Monday, May 30, 2011

Nikon D700 Running Review: Live View


When the D700 launched in summer, 2008, live view in dSLRs was still a bit of a novelty, having only found widespread acceptance the year before after Canon included the feature on its flagship dSLR: the 1D Mark III. With Canon now in the live view game (Olympus was the first), everyone else soon followed suit. The once bashed gimmick had turned into an industry standard.

So, what of live view on the D700?

Well, being someone who had only experienced live view with a P&S cam, it is a bit awkward. First up, one has to put the camera into live view mode (no big shock there), but the “fun” of sorts starts once live view is enabled. The first thing you'll notice is that, when the camera is set to live view, the rear LCD doesn't automatically illuminate, one has to press the shutter button half way (as in regular AF) to do this. Once done, the mirror lifts, the viewfinder goes dark, and the screen pops on to give a remarkable live image in all its 920,000 pixel glory. Now, with the live view mode going, one uses the 'AF-ON' button on the back of the camera to focus the image.

Speaking of live view AF, it's nothing to write home about. In standard mode (the other option will come later), the contrast detect AF, while accurate, is all over the board when it comes to speed. Sometimes as “quick” a any common P&S cam and at other times as painfully slow as the Moon coming up (as an astronomer, I've seen a lot of rising Moons!). When talking slow, I mean that AF can be seriously sloooooooowwwwwww, as in taking several seconds to find focus. Another annoying trait of the D700's contrast detection AF is its tendency to go past focus and then have to correct. Again, though, when locked, AF is always spot-on, but the once in a lifetime photo-op is more than likely a thing of the past.
Okay, back to the process. Once focused, one has to press the shutter button all the way to snap the picture, as normal. However, when one snaps the picture, the screen goes dark rather than coming right back on as it would do with a P&S camera. If wanting to continue in live view, one has to repeat the process all over again. In the end, the D700's live view mode is definitely nowhere near as convenient as that on a P&S cam and, when combined with the sometimes painfully slow AF, becomes more of a liability than a benefit when shooting anything where time is even of the slightest concern.

Now to the alternate live view focusing method.

In standard (Hand-Held) mode, the live view displays the whole image when focusing. However, there is another method to AF, which one has to select via the menu. Designed for tripod use and named accordingly (Tripod Mode), the second focus mode allows you to zoom into the image (up to a 13x view) when in the act of focus. In AF, focus is still insanely slow at times. On the other hand, the zoomed in view really comes into its own when focusing manually on a stationary subject. In fact, this method is the one I always leave the camera set to as I find manual focus with magnification a lot faster to focus than the AF in live view mode. As an astrophotographer, this is a dream come true when focusing on stars through a telescope where there is no focus confirm in the viewfinder thanks to a lack of electronic communication between camera and 'lens.' Want proof? Check out the below photo of the Moon, focused live at full 13x magnification. Also, any birder who uses astronomical telescopes will find this function immensely useful when trying to get perfect focus for a bird sitting in a tree.

 The full view.


At about 13x magnification,  boon for astrophotographers!



Bottom line: the live view of the D700 is a double-edged sword. First up: the bad. AF in live view mode is terrible, the camera is practically unusable. The good news: the D700's 920,000 dot LCD screen provides stunning details when used in live view and, this coupled with the ability to zoom in as one focuses manually, makes the live view great for anyone photographing stationary, far-away subjects.


More on the D700:
Build Quality
User Interface



 

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Complete List of Weather-Resistant Nikon Lenses

Yes, this is about Nikon lenses but I'm showing a white Canon because the weather seal (the black rubber gasket around the lens mount) is a lot easier to see here than on a black Nikkor.

Being a new Nikonian, one thing I always wondered was what Nikkor optics were weather-resistant. Unfortunately, I haven't succeeded in finding a concise list of such lenses anywhere. So, seeing a solution rather than a problem, I decided to compile one myself. So, if you're in the same boat I was in, here you go: a concise list of weather resistant Nikkors. Know someone else you think would find this useful? Why not pass it on?

Companies are quick to tout cameras for weather-resistance. Unfortunately, what most beginning dSLR users don't know is this: there might as well be no weather sealing in the camera if it doesn't have a weather-sealed lens to go with it. Why is this? Simple: the lens/camera connection is the best avenue for unwanted junk, whether it be moisture, dust, or something else, to get into your camera. With a lens that has a rubber gasket at the mount, this problem is eliminated.

In terms of lenses, weather-sealing is one of the newer innovations for the simple reason that film cameras were nowhere near a susceptible to the elements as are today's “superior” digital versions. So, to keep their pros happy, camera makers started putting rubber gaskets on their lenses. Below is a complete list of Nikon lenses that have mount gaskets.



Film/Digital
14-24 f2.8
16-35 f4 VR
24 f1.4 AF-S
24-70 f2.8
24-120 f4VR
28-300 f3.5-5.6 VR
35 f1.4 AF-S
50 f1.4 AF-S
50 f1.8 AF-S
55-300 f4-5.6 VR
70-200 f2.8 (I and II)
85 f1.4 AF-S
200 f2 VR
200-400 f4 VR (I and II)
300 f4
400 f2.8 VR
500f4 VR
600f4 VR


DX Digital Only
10-24 f3.5-4.5
12-24 f4
17-55 f2.8
18-200 VR (I and II)
18-70 f3.5-4.5
35 f1.8
60 f2.8 AF-S Micro


Now, even with all of these lenses, there is one important catch: Nikon does not market these lenses as “weather-proof,” only “weather-resistant,” which means that they probably won't go servicing your camera/lens that got dropped overboard on that fishing trip when your buddy was reaching for his beer but accidentally bumped your camera instead. If you want true weather-resistance, go buy a tough P&S like my Olympus Stylus 550WP or, if you don't mind shooting film, a Jacques Cousteau-inspired Nikonos film SLR.




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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Examiner for weeks of 5/15, 5/21

Another weekend, another Examiner roundup covering 2 weeks.

Space News
Endeavour cleared for Monday launch
Endeavour launches for last time


National Photography
White House to end photo re-enactments
Nikon stocks rising despite product shortages
Tracking Nikon's surging prices

Cleveland photography:
Four Thirds is not dead
Nikon kills cameras because of tsunami
Local police get camera glasses
Sigma SD1 to sell for $10,000
Photozone tests Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS
Sigma downplays $10,000 SD1 price
Ken Rockwell test drives Fuji X100




Cleveland Astronomy:
Featured sight for week of 5/16: planetary get together


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Best is Yet to Come

Shuttle Endeavour docked to the ISS as seen on NASA TV.

Yesterday, the long dreamed about photo-op of capturing a space shuttle docked to the International Space Station (ISS) finally came true as a departing Soyuz capsule carrying 3 of the ISS crew members back to Earth just happened to overalp with a shuttle mission. Result: NASA finally got its picture of a shuttle docked to the ISS, which the shuttles almost single-handedly carried into space, module by module.

For the more than dozen years since the ISS has been in orbit, this is, surprisingly, the first overlap to missions to man's sole homestead in the final frontier.

And the best is yet to come.

Because this event was so big, NASA TV streamed the whole event live. During the broadcast, Endeavour was seen docked to the ISS as the Soyuz capsule backed away to start its return trip to Earth. Unfortunateky, the video that provided the frame grabs was not only low rsolution, but black and white, which means no color images of the most extreme contrasts: the life-giving Earth, the only planet in the universe known to support life, and the desolate blackness of space, with the ISS, man's only home in the heavens, precariously suspended by the thinnest of threads between life and death an an unforgiving universe.

The good news: now that Soyuz has landed, it is only a matter of time until the high resolution, full color still images make it to the world's press for all to see. Meedless to say, keep an eye here as I'll have them once they become available.



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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Area 51, Roswell, Doomsday, and FUD



This week has been a good one for laughs. Between the Judgment Day on May 21 business and a new book titled Area 51, which claims that the Roswell incident was really a remotely-controlled Soviet craft filled with genetic mutants that was deliberately crashed in order to breed mass panic in the vain of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast, there has been a lot to talk about in fringe circles, all of which plays on people's fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD).

So, after an overdose of nonsense, how about some reason?

Let's tackle Doomsday first.

Ever since the beginning of time, people have been trying to predict the end of the world. Needless to say, all attempts have failed. So, with such a poor track record, the real question should be not one over when the world will end, but why people continue to believe such claims in the first place.

As for why people continue to believe, there are three reasons: religion, ambiguity, and science (sad, but true on #3).

In America, the Bible, which is full of tales of doomsday and final judgment, is the favored religious text for the vast majority of people (Christians and Jews).Just a few chapters into Genesis, according to the story, God destroys the world and all on it, save Noah, his family, and the animals in his ark by way of a worldwide flood. Later, the Old Testament books of 'prophecy' often deal with one or both themes, too. In the New Testament, doomsday and final judgment comes up again in the ministry of Jesu and the theme continues through the New Testament, culminating in the frightening visions described in Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible. In the nearly 2,000 years since the start of the Christian faith, many doomsday predictions have come and gone without anything taking place. For anyone who appreciates irony, there is a lot of humor in this continued drive to forecast the end of the world as, in the Gospels themselves, Jesus states that only God can know the exact time the world will end.

Taking on ambiguity, many people have been 'predicting' things by way of being so unclear that their words can be interpreted to mean just about anything. The most famous of these 'prophets,' the French poet Nostradamus, whose murky 4-line poems have been interpreted in all sorts of ways since since pen was put to paper over 4 centuries ago. Problem: these verses, like the future events foretold by many others, are so ambiguous that they can mean anything and, surprise, the 'predictions' are only revealed after an event takes place that can be made to fit the centuries-old words. Obviously, the very idea of prophecy revolves around the belief that certain individuals are given the gift to see into the future, not the idea that current events should be skewed in such a way as to fit vague 'predictions' made decades or even centuries before.

Last but not least, science itself contributes much to doomsday predictions, a sad irony in that a tool for logical thought should be so corrupted by the ignorant and superstitious in order to scare the uninformed masses. The problem here: any modern prophet of doom citing science automatically brings more weight to his/her words for many people because science is normally associated with fact or, at the very least, high standards of peer scrutiny. Unfortunately, science can easily be corrupted in order to scare people. Examples: in the 1990s, some were predicting a global epidemic of the Ebola virus as the gruesome, deadly, communicable disease caused a lot of panic in the medical fiekd when it was first encountered. 15 years later, no pandemic. Another common, science-related doomsday scenario is a take-over by robots. Yes, machines are getting smarter but when has one intentionally turned on its human master? Never.

In the end, prophets of doom, past and present, have always played on FUD in order to scare people. To me, the real scary part about doomsday predictions is not the horrors they foretell, but how so many people in this age of science and reason can still continue to believe such baloney. Yes, the world will not endure forever as the Sun will swell to a red giant in a few billion years time and turn Earth into a giant, charred cinder at best. In the intervening time, an asteroid could wipe us out, a worldwide epidemic could kill off our species, or environmental pollution could make our pale blue dot uninhabitable. However, while our continued existence in the vast vacuum of interstellar space is tenuous at best, we should not give into fear and believe predictions of the end made without the slightest bit of evidence and/or with the influence of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Now, onto Area 51.

There was a time when books were considered to be unquestionable tomes of truth. Today, this is anything but the case, a fact exemplified by the Area 51 title.

In science as in law, to be considered fact, there must not only be strong evidence in favor of a particular argument, but this evidence must be subjected to the most rigorous of scrutiny before being accepted as fact. Where doubt of any sort lingers, when no unassailable proof can be provided, arguments are just that, arguments. In Area 51, author Annie Jacobsen make a lot of claims, but provides no hard evidence as backup.

To summarize, the thesis of the book is that the Roswell incident of July 1947 was a Soviet plot designed to throw the United States into social and political chaos by way of a crash that would, if all went well, be interpreted as the crash of a ship piloted by space aliens. The man behind the idea: Joseph Stalin. His hope that it would work: the panic over the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast. As for the origins of the 'aliens' themselves: they were genetic mutants created by the Nazi 'Angel of Death' Josef Mengele.

Evidence, please?

Well, to put it plainly, no hard evidence is forthcoming. Instead, Jacobsen operates on the principle of 'well, no evidence doesn't mean that it can't be true, either.' Hardly sound reasoning to put it mildly. Unfortunately, many people are quick to follow this line of thought without even the slightest reservations, seizing upon the tiniest shred of doubt in established fact in order to spin the most fantastic theories that operate on the rock-solid argument of 'well, it could be true.'

Following this argument, I could write a book about how aliens land in my backyard every other Sunday and how bigfoot just happens to live behind the shed, too. Evidence? Well, there's always my story, which has to have some merit as why else would I be telling it? Now, as anyone can see, these 2 stories, Area 51 and my alien/bigfoot nonsense would carry about the same weight to a serious, dispassionate investigator, mine just happen to seem silly because they are not published in a book hundreds of pages long.

So, why would any company publish something without any solid backing behind it? Answer: money.

All one has to go to see this fact for him/herself is go into any bookstore and browse around. Sooner or later, one will come to a section with speculative, fringe works dealing with aliens, prophecy, magic, ghosts, ghouls, near death experiences, conspiracies, and the like. While the topics in such an area are widely varied, they all have one thing in common: scientifically speaking, none of them have a very strong basis is fact and all play on the 'well, it could be true' strategy in the absence of hard evidence in their support. However, at the same time, these books are obviously big sellers and they do provoke thought. Unfortunately, while such books can be fun reads, for people not familiar with the subject being addressed and the other side of the argument, they can be dangerous in that if they are a person's first exposure to a subject, they can lead the reader down the path of ignorance and away from truth.

In conclusion, this week has brought two major events that have lit up the Internet, Judgment Day and the end of the world, neither of which have any basis whatsoever in provable fact. For the critical thinkers, the many flaws in these two arguments are obvious. Unfortunately, by looking at just how viral these topics were, a lot of people lack the sense to sniff out obvious baloney.



 
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Macro Photography: How Do I Do That?

With a little know-how, you can take pictures like this one

Macro photography is one of those things that leaves many people, both photo enthusiasts and non photographers alike, picking their jaws up off the floor. Yes, while pictures may be worth a thousand words, macro, or extreme close-up pictures, are probably worth a few million, or just one: incredible. Whether it be nature on a small scale or ordinary objects from a close-up perspective, macro photography both amazes and leads many to want to try their own hand at it, too.

So how does one become a macro photographer?

Well, the one thing required to shoot macro photos is a macro lens, namely one that has a magnification factor of 1x or a reproduction ratio of 1:1. In fact, these two things are the same, but different manufacturers/retailers may express them using either one, so be aware. Unfortunately, many lens makers, in order to drive sales, attach a “macro” designation to any lens that has even somewhat reasonable close-up abilities. In fact, it is not uncommon for “macro” lenses to have magnifying powers as low as .3x or 1:3, which is close up, but no macro. Lesson of the day, be sure to know your photography lingo and read the fine print!

Okay, you have your 1:1 macro lens, now what?

The second big challenge to macro photography ia a little thing called depth of field. When shooting at macro distances, the depth of field that's in focus is very, very thin. While I could go on and on about the value of stopping down your lens, let's just let the above set of photos do the talking. In this shoot, I shot the quarter at 1:1 distance from about a 45 degree angle. Note, only at f32 is the whole quarter in focus! Now, obviously, controlling focus is very important, which brings us to our next point:

To AF or not to AF?

In macro photography, forget the AF. With the depth of field so tiny, in macro photography, it is vital that you, the photographer, control the point of focus by doing it yourself and not trusting the camera to do it for you. Besides that, the buzz of a focus motor (if your macro lens is a micromotor/mechanical drive) may scare away a live subject. In contrast, manual focus creates neither of these problems. When it comes to focusing, my favorite technique when I want to get as close as possible is this: set the lens to closest focus and then move the camera back and forth to get the focus point where I want it. However, I do recommend using your camera's focus confirm function for macro if you don't have the ability to change to a more MF friendly screen.

The basics covered, how about some more tips and tricks?

First, don't get in the way of your own light. Being so close to your subject, it is very easy to get in the way of one's own light when doing macro photography. This is the reason why those expensive, 200mm-ish macro lenses are so popular, they allow some working distance. However, as such big macro glass is out of the budget for most of us, just be mindful of your light and where it's coming from so that you don't get in your own way.

Second, let there be light. Obviously, when working with small apertures (you'll be in the f8 to f16 range, guaranteed), every bit of light is vital for getting an acceptable shutter speed, especially if your subject is alive. While not blocking your own light is a good start, you still may need to throw a little more light into the scene to get a reasonable shutter speed. So, instead of dropping wads of cash on expensive macro lighting rigs, why not use a piece of white paper to reflect light into the scene? It's cheap, the lighting is soft, and it works. Try it and see.

Third, get a mini tripod. When shooting macro, especially inanimate objects that afford you the ability to frame and move around at will, a tabletop tripod really makes things easier. First, because you're on a tripod, you can stop down to very small apertures to make sure that things are in focus as they should be because you can shoot at shutter speeds that would be impossibly slow (for macro) hand-held.

Fourth, itchy shutter finger. When shooting live subjects at mid apertures, the key to getting a good photo is to shoot a lot of pictures. Believe me, those little bugs moving around can be a real pain to capture in focus where you want the focus to be. In my experience, it is not uncommon to dump 75% of my bug photos simply because the focus point is just a touch off true (remember, you're focusing manually and the focus confirm lights in today's digital cameras are no substitute for a good, old-fashioned MF screen).

Don't cut the crop. Today's digital cameras have a lot of megapixels, which means a lot of cropping room. So, with all that resolution, don't hesitate to move out a bit and snap from a longer distance to help guarantee better luck with focus (more distance = greater depth of field) as you can always crop the image to a more macro-esque shot in post processing. Last but not least, when at true macro, don't hesitate to crop, either, as some amazing details can be seen this way!


For more info:A macro lens buyer's guide (with complete list of manufacturer macros) 










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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Examiner for Weeks of 5/1, 5/8

Well, it's been over 2 weeks since I did an Examiner roundup, so it's more than time for one now. So, in case you missed anything, here's the last two weeks worth of articles.





Space news:

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away . . .

 Rain frozen in mid-fall.

By looking at my rather anemic astrophoto gallery from April, one can easily assume that the April weather in Northeast Ohio wasn't all that great. Well, to call it “not all that great” was an understatement. This April, the Cleveland area shattered a 50 year old rainfall record for rainiest April since records began in 1871. Honestly, I can't recall a night that was clear from dusk to dawn. On top of that, when the nights were clear, there seemed to be either a bright Moon (of course!) and/or a lot of wind, which would probably have blown over the camera when it was trying to take pictures.

However, during a rainstorm last week, I decided to make chicken soup out of chicken **** and try my hand at photographing rain. Okay, so what? Well, this wasn't just any rain photography, but I was trying to freeze the drops in mid-fall without any streaking. And guess what, I succeeded, and here's how you can freeze rain mid fall, too.

First of all, as with freezing any fast-moving object in photography, a high shutter speed is required, rain in mid-fall being no exception. To freeze rain, try and get at least a 1/2000th second speed on your camera. Anything slower and there's always a chance of trailing, depending on the angle of your lens, with longer lenses requiring even faster speeds.

Second, the point of focus is a huge concern. As in many kinds of photography, one often tries to isolate the subject. When it comes to rain and a subject that is just a fraction of an inch across, this is extremely vital as a picture's impact can be dramatically lessened by drops slightly out of focus in front of and behind the focus point. Taking this into consideration, manually set focus so that it will fall on the nearest rain possible. Example: if you're shooting from a window guarded by a 3 foot roof overhang, set distance for 3 feet.

Third, placement is key. When shooting through a window, especially one that can be wet, and focusing at a distance of only a few feet, it is of vital importance that you get your lens right up to the glass or, not surprisingly, the window (or the things on it) may show up in and distract from your picture.

Fourth, play around. To get optimal picture quality, play around with your settings like ISO, and aperture. If you have an extremely fast lens like f2 or faster, it may be best to stop down to f2.8 or even f4 to catch rain clearly. Any less depth of field may result in all but a few drops being out of focus. Second, depending on the speed of the drops and the brightness of the day, you may be able to get by with a slightly slower shutter speed. If this describes you, why not knock down the ISO and preserve some technical image quality?

Fifth, keep expectations realistic. Freezing rain mid-fall is not an easy thing to do and making it look good on top of it is even harder. Remember, photography, especially with the costless digital technique, is all about fun, so don't stress over raindrops.




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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Astronomy Day!


The original point of Astronomy Day was to prove that astronomy could be done in lit-up locations.


Today is a holiday that many people don't even know exists: International Astronomy Day.

With humble origins in as an attempt at public outreach by the Astronomical Association of Southern California, the effort to bring astronomy to the masses, often city dwellers, quickly grew in popularity to the point where the holiday eventually went national, and then international. Now, nearly 40 years after the first Astronomy Day (1973) the holiday continues to grow and become more relevant?

Why the part about being relevant? Simple: dark skies are going away fast.

When the first Astronomy Day was launched in 1973, the whole idea was to set up telescopes in public places where astronomers could show members of the general public the wonders of the universe. Naturally, to guarantee that the public would show up, the telescopes had to be set up in urban/suburban locations, areas that are not all that good for astronomy. Obviously, by looking at the success of the holiday, people are seeing things in the telescopes.

Lesson of the day: you can do astronomy from just about anywhere.

For starters, the Moon is always visible as it is the second brightest thing in the sky after the Sun. Believe it or not, there are astronomers who spend the majority of their telescope time studying the Moon. Second, planets. All of the planets are generally of 0 magnitude or brighter, thus visible from all but the most light polluted areas. Being bright targets, the planets are also good targets for examination by city-dwellers. For suburbanites, binary (double, triple, etc.) stars are also a lot of fun to lok at because they, too, can be observed in all but the worst of lighting conditions.

So yes, the dark skies are going away more every year but, if you know what to look for and are content with the fact that you can't see deep sky nebulae, galaxies, and clusters from your backyard, there is plenty of fun to be had with a telescope in a city.


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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Examiner for Week of 4/24

Another week done, another Examiner roundup arrived.

Space News
Easter and astronomy

National Photography
Shroud of Turin: holy relic or first photograph?

Cleveland Photography
Shroud of Turin: relic or photograph?
Passover ends, B&H, Adorama reopen
Browns RB makes cover of Madden '12
Where to get a Nikon D700
Good luck buying a camera




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