I totally agree, nearly…

Thom Hogan has recently published a very thought provoking article on his site entitled « Do You Know What’s Automated and How? »

Sadly I have to say that this is the first time I’ve found myself in total disagreement with what he has written.

The bulk of the article is interesting and brings to light what photographers often think, but rarely comment on, all the ‘automated’ bits added to seemingly simple setup parameters. These are done by the camera companies (for whatever reason) and the frustrating thing is that most people either have no idea that they exist, or knowing they exist, don’t know how to get around the problems that they pose. I think it’s important to point this out, and kudos to Thom for doing so, and so clearly.

However, the thing that I don’t agree with is this comment:

« ….but I think I’ve made my point: you need to know what all the automation is doing and whether its going to impact other things you need the camera to do. So:

  1. Figure out all the settings you use that do automatic things in the background.
  2. Figure out whether you need that automation or not.
  3. Figure out what side-impacts the automation may have on your results. »

I’m sorry Thom, while the first phrase is completely correct (to me) it’s also pretty much impossible to achieve without knowing EXACTLY what automatism has been applied/used to each menu item.

Item 1 – How am I supposed to « Figure out all the settings you use that do automatic things in the background. »

If we were to have a list of default values for EVERY menu setting, this would go some way to allowing us to choose…but I can’t see any manufacturer taking the time to produce a manual for it.

And your ‘vital’ accessory is?

Most photographers swear by at least one VITAL accessory that they simply can’t live without. I find it interesting that the choice seems to be incredibly varied – here’s a couple of mine.

SMALLRIG Grip 4262 for the NIKON Zf

This is something unusual in that it overcomes a bad design, and makes a totally useless camera into something very good indeed.

There is no way that anyone without rubber gloves can actually HOLD the NIKON Zf without this grip (The worst thing is that NIKON made exactly the same mistake with the Zfc before it…) The camera is so slippery that it’s quite useless, despite all the technology inside. God knows what happens when you put anything longer than a 75mm lens on this camera – or perhaps NIKON bank on this as people will have to keep buying replacement camera bodies…

In addition, this grip includes the ARCA mounting (that is missing from EVERY camera made) and thus allows it to be quickly and easily stuck on a tripod, or have accessories bolted on to it. It doesn’t take a lot to make us happy….

PGYTECH CreateMate Card Storage/Reader

This is a piece of kit I’ve only recently discovered – and I think it’s pretty useful.

The really neat thing about this card storage is that it’s also a card reader – there are three versions – SD only, CFExpress A/SD and CFExpress B/SD – they hold two CFExpress cards and 2 SD in the combo versions, with slots for 4 microSD as well. This is brilliant as it saves having to carry around storage AND card readers – the storage is dust / splash proof and comes with a carabiner style clip to fix it into your bag. Not the cheapest (The CF versions are 99€, while the SD only version is 49€) but extremely useful IMHO.

ThinkTank Photo Retrospective Range

ThinkTankPhoto make camera bags – most of them look just that – like camera bags. I’m odd and look for something which doesn’t necessarily look like I’m carrying thousands of euros of camera gear – and their Retrospective range is pretty good for that.

This is a pretty good example of what they all look like – various sizes (and shapes) available.

Loads of room inside, and they are supplied with Velcro pads to create divisions etc. inside the bag – loads of pockets too, with the most recent versions even having an adjustable bottle pocket.

The shoulder strap has a shoulder pad with anti-slip strips – this sometimes manages to wear unevenly and when I got in touch with ThinkTank they sent me a replacement shoulder pad by return, and totally free.

The Retrospective Backpack is a recent addition – this has access to the camera/storage part of the bag from the strap side of the backpack – so no-one will be feeling around inside your bag while you’re on crowded transport somewhere…still loads of pockets, and a compartment large enough for a 15″ laptop. Well thought out (and made!)

Originally these packs were available in blue, green and black – the green ‘Pinestone’ seems to be all that’s available now. Worth noting, all the sacks come with a rain-cover – pain in the arse to put on, but worth the effort to protect your gear.

Time Travel

This is a story about a camera manufacturer going back in time…for the most part, it’s a success but there are things that don’t quite hit-the-mark.

NIKON decided to ride the ‘retro’ bandwagon back in 2013 with the full-frame Df, then again in 2021 with the release of the ‘DX’ format Zfc. This was a modern half-frame digital camera using the Z series mount, loosely based on the NIKON FM from 1977.

Available in ‘panda’ chrome and black, black, or in Japan a series of garish colors, the camera has a 20Mp sensor and uses the EL-25 battery.

The camera was/is relatively popular, more for its size than any technology that it brings to the market place. The sensor, however, doesn’t benefit from the 5 axis stabilisation that the most of the other Z series bodies have, which makes it relatively uninteresting to me.

Leap forward two years to 2023 and its bigger brother, the Zf, was announced and launched in October. Sadly this doesn’t seem (yet?) to be available in ‘panda’ form – but to me at least it’s pretty nice in black…but then every NIKON camera I have ever owned has been black…

There’s not a lot to choose from, in these two images, but the Zf is 10mm higher and wider, but only 6mm deeper than it’s half-frame brother.

Sadly, the same fundamental flaw, IMHO has been carried over from one to the other – there’s no GRIP – this is caused by the battery compartment in the Z series camera bodies, but in the Zf the battery is mounted laterally within the depth of the body – oh yes, there’s a slight ‘bump’ to the front right (very slightly deeper on the Zf), but it takes the addition of a SMALLRIG ‘grip’ to actually resolve this error and stop the camera from slipping out of the hand.

The SMALLRIG grip also adds an ARCA style plate underneath the camera for accessories and attaching to a tripod. (Something which needs to be BUILT IN to the bottom plate of ALL cameras IMO) A similar model exists for the Zfc.

The top plate has the same dials on both cameras, but the more recent body has full image stabilization, which makes one wonder why NIKON seem to be leaving the ‘DX’ market a little by the side of the road.

Another strange thing is that while the VR and stabilization system in general has been redesigned, NIKON in their wisdom have decided NOT to lock down the sensor mounting when the camera is turned off – this means that ‘clunks’ can be heard when the camera is being moved around while turned off… only long term use will show if this is a potentiel problem or not. Early days…

A limited series of two ‘SE’ lenses have been produced to match the retro style of the camera – a 28mm f/2.8 and a 40mm f/2.8

Both exist as ‘normal’ Z series lenses as well (slightly cheaper)

The Zf loses a lot of non-menu functionality in that there is only one Fn button (on the front), and no positions on any of the knobs to change user settings (U1 – U3 on the Z6 etc.)This is plainly a photographers camera – not a working pro, but a street, portrait, landscape photographer who uses a similar setup pretty much all the time – having to delve into the menus for any modifications is a total pain – the fact that there are large knobs on the top plate make this an obvious candidate for an experienced photographer who ‘knows’ his camera and doesn’t spend his time changing settings when he’s in any given shooting situation.

The auto-ISO system is up to standard for NIKON and the Zf also has 3D tracking added to the possible AF modes.

Another very nice enhancement is the pivot for the rear screen – this now allows the screen to be turned round on itself which provides a black textured plastic ‘back’ to the camera. The new pivot also allows the screen to be pivoted round and allows it to be seen from the front – a NIKON first !!

I like the idea of hiding the screen – I rarely look at the screen in shooting situations anyway, as pretty much all I need is directly available to me in the viewfinder – why take my eye away when I can check everything anyway.

The shutter release has a threaded hole on top – initially I imagined this was for a cable release (go retro!) but it seems it’s actually just meant for a ‘soft’ shutter button… I think they should have gone the whole way here.

The third knob on the top plate is for exposure correction – something vital for me when I’m out making images, so I’m glad it’s in a prominent place and not hidden as a menu item.

Both cameras are capable of video at 4K or full HD/120p – this all sounds wonderful but I have absolutely no idea what it all means – I have enough trouble with capturing static images, so don’t start talking about video…

There’s a fully mechanical (electronically controlled) shutter with a ‘silent’ mode (which basically just means an electronic front curtain shutter, so the camera can work in ‘stealth’ mode but hasn’t got the same shutter as the Z8 for example.)

Sadly there is no sensor shield, which I’m used to on the Z8/9 and I’m convinced prevent a lot of dust and rubbish getting into the throat of the camera while changing lenses.I can’t help thinking that these evolutions will eventually filter down, but for the time being they’re being kept for the pro range of camera bodies.

Like the Z6lll & Z8 this camera also has the possibility to ‘pixel shift’ which means (for static subjects) images of up to 96Mp can be recorded – details of pixel shift are best found here on the NIKON site or here in my blog .

The Zf does however have the EXCEED 7 processing engine, like the new Z6lll and the Z8/Z9 which means it gets the data off the sensor and onto the card/s pretty damn fast – allowing very respectable ‘rafale’ of 14fps. The storage cards are 1 x SDXC and 1 x Micro SDXC – so get a fast microSD if you use the slot otherwise the transfer times will be slower (even if you’re not using the card – everything is determined by the speed of the slowest card.)

Finally the battery is the EL-E15c which is comforting – particularly when you’ve got a host of other bodies using the same battery ! This can be charged in the camera (useful as a charger is no longer supplied with new cameras here in Europe) More details on how long this lasts/how many shots per charge later…

Proof (if you need it)

This dreadfully grubby image is proof that iPhones CAN take crap photos – well, be fair, it’s down to the photographer 99% of the time – and that was me!

This is the new NIKON Z6lll (the fuzzy bit) with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (in focus) just to show I did actually go and play. It doesn’t actually matter – it’s 99% identical to the previous Z6ll anyway.

The presentation was total crap – I’m sorry NIKON but one of the first rules of public presentations is NOT to read out the printing on the slides – the public have already done that, you’re there to develop, enhance, make it interesting.

This was followed by a step by step, sorry, line by line ‘reading’ of the Photo Shooting Menu – the idea being to show how to select and setup basic autofocus settings etc. What seemed to be missed by the two (really nice and well informed Nikon representatives) was that everyone in the room knew precisely how to do this – being as we were NIKON Pro camera body owners. I think this was simply a waste of time. When this had all ended and people were moving away, I had to ask one of the guys if I could actually see/handle what we were all there to play with…

I can’t help thinking this was a slight waste of time – NIKON launch things on a fairly regular basis, and these get togethers need to be a bit more polished – show a video, not just the teaser for the launch of the camera, get the participants to take a photo or two, bring a backdrop and a bit of lighting and beef things up a bit.

NUMERIPHOT in Toulouse can’t be blamed – aside from the fact that the coffee machine decided to go into ‘I need to be descaled ‘mode just before we wanted coffee – they were there (obviously – it’s their shop!) with a huge variety of lenses and some accessories for us all to pretend we needed….

Not a totally wasted morning, but I do feel NIKON were taking the piss a little – I discovered there were actually only two new bodies there today (this thing has been out in the field for the past 4 months being tested by ‘trusted’ pros – I feel sure they could have got hold of a few more) – good job there were only 12 of us.

Coming back down to Earth – the main differences between the Z6lll and the previous model are:

EXCEED7 (the same processing engine as in the Z8/9)

New sensor – same size, but giving the possibility of more AF points

Pixel Shift (like in the Zf and Z8)

Access to the NIKON Imaging Cloud (in a months time) – this will be (initially) uniquely for Z6lll owners with an unlimited 20Gb (yes we all laughed at that) to upload images etc. In addition, firmware updates will be available to be streamed by WiFi directly to the camera and installed (or not – there is a choice) automatically.

A lot of play on how wonderful it is for video

Not much else – aside from a brilliant new invention – the twisty screen mount! Finally NIKON have got around to changing from the strange screen mounting systems used up until now, and the Z6lll (as indeed the Zf before it) uses a foldable pivoting screen that can now be turned round to be seen from the front of the camera. Personally ‘selfies’ are far from my thing, but this could be very useful in a number of situations – let’s hope user feedback from this and the Zf cameras will encourage NIKON to use this mount in future iterations of all the camera bodies.

A very nice, up-to-date and competent image making machine, with still and video capture, and if you’ve never owned one before, worth the purchase, but hardly worth trading in the previous model. And don’t get me started on the Zf….

And now for the nonsense…

Yes, and this is a photo of a REAL one (published by NIKON) the Z6lll is here. Oh whoopee.

I really wish I could be more enthusiastic, but this is just another iteration – there’s nothing fundamentally new about any of it. Oh sure, it has a ‘partially stacked CMOS sensor’ whatever that’s supposed to mean. And there’s a button on the top to turn the top (and only the top) screen on/off.

Is that it? Does any of this actually HELP you make better images…?

Well yes or no – I can only suppose that NIKON in its wisdom are ‘saving’ the best bits (electronic shutter, sensor shield etc.) for it’s ‘pro’ cameras.

The funniest thing is reading the comments over on Nikon Rumors or the NikonGear forum – one of a long stream of mindless nonsense concerns the ‘speed’ of the sensor, and I quote « Apparently for Z6 III it was measured at 9.47ms for 6K N-Raw video » – what f*****g use is this to anyone? This is a still camera with video capability – so as video needs evolve, and sensor electronics evolve, it would seems logical to include these evolutions in updated bodies.

No-one in their right frame of mind would buy one of these as a dedicated video camera – there are plenty of video cameras out there designed and built just for that purpose. The fact that this model CAN shoot video is, I suppose an advantage, but I don’t see this as anything other than an additional advantage to a still camera body.

A sensor shield is missing, in my view – I don’t see this as exclusively a ‘pro’ facility – most people who own this kind of camera body change lenses, so why not reduce the risk of dust, crap etc. on the open throat of the camera while doing so… But this is relatively minor ask.

I’m actually glad to see the same sensor size maintained – 24Mpx – the Z7 (will there be a lll) and Z8/9 handle higher pixel density perfectly well – however one very good thing is the increased pixel viewfinder – apparently making it the highest density and brightest know to man.

But will it encourage you to buy one? 3000€ just for that is, frankly, out of my ‘desire’ range, but then this kind of thing isn’t aimed at me, particularly with the gear I already own.

I’ll know more on Friday after spending a morning with NIKON in Toulouse where they will be singing the merits of this new body – sadly my cheque book won’t be making the trip…

New NIKON anyone?

This could be seen as being slightly suggestive…but then I have a filthy mind.

This was recently published to indicate that a new iteration of the NIKON Z6 is probably going to be launched soon…

We’re talking about the NIKON Z6 lll here – the detectives out there seem to think the new body will evolve into a slightly larger form, but possibly not as large as the NIKON Z8.

Thom Hogans email inbox seems to show some interesting ‘anticipations’:

33mp sensor

12 bit video


electronic (no manual) shutter

increased pixel density viewfinder

pixel shift, pre-capture etc. etc.

Going back over Thoms list, I have to say I’m in two minds – half of me says YES this is an evolution, and for someone buying-in to a mirrorless system this is a great starting point, while the other half says, 24mp sensor, smaller form factor, etc.etc. seems to work – why change it. It’s a moot point anyway – I have all the bodies I need, so a purchase is unlikely.

Integrating EXPEED 7 over EXPEED 6 is logical, and will more than likely increase the buffer size. This is a good thing for people using ‘rafale’ – anything that gets the data off the sensor, through the processing chips and out to the memory cards faster is a good thing! The only thing that has to be taken into consideration is the effective ‘speed’ of the recording media – the CFExpress cards are pretty much up to speed, but the SD cards are not as fast – which brings into question putting both card slots…horses for courses…

The only thing I’m really keen on is the totally electronic shutter – it’s proved itself since the launch of the Z9 and, for me at least, is the only way to go. It’s reliable, silent – what more can you need. This said, I only use the electronic shutter in my Z6 ll anyway…my cameras are the quietest thing about me…

Another thing is the form factor – if the shape is changing, why does the name stay the same? To me it seems far more logical to either, keep the same name / form factor, or, change the name / form factor… (I’m easily confused)

The Z6/ll and Z7/ll are the smallest full frame NIKON cameras and albeit smaller than the Z8/9 I have no difficulty using them – the NIKON ergonomics work very well and button position etc. makes transitioning a breeze. I often take a couple of different bodies with me on jobs, and the fact I just do not have to worry which buttons my fingers fall on is a huge help – This said, I make very few adjustments when I’m shooting anyway….

No more than a few more days wait now….

PS – I’ve just received a personal invitation to ‘discover’ new NIKON products at my local dealer in TOULOUSE on the 21st June – hopefully I’ll come home with at least a few photos…

Did I ever mention FILTERS?

In this instance I’m not considering colored filters – pretty much useless since modern digital treatment of color images, but still quite useful for black and white film.

No, here I’m more concerned with protection for the front element of the lens. The front element has several coatings to protect it from spray, reduce internal reflections in the lens etc. but an important factor, IMHO, is physical ‘abuse’.

Anyone can fall over, or have objects projected against the lens and for a few €uros I think a protective filter is worth the effort.

Protection for your front lens element…

There are (obviously) people who refute this, saying that yet another glass-to-air surface between the world and the image sensor is just calling for additional reflections and a general reduction in image quality (IQ)

I’d be inclined to agree with cheap and cheerful ‘UV’ (Ultraviolet) filters, but nowadays the decent manufacturers (Hoya for example) know better than to chuck any old glass into a round frame and call it a filter. Modern protective filters are multicoated on both sides and manufactured from high quality materials – in addition the mounts are getting thinner and thinner.

It’s common to use a circular polariser and a neutral density filter together, but. adding too much ‘thickness’ on the front of the lens used to be a problem – these thinner filter mounts cause a lot less of a problem with the ‘vignette’ effect of stacking filters on, for example, wide-angle lenses.

There are obviously some exceptions to this ‘rule’ – extreme wide angle lens often have domed front elements which prevent using filters – this said, the lens designers seem to be coming to their senses and these are getting much less common.

Fish-eye lenses are another ‘speciality’ lens with a very pronounced front element…but I’m not going there!

My advice, use a protective filter – and save the front elements of your lenses.

Battery Pack anybody?

Some modern digital cameras have very small batteries…these were fine for the DSLR type of camera, but a mirrorless camera uses a lot more power and as a consequence, tends to empty batteries faster than before.

It obviously helps to reduce the amount you use the rear screen, but the viewfinder also uses a lot of power, and it’s quite useful to be able to see what you’re aiming at…(although it’s fairly obvious to me that some people are pretty much incapable of even doing that…)

Nikon, in their great wisdom, have decided to provide us with horrendously expensive add-on battery packs for the full-frame Z series (Z6ll,7ll and 8) – these are essentially the same body, same battery tray, but different top plate to accommodate the different body formats (between the 6/7 and 8)

This is the MB-N11 for the Z6ll/7ll

This is the MB-N12 for the Z8

So can you spot the difference? Yes, the top plate on the lower model is very slightly wider…wouldn’t it be easier just to make a single model, but with add-on top plates? Of course it would, but they’d make 50% less cash on sales…

Anyway, Nikon have included a crafty battery tray which holds two EN-EL15 batteries (the EN-EL15c can be charged within the grip just plug in a charger with a USB-C cable and off you go.) The crafty bit is that when the tray is slid into position, the battery nearest the door can still be removed from the grip – which means that if you’re in a high battery use situation, when the camera automatically switches over to the second battery (keeping the camera power still on) the first battery can be replaced with a charged-up version without having to turn the camera off etc.

The first and by far the most contentious (IMHO) thing you spot is that Nikon have decided to go backwards (think D7000) and instead of a series of contacts on the bottom plate of the camera for connecting to accessories/battery packs such as this, there is now a stalk with the electrical connections on top.

I’m sure there are all sorts of great marketing ploys to justify this (kept dry, protects the delicate contacts etc.) but it makes the battery pack unwieldy and you can’t just slide it into a pocket, or your bag, as we did with previous (think D850) battery packs.

Oh, and it’s about three times the price of the older units !

UPDATE : NIKON have just released the MB-N14 battery pack for the newly released Z6lll – same old, same old – just the top plate changes to accommodate the slightly deeper body.

Do you use a lens hood?

Simple question – I’ve often wondered, when I see people using their cameras with the lens hood in the reversed (storage) position, why they bother leaving it on the lens…

I mean…more often than not they prevent you getting to the ‘zoom’ ring, and hoods are meant to SHADE the front element, to reduce flair etc.

These two are both for 77mm diameter lenses – the 70-200 f/2.8 and the 100-400 f/4.5 – 5.6 – the one to the right is just slightly deeper (logical when you consider the range of the zoom it’s usually mounted on) I dare say you could actually use either one for both lenses – the point of this is to prevent ‘stray’ light hitting the front element and creating flair by bouncing around inside the lens.

Another oft forgotten use for a lens hood is to provide a physical protection to the front of the lens – you’re wandering around, concentrating on not falling off a cliff, and the end of your lens hits a tree/rock/person…much better that an easily replaceable plastic hood gets damaged rather than an expensive lens element/barrel, or worse.

I do alot of my work in an environment lit by powerful stage lights – for me, a lens hood is vital – you may not even notice the effect it has, until you don’t use one and wonder why your images are sometimes a bit soft…

And did I ever mention a protective filter?

NIKON Please!

Why is it that NIKON (and they’re not alone in this…) have so much difficulty listening to A: logic, and more importantly B: their buyers?

What’s the niggle this time? Tripod mounts.

Simple thing, or at least, one would have thought. For some years now tripod and accessory manufacturers have been using the chamfered adjustable quick-release system originaly designed by ARCA-SWISS. This allows cameras with a suitable ‘male’ mounting plate to be mounted/unmounted easily from tripods equiped with the ‘female’ mounting plate.

Tripod head and seperate camera mounting plate.

It would seem logical to build into the baseplate of a camera an ARCA style slot so that it could be quickly and easily mounted onto a tripod head (as in the above example)

However, for over 80 years all we have to show for camera ‘evolution’ is the constant use of a treaded 1/4 inch diameter hole so that the camera has to either be fixed directly to the tripod head, or an additional plate purchased to enable the two systems to work together.


It gets worse – NIKON include a tripod mounting arm on many of their longer/larger telephoto lenses. Two of these – the 70-200 and the 100-400 share the same ‘arm’ and of course, all it has is a 1/4 inch threaded socket…why not simply build-in the ARCA mount?

No – we must buy a new ‘arm’ – luckily a number of these exists, for only 30€ or so, but it does seem slightly ridiculous that we’re obliged to do this….