Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NOW IN STOCK: Nikon D810 cameras with the thermal fix!

No sooner had I published my glowing review praising the new Nikon D810, when Nikon issued a service advisory about a thermal issue (white dots) affecting the earlier cameras during very long exposures or when using the 1.2x crop mode.  Of course my camera had one of the early serial numbers, and although I haven't noticed the problem with it, back to the factory it goes for the free fix by Nikon. If you think you might have one of these early D810 cameras, you can check the serial number on the Nikon Service web site here.

Nikon's announcement:

"We have received a few reports from some users of the Nikon D810 digital SLR camera indicating that bright spots are sometimes noticeable in long exposures, and in some images captured at an Image area setting of 1.2× (30×20).

After looking into the matter, we have determined that bright spots may occasionally be noticeable when shooting long exposures, and in images captured at an Image area setting of 1.2× (30×20).

Nikon service centers will service these cameras that have already been purchased as needed free of charge to the customer."

Cameras seem to be coming to market sooner than ever and perhaps without enough field testing. My Fuji X-T1 had to go back for a light leak fix. My Nikon D600 had the sensor spot issue. It doesn't really pay to be the first kid on the block with the new toy.

But here's the good news:

The Nikon D810 is now back in stock at B&H, and they have confirmed to me that all the D810 cameras in their warehouse already have the fix for the thermal issue. So, if you're looking to pick up a new D810, you can do so now at B&H while they last.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fuji X-T1 and Nikon D810 -- how do they compare?

On the face of it comparing these two superb cameras with each other is absurd. The Fuji X-T1 with its 16.3mp APS-C sensor is just not going to be a match a full-frame, 36.3mp sensor in the Nikon D810 -- unless you decide to compare them on equal ground.

I recently began using the D810 instead of the D4 I normally use for all of my lifestyle photography, but for a long time now I have been using the Fuji X-T1 also. I usually do not use the X-T1 for the bulk of the shooting, but have it around to take advantage of its specific features. As I am editing the shoots I am not always paying attention to the camera used for the shot. Every now and then, a shot will jump out at me as being a cut above what I had been working with that day, and invariably it turns out to be an image from the Fuji. In a recent shoot I went back and compared the X-T1 images with the D810 images where there was an overlap of the same subject matter, and was surprised to find that I generally like the X-T1 shots the best. They showed more contrast in deep shadows with a full, pleasing tonal range. I am often pushing the limits of these cameras by doing away with reflector fills in very harsh, back lit situations.

The D810 produces a final 103.4MB file measuring 7360 x 4912, where as the X-T1 delivers a 45.7MB file at 4896 x 3264. This would be about 16" x 25" vs 11" x 16" print size, and at full print size is where the quality difference can be seen. Without some talented massaging of the image it would be difficult to take an X-T1 image up to the 16" x 25" size of the D810 and have them look exactly equal. However, for most of what I do professionally, I don't need the larger file size. Much of my professional work is done for traditional stock where the maximum image requirement is 50MB. That means when I have a D810 image I have to severely down-size it from its original 103MB size, but only have to bump my X-T1 45.7 images up a bit to hit the 50MB mark. So bottom line in these circumstances is how do the images compare at the 50MB size.

Sounds like I'm using a little slight-of-hand in this comparison, but, truth is, we often forget to compare cameras based on the ultimate use of the final images.

All of the images below were brought in from the RAW to the same 50MB size (17.5MP) because that is the size I need to submit. Other than some dodging/burning here and there, no retouching has been done on them. Take a look and see if you can tell the difference between the Nikon D810 and Fuji X-T1 files, and which, if any, you prefer. There are two links below each photos and a key to let you know the results is supplied at the bottom of this post. No fair peeking!

All were shot of the same scene back lit with available daylight. It was a sunny day but occasionally the sun went behind a thin cloud and could cause a slight color shift. The Fuji X-T1 had the Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro on it. The Nikon D810 had the 85mm f/1.4 lens.

Click here to download image A1.              Click here to download image A2

Click here to download image B1.              Click here to download image B2

Click here to download image C1.              Click here to download image C2

One reason I keep the X-T1 handy is because of its tilt screen. I use it to quickly grab shots like this from above on the fly -- no ladder needed.  This time the camera had the new 18-135mm zoom.  I also keep the X-T1 around now because its super-wide lenses, both the 14mm and the 10-24mm zoom are exceptional.  The Fuji X-T1 also has the best WiFi control of any camera I have used -- perfect for tucking the camera into situations where I cannot go myself.  
A1=XT1; A2=D810
B1=D810; B1=XT1

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Early morning light and shadow and the Zeiss Touit 50mm lens

The early morning sunlight was streaming into my apartment casting strong shadows on the walls. I grabbed one of my favorite cameras, the Fuji X-T1 with a Zeiss Touit 50mm macro on it ,and captured some of the abstract patterns formed by the light and shadows. At one point I also put a piece of white paper in the light and created some abstractions with some of the contents of my wallet.

I usually keep my Fuji X-cameras set to record both jpg and RAW at the same time. For this series I also had the X-T1 set to square crop mode, and increased the shadow tones by +2 and  the highlight tones by +1 on the "Q" menu to obtain a starker contrast.

Two credit cards balanced on  edge. I used the shiny laser seal on a third card to reflect a bright light pattern into the deep shadow.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tips for hand holding a camera with a lens like the Fuji 18-135mm and its 5-stop Vibration Reduction

The new Fuji 18-135mm lens with its purported 5-stops of vibration reduction raises the question: How much can we really depend upon the VR claims made for modern cameras and lenses?  A 5-stop VR means that 1/4 second shutter translates into a 1/125th second hand held. Sounds like this speed should work for most situations, but the practical reality sometimes proves otherwise. Over-reliance on VR numbers often leads to disappointing results. It is best to develop good, steady-shooting habits, which, when coupled with modern VR claims can result in blur free images.

I have been testing the Fuji 18-135mm lens at low shutter speeds to see how much I can depend upon its claims. While I could go down to 1/4 second, for the most part such a slow speed resulted in blurred shots with an occasional lucky one. This is what I expected and is the reason I have developed slow speed shooting techniques over the years.

Photographs will always be at their steadiest with the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. That said, there are times when you just don't have a tripod with you in an opportune moment. In this blog post I am going to discuss a few techniques for holding a camera steady. These can be applied whether using a slow shutter speed or not. Sometimes,what we think of as a fast enough speed will still transmit some motion blur to the image.

This dusk shot was taken at 1/8th second with a 74mm focal length (112mm equivalent). Panning the camera with the ferry kept it sharp while there is lateral motion blur on the background. 

The slowest speed at which a camera can be safely hand held is 1 over the focal length. So a 50mm lens would require a shutter speed of around 1/60th second, while a 200mm lens would need 1/250 second to achieve the same degree of motion stopping power. On top of this, 1/60th second was considered the minimum speed required for vibration free shooting, and that was only while using steady shooting techniques. Modern VR lenses change all of this, but how much is the question.

Here are some shooting techniques I have developed over the years to produce steadier shots while holding a camera at lower speeds:

1. Use a shorter focal length. Keep in mind that in addition to magnifying the size of the subject long lenses also magnify motion. What might be sufficient to stop motion at 18mm is not going to work the same at 135mm. Re-composing a shot so it can be taken with a shorter lens will help reduce blur.

2. Shoot in bursts instead of single shots.  When you press the shutter button you apply a downward pressure on it that moves the entire camera and can contribute to motion blur. To avoid this put the camera on continuous shooting mode, press and hold the shutter for several exposures. The initial pressed shot will be the most susceptible to motion. The next shots will be steadier because you are avoiding the push on the shutter button.

Hand held at a focal length of 104mm (156mm equivalent) and shutter speed of 1/15th second. This speed is very low for such a long focal length. I "bracketed the shutter speed" by first steadying myself and then taking several bursts of 3-4 shots. Some were very soft, some were moderately acceptable, and a few were sharp. I took a total of 24 "safety" exposures, even though all I needed was one good one out of the bunch.  
3. Bracket your shutter:   Don't be lulled into reliance on the vibration reduction claims. In those situations where you really need it to work the light will generally be awful -- high contrast with deep, dark shadows and no detail, while lighted areas may be overly lit with incandescent spot lights. By "bracketing your shutter" I mean considerably over-shooting to guarantee that at least one shot will be sharp. In number 2 above, you should already be using a motor drive.  Keep it pressed for several exposures.

4. Brace yourself against something solid.  If you can lean yourself and the arm supporting the camera against a solid surface, you can stabilize yourself and minimize the movement of your body. Couple this with #7 below and you could have a very stable platform for shooting.

5. Develop good breathing technique: Breathing causes motion. Nervous, or anxious breathing, or out-of-breath breathing causes even more body motion. To counteract this breath in deeply to oxiginate and calm yourself, then breath out and pause for a moment. Click the shutter in this moment. Sounds like some sort of Zen ritual, but it is really just common sense and works well anytime you need to take aim at something.

6. Rely on bone rather than muscle to support the camera:  If you hold the camera with your elbows pointing out, you are using your arm muscles to try and hold it steady. Resting the camera in the palm of your hand while keeping your arm straight up and down with the elbows tucked into your body allows the camera to rest on top our your arm bone. Bone is solid making it less subjective to shaking.

On the left the elbows are away from the body where they are unstable, whereas on the right the elbows are tucked into the body and the camera rests on top of the left palm -- a much more stable position.

7. Don't grip the camera with your left hand:  Allow the camera to rest in the palm of your left hand without gripping it tightly. Gripping the camera too tightly requires the use of muscles and muscles can cause shake.

8. Use your strap to add stability: Place the strap under your elbow and twist it around your forearm so that it is taught and the camera rests solidly in the palm of the hand.  Pushing up with the left hand should add tension to the strap to stabilize the camera. Keep the elbow tucked into the body for even more stability.  You may need to add a slight adjustment to the length of your camera strap for to maintain the proper degree of tension.

This method is very quickly applied in the field. It is similar to the idea of pulling against a string attached to your belt and pulled taught to add tension .  The main difference is that the camera strap technique is handier because it is always with you, and works similarly, if not even better. 

The Fuji 18-135mm zoom hand-held at f/8 and 1/15th of a second and 37mm (55mm equivalent) focal length.  Theoretically, that shutter speed would be equivalent to shooting at 1/500th second, and sounds like it should be sufficient to stop any motion. Don't trust it. No matter how good the VR looks on paper, it does not translate to the expected steadiness the formula suggests. 
At first some of these suggestions might seem a bit awkward to implement, but it won't take much practice for steady shooting techniques to become a regular habit.

Develop a habit of always shooting with steady techniques regardless of the actual shutter speed. No matter how good you are with your hand-holding technique, you are a shaky bi-pod that will never beat a steady tripod at the job of holding a camera steady. A lens like the Fuji 18-135mm is a modern miracle of vibration reduction and particularly handy with its slower maximum apertures. Keeping the shutter speed down, while sometimes risking a blurred shot, helps me avoid going too much noise with a high ISO. Everything is a trade-off. Getting the proper balance between the elements is the trick, and a 5-stop VR helps.

If you are planning on buying this lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Super moon over Manhattan

Last night I photographed the super moonrise over lower Manhattan with the new World Trade Center. I primarily used the new Nikon D810, but also used the Fuji X-T1 with 18-135mm zoom for some tests I was doing with it.

A super moon is not only larger than a typical full moon because of its proximity to the earth, it is also brighter. This makes it more difficult to integrate into a night cityscape where you want to hold detail in both the city and the moon. To get around this I bracketed the shots heavily with several stop differences between the city photo and the moon photo. Later I merged the two in Photoshop so the moon would have its full detail.

Lower Manhattan with World Trade Center and super moonrise taken with the Nikon D810 and 70-200mm f/4 Nikon zoom.  With the ISO set for 64 the exposure of the city was 1/2.5 second, while the exposure for the moon was 1/25th second.

For this view I wanted a time-lapse to blur the water. Taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 18-135mm lens at an ISO of 200, the exposure was 30 seconds for the city at f/22, but 1/15th second for the moon at the same aperture. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Nikon D810 - a hands-on review

The first thing you notice about the new D810 is its sound, or, more exactly, the lack of sound. It is quiet with a muffled dampening to the normal shutter and mirror noise, your first indication that something different is going on inside this camera. The new sound is a result of a redesign of the mirror sequencer / balancer unit to minimize shutter vibration -- a big improvement over the D800/800E models, whose high resolution sensors were offset by the increased sensitivity to motion blurring.. 

The 36.3-megapixel sensor has improved microlenses for gathering light. When coupled with the new EXPEED 4 image processor the performance is said to be increased by 30% with a new native base ISO of 64 and a range extending one more stop to 12,800 (32-25,600 extended). These improvements also result in clearing the buffer faster, which translates into overall speed improvement.

The sensor on the D810 no longer has an optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter instead of just cancelling it out as was the case on the D800. This should theoretically improve the resolution of the camera, and indeed the D810 recently nudged itself to the top slot on the DxOmark sensor ratings. What these results are missing is the improvement to sharpness made by the dampening of interior motion of camera parts. From what I have found, the images I am achieving from hand-held shots with the D810 are considerably sharper than the prior D800/E.  Take a look at the high res shot of the Empire State Building later in this blog. 

The color, tones, and noise control of the new EXPEED 4 processing engine are quite noticeable. The images have a different look to them. The colors are richer, gradated tones smoother departing an almost 3-dimensional quality to the image.

Exceptional dynamic range, from the bright window to the deep shadows with no noise and smooth tonal trasition. No fill was added to this severely back lit shot.

The D810 is considered an interim model, and appears at first glance to offer only moderate improvements over the D800/D800E cameras. After using the D810 for only a few days, however, I began to realize that the changes, minor as they might appear to be on paper, considerably expand the versatility of use for the camera into other shooting categories.

The prior models of the D800 and D800E were used primarily for landscape, architecture, still life, and some fashion -- in other words, in areas where a fast frame rate and slow buffer are not as important as image quality, and can be easily tolerated. When shooting sports, lifestyle, animals, or other subjects where capture speed takes a back seat the D800/D800e were just not up to the task. I found my D800 ponderously slow when shooting lifestyle where I would often miss an important part of the action because the camera could not keep up with the changing subject.

Increasing the continuous shooting range from 4 to 5 frames per second may not sound like much, but, when coupled with the faster processing time of the new EXPEED 4 processing engine considerably extends the buffer range of the D810.  In fact, with a few adjustments to improve the file size, the camera can shoot continuously at a frame rate of 5fps speed for long bursts and do it again with only minimal wait time. When shooting  lifestyle or sports photography the ability of the camera to keep on shooting while the action is changing is often more important than the actual frame rate. I usually photograph lifestyle with a Nikon D4 set to a lower speed of 6fps and am finding the 5fps on the D810 coupled with the fast buffer clearance to be quite a comfortable pace.

In DX mode and the larger 1.2x crop mode the D810 continuous mode increases to 6fps,  and for the DX mode only it increases to 7fps with the optional Nikon MB-D12 auxiliary battery pack.

I have always appreciated that Nikon maintains a similar control layout on its pro and semi-pro cameras and keeps the physical design changes of new models to a minimum so that once you are familiar with one Nikon camera model you should feel quite at home with any other. Modern digital cameras have enough menu layers and buttons to rival the cockpit of a jet plane. There are only a few body changes on the D810. Aside from a resculpted hand grip, meter selection has been moved from a collar around the AE-L/AF-L button to a button on top of the left camera knob, as it is on the D4s. 

Meter selection mode button has been moved to the to dial as on the D4s, and the BKT button it replaces is now under the pop-up flash just above the flash over/under button.

A new "i" for "information" button has been added to the back and brings up this LCD screen giving an overall picture of the camera settings and a small menu at the bottom for making some quick menu changes. This is what it looks like in with the camera set to viewfinder mode. 
The "i" button also calls up the quick change menu in  live, and movie view modes as well as in viewfinder mode. In playback mode the "i" button calls up its specific retouch menu. 
The AF/M button on the lower front right of the camera is in the same place as before but now has some dimples added making it easier to feel without looking. I have always had difficulty locating this button while shooting so the change is most welcomed.

For reviewing a scene, the D810 has a new enlarged split screen display mode for examining the image in live view, or making very accurate horizon adjustments by comparing the far left to the far right of the frame. The right half remains stationary while the left half can me moved to cover the rest of the scene.

The 1.2x crop mode still offers a 25.1mp image file. Also due to the edge crop the image focus area is extended to cover a larger relative area of the frame. This is perfect for shooting moving subjects as in lifestyle or animal photography when you want to catch the peak of action.  For animal photography this also delivers a slight extension to your focal length by a factor of 1.2x.  Also in this 1.2x crop mode by selecting 12-bit for the RAW files, the camera will shoot continuously at 6fps to a fast CompactFlash card to the maximum frame limit set on the camera.  I shoot much of my lifestyle photography in a controlled lighting environment so switching from 14 bit to 12 bit does not impact on the dynamic range. For landscape photography on a bright day, however, I would want to use the camera in its full 14 bit capture mode.

Much of my work is done in a studio environment where I have total control of the light so I really don't need a 14-bit range. Switching to 12-bit gives me sufficient data, the camera buffer operates faster, and the files are smaller. This is what I mean when I refer to the versatility of the new D810. It is readily converted to serve whatever type of photography you are doing.

In this severely back lit scene with no fill, done at a 1.2x crop, I experimented by shooting it both with 12 and  14 bit camera settings. I processed the two images at the same time and found no difference between the two bit modes. Considering the speed advantage, not to mention smaller file size, of the 12 bit setting, I see no reason not to use it on a suitable subject.
The D810 has a new RAW S mode for smaller uncompressed RAW files . The files are about 25% of the full res size, producing a 25MB as opposed to 103MB final tif or jpg image file with a resolution of 3680x2456 at 9MP, as opposed to 7360x4912 at 36.3MP.

The D810 is a 2% lighter at 980g vs 1000g -- not much to shout about there. The battery life has been improved by 25% with a CIPA claim of 1200 as opposed to 900 for the D800/D800E. I found that I achieve much more than that. I have been shooting over 3000 shots on a shoot day without depleting the battery.

The LCD screen has been improved with 1,229k dots vs 921k on the D800/E, and its color and brightness can now be customized to suit your preferences.

Paying further attention to any possible motion blur with this camera, Nikon added an electronic front-curtain shutter option for the Mup (mirror up) mode. This eliminates any motion blur that could be caused by the shutter motion.

A new Highlight-Weighted metering mode has been added to the other metering modes. It assigns a greater weight to the brightest areas to prevent blown highlights. This will be of great benefit to event photographers photographing under bright spot lights.

The D810 now has the same Group auto focus as on D4s, where 5 focus points can consolidate to share information that keeps the camera focused on the subject instead of the background.  This is coupled with a new auto-focus algorithm that further improves focusing on dark and low contrast subjects for an overall substantial focusing improvement. I have performed some tests of these improvements and found them nothing short of amazing, as the examples below illustrate.

In this scene there is a single, strong tungsten light shining through the background window, and no fill to light the model from the front. The picture I was trying to achieve was the one on the right, but the way it looked to me through the viewfinder was like the image on the left. I have faced this situation many times before and know from experience that none of the cameras I use could focus on the face, let alone the eye, in this situation. I usually have to switch to manual focus. The 5-point auto-focus of the D810 did not skip a beat, and delivered every shot in focus with no hesitation. Plus, with the dynamic range of the camera I had no trouble opening up the shadows without any noise.  

Severely back lit from the window behind the model a pinpoint focus on the model's eye is difficult to achieve.  Using the 5-group focus points borrowed from the D4s, the D810 had no trouble auto-focusing such a small target. In the past I would have had to "bracket the focus" by over-shooting a scene like this trying in an attempt to guarantee that some of the shots would be in focus. With the new Group autofocus of the D810, all of the photos were in focus. For the type of work I do on a regular basis, that alone is worth the price of admission.


The built-in flash on the D810 can be used as a Commander unit to trigger an off-camera speed light. For this photo a single Nikon SB-910 flash was mounted in a small beauty dish reflector and placed on a stand just above the camera lens. A large collapsible mettalic reflector was placed below the model. The flash was set to manual and remote. 

Still life subjects like this is one of the subjects I normally photograph with the D800 series cameras. It is a composite of 15 images, each shot at a different focus point and later combined (stacked) to create one image with a super depth-of-field. Click here to download a high res version of this image

The Empire State Building photographed with the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens and ISO of 64.  Click here to download a high res version of this file.   This image is considerably sharper than what I used to capture with the D800 and the same lens. Even with a high shutter speeds, I found that interior vibrations set up in the camera contributed to a blur that degraded hand-held images.

The low base ISO of 64 makes it easier to quickly achieve nice bokeh by using fast aperture lenses very open. This photo was taken with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens set to f/2 to throw the background completely out of focus..

Click here to download a high res version of this file.

The D810 is selling for $3,296.95, the same as the D800E used to be but with improvements that deliver  a much  better bang for the buck. A new D4s sells for almost twice that, but unless you really rely on an extremely high continuous frame rate, the D810 may be all you really need.


As a result of the improvements made to the new model, the D810 is a much more versatile camera than its predecessors.

To switch or not to switch:  Should you trade up from a D800/800E to the newer D810?  That is going to depend upon what kind of photography you do. I shoot a very wide array of subjects --  landscape, lifestyle, still life, sports, animals -- which is one reason I have several cameras, a specific model for each type of photography I do. For me the decision was easy. I didn't hesitate in upgrading from a D800 to the new D810, and the more I use it, the happier I am I made the decision. I already prefer the D800 to the D4 for shooting 90% of my lifestyle subjects, reserving the D4 for those times when things are really moving fast and I need that super-high 9fps frame rate.

If you liked the D800/800E, you are going to love the D810. If you are a professional photographer, this is currently the best camera out there for almost any type of shooting.

With its design changes -- modest as they might initially appear to be at first glance -- the new D810 model expands its use from specialized shooting situations to a point where it might be the only camera you ever need for shooting anything -- still life, fashion, architecture, sports, wildlife, lifestyle, landscapes, events, wedding photography, whatever. This camera is as good as it gets.

Remember when cameras didn't have menus?

If you are planning on buying a D810, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by clicking the link and purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Nikon D810 camera body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo    Amazon

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An evening of profile views of Manhattan with the Fuji X-T1, 18-135mm zoom, and 23mm lens.

I think I was inspired by the 5-stop vibration reduction prowess of the new 18-135mm to venture out shooting without my tripod. I had the Fuji 18-135mm lens and also the 23mm f/1.4 in case I needed a really fast aperture. In one situation where I wanted to try a long, 20 second exposure to blur the river I did balance the camera on a convenient wall. All the rest were taken with these two lenses and no tripod.

The more distant images were all taken from Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Here I wanted to create an intentional vertical blur of city lights by moving the camera vertically during an exposure of 1.6 seconds.