Hi Gang, just wanted to give you a quick update about some the changes I made to my hardware and processing photos. At the end of last year I was faced with the dilemma of running out of storage space and processing power when on the road. Working with the D800’s huge images made my computer pretty much unusable. I have a three-year old Macbook Pro so it was not like I was flogging a dinosaur, but it was not cutting edge either. It was not a maxed out performance unit either. For around $250 I was able to bring the old Pro up to blazing standards. The first and cheapest change I made was to upgrade the RAM. Random Access Memory is basically a reservoir of computing power that is dedicated to handling the task at hand, the bigger the reservoir the faster everything gets processed. RAM is relatively cheap although the prices did spike with the tsunami and flooding in Japan and South East Asia a couple of years ago, and is usually easily accessed by the user in most computers. Check your specs and be sure you have the maximum amount of RAM installed, if not get some from a reliable source. For Mac I use Crucial. Running maximum RAM will give you the most bang for the buck.
Next is the leap into the 21st century and that is upgrading to a Solid State Drive commonly called SSD or Flash Drive. There are no moving parts and they are blazing fast in comparison to traditional drives but are also more expensive. Depending on the size, SSD’s tend to become very expensive and can cost 10 times more than their traditional counterparts for big storage. I decided to stay with the original size that came with the computer at 250GB and it cost about $175. This too I got from Crucial.
The only problem left was storage. This computer was equipped with only USB 2 and Firewire800 ports so fast external storage was not a good choice and I wound up using a “Data Doubler” from Other World Computing. It did just what is says it is in this case. Data Doubler is an adapter that converts the optical drive in the laptop to a second internal storage space. I used the traditional drive replaced by the SSD for that space and now I have 500 Gb storage. That second drive can always be replaced with a larger drive in the future but the additional 250 Gb is fine for now. OWC sells the Data Doubler for $35, and it is a great product but there are knockoffs out there as cheap as $7. Making all these improvements was really very easy to do with no hitches. There are a lot of videos out there from the manufacturers of theses products so it easy to figure out if the upgrades are over your head.
My computer is now a great performing machine. Comparing it to the latest and greatest Macbook Pro’s, it is not as fast, but it really is scary close! If you are getting frustrated by your computer, take a look at some of the alternatives, it just might make your life a lot easier.
Happy shooting. Follow me on Twitter @RonBoyd
The past few months I have had the time and pleasure to talk with a number of photographers, some professional, some not, some for wildlife, some not and it seems to me that things have changed a bit. It could just be the crowd I run around with these days is a little older maybe a little more sophisticated but I feel there has been a change overall. Different from the past is the fact that a number of folks I encountered were now using Nikon products. Almost irrelevant beyond a data point, for many years I felt as an outsider in the gear department. As far as nature and wildlife were concerned almost everyone was in full Cannon gear. Cannon had been a little cheaper with a few more choices but some how Nikon made up some ground. That could still be repercussions from the tsunami in Japan a few years ago.
More important to me is that it seems as though the photography frenzy has begun to calm down. A year ago a lot of people were aspiring to be professionals, there seemed to be no middle of the road, one was either a struggling professional or desperately seeking ways to make money to become one. As it turns out a lot of these folks were doing nothing more than marketing to each other and that fuels an air of frustration and despair. I have run into a number of people who have no desire to sell their work or even show their images. On one excursion the leader told me that only about half of the participants volunteer to show their work and that indicates to me those people are making photographs for some reason other than selling them to the public. I was not able to make it to Bosque Del Apache last Fall so I thought I could enjoy the sights from the internet perusing the thousands of pictures posted. There was a very small number compared to previous years. Though I didn’t make it a major ambition, I really could not find much participation and what I did find was professional. It is possible that the sharp increase in the price of entry for many photography genres, in particular bird, helped slow things down. Maybe photography is not as cool as it once was. Maybe it is just me. In any case I like what I see.
Many of you will already know that I used the Nikon D800 camera body extensively a couple of months ago. I think it is a remarkable piece of gear but I also wonder just how good it is for bird photography. As a bit of background, when I first started shooting birds one of my goals was to be the person using medium format cameras with long lenses. Physics and money made that an impossibility until the D800 came along. Needless to say I was one of the anxious ones wanting to see just what the mighty body can do and I would rather be a fanboy of the camera rather than a critic but there are times when the D800 falls short for bird photography. Twice now I have held back from running out and buying one.
Huge file size and good low light sensitivity are the two big draws for the Nikon camera, along with the professional build it is more than enough for almost everyone and probably the very best camera made in the $3,000 price range. Intellectually, it is a sheer pleasure having all those pixels to play with, you can make prints large enough for the Grand Hall or crop for days and still have a usable, publishable image. In real life huge images are a pain in the ass. Everything needs an upgrade across the board, memory, computer ram, data transfer technology, storage, drive read and write, buffer sizes, and software all have to be at cutting edge standards to have an enjoyable workflow when processing these large images. If you want to shoot 36 megapixels you have to be sure that every single supporting technology, everything you use after the shutter button clicks is up to snuff. In many cases that is going to cost more than the camera its self. In the process of upgrading my supporting hardware I lost something that was very near and dear to my heart Nik Color Effects Pro 3 Tonal Contrast. You see I converted over to the Photoshop cc plan and in that version none of the older Nik products can be used. I tried the latest version and it sucks to be blunt and even at the super low price is not worth the money to me. The D800 has great dynamic range, the best I have seen to date and the low light sensitivity is very good but not the best I have seen. One unusual trait I have noticed with the camera is the way the bokeh renders out in certain images. I think it has to do with how the images interact with anti-noise software and anti-aliasing. It is hard to put my finger on it but backgrounds that would render out a nice creamy bokeh are just a little bit different. Plastic like is the best description I can think of.
None of those thing is a good excuse for not using the mighty 800 as far as I am concerned but there is one and that is the painfully slow frame rate speed of 4fps (can be upgraded to 6). It is almost impossible to quantify the damage this does without doing a side by side comparison for thousands of images but I am sure there are a number of missed shots in my work simply because of the amount of time between the frames. One remedy to this problem is to be extremely methodical and selective of the time you attempt a burst of images and that is all a function of knowing the basics. Just like always, you have to know what you want and when you want it, you need to predict behavior and know the direction of light and in general be on top of your game. It is a pro level device.