Nikon

How to photograph the Aurora Borealis

This year (2013-2014) is a good time for seeing the Aurora Borealis (and its lesser-known Southern twin, the Aurora Australis) – commonly known as the Northern- and Southern Lights. I have my heart set on seeing the Lights with my own eyes in the coming year, so in this post I’d like to talk about how one can best prepare for capturing this natural wonder.

A friend, Bart Vastenhouw, travelled to the region of Varanger in Norway to see and photograph the lights. Here is one of the photographs he came back with:Aurora at Varanger

Bart captured this beautiful scene using a Canon 40D and Canon 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 wide-angle lens. The 40D was a good camera, but these days there are better ones to choose from. The lens is decent too, but for best results you’d want a wide angle with larger aperture (F2.8 or faster).

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New firmware fixes D600 HDMI output. (Also, updates for almost all of Nikon’s current other DSLRs)

Yesterday, Nikon released new firmware for almost all of its current DSLR line-up, namely for the D4, D800, D600, D3, D3s, D3x, D7000 and D3200. Most of these updates only add full compatibility to the exotic new 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens – a lens very few people will ever see or use.

D600Bits

The highlight, for me, is the fact that Nikon has now finally addressed the uncompressed HDMI bug that frustrated D600 videographers. This issue used to be a reason for DSLR videographers to get the more expensive D800, and seemed like a lame up-selling scam on Nikon’s part. No more, it seems!

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(c) Usain Bolt

Not only is Usain Bolt the fastest man alive, but he is also a budding photographer! :)

Usain Bolt shooting some after-action snapshots with Swedish photographer Jimmy Wixtröm's camera. Image (c) Reuters

Usain Bolt shooting some after-action snapshots with Swedish photographer Jimmy Wixtröm’s camera. Image (c) Reuters

Immediately after making history by defending his 200m Olympic crown, Usain walked over to the photographer booth and took Swedish photographer Jimmy Wixtröm’s camera.
Bolt then proceeded to take several photos from his unique point of view. Pretty good photos, too! Now the question may be asked who has copyright of these photos.

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Anti-alias or Moiré? (buy the Nikon D800 instead of the D800E)

Bottom line: the D800E misses a proper anti-aliasing filter. This probably does more harm than good, so buy the D800 instead, unless you absolutely need maximum per-pixel resolution and know how to avoid Moiré artefacts.
Disclaimer: The D800/D800E are great cameras that differ in subtle ways. Making a purchasing decision based on these differences will necessarily involve “splitting hairs”, but that is probably why you are reading this blog entry, so let’s do that.
I started writing this post before D800E reviews were available online. 
Now that it’s been tested by dpreview and DxO I have to admit that the D800E is less prone to Moiré than I expected it to be. Yet I stand by what I wrote in this post and I still advise you to get the D800 instead of the D800E unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Read on.

The D800 and the D800E

When Nikon announced their brand new D800 and D800E full frame (FX) DSLRs a few months ago, it was a breakthrough. These cameras push the limits in resolution beyond anything previously seen on 35mm and set new benchmarks in DSLR video capabilities. This is great news, because whether or not competitors come up with even better models, you (the consumer) still win. So, we know that they are excellent. All he reviews tell us so. The big question in photographers’ minds is probably whether to get the D800 or the D800E. The “E” sounds somehow more Exotic and Exclusive, and promises even sharper photos. Given this, the D800E’s 10% higher ($3300 vs $3000) price sounds justified. Sort of like a D800 “de luxe” edition, right? Not necessarily.

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Which DSLR camera brand is the best?

J.D. Power and Associates, a company best known for their car satisfaction surveys, have recently published a buyer satisfaction comparison for the major DSLR manufacturers. In the car world we know that Japanese cars tend to be the most reliable/satisfying, but in the camera world we deal almost exclusively with Japanese brands – so who is going to win?

Since bars speak louder than words, I'll skip to the results:*Note that the term "DSLR" excludes mirrorless and compact cameras. 
Olympus and Panasonic are leaders in mirrorless system cameras, 
at the expense of their DSLR product lines.
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The new Nikon D600 with 24-85mm VR kit lens

Rumours (and even leaked photographs) are all saying that Nikon will soon be introducing the D600, a more affordable FX (full frame) camera.

Leaked photograph of the new Nikon D600. Note the “FX” emblem.

Allthough not 100% confirmed, I certainly see this as a sensible and welcome newcomer to their line-up. Yesterday Nikon paved the way to the D600′s release with brand new Nikkor 24-85mm F2.5-4.5 VR lens.

On FX, this new lens will perform similarly to a 16-57mm F2.8 VR on DX (APS-C). The closest one gets to those specifications on DX, however, is with the expensive but built-like-a-tank Nikon 17-55mm F2.8, or Sigma/Tamron 17-50mm F2.8. The former lacks optical stabilization, while the latter two lack the Nikon badge, and risk more focussing and quality control issues.

The new Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

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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:

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.

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Nikon Speedlight SB-910 vs SB-900

Today Nikon announced the SB-910, a new top-of the range flash unit to replace the SB-900.

The SB-910 (left) vs the SB-900 (right)

This is a rather quick replacement – only 2 years and 5 months after the SB-900 appeared on the market. Compare this to the previous update cycle: It took Nikon 5 years to replace the SB-800 (announced 22 July 2003).

This update most probably has something to do with a gripe some professional users had with the SB-900: if you worked it too hard the thermal protection circuitry will kick in, rendering it unusable until it cooled.
While this is good for the unit’s self-preservation, it is terrible news to a photographer shooting a critical scene (imagine the bride walking down the aisle). Of course, working pros should be aware of this (it is explained in the manual), and it’s simple to switch this feature off if you don’t like it.

Non the less it comes as no surprise: The SB-910′s new thermal protection system slows the flash recycle frequency rather than it simply shutting down.

More visible changes on the back: the SB-910 (left) vs the SB-900 (right)

The full list of changes compared to the SB-900, just like in its model number, are marginal:

  • New overheating control (slowed recycle time instead of shutdown)
  • Improved battery management
  • Slightly simplified user interface (more like the SB-700)
  • Illuminated buttons
  • New “hard” colour filters (like on the SB-700)
  • Slightly tweaked exterior that is ever-so-slightly heavier (about 1%)

The SB-910 is already available for pre-order at around $550. If you’re clever and don’t need the tweaked features of the SB-910 you can save yourself $100 (20%) and instead order the SB-900 for $449 (B&H), while stock lasts.

Firmware update for the Nikon D5100 and D7000

Yesterday, Nikon has released new firmware for their D5100 and D7000 DSLRs. Since they were launched this is the first update for the D5100 and the third update for the D7000, and correct a couple of very minor issues.

If you own any of these and are happy with the way your camera works you may safely ignore the update.

Not sure whether you should upgrade or don’t know what firmware is? Then read this. Personally I own a D7000 and yes, I will upgrade mine. If you also wish to stay at the cutting edge and upgrade you can

Don’t know how to upgrade the firmware? You can read the official instructions on Nikon’s site (see download links above), or just watch Jared Polin’s informal and verbose video – see below.

To be honest Jared can really benefit by ranting less and keeping it shorter. But at least you now know how this works!

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