Back Home from Namibia

Well, it has been about 15 days since I have returned from a killer landscape workshop that I led in Namibia. While I was gone, lots of things changed in my photo world. While it is always fun to return to Seattle and discover what little things changed, but man, change was everywhere around me upon my return. The big changes included:

1.  Nik Software is now available for $149.00 for the entire suite. Normally HDR or Viveza would cost this much alone. I use Nik products in just about every image that I process. I would suggest that you get it now, as we have no idea what Google will do with the product line.  You can get this software here.

2.  Nikon released a new, and much needed, 80-400mm Zoom. Still at an f-stop of 4.5-5.6, it sports a much faster focusing system, and Nano-crystal lens coating, making this a great safari lens for those that can’t justify the much more expensive 200-400mm.

3.  Nikon released the D7100, which returns another full stop or two more sensitive than the D7000.  Built as a pro-consumer body, this is a great camera for those interested in a 1.5 crop sensor.

4.  Posterious died with short notice. Posterious, the posting service that I used to post to my blog from the bush, was absorbed by Twitter about a year ago.  With 5 days notice, they folded their doors and left me searching for alternatives to support live blogging from the bush while I’m out on safari.

5.  The Hasselblad H5D series is now shipping to the US. After tons of trouble with the H4D series, this new release is the one that I have been waiting for. Better lens / body connections, new menu systems and weather-proofing make this a solid medium format camera that will last well into the future. I cant wait to get my hands on one.

6.  Last and certainly the least, is the big Adobe announcement for LR5. If the past trend of releases continues to be true, we might see a LR5 release by the end of June or July.  Looking at the LR5 Beta, the big improvements include:

  • Very powerful advance healing bush that allows for non-circular click and drag corrections
  • New Radial Filter for off-center vignetting and elliptical local adjustments
  • Upright in the Lens Corrections to automatically straighten photos and fix perspective
  • Smart Previews supporting off-line editing of photos
  • Grid and guide overlays for library, develop, and tethered captured
  • PNG file support
  • True fullscreen mode
  • Page numbering and layout saving in the Book Module
  • Videos can be included in slideshows
  • Windows HiDPI support
  • New smart collections criteria

I hope to release the final details on the Mountain Gorilla and Massai Mara safari (scheduled for early March), a June trip to Botswana, and Iceland in August, just as soon as I possibly can. If you are on my mailing list, you will receive advance notice of these safaris before they are posted on the web. As usual, space will be limited across all safaris, so start thinking about your desires.

I’ll post a few notes from Namibia before I depart for Tanzania again on the 12th of May, including Martini Madness. Meanwhile, I’m on the road heading to Atlanta to see my youngest daughter graduate with her second Masters. Rumor has it that she will soon be employed with a top notch consulting company in Washington DC.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

On the Coast Shooting in the damp

I traveled to Ocean Shores Saturday to photograph the 13 year occurrence of Snowy Owls into this area. In between a slight mist and a little bit of ocean spray, the camera rain cover by Think Tank is just what I needed. Due to my procrastination, my Hydrophobia lens cover for my 200-400 had not arrived. My bad, and it wont happen again. Think Tank, I love their products, is offering a free eyepiece (for a limited time) with either of their two models of the Hydrophobia.  Just click on the banner above to be taken to this special offer.  Meanwhile take a look at what it takes to photograph in damp weather without a Hydrophobia.

Me and the D800

Well folks, the long awaited and source of many rumors, the D800 is finally out.  Available with and without the anti-aliasing filter; consumers should start to see these cameras late March or April, depending upon who you are listening to.  No doubt in my mind that this camera, along with the D4 will be a game changer for Nikon, it is not for me.  While the 36 mega-pixel is of some interest to me, let me summarize what is going through my mind in regards to this camera and why I am not going to jump on the bandwagon – at least for a while.

  • I already own a D3x, and at 24.5 mega pixels (mp), and jumping to 36mp is not that much more of a jump when everything is considered.
  • From everything I have read and the photos that I have looked at, it appears to me that the low ISO is no better than the D700 (already own one of those) or the D3.
  • With my current Nikon kit being made up of D3x, D3s, D700, D300, I have been able to standardize on cards, batteries and chargers.  When comparing the D3x and D3s, the menus and controls are nearly identical, thus less mental hoops for my old brain when shooting in the heat of the action.  Furthermore, when on safari, standardization means less equipment to bring (weight can be a challenge), and less equipment involved in creating redundant systems.

For those wanting to grab one, Nikon Rumors reports that production is in full swing.  Referencing a new release from the Malaysia International News Agency, Berma.com, production from the Sendai facility is set to produce 30,000 D800 and 5,000 D4 bodies per month.  This is great news for everyone that has been waiting in the wings for several years for the next generation Nikon.

One question that lingers in my mind:  Will the increase in mega pixels drive the medium format (Hasselblad and Phase One) prices down a bit?

Just my thoughts on the matter…….

Cheers and happy photoing.

Nikon D4

The much awaited Nikon D4 was announced last night (Pacific Time) and if the specs pan out, this will be a killer camera.  With the D3s as my primary work horse, I have come to rely on the high speed capture rate (frames per second) and the second to none low light noise free shooting.  I can’t tell you how many times this camera has saved my bacon when it comes to shooting in the low light conditions of first or last light of the day.  Night city-scapes are also a breeze when shooting with the D3s.  In reading the specifications of the D4, it looks like nothing but a GRAND improvement over the D3s and I simply can’t wait to get my hands on one.  As soon as I run this camera through its paces, I will report back with my observations.  With any luck, I will own one of these before my trip to Africa in March.  Meanwhile, you can read about the D4 over at B& H Photo.  And now, here is the D4 with an estimated price of $6,400 US – OUCH.

Nikon D4

 

Tracking Your Journey, Part II

Continuing from my previous post on Tracking Your Journey: I have chosen to alter the base settings of the AMOD to achieve much greater storage capacity and to fit the particular type of travel that I do.  For example, on my safaris trips I have selected to turn OFF elevation since we will either in the air or on the road.  Should I need ground elevation information, I can consult a map.  I have also decreased the frequency of write times to the device.  So, here are my settings and  what they mean as far as the type of data that will be returned on the ‘write’ to the log: Mode 6, RMC logged at 10 second intervals. The National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) has developed a set of specifications that defines the interface between various pieces of marine electronic equipment. The standard permits marine electronics to send information to computers and to other marine equipment. Most GPS manufactures have adopted the NMEA standard for recording GPS data and outputting the in a uniform manner. The most common, and considered the bare minimum, GPS data is RMC. RMC, as defined by NMEA sentence structure, returns a log that contains the following data for every log event:
RMC Recommended Minimum sentence C
123519 Fix taken at 12:35:19 UTC
A Status A=active or V=Void.
4807.038,N Latitude 48 deg 07.038′ N
01131.000,E Longitude 11 deg 31.000′ E
022.4 Speed over the ground in knots
084.4 Track angle in degrees True
230394 Date – 23rd of March 1994
003.1,W Magnetic Variation
*6A The checksum data, always begins with *

Using RMC as the minimum recording in Mode 6, I can record more than 2880 hours of data with more than 1,040,000 data points. In this configuration, each log is written to the device every 10 seconds – plenty for a land safari. The next post will walk you through down loading and processing for display on Google Earth.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Tracking Your Journey, Part I

For the past several years, I have always carried a GPS logging device with me on all of my safaris.  This small device records a track and waypoints for my entire trip.  Once home, this becomes a record of the adventure that I can overlay using Google Earth.  My choice device is the AMOD  AGL3080 128 MB GPS logger.  The logger comes with photo geo-tagging software which allows you to write the GPS coordinates to your metadata.  I have read enough articles on metadata corruption that I have become very leery of third party software making changes to metadata contained in my raw files, and therefore opt not us use this software.

So how do I use this device?  I simply turn it every morning, about 5 minutes before we leave our safari camp, and leave it on until we return at the end of the day.  Using lithium batteries, I can usually get three full days, before battery replacement.  During the day, should something come my way that I want to “mark” along our path, I simply push the waypoint button and a manual waypoint is placed on the track.   The AMOD generates a new log every time the unit is turned off and on, which means you will have  a new track for each day.  Although you can assemble these tracks to make one entire trip log, I find the daily separation much better to manage and it corresponds to the daily log that I try to keep from each day.  Next posting on the AMOD will deal with the settings that I use and how they match up to the various NEMA sentences.  The final posting on the AMOD will provide instructions and demos of getting these files into Google Earth for viewing, so stay tuned.

NIK HDR Software from NIK (update)

As noted in my previous posting, I had an opportunity last Friday to participate in a Nik Software webinar previewing their new HDR solution.  Nik representatives were also on hand at the Glazers Camera Shore Street Fair (Seattle) this past weekend, so I have plenty of time to pick the brains of the Nik folks.  What did I learn?  They are very busy reworking their entire software line to support the 64bit Photoshop CS4 and CS5 (no real surprise here, but it was refreshing to know they are working it hard).  They know they are behind in this effort and are really pushing to reset their software (currently all of their products work in the Lightroom  (LR) and Photoshop (PS) environment however only Viveza is currently available in the 64bit PS environment) .  Back to Nik HDR – This new software will be available for PS and LR and will be offered in both 32 and 64 bit plug-in applications vs. a stand alone program.  The interface carries the classic user interface that Nik users have come to love, especially the U-point control technology which allows for pin-point controls across the image.  The HDR program carries an effects preview pane in the LR Navigator window very similar to Silver Effects or Color Effects, allowing the photographer to visually see the proposed enhancement before actually committing to the change.  While Nik’s approach is wonderful for those wanting to put their foot into the HDR pond without having to learn all about tone-mapping, it’s power really lies in using the U-point control technology to ‘get at’ the changes  you need to make without getting into complicated selective masking in PS.  Another real sweet feature is the effort-less manner in which images are selected for inclusion into the HDR solution (using the LR interface).   Along with Lucas Art and Photomatix, Nik HDR will be a welcomed addition to my HDR kit bag.  Look for a late July release (estimated) for the NIK HDR product.  No pricing information available. 

Cheers and happy photo’ing

The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE)

Not very often does one run across an application that makes your life simple when it comes to taking photographs.  In this case TPE  is free, available for Mac, PC, was well as the the iPhone.   While there are many applications for the computer and iPhone which annotate sunrise and sunset for a given location, this little beauty stands apart from the crowd as a true interactive planning tool.  The Photographer’s Ephemeris  can depict  sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset PLUS it will show the actual sun angle at any give hour from any given location, all with the Google Earth / Google Maps in the background. TPE is fairly simple in concept: 1) display a Google Map 2) choose a date 3) calculate and display a bunch of astronomical data.  The tricky part comes from the connection between 1 and 2. Most similar programs and web-sites have you select from a pre-defined list of locations, where, presumably, things such as the relevant time zone are already saved – not much help if you are in the middle of BFE and it is not on the pre-defined list.  I love it as a planning tool and will use it in planning my outdoor shoots.  As an example, the screen shots below indicate the sun angle by the thin yellow line, while the thicker yellow/orange lines indicate sunrise and sunset direction.  Lots of detailed explanations are on the site so give it a look.

Head on over to The Photographer’s Ephemeris and run the tutorials, download the application.  If you like it be sure to come back and toss the author some coins for his efforts.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Mail Order Camera Equipment – Buyer Beware

When a deal is too good to be true, it most certainly is.

Although I try very hard to support my local brick and mortar camera store, it is not uncommon for me to order from B&H Photo for a number of items.  I first ordered from B&H when I was in Iraq.  Ten days after placing an order, my 70-200 showed up.  Not bad considering where I was.  I accidentally ordered two of the same lenses over the next three weeks (I guess I was really tired or maybe the internet button just suckered me).  I wrote B&H from Iraq and asked to return one of the two.  To my surprise they said return it AFTER I returned home from my assignment.  Now that was service.  I have been with them ever since.

Back to my original point……… Everyone wants a deal, but a deal is not always a deal.  I’ve heard of bait-and-switch scams out of New York before but never with any details.  This summer I ran across some news which highlighted the NY Attorney Generals Attempts to bring a stop to this tactic.  With Christmas just around the corner, I thought it would be good to mention this.

“Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation revealed that these seven companies would advertise consumer electronics, such as cameras, camcorders, projectors, and related accessories online at prices significantly lower than their competitors to induce consumers to place orders via the internet. Once an order was placed, the companies would call consumers and try to sell them additional or “upgraded” merchandise at inflated prices. If the consumer refused to purchase the additional merchandise, the companies would cancel the sale or claim the item was backordered for months. If the consumer did agree to purchase the additional merchandise, the companies would send them lower quality merchandise than what was promised, or merchandise that the consumer never ordered in the first place. When customers tried to return the items, they would either be denied or be slammed with undisclosed fees. “

As first reported by the Consumerist, a listing of the stores and instructions for filing a claim are posted here. The bottom line is to pay attention to and buy armed with knowledge. If you are shopping on line, then you already know what the price should be.  Remember, a deal is seldom a real deal.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Mobile Downloading

I am frequently asked, ‘how do you manage your images while on safari’?  Although we have power at our camps in the bush, I always make incremental backups of my cards while actually out on the game drives during the day.  Unlike most safaris which offer only morning and

Colorspace UDMA Storage Solution

afternoon game drives, we are out for the entire day.  Being out for the entire day results in the need to make frequent backups as a safety measure.  I have been relying on Hyperdrive products for the past four years, and have yet to report a failure.  If you don’t generate jpg thumbs, you can download an 8 GB UDMA CF card in four minutes with FULL data verification.  Turning off all data verification (not sure why you would want to do this) one can achieve download rates as fast as 40MBs per second.  Dude, that makes Hyperdrive one of the fastest download and storage devices on the market.

Sync Adapter

With the release of the latest software for the UDMA series, you can backup to or from the Hyperdrive, or mirror / synchronize to a second USB drive with the optional USB OTG (on the go) Adapter.

This latest development, now calls a big into question into play for me.  With USB OTG, do I really need to take a laptop on safari?  I’ll let you know what I do for the next safari.  Meanwhile, you can check out all of the Hyperdrive options by visiting the HYPERSHOP.  I should note that a variety of resellers now offer the Hyperdrive.

Hyperdrive Sync Connection Diagram