Nikon D-SLR

review: high-ISO performance Nikon D4S vs D4 / D3s / D610 / D700

Judging image quality between different cameras, is most often quite subjective when we have equal glass with each camera. The reason for this is that the pixel count has an effect. For example, how do you compare the high-ISO noise performance of the 36 megapixel D800 vs the 12 megapixel D3? You can’t just simply zoom in to 100% and go by that. You would have to print to a specific size, or at least down-size the D800 image to 12 megapixels to fairly evaluate the images. So there’s a bit of a murky area here in fairly comparing cameras of different sensor sizes.

We now have a new King of awesomely awesome high-ISO noise performance – the Nikon D4s (Amazon). I posted one image in the review of the Nikon D4S auto-focus / AF performance, which was shot at 8000 ISO. In my opinion it looked remarkable.

So how does the Nikon D4s high-ISO noise compare to the other Nikon cameras? Well, I chickened out here. Instead of doing comparison photos and then processing them the same, and figuring out some kind of baseline in terms of image size, etc etc … I wimped out. I’m giving you the high-ISO RAW files, shot from 800 ISO and up, for various cameras. Download them from that link via a right-click and save-as.

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review: Nikon D4S – auto-focus / AF performance

The Nikon D4s (vendor) updates the already-awesome Nikon D4. The short summary lists some improvements, which while they may appear incremental, overall make for a solid new release by Nikon:
- a newly designed sensor, offering better high-ISO performance,
- an additional AF mode has been added – Group Area AF – for more accurate subject tracking,
- 11 fps continuous shooting with continuous AE/AF (compared to the 10 fps of the D4)
- ‘small’ Raw size of 8 Mpx,
- 1080/60p video
- faster processing with the new Expeed 4 processor
- improved battery performance,
- Multi-CAM 3500FX Autofocus Sensor Module with “thoroughly recalibrated AF algorithms”

For this review, I want to highlight the auto-focus performance. AF speed and accuracy is in a way subjective. There’s no numerical value we can attach to it that will tell us in discrete steps how much better the “thoroughly recalibrated AF algorithms” with the new AF sensor module will improve on the D4 camera.

My friend Yasmeen Anderson specializes as a fitness portrait photographer in NJ, and I asked if I could tag along on some of her shoots. With this photo session of actor / model Joe Monbleau, we shot in a colorful urban area in NJ. Joe tirelessly sprinted and bounced and jumped for numerous sequences. Enough time for me to fire off the D4S and see how it perform in grabbing crisply sharp images of someone moving fast.

And yes, I am very impressed. The Nikon D4S is noticeably more responsive with auto-focus on moving subjects. I’ll blame those “thoroughly recalibrated AF algorithms” in the new AF sensor.

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camera review: Nikon Df – the steampunk Nikon D4

The anachronistically retro styling of the Nikon Df (vendor), along with the digital trappings, really makes this the steampunk D4. Especially so since it has the same top-notch sensor as the Nikon D4 (vendor)

If you have used a film camera, and specifically one of the F-series cameras, this camera will catch your eye. It’s obvious that Nikon is aiming at the same sector of photographers who found the Fuji X100s (vendor) so appealing. That vintage look and styling definitely brings a certain cool factor into play. I bought the original Fuji X100, and then the Fuji X100s partly because it looked sexy. It looked like a fun and eye-catching camera, that also happens to be a serious machine.

Now we have the Nikon Df, and it takes all your Nikon lenses and accessories. Perfect for those photographers who would find this styling interesting, and already have an array of gear. I really think this camera is meant for the connoisseur – someone who wants a camera that is stylish looking, and a superb image-making tool.

Yup, it’s all quite interesting. But let’s have a look at how the Nikon Df (vendor) performs and handles in actual use. At the same time we’ll see how it stacks up against the bigger super-awesome Nikon D4 (vendor)

You can order the Nikon Df now from Amazon. It comes in a Silver and Black style.

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ISO comparison – Canon 5D mkII, 5D mk III, Canon 6D, Canon 1Dx, Nikon D4, Nikon D600

I had a number of people ask about more details about the Canon 6D and whether I would recommend the Canon 6D (vendor), or Canon 5D mark III (vendor). It’s tough enough to give advice at best of times, since the decision to buy a top-notch camera is a nuanced one. There are so many factors that come into play – your budget, weight of the camera; ergonomics; features & specification. Everyone has a different requirement of their camera gear.

So when I was able now to get my hands on a broad enough selection of Canon cameras (Canon 5D mark II / Canon 5D mark III / Canon 6D / Canon 1Dx (vendor) simultaneously, I decided to also add the Nikon D4 (vendor), and Nikon D600 (vendor) into the mix. One would expect that the Canon 1Dx would beat the Canon 5D mark II hands-down since there is a generation difference in technology as well as a massive difference in price. Similarly, one would expect the Canon 1Dx (vendor), and Nikon D4 (vendor) to compare favorably to each other.

Now, as I said, the choice between cameras depend on a number of factors – but one of them that becomes important in certain areas of photography, is high-ISO performance. Instead of relying on my say-so, and a few 100% crops, I decided it might be interesting if everyone does a bit of homework for themselves, and scrutinize the relevant RAW files. This would help in making the decision a personal one. Download the RAW files from here.

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first impressions of the Nikon D800

I’ve been using the Nikon D4 for a while now, and love it. For me, the Nikon D4 offers more than enough resolution for wedding photography.

Of course, wedding photography is a niche. There are other genres and types of photography where large files are a benefit. Landscape photographers and commercial photographers have a need for large digital files for maximum detail. And with that Nikon must have seen a gap, and made the surprising jump from the 12 megapixel D700, to the incredibly high (for now at least) 36 megapixels of the Nikon D800 (vendor)

Today I had the chance again to photograph Ulorin Vex in the studio, and I decided to use the Nikon D800. Looking at the first series of images, my response immediately was: “Holy macaroni! The files are incredible!”

The amount of detail will astonish anyone (like me) who hasn’t had the opportunity to use a medium format digital camera. Now that image quality is accessible to nearly every photographer who has a bit of a budget for cameras.

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Nikon D4 / Nikon D800 time-lapse photography – review

The highly anticipated Nikon D4 (vendor) and Nikon D800 (vendor) are loaded with features, and both cameras offer exceptional image quality. Hidden in the list of camera specs, is an item which is of specialized interest – Time-Lapse Photography. So if a photographer doesn’t have a specific interest in this, they are most likely just going to gloss over this – but this is quite a powerful feature.

With Time-Lapse photography, as with video, it just looks much more interesting if the camera moves as well. With movies too, the cinematography and how the camera moves, make all the difference. Last year some time, I stumbled on the Time-Lapse photography by MindRelic. The movement of the camera as the city scenes unfolded, blew my mind. This was done via a motorized dolly – specifically, the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly. So of course, with no prior interest in Time-Lapse photography, I immediately bought a Stage Zero dolly. It all just looked that cool.

But then the winter approached and it was just too cold to venture outside at night to try out Time-Lapse photography. So the dolly lay dormant, still boxed, in my office. Until my Nikon D4 cameras arrived a few days ago!

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Melissa & Dennis – their wedding day from Neil van Niekerk on Vimeo.

review of the Nikon D3100 video capability

Nikon recently released two very interesting D-SLRs – the Nikon D3100 (B&H) and the Nikon D7000 (B&H). Improving on several of the entry-level Nikon D-SLRs, they also offer HD video capability (1080p at 24 fps), and even does so with full-time auto-focus capability.

So when B&H sent me a Nikon D3100 for review, I thought what better test than to start in the deep end, and use it during a wedding to shoot HD video. The intention was to use the HD video from the D3100 along with the still photographs from my usual set of Nikon D3 bodies … and compile this as a stills & video Fusion clip, shown at the top here. I shot the stills, and Jessica, my assistant with an attitude, shot & edited the D3100 video clips. A first attempt at stills/video Fusion for us.

So how did the Nikon D3100 fare? Quite impressively actually …

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Auto-focus (AF) settings for Nikon cameras

The current line-up of top Nikon D-SLRs offer a range of AF settings.  The combination’s in settings seem daunting at first.  But with other settings on my D3 bodies, I keep it fairly simple.  Instead of flip-flopping between numerous settings, I keep it simple by generally using the AF settings in just two ways.  This depends on what whether my subject is static or moving …

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This enigmatic image is my favorite from an event I helped photograph this weekend.  A performance artist at a Bar Mitzvah party  had this incredible act with a massive balloon which he’d manipulate, and dance with, and dance into, and dance out of.  You really need to see a video clip of it.   One of the many images I took during this sequence was this one where he moved right into the guests who were watching him.

The lighting on him was from the videographer who was kneeling next to me.  Since his act was so unique, and so fast-paced .. and the lighting changing, I wanted to make sure I covered all bases.  I therefore shot alternate frames as fast as I could .. with flash, and without flash.  This way I can always pick out afterward what works best.  I really like having both options to choose from in situations like this.  I want some photographs with flash to make sure I have well-lit images … but also some without flash, just in case the flash completely destroyed the mood and look of the photographs.  

The way that I easily disable the flash with a button push, is by setting custom function F6 on the Nikon D3 body to disable flash output.  It is the same for the D700, and if memory serves me, it is similar for the D300.   With F6 set to disable flash with the push of the button with my thumb, it is very simple to take images with and without flash. 

This is how I do the comparative images on this website, where I show what the ambient light looked like, and how an image looks with flash added.   Unfortunately there is no easy way to do this on Canon D-SLRs.

In post-processing the image, I had to bump up the Exposure in raw processing by 1 stop.   To saturate the colors like that, I went in to Lab mode and made a few adjustments.  (More about that in follow-up posts on how to make your images pop in Photoshop.)

Here is what it looked like with bounce flash ..

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review: Nikon D5000

August 12, 2009

In testing cameras these days, they are rated not just for specification, but for their primary qualities in helping you take great photographs.  And for that, judging the camera according to handling, image quality and auto-focus speed and accuracy, becomes even more important than just the list of specs.

Nikon D5000 hands-on review

So with that in mind, when I recently got my hands on a brand-new Nikon D5000, (B&H), I thought I’d hit the streets and see how it performs.  I took it for a late-night stroll around Times Square in New York, armed only with a Nikon 50mm f1.4G AF-S, (B&H), lens to see how the camera handled the low light levels there.

Nikon D5000 image quality

And of course, late night in Times Square is when you see and even meet the interesting people, the gorgeous people and the usual mix’n’match that Manhattan throws at you.  So let’s see how the 12.3 megapixel Nikon D5000 performed in low light, at high ISO settings; all hand-held, using just the light from the billboards ..

Here is Blueberry Studmuffin, posing for the camera.
1/250th F1.8 @ 1000 ISO; no flash

As you can see, the camera responds fast enough for a candid portrait in low light.
Impressive so far …

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