Saturday, August 15, 2015

Familiarizing myself with the Nikon D7200

My experience with Nikon goes back to the F2 film model, and other than holding a few newer, digital models, hasn't progressed past that.  That is a long, long time.  When I was looking for a dSLR in 2003/2004, I looked at the Nikon D70/D100, Canon, and Pentax models before purchasing an Olympus E-1.  The others weren't very good in 2004 and I didn't regret buying into Four-Thirds until 2010 or thereabouts.  I'm actively using micro Four-Thirds now, so the sensors really aren't the huge problem that people would believe, especially for people who don't stress the equipment as much as I do photographing sports.

I was ready to buy the Nikon D300 but it was three years old or so in 2011, and I'd have to duplicate a lot of equipment to do what I was doing at the time.  Replacing high end lenses is not cheap, and the big two want to make sure you pay big.  The D300s wasn't more than a compromise to add video.  The Olympus E-5 was too easy a choice.  It extended my ability to shoot with my arsenal of lenses and it wasn't awful.  It felt like it was about three years too late, but it worked well.

Now that the D7200 is out, I talked to a salesperson about it, after reading practically every preview I could find.  I got a deal on the D7200 + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 and that sold it for me, as I needed lower light capabilities.  Photographing inside an indoor skate park a few months ago, I realized how well things worked at ISO 3200, and I wasn't impressed, although the Panasonic GH4 kept up while recording video.  The D7200 has two black and white modes at ISO 51,200 and 102,400.  That sounded great.

In reality, what sounded great hasn't proven yet to be great.  I'm sure that will come.  In the meantime, I am finding too many new user problems, such as finding how to select an auto focus pattern.  On my current Panasonic and Olympus equipment, it's fairly easy to select a pattern.  Even on the Pentax K-50, it was fairly simple to find the setting.  Nikon cleverly hides it in plain sight, but not before confusing me with a menu item for the selection of 51 or 11 AF points.  The AF/MF toggle switch is to the left of the bottom of the lens mount.  There is a button that is to be pressed and held while the rear dial is being rotated which changes the auto focus pattern.

I've tried the scatter pattern AF (it is usually the default) on various camera bodies over the years, when I started to use AF, and found it to focus on everything but what I wanted.  Nikon's scatter pattern may guess better or the depth of field is good, so many photos seem close to what I want--and frustratingly far from being in focus.  That should change now that I have a single focus point activated.  Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of photos, unable to get what I wanted.

Besides that, selecting the focus point seems to be hidden, holding that the same button and the moving it with the four-way directional pad.  In some ways, this is a good thing, although I seem to accidentally change it anyway.  The Olympus E-M1 is far too easy to accidentally change the focus point by pressing the OK button, which brings up the Super Control Panel and defaults to the focus point selection, and it can be moved with the rear dial.  It's easier to select it my touching the display but that isn't accidental.  The Super Control Panel on the E-5 is practically perfect, and there is no touch panel.  You navigate to the AF pattern selection, press the OK button, and you have three patterns at the bottom from which to choose, and you use the rear dial to move the focus point.

Coming from the Panasonic GH3 and GH4, and even the Olympus E-M1, I'm not seeing great lower light AF capabilities.   During a walk about 11 p.m., I didn't get half the photos.  The GH3 and GH4 focus down to EV -4, so I can depend on them, and the E-M1 tends to hunt a bit but almost always works.  The D7200 just refused to work in half the instances, even though it can focus down to EV -3.  Perhaps, it's partly the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.

Then, there is the informational status display.  Olympus has the interactive Super Control Panel.  I first used it on the E-5 dSLR.  It is an effective and quick way to change important settings.  Panasonic has a Quick Menu, which is different but also helpful way to get things done.  Nikon has a display of settings.  Yeah, thanks but it doesn't help.  It just means that I have to dive into the menu or find a physical button that helps me change settings.

e.g., the ISO sensitivity button in the leftmost column of buttons.  Holding it presents me with a window that shows me ISO Auto and ISO number.  Wait?  It can be both at the same time?  How do you know which is active?  It would be less confusing if it was one list, with Auto only a selection in the list.  Right now, it seems to default to ISO 25,600 no matter how bright out it is.  I need to force it to ISO 200 to get decent image quality.  Hopefully, firmware will take care of this problem.

The command dials are another new user problem, but after Olympus changed the behavior with the E-M1 (from what the dSLRs did), I no longer default to certain expectations.

Otherwise, things are working as expected.  I shoot and it works reasonably well.  I'm not pleased at this point.  It seems broken and only firmware will fix it.  I can learn to use it, but I can't fix anything but the new user problems.  It should be good in a few months when Nikon update the firmware and I've acclimated myself to the body.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nikon D7200 and incredibly high ISO photos: 51,200 and 102,400

One feature that intrigued me about the D7200 over older models was the two black & white high ISO modes.

The difficult part of photographing sports is getting enough light to capture the action.  Anyone who has attempted to photograph night games, such as American football, knows that it is extremely difficult, even with a Nikon D4.

Photographing in Florida in early spring outdoors was even difficult.  I was photographing a lacrosse game from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and it went from bright and warm enough (75 degrees F) to dark and cold by the end.  Having had frostbite, I had another obstacle in working the controls as my fingers seemed less flexible.  In 2006, I had a choice of using ISO 400 sensitivity and a GN50 flash.

This March, I was photographing a competition at an indoor skate park, which meant ISO 3200 and some hope.  Since I was taking still photos and video, it wasn't possible to use artificial light and make it work.  The image quality was sufficient.

The Nikon D7200 is supposed to be so much more in low light and HI1 (ISO 51,200) and HI2 (ISO 102,400).  These black and white modes could give someone an edge in getting clear sports photos.  The Nikon D4 featured ISO sensitivity up to 102,400.  That is a huge deal.  Since the D7200 has an Expeed 4-class processor, it should be able to increase the image quality over the D7100.

ISO 102,400

ISO 51,200

ISO 25,600

ISO 51,200

ISO 25,600

There is a great deal of banding in the ISO 51,200 and 102,400 photos.  It can't be seen so well with these 25% sized photos.  These were taken July 31, 2015 around the time of the blue moon.

Still, if it means getting the shot over not getting the shot, should there be a question?

Update 2015.08.03:  The D7200 seems to be easily provoked into using ISO 25,600, more than the Panasonic GH4 or Olympus E-M1 that I use regularly.  I know that the ISO sensitivity numbers seem off for the GH4 and E-M1 but from ISO 3200 on those to 25,600 on the D7200?  I hope that there will be a number of firmware fixes because the image quality does not seem superior from this new Nikon body and the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye has arrived, with sample photos

At US$999.99, this is the most expensive fisheye lens I've encountered.  It's the first I've ever bought.  I always thought a typical, great zoom lens could do exactly what I wanted but at skate parks, was there an advantage?

Over the past year, at skate parks all over California, I've heard things like "Is that a fisheye?"  "What kind of fisheye do you have?"  "Fisheyes are the best!"

Looking back at the 1980s and BMX Plus and other skate park-oriented magazines, I saw a lot of close up photos taken with a fisheye lens.  The distortion is distinct and at times, endearing.

However, most of what I see now at skate parks are converters--those nasty clip-ons or screw-ons that attach to the cheapo kit lens.  At US$34.99, can you beat the effect?

A typical kit lens is sufficient for many people but so many people tell me "That's so clear!" when they view my photos and video because I use lenses far above that level, usually zoom lenses with a constant maximum aperture.

If you're struggling to get to that point, there is no shame in using the best tools available, which you probably already have.  I might do better with them, if that was all I had.  My recent experience with the Pentax K-50 and its kit lens proved to me that it was a very good choice.  Adding a US$34.99 fisheye adapter would probably work just fine.

Olympus' micro Four-Thirds 8mm f/1.8 came at a good time for me.  I've been photographing at skate parks for 1 year and my experience inside Woodward West cried for something faster than f/2.8.  (My Four-Thirds ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 might have been a heavy but better choice than the m.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 indoors.)  In Northern California, it may still be near 100 degrees F at sunset, but as it cools down, the skaters become active.

Focusing in the dark isn't much of a problem for the Panasonic GH4.  It focuses down to -4 EV, equivalent to starlight.  However, in my experience, AF is much more reliable in video than for still photography.  I also use the Olympus E-M1, which isn't great for video, but the 5-axis image stabilization can do wonders.

Olympus 8mm f/1.8 on Panasonic GH4

I'm pleased to say that, with some trouble, I have the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.  I placed a pre-order with Mike's Camera in Dublin, CA May 26th but the day (June 29th) before the lens was due to be generally available, they couldn't give me a date when mine would arrive, and the sales person told me "whenever", which was not a proper response to a customer.  June 30th, I returned and explained why this didn't work for me, and the manager had a refund in the works before I requested one.  I made a call to Adorama and they placed the order and a little over a day later, I had mine.

I'm quite pleased with the lens, on both the Panasonic GH4 and Olympus E-M1.  It is probably too small, and that's why it has flaws but it is quite good, with only some purple fringing noticeable.  Flare resistance is good and that's great for me, here in the bright sun in California, especially at skate parks where there is no cover.  The lens hood is fixed in place and it isn't a problem, except where it isn't extended, as that is where the lens becomes a fingerprint magnet.  It also works fairly well at night.  In video, it has kept up, which is surprising since I saw reports that it was slow at focusing.

The strap was dangling.

Update 2015.08.12: The lens continues to be good, even though I have to clean it quite often.  I haven't found a problem with using it on either the E-M1 or the GH4.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, Nikon D7200, and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 in the works

I've been shooting so much that I haven't had much time to write.

I received my Olympus 8mm fisheye lens and I'm quite pleased.  I'm extremely happy with it, but it takes some acclimation to its ultra-wide angle.  I'm working on a specific report of my experiences.

July 5th, I got a special deal on the Nikon D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.  I've been shooting so much that I haven't even had a chance to write more than this about the combination.  I have plenty to say, especially since this is the first real attempt to switch brands--or at least, add to my arsenal of tools.

I haven't used any Nikon equipment since film SLRs.  It's taking some time to get good work done.  Their whole design work, electronic and physical, lacks clear thinking.  I appreciate that they have a status display, but if should be interactive, instead of just being frustratingly informative.

Something interesting and frustrating was learning how to switch from the factory setting of auto focus scatter pattern with 51 focus points to 1 focus point.  There is a button located within the AF/MF switch to the left of the lens mount.  Is it labeled?  No.  You hold it and rotate the rear dial to change patterns.

In any case, I am finding many new user problems that I didn't find with the Pentax K-50.

My main reason for buying the D7200 was its low(er) light performance.  I first took it out at 11/23 at night.  It was a frustrating experience, especially since AF supposedly works to -3 EV--what was standard with the Panasonic GH3 way back when it was introduced.  Half of the photos I tried to take just would not happen.  Subsequently, I took the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GH4 out at similar times.  The E-M1 struggled a bit but the GH4 didn't hesitate.  How good is the image quality of a camera body that won't take an image?

My first impression of the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is that it's small, light, and too short in its focal length range, especially compared to my Olympus 14-35mm f/2.0.  It's also not weather-sealed which could be a major problem.  I didn't pay full price for it, which helps alleviate some of the shortcomings.  If you think it's not small or light, take a look at the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens.

I'll take some time to write about these experiences in detail.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Olympus' new Ultra Wide Angle and Fisheye lenses look good: fisheye on order

I'm a long time user of Olympus equipment, though I mostly claim the E-System as helping my serious photographic work.  Starting with the E-1, 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5, and 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, I did quite well as digital photography was growing out of its infancy.

I have contemplated the Four-Thirds 7-14mm f/4.0 and 8mm f/3.5 lenses for a very long time.

The trouble with both was the relatively small aperture of each.  I don't really photograph landscapes, so using the 7-14mm indoors might be a problem without substantial lighting.

Equally, the 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens was not enough for interior or lower light work at skate parks.

Today, they announced two micro Four-Thirds lenses that change all that: 7-14mm f/2.8 and 8mm f/1.8 fisheye.

At US$1299.99 and US$999.99, they are not cheap lenses, but they are not exactly expensive lenses, either, given the capabilities.  Both will be available around the end of June 2015.

At US$1799.99 and US$799.99, the Four-Thirds versions were somewhat similar in price and capability but a bit too big and slow for micro Four-Thirds.  The 7-14mm f/4.0 is a Super High Grade lens while the 8mm f/3.5 fisheye is a High Grade lens.

They're all weather-sealed.  I doubt seriously I'll be doing work at skate parks in the rain, but I suspect that these lenses will be great for many more situations.

The micro Four-Thirds lenses look absolutely small, especially compared to the Four-Thirds versions.

According to DPReview, the 8mm f/1.8 fisheye is not really f/1.8.  While they are referring to the effective depth of field, they insinuate more.  I suspect that the shutter speeds used to make use of the maximum aperture will reflect f/1.8, regardless of DPReview.  Their bias against Olympus has been so strong that Olympus refused to send them an E-3 dSLR review unit.

In any case, I'm likely to pre-order the fisheye and I may pre-order the UWA lens as well.

Update 2015.06.29: I went to the camera store to see about the lens.  They have no idea when it will arrive.  Apparently, the only information is that two of us have ordered it.  I'm wondering, as much as they ignore the California stores, if the Colorado stores are getting them first, regardless of when we ordered.  I should have gone with Adorama.

Update 2015.06.30: I returned today and talked to the manager in a firm, but pleasant tone of voice.  I told him that I didn't think that being told "whenever" as a delivery date was acceptable, and that my money didn't seem to be important to the sales person.  He agreed and swore to impress upon that person (through torture, if necessary :-D ) that sales requires a bit more finesse.  The money has been pushed back to my account, but of course, that doesn't happen immediately, does it?

A few minutes later, across the street before entering a store, I called Adorama, checked to see if they had the lens in stock, and they had just received 10 of them.  I should have it Thursday or Friday and I'm using 2nd Day Air.  It could arrive the same time regardless, but UPS will artificially hold packages, even when they don't have enough deliveries, unlike FedEx.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mirror-less, interchangeable lens cameras have been mainstreamed for around 6 years

It was late in 2008 when Panasonic and Olympus announced micro Four-Thirds and when Panasonic quickly introduced the DMC-G1.

Panasonic had very little success with the DMC-L1 or the DMC-L10 and partner Leica didn't really do much with the Digilux 3 dSLR.  Olympus had more like with the E-330 (like the DMC-L1 or Digilux 3) from that time, bringing Live View to the masses.

However, Panasonic, by itself with the G1, made people think.  It was a dSLR-style camera body and the controls were similar enough that it didn't confuse.  It was just that there wasn't much available, especially since Olympus didn't have anything ready.  If not for the Four-Thirds lens adapter, there would not have been much available at all.

Those lenses have helped me transition from Four-Thirds to micro Four-Thirds, though I'm still skeptical about the system, even though I own the Olympus E-M1, Panasonic GH4, and 4 native micro Four-Thirds lenses.

If my skepticism was strong for micro Four-Thirds, it was impossible to break concerning Sony's NEX-system.  It still doesn't have very good support since 2009 when it arrived.  FujiFilm has certainly surpassed Sony in many ways, most prominently in lenses.

Samsung has once again come with something, and it's not a Sony clone this time.  The NX1 and the NX500 actually seem useful.  It took them several generations of crap, and they barely have any lenses or industry support.  I wondered if they would have transitioned their name to Beta, to match Sony's change to differentiate themselves from the copier.  It might be interesting to see if Samsung could manufacture (micro) Four-Thirds sensors for Panasonic, Olympus, and those hiding behind the Kodak name.

Sony has recently shown that they have created a 20 MP sensor for (micro) Four-Thirds, which is interesting, if it can improve only low light photography.  ISO 3200 seems my reasonable limit.  However, seeing the Pentax K-50 with a lower pixel density at ISO 3200, it seems APS-C is not really better, even though the high limit of the K-50 is ISO 51,200.  Perhaps, with a higher resolution lens, it would be better.

Of course, Sony's 135 Format A7-series is much more interesting, as far as technology goes.  As far as lenses go, my skepticism is very high.  Adapters are much more necessary than they are with micro Four-Thirds.  For my use, a dSLR is still better but for those who don't photograph sports, the A7 Mk II looks a treat.  For people who don't mind huge lenses, and back-breaking backpacks, 135 Format is great, mirror-less or otherwise.

I've been looking at old lenses recently and it's amusing to see the old crap that I used to have to sell because there were so few great lenses.  I'm so thankful for the digital revolution, especially since Olympus' Four-Thirds lenses made things so much better.

The company has been making headway with their "PRO" series lenses, despite the silly name.  The 12-40mm f/2.8 is quite good, especially for just under $1000.  I wish they could have put a bit more of the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 goodness into it, but it would have raised the price, and increased the size and weight to where the lightweights would have complained.  However, a 67mm filter size might have allowed an f/2.5 maximum aperture instead of f/2.8.  I've used the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 with the Panasonic GH3, so a 67mm or 72mm filter size wouldn't have bothered me--the closer to f/2.0 the better.

Third party lenses are few, and I'm not sure any of the lenses from Tamron or Sigma are worth it.  Does Tokina even make lenses for mirror-less?  Voigtländer has made some good lenses for micro Four-Thirds, and Zeiss has native lenses for Sony, and adapted cinema lenses for micro Four-Thirds.  I'm sure if I wanted a US$20,000 lens for my Panasonic GH4, a Zeiss lens would be my first choice.

Thankfully, Veydra, a crowdsourced startup is working on making affordable cine lenses of a uniform size for micro Four-Thirds.  Competing with Zeiss' Compact Prime series will be difficult, but does everyone need Zeiss?  With a lack of electronic connections, these are for the serious users who want to control their imagery, just as those from Zeiss are.  The prices are quite different between the two lines.

While Canon, Nikon, and Pentax have all created mirror-less models, they seem afraid to encroach on their dSLRs, and have given somewhat too interesting alternatives.

FujiFilm has been the most exciting company in the market, with some interesting choices.  They have the best selection of lenses for any APS-C sized sensor camera bodies.  While they've been stuck at 16MP, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering the lower pixel density.  The X-T1 is a valuable body with a great EVF and enough dials to make enthusiasts' eyes spin in their sockets.

The company continues to update the firmware with fixes and new additions.  It almost seems as they've kicked Panasonic and Olympus into update mode, also.  For me, the X-T1 could have more of a grip and since there would be more room, a bigger battery.  I haven't tried the X-T1 since the 50-140mm f/2.8 lens has become available, but I wonder about the balance.  There are many times when a dSLR still feels just right for shooting sports.  However, I rarely pull out a dSLR these days.

For the majority of camera users, mirror-less models make sense, especially for those who buy a base dSLR and only use the kit lens and set everything to Auto.  Sure, you can take good photos with those, but the same can be said for cameras without the mirror slap.

One thing about mirror-less camera bodies remain--the many acronyms.  MILC seems to fit best because they are indeed Mirror-less, Interchangeable Lens Cameras.  ILC could include dSLRs and rangefinders.  CSC (Compact System Cameras) wouldn't have to have interchangeable lenses.  EVIL doesn't seem to fit as things have progressed since the original Panasonic DMC-G1.

MILCs haven't taken control of the market, but I can see when the crowd is better informed, that they could.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

ShopNBC, err, EVINE goes back to 2006 for computers

I was looking for a laptop computer for someone else.  I looked at one of the shopping channels just to see what they had.

I'm always amused that they cheat by not really being specific.  It's rare that they tell the display's actual specifications, such as the resolution or the graphics hardware behind it.  You can bet that 1366x768 is the 15.6 inch display's resolution and that it has the basic, integrated graphics hardware that is part of the CPU package.

As I've been annoyed in the past with tablet sales from the shopping channels, they're overcharging for laptop computers, as well.  I noticed a mid-2014 MacBook Pro Retina bundle was US$1100 extra for the lovely accessories.  Instead of paying US$1799.99 from various stores, you'll pay US$2899.99 from HSN.
What was really curious was an IBM ThinkPad T60.  Remember that IBM sold their PC business to Lenovo a few years ago.  You'll notice that the display has a 4:3 ratio rather than 16:9 (or even 16:10), as is typical today.  The processor is equally ancient--an Intel Core Duo T2500.  That was replaced with the Core 2 Duo a long, long time ago, and the latest are the Core M, the way Intel brands them.

Even more sadly amusing is that the price is US$214.99 for a refurbished machine from at least 8 years ago.  They should be selling it for just the US$16.99 shipping and handling--or maybe, they should be paying customers the price for taking it off their hands.

In the end, I saw many curious offers for people who can't get out to a real store or those who are not knowledgeable about companies such as Newegg, Micro Center, or even Best Buy.