D90 Pop-up flash as Commander

The above image was taken with a D90, pop-up flash as commander, and a SB-900 held out at camera left. I think that there is something wrong with these photos, but the subjects liked them. My issue? There was too much flash, especially from the front, and there is a shadow at the bottom of the image. But why?

I was certain that I read somewhere, saw a video, or a podcast that said that the D90’s pop up flash, when acting as a commander could not contribute light to the scene. I was wrong.

At home, I had previously been trying to use a two light setup with one light on camera, and another off to the left in an umbrella. Both were SB900’s. I had been playing with the lighting ratios, and what the light looked like. I would leave the umbrella at full power, then decrease the on camera. Then I would lower the umbrella, and increase the light from the on camera flash. This was all done via CLS.

Then I was shooting some informal portraits at a wedding. We were at a country club, on a golf course, and the sun was going down. Twilight blue sky. I set my subjects up with the golf course and the mountains behind them. I held a SB900 with dome difuser on in my left hand at arms length. (I didn’t have other diffusion materials with me.) I popped up my on board flash to use as the commander. It didn’t register that it was set to TTL. I took my picture with a Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 lens on the front, and a shadow shows up in front of their feet! Whoa! Where is the light coming from? I was a little confused and didn’t have time to figure it out, so I just zoomed in a bit more so the shadow wouldn’t be as noticible. I also added some dodging in post to even out the light a little bit.

It wasn’t until I was back home looking at my pictures that I figured it out. The light from the built-in flash was contributing to the exposure. I know that in the past I have sworn at Joe McNally because it seemed like my flash was contributing to the light, when I know that he has said over and over that when using CLS, the commander flash doesn’t contribute light to the exposure. Except when you don’t pay attention.

So, if you do not want your pop up flash to contribute to the exposure, make sure that beside the line labeled Built-In, in the left column it says “–“. If you do want some light from this flash, set it to “TTL”. You will most likely want to lower the light from this flash so it acts as just a bit of fill, by setting the right column to -2 or even -3.

I think my mistake (probably more than once) was when I looked at the menu and saw TTL, and thought, of course that is what I want. But, you probably only want light from the off camera lights set to TTL, and the pop up set to “–” for commander. The most I can hope for is that I have learned my lesson.

Nikon Camera Clock Battery

This caught me by surprise. I was reading pixelated image about creating a “Oh Sh!t Kit” and he talked about having replacement clock batteries. For some reason, I had never thought about it. When I pulled the battery out of my old D40, or my current camera, the D90, part of the display is still powered, and the the setting and clock don’t get reset. Obviously there must be another battery.

First thing I did was try to look at the manual. I found a PDF of the D90 manual that you can download here. I found on page 28: 

¬†”The camera clock is powered by an independant, rechargeable power source, which is charged as necessary… two days of charging will power the clock for about 3 months.”

 This sure sounds like it is not user replaceable. So I did some more searching, and found this flicker D90 group discussion about his clock battery dying, and no talk about how to replace it.

I then found this Nikon support entry on replaceing the battery in the D3/D3x. Those cameras use the CR1616 “watch” type battery. That is not a rechargeable type battery. Is the D3 the only Nikon camera that has a field replaceable clock battery?

So good news D90 (other Nikons ???)¬†owners, one less think to pack in the Oh Sh!t Kit, but bad news in that if it does die, you will likely say more than “Oh Sh!t”.

Why I think the D90 video sucks

Back of a D90 showing live view

Back of a D90 showing live view

I have been trying for a few weeks now to take some video of the girls with the D90. I have tried in a couple of homes now. It always looks poor. The reason… no auto focus. When I am trying to shoot indoors, I am always running out of light. I need to open up the lens giving me no depth of field. I used to have a old Cannon DV recorder. I don’t remember having that issue with that camera. I have a Epson Stylus 850 too, and while the video is smaller, doesn’t have the focus issue the D90 has.

So, I have the camera set, I put it into live mode so I can see the action on the back of the camera. I then spend the next few minutes asking the kids to hold still. The focus system on live view is the most ridiculous, frustrating, and useless piece of tech to be over hyped on a camera that I have ever seen. Unless you have something that is sitting/standing still, getting the green square “go ahead I’m in focus” indicator is an exercise in frustration. I was trying to get focus locked on one of my girls that was dancing in the living room, and it was often focusing on the wall behind her. She would move out of the little square, and it would lock onto the wall behind. I don’t care if it is phase detection, contrast detection, or some new futuristic sonar system, it just needs to be better.¬† Imaging Resource has more on live mode, and they are more positive, but the fastest focus times they found was 2.3 seconds. Not good enough.

This brings us to the low light issue. I am forced to use a large aperture with shallow depth of field. This means that the kids need to stay in the narrow focus plane. Ya right. The camera will not change focus when the video is capturing, so I have video where the kids float in and out of focus. Like I said before, I didn’t have this issue with a previous DV camera that only cost the price of one 3rd party lens for a DSLR.

Others seem to do OK. See video here. But, most of the video seem to be outside. I suppose that outside with a larger aperture and greater depth of field would help, but this just isn’t workable for video inside. Maybe you have a bank of flood lights you can use inside your house. Maybe you’re winters are not at -30 and dark at 4:30, but shooting outside in better light just isn’t an option right now. None of the light issue would help the ridiculously slow focus in live view though. I for one am quite disappointed. It seems like more of a gimmick than something useful.

Importance of exposure on higher ISO

I was taking pictures of the kids with my D90 and a 50mm f/1.8 inside my house. I have bad lighting. Not enough, and both compact florescent and incandescent bulbs, but that is another issue. I had forgotten that I had taken some pictures outside of Christmas lights, and had the camera set to an EV of -1. When I took a picture inside at ISO 800, it was a little dark. I realized that after to reset the EV, and decided to up the ISO to 1250. What surprised me was how much noise, even at ISO 800 I got got when I tried to up the exposure in post. The ISO 1250 exposure looks a lot less noisy, and I didn’t have to try to push the exposure back up in post.


Lily at ISO 800

13 of 365

Lily at ISO 1250

I increased the exposure, and pulled up the shadows a bit, but I couldn’t go as much as I wanted because the noise started to become an issue on her face. I think this goes to show just how important it is to get the correct exposure, especially when you are dealing with less light, and when you are using higher ISO settings.

I will try to get a better controlled test of taking pictures at different ISO’s, the correct exposure,¬† and the D90 in the future.

Nikon D90 and the CHA

I took a SD card (4gig Sandisk Extreme III SDHC) out of my computer, and back into my camera, and I instead of a shot count in the LCD on the top of the camera, I got the letters CHA. What the? I headed to google, and “d90 CHA” brought back a ton of hits. This was not some weird isolated incident. Most were saying it had something to do with the memory card, and that if formated in camera, it would correct it’s self. Since I always format every time I put the card back in, that’s what I tried to do. I usually use the shortcut buttons, but they didn’t work. I then went to the menu, and it the camera seemed to take a long time to format. When it was finished, I still had CHA in the LCD. I took the card out, put it back in, and now the shot count said there were 27 pictures left. Weird. I tried the format again through the menu, and this time it only took a second, and appeared to work. We’ll see how this card holds up. I should mark it so I know which one it is.

D90 Movies

I took a couple of movies the last couple of days with the D90. Since you do it from live view, and focus from there first, I was also trying that out. I must say, it kinda sucked. I was indoors and was using f/2.8, but the focus was the slowest thing ever! I was pretty disappointed. I will have to try it outside sometime to see if it is better with more light, but so far, I am not impressed.

There were several times that I would try to focus and it would miss completely. I would then go out of live view, focus, then pop back in. It would still move around a bit, but would find it eventually. Then when you take a picture, it doesn’t happen right away. The mirror flips back, then the picture happens normally, then the mirror flips up again. Slow. Not a way to take pictures of kids.

The movies turned out OK, when I got the focus right. It would probably be easier with a smaller f-stop, but that is all I could work with indoors. It is nice to have something that takes video though.

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Apple Updates Camera Raw

Apple has updated it’s camera raw compatability to 2.3. The big news here is that it now can handle RAW files from the D90. This means that Aperture will now have the capability. Woo Hoo !!! Time to move back to useing raw. I didn’t want to take a bunch of raw+jpeg for the last month or so I had the D90. I was just shooting jpeg, but now I will switch back to shooting in Raw mode.

This message was greeting me from Apple’s software update:

This update extends RAW file compatibility for Aperture 2 and iPhoto ’08 for the following cameras:

Canon EOS 50D
Nikon D90
Sony DSLR-A900
Nikon Coolpix P6000
It also addresses issues related to specific cameras and overall stability.

Aperture Update

Apple updated the software to 2.1.2 a couple of days ago. For just a moment I was quite excited. I thought that maybe Apple had updated Aperture to handle RAW files from a D90. Nope, Apple just says it updates book printing. Yippee. It was a little silly to dream of an Aperture update adding RAW D90 support. That will come as an OSX Core Image update, and then Aperture will be able to support it, just like the any other Mac application. What would have been a great update would have been the ability to do graduated ND filters in software like Lightroom now can. I guy can dream.

D90 Auto Focus Area Mode

I was getting frustrated for a little while. I couldn’t figure out how to change the auto focus area mode. Every time I would go to take a picture, the D90 would pick one (or more) of the focus points and focus for me. With 11 focus points, it was doing a pretty good job, but I knew it had to have the ability to let you pick the point you wanted.

The other day, I found it. It is in Custom Setting Menu, a1. Great, but that is way to buried. I wanted this camera so that I didn’t have to dive into menus to do the things I change often. After reading the manual front to back, (That sucker is pretty long!) I now have two ways to change it easily. The first is that you can assign the Fn button on the front of the camera to this setting. That way I just press the button, and turn the command dial. Nice. But, the function button is a little hard to press, and sometimes I am looking at the LCD at the back.

Next up, I was just playing with this: My Menu. This is great, and even better than the D40’s. You can pick any item you want, put them in any order you want, and they all show up at the same level without any submenus. Right now I have

  • a1 AF-area mode
  • a7 Live view autofocus
  • ISO sensitivity settings
  • d3 ISO display and adjustment
  • a3 Built-in AF-assist illumninator
  • d10 Exposure delay mode

There is room for 2 more on the screen without scrolling. I will see what I am actually using soon, so this list may change.

Shiny new D90

I got a call from National Camera yesterday. I had been on a list for a body only D90. They had got in a shipment and given me a call. I left almost immediately. I grabbed the cash I had been squirreling away and headed to the bank for the rest. I now have a shiny new D90 in my hands.

I spent last night pressing buttons and looking through menus. It is definitely a new experience to be able to set most things from buttons on the top and back with out going through menus. The addition of the LCD on top (over the D40) takes some getting used to, but something I think I will grow to really like.

I put my 50mm f/1.8 on and took some low light auto focusing 1600¬† ISO indoor photo’s. Sweet. I love that the 50 will auto focus on this camera, and the higher ISO performance over the D40 looks to be great. I will have to do a more formal review of some of these things later.