Saturday, November 19, 2016

SnapBridge... it works too...

If you have ever come to this blog then would be knowing that I have jumped the ship to Nikon. I bought a D500 and one of the strong things advertised by the company was that it has got this great app - SnapBridge - that will be 'Messiah' for all the troubles. Like it will deliver you the connectivity - to remotely operate the camera, download the pictures on the go, update and sync the time and GPS settings on the fly. It was great - but I was coming from the camera (aka 7D mark ii) that provided more than 60% of this slated capacity natively. It had a GPS built in along with a compass that could even tell me what direction I was facing when I let go the trigger to capture that particular shot. It was missing Wifi but I really did not miss it too much as my last camera (Canon 70D) had it and I was not using it too much I guess. 

Well - now that we had it so actively advertised by Nikon that I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately - being the Mac man I am - there was no apple ios version that was released when I bought the camera. It did come but it ate up my - very exciting 'Uganda' birdwatching visit. It did come eventually on 31 Aug. As expected - I downloaded and jumped on board the moment the tweeter - tweeted the news.

The app was nothing but anguish and pain to use for a long time. However, there was an update and things slowly went uphill with usability experience improving. The GPS location's updates were not upto my expectations. Then there had to be app open and camera on for the connectivity. The remote trigger is slow and inconsistent. 

I was ready to endure some but not all - two things I wanted absolutely rocking was the GPS location updates and second - the photographs download to the mobile as promised. I read the camera manual - sat down for hours reading and seeing all the possible Youtube videos describing the process. The download just did not happen. I was fairly disgusted and put off. 

Then one day just out of disgust I reset the camera to factory defaults and suddenly it was working fine. The problem lied not in the camera or the SnapBridge but the lack of clarity as to actions to take by the user. Connectivity is one part of the problem - the main culprit was that I am a birdwatcher and clocking the pictures only in RAW. The app and the camera does not have the  capacity to compress the picture to the 2 mb compression required to seamlessly transfer the images. The moment I was clicking in RAW + jpeg - the pictures were transferring well and fast. 

I will now discuss the strengths and the weakness as I see it. Let me tell you - I had junked the app initially but had to eat my words - well I will still say and will be happy if the coming versions prove me wrong. After all I am going to lug around this camera for some time to come ;-). I will also post the disclaimer that I have tested the camera with my iPhone 6s Plus combo so your user experience may vary.
Great to see streamed images on my iPhone
in real time


1.  Inspite of my initial misgivings the app is transferring photographs and on the fly. On my last visit for birding, I was posting photographs from the field and I was really really happy about it.

2.  The clock and the GPS is being sync'ed and that was good. However, I have still not been able to fathom some details that I will try to check out and post some time later. One is the interval at which the GPS data is sync. I could not find the info online but is important to me. Second part that I have not been able to so far find out is whether the app has to be running in the background in ios for this to happen - or no.

3.  The app does not really hog the battery as I expected. But it does does reduce battery life of both camera and the mobile. I did not really mind it as my trips so far have been a few hours at a time only. However, it might force me to lug around a battery pack for the mobile. As far as the camera is concerned I have a hand grip and with two battery combo it lasts a day and more. It might be some more time before I can get the exact data.


1.  The remote trigger is not good as I expected. It is slow and painful.

This error message while signing up
for Nikon Image Space is driving me nuts
Wonder what it is ...
2. Now please read through this point carefully - I am sitting at home and connected with the camera with my iPhone with low powered Bluetooth and the camera decides that it has to jump to Wifi to get the job done - it asks me to go to the settings and connect to the Wifi - I do that - and the iPhone that has just a few seconds back connected with the camera - says - what the heck - this wifi connection (of camera) does not have internet connectivity - and jumps back to your home network etc. That is a pain in my ... just fill the blanks yourself. Well if you are in isolated place - let us say sitting and birdwatching in the field - well no problem at all - since that is the only wifi available to the mobile - it seems to stick on. 

3. Because of the documentation oversight perhaps me and thousands who might be shooting in RAW only would be wondering what went wrong. Why the hell do the pictures not transfer? Wake up Nikon. You have to have pictures in jpeg format saved also for the transfer.

4. Lastly, the Nikon Image Space. I have tried my best to make an account and I have been getting error messages. The app has since been updated too but still - no respite. Is it because I am India ? or maybe I am doing something wrong - but I have tried again and again and again and no matter what I do - I just cannot seem to make it work.

So all in all - the app is work in progress and I am sure it will go a long way - but has some time still before it can satisfy me or so many others look up to it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My troubled Marriage with Canon...

Oh - it was great while it lasted - but I was seeing that my days of joy with Canon were coming to an end. I would love to clarify it - though it may take a hell of a time...

My love affair with Digital photography had a modest beginning - a prosumer, Nikon Coolpix E4300, 4 Mega pixel beginning to put it to right perspective. It was a camera that I loved. Released in 2002 Aug, I had it in my hands in Aug 2003, one year after its release. This camera was remarkable. The results usually would blow me off. Though for birdwatching I trusted most of the times on eyes and old set of Binoculars still as the reach of this camera was hardly enough to ensure bird pictures. All the same - it was part of my digital life and I carried it everywhere... 
My prized picture clicked with Nikon Coolpix E4300

This all lasted till mid 2010 - a full seven years before I was a able to afford an upgrade to Canon 550D. How I jumped to the canon Bandwagon - reviews - there were tons of people out there who were swearing by canon especially for nature and outdoors. I read and saw many a review - the base line was simple - you want to do indoors, or studio photography - buy Nikon - the sensors have been doing well, but if you want to be on to sports, wildlife - then the range of equipment (lens and related) and focus systems - the canon is unbeatable. This relation too was great while it lasted - with canon I mean. I moved relatively quickly, considering it took me seven years to move on to a DSLR. I was hooked on to Canon - 550D to 70D and finally 7D mark ii. As I moved this period I was also taking small baby steps upgrading my lenses to meet the requirements of birdwatching. The first lens was the 55-250 EF lens that gave me reach to start photographing birds. This was my humble beginning to photographing birds and becoming crazy for the same. Next lens that took me to next level of photographing birds with the Canon 100-400L in my hands. The lens was great and coupled with 70D - I really had some good times. 70D was really a stop gap with rumours of 7D Mark ii flying thick and thin. The day 7D mark ii was released I was on the ship with the new Canon 100-400L mark ii. All this while I will admit that I was missing the results that I got from my 4 megapixel Nikon. This never ever left my mind. Perhaps this - coupled with some more reasons finally resulted in my moving on from Canon.
Canon 7D mark ii picture edited from the picture below by 1.6 times exposure. This is not a planned underexposure or anything, just a old file picture that I had and am using as an example.

Original picture clicked in RAW by Canon 7D mark (@ISO 800)

The combination of Canon 7D mark ii with 100-400L series ii was great. I was getting good results and fair amount of keepers in my birding trips. Then in 2015 Oct I did a trip to Sikkim with few of my birding colleagues - during that trip three of us were with canon and one with Nikon. Infact during the last three days one more Nikon joined - the camera of our birding guide. We had great birding for a day we were with him - the problem was that when I clicked and compared the same bird in the same settings - I found his results to be superior. Finally I could not resist but strike up a conversation with him. That conversation was one of the factor that started taking Canon down south in my mind. He too said that he was with canon but by the day getting more and more dis-satisfied with canon and finally made a hard decision and jumped to Nikon - as per him - he was fully satisfied.
This is a recovered photograph clicked by D500 and exposure ramped up by 1.6 times the exposure. It may not be a fair comparison to the Canon set of pictures above but then the closest I could manage out of my archives.

Original picture clicked in RAW by D500 (@ISO 400)

As I had started growing into photography - I was also trying to become hyper-critical of my photography. One of the reasons that Bird Photographers would swear by was the "Reach" - reach as in every jump in lens where-in I can be ever so slightly more closer to the bird. 250 mm - ummm... 400mm - good but could be better. This was also the stage that when I was now seriously considering 500mm. Well there were factors that my thought did not result in action and I went on to the next birdwatching trip to Australia in Oct 2015 - the photography was not bad but I was asking for more. More reach and even better results. I was confident and will admit here that I was fairly proficient with my photography with canon - and I am sure I could have improved - but I was doing whatever I could.

In Jan/Feb next year - that is 2016 - my planning for birding trip to Uganda was being finalised. I was now seriously considering and searching for a 500mm option. The search was not difficult - there was only one option of canon prime and costed roughly ₹ 6,00,000  ($ 8,999). That is a cost of one arm and a leg. I had some friends using Sigma and Tamaron - but my basic nature just did not let me move on to anything but the original OEMs. Then there were problems - lens freeze, slow focus and related in using these lenses. As the dates of the visited creeped upon me I was becoming more and more of a moron. Another thing troubling me was - I knew that moving on to Nikon I will miss the 10fps that Canon 7D mark ii was offering me.
Birds in Flight: got a good amount of keepers with D500. The camera and the lens are responsive and programable controls mad BIF a little bit easier.

With two months to go - I was out birdwatching with Mr Sriram (who had recently acquired the newly released Nikon D500). Before we reached the birding spot - we stopped for have the early morning cup of tea, the sun had just started to lighting the sky and where we stopped at the roadside for tea - there were a few cocks and hens running around. Joking about Canon and Nikon we both took shots with our cameras (me with canon and him with Nikon) - when we compared the results - my heart sank - his images were far sharper than what I was getting and that was consistently. He was also lugging the 200-500mm f5.6 lens of Nikon that too was recently released. My mind was made up  (psst... ask my wife - she blames be for instant decisions, she calls them hasty most of the times - but I do not remember I have got them wrong too many times) I told Mr Sriram to call the distributor of Nikon who helped him bagging this camera and secure one for me. (The Nikon D500 was just launched and was just not available at that time, the demand was just too great). Anyway the delivery time frame was not suiting me as I wanted to try the camera atleast for a month or so before I go to Uganda. I was in Chandigarh next and was frantically searching for the distributor at Chandigarh, I got a negative from him too - but he put me in touch with a distributor in Punjab - who secured a piece from Pathankot and was shipped to me along with 200-500mm lens. This entire search took ticked off another two weeks of my preparation time. Simultaneously I had put my entire canon gear on sale. The first thing that got sold was my 100-400L mark ii lens. Now there was no bird photography to do in Uganda if I did not get the new gear in place. subsequently all my gear was sold and I was almost ready to move on to Nikon (financially I mean. Though the deferential of my sold and gear to be bought was still 1.25 lacs) Slowly and steadily my gear got delivered. Lens 200-500 f5.6, Kit lens 16-80mm, 1.4x teleconverter, Battery Grip (shipped from US and my customs gave me a jolt by charging almost 30% duty), Flash, XQD card (interestingly the XQD card 64 GB is costing ₹ 14,000 in India and was costing 6,700/- ($ 100), XQD card reader gave me another set of problem as firstly it was expensive and secondly version ii was not backward compatible. Initially I did a work around where in I copied all the pictures to SD card in the camera itself and then transferred the pictures on the Laptop. I must tell you that it was not a neat arrangement were in I once overwrote pictures in my SD card. Pictures once overwritten are not retrievable and I still mourn the loss. More about the XQD card later in a separate blog. I was now a student in the earnest with exams on top of my head. My classes were the Youtube, pamphlets and all. By the end of it - I was still not confident as I sat on the Aircraft heading towards Uganda.

The trip went on to be great - good birds - and terrific photo opportunities. I did create chaos - in the sense - some bird photographer perhaps recommended shooting birds in the manual mode and I did so - that combined with the fact that I was relatively new to the camera - well lost many a shots. But the crib of "Reach" - well - 500 mm almost satisfied me to the fullest. That in no way my guarantee that I will never ever ask for a prime or a 600 mm - but it is me admitting to the fact that 500mm did give me opportunities that I wanted in my kitty. Let me got down to spelling out advantages and disadvantages of the camera I bought along with the kit and accessories. I am now writing this article with almost 10,000 shutter operations and three months of usage. There would be - as expected a lot of references and comparisons with the canon camera I owed.

I will start with a disclaimer, Canon 7D mark ii was a great camera and aged 1 and ½ an year older than D500. There will be places where in you will have to take the points I write with a pinch of salt. There is no particular fashion in which I discuss the advantage and disadvantages - they are as they come to my mind.
Reach - and a memorable time in Uganda...

Advantages (Nikon D500)

1. Anyone will tell you that for birding full frame is not the right choice. So all my holdings (till I can afford bigger prime lenses) are crop sensors cameras. There is a lot of chit chat regarding Canon and Nikon crop sensor cameras - the fact is that the crop factor is 1.6 in case of Canon and 1.5 in case of Nikon. What is means is that putting same amount of pixels on the sensor - logically the Nikon pixels are slightly larger and give a better performance. I will agree with it - because I find the pictures slightly better.

2. Canon 7D mark ii had the advantage of a better frame rate - that is 10 frames per second. Nikon matched it and took it a step further - it gave virtually unlimited no of shots in RAW format. There is a restriction of course but the restriction is at 200 shots continuous and that too with the Nikon restricting - giving a reason that if you have your camera in a bag and for some reason the camera is on - it will run out of the card and battery if the shutter button was to remain pressed. So Nikon nailed it here.

3. Canon I always felt that had better and natural colours to the un-edited and unprocessed pictures. However after using Nikon and turning off all in camera processing and sharpening effects - Nikon pictures too are not overly saturated or anything like Samsung mobile phone cameras - by default post process the pictures to make them seem better, brighter and more vibrant on the screens. This may work in general but for a purist photographer - who might distort the picture in post processing himself - will still not accept the camera doing it. So I will grade them equal here.

4. I do not know the technical reasons - but I feel strongly that the detail in the photographs out of Nikon is better than Canon. I have seen many a reasons on the net - because of lack of anti-aliasing filter or something - I really do not know the technical reasons - but to my naked eye that is the truth so I will grant that to Nikon.

5. Canon had an advantages of better focus system. Now having used both the cameras - I feel Nikon has overtaken Canon in photography - but if you want to do videos off and on - Nikon still is way behind - the canon focus shifting is just beyond Nikon's league.

6. Nikon beats Canon in some areas of Aesthetics - the button placement is beautiful. Get used to it once and you will be hooked. Infant touch screen, bluetooth and Wifi adds great advantages that I feel canon seriously missed out in their release. But if I have to believe the online debates then Nikon has jumped the gun and SnapBridge so proudly being advertised is a no-go on iOS. Well - will wait for the final word. (I might have to eat my words here - the SnapBridge is now available for download - and what irony - it was available within hours of this article being published. I will test it and come back to you regarding it). 'Okay now having tested SnapBridge - what works seamlessly is Time update for the Camera and the GPS location updates. The camera trigger is somewhat okay but has a lag. The downloading of pictures wether by choosing or by choosing auto download is buggy and no go as of now' - updated on 12 Sep 2016.

7. As I saw the online tutorials and reviews of D500 - there were people saying that you can correct the photographs clicked in RAW in D500 by four stops in post processing. Well I found 3 stops was a more realistic figure or perhaps ⅓ rd of a stop more. Well it is still better than what I could achieve on Canon 7D mark ii RAW photo processing.

8. Like I said before - there is no zoom lens in Canon kitty that can compare with 200-500. See - Nikon and canon both got kicked with Tamron and Sigma releasing 600mm and 500mm lens. I saw so many friends carrying Tamrons and Sigmas - I am sure that it hurt both canon and Nikon - but the matter of the fact is that Nikon woke up to the challenge and canon is still sleeping. Nikon's launch is at the same or lower price point of the rivals and the lens matches perfectly with the D500. No freezes, good and fast focus, no problems at all - so a home run all the way. And me - along with thousands others got the reach without spending an arm and a leg...

9. Usable ISO range in the Nikon seems better - I will not rub in this because of the reason I wrote earlier - the Nikon D500 has released almost 2 years after Canon 7D mark ii. So I will write it here - in my hearts of hearts I am not taking this terribly against Canon.

10. The focus of Canon 7D mark ii was phenomenal - I am saying this because the birds in flight - pictures were spot on. Luckily for me - D500 has given the same quality - if it has not surpassed 7D. I would say that it has surpassed but since this is subjective - I will add that - that it is as per me.

11. Tilt screen of D500 - even if not fully articulating is still an advantage. That coupled with touch screen - it is rocking to say the least. Let me tell you when I used 70D - the wifi feature and the touch screen were one of the very strong features of that camera in my opinion. It is not that I use this feature every now and then - but when I do use them - it is heavenly.

12. There are more usable focus points in D500 and I found that that during Birds in Flight photography - they were great. Also some of the programable features I use are absolutely rocking. Ofcourse I use back button focus - but using the back button remain at single focus point - and using rocker button for 25 point for BIF is a no brainier winner hands down.

Disadvantages (Nikon D500)

There may not be a long list and the things may be small - but they are irritants and there are definitely some gripes that I have.

1. The first one is - Nikon feel is just not as good as Canon. Though once again a very very subjective thing to say but Canon felt more manly and my hands just loved the feel. If Nikon was to ask me - what and why do you say so - I will be hard at words - but this is the fact. Ask any one who has used both the cameras and reply will be the same - atleast I did ask and got this reply. I must add that I have found Nikon fairly aesthetic in the button layout and everything but that feel - it is missing.

2. Lens build quality - well I am talking about 100-400L mark ii and Nikon 200-500 - like the camera - the canon lens build and feel quality is miles ahead of Nikon. There is a disadvantage for Nikon here - we are comparing a 90,000/- lens with canon at 1,50,000/- lens. Unfair ? maybe - but this is the fact. Simple things - the hood on Nikon lens has knocked off atleast half a dozen times in past three months - canon? not once in past year and a half. The buttons are smooth to operate on Canon. The hood on Nikon either way takes time clicking into position. The rear cap screws counter intuitively - what do you do to close a tap ? turn it clockwise - on Nikon lens rear cap you turn counter clockwise to tighten it and clockwise to open. Though nothing in the world says it has to be so - but then nothing says it has to break what we have followed since our birth. Next the lens cover just does not fit in to a simple click. Even after fitting in there is no guarantee that it will not fall off.

3. Small details are missing - what do you do when you keep the camera in a bag - atleast I rip it apart - Camera body, Lens, Teleconverter - all are packed separately. When you screw on the lens you have one set of caps free. When you put on a teleconverter - you have the second set of caps free. Here comes the problem. I was using a teleconverter and wanted to stow it away. I took off the teleconverter and tried to pack it - the teleconverter would not fit - bloody hell - the caps of teleconverter are not similar to the other set of caps you have - and I had to keep the teleconverter on as I had unfortunately picked up the wrong set of caps. These this are not there in Canon. After all look at it - how the hell should it matter. It is illogical to have two different set of caps for these.

4. Having wifi and bluetooth and you have to buy an instrument worth $100 to trigger the camera - that's a shame without doubt. Also if the internet reports are to be believed - SnapBridge is not likely to become a reality anytime soon. Basic problem of Wifi being coupled with bluetooth over a channel or something.

5. Built in flash - well i must say that I miss it. It was there in Canon and they made a weather sealed camera but they could not get the wifi and bluetooth citing that it is not possible. Now Nikon has bluetooth and Wifi but not the flash - either they wanted to give it a premium camera feel or they feel it will affect weather sealing. My reason is that with a built in flash I could fire the slave flash seamlessly and I did not have to spend a penny more. Now in case of Nikon I have wifi and bluetooth but cannot fire the flash off the camera. That's not good - is it?

6. No GPS. I miss the Canon GPS - once I started using it - it was so easy to see the locations I clicked it even telling me what direction I was facing while taking the picture. That was seamlessly displayed in Lightroom and I loved this feature. Well there is a way around in the SnapBridge where in the GPS location is picked up from the smart phone and then imbedded in the camera - well I have an Android mobile but could not make it do this. I have the other phone as iPhone and that is a no go due to what I wrote in the point enough. There is a chance that SnapBridge for iOS does not see the light of the day ever.

7. There is a pronounced jump of the mirror that jumps after a click and takes time to settle back in place. Never had that problem in and Canon gear.

So all in all I do not have any issue so far with the performance per sé - but then there is a scope to address so many issues. There are other things I would have liked like the camera to take panorama photographs - after all landscapes are important in the nature photography. If you have noticed I have not talked about the videography because personally I am not interested and have not used my DSLR so for for this purpose.

If you do manage to read this much I do applaud you. Do me a favour of following my blog or on Google+ if you can. It gives me more reason and motivation to write and share 😀

Links to D500 kit and related

Friday, June 24, 2016

The pain of carrying my equipment, aka Camera through Air Travel....

This is the first post in this blog. I am dedicating this blog to sharing my views that I have formed to help and guide fellow birders in their quest for birdwatching by sharing my experiences, be it camera equipment, bags, tripods, binoculars, clothing or anything under the sun that I have found worth sharing to make birdwatching more painless and a fun activity.

I love my camera, a must have piece of equipment for birdwatching, and carry it everywhere. I pay penalties in during air travel because of bulk and weight, penalty of lugging and looking after equipment that I do not get opportunity to use every where I go - but then this is to my life - I am some one who compulsively carry every thing along with me.

I have been in and out of many camera bags - to carry the equipment - one for airport - one for carrying in my car and other for the camera only. For everything I chose - I paid a price - I mean not the only the the green currency kind - but also standing in the lines carrying the camera and the related equipment on me. At the worst times it my manfrotto camera bag weighed 19 kg on my shoulders. Hell that broke me and then I started researching and searching for some solution to carry my camera on person for air travel. I took a few bags and rejected them - all had a kink in the armour that was killing me in one way or the other. That also meant I bought a bag - used it - found it not so good and disposed it off. In this manner I took a hit of spending several thousands... and worse of all the miracle of a perfect bag was nowhere in sight.

Doing one such search one day I came across ThinkTank bags I had not heard off before. As I studied and did more research I got more and more interested unless I could not help but asking my friendly neighbourhood Camera 'wala' in Chandigarh to manage one. And there came the reply - why don't you try LowePro, Manfrotto and tons of others. I was in no mind to argue at all. I just was in no mood to tell him that I am way beyond these suggestions. In a way I am glad I did not take his suggestion. I bought the one bag that I had shortlisted and today I complete one year of gliding in and out of airports and am a satisfied man. 

Just a few days back sitting at home with my wife and kids - I admitted that I have finally found a perfect bag. It took a fraction of second of raised eyebrows and thundering laughter from all three before they stood up and congratulated me... Finally my son complemented with a smirk on his face - congratulations dad - that after seeing a fortune flow, we will have spare money to buy something else - other than your camera bags in this house. Sh*t - was that a complement ? 

I think that it is best that I leave the story behind for some time and let me discuss the Camera bag. The construction of the bag is rock solid. I mean I am impressed - each thread too shouts quality. To give you an idea of the equipment I carry I will first list it down and then insert a picture.

Nikon D500
Nikon MB-D17 Multi Battery Power Pack
Nikon 200-500mm lens
Nikon 16-80 mm Lens
1.4x Tc
SB5000 flash
3 Hard Disks with covers
15 inch MacBook Pro
iPad mini
All chargers, adaptors cables
Bluetooth Speakers
AA batteries and Charger
Black Rapid shoulder strap
Rain Cover 

On the outside
Vanguard Tripod
Stage I - and everything I described is already inside other than the BlackRapid strap, Tele Convertor and the blue bag with cables.
All in and secured with space to spare. My first thought when I bought Nikon 200-500mm was - will it fit in? Well it did...
The cable that is embedded to the side of the bag and the lock.

Laptop and iPad tucked in the outside pocket and I am ready to go.
The bag takes all this with a breeze and there are a total of 8 wheels in pairs. If you are used to normal suitcases with wheels then you are in a surprise. The wheels just glide. The width of the bag is correct to place it sideways on an escalator. It also moves along the aisle in the aircraft without those tip-overs and jerks. Like all the bags the insides are compartments made of material with velcro - since I bought this bag I have changed the kit and little adjustments have given way to perfect placement of gear. I am extremely happy with this bag and if you are a Travelophile like I am - then you deserve to take a look at this. It has some nooks and corners to spare that I will try filling in with a Binoculars perhaps. Another nifty feature is the locking cable that is built along with the bag. I have at least on one occasion dozed off due to 5 hours layover and to secure the baggage along with you chair - the sleep just felt a little better. On the downside - it is expensive by Indian standards - infact it costs an arm and a leg - but if you are wise - unlike me - I must add - this one gear will save you the agony that I have had to go through.

In the end I am pasting a link from Amazon India that I used to buy this bag - just to make it little easier for you rather than rummaging through the net...

Think Tank Photo Airport Roller Derby Rolling Carry-On Camera Bag

Ready to rock and roll..