Category: Photo Equipment

My Nikon D800e has arrived and…

…I’ve started putting it through its paces. [Many thanks to Lan at Vistek Mississauga for finally getting one of these into my hands!] I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that, at least for me, this is the dawn of a new era in photography. Sorry for the melodrama, but I’ve been using 4:3s DSLRs since I switched from 35mm and while I can state unequivocally that I made some absolutely wonderful images with them, I always felt just a little hampered with the lack of fine detail I had become used to when shooting 6×7 and 4×5 (and 35mm Velvia). It would appear the D800e might just bridge that IQ gap I have been missing.

This morning I was out before dawn putting the camera through its first paces and am just now sitting on the deck waiting for the images to upload to my computer. As background, I am using a MacBook Pro (mid-2011) 2 GH Intel Core i7 with 8 GB of ram. As the D800e has two card slots, I have put into the CF slot a Lexar Professional 32 GB 400X UDMA card (dedicated for video and overspill) and into the SD slot a Lexar Professional 32 GB 400X SD UHS1 card. I am dedicating my raw images to the SD card since I can easily remove it from the camera and plug it directly into the MacBook Pro (I would prefer to be doing that with the CF card, but I guess that would be asking too much of Apple).

So the images have uploaded and didn’t take as long as I expected given that they are all raw files between 40 and 50 MB in size. The 78 images were uploaded in just a few minutes into Lightroom 4.1. This is partly because I have only Medium size jpeg previews made and 1440 pixel previews and a Standard Preview size of 1440 pixels at Medium quality. While this speeds uploads, it does mean that I wait for full-sized previews to be generated upon zooming for the first time in Lightroom.

Equipment

I set out this morning, as usual, with my complete kit of tripod + electronic remote, polarizing and ND3 filters plus lenses: 20/2.8 AF-D, 28/2.8 AF-D, 50/1.8 AF-D, 105/2.8 Micro AF-D and 300/4 AF-S. They are mostly D lenses because I was able to pick them up used for a great price and just couldn’t justify the extra expense for the AF-S versions when the optics are virtually identical (particularly with the 20mm and 105mm Micro-Nikkor). I hardly ever use a 28 or 50, so my key focal lengths are well-covered with near excellent glass and the 105 AF-D is a much more manageable size compared to the AF-S version. AF might be a bit slower, but for most of my work with that lens I am using MF anyway.

Field Experience – so far, anyway…

I have enjoyed the switch from Olympus to Nikon over the past two months, although I greatly miss having both shadow clipping and highlight clipping show in LCD previews. Olympus would show Shadow clipping as blue and Highlight clipping as red just as Lightroom does – I can never figure out why Nikon does’t do the same except that Highlight clipping is much more important to be aware of than Shadow clipping. Also, I miss being able to program the delay between mirror lock-up and shutter activation. Olympus would allow 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 & 10 seconds; the D800e only allows up to 3sec. so I just set the dial to “Mup” and count my own 4 or 5 seconds – no real problem there as it is identical to how I use my Pentax 67.

Everything seems to be in its place for other settings and I haven’t found the camera to be cramped. One thing I did notice right out of the box was how light the camera felt. I am glad of it not being the “professional” size of a D4 or D3 as I much prefer something that is more “backpack-able” and “portage-able”.

I plan to shoot at the base ISO of 200, unless there is a compelling reason to change, as ISO200 does provide the greatest dynamic range. Typically, I shoot using Aperture-Priority (A-mode) as it is aperture that I wish to control more often than shutter speed. I work on a tripod, so unless the wind is blowing, shutter speed is not usually significant.

I am greatly enjoying the much larger viewfinder experience offered by a full-frame camera. There is space to look around! I make constant use of the digital level projected in the viewfinder and find Nikon’s implementation quite good except for one thing – the markings are in black. If they were at the top (as they are when I shoot vertically) then it’s not too bad as they are more often projected against the sky (for landscapes). But with black markings at the bottom, I found they were difficult to see at times. Depressing the shutter release 1/2-way does give a split-sceond of the “ambient-red” look so I can see where I’m at, but I must admit to finding the implementation of the digital level in the viewfinder less helpful than my experience with the Olympus E-30, although the Nikon seems to be slightly more precise with finer markings.

Breakfast is calling. More to come…

Nikkor 300mm f/4 AF-S – Amazing!

Unmanipulated 100% view

Twenty-five years ago I owned a 300/4 manual focus for my Nikon FM and FM2. It was a great lens, but as way leads onto to way, my Nikon gear was replaced with Pentax 67 gear. It’s funny, though, how things come full circle…

I took ownership of this new AF-S version of what has always been an amazing lens in the Nikkor line-up and it is just as good now as ever. Here are a few shots made last night in our backyard of our resident Eastern Cottontail. In fact, I have made two screenshots showing two raw files at 100% with no manipulation – both shot on a Nikon D200 I am currently borrowing 9prior to the arrival of the D800e.

Unmanipulated 100% view

Maybe I’m easy to please, but I was more than pleasantly surprised at how sharp these images were. They were shot in evening light at f/4 with shutter speeds of 1/100 and 1/125 using an ISO of 400. I can tell I’m really going to love this lens. The bonus is that on the D800e,  it can used full frame as a 300mm or in DX mode as a 450mm – still with a 15MB file size! Here are two images processed from last night’s shoot. Enjoy!

Some 105mm Micro-Nikkor photos

I’m still awaiting my D800e…perhaps just as well so Nikon has a chance to iron out a few bugs 😉

In the meantime, I’m using a D200 that belongs to my friend Kerry Little – many thanks! – to explore the prime lenses I’ve purchased. I am thrilled to be getting back into close-up and macro work with the 105 Micr-Nikkor, which, of course, is a 150mm on the DX camera. Wow – great working distance and wonderfully tight close-ups.

Our daughter turned 16 last week (yikes!) which brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers including two Protea. Our love of these beautiful and intricate flowers came with our trips to South Africa – their native land. Our two trips – both in April, their autumn – brought many close encounters with these flowers in the wild. Spectacular! They are incredibly ornate and colourful and make ideal subjects for photographers.

With these being cut flowers, I could move them to an east window after the sun had passed, giving strong, but filtered light. I shot on a tripod allowing for precise composition and the longer shutter speeds needed for small apertures. It was a luxury to be able to rotate and move the vase to get just the right views, framing and focus – something I don’t have the option of doing when photographing in the field!

Nikon D800 – “Should I upgrade?”

I have been asked by a number of people about whether they should upgrade to a Nikon D800. They are understandably attracted by the amazing potential that this camera holds for higher quality digital photographs and video. Once they get past the shock of its price, they start thinking about that state-of-the-art 36mp sensor – bigger has to be better, right?

Well perhaps, but not for everyone. There are a few things you need to consider before jumping on the D800 bandwagon:

  1. How often do you enlarge photos to 16″ or more? The 36mp sensor in the D800 is 7360 x 4912 pixels. At 300ppi, it will produce uncropped prints of 16.4″ x 24.5″ or at 360ppi (for Epson printers) uncropped prints 13.6″ x 20.4″ in size. If you are making prints this size or larger on a regular basis, then the D800 is for you. Some have asked, “But wouldn’t downsizing from this file size result in better prints as well?” Quite possibly, yes, but the difference at print viewing distance would be minimal and perhaps only visible to someone who really knows what to look for (which is not the vast majority of people who buy large fine art photographs). By the way, I am speaking in terms of uncropped prints, because a photographer who is working towards mastering the craft will routinely compose to either fill-the-frame or at least fill one dimension to allow the other dimension to be cropped. Do you do this as common practice? If not, then perhaps the D800 is not for you.
  2. Do you shoot raw or jpeg format? Many pros shoot jpegs as that’s what their job demands: grip and grins that need to be processed and sent out immediately or news hounds that don’t have time (or the necessity) for post-capture fine-tuning. Even many wedding photogs are still shooting only jpegs. While it may be controversial for me to say this, but if you are shooting jpegs and you are not a pro – in other words if you are shooting jpegs because they are more convenient than doing some post-process work on your photographs – then the D800 may not be for you. The D800 is all about image quality. The photographs you are capable of producing will not improve with more megapixels, only their size will increase. If you are not willing to put the time and effort into fine-tuning raw image files, then the shortcuts you take in producing jpegs may well prevent you from taking full advantage of the benefits the D800 offers. Don’t get me wrong – the D800 produces amazing jpegs, but if it’s only jpegs you want – pre-processed and pre-sharpened with a truncated colour depth – then the D800 is not the ideal machine for you.
  3. Are you prepared for full-frame? This goes along with the next question. Your 18-55mm or 18-200mm zoom will not cut it on the D800 unless you use the camera only in DX mode. If that’s the case, you’d be better off with a D7000. If you are not prepared to upgrade your DX lenses to FX, then don’t consider a D800.
  4. Do you have lenses that will resolve to 36mp? Most of the kit lenses and cheap zooms produced by Nikon and the various 3rd party lens manufacturers will not resolve 36mp well enough from centre to corner to take advantage of the D800 sensor. While they will capture 36mp of data at full-frame, they will not resolve detail in ever one of those 36mp, even if the detail is in the original scene. Like the previous question, if you are not prepared to invest in lenses that resolve 36mp of detail, then you should rethink your decision to buy a D800. For more information, have a look at the work lensrentals.com is doing or the discussions on the Luminous-Landscape Forums here and here.
  5. Is your technique refined enough to get the quality from 36mp you are expecting? A number of D800 users have, in just this short time, realized that to get the most out of the D800 you need impeccable technique. Hand-held shots do not seem to be as sharp as they were with 12mp because even the smallest of movements are now being recorded. Diffraction at f/16 and f/22 is more noticeable. You may find that working on a tripod becomes the norm when using the D800 – would you be happy with that? You may also find (as other D800 users have) that each lens will need its autofocus fine-tuned. As well, many D800 users are making active use of live view for focussing. Are you prepared for that kind of precision?
  6. As a corollary to Q 6. (and there is no insult intended) – would you recognize the additional image quality provided by a D800? Many photographers are quite satisfied with their on-screen results and the prints they are producing. In your current photography, do you recognize that you have reached the image quality potential of your current system? If not, then the D800 is not for you. Do you recognize the flaws in IQ with your current system and wish to go beyond what you can currently achieve? If so, then perhaps the D800 is the way to go.
  7. Are you prepared to buy larger, faster memory cards? A standard raw file from a D800 is almost 75mb. your current 4GB card that may hold nearly 300 12mp raw files will now only hold 53 D800 raw files. Even the jpegs at highest quality are over 20MB in size. You will need to invest in larger capacity memory cards with faster write speeds, not just for raw files, but for video as well.
  8. Is your computer system and image management application up to processing 36mp files? Further to Q. 7, that 75mp raw file you’ve just captured will open in Photoshop at over 200MB – and that’s before you add any layers! Is your system up to manipulating these files? Realistically, however, most serious photographers  will have already migrated to  using a non-destructive workflow offered by Lightroom, Aperture and Capture One. But even there you will notice a speed hit, particularly when it comes to generating 1:1 previews (don’t do this upon Import, but rather only as needed) and when retouching. Be prepared for a slower work-flow!

Your investment of $3000 (+ tax!) for a D800 body may end up costing you a whole lot more if you haven’t thought things through thoroughly. You will need larger, faster memory cards; you may need a few new lenses or at least one of the more expensive high-optical-quality Nikkor zooms (and the circular polarizing and other filters for them); you may need a new computer system or at least a pile more ram. You may also need to invest in Lightroom, Aperture or Capture One to avoid the humungous file sizes generated by a Photoshop workflow. And, if you haven’t already adopted a non-destructive workflow, that may also be a learning curve you need to take on.

My decision to move from my 12mp Olympus to the D800e was not taken lightly. Nor was it taken without a hard look at (a) what style of photography excites me; (b) where I would like to go with my photography; and (c) how well my technique, workflow and equipment fit the requirements of a D800. As I have said before in posts, I come from a background of using manual, mechanical 6×7 and 4×5 cameras with prime lenses. I am quite happy to use a tripod and slow my methods down to squeeze  from every scene as much image quality as possible– in fact, that’s where I thrive. For me, using a D800 will be like going back to my medium and large format days but with the added convenience of digital processing and printing, video capture and, when needed for extra reach from a telephoto, DX capture at 15mp.

I am greatly excited by the prospects and am anxiously awaiting the arrival a D800e body.

Prime Lenses for the Nikon D800

Once I made the decision to move to a Nikon system and prime lenses, the question became which lenses? From the start, I am a landscape and nature photographer, so my lens choice is dictated by the needs of this type of photography: wide angle lenses to capture the three-dimensional foreground-background style of landscapes I enjoy creating; a close-focussing lens for natural details; plus a telephoto lens for wildlife. For me, that means focal lengths of 20mm, 24mm, 105mm, 200mm and 300 or 400mm.

This is born out by my shooting stats. The beauty of Lightroom is that I can use the Library Filter to see what focal lengths I most common shoot at. One would expect that with using zooms for the last 8 years there wouldn’t necessarily be a strong pattern but, intact there was. By far, the most common focal length for me was 24mm – almost 25% of all images shot! The next biggest spike is in the 100-120mm range, then the 35mm range then the 400mm range.

In creating my “lens road map”, I started by listing the “most desirable” lenses from a technical and image quality perspective. Since much of my photography is done from trails and canoe portage routes, weight is also an issue as I have to carry all this gear, plus a proper tripod. I have always tried to create a system of lenses whereby each lens is 1/2 or double the focal lengths of the lenses on either side of it. This is less true in wide angles as even a few mm difference make s huge difference in angle of view. Traditionally, I’ve worked with 24mm – 50mm – 100mm – 200mm – 400mm.

My “most desirable” list includes in order of importance:

  • Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 – ideal for super-wide with strong foreground elements. I have been shooting with 24mm for years and often found that it wasn’t quite wide enough;
  • Nikkor 24mm – The f/1.4 version is the crème-de-la-crème for image quality, but it is also very expensive, I will have to settle for the f/2.8 version for now;
  • Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4 – An amazing lens – sharp as a tack and a wonderful working distance. Unfortunately, with it being in the $1500 range, I will have to settle for the 105mm Micro-Nikkor for now.
  • Nikkor 300mm f/4 AF-S – A wonderfully sharp lens that’s not too large and heavy, comparatively speaking. It is the f/2.8 version that you see at sports events along with its 400mm f/2.8 bigger brother – both of which are too big and wieldy for hiking and canoeing, so the f/4 is more appropriate. As well, with today’s improved quality at higher ISOs (400 now-a-days compared to ISO 100 in the film days), f/4 will be fine, even with the 1-stop loss if I should add a 1.4x or 1.7x teleconverter. Furthermore, with the D800 set to DX mode (still with 15MP of real estate), the 300mm becomes a 450mm without a teleconverter.

Whether or not these are AF-D or AF-S was of little importance to me as both versions are technically sound and in many cases optically identical. The 300mm is not available in AF-D (only the earlier AF) so, the AF-S is one for me.

After a couple of weeks of buying and selling on eBay and Kijiji, I’ve ended up with the following – not quite ideal, but a healthy start that will allow for further expansion and changes:

  • Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF-D – Perfect and the first lens I purchased;
  • Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-D – A great start for macro work and it’s a lens that keeps its value;
  • Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AF-D – not ideal, but I bought it along with the 105mm (and 50mm) and it will help “fill the gap”. Anyone want to trade for a 24mm?? (email me! – I’m serious!);
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-D – again, not ideal, but it fills the gap for now.
  • UPDATE 16 May 2012 – Just added a 300/4 AF-S – a spectacular lens – read more…

This gives me an appreciable range now with the top end – yet. More importantly, these lenses appear to be better built than the zoom I used to carry around and, while a bit heavier overall, each is more agile than the zoom. Yes, I will need to switch lenses more frequently and my system won’t look as “professional” with a big honking zoom out front with the petal lens hod, but I certainly won’t be suffering from any “lens envy” that others might feel with the smaller primes 😉

A new beginning with a Nikon D800e

Over the past six months, various aspects of my photographic and non-photographic life have caused me to think hard about where I am going with my photography and the equipment I am using.

Up until 2004, I was an ardent film user having started my photography in 1977 with a Praktica camera. My first serious system was a Minolta with their wonderful lenses. Eventually I “graduated” to a Nikon FM system with Nikkor lenses, but, upon moving to Pentax 67 (selling my Nikon gear to purchase the medium format system), I began using my wife’s Olympus system which I have stayed with all these years. The OM system with its small bodies and prime lenses was ideal for carrying alongside my 4×5 system which I began using in the mid-1990s for my serious work.

In 2004, I made the leap and bought a digital SLR. I agonized over the decision and lamented the fact that my Olympus lenses would not work on their new line of 4/3s DSLRs. However, Olympus once again won out as I could get the full range of focal lengths from 28mm to 400mm in two zooms that also had the same filter size – an ideal kit for travelling as by that time we were living and working overseas. It meant giving up my wonderful prime lenses, but zooms made sense at the time. Not long after returning to Canada I upgraded that system to a 12mp body with a zoom that finally allowed be to reach 24mm – my personal “sweet-spot” for landscapes. In fact, the 12-60mm f/2.8-4 (24 to 120mm equivalent in 35mm terms) was one of the finest zooms ever made – a brilliant range for the nature and landscape work I do.

But alas, the writing was on the wall. With Olympus’ new “flagship” E-5 only carrying 12mp (although a very sharp 12mp), the 4/3s system was quickly being out-paced by APS systems and Olympus began putting its efforts into mirrorles-4/3s. Many argue that it’s not megapixels that make an image and they are absolutely correct for the vast majority of photographers. However, I come from a 6×7 and 4×5 background where image quality and every little detail is absolutely essential.

The second big revelation came back in September of 2011, when I finally began doing some serious printing again after a 12 year hiatus. This meant re-tooling and relearning having spent more than 2 decades in the darkroom creating both black-and-white and colour prints. I don’t care what anyone says – a 12mp sensor simply does not hold up on a 17″ print, especially when I am trying to express the amazing detail found in grand landscapes. That being said, I have 5mp images that look stunning in large prints and many 12mp images that look even better, but they are few and far between and suffer from image breakdown upon close inspection.

With my photography moving more and more into fine art prints, I knew it was just a matter of time before my work would begin to take a back seat. Besides, if I am going to invest time and energy into getting myself in the right place at the right time, I want the resulting digital files to be worth it. Yes, I could just pick up my 4×5 and start shooting film again and scanning it, but the beauty of digital is just so tantalizing. The Pentax D645 with 39mp was just about ideal for this kind of work but it started at $10,000. The same-sized Leica system was also ideal but even $30,000 would’t be enough to do it justice.

With the demise of the 4/3s system and my quest for ultimate image quality at a price I could afford, I began looking seriously at the Sony ?900 and 850 bodies and the wonderful Zeiss zooms available for them. But even those cameras began to look outdated. Word began spreading of a new Nikon body with megapixels galore. Really – 36mp! You’ve got to be joking!

Meanwhile, my brother Charlie who lives and photographs down in Naples, Florida helped to bring me back to my photographic roots when he sent me a booklet and calendar showing the work of Clyde Butcher. If you’ve never seen his work, think Ansel Adams in the Everglades. Amazing – you must visit Clyde’s website! His vision in making gorgeous photos of his “home turf” has re-kindled my desire to do the same here in Ontario.

So, now I’m thinking – while I’ve done some very rewarding work with zoom lenses, I enjoyed photography even more when shooting 6×7 and 4×5 (and 35mm) on a tripod with prime lenses. There is something about prime lenses and working on at tripod that makes you slow down, think and look a lot more closely. It’s not that you can’t do that when hand-holding a zoom lens, it’s just that with primes and a tripod, a certain discipline develops and that discipline of careful thought and placement and composition begins to seep into all areas of the craft and vision of photography. I, for one, benefit from that discipline.

Thus, the various alignments of the demise of 4/3s, the move to fine art prints, the arrival of a breakthrough, full frame 36mp DSLR and my recommitment to prime lenses have resulted in this new beginning. Over the past week or so, I have begun that metamorphosis by purchasing a variety of Nikkor prime lenses and selling my Olympus gear (thanks eBay and Kijiji). The metamorphosis will be complete when I begin shooting with the Nikon D800e that is currently on order and not yet available. Hopefully, my name isn’t too far down the list that I won’t be waiting too long to take delivery.

I have scoured the ‘Net for professional opinions of these new, ground-breaking DSLRs. Everyone who has used one arrives at the same conclusion: the D800 and D800e are truly game-changers. They bring what was once only possible with a minimum $15,000 investment into the hands of photographers like myself for whom that kind of expenditure was simply out of the question. In many ways, the Nikon D800 represents a democratization of image quality like we’ve never seen before.

Check out the Internet and you’ll see all the usual splash about new cameras on dpreview.com, but two things have helped me most in making up my mind. First were the numbers posted by DxOmark.com – a whopping 95 for the D800 – better than any camera of any sensor size, right up to 180mp. Phenomenal. While this is only a measure of the sensor, for me it was the D800’s amazing dynamic range of 14.4 stops that counts most – ideal for the kind of nature and landscape work I do. (In comparison, my E-30 scores 55 and the E-5, 56; the Pentax D645 scores 82 while the Sony 900 scores 79.)

The second bit of help I had in making this decision came from a photographer whose work I have greatly admired for many, many years – Jim Brandenburg of National Geographic fame. His 20-minute interview with WhatDigitalCamera.com and his work for Nikon on this project was a revelation. Granted, he would be a bit of a fan-boy as result of his close association, but, given his reputation, I’m sure he’s also not one to jump on a bandwagon that doesn’t have a solid foundation.

So, consider this my first post on the Nikon D800e. I will add more as I continue this exciting new beginning…

Note: Call it serendipity, but having sold my two Olympus zooms yesterday, just as I was writing this post, my E-30 sold on eBay. I am now completely divested of Olympus (yes, with a tear in one eye), but am now looking forward with even greater anticipation to the next week or so.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Wow – every once in a while, I come across a really cool app. This one is available for Mac/Win/Linux/iOS/Android. What does it do… take a look at this screen shot:

For landscape photographers it is a truly unique tool that allows you to plan your shooting: sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset – all on a terrain map. You can add locations, toggle between multi-day and details for one day and it gives Latitude. Longitude and Elevation data. I especially like the option of added notes about each saved location. It is also pleasing to look at and use – great graphics.  About the only thing it doesn’t seem to do is predict the weather! You can find this great app at StephenTrainor.com. Oh – and did I say that it is free for desktop/laptop computers? Thanks Stephen!

Epson Pro 3880 – First Print

It’s 10:06pm and I am cranking out my first full-page print – a 12×16 printed on 13×19…

Wild Ginger, Spring, Bruce Trail

My original goal was to have the first print by dinner time today, but I was being rather ambitious than realistic.

I picked up the printer this morning (thanks Lan at Vistek, Mississauga!) and spent some time looking through the various papers they had in stock. Before going, I had done my research and had settled on three papers:

  • Ilford GALERIE Gold Fibre Silk – a beautiful, silky smooth baryta paper, reminiscent of the glory days in the darkroom with Galerie paper;
  • MOAB Entrada Natural – a gorgeous rag fine art paper that will be great for the more artsy shots;
  • Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag – yet another beautiful paper with a long history.

Each of these papers have a few things in common. Since I am looking at longevity and fine prints, I figured I should do it right with 100% cotton rag substrate and no Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs). No RC, no photo glossy, no alpha cellulose – just the best paper possible. Not the most expensive (Hahnemuhle is a fortune!) but every bit as good as the most expensive. As well, each of the papers came with excellent recommendations:

     The price of these papers is reasonable, too. For 13×19″ sheets, they run about $3.00 to $3.40 per sheet. The equivalent Hahnemuhle is 1.5x to 2x those prices.
     So with boxes of paper under my arm away I went back up the 401 then down into my basement. Wow – what a process! Unpacking took more than a few minutes with all the tape and quite ingenious packaging of the printer. I also had to drag my old desk out of the crawl space to support it. To the uninitiated, it’s quite large! Installing the inks was simple enough, but there are 9 of them so it takes time.
     After a bite to eat and some church business (you know, committee work) I was back at it. But where to start?!? I can’t just plug it in and send a print over – there’s a bit of a learning curve here. I had to download paper profiles from each of the manufacturers and discover exactly what media settings were needed for each paper. The Epson print drivers are great, but, let’s face it, Epson wants us to use their paper so they build in the presets for their paper, not others. I had thought about using Epson paper, but they’re the printer experts, not the paper experts. Mind you, they have some beautiful papers (I’m looking forward to trying the Cold Press Natural).
     Finally, around 5pm I was ready to print, but it’s also dinner time. We are one of those seemingly dying breeds of families that still have dinner together – a chance to get caught up with everyone and their day. So finally at about 7:30pm I was down in the basement again. But which photo to choose as my first? After sorting through a few dozen, I decided on this one. I shot it earlier this spring on a beautifully foggy day on the Bruce Trail near Chedoke Golf Course in Hamilton. Laurie and I had a wonderful morning hike along there; she birding and I photographing. With BBC Proms streaming through the stereo (Proms 70 – Holst: The Planets) I set to work.
     Back in the days of darkrooms, we would make test strips at different exposures then different contrasts to nail down just the right combination. I’ve created a Lightroom printing preset that does the same thing: it prints just a 3″ strip of the photo. From that strip, I can judge just how the colour, contrast and exposure look. I am not using a monitor profile at this time (I know – big taboo), but at $275 for one that would do the job well, I figured with my MacBook Pro screen fine tuned and an experienced colour darkroom photographic eye, I could do a pretty good job. And, considering this is my first foray into pigment inks and fine art paper, I’d say I’ve done fairly well. I ended up doing 5 – 3″ test strips on a single 13×19 (with space for one more test) before printing a full-sized print. Setting up the Lightroom presets for both the test strip and the final print also took some time to get just right. But, finally, the full-sized print began emerging from the printer.
     Wow! It the final print looks great. I’m sure I’ll see it differently tomorrow but I am so looking forward to finally getting back “in the darkroom” after this 11-year hiatus. Maybe I’ll try a black-and-white. And just think – no water running for hours on end; no more waiting 20 minutes for the colour developer and blix for each test strip; no feeling around in the dark to cut paper (and not my fingers!); no squeegeeing/sponging of large wet sheets, hoping not to scratch one. I do miss the smell of a darkroom, that pungent acetic acid smell, but perhaps the smell of pigment ink will begin to replace that nostalgia. But I sure won’t miss the chemicals down the sink and the endless use of water for washing. Digital printing is here to stay!

Choosing a photo printer – OMG what a challenge!

It’s now well past the time for me to get some serious printing done. For the last number of years, I’ve printed  small stuff on my HP PhotoSmart (does quite a good job actually) and larger stuff using PosterJack.ca – really good prints, but I feel I can do better – oh how I miss the darkroom! In particular, I would love to explore some of the fine art papers for my “Platform” portfolio and some new shots of moving landscapes (more on that later).

So where to start? First of all, I needed to define exactly what type of printer I wanted. Modern fine art standards dictate:

  • pigment inks since they have much greater longevity (over a century for colour and 200+ years for B&W) than the dye inks common in inkjet printers
  • wide carriage – 13″ will produce beautifully sized prints (although 17″ would be preferred, it might be more printer than I can handle financially right now).

BTW, I should point out that I’m not approaching this as someone who has money to burn as we too often read about in the reviews and blogs, but rather as someone who, like most people, must count every penny!

Next – which manufacturer? There are only three in the running: Canon, Epson and HP. All of there printers in this league produce excellent results and are competitively priced. None, however, are sold locally. In fact, there is no local source for pigment inks for any of the machines, let along fine art papers in 13″ or 17″, so T.O. is my destination).
After checking out all three, it seems there is generally more support for the Epson printers
  • more pros whom I respect using them;
  • there are a greater variety of models available in stock at, for e.g. Vistek;
  • if the printers are more common, then the inks will also be easier to obtain.
So, now, which of the myriad Epson printers will suit my needs. A kick look at the list includes (from least to most expensive): R2880, R3000, Pro 3880, Pro 4900, Pro 3800, Pro 4880, 7800, 7890, 7900, etc., etc. I friend of mine has the 9900 – at 44″ width and $150 per ink cartridge, it’s too rich for my blood. Looking back at the photos of mine  that have been most popular with people, it seems that 13″ should be large enough, but I should keep my mind open to a 17″ which would really fit the bill.
One of the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks of reading up on the various printers and decisions to be made is that buying a printer is actually less costly than the consumables you will purchase over the life of the printer: paper and ink. Paper use will be the same no matter what printer you purchase, so let’s look at inks for a moment. It seems, from what I’ve read, that a printer is simply a vehicle for companies to sell ink –- that’s where the real money lies. For example, a standard ink cartridge for an Epson R2880 13″ printer costs $15 and holds 11mL of ink. that’s $1.36 per ml or $1363 per Litre! Imagine if gas or wine was that much!! However, buying ink in larger cartridges reduces the per mL cost of ink. The ink my friend buys at $150 per cartridge holds 350mL = 43 cents per mL – a big savings when you cost that over a number of prints and years. Something to keep in mind…
Back to the printers: of the 13″ printers offering pigment ink, Epson offers the R2880 for $620 (all prices in CDN from Vistek.ca) and the R3000 for $880 less $20 less an Epson rebate for $200 until October 1st = $660. Well, there’s no contest here, the Pro 3000 is a better deal: it is newer and it also comes with more than twice as much ink.
Ignoring printer price for the moment, the Epson R3000 is a more serious printer with larger ink capacity (25.9mL, the r2880 inks are 11mL). A replacement cartridge for the R3000 is $35 = $1.35/mL – no real difference to the R2880, but the fact that it arrives with more ink for about the same price is good enough for me. However, what about the equivalent 17″ printer – the Epson Pro 3880?
The Epson Pro 3880 is significantly more expensive ($1279) but has had wonderful reviews (e.g. Michael Reichman on Lu-La and the great modern photographer Ctein). It has 80mL ink tanks (3x the size of the R3000)  that retail for $64 which is only 80 cents per mL – not that’s a savings! But wait – here’s where it gets interesting. Although the Pro 3880 sells for $1279 – a significant $619 more than the R3000 – it arrives with 80mL of ink per tank, not 25.9mL per tank like the R3000. So let’s compare apples to apples. Start with the Pro 3000 and add 2 sets of ink to bring it up to near the 80mL of the Pro 3880 and the price is: $660 plus 2 ink sets at $280 each = $1220 or $59 less than the Pro 3880. So, for $59 more, the Pro 3880 offers 17″ printing and ink that costs 55 cents less per mL (80 cents per mL versus $1.35 – a 40% savings!). While the Pro 3880 won’t take photo paper in rolls, it will print to about 37″ (officially to 22″ but that can be extended) for the odd panorama. BTW – rolls are not always cheaper on a per sheet basis, but that’s another blog article.
So, guess what I’m ordering from Vistek – that’s right, an Epson Pro 3880, 17″ printer. More printer than perhaps I need right now, but is one I can grow into.

Disappointed with Olympus

I must admit to being more than a little disappointed at Olympus for packing it in at 12.3MP – the sensor size of their latest “flagship” camera, the E-5. There has been a lot of discussion of the quality of Zuiko Digital lenses on the E-5 being amazing (which they are on any Oly body), which is great, but the limiting factor is still sensor size.

Lenses were the be all and end all of IQ, but that was way back in the film days. Back then, lenses meant more because from body to body there were fewer image quality differences – the differences were in the film you chose and the lenses on the body, especially when shooting transparencies which were a direct product of the lens on the camera (essentially a raw image, as opposed to prints from negs which were second-generation and greatly dependent on the enlarging lens, as well).

In the digital world that has changed. My RAW image quality is dependent on three factors:
(a) quality and size of the image sensor;
(b) in-camera software that processes the pixels; and
(c) the lenses out front.

Oly has (b) and (c) covered well, but there is no way that an E-5 will ever stand up to the full-frame Sony Alpha system (A850=$2000) with Zeiss lenses (24-70 f/2.8=$1600).

Many will argue that I am making an unfair comparison here – no I’m not! I’m a pro shooting landscapes and close-ups, out to get the best-possible IQ at the best possible price point and a 24MP sensor with Zeiss lenses will out perform any Zuiko Digital lens simply because it has 24 million quality pixels rather than 12 (sorry, 12.3).

8x10s look the same with either camera and, yes I can make 36″ prints from 12.3MP, but they don’t look nearly as good as ones made with 24MP.

Listen, I have used Olympus since the 1970s: OM-1s, OM-3s and OM-4s with gorgeous Zuiko lenses. My IQ was NEVER COMPROMISED because I shot Kodachrome 25 ad 64, then Velvia 50 and 100. I bought into the Olympus digital system with the E-1 and their great zooms then upgraded to the E-30 with the 12-60 and 55-200 – always with the expectation that Olympus will catch up to the others with a competitively-sized sensor. Now that they haven’t it’s time to move on because I am not waiting another 3+ years for a professionally competitive sensor that Nikon, Canon and Sony had TWO+ YEARS AGO!!

Despite not being an original DSLR-maker, Sony must be the most innovative DSLR company out there – they are doing everything right! I guess I should have kept my Minolta XD-11!! Look where they are now!