Interview with Norman Koren of Imatest

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit Norman Koren, founder of Imatest, LLC. I have been fascinated by his software for a while now and after evaluating the software, decided to purchase it to use in our lens reviews. When I found out that his company is right here in Boulder, Colorado (where I lived for over 5 years), I gave him a call and asked if I could come over and interview him. Despite his busy and hectic schedule, he was able to accommodate me for an hour during his lunch time. Below is the text version of the interview.

Nasim: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to visit your office and learn more about you and your company. Let’s get started with your background, your company and how it all started.

Norman: You are most welcome Nasim. I grew up in Rochester, NY, about a mile from the George Eastman House, which I visited frequently. Both the technical and artistic exhibits made a deep impression on me—it was there that I first saw the beautiful prints of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I had a long career in magnetic recording technology, where my job involved simulating the performance of read, write, signal processing and detection in disk and tape drives. It started back in 1967 at Honeywell in Boston. I then worked for a number of companies including, curiously enough, Kodak in San Diego. Kodak at the time— we are talking 1985— believed that very small tape drives would be used in digital cameras. Well, it didn’t turn out to be a winning technology, but I had an interesting 12 years there. At the same time, I’ve always been a passionate photographer.

Norman Koren

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Nikon DSLR Firmware Recommendations

When Nikon releases a new generation DSLR camera, it seems to often make little changes to the camera firmware. We typically see slight tweaks here and there, but every once in a while (especially when a new piece of technology makes it into the camera) we see some new interesting and useful features getting added into the camera firmware. In this article, I would like to point out current firmware issues that I believe Nikon needs to address, along with some recommendations (wishlist) on what Nikon should do in their future cameras. Or, perhaps Nikon might consider to implement some of the below firmware fixes/recommendations on current DSLRs – I am sure many of the Nikon owners would get excited about some of these requests.

Nikon DSLR Firmware Recommendations

1) Add DNG Support

As a Nikon shooter, you already know how painful it can be to constantly keep updating post-processing software, image codecs and photo viewing programs every time Nikon releases a new camera. Upgrading a camera should be easy and we as consumers should not have to go through this process every time. DNG has already become a universal format and companies like Hasselblad, Leica, Pentax and Samsung have already adopted it. Why not do the same? I am not asking Nikon to abandon its NEF file format. Just give us a choice to pick either NEF or DNG please!

2) Allow AF Fine Tune Calibration of Each Focus Point

Thanks to the recent Nikon D800 Asymmetric Focus fiasco, we now know that each autofocus point is calibrated at the factory during the QA process. We also know that Nikon keeps the ability to tune these AF focus points to their own calibration software. Why not add this capability to every advanced Nikon DSLR where AF fine tune is already provided? Sure, this seems like a headache to implement and could result in a some improperly calibrated cameras out there (due to user error). But for those of us who know what they are doing when it comes to lens and camera calibration, why not give this capability? Nikon would save a lot of money on not having to re-calibrate so many cameras. Adding this feature, of course, would not be an excuse for improperly calibrating cameras, but it would certainly make the AF Fine Tune feature way more useful.

3) Allow AF Fine Tune Calibration for Different Focal Lengths

Those of us that have attempted to calibrate zoom lenses know that one AF Fine Tune value is often not good enough for the whole zoom range. The AF Fine Tune feature would be a lot more useful if we had the ability to use different AF Fine Tune settings depending on the focal length of the lens.

4) Live View at 100% Pixel Level Should be Standard

Nikon’s implementation of Live View on the Nikon D90 was terrible, due to its interpolated output. Since then, Nikon has made many new cameras that had a 100% pixel view, which was very useful in obtaining precise focus on subjects. With the D800, Nikon brought an interpolated live view back (which is one of my biggest complaints on the D800). Nikon should fix this as soon as possible on the D800 and make 100% pixel level live view a standard on all future cameras.

5) Fix Custom Settings Banks

The Custom Settings Banks implementation on Nikon DSLRs is bad and completely impractical. I personally do not bother using them on any of my cameras, because I do not have the time to either switch them in multiple places (Shooting Bank and Custom Settings Bank), or constantly review the settings to make sure that they have not changed. First of all, memory banks should apply to all camera menu items. Second, these settings need to be “lockable”, meaning if anything gets changed, the setting should not get overwritten unless I want it to.

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The Internet’s Influence On Photography – Part II

Continued from Part I…

5) Out With The Old And In With The… Old!

I find it amusing to observe that long after a technology has been declared dead, it will magically reappear after nostalgic longing causes some to reintroduce it in some form. When I first got back into photography in 2007, I came across a fellow Pittsburgher who had concocted an interesting homemade device consisting of a heavy duty cardboard tube attached to an old, beat up Kodak Duaflex TLR (twin lens reflex) camera, which was quite popular in the 50s and 60s. He attached it to one of Canon’s top DSLR and lens combos. The resulting images were grainy, heavily vignetted, filled with a variety of textures produced by the old scratched lenses, and sported a rough black border. Of course, my first thought was, “So… you bought a high end Canon DSLR and some of the best lenses in order to take pictures while focusing through a 50 year old camera bought at a yard sale for $12?” Just when we thought all those yard sale Kodak TLRs were headed for the scrap heap, thousands of photographers brought them back to life by putting them in front of some of the best DSLRs and lenses of the world. All this to take retro looking photos, which they describe as “edgy.”

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The Internet’s Influence On Photography – Part I

The digital camera revolution, in conjunction with the explosive growth of the internet has had profound changes on photography. Some changes have been dramatic, while others have been more subtle. In times of revolutionary technological changes, it is important to adjust your perspective to the new realities and contemplate just how far we have come. I will put the second part of this article online shortly.

1) Printing & Pioneers – A Little Perspective

If you asked to see someone’s family photos years ago, they would often reach for their wallet or purse, and proudly show you 2X3 photos stored in plastic coverings. Today when you ask the same question, people will almost always reach for their smartphones, and either pull up pictures stored on their mini SD cards or quickly navigate to a website such as flickr. Low cost digital picture frames have also become quite popular, enabling people with little in the way of technical know-how to store hundreds or thousands of photos on an LCD in an attractive picture frame, which cycle through every few seconds.

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How to Quickly Test Your DSLR for Autofocus Issues

Below is the easiest and quickest way to test if your DSLR has an autofocus issue, along with a recommendation on what to do if there is a problem. This test can be used to detect front focus or back focus issues with a particular lens or a camera body. I will be using the Nikon D800E as a reference camera for this article, but any modern DSLR with Live View capability can be used for the same test (even entry-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D3200 have a Live View mode). Why would you want to test your camera for autofocus issues? Because if your camera or your lenses are defective or have a calibration problem, then you will not be able to obtain critically sharp images.

1) What You Will Need

For this test, you will need the following:

  1. Any DSLR with Live View mode capability such as the Nikon D7000.
  2. At least one lens, but preferably 2-3 lenses if you want to isolate the problem to the camera or your lenses.
  3. A good stable tripod.
  4. A flat vertical surface in a very brightly lit area. For example, your garage door or a wall inside your home that is adjacent to a very large window will do fine.
  5. Print out either this Siemens Star Focus Chart or this Focus Test Chart on regular letter size paper. You can print it on a laser printer or inkjet (doesn’t really matter). Make sure to print on regular paper, not anything glossy like photo paper.
  6. Scotch tape or some other adhesive material to keep the focus chart on the wall.

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Nikon DSLR Autofocus Problems

The last two weeks have been very busy for me. I am working on multiple reviews of Canon, Nikon and Fuji lenses and you will be seeing many lens reviews coming up this summer. At the same time, I have been shooting with the Nikon D3200, D4 and D800E DSLR cameras, so I will be sharing my thoughts on these fairly soon as well. One question that keeps popping up over and over again from our readers, revolves around the autofocus problems on Nikon DSLRs. Specifically, these questions are on front focus/back focus problems with lenses, the left AF focus point issue found on some Nikon D800 bodies, use of 2x teleconverters with the new Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX (on D4 and D800/D800E), etc. Since there is a lot to cover, I will be publishing articles on each topic with my findings and thoughts I have thus far.

Nikon D4 vs D800

As with any product that is manufactured, there is always a chance that it is defective. I am finding Nikon’s QA (quality assurance) controls to be rather weak lately, especially given the fact that it is manufacturing such fine tools as the Nikon D800 with lots of resolution. Yes, Nikon has had a wonderful year so far with so many great announcements and phenomenal products, but it almost seems like it is rushing its products from the manufacturing plants too quickly, without properly testing all equipment before it is sent out. As a result, we are seeing many defective DSLR cameras with lenses. I have been shooting with Nikon gear for the last 6 years and this is the first time I am seeing really badly calibrated DSLRs (D800E and D4), along with some pro lenses. I can understand when there is a problem with an entry-level camera and a kit lens, but it is unacceptable for Nikon to ship faulty professional equipment that is worth thousands of dollars.

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Nikon D600 Release Imminent

I have just received a link to a Chinese forum, where pictures of the upcoming Nikon D600 have been posted. These pictures look very real to me, so looks like the Nikon D600 will be released soon for sure. In addition, Nikon has just released two lenses, one of which (the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR) is specifically designed to be a cheap full-frame lens. I don’t think it would really suit the Nikon D800′s demanding sensor in terms of performance. Here are the pics of the D600 from the forum:

Nikon D600 - Image 1

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Nikon D400 Announcement This Fall?

I am getting some information from our readers about a potential Nikon D400 announcement this fall (during Photokina in September, shipping in October). I was not going to post anything when I first got some speculative information about the D400, but when the same person that sent me some details earlier this year on the D800 (which turned out to be 100% true) confirmed the D400 specs, I decided to post what I have regarding the upcoming DSLR. I am still a little skeptical about some of this, since it could contradict the potential announcement of the Nikon D600 that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. If Nikon does indeed release the D600 at a ~$1,500 price point, it would have to severely handicap many of its features, if the below specifications turn out to be true. Otherwise, Nikon will have a hard time selling the D400 in my opinion. Nikon is apparently already working on D400 production in its Sendai plant in Japan.

Nikon D400

Here is a summary of the Nikon D400 specifications that I have received from multiple sources:

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The Future of Digital Cameras

Ever since I got a taste of some of the latest compact cameras from Fuji, Sony and Nikon, I have been thinking more and more about where we are headed in terms of cameras and lenses. What is the future of digital cameras and where will we be in 5 or even 10 years? This question came up in my conversation with a fellow photographer, so after discussing this topic for a little while, I decided to put some of my thoughts together and come up with what I think the future of digital cameras will be like.

Mirrorless vs DSLR

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Is Nikon D600 on the Horizon?

So far this year has been pretty hectic for Nikon. With three excellent DSLR camera bodies (Nikon D4, Nikon D800 and Nikon D3200), two superb lenses (Nikon 85mm f/1.8G and Nikon 28mm f/1.8G) and some accessories announced, it is hard to imagine that Nikon might introduce more DSLR cameras in 2012. While Nikon D5100, D7000 and D300s are all due for an update, our friends at Nikon Rumors are already receiving some early rumors about the possibility of a new budget full-frame (FX) DSLR from Nikon that will be supposedly announced later this year with the new “Nikon D600″ name.

Nikon D600

The key word here is budget – the Nikon D600 will apparently be marketed as a low-end FX camera at a very low price point. Currently, the cheapest DSLR from Nikon is the Nikon D700, which has a price tag of $2,199 USD (MSRP) and the new D800 sells for $2,999 USD (MSRP). The rumored Nikon D600 will have a very low price point, maybe as low as $1,500. Interestingly, this all goes back to some early rumors about the Nikon D400 (D300s replacement) being a full-frame camera. Could it be that Nikon will discontinue the professional DX line completely and replace it with FX? It is hard to tell at this time, but judging on Nikon’s history of replacing the D90 with a more advanced D7000, I would not exclude that possibility. So far I have been projecting that Nikon would continue the development of its pro DX line with a D400 DX, but if a budget FX camera comes out at the same or lower price point as the D300s, then forget about the D400 DX.

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