Friday, March 27, 2015

Fundamentals of Photography

I recently was browsing a website where someone asked what the "fundamentals of photography" are. And most of the answers ranged from philosophical to out and out BS. One answer was, "just being near something to photograph" and another was "your imagination", and the ever popular "just having your camera with you".

While having a good imagination and being near something to photograph while having your camera handy are all well and good, a basic understanding of the camera settings and composition elements are what I think the "Fundamentals of Photography" are.

What good is your imagination and a great subject if you don't know how to make the camera do what you want to make the image your brain imagines?

So I made a short down and dirty list of the fundamental things you should know in order to be a competent photographer (without getting all philosophical).

  • Shutter speed - this is how long the shutter is open for. The longer it's open the more light gets in, but also more chance for motion blur. Shorter shutter speeds can freeze action, but let in less light. Fast and slow speeds both have their uses. Common speeds are 1', 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15. 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500... Each full stop doubles or halves the light. Most current cameras also adjust shutter speeds in 1/3 stops
  • Aperture - this is how wide the diaphragm of the lens is. The wider it is the more light reaches the sensor. Wider apertures also produce a shallower depth of field (this depends on focus and background distance as well). The aperture numbers are ratios of the size of the actual opening in relation to the focal length. They are known as f/stops.  The smaller the f/stop number the wider the opening. for example, f/2 is wider than f/16 because mathematically f/2 is 1/2 and f/16 is 1/16. So a 50mm lens at f/2 has a 25mm opening and at f/16 it's just over 3mm. The common aperture numbers in full stops are 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, and 22. If you look close you will see every other one is doubled. Also if you multiply the one before it by 1.4 you get the next number. 1.4 is the square root of 2. Each stop doubles or halves the light. Again, most cameras also adjust f/stops by thirds.
  • ISO - this used to be called "film speed", but it's just the sensitivity of the medium, typically the the sensor. The common speeds are 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400. These are full stops and also double of half the sensitivity to light. Once gain most digital cameras adjust these in thirds as well.
This is the essence of exposure. Without knowing this you don't know photography. You can put your camera on auto and make great photos, but you still won't know the fundamentals. Another thing that's important to know is that to maintain an equivalent exposure if you change one of these settings you must change another with the equal value. 

Next on the fundamentals list is composition. These are generally guidelines to go by rather than rules, but it's best to learn them so you know when to use them and when you can break them. I won't go into detail, but some of the most common elements of composition include:

  • The Rule of Thirds
  • The Golden Ratio
  • Leading Lines
  • Patterns
  • Negative Space
  • Balance
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Use of complementary and analogous color
  • Framing
You can use google images to see examples of these. That's the down and dirty, yet thorough, answer on fundamentals. 

When you set out to learn these things, don't look at them like a stumbling block. They become intuitive very quickly. Make sure you have fun experimenting with the different settings, that's the best way to learn and make everything stick.

*the picture has nothing to do with the subject, I just don't like to post things without eye-candy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Lens Flipper part 2

A few months ago I found a little device I thought was ingenious. It allowed you to carry and swap out lenses without the fear of dropping a lens because the lens was always locked into a device (either the camera or Lens Flipper itself).

During my initial review (see here) I mentioned that I was nervous about putting a heavy lens on it because I didn't feel it would stand up to the weight. I received an email stating that the Lens Flipper was tested to hold about 132 pounds. Taking their word for it, I set off to photograph the Austin City Limits Festival and I used the Lens Flipper to carry the new $Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 | S lens that was on loan from Sigma. The lens weighs about 7.5-8 pounds. A far cry from 132 pounds.

Well the unthinkable happened. The Lens Flipper failed and the Sigma lens dropped to the asphalt and smashed many of the internal elements. This is what the $3599 lens looks like after falling straight to the asphalt.

After a bit of back and forth with the Lens Flipper company (which initially expressed some doubt that they were at fault) I was informed during the manufacturing process in the plant in Korea the screws were not tightened down to the correct specifications and therefore were prone to loosening. The loose screws caused the lens mount to flex and warp enough that the locking pin that holds the lens securely in place was rendered useless resulting in a catastrophic failure. 
Here you can see the loose screw.

This shows how the metal lens mounting flange warped under the pressure of the weight of the lens.

This also shows warpage of the metal flange.

In this image you can see that the loosening of the screws cause the locking pin to remain recessed therefore leaving the lens dangling with no way to stop it from twisting it's way loose from the lens mount.

The Lens Flipper company has released a statement saying that only the Nikon F and Sony E mount Lens Flippers were affected. They claim that simply taking a small precision screwdriver and tightening the screws will alleviate this problem. I no longer have a Lens Flipper so I cannot personally attest this will fix the problem or not. 

In my opinion I would be very cautious using this product, especially with large telephoto lenses. To be fair, Lens Flipper is working with Sigma to repair or replace the damaged lens. 

Personally, I cannot in good conscious recommend the Lens Flipper to any of the readers of my blog, my magazine articles, or my Nikon Digital Field Guides. Even after you tighten the screws down there is no guarantee that they won't work themselves loose again with repeated use. To be on the safe side I would return any Lens Flipper for a factory replacement at the very least.

If you are familiar with my blog and books then you know I have never posted a bad review on any other product. While this device is a great concept, in my personal opinion the quality control was seriously lacking and that the product could make use of better material such as thicker metal mounts and longer locking pins to minimize warpage that can cause the locking pin to become flush with the mount causing the lens to release and drop to the ground. 

Note: This review is my personal opinion relating my own experiences to using the Lens Flipper. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DIY Weather Proofing for your Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A

It's no secret that the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A is one of my favorite lenses. It's just a good lens. It's well built, beautifully designed, and most importantly the image quality from the lens is second to none. Click the link for my review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A.

Anyway... This isn't an updated review on the lens, but whenever I see discussions about this lens on camera forums all over the web invariably argument, "well the Nikon/Canon 35mm f/1.4 versions are weather sealed" comes up. I've got a quick and easy solution for that.

With fall and winter coming, the weather tends to get cooler and wetter. So what I have here is a simple do-it-yourself way to weather seal your Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A. The best part is that it's probably better than Nikon or Canon's factory weather sealing. It also protects against minor impact damage keeping your lens in perfect shape. You can't say that about Nikon or Canon's weather seals.

Let's get down to it. First you need a beer koozie. Or can-cooly, beer sleeve, or can-cooler if you prefer (if you're an Aussie you might know these things as a "stubby holder"). Secondly you need a pair of scissors. That's it.

The great thing about beer koozies is that you can get them for free at just about any event. So weather proofing your $900 Sigma lens won't cost you one red cent! Can't beat that.

  1. Take the beer koozie in your hand. It should be folded flat naturally. 
  2. Notice the bottom part. Take the scissors and cut that bottom part off. 
  3. Slide the koozie over the lens like it was a can of beer. 
That's it! It's really that simple. The neoprene koozie is water resistant and takes the impact of the occasional bump that can often happen to a lens. Just to clarify, this does not make your lens waterproof, but it will protect your lens from splashes and light rain and snow. Of course this works best if you also have a weather sealed camera body. 

So, let's take a look. 

First of all here's the naked Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A

Here's your beer koozie. I like the Sailor Jerry brand because it has that old school tattoo look. You can choose one that fits your own personality, like a sports team, a company logo, your favorite beer brand, or whatever free koozie that you have on hand!

A typical beer koozie is the perfect length to fit the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A lens leaving enough room to attach the lens hood. Coincidence or design?!?

Once your beer koozie is on the lens and the lens is attached to the camera, slide it down to help seal the lens mount. 

There you have it. Not only is your lens weather proofed it's also stylish! I had pinstripes added to the lens hood for extra old school hot-rod appeal (guaranteed to add at least 10hp to your camera!)

A few things you should know before putting one of these on your lens. 
  1. You will not be able to access the M/AF button on the lens. Don't worry, just about every camera has one on the body. 
  2. You won't be able to see the distance scale on the lens. How many people use these on AF lenses? I don't. 
  3. Due to the awesome HSM motor the focus ring does not turn when autofocusing so don't worry about the koozie impeding autofocus functions. I've had mine on for two years with no problems!
  4. The focus ring is on the front part of the lens. You can still manually focus by firmly gripping the front of the lens and turning the focus ring. At first the koozie will be tight and you will have some resistance, but in time it will loosen up and turn freely. 
*This DIY weather proofing may or may not work with your zoom lenses. I haven't tried it on any of my zooms, but I'm guessing it will be a pain in the butt. This may work well with other prime lenses of similar size. Again, I haven't tried it on any of my other primes because most of them are too small or too big. If your lens doesn't have an HSM, AF-S, USD, PZD, EF-S or some other type of lens motor that doesn't require the focus ring to turn I would not use this.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Nikon D750 preview

Well, I was really hoping that Nikon was going to surprise me with a D4 sensor in a D810 compact pro body, but as I mentioned before in my Nikon Df review Nikon would never do that again. Basically Nikon got everyone all psyched up for the D750, which sounded like the D700 replacement and let us down with what is basically a D620.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of really good upgrades such as a tilt-screen, better video, the amazing D4s 51-point AF system, highlight-weighted metering, Expeed 4, power aperture in Live View and more, but they jammed it into a consumer body with a non-pro build and an awkward layout (if you're used to the pro bodies). If you're advancing up through the D7000-D600 series cameras you're going to be right at home, so for many folks this body will be great as an upgrade camera or as a complementary camera to a D600/610.

For those of us who are really used to the D700/D800 style bodies this was a pretty big miss from Nikon. Things we're missing on a real D700 replacement are dedicated ISO/QUAL/WB/BKT top mounted buttons, a full magnesium alloy body, a body that's a little larger for a nice solid grip that doesn't cramp your hands when shooting for extended periods. A mode button that only has PSAM and none of the scene and effects modes that most pros and advanced shooters find unnecessary. And very importantly a camera that was killer in low light with a fast frame rate of 8fps or better.

Looking at the D750 as a whole it's a really great camera, but the D750 is what the D600 should have been in the first place. And after all of the D600 issues and the quick "upgrade" to D610 I think Nikon is simply trying to bury the stigma of the D600 moniker by laying it to rest and trying to associate it with one of their best cameras, the D700.

It looks like there will be no lightweight alternative to the D4s, but I knew that all along, but didn't want to believe it.

We're still an hour away from the official release, but photos and an official Nikon video have been leaked already. Check 'em out below.

Edit: Official specs have leaked as well:
  • Tilt the screen, including a change in the diaphragm in the live view mode, Wi-Fi, and D610
  • Size: 5.5 "x 4.4" x 3.1 "(139.7 x 111.76 x 78.74mm)
  • Weight: 1 lb 10.5 oz (751.26g)
  • 24.3 megapixel FX CMOS sensor specifications
  • EXPEED 4 Image Processor
  • 1080p 24/25/30/50 / 60p
  • Recording ISO, shutter speed, and aperture manually control
  • Uncompressed HDMI (8-bit 4: 2: 2)
  • Flat profile picture
  • ISO 100-12,800 (Lo 1 is ISO 50 plus (?), Hi 1 and 2 up to ISO 51,200)
  • 91K RGB metering, center-weighted metering / Spot metering / highlights weighted metering
  • Advanced Scene Recognition System
  • Group area AF
  • 6.5 fps at full resolution
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Eye-Fi card support
  • Image transmission over wired communication unit transmits the UT-1 through 5 WT-radio transmitters Wireless Image / Ethernet
  • Body separately $ 2300 / $ 3596 basic lens kit

The Nikon D750 from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the DSLR and Love Photography Again. Or, My Journey Into the World of Rangefinders

I bought an M8 about almost 2 years ago and not too long after that an M9-P, then a Leica IIIf, then a Zeiss Ikon. Obviously I've become hooked on rangefinder photography.

I used to be a diehard DSLR user. I loved my big fast pro full-frame cameras with the big-ass f/2.8 pro zooms. I walked around looking like a pro and feeling like a pro even when I wasn't shooting as a pro. Eventually carrying around big ol' pro cameras got tiresome and I started leaving my camera at home. When the D3 and the D700 were announced I made the comparisons, and like many others and decided to go for the D700 because it was 90% of the D3 and I could use a grip or not, thus reducing camera size if I wanted to. This worked for awhile, but I still had those big pro lenses to lug around. Even the primes were relatively big, and after awhile, once again I quit bringing my cameras out unless I was working.

Of course while writing the Nikon Digital Field Guides I often carried around small DSLRs and they were great for a lot of things, but with those I found find menu diving to change key settings could be quite tedious. Although I really liked many of those cameras I ended up being more annoyed when I brought my camera everywhere so I just stopped.

I realized I needed something even smaller and much simpler to bring with me all the time so that I could still take photos for enjoyment, because that's why I became a photographer. It was my passion. But I have never liked the way compact cameras worked, looking at the LCD, slow focus, etc, so it was never really an option. (I did, however, end up with a Nikon P5000 that had a little rangefinder-esque window that I still use once in awhile)

I'd always been lured by the mystique of the Leica and I knew there was no way in hell I could justifiably afford one, so the idea of getting a small camera with great quality was pretty much out of mind. Until Fuji came out with the X100. Now there was a camera I could get into. It had the classic look, it had a magical hybrid viewfinder that was unique, the IQ was great. I thought I found my camera. The perfect marriage of the digital and film camera world. Until I used it. The IQ was great, but it wasn't as responsive as I needed it to be or had become used to. Also being stuck at a 35mm equivalent wasn't entirely awesome either. The X-Pro1 camera out. Again, I thought here's what I've been looking for. You can change lenses it's bigger so it handles nice, but not too big. I can use LEICA lenses on it! It'll be a poor man's Leica! Nope. Had many of the same issues as the X100. So I sold it. Then came a firmware update and I was wooed by all the Fuji sites claiming how much better it was. I bought another. Still wasn't great. And I did buy a Leica lens to use with it. A 50mm Summilux. But, the thing I liked about the X-Pro1 was the OVF and that was gone with the use of a MF lens. The hybrid viewfinder was cluttered and distracting. I found myself getting irritated with the camera and I knew that this was not the zen camera I was looking for.  In the end the Fuji X cameras didn't work for me. This isn't an anti-Fuji rant. Fuji makes great cameras. They are innovative, they are concerned with their customer satisfaction, they have great image quality. They just didn't fit with what I needed.

I knew deep down all along what I needed was a real rangefinder. Something that stripped photography back to the basics. But I still wanted the instantaneousness of digital. I knew I needed a Leica. It wasn't necessarily because I needed the Leica name, but because Leica was, and still is, the only manufacturer of REAL digital rangefinders. With the return of the X-Pro1 I had almost $2000 and that was all I could spend and I was pretty hesitant about forking over a lot of cash for a 7 year old camera that was actually lower performing than other cameras in the same age bracket. I also didn't have the money for an M ($7000), or M-E ($5450), or even a well-used M9 ($4000). So the only real option was an M8. I bought a used M8 with a Voigtländer 28mm Ultron f/2 for about $2500 and the adventure was on. My main concern was that I was going to get bored with the camera because it had no autofocus. I'll admit, I had become pretty lazy since switching to digital. I relied on all of the bells and whistles and was worried if all that stuff was gone that maybe I wouldn't be able to capture every image that I was after and I was going to be frustrated. 

But a funny thing happened, after I started shooting with the M8 I stopped caring as much about capturing each and every image I saw from every different angle and I became more involved with the process of taking the photo. The end result is that because the process is a little more difficult when I nail a shot it's much more satisfying. Knowing that I did all the work, from the exposure settings to the focus and the composition makes me happier than when I get a shot from a DSLR because the DSLR did most of the work.

There are a number of different reasons why I find rangefinders are great for photography. 

Split image patch. Like the old SLRs the rangerfinder has a split-image that comes together when the focus is on. Even if your eyesight is a little blurry you can tell that it's in focus. Coincidentally this rangefinder technique is very similar to how a DSLR focuses using Phase-detect focusing. A beam splitter behind the mirror splits the images and when the AF detects they are in phase (in-line like the rangefinder) it's in focus. 

No light loss in the viewfinder. In a rangefinder you have a couple of pieces of optical glass separating your eye from the real world. It's always as bright as the scene. D/SLRs light goes through all lens elements bounces off a semi-translucent mirror then is reflected 5 times by the pentaprism or pentamirror before going to your eye. There's light lost in that process. Plus the brightness of the viewfinder depends on the speed of the lens. Unfortunately with DSLR's a fast lens like the 50mm f/1.2 makes the finder bright, but also makes it harder to focus unless you have eagle eyes. 

More than 100% viewfinder coverage. The D/SLR camera viewfinder shows you what the lens sees. Pro cameras have 100% viewfinders but less expensive cameras like the D5200 only show about 95%. You can't see what's going on outside the frame. With a rangefinder the viewfinder is separate from the lens. It's a constant size and no matter what focal length you're using you can see outside the framelines. Wider lenses give you less leeway, but there is always some space around it. 

No mirror. No mirror has a few benefits. When the shutter is released on a DSLR the mirror flips up and out of the way before the shutter curtain opens. This causes a blackout in the viewfinder so you never actually seethe moment you captured until you review it. With a rangefinder you can see exactly what happens as you hear that shutter click. Having no mirror also means less vibration and the rangefinder camera also being smaller means you can handhold slower than the usual 1/focal length rule. I can easily hand hold about a stop slower and with support (like leaning against a pole) I can sometimes get two stops maybe more. It also makes the camera quieter. The newer digital rangefinders aren't as quiet as the old film cameras, but they don't make a big clack with the mirror. 

For DSLRs autofocus is the way of life. That's one of the reasons why the DSLRs don't use special focus screens. People don't manual focus much. Some pro cameras can have the focus screens swapped out, but the problem is that there are few companies that offer these screens and the most respected one is going out of business. There's a Chinese company that has some screens to order, but who knows if they're good or accurate? In any case the D5200 doesn't have the option to swap screens. 

Rangefinder aren't the perfect camera for everything, but they are good for the reasons I stated above plus more. It's definitely not a type of camera that everyone falls in love with. Many people just don't like them. Kinda like I don't care for mirrorless EVF cameras. They aren't bad, but they don't work for me. But, despite some of the limitations of rangefinder camera I have managed to photograph just about every different type of subject: portraits, products, landscapes, architecture, live music and even sports!

If you ever get a chance to try one out, I encourage you to do so. You may not like it, or you may fall in love with it. 

To be 100% honest, if I didn't make a living doing photography I'd probably sell all of my DSLR gear and shoot only with a rangefinder camera. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Lens Flipper!

At this time I must RETRACT my review of the Lens Flipper. I have had a $3599 lens to hit the ground and SMASH.

Rarely do I have to to such a retraction of my reviews and I am VERY sorry for anyone that purchased this product. If you DID purchase this thing STOP USING IT IMMEDIATELY!!! 

I have email documentation claiming that the Lens Flipper will hold up to 132 pounds.

As of this time I recommend that you DO NOT USE THIS PRODUCT. 

I am in contact with Lens Flipper and we're working on a resolution/fix

That's all i can say, but I don't recommend using this product at this time.

The Lens Flipper is a cool little accessory that probably should have been invented ages ago! After many years of carrying around 2 cameras at events I found myself tiring of lugging around so much bulk especially when shooting events where switching from a normal lens to and ultra-wide or tele wasn't a matter of critical speed. So I started carrying one camera body and a spare lens.

The problem with carrying around a spare lens is that meant I always had to have some sort of bag on me and also led to logistical problems with finding the right bag. If the bag was too small, I couldn't pull of the change fast enough because I was fighting to get lenses in and out of the bag but I also didn't want to carry around a large bag which defeated the purpose of traveling light.

Using a bag for a lens changeout also led to fumbling around looking for lens caps and sometimes dropping lenses (a few times with pretty disastrous results). In any case, when I stumbled upon this new gadget, the Lens Flipper I was pretty excited (after initially kicking myself for not thinking about this myself!). This little device is the solution to all of the problems I listed above. First of all, it allows you to completely get rid of the bag and even better, it secures your lens from being dropped while you make the change.

Basically the Lens Flipper is a small double-sided locking lens mount. It has a strap that you sling over your shoulder you lock in the lens your not using and it hangs by your side keeping the lens close at hand. When you want to change lenses you simply remove the lens from your camera, lock it into place on the Lens Flipper, then unmount the second lens from the Lens Flipper and mount it to your camera.

It's really a simple device to use and makes lens changes in the field much quicker and easier than before.

The Lens Flipper is lightweight plastic device with a metal lens mount similar to the one on the front of your camera. My lenses securely clicked into place and I didn't feel any concern about the lens accidentally coming loose. It comes with a canvas and nylon strap that attaches to to swiveling mounts, which allow you to flip it over to access the second lens once the first is locked in (hence the name Lens Flipper). The strap is nice and durable and even has leather appointments where the canvas meets the nylon. It attaches to the Lens Flipper like any other camera strap and if you were so inclined you could put one of your own favorite straps on it.

I tried out my Lens Flipper with all kinds of lenses with no real issues, but I was a bit skeptical of hanging my heavier lenses on it. I did carry around my 70-200 f/2.8 VR for awhile with no issues, but I'll admit I was a little nervous. I did not however risk trying it with the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 | S because coming in at about 9 pounds and costing about $3600 I didn't want to risk it. However for standard zooms and prime lenses I had no qualms about having them hang from the Lens Flipper even while riding my motorcycle around town.
*edit: Lens Flipper confirms that it's rated to 132 pounds!

The only real issue I had with the Lens Flipper was that I often found myself hunting for the lens mounting mark. I work in the dark quite a bit and I often rely on tactile properties when changing lenses. I generally feel for the raised lens mounting marks on the camera body and lens to quickly line them up and on the Lens Flipper I had to actually look down to match up the dot on the flange with the dot on the Lens Flipper mount. It's a minor quibble, but it's something that really got in my way at times. Ideally, I'd like to see a small plastic lens mounting guide just like you find on most lenses today integrated, which would make locking the lens in easier especially in dark situations like concerts and nighttime events.

I highly recommend this little gadget if you want a quicker, and more importantly, safer way to change out lenses in the field. You can order direct at

Here's a video from the Lens Flipper folks showing you how it works.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Nikon D3300 quick review

I picked up the Nikon D3300 a few days ago and we finally had nice enough weather today so I could go strolling around downtown Austin testing the D3300 out along with new 18-55 collapsible kit lens. I need another week or two to come up with a full review, but so far this camera is knocking my socks off!

Digital photography technology is starting to plateau and the new camera updates don't seem like much because a lot of the changes are starting under the hood. Nikon has realized that 24MP is about the right size for a DX sensor, the best compromise between resolution without making files sizes unmanageable.  With the D7100 Nikon started to ditch the Optical Low-Pass Filter - OLPF (aka "blur filter") because the resolution is high enough to deal with the issue of moiré. The OLPF was made to kill this effect by creating a slight blur. With the D7100, the D5300, and now the D3300 the OPLF has been done away with. This allows the sensor to resolve very fine detail with more clarity, as you can see in the photo below. In cameras with lesser resolution if there were no OLPF the image below would have rife with moiré and aliasing. As you can see, there is none.

click to view larger

The difference between the D3200 with the OLPF and the D3300 without is pretty apparent. Looking in at 100%, the amount of detail is incredible. The difference in image quality between the entry-level cameras and high-end model is not a huge stretch as it used to be. D3300 and the flagship DX camera the D7100 are both nearly identical any my research as well as others like DxO Mark show that the D3300 performs in some ways better than the D7100, which costs twice what the D3300 does (of course the build quality and handling are much different).

In any case the even when shooting JPEGs (no LR5 RAW support yet), I've noticed that the image quality of the D3300 is nothing less than astounding. The photos are sharp as a razor, the color  is contrasty and vibrant even using SD Picture Control, but it's not overboard. The Auto-WB is amazingly accurate even in odd lighting situations like the one in the image shown below that has a super blue sky, warm sunlight and cool shadows all right on top of each other.

click to view larger

The dynamic range of the Nikon D3300 is very good in JPEG mode and with RAW support should show a vast improvement. As you can see in this image of the 6th Street Cowboy and Mule, even though the light was very harsh, and the dynamic range was probably about 12-14 EV, the D3300 JPEGs captured the shadow and highlight details very well even without Active D-Lighting.

click to view larger

The D5300 also comes with a newly designed kit lens. The lens is collapsible to make it smaller (something that Leica did since the 30's to keep the camera pocketable when not in use). When the lens is collapsed it's about 1/2" shorter than the original VR kit lens, and its also skinnier and lighter. The AF-S on this lens is so quiet I found myself aiming at something at a different distance just to make sure it was working! So the AF-S has been refined but it's still a cheaper version than the Silent-Wave motor in the more expensive lenses. The focus ring still rotates when focusing, but the front element does not. It seems a tad faster at focusing than the previous versions as well.

The lens is crazy sharp. Although the lens design supposedly didn't change from the original, I can see that it's sharper right off the bat. It's quite noticeable. It's very good wide open and at f/8-11 it's phenomenal. If sharpness is your thing this kit lens is it. If you don't need a fast lens or a tele this may be then only lens you ever need buy. This D33000 + 18-55 VR II lens combo produces highly detailed and clinically sharp images. Stopped down to f/8 this lens compares to my 50mm Zeiss Planar f/2. And that's saying something!

The real downside to this lens is the terrible distortion, I mean really bad. I'm not one that goes looking for distortion, but with this lens it's almost unacceptable. At 18mm to compensate for the distortion I have to dial in +22 on the Distortion slider in the Lens Corrections module in Lightroom 5. My Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 at 18mm needs almost no correction (+0.5 to 2mm at most). If you're shooting JPEG or using Nikon Capture NX2 you can enable the Auto distortion control, but then your frames start losing edges. Distortion is pretty easy to correct in post, so it's not a deal-breaker, but it is definitely not the lens for shooting things with lots of straight lines, such as architecture.

The D3300 is very small and light but it still feels good in your hands, even for someone like me with big ol' paws. It handles very nice. It's comfortable to hold and shoot with and the buttons are well laid out in Nikon style. If you're not attracted to the idea of mirrorless cameras and you want a DSLR with a real optical viewfinder this is Nikon's smallest and lightest offering.

The 11 point AF module is tried and true, but still kinda tough to see especially when it's very bright or very dark. I wish the AF brackets would light up instead of the little dots. The AF has a good amount of coverage (ahem, better than the D600/610 and Df...). I would be great AF brackets would stay lit in dark as it's really hard to tell where the active point is until you start focusing. The AF works pretty well in low light. Of course the center cross point is more responsive and faster to hit focus than the outer points. In daylight it nails focus no problems

The EXPEED 4 image processor pushes this camera ahead of the D3200 by allowing a faster frame rate of 5fps (which is pretty darn good), it also allows the D3300 to record full HD 1080p at 60fps, and one of the most important features to me is that the EXPEED 4 processor enables cleaner high ISO files. The D3300 is a bit better than the D5300 maybe 1/3 stop, but it's an easy 1stop better than the D7100. The D3300 actually performs at the same level or better as both the D5300 and the D7100, the only thing it's bested at is about 1 stop better in dynamic range. Considering all of these cameras have the same sensor the EXPEED 4 is doing some good things. The 5300 has EXPEED 4 as well, but somehow the D3300 still gets a slight edge.

Being entry-level camera there are a few things left out, but to be honest the menu options are sparse and there are lots of things that should have been left in and it would have been easy to do so. The default for AF-C being focus priority with no option to change is very bad. No guide lines option, t's a personal choice, but it helps me to keep things straight. For some reason I look into the VF and a weird angle and if I don't watch it my shots will be slightly crooked. Anyway, the whole CSM isn't and there are a lot of good options in the CSM in the cameras above. Also no "My Menu" option which is one of the best features on entry-level camera like the D5300 because it's allows you to set your favorite options so you don't have to menu dive.

This quick review went a little longer than I expected, so I'm gonna cut it here. I'll post a more thorough review when I get a few more shooting scenarios with it, especially in the low light. But so far I'm very impressed with this little camera and I have no reservations recommending to to anyone.

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