Photo

The Nikon D300s came in

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So after months of waiting, I finally got a Nikon D300s with the updated 18-200mm VR lens.

I was originally planning on getting a Nikon D90 which would have been a fine upgrade from my existing D60.  But Lily intervened and pointed out that getting a D90 now and possibly repeating this in a year in a half might not really be a good idea.  A new D300s would almost certainly keep me entertained for a couple of years.

The conversation went like this:

Me: I’d like to replace my D60 with a D90.

Lily: No. Get the next model up, that makes more sense.

Me: Oh, okay. But only because you are twisting my arm and forcing me.

That conversation was in May. I waited for the D300s because I knew that the D300 was at the end of its for sale life and I like to get the latest and greatest versions. The D300 is an amazing camera but the controls are updated on the D300s and for fun Nikon added video. The video is more of a novelty for me, I just like how fast my new camera focuses and handles low light.

Right after I got it I updated my Adobe raw converter to version 5.5 and downloaded the latest PTLens version. My Photoshop Elements work flow is to fix the white balance, adjust for lens distortion, and crop. Not complicated but having the updated software helps.

Today I took over 200 photos of a 5 year old’s birthday party.  Compared to the D60, the D300s felt heavier but not unwieldy. The autofocus is fast and accurate.  Low light bounces the ISO up to >1600 but that works out on this camera.

I’m playing around with it like crazy and I’m hoping that I get a chance to take some memorable pictures soon.

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Cool, Family, Photo

Washington DC trip

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Going to Washington DC this year was quite an experience. Here’s what I learned.

1. The Acela is more expensive and only saves about 30 minutes. But it’s worth it, the Acela is roomier and more comfortable. We took the Acela on the way there, but on the way home we took the regional. Not really a good idea with kids; that additional space counts.

2. Charge your camera battery before the trip. My camera battery ran dry and I ended up taking photos on the Botanical Garden Museum with my iPhone.

3. Don’t worry about high ISO when in a museum. See the above picture? I like how it and others came out. That’s part of the The Apotheosis of Washington fresco I shot using my Nikon D60 with a AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm 1:3.5-5.6 G ED lens and these setting:

  • 1/25 second exposure
  • F/5.3
  • 75mm focal length
  • 1600 ISO (auto selected by the camera, I started at 200)
  • Auto ISO turned on with a maximum sensitivity to 1600
  • Active D-Lighting turned on
  • Noise Reduction turned on

Normally I frown at taking pictures with such a high ISO and less than 1/30 shutter speed.  I took 600+ photos on the trip and shared on Flickr over 170. The one’s that were set to ISO >1000 came out really good too. You can see the results at this link here.

Here’s some of my favorite high ISO shots.

4. Plan out where you want to eat. We planned the hotel, the places we wanted to go to, and the travel arrangements. We did not plan out to well where to eat.  The first night we ate at the hotel’s restaurant which had steak, some steak, and more steak.  Not a lot of variety although the steak was good though and Lily had a bowl of clam chowder. The next day we ate at the Union Station.  If you have ever been to Roosevelt Field’s food level or even Pier 17′s food court then you’ve had the same experience. Not a bad thing but the same.

5. I still want a better camera. Even though the Nikon D60 performed well, I am still jealous of low noise at 3200 ISO.  The 18-200mm lens is on loan from Stefan but it’s way too useful to not include in my kit. It’s a good walkabout lens.

In September I hope to order my new kit. In the meanwhile I’ll keep abusing my Nikon D60.

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Geek, Photo

What I am looking for in a new camera kit

See what you can shoot with the Nikon D60? I took this photo at an aircraft museum. You can see a bigger version of the plane here on Flickr.

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I have had the Nikon D60 for more than a year now and it’s been great fun.  Last I looked, the shutter count was around 17,000 pictures taken with maybe 13,000 kept on my WD MyBook and about 1,000 saved on my Flickr account.

The D60 is a good camera and has all the features I use. And it really is true that money spent on lenses make for better pictures versus getting a better camera body. Still, I find myself wanting more features and I will be upgrading the D60 to something more advanced.

I want more auto-focus points. The D60 has three horizontal auto-focus points. Most of the time I take pictures that focus on the center but more and more I find myself taking pictures of a scene and the subjects don’t quite line up in the view finder. With my brother’s D80, that’s not really a problem since the D80 has 11 focus points.

On my D60, I focus on the center, hold down the AF lock button, reposition the scene in the view finder. I’m lazy and want something that will make it easier for me especially when I am trying to take a lot of quick candid shots.

I want better high ISO noise handling. I like to take pictures without movement blur and sometimes that means I need to step up the equivalent ISO settings, sometimes as high as 1600.

I took some photos of a friend using the 30mm f/1.4 Sigma lens. We were at a restaurant table and I did not use the flash. When I checked the image in the camera display, she looked great. The screen is pretty small and at the resolution it was a good picture.

I should have zoomed into the preview display. I neglected to turn off auto ISO so the pictures came out bright and noisy at 1600 ISO. There just was not a lot of detail in my shots and everything looked grainy.  I know that having auto ISO on was a mistake for that lens, but I’d like something that can handle >800 ISO equivalent well. Especially when I am in a museum or restaurant  and don’t/can’t use a flash.

I want a built in auto focus drive. The D60 (and the D40) lack a built AF motor so any lens I buy must have a motor in the lens to auto focus. These days that’s not too difficult to find, but if my camera could drive the lens for focusing, I get to open up a whole range of “legacy” lenses.

I don’t want full frame. Or more accurately I can’t rationalize the extra cost. With the D700 and above, you can have a full frame sensor but for now, that would be wasted on me. If I could allocate the time and plan my shots in advance, then yes, full frame would be great. But mostly I just chase the family and take pictures of my surroundings.

With full frame, wide angle really means W-I-D-E. There are many decent wide angle lenses for DX format so that’s not a big selling point for me.

Also decent non-DX lenses are very expensive: the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is a sharp great lens that you can rent. Brand new it’s $1,700+and no way I’ll invest that kind of cash on a hobby.

What kind of camera kit would I like? A Nikon D300 with a Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX zoom lens would be ideal. The D300 has 51 AF points (and uses them), handles high ISO very well, and is weather sealed. I’ve borrowed a 18-200mm VR lens before and it’s AF is fast and it covers a lot of scenarios.

The D300 is a little dated, so I may do the waiting game till its replacement shows up. Nikon’s typical time line is to replace the current model every 2 years or so. For example the D100 came out in Febuary 2002, the D200 was release in November 2005, and the D300 came out August 2007.

The D5000 looks like a D60 killer and it covers most of my points above. The D90 would also fit the bill, but I want something more advanced than the D90 if only to ensure that I don’t look to replace it in a year or so.

Here’s hoping the D300 replacement will be before Christmas 2009.

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Geek, Photo

Oh. That many pictures.

Today is slow and almost all of our shopping is done. So I am going through my photos this evening and notices something.

I purchased my Nikon D60 in May 2008 and have been using Photoshop Elements since then. My external 1TB WorldBook is where I keep my photos and PSE keeps a tally of all the photos in it’s catalog.

PSE file counter

10,272 pictures.  From before May 2008 there were less than 300. Wow. Most of them are disposable and will never be shared but… wow.

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Photo

Flash diffusers

I don’t (yet) own a flash so from time to time I use the built in pop-up flash.  This produces harsh light so I picked up the Puffer by Gary Fong.  It’s a diffuser that softens up the flash and I’ve been thinking of getting is for a week or two.

Here is an example just using one of my models.  The top is without the puffer and is too bright.  The puffer softens up the flash; it works better with people.

It’s about $20.  I’ve been careful putting this into the hot shoe but I can see why some people have broken theirs.  The plastic is brittle and feels like it will break easily.  It should have been made out of plastic that is a little more pliable but if I’m careful I should have no problems.

It works but I need to pick up a SB-600 flash.   This is not bad but nothing beats bouncing the flash off of the ceiling.

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Photo

Nikon D60 and auto ISO

I got to learn about a useful DSLR feature called auto ISO.

A friend brought in his mint Nikon D90 and let me play with it. He had on the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 HSM macro lens and I was really impressed.  It’s not a D700 but for someone like me it’s really good.  Low noise at high ISO (compared to my D60), good color handling, and it’s fast.

We switched lenses for comparison and I was struck how his D90 took better exposed pictures than my D60.  I took pictures of the same things using both the D90 and the D60. Same lens, but the D90′s pictures handled poorly lit subjects better.

The D90 is a more current model but the difference was (wait for it) night and day.  Getting home I found the answer once I cracked open the manual.  His D90 had auto ISO turned on, while my D60 had it turned off.

Auto ISO on the Nikon D60 works like this: You set the maximum ISO sensitivity and the minimum shutter speed.  The minimum shutter speed is what triggers the auto ISO. Right now my maximum sensitivity is set to ISO 1600 and my minimum shutter speed is 1/15th of a second.  Using a flash turns off auto ISO.  I leave my camera set to ISO 200.

Most of my pictures are taken in P mode.  When the lighting works out that the shutter speed takes longer than 1/15 of a second, the camera will automatically raises the ISO from 200 to whatever works out to get the exposure time back down to 1/15 of a second.

Here’s an example using my son (he was the star student today in his class, way to go!) I set the minimum exposure for auto to 1/8 of a second from my usual 1/15.  I did this because my light is poor right now and at 1/15 I was shooting up to ISO 1400.

Both are at f/3.5 and the D60 was in P mode. The picture on the left is with auto ISO turned off, ISO 200 and exposed at 1/2 second.  The one on the right has auto ISO turned on.  This raised the ISO from 200 to 640 and is exposed at 1/8 of a second.  Even with VR 1/2 of a second suffers from hand shake.

It’s not perfect, and if I were using manual mode I would want to turn off all auto settings. But here it reduced the exposure time from 1/2 a second to the minimum 1/8 of a second.

For what I take pictures of it’s very useful; I almost never use the built in flash and don’t yet own a SB-600. As long as my shutter speed remains at or above 1/15 this will not be used.  Lower than 1/15 and I’ll get better pictures.

Tomorrow I’m going to a 4 year old’s birthday party so I’ll see how this works in practice.

Update: The day after I posted this, I went to the New York Hall of Science with Lily and the kids.  We attended a birthday party for a 4 year old and I borrowed my Dad’s SB-600 flash.

Auto ISO did get engaged with the flash on.  I left my camera set to ISO 200 and when the bounce was not enough to get it over the 1/15 second minimum, the ISO was bumped up.  This is one that I was surprise to see it get a small boost to ISO 280:

She sure knows how to pick them

I need to look into this some more.  With the flash, the exposure was dialed down to 1/60th of a second. I’m not complaining but I’d like to firm up my understanding.

Overall I took +300 shots and I liked the results. You can see the 40 pictures I posted with a SB-600 and auto ISO turned on Flickr.

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