2014-04-06

Scarves


Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: April 6 is National Tartan Day.

The Long Version: Scarves are something of an odd idea. Creating a strip of fabric specifically for wrapping it in the gap between ones' collar and chin hardly seems like a functional idea. Despite growing up watching "Dr. Who" episodes that prominently featured scarves, I never saw much point to them. Stylish accessories, perhaps, but more trouble than they're worth.


Being of (fractionally and nominally) Scottish descent, the last time I was in Ottawa I took the opportunity to visit a tartan shop on Robertson street. How could I not? The photo above is of the Robertson Hunting tartan, while the one below is a standard Robertson. So my first scarf purchases as an adult were simply as accessories, without too much regard for function.


Of course that was before I knew that this winter would be one of the coldest in recent memory, and before I knew just how much warmth a scarf would add to my usual winter outfit. I still never took to scarves for all-purpose wear, though, since they are much more difficult to add or remove quickly than the typical toque and gloves. I'll certainly want to keep them handy for next winter, though.

Today, April 6, just happens to be National Tartan Day. The lead photo is the 'Maple Leaf', the official Tartan of Canada.


last updated 1 dec 2013

2014-03-28

Nikon D800: Two Years


Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: "It has 53 teeth still in place."

The Long Version: After two years the Nikon D800/e remains the best camera on the market. It's tough, it's fast, its image quality in good light is unequalled by any camera costing less than three times as much, and it's still among the very best in low light as well. Its viewfinder is superb, the controls are well considered, and as a bonus it works with some excellent lenses and speedlights.


Other cameras solve different problems, or emphasize different priorities. Smaller, lighter, faster, tougher, cheaper: all of them are possible, and sometimes a few of them occur in combination. But anyone who thinks that newer cameras have caught up to its image quality – yes, Sony A7r, I mean you – simply isn't paying attention.


Today is my D800's second birthday. After this much time with my D700 I had its faults precisely identified: obscure bracketing and custom white balance controls, 98% viewfinder, and too low resolution. The D800 fixes all but the awkwardness of setting a custom white balance, but I actually prefer to just shoot a white reference card and then sync everything in post, which is what I do with every other camera I own as well.


Compared to the D700, Nikon has only introduced one new shortcoming with the D800: the hand grip is not as comfortable. Those who have used both will know what I mean, and for everyone else it doesn't really matter. Some day I may try building up the hand grip a bit, but I'll probably never bother. It's really a matter of hand position, and not trying to grip the camera in a fist, which is easy enough when shooting but a bit harder when the camera is held at rest. The MB-D12 helps.


The past two years of marching technology is really only apparent in the D800's LCD and Live View implementation. A contemporary cutting-edge screen would be nice, but mostly I'd like a better magnified view and manual focusing assistance modes. I'll use a Hoodman loupe to shield the LCD when I need to focus precisely outdoors, but even then it isn't always easy to see where critical focus falls. If this could be tweaked within the existing camera I'd take it, but I certainly wouldn't upgrade the camera over it, should the inevitable day come when there's one out there that thinks it can succeed the D800.


There are a lot of really good cameras out there. Nikon has several and Canon makes a few, as do Fuji and Olympus; Panasonic and the former Pentax have one each as well. The market for mirrorless cameras has changed radically since the D800 came out – the X-Pro1 is also two years old – while the SLR world hasn't really changed at all.

Maybe SLRs are dinosaurs, being undercut by the smaller and nimbler 16 megapixel squirrel-like mammals with cropped tails. But it's worth noting that mammals didn't end the dinosaur's reign – it took an asteroid. There's no telling what the future will bring, but in the mean time the D800 will continue to be one of the cameras that rules the earth.


last updated 4 dec 2010

2014-03-14

Nikon 1 V3 Press Releases


Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

The Long Version: First of all, there's no way to separate my reaction to the Nikon 1 V3 press release without also responding to the camera that inspired it. I haven't handled the N1V3, and have no special knowledge about it, but I do know the Nikon 1 V1. It's impossible to be impartial.

The product images, as with my Canon G1X2 Press Release review, are adapted from the official images which anyone can download from Nikon's press site. Interestingly, the press releases on Nikon's Canadian and American sites are very different, so I'm going to be picking bits from each.

To begin, let's look at the headlines.

USA: The world's fastest*1 continuous shooting rate with AF tracking, performance with tracking of moving subjects that exceeds that of digital SLR cameras, and capable of full-scale operation.

Canada: Create with Uncompromising Speed and Image Quality: Nikon 1 V3 Provides a Compact, Versatile Feature Set for Capturing Stunning Images and HD Videos. …the Nikon 1 V3 is the ideal companion camera for the DSLR shooter looking to pack light and move fast.

Is it true that Canadians are friendlier and more polite than Americans?*1 The USA release hits the obligatory "World's Fastest" claim right off the bat, and stakes its position that the 1V3 is superior to an SLR, while the Canadians are simply looking for some companionship. I can't puzzle out exactly what 'capable of full-scale operation' means, but it seems to be trying to counterbalance the USAian Bigger is Better perception against the Compact, Versatile marketing message that sells these cameras elsewhere in the world. The Canadian press release calls the V3 compact four times, while the American uses it only once.

USA: …the latest addition to the V series of Nikon 1 advanced cameras with interchangeable lenses that propose new forms of imaging expression.

Canada: …a compact yet powerful addition to the Nikon 1 Advanced Camera with Interchangeable Lens System.

Again we see the Canadians throttling down the exceptionalism, as we tend to do. If you're an American buyer, the 1V3 stands to fundamentally change both art and technology, while in Canada it's just yet another camera. A good camera, to be sure, but the understated Canadians are not even going to claim that it's the latest model in the line, which clearly – if, invariably, temporarily – it is. But the one thing that both cultures can agree on is that Nikon uses a terribly awkward way to refer to what actual real people call "mirrorless cameras". Nikon being Nikon, the word "mirror" never appears in either press release.


Canada: a blazing fast Hybrid AF system and the world’s fastest continuous shooting frame rate1 at 20 frames-per-second (fps) with full autofocus (AF) – a speed that outpaces even professional DSLR cameras.

Okay, that's pretty impressive, and now we know where the Canadians put their better-than-SLR claim. Of course the N1V1 was also on par with – or faster than – the top SLRs of the time, but was crippled by a mandatory last-shot image review that locked out the shutter. The lesson here is to never underestimate Nikon's ability to screw things up, including fundamental things that they've gotten right in dozens of cameras before now.

Nikon is very quiet about the shot buffer depth of the 1V3. The Canadian release never mentions it, but the Americans say 40 shots over two seconds, without specifying file format, or 50 shots using the mechanical shutter at its limit of 6fps. For comparison, the old Nikon D4 can do about 100 raw images (or 200 jpegs) at 10fps with tracking AF, while a stock F5 from 1996 could do 7.4fps for 36 shots.

USA: 105 densely packed focus points positioned over a broad range of the frame ensure precise acquisition of moving subjects.

Densely packed over a broad range? Seriously? How is that even possible? Either somebody ate some bad jumbo shrimp for lunch or this is Nikon's way of conceding that the CX sensor format is really small. But I will give the PR teams a lot of credit for not adding up the 171 CDAF points with the 105 PDAF points to claim 276 total AF locations. It seems that, even with them being densely packed over a broad area, there's a lot of overlap in the actual point positions.

USA: …the world's fastest*1 high-speed continuous shooting rate with AF tracking … as well as the world's shortest*3 shooting time lag ensures fast and precise focusing…

This is interesting*2 for what it doesn't say: the claim for World's Fastest Autofocus is nearly mandatory for a press release these days, but this one skirts the subject with a couple of claims that are related but not quite the same thing. That seems too carefully done to be irrelevant, but I can't decide what it might actually mean. Nevertheless, I keep looking askance at this phrase, and am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Canada: “…” said Gregory Flasch, National Advertising and Communications Manager at Nikon Canada. “With an incredible feature set, a newly-crafted ergonomic design, and the elite high-speed performance…”

It's thoughtful of the people in Nikon Canada's marketing department to include a quotation from their boss about the new camera, because otherwise we might not know from the outset what tone the upcoming advertisements would take. Spoiler alert: they like it.

The N1V3 seems to have picked up some styling cues from the Canon EOS M. I admit that I like the look of the new Nikon, both when it's stripped down or when it has the optional/bundled EVF and grip attached. The N1V1 won no prizes for its appearance, while N1V2 was cripplingly unphotogenic, so any improvement here is a good thing. As for the actual quality of the new ergonomics and elite performance, I can only say that I'm looking forward to trying it out – before putting it back down and walking away from it forever.


USA: What's more, the Nikon 1 V3 offers an operational system that users of digital SLRs will find familiar.

Just remember this bit for a few moments, and consider that at its launch price the 1V3 costs as much as a really good SLR, meaning that it will mostly appeal to people who already have excellent SLRs.

USA: The Nikon 1 V3 is equipped with a main command dial on the back of the camera and a sub-command dial on the front…

On the front of the camera is the Nikon Df Memorial Vertical Dial, while the back has a more conventional horizontal dial. There's also a third, uncounted consumer-standard dial around the four-way controller, which has an Exposure Compensation button on it. Seeing that button was when I first heard my own photographic death knell tolling for this camera.

USA: …allows users of digital SLR cameras to apply and adjust settings such as shutter speed in a familiar manner.

Such as shutter speed, but not such as exposure compensation. That's the opposite of awesome. In fact, that's the same bad design that ensures that the Ricoh GR stomps all over the usability of the Coolpix A, which was another camera that Nikon intended to be familiar to its SLR users. Once again Nikon gets the fundamentals wrong. As far as SLR-like operation, or even general usability goes, this is a massive screw-up on it.

I simply will not consider buying a camera that doesn't give direct and immediate access to two variables at once, which I typically set to aperture value and exposure compensation. And while this should be a simple thing to rectify with a firmware update, Nikon is as willing to fix problems with its existing cameras as Sony is likely to release a complete lens collection before losing interest and moving on. The N1V1 remains a usability disaster two generations later, and D600 users might have some experiences to add here, as well.

If this camera was made by Ricoh or Fujifilm then I'd have complete faith that an error like this would be fixed. But Nikon is a camera company, not a photographic company, and I'm sure they've already wiped the N1V3 from the corporate resources and moved on to the next model in their relentless parade of V1.0 products that passes for innovation.


Canada: An additional function button is added with the optional GR-N1010 grip, a lightweight option that provides steadier handling, as well as an additional shutter button and sub-command dial that will be familiar to DSLR shooters.

Love that product name. GR-N1010. Like poetry.

It remains to be seen if the secondary sub-command dial that will be familiar to DSLR shooters will add to or over-ride the Df Memorial Vertical Dial that's also on the front of the camera; it also remains to be seen if the Df Dial can even be reached with the grip in place. But the grip does offer the intriguing possibility of having two shutter buttons on top of the camera, which seems like something of a first.

USA: the first Nikon 1 camera to be equipped with a virtual horizon function … and is capable of detecting not only roll (camera tilt to the left or right), but also pitch (camera tilt forward or back), a capability previously limited to high-end digital SLR cameras.

Nikon, frankly, assumes that its audience has its collective head up its collective ass. The Olympus E-PL2, Sony NEX6, Panasonic GX1, Canon G15, Ricoh GRDIV, and others all had this feature long before Nikon broke it out of their high-end SLR bracket. But in truth Nikon has a long history of only caring about what Canon is doing*3 in the same product tier, where a dual-axis level remains limited to the 7D and above, so I shouldn't be surprised.

Canada: Another innovative addition to the Nikon 1 Series is the V3’s new tilting, touch-panel 3-inch LCD monitor that allows photographers to compose brilliant images and HD videos from various new angles.

Don't worry, I'll refrain from listing other cameras that have a 3" tilting touch screen. Life simply isn't long enough. But there is some novelty in putting a row of hard buttons on the tilting LCD panel, which is interesting and may border on being innovative. Whether this is a good idea or not remains to be seen, but it may provide some benefit when the camera is on a tripod. Not that this camera is really meant to be used on a tripod, since that blocks access to the little battery and Micro-SD card slot.

Did I forget to mention that the blazing-fast N1V3 is the first Nikon interchangeable-lens camera to use Micro SD cards? That must be because the press releases skip that little innovation, too.

I'm also wondering how long it will be before specifying that a camera records 'HD Video' becomes the camera-equivalent of a motel specifying that they have 'Color TV'. It might have been impressive once, but it already sounds dated, and will soon be a superseded expectation.


Canada: The Nikon 1 V3 also empowers users to unleash their creativity, with fun and unique shooting options for all levels of photographer.

Every camera these days comes with built-in creativity as a standard feature. The American press release doesn't make this specific claim, but it's probably because they're all still busy creating new forms of imaging expression.

USA: The 0.48-inch, approximately 2359k-dot color TFT LCD viewfinder with frame coverage of approximately 100% supports diopter control and brightness adjustment. It ensures a broad field of view equal to that of digital SLR cameras…

They don't specify which DSLR the viewfinder is equivalent to, so I'm hoping that it isn't the D3000. The dots and size of the GR-N1010 are essentially the same as the EVF on the Fujifilm X-E2, which is no slouch. While Canon's EVF-DC1 for the G1X2 doesn't specify its screen size, the dot count is about the same and it even sells for almost the same premium as the N1V3 kit with the lens, viewfinder, and grip. Something tells me that the G1X2 and N1V3 is going to be an interesting competition to watch; a battle of the slow-selling and overpriced Titans.

USA: …adoption of the same rounded eyepiece used with the cameras such as the D4, Df, and D800, the DF-N1000 supports full-scale shooting capabilities.

That's an amazing bit of name-dropping, and highlights that the round eyepiece has always been reserved for the cameras that Nikon considers "Professional", such as the D300. No doubt the forums will find that significant, but what intrigues me is that they mention the D4 here, not the D4s, which was announced on February 24 and is already shipping. That suggests that the N1V3 release was written before then, and despite the nearly three-week wait until the V3 announcement, nobody went back and updated it.

They probably assumed, almost entirely correctly, that nobody was likely to notice or care.

And I still have no idea what 'full-scale shooting capabilities' actually means.


*1 When compared to Americans who reside in the same time zone as the Canadians that they are being compared to, possibly; compared to just about anyone else in the world, not so much.
*2 "Interesting" being a relative term and compared only among press releases for similar products as of March 14, 2014.
*3 With the recent exception of Nikon becoming dimly aware of Fujifilm, resulting in the Df, from which Nikon will almost certainly take the wrong lesson. 


last updated 15 mar 2014

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