Rocky Mountain High – Canadian Style

My wife, Tanya, and I recently vacationed in the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. We settled on this location after reading a variety of reviews and looking over some stunning photos of the many attractions and wildlife. We planned a series of activities that would take us to some of the most scenic, historical, and cultural locations, provide some challenging hiking expeditions, and enable us to take a “few” photographs along the way. After receiving a new Nikon D800 (review), which I tested thoroughly, I was eager to put it to work in the field. Most of the photos in this article were taken with the D800, although some were shot with my infrared D90 (converted by Lifepixel.com). For those of you reading this on an RSS feed, you may want to consider linking to the main Mansurovs site, as there are quite a few photos associated with this post.

From Calgary To Canmore

We flew into the Calgary airport, and after renting a car, began the 74 mile drive from the Calgary Airport to the town of Canmore. This trip is an interesting study in transitions. Near Calgary, everything seems to be under construction. Bulldozers, heavy earth movers, building cranes, and construction signs dot the landscape in every direction. The terrain is pretty flat apart from a gentle mountainside slope on the western side of the city. Off in the distance, we could see some purplish mountains but didn’t have a good sense of their scale. 25 miles or so outside of Calgary, the scenery changes quite a bit. Green rolling hillsides of farm land become the dominant theme, with the familiar golden yellow hay bales lining the bright green fields. The purplish mountains have risen in stature quite a bit and we quickly realize that they are far different than those we left behind in western Pennsylvania. We also unfortunately discover that there are few exits for gas or food!

At the 50 mile mark, the landscape is changing quite a bit. Those little purple mountains seem to grow larger by the minute. Green fir trees that seem to have been cloned, now begin to populate the landscape like huge blades of grass. At the 60 mile mark, we are at the base of the mountains. The term “majestic” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in describing what we now see. The mountain peaks require you to edge closer to the car window and strain your neck in order to see them. Even in August, we can identify snow patches that never completely melt.

The road begins to roll gently as we wind toward the valley between the mountain peaks. The number of signs warning you about the local wildlife population increase, and based on the fences that line the woods along the road, we suspect that the signs are not to be taken lightly. We had taken 3 exits hoping to find a restaurant or gas station only to conclude that the notion of modern facilities next within 25 miles of the exit is a mirage. We begin to imagine that grizzly bears and wolves have posted these exit signs to lure gullible travelers, low on gas and food, off the main highway where the animals can leisurely dine on them.

Within 5 miles of Canmore, we are deep into the mountains that seem be growing larger before our eyes. I am constantly trying to keep my eyes on the road as the rocky towers on both sides of the road continue to command my attention. By now, we are seriously wondering if we have been transported to another planet, since it couldn’t possibly be part of the one which we came from. Soon we arrived at the Falcon Crest Lodge, which proved to be the excellent “base camp” for our adventures.

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Introduction to Infrared Photography

Infrared, or “IR” photography, offers photographers of all abilities and budgets the opportunity to explore a new world – the world of the unseen. Why “unseen”? Because our eyes literally cannot see IR light, as it lies just beyond what is classified as the “visible” spectrum – that which human eyesight can detect. When we take photographs using infrared-equipped film or cameras, we are exposed to the world that can often look very different from that we are accustomed to seeing. Colors, textures, leaves and plants, human skin, and all other manner of objects can reflect IR light in unique and interesting ways, ones that cannot be mimicked with tools such as Photoshop (yes – there are limits to what Photoshop can do!). Like any form of photography or art however, it is a matter of taste. I would strongly urge people to explore the world of IR. As the number of cameras-equipped devices proliferates and the associated technologies improve, IR photography may offer the opportunity for photographers to expand into new arenas and differentiate their offerings from those of others.

Barboursville Vineyards

1) Terminology

For purposes of this article, I will refer to the infrared light spectrum as “near infrared”, or simply, “IR”. Near infrared refers to the spectrum of light just beyond the range humans can detect with their eyesight. This light range is between 700 – 1200 nm (nanometers). Another aspect of the IR spectrum, above near IR, is associated with thermal imaging. Thermal technology was popularized by movies such as, “Patriot Games” and other thrillers, whereby intelligence agencies or military personnel were able to detect villains by measuring their body heat under nighttime conditions. Today’s common digital camera sensors are not able to detect thermal images. Under the right circumstances however, digital cameras can do an excellent job of recording IR.

2) History Of Infrared Photography

The first forays into IR photography, using special film plates, began in the early part of the 20th century. During WWI, IR photography proved extremely valuable, as images using the IR spectrum were not affected as much by atmospheric haze as normal photos. IR images were also able to show stark distinctions between vegetation and buildings, better identifying potential enemy targets such as camouflaged munitions factories and other key sites. Rivers, streams, lakes, and other waterways were depicted in a very dark hue, making them much more obvious.

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Nikon D7000 vs D90

Ever since Nikon released the new Nikon D7000, I have been getting a lot of emails from people who are asking if they should go with the D7000 or with the older Nikon D90 that has been dropping in price. To make it easier for our readers, I decided to post a quick comparison between the two in this “Nikon D7000 vs D90” article.

Nikon D7000

The new Nikon D7000 is a new generation DSLR that sits between D90 and D300s, which can be classified as an “semi-professional DSLR”. It features a brand new sensor from Nikon, which has been specifically engineered for the Nikon D7000 and possibly other upcoming cameras. The Nikon D7000 is the second camera announced this year by Nikon with the new Expeed II processor, allowing faster image and video processing up to 1080p (the previous Expeed processor could not handle more than 720p video).

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Nikon D90 SDXC Compatibility

Now that the high-capacity SDXC cards are available (with up to 2TB in total size), some Nikon D90 owners might be looking at purchasing 64GB+ SDXC cards for additional/expanded storage.

SanDisk 64GB Ultra SDXC Memory

The bad news, is that the Nikon D90 currently does not support the SDXC memory. Since the physical interface between SDHC and SDXC cards is the same, Nikon might be able to support SDXC in D90 by releasing a firmware update that can read the SD 3.0 specification. However, based on the history (specifically, the Nikon D50 + SDHC compatibility problem), Nikon probably will not address this problem and only provide support for the SDXC format on the upcoming Nikon D90 update that will be released next year.

As of today, only 64GB versions of the SDXC cards are available for sale by major retailers. Higher capacity cards with up to 2TB in size and up to 300MB/second transfer rate will be released by various manufacturers in the future.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX Lens

I recently borrowed a Nikon D90 with a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX lens from a good friend to perform some tests of this combo at home. The weather has been bad for photography lately and I really have not had a chance to take the camera and the lens out to do some real shooting. A couple of days ago, Lola decided to try it out for her food photography while she was preparing my favorite baked pear salad and cooking a new chicken soup with eggs.

While I was shamelessly playing the Prince of Persia game on Wii (I do not even want to mention how many hours I wasted playing it), as soon as she took the first picture, she said “wow!”. Then she took a couple of more pictures and said “I love this lens! It is great for food photography”. I stopped playing for a second to take a look at what she was raving about on the camera LCD.

As soon as I looked at the magnified picture on the LCD, I said “wow” myself. The picture was tack sharp, image quality and contrast were outstanding. Here is the shot of the baked pear recipe that Lola just posted in her recipe blog:

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX Sample

I highly recommend opening the above image in full size and looking at the details of the shot.

We fell in love with this combo right away…what a great lens, what a great camera!

First Nikon DSLR and Lens

Recently, I have been asked by my readers to suggest what Nikon DLSR camera and lens to get for someone who is switching over from a point and shoot camera. Since I spent a considerable amount of time responding to the emails, I decided to write a quick post on what DSLR and lenses I suggest to buy.

1) For a budget below $1,000 USD, I recommend buying the Nikon D3100 camera with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens. The Nikon D3100 DSLR is a great DSLR to begin your photography journey and its image quality is outstanding. The 18-55mm kit lens will cover the wide-angles and will give you the zoom flexibility, while the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX lens is a very inexpensive (only $200), sharp lens that will deliver great results when shooting portraits and in low light.

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How to Change Aperture on Nikon D80 and D90

This is a very quick tip on how to change aperture on Nikon D80 and D90 DSLR cameras.

How to change aperture on Nikon D80 and Nikon D90 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 top screen of the camera with the lens mounted, 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 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G VR nor the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens have the aperture ring.
  2. Set your camera on “Aperture Priority” mode by rotating the dial on the top of the camera to “A” position. In Aperture Priority mode, you set the lens aperture manually, while the camera picks the right Shutter Speed for you.
  3. Nikon D90 Top
  4. Rotate the front dial of the camera located under the camera shutter release 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.

By the way, you can also change the camera to “Manual” or “M” mode on the camera dial to change the lens aperture. However, you will then have to manually choose the camera shutter speed and you will need to have a good understanding on how to photograph in manual mode and how to use the built-in light meter of the camera.

Nikon D5000 vs D90

Nikon has just announced the new Nikon D5000, so I decided to post a quick comparison between the Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90 in this “Nikon D5000 vs D90” article.

Nikon D90

The new Nikon D5000 is a new generation DSLR that sits between D60 and D90, which can be classified as an “upper-entry-level DSLR”. It features exactly the same sensor that is found in Nikon D90 and Nikon D300/D300s, which is much different than the D60 that hosts a smaller resolution 10mp sensor. The Nikon D5000 is also the first Nikon DSLR that has a tilt and swivel LCD, which is supposed to be helpful for capturing video and images at different angles.

Here are some differences between Nikon D5000 and D90:

  1. D90 has a top-mounted information display that provides useful information such as shutter speed, aperture, etc., and D5000 does not have this feature. It is unfortunate, because the top display is very useful and I personally use it all the time.
  2. Unlike D90, D5000 does not have a “flash commander” mode, which means that you cannot control remote flashes like SB-600/Sb-900. This is a problem for those who have a single external flash, since you cannot use it in a remote mode and would need at least two flashes or a flash+SU-800 commander for off-camera flash.
  3. D5000 has an added “Airflow Control System”, which is supposed to keep the dust out every time the shutter snaps.
  4. D5000 has no internal focus motor, which means that older lenses (such as Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-D) without the focus motor on the lens will not work. This is not a big problem, as most newer lenses have an internal motor. But if you do own a really old Nikon lens, this might be a problem for you.
  5. D5000 is a little slower than D90 – it can capture 4 frames per second, while D90 can capture 4.5 frames per second (not a big difference).
  6. Viewfinder type and magnification on D90 is much better compared to D5000 (D90 has a “pentaprism” viewfinder with 0.94x magnification, whereas D5000 has a “pentamirror” viewfinder with only 0.78x magnification). For those who use manual focus lenses, this might present a problem, as you would not be able to see as clearly inside the D5000 viewfinder.
  7. The LCD monitor on the back of the D90 is better than on D5000. D90 has a full 3.0″ LCD with 920,000 pixels, whereas D5000 has a 2.7″ LCD with 230,000 pixels.
  8. D5000 has a larger buffer compared to D90, since it can record up to 63 JPEG and 11 RAW images in continuous mode, compared to 25 JPEG and 7 RAW images in Nikon D90.
  9. D5000 is a smaller camera that measures 127 x 104 x 80 mm, whereas D90 is 132 x 103 x 77 mm. It is also lighter than D90 (560g vs 620g).
  10. There is a new “Q” (Quiet Release Mode) in D5000 that is absent in D90.
  11. D5000 allows 8 programmable buttons for the function button, whereas D90 has 10.
  12. There are 23 custom functions in D5000 vs 41 in D90.
  13. You cannot get a vertical grip for D5000, while you can get an MB-D80 grip for D-90.
  14. D90 has “EN-EL3e” type batteries, whereas D5000 has “EN-EL9a”.

Here comes the big question: would I recommend D5000 over D90? If your budget is small and you do not have the need to use the “flash commander” mode for off-camera flash, then I would say absolutely! When it comes to image quality, both cameras produce exactly the same quality images, so the only differences are in features. D90 is definitely a more robust camera that stands above D5000 both in terms of features and price, but if you need a camera for family portraits and occasional landscape photography, then the D5000 would deliver the same quality images as the D90. I wish that D5000 had a top display like the D90 since I use it a lot, but I could see the same information on the back LCD of the camera by pressing a button, so it is not a big deal.

Nikon D5000 is currently selling for approximately $650 for body only, whereas the D90 is selling for $900, so there is about a $250 difference. If you do not need the extra features above, get the D5000 and invest in better quality lenses instead!

Nikon D300 vs D90 high ISO noise comparison

I decided not to do another feature comparison of Nikon D300 vs D90 like I did in the D300 vs D80 review. Just type “D300 vs D90” in Google and you will find a lot of good articles on feature comparisons.

What I will concentrate on, however, is the high ISO noise comparison in a low-light environment. I ran two quick tests – one with an external flash and one without. Both tests are performed on a sturdy tripod, with timed exposure to prevent camera vibrations. Both Nikon D300 and Nikon D90 were set exactly the same way, shot in manual mode with Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G at f/5.6. Exposures were exactly the same in both cameras, depending on ISO value. Shot both in RAW (Active D-Lighting off, High ISO NR Normal), then imported into Lightroom, cropped and exported with “Camera Standard” camera profile. The rest of the data is available via EXIF on the files to those who are interested in technical details.

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Video in the new Nikon D90

All neat features in digital photography start off in point and shoot (P&S) cameras as an experiment. Whoever comes up with the idea first, gets to sell more P&S cameras (which, by the way, largely outweigh DSLR sales) because people love more usable features. Once the feature is solid and becomes a standard, it then gets introduced into the semi-professional market, eventually becoming a standard feature in professional cameras.

Being able to record video or viewing the scene in “live view” mode is not anything new – it has been done for years by pretty much all semi-advanced P&S cameras. However, the story with SLR cameras has been different, since the light does not fall directly on the sensor – it gets mirrored into the viewfinder. Because of the way SLR cameras work, there were two major limitations: first, whatever comes through the lens needs to be on the sensor continuously and second, SLR sensors are much more sensitive to light. Once the challenge of keeping the shutter open and capturing the image in live view mode was overcome, most DSLR manufacturers started introducing it in their cameras. As of today, live view is now becoming a standard feature in most consumer, semi-professional and professional equipment.

On August 27, 2008, Nikon introduced the new Nikon D90 DSLR camera. Nikon was the first DSLR manufacturer that incorporated HD video recording into an amateur DSLR camera. This revolutionary move is going to trigger all other competitors to work on this feature, which in a couple of years will become a standard. The early version of video recording is very limited (time limits, no autofocus, mono sound), but wait 18-24 months and you will be amazed by the developments. I cannot wait for a moment when I can use a long lens and capture wildlife in action in full 1080p HD, wirelessly transmitting the video directly into my laptop and use ultra wide, fisheye and lensbabies types of lenses for cool video effects! I hope that within the next two to three years, besides all other new innovations, most DSLR cameras will be equipped with video capability, GPS and WiFi :)