Bags of room…

I have to admit I like bags. My only real excuse to carry a bag is one with a camera in it, so as a general rule, I’ll call them camera bags. This said, I prefer to have bags that don’t look like camera bags because it’s much easier to pass ‘unseen’ in places where cameras are not well thought of.

Lowepro camera bag

To me, this ‘looks’ like a camera bag…so I won’t be choosing anything like this one – although Lowepro make some very good bags, they are just a bit too formatted for me.

Think Tank Retrospective series

This at least looks a lot less like a camera bag – it’s a bag from Think Tank Photo – however, when you open them up, it’s surprising what you can hide inside. (I have three!)

Contents will vary according to the dimensions of the bag…

These are all well and good, but the inconvenience is that they are not actually waterproof – the Think Tank range are supplied with a rain cover, but this is not the easiest thing to install, and it also prevents you opening the bag with it in place.

So I’ve decided to go back to an old love – the Billingham bag. I bought my first one, a model 330, in 1980. Sadly I seem to have mislaid it somewhere in the intervening years, but I’ve made the leap…

Billingham 330 similar to the one I purchased in 1980
Billingham Hadley Pro

Introducing the Billingham Hadley Pro. This is a slightly smaller version of my original bag as I don’t want to carry around ALL my stuff, and to me at least it doesn’t look too much like a camera bag. The other major advantage is that the bags are made from a triple ply material which is completely impervious to water – meaning that you can still use the bag in wet conditions. The inside has a removable insert with velcro separators to organise the interior, and there are two huge front pockets.

Billingham Hadley Pro – insert

The useful thing about this is that if, like me, you have different material for different jobs, you can simply change the insert – or leave it out completely.

Beautifully made, and based on personal experience, lasts for years.

What is happening to XQD?

The XQD card / format is based on the PCI Express (PCIe) architecture and should guarantee transfer rates in the order of 1 Gb/s to 4 Gb/S – the first cards came out in 2012 and were branded SONY. Although the original concept was based on development from Sony, Nikon and Sandisk, the CompactFlash Association were involved in the development. Despite this, current production of XQD cards seems to come exclusively from Sony, with the company creating licensing problems for other manufacturers, maintaining an articifially high price. A 32Gb XQD card costs 150€ in comparison to a 32Gb SDHC card which costs around 20€ – the transfer rates are not the same, but for most purposes the SDHX format suffices.

Having extremely fast transfer rates is not useful to everybody – as can be seen by the two examples below, the XQD is rated at 440MB/s while the CFExpress card is rated nearly 4 times faster. Assuming the internal camera software can handle the traffic, this would increase the burst rate for a camera, as it would be able to empty the buffer to the memory card that much faster, but I can’t think of any other advantages. For people filming video with modern digital cameras, the speed of the current SDHC cards seems perfectly sufficient, although 4K filming would need higher transfer speeds, I agree – 200 or 300 MB/s SDHC cards seem popular for this useage, so increasing to 1400 MB/s is possibly overkill here.

Sony XQD memory card
Prograde CFExpress memory card

CFExpress is physically a similar format, which also uses the PCIe architecture, but from what the pundits are saying, based on the fact that there don’t seem to be any licensing problems, it should lead to cheaper cards.

The form factor of the cards is identical to XQD which will allow manufacturers using the XQD format to create firmwear modifications to be able to use the cards in camera bodies that currently use XQD cards.

In addition, the storage rates seem to be phenomenal – cards with up to 2Tb of storage have been ‘teased’ at the recent CP+ trade show in Japan.

Similar in size to the current SD cards, CFExpress seems to have a metal chasis which should create a physically robust memory card.

I can’t help thinking that Sony have shot themselves in the foot here – creating a licensing ‘problem’ which will ultimately push people to a more realistically priced medium. Nikon and Panasonic seem to be the only major manufacturers to have embraced the format – Nikon with the pro-grade cameras (D4 – D5, D850, D500 etc.) but also interestingly on the new mirrorless offerings (Z6 & 7) Nikon have also announced that a firmwear upgrade for CFExpress is in the works for these cameras, which is encouraging, and I wonder if it will eventually signal the end of XQD – who is going to buy a more expensive, less performant card when CFExpress is freely available?

ProGrade CFExpress cards and reader

A word about card capacity – as an example, I shoot an average of 600 24 MP images when I cover an hour-long performance. I have a 64Gb card in my camera and I have NEVER filled it up, or come even close. When I cover a festival, I will see, on average, three performances each night – and I will come home with nearly 1500 images. I shoot 14 bit lossless compressed RAW images which gives me about 1100 per 64Gb card. I will take my two other 32Gb cards with me and change for each performance – this makes it easier for me to sort out the files when I get back home.

Using this argument I could see myself buying a 120Gb card at 249€ or a 256 Gb at 667€ but frankly I think I’ll wait until CFExpress comes out! (I actually quite like eating…and being able to afford to do so…)

One last thing…the more you manage to cram onto a memory card, the more you risk to lose when the damn thing slips out of your bag without you noticing it…

A Nikon Z 5 on the horizon?

Mock-up of the rumored Nikon Z 5 (Er…a Z 6 with 6 changed to 5 in Photoshop)

Numerous Nikon rumor sites, amongst which Nikon Rumors (nikonrumours, @nikonrumours) have recently published a short article concerning the CP+ show currently underway in Japan.

It seems that a « a Nikon executive confirmed that a new Z series camera designed for consumers will be coming soon »

Read more:

This could be all sorts of things, but given the fact that Canon have just released a ‘budget’ priced mirrorless offering similar to their new EOS R (the EOS RP), it’s thought possible that Nikon will go the same route and release a ‘cheaper’ Z series version, possibly the Z 5.

Why not – although personally I can’t see what they can take off the current offering to make it any cheaper – make the entire body out of composites instead of mag/alloy? An APS-C sensor perhaps?

It also seems likely that a parallel set of lenses will shortly see the light of day – possibly made from lighter/cheaper materials, and ‘price’ adapted for the consumer market.

There are many « predictions » (nothing can be confirmed at this stage, so for me anything else is just a prediction…) among which, no In Board Image Stabilisation (IBIS), possibly a 100% composite body with reduced weather sealing, reduced viewfinder pixel density, single SDHC card, reduced AF points etc. We’ll find out soon enough, at which point all the pundits will be saying « Told you so! »

Only time will tell…but the waiting game is fun when you read the « people in the know » and eventually find out just how far off they were – I’m thinking of the « angry photographer » (small a, small p, the guys a wanker) who posts his hopeless videos on YouTube – he basically pretends that he has an open-line to the designers at Nikon and as such knows everything months before everybody else…the problem is, he’s more often wrong that right…what a jerk

Evolution – Nikon style

This article is more about what I would like to happen in the near future…

Cameras evolve, users too – this is inevitable, and if a camera stays more or less ‘in time’ with events over a 5 year period, this is almost outstanding and shows a great deal of thought went into the initial design. Camera manufacturers don’t always want this, of course – they want people to buy at a regular interval, so while some critics bemoan the lack of forethought, it’s more likely designed-in to encourage us to keep ‘updating’.

The ‘pro’ range of most of the current camera manufacturers will usually escape this logic – their buying public are notoriously fickle and are likely to change brands at the drop of a hat, so in my experience the BIG manufacturers tend to go the whole nine yards, pushing the envelope as far as they can, within reasonable practical, and financial, boundaries. The middle-of-the-road and amateur models tend to get ‘splashed’ by the advent of certain ‘pro’ updates, but it’s fairly clear that while a ‘pro’ model will have a certain number of firmware updates during it’s life cycle, the others tend to be relaunched with a new model number.

The Nikon Z series is of particular interest to me. The two current camera bodies are identical – the only thing that changes is the sensor. To me, at least, this doesn’t make one body more or less ‘pro’ than the other, but Nikon are aiming to convince a lot of people that ‘mirrorless’ is the future, and unlike Canon who have marked their territory with an almost ‘pro’ version, and just last week, a much lower price (and specification) ‘public’ version of their full-frame mirrorless camera.

There are sadly a couple of things missing from the current Nikon offering, and frankly I’m at a loss to understand why. Neither can be ‘corrected’ with a firmware update, and both come down to a basic design flaw, in my mind.

1: Two button card reformat.

For quite a while now NIKON have used a simple ruse of letting the photographer press two buttons at once to reformat the memory card. For the most part this is on the ‘pro’ bodies, but can also be found on the D600 etc.

Nikon two button card reformat

Having been used to this for so long, it seems a little ridiculous to have to turn on the screen, go into the menus and find the « Reformat Memory Card » prompt. There are certainly enough buttons on the back of the damn camera… And like I say, this can’t really be corrected in a firmware update as the logos on the buttons would have to be added somehow.

2: Illuminated rear buttons

This is something I had for the first time on the D500 and then the D850 and frankly for someone who works a lot in dark or badly lit situations, it can be a huge help. Again, something else impossible to correct in firmware.

I can’t help asking myself questions regarding the future of the current Z series offerings. Were these two versions ‘rushed out’ to claim market share before Canon, and will now be ‘evolving’ with little add-ons from time to time? Will the Z8 or Z9 be announced with grand pomp « And on this model there are illuminated buttons etc. »

3: Virtual Horizon

This is displayed as one of the functions available on the ‘Disp‘ button at top right near the viewfinder, and not, as you would expect, as a programmable menu function. I find this awkard as it’s something I use fairly often, particularly with ultra-wide angle lenses. and it’s a pain to have to scroll through the display functions. This, unlike the previous elements, could be arranged with a firmware update.

Are Nikon waiting for the first feedback before launching the next generation of these bodies? I personally find this hard to believe – yes, of course they do listen to their user base, but anything coming out now went to design at least two years ago, in my experience. As it is I’ve already been in contact with Nikon France with two annoying ‘problems’ which while they aknowledge the existance, can not offer solutions…yet…

Will there be a more fundamentally ‘pro’ body in the future? A sort of D6/Z? In many ways I’m surprised that Nikon weren’t able to engineer the FTZ lens adaptor with an internal motor to drive the AF feeler – to enable us to use older AF-D lenses with full autofocus. I doubt this is a priority as Nikon know that people LOVE buying new lenses, so why make it so easy to use the older ones. As the electronics are already present in the camera body, and if Nikon aren’t interested, a third party manufacturer could come up with an FTZ-2 which could do this… I for one would be interested!

I may have found an answer…

…to the ‘grip’ or size problem of the Nikon Z 6 camera body.

I was looking around eBay, as one does, and I came across this

GABALE ‘L’ plate for Nikon Z series

This is a slightly larger ‘L’ plate (with the two Arca-Swiss type tripod mounts) than the one I had already purchased from China. The advantage of this one is that as it covers the entire base plate, and as such it gives about 1cm extra ‘depth’ underneath the hand grip (which should stop my little finger ‘falling off’…)

GABALE’L’ plate for Nikon Z series

This version cost a little more at 49€ (port inclus) which is almost double the price of the previous ‘Chinese’ version that I purchased a few weeks ago, but if it gives the extra reach that I need, I feel it will be money well spent. I can’t help but think that they have really ‘designed’ this very sensibly – the vertical arm can be adjusted in relation to the vertical part of the camera body (to allow easier access to the HDMI/USB ports etc.) and the hex key that is used to tighten the mounting screw/s can be stored in a slot designed for it underneath the plate. This will no doubt be soon be stamped ‘RRS’ and sold for 5 times more in the very near future…

Mine should be arriving from China in the next few days….more on this then.

PS. Also available in RED….I must say I was tempted…

UPDATE :- it has just arrived and I must say it’s VERY well made and….most importantly, it gives that extra few millimeters of depth below the hand grip to prevent my little finger falling off. (Well, losing grip – I doubt it will fall off completely…I know I’m getting old but even so…)

Smallrig are another Chinese company that produce some very nice looking material for cameras. They have their own version of this ‘L’ Plate which looks very slightly deeper, giving perhaps slightly more to rest my ‘pinkie’ finger on…

Smallrig 2258

Interestingly Smallrig have gone one step further and produced a support for the Nikon FTZ lens adaptor – this screws into the front of the plate above and also has a screw that screws into the tripod socket on the FTZ.

Smallrig 2244

The ‘L’ plate is priced at 61€ and the support at 21€

I still can’t help thinking that these are all churned out on a computer controlled lathe setup somewhere in Shenzen….and then sold to the highest bidder!

The first niggles…

As I seem to be using almost exclusively the Z 6 at the moment, it’s not unusual that I’m coming across the first few niggling problems or errors. This is a ‘new’ system, albeit built on existing technology, and therefore I would be foolish to expect it to be perfect straight-off. Close, but no big cigar…

The first problem I encountered was when I tried to setup one of the function buttons (F1, F2 etc.) to display Peaking Highlights. This is a function which is used with manual focus lenses to show when elements within the viewfinder are in focus.

Nikon Manual – how to setup a Function button

Well I followed all the instructions – the function button had it’s value reassigned – then I turned the camera off. When I turned it back on again the function button had reverted to it’s default value.

I tried a few different ways of recording the change but nothing worked…until I tried to save the modifications as a User setting (U1 in this example) The User settings (U1, U2 & U3) are selected using the dial top left of the camera body, and are a way of saving a series of often used values to be recalled easily.

I contacted NIKON France and they thanked me, said they too had tried this as a fix and that they would pass the information back to NIKON Japan.

My next niggle is possibly the more important of the two… and concerns the tiny joystick called the ‘Sub Selector’ top right of the rear screen (N° 11 in the diagram)

I just can’t help touching this damn thing – and as it’s main ‘raison d’être’ is to move the auto-focus point around the screen, I sometimes end up with the camera focusing on something I’m not even looking at.

It seemed perfectly reasonable to me that I could turn this function off – wrong!

I discovered that while I could assign a different function to the center button , I couldn’t stop the ‘joystick’ action – which means the AF point is constantly in a different place to where I want it (in the middle) – fortunately the AF point marker shows a tiny dot when it IS in the middle of the frame, so it’s easy to see it if has moved.

So, another series of mails to NIKON France who admitted that I was not alone in asking for this to be modified to be able to turn it off. Again, they will send all these demands to Japan and perhaps, in a few years time, we’ll get a firmware update to correct these bugs.

Is size so important?

Well of course this rather largely dépends on what we’re talking about…and as this is essentially a ‘photo’ blog, and I’m talking about the relative size of camera bodies, then YES, it is.

Going back to cameras bodies designed for rolls of 35mm film, the Leica was about the smallest you could practically build, given that after you build a camera body, you then have to use it, so holding the damn thing is pretty important. The idea of having the film cannister + shutter + film bobin alligned horizontally just seemed to make perfect sense – and continues to this day, although without the physical constraints of a ‘film’ we could certainly design the external shape in a multitude of ways.

Design ergonomics change with each manufacturer, thankfully, and over the years I have become used to the ergonomics of the Nikon design, be it the film cameras (F, F2 etc.) or the more recent digital (DSLR) breed. I personally don’t find Canon, for example, to be as ‘easy’ to hold but then that’s probably also due to the fact that I’m not used to doing this – I feel sure a few days with a Canon DSLR and I’d be able to do everything I currently do with any of my Nikon camera bodies.

The overall size is however changing, and with the advent of the new ‘Hybrid’ mirror-less cameras, the designers are now able to trim off a few superfluous millimeters here and there, but sadly the ergonomics are already starting to suffer. A camera has to be comfortable to use, otherwise I won’t be able to use it for a long period, for example, a festival where I’m holding a camera for upwards of 6 hours at a stretch.

My new Nikon Z 6 is great – it really is – but…I have to admit that with my largish hands, it could do with it being a little longer (or deeper, depending on which way you see this) as the little finger on my right hand seems to ‘fall off’ – it hasn’t got anything to grip onto.

I know that there are rumours of a supplementary battery pack, which will bolt on to the bottom of the body – this will be very useful to me, and not only from an ergonomical aspect. Canon have just announced a new full-frame hybrid camera body, the EOS RP, and one accessory for this model will be the EG-E1 grip – it is simply an aid to holding the camera – no extra batteries, memory card etc. (Although I would see that as an obvious addition…)

EG-E1 grip for the EOS RP
Canon EOS RP with EG-E1 grip

Are you listening Nikon?

Side by Side Size comparison

Nikon Z 6 or D850?

They’re both full-frame (24×36) sensors, but they are not at all the same dimensions physically. An example

Nikon Z6 and D850 (left) – both with their respective 24-70mm zoom lenses.

Here are two 24×36 format cameras, the Z 6 with a 24mp sensor, the D850 with a 45mp sensor. The lenses are ‘almost’ identical – the smaller one is an f/4 which explains, to some extent, the smaller size, and weight.

Nikon D850 and Z 6 (right)

This image gives a slightly better idea of the overall difference in size, both of the camera bodies and the lenses.

Nikon Z 6 (foreground)

And finally…

Nikon Z 6 (left)

Vibration Reduction in Photography

Nikon Z6 image sensor

Up until fairly recently, the easiest method of reducing vibration, or « camera shake », was to use a tripod. This was certainly effective, but somewhat cumbersome – and in some environments even illegal.

Having some kind of stabilisation is important for almost all types of photography as there are very few situations (apart from brilliant sunshine or flash photography) where the photographer is free to select his aperture values with a total disregard for the amount of light available.

Image Stabilisation (or VR in Nikon speak) was certainly an important breakthrough, and since it’s earliest days has been essentially lens-based. For the most part this works on two axis, pan (left to right) and tilt (up and down) and involves a floating element within the lens array controlled by two piezo-electric sensors that react to the pan or tilt movement. This will obviously increase the mechanical and electronic components within the body of the lens,

With the arrival of the Nikon ‘Z’ series, the VR has become IBIS – In Board Image Stabilisation. Instead of a floating element within the lens, it’s the sensor itself which moves. It’s mounted on strong springs and linked to a mechanism that moves it vary rapidly into the correct position, depending on where the movement is coming from.

This now functions on 5 axes – and is said to allow a five stop reduction in the minimum possible shutter speed. This has the effect of reducing the overall size, and allowing for lighter and more robust lenses (less internal moving parts) – ideally it should also make them less expensive, but I frankly don’t think that was ever factored in by the manufacturer.

Interestingly Canon, Nikon’s arch rival, don’t seem to have gone the « on board » route, and the Canon EOS R uses newly developed lenses, with a new mount like Nikon, but these lenses have the IS like their DSLR Brothers. In discussion with the ‘experts’ who sell both systems, they seem to think Canon slightly missed the boat on the mirroless front, and that what they have produced is possibly less than perfect. They also seem to think that Nikon started their development a long time ago, having predicted a « sea change » in digital photography. I’m sure the cameras will handle beautifully – Canon make very good machines, and we’re all wondering if they will now consider the eventual release of a ‘second generation’ mirrorless which will take advantage of this technology….only time will tell

Have you got a big one?

Obviously as this is a vaguely ‘photographic’ blog, I’m talking about sensor size here…

Sensor unit from Nikon D4s

It’s interesting that the focal lengths of our lenses are all based on the 24×36 ‘film’ format, but since the Leica 1 in 1925, manufacturers have developed various interesting formats, none of which actually correspond to these numbers. This is not important – what is important is the fact that these numbers exists – they give us a reference regarding the field of view that we will achieve with any given lens on any given camera body.

Relative sensor size

As can be seen above, the popular APS-C (Advanced Photo System type C – « Classic ») is half the size of the ‘standard’ 24×36 full frame sensor. This creates a ‘crop factor’ or multiplier which has to be applied so that we can determine the field of view for lenses mounted on cameras with smaller sensors.

For example a 50mm lens mounted on an APS-C camera will give a similar field of view as a 75mm lens on a full frame sensor. In this example (Nikon) the crop factor is 1,5 which gives us 50 x 1,5 = 75.

We also consider that a larger sensor will give shallower depth of field. This is and isn’t true.

It is true in the situation where two photographs taken from exactly the same point, one with a full frame sensor, and one with a cropped sensor – the depth of field on the image from the full frame sensor will be less – but the field of view of the cropped sensor will also be reduced. If the APS-C camera is moved away from the object in the image so as to have exactly the same field of view, the depth of field would be identical.

One important advantage of a smaller sensor is the ‘increase’ in size of a long-focus (telephoto) lens. An example: a 200mm lens (full frame) mounted on an APS-C camera will have the field of view of a 300mm lens (remember the crop factor of 1,5)

This is less of an advantage going the other way – a 20mm wide angle lens (full frame) on an APS-C camera gives the same field of view as a 35mm lens.

However, doing the reverse can give interesting results – mounting a 10mm APS-C lens onto a full frame body will effectively give a field of view equivalent to a 7mm ultra-wide angle (full frame) – the only disadvantage is that there will normally be serious cropping of the image as the lens coverage (designed for a smaller sensor) will not cover the larger full frame one.

Another aspect of different sensor sizes is the pixel density. Sensors are now being manufactered at astonishing pixel densities – with one full frame sensor currently at 5O million pixels (Canon) – Nikon have topped out at 45,7 million for the moment. Despite what can be ‘proven’ in technical manuals, in my experience the very high pixel count is super for landscapes etc. but not at all adapted for low light use. Yes of course the settings allow silly ISO values (102400 in the case of the Nikon D850) but these are not at all practical for work in very low light situations.

I regularly use a full frame camera with a 12mp sensor for extreme low-light work, and as an example, one image shot at 6400 ISO was recently blown up to 4m x 3m for an advertising hoarding – I’m fairly sure I couldn’t have done that with a 45mp sensor.

Pixel size is also dependant on sensor size – an APS-C sensor with 24mp has pixels with a physical size similar to a full frame sensor at 45mp, so logically the same problems should occur with a high density crop sensor in low light. My argument falls completely flat when I consider the images from my APS-C cemera with a 21,5mp sensor – which are really very good – I think we are seeing a huge improvement in the in-camera treatment of sensor based noise. Hopefully this will continue…