The D800(E) is upon us – video and resolution taken to the next level!

This tuesday, Nikon officially released the Nikon D800 (and its twin sibling, the D800E). The D800 is an important model and will certainly find its way into the camera bag of many (if not most) pro Nikon “FX” shooters. It is already available for pre-order (B&H) so if you know you need it just go ahead and order – you are buying into the new Nikon semi-professional full-frame standard.

I have a lot I want to say about this camera, but I will have to take the time for that in future posts (hopefully in the near future). But it boils down to this:

The D800 offers two class-leading things:

  • extremely high resolution. The highest of any current main-stream DSLR.
  • advanced/pro video features (“Full frame” 35mm 1080p, uncompressed HDMI out, live audio monitoring via headphone jack)

Key features: 36 Megapixel full-frame sensor. Live audio output for video sound monitoring. Uncompressed HDMI video output.

The rest of the spec sheet pretty much consists of evolutionary tweaks and refinements.

In future posts I will talk about what all this means. Is 36MP better than the Canon 5D Mk II’s 21MP, or the Nikon D700’s 12MP? Is it worth it to buy this camera instead of the much cheaper Nikon D7000? What kind of person should consider this camera? What is the difference between the D800E and the D800? Stay tuned.

Oh, and before I sign off – here is the official “made by a Nikon D800” teaser video. As you can see this camera just loves video:

Freeky Roger Ballen inspires “Die Antwoord”

Being a South African myself, I am proud of the waves Die Antwoord is making – there are few (if any) other South African bands that are on the bleeding edge like this duo is.

In the video “I Fink U Freeky” for their new album Ten$ion, Die Antwoord worked together with famed US / South African  photographer Roger Ballen to create something exotic. Love it or or hate it, you just have to admire the way the result captures Ballen’s photographic style and transforms it into a powerful audiovisual tour de force. (warning: NSFW / video contains mature content)

Examples of Roger Ballen's iconic work

Music videos inspired by photographs and paintings are of course no new thing. Examples include Live – Turn My Head (inspired by John Register paintings) and more infamously, Rihanna’s S&M video that effectively plagiarized the work by photographer David LaChapelle.

In this case it is great to see an established pro photographer (a veteran with 50 years’ experience) collaboratively creating something beautifully Freeky on youtube.

The 64 Megapixel Blue Marble

NASA released this incredible new high-res image of the Earth, taken by the recently launched Earth-observing satellite, Suomi NPP.

The image, which centers on North and Central America, has been nicknamed “Blue Marble 2012″ after the famous “Blue Marble” image taken during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The original Blue Marble, featuring the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, is one of the most well recognized photographs of all time.

You can download the full image in fantastic 64 megapixel resolution (8,000 x 8,000)!

Nikon D4 vs Canon 1DX

And here it is! The new flagship of Nikon’s camera range, the D4 (posed next to its upcoming nemises, the Canon 1D X).

The Nikon D4 (left) vs. the Canon 1DX (right)

When Canon announced their EOS-1D X in October, I made a quick side-by-side comparison with Nikon’s flagship at the time, the D3S. The new Canon featured a range of major improvements and was poised to make a grab at being the best 35mm professional DSLR money can buy. Notable was that the new Canon would only be available in March 2012, making the announcement a marketing move (for the time being). The question was what Nikon’s answer would be, since the D3S was still excellent, but already a few years old.

And now we know – on paper. The Nikon D4 narrows all of the gaps that existed between the D3S and the Canon 1DX, but the Canon still holds the specification crown. These numerical differences will probably be less important than how the features are implemented, and without a hands-on comparison we will still have to wait at bit. Notably, the new Nikon excels in its video features, for the first time surpassing Canon.

The significant stuff, in table form:

Nikon D4
Canon 1DX
Max ISO
204,800 204,800
(Max native ISO)
12,800 51,200
Megapixels
16 18
Max FPS
11 14
# AF points
51 61
Video
1080p, 30fps,
H.264 + RAW out
1080p, 30fps,
H.264
Viewfinder magnification
0.7x 0.76x
Metering sensor
91,000-pixel RGB
with face detection
100,000-pixel RGB
with face detection
LCD display
3.2″, 921k dots 3.2″, 1040k dots
Memory card slots
CF + XQD CF + CF
Price (body) $5999 (B&H) $6800 (B&H)
Announcement date Jan 2012
(available for pre-order)
Oct 2011
(available March 2012)

DPReview covered the D4’s announcement in more detail, but I’ll just focus on the most important headline upgrades:

  • Multimedia! The D4 supports high resolution video: H.264 1080p @ 30fps, 720p @ 60 fps + uncompressed HDMI video out
  • Second card slot for the brand new industry-standard XQD card format
  • A new 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor with face detection

Actually that is quite a short list. All the other improvements are incremental. Slightly larger LCD, improved AF sensor (with same number of points), higher resolution, improved processing power, and tweaked ergonomics. Not a bad thing since these were already excellent on the D3S. But not head-turners either.

The D3S was absolutely the best low-light performer of any full-frame DSLR, so if the D4 equals this it will still be great. One just can’t help noticing that Canon massively upped their game with the 1DX, and it seems that they might now have taken the lead – with a native ISO limit that is almost 4x that of the Nikon. One can’t help thinking that the D4’s boost range was doubled only so that the it could match the Canon’s 1D X impressive maximum ISO. What it will mean for noise I don’t yet know – we will have to wait for tests.

The Nikon D4 takes CF and XQD cards

Interestingly the D4’s biggest selling-point now seems to be its video features. Ironic, since only a year ago the situation was reversed, with Canon being the DSLR videographer’s choice, and Nikon leading in still photography performance. But progress benefits us all, and professional video shooters will be ecstatic with the Nikon D4’s uncompressed HDMI out – up to now only available on expensive dedicated video equipment, and notably lacking on any Canon DSLR. And the XQD card slot will prove a huge advantage for storing all those massive video files.

Of course if you are already heavily invested in either manufacturer’s equipment, especially their expensive pro lenses, it might make little sense to consider a switch. But if you want to move into pro photography and have little or no existing commitment, this might be a moment to choose carefully.

-=-=-=-

A Kodak Moment: going bankrupt

And so we see the giants fall. CNN just announced that Eastman Kodak (NYSE:EK) has begun preparations for a possible bankruptcy filing. For people who have been following (or worse: using) the sub-par digital cameras they produced over the past years this may seem logical. The only thing that may still save them is the value of the patents that they hold. But will it be enough? Probably not.

This is a historically significant moment. Kodak was founded in 1880 – it has been around for more than 131 years – from the early days of photography. In 1884, George Eastman developed the technology of film to replace photographic plates, leading to the technology used by film cameras up to this day.

In the 20th century it dominated the photography and imaging industry, using a business model of selling affordable cameras and making most of its money on consumables — film, chemicals and paper. My own first camera was a Kodak Retina II (see picture below). It was exquisitely made, and lit in me the love of cameras and photography.

The iconic Kodak Retina - my first camera.

Then the digital era came. In the 1990s, Kodak had (wisely) planned a decade-long journey to move to digital technology. Fatally, this planning was never fully implemented. Kodak’s core business faced no pressure from competing technologies, and Kodak’s executives failed to foresee a world without traditional film. After 2001 the digital photography revolution gained full momentum, and Kodak was in trouble. It tried to regain lost ground by selling cheap easy-to-use “Easyshare” cameras.

An example of the dime-a-dozen "easyshare" cameras that made Kodak a visionless, generic, unprofitable entity in the camera market

Unfortunately for Kodak, the low-end compact camera market is a crowded one, and competition with Eastern companies undercut profitability. And despite their ease of use their cameras lacked two very important things – image quality and personality. In my opinion, quality and personality is what made Apple such a success, and Kodak a failure.

In recent years Kodak was losing money fast, and needed to find a new core business. Too late, they shifted focus to photo printers and printer ink, but this came too expensive, and too late.

R.I.P Kodak. You made your mark in history, but you will not live to see the future.

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