Self Levelling Tripod – wtf?

BENRO recently announced on Kickstarter that they were developing a ‘self levelling tripod’ – couple of questions here…

1: Why KICKSTARTER? This platform is famous for leaving ‘investors’ in the lurch when their total lack of concern about the viability of some of the projects proposed extends to not giving people their money back when the project is found to be a total scam. TO BE AVOIDED

2: Why self levelling? Most, if not all, decent tripods have a bubble level and regardless of how the legs are positioned, at least the platform for the camera can me made level in seconds.

No it seems in the day of the Internet, we need to cram even the most mundane objects full of batteries and circuitry to make it simple for the bottom feeders, and perpetual forum posters (who buy this sort of rubbish) to actually just use it. Naturally a significant amount of these people probably don’ even own a camera anyway…but they will swear to God Almighty that it’s the best tripod since sliced bread, to justify their purchase…

Frankly it’s cheaper, and easier, to buy a few more hooks for the garage ceiling…

I find it interesting to note that the Kickstarter campaign was started aiming for $50,000 of funding and that at close, the float was $2,452,958 – my God there’s a lot of gullible people out there…

So is this what’s coming?

And more to the point, is it important?

This is a ‘mock-up’ (or a real image) of the upcoming NIKON Z8 – the fan boys are all getting very excited – to the point where some have even stopped adding hooks to their garage ceilings, so that they can scan the web for new ‘news’ on yet another NIKON camera they will never actually own.

For me, at least, the most important element is that this shows what NIKON thinks is the future – where we’re going with full-frame digital cameras. It’s fairly clear that they’re not putting that much effort into DX – the number of lenses is frankly disappointing for the smaller format, although the camera bodies ‘seem’ to conform to a reasoned planning ( for once) with a tendency towards video and v-logging which is more marked than before.

The ‘smaller Z9’ status seems to be born out with the specifications of the new camera. NIKON are maintaining the electronic shutter – but why wouldn’t they – it’s hugely effective, and considerably less complicated to make. It’ll be interesting to see if they include the sensor protection (shutter blind) in this model as well.

Two different memory cards seems to be par for the course as well – in the ‘pro-sumer’ range of cameras it’s totally reasonable to have the ability to use a really fast, but expensive, CF Express card for the 45mp sensor, and a much cheaper SDXC card for video capture – the buffer size seems to increment exponentially every new camera iteration, and this helps getting the images off the sensor and onto the card as quickly as possible, but it also helps to have a sufficiently rapid card. Personally XQD or CFExpress is the way to go, with the former probably fading away soon – the large capacity and MUCH faster CFe cards are slowly -becoming almost affordable !

There is a body size comparison over on but I admit to being slightly confused – I was led to believe this new body would be more akin to the Z6/7 format, but now it seems it’s grown in size to be a similar profile to the D850 – only thinner, obviously.

I don’t have any problems with the size and/or weight of the Z9 – obviously, with almost identical specs in a smaller body could be useful for some jobs, it’s true, but judging by the proposed 4,500€ I won’t be adding this to the stable soon. Apparently a battery grip will be available too, with this and the camera using the well established EL-15 series batteries.

Another thing that has surprised me in these theoretical specifications, is the sensor size, and we’ll all find out in a few days time. I still can’t get my head around staying with a 45mp sensor when suitable 60 or 61mp sensors already exist. The ‘manual’ that was leaked earlier this year seems to include an interesting format too ( 9552 x 6363 ) which is certainly larger than 45mp. I’m certainly not hunting for a massive pixel rise with all the complications that come with it, not least of which, the disk space needed to store even larger RAW files, and the time to treat them, but the Z series lenses must have been designed with 60mp or even greater sensor sizes in mind, in particular the ‘S’ variants, so when are we going to see a camera with this kind of sensor. Adding a higher pixel density camera body would extend the overall range of the ‘Z’ system.

This would seem to me an ideal moment to follow in the footsteps of LEITZ and allow a choice of pixel density on the same sensor – 30, 45, 60 – all technically possible.

The rumours continue regarding the use of new thermoplastics being used to advantage in the camera body – this is a good thing if it lightens the load, but I know a lot of the fan boys ‘don’t like plastic’ so any mention of this material is doomed to receiving criticism. It should be noted that ever since the D3000 NIKON has used plastics in many situations – even the latest Z DX 12-28 f/3.5-5.6 PZ VR lens has a plastic lens mount, like a number of it’s AF-S cousins.

It should be noted, by the simple inclusion of a mirror box, this isn’t the new camera…

Countdown is still on…8 more days to go fan boys!

Artificial Intelligence

(And no, this isn’t about the idiot who screws hooks in his garage ceiling…)

This is fast becoming ‘the’ topic of articles on the Internet at the moment – be it from photographers bemoaning the fact that we’ll never be able to believe what we see (in the media) to graduates thanking the God of AI that they were able to pull off their (completely manufactured) end of course memories…

The Internet ‘magazine’ BLIND has just published a very well good article about AI and it’s effect on what we perceive…read it here – it’s worth it.

Michael Christopher Brown is a photographer and artist who has just published a project with images created by AI called « 90 Miles » (The distance separating Havana from Florida)

He is a respected photographer, having worked with National Geographic, Magnum etc. and now he’s an artist who works with photographic illustration. This project is not entirely virtuel, as he has worked in Cuba and followed the changing situation there.

Read the article and make your own opinion…

Removing noise with A.I.

The latest release of Adobe LIGHTROOM contains a new feature – ‘De-noise’. This is powered by an Artificial Intelligence ‘engine’ (no, this isn’t a tiny 4-stroke dripping oil all over the living room carpet, more the popular name for a mathematical computation, or algorithm). AI seems to be creeping in everywhere, from making ‘almost too true to be believed’ images of people to writing exam papers…

In this instance, the AI engine treats the original data and creates a DNG file – I can’t actually figure out why…in addition, for my tests, the original file RAW was 33,9Mb, while the de-noised DNG is a whopping 220,9 Mb file. Luckily disk space is getting cheaper.

The process takes a few minutes to work – it’s not instant like using a preset – in this example, the original file was recorded at 6400 ISO and it took Lightroom 11 minutes to create the treated file. (Interestingly, a colleague with a Mac powered by the M1 chip did a similar computation in just over a minute – my 2018 Mac mini is obviously struggling here...)

Original untreated file – « Des nuits pour voir le jOur » Cie Allégorie
Adobe Lightroom ‘DeNoise’ – « Des nuits pour voir le jOur » Cie Allégorie
Original Hi-ISO preset – « Des nuits pour voir le jOur » Cie Allégorie

It’s very interesting to see the results (click on the images to enlarge them) both in the face, but also on the wall AND the feather boa (hanging to the right) – this image is a 50% crop from the original 8256 x 5504 file, so it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes to create a full file. The image was captured with no hi-ISO adjustments in-camera, and frankly the image is very good in terms of detail etc.

I think it’s fairly clear that the Adobe algorithm seems to work well, compared to my original preset – but, the preset is applied in microseconds, without creating extra baggage, so if speed is required, perhaps this isn’t the best way to go.

However, in terms of image quality, there’s no doubt the results are very interesting, and would be worth the effort for final post treatment before printing, for example. These results are really only visible after enlarging the image, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest using this for web or media output, as the time and disk requirements would make this very laborious and consume a huge amount of space.

Easter Eggs? In May?

Not chocolate ones, at least. Easter Eggs is the term used describe something hidden in an image on Internet.

Nikon are playing the game, apparently – the latest ‘teaser’ campaign, slated for the 10th of May, has just started with this image

Someone much more inquisitive than I, noticed something hidden in this image…

The last two question marks have transformed into ‘8’…and as the photographic world is expecting the NIKON Z8 to be announced soon, this seems to confirm the rumours!

The Beckham conundrum

While this sort of thing has been going on for years, with the global reach of the Internet, the phenomena has reached epic proportions – a recent example: one of the Beckham brood has decided that after being a photographer, he’s now turning his hand to being a chef.

He sadly has no particular skill, and regularly cocks up pretty much anything he tries to make, so I can only assume he’s making these videos to amuse himself – as visibly every comment I’ve read seems to rate him as a total plonker.

I got to thinking about this, the Kardasians, B-movie actress Meghan Markel and her soppy husband etc. etc. and the penny finally dropped – these idiots who seem to share 2 brain cells between the whole lot of them, have been ‘created’ to make the rest of the world feel much better about themselves – in effect, we should ‘thank’ them for being so monotonously stupid, as it’s a way for the rest of the mere mortals on this planet to realise that we are NORMAL (and they are daft – have you seen yourself when you’re drunk?)

It’s obviously SO important to sell newspapers that the Daily Mail and suchlike publish ‘stories’ (therein lies the clue) about the Kardashian clan – a group of peculiar shaped women with a VERY distorted view of, well, anything really. One of them farts and it’s front page news. Frankly if I had an arse the size of Texas I’d probably being trying to cover it up – not the Kardashians…

An unidentifed Kardashian back from a trip to the Botox shop…

Anyway, back to Dimwit Beckham, the photographer famous for this…

…apparently it’s an elephant.

Keep trying mate – next on the menu, how to cook cornflakes….

The famous Z8 rumour…

After many months of Thom Hogan maintaining that there won’t be a new Nikon camera body launched anytime soon, Nikon Rumors seem to be getting information that suggests a new release is finally imminent.

As a general rule Thom Hogan is a moderate who’s opinions are well debated and analysed before he puts them into print, and in the past has certainly shown he has ‘insiders’ feeding him information that is pretty reliable. The next few days will show if he is correct in his thinking. With NIKON announcing officially an online launch event the 10th of May, it seems that something is in the works…

Nikon Rumors is there for exactly that – rumours – and as such, anonymous ‘feeds’ often come up with what turns out to be factual events. They have now posted a high quality image of what is supposed to be the eyepiece of the new camera, with a list of possible configurations – body style, sensor size etc. Some of this sounds plausible, but I have to ask myself why Nikon would produce another 45 mp camera body (Z7, Z9) when sensor pixel density seems to be increasing, with SONY firmly convinced the 61 mp sensor is the way to go.

Credit photo – Nikon

Making a ‘prosumer’ camera body would seem reasonable, although frankly what is wrong with the Z7ll? Personally I would edge towards a much higher density sensor, but in a Z6/Z7 sized body, but I don’t have the inside info that the ‘experts’ have…

The readers of Nikon Rumours have spent the past few months suggesting the most ridiculous configurations, but this is to be expected as most of them wouldn’t know what to do with a digital camera anyway. A large percentage of the ‘experts’ never actually post any of their images on the forum – principally because they all speak from theoretical ‘experience’ and never ‘dirty’ their cameras by actually using them – God forbid anyone tries to point this out (I did, and was banned twice!) – but then, what do I know? Unlike these bottom feeders I actually use my photographic equipment…(when I’m not laughing at people buying collapsible bikes, or screwing hooks into their garage ceilings)

Incoming (2)

This is getting to be a habit…

The next on the list of’desired’ optics is the NIKKOR Z 24-120 f/4 S

NIKKOR Z 24-120 F/4 S

This is the sucessor to the very average 24-120 f/4 AF-S F version and judging by the reports, NIKON have managed to correct pretty much all of the previous lens’s faults.

It’s a constant f/4 – which some see as a hinderance – frankly I can’t see why? The maximum aperture allows a smaller, more compact lens – therefore easier to carry around. Some of the fanboys over on Nikon Rumors have even gone so far as to comment that the lens is useless in low light and that they change to their 24-70 f/2.8 – yes of course they do – have these idiots never heard of changing the ISO? (or the shutter speed?) (In their defense, most of them never actually use their cameras, and post comments based on other peoples comments – I’ve stopped reading their rubbish. But I must admit I feel sorry for Peter who created the site – must be hard seeing some of the rubbish they spout…)

These kind of comments, in my book, are total non-starters. I work principally in very dark/badly lit conditions (for my circus/concert work) and frankly I’ve never taken into consideration a slightly smaller aperture as a monumental problem. I have used my 70-200 f/4 AF-S quite alot but more because it was half the size/weight compared to the f/2.8 version.

I’m actually waiting to see if NIKON will ever produce a Z 70-200 f/4 S as there are occasions when I need the extra length, but without the extra weight. Apparently there’s a 70-180 on the ‘road-map’ but no aperture values yet…or production time scale…

This sort of focal length range is extremely useful if your work revolves around a stage or a concert venue, as when I’m obliged to work with an audience behind me, and can’t get closer to the artists, I need to be able to have a bit of extra ‘reach’ – of course, having two camera bodies would be an alternative, one with a medium range zoom, and the other with the 70-200 for example. But that creates it’s own problems with weight and bulk etc.

More on this, with examples, when it arrives…

UPDATE: It’s arrived, and aside from not being able to check out it’s optical qualities yet, it’s everything I had hoped – it’s light and compact and I’m looking forward to putting it through it’s paces – in a weeks time I’ll have the oportunity as I have a circus residence to photograph…

I can see this being a valuable alternative for holidays too. Who wants to lug loads of gear around – this lens and the 14-30 f/4 will give me pretty much all I need for trips…all in two lenses.


I admit, I’ve been convinced by the blurb, but this new gadget is VERY light, which makes a huge difference when you’re wandering around making photographs with a camera/lens combination which is better on a tripod. This is the ULANZI Zero Y

It has a full panoramic head, which also tilts to 90°, obviously an ARCA style mounting (!), the center column can be reduced in length to make the tripod useable at virtually ground level.

So, this should be a complete solution – no need to add a panning/tilting head, and at a total weight of 1kg should be easy enough to sling under the camera bag and carry around without any difficulty.

PS – a similar design, by PEAK, but which weighs twice as much is currently available at 3 times the price 799€ – this version is designed principally for people with far more money than sense, or idiots with hooks in their garage ceilings…


The tripod has finally arrived, and it’s everything I could hope for. Light, well made, sturdy, and very ‘adaptable’.

From the top – the head has a rotating (panorama) function which locks with a simple pressure knob.

The ARCA fitting is released by turning a knurled knob. The ball mechanism is released by opening a horizontal lever – with the center column NOT extended, there is limited ‘play’ but enough to adjust the camera if the ground is completely level. To gain more adjustment (to tilt at 90°) a vertical lever, hidden between two of the legs, needs to be opened to let the column move upwards.

The legs themselves are round, with an almost trianguler centre column. The legs have a top ratchet which adjusts to three positions, from a ‘normal’ vertical position, to an almost horizontal position for low to the ground shots.

For this last setting, the centre column will be too long, so the built in wrench (hidden at the bottom end of the centre column) has to be unscrewed, and used to undo a bolt which allows the column to split into a 25% + 75% configuration – which then allows the legs to be opened to their fullest and the centre of the tripod is almost on the ground.

The centre column can be inserted normally or inverted – this is another way to get the ball head closer to the ground without taking the column apart. There’s a hook on the bottom of the centre column – very useful for hanging a weight, or simply a camera bag to stop the damn thing moving in the wind!

The tripod is supplied with three stainless steel spikes which can be used to replace the three rubber cushions at the end of the legs.

There’s a spirit level on the ball head, and the tripod is supplied in a very well made close-fitting bag with a removable shoulder strap. I purchased this from the ULANZI site in Germany, which meant I paid significantly less (25%) than the same purchase in France – and I have no idea why this should be.

And next on the shopping list…

…this beauty.

NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

I’m not much of a ‘long’ lens fanatic, but I have to admit there are times when my trusty 70-200 f/2.8 just doesn’t go far enough – so this beast is now on order.

It’s a variable aperture telephoto zoom, and with a ‘modest’ 2x converter will give me 800mm at f/8.0 which is still within the range of the auto-focusing/exposure electronics of my camera body.

It’s a large lens, with plenty of glass moving in all sorts of different ways inside, but strangely enough it’s almost exactly the same length and weight as the 70-200, so handling is not a real concern. In any case, given the restricted angle of view, this is a lens to use on a tripod.

These are popular (and I can understand why) so I’m probably in for a wait…