Jan 192008

Thursday evening my friends Andreas Frei (who happens to be a silent visitor of this blog, hi Andreas!) and Wolfgang Platzer came to the opening of the show in Villach. Wolfgang asked us if we had time next evening to see a Jazz concert by a newly formed quartet, the Alpen Adria Jazz Ensemble, in Klagenfurt’s premier Jazz club Kamot. Wolfgang was the organizer, Andreas would mix and record the show, I would have plenty of opportunity to take images and Wolfgang would lend me his Nikon 80-200/2.8. Of course I agreed 🙂

The Alpen Adria Jazz Ensemble is named after an initiative to bring the peoples of the southern alps closer together. It’s members are Michael Erian, Austria, on saxophone, Jure Puckl, Slovenia, also on sax, András Mohay, Hungary on drums and Renato Chicco on organs. The concert was fantastic. They played own compositions and variations on pieces of Thelonious Monk.

The image to the right is a variation on the same theme, shot some seconds before the Image of the Day. In fact, I’m not sure which one I like more. This one is right out of the camera, the other one enjoyed some minor cloning.

Photographing with an 80-200/2.8 was terrific. Most of the time I had the camera mounted on the tripod, but with loosened ball head. This study of Michael Erian holding his sax may demonstrate the extremely shallow DOF and the nice bokeh of this lens at 200mm and f2.8.

I shot the whole concert on Auto ISO with a maximum ISO of 6400 and a minimum shutter speed dependent on the lens. With the 80-200 I used everything from 1/50s to 1/200s, depending on the degree of action.

For some motion studies like this one I set the camera to manual mode, dialed in 1/5s and then tried to capture motion blurred action. This worked out well for the saxes, was not very effective for the organist, and is definitely the way to go with drummers.

Other than the 80-200, I used my 50/1.8, the 30/1.4 and the Lensbaby, all of them wide open. The D300 did a marvelous job. I had the camera set on custom white balance taken from a sheet of paper on the table. That’s the advantage of having artificial light that does not change. Using Auto-ISO, I was able to relax and keep experimenting.

At the end of the day I went out with 362 images, and that brings us to a peculiarity of the D300, and I guess all the new Nikons:

The way I shoot, JPEG Large Fine and 14-bit RAW with lossless compression, the camera has no way to accurately predict the number of images that will fit on my 8GB CF card. It simply assumes the worst case, and that’s a meager number of 218 images. The problem is the compression. How well an image compresses is very dependent on the actual image data. I ended up with 362 images on the card, and the camera still predicted 18 more images. Thus, although I use 14-bit NEF instead of 12-bit on the D200, and although I have 12 megapixels instead of 10, I now get more images on the card.

The other thing is battery life. I had started with a fully loaded EN-EL3e, and after the concert I was not even down to half the capacity. That’s a big plus over the D200.

The Song of the Day is “Congeniality” from the classic 1959 Ornette Coleman album “The Shape of Jazz to Come“.

Jan 062008

Just when I wanted to drive to Klagenfurt for a photo session in the early evening, we had freezing rain and the street was glazed with ice. Thank you very much! I turned around, went back into the house and with me slipped our cold and wet cat Tonto. Here he is, taken by me lying on the floor, seen through the Sigma 20/1.8 at f1.8 and 1/160s.

What’s remarkable about this image? Oh, nothing, it’s the only one I have. And yes, one thing, it’s been taken at ISO 6400 🙂

My original idea for yesterday, inspired by a hands-on report on The Luminous Landscape about the Nikon D3 and D300, was to set my D300 to ISO 6400 (H1.0 in the ISO settings), de-activate Auto-ISO, activate picture control “monochrome” and shoot some B&W with a fast lens, e.g. the Sigma 20/1.8. The theory was, that most of the noise would be color noise (at least that’s the case with the D3 at ISO 25600) and B&W would come out quite well.

This is pretty much against my normal shooting style. The sane thing to do would have been to set maximum ISO to 6400 and leave the camera at Auto-ISO, but in this case I wanted to stick to 6400, just to see how good or bad it gets.

With the weather being as it was, this image of our cat is the only one I made, and I made it in not so dim light, the fast shutter speed of 1/160s would not have been necessary to freeze the cat (he was already frozen), but on the other hand, these are settings that may be very useful when you have to take images of moving people.

What did I do to this image in post-processing? I’ve cloned out a leave of grass that was entangled in his hair, I’ve copied the catchlight on the right eye to the left, I’ve increase contrast in the eyes, cloned out two distractions in the background, cropped the image, added a vignette, a levels adjustment layer, and finally I’ve toned it.

What I did not do, was any kind of noise reduction. Therefore, the noise that you see (rather not see, even if you click on the image to get the bigger version), is just as it came out of the camera. Actually it must have been slightly increased in magnitude, due to the levels adjustment.

Is this good enough for a newspaper? All the time! Is this good enough for a print? This depends on what you want. You certainly lose detail, but when you compare it to anything you would have been able to get with film, it’s still amazingly good. Thus, while color images from the D300 suffer badly at ISO 6400 (3200 is the maximum that I’d recommend), in B&W it is perfectly usable. I shall do some more experiments at that setting, maybe today, maybe next week in Vienna.

The Song of the Day is “Cold & Wet” from Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s 2006 album “The Letting Go“.

439 – The Lookout

 Sigma 70/2.8 Macro  Comments Off on 439 – The Lookout
Dec 272007

Oh my, these are a lot of images today, and they are all from a one hour trip by car, just a round through the neighborhood. All images were shot with the Sigma 70/2.8 Macro (what else) and, no, I’m still not tired of it. Actually there was the one or other temptation to change to a wide lens, but I did not give in. I want to learn this lens, want to get a feeling for the frame and what you can do with it.

If it were not so obscenely late, I would probably post even some images more, some test shots for this lens’ bokeh, but that will have to wait, hopefully not longer than for the weekend.

The first image is of a farm on a hill, and this was actually the first and only moment when I was tempted to change lenses. It is always that way when I shoot primes: it takes me some time to accommodate to the way the lens sees, to fall into this particular vision. At this time I still felt awkward, and I think it shows.

The next shot is nothing particularly special either, but it turned out to be a test shot. I took it at f11 first, and then I thought, hey, let’s get the background a little more blurry, let’s do it at f4. I tried and … it did not work. It was not sharp. I tried it again, then at f2.8, tried another focus point, no way! At f8 it was sharp.

Could I have a focus problem? And why hadn’t I recognized it days ago? Well, now that I thought of it, most of my images with this lens have been at f8 or above, and those below, they were focused so near that it was completely insignificant if it was a millimeter back from where I had targeted. I checked it again, using f2.8 on the houses from the first shot, and what I saw was what every lens tester would qualify as “a bit of softness wide open, as to be expected”. Hmm … approaching hyperfocal distance would certainly make things better. Could this “bit of softness” be actually a rest of the focus error?

For a short moment I felt dismay. Of course it would be no problem to get the lens changed. I had this with the Sigma 20/1.8 before, I went to the shop and left it with a brand new one that focused perfectly, but at that moment I was not in Vienna, I wanted to shoot with this lens, and having it not doing what I wanted it to do was annoying.

And then I remembered: AF Fine Tuning! Boy, I had written about it, but I had never used it! And really: It took me three or four shots to find the best value of -15 (on a scale from -20 to +20), and that was it! I love the Nikon D300!

The next shot is of an abandoned farm house by the side of the road. Every time I see it (that’s maybe a hundred times a year), I think that I should take an image of it, but either I am in a hurry, or, more likely on these weekend trips, it is completely in shadows, whatever, today was the day, I remembered, acted, and it was good. Well, at least I like it 🙂

It’s f8 again, and the next one, the Image of the Day, this lookout by the side of the forest, was even shot at f11.

Why did I chose exactly this image? I think it is for the elegantly curved lines, and then because it is another good example for an image shot with a 70, that does pretty well in the field of conventional landscapes. You know, I love wide-angle lenses, but, as I always say, it is so easy to please with the wide-angle, it’s almost no challenge at all.

Again maybe one kilometer further, I shot this image, first at f13, and then I thought, let’s try f2.8 for some more visual depth. I focused on the other lookout tower and, I’m afraid you can’t really appreciate it at these sizes but, it was tack sharp. Not a trace of softness, not at all. The lesson? Never expect softness wide open. Always check if you have a focus problem, and if you can, fix it with your camera. The D300 can do so, the D3 as well, and while in the Canon line I only know for sure that the 1D MkIII can, I expect the 1Ds MkIII will certainly be able to do so.

Two final images to go, both at f8. I greatly like this one, again for the elegant line of the street curving around the glade. I’m not particularly glad about those white posts, but I didn’t want to take them out either. In a way they accentuate the line of the street, but I wouldn’t have been unhappy about something more decent with a bit less contrast. Oh well, I guess aesthetic considerations were an afterthought for the farmer. If at all 🙂

Hey, we’re through! This last one is an image of a ruined farmhouse, and I had this house some time in September. All images of today were converted from RAW in Capture NX. I like the way this program keeps the look of the camera-generated JPEGs. The only thing that I have changed from the camera settings, was to reset all sharpening to zero, and in two cases I have adjusted exposure to salvage the red channel. After saving as TIFF, I have finally post-processed the images in Photoshop. This normally included some color correction, minor cloning and strongly sharpening the luminance channel with “Smart Sharpen”, a radius of 0.3 and a value of 400. Crazy? Try it for yourself. There is a lot of detail buried, even in these already detailed images that the D300 can produce.

The Song of the Day is “Look Out For My Love” from Neil Young’s 1993 album “Unplugged“.

Dec 222007

When the D200 appeared, it was clear from the beginning, that the camera would be a compromise. Superior ergonomics and an absolutely professional feature set were paired with a sensor that had weaknesses in the high-ISO range, at least compared to what Canon could deliver at that time. Don’t get me wrong, the D200 was (and is) a fantastic camera and in normal light its image quality was second to none, but from ISO 800 and above it began to deteriorate, where the Canons still could shine.

For most people this would be absolutely no problem, but for some, a camera can’t ever be sensitive enough. Sports shooters are such a crowd. For sports you need high shutter speeds, and at the same time you want detail. For a long time this was the domain of the Canon 1D Mk II, at least from the moment when the 4 megapixel Nikon D2h became uncompetitive. The D200, although very fast in operation, could not break into the lower portion of this market, and it failed for exactly this reason: too weak image quality in high ISO ranges.

While it could not get the professionals back to Nikon, it brought many advanced and serious amateurs though, people who were able and willing to use the spectacular feature set, and who began to rely on it. From a usability point of view, Nikon has some killer features, and the D200 certainly has them all. ISO automatics are such a feature that you, once you have experienced it, wouldn’t want to miss ever more. You set a maximum ISO, a minimum shutter speed, and then you forget about all that and go shooting. The camera keeps to the base ISO (100 for the D200, 200 for the D300 and the D3) as long as it can without falling below the minimum shutter speed. From then on it increases ISO, but only so much as is needed to maintain minimum shutter speed.

Compare that to what you have to do without that feature: Would you constantly change ISO, essentially mimicking the automatics? Certainly, you could, but then you’d have to risk not shooting at all. Chances are that you won’t. You’d probably set ISO to a value that should work with most light conditions that you’re likely to experience. See the problem? You may have a camera with a theoretically superior sensor, but most of the time you would have it set to a higher ISO than needed, essentially burning image quality. Isn’t that interesting how ergonomics can influence quality?

The other killer feature, insignificant as it may seem at first, was the option to zoom to 100% with one button press, and not to the left upper corner or something like that, no, to the focus point of the image. One click, and you know if the image is critically sharp or not. No Nikon below the D200 has that, and it becomes so addictive, that I can’t imagine ever again shooting without that feature. I could accept another button, no problem, but not having it at all would be unacceptable.

There were many other interesting and partially unique features, but there still remained some things to wish for. For me, those were better high-ISO performance and a 100% viewfinder. For my style, lines coming out of corners are very important. I like that, I think it strongly anchors an image. With a 95% viewfinder this is no problem as long as the lines come at 45 degrees relative to the edges, but it quickly gets nasty for very small or large angles. A 100% viewfinder of course fixes the problem perfectly.

Enter D300. It certainly changed a lot, and my two most important wishes were fulfilled. Additionally I got such useful things as the best LCD on any DSLR ever, even better ergonomics, better build quality, better white balance and a much better autofocus, along with gimmicks (at least for me) as Live View.

And now? What is there to wish for? What would I like to see in 18 months when the D400 will most likely be in my hands? A full-frame sensor?

Probably not. That’s something I could have now with the D3 (although for a premium), or in the Canon world at a much better price point with the 5D. Actually the 5D was a camera that I had considered originally, and then I had gone for the D200. Why? Well, the 5D would have been only slightly more expensive, but I would have had to spend much more on lenses. Consider only the wide-angle zoom. At the moment I use a Sigma 10-20 and I couldn’t be happier. At an equivalent of 15mm, it is almost as wide as it gets for recti-linear lenses, the quality is more than adequate, and it set me back 450 Euros. Compare this to a 16-35L MkII or a 17-40L. The same applies at the long end. My stabilized 18-200 is equivalent to 300mm, and I could get a stabilized 70-200/2.8 for below 2000 Euros. Try to get a stabilized 300/2.8 for that price.

Basically, what kept me from buying the Canon 5D originally, keeps me from wishing that the D400 will be a full-frame camera, and it is what kept me from even considering the D3. I mean, I could live with a full-frame camera when for example it had much higher resolution, but wishing for, no, that not.

What else? Now, there are some minor annoyances with the D300. It has a menu (“My Menu”) that you can put together individually. I have the setting for Picture Control there, Auto ISO on/off, sensor cleaning, Active D-Lighting, but I can’t put the menu points for minimum shutter speed and maximum ISO into that menu. This is deliberate stupidity, but nothing that Nikon couldn’t fix with a firmware upgrade. Probably they won’t do it, but they certainly could, and I wish they did. If not for the D300, then at least for the next camera.

Now it begins to get a bit thin. Even better ISO performance, yes, certainly. Last night was the longest night of the year and now it can only get better, but I will still have to shoot mostly in the dark for at least one or two months, thus ISO performance is something that I take all the time.

The other thing could be resolution, but on the other hand, 12 megapixels, and I mean good 12 megapixels, are already a burden. File sizes are big (I shoot lossless compressed RAW plus large fine JPEG, netting about 20MB per shot), from a typical weekend I return with between 2 and 3 GB of new images, and processing times in Photoshop rise with file size as well. Would I reject a camera with higher resolution? No, of course not, but wishing for? Probably not.

And then? Nothing. At least nothing that I could imagine. The ever important ISO and a minor fix in the menus. This is not very much to wish for, and that’s not even due to lack of fantasy on my side, it is simply because the D300 is so very good.

The image of the Day was shot this afternoon on my way to the train. The stone is the edge of the building that I work in, and I used the Sigma 70/2.8 macro, as always the last three days.

The image has something cool, in the sense of cold I mean, and cold it certainly was. The Song of the Day is cool and distanced as well: “Coolsville” from Laurie Anderson’s 2001 album “Live in New York“. Hear the studio version on YouTube.

Dec 172007

After two weeks of having the Nikon D300, it is time again to spend some words on this camera. You know, every new gadget is interesting and it takes some time to get used to it, but two weeks, that’s enough for more than an impression.

Now once again: Was it worth it? My spontaneous answer on the first day was “yes”, and it won’t really surprise you that I stick to it. The D200 already was a camera with a lot of professional features, and the D300 beats it in almost every respect. Its autofocus is much better, especially in darkness, its image quality is higher, the automatic features just work and get it right more often, the fabulous monitor and the 100% viewfinder are a blessing. This is an almost perfect tool. It has its limitations as any tool, but when you know them, there are hardly any surprises.

I have not used all of the functions. I have tried Live View once, but witout looking into the manual (400 pages, I have not read it) it seemed confusing. I may be wrong, and as I don’t need it, I can hardly complain. Other than that, everything was just as on the D200. Some new arrangements in the menus, some good, some bad, but after a day or two you get used to it and have forgotten that it was ever different. In any case there are no major annoyances. For anyone coming from the D200, it is simply the same tool, only of higher quality.

The software situation is not perfect, but I have everything I need. At the moment Nikon bundles Capture NX, although sadly it has become very slow. I suppose it is something with the way the software handles picture styles, in any case Capture NX 1.3 is much slower than 1.2 was. For anyone not having a D300 or a D3, I would strongly suggest skipping 1.3 and waiting for Nikon to speed it up again.

Photoshop CS3 handles the D300 perfectly, and as Camera RAW is also a part of Photoshop Elements, I suppose it will work nicely as well. If you still have not upgraded from CS2, now is the time. Adobe plays nasty and won’t support new cameras in CS2.

As regards image databases, I use IMatch, and although it crashed upon indexing a directory with D300 files, it took 24 hours until Mario Westphal supplied a workaround, and since then I had not a single problem. Speak of excellent service!

PTLens is about lenses, not cameras and therefore does not care, Photomatix Pro 2.5.3 does not crash but produces garbage when I open NEF files, but normally I use it on bracketed JPEGs, therefore I don’t really care, and although I have no D300 profiles for Noise Ninja, I normally let it auto-profile the image anyway.

This image was made yesterday in the early afternoon. I had seen the first sun in a week, and I was glad. I didn’t make any particularly interesting images, so this funny bird may suffice. The JPEG out of the camera would have been OK, but I wanted to extract as much detail as possible. You’ll hardly be able to see it at this size, but there was quite some detail left to be squeezed out. I am especially fond of the texture in the feathers.

Nikon 18-200 at 200mm, f5.6 and 1/400s at ISO 200. Post-processing in Photoshop.

The Song of the Day is the “Funnybird Song” from the 1973 Carla Bley album “Tropic Appetites“, her second cooperation with Paul Haines after “Escalator over the Hill“.

Dec 052007

Originally I wanted to write about a new and fantastic feature of the D300, the possibility to calibrate the autofocus for lenses that would otherwise front-focus or back-focus. I mounted the lens that would probably be most susceptible to focus errors, the Sigma 20/1.8, set up a test stage with books, and made a series of test shots. Well, I don’t particularly mind that the combination was spot-on for every distance, but for demonstration purposes it would have been interesting.

What’s the theory? The D300 can remember focus adjustments for 12 lenses, and these must have a built-in CPU. Maybe that is used for identification purposes only, I don’t know and Nikon didn’t tell. Most manual focus lenses don’t have a CPU, but obviously wouldn’t profit from AF adjustments anyway, most autofocus lenses have one, and certainly so anything built in the last 10 years.

Nikon does not recommend setting AF adjustments for lenses that don’t need it (Doh!), and they warn that by using these adjustments, a lens can stop focusing to infinity.

Mount the lens that you want to adjust. From the setup menu, under “AF fine tune”, you can select one of the 12 storage slots and then enter an adjustment value between -20 and +20, 0 being neutral. Positive values move the focus plane away from the camera, negative … you get it. Fine tuning must be enabled to be used, by default it is “OFF”.

You can “name” the storage slot with a two digit number (initially between 01 and 12), they recommend using the last two digits of the serial number. How silly is that? There are already several places in the menus where we can enter text, so using the same text editor gadget wouldn’t have been too hard, would it? Anyway. That’s how it is, and that’s the end of today’s D300 report. Let’s move on to the the images.

In the morning, when I went to work, I had some minutes without rain, and in that time I shot this image of some graffiti. You see, I go to great lengths to avoid having Ted running out of his favorite motive 🙂

The rest of the time it rained, so I was forced to use an umbrella and the all-weather cover of my Lowepro Slingshot 300 AW. It only stopped raining after I had arrived.

At work I immediately was the target of jokes, and they recommended me a job as rain dancer. Well, funnily enough, although I left work in the afternoon under a clear, blue sky, it again began to rain after only 10 minutes. I was less than amused.

Both images, the graffiti and the Image of the Day, were shot with the Nikon 50/1.8 at f1.8. What a wonderful lens that is.

The Song of the Day is “An Unexpected Rain” from Melissa Etheridge’s 2007 album “The Awakening”. Fantastic stuff, highly recommended. Hear a live performance on YouTube.

416 – Castles In The Air

 Nikon 18-200 VR  Comments Off on 416 – Castles In The Air
Dec 042007

This was the fifth day with my Nikon D300. Like on all those winter days I shoot mostly in the morning when the sun may be up, but definitely can’t be seen down in the streets, or after work, and that means various kinds of street lights, normally all at the same time, a weird mix of difficult light conditions. Low-contrast low-light situations, and the next moment highest contrast, soft pastels mixed with over-saturated street lights, everything a nasty tester would throw at a camera, and all that happens just naturally.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing hard to handle, all that can easily be accounted for, you only need to manually tweak settings until the result is OK. Nothing could be easier than that, but it takes time.

Is that so? Not necessarily.

The difference between any camera and a good camera is, that the good camera can do most of that by itself. Mind, I don’t want the camera to exclusively be on full automatic, I do want to be able to tweak things if I feel like that, but in those twilight situations, when I have maybe 20 minutes and not more, in those situations I want a camera that I can trust, a camera that simply does the right thing, a camera that I can forget, a camera that leaves me to my dreams of color.

Well, the D300 is not perfect. We’ll talk about imperfections another time, but don’t worry, there is nothing grave in this department. As a tool it comes closer to this ideal than the D200 ever did. This is due to all the things I have already mentioned, white balance, better high-ISO behavior, the better monitor and the 100% viewfinder, but it is also due to the fantastic ergonomics, coupled with wide-ranging customization options.

What are my convenience settings? Well, I almost exclusively use mode “A”, meaning that I set an aperture and let the camera choose the shutter speed. Most of my subjects are static, thus that works for me. Action shooters normally do the opposite.

Unfortunately this covers only a small dynamic range, and when the resulting shutter speed gets too low, there is no way out but cranking up ISO. Any camera lets you dial it in, but that is tedious. I always use “ISO Sensitivity Automatic Control”, set the maximum ISO to 3200 and the minimum shutter speed to 1/15s, yes even down to 1/4s when I shoot with the 18-200 VR at the very wide end. ISO 6400 was too much, but 3200 works great, at least for me. In that mode, the camera lowers shutter speed until it reaches the lower limit, and from then on it increases ISO, always only just so much as to keep me above the lower limit. When it finally reaches the maximum ISO of 3200, it gives in and from then on it again lowers shutter speed, going beyond the lower limit. Obviously this system extends the working range greatly, and it does so in a very practical and unobtrusive way.

Other than that, I have “Automatic D-Lighting” set to “Normal”, base ISO to 200, and the center point of the multi-selector set to “Zoom”. Normally I press this button after each shot and this zooms me immediately to maximum. There is no better way to check if an image is sufficiently sharp. Actually, if I should choose a feature that I’m addicted to, then it is this zoom to 100% with one click. The D200 already had it, but the button on the D300 is of better quality, making it very unlikely to use the arrows instead.

The monitor is set to display each image after the shot, and I display highlight clipping as well as the RGB histogram. The metering is automatic matrix metering, and the focus is set to “Single Point”.

Enough for tonight. It is insanely late and I should get a cap of sleep 🙂

The image was shot on my way home from work. Nikon 18-200 VR at 18mm, f3.5, 1/6s and ISO 3200. Post-processing was done in Photoshop.

The Song of the Day is “Castles In The Air” by Don McLean. Hear it for instance on “Legendary Songs of Don McLean” or live by a well-seasoned McLean on YouTube.

Dec 032007

Welcome back to the fourth day of my Nikon D300 user report. You missed the third? Nope, yesterday I had nothing to report 🙂

Let’s look at “Active D-Lighting” today. “D-Lighting” is a term that Nikon used in Capture NX for their variant of Photoshop’s “Shadow / Highlights”. Actually I always liked it better than the Photoshop filter, because it is much less prone to halos. Beginning with the D80 (I think), Nikon introduced a similar functionality in their cameras. I had never seen it before, but of course the D300 has it, and I had to try it out.

“Active D-Lighting” can be activated under the shooting menu, and there are four levels to choose from: “High”, “Normal”, “Low” and “Off”. The default is “Off”, because this function does not come for free. It lowers your maximum burst rate, so, sports shooters, beware!

So far I have it on “Normal” all the time. Images shot in low-contrast situations are not affected, so there is no risk other than lowering a burst rate that I don’t need anyway. OK, but what does it do? Simple. When contrasts are high, it automatically tries to preserve detail in highlights as well as in shadows. The effect on “Normal” is subtle, but I like it.

Today, in clear but slightly hazy weather, I have made a test shot from our garden down the valley, a landscape shot including the bright sun. The result is not bad. Tons of detail in the sky, only the actual sun disc being burnt out, and still detail on the trees in the garden. When I look closely at this ISO 200 shot, I see substantial noise in the shadow areas. Nasty? No. Much better than it would have gone black.

If you have a camera capable of it, and if you have Nikon Capture NX (for the time being, a license coupon comes with the D300), you can try the effects of these settings under the “RAW Adjustments” menu.

To my eyes, the look of the D300 images is very natural, and “Active D-Lighting” is probably the biggest contributing factor. The human eye has a much larger contrast range than any camera’s sensor, and shots made in bright sunlight frequently suffer. Mind, this is no magic, but it works reasonably well, can be switched off after the fact if need be, and it gives me images that simply look “right” to me.

That’s about gear for today. There is more is to come another day.

What’s new on the art front? Oh Goodness, I had a completely uninspired day. When I sat in the taxi from home to Velden‘s railway station, I still had no Image of the Day, thus I used the opportunity of not having to drive myself, and shot some 30+ images through the windshield, mostly with Auto-ISO set to “Off”, giving me shutter speeds in the range of one or two seconds. The Image of the Day is a composite of four images that were shot in Velden.

I prepared the image on the train, but when I arrived in Vienna, I felt a little insecure. Was it really enough for an Image of the Day? I decided to get the camera out and make a backup shot, just in case. The image of the escalators in the underground station finally made me confident that I would not have to resort to my archives. In the end, I still took the composite.

The Song of the Day is “Living In The Fast Lane” from Hans Theessink’s 1989 album “Johnny and the Devil“.

Dec 012007

Yesterday I have applied noise reduction to an ISO 1600 image, today I have deliberately chosen to do not so – on an ISO 3200 image. Can you see the noise?

For me, the most important reason to buy the D300 and to replace my trusty D200 now and not in weeks or months, was the supposed low-light performance. You see, I work all day and, at this time of the year, regardless of how the weather is, when I leave work and begin to have time for photography, it is dark. OK, when you browse through the images of last winter, you will see that I was not exactly unproductive, but having some options more, is never a bad thing.

Click on the image. I guess you still can’t see any noise, and I can’t, even when I look at the image on the whole height of my screen, at 1200 pixels. Ain’t there any noise?

There is, and it is quite prominent in a 100% crop. Click the image to the right for full size, and see for yourself.

I really like this noise. It is nice noise. No color blotches, only grain. I have yet to print one of these images (my printer is in Vienna and I am in Carinthia now), but I guess it will come out quite fine.

At the moment I have “ISO Sensitivity Automatic Control” (the good old Auto ISO) set to go up to 6400, but I think I’ll change that. 6400 is OK for documentary purposes and for certain situations when you want to use noise creatively, as a general purpose setting it is too high. I would need a D3 for that, but maybe in 18 months the D400 will do as well.

This was it for today. Stay tuned, the story goes on.

The Song of the Day is “When Lights Are Low” from Roberta Gambarini’s last album “You Are There“. The Germans have the sound sample.

Nov 302007

Oh well! Yesterday I bleated something about being curious how long I would be able to resist the lure of the D300, and six hours later I had it 🙂

And I didn’t even lie! Honestly. In the morning I’d had no idea that I would buy it so early. I had the idea to first read all the reviews, go to a shop and try to shoot some images on my own card, analyze them at home and figure out if there is really so much improvement from the D200, that it would rectify the purchase, and blah, blah, blah …

Is it so much better?

I have not done very much with it so far, but some things are already clear:

The new LCD is a dramatic improvement, and so is the new 100% viewfinder. These two alone would have been reason enough.

Automatic white balance has been greatly improved. Even at night on the street I get very natural colors. On the D200 it was almost always off, mostly much too yellow, but the opposite could be true as well. On the D300 it’s nothing short of amazing.

ISO 1600 was usable before, but needed a lot of post-processing. In night shots, applying Noise Ninja alone was normally not enough. Now I’d still apply noise reduction to some parts of the image (the out-of-focus background in this image for example), but for the sizes displayed on the web, I could as well use the image as out of the camera. It’s more that I already was in Photoshop, so I took care of the noise as well. Is it dramatic? Well, yes, because it’s unbelievable how much detail you can get out of the shadows of an ISO 200 (the base sensitivity) shot. ISO 3200 is better than ISO 1600 was, and of course it’s absolutely usable. ISO 6400 is worse, but may yield usable results, that depends upon the actual light. For documentary purposes I’d take it all the time, for artistic, we’ll see.

There’ll be more.

Nikon D300 with Nikon 18-200 VR at 200mm, f6.3, 1/400s and ISO 1600.

The Song of the Day is “Blow Wind Blow”, not from Tom Wait’s “Frank’s Wild Years”, no, from “Dr. John’s Gumbo“.