring nations were enemies on Earth when there was such harmony in space. In the intervening years, the tradition of Apollo-Soyuz has continued with Earthly concerns seemingly forgotten when astronauts of different nations are put together as partners in a common endeavor hundreds of miles above the conflict on Earth. Needless to say, we on Earth could learn a lot from our fellow humans in space to make life on our home planet better for all.

Looking back at scientific literature of the 1960s, it is not hard to see why so many writers believed that we humans would be living on massive cities in space and colonizing other worlds come the turn of the millennium.. At the start of 1957, humans had yet to launch anything into space. 10 years later, NASA was drawing up its final plans for landing a man on the Moon. Think about it: in 10 years, humans had gone from being an Earth-only species to one on the cusp of journeying to another world. So, when the present was the 60s, it seemed every bit feasible that such quick advancements would continue far into the future.

So, were did we go wrong? Answer: the political climate changed.

In 1961, president John F. Kennedy famously declared that America would land a man on the Moon and return him to Earth before the end of the decade. While that may have been just talk in another time, before or after, in the 1960s, it was serious business as the Cold War was on the verge of becoming a hot one. While coming about with neutral aims, rocketry quickly became a military science. By the 1950s and the advent of nuclear weapons, the capabilities of a given nation's rockets was a symbol of that country's power. The longer the rockets could fly, the greater the capability of delivering atomic death over vast distances. When the USSR launched Sputnik into orbit in 1957, it was obvious that Soviet rocketry was ahead of American capabilities. Theoretically, with rockets capable of launching payloads into orbit, the Soviets could rain death from the heavens of any city in the world. So, in order to keep the balance of power eve, American scientists had to work fast to equal their Soviet rivals. And they did. However, after the end of the Space Race, which America won by landing Apollo 11 on the Moon, the desire to compete subsided to the point that, by the mid 70s, Americans and Russians would cooperate on the first international space mission.
Another reason that the quest to explore space faltered was this: money. In 1961 when President Kennedy made his famous pledge, the economy was on the upswing, a trend that would continue through 1966. However, even as the first Apollo rockets were lifting off into space, there was trouble below. By the late 60s, the cost of President Johnson's Great Society welfare programs and the Vietnam War were combining to overburden even America's economy. By the end of the decade, America was into a recession that would last, with small rises but many more plunges, into the 1980s. Simply put, the money as well as the public's appetite for space exploration (remember, we won the Space race with Apollo 11) dried up.

In short, these two factors conspired to end the rapid ascension of space science and, without the impetus of the Space Race, the money that launched us into space was diverted elsewhere, the technology was left to stagnate, and the science itself was deemed an unworthy reason to explore space. Result: over 40 years after the first Moon landing, America is incapable of repeating the feat despite the wondrous advances in technology that have been made since 1969, a truly inexcusable blunder, one of the great mistakes in history that, to a lesser degree, parallels Europe's descent into the 1,000 year Dark Ages after reaching the pinnacle of achievement that was the classical Greco-Roman civilization. Now, just like scientists of the Renaissance, we are forced to reinvent what was a mastered technology in the past, probably spending far more money than would have been spent by continuing the Apollo Program and shifting the focus to permanent Moon bases.

To survive as a species, man must explore space and governments must find the funds to pursue this life-preserving undertaking. Yes, while the Sun may have a lifetime of about 10 billion years and thus, probably another 2 to 3 billion years of stability during which life on Earth can continue to exist without feeling the heat, chances are that we humans will use up our planet before then, thus necessitating a much earlier move into space. So, instead of pretending that the looming crisis doesn't exist, we as a species must confront the problems now by developing the capabilities to live in space in the future and perhaps improving life on Earth at the same time, too. If we are to survive, we must embrace our destiny as a space-faring civilization, the sooner the better.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12: a Historic Day for Space Exploration

April 12 is a historic day in the annals of manned spaceflight as it is this date that marks a pair of historic firsts: Yuri Gagarin's becoming the first human in orbit (1961) and the first flight of a space Shuttle (1981). All over the world, people are celebrating Gagarin's first sojourn into the final frontier and in America, people are also celebrating the start of NASA's longest-running manned mission program, the space shuttle, which is set to draw to a close this year.
It was on April 12, 1961, that humanity became a space-faring race. For 108 glorious minutes, planet Earth was minus one inhabitant as Yuri Gagarin was completing one orbit around the planet that had been our species' and, so far as we know, life's only home in all the cosmos. When Gagarin touched down just past an hour and a half after liftoff, the world was a changed place as was our place in the universe. No more would man be a species tied to a planet, we finally had the means to journey back to the stars from which we came.

20 years after Gagarin, in 1981, manned missions into space had become routine, with 'routine' being a very relative term. So, in the age of economizing as national pride was no longer at stake (America won the space race in 1969 with Apollo 11), NASA had been looking for ways to enter space on the cheap via a re-usable space transport system. The result of this goal: the space shuttle, which would launch like a rocket and land like a plane. When shuttle Columbia lifted off on April 12, 1981, everyone at NASA was on pins and needles as they waited to see how the most complex machine ever built (over 1 million moving parts) acted in a real life mission. The rest, as they say, is history as the space shuttle program would go about ferrying astronauts back and forth from Earth to space and back again for 30 years.
For space enthusiasts the world over, today is a time to celebrate mankind's short, yet epic journey into the vastness of space. However, while looking back at past achievements is perfectly fine, the real goal of space exploration should be the future. Today, with the United States having ambitious plans to reach Mars by 2030 with the help of, for the first time, private industry, there is no reason why this generation shouldn't get to witness the historic moments that those of the past got to experience 50 and 30 years ago today.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nikon D700 Running Review: User Interface

When playing around with a camera, the first thing you have to do is pick it up and start playing around with the buttons. Many casual snap shooters ignore this fact and buy a camera without ever giving it an in-hand “test drive,” preferring the spec sheet instead. Real photographers? They always like to get touchy-feely with their cameras before deciding for or against a purchase. For these people, in-hand feel and positioning of buttons is often a make or break feature more so than the image quality itself.

At first look, the D700 is extremely intimidating, especially to a beginner who is used to having a lot fewer buttons on a camera, whether it be P&S or dSLR.. Now, while there is a learning curve to the camera, the great news is that, once one becomes proficient with the controls, you can change every vital setting without ever having to enter the menu system, which is a capability that sets the D700 apart from the scores of lesser cameras on the market at the entry and prosumer levels.

Nikon D700: the back controls.Starting on the back side and at the upper left of the D700, there are two buttons that will allow you to enter playback mode and delete pictures. While the enter playback button is standard across all models and makes, the ability to delete images without menu diving is a real plus.

Moving down the left side of the camera, one notices that the D700 has 5 buttons (only 1 of which is dual). The good news is that all of these buttons are very simple in their functions. Going from top to bottom, the buttons are for: entering the menu, protecting images, zooming out in playback, zooming in during playback, and confirming menu selections. The image protect button is the only one with dual functions (as are common on lesser Nikons) in that it can also be used as a help button when in the menus.

Looking at the right side of the D700 and working from the top down, one notices that the 'AF-ON' button which, in in my opinion, is a waste of a button in that it serves the same function as half pressing the shutter button, namely focusing the lens (but without the taking pictures part). Next up is the 'AE-L/AF-L' button, which can lock exposure and focus modes to prevent accidental setting changes by bumping buttons. To me, this does seem like a bit of a waste, too, but apparently some people use it as Nikon wouldn't include the function if there wasn't a demand. The real treat is that the D700 can use this button to also control metering by turning the outer dial to standard, center-weighted, or spot meter mode. Moving down, the multi-selector has an unmarked 'OK' button at the center and the lock switch positioned around the controller itself. Moving down, you'll bump into the 3-way AF area mode selector, another handy, on-camera control. At the very bottom of the camera, you'll find an info button.

Nikon D700: top right controls.
Moving to the top right of the camera, things are really simple and functional in that the shutter/power/LCD light switch control setup is all built into one simple control. On the right side of the shutter release, you'll find the exposure compensation button nearest the right side of the camera. The left button is an exposure mode function.

Nikon D700: top left controls.

Coming to the top left of the camera, we see functionality exemplified. First, there is drive control mode dial, which includes functions like frame rate, self-timer, quiet mode, and mirror lock up. The letters on this dial aren't as easy to see than on the newer D7000 because, on the older version, the letters are printed on the top of the dial, not on the side. However, the good news is that the lock button is very well placed on the front of the dial so that you can release the dial with your finger and spin it with your thumb. In contrast, the D7000 has the release idiotically positioned behind the dial, which greatly complicates the process of spinning it and thus, changing settings. What really sets the D700 apart from lesser Nikons is the inclusion of single-function buttons for ISO, white balance, and file quality while lesser cameras have a more amateurish mode dial (the ISO, WB, and quality functions are assigned to other, dual-function buttons, or worse, the LCD menu).

Nikon D700: the front.
Finally, onto the front of the camera. On the left side of the prism there is the flash pop-up control. On the left of the lens mount is the focus mode selection lever, with choices being manual, continuous, and single. Personally, this “invisible” button is the only real fault I can find in the D700's control layout. However, this is probably due to necessity as this lever also disengages the camera's mechanical drive AF in a way a button/lever somewhere else couldn't. In addition, there are only 3 settings and one can quickly get to learn them. Also, there are connection ports on the front of the D700 which, unlike on older cameras, are attached via a rubber strap so that you can't accidentally lose the port covers. For the final control, on the right side of the camera is the depth of field preview button, which is accessed simply by lifting a finger off the grip. In addition, there is a second button, too. Both buttons can also be assigned other functions.

Like I already said, yes, the D700 can be very intimidating for a first-time Nikonian or someone moving up from a lesser Nikon. However, once you get used to the controls, they'll be your best friends as, thanks to so many external buttons, levers, and knobs, one can change just about any setting without resorting to menu diving, which will save untold pictures in the future.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nikon Announces D5100, ME-1 Microphone

The Nikon D5100.

The rumor mill has proven true this time as Nikon officially announced its new D5100 dSLR today. As the successor to the D5000, the D5100 slots in between the D3100 and D7000 as the upper of the “cheap” Nikons. Expected retail price: $899.95 for the camera and 18-55VR kit lens with a hundred less taking the body-only version.

In terms of features, the camera is more a D5000 rewarmed in the microwave than a revolution in design. In fact, many of the specs. on the new 5100 are the same as on the 5000. The major headline feature is that the new camera can now do HD video and has a side (rather than bottom) articulating LCD screen. About the only imaging improvement is the addition of Nikon's new 16Mp sensor.
So, would I buy the D5100? If I was a casual snapper who wanted a good camera but was not willing to go over $1,000, yes. For serious photographers, just skip this one and go straight to the D7000 or higher for virtually full compatibility with all AI and newer Nikkor optics. After all, there is a lot more to SLR photography than the camera itself.

Launched in tandem with the D5100 (and obviously done so to capitalize on the camera's movie making capabilities) is the ME-1 external microphone that fits right into the camera's hot shoe like a flash unit. The kicker: according to Nikon, the microphone is smart enough to know what external sounds (like focusing lenses) are not wanted so it can then block them from being recorded. The ME-1 is also compatible with other video-shooting Nikons and is set to sell for $179.99.

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