copyright Peter Evans
March 25th, 2016
The Nik Collection is now completely free
The Nik Collection of desktop image editing plug-ins, once a very expensive piece of software, is now being offered completely free of charge by Google.
As many of you who have spent a week with me at Painting-Photography-France will know, the Nik Collection of Photoshop plug-ins is a real favourite of mine; the Black and White processing plug-in, 'Silver Efex Pro' especially, is absolutely superb.
A few years ago, these plug-in modules were over £120 each; then after Google acquired Nik Software, all seven plug-ins became available for around £140. Now they are completely free. Amazing.
Support for, and maintenance of, the plug-ins by Google may well be short-lived but, nevertheless, adding them into your Photoshop or Elements filters should now be a complete no-brainer.
Get them here
January 23, 2016
How many pixels do you really need?
It will be apparent to anyone who follows this Blog that I only write about things when I feel the need to say something that may be of interest to others. Well, something has just happened which has prompted me to click on my ‘New Post’ button.
I recently received my complimentary copies of the Water Lilies book from Garden Art Press which I mentioned in my posts of November 5th and July 11th last year. So now, at last, I can see the final result of how GAP have handled my images for myself. Although I’m still disappointed that it isn’t the style of book I’d originally assumed, and that there are therefore fewer of my better photos in it than I’d hoped, I am pleasantly surprised by the quality; it's hard-backed, 30 x 24 x 2.5 cms, uses high grade paper, and is quite weighty. The reference number is ISBN: 9781870673839
The image below is one of several that the publishers have chosen to print full bleed across a double page. As a result, the image measures 48 x 30 cms (about 19 inches x 12 inches) and, although I say it myself, the result is excellent. Others who have seen it have described it as “stunning”. And, remember, this is a reaction that comes from viewing a 150 dpi printed image at reading distance - i.e. half arm’s length.
Now I’ve chosen to tell you this, not from any sense of self importance, but to prove to you the fact that you don’t need a camera with masses of megapixels to produce a stunning print. Not at all. Although I now shoot mainly with a Nikon D810, this particular photograph I'm showing you here was actually taken several years ago with my trusty 12 Mp Nikon D300. The image was uploaded to the publishers as shot - i.e. it was a 4288 x 2848 pixels image and it was published virtually uncropped. The lens I used was my favourite water-lily lens, my venerable Nikkor 80-400 AF VR. And yes, I know this is not a water-lily, it's a lotus; in fact it's a lotus Nelumbo :-)
The original image was captured as a NEF (Nikon’s proprietary RAW format), in Adobe RGB colour space, at 1/320 sec @ f5.6 at 200 ISO with a focal length of 400mm. I processed it myself in Photoshop CC 2014 before uploading it to the publisher as an sRGB JPEG saved at HQ 12. The one thing I didn’t do when I processed it was to sharpen it for purpose. I pre-sharpened it of course (i.e. I sharpened the NEF in the RAW conversion process to overcome the softness imparted by the camera’s Anti-Aliasing / Low Pass filter) but I left the amount of sharpening required for the final print for the book’s printer to decide.
The above story proves that a 12 Mp sensor is perfectly adequate provided you concentrate hard on getting the composition and framing right every time you shoot. In fact the more resolution you have the more you risk becoming sloppy and lazy in that regard - and that is a Bad Thing. I know several photographers who now pay little attention to this aspect of their photography because they have bought cameras with 24 Mp or 36 Mp sensors and think, “Oh to hell with all that; I’ll just grab the shot and work out how to frame it later in the computer.” This is such bad thinking! Whatever the resolution of your sensor, you need to frame and compose your shot as perfectly as you can, at the moment of capture. As a keen photographer, you should always be striving for perfection. Like all of us, of course, you won’t ever achieve it, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't always be trying. Because that's the only way we improve our photography..
Oh, and by the way, you won’t be surprised to hear that I still have my D300 and that I have no intention of parting with it :-)
March 25, 2016
At the end of this month I shall be moving this website from the US based Zenfolio system and linking it in with the several other sites I have running in the UK - e.g. painting-photography-france.com. As a result of the changes, the Blog section will no longer contain all the posts I have made using the Zenfolio system. I have, however, ported over a few of the more useful/interesting posts from the previous system.
If you would like to stay in touch via this new site, please use the 'RSS Subscribe' button above
November 05, 2015
Water-Lily Book Published
The water-lily book for which I was commissioned to supply apx. 80 images has now been published and is available from all good booksellers worldwide. The book is published in English and French and the reference is ISBN: 9781870673839
September 28, 2015
The Best Laid Plans of Mice & Men - Super-Moon Total Eclipse
Nikon D810 - 1 second @ f8 - 800 ISO - Nikon 80-400mm - Trees lit with LED torch
Firstly, this is one of only two successful shots of the totality that I achieved last night (at 03:30 CET to be precise). I live near a canal and a large river and at this time of year we get a lot of early morning mist. As the eclipse developed, the temperature fell and I had terrible problems with the front element of the lens constantly fogging. The camera and tripod were really quite wet with condensation (although with the D810, that's not an issue). And then, to cap it all, whilst I was wiping the moisture off the lens, I inadvertently moved the focus ring - I was using manual focus - and, of course, by that time, the moon was so dim that refocusing was impossible. "Hey, Nikon, back in the day you used to make lenses where setting 'Infinity' on the lens barrel focus indicator actually meant infinity, not 10,000 kilometres behind it!"
Secondly, we have a ruined 13thC church across the way from our house and I wanted to take the photo from behind that so that I could have the ruined belfry as my out of focus 'Earthbound anchor object' (in order to give some context to the shot and to make it more unusual and interesting). However, the field behind the church was full of maize and I found that there was nowhere for me to set up the tripod that would give me a clear view of both the church and the moon. So, in the end I shot it from our lawn, using our poplar trees as my 'Earthbound object'.
Still, there'll be another chance in 2033 :-)
February 26, 2015
Ten year anniversary over at Painting-Photography-France
Tempus fugit! I can't believe it!
For those of you who don't know about, or don't monitor, my Painting-Photography-France Blog, you can catch up with the news here
December 18, 2014
Add a Tilting LCD with Touch-Screen Control to your DSLR (+ intervalometer + focus stacker)
Unless you own one of the consumer range of DSLRs, or a very recent prosumer model like the Nikon D750, you might be someone who, like me, doesn't have a tilting LCD screen. But, like me, there may be times when you wish you did. And even if you do have a DSLR with a tilting LCD screen, I bet there are times when you find you can't adjust it to a convenient angle (such screens usually can’t be properly used when the camera is in portrait orientation, for example).
Also, I've found that when using Live View, it would sometimes be nice if that Live View screen was a touch screen so that I could quickly change the focus for the shot just by touching the desired focus point rather than fiddling with the camera's controls, especially if the camera is in an awkward position (tripod too low or too high, for example). And thinking about that led me to thinking how nice it would be if I could completely detach my mythical touch screen from the camera and use it as a remote control.
Well maybe you've guessed where I'm heading with this because of course, nowadays, you can accomplish some of the things I've just described by using your smartphone or tablet computer and an application installed on your device that interacts with your camera's software. However, I think I’ve found the crème de la crème of such apps because it does all of the above, and more, and it does it really well. The app is called 'qDslrDashboard' and it works with most Nikon, Canon and Sony DSLRs; the developer, Zoltan Hubai, has also created a generic PTP class which should work with other manufacturer’s cameras that support PTP. Unusually, the app is multi-platform so it works on devices running Android, iOS, Linux, OSX and Windows, which makes it available to pretty much every DSLR owner out there.
So with this app, a smartphone or tablet computer, a suitable holder, and a mini ball and socket head fitted into the camera's hot-shoe (or mounted on an L-bracket) you have a tilting touch screen 'LCD' for Live View shooting and reviewing - very useful in certain shooting situations, especially where a very low camera viewpoint is needed (as in the water-lily photo below) and you don't want, or are unable, to lie flat on the ground. And of course, with the device detached from its holder, it becomes an extremely sophisticated remote control.
Not only that, but you aren't restricted to using the software as I've described. Because it is multi-platform you can download a Windows, Mac or Linux version which then enables you to use it for professional style tethered shooting, linked to a laptop or desktop **
I discovered the app in Google's Play Store under 'DSLR Dashboard' but found that, whilst it worked perfectly with my Nikon D300, it didn’t recognise my D810. The developer told me by email that he was no longer supporting the Android only version but that a new multi-platform version with more features, and which did support the D810, could be found at http://dslrdashboard.info/. It was from there that I downloaded the app 'qDslrDashboard' that I’m reviewing here (note the addition of the 'q' prefix for the multi-platform app).
So, with the app downloaded and installed on my Nexus 5 smartphone***, the appropriate cable* connected, and the camera switched on, this is what I see on my device at outset :
The 'UI scale factor' allows you to quickly adjust the size of the display area to suit the screen of the device you're using (and it stays set until you alter it again).
Tapping the USB icon top left brings up this screen :
Scrolling down reveals the bracketing and flash control options, as shown below.
As you can see, as well as firing the shutter (by tapping the camera icon top left), I can remotely control pretty much everything on my camera simply by tapping the relevant icon. :
There's even a focus stacking facility and a useful depth of field calculator built in.
Tapping most choices brings up a pop-up screen listing the options for that particular choice. Here's the screen showing my internal flash options.
A tap on the relevant option sets it on the camera.
When I tap 'Live View', the image seen by the camera appears on my device's screen; I don't have to fire up Live View via the button on the back of the camera. I can choose whether or not to have histograms overlaid over my Live View image and I can even select which histogram/s I want to see (i.e. Red, Green, Blue and Composite or just the composite). This is pretty clever when you consider that on my D810 only the composite histogram is available when using Live View on the camera's LCD screen.
I can set my desired autofocus point simply by tapping on the image, as in these two screenshots.
If you prefer to focus manually, tapping the + and - magnifier icons over in the bottom right section of the screen enables you to zoom in to the selected focus area. For example, by tapping the + magnifier with the focus point set on the top corner of the barn's entrance above, I got this view on my smartphone screen. Note how the magnification figure (between the two magnifier icons) has changed from 0% to 100%
Images captured by the camera can be reviewed on your device (and you can choose to see them with or without histograms).
Finally, you will recall that in the title of this post I mentioned the words 'intervalometer' and 'focus stacker'. Well, see that 'LR Timelapse' icon over there on the right? And that oddly named 'Focus BKT' button in the Live View options shown four screenshots back? Well those little features give you access to time-lapse or stacking photography even if your camera does not have an intervalometer built-in. Now how cool is that?
qDslrDashboard is an amazing and extremely useful app which, for the price of a phone or tablet holder and a mini-ball and socket head, effectively adds a tilting screen facility with touch operation to cameras that don't have those features built in, and of course the tilting action of a ball and socket head is much more versatile than factory fitted tilting LCDs (I have yet to see a DSLR with a tilting LCD that operates properly with the camera in portrait orientation, for example). Of course, you don’t absolutely need the holder, but shooting is much less convenient without it. However, without it you do of course have a brilliant remote control ;-)
Therefore, whether you're into macro, star trails, big DOF landscapes, or would just like the convenience of having a tilting touchscreen for those occasional awkward shooting situations, you should definitely get yourself qDslrDashboard, a phone/tablet holder, and a mini ball and socket head. For much more detail on the features qDslrDashboard offers, check out this link.
The developer is based in Serbia and, for reasons best known to Google, his country is not supported by the Google Developer program, which means he can't open a Merchant account and sell the product (as he should IMHO). He therefore relies entirely on donations for the work he's done to date and for ongoing development. So, whilst the app can be downloaded and used without restriction for free, I have to say that anyone who does that should think long and hard about the time, skill, and effort that has gone into producing this software and then ask themselves why they think they should benefit from all that for nothing. Much better to go back to the website and make a reasonable donation to the developer using PayPal via the 'Donate' button on the upper left of this page. I know I did ;-)
Excluding my donation for the app, the total outlay for my tilting touch-screen, was just under 15 euros - that was for the phone-holder, the ball and socket head with hot-shoe adaptor, and an OTG cable* for the phone (all sourced from China via eBay) .
In addition to the app, you'll need 'OTG' adaptor cables to connect the USB port of your camera to your device. 'OTG' means 'On the Go' and is a special type of USB cable that allows two way communication between your camera and your device (an ordinary USB cable only allows one way communication). But before you dash over to eBay to order OTG cables for your camera and device, try the ones supplied with them first, you’ll probably find that they are OTG cables anyway. My D810 came with a cable which has a mini USB 3.0 plug on one end and a female USB connector on the other. For my Google Nexus 5 phone, I used the supplied cable with a male micro USB plug for connection to the phone on one end and a standard male USB plug for connection to a computer on the other. With a different OTG adaptor cable, I could also use my partner’s Galaxy Note tablet if I wanted (and if she allowed it!)
Incidentally, the fact that, in my case, the camera uses USB 3.0 and the phone uses USB 2.0 doesn’t matter as the former is backwards compatible and super fast transfer speeds aren’t really an issue in this context.
Finally, on the subject of cables, I would recommend D8xx users to fit the UF-4 plastic USB cable clamp supplied with the camera and leave it fitted over the USB cable plug. This will prevent any damage to the camera's USB 3.0 port which could potentially be caused by the cable being tugged, twisted or pulled. whilst in use. If you have a camera that doesn't come with one of these gizmos, you can find alternative cable 'locks' on eBay.
The app also supports wireless control for some cameras that have integral wi-fi connectivity or that use a wi-fi adaptor.
For tethered shooting, I ran a test with the D810 connected to my desktop PC - running Windows 7 - and, after a little messing about (you need to download and install a special USB driver and also ensure that you connect directly to the computer's USB sockets rather than through a USB hub) it worked perfectly. Images can be saved directly to the computer's hard disk if required. Although it is supposed also to run on Windows XP machines, I couldn't get it to work on my old laptop, which is a shame, but in fairness that could well be an issue with the laptop rather than with qDslrDashboard.
Because the Android version of the app I've reviewed is not available on Google Play, you have to download it and install it on your device yourself. If you've never done this before, it may seem daunting, but it is really quite easy, trust me :-) Just Google "how to manually install apk apps on my device"
I'm not an Apple user so I'm not sure if the current version of the app exists in the Apple store. If not, then follow the instructions above and Google "how to manually install ipa apps"
Kamrul A Mansor
I'm a user of DSLR dashboard as well. This app really comes in handy when shooting timelapse, as it has "holy grail" function that tracks the exposure change during sunset or sunrise in LRTimelapse mode, and made the corresponding shutter speed/iso change automatically.
For those shooting timelapse with a dslr and can't afford an expensive bulb ramping unit, this app (and Zoltan) is a godsend.
I also used the app to wirelessly connect my d600 to my laptop during product shoot, so i can instantly review the shot, full res, on my laptop.
Truly an awesome app!
That is a really amazing App qDslrDashboard. I'm an 'Apple Man' with an iMac desktop,an iPad and iPhone4 so of course things work differently! My camera , per your recommendation (!), is a Nikon D7100.
I could get things working via cable to the desktop but not the other two** until I saw a reference to Nikon WU-1a wi-fi adapter. I had one of these but had only used it a couple of times as Nikon App was pathetically clunky. What a difference the qDslrDashboard App makes to this . PERFECT !
For Apple the App does come from AppStore and costs £6.99, there appears to be an upgrade waiting Apple approval.
The fantastic bit is that the iPhone or iPad is cable-free, so I'm going to have lots of fun photographing garden birds from the comfort of my kitchen table with the camera 20m away. All we need now is a motorised remotely driven pan-and-tilt head!!
** With the cable connection I got an error msg saying that the D7100 was not supported which seems a bit odd.
hope these comments may be of use to someone.
Many thanks again.
October 03, 2014
Some thoughts after a few days with the Nikon D810
I've been getting to grips with my new D810 over the past few days. I used it on a couple of occasions during the last week of our Painting-Photography-France holidays, and since then I've also had chance to check out the video capabilities. And my first reaction to the camera is simply... Wow! Wow! and thrice Wow!
Plenty has been written by others about the quality of the D810's 36 megapixel images so to go into great detail on the matter here would be a waste of your time and mine; suffice it to say that I can confirm that the images it produces are simply stunning.
Many of you will know that I came to the D810 from the D300 and that, as per my last post, I simply got tired of waiting for a D300 replacement. After almost seven years I had reached a point where I needed better low light performance, I needed a greater dynamic range, and I needed high quality video. So I took the plunge.
But, actually, I didn't take quite as deep a plunge as you might think; for the first time in my life I have bought a 'grey' import and, together with an equally 'grey' 18-35 AF-S Nikkor f3.5-f4.5 G ED lens, I saved myself a massive £800. Now some people are wary of grey imports, they prefer to buy a camera brought into Europe from Asia by the camera manufacturer, which is sold by a British retailer with the standard one year's manufacturer’s warranty and a proper handbook. After some research, I weighed up the pros and cons and eventually settled for a camera brought into Europe from Asia by a British online retailer (Cotswold Cameras) which came with a three year warranty (from Cotswold Cameras) and a photocopied English manual. The cameras are made in Asia after all, so what's the difference? The photocopied manual didn't bother me as I prefer always to use the PDF manual available for download from Nikon. And, just as I had been assured by Cotswold Cameras that it would be, my D810 was one of the new batch of non-problematic models with regard to the ‘thermal issue’ (I checked the serial number on Nikon’s website to make sure) - so no worries there.
I ordered the camera on a Sunday afternoon; the order was processed next day, despatched on Tuesday, and arrived here in rural France, from Hong Kong, the following Thursday lunchtime - so 48 hours door to door, free delivery and, as I say, an £800 saving. Impressive. What was equally impressive was Cotswold Cameras' after sales service. Shortly after the camera was delivered, I received an invoice from FedEx in respect of a 45.50 euro charge for VAT on the import duty. I immediately scanned the invoice and emailed it to Cotswold Cameras. Within five minutes I received a reply to say that this sometimes happens with deliveries into France and not to worry, they would take care of it. Sure enough, five minutes after that I received a PayPal refund for this amount, enabling me to pay FedEx immediately. Let me say that, living in France, I am not used to such incredible levels of service!
Incidentally, I had no problems at all registering the serial numbers of the camera and lens with Nikon Professional Services.
OK, let’s get back to the camera in use :
Like all high end Nikon cameras, the D810’s ergonomics are great and the menu system is intuitive. To be perfectly honest, even with Nikon having moved a couple of buttons, and added some new ones (compared to the D300) everything is all so familiar and intuitive that nothing has annoyed or frustrated me and I have only glanced at the manual twice.
The new LCD screen is a huge step up - very bright and crisp - and for me, even though the screen size is only a little larger than the D300, it’s like looking at a 42” HD plasma TV after living with a 32” Trinitron. The screen brightness can be altered separately for image review (when shooting stills) and for live view (photo and video) and both brightness levels are remembered and held by the camera until reset.
The shutter is remarkably quiet, even without using the two ‘quiet’ modes provided, and the sound of the mechanism reminds me of the ticking of a Rolex; it just sounds like quality engineering.
The magnesium alloy body is solid, not overly heavy (only 77g more than my D300) and completely weather-sealed. The design of the battery door is much better than the D300, as is the (dual SD/CF) card slot door. The CF facility is very welcome as I have a whole ruck of CF cards which I can use.
The newly designed grip is very comfortable ; it’s deeper than my D300 which makes it easier to carry hung from my crooked fingers, it also means that the DOF Preview and Function buttons are perfectly placed for the second and third fingers of my right hand when shooting. I have long fingers and, on the D300, the shallower grip made using these buttons just a tad awkward. On the D810, I have set the Function button give me a level indication in the viewfinder when pressed, and the Preview button I have programmed to give me a spot meter reading. In real life shooting, I have always found 'depth of field preview' to be virtually useless due the obviously necessary darkening of the image when it's used. Nowadays, if I have a DOF concern I just look at the DOF app on my smartphone, therefore the ability to reprogram that button is a godsend.
As I said earlier, the 36 mp images are stunning, but in addition to full frame, the D810 also offers a 1.2x crop and a 1.5x DX crop. I'll discuss the usefulness of the DX crop further down this post but, for still photography, it’s the 1.2x crop that has grabbed my interest.
The 1.2x crop gives me 6 fps (shooting in 12 bit RAW) which is as fast as my D300 and, in practice, plenty fast enough for most people, including me. It also gives a 25 Mp image which has a file size around 25 Mb. Again, the images are superb and, to be honest, 25 Mp images are going to provide all the image quality necessary for magazine publication or an A3 coffee table book. I think, therefore, that for much of the time I'll settle for the 1.2x crop and keep the option of FF for any images which I think I might want to print super large, or for those occasions when I want to capture the complete field of view from my lenses. When shooting stills, therefore, I have programmed the ‘Movie’ button to give me instant switching between shooting full frame or shooting with a 1.2x crop. Admittedly, using a 1.2x crop means that I’m only seeing 80% of the potential area in the viewfinder but, as the image is still bigger and brighter than the one I’m used to in the D300, that doesn’t bother me.
One quirk which I find completely bizarre and unnecessary is that you have to switch off ‘AF Point Illumination’ (Autofocus menu item ‘a6’) in order to get the unwanted area in the viewfinder to go dark grey when shooting in one of the two crops. Why this area just doesn’t darken automatically is a mystery because it’s absolutely essential (the alternative has you seeing the whole viewfinder and trying to find the relevant frame within that to compose the shot, which just doesn’t work)
Talking of the viewfinder, it is really bright and crisp, as is the information readout (now with vertical and horizontal level indicators superimposed at the side and bottom respectively, when activated).
Nikon’s 51 point AF system has always been excellent, but the D810 takes the super-efficient AF system from the D4s which adds some useful improvements over my old D300 - e.g. the new five point ‘Group’ mode for moving subjects. The five points (all cross type) are fairly close together and the group is movable across the frame. I’ve tested this on a friend who is a Tour de France type cyclist and the focus was bang on every time.
My trusty and vital (for me) AF-ON button is right there where it should be but has now been given a small and nicely curved rest to its left which nicely fits the edge of my thumb. It’s a subtle design change but it feels great.
Just as an aside, if you don’t use the AF-ON button you’re missing a lot (in my humble opinion). Try it set up like this (check your manual for how to do this) :
1. Enable AF-ON
2. Disable AF via the shutter release
3. Select AF-C and leave it permanently set
Now when you press AF-ON and then take your thumb off, you lock focus - great for static subjects, especially if you want to focus and then recompose. No need to half-press the shutter button any more!
Keep your thumb on the AF-ON button and you get continuous focus as long as you keep it depressed.
Don’t press the AF-ON button and, by definition, AF is disengaged, so you can focus manually without resort to any AF/M switches (note that this doesn’t work with screw focus, i.e. non AF-S, lenses, with those you still have to physically disengage the autofocus on the camera body).
The D810’s native ISO of 64 is amazing, offering 2/3 of a stop more flexibility in bright light, and super clean too. This is a true ISO, incidentally, not one produced by electronic trickery like the ‘Lo 1’, ‘Lo 2’ found on the D300 and other cameras.
And on the subject of ISO, coming from a camera that maxed out a very noisy 3,200 ISO and which was unusable for all practical commercial purposes beyond 400 ISO, the D810’s noise free images at up to 400 ISO and almost noise free images from 500 to 1,600 ISO are breathtaking. And to be honest, the ability to say, “OK Auto ISO, do your thing but don’t shoot higher than 6,400 ISO” is amazing! Of course I could set the ISO to 51,200 but that would be just silly :-)
Earlier this week, I was with my favourite model at a fashion show in les Galeries Lafayette in Bordeaux, choosing outfits that we’ll use in our next shoot. I wanted a photo of each outfit so that, next morning, we could sit together in front of the computer and make a careful choice. This ensemble was our favourite - shot at 1/125th @ f5.6 50mm 5,600 ISO, no flash. The image is obviously not completely noise free but I wouldn’t even have been able to get this shot with my D300.
Dynamic range too is excellent and absolutely streets ahead of the D300 ( the D810 has three more stops of DR than the D300 - 14.8 EV compared to 12 EV)
One of the new buttons on the D810 is an ‘i’ button and it took me few minutes to figure out the real usefulness of this. Pressing it in normal photo mode merely brings up a screen of shooting data and some options to quickly change a few things that you can otherwise access in the menu system. However, select Live View / Video and then press the ‘i’ button and you’ll see a bunch of options that don’t exist at all in the menu system! Zebra striping for blown highlight monitoring in video, for example, or autofocus face recognition, for another (which I’ve yet to experiment with).
‘Highlight weighted metering’ is an addition that caters for situations that Nikon describe as useful “whenever you are faced with uneven lighting and a background that is much darker than the subject”, so it might also have been called, ‘Theatre/Concert/Fashion Show metering’, because that is what it seems it would be really useful for. I was hoping to try this out at the above mentioned fashion show; unfortunately, however, the lighting turned out to be normal department store overheads and so that exercise will have to wait until another day.
Matrix metering with face recognition is another new addition to a Nikon metering system; I’ve yet to try this out but I’m not really sure what the value of this would be. I suspect it’s a solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had.
Live view was very poorly implemented on the D300 (in fact I never used it) but it works extremely well on the D810. Manual focusing with a magnified view is a doddle and the new ‘split-screen’ feature will be great for architectural and landscape photographers. Mind you it would have been even better if there was a choice of splitting the screen vertically (i.e. separate top + bottom) as well as horizontally (separate left + right)
The provision of easy HDMI out for Live View and Video is an excellent option, enabling me to use my 7" Black Pearl 'Quadcopter' monitor for such purposes, if I need to.
The new semi-electronic shutter option with mirror up will allow much smoother (i.e. shake-free) operation on a tripod in live view - great for landscape purists wanting every last nano-particle of definition from their images.
And so to video. I shot a lot of video in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s but, for various reasons, I’ve done no video work for about twenty years. However, shooting aerial footage with my quad-copter this summer has brought me back to it, and I have the movie-making bug once more. I can’t wait to shoot some D810 footage, making use of the ‘Auto-ISO’ facility whilst locking in the shutter speed and using the ‘Power aperture’ feature to smoothly and seamlessly change aperture whilst shooting. Those are two fabulous, professional features. In 'Movie' mode, I have the 'Preview' and 'Function' buttons programmed to change the aperture in this way.
Which brings me to the 1.5x DX crop. I’ll shortly be selling all my current DX lenses except for the 18-200 VRII which I bought as a ‘walkabout’ lens for a Roman holiday three years ago. It may seem odd for me to say that; I mean why buy an expensive full frame camera and then stick a DX lens on it.? Well, the answer is video. The D810 shoots broadcast quality HD video at up to 60 frames per second and, unlike the D800, there is no difference in video quality between FF and DX footage. That means that I can use the 18-200 as an effective 27-300 video zoom with no loss of resolution, as well as my super fast full frame lenses. Brilliant! Of course, in still photo mode, the camera automatically switches to a 1.5x DX crop when a DX lens is attached and that shows in the viewfinder (i.e. 33% of the viewfinder is greyed out, but switch to Live View video mode and the monitor (camera or external) shows you exactly what the lens sees over the whole screen with no vignetting, even though the lens in use is DX.
There are a few shortcomings of course, especially at this price point:
I would really like to have several series of settings that can be remembered and recalled simply and quickly, why Nikon think that professional photographers don’t want this facility but amateurs do never ceases to amaze me. Their tired old system of ‘Shooting Menu Banks’ that can’t remember the default settings I give them is really just not good enough. This could easily be fixed with a firmware change.
The ‘Flat’ picture control operates on both stills and video. Although it can be changed later in Capture NX-Dud or Photoshop CC 2014, I’d still like to be able to set it only for video. Again this could easily be fixed in firmware
I’d like to be able to control three groups of speedlights and not just two
There are times when I wish that I could record voice memos with each shot. (Hey Nikon, you have a stereo microphone installed there already for goodness sake! So how hard can that be?
The ‘sRAW’ file option seems a complete and utter waste of development time which could have been better spent implementing the deficiencies I’ve noted above. I just cannot imagine who would want to use this. Unless my maths are off, it seems to me that you’re throwing away 75% of your image data in exchange for a 10% saving in storage space* Crazy!
* This assumes normal shooting of 12 bit lossless compressed RAW, which gives a 32 Mb file. Uncompressed 14 bit RAW files are 73 Mb! On this point, to be honest there is no real discernable difference between 12 bit and 14 bit files, or between lossless compressed and uncompressed. Obsessive pixel-peepers are welcome to disagree but, in all honesty, I would only ever shoot 14 bit uncompressed if I were shooting large commercial photos and needed to wring every single detail out of the image; for 90% of my work, 12 bit lossless compressed RAW will be absolutely fine.
So, after just a few days of use, those are my first thoughts on the Nikon D810. To sum up, it’s a beautifully built, almost perfect camera for both stills and video, and it is an absolute delight to use. In fact it is so very good that, when I couple my foreseeable photographic / movie-making needs with the law of diminishing returns regarding camera technology, I think I might actually be in possession of my ‘last camera’
UPDATE - 17th May 2015
I discovered an odd problem with the camera during the winter. It's not a major disaster, but it's somewhat annoying and frustrating nonetheless.
The 'Power Aperture' function I mentioned above when discussing video, doesn't work. For some reason on my model, Power Aperture works just as it did on the D800 - i.e. it works fine in Live View but not whilst recording video to the card which, on the D810, it's supposed to do. I've found one other person on the web with the same problem and, guess what, his is also a grey model, also purchased in the UK. I've spoken to Thom Hogan about this and we agree that this has to be a bizarre coincidence as 'grey' cameras don't come off a different production line. But it is an odd anomaly all the same.
I've discussed the issue with NPS in the UK (without of course mentioning the fatal word 'grey') and after suggesting various unsuccessful fixes, NPS can't help. Indeed they can't understand how the problem can even exist and so have asked me to send the camera back to Nikon UK under warranty. Obviously, I can't do that.
There is a new firmware release due for the D810 sometime in the next couple of months so I'll see if the issue still exists after applying that and, if it does, I'll return the camera to Cotswold Cameras in the UK and test their three year warranty :-)
copyright Peter Evans
June 7th, 2016
An image from my upcoming book : Bordeaux - Jewel of the Golden Age - City of Youth & Fashion
The project is near completion and publication is planned for the winter of 2017/18
Model : Lise-Marie Albisu