Friday, May 25, 2012

Nikon D800E Headshot Test

My wife needed some new headshots, and I wanted to test my old 85mm f1.8D with the new camera, so we put these together the other day on a whim.  I had the autofocus set to automatic area selection to see how well the face detection worked.  It looks like on the first image, it focussed on her rear eye.  But all in all, it did a great job.

For people photography, I think the auto area works great unless I want the focus to be super critical.  Honestly, I'd rather keep it on auto face detect and spend my time connecting and directing the model/subject than think about putting the camera into single point focus and making sure the selected point is always over the eyeball.

Processed in Lightroom 4.1 RC2.  The crops are 100%.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Amazing Talk on the Process of Creativity

From the inimitable John Cleese, as he describes creativity and how to best put yourself into a mode to allow for it to happen:

Monday, May 14, 2012

D800E ISO 6400 Sample

Not bad at all.

QP Card 203, better color than Colorchecker Passport

I've been using the XRite Colorchecker Passport for about 6 months now and it's been good so far.  Aside from the standard color patches, it has a strip of colors for portraits to allow a range of cool to warm tones.  So I often use it for headshots, etc. and just click the white balance tool on these patches to go from cool to neutral to warm very quickly and easily.

I've also used it to make camera profiles using the included software.  Now this is where things go awry.  After creating and applying a profile with the Colorchecker, the colors always seemed way too saturated for me.  I dealt with it for a while while shooting still life, but it's intolerable for skin tones.  At first I thought it was just me, so I tried several times to make a more accurate and neutral profile, to no avail.

I did some searches and found other people complaining of oversaturation with the Colorchecker Passport.

This led me to the QP Card.  The QP (or Quality Proof) card is made by a small company in Sweden.  Their latest card is about half the price of the Colorchecker Passport, and from reading reviews on the web it seems the profiles it generates are more color accurate and definitely more neutral than the Colorchecker profiles.

I'm definitely going to pick one of these up and will post my results.

Here is the link to the QP Card:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Geotag your D800 files with your iPhone, elegantly and easily

Have you thought about getting a Nikon GP-1 for your Nikon DSLR?  (Or analogous unit for your Canon 5D Mark II or III).  I looked at it too.  Now that Lightroom 4 supports geotagged photos, I wanted GPS data for my big files just like what I'm used to getting on my iPhone.  But reading the reviews for the GP-1 and all the various third-party GPS units just didn't do it for me.  I predicted that it would be cool for a while, but I would quickly tire of:

  • having to carrying around yet another thing,
  • making sure it's attached to the already big camera,
  • getting in the way of using Pocket Wizards,
  • not being able to acquire the GPS signal quickly enough,
  • having to remember to keep my camera on to not lose the signal,
  • it draining my camera battery faster than I want, etc.

Then I thought maybe someone has created a wireless GPS that connects via bluetooth.  (Such a thing exists, but it still didn't compel me.)

Then I thought, heck my iPhone has a GPS, and it's better than a standalone GPS unit because it has A-GPS and is able to estimate position while indoors, more quickly, etc.  I wonder if someone makes a wireless bluetooth dongle that will attach to the camera, but get the GPS data from the iPhone.

Well, I didn't find anything quite like that, but I did find a very elegant solution in GPS4CAM.  I'm very excited about this app.  Here's how it works:

  1. Start the app and tell it to record GPS data.
  2. Shoot away with whatever camera(s) you have, a pocket camera, a DSLR, whatever (the app supports a wide variety of formats).  You can shoot with multiple cameras if you like.
  3. Once you're done shooting, stop the app.  At this point it will display a QR code on the screen.
  4. Take a photo of the QR code with any and all cameras that you've been shooting with.
  5. Plug your memory card into your computer.
  6. On your computer, run the GPS4CAM software (free download from their website).
  7. Point the software at two folders, one is your memory card and the other is an output folder (usually on your computer).
  8. That's it.  Once the software finishes, you will be left with geotagged image files inside the output folder.
At this point, I have Lightroom ingest the files through my normal workflow and I have geotagged images!

You can tweak the settings on the app to set the rate of GPS track acquisition, etc.  OK, so it's not "true" geotagging, but if you set the refresh rate high enough, it is a damn good approximation and certainly better than no geotag data.

I'm very pleased with how well it works.  Check it out here, it's available for iPhone and Android.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nikon D800E Initial Impressions

The camera is better than I expected. I ordered a LensAlign Mark II to test the focus, but it appears from my preliminary tests that the focus is correct. I'll know more in the next week or so.

The dynamic range is really superb, as you can see from my earlier test.

I just wish the saved memory banks were better, like on the D7000 or on the 5D2 and 5D3. That is the worst part about it, it feels so primitive in that regard. It prevents a fast switch over to different types of shooting.

I got the grip for it too. Expensive little thing, and it makes the whole package so much heavier. But it's needed for a lot of vertical shooting.

I got a USB 3.0 tether cable on the way. Also waiting for the Really Right Stuff L-bracket with grip to come out. And the batteries are sold out everywhere, so waiting on that too. I can't believe Nikon charges $180 for camera control pro! And $180 for Capture NX2!!!  What is up with that.

This camera really pushes the lenses to the limit.  If you have a crappy lens, the photos are pretty disappointing. With a lens that's not superb, you may as well just shoot JPG, otherwise all those AA filter-less megapixels just go to waste. Also previous reviews of lenses on the web have to be taken with more of a grain of salt because they were tested on the older, lower megapixel cameras. A lens that resolved great on 12 MPs may be just OK with the D800.

The on-board flash is way better than I expected. It's almost a diffused light.

The face recognition is pretty awesome. If you set the focus mode to Auto, it will always focus on the nearest face. You can test it pretty easily by yourself by having it focus on a photo of a face on your computer. I've been reading that the face recognition only works in AF-C mode, but it appears to work in AF-S mode just fine on my camera.

It's also supposed to set the exposure for the face.  In a quick test of a backlit subject, it worked but the face was still a bit dark. I'll test it again with a better lens, maybe the flare I experienced caused it to not work as well.

The battery door is a flimsy disappointment.  Mine hasn't fallen off yet, but I figure I'll keep the grip on it just in case.

The finder is not as bright as what I'm used to on the 5D2 and 5D3. That's kind of disappointing.

The shutter is loud, and the quiet mode doesn't work that well.  I got so used to the quiet mode on the 5D3. Now that shutter is amazingly quiet! Sometimes you can't even hear it over the background noise.  That's a great feature for wedding and other event photographers.

The mirror return is super fast, much faster than what I'm used to. The short blackout period is a nice thing that probably most people won't notice. But it was immediately noticeable to me, and quite welcome.

I put my old Nikon DK-2 eyecup from my F4s on the new camera and it works great.

The contrast detect focusing in live view mode is very fast. Much faster than anything else I've used.  Still slower than phase detect, but a step up from what I'm used to.

The exposure is great, and a welcome change from the Canon's primitive and dark exposure bias.  I always set the 5D2 and 5D3 to overexpose by 2/3 to 1 stop because even at base ISO the dark tones were shitty. So I got better results by capturing hot and adjusting in post. But the Nikon (like my D7000) exposes hot just the way I like it. I'll just have to watch my highlights more carefully, but so far I like it. We'll see if the highlights can be recovered as well as the shadows can be pushed. It not, maybe I'll tune the exposure down a bit.

5:4 crop (to get a perfect 8x10) is a dream. Much closer to square format, which I love. Also I have the camera setup where if you press the AE-L button and spin the front dial it will change the crop mode, which makes it easy to change the crop on the fly. I like to shoot action in 1.2x crop at the dog park to get a bit deeper field of view and 5fps.

The auto ISO implementation is excellent. I have it set the minimum shutter speed one bump down from fastest, and it works well for me for handheld shooting. Occasionally I get some motion blur, but I'm a pretty steady handheld shooter, so my hit rate is probably over 90%. If I bump it up to the fastest setting, I'm sure it will eliminate 100% of all motion blur caused by camera shake. I haven't tested it with any VR lenses yet, but I'm sure you could bump it down a notch or two with VR.

I tested it a little bit with camera control pro shooting tethered, and it works ok. I'll have to keep testing it once my long tether cable arrives.  I'm a bit concerned that USB 2.0 on my laptop will be too slow for those big files. I may have to experiment with an ExpressCard USB 3.0 adapter when shooting quickly.  Not too many options for the Macbook Pro, it appears you should avoid the Lacie card and maybe go with the Caldigit card.

I've been trying to get some moire by shooting people with clothes, and a fine mesh net I found on the street, the Manhattan Bridge, etc. but nothing so far. I don't think it will be an issue. And the moire brush in Lr4 is superb.

That's basically it for now.  I love the camera so far - can't wait to see how it works with CLS, tethered shooting, EyeFi, video, etc.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

D800E Dynamic Range is Amazing

My Nikon D800E just arrived and I took some quick test shots.  I was processing the files in Lightroom when I decided to try to play around with a severely underexposed image to see if I could "save" it.  I was pleasantly surprised.

The darker image is processed with basically default presets in Lightroom 4.1 RC2 (linear curve, Camera Neutral, 2012 profile, no sharpening, no noise reduction).  The brighter image is the same file but with some adjustments:

Exposure +2.30
Shadows +85
Whites -100 (trying to get some of the text back from the curved metal ruler)
Blacks -30 (to maintain contrast)
Saturation -30 (to undo the tone curve saturation)
Tone curve using target adjustment tool to brighten the top of the white cabinet and darken the lens next to the can.
Sharpening 50
Sharpening Detail 100 (to kick in deconvolution sharpening)
Luminance NR 75
Profile Corrections enabled for Nikkor AF 24mm 2.8D
Remove Chromatic Aberration (although I didn't see any in the original file, I thought I would play with this)
2012 Profile
Camera Neutral

Pretty sweet results, don't you think?  (The crops are 100%).

D800E test shots-12-2

D800E test shots-12

100 crop pre

100 crop post