Tag Archive for 'photography'

2011 in Photography

I’ve been dreading writing the photography roundup post this year, because I haven’t taken a lot of photographs. I’ve only a few months worth of photographs on Flickr, which makes a month by month roundup pretty tough to do.   We’ve had an enormous amount of stuff going on schedule wise this year, and between all of that activity, and me getting fussier about my pictures, 2011 saw a precipitous decline in the average number of pictures that I made during a given month.

I’m still doing some dance performance work,

OPG Nutcracker 2011

OPG Nutcracker 2011

OPG Nutcracker 2011

OPG Nutcracker 2011

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2011

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2011

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2011

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2011

and on the right occasions, I am going to interesting places that yield interesting pictures

SXSW Interactive 2011

SXSW Interactive 2011

_SXSW Interactive 2011

The highlight of the year for me photographically was a project that I did with one of the seniors at my daughters’ dance studio

Liza

Liza

Liza

Liza

Liza

Liza

Liza

I think that the other notable thing for me and photography in 2011 is a move away from Flickr and towards Google+, Facebook, and 500px. This is definitely a bittersweet thing for me. Flickr is pretty much responsible for getting me back into photography and putting me on a good track of growth. At the same time, I see Flickr weakening in various ways. I do a limited amount of portrait/dance shooting in my local area. For this kind of work, Facebook is pretty much the place where people might see my work. When Google+ burst onto the scene earlier this year, it was clear that it was really pretty decent for photography, and a lot of professional and advanced amateur photographers have taken to the service. In particular, Google+’s hangouts feature is great for photography growth. There are amazing photographs and photographers on Flickr, but if you look at 500px, the level of photography being displayed there is pretty amazing. I’m going to keep using Flickr, I think, but I’m going to be shifting more of my energy to Google+ and 500px in 2012.

One of the big happenings in 2011 was that we did a remodel of the empty bonus room that’s over our garage. One of the use cases for the design of that remodel was as a photo studio. Due to time, I haven’t really been able to get up there much, but I hope to spend some time working there come the new year, so perhaps next year’s roundup won’t be so lean.

2010 in Photography

Once again it is time for a summary of the year in photos. For 2010, I decided that I was going to try and do “The Daily Shoot” every day. On the whole this was a good experience for me. The variety of subjects for the assignments helped to take me out of the zone of things that I would normally shoot, both in terms of subject matter and style. The variety of subject matter has really helped my “situational awareness”. I notice a lot more things in my surroundings, and I’ve noticed that it is easier for me to find subjects for the assignments, particularly when I am out and about. There were a number of assignments that focused on particular styles or techniques in photography. In principle I’ve known how to shoot these things, but because I have my preferred style to shoot, I’ve never actually done so. These assignments were particularly good, because I was forced to take the theory and put it into practice.

Back in April I picked up a Panasonic GF-1, and from then on, I did every assignment with that camera and the 20mm f/1.7 lens. I’ve mostly shot zoom lenses, and I wanted to try shooting only with a prime lens, to get a more intuitive grasp of the 50mm (20mm on Micro 4/3 camera is close to 50mm on a full frame DSLR) field of view, and to force my self to compose by moving the camera as opposed to zooming all the time.

I did find some drawback to the experience. Shooting everyday can be arduous at times. There were days when the combination of time commitments and subjects left me casting about for a picture at 9 or 10 in the evening. There were definitely days where I put up a photo that was just barely acceptable in my eyes, which rankled me both on the day, and unconsciously thereafter.   

Duncan and I have spent some time talking about the whole experience of the Dailyshoot. I think that it’s the kind of thing that everyone ought to attempt. For 2011, I’ll be keeping an eye on the assignments, but I’m going to be a lot more relaxed about it.   

Here are some of the better photos from the year (the entire set is here). Also mixed in are some dance photos from this year’s dance events.

January

Dailyshoot 52

Feb

Dailyshoot 102

March

Dailyshoot 116

April

Dailyshoot 160

May

Dailyshoot 179

June

Dailyshoot 215

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2010

Bainbridge Ballet’s end of year recital

July

Dailyshoot 236

August

Dailyshoot 265

September

Dailyshoot 293

October

Dailyshoot 322

November

Dailyshoot 373

December

Dailyshoot 388

OPG Nutcracker 2010

OPG Nutcracker 2010

The Olympic Performance Group‘s 2010 Nutcracker.

JSConf US Gear Report

JSConf was my trial run for a bunch of new equipment, so here’s a separate report on those experiences.

iPad

Conference like settings are one of the situations where I felt that I could make the best of the iPad. Apparently, I was not alone, because there were probably somewhere between 5 and 10 iPads at the event.

My flights from Seattle to JSConf included 6 hours of flying time, and hour and a half of layovers, plus the usual waiting around time in airports. During that time I read some e-mail, watched about 90 minutes of video, and read several PDF books / documents. By the time I finally ended up in my hotel room, I still had around 80% of the battery charge remaining. I used the iPad as much as possible during the first day of JSConf, and the battery finished at 49% at the end of the first day. Thus far, the battery life is beyond my expectations.

During the conference, the primary activities that I was doing were e-mail reading, web browsing, twittering, and taking notes. For the first two activities, I used the built in Mail and Safari. For Twitter, I switched back and forth between Twitterific and TweetDeck. I used Evernote as my primary note taking tool.

I started out using Twitterific, but at some point it stopped working and was giving a message about an nvalid server certificate error. Echofon on the Mac was having a similar problem. I had TweetDeck installed on the iPad as a leftover from trying it on the iPhone, so I gave it a try and it worked. On the desktop I am not a fan of Tweetdeck’s AIR based user interface, which outweighs it’s advantage of having columns. When I use Syrinx on the desktop, I just open a stack of windows and that works fine. But on the iPad, Tweetdeck’s column based model makes a lot of sense, especially if you hold the iPad in landscape mode. I was mostly happy with the experience, although Tweetdeck has some weird UI in places:

  • It’s hard to get a sense of when the various columns refresh, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to get individual columns to refresh. I’d love to be able to use Tweetie 2′s pull down to refresh gesture to do this.
  • Favoriting tweets (which is how I keep track of interesting information on a mobile device) takes over the whole screen for a moment, causing an annoying flash/blink effect.
  • In Landscape mode you can’t click links or view profiles (the latest update to TweetDeck has added support for link clicking)
  • If you select a tweet and then discover that you need the additional menus popup, then you need to select another tweet and then reselect the tweet you want to act on

I love Evernote, and I’ve written about that before. The iPad version of Evernote is fantastic, with perhaps one exception. If you try to edit a rich text note, you are put into a weird append only kind of mode. I have some Python scripts that create rich text notes from items on my calendar, so it’s annoying to go back to Evernote on the iPad and then be put into append mode. I would love to see a full rich text editing capability come to a future version of Evernote for iPad (and sure, iPhone). Other than that, it was a workhorse at JSConf.

At many conferences, there are multiple WiFi networks, and you have to switch among them as you go from room to room. This was the case at JSConf. On the iPad, this meant a trip to the Settings app in order to select a new network. It would be great if the iPad would switch among multiple known networks based on signal strength. I can think of some reasons why you might not want to do this, but in my situation, it would have been really convenient.

All in all I had a pretty good experience with the iPad as my primary device. I can definitely see it as my primary conference machine, as well as my “in a meeting” machine. iPhone OS 4.0′s “multitasking” will reduce the annoyance associated with waiting for apps to restart on switching.

MacBook Pro

At work they issued me a unibody MacBook Pro 15″. These are supposed to have much better battery life than their pre-unibody forbears. As far as I can see this is true. I imagine that the recently refreshed models are even better on this count. The only other thing that I noticed was that the power adapter gets pretty hot while recharging the machine.   

GF1

Like many photographers, I’ve been looking for a small, high quality, camera that I could carry with me almost all the time. I have my cell phone at all times, and in a pinch, a cell phone picture is better than nothing. But a cell phone camera, regardless of megapixels lacks the controls that I’ve grown used to when making pictures. I’ve started carrying a Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm lens. The wide aperture prime suits the style that I like to shoot in, and the Micro 4/3 sensor gives pretty decent looking pictures. The GF1 produces 12 megapixel RAW files, which in principle is the same as my D3. Of course, there’s a vast difference in quality of those pixels, but thus far I am pretty happy. It has all the controls that I was looking for, as well as a hot shoe for Strobist shenanigans. It’s going to take me a while to master the controls, but I’m in no hurry. It did seem odd to be setting around with the tiny GF1 while the DSLR toting strobists were doing the photos of JSConf. I’ll be doing most of my Dailyshoot assignments with the GF1 — I’m looking forward to drawing material from downtown Seattle. Here are a few of the shots so far:

Dailyshoot 152

Dailyshoot 153

Dailyshoot 155

Bose QuietComfort 15

I am pretty sensitive to noise. Between commuting on the ferry every day, working in a building with thin walls, and spending time on airplanes, I decided that I needed help in coping with all the noise. Ever since the Bose noise canceling headsets came out, I’ve been interested in them for cutting the noise and helping me concentrate. I’ve started carrying a set of the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. These do a great job of cutting out noise. Most kinds of background noise gets cut out, but you can still hear human voices, albeit at a reduced volume. A little bit of music takes care of that quite easily. Like many people who reviewed these headphones, I do experience the sensation of pressure while wearing them, but these headphones are much more wearable than the earplug style Etymotic headphones that they are replacing. The only other drawback that I’ve found is that they don’t appear to built super well, so I am taking care to carry them in the semi hard case that they came in, which makes them a little less convenient.   

I think that I am well equipped to survive commuting and office life.

2009 in Photography

Here’s a roundup of what I saw through the lens in 2009.

January

This year I did a lot more work with local and regional dancers. Here’s a danceseattle rehearsal shot.

danceseattle rehearsal

February

I continued my role as the official photographer for Bainbridge Island Chinese Connection’s Chinese New Year Celebration.

Seattle Chinese Orchestra

March

I caught this shot of Guido van Rossum at PyCon by being in the right place at the right time. My camera was lying on the table next to me when Guido suddenly grabbed the Django Pony and started running down the aisle. He was moving fast enough that I had to snap off a bunch of frames to catch him in focus.

PyCon 2009

April

April was busy dance month. The Olympic Performance Group put on “The Toymaker’s Doll” (also known as Coppelia).

OPG Toymaker's Doll 2009

danceseattle had their first ever performance.

danceseattle Looking Glass Glimpses 2009

For the first time in a long time, I actually was able to show up to a Seattle Flickr Garage shoot.

UW Garage Shoot 9

May

May is when the weather in the Seattle area starts to get decent, so I was able to get some nature subjects in front of the lens.

Focus stacking experiments

Memorial Day Low Tide Beach walk

June

I headed to San Francisco for JavaOne in early June.

CommunityOne 2009

I finished out June with Bainbridge Ballet’s end of year recital.

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2009

July

The Bainbridge Island Fourth of July Parade is always a family and photographic staple.

Bainbridge Island Fourth of July Parade

Also in July, we had the first guinea pig born in our house.

The latest addition to the family

August

I made it to a second Seattle Flickr garage shoot.

UW Garage Shoot 10

September

Senior pictures for Bainbridge High School are due at the end of September, and I did 4 sessions in the space of 12 days or so.

Blake - Class of 2009

Blake - Class of 2009

Stefan - Class of 2010

Matt - Class of 2010

Michael - Class of 2010

October

School was in full swing in October, and one of the science lessons that Julie did with the girls involved extracting DNA using Bacardi 151 rum.

Homeschool: Extracting DNA with Bacardi 151

November

This year was the 10th Anniversary of the Apache Software Foundation (and my involvement with it). I did take a few shots while I was at ApacheCon.

ApacheCon US 2009

ApacheCon US 2009

I was also fortunate enough to get a slot to J. Mark Wallace’s US Meetup Tour when it hit Seattle.

Images from the Mark Wallace US Meetup Tour

December

Photographically, December is dominated by the Olympic Performance Group’s production of the Nutcracker.

OPG Nutcracker 2009

OPG Nutcracker 2009



The LumaLoop

Back in September, my friend James Duncan Davidson stopped to visit me and the family here on Bainbridge Island. Duncan has been working on a new design for a camera strap, and during that visit he showed me one of the prototypes of the LumaLoop. I spent a good portion of our time playing with the strap, and was quite taken with the design. Needless to say, I didn’t really want to give it back to him when it was time for him to go.

The following week at DjangoCon, I lost the strap portion of my Upstrap quick release strap. I liked the Upstrap, but it wasn’t ideal. The Upstrap was great because of the non stick rubber pad that they use – it really won’t move. But like most other camera straps, I found that I was constantly getting it fouled in my arms or something, especially between landscape and portrait modes.

Duncan had promised me one of the early prototypes of the LumaLoop, so I put the official black and neon yellow strap on the D3 and waited patiently. Yesterday, my LumaLoop arrived, and I quickly installed it in place of the Nikon strap. The LumaLoop is a “sling strap” similar to the Black Rapid R-Straps that have become popular recently. The Black Rapid straps screw into the tripod socket on your camera, which is a problem if you have any kind of heavy duty tripod plate mounted on your camera, or if you shoot vertically a lot (this is even more of a problem if you have small hands and a camera with a battery grip). The LumaLoop attaches to one of the regular strap mounts on your camera, and once attached, you can slide the camera up and down the strap. The mounting loop is attached with a quick release clip, so swapping cameras/straps is easy as well. Duncan has a series of blog posts that detail the reasoning behind the design:

Here’s a quick snapshot of mine:

My Luma Labs LumaLoop camera strap

You can see the loop part that goes on the camera, as well as the quick release between the loop and the rest of the strap. It’s a bit harder see the padded non-slip shoulder pad.

The LumaLoop is going to be available from Luma Labs sometime very soon (Duncan gave me perimission to talk about the LumaLoop in advance of its general availability). You can follow Luma Labs on Twitter to keep up with all of the news and the official announcement. I’m excited to have a strap that both holds my camera securely and stays out of my way when the action gets going.

The Third Bucket of Transformation

A few days ago, Duncan Davidson wrote a great piece called The Third Bucket where he broke down photography skills into three buckets: soft skills (craft), hard skills (science), and a third bucket, which you might call “art”.   

For a while, I’ve personally been focused at thinking about photography in these two buckets, craft and science if you will. But, just as I got too comfortable with that thought, something in the back of my head sits up and points out that I’m missing something important. There are skills that don’t fall into either the craft or science buckets. These skills include the ability to conceptualize what you want to communicate in a photograph, the ability to provoke an emotional response in a viewer of the work, the vision to look at things in a way that is intriguing, or the ability to suss out what is important in a fast moving and world changing event. This is the real art of photography. It’s what transcends simple documentation into an image with the power to either move one to tears or a smile, or even to change the world.

Duh! How could I miss that one for so long. Maybe because it was so obvious? Sort of like air? It was surprising to me, considering all those years I spent in architecture school.

The problem with this last bucket is that it’s really hard to talk about. It’s full of things that are hard to describe in words. The je ne sais quoi. Exposure? Easy to communicate in words on a variety of levels. The feeling of a photo of a baby? Obvious, so obvious that words aren’t necessary. What makes a photograph from a war zone make people want to stop making war? An awful sublime, but so very hard to put words to.

This is something I’ve been pondering myself. I’ve gone from taking pictures, simply reacting to what is around me, to making pictures – working to arrange the circumstances (as much as possible) to create a picture. Once you make this jump, you are soon confronted with some of the questions that are in Duncan’s third bucket. I’d also put the whole question of artistic vision into that bucket as well. What am I trying to say? To who? And what is my style of saying it? I’ve gotten into a stereotypical artist’s funk about all of this, with not quite an end in sight.

Fortunately, the day after I read Duncan’s piece, I saw Zack Arias’ video “Transform” over at Scott Kelby’s blog. It’s strangely comforting to know that someone of Zack’s caliber has some of the same feelings. It obviously touched a chord with many other people as well, judging from the comments and the Twitter reaction.

Back into it…

2008 in Photography

January

In January, Chase Jarvis, hosted the Seattle Flickrites at an old aircraft hangar. I was helping to organize, so I didn’t get to shoot a lot, but the little bit that I did do was well worth it
Seattle Flickrites shoot with Chase Jarvis

February

I finally made it to the old abandoned Blakely Harbor mill in February. There was awesome graffiti all over the walls of the structure

March

I started my new job at Sun in March, and headed off to PyCon.
PyCon 2008: Day 1

April

In April I switched camera systems. I am really happy about that choice.
Frame One

May

May was a very busy month photographically. I shot an engagement session for a family wedding
Susan and John
One day I headed out to Fort Worden State Park to hang out with some professional wedding photographers
Fort Worden OSP Trash The Dress Shoot

And May is the month that our daughters’ ballet studio has their big recital

June

Our vacation in June included a trip to Smith Rock State Park in Oregon.
Sunriver June 2008

July

I spent a lot of July on the road. Vilnius, Lithuania
EuroPython 2008
Prague, The Czech Republic

Prague, The Czech Republic

August

In August I made some photographs for the ballet studio
Olympic Performance Group / Bainbridge Ballet T-Shirt Shoot - Outtake

September

I shot my first set of senior portraits in September
Ryan - Class of 2009

October

I haven’t been around a lot this year to shoot with Seattle Flickrites. In October, a few of us took advantage of a local studio
Nathan

November

A number of dancers from the studio were involved with a local production of the Nutcracker. I shot the headshots that were used in the program
Headshot for OPG Nutcracker

December

And I photographed the actual performances once December rolled around
Olympic Performance Group Nutcracker 2008

Book Review: Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure

The folks at O’Reilly sent me a copy of Mikkel Aaland’s Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure. You would think that a book about Lightroom wouldn’t really be necessary, but it turns out to be useful, especially since software doesn’t come with manuals anymore. The number of Lightroom books is also probably a gauge of the demand. In any case, I was interested in the first version of this book, Photoshop Lightroom Adventure because of Aaland’s columns on O’Reilly’s Inside Lightroom blog, and because of an interview that I heard on one of George Jardine’s Lightroom podcasts.

The book is a guide to Lightroom, and is populated with pictures and stories from an adventure trip that Aaland and a number of other distinguished photographers took to Tasmania. In the first edition, they took a trip to Iceland, which has now given me the bug to take a photo trip there someday. I found the book to be very helpful. I learned a bunch of shortcuts which I didn’t previously know, and I got to see examples of how to do the same tasks that I do, but using a different mechanism (a lot of this involved direct manipulation of the histogram in the Develop module).

The chapters on the Develop module are the strongest point of the book, partially because this is the strongest part of Lightroom. There is good introductory material, but there is also good stuff for advanced users, like how to hack the textual representation of develop presets. I added several presets to my repertoire by using this trick. My favorite of the Develop chapters was the one about the recipes from the various photographers on the Adventure. I always find it instructive to see how someone has done the post processing on a particular image. Know how much (or little) someone has done helps when you look at the finished picture, and gives you an idea of how far you’ll be able to take your own images straight out of the camera.

If you’re interested in getting more out of Lightroom, I’d have no problems recommending Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure.

Book Review: Welcome to Oz:

A while back I finished another Photoshop book, Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop.

This is an advanced Photoshop book, because I consider any book that spends two chapters on how to combine several images (not via HDR) to obtain a single image to be advanced. The first chapter alone was worth it for me. Versace talks about how to control how the viewer’s eye moves around in a photograph and then shows how one might take a photograph and process it so that the viewer would take in the photograph in the desired manner. He introduces the technique of creating image maps which are then used to guide the various post processing steps.

In addition to white and black points, curves, layer blending modes and gaussian blurs, this is the first book that I’ve read that discussed the use of Photoshop’s Lighting Effects filter. Being a lighting guy, I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it was interesting to observe the rationale and effects of this particular filter. I’m not sure that I will ever use Versace’s technique of harvesting several images to obtain a single image, but it was interesting to see the thought process, which might be of use when composing pictures in the viewfinder and assessing the goodness or badness of a shot.

I have yet to actually try Versace’s method on a photograph, but there are many stunning photographs in the book. I’m looking forward to things slowing down enough for me to actually sit down and try my hand at some of the more basic techniques that he described.

My Nikon D3 Report

I’ve been dithering back and forth about writing this, but Duncan’s recent posts about his new D700, as well as several camera discussions that I had at ApacheCon have pushed me over the edge.

Back in April I bought a new camera. When I got my first digital SLR back in 2005, I was just getting (back) into photography, and I had no idea if was going to really take to it or whether I would be any good. As a result, I went for the best cheapest camera that you could get at the time, which was Canon’s Digital Rebel XT. That camera served me well, but thanks to the digital format, I’ve been getting better at a pretty decent rate, and I was starting to run into areas where the camera was interfering with my ability to get the shots that I wanted. I knew that a new camera was not going to bump my work up a huge amount, but I was starting to get frustrated with it. It also wasn’t a smart idea for me to play with a Nikon D300 at one of the Seattle Flickr Meetups.

If I was going to upgrade cameras, I was also probably going to go full frame, because I like very shallow depth of field shots, and the possibilities for thin depth of field are better on full frame. This presented a problem. I only had one really good lens in my Canon set, the 17-55mm EF-S lens. The Canon EF-S lenses are unusable on the Canon full frame cameras, which basically meant that I would have to start over in terms of good lenses. Since I was going to have to start over, it only made sense to look at all the cameras in the marketplace.

When I did that, I was really impressed with the ergonomics of the Nikon cameras, so I started really looking at them much more seriously. Nikon has been been very aggressive about improving their cameras. This is in contrast to Canon, which had not dramatically improved the 20D/30D/40D series, had yet to announce the 5DMk2 and which has had very public problems with the top of the line 1DMk3. Back in April, there was only a single full frame Nikon camera, the D3. So after a bunch of deep breaths, that’s what I decided to buy.

Likes

So far, I am really happy with the camera. It is sensitive to light in a way that goes even beyond what my eyes normally see (unless I am really careful). As an example, at a recent Flickr get together, I took a shot of some chairs up against a red wall. When I looked at the picture on the back of the camera, there was a definite gradient in the lighting, but neither I nor several people that I asked saw the gradient without the benefit of the D3 picture.

Brews and Views at Crimson C

When I was in Prague back in July, I was able to take a number of night shots completely hand held. Ordinarily, I would have had to use a tripod for many of these, but these shots are more than passable for handheld.

Prague, The Czech Republic

As far as image quality goes, I am very happy. I am quite satisfied with the sharpness and color rendition of D3 images. The Nikon white balance does a pretty good job, better than the XT’s auto white balance, but of course, that’s not a very fair comparison at all. The biggest thing that I’ve run into is that the exposure really needs to be spot on, because the camera is so sensitive to light, that it is easy to blow out highlights. High ISO performance is really good, and when the noise starts to creep in, it looks much less objectionable than the noise that I’m used to on the Canon sensors. I shoot entirely in RAW, and I’ve brought back both badly over and underexposed shots in postproduction (I’m pushing myself to shoot fully manual as much as possible, and sometimes I forget to adjust). One drawback is that the 12MP RAW files take up around 12-13MB. The D3 eats CF cards very quickly, and I rarely shoot in one of the burst modes. This translates into demands for more hard disk space and bandwidth, and ultimately ends up pushing the computer harder, as Lightroom and Photoshop have to work harder to get all that data into memory and then do all the image processing operations. A Mac Pro is definitely in my future for these reasons, and I don’t even want to think about what this means for people shooting the Canon 5dMk2, 1DsMK3, or the Sony A900, at 20+MP resolutions.

The build quality is fantastic. Everything is solid and well crafted. Even though my hands probably on the smaller side, I find that the camera fits my hands well, and that the camera is well balanced, even with a 70-200 zoom lens mounted on the front. My hands fall naturally on the command dials and the autofocus point selector, whether I am using the main controls or the vertical controls on the grip. All the build quality means extra weight, which is taking a little getting used to, but it is good exercise.

It’s taken me a little while to get used to all the controls, but I much prefer Nikon’s system of using buttons in combination with dials as opposed to forcing me to take the camera from my eye in order to change things in a menu. I’m finding that I’m very quick to make adjustments, with one exception. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of switching metering modes without taking the camera down from my eye. The control for this is up on the prism housing, and requires a decent amount of force to switch. In some low light situations, I tend to switch back and forth between evaluative (matrix) and spot metering modes, so this is an inconvenience. The alternative is for me to spend more time shooting in manual mode and learning to compensate for how the meter behaves, which is probably a good skill to be developing anyhow.

The autofocus system has performed really well. I’ve been able to accurately track fast moving action, and even in fully automatic mode, the camera finds the correct focus point a high percentage of the time. For portrait work, I still switch to a mode where I can select the focus point, because I just want the extra level of control. The only thing that I have noticed is that under some very low light situations, the camera can take a little while to lock. It’s still not entirely predictable to me when this is likely to happen. I love the huge viewfinder on the D3. I frequently had shots where I framed carefully in the camera, only to have extra stuff creep into the picture due to incomplete coverage in the viewfinder. I like this more than I expected to.

It seems to be conventional wisdom that Nikon’s TTL flash system is better than Canon’s, and based on my experience I’d have to agree. For the most part, I am an off camera lighting guy, but there are some situations, like parties and wedding receptions, where you just don’t have the time to make the adjustments for manual lighting. So far, I’ve found that the iTTL system works better than the Canon system. The D3′s high ISO performance adds to this by allowing you to shoot bounce flash pictures in rooms with much higher ceilings than previously possible.

There are lots of smaller things to like. The battery for the D3 lasts forever. I shot three ballet performances in one weekend, using a big image stabilized zoom in continuous focus mode, on a single battery charge. There was plenty of charge remaining. The other thing that I like is the dual Compact Flash card slots. I like the flexibility of using two smaller cards and overflowing from one slot to another. It means less worrying about managing cards in high volume shooting situations.

Dislikes

There’s one major thing that I have found that I dislike. On Canon’s you can switch between Aperture Priority and Manual modes, and have two different aperture settings. This makes it easy to have a set of manuals setting for strobes, and then flip to Aperture Priority for natural light. On the Nikon, whatever Aperture you set, will be the same for both modes. So if you are at f/8, 1/250th in Manual, but need to shoot at f/2.8 in Aperture Priority, when you switch from Manual to Aperture Priority, you’ll need to also switch the Aperture to f/2.8. And when you go back to manual, you need to go back to f/8. I can understand why it’s designed this way, but for the way that I use the camera, it’s something that I miss from the Canon.

Another dislike (well, I don’t mind it that much) is that the shutter snap on the D3 is pretty loud. Back in May I spent a day shooting with some wedding photographers. Almost all of them were shooting Canon 5D’s, and a few people exclaimed over how loud the shutter was. I guess that Kevlar shutter is going to last.

The D3/D700 start at ISO200. You can get down to an ISO 100 equivalent, but its an extension. If you are outside trying to knock down the Sun with strobes, ISO200 is one stop higher than you want to be. This is one area where the 5D/5Dmk2 have a nice advantage — you can get down to ISO50, 2 stops better. I guess you can always bring more watt/seconds, but it’s kind of a pain. Or you could use something like RadioPoppers to get your sync speed up several stops.

It’s annoying that Nikon didn’t put the dust shaker from the D700 into the D3. I’ve learned to clean the sensor myself, but it is annoying. On the other hand, even people with dust shakers need to have their cameras cleaned periodically, so maybe it’s just not that big a deal.

Some shots

This is an awesome camera – so if you see bad shots from me, you know it can’t possibly be the equipment.

JavaOne 2008

Fort Worden OSP Trash The Dress Shoot

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2008

Bainbridge Ballet Recital 2008

EuroPython 2008
OSCON 2008
PyCon UK 2008
ApacheCon US 2008