Category Archives: Op-Ed

Adobe Creative Suite 6… Stand-alone upgrades vs. Creative Cloud

Today, Adobe announced the pre-release of Adobe Creative Suite 6, their newest version of their digital creative applications, including Photoshop, InDesign, and Dreamweaver (all products I use often). The new thing about this release, however, is Adobe’s “Creative Cloud.” For a monthly subscription price, you can get access to everything Adobe offers, plus some options not available in the stand-alone software packages.

If you are a Photoshop user, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of upgrading (Adobe Buying Guide). I know many photographers who still use Photoshop CS3 and are happy. With every release, Adobe offers many new features that will appeal to some, but not others. For example, if you rely on Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) via Bridge or Photoshop, then you sometimes need to upgrade to get compatibility with current cameras (sigh). The Nikon D4 and D800, for example, are supported in ACR 6.7 (currently in release candidate beta), but if you want to use the new 2012 processing engine (available in Lightroom 4), you’ll need ACR 7 in Photoshop CS6. Photoshop CS6 includes some new content-aware features (useful if you do heavy cloning and retouching), auto-saves, and new blur tools. Continue reading Adobe Creative Suite 6… Stand-alone upgrades vs. Creative Cloud

Nikon D4: A Good Landscape Camera?

Abandoned shed, Calhan CO (single exposure Nikon D4 Image)

I’ve always been drawn to Nikon’s “performance” DSLRs. With the exception of my D2x, I’ve preferred models that deliver high ISO performance and frame rates over sheer pixel count. As part of my continuing exploration of the new Nikon D4, I’ll take a look at how it performs as a landscape camera, especially in light of the new D800, which clearly is getting lots of well-deserved attention these days.

When people think of good landscape cameras, they usually focus on a couple of features:

  • Megapixels (resolution)
  • Dynamic Range (ability to capture tones)
  • Base ISO (lower ISO can be more flexible for creative slow exposures)

To compare sensors, let’s take a look at the DXO Mark comparisons of the Nikon D800, D4, and D2Xs:

DXO Mark comparisons of three Nikon sensors: D4, D800, and D2Xs

Dynamic Range

On specs alone, it’s pretty clear that the new Nikon D800 comes out as a clear winner here (other than base ISO of 100) against the D4, as it can deliver a stunning 13.23 EV of dynamic range at ISO 100! The D4 is certainly no slouch at 12.58 EV, as it bests the D2Xs by nearly two full stops. Consider for a moment that many photographers, myself included, considered the D2X a fabulous landscape camera.

The chart above also shows another truth about DSLRs: their DR performance drops off as you boost ISO sensitivity. In the case of the D2Xs, the drop-off is quite pronounced. The sharp decline in DR seen in the D2Xs is something you can also see in the D800. Notice, however, that the D4 sensor does not show the immediate drop-off in DR performance that the other two cameras do. In fact, between ISO 100 and ISO 1600 on the D4, you only give up 1.29 EV of dynamic range. The D800 loses 3.2 EV of DR over the same range.

The D800 delivers incredible dynamic range, but only when you shoot at ISO 100

So what? I thought landscape photographers always use the camera’s base ISO, with a tripod, etc. Well, this is true for many scenes, there are other situations when you start to use higher ISOs, like when you have subject movement that you don’t want blurred. What the chart above tells me is that while the D800 kicks the D4 at ISO 100, once I’m at ISO 200 the playing field is level, and at ISO 400+, the D4 will have more DR. In fact, the D4 has nearly as much DR at ISO 3200 as the D2Xs did at ISO 100. That is called flexibility.


I’m not even going to argue this point. If you want pixels, the D800 wins handily. There is no doubt that the resolution of the D800 is amazing, and for detailed landscape work, you might even consider the D800e without the anti-aliasing filter. I thought long and hard about this feature as I pre-ordered my D4, as I certainly do my fair share of landscape images on workshops, etc. Then I thought about how I present and share the majority of my images: online. Yes, I have an Epson 7800 printer with a 24″ paper path. I love it. But when I print, I print at 16×24″ or smaller most of the time, with most of my prints being in the 12×18″ range. And frankly, I’ve been very happy with the print quality at 12MP at these sizes. I won’t lie; I don’t make my living making gallery prints. So that is something that is a personal preference to me. When most people see your images on-screen at 1080 pixels or less, does having 36-MP matter?

The other great option with the D800 is cropping flexibility. Needless to say, you can get a 15MP image from a DX-crop using the D800. But I’ll say it again: cropping is no substitute for proper technique. Sure, there are times when having the flexibility to crop is nice, but if I  was using a 36-MP camera to make 15MP images, that would seem like a waste to me.

The only major downside of a high-resolution camera for what I do is file size. Every time you click the shutter of the D800, you generate a 41MB RAW file (14-bit, lossless compressed). This large file size limits the D800 to 4fps shooting, which isn’t bad, but is still slower than the 10fps afforded by the D4. Is that important?

Frame Rate

Traditional landscape photographers don’t care about frame rate. “Give me 3fps and that’s more than I’ll ever use for landscapes,” they say. True, for single-shot landscapes frame rate is irrelevant. But what about for HDR bracketing? When you merge images to create HDR, as I often do, it’s critical that there be as little difference between frames as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get motion artifacts. So for that kind of shooting, it’s ideal to have a fast shutter speed (to prevent motion blur) and a fast frame rate. In that situation, the D4 can deliver 14-bit NEFs at 10fps, and do so with faster shutter speeds (assuming you’re using a higher ISO).

Exposure Bracketing

Speaking of HDR, one nice feature I stumbled upon is that the D4 will do 2 and 3-EV increments for exposure bracketing, while the D800 is still (I don’t know why) limited to 1-EV spacing. For many HDR scenes, all you really need are three frames: -2,0,+2EV. It always annoyed me using the D3 that I needed five frames (1EV apart) to get a three-frame series. When you combine this feature with 10fps shooting, you can further minimize potential movement artifacts between shots in the bracketed series.

Time to produce a ±2EV bracketed sequence (t=0 at first frame):

  • D4 (3 shots, 2EV apart, 10fps): 0.2s
  • D3s (5 shots, 1EV apart, 9fps): 0.444s
  • D800 (5 shots, 1EV apart, 4fps): 1.0s

With the D4, I could theoretically capture four complete ±2EV bracketed sequences in the time it takes the D800 to capture a single sequence. Of course, this isn’t what I’m trying to do when bracketing; the important thing is that the likelihood of movement artifacts is reduced when you only need to capture three frames in 0.2s.


The Nikon D4 and D800 are both fantastic technological achievements, and each serves a fundamentally different niche. For traditional landscape photographers, I can think of no better camera than the D800/D800e, provided that it’s used at base ISO most of the time. For shooters who explore different types of creative outlets, like HDR, shooting hand-held, or just want the extra degrees of freedom for controlling shutter speed, then the Nikon D4 holds its own in just about all aspects except sheer resolution. Of course, at twice the price, it may be difficult to justify a D4 over the D800 as a primary landscape camera. I do lots of non-landscape shooting (sports, wildlife, indoor portraits) that makes the D4 a great choice for my own needs; you should evaluate your own needs before buying any camera.

The Sony XQD Memory Cards: Mac Owners Beware

The Sony XQD card and reader (left) compared to Compact Flash

My Nikon D4 included a free 16GB Sony XQD card and reader. The new XQD standard promises very fast data throughput. Sony’s spec states 125MB/s transfer rates are possible. CF cards currently top out at 90MB/s. In my testing with the XQD card I was able to shoot 83 14-bit lossless compressed NEFs in the D4 before the buffer filled and shooting speed dropped. That’s a lot of frames! Of course, most photographers don’t find themselves ripping off 80 frames at 10fps most of the time. You may as well shoot video if you want to do that. Continue reading The Sony XQD Memory Cards: Mac Owners Beware

Nikon 1 Improvement Wishlist

The FT1 is really great, but why did Nikon cripple its focus and exposure performance?

As you might imagine, I’ve spent a LOT of time with my Nikon 1 V1 camera over the last few months, learning all of its features and quirks for my Nikon 1 Guide. I’ve used it so much, in fact, that I think my DSLRs are getting a bit jealous! A lot of what I wrote in my initial review series still holds true, but I want to address a few of these head-on; things that I’d really like to see Nikon address. While I do point out these limitations book, I didn’t feel that a user guide should be an editorial piece. We have blogs for that.

What Nikon Should Address Right Now

The following camera limitations would make the Nikon J1/V1 a better camera for all users, not just advanced users:

  • Option to disable auto-image review. There’s nothing more frustrating than shooting action, taking a burst of frames, and then seeing an image review in the viewfinder instead of your subject. Given the large buffer of the V1/J1, I suppose you could just shoot longer bursts, but that goes against my training.
  • Minimum Shutter Speed for Auto ISO. The Nikon 1 exposure programming favors low ISO over shutter speed. So much so, that shutter speed drops to 1/15s in some cases. My Nikon 1 guide has the exposure plots to show this behavior in Aperture-priority exposure mode. Please, please… add this function! Continue reading Nikon 1 Improvement Wishlist

Nikon D800… decisions, decisions.

With 36 megapixel resolution, the Nikon D800 is competing with medium format cameras

By now, you’ve already probably heard that Nikon announced the much-anticipated D800 DSLR last night. The big news: a 36 mega-pixel 35mm (FX) sensor. Thirty-six million pixels. In a $3000 DSLR. Keep in mind that the D3x, Nikon’s high-res flagship, is a 24MP camera that sells for nearly $8000. That’s pretty crazy stuff. For a few extra hundred bucks, you can opt for the D800E, a variant that eliminates the optical low-pass filter (anti-aliasing filter) for even more detailed images (but at the risk of moire or other artifacts that would need fixing in post).

I’m already getting messages and emails from people who are jumping at the chance to pre-order this new camera. But ask yourself this: What are you going to do with all those pixels? With this much resolution, Nikon is clearly pushing into territory once reserved for Medium-Format backs and such. If you’re someone who shoots the kinds of subjects that need that kind of a file, then the D800 might be an incredible solution. However, there are always things to think about with any new camera, especially one that carries this much resolution. Continue reading Nikon D800… decisions, decisions.