Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nikon GM: Future cameras will balance resolution with high ISO performance

Nikon General Manager of Marketing Nobuaki Sasagaki said recently that in the future Nikon would better balance resolution with high ISO performance.
Future Nikon models will provide a better balance between resolution and high ISO image quality than in the recently launched D3S, according to Nobuaki Sasagaki, General Manager of the Marketing Department of Nikons Imaging Division.
 There have been rumblings on the internet by Nikonians since the launch of the 1D4 that the D3S doesn't cut it at only 12 megapixels.  They want high ISO and higher resolution, but don't we all?  Apparently Nikon has heard these complaints and has now said something publicly about their future plans.

Personally, I like the fact that Nikon didn't go from 12MP to 24MP for the D3S and did something different... they gave us incredibly high ISO.  It makes me want one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

DPReview: Canon 1D Mark IV

The much anticipated DPReview article on the Canon 1D Mark IV was posted today.

The article is relatively innocuous yet I would say it paints the 1D Mark IV in a pretty positive light.  They do some simple comparisons to the 7D and D3S, which is really interesting.

It's also interesting to note that the article mentions that the 1D4 does quite well in their autofocus tests.  They shot some sports in bright light and not so bright light, and said that they had a high keeper rate.  This is encouraging to see given the Rob Galbraith article where he all but condemns the 1D4 and claims it's completely unreliable.

It seems that this most recent review suggests that perhaps Rob G was in fact a bit off his nut when he published his findings from his weekend of shooting the 1D Mark IV.

One interesting note is that DPReview claims that the 1D4 RAW files have 12 EV of dynamic range.  Wow, 12 stops, really?  That's quite impressive and means you can really push the 1D's RAW files around in post with minimal loss of detail.

Overall I would say this is a very positive review of the 1D Mark IV.  Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sony: New Alpha Ultra Compact

The big photography party known as PMA kicked off on Feb 20th (this weekend).  Many manufacturers announce new products during this show, and Sony certainly got my attention with this sneak peak.

The Alpha Ultra-Compact camera (pictured) will feature interchangeable lenses, but the big question is:  will they be Alpha mount lenses (or MFT?) which are used by their larger DSLR counterparts?  It looks as though they might in fact share the same mount.

Olympus and Panasonic are really promoting the Micro 4/3rds format and the new Sony certainly looks as though it's in the same class of cameras.  What would be unique is if it used full size DSLR lenses, or at least had the option to mount them.

The camera on display at the Sony booth was locked up so the media wasn't able to play with it.  The Sony reps were pretty tight lipped about the features of the new camera.  There was a sign hanging next to the camera that said "Exmor APS HD CMOS".  This sensor is actually larger than the Micro 4/3rds sensor which could mean even better image quality and/or high ISO performance. 

This looks like a pretty exciting year for small cameras!

Einstein: More Delays

The new Paul C. Buff Einstein moonlights are once against delayed according to a recent announcement on the PBC website.

The annoucement reads:

Update From Paul:

We regret to inform customers that our Chief Engineer, Dr. Michael Morgan suffered a totally unexpected grand mal seizure Tuesday, while doing final pre-production testing on Einstein. Fortunately we have a First Responder trained staff member who saved his life and we got him to the hospital in time. Mike is home resting now and begging to finish up his work at home despite a pea size brain mass that is thought to be the cause, and which is yet to be fully diagnosed. For those interested, Mike has been my friend and Chief Engineer in two companies, dating back to the 1970s.

We are reluctant to subject him to any excess at this point in time, so much of this work is going to fall on me and on other members of our staff. This is certain to add a couple of weeks to the Einstein release. We anticipate having our production vendor produce about a dozen Einsteins in, hopefully, full final production form, next week. Following successful evaluation of these units we should be ready to go into production.

My own work schedule is already about 14 hours - 7 days a week. We have been scouring employment agencies for additional highly capable engineering help for a year now. Seems our requirements are higher than the available work force. Fortunately we hired one very capable engineer about three weeks ago, but getting up to speed on this stuff takes time.

With the Einstein pre-order list now over 2500 units, believe me getting this product right and shipping is our number one priority. I have been testing and using a pre production Einstein for about a month now and can safely report that, at least in my opinion, it is a joy in every regard. I hope our customers will bear with us on this.

This isn't the first time the release has been delayed.  The story of the Einsteins goes back several years to another product called the ABMax.  The ABMax had most of the same features as the new Einstein lights as you can see from the picture to the right.

Preorders were taken in June of 2009 with the promise the new lights would ship shortly.  After a couple of months, Paul announced that a supplier couldn't produce the promised digital power system as promised (quality control issue) so they were forced to scrap the entire project and start over.

The ABMax reemerged as the "Einstein" system and was announced earlier this year.

The Einstein has meet with further delays, this most recent one due to an illness with Paul's chief engineer.

I trust that the new light will eventually make it to market, but delays in new products seem to be a way of life with PCB.  He often times over estimates how quickly he can get something to market.  The same thing recently happened with the now for sale CyberCommander.

Regardless, I am on the waiting list for the new Einstein lights.  Once I get my hands on one, you can look forward to a detailed review here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I shoot with Alien Bee's in my home studio.  For me, they work perfectly.  I've learned to work with their limitations, and honestly, I really like them.  I could afford more expensive lights, but my Bee's have been so good to me I don't give buying different lights a second thought.

With that being said, for Christmas my wife picked up a CyberCommander for me.  This was a great gift, she's such a wonderful companion.

This unit gives you the ability to remotely control your lights wirelessly.  It includes a light meter which also measures light temperature, a flash trigger, and is fully configurable for all the lights offered by Paul C. Buff

The unit runs on two AAA batteries and I've found that the Lithium Ion's typically give better service life.  I get about a month out of a set of batteries with steady use.

The display is bright and of surprisingly good visual quality.  The system is complex and the manual is fairly well written, although I found I had to read things a couple of times before it really sunk in.

The CyberCommander comes with a micro SD card for saving your light configurations.  You can configure each light on the system by telling it which type of light it is then it allows you to set the modeling light ratio so that it matches the power output of the light.

When you're shooting with the system you can, in real-time, make adjustments quickly and easily to each light in the system either individually or as a group.  You may also trigger each light individually and meter it, or you can meter the entire group.

I found that after playing with the CyberCommander for a few days the controls become quick and easy to use.  But I do see a few areas for improvement.

The Cons:
 The unit is made of moderate quality plastic.  It only costs $179 so it's not made of exotic alloys unfortunately.  The LCD display is also protected by plastic, which is pretty easy to scratch.

The neck of the unit where it mounts to the hotshoe seems very flimsy and would appear to be easily broken.  It snaps into different positions from being vertical to angling back at about a 45 degree angle .  It's too frail for my liking and a good jolt would likely cause it to break.

The unit does not lock into the hotshoe mount.  It just slides in and honestly, it isn't all that secure.  I spoke with their technical support staff and they recommend that you actually not use the CyberCommander as the trigger for the lights and keep it in your pocket vs. mounting it to the hotshoe.  This means you would have to use CyberSync CST to trigger your lights.  This is the method I'm currently using.

Finally, there's no on-off switch.  The unit simply goes to sleep after a couple of seconds of inactivity.  If you keep this in your camera back it's easy for movement to keep waking the CyberCommander up.  In no time you'll find the batteries are dead and in need of replacement.

All things considered I really do like the CyberCommander and would buy it again.  I do look forward to future improvements which correct some of the shortcomings of the current system.  I would gladly pay $300 for an improved model made of higher quality materials.   But as it stands the system is extremely useful and honestly, I can't imagine studio life without it now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

1D4 + High ISO = Love

I've had my 1D Mark IV going on almost a month how.  I've had plenty of time to wring the new body out and to get an idea of how it's going to work for me until the Mark V hits the streets in 2-3 years.

One of the first things I wanted to find out was how well it handled high ISO.  I shoot in low light fairly often and as I get more into event/wedding photography being able to hit ISO 6400 safely is becoming more and more important to me.

My 5D Mark II can easily venture into this realm without concern, and that's one of the reasons I really enjoy shooting that body.  But how does the 1D4 stack up?

I set up a scene in my studio with a colorful toy donated by my son, a tripod and my 24-70L lens.  I did use the same lens on both bodies for this test.  I let the camera meter the scene and I used auto white balance.  Here's how the images turned out.

5D Mark II

ISO 6400:

ISO 12800:

1D Mark IV:

ISO 6400:
ISO 12800:

You may click on the images to see larger versions.

First you'll notice the 5D Mark II tends to under expose by about 1/2 stop.  This has been an ongoing complaint of mine since first getting my 5D2.  At this point I don't believe Canon intends to address the issue with a firmware update.  We'll see.

But upon close inspection, I would say that the 1D4 actually produces slightly cleaner images than the 5D2.  Unfortunately what I think I see doesn't appear to be supported by DXO Labs tests.

According to DXO Labs, the 5D2 edges out the 1D4 in high ISO performance.  But in looking closely at the images from my own testing, the 1D4 appears to have less chroma noise than the 5D2 images.  As such, I'm willing to call it a draw.  It's close enough that even on the DXO rating scale it's a mere fraction of a stop difference between the two.

When compared to the 1D Mark III the new 1D Mark IV shows a noted improvement in low light performance on the DXO Labs test report, but again in reality it's only a fraction of a stop improvement.  The real benefit is the fact the 1D4 can now be set all the way up to 102,400 ISO if you so choose, although anything past 12800 is completely useless in my experience.

Just for grins, I putter around the house armed with my trusty 1D4 and snap pics of various things at different settings just to see how the new body performs.  My cat is the most frequent subject of these informal testing sessions.  Here are a couple of high ISO shots for you to consider as well.

1D4 ISO 3200:

1D4 ISO 6400:

1D4 ISO 12800:

Again, click on the images for a larger picture.

In the end I'm very impressed with the performance in the high ISO department of the 1D4.  I don't think I'll have many complaints about it's performance going forward given what I've seen thus far.

The 800lbs Gorilla in the Room

I'm sure many of you have already read Rob Galbraith's article which condemns the 1D Mark IV's AF system.  It's seems the Nikonians are having a great time with this article, flaunting it as though perhaps it's the definitive judgment of the 1D Mark IV's performance.

Rob was around back when the 1D Mark III was released and he was, to his credit, one of the first people to notice the AF problems found with that body.  It elevated him to something of a photography icon as he wrote extensively about the problems.  Canon even contacted him and had him help them diagnose the issue, an issue Canon originally denied existed.  Unfortunately Rob has removed this article from his website.

Rob's most recent excursion into Canon AF performance reviews doesn't seem to be as well received as his original 1D3 condemnation.  First, we have reports coming in from Sports Illustrated photographers saying the 1D4 is nothing short of amazing.  People like Peter Miller, Brad Mangin and David Bergman are saying the exact opposite of what Rob is saying.  These guys live and die by the images their bodies produce, and they have complete confidence in the 1D4's abilities.  Not only that, they're saying it's an improvement over the 1D3 it replaces.

Even a respected peer of Robs, and fellow Nikon shooter, Scott Bourne seems to think Rob is off his nut with some of his more tersely worded comments about the 1D4's performance.  Scott seems to think that the 1D4 is not only reliable, something Rob claims it's not, but he thinks of it highly enough to invest $25k of his own money into buying 1D4's for his business.  He's still a D3s shooter, but he uses the 1D4 mostly for video production, an area where the 1D4 has a clear advantage over the D3s.

I think Rob probably had a bad day or week.  As Scott said, he apparently has a burr in his butt over Canon.  His review, on its face, is flawed in that he was using firmware 1.0.4 for over half of his testing before upgrading to version 1.0.6.  The new firmware addressed known issues with the 1D4 tracking a subject moving at relatively slow speed towards the camera.  Also conspicuously missing are his custom function settings in his review.  These are critical to any sports photography regardless if it's Canon or Nikon.  Since the 1D4 is completely different than the 1D3 it replaced, I suspect Rob didn't have his custom functions properly configured.  Why do I say this?  Because other sports photogs have gotten exceptional results with their 1D4's.

I think Rob's post was a grab at the spotlight and to drive traffic to his website more than it was an objective review of the 1D4's capabilities.  It's also highly suspect that Rob's review is splattered with Nikon ads.  This doesn't lend itself well to credibility in the eye's of many, especially when peers are finding your review to be a bit off base.

On a final note, lets take a look at some 1D Mark IV images from the 2010 Winter Olympics. All I can say is "WOW!"  Those are stunning.  My thanks go out to the Denver Post for providing us with those amazing shots, and to Canon for providing us with such an amazing camera.

Edit:  The 1D4 has some favorable reviews coming in from the field.  Check out the comments made by several top sports photographers that shot the Super Bowl.

Also this review from the Olympics is quite interesting.

Welcome to Digital Diffraction

This is a digital photography blog where I will share with you my musings regarding all things related to digital photography, both the technology and the art.

Right now I'm a Canon shooter, but this could change at any time.  I've had an interest in Nikon bodies for some time, mostly the D700 and D3s.  I keep telling myself I could buy some great new Canon lenses for what I would spend buying a Nikon kit to go with my Canon gear (I can't sell it, I love it!).  But we'll see how things play out.

Meanwhile, this isn't a blog dedicated to any one particular brand or camera type.  I'll talk about DSLRs, EVIL's, Pen's, etc.  While most of my experience is obviously with Canon gear and my posts will likely reflect that, I'll also discuss things of interest to me regarding other brands.

Thanks for stopping by and checking my blog out.  I look forward to this little adventure!