Nikon D3s Review

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Just a few days before Nikon D4 is announced at CES, I decided to write a review of the Nikon D3s DSLR that I have been shooting with for the past two plus years. I have been putting off writing the review for a while now, because I wanted to first review all the gear that I have been testing lately, while the gear I use every day for my photography has been just sitting at the end of my long “to-do” list. The Nikon D3s has received numerous awards, including “best product / camera” from various reputable organizations and websites. And it did for a reason – its image quality, high ISO performance, superb autofocus, fast speed and rich features make it a phenomenal camera – truly one of the best cameras in the world.

Nikon D3s

I clearly remember the day I ordered the D3s. For a while we were quite happy with our two cameras – the Nikon D700 and the D300. I would normally shoot with the D700 and Lola was doing most of her work, including food photography, with the D300. As Lola started to shoot more weddings and events, I was often left with the D300. After a short while, neither Lola nor I wanted the D300 anymore. Yup, we both got spoiled by the full-frame sensor. Realizing that we would eventually fully move to full-frame, I got rid of all DX lenses by then and using lenses like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G or the standard Nikon 50mm f/1.4G on DX just did not feel right. By then, Lola was already in love with the Nikon D700 + 50mm f/1.4 combo and she would simply refuse to use the D300 with the 50mm lens. With her wedding work and my passion for nature photography, it was clear that we did not need another DX camera. That’s when Nikon announced the D3s. After seeing image samples and camera specifications, it did not take long before both of us realized that we needed it for our work.

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Nikon D700 Review

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While the photography community is impatiently waiting for a Nikon D700 replacement announcement, I decided to write a review of the Nikon D700 DSLR that I have been shooting with for the past three years. Not sure why it took me so long to write a review of my favorite camera…I guess I focused so much on reviewing new lenses and cameras, that the gear I use every day for my photography has been just sitting at the end of my long “to-do” list. Within the next few weeks I am planning to temporarily reverse the list, start from the bottom and write about other gear that I currently use and used in the past and share my subjective opinion about it.

Nikon D700

As you might have already seen on “Our Gear” page, I call the Nikon D700 “the best camera in the world”. Now before rotten tomatoes start flying my way from Canon, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Leica, Phase One, Hasselblad, Mamiya and other brand fans out there, let me state that this is my opinion that is solely based on my needs. Let me explain. Yes, there are superb Nikon cameras with many more pixels and speed, and there are $40K cameras out there that can shoot 200 Megapixel frames. But when I look at a camera, I weigh in what is important for me first, then pay close attention to the overall price to performance ratio, instead of focusing on a particular feature. The Nikon D700 does not have many megapixels, or high speed, or high dynamic range or movie recording capabilities. In fact, if you look at its bare specs and compare it to all other cameras on the market today, it would probably fall into the “average” category.


Click here to download the above photograph in a large wallpaper format (2560×1600).

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Nikon Quality Control Issues

Like any manufactured product, Nikon’s products are also prone to quality assurance / quality control issues. While Nikon has a very extensive and comprehensive quality control process, some defective products can slip through and make it to the market. Other times, the pressure to increase the production output on Nikon’s manufacturing plants is so high, that the initial shipments of a newly introduced product can be defective or could have other problems not discovered during the initial testing of the product. Unless the defect is of physical nature, the latter is typically addressed through firmware updates later, which Nikon is pretty good about.

Nikon D700 Rubber Issue

Nikon D700 Rubber Issue

In this article, I would like to point out some of the recent quality control issues I have seen in Nikon products. Specifically, on the latest generation DSLRs like Nikon D700/D5100 and some of the newer lenses, like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. Why am I doing this? Because first, I want to make our readers aware of potential QA (Quality Assurance) issues they might encounter and second, I want to provide some information on how to react to such problems. Please bear in mind that the purpose of this article is not to scare existing or potential Nikon customers. In fact, every manufacturer, including Canon and Sony occasionally have issues with defective parts and products, so this article could apply to other brands as well.

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Nikon D5100 Review

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This is an in-depth review of the Nikon D5100 DSLR, based on my two month experience with the camera. Marketed as an upper-entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D5100 is a major upgrade to the older Nikon D5000. It has a larger and a more enhanced swivel LCD screen and the same remarkable sensor as the semi-professional Nikon D7000. In addition to the above changes, the Nikon D5100 also lost some weight, making it lighter and more compact than the Nikon D5000. In this review, I will provide a detailed analysis of the Nikon D5100 and compare it against the Nikon D3100, D5000, D90 and the current Nikon D7000 DSLRs.

Nikon D5100

1) Nikon D5100 Specifications

Main Features:

  1. High Resolution 16.2 MP DX-format CMOS sensor
  2. 4 frames per second continuous shooting for up to 100 JPEG images
  3. 420-pixel RGB sensor
  4. Pentamirror Optical Viewfinder with approx. 95% frame coverage and approx. 0.78x magnification
  5. Single SD Card Slot with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory card compatibility
  6. Built-in Speedlight flash with i-TTL support and up to 1/200 sync speed
  7. Full 1080p HD Movie capability and external stereo microphone jack (up to 20 minutes of recording time)
  8. Dynamic ISO range from 100 to 6400 expandable to 25,600 (Hi2)
  9. 11-point AF System with one center cross-type sensor
  10. 3 Inch, 921,000-dot Super-Density articulated LCD Monitor with 170 degree viewing
  11. Compact EN-EL14 Battery (660+ shots)
  12. Built-in HDMI Connection
  13. Active D-Lighting for enhancing details in shadows and highlights
  14. 16 different scene modes
  15. Special effects such as Selective Color, Miniature Effect, Night Vision and Silhouette can be used both for stills and video
  16. In-camera HDR processing with 2 shots, up to 3 EV apart
  17. Up to 1/4000 sec shutter speed
  18. Exposure Compensation ±5 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV
  19. Exposure Bracketing 3 frames ±2 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 steps
  20. Only 560 grams of weight (body only)

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AjRichard – Beware of buying gear from unauthorized sellers

I recently witnessed how a friend of mine got robbed by an online camera store called AjRichard based out of New York, USA when he purchased a Canon 5D Mark II. The camera was out of stock for a few weeks in every single local and online store he trusted and he could not wait any longer. That’s when he decided to expand his search and see if he could find an Internet store that had the 5D MKII in stock. He eventually ended up on looking at a list of merchants with “in stock” indicators. The top sellers all had very high ratings and he noticed that some of the sellers were advertising the 5D MKII at lower than the $2,500 “normal” rate that everybody else sells for. The top result was and with over 1,000 reviews, 5 star rating and a “Trusted Seller” status, he decided to take the plunge and order the camera at just $2,350 – a really good deal he thought he was getting. The sad part is, he felt something was not right while making the purchase and still did it, thinking that his credit card company would protect him in case something went wrong. Next day, he got a call from AjRichard sales rep, who told him that camera battery and charger were not included in the $2,350 price and convinced him to buy those, along with some accessories he did not need. The order went up to $2,629 and he was promised free three day shipping. He needed the camera ASAP, so he agreed to complete the transaction and paid in full. Here is what his order looked like:

AjRichard Order

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Shooting a wedding with an entry-level DSLR

I recently received an email from one of our readers about photographing weddings with an entry-level DSLR (Nikon D3000) and an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. The request was to help out in understanding how to photograph weddings, figuring out the right camera settings and proper posing. Without much thinking, I responded to the query by saying that he/she should not photograph the wedding and perhaps leave the task to someone who knows what equipment to use and more importantly, how to use it. I never got a follow up email after that, but I have been thinking about the email ever since. I then remembered watching this video a while ago:

It is a funny video and even if it might be totally made up, it brings up a heated debate over the type of equipment wedding photographers should and should not use. I know that I am opening up a can of worms here, but here is my personal take on the subject – please let me know what you think.

Yes, most modern DSLR cameras are great and even the cheapest entry-level DSLRs today are equipped with a better image sensor than the most expensive cameras from a few years ago. As I have said it in some of my posts like Nikon vs Canon vs Sony, a camera is just a tool. However, there are certain factors that have a direct impact on images, such as lenses and the skill of the photographer. So, the camera is only a part of the equation here. Can cheap cameras create great photographs? Absolutely. Just like expensive cameras that can produce bad photographs.

So why did I tell the reader not to photograph the wedding with the D3000 and a kit lens? Because he/she had no idea how to use it.

When I get asked what to recommend for wedding photography, my response is always to get the best lenses first, and then worry about the camera. Lenses are far more important than cameras. A cheap zoom lens cannot do what a 50mm prime can. If you want to create beautiful images for your clients that you can showcase for your business, get the best glass you can afford. And as for the camera, if you can afford a full-frame camera, go for something like Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mark II or Sony A900. If budget is an issue, get a cropped-sensor camera like Nikon D7000. This is assuming that you already have a camera and know what you are doing. But don’t go out and shoot weddings with an entry-level DSLR if you are serious about your business. After-all, your gear is also the face of your company and business. Unless you are doing this for fun or just helping out a friend.

Nikon D3100 vs D5100

Now that the Nikon D5100 is announced, many first time buyers will be wondering which one to get – the Nikon D3100 or the Nikon D5100. I decided to put together a quick comparison between the two cameras in this “Nikon D3100 vs D5100” article to hopefully make it easier for our readers to decide which DSLR to go with.

Nikon D3100 vs Nikon D5100

The new Nikon D5100 is an update to the existing Nikon D5000 line which was introduced in 2009 as an “upper-entry-level DSLR”. Sitting above the Nikon D3100 camera, the Nikon D5100 comes with more features and a better sensor technology to attract current entry-level DSLR owners that want to upgrade and potential customers that want to invest in a more advanced DSLR. Both DSLRs have the new Expeed II processor from Nikon, which allows faster image and video processing up to 1080p (the previous Expeed processor could not handle more than 720p video).

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How to Clean SLR Camera Lenses

When it comes to cleaning SLR camera lenses, photographers use different methods that work for them. In this article, I will show you my way to clean DSLR camera lenses. I often get emails and comments from our readers, who ask to provide detailed information on this process, so I am including a detailed article along with an accompanying video to thoroughly explain the process. Cleaning lenses is a fairly straightforward process and is almost risk-free, as long as you are using proper tools for the job. If you are impatient and want to see the video where I show the entire process of cleaning a lens, skip all the way down. I hope you find the below article and video useful.

1) Why Clean Camera Lens?

Besides the obvious answer “because it is dirty”, keeping your lenses clean will ensure that you get the best and highest quality results from using your gear. During a Photo Walks that I led a couple of years ago, a novice approached me with a question about his camera. He told me that his images look cloudy and he had no idea why it was happening. I asked if I could take a look at his camera to see if I could find anything wrong with it. As soon as I opened the front lens cap, I knew exactly what the problem was. The front element of the lens was very dirty and had oily fingerprints and other stuff all over the place. I showed him the lens and asked if he knew about the problem. He told me that he had a toddler that likes his camera too much and apparently, that’s how the lens ended up getting all the stuff on it. He did not know how to clean the lens properly and after spending so much money on the camera gear, he was too scared to clean it himself. Gladly, I always carry my cleaning kit with me, so I took a picture before and then another after cleaning the lens. We compared the images and as expected, the first one indeed looked cloudy, while the second one was clear and sharp. This is one example of how dust, dirt and oil can affect your images.

Another important reason to clean your camera lens is keep your images free of particles that might show up in background highlights and other parts of the image. Take a look at my earlier post on “the effect of dust on lens bokeh” – you will see, that dust on the rear element of your lens will show up in your images, especially if you have large specks of dust there.

Dust is a normal part of a photographer’s life. While it is a good idea to prevent dust from landing on your gear, whether you like it or not, you will eventually end up in a dusty environment some day. So, it is not a matter of how, but when. If you see a beautiful sunset on a windy and dusty day, are you not going to take a picture? Some photographers say things like “do not get your gear dirty in first place”, which I consider to be a ridiculous statement. I would never want to miss an opportunity for a good picture, just because I wanted to keep my gear clean. Every time I go to places like Sand Dunes, I know beforehand that it is most likely going to be windy. Take a look at this shot:

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Nikon AE-L / AF-L Button

Whether you are using an entry-level DSLR like Nikon D3100 or a top of the line DSLR like Nikon D3x, there is a special button on the back of your camera labeled “AE-L / AF-L” that can be quite useful in many situations. After I wrote the Autofocus Modes article, I received several requests from our readers, asking me to explain what the AE-L / AF-L button does, when it should be used and how it can be combined with different autofocus modes. In this article, I will try to go through this button in depth and explain how I personally use it on my cameras.

Nikon D3100 AE-L AF-L Button

1) AutoExposure-Lock / AutoFocus-Lock

The AE-L / AF-L button stands for “AutoExposure-Lock and AutoFocus-Lock” and its primary function is to lock camera exposure and/or focus. What does this exactly mean? If you are using any of the camera modes like Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or other scene modes, the button could be used to force the camera to use a certain value for shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance. Since in any of the automatic modes the camera uses its metering sensor to determine the optimal exposure, instead of having your camera re-evaluate the light every time you recompose, you could lock the exposure to a value you are comfortable with – hence the term “AutoExposure-Lock”. There are many cases where using this feature is very helpful. One example is when you photograph panoramas. It is extremely important to use exactly the same exposure from frame to frame in panoramic photography. If one exposure differs from another, it is practically impossible for panoramic software to stitch images together in a consistent, continuous form. Another good example is if you are photographing a subject with a constantly changing background and you want to expose the subject exactly the same way from shot to shot. Basically, any time consistency of exposure is required and you do not want to switch to a full manual mode, the AE-L button can be very useful.

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Nikon D5100 DSLR Announcement

On April 5, 2011, Nikon launched the Nikon D5100 DSLR, an expected replacement for the Nikon D5000 that was introduced first in April of 2009. As a upper-entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D5100 stands above entry-level Nikon D3100 and below the semi-professional Nikon D90 and D7000 cameras. The changes from Nikon D5000 are significant – not only does the D5100 get the much improved 16.2 MP sensor from the excellent Nikon D7000, but it also comes with a side-articulated 3 inch swivel LCD with 920,000 pixels (the Nikon D5000 had a bottom-articulated 2.7 inch swivel LCD with only 230,000 pixels), full 1080p HD video recording and a completely redesigned camera body.

Nikon D5100

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