nikon d300 – test shots and first thoughts

Got my D300 yesterday and had an opportunity to go and take some shots with it. Let me say from the first that I am rather impressed. I wasn’t sure how much of a step it would be over the D200, but results so far are rather impressive.

High noise levels are, so far, fairly impressive. One shot taken yesterday:

This image was taken @ ISO 1600, F11, 1/250. Here is a 1:1 crop:

Obviously, noise levels are fairly well controlled.

An example @ ISO 3200:

This sample is particularly interesting as it contains both deep shadows and strong highlights. Even in the transition and highlight->shadow gradients, the results are very impressive.

A third example, this time from 6400:

These results from 6400 are likewise encouraging, but my initial tests containing deep shadows on 6400 aren’t quite so nice. There does seem to be a good bit of chroma noise in the darkest of shadows, but I’m going to hold off on making a definite statement on that until I’ve had a chance to shoot with it some more.

At the end of the day, though, the D300 seems to do very well in the noise department, though we’ll see how that stacks up in general use.

Some more general shots from the day, as well as a full gallery:


For those of you who are interested, Katie and I are now engaged. It’s an exciting time for both of us, we ask your prayers as we continue our journey together!

We’ll possibly be starting a blog for both of us here in a couple of days. More details to come.

Paul Simon

Congratulations to Paul Simon, who recently won the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. I’ve long said that I consider Paul Simon to be the second greatest American Songwriter (after Bob Dylan), though in terms of longevity Simon has him beat. PBS aired a show tonight that was basically a tribute concert to Simon and his body of work. If you can watch it as a re-run over the next couple of days, I would highly recommend it. There are several great performances, in my opinion topped off by Alison Krauss singing “Graceland”. Though I’ve posted the lyrics here before, they’ve been echoing through my head the past several days, and, especially as we focus on forgiveness here this week, I feel it’s fitting to post some here yet again.

And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending

Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

panasonic LX-2 review – new york

This weekend wasn’t the first time I’d taken the LX-2 on a big trip, but it was the first time since I’d gotten it that I convinced myself to take it on a big trip along with my D200. Since it’s a camera that most people are looking at either as an SLR backup or instead of buying an SLR in general, I thought it might be good to give an overall review of the LX-2, as well as comparing/contrasting it with SLR’s. I’m not planning to go through the ergonomics of the camera as such. Ergonomics and user interface is generally not your most important concern, particularly on a point and shoot. As a result, I plan to focus most on actually using the camera, and the pictures you (can) get out of it.

Before I start, let me say that I realize comparing the LX-2 with a D200 is not terribly fair. However, it’s important to keep in mind that most of the comparisons that hold true comparing the LX-2 with the D200 would also hold with the D40/D50, or XTi.

The Good

  1. Size & Weight – The LX-2 is small and light. For most of my trip I carried it in my coat pocket, which gave me easy access to using it. I also felt a bit more inconspicuous while taking pictures on streets and in subway station. Pulling out an SLR often draws a lot of attention, but snapping away with a point and shoot isn’t really seen as that big of a deal. As a result, you’re not too unwilling to try shots like this one in the middle of a large group of people during rush hour at Times Square:

  2. Features – I don’t know of any other point and shoot camera that packs this many features into one package. Full manual control, the ability to shoot in RAW, 60 second exposures, Image Stabilization, a decent movie mode, 16:9 native capture – the list goes on. The LX-2 is a very versatile camera that gives you n amazing amount of creative control without forcing you to carry around several pounds of equipment, which allows you to capture more shots than you would otherwise get.
  3. “Leica” lens – I put Leica in quotes because, like Sony with their “Zeiss” lenses, there’s probably more to the story than just the name. While the LX-2 is at least rebadged and sold as a real Leica with the red dot, if I were having to base my decision to buy an M8 or not based only on the LX-2, I would save my $5000. That said, the LX-2’s lens is very sharp, relatively contrasty, and very capable. It is honestly *at times* capable of rivaling my Nikon 17-55, though it does have one severe shortcoming, to be discussed later. At the end of the day though, you can still get beautiful, saturated results like this without too much work:

  4. Build Quality – The LX-2 doesn’t feel like a cheap, plasticy camera. It has a fair amount of metal in it, and you don’t feel like you’re going to break it by breathing around it. As previously mentioned, the fact that it’s basically a Leica without the red dot speaks highly to its construction.

The Not so Good

  1. Speed (the ISO kind) – Due to the nature of the LX-2’s sensor, noise is a serious problem. As a result, it is not advised to ever shoot much above 400 if you are planning on printing your picture, and it is certainly advisable to shoot at 100 whenever possible. If shooting at 100 is not possible, it’s often advisable to make it possible. The following are two pictures which somewhat illustrate my point. The subject is not really important, but each shows a 1:1 crop off an LX-2 image taken at the same time, of the same subject. The first image was taken at ISO 100, and the second at ISO 800. While the first image is blurred due to hand-holding at over 1/2 a second, you can still see an extreme amount of difference in the noise levels of the two images:

    Clearly, the LX-2 suffers both from chromatic and luminance noise in spades anytime the ISO increases.

  2. Noise (not the loud kind) – Even when shooting at ISO 100, the LX-2’s sensor still suffers from noise problems. Below are two images taken from the same spot, but slightly different perspectives. The first image is from the LX-2, and the second is from the D200. Both are 1:1 crops.

    Now on first glance these two cropped photos appear to have similar amounts of noise – which would be good if they had both been taken at 100, but unfortunately the LX-2 was on ISO 100 while the D200 was on ISO 400. Additionally, not only does the LX-2 image have approximately the same amount of noise as the D200’s photo @ISO 400, the D200 noise pattern is smaller and more film-like than that of the LX-2, leading to a more pleasant image overall.

    The combined message of these two points is simple – the LX-2 will have more noise and require you to shoot at a slower shutter speed. If you have a tripod or a well lit room or are shooting outdoors, this may not matter to you, but if you are an average point and shoot user who is just looking to take pictures of the dog and kids, this could cause you fits. Often you can compensate for some of this, but it is just a reality of the camera, and one that must be dealt with.

  3. Chromatic Aberration – Using Starfish’s filtering technique to spot problem areas for chromatic aberration is extremely instructive in this case. The following pictures represent almost the worst case for CA, but none the less shows the scope of the problem on the LX-2’s lens. The first is the normal image, unfiltered, followed by the filtered image, CA amplified by ~6dB (2 stops).

    Obviously in this case, the CA is extremely well defined and easily detectable in the original image as well. CA can lead to lack of sharpness and definition in your pictures, and in general is just something you’d prefer not to deal with.

  4. Filesize – The LX-2’s raw files take up 20MB each. The LX-2’s JPG’s take up 2-3 MB each. There is no option to turn the JPG off if you’re shooting RAW. The result of all of this is that you need extremely large memory cards in order to use the LX-2 for any length of time. The RAW files can be compressed to DNG’s after bringing them onto the computer, but it’s none the less a severe pain to not have an option to compress in native format.

The Wishlist

Not that any Panasonic/Leica engineers are out there reading this right now, but if they were, I do have a wishlist of things I’d like to see in an LX-3:

  1. A Less Noisy Sensor – The LX-2 is fantastic, but it would be much more so were it paired with a capable sensor. The Fuji F30, for instance, gives usable results up to 3200. Why can’t the LX-2?
  2. Faster write times / Smaller file sizes – This one is almost free. Reducing the filesize reduces write times and makes the memory go that much further. There’s no reason not to do it, and it would help shooting out significantly.
  3. Slightly better movie mode – The LX-2 does… well, ok. But 720p @30fps would be very nice. As would slightly better quality on the compression algorithms.

And… That’s about it.

The Verdict

The LX-2 is a very good camera for what it is, but a very bad camera for what it is not. It’s not good for shooting indoors (in general), shooting action (in general) or shooting in low light (in general). It is, however, capable of stunning results that will rival an SLR, and if your primary goal is artistic photography, it is certainly an investment worth making.

stumbling on happiness

I don’t usually recommend books, likely because I don’t usually finish books, but I just finished listening to the audio book of Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, and found it quite intriguing. As Gilbert says, “Despite the third word in the title, this is not an instruction manual that will tell you anything useful about how to be happy. Those books are located in the self-help section two aisles over, and once you’ve bought one, done everything it says to do and found yourself miserable anyway, you can always come back here to find out why.”

Here’s an extended quote from the end of the first chapter:

So if the question is, ‘Why should we want to control our futures?’, then the surprisingly right answer is that it feels good to do so, period. Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy. The act of steering one’s boat down the river of time is a source of pleasure, regardless of one’s port of call. Now at this point you probably believe two things: first, you probably believe that if you never heard the phrase, ‘the river of time’ again, it would be too soon. Amen. Second, you probably believe that even if the act of steering a metaphorical boat down a clichéd river is a source of pleasure and well being, where the boat goes matters much, much more. Playing captain is a joy all its own, but the real reason why we want to steer our ships is so we can get them to Honalee instead of Jersey City.

The nature of a place determines how we feel upon arrival, and our uniquely human ability to think about the extended future allows us to choose the best destinations, and avoid the worst. We are the apes who learned to look forward because doing so enables us to shop among the many fates that might befall us, and select the best one. Other animals must experience an event in order to learn about its pleasures and pains, but our powers of foresight allow us to imagine that which has not yet happened, and hence spare ourselves the hard lessons of experience.

We needn’t reach out and touch an ember to know that it will hurt to do so, and we needn’t experience abandonment, scorn, eviction, demotion, disease or divorce to know that all of these are undesirable ends that we should do our best to avoid. We want, and we should want, to control the direction of our boat, because some futures are better than others, and even from this distance, we should be able to tell which are which.

This idea is so obvious that it barely seems worth mentioning, but I’m going to mention it anyway. Indeed, I’m going to spend the rest of this book mentioning it, because it will probably take more than a few mentions to convince you that what looks like an obvious idea is, in fact the surprisingly wrong answer to our question.

We insist on steering our boats because we think we have a pretty good idea of where we should go, but the truth is that much of our steering is in vain, not because the boat won’t respond, and not because we can’t find our destination, but because the future is fundamentally different than it appears through the perspecti-scope.

Just as we experience illusions of eyesight – isn’t it strange how one line looks longer than the other even though it isn’t? – and illusions of hindsight – isn’t it strange how I can’t remember taking out the garbage even though I did? – so too do we experience illusions of foresight, and all three types of illusion are explained by the same basic principles of human psychology.

To be perfectly honest, I won’t be just mentioning this surprisingly wrong answer, I’ll be pounding and pummeling it until it gives up and goes home. The surprisingly wrong answer is apparently so sensible and so widely believed that only a protracted thrashing has any hope of expunging it from our conventional wisdom. So before the grudge match begins, let me share with you my plan of attack:

In Part 2, Subjectivity, I’ll tell you about the science of happiness. We all steer ourselves toward the futures that we think will make us happy, but what does that word really mean, and how can we ever hope to achieve solid, scientific answers to questions about something as gossamer as a feeling? We use our eyes to look into space and our imaginations to look into time. Just as our eyes sometimes lead us to see things as they are not, our imaginations sometimes lead us to foresee things as they will not be. Imagination suffers from three shortcomings that give rise to the illusions of foresight with which this book is chiefly concerned.

In Part 3, Realism, I’ll tell you about the first shortcoming. Imagination works so quickly, quietly, and effectively, that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products.

In Part 4, Present-ism, I’ll tell you about the second shortcoming. Imagination’s products are, well, not particularly imaginative, which is why the imagined future often looks so much like the actual present.

In Part 5, Rationalization, I’ll tell you about the third shortcoming. Imagination has a hard time telling us about how we will think about the future when we get there. If we have trouble foreseeing future events, then we have even more trouble foreseeing how we will see them when they happen.

Finally, in Part 6, Corrigibility, I’ll tell you why illusions of foresight aren’t easily remedied by personal experience, or by the wisdom we inherit from our grandmothers. I’ll conclude by telling you about a simple remedy for these illusions that you’ll almost certainly not accept.

By the time you finish these chapters, I hope you’ll understand why most of us spend so much of our lives turning rudders and hoisting sails, only to find that Shangri-La isn’t what, and where, we thought it would be.

lightroom reflections

For those of you who don’t know (or haven’t heard), the new version of Adobe Lightroom came out Sunday. My copy is still in the mail, but I’ve been playing around with the trial until my serial number arrives. All in all I’m really enjoying it, and the final additions from Beta 4 to 1.0 are, in my opinion, the two features I felt lacking in the earlier versions.

First, Lightroom now includes snapshots, where you can maintain multiple versions of your raw files as you work. The upshot of this is that you no longer have to deal with multiple xmp files for different versions of your files. Instead, you can maintain and adjust multiple versions – say one in color, another in black and white, and a third with a higher contrast setting. The second useful feature is a dust removal tool. What this basically means is that you really never have to send your images to Photoshop – Lightroom can basically serve as your one stop processing shop for RAW files of all types.

I think I’m going to like it.

I played around a bit with using the SB-800’s for macro stuff. The Carlsberg bottle was all I could find on short notice.

nikon’s CLS

So I have been known at various times in the past on multiple occasions to disparage Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS) as a feature that was nice, but really not terribly necessary for the average photographer. After using the old SB-28 and then my Novatron strobes, I didn’t see how any shoe-mount flash system would be able to give great results consistently, unless paired with PocketWizards and used in manual mode. After looking at a couple of demo videos and seeing some test shots, Lisa and I decided to order a couple of SB-800’s and Gary Fong Lightsphere II diffusers for our future wedding shoots.

They arrived today, and I have to say… even after 5 minutes of use, I’m fairly impressed. They haven’t failed to go off, and the results are fairly good, right out of the bag.

Possibly more to come later on…

Panasonic LX-2 Noise Comparison

Something I’ve been meaning to post for a while, that I’ll probably follow up on in the future.

The LX-2 is a great camera (for what it is), but several people have been concerned about the noise. I thought I’d take a series of pictures at various ISO settings to compare noise levels and then post them here.

These shots are all posted from RAW images, no noise reduction, no exposure compensation. Clicking on the images will get you the full-sized image, and I’ve done it sans-lightbox so that you can actually download/pan/see the image. I suggest looking over near the right side of the keypad for a fairly representative sample of noise in the images.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600