Equipment - tools of the trade: January 2005 Archives

While in Minnesota, I bought a Leicaflex SL kit for about half of what it was worth on the open market (even
given ebay-driven depreciation). Prices have really dropped on R-equipment. If you like old mechanical cameras, you should definitely check out Leica SLRs as they've become very reasonable. I've updated my classic camera site with information on the two:

Leica R lenses can be used on Canon EOS cameras (including the 10D/20D) with an adapter. I've posted information on this on the Lens-R page.

Suggestions and fixes are more than welcome.

For digital photographers, there's no avoiding buying Photoshop CS. While there are some free software equivalents such as the GIMP (, the GIMP is 8-bit only and does not have color sync profile support on it -- making it nearly useless for professional photographers. On the Mac, the $30 GraphicConverter is very popular (and I still continue to use its batch processing functions from time to time), but is similarly 8-bit and non-ICC limited. Other commercial software such as PaintShopPro has other limitations that also make them difficult choices. At this point, Adobe has a lock on the professional photographer market.

That doesn't mean you have to pay the full fare of $600/copy though. Practically any scanner or digital camera you buy will come with a free copy of Photoshop Elements, the very limited version for amateur putzing. You can upgrade from Photoshop Elements to Photoshop CS for $300:

And if you're an educational user (teacher, student, etc.), you can buy the Photoshop CS bundle for about half-price. The same goes for Dreamweaver MX. You have to go through your educational software purchasing agent (i.e., I ordered mine through the college bookstore). There are some companies that purportedly will sell you at educational prices (such as but I have no experience with them. You can also try calling up the usual mail-order suspects (MacConnection/PCConnection, MacWarehouse/PCWarehouse) and asking if they have an educational software sales division. You will have to fax in a copy of your student/faculty ID.

Update 2005.01.29: Many people think 48-bit color is unimportant because the human eye can't see more than the millions of color represented by 24-bit color. This is not the case. We can easily see more than 256 shades of grey so if you're doing B&W work, you want to have 16-bit grey support. 48-bit color (16-bit per channel) is crucial if you're doing any image adjustments such as black/white point adjustment, contrast changes, etc. If you have less than 8-bits/color to begin with, you'll start to see posterization, especially in the shadow/highlight areas. At the final stage, you'll flatten the image to 24-bit color to print it, but you should maintain 48-bit color as long as you're actively editing.

Update 2005.02.11:Updated with reference to GraphicConverter for the Mac.

Comments are more than welcome on this post.

If you have to itemize all of your expenses while you're in the field, there's a new portable scanner with OCR/database software designed especially for scanning and itemizing receipts:

It's PC-only so I haven't had the opportunity to test it. But if it works as it promises, it would be fantastic. I'd be the first on the block to get it if it came with Mac OSX software (I've written to them requesting it). And it would also be great if it had the option of ditching the scanner and allowing us to image our receipts using our digital cameras. The software would still be responsible for OCRing the receipts, entering the item categories and amounts, and managing the database.

Debate: Film vs. Digital?


Ken Rockwell (a nature photographer) has an excellent essay on why the so-called "debate" of film vs. digital is just a scam by camera magazines to sell more issues. I agree wholeheartedly. I shoot both film and digital, SLR and rangefinder, and find the two technologies to work together more than they work against each other.


Film and digital do different things better and complement each other. Neither is going away, although film will decline in areas where digital excels, like news. Film has already disappeared from professional newspaper use a year or so ago, although small town papers may still use it, and likewise, no digital capture system has come anywhere near replacing 8x10" large format film for huge exhibition prints that need to be hellaciously detailed.

When radio became popular in the 1920s people knew that newspapers would evaporate, when FM radio became common in the 1960s everyone knew AM was doomed, and when TV became practical in the 1950s everyone knew movie theatres were history, too. Wisdom shows us that every time a new medium, like digital cameras, is invented that the older media survive continuing to do whatever they do best and get better at it, although the older media may no longer be dominant. Even awful media like LP records still have their followers.

Digital and film are completely different media, just as oils differ from watercolor, macrame, Prismacolor or bead art. Non-artists misguidedly waste their time comparing meaningless specs like resolution and bit depth when they really should just stand back and look at the images..... read rest of article...

Nikon SP 2005 announced

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Nikon (Japan) has announced a limited production run (2500 units) of the Nikon SP rangefinder with 35mm f/1.8 lens. The SP is of course famous for being the most sophisticated rangefinder of its time (circa 1957), surpassing even the Leica M3. The SP had a higher magnification viewfinder (1.0x), more lens framelines (28/35/50/85/105/35), and motor drive option. Interestingly, they are using the original 1957-design rubberized cloth shutter rather than the titanium foil shutter which was implemented in 1959.

Nikon surprised everyone in 2000 with the Nikon S3 2000 commemorative model. But sales of the $6000 reproductions were never high and it ended up being discounted at about $2500 in Tokyo camera shops. The general consensus was that the lower-end S3 was never what people really wanted, what they wanted was a reproduction of the original SP. Now they have it. Whether they can afford the $7000 camera is another question.

The SP shares the same camera chassis as the S3. It was the optical rangefinder that differentiated them. For a while in the 1950s, you could even upgrade your S3 to an SP. Since Nikon already had the engineering for the S3-2000 reproduction, making the SP-2005 repro model was only a matter of recreating the extremely complex rangefinder unit. The only major difference between the original 1957 SP and the SP-2005 is that the 35mm f/1.8 lens will be multicoated. Otherwise, it's true to the original: no light metering and no electronics whatsoever. A fully mechanical camera. Nikon says that it even copied the sound of the original self-timer right down to the same frequency bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.

Small print: MSRP is ¥690,000, ¥724,500 with sales tax. The yen is currently around ¥103/$1. Most camera stores offer at least 10% off. Production is limited to 2500 units and on an pre-paid basis. I am assuming only black paint models will be made since the chrome S3 reproductions were not popular. As a side note, used SP's in near-mint condition without box in Japan go for about $4000-5000, minimum. So $7000 is not expensive in that market

I'll be buying one when they get remaindered at $2500 in Tokyo camera shops, although the pre-paid order system seems to ensure this will not happen. :-)

Along with the Nikon F6, Nikon seems to want to firmly establish itself as the (last) manufacturer of professional film camera equipment. They currently do not have any competititon in this field with every other German and Japanese manufacturer announcing that they are not investing any further money into film camera R&D. Canon EOS film development has stopped; Contax is dead; Leica is focused on the DMR and limited-run M6/MP editions; Konica-Minolta is all-digital; Pentax may have something at the consumer level but nothing professional; etc. etc. Long live Nikon and film!


Equipment: Murphy's Law


Anthropologists and photographers both know well the veracity of Murphy's Law. From the appropriately named "phantom mikes" to frozen leaf shutters; equipment always seems to fail under two conditions:

1. You have no backup - or it's located 400 kilometers away.
2. You desperately need it to work.

True to form, on the eve of my trip to the States, I decided to make a backup of my laptop which contains my entire life. My laptop harddrive failed with a hardware failure before the backup was half done. As soon as I arrive in the States, the laptop is off to DriveSavers....

This is all by way of saying that I'll be offline for about two weeks until I can get this fixed.

Update 2005.02.02: All of my data was recovered successfully using a software program. See this blog entry for more details.

Karen Nakamura

Digital Camera Sales
The latest stats from Japan's CIPA (the Camera and Imaging Products Association) suggest that digital camera sales may have peaked.

In November 2004 (the last period for which public data is freely available), 806,079 digital cameras were sold in Japan. This is only 87% as many that were sold in November 2003.

From January-November 2004, 7.7 million digital cameras were sold. This is 102% as many as were sold from Jan-Nov 2003.

(Same month data for exports is 6 million sold [94%]; and year-sum is 47.6 million or 151%)

The data trends suggests that consumers are happy with their 3-5 megapixel compact digital cameras and the market may be reaching saturation. Especially in Japan, compact digital cameras are under pressure from digital mobile phones. The latest models have 2-3 megapixel cameras built-in and are heavily subsidized from mobile phone providers. Production is remaining constant, however, mainly due to increased sales to North America and Europe where there is still very strong growth.

Digital SLR sales are strong and show no signs of peaking yet. Production is running at 300% of last year's figures. However with only 2.3 million DSLRs made during Jan-Nov 24, this is only a small percentage (4.2%) of the entire digital camera market of 55 million cameras produced during the same period.

Film Camera Sales
The situation is much bleaker for film cameras. Production during Jan-Nov 2004 of focal plane cameras (i.e. mostly SLRs) were only 47.5% of last year's Jan-Nov figures. Point and shoots were a bit stronger at 63.6% of last year's numbers. Still, the downward trend is inexorable and is the same regardless of world region.

Perhaps reflecting greater sales to people with digital SLRs, production of SLR-interchangeable lenses was running at 117% of last year's figures.

Data from CIPA, analysis by Karen Nakamura.

Update 2005.01.06: (Japanese) is reporting on this as well.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Equipment - tools of the trade category from January 2005.

Equipment - tools of the trade: December 2004 is the previous archive.

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