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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nikon: Out of This World!

In advertising, testimonials carry a lot of weight.

As proof, take a look at the demise of Tiger Woods’ revenue since his recent dalliances became public. Not only has his income from endorsements taken a hit—it’s been estimated that the value of the companies he stumped for have dropped nearly twelve billion dollars. That’s billion, as in one thousand million. We’re talking nine zeros! That’s a lot of scratch! Perhaps even the cost of a space shuttle mission.

When I was a kid the sports heroes of the day were Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, however these baseball sluggers were eclipsed by a few heroes of greater proportion: The Astronauts.

Today, space exploration has become commonplace with Space Shuttle launches and landings garnishing just a few minutes on CNN. Back in the day, whenever a rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral my family would join the entire nation as we sat in front of our black and white televisions watching Walter Cronkite narrate history, and if the launch was during school hours the teacher would have one of the AV nerds roll a television into the classroom.

And for breakfast we drank Tang, because the Astronauts did!

A vintage Tang Ad
A vintage Tang Ad featuring the Gemini capsule

Today, despite graduating from corn flakes and Tang to Irish Oatmeal (or a spinach and cheese omelet ...yum!) and fresh-squeezed orange juice I still enjoy the thrill of a rocket launch. I thank the space program for the technical advances that allow me to sit at a laptop computer and share my thoughts with you.

So you can imagine my elation when I learned that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration placed an order for eleven Nikon D3S dSLR cameras, along with seven AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lenses. According Nikon and NASA press releases these imaging devices are to be used for photographic documentation. (Duh?)
Nikon D3 Camera
The Nikon D3s

The Nikon D3S cameras and NIKKOR lenses will be launched into space via the Space Shuttle. Upon arrival at the International Space Station (aka ISS) they will be used for various photograph activities. Nikon notes that NASA will make no special modifications to the cameras or lenses. These new bodies and lenses will be used right along side the existing Nikon dSLR cameras and accessories that already reside on the ISS, which include Nikon D2Xs dSLRs, and several Nikon speedlights.

Nikon has a long history with NASA:

In 1971 the Nikon Photomic FTN (specially designed to NASA specifications) was used on Apollo 15.

In 1980 NASA commissioned a "Small Camera", based on the Nikon F3 equipped with a motor drive, and an F3 "Big Camera", which utilized long rolls of film thus avoiding the need to reload. The "Small Camera" was also used aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia launched the following year.

In 1991 Nikon F4 and F4S cameras were delivered to NASA.

In 1999 the a Nikon F5 and AF Nikkor lens were carried aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery to photograph extravehicular activities. (Spacewalking!)

In 2008 the first digital SLR cameras were delivered to NASA. Six D2XS cameras are used in space to document activities such as inspection and maintenance.

According to NASA and Nikon approximately about 15 types of NIKKOR lenses (more than 35 lenses all together) are kept aboard the International Space Station for intravehicular and extravehicular photography to provide continued support for NASA's space activities.

So what does this mean to you the average earth-based photophile?

The same thing that Tang meant to me as a kid!

I’m jealous. Not only do the astronauts have a great job with a killer view, they get to use the best photo gear on earth, and supplied in copious quantities!

However I did stop and think about the needs of an orbiting photographer verses the needs of the rest of us. The astronauts are getting the Nikon D3s, a weather-sealed dSLR with full-frame 35mm CMOS 12.1 megapixel sensor. It will also shoot 24 frames per second 720p video and had slots for two memory cards. The D3s also offers a feature called “Live View” which allows the unit to be tethered to a computer and operated remotely. That’s a lot of camera and it ought to be since the price tag of five-plus large! Without the lens!

If you don’t need to shoot video and you realize that 10 megapixels are more that adequate I personally would chooses a Nikon D3000 which you can buy with a lens for 10% of the cost and you can still feel a kinship with our space explorers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Holiday Wish List

Whenever I read a write-up on a photographic accessory I always wonder about the motivation of the writer. Did he just get one of these do-dads for himself? Was the spiffy item a gift from the manufacturer in exchange for the embedded kudos?

Those are the thoughts that go through my mind when I read articles and reviews. Why shouldn't you think along similar lines? I wouldn't blame you. So here's the real deal about this posting: Being somewhat of a photo-nut I hear about lots and lots of photo-gizmos and gadgets. You should also be aware that having had the opportunity to play with so many cameras, lenses and accessories I've become numb to marketing hyperbole. Therefore... all the accessories I'm going to mention below are: THINGS I REALLY WANT!


First on the list are memory cards. Memory cards are the new "film" and as much as you can never have enough film, you can never have enough memory cards. If you've ever seen that dreaded, "Card Full" prompt on the LCD screen of your camera you know what I mean! Each year manufacturers of memory cards push the limits of storage. Merely a few years ago cameras would come with cards that were measured in megabytes, today cards that hold 32 gigabytes and more have become commonplace. So there is no excuse to run out of memory.

The coolest thing I've seen on the memory card front is the Eye-Fi card. Sold in 2 and 4-gigabyte models for still and video photography, the Eye-Fi marries a Wi-Fi transmitter with a memory card! Unfortunately they are available in SD format only and not Compact Flash.

Eye-Fi Cards

Eye-Fi cards store photos or video just like a traditional SD memory card, and even look like one. But they save time and make sharing easy through using your Wi-Fi network by automatic and wireless uploading of photos and videos from your camera to your computer or an online sharing website. You can even choose to upload only selected media, or all new media.

The Eye-Fi card comes in various models with various features. The models are named; Home, Share and Pro. By using the Eye-Fi Home card, you can upload photos wirelessly from your camera to your computer (Mac or PC). Mac users can upload directly to iPhoto. No cables. No hassles.

With the Eye-Fi Share card, you can also wireless upload photos to your computer and you can also share your photos with friends and family with effortless uploading to Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, or to one of over 25 other sharing, printing or social networking websites. Eye-Fi Video cards offer the same ease of uploading video and will also handle still photographs. And the Eye-Fi Explore Video card also gives you access to a lifetime of geotagging, and one year of Hotspot access. So you don't even have to be near your computer.

I have a friend in Chicago whose cable provider allows him to connect his television to Flickr and run a constant slide show of his photos. I imagine that with the Eye-Fi card he could have a party, photograph his guests during the party, and his guests could view his photos as they are shot. Very cool tech!


Nearly as annoying as running out of memory is running out of light. Photography is all about light and sometimes there just isn't enough of it. When you're faced with that situation adding some more light is the only solution.

There aren't many choices when you need more light. You can either turn on some room lights, or add a flash. A surprising number of camera's have built-in flash units. Some do not. I, of course, own a flash-free DSLR. Which is where the problem arises. Every camera manufacturer, Nikon, Olympus, Canon, Pentax et al, use different connections/systems for the flash unit to communicate with the camera's exposure computer. So you must buy a unit which mates to your particular camera. You're not limited to the flash made for your camera there are many other brands that will do the job just make sure that you're buying the unit for your particular brand of camera. And don't forget extra batteries.


Regardless of the camera you have, compact, DSLR or video, if you don't have a tripod you need one. Back-in-the-day the rule for tripods was "the heavier-the better". That is no longer the case unless you're a serious professional working in extreme lighting conditions.

As a snap-shooter you need a tripod for one main reason: to place yourself in the photo. You used to be able to place a camera on a stack of books or use a beanbag to get that shot but today's compact cameras are loath to stand by on their own. They're either too small or oddly shaped. I suggest that everyone that owns a compact digital camera buy a compact tripod like this pocket tripod.

table top tripod

If you're shooting video the main reason for a tripod is to stop camera shake, especially if you're using the long telephoto setting on your zoom. If you're shooting mostly video I'd also recommend a "fluid" head tripod. The fluid head is like having a tiny shock absorber in he tripod so as you pan and tilt the tripod smooths out the motion. You might also consider a fluid head tripod if you're shooting a lot of video with your still camera.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Camera of the Year, Perhaps the Decade!

When I was first interested in photography the major bell ringing, jump for joy, scream from the hills innovation was through the lens metering on single lens reflex cameras. No longer did the photographer have to read a hand-held meter then transfer the exposure settings to the camera. All he had to do was match two metering needles in the viewfinder or align one needle in a slot by adjusting shutter speed and/or F-stops.

Since then digital has surpassed film photography faster than anyone predicted, spurred on by improvements in chip manufacturing, sensor design and personal computers. And today's digital cameras offer myriad features to make personal and professional photography successful and satisfying. We have certainly come a long way.

Samsung gets my personal kudos for introducing the most innovative cameras of the decade, let alone the year. Going by the innocuous but accurate title of DualView, model numbers TL220 and TL225.

These innovative compact digital cameras feature Dual LCD screens, with a 1.5-inch LCD on the front of the camera, and a second one on the back of the camera. Giving you the ability to shoot a self-portrait without trial and error framing. I'll admit that there are a few high-end digital SLR cameras that have swing-out LCD screens allowing self-portraits but the DualViews are the first consumer level units to offer this feature built into the chassis. And both DualView models offer 12.2 mega-pixels resolution, which rivals some of the best DSLRs.

Dual View camera

Innovation doesn't end there. Take a look at the camera and you'll notice a distinct lack of buttons. There is an on/off button and the shutter button. The camera's controls are set on the touch screen; actually both touch screens.

If you want to shoot a self-portrait for your Facebook or MySpace page then just tap the front LCD and the camera will set itself to self-portrait mode. But that is not all it does.

Those picture-wise engineers designed a few spiffy idiot-proof features into these cameras. First is Samsung's Perfect Portrait System, which takes the guesswork out of shooting portraits. The key features of this system are Samsung's Smile Shot and Blink Detection. These cameras automatically detect when your subjects are smiling, and if their eyes are closed. THEN SHOOT THEPHOTO FOR YOU! Which, by the way, is really nice when you're framing at arm's length while looking at the inch-and-a-half LCD.

What if you're not steady enough to hold the camera at arms-length? No problem! Both DualView models offer Advanced Dual Image Stabilization (also known as IS), a technology that allows you to capture blur-free images. Dual IS combines both Optical and Digital Image stabilizers to produce sharp images. The Optical IS intelligently compensates for hand trembling by shifting the lens in the opposite direction. Not that you even need to know how its works, just that it does. And when the Optical IS isn't quite enough, the Digital IS automatically takes over to ensure blur-free images.

So imagine that you're in Paris during early spring and its cold up on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. Your fiancé has just put that ring on your finger and you want a photo of the moment. You're trembling with excitement while shivering from the cold and you don't speak French. No problem! Tap the front LCD, frame and shoot. Not only will the dual IS system guarantee sharp photos but the 27mm Schneider-KREUZNACH 4.6x zoom optics (read: GREAT LENS MANUFACTURER!) will allow you to frame your life-changing moment with the entire Parisian vista. And it gets even easier!

Let's review because this is so amazing even to my photography-jaded mind I need to go over it again: once the camera is on, a simply tap on the front LCD and the camera is automatically set to Self Portrait mode with smile detection. This means that when you want to take that self-portrait, you only need to tap, frame, then smile. The picture will be taken automatically without pressing the shutter button. Samsung calls that feature the Smart Gesture User Interface (UI) with built-in Gravity sensor.

You would think that Dual LCDs, killer sharp optics, 12.2 mega-pixel resolution and touch screen controls would be enough but there's more, lots more.

Dual View camera When you photograph children the camera can show a Smiley Face, personally I'd prefer a tweeting birdie!

Samsung's Smart Face Recognition technology will memorize up to 20 faces and adjust the focus and exposure to the most high-ranked faces on the camera. This allows you to sort images by registered faces and scroll through to find images of people in your Smart Album instead of viewing every single photo.

With Samsung's Beauty Shot feature you can remove all the imperfections on your subject's face such as wrinkles, blemishes, and moles. Simply select one of two editing options and presto! Skin tone and complexion are evened out.

Another advanced feature is the Red-eye Fix mode. This in-camera feature automatically fixes the typical red-eye associated with the use of the flash, before the photo is produced, a significant time saver as you don't have to spend time afterward removing red-eyes from your photos.

Samsung's Photo Style Selector allows you to transform your photos from simple memories to works of art. Choose from a wide selection of artistic treatments ranging from classic black and white to something more vivid, giving you full control over the color tones of your image. Additionally, with Samsung's unique highlight feature, you can focus on one area of your photo and blur everything around it, turning a normal photo into something much more complex.

And it also shoots movies!