Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gear Contemplation - Coolest Gear to lust after in 2016


Sony a7R IISony a7RSony a7 IISony a7S II
Sensor 42MP full-frame36MP full-frame24MP full-frame12MP full-frame
Image StabilizationIn-bodyIn-lens onlyIn-bodyIn-body
Electronic First Curtain ShutterYesNoYesYes
Silent (full electronic) ShutterYesNoNoYes
ISO Range (Stills)
Standard / Expanded
100 - 25,600
50 - 102,400
100 - 25,600
50 - 25,600
100 - 25,600
50 - 25,600
Continuous Shooting (with AF)5 fps1.5 fps5 fps2.5 fps
AF system Hybrid (399 phase detect and 25 contrast detect points)Contrast AF with 25 pointsHybrid with 117 phase detect and 25 contrast detect pointsContrast AF with 169 points
4K from Super 35 crop?YesNoNoNo
4K Movie specsUHD 30/24p
XAVC S (100/60Mbps)
N/AN/AUHD 30/24p
XAVC S (100/60Mbps)
HD Movie specs1080 60/30/24p
1080 60p
60i/24p (24/17Mbps)
1080 60/30/24p
1080 120p (100/60Mbps) 60/30/24p
Picture Profile
(inc S-Log2)
+ S-Log3
Front panel constructionMagnesium alloyMagnesium alloyComposite Magnesium alloy
Optical low pass filter NoNoYesYes
Battery life (CIPA)
340/290 shots per charge340/270 shots per charge350/270 shots per charge370/310 shots per charge
Weight w/ battery625 g 465 g599 g627 g
MSRP $3,199 body only $2,299 body only$1,699 body only $2,999 body only

Most of what the A7RII can offer has been summed up by scads of blogs and can be discovered by some hands on time at various shops, due to it's price point you are likely to find this in a lot of shops.
It is very popular for it's combination of features and price, the fact you can use a huge variety of glass with little or no compatibility problems from non native sony lenses is also a major boon.
It's features are also listed on the feature chart above.

A beautiful example of an image shot with A7RII.

Canon & Nikon:
Having listened to the very long list of wants and desires, both parties seem to have relented to the inevitable, adding 4k video to their cameras.
Permitting user customizable menu formats is no-where to be seen in the thoughts of the camera gods it seems, the reason for allowing it would be eliminating pointless menu diving for features that the USER (not the camera maker) deems a frequently requested feature.
For those of you who don't spend much hands on time with a camera, you probably have at least spent time in a word processor; No doubt you've found yourself constantly having to dive through menu after menu to find what you wanted. Cameras have become just like that, so many features that navigating the bloated menu system becomes a lot more like a "Where's Waldo?" puzzle book.

Cross Type sensors, the newest craze first featured prominently in sony mirrorless (promptly put on a steroid diet after it's debut), can now be found in Nikon and Canon flavors. Sony is the clear winner in the tech market, but all the camera vendors are reporting financial losses. The growth of the technology sector in the camera market is entirely dependant on excessive spending and binge purchasing by camera fanatics.
You might be wondering why Sony is the winner in the tech market, simply put, they own lots of the patents for different imaging technologies. Canon and Nikon are frequent customers of Sony because of that, sony also has a very diverse portfolio of technology that it is constantly improving upon.

AF Focus performance is an area of contention for cameras, so far very few of them can place them anywhere on the image or control their distribution. I discovered a lot of AF flubs on my D800E when shooting models in a beach or pseudo jungle setting. Until they find a solution to this almost all cameras with a digital focus will always focus most accurately in the center of the image, this affects the fidelity of the exposure as well since the camera is using this zone to meter for exposure.

So far there is no relief in sight for those who are seeking native shutter sync speeds above 1/320th of a second. Emulation through software offers the illusion of it with the use of a third party flash controller, but at the end of the day fake is still fake when it matters.

Nikon D5:

It's finally here!! The camera they (Nikon) said they weren't developing and weren't planning on releasing..

The community wasn't at all surprised, there was significant speculation on its impending features long before anyone had any sort of unofficial confirmation of its production. Early confirmation of it's existence was scooped by some keen eyed observers who spotted one in the wild overseas, and later on suspicions of it being in full production were confirmed by an unknown source who leaked that Nikon's Asian division had its factories filled to the rafters so to speak, with production demands for the D5.

The nikon firmware program, intended for adding new feature sets to recently released cameras is still suspected to be filed under the status of We Are  Eating Crow since no proof of its existence in the last 2+ years has surfaced since they had the nerve to announce it without bothering to put it into practice. I might be a little bitter about it since I am a Nikon owner but oh well.

The prices on D4, and D4s are not reduced by much despite the release of the D5. Nikon is not really known for giving price breaks on it's products, let alone any legitimate sales. Their idea of a sale is to bundle it with some lenses or other items, mark it as on sale but in reality you're paying as much if not more than buying it separate. If you don't own any glass or other gear then the bundle deal is for you, for the rest of us, we'd just like a legitimate price break on a damn camera body.

I hope to get my paws on one of these for a brief test at a camera shop, when or if they do emerge.
Let's face it, a 6k dollar camera doesn't exactly fly off the shelves, most shops are unlikely to be in a hurry to stock them on store shelves.
The few shops that have the moxie to stock cameras worth 16000 dollars or more that i've visited, I noticed those sit on the shelves for a very long time.

I am  Challenge(d) Already
There are many slogans currently being rolled out by Nikon in their corporate colors, such as the slogan I mocked above (features a slight edit of my own).
Whomever thought that one up didn't fully think it through. The presence of a padded helmet has been confirmed, the mouth guard will you cost extra.
I decided to have a little fun at the expense of Nikon.

Prominent Features:

  • New 20.8MP FX-format CMOS image sensor and EXPEED 5 image processing
  • Widest native ISO range ever in a Nikon full-frame DSLR: ISO 100 to 102,400 (expandable to Hi-5, ISO 3,280,000)
  • Redesigned AF system with a 153 focus points, 99 cross-type sensors and a dedicated processor
  • 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) video recording and pro-grade video features
  • 12 fps continuous shooting with full AF and AE performance; up to 200 shots in a single burst

The frame rates quoted are dependant on the media used, if I recall maximum burst rate is only achievable on the XDQ format, which is not currently used by any other camera on the market.
CFast is a competing standard with broader compatibility and appeal, Nikon shows no interest in adopting it.

Canon 1DX V2

There is some debate (or whining) over the lack of integrated WiFi in these high end cameras, packing a radio into such a complex piece of gear like one of these cameras presents a whole new set of challenges. The presence of RF inside the cramped space of the camera body is potentially a source of unwanted noise (interference) that both companies would most likely prefer to avoid having to engineer a custom solution around it.
There's a decent review of this camera here.
There were other unintended consequences discovered recently with WiFi interactions in cameras that had this feature enabled, such as malicious users remotely hijacking the camera or stealing images sent wirelessly.

Canon's 1dx V2 features the ability to shoot rapidly with live view active, this is a pleasant twist for those of us who use that feature. Currently most cameras that have a live view option, feature a significant delay after shutter activation before the camera is usable (like my D800E from Nikon). I suspect the write speed suffers while live view is on, when used in other cameras too. It's unlikely that anyone would ever need the 12-14FPS quoted while live view mode is active, having to wait 5-10 seconds after shutter release before you can use the camera again is not an ideal compromise.

Canon is happy to kick Nikon where it counts by undercutting their flagship camera by as much as 1,000 dollars. Canon's lenses frequently sell for very attractive prices also, contrasting with Nikon's routinely boutique prices and nearly non-existent discounts.

PhaseOne & Mamiya:

PhaseOne XF Camera Body:

The most exciting thing to happen to cameras in a while from this guy's perspective (at the risk of being called a "fanboy") is the XF camera body for phase one's digital backs.

The XF with 80mm lense (LS) has a starting price of 6400$ lowest i've seen.
This camera body allows for the incorporation of a whole new feature set, including options enabled in the digital backs that are only recently being adopted by the major DSLR companies in their mid to high end cameras. Integrated wifi & bluetooth  connectivity with phones and tablets.
Whether you are a working pro with deep pockets or just a batshit crazy enthusiast with deep pockets, this tablet connectivity feature alone is very cool! Your art director or client can view and give their opinion on the shots as they happen in real time.
The photographer can use this to free themselves from having to hold the camera and use the tablet to remote control the camera while they interact with the model or fix setup issues with the shot.

Dalsa Semi developed a 100mp CCD imaging circuit in 2006.
Dalsa has made numerous devices for NASA missions in addition to
adorning the bling cameras from Mamiya, HassleBlad and Phase One.

60 MP

IQ2 Digital backs: Start at prices of 20,000 used, they are being phased out by PhaseOne, in preparation of the rollout of the IQ3. This is good news for those who are looking for a deal. Used medium format equipment is a hot commodity, it retains its value and useful life, typically outlasting multiple owners.

IQ3 Digital back: Price starts around 34000. It is the new hotness so expect to pay a heavy price for it.
The 60MP digital back is based on a 16 bit Opti-Color chip with the Dalsa CCD imaging system, long considered the king of all optical imaging sensors by techno-geeks and hipsters alike. The Dalsa sensor was and probably still is, king of the hill before the CMOS came into its own and changed the landscape of cameras forever. It's only very recently the CMOS packaging for optical sensors has made its presence felt in the medium format arena.

80 MP & 100MP

The most explosive development in camera technology since I started writing this (late 2015), happened in early 2016 with the unexpected announcement of 100 megapixel digital backs from PhaseOne.
I was able to obtain a raw image capture of a cityscape made by it but unfortunately it was so damn dull to look at, it didn't really show me much of it's potential or wow me in the slightest. What I did see was such extreme pixel zooming that I could clearly make out the faces of people walking down a crowded street shot with a non telephoto lense from the other side of town.

I am sure some of this is in response to the uptick in pixel counts from their low cost DSLR competitors, currently canon offers cameras with 52MP sensors.
The other reason I could think of for an image of this size, would be giving the user more options for cropping images to suit their taste without negatively impacting their chances of cropping it so severely a publisher would reject it.
Publishers have pixel count requirements (specified in dimensions) for images to be accepted.

Since it is the newest toy available and it is a digital back, expect to have sell your internal organs on the black market or sell your future kids into slavery in order to afford it. I suggest a lotto ticket for your solution. Some of the older (and probably unsupported) digital backs are now falling back down to new-ish DSLR prices of 8,000 dollars or less.

The Phantom Flasher, a Phottix update:

Phottix has decided to make the presence of it's Odin II known, there are units available on the market but they seem to have a lot of growing pains. Missing features and limited functionality are prominent in this, but the main things that made it attractive like the intelligent controls for multiple groups are there.
Lets hope that for the sake of Phottix they fix these issues, there was such a pregnant pause between the announcement of it and it's actual release I figured it was going to be yet another imaginary product released to market with no expectation of delivery.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hot Crossed Pixels!

I had intended to release this post a long time ago but I got distracted, oooh shiney... Yep there I go again.

Canon 5DS/SR - They pulled a 'Nikon' on us!

There has been a rumored "medium" format Canon on the various camera rumor sites, even before these sites existed dating back to as early as 2009 or so. Reports of Canon shopping around some early prototypes of a high resolution DSLR to a very select group of photographers, enter 2015; Canon releases a 50 megapixel 35 mm format sensor.
This is 5DS & 5DR is exactly the same iterational nonsense as the D800; rather than just making one camera without the layers of filter that deliver not so sharp pictures, they made their camera line-up and the resulting logistics chain more complicated than it needed to be.
This may make sense to marketing wonks at Canon but this seems like complete horse dung to me.
The D800 was introduced with a counterpart named with the E moniker, this version had the bayer AA filter canceled but not removed. What this means is they added another layer on top of the existing layers to cancel it out, whenever you add more layers of filtering you lose picture fidelity. 

Adding additional layers on top of non working layers is just dumb!
It uses the same sensor with a canceled layer on it,  if there's a flaw in one product line that means there's a flaw in both product lines potentially requiring a global recall of both products.
This is something that Canon and Nikon are very hesitant to ever follow through on when serious product flaws are discovered by the consumer, these recalls are often the result of a massive class action lawsuit against the manufacturer when they do happen.

Some complained of Moire exhibiting itself in the non AA version but I bought it anyway, I have not seen any serious issue with Moire to this day. Even cameras that have the AA filter enabled since their inception still suffer from some Moire issues, the D800E is no different in that aspect. If you have a digital camera, its bound to happen sooner or later, it is unique to the digital format.

All that aside, it is a big improvement in many ways over the previous 5D line-up, the higher pixel count offers up additional not so obvious bonuses. The AF system in this looks to be the best yet, it uses the Digic 6 sensor. This Canon's own response to the recent push for better camera performance, whether or not it's the what the market really wanted, who knows. Is it what I was hoping for? Not really, the TTL Sync is too slow.

Nikon D810A - Nikon claims its designed for Astrophotography

  I have reservations about anything making claims of being a specialized camera that is not really that specialized. It's exciting to see a camera company come out with a product that is geared towards a very fascinating and highly specialized field, the very unique aspects of real astrophotography also means that the necessary changes needed to make this camera useful for it, also means this camera would not be suitable for terrestrial applications.

  This camera is a D810 that was customized by Nikon specifically for this use, given their track record for camera iterations it's likely that if this camera launch is successful they will make a second one that will be designed from the ground up for this application rather than a last minute jury rigging of an existing camera.

  This is a definite first for Nikon to specifically design or modify a their cameras for this activity.

  I'm hopeful it's going to be a good change and a sign of more of these to come. The wavelengths often used in Astro photos are infrared and ultraviolet, these are invisible to the human eye. Camera manufacturers integrate filter layers on the CMOS chip to automatically filter this out. I doubt Nikon will do that. Nikon has questionable reputation in this field, most prefer to shoot with Canon cameras for this activity.

   Some of the unique features on this camera are exposure times of up to 900 seconds, most hard-core landscape nuts own their own shutter controller and that may mitigate any supposed gain from adding it, nice to see it's available but probably won't matter much if you use a dedicated external shutter controller (you definitely should!). It also features an electronic global shutter, meaning one of the two shutters in the camera is not a mechanical shutter, theoretically improving shutter reaction times and reducing shutter vibration. Electronic shutters are not exactly new to Nikon. The few that have the fully electronic versions, i've heard are coveted because of their nearly limitless TTL sync ability.

Leica S2 (Version 007) ETA 2nd or 3rd quarter 2015

In the camera realm there are a few brand names that are uttered in tones of reverence to this day by most camera fanatics and pro's alike, one of them is Leica. The S2 is their top tier medium format camera, curiously enough it's the only medium format camera Leica produces.

  The S2 offers everything you could want in a medium format camera with all the conveniences found in most mid to high end consumer DSLR's like 4k video, integrated Wifi and more.
What sets this apart from other less expensive DSLR's is the shutter system, it offers up to 1/4000th of a second Native TTL sync speeds. You will most likely get about 1/1200th of a second since this is dual shutter camera and it varies from lense to lense, some lenses have their own shutter.

 These as far as I know, are the cheapest medium format cameras available (hold on to your wallets, the sticker shock is coming) at a starting price of 16000 dollars. Contrast this with digital back systems that start at 35k and go up from there, now you see why I say Leica is the cheapest medium format available. Do you really need one? Not at all, but most would like one!

Leica also produces many other non medium format cameras, some that are met with reactions of amusement and disdain.

  Most of this I think is due to their price and the fact that Leica has traded so much on it's name that it's now almost as cliche as Gucci and other household brand names in the fashion world. 

  Leica pocket cameras are considered a status symbol with a hefty price tag but they don't really offer you anything you couldn't have found in a much less expensive camera, the harsh truth is these cameras are sometimes just rebranded knock-off consumer cameras that have a Leica tag on it with a huge price increase. Hasselblad has gained notoriety for doing this too, Leica and Hasselblad are making some good money doing this i'm sure but they are also making a mockery of their reputation as high end professional camera companies too.

Leica has not made any significant innovations or changes to it's line-up in a very long time, with the S2 being it's only actual medium format camera.

Whats missing still?? What would push D-SLR's over the line that separates medium format cameras from their D-SLR Pro-sumer counterparts?

    Shutter sync speeds are stagnant, the fastest 'native' TTL shutter speed so far is 1/320 and it's actually achieved through a Nikon software hack, the same way that trigger systems that allow you to sync the shutter with your off-camera flash.

   This whole notion of pushing the pixel boundaries and crowing to the world "WE ARE MEDIUM FORMAT" holds little meaning when real medium format cameras are worlds beyond what the typical D-SLR carrying pice tags as high as 10,000 dollars offer. The starting price for a digital medium format camera is 16,000 dollars.

   Right now the biggest feature gap between a Pro-sumer (a title given to professional consumer grade cameras) and a true blue medium format camera is the shutter, not the resolution of the sensor.

  The sensor seems to be comparatively simpler problem for them to fix compared to the shutter or they would have done something about it by now. Third party wireless TTL trigger packs offer very convincing emulations of higher native sync rates through software hacks, so if software can fake it that makes it seem plausible to me that real hardware implementation of faster sync rates is just a matter of the camera companies willingness to do it. Millions of dollars every year are poured into sensor research but almost none goes towards shutter improvement, they do a lot to improve it's durability I know this much.

   Medium format cameras offer native TTL shutter sync ratings up to 1/4000th of a second using their own implementations of leaf shutters or focal plane shutters.

 - Why is (faster) TTL Sync speed so important?

    The ability to shoot at very high speeds gives you huge control over the amount of light that enters    the camera when you are using on or off camera flash systems, wedding and sports photographers can attest to this. Most TTL systems restrict speeds to under 1/250th of a second. The slower the shutter the more light enters the camera. Higher sync speeds also allow use of combinations of flash and fast moving objects without any detectable motion blur entering the frame.

   The latest in high end circuitry enable off camera flash systems to strobe quickly enough and bright enough to freeze motion at much slower speeds. That's really helpful but doesn't compensate for other situations where you need full control over the light, in areas where the light is very difficult to control through brute force methods such as using high powered lights.

- Sensor Wizardry - 
- 16 bit color?
   Nope! At best D-SLR color spectrums are pushing 14, sony's own raw format (technically fake format) is not even 14 bit. It may be minor nitpicking but it has relevance for some, some of that spectrum is not visible to the eye but there's enough of extra bits that can be made visible for it noticeable under some circumstances.

Camera makers at Phase One have not been idle, they have significantly ramped up their feature sets in their ultra high end, ultra exclusive Medium format line-up.
Recently Phase-one completed an acquisition of controlling shares in Mamiya, not necessarily owning them outright but they do own a significant interest in the company. It has major investments in most of the medium format names out there except for Leica. Hasselblad may or may not have received a cash infusion from them, not that they need it, they make a good business out of selling re-branded up-sold off the shelf gear.
I think Capture One has proven to be a successful vehicle for (Phase One) generating revenue aside from being an excellent raw processing engine.
I am surprised to see the Dalsa CCD censor still dominates the landscape of high end cameras, for no other reason than CMOS seems to have taken over every other semi-conductor niche in the digital imaging market. The CCD still has a few tricks up it's sleeve that the CMOS based sensors haven't mastered, it's not for lack of time or money either. If anything I'd say it's a lack of interest on the part of the CMOS companies.
The 16 bit color engine in that chip interests me a lot, despite naysayers claiming you can't see all the colors this spectrum encompasses.

The reasons CCD hasn't claimed dominion, well from what i've seen it has to do with the banding exhibited in some of the images that these sensors produce. CMOS is a one size fits all chip package that does a lot of things extremely well, not perfect but close enough in most instances.
The death of imaging giant Kodak definitely changed the landscape of photography from the consumer side as well as from the R&D side of things. Kodak is not entirely dead, it may make a come back under different management. The IP's Kodak owned, is now owned by another company.

Lights, Camera, Advance! 2015 Christmas Blog Update

It's been quite a while since I posted anything, really not too sure if anyone reads this except for a few relatives. Never any feedback from  the reader(s) so I just write this mostly for fun. Compensating for my slackitude,  partly caused by very busy life in the last 5 months.. for those that do read it, rejoice i'm posting new content! 

The beat goes on as the makers of cameras and lights are definitely making a name for themselves in areas previously foreign to them.

Camera news, stuff that would make you shutter!

Pentax does the unthinkable!
To debut in 2016, Pentax also known as Ricoh (its parent company), Pentax releases it's first full frame camera in a very long time. As far as I know, this the first digital full frame ever to be released under the Pentax name. Pentax has not really been considered a player in the camera market for a very long time, their parent company Ricoh has mostly stuck to pocket cameras and an occasional medium-ish format design.
Of all the cameras mentioned here, Pentax is a company who does make a habit of weather sealing the crap out of their DLSR camera bodies.

Sony for the Pro's- Why?? Why not..

So here's why:
Sony could make an appeal based on price but they seem to be making an appeal to the desires of gadget loving photographers of all stripes by pushing the envelope in sensor development.
Sony Alpha owners will benefit from the close relationship between PhaseOne and Sony, Capture One Pro raw editing software is free to all Sony camera owners.
Lighter than most full body DLSR, smaller form factor, access to non OEM glass through lense adaptors that even allow AF functionality.
The latest advancements from sony in their cameras include a 400 point AF system.
Photographers won't necessarily be forced to abandon the heaps of expensive glass they have obtained to use a new camera, although some of it may not work.
The EVF is very useful in areas where it's too dark to use an optical viewfinder.

A shameless unsolicited plug for one of my favorite Glamour photographers Nino Batista, he gives you a no B.S. review of the sony alpha series from his point of view.

A7s & A7sII (Second generation)
V1 and V2 sport Native ISO's of 50,000 extendable up to 400,000.
This camera puts just every other commercially available consumer/prosumer camera to shame in important ways. The ISO performance (low light, no light) is off the charts good. The version 2 adds some critical tweaks including very impressive AF performance.
The V2 adds more Af points as well as adding different types of AF detection, the sensor size remains at 12 megapixels but the V2 does add native 4k video without needing any work arounds for recording it. 12 megapixels is far from being a disability for a camera since pro's have been shooting far smaller formats for years in the early days of digital cameras (5mp).
Image made with an A7sII courtesy of daily camera news via google.

A7R & A7RII (Second generation)
V2 adds slighly higher resolution as well as huge improvements in AF performance as well as high ISO performance (native ISO up to 25,200).
The only cameras that can boast usable frames above 1600 ISO from Nikon are the D3, the D4, and the Df.
Canon's only high ISO diva that can claim to be a competitor above 1600 ISO is the 1dx. The new 50 megapixel Canon 5DS may offer some changes to that balance but i've not seen any evidence that supports a claim like that.
This beautiful capture was made with an A7rII, courtesy of Camera Egg via google.

Here's a few reasons why not:
No universal raw format, adopting DNG or some other commonly used lossless raw engine would greatly enhance its usability and appeal to a lot of camera toting people.
No lossless raw engine
Lack of true 14 bit color engine (16 would be better).
No weather sealing - this limits its potential uses to only fair weather photography, unless you're a deep pocketed carefree shutter bug who's ok with rain frying or causing havoc with the internals of your camera.
EVF's have some issues with rendering Parallax, Parallax is the spatial relationship of foreground and background elements.
Lack of native high speed TTL sync (although no DSLR has any bragging rights as of yet with sync rates remaining at a stale 1/320th as the top end).
The sony infrastructure as of yet receives no acceptance from the bigger names in the lighting industry-Elinchrom/Broncolor/Profoto, Hensel. This is not a show stopper it merely means your trigger methods are limited, and hot-shoe based triggers with TTL & high speed sync may not function but basic triggering through sync chords is still an option. This will change eventually, Profoto has expressed an interest in making a remote available for it but no announcements as of yet on a formal development of one.

No weather seal!
The bodies made by sony don't have even a shred of the durability that a D3, D4 or a 1dx has when it comes to uses in extreme environments.  If you're shooting environment involves explosions, sub zero weather, underwater theatrics, dropping your camera off a cliff face at K2 or having a building dropped on you i'd consider a different camera system.

None of that stopped me from using my camera's in the pacific northwest's torrential rains or the ridiculously humid and rainy weather of Jamaica either. I'm sure others will do the same weather sealing or not but to have a camera body that does have weather sealing is extremely useful.
A Nikon D3, rumor has it, still worked after this. I cry inside
when I see stuff like this (6700 dollar camera).

This would have wrecked any number
of cameras with no weather sealing.. (Nikon D3)

Nikon News:
 Nikon: "I am advancing!"

  Nikon's highly anticipated software release program for it's existing line of cameras, where did it go!?

They talked up this new program for the last two years if you are diligent enough to comb the internet you will find mention of this as early as Jan 2014. We are fast approaching 2016 there is absolutely no evidence of it existing whatsoever, neither as a free perk for camera owners who were supposed to be covered by it or as a paid option which is also viable.

The "I am advancing" campaign was supposed to be a firmware release program to aid in slowing down the pace of digital rot in it's very pricey line of mid to high tier cameras (D7000, D750, D800/E, D810, D4/S, D3) which get almost no attention whatsoever when it comes to firmware other than occasional bug fixes, but Nikon's history of adding much needed usability features (through firmware) that do not require a whole new camera is almost non-existant.
The only firmware i'm able to find is the existing crud that Nikon put out in 2012/2013.
The page with their promised firmware update news and other stuff disappeared, so I guess the whole thing has turned into:

Nikon:"I am Coming ! - Seriously guys.. I really, really mean it this time!!".

The program has turned out to be vaporware. Marketing fluff for reasons I can't fathom, perhaps to inflate it's stock price, who knows.

The canon community by comparison has been fortunate to benefit from the valiant efforts of faceless software coding guru's who slaved away at cracking the secrets of the Canon firmware to allow new features to be added to existing cameras by the community of Cannon enthusiasts.
This does most likely void the warranty, but if it's an annoying or nearly useless brick, you won't care so much about that.

Do not despair! There has been a well spring of efforts and interest in the Nikon community towards this end but as of yet it's no where near as advanced as the Cannon community's GPL development efforts. That community for the support of Nikon is called Nikon Hacker.

      Other Nikon software -
To their credit they seemed to have made the previously payed Nikon editing software free to use for Nikon owners. In its original paid incarnation, it was ok but still unacceptable at a cost 99 dollars per a version most of which could be done better by other programs. The new versions of the NX software seem to emulate DarkTable quite a bit in some ways or perhaps it's just me that thinks so.
Capture NX-D and View NX are free to Nikon owners. The older Nikon capture software development has been permanently shelved. With few exceptions free is always good!

Dark Table - GPL (free software not made by Nikon)

ViewNX - Nikon Freeware

      Oops we did it again!

2014 & 2015 has been a banner year of releases, announcements and hilarious(?) failures.
Nikon released quite a few new products, announced cutting edge patents. Shortly after the announcements they released a recall for almost all the new equipment they released even the stuff they didn't. Anyone who has enough interest in an activity to spend thousands of dollars on just one gadget for it would applaud pro-active or pre-emptive Q.C. efforts. It is embarrassing when these happen often, especially in light of the fact that it involves very expensive stuff.

There is also the issue of camera owners facing the possibility of their camera being sent in for servicing and arriving back in the same condition it was sent in if not worse, Nikon meanwhile gleefully charging for it with little recourse for the camera owner. I dread the thought of entrusting my Nikon gear to a Nikon service center for that very reason.

       "No we are not making a new D4..."

Nikon denies rumors of development of a D4 successor then within weeks of the denial, a retraction of that denial in the form of an announcement admitting a successor for the D4 to be tentatively titled D5, ETA late 2016??
'Ok, ok I guess you caught us, we really are making the D5.'

Nikon's D5, the frame gobbling monster previously known as D4s with its 11fps frame buffer is due to come out with an update to the line.

Speculation on the new features varies from added video capabilities to new storage format support and increased AF performance. AF performance would be an area that would certainly be optimal for its current niche as a fast action sports shooter. Specifications of the impending D5 are unknown, and no reports of a functioning prototype exist in the wild.

I've witnessed the D4's used in wedding, fashion and glamour to great effect. it's most advanced features are best used for high tempo sports shooting where ultra fast frame rates will help ensure that the camera operator nails the ideal shot. The D4's legendary ISO performance is what draws most to it. Contenders such as Sony, and Cannon with its well known 1dx are definitely making waves with their own products. They provided some stiff competition for Nikon (especially Sony!).

All of Nikon's cameras could use a lot of help in low light where AF operation is concerned, AF is just a fancy term for edge detection. There are several algorithms for edge detection, Canon and Sony are the only camera makers to feature hybrid AF that uses multiple types of edge detection at the same time. The two types that I know of are Contrast AF (the most common) and Phase Detect AF.
Sony's approach was very interesting, they created a backlit (illuminated) full frame imaging sensor which allowed them to use the hybrid AF method to great effect.

I've witnessed odd behaviors where the Nikon cameras I own can't detect edges of regions in a photo where its too dark for the sensor to accurately detect color and shadow. The result is pixels drift, appearing discolored or worse yet they are borrowed from another part of the image to fill in the area the sensor was confounded by.
I've witnessed this happen a number of times in the D7000 and the D800E, nobody else has reported this issue so it appears I can only blame the fumes of very strong coffee I enjoy while operating the camera. AF improvements don't necessarily require a new sensor, this would have been an area where a firmware upgrade would have been welcome.

Lights.. yes I did mention something about it.

Profoto B2
Profoto hatches a new plot to dominate the globe trotting photography scene with a 250 watt second portable power pack. It provides all the same benefits of the B1; portability, TTL, small form factor.
What it does differently from the B1 is lower power, faster t1 time, and trickle charging while in use.
The nature of the battery in the B1 prevents charging while the battery is in use.
This unit is plug and play with the new remotes made for the b1 air.

The mounts on the lights are not that trust worthy according to some owners, and some have griped about their flimsy nature. If you plan to put these lights in large or bulky modifiers you might want to think about an alternative mounting scheme.


A side by side comparison of the Ranger Rx and the ELB400.

Not to be outdone by Profoto, Elinchrom releases a new 400 W/S portable kit, making an argument that bigger is better. Elinchrom may have a leg up over the Profoto B2 in that they designed these units specifically with the use of rugged terrain in mind. According to a photographer who goes out to the slopes to capture shots of winter athletes in action, the Ranger RX has been left buried in snow and forgotten, only to be discovered later on still usable.
The photo above illustrates how the new OLED display on the ELB400 is very hard to read while its used in bright light. This is considered a detractor to those who would consider this unit for their outdoor adventures.
(The display on the B1 from Profoto has some difficulty with being readable in bright light as well.)

Phottix update: 
Live promotional shots of a working Prototype being tested at Phottix.

The Odin II promised to Phottix faithfuls, and although I don't own any Phottix gear, even I was hopeful at the thought of an easy to use remote for my strobes that didn't require menu diving and was quick to navigate. One look at the SB-910 or any Nikon product's method of navigating is all you need to know about how frustrating that is.
As of right now, not far from 2016 it is still vaporware no matter what they say. This was promised back in 2014, i'm a bigger believer in results not promises.
I still have a bad taste in my mouth at the thought of the failed TT5's that are in a box somewhere, i'm too disgusted to even try warranty service with pocket wizard.
The most that can be said for a release date to the Odin II is a very vague "Soon..." which could mean either late 2016 or early 2017. I am disappointed by that.

The Phottix Indra was released, it was met with skepticism but it's still a welcome addition to a growing market of portable OCF options. With it's external battery it is clunkier than a Profoto B1, the price is not that competitive when compared to a B1 or other external battery options. It is a very visually appealing device, there's something to be said for having a nice looking exterior on a gadget just ask Apple, they made an entire career out of creating nice looking gadgets.

Elinchrom, Phottix and Sekonic announce an alliance of sorts..
It's not terribly eventful other than phottix and elinchrom users now have improved compatibility with sekonic. Why is this a non-event you ask? Well this means if you own multiple brands of lights you will still be stuck with half measures, either you buy multiple versions of the same sekonic to use on all your lights or you deal with impaired functionality in one meter to avoid buying one for each light system. Sekonic meters cost many hundreds of dollars each, it's far more sensible to just offer a drop in radio module which is something that Sekonic used to have as an option but they don't seem to consider this a profitable enough avenue to continue the practice.

I thought i'd tip my hat so to speak, to all the photographers out there that I admire or respect so I am providing you links to their content. I think I will be making a habit of this as I continue to discover or meet more amazing people out there.

Nino Batista On Zenfolio, based out of Houston Texas. He teaches what he preaches, Glamour photography and Re-touching. He offers streaming of his tutorials on youtube for a very reasonable amount. If you like and appreciate his work, please do patronize his youtube channel with your dollars, it's money well spent.

Clay Cook You can find this amazing fellow on Facebook also. Clay is another professional who is passionate about photography and does live stream some of his re-touching sessions so that us mere mortals can benefit from the knowledge he accumulates on the job. Clay shoots fashion and glamour.

Markus Landsmann I have followed him on G+ for a while although I have not logged into my G+ account much lately. You can find him on Flickr, Zenfolio. He's a very talented guy who spends a lot of time taking really stunning landscape shots, and generally making Pentax look really good to non-Pentax shooters.

Last but not least is Jimmy McIntyre, another fellow who really inspired me when I was exploring my photography evolution. I won't say that I benefited much from it due to me being too dense, but he's another one worth watching. He lives a vagabond lifestyle traveling the world allowing us to live vicariously through his lense.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Three Headed Thing - 2015 Studio PowerPack Overview

A brief comparison with some of the more popular lighting options, P Buff technically doesn't count
it's not a power pack based system but is extremely capable and an excellent value for the price.
This chart features some older products but it still has relevance, The A4S is an older model, the S model has been greatly improved upon.

BronColor Light Products
Scoro S shown here.

Broncolor is considered the very best in lighting products you can possibly get for the money, and their price premiums tend to reflect this fact. What sets them apart from every other company in the business aside from build quality, is the consistent backwards compatibility with every power pack ever made for all their head products going all the way back to the early 70's.

Bron Electronik is a swiss company, sells the power pack systems under the company name Broncolor while their sister company Visitek builds and sells studio mono-lights under the Visitek name.
Most of Broncolor's pack kits also include their RF2 remote controller, bundling lighting products with their respective RF controller options is something that is not very common in the lighting industry from what i've seen so far. The RF2 features 99 channels and 40 possible groupings.

   BronColor Scoro S & Scoro E
The Scoro S and Scoro E are mains only top tier generators.

  The Scoro S is a 3 socket model, the top tier product offered by BronColor. It features some of the latest and most advanced digital management systems available in portable lighting systems today. It does not have the level of RF trigger integration of a product like the Hensel Porty L, but the quality and capabilities of it makes up for any perceived shortcomings easily enough. The Scoro S looks like something borrowed from a Nasa simulator when its all lit up in the dark. Priced as new approximately 14,000. This pack holds the worlds record for fastest recycle times at full power, capable of up to 50 flashes a second.

The Scoro E is a 2 socket model with similar features slightly lower prices. Both Scoro feature tunable color temp for calibration purposes. Priced as new 8000 and above.

BronColor Move 1200 L
The Move 1200 L is one of two battery based location packs.
Feature-wise this product is really impressive, it probably spanks most non B.C. products in the same price range and below. It appears that BronColor considers the Senso to be one tier above this product the way it's listed on their site, but the features of this product would insist otherwise. The interface design of this product is much better than most of the profoto products i've looked at so far. A barebones version of this product is priced at approximately 5000. A decent kit is priced at 7k, it weighs about 13 pounds, provides capacity for 2 lights, typical outdoor shoots are not going above 200 watt seconds per a head during daylight so 1200 is plenty for most applications.
This pack has the same flash duration profile as Profoto's B1, Hensel's Porty L and some of Profoto's top end pack's. The cycle time is similar as well but The Porty L (discussed later in this article) has the fastest full power cycle time of all the battery enabled packs in this article.

BronColor Senso
The Senso is a very affordable entry level mains only generator.
The senso is priced slightly below the Move 1200L, it features a simpler interface compared to the Scoro and the Move, it is RF2 pre-equipped. It does come in a 2400J capacity also. Priced as new it's about 4800 bucks for the 1200j kit, comes with 2 lights/battery/remote. Sync port allows use of Profoto or other trigger.

BronColor Verso
The Verso is a generator that is also battery enabled.
The verso line offers 1200j, 2400j; 3 sockets for lamps, RF2 pre-equipped standard. The interface is dumbed down even further than the other product lines, not really a deal breaker. It's a no frills high capacity 3 light pack with lots of room. Priced as new around 8000, its the poor mans version of the Scoro S. When powered by 230v mains, this product has the same recycle time stats as the Scoro S, when running on Li-Ion packs it's maximum recycle time at 1.5 seconds. Similar to the recycle time of the Porty L.

Briese (Breize) Light Products 

If they are priced at or above current known prices for Broncolor,
you're probably looking at over $150,000 of products here.

Briese power pack PDF (power cube product line)

This company's products are probably the most upscale and exclusive out of any i've seen so far in the last few years, so much so that they don't have publicly list prices for it. They established an office in New York in 2009, previously having no corporate presence in America that I know of. Not very much information about them or their products is readily available online. I sent off an email to their EU customer reps requesting availability and pricing in the US market, they did not have contact information readily available for the American division. I will update this section later when or if I hear back from them.

This company could be compared to a beefed up superhero class of Broncolor lighting, their parabolic systems offer a fully robotic RF controlled armature system that allows control every aspect of the lighting systems that are networked in the Briese RF ecosystem with their proprietary wireless control system.

Retracting or closing of the parabolic umbrella, controlling the height and attitude (angle) of the head, the focus of the head inside the parabolic (zooms in or out); all of these features are managed by the integrated robotics in addition to controlling the light levels of the head.
These Briese products appear to be exclusively for studio use.
Update: Briese rep contacted me and mentioned they have no american distributors, and prices are only in euros, I will obtain a price sheet for those who may be interested.

Elinchrom Lighting Products

Elinchrom lighting products seem to be considered the redheaded step-child of the lighting world. They are not terrible but they do rank near dead last in quality and reputation for most uses.

They are reasonably good products but the company has shown a reluctance to respond to customer demands for service calls on defective products. Their recent non power pack mono-lights are now made of plastic, some say they are increasingly prone to failure.

The Elinchrom Quadra and Ranger Rx product lines are very compact and reasonably priced. Elinchrom does not have an integrated Skyport radio in their top of the line Ranger product, as far as I know the new Quadra RX and RX Hybrid both have it.
All 3 product lines only offer the ability to power two lights, if you're traveling light to do location work that should be plenty.

Ranger Speed RX AS, Ranger Free
The Ranger Rx line is built like a tank, they are meant to be used outdoors in some of the harshest working conditions you could possibly find. Subfreezing temperatures, covered in snow, rain and much more are handled with aplomb.
I've heard of these dropped in a lake; the owner pulled them out, disassembled it and dried them out. He Re-assembled them later and kept on shooting with the same set.

The Ranger line appears to be restricted to Ranger lights, the Quadra lights don't work I think, doesn't make sense to me at all. The ranger lights and ring flash are very well built but expensive, worth the money if you need something that takes abuse and keeps working.

Quadra RX & Quadra Hybrid RX
The Quadra are not as well made but the trade-off is lower price, considerable space and weight savings, resulting in a very travel friendly on location lighting product. Providing power for 2 lights.

The Quadra is capable of using almost all the mono-light heads Elinchrom makes even the ones meant for the Ranger RX, the caveat is that the Ranger RX product are built for higher power requirements and may not allow the modeling light or fan to operate.

The issue with the Quadra that may concern some is that the heads are almost entirely made of plastic, all the way down the mounting hardware that secures it to the stand, that means large light modifiers may be a problem.

Digital RX
Digital RX power pack is meant for studio use, it does not appear to have any of the weather proofing found in the other portable products. Powers 2 lights like the rest, features a ton of wireless configuration options through the integral EL Skyport system and portable devices like cell phone apps. Priced around 2k new, this seems like a new product but some vendors are marking it as discontinued.

Hensel Lighting Products

2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Porty product line, for a limited time Hensel is offering a brand new Porty L 1200 to the person who can provide them with proof of ownership of the oldest Porty still in circulation, showing proof with photos of the manufacturers serial number on it by the deadline.

Hensel seems to make very good products in terms of build quality I'd rank them as slightly above Elinchrom out of all the systems reviewed in this post. If Buff made power pack systems this company would be similar in product quality to Paul Buff if not better.

The prices of their mid level products are competitive with the entry level pricing of their larger and more expensive rivals.
Porty prices for older models in new or unused condition and the most recent release for the 1200 W/S pack are priced  2700+ and 3300+ respectively.

Hensel offers a feature on their mid to high end products called free-mask, that is integrated with their wireless triggering system, it claims to simplify subject separation from the background for compositing work flows.

Free Mask is or was a licensed software product made by another company who partnered with Hensel, purchasers of certain Hensel lighting products are also given a license to use Free Mask without needing to purchase one separately. I suspect Hensel bought that company. FreeMask is enabled when using compatible heads with Hensel triggers, older heads can be upgraded to allow freemask usage.

Hensel has a partnership with Briese, licensing the use of Porty power systems, allowing Briese to re-badge them as a Briese product to be sold by Briese distributors. Briese offers these as a battery source to power their mains powered generators (cubes).

Porty L 600/1200 Watt Seconds
The Porty L is Hensel's top of the line Li-ion enabled generator, perfect for travel.

The latest Porty L 600 & 1200 W/S power packs offers a wealth of remote triggering and management options, more than I've seen on most products. It spans Porty's own RF triggering system, offering additional cross compatibility with Profoto's Air and Pocket Wizard. As far as I know this level of integrated RF trigger interoperability is extremely unique in the world of lighting eco-systems. Hensel's Porty L, offers 3 separate radio transceivers pre-installed in the unit.
Porty L is a 2 socket Model

This ability if nothing else, sets it apart from just about every other lighting system out there.
There are trade-offs of course, none of the Hensel products appear to offer granular asymmetrical power distribution (independent head power settings). I think they offer them if at all, in ratios rather than user defined levels for certain sockets.

3 separate radios could cause some annoying problems if Hensel doesn't allow you to shut off the ones you are not using. For example, at a convention with a large number of active RF triggering systems being used within 1000 feet of each other can cause all kinds of problems.

Pocket Wizard is not exactly known for it's reliability in noisy RF environments, I can personally attest to that. I own two TT5's that are now used as paperweights, but I digress.

Capacitor recycle times at minimum and full power are competitive with most mid to high end generator packs, particularly in light of the fact this is a battery enabled generator. The flash durations don't not in any way compare to the higher end offerings from top tier providers like Profoto and Broncolor, this means stopping fast moving subjects will require more effort to avoid blur showing in the frame. HSS TTL support is unknown, if it supports Pocketwizard and Profoto, there's a good chance it's in there or can be added through software later.
Tria 3000S

Tria S - 1600 & 3000 Watt Seconds
Tria S is a beefy looking partially manual 3 socket design with some but not all of the features found in the Porty L, this one seems antiquated compared to the Porty L.

Norman's series 900 offers quite a lot of power in a very brown bag package, it's a no-nonsense very basic battery system that offers Pocket Wizard integrated versions of the system, it will power 4 lights. Priced around 2800 bucks. I have never heard of this system before today when I was searching around for information on generator kits, someone mentioned Norman in forums so I decided to include it. The lights that plug into these reflect the brown bag packaging of the pack itself, not fantastic but not terrible either.

Profoto Light Systems
Pro B4 Air Battery Pack Pictured Here
Profoto makes fantastic products, the one drawback if I had to name one is their habit of forcing obsolescence upon their product lines much in the same way Apple computer builds a ticking time bomb of arbitrary expiration into the products they make. The products typically outlast their service life by a wide margin if treated carefully, but they are not always compatible with older or newer products once the age of expiry is reached.
Despite that compatibility issue the build quality of their products as i said is usually of high caliber and its ability to retain high resale value reflects this. I'm sure their engineers and management have a logical reason for doing this other than profit margins but it is daunting for most to see a 10,000+ pack system fall of the supported list with limited options for new heads.
The good news about this is their eco-system of light shapers are compatible with almost every light profoto makes.
There was some grumbling not so long ago when Profoto made the decision to create a new zoom head modifier that did not fit existing adaptors for grids, some of the older lights, and the older light shaper grid set was not compatible with the new one. Brand named grid packs are pretty darn pricey.

Profoto Acute & D4 Air
D4 Air Mains Generator Pictured Here

The acute's are the entry level product for Profoto's line of battery packs. Profoto Acute accessories are plug and play with current D4 but not with the Pro line of battery packs. The acute line is a compact no frills travel friendly power pack. Price is similar to Norman & Elinchrom products but probably a little higher due to the fact it says Profoto on it.

The D4 is a studio generator, just one step below the pro-line offering comparable performance to much more expensive B4 and B8 products. The D4 is the real work horse out of this entire group, offering capacities up to 4800J and powering 4 lights, plug and play compatibility with more lights than any other
pack system offered by profoto(Acute, D4, Pro).

Profoto B4 & B8 Air
B8 Air Mains Generator Pictured Here

The professional grade battery pack system for Profoto, Acute system accessories are not compatible with this product. These are multi plug light systems offering the same level of performance as the B1 air's electronics offer but it does much better at the cost of size, weight and a huge price tag. The B4 is intended for travel and on location shoots outdoors, it powers 2 lights at a combined maximum of 1000 w/s.
The B4 is Li-Ion enabled, a very capable battery system but the Hensel Porty L & BronColor Move both have equal footing if not an upper hand over this system in terms of features, quality and price. The exception might be if you were already heavily invested in the Profoto system and you needed to back into the game with a working unit, then it might make more sense for you to continue with that. If you have a working system and want to see how the other half lives, the other two aforementioned competitors are very compatible with Profoto. The plug and play features allowed through either integrated transceiver or VIA the sync port on your respective RF controller, give you lots of easy mix and match options. It's still a win-win regardless of which way you go.

The B8 is branded as a studio generator, powering 2 lights, this unit is offered in capacities of 1200 and 2400J. Its far too expensive to be referred to as a mains only studio unit when it only powers 2 lights, they need to address this deficit somehow!


So.. it's 2015, lots of new lighting systems and cameras have appeared out of nowhere seemingly. I still see no attempts at preventing a RF controlled strobe-ageddon of sorts caused by so many RF enabled devices that share overlapping frequencies not using any encryption or Ident code to allow your strobes the ability to discriminate between your flash controller and someone else's (vice versa).

WiFi routers have this ability, it's called WPS, various other wireless devices use similar crypto methods.
(TKIP, IKE - These are key exchange based crypto systems.)

Conventions or various public venue's where a lot of photographing occurs can often have triggers of the same type all sharing the same channels with compatible devices. None of them have any way of preventing misfires from occurring other than not using it at all. Not an ideal option when the whole point of buying them is to use it.

Phottix is introducing a product called Odin II with a type of device pairing system that should prevent further accidental triggering of off camera flashes. Announced last year in what turned out to be a paper launch, it may make an appearance later this year, who knows.