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Nikon D850 Review

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Perhaps one of the most anticipated camera releases of 2017 has been the D810 successor, the Nikon D850. Nikon’s high resolution camera body shook up the industry once again, this time with a strong punch, making the Nikon D850 the most versatile DSLR on the market. Thanks to its 45.7 MP sensor with a native ISO sensitivity range of 64-25,600, upgraded 153-point autofocus system, advanced 181,000-pixel RGB metering system, 7 fps continuous shooting speed that can be bumped up to 9 fps with a battery grip, a fully weather sealed construction and a bunch of other hardware and software upgrades, Nikon managed to pull out a camera that can satisfy every photography need – from landscapes and architecture, to sports and wildlife. In this review, I will be assessing the camera from many different angles and comparing to its predecessor, as well as its primary competition.

Note: This is an ongoing review that will be going through a lot of changes and additions over the period of the next few weeks. I decided to consolidate all the information related to the camera into a single review, rather than piecemeal it to many different articles. Expect to see a lot more content – every time I publish new information, I will be bumping up the review to the front page of the site. Also, I am currently working on uploading a few images for the review. More images will be posted very soon!

Nikon D850

Review Revision History:

  • 09/20/2017: First version posted with “Overview and Specifications”, “Camera Construction and Handling”, “Image Sensor, mRAW and sRAW Options” and “Focus Stacking” pages.

A few members of the Photography Life team have been shooting with the Nikon D810 since the camera has been released, so we will be providing joint efforts in writing this review. We will do our best to cover a number of different genres of photography including travel, landscape, portrait and wildlife photography.

First, let’s go over the camera’s technical specifications and compare them side by side with the predecessors, the Nikon D810 and the D800 / D800E.

1) Nikon D850 Specifications

Main Features and Specifications:

  • Sensor: 45.7 MP FX BSI Sensor, 4.35µ pixel size
  • Sensor Size: 35.9 x 23.9mm
  • Resolution: 8256 x 5504
  • Native ISO Sensitivity: 64-25,600
  • Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 32
  • Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 51,200-102,400
  • RAW Formats: 45.7 MP (Full Size), 25.6 MP (Medium Size / mRAW), 11.4 MP (Small Size / sRAW)
  • mRAW / sRAW File Support: 12-bit lossless compressed
  • Processor: EXPEED 5
  • Metering System: 181,000-pixel RGB Meter
  • Dust Reduction: Yes
  • Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
  • Body Build: Full Magnesium Alloy
  • Shutter: 1/8000 – 30 seconds
  • Shutter Durability: 200,000 cycles, self-diagnostic shutter
  • Storage: 1x XQD slot and 1x SD slot (UHS-II compatible)
  • Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
  • Viewfinder Magnification: 0.75x
  • Speed: 7 fps, 9 fps with optional MB-D18 battery grip
  • Built-in Flash: No
  • Autofocus System: Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor
  • AF Sensitivity: -4 EV at the center point
  • AF Detection: Up to f/8 with 15 focus points
  • LCD Screen: touch-enabled 3.2 inch diagonal tilting LCD with 2,359K dots
  • Movie Modes: 4K UHD @ 30 fps max
  • Slow Motion HD Video: Yes
  • Movie Exposure Control: Full
  • Movie Output: MOV, MP4
  • Time Lapse: 4K and 8K Timelapse
  • In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
  • GPS: Not built-in, requires GP-1 GPS unit
  • WiFi: Built-in
  • Illuminated Buttons: Yes
  • Focus Stacking Feature: Yes
  • Focus Peaking for Stills and Video: Yes
  • Wireless Radio Flash Control: Yes
  • Silent Photography Mode in Live View: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Built-in
  • Battery Type: EN-EN15a
  • Battery Life: 1840 shots (CIPA)
  • USB Standard: 3.0
  • Weight: 915g
  • Dimensions: 146 x 124 x 79mm
  • Price: $3,299.95 MSRP

A detailed list of camera specifications is available at NikonUSA.com.

A quick glance at the above specifications reveals that the Nikon D850 differs quite a bit compared to the previous generation D810 and D800 / D800E cameras, whether it comes to sensor technology, autofocus or other camera features. Below is a detailed comparison of the four cameras:

2) Nikon D850 vs D810 vs D800 / D800E Comparison

Camera Feature Nikon D850 Nikon D810 Nikon D800 / D800E
Sensor Resolution 45.7 MP 36.3 MP 36.3 MP
Sensor Type CMOS BSI CMOS CMOS
Low Pass Filter No No Yes / No
Image Size 8,256 x 5,504 7,360 x 4,912 7,360 x 4,912
Base ISO ISO 64 ISO 64 ISO 100
Native ISO Sensitivity ISO 64-25,600 ISO 64-12,800 ISO 100-6,400
Boosted ISO Sensitivity ISO 32, 51,200, 102,400 ISO 32, 25,600, 51,200 ISO 50, 12,600, 25,600
Image Processor EXPEED 5 EXPEED 4 EXPEED 3
sRAW / mRAW File Support Yes, Both Yes, sRAW Only No
Buffer: RAW 12-bit Lossless Compressed 170 47 21
Buffer: RAW 14-bit Lossless Compressed 51 28 17
Viewfinder Coverage and Size 100%, 0.75x 100%, 0.70x 100%, 0.70x
Built-in Flash No Yes, with flash commander mode Yes, with flash commander mode
Storage Media 1x XQD, 1x SD (UHS-II) 1x CF, 1x SD (UHS-I) 1x CF, 1x SD (UHS-I)
Continuous Shooting Speed 7 FPS, 9 FPS with MB-D18 5 FPS, 6 FPS (DX), 7 FPS with MB-D12 4 FPS, 6 FPS (DX) with MB-D12
Electronic Front-curtain Shutter Yes Yes No
Silent Photography Mode in Live View Yes No No
Exposure Metering Sensor 181,000-pixel RGB sensor 91,000-pixel RGB sensor 91,000-pixel RGB sensor
Highlight Weighted Metering Yes Yes No
Autofocus System Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor Adv. Multi-CAM 3500FX + Group Area AF Adv. Multi-CAM 3500FX
Dedicated AF Engine Yes No No
Focus Points 153, 99 cross-type 51, 15 cross-type 51, 15 cross-type
AF Detection Up to f/8, 15 sensors Up to f/8, 1 sensor Up to f/8, 1 sensor
AF EV Range -4 EV -2 EV -2 EV
Auto AF Fine Tune Yes No No
Video Maximum Resolution 3840×2160 (4K) @ 24p, 25p, 30p 1920×1080 (1080p) @ 24p, 30p, 60p 1920×1080 (1080p) @ 24p, 30p
Active D-Lightning for Video Yes at 1080p No No
Slow Motion HD Video Yes, up to 1920×1080 @ 30p x 4 No No
Electronic VR for Video Yes, 1080p No No
Memory Card + External Recorder Simultaneous Recording Yes Yes No
Multi-Selector Exposure Compensation Yes No No
Touch AF in Live View Yes No No
Focus Peaking Yes, Stills & Video No No
Interval Timer Resolution 4K, 8K 1080p 1080p
Interval Timer Exposure Smoothing Yes Yes No
Timelapse Exposure Smoothing Yes Yes No
Silent Timelapse Mode Yes, Up to 9,999 frames No No
No. of Images in Timelapse / Int Timer 9,999 9,999 999
Focus Stacking Yes No No
LCD Size 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD
LCD Resolution 2,359,000 dots 1,229,000 dots 921,000 dots
Tilting LCD Yes No No
Touch-Enabled LCD Yes No No
In-Camera Batch RAW Processing Yes No No
Button Illumination Yes No No
Wi-Fi Yes Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4a Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4a
Bluetooth Yes No No
Battery EN-EL15a Lithium-ion Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery
Battery Life 1,840 shots (CIPA) 1,200 shots (CIPA) 900 shots (CIPA)
Weight (Body Only) 915g 880g 900g
Dimensions 146 x 124 x 78.5mm 146 x 123 x 81.5mm 144.78 × 121.92 × 81.28mm
MSRP Price $3,299 $3,299 $2,999 / $3,299

Please note that the above table primarily shows differences in specifications between the cameras. For a more complete list of all camera specifications, please see my Nikon D850 vs D810 vs D800 / D800E comparison article.

Unlike the Nikon D810 that was mostly an incremental update to the D800 / D800E, Nikon added significant changes to the D850, as the above table demonstrates. In fact, if one were to look at all the changes the Nikon D850 offers, it could be considered as a whole different camera. First of all, the sensor on the D850 is completely different not just in terms of resolution (45.7 MP vs 36.3 MP), but also in terms of sensor technology – the D850 incorporates Nikon’s first ever back-illuminated BSI CMOS sensor, which delivers superior image quality when compared to traditional CMOS sensors we have seen in the past. Instead of going for a Sony-developed sensor, Nikon decided to design the sensor for the D850 on its own and have it produced by a different manufacturer, as it has done a number of times in the past in cameras like Nikon D3 and D700. When it comes to resolution, it is not a huge improvement – roughly 25% increase in overall resolution, which actually translates to just a 12% increase in linear resolution. However, it is still a meaningful increase in resolution that provides even more opportunities for making larger prints and allowing for extra cropping options for those who want to get closer to action. Nikon kept the base ISO of the camera the same at ISO 64 as on the D810, providing superb dynamic range. At the same time, the native ISO sensitivity range has been pushed from 64-12,800 to 64-25,600, with boosted ISO sensitivity getting all the way to ISO 102,400. In addition to these sensor improvements, Nikon also provided an mRAW option on the D850 in addition to the sRAW option that we have previously see on the D810 (notes on the mRAW / sRAW options and their performance differences when compared to the D810 can be found in the next pages of this review).

Second, Nikon was able to bring the superb Multi-CAM 20K autofocus system with a total of 153 focus points (99 of which are cross-type) from the Nikon D5 / D500 cameras to the D850, delivering superior autofocus performance, especially when coupled with the latest generation EXPEED 5 processor. The 15 focus points around the center of the camera are sensitive to f/8 maximum aperture, which means that you can attach a 2x teleconverter to an f/4 lens (which results in f/8 maximum aperture) and still be able to easily acquire focus on targets. The camera is also sensitive down to -4 EV, allowing the autofocus system to function even in extremely low-light conditions. It is important to note that the Nikon D810 was sensitive down to -2 EV, so there are two stops of improvement on the D850 over its predecessor. Additionally, the camera’s outer focus points are able to function at -3 EV, which is better than what the Nikon D810 could do in the middle of the frame! The camera buffer has also seen a significant upgrade – the D850 can shoot a total of 170 RAW images in 12-bit lossless compressed format and a total of 51 RAW images in 14-bit lossless compressed format. That’s a huge change when compared to the Nikon D810’s buffer that was limited to 47 and 28 RAW images, consequently. Coupled with an amazing 7 fps shooting speed that can be bumped to 9 fps with the MB-D18 battery pack and D5 battery, one can get quite a bit of continuous shooting time without running out of the buffer – and that’s when shooting full-size 45.7 MP RAW images! In order to be able to deliver such speeds, Nikon had to go for more robust storage than CompactFlash – similar to the D5 and the D500, the Nikon D850 now also standardizes on the XQXD memory card format. As a result, the D850 has one XQD and one UHS-II compatible SD card slots. The new 181,000-pixel RGB metering sensor further boosts the autofocus capabilities of the camera, especially when shooting in Auto-Area and 3D-Tracking modes.

Third, the Nikon D850 is finally able to take a full advantage of the whole image sensor when shooting 4K, something no other Nikon DSLR has been able to do in the past. The camera can shoot up to 30 fps in 4K, as well as up to 60 fps in HD. Nikon also added a new MP4 video file format in addition to MOV format and added a bunch of video-specific features such as Active D-Lighting, electronic VR, focus peaking and more. The D850 is also able to shoot slow motion HD video, up to full HD @ 30p x 4.

Fourth, Nikon completely reworked the D850 ergonomically, making it resemble the D500 rather than the D810. The camera now has a dedicated joystick and lacks a built-in flash. In addition, the viewfinder size has seen a dramatic increase – it went from 0.70x on the D810 to 0.75x on the D850. While the LCD screen size stayed the same at 3.2″ inches, Nikon completely changed the LCD features. The resolution of the LCD screen has been almost doubled at 2.359 million dots and it is finally a tilting, touch-enabled LCD, something many photographers have been waiting to see on the D8x0-series cameras. Just like the Nikon D500, the D850 also gains button illumination, which will make it easier to see all the camera buttons when shooting in low-light conditions. Other cosmetic and button changes are highlighted in the next page of this review.

Fifth, the Nikon D850 now comes with a more efficient EN-EL15a battery that extends the battery life of the camera to 1,840 shots – a rather significant upgrade when compared to 1,200 shot limit on the D810 and 900 shot limit on the D800 / D800E. The nice thing is, one can continue to use the older EN-EL15 batteries with chargers on the D850, although they won’t yield as many shots in comparison.

Lastly, Nikon pushed a boatload of firmware changes to the D850 when compared to the D810. The auto AF fine-tune feature that allows for easy calibration of lenses has been migrated from the D500 / D5 cameras, which is certainly nice to have. In addition to the electronic front curtain shutter, there is now an option to shoot silently via live view, which is a great feature (although one that must be used with care when shooting fast moving subjects). It is now possible to use focus peaking in live view when shooting stills and Nikon heavily boosted the options to shoot timelapses – it is now possible to shoot 4K and 8K timelapses with exposure smoothing. A brand new focus stacking feature that is currently unique to the D850 is discussed in a lot of detail in the next pages of this review. That one is going to make many landscape and macro photographers happy, since it automates the focus stacking process when shooting with AF lenses. As expected, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options are also added, although Nikon continues to omit a built-in GPS, which is unfortunate.

As you can see, the number of improvements and new features is fairly long, and I have not covered them all. If you would like to see a complete list of changes, please see my “Everything you need to know about the Nikon D850” article.

Let’s now go over the camera in more detail. Please select the next page below.

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FLM Ballhead Review (CB-58 FTR, CB-48 FTR and CB-32 F)

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As a landscape and travel photographer, I heavily rely on tripods. After making a number of wrong purchasing decisions early on in my photography career, I realized that a solid tripod and tripod head are very important – sometimes even more important than choosing a camera or a lens. A poor tripod setup can create many headaches and really mess up images, and tripod heads play a big part of that. Many cheap tripod heads sag even after they are tightened. Some can barely hold gear and shake like crazy in wind or when they are touched. Others have poor plates and attachments, making them very frustrating to use in the field. Unfortunately, many of us go through a number of bad tripod heads before realizing that we should have gotten something solid to begin with. For the past seven years, I have been very happy with the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead. In fact, after using the BH-55 for a few years, I ended up buying a few more ballheads from RRS for other needs such as travel. However, after attending a few trade shows and seeing other options from other companies, I wanted to see if there was something even better than the RRS ballheads that I have come to trust and love. I bumped into FLM at Photo Plus New York last year and after talking to the company, I decided to give their ballheads a try and see how they compare to RRS. Thanks to FLM Canada, I was able to obtain three ballheads to test, the CB-58 FTR, CB-48 FTR and CB-32 F. In this review, I will go over these three ballheads in detail and discuss their pros and cons.

A 20 minute video of the three ballheads and comparisons to RRS is provided further down in the review. Let’s first start with the full-size ballhead, the FLM CB-58 FTR.

FLM CB-58 FTR

The CB-58 FTR is the biggest and the most capable full-size ballhead made by FLM, a company based out of Emmendingen, Germany that specializes on tripods, tripod heads and accessories. The professional-grade CB-58 ballhead is proudly made in Germany using high-strength, lead-free aluminum and its components are CNC-milled and then hand-polished with the highest precision to guarantee smooth movements and precise adjustments. The unique design of the CB-58 FTR incorporates a total of five different knobs that control different features of the ballhead (discussed in detail below), which is pretty unique, since most ballheads on the market typically come with two to three knobs at most. The ballhead can be purchased in a number of different clamp configurations, but the one that I received already featured the SRB-60 Arca-Swiss compatible quick release clamp.

FLM CB-58 FTR

Below are the basic specifications of the CB-58 FTR ballhead:

  • Model: CB-58 FTR
  • Maximum Load Capacity: 55 kg (60 kg as listed on FLM)
  • Center Ball Diameter: 58mm
  • Dimensions: 78 x 111mm (diameter x height)
  • Weight: 783 grams
  • Bottom Thread: 3/8 inches

It is a pretty big and heavy ballhead, but not as heavy as some other full-size ballheads on the market. For example, the RRS BH-55 is a bit heavier at 890 grams (although the bigger and the heavier clamp on the RRS definitely adds to the overall weight), while other ballheads like the Novoflex ClassicBall 5 II almost reach 1 kilogram of total weight without a clamp. It measures 111mm in height, which is fairly tall when compared to the RRS BH-55, which is noticeably shorter at 94mm.

The most impressive feature of the FLM CB-58 FTR is its maximum load capacity – at 55 kilograms, it is one of the most capable ballheads on the market. In comparison, the Really Right Stuff BH-55 is rated at 23 kg, less than half of what the CB-58 is capable of. Most other ballheads don’t even stand a chance, since they are rated even lower. Forget about the rating, is that number even realistic, or is it just a marketing gimmick? I had the same question and I decided to put the CB-58 through a few tests. My first test was to install a nodal slide on the ballhead, then with the ballhead mounted on a very sturdy Gitzo Systematic tripod, try to apply a lot of push / pull force on each side of the slide to see if I could force the ballhead to move. After several attempts, I gave up. All I ended up doing was moving my tripod around – the ballhead did not move even a bit. I then tried applying vertical force by moving the tripod to the ground. Again, nothing moved. My final test was to put it on the ground and try to stand on the nodal slide while holding on to a rail. All I ended up doing was making the ballhead move side to side because it was not attached to anything, but the head itself would not move. That’s pretty darn impressive! To be fair, I repeated these tests with my BH-55 and it did not move either, so my weight testing was not very conclusive. I guess without first mounting the tripod on a flat surface, it would be quite difficult to assess the true potential of the CB-58 when compared to other ballheads. But who cares really? I don’t know why anyone would want to put the load of a person on a ballhead – that’s not what these things are designed to do. Even with my BH-55 that is “only” rated at 23 kilograms, I have not had a situation where I needed more. Even when using very heavy older manual focus lenses like the Nikon 600mm f/4 IF-ED or the newer Nikon 800mm f/5.6 VR attached to a full-size Nikon D4 DSLR, I never managed to exceed 7 kilograms total, let alone 23 kg! And the CB-58 can more than double that, which is insane!

Aside from that, the CB-58 can do things that most other ballheads on the market, including ones from RRS cannot. For example, it can be locked to tilt in one direction, something I have previously only seen on the UniqBall. Another great feature is the ability to switch from smooth panning base to geared panning, which is a feature I wish every tripod had. In addition, one can rotate the base to 0° and press the “15° STOP” button to fully lock the panning base, in order to be able to quickly detach it from a tripod – a very useful feature in those situations where a ballhead can get stuck to the tripod base. These are all great features to have on a ballhead and that’s where most other ballheads on the market miss out in comparison.

FLM CB-58 FTR Knobs

Take a look at what each knob does:

  1. Main Knob: to tighten / loosen the head
  2. Tension Knob (on top of the Main Knob): to add tension to the main knob, so that the head does not easily fall off
  3. Tilt Knob: to control tilting in one direction
  4. 15° Stop Knob: the knob controls whether the panning base is geared or not (geared panning base rotates in 15° increments). The button on top of the knob allows locking the head in 0° position for easy tripod removal
  5. Pan Knob: to allow base panning

As you can see, the CB-58 comes with a number of unique features that make it stand out from its competition. Most other ballheads, including my RRS BH-55 only have a few knobs to control the tension and basic panning only.

While these features are indeed very nice (I am especially a big fan of the geared panning base), I personally found two issues with the FLM CB-58, one of which is present on all FLM ballheads. First, the tilt feature is not as useful as it looks. While it could come in handy for doing things like vertical panoramas, I would not trust it to be able to handle heavy gear. The problem is, even with the tilt knob fully tightened, I could still get the head to move in other directions with enough force. So if you have heavy gear and you are thinking about using this ballhead as a gimbal, I would be extra careful – it might not be a good idea, since the setup could start falling sideways. Unlike UniqBall that can freely move in any direction, but never on the sides (making it a potential gimbal replacement), the CB-58 cannot be locked to perform a similar function.

Second, it takes many turns on the main knob to fully tighten the head, which is rather annoying – something I had a hard time getting used to. With my BH-55, a quarter of a turn on the main knob loosens or tightens the setup, which is something I am very used to. Most other tripods behave very similarly in this regard. However, with the FLM ballheads, you have to turn the main knob many times. Going from a fully loose to a fully tightened position can take as many as three full turns, which is a lot! Considering that you will be resetting your hand every half turn or so, that translates to something like 6-7 total rotations that are needed. If one needs to make quick adjustments, that process will certainly take more time in the field when compared to other ballheads. While one can somewhat restrict this with the tension knob, it still takes a few turns to fully lock the head. This problem is universal across all FLM heads, since it is designed this way. I am sure one can get used to this behavior overtime, but I certainly found it to be a bit time consuming and annoying.

These issues are discussed in detail in my video review of the three ballheads:

VIDEO

Overall, despite the above-mentioned issues, I found the FLM CB-58 to be one of the best ballheads I have handled so far. If you have heavy gear and you need one of the sturdiest and most reliable heads on the market, I would certainly trust the CB-58 to fit the bill. At $450 with a quick-release clamp, it has excellent value, something I would certainly recommend over most other full-size ballheads, including the RRS BH-55.

FLM CB-48 FTR

The FLM CB-48 FTR is a smaller brother of the CB-58 and it is the second biggest ballhead made by FLM. At 582 grams, it is lighter and also noticeably smaller than the CB-58, with its 65 x 99mm dimensions. It can handle less load, but not by a huge margin – still quite a bit more than what the full-size BH-55 can do! It has the same design and knobs as its bigger brother, so it is identical in its functionality, with the ability to tilt, as well as being able to do geared panning and easy tripod removal.

FLM CB-48 FTR

Let’s take a look at its specifications:

  • Model: CB-48 FTR
  • Maximum Load Capacity: 35 kg (45 kg as listed on FLM)
  • Center Ball Diameter: 48mm
  • Dimensions: 65 x 99mm (diameter x height)
  • Weight: 593 grams
  • Bottom Thread: 3/8 inches

I found the listed specifications to be a bit confusing. While B&H lists maximum load capacity of 55 kg for the CB-58 and 35 kg for the CB-48, the FLM website shows the two to be 60 kg and 45 kg consecutively. I am not sure which one is more accurate, but I guess it does not matter all that much, because these ratings are pretty crazy anyway. Whether the CB-48 can handle 35 kg or 45 kg does not matter for me personally, because both are still quite a bit more than what the RRS BH-55 and most other ballheads can do.

To be honest, if I were to pick between the CB-58 and the CB-48, I would go with the latter, since it is smaller, lighter and can handle anything you throw at it. In fact, I would probably even go for the smaller CB-38 FTR model that can handle 25 kg of weight and only weighs 436 grams. Considering that all these ballheads come with identical features and knobs, why not pick the smaller and lighter one? If you have heavy gear and a full-size tripod, then perhaps the CB-48 or CB-43 would be the way to go, but for an everyday setup with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera and standard lenses, I would personally go for a smaller setup.

FLM CB-32 F

In fact, if you need a lightweight ballhead for travel, something like the CB-32 F would be potentially ideal. I requested this little guy to see how it would perform when traveling and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it performed. I mounted fairly heavy cameras on this ballhead, including a Sony A9 with the Sony 100-400mm GM lens and it handled everything I threw at it without any problems. At 311 grams, it is lighter than my RRS BH-30 and it can still handle up to 20 kg of weight compared to the 7 kg rating on the BH-30.

FLM CB-32 F

Below are the main specifications of this ballhead:

  • Model: CB-32 F
  • Maximum Load Capacity: 20 kg
  • Center Ball Diameter: 32mm
  • Dimensions: 47 x 79mm (diameter x height)
  • Weight: 311 grams
  • Bottom Thread: 3/8 inches

Obviously, all the standard knobs seen on other larger FLM ballheads would not fit on this guy, so it only comes with three of them: main, tension and panning knob. Still, even with the limited number of features, it still outdoes most other similar travel-size ballheads (including the RRS BH-30) when it comes to maximum load capacity and ability to add tension.

In addition to this model, FLM has a number of other ballheads that are even smaller, so if you are looking for something lighter, check out the CB-24 and CB-18 models.

FLM Ballhead (CB-58 FT II, CB-48 FT II and CB-32 F II)
  • Features
  • Build Quality
  • Handling
  • Value
  • Size and Weight
  • Packaging and Manual
  • Ease of Use
  • Stability

Photography Life Overall Rating

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Why Hyperfocal Distance Charts Are Wrong

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One of the most misunderstood parts about landscape photography is the correct way to fit your entire scene within a photo’s depth of field. Where do you focus? What aperture should you use? You might think that these questions are easy to answer with a hyperfocal distance chart, where you provide your focal length and aperture, and the chart tells you exactly where to focus. There’s only one hiccup — if you want the sharpest possible results, these charts are spectacularly wrong. For most landscape and architectural photographers, that’s a big deal. This article explains everything about hyperfocal distance charts: what they are, why they fail, and where to focus instead.

1) What Is Hyperfocal Distance?

The technical definition of hyperfocal distance is quite simple: It’s the closest point to your camera that you can focus, while still ending up with an acceptably sharp background.

Why did I put “acceptably sharp” in bold? Because it’s way too ambiguous. I’ll go more into that later, but this is the main reason why hyperfocal distance charts aren’t workable — and didn’t even work in the past, regardless of photographers’ changing standards for sharpness over time.

2) What Are Hyperfocal Distance Charts?

Typical hyperfocal distance charts look like this, although there are different ones for every sensor size:

Hyperfocal Distance Chart

Essentially, you input your aperture and focal length, and they output the closest point you can focus and still capture an acceptably sharp background. It’s not just charts, either; you’ll also find hyperfocal distance calculators and apps that give you the exact same values, but with some more flexibility on the inputs they allow.

But, since they aren’t accurate anyway, you don’t need to worry about any of this.

3) Why Are Hyperfocal Distance Charts Inaccurate?

Hyperfocal distance charts are wrong because their definition of “acceptably sharp” is sloppy and inflexible.

When the first hyperfocal distance charts were designed, someone decided that an acceptably sharp background contained some blur — enough to notice in a medium-sized print — but, all things considered, not a massive amount. After that point, nearly every other hyperfocal chart followed suit.

To be more specific, most hyperfocal distance charts are calculated to give you exactly 0.03 millimeters of background blur. (That’s the physical size of the blur projected onto your camera sensor.) If you’ve ever heard the term circle of confusion, this is all it’s talking about: the size that an out-of-focus pinpoint of light appears on your camera sensor itself.

So, what’s wrong with this definition? Perhaps your first thought is that this particular value, a 0.03-millimeter circle of confusion, happens to be too large for today’s world of high-resolution cameras, large prints, and 4K monitors. If we simply created hyperfocal distance charts with a more demanding value — maybe 0.015 millimeters, or 0.01 millimeters of blur — we’d be fine. Right?

Nope. Not at all.

That’s because the biggest issue with hyperfocal distance charts isn’t that their circle of confusion is too large. Yes, that is a problem, but there’s an even more important one: These charts recommend the exact same focusing distance for a given aperture and focal length, and it doesn’t change, no matter the landscape.

Say that you’re shooting with a 24mm lens, and you want to use an aperture of f/8 (since it’s the sharpest one on your lens). Logically, your focusing point should change depending upon the scene in front of you — whether there’s a foreground element nearby, or whether you’re at an overlook with everything in the distance. But, according to a hyperfocal distance chart, all you need to do here is focus eight feet away from the camera, and you’re set.

That is very, very inaccurate. Instead, the best method is to change your point of focus depending upon the scene. So, if every element of your image is in the distance, focus at the horizon. Or, if there’s a foreground element nearby, focus closer than eight feet (and use a smaller aperture while you’re at it).

If every one of your photos has an “acceptably sharp” background, that’s all it will have. It won’t have the best possible sharpness. It won’t keep your foreground as sharp as possible. All that it guarantees — and all that a hyperfocal distance chart tells you — is that your background will have exactly 0.03 millimeters of blur for every single photo.

So, drat. It seems like hyperfocal distance is a useless topic that won’t help you take sharper photos at all. Right?

Not necessarily. On one hand, it is true that hyperfocal distance charts aren’t useful; that should be fairly obvious by now. But that doesn’t mean hyperfocal distance in general is a bad concept. In fact, there is still a fantastic way to find the right focusing distance in landscape photography. It is also, I might add, quite a bit easier than pulling out a chart each time you take a photo.

Hyperfocal-Distance-LandscapeNIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/10.0
Hyperfocal distance is still useful in situations like this, since I have to find the perfect place to focus in order to capture these flowers and mountains sharp simultaneously.

4) The Optimal Focusing Method

Before going into the proper way to find your focusing distance, let’s examine the definition of hyperfocal distance one more time:

It’s the closest point to your camera that you can focus, while still ending up with an acceptably sharp background.

The holdup so far is that “acceptably sharp” has nothing to do with the scene you’re photographing. Is there a way to change that?

Indeed there is. Instead of defining it as an arbitrary, inflexible circle of confusion — no matter how large or small — I propose that an acceptably sharp background is one that is equally as sharp as the foreground. In other words, the background circle of confusion should be exactly the same as the foreground circle of confusion.

That, and that alone, will give you the sharpest possible results across the entire frame. You no longer have to worry about your foreground being vastly less sharp than the background; just focus closer until the two are equally sharp. And, if your “foreground” (the closest element in your photo) is a distant mountain, all you need to do is focus at infinity, and you’ll achieve a blur much smaller than 0.03 millimeters.

Focus-at-infinityNIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/500, f/8.0
The closest element in this photo is quite far away from my camera. Functionally, it’s at infinity. So, why would I focus 8 feet away (which is what the hyperfocal distance chart recommends for a 24mm photo at f/8) rather than just focusing at infinity? Something isn’t right.

I can see some arguments from people who prefer, in a particular landscape, that either their foreground or background is significantly sharper than the other. That’s fair — but this technique is about maximizing your sharpness from front to back. If that’s your goal, as is the case for most landscape photographers, you’ll want the two to have matching levels of sharpness.

There is only one question left: How do you actually find the point that results in equal foreground and background blur? Is it all just guesswork?

Actually, the optimal method is remarkably simple: Find the closest element in your photo. Estimate how far away it is. Double that distance, and focus there. (That’s the real hyperfocal distance, as defined by equal foreground and background sharpness.)

If the closest element in your photo is one meter away, the hyperfocal distance is two meters away. If the closest element in your photo is ten feet away, the hyperfocal distance is twenty feet away.

This is called the double-the-distance method, and it’s something that should be stuck in the head of almost every landscape photographer. Focus twice as far as your closest object. Done.

Hyperfocal-Distance-four-feet-awayNIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 19mm, ISO 100, 1/5, f/11.0
In this image, the nearest rocks are roughly four feet away from the plane of my camera sensor. So, to capture the sharpest possible result in both the foreground and background, I just doubled the distance and focused at eight feet.

If you’re worried about estimating distances perfectly, don’t be too concerned. First, this is no different from what you’d do with a normal hyperfocal distance chart — trying to focus at exactly fifteen feet, for example — so it isn’t anything new. And, on top of that, you don’t have to be totally accurate. If you focus at 2.8 meters rather than 3 meters, your photo will still be vastly sharper than if you followed a “proper” hyperfocal distance chart in the first place.

Another great thing about the double-the-distance method is that it doesn’t depend upon your focal length or aperture at all. The proper spot to focus in every single landscape, no matter your settings, is double the distance (again, assuming that you want maximum foreground-background sharpness).

The settings you use are still quite important, of course. If your landscape extends from three feet to infinity, and you’re focused at six feet, you wouldn’t want to use an aperture of f/2. But even if you do use an aperture of f/2, you’ll still maximize the sharpness in the scene; it’s just better to use a more typical landscape aperture of f/11 or so instead.

Actually, that’s another important point. Now that you’ve found the best possible spot to focus, what aperture should you use for the sharpest photo? A smaller aperture will provide as much depth of field as possible, but it also decreases your photo’s sharpness due to diffraction.

That’s also a crucial technique to learn — and, once again, there is an optimal answer — but it is too long to describe in this article. I’ve already covered everything in detail in my article on choosing the sharpest aperture. That’s a great place to start.

So, is that it? You simply focus at double the distance for every photo, and you’re set?

Yes indeed. For landscape photography, this method is a fantastic tool to have in your kit. It’s how I focus for every single landscape I encounter, given that I want the maximum possible depth of field. Don’t worry yourself with hyperfocal distance charts, because their definition of “acceptably sharp” isn’t up to par. Instead, focus twice as far as your closest subject, and you’ll be set.

5) Are Lens Aperture Scales Also Inaccurate?

Some lenses (though fewer nowadays) have built-in scales to tell you how much depth of field you’ll get at a given aperture. They look something like this:

Focusing Scale(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

People frequently ask me whether it’s possible to use these depth of field scales to focus properly and use the optimal aperture. Or, like hyperfocal distance charts, are these scales also wrong?

In practice, there are a couple reasons why you’d want to avoid using these lens scales as a guide for the best possible place to focus. First, you have to ensure that the distance markers on your particular lens are accurate in the first place. Not all of them will be calibrated perfectly, and it’s very possible that your lens will misidentify how far away it’s focused. For example, it may say that it’s focused at five feet, but it’s actually focused at seven or eight feet instead.

More than that, though, these focusing scales are also calibrated with a 0.03 millimeter circle of confusion in mind. This means that their depth of field markers are — to say the least — quite generous. I mentioned earlier that 0.03 millimeters of blur is fairly noticeable on medium-sized prints, and that’s still true. If you follow the indicators on lenses like this, your horizon and foreground will each have 0.03 millimeters of blur. That’s not a massive or unforgivable amount, but, very often, you can do better.

So, as a whole, I wouldn’t use these scales to focus properly in a landscape. They’re not quite as bad as hyperfocal distance charts, but the optimal method is, like always, double-the-distance.

Double-the-distance-focusing-methodNIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 15mm, ISO 100, 1/20, f/16.0
Here, the closest objects in my frame are some grasses at the bottom of the image. They were only about a foot away from the plane of my camera sensor. So, I focused two feet away and used a very small aperture of f/16.

6) Conclusion

Hyperfocal distance charts are wrong for two reasons. First, their definition of an “acceptably sharp” background has a 0.03-millimeter circle of confusion, which isn’t particularly sharp. And, even worse, these charts don’t change at all depending upon the landscape in front of you. So, they simply aren’t flexible.

Instead, it’s best to define an “acceptably sharp background” as being “equally sharp as the foreground.” That maximizes definition across the entire frame, from top to bottom, and it lets you do away with the issues of traditional hyperfocal distance charts.

Best of all, finding this point — the correct hyperfocal distance — is simple. You have to locate the closest object in your frame, estimate its distance from your camera sensor’s plane, and then double that distance.

For landscape photographers, this information is essential. If you’ve ever been at a scene with a great foreground and background, but you’ve been unable to capture both as sharp as possible at once, this is the proper hyperfocal distance. Forget charts and calculators; forget depth of field scales on your lenses. By focusing at double the distance, you can maximize the sharpness of a scene without compromise, and it is far easier to put into practice, too.

Hyperfocal-Distance-chart-landscapeNIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 0.6 seconds, f/9.0
Here, the nearest object in my photo is the grass at the bottom of the image. It’s about five feet away. So, I focused ten feet away, which lines up roughly with the front of the island in the middle of this stream.

If you have questions about hyperfocal distance charts, depth of field, doubling the distance, or anything else I covered, feel free to ask about it below. This is a higher-level topic, but it’s an important one that every landscape photographer should know. There’s certainly enough misinformation floating around online about hyperfocal distance, so I’ll do my best to address any concerns in the comments section.

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Photographing Alaska Part 1: Planes, Train and Automobile

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Who hasn’t dreamt of a trip to Alaska? It may not seem such a big deal for residents of west coast or NW USA, but for the rest of us it seems as far away as the moon. Even so, wherever we traveled we’d run into someone who waxed lyrical about their Alaskan cruise. Finally, the opportunity of snapping those images of bears catching leaping salmon was too much to resist.

Journey to AlaskaNIKON D610 @ 70mm, ISO 400, 1/2000, f/5.0

Once I started researching the trip, it became apparent that a cruise wasn’t the best option for us – even though the entire tourist infrastructure seems geared to cruise ships, and travelling independently can be a real logistical nightmare.

So, everything eventually planned and booked – but what gear? There were a couple of journeys planned on small planes with weight and space restrictions, so I couldn’t pack everything. The final choice was my much-loved Nikon D800 for landscape duty, and D500 for wildlife. Lenses were the Nikon f/2.8 “trinity”: NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G for those amazing wide angle landscapes, NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G for “everyday” use, and NIKKOR 70-200 f/2.8G VR (i.e. 105-300mm effective on the D500) for the wildlife. The NIKKOR 200-500mm was no-go because of the weight. I’d also thought about the Sigma 24-35mm plus 50mm f/1.4 Art duo instead of the 24-70mm, but since each of them weighs as much as the Nikon…

Our first stop was Juneau (via Seattle) on the SE coast. Why they chose to build a state capital in a place where there are no roads in or out is anyone’s guess. And remember what I said about cruise ships? The cruise ship terminal is at the heart of downtown. The airport is 16 miles out of town (with no public transport), and the Marine Ferry terminal even further away. So if the city seems so determined to discourage independent visitors, why bother? Because Juneau is the jumping-off point for this:

Image 1 Sawyer GlacierNIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 250, 1/1000, f/7.1

The Tracy Arm fjord has two glaciers, but the glaciers are only part of the attraction, with plenty of photo-ops along the way:

Image 2 Tracy Arm FjordNIKON D610 @ 140mm, ISO 640, 1/4000, f/5.6 Image 3 Tracy Arm fjordNIKON D610 @ 200mm, ISO 1600, 1/2000, f/2.8

The glaciers themselves are heralded by their short-lived cast-offs:

Image 4 Tracy Arm FjordNIKON D610 @ 80mm, ISO 640, 1/8000, f/4.0 Image 5 Tracy Arm FjordNIKON D610 @ 140mm, ISO 640, 1/3200, f/6.3

The cameras worked hard here. The weather was very dull and grey, and we were on the deck of a small boat, bobbing up and down – so juggling ISO and shutter speed to keep images sharp, yet reasonably noise-free, was a constant battle. I have to say I was very happy with the results – no NR used. And in many ways I found these ice-floes even more photogenic than their parents. Maybe next visit I’ll have time to take a paddle through the ice and get really close!

When you finally see the face of the glacier, it’s difficult to appreciate their size. That wall is over half a mile away:

Image 6 Sawyer GlacierNIKON D800 @ 24mm, ISO 250, 1/1000, f/7.1

Always useful to have another boat or creature to give you a sense of scale:

Image 7 Sawyer GlacierNIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 250, 1/4000, f/5.0 Image 8 Sawyer GlacierNIKON D610 @ 95mm, ISO 800, 1/3200, f/5.0

And of course, it’s not just the panorama. Each face is full of amazing shapes and details:

Image 9 Sawyer GlacierNIKON D610 @ 135mm, ISO 800, 1/3200, f/4.0 Image 10 Sawyer GlacierNIKON D610 @ 145mm, ISO 400, 1/2000, f/5.0

A ferry ride from Juneau to Skagway, and we enter a different world. Sadly, the little town – the main arrival point for prospectors joining the Klondike gold-rush – was shrouded in rain and mist. Luckily this didn’t detract too much from the stunning landscapes as we took the tourist train from Skagway up to Carcross in Canada:

Image 11 White Pass RailwayNIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 800, 1/2000, f/3.5

The rail line was built towards the end of the gold-rush, closely following one of the foot ‘trails’. Not all of the original railway survived, providing some evocative ‘ghosts’:

Image 12 White Pass RailwayNIKON D800 @ 48mm, ISO 640, 1/500, f/9.0

The guides regaled us with stories of the hardships endured by the poor deluded prospectors, including the ‘ton of goods’ they had to haul up to the Canadian border before the Canadian authorities would let them in:

Image 13 The Ton of GoodsDMC-LX100 @ 27.2mm, ISO 200, 1/125, f/5.0

A fascinating history lesson, and on the way back to Skagway, something slightly different:

Image 14NIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 200, 1/160, f/4.0

The next stage of our trip was centered on Anchorage, and this is where the cruise-ship option would have fallen short – but I’ll save that for the next post!


This guest post was submitted by Alan Mosley. To see more of his work, please check out his online gallery.

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The Camera Hype

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I have been debating for quite some time to write this article. On one hand, I feel like I have an overwhelming responsibility to tell our readers the truth about the camera industry and the economics of running a website, and on the other hand, I know that such a provocative article would probably earn me plenty of hate from the publishing industry. But after seeing a few of the past events related to the launching of a few cameras, the same thoughts kept on creeping up and I finally decided to do it. I decided to write on a topic that nobody wants to talk about – how camera companies and everyone else involved in the camera industry are banking on people, AKA the consumers. I wrote this article primarily because of the sense of guilt I have had for years now and also because I do not want our readers to fall into the traps of consumerism. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and get ready for some entertainment – I assure you that it is coming!

The Nikon D850 is sold out everywhere. Even if you try hard, the likelihood of you finding a sample unit at the retail price is close to zero. It is crazy to think that a camera that has just been announced was already sold out within hours after the announcement. In fact, I would argue that the D850 was sold out long before its announcement, thanks to all the Internet hype – and everyone benefits from such hype. Websites thrive on rumors, because it drives a lot of traffic that they bank on through advertising. Once the announced camera ships, they double bank, because of the profits associated with the pre-orders. Retailers love the Internet hype, because those pre-orders result in thousands of cameras being sold without much advertising effort on their sides. Camera manufacturers cash on the hype the most, as they struggle to make enough cameras to ship – the demand is so strong that they don’t have to move their butts to create awareness and spend out of their marketing budgets on advertising. Everyone involved gets a share – the bigger they are, the bigger the share. Welcome to Marketing 2.0: The Hype.

The Death of Traditional Media and the Rise of Social Media Influencers

Everyone has funny stories to tell from their early days in photography. Let me tell you mine. When I got my first Nikon DSLR with an 18-135mm zoom lens, I always blamed my gear for bad pictures. One day, after doing some online research, I came across a website on the first page of Google, with what it seemed like a very knowledgeable photographer, who guided me via an article on how to set up my camera. He said that JPEG small was the way to go, and that all lenses out there are junk except for the most versatile lens ever made in the history of mankind: the Nikon 18-200mm. He said that photographers were dumping all of their lenses from their camera bags and downsizing their gear to just this one lens, because it was so good. After reading this very convincing article, I decided that every bad picture I had was a result of the bad 18-135mm lens I owned, so I started my quest on purchasing this new amazing gem, the Nikon 18-200mm. The problem was, the damn lens was nowhere to be found! Later on I found out that this one photographer was so successful in convincing many Nikon idiots shooters like me, that he alone created a demand for this lens that Nikon could not even keep up with. Who knew, that one person who could outrank NikonUSA in search engine rankings could have such a powerful influence over other photographers. It took me 6 months to finally receive the 18-200mm and after just a few days with the lens, I realized how stupid I was for falling into this trap. Here was the lens that was supposed to make beautiful images for me and yet it was no better than the 18-135mm I already owned. I felt cheated and lied to, but it was a good lesson to be learned.

The idea of a social media influencer spread like a disease all over the corporate world. Companies quickly realized that they were getting very sluggish sales by advertising their products on newspaper and online ads of large publishing companies. Instead, concentrating on smaller niche publishers and social media influencers proved to be much more fruitful. Instead of going after the mass market, why not target the loyal fans of a niche market or a successful individual? Websites that attract like-minded people are far more successful at what they do compared to a large publication that has to cover everything. It did not take long for traditional media to die off and disappear, with new heroes on the block – the social media influencers.

It is nice to be one for sure, since you get all kinds of benefits. The higher you stand in your status and following, the bigger the privileges. Better yet, if you can be a combination of a celebrity and a social media influencer, you are guaranteed to have every door open for you. You don’t even need to show off your millions of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat followers – companies will come flocking your way, asking you to promote their products in exchange for money. Some climb up so high that some retailers even fight over who gets to be the “exclusive”. This was another funny story I heard a few years back…

What’s the big deal about these niche websites and social media influencers, you might think? Loyal followers. And that’s exactly what the sales teams are after. The problem is, many followers have no idea that the products their idols praise so much are actually fed by someone else – be it a watch, an energy drink or an expensive camera.

Website Economics 101

Have you ever wondered about how much money a photography website can generate on a newly announced camera? Let’s take a look at the primary sources of revenue for any website (including PL):

  1. Advertising Revenue (Banner Ads)
  2. Affiliate Revenue
  3. Sponsored Content
  4. Email Marketing

Keep in mind that there are many other sources of potential revenue for a website, but I am just listing the main ones. In fact, if we were to concentrate on the highest revenue-generating sources of income, the first two would be the most significant – Advertising Revenue and Affiliate Revenue. Those two sources alone typically generate over 90% of the revenue on a new product announcement.

Let’s take a look at the details, shall we? This is the part that many publishers rarely ever disclose, but I personally don’t care, as I felt that it was too important to skip.

1. Advertising Revenue

Banner ads. Who knew that anyone clicks on those stupid things? But that’s what most of the advertising revenue comes from for any website. The more traffic, the better. In fact, websites do everything they can to create tons of click-bait content for the sole purpose of driving advertising revenue. As someone who has been operating a website for a number of years, I have a confession to make – photography articles rarely ever create good website traffic. Gear reviews and any content related to camera gear create far more traffic and it is a fact. I have far more views on a review on the day it is published than on an educational photography article. Case in point: my “Five Easy Steps to Improve Your Photos via Post-Processing” got a total of 17 thousand views ever since it was published over a month ago, whereas I got the same number of views on the Nikon D850 Announcement the day it was published! Sad, but true. Camera-related articles drive tons of traffic to websites, because everyone is obsessed about camera gear.

Another proof of camera gear obsession lies in our email distribution lists. Take a close look at the following screenshot:

PL Email Distribution

Out of 35+ thousand people that receive our emails, most people prefer checking out gear-related articles, as the above shows. As you can see, close to 30% of readers opened the Nikon D850 announcement article, and almost 10% of them clicked on the article to read it, whereas other articles did not get nearly as much attention. This is another proof that many of us are obsessed about camera gear more than any other topic.

So how much money would banner advertising bring to a website? Well, that’s all a matter of traffic and banner ads – the more traffic and banner ads displayed, the higher the revenue. As simple as that. Let’s take a look at a sample 2016 advertising revenue report for PL:

PL Advertising Revenue 2016

On average in 2016, advertising revenue for PL was roughly $175-250 per day – and that’s with minimal and less obtrusive 3 ads per page. In November and December, I experimented with more ads and I was able to get up to $500 per day of advertising revenue. I backed out of the idea at the end of December, because I did not like what it did to user experience, so the number of ads were dropped back to the minimum in 2017. So on average I made between $5K to $7K per month, but I was able to get as high as $12K at the end of the year. If I was primarily focused on revenue, I could easily get $10-$15K a month for the small amount of traffic I receive when compared to some other much bigger websites. For a comparison, a site like PetaPixel could easily bank $50K a month on purely advertising revenue.

2. Affiliate Revenue

Let’s now take a look at “affiliate marketing”, a term that has made companies like Amazon and B&H Photo Video highly successful. It is crazy to think how successful affiliate marketing has been for many companies out there, including photography websites. Here is how it works – a seller (for example Amazon) wants to sell more products. It recruits many niche websites to write about products and gives them a percentage of the revenue they help generate. The website publishes an article or a review, then posts a link to the seller’s website with tracking information. If their reader buys a product through that link, the website owner gets a share, typically based on a percentage.

Now here is how the actual math works. For cameras specifically (which are considered part of electronics), the retailer gets roughly 10% cut on camera sales. For example, the Nikon D850 is a $3,300 camera, so Amazon would get $330 for every D850 it can sell. Since retailers have to spend a lot of money on advertising to promote sales and push more cameras out, they figured out that if they partner up with other niche, but powerful websites and influential individuals, they can generate a lot more money. The 10% cut has to be split between them and the affiliates, but the long term benefits are incredible. In fact, they double bank on the affiliate system: not only are they able to drive more sales this way, but each and every link that goes to them through their affiliate program also generates a long-term SEO benefit, since it is a permanent backlink to the retailer. That is why when you Google for something like “Nikon D850”, retailers such as Amazon and B&H Photo Video pop on the first page. The more links to the retailer’s camera page, the higher their SEO rankings.

So what kind of percentage share can a website expect from online retailers? Depending on how big a website is, that percentage share can vary from 3% to 5%. That money goes from the 10% cut that the retailer gets, so if an affiliate earns say 3%, the retailer would only be able to make 7% from the camera sale. Let’s now put things in perspective. Say on average an affiliate earns 3% from the MSRP. In the case of the Nikon D850, that’s basically $100 per camera. If an affiliate is influential enough to push 100 cameras to its readers, that’s 10 grand right there. Why do you think you see those “Pre-order the Nikon D850 Today” articles and advertisements floating all over? Rumor websites bank on affiliate sales like crazy, because people pre-order their cameras through them on hot cameras, since they are probably going to be the first ones to post those links.

Affiliate marketing does not stop there – 3%-5% is the bare minimum and it is only relevant to hardware. If a website promotes software, the commissions are far higher in comparison. For example, if I were to promote Adobe Creative Cloud at PL, I could get up to 85% commission off the first month and up to 8.33% off the first year on a pre-paid plan. I have received a number of emails about this, but since I have no plans promoting Adobe products, I never bothered responding to any of those inquiries. Here is a screenshot from one of the emails:

Adobe CC Affiliate Program

If you find these numbers hard to believe, head on over to Adobe’s Affiliate Program page, where you will find all of the above information right on the first page. Next time someone tells you about the glory of Adobe Creative Cloud, perhaps you should take a look at their links and see if they really believe the product, or they are saying it in order to drive more affiliate revenue.

Summary: websites and blogs do not just post information about cameras because they want to post news or create awareness among their readers – they have direct monetary gains from them, including PL.

Marketing 2.0: Leaky Leaks

As I have said earlier, the Nikon D850 was sold out before it was even announced, thanks to all the hype that was created by rumor websites. But what are rumor websites really? We have some mysterious people behind them that want to stay underground and provide nicknames like “Admin”, who claim to have legitimate sources that provide leaked information. But let’s get one fact straight – rumors are very beneficial for manufacturers.

Rumor sources are not some people who breach NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) who do not want to get in trouble and hide their real names. Surely they will try to stay anonymous for a rumor website by creating a fake email address and writing from it (after-all, it would be bad if others found out that the company was directly involved in rumors), but who cares at the end of the day, since they provide fairly accurate information way before the announcement. How is it possible that we already knew everything about the Nikon D850 way before it was even announced? Specifications leaked out months in advance and pictures of the camera were already posted on rumor websites before the official announcement. Some might argue that a camera would have to be touched, tested and manufactured somewhere, so someone might leak some information about it along the way. Trust me, companies like Nikon do make sure that nobody spreads any unauthorized information on an unlaunched product – everything is kept secret under very strict NDA rules. If anyone breaches their NDA, Nikon would definitely take them to court. That’s how serious NDA documents are.

However, I have a big suspicion that these leaks do not originate from photographers and third party vendors. Considering how much benefit they bring to the manufacturer, it only makes sense to suspect the manufacturer to be responsible for information leaks. In fact, there is one piece of now forgotten evidence that points us to this. Remember the Nikon D500 launch? Someone at Nikon screwed up big time on it. Do you know what their mistake was? They failed to leak out any information related to the D500! If you back-track your memory, that camera announcement caught everyone by surprise. Not a single rumor site said a word before the camera was announced, because their sources were “silent”. Whoops. I am not sure if it was an experiment on their side, but I am sure the sales numbers did not look as good when compared to other previously leaked releases.

The rumor mill was an interesting playground for me personally – at the time I used to write about rumors (and got tons of traffic as a result), I would get occasional emails from different people who claimed to have some information about upcoming Nikon products. One even assured me that a “Nikon D400” type camera was definitely coming. I had my reasons to suspect who those people were and there was always a pattern to each and every one of them – their English and their writing skills were terrible, as if someone intentionally made those look bad. It did not take me long to suspect that those who leak information had something to do with the product in the first place. The traffic generated by rumors was very appealing, but I made a decision not to ever post rumors again, because I did not want to be a part of the “hype”.

Shut Up and Take My Money

If you think manufacturers leak information about their products by accident, or that rumors only do harm to them, think again! Rumors are great for everyone, since they all translate to one thing: sales. Those leaky leaks are highly intentional and successful marketing techniques. And if you have been participating on rumor-related articles with “Shut Up and Take My Money” memes, their mission is accomplished.

The Nikon D850 Over-Hype

The Nikon D850 is the best DSLR Nikon has ever made – it is a game changer. But wait a second, didn’t we hear that already before? What about the D500, D800 and the D700? Those also claimed to have the “best” and “game changer” titles. It seems like every few years we get the new “best”, the new “do it all”, amazing camera. Guess what, when Nikon releases a mirrorless camera next year, it will again be a game changer. A beautifully crafted pattern, isn’t it?

The Nikon D850 is the most over-hyped camera since the Nikon D800. But remember what happened with the D800 hype? So many people ended up disappointed, especially when all the focusing issues started to surface. One would think that photographers would learn from being scapegoats once, but here we go again! Tens of thousands of people are sitting pissed in their chairs reading about the Nikon D850, since their pre-order has not shipped yet. It is 2012 revisited, literally. Once again, Nikon fails to meet its customer demand. Tons of cameras are rushed to the market, mostly claimed by the NPS members. There will be months of waiting, thanks to all those folks who have placed pre-orders at 5 places at once (yay to Guinea Pig Pre-Orderers). Those who received a few extras because they clicked on a pre-order link first are already doing what’s best for them – selling them for a profit on eBay (looks like the last D850 sold for $4783!). Others are teasing the crowds with their unboxing videos and “first impressions” previews. Nikon will not be able to fulfill D850 orders for months to come, again, exactly same as we had seen with the D800. All thanks to The Hype the Internet has created for this camera.

Sadly, Nikon is not the only company that does it – look at Canon, Sony, Fuji and many others. Everyone is in the hype game, because it sells. The Fuji X-T2 is the best Fuji camera ever made. Sure, until the X-T2S with image stabilization comes out – that will be a real game changer. The Sony A9 is the best Sony has to offer, until Sony A9R comes out that will beat the Nikon D850 in every spec; that surely will be a game changer. Aren’t you tired of this garbage getting shoved down your throat?

Are You a Consumer?

Now the question is, are you a smart buyer or a consumer? If you get excited reading about camera rumors and buying every new iteration of a camera, you are not a smart buyer – you are a consumer. The bigger question is, can you actually afford the gear you are buying? If the answer is “yes” and if buying a new camera makes you happy, then by all means, go for it. However, if the answer is “no”, then you are an idiot consumer, plain and simple. It really boils my blood when a reader emails me, asking if they should be buying a camera on a loan, because they cannot afford it. When I ask a few questions, it typically turns out to be camera lust more than anything else. Want vs need. Their existing gear is more than adequate and yet they think they need something else. A newer camera cannot magically make you a better photographer, just like a newer knife cannot make better-tasting food. I can understand if one was shooting with their grandpa’s film camera and wanted to invest in a digital camera for the first time. But even then, I would never recommend to finance a camera. That’s just not right…

As I looked at myself a few months ago, I realized that I also take part in the never-ending cycle of camera announcements and reviews. Yes, they do generate traffic and revenue, but if I am the reason behind someone else’s misery, I have as much guilt as everyone else in the chain. There have been times when I thought about stopping any gear-related articles and reviews completely, but others persuaded me to continue doing it, arguing that those technical articles and reviews also provide a wealth of information and knowledge. On one hand, I cannot be held responsible for other people’s decisions on buying camera gear. On the other hand, I look at the state of the industry and the constant want of people to get the latest and greatest and I feel the need to do something about it. The least I can do is create awareness among my readers by writing an article on the topic.

Summary

As I am getting ready to start writing my Nikon D850 review (which has been sitting on my desk for a few days now), I have been already thinking that it will be another glowing review of yet another new Nikon DSLR. Looking back at the Nikon D810 that earned a 5-star rating, I am already running out of stars to give. When another Nikon DSLR rolls out with even better features and an integrated EVF, it will be the same, all over again. In short, there will always be a better camera. As I look back at some of my favorite pictures I captured with my Nikon D700 almost ten years ago, I see light, color, subject and its beauty. I don’t see a tilting LCD or electronic front curtain. I don’t see automatic focus stacking or 45 Megapixels. Those are my favorite shots because I was able to concentrate on what really matters – photography.

Kite LauncherKite Launcher, Captured with Nikon D700 and 24-70mm f/2.8G Lens

Don’t be a victim of The Hype. Don’t be a cameraholic and a brainless consumer. Stop yourself from the Internet hysteria that surrounds cameras, lenses and other gear. Instead, spend time learning about photography techniques and improving your skills. Travel more, see more, shoot more. And when I review a piece of camera gear, don’t buy it because I praised it. Only buy what you truly need, not what you want. That’s all I have to say for today.

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Adobe Makes It Difficult to Get Lightroom 6

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A friend of mine texted me with a question on how he can upgrade from his Lightroom 5 copy to Lightroom 6 this weekend. He told me that he was frustrated with his online Adobe experience, since he could not find the standalone version – every search lead him to the Creative Cloud (CC) subscription model, which he did not want to buy. I immediately thought that he was simply overlooking something, so I decided to give it a quick go on my mobile phone. I typed “Adobe Lightroom 6 Upgrade” in Google, which took me to all kinds of places, none of which offered an upgrade option to Lightroom 6, only CC offers.

The very first legitimate option from Adobe was “Adobe Store – Adobe Lightroom 6 – Upgrade“, which took me to the Adobe Southeast Asia store! The funny thing is, the moment I clicked on “Change” to change to another store, it took me right back to the Adobe Catalog, which only offers one Photoshop Lightroom version and you guessed it right, the CC version. I then looked through a few websites and forums that gave step-by-step instructions on how to find the standalone Lightroom 6 version and none of them worked either. After about 15 minutes of searching, I gave up! Indeed, my friend was right – the process of finding an upgrade link turned out to be a nightmare. I even looked for the upgrade at B&H Photo Video and Amazon. Both only offered CC and standalone full versions and there was no upgrade anywhere to be found. It is pretty clear that Adobe intentionally makes it very difficult to get a standalone version of Lightroom on its website and it only wants its customers to upgrade to the CC version…

Only later on, when going through the Adobe catalog, I finally found a way to get to Lightroom 6 standalone and its upgrade version – the steps of which I will detail below.

How to Find Lightroom 6 Standalone

If you were to visit the current Adobe Catalog, you would find a number of CC-only versions of products, including Photoshop Lightroom. There will be only two links on Lightroom – the “Download trial” link and the “Buy now” link, both of which take you to the Creative Cloud versions of Lightroom, as seen below:

Adobe Catalog

The trick here is to type “Lightroom 6” in the search dialog – that’s when Adobe will finally display the Photoshop Lightroom 6 buying option:

Adobe Catalog Lightroom 6

How to Upgrade to Lightroom 6

From there, clicking the “Buy now” link will take you to the page where you can buy Lightroom 6 from. However, if your goal is to buy only the upgrade ($79), you have to select “License Upgrade” under “Type”, as shown below:

Lightroom 6 License Upgrade

After you do that, the screen will change with some other options and you will see the updated $79 price for the upgrade:

Lightroom 6 Upgrade

Will Adobe Release Lightroom 7?

Many of our readers ask us if Adobe will ever release a standalone version of Lightroom 7. So far, Adobe has been promising that unlike Photoshop (the standalone version of which is now dead), Lightroom will not suffer the same fate and that the company will continue releasing standalone versions of Lightroom. However, given that Adobe in the past released Lightroom upgrades in 1-2 year cycles (Lightroom 4 was released in March of 2012, Lightroom 5 was released in June of 2013, Lightroom 6 was released in April of 2015), we have already passed the typical upgrade cycle window for Lightroom at this point. And given the above experience, it is very clear that Adobe wants everyone to be a CC subscriber. To me, all this is an indication of Adobe killing off Lightroom standalone in the future. Perhaps the company will release Lightroom 7 as it promised, but why would they be motivated to, when their stock has been soaring non-stop with the Creative Cloud subscribers? Just Google “ADBE Stock” and take a look at their 5 year graph – the company has never been this well off. Considering that Lightroom and Photoshop are the two most popular software packages Adobe offers, the company will do what it can to milk its customers.

Adobe Lightroom Alternatives

For the past few years I have been exploring other alternatives to replace Lightroom with. So far, the software I am mostly satisfied with for editing has only been Phase One’s Capture One Pro. However, it is not as robust as Lightroom for certain things like file management and it certainly lags behind Lightroom big time when it comes to camera RAW updates. The moment Phase One provides RAW support for my Fuji GFX 50S and the upcoming Nikon D850, I will most likely switch to Capture One permanently. Until then, I have no other viable option other than Lightroom.

If you are considering moving away from Adobe, I would suggest to explore Capture One Pro for non-destructive RAW editing to replace Lightroom and Affinity Photo to replace Photoshop. Once I get caught up with some work later this year, I am hoping to release a few tutorials and howtos on migrating to these two packages.

Please share your experience with Adobe in the comments section below and let us know if you are already a Capture One Pro or Affinity Photo user – I would love some feedback and perhaps some of the challenges that you have gone through along the way.

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Visions of India – David Lazar

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India is a land of great extremes, in a multiplicity of ways. The extreme polarity of beauty and ugliness, rich and poor, are constantly reoccurring themes. The Taj Mahal vs. the slums of Calcutta. The stunning silk brocades of Varanasi vs. the rags worn by those who weave them. You get the picture.

And so it’s quite interesting to consider how a photographer like David Lazar, best known for his fine art approach to travel photography, will reveal India through his lens. The highly regarded Nat Geo contributor from Brisbane, Australia is fascinated by India. But his fascination, at least in terms of his photography, is focused almost exclusively in its more beautiful expressions. It’s not that he never photographs the grittier side of life, it’s just that his fine art vision doesn’t as easily accommodate it.

The majority of the following 16 images were taken in April, 2017 while researching for a 2018 photo tour workshop. So this is more of a sneak preview of coming attractions than the results of a long term project. As good as these images are, David is just beginning to scratch the surface of this truly incredible photographic destination, and looks forward to sharing them with the readers of Photography Life in the future.

1. David Lazar - Trichy Temply-IndiaSunrise @ Trichy Temple, in the state of Tamil Nadu, south India 2. David Lazar - Varanasi-India (2)Sunrise worship on the Ganges in India’s holiest city, Varanasi. Taken from a rowboat @ the main bathing ghat, Dashashwamedh. 3. David Lazar - Varanasi-IndiaSadhu on the Ganges. Taken near Manikarnika cremation ghat. Leaning on the right side of the image, is the well known sunken Shiva temple @ Scindia Ghat. 4. David Lazar - Varanasi-IndiaPortrait of a young Varanasi snake charmer taking a break from his uncooperative cobra, to pose for David. 5. David Lazar - Varanasi-IndiaNicely caught moment of a family and a neighbor boy in front of their homes in the endlessly winding and colorful lanes of Varanasi’s old city. 6. David Lazar - Manikarnika Burning Ghats-Varanasi-IndiaThe fires of Varanasi’s Manikarnika cremation ghats have been burning ceaselessly for many centuries. It is here that Hindus believe final salvation is attained in the fires of Moksha, with their ashes released to the divine embrace of Mother Ganga. 7. David Lazar - Agra-IndiaThe Taj Mahal in Agra was completed in 1643 and is often called the world’s greatest monument to love. It is the mausoleum of the beloved wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Her early death inspired him to commission its creation. 8. David Lazar - Taj Mahal-IndiaThe Taj Mahal from across the Jamuna River at the never realized site of a second Taj, to have been made entirely of black marble. 9. David Lazar - Jodhpur-IndiaChildren at play in the ancient alleys of the Blue City, Jodhpur. 10. David Lazar - Holi_Jaisalmer-IndiaHoli celebration inside the legendary desert fort of Jaisalmer. 11. David Lazar - Palace of -the Winds - Jaipur-IndiaThe Palace of the Winds, in Jaipur. The “palace” is little more than a façade, and was built as a viewpoint for royals to witness grand processions while not being seen by the public. 12. David Lazar - dancer-Mamallapuram, IndiaDancer at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. 13. David Lazar - Bishnoi Woman_Jaipur-IndiaPortait of a Bishnoi woman in a small desert village outside of Jaipur. The Bishnoi are an ethnic minority known for their conservation of the environment and dedication to the care of animals. 14. David Lazar - Thar Desert-IndiaCamel toes in the Thar Desert dunes outside of Jaisalmer. 15. David Lazar - Camel Man-Thar Destert_IndiaA camel driver tends his best friends at sunset – Jaisalmer. 16. David Lazar - The Stepwell_ Jaipur-IndiaThe Stepwell, Jaipur. Grand stepwells were not primarily built as water sources, but to serve as air conditioning units for the small royal palaces built inside them.

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