Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Q1 2008 (January to March)

Short-winded blatherings on whatever is currently occupying the part of my brain that deals with photography. Updated sorta weekly.

25 March 2008: For Sale or Rent - The Editorial Policy of Nature's Best Photography Magazine?

I've been a vocal supporter of Nature's Best Photography Magazine for quite some time. I've loved the quality of the images and the technical information provided in the captions. However, two recent editorial decisions at Nature's Best Magazine have left me shaking my head:

1. The Sony Incident. I've already ranted at length about this issue - jump down to my 24 February Blog Entry for all the gory details. Long story short: Sony signed on a as a major sponsor to the magazine the very same issue that camera brand info mysteriously disappeared from all image captions in the magazine. If you go to back issues and look at the image captions you would clearly see that almost ALL the images were shot with Canon or Nikon cameras (and Sony cameras were virtually never used). Interesting coincidence? Sure...and Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction...

2. The Lindblad Incident. A fellow nature photographer and friend alerted me to this latest issue (I actually hadn't got around to looking at the winter issue yet!). Check out the Winter 2008 issue - in particular the article entitled "Baja: The Magical Sea of Cortez" (page 80). A beautiful photo spread, including 4 great shots that just happen to have Lindblad's gorgeous "expedition ship" (or zodiac) in the background. Note the free plug for Lindblad expeditions at the end of the written article. And, when you get to the end of the article note the beautiful full page photo and ad for Lindblad expeditions. Coincidence? A simple accident by a careless layout artist? Possible. But, just about as likely as finding those weapons of mass destruction...

It's really, really hard to look at these two incidents and NOT conclude that Nature's Best Photography has discarded their previously sacred editorial integrity and decided to sell (or at least rent) their editorial policy to any buyer with deep enough pockets. I understand how the business world works - both the good and the bad. But...this blatant sale of editorial favour takes business ethics to a new low.

Why would Nature's Best do this? One possible (likely?) explanation is that they're under financial stress. These two incidents are so conspicuous that it makes me wonder if they're not acts of desperation. Just speculation on my part, but you have to wonder.

What should the ethical reader of or subscriber to Nature's Best do? It's a tough call. I'm tempted to cancel my subscription, but if my financial stress hypothesis is correct, this isn't going to help Nature's Best survive. Writing letters to Nature's Best is another option. For now, all I'm going to do is to publish this blog and make folks aware of the situation. I welcome feedback and suggested action to take - I'll happily publish them on this blog (with your permission, of course).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

24 March 2008: Easter Weekend - The Bears' Den and my Engimatic Nikon D300.

"The Bears' Den" is a popular name for many restaurants, bars and pubs in western North America. And, that's where I spent the bulk of my Easter Weekend - at the Bears' Den. But...in my case it was at the ORIGINAL bears' den - complete with two furry ursids. I stumbled upon the den late last Thursday while out scouting for shooting locations. The den is ideally suited for observation - it's on an exposed and steep clay-covered hillside directly across from a grassy ridge that's almost perfectly level with the den. And, there's a steep, deep wooded gulley between the ridge and the den. The den itself is at the base of a large Douglas Fir stump and with a pair of binoculars or spotting scope you can look directly into the den and safely watch its two black bear occupants. While you couldn't find a more perfect spot for WATCHING the still-hibernating bears, actually photographing the bears in the den is a tough challenge. The region surrounding the den receives direct sunlight until late morning, but a half dozen or so small Douglas Fir trees create alternating bands of light and shadow. And, while the bears are beginning to stir and they occasionally take a somewhat dopey look out of the den (on one occasion BOTH bears were looking out simultaneously), they seem determined to stay in the dark shadows. And, given the working distance, this is DEFINITELY a job for a 600 mm lens (or AT LEAST a 500 mm lens), preferably on a DX body. Too bad Nikon hasn't shipped my new 500 VR or 600 VR yet - my 200-400 VR doesn't quite cut the mustard for this situation. I've tried pairing it up with a TC-14EII (1.4x) teleconverter but, as usual, I'm not getting the results with this combination that please me.

Ironically, despite the many electronic glitches that have been plaguing my D300, it has been the best tool for photographing the bears (for more info on the grief my D300 has been causing me, see my blog entry of March 19 immediately below OR this part of my Camera Gear page). In this particular situation the "missing" effective magnification of the D3 (relative to Nikon's DX camera bodies) hampers its effectiveness. I also tried shooting with my D2Xs, but the shadowy lighting and the need for a teleconverter (and related need to stop down to f8 with this particular lens/converter combination) forced me up to an ISO (500) where the D2Xs performs poorly. And, like always, I've found it difficult to focus the D2Xs with the 200-400 and a teleconverter mounted on it. Luckily, the physical set-up of the den lends itself to use of a tripod and, to date, my D300's problems haven't been showing up when the D300 is supported by a firm tripod.

Have I captured any memorable "bear in den" or "bear emerging from den" images yet? Nope. And, unless Nikon delivers my 500 VR and/or 600 VR awfully soon, it's quite likely I won't capture anything but memories this year. But there's always NEXT spring...and I can think of worse ways of spending Easter weekend than sitting watching dozey bears yawn and roll around...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 March 2008: Nikon D300 - Electronic Glitches Taint My Enthusiasm.

I've updated my Field Gear page to include my observations and comments about the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D300. I have almost nothing but praise for the D3 - it's simply one awesome camera. My views on the D300? While others (like Scott Kelby and Popular Photography magazine) absolutely gush over with praise for the D300, my overall view of this camera isn't nearly so positive. Many of my nit-picks with it are trivial (and I'm admittedly jaded after shooting with the D3 for almost 4 months). But one problem is so serious I may end up deleting this camera from my toolkit: I'm experiencing major electronic glitches (and outright equipment failure) in certain situations when using this camera with almost all of my telephoto lenses. The specifics of my problems with the D300 can be found here (point 8 discusses the electronic glitches and gremlins).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

12 March 2008: Teleconverters, Teleconverters, Teleconverters...

I've begun the labourious task of updating my Field Gear page to include new cameras (Nikon D3 and D300) and lenses that I have acquired. I've started by updating my comments on teleconverters. Why? Primarily because I've been very curious myself about whether the loss of effective magnification associated with the new Nikon D3 (compared to Nikon's DX-format cameras) can be largely overcome by use of a teleconverter. In particular, I've wondered whether the stellar high ISO performance of the D3 would give on the luxury of shooting at higher ISO's and then stopping down more when using teleconverters, thus "squeezing" more performance out of the teleconverters.

Follow this link to go directly to my updated teleconverter comments...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

12 March 2008: Controversial Nikon D3 Torture Tests on YouTube.

There's a series of corny and low-quality videos on YouTube that show a Nikon D3 being abused and tortured. Originally there were three videos - an "Overload Test" where various wet and dry substances are poured over the camera (why the Quick Oats?) as well as a drop test and a scratch test (of the LCD panel). The overload test has been pulled.

To view the two remaining videos, go here:

The Drop Test.

The LCD Scratch Test.

To get a sampling of the "controversy" surrounding the tests check out the appropriate page on Rob Galbraith's website.

I would strongly recommend against treating your D3 (or any other camera for that matter) in the manner shown on the videos. However, it IS nice to know the camera was able to endure the excessive abuse and still function. And, the videos served one other useful purpose for me. To find them I searched YouTube using simply the keyword "Nikon" and came up with a plethora of much more useful videos (than the torture tests), including several videos on sensor cleaning, a demonstration of the CLS (Creative Lighting System) and much more.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

10 March 2008: Alberta Researchers to Experiment with "Shrinking" Wolf Packs.

Just when I was beginning to think there was some sense in this world...

A story in the Calgary Herald on March 6, 2008 (front page) revealed that a team of researchers from the University of Alberta's department of biological sciences are planning to "experiment" on shrinking 4 wolf packs in western Alberta. The goal is to reduce the size of the packs to two to three individuals in an area west of Red Deer, Alberta. Why? According to a pamphlet provided by the researchers, the goal is to balance the survival and persistence of wolves with ungulate hunting by humans (in this case, elk). In other words, reduce the wolf population so that the elk population will grow and there will be more elk for human hunters. Here are the bare bone facts:

1. Wolf reduction methods: Sterilize the alpha males and females and destroy (presumably by shooting) other wolves in each pack.

2. Justification: Limited field data from the Yukon suggests reducing wolf packs to two or three individuals and maintaining them at small sizes may allow ungulate herds to increase.

3. Logistic Support From: The government of Alberta is providing logistic support, including resources such as snowmobiles, housing, and possibly covering wages.

A sampling of the response to this proposal...

Paul Paquet - author, zoologist and wolf researcher: "...destructive and morally reprehensible" and "I think we are long past killing animals to benefit small groups of people who want to take pleasure in hunting and trapping."

Parks Canada is against any wolf control to increase elk densities, noting that predator control in the '60's created unnaturally high prey densities and problems still prevalent today.

Jim Pissot - Defenders of Wildlife Canada: "...bone-headed wolf cull poorly disguised as research." and "Elk-wolf interaction is a natural ecological process, and except for extraordinary circumstances, nature should be left alone."

My take on the situation?

1. BAD Optics! To persecute wolves for doing what comes naturally (and taking completely normal and natural prey sources) with the goal of increasing elk populations for human hunters has REALLY bad optics! And, of course, it's nothing short of completely shameful.

2. Philosophically Debatable. Evelyn Merrill, a professor at the U of A and one of the researchers involved in the project states that increasing the elk population is "...one of the objectives - it's not the only objective." The original story in the Calgary Herald does not list the other objectives, but Merrill does state in the article "I want to stress this really is an experiment to evaluate the tool of wolf management...It's not full-blown management of wolves." So...they're planning on killing and sterilizing wolves just to see if they have the ability to micro-manage wolf populations? This leaves me with more than one question: Is this morally justifiable? And, shouldn't our long term goal be to have natural ecosystems self-regulate WITHOUT our intervention? Why not just keep our hands off? It's amazing that the government of Alberta can find money for this while refusing to fund healthcare adequately!

Since the story first appeared in the Calgary Herald there has been a flood of "Letters to the Editor" condemning the plan. Let's hope the backlash is strong enough to stop this disgusting "experiment".

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

04 March 2008: Aperture 2 Joins My Workflow.

Less than a month ago I was wondering aloud if Apple had given up on developing and promoting its professional RAW image conversion and image management tool - Aperture. To be honest, I had given up on it. Apple had let version 1.5.6 languish without an update for a way too long, it lacked compatibility with the RAW files from far too many new cameras (like the D3 and D300) and it was quickly becoming a dinosaur. Then, on February 12 Apple announced Aperture 2 - and began shipping shortly thereafter. Version 2 offers over 100 new features (full list available here) and after using it for about a week I can confidently say I like the product FAR MORE than before. In fact, I like certain aspects of it so much, it has finally found a niche in my RAW image workflow. It occupies only a small part of my workflow, but at least it now has its foot in the door!

Here's a short list of what I like about Aperture 2:

1. Image Comparison and Select Tools. The quality and speed of production of the image previews of RAW images by Aperture 2 is great. The RAW image previews surpass the quality of all other tools I've used, and they come through fast. Even the "low quality" nearly instant Quick Previews are very good (often good enough to compare and assess sharpness between two RAW images). The ability to zoom multiple images to 100% magnification simultaneously is really nice (tho' I'd love an easier way to move around a zoomed image rather than using their tiny navigator window - give me a hand tool to "drag" the image around!). The image compare and select tools work so well that Aperture has become my tool of choice for initial image assessment and culling (more details below).

2. Superb Dual Monitor Support. Aperture was built from the ground up for maximizing the efficiency of your workflow using dual monitors. If you've gone to the expense of setting up a dual monitor system, it's really nice to have an imaging tool that uses the increased screen real estate to its maximum.

3. Reasonably Intuitive Keyboard Shortcuts. Press "z" to zoom. And "p" for (quick) preview. Hmmm...even I can remember this. Heck, even shift-command "O" (to convert image and OPEN in Photoshop) makes some sense to me. Thanks for thinking, Apple.

4. Recovery Tool. Besides the now-expected Shadow and Highlight tools, Aperture offers a "Recovery" tool that, according to the its manual, gives you access to image highlight detail that isn't displayed by default. The recovery tool lets you see this detail. My guess is that the reason this highlight detail isn't "displayed by default" is because the preview images are based on the 8-bit JPEGs that are produced by your digital camera (rather than using the actual image data in the RAW file). Interestingly, when I preview the same RAW image using Aperture and Phase One's Capture One, the highlight detail that is NOT displayed by default in Aperture IS displayed in Capture One. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the trade-off of having "clipped" previews that are produced blazingly fast is worth it, but only because the Recovery tool is there (and you can quickly get a feel for the extra image detail that is there). Interestingly, the Aperture manual talks about the recovery tool only as a way of seeing the additional highlight detail whereas I've already noticed that it also can be used to view the additional shadow detail that is available in the RAW file.

So...why hasn't Aperture become my PRIMARY RAW workflow tool? Good question. Here's the major reasons:

1. RAW Conversion Issues. There are a number of things I don't like about the RAW conversions and/or RAW conversion tools, including:

A. Sharpening Tool. I'm still not happy with the sharpening tools for use during RAW conversion. I just completed a set of sharpening comparisons using Aperture and Capture One and I had far more control over the appearance of the final output (and degree of sharpening available to me) with Capture One.

B. No Curves Tool. While Aperture has a well-implemented Levels tool, and well-executed Shadow and Highlight tools, I still would like a tool to directly adjust the exposure curve. I've used curve adjustments for years in Photoshop and I really like having access to this means of adjusting local contrast and brightness.

C. No ProPhoto RGB Export. I like my 16-bit TIFF masters (my output from RAW conversion) to be produced using the ProPhoto RGB gamut (it's the widest currently available). Later I may chose to convert my images to Adobe RGB (for most print work) or sRGB (for web output), but I really like my masters to be sitting in the widest colour space possible. Aperture doesn't support ProPhoto export.

2. No Import of XMP Sidecar File Metadata. All the existing RAW images in my library contain keywords and other metadata in XMP sidecar files. Aperture currently can not see or import this metadata. So...if I was to switch to Aperture I would have to manually re-assign this data after importing or referencing all the images (assuming that I wanted to use Aperture for keyword/image searching, searching by image descriptions, etc.). I'm not about to do this, and I'm not going to divide my image collection into two parts - "Searchable by Aperture only" and "Searchable by Bridge only". This would be both ugly and cumbersome.

So Aperture 2 is NOT a do-it-all RAW workflow tool for me. I don't import, keyword or manage images with it. I don't use it for RAW conversions. But, after importing my images (and automatically tagging the images with selected metadata) with Adobe Bridge CS3, I now import referenced versions of the images into Aperture and do all my initial assessment and culling of the images there. Its previews, comparison, and selection tools are just too good to ignore. Now that Aperture has its foot in my workflow, I suspect I will find more and more uses for it. Up next...testing its automated Web Gallery capabilities (for some of my personal/non-professional images).

If you're a Mac-using photographer and you haven't tried Aperture, I'd recommend taking Version 2 for a test-drive (there's a free trial available here). You may find it's exactly what you're looking for...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

24 February 2008: Nature's Best Photography Magazine Succumbs to Sony's Pressure??

There's few printed magazines that I still purchase. If I can get a magazine's content online, even if I have to pay for it, I prefer to go the electronic route and save the resources associated with producing the printed version. In fact, the ONLY two magazines I subscribe to are National Geographic and Nature's Best Photography. And, unlike the patented answer given to subscriber's of Playboy or Penthouse ("...it's for the articles, really!"), I subscribe to NG and Nature's Best explicity FOR the photographs. With Nature's Best magazine I have particularly enjoyed looking at the captions - historically they've included reasonably detailed technical information with each image, including camera brand and model, lens used, exposure information, and more. If you look through back issues of Nature's Best you can see the shift from film to digital capture and the complete dominance of Canon and Nikon cameras among serious nature photographers.

A few issues ago (Volume XIII, Number III) two things happened to Nature's Best Magazine:

1. Camera brand and model information disappeared from the technical portion of the image captions. You'll still find lens information (sans brand), exposure information, whether or not a tripod was used, etc. But forget about knowing about what model of Canon or Nikon camera was used (tho' lens aficionados can, at times, figure out which brand of camera was used based on whether or not Canon or Nikon produces the particular lens listed). Geez, you could even assume that the images were shot with cameras that weren't Canons or Nikons!

2. Sony came in as a major sponsor of the publication. Not only did the amount of advertising by Sony noticeably increase, but they also signed on as the primary sponsor of the prestigious Windland Smith Rice International Awards. It would now be very possible for "newbies" to purchase a single copy of Nature's Best Magazine, flip through it, and assume that Sony is a major player in the nature photography market AND that many of the fine images in the magazine were shot with Sony cameras. Which is, of course, complete nonsense (on both accounts).

Coincidence? Possible. But, IMHO, not bloody likely! It's very hard for me NOT to believe that the disappearance of the camera information from the captions was either driven directly by pressure from Sony OR it was done spontaneously by Nature's Best in order to woo Sony into financially supporting the publication. If Sony's sponsorship of Nature's Best is related to this editorial change - shame on you Nature's Best! Accurate and detailed information that reflected the true nature of the market, and was helpful to all levels of nature photographers, is now being obscured. Absolutely shameful.

I have no doubt that Canon and Nikon try to use whatever edge they can to increase their sales and market share. And, probably some of those efforts tip-toe across ethical boundaries. But over the past decade or so their main competitive efforts have been focused on producing better products than the competition. Their battle has see-sawed back and forth - for the last 5 years or so Canon had been kicking Nikon's butt. Now, with the introduction of the D3 and, to a lesser extent the D300, Nikon has pulled at least even with Canon. And, most importantly, by producing superior cameras BOTH Canon and Nikon have left the other players in the dSLR market in the dust (including Konica-Minolta, the company Sony bought).

Sorry Sony, but until you produce a camera ready to go head-to-head with a 1Ds MkIII or a D3, you're NOT a serious contender. Even if your financial might can buy editorial favours.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

24 February 2008. Bob G. (longtime Nikon pro) from southern Alberta responds:

Hey Brad

Your blog on Nature's Best and Sony hits the nail right on the head. I agree with you one hundred percent. Good Stuff.

Bob

14 February 2008: Nikon D3 and the Nature Photographer - It's About Aperture Control!

I'm still receiving email questioning why a nature photographer would want a Nikon D3. After all, wasn't it designed for the action and sports photographer? The arguments against the camera seem to be falling into two camps:

1. I can't afford to lose the 50% magnification! This argument comes from Nikon wildlife photographers who have become accustomed to the 50% jump in effective magnification provided by the cropped DX-sensor that was found in all Nikon dSLR's before the D3. I suppose this is valid, but my response is this: I often pull medium or even short telephoto lenses out of my pack when photographing wildlife, including when shooting large carnivores like grizzly bears. A longer lens isn't always the best "weapon" to capture memorable wildlife images. In fact, I often pull my 200 mm f2 out, even for bear photography. And, of course, because the D3 has such wonderful high ISO performance, it is now easier to tack Nikon's TC-14EII 1.4x teleconverter on a lens and get MOST of the lost magnification back (because the D3 gives you the speed to stop down enough to squeeze professional performance out of the teleconverter).

2. I want LOW ISO performance - not HIGH ISO performance! Surprisingly, I've heard this several times lately. Presumably it's coming from landscape photographers who want to work with slow shutter speeds (for blurring moving water, etc.). Hmmm...I thought that's what Neutral Density filters were for...

So what are the reasons IN FAVOUR of using the D3 for nature photography? I could go on about many of the improvements of the D3 (such as improved autofocus, higher frame rates, etc.), but for me the single biggest reason is related to its superlative HIGH ISO performance. Yes, the ability to shoot in low light is one obvious benefit (especially important for shooting in locations like the Great Bear Rainforest where sun is a rarity). But, to me, the dramatically increased control over my choice of aperture (and thus depth of field) is the real key to wanting/needing this camera for nature photography.

To illustrate my point - check out this real-world example of an image of a Northern Pygmy-Owl that I captured last week. The specifics of the field setting under which I captured this image absolutely dictated that I had to shoot the image from a position extremely close to the subject (about 45 cm or 18"). Which means I had real depth of field challenges to deal with. Ultimately I had to close the aperture down to close to the maximum I would ever use on this lens - f16 - to get the depth of field I needed (the aperture would, of course, go smaller, but diffraction issues start limiting sharpness beyond this point). The only way I could get to f16 and retain any shutter speed at all was to dial the ISO up to 800. No problem with the D3 - ISO 800 on the D3 produces almost completely noise-less images. I did shoot a few test shots of this owl at larger apertures (f13, f8, f5.6 and f2.8), but to retain any feather detail in the image at all f16 was absolutely needed. I could not have captured this image with any Nikon prior to the D3.

So that's the key for me - the primary reason this nature photographer forked out the bucks for the D3 was the enhanced control over depth of field provided by the camera's excellent high ISO performance. All the other advantages of the D3 are just bonuses!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

12 February 2008: Nikon 600 mm f4 VR: Not shipping until summer in Canada?

I just got word that delivery situation is NOT good on the new 600 mm f4 VR lens. Apparently Nikon is "...severely backordered" on these lenses - the demand was far beyond what Nikon projected. Currently guestimates are that they will not be able to fill the backorders in Canada until late spring or early summer. Ouch! My backorder may change into a current order for a 500 f4 VR instead!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

12 February 2008: And...here it is: Aperture 2.0

Just yesterday I was speculating about whether Apple was really interested in going after the high-end raw conversion and image-editing market. And, this morning Apple announced Aperture 2.0! The new version reportedly offers over 100 new features (see full list here). Well, I guess Apple still wants to be considered a serious player!

Will I use the new product? I'm not sure - for a variety of reasons I had pretty much given up on Aperture. But...if the improved and new features address my needs I may consider it. The upgrade is just $99 so I'll probably get a copy and take it for a serious whirl. Stay tuned for my impressions in about a month...

So...it appears that both Adobe and Apple are very serious about the raw shooter market. Now Phase One is the only major player lacking an updated professional raw conversion package. I'm still using Phase One so I really hope they make their next move soon!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

11 February 2008: Mac OS X 10.5.2 Update...Nikon D3 and D300 Limited Support.

Today Apple released a significant upgrade to its new Leopard operating system. Today's update to version 10.5.2 offers tweaks to many of Leopard's features, including improvements or patches to Airport, Dashboard, Dock, iCal, iChat, iSync, Finder, Mail (lots of needed fixes here!), Safari, Time Machine, etc., AND, of course, "...system improvements that enhance the stability, compatibiity, and security of your Mac."

But for Mac users who also own new models of digital cameras from Nikon and Canon (plus Sony and Hasselblad) the news is particularly interesting - Apple has added limited support for RAW files from the Nikon D3 and D300 and the Canon 1Ds Mark III. By "limited support" I mean that SOME Apple applications can now decode and let you view the latest RAW files from these cameras. The applications? Preview, iPhoto and the Finder itself (including the cool new full-screen "Quick Look" previews). But what about Apple's premiere image editing application - Aperture? Sorry...if you try to view or work with these new RAW files in Aperture you get the evil "Unsupported Image Format" message. Bummer for Aperture users. Makes you wonder if Apple is going to continue on with the development of Aperture or if it is finally conceding the high-end raw conversion and image editing market to Adobe (and Phase One).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

11 February 2008: Phase One Updates: More Options for Nikon D3 and D300 Raw Shooters.

In a somewhat surprising move (at least to me), Phase One recently updated its professional raw conversion software (Capture One PRO) by adding support for the newest dSLR's, including Nikon's D3 and D300 (as well as support for the newish Canons - the 1Ds MkIII and the 40D).

Why is this surprising? Well, just a short time ago Phase One introduced their newest version of their excellent raw conversion - Capture One (Version 4). If offered many new features, including "variants" (similar to Aperture's "versions"), highlight and shadow tools, improved tools to adjust exposure curves, conversion from RAW directly to ProPhoto RGB, plus compatibility with Nikon's D3 and D300. But it wasn't the PRO version of their software and lacked several of the features that users of Capture One PRO liked/loved, including dual monitor support and simultaneous output to multiple file formats. Capture One 4 was offered free to owners of Capture One PRO. I assumed that the introduction of the updated (but not professional) version of the software, plus it being free for Capture One PRO owners, was intended as a "gap filler" for serious Phase One fans and that we would see Capture One PRO VERSION 4.0 real soon.

Turn the clock forward to February 8. Phase One releases a dot-dot release to the "old" Capture One PRO - now version 3.7.8 is available, complete with Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) support and compatibility for Nikon's and Canon's new cameras. Hmmmm....why not Version 4.0 with the NEW features of Capture One plus the PRO features we need/want?

And...what does this tell me? Well...I suspect the truly upgraded form of Capture One PRO (version 4) is still a long ways off. Further, I'm guessing that Phase One had a lot of complaints from PRO users who weren't completely happy using the new non-pro software. But it leaves Phase One users with the following dilemma: Which "new" product should I use? The answer is difficult - each "latest" version has pros and cons (and, to make matters worse, you can't easily go back and forth between them - they have different "session" and conversion libraries!). To illustrate:

Capture One Version 4 (non-professional). There are some real strong selling points for this software, including export to ProPhoto RGB, the new variants, and some very useful new conversion tools. On the downside - the software (even the 4.0.1 update) is somewhat buggy and you lose dual monitor support and simultaneous multiple file format export options.

Capture One PRO 3.7.8. All the familiar features of previous iterations...but NO export to ProPhoto RGB and none of the useful new features introduced in Capture One Version 4. In other words, solid but stale software.

Which version am I using? Well, after about 4 hours of head-to-head testing of the two products I THINK I'm sticking with Capture One Version 4 for now. The deciding factor? The ProPhoto RGB export. I just hope when we see version 4.0 of the professional version it will handle sessions and libraries in a manner consistent with Capture One Version 4! Confusing? You bet! C'mon Phase One...get your act together!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

05 February 2008: Nikon's 3 New Lenses - Yes or No?

Most Nikon-o-philes are probably aware that Nikon announced a trio of new lenses just over a week ago (on January 28). The three lenses are: 1) the AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR; 2) the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED; and 3) the PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt/Shift. I've already received several emails asking my what I think about these lenses. To be honest, I can't answer that question - I haven't seen, touched, used, or tested the lenses. But do I want them? Well...I can definitely answer that question! So...

AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. Nice focal range. Do I want it? No. Will I buy one? No. Why? Two reasons:

1. Variable Aperture Zooms - Not for Me! I've never had a variable aperture Nikon zoom that I've loved. Conversely, I've never owned a fixed aperture Nikon zoom that I didn't like (and, in MOST cases, I've loved them). This is partly because that for some unknown reason I tend to shoot most of my zooms near the long end of their focal range (where the variable aperture models tend to be quite slow). And...optically they've never satisfied me. MAYBE this one will be wonderful optically, but this remains to be seen...

2. It's a DX Lens. I've now owned 3 DX lenses - one was very good (the 17-55 2.8), one was good (the 12-24), and one was only so-so (the 18-200). But my point is not that DX lenses can't be "good" lenses, but rather that I don't want to invest in lenses that don't work optimally with a full-frame camera. I've been shooting with a D3 since early December and I'm very happy with it. I can't see myself NOT having at least one full-frame camera in the future. And, it makes little sense to me to buy lenses that work optimally only with cameras with the smaller DX-sensor. Please note that this does NOT mean that I won't ever buy a DX-sensor camera in the future (I'm already excited about the 18 MP DX-based D500, which I'm not going to talk about), but I want to make sure that the lenses I buy work well on BOTH DX and FX cameras.

AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED. This is an update to a pre-existing lens of the same focal length (which I used to own). Do I want it? No. Will I buy it? No. Why? Some very preliminary comments on the lens (by folks who have taken a few shots with it) indicate that it now has a faster autofocus, improved bokeh (out-of-focus zones), exemplary contrast and virtually no chromatic aberrations. So why wouldn't I want it? My primary complaint about the precursor to this lens was related simply to its focal length - for the type of macro work I like to do (including flowers, insects, and extreme close-ups with small mammals and birds) the working distance of this lens was far too short (lens-to-subject distance far too small). And this will obviously not change with the new version of the lens. This does NOT mean that others may not like or love this lens - those that photograph postage stamps (not that there's anything wrong with that) may love this lens. But it's not for me. I'll stick with "just" my AFS Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8G ED-IF VR and my wonderful AF-Micro-Nikkor 200 mm f/4 ED.

PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt/Shift. The PC stands for "Perspective Control" - this lens can both tilt and shift (in relationship to the film/image sensor) and thus allows the landscape/architectural photographer to control the exaggerated perspective effects caused by tilting your camera out-of-parallel with the axis of your subject. Very interesting. Do I want one? I think so. Will I buy one? Possibly. Two things will make me hesitate or wait on this purchase:

1. At this point, and IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), Nikon does NOT have a digital body well-suited to doing quality landscape work. So I might wait until the rumoured 24 MP D3X is in my hands before I buy this lens.

2. I really wonder if the perspective control afforded by this lens will really be any better than that can be achieved using software (such as Photoshop's Lens Correction filter). I'll definitely need to test both this lens directly against software-mediated perspective control before I can answer this question.

But why am I even worried about these new lenses? I'm still waiting for my 600 VR to be shipped - and it was announced way back in August!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

05 February 2008: 02-05-58 to 02-05-08 = The Big 5-0!

Personal Note: Awoke this morning to discover that I just passed a minor milestone - the big 5-0! It slowly dawned on me that perhaps I should consider having a mid-life crisis. So...I checked my schedule - seems like I'm doing too many things that are meaningful to me to fit a mid-life crisis into my life. Note to self: Add agenda item entitled "Mid-life Crisis" for day of 02-05-33. If already booked up, then add perhaps add it for day of 02-05-58.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

31 January 2008: OK: More Info on "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Instructional Photo Tour

I've been receiving a lot of email asking for more information about the "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Instructional Photo Tour that's coming this May. That is a good thing, and feel free to continue sending the email (and I'll try to respond as soon as possible). For those who want information RIGHT NOW (which is what I normally want), feel free to download this brochure (PDF: 1.0 MB) right now! It should answer most of the questions I've been getting.

At this point there is only ONE spot left on this amazing trip...so if you're interested in going you better contact me pronto!

Feel free to contact me via email (photography@naturalart.ca) if you'd still like more info (or if you'd like to reserve the last available spot on this trip).

30 January 2008: UPDATE: Instructional Photo Tour: Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen

Only ONE spot left on this trip/workshop. Don't know what I'm talking about? See entry of 28 January (immediately below).

Contact me via email (photography@naturalart.ca) if you'd like more info or if you'd like to reserve your spot on this trip.

28 January 2008: Instructional Photo Tour: Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen

I'm going to be leading an Instructional Photo Tour into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary on the northern BC coast in late May. This instructional photo tour will be limited to 6 attendees (plus me) - 4 spots are already gone so only 2 remain. While a few final details remain to be worked out, here's the gist of the trip:

May 26: Arrive in Prince Rupert. Travel day, with meet & greet in Prince Rupert.

May 27: In Prince Rupert. Half day of classroom-style instruction on wildlife photography, with special reference to bear photography (and etiquette associated with shooting from a small zodiac inflatable boat, etc.). Second half of day open, but likely dedicated to eagle photography in or around Prince Rupert.

May 28 to May 30 (3 days). Photographing grizzlies in BC's stunning Khutzeymateen Inlet, with photographic instruction and assistance between shooting sessions and in the evening.

May 31. Depart from Khutzeymateen via float plane and return to Prince Rupert.

Khutzeymateen Accommodation. We'll be staying on a 71-foot sailboat and will have full-time access to a Zodiac boat and at least one full-time guide.

What's Included? Pretty much everything, once you get to Prince Rupert (your travel costs to get to Prince Rupert are NOT included). Transportation to the Khutzeymateen (via float planes) and accommodation in Prince Rupert included in the price.

Cost? There are one or two final details to work out, but the cost should be very close to $2500 CDN. This will be confirmed by Friday, February 1.

The Khutzeymateen Inlet is home to Canada's only grizzly sanctuary and is an absolutely stunning setting. The site offers fabulous photo ops to capture grizzly (and black bear) images in a unique setting.

To view some of the images I've captured in the Khutzeymateen, just begin here (look under the "In the Field" tab for where each image was shot - the ones from the Khutzeymateen are clearly noted).

Contact me via email (photography@naturalart.ca) if you'd like more info or if you'd like to reserve your spot on this trip.

21 January 2008: Slide show and Print Exhibit

Live in the Columbia Valley of British Columbia and have nothing to do this Saturday night? Here's an idea: Come and see a slide show and Limited Edition Print exhibit I'm having in Invermere, BC. The show is in support of Wildsight's 20th Anniversary. Wildsight is the most active and dynamic conservation group in southeast BC - they're a great group!

THE DETAILS:

WHERE? Pynelogs Cultural Centre in Invermere, BC (call 250-342-4423 if you need directions to Pynelogs).

WHEN? Saturday, January 26 at 7:30 PM (MST).

WHAT? Slideshow entitled "For the Love of the Wild" AND an exhibit of my Limited Edition Prints.

WHY? Because it will be fun! And, if you choose to buy any of my Limited Edition Prints 10% of the selling price will be donated to Wildsight PLUS I'll buy a one-year family membership to Wildsight for you!

REFRESHMENTS? Yep - snacks and beverages (both alcoholic and the other more useless type!)

See ya there!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

18 January 2008: Mac OS X Leopard and This Digital Photographer

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I went on a bit of a rant about Mac OS X Leopard back in early November (see November 5th, 2007 entry entitled "This Leopard REALLY Bites!"). To make a long story short, the thing that frustrated me with the upgrade was the relatively high number of incompatibilities between Leopard and my existing software. Plus, of course, the high total cost of upgrading - at that time it would have cost me $1051.25, plus the cost of Leopard, to upgrade. Since that time several software manufacturers have generously gone BACK and produced patches to allow non-current versions of their software to run on Leopard (e.g., Filemaker came out with "version 2" of Filemaker Pro 8.5, even tho' they are already selling Filemaker Pro 9). Kudos to these 3rd party software developers - thank you! So...the cost of upgrading has declined somewhat. And, I decided a week or so to move forward to Leopard. My impressions:

THE POSITIVES: There are many new features in Leopard that help my workflow. I love "Spaces" - with this you can group multiple windows and applications within a single "space" (desktop). You can have alternate window and application groupings within another space. Switching between your different spaces takes only a keystroke or two. So...I can group all my imaging applications (such as Adobe Bridge, Phase One Capture One, and Bridge) in one space. In another, I can group the tools I need to work on this website (e.g., BBEdit, Fetch, and various content sources). So, moving between my different daily tasks is far faster. So far I also really like the new backup application named "Time Machine" - hourly automated incremental backups really appeal to this digital photographer! What about "Stacks" (groups of folders/files kept in the dock that you can quickly expand with a single click)? The jury's still out on this one for me - but once I'm used to this featureI think I'll really like it. Other notables I like include "Quick Look" (allowing you to preview, play and read files without opening them), the new Mail application, and, of course, the fact that EVERYTHING on my Mac now seems snappier. So...overall there's lots of positives.

THE NEGATIVES: Sigh. Incompatibilities and glitches. While I've been pleasantly surprised that some very old software seems to work fine (I'm still using Illustrator 10, and it seems fine!), some supposedly compatible software doesn't run without glitches. For instance, Filemaker Pro 8.5 appears to run just fine, until you attempt to "Print to PDF." Nothing happens. Crap, this is a feature I often need. Photoshop CS3? Well it was supposed to be compatible, but it turns out that there are several gremlins (that Adobe has now acknowledged). Here's Adobe's summary of the problems: "Currently, when you enter values in numberic fields to set sizes for the brush, crop, marquee, lasso, type, and other Photoshop CS3 tools, those values revert to previously entered values when you try to apply them." Adobe DOES list the workarounds needed to solve these problems, but this group of glitches definitely slows your workflow down. Details of the problems with Photoshop CS3 - and the associated workarounds - can be found here (PDF; 344k). Adobe points the finger directly at Apple for these problems..."The fix will be provided through an update to Mac OS Leopard." If you need a full list of what Adobe applications are compatible with Leopard (and which ones aren't), go here (PDF; 120k).

THE VERDICT? Overall I REALLY like Leopard. But, I should have waited another couple of months before upgrading to it. My recommendation to other digital photographers is to be patient - in a few months this will be a really worthwhile upgrade.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

7 January 2008: D3 Images Creeping Into Latest Additions Gallery

I'm continuing my field-testing of the Nikon D3. Images shot along the way are beginning to show up in my gallery of Latest Addtions.

The images added to the gallery today were shot when I was testing:

1. the D3 with the TC-14EII teleconverter (image entitled Mourning Dove at Rest);

2. the D3 with the Nikon 300 mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR lens (image entitled Winter Sunset in the Columbia Valley);

3. the D3's Live View mode (image entitled Mount Fairmont at Sunset). Does Live View live up to the hype? Almost...but there's a very serious oversight in its implementation...check it out...

All comments about the tests are found under the "In the Field" tab for each image.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

3 January 2008: First Place Winner - 2007 Nature Photographer's Magazine Editor's Pick Awards

An image of mine of a jet-black Black Bear with its snow-white cub was the first place winner in the Fauna Gallery of the Nature Photographer's Online Magazine for 2007. The image had initially been chosen as a "photo-of-the-week" by the Nature Photographer's Network. At year end, all photos-of-the-week were placed in open competition and the winning photo was selected by the editor of the magazine.

The winning photos from each of the 8 categories may be viewed on the Nature Photographer's Online Magazine's Website. The image itself, along with all the contextual information surrounding its capture and processing, can be viewed on this website (right here in the bear gallery). The image is available as a Limited Edition Print (more info here).

By the way...the careful observer may notice that the photo goes by two different names. On this website the image is entitled "Black & White - Harmony". On the Nature Photographer's Online Magazine website I re-titled the image as "Possessive and Protective" (long, unimportant story behind this). Anyway...it's the same image!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

2 January 2008: Bjorn Rorslett's Nikon D3 Review

Bjorn Rorslett has published his detailed review of the Nikon D3. For those of you not familiar with Bjorn...he's a professional nature photographer from Norway who has a strong technical side. He's probably best known for his detailed and, in my opinion, spot-on lens reviews. His website is absolutely chock full of useful information (and, of course, his prickly, wry humour). Check out Bjorn's website if you have a chance. The D3 review is exceptionally thorough (even by Bjorn's high standards), and is much more than a simple re-hashing of the camera's specs.

I will continue to post my own findings and feelings about the D3 over the coming weeks. As always my bias will be toward reporting how the D3 performs for the nature photographer and how it meets my specific needs.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

2 January 2008: A HOWLING Good End to 2007!

WAY back on December 22nd of last year I was forced to take an unplanned walk at about 4 AM (don't ask - sick dog). I had walked about 100 meters down our driveway when a mournful howl shattered the silence. We have lots of coyotes around, but the howler wasn't one of them. It came from quite close by and from the throat of a very real wolf! It was beautiful. Then it howled again, and again, and again. I quickly finished up dealing with my dog and went back inside our cabin. I woke my girlfriend and we opened our bedroom window. And listened to the haunting voice of the wolf for a good half hour. It was wonderful. Just knowing that wolves, cougars, bears and other predators reside near our place in the woods gives me immense pleasure and reminds me that there still is SOME real wilderness left out there...

Shortly after sunrise we went out in the direction of the howling to see if we could find signs of the wolf (or wolves). Sure enough, we found several sets of tracks - it looked to me like 3 wolves visited us that night. We backtracked the wolves and found a spot on a snow-covered ridge where the wolves had sat and, most likely, howled. After following the tracks for an hour or so we turned around and spent the next couple of hours erasing all signs of our four-legged visitors. HUH? Why did we do this? And why did I wait so long to add this event to my blog? Read on...

We live in a very rural setting in the Columbia Valley in southeast British Columbia. To the east are the Rocky Mountains and to the west are the granitic Purcells. We are surrounded by wilderness. It's wonderful. But, all is not perfect - we live in a province that officially condones and actively encourages the slaughter of wolves. In British Columbia the wolf is the only "fur-bearing" (how I hate that term!) animal that may be hunted by any resident - regardless of whether or not they have a hunting license or tag. Below 1100 meters elevation there is NO closed season on wolves. Above 1100 meters the wolves can relax from June 16 to the first week of September only. Bag limits? It varies by management unit - in our area it's two wolves. But in 25 of the management units in the province there is currently NO bag limit. So in these management units any hunter, or group of hunters, who happen to stumble upon a wolf pack can start shooting, and keep shooting, until nothing is left alive. Nice! Progressive! Makes me ashamed to be a human...

By the way - this small wolf pack is now long gone - I haven't seen an additional track in over a week. Which is why I'm only now telling of their recent appearance - there's no possibility they can be tracked down from here. Happy and safe travels my four-legged friends...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.



Blog Archive - not so fresh but still very readable and relevant...

2013 - The Whole Shebang
2012 - Almost The Whole Shebang
2011 - The Whole Shebang
2009 - October to December2009 - July to September2009 - April to June
2009 - January to March 2008 - October to December 2008 - July to September
2008 - April to June 2008 - January to March 2007 - October to December
2007 - July to September 2007 - April to June 2007 - January to March