Monday, June 5, 2017

Seiko Epson RD1 vs Nikon D70s/D100 in 2017

Why did I pit these two together?? In 2017 ??

Both are CCD sensors, both are 6 megapixel and both came around more or less at the same time. Now read on:

Original Picture by James Bamford:
I sometimes wonder if people are inherently crazy or if the collective human intelligence is diminishing due to all the GMO food, chemicals in water and air. Why am I saying that? 

Apparently we cannot ascertain the value of things with an aware mind. I came to this conclusion after reading about the Epson RD-1 series cameras and their exorbitant used prices on eBay. Too much ?

I first heard about this camera from a book written by Zack arias, Photography Q&A: Real Questions. Real Answers, which I had ordered from Amazon. Recently going through some website I came across this camera again. I went to ebay to check the prices and was shocked to see the average price of $1000 for the earlier models and $2000 for later models. Seriously?? For a 6 megapixel camera that came in 2004? You might as well get the Leica M8 or M9 for that many dollars. 

Original picture by Oliver Korbl :

The RD-1 had quite a few iterations in the coming years like the R-D1s, R-D1x, and R-D1xG. According to Wikipedia the camera uses the same interline-transfer Sony CCD (Sony ICX413AQ) sensor as the Nikon D100 and Pentax *ist D, which was originally developed in 2002.  However the excellent sensor of the D70s contrary popular belief, even though with the same megapixel count, is a different version (Sony ICX453AQ).

Shot with a Nikon D100

Officially Seiko Epson stopped making it after 2007, but unofficially some “collector” cameras were available new until as recently as 2014. This is an age old “going out of business” sales trick. The Indian government owned HMT watches uses the same trick today to sell their watches. The trick involves announcing that a company is winding up and selling off their stock at a discount. People flog to the shops hoping to own something brand new that will cease to exist and at a discount, sometimes there is no discount but people buy it anyway, just for the thrill of owning it.

Original Picture by Michael Khan :
Shot with a Nikon D100

Buying a camera just because it has fancy meters and dials is probably not a sound photographic practice. It makes you almost a fetishist. It’s not the camera buttons and dials, but the image quality that needs to be the bench mark for any camera purchase. Well that may be subjective, but I am sure you will not disagree if I say 6 megapixels is too less in 2017. Ofcourse if you are buying it for nostalgia, then it’s a different story. This camera does not justify any Leica or ZM lens on it because the sensor and its algorithms are too ancient to deliver anything worthy.

Shot with a Nikon D100

There are far better cheaper cameras which came around the same period as the RD1 like the Nikon D100, Nikon D70s, Minolta Maxxum 5D & 7D etc. Why I am I referencing these cameras here, now ?? They all came more or less at the same time and all of them are 6 megapixel CCD sensors.   I personally own a D70s and this camera doesn’t stop amazing me with its colour depth, rendition and tonal graduations, inspite of its meager 6 megapixel sensor.  If given a choice between a D70s and a D100 I will go with the latter as it has a full magnesium alloy body and can take a beating. This is a fun camera in 2017 for casual fun pictures of family etc, cannot be used professionally because of its meagre 6 megapixel sensor, still that's plenty for a home camera or a testing camera for main shoots for pros.

Shot with a Nikon D70s.

Trust me when I tell you the D70s is atleast 10 times better than the Epson RD1. If you want a strong magnesium body like the RD1 you can choose the D100 as it’s the cheapest pro DSLR available on eBay today. There are also tons and tons of cheap Nikon lenses that will easily resolve 6 megapixels worth of information. Remember the D100 is also a 6 megapixel camera like the Epson RD1 and they are in fact the same sensor.

Listen to me; make better use of your money. Put it in a bank or buy something for your children.

Cheers and happy clicking!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Leica M8 / M9 in 2017 ??

Leica M8/M9 in 2017 is not suggestible. Its not only a risky proposition given the sensor rot issue, but also a huge economic liability.  Leica recently acknowledged and taken responsibility for the 'rot' in their CCD sensors. Particularly the ones in M9. M8 has a lot of issues and given the high price, I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole. I feel the M8 was a experiment, a beta version of the M9. They were testing waters with the M8 to put it plainly. Man I love Leicas too, but its hard to justify the price given my meager lifestyle. 

Though the sensor rot has been only acknowledged in the M9, I am sure some problems could arise for M8 sensor too as it is also a CCD.

Here are some useful links:

As a consolation Leica has not only acknowledged the "rot" issue, but also promised to completely replace the sensors free of charge irrespective of warranties which is a very welcome gesture. But the question is why do these cameras costing thoudands of dollars have issues in the first place?? I have to admit my faith in Leica has been shaken a bit. I am not a Leica hater, on the contrary. How long till some one finds an issue with an M240 or an M10 ?? I am starting to think I am better off without Leica, may be I will be happy with a Nikon D7100 or a D610 or may be even a D3400 (not the D3300 as it has a shuter shock issue under 1/250th) or a D5300, but that blurry esoteric light from the bokeh of a 50 f2 lens from a Leica camera keeps calling me like a siren from under the water. I try to resist.  Ironically my not so millionaire economic condition regulates my funkiness. 

If your primary aim to to get the "leica look" I suggest you forget the M8 as its too much of a hassle. I love CCD sensors and still hold on to my D200 with my dear life. The D200, D80, D60, D40x all have great 10 megapixel CCD sensors (made by Sony) with excellent true to life color and depth. A nice voigtlander or zeiss or nikkor prime would help you with that "leica man" image (if you want that). 

The best part is they are all extremely cheap and can be had for peanuts. Break it ?? no problem, you can get a new one. Stolen? no worries, order a new one on ebay. Image quality wise the M8 doesnt have any particular advantages over the above listed cameras. With a clever use of some cheap flash like a vivitar or yongnuo I am absolutely sure you will get some great images. I cant justify the price of a Leica even if I am a millionaire. Save the money and put it to some other good use. I know you wont like my advice, but trust me, I have been there where you are right now. 

Cheers and happy clicking. 

Cheers :cool:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Nikon D70s Full Review 2016/2017: Test Shots And Complete Analysis

Update: 03 Dec 2016

I had been lusting after a Nikon D70s since atleast 2011, you might wonder why?. Many reasons – an extraordinary Sony sensor, almost all features of the D200 in a smaller body, cheap, versatile, the reasons are endless. And yes, it is still relevant in 2017. Thom Hogan, who visits my blog from time to time, (like he does many others for research on his articles) may throw away this camera even if somebody gave it to him for free, but there are many thousands of photogs around the world who swear by CCD sensor cameras like the D70s. Just go into some forums and you will know. 

D70s is the cheapest camera (used camera as of date from Nikon) with a built in auto-focus motor. I bought it cheap for approx $150 from an online buyers forum. Among the cheap backups I initially planned to get a D3200, but since the lack of an autofocus motor is a huge bummer, I wanted to go for a D7000, but then the high prices of this camera put me off. What other options did I have?? Among the older generation cameras I could go for the D80, but its color profile and output is too similar to D200, infact its the same sensor. The D80 has the 2 channel output, whereas the D200 has a 4 channel output (the D300 has a 12 channel output, which explains the high fps which is a result of the faster buffer offload). 

The current photo "Gurus" like David Hobby and Zack Arias started out with the D70/70s in their initial days. Zack even acknowledged in one his training videos the skin tone resolving power of the D70, which he called "mind-blowing". Zack later moved on to the D200, then a D3, then a Mark 1, II, so on and so forth. D70s also heralded the entry of many previously film dependent photographer's foray into digital photography. 

JPEG Latitude

Even the basic JPGS from the D200 have a lot of latitude in editing. Though the same cannot be said about the D70s files, they aren't terribly limited like the files from garbage cameras like Olympus 510 etc. Shooting NEF helps. The images from the D70s are already too perfect and mostly do not need any further processing. There are debates online regarding D70s’s compression algorithm, some say its lossy, some say its lossless compressed, I don't know. NEF files average between 4.3MB to 6MB. Small file sizes aren't taxing on your PC or laptop and you can grab a bunch of them and dump them into an editor for batch processing. If you are shooting in a high volume, the meager 6.1 MegaPixel and the subsequent file sizes are a blessing as they will fast-track your work flow. 

The files of D70s even though dont have as much latitude as the files from D200 or D300 or even a D40x or a D60, or a D80 which have more resolution because of their 10 MP CCD. Whatever the file latitude, dynamic range and IQ, you will get from this camera, its plenty enough for a small shoots. I have ordered prints in varying sizes of 4X6 to 8X10 and they look good enough. Using this camera for professional purposes isn't suggestible as it does not have too many pro functions. At the most this can be an indoor/studio camera or backup to a backup camera. Its suitable for small product photography shoots or catalog shoots for not so demanding clients, who haven't got big budgets and might use the pictures for web use only. 

The limitation of 6 megapixels is evident when compared to modern cameras, but the point is even images from Medium Format digital cameras are downgraded and heavily resized for posting online. Even the portfolio sites of most photographers do not contain high res files. They are highly compressed, resized for saving web data space. Note: The world is going crazy about HD and full HD these days. Full HD , i.e 1080p is approximately only just 2 MegaPixels. Even most multiplexes around the world project digital cinema at only 720p, which is less than 2 MegaPixels. The indie hit 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Cillian Murphy (Now a Peaky Blinder) was shot on a consumer grade digital video camera that had less than 1 Megapixel resolution. It was later telecined and transferred to 35mm motion film. Now you have a 6 Megapixel camera. Think about it. 

I am NOT against using higher MegaPixel cameras like the D800 series or other higher end cameras. I am just saying there is a time and place for everything. I did have an excellent Nikon D800E which I was using to shoot high-end jobs, but unfortunately it was stolen in the April of 2016 from my house along with my 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. I lost jobs because of that theft and ofcourse it still pains me to think that I lost my years of hard earned savings with that camera. I might go for a D810 after a while when I can save enough money. Sigh ! 

Even though color profile is similar to D200, D300, albeit few differences in hue, it can still be used alongside them. I suggest buying a D40x or D60 or D80 as a back up or indoor cameras because of their higher resolution. The D40x or the D60 can also be excellent back-ups to the D200 or D300 as the 10.2 MegaPixel CCD gives enough latitude in editing, but ofcourse they don't have an auto-focus motor, its definitely a drawback as they wont focus with the D lenses, which are considerably cheaper than the AF-S type, but when all you shoot is catalogs or stock photography at home in controlled lighting conditions, you can get away with manual focus any D lens you may have. It doesn't matter anyway, as you are in no hurry.  

I personally love old cameras and I am a big fan of CCD sensors. As mentioned earlier, I was planning to buy the D70s since atleast 2011, but couldn't find a piece that was good enough and the prices were too high. Another reason I wanted to buy the D70s was that I didnt want to strain my D200 for each and every small hanky panky shoot. I needed a camera for favors that you do for friends, and jobs where the client pay is dicey, small, no budget shoots, that don't require the heavy duty D200.

The higher MegaPixel count of the D200 or D300 Trump (Yeah MAGA bitches) this camera in a lot of ways.  Do not ignore the D60 or D40x as back-up cameras, yes even in 2016. SOOC JPEGs from both the D60 and D40x are mind blowing to say the least. Yes even in 2016. Thanks to their excellent sensors. Getting good color and dynamic range from the D70s requires some good lighting techniques in either day light or with strobe lighting and also some minimal, but clever editing and enhancing. However, low light images cannot in any way be saved. 

Observe the color shift of the D70s in the below comparison picture. Yes its a bit yellow.

D70s Menu

There is nothing I miss from the D200. All the important menu items I use regularly on the D200 are all there including the custom picture profile. It would have been wonderful if there was ISO 50, but unfortunately no,  the base ISO is 200. Though its not much of a deal breaker as at the 200 base ISO the pictures are noise free because of the CCD sensor. This attribute is absent even in the pro D300 which has the same base ISO of 200 but the micro level noise is apparent in the D300. Sure there is low ISO setting, but I couldnt tell the noise pattern difference at the base ISO of 200 and low ISO of the D300. 

Another surprising omission is the kelvin temperature on the D70s. There are 3 levels of adjustment in daylight white balance, which if went down can come down to between 4600-5200 kelvin. I generally shoot between 4500k and 5000k on my D200. Anything above 5000k is too yellow in Nikon color schemes. I miss this one feature from the D200. Because of this omission, I have been shoot with daylight white balance with the -3 setting ever since, which is more or less there in terms of white balance. Mostly I shoot with Auto White Balance and adjust levels in the editor. It sometimes solves the problem, sometimes doesn't. Mixed bag. 


At this side away from leaf shutter lenses which have crazy sync speeds of 1/1600th , its just the D70s the stands as an old guard to the sync speed capacity at 1/500, it is still crazy given the fact that all modern DSLRs come at 1/250 or worse yet with cameras like Nikon D610, its just 1/180, which in my opinion is a bit lame. 1/500 may not be enough to cut down all that ambient light, but you can capture subtle movements of the subjects in an instant with the high shutter speed, meaning sharper images. This will also give you more light control if you are shooting with strobes. If 1/500th isn't enough, you can always use a cheaper ND/CPL combination from amazon, that will do the job. 

Commander Mode

This was a surprise to me. This meager 6.1 mega affordable DSLR has a commander mode for off camera strobist work. Wow. You can set the flash power on the camera down to 1/128th power and this flash pulse can be used to trigger your SB series speed lights. I personally have a SB-600 and with a little googling I learnt how to sync it to my camera. The resultant images were a revelation. I love strobist work. Btw to my knowledge, the Nikon SB flashes are not "dumb" slave flashes and wont slave sync with other off brand flashes, they either need other SB flashes or can only be controlled through a commander mode on some select Nikon DSLRs. Correct me if I am wrong. 

Other cameras that have 1/500th flash sync are-

1) Nikon D1, D1x, D1H, 
Nikon 70, D50, D4 also sync to 1/500th 

Sensor Tech.

The sensor tech in the D70s is from 2005, when similar cameras like Minolta maxxum 5D, 7D, Fuji S5 pro were released.  6 megapixel was the absolute ceiling for APS-C sensors then. Incidentally the S5 pro has a Kodak sensor (Kodak sensors are legendary). The D70s also has a very high pixel pitch of 7.8 microns. The Nikon D100 also sports a 6 MegaPixel sensor, I dont know if its the same one as the D70s, but from the look of the D100 images i can surely tell the algorithms of both cameras are very different. The D100 is a more pro leaning camera. 

The D70/70s sensor is very special. It isn't your run off the mill sensor. It belongs in the sensor hall of fame, graced by other almost magical sensors like the ones in the D100, D200/D80/D40x/D60, Maxxum 5D/7D, Leica M8/M9 and Fuji S5 Pro. 

D70s sensor and the kit lens 18-70

Nikon realized the fact that the D70 sensor is too contrasty and paired it with a lens that has low contrast to offset and compensate for the sensor’s over enthusiasm in color. This lens was specifically developed by Nikon for the D70/D70s. There is neither any problem with the D70s sensor or the 18-70 lens. This is a subjective issue. I personally love rich, colorful pictures.

Image quality/comparison with Leica M8 and M9

All the pictures of this product are Basic JPEGs from the D70s. Unfortunately you can't shoot 
JPEG Fine and NEF at the same time. 

Doing some research I was surprised to come across a site called Nikon D70 fan on the interwebs. The link is here. There are quite many articles relating to the D70 (D70 and D70s both share the same sensor, but you know that already). Here the author of the blog says that the image quality of the D70 is equal to that of Leica M8 and M9..really??? I want to believe :P

UPDATE as on 13 Nov 2016: I was just flattering myself with the comparison with Leica M8 and M9, which are in many ways a lot ahead of the D70s. This could be a poor man's Leica and it deserves to be so. This camera needs lots of light if you want to shoot good pictures. Low light/indoor flash pictures from the D70s are an abomination. Editing them cannot save them. Incidentally I didn't face this problem with the D200, D300 pictures. There's only so much you can do with the D70s pictures shot indoors in low light. 

External Controls and Body

Though the body is plastic, it does not feel cheap or flimsy. Compared to the D200, the multi-selector wheel is too small for my big fingers. Thankfully there is a dedicated ISO button. The Camera shares the CF card door to the Nikon D100. Additionally there is a top LCD and an illumination button which is absent on the D200, wherein its a menu item.

Deal Makers For The D70s
  • Built in auto focus motor
  • Top LCD
  • Dirt cheap price
  • CCD sensor
  • Accepts CF card 
  • Separate scroll wheels for both aperture and shutter speed
Deal Breakers For The D70s:

  • Meager 6.1 megapixel sensor (problem starts when you start comparing MP)
  • Low torque auto-focus motor
  • Occasional hue shifts
  • Compressed RAW and JPEG (not a lot to wok with, but that could be a blessing in disguise) 

UPDATE as on 13 Nov 2016: Should you buy this camera in 2016/2017 ?? If you are a home shooter, shooting catalogs, stock, micro stock like me then this camera is for you. BTW the skin tones from this camera are 100% dead on accurate due to the CCD sensor, so you can use it for portraits and such. If you are or want to be a "Professional" photographer, with big aspirations, then this isn't for you. However, if you are a photographer who makes or wants to make a living, making ends meet with what they can afford and needs a cheap throw away camera, then this is for you.  However if you are looking for something to shoot indoors for say a product, clothing or a jewellery catalog or still life etc. under controlled strobe lighting, and dont need large files and are primarily shooting in huge volumes then you can use this camera, but in hindsight you are better off with something like a D80 or D40x or D60 which have 10.2 MegaPixel CCD and will give you a lot more resolution than the D70s. If you are feeling a little extravagant then a D200 would be great too, though D200 in itself is NOT a battery champion (soon coming: article on increasing the battery power of Nikon D200 in a 2017 review of the camera), compared to the D80, D40x or either the D60.   

Note: All the pictures of the D70s DSLR are shot with the Nikon D200 DSLR and I have kept the EXIF data intact for your technical review and personal study. Have fun. 

Hope this article was helpful. Let me know in the comments. It keeps me charged up. 

Cheers & Happy clicking.

Viisshnu Vardhan.

P.S: Here is an interesting comparison/thoughts on the Epson RD1 and Nikon D70s/D100

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sony a200 review 2015 or how I got my beloved camera back.

Note: You can refer/ cite this article or portions of it or use it under the Creative Commons License. Kindly credit the blog and writer. Thank you. © Viisshnu Vardhan 2015.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are mine and mine only. I am not paid by any camera company to write any article at any time in my life. I am not biased towards any particular camera company. I try to give accurate advice to amateurs and novices as well as pros to the best of my knowledge. I have a background in graphic design, visual communication and advertising. So don’t worry you are in good hands ;) wink wink. 

Hey go grab a coffee, this is a long article :)

You might be wondering why I am writing a review of a camera that came out in 2008. If you are following my blog regularly, then you know already this is something I do, write about things that are not the latest or the greatest. Its my thing. I need to take care of my reputation right? haha. We as photographers, under the influence of gear (pimping) promoting websites, magazines and ‘expert guru trainers’ tend to deride anything that is two years old and scoff at it as old technology. The truth is. It aint. It is as good as your latest blitsy, glitsy blingy gizmolicious $2000 dollar camera. These gear promoters use all kinds of psychological tricks to make you feel like what you have is inadequate, insufficient, outdated, obsolete and irrelevant. It simply aint true. Is the film camera irrelevant today? I don’t think so. It was invented like when? In the early 1920s? even far back? Sure it is inconvenient, I agree, but the image quality? You know the answer to that question. What is the dynamic range of Richard Avedon’s camera? What is the MTF chart of Herb Ritts’ lens like?? How many phase detect sensors did Cartier Bresson’s camera have?? If someone has the money to buy cameras and lenses every week, its great and all, but the rest of us who don’t should carefully look at our options to make the best of what we have and can buy. There is no end to consumerism and human materialistic lust. You buy the latest today, there is a new version tomorrow, and then another new version day after tomorrow. It’s an endless cycle that can adversely affect your finances, emotional and mental well being, family life and social dynamics.

That may sound heavy, but I had to say it 

Ok lets get back to the story…

The story of me and the a200 goes back to feb 2012. At that time I was in search of a camera and came to know of an a200 from a local camera seller in my city. I went there, checked it out and was very impressed with the quality of the images, not to mention the camera was in immaculate condition. I immediately bought it much to the horror of my photographer friends, they derided me for not choosing either a canon or Nikon. The technology was already four years old when I bought it. Then in September 2012 I bought my Nikon D200 and now have a full blown kit with the 18-70, 50 1.8D, and the 80-200 f2.8 along with an old Tamron from the early 70s 85-210 f4.5 constant, which is possibly radioactive.  (Had a Sigma 28-105 f2.8-4D, but sold it off. Regret it. Sigh) I used the sony a200 as a back up, in cases of emergency. I did also use it for a few weddings and events as the main camera and I have to tell you this camera punches far above its 500 odd grams weight.

Recently (June 2015) due to a bit of a temporary financial calamity, I sold off my beloved a200 through classifieds along with the hot shoe adapter, a Polaroid skylight filter and a vivitar flash for less than $200. Its just a couple months back. I spent the money. The camera was long gone.  End of story. Or was it??

A few weeks back I was checking my phone gallery and saw the pictures from a motorcycle shoot, shot with the a200. All of a sudden pangs of pain shot through my heart. Oh my god. What did I do..selling the camera was a huge mistake  I need to have my a200 back at any cost. I called up the guy I sold it to. He wouldn’t give my camera back even when I offered his money back  ohh man the travesty. What am I to do? I immediately went into this ‘restless psycho rodent’ mode and started digging the classifieds.

I started checking each and every classified looking for an off chance to find the a200 or the a300 or an a350….all CCD sensor cameras from Sony. Used Sony DSLRs are hard to come by online, let alone yesteryear CCD sensor DSLRs from Sony. I did find a few classifieds, but either the prices were too high or they were not in a good condition. I also went back to the original camera store in my city where I had bought my a200 previously after seeing their classified for the Sony a350. I nearly bought it, but didn’t as it had a white balance problem and the camera was stuck in tungsten and wouldn’t change even after I reset the camera several times. With a heavy heart I came back home, but didn’t stop checking the classifieds. 

One fine morning a few days back, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, somebody posted a classified for the a200. It was like god send. I immediately called up the guy and fixed a meeting the very next day. He quoted a price of around $300..which was fair enough as the camera was in mint condition, it was hardly used at all. On top of that he was also giving me the original box, with an unused data cable and HDMI cable, power cable with all the warranty papers in original packing. I haggled the price to $206 (INR 13,000) and immediately bought it. There were also a mandarin user manual, an Arabic one and also an English one, along with a lens catalogue (Sony had a very few lenses back in 2008) and also an accessories catalogue. This deal was made in photographic heaven.

Comparatively I had bought my previous a200 for $190 (INR 12,000), without the box or papers. An extra 1000 INR for a camera in this kind of mint condition with box and papers is an extraordinary deal by any standard. 

The good thing is, I have my a200 back and will not sell it again for anything in the world. 

Though the a200  is supposedly an entry level camera, it has a few tricks up its sleeve. For example, you can add magenta in Kelvin, this feature is very useful when shooting wedding portraits. This feature is not available in either canon or Nikon entry level cameras to my knowledge. Its not there on my Nikon D200. IQ of the a200 is also far ahead of the canon and Nikon cameras of its generation. Its really a shame camera companies shifted to CMOS, with this, all the original colors, characteristic of CCD sensors were gone. New colors schemes needed to be created to bypass the low light gathering capability of CMOS sensors. Camera companies worked their way around the limitations of the CMOS, but they didn’t quite arrive at color accuracy..meanwhile they also diverted our attention from this issue, trumpeting high iso, dynamic range, live view capability as some kind of break through, but they were not. In my view any feature that compromises image quality is not a break through. It’s just marketing gimmicks. The quest for quality was abandoned for convenience. The target market, apparently enthralled by these new features lapped up the new cameras as some kind of Holy Grail. In the midst of all this turmoil there were a handful of purists who realized this scam and didn’t budge from their CCD sensor cameras and rightly so. 

There are still quite many photographers around the world who are holding on to their Fuji S5 PROs and Minolta Maxxum 5Ds’,7Ds’, Nikon D100s’ and D200s’. Why ??? There’s not a single CCD camera where there are complaints for color. Just google ‘CMOS sensors bad skin tone’ and you will get thousands upon thousands of complaints online…if these CMOS sensors were so highly advanced why aren’t they able to reproduce accurate skin tones??? Later generation CMOS sensors are now a bit okay, but earlier generation CMOS sensor cameras like the Nikon D300/300s, D90 were horrendous at skin tones and color reproduction. A Nikon D80, or a D200 or a D70s will beat any canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 in color accuracy. Yes it’s a fact. If you don’t believe me, you can try shooting colorful clothes and check back with me on that. They were accurate may be, but that was was not consistent. They also needed a lot of time on the monitor for correction. 

I shoot clothing catalogs from time to time and use the Nikon D200 exclusively. You know already how critically important color accuracy is when shooting clothing catalogs. There was not even a single time when any of my clients complained of color inaccuracy. A high street clothing boutique client I work for regularly even noted the color accuracy of my pictures and inquired what camera I used. I simply told him “Nikon” nothing else. He told me previously they had some other big name photographer from Mumbai to shoot for the catalogs, but had to fire him as the colors were inaccurate consistently.  I inquired what camera he was using, the client told me he didn’t know. I requested him to send me one or two original pics. He did. When I checked exif data I was shocked to see it was a Canon 5D Mark III.  Is it because of the CCD / CMOS difference ?? IDK.  

Even today, in 2015, I am yet to see a camera that can beat the Nikon D70s for skin tones. In one of his recent  videos, even Zack Arias accepts the fact that the Nikon D70s is the King of skin tones and he is yet to see a camera that can best the D70s. It was a 6 megapixel sony sensor. It is now in the realm of the legendary. Incidentally I have one soon to be shipped to my address.

The Sony a200 also has DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization) which is equivalent to Nikon’s Active D-Lighting. Btw the Sony a200 sensor is also used in the a300, the a350 also features a CCD sensor in an a200 body albeit with live view and an upgraded 14 megapixel version. This 14 MP version has a less piexel density than the 200 sensor. Hail the pixel density, to heck with high ISO. This 14 megapixel CCD is the highest megapixel APS-C CCD in the world. Nikon only went up to 10 megapixels with its D40x, D60, D80 and D200 after that they switched to CMOS around 2007-08. FYI the highest megapixel full frame CCD is the Leica M9, all other full frames sensors are CMOS. The M9’s 18 megapixel CCD was made by Kodak (Kodak’s sensor manufacturing division was bought out by the European company TrueSense a little while ago).

Getting Creative 

Very soon, I am planning to use the a200 with the adapter and Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 combination for a fashion shoot. Will keep you posted. 

Sure I can use a 5D mark III for the shoot, but the problem is my pictures will start looking like everybody else’s. In my immediate vicinity atleast I cannot see anybody else with this combination. A photographer’s signature look also comes down to the particular cameras and lenses he uses. Anybody can duplicate the lighting, but the kit? The colors? The particular camera+lens combo? Nobody else can. If you are an amateur or a struggling up and comer who wants to create your own ‘look’ I suggest you don’t use the cameras everybody else is using. This is the lesson from the masters. Create your own list of equipment and use it to create your own signature look and color. This advice equally applies to professionals. 

Bresson used a leica with a 50mm, nothing else. Ansel Adams had his own unique kit. Sally Mann has her own ancient large format camera with her own particular equally ancient lenses, I haven’t seen any other photographer using that kit and nobody else can recreate that kind of images, even if they tried. There are in a realm beyond legendary. She scoffs at the idea of using a modern, fancy DSLR. You don’t know Sally Mann?? Check her work here… she is my favorite photographer. Her work is untouched by any commercialism or materialism..its bare knuckles photography at its absolute best….

Hey bird man enough flying in the clouds now, let’s get practical and come down to mortal earth to  discuss DSLRs ;) wink wink 

Can a pro photog use this camera?

Absolutely. The limitations of this camera can be worked around. There is no PC sync port, but you can easily add a hot shoe adapter on the proprietary sony hot shoe that has sync port. You could add a battery grip as well to make it more balanced. Third party grips are also available, though I personally do not prefer using third party grips. OEM grips or nothing. 

In the hands of the right pro, a camera like a200 will make miracles. With the advent of lens adapters, you can happily use your Nikon, canon, leica, Minolta MD/MC, Olympus OM, Pentax/M42 lenses (Some old lenses from these companies are not compatible with Sony because the rear element of these lenses protrudes a bit into the mirror box. This can have a catastrophic effect on your camera. So research the lens+camera combination beforehand. However, this is not specific to Sony alone.) Hook this setup on a sturdy tripod and you are good to go. Unfortunately there is no focus peaking on the a200 but that is no problem at all as the camera has a focus confirm in the view finder which makes manual focus very easy. Always use a tripod or a monopod when using long telephotos in manual focus mode. 

Battery backup is superb on the a200. I shot for a wedding a year ago and I got around 1500 shots on a single charge. Apparently this was because I switched off the stabilization which can drink up battery juice quite much. I was shooting at 1/160th so shooting with stabilization was unnecessary. Incidentally the packaging on the box says only 750 shots. May be Sony had factored in the stabilization feature. 

The a200 sensor is very special. It has some kind of Konica-Minolta Mexicanish like magic sauce inside it. The sensor has a 3D like rendering. Pictures have depth and dimension, NOT flat like canon entry level cameras. I strongly feel Nikon/Sony CCD sensors are one of a kind. Like the Leica M9, though many cameras have come after the M9, there is no true replacement for the camera. The newer CMOS sensor cameras from Leica may have more dynamic range but something is missing, its hard to describe what it is, but something has left the building.  In the same vein I am yet to see a camera from Nikon that can beat the sensors of D70s, D80 and D200. These sensors romance the light in a way that no other CMOS sensors can. There’s also a lot of drama and character in the pictures shot with these cameras. These three cameras are closer to film than modern CMOS sensor cameras from Nikon. I strongly suspect the color schemes of these sensors were specifically created to emulate a particular film stock. Most likely Kodak Ektachrome.   

Studio Application

So coming back to the a200, it is an excellent camera for studio applications. Given its accurate skin tone rendering it can be used for studio portraits. Owing to its excellent tonal rendering this camera can also be used for still life, stock photography, catalogues and much more. Given its inexpensive price, even if one breaks you can happily get another. Its lot better than current generation entry level Nikon and canon cameras. It has an auto-focus motor built in unlike entry level cameras from Nikon. 10.2 megapixels is more than enough for normal use unless you are shooting for huge billboards. Sony a200 .ARW raw files are 12 bit…that’s plenty for the above mentioned applications. Not happy with 12 bit? You can interpolate them to 16 bit and save them at 500 dpi or 800 dpi as TIFFs…problem solved.

For landscapes

I don’t know if it’s the sensor or the bionz processor or some cosmic magic..the a200 renders clouds in all their glory…given this reason alone, you can use this camera for landscapes and cityscapes. I haven’t seen any other camera render the skies so beautifully. With the right kind of inexpensive wide angle like the Tamron  10-24 or the Tokina 11-16, the a200 will start singing melodies. Cant afford either of them ?? how about a cheapy peleng f3.5 8mm fish eye?? Its only around 200 bucks online. Its like 12mm in 35mm terms. 200 bucks for a brand new 12mm wide angle is a damn good deal if you ask me. The on-sensor sharpness of the a200 will offset any softness the peleng may have. If you are shooting at f9, 10 or 11, pictures will be obviously sharper. I don’t own a peleng but planning to get one soon.  If you don’t like the fish eye look for your wide shot, you can de-fish the pictures in photoshop in a jiffy. The good thing about cheapy fish eyes like peleng is that…they are primes and have a fixed aperture. A thing to remember is, this aint no carl zeiss, but if you can use your ingenuity, you can make the pictures look like carl zeiss…which is 20 times more expensive.   
Can you use the a200 as your main body?

Yes and No, depending on where and how you intend to use it. If you are shooting studio portraits, jewellery, stock, products etc., the a200 can be a main body, along with something like an a230 or a a290 as a secondary body. If it is location shooting like for events, concerts, weddings, sports/action etc., then it’s a good idea to have a sturdy pro body like an a77 or an a99 if you are a Sony shooter. Or any other pro body in canon or nikon and to keep the a200 as a second or third back-up. It can also be used to shoot BTS pictures by your sexy assistant while you are going about your work on location when both your cameras are on roll ;)
Fortunately the prices for the a700, a850 and a900 have come down drastically on ebay and elsewhere. No they are not CCD but the image quality is better than Canon and Nikon CMOS cameras of their generation. Image quality wise too they are very near to the latest cameras.  The writer on the SonyAlphaClub blog writes that somehow even the latest sony APS-C and fullframes lack the “fluidity” of the a900 in the pictures. I have to mostly agree with him as I previously spent hundreds of hours checking pictures from the aforementioned cameras on flickr and 500px and can confidently say he has a point. 

As mentioned earlier, I personally have a Nikon pro kit with a D200 body, 80-200 f2.8, 50 1.8, and an 18-70. I built my career with this kit. I am lusting after a Nikon D700, but not in a position to afford it at present. Even if I shift to Sony system, I intend to keep my Nikon system. This way I can mix and match lenses and bodies to get interesting results. May be I will also buy some cheap canon pro body with a Sony and Nikon lens adapter…just for kicks ;)  

Looking back…

Why use yesteryear cameras? Simple reason. They can be had for peanuts. On top of that, they are not far behind the latest cameras in terms of image quality. If you are a frugal photographer like me, hunting the classifieds and getting the camera you want is a lot better than going to the camera store like everyone else….experience wise. There is a sense of achievement when you find cameras like this. That said, I would like to advice you to check the camera thoroughly whether buying from a discounted store or from a seller on classifieds. These ‘old’ cameras are also available through online stores brand new, in box with a huge discount. Unfortunately I don’t have the option of buying like that here in India. Sure I could import from amazon uk or amazon usa but the customs and shipping costs will break the bank. DSLRs from sony are good, even some of the CMOS ones, don’t pass them just because they are CMOS, there are some good CMOS and some bad CMOS. With the latest advancements in photoshop, you are in good hands with yesteryear CMOS sensor cameras from Sony like the a450, a580. I wouldn’t suggest you buy the a700, or a850 or an a900 etc. They are too ancient and a few minutes in dpreview forums you will be convinced they are basically useless with all their caveats. For the price of an a900 I will probably get a Nikon D700, which is an extraordinary camera. Don’t go for entry level SLTs. There are completely garbage. Unless it’s an a77 or a99 there is no point in getting any other SLT below their level (forget the a58). 

The a77, 77II and a99 are amazing cameras. Frank Doorhof uses the a99 alongside his medium format kit. He also uses the a99 for his training sessions. The a7 series cameras are a whole another level, but if you are a frugal photographer like me, you wouldn’t want to buy them. I also feel the a7 series cameras are highly overrated and are impractical for photographers specializing in wedding, action/sports etc as the autofocus is too slow. Besides the fullframe E mount lenses are too damn expensive. Sony, I feel, is indulging in pure thuggery even with their alpha line of lenses. Cheaper lens options are far too few and in between. Why is the Sony 50 1.8 SAM DT lens only for APS-C sensors when the same equivalent lenses from Nikon and canon are compatible with full-frame??? ?? Why is it expensive than Nikon and Canon versions??? Why the hell does it have a plastic mount even though its expensive than canon and Nikon versions ??? Couldn’t you put a metal mount on the lens Sony?? And why the heck does the 85 2.8 full frame compatible lens have a plastic mount and costs $250?? I hope Sony people are reading this. 

Now, the original a7 (the first 24 megapixel version) has come down in price for around $1400 after the a7II was launched. It’s a good deal if you can live with its limitations and 24 megapixels is more than anybody ever needs for anything in everyday practical terms.  Hey if you need anything above 50 megapixel shoot film and scan it at 5000 dpi and save it as TIFF at 32 bit  ;) wink wink. I strongly believe the a7 series are strictly studio cameras, which can only excel under controlled lighting conditions. 

On an end note…

This shot was taken from a fast moving car at 110kmph. Stabilization is ON. 

My whole kit only consists of things I absolutely need. I have no regrets whatsoever for buying things in the whatever ragtag kit I have, however I regret selling a few things when I needed some dough. A penny saved is a penny earned. No matter what you buy, buy it only if you absolutely need it. Do thorough research beforehand. Remember there is no shame in not using the latest and the greatest. Those people who make fun of you (yeah I was there) for using cameras like the a200 are not the ones that feed you or your family. Stay away from peer pressure and GAS. Focus on mastering your lighting and creative/conceptual thinking NOT on acquiring the latest cameras. The same people who may deride you for using your entry level a200 will gasp with awe when you master your technique and unique perspective. Go ahead and create your own path. You can buy the latest and the greatest when you make enough money. Forget buying the kit on your card or on credit or taking a loan. It’s a whole another story if your photography business is running well and you can happily pay for them…my guess aint here because it is.  May be you are just getting started in the business, if you are here reading this article then by no means it’s an accident. Follow my advice. You will not regret it. Think like a Ninja, strike like a Panther. Cheers and happy clicking. 


Monday, September 14, 2015

Should you buy old manual focus lenses ???

pic from:

Saw an old Zeiss lens on ebay for 50 bucks ?? dont jump with joy just yet. Many photographers do that without realizing these lenses were made before  computers were were used for manufacturing, because of which the elements may not be 100% aligned or there may be some loose bolts in the barrel that we dont know of, which may produce some strange results.  

There is also the problem with dust and fungus inside the lenses. Cleaning yourself may not be an optionand not all technicians are capable or repairing/cleaning  old lenses, and cleaning old lenses is also not cheap either.

pic from:

Another issue is the radio activity (yeah, the hiroshima, nagasaki kind) of certain lenses, but i read somewhere its not that big of a problem. On a serious note would yopu like to try ? before you lose half your teeth and all your hair? I don think so.

I am not trying to scare you or anything, but proceed with caution, you know better.
If at all you have to buy old manual focus lenses, buy minty or like new. The best bets according to me would be the lenses from the 80s and early 90s. As things improved much during this period.

Nikon still makes great manual focus lenses to this very day. Luckily enough they are not as expensive as a Leica or Zeiss.  They are also a great entry point for budding film makers and photographers. Though this brand new manual focus Nikon lenses are not as cheap as say 50 bucks, but having a brand new, dust and fungus free lens beats any justification we give to ourselves for buying old lenses.     

If you are buying pentax or nikon lenses and are using that particular system, it is fine. Otherwise there is whole another headache of finding adapters for these exotic mounts, lack of infinity focus on some lens/adapter combinations.

If you ask me, unless you are buying Leica, Zeiss, Hasselblad, Rollei or Nikon there is no point in buying old lenses. No old lens can beat modern manual focus lenses from Leica, Zeiss, Nikon or even Voigtlander. If you are so fond of old manual focus lenses just go buy a Nikkor 50 1.2 or a Zeiss planar 50 1.4 (superb lens).

The ridiculous thing these days is – these old crummy fungus and dust ridden lenses are costing as much as new lenses on ebay and elsewhere. Human greed has reached its zenith. Chuck this nonsesne and go buy a new lens. You wont regret it.

I request you earnestly to stop having this idea about yourself as a “lens collector”. It is for those rich, jobless photographers who dont need photography jobs to live. Not you. Dont try to be a fancy “lens connosieur”. Its consumerist. Instead be a “Utiliterean Proletariat”. Just buy/keep what you absolutely need. You dont need more than three lenses to make it as a photographer.

I personally only ever bought three lenses in my life. The Nikkor 18-70 for like 150 bucks used from a local photo goods retailer, the 50 1.8D I ordered online brand new for like 90 bucks and the 80-200 f2.8 (as the 70-200 f2.8 is still damn expensive) used from a online classified.

What I mean to tell you from this article is – if you find a minty Zeiss, or a Leica or a Nikon lens buy all means buy it, but remember there is no greatness in having a bunch of old fungus ridden lenses which you are not going to use much anyway.

I am saying this again, be a “Utilitarean Proletariat” not a fancy rich bourgeois “lens collector”. If you feel like buying new lens, remember we are all living in a bad economy and making money with photography and feeding your family is getting harder by the day.

Cheers and happy clicking...