August 2011 Archives

I found some dust on my camera's sensor so I decided to clean it. I got my bottle of Eclipse fluid, some pec pads, and a flashlight. I diligently made sure I had a fully charged battery, used the shutter lock up routine in my camera to get the shutter out of the way, and commenced cleaning.

I squirted a little Eclipse fluid on my pec pad and noticed that it smelled kinda good. I sniffed it for a minute and felt a little dizzy. I remembered that I was cleaning my sensor so I rubbed the pad back and forth on my camera's exposed sensor. Once I felt that it was clean, I went outside and took a picture of the sky. Back inside and—still some spots on the sensor. In fact, now there were more spots.

More pec pads, more Eclipse fluid, and more pad sniffing. I woke up in the front yard with my camera lying on its back in a puddle of water, a still-running water hose in my hand, and my wife standing over me with a concerned look on her face. "Have you been cleaning your sensor, again?", she asked.

To make a long story short, It was difficult, but after a while I got the sensor clean enough. The water hose helped a lot! I have come to understand one thing clearly: Dust is watching us!

After cleaning my camera's sensor this morning, I decided to eradicate dust from my house. I started seeking dust, and found it. I crawled down behind the toilet, and found some dust collecting back there. I blasted it with an air can, and it fled. I then sprayed the area liberally with Lysol to kill the nasty dust. I don't want it to breed.

Next I looked above my bathroom cabinet, and found some dust lurking on top of one of the light bulbs. I unscrewed the bulb and put it in a ziplock baggy for later washing in the yard with my water hose. I sprayed the air to make sure that dust wasn't trying to follow me out of the bathroom.

As I went downstairs, I saw it! Some dust was on my left arm. It tried to blend in, but I could see it hiding behind the hairs. I whipped out a moist towelette and eradicated the dust, and from excessive pressure, the hairs too. I hope it doesn't scar. But, it was worth it, 'cause there's no more dust on my arm.

When I sat down at my computer, I noticed that my monitor had some dust on the bottom lip of the screen. I squirted a bottle of sensor-cleaning Eclipse fluid on the screen, and it ran down on the dust, effectively killing it and washing it away ... right into my keyboard.

After I replaced my keyboard, I noticed that my monitor was changing colors. Stupid cheap Samsung SyncMaster! I've been wanting to get a better monitor anyways.

I've figured it out! These little dust creatures are entirely evil and mean. They do anything they can to get to camera sensors. I think they must eat sensor surfaces, or breed on them, or else why would they go to such lengths to get on the sensors? I think I saw a dust crop circle on my sensor earlier today. They are clearly signalling their bretheren.

As I sit here looking around the room, I realize that dust is everywhere around me. This is much worse than I thought. I'm going to go boil one of those allergy masks in Eclipse fluid, so that I can safely wear it. I don't want to be breathing this dust into my delicate lungs, especially after all that screaming I did at the sensor dust while spraying it with my water hose this morning.

Hmmm, my chest is still sore from screaming ... or is it? Could it be that dust is ALREADY in my lungs, and THAT's why they are sore? OMG, I think dust has gotten to me. It's killing me. I am going to go eat some moist towelettes soaked in Eclipse fluid. Hopefully that will help!

If you don't hear from me for a few days, it could be because of these guys in white coats that Brenda called. They just told me that they were going to take me to a special room to wait while they clean all the dust out of my house. Whew ... I just love my dear Digital Brenda.

Well, I gotta go. The guys brought me a special dust repellant coat with arm coverings and cool buckles for safety. I am gonna wear it for a few days to protect me while they remove the dust. I guess this will help my arm heal too!

Talk to you guys soon. Watch out for dust bunnies!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

What is White Balance?

The human eye and brain can adjust to virtually any lighting situation.

Let's say you're reading a book with an old fashioned incandescent light bulb in your lamp. You probably won't notice that the normally white pages of your book have a warm orange tint. Your brain adjusts your color perception so that the pages of the book look white to your eye.  If you take your book outside and sit under a tree in the shade, the color of the light is now a cool bluish.  Yet, your eye keeps right on perceiving the book's page as white.

Every light source has a different color.  If you're taking pictures in direct sunlight, and suddenly a cloud's shadow covers your subject, there is a difference in the color of the light.  It's called the "color temperature" of the light.  Your brain adjusts automatically to different color temperatures and you see everything with normal colors, no matter what the light source.

Unfortunately, a camera does not have the power of your brain. A Nikon DSLR has an Auto White Balance setting that does its best to adjust to the current lighting color temperature.  It does a good job most of the time.  However, sometimes it needs a little help, especially when you want very consistent results from image to image.

It will benefit your photography significantly to understand how the White Balance (WB) features of your camera operate.

How does White Balance Work?

Normally, the WB settings are used to adjust the camera so that whites are truly white and other colors are accurate under whatever light source you are shooting. You can also use the White Balance controls to deliberately introduce color casts into your image for interesting special effects.

Camera WB color temperatures are exactly backwards from the Kelvin scale we learned in school for star temperatures. Remember that a red giant star is “cool,” while a blue/white star is “hot.”  The WB color temperatures are backwards because the camera's WB system is adding color to make up for a deficit of color in the original light of the subject. For instance, under a fluorescent light, there is a deficit of blue, which makes the image appear greenish-yellow. By adding blue, the image is balanced to a more normal appearance.

Another example might be shooting on a cloudy overcast day. The ambient light could cause the image to look bluish if left unadjusted.  The auto WB control in your camera sees the "cool" color temperature and adds some red to "warm" the colors a bit.  Normal camera WB on a cloudy overcast day might be about 6000K.

Just remember that we use the real Kelvin temperature range in reverse and that warm colors are considered reddish while blue colors are cool. Even though this is backwards from what we were taught in school, it fits our situation better. Blue seems cool while red seems warm to photographers! Just don’t let your astronomer friends convince you otherwise.

Main point: Understanding WB in a simplified way is simply realizing that light has a range of colors that go from cool to warm. We can adjust our cameras to use the available light in an accurate, neutral, “balanced” way that matches the actual light source, or allow a color cast to enter the image by unbalancing the settings.

Color Temperature 

The WB range, as allowed by the camera, can vary from a very cool 2500K to a very warm 10000K in most Nikon® DSLRs (may vary). In Figure 1 is the same picture adjusted in Photoshop® to three WB settings manually; 2500K, 5000K, and 10000K.

Figure 1 – Same image with different WB settings

Notice how the 2500K image is much bluer or cooler than the 10000K image. The 5000K image is about right for the picture’s actual daylight. The 10000K image is much too warm.

In the "good old" film days, many of us used daylight balanced film and an 81A filter to warm up our subjects. Or we might add a filter to put some blue in on a foggy day to make the image feel cold and foreboding. You can get the same results with the hard coded white balance settings built-in to the camera.

To achieve the same effect as daylight film and a warming filter, simply select the “Cloudy” white balance setting while shooting in normal daylight. This sets the camera to balance at about 6000K and make nice warm-looking images. If you want to really warm the image up, set the controls to “Shade” which sets the camera to 8000K.

On the other hand, if you want to make the image appear cool or bluish, try using the Fluorescent (4200K) or Incandescent (3000K) settings in normal daylight.

Remember, the color temperature shifts from “cool” values to “warm” values. The camera can record your images with any color temperature from 2500K (very cool or bluish) to 10000K (very warm or reddish) and any major value in between. There's no need to carry different film emulsions or filters to deal with light color range.  The camera has very easy to use color temperature controls, and a full range of color temperatures available.

Should I Worry About White Balance if I Shoot in RAW Mode?

The quick answer is no, but maybe not the best answer. When you take a picture using RAW mode (creating .NEF files) the sensor image data has no WB, sharpening, or color saturation information applied. Instead, the information about your camera settings is stored as “markers” along with the raw black & white sensor data. Color information is only applied permanently to the image when you post-process and save the image in another format, like JPG, TIF, or EPS.

When you open the image in Nikon Capture NX 2, or another raw conversion program, the camera settings are applied to the sensor data in a temporary way so that you can view the image on your computer screen. If you don’t like the color balance or any other setting you used in-camera, you simply change it in the conversion software, and the image looks as if you used the new settings originally when you took the picture.

Does that mean you shouldn't be concerned about WB settings if you shoot RAW most of the time? No. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the human brain can quickly adjust to an image’s colors and perceive them as normal, even when they are not? That's one of the dangers of not using correct WB. Since an unbalanced image on-screen is not compared to another correctly balanced image side-by-side, there is a danger that your brain may accept the slightly incorrect camera settings as normal, and your image will be saved with a color cast.

Use your WB correctly at all times and you’ll make better images for it. You’ll do less post camera work if the WB is correct in the first place. As RAW shooters, we already have a lot of post-processing work to do on our images. Why add WB corrections to the work flow?

Additionally, you might decide to switch to JPEG mode in the middle of a shoot, and if you are not accustomed to using your WB controls, you will be in trouble. When you shoot JPEGs, your camera will apply the WB information directly to the image, and save it on your card...permanently. Be safe…always use good WB technique!

Setting White Balance in the Shooting Menu

This method let's you manually select the WB color temperature by using the shooting Menu screens. You can open up White balance on the Shooting Menu and set the color temperature by selecting from a list of preset values or by setting it to Auto (default) for camera selected white balance values.

Figure 2 – Manual white balance with Shooting Menu screens

Here are the screens and steps used to select a White balance setting:

  1. Select White balance from the Shooting Menu and scroll to the right (see figure 2, image 1).
  2. Select one of the preset values, such as Flash or Cloudy, and scroll to the right (see figure 2, image 2).
  3. Press the OK button immediately, without moving the little square from its center position—unless you want to fine tune the white balance setting (see figure 2, image 3).

Normally you’ll use only the first two screens in figure 2 to select one of the preset WB values, such as Cloudy, Shade, or Direct sunlight. Then you’ll just press the OK button on the final screen, without changing anything. Or, you can use the third screen in figure 2 to manually fine tune the white balance. Unless you are a really finicky person you probably should just press the OK button in the second screen of figure 2 and bypass the fine tuning process.

If you choose to fine-tune any of the color temperature settings after you have selected one of the preset WB values, the color box in the last screen of figure 2 allows you to do so by mired clicks. Each press of the Multi Selector in a given direction is equal to 5 mired in that direction—up is green (G), down is magenta (M), left is blue (B), right is amber (A).

If you aren’t familiar with adjusting the preset’s default color temperature, or don’t want to change it (most won’t), then simply press the OK button without moving the little square from the center. If you’ve accidentally moved it, simply move it back with the Multi Selector until it’s in the middle again, then press the OK button. That will select the preset WB value without modifying its default value (see Method 1 for a list of the preset WB default values).

Note: The Fluorescent selection allows you to choose one of seven different light sources, covering a wide spectrum. It has an additional screen, as shown in figure 3.

Figure 3 – Fluorescent’s seven selections
You'll need to experiment and see which fluorescent source matches yours. It may be best to do an ambient "PRE" reading using a gray card. My Mastering the Nikon DSLR books explain how in the chapter dedicated to White Balance. In fact, the most accurate form of white balance is using a white or gray card to do a WB reading in the ambient light bathing your subject. Let's consider a few tips and tricks for ambient light readings.

White Balance Tips and Tricks

Tips for using a white/gray card: When measuring WB with a gray or white card keep in mind that your camera does not need to focus on the card. In PRE mode, it will not focus anyway, since it is only trying to read light values, not take a picture. The important thing is to put your lens close enough to the card to prevent it from seeing anything other than the card. Three or four inches (about 100mm) away from the card is about right for most lenses.

Also, be careful that the source light is not casting a shadow from the lens onto the card in a way that lets your lens see some of the shadow. This will make the measurement less accurate. Also, be sure that your source light does not make a glare on the card. That is a little harder to do since the card has a matte surface, but it still can be done. You may want to hold the card at a slight angle to the source light if it is particularly bright and might cause glare.

Finally, when the light is dim, use the white side of the card since it has more reflectivity. This may prevent a bad reading in low light. The gray card may be more accurate for color balancing, but might be a little dark for a good measurement in dim light. If you are shooting in normal light the gray card is best for balancing. I doubt it makes a lot of difference, however; you might want to experiment in normal light with your camera and see which you prefer.

Learn to use your White Balance controls for consistent color control in your most important images.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

There are a couple of functions in Nikon cameras that sound somewhat similar and subsequently confuses many Nikon users. They are Auto Image Rotation and Rotate Tall. To make it clearer how these functions work, are related to each other, yet are different from each other; let's consider them both.

Auto Image Rotation

Auto image rotation is concerned with how vertical images are displayed on your camera’s Monitor and later on your computer. Horizontal images are not affected by this setting. The camera has a direction-sensing device, so it knows how the camera was oriented when a picture was taken.

Depending on how you have Auto image rotation set, how the Playback Menu > Rotate tall setting is set, and the direction you hold your camera’s hand grip, the camera will display a vertical image either as an upright portrait image, with the top of the image at the top of the Monitor, or lying on its side in a horizontal direction, with the top of the image to the left or right of the Monitor. The two selections are as follows:

  • On – With Auto image rotation turned On, the camera stores orientation information within each image, primarily so the image will display correctly in computer software, such as Nikon Capture NX 2 and ViewNX 2. In other words, the camera records, as part of the image metadata, whether you were holding your camera horizontally or vertically (hand grip down) or even upside-down vertically (hand grip up). The image will display in the correct orientation on your camera’s Monitor only if you have Playback Menu > Rotate tall set to On. Auto image rotation lets the image speak for itself as to orientation, while Rotate tall lets the camera listen to the image and display it in the proper orientation.
  • Off – If Auto image rotation is turned Off, the vertical image will be displayed as a horizontal image lying on its side in your computer software. The top of the image will be on the left or right according to how you held the hand grip—up or down—when you took the picture. The camera does not record orientation information in the image metadata. It will display images horizontally, even if you have the Playback Menu > Rotate tall function set to On.

Figure 1 – Auto image rotation settings

Use the following steps to set the Auto image rotation function:

  1. Select Auto image rotation from the Setup Menu and scroll to the right (figure 1, image 1).
  2. Choose On or Off from the menu (figure 1, image 2).
  3. Press the OK button to lock in your selection.

If you’re shooting in one of the Continuous-servo release modes (CL or CH), the position in which you hold your camera for the first shot sets the direction the images are displayed.

My Recommendation: If you want your images to be displayed correctly on your camera’s Monitor and in your computer, you’ll need to be sure that Auto image rotation is set to On. I always keep mine set that way.

Rotate Tall

When you shoot a portrait-oriented (vertical) image, with the camera turned sideways, the image can later be viewed as a horizontal image lying on its side or as a smaller, upright (tall) image on the camera’s horizontal (wide) Monitor.

If you view the image immediately after taking it, the camera’s software assumes that you are still holding the camera in the rotated position, and the image will be displayed correctly for that angle. Later, if you are reviewing the image with the camera’s playback functionality and have Rotate tall set to On, the image will be displayed as an upright, vertical image that is smaller so it will fit on the horizontal Monitor. You can zoom in to see sharpness detail, if needed.

If you would rather have the camera leave the image lying on its side in a horizontal view, forcing you to turn the camera 90 degrees to view it, you’ll need to choose Off.

The following two settings are available on the Rotate tall menu (figure 2):

  • On – When you take a vertical image, the camera will rotate it so you don’t have to turn your camera to view it naturally during playback. This resizes the view of the image so that a vertical image fits in the horizontal frame of the Monitor. The image will be a bit smaller than normal. When you first view the image after taking it, the camera does not rotate it, since it assumes you are still holding the camera in a vertical orientation. It also senses which end of the camera is up—if the Shutter-release button is up or down—and displays the image accordingly.
  • Off – Vertical images are left in a horizontal direction, lying on their side; you’ll need to turn the camera to view the images in the same orientation as when they were taken. This provides a slightly larger view of a portrait-oriented image.

Figure 2 – Playback Menu – Rotate tall

Here are the three steps to choose a Rotate tall setting:

  1. Choose Rotate tall from the Playback Menu and scroll to the right (figure 2, image 1).
  2. Select On or Off from the Rotate tall screen (figure 2, image 2).
  3. Press the OK button to finish.

My Recommendation: I leave Rotate tall set to On. That way I can view a portrait-oriented image in its natural, vertical orientation without turning my camera. Be sure you understand the relationship between this function and Auto image rotation, which stores orientation data with the picture. I always set Rotate tall and Setup Menu > Auto image rotation to On. That lets me view images in the correct orientation on my camera’s Monitor and my computer screen.

In Summation

Basically, Rotate tall and Auto image rotation work together to display your image in the correct orientation. Rotate tall gives you the choice of how the image is viewed based on the orientation information it finds in the image’s metadata. Setup Menu > Auto image rotation causes the camera to store how the image was taken so it will know whether the image has a vertical or horizontal composition. It can then report this information to the Playback Menu > Rotate tall function.

Hopefully, by comparing these two functions side by side, you will learn to use them both to effectively support your style of photography.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Many new users of Nikon DSLRs have a peculiar difficulty when trying to use the AF-C (Continuous-servo autofocus) setting on their cameras. AF-C allows you to hold down the Shutter-release button and shoot bursts of many images in rapid succession. Unless you understand the differences between Focus priority and Release Priority when using AF-C, some of your images will simply be out of focus. If your camera is set incorrectly for your style of shooting, you can even have focus problems when using AF-S (Single-servo autofocus), where you only take one picture for each press of the Shutter-release button.

Note: Focus priority means that the camera will take a picture only when it can focus on your subject. Release priority means that the camera will take a picture even when it can't get good autofocus. Why would a camera even have a Release priority if it can cause out of focus images? We'll see.

Let's examine two specific Custom Settings—a1 and a2—in your Nikon. You'll find the settings when you press the Menu button and find the Custom Setting Menu, which is the third menu down, under the Playback and Shooting Menus. You'll find a1 and a2 under the Custom Setting Menu heading called a Autofocus. These two Custom Settings allow you to choose Focus priority (Focus) or Release priority (Release) for AF-C and AF-S modes.

First, we'll examine what the settings do and then see how to adjust them. Why not get your Nikon before you read on and be prepared to adjust these settings as you better understand them.

Using Custom Settings a1 and a2

Two of the more important Custom Settings are a1 AF-C priority selection and a2 AF-S priority selection. This special section will help you understand why you must pay very close attention to these two settings.

Again, Focus priority simply means that your camera will refuse to take a picture until it can reasonably focus on something. Release priority means that the camera will take a picture when you decide to take it, whether anything is in focus or not!

Now, you might ask yourself why there is such a setting as Release priority. Many professional photographers shoot high-speed events at high frame rates—taking hundreds of images—and use depth of field (or experience and luck) to compensate for less than accurate focus. They are in complete control of their camera’s systems since they have a huge amount of practice in getting the focus right where they want it to be. There are valid reasons for these photographers not to use Focus priority.

You need to ask yourself, "What type of photographer am I?" If you are a pro shooting hundreds of pictures of fast race cars, Focus priority may not be for you. However, for average photographers taking pictures of their kids running around the yard, deer jumping a fence, beautiful landscapes, flying birds, or a bride tossing a bouquet, Focus priority is usually the best choice. For most of us, it’s better to have the camera refuse to take the picture unless it’s able to focus on our subject.

When you’re shooting at a high frame rate, Focus priority may cause your camera to skip a series of out-of-focus images. It will slow your camera’s frame rate so that it will not reach the maximum number of frames per second, in some cases. But, I have to ask, what is the point of several out-of-focus images among the in-focus pictures? Why waste the card space and then have to weed through the slightly out-of-focus images?

Pay special attention to these two settings. You will need to decide—based on your style of shooting—whether you want your camera to refuse to take an out-of-focus image. If you set a1 and a2 to Focus priority and you try to take an out-of-focus image, the Shutter-release button will simply not release the shutter. The little green focus indicator in the Viewfinder will have to be on before the shutter will release.

Let's see how to adjust these two Custom Settings next:

Custom Setting a1 – AF-C Priority Selection

The a1 AF-C priority selection setting is designed to let you choose how your autofocus works when using Continuous-servo autofocus mode (AF-C). If you configure this setting incorrectly for your style of shooting, it’s entirely possible that a number of your pictures will be out of focus. Notice in the upcoming figure 1, image 3, that there are two specific selections, as follows:

Release Priority for AF-C

If the image must be taken no matter what, then you will need to set AF-C priority selection to Release. This allows the shutter to fire every time you press the Shutter-release button, even if the image is not in focus. Releasing the shutter has priority over autofocus. If you are well aware of the consequences of shooting without a focus guarantee, then use this setting to make your camera take a picture every time you press the Shutter-release button. Your camera will shoot at its maximum frames per second (fps) rate since it is not hampered by the time it takes to validate that each picture is in correct focus. You’ll need to decide whether taking the image is more important than having it in focus.

Focus Priority for AF-C

This setting is designed to prevent your camera from taking a picture when the Focus indicator in the Viewfinder is off. In other words, if the picture is not in focus, the shutter will not release. It does not mean that the camera will always focus on the correct subject. It simply means that your camera must focus on something before it will allow the shutter to release. Nikon cameras do a very good job with autofocus, so you can usually depend on the AF module to perform well. The Focus setting will drastically increase the chances that your image is in correct focus.

AF-C_Priorities.jpgFigure 1 – Setting Focus or Release priority for a1 AF-C priority selection

Use the following steps to select a Shutter-release priority when using a1 AF-C priority selection:

  1. Select a Autofocus from the Custom Setting Menu and scroll to the right (figure 1, image 1).
  2. Highlight a1 AF-C priority selection and scroll to the right (figure 1, image 2).
  3. Choose Release or Focus from the menu (figure 1, image 3), with full understanding of what may happen if you don’t choose Focus (out-of-focus pictures).
  4. Press the OK button to select your Shutter-release priority.

My Recommendation: Since I’m not a sports or action shooter, I choose Focus. Even if I were an action shooter, I would choose Focus. If I were a professional action shooter with many years of experience I may choose Release because I understand how to get good focus without autofocus in fast moving events.

Custom Setting a2 – AF-S Priority Selection

The a2 AF-S priority selection setting is very similar to a1 AF-C priority selection. It also allows you to choose whether the camera will take a picture with something out of focus. With this setting, you set the Shutter-release priority for Single-servo autofocus mode (AF-S). It you set it incorrectly for your style of shooting, many of your pictures may be out of focus. There are two modes to choose from, as follows:

Release Priority for AF-S

A photo can be taken at any time. This can lead to images that are out of focus unless you manually focus each time you take a picture. The camera’s priority is releasing the shutter when you press the Shutter-release button, and it will do so even if nothing is in focus.

Focus Priority for AF-S

The image must be in focus or the shutter will not release. This means that the shutter won’t release unless the Focus indicator in the Viewfinder is on. This is the closest thing to a guarantee that your image will be in focus when you press the Shutter-release button. However, if you are focused on the wrong part of your subject, the camera will still fire.

AF-S_Priorities.jpgFigure 2 – Setting Focus or Release priority for a2 AF-S priority selection

Use the following steps to select a Shutter-release priority when using a2 AF-S priority selection:

  1. Select a Autofocus from the Custom Setting Menu and scroll to the right (figure 2, image 1).
  2. Highlight a2 AF-S priority selection and scroll to the right (figure 2, image 2).
  3. Choose one of the two settings from the menu, with full understanding of what may happen if you don’t choose Focus (figure 2, image 3).
  4. Press the OK button to select your shutter-release priority.

My Recommendation: I choose Focus priority when using AF-S. I love pictures that are in focus, don’t you? When I want to manually control focus, I’ll just flip the switch to manual on the camera or lens and focus where I want.

With the information above you may have a better understanding of Focus and Release priority. Please experiment with these settings and determine how you want to set them. The camera comes from the factory with Custom Setting a1 – AF-C set to Release priority. Custom Setting a2 – AF-S set to Focus priority. Of course, if you purchased a pre-owned camera, or have been fiddling with the settings previously, they may be set to either of the two choices. Learn to use these settings for more professional performance.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

August 24, 2011 at 12:01 a.m. EDT - Nikon releases six new Coolpix cameras. Many were surprised since eight Coolpix cameras were released merely six months ago, in February of this year.

Nikon DSLR fans everywhere are sighing today over the lack of new DSLR releases last night. Rumors have been flying hot and heavy across the web, with dreams of a D300S and D700 replacement, an ILC/EVIL model (Interchangeable Lens Camera or Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens Camera), and even a D4 for the pros. All the the consumer and enthusiast-level Nikons have been upgraded, with the earlier release of the D3100, D5100, and D7000.

Does this mean that we will see no new DSLRs or the promised ILC/EVIL model, until spring of 2012?  Time will tell! Barring additional and unexpected announcements by Nikon in 2011, we may have to wait until spring. The earthquake in Japan may have become a factor in not releasing new DSLRs, due to the destruction of inventory and factory facilities.

Your D300, D300S, D700, D3, D3S, and D3X cameras are still hot performers. Remember how excited you were when you first got them? Well, hang on to that excitement for a few more months. Nikon sometimes releases DSLRs later than we would like, but when they do, lookout! They invariably set standards that other manufacturers scramble to meet, eventually.

Keep your confidence high in our favorite camera company. When we get our new DSLRs we will have in our hands a very mature, robust, and significantly more powerful line of cameras. When the new ILC/EVIL camera is released, we may even have something that makes the 4/3rd users green with envy. Who knows, maybe Nikon will surprise us with another announcement this year!

Upcoming are several abbreviated press release segments concerning the new Coolpix camera releases, along with pictures. At the end of each segment is a link to Nikon's website for detailed information on each model.

Nikon CoolPix P7100

MELVILLE, N.Y. (August 24, 2011) – Today, Nikon Inc. announced the new COOLPIX P7100, the digital camera that packs stellar image quality, swift performance and a variety of creative manual controls into a compact, lightweight camera body. The 10.1-megapixel COOLPIX P7100 is the ideal camera that advanced photographers will seek as a companion to their D-SLR camera when both portability and superior image quality are a necessity.p7100_FRT_BCK_600.jpg
Coolpix P7100 front and back views

The new COOLPIX P7100 easily assumes the role as the new COOLPIX flagship by delivering amazing image quality, stunning High Definition (HD) movies and high speed performance to create an appealing package for professionals and enthusiasts alike. With an overall emphasis on image quality, consumers can expect rapid response in all aspects of camera operation, which also encompasses a new enhanced AF system for tack-sharp images in a variety of lighting conditions. Whether shooting landscapes or action, users have full creative control with the new 3.0-inch tilting vari-angle LCD screen, full manual features and new Special Effects that add a new dimension to images. With the aid of Nikon core technologies and distinctive new features and controls, the COOLPIX P7100 digital camera shifts image quality and performance into overdrive.

“The new COOLPIX P7100 is an enthusiast compact camera that provides stellar image quality, superior mobility and operability, as well as quick response and performance during even the most challenging shooting situations,” said Lisa Osorio, General Manager of Marketing at Nikon Inc. “The COOLPIX P7100 will allow users to explore their creative freedom, yet delivers the amazing results that they have become accustomed to with their Nikon cameras.”

Link to more information on the P7100:
Digital Compact Camera Nikon COOLPIX P7100

Nikon Coolpix AW100 and AW100s

MELVILLE, N.Y. (August 24, 2011) – Today, Nikon Inc. announced the new COOLPIX AW100, a camera that can stand up to the rigorous expectations of those with an appetite for adventure who demand incredible image quality within a strong, durable body. The waterproof, freeze proof and shockproof COOLPIX AW100 is forged with features for adventure seekers who need amazing image quality and Full High Definition (HD) movie recording to keep pace with their active lifestyle.

Coolpix AW series cameras in red, white, camo, black, and blue

The COOLPIX AW100’s newly designed rugged chassis is built to withstand harsh environments, yet is compact and lightweight enough to pack for a weekend on the trail. Ready to conquer the rocks, the ice and the waves, the AW100 hosts a myriad of Nikon core technologies aimed at providing stunning images and Full HD 1080p movie recording as well as new GPS technologies for outdoor enthusiasts.

“With detailed engineering and advanced technology, the COOLPIX AW100 is the rugged compact camera for the adventure enthusiast who never slows down and needs a camera that delivers amazing images and stunning Full HD movies without a second thought,” said Lisa Osorio, General Manager of Marketing at Nikon Inc. “The AW100 is as tough as the user that needs it, and it offers a sturdy exterior and advanced technology that enables users to capture life’s triumphant moments.”

Link to more information on the AW100 and AW100s:
Digital Compact Camera Nikon COOLPIX AW100/AW100s

Nikon Coolpix S1200pj, S8200, S6200, and S100

MELVILLE, N.Y. (August 24, 2011) – Today, Nikon Inc. introduced four new digital cameras to the COOLPIX S-Series lineup to address the unique lifestyle and needs of the social user who cares about the quality of the images they take and share. The new COOLPIX S-Series puts the “fun” in functionality by delivering enhanced zoom ranges and new ways to share photos and High Definition (HD) video, while being backed by Nikon core technologies like Vibration Reduction (VR) and EXPEED C2™ digital image processing.4-COOLPIX_600.jpg
Expanding on the ultra compact superzoom category, the new COOLPIX S8200 and COOLPIX S6200 deliver high performance zoom with quality NIKKOR optics, while the new COOLPIX S1200pj offers a unique way to share content with a 20-lumen built-in projector and compatibility with the iPhone®, iPad® or iPod touch®. With an enhanced organic LED (OLED) touch screen and chic design, the trendy COOLPIX S100 is the fun to use, stylish camera to see and be seen with.

“The new COOLPIX S-Series cameras combine Nikon’s renowned image quality and superior technology in slim, stylish bodies for connected users who love to share their memories with others,” said Lisa Osorio, General Manager of Marketing at Nikon Inc. “With easy-to-use features and fun capabilities, these cameras inspire consumers to shoot, record and share, while reflecting their personal style.”

Links to more information on the new S series Coolpix cameras:
Coolpix S8200: Digital Compact Camera Nikon COOLPIX S8200
Coolpix S6200: Digital Compact Camera Nikon COOLPIX S6200
Coolpix S100: Digital Compact Camera Nikon COOLPIX S100
Coolpix S1200pj: Digital Compact Camera Nikon COOLPIX S1200pj

Other Nikon News

In other news provided during Nikon's early morning press release: the Nikon D7000 won an EISA Award, winners were announced in the Nikon Photo Contest International 2010–2011, and Nikon released corporate data and forecasts:

Links to additional Nikon information:
Nikon D7000 Digital-SLR Camera Recipient of EISA Award
Nikon Photo Contest International 2010-2011 Announcement of Winners
First Quarter of the Year ending March 2012 Financial Results/Financial and Business Data
Announcement on Financial Forecast and Dividend Forecast Revision For the Year Ending March 31, 2012

Hang In There!

If you were eagerly awaiting a new D400, D800, D4, or some new lenses—hang in there. Nikon will deliver, probably this spring. Remember that only a few months ago they were devastated by one of the largest earthquakes in the recorded history of the world. It is amazing that they are doing any kind of production after such a short period of time.

New Coolpix cameras are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce; and sell. It will help Nikon build up some cash to make our new DSLRs for the spring. I can appreciate their current difficulties and have a lot of empathy for them.

One nice thing to look forward to: if you will take the time to examine some of the cool new features in these new Coolpix cameras, you'll see things that will later appear in the DSLR line. Looking back, technology often appears in the Coolpix line before the DSLRs get the same. We do have exciting times ahead!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Nikon's Picture Control system—found under the Set Picture Control setting on the Shooting Menu—lets you control how your image appears in several ways. Each control has a specific affect on the image’s appearance. If you ever shot film, you know that there are distinct looks to each film type. No two films produce color that looks the same.

In today's digital photography world, Picture Controls give you the ability to impart a specific look to your images. You can use Picture Controls as they are provided from the factory, or you can fine tune Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue.

The cool thing about Picture Controls is that they are shareable. If you tweak a Nikon Picture Control and save it under a name of your choice, you can then share your control with others. Compatible cameras, software, and other devices can use these controls to maintain the look you want from the time you press the Shutter-release button until you print the picture with a program like Nikon Capture NX2.

Here are the Shooting Menu screens used to choose a Picture Control:

Figure 1 – Set Picture Control under the Shooting Menu

You can also modify the currently highlighted control by scrolling to the right before you press the OK button (figure 1, images 2 & 3). This will bring you to the fine-tuning screen. You can adjust the Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue settings by scrolling up or down to select a line and then scrolling right or left (+/-) to change the value of that line item. This is entirely optional.

If you do choose to modify a control, it is not yet a Custom Picture Control because you haven’t saved it under a new name. Instead, it’s merely a modified Nikon Picture Control. To name and save your own Custom Picture Controls you'll use the Shooting Menu selection called Manage Picture Control.

You can select one of the controls and leave the settings at the factory defaults, or you can modify the settings and completely change how the camera captures the image (figure 1, image 3). If you shoot in one of the NEF (RAW) modes, the camera does not apply these settings to the image permanently; it stores them with the image so you can change them during post-processing in your computer. If you shoot JPEG, the camera applies the settings you’ve chosen immediately and permanently. Let’s examine each of the Picture Controls.

Examining Picture Controls in Detail

The following is an overview of what Nikon says about Picture Controls and what I see in images I've taken with the various controls enabled:

SD or Standard

This is Nikon’s recommendation for getting “balanced” results. They recommend SD for most general situations. Use this if you want a balanced image and don’t want to post-process it. It has what Nikon calls “standard image processing.” The SD control provides what I would call medium saturation, with darker shadows to add contrast. If I were shooting JPEG images in a studio or during an event, I would seriously consider using the SD control. I would compare this setting to Fuji Provia or Kodak Kodachrome 64 slide films.

NL or Neutral

This is best for an image that will be extensively post-processed in a computer. It, too, is a balanced image setting, but it applies minimal camera processing so you’ll have room to do more with the image during post-processing. The NL has less saturation and weaker shadows, so the image will be less contrasty. The effects of the NL and SD controls are harder to see since there’s not a marked difference. However, the NL control will give you a little extra dynamic range in each image due to more open shadows and slightly less saturated colors. If you’ve ever shot with Fuji NPS film or Kodak Portra negative films and liked them, you’ll like this control.

VI or Vivid

This is for those of us who love Fuji Velvia slide film! This setting places emphasis on saturating primary colors for intense imagery. The contrast is higher for striking shadow contrast, and the sharpness is higher, too. If you are shooting JPEGs and want to imitate a saturated transparency film like Velvia, this mode is for you! Plus, the greens and blues are extra strong. That means your nature shots will look saturated and contrasty. Be careful when you are shooting on a high-contrast day, such as in direct sunshine in the summer. If you use the VI control under these conditions, you may find that your images are too high in contrast. It may be better to back off to the SD or NL control when shooting in bright sunshine. You’ll need to experiment with this to see what I mean. On a cloudy or foggy low-contrast day, when the shadows are weak, you may find that the VI control adds a pleasing saturation and contrast to the image.

MC or Monochrome

This allows the black-and-white lovers among us to shoot in toned black-and-white. The MC control basically removes the color by desaturation. It’s still an RGB color image, but the colors have become levels of gray. It does not look the same as black-and-white film, in my opinion. The blacks are not as deep, and the whites are a little muddy. To me, it seems that the MC control is fairly low contrast, and that’s where the problem lies. Good black-and-white images should have bright whites and deep blacks. To get images like that from a digital camera, you’ll have to manually work with the image in a graphics program like Photoshop. However, if you want to experiment with black-and-white photography, this gives you a good starting point. There are two extra settings in the MC control that allow you to experiment with Filter effects and Toning. The MC control creates a look that is somewhat like Kodak Plus-X Pan negative film, with blacks that are not as deep.

The MC Picture Control has some added features that are enjoyable for those who love black-and-white photography. There are Filter effects that simulate the effect of Y (yellow), O (orange), R (red), and G (green) filters on a monochrome image. Yellow, orange, and red (Y, O, R) change the contrast of the sky in black-and-white images. Green (G) is often used in black-and-white portrait work to change the appearance of skin tones. You don’t have to go buy filters for your lenses; they’re included free in your Nikon.

Additionally, there are 10 variable Toning effects: B&W (standard black-and-white), Sepia, Cyanotype, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue Green, Blue, Purple Blue, and Red Purple. Each of the Toning effects is variable within itself—you can adjust the saturation of the individual tones. You can shoot a basic black-and-white image, use filters to change how colors appear, or tone the image in experimental ways. Can you see the potential for a lot of fun with these tones?

PT or Portrait

This is a control that “lends a natural texture and rounded feel to the skin of portrait subjects” (Nikon’s description). I’ve taken numerous images with the PT control and shot the same images with the NL control. The results are very similar. I’m sure that Nikon has included some software enhancements specifically for skin tones in this control, so I’d use this control for portraits of people. The results from the PT control look a bit like smooth Kodak Portra or Fuji NPS negative film.

LS or Landscape

This is a control that “produces vibrant landscape and cityscapes,” according to Nikon. That sounds like the VI control to me. I shot a series of images using both the LS and VI controls and got similar results. Compared to the VI control, the LS control seemed to have slightly less saturation in the reds and a tiny bit more saturation in the greens. The blues stayed about the same. It seems that Nikon has created the LS control to be similar to, but not quite as drastic as, the VI control. In my test images, the LS control created smoother transitions in color. However, there was so little difference between the two controls that you’d have to compare the images side by side to notice. Maybe this control is meant to be more natural than the super-saturated VI control. It will certainly improve the look of your landscape images. The look of this control is somewhere between Fuji Provia and Velvia. You get great saturation and contrast, with emphasis on the greens in natural settings.

My Recommendation

When you start missing the "good old film days" just keep in mind that Nikon has not forgotten us digital shooters. With Picture Controls, you can imitate favorite films of yesteryear or even invent your own color schemes with a modified Nikon or Custom Picture Control. Experiment with Picture Controls until you are comfortable with them and can choose the right one for each shooting session.

To help you understand Nikon Picture Controls even better, please download and read the following 13-page PDF document from Nikon:

Note: When you click the link above, it takes a few minutes to download the document, during which time it will seems as if nothing is happening. Just be patient and the PDF file will appear. You’ll need Adobe Reader, which you can download for free from, to open the file. This document describes Picture Controls—with lots of pictures—to help you see the range of control you can achieve. I really enjoyed reading it because it explains Nikon Picture Controls well and even mentions software that will work with them.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

I have recently decided to write a new ebook in Kindle, ePub, Apk, and Mobi formats. The book will be very similar to my NikoniansPress/Rocky Nook published print books, except published by NikoniansPress only.

The Nikon D5100 is a fine little DSLR camera for people with smaller hands, those who want a great camera for hiking, and for macro with the built-in maneuverable LCD screen. The camera has 16.2 megapixels and most of the controls found in the Nikon D7000, but with less robust build (polycarbonate). Of course, the price with an AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens is still cheaper than the D7000's body-only price so the camera is appealing to a lot of shooters on a budget.

Here is a look at the cover of the book:

MasterYourNikonD5100_FrontCover4_600px_FINAL.jpgThis eBook is an entirely experimental publication. If it sells well you can bet that we'll have dozens of NikoniansPress eBooks on the market on a variety of photography subjects, as quickly as possible. I like the fact that an eBook takes months less time to get on the market.
The book world is changing fast. Most of us still love a good printed book. However, the pace of life these days make it important that books on cameras are out quickly and are available on multiple devices, like Kindles, iPads, and even iPhone and Androids. An author has more options than ever and so do readers.

These are exciting times. Do you have a favorite eReader? Do you use eBooks?  What do you think of this cover design? Please contact me at the Contact link of my new website

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

With all the changes in the photography world, photographer's have more camera-style choices than ever before. For many years the DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera has ruled the roost. Recently, however, a new (old) style of camera has made an appearance. The ILC (interchangeable-lens camera) provides the imaging sensor size of the DSLR, with a much smaller body.

An entry-level DSLR, The Nikon D3100

In the good old film days there were SLR cameras and various styles of point-and-shoots with good lens quality. If a person wasn't in the mood to carry a big SLR around, the better-quality point and shoot could provide an alternative, with some limitations on lenses.

Today the ILC is similar to the older point-and-shoot cameras, except they have interchangeable lenses like the DSLR. What should we do?  Should we abandon the DSLR paradigm and pursue an ILC instead? Nikon claims that they will come out with an ILC/EVIL camera this year. In fact, I expect an announcement from Nikon this week on new camera releases (stay tuned). Will an ILC be included? We'll see!

The most enthusiastic enthusiasts generally use DSLR cameras. However, ILC cameras are increasing in power and capability with each new generation. ILCs used to be considered less powerful cameras, having a better imaging sensor but not much better otherwise than point and shoot models. However, now the line is blurred between the two types. Some ILCs are very basic—similar to a point-and-shoot—while others are more like DSLRs.

When should you choose a DSLR over an ILC camera? If you are going to do commercial work (even eventually), you may want to consider using a DSLR. If you want to make the best possible images you can make, a DSLR system may still provide an edge over an ILC camera, due to more rapid and precise viewing of the subject through the viewfinder.

This is a touchy subject for some; however, it is generally recognized that the DSLR is the professional’s camera of choice, mainly because of the support system in place from the longer existance of SLR-type cameras. As time goes by and ILCs grow in power, this may change. For now, if you see yourself specializing in things like action or sports photography, portrait work, or event shooting, you may want to choose a DSLR over an ILC.

A Panasonic Lumix G2 Interchangeable Lens (ILC) or EVIL camera

The primary limitations of an ILC come from the slowness of an electronic viewfinder, in comparison to the mirror/prism system of the DSLR. The autofocus system (automatic camera focusing) can also be significantly slower on an ILC due to the fact that most use a type of autofocus called contrast detection. This type of autofocus is very precise but much slower than the type used by DSLR type cameras—called phase detection. That’s why you see all those sports photographers with their DSLRs and huge, long lenses at sporting events. They must have very fast response times in order to capture fast moving subjects. DSLRs excel for that type of photography.

When you are shooting action, it can be harder for an ILC to keep up with the movement, due to slower autofocus and electronic viewfinder response. However, newer ILCs are increasing the speed of their autofocus and electronic viewfinders, so it may be that you’ll do just fine with an ILC instead of a DSLR.
If you are primarily doing things like street photography, landscapes and scenics, and family pictures, an ILC is up to the task. Any type of slower, contemplative photography can be done equally well with a DSLR or ILC. Once again, it all boils down to your own preferences and style. Which camera type do you like best?  That’s the one to use! 

Better yet, get both. Use the DSLR when you are out doing serious commercial-type work, and the ILC when you just want to enjoy photography. Many photographers take that route. They use a DSLR when they don’t mind the extra size and weight of the camera and an ILC when they are interested using a smaller camera, such as for travel photography.

As long as you are using a camera with a large imaging sensor for quality, interchangeable lenses, and normal camera controls, you can use either a DSLR or ILC to be an accomplished photographer.

Hopefully Nikon will release an ILC camera in 2011. Right now if we want to use an ILC, we are limited to a brand other than Nikon. The earthquake in Japan has slowed things down for Japanese companies. Even if a Nikon ILC is delayed to 2012, we'll be happy to have it when it arrives.

Note: ILC cameras are also known as EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens) cameras.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Recently, I have been musing about film. Is it worth picking up an older Nikon film body and playing with film again. Maybe even an old FM or FE from the early 1980s. It might be fun to re-experience the beginnings of my Nikon photography days. I've still got many of my older AI-Nikkor lenses like the 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, and 105mm f/2.5. They just sit there not being used. Shouldn't I use them again? I still have lots of film frozen in my freezer, sadly including some Kodachrome which can no longer be processed.

Is film dead? No! In many countries film has a much bigger following than here in the USA. I think part of that is the fact that many do not have the emphasis on computer technology that we have here. How can you shoot digital in a country where electricity is not a given, for instance? Third world photographers definitely would have a problem shooting digitally.

Shooting digitally is a commitment to using computer technology as much as the camera technology itself. The up front costs are significantly higher due to that fact.

I can see where film still has a very valid place in this world. Most of the film companies still put out film, although a few have gone bankrupt. The fact that film is still here means that many people are still shooting it. Should I shoot some again?

A Nikon FM with an AI-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 manual focus lens

I agree that slides are a delightful thing. I have thousands and thousands of them, and I gaze longingly at them frequently, wishing that they were already scanned. I have found that, even with Nikon's most expensive scanner—the Coolscan 9000—it takes forever to scan an image correctly. And then the results are not up to the quality of my Nikon DSLR, which approaches medium format film, in my experience.

Don't feel that I am a hater of film, because I'm not. I'm just a realist. I decided to take advantage of the new technologies and teach myself the excruciating detail required to really do digital well. Some days I miss film usage and crave a new film body. I'll even get a frozen roll of B&W film out of the freezer and put it in my old Nikon N80. But, then I get aggravated when I shoot a film image and cannot see the results until I pay someone to process the image for me. I want complete control of the imaging process, and want no outsiders messing with my images. I hate only having 36 images maximum before I have to take time to change the film. Some say that makes each image count more since you know you are about to run out of shots. It just aggravates me though! I'm used to my 32 gig memory card and the luxury of shooting thousands of images any time I want.

One of the reasons I decided to go digital back in 2002 was a very important roll of film I sent in to a professional lab. It was from my Mamiya RB67 ProSD in 120 format. When I got the roll back, it had a note attached that said, "We are sorry Mr. Young, but we seem to have ripped the roll of film in half during processing  (ripped longways). Here's a free roll of film for your trouble." Add that to the other local labs scratching my slides, fingerprinting them, and in general treating them like they had no importance, and I got disgusted. Then, one day, I opened a box of slides that I hadn't looked at in a couple of years, and found some little bugs eating my slides. There were big holes in them. That was it. I wanted relief, and so I started reading those aggravating digital articles in photo magazines (summer 2002).

At that point I bought a Nikon D100 and gradually stopped using my lovely F5. I now shoot digital images, transfer them to three hard drives, burn them to two DVDs, and send one DVD to a family member away from my home. My images are now in multiple places at the same time. Try that with film!

A slide scanned with my Nikon Coolscan LS-9000 scanner

But, I still have the film call from time to time. Sometimes I'll take my N80 and shoot a few critical frames on film, mostly Fuji Provia F, along with digital. There is still a place for film and it is quite large yet. Only about 80% of photographers have switched to digital. Almost all American consumers have since the little digital P&S cameras are pretty cheap. But, many pros have not switched fully to digital and are still shooting both.

I, too, craved an F6 when it first came out, but then looked affectionately at my F5, and bought a D2X instead. I don't like the small bodied cameras, and the F6 is too small for me. The F5 is juuuust right! So is the D2X.

Right now, we can make a choice to shoot:

  •     Film Only
  •     Digital Only
  •     Film and Digital

How long that will last, only time will tell. It will get harder to find consumer labs to process film. Maybe pro labs will last longer, but they will fade also. It is only a matter of time, to the chagrin of dedicated film users. But, when the masses switch to a new technology, the old gradually dies. The masses have now switched big time! Film will probably always be around during our lifetimes, but it will get increasingly hard to find a processor for it and it'll be much more expensive when we do. Since it seems that no new film cameras are planned, it is only a matter of time before there are no film camera left to shoot.

Life can be sad when old things we love go away. But, it can also be happy when the new things are fun and even more productive. If your old beloved dog dies, mourn for a while, then get a new puppy.

There are many benefits to digital, compared to film, and they should not be discounted. If you've been shooting mostly film but are thinking of "going digital," now's a very good time. Digital Nikons are mature, full featured, and fun; and the digital process makes better images than film ever did.

However, it certainly won't hurt to remember film and even go back and shoot some for old times sake. Many have been doing that recently. Will you?

Keep on capturing time...
Digital Darrell

This article is a short excerpt from a book I am writing called, Moving Beyond Point-and-Shoot Photography: The Next Step – Learning to Use a DSLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera, due for release by Rocky Nook in the spring of 2012 in print and most eBook formats.

What is an Imaging Sensor?

In the old days of photography people used various light-sensitive chemical coatings on some sort of base material to make an image. The first real photograph was made in 1826 by a man in France named Joseph Niépce. He set up a box with a lens—called a camera obscura—in an upper-story window of his estate and put a polished pewter plate coated with an petroleum-based substance called "bitumen of Judea" inside the box. He uncapped his lens and let the light from the sunny day outside shine on his coated plate for eight hours. The sun shining though the lens exposed and hardened the sun-exposed parts of the bitumen, while areas that were darker on the image were not hardened. He then took the plate and used a solvent to remove the softer bitumen. What was left was the world’s first geniune photograph made with a camera box and lens. You can read more about this historic event and view the first image at the following web address:

By the 1850s photography had caught on as something enthusiasts of the time could accomplish. It was a lot of work since there was no place to buy pre-made photography supplies. The photographer had to coat his or her own base material with a light-sensitive substance and then process it later into a photograph.

As time went by photography became more and more popular. Companies stepped up and provided pre-made cameras and film to take pictures. Now, any enthusiastic person could be a photographer. For many years the medium of photography was carried by film, either as a negative or a transparency.

In 1888 a man named George Eastman created “The Kodak Camera.” His motto was “You press the button, we do the rest.” Within a year, it became a well-known saying and photography exploded in popularity. The point-and-shoot camera was born! Following is a link to Kodak’s website where you can read about the early development of photography and film-based cameras:

Enthusiasts of the time went beyond Kodak’s method of you press the button and we do the rest. Many had what is called a darkroom, where toxic chemicals were used to “develop” the film for use and the film was placed in an enlarger for printing paper-based prints. Those were the prints of yesteryear. Enthusiasts had to work harder than photographers satisfied with the point-and-shoot method.

Around the year 1999 photography changed in a major way. Companies, such as Nikon, introduced professional digital SLR cameras. Instead of using film, the image was captured with an electronic “chip” inside called an imaging sensor. At first, the images captured did not have the resolution of film and most people didn’t take digital cameras seriously. However, by the year 2002, Nikon and Canon were releasing more consumer oriented and affordable enthusiast DSLR cameras, along with less costly point-and-shoot models. The rest is history.

The camera you now have or desire is based on digital technology. Instead of using film, chemicals in a darkroom, and an enlarger to make prints; the digital camera uses an imaging sensor to capture the image, a memory card to store the images, and an inkjet printer for prints. The whole process is more flexible, faster, yet in some ways, more complex.

How Does an Imaging Sensor Work?

The imaging sensor size in your DSLR or ILC provides potential image quality unobtainable by even the best of the point-and-shoot cameras. Many do not realize why a large-sensored camera can make such high-quality images in comparison. Let me explain.

A CMOS chip imaging sensor found in a Nikon D7000 camera

What is a Megapixel?

All digital cameras have an imaging sensor that uses very tiny light-gathering points called pixels—an abbreviation of “picture-elements” (pix-els). There are millions of these tiny light-gathering pixels on the imaging sensor. Each pixel captures a tiny part of the image of your subject. All the pixels working together capture the full image.

You have heard the word megapixel if you have been doing digital photography for very long. Camera companies use the megapixel rating of their cameras as a major sales point. Most people think that the more megapixels, the better the image; however, that may not be true.

The word megapixel simply means million of pixels. The size of the imaging sensor and the number of megapixels on it determine the maximum resolution (size) of the images you can create with the camera. However, there is a tradeoff in quality when too many pixels are added to a sensor. The problem with a point-and-shoot camera is that the sensor is very small and the millions of pixels are very, very tiny. That can cause some problems, as discussed in the next section.

What about Imaging Sensor Size?

To make a comparison, a point-and-shoot camera has an imaging sensor about the size of your little fingernail. Imagine cramming millions of pixels into a space the size of your little fingernail. Those pixels are so small that they’re not very light sensitive. For a point-and-shoot camera to make a good picture, especially in lower light levels, the power must be turned up on the pixels. That degrades the image by introducing stray spots or graininess in the image, called noise.

You know how static sounds when you turn up a radio to hear a station that is slightly out of range. The static is noisy sound that degrades your radio-listening experience.

Digital image noise is similar to static on a radio, except it is visual. Noise is random specks of grainy-looking dark or light colors that were not in the scene you photographed. Noise is one of the reasons people realize they need better cameras and move into the DSRLor ILC world.

You may remember what noise looks like in images you’ve taken with your old point-and-shoot camera in darker ambient light conditions. The grainy look of the images was not pleasant, was it? A point-and-shoot camera has a much harder time making high quality images because there are too many pixels crammed into too small an imaging sensor size. If you have a point-and shoot camera with 14 megapixels, that means the camera manufacturer packed 14 million pixels onto a tiny little imaging sensor. Noisy images are the result!

On the other hand, a DSLR or ILC has an imaging sensor nearer the size of a big postage stamp. That’s quite a difference! The same number of pixels put into a larger sensor area means the pixels can be much larger and can gather light much more efficiently. The images from your DSLR can be sharper; and have better color, contrast, and dynamic range ( how much light range from dark to light its sensor can capture).

The DSLR/ILC’s photos can be enlarged more efficiently and with higher quality. You’ll be amazed at the difference and so will your friends and family.

If you already have a camera, check its user’s manual to see what size imaging sensor it uses. The larger the sensor, the bigger the pixels can be, and the higher the potential quality of the image it captures. Point-and-shoot cameras have tiny pixels and lower image quality, DSLR/ILC cameras have bigger pixels and better image quality.Pixel size is a strong determining factor in image clarity and lack of noise. As discussed previously, the larger the pixel, the better it can gather light. Sometimes more megapixels is not the best thing for your photography. If a camera manufacturer comes out with a new model with “even more megapixels” and they haven’t increased the size of the imaging sensor—beware!

When there are millions of extra pixels jam-packed into even a larger DSLR/ILC sensor, the pixels must be smaller in order to fit the available space on the sensor. When the pixel size approachs the size of a point-and-shoot camera’s pixels, image degradation can result.

Thankfully, camera manufacturers are usually balanced about this and don’t push the pixel sizes down too far. They know noise will result and people will be unhappy. There was one major camera manufacturer who recently reduced the number of pixels in one of its cameras because people were complaining about noise.

Just don’t be fooled by the hype in advertising. The number of pixels is an important factor in maximum image size, and the size of the pixels is an important factor in maximum image quality. Just be aware of the trade off between the size of the sensor and the number of pixels. More megapixels can sometimes make for a lesser quality image. Interesting, huh?

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Mastering the Nikon D7000
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: NikoniansPress/Rocky Nook; 1st edition
Date: August 15, 2011
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933952806
ISBN-13: 978-1933952802

Mastering the Nikon D7000 is a 496 page book covering every dial, switch, button, and menu item on or in the Nikon D7000 camera. It is written in an easy to understand manner, which allows the user to master their chosen camera without feeling overwhelmed in the process.

Each configuration option for the camera is discussed in complete detail, with why, how, and when to use the feature—far surpassing the user's manual. All settings are fully discussed with lots of color graphics and recommendations on how the author sets his own D7000.

Mastering the Nikon D7000 is written from the viewpoint of an experienced photographer discovering, using, and enjoying one of Nikon's most mature and powerful enthusiast cameras—and then explaining what he finds.

About the Author

Darrell Young has been an avid Nikon photographer since the early 1980s when he acquired his first Nikon, an FM. Since that time he has owned and used virtually every Nikon body, both film and digital. When a new Nikon is released, Darrell is first in line to get the new camera body. He has one of the worst cases of Nikon Acquisition Syndrome (N.A.S.) ever diagnosed—and it leads him to not only take pictures, but also write books and articles.

Darrell has been an author for since 2000 and is often seen in the forum and other forums around the Internet. As a technical writer Darrell's specialty is explaining complex things in everyday language. Before he writes about a camera he first fully reads the user's manual, testing each setting and noting any improvements or differences from previous Nikon cameras. He then takes the camera out into the real world, shooting nature scenics, portraits, events, and action to discover how the camera performs for each style of photography. Next, he tests the camera with various lenses, flash units, and Nikon accessories. Only then does he start writing the book about the camera. His books are based on real-world experience and knowledge.

Note to Darrell's Blog Readers

The book is available at the following links with discounted pricing:

Print edition:
Kindle edition:
ePub, Mobi, and PDF versions:​/9781933952802/

Mastering the Nikon D7000 is in stock at, as of 08-14-2011. All eBook editions are already available at the links above (Kindle, ePub, Mobi, and PDF).

What Readers are Saying

James says:
"'Digital Darrell' Young has done it again. This author excels at taking complex subjects, and explaining them in a manner that makes them very easy to understand. In explaining the countless and complex features of this camera, I find the information to be short, sweet, and to the point.

I have been using my D7000 for 8 months preceeding the publication of this book, yet on every page I am finding important facts that I was not at all aware of prior to reading this book. The insight of the day so far? -- The minimum ISO setting on a Nikon D7000. Sure, Auto ISO lets you set a max ISO, but it wasn't until reading this book that I was aware of a minimum ISO as well! Brilliant material in this book for sure."

Cherokee Ham says:

"Darrell has stepped up to the challenge of writing a master reference on what is probably the most complex (and feature rich) camera that Nikon has produced to date. His analysis of all the options and settings of the D7000 is comprehensive, understandable, and very welcome.

I ordered the Kindle version and have read it cover to cover. It works great on both the portable Kindle and the PC Kindle. My initial reading was on the PC, where color in the menus, illustrations and photos is displayed. I plan to keep the monochrome version on my Kindle (along with the D7000 manual PDF) for handy reference when out shooting.

Darrell supplements this comprehensive reference with online information for digital SLR beginners. He does not include the basics of digital photography and digital SLRs in Mastering the D7000, because that would be another complete book. Highly recommended. in this book for sure."

B. Minor says:

"You will not be disappointed with Darrell Young's thorough coverage of the Nikon D7000. Not only does he give advice based on his excellent working knowledge of the camera's features, but also he provides his recommendations about them--how HE uses each feature.

As an extensive Nikon shooter with a collection of Nikon cameras and lenses to drool over, Darrell is the perfect expert to consult.

Also, the book is lengthy, and having the ebook version handy while learning the ins and outs of this new camera and/or going deeper into unexplored features is easier than carrying around the book. That said...I am still looking forward to owning the hard copy too! Ok, so I'm a fan...but with merit. I used Darrell's "Mastering the D90" until it was dog-eared (and still refer to it when using that camera body).

Whether you are an experienced of new photographer, this book is a must-have for the Nikon D7000."

Nikon Lady says:

"Darrell Young has done it again. Delivered a book, Mastering the D7000, with a WOW factor. I've owned my D7000 for nine or ten months, and have been using it with only rudimentary understanding of this complex, wonderful camera.

I've never been much for camera manuals. I try to find how to do something and I am referred to multiple pages, which end up just confusing me.

Mastering the D7000 explains the functions of the D7000 in language even I can understand. This book is like a blessing delivered to me. Buy it, and it will bless you."

And finally, Darrell says:

"I want to personally thank each of you that purchases Mastering the Nikon D7000. I have spent a great deal of time--along with the NikoniansPress/Rocky Nook publishing team--to give you a quality reading experience that will help you master your chosen Nikon. Inside each book is a link to my personal website and email contact address. I encourage you to contact me when you have deep questions that you would like to investigate. Often, I have had the same question and may have an answer already prepared. If not, and your question is one that others may have, I am quite willing to research and find an reliable answer. Maybe your question will contribute to the next book I write? I hope you enjoy your new camera and the book that will help you master it. Let's keep learning together!"

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

The following article is presented in a generic way for most newer Nikon DSLR users. Some mode names may vary with older Nikons. This type of information is found in my Mastering the Nikon DSLR series books on The books have full color graphics, step-by-step mode setup information, and much deeper detail. Please consider buying whichever of my books (or eBooks) support your Nikon. I try very hard to make things understandable for my readers. See if you agree:

Autofocus and release modes are active settings that you’ll deal with each time you use your camera. Unlike adjusting settings in the menus, which you’ll do from time to time, you’ll use autofocus and release modes every time you make an image or movie.

To take pictures and make movies you need to be very familiar with these settings, so this is a very important chapter for mastery of your Nikon. Grab your camera and let’s get started!

Nikon DSLRs have two types of autofocus built in, with different parts of the camera controlling AF in different shooting modes. Taking pictures through the Viewfinder has one type of autofocus, and shooting a picture or movie using Live View has a different type. They are as follows:

  • TTL phase detection autofocus – Through-the-lens (TTL) phase detection autofocus uses the Multi-CAM autofocus module with all AF points in a grid-like array in the central area of the Viewfinder. This type of AF is known simply as phase-detection AF. It is a very fast type of autofocus and is used by the camera only when you are taking pictures through the Viewfinder.
  • Focal plane contrast AF – Focal plane contrast AF uses pixel-level contrast detection directly from the camera’s imaging sensor. A simple name for this is contrast-detect AF. It can use the entire surface of the imaging sensor to detect contrast between light and dark boundaries to provide autofocus. This is a relatively slow form of autofocus, but it is extremely accurate since it is done at the pixel level. This form of autofocus is used only while shooting in Live View and Movie modes.

Three Mode Groups

There are three specific mode groups that you should fully understand: Autofocus modes, AF-area modes, and Release modes.

Many people get these modes confused and incorrectly apply functions from one mode to a completely different mode. It is a bit confusing at times, but if you read this carefully and try to wrap your head around the different functionalities provided, you’ll have much greater control of your camera later.

The three mode groups for Viewfinder shooting are as follows (may vary with different Nikon DSLRs):

Autofocus modes:

  • Auto-servo AF (AF-A)
  • Single-servo (AF-S)
  • Continuous-servo (AF-C)

AF-area modes:

  • Single-point AF
  • Dynamic-area AF (multiple patterns of AF points)
  • 3D-tracking AF
  • Auto-area AF

Release modes:

  • Single frame (S)
  • Continuous low speed (CL)
  • Continuous high speed (CH)

Note: There are other release modes than the three I've listed above—such as Self-timer, Remote control, Mup, and Quiet mode—however, they are not directly related to using autofocus and shooting rapidly so I won't consider them in this article (they are considered in my books).

What’s the difference between these modes? Think of them like this:

  • Focus modes are how it focuses
  • AF-area modes are where the AF module focuses
  • Release modes control how often a picture is taken

These mode types work together to make a Nikon’s autofocus and subject tracking system one of the world’s best.

Autofocus Modes

The focus modes allow you to control how the autofocus works with static and moving subjects. They allow your camera to lock focus on a subject that is not moving or is moving very slowly. They also allow your camera to follow focus on an actively moving subject. Let’s consider the three servo-based focus modes to see when and how you might use them best.

Auto-Servo AF Mode (AF-A)
Auto-servo AF (AF-A) is an automatic mode that pays attention to your subject’s movement. It is rather simple to use because it senses whether your subject is static or moving.
  • Subject is not moving – If the subject is not moving, the camera automatically uses AF-S mode. In this mode the focus locks on the subject and does not update as long as the subject remains still. However, the focus can unlock if the camera detects subject movement, and it will switch to AF-C mode.
  • Subject is moving – If the subject it moving, the camera automatically sets itself to AF-C mode. It detects the movement across the AF sensors and automatically starts focus tracking the subject.

Single-Servo AF Mode (AF-S)
Single-servo AF (AF-S) works best when your subject is stationary—like a house or landscape. You can use AF-S on slowly moving subjects if you’d like, but you must be careful. The two scenarios listed next may help you decide:
  • Subject is not moving – When you press the Shutter-release button halfway down, the AF module quickly locks focus on your subject and waits for you to fire the shutter. If your subject starts moving and you don’t release pressure on the Shutter-release button to refocus, the focus will be obsolete and useless. When you have focus lock, take the picture quickly. This mode is perfect for stationary subjects or, in some cases, very slowly moving subjects.   
  • Subject is regularly moving – This will require a little more work on your part. Since the AF system locks focus on your subject, if the subject moves even slightly, the focus may no longer be good. You’ll have to lift your finger off of the Shutter-release button and reapply pressure halfway down to refocus. If the subject continues moving, you’ll need to continue releasing and pressing the Shutter-release button halfway down over and over to keep the focus accurate. If your subject never stops moving, is moving erratically, or stops only briefly, AF-S is probably not the best mode to use. In this case, AF-C is better because it never locks focus and the camera is able to track your subject’s movement, keeping it in constant focus.

Continuous-Servo AF Mode (AF-C)
Using Continuous-servo AF (AF-C) is slightly more complex since it is a focus tracking function. The camera looks carefully at whether the subject is moving, and it even reacts differently if the subject is moving from left to right, up and down, or toward and away from you. Read these three scenarios carefully:
  • Subject is not moving – When the subject is standing still, Continuous-servo AF acts a lot like Single-servo AF with the exception that the focus never locks. If your camera moves, you may hear your lens chattering a little as the autofocus motor makes small adjustments in the focus position. Since focus never locks in this mode, you’ll need to be careful that you don’t accidentally move the AF point off of the subject because it may focus on something in the background instead.
  • Subject is moving across the Viewfinder – If your subject moves from left to right, right to left, or up and down in the Viewfinder, you’ll need to keep your AF point on the subject when you are using Single-point AF area mode. If you are using Dynamic-area AF or Auto-area AF modes, your camera can track the subject across a few or all of the 39 AF points.
  • Subject is moving toward or away from the camera – If your subject is coming toward you, another automatic function of the camera kicks in. It is called predictive focus tracking, and it figures out how far the subject will move before the shutter fires. After you’ve pressed the Shutter-release button all the way down, predictive focus tracking moves the lens elements slightly to correspond to where the subject should be when the shutter fires a few milliseconds later. In other words, if the subject is moving toward you, the lens focuses slightly in front of your subject so that the camera has time to move the mirror up and get the shutter blades out of the way. It takes several milliseconds for the camera to respond to a press of the Shutter-release button.

AF-Area Modes

The AF-area modes are designed to let you control how many Viewfinder AF points—the area of focus attention—are in use at any one time. Three of the four modes will track subject movement.

You can use 1 AF point in Single-point AF mode; multiple AF points in Dynamic-area AF mode; and you can even use 3D tracking mode (all AF points), which uses the color of the subject to help track it, keeping it in focus while it moves around. If you don’t want to think about the autofocus area, you can let the camera automatically control the AF-area by using the Auto AF-area mode.

Single-Point AF
This mode uses a single AF point out of the array of all AF points to acquire good focus. As mentioned before, you can control which AF point is used by selecting it with the Multi Selector.
Dynamic-Area AF
This mode is best used when your subject is moving. Instead of a single AF point used alone for autofocus, several sensors surrounding the one you have selected with the Multi Selector are also active. The AF point you can see in the Viewfinder provides the primary autofocus; however, the surrounding points in the pattern you’ve selected are also active (see user's manual for pattern information for your Nikon). If the subject moves and the primary AF point loses its focus, one of the surrounding points will quickly grab the focus.
Using Dynamic-area AF, you can more accurately track and photograph all sorts, sizes, and speeds of moving subjects. The initial focus reaction speed of the AF system is somewhat slower when you use all of the camera's AF points since the camera needs to process a lot more information. Take that into consideration when you are shooting events.
3D-Tracking AF
The mode called 3D-tracking (shown as 3D on the Control panel) adds color-detection ability to the tracking system. The camera will not only track by subject area, it will also remember the color of the subject and use it for tracking.
3D-tracking works like the largest AF-point pattern except that it is more intelligent. Often your subject will be a different color from the background, and the Nikon’s color-based system will provide more accuracy in difficult conditions. Be careful if the subject is a similar color to the background because this may reduce the autofocus tracking accuracy.
3D-tracking is a good mode for things like action sports, air shows, races, etc. It allows the camera to become a color-sensitive, subject-tracking machine. Try it and see if it works for you.
Auto-Area AF
Auto-area AF turns your Nikon into an expensive point-and-shoot camera. Use this mode when you simply have no time to think and would still like to get great images. The AF module decides what the subject is and selects the AF points it thinks will work best.
According to Nikon, if you are using a D or G lens with a newer Nikon, there is a bit of “human recognition technology” built into this mode, similar to the Nikon Coolpix. Since most of us will use Auto-area AF only when we want to shoot for fun, a human subject that is closest to the camera is the most likely subject anyway. Using Auto-area AF, your camera can usually detect a human and help you avoid shots with perfectly focused backgrounds and blurry human subjects.

Release Modes
Nikons have several Release modes, which apply to both the Viewfinder and Live View photography. Whether you place your eye up to the Viewfinder or use the Monitor in LV mode to shoot images, all these modes apply.
Release modes decide how many images can be taken and how fast. In figure 10.18, we see the Release mode dial with its lock release button. Press the lock release button and turn the Release mode dial to select a mode. 
In the good-old film days, the following release modes would have been called motor-drive settings since they are concerned with how fast the camera is allowed to take pictures.
Single Frame (S) Release Mode
This is the simplest frame rate since it takes a single picture each time you press the Shutter-release button fully. This is no speed here. This is for those shooting a few frames at a time. Nature shooters often use this mode since they are more concerned with correct depth of field and excellent composition.
Continuous Low Speed (CL) Release Mode

This mode allows you to select a frame rate between one and the maximum number of frames per second (fps) your camera can shoot. The default frame rate from the factory is three fps, which seems about right for most of us. If you want more or less speed, simply open Custom Setting Menu > Custom setting d > CL mode shooting speed and select your favorite frame speed.
Continuous High Speed (CH) Release Mode
This high-speed mode is designed for when you want to go fast! The camera will attempt to capture six frames per second every time you hold down the Shutter-release button.
The internal buffer memory of the camera limits how many frames you can take. When shooting in JPEG mode you may be able to shoot as many as 100 frames in one burst. You can control this maximum for JPEGs only by adjustingCustom Setting Menu > Custom setting d > Max. continuous release.
However, in lossless compressed NEF (RAW) mode you’ll be able to shoot only 10 to 15 frames before the buffer memory is full. You’ll have to wait for the camera to offload images to the memory card before you can shoot another long burst. 


With the controls built into the camera’s body, you’ll be able to select whether the AF module uses one or many of its AF points to find your subject. You’ll also select whether the camera grabs the focus and locks on a static subject or whether it continuously seeks new focus if your subject is moving, and how fast (in frames per second) it captures the images.

My Recommendation: If you are having trouble remembering what all these modes do—join the club! I’ve written multiple books about Nikon cameras and I still get confused about what each mode does. I often refer back to my own books to remember all the details. I have both the print and e-book versions of my books so they are always nearby (I love my Kindle). You’ll become familiar with the modes you use most often, and that is usually sufficient. Try to associate the type of mode with its name, and that will make it easier. Learn the difference between an AF-area mode (focus where), a focus mode (focus how), and a release mode (how often). A Nikon DSLR has amazing power, quality, and flexibility—at the cost of sometimes overwhelming complexity.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

A while back, I was talking with a fellow photography website owner who writes excellent articles on photographic technique. He is non-camera specific and just concentrates on how to make beautiful images with any camera.

He asked me if he could post one of my Nikon hardware articles on his website. Since it is a high-quality website, I gave my permission. A few weeks later he contacted me and said that my article was getting very high usage on his site. He then wrote a few articles on camera hardware. To his surprise, the articles on camera equipment were being read 4-to-1 over his articles on photographic technique.

That made me think. What is photography about, anyway?

Are we, as photographers, simply collectors of fine cameras? Or, do we actually use those cameras once we get them? Why do articles on hardware pull better readership than articles on technique? I've been puzzling over this issue for several days and have come to some conclusions. Let me go back in time first though...

When I first started in SLR photography, back in 1979 or so, I had a basic manual 35mm SLR with only a light meter, a shutter speed dial, and an aperture control. I learned how the camera worked in a few days of taking pictures and then concentrated on technique. I learned to see a good composition by actually taking pictures and reading a lot of good books. I didn't read more than one or two books on camera hardware, though. Mostly, I read about technique.

My first Nikon was an FM. It was a fully manual camera. Then, I later bought a Nikon FE, which added an A-Mode for Automatic (aperture priority mode). I could set it on A-Mode, then all I had to do was adjust the aperture and the camera set the shutter speed. Really cool! My next major upgrade was to a Nikon F4. This camera had a lot more dials and buttons. So, I studied the manual and gradually learned about its P, S, A, and M modes. Next came the Nikon F5, D100, D200, D300, and finally now, the Nikon D7000.

The Nikon D7000 has nearly 1000 menu screens!

My Nikon D7000 has all the exposure modes that my Nikon FM, FE, F4, and F5 did. It also has user settings, custom settings, picture controls, white balance, sharpness, hue, JPEG, TIFF, NEF, color spaces, an ISO range, noise control, contrast control, a buffer, various frame speeds, autofocus modes, AF-area modes, release modes, flash modes, histograms, bracketing, an intervalometer, spot metering, 3D matrix metering, center-weighted metering, iTTL, HDMI, D-Lighting, live view, scene modes, D Lenses, G Lenses, DX Lenses, non-CPU Lenses, focus-tracking, movie mode, memory cards, menu and information screens, and sooooo much more!

My conclusion...

I think I know why people are reading camera how-to articles 4-to-1 over technique articles. It is simply because our cameras are so complex that it takes weeks or months of study to understand even a portion of their capabilities. And, by the time we understand our cameras really well, a new one is beckoning us. And, of course, the new camera has about 25 more features to digest than our current one.

The benefit of this complexity is that we can walk up to a subject, attempt a good composition, and get a good exposure 99 percent of the time. We have to think less about the exposure. In trade we have to become computer scientists to understand our cameras.

Where is a digital Nikon FM? Why can't we go back in time to a simple camera with a single meter, a shutter speed dial, and an aperture control? Couldn't a nice digital sensor be substituted for the film? Maybe they could call it the Nikon DM. Digital Manual SLR!

Look, I am over 50 years old now and I miss the "good old days." I long for the time when my kids were little, my wife and I were slim and fit, and cameras were simple.

Do any of you, my readers, feel these same emotions?

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

This article is a very short excerpt from a book I am writing called, Moving Beyond Point-and-Shoot Photography: The Next Step – Learning to Use a DSLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera, due for release by Rocky Nook in the spring of 2012 in print and most eBook formats.

There is an important principle in photography that we should discuss, especially if you are shooting with a DX sensor. It is called the reciprocal of focal length shutter speed rule and affects the sharpness of your images. This impressive sounding rule simply means that you should use a tripod (no handholding) whenever the shutter speed in use is below the reciprocal of the lens’s focal length. What does that mean?
Simply that whatever the focal length (e.g., 18mm, 35mm, 50mm, 105mm) of the lens (or zoom position) in use, the shutter speed should not go below the same number as that focal length. In other words, if you are using a 50mm zoom position on your lens, you should not use a shutter speed below 1/50s without having the camera on a tripod. With a 105mm focal length the minimum handheld shutter speed is 1/100s or 1/125s—there is no 1/105s available, so you can use the closest one. If you are using a 300mm lens, you should not use a shutter speed below 1/300s.
Male Cardinal - Nikon D2X, Nikkor 80-400mm lens at 400mm, 1/250th of a second at f/5.6, on a tripod

The reason this rule exists is because a longer focal length (zoomed all the way out) tends to magnify the subject and any vibrations you introduce while pressing the shutter-release button.
With a shutter speed below the reciprocal of the lens focal length you can introduce movement into the camera just from your heart beat, reflex mirror slap in a DSLR (that clunking sound when you fire the shutter), or natural hand shakiness. If you are going to handhold images at slower shutter speeds, you need to learn how to brace yourself properly. The best thing is to use a tripod any time you have to shoot below the reciprocal of the lens’s length. Otherwise, you will be known for your well exposed, yet blurry images (from camera shake).
Today’s vibration reduction (optical stabilization) lenses and camera bodies will help control camera shakiness, so it is a good idea to use those lenses or cameras when possible.
With lenses using vibration reduction, an element in the lens moves to compensate for minor movements or vibrations of the camera. With camera bodies having built-in vibration compensation, the camera’s imaging sensor moves to counter vibrations. Technology is improving our ability to shoot handheld shots at slower shutter speeds; however, it is still best to use a tripod for maximum quality at slow shutter speeds.
The size of the camera’s imaging sensor affects the reciprocal of focal length shutter speed rule. The smaller the sensor, the more a longer lens magnifies vibrations. In today’s cameras there are various sensor sizes: from full frame (which is the approximate size of a frame of 35mm film from the old days) to 4/3rds (which is one of the smallest in a DSLR or ILC). We discussed sensor sizes in an earlier chapter.
If your camera is using an APS-C, DX, APS-H, 4/3rds, or comparable size sensor, you need to be extra wary of handheld vibrations. Instead of using the reciprocal of the lens’s length (50mm = 1/50s), you should use 1.5x the reciprocal. In other words, if your lens’s zoom postion is at 60mm, instead of using 1/60s, it may be better to use a minimum of 1/80s, or 1/100s (1.5x would be 1/90s, which is not available). The smaller sensor with a longer lens position tends to magnify the vibrations even worse.
When in doubt, use a tripod for maximum sharpness!

Part 1: Using shutter priority mode (S or Tv), take some pictures of quickly moving subjects, such as cars passing on a road (be careful to not look threatening). Use various shutter speeds from 1/30s to 1/1000s. Examine the pictures on your computer and see which shutter speeds stopped the action. Which left a lot of blur? Which left only a little blur?
Part 2: Set the shutter speed to 1/125s and try following the subject with your lens as it moves (panning) while firing multiple images. Use high-speed continuous shutter release mode (see your camera’s users manual) so that you can fire multiple shots while holding down the shutter release button. Examine how those pictures look on your computer monitor. Do you have an sharp images of the moving subject? Does the background have an interesting look, as if you can see motion in it? Do moving parts of your subject have blur, but not the rest of the subject? Panning with a medium shutter speed can provide very interesting, implied motion subjects.
Part 3: Set your camera up on a tripod outside next to a water faucet. Turn on the faucet and take pictures at 1/1000s, 1/125s, 1/15s, and 1s. Examine the images on your computer monitor and see what the different shutter speeds do to the water’s look. Does the water appear agitated and frozen at 1/1000s? Less so at 1/125s, normal looking at 1/15s, and wispy at 1s? Try this same thing at a stream the next time you are near one with cascades or waterfalls. Do you like the way water looks at 1/15s or do you prefer 1s?
Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

File naming on the Shooting Menu allows you to control the first three letters of the file name for each of your images. The default is DSC, but you can change it to any three alphanumeric characters provided by the camera.

I'm sure that you can come up with all sorts of clever ways to use these first three images to personalize the storage of your image files. Each member of my family with Nikon DSLRs use their initials in the first three characters of the image file. Later it is obvious who took each picture. You may have something else in mind now that you are learning about the File naming system.

The camera defaults to using the following File naming for your images:
  • sRGB color space: DSC_1234
  • Adobe RGB color space: _DSC1234
According to which Color space you are using, the camera adds an underscore character to the end of the three DSC characters in sRGB, or to the beginning in Adobe RGB, as shown in figure 1, image 2—where I've already renamed the first three characters of the file name to my initials DY, according to the method discussed in this article.

Figure 1 – File naming on a Nikon D300S's Shooting Menu
Here are the steps to set up your custom File naming characters (figure 1):

  1. Select File naming from the Shooting Menu.
  2. Use the Multi Selector to scroll through the numbers and letters to find the characters you want to use.
  3. Press the Multi selector center button to select and insert a character (the buttons used may vary with some Nikons, see your camera's user's manual).
  4. To correct an error, hold down the checkered Thumbnail/playback zoom out button and use the Multi Selector to scroll to the character you want to remove. Use the garbage can Delete button to delete the bad character.
  5. Press the OK button to save your three new custom characters. They will now appear at the beginning of each new image file name.
Now you've customized your camera so that the image names it creates reflects your personal needs.

I use this feature on my camera in a special way. Since the camera can count images in a File number sequence that continues from 0001 to 9999, I use File naming to help me personalize my images. The camera cannot count images higher than 9999. Instead, it rolls back over to 0001 for the 10,000th image. (See Custom setting dShooting/display > File number sequence, usually Custom setting d7 or d8, discussed in the next section of this article.)

When I first got my camera, I changed the three default characters from DSC to 1DY. The “1” tells me how many times my camera has passed 9999 images, and “DY” are my initials, thereby helping me protect the copyright of my image in case it is ever stolen and misused.

Since the camera’s image File number sequence (see next section) counter rolls back over to 0001 when you exceed 9999 images, you need a way to keep from accidentally overwriting images from the first set of 9999 images you took. I use this method:
  • First 9999 images: 1DY_0001 through 1DY_9999
  • Second 9999 images: 2DY_0001 through 2DY_9999
  • Third 9999 images: 3DY_0001 through 3DY_9999
See how simple that is. The above numbers show a range of 30,000 images. Since many Nikons are tested to over 100,000 images (some more), you will surely need to use a counting system like this one. My system only works up to 89991 images (9999 x 9). If you wanted to start your camera at “0” instead (0DY9999), you could count up to 99990 images.

If Nikon would ever give us just one extra digit in our image counter, we could count in sequences of just under 100,000 images, instead of 10,000 images. I suppose that many of us will have traded on up to the next Nikon DSLR before we reach enough images that this really becomes a constraint. On my Nikon D2X that I've used since 2004, I’m now close to 40,000 images.

This is merely the way I'm using this useful feature in my D300S, D7000, D90, and D2X. If my method doesn’t work for your needs, you could use the three characters to classify your image names in all sorts of creative ways.

File Number Sequence Used with File Naming

A related function to File naming is Custom setting d Shooting/display > File number sequence (usually d7 or d8). This Custom setting function works along with File naming to let you control how your image files are named. If File number sequence is set to Off, the camera will reset the 4-digit number—after the first three custom characters in File naming—to 0001 each time you format your camera’s memory card. I set File number sequence to On as soon as I got my camera so that it would remember the sequence all the way up to 9999 images. I want to know exactly how many pictures I've taken over time.

To enable File number sequence, set it to On using the following Custom Setting Menu screens (figure 2).

Figure 2 – File number sequence on a Nikon D300S's Custom Setting Menu (Custom setting number may vary on various Nikons, but usually are near d7)
Here are the steps and screens used to configure File number sequence (figure 2):

  1. Select d Shooting/display from the Custom Setting Menu and scroll to the right (see figure 2, image 1).
  2. Highlight File number sequence and scroll to the right (see figure 2, image 2).
  3. Choose one of the three choices on the list. In figure 2, image 3, On has been selected. 
  4. Press the OK button to lock in the setting.

My Recommendation: I discussed how I use these three custom characters in the beginning of this article. You may want to use all three of your initials, or some other numbers or letters. Some will even leave these three letters at their default of DSC. I recommend at least using your initials so that you can easily identify these images as yours. With my family of four Nikon shooters it sure makes it easier for me! If you use my method, just be sure to watch for the images to roll over 9999 so that you can rename the first character for the next sequence of 9999 images.

I heartily recommend that you set File number sequence to On. After much experience with Nikon DSLR cameras, and many years of storing thousands of files, I’ve found that the fewer number of files with similar image numbers, the better. Why take a change on accidentally overwriting the last shooting session when copying files on your computer, just because they have the same image numbers?

Additionally, I like to know how many pictures I’ve taken with each camera. Since I use the Shooting Menu > File naming function to add three letters reflecting the current number of times my camera has rolled over 9999 images (e.g., _1DY9999.NEF, _2DY9999.NEF, or _3DY9999.NEF), I’m better able to determine how many images I’ve taken with the camera. I just have to be careful to change the 1DY to 2DY when the image File number sequence rolls over from 9999 to 0001.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

The basis for a Nikon DSLR’s exposure meter is an RGB sensor that meters a wide area of the frame. When used with a G or D Nikkor CPU lens, the camera can set exposure based on the distribution of brightness, color, distance, and composition. Most people leave their cameras set to Matrix metering and enjoy excellent results. Others use the Center-weighted meter, or the Spot meter. Let's look more closely at each of the Nikon exposure meters.

3D Color Matrix II Meter

Nikons use a 3D Color Matrix II metering system that is one of the most powerful and accurate automatic exposure meters in any camera today. It uses the symbol shown in Figure 1. Look in your manual to see how to set the camera to Matrix metering. This is the default setting from the factory.

Figure 1 – Matrix metering symbol in a D300S Control Panel. This symbol will also be found on the monitor when you press the Info button and look for the metering symbol.

There are characteristics for many thousands of images stored in the camera. These characteristics are used—along with proprietary Nikon software and complex evaluative computations—to analyze the image that appears in your Viewfinder. The meter is then set to provide very accurate exposures for the majority of your images.

A simple example of this might be a picture where the horizon runs through the middle of the image. The sky above is bright and the earth below is much dimmer. By evaluating this image and comparing it to hundreds of similar images in the camera's database, an exposure setting is automatically input for you.

The Matrix meter examines four critical areas of each picture. It compares the levels of brightness in various parts of the scene to determine the total range of exposure values. It then notices the color of the subject and its surroundings. If you are using a G or D CPU lens, it also determines how far away your lens is focused so that it can figure the distance to your subject. Finally, it looks at the compositional elements of the subject.

Once it has all that information, it compares your image to tens of thousands of image characteristics in its image database, makes complex evaluations, and comes up with a meter value that is usually right on the money, even in complex lighting situations.

Center-Weighted Meter

If you were raised on a classic center-weighted meter and still prefer that type, your Nikon's exposure meter can be transformed into a flexible center-weighted meter with a variable-sized weighting that you can control. Examine the user's manual for instructions on setting the camera to Center-weighted metering.

Figure 2 – Center-weighted metering symbol in a D300S Control Panel. Look for this symbol on the monitor too, when you have selected Center-weighted metering.

The Center-weighted meter examines the entire frame, but concentrates most of the metering in an small circle in the middle of the frame. If you'd like, you can make the circle as small as 6mm or as large as 13mm (may vary with some Nikons). Let’s examine the Center-weighted meter more closely.

Using the Custom setting b Metering/exposure called something similar to Center-weighted area, you can change the size of the circle where the camera concentrates the meter reading. If you'd like, you can even completely eliminate the circle and use the entire Viewfinder frame as a basic averaging meter.

As mentioned previously, the circle in your Viewfinder is normally 8mm. However, by using the Custom setting b - Center-weighted area, you can adjust this size to one of the following (may vary with different Nikons):

  • 6mm (.24 inch) 
  • 8mm (.32 inch)
  • 10mm (.39 inch)
  • 13mm (.51 inch)
  • Avg – Entire Frame

The Center-weighted meter is a pretty simple concept. The part of your subject that's in the center of your camera's Viewfinder influences the meter more than the parts closer to the edges of the frame.

Where's the Circle?

You can't see any indication of a circle in the Viewfinder, so you'll have to imagine one.

Figure 3 – Series of imaginary red circles in the viewfinder and averaging full frame 

Here's how (see figure 3): Locate your current AF point in the middle of your Viewfinder. The length of the little rectangle you see is about 2 or 3mm (.10–.12 inch) in size. If you imagine about three of these little rectangles side-by-side, that's about the same size as the default 8mm circle, which at .32 inches is about 1/3 of an inch. The 13mm maximum size circle, at .51 inches, is about 1/2 inch wide.

Primarily, just remember that the center area of the Viewfinder provides the most important metering area and you'll do fine. For information on fine-tuning Center-weighted metering, refer to the section titled “Fine Tune Optimal Exposure – Custom Setting b6” in chapter 4, Custom Setting Menu.

What about the Averaging Meter?

If you set your meter to Avg in Custom setting b Metering/exposure > Center-weighted area (full averaging), the light values of the entire Viewfinder are averaged to arrive at an exposure value. No particular area of the frame is assigned any greater importance (figure 3, image 5).

This is a little bit like Matrix metering, but without the extra smarts. In fact, on several test subjects, I got remarkably similar meter readings from Avg and Matrix. Matrix should do better in difficult lighting situations, since it has a database of image characteristics to compare with your current image, and it looks at color, distance, and where your subject is located in the frame.

Spot Meter

Sometimes no other meter but a spot meter will do. In situations where you must get an accurate exposure for a very small section of the frame, or must get several meter readings from different small areas, the camera can, once again, be adjusted to fit your needs. Look into the user's manual for instructions on setting the camera to Spot metering.

Figure 4A – Spot metering symbol in a D300S Control Panel. Also check the monitor after setting the camera to Spot metering mode.

The Spot meter consists of a 3mm circle surrounding the currently active AF point (figure 4B). The Spot meter evaluates only 2 or 3 percent of the frame, so it is indeed a "spot" meter. Since the spot surrounds the currently active AF point, you can move the Spot meter around the Viewfinder within the AF points in your camera’s viewfinder.

FIG 4B – Viewfinder view of the 3mm spot in a Nikon D300S
How big is the 2 or 3mm spot? Well, the Spot meter barely surrounds the little AF point rectangle in your Viewfinder. It is rather small! When your camera is in Spot meter mode, and you move the AF point to some small section of your subject, you can rest assured that you're getting a true spot reading.

In fact, you can use your Spot meter to determine an approximate range of light values in the entire image. You can do this by metering the lightest spot in the frame and the darkest spot. If this value exceeds 5 or 6 stops difference in light level, you've got to decide which part of your subject is most important to you and meter only for that part. Something is going to blow out.

On an overcast day, you can usually get by with no compensation since the range of light values is often within the recording capability of the sensor. On a bright sunny day, the range of light exceeds what your sensor can record by as much as two times. This range can often be as large as 12 stops total, while your sensor can only record a maximum of 6 or 7 stops!

Don't let the numbers make you nervous. Just remember that spot metering is often a trade-off. You trade the ability of the camera's multiple "averaging" skills to generally get the correct exposure throughout the frame, for the highly specific ability to ensure a certain portion of an image is "spot-on". The choice is yours, depending on the shooting situation.

If you spot-meter the face of a person standing in the sun, the shadows around that person will contain little or no data. The shadows will often come out as solid black in the final image. If you spot-meter for the shadows instead, the person's face is likely to blow out to solid white. We'll discuss this in more detail in a later section of this chapter when we explore the Histogram.

Use your Spot meter to get specific meter readings of small areas on and around your subject, make some exposure decisions yourself, and your subject should be well exposed. Just remember that the Spot meter evaluates only for the small area that it sees, so it cannot adjust the camera for anything except that one tiny area. Spot metering requires some practice to learn how to use it well, but it is a very powerful tool to balance exposure values in your images.

My Conclusions

Most people use Matrix metering most of the time. In my experience, few people use the Center-weighted meter. However, for those raised on that type of meter, Nikon gives you a choice. Spot metering is very useful to take careful control of the exposure when you need detailed control.

Learn to use all three meter types and you can make an intelligent choice when the time comes to change to a different style of meter.

Keep on capturing time…
Darrell Young