Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to do a short Nikon D5 Autofocus test, courtesy of Paul Atkins.

D4D6793 900x599 Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

Using Paul’s newly acquired D5, his Nikon 400mm f2.8 lens and his two crackpot Golden retrievers ‘Enzo’ and ‘Raffa’, his large lawn and a couple of tennis balls, I gave the camera some hard work to do.

Bearing in mind that attentiveness, obedience and eagerness to please, are not traits that figure greatly in either dogs mental make-up; I was pleasantly surprised as to how instructive the exercise was – well done puppies!

On a good run at the camera the dogs cover something like 28 metres in 5 seconds, starting out at around 31 metres away and ending just outside the focus limiter at around 3 metres.

The camera was set to my MANUAL EXPOSURE + AUTO ISO, 1/4000th and f6.3.

I should also stress that there was NO AF FINE TUNE set for these shots.

That silliness has been taken to a whole new level of craziness now – sweet Jesus it makes me so angry!

I set the AF up very much how I’d set a Canon 1DX or 1DXMk2, and then went through the majority of the AF modes.

Dynamic 9, 25 and 72, group, 3D and ‘AUTO’ – and I was totally horrified at which mode gave the best results, and I mean BEST by a country mile!

In this video I go through the full resolution sequence of 27 shots individually so you can see how the Nikon D5 autofocus performs as the two dogs get closer to the camera with every frame.  The images have only Lightroom default sharpening applied and have had nothing done to them except my standard contrast-lowering adjustments.

Don’t be silly – click the YouTube link in the bottom of the above frame and watch it at full resolution on my channel!

Please don’t take this as a definitive test of the Nikon D5 autofocus – I certainly don’t, and neither am I prepared to draw much of a conclusion from it.  But it works!

I know I’m not alone in finding the Auto focus mode to be ‘better’ in terms of consistent focus, but to my mind this should NOT be the case, especially on such a target moving in such close proximity to a long telephoto – even if it is an f2.8.

At this point I’m not going to bother showing the sequences from the other modes, just take my word for it that I was shocked at the distinctly poorer performance using the other modes I tried – except for GROUP, which has never worked well in this sort of situation.

A couple of things to note:

  1. I used the same settings at 12fps and the consistency level dropped by around 45%, so no change in that old chestnut.  The Canon 1DX suffered from it too, but with the limited testing I’ve done on the 1DXMk2, Canons idea of crafting and honing the existing AF system, as opposed to Nikons ‘chucking the baby out with the bath water’, seems to have solved the problem to a greater degree.
  2. The D5 raw files seem to have lost a little tractability in ‘lifting the blacks/shadows/exposure’ – something that I’ve always held typical .NEF files in high esteem for.  This I found quite surprising seeing as the camera was heralded as the ‘Prince of Darkness’.   It’s also the one thing above all else that I despise in Canon 1DX raw files.  But Canon have upped their game considerably on this front with the 1DXMk2.

Seriously folks, it’s like some sort of demented see-saw or merry-go-round with these manufacturers…

The new Canon is coming to Norway with me in a couple of weeks, and Mr. Paul is bringing his D5, so there will be quite a bit of performance testing going on throughout September and October.

Hope these shots peek your interest folks!

 

2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

I’ve just had to spend some money and do a 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade, mainly because of Photoshops new ‘Select and Mask” interface.

D4D6816 600x400 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

Ever since this new workspace was introduced it has caused me no end of problems with brush lag and general ‘hanging’.

And the fact that I need to run screen capture software at the same time, in order to feed the Tube of You, meant that for the last month Uncle Andy’s been unhappy..

For the last couple of months I’ve been toying with adding more RAM to the machine, so last week I sprung £200 at Mac Upgrades for 32GB of OWC RAM to replace the 16GB of Crucial that I installed a couple of years ago.

There’s nothing like the assembly of wide-field astro shots from a 36Mp camera to point out weaknesses in RAM capacity!

But the Select and Mask workspace in Photoshop show diddly-squat of an improvement with doubling the RAM.  It wasn’t until I happened across a note by Scott Kelby where he noted that this new workspace was totally GPU dependent.  No mention of this on anything from Adobe that I could see.

Now the thought of buying a new GPU for Mac should fill anyone with dread over the lightness of their wallet after the purchase.

Mac GPU’s are thin on the ground, of limited spec and HUGELY over-priced.

Mac Upgrades offer “flashed” PC GPU’s – AMD Radeons at an appalling £264 for a 2GB; that’s just daylight robbery in my opinion.

Flashing a mac-suitable PC GPU serves one single purpose – you can see your boot screen at start-up.

My boot screen lasts for about 7 seconds with my existing SSD system drive and the 64GB of new RAM – so I’m not so bothered about seeing it, especially if it can save me money AND steer me away from Radeon and on to an Nvidia chipset.

Opting for an Nvidia chipset allows a greater choice of GPU specification and performance.

So I’ve spent the last few days getting my head around the technicals, and they really are quite simple.

The PCIe slots in a 2009 Mac Pro 4,1 are only capable of supplying 75 watts of power.  However, lurking on the board are TWO mini PCIe 6 pin auxiliary power connectors, each capable of delivering 75 watts each.

So if you purchase a couple of these:

Apple Mac Pro mini pci-e 6pin to pci-e 6pin video card power cable

you can effectively drive a mac-compatible GPU requiring 3x 75, or 225 watts total of power.

And so I came up with this baby!

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 14.47.53 copy 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

4GB – not 2GB, and £179 not £264 – and it only requires 150 watts of power.

So this very morning made a trip to Overclockers in Newcastle under Lyme and once back in the office it took less than 15 minutes to have the 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade done and working.

D4D6802 900x599 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

Just look at this bad boy in comparison to the GT120 it’s replacing – at least 8 times as useful!

If you fancy doing this to your Mac Pro 4,1 then there are a few things you need to do before you make your decision:

  1. Visit this page at Abobe to check for Lightroom GPU compatibility.
  2. IMPORTANT – you must download and install the Nvidia WEB DRIVERS from HERE if you are still running Yosemite or HERE if you are using El Capitan. You MUST do this BEFORE you turn your machine off to begin the upgrade – if you don’t you might be stuck with a machine that doesn’t turn the monitor on!

Install the downloaded web drivers and you will see the Nvidia drive manager icon at the top of your screen – click it and select driver manger preferences:

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.13.47 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

 

 

 

Why do I have to do this Andy?

The Mac OS has it’s own versions of Nvidia drivers (amongst others) but these are fairly crap, inefficient and far from up to date, and almost definitely won’t recognise you new GPU correctly.

Once you have checked that those web drivers are installed and up to date you should be clear to do your 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade.

Once done you can power the machine on; you’ll hear the start-up chime but the screen will stay black for the time the boot screen would have been active – the screen will activate at either your account log in page if you have your machine set up that way, or it’ll go straight to your desktop.

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 16.19.33 2009 Mac Pro GPU UpgradeAnd there you are – one 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade – DONE.

Now for some Adobe application setup.

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.36.47 900x677 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

  1. Fire up Lightroom and go to the preferences panel.
  2. Activate ‘Use Graphics Processor’.
  3. Click the ‘System Info’ button and check that the card is listed and is functioning properly:

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.37.23 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

Next, fire up Photoshop and go to Preferences>Performance:

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.38.34 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

 

 

 

Check ‘Use Graphics Processor’ and click the ADVANCED button:

You will see three options; Basic, Normal & Advanced.  It will most likely be defaulted to Basic.  I’ve selected advanced here but may have to change it ‘down’ if there is any fall-off in performance.

One final and very important item on the agenda, re-calibrate your monitor.

That’s it, a new lease of life given to a venerable old 2009 machine.

Apple is supposed to be dropping support for the 2009 Mac Pro 4,1 on the official launch of OSX 10.12 Sierra.

I’m not that bothered at the moment, it’s taken me up until July of this year to feel the need for 10.11 El Capitan – and that was only due to screw-ups with recent Adobe CC installers.

But sometime in the next 12 months I might avail myself of a Mac Pro 5,x.  This new 4GB GPU will transfer direct to that and I’ll turn this Mac Pro 4,1 into an image server – at least that’s what I’m telling myself !

IMPORTANT:  The procedure outlined here worked wonderfully for me – simple and fast.  But it might not go the same for you – I accept NO responsibility for any f***ed up equipment that might occur outside these office walls!

 

Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

Everyone likes a nice moody sunset, but great images await those camera operators that start shooting after most folks have started packing their gear away and heading home.

For me, twilight is where the fun starts.

D8E5809 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The rock stack lying off the boulder-strewn beach of Porth Saint, Rhoscolyn Head, Anglesey.

The low light levels on a scene once ‘civil daylight’ has ended mean you get awesome light with lower contrast shadows, subtle skies, and nice long shutter speeds for dreamy water effects without needing expensive 10 stop ND filters.

However, that awesome light vanishes very quickly, so you have to be ready!  I waited nearly 90 minutes for the shot above.

But that time was spent doing ‘dry runs’ and rehearsals – once the composition was set how I wanted it, the foreground was outside of DoF, so I knew I needed to shoot a focus stack as well as an exposure blend…mmmm….yummy!

Once we have made the long transition from civil daylight end to astronomical daylight end the fun really begins though.

Astro Landscape Photography

Untitled1 Edit Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way over the derelict buildings of Magpie Mine in Derbyshire.

Astro landscape photography, or wide field astro as it’s sometimes known, is not as difficult as a lot of photographers imagine.

But astro landscape photography IS very demanding of your familiarity with your gear, and will require some expenditure on additional bits of kit if disappointment is to be avoided.

D4D6778 Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

 

D4D6747 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape PhotographyD4D6754 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape PhotographyHere’s the kit I usually venture out at night with:

Dew Heater Band (A).

An essential bit of kit for astro landscape photography – it’s amazing how rapidly a lot of lenses, especially super-wides like the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 encounter a problem with dew at night.  This will in effect fog the front element, starting at its centre and if left unchecked it can spread across the entire face of the lens.

Heating the lens front sufficiently to keep its temperature above the dew point for your current location and time will prevent a ruined session – don’t leave home without one!

This dew heater is powered by a battery (C) via a dew heater controller (D) with is basically a simple rotary rheostat which controls the level of current driving the heater band.

I use mine at about 75% of ‘full chat’ and it seems to work just fine.

A final note on dew heater bands – these are designed for use by those strange folk who spend hours behind telescopes.  They tape the bands in place and leave them there.  As photographers we need to add or remove them as needed.  The bands can prove fragile, need I say more?

Yes, it pays to carry a spare, and it pays to treat them with care and not just throw them in the camera bag – I’m on band number 3 with number 4 in reserve!

Intervalometer (B).

You will need to shoot a long exposure of you scene foreground, slightly re-focuused closer to you, at a much lower ISO, and perhaps at a slightly narrower aperture; this shot might well be 20 minutes long or more and with long exposure NR engaged to produce a black subtraction.

Yes, a lockable cable release and the timer on your watch will do the job, hence (F) and (G) in case (B) stops working!

But an intervalometer will make this easier – as long as you’ve read the instructions..doh!

If you want to shoot star trails the external intervalometer is vastly superior to your cameras built in one.  That’s because the in-camera intervalometer on nearly all cameras except the Nikon D810A is limited to a 30 second shutter speed.

An hours worth of star rotation is barely enough:

Final 600x900 Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

 

But at 30 seconds shutter speed you will end up with 120 frames at fairly high ISO.

Far better to shoot at ‘bulb’ with a 5 minute exposure and lower ISO – then you’ll only have 12 frames – your computer with thank you for the lower number when it comes to stacking the shots in Photoshop.

There is also another problem, for certain marks of Nikon cameras.  The D800E that I use has a stupid cap on continuous shooting.  The much touted method of setting the shutter to 30 seconds and putting the camera in continuous low speed shooting mode and locking the cable release button down does NOT work – it only allows you to take 100 frames then the camera just STOPS taking pictures.

But if you use an external intervalometer set to a 30 second exposure, continuous and just drop the camera in BULB and Single Shot then the D800E and its like will sit there and fill your cards up with frames.

Other Essentials.

Micro fibre cloths, bin liners and gaffer tape (B,I and J).

After a couple of hours of full darkness your gear (and I mean all of it) will most likely be wet with dew, especially here in the UK.  Micro fibre cloths are great for getting the majority of this dampness off your camera gear when you put it away for the trip home.

Bin liners are great for keeping any passing rain shower off your camera gear when its set up – just drop one (opened of course) over your camera and tape it to the tripod legs with a bit of gaffer tape. Leave the dew heater ON.

Also, stick the battery supply in one – rain water and 13 volts DC at 4000MAh don’t mix well.

Photopills on your iPhone (G) is incredibly useful for showing you where the Milky Way is during that extended period between civil and astronomical daylight end.  Being able to see it in relationship to your scene with the Night Augmented Reality feature cetainly makes shot composition somewhat easier.

Head Lamp (H) – preferably one which has a red light mode.  Red light does not kill off your carefully tuned night vision when you need to see some camera setting control lever or button.

Accurate GPS positioner (K).  Not entirely an ‘essential’ but it’s mighty useful for all sorts of reasons, especially when forward planning a shot, or getting to a set position in the dark.

D8E5969 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way towering over the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) station at Rhoscolyn on Anglesey.

 

I love taking someone who’s never seen the Milky Way out at night to capture it with their own equipment – the constant stream of ‘WOWS’ makes me all warm ‘n fuzzy!  This year has seen me take more folk out than ever; and even though we are going to loose the galactic centre in the next few weeks the opportunities for night photography get better as the nights grow longer.

D8E5420 Edit Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way over the derelict buildings of Magpie Mine in Derbyshire.

So if you want to get out there with me then just give me shout at tution@wildlifeinpixels.net

The Milky Way will still be a prominent feature in the sky until October, and will be in a more westerly position, so lots of great bays on the North Wales & Anglesey coast will come into their own as locations.

D8E3653 Edit 2 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way over the Afon Glaslyn Valley looking towards Beddgelert and Porthmadog. The patchy green colour of the sky is cause by a large amount of airglow, another natural phenomenon that very few people actually see.

And just look at that star detail:

Screen Shot 2016 08 19 at 12.35.40 Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be putting together a training video title on processing astro landscape photography images, and if the next new moon phase at the end of this month comes with favourable weather I’m going to try and supplement these with a couple of practical shooting videos – so fingers crossed.