Click here for full size. Nikon D7100, 28mm f/2 AI Nikkor; 1/125 sec @ f/4. 4.655x3.500 px.
If you want to quickly assess if your lenses are focusing properly, my friend Carsten recommends the “Newspaper Test”. This works very well, he says, because we are so used to letters that we can judge “readability” much better than a certain degree of blur. It is also the method of choice to test longer lenses at different distances, because for that both Nikon's “Ruler Test” and my “Domino Test” are a bit tricky; it may be quite difficult to judge the results at a focusing distance of – say – ten meters. Also, the field curvature of certain lenses may throw you off on the domino test, because of the width of the subject. With this test, this is not a consideration.
Click here for full size image. D7100, 55-200 f/4-5.6 VR (5370x1200 px. JPG, 1 Mb.)
Now that even the most modest Nikons feature 24 Mp. sensors, optical quality and lens performance (let alone photog skills) are increasingly coming under pressure. It is no coincidence that many of the latest Nikon mid-range and top-of-the line cameras include a feature called “AF Fine Tuning” which allows users to adjust the auto focus of their sample of a particular lens to their particular camera.
On Flickr some users are commenting on dialing in as much as +/- 20 AFFT correction on their lenses, which, to me, seems excessive. Although it is reasonable to assume that lenses might be off a couple or even a bunch of millimeters between one sample and another, claiming that they are 5 or more centimeters wrong seems like a lot. The large majority of users also say that their lenses back-focus, which is curious because, according to my tests, the rule of thirds applies here: one third of my lenses back focuses, one third front focuses – mostly my old AF-D and MF (AI, AI-S) lenses – while another third focuses spot-on, most notably my third party samples. Note that MF lenses cannot be corrected, and that correct focus was acquired using the focus confirmation dot in the view-finder, which could be the reason they are a tad off.
On their European website Nikon offer a procedure for AF fine tuning, which could be called the “Ruler Test” It consists in mounting a ruler in a 45º angle next to a stationary object that serves as a central focusing point – a book – and focusing on this center point. However, in my experience, this test is extremely difficult to interpret, because of the gradual transitions between the exact focusing point and the out of focus that can – supposedly – be observed on the ruler. Thus, I have devised a different test in the form of a “trapped” model, which consists in more pronounced focusing steps of 6 mm each, which is the thickness of the domino stones this test is called after.
The large majority of specs are similar to those of the D5200, however, the sensor is different: 24,2 vs. 24,1 Mp., and – more importantly – OLFP-less, which ought to lead to sharper images. Also, the size of the vari-angle monitor grows from 3 to 3,2 inch, while its resolution goes up to 1.037 K dots. Nikon claims that the new Expeed-4 image-processing engine is optimized for faster high-performance digital SLR cameras while providing significantly better results with noise reduction (NR), auto white balance, color reproduction and tone processing. Finally, the camera includes a few new scene modes or special efects to the arsenal, such as Night vision, Color sketch, Toy camera, Miniature effect, Selective color, Silhouette, High key, Low key and HDR painting. For more information and specs, click here.
With the launch of the D610 Nikon replaces the D600 after a mere 13 months, allegedly to finally solve the oil and dust problem that has been plaguing the latter virtually since its introduction. The only DSLR camera ever to be replaced quicker in Nikon’s history was the D40X, which lasted only 9 months in the line-up. The D610’s “suggested” retail price of $ 2.000 is slightly inferior to its predecessor, which launched on 13-09-2012 with a SRP of $ 2.100. Although the D600 stays in the line-up, for now, the camera’s price has been steadily dropping for the last six months or so, and it will surely be discontinued as soon as Nikon clears stock.
The D610 is virtually identical to the D600, which only reinforces the suspicion that Nikon were not able to “fix” the problem of the camera spewing oil or dust on the sensor, because the only improvement – if you can call it that – is a slightly higher max fps-rate of 6 vs. the D600’s 5,5 My main critique of the D600 still applies to the D610, in the sense that latter still has a maximum shutter speed of only 1/4000, still flash syncs at only 1/200 and still brackets (exposure, flash, WB, ADL) a measly 2-3 frames. Similarly, the camera still employs the same Multi-CAM 4800 39-point auto-focus module as its predecessor. Given that even the 800-dollar cheaper D7100 now incorporates 51-point AF, one cannot help wondering why Nikon did not take the opportunity to upgrade the D610 at least in that aspect.
It still remains to been seen if Nikon have indeed solved the main weakness of their “baby” FX, which – in terms of IQ, at least – leaves very little to be wished. At the time of writing, it still ranks third in DxO Mark with a sensor rating of 94, only slightly behind the Nikon D800 (95) and D800E (96). It is extremely unlikely the D610 will give up that spot. The sad news for current D600 owners is, of course, that the resale price of their camera has just plummeted… Specs after the break.
Nikon are a hallmark of engineering prowess. In terms of IQ they have been beating the competition for the last half decade, or so. There are 9 Nikon cameras in the DXO top-20 and Nikkor lenses typically get raging reviews. So, why the company has been scrambling around new product strategies, recently, and why have the shares dropped off so dramatically? The answer is as simple as complicated. The Japanese adagio says that the importance of the project shines through in the details, and it’s in the details where Nikon are failing. Nikon is engineering over customer experience, perfection over usability. So rather than wondering why compact sales are dropping off, why the Nikon One is not the success they envisioned it to be, or why the market is concentrating elsewhere, they ought to ask themselves why the customer experience is not as expected.
It’s just plain, silly details The D600 puking oil blobs all over the sensor is not exactly helpful, however, it’s Nikon’s response to the issue – or rather – the lack thereof, that has customers infuriated. Even more so, now that rumors suggest they may launch a second gen camera – the D610 – that supposedly resolves the prob. It's the D5200 beating the D7100 in image quality according to DXO. And then there is the EN-EL3e false low battery warning (FLBW), which has customers scrambling all over the Web trying to figure out what is happening to them. More than four years after the issue stuck its ugly head up, Nikon still have to formally respond to – let alone solve – a problem that is as actual today as it was four years ago.
The Accessory Terminal, inverted...
Still, it’s the details of details that are the most tale-telling. For example: they changed the position and/or inverted the orientation of the Accessory Terminal of the D90 on some of the posterior cameras – like the D7100, for example – meaning that the plugs of some third party accessories do not quite fit (photo). They also introduce artificial limitations for non-Nikon devices, like GPS’s, for example, causing the gps-icon not to appear on the top LCD panel of the D600 and D7100. Changing something that worked flawlessly ever since the D1X and hampers the customer experience for no obvious reason, is not just plain silly but also extremely annoying.
One of the first things I did upon the arrival of my D7100 was to check if it would properly work with my GPS, because the one thing that I have been missing dearly during my recent travels was the ability to properly geo-locate my shots. Here’s what I have found.
Fig. 1. Control panel D200 (top) vs. D7100: no GPS icon...
Compatibility and Setup
Unlike the D200, the D7100 does not show the GPS icon of my Promote on the top control panel (fig 1, right), which had me initially worried that it was not compatible. Fortunately, the rear display does show the GPS icon, either blinking when the device is acquiring the necessary satellites or steady once so-called “lock-on” has been achieved (fig. 2) Still, this is annoying because you must either push the i or the info button to confirm that the device is properly connected, while it cannot be confirmed at a glance, as it is supposed to. While Nikon’s own GP-1A will likely work properly, other third party devices may give similar results. Meanwhile, the D600 apparently suffers from the same glitch (if you can call it that).
After having my D200 and a host of other stuff stolen in December 2011, I finally managed to rack up enough cash to buy a D7100, SB-700 speedlight and a 55-200 VR Nikkor from Best Buy. Which turned out to be smooth operating in every sense, especially considering that we live in Chile and that my wife was doing the pick-up in Florida. Thank you, Best Buy, for a frictionless customer experience. Keep at it!
Now that I have bought my new camera, and after Adobe have gone Creative Cloud – a bandwagon that I will definitely not get onto – I have to figure out how to convert my D7100 RAW files (compatible only with ACR 7.4 / CS6), since I’m still running CS3. With the D200 I used Nikon Capture for quite a while, but after I bought the D40 it turned out the program was not compatible with any Nikon launched after the D70. I tried out Nikon Capture NX, but found the interface and operability unbearable, even only because it is very slow. Plus, in NX Nikon stripped out the Camera Control module for tethered shooting, included in the previous version, making the program even less worth spending money on.
After running my D40 RAW files trough the Adobe DNG Converter for a while, I decided that between giving my money to Nikon and Adobe the choice was simple: the outlay of cash was only slightly higher for the upgrade of the entire CS1 to CS3 Suite than for Nikon Capture alone… However, the truth of the matter is that this so-called “upgrade” was not really worth it; apart of ACR and Bridge there was really nothing substantially new, neither in Photoshop nor in any of the other CS programs I frequently use, like Illustrator, Indesign, Dreamweaver and Fireworks.