Friday, April 11, 2014

Nikon D200 Review 2014. Some New thoughts on this old DSLR

 Nikon D200 with Sigma 28-105 f2.8-4 AF

This is not a technical review about specs etc. This is a usage report from 20 months of back and forth testing of the camera in various professional shooting scenarios. 

The Nikon D200 was announced in November of 2005, now since it’s the first quarter of 2014, its 1 year shy of a decade. A decade in camera years is like a millennium. Never the less D200 is probably the greatest camera ever made by Nikon. The D300 and D300s cameras are only a slight improvement on the D200. 

I bought this camera in September 2012 by which time it’s almost an ancient relic, fit to be a part of a museum collection. It might sound a bit melodramatic, but this camera gave me the dignity of being a photographer. Wherever I went, people raised eyebrows some gasped, some awed, and some widened their eyes. I guess it’s the size and weight. It’s markedly different from entry level garbage that camera companies usually put out for sale. No matter where I went, nobody took me for granted. Everybody wants to hold this camera and feel its heft. No matter what age, a pro camera is a pro camera. I furthered all my skills on this one and it has never failed me and I hope and pray that it never will.    

 As of April 2014, this camera is available for peanuts on fleabay and now is the best time to get it. Grab one (or two) while you can. I have a particular preference for CCD sensor cameras. I never liked CMOS sensor cameras. I don’t need high ISO of the CMOS sensors. It’s very rare that I shoot anything above ISO 400. All my work is inside ISO 400. 

Somehow to me, the pictures from CCD sensors look better than CMOS ones. I think the digital signal conversion is better in CCDs than CMOS sensors. CCDs are supposedly power guzzlers, but that’s fine by me. I have two EN EL3e batteries for my D200, they both last an entire shoot. I have a Sony a200 DSLR in my bag as well as a back-up, but it never gets used. I shoot with it in between just for change.  

Shot with Nikon D200 and 18-55 kit lens. JPEG normal

Even Medium format camera like Hasselblad and Mamiya began their digital ascent into the modern era with CCD sensors made by Kodak and Dalsa. Teledyne Dalsa, the company behind Dalsa sensors makes both CMOS and CCD sensors. The earliest Medium format digital backs all used CCD sensors. I don’t know why these days they are switching to CMOS sensors, I personally do not appreciate this development. Incidentally both the critically acclaimed Leica’s 18.5 megapixel CCD and the path breaking Pentax’s 645D 40 megapixel CCD sensors are made by Kodak. Yeah that means awesome pictures. 

According to Wikipedia, D200’s senor is made by Sony and has the highest pixel pitch after the Nikon D40. D40’s CCD sensor is also made by Sony. High pixel pitch means, the sensor has more pixels packed per square mm than other camera sensors. This means the picture will be ‘dense’. This also reduces the high ISO ability, but for a pro photog who shoots below ISO 400 mostly this is not a problem at all. Even if I have to use high ISO, Contrary to what other pros do, I do NOT switch on the ‘High ISO noise reduction’ in the camera as I have observed this tends to take away the fine detail from the pictures. I have also occasionally shot at ISO 800 with the D200 and the pictures were very much usable.  

Picture shot at ISO 800 with Noise reduction off

In this part of the world where I live, studio photographers swear by Nikon cameras with CCD sensors. The cameras I have seen used are D40, D40x, D50, D60, D70, D70s and D80. Though it has a CMOS sensor I have seen many photographers use D90 for weddings and such, and this camera is the only exception. I have never seen a studio photographer with any other camera except Nikon. These days some of them are shifting to canon and I am aware of the fact that a lot of them are highly disillusioned with Canon after years of using Nikon DSLRs and most of them are not emotionally buying into Canon. They also feel Canon’s lenses are pricier than Nikon’s, which is true. 


·     Strengths of the camera include a solid magnesium alloy body, weather sealing, professional control buttons, a detailed and advanced menu system, CCD sensor and weight. Yes it weighs a ton, and I like it that way. I love heavy cameras. Light weight cameras are for fags, posers and hipsters. 

·     If you are an ‘enthusiast’ forget buying this camera, it’s too heavy and too professional for you. This camera is a great stepping stone to other great professional cameras from Nikon. Say, it’s a gateway drug. This is a perfect camera to buy if you intend to become a full-time professional and later when you master this camera you can graduate to other bigger and better cameras from Nikon like the D800, D3 or D4. 

·     The sensor in the camera needs a special mention. Images from D200, when used with older film era lenses, give ‘film like’ images. What I mean to say is the images have a cinematic/film like look to them. This is also the reason I am not selling my D200 at all. I might buy one more off of fleabay or something but I am not selling this one. Unless they make a same camera, with the same sensor and better specs then may be I will think about it.  

Having talked all the good points, I have to admit the camera has some drawbacks too. Ofcourse if you love your camera like I do, the drawbacks don’t really look like drawbacks. Now lets look at them one by one.

·     This is strictly a studio camera, which means, this camera gives its best only under controlled lighting conditions. That means under strobes and speedlites. 

·     This camera can’t be used for street photography or nature or landscape photography. Why?? Its metering. It produces dull and uninspiring pictures as the metering concentrates only on certain areas when shooting. Under normal conditions the entire frame is not illuminated evenly. This could be my ignorance or there is something about the camera that results in this kind of pictures. Again you get great shots in the studio. Btw, who does street photography with this camera anyways???.

·       The 10.2 megapixels are more than enough for just about any kind of photography, but you know the craving for more megapixels. With recent entry level cameras coming up with 24 megapixel sensors, you know sometimes you can feel inadequate.

·       Autofocus is a bit slow with my Nikkor 18-70 lens. I don’t know if it’s the camera or the lens or me or the lighting conditions. Comparatively the D100 had an even slower focus and would hunt even in broad day light (no kidding, really). 

·       Low light performance?? Forget it, the D200 cant shoot a good picture even in shade. Its metering and sensor don’t work that way. This camera needs light, lots and lots of light and that’s not as bad as you think it is. When you are a professional and when it’s dark, you will carry lights anyway.


·       No AUTO mode. This camera doesn’t have an Auto mode. A pro wouldn’t need auto mode anyway. This is a serious set back only for amateurs not for pro photogs. 

These, my dear reader, are my thoughts after 20 months of extensively using the Nikon D200. Now, after all these months, it’s become my friend, my eyes, and is a permanent part of my kit. I am absolutely sure, it still has some miracles embedded in its digital soul for me to discover in my journey as a photographer and as an artist. Happy clicking.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Digiflip CB001 Bag Review

 Digiflip CB001 camera bag

This is the second camera bag I bought from flipkart, the first one being the Lowepro 150 Mica. When I first wanted to buy a DSLR bag, this was the one I wanted, but chose instead the Lowepro, thinking it would be big, but unfortunately no. Still the Lowepro, though small, can carry two camera bodies with lenses and accessories, if you are intelligent enough to fit them in. The quality of the Lowepro is top notch to say the least compared to the Digiflip CB001. 

here is the package it arrived in

Before saying anything about this bag, I would like to add that they are many off brand bags available in the market in the Rs.1000 – Rs.2000 category which are much better made than the Digiflip CB001. In my local camera market I happened to come across an off brand bag for Rs.1500 that was big enough and sturdy enough to handle two pro bodies, many lenses and accessories. 

I understand this is flipkart’s own brand and they may have added a pocket or two from the previous versions. In regard to the Lowepro bag I ordered earlier, I was relieved to find that this bag is big enough to accommodate all my gear. The quality is good compared to the price @ Rs.1050/- ($16).

Digiflip logo on the top compartment 
The bag has two compartments, top and bottom. The bottom part holds the camera bodies and lenses whereas the top part is zippered where you can put in your flashes, filters, cards, etc. All in all, this bag is a great value for money. The pics are from when it arrived in November 2013.

 Nicely laid out compartments
inside the Digiflip CB001 camera bag

What all I put in the bag??

Bottom Compartment

  1. Nikon D200 Body
  2. Nikkor 18-70 lens with hood
  3. Nikkor 50mm lens
  4. Sigma 28-105 Lens
  5. Sony a200 Body
  6. Sony 18-70 lens
  7. Power cables and data cable in the front pocket
  8. Canon 430 EX flash
  9. Nikon Battery Charger
  10. Sony Battery charger.
  11. AA battery charger

Top Compartment 
  1. 8 AA batteries in the top most pocket along with Sony and Nikon camera batteries
  2. Diffusion material in the top compartment.
  3. Blower
  4. Sensor cleaning kit
  5. Collapsible hoods
  6. Marker
  7. Business Cards
  8. Triggers
  9. Cleaning cloth

I can still make some space to fit in more things...I am a space warrior haha.

Update: After using the bag for 4-5 months, now I realize, the padding material used for panels inside the bag is not of the highest quality and might come off soon. 

Note: all pictures shot with Nikon D200 with on-camera flash.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Using cheap flashes for professional photography

I have always loved flashes more so than any other accessory in my camera bag. Flash changed my photography thoroughly and for the better.

The following are the pictures I shot with a single Canon 430 EX flash. Its, TTL, very capable and very consistent. This flash is available for $321 new and for $169 used on Amazon. Ofcourse you can get away with using any other cheap flash and still achieve the same result.    

For more pictures please go to my page on facebook 'StudioVii" and please like the page, if its not too much to ask. Thank you :)

How I shot these?
The camera I had on me was a Nikon D200, with the 430 EX flash (NOT Canon 430 EX II) bounced to the ceiling  at 24mm, effectively making it a huge softbox/lightsource. White balance cloudy. f around 4 or 5 I think. Btw these pictures haven't been edited in anyway except cropping a bit.  I did take an elinchrome D-lite II it strobe head with me but didnt feel the need to use it as the pictures with flash were already good enough. 

Ok in the middle of things, I apologize to my dear readers if they feel my posts are a little autobiographical, that comes from my past career as a copywriter. I personally think a little bit of background story would make anything worthwhile to read J so that’s that.

A few days back I visited my local camera market (by local I mean its approx 30km from where I live) to buy a sensor cleaning kit. While I was there I asked the shop assistants to show me some cheap flashes. They showed me couple of Vivitar flashes both under $15. Yes under fifteen dollars. Bingo !!!! That’s it I thought, what if I coupled with them with some cheap flash triggers and made my own lighting system? Viola !!! that would be amazing. Since they cost under $15 I wouldn’t even have to worry if they break. The caveat? They are completely manual flashes, no TTL.  That is fine by me.

Vivitar in their hey day made excellent affordable flashes, they do now as well. Now the brand is owned by a company called Sakar International. Vivitar brand was owned by many companies in the past. Their 285HV is now a legend. It was prized by both professionals and amateurs It is still manufactured in this day and age. It’s available for approx $82 on Amazon, but comes even cheaper if bought used or on fleabay.

Not just Vivitar there are many other cheap no name flashes available for $15-$100 in the market today. Whatever you buy make sure it is reliable.  Personally I feel hundreds of $$$ for a flash is a ridiculous idea, but if you are on the OEM branded flashes side, then you can still buy the Nikon SB range and Canon speedlite flashes in the used market for much much less.

Time to talk about the Yongnuo flashes. How can one post an article about cheap flashes without talking about Yongnuo? haha. It’s a Chinese company and has been making lot of things apart from flashes. Their range of flashes are a hit in the amateur market. Their recent offerings are the cheapest TTL flashes and are available through their online store.  

So are there any downsides to using cheap flashes?, yes sure, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Here I list some concerns.
  •     Most of these cheap flashes do not have TTL . a TTL flash will save you time, shutters and guesswork. Get a cheap flash that has TTL instead of an all manual flash, your problems are solved.
  •     Some of the older flashes due to their high voltage output may short circuit the internal mechanics of your DSLR. So do your research when using an older flash.
  •     Reliability is ofcourse an issue. These cheap $15 flashes may suddenly stop working in the middle of a shoot, so having one or two of these as a back-up is always a good idea.
So the big question – “Can you use cheap flashes for professional photography? Absolutely Yes. The difference in light between a $15 flash and a $500 flash is almost zero. Yes you can go ahead and buy that $15 flash. Cheers and happy clicking.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nikon D3200 Review 2013

Nikon D3200

Recently a childhood friend asked me to guide him with a DSLR purchase. I obliged. First off I put all the options in front of him for a budget of around INR 30,000 (approx.$500), the venerable Canon 600D, the feature rich Sony a58 and the high megapixel Nikon D3200. As I was a Nikon guy I leaned more towards the D3200. The Canon 600D is also an excellent camera and also has something the D3200 lacks – a built in autofocus motor. As for that matter the similarly priced Sony a58 also has a built-in focus motor.

The Nikon D3200’s sensor is highly rated by DxO Labs and is second only after the high-end Nikon D4 and is rated just a little behind the Nikon D800E

The following are my observations from a professional standpoint.

Pro use - No matter how tantalizing the megapixel count may be or the highly rated sensor performance this camera is still no good for heavy duty professional use. You may ask ‘why would any one use an entry level camera for professional use?’ yeah good question.

Plastic body - Polycarbonate body is not for me. The chasis (if it has any) is made of polycarbonate plastic. If you drop it, then pray to god.

Lens mount – the lens mount contact ring is made of metal may be but it fixed to a plastic body. If you are using heavier lenses don’t be surprised if you pop the mount entirely from the camera. That’s an extreme scenario ofcourse.  

No weather sealing – ofcourse it’s an entry level body, so no weather sealing.  

No support for AF-D lenses – Nikon produces some of the most extraordinary lenses in the AF-D range like the 85mm f1.4, if you are using a camera like the D3200 which doesn’t have the built-in autofocus motor, then you cannot fully utilize this line of lenses from Nikon. Forget manual focusing.

Strictly amateur – The D3200’s feature set, build and lack of a built in focus motor seriously limits it to amateurs.

Some good points
     ·       Excellent image quality
     ·       Highest megapixel count in an entry level body (24)
     ·       Amazing sensor performance
     ·       Mind blowing dynamic range
     ·       True to life color reproduction
     ·       Very inexpensive around $500

If you are stepping into photography then this is an excellent camera to buy. If you are a professional you can happily forget about this camera.

Happy clicking !


Nikon D200 Review 2013

Nikon D200 with Nikkor 18-70 f3.5-4.5 ED lens

 I would like the readers to note that I am doing this review from a professional’s point of view.

 Is the Nikon D200 still relevant in 2013?? That’s the big question. Guys using it since years are reluctant selling it and here is why… If you need a sturdy, weather sealed, magnesium alloy body, CCD sensor, consistency, then this is the camera for you. Ofcourse there are thousand other cameras with better specs than the Nikon D200 but wait a second..are they available at such a low price?? I don’t think so. The D200 may have ancient specs but its controls are far more advanced than typical entry level cameras.

 I have handled the Nikon D7000, but comparitively its smaller, lighter and doesn’t quite feel as manly (Yeah I am a Guy). Sensor-wise the Nikon D7000 may be a better camera, but it also costs a lot more than the D200.  

  First let us look at the limitations:

·      Ancient sensor – The Nikon D200’s sensor is ancient, even an entry level camera like the Nikon D3200 can trump it any day. Supposedly the D3200 has the same sensor/technology as the Nikon D4. I did test out the D3200 extensively and I am impressed with the results. To read the review click here.

·      Low light – the low light performance is horrible. Want to shoot indoors? Forget it. The ISO is limited to 1600 only. Visible noise at around ISO 300. This is why I don’t use this camera in low light conditions and mostly shoot in daylight or with strobes.

·      Suitability - May not be suitable for top-of-the-line fashion, sports or product photography due to a lack of good dynamic range. The camera fails with flying colors in the dynamic range department when compared to cameras like the D90, D7000, D3200.       

   Advantages of the Nikon D200

·       Sturdy – Among others the D200 is the sturdiest camera ever made by Nikon. It takes the beating very well due to its strong magnesium alloy chassis. It is completely weather sealed, that is something the D7000, D7100 or D90 or the D3200 cannot boast of.

  Built in auto-focus motor – this is probably the single best reason to buy the D200. The least affordable cameras in the Nikon line-up that have built-in focus motor is the D90 and D7000/D7100 but they also cost a lot more than the D200.

  Compatibility with AF-D lenses – with a built-in focus motor the D200 can be seamlessly used with the excellent Nikkor AF-D lenses (for a review of the AF-D lenses for fashion click here) including the Nikkor 50mm 1.8D. The AF-D lenses do not have a built in focus motor, therefore they need a camera that have a built in motor like the D200. Newer/entry level cameras like the Nikon D3100, D3200, D5100 or the D5200 use the AF-S lenses that have built in motors for focus as their body does not have the focus motors.

·      Advanced Menu – the D200’s menu system is far more advanced than any entry level cameras. The button layout and controls feel intuitive. I have had the D200 for little over a year now. And the controls feel like the back of my hand.  

  • The classic 5D Mark I and the D200 almost belong to the same generation, the only advantage of the 5D is that its full frame. Its does not have the extensive weather sealing like the Nikon D200. It is of note that the D200 is just six points behind the Canon 5D Mark I. Here is a comparison of the two from snapsort.
  • I have been trying to sell my D200 for newer camera NOT because I am unhappy with it but I will have to admit I do have gear lust issues and was wanting to buy something more advanced. I don’t know why but for some strange reason I haven’t got any good offers. So I am keeping this one for now. It is far more sufficient for what I am doing right now.
  • I am presently using the D200 with an 18-55 VR, 18-70 ED, Sigma 28-105 (probably from the late 90s) and a MF Tamron 85-210 (from the late 80s). This is all I have now presently.
  Happy clicking. Cheers.