Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ Photography

Nikon 810A Reviewed

Nikon D810A Swedish photographer Göran Strand has a review of Nikon’s digital SLR for astrophotography, the D810A. It’s interesting to see (a) how much additional detail the 810A’s modified sensor picks up from the part of the spectrum and (b) conversely, how useable the camera is for day-to-day photography given its increased sensitivity to that red part of the spectrum. (Nikon says the camera is unsuitable; Göran found it otherwise.) I enjoy this sort of thing vicariously — barring winning the lottery (and I don’t buy tickets), a $4,450 astrophotography camera isn’t really in my future, however much I’d like to play with one. Via Nikon Rumors.

Previously: Nikon’s Astrophotography Camera.

Nikon’s Astrophotography Camera

Nikon D810A Nikon has just announced its first digital SLR optimized for astrophotography: the D810A. Like the D810 on which it’s based, it’s a 36-megapixel, full-frame camera. Unlike the D810, but like the Canon EOS 60Da and digital SLRs modified by third parties, its infrared filter is optimized to let in hydrogen-alpha wavelengths crucial to photographing emission nebulae and star-forming regions that emit light in those frequencies. It’s also capable of taking exposures up to 15 minutes long and has a new preview mode that simulates 30-second exposures.

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Emergency Kittens, Creative Commons, and Me

On July 29, a photo of our cat Goober sitting in an box, with an extra “t” added to spell “”, turned up on the popular Emergency Kittens Twitter account:

When I saw that photo, I had four thoughts occur simultaneously:

  1. Hey, that’s our cat.
  2. Hey, that’s my photo.
  3. Hey, that’s my joke.
  4. Hey, that’s my copyright.

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My Camera Usage

In March 2013 I bought a Nikon D7100, my third digital SLR since 2006. Lately I’ve been wondering whether doing so was strictly necessary, given how often I use my iPhone as a camera.

So I counted up the photos I’ve posted to Flickr since then. Turns out I still use the digital SLR a fair bit; it’s the pocket cameras that don’t get used much any more:

Camera used for photos I uploaded to Flickr since March 25, 2013
Camera used to take photos I’ve uploaded to Flickr since March 25, 2013

The S100 was mainly used on a trip where I deliberately left the digital SLR behind; the AW100, a ruggedized, water-resistant camera, got brought out in wet or winter conditions. The D7100 was used for deliberate photography: wildlife photography, newsworthy events (such as a fire next door) and science fiction conventions. The iPhone was my walkabout camera and my cats-are-being-cute camera — very much the “best camera is the one that’s with you” — but would have done very poorly in lieu of the D7100 or the AW100.

A Noct-Nikkor Successor

AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G Nikon just announced an interesting new lens, and I tend to be interested in interesting Nikon lenses. It’s a 58mm �/1.4 lens that costs $1,700. Lots of online commenters have already deemed it overpriced and underwhelming, but they’re missing the point (as usual). You will either desperately need this lens or not need it at all. This lens is the successor to the old 58mm �/1.2 Noct-Nikkor, a manual-focus lens that sells used for thousands of dollars on eBay to people who desperately need it. Like that old lens, this new lens reduces off-axis coma, an optical distortion in which points of light have little tails. This lens is meant to be shot wide open and in the dark: it’s designed for night photography and wide-field astrophotography, where coma (which turns up in inexpensive 50mm lenses) is a real issue. (Astrophotographers know all about coma, which is endemic in Schmidt-Cassegrain and fast Newtonian telescopes: they have to use coma correctors or upgrade to expensive Ritchey-Chr�tien telescopes.)

More on Sigma’s New Fast Zoom Lens

That’s two of my questions answered about Sigma’s 18-35mm �/1.8 zoom lens for APS-C cameras: it’ll be available in July, and it’ll cost around $800 (�800/�1000) — a lot less than expected (DP Review, Engadget, Nikon Rumors, Photography Blog). As for whether it’s any good, there are some samples out there: here and here. And here’s a review. My suspicion that this might be a good lens for candid shots at conventions (low light, close quarters) has not been dampened. I’ll probably have to get it. There’s really nothing else out there for APS-C cameras (Canon EF-S, Nikon DX) with that aperture at those focal lengths other than 30-35mm prime lenses.

Previously: Sigma’s New Fast Zoom Lens.

Sigma’s New Fast Zoom Lens

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens

Sigma has announced an 18-35mm f/1.8 zoom lens for digital SLRs with APS-C sensors (i.e., Nikon DX and Canon EF-S); Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts will be available. DP Review has the press release; Photography Blog has a hands-on of a pre-production sample that curiously doesn’t talk about image quality.

I’ve never seen a zoom lens like this with such a fast (f/1.8) focal ratio before; even fast primes aren’t available for Nikon and Camera APS-C cameras this wide. (Full-frame lenses are, but on an APS-C camera they’re no longer wide.) I can immediately see a use for such a lens: at conventions, it has the potential to be better than Nikon’s own 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom in small, poorly lit rooms. But first some questions would have to be answered: is this lens any good, when will it be available, and how much will it cost?


I’ve finally started doing something with my 500px account, which is to say that I’m finally uploading some photos. Nothing you haven’t already seen on my Flickr account, which I’m not abandoning any time soon. 500px will be for my best and most interesting photos, inasmuch as my photos are good or interesting. My greatest hits, such as they are.

Nikon D600 Announced

Nikon D600 It’s still a bit outside my price range, especially nowadays, but Nikon announced a relatively inexpensive full-frame digital SLR yesterday, the D600. Full-frame cameras are expensive because their sensors are the size of a frame of 35mm film — 36×24mm — and big sensors are expensive. The digital SLRs most of us own (which is to say, most of us can afford) use APS-C sensors, about 24×16mm. The D600 costs US$2,100/C$2,180 without a lens, which is more than most us could spend on a camera, but cheap for a full-frame camera: it’s about $900 less than the D800. It’s smaller, too: from the previews at the usual sites (DP Review, Photography Blog), the D600 appears to be more or less a D7000 with a full-frame sensor crammed into it.

Canon Issues S100 Product Advisory

Canon PowerShot S100 Canon has issued a product advisory for the PowerShot S100: some units “may encounter a lens error due to a part becoming disconnected inside the lens. In particular, this lens error may occur when the camera is used in certain environmental conditions such as high temperature and/or humidity.” (Canada, U.S.) I don’t know what they mean by a lens error, which probably means that my own S100, which falls within the announced serial number range, isn’t affected (yet).

Previously: Canon PowerShot S100: First Impressions.

More Photos, Not Better Photos

The mantra that “the best camera is the one that’s with you” can lead to more photos, but they’re almost never better photos. “Almost nothing I’ve shot since 2010 is usable,” says Marco Arment, whose photography shifted from digital SLRs to iPhones at that point. “They look fine on a 3.5-inch screen, but they look terrible on my big desktop monitor and abysmal on the Retina MacBook Pro.” I always have my S100 with me, so that I can catch shots I would otherwise miss, but there are few circumstances where the shots look good at full resolution and where my D90 wouldn’t have taken much better photos. It’s too easy to default to the one that’s with you.

Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO

Occasionally I get it into my head to try to teach someone the basics of photography. Invariably I fail. This short video by Matthew Gore does a much better job of explaining exposure, and how aperture, shutter speed and ISO relate to one another, at a conceptual level, than I ever have. (See also the related article.) Via MetaFilter.

A Perfect Camera Bag?

Last fall I picked up a Think Tank Retrospective camera bag, after dithering for months over the right size. The Retrospective 10 was big enough to hold an iPad in one of its pockets, but it was also kind of big to carry; the Retrospective 5 was too small for an iPad, but otherwise good for a D90-sized digital SLR and a couple of extra lenses while being nice and compact. In the end I went for the 5, but thought at the time that what I really wanted was a Retrospective 7, which didn’t exist. Only now they’ve gone and made one: a Retrospective 7 has been announced, with a special rear pocket to hold an iPad. I guess I wasn’t the only one. It sounds perfect. (The whole series is really well designed, I have to say. Think Tank makes good and durable kit. But pricey.)

New Canon Digital SLR for Astrophotography

One drawback of using digital SLRs for astrophotography is that they come with infrared blocking filters that are essential for normal photography, but block a good deal of the light from emission nebulae and star-forming regions, especially the essential hydrogen-alpha wavelength. (Dedicated astrophotography cameras don’t come with such filters, but they tend to be expensive, have lower resolution, need to be plugged into a computer, and are complicated to use.)

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Canon PowerShot S100: First Impressions

Canon PowerShot S100 Last month Jennifer sprung a Canon PowerShot S100 on me for my birthday. It’s meant to be a replacement for the SD780 that bit the dust last November (sordid details here), which is to say, a compact camera small enough to have with me at all times (that’s something you just can’t do with a digital SLR). Now the S100 is larger than the SD780, which was small enough to stuff in my jeans pocket (with my keys: yes it got pretty banged up), but it’s still extremely portable, which is the whole point of owning one; it just means it’s going in a jacket pocket instead. It’s still smaller than most other compact cameras I’ve seen, and considerably more able.

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Nikon Coolpix AW100 Reviewed

Here’s an in-depth review of the Nikon Coolpix AW100 from Photography Blog. Their conclusion: so-so picture quality comparable to other compact cameras, which is what I’ve been noticing. (More or less equivalent to the Canon PowerShot SD780 it replaced.) They like its video performance, which I haven’t tried yet. On par with cameras in the ruggedized/waterproof category, basically.

Previously: Nikon Coolpix AW100: First Impressions; A Jennifer-Proof Camera.

Astrophotography and Copyright

While trolling for awesome space pictures, I’ve noticed something a bit unusual. Images from sources like the Hubble Space Telescope or the European Southern Observatory are frequently public domain or released under a Creative Commons licence, which makes them a cinch to repost here: just give them credit and everyone’s happy. Amateur astrophotography, on the other hand, is usually much more restrictive: the photographer usually has a strict injunction on their website prohibiting republishing their photos elsewhere without prior permission. This is the opposite of other forms of photography: now it’s the pros who are giving their stuff away, and the amateurs watermarking their photos and invoking copyright. There’s lots of good amateur astrophotography on Flickr, for example, but hardly any of it is CC-licensed. Odd.

An iPhone Astrophotography Adapter

I probably shouldn’t be too surprised about this: Orion is selling an iPhone-to-telescope adapter. It costs $60 and is basically a bracket that holds the iPhone at the right spot so that its camera lines up with the eyepiece. It’s long been possible to use the iPhone (or any other cameraphone, really) for short-exposure or video astrophotography (lunar, solar, the easier planets like Jupiter) using the afocal method; it’s just that you’d either have to hold it up to the telescope or build your own bracket. That Orion’s making a commercial bracket means that they figure there’s enough of a market to tool for one. The iPhone market is much bigger than the telescope market, and iPhone photography is a big deal. Maybe this is a gateway product to draw iPhone users into the rest of their catalogue.

Nikon Coolpix AW100: First Impressions

So far we’ve been pleased with the performance of the Nikon Coolpix AW100. For a compact digital camera, it’s more responsive than I expected — less shutter lag, for example, and the GPS seems to find itself faster than the Nikon GPS-1 logger I use with my D90 (though I haven’t run a proper test to compare them). I’m pleasantly surprised by the image quality, too: see this macro shot. Not bad for a 1/2.3-inch sensor.

Elsewhere, Nikon Rumors has a short review. You can buy one at (UK).

Using Camera Lenses as Telescopes

I connect telescopes to cameras all the time: a simple adapter turns the telescope into a ginormous manual telephoto lens. But I was not aware that adapters existed to turn a camera lens into a telescope or microscope — replacing the camera with an eyepiece. See Nikon Rumors and Photo Rumors.

A Jennifer-Proof Camera

The Canon PowerShot SD780 I picked up two years ago suffered death by drowning last Friday. Jennifer took it with her to a school canoe competition in Low, Quebec; it was raining, and the camera got soaked, and that was that. I wasn’t as annoyed as I could have been: in two years I got an awful lot of use out of it (which is interesting when you consider that I primarily shoot with a digital SLR) and it was getting awfully beat up. It was a reasonably good run for a piece of consumer tech.

Nikon Coolpix AW100 The silver lining to busted gear is that you get to go shopping for its replacement. Yesterday, Jennifer bought the camera she should have had with her on Friday: a waterproof, shockproof and generally Jen-proof compact camera. She decided on the Nikon Coolpix AW100, which Henry’s had just got in stock; the runner-up was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3. The cameras are very similar in specs and cost the same; in the end she preferred the user interface on the Nikon. I’ve been hinting that she ought to get a ruggedized waterproof camera for some time; that sort of camera fits in with her sort of thing. And she won’t be afraid to use it — as she’s been when, for example, I’ve handed her my old digital SLR.

I’m interested in seeing how the AW100 turns out; it’s so new it hasn’t really been reviewed yet. And yes, it has GPS: this represents the eighth GPS receiver in our household.

Previously: The Coolpix AW100 and the Competition.

It’s Only a Colour-Saturated Moon

The Moon in colour (Aug. 2, 2009) Mike Salway’s guide to creating a colour-saturated moon photo seems a little too complex for me. You don’t necessarily need to stack images or muck about with Photoshop, though that’s certainly going to get good results. I didn’t do too bad a job of this myself two years ago, and all I really did was increase sharpening and saturation. Though I tend not to want to overdo it: I like to bring out the different colours of the maria, rather than go for an Instagram effect: other examples here and here. Via Phil Plait.

You Are Not a Photographer

Via Andrew Sullivan, You Are Not a Photographer, a blog that mocks bad photos from photography businesses:

How many people do you know that bought a nice camera, started a Facebook page and called it a photography business? Having a DSLR does not make you a professional photographer. We’re outing these no talents with daily pictures from the worst of the web. We only post pictures that were from a photography “business,” and we use that term lightly.

I’ve long been uncomfortable with the dichotomy between “amateur” and “professional” photography, which I think is more aspirational than anything else. It’s not the gear: you can get a pro-quality photo from amateur equipment, and amateur results from professional equipment. While I’ve been paid for my photos (licensed after the fact, rather than hired for), I don’t consider myself a pro; I’m just some guy with a nice camera. But there are an awful lot of people out there with an entry-level digital SLR, a kit lens and a pirated copy of Photoshop who dream of starting a photography business. More power to you, says I, but learn the craft.

The Coolpix AW100 and the Competition

Nikon Coolpix AW100 Among the new compact cameras Nikon announced today was the Coolpix AW100, a ruggedized, waterproof compact camera with built-in GPS. (Press release.) This is more noteworthy for Nikon, which hasn’t had a waterproof camera since the Nikonos series was discontinued in 2001, than it is for digital cameras in general. There are plenty of ruggedized, waterproof compact digital cameras, most of which have GPS: Digital Photography Review compared six of them earlier this month. The AW100’s specs look comparable.

A New Nifty Fifty

Its existence has already been leaked online, but today Nikon announced a new version of its 50mm f/1.8 lens — the so-called “nifty fifty” (Digital Photography Review, Photography Blog).

I have its predecessor, the AF 50mm f/1.8 D, which doesn’t autofocus on entry-level digital SLRs (that matters less than you might think: I focused mine manually with my D40, and got great results). This one does, and adds an aspherical lens element (which reduces coma and chromatic aberration). It also costs $220, which is more expensive than its predecessor but still cheaper than most other lenses — and for the quality of images you get, it’s a bargain. I use mine as a short portrait lens and it’s crazy-stupid sharp.

(The nifty fifty also comes in an f/1.4 version, but you pay two or three times as much for an additional two-thirds of an f-stop.)

Hasselblad’s Astronaut Photography Manual

Most astronaut photography is done with Nikon digital SLRs these days, but back in the dark days of film, the camera of choice, especially during the Apollo program, was often a Hasselblad. Hasselblad’s Astronaut Photography Manual (PDF) has been circulating around the Internet recently. The 40-page manual dates to 1984, during the early days of the shuttle program, and covers a lot of photography basics — with the understanding that the photographer is an astronaut, the camera is a Hasselblad and the subject matter is outer fricking space.