Anticipating an early voter turnout Tuesday, I drove directly from our home in Byng to Konawa to cover the school bond issue election. It was just after seven in the morning, and the sun was still below the horizon. I immediately noticed that farm ponds had fog above them and anticipated that the Canadian River, which I would shortly cross, would as well.
I drove across the U.S. 377 bridge, parked in a safe spot, put on my highway safety vest, grabbed three cameras and walked to the center of the bridge over the river. For the record, I don’t recommend this, and I did it as a journalist. I know, I know — do as I say, not as I do, but drivers can get distracted in a moment, and it’s not always easy to see in early morning light.
Sunlight caught the rising fog exactly as I had anticipated, and the scene did not disappoint. I shot it with all three cameras — one with a 300mm lens, one with an 80-200mm lens,and one with a wide angle. All three scenes expressed something slightly different about the scene, and I was glad I lugged all the hardware with me.
How many times has someone come up to me with their phone in hand and started telling me, “I didn’t have my camera with me, but…” They then show me an image they made with their phone that tells only part of the story. Despite constantly improving technology in smartphones, they lack something. Maybe they lack the attitude of a camera.
The lesson is: Always have your camera with you. I know this is easy to say if you’re like me and have had cameras within arm’s reach since I was in high school, but it can really pay off.
Sometimes I like to get out old gear and shoot with it, with the goal of making certain I don’t rely too heavily on technology to get my job done well. Yesterday I was inspired to dig my Kodak DCS 720x out of its box at the bottom of the gear cabinet to shoot a football scrimmage at the local college, and although that technology is from 2001, I made some great images with it. Look for them in my newspaper next week!
I read recently that Kodak only made about 1600 720x cameras. I’m not surprised, as the company was already deep into its inexorable slide toward bankruptcy.
It’s no secret that I am a lens guy. Old and new, cheap and expensive, I think photographic lenses are fascinating. I have quite a few lenses, from the tiny, dusty, fixed-focus, brassed-up lenses on my Kodak Retina, to the heavy, complex f/2.8 sports and news zooms I use every day. But if you ask me to name an all-time favorite… wow. All those lenses. But, my all-time favorite lens has to be the 85mm.
I have owned three, the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 of 1990s vintage, the Nikkor 85mm f/2.0 of early-80s heritage, and my current 85mm, the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.
Over the years I read that the oldest of the three, the f/2.0, wasn’t great, but my experience differed. It was an amazing lens. The least of the three was the AF from the 90s, optically similar to the others, but built with a lot of plastic, including a plastic bushing in the focus chain that wore out and made the lens stiff. Eventually Nikon stopped supporting it so I could no longer get it repaired, and I stopped using it. I eventually gave it away.
My current 85mm is a real gem. I wrote about it a couple of times right after I got it, but I thought it would be helpful to mention that after three years with this lens in my bag, I use it as often as I can, from weddings to portraits to commercial work, with lots of occasions when I grab it to photograph my wife Abby or our dogs.
Our photographer friend Robert used it to photograph Abby and me in November, and those images are among my favorite all-time images of us.
In class in October, I handed this 85mm to a photography student, Daniel O’Danielle, who used it for about 30 minutes. The next week, she had a new one on her camera. I also recently talked about this lens with another photographer who has one, Dan Marsh, who also sang praises about it.
I thought of all this last night at sunset. I grabbed the 85mm once again and walked out to photograph the peach blossoms in my orchard. It didn’t disappoint me.
I shot this on my way to work this morning, fortuitous that my first assignment required a different route to work than I usually take. I jumped out of my car and half-ran across a mostly-empty four-lane highway to get into position.
My wife Abby and I gave this camera, the Fujifilm FinePix S4500, to Abby’s daughter Chele and her husband Tom in 2013. Tom used it extensively on a trip we made to visit him that year in Baltimore, to photograph a D.C. walking tour.
Abby and I have several FinePix cameras (like the HS30EXR,) which have become our favorites when we place having fun at the top of the list, like when we are hiking, on the road, or at an event like family reunions. Smaller cameras like the these, in a class referred to as bridge, walkaround or crossover, allow the handling of a DSLR while offering the convenience of a point-and-shoot or even a smartphone.
The S4500 features a versatile wide-to-telephoto zoom lens, but doesn’t not have a zoom ring or a manual focus ring, relying instead on a W and T rocker switch around the shutter release for zooming. There is no option for manual focusing, though I seldom use manual focus on my other bridge cameras.
In hand, this camera handles like a camera, not like a toy or a computer, which is why Abby and I were attracted to it.
The sensor in this camera is quite small at 6.17mm x 4.55 mm, both to keep the camera compact, and to make it cheaper to manufacture.
There is an electronic viewfinder and a display on the back of the camera. For my work, an electronic or optical viewfinder is a must, though I know most people get along fine with the arm’s-length view that smartphones provide.
Color is good; this is a Fuji strength for me, though not everyone agrees.
High ISO noise makes the camera unusable in low light. I tried to make a feature photo of the score table at a basketball tournament, and it was a mess.
The S4500 has a real PASM exposure dial, a must for me. Of course, it can fall back on green box (red in Fuji’s case) mode and scene modes, which I never use.
Like a lot of lenses on this class of cameras, this 24-500mm “equivalent” zoom is a jack of all trades but master of none. It is an especially mediocre telephoto.
Other controls are where I like them, though over the years I’ve worked with so many cameras (due to teaching photography), I almost always have to search for where electronics engineers put them. Making the same functions a little different in every camera generation and every brand doesn’t really serve photography, but is all about marketing and creating entertainment in camera sales.
Like all tools in our photographic tool box, the FinePix S4500 has a place. It is fun and easy to use, lightweight and quiet, and does a lot more than a smartphone. I am very glad we got this one for Tom and Chele.
In the 2000s, camera makers like Nikon and Canon introduced digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) equipped with so-called full-frame sensors, imaging sensing devices that were the same size as an antiquated piece of 35mm film.
I have one such digital SLR, the Nikon D700. It is a professional machine on every level, from build quality to image quality. It is big, heavy, and built like a tank. It is so heavy, in fact, that I am a little glad I don’t use it every day at work. My D300Ss are heavy enough, but don’t begin to challenge the D700.
Much of the weight of cameras like this is one reason mirrorless cameras are overtaking DSLR sales. Combined with better electronics systems that can be made lighter and faster-operating, mirrorless does away with all the mechanics of the mirrors and pentaprisms.
A deceptive concept about formats is that larger formats exhibit “better” selective focus in the form of shallower depth of field. But the truth of this is buried in marketing and the internet. Depth of field isn’t controlled by format size, but by aperture and magnification. Larger-format afficianatoes don’t seem to understand that when shooting with a camera like the D700 with the same lens they might have on a smaller-format camera, they have to move closer to fill the frame with the same subject. That’s what makes depth of field shallower, not the size of the sensor.
I had this discussion not long after I bought my D700. You can read it here (link).
The D700 was one of Nikon’s earliest moves into the 36x24mm sensor market, and despite having been replaced by numerous newer models, the D700’s build and reputation create a higher than average cost on the used market.
Taking the idea of “full-frame” another step, we ask, “Is full-frame digital better than a full frame of 35mm film.” The answer overwhelmingly yes. Properly implemented, digital photography in general is far better than film photography: less noise, less risk, less waste, less time, more sharpness, better color, and on and on. (Coming soon: why the resurgence of film is folly.)
When I grab my D700, which usually has a larger lens on it, I feel it immediately. All that brass and glass tugs at my elbow and shoulder and reminds me why I try to lighten my load when I am able.
While I was writing this, I handed the D700 with the 28-70mm f/2.8 on it to my wife Abby, and she exclaimed, “Oh, my gosh, it must weigh 50 pounds!”
Files from the D700 are smooth, sharp and low-noise, and even with RAW file compression turned on, have a remarkable amount of color data. Despite the size and weight, the D700 has never let me down, and I hope to continue to make great images with it for the foreseeable future.
The Nikon D200 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a sturdy, capable, good-looking camera from the mid-2000s. It has a 10.2 megapixel sensor that will shoot from ISO 100 to 3200, a decent autofocus system, and it fits just right in my longish hands.
I’ve made tens of thousands of images with my D200s. I own three, all gotten cheap on Ebay, though one of them died earlier this year. In 2018, I don’t consider the D200 a front-line camera, but I still grab them from time to time, and they still deliver.
At the end of the film era, many of us used the excellent Nikon F100 SLR, often with the MB-15 vertical grip. I had two of them at my newspaper from 1997 until I retired the last one in 2005, when I only shot a handful of film negatives.
We waited eagerly for its digital equivalent.
The F100, sometimes nicknamed the “Baby F5,” was everything we could want in a film SLR, viceless, well-built, and a pleasure to use. When the D100 appeared, it didn’t deliver on the promise to be the digital F100. The D100 was slow to shoot, slow to think, and sported some very awkward controls, most notably the badly-implemented exposure mode dial. See my D100 review here (link.)
It wasn’t until November of 2005 that we got a look at what would be the “digital F100,” the Nikon D200.
Build quality is head and shoulders above its predecessors, the D70 and the D100, and its contemporary, the D80. The D200 feels solid in hand, and its operations feel smooth and powerful.
Though the rubber coating on Nikon D70s is disintegrating into a sticky mess, the same-era D200’s rubber grip panels are fine.
Image quality at modest ISO settings (below about 1600) is excellent, with sharp details, accurate color, and low noise. ISO 3200, which is “Hi-1” on the display, is pretty noisy, and it’s not good-looking noise, tending toward blotchiness.
With the MB-D200 multi power battery grip, it holds two batteries, and adds a vertical shutter release. This combination feels and looks very professional.
Media storage is the Compact Flash (CF) card, which I have always liked because it is about the right size for my workflow and in my hands. SD cards seem a little small and easy to lose, although I now use them all the time and have never lost one.
The D80, introduced a few months after the D200, uses the same sensor, but is constructed of plastic.
The D200 viewfinder is large and bright, and the monitor is big for its time at 2.5 inches diagonal.
The D200 has a pop-up flash on the pentaprism, a feature I occasionally wish was on pro models for use as fill light in sunny situations.
Unlike all models aimed at amateur photographers, the D200 does not have an exposure mode dial, but an exposure mode button, which I very much prefer. It doesn’t need the mode dial because it doesn’t offer “green box” mode or scene modes, which are used almost exclusively by amateur photographers.
Also unlike current amateur Nikon cameras, the D200 has a focus motor in the lens mount, so it will focus older AF Nikkor lenses.
The D200 has an aperture indexing ring around the lens mount, allowing it to use automatic exposure with non-autofocus lenses.
Color out of the D200 is adequate, but even using the “vivid” setting, it can be a little on the muted side. Both noise and color rendering are vastly improved by shooting raw files.
Overall, I would say that the Nikon D200 was an excellent camera for news, sports and magazine photography, and though it is older technology, I have no intention of retiring or selling mine; for one thing, they cost nearly nothing, and I couldn’t get anything for them if I wanted to sell them. Ebay shows D200s in good condition for less than $200, sometimes less than $100. It’s also worth noting that if someone gave me one, or I saw one at a garage sale for $25, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to snatch it up.
Nikon struggled and stumbled in the early 2000s, as did many companies, with how to adapt to the coming digital era.
On more than one occasion, Canon took big steps ahead that Nikon didn’t, and more than a few photographers switched entire systems during that period.
Nikon’s flagship cameras, the D2H and the D2X, were behind the curve even when they were introduced, while their Canon contemporaries, the 1D Mark II and the 1Ds Mark II, had twice as many pixels and were nearly twice as fast.
In 2004, Nikon introduced the D70, a lighter, smaller, more affordable DSLR than either of the D2 series, and photographers snatched them up, some even asserting that it was Nikon’s “only” professional camera. In 2005, Nikon offered the D70S with some incremental updates to the D70. At that point my newspaper and I traded my two Nikon F100 film cameras for a D70S, and in the summer before Abby and I travelled to South Dakota on our vacation, Sundance, we bought a D70S for her.
The D70S was head and shoulders above the Nikon D100, which I reviewed in August. Some observations…
The D70S has a fairly weak anti-aliasing filter, so fine lines and and repeating patterns can exhibit the “Christmas tree lights” effect.
At six megapixels, the D70, D70S and D100 were right in the middle of the count or the era. Nikon’s D2H had four, and the D2X had 12.
JPEGs straight out of the camera tend to be too yellow. Both Abby’s camera and my work one did this. It required a deep menu adjustment. This might have been Nikon’s counter reaction to their previous cameras exhibiting JPEGs that were a little bluish.
Shutter operation is smooth, but limited to three frames per second, slow by news and magazine standards, even compared to the film days. Better, though, was the fact that files wrote to the CF card fast, and the D70S would keep shooting. I seldom filled the buffer and had to wait. This was a key failing of the D100, which would stall and stop after shooting just a few RAW files.
The material covering the surfaces of the camera is a cheap plastic of some kind, and got slick soon after delivery. Eventually, Abby’s D70S’s surface got sticky as the plastic started to decay. Despite the D100’s shortcomings, this was one of the few things Nikon got right with it.
Another key item that set the D70 above the D100 was the exposure mode dial. Important settings in the D100 required turning the dial to change them. The D70 and the D70S moved those to buttons in the back of the camera, so the exposure mode dial only controlled the exposure mode. This was an important step from Frankencameras to true digital cameras.
Unlike the D100, Nikon never developed a battery grip for the D70. This is common on today’s entry-level.
Unlike the D100’s magnesium alloy body, the D70 and D70S are mostly plastic.
The D70S has a dedicated second (front) command dial, which is mostly missing on Nikon’s later entry-level cameras to save space. I find having two command dials indispensable.
The D70 and its predecessors include the so-called “screwdriver” autofocusing connector on the lens mount so it will focus older AF lenses in the Nikkor lineup. None of Nikon’s entry-level cameras today include it, requiring lenses with built-in focus motors (AF-S) or a photographer willing to manually focus.
ISO in the D70S is limited to 1600. I don’t care how noisy 3200 and 6400 might have been, Nikon; I needed those ISOs.
The “kit lens” that came with the D70 series, the AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G, was a decent performer, sharp and lightweight, but with a stiff zoom ring that the longer focal lengths together, making fine zoom adjustments difficult. In addition to the Abby’s, I still have one in my bag at the office, which I use when I want to lighten up, like at ball games where I will only need a few wide angle frames.
Despite the pixel limitations and other shortcomings of digital cameras of the early 2000s, Abby and I were able to make great images that print well and stand the test of time. See Abby’s daughter’s wedding (link), which we shot entirely with two Nikon D70Ss.
Abby’s D70S still works to this day, but after about 30,000 frames, the one at my office died. It now lives in the trophy case in the front entrance to my newspaper.
The first digital camera I used regularly was the Nikon D1H, a relatively low pixel count camera at just 2.6 megapixels. My newspaper bought it for me for primary news gathering, and though its limitations were obvious, so was its ability to replace film, and thus save money and streamline workflow.
I immediately loved shooting digitally. It wasn’t instant gratification that charmed me, but the idea that the process could get out of my way and let me do my job. I liked it so much that I started hunting for digital cameras of my own. The first one I bought was a Nikon Coolpix 885, a compact camera I hoped would become my snap shooter.
I still wanted more, though, so I watched for cameras to go on sale. In the summer of 2002, I bought a Minolta DiMage 7i, and at the end of 2003, I brought my first digital single lens reflex (DLSR) camera, the Nikon D100, when it was discontinued and marked down.
The D100 was a contemporary of the Fuji S2 Pro, and the two have some characteristics in common. Both cameras were anticipated to be the digital replacement for the excellent Nikon F100 film camera, but fell well short in most respects.
One reason I decided to write this now is that a coworker moved from one area of the building to another, and in cleaning out her desk, found a D100 I “gave” her a few years ago to shoot ads, and to make a few images of her daughter playing basketball. As far as I was concerned, she could have kept it forever, but when she handed it back to me, I cleaned it up and put it into occasional service, and wow! The D100 was as bad as I remember, and especially glaringly bad compared to cameras just a generation newer like the D70.
Releasing the shutter results in a asthmatic click-pause, click-pause, click-pause. It almost seems like the camera has been deliberately hobbled to keep it from competing with other Nikons of the era.
The viewfinder is quite small, and while I was able to use it in 2003, today my older eyes can’t quite discern if the autofocus hit or missed on my subject. It feels cramped and cheap.
The display on the back of the camera is 1.8 inches diagonal, which today seems like a joke, but it was the tech for its day. The Nikon D1H and D1X had two-inch displays, and cost thousands more.
The true Achilles heel of the D100 is the exposure mode dial, which you have to move out of shooting mode to change basic settings like ISO and white balance. Failing to put it back into a shooting mode can result in a shutter pull, a missed shot, and a momentary baffled look until you realize what you’ve done.
JPEGs out of the camera are, and always have been, achingly soft, even with the sharpening option set to “high.” I presume this is due to the camera’s aggressive anti-aliasing filter. The next Nikon, the D70, had a much lighter anti-aliasing filter, and while it made sharper JPEGs, it also frequently displayed aliases in patters like plaid clothing or stadium seats.
Thus the only option for sharp images out of the D100 is to shoot RAW files. Doing so doesn’t slow the frame rate, but the buffer fills immediately, and the camera pauses while it writes the 10MB files to the card. If you turn on RAW file compression, it takes more than a minute to write each frame to the card, a glaring coding flaw. It’s not an option.
Color rendition with the D100 is excellent and accurate.
Certain lenses don’t get along with the D100s autofocus system. My AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8, for example, is one of my favorite lenses, but always front-focused on the D100.
Nikon got the battery right, using a modern, reliable lithium ion battery. The Fuji S2 Pro seems very primitive by comparison.
The D100 isn’t particularly good in the high-ISO regime, but it beats out the better-in-most-categories Fuji S2 pro. The D100 goes to ISO 1600, followed by Hi1 and Hi2 (3200 and 6400, respectively), but those are so noisy, they can only be used in a pinch.
Build quality is good. The frame is magnesium, lightweight and well-crafted. Unlike its contemporaries the D1H and D1X, which suffered from an embarrassing tendency to shed their grip covers, the D100’s surfaces remain in good shape to this day.
The addition of the MB-D100 vertical grip makes the camera look and feel five times more impressive and professional. It doesn’t change anything about the cameras performance except to add an extra battery.
In the era of cameras with 50 or even 100 megapixels, the D100’s six million pixels seems like far too few, but I have a number of 13×19-inch prints from it that hold up very well, thanks to filling up the frame with my subject, and attention to post-production editing. It was often enough, but barely.
You can find D100s in good condition for less than $100 on sites like Ebay, but in all honesty, unless you just want to find out what it was like, the D100 is no bargain at any price.
The deciding, and somewhat contradictory, factor in the final analysis is that despite the D100s failings, I was able to make some amazing, remarkably sharp, clear photos with it.
Like any tool in the photographic toolbox, a camera’s job should be to get out of the way so we can move forward with expressing our vision, and the D100 didn’t do this particularly well. I attribute most of my success with it to patience and effort.
It’s easy to forget that in 2003, zillions of people made great images with this camera, and its easy to toss it on the scrap heap of technology, but I am glad I got to shoot with it. I took my D100, for example, to shoot the Trinity Site, location of the first atomic bomb test, in 2006, and have no intention of returning. My images from that shoot, and many more with the D100, were entirely successful.
I never owned the Fujifilm S2 Pro, but my long-time friend Michael bought one just a year after it’s 2002 introduction, to replace his S1 Pro. My wife Abby and I borrowed the S1 Pro for a while during that period.
The S2 Pro is built on a Nikon N80 film camera body, a practice common during the period; it was a “Frankencamera,” stitched together from film hardware and digital guts. Many of us used cameras like this in the early 2000s; I used the Nikon/Kodak DSC 760 and the 720x.
Among many other things Michael has photographed over the years, he shot our 2004 wedding with the S2 Pro, with outstanding results.
On a couple of occasions when Michael let men borrow it, I made some very successful images with it, including a couple of magazine covers.
Some reviewers claimed that the sensor in the S2 Pro wasn’t “really” a 12 megapixel sensor because it used six millions photo sites, arranged in Fuji’s own Super CCD diagonal configuration, and interpolated up to 12 megapixels. What this view misses is that all digital color images are made using some kind of interpolation. Fuji’s scheme in the S2 Pro seems to deliver a “real” 12 megapixel image.
The separate digital and film mechanisms mean separate battery systems. The digital side runs on AA batteries in a tray at the bottom, and the film side uses CR123 batteries in the grip, though for a while you could buy a bypass insert to skip the CR123s, with inconsistent results.
Even by 2002 standards, the autofocus system the S2 Pro inherited from the N80 was slow and inaccurate. I usually manually focused, and Michael eventually got so frustrated with it he replaced it with a Nikon D200.
Although it was touted as having decent high-ISO performance, I was disappointed by it, particularly that it could make noise bands at ISO 1600.
Like its contemporary the Nikon D100, the S2 Pro requires moving the exposure mode dial to change the ISO and the custom settings, inherited from its film ancestors, which interrupts workflow, particularly if you forget to put it back.
Color straight out of the camera might be the best of the era, a Fujifilm strength; accurate, saturated but not phony, good skin tones, though I found that auto and daylight settings both tended to be a little too cool, particularly for skin tones.
Sharpness was good as well, allowing true 12 megapixel enlargements.
The camera is smaller and lighter than some of its contemporaries, like the Kodak DCS 14n, but slightly bigger and bulkier than the Nikon D100. In my hands, everything about the Fuji seems small compared to the pro DSLRs I use every day.
The frame rate, write-to-card time, and response time to button pushes all lag, and slow me down. Sometimes that can be a bonus, since it can force you to be more conservative and more contemplative about your shooting, but I would never attempt to shoot sports, for example, with the S2 Pro.
Despite its slowness, I always liked shooting with the S2 Pro, and if I found one at a garage sale for $25, I’d buy it, but not for much more than that. It was a good step forward in the early years of digital photography, and Fuji obviously learned and grew from the experience (which Kodak, for example, did not), and has gone on to do great things in the field.
Special thanks to Michael for getting the S2 Pro out of storage and photographing it for me.
A huge selling point for cameras in recent years has been their video capability. This is a result of the megapixel war being over, and manufacturers perceiving the need to sell their products with some magic number. For a while it was “full HD” (high definition) video, but now it’s “4K.”
For those of you who don’t know, 4K doesn’t express resolution the same way “megapixel” is supposed to express resolution in a still camera; it represents the fact that the long dimension of the recorded and projected image is approximately 4000 pixels.
Cue the eager reviewer in Hong Kong or Istanbul or Las Vegas, talking about bit rates and autofocus and color styles and F-log. Cue millennial in skinny jeans and pretentiously-ironic Fedora, leaping from the railing in a parking garage in super-slow-motion, super-high-resolution. The reviewer’s voiceover says something like, “If it weren’t for the better XYZ in the PDQ, I could recommend this camera for it’s striking 4K video.”
What’s missing from all of these reviews? All of them? A script.
Essentially, 99.99% of all 4K video is demo reels that don’t tell any story of any kind. It’s another seriously misplaced priority in the imaging world.
Take the following video as an example: In 1992, I bought some surplus VHS video cassettes at the Ada Public Library. Three of them were called Best of the Fests, which were collections of films from film festivals. On one of those was a 1988 short film called Spartacus Rex. It was the best of the Best of the Fests, and I have been enjoying it and occasionally quoting ever since. It was made by Loch Phillipps and Caroline Skaife. It’s brilliant, not because it’s HD or 4K (I think it was 16mm actually), but because it has a script…