The Lens That Never Fails

My AF-S 85mm F/1.8 Nikkor sits in my studio. It's a nice image of a great lens, but it feels weird not having a filter and a hood on it.
My AF-S 85mm F/1.8 Nikkor sits in my studio. It’s a nice image of a great lens, but it feels weird not having a filter and a hood on it.

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.

Abby and I pose for a portrait in beautiful autumn sunshine recently. I handed our photographer friend Robert my Nikon D7100 with the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 on it, knowing that his expertise and that lens would give us a great result.
Abby and I pose for a portrait in beautiful autumn sunshine recently. I handed our photographer friend Robert my Nikon D7100 with the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 on it, knowing that his expertise and that lens would give us a great result.

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.

My peach blossoms take on a subtle beauty as the sun sets last night. This image took the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 to its limits: shot at f/2, this image was made right at the len's closest focus point. It is sharp, the colors are dazzling, and the background moves away as gracefully as Audrey Hepburn.
My peach blossoms take on a subtle beauty as the sun sets last night. This image took the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 to its limits: shot at f/2, this image was made right at the len’s closest focus point. It is sharp, the colors are dazzling, and the background moves away as gracefully as Audrey Hepburn.

The Sweet Morning Fog

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.

Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.
Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.

A Look Back: the FujiFilm FinePix S4500

The Fujifilm FinePix S4500 Digital Camera
The Fujifilm FinePix S4500 Digital Camera
Our son-in-law Tom Reeves uses his FinePix S4500 to photograph the World War II National Memorial in Washington DC in 2013.
Our son-in-law Tom Reeves uses his FinePix S4500 to photograph the World War II National Memorial in Washington DC in 2013.

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.

I made this wide angle view of an exterior while working in December using the S4500. As you can see, it is sharp, and color is good.
I made this wide angle view of an exterior while working in December using the S4500. As you can see, it is sharp, and color is good.
Later that evening made this image of the House on Goose Hill at the telephoto end of the S4500's zoom. I is not as sharp as the wide angle end, but usable.
Later that evening made this image of the House on Goose Hill at the telephoto end of the S4500’s zoom. I is not as sharp as the wide angle end, but usable.
  • 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.
A big plus to cameras in this class is the huge zoom range they offer, making it a one-camera solution for all kinds of photography.
A big plus to cameras in this class is the huge zoom range they offer, making it a one-camera solution for all kinds of photography.
  • 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.

    14 Megapixels is enough, particularly when each pixel is so small crammed into a sensor the size of a raisin.
    14 Megapixels is enough, particularly when each pixel is so small crammed into a sensor the size of a raisin.
  • 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.
The FinePix S4500 has a pretty standard control setup. Zooming is via a ring around the shutter release.
The FinePix S4500 has a pretty standard control setup. Zooming is via a ring around the shutter release.
  • 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.
Tom, Robert and I make pictures in a mirrored display near the Capitol in Washington D.C.
Tom, Robert and I make pictures in a mirrored display near the Capitol in Washington D.C.

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.

Tom and Chele share a moment as they make pictures with their FinePix S4500.
Tom and Chele share a moment as they make pictures with their FinePix S4500.

A Look Back: the Nikon D700

My well-used Nikon D700 sits in my studio recently. I have no problem buying used cameras with a lot of cosmetic wear, since I'm going to start using them, not admiring them, immediately, and in the process will create lots of of cosmetic wear of my own.
My well-used Nikon D700 sits in my studio recently. I have no problem buying used cameras with a lot of cosmetic wear, since I’m going to start using them, not admiring them, immediately, and in the process will create lots of of cosmetic wear of my own.

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.

My Nikon D700 poses in my studio recently.
My Nikon D700 poses in my studio recently.

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.

One of the best ways to tell if a photographer works hard and shoots a lot is to look at his or her gear: working photographers wear out their equipment.
One of the best ways to tell if a photographer works hard and shoots a lot is to look at his or her gear: working photographers wear out their equipment.
I saw this D700 in use on The Plaza in Santa Fe when Abby and I were there recently.
I saw this D700 in use on The Plaza in Santa Fe when Abby and I were there recently.

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 shot this walnut leaf with the Nikon D700 and my 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.6. Compare it to...
I shot this walnut leaf with the Nikon D700 and my 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.6. Compare it to…
...this image of an oak leaf made with my Nikon D7100 and the 35mm f/1.8 at f/2.0.
…this image of an oak leaf made with my Nikon D7100 and the 35mm f/1.8 at f/2.0.

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.

The Nikon D700 is able to take advantage of wide angle lenses designed for 35mm film photography, like this, the excellent AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8.
The Nikon D700 is able to take advantage of wide angle lenses designed for 35mm film photography, like this, the excellent AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8.

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!”

One thing that is true among the information and misinformation on the web about "full-frame" is that sensors of the 36mm x 24mm will restore your 35mm film lenses to their former glory, as in this image made last fall with the 15-30mm Sigma lens at 15mm.
One thing that is true among the information and misinformation on the web about “full-frame” is that sensors of the 36mm x 24mm will restore your 35mm film lenses to their former glory, as in this image made last fall with the 15-30mm Sigma lens at 15mm.

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 hefty Nikon D700 wears the even heftier AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8. The combination creates dazzling images, and is a great choice for events like weddings.
The hefty Nikon D700 wears the even heftier AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8. The combination creates dazzling images, and is a great choice for events like weddings.

Skyward

The eclipsed moon and the constellation Orion are visible in this view of the night sky Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. This image was made with the Nikon D700 and a 20mm f/2.8 AF Nikkor lens.
The eclipsed moon and the constellation Orion are visible in this view of the night sky Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. This image was made with the Nikon D700 and a 20mm f/2.8 AF Nikkor lens.
The author's 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor points skyward toward the lunar eclipse of Jan. 20, 2019.
The author’s 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor points skyward toward the lunar eclipse of Jan. 20, 2019.

A Look Back: The Nikon D200

The Nikon D200 stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip. The D200 is a good-looking, great-handling camera from the mid-2000s.
The Nikon D200 stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip. The D200 is a good-looking, great-handling camera from the mid-2000s.

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.

Luminaries glow at Relay for Life 2014 at Ada High School Friday, May 30, 2014. Made with one of my D200 cameras, color, contrast, and sharpness are all excellent.
Luminaries glow at Relay for Life 2014 at Ada High School Friday, May 30, 2014. Made with one of my D200 cameras, color, contrast, and sharpness are all excellent.

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.

The Nikon D200 digital SLR stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip with an older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted.
The Nikon D200 digital SLR stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip with an older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted.
  • I was amazed when I saw the noise in this image made with a D200 by a photographer at another newspaper, until I realized it was originally a JPEG, not a raw file. I shoot raw files exclusively with the D200.
    I was amazed when I saw the noise in this image made with a D200 by a photographer at another newspaper, until I realized it was originally a JPEG, not a raw file. I shoot raw files exclusively with the 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.
Ty Hoppe nervously chews on his tassel prior to Latta High School's first ever commencement ceremonies in their new multi-million dollar gym Tuesday evening, May 20, 2014. Though somewhat noisy at the D200's maximum ISO of 3200, the image still worked well.
Ty Hoppe nervously chews on his tassel prior to Latta High School’s first ever commencement ceremonies in their new multi-million dollar gym Tuesday evening, May 20, 2014. Though somewhat noisy at the D200’s maximum ISO of 3200, the image still worked well.
  • 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 back of the Nikon D200, which is the side we use, after all, has the usual controls in the usual places. An odd choice was to made some of the lettering pale yellow.
The back of the Nikon D200, which is the side we use, after all, has the usual controls in the usual places. An odd choice was to made some of the lettering pale yellow.
  • 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.
  • The exposure mode button on the top of the D200 is a professional standard. It made scrolling through the P, A, S, and M exposure modes quick and easy.
    The exposure mode button on the top of the D200 is a professional standard. It made scrolling through the P, A, S, and M exposure modes quick and easy.

    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.
  • The D200 can be converted to shoot infrared.
This is the Vietnam Veterans travelling wall, which visited Ada a few years ago. The D200s 10.2 megapixel sensor has enough resolution to give an image like this excellent sharpness and clarity.
This is the Vietnam Veterans travelling wall, which visited Ada a few years ago. The D200s 10.2 megapixel sensor has enough resolution to give an image like this excellent sharpness and clarity.

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.

One of my photography students smiles in late summer sunshine in this image made with the Nikon D200 and my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.
One of my photography students smiles in late summer sunshine in this image made with the Nikon D200 and my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.

A Look Back: The Nikon D70S

Abby scans the scene at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska for a photo with her then-new Nikon D70S in hand. She made a lot of great images with that camera over the years. Abby keeps a d-ring on the strap of her camera to clip to her belt loop to keep it from swinging when she hikes.
Abby scans the scene at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska for a photo with her then-new Nikon D70S in hand. She made a lot of great images with that camera over the years. Abby keeps a d-ring on the strap of her camera to clip to her belt loop to keep it from swinging when she hikes.
Abby holds her Nikon D70S as she smiles for me at a rest stop in the Texas Panhandle.
Abby holds her Nikon D70S as she smiles for me at a rest stop in the Texas Panhandle.

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.

Despite a fair amount of dust and sticky leatherette panels, our Nikon D70S still works fine.
Despite a fair amount of dust and sticky leatherette panels, our Nikon D70S still works fine.
The author switches back and forth between the Nikon D70S, with a wide angle zoom on it (in hand), and the Nikon D100, with a telephoto zoom, at Mesa Verde National Park in October 2005.
The author switches back and forth between the Nikon D70S, with a wide angle zoom on it (in hand), and the Nikon D100, with a telephoto zoom, at Mesa Verde National Park in October 2005.

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.
Abby uses her D70S with the lightweight 75-300mm f/4-5.6G at Scott's Bluff National Monument in July 2005.
Abby uses her D70S with the lightweight 75-300mm f/4-5.6G at Scott’s Bluff National Monument in July 2005.
  • 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.
The Nikon D70S and its usual kit-lens companion, the 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5, make a very straightforward lens and camera combination, with no surprises and nothing amazing.
The Nikon D70S and its usual kit-lens companion, the 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5, make a very straightforward lens and camera combination, with no surprises and nothing amazing.
  • 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.
  • The top LCD display on the D70S contains most of the important information you need. Many new entry-level cameras put this info on the display on the back of the camera to save space.
    The top LCD display on the D70S contains most of the important information you need. Many new entry-level cameras put this info on the display on the back of the camera to save space.

    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.
The Nikon D70S has a true exposure mode dial.
The Nikon D70S has a true exposure mode dial.
  • 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.
  • Most entry-level DSLR cameras don't include a second command dial, found on the right front of the camera under the right index finger. The reason for this is, along with removing the top LCD display, to save space and make very small cameras, but I use the second command dial every day.
    Most entry-level DSLR cameras don’t include a second command dial, found on the right front of the camera under the right index finger. The reason for this is, along with removing the top LCD display, to save space and make very small cameras, but I use the second command dial every day.

    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 back of the D70S reveals a work in progress. Controls are a bit clumsy and small compared to more modern cameras, as is the two-inch display.
The back of the D70S reveals a work in progress. Controls are a bit clumsy and small compared to more modern cameras, as is the two-inch display.
Abby photographed me with her D70S at Monument Valley in 2006. As you can see, color rendition and sharpness are excellent.
Abby photographed me with her D70S at Monument Valley in 2006. As you can see, color rendition and sharpness are excellent.
  • The D70S was one of the last, maybe the last, entry-level camera to use Compact Flash (CF) cards. THe D40, D40x, D50, D80, and D90 all use the much smaller, and equally capable, Secure Data (SD) cards.
    The D70S was one of Nikon’s last, maybe THE last, entry-level camera to use Compact Flash (CF) cards. THe D40, D40x, D50, D80, and D90 all use the much smaller, and equally capable, Secure Data (SD) cards.

    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.

Abby makes pictures with her Nikon D70S at a turnout on U.S. 64 near the New Mexico/Colorado border in October 2005.
Abby makes pictures with her Nikon D70S at a turnout on U.S. 64 near the New Mexico/Colorado border in October 2005.

A Look Back: The Nikon D100

My last remaining Nikon D100 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera stands tall in my home studio recently.
My last remaining Nikon D100 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera stands tall in my home studio recently.
Like any camera, the Nikon D100 was able to make amazing images in the right hands and the right circumstances, as in this image of my lovely wife in December 2009.
Like any camera, the Nikon D100 was able to make amazing images in the right hands and the right circumstances, as in this image of my lovely wife in December 2009.

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.

This image of a tree silhouetted against a pond at sunset was made with the Nikon D100.
This image of a tree silhouetted against a pond at sunset was made with the Nikon D100.

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 has Nikon's classic good looks, and features a magnesium alloy chassis to make it lighter and stronger. Note the "D100" logo in the military stencil style.
The D100 has Nikon’s classic good looks, and features a magnesium alloy chassis to make it lighter and stronger. Note the “D100” logo in the military stencil style.
A horse sculpture made from chrome car bumpers stands on the street in downtown Wichita, Kansas in November 2003. I photographed it with the D100.
A horse sculpture made from chrome car bumpers stands on the street in downtown Wichita, Kansas in November 2003. I photographed it with the D100.

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.

My wife Abby explores the bamboo forest at the Oklahoma City Zoo in this image made with the Nikon D100 and the AF Nikkor 75-300mm f/4-5.6.
My wife Abby explores the bamboo forest at the Oklahoma City Zoo in this image made with the Nikon D100 and the AF Nikkor 75-300mm f/4-5.6.
  • 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 exposure mode dial on the D100 was one it's worst features.
    The exposure mode dial on the D100 was one it’s worst features.
  • 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.

    One positive about the D100 is the top display, which, though not particularly large, contains all the basic information I need.
    One positive about the D100 is the top display, which, though not particularly large, contains all the basic information I need.
  • 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.

    The D100's lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.
    The D100’s lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.
  • 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.
The battery grip takes the place of the battery in the handle of the D100 and allows the use of two EN-EL3 batteries. This does not improve the performance of the camera, but the combination of batteries stays charged longer. This accessory also has a vertical shutter release, which I use all the time.
The battery grip takes the place of the battery in the handle of the D100 and allows the use of two EN-EL3 batteries. This does not improve the performance of the camera, but the combination of batteries stays charged longer. This accessory also has a vertical shutter release, which I use all the time.
The D100's lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.
The D100’s lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.

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.

It is difficult to imagine another camera making a better image than this, shot with the D100 at the White Rim Overlook at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
It is difficult to imagine another camera making a better image than this, shot with the D100 at the White Rim Overlook at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

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.

Despite the D100's deficiencies, I was able to shoot news and sports with this camera, like this image of the Konawa Lady Tigers claiming their OSSAA state championship trophy.
Despite the D100’s deficiencies, I was able to shoot news and sports with this camera, like this image of the Konawa Lady Tigers claiming their OSSAA state championship trophy.

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.

Despite the technological limitations of earlier digital cameras like the Nikon D100, it's hard to argue with an image as beautiful as this one at White Sands National Monument.
Despite the technological limitations of earlier digital cameras like the Nikon D100, it’s hard to argue with an image as beautiful as this one at White Sands National Monument.

A Look Back: The Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro

The Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro was a leading digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera in 2002.
The Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro was a leading digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera in 2002.
Abby makes pictures with the Fujifilm S1 Pro, the S2's immediate predecessor. The cameras have a lot in common.
Abby makes pictures with the Fujifilm S1 Pro, the S2’s immediate predecessor. The cameras have a lot in common.

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.

Abby and I beam as we exchange vows at Utah's iconic Delicate Arch, photographed with the Fuji S2 Pro.
Abby and I beam as we exchange vows at Utah’s iconic Delicate Arch, photographed with the Fuji S2 Pro.

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 thoughts…

  • 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 S2 Pro took two different kinds of storage media. There is a SmartMedia slot on top, and a CF/Microdrive slot below. I assume SmartMedia was supported because Fuji helped develop it, even though it was as good as dead even in 2002.
    The S2 Pro took two different kinds of storage media. There is a SmartMedia slot on top, and a CF/Microdrive slot below. I assume SmartMedia was supported because Fuji helped develop it, even though it was as good as dead even in 2002.

    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.
This is a 100% crop of an image from the S2 Pro, which, as you can see, is sharp and has satisfying colors.
This is a 100% crop of an image from the S2 Pro, which, as you can see, is sharp and has satisfying colors.
Several cameras of this era made this mistake: having to take the camera out of a shooting mode to change vital settings like ISO.
Several cameras of this era made this mistake: having to take the camera out of a shooting mode to change vital settings like ISO.

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.

The back of the Fuji S2 Pro plainly shows the Nikon N80 heritage, with its cheaper plastic covering and small viewfinder eyepiece.
The back of the Fuji S2 Pro plainly shows the Nikon N80 heritage, with its cheaper plastic covering and small viewfinder eyepiece.
Michael ran the S2 Pro through its paces over the years, though it is mostly retired now. He made a lot of great pictures with it.
Michael ran the S2 Pro through its paces over the years, though it is mostly retired now. He made a lot of great pictures with it.

Special thanks to Michael for getting the S2 Pro out of storage and photographing it for me.

What’s Missing from Your 4K Camera

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…

My Ten Dollar Camera Collection

I made this image with an Olympus Camedia C-750 digital camera, which dates back to 2003. I was very happy with the result.
I made this image with an Olympus Camedia C-750 digital camera, which dates back to 2003. I was very happy with the result.

Long-time webizens know that the controversial Ken Rockwell has a lot to say. He is both revered and reviled on the web, but remains popular in any case.

One concept he explored years ago was “futuretrash,” the idea that technology is inherently inclined to advance so fast that almost all tech machinations will be obsolete in a short period of time, like months or just a few years.

The article is ten years old, but it’s just as relevant today, particularly after I half-jokingly got on Ebay and bought 22 untested old digital cameras for just $10. They arrived a couple of days later, and my wife Abby and I have been playing with them ever since.

Here are $5000 worth of digital cameras reduced to a $10 Ebay grab.
Here are $5000 worth of digital cameras reduced to a $10 Ebay grab.

The oldest camera of the bunch appears to be from 1998, a Kodak DC210 Plus. The front of the camera brags “MegaPixel,” and the web confirms that yes, it is a one megapixel camera. The web also indicates that this behemoth originally cost $899. No, I am not making that up; that’s almost $1400 in today’s dollars.

Abby holds the 20-year-old Kodak DC210 Plus digital camera. It actually works.
Abby holds the 20-year-old Kodak DC210 Plus digital camera. It actually works.

Just for the record, one of these cameras, a Nikon Pronea S, is a film camera from the APS era.

The price of digital cameras fell for years, in accordance with Moore’s Law, so by 2008, this camera had been replaced with much better, much cheaper technology. Still, even the newest and best of this batch of untested cameras must have cost at least $300. To get them all for just $10 says this: what was once valuable is now garbage.

About a third of these cameras work. Some of them take AA batteries, while some require proprietary batteries I don’t have. Most of them use the ubiquitous SD card, while a few take CF cards. Two of them take SmartMedia, which I don’ t have, and one requires an SD Picture Card, which was in it when it arrived. A Sony Cybershot had a Memory Stick in it.

But I didn’t buy them to take pictures. I certainly have enough modern cameras for that. I bought them to ponder what we really value in a capitalist/merchentilist society from the perspective of someone in my area of expertise. Are we really asking the human race to throw away college savings, mortgage payments, health care, retirement, and any number of other once truly valuable things so we could take 20 or 30 1.2-megapixel digital photographs of our niece’s graduation?

Flash forward 20 years to now, and the real reason these cameras are in a pile in a box at the bottom of the coat closet is this: we have been brainwashed to believe we need to take tens of thousands of photographs of our lives with increasingly complex and sophisticated tools (iPhones for example), instead of living our lives?

Hawken the Irish Wolfhound was so curious about my woods walk that he got tangled up in a vine alone the south fence.
Hawken the Irish Wolfhound was so curious about my woods walk that he got tangled up in a vine alone the south fence.

Yes, I see this all the time: people watching their children grow up on the screens of their phones. And I can’t be certain, but my guess is that only a tiny fraction of these images and videos are ever seen again.

So, Richard, photographer and photography instructor, what is your bottom line? Quality over quantity? That we should all be artists? That we should turn off our phones and smell the marigolds once in a while? All this and more. Life is worth living instead of watching, and while photography can be a powerful tool for recording our lives, it shouldn’t take the place of our lives.

I made this image of a thistle plant in our pasture last night with the 2005-era Kodak Easyshare Z740. Possibly regarded as inadequate by today's standards of technology, the image is, nevertheless, lovely.
I made this image of a thistle plant in our pasture last night with the 2005-era Kodak Easyshare Z740. Possibly regarded as inadequate by today’s standards of technology, the image is, nevertheless, lovely.

Funniest Repair Ever

This is the Gorilla Glue that squished out when I reattached a thumb grip on my D700.
This is the Gorilla Glue that squished out when I reattached a thumb grip on my D700.

When I bought my D700, it was missing the rubber grip for the right thumb. Some weeks later one of my D200s died, and I stripped it for parts. The thumb grips aren’t the same, so I trimmed it with a scissors and glued it on, and it worked fine.

Ten days ago, though, it came unglued, so I decided to glue it back, only more aggressively than before. I put a fair amount of Gorilla Glue on the spot, pressed the rubber grip into place, and put a book on it to hold it down while it dried. Apparently, the pressure from the weight of the book caused the glue to ooze out at a couple of spots.

I laughed hard when I saw the result. Of course, I can just cut off the extra glue with a razor or sharp knife, but I’m halfway tempted to leave it on and tell people it’s some kind of an accessory, like the glue spots are pressure points or massage balls or something.

A Camera Like a Sports Car

The Nikon D2H digital camera was Nikon's news and sports flagship camera in 2003. I have three working D2Hs, and I get them out once in a while and make great images with them.
The Nikon D2H digital camera was Nikon’s news and sports flagship camera in 2003. I have three working D2Hs, and I get them out once in a while and make great images with them.

My wife Abby owns a 1986 Toyota MR-2 mid-engine roadster. She is its only owner. It’s not her main vehicle, and she doesn’t drive it very often: parts on it are worn out, its technology is a couple of generations old, and it doesn’t do very many things better than her current vehicle, a Nissan Frontier pickup.

But it does do one thing better: it’s fun to drive.

Abby has owned her Toyota MR-2 since she bought it new in 1986.
Abby has owned her Toyota MR-2 since she bought it new in 1986.

I tell you this because all winter I used my “SUV” cameras, matching Nikon D300S digital cameras, for everything, and when things started to get sunny and green, I decided to give them a break for a few days and shoot with the much older Nikon D2H cameras I have locked up in my office. I don’t use them very often: parts on it are worn out, its technology is a couple of generations old, and it doesn’t do very many things better than the new cameras.

But like Abby’s roadster, the D2H does something very well: it’s fun to shoot. It features perfect, lightning-fast autofocus and an effortless eight frames per second frame rate. Nobody needs the speed and handling of a sports car, but it’s fun. The D2H is also one of the best-built cameras and feels great in-hand.

It’s also fun to make really powerful photos with outdated cameras because it shows the “upgraders” that it really is the photographer, not the camera, making pictures.

I know at least one gearhead out there is going to want to chime in with, “but it’s only a 4.1-megapixel camera, Richard. What if you want to print big?”

  1. I always hear this talk from people who never actually make big prints.
  2. You need to come to my office and look at my big prints… 24×36 inch… and tell me which ones were made with the D2H. You won’t be able to.
Want to get more compliments on your sports photos? Your first purchase should be a lens, followed by some training in how to use it. Your camera, whatever it is, isn't the problem.
Want to get more compliments on your sports photos? Your first purchase should be a lens, followed by some training in how to use it. Your camera, whatever it is, isn’t the problem.

So what doesn’t the D2H do well? It doesn’t do well at ISO 1600 and above. It doesn’t have a big, luxurious viewfinder, and it doesn’t have a big, bright monitor on the back. Otherwise, though, this camera does pretty well for 15-year-old technology.

In the month since the end of the basketball season, the D2H has been my main camera for baseball and softball, sunny sky sports, giving the D300Ss a nice rest period, and allowing me to make great pictures and have great fun doing it.

What makes an image like this work is attentive sports photography technique, and a decent lens, in this case my AF-S 300mm f/4.
What makes an image like this work is attentive sports photography technique, and a decent lens, in this case my AF-S 300mm f/4.