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My New Camera - Day 7

Pelicans, Pelicans & More Pelicans

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Wings Up - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wings Up & Noses Out   1/500 @ f/11  iso400 pattern HH about 40% crop

My friend T emailed, asking if I thought the pelicans were leaving this week. I replied, saying,

"I don't know if they know the exact date. The young males have their nose fins, and they don't seem to be doing very much, so I guess I wouldn't be too surprised if they go soon. I'll sure miss them. They're not gathering the same as they did over the real winter.

She replied, "They usually go around my birthday (this weekend) and being that it has been so warm I figure they must be headed out soon. Although I have not seen them do the pre-flight practice run yet ... Keep up the great photographs!"

So I felt obliged to get myself and camera and fabulous 180 lens down to Sunset Bay for a bunch more shots before the Pelks pack it in. I shot 137 images, fiddling between shots with the two sets of Auto Focus or Exposure or Something gizmos on the back of the camera.

I've read the manual pages about those dials, and I still have no idea what they're supposed to do.

I read that some company has just announced sheets of short-cuts with which I could learn everything I need to know about the D200 in one day. Which is patently absurd. They also announced, but have not begun to sell (or I would have ordered one on the spot) a series of DVDs that will teach me my new camera.

I like learning via tapes or DVDs, and the idea excites me. I've been hoping for a book. Something from a different point of view from the clipped English text in the manual. I want to know how, of course, but I also want to know why. Any visual connections of facts to buttons and dials and switches on the camera would be a big help.

Another friend, artist Ann Huey, whose website I do and love (because it's so very unique to her and her style) wrote after I sent out an email notice to a bunch of friends about Shark Boy.

I said, "Just got a super duper new camera that's proving to be a major uphill learning curve."

And she said, "Hey! Now you get to feel stupid!" meaning that's how she felt when I was leading her through us creating her site. But she's dead-on right.

Almost Touch Down - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Near Touch Down   1/640 @ f/13  iso400 pattern HH about 10% crop  time 16:10:46

I do feel stupid about my new camera right now. But hey, it's a start. If I really thought I could cheat-sheet my way to knowing everything I need to know in one day, I'd probably try it. I usually learn new cameras by taking pictures with them, and my progress so far this week is obvious, even to me.

I've taught about a half dozen friends their own cameras that I'd never seen before. It usually takes about a fifteen minutes to a half hour. For me to figure out what it does and how, then to get the concepts and the twiddly bits across to them. I need a me to come show me this thing's ropes.

Why are there two separate dials that have to do with focus modes and patterns (or did I just answer my own question? Modes and patterns? If so, where's the separate dials for exposure modes and patterns?) I am baffled.

I know I can push one button to make the focus point the center of the picture, and that's where I assumed it was all during today's shooting, until different spots on the viewfinder started blinking, filling with the in-focus color and making the in-focus beep.

That set me to wondering how consistent the overall interface is, with beeps and buttons and all those subtle and less so aspects of how and why I interface with this camera. I suspect they are, Nikon has always been good at that, but I have yet to plumb the depths of it. Although I have been through all the menus, submenus and have even pushed the question mark key button to find out what this, that and the other actually do for a slight majority of the menu items. Next step is figuring out why I'd want to.


From all this confusion you might wonder why the pictures on this page seem to be in pretty good focus. The answer is, yeahhh, these are. But there's a bunch others of that 137 image total that are tantalizingly out of focus, composition, exposure or visual interest. I'm pretty tired of showing you all my mistakes, and I just wanted a few golden moments in the sunshine. To show my amazing progress. But there were also a bunch of near misses. Take this example, for example.

Tilt Wing Flyer - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Tilt-Wing Flyer   1/400 @ f/103  iso400 pattern HH about 90% crop

Alluring in its in-flight attitude. Kinda comical, but head-on is a nice viewpoint. That other pelk on the right would have made a nice comparison. Instead of the trees sharp and the bird out of focus, visa versa woulda been really nice. He would have just popped off the page, focus wise.

Our descending star is right in the center of the uncropped frame, and his feet are almost in focus, but wings, nose and body sure aren't. No, upon more careful viewing at full magnification (that among other things makes obvious the Gray Heron in the woods behind and between the the two pelks), I see that the trees are out of focus and over exposed, too. In fact, everything is. It's unanimous. Probably why I didn't want to show it.

I love these guys in the air. Some strange cross among so very elegant to so very un. I have to find out more about them. Maybe while they're gone, I can track down some big illustrated coffee table book on the subject of American White Pelicans. So amazing...

Only part of why I want to make photographs of these strange birds. When all the other staffers at the Dallas Times Herald were falling all over themselves fighting over who got to shoot the next Cowboys game, I got to pick and choose some of my assignments, because then and now I don't care much about cowboys.

I've shot rodeos, basketball and a wild variety of human drama playing out before my lens, but another favorite I haven't indulged in lately is dance. It's a lot like shooting the birds in that I never know what will happen next, and a lot of it is fast-moving, challenging and beautiful. I really got into it again when I did the Dallas Dance Council website, but this camera would be fabulous for that wild human art form.

One of the reasons I am getting more shots in focus and correctly exposed and maybe a little more interesting than the several days before today on my new camera, is that I'm getting more used to the feel of this camera/lens combination. I know just where to put my fingers to keep them from being surprised off various moving parts on my external focusing lens. New lenses focus internally (IF). And to keep that monster balanced enough to hand-hold it still enough not to add too much of my own, off axis movement to the mix.


Touch Down - photo copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Touch-down      1/640 @ f/13  iso400 pattern HH about 30% crop  time 16:10:47

This one has a welcoming committee, and they add to the compositional interest. Love the skid splash — and the unfettered sharpness. Look at the water, and you can see the depth of field. Not much of it, even at f/13, but the entire bird is inside it, for a change. Even the splash is sharp.

This shot was part of a click-click-click sequence with Near Touch Down above. Could never have done that with the Sony. That was always either click - pause - click - pause - click - long pause, or me flying blind as three kinda sorta click-click-clicks handled the shooting while I stared into a black view unfinder. Those pauses were always at least a second, even in blind burst mode. Meanwhile I was supposed to keep panning whatever I was shooting as if I could actually see it. This thing shoots up to five shots per second, and I'm in that viewfinder experiencing every single moment.

I'm not worrying about anything but shooting this picture, then the next, then the next. There's a security in that that I've never had with a digital camera before. I could get used to that. And when I do, I'll take even more better pictures more often.

That feeling is extraordinarily helpful in getting the exposure and the focus right. I love this camera. But I gotta find a lighter lens.

Full Skid      1/640 @ f/13  iso400 pattern HH about 15% crop  time 16:10:47

Same shallow depth of field. Same welcoming committee, with some startled late arrivals. Same bird and nearly the same second. It wasn't on full clickity-click automatic. I pushed each shot, when I wanted it shot, which was pretty lickity-quick.

The two shots after this one, however, were not as sharp. But I finally had the flying and landing sequence I've been hoping for. Will hope for again, of course. I like this sequence, but I'll like more sequences in the future, also. I want some full, flying sequences and some group flying sequences. Etc.

I'm beginning to develop an interest in either an even longer lens or zoom or another place where I can get closer to more birds. Not sure I'd want to shoot at a zoo, but may be. Perhaps I need to work on my sneaking up.

A guy in a canoe spooked every one of the pelks last week. He blithely paddled through where they were all perched preening, then after scaring them all off going one way, he came back through and scared some more birds not used to having to share their little piece of lakescape.

Maybe a little submarine could sneak up good. But that would be difficult. The water even as far out as the lander above and below was, is probably only a few inches to a couple feet deep. I'm wary of carrying this expensive a digicam out over the water. More like scared, actually. Aquacameraphobia.


Splash down copyright 2006 by J R Comtpn. All Rights Reserved.

Splashdown      1/640 @ f/13  iso400 pattern HH about 15% crop  time 16:10:48

Here's the final shot in the sequence, reduced and sharpened exactly the same as the ones above. Not, obviously, sharpened nearly enough. Bird is just left of exact middle of this image. Most of him is behind the depth of focus seen in the water, splashes and his right wing. The other images are all right on the center, so that may be the deal. I sure didn't have time to fiddle the dials between shots here, although I did a lot of that all through today's shoot. Nice shot otherwise, but we gotta make mistakes to learn anything in this game.

Now all I gotta find out is why.

I also have to figure out what those dials on the back of the camera are for.

Arghhh! No wonder I'm confused. I've got the manual opened to page 4, showing the diagrams of the back of the camera. The top dial-switch of the two I fiddled randomly this afternoon, especially the  one that incorporates a central flat disk with the letters AE-L and AF-L on it, is the Metering Selector and AE/AF lock button. I'm confused typing this for you here now.


AF sounds like auto focus and AE reads Auto Exposure. Lock must mean if I push that, whatever focus or exposure the camera set when it pointed at what I want in focus or exposured will stay that way when I point it another direction for the composition I really want.

I thought I got that by partially pushing down the shutter button. I'm not sure my thumb will reach — or want to reach — that far while balancing the camera and some behemoth lens — and doing all the other thinking I need to keep up with this camera.

Then there are three selections (sorry if this seems tedious after all that exciting art crit and pelican discussion above, but if I can put these diverse thought patterns into my own words, I might also be able to put them into action. Maybe. One hopes.

So the three possibilities around and to the left of the AE-L/AF-L flat button are illustrated on page 61 with icons that look completely dissimilar to those around that button on my camera. Did they change them at the last minute and not bother to tell the terse devil who wrote the manual?

If I'm reading this right the three choices are (and this is just the first one), 3D color matrix II/Color matrix II/Color matrix, which is either the metering mode I should probably set it at if I'm using one of the new whiz-bang DX, elder G or D lenses, or what I should probably use if I'm using a Non-CPU lens, although then this same click is called something different even though it's at the same position on the detented dial.

Or Center weighted or Spot.

I'll just accept the hoohah matrix color stuff. I think I already understand center-weighted and spot (I still have my Honeywell/Pentax Spot Meter that looks like a short-barelled, big handle gun I used to point at precisely what I wanted exposed the bestest in a picture at, then align a dial or two, then read the shutter speed/f/stop exposure, transfer that to my camera and go click back in the very old days sometime last century. But it long since stopped working. Yes I understand spot. And Center-weighted is, well, center-weighted. Nuff said.

Even if the icons are different. Oh, no. Hold the phone. They are similar icons. They're just in a different order in the manual than on the camera. Oh, yeah, that's clear and easy and damned near intuitively obvious to the most casual observer. Uh-huh. Sure.

And it's just so very lucid to explain the use of the center-weighted click on the dial not inside the box that's labeled center-weighted where it might be too obvious for us poor fools trying to find enlightenment in the manual, but instead inside the box on labeled "matrix" on page 61. (What was I saying about integrated interfaces?) Give that manual guy a prize. And another one for parking exposure metering controls around a button marked both AE and AF. Clear as mud.

No wonder I were confusado.


Silhouetted Cormorants - copyright 2006 by J R Comtpon. All Rights Reserved.

Silhouetted Cormorants   1/750 @ f/4    iso400 pattern HH about 35% crop

The Center-weighted icon is on top. Matrix matrix matrix and/or Not Matrix/Non-CPU is in the middle. And Spot is the spot at the bottom. Eureka! I think I've got it. At least I don't have to buy any more clues or vowels.

So what's with the dial just over the memory card door latch near the bottom of the back of the camera? The only label anywhere close is over a light that glows sometimes that's labeled CF, so we know that has nothing whatsoever to do with the switches being switched, right?

CF is Compact Flash (the kind of memory this hog uses).

Right. Top one shows a full frame filled. Next down counterclockwise around the dial is a big diamond nearly filling its frame-like brackets ([ ]). Then's a spot with splatters at noon, 3, 6 and 9. And finally a bigger bracket set with a tiny + sign reversed out of a tiny white rectangle on this black camera.

So the dial near the viewfinder near the top (not the one in my paragraph above but the one above the cormorants flying in formation) does control exposure pattern, as I surmised a couple days ago, then decided I couldn't possibly be right, then lost all hope ever understanding. And this one down here near the memory card door latch is patterns of focus. Right?


Page 54 lists Area Modes of Automatic Focus.


The full-frame icon - "Camera automatically selects focus area containing subject closest to camera. Prevents out-of-focus shots when photographing erratically moving subjects." (Like a dancer, not a bird about to land in a straight line from where he was flying just before, or a pram with twin girls in pink inside being pushed fast by a running mother.)" Focus area can not be selected manually and is not displayed in viewfinder or control panel."

Oh, great. I'm looking for another picture for this page, since there's so much gray text here, it needs another picture, and I wanted to choose either a good one or an obvious mistake we can all learn from, and I notice that the numbers under the images in Playback mode are not the same as the file names my computer and Photoshop and everybody else uses. Instead they are the numbers, in order, of the image in today's shooting.

Sure makes finding a specific image nearly impossible. How weird. I hope there's a way I can defeat this little feature, or it'll drive me the rest of the way to Completely Bonkers.

While we're at it, I do NOT like the on/off switch. I want something I can get my finger or thumb around, not a half-assed dial sorta switcher thing that's neither substantial nor easy to click into position. Musta been designed by the guy who wrote the manual, huh?

Pelican Taking A Shower - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Taking A Shower   1/640 @ f/13    iso400 pattern HH about 8% crop

Oh, and I love it when they talk double. To quote, "Single-area AF is automatically selected when manual focus is used." So if you manually focus a lens, the camera automatically selects Singe-area Auto Focus mode when you do. Oh, yeah, baby. Uh-huh!

I think that means I'm best off selecting the center of the image as my AF (Auto Focus?) area mode for all my shots until I get the DVD that explains what this doublespeak really means. But how?


I'm lost again. Sometimes that's a good place to start. This time, it's a great place to stop. 

[All shots taken with the Nikon 180mm 2.8 AF lens.]