DPS 6-07: "Back to Africa" Safari Notes & Announcement, Nikon's new Raw file Format, plus update on Nikon D700 & SB-900

Back to Africa: Photo Notes from our May safari to Botswana

Young Lions Playing
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Nikon D3, 1/3000s @ f4, ISO 1600, 200-400 lens

This May marked my sixth photo safari to Botswana. We had a sold out trip with ten eager participants and three of us leading the trip. Once again the reality exceeded all of our expectations.

We had consistent access to photogenic game thanks to our use of Wilderness Safaris's well managed private concessions. Our guides were all excellent and after several years of working with them have become quite expert at helping us get in good position for great images.

Between drives Wilderness's hospitality and their awesome camps made everyone feel at home and provided great food, drink and relaxation.

Quality time with a Leopard

One of the best parts of our photo safaris is that we spend enough time in each camp that we can really spend some time with specific animals. Because each area has a strictly limited number of vehicles it is not uncommon for us to be able to spend a morning or afternoon tracking and photographing a lion, cheetah or leopard with only another truck for company.

The result is that we get a great experience and great images. This trip we were fortunate enough to spend several hours with Legadima (the leopard made famous by the National Geographic Eye of the Leopard documentary) as she stalked & took an Impala but then had the Impala taken from her by a Spotted Hyena that had been following her. Anxious to get the food to her cubs, she remained in the area and several times tried to rush the Hyena--and later a pair of Hyenas--to recover the kill. Watching the drama unfold in front of us was a unique experience by itself but even better it happened only feet away and we were able to capture it all in some wonderful images.

Female Leopard (Legadima) at Sunset, waiting for dark
to try to get her kill back from a pair of Hyenas.
Nikon D3, 70-200f/2.8 lens at 170mm, 1/125s @ f2.8, 6400 ISO.

"Photo-Friendly" Lions

Lion cubs playing
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Nikon D3, 1/750s @ f13, 210mm, 200-400mm lens

Conventional wisdom is that lions hunt at night and are most active in the night or early morning and late evening. That's certainly true of most lions.

However by doing our homework we found out that one small pride had taken to moving and hunting during the day--possibly to stay out of the way of the other larger prides. So we focused our efforts on them and were rewarded. Pound for pound they were the liveliest pride of lions any of us had ever photographed--and they were happy to show off during the hours when we could photograph them.

One very important tip for photographing lion prides is to have an idea where they are headed and place the truck where you can get a shot as they approach but not be in their way.

Ethical and Effective Safari Photography

One of the major reasons I enjoy photographing in private concessions is that the areas are carefully managed by an alliance of the camp operator and the local villagers. The total number of trucks in the concession is strictly limited and in all the concessions we use hunting is not allowed (both of these raises our costs but the benefits to the wildlife and to us are well worth it). And the guides are allowed to strictly control the number of vehicles at a sighting--never more then 3 and less if there is danger of stressing the animals.

The result is a quality nature and photographic experience. But it doesn't stop there. Because the concession is being managed for the long term guides are very sensitive to their impact on animal behavior. Once a predator begins to stalk, for example, we'll hang back and wait so that we don't accidentally alert the prey. Once the chase is on then of course we'll be racing along and photographing the action as it unfolds.

That brings up another advantage of small group tours in concessions. Because there are so few vehicles in the large concessions we can take the vehicles off-road to track and follow animals. Off-roading makes a world of difference in photography. It is really the only way to position your vehicle correctly to get the background you want in the right lighting conditions.

What a Difference Water Makes

Sunrise leaving Vumbura Camp
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Nikon D2H, 1/160s @ f4.8, -1 EV, 18-200 @ 24mm

We always try to include a "water camp" in our safaris, where we can get some incredible scenics plus experience the world of the famous Okavango Delta in its full glory for those who are interested. It is amazing how close we can get to birds in a boat and how many different colorful reed frogs are around.

The toughest decision for the participants each morning is whether to head out in a truck for a game drive or take a break and head out in a boat!

This year we've also added nature walks with native Bushmen as an option for those interested.

These few images certainly don't do the trip justice. Even though I spent much of my time helping participants with their photography and I had seen many of these animals before I managed to take several thousand images that were worth taking home. I've put a few of them online to give you an idea of what you can expect in the way of photographs if you come on a trip with us.

Finishing the Safari: The Onsite Digital Darkroom

Everyone on our Botswana safaris gets great images. That's pretty much certain. With lots of opportunity and lots of quality coaching no one came away without way more quality images than they expected.

But in the digital era snapping the shutter is only part of the final product. Quite a bit of the quality of an final image or print is determined by how it is processed and printed. So we are happy to offer optional instruction and coaching in image workflow and image processing each afternoon. Popular sessions this trip included ones on Color Enhancement and Sharpening, Photo Book Production and using Masks and Layers--of course some of the participants preferred to spend that afternoon time relaxing instead. In the evenings we can all relax around the campfire and review and discuss images from the day and go over some shooting tips to work on for the next day. We even have a printer along to show how final prints look once the images are processed.

Elephants, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Nikon D3, 1/1500s @ f8, 200-400mm lens at 400mm

We showed participants how to make black and white images from their safari photographs.

In camp instruction doesn't replace the 1:1 instruction on the trucks, but is a great supplement and really helps everyone get the most out of their trip.

Botswana 2009 Photo Safari Announcement & Sign-up

The best news  for the many of you who have been asking is that we'll be returning to Africa in November, 2009 for another Botswana Wildlife Photo Safari. As those of you who have been with us before know, there is nowhere else in the world that compares to a small group specialized photo safari to the private concessions in Botswana. Not only is the wildlife abundant, but the camps are gorgeous. Most importantly there are strict limits on the number of people and vehicles in each concession--and for our photo safaris, a strict limit on the number of people per vehicle. Many days we may not see anyone except the handful of people from our group.The year 2009 will mark my 7th photo safari to the concessions in Botswana. Every trip we've seen not just plenty of lions, hippos, giraffes and antelopes but also cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs. Truly a special trip. Note: The camps in Botswana are very popular so we need to confirm our book space very far in advance so if you're interested please act soon by signing up or emailing us at safaris [at[ cardinalphoto.com. Thanks!--David 

Visit our Full Image Gallery from our May Botswana Photo Safari

Event Update

We've announced our Alaska Grizzy Bear photo safaris for July 2009. (July 8-15 & 14-21) and these very popular trips are already half full so sign up soon! Our Southeast Asia trip is nearly wide open. It's a little more unusual and harder to convince people to go, but everyone who has come along has been delighted. We've also just announced our 2009 South Texas Bird Photo trip for April. This trip has sold out the last two years and is already mostly full for 2009, so plan ahead and sign up soon!

[[[http://www.cardinalphoto.com/pages/events.htm height=2100]]]


Nikon's new "NRW" Raw format

As you may have already heard, as part of the introduction of the powerful new Coolpix P6000 Nikon also introduced a brand new and poorly described new Raw file format, NRW. The primary technical reason for the new forumat is to allow the inclusion of Picture Control information in a way that allows in camera processing. But because Nikon hasn't really said much about the format--and is unlikely to document it--speculation and concern has run rampant on the web. Luminous Landscape offers a pretty good summary of some of the criticism and Nikon bashing.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the new Nikon Raw format. It further complicates the messy raw file situation, it is almost certainly not going to be documented, and it will have limited software support. But pundits who have somehow linked the new format to some type of Microsoft-centric alliance or an attempt to exclude Mac users are really stretching things. All that Nikon has said is that they will extend their Windows codec to include NRW support in addition to NEF support.

Keep in mind that Nikon has never supported the Mac platform with NEF software and they have never supported third party developers of NEF applications either. So the fact that they aren't planning to do that with NRW should surprise no one. That said the real issue will be how much additional work it will be for vendors to add NRW support and how far Nikon has gone in any attempt to encrypt or "lock" the format (like they have with the White Balance information in recent NEF files).

It is somewhat telling that support from Capture NX 2 was not announced at the same time (although I'm sure it will happen). That implies that there is some substantial work involved.

Why not DNG?

Various voices, with Adobe in the fore, have certainly been asking why Nikon didn't simply choose DNG. The most likely technical reason (excuse?) is that the new NRW actually needs to be processed by cameras as part of Nikon's push to allow Picture Control processing within the camera either during or after a shoot.

Our suspicion is that the political landscape is just as important here, with Nikon unwilling to cede either control or disclose internal information about their imaging system as a matter of company policy. Obviously that is a shame for camera owners and continues to increase the workload for everyone in the industry and the danger that long term archives of digital images can be compromised by the obsolecence of proprietary formats over the coming decades. Whether DNG or just a documented file format, any open solution would be a better long term solution for Nikon's customers and we believe for Nikon.

Nikon D700 & SB-900 Updates

The Nikon D-700 is coming in with nearly universal raves. with its full-frame (FX) sensor, improved viewfinder great low noise characteristics at high ISO (between the D300 and D3). This camera is clearly a winner for anyone needing full frame without all the size, weight and cost of the D3. To get a sense of some of what it can do check out Moose's images from his Hawaii Cruise on his blog.

B&H Now has the D300 Available for $1624!
(D700 is once again back-ordered)

The SB-900 has been much more of a mixed bag. The new user interface is well liked, as is the increased power. But not everyone is thrilled by the larger size and slightly top-heavy weighting. More importantly to those using external flash mounts is that the SB-900 does not fit in several popular flash clamps including the Justin Clamp. At least one set of SB-900s has been returned to Nikon over this, which is a shame. Fortunately one of our readers has come up with a great solution. Thanks to Billy Mitchell for his tip of sanding down the clamp, which has worked for all his clamps. You can read his full tip on our forums.

New Product Updates

August 7: Nikon introduces flagship Coolpix P6000--featuring integrated GPS, optical viewfinder and tons of other features and a new Raw format (NRW) for use with Nikon ViewNX software & in-camera Picture Control. It will be available in September for $499 MSRP. Read all the details on the Nikon Coolpix P6000.

August 7: Nikon Inc. today announced the launch of six new COOLPIX digital cameras. New to the COOLPIX product line and present in each of the new cameras is the Scene Auto Selector Mode, which automatically selects the right scene mode for the image you are shooting for carefree photography. Also "Smile Mode" for portraits, which automatically triggers the shutter when a subject is smiling [ED: We've got to see this!] and Blink Warning, which displays a message when it detects that a subject has blinked. Some models also feature technologies such as a TOUCH-SCREEN interface, Wi-Fi transmission and GPS capabilities. Models include the Coolpix P6000 (above), Coolpix S60 (Touch Screen), Coolpix S610c (Wi-Fi & Wayport Integration).

August 1: Double your D3 buffer with the newly announced $500 memory upgrade from Nikon.

July 30: BibbleLabs releases 4.1, This update includes support for the new Nikon D700, New lenses and addresses a compatibility issue with upgraded firmware on the Pentax K20D. A free dowload for registered users. Also Bibble has also unveiled a preview video for Bibble 5.

July 22:nik Software releases ColorEfx Pro 3.1, adds support for newest version of Aperture, Nikon Capture NX 2, and 5 new filters. A free upgrade for registered owners of 3.0, and a nice way to get the filters for both NX2 and Photoshop (including Elements) in one package.

July 8: Data Robotics Announces next generation Drobo: Features Firewire 800 Interface, Faster Processor (they claim 2x throughput) and a larger quieter case fan. Price remains the same (which means the current version has been instantly discounted). You can Read all the Details for yourself.

July 2: Updated firmware for Nikon D300 & Nikon D3. Lots of important fixes and some new menus and features in v2.00 for the D3, and a fix for the "battery indicator blinky" problem in v1.03 for the D300.. D300 for Windows, D300 for Mac, D3 for Windows, D3 for Mac.

July 1: Nikon introduces the Full Frame D700 D-SLR: With features similar to those found in the popular D300 but a full frame sensor like that found in the D3 the D700 will appeal to those looking for a full-frame "pro/prosumer" camera without the size, price and weight of the D3. Read the Full Release. The D700 also keeps the helpful sensor cleaning function of the D300 in a full frame camera. It is expected to be available in late July for about US$3000.

July 1: Nikon Introduces SB-900 SpeedLight Flash:Faster, more powerful and with an awesome 17mm-200mm zoom range the new flash also features improved control layout, upgradeable firmware and an optional "Water Guard" for waterproofing. List price is $499 and it is expected to ship in August. A new SD9 battery pack takes 8 AA batteries and reduces recycle time for a full discharge to 1 second. We suspect these will be "must haves" for many pros. Read the full press release.

July 1: Nikon Introduces two new Perspective Control Lenses, the PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED and PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D lenses, expanding a series of lenses that allow photographers to effectively correct perspective and/or depth-of-field to push creative boundaries. These new Perspective Control (PC) lenses correct linear distortion in order to better replicate images as seen by the human eye, including straightening the converging lines of rectilinear objects such as buildings, while also introducing welcome command over depth-of-field. Lenses are expected to ship in August for just over $1700 each.

If you have a hot tip or news item for DigitalPro Shooter, write us at dps@proshooters.com. If your tip or news item is picked as the Shooters' Tip of the Week, we'll send you a really cool DigitalPro hat! Or just write us to let us know what you think of the newsletter.

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Good shooting!

--David Cardinal, editor DigitalPro Shooter
nikondigital.org / Pro Shooters LLC


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