Saturday, December 12, 2015

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.