Friday, January 30, 2009

Don't Buy Used Digital Cameras, Ever.

Don't ever buy a used digital camera. You just never know what you are getting.

Case in point, up until about six months ago, my D70 looked almost new, almost as good as the first time it came out of the box. Since then, it has started to develop some signs of slight wear, but still looks great. I could list this on eBay and honestly say that, cosmetically, it looks like it's in great shape. I could also say that I've taken thousands of shots without any problems. I could also say the the camera's EXIF data indicates 22,113 shutter actuations. I could say all this and it is completely true.
But what is also true is that I've taken over 63,000 shots with it and that several hundred shots came out terribly and that, at one time, I was receiving regular error messages.
A savvy shopper will ask how many acutations the shutter has, but it takes a super savvy shopper to ask how many shutters has the camera gone through. See, the reason I can say that the shutter has only 22,113 actuations is because that's how many are on the new shutter. Yes, my little D70 had it's shutter replaced after about 41,000 actuations.
The number of shutter acutations is shown in the EXIF data embedded in each picture. If you have a Flickr account, the easiest way to see this data is to shoot a low quality small JPG file with your camera and upload it directly to Flickr without any alteration. Editing and saving the image in an editor will cause a great deal of EXIF data to be deleted. Here is a small JPG shot on my D70. I uploaded it directly to Flickr, as a result, you can see a boat load of EXIF data.
The new shutter for the D70 cost about $200, plus shipping and tax, it came out to about $250. As the shutter was failing, it would partially work, but leave the resulting image partially blacked out. That's where the several hundred 'bad' images came from. Also, before the repair, I was getting sporadic error messages. I'm not sure if it was related to the bad shutter, or if something else was repaired during the shutter replacement.
It is common for novices to banter about how camera manufacturers like to say that any given camera is tested to 100,000 cycles. But that's not important, what is important is what the average failure rate was. Sure, Nikon can test the D70 100,000 cycles, but they don't tell you that on average, the shutter fails at about 40,000 cycles. Talking about test cycles is useless unless it's followed by failure rates or by a warranty.
I hope this post helps to illustrate the perils of buying used digital cameras, you just never know what you are going to get. Is it really worth spending $250 on eBay for a used D70 when you can get a new Nikon D40with lens for $410 (and warranty)?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gate Keeper

I have long had a sense that the collaborative process can go very well, or very wrong. I have witnessed a group being led, not by the brightest person, but by the loudest. In my experience, the loudest is usually not the brightest, far from it. I think this behaviour stems from the general rule: when traveling abroad in a country where you do not speak the native tongue, the best way to make yourself understood is to yell louder.

This describes one pitfall for the collaborative process, but there is another for which I have always wanted to express more intelligently then simply saying, "well, the head guy just doesn't get it." That always seemed unsatisfactory to me, because it sounds like whining and a cop-out.

Today I watched a video of a speech John Gruber gave at MacWorld. In it, he nailed the idea that has been floating in my head, he put it in a way that is much more clinical, almost a formula, "The quality of any collaborative creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge."

Monday, January 05, 2009

Picasa for the Mac!

Yes, finally, one of my favorite free photo viewers/editors/organizers is now available on the Mac! I've just installed Picasa 3 Beta for the Mac and it looks great, pretty much the same way it looks on the PC. There area couple of trivial features not available yet on this Mac version, but nothing of consequence.

I will eventually get around to doing a write up of Picasa, but for now, I will just quickly tell you how I use it. It is a really fast viewer and it can view RAW files from many different cameras. Though lacking in detail, here is a list of supported RAW formats. You can make simple adjustments and export to JPG while controlling the size and compression of the conversion. This makes it very easy to quickly share your RAW images.

BUT, Picasa is not the best RAW converter. Any third party application that opens a RAW file has to 'guess' at what the image should look like. Picasa is not particularly good at guessing, so do not use the automated RAW conversion as the final word on the quality the image.

Picasa really shines because of it's speed, it whips through images faster then any other viewer I've seen. For this reason, Picasa is the first step in my work flow. I dump my images into a desktop folder then review them in Picasa. I delete the garbage and move images into either folders for more editing (with Lightroom), or permanent archive folders. All this is done from within Picasa.

One reason I've been so interested in Picasa for the Mac is that, unlike iPhoto, it does not mess with where your photos are stored. Once iPhoto gets a hold of your photos, god alone knows where they end up! I'm old enough to sort my own files, thank you!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

CVS Film Processing

While on vacation in Florida, I have had several roles of film developed at CVS in the Oakbrook shopping center. The results have been very good. Better by far then what I get from Target in Mount Kisco, NY and better then what I got from, and a lot cheaper.

I also had pretty rotten luck with the local mini labs, one at Sam's Photo in Mount Kisco and another at Katonah Photography in Katonah, NY. Katonah left long scratches on the negatives. Sam's had chemical spots and dust on the negatives.

I am sure that not all CVS stores are made the same, but this has been my experience.

What I did not like at CVS was the photo CDs I got, I tried both the CVS CD and the Kodak CD. The JPGs were scanned at about 1200x1800 which is fine, but they were compressed and that left significant JPG artifacts. This makes no sense to me, at 1200x1800 pixles, the images are no where near large enough to fill the CD. It is a dissapointment and a senseless one at that.

Mac Vacation

I have had a MacBook since they came in 2006. I have always run XP on them (I'm on my second one now*) as the primary OS, booting into OS X
only to test web sites or edit video.

When I bought the latest one, I gave a good try to use OS X as my primary OS, but Adobe GoLive was just unusable with OS X's window management. XP gives each program a main 'background' window to segregate it from any other application. OS X does not have this, so I would have several HTML files open in GoLive, plus a browser window, Photoshop, an FTP client, and usually a word processor as well. It was all too hectic and impossible to keep track of the HTML documents in GoLive. So, I went back to using XP as the primary OS for work.

That is too bad because OS X (10.5) is really a joy to use. And if it were not for how I use GoLive, I probably would have switched full time to OS X.

But, now anytime I am not working, I'm in OS X.

I've been on vacation for the past week, so I've been running in OS X for the past week. It is really nice, it boots up fast, always goes to sleep when I close the lid, and lasts for hours on the battery.

So, basically, now I only run XP when I am working and plugged into the external monitor, keyboard, and power cord. Of course, when I go home and back to work, that will be most of the time.

OS X is, at the very least, a nice break from XP.

This post should be in no way seen as a dig at OS X, if I did not use GoLive, I would be in OS X a lot more. If I were a full time photographer, OS X would be my primary OS.

* I got a crazy good deal on a last gen model, no way you will see me with one of the shinny, firewire lacking, new ones!