A VSL reader asked a question: "Why did I choose to buy a D800e, a D800 and a D700 instead of a D810 or D850?

It's a fair question and one which I actually have a well thought out rationale for.... So, without any further delay...

I owned the D810 a few years ago and did much work with it. Where it beats the pants off the D800s is in its video capabilities. But I struggled to get some of the Nikon lenses I was using at the time to focus correctly. They liked to focus just a little further back than I would have liked. We went round and round with the fine-tuning dance and, to be fair, most of the lenses worked pretty well after we spent an entire weekend coaxing them into compliance. The shutter in the D810 is quieter and sounds off at a lower (hence more pleasant) frequency. But when it comes to ease of use and image quality there isn't much difference between the older models and the D810. But here's where the "working commercial photographer" rationale comes into play; I could buy two D800 series bodies, in good shape, for the cost of one D810 body. I still believe that no professional image maker should go on a paid assignment without a back up body. And the best back up body is one that is nearly identical to your primary camera.

Since I already own another complete system (two Panasonic GH5's and a bag of lenses) I wasn't in a hurry to drop $6800 on a couple of D850 bodies, or $4,000 on  a couple of used D810 bodies when I could have two D800 series bodies for only $2,000. The buffers in the newer cameras are probably better but I'll never know because I'm not a sports photographer and just use single frame advance.

I am, sometimes, interested in being a low light photographer but when I went exploring on DXO Mark I found that the older d800's are within a gnat's whisker of matching the high ISO performance of both newer bodies. Not much of a difference in the quality of the raw files either....

All in all, the more I use the D800 cameras the more I like them. So much so that they are the cameras I packed up in order to do a P.R. shoot at the Fairmont Hotel at midday and to also haul down with me today to Matamoros, Mexico for tomorrow's photographic assignments. In fact, if all goes well I intend to shoot most of my work tomorrow with the D800 and the 24-120mm f4.0 VR.

I hope I get smarter someday. I decided to drive down here to Mexico. I grabbed a rental car from Avis, packed it up with photo goodies and headed over to the Fairmont Hotel to photograph the Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin Spring Luncheon (a nice fundraiser). I used the D800 and the above mentioned lens, along with a manual flash to cover the event. I was floored this evening, when editing the take, to see that what I saw on the rear screen of the camera as I chimped through the job matched what I ended up with in post production almost exactly. A first time for everything.

But back on topic. After wrapping up the event around 1:30 I got in the rental car and started the long trip to Brownsville, Texas. With one stop for nature and one stop to get a Whataburger hamburger with jalapeƱos it took right at six hours and fifteen minutes of steady, more or less 75 mph driving. That's a lot. And that only gets one halfway across the state (measuring from north to south). I logged nearly 400 miles today! No frequent flyer miles, no bags of peanuts but no groping by the TSA and no idle time sitting stationary on the tarmac.

We've got an early call tomorrow and we'll shoot all day. I'll get back to the hotel, eat dinner and crash. But if I can get myself out of bed by 5:30 am I'll have a fighting chance of getting back to Austin on Thursday just in time for the noon swim. Won't that be nice?

The short answer to my reader is that the D800s do everything I need from them and they handle really well. I'll save the bucks and see what Nikon launches in the Fall. Night....


The color is always brighter on the other side of the fence.

I've watched with great interest as the internet gushes with praise for the Sony A7iii. The new high priests of video camera reviews on DPReview (Chris and Jordan previously of thecamerastoreTV on YouTube) created a delicious program about the new camera and "suggested" that this would be the camera that people who previously shopped for Nikons and Canons should be shopping for now...

I must say that I've been amazed at the speed at which Sony went from having two really crappy original A7's (the A7 and A7R) with jackhammer like shutter noise and pesky handling to becoming the pre-emminent selection of the world's biggest and loudest camera website.

It seems like digital cameras have always had a back and forth consumer movement, mostly driven by marketing, but sometimes by features, or the lack of them. Nikon's D1x was a very popular entry and probably the first pro camera that felt really usable in the way film cameras had been but Canon jumped ahead by offering a full frame pro camera (Canon 1DS) that moved a large number of photographers to switch systems. Soon, the white lenses were everywhere.

The introduction of the D2X, with it's APS-C sensor, was a decent parry to the Canon 1DS but Canon soon leapt ahead with a newer 16 megapixel, full frame 1DSmk2 and it seemed that Nikon's days as a camera makers for real pros were winding down. Many more people jumped ship until Nikon took the wraps off the original full frame, low light monster; the D3. Its four million fewer pixels (than the Canon 1DSmk2) were offset by the camera's ability to shoot in amazingly dark circumstances and still deliver really good results. The models continue to arrive with various new features and performance metrics but with enough differentiation to make an "apples to apples" comparison hard.

It's been a back and forth battle that continues to this day. I've shot with both systems and both are remarkably good if you just want to make photographs. If you are a professional camera tester I guess there is enough difference between the current offerings from the two brands to keep one typing daily.....

While I think the Nikon D850 is pretty cool, and armed to the teeth with features and performance, I also think that a basic Canon 5DmkIV hits a very good sweet spot for most photographers and brings it's own unique look and feel to the game. Along with excellent but more manageable files sizes.

To my mind, the only two things Sony got perfectly right, and the reason they seem to be gaining on Canon and Nikon, is that they opted to build their full frame system around the magic of the EVF and the low noise, high dynamic range of their own Sony sensors. The cameras themselves are fairly clunky to use and don't have the polished feel of their competitors. C&N products feel like the well finished iterations that are the result of decades of design trial and error while my Sony's felt more like prototypes. Good prototypes but unfinished products all the same.

Sony is a couple of body design iterations away from achieving what experienced photographers need/want from their production cameras. They had some great design advantages in the Minolta camera designs that came along with the purchase of that company but abandoned them for their A series mirrorless line designs; and I think it was a wrong turn.

People choose cameras for different reasons. I keep juggling my own calculus of what constitutes the perfect camera, and the leapfrogging of performance parameters has not been helpful in that regard. As far as the way the cameras feel in my hands I'd have to say that the Canon 5D2 was the most comfortable for me in the last ten years. The Nikon D800 is close but not quite as well done. My A7Rii needed to have the battery grip attached to make it a comfortable camera to use over time.

In the early days of the century things were changing so quickly that the switching back and forth between systems was amazing and almost non-stop. A doubling of resolution in another maker's new model seemed to be the clarion call to jump from your current system. When we all subconsciously decided that all cameras north of 30 megapixels were equally sufficient to most photographic tasks (where resolution is concerned) the inflection points for system change became more nuanced, the amplitude and frequency of the swings from system to system became less dramatic. It was harder to get people all excited about dynamic range but the camera makers have been working at it.

I'd like to say that I've given up chasing the changes but I'm nearly certain I'll change the tool kit a few times more before I switch careers and start working as a greeter at Walmart. Until then I'll try to ratchet up my skepticism and not lunge at every dangled specification change.

The colors always seem better on the camera systems you don't own. You chase them and discover that there's some other feature on the new system you just bought that lags behind the system you just sold. It goes that way all the time.

I bought the D800s recently because, in still photography, they seem like the financial analogy of buying certificates of deposit. The cameras are already depreciated, they'll hold some of their value for another cycle and they'll do what you need for the term. When they fully mature you can sell them and move on. I want to step off the System Exchange Cycle and catch my breath. I want to see what the next big thing is in the photo market (if there even is a next big thing) and then, when I have a higher degree of certainty, maybe I'll be ready to jump back in....

In the meantime we keep pumping out video after video with the GH5 cameras. I'm not system shopping them because so far no one can beat the quality and operational smoothness at anywhere near their price. They are swing-proof for the moment.


A Laid Back Saturday in Austin in the late Spring. Camera at hand.

Woke up early this morning and made coffee and waffles with peanut butter before the dog or the spouse stirred. I was out the door by 7:15 and in the pool by 7:30 for the first workout of the day. The water was a little warm and my goggles fogged up from time to time, but we got in about 3,000 quality yards and that's enough to keep me happy.

I had a camera in the car (of course) so after I got dressed I went back into the pool area to take a few snaps of the pool and the swimmers at the 8:30 practice. The object in the foreground is a starting block. We use it to practice our racing dives; just in case we feel the need to race....

The 8:30 workout was lightly attended today. I think it's because the annual 2000K race in Lady Bird Lake is tomorrow morning and people are saving their energy for a long, cold race. I'm not swimming that one, the water isn't clean enough....

Today's swim camera was the D700. I used on older, manual focusing 55 macro as my normal lens. It's a nice and compact combination. The lens is nicely sharp from f4 on down.

We got new lane lines in January. Can you tell? The colors are nice and vibrant and none of the lane lines has too much slack. 

At right about this point in time, while shooting little volleys of swim photos, it dawned on me just how hungry I was and I started thinking about moving on. There is a fast food place near me with a drive through. I could not resist....

So, after banging off a few more meaty, saturated frames I got in the car and headed over to McDonalds where I ordered an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit and a medium coffee with one cream. I took my (second) breakfast home with me so I could enjoy it while reading the Washington Post (online) and I can never resist the charms of Studio Dog who loves little scraps of scrambled eggs.

After my leisurely (second) breakfast I headed out to the studio to do some organization and packing for next week. I have a crazy schedule: I'm down in San Antonio taking my dad to a doctor's appointment on Monday. Tuesday I pick up a rental car at 8 a.m. and load it up with all the gear I'll need for my assignment in Mexico. Midday on Tues. I photography a lunch event for a charity and then immediately start the six hour drive to Brownsville and Matamoros. When I get there I'll need to have dinner and then post process my coverage of the charity event. The next day is a full day of industrial strength commercial photography and some video interviews. I'll be using a mix of cameras and format.... Thurs. I'll be up at 4:30 a.m. to drive back to Austin. My plan is to make it back in time for the noon workout at the pool. Then unload the gear and get the rental car back to the rental agency.

The rest of the day will be dedicated to post processing the Mexico photos and video. I'll also throw in the unpacking and re-packing of gear for a full day of photography at Zach Theatre on Friday. It's the kind of week that doesn't have much spare time layered in...

After dabbling in the studio Belinda and I headed over to our favorite sandwich shop, Thundercloud Subs, and had lunch together. That's something we've been doing for about 34 years straight. Every Saturday. Different lunch places, but every Saturday... I switched out lenses before lunch. The image above was taken with what I consider to be one of the very best zooms I've used in the Nikon system; it's an ancient, manual focusing, 35-70mm f3.5. The resolution is marvelous and it works well on the D700, even wide open. 

After lunch I dropped back into the studio to pick up an extra battery and I headed to Pease Park for the annual Eeyore's Birthday Party. It's a mini-one day Woodstock without any of the cool bands or the rain or mud or ...... it's actually just a big party in the park that gives Austinites a chance to wear costumes, go topless and pretend to be old school hippies. But I've been going for decades; even back when the crowd numbered in the 20's or 30's so I had to drop by. But before I did I walked over to the Graffiti Wall since it's midway between where I like to park and the Park.

I seem not to be able to resist at least a walk through at the Wall and today was no exception. The 35/70 is a great P.J. lens and it seems to crank out happy sharpness at every setting. And guess what? Since the pixels are so big on the D700 I can stop down to f11 or f16 and not worry about diffraction robbing me of sharpness. How cool is that?

People love taking photos of each other in the middle of graffiti chaos. And they all have a special "photographer's stance"........

Krazy Kolors Kourtesy of Lightroom's new profiles. 

Above: This is a traffic island just north of the world famous Clarksville neighborhood. It's well tended and overwrought. I love people who make public spaces more visually interesting. Velvet ropes and a red carpet for the cross walk. Nice.

And then it's on to Eeyore's Birthday Party. Everyone comes to show off something.....

For the images below I decided to switch from raw to Jpegs and to turn up the ADL control to high (expands the dynamic range via crazy, artificial exposure magic...). Thank goodness I was able to recover some shadows....

To be truthful, when I got back to the studio I was a bit bored by a lot of the stuff I took. The festival/party seemed to have finally achieved mainstream blandness this year. So I did what all trendy web artists tend to do and made everything from that point on black and white. Lightroom now makes it easy and provides an incredible range of control. I've barely scratched the surface. 

 When the 90 degree heat and the throng of gawkers hit critical mass for me I headed back toward the car with stops at Book People to pick up the latest copy of "American Cinematographer Magazine", to look at cool hiking shoes at REI, and to see if the flagship Amazon/Whole Foods store still had any vegan, lemon, hazelnut scones left. Sadly, they did not.  

I headed home to see the Spouse and Studio Dog and to eat salmon with a caper and butter sauce for dinner and to drink Fireman's Four beer. I'm finishing this blog up before heading back into the house to watch a movie with the family crew. This is my idea of a nice day in paradise.

Camera battery recharging. Cards emptied. Blog written. All done. Night John Boy....


I just watched a movie on Netflix called, "Kodachrome." If you remember the film days you might want to see it too.

Special thanks to my good friend, Frank, for mentioning this movie to me over coffee this week. He recommended it highly so this evening Belinda and I sat down and watched it. It's about a  famous photographer who is dying and his road trip, with his son, to get four precious rolls of Kodachrome developed before the last Kodachrome development line in the world shuts down.

I cried near the end. Not for the plight or pathos of the characters but because the movie did such a good job reminding my how much I really miss shooting Kodachrome and Tri-X with my old Leica M4 and its attendant 50mm Summicron lens, and how much we've collectively lost in our changes of process and intention.

The shutting down of Kodachrome really seemed to be the signal that an era had ended and it was a time when we were young, idealistic, full of energy, and we worked hard at the making our visions special and real.

At the end of the movie I felt a deep and painful sense of loss. I'd put off grieving the end of my tenure with film and Leica M cameras and the weight of it hit me right between the eyes tonight.

After the movie I came out to the office and looked into the main storage closet. There are metal boxes in there with thousands of color slides; mostly Kodachrome. Next to them on a bookshelf are three different Leica Pradovit projectors. I haven't used then in years.

I'm going to load a tray of slides tomorrow and sit in the dark and look at them the way God and Kodak intended for us to look at color slides; projected large on a clean, white wall.

And then I may just have to reconsider my whole relationship with photography in its current manifestation....

Important reading material over on The Online Photographer today. Take a read and, if you want to, report back.

Yesterday on The Online Photographer I read a short piece about the horrifying pitfalls and endless travails of being a professional photographer. 

I found humor in some of the hyperbolic responses to the post and when I read all the comments (most about how difficult the life of a professional photographer is....) I thought I would provide a counterpoint by writing a comment about how much fun I've had in the business and stating that I'm not yet resigned to eating dog food in my "autumn" years, nor am I begging on street corners.

Michael Johnston liked my comment and called me to ask if he could use it as a counterpoint post to the original post. I was delighted. Even more delighted to be able to chat with M.J. on the phone for a while...

Here's how The Online Photographer presented my comment this morning:

If you are not a daily reader of "The Online Photographer" I highly recommend it. Michael is one of a tiny handful of photography-oriented bloggers that I read, religiously, almost every morning. I don't even mind his off-topic forays into the sport of pool...

Here's the index:


The future is mirrorless. But what does that mean? What will Nikon and Canon present? Does it even matter anymore?

This is not HDR. It's a Jpeg frame from a Fuji S5 camera
wedded to an 18-200mm Nikon zoom lens.
Shot at the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, FLA.

For a number of years I've been writing about, and asking for electronic viewfinders in my cameras. I haven't changed my mind about that. The problem with discussing camera design trends is that  everyone seems to have different design preferences other than that particular parameter and, I think, this differing priority list muddied the water for where actual, operational features were involved. 

The first well implemented electronic finders (early days) were the accessory EVFs that were made for the Olympus EP-2 cameras. These devices were a revelation for me. When I used one and found it to be a nice tool for visualizing photographs I bought into the Olympus system and used those cameras and lenses for many imaging adventures. The two reasons I embraced the EP-2 camera system were the EVF and the fact that I could make use of a drawer filed with fun, eccentric, and sometimes quite good, Olympus Pen FT lenses. The fact that the cameras also had very nice color and tonality in their Jpeg files didn't hurt either. But always it was the EVF that was my tipping point.

There are a number of things/features about the cameras that were not part of my decision making calculus but which seem to have been embraced by certain segments of the gear-irati which I never considered and which I still consider to be separate from the basic function of good cameras. 

Many people glommed onto mirrorless cameras from Olympus and Sony (a6x00 series, Nex) because they were so small and compact. That's not something I ever cared about and it's not ever been a reason for me to select one camera over another. In many instances the smaller size works against the day-to-day utility of a camera. The control buttons have to be too small and placed too close together, the smaller cameras lack the overall mass/density that works to dampen vibrations and to help hold a camera steady. For many photographers there are few ways to comfortably hold cameras as they become smaller and smaller. Finger cramps are a new affliction for some as well. 

The mirrorless camera craze seemed to usher in the increased use of the back of camera LCD panel for composition and camera operation which is something I still resist (strongly) to this day. I understand the value of live view in critical studio situations but find its use in street photography and general photography detrimental to success in most parts of the process. 

While I love using EVFs I hate the fact that the relentless downsizing of camera bodies in the mirrorless space has taken away the space manufacturers have for camera batteries which made us ever more reliant on pockets full of spare batteries when heading out for a long day of shooting. One only has to look at the Sony RX-1 to see the end game of the ever diminishing power supply for a camera....

From a technical point of view I dislike the insistence on making the cameras ever more compact even when the compactness interferes with function. This was very apparent in many iterations of Sony cameras, expressed as overheating during video. On one hand Sony was working hard to provide users with fairly elegant video implementations only to cripple the cameras with tragic heat dissipation issues. Giving us interesting options with one hand and then breaking the same options with faulty engineering. (Kudos to Panasonic for always providing their flagships with great batteries while making them bigger with every generation to help mitigate heat issues in video...).

So now it appears that we're on the cusp of seeing what Canon's professional implementation of mirrorless cameras looks like and we're about to see if Nikon will screw up entirely in their pursuit of the same product sector or if they have learned their lessons from previous product lines (One Series). 

Here's the sad thing in my mind though, either manufacturer could have come up with a way to remove the moving mirror and pentaprism and replace those costly components with an EVF while maintaining their vast kingdoms of lenses and other accessories. No massive lens mount re-tooling required. Instead I think the vocal minority may have convinced the major cameras makers that size reduction is the critical marketing issue. That consumers want massive reductions in camera and lens size to move them to purchase. 

It may be true that amateur users are anxious for a camera that fits nicely in a trim purse or a pair of pants pockets I think the camera makers would simply be wrong when it comes to making products for professionals. 

The value I see in the Olympus (and Panasonic) cameras is not their small size because adding one of their professional zoom lenses instantly renders the size argument as moot. The value that Olympus delivers has to do with their insanely good image stabilization. The image stabilization and the EVFs are the two main reasons for pros to own Olympus EM cameras. 

The ability to make a great image stabilization system was predicated on having a smaller sensor which would have less mass and be easier to stop and start efficiently. For years they've been able to market this differentiating technical compromise = significantly better I.S. in exchange for the smaller size of the sensor and commiserate smaller size of the imaging pixels. 

While the smaller size of the sensors and the smaller lens mount allowed Olympus to make their camera bodies smaller it was a tangential aspect of the sensor and I.S. compromises. They could have put the same combination of features in a bigger body but chose not to. 

The Olympus cameras have proven to be popular but much less so (as proven by overall sales) than either Canon or Nikon's models in the same price ranges. In terms of image quality, given the use of a lens with good image stabilization on a Nikon or Canon, the bigger sensors in the APS-C mount cameras at entry level prices (under $500) can compete (just comparing overall imaging) with the flagship model of the Olympus or Panasonic camera lines. Canon and Nikon have shrunken the entry level cameras down to a point where they are nearly equivalent to many models in the mirrorless camera lines. 

My fear is that Canon and Nikon, more or less standing on the sidelines, will misinterpret what the market says they want (cameras like the Olympus EM series) thinking that size is everything and that I.S. performance, color tweaks, and great lenses are secondary or unimportant to consumers. 

If the Canon M series of mirrorless cameras is their future then I think it is a dim future for them and their customers. If Nikon pursues a similar course, changing and simplifying their lens mount, making cameras much smaller and harder to handle, filling out lens lines with slow lenses that are already diffraction limited wide open, supplying batteries with truncated run time and camera bodies that don't have space to vent heat then I think their very reason for existence will be diminished and we'll have entered a period where sufficiency of performance is overshadowed by tertiary convenience and easy portage.

Here's what I want to see in a Nikon mirrorless camera for professionals: A body that has ample room for physical control interfaces (I'll never forget my time with the Galaxy NX camera. It had very few physical controls coupled with a five inch touch screen. It was a handling disaster as one frantically raced through nested menus to find the one thing you wanted to change. Even more frustrating was when the always connected camera stopped shooting in order to download an Android software patch...). A body that's big enough to hold well and heavy enough to buffer small body movements of the user. A body that can hold a big enough battery to get through a day of still shooting or several hours of video shooting. A camera that keeps the Nikon lens mount (yes, legacy lenses are fun to use but the vast majority of professionals are using zooms and primes from the same system as their cameras). A camera that uses an EVF in place of moving mirrors and pentaprisms. 

One wag on the internet suggested that, with the recent introductions of the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5DmkIV, both with vastly improved live view performance, both models were already fully functioning mirrorless camera models. Give me an EVF and I'll agree. 

I hope whichever direction the big two go in that it doesn't destroy the things about a camera which are an evolution of over 100 years of design experimentation and consumer testing. Change the stuff that makes the images better but keep the stuff that makes handling a camera all day long possible. Oh hell. Just give me a Nikon D8x0 with a nice EVF and we're done.

But here's the thing I keep thinking; with the relentless push of advertising, photo sharing and communication being pushed to the web and then viewed on laptops, phones and tablets does any of this really matter anymore? Couldn't most of the imaging we see and use every day be produced by phones and GoPros? Does the camera type or shape really matter to anyone other than a generation of people who grew up with traditional camera and who are now either pushing to re-invent them or, on the other hand, resisting change as hard as the can? And to what purpose?

I have two systems. One is based around full frame, traditional DSLR cameras and the other around the mirrorless construct of the moment. Each is very useful. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. But the reality is that I could do most work for clients interchangeably. The process of choosing which system to use at any one time is based not on need but on desire, or mood. It's and interesting position to be in since there's no middle way in the inventory. 

I guess the success or failure of either Nikon or Canon's mirrorless, professional camera will be down to how well they fill out their lens line and how well balanced all of the compromises are going forward. We'll see what happens. I've got my comfortable chair and popcorn ready.