D800 Review – Build and Handling

My current work load has left me very little time to take my D800 out shooting and on top of that I had to deal with the fact that my new Nikkor 24-70 (replacing my DX zoom) turned out to be a bad copy. I have however been checking out the body, getting used to its handling, the buttons (old and new) and overall feel.

The treasure chest...

In this post I’ll share my thoughts on the build and handling, using my Nikon D300 as a reference point, but also comparing it to the D700, from which many of you might be planning to upgrade to a D800. I will not cover all of the options and features, but will mostly focus on the main features and those that have changed compared to the D300/D700. At a later point I hope to add a post on the performance and image quality of the D800. Continue reading

Wintry Willow

By the end of this weekend I’ll have the first part of my Nikon D800 review ready. The review I’m working on is important to me, as it forces myself to get to understand all the options and functions and to be able to fully benefit from all its features.

However, in the mean time I want to share a recent picture (taking with the D800) with you, as I don’t want my blog to become too technique and equipment heavy: After all, trying to create and share captivating images is what it’s really all about for most photographers; whether you’re a professional , enthusiast amateur or just a happy smart phone snapper. Equipment is just one of the many factors in the creative process.

The image below was taken early April. After record highs in March, we suddenly got a late cold snap, including a snow storm (click on the image to enlarge).
It was pretty windy, constantly blowing the willow branch up and down out of the frame. To get a good shot with my macro lens, I used a relatively big aperture (by macro standards anyway) an ISO of 800 to get a sufficiently fast shutter speed. Technically I don’t find the image that great, but the content makes it appealing to me: In this area you won’t often find snow on top of flowering willows.

And since I can’t help myself from being very excited with the performance of the D800, check out this 100% crop of the same image (click on the image to enlarge):

I should mention that I did some basic sharpening and noise reduction, but still: The detail is amazing and that at ISO 800. Before I’ll review the image quality of this camera, I’ll be covering the build and handling of the Nikon D800 first in the next post this weekend.

D800 Review – Coming soon

Lately I’ve had little time to write about what I like to do so much, taking pictures. I’ve been busy at work, busy outside of work and busy getting setup for my new camera: When I ordered the D800, I also started upgrading my computer to be able to deal with the higher processing and storage demands the 75MB images (and video files) the D800 will generate.

Before going back to the core of my hobby (trying to take nice photos), I’ll do a review of my D800, which (surprisingly) arrived within two weeks of ordering. First I’ll go over the build and handling and after that I’ll go into the performance in terms of stills and video.

After that I’ll catch up on some other posts that I’ve been working on, while updating some of the outdated pages a bit. Oh yeah, and in between all of that, I hope to be taking some time to shoot with my new toy… stay tuned for the first part of my D800 review.

D800, D4, 5D Mark III or 1DX: Which one to get?

With the two major DSLR companies (Canon and Nikon) both announcing two new full frame (FX) cameras in the last few months, there has been a lot of buzz and excitement.  With the cameras slowly becoming available, many photographers find themselves debating which one to get.

In this article I’ll briefly discuss the evolution from the previous generation to the new generation (from both a technology and a marketing perspective) and explain why the choice between the new flagship model (Nikon D4/Canon 1DX) and the prosumer model (Nikon D800/Canon EOS 5D Mark III) might not appear to be an easy one to make. Finally I hope to help you a bit in making the right decision (hopefully it will turn out that it isn’t actually that hard to choose).

In order to understand why choosing between the flagship models and the second tier cameras in the FX line up, is more difficult than it was in the previous generation of cameras, let’s first briefly look at the last two generations of Nikon cameras. Continue reading

Crossroads

Last week, my wife and I enjoyed a brief holiday with my family on Terschelling, a Frisian Wadden Sea island off the coast of Fryslân, the Netherlands. With its quaint little towns, historical lighthouse and (by Dutch standards) large surface of nature reserve, I find it to be one of the more beautiful Wadden islands. Like the other islands, its salt marshes, meadows, dunes, forest and heath fields, along with the unique intertidal mudflats of the Wadden Sea provide an extremely important site for many species of migratory, wintering and breeding birds. An estimated 12 million(!) birds use the Wadden Sea area every year, so it’s not surprising that the UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site.

Although it was too early for the peak of spring migration, we found plenty of gulls, of various species, on the beach. Gulls might seem somewhat boring or even a pest to many people, but they are (at least to a biologist) really interesting species. Few people realize for instance that the black-headed gull they see eating discarded fries from a garbage bin during the winter, might be found breeding in a marshy area in Estonia a few months later. So although many Europeans see black-headed gulls in their cities year-round, depending on when they see them, they might be of very different “nationalities”. The northerly breeding populations are all strictly migratory, whereas populations found more to the south might consist of year round residents. As such, gulls from different countries might cross paths in the winter season.

Time-lapse Trials

Where I mentioned panorama photography as a very popular type of photography a while ago, time-lapse photography is another type that has become immensely popular with the rise of digital cameras.

With time-lapse photography you take a series of images, usually at a set interval, that are later played back at a much higher frame rate, creating a video. Depending on the interval between the shots, this lets the time that passes during the video be much longer than the duration of the video – hence the name time-lapse.

A few months ago I gave it a first try and was hooked immediately. Unfortunately, it’s rather time-consuming. The shooting itself does not need to be: If you trust that you can leave your camera behind, you can just set it up, start it and come back later (however, often you have to stay with it, to guard it from rain, storm and thieves). After the shoot, you typically have a huge amount of images to process: To create a mere 10 second movie at 24 frames per second, you already need 10 x 24 = 240 images! All these images need to be uploaded, manipulated in a raw converter and then converted into a video.

So although I was hooked, I hadn’t found time to do a second trial. Last weekend however I managed to combine a game of hockey with shooting my second time-lapse. It’s a series of 524 images, played back at 12.5 frames per second. I used Lightroom 3 and LRTimelapse to create the video. Given the relatively long interval, the first bit of the timelapse works better than the actual gameplay, but I thought it was a fun and suitable set for getting some practice with the LR and LRTimelapse workflow, including the (new) smooth crop function the latter now offers.

Once the video was created, I combined it with a FreePlayMusic track in Windows Moviemaker, where I also added a title and credits. Unfortunately I don’t have any better video editing software at the moment. For this basic trial I didn’t need it either, but if you can recommend any freeware, let me know. In the near future I hope to own a DSLR with video options, at which point I will need a bit more serious editing software.

To watch the video click here. Don’t feel silly when you clicked the screenshot several times before, you’re probably not the only one ;).

Eyes on the puck!

If you wonder why there haven’t been any posts in the last week: I was busy enjoying the winter. I have the privilege of working in an office less than a hundred meters from a lake, which was frozen for the last couple of weeks.

Besides playing a bit myself, I took a few shots while recovering from all the aches that come with skating (mostly the falling bit). Here an image showing players doing what hockey players are always supposed to do: Keeping the eyes on the puck.

Although this isn’t a particularly good image, it does illustrate nicely how one can use composition, posture and lines to lead the viewers’ eye. If you didn’t spot the puck initially, chances are that the eyes of the players, all looking in the same direction, as well as the sticks, lead you right to it. So without having the puck in the center of the image, it does become (a) focus of the image.

The player coming from the right didn’t make it into this frame. Although one could argue that this makes the image less complete, at the same time just seeing the stick coming from the right creates some tension in the image. It keeps the viewer guessing as to who stole the puck from the pack on the left and what will happen next.

Showing some leg

After two long posts featuring panorama and cropping techniques, today a short post featuring long legs.

Now you have to admit, that’s a lot of leg! What you see is four foraging Black-necked Stilts. Relative to their body, their legs are extremely long and only topped by flamingos, so their name fits them rather well. The two in the front are males and the two in the back, with the more brownish mantle, females.

The Black-necked Stilt is usually found in the shallow waters of mudflats, estuaries, lakes and other types of wetlands. There it feeds on vertebrates and small fish that live in and on the soft substrate. As with many so-called shorebirds, the long legs come in handy when wading through the water, keeping the rest of their body dry.

This crop is about 20% of the original, shot with my D300 and the 70-200mm, at 2.8. With this lens I had to be quite close. Rather than chasing the birds, I just waited at a good spot. Once the birds got used to my presence they came foraging very close to me. Although the afternoon light was a bit harsh, I felt that the nice line-up and their reflection made up for most of it.

Cropping

From stitching big to cropping small: Where the images in the panoramas of my previous post featured a multitude of the  MP (Megapixels) found in normal dslr images, today’s image, a female Costa’s Hummingbird, only has a fraction of my D300’s 12.3 MP:

To crop or not to crop
This image is a 22% crop, which means that it’s only 2.7MP. As you can see, even such a significant crop still produces an image that’s usable for web purposes. Some photographers try to convince others that cropping is bad. They think that you should just frame the image right from the start. While I agree that it would be ideal to do so, often it’s not only difficult, but simply impossible. Continue reading

Panorama photography

In today’s post we’ll have a look at a type of photography that is very popular these days: Panorama photography. What is panorama photography? In theory: Capturing images that show a lot. In practice: A type of photography in which multiple overlapping images are stitched together, creating one large image. Where this was very difficult to do in the film days, nowadays, with digital files, it’s relatively easy with specialized software. With panoramas, we tend to think of wide, horizontal landscapes, but panoramas could also be vertically stitched images, or images stitched together both horizontally and vertically, sometimes creating a 360 degree view!

Hugin
A while ago, my friend Julien showed me the free photo stitch software by Hugin. With Hugin “you can assemble a mosaic of photographs into a complete immersive panorama, stitch any series of overlapping pictures and much more”. Before I got to know this software, I had never taken the time to really dive into the world of panorama photography. Since I learned that I didn’t need expensive software (like Adobe CS5) to create panoramas, I started reading up a bit more and actually trying it.In this post I’ll share the great challenge of panorama photography with you. Before I do that, you should understand why you would do panorama photography to begin with. It will be from a dslr camera point of view, but most concepts can be applied to other systems as well. Continue reading