Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Q4 2009 (October to December)

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

21 December 2009: The ULTIMATE Gift for the Nature Photographer Who Has Everything?

Still looking for that perfect gift for the nature photographer in your life? Or...looking for a treat for yourself because that D3x didn't show up under the tree? Well, gadgets are great - but they come and go pretty fast. But...a once-in-a-lifetime trip on one of my fantastic Photo Tours will produce memories (and images) that will last forever. And, just coincidentally, I just posted detailed information about, and started accepting bookings for, my 2011 photo tours. Here's where to go for more information:

• A full listing of ALL my 2011 Photo Tours are down this aisle ;-)
• If you're interested in my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour" Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 476 KB)
• Looking for a shorter (and more economical) trip with less instruction? Then my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen - Just the Photo Op, Please!" tour may be perfect for you. Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 434 KB) for more information.
• If covering more terrain or having a wider variety of wildlife to photograph is for you, then my "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest Instructional Photo Tour" may fill the bill better! Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 535 KB) for all the details.

For more info, or to reserve your spot on one (or more) of these photo tours, email me at: seminars@naturalart.ca.

19 December 2009: A Dozen New Bear Images...

I've just added 12 new images to my permanent Bear Gallery, with about a dozen more to come in the next week or so. The new images include Spirit Bears, Black Bears, and (of course) grizzlies and are sprinkled throughout the gallery, but begin right here at the front door to the gallery. The new images include some of my all-time favourites, such as this very, very black Black Bear and this adult grizzly enjoying his evening Night Cap! As always, there's a story behind every image - so don't forget to click on the "In the Field" tab below the image for all the gory details. Check 'em out!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

13 December 2009: 2011 Photo Tours - Grizzlies, Spirit Bears, Black Bears, Orcas and More!

I posted ALL the details of my 2011 Photo Tours late last night on my Seminars and Workshops page. And, as expected, the very limited number of spots are already starting to disappear. So, if you have an interest in attending any of these spectacular photo tours, I'd advise "shaking a leg"! Here's the specific spots to go for the details:

• For a listing of ALL 2011 Photo Tours START HERE.
• For the 2011 "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour" GO HERE.
• For the new (offered in 2011 for the first time) "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen - Just the Photo Op, Please!" tour TAKE THIS EXIT.
• For the other new 2011 Photo Tour - "Orcas, Humpbacks and More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central Pacific Coast" - FOLLOW THIS LINK.
• And for the fabulous "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Photo Tours - TAKE THIS DOOR.

The remaining available spots on these tours will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more info, or to reserve your spot on one (or more) of these photo tours, email me at: seminars@naturalart.ca.

08 December 2009: 2011 Photo Tour Information is Imminent...

I've been receiving an increasing number of emails asking me about my Photo Tour offerings for 2011. Here's the big picture: for 2011 I'll be offering an increased number of Instructional Photo Tours (and one pseudo-instructional photo tour) into the Great Bear Rainforest. So there will be TWO "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours (one full instructional tour and one "pseudo-instructional" tour) and TWO "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" instructional photo tours. Plus for 2011 I'll be adding an 8-day "Orcas, Humpbacks and More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central Pacific Coast" photo tour focused on the inhabitants of the nutrient and biologically rich waters off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

Full details will be available no later than Saturday, December 12 (and possibly earlier). My Khutzeymateen and Spirit Bear trips have a history of selling out VERY quickly (often in a matter of days), so if you're interested in attending one of these "once in a lifetime" (I know, sounds corny - but it's TRUE!) trips, stay tuned. Full details will be found on my Seminars and Workshops page (with links from this page, of course).

For more info email: seminars@naturalart.ca.

06 December 2009: Up for Grabs: AFS-Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 IF ED VR G Zoom Lens

07 December UPDATE: Sorry - this lens has already sold (I told you it would go away fast!).

With my recent acquisition of the new 70-200mm VRII lens my virtually new 70-300mm VR zoom is now up for sale. I purchased the 70-300mm VR to "hold me over" until the 70-200mm VRII was available so I no longer need this lens.

All the gory details (price, included extras, payment method, etc.) are on my Gear for Sale page...

If you're interested you better act fast - I price my used (or should I say "fully pleasure-tested"?) gear to go away fast! And just in time for Christmas!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

04 December 2009: First Impressions: Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

I have spent the bulk of my "free" time this week shooting with (and evaluating images shot with) the new 70-200mm VRII lens. After about 1500 shots and way too much time in front of the computer I can say this: If there was ever a single "must-have" lens for the Nikon-using nature photographer, this lens is it! Really. My "Executive Summary" on the lens is immediately below. A more detailed account of my findings (including selected images from my testing) can be found here in my Camera Gear Section.

The Executive Summary: This lens is a very, very solid performer that I will be using a LOT! It is VERY sharp at all normally-used apertures (which means f2.8 thru f11 for me) though not quite as sharp when shot wide open. The bokeh (quality of the out-of-focus zones) is superb and at f2.8 rivals that of the venerable (and amazing) Nikon AFS 200mm f2 VR. The autofocus is blazingly fast. The VR works as advertised (which means very, very well!). Teleconverter performance (with the 1.4x TC-14EII) exceeded my expectations dramatically. BUT, the lens is NOT completely perfect - edge-to-edge sharpness is not stellar at 200 mm at larger apertures, though this limitation can be overcome by stopping down to only "reasonably small" apertures. Plus, some users will find the reduction in focal length when focusing the lens on very close subjects troublesome. But, in my opinion there are enough subtle improvements (and some not-so-subtle improvements) in this lens that combine to make the "whole package" markedly better than its precursor. For me, and I suspect many FX body owners, this lens is as close to a "must-have" lens as any on the market. DX body owners who don't already own the previous iteration of this lens will love it (and I highly recommend it for them). For DX body owners who already own the previous version - you know, that "old" (but nearly legendary) lens works so well on DX bodies already that I couldn't really recommend swapping your current lens for this one (unless, of course, you have money to burn).

UPDATE (5 December): I have updated my "mini-review" of this lens (and the executive summary above) to include a brief discussion about the "Mysterious Shrinking Focal Length" (when focusing at close subjects) issue...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

28 November 2009: Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II: YIPPEE x 2

Like many FX (full-frame) Nikon shooters I have been very impatiently waiting for the release of the new 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II zoom lens. I owned the predecessor of this lens and back when I was shooting DX format cameras I thought it was a great lens. Unfortunately, I wasn't nearly so happy with it on my D3 or D700 - it simply wasn't up to the job of covering the full-frame sensor. Once i discovered this problem I sold my "old" 70-200mm and temporarily filled this critical focal range gap with the willing (but not too able) consumer level 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR lens. For the record, I think the 70-300mm is a very good lens for the price, but it simply doesn't compare in sharpness, colour, contrast, bokeh, and build quality to a pro lens. So...I was very happy when my dealer called with two bits of good news...

First, my spanking new lens had arrived. Word was out that they wouldn't be available until early next week, so I was extremely excited to hear that they had arrived early and mine was ready for pickup. YIPPEE!

Second, my dealer gave me some really good news about the price. When I had ordered my lens it was priced at about $2679 CAD. A few weeks back Nikon Canada lowered their price on many products (to catch up with currency fluctuations) and the price had dropped to $2499 CAD. So my price would be based around this price. But...it just so happens that the "other" main Nikon dealer in my region had made the brilliant decision to discount this highly sought after (and in very short supply) product on the day of its release. Whatever motivated them to ensure that NO ONE at the dealer level could make any money on this hot product is anyone's guess - but what a dopey business move! So, being ethical and honest, my guys decided to price-match and pass this same discount to me, even tho' I didn't know about it! Thanks guys - I do appreciate it (and I feel your pain in sharing a territory with that brain-dead competitor). And...YIPPEE!

I have to say that I haven't been this excited over getting a new lens since...well...I guess since I got my LAST new lens (a 600 VR). But I AM really excited! Early leaks about the image quality and VR performance on this new lens have been extremely positive, and I'm really looking forward to putting it through its paces.

I'll begin shooting with my new 70-200mm VR II starting tomorrow - expect my initial impressions about how this lens performs under real field conditions starting about mid-week...check back soon...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

20 November 2009: Think Tank's Belt Systems: Versatility and Flexibility...

I make no secret about how much I like LowePro's All Weather (AW) backpacks - I like the products (and own way too many of them!) and I like how much LowePro has supported various conservation initiatives, especially their huge efforts to help conserve the Great Bear Rainforest. So it almost pains me to discuss a product from a competitor of their's - but I feel compelled to share how much I've come to like Think Tank Photos belt systems...

First - a little background for context. While I do a lot of shooting on guided photo safaris (including my own Instructional Photo Tours), I also do a lot of shooting on a day-to-day basis near my home. I live in a totally rural location, close to the middle of nowhere (which is found about 27.5 km to the west of our home). Every day I walk my dogs in the surrounding hills and I use these walks as "reconnaissance" where I keep track of who's where (wildlife-wise). During these walks it's common that I encounter mule and/or white-tailed deer, elk and coyotes and (although less frequently of course) black bears, grizzlies, wolves, cougars and even lynx. Not to mention a huge number of birds, including Bald Eagles, several species of hawks and falcons, owls, and the ubiquitous ravens (and countless songbirds). So...needless to say, I ALWAYS like to have a camera with me, even if it's just my Olympus E-P1 pseudo point-and-shoot.

On these daily walks (and longer hikes) I have several things besides my camera to carry with me, including bear spray, dog treats, water bottle, etc. And, if there's any way to avoid it, I prefer NOT to wear a backpack. So, I'm continually looking for alternate options to carry my gear (finding the perfect gear carrying system is like searching for the Holy Grail). A few months ago I looked into quality "utility belts" from several photography accessory companies and liked what I saw from Think Tank Photo. So I ordered a "Pro Speed Belt" (a thin padded belt with loops for accessories), a "Steroid Speed Belt' (a wider padded belt with loops and a sliding rail for accessories) and a few accessories allowing me to carry a few assorted lenses (their "Lens Changers") and cameras with lenses on them (their "Digital Holsters"). Long story short - I love the versatility and flexibility of the system!

Some random observations about the belt system...

• If one is looking only to carry only very small cameras and/or a small second lens (or two), the thinner Pro Speed Belt works just fine. BUT, the minute you start carrying a little more gear (think pro-sized SLR and with about a 70-200 lens and maybe one other relatively stout zoom - like a 24-70 f2.8) you'll want to consider the wider Steroid Speed Belt. As a matter of fact, if you're walking any more than a km or two with the heavier loads you should consider adding the Pixel Racing Harness, which is a set of shoulder straps that helps stabilize the load (it helps keep the heavier accessories from bouncy too much, including against your upper leg or butt).

• The "Bum Bag" is a great little fanny pack that lets you carry a few items that you may want to have with you - like gloves or your car keys. Unfortunately, the Bum Bag is compatible ONLY with the thinner Pro Speed Belt and NOT the Steroid Speed Belt. Unfortunately there is no fanny pack compatible with the Steroid Speed Belt at this time - which for me is an inconvenience and does impair the usefulness of the system a little (are you listening Think Tank?).

• To date every LowePro accessory that I've tried (lens cases, water bottle holder, Rezo 60 camera case for my Olympus E-P1, etc.) works with either the Pro Speed Belt OR the Steroid Speed Belt. Some of LowePro's accessories may well be incompatible with the system, so I'd advise confirming they work before assuming they do. This cross-brand compatibility can help cushion the sticker-shock of anyone who has a number of LowePro accessories.

• The Steroid Speed Belt has a sliding rail that facilitates smooth lateral sliding of any of the accessories that are attached to the belt, so re-positioning the accessories to re-distribute weight or, more importantly, sliding your camera around your hip to have instant access to it, is really easy. All the Think Tank accessories may also be fixed in position.

• Waterproofness? Think Tank doesn't make this claim, but every accessory I've purchased so far has an integrated rain cover, so unless you're in a long, torrential downpour you should be fine. But...I'd advise AGAINST swimming with the system...

• Sizing? Lots of sizes are available - virtually any waist size can be accommodated. If you like to carry your camera with you in colder climates, make sure you buy the belt big enough to go OVER the heavy coats you may be using in the winter.

As I mentioned above, I really like Think Tank's Belt system - it offers just great versatility and flexibility. In my mind it doesn't totally replace the need for a good all weather camera backpack, but it complements one very well.

For more info, go to Think Tank's website and check under "Camera Belts", "Modular Component Systems" and "Holster Camera Bags" (I don't know why they didn't put a single layout together of all the bits and pieces that make up this system).

If you're looking to purchase a Think Tank belt system and don't have a retailer nearby that carries them, Outdoor Photo Gear carries all the components and offers great service - check them out!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

12 November 2009: An Old Book - but a Good Book!

Recently a friend of mine from the other side of the Atlantic recommended a photography book he thought I might like. It's called "The Art of Photographing Nature" and it's a joint effort by Martha Hill and one of the most famous nature photographers of all time - Art Wolfe. The book is presented in a refreshing format compared to many "how to" photography books - Art supplies the photos and a brief explanation of what he was trying to accomplish with them, and Martha (who was the picture editor of Audubon magazine for over a decade) provides critical comments about those same images. The images are presented in groups that cover specific compositional topics, including "Isolating Your Subject", "Reading the Light", etc. The format works really well!

I enjoyed the book immensely and found that two things really stayed with me. First, I've already mentioned that the book is old - it was published way back in 1993 (last century!). Yet, when you look at the images and read the text I was reminded of the old saying "...the more things change, the more they stay the same." The equipment that Art used to capture the images can only be described as "obsolete" (he used a strange image recording medium called "film") - yet the images are absolutely timeless and equally as good today as when they were captured.

Second, this book is a great reminder to wildlife photographers that to produce truly memorable images you have to fall out of love (or better yet, "out of awe") with your subject and treat it just as that - a subject that, when dealt with properly, can form the basis of a true piece of art.

I highly recommend this book to any aspiring nature photographer. The book is inspiring and I'd go so far as to call it "required reading" for any wildlife photographer seeking an edge over his or her competition!

The book is available through most major booksellers, including here on Amazon.ca or here on Amazon.com.

As a complete aside - between Art Wolfe and Art Morris (author of "The Art of Bird Photography" and the "The Art of Bird Photography II") I'm beginning to think I'm going to change my name to Art Hill. These guys just have way too much fun with puns associated with their names. I'd probably have to rename my company to Natural Art's Images - and start eating more granola to live up to being known as "Natural Art" - but it would be worth the fun! ;-)

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

04 November 2009: Olympus E-P1 PEN: After Two Months...

Like many photographers I love the image quality and flexibility of a quality dSLR, but I also see the need (and I want) a much smaller "walk-around" camera that I can almost always have with me AND that produces high-quality images. Over the years I have tried using a series of point-and-shoot cameras (the most recent being the Canon G10), but have always been very disappointed with the images produced by them (how do you say "noise machines"?).

So...when my camera dealer told me about the Olympus E-P1 PEN I was actually quite excited. What's a PEN? Simply put, it's a point-and-shoot style camera (albeit a largish one) that offers an SLR-sized image sensor (a Four Thirds sensor) AND interchangeable lenses. And here's the marketing "spin" that Olympus is using to describe and sell the cameras (from their website): "The PEN provides superior optics, interchangeable lenses and multimedia capabilities - and combines the creative freedom of a sophisticated digital SLR with the simple controls and small size of a point-and-shoot." Does the camera live up to this lofty claim? No. But's it is a BIG first step in re-thinking and re-designing the point-and-shoot. Read on for more...

Caveats and Qualifiers: This is not intended as a full review of the Olympus E-P1, just a short no-nonsense account of my thoughts after using the E-P1 for two months. There are many reviews of the E-P1 available online, but I found the most thorough and logical to be this one by Thom Hogan. To view the detailed specs about the camera and see another review, go here on dpreview.com. The E-P1 I purchased and am basing my impressions on came equipped with the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (28-84mm equivalent) lens, which is the lens most commonly sold with the camera. Note that because this camera has interchangeable lenses, and because this is the only lens I used, it is impossible for me to separate out how much the quality of this lens is impacting on final image quality.

The Executive Two-Sentence Summary: I like this camera - under very limited shooting situations it can produce images on par with introductory level dSLR's and it performs FAR BETTER than any other point-and-shoot I have ever used (and over a far wider range of ISO's). However, the handling, ergonomics, autofocus system, and speed of this camera are much more like those of a point-and-shoot and thus the flexibility of the camera (and what subject matter you can shoot) is dramatically reduced compared to even the most basic dSLR on the market.

The Most Significant Pros:

Large Image Sensor: MUCH larger image sensor than on standard point-and-shoots - clever engineering (and removing an optical viewfinder from the design) allowed Olympus to place a full-sized Four Thirds image sensor in this camera. This ultimately means that the E-P1 can produce higher quality images, and with MUCH less noise than a standard point-and-shoot. And, with the larger image sensor you DO end up with a much wider range of useable ISO values. How wide? In the right light (and think mid-tone scenes) I have been able to obtain decent quality image up to ISO 800. These images had noise levels approximately equivalent to my Canon G10 at ISO 80.
Smallish Size: This camera is much smaller than virtually any dSLR but larger than almost all point-and-shoots. Small enough for a pocket? Not quite. But it can be carried very easily on my belt using a LowePro Rezo 60 pouch, so it's with me on almost all walks.
Interchangeable Quality Lenses: There are already several Micro Four Thirds lenses available for this camera, and with Olympus and third party adaptors lots more can be made to fit (including those great old OM lenses). Adaptors are even available so you can use your Nikon lenses on this camera! Geez, you could actually invest in an E-P1 system over time!
Great Autofocus Over-ride: The means by which you can over-ride and fine-tune the autofocus system is very well-implemented (simply adjust the focusing ring and the camera automatically zooms in 7x or 10x to aid in focusing). Unfortunately, the autofocus system is so bad you need to do this WAY too often!

The Critical Cons:

Low Quality Image Sensor: Although the image sensor is large, it simply isn't too good of a sensor. The minute I started shooting with this camera I noticed how easy it was to clip highlights or to lose shadow detail, or both. My suspicions of "thin dynamic range" were confirmed when I checked the test results of the E-P1 on the objective dxomark.com website (go here for camera sensor rankings) - the sensor ranked significantly below virtually all current dSLR's. How far below? In terms of dynamic range alone, the camera had over a full stop less dynamic range than a D40x and 2 stops less than with a D700. Similarly, colour depth and low-light ISO performance don't compare well to many dSLR's (but ARE better than other point-and-shoots).
AWFUL Autofocus: Simply stated, the autofocus system on this camera is very sub-standard (even that on my Canon G10 was far better). It's too slow, the focus brackets are WAY too big, and so on. Consider it a manual focus camera with a "power-assist" and you MIGHT be happy. Fortunately, the autofocus over-ride works well. There were firmware updates to improve the autofocus (of both the camera and the individual lenses), but even after this update the AF system is substandard.
Non-ergonomic/Clumsy Controls: Just like all point-and-shoots, the ergonomics on this camera (including the electronic viewfinder) make this a very slow camera to use (compared to a dSLR). And, some of the "multi-function" controls require such a light touch that it's hard to adjust one variable without accidentally "hitting" another function (just try to spin the "Main Dial" without simultaneously pushing it and triggering the arrow pad - now do it fast - pretty much impossible, eh?).

The Final Multi-Sentence Summary: Someone said (I think Thom Hogan) that how you view this camera is largely a function of your perspective: If you're upgrading from a point-and-shoot you'll be VERY impressed with its image quality and handling. If you're an experienced dSLR user and you use this camera you'll likely be reasonably happy with the image quality but feel very limited (and possibly frustrated) by the quality of the image-capture process. The E-P1 IS a quantum leap up from the traditional small-sensor point-and-shoots, but its ergonomics, controls, and speed severely hamper the situations where this camera is truly useful. Action shots? Forget it. Wildlife shooting? Forget it. Images of static subjects where you don't need instant camera response - hey, it can produce pretty good images!

Overall, I'm willing to stick it out with my E-P1 and possibly even invest a little in additional lenses and/or lens adaptors. After all, it is only "version 1.0" and I still think it's a GREAT idea. I suspect that at least some of the usage-limiting (and image-capture limiting) flaws of this version will soon be worked out.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

29 October 2009: Phase One's Capture One 5

Yesterday Phase One software of Denmark announced a significant upgrade to their highly-regarded raw conversion software - Capture One. Capture One 5 (which is the first upgrade they've charged for in years) is available in "Pro" and standard versions - Pro offers several features "above and beyond" the standard version, including support for multiple monitors, enhanced customizability of the interface and workspace, lens correction tool, and lots more. New features in the upgraded version include a new "Focus Mask" tool (aids in comparison of the focus of several similar images simultaneously - think image culling), a new Focus Tool (which can be used as a fixed tool tab OR as a floating palette), Skin Tone Enhancer (not a big deal for wildlife shooters!), the ability to adjust levels and curves for individual colour channels and new creative vignettes to your images. To find out "everything" about the upgraded version, go to www.phaseone.com/5.

Capture One Pro has been my favourite raw converter for several years, so I was excited to get and try out the new version. After what may have been my worst-ever online purchase experience (owing, I suspect, to overloaded servers) - and way too many hours - I finally manage to purchase and download my upgrade. The install went fine and I've just started playing with the new software. First impressions are that it's snappier than the last version (4.8.3) and that several of the new tools function "as advertised", especially the Focus Mask tool. One warning: At least on the Mac side (and possibly on the PC side), Capture One Pro needs to be installed on a pretty hot machine to really perform. Performance is more than acceptable on my MacBook Pro (2.93 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM), but while the software WILL run on a G5, it's so pokey it's not even worth installing. I'll publish more feedback on this upgrade after my new MacPro has arrived and I've had a chance to really put it through the paces...

Why is Capture One Pro my preferred raw converter? In short, I can't match the quality of its output using any other software I've tried (and I have current versions of Aperture, Lightroom, ACR, and more). While Lightroom (and ACR) is getting awfully darn good, I still prefer the sharpening algorithms, the default tone curves (for my cameras), the ability of the software to extract white-on-white (and black-on-black) detail, the colour output, and the logical workflow of Capture One Pro over anything else.

If you really care about getting the most out of your raw image captures I'd really recommend taking Capture One (or Capture One Pro) for a test drive - there's a 30-day free trial offered on their website. Once you've become accustomed to its very "non-Adobe" interface I think many of you will like what it does...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

26 October 2009: Thank ME for the coming D700x/D800

The introduction of the D3s is only 11 days past and the D700x rumour mill is back up and running. The latest rumour is that the camera (a D700 like body with a 24.5 MP image sensor) will NOT be called a D700x, but rather a D800. I guess the thinking goes that calling it a D700x will somehow make the D700 seem obsolete. I have to admit I don't quite follow this thinking - just like the D3x did NOT make the D3 obsolete and was seen as a very different tool from the D3, I'm sure we're smart enough to know that a 24.5 MP D700x is a very different machine (with different uses and different strengths and weaknesses) from the D700. But to be blunt, I don't care what it's called - I just want it!

So...late last week I took extreme action that will virtually guarantee that the D700x/D800 will be announced and released this year: I took the money I had budgeted for the camera ($5,000 CAD) and "invested" it into a new 8-core MacPro desktop computer (which, after I tweaked the specs, came out to almost exactly $5,000 CAD). So...now you can expect with complete confidence that by late November or early December the D700x/D800 will be announced. You're welcome...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 October 2009: A Few Minor Website Updates...

It must be autumn - I've finally got around to making some minor (but long-needed) updates to this website. Here's what new as of a few hours ago...

1. Camera Gear Page re-formatted. I broke this way-too-long section into two separate sections almost a year ago - now it has been broken into 3 sections:

Part 1 - Cameras I Use
Part 2 - Lenses I Use
Part 3 - Everything Else I Drag Into the Field

2. Additions to My Cyber Spaces page. My proprietary-named (but not copy-righted) web links page received two updates:

dxomark.com (www.dxomark.com): THE free resource dedicated to RAW-based camera image quality. I love this site - I visit it AT LEAST once a week. Curious about how YOUR camera's image sensor stacks up against the competition's? Curious about the dynamic range of your sensor at various ISO's? There's only ONE place to get this kind of standardized, objective information - dxomark.com. This website is a techie's heaven!

Outdoor Photo Gear (www.outdoorphotogear.com): While I'm a big believer in supporting your local retailer, there's many of us who live in the sticks who don't HAVE a local retailer OR their retailer doesn't carry every little knick-knack they may need. Outdoor Photo Gear is a very new enterprise and they offer a great selection of hard-to-find photo accessories. Like...AquaTech rain covers, and Kwik Camo dropsheets (blinds), and Neos lightweight over-boots, and a FULL line up of Think Tank Accessories (including many hard-to-get belt accessories), and...you get the picture. I've ordered products from them several times over the last couple of months and have had great service each time. A great product mix and with great service - what more can you ask for? Check them out!

3. New Spirit Bear (and Grizzly Bear) images have begun appearing in my Gallery of Latest Additions. Check them out!

Other web updates coming daily...stay tuned...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

15 October 2009: Nikon D3s - Thanks, but...yawn...

To the surprise of almost no one, yesterday Nikon announced the expected upgrade to their flagship sports and action camera - the D3. The new camera is the D3s and, as most Nikonophiles know, any camera that Nikon introduces which adds only an "s" to the name is generally only a minor upgrade to the previous model. Unofficially the "s" cameras are Nikon's way of telling us that sales of the original model are flagging and that 1) a minor refresh is needed to kickstart sales and 2) the significant replacement model (in this case the D4) is about 12 to 18 months away. And, before I get labelled as a cynic, it's important to acknowledge that the camera that is being phased out here (the D3) is STILL an amazing state-of-the-art tool for capturing images. I am still capturing images with my D3 that NO OTHER camera (except possibly the D700) could capture. Who should buy the D3s? And, should existing D3 owners consider upgrading? Here's my take...

But first...some relevant background info and qualifiers. If you want to see a full list of the upgrades on the D3s, go to the relevant page on the dpreview.com website - they always offer the most thorough list of new features and comparisons to the previous model. And, what follows is the opinion of ONE wildlife/conservation photographer who exclusively shoots RAW images. Other photographers (and most likely photojournalists) may have a very different take on the D3s.

So, with no further ado, here's my thoughts on the relevant and the not-so-relevant upgrades to the D3:

Relevant (and possibly even compelling) new features:

1. Dynamic Integrated Dust Reduction System: This is a critical "about time" feature. It's been my experience that full-frame cameras attract WAY more dust on their sensors than do cropped frame (DX in Nikon-speak) cameras. The sensor of my D3 is ALWAYS dirty (thank god for the cloning tool in Photoshop) and very often I turn to my D700 before my D3 because I know its sensor is always cleaner (the D700 has offered an ultrasonic dust removal system since it first shipped). Especially if I'm going to be in a situation where I have to frequently change lenses. The ultrasonic dust removal systems are NOT perfect, but they sure help! For me, this is a GREAT new feature (but should have been on the original D3). How dpreview.com missed this feature on their list of "D3s Key Features" is beyond me...

2. "Quiet" Shutter Release Mode. The shutter on the D3 sounds like a machine gun. I don't know how many times I've had to quit shooting because my D3's shutter was too loud and was disturbing my subjects (usually, of course, when I'm working with a grizzly at close range in once-in-a-lifetime spectacularly gorgeous light). I've been asking for this feature to be brought back (it was on the last several generations of Nikon's pro film cameras) for years - THANK YOU NIKON!!! This upgrade is something ANY wildlife photographer will welcome. And, interestingly, this feature is ALSO missing from dpreview.com's list of key features (and most spec lists on Nikon's own websites!).

That's it for relevant new features for me - just two things...

"Maybe" relevant new features:

1. "Newly engineered" CMOS image sensor: I can't say right now if the new image sensor is really significantly better than the one in the original D3 (but, to be fair, it was an absolutely amazing sensor). With this new sensor you can now shoot to ISO 12,800 without hitting the "expanded" settings, but anyone who has done any high ISO shooting (about about ISO 1600) already knows that because the dynamic range of the sensor falls off so fast at the astronomical ISO settings you better be shooting a scene dominated by midtones or you'll be clipping highlights, shadows, or both. So...IF the new sensor resists the trend of dropping dynamic range with increasing ISO better than the D3, the new sensor might be a worthwhile feature. I'll wait for the tests on dxomark.com before I pass judgement on this "new" feature.

Irrelevant new features:

1. Video: OK - At the risk of losing my pending Nikon sponsorship, I'm going to say it - who (except the odd odd photojournalist) buys a professional DSLR for the video? Who even wants it on their DSLR? I have not talked to a single outdoor photographer (nature or sports) who gives a damn about video shooting. I know there may some out there that do care about video, but I sure haven't run into them. I would prefer they absolutely trash this feature and bring the price of the camera down accordingly. Having video on a DSLR is irrelevant to my decision-making process when it comes to buying a new camera. If it's there, there MIGHT be an occasion to use it about once a decade (are there ANY decade-old digital cameras still being used?), but I'd probably have to break out the manual (while in the field) and figure out how to use it (and by then the bear chase I was hoping to capture would be over anyway,,,). I'm may be arrogant enough to think I can compete with the still photographers of National Geographic, but I'm not about to challenge those guys shooting Planet Earth for the BBC (ever).

2. Everything else - including a new LV (LiveView) button, new improved contrast detect autofocus mode for LiveView, new larger buffer, and...hmmmm..I don't think there really is much else. And certainly NOTHING that would allow me to capture better images (or a higher number of better images) than I can currently capture with my D3.

So will I buy one? Nope. Who will/should buy one? Well, to begin with any Canon shooter that hasn't switched over yet (ok, ok, I'm kidding - sort of - gotta try to get that Nikon sponsorship back). Seriously tho', any professional or keen amateur Nikon shooter who focuses on sports or wildlife and who hasn't bought the "old" D3 should look seriously at this camera. The sensor cleaner and the quiet shutter mode ARE welcome additions. But...if you look at it on balance, even with the new features it is still hard to for me to recommend anyone going for the D3s while the D700 is still on the scene.

One final comment: Nikon currently has a GREAT line-up of DSLR's. But, there is at least one camera body missing - a reasonably priced (even up to about $4500 US or $5000 CAD) - hi-res (24.5 MP) body. Nikon - please bring us the D700x that so many of us are waiting for. Heck, you can even call it a D800 or a D900. Just put the 24.5 MP sensor of the D3x in a D700 style body. Heck, you can even put video in it if you want (tho' most of us don't really want it!). Coming in December? Please?

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

15 October 2009: Back from the Great Bear Rainforest, and Finally Back in Control...

Phew...September always puts me behind - between Instructional Photo Tours, my own shooting, fall clean-up at my cabin (including firewood acquisition), I can never find enough hours in the day to get even half of everything done. But now that we're in October and winter is looming (way up here in the Great White North), I'll be spending much more time behind the computer, including regularly updating this website. In the coming hours, days and weeks - my thoughts on the Nikon D3s and Olympus E-P1 (and many other bits of equipment), coming photo tours, conservation bits and bites, and, of course, MORE IMAGES. Speaking of which - images from my latest Instructional Photo Tour ("Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest") are already showing up in my Gallery of Latest Additions - expect one or two new images to show up there each week for the foreseeable future...

And since I'm mentioning photo tours - my Instructional Photo Tours for 2010 are pretty much sold out. My spring trip ("Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen") is totally sold out and I have only one (1) spot left for my fall tour ("Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest"). If you're interested in nabbing this last spot for this amazing photo tour, just check the additional information on my Seminars page or download this brochure (PDF: 666 KB).

"What about your 2011 photo tours?" you ask. Good question! Final details are being sorted out now, so it's premature to say much yet. But...expect to see a larger number of photo tours and possibly some to new locations. Preliminary information should be available by mid-November.

Stay tuned - lots of fresh content soon...cheers...

Brad

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