Category Archives: Gear

Topics on specific tools and their uses.

West side to Kaena.

Rocky beach on the way to Kaena Pt.

Happy 2012! Good grief: its been over a year since i last wrote in my blog! (Lots to catch up on and improve.) During the holiday we took a short hike to Kaena Point. We started from the West side this time. Very different scenery compared to the Mokuleia route but no less beautiful. The shoreline is much more rocky and dramatic (if that is the right word). I wanted to travel light so i left the photo gear at home and only carried my Galaxy Note. It is simply amazing to see what this thing can do in the field! I whole heartedly believe that the “death of the P&S camera” is well under way. The following panorama photos were also captured using the Galaxy Note. Its definitely not the best panorama capture tool i have used but i am impressed, considering its my “phone”!

Another rocky beach and The Arch.

I had no idea that we had these natural arches on Oahu. We used to fish on the West side a lot but i never took the time to survey the shoreline. Shame on me.

From the dunes: the big tide pools at Kaena Point.

There were a lot of people out there. There were two Hawaiian Monk Seals in the middle of the tide pools as well. Thankfully everyone paid their respect and kept their distance. I’m sorry you can’t see them in my photos here: no telephoto lens on me. ;-)

More tide pools, looking North East.

Such an awesome place: I can’t wait to go back again!

LEICA X1: Scott’s Way.

Image of my X1 created in Photoshop CS3.

I try not to do too much complaining about camera gearz. I know how hard it is to run a business and sometimes letting the customer have everything is a “bad” thing. BUT the new LEICA X1 tickled me (the right way) to evoke this response — seen in the image above. I created my perfect X1 in Photoshop CS3. If LEICA decides that they want my money — this is what I would want, in exchange for the healthy price. More info on the X1 can be found here.

How wide is wide: part 2. Fisheye vs. 12mm.

As a follow up to my previous field of view comparison, I decided to do another comparison of the AF-D Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye and Sigma HSM 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 12mm. I used the Nikon D3 FX body this time around. (I really hated NX2 and uninstalled it after only a week; lost D700 native RAW support.) The original images were shot in uncompressed 14-bit RAW, manual exposure, f/8 @ 1/320th sec., ISO 200, manual WB = 5,000K, and focus set to infinity. I used Nikon Capture NX 1.3.4 and Photoshop CS3 w/ PanoTools 2.7 plugins to run the 16mm Fisheye distortion corrections. The exact same Nikon Standard Picture Controls were applied to each image.

12mm vs. 16mm animation.

Bottom line: a Capture NX de-fished 16mm Fisheye image is “wider” than the Sigma at 12mm (see animation above). The NX de-fished image is far better in terms of even lighting across the frame. The Sigma has got the worst corner light fall off I have ever seen! (But if you plan to do a lot of edge burning –this might be a good thing.) One thing the Sigma does well is create a very rectilinear projection. The NX de-fished image still has some barrel distortion on the edges. Consistent with my earlier comparison you can again see the color bias of both lenses –the Nikon is more blue and the Sigma is more yellow.

For the Nikkor 16mm example above, I used the Capture NX “Lens Adjustments–>Fisheye Lens” default dialog. NX automatically did it’s correction and then cropped the result to fit within the original frame size (4,256 x 2,832). You can also check a box to, “Include areas where there is no image data”. That yields this result (see below… if you “right click–>View Image” you can see larger images):

16mm de-fished with empty areas.

It is interesting to see how much more information there is on the fringe. Technically, there is even more image information but NX hits it’s limiter and then down-samples the results to fit into the default 4,256 x 2,832 rectangle. The problem with this method is a resultant loss of detail in the center of the image –where the “inward suction” was the greatest. If you do not plan to print the image very large, there is no problem. And if you take the above example; crop off the empty areas on the top and bottom –you get a decent faux panorama (see below):

16mm de-fished image: faux panorama.

But what if you do want to print your image very large? Of course the best (image/print quality) solution is to shoot a multiple image panorama with dedicated equipment. But for those of us who like to travel light, the dedicated pano gear is often too cumbersome and too heavy to bring along. In these cases there are other software solutions that work well with any (small and light) Fisheye prime lens to create a super wide faux panorama. I use the PanoTools (PT) “remap” plugin via Photoshop CS3 (see below):

16mm de-fished with PT remap.

PT remap does a much better job of straightening out the 16mm Fisheye images –although you do lose more image information on the top & bottom. More importantly, PT remap, explodes it’s transformations “outwards” rather than suck “inwards” like Capture NX. Practically speaking the above transformation, at full size, is 12,134 pixels by 3,862 pixels versus the “stock” 4,256 x 2,832. This is a gross up-sampling though. Yes, you do gain 3.8 times more interpolated pixels but technically you do not have anymore “resolution” than the original image had at the time of capture. BUT the point is: you DO retain that original resolution within the “sweet spot”. In contrast to Capture NX which sacrifices detail to fit it’s transformation inside of “the box”. The genius of the PT remap technique is that you can choose to down-sample the results into any sized box that you like.

In all fairness to Capture NX… upon close inspection of the PT rempped Fisheye image, you can see why Capture NX software engineers chose to limit their output where they did. The extreme edges, outside of the sweet spot, are so heavily skewed by the transformation that you get very little “comprehend-able” information. Again, all of these examples are poor substitutes for a high quality, stitched, multi-row panorama. But, in a pinch, they are acceptable AND better than no image. :mrgreen:

Excellent Customer Service.

SanDisk-For The Win!SanDisk is most well known for their excellent removable storage and portable memory devices. My specific dealings with SanDisk revolve around Compact Flash (CF) memory cards, for use in digital cameras. I own fourteen (14) SanDisk CF memory cards –ranging in capacity from one to eight gigabytes (GB). They are my product / company of choice and after a –very good– recent experience, will continue to be.

I had been having problems with two Extreme III 2GB CF cards (older 20 MBps ESP versions). They kept locking up my Nikon D3 with “CHA” errors. The problem was random but consistent. The CF cards in question had been purchased back in 2005 & 2006. I wrote to SanDisk Customer Service and explained my problem. A rep. got back to me within 24 hours and after a few more email transactions, gave me a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) for two new replacement CF cards! (They were direct replacements. I received two new-in-box 20 MBps ESP cards, not the newest 30MBps cards –but that’s fair.) I started the process on 07-31-08 and received my new CF cards on 08-14-08. SanDisk paid for UPS shipping both ways –SWEET!!

As a member of the small business community, I go out of my way to offer my clients excellent customer service. This is reflected not only in a high quality product but also in the way said product is delivered –promptly, on-time, with a smile :-) , and ultimately, with little to no negative impact on those around me. I think most businesses try to meet or exceed that model. But an often overlooked (by businesses) aspect of overall excellent customer service is support for customers after the point of sale.

Sadly, product and service support have taken a back seat to profit-only models recently (as most of us already know –first hand). The truth is: every single business understands that technical support, warranties, and service calls are all negative values when calculating “the bottom line”. However, they are all necessary parts of truly excellent customer service. Those businesses that go out of their way to provide quality technical, service, and warranty support (despite their negative impact on the profit margin) should be applauded! “THANK YOU SANDISK!!”

AFTER-WORD: with regard to future “bottom lines”, it really is in the best interest of every business to maintain an excellent customer relationship, for the life of their products / services. They will eventually be rewarded / re-compensated with customer loyalty and repeat business. And on the flip side of the “excellent customer service coin”: it is the responsibility of the customer to let businesses know if they are doing a good or bad job –in a courteous and professional way. (The same way you want to be treated by any business.)

Speaking of responsibility: if a business does the right thing and willingly offers support and RMA’s –DO NOT ABUSE THEIR TRUST!!! If your purchased product or service is working as it should, do not lie and request an RMA or refund for frivolous reasons. That is one of the catalysts that cause businesses to “side line” their customer support infrastructure –“shrinkage” kills profit margins no matter if it happens in a Shopping Mall or via RMA!

How wide is wide? Nikon FX + Sigma 12-24mm.

Last week was awesome! Elizabeth and I shot four weddings –lots of work but all fun. I also managed to squeeze in a cover shoot for a local scholastic magazine. Mucho mahalos to “D” and “A” –it is so nice to work with excellent people! :-D

I got a ton of photos to edit and run post’ on BUT I had a brainstorm while sitting here in front of the computer. (I needed to take a break anyways.) So, I whipped up a quick and dirty wide angle, zoom lens, focal length comparison. I used the FX Nikon D700, Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 HSM, and Nikon 16mm f/2.8 AF-D Fisheye. I shot in aperture priority @ f/11 and from a fixed tripod. Please ignore the differences in exposure.

The Sigma has a good amount of corner light fall-off (well documented). I did not test the D700’s vignetting correction but I have already read that it does not work well with third-party lenses. I shot one photo at each marked focal length: 12, 15, 18*, 20, and 24. (*The zoom ring was actually set to 17mm but the EXIF recorded it as 18mm.) The Sigma’s color rendition is warmer in comparison to the Nikon (I was locked in at 5250K for all shots). I have two examples of the Nikon 16mm Fisheye: one “normal” and the other “de-fished” using the lens correction algorithm in Nikon Capture NX (ver. 1.3)**. Here are the images:

Nikon D700 + 12mm.

Nikon D700 + 15mm.

Nikon D700 + 18mm.

Nikon D700 + 20mm.

Nikon D700 + 24mm.

Nikon D700 + 16mm FE.

Nikon D700 + 16mm NX.

As you can see, the Sigma at 12mm is pretty darn wide. Distortion is not bad (although perspective lines do get pretty intense at the edges). The biggest problem is the light fall-off, which actually covers much of the frame. (And does not go away –even stopped down.) The Sigma 12-24mm HSM is slightly wider than the Nikon 14-24mm AF-S (no pictures here). BUT the Nikon is much faster (f/2.8 constant), much sharper, and the Nikon 14-24mm does not have the same crippling light fall-off!

**One very annoying thing I learned through this quick comparison is that Capture NX version 1.3.4 (last one before NX2) cannot properly “de-fish” the D700 JPEG’s nor TIFF’s! Everyone knows D700 NEF’s are not supported but I found it flabbergasting that even “D700” tagged JPEG’s and TIFF’s were castrated also. Even for me, $110 to upgrade to NX2 is pushing it. Dammit Nikon, “throw me a frikken bone!!”

AFTER-WORD: I did not display the results here but PanoTools came to the rescue. It was able to properly “de-fish” D700 JPEG’s and TIFF’s to create the single widest rectilinear image possible using the Nikon 16mm f/2.8 AF-D Fisheye. (A “shaved” Nikon 10.5mm DX Fisheye also works but the pixel density within the usable area is very poor.)

D700: first impressions, (vs. D3).

D700 + MB-D10 in warm light.
So it has been several days now; I have had the chance to do a decent shake down of the D700. The very first thing I noticed (in comparison to the D3) is that the grip on the body is a little cramped. My thumb feels “squeezed” in between the multi selector and “thumb ridge” next to the CF door. Also the right side of the D700 body is flatter, in section, compared to the rounder D3. The D700 does not “fill my hand” as nicely as the D3. The addition of the MB-D10 does not help with this particular, “empty hand”, feeling. BUT it does make the finger purchase and palm support much more solid.

When shooting in portrait orientation, the MB-D10 actually feels better than the D3. (The D3’s CF release button’s protective flap forms an unusual bump under thumb.) I really like the mini multi selector that was added to the MB-D10 –it works very well! With the older MB-D200, I would miss a lot of shots when I had to stretch my right thumb and move my face to reach the multi selector on the S5 Pro. It is minor but very important for “run & gun”.

Speaking of run & gun: with the EN-EL4(a) loaded, the D700 is plenty “machine gun” for me. With my shooting style, the difference between 8 fps and 9 fps is invisible. Yeah… technically the D3 “goes to 11” but 11 fps without auto focus is practically useless for dynamic action sequences. Its nice for analyzing your golf swing or batting technique. But c’mon, that is what video is for. (Ever heard of the Casio EX-F1?)

The new sliding CF door is not terrible. I could see it being a problem only in the most squirrelly of situations (one handed, off balance, extreme angle shooting). Regarding the single card slot: the D3 is the only DSLR I have ever owned with more than one memory card slot. So to have “just” one in the D700 is not a problem. Sure, double card slots are nice but I can do my job just as well with a single. 8)

The 95% viewfinder is nothing to worry about. Yes, it would be nice to have exact edge to edge framing in the viewfinder. But again, I can still do my job very well without it. (Live View is 100%!) On the other hand, one viewfinder item that I do find quite annoying on the D700 is the exposure / leveling scale. Since it is squeezed in with the rest of the viewfinder digital read out, on the bottom edge vs. the right side, it is smaller and harder to read.

So far these observations sound rather nit-picky, don’t they? Yes, they are! The fact is those nits are all there is to compare… In every area that counts: performance, build, & image quality –the D700 (+ MB-D10) is practically identical to the D3! My quick and dirty side-by-side images show a tiny tiny amount of softness in the D700 images. Could it be the dust shaker? Maybe. But more likely it is just a matter of focus calibration. I’d have to sit down and do an exhaustive studio comparison to verify –sure, when D700’s rain down from the sky! ;) Who cares, really?

In my hands the only practical difference between the D3 and D700 is form factor. (Yes, of course $1,500 is a very practical difference also but my perspective is that of a career professional –equipment is ultimately a write-off.) The D700’s ability to “transform” is a huge advantage over the D3! (Though I am very glad to have one of each.) If one sat down and got neurotic, one could argue the nits –one way or the other– till discontinuation, but why bother? Bottom line: if you are a full time 9 fps shooter: D3 wins. If you are anything else: D700 wins. Both are exquisite tools!

B&H Photo, FTW!

In a previous post I mentioned that B&H Photo was one of the few big name camera retailers that did not have a “true pre-order” system in place for hot new items. Well I am happy to report that, like a champ, B&H Photo has knocked that problem out! I just got an email from B&H Weborders, regarding the D700 body. Although the D700 (body only) is still not available for immediate shipping, B&H has extended their “Accepting Orders” (special order item) status to include the D700 body. “Accepting Orders” now appears where the “Out of Stock” used to and you can now “Add to Cart” and go through the usual check out process — same as special order items. For all intents and purposes, that sounds like a real pre-order registry to me! :-D And that is why B&H Photo is still tops in my book — NICE JOB B&H!!

ADDENDUM: 08-01-08, DOH!!! Ok, so apparently that “Accepting Orders” status had a limit. Today when I checked B&H, the D700 (body only) status was down graded to “Back Ordered”. You can now only register via email or place on your wish list. Shucks! :sad: