Scoring my D400 wishlist

I just stumbled across my D400 wishlist.  I’d clear forgotten I’d ever written that.  Now that the “D400” – a la the D500 – has in fact been released, let’s see how many wishes came true:

  1. ≥ 50 image buffer.  In 14-bit RAW.

    😂 Nailed it.  The D500 never misses a shutter actuation.  It’s beautiful.  I’m pretty sure it’s ruined all lesser cameras for me.  I can’t stand anything that doesn’t take the photo when I press the shutter, nor anything which fails to keep taking photos until I decide to let go.
  2. ≥ 10 FPS.  I’ll even accept complete viewfinder blackout if it means getting beyond 10 FPS.  Sony actually have a new 28 MP sensor that is capable of 18 FPS read-out.  I’ll take it.

    🙂 10 FPS it is.  Viewfinder blackout isn’t too bad, but isn’t great either.  18 FPS would have been awesome, and Sony have since demonstrated that you can get 24 FPS in a full frame sensor, so Nikon are still a bit behind, but admittedly 10 FPS does cover my needs most of the time.
  3. UHS-II support.  And if I can actually find a card that can really do 300 MB/s, I expect my camera to write at that speed.  None of this half-arsed 60%ish crap that all the UHS-I Nikons have.

    😁 XQD and UHS-II support.  With good cards write speeds are indeed very fast.  I can’t complain here.
  4. Lower noise.  Across the range, not just at high ISO.  ISO 100 isn’t as clean as I’d like, and I’d really love to be able to use ISO 3200 or above in typical use.  Bonus points for pushing the native ISO lower (50’d be nice, at least).

    😕 Not so much.  ISO 100 definitely isn’t cleaner than any other recent Nikon DX camera – even the D5x00 line, let-alone the D7x00.  And high ISOs to my eyes simply aren’t any better – in noise, dynamic range, or colour – either.
  5. More, smaller autofocus points, that fill the frame.  Just give me a few hundred in an even grid.  All cross-type, all f/2-optimised at least, and all good down to f8 and -4EV at least.  And better autofocus generally.

    🙂 There are indeed a lot more points, with slightly wider coverage, and AF performance is marginally better overall on all those points.  Plus f/8 to -4EV support on quite a few.  So mostly positive.  However, they’re no better at wide apertures than the predecessors, sadly.  Continue to expect frequent focus failures at f/2 or wider apertures.  Possibly this just can’t be fixed in an SLR (as opposed to a mirrorless design).
  6. On-sensor phase detection autofocus.  I’d actually be rather interested in a mirrorless DX F-mount body, but even with a traditional DSLR, I want usable autofocus when shooting video.  I’ll make it easier for you, though – I don’t need hundreds, or the high light sensitivity of the ‘viewfinder’ PDAF points.  Just give me some, at least.

    😩 Nada.  Zilch.  Zip.  Fail.
  7. Let me adjust shooting settings in video mode (aperture, for example).  While recording, too.

    😐 Sort of.  I still somehow, sometimes, end up in scenarios where it won’t do what it’s told in video mode.  Plus it still insists on changing settings somewhat arbitrarily when I switch between video & stills mode, which is a frequent and frustrating source of exposure errors and lost moments.
  8. ≥ 4K video @ 60 FPS.  At serious bitrates – at least 200 Mbps.  Preferably with a H.265 encoder option.

    😕 4K yes, but only up to 30 FPS, and not at particularly high bitrates.  And still no H.265.  It’s hard to be too critical, because overall video quality is massively better than the 1080p on all its predecessors, but it’s still no match for notable video-oriented cameras (e.g. Panasonic’s GH4 & GH5, or many recent Sonys).
  9. And/or, full-sensor read-out video.  I’d accept being stuck with 1080p60 if it were at least from the full sensor.  But it still has to have higher bitrates than today’s mediocre offerings.

    🙁 Nope – pretty severe crop in 4K mode.  This has been challenging in some of the video productions I’ve filmed, where it’s simply impossible to get rectilinear wide-angle video out of the D500.  Even using an 8mm diagonal fish-eye lens, and its distortions aside, doesn’t really give you the ultra-wide experience.
  10. Put the top-plate LCD back the way it was, on the D7100.  What the hell, D7200?  What the hell?

    🙃 I forget what my complaint was with the D7200 top plate LCD… but the D500’s top plate LCD works nicely, and I have no complaints about it.  So success, either way.
  11. Quieter shutter.  Something more like the D810, or better, preferably.

    😔 Nope.  Still a loud clickity-clack.  On the upside, it comes across slightly moreso ‘impressive’ than merely annoying, at 10 FPS.
  12. GPS.

    😡 WTF Nikon.  WTF.

    No, SnapBridge doesn’t count.  It’s #%!@ing useless.  It records the wrong coordinates almost all the time.  It’s ridiculously laggy – associating GPS locations from hours prior with some photos.  Absolutely a disaster.

  13. Deeper, wider hand grip.  My fingers are in fact more than an inch long.  How ’bout that.

    🙂 Yep, the grip is improved, along the same trendline as all Nikon’s more recent DSLR.  Though it’s not actually wider – narrower, if anything – it is significantly deeper, and that works too.
  14. Moar pixels!  But honestly, only if it’s amazingly more (≥ 40 MP) or otherwise at no noticeable cost w.r.t. image quality, or performance.

    🙁 Alas no.  21 MP isn’t too bad, but it is very slightly noticeably less real-world resolution than the myriad 24 MP Nikon DX DSLRs that preceded it.  And it really pales in comparison to the new D850, which has shown you can have quite a bit more of your cake & eat it too.
  15. Real weather-sealing.  Pentax are kicking your arse here.  I should not have to bat an eyelid at rain.  I should be able to test Sigma’s 150-600 S and have it fail from moisture or dust damage before the camera body.

    🤔 Maybe.  I guess I’m not willing to experiment too rigorously with this.  It’s certainly claimed to be significantly more weather-resistant.
  16. Lighter.  Always lighter.

    😒 Sadly no.  For the most part the extra weight doesn’t bother me, but it does add up, and it does hamper the user experience a little bit.
  17. Wider, more recessed viewfinder cup.  I shouldn’t have to force my face through the camera in order to see the whole frame, nor buy third-party cups to actually block out glare.

    😐 Somewhat.  The viewfinder is indeed very nice & big by contemporary standards – even full-frame contemporaries – and that does make a big difference, which must be given due appreciation.  But, the eye-cup itself is still basically non-existent, so glare and light leakage remain ever as problematic as before, and really demand not-entirely-cheap accessories to fix.
  18. High-speed video options (> 60 FPS).  But only if it’s at usable resolutions – none of this “400 FPS but only at a tiny resolution” crap like the Nikon Vn series.  Even little tiny GoPros can do this.  Seriously, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    😞 Apparently high frame rates in general – even just 60 FPS, let-alone anything you’d really consider “high” – weren’t in their design goals.  Not a big deal compared to most of the wishlist items here, but still a bit disappointing not to have.
  19. Magnify the viewfinder image in 1.3x mode.  I really want to like and use 1.3x mode, but it feels so pointless today.

    🙁 Still nothing here.  And the extra 1.3x crop doesn’t even boost FPS like it did on the D7x00 line, and buffer sizes are so gloriously large that you needn’t shrink your files on their account, so there’s very little point to it.  If you’re worried about SD / XQD card space, or disk space, I wonder if the D500 is the right tier for you anyway (you can get a lot of hard drive space – like, 50+ TB, for the price of the D500 body alone).
  20. Dedicated AF-ON button.  Sometimes I actually want to use the AE-L button for its labelled purpose.  Just give me two damn buttons already.

    🤣 Not just this, but they actually made a whole dedicated AF joystick.  Above & beyond on this one.  The joystick is a tad fiddly w.r.t. pushing it for autofocus engagement vs swiping it for point movement, but still, I like it.

    And, they let you map different autofocus modes to different buttons, so you can have something like four AF-ON buttons, essentially, each one operating completely different autofocus modes. I never conceived of it, and might not have even though it that interesting if you’d merely described it to me, but after using it, it’s awesome.

  21. Longer body.  I have actual human hands, not baby monkey ones.  I want a camera that actually fits in them, without my bottom two fingers falling off the bottom.  (without spending $7,000 on a D4s)

    ☺️ Yep.  I have no issues with my pinky falling off the bottom, even without a portrait grip attached – which is perfect, because the Dx line’s integrated portrait grip adds too much hand grip length, and heft.
  22. Wifi.  But only if you actually provide a remote control app that’s full-featured.  Don’t even bother including your current wifi system.  I already had to buy a CamRanger because of your half-arsedness.

    😤 Unsurprisingly continued disappointment here.  Nikon appear bizarrely incapable of implementing connectivity intelligently, let-alone well.
  23. Provide an AC adapter for what it actually costs – i.e. $5.  $120?!  Are you insane?  Here’s an idea:  just integrate USB 3 as a USB-C connector (or better yet, Thunderbolt 3).  Single-port AC power, clean video output, and tethering.  And in that case, give me at least two such ports, so I can tether and AC power simultaneously.

    😠 Still no convergence on a superior power & connectivity solution.  Yes, there’s USB 3, but that’s really not very impressive nor useful to begin with in its current incarnation.  Still no sensibly priced power tethering option.  Sigh.
  24. Touch-screen.  Surprised to see it so far down the list?  Meh.  All I really want is double-tap to zoom and touch-to-focus.

    😃 I’m going to give Nikon extra due on this one, because while yes they did a touch screen, and the implementation is decent (though the inability to use touch to change settings etc is a dumb omission, and stark in contrast to their much cheaper DSLRs which do support that now).

    But what really pleases me is actually the resolution & image quality generally of the screen.  I evidently didn’t appreciate how much this matters – given I left it off my wishlist entirely – but in hindsight I really do like the upgraded rear LCD.  Kudos, Nikon!

And in hindsight there’s a few items that should have been on my wishlist, but weren’t:

  1. Less mirror slap.  The D500 has a pretty hefty thwack that you can easily feel shocking into your hand, and it produces serious sensor-motion blur at even moderate, let-alone genuinely low, shutter speeds.  It’s actually a far greater disabler in low-light or narrow-aperture photography than the image quality off the sensor itself.
  2. Electronic front & rear shutters.  Like the D850 now has.  Ideally this wouldn’t compromise shooting otherwise – as sadly it does with the D850 – but even with the D850’s implementation, it’d still be exceedingly useful  in things like time lapses, for combating the pretty horrendous mirror slap the D500 has.
  3. More accurate and consistent autofocus.  I talked about autofocus points, and some of the specs that imply accuracy & consistency, but I should have just said:  give me an autofocus system that actually bloody works reliably.   The D500 continues the Nikon (and in fairness, DSLR-generally) tradition of troublesome autofocus.  From systematic focus errors in bodies and body+lens combinations, to limited abilities to even manually correct for that in the camera (really, a single adjustment setting for the entire lens?!).  The new “autotune” feature for autofocus adjustment is a nice notion, and it’s certainly better than nothing, but in practice it isn’t that reliable itself, and it only really scratches the surface of the autofocus issues.

Photo gallery services

I recently needed to find a photo gallery service, as though I put my personal & favourite work on Flickr, I don’t necessarily want to mix in other photography I do, plus Flickr makes it irrationally difficult to control access to photos (specifically, to arbitrary people or groups thereof). I also wanted, ideally, something that would have a simple client proofing workflow – i.e. they login, make some selections, leave some comments. Additional features, like the ability for them to order prints, are not necessary to my (non-commercial) needs, though I still consider it nice to have the option in future.

So, I spent kind of a ridiculous amount of time looking for and at various options. What follows is my overview of the options I found, and their major pros and cons. It’s listed roughly in descending order of preference, for my use-case (for now I have chosen Pixieset, and it’s worked pretty well for my first gallery).

Pixieset

✅ Attractive gallery presets and display.
One of the few, if not only, sites in this list which renders photos sharply.

✅ Decent client proofing workflow.
Clients can have password-protected access which lets them do a few extra things, like view otherwise unpublished photos (e.g. drafts) and mark them as private (no longer visible to guests).

Additionally, anyone – whether with the client password or through regular guest access – can create a favourites list tied to an arbitrary string (ostensibly their email address, but no validation is performed), which can be seen by the photographer in the gallery’s dashboard (and converted to a CSV list of filenames, for example). There’s also a few handy additional features like the ability to create a new ‘Set’ (album within the gallery) based on their list of favourites. Unfortunately there’s currently no way to sync those new sets back to Lightroom, short of manually finding & arranging the photos in Lightroom to match.

Furthermore, there is a separate, optional, password for viewing the gallery at all, even as a ‘guest’. Thus you can have a password-protected gallery that also has a separate, client password.

✅ Galleries & photos load very quickly.

ShootProof

✅ Attractive & performant gallery templates.

✅ Decent client proofing workflow.
Very similar to Pixieset – you can assign a particular client (identified by email address & a pin number) to a gallery, and they can have unique privileges, protected by a pin code, like the ability to hide, label (tag, using a list of tags pre-defined by the photographer), and favourite (if you otherwise disable favouriting) photos.

Anyone – whether with the pin code or through regular guest access – can create a favourites list tied to an arbitrary string (ostensibly their email address, but no validation is performed), which can be seen by the photographer in the gallery’s dashboard.

Like with Pixieset, this allows you to have a regular guest password as well as a pin-code for privileged (client) access.

✅ Nice “filmstrip” viewer.
When a viewer clicks on any photo to view it larger, in addition to the larger photo being displayed, a “filmstrip” appears at the bottom which allows for easier navigation amongst similar photos. The film strip also shows badges for favourites.

⛔️ Client experience is a bit buggy.
In addition to the share email they’re sent not including the pin code, unless you manually enter it each time, it’s somewhat random as to if or when they’ll actually get a chance to enter it, and unlock their special privileges. In my testing I was only able to browse the gallery initially, and then at a random point it interrupted and asked for the pin.

⛔️ Photos tend to look a bit soft when displayed, as if they’re being enlarged from scaled-down copies.

SmugMug

⛔️ No free plan.
They’re well-reputed and look like they have a lot of good features, but I don’t make money from my photography, so I try to keep expenses low.

Not that they’re expensive by any means, but there are good alternatives which are free (for my levels of use).

Redcart

⛔️ No free plan.

PhotoShelter

⛔️ No free plan.
And their cheapest plan, at $8 per month, doesn’t include client proofing support. Their first tier that does is $25 a month – way higher than their competitors.

StickyAlbums

⛔️ No free plan.
And their cheapest monthly plan is $29, which is way higher than their competitors’ entry-level rates (even ignoring those that offer ‘free’ as their first tier).

Zenfolio

⛔️ No free plan.

⛔️ Buggy galleries.
Despite not being free, they were one of the first on my list (before I’d explored Pixieset or ShootProof, for example), so at that point I was presuming I’d have to pay something. So I signed up for a trial account, and set up a test gallery.

And that’s how I discovered that their web page layout is stupidly broken – the ‘Add To Favorites’ button, crucial to my intended proofing workflow, is obscured by the copyright footer, and rendered unclickable. Ugh… what a stupid bug.


Broken Zenfolio footer text

Instaproofs

✅ Attractive pricing.

⛔️ Really ugly galleries.

⛔️ Requires an arbitrary string from all visitors before they can see anything (ostensibly their email address, but no validation is performed).

⛔️ Very much targeted at selling prints.
There can still have favourites lists and a few other things, but the entire interface is very clearly intended to funnel you into a shopping cart. It’s very inappropriate if you’re just sharing a portfolio, but still a bit crass even if you’re doing print-centric client work like weddings or family shoots.

Instaproof only get their income from print commissions, so it’s unsurprising that they try to hard sell at every corner. Unfortunately they’ve done it distastefully and fatally undermined the entire experience.

PASS

✅ Attractive pricing (particularly re. free for any and all galleries of fewer than 100 photos).

⛔️ Does not work.
I was unable to view any photos that I’d uploaded into a gallery – whether going through the ‘normal’ link or a ‘VIP’ invite, it’d prompt for the gallery password (if set), then demand an account be created, but even once that was done, it wouldn’t actually show any photos.

The login prompt says that Facebook is the preferred method, blah blah blah, but doesn’t actually provide any way to log in via Facebook.

Viewing in Safari on a Mac it was showing what very much seemed to be a mobile interface – everything squished into a ~4″ screen space in the top left of the browser window.

⛔️ Limited templates & control over appearance generally.

⛔️ Requires use of a desktop Flash app.
Yep, both Flash and only works after you download and install it.

Furthermore, it doesn’t follow standard user interface conventions, both visually and w.r.t. interactivity – e.g. ‘Select All’ simply doesn’t work (even though there’s a menu item for it).

⛔️ No Lightroom plug-in.

⛔️ Uploads are slow.

⛔️ Doesn’t appear to have any client proofing capabilities.

⛔️ Does not seem to allow you to close an account once created.

Stellaris review

This is a fantastic game if you love spending hours meticulously crafting a beautiful empire, micro-optimising it to a cutting edge, and then having the AI come in and wipe you out instantly. Fun for the whole family.

As best I can tell it’s fatally buggy, because it lets the AI essentially cheat, and you can’t turn that misfeature off.

But in its defense it kind of sets expectations right from the beginning. My very first game failed as described above, though it was at least because my empire was weak and I’d made some actual mistakes. There’s no manual or tutorial, just the in-game tips which are sparse, terse, and simply don’t cover a lot of essential elements of gameplay. So my first abrupt loss was unsurprising – unfortunately, trial and error is the name of the game here.

Subsequent games went no better, however.

I eventually found that there’s a config option when starting a new game, for how many AIs start way ahead of you. Ah, that sounds like the problem. Unfortunately even when set to zero, at least one AI still does this. And it’s not just a little ahead – they seem to start completely advanced in tech tree and with effectively infinite resources. And the most infuriating of all is that they can lurk for hours of gameplay before actually deciding to annihilate you on a whim. I’d appreciate if they just wipe me out straight away and save me all that wasted time.

For example, in my most recent game I had taken control of nearly a third of the galaxy, beating out half a dozen other AIs, and was shown by the game as equal or greater in strength than all the AIs I’d contacted. And then an AI from the other side of the galaxy declared war on me without any warning – I didn’t even know they existed – and wiped me out in literally about sixty seconds. They cleared out all my space stations, all my defenses, killed my main battle fleet in literally a single shot, and made short work of taking over all my planets with hundreds of invading armies that individually were more powerful than an entire planet’s defences. They had multiple battle fleets that were each more than a hundred times more powerful than my entire armada.

So that sucks. I went back through my saves to try to find a branch point where I could retry from, but came to the sad conclusion that there’s no possible way to beat that AI – at best I can hope it simply doesn’t decide to kill me. But they always do, eventually.

And it’s depressingly insightful what happens next, which is to say, nothing… the game just keeps going, with you unable to do anything at all – all your planets are conquered, all your shipyards long gone, all your ships at best hiding in dark corners of the galaxy. And yet the game just keeps trudging along, revealing the truth: it’s not for you. You were just a transient.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s hypothesise that they soon fix this crippling bug. In that case, the game is… meh. There’s a lot of time spent waiting for something to happen. Particularly at the beginning, when your empire is small and you’re completely growth & resource constrained, it’s 90% just waiting for the real game to develop. The ‘Fastest’ game speed option isn’t nearly fast enough.

It shares a lot with Cities: Skylines, in that respect. A pretty, intricately detailed game that invites you in alluringly, but turns out to be fundamentally repeatitive, and missing the actual gameplay part. Not to mention the fun that traditionally accompanies games.

One more point, because it’s something I always look and hope for particularly in strategy games like this – deep diplomacy. Unfortunately, in Stellaris the ‘diplomacy’ aspects are pointless. Aside from the options available being rudimentary and very difficult to manage – good GUIs for diplomacy have been well established by many other games, so it’s a mystery why they couldn’t follow suit – it’s moot in any case though, as AIs will never, ever give you anything without you giving them way more in return. Most AIs won’t even deal with you. And there’s also crippling bugs in the diplomacy code too, such as the fun one where you finally find a deal the AI might accept, that’s not totally, ubsurdly unfair, and you offer it, and then the game enacts all the things you promised to give to the AI and not one single thing they were required to contribute.

Suffice to say Stellaris is a pretty big waste of money, and more importantly, time.

In many respects it feels heavily ‘inspired’ by Endless Space. Endless Space can be unforgiving to beginners, and has a few minor bugs & GUI flaws, but it’s actually winnable if you give it some time and develop some skill, and can be enjoyable to play if you invest some time to learn it. So just go play that instead, and save yourself money & irritation.