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Zeiss Loxia: Manual Focus All Metal Build Lenses for Mirrorless Full Frame

  Sony Alpha A7R
Zeiss Loxia mounts on
Sony Alpha A7S / A7 / A7R
(and others)

The two new Zeiss Loxia lenses incorporate proven Zeiss designs into all-metal manual focusing lens bodies for the full-frame Sony Alpha A7/A7R system.

These are the lenses I would choose as a Sony A7s/A7/A7R shooter for most of my purposes (particularly the A7s, for video focusing). Why? Because I like the solidity and long-lasting build quality along with the precision of manual focus. A good manual focus feel/throw is a wonderful thing, and the EVF on the Sony bodies makes pinpoint focus easy and fast.

Note that it is possible to choose on the fly a clicked or declicked aperture feature, a first AFAIK (declicked is ideal for video shooters).

Other appealing points include weather sealing and the all-metal barrel, though it’s not clear to me what prevents ingress of water at the front end, since the inner barrel presumably has to move in out with focusing.

ZEISS Loxia lenses are designed for use in normal conditions. The Loxia lenses are not fully protected against splash water, nor are they water-proof. However, the lens mount features dust and weather proofing. Additional protection against extraordinary environmental influences is not provided. They do not feature protection in accordance with the ISO IP standard. These lenses are designed for use at temperatures ranging from -20°C to +55°C.

I’ll be testing the Loxia lineup later this fall when press samples become available. Because these are for mirrorless, review coverage will be in Guide to Mirrorless. Zeiss DSLR lenses for Canon and Nikon are covered in Guide to Zeiss, and Zeiss ZM rangefinder lenses are covered in Guide to Leica.

With both lenses, bear in mind that actual performance on a digital sensor depends not just on the lens by itself, but the lens design as optimized (or not) for the sensor cover glass thickness and ray angle. The sensor cover glass and ray angle issue is why Leica M lenses often fare poorly on Sony mirrorless. And its why performance of the Loxia line has to be evaluated with real images, not via comparison with other MTF charts. Zeiss has surely accounted for these factors so as to ensure that the designs will perform well on Sony mirrorless, by tweaking the optics slightly. That this is so is easily seen in the outstanding results with the 35/2 Biogon on the Sony RX1R, which compares favorably and maybe even outperforms the famed Leica Summilux 35/1.4.

Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon

Both lens designs are classics, and are presumably tweaked to be optimal for ray angle issues and sensor cover glass on the Sony A mirrorless lineup (support for other brands presumably will follow, when other brands like Fujifilm offer a full frame camera).

The 35mm f/2 Biogon originates as rangefinder lens design (Zeiss ZM 35mm f/2 Biogon for use on Leica M). This is the superb lens design used in the Sony RX1 / RX1R (lovely performer there), though it could incorporate modifications for A7s/A7/A7R system.

  Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*

The front element of the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon of a special glass type (presumably to control various color aberrations), but it’s unclear if this differs from the RX1R or ZM designs. My guess is that it is new to the Loxia design versus the ZM lens, at least.

  Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* design
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* design

Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar

The 50mm f/2 Planar is another classic Zeiss design, presumably based on the Zeiss ZM 50mm f/2 Planar for Leica M. It is a very strong performer when stopped down slightly, and has gorgeous bokeh from its symmetric design.

  Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*
Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*

Marketplace positioning

The main question that arises in my mind is the strategic approach: it’s a courageous move to go manual focus and high quality build in today’s market, and that will attract a certain group of customers on its own.

The marketplace risk as I see it relates to optical performance and pricing relatively close to alternatives. These designs are excellent, but for many users autofocus exerts a strong pull. So some icing on the cake would add appeal: I would like to see something more on the optical front, meaning aggressive efforts towards wide open image quality. Certainly Zeiss Otus quality is out of the question (size/weight/price), but heading strongly in that direction. A higher price point (double) would be needed to meet that goal, but many of the potential customers would find that an appealing tradeoff, and it would establish a clearly separate category. As it stands the Loxia pricing at around $1000 seems to me as a customer to carry the same risks as the Touit line.

Zeiss Loxia Press release

Manual focusing, manual aperture and maximal image quality

With the new Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 lenses, ZEISS combines maximum image quality with classic ease of use for E-mount full-frame cameras.

OBERKOCHEN, September 2, 2014

The ZEISS lenses Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are the first members of a new family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. They are optimized for digital sensors and electronic viewfinders and feature a mechanical aperture setting and the mechanical deactivation of the click stop (de-click) for ambitious videography. But these are just a few of the highlights. The lenses will be presented to the public for the first time at ZEISS’s booth at photokina in Cologne from September 16 to 21, 2014.

“Ever since the Sony Alpha 7/7r/7s helped compact system cameras break through to the full frame, there has been a growing desire for a ‘digital manual focus‘ experience that combines the best of both worlds. The Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are the first members of a new family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. By entering this field, ZEISS not only wants to meet this desire, but exceed it,” said Christophe Casenave, Product Manager with ZEISS Camera Lenses.

Freedom of composition in photography was the guiding principle in developing the ZEISS Loxia 2/35 and ZEISS Loxia 2/50. An electronic interface transmits lens data (EXIF), but it also recognizes focus movements and, if desired, activates the camera’s magnifier function. This supports the possibilities of modern compact camera systems with an electronic viewfinder. Furthermore, the Loxia lenses allow for precise manual focusing as well as a mechanical setting of the aperture (aperture priority). This traditional way of working expresses one’s personal photo lifestyle, opening up surprising creative possibilities to compose the image that go beyond all automation.  

It is not for nothing that compact camera systems are one of the most interesting developments on the photography market today. Many photographers also appreciate the combination of traditional principles of handling and operation with the most modern technology.

Yet another highlight – the mechanical deactivation of aperture click stops (de-click), thus creating progressive and noiseless aperture settings– makes this new lens family a tool that provides a high degree of creative potential, not only for photographers but also for ambitious videographers. Thanks to their precise manual focusing, the Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are also suitable for professional video productions.

The Loxia lens family has been specially optimized for digital sensors. The optical design of the Loxia 2/35 is based on a Biogon and consists of nine lens elements in six groups. With a full-frame focal length of a moderate wide angle, this lens is particularly well suited for nature, landscape and architectural photography. Its creative potential also comes to the fore thanks to its low minimum object distance of 0.3 meters, which allows close-ups with an unusual perspective.

The design of the Loxia 2/50 is based on a Planar and has six lens elements in four groups.  As a ‘classic’ normal lens with a full-frame focal length of 50 millimeters, it offers photographers a field of view that corresponds to natural eyesight. The Loxia 2/50 is ideally suited for a wide range of situations, from travel photography, family photography and photojournalism to portraiture  –  and with a minimum working distance of 0.37 meters it is suitable for close-ups, too. The Loxia 2/50 is an uncomplicated but at the same time high-quality standard lens that photographers can keep on their camera continuously, therefore allowing them to react flexibly to a wide range of everyday situations.

Both Loxia lenses have a high speed of f/2, which expands the creative possibilities even more. Two examples are the effective isolation of motifs with a low depth of field or free-handed photography, even with poor lighting conditions.

The Loxia lens range intentionally eschews autofocus. This makes them compact and ideal for travel and street photography. Photographers who work in these fields often do not like to be recognized right away as professionals. The Loxia lenses offer a high resolution across the entire image field and a harmonious bokeh in the background, especially at the maximal aperture opening of f/2. The Loxia family stands out for its superb mechanical quality. The smooth focus operation with a large focus rotation angle of approximately 180 degrees allows for the finest variations in focusing. The filter diameter is a consistent M52 across the entire lens family. The robust barrel is made completely of metal so that it can withstand the rough everyday situations that professional photographers face and ensuring a long product life. In addition, the lenses have a special weather sealing at the lens mount to prevent spray water from getting between the camera and the lens.

The Loxia 2/50 will be available worldwide starting October 2014 and the Loxia 2/35 from the end of the fourth quarter of 2014. The recommended retail price of the Loxia 2/35 will be EUR 965.55* (US$ 1,299.00)* and that of the Loxia 2/50 will be EUR 713.45* (US$ 949.00)*.

For more information, visit www.zeiss.com/photo.

Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon Aperture Series 'Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior' (D800E)

  Nikon D800E
Nikon D800E

The Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon offers an ultra wide angle view with high contrast.

This particular aperture series works well for its slight peripheral forward field curvature, as discussed.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon: 'Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior' (D800E)

Includes HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white as well as large crops from wide open through ƒ/16.

  Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior Nikon D810 + Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon @ ƒ/8
Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon @ ƒ/8

Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon on Nikon D810: Aperture Series 'Twisted Aspen'

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

The Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon offers imaging qualities that make it especially suitable for environmental portraiture, reportage, etc. It’s a compact gem of a lens. It offers very high overall contrast and a vignetting suitable for many subjects.

The 28/2 Distagon is particularly suitable for environmental portraiture—a subject in its natural environment.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Aperture Series: Twisted Aspen (D810)

Includes HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white as well as large crops from wide open through ƒ/16.

  Twisted Aspen Nikon D810 + Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon @ ƒ/16
Twisted Aspen
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon @ ƒ/16

Fujifilm X100: Can’t Charge the Battery

Fujifilm X100
Fujifilm X100

I still have the Fujifilm X100 that I bought several years ago. Its good looks don’t go out of style and its images are still excellent (see my 2011 Fujifilm X100 review).

The battery died or so it seemed: it would not charge; the charger light lights up, but after 24 hours, no charging and a battery so dead that licking its contacts (a simple but effective test) hardly provides any electric tingle at all. The camera gets no power whatsoever from the battery.

So I bought a brand-new Fujifilm NP-95 battery back in May, which at first charged up fine. By mid July it too has failed, meaning the same charger problem: the light goes on, but the battery does not charge.

I’ve seen “smart” batteries lose their brains (so to speak), and it could be that alone. The cause being unclear.

So I’m in a quandary: were both batteries bad, is the charger bad, and/or is the camera killing the battery somehow? I hate to go dump more money into a new battery and charger if the camera is damaging the batteries somehow. But it’s a nice camera, and I’d like to see it working again. So I think I’ll just order the $19.95 Watson charger and see if it works.

Perhaps a reader out there has some ideas.

The Fujifilm support page (if you can call it that) consists of some Q&A one can search on—it’s absurd to call this support. I cannot find any place to call or send an email on this question, which is quite frustrating. That ought to be front and center on that page.

Merlin E writes saying Fujifilm tech support is 1-800-800-3854.

Ragna V writes:

I have experienced this twice - first with the charger on my X100, later on with my X100s. Very annoying, especially when I'm travelling. I understand that this is a well known problem with these chargers. My batteries behave ok and work fine in a new charger.

My solution? Never trust a Fuji charger. I bought a Hahnel UniPal Plus charger instead http://www.hahnel.ie/index.cfm?page=universalchargers&pId=133 It will charge almost anything, and is always with me on my travels as a backup. And it even works on a 12 V power supply in your car or boat.

DIGLLOYD: I ordered that inexpensive $19.95 Watson charger. If it works, good enough.

Cliff L writes:

The problem with batteries failing to charge is not unique to Fuji batteries or chargers - I’ve had the same thing happen with a Canon LP-E6 battery too. I’ve often thought one can never have too many spare batteries, but on one occasion I was unable to revive a nearly new battery that hd sat in a drawer for several months. N ow I keep fewer spares and try to rotate all the batteries through the cameras periodically to keep them functioning properly. I wonder why this doesn’t seem to happen to batteries that sit on store shelves for prolonged periods of time?

DIGLLOYD: All LiIon batteries can degrade steadily over time, and high heat can damage them quickly. But I don’t find the comparison appropriate this this case, it was a steadily/regularly used battery. Nor have I had other brand camera batteries fail in this way, and that’s over 10 years or so, starting with the ~1 megapixel Olympus whatever it was.

Adobe Camera Raw: 'CameraStandard' Camera Profile Produces Horrific Tonal Transitions for D810 NEF

diglloyd image
Avoid 'CameraStandard'
  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

There is a serious flaw in the 'Camera Standard' profile for the Nikon D810 when using Adobe Camera Raw (and presumably Adobe Lightroom also).

In DAP:

Adobe Camera Raw: Harsh Tonal Transitions with 'Camera Standard' Profile

Looks like several days of intensive work are now “redo” candidates, or at least I now have to go reassess to see what stuff has to be redone, time I can ill afford.

It had been nagging at me that something seemed wrong with ACR and the Nikon D810, but tonight the problem showed itself clearly with a particular image.

I don’t know if this issue affects other cameras, but it might, so exercise care in your own images. I also don’t know if it is a profile bug (seems most likely), or some flaw in ACR itself.

Reader Roy P emailed some images from Adobe Lightroom 5.6 (a variety of camera profiles), and the problem is prominent posterization in facial skin. Much worse than what I had observed in my landscape images—unusably awful.

Thanks to the reader who wrote me pointing me at the Adobe’s tech note.

John G writes:

Read your blog post this morning re: image quality problems in LR5.6 (and Adobe ACR 8.6) when using Nikon’s profiles found in the Camera Control section. I, too, noticed these problems. When selecting the Camera Standard, Landscape, Vivid, and Monochrome profiles, Image-killing posterization and stark banding is introduced in the some areas of the photograph.

This is especially evident where there are subtle tonal transitions, such as in the cloud-filled skies, etc. I contacted Adobe, and they indicated that they were aware of the problem and would fix it in the next iteration of LR and ACR. In the interim, they are providing beta profiles for the D810 The new beta profiles can be downloaded here: http://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/camera-standard-profile-displays-posterized.html I have used the beta profiles for the past week now, and can report they fix the problems you are seeing, and improve image quality in other ways as well.

Thanks for doing what do. I read your site everyday. As a professional photographer, by necessity, I do huge amounts of research before purchasing any new piece of gear. Your insights and hard work cut down on the amount of research I have to do, and have made my process of selecting new equipment much more efficient. Thanks again.

DIGLLOYD: Well, I’m glad that Adobe has issues a fix, because I’ve liked the tonal curve of CameraStandard for some images much more than AdobeStandard: more appealing contrast (sometimes too strong though) and with less harsh highlight areas.

Where does one go or proactively watch to find out about critical flaws like this? For example, Adobe’e Tranberry is mum on the topic. Blogs.adobe.com is not helpful, and surely such a damaging issue deserves a front and center warning there. Hours of work destroyed (redo) and I am under tight deadline working 14 hours a day so I am very grumpy about this flaw.

From Adobe:

When you apply the camera profiles in Lightroom 5.6 and Camera Raw 8.6 for the Nikon D810 to your image, some of the areas and colors are posterized.

Camera Raw 8.6 and Lightroom 5.6 introduce raw support for the Nikon D810, including Camera Matching color profiles. Unfortunately, four of these profiles for the Nikon D810 can result in banding artifacts. The affected profiles are:

Camera Standard
Camera Vivid
Camera Landscape
Camera Monochrome

We have identified the cause of this issue and have developed a new complete set of Camera Matching color profiles that fixes the banding issues. Furthermore, the new profiles have slightly improved overall color response and smoother gradations. These profiles are included in the next release of Camera Raw and Lightroom.

In the meantime, we have included a release candidate or beta version of these profiles for users to try.

These beta profiles appear in the user interface (Camera Calibration panel, Profile pop-up menu) as:

Camera Flat v2 beta
Camera Landscape v2 beta
Camera Monochrome v2 beta
Camera Neutral v2 beta
Camera Portrait v2 beta
Camera Standard v2 beta
Camera Vivid v2 beta

diglloyd image
High Sierra Plant
Nikon D810

Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon: Brilliant

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810
  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon offers high brilliance, luscious color saturation and superb flare control. These are the reasons to select it over all others for this kind of shooting.

In sharpness terms it is a strong as anything, but has its limits and behaviors, and these too are shown and discussed, including here in this aperture series a particularly demonstrative crop showing the point spread function behavior.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Aperture Series: Pine Creek Stormy Light (Nikon D810)

Include HD and Ultra HD images and large crops from ƒ/2.8 through ƒ/16 along with both color and black and white images and how converted.

Toggle the image below to see the black and white rendition.

  Sun Peeks Through Thunderclouds Nikon D810 + Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon
Sun Peeks Through Thunderclouds
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ ƒ/11

Andrew P writes:

I just wanted to thank you for your recent coverage of the 15mm Distagon. I have seven very nice lenses that I regularly use now, but I keep on going back to the 15mm for those special qualities it has. For a while I avoided it because I felt I had to be very close to a subject to get anything useful, but then those photos were always very interesting to look at.

I recently shot a basketball championship with it and then used it for a model shoot a couple weeks ago. For both shoots I also used my Otus, a 35 mm Summilux ASPH, the ZA 135mm 1.8 and a Nikkor 85mm 1.4G, but the best shots were all made with either the 15mm or the Otus.

DIGLLOYD: a 15mm is hard to use well, but used well it sings.

Working Hard on a 'Project'

Labor Day weekend here in the USA generally means beach and grilling or some such thing for many. But for me it means labor day—lots of work, especially this year. Not that I mind—I like what I do, especially the particular project I’m on right now.

Oh, I might grill myself a steak or two (extra lean grass fed beef, quite tasty and far less expensive than the buffalo ribeyes I’d go for but for the price). But I’ve sworn off wine of any color as I press hard to lean-out for my late September cycling race. That’s the discipline part, as I do really enjoy red wine, also having made it a necessary game to figure out what’s a good red for not much green. There are some very good reds at low prices out there (and some not very good reds at low prices and high prices).

Anyway, I am hard at work dawn to dusk on a project that will see the light in less than two weeks. Accordingly, I might “submerge” for a few days at a time, popping up for a few new Nikon D810 pieces, but staying intensely focused on the key project.

Nikon D810: Sensor Cover Glass Quality?

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

Jorn O writes:

I just received 2 new Nikon D810 cameras( August 25, 2014) and sent them to my local repair technician to evaluate. One of the things I always have him check is the sensor and low pass filter for defects, inclusions, and etc. The 2 new D810 cameras were both supposedly corrected for the long exposure/white spot issue.

However, it appears that the low pass filters (or protective glass) on both cameras have a significant number of dark specks of some kind in the surface coating or embedded in the sensor glass. He observed (30 power microscope) 18 of these specks on one sensor and 24 on the other. The size and quantity of these specks indicates to me a significant quality control problem and I am going to return both cameras. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that Nikon’s solution to this problem was to just map out all of the photosites affected by the specks and consider the problem solved.

I have had similar problems with the D3x and D800E sensors – my records indicate returning and replacing 4 new cameras over a 3 year period due to significant inclusions in the low pass filter glass. I guess Nikon doesn’t think anybody is really looking hard at the sensor systems they are putting out.

It is interesting to note that the first D810 I purchased from B&H in July was also inspected and cleaned by my repair technician, and did not have the problem with the specks on the sensor glass even though the serial number indicates that it is on the recall list that Nikon has.

I also have 5 D800E cameras and they do not exhibit the speck on sensor glass issue. I was going to upgrade 3 of them to D810's, but not sure if I will now. With regards to the D3x sensors and imbedded inclusions - I did not keep them so I do not know if they would have had an impact on image quality. However, when you pay 8000.00 for a camera body I think it is reasonable to expect first class quality in a sensor, especially when your technician tells you he does not see this issue on most other vendors cameras that he works on (Canon, Sony, Pentax,etc).

DIGLLOYD: I can’t say much more than “seems concerning”. But given Nikon’s financial performance (~27% drop in sales YOY), could there be cost-cutting or lowered standards going on that might compromise quality? A hunker-down retrenchment rather than moving ahead with innovations like supporting an EVF option on a DSLR?

Taken together though, inclusions in sensor cover glass and white spots requiring a camera recall out of the gate do not speak well to Nikon’s release of the D810. Coming on top of the D600 dust/oil issue, it might shake one’s confidence, if only a little. The D810 is a flagship camera after all.

Still, I doubt that the white spots service advisory has anything to do with the sensor glass 'specks'; the white spots seem to be a hot pixel type long exposure issue (Nikon has been obtuse on the cause of the issue, or why some but not other cameras are affected). Sensor quality is not a fixed thing; sensors come in grades too (number of defects and similar). What grade sensors are used in the D810 (what yield/quality cutoff?). Are camera bodies now like lenses where one has to worry about “good sample” or “bad sample”?

Tom H writes:

I’ve noticed the same problem with my Canons over the years. You can send your camera in for repair and get a new glass that looks just like the one you had. The last time I sent back a body to Canon for this problem i took a shot of the glass surface using a dissecting microscope and included a print with the body. It didn’t make any difference. The new one had fewer pits.

DIGLLOYD: I’m not sure it matters in any case. More than likely any usage over would accumulate more crud by an order of magnitude, even with sensor cleaning.

Nikon D810: Recommended Picture Control Settings for Magnified Live View Focusing

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

I spent some time with various combinations of Nikon Picture Control settings to arrive at what seemed to be the most helpful and decisive sharpness and contrast for accurate magnified Live View focusing.

These Picture Control files are now available for download in my review of the Nikon D810, with instructions for loading them. They load in addition to any existing choices so there is no downside to trying them to see if they help your own workflow.

Recommended Picture Control Settings for Live View Focusing

Picture Control settings ready to load on camera card
Picture Control settings ready to load on camera card

Pentax 645Z+ 90/2.8 Aperture Series: Various Varying Examples

Get Pentax 645Z at B&H Photo.

To my review of the Pentax 645Z in DAP are added various aperture series intended to show a variety of subject matter and the camera + Pentax 90mm f/2.8 macro rendering style. I find that such series are an excellent way to get a feel for a camera system and lens.

Series includes HD and UltraHD images and large crops. Click each image for its series.

  Aspen with Black Branches Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/2.8
Aspen with Black Branches
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/2.8
  Green Aspen Leaf on Black rock Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/11
Green Aspen Leaf on Black rock
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/11
  Dual Aspen Trunks Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
Pine Creek Buildings
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
  White Daisies Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
White Daisies
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
  Mining Cabin Gearbox Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/22
Mining Cabin Gearbox
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/22
  Death Valley Alluvial Fan near Eureka Dunes Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/4
Death Valley Alluvial Fan near Eureka Dunes
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/4
  Dual Aspen Trunks Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
Dual Aspen Trunks
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6

Pentax 645Z+ 90/2.8 Aperture Series: 'Atlas Permaguard'

Get Pentax 645Z at B&H Photo.

In my review of the Pentax 645Z in DAP is a close range still-life study with soft lighting and very pleasing bokeh:

Aperture Series: Atlas Permaguard (645Z)

This aperture series shows a peripheral forward focus shift that might be useful to understand for critical work. Includes HD and UltraHD images and large crops.

  Artifacts of early Miners Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
Artifacts of early Miners
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6

Pentax 645Z+ 90/2.8 Aperture Series: Wet Aspen Trunk

Get Pentax 645Z at B&H Photo.

In my review of the Pentax 645Z in DAP:

Aperture Series: Wet Aspen Trunk (645Z)

This aperture series includes HD and UltraHD images and commentary on placement of focus and depth of field.

  Wet Aspen Trunk Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
Wet Aspen Trunk
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6

Pentax 645Z+ 90/2.8 Aperture Series: Thunderstorms over Pine Creek Drainage

Get Pentax 645Z at B&H Photo.

In my review of the Pentax 645Z in DAP:

Aperture Series: Pine Creek Thunderstorms (645Z)

A discussion of the field curvature is included and should be read by any Pentax 90/2.8 user as essential working knowledge.

This aperture series includes HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/16 along with extensive crops and commentary. The crops are also in UltraHD, as I deemed the larger size useful for context.

  Pine Creek Thunderstorms Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6
Pine Creek Thunderstorms
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/5.6

How to Find Coverage of Lenses, Cameras, Technique, etc

It requires some curation effort (and can miss some things, always consider site search), but the new menu system at top of site pages affords convenient topical access to content throughout the site, whether in the blog, in a diglloyd publication or in the free articles area.

Give it a try, and feedback is welcome.

See also MacPerformanceGuide.com and WindInMyFace.com.

diglloyd image

Zeiss 55/1.4 APO-Distagon Aperture Series: Thunderstorms over Pine Creek Drainage (Nikon D810)

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

This aperture series includes HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white from ƒ/1.4 to ƒ/11 along with extensive crops and commentary.

The light was changing by the second, and the interplay is beautiful to behold. This frame caught the foreground in sun; others have it shadowed.

In Guide To Zeiss:

Thunderstorms over Pine Creek Drainage (Nikon D810)

A similar scene is coming from the Pentax 645Z; the D810 and Otus compare very favorably as it turns out.

Thunderstorm over Pine Creek Drainage  Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Thunderstorm over Pine Creek Drainage
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon


Stephen M writes:

Your B&W conversion of Pine Creek Thunderstorms D810 with 55mm Zeiss Otus is really excellent. Great work! Composition and image processing is excellent! That deserves to be printed at 40 x 60! The image quality is amazing, especially at f/1.4! Wow! No other lens can do that! I purchased an 55mm Otus awhile back and I love that lens!

Many thanks again for your wonderful work with all the reviews and comments on a wide range of cameras and lenses. I always enjoy reading, and learning from your work and reports. Keep up the good work.

DIGLLOYD: I’m sure the images can be presented even better, but this would take some time and effort to do right.

Samuel L writes:

Hope you're doing well and that the earthquake wasn't so bad.

I just wanted to echo the comment of Stephen M. on your blog: the B&W version of ‎your Thunderstorm over Pine Creek Drainage photo with the Nikon D810 and the Zeiss Otus looks fantastic. Wow!

The Wet Aspen Trunk with the Pentax looks great too.

DIGLLOYD: I never even noticed the 6.0 Napa earthquake (I’m 60-80 miles south of there). At any rate, I store my bargain wine the expensive way: in a styrofoam cooler in my garage, must in case of an earthquake.

Both the D810 + Otus and Pentax 645Z + 90/2.8 macro are terrific systems and highly recommended. The choice depends on one’s particulars.

Hardware Failure (fixed): Please advise if any image issues

A hardware device at diglloyd.com failed yesterday, and was replaced around 13:00 PST.

New hardware means potential issues (behavioral), so please advise if there are any unusual and repeatable problems in viewing images, such as images that are missing and show only a thin black line, or similar. Sporadic issues happen and are not of concern (e.g. a web server restart can kill image loading for 5-10 seconds).

The hardware change should affect images only, not html pages.

Sony RX100 Mark III: Better than a DSLR When Gone Fishin'

Trout dinner for two nights from Ellery Lake.

Salmo trutta (brown trout) and Oncorhynchus mykiss (Rainbow). I prefer Salvelinus fontinalis from high mountain streams, but that’s a chore up where I go (very, very hard to catch, and I’m unusually good at it).

Stockers mostly (not my usual fare but I wanted dinner). The large brown and rainbow had an extra year of 'wild' on them and both fought with more vigor and tasted better.

The Sony RX100 Mark III works nicely as for image quality, but like the original is far from its rated megapixels (lens limitations). Very pretty images in most cases though. But Sony made it a little too big and chunky and heavy. I’m sticking with my original Sony RX100: smaller, lighter and still takes great shots.

RX 100 III EVF: I was not clear in my initial comments on the EVF so here is a correction: I had two loaner Sony RX100 Mark III cameras. The first one I had no difficulty adjusting the EVF at all (instantly worked), but I returned it in late July. The 2nd one which I took with me in early August had a “sticky” EVF. With that 2nd one, I could not adjust the EVF to work for my eye. I should have made this clear initially in my comments; the EVF option is a great tool to have available.

Trout Dinner Sony RX100 Mark III
Trout Dinner
Sony RX100 Mark III

As for that “medium format look”, Zeiss Otus has it, wide open at ƒ/1.4.

See also The Medium Format 'Look' in Guide to Zeiss.

Thunderstorm over Pine Creek Drainage  Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Thunderstorm over Pine Creek Drainage
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon

Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon on Nikon D810 (Lundy Canyon Creekside Yellow Flowers)

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

The Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon offers imaging qualities that make it especially suitable for environmental portraiture, reportage, etc. It’s a compact gem of a lens. It offers very high overall contrast and a vignetting that I like a lot.

I wondered how it would fare on the new Nikon D810, in fact I made a point of shooting a number of the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses on my recent trip (on the D810), to see how they would are.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Aperture Series: Creekside Yellow Flowers and Dark Rocks, Lundy Creek (D810)

Includes HD and UltraHD images and large crops from wide open through ƒ/16. Two variants (in brightness) of ƒ/2 are shown, as this is an important aperture to understand relative to ƒ/2.8.

  Yellow flower, Lundy Creek Nikon D810 + Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon @ ƒ/2
Yellow flower, Lundy Creek
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon @ ƒ/2

Nikon D810: Single-Pass Faux HDR in Adobe Camera Raw

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

It’s fascinating just how good the Nikon D810 is for scenes that would require the hassle of HDR bracketing and post processing (Canon users fall about 2 stops short of the D810 and with a ton more noise in shadows). The Nikon D810 at ISO 64 has a rewarding dynamic range for field shooting.

Faux HDR: Converting High Dynamic Range Images with Adobe Camera Raw

Includes RawDigger histogram, the D810 rear LCD histograms, the ACR conversion settings, the as-shot and as-converted images, and explanation of what was done.

This particular image was the brightest one of a bracketed series: I was sure it was blown out, since the histogram said so. But it is not so, as shown/explained.

This piece is useful for any model camera, so it is under the DAP Workflow area. See also Extracting Shadow Detail with Shadows/Highlights and Curves.

Toggle to compare the as-shot image to the one given a massive adjustment.

  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon

Nikon D810 vs Pentax 645Z: Visual Impact Out in the Field with a Real Image (Comparison)

I’m working on an interesting comparison between the Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon and the Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 macro on this scene, a challenge in extreme dynamic range (major contrast control used here).

Now published:

Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO vs Pentax 645Z (Pine Creek Sunflowers)

Includes RawDigger histogram and info for both images as well as Adobe Camera Raw Conversion settings for both.

Both are impressive cameras and this comparison cannot be “scientific” due to different aspect ratios and mismatched focal lengths and varying light (second by second), but I deem it interesting and instructive to see how both cameras fare out in the real world in many aspects: depth of field, color and contrast, noise, etc: in short just how does the image feel from both? Because in the end, an image is a sum total visual impact having little to do with measurements or a rating scale. I shot other comparisons also, but this one seems like a good place to start.

  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 Macro
Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 Macro

Nikon D810: Highlight-Weighed Metering Compatibility Issues, Especially with Zeiss ZF.2 Lenses

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

Side-note context: the Nikon D810 also has autofocus compatibility issues with Sigma autofocus lenses, reportedly the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A and in my personal experience, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro. It’s unclear why an incremental camera update (over the D800/D800E) should have such issues.

While 90% of the time I shoot on full manual, the new Nikon D810 Highlight-weighted metering option sounded promising for fast-changing lighting situations. But this new metering option is not straightforward for anyone using a mix of lenses.

The Nikon D810 downgrades to Center-weighted metering with certain lenses when Highlight-weighted metering is used, even CPU lenses, such as Zeiss ZF.2. Even if the lens supports Matrix metering.

The metering downgrade behavior seems an ill-considered choice on Nikon’s part: Center-weighted hardly ever gives me the right exposure for my shooting. At the least a custom camera setting ought to allow the preferred fallback option: I want the camera to fall back to Matrix metering if Highlight-weighted cannot be used. The last thing I want is for my Zeiss ZF.2 lenses to meter with Center-weighted metering if I happen to have the camera set to Highlight-weighted.

Planning to explore the new metering option, I had shot a variety of comparisons using Matrix metering vs Highlight-weighted metering using Zeiss ZF.2 lenses, which have a CPU chip. These A/B shots now turn out to be useless for that purpose.

Highlight-weighted metering compatibility matrix

It is unclear why the Nikon 45/2.8P and Voigtlander 40/2 Ultra should support Highlight-weighted metering, but Zeiss ZF.2 lenses do not (all have a CPU chip). It could be a licensing issue; an inquiry to Zeiss is open at this time.

It is also unclear why in the age of digital, metering can’t be done properly the right way, at least in Live View, where the camera is fully informed of exactly what is striking the sensor—innovative design lags available capabilities.

Lens type Supports Highlight-weighted metering?
Nikon AF-S YES
Nikon 45/2.8P (older Nikon chipped lens) YES
Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f/2 YES
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A YES
Zeiss ZF.2 lenses (all) NO, reverts to Center-weighted
Coastal Optics 60mm f/4 UV-VIS-IR APO Macro NO, reverts to Center-weighted
Nikon AI-S NO, reverts to Center-weighted
Unchipped lens NO, reverts to Center-weighted

A compatible lens supports Matrix or Highlight-weighted metering:

  Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center   Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center
Nikon 45mm f/2.8P: Matrix and Highlight-weighted metering both work on Nikon D810

A chipped (CPU) lens might not support Highlight-weighted metering even if it supports Matrix metering. All Zeiss ZF.2 and Zeiss Otus lenses revert to Center-weighted when Highlight-weighted is chosen.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center   Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center
Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon: Highlight-weighted metering unsupported on Nikon D810

The user manual

Page 114 of the Nikon D810 user manual is confusing in its vagueness, at least to me. All Zeiss ZF.2 lenses have a CPU chip that supports matrix metering. The description does not seem to cover the ZF.2 lenses (CPU-chipped manual focus lenses, just like the Voigtlander 40/2 Ultra noted above).

Highlight-weighted: Camera assigns greatest weight to highlights. Use to reduce loss of detail in highlights, for example when photographing spotlit performers on a stage.

...
Center-weighted metering will be used if highlight-weighted metering is selected with non-CPU lenses or if matrix metering is selected with non-CPU lenses for which lens data have not been supplied.

Note that center-weighted metering may also be used if highlight-weighted metering is selected with certain CPU lenses (AI-P NIKKOR lenses and AF lenses that are not of type G, E, or D).

 

Going Over Material, Updates Soon

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

I finished my catch-up work today (always a chore after being gone ~11 days), and now I’m going through my trip material with a lot of stuff to come soon on the Nikon D810 and Pentax 645Z.

Nikon Capture NX-D: DOA

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

I did a previous piece on Nikon Capture NX-D versus ACR. But today, to verify some shooting settings, I wanted to open some D810 NEF files in NX-D. For whatever reason, every NEF file is refused by NX-D now (and on both my desktop and laptop, this is not machine specific). There are no updates and the current version of NX-D is installed. OS X 10.9.4.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: every Nikon D810 file fails
Nikon Capture NX-D: no Nikon D810 file can be opened

Are the Capture NX-D and Sigma Photo Pro software development teams secretly trading notes on worst practices? Given the existentially threatening 26% drop in Nikon revenues, one wonders if the issues are company-wide at every level and type of function. It’s a scary thought. Readers know that I appreciate the Nikon D810 image quality (a new high bar in the industry). But how such basic software flaws can go undetected for weeks is a stunning indictment of quality control practices. And then there is the white spot recall at the outset. Taken as a whole, the picture looks indicative of Something Generally Amiss in Nikon land.

It’s bizarre that NX-D cannot open NEF files, since that is its raison d^etre. I used “Open With” and chose Capture NX-D (this is a workaround and should never be necessary): from the start, Nikon Capture NX-D would not associate NEF files with itself (the system does not recognize that NX-D is for opening NEF files, the file type association is not there). Nikon adds the NX-D icon to the OS X Dock, but one cannot drag a NEF file tot he icon. This is such a basic operation that it’s inconceivable that the program was even tested even once for core operations.

Update: see workaround that I had forgotten, below as per Peter K.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: does not associate with NEF files!
Nikon Capture NX-D: does not associate with NEF files!

Pieter K writes:

I just discovered NXD works…. but only if you use the file browser of NXD… Find the folder in the filebrowser of NXD, select the miniature … open that. it works

But go to the file in the Finder - you cannot open it… this software is not well made.

It works but very sloooow. I do not lijke the interface and I miss something like shadow highlight. The details in ACR are better - colors are different too but ACR gives far too much moiré.

DIGLLOYD: confirmed, the file browser within NX-D works on NEF files. NX-D does have Shadow/Highlight style features also.

Uinstall/reinstall did not fix the problems discussed above. The app is unsigned also.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: application is not signed
Nikon Capture NX-D: application is not signed

The user might want to uninstall the Nikon Message Center crapware: it is installed as an entirely unnecessary background process; updates can be checked for when desired, no need to run this thing all the time—the cleaner the system, the fewer the issues (general principle). Go to Preferences => Users and Groups, then Login Items to delete it from the list, this keeps it from auto launching when logging in.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center
Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center

Nikon D810 Service Advisory for White Spots During Long Exposures, and 1.2X Crop

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

After the Nikon D600 dust/oil fiasco, this is another black eye for Nikon. But this time the recall/fix is immediate, and that is a far smarter move than the defensive and prolonged pushback with the D600 oil/dust issue.

Nikon has issued a service advisory for the D810:

We have received a few reports from some users of the Nikon D810 digital SLR camera indicating that noise (bright spots) are sometimes noticeable in long exposures, and in some images captured at an Image area setting of 1.2× (30×20).

After looking into the matter, we have determined that some noise (bright spots) may on occasion be noticeable when shooting long exposures, and in images captured at an Image area setting of 1.2× (30×20).

Nikon service centers will service these cameras that have already been purchased as needed free of charge to the customer. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this issue may have caused.

Identifying affected products

To check whether or not your camera is one of those affected by this issue, please click the Affected Product Serial Numbers link below and enter your D810’s serial number as instructed. Your camera’s serial number will be checked against those of affected products. If your camera is one of those affected, you will be forwarded to additional instructions. If your camera is not one of those affected, you may continue using your camera without concern for this issue.

DIGLLOYD: In my testing of the D810 I observed no white spots, so I thought that the camera I am using is fine. But I have always used long exposure noise reduction with the D810 (and all cameras I test). LENR differs in nature from regular noise reduction; LENR is a dark-frame subtraction. Nikon does not speak to LENR or not.

The loaner camera from B&H that I have been using is included in the recall (I entered its serial number). Now I have to decide wether to buy/repair or just get a replacement. I just hope that my trip photos are unaffected. But it’s an issue: I cannot let go the D810 at this critical time for some unspecified turnaround period. And while UPS ground shipping to and from the Los Angeles service center is fast for me, for a working professional that is more remote it is offensively slow (no option offered).

It’s also troublesome that one has to log in to check the serial number: how to know if a camera at a store has the issue or not? The Nikon site is also a shambles; it continually gives me “unspecified error” when I try to access my account settings to correct my email address as well as other errors in various places. I had to reconfigure my mail server to use an old email just to get the *#*$#*$* password reset email required by Nikon due to “system changes”.

Miguel B writes that “Apparently the cameras known not to have the issue, or recalibrated (whatever the solution may be) have a black dot inside the tripod screw.”.

Update: I called Nikon and was told that turnaround time is 7-10 days and that the fix is a firmware update. I was promised a Level III tech support return call (I have various questions about the circumstances under which the issue occurs), but this did not happen.

  Nikon D810 recall for white spot issues
Nikon D810 recall for white spot issues

Understanding the Pentax 645Z Histogram (useful for any brand camera)

Get Pentax 645Z at B&H Photo.

This is a shot discipline and technical execution article that should be assimilated by anyone shooting raw on any brand camera.

This discussion of post-shot and Play histograms on the Pentax 645Z also incorporates the RawDigger histogram and a discussion of color space and gamut and recommended practices for raw shooters.

Interpreting the 645Z Histogram

While this is a Pentax 645Z image, the discussion is useful for any digital camera. And while it is not a field image (landscape or similar), the genesis for this page was observing histogram variances during field shooting; this histogram variance is discussed and shown for this image, but occurs with all images.

The image shown below is perfectly exposed yet the histogram suggests that the red channel is slightly blown; in fact the green channel is most at risk by about half a stop. The discussion explains the reasons and the fundamental algorithmic flaws in virtually all camera implementations of the histogram (for the raw shooter).

  Rain-streaked Aspen Trunk Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/8
Pentax 645Z histogram

Lawrence B writes:

Thank you for your extremely useful article ‘Interpreting the 645Z Histogram’. I believe this is the first time I have ever seen in print reference to this most disturbing discrepancy between the ‘before and after’ histograms as displayed on most digital cameras.

Though I do not own the Pentax 645Z (I use a Nikon D800E), the differences observed have been most confusing, and though one can always check later (via RawDigger) histograms based on the RAW data, this helps one little when out ‘in the field’.

Unfortunately, you didn’t offer an explanation as to why the post-shot histogram differs from the one shown during live view (the ‘play’ version). Both are regrettably based on the camera’s JPEG settings. Shouldn’t their ‘inaccuracy’ compared to the RAW data based histogram be identical? Why is the live view histogram somewhat less inaccurate than the post-shot histogram?

I don’t understand why the industry has been so reluctant in offering a histogram based on RAW data. Photographers have been requesting such an option for as long as I’ve been shooting digital (probably longer). In any case, I am most appreciative that you tackled this disturbing phenomenon of the differing histograms. The tips you offered are indubitably the best one can do under the given circumstances. Many thanks!

DIGLLOYD: Yes, other cameras exhibit similar behavior.

As with science, an observation must come first, but an observation does not produce an explanation. Saying “I don’t know” is often the reality. It’s on my “why” to-do list.

The 645Z was configured to shoot DNG only (not DNG + JPEG), so it cannot be the result of the embedded (within the DNG) JPEG versus a full size companion JPEG.

That leaves a camera processing algorithm, and only Pentax can say for certainty, but a reader out there might have a credible explanation. My speculation is that the Play variant is based on the JPEG embedded in the DNG (since it is clearly in the color space with which the camera is configured, AdobeRGB), and that the quickie post-shot variant is based somehow on the image processing pipeline as it “flows through” and/or on every other sensor line, or some other efficiency optimization.

See also true raw histogram.

Back from Trip

Back home, unpacking, downloading, etc.

  Shooting the Pentax 645Z near the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine iPhone
Shooting the Pentax 645Z near the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
iPhone

Wrapping up Field Shooting

Up in the mountains field shooting.

Just about done and heading home tomorrow. Long days were productive, now it’s computer time with all the material I’ve shot.

Field Shooting the Pentax 645Z

Get Pentax 645Z at B&H Photo.

Up in the mountains field shooting, writeups follow when I’m back in a week or so.

I’ve been shooting the Pentax 645Z alongside the Nikon D810 in many situations and I’m gaining a solid perspective of the two cameras. Nikon D810 with Zeiss Otus or Pentax 645Z with the excellent 90/2.8? Lots of factors to consider.

  Rain-streaked Aspen Trunk Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/8
Rain-streaked Aspen Trunk
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/8

Bobby N

Beautiful image. My D800E with Zeiss glass just can't evoke texture like that. Darn.

DIGLLOYD: The 90mm f/2.8 on the 645Z is equivalent to a ~72mm lens on a DSLR. So right off that bat the perspective and blur qualities differ by distance/perspective. Second, depth of field is a challenge on the 645Z and the image requires more stopping down (to ƒ/11 or ƒ/16) to make the trunk fully sharp everywhere (e.g., bottom area), and this then diminishes the gorgeous blur differentiation between foreground and background. I shot the entire series from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/11 and will be showing it all—very interesting stuff IMO.

The 50/2 Makro-Planar is an outstanding lens with some edge and corner rearward field curvature, but only the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon outperforms it in micro contrast, and that difference is very small once stopped down to ƒ/4. So to say the 50/2 cannot produce an image like this is not a premise I am prepared to just agree with offhand, particularly on the Nikon D810. Yes, the 645Z and 90/2.8 are “special”—absolutely and in my view the Pentax 90/2.8 is the lens to have for the 645Z. But one has to A/B shoot to really get a sense of things, and not just one scene.

Next, the appropriate comparison for a $4500 medium format lens is to the Zeiss Otus line (about $3990), so naturally I shot this scene with Otus also.

The question/premise above is of keen interest to me and others, so in my recent field work I’ve made a point of many A/B scenes between the Nikon D810 + Otus and the Pentax 645Z and 90/2.8. These will take time to assess and publish, but by mid September I expect to have have published a goodly number of compelling scenes to investigate this question.

Reader Question: Image Brightness at Full Aperture vs Stopped Down

Up in the mountains field shooting, writeups follow when I’m back in a week or so.

Sunil A writes:

I am a diglloyd subscriber, I immensely appreciate and admire your work. I am not a pro, but I am photography enthusiast and like the technical aspect of DSLRs, I find your blog and DAP very educational.

Since you have been using D810 for couple weeks (I am a regular blog reader), I thought to inquire about an issue I see. I have D810, Nikon 70-200mm VRII, Sigma 35mm 1.4 A and Nikon 85mm 1.8g. I was testing D810 with 70-200mm, I consistently find images darker shot at maximum aperture. In Aperture priority mode, going from F 2.8 to F 4, the shutter speed is doubled but the images are brighter. Compared to F4, F2.8 image RGB is more towards left.

Maximum aperture on a lens may not be real maximum (T Stop). So is the camera looking at marketed aperture vs T stop. And later at F4.. is the T stop and F stop same.

So do you always do exposure compensation to get the same exposure between apertures. I find your images to be exposed the same across apertures.

I found the same issue on Sigma 35mm 1.4 as well, although not to the same degree as Nikon 70-200mm. I appreciate your advice, as I am not sure if it is just my camera. I also posted a thread with images on dpreview as well.

DIGLLOYD: First, I’m assuming that “shutter speed is doubled at ƒ/4” means twice as long, so that the exposure value (EV) is equivalent, e.g., ƒ/2.8 @ 1/500 vs 1/250 @ ƒ/4.

At full aperture, several effects are at play. I regularly compensate for this by giving 1/3 stop to 1/2 stop or so more exposure at full aperture for some lenses (particularly wide angles), though I usually reverse that boost when doing a series. I do so to give better exposure to the peripheral areas. The amount needed ranges from almost no compensation to nearly 2/3 of a stop with certain wide angle designs. How much depends on the lens design and the particular sensor. Across an aperture series, it is common to see fluctuations of 1/10 or 1/20 stop from other factors (e.g. diaphragm and shutter speed accuracy); I normally correct this kind of normal variation for presentation.

Why darker?

Vignetting (field illumination) is a multi-factorial behavior; primary losses quickly improve even one stop down. But this does not account for center brightness. See also Ray Angle, Vignetting, Color Shading on a Digital Sensor.

Sometimes there is plain old “cheating”; a nominal f/2.8 might really be f/2.9 or f/3 but vendors prefer to state a nominal value. Sometimes this derives from rounding the focal length figure, e.g., 50mm might be 48mm or 52mm, or 200mm might be 180mm (!). Up to 10% is considered “acceptable” (by whom?). But it might also be rounding off the true diameter of the lens diaphragm. Since f-stop = focal / entrance pupil diameter (a ratio), judicious rounding can go a long way when it sounds better for sales. Basically, conventional numbers sound better; no vendor wants to advertise an ƒ/2.9 lens.

Then there is transmission (T-stop) which can reduce whatever brightness is actually there (see What are F-stop and T-stop? in Making Sharp Images). T-stop is typically only 1/10 stop less than f-stop Zeiss ZF.2 lenses, but few other vendors say.

Then there is the loss due to digital sensor technology and peripheral ray angle, which can be up to half a stop for some f/1.2 lens designs and remains very significant at ƒ/1.4.

Many vendors silently adjust for their own brand lenses and/or chipped lenses from others. For example, Canon silently gains-up the f/1.2 lenses to compensate! This can be seen by inserting paper between the lens contacts and camera body; the camera not recognizing the lens won’t make the silent boost (compare with/without). Many point and shoots and other cameras (e.g., Fujifilm X) just build in correction for their own lenses (and also vignetting correction on top of that), whereas in reality the true brightness might be significantly less than advertised. Hence it's rather silly to see “lens tests” for vignetting with some cameras where the vignetting has been taken out by the camera already. Such tests are system evaluations, not optical.

Nikon D810: HDR in One Exposure?

Up in the mountains field shooting, writeups follow when I’m back in a week or so.

It’s fascinating just how good the Nikon D810 is for scenes that would require the hassle of HDR bracketing and post processing (Canon users fall about 2 stops short of the D810 and with a ton more noise in shadows). The Nikon D810 at ISO 64 has a stunning dynamic range.

I plan on showing how to make full use of the D810, starting with exposure: Nikon has designed the D810 histogram very badly, so as to fool you every time into wasting 1 to 1.5 stops of headroom even as the camera shows “blown out”). And how to make this sort of adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw (same approach in Lightroom).

This particular image was the brightest one of a bracketed series: I was sure it was blown out, since the histogram said so. But it is not so! There is even more than 1/3 stop of additional headroom remaining, according to RawDigger. No highlights are lost and no shadows are pinned, as the raw data shows. Yet the shadows in the brightened “faux HDR” image control noise very well—impressive considering the almost pure black in the darkest areas.

Toggle to compare the as-shot image to the one given a massive adjustment.

Note: prepared after a long long day hiking in my car approaching 10pm; hard to evaluate best contrast, brightness, etc, so this is a quickie that no doubt can be improved upon further.

  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon

Nikon D810 Dynamic Range: Best Ever in Any Camera?

Up in the mountains field shooting, writeups follow when I’m back in a week or so.

Scenes like this make me wish for a true 16 bits of dynamic range: precision exposure is mandatory to capture the full range of detail from the dark shadows to the bright clouds (which the D810 did well). Another 1.5 stops would allow for a little less concern in making the exposure exactly right (also, note that auto exposure is almost always a disaster on scenes like this, careful study of a test exposure’s histogram is how I “nail” the exposure on a scene like this).

Update: the problem is really poor camera histograms, not dynamic range; checking the NEF with RawDigger, it turns out that another 1/2 stop of headroom remained unused! See comments on the sunflower image on camera histograms.

This image as shown had a big shadow boost, which is what dynamic range is all about; the ability to retain highlights while also preserving shadow detail that can be brightened considerably with minimal noise: the D810 does that superbly well at ISO 64 as here, in this image with extreme contrast. ISO 64 on the D810 is the best image I have ever seen on a DSLR (the Pentax 645Z seems to be as good and even a bit better as its large pixels would imply).

Daily thunderstorms are the most unusual I’ve experienced, with the lighting varying from bright sunlight to dull overcast to flipping between in matters of seconds. Fantastic, if a bit frustrating and impossible to compare lenses.

  Sun Peeks Through Thunderclouds Nikon D810 + Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon
Sun Peeks Through Thunderclouds
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

The image below took a massive +100 Shadows and -100 Highlights in ACR conversion; amazingly the D810 captured the entire contrast range even into those too-bright-too-look-at clouds right down into the darkest under-plant shadows. Checking the NEF file with RawDigger, there is/was an entire full stop of headroom still available.

I was cautious on exposure, but it is difficult to be sure: like all DSLRs, the Nikon histogram implementation bakes in a moderate-gamut colorspace (AdobeRGB), an inertial design stupidity borne of dogmatic “everyone shoots JPEG” thinking which continues to this day. Those bright yellow sunflowers go out of gamut a full 1 to 1.5 stops early, thus the camera indicates “highlights blown” when there is ample room left to expose. There is no way to be sure. Bracketing is one solution, but I was shooting an aperture series and did not want to double-up or triple-up on every aperture.

Both images (above and below) adjusted on laptop screen in the field; color balance and contrast not my usual and might be off slightly.

  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon

Nikon D810 Highlight Priority Metering, Pentax 645Z notes, Leica T

Up in the mountains field shooting, writeups follow when I’m back in a week or so.

I’ve now studied the new “highlight priority” metering in the Nikon D810 and I have plenty to say (and show about it).

In a nutshell, Nikon D810 highlight priority metering works great sometimes and works worse at other times (as in a bug). And sometimes absolutely awful as in blowing out the image. Not ready for prime time, and most definitely not a replacement for expert manual exposure, and maybe too unreliable to rely on in any case.

Other brief notes:

  • In the space of 20 minutes, I found 20 issues with the Leica T, ranging from bugs requiring power-cycling to severe usability problems to “who could have thought that up as making sense?”. A few nice things too, but with grating behavioral flaws that undermine it. I felt my frustration level steadily building as I used it. With a few (obvious) changes, it could work a lot better. It’s baffling how this software gets out the door.
  • The Pentax 645Z offers awesome dynamic range in the field. It does have some minor time-wasting behaviors for field use that could be eliminated with a firmware update, but these are relatively minor in the scheme of things, the image quality is outstanding.
  • The Nikon D810 Live View (with Zacuto) is unequivocally the best experience I’ve ever had in a camera, and I definitely prefer it over the EVF on the Sony A7R. Not just a practical time saver but a hit rate improvement for focus, snapping in and out obviously. Awesome. I investigated Picture Profiles in some detail, and will be posting the one I prefer for Live View use.

Field Work, At Last, Up in the Mountains.

Minimal smoke, but daily localized thunderstorms. Yesterday the rain just pounded down, and delivered snow at 13,000' on up on Mt Dana.

This blog will be relatively quiet while I’m away shooting.

  Clearing Rainstorm at Mono Lake Nikon D810 + Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar
Clearing Rainstorm at Mono Lake
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar

Is the D810 Sharper than the D800E?

Get at B&H Photo: Nikon D810, Zeiss Otus

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

Previously I presented ISO 3200 along with some evidence of the D810 being a bit sharper than the D800E (in a depth of sharpness sense).

This ISO 100 + ISO 64 comparison examines the subject again, but without the noise of ISO 3200. It also shows ISO 64 vs ISO 100 on the D810.

D810 vs D800E: ISO 100/64 Sharpness (Decorated Bike)

Now, time to pack for my trip.

  ISO 64 Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO-Distagon
ISO 64
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO-Distagon

Robert N writes:

Thanks for taking the trouble to do the base ISO comparison: as I said, this is the real acid test for me in terms of upgrade and is the kind of detailed comparison which makes subscribing so worthwhile.

While the two cameras are not that far apart in terms of sharpness, the 810 has markedly superior blacks and an overall sensation (to my eyes) of less 'interference' in the image. The 800E image by comparison, has a very slight sense of looking through an opaque membrane. A subtle difference...but probably significant in the context of some scenes.

DIGLLOYD: the D810 is subtly better in several ways. Together with its operational improvements, it is a winner and the best DSLR on the market (easily), albeit one that falls short in several obvious ways that could have been made better (so it seems to me) .

I’m looking forward to seeing what it delivers in the field and just how well it can do with an Otus versus the Pentax 645Z.

Field Work, At Last

The smoke situation delayed my field work, but I’m heading out tomorrow. I’ll be shooting the Pentax 645Z and Nikon D810 and something else I’m really looking forward to. I also want to shoot some new material with Zeiss lenses on the D810.

The smoke will still be trouble, but the El Portal fire which was contaminating the entire Sierra and White Mountains range is now 100% contained. Other small fires contribute to the smoke, but it will be what it is, and perhaps lighting and sunsets will offer something interesting.

The way these things work is a lightning storm comes in and sets off half a dozen blazes. I’ve seen this in the Sierra Nevada from afar in the White Mountains—thunderclouds followed by glowing orange spots at night are rather obvious. Though the cause of the El Portal fire was stated as “unknown” as I wrote this.

Low T on Leica T

I must be Low T. My month is packed and for more reazons that I can say, but call it a very uncolorful reazon [sic]. So I just don’t have time for dilettante toys. So here’s my review of the Leica T, everything a serious photographer needs to know.

I can’t stand the T. Intensely frustrating grip with badly-placed twiddly toy controls and tiny type on a touch screen I can’t see because my finger is on the spot containing the 5-point text I’m supposed to read (try reading “JPG + DNG” if you’re anywhere close to presbyopia).

The T is far larger than I expected, a brick-solid 710 grams with 23mm lens and EVF, and rubber strap that precludes any other strap or my favorite wrist strap. Form before function design that looks beautiful and has nothing in the right place. Oh and the bottom is uncomfortably sharp-edged, go figure—but could be useful for lopping off an ear on a red-dot thief, given decent force and a glancing blow.

It’s 3X the weight of the 240g Ricoh GR, which has a razor sharp lens and is far more functionally designed, better featured, and fits easily into a pocket, which the T won’t do unless you’re a fan of baggy cargo pants (sorry supermodels, even a small purse won’t hack it). But the Leica T is ideal for a champagne and caviar reception (but I have no way to field test this idea).

Maybe in a fit of insanity I’ll do something with it, but right out of the box I find it intensely irritating, including how the heck do I keep from changing the ISO by accident with that twiddle button I keep hitting while trying to change aperture. Or even how to reassemble the fall-apart box it comes in.

Translation of the above: egonomics are a critical part of any camera. It has to start there, and this T is absolutely unlike an M and makes very different demands on the user, which is how it feels to me. As for image quality, I have little doubt that the lens quality is very fine, that being necessary but not sufficient.

  Nikon D810 + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A @ ƒ/2.8
Leica T (rear)

Sigma dp2 Quattro vs Sigma DP2 Merrill (Fruit Platter)

This scene offers further insight into the continuity gap between the Sigma DP Merrill line and the dp Quattro line, using Sigma Photo Pro 6.0.5.

In my review of the Sigma dp2 Quattro:

dp2 Quattro vs DP2 Merrill (Fruit Platter)

Preparing this “simple” comparison was intensely frustrating and time consuming in trying to obtain proper color rendition (in spite of the neutral WhiBal card), for reasons I discuss.

Sigma DP Merrill cameras are a discounted bargain right now. This is my recommendation at this time for a Sigma compact (not the Quattro).

Fruit Platter
Fruit Platter

Nikon D810 vs D800E at ISO 3200, and is the D810 Sharper than the D800E? White Balance Diff?

Get at B&H Photo: Nikon D810

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

The idea of comparing the D810 to the D800E at ISO 3200 did not exert much appeal to me, but part of exploring a new camera and particularly dynamic range, is seeing what it can do at high ISO.

This study took three days, meaning that the results were interesting enough that I wanted to confirm and confirm the first attempt. So I actually shot the test three times on three consecutive days to rule out anything erroneous (and I confirmed some things at ISO 100 as well). There was no disputing the consistent behavior.

By the time I was done with my analysis, I found that this is surely the most interesting test of the D810 yet: color balance, sharpness, noise all are of interest.

D810 vs D800E: ISO 3200 Noise + White Balance + Sharpness (Decorated Bike)

  ISO 3200 Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO-Distagon
ISO 3200
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO-Distagon

Jan S writes:

Just to let you know that I thought your comparison between the 800E and the 810 is excellent, worth my recent renewal all by itself.

That doesn't mean you should slack off right now - keep it coming, please. I'm definitely going to hang in there until I see your review of the other two Otus lenses currently still in the birth canal -- and, just maybe, another look at a working model of the Nikon 300mm f2.8 (come on, B&H, do send him another one) . . .

Alfred S writes:

Have yet to thank you for all the great things you do, THANK YOU! This article is so profound, instructing me not to just think about white balance and noise academically, but what it is that white balance and noise actually/physically do, your "toggle comparisons" are the best education one can ever hope to get.

DIGLLOYD: the apertures series and toggles are very instructive and I try to include them in all my work. There are mouse-over aperture series and all of those can be used as toggles also with the A/B mode. But sometimes a simple A/B of one vs the other is best, as in this particular effort.

Really Right Stuff L-Bracket for Nikon D810 Coming Soon

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo

The Really Right Stuff L bracket for the D800E fits the D810 body plenty well to use, but there is a difference from the D800E that makes the fit less than perfect (side ports in particular).

RRS lists a Nikon D810 L bracket with a different part code of BD810-L. I contacted Really Right Stuff regarding an L-bracket for the Nikon D810 and received this reply:

We just got the D810 body a few days ago, but it is our most urgent project.

Yes, there will be a different plate for the D810. We are working on a design that will hopefully work for both camera bodies, but until we get the prototype, I can't make any promises that it will.

The BD800 L plate will work in a pinch, but gaining access to the port doors will require you to slide the plate away from the body. The bottom of the plate seems to fit well.

...

The differences between the L-plates for the D800 and D810 all involve the port clearance on the left side of the camera body. We had to shift the dovetails forward slightly and then shift the left side outboard about .165” to provide more access to the port doors with the L-plate mounted tight against the body. The result is similar to the L-plate we make for the Canon 5d Mark III.

A D800 L-plate will mate fine with a D810, albeit with a bit more restricted access to the ports, so if you are in dire need of a plate for the D810, you can simply use the D800 L-plate as a stop gap until we get the the final plates finished.

All my cameras use Really Right Stuff L brackets or plates, and also lens foot plates—consistent reliable quality.

Dan M writes:

Yeah, the old RRS and the Kirk L brackets for the D800 cameras don't really fit the 810 at all. You have to stress the USB 3 rubber door to get it open far enough and the HDMI door won't open at all as it is blocked along its bottom edge the entire length of the door. You have to move the bracket out a quarter inch on the Kirk bracket to get these doors to work. Kirk says they aren't doing one special for the 810. Which means don't get Kirk. The camera body is different. Simple.

Really Right Stuff B5D3-LA L-plate mounted on Canon 5D Mark III
Really Right Stuff BD800-L L-plate mounted on Nikon D800

Fault Tolerant Storage for Photographers or Videographers

SoftRAID 5
SoftRAID 5 volume icon for RAID 1+0

SoftRAID 5 is now final.

RAID-5 (striping with one drive fault tolerance) and RAID 1+0 (striped pair of mirrors) are the new standout features in SoftRAID 5. I am impressed—

SoftRAID 5 delivers RAID-5 and RAID 1+0 performance in software that beats many hardware RAIDs and with far greater versatility across devices.

See SoftRAID 5 Goes Final: High Performance RAID 5, RAID 1+0, RAID-0, RAID-1 over at my MacPerformanceGuide.com.

Nikon D810 Rear LCD with Zacuto Loupe vs Sony-style EVF

Get at B&H Photo: Nikon D810, Zacuto Z-Finder

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

Miguel B writes:

How does the Nikon D810 + Zacuto Z-Finder compare to the best EVFs you've used in terms of image quality and usability.

This is more like a Live View question, but usability when your eye is in the loupe can highlight issues like needing to see or find buttons without looking.

DIGLLOYD: Readers know I like an EVF, and I sure wish one were an option on the Nikon D810; it solves focusing issues with manual focus lenses (and autofocus, done right!), it eliminates glare, it eliminates mirror slap (mirror already up), some optional EVFs can flip up for shooting at low or high angles, etc.

These are big advantages and when an EVF is offered together with an optical viewfinder, that’s sweet (the Leica M40 does this, but the Leica EVF is marginally better than toy grade, and no match for the Sony A7 series EVFs).

Eyeglass wearers might find an EVF problematic, but a loupe on a rear LCD much more usable. I’ve heard various comments in this regard (I wear contact lenses and skirt the issue).

The D810 rear LCD is excellent, but more or less useless for composing/shooting without a quality loupe like the Zacuto Z-Finder (at least for me, due to glare and presbyopia, both).

I think I actually prefer the D810 rear LCD with the Zacuto Z-Finder over the Sony A7/A7R/A7s EVF in quality and ease on the eye terms, but the Z-Finder is really only useful on a tripod for me (I simply hold it against the rear LCD, no mounting hardware due to conflict with the L bracket). While it is possible to strap a Z-Finder to the rear LCD in various ways, this has never been viable for me, and it’s awkward at best. Good for a dedicated video rig but that’s a pile o' stuff anyway.

The big strength of the EVF is being built-in with little or no extra bulk, and no extra dangling thing around my neck (the loupe). But the D810 rear LCD seems to deliver better contrast and an image easier on my eyes (with the Zacuto Z-Finder).

At about $375, the Z-Finder is not cheap, but the optics are superb and it is absolutely essential to my work, simply the #1 accessory I use (if I drove 200 miles and forgot it, I’d have to turn around and go get it—no kidding). The Z-Finder comes with a base plate, which is entirely useless for me as it cannot be mounted together with the Really Right Stuff L-bracket I use, but it might be useful for handheld shooting for some shooters.

See also:

Michael E writes:

I use the D810 with an early Z-Finder, strapped on with their elastic bands
and balls. I strap it right over my L-Bracket and find it easier that way
that trying to hold it there. I need to be able to focus and hold diffusers
at the same time, so straps work best for me.

Believe it or not I have yet to look through the OVF, even once, and I shoot
everyday.. I use it in the field also, but forget the OVF because my work is all close-up.

DIGLLOYD: works well in a studio; I found it unworkable for field use where I also want to be able to use the OVF. But for some work styles, it might work well and/or be preferable to the OVF.

External Power with Solar Charger for Sigma DP Merrill

Get Sigma DP Merrill camera at B&H Photo.

The DP Merill cameras are discounted to $699 each. A classic offering supreme sharpness, now on sale and presumably soon to be discontinued. Highly recommended for the right user looking to make wall size prints from a tiny camera (BUT presumes full reading and knowledge of my review).

Eric M writes

With his solution for backpacking with a Sigma DP Merrill where recharging is needed:

The external battery setup I mentioned is:

http://www.suntactics.com/product/scharger-12-emergency-kit/
http://www.sigmaphoto.com/product/ac-adapter-sac-5-for-the-dp-merrill-bodies
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007BPQJSY/ref=pe_385040_30332200_TE_item

Just hang the external batteries in a bag from the tripod. The cables are plenty long enough.

The most annoying part is how the SAC-5 works. It's not a simple weather-sealed DC port in the side, but a dummy battery, with a cable that interferes with any tripod plate worth having. Either one leaves the battery door open while shooting on the tripod, or files a big gash into the plate to let the adapter slide in and out. One stupid approach that messes up everything downstream.

DIGLLOYD: I’m clear on the solar charger bit, but not why external batteries, since I can carry 7 or 8 of them easily in a pocket (very small batteries)., Maybe a solar to AC to Sigma charger back to DC to the battery problem? Eric responds:

Partly because of ease and partly because of price. Ease because the Sigma/Ricoh battery polarity is opposite of what every USB charger but one uses. That charger (the Pixo C-USB) is a bit fiddly and not weather sealed at all, and so is vulnerable to all sorts of trail accidents. Price because for $300 I can get six 1250mAh BP-41s and two Pixo charger adapters (one day's shooting), or six 15600mAh rechargeables and the SAC-5 adapter for (twelve days' shooting). If every day is sunny, the internal battery option is actually nice. But the external battery is a much cheaper insurance policy for 2-3 day stretches of gloomy weather.

BTW, one nice thing about Leica is that they ship chargers with AC bypass, so a car outlet can direct charge the battery; no DC/AC/DC power waste. Most vendors are clueless on this car travel aspect and ship chargers that take only AC power.

Shown below with the Really Right Stuff grip and L bracket.

  Sigma DP1 Merrill with Really Right Stuff grip and L bracket
Sigma DP1 Merrill with Really Right Stuff grip and L bracket

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