2007 News and Comments


I didn't want these items to die off. So they're copied here when I move them off the front page.

The following are front-page articles from 2007, from most recent to oldest. Older articles (2006 and earlier) are here.

Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Dec 29
--Remember all those news stories about exploding batteries and laptops that caught fire? Well, apparently so does the Department of Transportation, which has decided to do something about it. To wit, starting with the new year here in the US, we have new travel regulations to follow while flying in the US.

Short version: in your checked luggage, all lithium or lithium-ion batteries need to be in the device they power and that device needs to be turned off. Any spare batteries you might wish to bring need to be in your carry-on luggage. There are limits to capacities that can be carried, but only laptop batteries come close to those limits--Nikon camera batteries are well within the limits. And remember this only applies to lithium-based batteries.

However, there's going to be a lot of hassle and confusion on this one, I think. The limits are expressed in grams (which is grossly translated into watt hours), which is not how most of these batteries are marked. Make sure you know how to calculate watt hours (amp hours * voltage; an EN-EL3e battery is 1500mAh and 7.4 volts, so it is 11 watt hours, well under the limits). Second, make sure that the terminals for any extra battery are covered, either by using the cover supplied by the maker, taping over the terminals, or by putting each battery in a separate plastic bag. The rules are also confusing over the number of spare batteries you can carry. It appears that you can carry many under 100-watt hour spare batteries, but only two over 100-watt hour spares. I'm sure there's going to be confusion on this, too. Finally, make sure you know which of your batteries are lithium-based and which are not. And yes, it will be the TSA that is doing the enforcing.

Unfortunately, this new directive intersects with other flying issues: specifically, the weight of your carry-on. More and more the airlines are realizing that heavy carry-ons impact their fuel consumption, and gas prices are one of their biggest costs. Thus, you find more places weighing carry-ons, and in some places, the limits are draconian (the typical limit is 10kg (22 pounds), but some are more limiting than that. A couple of extra EN-EL4a and laptop batteries in your carry-on pushes up the poundage quite quickly.

And yes, this was a last minute change (though apparently brewing behind the scenes for quite some time as the DOT played with blowing up batteries in different ways).

Rumors Abound
Dec 28
--I don't think it's any secret that Canon, Sony, and Pentax all have DSLR announcements centered around next month's PMA trade show. (And that would be a Digital Rebel III, 5D replacement, A300, and K20D at a minimum, for those who haven't been following the rumor mills.) The question has been whether Nikon has any such DSLR announcements pending. Maybe.

D40x production has apparently ceased in the Thailand factory. Before you read too much into that, you should know that production of various models are often juggled in interesting ways. Nikon will sometimes try to quickly build a large inventory of one of the models nearing the end of its life, then stop all production of that model to clear room for production of another model. The inventory build-up of the no-longer made model is then expected to last until the replacement is announced and ready. On the other hand, note that the same Nikon plant just increased D300 production at about the same time it stopped D40x production, so it's possible that Nikon is trying to juggle production to better match demand.

Nevertheless, it does appear that the D40x replacement is looming (I predicted one in my 2008 predictions) and may be about to enter production. Moreover, it appears that the DX equivalent of a 24-120mm lens has also entered production (that would be a 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR DX AF-S for those who really want to know, and that's a ~24-128mm equivalent). Meanwhile, there are other rumblings going on in the lens department. It appears that Nikon intends to make some major reshuffling of the lens lineup in 2008 by dropping some old favorites (the 80-200mm f/2.8 is apparently no longer produced and inventories are running low, for example), updating others, and, of course, adding new ones like the 16-85mm DX.

The question is whether Nikon will use PMA to announce these and other new products (can you say Coolpix?) or let the others blow their horns on their own briefly.

Not a Rumor
Dec 28
--Nikon has announced the ship date for the 500mm f/4 VR AF-S and 600mm f/4 VR AF-S will be January 30th.

Is 12,000 More Enough?
Dec 24
--Nikon has upped production of the D3 from the initial planned 8,000 units a month to 10,000 and the D300 from the initial 60,000 units a month to 70,000.

One-Liners
Dec 22
(updated)--more updates:

  • Raw Developer 1.7.2 adds some non-Nikon camera support (version 1.7.1 added D300 and D3 support, but I seemed to have missed that announcement), but it also fixes some problems with 14-bit NEFs from the D300 and D3, so is worth noting.
  • Akvis Enhancer 8.0 adds HDR presets, improves image processing speed, and extends the color range in tone mapping.

Last Second
Dec 21
--I sometimes get flack when I write about marketing mistakes Nikon makes. A couple of people have written to say that my "Nikon causes Christmas grief" comment is overblown. But consider the following email I received today:

My son is a teen looking eagerly to move up into a DSLR. He enjoys shooting low light and night shots, hand-held. With the announcement last month that we would see the new 18-55 VR lens in December, we decided on a D40. This in spite of the fact that for now, we would have to eat the mandatory non-VR kit lens (I’m sure demand on eBay for that would be modest). He wanted the camera by Christmas to coincide with holiday travel/photo plans.

Cut to the chase: nobody had the VR in stock. Nikon emailed me saying “sometime in December” was all they could confirm. Wednesday we broke down and ordered the Canon Xti (with 18-55 IS lens) from B&H. A very capable camera, just not our first pic. It should be here today or tomorrow. Twenty minutes ago, B&H notified me that the Nikon VR lens is in. Oh, well...

So at the risk of repeating myself: when you introduce products so close to Christmas, you can lose customers. Nikon just lost one more. Oh, and I suppose there's a bit of news in this item: the 18-55mm VR is now shipping.

One-line News
Dec 19 updated
--A few odds and ends this week:

  • Bibble 4.9.9 (can you just feel 5.0 around the corner?) adds D300 and D3 support, plus tethered shooting on Intel Macs.
  • Photo Mechanic 4.5.3 gets lots of small fixes and changes.
  • PhotoPerfect 2.85, a low-cost "do-everything" photo editor has finally been released in English.
  • Phase One's Capture One 4.0 has been released. This new version features a more streamlined interface and further emphasis on workflow improvements. Supports D3 and D300.
  • Sigma has announced they're going to add an internal focusing motor (not HSM) to the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC lens, making it D40/D40x compatible.
  • Linux users looking for raw converter and image editor options should check out LightZone, which now has a free Linux beta version.
  • Nikon continues their Capture NX push with a US$30 off instant savings if you buy from their Web site by January 6, 2008. Use coupon code 3000N4429P on checkout.
  • Capture NX has been updated to 1.3.1. This fixes the data loss bug on Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard).

The Miracle of...
Dec 17
--One more week of frenzied buying. Followed by another week of frenzied buying what wasn't bought for us. Followed by another week looking for something to explain in plain English what it was that we were so excited about until we actually tried to use it. Ah, isn't this time of year wonderful?

Nikon seems to enjoy causing all of us DSLR users holiday grief. The D2h didn't arrive until around Thanksgiving, the D70 was pre-announced just before Christmas but unavailable for months after, the D2x was promised for but missed Christmas, the D200 was squeezed into the holidays (barely) with much merry banding, and now we have D3 and D300 search-and-lust-upon in full force this holiday season. Meanwhile, my local Big Box stores had no P series Coolpix models (on display or in stock), the 14-24mm and 24-70mm seem in short supply, and has anyone actually gotten their 400mm VR yet?

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me
Twelve fps humming
Eleven fanboys hyping
Ten pixels peeping
Nine years D3 financing
Eight layers masking
Seven highlights brimming
Six i-TTL obeying
Five golden rings*
Four IPTC keywords
Three LensPens
Two cards I love
And a cartridge for my HP.

* For the non-NAS amongst you, that would be Nikkor ED lenses, which have a gold identification ring

Stirring Nikon
Dec 17--I have a few comments today about the D3. No, I'm not about to review the camera or even reveal any of my personal findings about using it yet. Those will wait for my full review.

However, Nikon's advertising campaign has certainly stirred up one big hornet's nest, while pointing in a direction that most people aren't seeing. Let's start with the flying insects.

The most recent issue of Popular Photography here in the United States includes a 20x30" poster of a Sandro shot of racing motorcycles taken at the Brainerd Int'l Raceway. (To see the image in question, go to the StunningNikon site and click on Sandro's name.) Nikon has made various claims about the shot in different advertising venues. The primary tag line that's used with this (and other D3 images) is "Do the undoable" and the implication in almost every headline I've seen so far where this image is used in Nikon advertising is that "only the D3 could have gotten the shot." Indeed, if you watch the video on the Nikon site, you'll hear Sandro say similar things several times, including "I don't think I could have done it with another camera."

Such claims, of course, stir the fan-boys into action. Some just don't get the point Nikon was trying to make (hint: it's not that you can't take nice motorcyle racing pictures with other cameras, and it's not that this is a superior image to any other motorcycle shot that's been taken). Some just don't like having their camera brand of choice called out. Some just want to argue.

First, I'd like to point out that this is the first time in a while that Nikon has actually pushed images with their new pro equipment advertising. The D2x was advertised without images for quite some time at a time when Canon was inserting large posters of Bo Derek taken with their latest EOS 1DsII. Personally, I'm happy to see Nikon back in the serious pro ad game, even though I don't think they nailed their point.

So what was the point?

ISO 6400, 9 fps, 1/5000, no flash, taken after sunset in low light, of very fast moving objects. Put another way: very trying conditions, very excellent results.

That Nikon is willing to take a D3 image at ISO 6400 and put large copies of the result in people's faces is the most telling point of all. I don't see any other camera manufacturer doing that, actually. But I think Nikon so far has missed the opportunity to make a direct point with their D3 advertising. The "challenge" in Nikon Pro Challenge is assumed, not explicitly stated. The Balog and Wald shots don't seem much like equipment challenges as they do physical challenges. The Sandro shot is an equipment challenge, but you're left to your own devices to figure out how challenging it was (apparently, that's beyond the ability of some Internet forum posters to figure out ;~).

Nikon really needs to up their game here. Play up the assignment: "The sun set a half hour ago. You're still trying catch the action in the corner of the Speedway. The Art Director wants results today. Is your camera up to the challenge?" Or perhaps "You're knee-deep in freezing water. But the Speedlight you need to change the value for is 50 feet away. The ambient light and tide are rapidly changing. Can your camera control the light?"

However, I want to make another comment about Nikon's pro advertising with the D3. Notice anything about it? Well, it avoids studio and resolution situations. Nikon is advertising the D3 as if it were a D3h. That just might give you a clue as to whether Nikon really has another pro body up its sleeve (hint: let the clue hit you over the head a few times). Even the lenses that were introduced with the D3 are a clue. Quick, what lenses will a photojournalist or sports shooter want? Why fast 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm for the photojournalist and long telephotos with VR for the sports shooter. Hmm. What lenses were introduced with the D3?

A studio or landscape shooter wants both a different camera and a different lens set. Wouldn't an 85mm f/1.4G AF-S be perfect for the studio shooter? Wanna guess when such a lens might be announced?

My guess is that Nikon's D3 campaign is telegraphing its intent to have another pro camera in the not-too-distant future (e.g. within a year).

Distortion Effect
Dec 12
--One thing that keeps coming to mind as I test the D300 and D3 is this: why are all those people so quick to dump their D2x bodies? At ISO 100 and 200, the D2x/D2xs holds its own. Yes, holds its own against all comers. ISO 400 is quite usable if you know what you're doing. Back in the days of film, we slide shooters were pretty much restricted to that ISO range. Clean high ISO images are certainly interesting, and the D3 particularly so in that respect, but remember that once you go beyond the base ISO of any camera you start compromising other things, including color saturation, dynamic range, and on the Nikon cameras in JPEG form: detail (due to NR turning on automatically at some ISO value). Right now, D2x and D2xs models seem undervalued on the used market to me. There are lot of people who should be picking them up instead of lusting for a D3, IMHO.

Funny thing is, I know some pros who are still happily shooting with D100's, which went through a similar trend when the D200 came out (so many were dumped on the used market that the price went way down, then popped back up and firmed).

Don't get me wrong, I like the D3 and D300, and they definitely push a number of bars higher than Nikon has gone before. But I have a real reason to be exploring those new cameras. Do you? There's a lot to be gained by staying a generation behind, actually. You'll get the same benefit as everyone else, only about 18-24 months behind them. But you'll also pay half the price or less. That's true whether you're a Nikon or Canon user, actually. While the 1DIII and 1DsIII look to be very nice cameras, there's nothing actually wrong with the 1DIIn and 1DsII (well, okay, their batteries suck, but you can buy a lot of batteries with the difference in price between a new 1DsIII and a used 1DsII.

Second Wave Approaching
Dec 11
--The second batch of D3 shipments should be wending its way through the delivery services in the US this week. They, too, will sell out instantly.

Leopard Update
Dec 6--Macintouch is reporting that Nikon intends to provide Leopard compatibility for all DSLRs that support either Firewire or USB, all Coolpix that support USB, and the Coolscan IV, V, 4000ED, 5000ED, 8000ED, and 9000ED. Because Nikon uses ISO manufacturing standards on their software side, there is always going to be a delay in releasing compatible software, as it requires a set number of testing days after the OS releases. Personally, I was happy to see that the scanners and Firewire cameras will have support moved forward into this latest OS release.

Updates
Dec 6--VSO Image Resizer and PhotoDVD have been updated to support D300 NEF files. AKVIS Noise Buster iterates to version 5.0, which includes Leopard support, an improved noise suppression technique, ICC profile support, and a "noise histogram."

Growing Pains 1
Dec 6--Adobe has released an update to an update for Photoshop CS3's Camera Raw converter. The 4.3.1 update fixes a problem with D100 Compressed NEFs that version 4.3 introduced. Likewise, Lightroom, which uses the Camera Raw engine, will be updated to 1.3.1.

Growing Pains 2
Dec 6--As part of my latest eBook projects I'm working on updating the software sections to match Nikon's latest offerings. What I'm finding is what you'll see on the various Nikon Web forums: there are a lot of small bugs, workflow issues (especially for batch processes), and other idiosyncracies in Capture NX and ViewNX, even in the latest versions. On the Macintosh side, it doesn't help that the latest Apple OS release (Leopard, OS X 10.5) is causing developers of all sort some grief.

Now that Nikon is charging more for its software (and even though you got Capture NX free with your D3 or D300, I'm guessing you'll have to pay for the 2.0 upgrade), I think it's time that we demand better testing and less buggy releases and more attention to user requests. If you walk like a software company and talk like a software company, then you're a software company. Just as Nikon is a leading camera company, it's time for them to grow up into a leading software company, too.

S5 Pro Guide Released
Dec 3--Today I can finally announce that my Complete Guide to the Fujifilm S5 Pro is available. Orders made by noon Tuesday will ship with this week's orders. My boss (wait, that's me) is insane if he thinks I can complete a new work in a timely fashion while traveling more than half the time.

Camera Control Pro 2.0 in the Wild
Dec 3 updated--Nikon has posted the new version of Camera Control Pro 2.0 to their Web site.

If you have an earlier, legally unlocked version of Camera Control Pro, you should purchase an upgrade version. Unfortunately, that update will cost you as much as the original, as Nikon has raised the price of CCP from US$70 to US$180 and priced the update at US$70. Both versions are now available on Nikon Mall.

New to version 2.0: the viewer function has been enhanced slightly (and performance increased visibly), the D3 and D300 are supported, Liveview is supported (including confirmation of focus, etc., on the computer), Picture Control and other new camera controls are supported, and WT-4 support is available. Note that Vista is not (yet) supported for the D1/D2 using a WT-2, and Leopard is not (yet) supported at all.

Are We There Yet?
Dec 2--Yes, I have my D300 and D3 and new lenses. No, I don't have much to say about them yet, unlike most Internet sites.Yes, I'll eventually review them. Yes, I'll have eBooks on them. But no, I don't know when either reviews or eBooks will be available.

Seriously, folks: it takes an awful lot of testing and use to flesh out the pluses and minuses of sophisticated new cameras. I've been amused as I watch the net chatter about these two key new Nikon products. Half the folk that should know better are gyrating on their postings about the cameras (first it has problems, then they figure them out, then they discover something else that stumps them for awhile, etc.) while the other half have simply made a blatant pronouncement (e.g. "best DSLR ever" or "not substantially different than a D200").

Personally, even in just the modest amount of use I've been able to perform while traveling, I've noticed a lot of small things that require a great deal more investigation before writing about them with authority. I've no doubt that these two cameras push Nikon's DSLR capabilities into new territories, but without being able to say exactly how far we've come from where we've been, I'll simply stay quiet. Okay, not exactly quiet.

Sigma Updates Lenses?
Dec 3--Sigma announced that the 50-150mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM and 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro HSM have undergone updates (which gives them a II in addition to all the other initials in their name). But as far as I can tell, there are no changes to the optics, feature set, or specifications, which means that this is more likely a compatibility update than anything else. Note to Sigma: if you're going to send out a press release, try to tell us what's new. So far, all I can find is the numeral II. Also, issuing a press release on a new product that isn't available yet (and which some potential purchasers might think obsoletes the old one) three weeks before Christmas doesn't seem like the best marketing strategy to me. What, this couldn't wait until PMA?

Vista CODEC for NEF Updated
Nov 27--If you use Vista, you can download the Nikon NEF CODEC to enable the operating system to understand NEF the same way it does JPG and TIFF (e.g. show proper thumbnails, etc.). Version 1.1.0 of the CODEC supports the latest cameras, including the D300 and D3. Macintosh users should note that the same ability requires an update from Apple, which hasn't happened yet.

Capture 1.3 Officially Launched
Nov 26--Nikon has officially launched Capture NX 1.3, which fixes a few bugs and supports the D300 and D3. You'll find it in the download section of your local Nikon subsidiary.

How to Make a D300 (or D3) Shoot like a D2x
Nov 26--Picture Controls in the new cameras replace the old Color Mode settings in the old. This has caused some users to have difficulty figuring out to mimic the settings they used to use as they switch from the older cameras to the new. To solve that problem, Nikon has created new optional Picture Controls that you can download to your camera to mimic the D2x Color Mode settings. Basically, we have twelve new Picture Control variants: D2XMODE1, D2XMODE2, and D2XMODE3, for the D300 and D3, and with download files for either Mac or PC. Rather than provide a bunch of links, here's a link that should pull up all the options.

Picture Controls come into play in only two ways: JPEG shooting and NEF processing done in Capture NX. If you're converting your raw images in something like Photoshop or Lightroom, your embedded JPEG (preview image) won't look like your conversion if you set Picture Settings other than the default. You can use those program's fine tuning controls to simulate such changes, but you'll be doing a lot of experimenting and tuning, as you have to get white balance right first, and in my experience, neither program gets that perfect for Nikon cameras.

So what did Color Mode really do? As I noted in my books, Color Mode I tended to produce warmer skin tones (changed reds and yellows, basically); Color Mode II tended to be accurate; and Color Mode III tended to boost blues and greens (too much so to be useful as a general shooting setting, IMHO). Taking color and other processing changes out of image data is more difficult than putting it in, so I've long recommended Color Mode II.

English as a Second Language
Nov 21--updated"...retail customers who purchase one Eligible Lens together with a Qualifying Camera and Qualifying Lens [get] the benefit of Instant Savings...in the form of a retail price reduction in the amount of $100 applied to the Eligible Lens at the time of purchase." What, the Marx Brothers are writing NikonUSA promotional copy now?

Here's the English-to-English translation: buy a D40, D40x, or D80 body with (almost) any lens and you get a US$100 discount on the 55-200mm (either model) or 70-300mm if purchased at the same time. Even if that 55-200mm or 70-300mm happens to be part of a two-lens kit, you get the US$100 discount. Update: the ads Nikon is using to describe the promotion are clear and use better language; it's only the PDF on the Web that's got the jumbled legalese.

Beware Leopards
Nov 21 updated--Got your Apple OS-X 10.5 (Leopard) last month? Got your D300 today? Then don't try to install the Nikon software that came with your new camera on your Mac: the installers for the latest versions of ViewNX and CaptureNX are not compatible with OS-X 10.5.

VR Comes to the Masses
Nov 20--The 18-55mm consumer zoom that's been a ubiquitous offering with the consumer Nikon DSLRs has gotten the one thing everyone thought it was missing: VR. There's been a slight change in the optical formula, so we'll have to wait to test it to see if it's as good as the first two versions of that lens. Note that the new version of the lens is a little bigger, 2.5 ounces heavier, and uses a different lens hood than the previous versions. The lens should be available in December for about US$199, and we should see kit bundles with it shortly thereafter. I suspect that the kit prices will probably go up a bit with the lens.

Praise for a Change
Nov 20--Regular readers of this site know that I've been critical of Nikon's communications and marketing, so let me the first to praise them for doing something right: NPS members who pre-ordered the latest equipment are now getting email notifications of when their orders are being released to their dealer of choice. In general, I've found NPS to be more communicative and helpful in the past six months, so let's hope that trend continues and spreads to the consumer side, too.

Prepare for the Worst/Prepare for the Best
Nov 18--
We've got New Camera Week coming up, so just a word of warning: prepare for the worst. And prepare for the best. It was the best of pixels, it was the worst of pixels...

When new products come to market, the ones with lots of buzz all go through the same see-saw of reaction. Nikon has managed to hype the D300 and D3 so much that it is nearly inevitable that there will be deflation when unreachable expectations are not met. I call it the Law of the Sine Wave: it's hot, it's not, it's hot, it's not. The Nikon launches produced a lot of "it's hot" so be prepared for a lot of "it's not" posts across the Internet in the coming weeks. Eventually, the real story will start to emerge, and we'll be back to "it's hot" part of the wave, though perhaps without quite the amplitude. Eventually, some other camera company will launch something that gets the new buzz, and we'll be back to "it's not."

In particular, there seems to be a "best DSLR ever" expectation with the D3. From a physics standpoint, I doubt the D3 exceeds the Canon 1DIII: the sensors are close to even in terms of electron well capacity for any given area, and the read and dark current noise floors are likely to be similar, too. Both cameras live very close to the current state-of-the-art in sensor design, if not right at it. For JPEG images, differences you see will be essentially DIGIC versus EXPEED. For raw images, it's going to be the converter that supplies any meaningful difference.

Thus, in a week or two we'll have a few people claiming that the D3 is "everything it was promised to be" while most others claim they're disappointed that the D3 isn't really a big leap past Canon. My suggestion: just shoot with a state-of-the-art camera and be happy, whether it be a D3 or a 1DIII.

The D300 is likely to get the opposite reaction (more acclaim than disappointment). Why? Because it hasn't been hyped as much and it really does move the bar for the small sensor cameras. Personally, I'm impressed that in two years you can go from 10mp and an acceptable ISO 800 to 12mp and an acceptable ISO 1600. Moreover, you've got a better AF system, a better metering system, and a faster shooting rate all added into the mix. The D300 is likely to get more positive buzz when people actually start shooting with it, especially those gravitating from the D200. Given that the D200/D300/30D/40D group is the bulk of the serious amateur market and a signficant chunk of the pro market, that's a bigger thing than Nikon equalling Canon's image quality with a high-end camera.

So, you heard it here first: the new cameras aren't as good as you thought. Wait, they're better than you thought. No, they're worse than that. What are you thinking, they're better...

No Missing Raw Repeat
Nov 17--Wouldn't it be nice if a new Nikon DSLR came out and your raw conversion software understood it and your workflow didn't change? Well, assuming you're keeping up with updates on your software products, that actually will happen this time around. Capture NX, Adobe ACR, Adobe Lightroom, and dcraw already support the D3 and D300 NEF formats, and from messages I've received from the vendors, it appears that most of the other converters will release updates pretty much coincident with the release of the new cameras.

That's a much a different story than what happened with either the D2x or D200 release, so perhaps we're making progress. Still, a cynic might say that this converter availability exists merely because the cameras were pre-announced so early, giving the software vendors more time to adjust. Perhaps, but Nikon's willingness to let NEF samples be shot early indicates a slightly different attitude on Nikon's part than before, and one that has encouraged the word-of-mouth and third party support to build up prior to actual delivery of the products.

Many other Nikon DSLR product launches would get a failing grade from me. The D3 and D300 ones get a solid B- (yes, there's still a lot they didn't get exactly right, but this is a big step forward from the D2h and D2x disasters).

So rejoice in the fact that we'll be able to try multiple raw converters with our first D3 and D300 images and even use our established workflows with those images. Let's hope this reflects a long-term change in attitude by Nikon towards the loyal community that uses their products. I was a little tired of Nikon moving my cheese for no good reason every time they launched a new camera. (For my International readers who might not catch the reference: there's a popular book in the US about dealing with change called Who Moved my Cheese?)

Release Notes
Nov 17--In the US, D300's should be headed to dealers on the 21st, meaning that a few lucky folk will have a happy Black Friday (another vague reference I need to explain to International users: the first shopping day after the US Thanksgiving holiday is referred to as Black Friday because it's considered to be the day that the average retail businesses' profits go from the red to the black for the year; it's also typically one of the highest volume retail shopping days in the US). The D3 should follow a week later. I expect both to sell out in the first shipments, so if you're not already on a wait list, you may be waiting a long time for a camera
.

First US shipments won't actually have Capture NX in the box, only the registration number you'll need to enter after you download the trial version from the NikonUSA Web site. This should change with subsequent shipments so that the CD will be in the box.

The 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S lens is already shipping in the US, and the 14-24mm should be available shortly.

More Cropped Sensor Lenses
Nov 16--Sigma and Tokina both announced some new DX sensor lenses, and they're mostly very unique in some way:

  • Tokina 35mm AT-X M35 Pro DX. Hmm, a true macro lens at 35mm. Essentially, this is supposed to the equivalent of the 60mm Micro-Nikkor, but for the DX sensor cameras. Okay, but is that really necessary? The problem with really short macro lenses is that at 1:1 they have very little working distance to the subject. The 60mm Micro-Nikkor and all its predecessors were mostly designed for copy stand work, where you weren't dealing with moving or skittish subjects, and where you could control the lighting with close approach. It's nice to have this new alternative, but it's not a mainstream lens, IMHO.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX. The folk that complained about the Nikkor 12-24mm being an f/4 lens will probably get excited about this lens, as it finally gives DX shooters a truly fast wide angle zoom. The 11-16mm (17-25mm equivalent) focal range is a little short, but it mates up close enough to the many 17-xx zooms to give most DX shooters a fast 11 to 200 in three lenses (11-16mm, 17-55mm, 70-200mm).
  • Sigma 4.5mm EX DC Circular Fisheye. Another gap filled: the truly circular fisheye for DX sensors. This lens gives you a circular image within the DX frame that covers 180 degrees across all directions. If you need it, you need it, and now you can get it.
  • Sigma 10mm f/2.8 EX DC Fisheye HSM. Essentially the same thing as the Nikkor 10.5mm: a "fisheye" lens that covers the whole DX frame. The 180 degrees that make it "a fisheye" are measured across the diagonal of the frame. This is the only one of the new lenses which duplicates an existing lens (actually two: the Tokina 10-17mm also produces a 180 degree diagonal at 10mm).

Massive Adobe Update
Nov 16 (URL fixed)--Adobe introduced updates to Photoshop, Bridge, and Lightroom that address a large number of items. First, there's the obvious thing for Nikon shooters: Photoshop CS3, Bridge CS3, and Lightroom now support the new Nikon DSLRs (D3 and D300) raw file formats.

However, that's not the big news with these updates. For Photoshop, the big news is that the desktop printer problems many of us experienced in the CS2 to CS3 change have been addressed. Windows users who had Epsons tended to be the hardest hit by the myriad of minor printing problems CS3 introduced, but even Mac users with other printers struggled with minor issues. (Hopefully) all gone now. Adobe has a five-page PDF file labeled "Printing Notes" that explains how the changes and how to use them. This is a must-read for anyone who prints from Photoshop CS3 (as is the 10.0.1 update).

Lightroom got a bug fix update, including fixes that allow it to run under the new Mac OS X version 10.5 just introduced.

The Adobe Updater on your computer should find all the updates. For those of you looking to just update ACR, see the Photoshop Family page and look for the "Camera raw support" link.

Nikon Half Year Financials Released
Nov 8 updated--It's probably no surprise, but Nikon's hot DSLR sales continue and are one of the drivers of the financial good news Nikon reported today for the first half of its 2008 fiscal year (ends March 31, 2008). Profits for the Imaging division are now forecast as almost 50% higher than previously expected.

Because stepper sales in the Precision Tool division continue to have their ups and downs, the Imaging division is increasingly becoming the larger and more significant engine driving Nikon's overall results.

DSLR sales at Nikon's last estimate were expected to be about 1.4m units for the first half, and came in slightly higher at 1.47m units. The forecast for the remainder of the fiscal year has been increased from 1.2m units to 1.53m units. This puts Nikon on pace for 3m unit year, an increase of over 10% from previous expectations and about 50% growth from last year (that's higher than the market's overall growth). Canon's fiscal year is one quarter off from Nikon's. In it they currently expect to sell 3.2m DSLR units. Equalizing the periods you get Nikon shipping 2.9m units. So Nikon has considerably closed the market share gap in DSLRs and now runs nearly neck and neck with Canon. That translates to 45% market share for Canon in calendar 2007, versus 41% market share for Nikon (using my best guess on final DSLR sales for the year as CIPA's last estimates are clearly wrong; for the first nine months of 2007 Nikon's DSLR market share has been 40.66437% percent using the actual shipping numbers).

Coolpix did slightly better than I expected, selling 4m units in the first half of the year, and Nikon expects to do about that well in the second half. Somehow Nikon appears to be pushing Coolpix sales up modestly from last year (8m versus 7.5m units). Still, I'd say this is the weakest part of the Imaging division's product line, by far. By contrast, Canon will sell nearly 22m compact cameras in their current fiscal year. Unlike DSLRs, Nikon is not closing ground on the leaders in compacts.

Meanwhile lens sales have also increased considerably, with the current yearly forecast hitting a remarkable 4m units (that's a huge increase from last year, and a half million units more than previously forecast).

Here are the new estimates based upon first half results:

Item Fiscal 06 Fiscal 07 Fiscal 08 est.
Total Sales 416.6b yen 449.8b 550b
Operating Income 34.4b yen 45.7b 74b
DSLR units 1,340,000 2,090,000 3,000,000
Coolpix units 7,110,000 5,920,000 8,000,000
Lenses 2,020,000 2,640,000 4,000,000

Zeiss Hardens their Lens Lineup
Nov 8--Zeiss announced ZF-I models for three of their lenses (25mm, 28mm, and 35mm; others are likely to follow). Basically, you take a regular Zeiss lens, give it a silver metal finish, increase water resistance, seal the elements from dust, and provide lockable apertures and focus to get the ZF-I models from the existing ones.

Cosina Lenses for Nikon F-Mount
Nov 2--Cosina has announced in Japan that they'll produce two manual focus lenses under the Voigtlander name for Nikon bodies. The two lenses are updated versions of older lens designs, and have one unique wrinkle: they've got CPU chips in the them so that they meter correctly with all Nikon SLR and DSLR bodies. (For the technical-minded, that's equivalent to Nikon's P lenses.) The first lens is the 40mm f/2 Ultron ALII Aspherical. The second is the 58mm f/1.4 Nokton SLII. Both lenses have full DOF markings and are quite small and light (the 40mm is only 25mm in depth, which means it falls into the "pancake" category). I've started a Cosina lens database page to track this new line of lenses. However, note that these lenses may not be produced in high quantities and thus be only available through a limited number of outlets. In the US, their products are primarily available at Cameraquest and Photovillage.

The Parade of Short Hits...
Nov 1--More quickies:

  • FotoMagico--my favorite Mac slide show product had a double update and is now at version 2.1.4. Leopard compatibility.
  • CaptureOne--now in Beta 2 for version 4 (free for all to try until 31 January 2008).
  • Photo Mechanic--another Beta (4.5.3 Beta 3), with a lot of fixes to extracting previews and IPTC data. Beta expires shortly, but final version should be out shortly, too.

Official Nikon Japan Release Dates
Oct 31 updated--Nikon Japan posted the official release dates for their recently announced products (US and other subsidiary release dates sometimes differ by a few days due to logistical differences, but historically the Nikon Japan launch date has been the US launch date):

  • November 23, 2007: D300, MB-D10, Camera Control Pro 2, Capture NX 1.3.
  • November 30, 2007: D3, WT-4*, 400mm f/2.8 VR, 14-24mm f/2.8G, 24-70mm f/2.8G.
  • Early 2008: 500mm f/4 VR, 600mm f/4 VR.

In addition, the first 300,000 purchasers worldwide of the D3 and D300 will receive an offer for a free copy of Capture NX 1.3.

*I'm not aware that the WT-4 has received official FCC approval in the US yet, so consider that it could be delayed in some markets due to the regulatory approval processes required.

Updates
Oct 29--Some quick updates of things that were announced while I was traveling:

Dreamers versus Reality Pt. 4
Oct 29 updated--Continuing with my pre-PMA commentary on the state of the DSLR market, we move back to Kodak. Last week Kodak issued a press release in Europe entitled "Kodak Looks to the Future." The methodology essentially looked at the existing market, split it into use segments, and predicted how that will evolve into the future.

I was intrigued by two throw-away lines in the press release: one-third of Eventographers have a DSLR, and the Digital Disciples are most likely to carry a DSLR. Funny thing is, these are the two largest groups Kodak identified, and about a third of them are using DSLRs. Put another way, ~33% of 74% of the market Kodak is looking at use DSLRs (that's about 25%, or one-quarter, of all digital camera users in their study). Meanwhile, another key category--Happy Snappers--apparently are mostly using camera phones, which Kodak doesn't make. (One emailer pointed out that Kodak has several technology contributions to a few upcoming camera phones.)

So why is that Kodak got out of the DSLR market? Exactly which of the five groups does Kodak's current lineup match up against? Unfortunately, Kodak appears to have put themselves in a position where they wish to compete by targeting sub-segments of sub-segments of the market. That's not a road to being a major player in digital cameras, IMHO.

Caution: Straightaway Ahead
Oct 29 update--I think we're nearing a critical point with digital cameras, and especially DSLRs. It's difficult to imagine a small sensor compact camera better than the Ricoh GX-100 or the Leica D-Lux 3 (though it's not difficult to imagine a better compact with a bigger sensor). [Several people misinterpreted this remark as my saying you couldn't make a better compact camera. Sure you can. Both these cameras are fine designs except for one thing: their sensor and the resulting image quality.] It's also difficult to imagine FX sensor DSLRs better than the Canon 1DsIII and Nikon D3. In the DX/APS DSLRs, we've got the Sony A700, Nikon D300, and Canon 40D, with very competitive consumer models living under those (and those products are all due for a refresh shortly, which should bring them even closer in competence to their higher-end sibblings).
New DSLR products are thus starting to have marginal increases in ability (though I don't dismiss those--every push forward in ISO or focus ability, etc., is useful to someone).

My assessment is that in 2008 we won't be seeing many curves thrown at the DSLR market. Instead, in the near future we'll see more feature consolidation, some modest bump in megapixels, and perhaps marginal image quality increases. Indeed, to some degree we already see those things. Some might argue that the D300 is simply bringing the D200 up to the current state-of-the-art levels of features, megapixels, and image quality. Look at how many things didn't change on the D300, D3, 40D, 1DIII, and 1DIIIs from the previous models, and how many things that did change are simply trying to match new features introduced elsewhere (lithium batteries, dust reduction systems, higher-end AF, live view, etc.). Nikon and Canon really only missed sensor stabilization in the feature consolidation on the latest round of DSLRs. Both pressed image quality aspects about as high as you could expect given the physical limits being pressed against with Bayer systems.

So what is the next market disruption going to be for DSLRs? Most likely the move beyond Bayer. This allows for dropping the anti-aliasing filter, amongst other things. [Several emailers questioned that remark. I'll stand by it.] Done right, a post-Bayer DSLR could up the image quality ante a substantial amount if noise can be held under control and dynamic range not compromised (the Nikon approach is promising in this respect, the Foveon approach not so much; but the Nikon approach is currently unmanufacturable). I don't think we'll see that disruption next year, or even in 2009. Post-Bayer (other than Sigma's Foveon-based cameras) feels more like a 2010+ introduction to me.

So we're likely going from an "I'll upgrade my DSLR every cycle" to "I'll upgrade my DSLR every other cycle" kind of market. You won't be getting big bangs for the upgrade buck if you iterate every cycle. Indeed, my initial assessment of the D300 is that the primary move forward for it is the AF system. If you're satisfied with the AF system of your D200, then I'm not sure that the D300 represents the huge leap everyone suggests. Sure, it looks like high ISO has improved by perhaps a stop and you get another 2 megapixels, but those are small improvements that not everyone values the same.

The compact market still has two potential curves left in the near term, the biggest of which will be the introduction of larger sensor models. The other would be a move towards dedicated AF systems. All else equal, just adding those two things to any existing compact camera would make it stand out from the competition, at least for the serious users.

S5 Pro Offers
Oct 22 corrected--Just in time for my upcoming eBook (soon, real soon), FujifilmUSA has sweetened the deal on buying an S5 Pro. First, they've dropped the price US$200 to US$1699 (many resellers including B&H sell it for about US$100 less than that). Better still, you can get a free vertical grip (not an MB-D200 as I earlier reported, but a third-party grip that provides extended battery support) and Huey Pro after rebate, a US$280 value. Unfortunately, as I write this, the details haven't made it onto the S5 portion of the FujifilmUSA Web site (the free HyperUtiility offer still is there, not the new offer). The offer itself is here, though the wording is confusing "Body Only Kit...a savings of $280 with mail-in rebate" implies that you have to buy the Huey and grip, but then the fine print says "Huey Standard Edition will be mailed out..." Why is that none of the camera companies can get their marketing straight?

Here, I'll give it to you the way you want it: (1) buy an official US import S5 Pro body only kit (not the one with a Huey and AC adapter in it or any other kit) before the end of the year; (2) register the camera online with Fujifilm; (3) doing #2 gets you the form you need to fill out and return to FujifilmUSA along with the proper UPCs from the outer box and invoice. You'll get the grip and Huey by return mail. Simple. Sort of. I still don't understand why the body+Huey kit can't net you just the grip. I guess Fujifilm doesn't want to sell that kit any more, eh?

I'll reiterate something I wrote recently: the S5 Pro is the only DSLR I know of that has some exposure latitude. Most of us pros are actually intentionally overexposing slightly with our raw S5 Pro files due to the high degree of recovery that is possible during conversion. This lowers noise and really brings out the dynamic range the camera is capable of.

Dreamers versus Reality Pt. 3
Oct 18 updated--As part of their E-3 announcement earlier this week, Olympus let it be known that they are targeting themselves to be #3 in DSLRs, with a 20% market share within five years (they claim their current market share is between 7 and 8%; the last published figures I'm aware of would put it at 6%).

Funny thing is, Olympus' marketing materials began leaking months prior to introduction (I was anonymously provided copies of various internal presentations along the way; to what purpose I was getting these items, I don't know), and it's clear from the first of those that they were initially shooting at the D200 and 30D and their possible replacements with the E-3; the last iteration that I received did mention the D300 and 40D directly. Fortunately, the 40D that replaced the 30D didn't substantively move the mark for Canon, but the D300 does move the mark substantially for Nikon. In particular, it appears that Oly felt that their new AF system would beat whatever Nikon did. It's unclear to me (since both cameras are not yet released) whether that's true (Nikon moved the mark considerably with the D300). It still really feels to me like Olympus is shooting at where the target has been, not where it will be.

But let's for a moment suppose that the E-3 can hold its own against the 40D and D300. Can you gain 14% of market share in a modestly growing market with such a product? The answer is no. Right now that would imply sales of the E-3 at well over the 50,000 a month rate for the entire year, a rate Olympus won't (and can't) hit. Oh, and one of your competitors would have to stop selling over 50,000 units a month. That won't happen, either. And those numbers go up considerably when you push out five year (over 100,000 units/month).

Thus, in order to get that 20% market share, Olympus needs many more successful DSLR products. The problem I have with that is that I just don't see them getting in front of Canon and Nikon competitively. The E-3 is a good case in point. While some Olympus supporters will point to a feature here and there (dust reduction, sensor IS), Olympus has some other problems that get in their way. For example, why is an E-3 as big and heavy as a D300 but using a smaller sensor? That's like trying to compete with a 4-cylinder engine in a car the same weight as a competitor's that has a 6-cylinder one. Historically, that type of approach hasn't worked for increasing share in mainstream products, and a 20% market share would require Olympus to be mainstream. Don't get me wrong. The E-510 is a nice camera, and the E-3 looks like another nice camera. But neither of these are the leaps Olympus would need to almost triple their market share. DSLRs are a hugely competitive market, and the market is cooling off (slower growth). Heck, Apple is on a roll with the Macintosh and probably won't achieve the kind of growth in market share that Olympus is targeting over the same time period.

New material: Olympus' last forecast for DSLR unit volume in the coming year was 500k+ units, a year-to-year increase of 100%. Put another way, Olympus is forecasting increased unit sales of ~20k units a month. That's at the edge of possible, IMHO. The problem is the declining growth in the DSLR market, likely changes in the yen/dollar and yen/euro rates that'll increase the cost of cameras (or decrease profits), and the likelihood of increased competition (we haven't yet seen all the products the E-410, E-510, and E-3 will be competing with during that period). The current 2007 CIPA forecast for DSLRs is ~7m units, so Oly's ~500k is a ~7% share. The CIPA forecast for 2009 (as far as they forecast) is ~9m units. To continue to progress towards a 20% share five years out, Oly would have to be at a ~1.3m units in 2009. Put another way, that means two more years of at least 60% growth in a market that's only growing 22%. That means stealing market share from someone else. (Note: the Olympus and CIPA years are off by a quarter, but even if I adjust for that the basic point doesn't change: Olympus needs to steal significant market share from someone and grow significantly faster than the competition to reach the 20% goal.) I should also point out that sales to distribution (which is what Olympus and CIPA report) is not the same as sales to users. That's actually the reason why Canon's retail market share has gone down at the low end of the market this year: they've failed to keep those Digital Rebels moving off the dealers' shelves, while Nikon seems to have no problem doing so with their D40-D80 models.

The real question to ask is this: whose market share does Olympus think it's going to take? Nikon has incredible momentum across the line at the moment, and that doesn't seem like it's going to change any time soon. Sony isn't going up or down at the moment, and I don't see that changing, either, but even taking Sony's entire market share doesn't get Olympus where they want (and Sony, if you recall, also indicated it wanted a 20% market share in DSLRs; perhaps there's some "Intro to DSLRs" brochure circulating at the camera companies that says "shoot for a 20% market share" ;~). Pentax has lost their momentum, but it also doesn't have enough share for Olympus to steal to reach their goal. So that leaves Canon. Would you really bet against Canon and for Olympus? If you believe Oly's 20% goal is reachable, that's probably what you're doing, because a significant portion of that gain has to come at Canon's expense. Oh, and the E-3 successor will have to appear in a lot less than the four years it took to go from the E-1 to the E-3. And Olympus will need a lot more than an E-510 and E-3 to move off shelves.

Olympus should take the non-mainstream approach, ala Mazda and their zoom-zoom marketing. Pick a submarket and try to own it. To me, the E-3 fails in that respect, as its size and weight simply don't take advantage of the smaller sensor they're using. Give me the E-3 in a D40-sized body and I start to get interested. But when it goes spec for spec against a D300, I immediately worry about those smaller photosites. For the pro targeted camera, image quality is going to be an issue that's looked at.

Sorry, Olympus, I'm putting you in the dreamer category until you can show me something more.

When I originally posted this, I was attacked on several forums for my comments. Many of those amounted to "attack the messenger not the message." I was traveling at the time and didn't have the chance to go back and doublecheck facts that were in the article. I have now done so and made some minor corrections to wording. My apologies for any ambiguities in the original article. In particular, I was attacked because several thought that I had misquoted a document they had seen. Sorry, but the truth is slightly more nuanced, and I've reflected that nuance in the re-wording. Moreover, a common thread keeps coming up where people claim that the E-410 is significantly smaller and lighter than the D40 (something I didn't dispute in this article, but apparently people are quoting something I wrote earlier in the year in an attempt to discredit me). I think those people need to do a little fact checking of their own. The E-410 is smaller than the D40 by .1, .1, and .4" across the three dimensions. That's not really enough smaller for me to consider it significant. I'll grant that the E-410 is lighter than a D40 (by slightly more than 100g with the kit lenses and batteries), but lightness isn't the key issue to my use of a small DSLR, and lightness can be manipulated by build quality.

Thus, while I've edited this article to be more clear and correct, I still stand by my point. I don't see Olympus getting to a 20% market share in the next five years. Not without something extremely dramatic happening that none of us are currently aware of. That, by the way, was really my only point.

Dreamers versus Reality Pt. 1
Oct 15--Continuing on the PMA anticipation thread (see the Fujifilm speculation, now moved to Archived News), NikonUSA's Steve Heiner was quoted by CNet as saying "I think you'll see other FX products. It's a sensor size we're committed to." That plus other partial quotes in the story have generated the usual Internet speculation buzz, and as often happens, that buzz quickly spiraled out of control.

One persistent speculation that resulted from that story is that Nikon will announce a D300-sized FX body at PMA early next year. Let me nip that one in the bud. Doubtful. Very doubtful. Indeed, it's going to take monumental efforts on Nikon's part to introduce any new DSLR in the next few months, even if it's something as simple as a D80x. Why? Because Nikon just doesn't have the organizational bandwidth to announce, produce, QC, market, and promote more than a couple of DSLRs at a time. The D3 and D300 will still be in short supply come PMA, and still be in the early stages of marketing worldwide. You can't afford to divert the staff attention from that. Dealers can't stand too much churn of products, either.

Moreover, three serious and pro-level models in a row from Nikon would break precedence and potentially hurt the part of the lineup that has been their most successful, the low end DSLR. I think that we'll see a refresh at the low-end before we see another FX model. If I had to guess, the D40x and D80 will see modest updates after PMA and the next shocking announcement from Nikon will come much later when the missing high-end Nikon suddenly becomes a reality. Yes, folks, the D3 is a D3 and not a D3h because there will be no D3x. It'll be better than that. And PMA 2009 seems the most likely timeframe for that, though Photokina 2008 is an outside contender.

So where does a D300FX fit into that announcement scheme? Good question. If I'm right, Nikon is going to pretty much max out its production and organizational capability in 2008, so I personally can't see them putting another potentially popular FX product into the mix that fast (remember, you also can't make FX sensors as fast as you can DX--your yields per wafer are almost an order of magnitude lower and you have a fixed capacity of wafers per day at your fab). 2009 seems right. And yes, the smaller FX body has been in design for awhile now and prototyped. That part of the speculation is true.

Another out-of-control speculation on the Web forums has to do with "affordability" of a low-end FX entry from Nikon. Canon's current fire-sale pricing of the 5D has Nikon users salivating at the prospect of FX models under US$2000. Again, not likely to happen, especially in the time frame people are talking about. It just doesn't make economic sense for Nikon to price that low, as it would be leaving big money on the table. Given Nikon's past pricing, something like US$2999 or US$3499 seems more likely for a low-end FX body in early 2009. US$2499 would be aggressive. Anything under that would trigger a price war that no side would benefit from.

Also, note that it won't quite be as small or as light as a D300, at least if the same production values are used (magnesium chassis, weather sealing, etc.). As the D3 is to the D2x, a D300FX would be to the D300. A bit more top heavy and a bit more weight.

Now let's get back to those Heiner quotes. "I think you'll see..." The key word there is "think." Many people are mis-quoting the article and saying Nikon is "about to launch" other FX products. Certainly I believe that they are planning other FX products, but Heiner didn't exactly say that, nor is he in a perfect position as a senior manager at NikonUSA to know what Nikon's exact future plans are (note that Heiner isn't at Nikon Japan, where the actual design and decision making is done). There's been some briefing of futures from Nikon corporate, but no exact details, to my knowledge.

Hot on the heels of the D3 and D300 announcements (remember, as I write this, neither camera has actually shipped), Nikon DSLR fans are a bit over-exuberant at the moment. Personally, I'm eagerly awaiting my D3, so please let me enjoy that delivery experience before cranking up the hype on a non-yet-announced product that probably won't be announced for some time.

Dreamers versus Reality Pt. 2
Oct 13--Meanwhile, over in the United Kingdom, another subsidiary executive chimed in on DSLRs. This time it was a Kodak quote that triggered some Internet buzz (or in this case, negative buzz): "All the profits...are in the lens part of the business" Amateur Photographer reported VP John O'Grady citing as the reason Kodak decided not to enter the consumer DSLR market. Further in the article we get additional quotes backing that up from a Kodak UK exec.

Instead of Internet fans dreaming beyond reality, this time it is people at Kodak. I'm sure in Japan there was much guffawing upon seeing the quote (do Japanese executives guffaw? Perhaps they do so in private, as I've never seen them do it in public). Consider that at the low end Nikon ships their camera (D40) with a lens, and that the average DSLR consumer only purchases a grand total of slightly over two lenses over the lifetime of their ownership. Worse still, the average selling price of all those consumer DSLR lenses is less than US$250. I fail to see where all those lens profits come from. That's not to say that lens sales aren't profitable, but rather that "all the profits" do not come from lens sales. Otherwise, most of the kits that Nikon and Canon are selling these days would have to be considered loss leaders, and there's nothing in Nikon's or Canon's financial statements that even begins to suggest that is the case.

But let us assume for a moment that Kodak's executives are right, and that profits in consumer DSLRs come only from lenses. What Kodak just said could then be interpreted like this: "We decided that we didn't want to make lenses." I find that a curious statement. After all, there are lenses in all the other cameras Kodak produces (which number in the many millions a year).

Indeed, Kodak appears to be taking the same approach to consumer DSLRs as Fujifilm: instead of competing with the D40s and Digital Rebels of the world, they'll simply opt to tackle the so-called bridge camera, the DSLR-like all-in-one compact camera design. Funny thing is, last time I looked, that camera needed a pretty sophisticated lens design (the most recent one Kodak announced, the Z712, has a 36-423mm f/2.8-4.8 equivalent lens). Is all the profit in those cameras from the lens? I think not. Indeed, if it was, wouldn't you be better off producing a DSLR-like all-in-one compact camera with interchangeable lenses?

Sorry, Kodak, I don't buy your excuse. Somehow you're producing lenses for the cameras you do make, including several somewhat sophisticated ones (certainly as sophisticated as a consumer DSLR would need). You're either in the market or out. Kodak shareholders ought to vote you out if the you think the reason to not enter a market is that "all the profits are in lenses."

I still think my hypothesis is better: Kodak simply couldn't figure out what business they really were in at the film-to-digital switch, they under estimated how fast the switch would happen, they made the wrong investment decisions during the switch (e.g., buying Chinon to capture all aspects of design-to-production, then abandoning half of what they bought because they decided that approach was too costly), and they continue to take expensive random shots at anything that nibbles away at something they perceive as their business (e.g. inkjet printers). Kodak doesn't have a clue how to continue as a consumer and professional imaging leader. Lenses are not the problem or the solution.

If the quote really reflects Kodak's thinking, they need some new thinkers.

Wither Fujifilm and DSLRs?
Oct 11--it's been slow in terms of news for the last couple of weeks, so that leads to idle speculation. With PMA 2008 just around the corner, once again people are anticipating cameras. I'll keep my remarks this morning to Fujifilm only, as I've been thinking about them a lot as I try to put the finishing touches on my S5 Pro eBook (please don't ask; the answer is "soon" ;~).

First, Fujifilm has once again affirmed that they aren't interested in launching a low cost DSLR. After all, they have a set of DSLR-like compacts (S5700, S6000, S8000, S9100, and IS-1). An entry DSLR would compete with those models in ways that might render the compacts--or at least some of them--superfluous. With Nikon having dropped the 8800-type of compact (as have others), Fujifilm may feel that they can be competitive in this sub-class of camera, and thus don't want to risk self-cannibalization. They're not exactly the big fish in the big pond, after all, so being a big fish in the smaller pond must have appeal.

Recently, Fujifilm also announced a lot of shuffling of production and assets in the digital camera world. Most of the cameras have already been out-sourced to the China plant in Suzhou, and even sensor wafer production has been subcontracted to Toshiba. Fortunately, these seem mostly like cost-cutting issues, not an abandonment of digital imaging. Specifically, Fujifilm says "there will be further acceleration in the development of digital cameras with distinctive features..." Still, the sensor design team has been quiet for some time now, and product rumors for all types of camera models from Fujifilm have slowed to a trickle. I don't think their reorganization process is pain free.

Which brings us to the main topic readers of this site are interested in: the S5 Pro and future Fujifilm DSLRs. Let me start by saying this: the S5 Pro is the only DSLR currently on the market that has what I'd call exposure latitude. Even with JPEGs you have considerable recovery ability for overexposure that you don't have with other DSLRs (S5 Pro raw files are wickedly good in this respect; I've managed three stop recovery in some situations, as long as I haven't completely blown out more than one channel). The dual photosite nature of the S5 Pro makes it an interesting alternative for photographers challenged by DR.

So the question of the moment is this: will there be an S5 Pro successor, and if so, what will it be like? Let's start with the good news: since Nikon essentially made the D300 without doing any tangible modifications to the D200 body, I'd have to guess that Fujifilm could easily continue to use that body as a platform for future DSLRs, reducing their engineering burden. That's the good news. The bad news is that Nikon is slowly eroding the benefits that the SuperCCD had: the D300 appears to match or exceed the S5 Pro in noise handling, for instance, yet doubles the pixels. Fujifilm's sensor designers have their work cut out for them to leap frog ahead again, yet there's been nary a peep out of them lately. One wonders if their three-layer sensor isn't making the progress towards release they expected.

So why am I even speculating about a new Fujifilm DSLR? Because Fujifilm has been like clockwork: every two years a new DSLR has been announced (though not necessarily shipped). The S1 in 2000, S2 in 2002, S3 in 2004, and S5 in 2006. This, coupled with Fujifilm's tendency to announce around trade shows means that the next DSLR would be expected either at PMA in late January, or at Photokina in September. My guess? Fujifilm won't have a new DSLR at PMA, and might not have one fully ready at Photokina.

Now for one of Thom's patented wild guesses: the next Fujifilm DSLR SuperCCD SR will be a hybrid. The large photosites will be three-layer (RGB) but the small photosites will be Bayer filtered! This solves multiple problems simultaneously, including pixel count without downsizing the photosite sizes. So: the next S-Pro will be 6mp still, but with Foveon-like resolving ability and S5 Pro-like dynamic range, all in a D300 body. Would that be enough to stay competitive in the wedding and studio markets where Fujifilm DSLRs are popular? You tell me. Better yet, tell Fujifilm ;~).

Quick Bits
Sept 28--more quick updates:

  • Human Software updated AutoDeNoise, a noise removal plug-in for Photoshop (version 7 thru CS3) and Elements (version 2 thru 6), to version 1.8. Mac and Windows versions available.
  • QImage, the best of breed printing solution for digital users, has been updated to version 2008.101. Memory management has been improved, allowing for faster processing and even larger print sizes. Somehow I also missed that QImage added back in the raw conversion support (at least for the Studio version); at one time QImage was better at handling stairstepped edges than any other converter, so I welcome it back. What do I mean by best in breed printing? Well, if you regularly upsize your images to get enough dpi for your print size, try using QImage; it has the best resizing abilities I've seen for printing (don't resize in Photoshop, just let QImage do it at print time). Unfortunately, Macintosh users will need to run it under Parallels or Boot Camp, as the program is Windows only.

Photoshop Imitator Ships
Sept 26--Pixelmator, a Macintosh-only Photoshop "clone," has shipped. Before you get too excited, note that while it includes layers and some advanced Photoshop tools, it doesn't seem to have color management or raw file support. Moreover, some useful Photoshop tools, such as Shadows and Highlights are missing in this 1.0 version. Nevertheless, because it uses the OS-X CoreImage tools, Pixelmator is lean and fast. Perhaps it would be useful to a Lightroom user needing pixel editing tools who doesn't want to spring for Photoshop. A 30-day downloadable demos is available for Pixelmator, which retails for US$59.

I'm hesitant to mention the other Macintosh-only Photoshop "clone," as it's still in beta and I can easily crash it, but Chocoflop (hey, I don't name these things) is at version 0.66 and does have raw file support. The UI is a little less clean, but it does have some things that Pixelmator doesn't.

Quick Bits
Sept 26--more quick updates:

  • Noise Ninja is now at version 2.2 and adds support for the Photoshop CS3 Smart Filters as well as fixing bugs.
  • Meanwhile Fantasea has announced that their FP-5000 underwater housing works for the Coolpix P5100 as well as the P5000.
  • Sony has joined the UDMA CompactFlash card game with 2G, 4GB, and 8GB 300x cards. Remember, the D300 and D3 are the first Nikon cameras to really take advantage of UDMA write speed.

Travel Gets Tougher
Sept 25 (shortened version)--Multiple pros have been reporting in the last week that they're being asked to take their DSLRs out of their backpacks while traveling through security check points at US airports. And it happened to me last night in Vegas coming back from a workshop. Basically, I was told to remove everything from my pack "larger than my fist." It appears to be a new TSA policy, so be prepared for it before you hit the US airports.

Zeiss Number Seven
Sept 20--The Zeiss line of MF lenses for the Nikon F-mount now has reached seven with the introduction of the 28mm f/2 Distagon. Details are on my Zeiss database page.

Software Updates
Sept 20--Software continues the inexorable march towards new features and fewer bugs (at least that's the hope):

  • Photo Rescue 3.1--Fujifilm S5 Pro users get better file recovery. The rest of us get memory card testing and erasure features.
  • Lightroom 1.2--bug fixes.
  • Adobe ACR 4.2--lower luminance noise reduction is applied when slider is set to 0. New non-Nikon cameras supported.
  • Lightzone 3.1--new selection capabilities, improved Re-Light function, bug fixes, performance improvements.
  • Photoshop Elements 6.0--adds PhotoMerge, Quick Selection, and Guided Edit abilities. Unfortunately, only the Windows version is ready. Mac users have to wait until next year.

Sept 2007
View NX Released
Updated Sept 12--As hinted at in the next story, Nikon did indeed release View NX (version 1.0) prior to the new cameras. Released with View NX are Nikon Transfer 1.0 and Nikon PictureProject Export Utility 1.0. You need Transfer to move images from the camera or card reader to View NX, and you should use the Export Utility if you wish to use View NX with your PictureProject-maintained images.

New features of View NX (beyond those of the discontinued View) are:

  • Adobe Bridge-compatible star/color ratings in an XMP sidecar (that means there's an extension added to the digital image file, much like EXIF data works).
  • File keywording and renaming is (better) supported.
  • Dual import of images (e.g. one to your working folders, one to your backup folders).
  • New view options (NEF+JPEG combined, RGB histograms, AF sensor used).
  • Quick NEF conversions and basic adjustments, including using saved presets.
  • Additional features (e.g. Slideshows, email integration).

Those of us who've been using Photo Mechanic have had most of those things for some time. The difference is that Nikon NX is a free product (and apparently will come with new Nikon cameras instead of PictureProject, at least at the top of the DSLR line). I was never a fan of PictureProject and lamented the passing of View, so I'm very glad to see it back, and with the basic improvements that will make it a useful tool for the majority of the Nikon DSLR audience.

Still, after spending most of a day at the Lightroom track at Photoshop World, I came to the conclusion that multiple-software workflow solutions are looking less and less inviting, especially when they're multi-vendor and updating on different cycles and use different UIs and keystrokes. For example, a serious Nikon DSLR user might use something like View NX --> Capture NX --> Photoshop CS3 --> Portfolio as their workflow, which gives them three or four products to learn and maintain. But that can now be simplified to Lightroom --> Photoshop CS3 --> Lightroom, or two products, and you can still add in Capture NX for those times when you want the Nikon-style NEF rendering. Moreover, Lightroom (and Apple's Aperture) have opened up a new realm of photographer-centric products, whereas the multiple-program workflows tend to be mostly feature-centric products that the photographer has to figure out how to best integrate.

Think about it this way: had you committed to a workflow of View --> Capture --> Photoshop --> Portfolio a few years back, you would have been multiply disrupted: View disappeared for awhile, Capture changed to a completely new UI and feature set, Photoshop added great complexity, and Portfolio struggled to keep up with file format changes. You had 6.5 user interfaces to learn (4 initial, 2.5 changes). Even if the Lightroom/Photoshop duo goes through big changes in the next few years, that's probably only 4 user interfaces to learn (2 initial, 2 changes). At some point, photographers just want to shoot and develop, and multiple gear and logistical changes (cameras, software, workflow etc.) gets in the way of that. Moreover, if you're going to commit time to big learning curves, where do you want to do that? In View NX or Photoshop? Even Lightroom/Photoshop have some keystroke differences that are frustrating, but View/Capture/Photoshop has more to keep track of.

View NX is a 1.0 release, and as such, it seems to have a few birthing pains. I'm traveling with a MacBook Pro, so can only test it on that platform at the moment, but I see several EXIF-related issues, such as an inconsistent automatic rotation.

Don't get me wrong, I very much welcome the return of View. For the casual photographer a workflow of View NX --> Capture NX or View NX --> Photoshop Elements might be all they need, and having a free front end like View NX makes it easier for them to justify buying the other product.

August 2007
Coolpix Gets a Refresh (Yawn)
As I've been predicting for awhile, Nikon announced a refresh of their Coolpix lineup. Apparently Nikon seems to think quantity is the answer (they announced 9 Coolpix models in 2004, 12 in 2005, 14 in 2006, and now 16 in 2007). Unfortunately, the latest group once again seems less than inspiring:

  • P5100 (replaces the P5000) gets 12mp and the EXPEED image processing. Improved face-priority AF (on the camera with the most manual override?), but once again no raw files.
  • P50 is a new camera modeled after the P5000/5100 but with only 8mp/EXPEED, software VR, a few less features, and uses AA batteries. It does have a 28mm lens, though.
  • S700 is a 12mp/EXPEED, sensor-based VR in a small body.
  • S510 is an 8mp/EXPEED update of the S500 with lens-shift VR that comes in silver, pink, and urban black. The press release makes a big deal about the "world's fastest response" (power-up of 0.7 seconds, shutter lag of .0005 seconds, and "high speed auto focus," features shared with a few other models.
  • The S51/S51c are 8mp/EXPEED updates of the S50/S50c, with essentially the same updates at the other updated cameras (menu tweaks, AF tweaks, speed tweaks, etc.).
  • The L14/L15 are the new entry-level Coolpix. Biggest claim: long battery life (1000 shots out of two lithium AA).

Is improving the autofocus speed, adding the EXPEED processing system, and making minor tweaks enough to catapult the Coolpix line back into competetiveness? No. The Performance models (P prefix) need wider lenses and raw storage at a minimum. The Style models (S) need more style ;~). The entry models (L) are very me-too and uncompelling. And lithium AA batteries are expensive, so that seems the antithesis of what should be in the lowest cost camera.

Overall, I don't see these Coolpix models stealing any compact camera market share from Canon's offerings. The next round of Coolpix, just like the last three generations, needs some pizazz that sets them apart form the crowd.

Nikon Best in Customer Satisfaction?
J.D. Power and Associates has just come out with the results of their latest survey of DSLR users in the US, which shows Nikon scoring 822 out of a possible 1000 in the qualities that customers value most highly. Sony was second at 793 and Canon third at 788.

Before NikonUSA gets too excited about the results, you should note that the results are done using a survey mainly focused on the qualities and attributes that purchasers find important to a camera (e.g. autofocus speed, image quality, low-light performance, etc.). In other words, it's about the equipment experience, not the company experience (which is what I keep harping about). And Coolpix models fared much worse. Casio topped the ultraslim list with an 802 for its Exilim Zoom, while Nikon's Coolpix L series was seventh at 725. Similar results were found in the basic point-and-shoot and premium point-and-shoot categories, with Coolpix being nowhere to be found at the top of the list.

Nikon D4 Rumors Start
Nikon today introduced two new DSLR camera bodies and five new lenses. All of the new products will be available around November 2007.

The new D3 is a 12mp FX (same size as film frame) DSLR that supposedly offers clean ISOs up to 6400 (and noisier ones two stops higher via the usual HI1 and HI2 settings). A new 51-point AF system runs with the cheetahs (see above picture) at up to 9 fps.

Introduced with the D3 is the D300, a 12mp DX (same size as current Nikon DSLRs) DSLR that essentially offers pretty much the same features as the D3, only in a smaller, lighter, less expensive body (that, by the way, was what I was referring to as the big surprise: that a D3 Junior would accompany the D3).

Five new lenses were introduced:

  • 400mm f/2.8G VR AF-S. This is the expected nano-coated update to the existing 400mm. US$8800.
  • 500mm f/4G VR AF-S. This is the expected nano-coated update to the existing 500mm. US$7900.
  • 600mm f/4G VR AF-S. This is the expected nano-coated update to the existing 600mm. US$9500.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S. D3 shooters will find this their primary lens of choice, I think. That little bit of extra focal length at the wide end makes a big difference compared to the classic 28-70mm Nikkor. US$1700.
  • 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S. Surprise, surprise, someone at Nikon still loves us wide angle lovers (though where are the smaller, faster primes?). Personally, I think 14mm is going too wide for 35FF, though perhaps this is supposed to be a crossover lens for both 35FF and APS users (where it would be a 21-36mm equivalent). US$1800.

Since there's a lot of news and very little front page, I've put details and my comments on the following pages:

Fujifilm and Nikon offers
Fujifilm apparently is offering a free HyperUtility HS-V3 software program and the Huey Pro (worth US$240) to US purchasers. I say apparently because it isn't in any of FujifilmUSA's current Web pages, ads, or promotions, but only appears after you've registered your camera, and then only if you note the "Click here to download your S5 Pro Hyper Promotion Redemption Form." If I read things correctly, basically only S5 body-only boxes that were registered within 30 days of purchase count, and you'll be mailed the Huey and HyperUtility after you send your redepmption form in. Talk about convoluted. The promotion ends October 12th, 2007.

Meanwhile, Nikon, too, has a sort-of hidden promotion going with the D200. Basically a US$100 instant savings when you purchase a D200. Curiously, their Web savvy equals Fujifilm's: the Web page is currently broken that describes the deal. If you're buying a D200 at a US dealer before August 31st, be sure to ask about the promotion, maybe they'll tell you more than NikonUSA's Web site ;~).

Software Updates
Capture NX 1.2 was released while I was on break. The new version is a bit speedier opening NEFs, and quite a few "issues" have been resolved.
Extensis Portfolio 8.5 is an update that adds default field values, catalog types, a presets palette, and support for the latest cameras, including the D40x and S5 Pro.
Photo Mechanic 4.5.2 adds D40x and S5 Pro support, gets some new upload and ingest options, and has lots of small features and fixes (NEFs now rotate and crop correctly).

Shipment News of Note
CIPA released updated DSLR sales figures that show greater-than-expected estimated unit growth for 2007 and 2008, and IDC upped their US market digital camera shipment numbers for 2007 (22% unit growth, though very little dollar growth), as well. IDC now ranks Canon as the top seller of all digital cameras in the US with 26% market share, Sony with 18%, Kodak with 12%, and Sanyo suddenly appearing at number 4 with 11%. Nikon's Coolpix lineup continues to weaken, dropping Nikon to single digit overall share for all digital cameras, though DSLR sales are up (see next paragraph). Curiously, Nikon's Coolpix forecast for this fiscal year has just been increased (again), so perhaps there are some breakthrough models about to appear. Even with Nikon's optimistic Coolpix forecast it's unlikely their overall digital camera market share in the US will change much, though.

In Japan Nikon appears to have overtaken Canon as the overall leader in DSLR sales. Several sources point to first-half 2007 sales figures for the Japanese domestic market, with Asahi Shimbun being the most specific: Nikon 47.5%, Canon 36.5% share for the first half of 2007 in Japan. That's almost a complete reversal from two years ago, and appears driven by the success of the D40/D40x (along with continued strength of the D80 and D200). Nikon themselves announced their 40 millionth Nikkor shipped in July 2007. Their lens technology page was updated to reflect this (requires Flash).

July 2007
Another S5 Pro Update
A problem that causes the camera to stop working when the MB-D200 is mounted has been fixed with version 1.08 of the S5 Pro firmware (that's the English version of Fujifilm's cryptic "contact failure is not occurred regularly").

P5000 Takes a Dip
Fantasea continues to support Nikon cameras with their latest underwater housing, this time for the Coolpix P5000 (US$245). Rated to 200 feet (60m), allows use of the standard Fantasea accessories, including flash and conversion lenses.

More Updates
The updates keep on coming (partly because the cameras keep on coming):

  • Adobe Lightroom 1.1: adds D40x and S5 Pro support, multiple computer workflows, Vista compatibility, as well as improvements to noise reduction and sharpening tools.
  • RAW Developer 1.7.0: D40x and S5 Pro support, automatic highlight recovery, modest improvements and bug fixes.

June 2007
Updates
The updates keep on coming (partly because the cameras keep on coming):

  • Nikon Camera Control Pro 1.3.1 for Macs: adds D40x support, fixes PictureProject support issue.
  • Adobe Raw Converter (ACR) 4.1: adds D40x and S5 Pro support, additional controls for sharpening and noise handling. Note: only works with the latest versions of Photoshop (CS3) and Elements (4.01 mac and 5.0 Windows).
  • Stitcher 5.6: Mac universal support, HDR compatibility.
  • Akvis Enhancer 6.0: compatibility with latest Photoshop, user presets savable, minor changes.
  • iView MediaPro is now Microsoft Expression Media. No real change in features, just the expected change in branding.
  • Lightzone 3.0: complete rewrite and refresh (another welcome Lightroom/Aperture-like attempt to handle the photographer's workflow more intelligently) of a little-known but quite powerful conversion and editing package.

The Numbers Don't Lie
Earlier this month I speculated that Nikon's Coolpix expectations in their fiscal forecast were optimistic. We're now starting to get the actual consumer sales numbers for the last quarter of Nikon's fiscal year and, because of Coolpix, Nikon has slipped again to the #7 spot in overall camera sales (they used to be #5, and have been as high as #3). Given that we've had nothing really change in the current quarter, I'll still say Nikon's estimates are off. Way off. Expect summer discounting on Coolpix models.

May 2007
It's Financials Time Again
Nikon's year-end results have been posted, and the news is quite good. One of the key messages is that many aspects of their three-year plan have already been achieved.

For the full fiscal 2007 year versus last, here are the important camera numbers (financial values are in yen):

Item Fiscal 06 Fiscal 07 08 est.
Total Sales 416.6b 449.8b 480b
Operating Income 34.4b 45.7b 48b
DSLR units 1,340,000 2,090,000 2,500,000
Coolpix units 7,110,000 5,920,000 7,500,000
Lenses 2,020,000 2,640,000 3,500,000

We have a whole bunch of things to discuss. First, look at those lens numbers (just completed fiscal year is in blue). Nikon's original 2007 forecast was 2.3m units, so they managed to do much better here than expected (1.74m units came in the last half of the year). Meanwhile, Coolpix sales went the other way. The estimate was 6.5m and they achieved 5.92m, a significant shortfall. Of course, if you've seen the latest Coolpix lineup, you'll know why. Yawn. (Come back to this site in a couple of weeks for my partial solution to the problem.)

Overall, a 10% profit margin is what most well-run businesses can achieve over time, so since Nikon is already there, the real issue for them is to increase sales without changing their cost equations.

For those wondering about regional impacts. The US continues to be the largest market for Nikon Imaging, with 34% of their sales, Europe follows with 32%, Asia and Other is 18%, and Japan is 16%. But Nikon expects Europe to grow (to 35%) and the US to shrink (to 30%) in the coming year. DSLRs and lenses now account for 63% of sales volume for the Imaging Division (up to 66% in the coming year).

But look at those 2008 estimates! The DSLR unit volume seems about what I'd expect (assuming a new model or two during the year). Someone is dreaming about the Coolpix volume, unless there's a whole new lineup of Coolpix that are no longer me-too just around the corner (given that Nikon's estimates are that Coolpix sales will be higher in the FIRST half of the upcoming fiscal year, I'd say no to new Coolpix models fixing the problem--given the values listed above, look for Coolpix rebates and sales). But look at those lens estimates! A 33% increase in lens sales? Yep, the rumor of lots of new lenses must be true (and again, the numbers are front-loaded to the first half of the fiscal year, so they must be coming soon).

Finally, a couple of minor points caught my eye in the press conference: "Expanding Glass Business through new business and withdrawing from non-profitable business," and "Our Aspirations: Meeting needs. Exceeding expectations." Let's see, a D3h and D3x with some new lenses would meet my needs. A usable ISO 1600 and all AF-S/VR lenses, including primes, would exceed my expectations.

D40 Series is(n't) All Wet
Fantasea, maker of relatively low-priced underwater housings, has announced the FD-40X housing (US$1099) for the D40 series. Rated to 200 feet (60m), one year flood insurance and a port for the 18-55mm kit lens are included in the price.

Fujifilm S5 Pro Firmware Update (Again)
Users of the just released S5 Pro get another firmware update, this time to 1.06. This update allows more barcode information to be entered into the EXIF (continuous addition as opposed to overwrite), and the locking of noise reduction, maintenance, date/time, and file tag options. Meanwhile, the HyperUtility raw converter is finally starting to become widely available in the US (about time, the software included with the camera is a cruel joke).

FWIW, my S5 Pro has a defect: it doesn't recognize the third battery pin. This means that I get no battery level on my camera and the meter never goes off, but I can use Nikon D200 batteries in the camera. Defect, or feature? You decide.

Apr 2007
Slow News Month (so far)

  • DXO continues to add new lens modules (85mm f/1.8 and Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 are the latest Nikon relevant ones).
  • FocusFixer and SizeFixer plug-ins got minor updates.
  • A Vista crash bug has been fixed in FocalBlade 1.04b. Same for B/W Styler, now at version 1.01.
  • The Adobe CS3 Creative Suite (and thus Photoshop CS3) is now shipping.
  • Apple Aperture 1.5.3 was introduced (reliability and performance update).

Mar 2007
Fujifilm S5 Pro Firmware Update
Users of the just released S5 Pro were seeing inaccurate white balance when using AI and AI-S lenses and sometimes with flash. Firmware 1.04, released this week, fixes those problems.

Photo Mechanic 4.5
A beta of Photo Mechanic 4.5 has been released. Despite the minor number change, this is a relatively large update in terms of new features. The new five-star rating system is designed to be compatible with Adobe Bridge. Indeed, many of the changes center on PM's ability to properly and reliably handle meta data, including EXIF, IPTC, manufacturer's tags, and special items such as the star ratings. Other key new features include the ability to control the formatting of Web Gallery creations via Ruby (a programming language), and the ability to plot a photo via Google maps.

Other Updates
PhotoRescue goes to version 3.0, with support for new cameras and Intel Mac support.
Mac users should note that OS-X 10.4.9 contains the necessary files for Aperture and other products to correctly interpret D40 raw files.

The D40 was a Fraternal Twin
Nikon surprised a few people this week with the announcement of a D40 twin, the D40x. The differences between the two cameras are few. Basically, the D40x uses the 10mp sensor from the D80 instead of the 6mp sensor the D40 inherited from the D50/D70/D100. Thus, the D40x has 10mp, supports ISO 100, gets an additional setting in Auto ISO, and can shoot at 3fps instead of 2.5fps. Other than that it is identical to the D40. The D40x will be available as body only (US$729) or as a kit with the 18-55mm II (US$799) starting on March 22. The original D40 (6mp) will remain in production and continues to be the low-end Nikon DSLR.

The 55-200mm DX Stops Shaking
As expected and predicted months ago, the underrated 55-200mm Nikkor gets an update. Correction from previous: this is a new optical design as well as adding VR. Also, it sells for US$249 now, a US$50 price increase.

Nikon View Leaves Pro Tour
Nikon has announced that Nikon View Pro has been cancelled. The curious line in the news release says "We decided to suspend the release based upon our judgment that the new software's performance would not be optimal for the new environment. We are currently developing a new generation of image management and browsing software for download from our website, and plan to begin offering this before the end of 2007." Hmm. Is that a Vista/IntelMac problem, a Lightroom/Aperture reaction, or just an acknowledgement that even products like Photo Mechanic leave View in the rear-view mirror? I'll predict that we'll get a Nik-derived solution.

PMA-related News
AKVIS Retoucher 2.5 was released, adding Visa compatibility.
Microsoft (formerly iView) MediaPro 3.1.3 was released, now supporting D40 and D80 as well as fixing a few problems.
Tamron has announced a 28-300 f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD IF Macro (wow, and I thought Nikon was the acronym leader). The VC is for Vibration Compensation; in other words, this is a VR-type lens.
Light Crafts announced version 2.2.1 of Lightzone (supports D40, has new features).

Feb 2007
Meet the New Coolpix
As expected, Nikon has introduced a number of new Coolpix models. To stay competitive in the digicam world, it seems, requires almost yearly offerings to the consumer gods. Overall, the group is mostly a keep-up-with-the-Joneses bunch: VR, higher ISO sensitivities, and consumer-friendly technology such as face-priority autofocus are ubiquitous. The most interesting of the bunch is the 10mp P5000, which now anchors the top of the Coolpix line. But once again Nikon seems to have missed quite a few necessary bits: no raw mode, the wide end of the zoom isn't good enough, and the zoom function itself is poorly placed for a serious shooter. It does have an optical finder, though. But we do get a new Coolpix logo to make up for what's missing:

Here's a summary of the basics on the new Coolpix models:

Model Sensor Lens Other
P5000 10mp 36-126mm f/2.7-5.3 2.5" LCD, Manual settings, accessory lenses (WC-E67 and TC-E3ED), VR lens, i-TTL and hot shoe
S200 7.1mp 38-114mm f/3.1-5.9 2.5" LCD, Digital signal VR
S50 7.1mp 38-114mm f/3.3-4.2 3" LCD, VR
S50C 7.1mp 38-114mm f/3.3-4.2 3" LCD, VR, WiFi
S500 7.1mp 35-105mm f2.8-4.7 2.5" LCD, VR lens
L10 5mp 37-112mm f/2.8-5.2 2" LCD, AA batteries
L11 6mp 37-112mm f/2.8-5.2 2.4" LCD, AA batteries
L12 7.1mp 35-105mm f/2.8-4.7 2.5" LCD, VR lens, AA batteries

The D80 Takes a Dive
Fantasea has released the FD-80 underwater housing for the Nikon D80. This housing has a rating to 200 feet (60m), includes free flood insurance for a year, and comes with a standard lens port for the 18-70mm Nikkor. The viewfinder eyepiece features a built-in optical magnification. Flash support is provided through a standard 5-pin Nikonos-style connection, and TTL can be done using an SB-800 in an FSB-800 underwater housing. Price is US$1099. A D40 version will be available shortly.

Other News
The B&W Styler Photoshop Plug-in for Mac has been released.
Adobe Lightroom 1.0 has shipped, and the Adobe Raw Converter for Photoshop has been updated to version 3.7 (D40 support).


Capture NX 1.1
Nikon Capture has been updated to version 1.1. A long list of changes have been made, with the big ones that many users have been waiting for being Intel support on the Mac and Vista support on PCs. A number of complaints users made on the original version, such as critical dialogs and windows being un-resizable, have been addressed, as have a few other user interface lapses. A large number of bugs have been fixed, as well. I recommend this update for ALL Capture NX users. From the linked page, above, choose the 1.1 updater for Windows or Mac, as appropriate.

Camera Control 1.3
Nikon Camera Control Pro has been updated to version 1.3. Again, Intel support for the Mac and Vista support for the PC are featured, though it should be noted that D1 series users are not supported if they are using Vista or Intel Macs. This, of course, is one of the things I've been ranting about for some time: Nikon has a history of not carrying forward software support for out-of-production models, which makes me worry again about things like white balance encryption. When the next OS comes along are we going to lose SDK support for the D2 series because it is no longer made? I hate to sound like a broken record, but Nikon is once again sending wrong signals to its pro users. Seriously wrong signals. Also added to this version of Camera Control Pro are D40, D80, and firmware 2.0 support for D2 series users.

Other News
ImageIngester Pro has been released (camera-to-Mac downloading).
Fantasea's FS9 underwater housing for the Coolpix S9 has been released.


It's Financials Time Again
Nikon's third fiscal quarter results have been posted, and the news is continued good. Yes, stepper sales have improved, which helps the overall bottom line a lot because even small increases in unit sales volume there bring large increases to the company's overall profits.

But the Imaging Products division is the bigger part of the company now, and it too is showing improvements from what were already pretty good results. For the first three quarters of this year versus last, here are the important camera numbers (financial values are in yen):

Item 3Qs 2006 3Qs 2007 Increase
Total Sales 314.1b 343.2b 9.3%
Operating Income 29.5b 39.5b 33.9%
DSLR units 1,030,000 1,430,000 38.8%
Coolpix units 5,450,000 4,660,000 -14.5%

Short interpretation: rapid increase of DSLR sales pushed up operating income, decrease in Coolpix sales meant total sales didn't do as well.

The thing to watch in Nikon's forward numbers (estimates for year-end) is for significant changes in unit volume moving forward, as it sometimes presages new product. For example, Nikon sold 570,000 DSLRs in their 3rd quarter and now expect to sell 620,000 in the 4th. That number could be read two ways: current volume will stay about the same and another new DSLR will sneak into the end of the quarter to increase volume; or: the D40, D80, and D200 are doing so well that they'll continue to pick up some volume during this quarter. The Coolpix numbers are more revealing: 1,260,000 units in the 3rd quarter just closed but 1,840,000 units in the 4th quarter we're in? That means new Coolpix models are right around the corner.

Firmware Updates for D40 and D80
Nikon has announced firmware updates for both recently introduced cameras. The D40 updates to version 1.10 (mostly small fixes of things that weren't consistent with other Nikon bodies, plus the addition of support for Vista's MTP protocol), the D80 updates to version 1.01 (bug fixes plus improved NR processing). Click here, select your camera, click on Firmware Updates, and pick Mac or Windows version. (Hint to NikonUSA, who's currently surveying customers about Internet site changes: one good change would be to produce simpler URLs for such things, as the current ones don't survive some email and browsers intact. And what does "set" mean when "body only" follows immediately after?)

Lightroom Turns On
February 18th is the target date for Adobe Lightroom 1.0 shipments, with US$199 being the introductory price (US$299 after April 1st). A new version of Camera Raw (ACR 3.7) will appear on that date, as well. Lightroom public beta uses will find their versions are no longer valid after 2/28/2007, so will have to make the decision whether to purchase or abandon.

One interesting bit in the release version: it has Capture NX like "control points" (called Targeted Adjustment Tool in Lightroom) that weren't in any of the public betas (a few other new features have popped up, as well).

More Software Updates
Catching up with the latest software updates:

  • DXO 4.1 (raw converter and image optimizer). D40 support, three additional Nikkors supported.

Jan 2007
More Software Updates
Catching up with the latest software updates:

  • Bibble 4.9.5 (raw converter). New plugins (B&W, Skin correction, Color adjustment, etc.) and D40 support.
  • Raw Developer 1.6.2 (raw converter for Mac). Minor improvements and fixes.
  • Lightzone 2.1 (raw converter). Minor improvements and fixes.


What, No Predictions?
Looking at the long list of things I need to get done to keep the faithful happy (thanks for your continued support, by the way), I've decided not to do a full prediction article this year. The short version for Nikon afficonados only:

  • A D3h (as early as PMA, as late as summer). Expect a big surprise with the next generation pro Nikon body. Big surprise. Big. (Did I say "big"?).
  • A D65 (probably another December surprise). Yes, there's room and need for a tweener consumer camera, especially once the D50 and D70s supplies vanish. The big question: is it a D40 with an enhanced feature set, or a D80 with a reduced feature set? I'd say the former is more likely.
  • A D200s (probably announced with the D65). A minor tweak, with the D80/D40/D65/D3 firmware changes/additions and perhaps a slight hardware modification, such as in-body VR.
  • The big question: will the D3x be announced in 2007? I'm guessing yes, though it may not ship in 2007. Too many prototypes were floating around last year for it to be far off.
  • D300 rumors start: okay, I'm starting them ;~). The thing that'll start being talked about is that this is a 35FF camera, not APS. But the talk is way premature. It won't appear in 2007, and probably not announced until Photokina 2008 (thus the interim D200s update; and it'll stay in the lineup past the D300 intro).
  • Yes, the 400mm f/2.8 finally gets VR.
  • Another DX lens appears: 35-135mm f/2.8 or something similar (e.g. 50-150mm, or 50-135mm). (Please, not a 55-200mm VR.)
  • Several 35FF lenses are announced, surprise, surprise. I'm betting we'll see five or six lens announcements this year, total (up from the usual three).
  • The Fujifilm S5 Pro isn't their only DSLR in the stable by year's end. And I don't mean just an S5 UVIR (though that will appear, too).
  • It's not too difficult to predict a slew of Coolpix announcements. The question is, what's new? VR across the board, perhaps. A return towards making the lens relevant. Lots of WiFi. Most of the lineup will still be blah and me-too, though. But the Coolpix gurus will introduce one modest and pleasant surprise at the high end (please, not an S11!).

Remember, I try to be provocative with predictions, not necessarily accurate. Any relationship to actual products developed and announced by Nikon and Fujifilm is coincidental.

More Software Updates
Catching up with the software updates that have appeared over the holidays:

  • Raw Developer 1.6.1 (Mac converter). New noise reduction functions, lens info added, new camera support (D40), performance and bug fixes.
  • Silverfast 6.5. Addition of auto frame detect, multi-exposure support, gamma optimization; improvements to Negafix.
  • Silkypix Developer Studio 3.0.3. Added D40 support, minor updates and fixes.
  • dpMagic 1.0.4.3. Added new camera support, improved color reproduction, minor fixes.
  • Siticher 5.5.2. Improved fisheye stitching, export to Flash and Java.
  • DCF Full Spectrum RGB. Larger preview, improved color palette and controls. This is a major improvement to a product I recommended in my last newsletter.
  • Lightzone 2.0.6. Crop improvements and bug fixes.

 

 
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