Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Archive: All of 2012 (Almost)

Past - and still largely relevant - blog entries from 2012. Note that a bizarre concatenation of events resulted in all blog entries from January 1, 2012 to March 25, 2012 being deleted forever. Apologies.

30 December 2012: Dynamic Range and Wildlife Photography - Who Cares?

No...I haven't fallen off the planet - I've just been busy with holiday stuff and doing a lot of testing of a lot of equipment. On that note - the day before yesterday I took a drive in the mountains near my cabin looking for some scenes that would be great for testing Nikon's new 70-200mm f4 VR lens. And, I bumped into a little scene that was probably the best "real world" test of dynamic range of a camera I could ever devise. It was -20C (that's about 8 million below fahrenheit) and even the ravens were hunkered down (and fluffed up) keeping warm. Which made them very approachable while they were sitting on some very white snow. I think you probably know where I'm going with this...black raven...white snow...dynamic range discussion...

So for those of you wildlife photographers who roll your eyes when someone starts talking about dynamic range (probably while thinking "...landscape geek") - well this image is for you (all critical details of image capture and processing are given on the image):

Black on White: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 MB)

An interesting thing has happened with Nikon cameras over the last few years. In some respects they've done such a good job on cleaning up the noise on their cameras that the "new" limiting feature when shooting in low light is not noise, but how much dynamic range is left at a given ISO. But even in normal daylight - and even for wildlife shooting - having a broad dynamic range at your disposal can come in real handy...and it can allow you to capture images in a way that you just couldn't have thought about just a few years back. And that's one thing that continues to amaze me in day-to-day shooting with the D600 - its amazing dynamic range!

Within the next week I'll be posting more about my experiences with the 70-200mm f4 VR. I have found a flaw or two...but overall that lens is continuing to exceed my expectations...by a lot. Stay tuned...

It's unlikely I'll have time to post anything more in the next few days - so I hope y'all have a great (and safe) New Year's. And good luck with your photography in 2013!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 December 2012: Field Testing the New AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR - Installment 1

I've just begun field testing Nikon's latest FX lens offering - the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR. This zoom is interesting for a lot of reasons - it's almost a thousand dollars cheaper than Nikon's fully professional AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. And, being one stop slower than its big brother it comes in both smaller and lighter. It also offers a new VR system that, according to Nikon, offers up to 5 stops of image stabilization. My complete testing of this lens will take at least a month, but I have already developed a few impressions of it that are probably worth sharing. Oh, by the way - I'm going to be testing this lens in a totally selfish way - focusing first on issues of greatest importance to ME! Hey - my time, my blog!

So...what was the first thing I wanted to find out with this lens? This:

Is it sufficiently sharp for most (or ALL) uses when shot wide open (f4) at the long end of its focal range (200mm)?

Why is this important to me? For a number of reasons. First, over the years I've noticed that most Nikon zooms are sharpest at the SHORT end of their focal range - and softest at the long end. And, with MOST (if not all) Nikon lenses they don't approach maximum sharpness until stopped down by close to a stop. And finally, this nature and wildlife photographer often likes to isolate (separate) his subject from the background. This is easy to do with super-telephoto lenses, but much less easy to do with shorter telephotos, like a 70-200 zoom. And, if you can't shoot it wide open and get sharp images it becomes even HARDER to isolate those subjects from the background. By the way - if I haven't mentioned it - I use a 70-200 at 200mm a LOT. And, of course, I like sharp shots. So...when I initially heard about this new lens my first thought was this: "Hmmmm...it better be sharp at f4 (at 200mm) or I'm just not interested...

But I'm getting ahead of myself just a tad...before I get to the "is it sharp when wide shot open at 200mm" question a few bits of house-keeping first.

1. How's the build quality?

Well...you CAN tell it's not a Japanese-built lens (it's manufactured in Thailand). Which means it feels a little more "plasticky", but not by much. Based on build quality this is definitely NOT a consumer-oriented product...it does have that "pro feel" to it. Both the focus ring and the zoom ring are super smooth. The non-scalloped hood is nice and feels more robust than the crappy hood on the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII. All the gold "adornments" (the plates naming the lens and declaring it a "N" - or nano-coated - lens and a VR lens) are nice. Definitely built more robustly than the 70-300mm VR. And it has the requisite "environmental" (dust and moisture) seals on it. Will it hold up to years of hard use? Only time will tell. So far all I can say is mine is still working (after one day!). But overall the build quality is definitely high enough to please me.

2. Length and Weight?

Two thumbs up here. The new lens is 27mm (about 1.1") shorter than the f2.8 version. For me this means it fits into a smaller belt holster (when mounted on any pro body) than the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII. Which means it's more comfortable to carry with me on day-to-day hikes. Bonus. And, even more importantly, according to my scales it's 610 gm (about 1.34 lb) lighter than the f2.8 lens (I weighed my lenses as I normally carry them - with caps on both ends and with their hoods attached). You know...just a funny thing, but I've noticed that as those around me get older I appreciate carrying less weight. And losing 1.35 lb is NOT insignificant. Hang this lens (complete with any camera body) around your neck and you DEFINITELY notice that it's lighter than its "big brother".

3. OK, OK...but is it "...sufficiently sharp for most (or ALL) uses when shot wide open (f4) at the long end of its focal range (200mm)?

Short Answer: YES!!!!

Longer Answer: OK - here's what I did. I mounted the lens on my D4, set it at 200mm and at f4, took my two favourite "subjects on demand" (my Porties) into the woods behind my house and shot about a bezillion (well...about a thousand) images of them doing a bunch of things - including sitting, running, running at me when front lit, coming at me when backlit, etc. And then I carefully scrutinized the shots and processed a few of them up. And I learned a surprising amount about the lens, including the fact that this lens is really very sharp at f4 and at 200mm. And here's two "kinda half-resolution" shots for you to peruse - all field notes are on the shots themselves. Best to view this at 100% (1:1):

Jose in Snow Motion: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 MB)

Backlit Boy: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.2 MB)

So what else have I learned about the lens so far? Lots of things, including:

• Fast and Accurate Autofocus! When I was shooting sequences of one of my dogs (the fast one) running right at me at 10 fps virtually ALL the images were tack sharp. While this is partly a function of the camera body I was using (a Nikon D4), I have no reason to believe that the autofocus performance of the lens would be less satisfactory on the D600 or D800. But I will be testing this shortly.

• Good Flare Resistance. During my hour or so of shooting with the lens I had the opportunity to work with some blindingly bright back lighting. I was expecting some lens flare issues and/or a real contrast problem in the files. But when I looked at the images I was really pleasantly surprised by the contrast and colour (and total lack of flare) in the images. Normally zooms (given the number of elements in them) show far worse problems with internal reflections (thus the flare and "bleached out" look one can get with backlighting) than do primes, but I have to say that this lens performed as good as any of my primes under heavy backlighting. I presume that this is a function of the nano-coating. Big bonus here.

• Nice bokeh! Not only are the out-of-focus zones produced by this lens very smooth and "buttery", but the transition from the sharply-in-focus regions to the completely out-of-focus zones is smooth and gradual, as it should be on a good lens (but isn't always). Check out the background in the image entitled "Jose in Snow Motion" to see what I mean.

I still have a lot of testing to do on this lens and am a long ways away from being able to judge all aspects of it. But...it passed its first test with flying colours.

What's up next? I'm not 100% sure, but I AM real curious about the edge-to-edge sharpness on this lens, particularly on the D800, and particularly on the long end of the focal range. Which, by the way, is one test that the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII does NOT pass with the D800 (the edge softness is noticeable and problematic). If it passes that one this lens may end up staying in my kit!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 December 2012: Nikkor 70-200mm f4 VR and Nikon 1 V2 Field Testing Begins...

Late yesterday I received the new Nikkor 70-200mm f4 VR zoom lens and the New Nikon 1 V2 mirror-less camera for field testing. I will be performing and, in time, posting full "real world" field tests on both these new products from Nikon. And, like with the D600, I will be posting interim results of various aspects of my testing as I complete them here on my blog. You'll see my initial findings on the 70-200mm f4 VR first...and likely real soon (possibly even later today - I found time to shoot about 1000 frames with it late yesterday afternoon).

My thanks are extended to the good folks at Robinson's Camera in Calgary, AB for facilitating the timely delivery of these new products to me for testing. Robinson's Camera is Calgary's newest full "Nikon Professional" dealer in Calgary and is the shop where I do all my own business. I've known the owner and other key players there for years (yep, those dudes are - like me - old codgers!!). They've always given me GREAT service and have always supplied me with what I need - not what THEY want or feel the need to sell. And yes, they do have both the 70-200mm f4 VR and the V2 in stock! Check 'em out here online...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

18 December 2012: Into The Great Bear Rainforest Feature - Part 2

Part 2 of "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" has just appeared in the Nature and Landscape Photo Newsletter that is put out by F-stop. You can download and check out the newsletter right here:

Into the Great Bear Rainforest - Part 2: Download Newsletter (PDF file: 4.1 MB)

You can also see a slideshow version of this newsletter (as well as part 1 of the 2-part series) right here on F-stop's website.

For those of you who don't know who F-stop is - they make innovative, high-end camera packs. They've been my "go-to" camera packs since I discovered them just over a year ago. You can read my brief description why I purchased and use F-Stop bags right here. Or, if you'd prefer, check out their whole product lineup on F-stop's website.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

13 December 2012: Website Update...

I've just completed a long-overdue update to my Stuff I Use - Part 1: Cameras page. It now more accurately reflects the cameras I am currently using - and why I'm using them.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

12 December 2012: Brochure Now Available: Aquatic Mammals Photo Tour

For those who've been waiting for the brochure outlining all the details of the 2013 edition of my "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions & More" photo tour...well...your wait is over. Here's the brochure:

Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions & More Photo Tour: Download brochure (PDF file: 5.3 MB)

Details about this and my other 2013 photo tours are also available on the Photo Tours page of this website...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

11 December 2012: Officially Outed as an F-stop User!

I've never made it a secret about what products I use, including what camera packs I prefer. You could, for instance, go right here to find out that information! But recently someone (who's identity I'll reveal below) officially "outed" me to F-stop - meaning they were told I used and quite liked their (Mountain Series) bags. So the good folks at F-stop invited me to join their Staff Pro team. I've always avoided the "encumbrances" associated with sponsorship...which is my way of saying that I like to be totally free to speak my mind about things, including what I think of products. I brought this issue up with F-stop during our discussions and I LOVED their response - "Say what you want, use what you want, and you have no obligation to us in any way. We know you have to use what works for you." Cool.

My first official duty with F-Stop? Be featured in a 2-part series in their Nature and Landscape Photo Newsletter. Hey, I can live with that. You can download the newsletter right here:

Into the Great Bear Rainforest - Part I: Download Newsletter (PDF file: 3.8 MB)

You can read my brief description why I purchased and use F-Stop bags right here. Or, if you'd prefer, check out their whole product lineup on F-stop's website.

And for the "Ah hah - he's jaded now" conspiracy theorists: Sorry, like with all the other gear I use, I paid for my F-Stop bags with real money. And I have no plans to change that...or change my policy of calling a spade a spade! ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

PS: My thanks are officially extended to Chas Glatzer for "outing" my pack preferences to F-stop!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

10 December 2012: Coming Attractions: New Field Tests...

For those of you wanting to know what's coming down the pipe in the way of field tests, here's a brief roadmap:

1. Nikon D600 Field Test:

Coming before Christmas (I hope)! Originally I wanted to have this field test in the can by late November, but a few things have delayed it. First was the unexpected and daft Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf - which ate a lot of my time (and that of many others in British Columbia). But the bigger reason was that before finalizing this test I felt it was necessary to test the camera with a wider array of lenses than I would on other "higher end" cameras, including popular (or soon-to-be-popular) lenses that many folks in the D600 "target market" would likely use with this camera. Like the 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR and the new 70-200mm f4 VR. Based on email I've received there are at least some folks sitting on the fence about buying this camera and are awaiting my review before making their decision. I'm far enough along in my testing and use of this camera to confidently say the following about it (feel free to quote me) - and as always my full final field test will back up what I say here with lots of example images:

The D600 isn't perfect - but it has definitely exceeded my expectations - by a ton (or more). In my opinion it's an exceptionally versatile camera - probably the most versatile DSLR in Nikon's line-up and really well-suited for nature photographers of all levels. Overall fantastic image quality. Great ISO performance. Excellent dynamic range. Very capable AF system. As a landscape camera it definitely nips at the heels of the D800/800e. More than adequate for wildlife and action photography (but - being fair - it doesn't challenge the D4 in these pursuits...but it's only one third the price of a D4). Unless I'm specifically going after wildlife, the D600 is the first camera I throw in my backpack and it's getting dramatically more use day-to-day than my D800.

I highly recommend the D600. For D4- or D3s-owning pros it makes an incredibly solid back-up camera and one that you won't hesitate to turn to. For most serious/enthusiast amateur nature photographers - you can't go wrong in selecting this camera as your primary tool.

I think the title I've already chosen for this field test says it all about how I feel about the D600: The Nikon D600 - Hitting All The Sweet Spots!

2. Nikon 70-200mm f4 VR Field Test:

Coming in early 2013 (target date of January 31). I'm keenly interested in this lens and will begin testing it in the near future (as soon as my sample arrives). Of course I'm interested in how it generally compares head-to-head in overall image quality and AF performance with the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII. Specific questions I want answers to - and hope to discover through testing - include:

How will the 70-200mm f4 VR perform with Nikon's current batch of full-frame DSLR's? As shown in my D800 Field Test, even the highly-regarded 70-200mm f2.8 VRII shows significant edge softness when shot at 200mm on the D800 (though much less so than the D4 and D600). Will the new 70-200mm f4 VR be up to the task?

How does it perform when shot wide open (at f4)? For me this is critical - I'm primarily a wildlife photographer and often like to isolate my subject from the background. Which is tough to do with a "short" lens like a 70-200mm - and which often requires you shoot wide open. If the new 70-200mm f4 doesn't attain maximum sharpness until you stop down by one stop (which is not uncommon with even Nikon's best lenses), this functionally becomes a f5.6 lens. And shooting at f5.6 makes it darned tough to really have your subject isolated from the background and "pop". And - at least for me - will seriously impact on the usefulness of this lens.

How will it perform with Nikon's mirror-less cameras, specifically the V1 and V2? With the 2.7x crop factor of the CX sensor a 70-200mm lens gives an effective focal length/field of view of a 189-540mm lens, which is a really nice focal range for use as a walkaround camera for the wildlife photographer. While the 70-200mm f4 VR is only 27mm (1.1") shorter than the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, it is 690 gm (1.5 lb!) lighter.

3. Nikon V2 Field Test:

Coming in early 2013 (target date of February 15). I made no bones about the fact that I quite liked the Nikon V1. It's capable of surprisingly good images (see my V1 Field Test for many examples), especially when paired with "real" Nikkor lenses (using the FT-1 adapter mount). Will the V2 be even better? Or has Nikon fallen into the trap of bullet-point driven spec wars and "up-spec'd" this one beyond its capabilities? My specific concerns:

Can the small CX sensor handle the increase in resolution to 14.2 MP (and the corresponding decrease in pixel pitch)? Or will the V2 be a noise-machine at 400 ISO and above?

Has the slight shift in camera dimensions made any real impact on the camera's portability (it was already too large to be "pocketable") and overall usefulness?

As always, I will be publishing preliminary results of my testing as I learn things right here on this blog.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

6 December 2012: MORE Feedback to BC's Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf

The public consultation period for BC's Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf has now officially closed. To those of you who took your time to voice your opposition to the plan - thanks a ton - TOTALLY appreciated. To those of you who wanted to speak out but missed your chance - it's not too late to write letters to key BC politicians to voice your opposition and outrage to this cruel plan. Just scroll down below to my 3 December blog entry for the snail mail and email addresses you need - and to find a list of things you might want to include in your letter of opposition. You might also want to consider including the points contained in the public input letters below (both in yesterday's entry and this entry).

Yesterday I received a copy of another great letter that was submitted to the BC Gov't in opposition to the grey wolf murder plan. This one is from Scott MacButch from Pocatello, Idaho - and the following excerpts are reproduced with his permission:

1. On why Scott chooses to vacation in "Super Natural" British Columbia:

I'm a US citizen living in Pocatello, Idaho who hikes, photographs and floats wilderness rivers in BC almost every summer. I feel incredibly lucky the few times I have seen a wolf and in fact one of the very reasons of vacationing in BC is the chance of seeing wild animals, especially predators. Wolves deserve an explicit statement of their natural intrinsic worth - they help define the BC wilderness for me, and are what beckon me back to Supernatural British Columbia.

2. On the proposed plan to initiate aerial shooting of wolves:

Bob Hayes, a Yukon wildlife biologist for over 30 years, in his recent book "Wolves of the Yukon", has much to say about the moral, ethical and science arguments against aerial control of wolves. He helped shape the August 2011 "Recommended Yukon Wolf Conservation & Management Plan" that was released after an exhaustive series of community meetings. Here is what that plan says about aerial control:

"Strong concerns from the public who did not support intensive aerial wolf control as a form of management were heard throughout the review. It does not engage communities, it is extremely costly to implement, and must be ongoing to be successful...Given this, aerial control of wolves is not a recommended management tool".

Sincerely,
Scott MacButch
Pocatello, ID

Thanks Scott - some excellent points and information!

Once more: Keep those letters protesting this cruel and despicable plan going! Thanks!

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

5 December 2012: Feedback to BC's Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf

Not surprisingly, my posts on BC's Draft Murder Plan for the Grey Wolf have generated a lot of feedback. And also not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority has been in complete opposition to the plan (it's been over a week since anyone has contacted me who is supporting the plan). Some of the folks who've emailed me have included copies of the comments they submitted against the plan. Some have been just great. So over the coming days I'm going to post some of the comments that were sent to me and that have brought up points that others may wish to include in letters to key BC politicians. All are reproduced here with permission of the authors.

We all know people who value one thing only - money. You know the type....just think about a certain high-profile Canadian politician who was an economist in his previous life. Often, when talking to such folks, it can be challenging to get them to embrace ANY conservation-based concepts. After all, what do you say when they turn to you and ask "So...how much money is a wolf worth? If it's not worth anything, why should I care about it?" Today's letter - received by email on December 4 - is for just those sort of folks!

"Dear Sir or Madam,

I am categorically against the actions proposed by this draft. There seems to be little foundation to the "scientific findings" this proposal builds on. Just where is this supposedly "healthy" wolf population that is being referred to? I've been to BC more than 30 times. Seeking out remote locations for wildlife photography, I can assure you that I have seen more of your local wildlife than your local population ever has seen or will be seeing. Wolves? Two in total. 30 trips, mind you, at a cost of not too far from CAD10,000 each. I humbly suggest you do the math what a living wolf (or bear for that matter) is really worth to your economy.

Regards,

Martin J.
Zurich, Switzerland"

Keep those letters protesting this cruel and despicable plan going! Thanks!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

3 December 2012: Take Action Against BC's Wolf Murder Plan Before December 5!

The period where public input is being accepted on British Columbia's Draft Management Plan (or, more accurately, Murder Plan) for the Grey Wolf ends on December 5. In short, this plan is pushing for an aggressive increase in the "harvesting" of grey wolves throughout much of BC, including aerial shooting in a number of areas. There is no scientific basis for the plan. Please refer to the blog entries of November 21 and 29 (below) if you want more background information or access to the full draft plan.

I. How to Provide Feedback on the Plan:

1. Online Fill-in Form:

www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/public-consultation/grey-wolf/

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the "official" method for public input and consultation put forth by the Government of BC. While independent petitions are another method of public feedback, I would encourage ANYONE concerned about the plight of wolves in BC (regardless of what corner of the globe you come from) to voice your concern against the plan using this official consultation mechanism - those behind the plan MUST look at this input.

If you are unsure of what to include in your feedback, I have reproduced my own input to the plan below (see Part 2 of this entry below).

2. Letters to Key BC Politicians

Directly contacting the government ministers most closely associated with - or most directly affected by public outcry - can be effective too. Here are the four most important politicians to send your opposition to the wolf murder plan to:

Premier Christy Clark
PO Box 9041
Station PROV GOVT
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2
Tel: 250-387-1715
Fax: 250-387-0087
email: premier@gov.bc.ca

Hon. Steve Thomson
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
102 - 2121 Ethel Street
Kelowna, BC V1Y 2Z6
Tel: 250-387-6240
Fax: 250-387-1040
email: steve.thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca

Hon. Terry Lake
BC Minister of Environment
PO Box 9047
Station PROV GOVT
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2
Tel: 250-387-1187
Fax: 250-387-1356
email: env.minister@gov.bc.ca

Hon. Patrick Bell
BC Minister of Tourism
103 - 770 Central Street
Prince George, BC V2M 3B7
Tel: 250-612-4194
Fax: 250-612-4191
email: pat.bell.mla@leg.bc.ca

3. Online Petition: "Stop the British Columbia Wolf Hunt!"

www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-the-british-columbia-wolf-hunt.html

IMPORTANT NOTE: While I encourage everyone to sign this petition (I did!) - and it is fast and easy to do so - it is not facing the same critical deadline as the "official" public input phase of the plan is. So...if you're keen to help but only have time to do ONE thing, please use the fill-in form for public input/consultation in Part 1A above.

II. Some Suggestions for Your Input to the Wolf Management Plan

Any input you can give opposing the plan is worthwhile. And, it's probably best to put the input into your own words. Here is what I felt was important to include - feel free to use any or all of these points in your own feedback:

I am strongly against the actions proposed in the Draft Wolf Management Plan for the Grey Wolf. Fatal flaws in the plan include the following:

1. It provides no scientific evidence that wolf populations are on the rise - the "best guess" estimate provided in the plan for grey wolf population size is exceptionally crude and represents only one point in time with no comparable timeline data to determine trend. The wolf harvest data accompanying the population estimate is confounded by increased wolf bag limits during the period when wolf harvests have increased.

2. It pays lip service to wolf conservation at its outset, but proceeds to provide actions only that function in reducing or totally removing (extirpating) populations of wolves. Most importantly, there is not a single action proposed in the plan that would assist in the return of the Grey Wolf to areas that were historically populated by wolves and from which they have been extirpated.

3. It provides no study or scientifically-valid data that shows a positive correlation between wolf removal and improved probability of mountain caribou recovery.

4. It contains extreme bias and obvious attempts at manipulation of public opinion, including through the use of exaggerated threats to public safety and continual use of euphemisms to hide the grim, cruel reality of what the plan proposes (such as the "most humane" method euthanasia of wolves through aerial shooting). I do not believe that the values of the authors of the plan towards wolves (or wildlife in general) reflect those of the majority of BC residents.

A more detailed analysis of the fatal flaws and biases of the plan may be found on the 21 and 29 November 2012 entries of my blog, which can be found here:

www.naturalart.ca/voice/blog.html

My recommendations for any revised wolf management plan include:

1. Collecting more scientifically valid data on wolf population size in British Columbia - and how it is varying over time - before proposing ANY new management plan. Also ensure that there are sufficient resources available to accurately monitor the effect of any future plan, including rigorous follow-up population counts over time using consistent and comparable methodology.

2. Ban the following inhumane methods of wolf killing: leg hold traps, snares, and aerial shooting.

3. Consider wolf control in areas of recovering mountain caribou populations only if other significant mortality factors are simultaneously controlled and where functional loss of caribou habitat has been halted. This means controlling all caribou predators in the specified zones and restricting all human recreational and industrial uses of the land in those regions (including snowmobiling, heli-skiing, logging and mining). If any significant factor contributing to mountain caribou mortality can not be mitigated - including habitat loss - then NO wolf control.

4. Continue and expand government programs for financially compensating ranchers for losses to any wild predator. Ensure that ranchers are paid FULL market value for their losses and that the compensation application process is simple enough to be actually accessed.

5. Develop programs to assist ranchers in preventing losses to predators using best available methodology, including fencing, guard dogs, and fladry.

6. Raise the status of the wolf to that of other game species. This includes requiring acquisition of species-specific hunting tags, restricted, shorter, and more closely monitored hunting seasons, and mandatory reporting of wolves killed.

7. Reduce current (and recently raised) bag limits on wolves.

8. Do not distribute/download the responsibility of predator control to landowners or allow Conservation Officers to "partner" with any individuals or groups of individual who have a vested interest in wolf extirpation. Instead, adequately fund the Conservation Officer Service and allow them to actually do what they are employed to do.

9. Create large zones in BC where no hunting or trapping of wolves is allowed. These zones will allow the development of naturally-sized packs behaving in natural ways. They will serve as both an area where non-manipulated predator-prey relations may be studied and as pockets where wolves can exist in numbers sufficient to ensure that BC's wild population of wolves survives into the future.

Thank you for your time.

Note to Canadian Non-BC Residents and Non-Canadians: Indicating that you will boycott traveling to BC unless the current draft wolf management plan is scrapped will send a powerful message. Money talks - especially in today's challenging economy. If you do plan to travel to BC and intend on engaging in any wilderness-based activities that will require the use of outfitters and/or guides, I would encourage you to seek out companies who had the conviction to speak out publicly against this barbaric plan.

Thanks a ton to all you for "bearing" with me on this. I WILL return to "normal broadcasting" (about photography) soon! And a special thanks to anyone who took the time to speak out against this ill-conceived and cruel plan.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

29 November 2012: BC's Draft Murder Plan for the Grey Wolf - Part 2

My previous blog entry of 21 November on this topic generated an deluge of feedback. At least 90% of it was totally opposed to the draft management plan for the grey wolf that has been put forth by the BC Government.

In my previous entry I focused on the validity (or lack thereof) of the science directly supporting the plan to dramatically ramp up the culling of wolves in BC. Long story short - there was no scientific evidence showing an upwards trend in wolf numbers in BC. And, there is no evidence to support the claim that removal of wolves in and around the areas populated by endangered mountain caribou will aid in their recovery.

This entry will focus on two things: debunking the myths behind wolf persecution and exposing the extreme bias and attempted manipulation of public opinion by the draft management plan.

But first...for those who didn't read my previous entry some necessary context: British Columbia's "Draft plan for the Management (Murder!) of the Grey Wolf" is in the public consultation phase right now - but only until December 5. The plan is pushing for an aggressive increase in the "harvesting" of grey wolves throughout much of the province, including aerial shooting in a number of regions. Public input and comments to the plan may be made online right here:

www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/public-consultation/grey-wolf/

The 60-page draft plan itself can be downloaded right here:

www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/public-consultation/grey-wolf/docs/PublicConsultation-WolfManagementPlan.pdf

1. Debunking the Myth of the Big Bad Wolf

While the vast majority of the feedback I received after my first blog entry on this topic was strongly against the draft management plan, there were a few vocal proponents for the plan. Here's a summary of the arguments in FAVOUR of a wolf cull in BC. Please note that I have not fabricated a single word of what's below - it has been reproduced verbatim from 3 sources: emails I have received since 21 November, discussion on Facebook pages that posted a link to my entry, and direct personal discussions I have had in the last month. I haven't created a straw man just to tear it apart...

Here's the summary (which I'm sure will sound familiar to many!), followed by my rebuttal to each main point:

There are simply too many wolves. The British Columbia wolf population has increased dramatically over the last few years. Being an avid outdoors man, and hunter, being in the 'loop' with literally hundreds of other hunters on a web based hunting forum, I can state without a doubt the wolf numbers are up exponentially. Without a doubt I have seen more evidence of wolves this year, than I ever have in the past 20 plus years of hunting this province. They are natural-borne killers. If you wish to have an environment devoid of wildlife, including wolves, let them free reign. Surely they will eat themselves out of house and home. Trapping, and the use of helicopters are a necessity, and a fact of life.

A. "There are simply too many wolves." (received by email, 24 November)

My rebuttal: Two main counterpoints. This implies the writer knows how many wolves there are in BC, which even the BC Gov't doesn't know. More importantly - too many wolves compared to...what? Compared to zero? Compared to 30 years ago when many parts of southern BC had extirpated all their wolves? More than the writer thinks the ecosystem can support? More than some ranchers would like? More than the author of the email would like? You get the picture: a phrase like "too many" must be backed up actual numbers AND is fraught with subjectivity and bias. So this statement has no basis in fact and is simply a reflection of a pre-existing bias of the writer.

B. "The British Columbia wolf population has increased dramatically over the last few years. Being an avid outdoors man, and hunter, being in the 'loop' with literally hundreds of other hunters on a web based hunting forum, I can state without a doubt the wolf numbers are up exponentially. Without a doubt I have seen more evidence of wolves this year, than I ever have in the past 20 plus years of hunting this province." (Posted on Facebook page of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, 23 November)

My rebuttal: This is the typical "don't confuse me with science or facts - I just KNOW" argument. The are two main flaws with this argument. First (and again), somehow this writer knows more about the population of wolves in BC than the BC Gov't has been able to find (anywhere!). Not only is the "best estimate" of the wolf population of BC (as provided in the draft management plan) little more than a guess (see blog entry of 21 November for a full examination of this), but it is from a single point in time with NO comparable historical estimates that show any trend (up OR down) in wolf numbers.

Secondly, the "evidence" used by the author is simply based on a few anecdotal observations. In another part of his Facebook commentary he states "Myself, I have been out and about for the better part of month this season including the Kootenays, Skeena, Thompson Okanagan, and a few places in between." So...based on seeing a few tracks over one month of one year in a tiny portion of BC this individual "knows" wolf numbers are up across the province?

Without getting into a long diatribe about the difference between science and a few isolated anecdotal observations over a narrow time window, suffice to say that while this guy probably did see more wolf tracks than in previous years, it says nothing about what's going on province-wide. Wolves travel long distances. Wolves are frequently on the move and even a few wolves can leave a lot of tracks in even 24 hours. And the anecedotal argument can go both ways - I actually live in the woods in an area where there are large numbers of elk and both white-tailed and mule deer and where there SHOULD be (based on prey abundance) tons of wolves. If you subtract the approximately 6 weeks per year I am away leading photo tours (to OTHER wilderness areas in BC), I spend at LEAST two hours per day for 10.5 months per year in the woods (and have been doing so for years). I have remote (triggered by motion and heat) trail cameras in place monitoring game trails. My observations? I see wolf tracks perhaps 3-5 times per year, and over the last 3 years this number has been dropping (just when the bag limit on wolf hunting went up - coincidence or cause and effect?).

Whose anedoctal observations are more valid in reflecting wolf population size and trend in BC - my "friend's" claims of an exponential increase in wolves or my own observation of seeing fewer signs of wolf over the past few years? Neither are. Our observations say absolutely NOTHING beyond the obvious - he has seen more wolf tracks this year and I have seen a decreasing number over the last few years. That's it.

Isolated anecdotal observations are just that - isolated anecdotal observations. In field biology they serve the role of pointing towards questions that may be worth examining. In this case, conflicting anecdotal observations on the frequency of seeing signs of wolves could suggest (for instance) that there may be value in doing the hard science needed to answer the questions "How many wolves are actually out there?" and "Are the numbers of wolves going up or down over time?" What a novel concept - getting the relevant information BEFORE putting together a management plan!

C. "They are natural-borne killers." (discussion with fellow wildlife phtographer, Kamloops, 3 November)

My rebuttal: Well...it's true that wolves are predators. It's true that wolves normally kill to eat. And, it's true that acts of predation aren't particularly pretty to watch. But the phrase "natural-borne killers" is emotionally-charged and value-laden and conjures up images of wolves killing everything they can whenever they can, which is patently false. Natural borne-killers? Hmmmm....Auschwitz. Cambodia. Rwanda. The Balkans. The Plains Bison. The Great Whales. The Sea Otter. Millions of fin-less sharks. Who's the "natural-borne killer?" The moment I see a plane or helicopter filled with wolves swooping down with guns blazing to "euthanize" a group of humans just because they destroyed the habitat of one of their prey sources (like maybe...mountain caribou?) or because they shot too many of their preferred prey (like elk or deer) I will recant this blog entry. And I will accept that wolves are "natural-borne killers" and join the pro wolf-cull lobby. But until then...

D. "If you wish to have an environment devoid of wildlife, including wolves, let them free reign. Surely they will eat themselves out of house and home." (Posted on Facebook page of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, 23 November)

My rebuttal: If this was true, Columbus (or the Vikings) would have discovered a sterile landscape "devoid of wildlife." Wolves and their prey evolved together over many millenia. As wolves became more efficient predators, prey became increasingly efficient at avoiding predation. What happens when your remove wolves from an ecosystem? Before long the prey becomes behaviourally "sloppy" and begins to occupy and use areas where they historically avoided (to avoid predation). What happens when wolves return? For a time they can easily pick off prey that are exposed or are using terrain they historically avoided. But before long the prey either changes its behaviour and returns to safer terrain or all those in vunerable terrain are "picked off". And...presto...we begin returning to a more historically natural situation. Along the way there ARE "speed bumps" when a large number of prey are removed from historically unsuitable terrain and to some it may "look ugly".

How 'bout an example (you ask)? Sure. What was the most surprising outcome of the reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park? An increase in the abundance and diversity of songbirds. Huh? Well...once wolves were removed elk began foraging in areas - and using food sources - that had been previously too risky to use. Such as young bushes and browse and forage along riverine areas (primarily along streams). Add wolves to the equation and elk soon begin avoiding using areas where predators might approach them closely without being detected, including along streams. And bushes and other foliage grows back. And songbirds not seen in decades begin returning. Fewer elk? In some areas - yes, of course. A landscape "devoid of wildlife"? Hardly.

E. "Trapping, and the use of helicopters are a necessity, and a fact of life." (Posted on Facebook page of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, 23 November)

My rebuttal: Fact of life? Only if you assume - in the total absence of any evidence - that wolf populations in BC are on the rise, that they are in danger of getting totally "out of control", and that - completely in contradiction to the evidence - if left on their own they will "eat themselves out of house and home".

2. The Management Plan's Bias and the Manipulation of Public Opinion

The draft management plan contains a strong bias that assumes that the majority of the people of British Columbia wants wolf control. And, it is intentionally written in a fashion that seems intended to manipulate public opinion both against wolves and toward support for the plan. Here are some examples...

A. From Wolf Conservation to Wolf Extirpation

The management plan plays lip service to being designed for the lofty goal of wolf conservation, yet it is anything but that. Early in the report they provide information on the status of wolves throughout the world, take pains to stress that the wolf is not endangered, and they even state that the report identifies management actions need to "prevent Grey Wolf populations from becoming endangered or threatened" (pg 5). Yet as the plan progresses it supplies actions that function ONLY to reduce wolf populations or even completely remove them in selected areas (through the increase or removal of hunting bag limits, shooting them from helicopters, and more). Most importantly, there is not a single action proposed in the plan that would assist in the return of the Grey Wolf to areas that were historically populated by wolves and from which they have been extirpated. How can a plan purport to be about wolf conservation when it offers nothing but methods to reduce and remove wolves? It's white-washing - plain and simple.

B. Fabricating - And Solving - Non-existent Problems

The draft management plan seems to want the public to believe that they are taking efforts to protect us from the all-pervasive threat of wolf attacks on humans. The report makes 7 references to wolf management for reasons of "human safety" and 3 further references to controlling wolves for reasons of "public safety". Geez guys, thanks for caring about us so much! But...how many fatal attacks have their been in the ENTIRE recorded history of BC (including hundreds of years of records BEFORE wolves were being "managed")? ZERO.

C. Euphemisms and the White-washing of the Murder of Wolves

Looking to make a wolf cull palatable to the public? Then NEVER admit you're going to kill them. Instead, just "harvest" them, they way you would a stalk of wheat. And, if you want to be REALLY humane what do you do? Well, it's obvious...you use "...the most humane approach" of shooting them from helicopters (pg 29, pg 33, pg 39). How many wolves are wounded and die a slow, painful death as a result of such humanity? This sets a totally new standard in "spin".

D. Unsubstantiated Assumptions about Public Sentiment

One way to make your case for wolf culling is to tell the public (with absolutely NO supporting evidence) that even though they don't know it, they want it. Hmmmm...I don't EVER recall a public survey and/or poll on how we think wolves should be treated by our elected government. Some examples of the completely unsubstantiated philosophical underpinnings of the managment plan:

• The acceptable objective of wolf management in BC? "To provide for consumptive and non-consumptive use of wolves" (pg. 8). Acceptable to who? The majority of the residents of BC? Show me some evidence of this.

• And... "Sustainable harvest is considered a legitimate use of B.C.'s wolf population" (pg. 29). Considered legitimate by who? The majority of the residents of BC? Prove it.

• And... "The wolf's unique ecology and its desirability as a hunting or trapped species..." (pg. 39). Desirability by who? The majority of the residents of BC? Once more...prove it.

This management plan does an AWFUL lot of assuming about public sentiment and the relationship we want to have with our wildlife. I would argue it is totally out of step with what the public wants...

If this draft management plan isn't supported by any sound science, what motivation produced it? Well...something - or some pressures - outside of science. Pressure from special interest groups such as ranchers? Possibly. The desire of the BC Government to appear as though they're doing something to assist in the recovery of mountain caribou (while appeasing ranchers at the same time)? Possibly. Pressure from hunters to "protect" their own chosen prey species. Possibly. All of the preceding? Probably. But regardless of the motivation behind the draft plan, it's absolutely unacceptable.

In his book "Of Wolves and Men" Barry Lopez documented mankind's centuries-old irrational hatred and persecution of the wolf in great detail. Talk to the supporters of a province-wide wolf cull or read BC's Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf...and you'll see clear evidence that such ignorance, irrationality and completely unjustified hatred of the Grey Wolf lives to this day. I thought we had left the Stone Age. Silly me.

Please take the time to speak out against this despicable plan.

Thank you.

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 November 2012: Shooting at Crazy ISO's - Is it Worth It?

All nature and wildlife photographers know that the ISO performance of the latest DSLR's is going way up (perhaps not as fast as the maximum ISO's you can set your camera to, but that's another story...). But given that image noise STILL goes up with increasing ISO (and both dynamic range and colour depth go down) are those crazy upper 4-digit - or even 5-digit - ISO's ever really worth using for "serious" photography?

Curious? Check out the black bear image (and associated discussion) I just posted in my Gallery of Latest Additions. The discussion is found under the image when you click on the "In the Field" tab...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

21 November 2012: British Columbia's Draft Murder Plan for the Grey Wolf

As both a a biologist and as a wildlife/conservation photographer who cares deeply about the welfare of my subjects, there are times when I feel compelled to speak out strongly for or against specific issues. This is one of those times...

In either October or November (depending on whether you look at the date on page 1 or on page 3) British Columbia's Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations produced a "Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf". Whenever I see the words "management plan" and "wolf" in the same sentence I cringe. Why? Because in recent years in BC "management plan" has become synonymous with "murder plan". This draft plan is the latest and most extreme example of this.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. You need some context first: The draft plan is in the public consultation phase right now - but only until December 5. Input and comments to the plan may be made online right here:

www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/public-consultation/grey-wolf/

The 60-page draft plan itself can be downloaded right here:

www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/public-consultation/grey-wolf/docs/PublicConsultation-WolfManagementPlan.pdf

While the plan and protests against it have made the news in recent days, because of the usual inaccuracies in the newspaper articles and other media reports I encourage interested parties to read the plan for themselves and respond to it using the link above. And please spread the word about this...

A. A Brief Summary of the Draft Plan

It's challenging to digest and fairly summarize a 60-page plan in just a few sentences. So I will give you my interpretation of the plan first, and then provide much more specific details about why I believe the plan is fatally flawed.

The stated goal of wolf management in BC is to "...ensure a self-sustaining population throughout the species' range and to ensure that, within the biological limits of the species, wolves are available in sufficient abundance to fulfill their ecological role, and to meet the cultural, recreational, and economic needs of society" (p. 28). At first glance this seems reasonable and balanced (albeit with a LOT of room for interpretation), but somehow during the course of the plan the overall theme shifts from conservation to a discussion of the methods to reduce wolf populations to as low a level as possible without actually endangering them, including increasing or removing hunting bag limits on them, aerial removal (shooting them from airplanes or helicopters), removal of compulsory reporting programs (on wolves killed by hunters), and more. Why? It seems two "conclusions" (which I believe are fatally flawed) drive the shift from wolf conservation to wolf control:

1. Wolf populations are increasing (which is actually the title of section 8.1, pg. 36) and...

2. That wolves are preventing endangered woodland caribou from recovering (section 8.2, pg. 37).

The fatal flaws of the plan? The plan presents NO scientific evidence of an increase in BC's wolf population (more on this below) and, even by their own admission, "...a correlation between reduced wolf densities and caribou recovery cannot be substantiated" (p. 26).

B. The Plan's Fatal Flaws

1. BC's Wolf Population and Population Trends

Despite the draft wolf management's plan stated intention to use the "best available science" and its use of progressive phrases like "sustainability" and cutting edge methodology (including use of a "Bayesian Belief Network" model - SHEESH!!) the most basic scientific information needed to make a sound judgment about the need for any form of wolf management is completely lacking. That information? A reasonably accurate count of the number of wolves in BC and whether or not those numbers are going up or down over time.

Methodology to Produce a Population Estimate: An effort is made in the plan at estimating the number of wolves in BC. In fact, two methods are used. In the first method the province of BC was divided into 3 wolf density zones - high density, low density, and absent. High density areas were those believed to contain 5-15 wolves per 1000 sq. km. Low density areas were considered those where there was an estimate of between 2-5 wolves per 1000 sq. km. Of course, many of the areas of BC had no direct wolf density estimates so prey density estimates were used to guess at how many wolves should be in an area (so now we have an estimate of an estimate!). Once the entire province of BC was mapped into these 3 density zones (map on pg. 15) it was possible to come up with an estimated population size for the entire province. That number was between 4,700 and 11,400 wolves. I believe it is fair to call this population estimate method based on what it really is: the Best Guess Model.

The second method of estimating wolf population size? Even more indirect. It was based on ungulate (hooved) prey biomass - basically looking at estimated amount of major prey sources (like moose, deer, elk) and then assuming that if there was X amount of prey, there could be up to Y amount of wolves (regardless of whether there were any wolves - due to things like 150 years of persecution and removal - there or not). And, things like salmon (which coastal wolves eat) and beaver (which constitute the major constituent of wolf scat in the Peace region) weren't included. Anyway this prey biomass method of estimating population size came up with an estimate of between 7,700 and 10,600 wolves in BC. I'll refer to this method of estimating wolf population size as what it is: the Ought-to-be-There Model.

So...what next? Well, for 7 of 8 BC regions you average out the Best Guess Model with the Ought-to-be-There Model (in the 8th region - the Okanagan - you use the Best Guess Model because in that region "...wolf distribution is still expanding" - from previous extirpation, I might add). Then you take the mid-point of this new averaged estimate. The result - presto - BC has 8,500 wolves! The size of the error bars on this estimate boggle the mind...

So...how does this total of 8,500 wolves (+/- about that same number) compare to previous estimates? What is the trend in population numbers? Oh...let's see...using completely different methods of estimation the numbers in 1979 were 6,300 and in 1991 they were 8,100. And, according to the plan "Changes in estimates over time likely reflect changes in the precision and the method of estimation, rather than a trend in the provincial wolf population" (pg. 16).

Is there any other information that indicates an increase in wolf numbers in BC? Well...a lot of the draft plan is dedicated to examining "wolf harvest" (how's that for a euphemism?) data. The argument here is that if there are more wolves around then more are harvested so if wolf harvests go up, then it means there are more wolves around to harvest. And in 2009 there was an all-time high in the recorded numbers of wolves killed by humans. But even the plan itself acknowledges that this could be because there are more wolves OR because the wolf bag limits were increased or removed (which they were!!) or because the hunters themselves were more highly motivated (pg. 26). Heck, section 8.3 is even entitled "Harvest Trends Are Imprecise Indicators of Population Trends".

So, given that the authors present no reliable data on population trends and that wolf harvest trends tell us next to nothing about population trends, how on earth can the authors entitle section 8.1 "Wolf Populations Are Increasing"? Your guess is as good as mine.

But using that clever section title worked - on Thursday, November 15 the Vancouver Sun published an article with the headline "Wolf population on the rise in B.C." And on Saturday, November 17 in an article entitled "B.C.'s wolf management plan criticized as veiled attack" the Vancouver Sun stated: "After a history of persecution through bounties and poisonings, B.C.'s grey wolf population has recovered and is now expanding and estimated at 8,500 animals, up from 8,100 in 1991, according to the plan". I guess the Vancouver Sun missed the part where the plan said the numbers can't be compared.

And, it would appear that the authors of the plan anticipated that someone would challenge their population count numbers. They quote a noted wolf researcher who states: "The order of magnitude of a population, or even its trend, is often sufficient to decide on conservation actions" (pg. 29). But...and here's the crux of the argument...without reasonably accurate population numbers you simply can NOT determine trend.

2. Wolf Removal As an Aid to Recovery of Endangered Mountain Caribou Populations

This is the second major point used to justify the reduction in wolf numbers (and even local extirpation) in the draft plan. At the outset it's important to note that wolves and caribou evolved together over many millennia - wolves didn't drive the Mountain Caribou to the brink of extinction. The destruction of old-growth forest through logging did it.

But...the argument goes...now that caribou numbers are precariously low, can't even low levels of predation by wolves further depress their numbers and inhibit or even prevent their recovery? Theoretically - yes. Just like predation by cougars, bears, coyotes, and even wolverines can. Especially if those predators are given access to caribou during times of the year when they're normally fairly immune to predation (for instance, by following snowmobile trails to high alpine areas where the caribou are normally protected by deep snow). Singling out wolves as the sole source of predation on mountain caribou and concluding a cull of wolves is necessary and justified to aid the recovery of caribou is both illogical and unlikely to succeed.

Even the draft wolf management plan acknowledges that when wolf densities have been reduced in an effort to aid the recovery of caribou "...a correlation between reduced wolf densities and caribou recovery cannot be substantiated." And..."Although wolves have been removed, these removals have not yet resulted in an increase in targeted caribou herd populations" (both studies quoted from pg 26).

So, eradicating wolves in areas surrounding endangered mountain caribou herds (using the "most humane way" of doing so - via aerial shooting) - as the management plans advocates - is simply not justified and certainly not supported by any scientific study.

C. Summing it All Up...

The current BC Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf is filled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Despite paying lip service to using "the best available science" the plan is really little more than a literature review and in the only place where specific scientific data is needed - a reasonably accurate population count and long-term population trends - there is no information. And, there is no scientifically-based argument or justification for its recommendations to increase the "harvesting" of wolves anywhere in the province, including to protect endangered caribou.

What will happen if the Draft Management for the Grey Wolf is implemented in its current form? Well - given the resilience of Grey Wolves they will likely survive. Will the wolf population decline? We don't know. And, most significantly- we really won't be able to tell. All we can really say is that an increased number of wolves will die at the hand of man. And, for all we know from this "management plan", they will die without any real need.

Finally...I truly attempted to read through the draft wolf management plan with an unbiased eye. But one aspect of it was so ridiculous as to render the whole plan absurd and totally lacking in credibility. The plan makes 7 references for wolf control for reasons of "human safety" and 3 further references to controlling wolves for reasons of "public safety". What (or who) on earth found the need to include that? How many humans have been killed in BC by wolves (ever)? A grand total of...ZERO! You're WAY more likely to be killed by lightning, drowning, raging cows, deer, moose, bears, dogs, elk, and about a thousand other things than you are by a wolf. I'm sure glad that the good folks at the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource are protecting us from those vicious wolves! Sheesh...this plan was influenced more by the story of Little Red Riding Hood than it was by any real facts...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

20 November 2012: Autofocus Performance of the Nikon D600

Another excerpt from my coming D600 Field Test - this time touching on the autofocus (or AF) performance of the Nikon D600, including when used with super-telephoto lenses.

But first - some relevant context. When I heard that the AF system of Nikon D600 was based upon (not identical to, but based upon) that of the Nikon D7000 I was concerned. Why? Because I had found that while the AF system of the Nikon D7000 performed very competently with "short" lenses (which, in my book, means "up to and including the 70-200mm f2.8 VR"), at least MY D7000 performed very poorly with "larger" lenses. By "performed very poorly" I mean that it was simply inaccurate at anything but very short focal distances and that in any Dynamic Area AF mode it struggled badly with initial focus. I found this to be the case on the 200-400mm f4 VR, the 400mm f2.8 VR, the 500mm f4 VR, and the 600mm f4 VR. SO...my very first concern was this: Does the AF system of my D600 perform better with "big glass" than my D7000 did? Thus, will my D600 be more suitable as a wildlife camera than my D7000 was? Thus the examples I'm giving today...a few shot with "big glass"...

And, for those who only want the "Quick and Dirty" answer...YES, the AF system of my D600 performs far better with "big glass" than my D7000 ever did. So I consider it - at least from an autofocus perspective - a better wildlife camera than the D7000.

IMAGE NOTES: Since beginning to post high (and often full) resolution test images for your perusal I have received a lot of email thanking me for doing so. However, I have received a few emails asking me to post full resolution images only when it is necessary to do so (to fully demonstrate the point I'm making). Seems like a reasonable request to me. So...in today's case I'm quite sure even "half of full resolution" will be enough to make my points. So...today you get "standard" web-sized images (1200 pixels on long axis) and "half-resolution" (3008 pixels on long axis) images.

1. Static (ish) Subject; REAL Big Glass: I found my D7000 was quite inaccurate in focus with virtually any super-telephoto prime lenses or zooms unless the subject was VERY close. This was NOT a function of lens tuning - no matter how hard I tried to tune the AF system of my D7000 it regularly produced soft images. So...here's one recently captured image of a rare Spirit Bear taken with my D600 and 600mm f4 lens.

White Bear, Muddy Face: Download 1200 pixel Image File - complete with all field notes (JPEG file: 759 KB)
White Bear, Muddy Face: Download Higher-Res (3008 pixel on long axis) Image File - complete with all field notes (JPEG file: 3.1 MB)

2. Autofocus Tracking - My Standard Test! Yep, my standard "Jose the Portuguese Water Dog Running Straight At Me" test. The value of this test is that I have been doing it for a number of years and have comparative "stats" for several cameras, my dog loves it (lotsa treats, albeit healthy ones), and it's a damned tough test to pass - Jose is real fast and, like any dog, he bobs up and down like crazy while running! All results are discussed on the images, but here's the critical finding - with my 400mm f2.8 VR the D600 performed almost as well in focus-tracking as my D3s, not quite as well as my D4, and WAY better than my D7000 (which did NOT pass this test with a 400mm lens).

Jose on the Run: Download 1200 pixel Image File - complete with all field notes (JPEG file: 509 KB)
Jose on the Run: Download Higher-Res (3008 pixel on long axis) Image File - complete with all field notes (JPEG file: 2.1 MB)

3. Autofocus Tracking - Bird in Flight: How 'bout birds in flight with Nikon's longest readily-available (sort of) super-telephoto lens? No problem with the D600. This one was a "forget it" with my D7000.

Jonathon Livingston: Download 1200 pixel Image File - complete with all field notes (JPEG file: 294 KB)
Jonathon Livingston: Download Higher-Res (3008 pixel on long axis) Image File - complete with all field notes (JPEG file: 794 KB)

Other aspects of the AF performance of the D600 - like "do those 39 focus brackets cover enough of the viewfinder?" - will be discussed in my coming D600 Field Test...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

15 November 2012: Nikon D600/D800 ISO Performance - Another Quick Update...

Not surprisingly, since posting some high ISO shots taken with the D600 back on November 11 I've received a number of emails asking me to post some D800 examples (why did I think this would be coming??). I will be posting a number of comparisons between the D600, D800 and D4 when I've completed my D600 Field Test, but for now here's two versions of a ISO 3200 D800 image - both a web-sized (1200 pixel wide) sample and a full-res (7360x4912 pixel) sample. This image was taken very close to the same time (and under very similar conditions) as the previously posted D600 images (from November 11). All processing on this image identical to that performed on the ISO 4500 D600 image. Same "Important Image Notes" as on November 11 posting (so if you want to read them...scroll down a little!). While the D800 trails the D4 (and the D600) in high ISO performance, for a 36 MP DSLR it has pretty amazing high ISO performance. And...here ya go:

Red Squirrel - Classic Pose (D800; ISO 3200): Web-sized:
Download 1200 Pixel Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 581 KB)

Red Squirrel - Classic Pose (D800; ISO 3200): Full Res:
Download Full Res Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 16 MB)

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

12 November 2012: Nikon D600 ISO Performance - A Quick Update...

Since posting my comments and images re: the ISO performance of the Nikon D600 yesterday I've received two emails asking me virtually the same thing (so I'm thinking many others may have the same question and I should address it here): What was the relative contribution of the image sensor vs. the raw converter in producing those relatively noise-free images? And, what would they look like if they were processed in another raw converter, such as Lightroom or ACR? Good questions, compliments of Sergey and Manuel.

While I really like Capture One Pro as a raw converter (and the latest iteration of it - version 7 - adds a lot of new features and some excellent improvements) - the noise-free nature of those images is a function of the image sensor of the D600. When noise reduction is turned totally off (in Capture One Pro) the ISO 3600 and ISO 4500 images still look really, really clean. And, I DID play with them in Lightroom (version 4.2) and it's possible to produce output that looks as noise-free as the images I posted yesterday - albeit with more clicks/steps, and not nearly as nice colour! And there goes any hope of me ever being sponsored by Adobe...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

11 November 2012: Nikon D600 ISO Performance - Simply Outstanding!

I'm in the midst of methodically field-testing the ISO performance of my D600 - and how it stacks up against both the D4 and the D800. Prior to beginning testing I had assumed that the D600 would do well in ISO performance and likely come out somewhere between the D800 and D4. In that regard I can already say I was right - it is between the D4 and D800. BUT - and to me this was very surprising - the D600 is really nipping at the heels of the D4 (i.e., is much closer to the D4 in ISO performance than it is to the D800).

I'll provide multiple comparisons (including of different scene types) when my full D600 field test comes out (in a few weeks), but will share a few examples of what I mean right now. The following shots were captured a few minutes after I had done some systematic testing of ISO (comparing the D600 with the D4 and D800) and I decided to simply push the ISO up and do some high ISO shooting of convenient subjects (red squirrels). I sat down near a stump where the squirrels regularly visit (one of their favourite stop off points when they're about to try to steal food from my jay feeder) and set up my D600 paired with the Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR. I stopped WAY down (these are f16 shots) to limit the light and bump the ISO up (which, of course, gave me a sufficient depth of field to work with these subjects close-up - and keep the critical bits in focus). With Auto ISO enabled I shot away...

IMPORTANT IMAGE NOTES: I am providing both web-sized (reduced to 1200 pixels on long axis) and full resolution uncropped versions of the images for your perusal. These represent quite extreme examples of what you would do with the images, and many uses they would be put to (e.g., making decent sized prints) would fall somewhere between these extremes in terms of resolution requirements. I am doing this because simply giving you resolution-reduced images purporting to show ISO performance can be very misleading - the act of reducing resolution can mask image noise and make even quite noisy images look clean. I would recommend viewing both members of each image pair at 100% magnification (1:1). Note that there was only minimial noise reduction performed on these images, i.e., only during raw conversion (and I used LOWER than the default noise reduction values that are provided by my favourite raw converter - Phase One's Capture One Pro). Critical field notes have been added to the images themselves.

1. ISO 3600 Examples:

• Simply Irresistible: Web-sized: Download 1200 pixel Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 667 KB)
• Simply Irresistible: Full-resolution, Uncropped: Download Full Resolution Image File (JPEG file: 11 MB)

2. ISO 4500 Examples:

• Red Squirrel - Classic Pose: Web-sized: Download 1200 pixel Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 828 KB)
• Red Squirrel - Classic Pose: Full-resolution, Uncropped. Download Full Resolution Image File (JPEG file: 12.4 MB)

My final field test will include a more detailed discussion as to why high ISO performance (with only limited consequences on image quality) can be so useful to a nature photographer (such as the ability to shoot in low light, gaining increased control over your aperture and depth-of-field, being able to shoot at higher shutter speeds and consequently hand-holding bigger lenses, etc.). But for now all I'll say is that D600 owners will not have to envy the ISO performance of virtually any camera on the market. The ISO performance of this camera is simply outstanding!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

7 November 2012: Hot off the Press - The Khutzeymateen Grizzlies Instructional Photo Tour Brochure

I've just completed the brochure for the 2013 edition of my immensely popular "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Instructional Photo Tour.

Want more information about this great trip? Well...just:

1. Download this brochure (PDF; 2.2 MB) or...
2. Visit the Photo Tour page of this website or...
3. Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca

As always spots on this trip will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. There are currently 4 spots remaining.

Cheers...

Brad

7 November 2012: The Nikon D600 vs. The Nikon D800 - at f16...

Yesterday I made the comment that I have found that it's possible to upsize Nikon D600 image files shot at f16 to the resolution of D800 images (also shot at f16) and the resulting images are almost indistinguishable. Specifically, I said "...but when I upsized the D600 images to match the resolution of the D800 images, they were as sharp as, or even slightly sharper, than the D800 images."

Apparently this statement hit a nerve with some folks (presumably D800 users, but that's speculation on my part) - I received a surprising amount of email that diplomatically (and in a few cases, not so diplomatically) suggested I was well...let's just say "full of beans." Fair enough - it's easy enough to just SAY things - I always believe in backing up what I say with images shot in the field. So here you go...

IMAGE NOTES: Images shot at identical settings about 5 minutes apart. All processing identical EXCEPT that in each case I sharpened the final output to provide maximum sharpness (without introducing sharpening artifacts) for that particular image. In other words, I attempted to make each image MAXIMALLY sharp. On the up-sized D600 image (which EXACTLY matches the resolution of the D800 file): I up-sized it using Photoshop CS6 in a single step using Bicubic Interpolation. I experimented with 3 interpolation methods: Bicubic, Bicubic Sharper, and Bicubic Smoother (this last algorithm being the one Adobe recommends for enlarging - or upsizing - an image). In this case the best method definitely appeared to be simply Bicubic Interpolation. Note also that there were a few branches overlapping the creek (and one ugly disposable coffee cup) and rather than cutting them off in the field (or using ropes to tie them back) I chose to digitally remove them after raw conversion (using Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CS6). Cropping on both images is identical - extremely minor on the horizontal axis, with slightly more vertically (simply for compositional purposes). Finally - although these images are quite large (and more than fill any monitor at 100% magnification) - comparisons between them are best made at 100% magnification (AKA 1:1, or 1 image pixel = 1 display device pixel).

FULL Resolution D800 Image (Autumn Gold): Download Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 6.2 MB)

UP-SIZED D600 Image (Autumn Gold): Download Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 7 MB)

Let the pixel-peeping begin! ;-)

It's important to note that these images were captured at f16 - which is in the zone where diffraction-induced softening of D800 images is known to be prevalent. So...I'm comparing a "handicapped" D800 image with an upsized D600 image (which is "handicapped" a little by the up-sizing and MAY also be handicapped by diffraction-induced image softening). So this little experiment has produced at least a couple more questions. First...what about at wider apertures where neither of the cameras face diffraction issues - can you upsize THOSE D600 files and still match the quality of the D800 files? If the answer is "yes" then a new question comes to mind: why the heck buy a D800? And that's a very good question - I want to know that answer too. So...in the very near future I'll be testing and comparing D600 and D800 files (including up-sized D600 files) shot with a number of lenses and over a range of apertures. So stay tuned for that. AND, of course, there's one other critical question I have: Does the D600 suffer less (and how much less?) from diffraction-induced image softening than the D800? If it does, and if you can upsize the D600 files and pretty much equal the quality of D800 files...well that D600 just might be one VERY hot landscape camera. Which is - at the end of the day - what I really want to know myself...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

7 November 2012: Capture One Pro 7 - Those Mysterious Shrinking Images!

Users of the high-end raw conversion software Capture One Pro (Version 7) may find this entry interesting. Yesterday I was processing D600 and D800 raw files with Capture One Pro (Version 7) and I noticed the output files were slightly smaller (in total pixels) than they should have been. How much smaller? D800 files are "supposed" to be 7360 x 4912 pixels - but when outputted from Capture One Pro they came out at 7214 x 4815 pixels...a reduction of about 2%. Similarly, my D600 shots shrank from their expected size of 6016 x 4016 pixels down to 5897 x 3936 pixels (again about a 2% decrease in image size). Huh?

After a few minutes of sleuthing around I discovered what was going on. The images that were "shrinking" were those taken either with the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII or the 24-70mm f2.8 - lenses which Capture One Pro has built-in profiles for. And, the default behaviour of the raw converter is to automatically apply a distortion correction to those lenses which "need it". In applying this distortion correction the image is changed slightly in size. The distortion correction can be easily over-ridden to produce completely full size images. After looking at about 50 images with the distortion correction turned on and off I've concluded that in most cases the improvement in the image by applying the lens distortion correction is easily worth losing a few pixels over. Note also that the distortion correction can be unapplied almost steplessly (from a 100% application down to 0% application of the distortion correction) and that if you "back off" the distortion correction some the image size reduction decreases accordingly.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

6 November 2012: A Growing Fondness of the Nikon D600...

I'm still busy testing the D600 (and prepping images) for my D600 field test (which is coming later this month), but at this point it's probably worth letting a little more of the "...cat out of the bag." So I'll say this...my fondness for this camera is growing more each time I use it.

Why (you ask)? Good question. While I still have more testing to do to "quantify" (and provide visual evidence for) my comments, I'm finding that...

1. You can stop it down! One frustration I have with the Nikon D800 is that when I'm shooting landscapes you have to deal with diffraction-induced image softening when you stop your aperture down. With most lenses the images begin to noticeably soften up by f11 (and even at f8 with a few lenses) and by f16 the softening has become a major problem. So far I'm finding this diffraction-induced image softening to be MUCH less prevalent with the D600 - I have not been able to detect ANY noticeable image softening at f11 using ANY Nikkor lens and so far it seems to be pretty much a non-issue at f16 (tho' admittedly I need to do more testing on this). And...I have shot identical shots with the D600 and the D800 at f16 to compare the results. What did I find? Well...this may be hard to believe, but when I upsized the D600 images to match the resolution of the D800 images, they were as sharp as, or even slightly sharper, than the D800 images. I will provide several examples of this in my final field report, but I do have a few sample images shot with the D800 (over this past weekend) to give you a hint of what I'm talking about. The 1200 pixel images below have all the field notes on them, and the hi-res files (close to full-frame with very minor cropping) will show what I'm talking about a little better...

A. D600 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ f11:

Beaver Meets Man; Beaver Wins: Download 1200 pixel Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 819 KB)
Beaver Meets Man; Beaver Wins: Download Hi-Res (6018 x 4063 pixel) Image File (JPEG file: 10.6 MB)

B. D600 with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII @ f16:

Autumn Gold: Download 1200 pixel Image File with all Field Notes (JPEG file: 819 KB)
Autumn Gold: Download Hi-Res (5950 x 3587 pixel) Image File (JPEG file: 5.0 MB)

NOTE: On the image entitled "Autumn Gold" there were a few branches overlapping the creek (and one ugly coffee cup) and rather than cutting them off in the field (or using ropes to tie them back) I chose to digitally remove them after raw conversion (using Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CS6)

2. VERY Good ISO Performance. This is another area where I have more testing (and image processing) to do, but I have processed a number of D600 images in the ISO 2000 to ISO 3200 range and I've been extremely happy with what I'm seeing. I'm still in "gut-feel" terrain, but I'm already quite sure the D600 fits into the "better than the D800 but not quite as good as the D4" category. I'll post a few images showing what I mean later this week and lots more when my D600 field test "goes live" in a few weeks.

3. VERY Good Autofocus Performance. This is another place where I've been pleased (yet still need to run a few more field trials). The AF system in the D600 is based upon that which was first used in the D7000, but at this point I CAN say that it handles the "bigger lenses" (both in terms of accuracy of focus and focus-tracking of moving objects, like birds in flight) than my D7000 did. I don't know if this is because Nikon has improved the AF module (above that in the D7000 module) or if it's simply because it works better on a full-frame sensor, but it's working way better for me than my D7000 ever did. A few sample images to follow within a week or so, with even more in that coming field test...

Stay tuned - more on the D600 coming soon!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

25 October 2012: Capture One Pro 7 - With Nikon D600 Raw Support!

YES!!! Today Phase One updated their popular high-end raw conversion software to version 7.0. This paid upgrade ($99 USD) offers a totally new image processing engine (with improved noise reduction, higher dynamic range, as well as better detail and clarity) and a lot of new workflow features, most of which I've not had a chance to play with yet. Expect to see a lot of comments about the new features and improvements right here in the days and weeks to come. Information about Phase One's Capture One Pro 7 can be found right here...

In the short term, the MOST important update to Capture One Pro for me is support for Nikon D600 raw files. To say I have been frustrated with being forced to use Nikon View NX2 and Capture NX2 to convert D600 raw files would be a huge understatement.

To this point I've had a chance to convert only a few D600 files with the new software, but I'm already very pleased with the results. I have historically used Capture One Pro because I love how it renders colour, its sharpening algorithm, its noise reduction, its ability to produce fantastic light-on-light and dark-on-dark detail, and the excellent tailor-made profiles for all the leading cameras. The first few D600 raw conversions I've done with the new version of Capture One Pro have definitely not disappointed me. Here's one full-frame (but half resolution) file from my recent "Spirit Bear and the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tour for your perusal:

Sleeping in a Wet Bed - Download Image File (JPEG file: 1.6 MB)

The only downside of the Capture One Pro update to include D600 support? Now I have no reason to put off producing my D600 Field Test! ;-)

Stay tuned!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

24 October 2012: The NEW Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 VR Zoom...

Today Nikon announced a new lighter and less expensive 70-200mm zoom lens - officially called the "AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G VR Telephoto Zoom Lens". Nikon claims that this new lens has a Vibration Reduction (VR) system which has a 5-stop advantage over non-VR lenses. Wow! If true, this makes up for some of the disadvantages associated with offering an aperture that is "only" f4 (i.e., possibly allowing hand-holding of the lens in virtually the same lighting conditions where one could hold the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII). Oh, and the lens is designed for Nikon full-frame (FX) cameras - which means it will work on ALL f-mount Nikon cameras, including DX cameras.

This lens is a welcome addition to the already wide Nikkor lens line-up. I'm hoping that this lens will have better edge-to-edge sharpness when paired with the D800/800E than the current 70-200mm f2.8 VRII does (which exhibits pronounced edge softness when shot with the D800/800E - more info on this in my D800 Field Test). Time (and testing!) will soon tell...

While I welcome the addition of this new lens, I can think of at least TWO lenses that I would have liked Nikon to introduce BEFORE this lens. Which ones? Well, I'd die for a new version of the 300mm f4 - with a VR (even "just" a 4-stop VR)! And, on a similar note...wouldn't it be wonderful to have a 400mm f4 VR (with great optics but WAY lighter than Nikon's amazing 400mm f2.8 VR)? But I guess Nikon has decided there's a much bigger market for a 70-200mm f4 VR than either a 300mm f4 VR or a 400mm f4 VR...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

20 October 2012: Two Spots Open Up on 2013 Khutzeymateen Grizzlies Photo Op Photo Tour

My spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen - Just the Photo Op, Please..." is my most popular photo tour and always sells out long in advance. But, two folks from my 2013 tour have had to delay their participation until spring 2014, which means two spots for the 2013 version of this fantastic photo tour are now up for grabs.

More information? Just...

1. Download this brochure (PDF; 2.3 MB) or...
2. Visit the Photo Tour page of this website or...
3. Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca

These two remaining spots will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cheers...

Brad

17 October 2012: The Nikon D600 - First Impressions - Shooting in the Great Bear Rainforest

Since I returned from the Great Bear Rainforest a few days ago I've received dozens of emails asking me what my "verdict" is on the D600. To be honest, at this point I don't have a concrete answer to that question - during my two weeks in the Great Bear Rainforest I simply shot with the D600 (as opposed to systematically testing it). And, I haven't had a chance to process many shots taken with it yet. But I do have some impressions and SUBJECTIVE "gut feels" for it. Please bear in mind that these comments and thoughts are very preliminary and subject to change/evolution as I systematically test the camera and critically assess the output.

So...here ya go - my first impressions...

Overall Impression: I'm really liking the D600. Its build quality, overall responsiveness, ISO performance, autofocus performance and, most importantly. image quality, all exceeded my expectations (for a $2000 camera). And here's what I feel is an important comment on the overall quality and usefulness of the camera: I found myself preferentially turning to my D600 (over my D800) by the second day of shooting with it.

Build Quality: There are several places on this website where I make the statement that I much prefer the feel and overall build quality of Japanese-produced Nikon cameras over those built in Thailand. Well, the D600 is Thailand-built and the D800 is Japanese-built, but the gap in build quality between them is pretty minor. Which is a good thing (and may force me to modify my own views on the correlation between build quality and country of origin). The D600 is surprisingly and pleasingly solid. And, over the past few weeks I did use it in very wet conditions (albeit iwth a rain cover on MOST of the time, but I DID get it quite wet more than once) and it performed flawlessly. It's important to note that the same can't be said of all the other cameras on this trip - some didn't fair nearly as well. Notably, more than one C-branded camera with a 7 in their model name experienced problems/failures in these wet shooting conditions (in fairness, after drying out they resumed working). The D600 simply kept working. No, it's not as robust or bombproof as a D4 - but it doesn't cost $6k or so either...

Overall Responsiveness: In general terms the camera feels quite "quick" - and I'm used to shooting with a D4. While the maximum frame rate while shooting full-frame raw files is only 1 frame per second (fps) faster than the D800 (5 fps for the D600 vs. 4 fps for the D800) - that one extra frame per second is noticable in the field. And 5 fps isn't too darned bad for a 24 MP camera (don't forget that the D3x could only muster about 2.6 fps with full-frame raw files).

ISO Performance: I need to do more testing on this to really get a handle on how high I'll push the ISO on the D600, but a quick perusal of images I shot in the Great Bear Rainforest seemed consistent with what I expected (and seems completely logical) - better ISO performance than the D800 but not as good as the D4. Which makes it considerably better than on Nikon's last 24 MP camera - the D3x. Stay tuned for more details on this...

Autofocus Performance: The AF system of the D600 is based on that used in the D7000. Some viewed this as a good thing. I didn't - I found the D7000 AF system lacking with telephoto lenses longer than 200mm, particularly when using Dynamic Area focusing. During my time in the Great Bear Rainforest I played around with shooting gulls and eagles in flight (mostly with long teleophoto lenses, including the 600mm f4, and mostly using Dynamic Area AF) and I can definitely say that the AF system out-performs that of the D7000 (or at least MY D7000). How much better? I can't say yet, but it seemed to perform extremely well with all the lenses I tried it with (wide angles plus 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, 400mm f2.8 VR, 600mm f4 VR). So overall good news here...

Video Quality and Performance: Not my thing - I have no clue about video and will probably never even bother to figure out how to capture video with this STILL camera. You'll have to go elsewhere for that information (sorry).

Image Quality? Another area where I do need to shoot (and process) more images before I can say too much, but with the images I've looked closely at to date I'll just say this: SWEET!

Sample images? I guess I can't end this without giving you at least SOMETHING to look at...so here's a few full resolution D600 vs. D800 comparison images.

IMAGE NOTES: These images were captured in RAW format using a D600 and a D800 paired with a 70-200mm f2.8 VRII lens. Images below were captured at ISO 100, 1/160s, and at f8. Tripod mounted. Images were converted from RAW using Capture NX2 and all processing on the images was absolutely identical. Image sharpening during raw conversion set to minimum and NO image sharpening was performed after raw conversion. Note that there were a few branches overlapping the bottom left corner of the image (including slightly overlapping the left-most portion of the reflection of the mountain) - I could have broken them off and shot a "clean" image but chose to save the trees and do the clean-up using the clone tool instead! I thought some might be interested in comparing how an up-sized D600 image compared to a D800 image, so I included an up-sized version of the D600 image (and, to be complete, a down-sampled D800 image, tho' odds are most won't care too much about this image!). Oh, and BTW - this scene is definitely NOT from the Great Bear Rainforest - just something I stumbled upon on my return trip home that seemed to be perfect as a comparison shot! Download away - and best to view these images at 100% magnification.

Image 1: D600 full resolution (6016 x 4016 pixels) image - Download Image File (JPEG file: 5.7 MB)
Image 2: D800 full resolution (7360 x 4912 pixels) image - Download Image File (JPEG file: 7.5 MB)
Image 3: D600 image UPSIZED to D800 resolution (7360 x 4912 pixels) - Download Image File (JPEG file: 7.4 MB)
Image 4: D800 image DOWN-SAMPLED to D600 resolution (6016 x 4016 pixels) - Download Image File (JPEG file: 5.6 MB)

Take this information for what you judge it to be worth. I'm still reserving final judgement on the D600, but I am thinking it was smart of Nikon to introduce the D800 BEFORE the D600, otherwise they wouldn't have sold too many D800's! Is my D800 for sale? You know, it just might be...stay tuned...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

17 October 2012: Back from the Sticks!

I've just returned from back-to-back week-long photo tours in the Great Bear Rainforest on the central BC coast. The two trips were amazingly different - both in weather conditions and photo ops. The first trip was quite wet (it IS a RAINforest!) but beautifully misty and moody - the kind of conditions I love shooting in. On the second trip we didn't see a single cloud for the first 6 days and on the 7th all we had was fog (what? no rain in the Great Bear Rainforest for a WEEK in October?). But both trips offered up good photo ops for eagles, grizzlies, humpback whales, and lots more. Oh yeah, and we did see (and photograph) the rare Spirit Bear on both trips (tho' we had to work our collective butts off to find the mythical white bears on our second trip!). Images from the two trips are starting to appear now in my Gallery of Latest Additions - check 'em out!

Over the coming days and weeks you can expect regular updates on this blog...including a lot of information on how the new Nikon D600 has been performing for me. I will be producing a full field test on the D600, but it won't be ready for at least a month. But I will be posting regular morsels of information on the D600 regularly right here on this blog - so stay tuned!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

22 September 2012: Off to the Great Bear Rainforest - With My D600

I'm off to the Great Bear Rainforest to lead my annual autumn "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours. I always look forward to these tours - the photo ops are always amazing and the Great Bear Rainforest is a spectacular and globally unique environment (along with being the largest intact temperate rainforest left on earth). And this year I'll have the added bonus of shooting Nikon's latest full-frame camera (the D600) head-to-head against my D4's and my D800 - which should be both a lot of fun as well as very enlightening.

So...no web updates until the week of October 15. But shortly after that you'll be inundated with lots of new images - and my thoughts of shooting the D600 under demanding very real world field conditions against its toughest competitors...

Cheers...

Brad

PS: Info about these tours - and all my other photo tours - can be found right here...

20 September 2012: Exposing Nature's Art - A Weekend Workshop

I'm offering a 3-day nature photography workshop in Kamloops, BC during the weekend of November 2nd to 4th. This workshop (presented in conjunction with the Kamloops Photo Arts Club) will reveal some of the key tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your digital images of the natural world - both while in the field and while behind the computer. There are 3 separate components to the weekend event - a slideshow featuring the beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest on Friday evening, a field-based image capture session on Saturday, and a classroom-based image processing section on Sunday. Participants may choose to attend any or all of the events.

Looking for a few more details? Then download this brochure (PDF 306KB)

Looking for a LOT more detail (including registration information)? Then check out my 2012 Seminars and Workshop Schedule

Hope to see you there!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

20 September 2012: Follow-up: The Nikon D600 and Dxomark.com

Yesterday's blog entry drew a whole lot of eyeballs and resulted in a lot of email. Almost all the email was in support of my entry (one email simple stated "Bravo"!). Two thoughtful readers made virtually the same comment - that ISO performance is about a whole lot more than just noise. They pointed out that the manner in which colour depth and dynamic range vary with ISO is critical as well. I wholeheartedly agree. And, to give credit where it is due, so does dxomark.com - they provide graphs showing how both Color Sensitivity (using their terminology) and dynamic range vary with ISO.

Probably the best example of how high ISO performance is more than a simple noise measurement is the situation with the Nikon D3s and Nikon D4. Dxomark.com's "Sports (Low-Light ISO)" score (using their terminology) values for the two cameras are 3253 ISO (for the D3s) and 2965 ISO (for the D4). These noise scores (not ISO performance scores!) correlate well with what I saw when I compared these cameras at high ISO (6400 and 12800) in my D4 field test - while very close the D3s images were very slightly less noisy. BUT over time I have found (and I admit that my results here are subjective) that the D4 exhibits better colour and holds its tonal range (meaning retains dark-on-dark and light-on-light detail) better. Overall I prefer the high ISO images of the D4 over the D3s (and definitely find them more "usable" overall) - they simply don't have that "shot at high ISO" look to them. This kind of colour and dynamic range information IS on dxomark.com's website, but is completely excluded in their "Sports (Low-Light ISO)" score.

So, the bottom line is that I still think dxomark.com ends up misleading folks with their sensor score values, and especially with their "Sports (Low-Light ISO)" values. And it could be totally unintentional. And, it isn't really their fault if many readers (or websites) take the sound-bite approach and use their sensor scores inappropriately. But, dxomark.com could make it a little less easy to do so!

How can this situation be resolved? I think it's simple:

1. Rename the "Sports (Low-Light ISO)" score. Why? To more accurately reflect what it really is - a noise index. What to call it? Hmmm that's a tough one...but how about "Noise"?

2. Provide an additional noise value - one measured at full resolution. Their current value is produced after resolution reduction down to a little over 8 MP. This value accurately reflects noise under this condition only (image reduced in size to about that used to make a letter-sized print), but differentially masks noise in higher resolution sensors (the higher the resolution the more the noise masking). But many users want to know the noise produced by a sensor at full resolution (whether they're using full-resolution crops or making HUGE prints, etc.). Not all folks are buying 20+ MP cameras to make letter-sized prints or web images (which is, in some ways, akin to buying a Ferrari to commute in an urban environment!).

Overall I LIKE what dxomark.com does and think they provide a valuable service. But perhaps they should consider re-examining a few aspects of what they're doing (or how they're reporting it) in light of the entry of so many higher resolution DSLR's to the market...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 September 2012: The Nikon D600 and Dxomark.com: Off the Mark?

I don't like conspiracy theories and I don't like creating unnecessary and unneeded controversies. But dxomark.com just produced their test results for the Nikon D600 and I feel I have to say a few things. In short, the D600 tested unbelievably well (note the word "unbelievably"). In fact, only the D800 and D800E have produced higher overall scores. And, most unbelievably, the D600 scored better in their "Sports" test (which purports to measure Low-light/ISO performance) than the D4. Unbelievable.

What do I mean? Well, I DO believe this is what their tests showed. But I don't believe these tests - and especially their ISO performance test - correlate well with real-world shooting results. I have written before about how dxomark.com's testing protocol to measure ISO performance is questionable (scroll down this page to the 29 March entry entitled "Dxomark.com and the Nikon D800 - Reality Check...") and I think the same problem of flawed testing is rearing its ugly head again. Sorry, but you can't differentially reduce the resolution of images BEFORE testing them for noise (as dxomark.com does). Why? Go ahead and call it "normalization for resolution" if you want, but the fact is that THEIR normalization procedure differentially influences the very factor (noise) being measured. I WILL agree with dxomark.com's ISO performance results in this very limited sense: they probably do accurately reflect the noise one would see when images derived from different sensors are reduced to a resolution of 8.4 MP. But that's the end of it. Many of us want to use our images at full resolution, and dxomark.com's results say nothing at all about the ISO performance of cameras at full resolution (unless you happen to compare cameras with the EXACT same resolution, in which case there should be a correlate between their results and the noise characteristics of the images at full resolution).

Why am I making a big deal about this? Because in our "sound-bite" world we'll soon be hearing that the D600 slightly out-performs the D4 in low light performance. Period. And, we heard the same thing with the D800 and D800E - according to dxmark.com the D4, D800, and D800E have virtually identical high ISO performance. Anyone who has shot thousands of high ISO shots with the D4 and D800 knows this is so far off the mark it's not even funny. And, speaking as directly as possible - it is completely misleading. The D4 beats the D800 in ISO performance by a mile, and several miles when one goes into the ISO stratosphere (which for most shooters starts at about ISO 6400). I can say with 99.99% confidence that the D600 will NOT show "real world" ISO performance that matches the D4 (though it should match or exceed that of the D800). And, I will back this up with actual images when I return from my next photo tour where I will be shooting the D4, D800, and D600 head-to-head. Stay tuned for those images (in mid-October).

Why did I mention the conspiracy thing in my opening? Well...historically I've quite liked what dxomark.com does. But a couple of things make me wonder how "independent" dxomark.com really is - and how valid their test scores really are. In my role as moderator of the Wildlife Gallery on the Nature Photographer's Network I see thousands of images annually shot by both Canon and Nikon cameras. And...can the Canon sensors be as bad as dxomark.com's tests show if the images I see shot by Canons are so darned good?? And...why are we not yet seeing dxomark.com test results of the Canon flagship (the EOS-1D X) - which has been in the hands of selected users for at least 6 weeks now? The D600 just hit the shelves yesterday. Hmmm. But I'm just sayin'...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

17 September 2012: The Nikon D600 - Some Early Thoughts

As most Nikon-using photography enthusiasts will know, the new 24 MP full-frame Nikon D600 was announced last Thursday and will be available for purchase in just a few days (WOW - how did that incredibly short announce to ship interval happen?). I haven't used or even touched a D600 yet, but I do have a few thoughts on it.

1. The Specs. Full listings of the specs of the D600 may be found here on preview.com's website or you can just download this brochure (PDF 3.5MB). At this point I'll say just this: in general I quite like what I'm seeing. A lot. Highlights for me include the 24 MP resolution, the return of the User Banks (U1 and U2 settings) on the exposure mode dial, the 5.5 fps frame rate, and the small size of the camera. Oh yeah, and the price!

2. Some Reservations? Yes, of course I have some reservations about the camera. Here are my main two:

A. The Autofocus System: While many seem happy that the D600 has a 39-point AF system derived from that found on the D7000 (the D600 has a Multi-Cam 4800 AF module, the 39-point D7000's system was referred to as the Multi-Cam 4800DX AF module), I'm apprehensive of that fact. As discussed in my review of the D7000, I found its AF system worked great on lenses up to the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, but quite poor on the 200-400 f4 VR (both versions) and on all the longer super-telephotos (I tested the 400mm f2.8 VR, the 500mm f4 VR, and the 600mm VR). There ARE some refinements on the AF system of the D600, including 7 sensors which will function with lenses of maximum aperture of f8 (there were none that would on the D7000). So, here's hoping that the AF system on the D600 has been upgraded to the point where it works well with all the "big glass".

B. Build Quality: Most are describing the build quality of the D600 as "similar to the D7000" and are viewing this as a good thing. Again, I have a different opinion. Personally, I found the D7000 a bit lacking in build quality for heavy field use. This was my own experience (mine failed more than once during wet shoots) and also that of several folks who joined me on my photo tours. I have no doubt that the D600 (like the D7000) will be built robust enough for most "weekend" shooters, but that's different than using it under demanding and harsh conditions.

At the risk of sounding like a closet racist (or - heaven forbid - not quite politically correct), to date I have not found a single non-Japanese built Nikon camera to be robust enough to meet my needs. ALL the "single-digit D's" (so D1 through D4) were built in Japan and were amazingly robust and durable cameras. The D700 and D800 are also Japanese cameras and have great build quality (tho' one must acknowledge the quality control issues that seem to be plaguing the D800 - mine has been absolutely fine). The D300/300s and D7000 were built in Thailand. While I treat my cameras carefully, they are tools, not jewels. And, both my D300 and my D7000 failed at critical times under tough field conditions. The D600 is also built in Thailand. Hmmm...

3. Image Quality? Sorry, no comment on this yet. I refuse to judge IQ based on a few poorly chosen marketing images put out there by Nikon (why on earth they don't choose good images amazes me, but, that's the old pattern from Nikon!). In terms of the factors that contribute to IQ - I am hopeful that with its larger pixel pitch (than the D800) and slightly lower resolution the D600 will be slightly less demanding on lenses than the D800 and that it will have high ISO performance somewhere between the D800 and the D4. Dynamic range? Boy, would it be great if it could match the D800 (which has unmatched dynamic range). But, even if it was "just" as good as the D4 I would be thrilled.

4. The Demise of a DX D400? Back when the D7000 came out I began speculating that it meant that we'd see no further updates to the "high end" DX bodies. With the release of the D600 I think this is even MORE likely. I hope I'm dead wrong on this. I'd love to see the development of a pro or semi-pro DX body (PLEASE build it in Japan!), but I think Nikon has decided that the "serious photographer" market is an FX market.

5. Will I Buy a D600? Yes. As a matter of fact, I'm getting mine in just a few days and then will be immediately going up to the Great Bear Rainforest on British Columbia's northern coast to shoot Spirit Bears, grizzlies, humpbacks, great scenery, and a whole lot more. That will give me the opportunity to field test the D600 in tough conditions and shoot it head-to-head against the D800 and D4. Bonus!

6. Will I Be Producing a D600 Field Test? Yes, absolutely. When? As soon as possible - I will be in the field shooting until October 13 and will try to produce the review as soon as possible thereafter. It's possible the thing that will delay the review will be the wait until the 3rd party raw converters (Capture One Pro and Lightroom) update their software to allow the processing of D600 raw files.

In short, I'm quite excited about the D600. And, I'm thinking that it's the camera a LOT of photographers (including myself) should have bought rather than the D800. If I'm being brutally honest (my honestly killed any chances of Nikon sponsorship years ago anyway) the more I shoot the D800 the more I think Nikon pushed things a bit too far in going to 36 MP - the D800 does beat up some lenses that do quite well on other Nikon bodies and it does exhibit diffraction-induced image softening on ALL lenses (some beginning at f8, others at f11). Perhaps I'm odd, but I run into a significant number of situations when I'm shooting landscapes that I want to use apertures smaller than f8 (or f11) without softening my images. I'm thinking that the 24 MP of the D600 might be like that warm porridge Goldilocks found - just right. I'm just praying the build quality matches the (anticipated) image quality. I'll find out soon.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

02 September 2012: Gone Camping...

I'm off to the backcountry to scout out a few interesting local locations for the potential for wildlife shooting. And to have some fun! Back in about a week. I'll have only sporadic (and unpredictable) internet/email access during this time so any email sent to me may sit for a bit before I get around to responding to it.

May the ancient pagan Greek god of digital photography (good ol' Photeus) smile upon you in my absence. ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

28 August 2012: Back in the Saddle, With New Images!

I've just returned from a week(ish) long stint shooting off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, BC. This trip was focused on finding and photographing a variety of aquatic mammals, and was a complete success. We encountered 10 different species of aquatic mammals, including Killer Whales (both northern residents and transients), Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Sea Otters, Steller Sea Lions, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Dall's Porpoises, Harbor Porpoises, Northern Fur Seals, and Harbour Seals. And, of course, the bird life was pretty spectacular too - some of the highlights included a high number of Bald Eagles, tons (and tons) of Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres, both Sharp-tailed and Leach's Storm-petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, a Parasitic Jaeger, Gyrfalcon, Red-necked Phalaropes, Red-necked Grebes, both Pacific and Common Loons, and countless gulls and shorebirds of multiple species. How do you say "abundance and diversity" of subject matter? ;-)

Images from the trip have already started trickling into my Gallery of Latest Additions - check 'em out!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

15 August 2012: Gone Whaling...

I'm off early tomorrow morning for a week or so of shooting in the waters just off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, BC. I'm headed into this region with my friends at my favourite west coast adventure tour operator - Ocean Light II Adventures.

Our primary target species during this trip will be Steller sea lions, sea otters, humpback whales, killer whales, and any other aquatic mammals we can conjure up! The area we're going to is exceptionally picturesque and often yields some pretty impressive landscapes and seascapes too...so hopefully I'll have an opportunity to give my D800 a good workout!

So expect no web updates until early in the week of August 26. If you're bored, feel free to jump into my Gallery of Latest Additions and play along with the "finish the title" game I have going under the image entitled "Psst...don't look now, but...". Several new humourous suggestions have flowed in over the last couple of days...

Cheers...

Brad

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8 August 2012: Shooting in Low Light? Some Considerations...

If you're one of the thousands who now own a camera that excels in ISO performance you've probably done at least SOME shooting in low-light conditions that you could only dream of before. But shooting in those conditions - and processing those high ISO files - requires thinking "differently" about your exposure and how you should process those files.

Curious about what I'm driving at? Just read the discussion under the "In the Field" tab below the image entitled "Contemplating" in my Gallery of Latest Additions.

Cheers...

Brad

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2 August 2012: D800 Field Test "Executive Summary" Finally Complete...

If you're one of the gadzillion folks who've read my D800 Field Test you may have noticed that I was holding off writing the "Executive Summary" for it. Why? Simply because it's a complex camera and to fully assess it I needed to use it for several months and examine thousands of output files from it. Well, that's now done. And so is my executive summary. I probably won't make any friends (particularly at Nikon) for my comments, but...hey...at least I won't be accused of being a Nikon "fan boy"! ;-)

The summary is available at the top of my D800 Field Test and, for your convenience, I've reproduced it right here:

My D800 Field Test Executive Summary:

For me the Nikon D800 is an engimatic camera filled with contradictions. Its unmatched resolution and dynamic range combine to make it undoubtedly the best DSLR currently available for landscape photography. But, its penchant for "beating up" on all but the best of the Nikkor lenses, plus its sharpness-limiting diffraction effects at small apertures, combine to complicate and challenge its effectiveness when actually shooting those landscapes! The D800 also offers surprisingly good ISO performance for a 36 MP DSLR. And a darned good autofocus system. Combine this ISO performance, AF performance, and a decent frame rate (especially when shot in DX-mode with the MB-D12 battery grip with a EN-EL18 battery is used) and you have a 36 MP DSLR that is surprisingly versatile. Because of this versatility the D800 is attracting what I think is an undue amount of attention from those who focus on other "non-landscape" aspects of nature photography, such as wildlife photography. But it does seem to me that purchasing a 36 MP camera and "crippling" it by shooting in DX mode is somewhat akin to buying a Ferrari for urban commuting. Why do it? I think it's only because Nikon doesn't currently offer a quality pro or semi-pro level DX camera in the 18 MP range.

So what is the D800 best used for? After shooting it for months and scrutinizing thousands of files produced by it (and comparing those files to ones shot with other cameras, including the Nikon D4) I'm exactly back to where I was in my thinking about the D800 when it was first announced: first and foremost this is a landscape/studio camera that exhibits its full potential only when used with medium-format like discipline and care. It was cleverly designed to be versatile enough to function reasonably well in other photographic specialties, such as wildlife photography. But it isn't the best choice in a DSLR for anything but landscape/studio photography requiring high-resolution output.

Cheers...

Brad

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1 August 2012: Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Nikkor 800mm f5.6 VR Lens...

Way back on July 12 Nikon announced the development of a new 800mm f5.6 VR super-telephoto lens. While this lens is probably a long way from finding its way into the hands of the unwashed public (that includes me, by the way), images shot with it are beginning to show up online, including these shots recently captured at the London Olympics (thanks to "Buckeye Bill" for sending the link!). I've received a few (but only a few) emails asking me my thoughts on the lens, so I guess it's time to say a few things...

This lens has the longest focal length of any Nikkor autofocus lens and was, not surprisingly, designed with "...field sports, news and wildlife photographers in mind." Nikon has not announced detailed specs, pricing, or when the lens will be shipping. But it's easy to guess a few things about it...

Pricing: Well, it won't be cheap. My guess: about $13,000 CAD.
Size: Probably about the length of the 400mm f2.8, but lighter! Huh? Lighter? Yep - for two reasons: it's a f5.6 lens so it doesn't need a MASSIVE front element (not small, but not massive), and because Canon's 800mm f5.6 isn't too heavy (about 4.5 kg, or 9.9 lb)!
Performance: I'd be surprised if it isn't stellar - with a surprisingly fast AF for an 800mm lens and great optical quality.

So...when am I getting mine? Well...it will surprise no one if I admit I like good gear. But it may surprise them when I say I have no plans at all of buying a 800mm f5.6 VR. Now if some "N" company thought it was in their best interest to put one in my hands (permanently) for testing and review...well...I wouldn't turn them down (but I won't hold my breath).

Realistically speaking, I see the 800mm f5.6 VR as a "niche" lens that I'd use only very sporadically. As it is I use my 600mm f4 VR (a lens I love) only about 25% as much as my 400mm f2.8 VR. I suspect I'd use the 800mm f5.6 VR even less. While some think that wildlife photography is ALL about lens reach (i.e., the more the better), I tend to think otherwise. Not only do I like working more tightly with my subjects (in terms of working distance), but I also find that once one exceeds about 600mm in focal length (in 35mm "full frame" terms) there an increasing number of constraints and limitations to final image quaity. Like atmospheric spatial heterogeneities (junk in the air). And, one's control over their depth of field (DoF) - which is critical to me - is severely limited.

So...from a cost/benefit perspective, for me the 800mm f5.6 VR just doesn't add up. I just wouldn't use it enough to justify the expense. Regardless of how good of a lens it turns out to be...

Cheers...

Brad

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31 July 2012: You Know You're In Trouble When...

You know you're in trouble when you receive an email like this from a client just a few short weeks before a photo tour (identity of sender withheld)...

Hi Brad,

Thanks for the information, though no surprises for me.

One question I do have is regarding the details of the photography course. As I transition from the cardboard world to one comprised of plastic and silicon will there be an opportunity for some basic training? These new fangled cameras have so many buttons. Some times when I attempt to take a picture all I get is music or the alarm clock...or worse still a video game. It is all so complicated.

Will we be close enough to the wildlife that I can use my camera alone or will I need to use it in conjunction with my binoculars?

Is there such a product as a pro-level iPod? If so is it better waterproofed than the entry level product? Can you suggest the name of a manufacturer of tripods for photographic equipment as I am having difficulty locating one with an iPod adapter.

All the best

XXXX

Was this sent to me in jest? Gawd, I hope so! ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

30 July 2012: Filling the Product Void - With the Nikon D800

I continue to get emails asking me what I think of the Nikon D800/D800E as a "dedicated" camera for wildlife photography. I've seen a number of different arguments as to why the user wants to buy (or has bought) the D800 for wildlife photography, but many include comments like "...if I shoot it in DX crop mode the frame rate is close to what I need and the 4800x3200 DX-mode resolution is all I need anyway...". Hmmm...clever readers will already know where I'm going with this entry! ;-)

My answer is always the same (and the same as I stated in my D800 Field Test): Yep, you can customize the D800(E) in such a way to turn it into a pretty darned good wildlife camera. Those customizations include shooting it in DX mode and adding a MB-D12 battery grip with BL-5 battery cover (and adding an EN-EL18 battery). This "customization" is necessary to get the D800 up to a frame rate nearly acceptable for serious wildlife photography. And, even when you spend the bucks to do this, you end up with a camera that trails other Nikons in ISO performance, which is another feature that greatly enhances a "dedicated" wildlife camera.

When I say the D800(E) can act as a "pretty darned good" wildlife camera it implies there may be other better choices. In my opinion - yep. The best of the best? Undoubtedly the Nikon D4. Second best choice? The Nikon D3s - and if you can find a good deal on a used one, it may be many users first choice. Surely the NEXT best option is the D800 - right? Nope, at least not in my opinion. I'd rate even the Nikon D3 or the D700 (with a MB-D11 grip) as better choices.

By now I'm sure lots of folks are thinking I'm a D800 hater. Nope, not at all. I think the D800 is a breakthrough camera and amazingly versatile for a 36 MP camera (heck, I called it "Nikon's Second Game-changer" in my field test of it). With its 36 MP resolution and absolutely amazing dynamic range it is, without doubt, the best currently-available DSLR for landscape photography. Yes, you have to use the right lenses and be very disciplined in your approach to photography (e.g., mirror-up and/or Live View shooting, rock solid tripod, etc.) to get the most out of it. But the same is true for ANY good landscape camera.

So why are so many users trying to turn the best DSLR for landscape shooting into a wildlife camera? Well, the first reason makes some sense - the camera is so darned versatile that they CAN use it as a "pretty darned good" wildlife camera. And, many users want one camera that can "do it all". For a 36 MP camera the D800 DOES do it all pretty well!

But I am seeing a large number of D300, D700, D3, and D3s users who are buying D800(E)'s not for versatility, but as a "dedicated" wildlife camera. Why? Well, I think the answer is obvious: There's a pent-up demand AND a major void in Nikon's product line for serious wildlife shooters. The void? A professional (or semi-professional) DX camera in the 18-24 MP range. And that's the camera that I've heard (first-hand) so many wildlife photographers lamenting over. And that's pretty much what a D800 shot in DX mode is.

So I guess the question becomes this: Given the current economic climate, is there room in the marketplace for a D800 and a semi-pro DX DSLR? I don't know the answer to this question. But I hope so. And here's the spec I'd like to see in this camera (let's call it a D450, just to be a bit iconoclastic!):

Sensor Format: DX. Hey, who doesn't want the reach (real or perceived)?
Resolution: 18 MP. Why not 24 MP? Because at 24 MP the pixel pitch of a DX camera would be smaller than even the D800, and with that you couldn't produce the kind of ISO performance I'd like to see in this camera, even with state-of-the-art technology. I'm concerned more by optimizing the balance between resolution and ISO performance, not just maximizing resolution. But doesn't this too closely mirror the resolution of a D800 shot in DX mode (4800 x 3600 or 15.4 MP)? On paper yes. But add in a higher frame rate (see below) and when shooting two cameras (like a D4 and D450) side-by-side in the field - nope...it's called good complementarity.
Frame Rate: 8 to 10 fps. And totally fine by me if this is only accomplished through the separate purchase of a MB-D13 battery grip. It's nice to have the small-body option if the battery grip is taken off.
AF: Same as in the D800 and D4.
Build quality: Bump this up to D700 or D800 quality, not D300 or D7000 quality. I want this camera to hold up to real-world field use, and neither D300's or D7000's were up to the task for me. If this means Japanese production (with associated price increase), so be it...
Video: Video? Sorry, don't care. At all.

Am I holding my breath that Nikon will produce a camera close to these specs? No. But I'd buy it in an eye-blink if they did. And I think thousands upon thousands of others would too. Are you listening, Nikon?

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

25 July 2012: Some Bashful Bears...

I'm continuing to add images from my Khutzeymateen photo tour to my Gallery of Latest Additions - today's new images feature some bashful bears. And, as always, each image is accompanied by commentary intended to enlighten or give you reason to pause for thought (just click on the "In the Field" tab below the image to reveal the commentary). Here's what was added today...

Bashful Bruin. Ever wonder why everyone EXCEPT other photographers love specific images of yours? What's with those photographers - don't they like ANY images? Don't worry - it's understandable - just check out the commentary under this image to find out why...

The Bold and the Bashful. Ever wonder why so many top-notch wildlife photographers invest in those big, heavy, awkward prime super-telephoto lenses? Check out the commentary under this image for my thoughts on the subject...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 July 2012: Robgalbraith.com Goes Into Deep Hibernation Mode...

Disappointing (but understandable) news this morning - one of the best online resources for digital photographers - robgalbraith.com - has gone into "deep hibernation mode". The site isn't going offline but, according to Rob, it will not be updated for the foreseeable future.

While this excellent website was primarily targeted at the PJ (photojournalist) crowd, it also offered some of the most insightful product previews and reviews available anywhere. Rather than being mere spec spews, Rob and his team offered credible opinions of how the gear actually worked in the field. I particularly enjoyed the Nikon V1, D800, and D4 reviews. A job well done Rob.

Rob is moving on to new challenges as photojournalism instructor at the Southern Albert Institute of Technology in Calgary, his hometown. As a former Calgarian myself I always felt a bit of a connection to Rob (and his excellent website) even tho' we only met in passing once.

Good luck in the future Rob! While we all know robgalbraith.com wasn't a purely altruistic effort, it was exceptionally helpful to countless photographers. Thank you.

Cheers...

Brad

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18 July 2012: Private and Semi-private Photography Tutoring - with Me!

It would appear that I'm not what one would call "a brilliant marketeer" (hey, I'm a photographer!). A number of folks have recently pointed out to me that my private and semi-private tutoring services are EXCEPTIONALLY well-hidden in one of the most obscure corners of this website! So, to clarify matters: Yes, I offer private and semi-private tutoring sessions on a diverse array of topics related to digital nature photography. All the details are given here on my Digital Photography Instruction page.

For those of you who don't want to travel to that obscure corner of my web world (for fear you may never find your way out), here are the salient details:

Private and Semi-private Tutoring: Brought to you by public demand and multiple direct requests! I'm now offering both private and semi-private tutoring (for groups up to maximum of 4 attendees) in a number of aspects of digital nature photography. The specific topics offered are diverse (covering virtually any aspect of nature photography, including image capture and image processing/digital workflow topics) and fully customizable to meet your individual needs. Here are a few of the most critical details:

Overview: These all-inclusive sessions include all the necessities of life for a nature photographer - accommodation, food, great instruction, and great subject matter!
Where? Tutoring takes place in my spacious, rural (in the woods!) log-cabin home in the SE Kootenays of beautiful British Columbia, Canada. This mountainous region offers diverse subject matter for the nature photographer - from wildflowers to wolves, waterfowl, landscapes, and more!
Duration? From single day to up to 5 full days. Longer sessions are possible during some seasons.
Timing? During most months of the year except, of course, when I'm away leading photo tours. Wildlife abundance and conspicuousness varies during the year, so the timing that works will you will vary with your photographic goals. Mid-winter tends to be best for sessions that are focusing on post-processing and digital workflow techniques and skills.
Cost? Varies with the number of attendees, duration, travel needs once here (e.g., how much driving we may have to do to pursue specific species, such as wolves), etc. Feel free to contact me for a quote!

Please contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca for more information or to arrange your private/semi-private tutoring session!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

15 July 2012: Bear Tales...

And now, time for something slightly different...

Many of you know I live in a wilderness setting near the SE corner of British Columbia, Canada. Our home (log cabin) is on top of a ridge along the edge of a wide north-south valley known as the Columbia Valley, which is part of the Rocky Mountain Trench. In our region this trench separates the mostly limestone Rocky Mountains to the east from the granitic Purcell Mountains to the west. Our elevation is low enough (955m) to be in a zone that is quite warm and dry. This year is an exception - it's been as wet as wet can be and the normally slow-growing and sparse vegetation has gone into a crazed growth phase. If this keeps up for a year or two I suspect I'll be going from living in an arid "open forest" to an inland rainforest, without moving. And, not surprisingly, this year we have had a bumper crop of berries.

Wildlife near our home? Yep, lots of it. Everything from tons of birds through to deer and elk and the ones with sharper ends, like cougars, badgers, wolves, and black bears. Grizzlies are found to the east and west of us and must cross the valley, but are almost never seen at our elevation.

Anyway...last Saturday morning I, along with my girlfriend, decided to climb a nearby rocky ridge during a dog-walk. It's only about 200 meters higher than our cabin but has a great view to the west and east. I didn't expect to encounter too much in the way of wildlife, so was carrying only my V1 with its walkaround zoom attached (10-30mm - equivalent to a 28 to 297mm in 35mm terms). Big mistake...

While on top of the ridge I started scanning the bush-filled narrow valley to the west of us. Almost immediately I saw a very round brown log-end in a place where I've never seen one before. Hmmmm. So I watched it. And, it didn't move for a good 30 seconds. But, just as I was starting to lower my binocs the round log-end developed a brown head! Cool - a brown-coloured black bear (or so I thought). Then, a few minutes later the brown-coloured bear wandered into a very small opening and I got a better look at it. Whoa! A good-sized grizzly! Cool, I thought (the bear was a good 200 meters away and we had a great vantage point to just sit and watch it).

About 5 minutes later the grizzly decided to wander into a larger opening. And, seconds later, it was accompanied by a 2nd bear, which was about 2/3 of its size. Cooler yet - an older-but-not-yet-weaned cub! And then a second popped out, and then a third! Holy smokes - what a neat thing to run into (from a safe distance!). One cub was almost white in colour, the second a little darker, and the third quite dark (but with a light face). Between the four of them it was a whole lot of bear! Based on other bear cubs I've seen over the years, I'm quite sure these cubs were in their 3rd summer. I have seen 2.x year old cubs before, but have never run into a female with 3 3rd year bears. That had to be one very good (and likely very protective) mom!

We watched them feed on the abundant buffaloberries (Shepherdia spp.) and do bear things - stand up on hind legs occasionally, look around, rassle a little bit, etc. - for about an hour. The hour flew by in what seemed to be a few scant minutes. When we decided we should depart (one of our dogs was finally getting impatient - they were sitting quietly watching the bears the whole time too - and we didn't want it to bark out and bother the bears) all four bears ambled out into an open grassy area. Then I heard one of the cubs give a loud, deep, cry and I instantly knew it wanted to feed (on milk!!). Sure enough, seconds later mom laid down and the 3 nearly adult-sized cubs dog-piled on and starting nursing. Ma was absolutely plastered to the ground!

Now I've seen a lot - and photographed a lot - of grizzly bears in my time. But in almost instances it was while with a professional bear guide and on BC's central or northern coast. So even tho' I've watched nursing bears before, there was something about finding the bears on my own, and having this intimate experience with them so near my home (and without sharing it with anyone else save my partner and dogs) that made it uber-special. Yep, I've been WAY closer to bears before, including mothers with cubs. And I've been in WAY better photographic situations. But this encounter ranks right up there with the best I've had.

Photos? Yep, I took a few with my V1 - great documentation - awful wildlife art! And, even tho' I have a rule about NOT showing my bad shots, just to prove this is NOT a tall tale...here you go...bear specks (Download image file - JPEG: 869Kb) - with GPS data stripped out.

Am I going to go back with REAL camera gear and try to work with these bears? Nope. I'm just going to let them be and hope they can continue avoiding most human contact and survive and prosper. It's not always just about the photos...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

3 July 2012: CBC Radio Interview: The Khutzeymateen and The Ethics of Image Enhancements...

And as the last of my announcements for today (can you tell I'm taking off for a few days?): Visitors to this website who are from BC Canada may be interested to know that I'm being interviewed and taking call-in questions on CBC Radio One this coming Friday (July 6). I'll be on the show called "BC Almanac" which airs at noon PST. We have a number of topics "teed up", including how several of my recent shots from the Khutzeymateen were captured, tips on capturing compelling images in ANY shooting situation and, if time permits, we may even wade into the quagmire of the ethics of image editing/enhancement. And, as always, I'm sure callers will bring up lots of additional topics!

The show airs across BC and can be listened to live anywhere in the world at www.cbc.ca/radio/ (make sure you choose the Vancouver broadcast).

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

3 July 2012: Reminder - Vancouver Slideshow: Feasting in the Great Bear Rainforest

Just a reminder to wildlife photographers who might be in or around Vancouver, BC area this weekend...I'll be presenting a slideshow this coming Saturday (July 7). The show is entitled "Feasting in the Great Bear Rainforest" and is at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the University of British Columbia campus. The slideshow is intended as an accompaniment to a photographic exhibition entitled "Feast" that I have running at the same location (see 21 May entry below for details about the exhibition). The slideshow will show the wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest and I'll be making more than a few passing references to the obstacles facing photographers working in this remote and sometimes "weather-challenged" location.

For all details - including time, exact location, cost, and more - just go here!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

3 July 2012: More "Real World" D4 and D800 Images Appearing...

As of this morning there are more D4 and D800 images appearing in my Gallery of Latest Additions. The images added today include a D4 shot of a Bald Eagle feasting on a freshly killed Canada Goose and a D800 shot of a grizzly bear cub (plus reflection) shot at ISO 6400. All always, you can get the story behind the image and all the tech specs of the iamge by clicking on the tabs below the image (such as the "In the Field" tab, the "Behind the Camera" tab, etc.).

Enjoy!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 June 2012: The Nikon D800 vs. Nikon D4: DoF, Bokeh, and Resolution Reduction

OK, this entry is for the obsessed - you know...those really "discerning" shooters who are tirelessly meticulous (some would use terms like "anal" or "pixel-peepers" to describe them, but I'll stick with "discerning and meticulous"!). Those who don't qualify should stop reading now.

Owing to the fact that I own both a D4 and a D800 - and have written field tests on both of them - I'm getting a lot of email asking me questions about them. Some questions are easy to answer, but some have left me scratching my head for the answer (or left me trying to figure out why a certain observation should be so). Anyway...here's 3 questions that have come up repeatedly (or I've seen references to online without supporting images or evidence):

1. I've heard the D800 has a shallower depth of field than the D4 - is this true and does it make a difference in the field?

2. I've heard the D800 shows smoother and/or "creamier" bokeh than the D4 - is this true?

3. I've heard that the uber-high resolution of the D800 means that when you reduce the resolution a lot (like to web-size) the resulting images tend to be soft - is this true?

So here's what I did. I found a "real world" miniature scene just outside my home (thanks to a cooperative larch tree) that lent itself to a good test that would shed at least SOME insight into the questions above. The scene was best captured with a macro lens and I chose my Nikkor 200mm f4 Micro, partly because it has a tripod collar on it and it was comparatively easy to switch cameras without changing the image framing much. And I chose it partly because I like that lens, a lot. I liked the scene for "testing" the questions above because it contained objects at various distances from the sensor - from only small distances from the focal plane through to a completely distant background...so it was pretty decent scene to assess depth of field (DoF) and bokeh differences between the two caemras. If you don't know what bokeh means, go back and re-read the 2nd sentence of this entry and re-consider what you're doing right now! ;-)

Some Image Capture Details: Raw Captures - 14-bit Lossless Compressed NEFs. Tripod mounted. ISO 200 (fixed) for both cameras. Auto White Balance. Live View mode used, shutter released using Nikon MC-20 "cable" release. I varied the aperture in 1/3 stop increments, beginning at f5. Image pairs shown below are for f5.6, f8, f11, and f16.

Some Image Processing Details: Converted to 16-bit TIFFs using Phase One's Capture One Pro. "As Shot" White Balance (no modification). No noise reduction. "Default" sharpening (same on all files) only. No image saturation or desaturation, no tone curve adjustments. D800 images reduced in resolution to match D4 images in Photoshop CS6 (bicubic interpolation). Identical (and very light) final sharpening used on ALL images. After downloading the following image pairs, the exceptionally attentive viewer may notice that the image pairs differ vary by a few pixels in width. This is simply because there was VERY slight movement between some image captures and when I aligned images to accommodate slight differences in tilt a TINY bit was lost of some edges (when cropped back to rectangular). The only cropping that was done was to get rid of the cut-off edges, i.e., these images are at least 98% of full-frame. One final point those discerning viewers may notice - there was a very, very light rainfall coming down when I shot these and not every image pair has the same droplets on them (so don't strain your eyes trying to find a tiny droplet that doesn't exist).

The Image Pairs: (download away - and best to view these images at 100%)

Image Pair 1: D4 vs. D800 @ f5.6 - Download 1200 pixel (image height) file (JPEG file: 778)
Image Pair 2: D4 vs. D800 @ f8 - Download 1200 pixel (image height) file (JPEG file: 886 KB)
Image Pair 3: D4 vs. D800 @ f11 - Download 1200 pixel (image height) file (JPEG file: 918 KB)
Image Pair 4: D4 vs. D800 @ f16 - Download 1200 pixel (image height) file (JPEG file: 990 KB)

NOTE: While you'll have to take my word for this, the full-resolution images showed the exact same trends I'm going to comment on below...

MY Take Home Lessons? Feel free to conclude anything you want about the image pairs, but here are the things that I'm going to keep in mind after doing this "test" and scrutinizing this set of images:

1. Well...this was a huge waste of time! Kidding...

2. D4 vs. D800 Depth of Field Differences? If you look very, very closely, in this macro setup there WAS a very slight difference in DoF, with the DoF of the D800 being slightly thinner. But it's almost imperceptible and, for practical purposes, visually almost irrelevant (at least to me). So...after looking at these results, about the last thing I'm going to think about when I go into the field is that I have to recalibrate my DoF "thinking" when I pick up my D800 (compared to my D4).

3. D4 vs. D800 Bokeh Differences? This IS a little more interesting. At virtually all apertures tested the most distant out-of-focus zones WERE a little smoother and "buttery" in the D800 files. The differences in these differentially resolution-reduced examples exactly reflect the differences when the full-res files are viewed. The lens used in this test is known for having a "quality" bokeh (nice out-of-focus zones), but there are noticeable between-camera differences. I WILL keep this in mind when I'm shooting in the field and it MAY influence camera selection in some situations (assuming all else is equal, which it usually isn't!!).

4. Extreme Resolution Reduction in D800 Files Produces Softness? Hmmm...I'm not noticing this - at all. The argument goes like this: If you're reducing D4 files from about 4900 pixels (on long axis) to 1200 pixels you're "collapsing" about 4 pixels into one. Do the same with D800 files and you're going from 7360 pixels to 1200 - or you're collapsing over 6 pixels into one. And that means 1200 pixel D4 files will be slightly sharper than 1200 pixel D800 files. I guess that seems logical, but in this instance I simply am not seeing it. So...logical, but not true.

5. D800 Diffraction Issues When Stopped Down? I'm noticing something here I've noticed before - whenever I've used quality prime lenses (and mine are all 105mm or longer) the diffraction effects on the D800 (i.e., image softening when you stop down too far) have been really quite minimal. I won't say the same with the zooms I've tested - I saw noticeable diffraction effects (of differing degrees) when the D800 was paired with the Nikkor 16-35mm f4 VR zoom, the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 zoom, and the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII zoom. But my primes have been pretty diffraction-resistant. Please note that I can NOT say this of wide angle primes as I simply haven't tested them (yet) - but it's something to watch for...

6. D4 vs. D800 White Balance Differences: While the difference was minimal - and it may be limited to the raw converter I was using - the D4 images were all slightly cooler than the D800 images (or, the D800 images were warmer than the D4 images!). I was switching cameras all the way through this test (not shooting all the D4 images and then all the D800 images) so the white balance differences aren't likely related to changing light conditions. Note that these small differences may or may not be visible to you, depending on the monitor and/or web browser you're using...

So take this information for what you judge it to be worth. And, if you happen to notice any obvious between- camera differences in these image pairs that I missed here feel free to let me know (at feedback@naturalart.ca).

Cheers...

Brad

20 June 2012: Accessing and Photographing the Great Bear Rainforest

Since I started posting images from my latest Khutzeymateen tour in my Gallery of Latest Additions I've received a number of emails asking me how to best access and photograph the Great Bear Rainforest (which is located on the central and northern coast of British Columbia, Canada) and its inhabitants. The Great Bear Rainforest covers a huge area and is quite remote. And, like anywhere, it has localized "hotspots" that are separated by some pretty big distances. So, the most general advice I can give is this: rely on, and take advantage of, local knowledge of the area. Which translates to this: go with a reputable guide and/or outfitter - you'll enjoy the trip a LOT more and you'll see (and photograph) a LOT more. And, if you're hoping to get deep into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary (a small part of the Great Bear Rainforest) you absolutely MUST go with a guide - the area is closed to the public.

And here's some much more specific advice on the best ways to get into and photograph the Great Bear Rainforest...

1. Join ME on one of my photo tours! I offer both instructional and "photo op" (non-instructional) style photo tours into the Khutzeymateen for grizzly photography (each spring) and into more southerly parts of the Great Bear Rainforest (for Spirit Bear, grizzly, and whale photography) each autumn. The spring Khutzeymateen instructional tours focus primarily on image capture techniques while the autumn instructional trips included both image capture and image processing instruction. Details about my 2013 photo tour offerings can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website. If you want to contact me directly about joining in on one of my photo tours, just email me at: seminars@naturalart.ca

But...you say...your trips fill up so early! Well, it's true that a number of my trips DO fill quite early - but right now there is still at least some room on ALL my 2013 trips. But if the trip you're looking for is full, here's a great alternative...

2. Go with who I go with - Ocean Light II Adventures! All my coastal photo tours, including those into the Khutzeymateen and other parts of the Great Bear Rainforest, are done in conjunction with Ocean Light II Adventures. They're highly experienced, have a beautiful 71' sailboat that is always warm and dry, and they have worked with photographers for decades. They're one of two outfitters permitted to enter the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary (including into the key area there - the estuary) and they're the only outfitter entering the Khutzeymateen that caters to photographers. You can find out more about them on their website, or contact them directly at this email address: adventure@oceanlight2.bc.ca

Cheers...

Brad

19 June 2012: Vancouver Slideshow: Feasting in the Great Bear Rainforest

On Saturday, July 7, I will be presenting a slideshow entitled "Feasting in the Great Bear Rainforest" at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the University of British Columbia campus. The slideshow is intended as an accompaniment to a photographic exhibition entitled "Feast" that I have running at the same location (see 21 May entry below for details about the exhibition). The slideshow will show the wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest and I'll be making more than a few passing references to the obstacles facing photographers working in this remote and sometimes "weather-challenged" location. So any nature photographers in or around Vancouver on the weekend of July 7 might find this presentation more than a little interesting...

For all details - including time, exact location, cost, and more - just go here!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 June 2012: "Shootout at the Khutzeymateen Corral" - Reprise and Some Perspective...

I've received a lot of feedback by email since I posted my "Shootout at the Khutzeymateen Corral" entry back on June 6 (below). Most has been positive and in agreement with what I said, some have offered an alternate interpretation of the numbers I posted, and a few have felt I'm being too hard on the D800. Perspective is important in interpreting those numbers, so here's a few things to keep in mind:

It was ONE "shoot", and a unique one at that! As I said in the original entry, the numbers I reported were for ONE shoot only, and a very unique one. The Khutzeymateen Inlet is in the Great Bear Rainforest and is often characterized by having low light conditions. Moreover, much of the shooting is from a floating inflatable boat and, given the nature of the subject matter, often with large telephoto lenses. Which means one is forced to hand-hold large lens (in low light) far more than normal. So if there was ever a spot that favours a camera with excellent high ISO performance, it's the Khutzeymateen. So, by default, the D4 is favoured. While the D800 offers excellent high ISO performance for a 36 MP camera, in the field the D4 far out-performs it in ISO performance. And this high ISO edge of the D4 isn't simply about noise - the D4 holds colour better, holds fine detail better, and maintains tonal "depth" (meaning light-on-light detail and dark-on-dark detall) much better at high ISO's than does the D800.
Keeper Rates vs. Absolute Number of Keeper Shots. Some pointed out after re-crunching my numbers that the "keeper" rates (actually, what I reported was number of "top-shelf" images, which are far fewer and farther between than "keepers") of the two cameras weren't dramatically different (tho' still favouring the D4). While true, I think in this situation looking at the rate of top-shelf images isn't nearly as significant as the total number of top-shelf images. Why? To begin with, I had equal access to both cameras and every time a shooting situation presented itself I selected the camera I thought was most suitable for the situation (and there is a source of bias here - that would be me - but I had tested these cameras extensively before going into the field and did have a good feel for what they could do). But, more importantly, as a professional photographer I don't sell ratios of top-shelf to trashed images, I sell images! And, coming away with 84 top-shelf images from the D4 and only 12 with the D800 is significant to me (remember - I had equal access to both cameras).
The Relative "Worth" of the Two Cameras. I jokingly commented that the numbers could be interpreted to say that the D4 was four times as good as the D800 (I thought the smiley face would make it clear this was tongue in cheek). Heck, if you look at ABSOLUTE number of top-shelf images taken with the D4 vs. D800 (84:12) you could even argue that the D4 is SEVEN times better than the D800! But...this is clearly ludicrous - one shoot only, and one that inherently favoured the D4.
BAD D800 or GOOD D4? It's critical to remember that I'm comparing the D800 to a D4. Between its ground-breaking resolution and its low(ish) price point the D800 is getting all the attention and headlines (example: as of this morning and since both reviews have been available on my website - April 9 - I have had over 44,000 visits to my D800 Field Test and only around 12,000 to my D4 Field Test). But, in my opinion, the D4 is the best of the best (ever) as an overall nature photography camera. When you compare a very good camera for nature photography (the D800) to a superlative one (the D4), guess which one wins every time?
Wildlife Camera vs. Landscape Camera. Finally, if you reported the same type of numbers (total number of images shot and total number of "top-shelf" images from that shoot) during a landscape shoot where the goal was to produce high resolution files for making huge prints, the D800 would be the clear winner. Yes, you could use photostitching to produce huge D4 files as well, but that would be like trying to force the D800 to be a top-notch wildlife camera...they're built for different things.

Is there a take home lesson somewhere in here? Yep, but it's not specific to these two cameras. It's simply that if you want the best results you have to select the right tool for the job at hand.

And one final comment that I'm sure will tick some folks off, but I have to be honest. Based on email I receive and what I'm seeing in the field, I see a lot of folks buying (or about to buy) a D800 thinking it's going to be tremendously versatile DSLR. When you have some reasonably respected sources like Outdoor Photographer Magazine making outrageous statements, such as calling the D800 "...possibly the perfect camera for nature photography" (April 2012 issue), it's no wonder people think this. If you want the MOST versatile camera for nature photography, buy a D4. If you don't want to spend those kind of bucks and still want versatility, buy a used D3, D700, or D3s. If you buy a D800 you're going to get an excellent (probably the best) DSLR for making large prints, and especially large landscape prints. You'll be getting a DSLR that rivals some medium format cameras in resolution and is decidely more versatile than any of them. And, you CAN make a D800 do other things reasonably well too (like wildlife photography), but not as well as the cameras I just mentioned (the D4, D3s, D3, and D700). It's all about selecting the right tool for the job (or the specific photographer)...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

18 June 2012: More D4 and D800 Images Appearing...

As of this morning there are more D4 and D800 images appearing in my Gallery of Latest Additions. The images added today include a shot of a grizzly taken with a D800 with a 400mm f2.8 VR paired with the TC-20EIII 2x teleconverter and another "grizzly personality shot" (this time of a cautious but curious cub) captured with my D4. All always, you can get the story behind the image and all the tech specs of the iamge by clicking on the tabs below the image (such as the "In the Field" tab, the "Behind the Camera" tab, etc.).

Enjoy!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

12 June 2012: Petition to Stop Canada's Proposed "Environment Devastation Act"

I don't like to use this blog as a political soapbox, but sometimes ya just gotta take a stance. This is one of those times. Canada's Conservative Government is in the process of introducing a 420-page omnibus "budget" bill. The budgetary issues in it are, arguably, justifiable. But the problem is that a full 30% of the bill has NOTHING to do with budgetary issues and many of the sweeping changes are designed to gut measures in place to protect the enviroment. Our government apparently believes that their sole role is to serve and facilitate business, as opposed to the people who elected them. And, it also appears that the government feels that the best way to do this is to remove almost all environmental regulations and restrictions that "get in the way" of resource extraction or any other form of business. Some examples of the nonbudgetary issues in the bill...

• It repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and introduces a weaker version, without a single day of hearings before the environment committee.
• It removes protection of endangered species and their habitat, when approving pipeline projects, by amending the Species at Risk Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
• It guts the Fisheries Act by removing provisions for habitat protection.
• It repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.
• It eliminates the National Round Table on Environment and Economy.

For background or additional information I encourage you to visit this page on the Green Party of Canada's website or this page on the CBC.ca website.

What can the concerned Canadian or the concerned wilderness lover of ANY nationality do? Speak up. And one way to do that is to take 2 minutes to sign a petition against Canada's Environment Devastation Act, so...

SIGN THE PETITION HERE.

Rant over - thanks for your time!

Brad

6 June 2012: Shootout at the Khutzeymateen Corral - Nikon D4 vs. Nikon D800

I've just returned from leading two very successful grizzly bear photo tours in the spectacular Khutzeymateen Inlet on the northern BC coast. As always, the Khutzeymateen offered up spectacular scenery, misty and moody weather patterns, and both abundant and cooperative bears. And, again as always, all of us (including me) came away feeling we had experienced something almost magical and, at the very least, spiritual. And the bear photography wasn't half bad either! Over the coming weeks and months you'll see many unique images, including many new bear portraits, bear enviroscapes, and some animalscapes. You'll even see some images of some very distinctly "non-bear" animals! Images from the trip are already showing up in my Gallery of Latest Additions. For those who are thinking the D4 is an insignificant upgrade from the D3s I'd encourage you to check out the image entitled "Olympic Trials - Khutzeymateen Style!" and read the Field Notes associated with it...

My 9 days of shooting in the Khutzeymateen gave me the opportunity to do an informal, totally non-scientific, field-based head-to-head shoot out of the D800 and D4. My rationale for doing this was two-fold: to continue to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and nuances of the two cameras and because I continue to get a lot of email asking my advice on the "D4 or D800 for wildlife photography?" question. So...

Conditions, Caveats, and Qualifiers: I went into the field in the Khutzeymateen for 9 straight days with both a Nikon D800 and Nikon D4 in my hands (or in my waist holster) and available for use. In most situations I began with a 400mm f2.8 VR mounted on the D4 and a 70-200mm f2.8 VRII on the D800, but I was free to exchange lens between camera bodies (which I frequently did). Whenever I was shooting my goal was to select the best possible combination of camera body and lens to maximize the quality of the output. The decisions of which combination I chose were based on what I had learned about each camera's capabilities during my extensive field testing of both cameras in previous months. Admittedly there are many sources of bias affecting the "results" of this completely non-scientific report, including the fact that we were often shooting in low light conditions (favouring use of the D4), that we were often shooting action (again favouring the D4), and that I got "hung" and had to shoot with whatever camera was in-hand in many situations (favouring no particular camera), and my own pre-conceptions (valid or otherwise) about what the two cameras could do. At least 90% of our shooting was from a floating Zodiac, which pushes one to use higher shutter speeds and to hand-hold cameras. But overall, and with the possible exception of the particularly low-light conditions we faced, the unpredictable conditions imposed on us were of the type often faced by anyone when photographing wildlife. In that regard I think my results DO shed some light on the "D4 vs. D800 for wildlife" question. Oh, and by the way, the idea to do this "analysis" only came to me AFTER the trip was over and I wasn't thinking of the results at all during the trip (I was just selecting the camera best able to make the capture on the spot).

Some Numbers: Here's what I shot and how the "shooting" worked out...

Total Number of Raw Captures: 6827
Total Number of D4 Captures: 5325 (or 78%)
Total Number of D800 Captures: 1502 (or 21%)

My interpretation of these numbers? Simply that in the Khutzeymateen I "instinctively" selected the D4 as the better camera to shoot with 78% of the time (or almost 4 times more often than the D800).

Total Number of "Top Shelf" Images: 96 (NOTE: during the evenings on the trip I was reviewing my files and pulling those that stood out and that I was going to process as soon as possible - these are what I'm counting as "top shelf" images. Again subjective. But interesting...).
Total Number of "Top Shelf" Images captured with D4: 84 (or 87.5%)
Total Number of "Top Shelf" Images captured with D800: 12 (or 12.5%)

My interpretation of these numbers? Well...I don't want to read too much into these numbers, but the proportion of "top shelf" images taken with the D4 was slightly higher than the proportion shot with that camera, and the proportion of "top shelf" images was lower than the proportion shot with that camera. My gut says that this is correlated with what I had previously discovered with the D800, i.e., that it tends to be a little more challenging to squeeze maximum quality out of the D800 than it is with the D4.

And Some Overall Impressions...

The Nikon D4: As a camera for shooting wildlife in tough conditions, the D4 more than exceeded my expectations, which were damned high in the first place. I had previously shot the D3s in the Khutzeymateen in both 2010 and 2011. Three new or improved features of the D4 - both in isolation and especially when combined - dramatically improved my success rate and overall image quality compared to the D3s. First - ISO performance. Nope, the noise characteristics of the D4 is no better than that of the D3s. BUT, it definitely maintained a better tonal range in shaded zones (i.e., dark-on-dark tonal detail) and highlight zones (white-on-white tonal detail) at high ISO's (5000 and above). Second, while the autofocus system of the D3s was extremely good, that of the D4 is simply better - it almost never misses. Period. Third, the "subtle" change in the Auto ISO function (the addition of the "auto" shutter speed function where the minimum shutter speed is correlated with lens focal length) is an awesome improvement when shooting in the field - I could quickly switch lenses and never even think (or take the time) to adjust my ISO settings. Combine these characteristics (great ISO performance, great AF performance, and clever Auto ISO function) with a 10 fps frame rate and nearly limitless buffer and...well...you just don't miss with this camera. On the downside, when you DO miss you can almost never blame the equipment! ;-)

The Nikon D800: I won't dump on the D800 - for a 36 MP camera it's surprisingly versatile. And, it CAN be used to capture very good wildlife images (at super-high resolution). It's ISO performance is very good and even a few short years ago it would have been the best in the business in this regard. BUT, it is a tough camera to extract maximum quality out of, which makes it less-than-optimal when shooting in tough, rapidly changing field conditions. Simply put, it does its best when you can take a deliberate approach to your photography...which is a luxury you don't always have when photographing wildlife in an uncontrolled setting.

The Verdict? When shooting wildlife in low-light conditions (and likely ANY wildlife in low-light conditions) the D4 is the clear king of Nikon's line-up. And, depending on how the Canon 1D-X actually performs in the field, the D4 is quite possibly the king of ALL cameras for wildlife photography. One phrase sums it up: It simply doesn't miss. And, it has extended the limits of what you can do in a tough field-shooting situation pretty dramatically. The D800 performs surprisingly well for a 36 MP DSLR under these conditions, but if you're shooting it ALONE under the conditions like those in the Khutzeymateen you're going to miss a LOT of shots. As I mentioned in my D800 Field Test I can't recommend a D800 as one's sole "go-to" camera for serious wildlife photography. But it makes a superlative "alternate" body in these type of conditions. How much better is the D4? Hard to quantify. But feel free to look at the numbers above again! 4-times as good just might come to mind. And for ONLY twice the price. Such a deal! ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

21 May 2012: I'm Off to the Khutzeymateen...

I'm off tomorrow before the crack of dawn to lead my annual photo tours into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary. The photo ops on this trip are absolutely top-notch and between that and the amazing scenery, I always REALLY look forward to this trip. But because taking in and shooting both the D800 and D4 and will get a chance to REALLY field test (and simply use them!) under very demanding conditions I'm looking forward to this year's trip more than ever!

Back on or about June 6th and I'll have virtually no internet access while I'm away. So...no web updates between now and then, but expect both a lot of new images and new insights into how the D800 and D4 perform in the real world shortly after I return...

"See you" later...cheers...

Brad

PS: If you're curious about the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary and/or my photo tours there, just visit the Photo Tours page of this website - or simply download this brochure (PDF: 2.0 MB) to get info on the instructional photo tour or download this brochure (PDF: 2.2 MB) to learn about the "Just the Photo Op" photo tour...

21 May 2012: The Nikon D800 - Shootout at 200mm...

On 16 May I presented a short comparison of how the 70-200mm f2.8 VR II Nikkor stacks up against the 200mm f4 MIcro (at 200mm of course) when focused on distant scenes. The results made me wonder how two other lenses in my arsenal that offer the 200mm focal length (the 200mm f2 VR and the 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 VR) stacked up on the D800. Knowing this information is particularly timely for me, given that I'm just about to leave for a couple weeks of shooting in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary and I'm in the process of making my final equipment selections...

All images captured for this cursory field test were captured at 200mm - all were captured using Live View (so functionally with mirror up) and using a "cable" release. Tripod-mounted (of course). Scene captured was a distant scene similar to that of the May 16 shots. Note that this information - including sample shots - will be integrated into my D800 Field Test in June. Here's a "quick & dirty" summary of my findings. Not too surprisingly, my list of "best to worst at 200mm on the D800" pretty much parallels a listing of the "most to least expensive" of these lenses. A nice reminder that you basically get what you pay for - the D800 just tends to point this out more effectively than most DSLR's!

#1. The Nikkor 200mm f2 VR: No real surprise here - the legendary 200 mm f2 VR continues to work its magic on the D800 and clearly out-performs the other lenses. Clearly the sharpest of the bunch (tho' the 200mm f4 Micro definitely holds it's own) and equally sharp across the entire frame. Quite sharp wide open, and pretty much maximally sharp by f2.5! Nary a hint of chromatic aberration (CA) and surprisingly resistant to diffraction-induced softening of image sharpness - hardly noticable diffraction effects at f13 and quite usable images at f16. An added bonus - I did two sequences of images - one with VR OFF and one with VR ON (just to see if one CAN leave the VR on when shooting off a firm tripod). You can - the images with VR OFF and VR ON were indistinguishable at ALL apertures.

#2. The Nikkor 200mm f4 Micro: Even though distant scenes aren't what the 200mm f4 Micro was designed to be used for, it placed a very solid second place optically. While not quite as sharp as the 200mm f2, it did exhibit strong corner-to-corner sharpness and one needed to stop down only 1 stop (to f5.6) to attain close to maximum sharpness. No visible CA and, as mentioned back on May 16, quite resistant to the effects of diffraction - f13 shots were almost identical to f8 shots and even at f16 any softening was within the range of "easy to sharpen up" in processing.

#3. The Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII @ 200mm: Consistent results with what I discovered back on May 16 - good central sharpness and pretty much maximally sharp by f4. But those edges were soft again. By f8 they did sharpen some, but some softening was still visible up to f11, and then diffraction-induced softening of the image begins kicking in. No visible CA. Central regions of image pretty much as sharp @ f8 as those of the 200mm f4 Micro, but not as sharp as the 200mm f2 VR.

#4. The Nikkor 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 VR @ 200mm: This lens trailed the pack pretty significantly (and confirmed to me that this lens is not remaining in my arsenal - it's out the door!). Soft everywhere compared to the 3 other lenses, and particularly soft on the edges. Center region as sharp as it got by f7.1, but edge softness never cleared up at any aperture. Diffraction effects visible by f11 and CA on edges at all apertures. Yep, convenient as heck and real easy to carry, but "convenience" doesn't sell too many images for me. I CAN understand the niche this lens if filling and why some would quite like it, but I can not recommend it for use on the D800. Sorry, but I'm just sayin'...

So...on my coming Khutzeymateen trip the 200mm f2 VR earned its way into my camera backpack. I WILL be taking my 70-200mm f2.8 VRII as well, but will avoid - if possible/practical - shooting it at the long end of its focal range when on the D800. Other Nikkor lenses taking this trip with me include the 400mm f2.8 VR, the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 16-35mm f4 VR (loving this lens more all the time - convenience WITH good optics!).

Cheers...

Brad

21 May 2012: Feast: An Exhibition...Now Open to the Public

My exhibition of prints at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, BC is now open to the public. The museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM daily and the prints will be on display until July 22nd.

The exhibition is entitled "Feast" and showcases predator-prey relationships in the natural world. Here's how the folks at the museum describe the show...

"To eat or be eaten? Through stunning photographs, internationally acclaimed nature photographer Brad Hill presents an intimate look at animals feasting in the wild. Whether in the air, on land, or in water, Brad addresses the challenge of photographing wild and unpredictable animals at one of their most fundamental behaviours."

The exhibition will feature the unveiling of a number of new Limited Edition Prints that I've just released.

For more information, visit this web page on the Beaty Museum's website or simply download this poster (PDF: 1.1 MB).

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

16 May 2012: The Nikon D800 - A Story of Soft Edges, Diffraction & Dust...

I went out shooting at sunrise this morning with the hope of capturing some high resolution images of wildflowers. I had both my D4 and D800 with me, as well as my 200mm f4 Micro and 70-200mm f2.8 VRII lenses. In the midst of shooting some flowering Arrow-leaved Balsamroot I turned around and saw a nice layered mountain scene developing. The analytical side of me kicked in and I thought "hmmmm...I wonder how the 200mm f4 Micro and the 70-200mm compare when shooting distant scenes with the D800?" I've reported elsewhere (in my D800 Field Test) how the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII gets "beat-up" somewhat by the D800 when shot near the long end of its focal range (i.e., the mild edge softness at 200mm that is visible on lower-resolution FX bodies is significantly more pronounced on the D800) and I wondered if the 200mm f4 Micro would fare better. So I shot a full series (wide open through to f16) of shots of the scene using both lenses. What did I learn from this head-to-head distant scene shot? A ton. Here's some of the key full-resolution images (there's absolutely no point in presenting low res versions of this shot) and some of the key things I learned:

First - the image links for some of the most relevant images in the series. All images shot at ISO 100 on a firm tripod, cable release, and using Live View - so mirror-up. The VR was turned OFF on the 70-200mm (and of course the 70-200mm lens was shot at 200mm). Image sharpening only during raw conversion (no additional sharpening in Photoshop). All raw conversion settings identical on all 4 images (except for vignetting control, which was needed and performed only on the images shot with the 70-200mm). Note that ALL noise reduction (even default values during raw conversion) was intentionally turned off - any "grain like" effects would be mitigated during normal image processing. Any red tinges in the lower portion of the image are real and not colour noise - lots of rusty-red pine-beetle killed trees in this scene!

Image 1: 200mm f4 Micro @ f8 - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 4.4 MB)
Image 2: 200mm f4 Micro @ f16 - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 4.4 MB)
Image 3: 70-200mm f2.8 VRII @ f8 - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 4.7 MB)
Image 4: 70-200mm f2.8 VRII @ f16 - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 4.7 MB)

NOTE: Best to examine these images at 100%. Some of the "issues" discussed (such as dust specks) may be visible at lower resolutions, but many - such as edge softness of the 70-200mm f2.8 - are best seen at 100% magnification.

Second - a few of the most interesting observations when I scrutinized ALL the images in the series (not all comments below are well illustrated in the downloadable images above):

On the D800, the 200mm f4 Clearly Wins! While the sharpness (at virtually all apertures) in the centre of the image doesn't differ too much between these two lenses, the edge sharpness certainly does. There is virtually no edge softening to deal with on the 200mm f4 Micro, but there definitely is with the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII. There are other differences as well (resistance to internal flare, etc.), but the biggest is in edge-to-edge sharpness, where the 200mm f4 Micro is clearly superior to the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII.

One Stop Off Wide Open Gets You Sharp! Both lenses approached maximum sharpness in the central portion of the image after stopping down by only 2/3 to one stop (from wide open). You're darned sharp on the 70-200mm by f4 and on the 200mm Micro by f5. Stopping down further made only extremely minor differences to the sharpness of the central portion of the images.

200mm f4 Quite Resistant to Diffraction. In my D800 Field Test I noted how the 200mm f4 Micro seemed quite resistant to diffraction effects when shooting close-ups. The same was true when used on this distant scene. Even at f13 I could discern virtually no diffraction effects - compare the f8 and f16 shots taken with the 200mm f4 Micro. Yes, there IS a little softening at f16, but not too much. But a LOT of dust specks can be seen (more on this below).

The Soft Edges on the 70-200mm f2.8 @ 200mm - A Tough Problem to Solve. If you want to shoot landscape shots using the D800 paired up with the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII and you need the 200mmm focal length, you have more than a bit of a battle on your hands. Stopping down helps - even by f8 the edges are a little sharper - and they're sharper yet by f11. On this distant scene the effects of softening by diffraction wasn't too much of an issue by f11 or even f13, and the edges were certainly sharper (especially at f13. But, then a new issue reared its head - dust specks! I keep my image sensors very clean, but by f11 (and more as I stopped down further) - WHOA...there were a lot of spots to clean up (to show what I mean I cleaned up NONE of the dust specks on any of these images). When using most high-end Nikkor lenses (or at least those recommended by Nikon) you normally won't have to stop down this far to mitigate the effects of edge softness, but if you want sharp edges on THIS lens be prepared to stop down a lot and be prepared to keep your sensor spotless!

What are the overall take-home lessons? To begin with - the well-advertised fact that the D800 can be tough on certain lenses is true - this camera separates out the mediocre from the stellar lenses real fast. Optically, the 200mm f4 works great with the D800. But its dog-slow AF system will prevent many from going out and buying this lens. I WILL be carrying and using mine more than I had been prior to this morning's test! At most focal lengths the 70-200mm VRII works well with the D800, but I have to admit I'm becoming increasingly disappointed with its image quality at longer focal lengths when paired up with the D800. Using it for shots needing corner-to-corner sharpness at 200mm requires stopping down just the right amount to remove edge sharpness without noticeably softening the image through diffraction effects. And, be prepared to keep that sensor spotlessly clean!

Stayed tuned for more in the on-going "how to get the most out of the D800" saga! ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

14 May 2012: The Nikon D800 and the 200mm f4 Micro...

I've updated my D800 Field Test with comments on how the D800 pairs up with Nikon's well-regarded 200mm f4 Micro. For those of you who don't want to wade through the review to find the comments, here's the same comments (the wonders of cut & paste in action!):

AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED: After early testing I'm quite encouraged about how the 200mm f4 Micro pairs up with the D800. This somewhat uncommon lens is known for its sharpness and many like it for its longer working distance and its ability to isolate subjects from the very soft and out-of-focus backgrounds it is capable of producing. One of the challenges in using this lens is "finding" enough depth-of-field to cover the critical aspects of your subject, which means users do, at time, want to stop this lens down. On this front I have at least preliminary good news - for some reason this lens seems to resist the effects of softening due to diffraction better than some other Nikkor lenses. On several occasions and with several different subjects I was able to stop down to f13 with no noticeable diffraction-induced softening. And, even at f16 diffraction effects - while noticeable - were minor enough that they could be pretty much mitigated through careful processing, especially if one reduced the resolution of the image somewhat - and how often do you really need a 7000+ pixel image of a flower? I think I might get some angry email with that comment, but I think it's largely true! One set of sample images of a Calypso Orchid in bloom and shot at f13 for now (additional images to be added to the field test over time):

• Lo-Res Image: Calypso (Fairy Slipper) Orchid - 200mm f4 Micro - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 287 KB)
• Hi-Res Image: Calypso (Fairy Slipper) Orchid - 200mm f4 Micro - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 3.8 MB)

NOTE: Be careful not to confuse depth-of-field (DoF) effects with diffusion when examing these images - there ARE lots of areas outside the areas of sharpest focus in these images (this is intentional) - when determining if the image is sharp enough for your taste look at the in-focus elements.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

10 May 2012: Feast: An Exhibition...

Viewers in the Vancouver area - or who will be visiting the Vancouver area between May and late July 2012 - may find this entry interesting...

I'm pleased to announce that the Beaty Museum of Biodiversity in Vancouver, Canada will be hosting an exhibition of my photographs from May 17 through to July 22, 2012. The themed exhibition is entitled "Feast" and focuses on predator-prey relationships in the natural world. A teaser from the coming press release...

"To eat or be eaten? Through stunning photographs, internationally acclaimed nature photographer Brad Hill presents an intimate look at animals feasting in the wild. Whether in the air, on land, or in water, Brad addresses the challenge of photographing wild and unpredictable animals at one of their most fundamental behaviours."

The exhibition will feature the unveiling of a number of new Limited Edition Prints that I've just released.

For more information, visit this web page on the Beaty Museum's website or simply download this poster (PDF: 1.1 MB). Details of the new Limited Edition Prints will be available in a few days on this website.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 April 2012: Nikon D4 Raw Conversions: Lightroom 4 vs. Capture One Pro 6.4...

Been a crazy week in my neck of the woods (am I the only photographer who hates tax season??). I've had less time than I had hoped for to compare output quality on raw files from my D4 and D800 when converting them use Lightroom 4 vs. Capture One Pro 6.4. But...I've had a little time to play...so...here ya go. A few notes for context...

Factory Default Settings! The two downloadable files below were converted using Lightroom 4 and Capture One Pro using the factory defaults for each raw converter (and with NO adjustments to white balance, exposure, sharpening, noise reduction, saturation, etc.). The output does NOT represent how far one can "push" (or "correct") the raw files using the two converters. It simply gives one a bit of a feel for how the two converters "interpret" or "see" the raw files before the user starts monkeying with them.
No Photoshop editing. All I did in Photoshop was take the 16-bit TIFF output from the raw converters (which was in Prophoto colour space); level the image (it required a 1.25 degree CCW rotation), slightly crop to remove the edges added due to leveling, convert to sRGB and reduce to 8-bit, and spit out JPEG's. No touching up at all (so this image is pretty much "as seen", or, more accurately, "as seen" by the raw converters!) - no sharpening, tone-tweaking, contrast adjustments, etc.

And here's the images...

Jose With Kong - Converted with Lightroom 4 (JPEG file: 3.5 MB)
Jose With Kong - Converted with Capture One Pro 6.4 (JPEG file: 3.9 MB)

There's only a finite amount one can conclude from a single image comparison like this - and I'd recommend AGAINST anyone making a purchase decision based on just this. There are many obvious differences in the output (how obvious the differences are may depend a little on your monitor). With adjustments and care you could make Lightroom spit out an image very similar to the one converted using Capture One Pro, and vice versa. Overall (and not just based on this shot), I tend to prefer the output from Capture One over that from Lightroom (tho' Lightroom is getting better and better all the time). I CAN normally get Lightroom output to match that of Capture One, but it takes a whole lot of adjusting - and more "clicks" and...most importantly for me...more time. In terms of viewing these shots...depending on what you want to compare on these images, you'll want/need to look at them at various magnifications (for instance, visual noise differences are best seen at 100% magnification, while colour and contrast differences are easily compared at 50% or lower magnification, etc.).

And one final thing - I'm escaping for 10 days or so beginning tomorrow. Off to do some old-fashioned camping! Yep, I will be taking my V1, D4, and D800 along. And, I'll be doing opportunistic shooting (and testing) with all 3 cameras. So while there won't be any updates on this website between now and about May 7 or 8, there be lots of new information (and images) shortly thereafter.

Cheers all!

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

23 April 2012: Phase One Adds D4, D800 Support to Capture One

My clever plan to complain about how slow Phase One was in updating Capture One with support for the Nikon D4 and D800 just last Thursday seems to have worked. This morning Phase One released Capture One 6.4 - and it offers support for both the D4 and D800. You can download the software (trial version or full version if you have a serial number) right here...

I haven't had a chance to really "stress test" this professional-level raw converter with D800 and D4 files just yet, but on my very first test files it would be appear that the output of D4 and D800 files from Capture One and Lightroom (in both cases 16-bit TIFF files in Prophoto colour space) are close to identical in most regards. And the speed of processing is virtually identical as well. The output from Capture One is slightly warmer, especially on the D4 files (previously I had noticed that when shooting the D4 using either of its two Auto White Balance settings and then processing the files using Lightroom's "As Shot" white balance settings, the output was often too cool). So, the slightly warmer output from Capture One is good news, at least for me. I can't yet say if some of the other "advantages" I found with previous versions of Capture One (when compared to Lightroom), such as slightly better white-on-white tonal separation and better overall noise reduction, are still present when using the latest versions of both products on D4 and D800 files.

While I have the gut feeling (after processing only two D4 and two D800 files using both raw converters) that Lightroom 4 has closed the gap in the quality advantage users of Capture One have enjoyed until now, I'm not prepared to say this definitively quite yet.

I'll try to carve some time out of my schedule over the next few days and do a little more head-to-head Lightroom vs. Capture One raw conversion testing on D4 and D800 raw files. I'll report my results here later this week...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 April 2012: The Nikon 3200 - And a Few Updates...

I've already been asked (via email) what I think of the Nikon D3200. And I've been getting a few other bits of interesting feedback of late, so...for the record...

1. Nikon D3200: Here's the sum total of my comments: It's an entry-level DSLR with a 24 MP DX format sensor (yep, REAL small pixel pitch), ISO settings up to 12,800, and what appear to be decent video capabilities. And it's available in two colours. It's scheduled to ship in a few weeks and sell for a little under $700 USD (bundled with the 18-55mm DX VR zoom). As always, a good spec spew may be found on dpreview.com's website (right here). I have no professional (or personal) need for this camera so I will not be field testing it and can't offer any real insight into its performance. One "big picture" observation: Until very recently Nikon had been criticized for being a little behind on the pixel count with almost all cameras in their lineup (except, of course, the over-priced D3x). Between this sub-$700 24 MP body and the 36 MP D800, I think that criticism is pretty much history!

2. Nikon D4 vs. D800 - The REAL World Usefulness of Those Extra Pixels? I've received a number of emails asking me a very good question: In day-to-day wildlife shooting, how much difference will those extra pixels of the D800 (compared to the D4) really make? And, I've also been asked about how much "real world" difference there is in image quality between a full-resolution D800 shot and the same shot taken with a D4 and then up-sized in Photoshop. Ultimately the simple answer to both questions comes down to how you're going to use the final image. But, I am in the middle of prepping a more detailed answer, including some sample shots taken with both cameras (and with the D4 image upsized to match the D800 pixel count). I should have the comparison ready and posted here by early next week. I think many will find it intersesting, and it MAY make some to re-think if they really need a 36 MP DSLR...

3. Capture One Support for D4/D800? No, Phase One has not updated their flagship raw conversion software (Capture One or Capture One Pro) to include support for the D4 or D800. Yes, this does seem to be taking longer than usual. Why? Don't know. Perhaps because they know that there really aren't that many D4's and D800's circulating yet and thus they're not ticking off too many users just yet? Personally, I think being tardy on supporting these new cameras is a bit of a mistake - they are lots of faithful Capture One users (like me, for instance) who are being forced to use Lightroom or other competing products to convert their raw images. And, many of them (like me) are probably getting increasingly comfortable (and proficent) at using these other products. And some of them (like me??) may be questioning if they should continue using Capture One. I'm just sayin'. And, hopefully, by saying this Phase One will post their update any day and make me look like a bit of a fool. I can live with that trade-off. ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

10 April 2012: The Nikon D800 for Wildlife Photography?

Late yesterday I updated my D800 Field Test with a section on my thoughts of the suitability of the D800 as a wildlife camera. The new addition to the test is found at the beginning of chapter 3 (near the bottom of the page dedicated to that field test).

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

9 April 2012: Nikon D4 Field Test Posted...

I've just posted my D4 Field Test. While this field test will continue to evolve, there's a lot there already, including a lot of sample images. So check it out!

For those too busy to read the entire thing (yep, pretty long), here's the Executive Summary:

My Executive Summary: Even after only shooting with the D4 for 10 days, I can offer up a limited executive summary (and this summary WILL change at least once in the coming months). For this wildlife photographer the D4 offers a large, but not evolutionary, step forward in image capture capabilities. In day-to-day field use the biggest improvement - and the one that will contribute most to me capturing images that were missed before - is in autofocus performance. Ergonomic changes rank a close second, particularly the effective mirroring of key controls in horizontal and vertical camera orientation. While noise differences at high ISO settings are virtually unchanged from the D3s, improvement to overall image quality at high ISO's (while hard to define) leave me more comfortable at shooting at ISO's above about ISO 3200. The increase in resolution to 16.2 MP is welcomed and will make a difference to me at times. Overall? For this wildlife photographer, the best camera for day-to-day use in the field just got a lot better...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

6 April 2012: Minor D800 Field Test Update - Shooting at 70mm.

I've made a very minor update to my D800 Field Test based on my experiences with shooting both the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII at 70mm. The comments are found within the lens performance section (chapter 2). The short version? At 70mm grab your 70-200mm VRII first...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

5 April 2012: High ISO Performance Comparisons: Nikon D3s, D4, and D800

The relationship between ISO, resolution, and intended image use is complex. A full-frame, full-resolution image that shows extreme noise when viewed at 100% can look almost "pristine" clean when that same full-frame image is reduced in resolution down to "web-size". Producing a single metric for ISO performance destroys the variation in visible noise between image samples examined at different resolutions, and the information that you really need to choose your ISO settings when shooting in the field is contained in that variation. So...here ya go - a real world ISO comparison between Nikon's top 3 ISO performers - the D3s, the D4, and the D800. I have updated my D800 Field Test to include this information as well (so it would have a permanent home).

Head-to-head-to-head High ISO Performance Test - The Nikon D3s, D4, and D800: Here's some composite images that show head-to-head-to-head ISO comparisons between the D3s, D4, and D800 shot at ISO 1600, ISO 3200, ISO 6400, and ISO 12,800. The images were captured in the field under heavy overcast skies (just like when you WOULD need to use high ISO's). And, I intentionally chose a scene with in-focus, partially out-of-focus, and completely out-of-focus elements (that's what MOST images wildlife - or sports - shooters have, and the visible noise DOES differ between regions that differ in sharpness of focus). The comparison includes images that show extreme examples of how images are used - including taking the full-framed image and reducing it in resolution all the way down to web-size AND using every single pixel of the image (such as you would do if you REALLY wanted to crop your image). Realistically, most image uses would fall between these two extremes - but by showing these extreme examples you should get a feel for how you can use each cameras images at various ISO's. It's best to view these images at 100% magnification - sorry for the huge size but it was necessary. Anyone trying to view these graphics on an iPhone will be hooped! ;-)

ISO 1600 Comparison WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 1.1 MB)
ISO 3200 Comparison WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 1.2 MB)
ISO 6400 Comparison WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 1.3 MB)
ISO 12800 Comparison WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 1.5 MB)

The obvious take home lessons?

1. Resolution reduction masks visible noise! You want to shoot images primarily for electronic displays (such as web images)? You could use each of these cameras at almost any ISO setting! You want to produce 8"x10" at 300 dpi prints (that require about 8.4 MP)? You won't have too much noise "masking" on the 12.4 MP D3s, a little more on the 16.2 MP D4, and a lot on the 36.2 MP D800 (simply because you'll reduce the resolution more on the D4 and a lot more on the D800). But with all the cameras you'll have to watch the ISO. You want to use full resolution crops? You have to be REALLY careful of the ISO, especially on the D800.

2. D3s and D4 VERY close in ISO performance, D800 lags. When it comes to visible noise, if you look at images at 100% resolution the D4 and D3s are really, really close. And, the D800 lags by a stop or slightly more. But, given the D800's resolution, this is really, really good performance!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

4 April 2012: Updates to D800 Field Test...

I've just made 3 updates to the "lens performance" section (chapter 2) of my D800 Field Test. The updates are:

1. 16-35mm f4 VRII Info and Images Added. This lens performed a little better in the field than I had expected...

2. 24-70mm f2.8 Info and Images Added: And...this lens performed well, but not quite as well as I had hoped...

3. 400mm f2.8 VRII Image Pair Added: The new images here are of the "animals in the distance" variety (AKA "animalscapes").

In capturing the "animalscape" images referred to above something about diffraction effects dawned on me. This information is discussed in the field test, but it's probably worth repeating here. In my field test (and in the commentaries associated with some images in my Gallery of Latest Additions) I've mentioned how I'm not noticing much in the way of diffraction effects with my super-telephoto lenses (my 400mm f2.8 VR and my 600mm VR). The images I was using to make that observation were all close-up shots, including several of squirrels. With such close-ups, especially when shooting with the D800, literally thousands of pixels are dedicated to the subject. With subjects that are composed of so many pixels you RARELY look at the full resolution image at 100% magnification - unless you like looking at single squirrel pores or hairs. BUT, when I shot a series of animalscapes with 400mm f2.8 VR (with the bighorn sheep subjects about a kilometer away) over a wide range of apertures, the "typical" D800 pattern of "totally sharp up to f8 or f9, softer at smaller apertures" showed up. In these cases, the subjects took up very few pixels in the image (and one tends to assess image sharpness of each tiny subject at 100% magnification in those cases). In other words, those diffraction effects were there in ALL the images, but were functionally being masked in situations where the subject was close and pretty much filled the frame (simply because SO MANY pixels were being dedicated to the subject - on the squirrel close-ups each hair took up almost as many pixels as each bighorn sheep in the animalscape image referred to above). Confused? Think about it...

Anyway...the evolving field test has evolved some more...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

3 April 2012: The Nikon D4...Preliminary Autofocus Performance Thoughts...

Yep, I'm busy shooting, analyzing and prepping images for my coming D4 Field Test (which will begin with my "D4 First Impressions"). It's coming this week, but in the interim - a sneak preview of my early experiences with the revamped autofocus (AF) system - and action shooters should be ecstatic about these results! Note that the D800 shares the identical new AF system (called the "Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection") - I was very impressed with its accuracy on the D800, but at 10 fps on the D4 its ability to track a subject is MUCH more impressive!

The shots below were taken using my favourite subjects for putting a new camera's AF system through its paces - my Portuguese Water Dogs (yes, I pay them for this work - in treats). I'm not trying to bore you with shots of my dogs, but I have comparative data on the performance of how the D3s handled these types of action sequences. And it's a heckuva test for an AF system and - for a wildlife OR sports shooter - it's a convenient "proxy" for what you would shoot when working. Note that I intentionally shot these images under bright sunlight (mostly side-lit) to test other aspects of the camera (metering accuracy, raw file "malleability" - how much I can push the files around with creating noise in the shadows, etc.), but those "stories" will come later.

As always - best to view these images at 100% magnification (and sorry for the large size - you will have to scroll some on most monitors):

• Jose the Portie Performing for the D4 - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES

• Poncho the Portie Performing for the D4 - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES

To those who haven't shot with a D3s, there are two very significant improvements over the D4 shown in these images (or image sequences I yanked them out of):

1. The Proportion of In-focus shots: Capturing sharp shots in a sequence like this with a pro DSLR using pro lenses isn't at all surprising. But what blew me away was that in both sequences that these shots came out of every single shot was as sharp as the ones shown above! In the case of the first shot (the mostly black dog) the full sequence consisted of 25 shots at 10 fps; in the second case (the gray-white dog) the sequence was 32 shots in length (again at 10 fps). In comparison, when I performed these tests with my D3s about 80% of the shots were in sharp focus. It's important to note here that I took a total of 5 sequences of shots of my running dogs (for a total of 120 images). How many were out of focus? One. Which means 119 (or 99.2%) were in focus. I'm still shaking my head.

2. Much Better "Predictive" AF Tracking: To capture shots like this (when a subject is moving directly at you) the camera must predict where the subject will be at the exact moment of exposure. If it's out at all in its calculation the camera will focus slightly in front of, or slightly behind, the leading edge of the subject. In this case, those "crinkles" in the nose tell the story - the D4 is predicting the focal point almost perfectly (at 10 fps). In contrast, the D3s did a good job, but often the focus point was just behind the leading edge of the subject (and thus those nose crinkles were often soft, even in shots that I considered "in-focus").

I pride myself on my objectivity (and you WILL see some comments in my D4 field test where I'll criticize some features of the camera) but I'm literally blown away by the improvements in the AF system. For a pro shooter, the difference between 80% and 99.x% of their shots in-focus can mean the difference between getting that winning (and profitable) shot and missing it. But - on the somewhat negative side - this new AF system takes away one's excuses - it's darned hard to blame the camera if you miss the focus on a shot! ;-)

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

2 April 2012: Quick Updates: D800 Field Test and 2012 Photo Tours...

Just two quick updates...

1. D800 Field Test Updated: I've added a pair of images shot with the Nikon 200mm f2 VR to the D800 Field Test - not surprisingly that lens continues to shine when paired up with the D800.

2. 2012 Photo Tours Sold Out: The 1 open spot on the 2012 Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour that I mentioned back on 30 March is now gone. Which means all my 2012 photo tours are fully booked (i.e., sold out). But...I do have room at least some room on all my photo tours in 2013 - check them out right here on my Photo Tours page if you're interested...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

2 April 2012: Nikon D4 Images Appearing in Galleries of Latest Additions

I've begun posting D4 images in my Gallery of Latest Additions. Because most folks (including me) are primarily concerned with how the D4 compares in ISO performance (in a "real world" field setting) to both the D3s and D800, this has been the subject of my early testing (and the new image posts).

IMPORTANT NOTE: There is a ton of information associated with each of the new images, including background info and/or links to full resolution files. All this additional information is accessed via clicking on the tabs BELOW the main images in the gallery (in these cases most of the critical information is under the "In the Field" tab).

Cheers...enjoy...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

31 March 2012: The Nikon D4...Preliminary Low Light Performance Thoughts...

The gods are smiling on me - I've had perfect conditions today to begin testing the low-light performance of my shiny new D4 (which means I haven't seen the sun today). I've shot head-to-head-to-head shots in the field with the D4, D3s, and D800. After painstakinlgy scrutinizing the D4 and D3s files (at 100% magification) here's what I'm willing to say right now...

1. Visible Noise: In the ISO range from 200 through 6400 I can see NO noticeable difference in noise between the D4 and D3s. At ISO 12,800 I would give a very slight edge to the D4, but the difference is so small that it is functionally insignificant. So, they're equal? Nope...

2. D4 Files less "Harsh" at Crazy ISO's: This is hard to define, but after about ISO 3200 the D4 files seem less harsh. And - while I can't quantify this, my gut tells me I'm seeing slightly better detail, a little wider tonal range, and both better colour and better colour gradations in the D4 files.

The D800? Very, very good for a 36 MP camera, but I'm repeatedly seeing (when viewing all files at 100%) that the D800 files look most similar (noise-wise) to the others when you compare D800 shots with D3s/D4 shots taken at ISO's about 1.3 stops higher (so, for example, ISO 5000 files from the D800 look like ISO 12,800 files from the D4 and D3s).

I'll follow this up with a more complete listing of my detailed "First Impressions" of the D4 in a few days (including sample images - both at 1200 pixels and at full res) - but I can already say I quite like a number of the new and/or tweaked features on the camera, such as the control provided by new "toggles" (sub-selector and vertical multiselector) for the autofocus system.

But...because most everyone (including me) seems most interested in "real-world" ISO performance, here's a teaser D4 image captured at ISO 9000 a few hours ago:

• Red Squirrel & the Nikon D4 @ ISO 9000 - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

30 March 2012: 2012/2013 Photo Tours...

For those new to this website (including many of those popping by for D800 info) - a bit of orientation! Besides offering up information and opinions on many things related to wildlife and nature photography, I also offer a number of photo tours for small groups of photographers each spring, summer, and autumn. Currently all of my photo tours take place on the west coast of British Columbia, including into the Khutzyemateen Grizzly Sanctuary, The Great Bear Rainforest - home of the Spirit Bear, and, for aquatic mammals, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Here's a quick overview of what I'm offering up in 2012 and 2013...

2012 Photo Tours: All my 2012 photo tours were sold out quite some time ago, but a recent cancellation has opened up a single spot on my spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Instructional Photo Tour. The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary is world renown and provides absolutely unique opportunities to photograph fully wild grizzlies in a spectacular setting. It is one of the world's premiere grizzly photography locations. The trip runs from May 23 to May 30, 2012. Full details about the trip available on the Photo Tours page of this website - or simply download this brochure (PDF: 2.0 MB).

2013 Photo Tours: In 2013 I'm offering a combination of instructional and "photo op" style tours to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, The Great Bear Rainforest (in pursuit of Spirit Bears, Grizzlies, Humpbacks and more!) and to the northern tip of Vancouver Island (to photograph a wide diversity of aquatic mammals). While several spots are already booked, there are still spots available on all of the tours. For details of all of these trips. please visit the Photo Tours page of this website.

Cheers...

Brad

29 March 2012: Nikon D4 Arrives; First Impressions Coming Soon...

My D4 arrived today, complete with 16 GB XQD card and reader (thanks Nikon). I'll begin testing it tomorrow and should have quite a bit of time to work with it over the weekend. So expect my "First Impressions" piece to show up here in a few days...

Cheers...

Brad

29 March 2012: Dxomark.com and the Nikon D800 - Reality Check...

On March 27 Dxomark.com issued a press release that stated that the D800 matches the D4 (and ALMOST matches the D3s) in ISO performance. This is true - but only if you do what dxomark.com does - take that whopping 36 MP file and reduce it to 8.4 MB and produce a print (and compare it to a print from a D4 that has been reduced in resolution as well). The fact is that on the D800 you've collapsed over 4 pixels into one, and on the D4 you've collapsed two pixels into one, before looking at noise. Resolution reduction removes noise, so any camera with a sensor beyond 8.4 MP (dxomark.com's standard) and that is being tested using dxomark.com's published protocol has SOME noise reduction performed on it BEFORE they test it. And because higher resolution cameras are reduced in resolution MORE, they have had MORE noise reduction performed on them.

Scroll down to my entries of March 24 and 25 (below) for a more complete explanation and to see samples of what YOUR ISO 3200 D800 raw files will look like (and what D3s files look like) when you look at them at 100% (with NO noise reduction). Or, simply download this file (JPEG file: 2.5 MB) and view it at 100% on your computer. But hey - maybe my eyes are fooling me and at ISO 3200 the D800 and D3s samples in that file look identical. ;-)

I have absolutely no bone to pick with dxomark.com and quite like what they do. But in this case their test is producing a result (and they are really championing it - why?) that is misleading a lot of folks. The D800 DOES have astonishing ISO performance for a 36 MP camera, but it is no D3s or D4. In real world terms the D3s beats it in ISO performance by 1.3 to 1.5 stops.

Time to move on...we all have better things to do.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

29 March 2012: Second Nikon D800 Field Test Update...

Two more updates to my D800 Field Test:

1. Fairly Major Re-organization: I've yanked the entire section on lens performance out of the "First Impressions" section (Chapter 1) and have dedicated an entire section (Chapter 2) to this topic. Why? Because for me - and I suspect a lot of others - an important aspect of squeezing the most out of this camera is thoroughly understanding how it will behave with all lenses in my (or their) stable. This section will continue to evolve over a relatively long period of time, so it makes little sense to keep it in a section entitled "First Impressions".

2. Preliminary Results on Performance of 200mm f2 VR Posted. As I expected - but felt compelled to confirm - this amazing lens continues to perform superbly when paired with the D800. More details in the field test, which is right here:

Field Tests: The Nikon D800 - Nikon's Second Game-changer

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

29 March 2012: First Nikon D800 Field Test Update...

Late yesterday I had a few moments to begin testing my 200mm f2 VR lens with the D800. I'll add those results (which are very positive) to my D800 Field Test in coming days. However, once I was done with the 200 f2 I decided to shoot the same scene with my 70-200mm f2.8 VRII (@ 200mm). Two findings of note:

1. 200mm f2 VR Wins! This is hardly surprising - the 200mm f2 is renowned for its overall performnance and was tack sharp edge-to-edge from about f2.5 through to f9 (with slight softening due to diffraction beginning to kick in at f10). I'll add detailed comments about this lens - and sample images - to the D800 Field Test in a day or two...

2. 70-200mm f2.8 VRII Stumbles at 200mm. As reported in my 70-200mm VRII Field Test (when tested on lower resolution FX bodies), this lens goes a little soft on the edges at 200mm. However, it is more than a "little" soft on the D800 - only about the central 30% of the image stays as sharp as the absolute centre of the image. And, that softness is far more noticeable on the D800 (than when using other FX bodies). The solution to this "problem" on other FX bodies was simply to stop down - by f8 the bulk of the softness was gone and by f11 it took a microscope to see the "problem". However, on the D800 the non-central portions of the image are still quite soft at f8, and if you stop down further diffraction effects start softening the ENTIRE image. How much does one have to back off 200mm to mitigate this problem? I don't know yet - an educated guess would be that backing off to about 180mm would start solving the problem - but I will do some experimenting and report my results soon. Expect the calls for a new 70-200mm f2.8 VRII to begin any day! ;-)

Here's the link to the updated and evolving field test:

Field Tests: The Nikon D800 - Nikon's Second Game-changer

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

27 March 2012: Nikon D800 Field Test and a Reminder...

I've begun (and posted) my Field Test of the D800 - in doing so I tucked the information contained in my "First Impressions" (immediately below) into it. Note that I have added a few new things since yesterday, including test results with another lens (this time the 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 FX zoom - a lens NOT on Nikon's list of lenses to use "for enhanced sharpness" with the D800) and some comments about the improved functioning of the Virtual Horizon feature. And, of course, it's now "wrapped up" in a little more organized fashion. So...here it is:

Field Tests: The Nikon D800 - Nikon's Second Game-changer

A reminder of where you'll find things in coming days - while the D800 field test WILL be evolving as I add more information, you will always find brief summaries of the updates right here. And, I will be adding new D800 (and soon D4) images to my Gallery of Latest Additions at LEAST once per week - if not more frequently (and there will be images there that you won't find within the D800 Field Test - so if you want to keep up with "all things D800 and D4" on this website, don't forget to check out that image gallery).

Don't forget that each image posted in ANY of my galleries has a lot of contextual information associated with it (often with interesting and/or thought-provoking commentaries that reveal where my mind was when I snagged the shot!). The information is accessed by clicking on the tabs immediately below the images (those "In the Field", "Behind the Camera", etc. tabs).

Cheers...

Brad

26 March 2012: Nikon D800 First Impressions...

Well...here we go again! Seems like I just finished my V1 Field Test and it's time to start all over again! Anyway...while I know I'm getting WAY ahead of myself here, but I'm just going to come out and say it - the D800 is Nikon's second revolutionary camera or, if you prefer, their second game changer. Take the resolution of a medium format camera, add in almost best of class ISO performance plus a state-of-the-art autofocus system and what do you get? A camera in a class totally of its own - the D800. Simply put, between its resolution and features this camera is capable of output that no other camera can match. Anyways...back to the task at hand - some of the first details and impressions of the D800 in the field. Bear in mind this is coming from the perspective of a nature photographer who shoots raw format images only, and who has not (and likely won't) jumped on the video bandwagon...

1. Build Quality: This one is quick - just like the D700 and D3, D3s, D4: the best Japan can produce. This body is solid and clearly well-built and the instant I picked it up it felt...well...like Nikon wanted everyone to know it was a pro camera. I picked up the MB-D12 battery grip the same time I picked up my D800 - same thoughts on the build quality of that.

2. The "New" Autofocus System: Nikon has changed BOTH how you control/change the settings on the AF system and the "guts" of it. Here's a bit on both sides of the equation:

• The New AF Controls: You now control all aspects of AF function using a single button (in combination with the commmand and sub-command dials) on the left side of the lens mount. Which means you can modify your settings while looking through the viewfinder. How does it work in practice? At first I found it difficult to find the button tactilely, but after a few tries it became totally natural and...well...after I had some more practice...I can say I love it. I virtually never use Single servo mode, but various continuous modes (Single Area, 9-point Dynamic Area, 21-point Dynamic Area, etc,) are super-fast to access. When I'm shooting wildlife I am ALWAYS jumping between these modes, so for me being able to do it while looking through the viewfinder is a godsend.

• The New AF "Guts": Most of the hoopla surrounding the internal workings of the AF system has focused on (pardon the pun) on its improved lower light performance, increased number of cross-type sensors, and full functioning at maximum apertures of f8 (so now you can use teleconverters with compatible f4 and f5.6 lenses). To date I haven't been in the situation to test these aspects of the new AF system. But, when I was talking with Nikon a month or so ago, they stressed to me that the system also would acquire initial focus AND focus-track moving subjects better. And, I HAVE noticed this - it is definitely seems snappier (than all previous AF systems, including that of the D3s) at bringing subjects into focus, including when using 51-point Dynamic Area mode with super-telephoto systems (which can make lesser AF systems - like that on the D7000 - absolutely choke). Accuracy? Well, on every lens I've tried, it's been fantastic (more on this immediately below).

I've seen many comments about how the D800 will be tricky to use because its high resolution sensor will pick and emphasize up ANY missed focus. I've heard many say "...this camera will be as sensitive to focus errors as any of the medium format cameras". Seems logical - and it was a fear I had myself. BUT...so far getting spot-on focus seems no harder than any other professional Nikon I've used - misses just haven't been a problem! Maybe that new AF system is just that good? I guess I should put my money where my mouth is - here's an AF challenge for any camera...

• Lo-Res Image: Leaping Forward With the D800 - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 464 KB)
• Hi-Res Image: Leaping Forward With the D800 - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 6.3 MB)

3. Less Prone to Over-exposure of Highlights: I almost instantly noticed (given I was shooting some high-contrast subjects, like my black and white dogs in the sunlight) that the D800 is less prone to losing highlight detail (when using matrix metering) than any previous Nikon I've ever used. This was particularly true when shooting a scene which was uniformly gray or dark but had some small white patches within it. This camera DOES have a new metering system ("3D Color Matrix Metering III") which uses 91,000 sensors (instead of 2016 as in previous models). So it could be that. But, it also could be the fact that this camera has better dynamic range than any other camera tested to date (14.4 stops according to dxomark.com). Or, could be a combination to both. But, whatever, the reason - this is a good thing!

4. Improved Auto ISO Function: OK, I admit it - since the "old new" Auto ISO function was introduced on the D3, I've liked it. And, now (on this camera and the D4) it's better. In the "old new" Auto ISO system you "told" the camera what the longest shutter speed it could employ before bumping the ISO. The "new new" system still offers this. But, it also offers a "Auto Shutter Speed" option where the camera examines the focal length in use (including on zoom lenses) and picks the slowest shutter speed that the average person could hand-hold (using that old 1/lens focal length = shutter speed formula). But what if you're a human tripod (or using VR) and can hand-hold slower shutter speeds? Or if you're kinda shaky? Well, there's a 4 stop over-ride to the auto - up to 2 stops faster than 1/focal length or 2 stops slower than 1/focal length. What does this mean in the field? Well - in my first 300 hand-held shots virtually NO blurry shots (and all at VERY usable ISO's). Slick as hell. And it means you don't have to re-adjust the AUTO ISO settings every time you swap lenses. Very cool.

5. What About Small Apertures and Diffraction Effects? This is another area where there's been a lot of chatter (and deservedly so - even Nikon has warned folks that you shouldn't stop down too far with the D800 and expect sharp results). Yep, I was quite concerned about this. Well...here's some great news for wildlife shooters - so far...and when using super-telephoto lenses...diffraction effects have been pretty much a non-issue (perhaps this MIGHT be related to the narrow angle of view of super-telephotos being less prone to diffraction than wide angle lenses??). I haven't systematically examined my wide angle shots yet, so I'm not prepared to say the same thing for them. Oops...I guess this is another "show the goods" time...here's an f16 600mm f4 VR shot:

• Lo-Res Image: Snack Time - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 521 KB)
• Hi-Res Image: Snack Time - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 10.4 MB)

TWO COMMENTS: I shot this same scene at apertures from f4 through to f16 (patient squirrel) - while depth of field varied dramatically, I could see virtually no difference in sharpness on the in-focus regions from f5 through f16. And, by the way, this shot was at ISO 1250 with NO NOISE REDUCTION (beyond the mild "default" noise reduction of LR4) - quite clean for ISO 1250...

6. And What About ISO Performance? Well, despite what dxomark.com says, it isn't up there with the D3s. But, it IS astonishing for a 36 MP DSLR. I can already say that I won't hesitate to shoot this camera at ISO 1600, which is about 2 stops better than I had expected! And, in a pinch - and with the right kind of scene - you COULD get by at ISO 3200 and still produce high-quality output that would be accepted for publication by many or most magazines and books! For my complete ISO series you'll have to wait for the first iteration of my Field Test, but here's a 1600 ISO (another f16 shot!) shot with no noise reduction beyond that of the mild defaults in Lightroom 4 (0 luminance; 25/50 color/detail):

• Lo-Res Image: Doing it ALL Wrong with the D800 - Stopped WAY Down at ISO 1600 - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 589 KB)
• Hi-Res Image: Doing it ALL Wrong with the D800 - Stopped WAY Down at ISO 1600 - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 7.5 MB)

7. D800 and Selected Lenses: To date I've shot the D800 with the following FX lenses: 16-35mm f4 VR, 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8mm f2.8 VRII, 400mm f2.8 VR, and 600mm f2.8 VR. In each case I have shot controlled test shots over a range of apertures (looking for "sweet spots" and where diffraction issues may become limiting). Each of these lenses is on Nikon's list of lenses that - according to the Nikon's D800/800E Technical Guide - "...you can use for enhanced sharpness." I haven't had a chance to use any of the lenses with teleconverters yet and nor have I had the chance to fully scrutinize the results of the two widest angle lenses yet, but I can make some comments on the following lenses:

• 70-200mm f2.8 VRII: The D800 loves this lens - very sharp at f2.8 and tack sharp at f3.5 through f8 (and possibly beyond, but I still have to verify this). Very hand-holdable, and hard-to-miss sharpness wise when using the new Auto ISO function (in Auto shutter speed mode). Two hand-held "grab-shots" for you to scrutinize - all technical notes on the 1200 pixel versions but I'd recommend downloading and checking out the full resolution versions at 100%.

• Lo-Res Image 1: Have Frisbee, Am Happy - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 742 KB)
• Hi-Res Image 1: Have Frisbee, Am Happy - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 10.2 MB)

• Lo-Res Image 2: Columbia Lake in Late March - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 700 KB)
• Hi-Res Image 2: Columbia Lake in Late March - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 13.2 MB)

• 400mm f2.8 VR: Not surprisingly - absolutely steller. But arguably this is the best of the super-telephotos from Nikon and it should deliver in spades. This is one of the lenses that has me scratching my head and wondering where the diffraction problems are. Very sharp wide open and tack sharp by f3.5 and stays that way up until f11 - and f16 still looks amazingly sharp to me. First image in this article (running dog) taken with this lens, and here's an f11 sample (note that the slight blur in the left paw is a function of subject movement - even the f16 shot was much sharper on the paw). And many more images with this lens to follow soon...

• Lo-Res Image: Red Squirrel - Lunch Break - Download 1200 pixel version WITH ALL TECH NOTES (JPEG file: 471 KB)
• Hi-Res Image: Red Squirrel - Lunch Break - Download FULL RESOLUTION FILE (JPEG file: 7.8 MB)

• 600mm f4 VR: Excellent performance on the D800. Sharp as can be by f5 (and very good at f4) - seems to stay sharp right through f16. Two high-ish ISO f16 shots above (under "What About Small Apertures and Diffraction Effects?" and "And What About ISO Performance?" More images with this lens to follow soon...

8. Live View (Still Photography Mode): Finally - Nikon has figured out how to do Live View! And after using it, I'm left wondering why more folks aren't talking about the "new" Live View. Besides multiple new focus modes (Normal-area AF, Wide-area AF, Subject-tracking AF, Face-priority AF), we now have live histograms, dynamically updated aperture (depth of field) effects, dynamic white balance adjustments, and about a million (OK, how about "several") display options, including a virtual horizon, grid view, different data views, etc. Simply put, Live View is now dramatically improved, and, for some types of photography, a major asset. While I won't be relying on it for my wildlife work I have already used it (and will continue to use it) for my landscape shooting. In fact, I'm already looking for a high quality compatible rear hood/lcd viewer for my own landscape and macro work.

Oh...and by the way...one little quirk about Live View that I've noticed (so small I wouldn't call it a "bug"): when using the preview feature of Live View to judge exposure (visually or using the histogram), the system doesn't notice "soft" exposure compensations (those made using "Easy Exposure Compensation" via rotating the master command dial alone). For Live View to pick up exposure changes you must make "hard" exposure compensations, i.e., by pushing the exposure compensation button and then rotating the master command dial. Not a big deal - while I use the Easy Exposure Compensation all the time with my wildlife shooting, I don't use it much for my landscape shooting or macro shooting (and I doubt many others would either).

9. D800 vs. D800E? While it's hard to take a hard side on this question until one has the 800E in-hand, I can already say now that I'm completely pleased with my decision to buy the "non-E" version - I frankly can't imagine how the "E" version could be significantly sharper visually (perhaps at the pixel level, but...). In my opinion (and from images I have seen taken with both cameras), I believe that ultimate image sharpness will be determined more by the lens used and the technique of the photographer (behind the camera and behind the computer). Like probably everyone who read Nikon's marketing I was - for a time - left thinking that it would be a mistake to NOT go for that little bit of extra sharpness ("What? Spend $3000 on the not-quite-sharpest version of the camera??"), but that fear is totally unjustified.

10. Video? Video? This camera has video? Oh...that's what that big section in the middle of the manual was about! Sorry - haven't tried it. Would be surprised if I ever did. You'll have to go elsewhere to get someone else's first impressions about video.

11. On the Negative Side - Huge File Sizes! Here's some sobering truths: Average raw file size (.nef file, lossless compression) - about 42.5 MB; file size of derived 16-bit TIFF file - 217 MB. Add a few adjustment layers in Photoshop and "poof" - average file size jumps to about 440 MB. If you're a raw shooter and you buy this camera you better have a computer with a hot processor, tons of RAM, and huge storage devices. Want to print the files at full resolution - well...you better have a very wide carriage printer! Welcome to the new hi-res world!

12. On the Negative Side: Non-matching Memory Card Slots: The decision by Nikon to offer non-matched dual card slots on the D800 (one CompactFlash and one SD/SDHC/SDXC) and on the D4 (one XQD and one CompactFlash) continues to baffle me. And frustrate me. I suppose one could argue there isn't room for two CompactFlash slots on the D800 - but there is certainly room for two SD slots! The only rationale I've been directly heard (from Nikon) about this mixed-card slot strategy is "legacy support", but at the professional level (especially given the ever-dropping price of memory cards) you'd think performance and convenience in the field would trump "legacy support". It becomes a particularly large pain in the butt if one is going in the field with a D800 and D4 - be prepared to carry 3 types of cards and associated readers. Smells like a "committee decision" to me - and definitely isn't one a confident market-leading company (like Apple..or Nikon?) would (or should) ever make. Dumb.

13. On the Possibly Negative Side - Battery Life: OK - in my opinion, the battery life (per charge) is a bit "iffy" on this camera. But, I have to provide a caveat with this comment: I was using my D800 somehat atypically - the bulk of my testing was done in cool temperatures (around the freezing point) AND much of it with super-telephotos with the VR on (in tripod mode). Both of these factors reduce the number of shots one can expect to get. I didn't quantify the battery life fully, but after about 200 shots in the cool weather (and using the big lenses) I was down to about a 50% charge. This possible issue is something you might want to think. In my case I will be using the battery of the D4 (the EN-EL18) in my MB-D12 once the D4 batteries and the adapter cover (the BL-5) arrive and soon battery life questions will disappear for me.

14. On the Really Picky Side: Slow-ish Frame Rate: Some will point out the slightly slow maximum full resolution frame rate of 4 fps (faster in crop modes) is limiting. Hmmm...depends on your perspective - it's blazing fast compared to other cameras (including medium format ones) in its resolution class. But its a bit slow compared to other professional DSLRs. In a perfect world it would be nice if it was faster, but realistically this is a reflection of the "state of the union" in technology, not a faulty decision by Nikon. C'est la vie.

My one sentence summary of my first impressions? Just this: The D800 is a true a game-changer - Nikon has knocked this one out of the ballpark.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 March 2012: Nikon D800 Images Now Appearing...

I've begun posting D800 images in my Gallery of Latest Additions. First up - an autofocus challenge for the D800 (and it passed with flying colours, quite literally).

Make sure you check out the tab labelled "In the Field" that's right UNDER the image - not only does it contain an interesting discussion about the D800 but that's also where you'll find the link to the full resolution image.

My D800 First Impressions coming real soon - stay tuned.

Cheers...

Brad

25 March 2012: Update re: That CRAZY Dxomark.com Score!

Yesterday I made some relatively strong comments about the real-world usefulness of dxomark.com's method of producing their "Sports" (low light ISO performance) score - specifically I noted how it gives high resolution cameras an unrealistically high score. The case that prompted my comments was the "Sports" score for the 36 MB D800 - dxomark.com awarded it a score of 2853 ISO. In comparison, the D4 has an almost identical score of 2965 and the reigning king of ISO performance (according to dxomark.com) - the D3s - has a score of 3253. According to dxomark.com, when comparing "Sports" scores between cameras, "A difference in low-light ISO of 25% represents 1/3 EV and is only slightly noticeable."

This means that because the D800, D4, and D3s differ by far less than 25% in score values, their ISO performance differs by significantly less than 1/3 of a stop. Well, unless one has completely different visual system than I have, this is completely untrue and exceptionally misleading. Before I show you the rationale (images!) to back this statement up, a few important points to make:

• I like dxomark.com! I think the majority of their tests are excellent and have a real world correlate. In fact, I think that even the "Sports" score has real-world usefulness in low- to medium-resolution cameras (8 to 12 MP range). The scale only starts to fall apart when they test higher resolution cameras (for my reasoning see the entry of 24 March immediately below).

• View the image file below at 100%. To see the noise in these images, you must view them at 100% on your computer. Sorry that the graphic is so big (many will have to scroll to see the full results) - but it was important to show both in-focus and out-of-focus zones in the images.

• No sharpening, no noise reduction. These sections of the images may look noiser than you're used to - that's because I turned off (set to zero) all noise reduction (and image sharpening). Each of the four image sections are 1000 x 1000 pixel sections cropped out of the middle of the image - but with NO resolution reduction (which is why the D800 image looks closer - much more tightly packed pixels). All images originally captured as raw files and converted to TIFFs using Lightroom 4 (and then JPEG graphic seen here produced in Photoshop).

• Intentional subject choice! Noise is often much easier to see in smooth out-of-focus zones (and, fortunately, it's quite easy to handle in those zones). Most wildlife (and nature photographers in general) deal with scenes that contain both in-focus and out-of-focus elements, especially if they use super-telephoto lenses. Thus, I intentionally included both in-focus and out-of-focus zones in the image segments. You'll instantly see the noise in the out-of-focus zones, and it is much less visible in the in-focus zones (but it is there).

• It's visual appearance that counts! At the end of the day, what really matters is how an image appears to the human eye (especially to the potential buyer of an image!). That's why I strongly believe in "real world" tests where differences are actually visible! I'm less fussed about what a machine score tells me! ;-)

• And the image file please: D800 vs D3s ISO 3200 Image Comparison (JPEG file: 2.5 MB)

Some comments on the comparison...

1. The D800's ISO Performance is AMAZING! While I really disagree with dxomark.com concluding that the D800 is almost identical in ISO performance to the D4 and D3s, the D800 has astonishingly good ISO performance for a 36 MP camera - it totally destroys any medium format camera in that regard. And, I would argue it's only about 1.3 to 1.5 stops poorer in ISO performance than the top DSLR's. Subjectively, the noise characteristics of the D800 are very reminiscent of the D7000 (to my eye), which is both really good, and not too surprising when you compare their pixel sizes (very similar). Even after only two full days of shooting, I can already say that I won't hesitate to take my D800 up to ISO 1600 (with the expectation of...

EGADS! A concatenation of bad luck and server burps resulted in the deletion of the rest of this entry AND all blog entries from January 1, 2012 through to March 24, 2012. I'm trying to retrieve the entries from backups, but no promises. Apologies!



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