2014-07-17

Nikon D810


Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Behold with cautious optimism.

Counter Opinion: I know what I'm risking by saying this, but I'll say it anyway – Nikon has gotten the D810 right. Sadly it's a truism that Nikon has the ability to screw up the most surprising and basic things, even on simple model refreshes, so that sound you hear may indeed be the other shoe dropping. But, for now, I'm going to call this a win.

When I first saw the D810 details, my initial thought was that Nikon had improved the D800, but that not being good enough was never that camera's problem. Now I'm thinking that Nikon has taken the D800 and done what Canon did to the 5D2: there are no huge headline-grabbing changes – except to the price – but everything has been made better. The price is high, yes, but to some people it will be worth it. There's nothing better for even close to the same amount of money.


Some noise has been made about the D810 being made in Thailand instead of Japan. I can't say that there's any deficiency in its build quality when compared to the D800 that I've been using for years. The grip is a big improvement over the D800, being at least as nice as the D700, with a deeper finger groove and a real thumb ridge. Even the button that's used to change AF mode has had some extra texture added to make it easier to find and press.

The control interface has been tweaked and loses nothing in the process. The bracketing button, which was removed from the cloverleaf, has found a new home near the flash controls. The OVF information display is a friendlier pale blue instead of LED Green. The LCD is better, and manually focusing in Live View is easier. The left-side port covers have been improved and the port placement has been rethought. The shutter sound is strikingly quieter and much more subdued. Everything is better.

There are lots of features that I can't evaluate but are still very promising. Nikon's metering has always been good, so the highlight-priority weighting could be very useful. Being able to magnify two different parts of the scene to check for focus and composition would have made my most recent series almost too easy to photograph – most of my best work is done with a tilt-shift lens. The electronic first-curtain shutter for Live View and Mirror Up mode is also a very positive change for extracting maximum quality from a camera that's designed for it.


The D700 was a great and much-loved camera, but the D810 replaces it for everything except the very fastest frame rates that it could hit with the EN-EL4a or AA batteries in its grip. Hard drives are cheap. The D810 is simply the best camera out there right now south of the Pentax 645Z – we know this because the D800 was the best sub-10K camera last week, and the D810 is better than that.

The D810 is still only a mid-cycle update, so I wouldn't consider it as a replacement for working D800/E cameras, despite my being slightly jealous of how nice the new machine is. If I photographed events I might be tempted to spend the extra money just for the quieter shutter, though – it really is a big difference. But even without being a D810 buyer I'm incredibly pleased that Nikon seems to have this one figured out. After watching them fumble through the V-series and Coolpix A I had my doubts about their abilities to design and make cameras, and I may want to replace my D800 with another Nikon some day.

But then again, that other shoe still hasn't been heard from yet.


Counter Opinions are quick "sales counter" product reviews.
As always, viewer discretion is advised.
Last updated 18 july 2014

2014-07-05

Sigma LH3-01 Lens Hood


Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Lens hoods are cool.

The Long Version: The Sigma LH3-01 for the DP3 Merrill might be the most obscure camera accessory I've ever reviewed, given that it's a sold-separately $48 add-on for a cult camera that's at the end of its sales career. Lens hoods are not the most exciting accessory, it's true, but this is one of the more interesting ones that I've seen.

Cosmetically the hood is an appropriate match for the camera; it's smooth plastic instead of metal, but the lines match. It attaches with a bayonet mount, and when reversed extends almost all the way to the camera body. It really couldn't offer any better coverage without being dramatically harder to stow. That's great, but not particularly remarkable.


So here's the clever bit: the front of the lens hood is threaded for filters. The lens is a 52mm thread, and the hood has a 62mm thread on its front. It's a nice touch. The funny thing is, though, that putting a filter on the front of the hood actually negates a lot of the ant-glare benefits of having the hood in the first place. So who not just take the hood off? Why not, indeed.

Any filter that needs to be rotated – polarizer, variable or graduated neutral density – will benefit from the improved access of being on the front of the hood, and that slight increase in shading might still be worth the effort. Might. But any filters that don't need interaction, like the two- or three-stop ND filter that the DP3 should have had built-in, should still go on the lens.


There are some more exotic uses for the lens hood threads. A rubber lens hood pressed up against a window avoids most reflections, and attaching it to the end of the LH3 would be less restrictive than putting a really tiny one on the end of the lens itself. If the Sigma DP3M wasn't terrible in low light that might be useful for the local aquarium.

I suppose there's nothing stopping me from getting a 62-77 step-up ring so that I can use my big filters, and then buying a cheap screw-in hood to protect the filter from glare. That way the hood that's on the filter would still be able to rotate the filter that's on the hood, giving the best of both worlds. Or I could just buy a 52mm screw-on hood for $4.16 with free shipping – that would work, too.

I do appreciate that Sigma thought to add an extra feature to something mundane. But at some point, no matter how clever the idea is, there comes a point where workarounds and contraptionizing become more effort than they're worth. And if that isn't the motto for the entire Sigma DP series, well, maybe it should be.

last updated 5 july 2014

2014-06-13

Kinotehnik LCDVF


Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: Smaller and simpler.

The Long Version: LCD viewfinders are designed to work around usability problems that shouldn't really exist in the first place, so I suppose it was inevitable that one would find a home on my Sigma DP3 Merrill. While I'm happy enough with a bulky and complex tripod-mount one on my big SLR, a compact camera needs something smaller and simpler. After considering a number of options, including some very expensive ones, I picked up the Kinotehnik LCDVF.

The LCDVF – please don't make me type the company name again – is about as simple as it gets. The shell is one piece, without any hinges or diopter adjustment doohickery, with a two-element lens and a rubber eyecup that can be removed and repositioned for left-eyed people.


The viewfinder attaches with magnets to a metal frame that adheres to the camera. It's secure enough that I can pick up and carry the 1-pound camera from the viewfinder; this isn't wise, but it's possible. The package includes two of these metal frames, which gives the option to use the one viewfinder on two cameras, or provides insurance against adhesive mishaps.

The metal frame and magnets makes for a streamlined and lightweight attachment method that's perfect for a little camera, and weighs far less than attaching via a tripod-ready plate. It almost verges on elegant, but mine has just a little bit of side-to-side wobble that I've fixed by shimming the hood with a single thickness of gaffer tape.


The LCDVF has a 2x magnification ratio, and to be honest I can't really see the difference between it and a 3x view. The resulting image is large and clear; the 28mm-e lens that I used to take the above photo doesn't do it justice. The inside of the hood really is that shiny, though. I've never noticed it as a problem when I'm actually taking photos, but it is really shiny.


Of course not every camera needs the assistance of this kind of viewfinder; I'd never consider attaching it to my Ricoh GR, for example. But having the LCDVF on the DP3M really does improve my stability with this long-lensed camera; I'd rate its as being just a bit less of an improvement than a lightweight monopod. While I was mostly hoping that the LCDVF would help me see the DP3M's screen, now that I know what it can do I wouldn't hesitate to put one on any LCD-based camera that usually uses a long lens.


I bought the LCDVF because the Kamerar QV1 (right) added too much bulk, weight, and complexity to a little camera like the Sigma DP3M. While Kamerar does have smaller viewfinders, the slickness and simplicity of the LCDVF is hard to beat.

But simplicity may be only skin-deep with the LCDVF. It has a double-element lens that's noticeably thicker than the one in my Kamerar or Hoodman loupes, and Kinotehnik says that it won't risk concentrating sunlight and burning the LCD the way other designs can. I haven't felt the need to test this myself.


In a fairly short time period I went from owning just the Hoodman Hoodloupe – and never using it – to having two different magnifying loupes to suit two different cameras. That's probably excessive, but it suits each individual machine and I don't see a lot of overlap. If I had to choose only one, it would be the LCDVF, and I'd just have to put up with having the magnetic frame tapeglued to the back of the D800 during the 95% of the time that I don't use an LCD hood on that camera.

The LCDVF and Sigma DP3M is such a natural combination that I prefer to use it whenever the little Foveon camera isn't on a tripod – which is the opposite of how I use my SLR with its bigger LCD loupe. Life can be funny like that.


last updated 13 june 2014

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