Nikon D3S video: dark, rain and wind 400mm f/2.8

As part of my tests of the Nikon D3S (British Journal, report in December, with additional material by Richard Kilpatrick who is shooting with Nikon on November 25th at a press event) I dragged the £6,000 400mm f/2.8 AF-S IF ED G supertele into the rain as darkness gradually forced the ISO up from a mere 10,000 to the maximum 102,400. The object was make a short video showing rising floodwaters, no threat in our town but still dramatic to watch.

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Here’s how it came back from the hour in the rain, a quick wipe down with an oily rag and it was all as good as new. Actually, it needed a thorough drying with the towel then a clean up with a lint free microfibre cloth to remove dust and towelly stuff. The very deep lens shade kept the exposed front element totally dry despite the wind and rain; I just made sure it was never aiming into the wind.

During the shoot, wind noise was a major problem. I locked the microphone to level 2 manual gain, not automatic which would have been a disaster. Many clips had to be shortened, some discarded due to violent wind noise I could not mask. The sheer weight of this combo made lugging it with a decent Slik tripod (pan and tilt head for video) difficult; I drove to the evening location with the rig laid flat on the back seat of the car, but still had to walk several hundred yards for some shots. I wore a Tog24 parka and found that by pulling the fur-lined hood over the camera body I could cut out nearly all the wind noise. I must have looked like a view camera operator with a dark cloth, or something out of Monty Python with my jacket pulled up and the hood over the Nikon!

But, this seemed such a good solution to the wind noise I would consider unzipping the hood from the parka and using it as a baffle in finer weather.

My favourite part of the video is the one with the worst noise, where I was not able to keep the wind away from the direction of shooting – the sequence of the road (flooded by the morning) with headlights, tail lights and cars in rain. This consists of three takes blended with long crossfades. During each take, the manual focus of the 400mm used at near wide open f/3.2 aperture was pulled to bring the moving traffic in and out of focus, and create huge bokeh circles from the lights. This would be impossible with a camcorder and not all that easy with a conventional high-end video kit. The combination of full frame 35mm format and the fast 400mm has enabled a highly effective cinematic technique to succeed on the first time of trying. With some markers on the focus ring, some practice and many more takes the result could have been refined further.

But I was getting very wet and so was the camera!

The first part of the video is all on the 400mm with tripod, with High ISO video enabled. The ‘next morning’ stuff is on the 24-70mm, hand held, locked down to ISO 200 at f/8.

I’m not sure when our final review of the camera will appear in the British Journal, it should be early December.

The video is encoded to best quality 720p from iMovie09, and can be best be downloaded and viewed without any YouTube jerkiness at full res if your connection is not good.

– David Kilpatrick

Ricoh seal the future of interchangeable lenses

Tokyo, Japan, November 10, 2009—Ricoh Co., Ltd. (president and CEO: Shiro Kondo) today announced the development and release of the GXR interchangeable unit camera system featuring the world’s smallest and lightest* digital camera with the ability to change lenses.

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The new GXR is an interchangeable unit camera system in which lenses are changed by using a slide-in mount system to attach camera units to the body. The lens, image sensor, and image processing engine are integrated into the camera units so the body itself does not contain an image sensor.

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With world-leading small size and low weight* enabling easy carrying, the GXR interchangeable unit camera system features a highly rigid magnesium alloy body and multiple camera units that can be changed to best fit the scene to be photographed. You can enjoy easy lens changes as well as amazing image quality and shooting flexibility. Concealing infinite possibilities in its small body, the GXR is a revolutionary camera system that pioneers a new realm of photography.

Distinctive characteristics:
1.    Lens, image sensor, and image processing engine comprise an integrated unit which can be changed to match the scene being photographed.
2.    World’s smallest and lightest* digital camera with interchangeable lenses
3.    System potential expanded through use of interchangeable units

Comment from David Kilpatrick:

Though the Ricoh system as revealed through this press release appears to show only a GR-size body with a zoom lens module suitable for a 2/3rds or slightly smaller imaging sensor, Ricoh has said that sensors right up to the size of APS-C will be built in to further lens modules. The ultra-wide angle version would have an APS-C sensor making similar to the Sigma DP-1. For similar reasons, high ISO and fast lens may be combined with a different size of sensor.

This is not the first time a digital camera has been designed with lens-sensor modules that could be changed. The Minolta Dimage EX 1500 accepted either a standard zoom module, or a wide-angle module. These included viewfinders (missing from the Ricoh concept, which relies entirely on the rear screen or electronic viewfinders) and had the unique ability to be removed from the camera on a 1.5m long Cable EX. This allowed users to position the wide-angle module inside scale models, doll’s houses and similar subjects to obtain realistic human-scale perspectives. It was only a 1.5 megapixel camera, and Minolta abandoned the concept before they had a chance to develop it further, whatever dPreview said ten years ago:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minolta1500/

The technology behind the Ricoh is not all that different from the way consumer digital cameras are constructed anyway. Lenses are already sold sealed to CCD/CMOS sensors, as a single unit. That is how the OEM sources of the lens-sensor modules market them. At photokina, you can see (every two years) a new crop of such modules with both the technical resolution specs of the optical unit and the megapixel count of the sensor, identifiable to this non-Chinese/Japanese reader in the middle of a description which is usually inb Chinese. In 2006, I tracked such a module from its maker to the first camera I could find which used it – a compact branded as Vivitar. The customisation consisted of building any body the maker chose to design, and putting a ring on the lens front labelling it is a high resolution Vivitar lens; actually, it was just a generic lens-sensor assembly from China.

Ricoh has also pioneered unusual digital designs in the past, including rotatable or detachable lens modules and one of the first viewfinder-less designs, where the viewing screen was intended to be used at waist-level rather than today’s habit of waving the camera in front of your face.

This differs from anything previously done in the power of the CPU unit in each lens, and control module with screen display and card interface in the host body. It should allow any reasonable pixel count and sensor size to be built in to future optical modules. If the accessories do eventually include dedicated APS-C lens-sensor sealed modules, ‘dust on sensor’ will be one clear benefit (or the lack of it will). A supertelephoto module is also planned which will use a sensor smaller than APS-C.