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…


Today was the day I swapped a camera….for a new lens. And I’m so glad I did – the results are stunning.

This all started due to the very encouraging results I’m getting with the new Nikon Z6. Although Nikon thoughtfully supplied the FTZ adaptor to use existing Nikkor lenses with the mirrorless camera bodies, the lenses were not really designed for this camera system and I was keen to see how the new ‘Z’ series lenses would perform.

By all accounts, judging by the testing that has been going on since their release in August 2018, the results ARE very encouraging. The lenses are not cheap, and at time of writing there are only actually three, although the ‘road-map’ showing what is coming up has already been published and it’s likely that we’ll see 6 new ‘Z’ series lenses this year, with a further 3 in 2020. The 14-30mm f/4 Ultra-wide zoom has already been announced for the spring. This is the first ultra-wide with a front screw-in filter mount (82mm) – I am, needless to say, VERY interested in this lens too…

I decided that, for the work I do, it would not be a complete waste of time to ‘invest’ in a 24-70 zoom, so I spent the morning in Toulouse at my favourite Nikon dealer (only?) – I exchanged my D750 and a 24-85mm zoom lens (both of which I rarely use now) for the new zoom. And it’s great!

Nikon Z6 with NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S

I obviously haven’t had a lot of time to play, but during one of the VERY brief moments of sunlight today I was able to rush out and shoot of a few test frames – they are dangerously sharp !! I am looking forward to using this during a spectacle…

NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S @29mm ISO 200 – 1/1000s – f/8 handheld

One of the reasons that the new lenses are so much smaller is that they don’t have much other than glass inside them – yes, there’s a motor for the autofocus but this is a new breed of « stepping motor » which are much smaller. In addition, as the camera boy takes care of 5 axis image stabilisation, there’s no need for it inside the lens itself. This should make the lens more robust – they are weather-sealed, like to camera bodies, so a few drops of rain shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Nikon Nikkor Z Series Road Map

Possibly the most interesting lenses for the work I do, would be the 14-30 (Simply because I love ultra wide angle lenses) and the 70-200. Judging by the difference in size between the existing 70-200 f/2.8 and the f/4 versions, I don’t think we can expect a huge difference in size for the Z series 70-200, although without all the internal VR electronics etc. it should be smaller…

Chinese Copies?

In the photo accessory market there are a huge number of things coming out of China. Many of these are complete rubbish, but a few are very well designed and engineered, and to top it all, are often sold for very reasonable plices.

I have equiped all of my cameras with ‘L’ plates. These use the tripod socket to attach a plate to the bottom of the camera which allows it, in turn, to be attached to a quick release tripod mounting. The reason that the plate is in the form of an ‘L’ is to allow the camera to be mounted either in horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait) position without changing the axis of the lens. (Most tripod mounts allow the camera to be swiveled or tilted 90 degrees, but in doing so, the axis of the lens is moved considerably)

This is an ‘L’ plate mounted on a Nikon Z series camera

iShoot manufacture (or at least, SELL) a number of these plates adapted to different popular camera bodies, and I was interested to see that in fact the version for the Nikon Z series is not actually available anywhere else (Really Right Stuff etc.) – so in this case at least, it’s not as much a ‘Chinese Copy‘ as a ‘Chinese Original

This is what I received for 21€ (free shipping) – it’s beautifully made and fits the camera like a glove.

I am now waiting for the other equipment manufacturers to bring out ‘their’ versions (All 100% original of course…)

Just for fun, I checked the prices of an ‘L’ plate for the Nikon D850 – iShoot (or equivalent) 35€, Really Right Stuff 140$ – you pays yer money, you takes yer choice…

Almost Exactly…

How can Something be ‘almost’ exactly the same as something else – it’s either the same or it isn’t, isn’t it?

This discussion has been going on recently over on the Amateur Photography forum where I have disputed this phrase with other forum members. It doesn’t really matter – it was more for fun than anything else, but it got me thinking about one of my recent purchases.

I use a medium-tele zoom, the 70-200 f/4 Nikkor, and Nikon, for reasons better known to themselves, decided to supply the lens without a tripod mounting collar.

Nikon RT-1

This little beauty, the RT-1, costs….wait for it…228€

I decided that I could do better – or at least, the same, but cheaper….so I had a look around eBay and Amazon etc. and came up with this

iShoot RT-1

It is « almost exactly the same » and cost me 28€ delivered to my door. I can’t help thinking that somewhere along the line someone is taking the piss here…

Anyway – this « almost exactly the same » tripod collar is, in fact, better than the original Nikon version because it allows me to use it with the Arca style mounting plates I have on all of my tripods. It is exceptionally well manufactured – the locking button moves smoothly into place, the internal lining on the collar grips the lens without crushing it – it simply works perfectly – 10 times cheaper than the original Nikon version.

Is it any wonder that people look elsewhere?

Oh yes, and while I was looking around I came across the Really Right Stuff version – these are the people I love to hate as I’m fairly sure they simply rebrand Chinese copies and resell them at 20 times the price – their version costs 195€ – a bargain I hear you say…

Flying Colours

I’ve finally been able to put the Nikon Z6 through it’s paces at a real performance – and it certainly lives up to expectations (thankfully!)

This week at CiRCa we were treated to a single performance of « Reflets dans un Œil d’Homme » by the company Le Diable au Corps. This is a spectacle that I had covered back in 2016 when the company were in Auch during the creation of the piece. CiRCa then used some of my work to make the cover of the 2017 programme (and huge posters all over the place – nice to see ones work appreciated)

I’ve been looking forward to this performance as it was the first where I would be able to see just how well the Z6 handled low light and no noisy shutter – particularly as I was surrounded by more than 300 paying spectators!

Cie Le Diable au Corps

I think it’s fairly obvious that the camera works! This image was at 6400 ISO and even blown up quite large shows only a little noise. In terms of the actual taking of the picture, there was no noise at all – and the only thing that really gave the game away to the people around me in the audience was the fact that I was moving tthe camera to frame the shots.

I’d love to be able to try this with the lenses developed for the Z series cameras – but that is going to have to wait a while…!


Progress….for a price

Information technology advances at an incredible rate and this inevitably involves shelling out a lot of cash on a fairly regular basis – not to evolve, but just to keep up…

This came to mind with the latest group of updates for the ADOBE Cloud suite – warnings of « Your system is old, a bit like you, and you need to update it » flashed up on the screen. It transpires that my iMac from late 2009 won’t take the most recent Apple macOS Mojave, and so the latest updates for Photoshop and Lightroom can’t be applied. Frankly this doesn’t change a lot for me in that I’m quite happy with the processing power of my machine, for the most part, and the latest updates bring things that I’ll never use. However, it worries me in the long term, as I feel sure that Adobe will only keep the older software alive for a finite time – and this is very important to those of us using the ADOBE Cloud suite (Photoshop, Lightroom etc.) – and when they disappear from their servers one day, I’ll be up a famous creek…

My photo Editing suite – 27″ iMac and one 24″ external (Apple) screen.

There is, it seems, a way to use the iMac as an external screen – which means that I can update the hardware (with a mac mini for example) but still have the advantages of a large 27″ screen. The mac mini is not exactly cheap at 899€ but it’s a whole lot more interesting than a new iMac at over 2000€.

Mac mini

There are ample ports to attach just about everything I could ever want, and with WiFi and Bluetooth the possible connections increase (Wireless keyboard, mouse etc. ) and although the inboard SSD is relatively tiny (128Gb) the Thunderbolt ports/USB3 are sufficiently fast to simply add a cheap external box with a 500Gb SSD to increase the disk size.

The 2x4Gb RAM can actually be changed easily in this model, and with a maximum of 64Gb it’s just a case of waiting until the RAM gets cheaper before increasing the capacity.

A cheap Thunderbird (USB-C) to Mini-Display port cable will link the computer and the screen, so I could be up and running with a ‘modestly’ future-proofed (Latest macOS and ADOBE Suite) setup for a not too exhorbitant price –   now all I have to do is find the money…

New Arrival

Well ‘it’ has arrived…and I have (obviously) been playing – too early to really put it through it’s paces in a ‘working’ environement but that will happen on the 18th of December when I am photographing a performance here in Auch at CiRCa.

‘It’ is the NIKON Z6

First impressions : (This will be updated from time to time)

Excellent build quality – it looks, and more importantly, feels very solid, but light and tiny compared to my other full-frame camera bodies. As a NIKON it maintains pretty much all the button geometry of previous pro- and semi-pro bodies and as such, everything falls to hand (or finger) as a NIKON user would expect.

One of the key reasons I was interested in this camera was the possibility of totally silent shooting – and it works ! With the added caveat that the images can also be prevued in the viewfinder – this is a HUGE advantage for me and the work I do photographing theatre/circus performances where a clicking camera is an enormous disadvantage. I rarely actually look at images once I have pressed the shutter button, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to check the settings, which lights up the screen and distracts the people around you…

Another vital aspect of the new system is the fact that, by way of the FTZ adaptor, I can use all my existing lenses on this camera body. The AF-S lenses will all function normally as they have the electrical auto-focus motors built in, but the older AF-D (screw-drive AF) will revert to manual focus.

A lot has been written about the fact that the NIKON ‘Z’ models have only one memory card slot, and that it is the XQD format. So what ? I admit the cards are ridiculously expensive, but I have only in fact ever purchased one (Both the Z6 and my D500 were supplied with a card in the box with the camera) I have yet to experience a card failure, and for the idiots who commented that it was a VERY bad decision for any wedding photographer who wouldn’t be able to back up his images in-camera, I frankly know of no wedding photographer worth their salt who goes out with only one camera body…end of discussion. It seems to me that they probably should have included a second SDXC slot, but this is hardly a deal breaker for me.

It would seem that the body is extensively weather proofed – I can’t vouch for this yet, but I can’t help feeling that this will become more of a regular go-to camera as, for my needs at least, it has everything I use on a regular basis.

The ergonomics are interesting – it’s a lot smaller than the D850, and the only concern I have would be using longer (70-200 for example) lenses in terms of the ‘holdability’ of the setup. It seems that NIKON are developing a grip – the MB-N10 – which will hold two batteries, but also give a couple more centimeters to hold onto and balance out the longer focal length lenses. It’s interesting that the designers have gone back to the older DSLR models with this grip – instead of a series of electrical contacts on the bottom plate of the camera, the grips electrical connections are in a post that sticks up from the grip and goes into the (empty) battery chamber.

The heavy dependance on menus is frustrating, as they seem full to overflowing with all sorts of tweaks and adjustments, although we now have three user programmable function settings on the mode dial which reduces the ‘menu hunting’ . This harps back to the D750 and the D7*** series and I admit that I had my doubts when I first came across this, but in fact it seems to work quite well – I have two basic shooting settings, ‘Normal’ and ‘Spectacle’ – I program the ‘Normal’ (U1) setting as a low ISO AF-C (continuous) AF etc. and the ‘Spectacle’ (U2) setting as Auto-ISO at 6400 ISO.
Instead of hunting through the menus to change the basic shooting settings, it just takes a turn of the mode dial – any other modifications (metering, AF area etc.) will not be kept/remembered if the mode is changed (or the camera turned off) – this basically means that you can also return to your ‘default’ values very easily – and as I spend more time making images than playing with the settings, this is an advantage for me.

The electronic viewfinder is surprisingly good – there is very little lag, and the image is bright and looks almost ‘real’ ( !!) It can be turned on or off in a variety of ways, as indeed can the rear screen, and one nice combination (for me) is that I can turn off the rear screen, and as my eye approches the viewfinder, the viewfinder turns on – this is mostly for reducing battery drain, but for my work surrounded by the public, it means they won’t get distracted by the light from the viewfinder when I move the camera away from my face. One last thing, NIKON have increased the dioptre adjustment on the eyepiece to -4+1 and the opening is very wide, so even wearing glasses everything is very visible and clear.

The virtual horizon cannot be programmed onto either of the two Fn function buttons, which is a pain as it means that to get it to display means scrolling through the ‘display’ button (right of the viewfinder) – this is probably just a case of getting used to where things are in the dark – we’ll see how easy this is. The virtual horizon is not at all like the D500/D850 reflexes where there are a series of blocks to the right and at the bottom of the viewfinder which multiply as the angle changes – this is a huge compass circle in the middle of the screen, so the idea of leaving it displayed is not really practical.

The flip-up/down screen is possibly the most un-used ‘modern’ part of the camera – for me at least. I can see that for some angles it can be very useful, particularly for shooting over peoples heads, so I will probably use it one day – it’s large and bright and touch sensitive which is very useful to preview images (finger swipe) and to zoom-in (pinch) etc.

There is a joystick to the top right of the screen – this can be used for all sorts of things, but principally to choose the AF area by moving a red dot around the screen – with 273 AF points available, and each one selectable, you’re spoilt for choice. I tend to rely on my favourite ‘center weighted’ spot, both for focus and metering – no point changing now as I know how to manage it !

The battery, according to NIKON / CIPA will last for about 330 shots, which, for me at least, is not enough for a whole performance. However, other people testing the camera have been able to manage up to 1100 shots per battery – I think a lot depends on how much the rear screen is used etc. As I always trun mine off, I’m hoping this will increase the number of shots per battery. As in all Lithium-Ion batteries, it usually takes four or five recharging cycles before the battery holds it’s maximum charge – what pople tend to forget is that the decharging cycle should almost drain the battery – recharging after 50% use is not a full cycle.

Pros :
1. The ‘Silent’ shooting mode is PERFECT – it is totally silent (albeit with a tiny bit of AF-S motor noise sometimes) and this is going to be a MAJOR plus point for the kind of work that I do. Really something I have been waiting for in a camera body.
2. The EVF is excellent, not too much lag visible, bright viewfinder with choice of information displayed.
3. The camera body/FTZ adaptor kit that I purchased was supplied with a 64Go SONY XQD card.

Cons :
1. No dedicated memory card format buttons – this means that to format the card after a shoot, one has to delve into the menus
2. The rear buttons are not backlit (second detente on the on/off collar around the shutter button on recent Nikon camera bodies) – this is in no way a major defect, but it would have been nice.
3. It is impossible to assign ‘Silent’ shooting mode to a button – which means that to turn it on, either it has to be programmed onto one of the U1-3 selections, or you have to hunt through the menus to turn it on. It turns itself off with the camera – which means you have to turn it on again once the camera restarts.
4. Impossible to program the virtual horizon onto an Fn funtion button – and the display is HUGE – would have been more useful if it was like the D500/D850 version.