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Mad Respect for the New Nikon Df DSLR

The New Nikon Df DSLRThe New Nikon Df
Pre-Order Yours at B&H Today!

I normally don't give a damn about new camera releases. But today Nikon announced a new full-frame DSLR camera that finally got my attention: the Nikon Df DSLR.

Except for gear heads who are really only into photography for the sake of getting new toys, newly announced cameras aren't that exciting. For one, they are just too frequent, and two, they generally offer new features and specs that actually aren't that big of a deal. "Ooo, more megapixels that no one needs? Awesome! And higher ISO limits even though everyone still won't shut up about digital noise? Fantastic! AND there's an in-camera HDR feature so I can create god-awful image composites without the need for Photoshop? I'm in!" We have enough megapixels already, the ISO goes high enough as it is for 99% of shooters, and we don't really need 63 auto focus points - a dozen or so is fine.

But here's the thing that irritates me most about modern digital cameras: It seems every manufacturer is moving away from buttons and dials, towards touch-screens and menu-based navigation. In other words, "Let's make our cameras more like an iPhone and less like a camera." Cameras should have buttons and dials on them. Things you can actually touch and see without the need for a blaring LCD screen. I've talked before about the importance of tangibility. Tangible buttons make adjusting your settings way quicker and easier. I've gotten my hands on almost every DSLR on the market through my classes and private lessons and I can say for certain that the slowest cameras to control are the ones with fewer buttons and more menu-based navigation (I'm talking to you, Nikon D5200).

Enter the Nikon Df DSLR.

Nikon clearly took a cue from the film SLRs of old. This thing has tangibility written all over it. Big clearly marked dials for shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, shooting mode, and drive mode rise proudly from the top of the camera - all the most important functions easily accessible. And the LCD screen up top isn't big and obnoxious displaying every single function from shutter speed to your current blood pressure. It just has the shutter speed, aperture, battery life, and images remaining - the only things you really need on the external LCD screen. And all of this in what I would describe as the most beautifully designed DSLR camera body since the F100. This camera is gorgeous, no doubt about it. With styling very similar to the Nikon FE from way back when, this camera will turn heads whether you get it in sleek black or throwback silver.

Now, of course, this thing has awesome specs inside like a 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor with a max ISO of 12,800 (which can be pushed all the way to ISO 204,800), 100% viewfinder coverage, 39 auto focus points, a rugged body...all of these things are worthy of praise. But this camera is really about the design with the functionality of external dials, buttons, and levers. And don't think this radical departure in design is just for looks. Listen to a guy who has worked extensively with SLR cameras from just about every generation since their inception: these tangible controls make shooting quicker, easier, more intuitive, and much more gratifying. This new camera is a big deal in the war against intangibility. For that, I give it mad respect.

The Nikon Df DSLR, I think, will be one of those cameras displayed proudly on people's shelves 50 years from now as an iconic example of when camera manufacturers got it right. I hope to get my hands on one soon.

Read the Nikon Df press release here and preorder yours at B&H in silver or black.

Gear Review: Best UV Filter

Best UV FilterAs I covered in a previous blog post, UV filters are a great investment to protect the front of your lens. I use them on all of my Canon DSLR lenses. But like I said in the previous post, if you get a good quality UV filter, it will protect the front of your lens without affecting the image one bit. If you get a bad one, it might degrade image quality or create more lens flare.

There’s the key. You need a good one. After all, your lens has high-quality glass with high-quality coatings, better get the same in your UV filter. It’s going to be on your lens 24/7, so this is no place to skimp on quality.

So what’s the best UV filter?

Well, it’s like I tell my students: “You get what you pay for. If you spend $10 on a UV filter, it’ll be crap. If you spend $50+, you can bet it’s good.” And by the way, filters get more expensive for bigger filter thread sizes. The best UV filter in a 58mm filter thread size should run you about $32.00. In a 77mm filter thread size, the same high-quality UV will run you $72.00.

But I’ll make it simple and just tell you my personal recommendation: I use B&W brand UV filters and I love them. Very high-quality stuff. They don’t degrade image quality one bit and their MRC (Multi-Resistant Coating) line of UV filters features some pretty important optical coatings...several of them...and they’re resistant. These coatings help to reduce reflections on the filter, which equates to more light transmission to the lens, and helps keep dust and fingerprints off the filter.

These coatings do make a big difference. It’s what separates the cheap-o stuff from the serious glass. Make sure your UV filters have the MRC coating (or equivalent).

For instance I use this B&W 77mm UV Haze MRC filter from B&H on my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, my Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, and my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens. Keeps ‘em safe and I don’t have to worry at all about sacrificing image quality.

Best UV FilterNon-coated cheap UV on the left, B+W UV Haze MRC on the right
Notice how much dimmer the reflection is in the multi-coated B+W filter
(The green tinge is just a side effect of the coating, it won't turn your pictures green)

It can hurt a little bit spending over 50 bucks on a filter that won’t improve your photos at all, but resist the temptation to get the cheap Sunpak UV filters at your local Best Buy. You’re better off having nothing on your lens if that’s the case. Get the B&W UV Haze MRC filters. And to make it easy for you, here are links to all the most common filter sizes at B&H in New York (that’s where I buy all of my gear):

Make your expensive DSLR lenses last a long time. Invest in one of these filters for each one of your lenses and replace old filters if they get scratched.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/W34Bettgamg[/youtube]

UV or Skylight Filter: What’s the Difference?

UV or Skylight Filter

In the process of shopping for a UV filter, you may have come across something called a Skylight filter and wondered which one you should get: a UV or skylight filter.

The difference between a UV and skylight filter is subtle but notable: UV filters have no color cast to them. Skylight filters have a faint orangish-pink color cast. So UV filters are simply clear glass - that’s it. A skylight filter is just a UV filter dyed with a faint warm color tinge.

Why would you want a warm color tinge on a filter that will be on your camera all the time? Well, for the answer to that, we must go back. Way back. To the days of film! *gasp* Do they still even make film?!

UV or Skylight FilterSkylight Filter on the left, UV on the right
Notice the orangish-pink color cast on the skylight filter

Skylight filters were originally designed for use on traditional analog film and they really just don’t serve any purpose in digital photography. See, when shooting color transparency film like Fuji Velvia or Kodak Kodachrome, there is no adjusting color balance after snapping the shutter. In other words, it’s like the white balance was “baked in” to the film when it was manufactured. These films are usually manufactured with a “daylight” color balance - meaning they will get accurate colors in outdoor scenes in the sun, but not really under any other type of light source. Try using this “daylight” film indoors and you’ll get some seriously ugly yellow colors. Try to use it in the shade and your pictures will be too blue. There were also some films manufactured with an “incandescent” white balance for use indoors and those couldn’t be used outdoors without creating inaccurate colors.

So let’s say you have daylight film loaded in your camera, but you want to photograph someone in the shade. Well, that’s a bummer. Your film is designed for daylight, not shade. So if you take the photo, the picture will come out really blue.

What is a poor photographer to do?

Aha! What if we put yellowish-orange filter on the lens, then took the picture in the shade? The warm-tinged filter should cancel out the blue color cast from the shade, resulting in accurate colors.

Until digital photography hit the scene, this is how photographers would “adjust white balance” on color slide film before digital white balance existed. That’s why warming filters were so common. There was really no other way to adjust color balance than to use filters.

And this is why skylight filters were popular for shooters using color slide film. The faint warm color of the skylight filter helped to cancel out some of the blue created by an atmosphere rich in moisture. For example when photographing landscapes, often times distant subjects like a mountain range will turn out a little too blue on color slide film simply because there’s a lot of atmosphere between you and the mountains. But with a skylight filter, you’ll “cut through” that blue a little bit and get more accurate colors.

Plus, it just so happens that most (not all, but most) nature photography looks better if the colors are “warmed up” just a bit. Fall color, sunsets, sunrises - people tend to prefer warmer colors in these types of shots. So that’s another reason skylight filters were a common choice amongst outdoor photographers using slide film.

But with digital, it’s all replaced by white balance. There’s no need to use colored filters because a tweak to white balance creates the same effect. Rather than use a skylight filter or a warming filter, you could just use a “warmer” white balance setting, like cloudy instead of daylight, or shade instead of cloudy. Or better yet, just shoot RAW and tweak the WB in the computer. Want a little more warmth? No problem, just drag the slider.

So when it comes to digital, don’t bother with skylight filters. They will offer no benefit over UV filters. And besides, if your camera is set to auto white balance, the white balance will just cancel out the warm colors of the skylight filter anyway.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/y2c3bq_IB6Q[/youtube]