Tag Archives: features

Canon vs Nikon

CanonVsNikonSteven Christenson is a long time Canon user who recently also added a Nikon D600 to his stable of camera bodies. The thought behind adding a Nikon was to get a higher performing body than his Canon 5D Mark II *and* subject himself to Nikonology so that he can be more effective at teaching workshops. Workshop participants tote many brands of cameras, the dominant brands being Canon and Nikon. As an additional side benefit Steven can now tease himself about owning a lesser camera.  🙂

Steven does NOT believe that a Nikon is automatically a lesser camera nor that a Macintosh is a computer substitute – these are things he says just to spark friendly conversation.

Previously Steven – a Canonite, and Eric Harness – a Nikonian have swapped cameras for a spell to encourage cross-education. It seemed time to bite the sensor – so to speak – and not rely on using Eric’s equipment. Steven is using the Nikon D600 with (and without) a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 manual focus lens for night photography and astrophotography. Steven took both the Nikon D600 and the Canon 5D Mark II on a 3-week tour of Europe which provided plenty of time to form conclusions about the operational differences between the cameras. As a result of his experiences learning and using the Nikon he presents his top issues and keeps score to decide which brand is better from an ease of use point of view.

fEE – An Aggravating Error

Right out of the bag, literally, things went poorly for the new Nikon.  With the new lens mounted backward* on the Nikon body all of Steven’s attempts to take pictures were met with fEE. You may be thinking, yeah, but didn’t you just say he mounted it backward?  Well, no, Since childhood he’s learned that “righty-tighty, and lefty-loosey” define how one tightens and loosens things. But the Nikon is reversed. To attach the lens you rotate it LEFT, not right.  Ok, so if the problem wasn’t the backward rotation of the lens to mount it, what was it? It turns out, that the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens *is* able to have the camera control the aperture BUT you *must* set the lens to f/22 or the fEE error results. It’s not optional. This seems ludicrous. When he puts a manual focus / manually controlled aperture lens on a Canon it all works just fine, that is, in the Canon metering works just fine.  Why Nikon insists on messing with the aperture on a manual lens is troublesome. This behavior sabotages one trick that time-lapse photographers use to prevent the camera from random fluctuations of the iris (and coincidentally needless mechanical wear). Left to the camera slight changes in the aperture result in visible flicker. Timelapsers, therefore, use the “depth of field” preview button and then slightly twist the lens to disconnect the electrical contacts thus preventing the camera from monkeying with the aperture. Since the Nikon control of the lens is mechanical, not electrical, it’s not clear if there is a clean way to keep the Nikon from messing with the manual aperture control on the lens. We are adding a point to Canon’s score for more sensible behavior.

Score : Canon 1, Nikon 0

Can’t Focus

OutOfFocusThere was another problem, too. After mounting the Rokinon on the Nikon, it was impossible to focus at infinity.  Checking the diopter controls, the security of the lens mount, etc. resulted in no joy. Since both lens and camera were a gift, Steven worried that he’d have to tell his wife that something was broken. Indeed, something is “broken” but exactly what is not clear BECAUSE when he turned ON the Nikon, it suddenly became possible to manually focus the lens at infinity.  Remember this is a MANUAL focus lens! Steven regularly sets up his Canon and pre-focuses with the camera turned off. His initial thought was that the Nikon hadn’t pulled the aperture open… but the view didn’t become brighter when the camera was turned on so something else odd is going on. What? Don’t know, and it’s an intermittent issue. Canon gets another point for not having this bizarre behavior.

Score: Canon 2, Nikon 0

Viewfinder = Confusion

The next headbanger came when Steven tried to actually shoot with the camera.  The viewfinder was filled with all the content intended but the shot was far different from the view in the viewfinder. How different? Well there was about 30% more in the view than appeared in the shot.  Unfortunately this unexpected twist meant that Steven’s first night shots of the sky over Santorini were unstitchable due to insufficient overlap. Do you know what the problem is?

Steven couldn’t figure this one out, though weeks later he pleaded with Eric for help and Eric resolved the problem!  Here is a clue: the image size was also much smaller than expected: 3936×2624 pixels rather than 6016×4016.  Apparently the camera either came preset to or was somehow accidentally put into “DX” mode where only the center of the sensor is used. This behavior is readily noticeable when using Live View. In a warped way, I guess this is what allows Nikon users to mount any lens to any Nikon body – cropped or not – and get a result.  Canon’s approach is to not permit mounting of a crop factor lens on a full frame body.  The Nikon center crop mode results in smaller files. If that also achieved faster frame rates a full point advantage would be awarded to Nikon, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nikon scores 0.5 points for versatility (though we are sorely tempted to subtract points for unexpected behavior).

Score: Canon 2, Nikon 0.5, Steven -1, Eric +1

Chameleon Lenses

ChameleonSteven intentionally got the Nikon G-Mount Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 for it’s speed and because it’s a form factor that he didn’t already have. But a nice little side benefit came with it. Because of the lens mounting schemes used, it is possible via a cheap little adapter to use pretty much ANY Nikon lens on a Canon body (but NOT vice versa). Nikon gets a full point for this benefit.

Score: Canon 2, Nikon 1.5, Steven -1, Eric 1

Finding Your Way Around

ConfusedObviously the menu systems are different on a Nikon and Canon. Mostly its a matter of taste. Both Canon and Nikon camera models regularly and needlessly re-arrange the names and locations for settings.  There is no clear winner here. Likewise the locations of buttons and the features on those buttons move around as bodies change – sometimes maddeningly so.  Steven doesn’t have enough experience with Nikon to form an opinion about this, but every one of his 3 Canon bodies has buttons “needlessly moved”.  For example the top-deck light button moved from the innermost to the outermost button. Why? Canon must have been bored. Steven does find it annoying that the top deck light on the Nikon D600 is built into the on-off switch… and the light doesn’t stay on long!  In fact, locating the Nikon on-off switch just above the settings wheel has resulted in several unintentional turn-offs of his Nikon.  Accidental power off is happening less over time though.

One example of a difference in philosophy between the Nikon and the Canon is in the ISO setting. On Canons you press the ISO button (top deck), then spin the wheel. You can change the ISO one-handed.  On the Nikon, you must hold a button (lower left) on the back and spin the control with the other hand – two-handed control. I prefer one-handed control it’s easier in the dark. On the other hand, you must wade through several menu settings to format a card in the Canon. A double, double-button press (plus a selection) allows you to format one of the two cards in the Nikon. It’s a little SCARY that I can accidentally format one or both cards by accidentally holding the wrong buttons on the camera.

An example of a Nikon gaff is in image delete. Press delete then press delete again and poof, image shredded.  If Steven fumbles (and he’s known to do that) it means an image can go up in smoke by accident. The Canon method is to press delete then require a scroll and a third operation for confirmation.  It’s a little more tedious, but safer.  It is clear, however that the Nikon has more buttons and more controls available with less total fumbling. So we award Nikon another 0.5 points. And now the score is tied (except that Eric is leading Steven significantly).

Score: Canon 2, Nikon 2, Steven -1, Eric 1

Light Leakage

Light leak through the viewfinder.  ISO 4000, 30 seconds

Nikon D600 Light leak through the viewfinder. ISO 4000, 30 seconds

In astrophotography and landscape astrophotography it is very useful to collect dark frames. A dark frame is a normal shot but with the lens cap on and the goal is to capture an image with stuck pixels or black level offset to fix other images taken with the same settings and at the same temperature.  Much can be learned about this in our BLOG.  Anyway, while shooting dark frames indoors with a capped lens, Steven was very distraught to discover that significant amounts of light can leak in through the eyepiece of the Nikon D600 and render the dark frame (or any high ISO night shot for that matter) unusable. Above is an actual shot. While it is true that light entering the viewfinder of a Canon 5D Mark II (and other cameras) can fool the metering system, Steven has never observed light leakage of the severity that the Nikon D600 displays.  Both Canon and Nikon offer eyepiece covers to solve this problem., but in truth, the cap doesn’t seem necessary on a Canon except when metering. Canon wins another point here.

Final Score

BoxingGloveCanon 3, Nikon 2, Steven -1, Eric 1

At a final score of 3 to 2 in favor of Canon does this contest feel like it has been rigged? Have you used both types of cameras? What is YOUR favorite feature or biggest pet peeve? Leave a comment!

Photoshop CS6 Upgrade: A tough row to hoe

I finally succumbed. I saw a few articles touting the video features that were moved out of the Extended versions of Photoshop into the standard version. Since I’ve been doing a fair amount of opportunistic timelapses using the free tool Picsasa it seemed like the experience was worth the $200 upgrade outlay.

With some of my past escapades with upgrades of Adobe Photoshop still searing my psyche (3 to 5 was especially traumatic), I proceeded anyway. First I made sure to buy the upgrade ON DVD. It means I have to store something, but it also means it’s a physical thing – not a space eating behemoth to add to my bulging file archives that might get lost or deleted.

Let me step back a moment and explain that I do my photo processing on two different machines. A laptop which is with me much of the time and a desktop machine at home. The desktop machine is my wife’s and she’s beginning to get the idea it’s not really for her use. I should also point out that I am an “IT Professional”. Herding around arcane settings on Windows is just one of the many things I do on a daily basis. I also do not have or use a Mac. There, I said it. I’m not a Mac hater. Heaven knows I’ve spent a great sum of money on iPhones and other Apple gear. But I’ve never been able to convince myself that switching to a Mac and giving up all my fancy PC-only software was worth the risk, frustration and significant additional expense. But I digress.

AlienWoman.bmpI tackled the upgrade on the desktop machine first. The DVD arrived 5 days after I ordered it from Adobe. Inside the packing box I came face to face with creepy Pale Faced Scaly Woman. It happens she’s not really a box, but a slip case covering another box. Inside the box is yet another box. And inside the box that is inside the box inside the other box is another box – a CD jacket actually. You have to inspect all the edges of the slip case to find out this is an “upgrade” – I thought at first they had sent me the wrong thing – a full version (which I’d have welcomed). I hurled the DVD into the drive. Since I have disabled auto install (no smart person would allow an inserted DVD to automatically run anything), I hunted down the rather odd place where the setup program lived and started it. It whirred and eventually it offered to install. After some more whirring it asked me for the serial number. Crap, I thought, I don’t know where I had written that down and then I remembered it’s registered under my Adobe ID. I looked it up, wrestled with the serial number entry tool that tries to be helpful but which actually makes entering the digits harder and pressed GO. Invalid serial number. It told me unceremoniously.  Perhaps I made a digit mistake. Yes, I did. I fixed it and THEN:  “Invalid Serial Number”.  How can it be that my serial number which is recorded at Adobe is wrong, I wondered.

I began a search of the Adobe Website. Call me dense, but after trying to use the “contact an agent” pop up that gets in your face when you visit Adobe and getting no contact;  after scanning a half dozen useless articles that were returned from my Adobe site search I discovered that it didn’t want my moldy OLD serial number. The elusive Serial Number I needed was written on a sticker or printed on the packaging material.  It WASN’T on the CD case.  It wasn’t on the alien lady slip case. It wasn’t on the box held by the alien lady. Oh wait, it was on the box inside the box, inside the box just NOT on the DVD or CD cover.  That’s consistent with the way you find things in Photoshop. You know, when you need the ruler tool you have to first consult the eyedropper (or sampler or note) tool.

Of course I did what I always do and I immediately wrote the serial number directly on the DVD in indelible ink.

Sharp Poke in the Eye

The upgrade proceeded pretty quickly and Photoshop 13 installed.  13? Yes, for arcane historical reasons you need to know that Photoshop CS6 is REALLY Photoshop 13.  The luckiest Photoshop yet!  When you look at your Adobe account you’ll notice that it doesn’t say CS6 apparently that would have been too many digits and letters to add after “Photoshop” on the web page and it might have made it just a bit too clear what it is.

Here is what my “Product and Services says”

Adobe Photoshop     12 Win Aug 20, 2010
Adobe Photoshop 13 Win Jan 17, 2013

But I guess I should be thankful that now it has an icon!

Now comes the sharp poke. When I started CS6, er, I mean 13, it asked me if I wanted to import my presets from the previous version. Why YES, thank you.  Except apparently “presets”  means ONLY presets – my custom settings for correcting light pollution using the Levels adjustment tool.

Presets do not NOT include:

And to add insult to injury… guess what you CAN NOT DO… you cannot have both CS5 and CS6 (I mean 12 and 13) running simultaneously – so you can NOT do a head to head comparison to figure out what is missing.

After reading some more about “migrating filters” (and great good luck to you on finding something on that since Adobe calls them Plugins even though I have only ever known them as filters) I realized that I am on the hook to reinstall all my filters and actions by hand on EACH machine that I use Photoshop on.

And it MIGHT exist, but why, oh why does Adobe not have a findable page on the 99 things you may need or want to do when you “upgrade” their product(s)?  I have a suspicion that they don’t publish an all-in-one compendium because if people found it they would have justifiable fear and trepidation about attempting an upgrade.  It might in fact, lessen their sales.

Now before you conclude that I hate Adobe that’s not at all true. I only hate SOME of them – the ones who fail to anticipate how new and veteran users are likely to suffer when trying to use their heavily featured product(s).  I’m sure my loathesome-ness will subside, eventually. Meanwhile I am REALLY glad I didn’t go with the Cloud thing.  I am subscribed to several discussions and every day there is a new horror story about failure and misadventure that make my serial number search look like a vacation.

When I get a bit more of the “Motion” features under my belt, you can bet I’ll be writing about those too. Of course I won’t be the first or that last to write about the subject. My first feat will be to find the elusive “stop watch” (aka Key Frame).  Apparently it’s located under a triangle somewhere.  Maybe the triangle is hidden under the ruler tool…

Where to Go for Dark Skies?

No matter where you live on earth you have a chance to witness the incredible experience of watching bits of space debris streak through our atmosphere and create cosmic fireworks. In an older column I described How to Photograph Meteors – it is a daunting and luck laden process. Here I want to give some useful hints about WHERE to go to get the best view. These same hints may also help you find a location to view the Milky Way.

What I am not planning to tell you is where *I* would go because many of you are reading from all over the world and it would be little help to you for me to mention Yosemite, or Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.  Instead, what I want to do is to give you the insight to figure out where the best place is for YOU.  Here are the parameters to weigh:

  1. Goals
  2. Weather
  3. Accessibility
  4. Distance
  5. Darkness


It might seem strange, but I pick different locations depending on what it is I want. If I just want to watch meteors then I will pick a place that may compromise the other factors.  Assuming my goal is to photograph meteors, I have a second important decision: Do I want meteors, or do I want meteors in the context of a landscape?  For me the answer is almost always in the context of a landscape for the reasons I illuminated in this article.  In my opinion a shot of a meteor might be interesting, but a shot of a meteor over a lovely mountain, lake or landmark is WAY more interesting. For example compare the two photos below. The first shot is an Iridium flare (not a meteor, though it looks like one). The second is definitely a meteor. Which one is the most interesting? Yeah, the second one!

Meteor or Iridium Flare? [5_028205-dk] Star Man and Perseus [C_059960-1]

The next part of the goal is to figure out WHICH direction the landmark needs to be.  For example the Geminid Meteor shower is one of the few showers where the “radiant point” is visible all night long. But that also means that it may be best to shoot East after sunset, or West before sunrise and around midnight you’ll want to point south when the constellation will be high in the sky.  Of course meteors appear anywhere in the sky, but I like to keep a part of the radiant in my shots.

Once I’ve figured out which direction I’d like to face, only then can I start including and excluding locations. Of course an ideal place would allow me to face ANY direction, but the truth is not many ideal places are left in the world.


Now that I know which direction I’d like to face, I have to decide how much I am worried about bad weather.  Out here on the US West Coast a drive of 4 hours will get me to a mountain – the Sierras, 5 to 7 hours can take me to a desert area where it will generally be clear – but often windy, and a shorter drive will get me to a coastal area that may be fog plagued in some seasons.  In short, I would like to be as certain as I can about the weather conditions and thus will always have a plan B.  I have previously discussed the tools I use to track and plan for the weather.


While I would love to pass the time at a High Sierra location watching a meteor shower (awesome!), it might be really impractical or impossible for me to get there with my equipment in the dead of winter – even if the weather itself is not the problem. Road closures, park closures, etc. may interfere.  If I want to take friends or clients I need to restrict the amount of schlepping and walking required.  Some areas, like state, county and local parks which might be ideal are usually CLOSED, locked and gated at night.  National Parks and BLM designated land are generally open at night so rank high on my favorite places list.

Not only should my desired location be easy to get to by car but I would prefer a short walk to a safe location, and preferably in an area that has little or no car travel at night to ruin my night vision or my night shots.  Sometimes little intangibles like the direction and slope of any nearby roads makes a big difference. If a location is the top of the hill but a road points directly at it means I probably want to be on the other side of that hill to prevent the intrusion of headlights.  The arch shot above is an example of that hazard – a bend in the road causes cars to sweep their headlights across the landscape at that location.

It’s also unwise to attempt to use private land without permission. Being an unwelcome guest could result in embarrassment, hassle or hazard!


I have already touched upon this, but by distance I really mean time, effort and cost to reach the location. Since meteor showers occur annually, I am less inclined to make a huge effort if the circumstances do not look like they will be ideal.  On the other hand, I had no problem driving 1,000 miles roundtrip to put myself in the path of the Transit of Venus – an event that will not happen again in my lifetime (or yours).


The one commodity that we are perhaps in the least supply of is darkness. So many cities, so much light pollution. But I do not need TOTAL darkness. If I have decided the best view is to the south, I just need to make sure no major cities lie south of my location. If my intended view is east, then I want mountains or distance to insulate me from the glow of light pollution to my east.  Unfortunately darkness is also a function of weather.  Humidity, clouds, water vapor and air particulates can turn a generally dark location into an awful mess through the effect of human-made light sources. A place that is clear and dark during most of the winter might be horrible in the balmy summer.

Prior experience is often the best indicator of where deepest darkness is found. Sometimes the easiest way to find a dark place is to simply look at a map – making note of the terrain and where the cities are in relation to your desired direction of view.  There is a dark sky locator that may help as well.  And you can do your part by joining the International Dark Sky Association and being an advocate for responsible lighting ordinances. I am a member.

Putting it All Together

You’ve probably already figured out that finding a combination of an interesting foreground that is easily accessible but a not too distant place with reliable weather is no small feat.  Some people think that if you go where astronomers like to go you’ll get all the right stuff. But that’s not true. Astronomers do care about almost all of these things, but the one thing that matters little to an astronomer is the landscape.  Astronomers are looking at the sky so a featureless high plateau is just fine. Oh, and if you want to light paint your foreground, you will really tick off astronomers!

So now you may have also surmised why I do not freely share my hard found locations. BUT if you join me on a workshop or webinar you will find out!