Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Q3 2008 (July to September)

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

25 September 2008: Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen - Only 2 Spots Left!

If anyone is considering going on the "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Instructional Photo Tour next May, ya better shake a leg! As on this morning there were only two spots left. For details about the trip, just scroll down to the entry of September 18 or download this brochure (PDF: 370 KB) for the trip itinerary, accommodation details, and more!

Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca to reserve your spot!

24 September 2008: Leica S2: Revolutionary? Or Evolutionary Dead End?

Just a few days ago at the Photokina trade show Leica announced a new digital SLR-style camera that they claim will "...transform the concept" of the dSLR. What is it? Simply a 35-mm sized SLR (albeit a big one) with an image sensor that measures 45 mm by 30 mm (full-frame dSLR's are around 36 mm x 24mm) and has a resolution of 37.5 megapixels! Read more about the camera (or see Leica's Press Release) here on dpreview's website; see photos of the new camera and the 9 lenses introduced with it here on the blog of the British Journal of Photography.

The concept is a clear statement about the limitations of small image sensors and the camera more-or-less bridges the gap between current digital SLR's and current medium format digital cameras (or camera backs). Will the Leica S2 "revolutionize" the industry? Will Nikon and Canon follow suit and introduce their own new formats soon? Or...will the Leica S2 prove to be an evolutionary experiment that fails and soon goes extinct? It depends...on a number of factors:

1. Will They Deliver? This is a critical question. Many of you will remember the promise of the Pentax 645 Digital that was announced at no fewer than 3 tradeshows before Pentax scrapped the project. Leica LOOKS serious about the product - they've announced 9 new "S System" lenses for use with the S2. But...appearances (and product photos, and press releases) can be misleading. Time will tell...

2. Will They Execute Well? If they do deliver the product - will the quality be there? There once was a time when the Leica name almost guaranteed product quality. But, after several ownership changes, this is no longer a slam-dunk. I know of several people who've purchased various Leica products in recent years and either had problems with the products or been generally disappointed. The S2 is supposed to be a revolutionary, professional product - it better offer amazing image quality and the features pros have come to expect.

3. Will It Be Even Remotely Affordable? Leica products have never been cheap. But this new machine has the potential to be priced astronomically high - just like some of the newest medium format digital backs (the new P 65+ digital back from Phase One goes for a cool $40k or so). If Leica puts the S2 in this stratosphere while Canon, Sony, and likely soon Nikon, are putting 20+ MP cameras in the $3k to $5k range, then the product will have little or no impact in "revolutionizing" the industry.

But overall, I say congratulations to Leica for making this bold move. It was needed and inevitable that someone would take this step. Only time will tell if it will shake up the dSLR industry and alter or replace the current paradigm...but at least they're trying.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

18 September 2008: Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour 2009

I've finalized all the details for next spring's "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Instructional Photo Tour. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and the opportunities to photograph grizzlies (and black bears) in their natural habitat are always absolutely amazing! Last year this trip was filled VERY fast, so if you're interested in coming get back to me pronto! A few details:

OVERVIEW: The Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour 2009 combines a full day of professional photography instruction with three days of photographing grizzlies in the most stunning setting imaginable. You will be given the tools and the opportunity to capture breath-taking images of one of the world's most fascinating and majestic animals - the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos).

DATES: May 26 to May 31, 2009.
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: Limited to 6.
COST: $2800 CDN including all taxes.
REGISTRATION: Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca to reserve your spot!

MORE INFORMATION? Download this brochure (PDF: 370 KB) for more information, including the trip itinerary, accommodation details, and more! Or, contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca with any questions you may have!

16 September 2008: Apple Adds D700 RAW Support to Aperture

Apple has just released "Digital RAW Compatibility Update 2.2" which adds RAW support for Aperture 2 and iPhoto 08 for several recently released cameras, including the Nikon D700. Yippee! At this time I use Aperture for my initial culling of images (only) and not having this support was an inconvenience. Go here for additional information and the 3.5 MB downloadable update.

Two comments about the update:

1. It wasn't long ago that Apple tied RAW compatibility updates to dot releases of the entire OS. This move to separate out the RAW compatibility updates is a good thing - thanks Apple.

2. There's a pseudo-glitch in the update: if you had previously imported D700 images (and presumably other newly supported camera's images) into Aperture BEFORE the update was issued, you will not be able to see full-size rendered "previews" of your images - just thumbnail-sized images. Solution - delete the images from Aperture and re-import them and "presto" you have full-size images/previews available. Note that if you do not have copies of the RAW files residing on your computer you have to export the images from Aperture and then re-import them (an then you'll have full-size images available for use). If anyone is aware of an easier method of accomplishing this task, feel free to drop me a line...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

8 September 2008: Nikon D700 Images in "Latest Additions" Gallery...

I've had time to begin shooting with my new D700 and so far I'm extremely impressed with it - it compares very favourably with my D3. After I've had a little more time to shoot with it (under a variety of conditions) I'll post a more detailed entry on my experiences and impressions. Images shot with the D700 are beginning to find their way into my "Galleries of Latest Images" - check 'em out!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

4 September 2008: R.I.P: The DX Sensor...

Today's entry was going to be entitled "Nikon Needs a PROFESSIONAL DX Camera" and outline the DX camera that Nikon needs to produce to show they're serious about the future of the DX (cropped sensor) format. I was going to describe a camera much like the D700 but with a DX sensor. Japanese build. Environmentally sealed. Autofocus system equivalent to the D3 or D700. 12 to 18 MP. High ISO performance of the D300. Etc. Selling for $2399.00. But...the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that Nikon ISN'T serious about the DX format. So I won't rant on about the "missing" professional DX camera...

My take on where Nikon is going? Well...as Sony's announcement today of the full-framed Alpha 900 shows, full-frame is where it's at! And...as the price of full-frame sensors drop (which is inevitable), I'm pretty sure we'll see full-frame sensors showing up lower and lower in Nikon's product line. In two years I'm betting the DX sensor will be found ONLY in their lowest end dSLR's. In four years - who knows? But I'd be surprised if you'll see ANY DX sensors at all on Nikon dSLR's.

"But...didn't the introduction of the D300 show that Nikon still believed in the DX format?" you ask. Like almost everyone, I was initially excited about the D300 and got one shortly after they started shipping. I thought the D300 would make a wonderful complement to my D3 (giving me that extra reach for wildlife shooting). But from the first day I owned my D300 I experienced problems with it (details outlined here - see especially point #8). And, late last week - and for no apparent reason - the autofocus system on my D300 simply quit working. Argh! The D300 was supposed to be a reliable, competent back-up camera for me and, when needed, give me the extra reach associated with the DX sensor. Unfortunately, the "reliable" part of the equation didn't seem to pan out for me. So...my D300 is now gone and, as of yesterday, replaced by a D700.

So...for me, for now, DX is a thing of the past. IF Nikon does the unexpected and produces a new state-of-the-art PROFESSIONAL DX camera I wouldn't hesitate to buy it. But I'm not holding my breath.

R.I.P. DX!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

1 September 2008: Capturing Birds in Flight with Nikon's 600 mm f4 VR Lens

I'm continuing testing out and putting Nikon's new 600 mm f4 VR lens through its paces. Lately I've been challenging its autofocus system while shooting birds in flight. Is the 600 VR up to the task? See the image entitled "Dawn Flight - Great Blue Heron" in my Latest Additions Gallery to find out.

UPDATE: 20 October 2008: Sorry, I have sold the exclusive rights to the heron image and thus have removed it from this website.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

27 August 2008: Photo Retreat: The Essentials of Nature Photography With Your Digital SLR

There are two spots remaining for the September 19-21 nature photography retreat entitled "The Essentials of Nature Photography with your Digital SLR". This full weekend of nature photography instruction is being presented by Roaring Pass Lodge in beautiful Kimberley, BC. I will be the guest speaker during the retreat - during it I'll be offering a combination of a classroom-style seminar and a field shooting session.

For additional information, including pricing and registration info, go to the Nature Photography Seminars page on Roaring Pass Lodge's website or download this brochure (PDF: 780 KB).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

25 August 2008: Six New Images Find Permanent Home in Bear Gallery

I've just given 6 new images "permanent" homes in the Bear Gallery. Some of these images have been seen before in my gallery of "Latest Additions", but several are "brand spanking new" (never been viewed by any eyes other than my own):

1. Shakin' in the Surf. Quite possibly the best outcome I've ever had from an image that I thought I had totally screwed-up on while in the field - check the "Field Notes" tab for details...

2. Schmoozin' in the Khutz. Never seen before - a huge male grizzly doing his best to impress a cute young female (bear). Kinda reminds me of a traveling salesman looking to score in a bar. No anthropomorphism here...

3. One Gorgeous Bear! Grizzlies come in all shapes and colour patterns...but this has got to be one of the best looking bears I've ever seen!

4. The Essential Khutzeymateen. My best effort yet at capturing the "essence" of the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary. Proof that not all wildlife photography is about long lenses and close-ups?

5. Submerged Sniffing? A Grizzly Bear's sense of smell is legendary...but does it extend BELOW the surface of the water? Perhaps...check out this image and commentary (under the "In the Field" tab).

6. Surfin' Griz. And you thought Michael Phelps could swim fast - check out the standing wave this bear is producing! And...this bear could also run-down a very scared Usain Bolt in full flight. Maybe Canada just took the wrong athletes to the games...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

13 August 2008: Nikon 600 mm VR Images in "Latest Additions" Gallery...

I've had time to shoot a thousand or so images with Nikon's 600 mm VR lens and some of those images are now beginning to emerge in my "Galleries of Latest Images". If you're curious about how the two new autofocus modes (A/m vs. M/a) found on Nikon's new super telephoto lenses work, make sure you check out the "In the Field" comments for the image entitled "Eastern Kingbird Hiding In Reeds".

In posts to this blog over the past 6 months or so I did my share of ranting about the slow delivery by Nikon of the new 600 mm VR lens. It would appear that at least one of the reasons they were slow getting them out was that a whole lot of photographers in Beijing (apparently covering some big sporting event) were getting them - check out this story and image on Rob Galbraith's website! If you download and enlarge the image to 100% you'll see an awful lot of Nikon 600 mm VR lenses. Actually, you'll get a great glimpse at how well Nikon is doing in re-establishing itself as the "camera maker of choice" for professional sports photographers. If this image was taken a year ago about 90% of the cameras and lenses would have been made by Canon. Now, over 50% are Nikons. Interesting...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

5 August 2008: At long last - Nikon 600 mm VR Arrives!

FINALLY! My Nikon 600 mm VR lens arrived last week - almost exactly 11 months after it was announced (and when I ordered it). Since I took possession of this massive beast I've been trying to carve as much time out of my schedule as possible to shoot with it - in essence just trying to get a feel for how it performs - its idiosyncrasies, strengths, weaknesses, etc. I'll be publishing a reasonably thorough review of my impressions of this lens in the next week or two (including my attempt to answer that nagging question: "Can you really hand-hold a 600 mm lens?"). In the interim, here are my absolute first impressions (subject to modification and tweaking as I use the lens in more situations):

1. Increased Usability. While I've had only limited experience shooting with the previous non-VR versions of this lens, to squeeze maximum sharpness out of them you needed both a rock-solid support and flawless "long-lens" technique. In practical terms this often meant that the lens was quite hard to use in a field setting. The VR version of the lens is definitely more forgiving - I've already been successful shooting the lens while supported only by a small bean bag and using other makeshift supports. You still can't get good results while being sloppy - but the addition of the VR has definitely increased the range of uses you can put this lens to. Which pleases me greatly - this is the whole reason I put off buying a 600 mm lens until a VR was available!

2. Surprisingly Fast Autofocus. I had low expectations regarding how fast this lens would focus. I'm used to shooting action with Nikon's 200 mm f2 VR and 300 mm f2.8 VR. Both focus very, very fast. Surprisingly (at least to me), the 600 VR focuses almost as fast. Last night, while photographing Common Nighthawks in flight with the 600 (for those who don't know, these birds have exceptionally erratic flying behaviour), I DID notice that the lens did take longer to acquire initial focus than its shorter siblings, but once focus was attained it locked on and tracked the birds extremely well. At this point my impression is that the 600 VR focuses slightly slower than both the 200 f2 VR and the 300 f2.8 VR, but faster than my 200-400 f4 VR. It should be noted that this is simply my subjective feeling after using the lens in the field - I have NOT formally tested the speed of the autofocus system.

3. Sharpness? The 600 VR is very sharp. How sharp? My initial impression is that it doesn't match the 200 f2 VR in sharpness (but does anything?), but it's pretty much in the same league as the 300 f2.8 VR and the 200-400 f4 VR.

4. Out-of-focus zones (bokeh)? VERY, VERY nice. Up there with Nikon's best, except the 200 f2 VR.

5. VR Performance? Yep, it works. Much more on this in a week or two. For now, all I'll say is that it does what it's supposed to.

Stay tuned for more detailed comments about this lens, including sample photos, in the next week or so...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

23 July 2008: Grizzly Sparring Sequence Added to Bears Gallery

Ever watched grizzly bears spar/fight? If not, you'll have to trust me when I say tha it's an amazing spectacle to observe. Lots of action, lots of thunderous blows, and lots of teeth! The action is very fast and furious - and if you're fortunate enough to be in the right spot at the right time to photograph a sparring sequence, it REALLY helps to have a high-speed camera. I used my Nikon D3 to capture this six-image sequence (much of it taking place in less than a second) - check it out right here!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

15 July 2008: HOORAY! Full Captions Return to Nature's Best Photography Magazine!

I received my copy of Nature's Best Photography magazine yesterday. I was exceptionally pleased to see that they decided to return to printing their FULL captions with each of their published photos, including the camera brand and model information! Thank you Nature's Best - I'm sure you're making many nature photographers very happy with this "back to the future" editorial change.

For those of you unaware of the "caption issue", see my blog entry of 25 March 2008 for a summary. My longer rant about the "Sony Issue" (and the missing elements in the photo captions) is the subject of my 24 February blog entry. The last part of the saga (at least on this blog), written immediately after I discussed the "Sony/caption issue" with the publisher of the magazine, is in my blog entry of 23 April.

My guess is that a lot of other nature photographers felt the same way I did and contacted Nature's Best expressing their disappointment in having the camera brand/model info removed from the captions.

I have already sent an email to Nature's Best magazine thanking them for returning the full captions. If you're happy with their decision perhaps it wouldn't hurt to do the same. Contact them at: info@naturesbestmagazine.com.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

8 July 2008: A Typical Morning: Bulls, Bears, and Birds...

This morning I had a series of appointments beginning at 8:30 AM, which meant that my morning shooting session would be limited to no more than 1 hour. I debated not going, but in the end the "call of the camera" beckoned me and I couldn't resist. So at 6 AM I left our cabin and started packing my gear to a ridge on the edge of our property, about 1/2 km away.

I arrived just before sunrise to beautiful blue skies. I'm currently focused on (pardon the pun) on capturing some images of Tree Swallows in flight - so I set up my equipment near a favourite feeding site of the swallows and prepared to wait. No sooner had I sat down on the ground when I heard a grunt/squeal behind me. I knew it was an elk, but was surprised to see that it was a bull elk with growing velvet-covered antlers (this time of year we normally have few males around). The elk in our area are quite elusive, but I managed to snap-off a few quick shots of the bull with the rising sun just beginning to caress his antlers. Not a bad start to the morning...

Anyway...back to the swallows. Time to focus on my primary target! Almost immediately the swallows started cooperating and I began shooting. One swallow came at me low from the west and I got a few decent images in a sequence. But then a moving black object on a adjacent ridge to the west caught my eye. It was a small to medium Black Bear galloping across the ridge - in a big hurry. The bear was too far off for a decent shot, so I just watched it run across the bare part of the ridge and into the forest. And wondered about what it was running from...

Anyway...back to the swallows. Focus! Forget the bear, forget the elk. And, the swallows did their thing for the next hour and I managed to capture some "new best" shots of them before I had to pack up my gear and return to the "real" world!

Life is good...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

4 July 2008: Nikon D700: More Reasons for Optimism...

In my July 1st blog entry I expressed some reservations about the newly announced D700. The origin of my concerns are the problems I have experienced with two of my previous "D-hundreds" Nikon cameras - the D200 and D300. I've outlined the problems I had with my D200 (and now have with my D300) in several places on this website (details here - see D300 point #8). I'm not sure if my problems originated with camera design issues or quality control issues. But...for those considering buying a D700, there's reason to believe that these "glitches" won't plague the new camera. Why? All the previous "D-hundreds" cameras have been produced in a Nikon factory in Thailand. The fully-professional "D-single digit" (D1, D2X or D2H, D3) cameras, on the other hand, have been produced in Nikon's Sendai factory in Japan (and, for the most part, these cameras have been almost bomb-proof). Country of origin is, of course, not 100% correlated with product quality. But...Japanese-made (especially in electronics) definitely is a positive...

So...where is the new D700 being made? I've heard the same thing from two sources now - the camera is apparently being made in the Sendai factory in Japan. This is very positive news. Odds are, the build quality (and quality control) of the D700 will be very good.

Does this mean that the D700 is guaranteed to be a good camera? Nope. But...the closer you look, the better this camera looks. And, the more it reminds me (in product positioning terms) of the venerable F100. I still have no plans to order one. But...if I didn't already have a D3, my dealer would have already received a D700 order from me!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

1 July 2008: Nikon D700: FINALLY - A high-end Nikon dSLR that I DON'T NEED!

Today Nikon announced what everyone expected - a lower-priced full-framed dSLR called the D700. Think D300 body (mostly) and D3 innards (mostly) and you've pretty much got the idea of what the D700 is. Because I haven't tried the camera yet, and because the web is full of information about the camera, I'll keep my comments brief. For those looking for an exhaustive regurgitation of the specifications check out the D700 Preview on DPReview.com. A more thoughtful overview, including a section on "Choosing between the D3 and D700", can be found here on Rob Galbraith's website.

My two cents worth:

1. Would I buy one? If I didn't already own a D3 - yes. The lower price (about $2999 in the US and $3299 in Canada) is attractive, as is the self-cleaning image sensor (large sensors do seem to attract significantly more dust than do smaller sensors and I end up cleaning my D3 sensor far more than I like). Many users will like the more compact body, but I know I would immediately add the MB-D10 battery pack/grip (if, for nothing else, the vertical shutter and controls) and it would be almost as big and heavy as my D3.

2. Any reservations about the camera? Absolutely. In the past I had serious problems with my D200 and I'm still experiencing serious electronic glitches and gremlins with my D300 (details about my D300 woes can be found here [see point #8]). Both the D200 and D300 were produced in Thailand (as opposed to Japan for the D-single-digit series of cameras) and so far I've haven't been able to find out where the D700 is produced. Nikon IS labeling it a fully "professional" camera, and the build quality does look good. But, after being burned twice, I'd personally hesitate to purchase another non-Japanese built camera for serious field use.

3. Will it sell? Realistically, it shouldn't. But, it will. Nikon's pricing and their very clever limitation of the availability of the D3 has created a huge pool of photographers with "D3 envy". Despite the pricing the D700 will sell shockingly well (far better than the only other product in the same niche - Canon's 5D). All in all the D700 reminds me of the F100 (in terms of market space) - I suspect it will be just as successful as the F100 was (that was a great camera...).

4. Should you buy a D700? Hmmm...not sure how to answer this one. If you crave amazing low-light performance, and don't want to fork out the bucks for a D3, you should probably consider buying this camera. My only slightly negative comment would be to advise you to wait until there are some REAL reviews of the camera out there. With the D300 I saw copious glowing reviews that seemed to be based completely off the specifications (and obviously without any real use of the camera). Right now it DOES look like a good camera, but...beware of potential glitches and gremlins that many reviewers will never notice (or, in fear of angering Nikon, simply gloss over). By the way...I wonder why I still haven't got that 600 mm VR lens that I ordered last August? Hmmm...

5. Why am I NOT buying one? I currently own a D3, D300, and D2Xs (and a F6). So it really makes little sense for me to even consider getting a D700 (as tempting as it may be...).

6. Future of the DX format? With the introduction of the "professional" D700 Nikon has made it even CLEARER that they think the future is in the full-frame (FX) format. The latest "top" DX-format camera (the D300) is a very competent camera (if you overlook the electronic problems that many users have experienced), but it's no D3 and doesn't appear to be up to snuff with the D700 (though admittedly this still remains to be proven). If Nikon is serious about moving forward with the DX format for professional use (think wildlife photographers and some sports photographers) they really need to introduce an updated fully professional DX camera soon.

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