AUTO ISO on the Nikon D90

I usually leave the main ISO at 200, AUTO ISO on with a minimum shutter of 1/15 and MAX ISO of 1600. That means the camera will raise the ISO to 1600 to try and maintain a 1/15 second shutter. If it reaches ISO 1600 and there still isn’t enough light to maintain the minimum shutter, then it allows the shutter to fall below that setting. If you need to raise the shutter to avoid blur then you either have to lower your f-stop (if you aren’t wide open already) or add more light to your scene (i.e. flash).

If you have the minimum shutter set to something faster like 1/60, it will start bumping the ISO once your light drops off a little, especially with slower apertures like f/5.6. What’s your minimum shutter setting at? Which lenses are you using? The consumer lenses with f/3.5-5.6 apertures are fairly slow even wide open. In falling afternoon light this combination of slower aperture and high minimum shutter could cause AUTO ISO to kick in unexpectedly.

To complicate things a little further, if the flash is on, it ignores AUTO ISO and sets the ISO to the normal ISO setting (200 in my case) and it uses the “Flash shutter speed” (custom menu e1) as the minimum shutter. I have that set to 1/30 most of the time.

Nikon D90 vs D5000 vs D3000: Which one is right for you?

If you’re reading this post then you’re probably looking at one of Nikon’s consumer DSLRs. I’ve been shooting with a D70 and now a D90 for 5 years and recently walked several co-workers through buying a DSLR. I thought I’d share how I laid things out for them. As of February 2010 Nikon has three offerings in the consumer DSLR market: the D3000, D5000 and D90. Nikon has placed each of the cameras about $200-300 apart from each other.

D3000

When the D5000 came out Nikon needed something new to fill in the low end of their line up. The D3000 is pretty much the exact same camera as the D40x and D60 that previously held this spot. Aside from a .5″ larger LCD screen, there’s not going to be much difference between them. If you’ve never touched a DSLR before and your budget is tight, then this is a good place to start. It will be a good solid camera, but until Nikon refreshes it with a new model I don’t think the D3000 offers the best bang for your buck.

Amazon has the D3000 with 18-55mm VR kit lens for about $465.

D5000

Nikon D5000The D5000 is a big step up from the D3000 in terms of technology and functionality. The most visible difference is the tilt and swing LCD screen, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Internally, the D5000 has a much newer CMOS sensor than the D3000. This is the same sensor in the D90 and it provides much better performance at higher ISO settings. It also inherited built in chromatic aberration correction from the D90 which removes fringing that can appear in brightly lit shots. You also get the ability to take video.

At this point, features are starting to trickle down from improvements being made on more expensive models. If you are more serious about photography, but still relatively new to the DSLR world then this is a good option. The added features are well worth the extra money.

Amazon has the D5000 with 18-55mm VR kit lens for about $685.

D90

Nikon D90The D90 sits at the top of Nikon’s consumer DSLR line up. From here there’s a fairly big jump to the prosumer D300. There’s two things that really set the D90 above the D5000: controls and lens compatibility.

Without getting into every little difference in controls I’ll just highlight two. The first is the D90’s front scroll wheel. The D5000 and D3000 both have one on the back for your thumb, but the second wheel on the D90 gives you quick access to changing other settings. In manual mode for example, one wheel controls the aperture and one controls the shutter. On the D5000 and D3000 you’d have to fiddle with menus to set one of them. In Program mode, which I shoot 95% of the time, the back wheel can tweak the shutter/aperture ratio, but I configured the front wheel to set exposure compensation which normally requires a simultaneous button press.

The next control difference is the inclusion of a customizable shortcut button on the front of the camera next to the lens mount. This can be hit with your index or middle finger to bring up a menu of shortcuts to the menu items you use most. I have a couple things like ISO and White Balance menus on there that I access frequently enough to not want to dig through the entire menu system. Both of these additional controls are big for me and I don’t think I’d want to move to a camera without them.

The other thing to consider when comparing the D90 and it’s D5000/D3000 counterparts is lens compatibility. The D90 includes a built in AF motor which means it is compatible with older AF lenses; the other two do not. On the D5000 and D3000, the only lenses that will autofocus are the ones with AF-S built in which isn’t a big deal if you plan to stick with the 18-55mm or other newer lenses. If you wanted to shoot something like the older but excellent 50mm f/1.8 then the D90 is your best option.

If my discussion of the D90 went over your head then that’s a good indication the D5000 is more than enough camera for you. The D90 provides good bang for your buck if you are going to get serious about photography. The kit includes an 18-105mm VR lens which will give you more reach than the 18-55mm. You also have the option of getting the D90 body by itself and then adding on whichever lens fits your needs the best.

Amazon has the D90 with 18-105mm VR kit lens for about $1035. The D90 Body is about $780 by itself.

Boston Trip Pictures Are Up

Finally sorted through 370 pics from Boston and got them posted up on Picasa. Take a look. Check out the night shot from MIT at the end of the gallery, I did a bit of HDR magic on it since the lights up on the dome were super bright compared to the interior lights.

Boston 2009

My Review of the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX

I posted some thoughts and pictures right after I got my new lens, The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX arrives – First Impression, and now that I’ve used it for several weeks I wanted to post a follow up review.

For St. Patrick’s Day we had dinner and hung out with friends and babies. Lighting was fairly low with a chandelier fixture in the dining room and one floor lamp bouncing off the ceiling in the living room. Even wide open at f/1.8, AUTO ISO was getting bumped up to keep the shutter above 1/40 second in some shots. Combine that with babies who don’t politely sit still for pictures and you have yourself a difficult shooting situation. With one of the kit lenses or even the 18-200mm VR, most of these shots wouldn’t have been possible. I had some ISO to play with on some, but most of them are hitting 1600 or 3200. If I stepped up to a minimum f/3.5 lens, my shutter would have dropped even more and my “keeper” rate would have dropped from 10% to maybe 3-5% without adding flash.

I’m extremely pleased with the lens. I swore off pixel peeping so I’m not going to go into boring details or shooting test charts. All I cared about initially was if the lens let me get indoor shots without using flash all of the time. If you’re happy with the DX format (and happy not spending thousands more on a new FX body and lens) then I suspect you’ll find the image and build quality of the lens more than satisfactory. What surprised me is that I’m starting to like the 35mm f/1.8 more than the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR AF-S DX .

One thing to consider with lenses is the size and weight. Compared to the 18-55mm the 35mm isn’t a whole lot smaller or lighter, but next to the 18-200mm it is night and day. I got the 18-200mm as a walk around, jack of all trades lens and now the size and weight have become deterrents to taking it out with me. The 18-200mm weighs 1.23 lbs. The 35mm weighs 0.45 lbs. The D90 weighs 1.6 lbs by itself. That’s a lot of weight to carry around all day on vacation or on a night out and I’d rather have 0.78 lbs less most of the time. The other difference is the 35mm situates it’s weight closer to the body of the lens. The 18-200mm is front heavy and more awkward to carry around, it usually ends up pointed straight down with the zoom fully extended when I hang the camera on my shoulder.

I could never use the 50mm f/1.8 as a walk around lens because it was simply too long. I use the wider end of the 18-200mm more than I use the long end so I don’t think I’ll miss the extra reach. The 35mm f/1.8 isn’t perfect, but it is such a well rounded lens that it might replace my 18-200mm and never leave my camera. At $200 I think it packs the best bang for your buck in the entire Nikon DX lens line up.

I got my Nikon 35mm f/1.8 at Amazon.

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX arrives – First Impressions

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 was created specifically for the DX shooters who were lacking the classic 50mm “normal” focal length fast prime. The 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but is just a tad too long for normal use. The 35mm and 50mm are pretty comparable in size with the 35mm being just a bit wider around, but both are dwarfed in size and weight by the 18-200mm:

Nikon 35mm, 50mm, 18-200mm size comparison

The 50mm becomes a 75mm with the DX crop factor and the 35mm becomes a 52.5mm. The difference between the two focal lengths is quite apparent when viewed side by side:

35mm view50mm view

Getting up close and personal with a subject is a little easier now since the 35mm focus 5-6 inches closer than the 50mm. That difference more than makes up for the difference in focal length.  Here we can see the 35mm (top) was able to reproduce a slightly larger view of my lamp:

35mm view50mm view

So far I’m very happy with the lens. It’s lightweight, pumps out some great pictures wide open and focus quickly. I love my 18-200mm, but I see this spending a lot of time on my D90. Focus noise is also much lower. The 50mm f/1.8 is fairly noisy and when it hunts for focus it can give a nice thud when it hits infinity. 52mm UV filter is on my list to buy to protect the front glass. Look for some more pics and comparisons coming up.