This page points to all recent articles published on dslrbodies.com, sansmirror.com, gearophile.com, and filmbodies.com, and is updated as new articles appear (most recent on top). For articles from previous months, check the Articles Index Archive.
Well, the Nikon DSLR survey responses are really, really interesting. I’ll be reporting on the results soon, but prepare for a surprise.
The first of two big Spring Cleaning sales is wrapping up. Many of the prices of remaining items have been dropped. These items need to sell.
Latest Articles (June 30, 2015):
Nikon D5500 Camera Review. One of the first impressions the D5500 gives off to a long-time Nikon DSLR user is that it’s small. And light. So let’s start there. Review on dslrbodies.com
Big Fujifilm Firmware Update. Fujifilm yesterday produced a 4.0 firmware update for the X-T1 mirrorless camera that has quite a few improvements to it, and makes the camera a more responsive one, especially with focus on moving subjects. Article on sansmirror.com
June 29, 2015
Nikon Asks: Which FX Do You Want? Briefly this weekend NikonUSA sent an email with a short survey to what was probably an nth-name selection of their registered user base. That survey got shared on a lot of sites and via email, and NikonUSA took it down fairly quickly, probably because once you no longer have clear nth-name from a population, you have no predictability to that population from the survey results. Article on dslrbodies.com
Thom’s Recommended Lenses for DX Users. With all the current Nikon DX DSLRs now at 24mp with incredibly good sensors, just how good the results you'll get from them is going to be partially determined by what you put in front of those sensors to focus the light: lenses. Article on dslrbodies.com
June 26, 2015
Lexus, Toyota, Scion. In my article on What to Make of DX in 2015, I wrote that DX ought to be the compromise solution for the masses, but that Nikon was fumbling that away. A couple of readers challenged me on that, and suggested that it would be impossible for Nikon to market DX and FX side by side with somewhat identical product lines, because they were too close together. Article on dslrbodies.com
June 22, 2015
Why Do People Really Buy Mirrorless Cameras? Time to stir up the hornet’s nest a bit. We can’t move the nest away from the house unless we get all of its occupants out and buzzing about, after all. Article on sansmirror.com
The Measurbators Conundrum. With the release of the Canon 5Ds into the wild, the drums for “more, more, more” in the measurbating crowd are beating all kinds of weird rhythms. Article on dslrbodies.com
June 18, 2015
The Thunderstorm in Adobe’s Cloud. Updated. We have two things to discuss today. First, the problems that arose with the monolithic Creative Cloud 2015 release this week. Second, the implications on users for the future. Article on dslrbodies.com
Sigma 24-35mm Art Lens Announced. Sigma today surprised a lot of people with an echo of their 18-35mm f/1.8 DX lens: the new 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM lens for FX bodies. Article on dslrbodies.com. Data page for lens.
June 17, 2015
Looking Back or Looking Forward? Today is one of those unusual days in tech. We have multiple players announcing new camera products today. For some, you have to turn your head to the left (look backwards); for others, turn your head to the right (look forwards). Article on dslrbodies.com
June 15-16, 2015
Meta35 Brings SLRs into Modern Age. Meta35 is a small USB dongle and cable that you plug into data port of your film SLR, plus a Windows or Macintosh program. Article on filmbodies.com
What to Make of DX in 2015. It should seem pretty clear that Nikon wants you to buy an FX camera: they make more models and more lenses for the full frame side of the photography coin after all. Beyond that, the clarity in Nikon’s lineup disappears. What does Nikon actually want the rest of you to buy, and why? Article on dslrbodies.com
Creative Cloud 2015 Emerges and Confuses. For a company that once said that one of the reasons to go to the Cloud idea was to get away from monolithic Creative Suite releases, Adobe sure still seems to be doing monolithic releases. Article on dslrbodies.com
June 11, 2015
Re: BSI and Stacked Sensors. Sony’s recent A7rII and RX camera announcements have directed many questions about their sensors into my In Box. Back Side Illumination (BSI) and Stacked sensors have a lot of folk scrambling to understand what’s happening technology-wise. So here are some of the things being asked and my quick-to-the-point answers. Article on dslrbodies.com
I Might Have Been Wrong. One reason why I’ve tended to stay out of the rumors and predictions business for some time now is that those became turbulent waters. Made much more turbulent by what’s happening with the collapse of camera sales. Article on dslrbodies.com
June 10, 2015
Besides updating the A7r, Sony also introduced new models of the RX100 and RX10. The big news with these two cameras is mostly sensor and sensor related things, as they retain the body and basic features of their predecessors. We get a stacked 1” sensor with coupled memory, which allows for full read-out 4K video, slow motion captures up to 960 fps, a fast electronic shutter, and still shooting bursts up to 16 fps. On the RX100IV the EVF gets a much-needed boost to 2.4m dots and some AF improvements, but the price has bumped up to US$1000. The RX10II bumps up to US$1300. Both cameras should ship sometime in mid July.
June 2, 2015
Yes PhaseOne. PhaseOne today announced their new medium format digital camera, the XF, as well as two viewfinders (note waist finder in photo on the right), three backs, and two new lenses. Article on dslrbodies.com
June 1, 2015
What Do We Want From Nikon? I was fiddling around with my Nikon Wishlist the other day and realized in so doing that it is really out of date. Either that or Nikon just doesn’t share any of our wishes ;~). Article on dslrbodies.com
May 27-29, 2015
Offense or Defense? Several of the games I play in my spare time require a real skill that is often overlooked: deciding when you are the aggressor and when you are the defender at any given point in the game. Article on dslrbodies.com
Optimal Data — Understanding Exposure and Noise. It seems that the notion of exposure keeps getting confused by many, and for that reason we keep getting “new” articles trying to address it (including this one). For the most part, people try to make exposure more difficult than it is. Us film old-timers tend to understand it better. Article on dslrbodies.com
Photos Everywhere. With Google Photos, we now have three of the big four tech companies wanting to take control over your photos. Article on dslrbodies.com
Nikon Updates V3 Firmware. The primary feature added is full support for Nikon’s optional (for sale) Camera Control Pro software, which has also been updated to version 2.22.0. Article on sansmirror.com
Nikon updated many of their software products this week to get them compatible with recent cameras. You should bookmark my Nikon Software Versions page, which I try to keep fully up to date. Note that all recent DSLR bodies should get the Distortion Control Data 2.009 firmware update installed. This doesn’t show up as a camera update (though it is often incorporated in camera firmware updates)! Note also that you camera must be running current firmware in order to install the Distortion Control Data update.
A number of you pointed out a few small discrepancies and a couple of missing lenses on the Mirrorless Lens Availability table I published recently. I’ve updated the table accordingly.
May 26, 2015
Another Thom Q&A I tend to get duplicative questions about Nikon gear via email and this site’s contact form. From time to time I’ve created articles to disseminate my responses to such questions more broadly. This is one of those articles. PF, E, Sport VR, DX, D400, sensors, mirrorless, it’s all covered. Warning: long article. Article on dslrbodies.com
May 21, 2015
How Tight is Tight? Ricoh owners have been wondering recently whether a new GR is coming down the pike. (Coolpix A owners might be thinking similarly, will there be a Coolpix B?) That got me to thinking about the state of the camera industry again. Simply put: is there enough volume in speciality cameras to make a strong profit any more? Article on dslrbodies.com
Odd Nikon D750 Firmware Update. Nikon today released version C1.02 firmware for the D750 DSLR, with the only change comment being “camera operation is now more reliable.” Article on dslrbodies.com
Nikon Updates V2 Firmware. A fix for a problem with Eye-Fi cards when recording video. Article on sansmirror.com
Previous articles can be found in the Articles Index.
Thom's Monthly Teaching Point — Seeing O’Hare Again
Since I didn’t supply a Teaching Point last month, I thought I’d write a slightly more involved one this month.
Long-term readers of this site know that I fly through the Chicago O’Hare airport a lot, and that when I have a long-enough layover there, I’ll spend time exploring the underground connector between Terminal B and C in the United portion of the airport. My goal is always the same: find new photos I haven’t seen before. Given that I’ve been doing this for decades now, you’d think that I’d have run out of things to photograph by now. But that’s my first point this month: photography is both temporal and experiential.
Places are never exactly the same each time you return to them. Indeed, that’s a bit of the theme of this month’s main photo (above). But how did I get to that shot?
By foot, mainly.
That was sarcasm for all you Sheldons out there. Some think I’m a bit of a Sheldon, so it’s also a statement of fact ;~). (If you have no idea what I’m writing about here, I’ll just say Big Bang Theory and leave it at that.)
So let’s be literal. As I came down the escalator into the connector I already had my LX-100 out and was looking for something “new” that struck me. Since the key element of the art installation there is the neon lights over the moving walkways, they tend to be the thing you focus on first. But I’ve looked at that neon quite a bit at this point, so I almost immediately start with the opposite these days: what’s there that isn’t the neon lights that are so famous and so photographed?
This trip I was almost immediately struck by something: the “framing” I was seeing at the edge looking down the corridor was basically 1:1 aspect ratio. Nice thing about the LX-100, I just flipped the switch to 1:1 and took the shot. Actually, I took several shots, as I needed to center the camera as much as I could in the implied 1:1 space and level it, otherwise I’d get perspective distortion on the horizontal and vertical edges. Here’s what I ended up with:
From a compositional sense, I still had problems with this, as it feels a bit like a right-handed image to me (closed on the right, open on the left). Without any real reason for the eye to go left, I don’t think it’s strong enough. I could, I suppose, brighten the passengers entering the walkway at left, or wait for a very interesting traveler to arrive there. Some of you who’ve been there will say, “but wait for the neon lights to come on!” Yes, true. It is a little stronger with the neon lights glowing, but remember, I was looking for a shot that wasn’t about the neon. I’ve got hundreds, probably thousands of shots with the neon, and some very good ones.
Which brings me to a second point: what I’m doing here is challenging myself to go behind the obvious shots. Go beyond the shots I know that are there. Go beyond the shots I’ve done before. I’m trying to stretch what I can do in that space and look at it more creatively and differently than I’ve done before. Many of you ask me “how do you keep from taking the same shot over and over?” That’s especially a problem for landscape photographers. Hey, Half Dome has been photographed a few times ;~). Even by me.
The way you find the shots that others don’t get is to stretch yourself. Here’s an idea: hold you hand up so you can’t see the neon (or main thing in the space you’re photographing). Now what do you see? I actually have an extended structure that I use in these situations that I’ll eventually get around to documenting (in my usual excess). But there are plenty of little tricks you can use: hide the obvious, move around, look behind you, don’t stay at eye level, put something (or wait for something to come) into the scene, or change your aspect ratio, just to name a few.
A lot of photographers restrict themselves arbitrarily by resisting using their imagination. Photography is about reality, isn’t it? No, it is not. Photography is about interpretation of a place and moment due to the decisions you make (what camera to use, where to point it, which lens is mounted, what aperture is used, what shutter speed, what filtration, and a huge list of other things that you’re making decisions about). They’re your decisions, not reality’s decisions! So why not take control of them and claim ownership of them?
You want people to really look at your photos and study them. Appreciate them. Critique them. Challenge them. What you don’t want is for someone to say “oh, yeah, that’s a shot of X.” Worse still, what you really don’t want is for someone to then say “I’ve got one like that, too.”
I’m going to go astray for a moment and say that this even applies to photographs we tend to think of as alike, such as “standard portraits.” The other evening Tony Medici—the second instructor I bring on my workshops—was shooting portraits for a local theatre group that we work with (I do video, Tony does stills). You can tell that Tony has an engineering background: he’s somewhat meticulous at setting things up to exacting standards and getting very repeatable results. Which should be great for head shot portraits, right?
Yes and no. The one thing that I do that I think Tony still doesn’t quite do enough of is try to get the subject to be spontaneous and fully show their personality. Yes, the lighting, angle, focal length, all the technical aspects are basically the same for every portrait taken with his basic set up. It results in great shots of those people. But does it expose their personality? Not unless the photographer gets involved. First, you have to recognize that the subject is just giving you what you asked for, not being themselves. Second, you have to have an interaction with the subject that gets them to stop thinking about all that expensive gear pointed at them and what it is being used for, and instead just being themselves. When their attention is on their interaction with you, they relax and start to reveal their personality more.
The great portraitists will tell you that the angle of the body, the angle of the head, the lack of wrinkles on the clothing (or the face when they smile), whether the eyes are fully open, whether loose hairs are going astray or blocking anything, and a host of other things “need to be right” for the “perfect portrait.” Then you look at their very best work and I’ll bet you that they violated one of their own rules! It’s the portraits that get to the personality of the subject, not the technically correct ones, that really engage us.
I told you I was going astray. But it’s a good astray. Because landscape photographers, architectural documenters, sports shooters, basically any type of photographer tends to build meticulous sets of rules to “get it right.” To me, those rules tend to make them produce somewhat static and stale photographs. Photographs we’ve seen before, and which don’t involve your emotional reaction in any way.
So what did I do next at O’Hare?
I turned around.
And got fixated on the Exit sign:
I have quite a few variations on this, as I was trying to figure out what to include and why. Pity that the neon at the end is white (or is it a pity? this makes for a fairly monotonic image, which emphasizes the lines and patterns). Let’s just take it to black and white:
The interesting thing about this shot is that as abstract as it is, if you’ve ever been there, you’ll immediately recognize it.
One of the things I was playing with was variations on “exit.” If you stand there long enough, you can probably shoot virtually every variation possible, including only people actually exiting the connector, or as I’ve done here, balancing people exiting Terminal B with people exiting the connector. There’s no wrong decision. I only show this particular example to illustrate that “double exit” thing I was thinking about.
But the big thing I learned from the great photographers I’ve worked with over the years is simple: exhaust a possibility and keep moving. Exhaust more possibilities. One of two things is going to happen: (1) you’re going to find a better possibility down the line, or (2) you’re going to verify that you’ve already found the best possibility (today) and can then simply go back to it and work it some more.
And we’re back to this month’s main image: the minute I saw the ladders I knew I wanted to photograph that scene, as I was pretty sure the opportunity was temporal and wouldn’t be there the next time I walk down the connector. That alone compelled me to photograph it. But more importantly, it’s what I said up front: I’m challenging myself to find new images in a fixed place, and the work going on behind the connector’s walls that leaked through the lit panel definitely was new and interesting to me. Thus, once found, I knew I’d photograph it.
I’m always stunned in National Parks. 90% of the photography done in a National Park goes like this: drive to a known spot (or any “turnout”), get out, walk to the edge or platform or whatever, take a photo, go back to your car. Repeat at each turnout or wherever you see another car parked. If you’re hiking, the same thing applies, only you don’t do it with a car ;~).
99% of the other 10% consists of some form of this variation: see someone taking a picture, stop, go to where they were and take a photo. Repeat. Just a word of warning: I’ll often fake taking pictures and point my camera in random directions and ways in National Parks just to be amused by how many people will come over and “take the same shot.” Once they’re gone, I’ll go back to trying to figure out where my shot is and why.
Frankly, I’ve never understood why most people want exactly the same shots as everyone else. Maybe its a socialization thing I don’t understand (remember, I’m an unmarried only child who was a latch-key kid; I get by fine without other people around). Generally, though, the images that we respond to as viewers are things we haven’t seen before, whether it be a place, an expression, a lighting effect, or something else. That means that you have to look for unique, not same.
Find your own O’Hare: a place you can regularly visit that is a fairly restrictive space, but an interesting one to you photographically. Perform the following two exercises each time you go there: (1) take a “better” version of a photo you’ve already taken; and (2) find a photograph you hadn’t seen before and work it. I know photographers who’ve made a living just taking macro shots in their backyard. You don’t need to travel far. You don’t need a place that’s never been seen before. You don’t need better equipment than other photographers.
What you need is an open mind and a bit of exploration. Imagine. Envision. Create.
If you're wondering where the previous Teaching Points went, they're here.