Monday, June 30, 2008

Nikon SB-900 Flash, PC-E 45mm and 85mm Lenses Released

Nikon has also released the SB-900 flash and two perspective control lenses. These are the PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8 ED and PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 ED lenses. Nikon is looking to compete even more in the professional sector by challenging Canon for dominance.

Nikon D700 Released

As reported by the Luminous Landscape, the Nikon D700 has been released. As expected, it also has a 12 MP FX format full-frame sensor like the D3. As stated at the Luminous Landscape:

The D700 camera is a direct competitor to the Canon 5D, which is due for a referb any day now. It differs from the D3 in some areas, such as 5 FPS instead of 8, though the addition of a battery grip raises it to 8 FPS, just as with the D3. One improvement over the D3 is the inclusion of dust removal by shaking the sensor, the same system as found in the D300. Nikon's top-of-the-line 51 point metering and 15 cross sensor AF is also found, as is a top ISO capability of ISO 25,000.

Apparently, it should be available near the end of July. U.S. pricing should be available tomorrow. This sounds like a camera very comparable to the D3 but a little cheaper. It seems like it is pretty similar to the D3 in most areas and might be a better choice for most professional and amateur photographers.

UPDATE: Rob Galbraith DPI has the best info on all of the details of the D700. It is available from his site. The selling price in the U.S. will be $2999.95 for the body only. DPReview also has a hands-on preview of the D700 available. Nikon Japan has posted a 24-page brochure for the D700.

Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.5.4 Update

Today, Apple released the Mac OS X 10.5.4 Update. While this did not seem to have any fixes for the Pentax K20D 1.01 firmware issue, the update "includes additional RAW image support for several cameras." There is no mention of which cameras these might be but I am speculating that it could be the Olympus E-520 and E-420 cameras. The list of digital camera RAW formats supported by Mac OS X 10.5 and later has not been updated as of yet to reflect the 10.5.4 update.

Pentax K20D Firmware 1.01 Incompatibilities

When Pentax released the K20D firmware version 1.01, it made some changes beyond the bug fix. It changed some of the standard data for the camera. Instead of showing PENTAX Corporation, it now shows just PENTAX. Also, instead of PENTAX K20D, it now shows K20D. This is not really any big deal except that most RAW converters including the RAW support built into Mac OS X which Aperture uses, no longer recognize K20D RAW files written with firmware 1.01. The major exception to this seems to be Adobe's products which work fine.

The whole story in greater detail is available from RiceHigh's Pentax blog. Hopefully either Pentax will revert back to the old way so we can still use our files or Apple and all the other companies will fix the issue in their software. The latter is the most likely.

In the meantime, one possible solution is to convert all of your K20D PEF files to DNG files using Adobe's DNG converter (available from Adobe's DNG page). This causes another problem though. The date and time for Adobe generated DNG files is stored as the date and time in GMT with an offset. Unfortunately, when imported into Aperture this offset is not recognized correctly so the pictures appear to have been taken on the correct date but the time is 15 hours too early or a similar discrepancy based on your time zone. I understand that Adobe is working on a fix but it is not part of the Adobe Camera Raw 4.5 release candidate currently available.

The DNG solution gives a temporary fix but I will be deleting all of the DNG files and re-importing the PEF files once this issue has been corrected. As far as I know, the DNG files generated in-camera from the K20D do not have the date issue but they are not compressed so I continue to shoot in PEF for the space savings.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pentax Full Frame Dreams

There seems to be a great deal of talk in Canon, Nikon, and Sony forums about the Canon 5D replacement, a new full frame Nikon camera probably called the D700, and a probable Sony A900 which is also full frame. By full frame I mean the sensor is the same size as the 135 film format we used for years which is 24mm by 36mm. The advantages of a full frame camera are increased depth of field, potentially lower high ISO noise, and better resolution and image quality. This doesn't mean that an APS-C sized (like all current Pentax digital SLRs) camera cannot do very well either.

It seems that the professional market has moved to full frame. Canon's newest 1Ds Mark III along with Nikon's D3 fill the top of this market. These cameras take different approaches. Canon is shooting for higher resolution while Nikon is going for maximum high ISO performance and quality. We will probably see a Nikon D3x at some point which will be higher resolution like the Canon offering.

That leaves Pentax and Olympus as major players who do not have a full frame offering. I think Olympus will be left out of this race. They have put all of their efforts into a completely different sensor size, the four thirds format. I have to admit, I really like the idea behind the four thirds format. You can have a smaller setup of equipment but yet still cover the same range of equivalent focal lengths. This is also something of the argument for Pentax although not quite as strong. Canon and Nikon do not seem to have focused on making small and compact lenses to any significant degree.

Pentax has focused on the DA and DA* lens lines. These lenses are only designed for the APS-C format, not 135 full frame. It seems that for a major player to stay in the market they really need to have a competitive offering in the 135 full frame space. Nikon only two years ago declared that it did not have any plans for the 135 full frame format but they have changed dramatically from that position.

Should Pentax bring out a K1D/K2D/K3D or whatever 135 full frame body? Absolutely! I am not going to speculate on its specifications although for it to make sense in the lineup, it would need to be at least 16 megapixels. It would be silly to have the K20D at 14 megapixels and then the higher end pro body at the same or something less. It is fortunate that Pentax is working with Samsung because they have the facilities to make this happen. It seems that most of the higher end bodies are now using CMOS sensors and this is the case for the K20D as well.

This would leave Pentax with a problem though. The only lenses that would officially work for full frame would be the DFA 50/2.8 Macro and DFA 100/2.8 Macro lenses. It is possible that some of the other lenses might work but I think that is unlikely. In the short term, Pentax should pull out the designs for the old FA* 80-200/2.8 and FA* 28-70/2.8 lenses and use the optical design while redesigning the lens body and focus system to be SDM-only. As we have seen with the DA 17-70/4 coming out shortly, further DA and DA* lenses will probably be SDM-only or the old-style focus system like the Limited lenses for size reasons.

Pentax has an excellent selection of old lens designs for film cameras. They could easily pull these out and start with them as the basis for a new DFA and DFA* lens line. I already mentioned the FA* 80-200/2.8 and FA* 28-70/2.8 lenses but Pentax could also bring out the FA 20-35/4, FA* 300/2.8, FA* 400/5.6, FA* 600/4, and FA* 250-600/5.6 lens designs. This could create a fairly quick significant lineup of good lenses. All of these lenses would be professional level.

Now what about new designs? For the APS-C format, I am looking forward to the DA 17-70/4 and DA* 60-250/4 lenses. An equivalent range in 135 full frame would be great. That would make a 24-105/4 lens and a 100-400/4 lens.

In order to be very competitive in the professional market, Pentax would need a lens lineup something like this. Professional level lenses in the f/2.8 range would include DFA* 24-70/2.8, DFA* 80-200/2.8, DFA* 300/2.8, and DFA* 400/2.8 lenses. Professional level lenses in the f/4 range would include DFA* 15-35/4, DFA* 24-105/4, DFA* 100-400/4, and DFA* 600/4 lenses. The DFA* 100-400/4 idea may be a little too optimistic. Some additional and alternative designs could be a DFA* 100-400/4-5.6, DFA* 200-400/4, and DFA* 250-600/5.6 lenses.

All of this is pure speculation and we will just have to wait and see. I hope Pentax comes out with a 135 full frame format CMOS sensor camera soon but only time will tell. Keep up the good work Pentax.

The Digital Hub Mentioned by 1001 Noisy Cameras

The Digital Hub was mentioned by 1001 Noisy Cameras in a post about discovering new web sites. I hope that the information I post can be of use to digital photographers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Canon Powershot G9 Coming Up

I have finally taken the plunge and purchased a Canon Powershot G9. It will be arriving later today. I have chosen this camera because it is compact, has an excellent 35-210mm equivalent Image Stabilized lens, and has the ability to save its images in RAW format. The latter quality is really an essential for me in any digital camera. In addition, the Canon G9 has a hot shoe and therefore the ability to use off-camera light. I have read reviews of the Canon G9 on the Luminous Landscape as well as on Strobist and The Digital Story. Also on Strobist is information on syncing the Canon G9 at a higher sync speed than normally allowed.

While the Canon G9 has admirable qualities on land, it even works great underwater. I very much enjoy SCUBA diving and have wanted to get an underwater housing for a digital SLR but I have found that they are exceedingly expensive. The Canon WP-DC21 underwater housing for the Canon G9 solves this problem. While the Canon G9 will not do as well with its 1/1.7" sensor as a digital SLR, it still takes striking photos underwater. If you are serious about this, you should also get the Canon WW-DC1 weights in order to properly weight the enclosure. SCUBA divers seem to enjoy using this camera as is shown by a product review of the WP-DC21 case by a Kona SCUBA diver. I also came across a post on a blog dedicated to the Canon G9 about how the Canon G9 works for underwater photos.

Some may also be interested in accessory lenses for the Canon G9 to give it more of a wide angle coverage or a more telephoto coverage. From Canon itself, you have the LA-DC58H lens adapter that allows you to use either the WC-DC58B wide converter lens which has a 0.75X conversion factor or the TC-DC58C tele converter lens which has a 2.0X conversion factor. Because I am only using this camera as a supplement and lightweight option to my digital SLR systems, I am not really interested in these items. You can see a video of the wide converter lens on YouTube to give you an idea of its size.

The other essential accessory is the Canon NB-2LH additional battery. One other item that I am awaiting is the Lensmate for the Canon G9. It is essentially a metal lens hood like the Canon lens adapter I already mentioned. It is sturdier and made out of metal where the Canon adapter is plastic. I also ordered the Custom G9 Grip which gives a little better grip on the camera. I will be posting more thoughts on this camera and accessories as I have a chance to test it out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

PDN Gear Guide MacBook Air Review

A few weeks back, I came across a review of the Apple MacBook Air laptop for photography. The review was done by David Schloss, technology editor for the Photo District News Gear Guide.

I found the review very interesting because the reviewer usually carries a MacBook Pro laptop just like I do. Because of the size and weight of the MacBook Pro, he tends not to carry a larger camera system. Instead, he carries the Canon Powershot G9. This is a great little camera and I will have more to say about it soon. When using the MacBook Air, he carried a Canon EOS 5D and four lenses. I am very interested in the MacBook Air myself because of the decrease in weight.

Most of the tasks I use my laptop for are perfect for the MacBook Air. The only other task, which I only rarely use a laptop for, is video editing. The MacBook Air is not really suited for video editing because of no FireWire ports and its limited storage. Otherwise, tasks such as email, photo editing, word processing, web browsing, accounting, and server management are all easily accomplished on the MacBook Air.

I am already using Western Digital Passport portable USB 2.0 hard drives and USB 2.0 SDHC card readers from Lexar and Sandisk which all work great with the MacBook Air. The reviewer really enjoyed using the laptop and intends to use one for traveling. I agree with his thoughts about how nice it would be to have more RAM. I am used to using 4 GB in my MacBook Pro and I would be very happy if the MacBook Air also had 4 GB of RAM. No computer is perfect and this one is no exception but I must say it is an exceptional computer. Go read the article and draw your own conclusions.

Pentax K20D Highly Recommended by DPReview

Digital Photography Review has done a very favorable review of the Pentax K20D digital SLR. It is an excellent review and worth reading. It is nice to see the Pentax K20D getting a highly recommended rating.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pentax K20D Preview at DPReview

Digital Photography Review has done a preview of the Pentax K20D. They make some excellent points about how good the camera is and it is worth a read. I am looking forward to a full review of the camera at some point.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ned Bunnell DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited Shots

Ned Bunnell, president of Pentax Imaging (USA), posted some shots with the SMC Pentax DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited lens. Last month, I also posted some shots with this same lens. I find it to be an absolutely superb lens. I have found myself enjoying it as my standard walk around lens.

Pentax Releases K20D Firmware 1.01

Today, Pentax released K20D firmware version 1.01 to correct an issue where using the 2 second self-timer caused hot pixels or image noise. The firmware is available from Pentax. This was also reported by Digital Photography Review and PentaxLife.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ned Bunnell Posts DA 17-70/4 Tests

Ned Bunnell, President of Pentax Imaging USA, has posted some test shots of the new DA 17-70/4 lens. The shots look very good. It seems like this lens will be a very good performer. I am looking forward to using this lens myself.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

SMC Pentax DA 17-70mm f/4 AL [IF] SDM Lens Announced

Pentax has announced the SMC Pentax DA 17-70mm f/4 AL [IF] SDM lens. This lens is a welcome addition and I am very much looking forward to getting one of these lenses. It is the first SDM-only lens from Pentax which means it will only work with the K20D, K200D, K10D, and K100D Super digital SLRs. This is a great range equivalent to about 26-106mm along with the constant f/4 aperture.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this fills in the mid-range between the DA* 16-50/2.8 and the DA 18-55/3.5-5.6. This lens will probably be my new standard lens that I keep on one of my K20D cameras most of the time. While we do not know yet, I expect that the DA 16-45/4 will be discontinued once stock runs out. There is no need for this older design now that we have the DA* 16-50/2.8 and the DA 17-70/4 although only time will tell.

UPDATE: There is an FAQ file for this new lens that has some interesting information. Here is a quote from the FAQ:

Current DA* lenses (16-50mm, 50-135mm, 200mm and 300mm) contain both SDM and body-based focusing. While we will continue to develop lenses for each type of autofocus system, we will also phase out lenses that support both types of focusing simultaneously. Due to issues of cost, development timeframe and other factors, in the future, PENTAX lenses will either support SDM focusing or body- based focusing, but not both.