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08/02/13 New article on strange sensor behavior with D800 and night photographic work

Possible reticulation results with D800 and night photography

Possible reticulation results with D800 and night photography–Click on image for a larger view

I have written a brief article on a problem I had with my Nikon D800e on a night shoot back in May of 2013.  You can read the detailed article here:

Back in May of 2013 on a night shoot, I noticed a strange problem with my D800e images.  I was shooting for night star trails and using the stacking method of shooting.  Normally this will help reduce overall noise since the sensor does not have to stay on for a single long period.  On this night I was working a 1 minute 50 second stack series of images and when I previewed the files on the D800, I immediately noticed a large number of small white dots.  These were not from planes or any other man made device, and were very random through the image, very similar to how noise will look.

In post I found that Lightroom 4.4 had definitely more trouble when working with the raw files.  I did not take any jpgs during this shoot.  I also learned that Capture One Vr. 7, Phase One’s raw conversion software did a much better job overall of the files.  I was able to correct for all the small dots in Capture One, but never really was able to get all of them taken care of in Lightroom.

My D800e is a standard setup, with the Nikon Grip.  I have 1 Nikon Li-0n battery in the camera and the the grip has (8) Ni-MH batteries installed.  I have not had any issues before with this setup.  I will always run off the batteries in the grip first and then the battery in the camera.  Most times in about 4 hours of constant shooting and checking exposures, I will go through all of the power in the grip cells and then use up about 1/3 of the Li-on cell in the camera.  This particular night was not that hot, ambient temperatures were about 78 degrees and the humidity was low about 30 percent of less.  I have not had a chance to do another night shoot since the one in May but hope to get out soon and see if this is going to be a constant problem or a  one time occurrence.

04/05/13 Nikon posts new Firmware for the D800 and D800e

I noticed from reading some of the forums that Nikon has released a new firmware for the D800 family of DSLR cameras.  When Nikon brought out the first upgrade for the D800e I did not upgrade.  My camera was working fine and I did not see any improvements to areas that might effect my style of photography.  However this time, I went ahead and bit the bullet.  You can download the firmware upgrade here.

I used a older 2GB card to do the upgrade, the actual file is rather large as far as firmware goes, at 16K.   Nikon recommends you use a card that is formatted in the camera first and do not put the firmware in a folder.  NOTE,  when you format the card in camera, it creates a folder on the card, make sure you go back delete that folder, and just place the firmware which is a .bin file on the main drive letter for the card.  I used a compact flash card not a SD card for the upgrade.

If you have the Nikon or other branded grip installed using a NiMH battery, then you will have to remove it before the upgrade will install.  The actual installation takes about 2 to 3 minutes and Nikon gives you a nice information bar across the top of the screen.

From reading other reports of users who have upgraded it does seem to effect the way Live view is viewed at 100%, and for me any improvement on that is great!  The current implementation is pretty terrible.  I have never been able to tell anything from the image when viewed at 100% and always have to back off 3 steps of magnification.  This is true also for image preview.  I was hoping that the same fix might apply here too.

I noticed no problems after the install.


10/25/12 An interesting facet of Long Noise Reduction on the Nikon D800/e Cameras

Nikon D800 menu screen showing the Long noise reduction settings

Nikon D800 menu screen showing the Long noise reduction settings

While working in the woods over the past week, I was finally able to work with the long noise reduction settings on the Nikon D800e.  Long noise reduction can be a very important feature on any digital camera, since most sensors will generate more noise the longer they are left on in an exposure.  You can also pick up  “stuck” pixels when you leave the sensor on for periods longer than 5 seconds.  Stuck pixels will appear as solid red, blue green or pure white when you view the image.  Depending on the age of the camera and the overall time of exposure, stuck pixels can potentially ruin an shot.  Noise tends to be more a factor of overall heat, so again the longer a sensor is running taking a single exposure, the more heat can be generated creating noise, also the ambient can play a role in noise.  If you are working in outdoor temperatures  great than 60 degrees F and high humidity, then noise will then to be a bigger issue.

The best way to reduce stuck pixels is to shoot a “dark frame exposure” for the exact same time as the previous exposure.  You shoot this by leaving the lens cap on the lens and then recording a totally dark frame.  All the pixel information should be black so any stuck pixels can be mapped out since they will show up with either color or pure white.

Most modern digital cameras will do this process automatically by writing a dark frame after the exposure.  The camera will do the actual comparison and then map out the stuck pixel data.  As you can see in the picture at the top of the post, there will be a specific menu setting for this, allowing you to toggle it on or off.  Now here is the rub with the D800 series.

If you set long noise reduction to “on”, then the camera takes the dark frame but you are in essence locked out doing anything else for the duration of the dark frame.  So if you take a 20 second exposure, then after the first exposure you will have to wait for another 20 seconds while the dark frame is written.  You will see a message on the LCD blinking while the dark frame process is working.  While this process is running your camera is disabled from shooting anything else.  This doubles your wait time and that can be a huge disadvantage when you are shooting in waning light.  Most cameras allow for a dark frame exposure from exposures ranging from 1 second  or longer.

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10/09/12 Further information on the D600 and MC-DC2 & MC-36

MC-30 to MC-DC2 converter

MC-30 to MC-DC2 converter

I have done a bit more research on the D600 and the remote timer issues.  Both the D800 and D600 come with a built in set of timers called:

  • Time lapse photography
  • Interval timer

One of my main goals was to use the D600 in my night photography pursuits.  Over a year ago, I stopped taking just single long exposures on the blub setting, and started to shoot stacks.  An example of a stack, is to shoot over a period of 40 minutes, with a series of 45 second exposures.  For my night photography, I prefer to work with the illumination of the moon, so you really can’t leave the camera open for long periods of time or the sky will just wash out and or you will only pick up the brightest stars.  Stacking allows you to have much more control of your environment also.

In the past with Canon or Nikon, I would use the remotes that had the built in interval timer.  You need to use the timer for two settings, length of exposure and interval.  The interval is always 1 and the exposure varies depending on the amount of moonlight.   Using the Nikon MC-36 remote, this is easy to do.  Using the built in interval timer on the camera is not.  You can set the interval timer to do 1 interval and a certain number of frames, but the time relies on the cameras set shutter speed for the length of the exposure.  Thus the longest exposure will be 30 seconds and most times at night with stacks that is not long enough.  So the built in timer is not an option.  The time lapse timer has the same shutter speed limitation, requiring the camera to not be in blub mode.  However I have found a new solution from the folks over in China that should work.  A converter that allows the MC-36 to plug in to the port where you plug in the MC-DC2.

MC-30 to MC-DC2 converter

MC-30 to MC-DC2 converter

If this works as advertised a photographer should be able to use all of the functions of the MC-36 on the D600.  I have ordered one and will test it soon to make sure.  If it won’t work or all the functions don’t work, then for me all bets are off for the D600.  I will report back as soon as this converter arrives.

10/07/12 Updates to my 10/02/12 Post on the D600 and bracketing issues

10/07/1230—–Thanks to some comments from readers, I have added some more comments to my 10/02/12 post.

I was concerned about the remotes since I wanted to use my MC-36 on the D600.  It has the the inter-voltmeter and interval timer, both critical for night work since I stack exposures.  I realize that the D600 has these features built in, but I had tried them on the D800 and just did not find them to be very reliable.  The few times I tried the built in interval timer and inter-voltmeter the camera with locked up after a short time or just shut off after about 30 minutes (on a 1 hour exposure using 30 second stacks).  I also feel that the D800 is too much camera for night work in that I just don’t need that much resolution and had wanted to move over to the D600 (but use the MC-36 since it give more control).  It’s possible to use the Nikon MC-DC2 through the accessory port and several other wi-fi solutions to fire the camera.  I will reconsider the D600 with the MC-DC2 after I test it for a few evening stacks. 

Many other readers have assured me that in using the Scan Disk Extreme SD cards they are not seeing any slow downs.  I still would prefer to be able to use one of the many Scan Disk extreme compact flash cards.  I don’t like having to carry two separate types of media in the field.

I may even up reversing my concerns on bracketing once I shoot a D600 some more.  I have used the D800 and D800E enough now to realize that the vastly increase Dynamic Range of these camera can totally eliminate the need for traditional need for exposure bracketing.  I quickly realized that for most of my work, I can get great images by just shooting 3 brackets at around +-1.5ev.  Occasionally certain shooting situations may require 4 but that is an exception.  So now I think that Nikon may have given the D600 a better bracketing solution than the +-1.5 on D800 since you can take +-2ev exposure brackets.  I would hope that a firmware upgrade to the D800 might allow for an increase to at least +- 1.5 in the future.   Without a doubt, these new Nikon sensors are revolutionary designs.

10/02/12 Nikon creates bracketing differences between the D800 and D600

I have now taken out a D600 for a quick test spin.  I had hoped that Nikon would not disable too many of the “pro” features that they have with the D800.  Right from the start, I found that Nikon drastically changed the exposure bracketing between the D800 and D600.

Nikon-D600 view from the front

Nikon-D600 view from the front

With the D600, a photographer now only has the option of 3 brackets.  However you can use a larger exposure range between brackets, as much as +2ev.  It may be even a bit more, but I was in a hurry and when I noticed that you can only get 3 brackets per series, I was immediately turned away.  The main issue I have had since January 2009 when I first started shooting with a Canon 5D MKII was the fact that Canon only allowed for 3 brackets and to get 5 or more you had to have a “pro” body like the 1ds MKIII or 1d MKIiv, both of which I have briefly owned.  I figured out that the best solution for the 5D MKII was to just move the exposure manually, but you had to be very careful not to move the body of the camera since then you would get misaligned frames.

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Updated 08/10/12 Nikon D800 Left Focus point issues–Much ado about nothing? some more thoughts

Due to several readers comments I have added some updates to the bottom of this post.  Depending your shooting style this may be more serious than it is to me.

Since the Nikon D800 and D800E have been announced, one issue that seems to come up over and over is the Left Focus Point on some cameras is not accurate.  The amount of variance seems to vary from a huge amount of difference to just a bit off.  This difference seems to be most often compared to using the center focus point.  The auto focus system on the Nikon D800 is the same that is in the D4, yet it only seems that people using the D800 or D800E have problems.

I have used a D800 now for about 2 months. I was aware of the issue regarding the Left focus point but went ahead and purchased the camera.  I would have been much more concerned if the problem was coming from the center focus points as I tend to use them much more often then the left points or right points.  In fact I can rarely think of a time in my 30 years of landscape shooting where I found that I needed to have the left focus point utilized instead of the center.  I am sure if was working on a very selective scene or a portrait shooter who was working on a off center subject, the left focus point my be important.  However I still don’t see the reason for people to be trying to test it, post pictures of it, write up complaints about it, or feel that for some reason that they were wronged by Nikon.

With my D800, I feel that the center focus point is very accurate enough so that I rarely go back and check focus on the LCD unless I am working a smaller subject like a bird or wildflower.  For landscape wide-angle shooting I am very comfortable with just using the center focus point and then setting up the shot.

There are a few things that people may not be considering before they get upset with the fact that their left focus point is off.

  1. For a lot of my work, still or moving I will use the “auto” AF mode, not the single.  I have found that over time the auto AF setting brings more total focus points in to play and seems to give a more accurate focus.  Note, that when shooting a smaller subject in DX mode, i.e. a bird or animal I will drop back to the center focus point only and take the “auto” setting off.
  2. With a 35mm full frame camera when shooting a landscape there really is not that much difference in subject matter from the center focus point to the left or right.  There is a lot of empty space in the viewfinder that is not covered by any focus point.   So when shooting a traditional landscape at say F8 or F11 where I am working with a hyper focal distance of infinity at 400 feet to 10 feet, the center focus point is a better tool to use.  At this focal range, if you have the center in focus then surely your left and right will also be in focus, or your lens is out of calibration.
  3. If you feel your left focus point is not accurate, and you are concerned that the left side of your composition needs to be in critical focus, then simply move the camera over to the left, place the center focus point on that part of of the image, get your focus and then turn the lens off of AF or use AF lock.  I feel this is actually faster then taking the time to move the active focus point all the way to the left, with the command dial.

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07/22/12 A quick look at the Nikon MB-D12, Nikon’s vertical grip–external battery holder for the D800 Series of cameras

Click on any of the thumbnails for a larger view of the image.

Since I purchased my Nikon D800, I have added the new Nikon MB-D12 battery grip.  I am planning to write a full review of the grip in use with the D800, but this is a quick view of the grip.  The pictures show the grip installed on a Nikon D800, the various battery holders that come with the grip and the grip and an L bracket.  Overall the grip is nice addition to the D800 and with it installed you gain quite a bit of extra run time by using either another Nikon battery or a series of 8 AA batteries.  It’s a nice feature to be able to use AA batteries as if you are in the field/remote parts of the United States, you can almost always find somewhere to purchase AA batteries.  Also if you used the energizer AA lithium AA batteries, you may be able to last for 3 to 4 days without having to change out the cells.

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06/16/12 Popular Photography May have Missed the Key Point in their D800 Review

I have always enjoyed reading Popular Photography’s lab reviews on new cameras.  Over the years I have always found their reviews to be very accurate and straight to the point.  In fact many purchasing decisions I have made have been influenced by reading a review of the product in Popular Photography, so I was surprised after reading the reviews of both the Canon 5D MKIII and Nikon D800 in the July 2012 magazine.   I should also preface this by stating that I have been a 100% satisfied Canon shooter since 1999, and have used their Digital solutions since 2003.  However with the release of the Nikon D800, I have begun a long process of moving back to Nikon.

In the review of the Nikon D800, I felt that Popular Photography missed one key point, and this is very key, the Dynamic Range of the sensor.  The D800 scored 95 in the Dxomark tests, which is the highest score of any Digital Camera ever produced, including the highly placed Phase One IQ180.  The fact that you can underexposed the D800 by as much as 4 stops and still pull up the shadows is an amazing feat.  Where as if you try this with a Canon %D MKIII, you will just get an extreme amount of noise in those same shadows.  To me this capability means that you have so much more leeway when shooting,  You can go ahead and expose for your highlights, (which if you blowout will be always gone) and then pull up your shadows for amazing details.   Again try this with the Canon 5D MKIII, I have and the results are terrible.   The Dxomark score of the Canon 5D MKIII is 81, basically the same as the 5D MKII.  This is very telling in regards to the dynamic range you can expect from the 5D MKIII

Popular Photography seems to be more focused on two aspects of the Canon 5D MKIII which are:

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06/11/12 Nikon D800 creates a massive sell off of Medium Format Digital Equipment

As the Nikon D800 has started to ship in mass, I have noticed that more and more established Medium Format Digital users are selling off most of or all of their equipment and making a permanent move to the Nikon D800.  Many of these users have a Phase One IQ180 and either several of the Schneider leaf shutter lenses or they have a tech camera with Rodenstock or Schneider lenses. I am seeing this mass exodus with many of the landscape shooters that I have maintained contact with over the years.

I have used the D800, and have seen results from the D800e and I will be the first to admit that this the Nikon has definitely allowed the gap between Medium Format Digital to get smaller, but I still feel that the results obtained when shooting a Tech Camera/medium format digital back solution will be superior.   Of course if you are using one of the older digital backs, say over 3 years old, this may not be the case, however if you have a Phase One P65+ or newer, the results should still be be in favor of the Digital Back.  Here are some considerations I have discovered. [Read more…]