A New Nikon for Newbies

The newest Nikon, the D3100 against a blue background

Nikon's newest newbie-friendly DSLR

My how time flies. It was only 13 months ago that Nikon announced its new flagship camera designed for beginners, the D3000. It is a 10.2 megapixel camera with an APC chip which excels as being a beginner’s camera. The camera has been overshadowed by its predecessor, the D40, the upper-end D5000 and the even higher priced D90.

Now Nikon has introduced to the world the new D3100. So what has changed? Let’s see…according to the folks at DPReview.com, the new DSLR has four additional megapixels topping out at 14.2 megapixels. This addition means larger file sizes. How big are the new files? Well that purely depends on your format. If you shoot in a raw format, it could make your file sizes a couple of megabytes larger however, it still is nowhere near the 77 megabyte file sizes of the Canon Mark III series.

It has live view which means that you can use the LCD monitor as a viewfinder and compose your image like you do as when you use a point and shoot digital camera.

In many ways this new camera seems to mark the new standards for Nikons updated line for 2010-11. You can bet that many of the same improvements that we see in this camera will make their ways up the line for at least the consumer grade DSLR’s. So this means that I expect to see similar jumps in the D5000 line and maybe even the D90 line however I would not expect to see this in their pro-sumer catagory which, to me anyway, starts with the Nikon D300s which already has most of these upgrades in this $1500 model.

The best part of this camera is that it can shoot videos at 1080p using any of the existing range of Nikon lenses. (You can see the details of those lenses at Nikon.com or at DPReview.com or any other review site). It also has a wonderful new HDMI output so you can plug that camera into your plasma, LED/LCD, or other high definition telelvisions and view your work before editting it or burning it to DVD.

The camera has more than 2 megapixels in quality

Don’t lose your images to a lossy .jpg

Comparison of the original image with the lossy jpg version of the same photo

Comparison of the original image with the lossy jpg version of the same photo-Courtesy of Rick Miller/Wake Forest University

Before we being, I apologize for my absence. I’ve switched jobs, switched lives basically and am just now getting settled into some kind of routine. Thanks for sticking with me during the past month of silence.

Okay…so if you’re like me you shoot in raw or maybe jpg and then rush over to your PC to download your shots and view them in some tool like Lightroom, Picasa, Microsoft Paint, whatever…

There is a reason why you should not save those precious images in a .jpg format for long term.

Everytime you open a .jpg type image you decompress the image and when you close it, you recompress it. It’s in this recompression that you wind up losing data. To understand why this happens you have to understand how compression works.

Compression works by using an algorithm to compute where changes in your file can be safely made to substitute one character for several. Now for you techies…this is a major simplification of the process. There is actually a lot that happens but suffice it to say that the original file that you started out with is stored in a compressed format. JPG uses this to reduce the size of the file and there are two formats…lossless and lossy.

If you are using lossy, you are also using a format that loses data. So everytime you open a file in Picasa, Photoshop, John’s photo viewer, etc…you are losing data. So over time, that image of your loved one, pet, flower, or something else over time, and multiple openings and closings, will start showing noticeable signs of deterioration in the digital version.

So what’s the solution? Save images in a lossless .jpg format or save them in an entirely different format like tiff, or maybe even .bmp (yes…a bitmap). Another option is to save original in their raw format that your camera shots them in, and use a lossless .jjpg for sharing and use a tiff/bmp on those images that you want to save for a very long time.

If your images are already in a lossy .jpg format. save them in a different format like tiff now. If you are just now importing images from your camera in a nice raw file mode, leave them in that mode and work with/use .jpg copies for short periods of time. Of course you can always make digital copies of your jpgs and share them.

Images You Must See From a More Than Interested Participant

Cpl. Reynaldo Leal after patrol

Cpl. Reynaldo Leal after patrol


No war is complete without the use of images to show us at home how our loved ones, friends, fellow Americans, are doing and handling themselves overseas.

Today, CNN’s main page has a photo piece done by Corporal Reynaldo Leal which is an excellent piece. It is just him talking about his photographic work. The CNN article is a must-see and his photo gallery is also a must see as well. Here are the links to both:

Corporal Leal’s Images on AfterImage
Cpl. Reynaldo Leal story on CNN

A Digital Photography Memory Card Primer

SD, SDHC, Compact Flash, Memory Stick, miniSD, microSD, and about two dozen more anachronyms clutter the storage type definitions for your digital camera. Here’s a word or two about which you may need and why bigger is not always better.

Flash memory uses small chips to electronically store data and your camera may use any of a number of formats to store that data. You can look at your owner’s manual (I know..I know but honestly it is in there). Or you can refer to any number of online buying guides which will tell you which memory card would be the best one for your camera.

If you have a DSLR, the kind with an interchangeable lens and it’s kind of big, you probably use either a SD, SDHC, or Compact Flash card.

Now the SD and SDHC cards are almost identical but there is a difference. SD stands for Secure Digital format and it is an older technology. It has a maximum storage capacity 4 gigabytes. There are numerous manufacturers of these types of cards and each one ships formatted in a Fat32 format. If that format sounds familiar, it’s because that is the same format that was used by Windows.

SDHC is just like the SD memory cards except SDHC means Secure Digital High Capacity. These cards start at the 4GB mark and are currently available in 32GB versions.

And some companies already are coming out with the next generation of secure digital cards with capacities that can get up to 2TB.

SD cards come in different speeds, Class 2, Class 4, and Class 6.. The difference in these speeds has a direct correlation on how fast they read and write data to the memory card from your device. The fast the read/write time, the quicker your camera can unload data from its internal memory and on to the card which frees up memory for the next shot. This can lead to a faster burst of speed if you are taking photos are a very fast pace.

The same is true for Compact Flash. Compace Flash cards come in Class I, Class II, and Class III. Class III cards are the newest and fastest. Class I cards are the oldest technology and Class II is the happy medium.

The current maximum capacity for a Class III compact flash card is 64GB. These Class III cards write at 90mb/s or Class 6 speeds on an SDHC card.

These large cards are great for video. So if you have a DSLR that is capable of video, these large and fast cards are for you. However, if you have a DSLR or even a point and shoot camera, smaller is better.

Why? The answer is simple. The larger the capacity of the card the more data you are able to store on it. The more data that you store on it and this means that there is a larger risk of losing more images or data that is stored on it. So smaller is better because if a small card gets corrupted and you lose data, the fewer images or the less important data that you lose.

These same rules hold true for other memory formats. Use smaller cards, switch them out and you run less of a risk.

There is one more thing to know about digital memory cards. On each card, there is usually a switch that locks the card and prevent someone from accidentally erasing the data on it before you have had a chance to download it on to a larger capacity device, like your computer or your photo sharing service.

Just an idea….

Camera Classes

LADay1-82
So from time to time it may be a good idea to take a class, either online or in-person to remember how this whole capture of light thing works. A few notes from the class I took over the weekend for those of you with new DSLR cameras.

1) Auto format–good if you really don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s like walking up to a baker and saying “make me a cake” and you get a strawberry banana cake when you wanted German chocolate. You didn’t specify what kind of cake and the same holds true for taking photographs.

2) ISO–you cannot overstate the importance of having the proper ISO for your conditions. If you are outside on a bright sunny day, ISO 200 or even 400 will work for you but at twilight, time to open that thing up higher and start approaching the 1600 range as lighting degrades. Experiment with different ISO settings to see how this works. It’s a DSLR and the space on a memory card is cheap. Blowing that once in a lifetime shot may not be so expendable.

3) Aperture (f-stop) — this is how big the hole is in the lens that lets light through. The bigger the hole, the more light shines through. It’s sorta like the family idiot…everyone knows he’s got a big enough hole in his head that you can see clean down to his gullet but he just won’t quit showing it off. Same is true here. The lower the number, the larger the opening. If you can find a lens with a 2.8, 1.8, 1.4 or so aperture then you can grab some really intense photos in low light. Conversely, if you have a smaller aperture lens, say a f4-6.3, you have what is called a slow lens. It’s slow because it requires more time for the shutter to remain open in lower lighting to achieve a decent image. That also means that your image is more prone to blurry shots because nothing really stands still long enough anymore. Well except for the oldest brother in my family…he sits still for so long, Mom had to dust him as a child…oh wait…that was me.

4) and finally…Shutter speed. This is how fast the shutter opens and closes to control how much light passes through the lens and into the sensor. It also determines how your image will be captured. A fast shutter speed means that you will stop motion faster but it also means that your aperture must be opened more in order for enough light to pass through to get a good enough image to use.  If you look at the photo above, you can see where I stopped the helicopters rotors in flight. It’s a neat trick but I must confess…the camera was on auto…and what was that about strawberry banana cake again.

Questions? Let me know…you can look online for digital photography classes in your community. Check with your local community college for continuing education classes as well as check with local camera shops. That’s where I took mine…and it only cost me $30 for two and a half hours of refreshing my brain. I wish I could do that for math. But if you are in the San Antonio area, check the Camera Exchange website and let them know you read about it here on Jchampion.com.

They aren’t paying me anything but I figure if I get enough referrals they might let me take the next class for free.

Are you finding flowers?

Honeybee atop a bluebonnet
Bee atop bluebonnet found in local park

The flowers are out and it’s time to gas up and head to some quiet country road with your trusty camera and shoot some shots.

Please remember your common sense…never stop in a dark and isolated place. One reason is that you may get really bad shots there and you also run a greater risk for something bad happening to you.
But please use the side roads and stay off of the roadway and make sure you keep yours eyes open. Do not let yourself get caught up in the moment, and lose track of where you are.
Take your time, take as many shots as you want but do not take any of these flowers with you. Remember, under Texas law, certain plants are protected and taking one or two is considered a criminal offense.
Also, I can’t state this enough, please check the ground thoroughly before placing a child down in a flower patch. Ants and other bugs love flowers too.
Finally…send me your best shots and tell us what you did and used to get this shot. Some of the best things in photography are the stories in how you got that perfect shot.

Wild Flowers are popping up

Wildflowers are blooming-Sandia Cemetary

Wildflowers blooming in the cemetary in Sandia, TX

It’s time to prepare your cameras and your bug spray and venture out to your nearest patch of wildflowers. Here are some basic tips for finding and shooting those winning flower pictures.

1)Finding the right patch is easy. TxDOT actually does something right by publishing a list of where the best wildflower patches can be found. There may be more and you may want to do a Google search on Texas Wildflowers and find the list. This season is expected to be one of the best ever and it’s a good chance for you to take those cameras that you got at Christmas and go get some experience. Here is a link to the Texas Department of Transportation list

2) Take your children but please LOOK AT THE GROUND before you put them down. It’s borderline cruelty to drop small children on top of ant hills and ask them to hold still while you take their photograph.

3) Frame your shots. Do not just point your camera at the field and get the whole field alone. If you feel like that is a great photo, certainly take it.  But in addition to that shot, you should walk around look for exceptional shots or flowers with brilliant color.  and then follow the basic rules of thirds in taking your shot.

4) Add something different to the shot to break up  the floral scene. Notice the cemetary shot that I have posted with this. It uses a grave marker as a piece to break up the scene and to also give the viewer some idea of the relationships between  the flowers, the graves, and the cemetary.  You might use your dog, your child, an old broken down tractor, or something else all-together.

5) Do not simply take the photo and upload it. Bring it home and spend some time with it on a computer. Adjust the lighting, play with the settings. Every camera comes with basic software to do the most basic editing functions. Please do not take this to mean to go out, buy a $1,000 overpriced copy of Adobe Photoshop.  There are are many free image editing solutions that go beyond the basic features of the software that came with your camera. Google search them or try a search on Download.com but be careful. Malware takes on many forms and you should only download from sites you trust or that come recommended. If you have questions about software packages, feel free to ask me or check out DPReview.com, About.com, Photoshop.com or any other photocentric site.

6) Have fun. This should be enjoyable and not a hassle. If you find yourself struggling or inconvenienced by taking the time to take these shots, perhaps this is not for you.

Happy shooting!

How do you photograph falling snow?

Snow in downtown San Antonio

Snow in downtown San Antonio

So this week I learned a new lesson on how NOT to shoot photographs of falling snow. I took one shot and realized that I needed to crank up the speed of my D40. So I cranked up the ISO instead and still had no luck. So what I have discovered is that I was on the right path but you should try using flash and shooting against a dark background as much as possible. In the end it is smarter to crank your shutter speed as fast that it will go. Then, in Photoshop, GIMP, Lightroom, or Appature open the image and crank up the contrast. I tried those thing and prepped this image in Lightroom and you be the judge. Drop me a line if you have better ideas on how to get the snow to look less like heavy rain.

Did you get a new DSLR for the holidays?

You knew it would happen. You got the camera you wanted and it’s a beginner and maybe the lens(es) that come with it are not exactly what you were hoping for but believe me, they will work well while you learn.

The first thing you need to do now is find a challenge for yourself on that camera. Go out and use it and shoot images of something. Kids playing in the park, deer eating your neighbors’ flowers, maybe even hit the local sporting facilities and shoot photos of athletes doing their thing.

Just use the camera.

The next thing you should do is learn the main rules of good photography and composition that you can get from here:  http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/photography-the-rules-of-composition/

It’s important to learn how to take photographs well. It gets boring seeing the same setup on every single photo. First rule…do not center every photograph and go on and get close to where the action is. Headroom is one thing but footroom and composition is very important.

Let’s talk about another area of focus…tools. Right now the only tool you need is you. You are equipped with everything you need to take good photographs. You do not need to buy a $200 tripod nor a $10,000 lens nor a $1000 flash. Step back…buy those things only when you need them and if you’ll use them more than once.

If you’re only going to use the camera component once or twice, consider renting. What? You can rent lenses, flashes, and tripods? Yes…and you can even rent another camera.

Just do a Google search for camera rental and check out the vendors. You can also check in your community. Stores like Camera Exchange in San Antonio, rent equipment and should you decide to buy it, they apply some of your rental fees to your purchase.

Next time…I’ll update you on when you can go wildflower hunting and where you can get the best clusters. Hint: you will need to get in a car and drive. Sorry…your backyard isn’t going to cut it unless you live on a farm.

Nikon’s latest camera…yes I’ll accept donations

Recently Nikon annouced it’s newest product, the Nikon D3S. This is a camera for professional photographers and those who have money to spend on camera equipment. The D3S does something that the D3X and other D3 models have never done, shoot video at 720p at 24 fps. While that is not the 1080p at 30 fps that we’ve come to love in our video, it is a marked stepped up from nothing.

Now the D3S is more of a minor upgrade than a new model. Nikon has beefed up some things and refined others.

For instance, the new key part of this camera is its ability to manipulate the ISO settings. For the amateur, the ISO setting determines how long the shutter stays open and how much light is allowed to come into the auto-focus sensor. In this case, it can use a short 100 ISO or a lengthy and an amazing 102,400 ISO. Yes…you read right. I’d love to see how grainy those shots come out looking. And unless you are using still life, shots at that speed will blur dramatically. Even the light movement of a flower from an overhead ceiling fan will make an image almost unuseable.

Now this camera can shoot up to 11 frames per second , although Nikon’s data indicates it will only shoot 9FPS, with a buffer that will allow you to shoot a hundred shots or more continuously and store them on its spacious dual Compact Flash card slots. The cards can be setup for overflow, copying, or you can shoot RAW on one card and JPEG on another. So long as you don’t confuse which card has what when you are post-processing I’ll assume the headaches would be minimal from this.

This camera does autofocus by color tracking or you can fine tune it. One of the things about a camera of this magnitude is the control the photographer has over it. You can pretty much adjust anything to your liking or to fit your shooting situation.

So if you are interested in plunking down your debit card for this little bad boy, be prepared to shell out close to $5,200 and that’s for the body only. It uses Nikon AF-S lenses so if you are upgrading from another Nikon camera, the lens support should be smooth.

Nikon says on their site that these cameras will be available in November so it gives you time to stop paying your bills in order to come up with the cash you’ll need for this.

And yes…you can mail me donations and I’lll put them to good use in buying the older D3X. Why? Because it should come down in price now that  the newer version is out.