More Nikon D850 leaks

More leaked specs on the Nikon D850 – and it could be something of an imaging revolution for Nikon users after all.

D850 395x900 More Nikon D850 leaks

Screen grab of the Nikon Italy page that was live for about 5 hours yesterday, click to view full size.

According to the leaked specifications, the camera will be fitted with a back lit sensor and gapless micro lens technology.

If this is true, then all the scathing I gave the Nikon D850 specs last week may need to be ‘dialled down’ a bit – the one thing this camera will NOT BE (again,if the tech leak is true) is a pumped up FX version of the D500.

What is a back lit sensor?

You can regard all Bayer pattern CMOS sensors in your dslr and mirrorless cameras as front lit.

Light leaves the rear element of your lens and strikes the sensor, passing through the micro lenses first, then a wiring/connectivity layer, and finally it strikes the photo diodes/photosites.

sony backlit cmos sensor cross section 02 More Nikon D850 leaks

Front lit (left) and Back lit (right) sensor layout.

Light can scatter within that wiring layer, and the distance between the micro lenses and the photo diodes effectively narrows their viewing angle.

Having the photo diodes directly behind the micro lenses removes the scattering potential, and increases the diode viewing angle – a bit like putting your eye closer to a key hole – you see more.

A back lit tech sensor may well have a 50% or larger diode/photosite ‘view angle’ than its front lit counter part with the same mega pixel count.  Couple that with new micro lens technology to remove the interstitial gaps, and there is a lot of potential for increased performance in terms of:

  • Native gain/light gathering during the exposure
  • Increased Dynamic Range over the Nikon D810
  • Increased Dynamic Range over the Nikon D500
  • Increased high ISO performance over both the D500 and D810
  • Dare I say it, lower diffraction values?  Surely the Circle of Confusion has got to increase in size – I don’t know for certain but it would definitely be interesting to find out.

Back lit/backside illuminated/BSI CMOS sensor tech is out there already – the Sony A7R2 springs to mind.

At the begining of this post I said the D850 could be something of an imaging revolution for Nikon users – and I meant it.

It’ll be the first Nikon FX DSLR (as far as I’m aware!) to be fitted with BSI tech, but if they screw up the ADC/SNR side of things like they did with the D5, then it’ll amount to NOT A LOT.

If however, Nikon do a good job of converting the analogue output of this sensor to a digital file, then we could say that no Nikon FX digital camera has ever been capable of delivering the potential benefits of the D850.

But we are still waiting for the official release of the specs so who knows…!

 

 

 

Nikon D7500

Nikon D7500

D7500 Nikon D7500

All week my inbox has been inundated with emails from every vendor and idiot magazine extolling the virtues of the new Nikon D7500, why I should want it, buy it, and tell everyone else to do so.

In Ephotozines announcement for example,  they state that the Nikon D7500 sits ABOVE the D7200, launched back in March 2015.  And that would be a logical assumption based on the model number wouldn’t it; the D7500 could be seen as the D7200 replacement, or at least a step up from it.

WRONG !

Nikon have been making basically three classes of DSLR cameras, Basic, Intermediate and Professional/Advanced.  Late last year Nikon brought out the D5600 which sat firmly in the BASIC bracket.

The D5600 importantly has:

  • No DUAL card capability
  • No AI/AIS indexing capability
  • No vertical grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £500

The D7200 has:

  • Dual Card Slots
  • AI/AIS indexing tabs
  • A  vertical Grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £850

The NEW NIKON D7500 has:

  • NO Dual Card capability
  • NO AI/AIS indexing tabs
  • NO Vertical Grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £1300

As far as I’m aware the Nikon D7500 is THE FIRST Nikon DSLR body to cost MORE than £1000 that does NOT allow you to use the FULL range of Nikon current production lenses such as the 50mm f1.2 or indeed any of the stellar AI/AIS lenses available on the used market for little money.

Ai Ais Nikon D7500

The AI/AIS tab on the Nikon lens mount – missing on the Nikon D7500.

The D7200 DOES all the above, and the D5600 does not.

Take the Nikon D7500 and swap the 7 and the 5 around and you get a Nikon D5700 – now that’s more like it!

But Andy you’re talking crap – it’s got the brain of the D500!

Yes – so they say, but it’s still got basically the same AF system as the FX D750 and DX D7200 – the 51-point MultiCam 3500 FXII, not the D500 MultiCam 20K.

But Andy you’re talking crap – it does 8 frames per second!

That’s as maybe – but how long can it keep that up for buffering to a crappy SD card?

Nikon have basically ripped the 20.9Mp sensor and Expeed 5 processor out of the D500 and jammed it into a D5600, together with the AF module from the camera YOU THINK it’s replacing, and decided to charge you more than TWICE THE PRICE.

Nice one Nikon!

Yes, image quality wise the Nikon D7500 should kick the living daylights out of both the D5600 and the D7200 if only because of the D500 SNR firmware that drives its image recording.

But at that price???

Believe me – a used D3S would crucify the Nikon D7500 on IQ alone, with the added benefit of dual CF cards and an FX sensor.

But perhaps you don’t want the glorious wide angle performance afforded you by an FX sensor.  If that’s the case then be sensible with your money and get a D500 – used ones are out there at the same sort of money as the new Nikon D7500.

It just shoots for ever buffering to an XQD card, has AI/AIS capability and can be fitted with a vertical grip.  Then the AF can be revved up a bit more by using a big battery out of the one of the FX pro bodies.

You’ve only got to look at the specs for Nikon D7500 to know it’s something of an epic FAIL!

 

Gear Review 2016

Gear Review 2016

What bits of kit impressed me in 2016?

One or two for sure, but not as many as you might think, but here are the things that have made it into my office for keeps, or made my ‘wants list’!

Nikon D500.

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Every time I grab hold of one of these 1.5x crop DSLR bodies I find myself wanting one more and more – cracking little camera.

I find the new Nikon auto focus system works better on this body than it does on the lamentable D5.

The 10 frames per second frame rate will drop noticeably to around 7fps with continuous dynamic tracking, but that’s not a bad thing really.

Get an XQD card (a big one!), and the battery pack with a D5 battery in it will give the auto focus that little extra ‘umph’.

Nikon 300mm f4 PF lens.

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Les Peel (Hi Les!) turned up here the other day with one of these 300mm PF lenses on his D500 – and honestly, it blew me away!

I’ve seen very mixed reviews about this lens, and to be honest I’d not given it a second thought ever since it was launched.  But the D500/300mm PF combo that Les brought here staggered me in terms of sharpness and auto focus speed; I even slung the lens on my D800E, and got the same results.

Yes, I agree with with some of the negatives put forward by some; too many elements give give a certain ‘flatness’ to its images, and don’t even think about pointing it at the sun, because the fresnel will make a mess!  But in terms of sports/action photography the idea of using it is a more appealing thought than that of swinging a 300 f2.8 all day.

Please bare in mind though that my opinion is based solely on the use of ONE example.

Canon 1DX Mk2.

By Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

This camera isn’t just an ‘upgrade’ to the 1DXMk1 – far from it.  For me the Mk1 was a reliable, steady and highly predictable dance partner.

The Mk2 is a bit of an animal by comparison – like switching from a slow waltz at the local town hall to a full-on Argentine Tango with some sultry hooker in a down-town bar in Beunos Aries!

I took one to Norway back in September for a week (1DX that is, not the sultry hooker), and it mystified my for at least 3 days because I was treating it like a Mk1.

For me it needs a small firmware ‘fettle’ on the AF, but the level of performance with this Mk2 is exceptional.  And now the ADC is integral with the sensor (a la Nikons Sony sensors) the image quality has shot through the roof.

If you own a Mk1 and you are still debating the trade-in then STOP IT and get a move on – times a’wastin..!

Canon 200-400mm f4

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Still ranks as my favored lens for wildlife photography, not quite the blistering speed and resolution of the behemoth below, but it’s a very close second.  The versatility of 200-560mm comes in mighty handy, and it totally wipes the floor with the Nikon alternative.

Canon 500mm f4 USM Mk2.

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Oh my, what a lump of glass. Far lighter than its predecessor, and better balanced if you ask me; I can shoot this lens hand-held all day long – simply stunning image quality and so sharp and fast in the auto focus department that it makes me want to cry!

Both it and it’s zoom cousin above represent huge chunks of investment so you have got to NEED either one.  But both of them are worth every single penny if you ask me.

G-Tech G-Raid 8TB Removable Drive

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic
%name Gear Review 2016

I have to admit to being a bit of a G-Drive fan-boy – yep, they’re slightly pricey!

But if you spend thousands on your camera bodies and lenses, and your images are your lifes work, then wincing at the cost of somewhere bullet-proof to store said images is the action of an idiot.

My images are stored on two 4TB internal drives and both of these are cloned to an 8TB internal RAID 0 pair.  This RAID 0 pair is backed up to the 8TB G-Drive unit.  Being on a ‘cheese grater’ MacPro I have no Thunderbolt connections.  But this G-Drive unit is plenty fast enough for my needs across USB 3.0

It’s fast, reliable, very quiet and gives me dual backup for off-site storage for not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.

 

G-Tech G-Drive EV ATC 1TB USB 3 Hard Drive

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

I’ve had a couple of these 1Tb USB 3.0 portable G-Drives for over a year now – I use them for storage and backup when I’m away, and they have performed flawlessly in that time.

Based around the modular G-Drive system the internal Evolution series drive can be easily removed from the ruggedised water-proof case with little or no effort.

To free up the usb ports on my MacBook Pro I’ve just upgraded the external cases to Thunderbolt (yes, my MBP is the sensible one !). So now the drives can be used on either my MBP or Richs’ Vaio.

Eizo ColorEdge CS2420 24.1″ Wide Gamut Monitor

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

As yet this baby hasn’t made it into my office because I don’t need a new monitor.  But in about another 3 to 4 months that’ll be a different story, because my back light hours are long-since past already, and the extreme right edge of my LP2475W is getting slightly dark.

But am I going to replace it with a ColourEdge or SpectraView Reference – am I heck as like!

No, it’ll be this CS2420.  Calumet Birmingham have one of these in permanent use – God only knows how old it is or how many hours it has on the back light.  But I calibrated it the other week using my ColorMunki Photo via the MBP running a 10 bit connection over Display port to mini Display port and was mightily impressed:

Screen Shot 2016 12 21 at 14.51.38 600x375 Gear Review 2016

The CS2420 (wire frame) compared to AdobeRGB1998 – impressive for under £600.

I must stress that I treat any monitor as ‘dumb’ – I don’t use any of the software-based calibration utilities that come with the monitor, nor do I use the silly little sensor that drops down from the top bezel on some Eizo CE’s.

When you have a print coming off the printer that looks exactly like the original image (not the damn soft-proof like some folk forget) then you know your colour management is set up perfectly.

And this CS2420 Eizo enables me to do just that – for under £600 – a bargain!

Speaking of printing, my last recommendation is a printing paper.

Brilliant Museum Inkjet Paper – SilverGloss Natural 300gsm

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Brilliant by name, and rather brilliant by nature!

I love this paper. It’s quite heavy and substantial at 300gsm, and has quite a large gamut.  I use it all the time in my venerable Epson 4800 – and that’s with the ‘canned profile’ and Lyson ink for Gods sake.

It gives exceptional prints using Calumet/Brilliant own ‘canned’ profiles on the Canon 9500Mk2 and Pixma Pro 1, and the Epson SC-P600/800.  I’ve no reason to think it won’t work in other printers that have a profile listed on the Brilliant website, but I haven’t tried them!  And Canon actually produce their own Pixma Pro 1 profile for this paper too, links below:

Mac OSX El Capitan version

Windows 10/8/7/Vista version

You will find the profile in one of the sub folders in the download.

And speaking of the Pixma Pro 1

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

A 12 ink A3+ printer that I really do rate – for a ‘plastic fantastic’ desktop printer.

I know it’s been around for a while now, so it’s not new like the Epson SC-P600/800 printers – but then again, I’m not overly partial to either of those.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the printers – it’s just the stupid driver installations I can’t get on with – pathetically over-complicated.

Basically the Pixma Pro 1 is ‘plug ‘n go’ once the driver is installed and it produces the best quality prints I’ve seen out of a Canon DTP since the venerable old 3500Mk2 ended production.

The light weight head is supposed to help prevent clogs – though the real cause of head clogs is low humidity inside the printer.

No ‘plastic fantastic’ printer is designed for regular long print runs; that’s the purview of the big medium format jobs.  But for someone who wants to print a handful of A3 prints per week this printer should suit them down to the ground.

Canon 5DMk4.

A lot of you will be wondering why I’ve not mentioned or listed the Canon 5DMk4.  Short answer is I’ve not finished testing it yet – I do the job thoroughly!  No good saying it works brilliantly, then have the thing erupt in a ball of flame after 2 months a la S7 Edge is it?

I just need to do some final dynamic range testing on it, and to that end I’ll be using the new and older versions of the ubiquitous 16-35 f2.8

So there we go, 10 goodies of varying cost that I’ve considered as ‘wish list worthy’ in 2016; some new and some not so new.

Remember, these are just the opinions of some fat geezer in Cheshire!

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT

I’ve just brought out my Basic Milky Photography Workflow training, available HERE

Add the discount code BLOG25DEC at the checkout to get 25% off all available downloads – either my Auto Focus Guide for Birds in Flight or my Milky Way Workflow, or BOTH!

Money – it’s such a dirty word, but we all need it!

I wish I could afford to give this training away, but I have to support a family and my photography and photo training are my only income.

I know most of you will try to shop around for bargains and not buy from the referral links in the above post – and that’s okay.

But these posts take time to produce when you type with two fingers like me, and that’s time I’m not earning money to pay the electricity bill et al.

If you could make a small donation via the DONATE button below it would mean a lot folks – seriously, it would.

This blog gets visited by a LOT of people from all walks of life and from all across the planet.  If just 20% of my visitors donated between £5 and £10 per year then I could go full time on reviewing gear in depth the moment it became available to buy or hire for a few weeks.

Manufacturers like Canon and Nikon will never ‘lend’ me anything for review simply because they can’t trust me to say nice things about them.

Retailers make very little in the way of profit on a per item basis. Especially on bodies and lenses, the margins are ridiculous, even your local green grocer couldn’t operate on some of the narrow margins.  So retailer sponsorship here in the UK isn’t a feasible proposition either.  Calumet are good in lending me items from their ‘hire stock’ but that just costs them money in lost hire revenue; which in turn leads to broken up and protracted review times.

So please folks, if you want me to find the bugs in something – so you don’t have to waste your hard earned cash and find them yourself, then please consider making a donation.

Many thanks and Seasons Greeting to all.

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!

 

More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Nikon D5 banner 577x400 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Okay, so the Nikon D5 has started to slowly trickle into the hands of people now (though sadly not those belonging to yours truly) and yesterday I was sent a link to some downloadable D5 RAW files.

That link is HERE for those of you that might want a look for yourself.

If you have received this post via email PLEASE view it on the blog itself.

Also, as a matter of interest, Nikon have made the D5 User Manual available HERE.

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m quite excited at the thought of the new AF system giving the Nikon shooter access to more Canon-esque controls, but image quality in terms of sensor output and the recorded .NEF are always paramount in my mind.

So I jumped all over the above-linked RAW files, but I have to say that looking at them in Lightroom (neutralised of course as per my previous post HERE) I’m not as overly enamoured as I thought I was going to be.

I’ve seen this camera called ‘The New Lord of Darkness’ with much play being made of its high ISO capability, so let’s have a look at that shall we.  ISO range is 100 to 102,000 expandable to 50 and 3,276,800 – ISO stupid and then some!

Before we go any further, I suspect that the downloadable files are Lossless Compressed!

Want to see what 3,276,800ISO looks like?

All shots are by a user named Andy (not me) posted on NikonGear.net – thanks go to him for sharing.

D5D 1182 2 600x400 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

ISO 3,286,800 – Image is NOT full resolution as it’s too big for WordPress!

D5D 1182 3 600x400 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

ISO 3,286,800 or H5 – full resolution crop – CLICK to view at full size.

This image is, honestly, unusable SO WHY charge you the buyer for the ability to produce it??

Let’s have a look at the high native ISO 102,400:

D5D 1177 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Nikon D5 highest native 102,400 ISO – click for full rez view.

Okay, so in certain circumstances this image would be useful for press reproduction, and I can see the appeal for photojournalists – this level of performance will earn them money, and lots of it.

But I suspect that 75%+ of all global D5 purchasers in its first 12 months will NOT benefit from this performance because they are not in that market place. If you produce weddings shots that look like this then you’re going to get sued up the Ying Yang for sure.

What is interesting is a link on Nikon Rumours which was kindly sent to me yesterday by Paul Atkins:

D4vD5 DR 900x364 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Photographic Dynamic Range comparison of Nikon D4 and Nikon D5.

This is a ‘live graph’ which you can access directly via this link HERE

This is a comparison of PDR, not EDR, and you will not find the D5 listed at DXO Mark at this moment in time. If you want to get your head around the difference between PDR and EDR then click HERE or HERE. But be warned, MATHS ALERT!

Below 1600 ISO the D5 has a significantly lower PDR than the D4, putting it very much in line with the Canon 1DX at <1600ISO – see HERE.

To my mind the D5 is an all-action camera with good low light capabilities; as is/was the D3 in its time, D4 and D4s and Canons 1DX.

As such, lower ISO performance is not really important – it’s a question of ‘horses for courses’ and the right tool for the job.  But the fact that the PDR is lower came as a surprise.

Time was, not so long ago, that I was ‘capped’ at sub 800 ISO for wildlife/action photography – the D3 put paid to that and 1200 to 1600 ISO became my working values when needed.

The D4 and Canon 1DX shifted the goal posts again – 3200 ISO became a standard AND both cameras had AutoISO that worked perfectly.

Nobody with a working brain chooses to work at high ISOs unless they are driven to do so by a need for high shutter speeds in low light – no matter how well a camera sensor functions, image quality will always increase with decreasing ISO.

So examination of the above PDR curves clearly indicate that the true advantage of the D5 over the D4 is on average around 1.3 stops above 1600 ISO – which is a good thing, but it’s not exactly what I’d call revolutionary.  We experience pretty much the same increase with every Nikon D FX release.

If PDR increases then the Signal to Noise ratio – S/N – pretty much appears to increase by the same value, so a visual comparison of D4 and D5 images shot at higher than 1600 ISO will show around 1.3Ev to 1.5Ev of reduced ISO noise.

What I do like is the IQ improvements at 8000 ISO and above.  8000 ISO on a D4 is bad, and its top native 12800 ISO is awful.  Based on the downloaded raw files, anyone could process a D5 12800 ISO image at full resolution to pass QC at ANY stock agency – just go and download those RAWS on the link at the top of the post and see for yourself.

25,600 ISO – well I might be tempted to down-res those by perhaps 1000 to 1500 pixels on the long edge to help with noise reduction a bit, and chucked onto A3 or A3+ print you would never really notice the noise.

Do I like what I see – yes I do!

Is the D5 the new ‘Lord of Darkness’ – no it bloomin’ well isn’t!  Lord of Low Light – quite possibly.  The ISO H1 to H5 images go from questionable to crap in my opinion.

Like the Canon 1DX, I’m not impressed at lower ISO values than 1600 – I can get the same or better performance with a D4 or 4S – admittedly though with a lower pixel count.

So overall Andy, does the D5 impress?  Well, still being in a hands-off situation I’m not going to commit to a full answer there.  When all is said and done, the AF performance will be the key issue for me – a high DR/low noise image of an out of focus subject in no use to me – or anyone else for that matter!

The Way I See Things As They Stand At This Very Moment.

The KING of low ISO with high resolution DSLRs is the Nikon D800E – but it’s not without its limitations. And before you start screaming 5DS at me – it’s a nail, go away..

The best all-round VFM DSLR is the Nikon D810 – a proper jack of all trades who’s only weakness is the occasionally questionable Nikon AF.

The best DSLR autofocus for action is without doubt the Canon 1DX – fabulous AF, crap ergonomics, crap sensor.

The best DSLR sensor for action is the Nikon D4 or 4S – great ergonomics, great sensor, sometimes dubious AF.

But, going on the raw files I’ve downloaded, I strongly suspect that the D5 is going to have the best action sensor title stitched up and dethrone the D4/4S.

Will it dethrone the Canon 1DX in the action AF department – no idea is my truthful answer.  I suppose anything is possible, but if it did, would the soon-to-be-released 1DXMk2 take the throne back – quite possibly.

If you have found this post useful please consider donating a little, or a lot, by clicking the Donate Button.

 

 

Raw File Compression

Raw File Compression.

Today I’m going to give you my point of view over that most vexatious question – is LOSSLESS raw file compression TRULY lossless?

I’m going to upset one heck of a lot of people here, and my chances of Canon letting me have any new kit to test are going to disappear over the horizon at a great rate of knots, but I feel compelled to post!

What prompts me to commit this act of potential suicide?

It’s this shot from my recent trip to Norway:

FW1Q1351 2 900x600 Raw File Compression

Direct from Camera

FW1Q1351 900x600 Raw File Compression

Processed in Lightroom

I had originally intended to shoot Nikon on this trip using a hire 400mm f2.8, but right at the last minute there was a problem with the lens that couldn’t be sorted out in time, so Calumet supplied me with a 1DX and a 200-400 f4 to basically get me out of a sticky situation.

As you should all know by now, the only problems I have with Canon cameras are their  short Dynamic Range, and Canons steadfast refusal to allow for uncompressed raw recording.

The less experienced shooter/processor might look at the shot “ex camera” and be disappointed – it looks like crap, with far too much contrast, overly dark shadows and near-blown highlights.

Shot on Nikon the same image would look more in keeping with the processed version IF SHOT using the uncompressed raw option, which is something I always do without fail; and the extra 3/4 stop dynamic range of the D4 would make a world of difference too.

Would the AF have done as good a job – who knows!

The lighting in the shot is epic from a visual PoV, but bad from a camera exposure one. A wider dynamic range and zero raw compression on my Nikon D4 would allow me to have a little more ‘cavalier attitude’ to lighting scenarios like this – usually I’d shoot with +2/3Ev permanently dialled into the camera.  Overall the extra dynamic range would give me less contrast, and I’d have more highlight detail and less need to bump up the shadow areas in post.

In other words processing would be easier, faster and a lot less convoluted.

But I can’t stress enough just how much detrimental difference LOSSLESS raw file compression CAN SOMETIMES make to a shot.

Now there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of opinionated garbage written all over the internet on various forums etc about lossless raw file compression, and it drives me nuts.  Some say it’s bad, most say it makes no difference – and both camps are WRONG!

Sometimes there is NO visual difference between UNCOMPRESSED and LOSSLESS, and sometimes there IS.  It all depends on the lighting and the nature of the scene/subject colours and how they interact with said lighting.

The main problem with the ‘it makes no difference’ camp is that they never substantiate their claims; and if they are Canon shooters they can’t – because they can’t produce an image with zero raw file compression to compare their standard lossless CR2 files to!

So I’ve come up with a way of illustrating visually the differences between various levels of raw file compression on Nikon using the D800E and Photoshop.

But before we ‘get to it’ let’s firstly refresh your understanding. A camera raw file is basically a gamma 1.0, or LINEAR gamma file:

LinVsHum3 900x271 Raw File Compression

Linear (top) vs Encoded Gamma

The right hand 50% of the linear gamma gradient represents the brightest whole stop of exposure – that’s one heck of a lot of potential for recording subtle highlight detail in a raw file.

It also represents the area of tonal range that is frequently most effected by any form of raw file compression.

Neither Nikon or Canon will reveal to the world the algorithm-based methods they use for lossless or lossy raw file compression, but it usually works by a process of ‘Bayer Binning’.

Bayer Pattern Raw File Compression

If we take a 2×2 block, it contains 2 green, 1 red and 1 blue photosite photon value – if we average the green value and then interpolate new values for red and blue output we will successfully compress the raw file.  But the data will be ‘faux’ data, not real data.

The other method we could use is to compress the tonal values in that brightest stop of recorded highlight tone – which is massive don’t forget – but this will result in a ’rounding up or down’ of certain bright tonal values thus potentially reducing some of the more subtle highlight details.

We could also use some variant of the same type of algorithm to ‘rationalise’ shadow detail as well – with pretty much the same result.

In the face of Nikon and Canons refusal to divulge their methodologies behind raw file compression, especially lossless, we can only guess what is actually happening.

I read somewhere that with lossless raw file compression the compression algorithms leave a trace instruction about what they have done and where they’ve done it in order that a raw handler programme such as Lightroom can actually ‘undo’ the compression effects – that sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me!

Personally I neither know nor do I care – I know that lossless raw file compression CAN be detrimental to images shot under certain conditions, and here’s the proof – of a fashion:

Let’s look at the following files:

14bitUC1 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 1: 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED

14bitUC2 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 2: 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED

14bitLosslessC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 3: 14 bit LOSSLESS compression

14bitLossyC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 4: 14 bit LOSSY compression

12bitUC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 5: 12 bit UNCOMPRESSED

Yes, there are 2 files which are identical, that is 14 bit uncompressed – and there’s a reason for that which will become apparent in a minute.

First, some basic Photoshop ‘stuff’.  If I open TWO images in Photoshop as separate layers in the same document, and change the blend mode of the top layer to DIFFERENCE I can then see the differences between the two ‘images’.  It’s not a perfect way of proving my point because of the phenomenon of photon flux.

Photon Flux Andy??? WTF is that?

Well, here’s where shooting two identical 14 bit uncompressed files comes in – they themselves are NOT identical!:

controlunamplified 258x400 Raw File Compression control 258x400 Raw File Compression

The result of overlaying the two identical uncompressed raw files (above left) – it looks almost black all over indicating that the two shots are indeed pretty much the same in every pixel.  But if I amplify the image with a levels layer (above right) you can see the differences more clearly.

So there you have it – Photon Flux! The difference between two 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED raw files shot at the same time, same ISO, shutter speed AND with a FULLY MANUAL APERTURE.  The only difference between the two shots is the ratio and number of photons striking the subject and being reflected into the lens.

The Levels Adjustment Layer had values of 0, 50 and 150, and is going to be added to the following comparison images:

Firstly 14 Bit UNCOMPRESSED compared to 14 bit LOSSLESS (the important one!):

14bitUCvLosslessC 258x400 Raw File Compression

14 bit UNCOMPRESSED vs 14 bit LOSSLESS

Please remember, the above ‘difference’ image contains photon flux variations too, but if you look carefully you will see greater differences than in the ‘flux only’ image above.

14bitUCvLossyC 258x400 Raw File Compression 14bitUCv12bitUC 258x400 Raw File Compression

The two images above illustrate the differences between 14 bit uncompressed and 14 bit LOSSY compression (left) and 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED and 12 bit UNCOMPRESSED (right) just for good measure!

In Conclusion

As I indicated earlier in the post, this is not a definitive testing method, sequential shots will always contain a photon flux variation that ‘pollutes’ the ‘difference’ image.

I purposefully chose this white subject with textured aluminium fittings and a blackish LED screen because the majority of sensor response will lie in that brightest gamma 1.0 stop.

The exposure was a constant +1EV, 1/30th @ f 18 and 100 ISO – nearly maximum dynamic range for the D800E, and f18 was set manually to avoid any aperture flicker caused by auto stop down.

You can see from all the ‘difference’ images that the part of the subject that seems to suffer the most is the aluminium part, not the white areas.  The aluminium has a stippled texture causing a myriad of small specular highlights – brighter than the white parts of the subject.

What would 14 bit uncompressed minus 14 bit lossless minus photon flux look like?  In a perfect world I’d be able to show you accurately, but we don’t live in one of those so I can’t!

We can try it using the flux shot from earlier:

losslessminuscontrol 258x400 Raw File Compression

But this is wildly inaccurate as the flux component is not pertinent to the photons at the actual time the lossless compression shot was taken.  But the fact that you CAN see an image does HINT that there is a real difference between UNCOMPRESSED and LOSSLESS compression – in certain circumstances at least.

If you have never used a camera that offers the zero raw file compression option then basically what you’ve never had you never miss.  But as a Nikon shooter I shoot uncompressed all the time – 90% of the time I don’t need to, but it just saves me having to remember something when I do need the option.

FW1Q4469 600x400 Raw File Compression

Would this 1DX shot be served any better through UNCOMPRESSED raw recording?  Most likely NO – why?  Low Dynamic Range caused in the main by flat low contrast lighting means no deep dark shadows and nothing approaching a highlight.

I don’t see it as a costly option in terms of buffer capacity or on-board storage, and when it comes to processing I would much rather have a surfeit of sensor data rather than a lack of it – no matter how small that deficit might be.

Lossless raw file compression has NO positive effect on your images, and it’s sole purpose in life is to allow you to fit more shots on the storage media – that’s it pure and simple.  If you have the option to shoot uncompressed then do so, and buy a bigger card!

What pisses my off about Canon is that it would only take, I’m sure, a firmware upgrade to give the 1DX et al the ability to record with zero raw file compression – and, whether needed or not, it would stop miserable grumpy gits like me banging on about it!

 

D5 from Nikon – Latest News

The Nikon D5 – more news & musings

D5b D5 from Nikon   Latest News

Well, the grapevine is saying that Nikon Europe will only be supplying the Dual XQD-slot version – not a bad thing in my opinion as I really like the speed increase of XQD over traditional CF.

Rumour also has it that the 30 second 4K UHD video record limit of 3 minutes is going to be increased to match the D500 30 minute capabilities.  There is some speculation as to whether this will be a “straight 30 minutes” or a 10x 3 minute sequential file recording method (WOW…..I can see that option going down like a lead balloon!).

Nikon Rumours have got their hands on a rather interesting 17 page Nikon Support internal  “CONFIDENTIAL” document about the Nikon D5. marked for limited distribution, with the instruction that the information can only be given to customers on a one to one basis.  This is a MUST READ folks:

READ IT HERE

There is also one for the D500 HERE

On the AF side of the new D5 equation, with its 153 AF points, don’t forget:

  • Only 55 of those are “selectable” – that’s just 4 more than the D4/4S
  • The total AF frame area coverage is only marginally larger on the D5 than it is on the D4/4S

So there are 98 AF points that the camera has full control of AND YOU DON’T – let’s hope they are singing off the same hymn sheet as the camera operator ALL THE TIME.

In my opinion Nikon have basically tried to re-invent the wheel somewhat with this vast number of AF points.  Canons 61 point Reticular AF unit is a damnable good standard which Nikon could have added to simply by increasing the FX frame area coverage with an extra 10 to 20 AF points.

But NOOOOOO…………..Nikon couldn’t possibly think of doing something quite so logical.

To be brutally honest, there’s a chance that Nikon have failed in the D5 to conceive a camera that meets the full requirements of the photographers it’s theoretically aimed at – the pro photograher; especially when you consider the D5 price point.

Instead, it looks to me as if they may have concieved the right thing, then added to it in order to make the camera appeal to that unique bracket of consumer – the one with more money than sense!

Let me qualify somewhat –  a proper “pro” knows what they are doing, knows their kit inside out, thinks on their feet, and can make settings decissions ‘on the fly’ virtually without thinking about them.

Give him or her a camera with 98 AF sensors that they can’t control – and the first thing they are going to look for is some way of turning the things OFF; just like they do with VR!

But turning them off is not an option, and the majority of Nikon pro users I’ve spoken to are of the same frame of mind as me – we are suspicious.  Yes the Multi-CAM3500 AF system wasn’t perfect and was in desperate need of improvement – but bloody hell Nikon, did it have to be quite so damn radical!

It’s all very well Nikon showing cool action jpgs on their website and promo material – but these are meaningless.  All the shots could have been taken on a D3 for all we know – yes, sharp action photographs were possible back then too.

What they don’t show you is a high speed sequence of 30 or 40+ full resolution images shot at 10 fps – only THAT would actually prove that the new fangled AF system actually does all that it’s hyped up to do.

On the flip-side, as I mentioned in my previous D5 related post, at least Nikon have given us access to the one thing AF-wise that was missing; an equivalent to Canon Accel/Decel tracking – but they could give that to D4/4S owners with a simple firmware upgrade – yeah they could, ‘cos it’s already there in the form of preset differences between 9 & 21 point Dynamic Area AF.  But they don’t tell you that!

At the end of my previous post I said I wanted to get my hands on a D5 now – and I still do.  But I never said anything about paying for it upfront or sight-unseen.  I only buy ‘stuff’ that I KNOW works; and I only tell you guys ‘n gals about equipment once I KNOW how well it does its job.

Until I’ve given the D5 a thorough work-out I’m just going to advise a bit of buyer-caution though – the beast might be brilliant, but then again it might not, once you peel back the hype and look at the nitty-gritty.  And £5200 is a big sum to gamble with.

Come on Nikon, have the courage of your own convictions and send a D5 to your Uncle Andy – let him prove his suspicions wrong; let him set out to prove the D5 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – and fail miserably!

 

 

 

Prospec USB 3.0 card reader

Prospec USB 3.0 card reader.

A few weeks ago I decided that my Mac Pro4.1 early 2009 needed to be upgraded to USB 3, seeing as I’d not long since fitted it with an SSD for the OS – yes, I found myself in the mood to spend money; obviously I was unwell!

So I bought a 4-port expansion card from Mac Upgrades, installed it in the Mac and connected my 8TB G-drive – and all has worked perfectly ever since.

Being a mainly Nikon user, the XQD reader showed an instant improvement in transfer speed too, but for all my CF cards I was still stuck with my ancient Sandisk USB 2 reader.

I perused a few USB 3 reader prices in was left gasping – obviously I was now feeling a little better!

But then I spied this:

D4D3688 Edit Prospec USB 3.0 card reader

Prospec USB 3.0 Multi-Card Reader

Twenty quid! That’s right, just £20 – bargain!

Real world read-speed testing using Black Magic, and 32 GB Prospec 1010x CF cards yield the following results:

  1. Sandisk USB 2 reader – 36.9 MB/sec
  2. Prospec USB 3.0 reader – 112.7 MB/sec

and just as a comparison, the Sony XQD reader and H-series card averages 139.2 MB/sec.

Previous blog posts have shown you that I’m a fan of Calumet Prospec CF cards; mainly because they are re-badged Delkins, and in my experience simply bomb-proof and good VFM.

I can’t say for sure without checking, but this Prospec USB 3 reader looks VERY much like a re-brand of the Delkin USB 3.0 multi-card reader, but is basically £10 cheaper.

It certainly sucks up uncompressed D800E 14bit RAW files at an impressive rate of knots I can tell you.

In my earlier Prospec CF card post I did allude to the slightly odd fact that the larger the CF card capacity was, the faster its read speed became.  I also bought a 64Gb Prospec 1010x, just to give the D800E more capacity for shooting HQ time-lapse – this card clocks a read-speed average of 119.8 MB/sec – basically 7MB/sec faster than its 32GB cousin.

Yes, there’s cards and readers out there that might yield faster results; but at what cost to your pocket?

But this level of “REAL WORLD” performance is plenty fast enough for yours truly – especially if, like me, you have short arms and long pockets!

You can view the product HERE – BUY one!

 

Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

 The Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 Compact Flash Card from Calumet – review

Prospec Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

The Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 Compact Flash Card from Calumet – click image to visit the product order page.

Because I’m something of a photographic ‘old fart’ and have been taking images for a living since before the venerable A1 was a glimmer in some Canon engineers eye, I treat everything new with suspicion!

Back in those days when we shot on film, suspicious gits like me had our favourite films we used.  These were whittled down from the vast array on offer, not only on the basis of their performance, but also on reliability.

Did the sprocket holes tear in a particular cameraif they did then to avoid imminent disaster you’d never put that film in that camera.

Were the ‘tails’ always taped to the cassette spool? Christ, that one nearly cost me a boat-load of money at a wedding once – both bride and groom were barristers!

Thank the Lord we don’t have problems like that any more.

But CF cards come with their equivalent problem – card failure.

CF cards are basically Flash RAM, just like SSDs in the latest computers.  And as such they are prone to some degree of instant failure over time.

 The Way I Use Camera Storage Media

When I’ve finished shooting something I move it from the camera storage to my main imaging machine as soon as possible.  Once the shots are on the computer, the card goes back in the camera and is immediately reformatted.

Back when the D3 was Nikon’s flagship I’d had some clonking failures of Lexar CF cards and Sandisk Ultras, when Kevin Treadwell at TFC Birmingham put me on to Delkin cards – and I have never had a problem with them………(see footnote)…

And the two original 16Gb Delkins I bought for the D3 are still going strong to this day!

So when I eventually moved to the D4 I wanted a 32Gb Delkin UDMA 7 to go with the 32Gb Sony XQD, but I couldn’t locate one anywhere.

I was moaning about this to Stuart Tudor-Wood at Calumet Birmingham and he suggested I tried their own Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 instead.

Can you imagine what the “suspicious old photography fart” in me was saying; I was used to possibly the most reliable memory on the planet, and the priciest; and here was something I’d never heard of, and costing pretty much the same..

I did manage to walk out of the door without paying for it, so that was a small victory – but it only lasted 3 weeks until I was doing another workshop there – he nailed me for it the minute I walked through the door!

So, here we are, two years later.  The other day I realised how long I’d had this card in regular use.  It’s a mighty rare occurrence for me to have a day shooting long lens action and not generate some use of the CF card.

Even if I’ve only shot to the XQD card, force of habit leads me to format both cards one after the other.

And if I’m going to shoot video I shoot that to the XQD and then remove it if I want to shoot stills, which consequently go to the CF card.

When I’m testing lenses and shooting for workshop slides etc I shoot to the CF card, then stick that in my steam-powered laptop – it can never see my XQD reader and I daren’t even think about asking it to accommodate tethered shooting..

I bought the card a new brother so I had two of them in the 1DX when I went to Norway in February this year.

All in all, looking back through all the image batches I’ve shot I reckoned that this one card had been reformatted 981 times in a selection of camera bodies from a 1DX and 5DMk3 to a D4S, D4, D800, D800E and D810.

In the D4 this card allows me to shoot 41 14bit uncompressed raw files before I hit the end of the camera buffer; which let’s face it, is plenty.

So I promptly set about shooting 20 bursts of 41 frames, wiping the card between bursts, just so that I could say with some degree of certainty that the card had just hit its 1000th reformat.

Now THAT is a good, solid and highly reliable card that has put up with more abuse in the last two years than some of my clients would give their CF cards in a lifetime.

What Do The ‘Hieroglyphics’ All Mean?

I must admit to being somewhat ambivalent to the majority of these speed numbers – at the end of the day, as a photographer you are more interested in sustained write speed than you are in read speed – or at least you should be.

The faster the write speed of the media the longer it takes to hit the end of the camera internal buffer – this means you shoot more sequential frames in a burst.

CF6 Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

This logo means the media is compliant with the CFA’s CF6 specification, which is supposed to provide data transfer rates of 167Mb/sec.

But that quoted transfer rate could be either read or write – they never seem to commit!

CF6 specification means UDMA 7 compliance; whereas UDMA 6 equated to CF 5 specification and transfer speeds of 133Mb/sec.

CF cards have to communicate with a host device – in our case our camera; and UMDA is the most efficient and fastest mode of communication. But not ALL cameras are UDMA compliant.  And those that are might not be UDMA 7 compliant.

If a camera is not UDMA compatible then believe it or not, a slower non-UDMA card might make the camera work faster. If you put a UDMA 7 card in a camera that is only UDMA 6 compliant then that’s fine, but communication between the two will be at UDMA 6 speeds.

The moral here is to check your camera specifications, and available firmware upgrades.

What does 1010x mean? Known as the card Commercial X Rating it’s an indication of read speed more than anything else, and basically relates the speed of the card as a multiple of the old CD-ROM standard of 150KBs.  So 1010x equates to 151.15Mbs.

But here’s the thing; none of these speeds, theoretical or otherwise, are derived via a camera – they are all acquired on a test-bench computer and a variety of card interfaces.

There is a simple if slightly ‘rough ‘n ready’ test that you can do to check the camera/media combo write speed:

  1. Set the camera to its fastest RAW shooting frame rate (Canon 1DX users note, that’s NOT 14fps!).
  2. Set the burst length to 30 frames.
  3. Put the camera in manual mode, auto iso, and set the shortest shutter speed.

Get a stop-watch and be prepared to start it when the ‘data write’ indicator lights up.

Press and hold the shutter button to start the burst of exposures, take your finger off the shutter button when the camera stops shooting.  The indicator light will still be on, and the stop watch should still be running.  Stop the clock when the light goes out!

Multiply the number of frames by the size of your RAW file, then divide the result by the time in seconds and you’ll have a rough value for your data write speed in Mb/sec.

In a Canon 1DX the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card chugs away at a highly respectable 69Mbs write speed.

32Gb of storage with great reliability and ‘real world’ write speed like that is great – especially for the price.

Nikon Users

If, like me, you mainly shoot uncompressed 14 bit RAW (not an option for Canon shooters) the write speed of the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card in a D4/4S will drop to around 41Mbs due to the much increased file size of each RAW frame – 35.9Mb average RAW size, as opposed to the 1DX average file size of around 26.4Mb.

But sensible burst shooting in conjunction with the huge Nikon D4/4S buffer means you will never suffer from ‘buffer lock-out’.

Conclusion

Bearing in mind that this is just my opinion, the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card represents exceptionally good value for money.  Yes, there are faster cards out there; but I’ve been bitten by both S****** and L**** in the past, and ‘once bitten twice shy’ and all that……

For me the write/format longevity of this card is what strikes me the most, and for the price this card is well worthy of anyone’s consideration.

D4D2589 900x599 Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

Two years and over 1000 reformats, the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card is still going strong – have a Kite!

Footnote

I’ve just had it confirmed……..the Prospec is actually Delkin; so bearing in mind what I said earlier, the reliability comes as no surprise!

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Donations would help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.

 

Image Sharpness

Image Sharpness

I spent the other afternoon in the Big Tower at Gigrin, in the very pleasant company company of Mr. Jeffrey “Jeffer-Cakes” Young.    Left arm feeling better yet Jeff?

I think I’m fairly safe in saying that once feeding time commenced at 3pm it didn’t take too long before Jeff got a firm understanding of just how damn hard bird flight photography truly is – if you are shooting for true image sharpness at 1:1 resolution.

I’d warned Jeff before-hand that his Canon 5Dmk3 would make his session somewhat more difficult than a 1Dx, due to it’s slightly less tractable autofocus adjustments.  But that with his 300mm f2.8 – even with his 1.4x converter mounted, his equipment was easily up to the job at hand.

I on the other hand was back on the Nikon gear – my 200-400 f4; but using a D4S I’d borrowed from Paul Atkins for some real head-to-head testing against the D4 (there’s a barrow load of Astbury venom headed Nikon’s way shortly I can tell you….watch this space as they say).

Amongst the many topics discussed and pondered upon, I was trying to explain to Jeff the  fundamental difference between ‘perceived’ and ‘real’ image sharpness.

Gigrin is a good place to find vast armies of ‘photographers’ who have ZERO CLUE that such an argument or difference even exists.

As a ‘teacher’ I can easily tell when I’m sharing hide space with folk like this because they develop quizzical frowns and slightly self-righteous smirks as they eavesdrop on the conversation between my client and I.

“THEY” don’t understand that my client is wanting to achieve the same goal as the one I’m always chasing after; and that that goal is as different from their goal as a fillet of oak-smoked Scottish salmon is from a tin of John West mush.

I suppose I’d better start explaining myself at this juncture; so below are two 800 pixel long edge jpeg files that you typically see posted on a nature photography forum, website or blog:

D4S6753 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 1. Red Kite – Nikon D4S+200-400 f4 – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

Click the images to view them properly.

D4S6693 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 2. Red Kite – Nikon D4S+200-400 f4 – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

“THEY” would be equally as pleased with either…..!

Both images look pretty sharp, well exposed and have pretty darn good composition from an editorial point of view too – so we’re all golden aren’t we!

Or are we?

Both images would look equally as good in terms of image sharpness at 1200 pixels on the long edge, and because I’m a smart-arse I could easily print both images to A4 – and they’d still look as good as each other.

But, one of them would also readily print to A3+ and in its digital form would get accepted at almost any stock agency on the planet, but the other one would most emphatically NOT pass muster for either purpose.

That’s because one of them has real, true image sharpness, while the other has none; all it’s image sharpness is perceptual and artificially induced through image processing.

Guessed which is which yet?

D4S6753 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 1 at 1:1 native resolution – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

Image 1. has true sharpness because it is IN FOCUS.

D4S6693 Edit 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 2 at 1:1 native resolution – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

And you don’t need glasses to see that image 2 is simply OUT OF FOCUS.

The next question is; which image is the cropped one – number 2 ?

Wrong…it’s number 1…

D4S6753 4 Image Sharpness

Image 1 uncropped is 4928 pixels long edge, and cropped is 3565, in other words a 28% crop, which will yield a 15+ inch print without any trouble whatsoever.

Image 2 is NOT cropped – it has just been SHRUNK to around 16% of its original size in the Lightroom export utility with standard screen output sharpening.  So you can make a ‘silk purse from a sows ear’ – and no one would be any the wiser, as long as they never saw anything approaching the full resolution image!

Given that both images were shot at 400mm focal length, it’s obvious that the bird in image 1 (now you know it’s cropped a bit) is FURTHER AWAY than the bird in image 2.

So why is one IN FOCUS and the other not?

The bird in image 1 is ‘crossing’ the frame more than it is ‘closing in’ on the camera.

The bird in image 2 is closer to the camera to begin with, and is getting closer by the millisecond.

These two scenarios impose totally different work-loads on the autofocus system.

The ability of the autofocus system to cope with ANY imposed work-load is totally dependent upon the control parameters you have set in the camera.

The ‘success’ rate of these adjustable autofocus parameter settings is effected by:

  1. Changing spatial relationship between camera and subject during a burst of frames.
  2. Subject-to-camera closing speed
  3. Pre-shot tracking time.
  4. Frame rate.

And a few more things besides…!

The autofocus workloads for images 1 & 2 are poles apart, but the control parameter settings are identical.

The Leucistic Red Kite in the shot below is chugging along at roughly the same speed as its non-leucistic cousin in image 2. It’s also at pretty much the same focus distance:

D4S6621 2 600x400 Image Sharpness

Image 3. Leucistic Red Kite – same distance, closing speed and focal length as image 2. CLICK IMAGE to view larger version.

So why is image 3 IN FOCUS when, given a similar scenario, image 2 is out of focus?

Because the autofocus control parameters are set differently – that’s why.

FACT: no single combination of autofocus control parameter settings will be your ‘magic bullet’ and give you nothing but sharp images with no ‘duds’ – unless you use a 12mm fish-eye lens that is!

Problems and focus errors INCREASE in frequency in direct proportion to increasing focal length.

They will also increase in frequency THE INSTANT you switch from a prime lens to a zoom lens, especially if the ‘zoom ratio’ exceeds 3:1.

Then we have to consider the accuracy and speed of the cameras autofocus system AND the speed of the lens autofocus motor – and sadly these criteria generally become more favourable with an increased price tag.

So if you’re using a Nikon D800 with an 80-400, or a Canon 70D with a 100-400 then there are going to be more than a few bumps in your road.  And if you stick to just one set of autofocus control settings all the time then those bumps are going to turn into mountains – some of which are going to kill you off before you make their summit….metaphorically speaking of course!

And God forbid that you try this image 3 ‘head on close up’ malarkey with a Sigma 50-500 – if you want that level of shot quality then you might just as well stay at home and save yourself the hide fees and petrol money !

Things don’t get any easier if you do spend the ‘big bucks’ either.

Fast glass and a pro body ‘speed machine’ will offer you more control adjustments for sure.  But that just means more chances to ‘screw things up’ unless you know EXACTLY how your autofocus system works, exactly what all those different controls actually DO, and you know how to relate those controls to what’s happening in front of you.

Whatever lens and camera body combination any of us use, we have to first of all find, then learn to work within it’s ‘effective envelope of operation’ – and by that I mean the REAL one, which is not necessarily always on a par with what the manufacturer might lead you to believe.

Take my Nikon 200-400 for example.  If I used autofocus on a static subject, let alone a moving one, at much past 50 metres using the venerable old D3 body and 400mm focal length, things in the critical image sharpness department became somewhat sketchy to say the least.  But put it on a D4 or D4S and I can shoot tack sharp focussing targets at 80 to 100 metres all day long……not that I make a habit of this most meaningless of photographic pastimes.

That discrepancy is due to the old D3 autofocus system lacking the ability to accurately  discriminate between precise distances from infinity to much over 50 metres when that particular lens was being used. But swap the lens out for a 400 f2.8 prime and things were far better!

Using the lens on either a D4 or D4S on head-on fast moving/closing subjects such as Mr.Leucistic above, we hit another snag at 400mm – once the subject is less than 20 metres away the autofocus system can’t keep up and the image sharpness effectively drops off the proverbial cliff.  But zoom out to 200mm and that ‘cut-off’ distance will reduce to 10 metres or so. Subjects closing at slower speeds can get much closer to the camera before sharp focus begins to fail.

As far as I’m concerned this problem is more to do with the speed of the autofocus motor inside the lens than anything else.  Nikon brought out an updated version of this lens a few years back – amongst its ‘star qualities’ was a new nano-coating that stopped the lens from flaring.  But does it focus any faster – does it heck!  And my version doesn’t suffer from flare either….!

Getting to know your equipment and how it all works is critical if you want your photography to improve in terms of image sharpness.

Shameless Plug Number 1.

I keep mentioning it – my ebook on Canon & Nikon Autofocus with long glass.

I’ll finish it one day soon – I need the money!

Click the images for larger view

afdoc1 564x400 Image Sharpnessafdoc2 564x400 Image Sharpness

Shameless Plug Number 2.

1 to 1 Tuition Day

Understanding Canon & Nikon Autofocus

for

Bird in Flight Photography

GX2R2055 Edit 2 2 Image Sharpness

Click Image for details.

 

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Donations would help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.