I'm not the least bit conflicted about Nikon's new Df camera. I think it will appeal to a huge number of fellow photographers who cut their teeth on dials and external controls.

Whether or not they'll actually trade their cash for it is a whole different story.

  The New Nikon Df.  Old school? 

I haven't touched this camera or seen it in the flesh but I think Nikon will be moderately successful with a certain segment of the camera buying public. I'm pretty sure that a large slice of the camera toting demographic who "grew up" in photography using film cameras from the era referenced by the Df's design notes will be happy to go back to dials that had discrete functions and real, tactile feedback. The real dividing line will be between those who experienced the FMs, FEs and similarly configured cameras from the film age and those whose first brush with photography happened after the introduction of digital. Of course there will be outlier and you'll probably be able to point to a number of younger photographers who like the interface or the nostalgic nod to yesteryear just as you'll find a number of more experience shooters who were happy to leave the old interfaces behind.

In this case I'm ambivalent. I'll admit that I like the three control dials (shutter speeds, exposure comp. and ISO) as separate, easily accessible controls but I've pretty much made my peace since the Nikon F5 and F100 with electronic interfaces. The camera looks like a real camera to me mostly because I am over 50 years old and this product design is so similar to the tools that were around when I initially learned photography. 

I do think that, in the balance, Nikon has gotten a lot of things right. I'm glad they waited until they were firmly into their full frame comfort zone because I am certain that people will want to press some of their old prime lenses into service for this camera and they'll want those focal lengths to match the angle of view they were used to on film cameras. I think it was brilliant to integrate the Nikon D4 sensor into the mix as that sensor is great at low noise performance and, at 16 (big sized) megapixels it creates very beautiful files.

Much as I love EVF's it was the right decision to keep making last century optical finders for a retro camera design like this. That probably helps enhance battery life, which Nikon claims to be about 1400 shots. I'm pretty sure it will focus quickly and accurately as Nikon reportedly is using the same AF system as its latest D610 camera which seems to have fairly bullet proof auto focus.

If I were in the market for a full frame camera I wouldn't consider this camera over the D610 or Canon's 6D because I'm not sure there is any imaging or performance advantage to the Df over those full frame choices. But everyone will have a different opinion depending upon how they use their cameras. For the most part the only five controls I use on a day to day basis are shutter speeds, apertures, ISO, exposure compensation and color balance. Most of the geeky stuff sprayed around most menus is an enigma to me (by choice) and I don't have a very hard time acclimating to different cameras given the small range of controls I'm generally looking to master. In fact, most of my friends who are serious shooters also work within a very tight range of menu items while my friends who collect gear tend to know how to customize their cameras in depth with different buttons revised and re-dedicated to all sorts of new settings.

Where the camera falls down (and these are NOT deal killers if you like the external control design) is in little things. The first for me in having the memory card and battery under the same bottom mounted door. After several years of dealing with that on the Sony Nex cameras it is liberating to once again be using a camera (Panasonic GH3) which has a separate battery chamber on the accessible, righthand side of the camera. It makes for fast and sure card changes. 

Another point, raised by a reviewer at DP Review, is that the camera is clearly aimed at people who might want to use pre-AF Nikon lenses on the camera; and indeed, it is set up for their easy use. Given it's ability to accept and meter older Nikon manual focus lenses it seems almost cruel that Nikon has given users a fixed viewfinder screen.....and to turn the screws a bit it's one with no manual focusing aids! Even if no one ever gets around to actually using it a camera like this should give the user the option to pop in a split image rangefinder screen to quickly focus some of those manual gems that are still floating around.

The rest of the camera seems very well done and I have little doubt that the production values will be quite high. While I don't like to factor price into every camera buying situation I do think the relatively high price points to a collector conception for this camera rather than a user conception. Older, well heeled photographers will, perhaps, embrace it and use it hard, taking advantage of the retro design of the controls and their comfort with that interface but I do think that a younger generation, raised on buttons, menus and won't see the value of spending a thousand dollars more for the same kind of performance they could get from three other full frame products that are (or soon will be) out on the market. 

What would it have taken to get me interested in the Df camera? Oh, just an EVF. Once you've pre-chimped I don't think you'll ever want to go back. That and a price around $1500....

In the end Nikon more or less gave a vocal minority of Nikon users something they've been collectively asking for since the dawn of the digital age; a digital Nikon FM.  They delivered and now it's up to the market to decide whether this implementation is successful or not.... 

One final note: I know color choice is supposedly subjective but....would anyone seriously make the claim that the silver version is anywhere as nice looking at the black one?  


A tale of three lenses. Two Panasonic and One Olympus. In the end it's all about the optics.

 25mm Panasonic Leica.

I thought it might be fun to post some samples of the three lenses I was carrying around yesterday in San Antonio. I'm practicing with the lenses and camera because I have several jobs coming up at the end of the week that will require me to shoot lots of images in all kinds of lighting and I'm planning on taking the two GH3's, some cool modern lenses and a few old chunks of glass and I'd like to proficient operating the cameras and quickly getting in to the groove with the different lenses. There always seems to be a re-adjustment period required for my brain when I switch between sensor sizes and especially between formats.

The image just above and the one just below were taken with the Panasonic/Leica 25mm 1.4 lens. It's crispy and modern looking and it looks good from wide open all the way down to f8. I'll use this one for all the social photography I plan on doing this Saturday. This is one of the lenses I originally bought when I was shooting with all the earlier Olympus gear. It works well on the Panasonic but my one wish is that it had image stabilization....(or that the GH3 had IS built in). I know the Olympus cameras have great IS built into the camera but we'll see how abstaining from coffee and stress work out before I go out and buy yet another solution.

Part of a "Day of the Dead" altar at the St. Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas.

The six images just below were taken with a very inexpensive zoom lens from Panasonic. It's the 45-150mm lens. It's relatively tiny, has image stabilization and seems to perform well enough...especially for the price. It's a bit slow for interior work but for anything exterior it should work well. All of the photographs in this blog were done handheld which should be a caution sign for anyone hell bent on using the images as the final litmus test of quality. We can always do better with a tripod... 

The final six images (below) were all done with the ancient Olympus Pen FT half frame 50-90mm f3.5 zoom lens from the early 1970's. It's not as contrasty as the modern lenses but with a little boost in contrast and just a tiny, tiny smidgeon of sharpening I think it holds up well. The secret with older, single coated lenses is to try never to shoot them into a light source unless flare is the special effect you are looking for. The lens is all metal construction, incredibly well made and in perfect operating condition decades after being first pressed into service. I find its incredibly smooth zoom and focus rings to be as good as anything on the market in the last few decades.

Have I learned anything wildly new shooting the GH3, it lenses and the old legacy lenses?

Yes and no.

The new glass is sharp and good pretty much across the board.

The older fast lenses from the Olympus Half Frame Pen FT series are 

remarkably good. As good (one stop down) as just about anything being cranked out

by the camera makers today.

The 60mm f1.5 is awesome at f2

The 70mm f2 is really sharp and nice at f2.8 

and the 40mm f1.4 maybe the sharpest lens I've used for this camera system.

They are a bit more trouble to use than the AF stuff but the reward is

in a look that's a pleasing combination of 

sharp and mellow.

That's about it.

Studio Portrait Lighting

A continuation on a theme. The iPad as the new Instamatic.

No big fanfare, just two interesting Olympus OMD e-m1 posts from my friend at ATMTX



The views expressed at ATMTX's blog represent his feelings about the cameras being reviewed and don't necessarily exactly reflect my views here at VSL.  Head on over to his site and read what he has to say about his long term, hands on experiences with two of the hot cameras of the day. Oh...yeah, he directly compares the e-m1 with Canon's 6D, which he also owns....

Interesting assessments!


Studio Portrait Lighting

Another chance for an ancient lens.

I went to San Antonio yesterday to visit my parents and to walk around and try a few different lenses with the Panasonic GH3. My parents are doing quite well. And San Antonio is as fun and colorful as ever.

I took along three lenses: the 25mm f1.4 PanaLeica, the el cheap 45-150mm f3.5 to 5.6 zoom and an absolutely ancient Olympus Pen FT (manual half frame ) 50 to 90 mm, constant f3.5 zoom lens. I'm pretty sure that the old Olympus lens isn't even multi-coated but I thought I'd give it a try since I have two copies of the lens and the zoom and focus actions are still incredibly smooth and the aperture ring turns with a wonderfully damped precision.

I spent a lot of the day with the 25mm on the front of the camera because it approximates so well the angle of view I learned to like from shooting successive generations of 50mm lenses on old 35mm film cameras. I switched to the new Panasonic zoom when I got to the market because it was easier to pick out details and faces. Near the end of my time downtown I switched to the old Olympus zoom.

Because of the primitive coatings I expected the lens to have more flare and less contrast. Because of the zoom's advanced age I expected that the optics would never be able to match the glorious results of nearly forty five years of advanced optical progress. So I was prepared to open the files in Aperture, review them and then move on to the little gems created by the other two, thoroughly modern, lenses.

This was the first file I opened at full screen and I was partially correct, the image did need a bump in contrast. I chose to make the correction in the mid-range with the controls in the Aperture shadow/highlight menu. But I was partially incorrect because the file needed very little sharpening. No more so than a typical digital file from a camera with an filter over the sensor...

The Olympus zoom is a great series of focal lengths for a portrait photographer and, with the one button ability to zoom in to 8x and gauge correct focus it's a pretty handy combo with the Panasonic GH3. I'm looking forward to shooting some portraits in the studio with more controlled lighting. I already like what the lens optics are doing for the background at f5.6. Let's see what it looks like when paired up with a beautiful face.....

Studio Portrait Lighting


The first good shake out walk with the Panasonic GH3.

If you read the VSL blog regularly you'll know two things. I recently bought a Panasonic GH3 for video projects (yes, I tested it head to head with a Canon 5D3 and prefer the usability of the EVF and the smooth, luscious detail of the files from the GH3) and that I have no allegiance to any one camera system. Whatever works, works.

I bought the GH3 before I headed to NYC and barely shot five frames around the studio. When I got back home I spent an evening reading the manual and going over the menus ( which are straightforward and make sense).  I finished all the work I needed to get done today around 4 pm and decided to take the GH3 out for a walk, just to see how it felt and how it performed.

To date I have three lenses for this camera: the older kit lens, the Leica/Panasonic 25mm 1.4, and the 45-150mm 3.5 to 5.6. I have a new version of the kit lens heading my way and the offer of lens loans for most of the Panasonic premium line from Frank. I also have a nearly complete collection of Olympus (film) Pen lenses from pedestrian to esoteric high speeders. Today I made things simple and I just put the old kit lens on and set it at aperture priority and f5.6.

It's kind of silly and useless to test a camera in perfect daylight and with the lens stopped down to its optimum aperture. But I learned what I needed to about the camera and its operation during the course of my walk. The body is just right. Not too big but not so small that the buttons are smushed together. And speaking of buttons....there's pretty much a dedicated button for whatever you want to control. A far leap from my previous, screen centric week. 

 While I am spoiled by the full frame, huge resolution files from the two Sony cameras (a99 and a850) I find the images from the GH3 snappy, saturated and very sharp. The dynamic range seems ample and the metering is right on the money.

The real litmus test for me will be the rendering of skin tones. The tests I've done in video lead me to believe that things will be great in that department but you never really know until you try it and test it for yourself. I like the camera well enough that I'm buying a second body tomorrow and pressing it into service almost immediately for several video projects for clients. The second body is nothing extraordinary. A professional should always travel with a back-up to his or her main camera and one that uses the same batteries and menus is a distinct plus.  

If the camera serves me well I'll flesh out the lens selection with the two Panasonic 2.8 zooms. In the meantime I'll be using the Olympus Pen legacy lenses, Sony Alpha lenses with an adapter and the handful of Panasonic lenses I've already gotten. The worry is "lens creep." That's like mission creep. It's when you progressively justify and rationalize more and more lens purchases until you are knee deep in a system that you bought just for a specific function.

For those few readers who've come recently from forums and are hard of comprehension: My use of the Panaonic GH3s doesn't mean I'm getting rid of the full frame Sonys, nor is it a blanket endorsement of the Panasonic cameras. It just means that I like them better for video and I'm keeping an open mind about their efficacy for still imaging. If you don't like that; if that's not binary enough then you should read something else instead.

In terms of issues I am seeing two things: The contrast of the files could be a little higher and there is a tendency for the files to go slightly magenta. In the camera's defense, I have profiles down to a science for the Sony cameras. It will take a bit of time to get up to speed with the Panasonics. 
Finally, I will have to learn how to walk around with less weight on my shoulders. I hope it's enough weight to defy the centrifugal energy of earth's spin and keep me from flying off into the ether....

Three little systems. The Sony Alphas. The Pentax K-01 toy cameras. The Panasonic GH3's. Seems about right as we're nearing the end of 2013...

Studio Portrait Lighting

Yes. Here's the loupe I wrote about yesterday...

It works well. Works on any number of cameras and, if I was trying to do video on a DSLR I'd have one in a hot minute. Wait, I already do have one. It's bolted to my Pentax....so I can shoot some video... Found out that the base of the connector plate is compatible with some Arca Swiss quick release plates. Who knew? You can get it at Amazon for about $120.

Here's the link: Great, Cheap Loupe.

Have fun seeing your LCD better.

Studio Portrait Lighting


A light, airy and silly post about an absurd purchase from last week....

Subtitled: Crazy stuff photographers buy at trade shows. Not the camera.....

If you read the blog you already know that I have a soft spot for silly cameras that are secretly great image makers but you might not know that I, like many other technical leaning male picture makers, have a penchant for buttons, knobs and anything else you can add to a device that makes it look cooler or more.....meaningfully complex. It goes back to that whole painful mastery thing we talked about on Sunday...

At any rate Nick Kelsh and I were tooling around the trade show in New York looking at all the cool new video stuff when I can across a small table whose inhabitants specialized in "viewer technology."
They had all kinds of viewfinders and hoods and shades for the LCD screens that hang there on the backs of still and video cameras. I found the biggest, meanest, gnarly-est one I could and measure it with my pocket laser rangefinder/caliper system to make sure it would fit on the backs of my Samsung NX 300 and my remarkably cool Pentax K-01's and then I borrowed a hundred bucks from Nick and bought one.  It actually occupies more cubic space than either my Pentax or my spunky little Samsung. And it's photographic comedy to see it in use....but now I can get my money's worth out of those expensive little flat panels that keep showing up on the backs of otherwise perfectly good cameras. 

The company that sells this is called, Swivi and I think the product is a bargain at $100. It's got an eyepiece blind (for what? I'm not sure...) and a big diopter adjustment ring that's made out of metal. You can see that the rubber eyecup is steroid enhanced. Absolutely hulking.  You'll think you've gone back to the eyecup on your Arriflex 16S. 

The loupe construction is hinged so you can flip up the magnifying element and look at the shaded LCD directly or hold the camera at arm's length in classic, stinky baby diaper--daddy needs glasses" style. Wonderful for new school or old school. 

Best of all this beast bolts onto the bottom with belligerent bravado. The all metal mounting hardware is a salad of metal bolts and rods that allows the unit to be custom fit to just about any camera with a tripod socket. Shifting left and right or up and down is easy and when you've got it where you want it the whole thing locks down tightly. And wearing it with a diminutive camera will make you look like the biggest photo nerd in the area. But I'll still bring it around with me when I actually want, or need, to see what's on the screen at midday in the blazing sun. YMMV.

The wonderful thing bout the construction of the loupe and the mounting hardware is that
nothing occludes the Marc Newsome signature on the bottom of my camera. 
And secondarily, nothing gets in the way of the battery compartment.

The one fly in the ointment? You lose your tripod socket.
C'est la vie. That's what vise grips are for......