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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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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.

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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Interested in any of these cameras? Support this site by ordering from B&H photo.

Canon 1DX vs Nikon D3S

Update: Since the Nikon D4 has been announced on 2012-01-06, I have also written a concise post about the Nikon D4 vs Canon 1D X.

The Nikon D3S (left) vs the Canon 1D X (right)

Canon has thrown down the gauntlet with the announcement of its brand new flagship DSLR, the Canon EOS-1D X. This new camera is an extremely important new model for Canon, make no mistake about it.

The significant stuff, in table form:

Nikon D3S
Canon 1DX
Max ISO 102,400 204,800
Megapixels 12 18
Max FPS 11 14
# AF points
51 61
Video
720p, 24fps,
MJPEG
1080p, 30fps,
H.264
Viewfinder magnification
0.7x 0.76x
Metering sensor
1005-pixel RGB 100,000-pixel RGB
LCD display
3″, 921k dots 3.2″, 1040k dots
Price (body) $5200 $6800 (est)
Announcement date Oct 2009 Oct 2011
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12bit vs 14bit RAW and compressed vs uncompressed… Does it matter?

You know that to get the most of your DSLR you should be shooting in RAW, right? But these days Nikon cameras gives you even more options: 12-bit or 14-bit, and compressed or uncompressed RAW (NEF) files. Which should you choose?

Short question: Does it matter? Will you see any difference between compressed (lossy) and uncompressed (lossless) RAW? And between 12 and 14 bits?

Short answer: No it does not matter. Choose 12-bit compressed (because they take up less space) and forget about this topic. Or choose 14-bit uncompressed because theoretically you’re getting the “most” from your camera – you just have to live with the file sizes.

 Approximate RAW file
size on a Nikon D7000
12 bit 14 bit
compressed 12.6 MB 15.7 MB
uncompressed 14.9 MB 18.8 MB

Not happy with the short answer? Then read on…

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The 1 Nikon system came!

The news is out! Nikon indeed came with a big announcement at midnight yesterday, and it is indeed a whole new system.

The 1-Nikon system has been announced and is initially available in two bodies – the cheaper J1 and the premium V1. Highlight features include:

  • 2.7 crop factor called “Nikon CX” (a 10mm lens is equivalent to 27mm in traditional full-frame/film)
  • Very fast shooting rates – up to 60 fps full-resolution photographs
  • Advanced video capability
  • Lots of accessories, already including 4 lenses, speedlight flash, GPS, external microphone and F-mount adapter.

To give you a sense of scale, this is the new V1 in hand:

The new Nikon V1 with (obviously) no lens attached and the sensor visible

 

Nikon is coming…

An ever-so-slightly dubious name-choice for Nikon’s countdown timer:

http://www.iamcomings.com/

Ummm?

But jokes aside, the question is of course WHAT might be coming. In slightly more than 24 hours (at time of writing) we’ll know.

In Nikon’s marketing-speak: “I am curious”!

All rumours seem to point to a new mirrorless system camera, also known as EVIL, MILC, etc. This means that you can exchange lenses like on a DSLR. However it does without a mechanical mirror meaning it will be much smaller, lighter and quieter.

A picture from one of Nikon's "EVIL" patents

This new camera is rumoured to have a sensor that falls between current high-end compacts and the micro 4/3 system. Meaning it won’t be a viable option for pros, but might be very cool for the general enthusiast public.

The new camera is expected to try and fill a new niche in the sensor sizes available on the market

Alternatively the announcement could refer to the successor to the ageing full frame D700, D3s or D3x models, although I’m not expecting it.

Half a SLR

Ever wonder how a top of the line professional digital SLR would look if you sawed it in half?

Now you don’t have to do it yourself (what a relief!). The guys at Nikon were friendly enough to halve a Nikon D3 with attached 14-24mm F2.8 lens.

Half of a very expensive camera.

Note the huge chunk of glass in the viewfinder – that’s the full-frame pentaprism.

Auto ISO and flash on the Nikon D7000, D5100, D3100 etc.

Summary: Newer Nikon DSLR cameras seem to choose unnecessarily high ISO values when using a flash in combination with auto-ISO – specifically in “P”, “A” and “S” mode. I have verified this issue for the Nikon D7000 and the D3100, and from forums I deduce that it also goes for the D5000, D3000, D5100 and D300s.

Auto ISO on Nikon’s DSLRs has gotten confusing

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