New Camera and Stuff


I’m not a big “gear head” when it comes to camera equipment. Oh, I know what’s what and I keep up on new developments, but when I meet another photographer I mostly like to talk about shooting styles and subject matter and philosophy rather than the latest sensor technology. On the other hand I did just get a slew of new equipment so I figure I better burn at least one post on it.

Those brave souls that have been following my last few posts know that I lost all my camera equipment while on a trip to Costa Rica. Thank goodness for home owners insurance which covered the loss – monetarily at least. I still really miss a lot of my old equipment that I collected over the years; much of which is no longer manufactured.

So let’s see, I needed a new camera and some new lenses and a new backpack and new filters and new memory cards – just about everything. I even lost a pin hole lens that I made myself out of an old camera body lens cap and some tin foil. Since I lost the camera AND the lenses I had the opportunity to move away from Nikon to another brand. I narrowed it down to Canon, Nikon, and Sony. In the end I went with Nikon again. Nothing against the other brands – it was a close call and really I think I could have gone with any of them based on the specs.

Staying with Nikon was again more of a stylistic choice for me than a technical choice. I’ve used Canon before, but Sony was a bit of a flyer. I wish I would have had the opportunity to try them all out for a while and then decide, but no chance of that so I had to go with Internet reviews and gut feelings. From all that I read and from viewing images taken with each brand in various models, I just felt that Nikon was the best fit for my method of shooting and the look of the images most closely matched the look I’m going for these days. I can’t really explain it – sorry.

So I have upgraded from a Nikon D200 to a D300. I know the D300S is out, but the major difference looked to me to be just the addition of video which I think is a stupid feature to have on a still camera and I’m happier without it gunking up the works. The D300 looks and handles a lot like the D200. It is only different enough to be really annoying.

The biggest hassle is that the buttons on the back have moved. The top button next to the video screen used to be for reviewing photos and the second down was the menu. The 300 has more features and a bigger screen so the review button has moved up and to the left away from the screen and now the top button is the menu. I have taken a couple hundred photos with the new camera and I am constantly bringing up the menu when I want to review my images. Maybe in a couple hundred more I’ll be retrained.

The D300 gives me two more megapixels which is always nice. The image noise seems to be less too which is also nice. The body is solid and weather proof just like the 200 (a must have when working in the outdoors). The bigger review screen is good, bigger is always better, but it seems a little too bright. I have it adjusted down as far as it will go and I still think it is too bright. It would be fantastic if someone would invent a screen that would adjust itself based on ambient lighting – brighter in the sunshine and dimmer in the shade.

I have yet to really get the hang of the thing so that my images finish in the same zone that I’m used to. The histogram is a little different, the exposure latitude seems a little wider, the preview screen tends to blow out my highlights, etc. I know I should not be using the preview screen to make decisions about contrast and exposure, but it is so hard not to be swayed by it when it is right in front of my face. Eventually I’ll get used to what the histogram and what the screen should look like when the image is the way I like it – it’s just going to take some time. The two photos on this post are from the new system.

Besides a new camera I had to get new lenses. My old ones were ones that I saved from my film camera days. They were completely manual. No CPUs and no auto focus motors. They were simple tubes with glass in them – lightweight and compact. The new lenses are specifically made for digital cameras and with the inclusion of focus motors (that I never use) and digital electronics, they are huge and heavy. My main lens now is a Tamron AF 28-75 F/2.8 zoom. This thing weighs 18oz! When I took it out on a hike the first time I could not shoot portrait from my tripod because the weight of the lens would pull the camera down no matter how much I tightened the mounting screw.

Back at home I took a piece of copper plate that I had left over from another project and cut a hunk off. I hammered it into a Z shape and drilled a hole in the middle. One leg of the Z hooks over the edge of the tripod head,  it passes under the camera, and then the other leg hooks over the back edge of the camera. Now I can turn the camera sideways without it pivoting around the mounting screw.

Another change in the lens department is the lack of an aperture ring. My old lenses had a physical ring that turned to set the F-stop. The new lenses rely on the camera. The D300 has a wheel on the front under the shutter release. Turning the wheel sets the aperture on the lens. This was a bit annoying at first, but I’m getting used to it. I was very worried that the electronics were going to force me into either aperture priority or shutter priority – happily I can still work everything manually.

Another change that is making it difficult to get the hang of the new system is that Nikon changed the raw (NEF) file format between the 200 and the 300. So my Paint Shop Pro XI photo editing software will no longer read them. I decided to upgrade to version X2 (shouldn’t that be XII?) which will open the new NEF files. I should not have bothered with the upgrade – the software itself has almost no upgraded abilities in the areas I use and although it opens the D300 raw files, they are unusable once loaded. Here’s why.

Nikon has come out with something called the Picture Control System. I find this a really crappy and wholly unnecessary bit if fluff added just to keep the programmers busy and to sell new software. The D200 had a menu where you could set modes like standard or vivid which would shade the images a little toward more contrast or more saturation or whatever. That was it. You set the setting and forgot about it. The resulting raw file was just a file.

Now we have a thing called a picture control where one can set the same basic stuff (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome) only the settings are somehow separate from the actual image file so that according to the manual one can “share image processing settings among compatible devices and software”. Great. On top of all the color profile crap flying around let’s add another layer of redundant and proprietary complexity so that we can really screw things up!

It would appear that Paint Shop is not a “compatible” piece of software and misses out on the picture control settings. All the raw files opened with it are blown out beyond recovery. The histograms are shoved way way way to the right. I tried creating my own picture controls with all the settings at some sort of neutral position hoping that I could tone done the raw files, but it never helped.

In the end I had to install Nikon’s ViewNX software that came with the camera. I now import the raw files from the camera and then open then in ViewNX. I select all the images and export them to TIFF files. The TIFFs are now in a form that Paint Shop can open and ViewNX has applied the picture control so they look correct. Just what I needed was another step in my workflow. Besides, I could have opened TIFFs in Paint Shop XI and saved fifty bucks on the upgrade. Sheesh.

Finally we come to the new backpack. It is a Lowepro Flipside 400 AW. The flipside deal just means that the main zipper to open the bag is on the side against the wearer’s back rather than on the “face” of the bag. Supposedly this allows one to slip their arms out of the shoulder straps and spin the bag around on the waist strap to the front and get gear out without putting the bag on the ground. Many reviewers swear by this feature. It gives me the willies just thinking about such a maneuver. I ain’t doing it.

My old Lowepro bag used to open from the top. It stood up when on the ground and the top access was quick and easy. I often set up my shots while standing in mud or water or snow or maybe all three and an upright bag only let the bottom get all mucky. The new bag needs to lay down so the entire pack gets wet and muddy. The good thing about the zipper being on the side toward your back is that the wetness doesn’t get on you when you put the pack back on. Unfortunately the face of the pack is a mess. Good thing it is weather proof.

This pack has a tripod holder which my old one didn’t. I like this feature. I used to have to bungee the tripod onto my motorcycle and sometimes it scratched the rear fender or gouged up my seat. Now I can hook the tripod to the pack on my back and avoid all that. When I’m in the woods, I still carry the tripod in my hand – it would be too much trouble to strap it on and off all the time.

That’s about it for first impressions. I’m very fortunate to be able to replace all my lost gear and most of the gripes I have will go away once I get used to how the new stuff works. Time will tell.



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5 Responses to “New Camera and Stuff”

  1. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    Very interesting about the D300… my wife has a D200 and has been thinking about whether she can justify the 300. With your experience now with both, do you think the 300 is that much better? Do you use longer lenses much at all?

    That’s annoying about the change in RAW file format. Sounds like a Microsoft style change… (Fighting with Office 2007 at work…)

    I really like the second photo in your post… Beautiful with a kind of mysterious quality.


    • forestrat Says:

      I guess I would have to say that she can’t go wrong by upgrading. The 300 is a nice camera. I think the important differences are the increased megapixels, reduced noise, and although I haven’t used it yet, it has a self cleaning system for the sensor screen. The bigger preview screen is nice, but not all that exciting.

      So to upgrade is good, but unless your wife is concerned that the 200 can’t produce large enough prints or she is frustrated by too much noise in high ISO shots, then I might suggest waiting until the D400 or whatever comes out.

      I’m afraid I don’t often use long lenses. The highest I have is 300mm and I don’t use it very often. I expect the 300 would be nice for long shots and the extra pixels help if you need to crop.


  2. batterie Says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It will guide some of us to get their best camera. Nikon D300 is a good choice for some advance photography.

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    It’s good to hear that you are back in operation after losing all your equipment. I’m sure it will take a while getting used to, until you are as comfortable with it as you were with your tried and true previous stuff. It’s always the way.
    The two photos you posted are beautiful. I really love the dynamism in the top one. It’s as joyous as fireworks.

    • forestrat Says:

      Thanks K.

      It is hard to see on the small scale of this blog image, but some of the flying drops of water act like prisms and create little rainbow streaks of color here and there. I like it.


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