Nikon D-SLR

camera review: Nikon Df – the steampunk Nikon D4

The anachronistically retro styling of the Nikon Df (B&H), 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 (B&H).

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 (B&H) 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 (B&H) performs and handles in actual use. At the same time we’ll see how it stacks up against the bigger super-awesome Nikon D4 (B&H)

You can pre-order the Nikon Df now from B&H. It comes in a Silver and Black style.
You can also buy the Nikon Df together with some Nikon lenses (B&H)

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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 (B&H), or Canon 5D Mark III (B&H). 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 (B&H) simultaneously, I decided to also add the Nikon D4 (B&H), and Nikon D600 (B&H) 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 (B&H), and Nikon D4 (B&H) 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. Right-Click and Save-As to your computer. They have been renamed in an self-evident way. (The last 4 digits are from the original file-name.) Be prepared though that this might hit your bandwidth limits with your internet service provider, since these files are quite large!

I shot sequences of images (of the same castle), with all 6 cameras, starting at 400 ISO all the way to 6400 ISO, in full-stop increments. The cameras were on a tripod. I used the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (B&H)  and the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G (B&H) on the respective bodies. I tried to keep the framing as exact as I could. In terms of camera settings, I changed the shutter speed in full-stop increments as I changed the ISO. I kept the aperture at a constant f/8 and do keep in mind this isn’t a lens test.

I purposely photographed the shadow side of this castle, so you can see how the high-ISO noise looks like in the darker shadow areas. There is also enough detail in the image so you can figure out how the higher ISO settings affect image detail.

You will notice that for some images, I changed the shutter speed by 1/3 stop lower. This is because despite me working as fast as possible, the light did change subtly in the 3 or 4 minutes in which I shot the initial sequences for each camera. So I repeated several sequences. Therefore, the images you see here, are images that to my eye looked to have the same brightness. In other words, I tried to compensate for the slight change in light levels as I shot the sequences. I know, I know, it’s not scientific, but this is as fair as I could make the comparison.

Also, be aware that I shot with Shade WB, and this differs quite a bit between how Canon and Nikon interprets that. So for your own comparison, change the images to some specific Kelvin setting. (The beauty of RAW files – these parameters aren’t fixed.)

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first impressions of the Nikon D800

I’ve been using the Nikon D4 (B&H) for a few months 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 (B&H).

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 (B&H) and Nikon D800 (B&H) 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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the Best Camera in the World ..

.. will be the one where the camera manufacturers allow me some input into the matter.  If only Nikon and Canon (and Pentax and Fuji and everyone else) would just gather around a table and listen to me.  If only …

When I get to handle a new camera, I often wonder why the manufacturers designed a camera the specific way they did.  It might be the strange placement of a button or control; or the omission of a feature, or even the deliberate hampering of features in the non-pro bodies.  Sometimes I just wish they would bring in a feature that I love on another camera.

Here are the gear-head musings on what I would insist the Best Camera in the World would be like, if I had any say in it.  (Sorry, but that means this posting will have a lot of words and no images this time around.)

Firstly, the Best Camera in the World would have to be a modern full-frame digital SLR camera (D-SLR)  for the combination of accessibility, versatility and image quality.

I recently moved from using Canon 1D mkIII bodies to using Nikon D3 bodies.  Personally, I think the Nikon D3 is the best camera that has ever been made to date.   But there are a number of pros and cons, and not everything falls in favor of the Nikon D3.  Therefore most of this post is a comparison between these two cameras, and which things from either camera I would want to see in the Best Camera in the World.

But before we even get there, I have to touch on something - Exposure Modes.  Both these cameras fall down sorely when it comes to how the exposure modes are accessed.  Pentax’s ingenuity here towers over them in this regard.

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camera settings: Nikon D3

December 31, 2008

The Nikon D3 brought incredible image quality to the usual reliability of their cameras and unbeatable optical quality of their lenses.  The multitude of settings make the D3 a high-precision camera that can be configured in a personal way, depending on shooting style.

When my D3 first arrived, it was with huge excitement that I unpacked it, fired off a few frames just for the thrill of hearing the shutter whir by in continuous high-speed drive … and then proceeded to change the settings to my preferences with Nikon cameras.  So here is an overview of my preferences for the D3, and the settings that I changed immediately upon getting the camera out of the box:

(And here’s the link if you’d like to order the Nikon D3 from B&H.)
Oh, go on, you know you want one!

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