Changes ahead in my reviews and commentary.
Yes, Virginia, there are more byThom reviews coming. Quite a few, actually. But I have a couple of odds and ends to take care of first.
When I last revised my ratings system for lenses, a whole host of comments and criticisms confronted me. And those got me to thinking about how to make a good thing better. So today I'm introducing two new components that will show up in future reviews and on the upcoming site redesign (yes, it's really happening, just slowly). These items are In Thom's Bag and On Thom's Computer.
In Thom's Bag will appear on reviews of items that I actively use in my shooting. Beyond the mere rating scales I use, since I'm also a working photographer this indicator says that I've ascertained that the product in question is one that will enhance my image production in some way and will be used regularly by me. When I stop using it regularly, the In Thom's Bag marker will go away.
The "bag" in "In Thom's Bag" refers to more than one bag, actually. I shoot enough different things (scenics, wildlife, macro, sports, travel, etc.) that on any given occasion in the field I'm usually carrying a sub-set of the complete "bag." Nevertheless, the In Thom's Bag indicator is a good indicator that I think a product is useful in real world shooting and more capable than all the other things that I've tested and considered. Since some folk still don't get it, I need to repeat that everything that's in my bag is there because I purchased it, and that I am not sponsored by, nor given any special considerations by, any camera company. If it's in my bag, it's because I want to use it, not because someone else wants me to use it.
Of course, at this point you're wondering what's already in my bag. So that this doesn't become another humongous article that's really a quasi review, I'm going to put some limits on how I do this: basically I'm going to put on the Twitter Restrictor and keep my comments about any given item to a Twitter-friendly length. And, no, I'm not going to Twit this separately. If you need a new 140-character fix every few seconds, you've come to the wrong spot.
Cameras In Thom's Bag:
- D3x -- No better DSLR at base ISO, and pretty strong up to ISO 800. Plus pixels aplenty.
- D3s -- Shoot in the dark in ways no other camera can. Perfect indoor sports camera.
- D300s -- When size and weight matters, but high ISO doesn't. Not a bad safari camera.
- GH1 -- The only video-enabled DSLR that produces like a video camera. Fast lenses give DOF iso.
- EP-2 -- Almost compact camera with well beyond compact camera performance.
- G11 -- A compact camera that's competent and professional.
- S90 -- A G11 in an even smaller package. No sacrifice in quality, just a few features and durability.
A few comments are in order about cameras: I'm an F-mount shooter and have a host of F-mount lenses (as you'll see in a moment). Thus, while I've shot with a lot of non-Nikon cameras, it would take an absolutely exceptional camera to get me to change. Considering how good the D3x, D3s, and D300s combination already is, I'm not entirely sure that even an exceptional third-party offering would get me to move. I do not feel like my work is being in any way compromised by picking these bodies over others. That may change by the time we get to a D4 generation, but then probably only to update to Nikon's newest offerings then.
The Panasonic GF1 is almost in the bag. There are things I like about the GF1 more than the E-P1 (they both share the same lens mount, as does the GH1 I use for video), but the built-in IS of the E-P1 is enough to sway me to it as I'm almost always using this camera handheld. The G11 is a holdover. It is smaller and more compact than the E-P1 by just enough to warrant keeping it handy, but the S90 produces the same results in an even smaller camera, so I suspect the G11 is going to become redundant.
Lenses In Thom's Bag:
- Lumix 7-14mm. The m4/3 14-24mm (actually 28). Not quite up to the Nikkor, but close enough.
- Olympus 14-42mm. Perfectly fine kit lens for a compact. Plus it folds up.
- Lumix 14-140mm. A nice video lens for the GH1, supplemented with the 7-14 and 20mm.
- Lumix 45-200mm. Surprisingly good for an inexpensive lens.
- Lumix 20mm f/1.7. Small, fast, sharp. A no-brainer to carry.
- Nikkor 14-24mm.* Stunningly good for a wide zoom. Better than the Nikkor primes in this range.
- Nikkor 24-70mm. Not much choice in the midrange, this lens will do for now. Misses VR, though.
- Nikkor 70-180mm Micro-Nikkor. Most Flexible Micro-Nikkor made. Sharp. Needs a 5T/6T set though.
- Nikkor 70-200mm II.* Focal length controversy aside, it's a very fine lens.
- Nikkor 70-300mm VR. Good qualities all around. Can even squeak by on a D3x.
- Nikkor 200mm f/2. Wow. That's all I can say. Wow. Did I say Wow?
- Nikkor 200-400mm.* This is a compromise lens, but it's not a bad compromise. Excellent up close.
- Nikkor 400mm VR.* Another wow (but small w). Hard to shoot with anything else in the long range.
- Nikkor 10.5 DX. For some reason, more fun than the 16mm FX version.
- Nikkor 10-24mm DX. Doesn't win any category from competition, but best blend of all.
- Nikkor 16-85mm DX. Why don't we have a midrange FX lens as competent as this?
- Nikkor 24mm PC-E.* Excellent for landscapers like me.
- Nikkor 58mm NOCT. Don't shoot stars (Hollywood or astronomical) without it.
- Nikkor 85mm f/1.4. Long the champ at this focal length.
- Nikkor 135mm DC. Don't use the DC much, but a sharp 135mm f/2 comes in handy sometimes.
With both my m4/3 and F-mount systems, the number of lenses I reach for time and time again are actually relatively few. Of the 15 Nikon lenses I mention, I'll bet that at least 80% of my recent photos were taken with four or five (identified with *). In looking at the bagged list, I realize I probably have a "ready for the bag in special cases" list, too: the other two PC-E lenses, the 105mm Micro-Nikkor, the 28-105mm Macro, and the 18-105mm DX come to mind here. But I'd need a special reason to switch to any of them from what I've listed.
Other Things In Thom's Bag:
- SB-900 Speedlight(s). I didn't like the size increase, but I like everything else.
- Lightpanel Micro. LED lighting that sometimes is all you need.
- ColorChecker Passport. For those times when you need a reference.
- Galen Rowell Graduated ND filters. For those times when you need to lower sky values.
- Singh-Ray Variable ND filter. Gets moving water to look exactly the way you want it to.
- LensPen, Microfiber cloths, ROR solution. Keeps lenses clean and contrasty.
- Hoodman HoodLoupe. See the LCD in bright light.
There are other odds and ends in the bag, but I'll reveal more of that in a later episode (it'll be easier on the new site design to ID this stuff).
On Thom's Bag:
- Gitzo 2541 with leveling base. The light tripod for serious hiking into the back country.
- Gitzo 1325 with leveling base. The heavy tripod for when I'm not moving far from the vehicle.
- Really Right Stuff BH-40. The light head for the light tripod.
- Really Right Stuff BH-55. The heavy head for the heavy tripod.
- Really Right Stuff pano kit. For doing panos right.
- Wimberley Head II. For doing long lenses right.
Okay, so we've covered what I use in the field. That brings me to what I use when I'm back home (On Thom's Computer). Before I get to the list, I should point out that I use two computers mostly: a current MacPro desktop rigged out for speed and storage much like Lloyd Chambers suggests (see his site), and a 15" MacBook Pro that I've pushed almost every upgrade possible into. I do have and use Windows machines, but they are used mostly by my assistant that does shipping; my main machines are Macs (which also can run Windows under Parallels when I need it).
It's been quite some time since I wrote about software (specifically raw conversion software), and I'm aware I need to update that, but I'm waiting for the new site design which has a nice place for that. In the meantime, let me catch you up to date on what I actually use:
- Photoshop CS4. Every serious photographer really ought to have this and learn it well.
- Lightroom. I'm not a "lives in Lightroom" guy, but it is handy for organizing my work after the fact.
- Photo Mechanic. Still my go-to "transfer and rate" software, though showing its age now.
- Capture NX2. Some raw files just look better with Capture. But no longer all of them.
- Camera Control Pro. Very useful. With Lightroom, makes a good studio client review system.
- NIK Suite. SilverFX is outstanding for B&W, but the other modules all are useful.
- OnOne Suite. FocalPoint and MaskPro are the ones I use most, but again, the whole suite is useful.
- Autopano Pro. Stitches things that you didn't know could be stitched.
- Fotomagico. Slide shows that are magical (or is it magico?).
- RPP 4.0. A Mac-only converter that does a number of very unique and amazing things for geeks.
- Imatest. If you test your own equipment, you need this program (and a lot of charts).
- Final Cut Pro. A competent, complete, expensive, video edit package. Buy fast eSata drives!
It's almost inconceivable that there's something I need to do with pixels that I can't do with those programs. I will say that CaptureOne almost makes it on the machine, and probably would if I were doing more people shooting (very nice skin tone handling for raw shooters). As I outline in the Introduction to Nikon Software eBook I provide with all of my DSLR books, there are plenty of competent programs out there now. The things to look for are these: speed, resource use, consistency (both of image quality and of user interface), plus constant and useful updating.