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May 2010

Memorial Day USA

As I paused to reflect today, I realized that I’m a lot better off than most everyone at the San Francisco National Cemetary.

Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Each one with a story

This was the first time I had ever taken the time to recognize the date for its meaning, and I’m glad I did. My heartfelt thanks to everyone in the armed services (and those supporting them) in keeping this country safe at great personal cost.

Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Parents should never have to bury their children
Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
A crowd

Every grave had a flag honoring those who served. My understanding was that 53,000 flags were placed

Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Each one with a story
Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Stand together
Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Generations

The way it blurs (bokeh)

In its time the Olympus 50mm f/1.2 was a good lens, but terribly uncorrected for close-up work. I came across this image while going through my archives for a major new project I’m working on, this example goes onto the bokeh page. Not every lens has to be sharp, it can be delightful to make images that play with uncorrected optical properties, a curiousity in today’s world of hyper-corrected lenses.

Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2

These shoes saw a lot of miles in Yosemite, and they were hard to give up, but they finally wore out and went into the trash bin. I ordered a new pair of 5.10 Camp Four shoes for hiking, I hope they serve me as well.

Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2
Canon 5D Mark II + Olympus 50mm f/1.2

Leica M9 highlight posterization and Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH examples

Just published are two new pages in my Guide and Review of the Leica M9

A new page shows how the Leica M9 can posterize highlight detail at ISO 80 (I haven’t confirmed behavior with higher ISOs). Not pretty, and related to the specular highlight behavior. Perhaps both issues are related to its CCD sensor.

I’ve also published a series of examples with the Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, one of Leica’s most exotic (and highest priced) lenses. Thanks to Leica for making this wonderful lens available for review. I expect to shoot it some more, as soon is my M9 is back from getting its rangefinder focusing adjusted.

Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

New RSS feed for MacPerformanceGuide.com

    
RSS feeds

Sister site MacPerformanceGuide.com (especially for photographers), now has its own RSS feed for MacPerformanceGuide.com. Read about how to subscribe to an RSS feed.

I might still publish some Mac-related items here on this blog, but most such things will appear on the MPG Blog page.

MPG is oriented towards photographers, and in spite of its name, much of what is discussed there is also of interest for other computing platforms.

For example, solid state drive performance should be interesting to anyone with a laptop.

Nikon D3s — in stock at Amazon

Golden Gate Bridge (Nikon D3s)
Golden Gate Bridge
(Nikon D3s)

A few days ago I wrote about the difficulty of finding a Nikon D3s in stock.

Today, Amazon has the Nikon D3s in stock as I write this. Get one while you can! Update: all gone!

The D3s is a fabulous camera, as I discuss in my review of the Nikon D3s in DAP.

Highly recommended as the best sensor in any DSLR today.

Lupine Lighting Systems T1200 flashlight — 1200 lumens in a beautiful beam

Lupine T1200 flashlight
Lupine T1200 flashlight

The world’s finest flashlight is now available, the Lupine T1200.

Read my review of the Lupine Lighting Systems T1200 flashlight, offering a blinding 1200 lumens focused in spot-free beam, programmable behavior, multiple brightness levels, and utilizing Lupine’s outstanding charger system from the Betty and Wilma bike lights / headlamps.

The T1200 is appropriate for photographers: it offers near daylight quality for excellent color rendition, and it can be used to “paint” objects at night.

Do filters degrade image quality or do they have no effect?

Do filters degrade image quality or do they have no effect?
Click for more...

Yes.

I just ordered some filters, one to put onto a very fine lens.

Today I was asked (yet again) whether filters degrade image quality. Of course they do, and no they don’t!

Regrettably, I own perhaps 150 filters, accumulated over the years in a dozen sizes and colors and functions, many from film days for color balance reasons. I wish I had my money back for most of them, because I rarely use them any more.

Some popular brands alter color balance in undesirable ways, killing off deep blues (for example). To me, this is unacceptable with today’s fantastic DSLRs, just as it was with film.

From what I have concluded over the years both in general use and with some tests:

  • Buy only the best filters, like B+W MRC (MRC is scratch resistant, a worthwhile feature);
  • Buy only truly neutral UV filters (eg B+W MRC);
  • Some popular brands have “neutral” filters that alter color balance in undesirable ways, killing off deep blues (for example);
  • Keep them spotless;
  • They are needed only for lens protection (specialty filters such as a polarizer are an exception). Sand, dirt, salt spray, heavy pollution, rain, peanut butter fingers, etc.

That’s my take. Skip ’em otherwise, and don’t skimp if you get one.

For more on filters and spectral transmission, read this.

Amazon “best value”

In the slightly humorous mash-up department, Amazon offered me a generous discount yesterday. I didn’t report the obvious problem of buying these together!

Tioga Lake, Yosemite
See a problem with buying these together?

Canon 5D Mark II going in for infrared conversion

My infrared camera sale above reflects the fact that I just sent my Canon 5D Mark II off to maxmax.com to be converted for infrared use. I’ve used my Canon 5D-IR for several years now with outstanding results, but I felt it was time to bump up to Live View and 21 megapixels for higher precision work, especially with my Coastal Optics 60m f/4 UV-VIS-IR APO macro and Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 IR-Distagon. Sample images to follow here after the end of my Yosemite photo tour.

I was a little surprised that 18-month-old design 5D Mark II bodies are still priced at $2499, but with a $100 instant rebate at B&H Photo, the price comes down to $2399 and with free shipping. I’d of course rather have a Nikon D3x-IR, but $7400 is just way too much. Besides, for IR use, I might want to play with video as well as have a smaller and lighter body.

See my Guide to Digital Infrared Photography for more, as well as my free articles.

Tioga Lake, Yosemite
Headed for an infrared conversion

SanDisk 32GB cards for about $150 after rebate

SanDisk 32GB cards for about $150 after rebate
About $150 after rebate

I remember in college that a 5GB hard drive was all the rage!

As I want to start experimenting with video, I’m getting some SanDisk 32GB cards. There is a $70 mail-in rebate for two cards, which brings the price down to about $159 each, with free shipping at B&H. There is a slightly better deal on a two-pack, but that deal was out of stock as I wrote this. There are a variety of good deals out there now.

There is also a faster 90MB/sec Extreme Pro version, but since my Firewire 800 card reader tops out at about 60MB/sec with either card, I don’t see much point to paying double for the Extreme Pro versions unless you’re a thousand frame a day sports shooter. See my December notes on the Extreme Pro.

My advice is not to go scraping around for the last dollar here, I did that once and ended up with counterfeit cards. It’s worth supporting a vendor you can trust.

Yosemite and White Mountains

There is still one space left in my Photo Tour to Yosemite and the White Mountains. Here are a few shots from last year to pique your interest.

With some luck the June 9/10/11 period might offer “ice out day” for Tioga Lake. It will definitely be later than last year’s May 30-31 date. I’ve been there and seen it ice out in 24-hours with a strong warm wind.

Tioga Lake, Yosemite
Tioga Lake, ice-out day, May 30 2009
Infrared false-color, 60MP stitched image, Canon 5D-IR
(just outside Yosemite’s eastern boundary, click for larger image)

Yosemite Nikon D3x
Tenaya Lake at dusk

Nesting ground birds in the White Mountain bristlecone area are well camouflaged. I nearly stepped on these cuties, they are practically invisible! Only the garish orange throat of a hungry hatchling startled me into awareness. High altitude parent birds harvest insects from the snow fields.

White Mountains hatchlings in nest at 12000 feet

White Mountains hatchlings in nest at 12000 feet
Hatchlings at about 10,700' in the White Mountain bristlecone area
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 50/2 Makro-Planar

Match Technical Coder Kit for Leica M9

Just posted in DAP is a discussion of 6-bit lens coding for the Leica M9, and step-by-step how-to instructions for coding a lens with the Match Technical Coder Kit. I’ve also posted a free mini review of the Coder Kit.

Because of the way the Leica M9 uses the 6-bit lens code to modify the RAW file, my experience is that all M lenses should be coded— more than once I’ve had the wrong software corrections applied by failing to set the right code manually (using the M9 menu system). That effect is not undoable, so you must better get it right eg code the lens.

The Match Technical Coder Kit is a no-brainer for Leica M shooters with any uncoded lenses. You might also check out their ergonomic offerings for the M9/M8.

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Coder Kit for Leica M lenses

Recommended eyepiece for Nikon DSLR

Little things can make a difference, see my Recommended Eyepiece page. (I’ve recommended this before, but people keep asking about manual focus).

Recommended eyepiece for Nikon  Recommended eyepiece for Nikon
Nikon DK-17M eyepiece and DK-19 rubber eyepiece

 

Gitzo 1531 tripod — medium size all-arounder

Gitzo 1531 carbon fiber tripod
Gitzo 1531 carbon fiber tripod

I recently reviewed the Gitzo 1531 tripod. It’s a good choice for a lighter (but not too light) setup.

The Gitzo 1531 is a good choice for a compromise between tall and sturdy vs small and lightweight.

The Gitzo 1531 can handle any large DSLR without difficulty, but should not be used for 200mm and longer lenses, it has too much resonance. This is true of all tripods in its range, don’t mess around with a tripod this size for 200mm and longer lenses, though the consumer grade f/3.5 - f/5.6 ones fare much better than the higher quality pro lenses. Take special care with lenses utilizing tripod mounts on the lens; this tends to vibrate much more.

Nikon D3s — effectively unavailable?

A consulting client of mine asked me where to find the Nikon D3s after we settled on it as the best choice for his needs. But after checking B&H Photo, Adorama, Amazon, my local store, and several other vendors, I realized that the D3s is just unavailable. If you know of one at a reputable US dealer, please let me know. THANKS to readers a few small dealers did have them, and problem solved.

Could rumors of an imminent Nikon D3xs be related to the shortage? I don’t give rumors much credence, but September Photokina seems reasonable. The shortage must be due to some kind of production delay.

My review of the Nikon D3s in DAP makes it clear how excellent it is, so if there is a D3xs coming, I’ll be all over it, and my Nikon D3x will be for sale not long after.

MacBook Pro Core i7 anti-glare screen in stock at B&H

There can be some delay in getting a new MacBook Pro with the anti-glare screen from Apple, but B&H Photo has the anti-glare Mac Book Pro Core i7 in stock, and for anyone outside New York that means you won’t be charged sales tax either.

Here’s the exact model I recommend, and even if you don’t have it turned into a killer MPG Pro Laptop, you can upgrade it at OWC to 8GB mem roy (after rebate) for about $259. Add in a fantastic Mercury Extreme SSD (up to 480GB), and it’s killer combo.

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Click to view recommended Mac list

Important: The 17" model has the ExpressCard/34 slot, the 15" does not. That slot is the only way to get fast external storage on the MacBook Pro. A $28 card is all it takes, see my review.

New Mac Performance Guide blog

My new Mac Performance Guide blog went live today. It’s a great way to stay abreast of Macs, Photoshop and performance for photographers.

Bookmark it, or get news and alerts via email, or use RSS or Twitter.

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New Mac Performance Guide blog

Yosemite — plowing Highway 120 for the spring opening

The crew is still working on preparing Highway 120 through Yosemite for the summer season. Highway 120 has been plowed through to Tioga pass, with more road work needed before the road can be opened for the public. You can read the plowing update.

It looks like there will be terrific conditions for my June 9/10/11 photo tour, I’m really excited about getting there in early June while there is still some good snow cover, and lots of water. With 18 days left, conditions should be exhilarating in terms of pleasant conditions, snow cover and racing water, all commingled with the high country scenic vistas.

I had never actually seen how plowing is done up on Highway 120. Not a casual affair, avalanche danger is very real (sadly there was a death not too long ago). There is an interesting video online, apparently filmed in 2005, but same idea.

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Plowing near Olmstead point
Click to view the video

Comparing Leica 24/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH to 24/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH

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Leica 24/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH +
24/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH

Just published in my 50 page Guide and Review of the Leica M9 in DAP is a new page comparing the Leica 24mm f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH to the 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH.

For that matter, anyone looking for compelling insight into field curvature should also read it, since the same ideas apply to many lenses of any brand.

I’ll be adding material on the Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH soon, but my M9 is having its rangefinder focusing checked, so some delay has occurred. Rangefinder focusing and framing is a whole discussion in itself, and that’s in my Guide.

Thanks to B&H Photo for making the 24mm f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH and 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH available for testing. See my handy list of Leica M lenses.

 

 

Global cooling? Local at least.

So here in the San Francisco Bay Area we’ve had the the coldest and wettest May I can remember in 27 years. I wore my wool coat this morning, in the sunlight! Had this month been 10° warmer than usual instead of 10° cooler, the politicians would be calling urgently for more new taxes to save the world from immediate calamity (translation: lining the pockets of themselves and their contributors while damaging the earth even more). I hope it warms up, because the past 3-4 years have been cooler than usual where I live!

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“Bathtub rings” in an esker lake

I know firsthand from “bathtub rings” in enormous eskers in the far north of the Thelon Wilderness that things are changing (permafrost is melting, allowing the 10,000 year old water to drain out). And the glaciers in Yosemite are just piddling ice fields now that the Little Ice Age ended 100 years ago. But the religious hysteria of climate change has got to meet reality while people go jobless here in the US, the richest bankrupt country in the world.

So how does this relate at least tangentially to photography? Well, it means that my June 9/10/11 photo tour will enjoy a rare June opportunity for a goodly amount of lingering snow, and if it warms up, even more water than usual.

Apple Store and iPad = awful experience

I wanted to do one simple thing this morning: get a dictionary and thesaurus onto my iPad. So far, the iPad is a beautifully executed toy with huge potential (for something), but the biggest waste of money I’ve had in the last 10 years in terms of something I can use to help me (I don't have time to play games). And the biggest time waster in terms of getting even basic stuff to work.

Worse, the Apple Store and iTunes are reeking cesspools of confusing unusability, a Times Square neon billboard that gets very old very fast, if one can grok it at all.

My iPad has been repeatedly posting an irritating alert telling me that I don’t have AT&T wireless set up (it's on WiFi). There is no “Don’t harass me again” choice in the alert. I guess AT&T paid them to harass me... 3 cents per harassment message?

So I tried to register the AppleCare rip-off for my iPad today. The first challenge was reading the 5-point type on the AppleCare agreement— apparently Apple thinks all their customers have 20-year-old eyes that can focus 3" from the paper. Very considerate.

The Apple site told me that it couldn't currently process my request. So I called Apple. They said it was already registered. So I went back to the Apple site, and sure enough, it was registered. That was fun wasting 15 minutes of my time.

I’ve had to change my high security password to a crappy low security one because it’s just too tedious to enter it on the iPhone or iPad (mixed case, etc). Effectively if I want to buy apps with either iPhone or iPad, I have to use a low security password.

So earlier I went to get a free app (Dictionary). I click-click-clicked the right stuff, then the final screen teleports back to where I started. No feedback on whether I have the app or not now. Huh? I poke around and find that it's in now my list of apps, but it “needs to be downloaded”. So I figure that out, and it then says my computer is not authorized (no offer to do so, or how to do that). So I dig around in the menus, and then authorize.

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Which dictionary is for which device?!
How do I #!%@ delete eTrade and DailyFinance?!

So now Dictionary shows up, but I can’t tell the iPad app from the iPhone one! There is no obvious way to filter it, and I also have other defunct apps that I can’t figure out how to just goddamn delete (eg ETrade as shown below). No right click to do so, no Edit => Delete. So I sync the iPad, and I still have the tiny iPhone app, not the iPad one I just downloaded. Good job Apple.

iPad told me that my password is wrong even though it's right (are 10 tries enough? I just changed it, and there is no mistake). So did the Apple store. There can’t be a mistake there, since I had copied/pasted it— then the Apple Store finally burped and accepted it (on my Mac). But my iPad insists it’s wrong. And after changing things, the Apple Store made me reconfirm it all over again 10 minutes later (“you changed your info, please confirm it again”). And I was forced to do the credit card entry thing, even though all I wanted to do was to change my password.

Oh, and since I “entered it incorrectly” too many times, I was forced to go and reset my password, the one I just changed. Maybe that’s what Infinite Loop means.

It sure does, because my iPad now says “Your account info has changed. Tap continue to review and confirm the changes”. This repeats in an infinite loop, and I’ve already confirmed eight (8) times! So my iPad is now a brick in terms of downloading even free apps, because any attempt to do so asks me to confirm changes— but never succeeds.

Apple support has been unable to fix this issue (reset prefs, reboot the iPad, etc). The iPad is now a useless brick in terms of apps; it has an infinite loop “Confirm Your Settings”.

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Infinite loop

Is that all? No. After 30 minutes and 10 tries, I cannot buy an app for my daughter’s iPod (and this is on a different computer). At least my Mac Pro works.

Apple's operating assumptions seem to be:

  1. All their customer have one (1) computer per household;
  2. All members of the household share one (1) iTunes account for all their iPhones, iPods and iPads.
  3. No customer wants to use a phone as a... phone.
  4. Everyone likes crappy low-fi compressed music.
  5. Everyone loves the idea of paying for stuff that can’t be used without Apple (eg music).
  6. Everyone wants the same apps on the same devices.

 

Comparing the 2010 Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH to older version

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Click to read comparison

Leica M9 owners might be wondering if the new 2010 Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH is a worthwhile upgrade over the original version.

The announcement of the 2010 Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH also provides a rare opportunity to compare equivalent MTF charts of an older legend to an improved design. The focal length is identical, the measurements follow the same protocol, so it’s the perfect comparison.

To my Guide and Review of the Leica M9, I’ve added an analysis of the older lens to the new 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, which should help anyone considering whether to upgrade.

I look forward to testing the new 35/1.4 'Lux when it appears in ~ July.

diglloydTools and Mac Performance Guide feedback

I receive positive feedback frequently, but I get lazy in posting some of it. This one, about Mac Performance Guide, made me feel good:

When I answered your survey about diglloydTools a few months ago, I made a remark about wishing that I could have gotten diskTester alone, as I felt that the price was a little high for only that tool, and I expected that would be the only tool I used. While it *is* the only tool I have used to this point... I wanted to take back what I said.

First, it's a fantastic tool, second, I did not realize the amount of value in the reports and reviews you do. I know those reports are available to anyone, even if they have not bought one of your software products, but simply having been added to your email list has brought them to my attention. They are tremendously useful. Thanks very much for the reports. I just wanted to let you know that they were read, and really appreciated. — Matthew Cave

I very much appreciate the support of readers that subscribe and/or purchase my software, which is absolutely critical funding for this site and MPG, which are 12 X 7 efforts, and how I now pay my bills. Another win/win effort is using my links to B&H or Amazon. Thank you.

ZeissImages.com photo site

Readers, especially subscribers to my Guide to Zeiss ZF / Zeiss ZE Lenses, might be interested in a new web site featuring images from Zeiss lenses, ZeissImages.com (no affiliation to this site), where you can search for images by a particular lens.

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Photo site ZeissImages.com

Leica announces new 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

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Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH 2010F

Just posted is my take on the new Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, which I deem the 2010F for its floating lens element. The 35mm focal length is the very best first choice ergonomically for the Leica M9, because it offers a generous view that is not too large for the eye to survey.

The 35/1.4 2010F should be available by late July 2010. I expect to have one of the first samples for a full review to be presented in my Guide and Review of the Leica M9 in DAP.

Construction is similar to the 21/1.4 and 24/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH lenses, with the screw-on rectangular lens hood. I’m big fan of the slide on / slide off lens cap, though it's a bit loose and means I’ll probably lose it.

I’m not a fan of the “tabbed” focusing approach of the 35/1.4 and other Leica M lenses (good for quick and coarse focus, but terrible ergonomics for fine focus), I much prefer the ribbed focusing ring of the 21/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, but that’s probably a sacrifice due to the compact size.

eSATA for the MacBook Pro (or Windows/Linux)

Just posted is my review of three ExpressCard/34 eSATA cards for the MacBook Pro. The clear winner is also supported for a variety of other platforms, including Windows and Linux (not tested).

And guess what? The winner requires no driver, is bootable, fits flush with the MacBook Pro case, and is only about $28. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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eSATA performance on the MacBook Pro

Summer 2010 Photo Tours

I’m planning two of my photo tours, see previous descriptions.

The first photo tour is a bit unusual— the Yosemite high country on June 9/10/11 (mid-week avoids tourists). Arrive and meet afternoon of June 9, then full days on June 10/11.

Early June is a interesting time, Highway 120 has to be open and clear by then, but I’m now expecting it to be open by around Memorial Day, hence the delay in announcing. Early June offers an awesome display of melt-water in many areas in the high country, but most of the mosquitoes should not yet be airborne. No flowers, too early. This tour will mean moderate hiking to get to some stunning locations. An optional extension to the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains is available, which demands little in the way of hiking (very convenient, but SUV advised there). In both cases, night-time astrophotography is also a strong possibility should the weather cooperate.

According to Dennis Mattinson who runs the Eastern Sierra Weather Center:

May 19 — the snow plows have reached Tioga Pass with average snow depth at 5 - 7 feet. Still looks good for a memorial Day opening. But, the cooler than normal temps are impeding the spring melt. Onion Valley yesterday, at 9,300 feet, was only 42 degrees in mid day.

May 16 — Right now at least, June 9/10/11 looks safe. We have had a very unusual spring to say the least. Temps running some 10 - 20 degrees below normal. The system today and over the weekend looks to be showery at best, with 2 - 4 inches of snow in the high country expected. Once the Tioga road is cleared, then the NPS still needs to do work before the road opens. Now, I believe that Schulman Groove should be open by memorial day as well. But like I say, we will have to wait and see...

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 21mm f/2.8 Distagon
Spring Melt, late June
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

I’m also planning a photo tour in July 20/21/22/23 timeframe, which is springtime at high elevation, wonderful for the long shooting days and copious wildflowers.

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 21mm f/2.8 Distagon
Spring Melt, late June
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

As with all my photo tours, these are immersion experiences. You will not be putting your tripod into the same holes as the last guy, nor elbowing for position. I limit my tours to an absolute maximum of four people. And while I'm planning on several short photo discussions and instructional, you are free to take a nap or shoot instead. If time allows, we will have a little “lab” time in the evening, but with days so long, and shooting so good, that might not be the preference.

Contact me if interested. Cost will be $995 per person for two full days and one prior night, with a discount for the White Mountains extension.

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 21mm f/2.8 Distagon
High in the White Mountains

MacBook Pro SSD single and RAID vs hard drive

Just published is my revealing report on how a hard disk drive compares to a solid state drive (SSD) with large Photoshop files.

For anyone working with large Photoshop files, you need 8GB memory and a solid state drive like the OWC Mercury Extreme, and your best choice is the MPG Pro Laptop with dual internal SSDs as a RAID-0 stripe (up to 800GB capacity).

Bizzare performance hit if Firewire 800 device is not attached
Bizarre performance hit if Firewire 800 device is not attached

In the process of preparing this report, I discovered a bizarre performance issue: unless a Firewire 800 device is attached, internal SATA performance plummets. Seriously. Click the graph to read more.

Bizzare performance hit if Firewire 800 device is not attached
Bizarre performance hit if Firewire 800 device is not attached
(Dual SSD as RAID-0 stripe)

Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

On loan from Leica I have the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH. I like both lenses already. However, my M9 is showing consistent backfocus with the Noctilux f/0.95 and these two f/1.4 lenses, and might have to go to Leica to be adjusted.

Both brilliance and color of the 24/1.4 and 21/1.4 Summiluxes are superb— they are modern designs that work well on the M9, with great control of vignetting and color shading.

My personal favorite so far is the 21mm f/1.4, because it would make a great complement to a 28mm f/2 (though I own neither). The increased versatility and superbly uniform coverage by f/2.8 make the 21/1.4 a winner (ditto for the 24mm f/1.4). And quality at f/1.4 is very high, provided that you focus it accurately (not easy).

I’ll be reporting on both lenses in detail in my User’s Guide and Review of the Leica M9 once I have focusing issues sorted out.

Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
Spring Stream
Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH @ f/8
Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
A fresh crop of poison oak crawls up an oak tree.
Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH @ f/1.4

Adobe releases Photoshop CS5 plugins

Optional plugins for Photoshop CS5 are now available for download. Details.

Leica M9 with 24mm lenses: f/1.4, f/2.8, f/3.8 ASPH

As part of my ongoing User’s Guide and Review of the Leica M9, I am presently working with all three Leica 24mm lenses: the 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, the 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH, and the 24mm f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH. Each lens is very different, and therefore very interesting, since they also have very different price points. I also have the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH coming for testing.

As Memorial Day approaches in the USA, I feel grateful for being able to live without fear in a country protected by the men and women in the US armed forces. A few of the faithful still visit the fallen to pay their respects, but most of us just head out on vacation, especially regular federal workers, who get paid from my taxes even though I don’t get a paid day off or one-day tax holiday. For that, I am not grateful.

Leica M9 + 24m f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH
Leica M9 + 24m f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH
Leica M9 + 24m f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH
Leica M9 + 24m f/3.8 Elmar-M ASPH

Apple Mac Pro: quad-core @ 3.33GHz or 8-core @ 2.93GHz?

Less can be more.

Just published is my shootout between the quad-core 3.33Ghz Mac Pro and the 8-core 2.93Ghz Mac Pro, which costs $2200 more. That $2200 savings can go a long way towards turning it into an MPG Photo Workstation.

This shootout is especially for photographers, with RAW file processing and Photoshop performance tested and analyzed.

Apple Mac Pro: quad-core @ 3.33GHz or 8-core @ 2.93GHz?
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Nikon 24mm f/1.4G focus shift and color bokeh page

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G review
Nikon D3s + Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G

Just published in DAP is a new page assessing focus shift and color bokeh of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.

Like most lenses, there is a magenta/green color bokeh effect which lends a color cast to the image, with the foreground being dominated by magenta, and the background dominated by green, with magenta fringing (typical).

My review page shows the full aperture series from f/1.4 through f/11 with a mouse-over facility to “zoom” through the range.

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G scarcity thoughts — production suspended?

The Nikon 24/1.4G I’m testing was made available to me by B&H Photo, which I’m really glad for, since they are darn hard to find. When B&H lists an item as “temporarily unavailable”, it means that their buyer cannot get a delivery date. Which is very strange for a newly released lens.

Even though the lens costs about $2200, it’s just not available through the usual sources, a fact I’ve also confirmed also with LensRentals.com, which has been able to obtain only two copies so far.

Has Nikon perhaps temporarily suspended production because of the autofocus issue? That’s just my own wild guess, having no factual basis. But it seems to fit the situation.

It’s disappointing that Nikon is publicly silent on this widespread autofocus problem, the worst I’ve ever seen. Is Nikon aiming to be the Toyota of lenses? My Nikon PR and service contacts have not responded to my email or phone inquiry.

OWC announces new solid state drive capacities

OWC is now taking orders for other capacities of their outstanding Mercury Extreme solid state drives. See my review and my Real World SSD report.

Red and green at the top are the OWC Mercury Extreme. Certain brands... forget it.

I love the Mercury Extreme. It takes a beating and keeps working at top speed, unlike most other brands/models, all of which have crapped out or seriously degraded under my workload. My Mac Pro is now the smoothest and fastest machine I’ve ever used, utilizing dual Extreme Pro SSDs as a RAID-0 stripe for boot and scratch. My 3.33Ghz quad-core Mac Pro has three of them, and no hard drives, and is whisper quiet and superbly responsive.

The new capacities really come in two flavors:

Extreme Pro RE SSD™ — enterprise grade models intended for extreme duty, utilizing 28% “over provisioning” and suitable for RAID striping. Warranteed for RAID use which is assumed to have a brutal usage pattern 24 X 7 X 365. Capacities of 50/100/200/400GB. This is what I currently use.

Extreme Pro SSD™ — robust model with 7% over provisioning. Not warranteed for striped RAID use (though it will work fine). Capacities of 60/120/240/480GB.

In truth these drives are almost the same thing. The most salient difference is the 28% vs 7% over provisioning, with the 28% intended for RAID-0 stripe usage and extreme duty. Most other brands have 0% over provisioning (for some perspective!).

These drives are what you ant in your MPG Pro Laptop or MPG Photo Workstation.

MacBook Pro: 4GB or 8GB? Solid state drive (SSD) or not?

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I’ll soon be publishing a new research article on memory and solid state drives vs hard drives in the new MacBook Pro Core i7— see my review of the MacBook Pro Core i7.

I sent my advance report on the Mac Pro 3.33GHz quad vs 2.93GHz 8-core earlier today to the mailing list. Those who didn’t sign up will have to wait a bit longer for publication in Mac Performance Guide. Sign up for Newsletter + Alerts Do you need 8GB in the MacBook Pro?

The full report explores 4G vs 8GB and hard drive vs single and dual solid state drives.

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G autofocus study published!

Just published in DAP is my study of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G autofocus performance on the Nikon D3x and D3s. Multiple controlled tests as well as ad-hoc examples are presented.

Combined with the survey results, it’s abundantly clear that something isn’t right with the 24/1.4G. Could a recall be in the offing? I don’t see any explanation but “defective”.

I am more impressed with optical quality of the 24mm f/1.4G than ever, especially at f/1.4, but the autofocus is best described as useless, at least with my sample, because it cannot be relied upon to deliver the performance of which the optics are capable.

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G review
Wildly inaccurate focus

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G examples with D3x and D3s, day and night

Just published in DAP are examples in daylight with the Nikon D3x and examples at night with the D3s. Autofocus performance is erratic in both cases.

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G review
Nikon D3s + Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G

Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar vs Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR

Just added to my Guide to Zeiss ZF / ZE Lenses is an in-depth comparison to the Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G VR ED-IF, including full-resolution downloads at f/2 - f/5.6 and vignetting, distortion, and crops. I’ve also added a page discussing close-up considerations with the Zeiss 100/2 Makro-Planar in comparison to the Nikon 105VR.

At 1:1 with Zeiss ZF.2 100mm f/2 Makro-Planr using PN-11 extension tube
At 1:1 with Zeiss ZF.2 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar using PN-11 extension tube

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G autofocus survey results

More survey results have arrived, and I’ve collected them and they are now published in my mini review of the Nikon 24/1.4G (scroll down) in the free articles area.

While a few users are reporting no issues, results might be stopped-down, which masks the issue, and some are using continuous AF, which is of dubious value to objective evaluation. Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF Survey

I am working on my autofocus report, and I plan on posting it later today or Monday.

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G autofocus hugely erratic

Thanks to all the readers who completed the autofocus accuracy survey on the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G. So far 8/9 respondents reported focusing problems of various kinds.

After shooting some controlled tests today, I can say unequivocally that autofocus with the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is the worst I’ve ever encountered with any lens of any focal length of any brand. As I looked over both my controlled trials as well as ad-hoc shots, the phrase came to mind: “you ain’t gonna believe this shit”. And not in the positive sense that phrase can have. But you will believe, once I post my report (soon).

On the plus side, I’m more impressed than ever with the imaging quality at f/1.4, which if anything I’ve under-rated. Problem is, that quality appears only with manual focus (Live View), and in all my ad-hoc test shots, nearly all far focus shots were misfocused.

review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED   review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED
0.1 megapixels anyone?
Manual focus (left), autofocus (right) on Nikon D3s

There are autofocus problems on both the D3x and the D3s, and I observed egregious misfocus at a subject distance of about 20 feet with the D3s, shown above— a high contrast target in sunlight, no easier target than that. I observed problems with distance focus as well So it’s not just a distance issue.

Sometimes autofocus is OK, because even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.

Fine focus adjust? Forget it. Neither +20 nor -20 had any noticeable effect, maybe ±500 might have some effect, but ±20 is the maximum that the D3s/D3x offers.

I’ll be documenting my findings soon in my review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED in DAP. I had planned for some careful testing, but the problems are so severe that the 24/1.4G should be avoided until Nikon fixes the issue. The tried and true manual focus Zeiss ZF.2 21mm f/2.8 Distagon comes to mind, always having satisfied.

Bottom line: even the best optical design is worthless if it cannot be focused reliably. Professionals are taking unacceptable risk if they trust a job to this new Nikon 24mm— don’t even think about using it for a job unless you are certain that your sample focuses accurately and consistently on your camera body or bodies.

The example below is less bad, but still way off, focusing on the grass in the foreground instead of the Golden Gate Bridge, turning a 12 megapixel Nikon D3s into a 2 megapixel camera. The effect is obvious— observe the 4-5 pixel blur circles on highlights. Other than that, I love the “look” of the image.

review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED

review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED
Lovely look, can’t focus worth a damn

Apple Mac Pro: quad-core @ 3.33GHz or 8-core @ 2.93GHz?

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I’ll soon be publishing a fascinating new research article on which is faster for many photographic tasks: an 8-core 2.93GHz Mac Pro with 48GB memory, or a quad-core 3.33GHz Mac Pro with 24GB memory.

Both are high-end machines, but the 8-core 2.93GHz costs $2200 more than the 3.33Ghz quad-core, making the decision “interesting” from a financial standpoint as well.

Which one should you get? A salient question, since that $2200 savings outfits a quad-core Mac Pro with 32GB of memory and a 100GB Mercury Extreme SSD (for a system drive). Or 24GB memory and 8TB of internal storage (those links are purely for your convenience, no commission there).

Except there’s a catch: it’s going out to the mailing list first, specifically the “MPG Mac Performance Guide” interest list. Publication in Mac Performance Guide will follow sometime later. The mailing list is low-volume and opt-in. Use any email address you like.

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Nikon 24mm f/1.4G focus accuracy issues

I’ve now had a second reader note a focus problem with the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, a problem I first noted in my review.

I am planning to look into this and provide an analysis of my findings on the D3x and D3s.

Anrej Korenc reports the following:

First let me say I'm a big fan of you as a photography gear reviewer and your DAP content, a truly worthwhile read.

I'm an NPS member and got the 24/1.4G Nikkor (S/N 20028xx) for a week to try it out. I won't write about the good stuff, because we seem to agree on most accounts, so let me just write a few words on AF with this lens.

I used it on my D3 body and noticed it's erratic AF in the first minutes I started shooting with it; sometimes it was off just a bit, sometimes a few centimeters, sometimes even half the distance from the camera to the subject. But always in front of it, it always front-focused and the "AF fine tune" settings didn't help in any way. If I'd take five shots of the same subject, rarely two were focused at the same spot. Most of the focusing was done using the center AF sensor in AF-S mode.
The bottom line is, I got only about 20-30% keepers - It's AF performance was just totally off, never seen anything like it.

So I decided to try it on another D3 body. Guess what - same story! And on the third D3, then on the 4th ... and one D300 and one D90 which one of the colleagues brought with his D3 - same story. It's performance was not equally bad on all bodies, but it was unacceptable on all of them.

A day before I returned it I tried it on the remaining 3 of the Current Nikon's FX line; D700, D3x and D3s. What I found out, is very interesting. While I got about 70-80% (or at least twice as much as with D3) keepers with D700 and D3x, the lens focused practically 100% dead-on with the D3s - it was a dream-like experience, very impressive. In short - the younger the camera, the better this Nikkor behaved in AF terms.

Keep up the good work!

Nikon 24mm f/1.4G awful focus accuracy issues MORE

I’ve now had a THIRD reader report of a focus problem with the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, a problem I first noted in my review. I am looking into this, and I will provide an analysis of my findings on the D3x and D3s. Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF Survey

If you have the new 24mm f/1.4G, please take the above short survey. I’ll try to see if there is a common thread among camera bodies or focus mode and/or distance.

But four instances (mine plus 3 others) shows that something is very, very wrong with the new Nikon 24mm f/1.4G focusing. Caution advised until Nikon sorts this out.

David Hill reports the following:

My first copy of the lens, tested on two different D3s bodies, had frequent erratic focusing errors, essentially indicating a false focus that was way, way off. Particularly when attempting a landscape focus on anything further out than 10 feet, it would frequently focus on the foreground, or perhaps half way to the subject, when something near infinity was intended. Occasionally it would hit perfect focus on a distant landscape, and when it did the results were amazing, but it did not hit often enough to be useful in the manner that a professional wants to employ such a lens.

Also, it had issues being consistent on up close targets, but to a lesser degree. Its inconsistency fell into the type of pattern which cannot be addressed by an AF Fine Tune offset, and I'm sure you know what I mean by that without me having to elaborate. I posted some of my crops to DPReview, where you may have seen them. My issue is essentially very similar to that described in the reader report that you posted from Anrej today. One difference I would note is that mine would sometimes focus behind a near target, despite the near target filling the single AF point by three times the point's width. It was essentially just bad, and I was very disappointed.

Coincidentally, the problem I had with this lens was basically the same problem that I have been having with the 50/1.4G, except that the 24 is more extreme, by far the worst AF Nikkor I have owned. In fact, I hate to say "worst," because all my other AF Nikkors work great (after calibration or replacement in some cases, though). This has caused me some concern as to the future of Nikon's evolving G prime lineup.

 

Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 and 25/2.8 vs Nikon 24/1.4G comparison

Just published in my Guide to Zeiss ZF / ZE Lenses is a three way comparison between the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon, Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Distagon, and Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.

The comparison includes distortion, a vignetting series, and of course sharpness. As a critical comparison, I double-shot this comparison on two different days with multiple aperture series per lens each time, a hassle, but worthwhile given the high performance of the lenses. All three lenses are very high performers, and so such a comparison is much harder than when comparing dissimilar lenses.

Obviously, my comparison did not use autofocus (such comparisons never do as it cannot be trusted). See below for more on AF with the 24/1.4G.

While I won’t be publishing this particular comparison in DAP, there will definitely be additional material on the Nikon 24/1.4G in my review of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.

Automating Photoshop CS5 “warm up”

For those suffering from slow Photoshop CS5 performance (Mac), I’ve created some “warm up” scripts that automate eliminating this pesky performance problem. Any diglloydTools customer may download the scripts, as they are now part of my software offering.

Scripts to warmup Photoshop CS5

As an aside, I’ve been hitting a Photoshop CS5 “hang” bug now every few hours— the program just hangs with a stack crawl indicating some kind of version check call. Another reason to run CS4 and CS5 together until the bugs are sorted out.

Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED review — more coming

review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED
Click to view at B&H Photo

My review of the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED was published about 2 weeks ago, but it remains an active interest.

I continue to be impressed with the 24/1.4G, and I’m so glad we didn’t get the usual VR nonsense (a net loss in my view), and instead got a top-performing lens with an uncomfortable price, but quality doesn’t come cheap.

I just shot a painstaking comparison with the Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Distagon and 21mm f/2.8 Distagon, to be published in my Guide to Zeiss ZF / ZE Lenses (other new items to go into my DAP review). I shot it twice on two days actually, to double-check my findings, with my usual multiple series approach for each lens. Preparation takes time, but it’s my top priority at present.

Of course, f/1.4 is not f/2.8, and 21mm is not 24mm is not 25.6mm, but it seems that 24mm is perceived as a perfectly good proxy for either 21mm or 25mm, and with both f/1.4 and autofocus, some Nikon users are going to be happy. I like lenses that solve problems for me. I’ll be buying the Nikon 24/1.4G (the loaner will not be going back!), and hoping that autofocus can be dealt with, because it has a nasty habit of front-focus at distance, which I noted in my review, and which a reader confirms is a problem with his sample also. Whether fine focus adjustment can “deal” remains to be seen, because close-up focus seems spot-on, so it could be ugly in terms of general behavior, though this is not at all unusual for autofocus with an f/1.4 lens.

Perhaps the most strikingly unusual feature of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is its unusually flat field, meaning that the zone of sharp focus falls nearly in a plane. While I have detected some field curvature, I have to say that it is remarkably well corrected, and head and shoulders above the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II in this regard. A flat field can be very helpful for planar subjects, which include buildings, but also groups of people in a row eg a group shot of a sports team or class, etc.

Taking everything into account, I repeat my previous assertion that the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is Nikon’s finest-ever wide angle. Period. Trouble is they’re darn hard to find, even at about $2200 they’ve all apparently made it into the hands of eager buyers. Now if only the Nikon 300m f/2.8G VR II could have not been such a let down.

Nikon Crapture NX unusable again (Mac)

You can’t make this crap up.

As I’ve reported on several occasions (like last April), Nikon Capture NX2 (see review) has a terrible bug that Nikon seems wholly incapable of fixing, or even of contacting me about (and yes I have told my contacts at Nikon).

Don’t confuse the world’s worst-ever user interface, crashes, and severe performance issues with image quality, the reason I still like to use Crapture NX2‚ when it will function.

And so, I hereby rename it Nikon Crapture NX2, which shall be its name on this site until the problem is fixed (if ever). It’s a sporadic bug on some machines, and not everyone experiences it, but on my Mac Pro, it happens 80% of the time, with 100% of the time stretches some days.

Speed with Crapture NX2 varies from slow to glacial, the glacial speed being the manifestation of the bug. On my Mac Pro 8-core 2.93GHz with 64GB memory, Crapture NX2 is taking 134 seconds (over 2 minutes) just to open a single file (the issue occurs with 12GB or 24GB or 48GB also). Zoom to fit screen.... five more minutes. This problem has existed for at least 18 months on 3 different Mac Pros in Leopard and Snow Leopard, and no uninstall/reinstall changes anything. On my MacBook Pro, it takes about 2 seconds to open the same image.

Batch mode is awful too, as Crapture degenerates badly with more images. I started a batch job of 128 NEF files on my 8-core 2.93GHz Mac Pro with 48GB memory, and here is Crapture 90 minutes later (that is not a typo), using about 18% of a single core, in a pathological state of making almost zero progress.

Nikon Crapture on file #110 of 128 after NINETY MINUTES

If anyone out there has software developer contacts at NIK or Nikon, please have them contact me. I’d be more than happy to help Nikon track down their bug, which from the stack dump appears to be a multi-threading synchronization issue, with the threads locked up in critical sections or semaphores. In the meantime, I’m forced to use my MacBook Pro, since it runs Crapture NX2 at reasonable speed.

Two minutes waiting just to open a file

Optimizing Photoshop CS5 updated

I’ve added some information on 32-bit vs 64-bit plugins, Adobe plugins and conclusions to my ongoing Optimizing Photoshop CS5 report.

Digital Infrared Class— Saturday May 1 at Keeble & Shuchat in Palo Alto, CA

Learn all about digital infrared photography in my two-hour May 1, 2010 introductory class at Keeble & Shuchat Photography, TOMORROW in Palo Alto, CA.

Digital Infrared Photography Class
Digital Infrared Photography Class

Update: Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II

My DAP review of the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II documents in multiple ways the worst super telephoto that I’ve ever used— a bad sample presumably. But to my surprise, I’m not the only one that has found an issue. See Brand-new Blur for more on this unfortunate situation of terrible quality control.

Reader Thorsten Kril writes to say:

Mine was awful, too. Far behind the 200/2 and 500/4, and even slightly behind the 300/4 when shooting both wide open! At f/4 it caught up with the 300/4. I didn't know what to make of it, so for now I returned it without getting another one. But it must be a bad sample. It's hard to believe those get out there with lenses of this price range.

See the problem below by mousing over the image to change from f/2.8 to f/4.

f/2.8 <===> f/4

Regrettably, the optical problem ruined all my 1.4X and 2X teleconverter tests as well, so there will be some delay on that front. I might resort to using the 200mm f/2 VR instead, and heck maybe it deserves a review anyway.

Still, the results with the 300mm f/2.8G VR II are highly instructive as to what to look for when you obtain a new lens.

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