Author Archives: Jonathan Bingham

Q&A: Thoughts about D800 File Size

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  I know you mentioned that you were not using your D800 much due to file size, so I am curious what you think about what you have read on the D600 to date.  Due to work consuming a ton of time I have probably not taken 200 pictures with my D800, and since I do not see this changing anytime soon, I need to rethink how many cameras I need at this point so any thoughts would be appreciated.

A:  Are you considering replacing the D800 or augmenting it?

I’ve realized that I probably will keep my D700 for the reason you mention.  For family pictures around the house, the D700 is completely adequate and gives me 1/3 or less data to mess with, but still with great quality images.  Do you still have your D3?  Of course it’s faster, but otherwise similar file sizes, etc., to the D700.  Though I don’t love 50MB files, I do love knowing I’m sucking every bit of detail possible out of a scene, so I like the D800 where appropriate, and then use the D700 for other pics where I don’t need/want all the detail.

I’m going to get rid of my D300 whenever I have time.  At some point I’d like to replace my D200 IR body with a D700 converted to IR.  That would make me full frame across the board, and would allow me to get rid of a number of lenses.

I think the D600 is fine, but there’s not a whole lot of difference between 24MP and 36.  It would be nice to have a bit smaller body, and it does give you a slightly faster frame rate.  Otherwise, its interface isn’t quite as configurable button-wise, so I’m not sure I’d love it like I do the D800 and D700.

If you’re wanting to back down from leading edge capabilities, then a D600 would be a good general-purpose full-frame body.  Is that the direction you’re considering?

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Q&A: Low-end Telescope Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a friend. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  [I am thinking about getting a telescope for my daughter.  What should I get?]

A:  I’ve spent a while looking at the current telescope options for your daughter.  Here are some thoughts, probably without a lot of logical organization.

It’s easy to be deceived by marketing on telescopes.  The most common thing is for cheap telescopes to be sold according to magnification.  That’s totally the wrong thing to look for.  The most important thing is the diameter of the lens or mirror, followed closely by the mount.  (Just as an FYI, you can really only get about 50x per inch of diameter, so telescopes advertising 300x or even 600x are ridiculous.  It takes a really big scope to get 300x or more, and only the best of atmospheric conditions.)

Diameter gathers more light and potentially better resolution.  Focal length gets magnification, but generally works against the other important specs:  angle of view and brightness.  As far as diameter goes, I would try to get close to 6″ (150mm) for a reflector (mirror), or 3″ (75mm) for a refractor (lens).  For focal length, it would be great to get 1000mm or more for a reflector, but a refractor may be quite a bit less.  It would be good to get a scope that comes with at least two eyepieces.  Usually something like a 25mm or so for a wider / lower power view (magnification is equal to the telescope focal length divided by the eyepiece focal length).  And a higher power eyepiece around 8mm or so.

Telescopes are like most things – you make compromises.  If you are interested in looking at stars / galaxies / star clusters / nebulas, then you generally want a telescope with a big diameter, shorter focal length, and a low-power eyepiece.  But that’s a little more advanced than truly starter objects like the moon and planets.  Planets and the moon need higher powers to see, and they’re relatively bright, so a smaller diameter is OK, but you want a longer focal length and higher power eyepiece.  There’s no telescope that does both well.

And another misconception is that you want a telescope to look at stars.  The truth is that stars are very boring.  There is no telescope you will ever look through that is able show a star as anything other than a point of light.  That’s really not very exciting.  Clusters and galaxies of stars are interesting, as are nebula (dust and stuff from stellar explosions).

Most of the time, beginners like the thrill of seeing the craters on the moon or a planet.  That wears out pretty quickly, though.  And remember they don’t look anything like the pictures most have seen from Hubble and other modern huge scopes.

The next step, though, is stellar targets like galaxies and nebula.  They can be pretty fun and there are dozens that are visible with modest scopes.  That’s what will keep a person interested in using a telescope most of the time, since the planets are not always easily visible.

Bottom line:

If I were buying something for a beginner, I would buy, in the following order:

Binoculars – Binoculars are the often overlooked best option for most viewing situations.  They’re easy to use.  They can reach a good number of galaxies, clusters, and nebula.  The can still show decent views of the moon, show the moons of Jupiter, and, if you look carefully, show the crescent of Venus/Mercury and the rings of Saturn.  A nice pair can be had for less than $100, and they can also be used for other stuff, like looking at birds.

Binoculars are described primarily by their power x lens diameter.  A 7×50 pair means that they are 7x magnification and they have 50mm (2″) objective lenses.  Once you get to 10x, you can’t hold them steady enough to be really enjoyable.  If you get much below 50mm diameter, they are not well-suited for astronomical use.  I recommend a pair of 7×50 binoculars.  Here is a great pair for $73.  Highly recommended!  (I’m not sure if kids can really appreciate binoculars as opposed to a telescope, though.)

Low-cost, wide-field telescope with “Go-To” – This is a low-cost refractor (lens) telescope with GoTo that will (after pretty easy North and level alignment) automatically go to 1400 objects including all the planets.  If you choose to go with a telescope, this would be a great choice.  The relatively small diameter and short focal length mean that you won’t have great high-power views of the planets or bright views of the nebula and galaxies, but it should be an easy scope to use, and the price is right.  Meade is a good quality telescope manufacturer.  (Both of my telescopes are Meade, but I don’t have experience with their smaller scopes.)  $250 is really cheap for a GoTo scope of any kind.

Low-cost, larger telescope with “Go-To” – This is a low-cost 5″ (130mm) reflector (mirror) telescope with GoTo.  It would be the closest thing to a good compromise for both planetary and stellar viewing.  It would gather more light for nebula and have a longer focal length for planets.  It’s $400.

Hopefully among those three options you’ll find a good one to fit both your daughter’s interest and your budget.

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Q&A: New Entry-Level Camera Purchase Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Here is an opportunity for you to redeem the reputation of Nikon aficionados by guiding me in the selection of a new DSLR camera. 🙂 My budget is up to $1,000, but that can go primarily to the camera body if need be. On the lower end it looks like the D3200 or D5100 might be good choices. On the higher end the D7000 got really good reviews. My original Nikon was a D50 (it’s kaput now) and it came bundled with an 18-55 lens and a 55-200 lens. My impression is that neither lens is particularly great, but they work and sticking with them for now gives me more budget for the camera body. Do you agree? So, what do you think overall?

A:  Well, crud.  Nikon had a Black Friday deal that ended yesterday for $999 on a D7000 and 18-105 lens.  Now it’s around $1200.  Still $300 cheaper than usual, but not within the $1K limit.

The cheap kit lenses really aren’t bad, and the 18-55 (either VR or not) looks surprisingly good for the price on my favorite lens testing web site.  The 55-200 doesn’t fare as well, especially in the middle of the range.  But most lenses will do a fair job if you keep them stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8.  (On the D7000 and other high resolution bodies, you can’t stop down too much or you start to lose sharpness due to diffraction.  On it or even worse, the D3200, f/11 is the most you can stop down, and even there, you have started to lose sharpness, especially on the D3200.)

Anyway, the D7000 is a great DX body with excellent performance, focusing, etc.  It’s around $900 right now.  Can’t go wrong for a higher-end body.  Does movies, too, of course.  Great body for an “enthusiast.”  17MP, which is more than enough.

If you’re looking for a great lower-cost body for family and vacation shots / movies, then I would look closely at the D3200.  It’s 24MP!  Does movies, if you care.  Has all the expected ease-of-use features you’d ever want.  Great body for a person for whom a point-and-shoot isn’t cutting it any more, but who doesn’t really anticipate becoming a camera nut.

I have the 18-70 and 18-200 lenses if you want to try them out if you buy a body.  I like them both for different reasons.

This is so exciting!  Always glad to help others spend their money.  🙂

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Q&A: Travel Bag Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  I just got a bunch of new gear, and I would like to buy a good camera backpack for hiking (and also airline carry on compliant).

A:  LOL.  I just counted and I have eight different photo backpacks, plus two waist systems.  Three of them are on their way out the door, so if you decide on a LowePro I might have a good deal for you.

If the world were a perfect place, I would use a waist system, as that’s my preference for carrying / camera access.  But DSLRs have grown a lot and that makes it harder to find a workable waist system.  (I like the LowePro.)  You don’t indicate if you’ll need to be carrying other non-photo stuff with you or not, so here’s my list of current favorites, from smallest to largest:  (All carry-on compliant internationally, in my experience.)
  • Think Tank Streetwalker Pro – excellent smallish pack, but still has room for modest amounts of travel items along with the kit you list.
  • Think Tank Streetwalker Hard Drive – fairly large pack, room for big glass, slot for laptop.
  • Think Tank Airport Security V2.0 – Full-size rollaboard, pouch for laptop, great quality wheels/handle, room for lots of glass and stuff.  (OK, it’s not a backpack, but it’s still worth a mention.)
  • F-Stop Satori EXP – Maximum capacity, extremely lightweight, aluminum frame, modular camera inserts (guessing the small pro might hold your kit, medium pro definitely would), but leaves lots of room for clothes, sleeping bag, food, etc., water bladder, etc., laptop pouch, etc., (or with the XL insert accommodates a very large amount of gear).  Carried this thing for many days in the Himalayas and it was fantastic.
All of these bags have provision to neatly strap on tripods (not sure what size tripod you have, but my Gitzo 2541 works well).  And all have traveled into the far reaches (carry-on) w/o complaint from any airline.
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D800 First Impressions Follow-up 2

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Jonathan — how are you liking the D800? Everything it’s cracked up to be?

A:  Really love it.  Up ’til now I didn’t think anything could outdo my D700.  But in most ways the D800 is substantially better.  There are four things I can think of that are negatives:

  • 36MP / 50MB file sizes (RAW) put a strain on every aspect of shooting.  Most lenses aren’t up for it.  1/3 the number of pics per CF card.  Three times the storage required.  And wow, Aperture takes forever to render the D800 frames, and doesn’t seem to have the right cache setup or something for such large images because going from frame to frame and then back again requires re-rendering every time.  And it can’t even have three frames viewed side-by-side and keep them all rendered.  It’s a real pain.
  • Battery life is lower.  Substantially fewer shots per charge than the D700 and D300.
  • Slower frame rate.  I really have gotten used to the faster frame rates of the D300 and D700 with the D3 battery in the grip.  The D800 feels very slow compared to them.  But on the other hand, the first issue above has caused me to take FAR fewer pictures.  A little like shooting film again…
  • Accessory cost.  For some reason Nikon is charging double for all the D800 accessories compared to all the previous models.  E.g., setting up a grip for the D800 with the premium battery / charger setup is over $1K!  D700 was half that.  Ridiculous.

My original thought was that it will easily replace both my D300 (birding, taking advantage of the crop factor for telephoto) and the D700 (everything else).  And it clearly does everything they do (with the above exceptions) and then some.  So pretty quickly I decided I should get a second body and ditch the others.  But  after living with it for a few more weeks, I’ve decided that 36MP makes it harder than expected to be an every day camera.  The sensor makes it unlikely that you could find a one lens kit that would make sense.  You end up having to carry multiple  larger, heavier lenses.  I’m going to Nepal in a few months and have a 7.5Kg limit for my entire pack, and I have yet to figure out a D800-based kit that will allow me to also take clothes.

Other than that, it’s a great, great camera.  The noise is great, the dynamic range is INCREDIBLE, AF seems very good, 2-axis level is much more useful, and the controls are much better.  I especially like the Liveview button and function on the D800.  As far as video goes, I have no idea.  Haven’t tried it yet.
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D800 First Impressions Follow-up

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Are you shooting everything at the full 36.2 Mp or have you played with DX crop.  Im thinking with the DX crop you still get 15.3 Mp (more than the D3 or D700) and you get that effective 1.5x from the crop.

I guess you could just crop it in post, but seeing the frame full from the camera image also seems to make some sense, not to mention that it will significantly cut down on storage.

A:  Definitely using the DX crop often.  I have a button assigned to give me the option so I press that and rotate the dial between DX and FX (easily, w/o removing my eye from the viewfinder).  The screen shows a box around the DX image area when DX is selected.

That ability to switch easily and minimize the file size where appropriate is one of the big positives for me.  It has been available in the D700, etc., before, but only now does the resolution make it a viable option.  (Well, I guess it would have been OK with the D3X, but that’s a bit pricey.)  The D800 can be a souped up D700 for normal shooting, but also instantly become a replacement for the D300 (w/better resolution and noise) for birding, etc.

The sample image of the Warbler was in FX mode only because the thing was too close to get in the frame of the DX crop, so I quickly switched to FX and fit her in perfectly.  BTW, that’s a real improvement over the D300 for me.  And shooting in DX mode, you have the area around the crop indicator to help you know what’s just outside the frame and what may be on its way into the frame.  It’s a little like having the 200-400 zoom.  I can see a larger area to help with quick framing, and I can zoom out if need be by switching to FX.  (I remember shooting whales with you wishing I had your zoom’s flexibility to help quickly acquire the subject and then get tighter once I had it in the VF.  This gives me something close to that, at least to help get the subject in the VF more quickly.)

And the 15+MP is definitely a step up from the D300, both in resolution and quality of pixels.

I’m really concerned about the storage thing getting out of hand, so the DX option really helps there when I’m birding.

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D800 First Impressions – Part 1

I finally had a chance to shoot with my new D800 on Tuesday. (I decided to delay travel into the night so I could have some daylight.)  I was just glancing at some of the pics while on a call and found one that illustrates some characteristics of the D800.  I’ll post more next time about my general impressions of the camera, but this pic will answer a couple of important questions – at least for me.

This is a (female or juvenile) Black-Throated Green Warbler:


The technical details are:

JPG – Fine – L, FX crop (36.2MP).  300mm/2.8 AF-S VR, TC-20E III (600mm), F11, 1/200, ISO 3200, Distance 7.25’
LE NR – Norm, Picture Control – Standard, Active D-Lighting – Auto, JPG Comp. – Optimal Quality
Processing in Aperture:  Mild sharpening, added Definition and Vibrancy, slight White Balance, Exposure +0.5

There are two important things to notice here.  First is the incredible detail possible with this body.  The Warbler was quite gregarious and often came closer to me than I could focus!  I had to keep moving away from her, and had to switch from DX (my default birding configuration) to FX to fit her in the frame.  (What a great option to have available vs. the D300!)  BTW, the DOF at that distance is about 0.2”, or less than a quarter of an inch.  Check out the area around the eye.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.01 PM

Screen grab of 100% view in Aperture.

Another note:  The 300/2.8 VR I w/TC-20E III would not be considered a super sharp combination.  After realizing how poor it is wide open (F/5.6), I’ve started shooting at F/11 to at least get acceptable sharpness.  Still it’s nothing close to the 500/4 (on my wish list) or the 600/4.  Bottom line, this is not the best you can get out of the D800!

Second, notice the noise.  This is an ISO 3200 shot, with exposure pushed another 1/2 stop in post!  There was no noise reduction except for what may have been done in camera.  (Not sure if there was any…)

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.28 PM

This is much cleaner than my D300 at 1600, and as good or better than my D700 at 3200!  Wow!  I may have found a replacement for both.  Unfortunately, that means I’ll likely end up buying another one so I can continue to have two bodies.

As I said, I’ll try to do another post ASAP to present other thoughts about the D800, including overall feel, battery life, frame rate, focusing speed, controls, and accessory costs.

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Q&A: Long Lens Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  What’s your favorite long lens, the 300mm f/2.8?

A:  Long lens.  Hmmm.  That is SO dependent on application.  I trust Thom Hogan’s reviews a lot.  There’s also a good discussion here.

The 300/2.8 is top notch.  (I have two of them.  The AFS mk 1, and the AFS VR I.)  It’s the easiest to travel with on airplanes.  But I’ve finally had to admit that it doesn’t give the level of sharpness I want when I add a TC, especially the 2x.  And for what I need a tele for (birding), 600mm or more is often necessary.  Bottom line for me is that the 300 is too short.  Another good thing about it, though, is that it is very hand-holdable (if you have strong arms), especially the VR versions.  Available for $3-5K depending on the model.

Some like the 200-400/4.  It’s sharp until you get past 100 yds. or so.  When you’re shooting very dynamic subjects (like whales) it’s handy to be able to have a wider view to find your subject and then zoom in for the shot.  It’s often hard to initially frame your subject with a longer fixed lens.  And the 200-400 is very hand-holdable if you have the arms for it.  Can be found for $5K in great shape.

The 400/2.8 is probably the sharpest of them all, but is very hard to travel with on airplanes.  It’s too big to be hand-held.  Ever.  That means you can buy an older AFS mk I or mk II since you’ll likely never use VR.  They’re all incredibly sharp.  Decent with TCs, too, so it can be a decent 800/5.6.  Great for sports and wildlife.  Can be had for $5-7K for the older non-VR models.

The 500/4 is less difficult for travel, very sharp, and barely hand-holdable for short bursts.  Many view it as the practical sweet spot for wildlife.  I’m looking for a 500/4.  But that’ll run 6-8K for a current VRII, which is the model I want so I’ll have the best shot at hand-holdability.  I missed a mint VRII with all of the optional feet and camo covers a few months ago.  Just took me too long to decide to part with that much cash.

The 600/4 is the ultimate for wildlife.  Will always be on a pod, so the VR isn’t necessary.  With your new D4, the AF will work even with the 2x TC.  You can find decent AFS mk I or II for $5-8K.

Don’t overlook the 200/2.  You’d love that one with video, and folk say it makes a very decent 280/2.8 or 400/4 with the 1.4x or 2x.  And it’s cheap!  😉

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Q&A: Travel Tripod Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  [I am] looking for travel tripod recommendations.  something i can toss in my suitcase or easily carry in an airplane.  i assume a 4-section leg is a must and would prefer CF, but that’s not a deal-breaker.

i plan on traveling relatively light.  probably just my d7k, 17-55, and 10-24.  my current tripod is a manfrotto and my head is a 322RC2.

that being said, would love to hear any recommendations (and traveling tips) you have.

A:  I have a Manfrotto 3001N aluminum that I used to carry.  (I think they renamed it since and may have discontinued it later.)  It fit into my 22″ roll-aboard diagonally w/o head and worked fine.  It was around $100 a few years ago.  I think it’s a three segment, and definitely wasn’t as tall as I wanted.

So a couple of years ago I added a CF Gitzo 2541 that is nearly exactly the same length folded up, but is more than tall enough for my needs when extended, even w/o center column.  (I’m 5’11”.)  Pricey but very light and rigid.  I have the large Markins ball head for it and it all works well and is pretty easy to travel with – always in my carry-on bag (domestic US).

It is definitely sturdy enough for a pro body and lens, but probably not for a 300/2.8 or above.

I have carried one or the other into six or eight countries and had just one instance where the tripod was a point of discussion with security.  When passing through Tokyo Narita’s transit security an agent removed the tripod from my carry-on and measured it, saying that it was nearly too long to be allowed to be carried onto a plane.  I’ve never heard of that before or since, even though I have gone through there a number of times since then without difficulty.

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Q&A: Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 AF

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  With new little baby running around, I wanted to snag a great low light (super fast) prime lens to grab some fun portraits etc..  Anyone have any feelings about the Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF?

A:  I like the 85/1.8.  I don’t use it too much anymore since I have a couple of 2.8 zooms that cover the portrait range for day-to-day candids.  But whenever I know I am going to shoot some intentional portraits it is nearly always my go-to lens.  I used it on my DX cameras and loved it, and now use it on the D700 with the same great results.

Though the design is obviously pretty old, it is still tack sharp on the D700.  It’s nice and small, so it’s easy to carry and shoot.  And it’s cheap!  I got mine for $250 many years ago (used) and you can get a great example for $250-325 today.  The lens has a definite look to it, and I like the bokeh just fine, though I know that is very subjective.  Focus speed is typical for a non-AFS lens.  For portraits that’s completely adequate.  (BTW, you didn’t mention what body you have, but be aware that since it is not AFS, it will not AF with some of the newer low-end bodies that lack the focus screw like the D40 and D3x00.)

Yes, the new 85/1.4 is on my wish list, but not because I’m dissatisfied with the 85/1.8.  It’s just one of my character flaws…

I think the 85/1.8 is a very good lens, so I’d recommend it highly as a great value.  Unless you would be satisfied with a 50, I don’t think you’ll find another fast portrait lens for anywhere close to the price.  And the best part is that if you pick one up used you will nearly certainly get your money back out of it if you decide you don’t like it.

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