This page points to all recent articles published on dslrbodies.com, sansmirror.com, gearophile.com, and filmbodies.com, and is updated as new articles appear (most recent on top). For articles from previous months, check the Articles Index Archive.
Thom usually takes the month of August off from the Internet and email to rejuvenate and to get some personal time and some shooting in. This year is not much different, though the dates are a little different. byThom and the other sites will be silent from August 7th through September 8th this year. All product announcements and other news that occurs during this time will be caught up to when I return to the office after Labor Day.
The second round of Spring Cleaning is almost finished, and I’ve dropped prices one last time. First come, first served.
If you sent your camera in for the Nikon Free Service Initiative, when you receive it back I’d appreciate a copy of the invoice that shows what service was performed.
Latest Articles (July 29, 2015):
CS6? The End is Nigh. Adobe quietly posted an “update to policy” about Photoshop CS6 in the Lightroom Journal (sic ;~). Article on dslrbodies.com
July 23, 2015
Should I Update? It happens every time I post a new review. Inevitably I get emails that go something along the line of this: “I own the [previous version], should I update to the [new version]?” Article on dslrbodies.com
Nikon is Survey Happy, So Am I ;~). Nikon has struck once again with a survey of its ownership. This time it seems that they’re reaching back into people who haven’t bought in a long time. Article on dslrbodies.com. Survey is here.
July 23, 2015
Nikon J5 Review. I haven’t reviewed a J model since the original J1. Let’s see how Nikon is doing after four revisions of their basic Nikon 1 camera. Article on sansmirror.com
July 20, 2015
NikonUSA’s Free Initiative — What We Know. Before I get to the survey results portion of the article, let’s recap what happened last week: NikonUSA surprisingly sent out emails to a large number of Nikon DSLR owners offering them a free inspection and cleaning of their camera, including shipping both directions. Article on dslrbodies.com
How Does Panasonic’s Post Focus Work?. When set to perform Post Focus, the GX8 (and some other upcoming models and firmware updates) shoots 50 images at 30 fps with the focus point changed in each one. Article on sansmirror.com
Nikon D7200 Review. You probably don’t remember it, but this all started with the D70. Since then, we’ve gotten updates about every two years to what is the top consumer DX DSLR Nikon makes. We went from D70 to D70s to D80 to D90, then jumped the number system to D7000, D7100, and now the D7200. Article on dslrbodies.com
Thom’s Recommended Nikon DSLRs. The good news is that there isn’t really a dud amongst all of Nikon’s current DSLRs. The DX DSLRs are all equipped with near-state-of-the-art or state-of-the-art 24mp crop sensors and differ primarily on how features are brought forward to the user and how many of those features there are. The FX DSLRs come equipped with near-state-of-the-art sensors across the board, with more variation in pixel count. Article on dslrbodies.com
Thom’s Recommended Lenses for FX Users. FX is a little trickier than DX in that we have a range of pixel densities at the sensor, from 16mp to 36mp in total capture (add 12mp if you count the D700 and D3/D3s). A Nikon D810 (or D800/D800E) resolves about 50% more than a D4s (or D4/Df). Article on dslrbodies.com
July 16, 2015
Panasonic Announces GX8. The m4/3 world just hatched another camera today: the 20mp Panasonic GX8, a rangefinder-style camera with a number of interesting aspects. Article on sansmirror.com. GX8 data page
July 13, 2015
What to Make of Nikon’s Free Offer? NikonUSA today began sending out emails to many D800 and D800E customers offering a free maintenance service (including cost of shipping the unit back to NikonUSA). Article on dslrbodies.com
Fujifilm Increases and Decreases. Fujifilm has announced that a 20% price increase will take affect in October on the following 35mm films. Article on filmbodies.com
July 10, 2015
Love Letters to Nikon. I’ve gotten thousands of emails in response to my leaking, sampling, waiting, and last camera syndrome articles, as well as some of my commentary on what Nikon was or wasn’t doing in response. Article on dslrbodies.com
July 8-9, 2015
Empathy for Canon Users. With the DxO Mark results out for the 5Ds camera and the many Internet posts that has triggered, one has to have a little empathy for the Canon DSLR users today. Article on dslrbodies.com
Nikon D750 Gets a Second Service Advisory. Nikon today announced a second service advisory for all D750’s, this time for ones made in October or November of 2014. Article on dslrbodies.com
How Much Photography Can We Ban? Updated. Besides all the other problems the camera industry has to face, it seems that photography is just a constant source of serious social issues, so much so that it keeps getting banned. Article on dslrbodies.com
Affinity Photo Launches. Affinity Photo 1.3.4 (Macintosh only) has made it out of beta test and into the Apple App Store. For those seeking a lower cost alternative to Photoshop, Serif has once again shown that they know how to build an Adobe-alternative that works well. Article on dslrbodies.com
July 7, 2015
Olympus E-M5 Mark II Review. Updated The Olympus E-M5II is the followup to the popular E-M5 that kicked off the OM-D line of DSLR-like m4/3 cameras. It’s Olympus fourth stab at designing the perfect EVF-based camera. Review on sansmirror.com
July 6, 2015
The Malaise Continues. The CIPA numbers for May are out, and all the same trends as before are visible. Article on dslrbodies.com
A Quick Thought. Was Nikon’s DSLR survey prompted by a delay in the D300s followup? Article on dslrbodies.com
July 2, 2015
Survey Says. Be prepared for some surprises. Okay, maybe those of you who’ve been paying close attention to my postings both here and on various Internet fora might not be quite so surprised. Still, one of my primary calls to Nikon was pretty much verified by this poll. Article on dslrbodies.com
Three New Nikon Lenses Introduced. Okay, truth be told, one new Nikon lens and two updated Nikon lenses. Article on dslrbodies.com. 16-80mm f/2.8-4E Data Page. 500mm f/4E Data Page. 600mm f/4E Data Page.
June 30, 2015
Nikon D5500 Camera Review. One of the first impressions the D5500 gives off to a long-time Nikon DSLR user is that it’s small. And light. So let’s start there. Review on dslrbodies.com
Big Fujifilm Firmware Update. Fujifilm yesterday produced a 4.0 firmware update for the X-T1 mirrorless camera that has quite a few improvements to it, and makes the camera a more responsive one, especially with focus on moving subjects. Article on sansmirror.com
Previous articles can be found in the Articles Index.
Thom's Monthly Teaching Point — Fireworks
It’s that time of year in the US. Obviously, we’ve got the big Fourth of July celebration early this month, but here in my neck of the woods, Dorney Park is running fireworks every weekend through the summer and a number of the local municipalities have additional summer celebrations with pyrotechnics.
Fireworks are generally a relatively easy thing to capture, but it does require that you do a little pre-planning and pay some attention to the shooting details.
The planning part comes into play because fireworks by themselves are generally pretty boring. The best fireworks shots have something distinctive in the foreground (often silhouetted as it is here) or show the fireworks in context of the location they’re being performed (e.g. over Dorney Park would be something I could do here in Lehigh Valley). Basically the first option is contrast, the second is about location identity, but there can be elements of both either way.
Note, however, that wind will come into play. If you’re downwind of the fireworks, you’re going to get a lot of smoke and haze in your composition. Adobe’s latest Dehaze filter does a pretty nice job of helping you with that in post processing, but it’s still better to avoid getting into what will be a hazy position in the first place. Stay upwind.
On the other hand, the Eastern sky will typically be darker than the Western sky, especially at the start of the show. So your position should reflect how dark you want the sky to be, too. In big cities, the city’s ambient lights also come into play, and they’ll compete against the fireworks if they’re directly behind the fireworks.
Most everything on your camera should be set to Manual. Here are the attention to detail bits:
- Tripod and remote release. Especially these days we have highly intricate detail going on in many of the fireworks blasts. You won’t capture the exact shape or the fine detail without the camera being steady during the shot. This gets a little tricky in that bursts can be at different heights, as in the above example. I tend to shoot wider than my final image is likely to be just to give me some flexibility in this, but I also scout locations that give me the flexibility to change my physical position quickly if I find I’m framed wrong. When I say “wider” I generally mean at the top of the image. Most shows are of fixed width for safety purposes, but the height at which fireworks will go off varies considerably. Leave room at the top of your composition. The nice thing about repeating fireworks as we have at Dorney Park is that you can scout, test, shoot, and reshoot all summer. If you’ve got access to those setting off the fireworks, just asking what heights they’re planning to detonate things at will give you some idea of where to set up, too.
- F/11 and ISO 100. A lot of fireworks tips give f/8 as the aperture to set. More and more I’m coming to believe that this results in a bit too much blow out at the center of the burst. If you like that effect, sure, consider f/8. But typically f/11 seems about right to me for the distance I’m shooting from most of the time. And that’s the other thing: light falls off with the inverse square of the distance ;~). The closer you are to the fireworks display, the smaller the aperture you should be using. The further away you are, the more you can try opening up the aperture. The good news here is that with wider angle lenses, you’ll be getting some depth of field with the smaller apertures, and that helps keep your setting in focus. But be sure to check that depth against your framing. With silhouetted items, I tend to let them go slightly soft in order to pull in sharpness of the fireworks display itself. It’s one of the few times that I’ll shoot with near being less focused than far.
- Long shutter speeds, but not too long. Most fireworks take a few seconds to show their full size and subtlety of micro-bursts these days. You’ll often also want to get a couple of bursts into one shot. The above shot is six seconds, and those two bursts you see were separate shots separated by a couple of seconds in their detonation. With the big city displays these days, we often see lots of synchronized bursts, and I’d tend to think you’ll be down in the two or three second range for those, while in smaller displays you could be in the eight to ten second range. If you’re at a show where the bursts are leisurely, bring a black card with you and hold it over the lens between bursts but leave the shutter open. I didn’t say it, but your shutter speed is Bulb, another reason why you want a remote release.Warning: if your fireworks go off early in the dusk time frame and your camera has a base ISO of 200, you might need to use a neutral density filter to get long enough shutter times.
- Long Exposure Noise Reduction Off. You just will be getting too long a delay between shots if you leave this on, and that could mean missing a really good burst. But you’re taking lots of long shots in a row, and it’s summer, so the camera could be getting hot. Take a six second (or whatever you think your average exposure will be) before the fireworks start with the lens cap on, and another at the end of the fireworks. Use those to subtract out noise later if you find you need to. But make sure no light gets to the sensor in these shots: that means the viewfinder eyepiece must be close. Heck, just bag the entire camera with your black jacket for the noise shot.
- White Balance is tricky. In reviewing raw images after the fact, I’ve found that most fireworks look best at white balances far below what you might expect. In the 3200-3900K range much of the time. If your fireworks is one of those that fire off a simple blast at the beginning to jar you, often that blast is neutral in color, and a good way to judge where your white balance is for JPEG shooters. The LCD on the back of your camera isn’t the greatest way to judge, but if you’re shooting JPEG, take a close look at those first few shots and make sure that the fireworks isn’t being recorded as too warm. Better yet, shoot raw+JPEG if you’re unsure.
- If you’ve got a recent OM-D, consider using the Live Time ability. The ability to see the photo develop as you shoot the long exposure is pretty cool, and very useful in determining when to stop the current shot and move to another. On the other hand, it drains batteries. So…
- Bring extra batteries. Some shows last longer than you think, and some cameras are energy hogs when doing long exposures. Be prepared.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Even taking the camera off the tripod, or zooming during a shot, or changing focus during a shot. A good show is long enough that you have time to go a little crazy in the middle, and sometimes those experiments pay off with something unique. The thing I wouldn’t experiment with is taking the aperture below f/8.
If you're wondering where the previous Teaching Points went, they're here.