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Flying Cameras On a Budget — My First Flight With Affordable Drone Helicopter + GoPro

Because there are few establishing shots that can compete with the one you get above 250 feet, I frequently take my shoots airborne. Whether it’s yanking the doors off a Bell Ranger traditional style or the…ahem…new school way of sending an 8-bladed octo-copter to do the dirty work, if it’s outdoors these days, aerial footage is, well, the new black.

Neither option mentioned above is cheap, however. I’ve been paying thru the mega-schnoz to rent A-Stars ($2000 + per hour) and such for years. And then was superduper excited in 2010 to go remote aerial at about half the cost of a real heli for this project launching the Nikon D7000 (here’s some more BTS with the same flight crew from a commercial i shot in Telluride…). But it’s still pricey. $2k – $5,000 per DAY or more. And although going the R/C route is the lesser of two budget busters, it’s still a rough lump to swallow, particularly if you’re just getting in the game.

ENTER the DJI Phantom, (picked mine up at Dronefly.com) the out-of-the-box R/C quadcopter.

Now before y’all jump into a tizzy that this thing isn’t close to the same quality – doesn’t do X and Y…I know those things. It’s ok that it can’t fly an Arri Alexa or do this or that other thing. BUT damn this is a great entry product that A) allows budget conscious folks the ability to fly a camera; B) makes some pretty solid footy for web videos and such; and C) is a helluva lot of fun to fly. All at fraction of the cost of any previously mentioned option.

Designed to fly the GoPro (you know I love ‘em in this video), this little rig comes in at under $700. Nothing to sneeze at, but chump change compared to what was available just 5 years ago. My crew has two of these little buggers now — and within 5 minutes I had achieved a comfort level great enough to try the stunt at 0:45, terrorize the other people at the GasWorks park in Seattle, and even chase a seaplane.

Although it’s not suitable for high end work (yet?), this is a nice budget breakthru. And truth be told it’s a fricking blast — I’ll be doing more soon. Perhaps…ahem… even on my next photo shoot in Iceland…

chasejarvis TECH: How to Pack, Prep & Travel with GoPro Cameras (<—bonus, also works for almost camera system)

I’ve been shooting religiously with GoPro cameras since they came out way back in the day. Love those little monsters. At a minimum, I travel with three or more Hero3′s for any shoot – I’ve just found they just come in super-duper handy for all sortsa great stuff. BUT…. taking into account mounts, memory cards, chargers, spare batteries and all miscellany associated with the GoPro and you’ve got yourself quite a load of gear to keep track of.

That’s why I’ve come up with a pretty tight little system for packing & traveling with my GoPros. The above video really gives the full insight, but all cooked down into a tasty little reduction, it smells something like this:

1. Find ONE bag/pack that can carry everything (for Belize I brought a Dakine Mission)

2. Separate gear & accessories into smaller pouches (ThinkTank little pouches described in the vid work nicely here)

3. Clearly label said bags (make the labels moron proof – and really visible in low-light / bleary eyes / tired person can read them without question)

4. Take EVERYTHING in this bag with you every time, regardless of shoot location – you never know when the need/opportunity for a funky mount may arise. (I know this might not sound like good advice, but trust me, it is. Take it from me, this is the only way you’ll ever NOT forget something random.)

5. Get creative. There are tons of ways you can mount a GoPro (see the egg-timer and scuba mask mounts in the vid), as well as clever ways to extend battery life. Use them all.

This vid above comes at you pretty fast, so feel free to ask questions and I’ll jump into the comments and answer. Got GoPro tips / thoughts / hacks of your own? Do share ‘em.

Super Camera — Arri Alexa is the Pro’s Best Friend [plus how I shot the Samsung video ]

You may recall a few weeks back I released a video of the behind-the-scenes action for a cool gig I was asked to create for Samsung around their Series 9 Color Premium monitors. It was a dream job in a lot of ways. For one, I got to literally photograph a re-creation of my dreams; for two, on jobs like that I get the opportunity to rub elbows with the best crew —cinematographers, editors, filmers, sound technicians, art directors, stylists, producers and beyond — PLUS the best gear too.

When I laid out the earlier blog post detailing everything about my Samsung shoot I took a question from a guy named “Ben” off the ol’ innernets:

“Great cinematic look in your Samsung behind-the-scenes vid, Chase. What camera did you shoot it with?”

So I thought I would take this opportunity to a)highlight our primary cine camera on this shoot– the Arri Alexa; b)introduce my fav DP, Chris Bell, who shot that camera on my Samsung job (and a lot of my other stuff); and c) refresh that Samsung video in case you missed it the first go round.

So in reverse order, here’s the Samsung vid shot primarily with the Arri Alexa (below). And then – in addition to our video review (above) I asked him to share some more knowledge & opinion and he breaks it down quite nicely… all of which you’ll find after the Samsung vid here. Thanks Chris!

First of all, Chris, thanks for slaying it for me on the Samsung gig. Second, thanks for the quick interview – really appreciate the time discussing the Arri Alexa. When did you first pick up the Arri Alexa and what were you using previously that it replaced?

The Alexa replaced a lot of cameras. My background is as a film shooter (16-35 mm). And we had various cameras to get a particular look. Panasonic had various cameras. The HBX200. There were cameras like the Canon 5D and even the Red One. I had a shop full of cameras and each was there to satisfy a specific client’s need. Alexa came along and, in a way, became the swiss army knife of cameras. It replaced a lot of those cameras. Everyone [clients] wanted the big chip look. Everyone wanted the shallow depth of field look. For one reason or another the cameras that I mentioned could not satisfy all parts of the workflow in a consistent way. Red was a raw camera – which is nice, but it needs tons of post production attention. That’s a challenge. And no one wanted to shoot tape anymore.

arri alexa chase jarvis blogThe Alexa came along and answered a lot of producers, editors and cinematographers desires – all at the same time. It does a great job emulating film…and film is still state of the art in many ways. It is still the benchmark that cinematographers use to compare against. The Alexa was really the first to mimic the dyanamic range of film. It appeals to so many because it has a look clients love – that filmic “look”.

Prior to the Alexa someone in the workflow — the cinematographer, the editor or the producer, had to compromise on something. These other cameras, while amazing in some way, had very limtited range. They had lots of compression issues and color source issues. They had very challenging workflow issues. Then the Alexa comes along and all of a sudden – the cinematographer is happy, the producer and editor are happy. That it shoots files that are ready to edit right out of the camera –and require no conversion–makes workflow a snap.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 2And it’s super simple in lots of other ways too…It has great time coding for instance. These are little things. But on big productions – on the big budget work that demands reliability, it is the little things that add up for the professional. And ultimately, this camera can be relied upon. It’s been used on major Hollywood productions like Skyfall and Life of Pi. It’s increasingly found on the set for TV commercials worldwide. It’s being used for wildlife docs. For me, I work on a lot of different types of productions – from commercials to sport, to big brands like Microsoft and Samsung–and beyond, and it always does me right. In short, I think that Arri has done a magnificent job listening to its users when developing the product.

What is your favorite piece of completed work (–ahem besides our Samsung video–) using the Alexa, that you could show off with?
Here are two:
12th Ave Iron Film:
National TV Spot for Acer

What’s the best thing about the Alexa from a usage standpoint?
The best thing is that its a camera that makes a beautiful image without compromise – for anyone involved with the workflow. It’s a swiss army knife that works on any type job. ESPN shooters are buying Alexa. The networks love it because the files are immediately edit-ready. It’s SO easy to use. And it has become a standard. I figured I’d get a three year usage (digital has a short shelf life), but I’ll get at least five years out of this camera. Arri has these very long product cycles. That’s very important. It means I can go on a shoot and no matter who’s shooting – we are all shooting the same quality image. This is super important from the business standpoint. We need to have time to recoup investment – b/c its not a cheap camera [$90,000]. My criticism of digital is that it all turns over too fast. It’s getting silly. Every six months there is a new “must have” camera.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 3How does the average joe get to play with one of these bad boys? Or do they…
The average Joe could go to the Arri website – there is a simulator. They update it every time there is a software update. You can learn the menu system online. If you want to see it in person – call local rental houses and ask if there is a good time to come in and look at the camera and play with it. They might be up for that to get a new customer. Some rental houses have workshops too. You could go to the trade shows. There are lots of ways to do it without dropping the $90,000 cold turkey. Most rental houses are open to educating people.

What’s coming next in this class of camera in your opinion? How can it get even better?

Moore’s law is always in effect. Digital imaging tech is moving very quickly – there is going to be a day where there is a base camera with ISO 5000 and it will shoot 5000fps and it will cost $5000. On your very high end – everyone is going to continue to attempt to emulate the benchmark: motion film. Dynamic range, how they handle highlights, lights and dark and how accurately they are able to reproduce color space. These are the Model T’s of digital cameras. There is a big revolution coming with color and contrast. We’re getting away from a lot of the compromise. Heavy compression, limited colorspace, limited dynamic range. Manufacturers are hearing it and producing new cameras. But I really wish they would slow down a bit and not reinvent the wheel every nine months. Having a standard is important too. It’s rather dizzying.

Thanks Chris! More details on the Arri Alexa here via the Arri Group.

Camera Geek Alert – Sony RX1 Hands-On Review

Small cameras with big sensors are clearly an important part of the future. From the shockingly affordable cinema cameras from Blackmagic Designs to my beloved Olympus E-M5, it’s clear to see that camera manufacturers are responding to a demand for compact camera systems. Sony is up there toward the front of the “big sensor/small camera” charge and seem to be pushing the technology forward, with last years Cybershot RX100, and now this years Cybershot RX1, which packs a full-frame 35mm sensor into a camera body that could almost fit in your pocket.  

All that goodness comes at a price though. When the camera was first announced, my studio geeked out a little since we often get advanced or first run versions. Such was the case with the RX-1. Being camera nerdy we dug into the thing as soon as it arrived via pals at BorrowLenses

My first comment? “Interesting form factor.”

Erik’s first comment? “I just can’t see myself dropping nearly $3,000 for a fixed-lens camera, no matter what kinda guts it has.”

Norton’s first comment? “Gotta give this a chance since its got 24 MegaPixels, ISO 100-25600, dedicated focus, iris and macro rings, and 5 fps burst mode”

Fair ’nuff. We were heading into an intense month of work and travel ahead, so Erik carted this thing around for a few weeks (Thanks E)… Initially it arrived just in time for our Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast with Julien Smith and the badass band My Goodness.  During our setup/soundcheck day, between directing duties, we snagged a few of our first shots with the RX1.

James Franco (or Norton. I can't remember) standing in for lighting before the band arrived.

My Goodness

Erik’s Notes. The RX1 feels great in use.  It’s much smaller than I expected it to be, but the sizable lens, with it’s manual focus and aperture controls built-in, give it just the right amount of grip.  The layout of the rest of the controls are great too.  Just about every function I care about has a dedicated button, and I love the exposure compensation dial on the top.  My only problem with the build of the camera is the lack of a viewfinder, which can be purchased separately for a billion dollars.  Quick personal note to camera manufacturers… Stop skimping on built-in viewfinders.  I’d MUCH rather have even a POS viewfinder than the nicest pop-up flash you can make.  The Olympus EM-5 got it right by building the viewfinder into the body and including an add-on flash with the kit.  I use that viewfinder every time I shoot with the camera and I have never once used the flash.  Sorry, back to the RX1…

My thoughts: The fixed 35mm Zeiss Sonnar f/2 lens is pretty dope, though for the price of the camera it would have been nice to seen that lens be able to come off the body.  It’s a tasty beast, but the inability to swap lenses is going to be a big turn off for people. Concession: luckily Sony picked a sweet-spot of a focal length to stick us with.  So while the camera has no zoom, I’ve got legs – the best zoom in the business. So shooting both wide shots and closeups isn’t that big of a problem.

My Goodness

Joel from My Goodness

After the Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast, we tidied up the studio and packed our camera bags for a commercial shoot in Belize.  Since Erik would be shooting video primarily with a main kit consisted of a couple of Canon 5D mkiii’s with a handful of lenses (ie a handful) any other cameras would pretty much only be used for casual snapshots while we weren’t working.  It would be a perfect setting to test the RX1. Erik’s confession: “I still brought my Olympus E-M5 kit.”  Seemed he just couldn’t fully commit to being stuck with one lens in such a beautiful place.  That plain ol’ 35mm lens just couldn’t keep him covered, and here’s a good example:

Blue Hole Belize

Flying over the Great Blue Hole, E had to time my shots just right to get the composition I wanted.  I was focused on hanging out of the helicopter and directing the pilot, so it was catch and catch can for Erik’s personal photos. His gripe: ”This shot would have been exactly what I wanted if I could have zoomed out just a little bit.

Back to Erik for some more details: When the days calmed down and the mood was more casual, the RX1 became a delight to shoot with. The camera is really small and unobtrusive, yet still totally sweet looking.  It’s a great conversation starter, and you feel like a Rockefeller when the inevitable “so how much does that cost?” question rolls around.

Let’s talk about the leaf shutter, which is built into the lens, thus saving space inside the camera body and aiding the RX1 in retaining its slender girlish figure.  It’s also slightly quieter than a butterfly hiccup, and I hate it.  I’m genuinely curious to know if anyone agrees with me that a quiet shutter is super unsatisfying.  I know this is entirely superficial, but I like my camera to make a little noise when I take the shot.  I wanna feel something mechanical move.  It should be a point of praise for the smooth functionality of the camera, and it must be great for those weirdos who want to discreetly take pictures of strangers, but I can’t get behind it.  I want motor-driving to sound like a motor driving.



My overall reaction (chase):
The image quality is all fine and good.  The above image was shot by Erik at ISO 2500 and still looks pretty clean.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a relatively spendy camera that doesn’t produce a nice image at high ISO’s, so image quality in new cameras isn’t nearly as much of a concern to me – especially since it’s not my “pro” camera.  I’m much more interested these days in the experience of using a camera.  Is the camera fun to shoot with?  The RX1 is pretty cool, but the lack of a built-in viewfinder (ala Erik’s point earlier) made me miss it. Also like E I found myself reaching for my Olympus E-M5 instead of the RX1 on several occasions.  I will say that I am interested to see what the future holds for this camera line and I hope Sony continues to push the compact camera envelope. We all win when that happens, regardless of camera choice.

Erik’s roundup. So is it worth the nearly $3,000 price tag?  For my money, no, but here’s my recommendation; everyone who’s reading this should go buy it.  Create a huge market for compact full-frame cameras and give Sony the motivation to develop an upgraded version of the RX1 with interchangeable lenses.  Now THAT’S something I’d buy.

ISO 1600 - f/2.0 - 1/100 sec

ISO 800 - f/2.8 - 13 second exposure

The Fuji X100s Review: Brutally Simple & Highly Effective (Even If You Didn’t Want to Admit It)

I was onto the rush of mirrorless cameras pretty early – mostly from manufacturers sharing with me what was “coming soon”, but I admit that I didn’t really “get” it, until I started receiving early versions, prototypes and demos from the marketing folks at all your fav manufactures. Only then did I truly understand the punch that these little cameras pack – because they’re good. I loved the concept, but hated the tiny sensors and the poor performance. Well, those days are gone, and now these cameras are really good. I’ve highlighted mirrorless a bunch in the past, but those were just my initial impressions… In this post, I tapped my tech homie Sohail to sound off on a proper camera review for the Fuji X100s. He’s tackled the Nikon D7100 in a past review that received high marks from this community, so we’re gonna keep it rolling. The dominant view is that this camera is pretty hot. So hot in fact it’s a wonder Fuji kept the name X100 name because it’s so amped up from it’s predecessors. You’ll find a better autofocus, improved manual focus, and a number of other upgrades that suggest Fuji is intent on keeping the pace. But alas, I’ll let Sohail take it from here.

Thanks, Chase.

The Fuji X100s has been my main carry-around camera for almost a month now, during which time I’ve used it for a number of shoots, ranging from a test with studio lights to simply pointing it out of my car window and hitting the shutter release. Truth is, it’s brutally simple and highly effective.

During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to put this little thing through its paces, and I’ve come out quite impressed. Fuji has come a very, very long way from the days when it produced cheap point-and-shoot cameras from the consumer crowd. Chase’s pal, photographer and educator Zack Arias sees Fuji gunning for the Leica crown, although that may be a little far reaching. But certainly Fuji are giving them a run for their money at a fraction of the cost.

In the beginning

Fuji’s first attempt at a large-sensor compact was the X100, a camera that received glowing reviews that were punctuated by incessant complaints about the camera’s quirks. Slow autofocus, an almost unusable manual focus system, and other quirks made it a difficult camera to wield. Despite those quirks, it gained a die-hard following of photographers who loved the images coming out of it.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

Fuji followed the X100 up with the X-Pro and X-E1, both of which shared some of the quirks of the X100, but have upgraded sensors that, to be perfectly honest, are flat-out amazing. Those sensors did away with the Optical Low-Pass Filter most digital cameras come with these days and they featured a new array of the pixels on the sensor that randomizes the location of the red, green, and blue pixels.

The result is that images are sharper since there’s no low-pass filter in front of the sensor, and moiré is minimized thanks to the random array. Fuji says this arrangement is inspired by the natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide film which is a nice bit of marketing-speak. To their credit, whatever they’ve done to this sensor was definitely cool. When the X-Pro1 was released, it had the best low-light performance of any crop-sensor camera I’d ever seen. That camera had incredibly clean images at ISO 3200, and the noise present at that and at higher ISOs was gorgeous and film-like.

Fast-forward to today

When they came up with the X100s, Fuji basically took the sensor and graphics processor from the X-Pro1, vastly — by an order of magnitude, actually — improved the autofocus, added in a few key features to aid in manual focusing, changed a few other things and put out an update that is far, far more usable and powerful than its predecessor.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

Where the X100 was a quirky camera that took a number of firmware updates to get to a point where it was reasonably reliable, the X100s was a well-oiled machine right out of the box. The difference between versions is surprisingly vast, and that’s to Fuji’s credit as well.

Appearance and Form Factor

Looked at from a distance, the X100s is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. It has the same look and feel, right down to its dimpled faux leather wrapping.

Close up, there are a few things that set it apart, and one of those things is a long-requested feature: The “Q” button.

This button is a carryover from the X-Pro1, and pops up a quick menu screen where you can adjust a number of things, from ISO to Dynamic Range, to film emulation choice, and more. X100 users have been pretty envious of this feature, and speaking as one, I’m really glad to have it.

There are other small improvements, too. The button to activate the Auto Focus point selector mode has now been moved from the left of the LCD to the 4-way rocker/scroll wheel, making it easier to shoot one-handed with this camera. Also, the knob to set exposure compensation is a lot stiffer, and therefore harder to move accidentally.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

Handling

The X100 takes a very manual/mechanical approach to shooting. Aperture, shutter speed, focus mode, viewfinder mode, and exposure compensation are all adjusted via hardware dials and switches. In this regard, the retro design draws heavily from film rangefinders of the past, and that’s a really, really good thing.

In my hands, the X100s (and this is true for the X100 as well) has the feel of a rangefinder. It’s solidly-built; no squeaks or creaks in the manufacturing are evident. The dials have been somewhat reinforced and are therefore (thankfully) stiffer than those on the X100, and the slightly changed layout of the buttons makes it easier to get to the some of the most important functions one-handed.

The X100s, like its predecessor, is also equipped with a threaded shutter release that takes an old plunger-style release cable. This is both good and bad — good, because those releases are ridiculously cheap, and bad because that precludes using the X100s for time-lapse photography (if anyone knows of electronic cable releases for the X100s, please sound off in the comments).

One slightly major quibble I have is about the location of the screw for tripod plates. Mounting a tripod plate on the X100s still partially blocks the battery and SD card slot door, which is a pain. I have to take the tripod plate off every time I need to dump the card, which is, to say the least, not ideal.

Performance

Autofocus

The one bit of performance information that everyone is looking for with this camera is this: How fast is the autofocus?

The thing that everyone who got the X100 complained about so darn much was the terrible autofocus performance of that camera. Sure, it took great pictures, but only if the autofocus worked. Which it didn’t more often than it did. And forget about achieving focus in dark areas; it would hunt and hunt for several seconds before it would just fail to lock on.

Worse was the fact that manual focus on the X100 was simply unusable. The flat, pancake nature of of the 23mm f/2 lens meant that the focusing right was pretty thin to begin with. Manually focusing that lens would involve spinning that ring through what seemed like an eternity of revolutions before you could get it in the ballpark of your subject.

Subsequent firmware updates improved focusing on the X100 a lot, to where it’s actually usable now. Manual focusing is still a pain, but at least the AF is far better than it was at launch.

So how good is the AF on the X100s? Much, much, much better than the X100’s AF. On par with most mirorless/Compact System Cameras out there, in fact. The only one that I’d confidently say is way better is the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s AF, which is just plain scary-fast.

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

Even better is the fact that the X100s will achieve focus in some pretty dark conditions. I haven’t yet found a reasonable situation where it wouldn’t lock on at all, though sometimes it does take a second try in some really dark and low-contrast areas.

Manual focusing is a pleasure as well. The X100s includes two focus-assist modes for manual focusing, a “peaking” mode, which outlines areas in focus with a white highlight, as well as a digital “split image” mode, which is reminiscent of the old split-image focusing screens used in film SLRs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time doing manual focus with the X100s, as the AF was dead-on for me almost all the time. In the few minutes I spent in manual focus, I noticed two things: the focus ring has a much shorter throw (i.e., you don’t have to spin it as much) and the focus peaking highlights could be a bit stronger. Sometimes, they’re a hair too subtle.

Image Quality

The X-Trans sensor from the X-Pro1 is an awesome bit of technology, and in combination with the X100s’ gorgeous 23mm f/2 lens, produces some impressive shots with deep detail.

Flesh tones and colors are rendered beautifully, with no nasty color casts or any other such problems. The camera does have a tendency to over-expose images, so I normally shoot with the exposure compensation dialed in at about −1/3 to −2/3rd’s of a stop. This tends to still keep shadow detail while preventing highlights from blowing out.

The camera just kills it when it comes to high-ISO performance. Like the X-Pro1, this thing will give you more-than-usable shots at ISO 6400 (see below). Noise reduction for in-camera JPEGs can be a bit overdone, but the RAW files hold a surprising amount of detail at ISO 6400. I’m confident enough of the X100s’ capability in that regard that my camera is set to Auto ISO with an upper limit of 6400 all the time.

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Dynamic range is also better than I expected. I was, in a crunch, able to push my exposure by as much as 3 stops to retrieve detail in shadows. There was some loss of detail as well as some luminance noise when I did that, but it was more than I had thought I’d get out of a compact camera.

Highlights retained detail and color pretty well too; I think there’s a latitude of about 3–4 stops in the highlights. In the image below, the sky totally blown out (as shown by the red clipping warning) till I did a global adjustment of about −2 stops to pull some blue out of it; at −4, the blue is a nice, deep color that I can bring back selectively with a brush later on.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

All said and done, there’s really nothing to complain about with this camera’s image quality. I don’t even feel like quibbling over its tendency towards overexposure, as most of that highlight detail is retrievable in post.

Conclusion

I’m off to Hawaii in June for a vacation, and the X100s is the only camera I’m taking with me. With all the gear at my disposal, this is the only thing I feel like I need. I will, no doubt, occasionally wish for a telephoto lens, or a super-wide, or some other bit of kit, but despite that, this is the camera I’m taking.

What the X100s excels at doing is helping me distill the process and experience of photography down to its barest essentials. For someone used to lugging three bags worth of gear to every other shoot, moving and shooting with the Fuji is like shedding several pounds of dead weight; it’s just you, the camera, and your subject. I won’t be shucking my DSLR and assortment of lenses, mind you, but I also won’t be carrying them around with me all the time.

The X100s is all the camera I need for everyday shooting.

PS from Chase: There’s a gallery of cityscape shots Sohail has taken with his X100s on his 500px page. Some are straight out-of-camera B&W others were treated with VSCO Film.

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

5 Great Film Cameras on a Tiny Budget

You know I love film. Just shot my Polaroid 600E yesterday and loved it. Shot the Hassie the week before, and just loaded a roll into my Lomo ‘Sardine’. That said, seeing that damn near everything has (obviously and justly) gone digital, film cameras are dirt cheap. And whether you’re a seasoned pro or an iphone snapper, a good dose of shooting actual film would be good for you. Trust me on this. So that’s why I’ve taken the time to wrangle five great cameras for under $300 that you can use to re-invigorate your film shooting, even if it’s just for a little flirt with nostalgia. … (and I know that there are a lot of sweet cameras OVER $300…i’ve listed a few of my fav’s in the comments. Please share yours there too….)

Canonet QL17 GIII. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Canonet QL17 GIII. Image courtesy Wikipedia

This camera, in its heyday, was known as the “poor man’s Leica,” and with darned good reason. The fixed 40mm f/1.7 lens is sharp as all heck, producing images that, with the right film, will produce incredibly crisp negatives. My go-to setup has a 58mm step-down ring on the lens to accomodate a modern Canon lens cap (which is important as these old cameras don’t usually include a lens cap).

The nice thing here? The metering system still works on most copies you can buy today; all you need is a 1.35v battery (Wein Cell makes a nice replacement for the old mercury batts) and you’re good to go. You can shoot in shutter-priority only, and since the metering sensor sits directly above the lens and inside the filter ring, it compensates for ND filters if you use one.

Shot with a Canonet QL17 on Kodak Tri-X. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Shot with a Canonet QL17 on Kodak Tri-X. Image © Sohail Mamdani

The best part, though, is the price. Depending on condition, the QL17 GIII can be had for between $75 and $150. Mine cost $110, and is in excellent condition. Make sure you check the seals on the unit you’re buying, however, as these wear out easily and can cause light leaks (but are also easily replaced).

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonet_G-III_QL17
Price: $75-$150 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: eBay is your best bet on this.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 with HP viewfinder. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Nikon F3 with HP viewfinder. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Though Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers made excellent SLRs, I like the Nikon F#-series of cameras as, in most cases, they have the most flexible lens mounts. This camera will take just about any Nikon lens made in the last several decades (with the notable exception of “G” lenses, which have no manual aperture ring). Plus it doubles as a hammer or a weapon if you’re in need. These things are tougher than dirt.

The F3 is a manual-focus camera, but has a metering system and allows for aperture-priority metering. It uses 2 SR44 button cells for power, which are easily available. Stick a 50mm f/1.8 lens on this puppy and you’ll be good to go.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikon_F3
Price: About $200 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com has some great deals on them. You can get an Excellent-condition body for about $189 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens will set you back about $80.

Medium-Format

Cameras in this category used to cost thousands of dollars — and still do, in some cases. But don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing the joy of holding a 4.5×6 — or larger — negative. Here are two cameras that will let you shoot those big, fat, negatives for an affordable price.

Mamiya C33 TLR

Mamiya C33 Professional. Image courtesy Rémi Kaupp/Wikipedia.

Mamiya C33 Professional. Image courtesy Rémi Kaupp/Wikipedia.

Though its younger sibling, the C330, gets all the attention among Twin Lens Reflex camera afficionados, the C33 is actually a very, very respectable body. Mine has travelled thousands of miles with me as I trek all over the state of California, and has helped me make some of my favorite images.

Bixby Bridge. Delta 100/Mamiya C33. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

Bixby Bridge. Delta 100/Mamiya C33. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

It’s also generally cheaper than the C330 (or the more famous Rolleiflex TLR), and has something pretty cool for TLR cameras – the ability to swap lenses. From the wonderfully sharp 80mm f/2.8 that sits on my camera, to a somewhat comically long 250mm f/6.3, these lenses are usually available for around $200.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamiya_C
Price: About $200–300 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com had one until just recently for just under $300. Between the lens and camera, expect to spend around that. Mine was an eBay purchase for $187.

Mamiya 645 1000s

Mamiya 645. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Mamiya 645. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

I know – two Mamiya’s in one article – it’s a bit lopsided. Gotta love Hassies, but Mamiya tends to deliver some pretty outstanding quality for the price, and the 645 1000s is no exception. It was built to be used with the ease of a 35mm SLR, and renders a negative 6cm X 4.5cm (hence the 645 moniker). You’ll need to buy three separate pieces for it – the main body, a viewfinder, and a lens. All in all, you can come in with all three for about $250.

The Mamiya 645 is set to take 120-size medium format film, which is the most common form sold today. Top it off with an AE prism (the viewfinder) with a built-in meter and you get aperture-priority operation, with a center-weighted pattern. Using one of these outfits, my friend Andrew Kim has done some outstanding street photography.

Street artist in NYC. Taken with a Mamiya 645. Image courtesy/© Andrew Kim.

Street artist in NYC. Taken with a Mamiya 645. Image courtesy/© Andrew Kim.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mamiya_products#Mamiya_645_manual_focus_series
Price: About $250 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com is the place to go for these. They have a lot of them, in varying condition.

Bronica ETR-S

Bronica’s ETRS will look somewhat familiar to Hasselblad owners, in that it’s a simple, modular box. I call this the Hassie Hack. Throw on a viewfinder, lens, and back, and you have a complete system for under $300, depending on condition.

Bronica ETR-Si system. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Bronica ETR-Si system. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Introduced in 1979, the ETR-S will shoot 6×4.5cm film with a standard back, but you can also swap that back out to shoot standard 35 and panoramic 135-format film as well. There’s a wide variety of lenses available for it, both fixed-focal length and a few zooms as well – a rarity at this price range.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronica
Price: About $250 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com and eBay.

These are just five of the many options you have when considering a return (or a first-time visit) to the world of film cameras. What are your favorites? Sound off in the comments – you’ll see some more of my favorites there…


[thx for the research help Sohail!]

chasejarvisTECH: How To Build a Pro Cine-Boom on a Shoestring [literally]

In my last chasejarvisTECH piece you got a peek at the gear I packed away for the 19,000 foot climb up Kilimanjaro for the Summit on the Summit. There were more than a few comments on how much “stuff” went with me. It’s all relative I suppose, but when you get down to it that was a fairly bare-bone operation for a job that still yielded high-end results.

As you see in this next installment, we had to make do without some of the other gear that we would have loved to have had along the way but left out for obvious reasons. I’m talking about cranes, jibs, dollies and the like. So sometimes you have to get creative.

My man Chris did just that, by lashing some cordelette climbing rope to a tripod to create a makeshift cinema boom. As the footage at the end proves, you can’t tell the difference.

Here’s what went into this fine piece of jury-rigging:

_Manfrotto Support
_Canon 5D Mark III
_Cordelette [Find it at most outdoor gear stores or online -- often listed under "Accessory cords."]

If you’re swinging that camera out over an edge (like Chris does), make sure you’re on solid footing and keep a tight grip on that cordelette.

And that’s it. Super-cheap, super-effective boom solution done at altitude.

Music: Small Face – Heavy Cloud

Dream Job — Color Cannons, Flying High & Turning Dreams Into Photographs for Samsung

A NO BRAINER.
When someone comes to you and asks you if you’d like to create a photograph of your most vivid dream on their dime — let’s be clear on this one — you say YES.

Such was the case with Samsung and their creative agency Possible several weeks back. I got one of “those cool phone calls” where all your hard work comes into focus just for a second. (Dialogue in my brain = Wait a minute. Any photograph I want? Of my dreams?! And you’ll be my benefactor to make this happen? Yes Chase, creative freedom. We want to enable your imagination. Are there any images you’ve been excited to try to create but haven’t had the means or the opportunity?) Um. Hell yes. They had approached me with a completely blank canvas. Their only requirement? That the image would be a colorful expression of a dream to prove out the color quality on the Samsung Premium Monitor Series 9 for professional photographers. My only requirement? That I could make a video of the process to show you how we pulled it off.

It was a deal.

THE CHALLENGE.
I immediately knew the image I’d make. I’ve had this reoccurring dream where I’m floating in a sea of insanely vividly colored clouds. You know those flying dreams… well, this is similar, except more floating than flying or falling. (there’s water below in my dream, but that’s of no consequence here…) In short order, I pitched them the idea, they loved it, said “yes”…and then I jumped in… only to realize a moment later that I had no idea how I’d possibly make this happen. How does one “make” clouds? How could I pull this off with in-camera capture? How could I accurately translate the stunning colors into real life? And how would I do this with just a couple weeks lead time? Gulp.

If you’re a photography buff or just plain curious, then read on to get details on the process, how we made the set + the “clouds”, the gear, the monitors, the final image, and all the good stuff that went in my mouth and up my nose.

ENTER–> THE PROCESS.
chase jarvis powder compSketch of the idea. My original sketch was so neanderthal in nature I can’t believe my team had any clue what we’d be up to. The first whiteboard scribble led to this superquick, subsequent mock-up, a speedy photoshop file using some of my other photos and some puffy clouds tweaked into rich colors. It was a hackjob at best, but it got us started down the path of what to do next. We had to find those clouds.

The colors from my dream. This was fun… I went into a paint store and, from memory, selected a handful of paint chips that matched the colors from my recurring dream. This was the basis of moving my dream into reality. The goal is that my wardrobe, the clouds, the environment and the final image would be a perfect match based on these paint chips.

Chase and Loren matching the Celebration Powder to the colors from Chase's dream.

Clouds. First we worked through 101 ways to make clouds, from A-Z, smoke machines to mist. And where we ended up — after a good bit of experimenting — was absolutely awesome. Know that stuff called “celebration powder“? If you happen to be tuned Hindu celebration of Holi in India then you know what I mean…it’s a big thing. It has also migrated its way into seemingly endless fun runs here in the USA. In short this powder is made 100% bio degradable and non toxic from cornstarch. You can eat it (and I ended up eating a LOT of it). This powder, we discovered, can be ordered from some select outfits online. We ordered about 40 pounds of this stuff… some pre-made, others made to match the paint chips (above) we sent the manufacturers. Huge thanks to the Art Department on this shoot –> Loren and Darcy made this shoot happen because of the ingenius way in which they sourced the powder and — even more importantly — devised the “air cannon” mechanisms through which to fire it up into the sky and make the perfect clouds. The air cannons are, like the video explains, simply a series of tanks of highly compressed air with quick valves that can be tripped remotely. Upon flipping the switch – BOOM – you’ve got canned air firing that powder into the sky.

chasejarvis_powder_bts_samsung

Hindus celebrated Holi and believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter.

chasejarvis_bts_testingpowedercannon_samsung

Testing the powder canons

chasejarvis_bts_samsung_testingpowdercannon

Boom!

chasejarvis_bts_smansung_powdershooters

Loren and crew setting up the powder canons

THE SET
The “cloud tent”. Now this stuff is messy. And when I say messy, I mean…like the messiest stuff you’ve ever dealt with. After myriad of outdoor tests we discovered, duh, that it gets EV-ER-Y-where. So we built the set to be a giant visqueen tent in very large sound stage to keep it all contained. Approx 30 feet x 30 feet x 20 feet high. Our own gigantor see-thru cube.

Flight. Anytime I get the chance, I’ll do my own stunts. Since we’d agreed in advance that – if this were my dream – I’d need to be the talent… So into character I went. In order to get the floating sensation, we decided after some practice, that a trampoline was the best way to create the look in the studio. With a couple of pulled neck muscles and some body position tweaking, it’s possible to get this floating / hovering look right at the apex of a big bounce on the trampoline. Took me a few hundred tries to be able to nail the effect on autopilot, but it indeed became automatic. Not gonna lie, it had been a few years since I’d jumped on a trampoline, but this was good fun… And, as I was to soon learn, it’s an entirely different thing to do it in practice vs. wearing the wardrobe, goggles and having canons fired at you… but more of that later.

chasejarvis_trampoline_bts_samsung

Moving the trampoline into position

THE GEAR
Stills. For the still portion of the shoot, we shot with the Nikon D4 tethered to our monitoring station, which consisted of three Samsung Series 9 monitors + Mac Pro.  As for glass, we used the Nikon 24-70mm zoom lens stopped down around f/11 for a nice deep depth of field. The Nikon D4 was secured to a light stand and raised to a hole cut into the visqueen at the height that I would be jumping to so we could get a clean shot without jeopardizing the electronics of the camera. And of course it was tethered to the computer so it could be fired remotely and – most importantly so that the images could be reviewed immediately on the Series 9 to check focus, color + file integrity.

Strobes. We used two Broncolor Scoro A4S Power Packs and four Broncolor Unilite 1600′s to give us the light we needed. And since the strobes were positioned outside the visqueen tent (for safety and cleanliness) – aka- the one huuuuggge softbox — the only modifiers we used were directional dishes soas to aim the light in the general direction of yours truly, the bouncing kook. We used PocketWizards to fire the Broncolors remotely off the camera.

Continuous light. Since we were also making the BTS video above, we knew we’d also need continuous lighting for the motion capture. As such we decided to go with two 9000 watt Maxi Brutes. The Maxi Brutes (9 x 1000 watt bulbs in a single unit) were phenomenal pumped out the continuous light needed for the high speed behind the scenes video cameras to get the exposures and frame rates that we wanted. This also allowed us to have to use less light in the strobes above, which kept the flash duration way quick. The Maxi Brutes are huge, look here:

Here’s a quick sketch of our lighting + setup diagram:

chasejarvis_samsung_diagram

Motion Capture Cameras. For the behind the scenes video capture, we thought it’d be fun to bring out the big guns…and the small guns too. We hired our pal DP extraordinaire Chris Bell to shoot with his fancy Arri Alexa [stay tuned for another video about that camera]. We also brought along a Sony FS700 to shoot high speed…480+ frames per second, a Canon 5D mkiii for quick on-the-fly shots, a Canon 7D for timelapses, and lastly, we grabbed every GoPro we had in our shop – I think it was 9 of ‘em.  These came in handy for rigging up shots that we didn’t want to stick our expensive high-end cameras in. We wrangled some Manfrotto pods + spreader dollies, plus a tasty Kessler crane to keep things moving. And you gotta know we made this sweet quick-and-dirty array for a Matrix-esque shot that you can see in the video if you watch it a couple times…:

chasejarvis_erikHecht2_samsung

Cinematographer Chris Bell with his beloved Arri Alexa

chasejarvis_erikhecht1_samsung

The Sony FS700 shooting into the tent.

chasejarvis_erikHecht2_samsung

chasejarvis_bts_samsung_monitors

Post capture - reviewing the work on Samsung Series 9 - happy with the results.

chasejarvis_bts_samsung_monitors

Image + color review

The Aftermath

HERE’S A FINAL CAMPAIGN IMAGE (keep eyes peeled in all markets).
ChaseJarvis_Samsung_Series9_1000px.jpg

If you made it this far and wanna see more stuff like this, here’s the coordinates to subscribe: facebook.com/chasejarvis, twitter.com/chasejarvis, G+, or my extra special email list.

IMPORTANT NOTEA ABOUT MUSIC!
Music is a huge part of the fun we have when making these BTS videos. As such, huge shout out to the legendary beat maker Big Chocolate, without whom this vid would not be possible. You can catch him at his fBook here, twitter, or pickup this very track and other radness here (please support him) on iTunes here. Alas, he will also be crushing it all summer long on the Vans Warped Tour too.

OTHER RELEVANT STUFF.
In addition to the final still image which you may see all over the globe, there is a web commercial produced some good friends of mine – that is pretty damn funny. Check it here.

Super duper big shoutout to crew who worked on this…obviously the art dept, production, and cinema crews got shoutout, but also to my stylist on this one Alvin Stillwell.

For monitor specs etc go here and for more Samsung vids here’s the Samsung YouTube channel.

For more badass work from Possible Worldwide, go here.

Thanks yo!

Moving The Camera Pays Big: New Gyro Game-Changer used by Teton Gravity Research [interview + video]

Teton Gravity Research Aerial Reel – The Bay Area in 4K from Teton Gravity Research on Vimeo.

Fancy gimbals are the rage these days and I love ‘em all. Not withstanding some homies of mine from my action sports days, Teton Gravity Research, recently announced a partnership with Gyro Stabilized-Systems and launched the GSS C520, a game-changing 4K camera platform that makes that footy that you and I shoot look like sh*t in comparison. Having worked with these cats a bunch (see here – that’s me hanging out of the heli with Todd…) and having seen a sneak peek of the Bay Area aerial footage video above, I wanted to know more. So I sat down with TGR founder Todd Jones to get the scoop and see the new work behind this aerial gimbal game changer.

I know the details of course, but share with the readers your production company Teton Gravity Research.
The short version is… TGR is an action sports brand founded in 1996. We specialize in media creation and distribution. The core components of our company are films, television, commercials, film tours, and our digital platform, www.tetongravity.com.

From a creative standpoint what does this crazy cool GSSC520 do for you as a filmmaker?
From a creative standpoint the GSS allows us to capture the highest quality footage we possibly can. In the past, when working with 16mm film and DSLR’s, we had amazing tools, but they had their limitations as well. Our push now is to use the same tools and cameras that the most high profile films in the world are shot on. We believe that the ultra hd/4k movement is here and is necessary to provide a certain level of quality delivery to the audience. I never bought into the HD cameras and distribution space. It just was not equivalent to film. I was always impressed with the cineflex footage for its stability, but it also had the HD video edge too it. The C520 allows us to get those super stabilized motion shots at true cinema resolution. We have already been getting calls from some big feature films that are interested in using it on their films. It is pretty cool to think that Hollywood is now calling us to help them create their films with our camera systems. After all, 18 years ago we were just a couple of kids who wanted to make a ski and snowboard film from our point of view.

Break it down for me and the people…what’s the difference between this camera gyro and what you’ve used in the past?
This system is the first 4k resolution system of its kind. It has the most highly sophisticated stabilization technology that has ever been released. There are so many creative ways to use this system. We film highly visual action in stunning locations. To be able to have this camera in those scenarios is a dream.

Yeah, but why is this a game changer?
I think I was touching on it above, but it is the camera system of the future. We also have the ability to put the newest cameras in the world in it. We are currently working on putting the Sony F55 in it and will follow with the new 4k Phantom. The fact that we can rapidly integrate the newest cameras in the world into this system is huge.

Give us a glimpse into the future… Does this technology point to more/new things to come?
I think it does. For one thing it points to the Ultra HD/4k movement. That is coming at us fast. If you’re going to rent helicopters and shoot aerials you might as well shoot them in cinema resolution if you can afford it.

Ok, handwaving and high-fiving is nice, but give me a specific example of where this camera creates an advantage for you…
On the above point, any footage shot with our system will be relevant as the Ultra HD movement takes over. We are already in a situation where the 16mm film we shot for years has very little stock value beyond historical pieces or the TGR brand story. It will need to be presented as archival footage in those scenarios. We can’t even put some of those super epic shots on reels anymore. I am really psyched that the stuff we have been shooting is more future proofed – at least for the next iteration of technology.

I know the answer on this one, but for the benefit of those who might now, what makes you and the TGR team so uniquely qualified to create with this tool? Hollywood here we come?
We have been filming aerials for 18 years. We have worked with limited resources up until now and made them work. Shooting with this system is crazy. The quality of shots is like nothing we have ever captured and it opens doors for us. I just spent the last three weeks working with it in Alaska and it is our best footage to date. We can’t wait to show it to the world.

And we can’t wait to see it. Thanks Todd.



The Results Are In! Photo Contest Winners Announced for the ThinkTank Giveaway

Thanks everyone for the overwhelming response and involvement in our Street Photography contest. We had a blast looking through the thousands of entries and have finally managed to wittle them down to our three favorites….plus five honorable mentions that we felt compelled to shine a spotlight on. Take a look!
[Winners - congrats! We will be in touch with you about your ThinkTank prizes.]

The Winners

Wojtek Lesiak

This photo embodies the spirit of street photography. Out in the world, traveling, fun and spontaneous. What makes it good is that the photographer saw something that no one else did. There are great parallels in the frame. Out of more than 2,000 photos this one caught me off guard and made me laugh aloud. The photo looked back at me.

;

Jeremy Givens


The photographer merged fashion and street for this photo. Breaking down the barriers between two genres in a “candid-posed” moment. Genre-bending. I love the reaction of the lady looking back while everyone else is trying to ignore the model.

Adrian Woźniak

The photographer saw an opportunity for a unique moment – one that would be very easy to overlook. The expression is gritty and raw. I couldn’t figure out where the man is even standing!? I like the shallow depth of field with the tack sharp face – it’s a really impressive technical photo while still achieving some mystery and wonder.

Honorable Mentions:

Steve Stanger

;

Anthony Delao

;

Dave Sundstrom

;

Dave Butterworth

;

Chris Johnston

;

Nikon D7100 — A Definitive Review with Meaty Details [photo comparos + spec highlights]

The Nikon D7100

Although gear isn’t even close to the most important part of photography, it’s still important. And choosing the best camera for your particular needs can be a daunting task – which is why I often get new gear to bang around with and it’s also why I associate with smart gear guys like my pal Sohail. In this review, Sohail puts the new Nikon 7100 through its paces in a way that I haven’t got the patience for…the details, with side by side photo / setting comparo’s and the like. Me? I just shoot the thing and feel it, take a peek at the files. But Sohail goes deep. So sit forward and read the good word below. Feel free to holler with questions – we’ll pick em up as best we can. Take it away Sohail…
__

Introduction

Thanks Chase. Nikon’s D7100 has been an eagerly-awaited-upon update to the enormously popular D7000 (remember back when Chase launched that camera for Nikon with this bts video + campaign + blog post…). Now crowned as the flagship of Nikon’s DX-format lineup, the D7100 brings some pretty cool features to an already solid camera — though what it leaves out may disappoint those users waiting for a D300s replacement.

About the update

Like its little siblings the D5200 and the D3200, the D7100 boasts a 24MP sensor. Unlike pretty much all of Nikon’s cameras (the D800E is an exception), it does away with the Optical Low-Pass Filter (OLPF) that is present on the vast majority of DSLRs. That filter, which is designed to reduce moiré in digital images, softens the image up a bit in the process. Leaving it out means that the camera can now resolve more per-pixel detail, though images can be a bit noisier at higher ISOs.

Autofocus has also been improved in this update. We go from 39 AF points with nine cross-type sensors to 51 points, 15 of which have cross-type sensors. One nice surprise is that the center AF point will autofocus at up to f/8, which means that you can now use a 2x teleconverter with an f/4 lens and still autofocus.

There’s plenty more. Liveview now has two modes for still and video, and the dedicated movie record button has been moved to the top of the camera, near the shutter. The LCD is of a higher resolution, and there’s a stereo microphone built into the camera. Other features include: a new 1.3x crop mode that creates small (about 15MP) files and bumps the max framerate from 6 to 7 frames per second, exposure bracketing is now increased from 3 frames to 5, and the camera is a hair lighter overall.

Initial impressions

While the D7100 is lighter than the D7000, it actually feels more dense. The handgrip feels more rounded and less angular, giving my fingers a more comfortable grip on the body. The shutter button is angled a bit more, letting your index finger lie very comfortably on it.

The new arrangement on the D7100 (right) is more ergonomic than the D7000 (left).

The new arrangement on the D7100 (right) is more ergonomic than the D7000 (left).

On the back, the 8-way rocker switch has been moved higher, which adds to the ergonomics of the camera. It’s much more comfortable to move that focus point around now. The AE-L/AF-L button doesn’t get recessed when you push it — which seems like a small thing, but when you use it for back-button-focus like I do, it’s not such a small deal anymore.

The fine detail tweaking on the D7100 makes it a much more comfortable camera to use, especially for longer periods of time. Nikon seems to have put some more serious thought into this body, and the fit/finish feels more high-end to me than the D7000.

In the Field

Here’s where I was both disappointed and delighted in somewhat equal measures. When Nikon crowned the D7100 the “flagship” of the DX-format line, there was a contingent who hoped that it would be a replacement for Nikon’s previous flagship crop-sensor body, the D300s, a model that’s pretty long in the tooth.

Wildlife shooters, for example, would love to have an APS-C sensor body that will shoot up to 8 frames per second, as the D300s does, but with an updated sensor and processing engine. Canon users have the 7D, which brought them a weather-sealed, fast frame rate body, but Nikonians have been without an update to their equivalent for some time now, even as Canon allegedly prepares an update to the 7D.

Canon's 7D is the main competitor to the new D7100

Canon's 7D is the main competitor to the new D7100

Well, those Nikon fans are going to have to wait just a bit longer. While the D7100 does improve on the D7000 in many ways, it isn’t a replacement for the D300s, at least not in the area of frame rates for fast-action photography. Those eying the 7D on the Canon side still don’t have a fast-action camera with a decent buffer they can get on this side of the aisle, at least not until you hit the D4 range. Nikon really needs a camera that delivers for wildlife and sports shooters that doesn’t cost $6000.

True, 6 fps isn’t something to shake a stick at, but the problem factor here is the buffer. As you can see in Nikon’s specs, shooting at RAW, you get exactly 7 frames in the 12-bit lossless compressed format. That’s about a 1-second burst. Not exactly ideal when you’re trying to capture, say, birds in flight.

The new 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II from Nikon pairs wonderfully with the D7100.

The new 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II from Nikon pairs wonderfully with the D7100.

Dropping down to JPEG improves things a lot, as you get a 33-shot buffer in this mode. Drop it down to JPEG Normal mode and you get 100 shots in that buffer. But compare this to the 7D, the Canon body that the D7100 goes up against, and you have a 25-shot buffer for RAW images at an 8 frame-per-second burst. I’m not sure why the D7100 dropped the ball a bit on the buffer, but there it is.

Still, I wanted to shoot some fast action with the D7100 to give its autofocus a workout. I chose the new 80–400mm f/4.5–5.6 II lens for this test, and fortunately managed to secure one from my buddies at BorrowLenses.com (it’s back-ordered already, and with good reason). I dropped the file quality down to JPEG, and went off to shoot.

Shooting fast action

Let me say this pretty definitively now. Here’s the part of the D7100 that absolutely delighted me: it just plain rocks in the AF department. Shooting with a tight cluster of 9 AF points around the center, I was nailing focus far more than I ever did with the D7000. In fact, short of the D4, I don’t know if there’s a current Nikon out there with a better AF system.

Take the image below; these little blackbirds are ridiculously quick, and getting one in focus is, well, not easy, to say the least. It’s not a great picture, but for me it’s something of a minor miracle, as I’ve rarely gotten a shot of them in flight.

Blackbird in flight. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Blackbird in flight. Image © Sohail Mamdani

The other pleasant surprise was the D7100’s metering system. I usually set my camera to manual mode, then fire away, chimping every few minutes to monitor light changes. This time around, as a test, I set the camera to shutter-priority mode, set it to 1/2000 (or, occasionally, 1/1600 to compensate a bit for shadows), and enabled auto-ISO on the D7100.

To my great delight, the 2016-pixel RGB sensor that the D7100 inherited from its predecessor, combined with whatever else Nikon has baked into this new body, metered the situation very, very well, adjusting aperture and ISO as needed. In fact, in the cases where I did see clipping, it was minimal, and often restricted to highlights, as you can see below.

The built-in metering system does a great job, with minimal clipping. Image © Sohail Mamdani

The built-in metering system does a great job, with minimal clipping. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Detail was another area in which I was very pleased with the D7100. Remember, Nikon has chosen to leave out the OLPF filter, which means that images from this new body are going to be a bit sharper than a camera with the same sensor. In-camera, with the “Landscape” picture style set, the results, as you can see below, were extremely good for a camera in this price range.

The D7100 holds detail really well. Image © Sohail Mamdani

The D7100 holds detail really well. Image © Sohail Mamdani

All in all? While it’s not exactly D4-style sharp, it’s not bad at all. Given a RAW file, I’d have teased out some more detail and sharpened it selectively — another reason I missed having a larger buffer.

Shooting nightscapes at high ISO

Everyone wants to know how the newest camera does at high ISO. Here’s your answer: Not bad, but not great.

Starting at ISO 800, the noise starts to reveal itself. The file is still pretty clear, however, and needs but the slightest of noise removal in Lightroom or Aperture.

At ISO 1600, it’s pretty apparent, though the images are still usable. There’s some smearing in the shadows, but it’s there only if you pixel-peep at 100%. Noise reduction in your software of choice will get rid of it.

At 3200, it’s not that much worse, surprisingly. Compared to the D7000, there’s less color noise, more luminance noise. What’s apparent, as well, is the the D7100 is holding on to a greater dynamic range at that ISO, while the D7000 is showing just a hair more sharpness in some areas (but not in all).

ISO 3200 comparison, with D7000 on the left and D7100 on the right

ISO 3200 comparison, with D7000 on the left and D7100 on the right

By ISO 6400, the noise in the file is obvious and pretty bad, and applying noise reduction tends to blur the image noticeably. Nikon has nonetheless done a great job of controlling color noise, and most of the noise is luminance-based. Compared to the D7000, the dynamic range at ISO 6400 is still better in the D7100, and the RAW file holds up pretty well in post. The images below are DNGs in Lighroom.

ISO 6400 comparison, with D7000 on the left and D7100 on the right

ISO 6400 comparison, with D7000 on the left and D7100 on the right

If you’re wondering why the D7000 controls noise slightly better than the D7100, the culprit can likely be found in that OLPF — or rather, the lack thereof. Without it, images are naturally more noisy.

But if you look past the pixel-peeping, the fact is that the D7100 (and its predecessor) are incredible machines at high ISOs for the price. Is it D4-good? No. But it’s also a fifth of the cost of a D4. For what you’re paying, you’re getting an awfully good machine.

Portraits and Skin Tones

Okay, this is where I admit to making a goofball of a mistake. I shot portraits of my friend Ben right after shooting birds in the wetlands around San Francisco. If you recall, I’d set the camera to shoot JPEG for that… and that’s where I left it. Accidentally.

Yes, you may now proceed to call me a moron. It is well-deserved.

Yet the JPEG files from this shoot actually held up pretty well through Lightroom and Photoshop edits. The image below is the JPEG output from a TIFF file that Photoshop created from the original JPEG file exported to it with edits from Lightroom.

Yeah, my head hurts thinking of that too. But it worked. The original out-of-camera JPEG is on the left.

JPEGs from the D7100 hold up pretty well in post. Image © Sohail Mamdani

JPEGs from the D7100 hold up pretty well in post. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Now, this may be old news to you JPEG shooters out there, but for someone who’s been shooting RAW for the majority of his digital photography career, I didn’t think you could get away with this kind of torture on a JPEG. It’s a bit amazing how much we tend to depend on RAW without giving JPEG a chance.

For those of you interested in seeing an un-tortured file from a RAW image, with no camera/Lightroom/Photoshop interference, the image below, taken of my friend Courtney, is straight-out-of-camera RAW, exported from Lightroom with the 2012 process and Adobe Standard profile.

Processed RAW, no adjustments, exported from Lightroom. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Processed RAW, no adjustments, exported from Lightroom. Image © Sohail Mamdani

I have no complaints about the images — RAW or JPEG — coming out of the D7100 when it comes to portraiture. The white balance was set to Auto for this shot, and the lighting was two Profoto 2X3’ softboxes, with Elinchrom Ranger Quadras shooting through them. The D7100 rendered gorgeous skin tone and color, with just outstanding detail, even at 200% (below).

Courtney's portrait at 200%. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

Courtney's portrait at 200%. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

Conclusion

The D7100 is not the camera all Nikonians were hoping for. I wanted faster frame rates and a bigger buffer. I’m sure there are many who wanted more megapixels, or fewer. We all have our notions of what the next camera from Nikon/Canon/Sony/Olympus/Fuji/Pentax/whatever should have.

I do think Nikon needs a solid competitor to Canon’s 7D, and the D7100 isn’t it. But if you put that notion aside, and look at the D7100 on its own merits, what you have is an absolutely outstanding camera that’s just packed with bang for your buck. At $1299, this isn’t a body that can be called underpowered or anemic in any way. Rather, it’s an extremely capable and well-rounded body that will be a worthy upgrade to anyone using a current Nikon DX-format DSLR — including D7000 owners. The additional resolution, the lack of an OLPF, the great detail and color, autofocus, and metering all combine to make this worth every penny of the $1299 it costs, and then some.

For what it’s worth, I would have no hesitation using the D7100 as a secondary body to my D800E.

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

Stop Creating False Barriers Between You & The Photos You Want to Take [aka Going to the End of the Earth to Get the Shot]

Are you pursuing your personal passions to get the pictures you want, or are you letting…ahem…”too many obstacles” stop you?

Here’s a little inspiration. Using a weather balloon, a Gopro 2, a Multiplex Funjet and some other lo-fi equipment, David Windestål decided to get some first person footage of a trip to space. What he ends up with is an awesome video of the camera’s trip into orbit, and a ton of inspiration for the rest of us. Sure he could massaged the footage and edited differently / better. But whatever. In this post its the spirit that counts. Because truth be told, he’s doing cool shit. And you…?

The takeaway is this: you might not be as handy as David with a soldering iron, but it doesn’t matter, that’s not the point. The point is to stop creating false barriers between you and what you want to be taking pictures of…

Take that project that you’ve pushed off… decided is “too difficult” or “too expensive” or “too [whatever]” and hack into it. If you can find step by step instructions on how to send a camera into space with a couple of mouse clicks, what else might you figure out how to do with a little elbow grease and that good, ol’fashioned get-off-your-ass-and-do-it attitude adjustment?

Photo Kickstarter o’ the Week – The Rocket Travel Slider

“Sliders and dollies help you tell your story with beautiful camera moves.” So sayeth filmmaker Zeke Kamm of Nice Industries. Hard to argue with that statement. Well-placed, well-executed dolly shots increase production value, no question there. They can also increase production time and total gear load, as traditional sliders are bulky and a bitch to set up.

That’s where Kamm’s Rocket Travel Slider comes in. Capable of delivering up to 10 foot long, smooth dolly shots, the Rocket Travel Slider sets up in minutes and breaks down into a tight little travel package the size of a shoe box. Schlepers rejoice: the Rocket Base Kit (sled w/ mount, wheels, bar ends) weighs in at a scant 3 1/2 lbs. Not bad for a slider that can support up to 45 lbs.

Kamm + Co. have developed a set of 2 lb., 6-foot-long set of carbon fiber rails to go with the Rocket Base Kit called the Rocket Travel Tracks. They break down into 24 inch lengths and come with their own padded bag. But for those traveling videographers who really want to go light, the Base Kit wheels will work with any EMT pipe that you can grab at most hardware stores. Meaning you can travel to location with just the Base Kit and load up the tracks once you’ve touched down — you’ll probably pay around $10 at most stores (but you’ll be saving on airline oversized baggage costs).

A $425 pledge gets you the Base Kit, which is roughly $100 less than list + shipping. Want to donate and dolly? Pledge here.

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