Nikon D200, Sigma 18-200, review

Just a few words on this one, as I don’t actually have time to write a full review right now.

The Nikon D200 is an astonishingly good camera for the money. It feels solid, reliable and trustworthy in my hand, which can’t be a bad thing! The feature set is superb – very ‘pro’ level stuff in there – my current favourite time saver being the automatic ISO adjustment. I realise I ought to take more control over things than let the camera do it, but when in a rush, in low levels of light (or fluctuating levels on a cloudy day with sunny intervals) I just didn’t have time to keep re-setting it. Using the auto setting was a lot easier, ensured the images were exposed more appropriately and allowed me to use aperture priority rather easily.

The histograms are very good – colour charts help me to establish what is going on in the pictures before I get it to a computer, and enable me to effectively set the exposure where it needs to be.

Using a Sigma lens is nice as well – the lens responds quickly to most situations, although I do occasionally find it struggles to focus when using one of the outer-most focus points in the viewfinder. Using the  central set gives very few problems, so perhaps this is something any lens would struggle with… I need to test it more.

In practice, using this range of lens gave me all I needed for wider shots, portrait type shots and close ups on details… a Macro lens would help with the latter, but in all other respects this lens is a lovely compromise across a wide range of focal lengths. So much so, in fact, that I wouldn’t automatically carry many others.

So is the Sigma as good as the Nikkor counterpart? Hard to say without a scientific test, but apart from the VR capabilities on the Nikkor, I can’t see any real differences on most images – the Sigma performs well across a range of settings. I did get a touch of barrel distortion at the wider end of the scale, but in all honesty this could as easily have been down to the angle of the shot as much as anything else.

Since the camera body came along so reasonably priced, and the lens is a good performer, I can recommend folk this combination. Of course, don’t take my word for it – pop along to your nearest tame retailer and try them both out to see which you prefer. Shoot in RAW format, compare the images on a computer and see which you like best.

Talking of RAW – a 2GB Compact Flash card in a D200 will store about 120 images in RAW format from this camera. Don’t forget this is over 10 megapixels and files coming in to Aperture are regularly over 15Mb each. Shoot in JPEG fine and get hundreds of images… or JPEG normal and see the numbers grow – but I am preferring RAW format at the moment – it allows more possibilities for manipulation when on a computer.

Canon XL2 Camcorder

XL2 image

We have been very fortunate lately to be working with some excellent people. One such is Phil Sharp who works for Canon UK. Part of what we do is to undertake film and animation workshops around the UK, and occasionally get to do some filming for a wider project brief. Whilst at Ultralab we were fortunate indeed to have some pretty good kit to help us along the way, but at Cleveratom we have yet to purchase what we want/need. That’s where Phil comes in! He has arranged for us to have access to one and we have been using it on a project in the north of England.
Having a good camera like the XL2 for a few weeks (seemed like at least a month) really allowed us to get to grips with it’s capabilities. We were used to the ‘XL’ way of working, having had an XL1 previously. The XL2 has a much nicer interface and access to the common features is a lot more straight forward. Things like switching to 16:9 aspect ratio – on the XL1 this is buried deep in the menus… on the XL2 it’s a physical switch on the left hand side of the camera. The two XLR jacks on the back are a big improvement, as is the ability to switch easily into progressive scan mode.
So ok… it is not the newest of cameras, having largely been usurped by the HD trend. However, it is a great performing camera in the SD range, and I would buy one as soon as look at it. The lens is fabulous for the reportage style documentary work we have been engaged in, and whilst the camera is quite bulky, I like the solidity it offers.

Would I buy this over something like a Sony HVR Z1U? A tough call, since they are two different beasts, but I would definitely have one to hand if I could… and I’d have a sony as well 🙂

Hand Car Wash

matt's carMy mate Matt has a very dirty car. In fact,he took it for a service and got told off by the main dealer for the state it was in… my guess is that they didn’t like the rodents they found in the back!

However, Matt is resourceful, and on finding that he would have had to spend a very long time indeed with a chamois leather, he took it to a nearby hand car wash, staffed by some energentic Europeans.

Now, I am a BIG fan of these places, and seldom do you see a team of folk working so hard for their money. Plus, the job is a good one – the car is inevitably going to be much cleaner than before, and since they also do the inside (all for less than a tenner), it’s got to be worth while if your car is like Matt’s.

There is a similar carwash near me – I love it! It’s got to be better than doing this on your own driveway, and they certainly do a far better job than I would do anyway.

So, well done Matt… now don’t leave it another two years before the next time! I note from the picture that you had a double helping of car hands to do your car… 🙂

Nikon D200, Cheap camera, Haggle for a bargain

The title really says it all!

A short while ago I found myself in Bluewater in Kent, walking past what used to be Dixons – is it Curry’s Digital now? Anyway, I have been thinking about getting a new camera for a hwile now, and so on the off-chance I walked in and went to the counter. The conversation was brief, and to the point:

“Hi, I’m interested in buying a Nikon D200 camera, but I’m not interested in paying the shelf price for it”
“ha! OK, what did you have in mind?”
“Well, I’d have thought a good 10%…”
“Hmmm… well I can’t go quite that low, how about I remove £60 from the price?”
“Hold that thought – I’d like a moment to think about that”.

As it turns out, no-one else was able to come close to that, and a quick trip to the Apple store where you can log on to the internet proved that even Pixmania, KelKoo and other online price comparison sites couldn’t match that.

So, I bought it 🙂

I guess the moral of the story is that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but of course you shouldn’t go into a haggle believing that just because you want to pay nothing, the shopkeeper will give their stuff away.

So, I’ve been using the camera for a few days and I am very, very impressed. I love things like the automatic ISO adjustment – it’s the last thing I think about doing, so I now let the camera do it for me. I know, those purists and pro’s out there will be slating me, but actually, the results are quite good! The camera feels a bit heavy, but solid. There is an overriding feeling of capability when you hold a camera like this, and with a decent lens (I am still loving using my Sigma 18-200mm) you can’t really go too far wrong. I bet there are dozens of features I’ve not yet found, but it’s a great piece of equipment to spend time exploring.

BBC Networked Identity, Science Museum, Serpentine gallery

From 19th to 23rd February The Networked identity week was running, which was a creativity week for young people aged 13-19, based at the Science Museum and later in the week the Serpentine Gallery. During this time I worked with a number of other people, including Christian Nold.

Christian has been developing his work with Biomapping – essentially a small device which measures your reaction to your environment (an emotional response), a little like a lie detector. Combine this with GPS data and you can make a really engaging activity out of walking around a location and mapping your responses to it as you go.

Rob Skitmore, assistant director at the Science museum also  gave us some time and worked with the group to make a simple telegraph device – from the ultra modern biomapping to a two hundred year-old communication device… but the participants all really enjoyed it!

Sophie Higgs was great, too – she worked with us at the Serpentine Gallery and showed us around the Karen Kilimnic exhibition. I was a little dubious of the reactions we would get to the work, but it was astonishingly good, and when Sophie explained some of the deeper meanings it really helped embed the experience with everyone. I certainly didn’t expect to respond to the art in the way I did, and it was an enjoyable moment or two for me! I would urge you all to visit Karen’s exhibition there and see what you make of it.

My thanks to Katy Holbird from the BBC, who was a pillar of support, but also to Sue Dewey and Chiara Hall, who worked tirelessly through their time at the event. Finally, thanks to matt and Alex who started the week off whilst I was at Gillingham! I’ll try to put some images together as a web gallery and publish them here as soon as I can.