How to Spot Dust on Your DSLR Sensor

Are you getting frustrated with seeing small dark spots in your images that seem to show up in every image? If you see them consistently in the same location (the size and darkness of the spots can vary depending on aperture), you are most likely dealing with dust particles on your camera’s sensor. In this short article, I will show you a quick and easy way to identify sensor dust when shooting outdoors.

What is sensor dust?

If you own a DSLR, you will at some point have to deal with sensor dust, whether you like it or not. Dust is a normal fact of life and it is all around us, even at our homes that we try to keep clean at all times. The dust lands on both the lens and the camera body and due to the “breathing” mechanism of the lens while zooming in/out and focusing, the small dust particles end up getting sucked into the camera body. All lenses breathe one way or another or else the internal elements would not be able to move for autofocus and zoom functions. If you use more than one lens, the dust might be able to get into the camera body during the process of changing lenses.

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Nikon DSLR Error Messages

An error message showing up on a camera is no fun and it can get frustrating when it happens. All modern Nikon DSLRs such as Nikon D3000, D5000, D40/D40x, D60, D80, D90, D200, D300/D300s, D700, D3, D3s and D3x display specific error messages when certain problems occur, to guide photographers in troubleshooting and fixing the problem. In this short article, I will go through each of the error codes and explain what needs to be done to get the problem resolved.

Blinking “Err” message

When you see a blinking “Err” message on the back or top LCD, it means that there is some sort of camera malfunction. It does not necessarily mean that the camera is bad though. This error shows up fairly frequently on new Nikon DSLR cameras that have oily contacts from the manufacturing process, which you can easily take care of yourself. All you need to do is dismount your lens, then use a clean cloth to clean contacts both on the lens and DSLR. If you want to find out how to do it in details, check out my “How to fix blinking ERR error on new Nikon DSLR cameras” article.

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How to fix blinking “Err” error on new Nikon DSLR cameras

So you got yourself a brand new DSLR and after using it for a little while got the dreaded “Err” error on your camera LCD? Fear not, your camera might not damaged and there might be no need to return it back to Nikon, as they suggest in most camera manuals.

The reason why this error comes up, is because your camera is not properly communicating with your lens due to some dirt and grease both on camera and lens contacts. The solution is pretty simple – all you have to do is dismount your lens and clean the lens contacts, then clean camera contacts and mount the lens back on the camera and see what happens. Sounds too complicated? Are you afraid to damage your camera and/or lens? Then keep reading, because I will show you exactly what needs to be done.

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Last Chance to Save on Nikon DSLR & Lens

Nikon’s DSLR & Lens rebates are ending tomorrow (May 1st, 2010), so today is your last chance to save some serious cash if you buy a Nikon D300s or Nikon D700 with any of the following Nikkor lenses: Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G DX, Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR, Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon 24-120 f/3.5-5.6G VR.

Note that the new and excellent Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR is also included in the deal!

The heavy discount is between $250 and $400, depending on the combination and they will give you another $100 off if you purchase a Nikon SB-900 flash. Nikon rarely runs rebates like this, so grab your Nikon DSLR + lens if you haven’t done it already.

Click here to see the semi-updated list of rebates. You can see the full list of rebates on B&H website, once you click the “View Available Kits” button under a DSLR.

How to Update Firmware on Nikon DSLR

One of the areas within the camera that rarely ever gets touched, is the camera software, also known as “firmware”. Most modern electronic gadgets provide the ability to update their firmware by downloading fixes and updates through manufacturers’ websites and applying those updates on the devices. The firmware updates not only provide important fixes for identified bugs, but also provide brand new features that were absent when the device was shipped from the manufacturer. This ability to be able to update and run the latest version of firmware has become a standard among DLSR manufacturers, allowing end users to run the latest and greatest firmware on their cameras.

If you have never updated firmware on your Nikon DSLR or have not performed an update for a long time, you might want to check if new firmware is available for your camera. Some photographers argue that they do not feel the need to touch camera firmware, since they do not have any problems with their cameras and everything seems to be functioning properly. I personally feel otherwise – why not to run the latest and greatest camera software? And why would you resist adding more functions to your camera, especially if those functions are available to you at no charge? If you agree with me, then you should check what firmware you are running today and what firmware is currently available from Nikon.

In some cases, it is best to wait for at least 2-3 weeks after a brand new firmware update is released, to make sure that it does not come with unexpected bugs and problems. Although Nikon has a very good history and reputation when it comes to firmware releases, it does not necessarily mean that bad things won’t happen in the future.

1) Check current Firmware Version

Checking the firmware version on Nikon DSLR is very easy – just press the “Menu” button, the go to “Firmware Version” under “Setup”. You should see something like this (image courtesy of Nikon):

Nikon D300 Firmware Version

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How to Choose and Buy a Tripod for a DSLR Camera

Choosing a tripod can be an overwhelming experience, given how many different types and choices we are presented with. On one hand, a tripod is a very simple tool to keep our cameras steady when we use them in challenging light conditions. On the other hand, there are so many different variables that come into play when choosing a tripod: How tall should it be? How light should it be? How stable should it be? What kind of weight can it support? How much should I spend on a tripod? These are just some of the questions that might come up as you look into buying a new tripod.

Manfrotto Tripod

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How to Change Aperture on Nikon D3000 and D5000

I get a lot of questions around changing aperture on Nikon D3000 and D5000 cameras and why aperture sometimes changes automatically on some lenses. This is a very quick tip on how to change aperture on both D3000 and D5000 (the top view is identical for both).

How to change aperture on Nikon D3000 and Nikon D5000 cameras

  1. Make sure that your lens aperture can be changed through the camera. If you are using an older lens with an aperture ring, make sure to set the aperture on the lens to the largest number. There should be a lock on the lens to keep it at that number. If you are getting an error on the back LCD of the camera when you press the “Info” button, you should go back and make sure that the aperture ring is set correctly. This is not an issue on most new lenses and the latest generation of the Nikon lenses labeled with a “G” do not have this ring at all. For example, neither the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR nor the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX lens have the aperture ring.
  2. Changing lens aperture in Aperture Priority mode is very easy – just make sure that the dial on top of the camera is set to “A” position, then rotate the rear command dial to the left to decrease the aperture and to the right to increase it. In Aperture Priority mode, you set the lens aperture manually, while the camera picks the right Shutter Speed for you.
  3. Changing lens aperture in Manual mode is a little tricky. First, make sure that the dial on the top of the camera is set to “M” position.
  4. Nikon D3000 top
  5. Next, press and hold the +/- button located right below the camera shutter, then rotate the rear command dial to change aperture. Rotating to the left will decrease the aperture, while rotating to the right will increase the aperture.

When you decrease the aperture, the aperture setting will stop at the maximum aperture the lens allows. For example, on the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens, aperture will stop at f/1.8. There is also a limit on minimum aperture on each lens and you cannot go higher than that limit as well. Typical minimum lens apertures are f/16, f/22 and f/36.

Lens apertures work a little differently on zoom lenses and the minimum/maximum aperture depends on what focal length you are using on the lens. For example, if you are using the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5 lens and you are zoomed out at 18mm, the smallest aperture number you can use is f/3.5. However, if you zoom in to 55mm, the aperture will be limited to f/5.6 and you will not be able to go lower than that. The same principle works on all other variable aperture zoom lenses.

Nikon D700 vs D300s

Many of our readers request detailed information on the difference between the Nikon D700 and Nikon D300/D300s DSLR cameras. They wonder why there is such a big price difference, while the cameras look almost identical and the number of megapixels is the same. In this comparison, I will be providing not only feature differences between these cameras, but also high ISO samples to explain the difference between the different types of sensors used in D700 and D300/D300s.

Nikon D300s vs D700

If you are wondering about the differences between the Nikon D300 and Nikon D300s, I highly recommend to check out my Nikon D300 vs D300s comparison. Basically, Nikon D300s is an update to the Nikon D300 with more features and speed, while the sensor remains identical. The biggest changes are: more frames per second, ability to use both SD and CompactFlash memory cards and video-recording capability up to 720p HD.

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What got you into Photography?

Everybody has a story on why they got into photography and what event contributed to purchasing their first film or digital SLR camera. In my case, the decision was based solely on one picture that my wife sent me via Google Talk while I was at work – the picture of Omar in a cradle swing. When Omar was a few months old, Lola decided to take a picture of Omar on a very old Sony point and shoot camera that I had back from 2002. As with any other point and shoot that I had before then, I never knew anything about taking good pictures – I just pointed at a subject and took a picture without worrying about camera settings, ISO, aperture, shutter speed and other photography lingo that I had no clue about.

Here is the picture that started my journey into photography:

Blurry picture of Omar

I remember the day when I received it. Lola said that Omar started to smile and it was her attempt to capture the moment. It drove me nuts that such a beautiful picture turned out to be so blurry and we both agreed that we desperately needed a professional camera to capture those kinds of moments. Little did we know back then that it was the light and our technique, not the camera, that caused the above image to be blurry :)

Long story short, I came home and after a couple of hours of research, bought our first DSLR – Nikon D80 kit with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

So, what is your story and what got you started in photography?

Nikon D300s vs Canon 50D High ISO Noise Comparison

This article is to primarily show the key differences between the Nikon D300/D300s and Canon 50D and provide information on high ISO performance above ISO 800. While there is a significant difference in both features and price between these cameras, in this Nikon D300s vs Canon 50D comparison, I will primarily focus on low-light performance between these two cameras.

Major differences between the two cameras

  1. Sensor Resolution – Nikon D300/D300s is 12.3 Megapixels (4288 x 2848) while Canon 50D is 15.1 Megapixels (4752 x 3168).
  2. Pixel Pitch – Nikon D300s is 5.49 microns and Canon 50D is 4.7 microns.
  3. Crop factor – All Nikon APS-C (DX) sensors have a crop factor of 1.5x, while all Canon APS-C sensors have a crop factor of 1.6x.
  4. Autofocus focus points – Nikon D300/D300s has the same professional autofocus system as in Nikon D3/D3s/D3x with a total of 51 focus points, while the Canon 50D has a much inferior 9 focus point system.
  5. ISO – Both cameras can handle up to ISO 3200 in native mode. Nikon D300/D300s can be boosted to ISO 6,400, while Canon 50D can go up to ISO 12,800.
  6. Wireless flash master – Nikon D300/D300s has a built-in flash that can be used as a master flash to control other Nikon flashes, while Canon 50D does not have such feature.
  7. Exposure compensation – Most Nikon cameras can handle -5 to +5 EV, while Canon 50D can only handle -2 to +2 EV.
  8. Frames per second – very similar performance between the cameras. Nikon D300 is 6 FPS, Nikon D300s is 7 FPS and Canon 50D is 6.3 FPS. With the MB-D10 battery pack both Nikon D300 and D300s can shoot 8 frames per second.
  9. Movie mode – Nikon D300s can handle 720p video and Canon 50D has no video support.
  10. Viewfinder coverage – 100% on Nikon D300/D300s and 95% on Canon 50D (pentaprism on both).
  11. Weight – Canon 50D is lighter (730g) than Nikon D300/D300s (840g).
  12. Custom Functions – 25 on Canon 50D and 48 on Nikon D300/D300s.
  13. Price – Canon 50D is currently selling for $925 at B&H and Nikon D300s is $1,519.

High ISO Comparison

Let’s move on to high ISO tests for both Nikon D300s and Canon 50D. Here is what I photographed for this test:

Sample

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