Friday, June 1, 2007

Auto Focus and Lenses

We have now taken thousands and thousands of pictures with the D80, using five different lenses, inside and out, all different settings, etc. and most of the pictures have been out of focus. I use this camera almost everyday. It got to the point last month that we sent the camera back to Nikon for servicing. They replaced the guts of the camera and sent it back, no questions asked - good service!!

The pictures might be a little better but inside they still are totally unacceptable. Our little 7.2 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot does a better job inside. If it weren't for the "shutter lag" (actually speed of the AF) on the little camera I would still prefer it to the Nikon DSLR.

Outside, when in bright light, the Nikon does a good job. I can turn the shutter speed way up and get the action shots I'm after. The DSLR does what I want outside in good light, but not in lower light/inside.

It is kind of frustrating because we have good lenses; Nikkor AF 28mm 2.8D, Nikkor AF 50mm 1.8D, Sigma AF 2.8f 28-70, Nikkor AF 105mm micro 2.8D, and the Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 GDX-VR. By far the best lens we have is the 105mm D f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor! The shots with this lens are very nice but it is a fixed focal length of 105mm which is like 150mm on the D80, so it is a little long. But I would rather take shots with the 105 than the other lenses because they come out noticeably crisper and a much, much higher % actually come out.

Inside the D80 has proven basically useless so far. With all the lights on it still produces poor quality images. If I use the 50mm and set it to 1.8 Aperture priority, and ISO 1600 I can snap shots but the shutter speed will still be too slow to catch a jumping cat and of course the depth of field is nill and everything is a bit grainy at 1600 ISO. With the flash I can get a shutter speed of 1/200, but lose the ability to take shots rapidly.

So at this point (after months of regular use) I'm still not sold on the D80. I might get the 60mm Micro-Nikkor f/2.8D. If the optics are as good as the 105mm at least I will be able to be a little closer to the action.

BTW the range on the 18-200mm is nice. To be able to shoot wide (18mm) is cool,... being able to shoot at 200mm (300mm) is pretty cool too. Nice range on this lens, but the optics don't seem to approach the 105's.

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Saturday, March 3, 2007

Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF Lens is wonderful for the pictures we are taking of the Bengal Brothers, outside but it is too long for inside.

This lens got many rave reviews as a good inside lens when the light is less than optimal but a flash is not appropriate. A couple of the reviews also said that the f/1.8 was prefered over the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Lens because the f/1.4 offered such a shallow depth of field that it made Auto-focusing difficult unless the camera was specifically calibrated, beyond the factory calibrations. This lens stops down to f/22 for additional depth of field control.

Additionally, the f/1.8 is way cheaper, almost 3 times less $.

Why I like this lens, outside.
1) it is small! (currently I'm use to point & shoot, so the size feels right.)
2) its physical length does not interfere with the built in flash (mostly needed indoors), doesn't stick out much farther than my hand (photo below).
3) it is light weight! [5.5 oz. (155g)]
4) I don't have to think about zooming a zoom lens
5) I just shoot and with the high quality pictures and high resolution of the D80, I have plenty of extra pixel data to zoom in on my intended subjects, and still get a perfectly good 100Kb blog picture. I'm shooting at "Fine" and "Large," so the jpgs I get are 4000+Kb to start with.

The size is "right" for me.

The above, admittedely poor quality picture is good for illustrating my point. Tanji, spotted fore ground, was about 20 feet away and Uschi was about 175' away. The blow-up of Uschi isn't great quality but you can see what I'm getting at, there is information there. I did not do extensive touch-ups (no filters, sharpening, etc.) in Photoshop. A 50mm lens isn't the tool for trying to take a picture of a small subject 175' away, but I can capture subjects close and "far", good enough for a blog photo. The original picture (L) is 4650KB and the composite (15"x4.5", 72dpi) picture posted here is only 113KB.

Why I don't like this lens, inside.
50mm is actually to long of a lens for me inside. Even in our relatively large room (21'x30'), the action is always too close at hand for 50mm.
Through a 50mm lens subjects viewed with the camera appear about the same size as when viewed with the human eye, which is one of the reasons why 50mm lenses are called normal. But with the digital mutiplier of ~1.5, due to the DX format CCD, the 55mm becomes equivilatnt to an 82mm. This is too long for me to take pictures of small, fast, jumping subjects 2'-10' away.

Inside I have been "forced" to use our very nice Sigma 28mm-70mm f/2.8. This is a great lens but it is relatively heavy, big (72mm filters), and at 28mm it blocks the built in flash such that we get a curved shadow at the bottom of the pictures.

Sigma 28mm-70mm f/2.8 AF (at 28mm)

My current goal will be to get a Nikon 28mm f/2.8D AF Lens for indoor shots of the Bengal Brothers.

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Friday, March 2, 2007

First Pictures Appear "Grainy"

The D80 has so many functions and gives a knowledgeable user the ability to control just about every aspect of taking a picture. We have a lot to learn, but right off the top; the lack of shutter lag, image colors and quality, and flexibility are definite steps up from our little good quality point and shoot. It arrived the other day and we took a series of pictures in full Auto mode and 100 ISO, just to start playing around with it. Most of the pictures we took didn't come out that great, we had focus, depth of field, exposure, and lighting issues. They appear to me and some of our keen eyed blog "Adventurers" to look a bit grainy. At least more so than our pictures taken with our 7.2Mega Pixel auto point and shoot. After the graininess observations, I thought about the the settings, worked through the D80 manual, and this is what I came up with:

Our first pictures with the D80 do appear a bit grainier than the pictures from the point and shoot. At the same time I see a greater depth or something (“hyper” colors and details/contrasts?) in the D80 pictures. I think what we are seeing as “graininess” is a lack of focused depth of field, under exposure, and also some of the pictures posted are just plain out of focus to begin with. The light was a bit low, but that is a constant battle, and we don't know what we are doing yet so we were shooting in “Auto” mode the camera was attempting to do everything. The aperture was probably wide open on our good f/2.8 and f/1.8 lenses, which gives a very narrow focused depth of field.

All shots were taken at the factory default ISO setting of 100, similar to 100 speed film. So in low light the camera was forced to use a large aperture (small #). I remember using 100 speed film, back in the day, because that was suppose to give the highest quality pictures, but for me, the shots regularly came out grainy. I got better overall results using 400 speed film. This camera has ISO settings from 100-1600+, but the faster the ISO (larger #) the more artifacts will be seen in the photos. My goal will be to shoot at an ISO of less than 1000, I think.

These shots were taken in “Fine jpg” mode and “Large” which should give the highest resolution non-“RAW” picture. So, we might also be seeing lots of extra pixel data and greater contrast between small details, which are normally blurred together with the lower resolution images from the point and shoot.

In the last picture of Uschi, his face was just about in focus, to my eye, but by the time you get to the focal plane of his chest, focus is already gone. The fast ISO, shutter speed, and minimal shutter lag is nice with the DSLR, but we need to learn how to take the shots with a higher f-stop to get more focused depth of field.

The out of focus picture of Uschi crying was taken about 15 feet away with a flash and a Nikkor f/2.8, 105mm macro, under low light. So, the camera was pushed to limits not accessible with our point and shoot. There is a lot to learn about using a DSLR camera, so I think these issues will be taken care of with greater user skill development. Programmed Auto [P] with flexible program; Shutter-Priority Auto [S]; Aperture Priority Auto [A], will become our friends rapidly.

I’ve also learned that the monitor you are viewing the pictures with greatly changes what you see. The blog/pictures looks totally different on my 20” CRT monitor than on a 21” LCD or a 10” laptop. The colors are completely different and the pictures seem to have a bit different focus and color saturation.

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Flying Out Of The Box

When I first turned the Nikon D80 on, it was a whole new world from using a "point & shoot." It was like the first time I flew an airplane into a controlled airport. I was very new to flying, my brain still had to analyze and reanalyze every action before my body could respond. My flight instructor had just introduced me to using the radio, before that she was doing all the radio communications, while I struggled to manage the flight controls. As we approached the airport she asked me to talk to the tower. I had to think about every word, and then analyze every response, at the same time my brain was struggling to make my body manage the flight controls. I was soon into overload and had to ask her to take over communications, because my brain was short circuiting.

Very shortly after this first experience, flying into that controlled airport was no problem. Managing the flight controls had become second nature (like driving a car) and radio communications were just like talking while driving.

My first experience with the D80 felt just like this. All these buttons, dials, settings, and unknown terms. I was instantly in overload.

I assure you, just 3 days later, after reading over the manual and fiddling with the settings, the work load is seeming much more manageable. At the same time the quality of our pictures is improving.

Stay tuned.

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The Ugly Purchase Process

First of all, we went with Nikon D80 because we already had several quality lenses from the film era and because the D80 received very good reviews from online pros and friends who have one. Once this was decided I went online and started searching for the best price.

I'm a seasoned internet purchaser, pretty technical, and did significant research into what extra components I wanted and why. I learned a lot from Ken Rockwell's site and will continue to refer to his postings. So, I felt confident in what I wanted, I just needed to find a great price, be warned, you get what you pay for!! And sorry in advance for this venting, I assure you that I typically do not post negative things.

1) I found a great price for the camera and all components I wanted at and placed my order. Right away I should have known there would be problems. Upon placing the order online I was required to call them to verify the order. Okay it was an expensive order, so I called. Eventually, I got to a live person and Instantly they were RUDE. After many transfers and much ATTITUDE I got to Jason, "a manager." He started talking a mile a minute with all kinds of attitude, rudeness, and lingo. All the items I wanted were "not what I wanted" and this other set-up was much better. Now, I knew there were problems when the Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX
VR lens that is absolutely raved about all over the web was "not the lens I wanted,... and all the pros are now getting this other lens, and turning in their Nikkors,..." I've dealt with this type of sales guy before but still I started to second guessing myself and wondered,... luckily I got the specs on the other "better" lens (it turned out to be a Sigma 18-200mm DX), and said I would go and research it before I committed to any change in my order. He also wanted to charge me more $$ for the Sigma, but I "was getting a great deal." After researching I decided,... No I wanted the Nikkor and called back,... I got a huge run around, tons of RUDENESS and Attitude, and my call got dropped 3 times. Finally I got back to Jason, because "he is the only one who could help me." He wasn't happy and was rude. Finally, everything got worked out and my original order was intact and all set to go..... But, Oh wait there is a $45 shipping fee,... But the website said free shipping on these items if I purchased by xx date. More RUDNESS. I said, okay ship it, thinking the price was still so good that I was ahead. Just as I was about to hang up the phone,... "there is a 3-5 week 'manufactures back-order' on this camera,..." WHAT!!! I tucked my tail between my legs and said, okay ship it when it is available. I waited 3 weeks, and finally woke one morning literally in a cold sweat about the order. I called them and they said the back-order was now 12 more weeks. I canceled the order and felt a huge relief. Later I searched for reviews about,... and

2) I went back to the web and searched and found another good price at USA Photo Nation on the D80 body only, and decided to get it rush shipped. I placed the order, selected 2nd day air and was all happy. Later that day I got a message that I needed to give them a call.
Oh No, here we go again,… I called and again battled to get to the person I was instructed to speak with. Right away,... "I see you ordered the camera body only,..." You really need to get this, and this and this,... "No thanks" I said "I already have lenses," and such,... "Oh, I see you ordered the “CHINESE MODEL" What!!! No I didn’t,... "yes, all the menus are in Chinese,..." WHAT?!?!, I was looking right at their site/add at that moment and said I see no mention of this,... "You need to order the 'E' (English) model and it costs,... (hundreds more), additionally the Chinese model does not come with anything in the box, no manual, charger, battery, no USA warranty, etc. it is just the camera body, which has all of its menus in Chinese." I was pissed, because I knew he was lying,... I canceled the order on the spot!! FYI - the D80's menus can be set to many languages, you select the language you want to use in the set-up. Your choices are; Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, or Swedish. You can switch them anytime you want.

3) I went to
and ordered all the items I wanted. I paid more for the camera body, but all the other items were actually about the same or less $ than the above vendors. There was no hassle, all done online, smooth, 2nd day shipping, I received email confirmations and was able to track the FedEx packages through the RitzCamera website. I even called them at one point and was greeted by a person that was helpful and pleasant to speak with.

Please, PLEASE learn from my experiences. If you are uncomfortable with the sales people, bail and don't look back. I would have slept better, and had my D80 four weeks earlier.

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About This Blog - Start Here

My goal for this blog is for it will be an outlet for me to synthesize things I/we learn about using the Nikon D80 DSLR.

I didn't want to talk about technical issues and such on our main Adventures of Tanjiro, Uschi-Swirl & Vladimir blog because that blog is about "the boys" so this will be my outlet and place to keep my notes.

I do not plan on posting a lot of photos on this blog about photography, only occasionally, if it helps to make my point. The reason for us to take pictures and the reason we purchased the D80 was for our photo-based blog. I'm confident that others can do the photo-education stuff much better than I, it is out there, like Ken Rockwell.

I hope that someone reading this blog will find some nugget of information that will help them to steepen their learning curve and/or avoid problems we come across along the way in our on going adventure.

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