Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Preview: Nikon D5000

Today, Nikon Europe announced Nikon D5000: the first Nikon DSLR with a swivel LCD screen. (It is also available on Amazon now).

It seems to inherit most of the features of the Nikon D90, EXCEPT the weight, pentaprism (D5K has a pentamirror it seems), the second command dial, ability to add a secondary battery pack, and the in-body focus drive for lenses that lack focus motors.

There seem to be some improvements too though:

- Swivel LCD
- Live view subject tracking
- 3 video modes
- 2 more options for in camera post-processing
- 19 automatic scene controls

We will see how it matches with other models and the Canon's recently announced T1i. I will add a preview of this camera here soon, do keep watching this blog!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rumor or reality: Nikon D400

On a Flickr group, I heard about a replacement of Nikon D300 (D400) to be announced on April 14, 2009.

Can this be true? Are DSLR makers this desparate to get half cooked models out at this rate? Canon has just announced a Rebel T1i which is virtually a Rebel XSi with a higher resolution sensor and a video mode.

Consumers are going to be mad with DLSR makers if the latter continue this trend. Many consumers actually wait for an year or so for prices for a new model to slide down before they can afford it. But if even newer models keep coming up once a year, everyone's investment on the most recent one just looks like a waste.. doesnt it?

Anyways, more models must mean previous models going on sale. So wise buyers will still go for a model or two back in the lineup and save their money for better glass (lenses) instead.

Review: Nikon D90 v/s D300

Here is my complete video review on Amazon.com that is now the most helpful critical review, thanks to your votes:-)
I have tried both Nikon D90 and D300. And although I am a beginning amateur, I want to share my experiences hoping they help.

[1] Sensor: D90 and D300 are 'said' to have the same sensor. But I don't think that has been officially approved. Reasons? D300 has a 14 bit AD RAW conversion, D90 only 12 bits. Also, if you look at professional sensor test data at dxomark for the two, the test results are different enough to suggest they are not the same. In fact D90 looks like a colorized (metaphorically speaking) improvement to D300 sensor for the consumer market from those results.

[2] Body weight/feel: D300 is definitely a tank if D90 is a hummer. D300 also feels very very solid and heavy in hands. In fact I tried D300 with the 18-200 Nikkor VR lens, they were too heavy for me together on my neck.. but that's just me. I traded a used lens recently with a D300 owner in the area, he had a D300. And he was putting it up for sale on Craigslist since he already had a tougher D700 and he thought D90 would be a faithful backup. Even he didn't care much about the video. D90, although made of commercial grade hardened plastic, feels much better than the consumer grade Canon Rebels (yes I have owned them before to compare). Of course its build wont match D300's.. but it isn't as badly built as you would think. It is smaller/lighter though.. and if a bigger grip is what you need, D300 should be your choice. For me, D90 fits like a glove in my palms. Go try it out, you will know what I mean.

[3] Price: I need not say anything here. You know that you can get a D90 body + a decent lens for the price of a D300 body alone.

[4] Controls: D300 is built more for manual and program mode photographers. Don't expect to pick it up and start shooting quickly if you have always used consumer grade SLRs. There are no auto scene modes (landscape/portrait). You can still program it in A/T/P/S modes. That's good, right? But a transition from D70 to D300 may not be as quick as you would think. Not a bad thing though.. because you would enter the realm of pro grade cameras then:-) But just so you know: it took two camera staff and I 20 minutes to figure out how to switch to live view mode in a D300... 2 of us were using consumer grade DSLRs, and 1 was oldie film shooter.

[5] Live View: Don't know if you will use it or whether you need it or not, but I use D90's live view on tripod at least for macro like shots. Even during a recent zoo trip, I was using it to fine tune the focus.. hand held.. it does help. Anyways, you must know that D300's live view is more accurate than D90's at live view zooms.. D90 seems to interpolate from lower resolution live feed images, causing jaggy and blurry edges if you zoom in to 6.7X in live view. D300 gives you accurately interpolated edges as you would see with your naked eye. Further, D300 provides the quick AF mode during live view.. the one that flips the mirror up to use traditional AF method. D90 only provides one live view focus mode: contrast based..which is slower.. but still useful for stationary shots.

[6] Now I will talk about the video. Granted you don't need it. And you should not buy a DSLR for its video features. But if it is there as a bonus, it does come handy. Its not pro-grade (well a D90 isn't a pro grade camera anyways, right?). So I would say don't discount this feature without using it. I used to think it is a waste.. until I found the opportunity to grab some minute long precious moments of my nephew that I could no way have captured in stills. In one such shoot, I could capture his adorable attempt to explain how his ball rolled over to the adjacent lake.. and all those gestures and his eye movements and the changing smiles were almost impossible to catch just in still images. Here is an average clip example that I liked in addition to the other still shots since it took me back to the scene because of the sounds and the shallow DoF test in the end. There are many more on my profile page on DPC... though not great, were great fun to do.

So in the end, if you don't care about the video, are ok with spending almost $400 extra, and definitely need a tank like built body, get the D300. Its a solid performer so I have heard, though lagging just a bit in low light results from D90.

Else, you can get the D90, with the bonus of almost $400 saved for another lens, and an amateurish video clip feature, with which I guarantee total DoF testing awesomeness:-)

Here is a Nikon D90 review in case you missed it earlier.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Kata H-14 Holster camera case

I bought this bag after a lottttttt of online review and after checking out other branded bags in the stores. I knew I definitely needed a bag that would allow me to access the camera with a lens mounted in a quick manner. So I was looking at slingpacks and the holsters. This was the only holster style bag that-

- would allow the flexibility of becoming a sling pack with an optional accessory
- would host the camera face down for quick top access
- would have a designed flexible yet sturdy casing for the camera in the central compartment... separate from the other lens and accessories
- would have two side pockets to keep an extra lens in one plus accessories in another
- and would be solidly built.

I have used it to keep the following at different times:

[Combo A]
- A Canon Rebel XSi + Sigme 70-300mm lens in the main compartment
- A Canon 28-105mm lens + a 50mm 1.8 II lens in one side pocket
- Lens/body caps + battery charger + cleaning kit in another side pocket
- Spare SD card in top sleeve above the camere

[Combo B] (a bit tight, but 50d does fit in there)
- A Canon 50d + Tammy 17-50mm 2.8 lens in the main compartment
- Lens/body caps in one side pocket
- battery charger + cleaning kit in another side pocket
- Spare CF card in top sleeve above the camera

[Combo C] (My current kit)
- A Nikon D90 + 18-105mm lens in the main compartment
- A Nikon 70-300mm VR lens in one side pocket
- Lens/body caps + battery charger + cleaning kit in another side pocket
- Spare SD card in top sleeve above the camera

Bonus: It looks great!!

The only con I found is that the top flap's zipper is a bit too sturdy to quickly open it in need. I think it is by design.. so if one wants a quick access, she/he can leave the zips open but instead buckle the flap up. The bag is also great in the way that you can review pics/change settings/look at back LCD panel without taking the camera out.

A perfect bag for you if you only want to carry a maximum of 2 lenses on a trip/hike: a basic kit lens on the body, and a zoom in the side pocket. Still leaves room for other stuff:-)

I would highly recommend this bag for starters.... you will soon realise that you have spent more than the price of this bag because you switched those generic bags 2-3 times (do the math, you will know). You may rather buy a great bag in the first place.. and it will last a long time too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting the "Nikon" vivid colors from a Canon 40D

If you read my previous post on getting vivid colors out of Canon 50D images using Canon picture style editor, you may be interested in this post too.

I have created a lightroom template file, which tries to vividify the greens/blues/yellows in a Canon 40D landscape image just like a Nikon D90 result.

Here are a few samples:

Updated 02/20/2010. I get many emails every week asking for my custom picture styles, and how to upload them to your camera. Here are the answers:

[1] If you are interested in a copy of the picture styles that you can import to your Canon 50d camera, download them from this link. No catch here, its available for free. I am a big proponent of the "free resources for all" policy:-)

[2] Check this link for how to upload a custom picture style to your Canon camera, provided your model supports it. If it doesnt support it, you can still apply picture styles after you download pictures to your computer.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nikon D90 SDK hack and liveview image captures

So I downloaded Nikon's camera control SDK code, and built a sample program. Its pretty cool!

It allows one to set/reset pretty much all the menu items that one can do with the on camera menu system.

The one interesting test I did was to fetch liveview images off the camera by setting different zoom ratios in sequence.. so I was saving what would be shown on the rear LCD directly onto my computer. The results matched with earlier observations that the D90 firmware interpolates from a very low resolution buffer image when zooming in: to me that low res size seems to be 640x480 pixels. Here are the actual dumped files, in increasing zoom ratio, from 1X, 2X, 3.3X, 5X, 6.6X (max allowed on camera), and 10X (only allowed via SDK):







As can be seen, its a simple interpolation mechanism.. most probably a bilinear one.. that causes the zoomed in images to look jaggy upon zooming in. This is almost like a total digital zoom, with the source image being only 640x480 pixels. Imagine making 100 pixels (10x10) out of a single one in increments! So out of other things, one of the reasons for D300 being pricier than a D90 would be this: in D300, the zoomed in image in live view doesnt look so badly interpolated.

Here is a related thread if anyone is interested. I wonder if it does Nikon any good to have such poor interpolation scheme from a 640x480 buffer. For everything else, its such a fantastic camera. But then nothing is perfect in this world, is it? :-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nikon D90 Low light images

We just got back from the California Disneyland.

I got so many keepers. But I was most surprised by D90's performance in low light. We were in this show about Aladdin. The stage was only partially and intermittently lit, and we were sitting in the balcony. I couldnt use the 50mm 1.8 since I needed to zoom in. So all these pics are from the 18-105mm at f/5.6 I believe at max zoom with VR ON and very high ISOs.. between 2800 and 3200. The complete collection can be found here if you are interested.

Most of these are 100% crops since the zoom reach was not enough to get to individual characters so I had to crop them. To my relatively inexperienced eyes, these look like decently noise-suppressed images.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nikon D90 Low light test

I just did a simple test to see how Nikon D90 does in low light. The following are links to 100% crops from the scene on the left.

The Camera: Nikon D90
The lens: Nikkor 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 VR
Tripod: Yes
Lighting: Two fluoroscent bulbs behind the camera, low light, at night.

The objectives were two fold:

[1] See how worse it is to use in-camera JPEGs versus NEFs for low light

[2] See how well does the in-camera noise removal work.

As labeled, the first image in each row is from raw (NEF), second one is JPEG from the camera without any noise removal, and third one is with in-camera normal noise removal enabled. (You will have to click on the individual image sections below to goto to the full 100% crop images to see the differences. The blog editor downsizes them to fit in the limited space here).

ISO 400 (NEF, JPG, JPG-NoiseRemoval-Normal)

ISO 800 (NEF, JPG, JPG-NoiseRemoval-Normal)

ISO 1600 (NEF, JPG, JPG-NoiseRemoval-Normal)

ISO 3200 (NEF, JPG, JPG-NoiseRemoval-Normal)

ISO HI1.0 (NEF, JPG, JPG-NoiseRemoval-Normal)

If you would like to see some real life examples, please follow this link.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nikon D90 Street Photography Challenge

If you own a Nikon D90, and are willing to participate in a Street Photography challenge, here is your chance!