Q and A: How can I keep my camera and lens dry in the rain?

Question

We’re getting a lot of rain and wet snow this spring, so I’m wondering how that will affect my new ultra high-tech digital SLR. Would the camera be damaged by moisture? If so, what should I do if it rains every weekend? I really want to get outside and start experimenting. K.W.

Answer

Well, that depends on the camera – as well as the lens – that you’re using. The vast majority of equipment does need protection from moisture, particularly rain. Some DSLRs and certain lenses are weather-resistant as discussed in the features chart for such products on the manufacturer’s web site. These include Nikon and Canon’s professional products, the high-end Pentax DSLRs and a few lenses of various brands. No flash unit (including a built-in flash) is weather resistant, however. Even the most hardy pro-equipment should not be used for extended periods in heavy rain, of course.

If you are primarily interested in experimenting with camera features, you might consider shooting from your car; open the window but make sure the camera/lens will not get wet. Dry off any dampness thoroughly with a clean, absorbent cotton cloth; for the lens use a large microfibre cloth. But if you’ll be shooting outdoors, you’ll need a rain cover accessory. Regardless of the one you buy, read the manufacturer’s instructions re: correct installation (and any warnings) to get the most effective protection.

You can find inexpensive products – similar to clear plastic bags – such as the Op/Tech or Ewa Marine Rainsleeve (about $22 from Amazon; about $17 from B&H).

These may be OK in drizzle but for longer outings in rain you’ll want at least a Kata Elements Cover such as the E-702 for a DSLR with short lens (about $60 from Amazon; about $60 from B&H).

Kata also makes accessories for protecting a longer lens and an external shoe-mounted flash unit. Visit B&H or Amazon for information on the Kata products.

Kata's Elements Covers, such as the E702, are the most popular among the affordable accessories. Two sleeves allow access to camera controls and a transparent back allows for viewing the LCD screen and viewfinder.



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Q and A: What are the pros and cons of the super high capacity SDXC memory cards?

Question

I read a blurb on the Internet about the new Class 10 SDXC cards in several brands. This type of memory card sounds perfect: super fast and tons of capacity at 64 gigabytes. Why would anyone want to use any other kind of SD card, except for the high price of the SDXC card? G.R.

Answer

That was certainly interesting news, and the first Extended Capacity cards will be available sometime this spring: Panasonic’s Gold SDXC and SanDisk’s Ultra SDXC. (Other brands, in various speed classes will follow.)

Do note, however, that the Panasonic cards boast a Class 10 speed rating while the SanDisk SDXC cards are Class 4 rated, or not as fast. The SanDisk  64GB card is less expensive however, approximately $350 versus $600 for the Panasonic product.

The new 64 gigabyte SDXC cards are impressive but the SDHC cards are available in Class 10 speed too (in several brands) and in capacities up to 32 GB, plenty for most photo and video enthusiasts.

The new 64 gigabyte SDXC cards are impressive but the SDHC cards are available in Class 10 speed too (in several brands) and in capacities up to 32 GB, plenty for most photo and video enthusiasts.

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Q and A: What is the best type of tripod to use when shooting in video mode with a DSLR camera?

Question

What kind of a tripod do I need when shooting video clips with my new Nikon D300S? The old tripod that I own is too small and I’m sure I need something better. I’d want one that’s also useful when shooting regular photos but I’d prefer not to pay more than $150. Dawn K.

Answer

That’s a good question, Dawn, but you should also be wondering about the type of tripod head to use. Granted, you may buy a tripod kit that includes a head, but it will probably be a conventional pan/tilt or ball head. Either is perfect for taking still photos but neither is ideal for shooting movies, as I’ll explain in a moment. So, you will probably need two tripod heads; perhaps your old one will be adequate for some purposes.

Start by finding a rigid tripod that is tall enough – without extending the centre post by much – so you don’t need to bend too far down. Extending the centre post too far will really minimize rigidity. Regardless of the size, look for one that is rated for supporting at least 8 lbs. of weight. [Read more…]

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II Lens Review: Field Test Report

Peter Burian tests this improved lens, one of the very best available in the “fast” telephoto zoom category

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The preferred “workhorse” among many professional photographers since 2003, Nikon’s AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR model was also my favorite lens in the Nikkor series. It was just about perfect in all aspects, except for some slight corner softness at wide apertures with a full-frame digital SLR. Some reviews also mentioned less than ideal flare control, but frankly, that was nit-picking. In any event, Nikon has replaced that earlier model with a new VR II-designated version boasting a superior optical design, more effective VR stabilizer plus some other benefits.

Nikon's latest 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is pricey, but it's a professional-caliber product in all aspects, including the latest optical design, an incredibly effective autofocus system, and unusually rugged build quality. (Nikon D300s; ISO 400; f/7.1; Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race, Milton, ON).  © 2010 Peter K. Burian
Nikon’s latest 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is pricey, but it’s a professional-caliber product in all aspects, including the latest optical design, an incredibly effective autofocus system, and unusually rugged build quality. (Nikon D300s; ISO 400; f/7.1; at the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race, Milton, ON). © 2010 Peter K. Burian

An f/2.8 lens is desirable for several reasons. The very wide maximum aperture allows for faster shutter speeds than the more typical f/4.5-5.6 zooms. That’s valuable in low light or action photography, allowing us to use lower ISO levels for superior image quality. A maximum aperture of f/2.8 also allows more light to reach the AF sensor for faster autofocus. And AF is maintained even when a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter is used. Granted, this 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is very large and heavy, but it’s built to tolerate pro-level abuse and it’s also dust- and moisture-resistant. [Read more…]

Q and A: Why does my camera produce severe underexposure in dark locations?

Question

Can you help me solve the exposure problem with my new digital SLR camera? It’s fine when I use the fully automatic modes. But I tried taking photos in a church during a wedding (without flash) and all my photos were underexposed. I was using ISO 400 and set the shutter speed to 1/500 sec. in Shutter Priority mode to make sure the photos would be sharp. But they are all too dark. D.M.

Answer

This is also a common problem among students in my BetterPhoto courses when they first try night photography. The answer is simple, but you need to fully appreciate how this semi-automatic mode works. [Read more…]

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR II Review: Field Test Report

AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Review

Peter Burian tests Nikon’s latest multipurpose lens with some valuable benefits over the previous model

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One of the best selling Nikon lenses, the original 18-200mm VR model was a very competent performer but it has been replaced with a newer zoom that offers several benefits. The latest incarnation includes the best of its predecessor but gains improved Super Integrated Coating for better flare control, and features to prevent zoom creep. As a bonus, the diaphragm is equipped with more blades allowing for a circular aperture at many f/stops. This aspect allows the lens to render out-of-focus highlights as circular for a more pleasing “bokeh”.

The new Nikkor 18-200mm lens is a fine performer capable of producing excellent image quality. Thanks to its new features, this model is even more desirable than its highly-rated predecessor. (D300; f/22; 20mm; Hoya Pro 1 Digital polarizer)  ©2010 Peter K. Burian

The latest Nikkor 18-200mm lens is a fine performer capable of producing excellent image quality. Thanks to its new features, this model is even more desirable than its highly-rated predecessor. (D300; f/22; 20mm; Hoya Pro 1 Digital polarizer; Webster's Falls, Hamilton, ON) ©2010 Peter K. Burian

While this “all-purpose” zoom may be ideal for families who simply want nice pics, it’s suitable for more serious photographers as well. As the price (about $750 in the US) should suggest, this is a premium-grade 27-300mm equivalent lens. The most expensive in its category, the Nikon model is also one of the largest/heaviest. That’s understandable because of the solid construction, two Extra Low Dispersion (ED) plus three aspherical elements for superior image quality, a remarkably effective image stabilizer plus very fast ultrasonic Silent Wave focus motor. [Read more…]

Q and A: What’s the deal with the new cameras lacking pentaprisms and reflex mirrors?

Question

What is the advantage of the new cameras without a pentraprism and a reflex mirror … like the Micro models from Panasonic and Olympus, and the Samsung NX? Is the benefit simply smaller size versus a Digital SLR? In that case, why wouldn’t someone just buy a smaller camera like the Canon Powershot G11 which also has a built-in viewfinder? R.N.

Answer

The primary appeal of the “mirrorless” or “non-reflex” cameras – and their new petite lenses – is certainly the greater portability. Of course there are some intangibles as well with the latest Micro Four-Thirds cameras: the Lumix GF1 and particularly the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2. These models are very classy and they feature rangefinder-like styling, which appeals to many camera buyers. (See my Olympus E-P1 Review: Field Test Report  ) But let’s discuss some of the other important aspects to clarify additional issues.

As this illustration of the Lumix DMC-GF1 versus the Lumix L10 DSLR indicates, a Micro Four-Thirds camera can be much smaller than a DSLR especially if it omits a viewfinder. Since the lenses are also smaller, the entire package is substantially more portable.

As this illustration of the Lumix DMC-GF1 versus the Lumix L10 DSLR confirms that a a Micro Four-Thirds camera can be much smaller than a DSLR especially if it omits a viewfinder. Since the lenses are also smaller, the entire package is substantially more portable.



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Q and A: I’m getting a new PC. Do I need 8GB of Ram, or is 2GB enough?

Question

I am planning to buy a new PC with Windows 7, but should I pay extra for 8 GB of Ram instead of 2 GB? It’s not too expensive and I assume it would make my computer faster. Is that correct? L.H.

Answer

Upgrading a new PC with extra Ram can help boost some aspects of performance but note the following. The conventional 32-bit version of Windows 7 can utilize only 4 GB of RAM (actually, only about 3.4GB). If you buy a new PC (with 64-bit CPU) with 8 GB of Ram, the vendor should install the 64-bit edition of Windows 7. Check out the various versions of this OS on the Microsoft website.

A fast new PC with a 64-bit CPU and a 64-bit edition of Windows 7 can have some benefits, but also some drawbacks.

A fast new PC with a 64-bit CPU and a 64-bit edition of Windows 7 can have some benefits, but also some drawbacks.



Note: The upgrade to a 64-bit system will cause compatibility problems re: drivers for some hardware you already own and for some software programs as discussed on this Windows forum. [Read more…]

Canon Powershot G11 Digital Camera: Field Test Report

Peter Burian tests this premium-grade camera with 10MP resolution to determine how it compares to the very popular G10

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One of the top rated digicams on the market, the 14.7 megapixel PowerShot G10 was recently replaced by the G11, with lower resolution said to provide superior image quality. The G10 was definitely an ideal second camera for serious photographers. In fact, this is the one that many of the pros carried when we went out for dinners while working at a week-long photo seminar in Dubai. (Also see Jack Neubart’s Canon PowerShot G10 Review here at Photocrati.com)

After testing the G10, I fell in love with that camera and bought one for my own use. While it received rave reviews about its conventional controls and low ISO quality, most test reports complained about its high ISO performance.

The 14.7 megapixel G10 was a highly-rated camera and produced fabulous images at low ISO but the G11 is even more desirable in some aspects. While resolution is lower at 10 MP, most reviewers agree that this is plenty for a digicam with built-in lens. (G11; ISO 100; f/8; 1/40 sec.)

The 14.7 megapixel G10 was a highly-rated camera and produced fabulous images at low ISO but the G11 is even more desirable in some aspects. While resolution is lower at 10 MP, most reviewers agree that this is plenty for a digicam with built-in lens. (G11; ISO 100; f/8; 1/40 sec.)



In my own review for a Canadian magazine, I made the following comment about the G10: By ISO 800, images made in low light are still very sharp but very grainy although that’s not a problem in 5×7″ prints. At higher ISO, JPEG quality really suffers due to speckling and some smearing of fine detail by Noise Reduction processing. At ISO 800+, slightly better results are possible with Raw capture since Noise Reduction and Sharpening can be set to the optimal level in the converter software.

Most technical experts indicated that the problem was caused by the excessively small pixels (photosites). Apparently the engineers at Canon agreed since the company responded by replacing the G10 with the G11, with substantially lower 10 megapixel resolution provided by a new High Sensitivity sensor. That step made sense of course, since it allowed for larger photosites – with greater light gathering ability – for superior results at high ISO. [Read more…]

Q and A: Raw capture mode is confusing. Can you help?

Question

I need some advice about using RAW capture mode. I have just started shooting in RAW mode but after some research on the Internet, I still have some questions about RAW. Why won’t Photoshop CS3 or Elements 7 open and convert the RAW files from my EOS T1i? Also, when using the Canon DPP software, should I save the photos to an 8-bit Tif or a 16-bit Tif. L.V.

Answer

The software that’s bundled with any DSLR certainly supports the unique RAW format produced by that camera. However, versions of Photoshop that are older than CS4 – such as CS3 – do not support the newer cameras’ formats.

That’s because Adobe ceased supporting the older versions. Both Elements 6 and 7 do support the RAW files produced by most of the recent cameras, including the T1i. Anyone who cannot open a RAW file with Elements 6 or 7 will need to download and install the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in version 5.5. See Adobe for the download and for installation instructions. (Photoshop CS4 owners should note that they may also need version 5.5 or later.)

All versions of Photoshop Elements - since version 6 - can support all of the latest DSLRs' RAW formats. Of course, with newer cameras, that may require installing the latest version of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in.  ©2009 Peter K. Burian

All versions of Photoshop Elements - since version 6 - can support all of the latest DSLRs' RAW formats. Of course, with newer cameras, that may require installing the latest version of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in. ©2009 Peter K. Burian

The default with any RAW converter is 8-bit per channel color depth when converting to the TIFF format from a RAW file. Most converter programs also allow you to select 16-bit TIFF. [Read more…]