Monday, October 9, 2017

Focus Shift Photography with the Nikon D850

The Nikon D850 comes chuck full of new features some of which are a big surprise. Stack focus photography is something I have been doing for years on certain still life subjects, but I had been resorting to a manual re-focus of the camera lens to shift the focus point after each shot. Needless to say, when moving the focus in very small increments -- in  my case, usually taking 20-30 photos with under 1" increments between them -- it is very difficult to maintain consistent distances between each shot. There is now software, Helicon Remote by Helicon Soft, to deal with this, but it is only available with tethered shooting.

Nikon's D850 now comes with the ability to automatically do focus shift photography.  You must use either AF-S or AF-P lenses for it to work. Otherwise the camera cannot move the focusing mechanism in the lens.

Click here to download a high screen res version of this image. 
For this type of photography I generally use a focal length of 50-85mm and an f/stop of f/5.6. I find that f/5.6 delivers just enough focus area between shots, and additionally has the lens working at its resolution sweet spot.

The camera menus below show the setting I used to achieve the still life photo above.  There is no supplied information on what size the focus steps are. There is only a scale of 1-10 from narrow to wide. I did some trial-and-error experimenting to find that I needed the lowest step setting of 1 and 23 shots to cover the distance from the front of my set to the back. The actual distance of my set from front to back was about 23" so that would mean that my setp width setting of 1 was moving the focus distance 1" between exposures. None of the remaining options on the menu were applicable to my situation so that was it. I clicked on "Start" and after a 3-second delay the camera took all 23 images with the proper increment between them.

Needless to say, the camera should be on a tripod for this type of shooting.

I should also mention that the camera was in AF mode so I did a manual re-focus on the closest foreground object in the set, which was the detailed white napkin. When propping these sets, I always try to include highly detailed props such as this to play up the overall look of sharpness.

One tricky thing I did have to do was deal with the bubbles in the champagne glasses and orange juice pitcher. These bubbles dissipated by the time the camera exposure was located in their position. So, once the photos were taken, I then refocused the camera on each of the glasses and the pitcher and took an additional exposure of each with a new pour of the liquid to produce the bubbles. I then added the bubbles into the final image with Photoshop.

To assemble the 23 images into one photograph I used Helicon Focus software. It is a very easy, drag-and-drop software to use, and will accept even the RAW files, which I used here. 

I have been saying that the new Nikon D850 has reached a new pinnacle of sophistication for DSLR cameras.  The most recent sensor testing results by DxOMark has borne this out. DxO has given the D850 a rating of 100, the first time this maximum rating has ever been given to a camera sensor. DxO said what I have also been discovering, that the new BSI sensor in the D850 is capable of producing medium format quality images.

Monday, October 2, 2017

First impressions of the Nikon D850

A few weeks ago I received a call from my New York camera store, Fotocare, that my new, early release Nikon D850 had arrived from Nikon and was ready to be shipped to me in Florida. Unfortunately, this call came only days before hurricane Irma was to hit my area, and I reluctantly told them not to send it but to release it to someone else and hold one for me from the next batch. Broke my heart to do that, for after reading all the specs on this new machine, I knew it was going to be a real winner chuck full of features that were right up my alley. There are so many new features in this camera, it is hard to even know where to begin checking them out.

My new camera finally arrived a little over a week ago and I've been out shooting with it almost every day. First I went into the Everglades to test it out shooting some landscapes. Here I learned just how the new 45.7MP high resolution sensor could deliver images that looked like they might have been shot on medium format, especially when shooting at the base ISO of 64, as I did for the four black and white images below. I tend not to push the ISO of a high resolution camera because I generally use it for its ability to deliver high image quality. I am, however, eager to try it out on one of my night time helicopter shoots where using a high ISO is a necessity.

After that test, I next made several morning trips to Delray Beach to photograph some calm, post-hurricane ocean sunrises. Here, photographing breaking waves and diving pelicans, I was able to experience the quick focus and also take advantage of the fast 7fps continuous shooting (9fps if you use the new battery grip) at up to 51 frames of RAW images. As a former V-Hasselblad shooter, I love using a square format, and found myself taking advantage of the D850's square crop mode capable of still delivering a hefty 30.3MP square format image.

One new feature of this camera is its ability to do in-camera focus stacking.  I use stack focus for many of my still life shoots, and this automated feature is going to make that task a lot easier. I have already done some tests to try it out, and this week have a large food still life shoot planned to utilize this feature. I'll be doing a future blog post on the results. 

On paper this camera looks like it might have reached the pinnacle of convenience, quality, and all-around features for a full frame DSLR. At first glance it looks to me like it is the best full frame DSLR camera ever made.