Saturday, December 8, 2007

Nikon vs. Canon - Introduction

As previously reported, I ordered my Nikon D3 and my Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III at the same time, back in September. I'd recently also written about seeing a D3 "in the wild" when covering a White House event, and I was eager to get my hands on my own.

That surprisingly happened all on the same day, yesterday, Friday the 7th, when both cameras arrived, separately, from Adorama. The first thing I did was call my friend Mark Finkenstaedt, a die-hard Canon photographer, and invite him over to have a look-see at both bodies, as they were unboxed, make a few photographs of them, and with them, and generally have some fun with what is otherwise sometimes a dry "review".

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What follows is a muti-part review of both cameras. Since I own both systems, and am not endorsed by either, and in fact, have been critical of both, I think I can take an unbiased look at each camera. My most critical concern was noise, and I don't shoot sports, so, for example, fast focus-tracking is not a top priority for me. I'd dropped $20k on a Canon system, having been a die-hard Nikon photographer, having found the noise in my D2x files at iso640 and above offensive. Couple that with Nikon's failure to address or even acknowledge that elephant in the room was just down-right inconsiderate. Then, you have the absolute failure of Canon to admit to their focus problem in the 1D Mark III, until Rob Galbraith essentially (and rightfully) creamed them in his review, which all but shut down the entire new line of cameras. So, I too was a bit leary of the 1Ds Mark III.

I won't endeavor here to do a review like Rob will on his site. You can count on him to be much more technical and exhaustive in his review. I plan on looking at some external component/control issues, and to focus on the noise and chip size issues. But I can't do this alone, so I've asked three friends to help out. To protect their identities, we'll call them Barbie, Marcus, and Penelope. I've written about Barbie and Penelope here, and Marcus, well, Marcus is a mysterious man, and to learn more about him, you'll have to check out his website.
I've written this in multi-part series, since you may only care about a few of the things I am talking about, feel free to skip around. If nothing else, you'll enjoy the photos!

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Canon - A first look

The Canon certainly looks and feels like the 1Ds Mark II, which I am "graduating" up from. It has a nice feel, and the buttons are familiar. I am pleased because the arrival of this camera doesn't so much make my Canon system complete, as much as it just provides a nice rounding to the available equipment.

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Penelope sure likes the size of the body and chip, but as we'll soon see in the noise section, and as Penelope no doubt knows, it's not the size that matters. With the arrival of this body, The Mark II will become my backup body, and the Mark III will become my primary body when shooting Canon. The camera is taller, and as to grip, this body actually feels slightly better in my hand than the D3, although, as someone who is 6'7", with large hands, this may not be to everyone's benefit. The D3 felt a bit more suited to a smaller hand, and I know of many a colleague who prefers the 5D over the Mark II because they think the Mark II is just to big/bulky/heavy.
In addition, the Mark III sounds comparably noisy to the Mark II, in terms or mirror noise and shutter-cocking. Further, the sensor-cleaning capabilities make this an amazing camera all around. I expect to upgrade from my wireless transmitter from the Mark II when I can get the new one for the Mark III, and it's smaller size, and attachment to the side will make it a much nicer accessory than that bulky add-on to the bottom of the body as is the case with the Mark II.

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Nikon - A first look

It was nice to have a muscle-memory familiarity with the Nikon body. It's interesting that Nikon sticks with the dial/rewind-crank bump on the left side of the camera, as almost a throwback to the F-series of cameras. The button capability of the 8008s cameras seems like a much more functionally appropriate thing to do. Further, the dial there, as Mark pointed out, is a place for fine dust to collect, as compared to the canon button system on the top left of their bodies.

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This body will immediately become my primary camera when shooting with Nikon, and I will just hope that when it fails, or I have to switch to my secondary body for a quick-lens need (i.e. my wide is on there and my D3 has my zoom) that it only happens when I am comfortably at iso500 or below.

Barbie sure likes the camera's familiar look. In fact, so much so that I had to do a little retouching to the photo because she was showing her appreciation just a little too much when I reviewed the shoot after the fact. Perhaps I was just so focused on how great I thought the camera looked, that I was more interested in looking at the camera than, well, Barbie and didn't even notice until the images were up in PhotoMechanic. That must re-validate my geek card.

The body did feel a bit smaller in my hands than I would have liked, but that's a bias of having larger than normal hands. Most people I know who say they prefer the D200 over the D2x say so for capabilities purposes, not body size. Not so with the Canon's, where people just think that the Mark II camera is just too big size-wise, and they prefer the 5D because of the feel in their hands.

The camera is damn noisy. I didn't put a dB meter on it, but it sure is loud. Further, why on earth they would put self-cleaning technology on the D300 and not on the D3 is just an example of incompetence and lack of due consideration. However, where it really matters, in file clarity and noise, Nikon really shines, and I was duly impressed.

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Nikon vs Canon -The Noise Issue

As I said earlier, my primary consideration for adding a Canon system to my arsenal was the noise of the Nikon, so I was eager to see what Nikon had done, and I was blown away. I had seen friends' samples, and even had my hands on a beta of the D3 a month or so ago, but I wanted to do a comparison.

So, I asked Barbie and Marcus to sit for a portrait session.

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Here's the setting I used:

Here are the specs - both cameras are right out of the box. I made no adjustments to the camera's settings, beyond setting the iso and shutter and f-stops. Both cameras had a zoom. The Nikon had it's 28-70 f2.8, the Canon their 28-70 f2.8. Both cameras were zoomed in to 70mm.

The images were shot raw, and processed in Adobe's Camera Raw. I know many of you will suggest Capture One, Nikon's propriety software, and so forth. I am looking for a direct comparison using the same software. I could have used Capture One, I just didn't have it on my machine.

The files were converted to JPEG, and I wanted them to look their best so I made some nominal adjustments to brightness/color to get them close. Again, I am concerned about noise. Comparing the untouched result wasn't functionally of interest, since I expect that all photographers will not pull a raw file and convert it to jpeg without looking at it and deliver it to a client.

If you'd like to download the resulting JPEGs, I have a flickr group set up, feel free to click here and download the full rez files.

In order to give you a one-to-one comparison, I have cropped deep into the photograph, so that you are seeing native resolution on Barbie's eye, not anything up- or down-rezed. I'll save that point for the section on megapixels.

First up is the Canon, at iso3200. This image is amazing in it's sharpness and clarity. The colors and blacks look sharp and crisp. I would be more than pleased to deliver a client an image at this previously verbotten iso.

Next up is the Nikon, at iso3200. Don't get tripped-up by the fact that the same crop delivers a smaller image, again, more on that in the megapixel section. Focus instead on the noise- or lack thereof. It's absolutely amazing. The color is smoother, and, as you'll see in the megapixel section, it up-rezzes better.

Next up is the Nikon, at iso12,600. Sorry, but Canon can't go that high. Look at the results! I would be comfortable delivering an image from a dark Congressional hearing, or a candle-lit church ceremony with this iso. The colors are more than fine, as is the sharpness. Moreover, the noise looks more like film grain than the noise of days gone by. The noise in the Canon above looks less like noise than it's predecessor, but it looks more like noise than the Nikon does.

Next up is the Nikon, at iso25,800. Yes folks, that's not a typo. And, again, sorry, but Canon can't go that high. Can you say "I can make an image in available darkness?!?!" Again, the colors are more than fine, as is the sharpness. Moreover, the noise here again looks more like film grain than the noise of days gone by.

At 3200 and above, especially in Nikon's range, I would turn to my client and say "what do you mean I can't use flash for this assignment? I'll give you the best I can", and these would be my results.

One interesting benefit of Nikon's higher ISO's, is that if I can be at f2.8 at a 60th at iso3200 for Canon, I can be at f5.6 at a 60th at 12,800, and deliver a greater depth of field, with similar noise/grain issues. In addition, a nominal change to the sharpness in the camera's or Camera RAW's settings, and you'd have an even better image, I did not make those adjustments on any of these images shown. Thus, for ISO's, it's Advantage:Nikon.

I know my client would be more than pleased with these results from anything at 3200 and above from these cameras, when they previously didn't think they could get a usable image. Further, these crazy ISO's will be a nice differentiator when we can shoot without a flash (or a slight flash fill to give the subjects a pop) and the client will be saying "wow, I can't get that on my D80/5D, I can see what's happening in the background in yours, mine's all dark in the background - you're a great photographer, when can I hire you again?"

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Nikon vs Canon -The MegaPixel Issue

So, I was screaming mad when I learned that the D3's chip size was actually slightly smaller than the D2x (i.e., the D2x is 12.4MP, the D3 is 12.1; the D3 is, though, essentially full-frame). But, does it really matter? Well, that depends.

If you were someone who dropped $20-$30k on a medium format back, just to get a native resolution of 22MP, this camera's got to frustrate you, especially when you realize that the color depth of the Canon and Nikon is going to be so comparable to your MF back, that you'll feel comfortable shooting chocolate with these cameras.

So, what of the difference in chip size?

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The image specs and lens choices are the same as outlined in the noise section of this piece. In fact, since we're all worried about the size of the Nikon as smaller than the Canon, I'm putting up the Canon iso3200 here first to compare to the Nikon files I'll be showing.
Here again, so it's on the same page, is the Canon, at iso3200.

Here's the same Nikon iso3200 file, but it has been rezzed up to be the same size as the Canon file. No sharpening has been applied. It appears there is less noise, and it's smoother overall. I know it's not as sharp, but when you're so deep into this photo, either the viewing distance of the viewer or the reproduction abilities of the output device will all but take care of this concern.

Here's the same Nikon iso3200 file but it has been uprezzed and sharpened to my tastes. It appears equal to, or better than, the Canon image. In other words, by up-rezzing the file to the size of the Canon file, I can actually achieve a more pleasing final result than the native file results from the Canon.

Just for comparison purposes, here's the same Nikon iso3200 file as above, not uprezed, not sharpened. (in other words, it's the same file, just uprezzed, and then secondarily sharpened.

These results, for me, essentially kill the megapixel issue for me. Size, with the proper chip and internal camera processing software, is no longer a comparison point for me. I'm sure we'd have problems if there was noise at the ISO's I need, because enlargement would yield more noise, but since that's not a concern, it's amazing what a 12.1MP camera can look like when compared to a 22MP camera. My yardstick had always been based upon a conversation I once had with an editor at National Geographic. We were discussing, very early on when it was not digital cameras, but the scanners being used to scan film - that a file that was 60MB at 8-bit was scanning at pixel-to-grain 1:1 using Kodachrome 25 as the benchmark. So, anything over 60MB was just increasing the number of pixels that hold one grain of film, and thus, is overkill/redundant. I see that, properly done as Nikon has, it's not an issue at 12MP.

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Nikon vs Canon - Shooting Tethered

For many photographers, shooting tethered is a way of life. Not just studio photographers, but also on location, shooting direct into laptops and large digital workstations. Both Nikon and Canon, to varying degrees, previously failed on this front.

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Previous Canons constantly had the cord falling out, and my colleagues were inventing ways to make sure it stayed in the camera, with mixed results. Nikons too, had similar problems. In fact, the D2x was a step backwards as far as security of the data cable was concerned. The D1x has a much more secure Firewire 400 port as a solution, and it also came out of the back of the camera.

Canon has addressed this issue head-on, and in the most secure of the two. Canon's USB connects and is locked in place with a silver screw that slips into the side data port, with a place to store the cover on it's top. There's no way this cord is coming out of the camera, unless you unscrew it. The downsize, is that the plastic cable that holds the cable is a seperate piece, so too is the silver screw, and don't loose that data-port screw cap either. In addition to the cord there are three parts you can loose here. That's risky, and I hope that Canon stocks those for it's dealers. One major plus is that Canon includes a small USB cable for when you are using the camera to download to the computer, as well as a much longer USB cord so the camera can be much further away from the camera. This is about a $70 value and should not be under estimated.

Nikon, on the other hand, just wasn't thinking the issue through. They include a plastic piece that snaps onto the USB cord, and is not easily removed. This is a good thing relative to Canon. However, the little black hole next to the USB port on the camera is where the plastic pin on piece you connected the cord to slips in. It's shoddy, and will loosen even more over time. It wiggles and just doesn't make me feel safe. All they would have had to do was put a thread in that hole and make it a screw-pin through the plastic, and the piece would be about as secure as Canon's, with one less piece, and a lot less likelyhood that the pieces would get lost, since they're all securely connected to one another.

Further, and while unrelated to the point about shooting tethered, this photo illustrates it well, the Canon camera keeps you face further away from the back of the camera than the Nikon, meaning less smudge on the screen, and less "nose control" of the back navigation wheel/dial/plate.

Advantage: Canon.

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Nikon vs Canon - The LCD Screen

First, the math - Nikon's screen has 307,200 pixels , as compared to Canon's 230,000 pixels, so your preview screen is better on the Nikon's.

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The browsing is similar to that of the Canons and Nikon's of the past, however, I get the feeling that the Nikon is just a bit clearer. But, who's going to buy a camera because of the LCD screen? It's not like it's a cup holder decision in a car!

What might sway you to upgrade is Live view, and both have it. The screens are similar in terms of readability, and there's now a second navigation "joystick" above the one we're used to on the Canon, so you can navigate the screen without having to take the lock off the navigation wheel on the back.

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Nikon vs Canon - External Ports

One noticible point about the Nikon, is that it has an HDMI out, which I think, while not immediately beneficial to me, I can see the benefits of in the not too distant future. Canon is stuck with just the standard A/V out we're all used to.

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One of the other ports is the power port. On the Nikon, it's tucked in here under the flap, and easily accessible. On the Canon, you have to remove the battery and insert a separate battery sleeve with the AC cord connected. One potential issue here, is that if the Nikon suffers a momentary loss of power from the AC, it's battery will probably keep it on, whereas with he Canon, you'd be back to whatever your settings were before power-off.

I do, however, like that you can (continue to) remove the plastic covers over the ports if you want to, from the Canon. For the Nikon, it's not possible, unless you cut them, and don't do that.

Lastly, I'll just point out the three buttons on the top left of the Canon here, as compared to the button/wheel/dial combination on the Nikon. Remember this in the next section on buttons and access.

Advantage: Nikon (2x)

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Nikon vs Canon - Buttons and Access

Even though I came from Nikon, with Nikon muscle memory, the Canon vertical grip just feels better. The way the four fingers are around the front, as compared to the three on the front one on the top, just makes the Canon feel better than the Nikon.

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Canon has re-tooled the AF button, so I don't have to assign it to the "*" button, and there's an AF-ON button easily accessible both vertically and horizontally.

I don't know why they didn't bring back the button controls from the old Nikon 8008 cameras, instead of keeping the old school look of the rewind crank and controls on the top left of the camera. That dial is a place where dust can get in, it seems like. At the least, it can collect/gather on the outside. (See the section on the LCD screen or the tethered capabilities to see what I'm referring to.)

Further, they've added the center button in the large back dial, so it's easier to navigate using that, even more than it used to be. All in all, both cameras have made significant improvements on the button functionality of the cameras.

Lastly, Nikon continues with their microphone capabilities, so you can record directly into the back of the camera notes about the image(s) you just made, and an AIF file is stored along side the files. A great thing for work in the field, or or on-the-fly captioning that will help an editor back in the photo department, or production trailer off-site.

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Nikon vs Canon - Card slots

I'm sure Canon was trying to do something smart with their SD card option, but the smarter way to go is how Nikon has done it, finally coming into the fray with two CF slots. There are plenty of CF readers, especially FW800 ones, but no fast SD readers. SD may well be the best choice next generation, or the one after that, but the CF cards are the best solution, and are also the fastest.

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Further, Nikon is using a much faster write capability here, which, while it requires the faster 300x cards, and, in turn, faster Lexar readers, in the end, one of the huge delays in my office is the speed at which files are written as well as copied off cards after the fact.

The door to the Nikon, I think, is much better. You just slip your thumb under the hatch and pop a button to open the door. On the Canon, you have to lay the camera down and use a second hand to twist the latch. The Nikon is much easier, in my view.

Advantage: Nikon

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Nikon vs Canon - The Future

I feel that the Megapixel race is over, and that it's no longer about chip sizes, especially since Nikon has essentially returned to Full-frame with their FX sensor. It's going to be clarity and fidelity and bit-depth moving forward.

It has come to my attention that another camera is coming down the pike though.

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One of the key points that was made when I interviewed Steve Heiner at PhotoPlus, was that he was saying how great it was for the sports photographer and photojournalist. He, and I've heard this elsewhere, others, are positioning the camera as one that shoots fast and so forth. They are not referring to the commercial photographers. Why? Well, because of the D3x, that's why. Following in the footsteps of the D1, and the D2, so too will there be a D3x. I've heard that it's comparable to the Mark III as to file size. If the D3x has a comparable filesize to the Mark III, and the high ISO's of the D3, it'll trounce all over the Mark III, but I'll not hold my breath for that "perfect storm" of capabilities. It's coming in the Spring, certainly in time to get into the hands of photographers before the Olympics.

Will the capabilities of the Foveon chip, with it's Leica-like clarity make it's way in some altered form into the next generation of Nikon or Canon cameras? Who knows. I do know that when the D3x hits the stores, it will forever relegate my D2x to copy-work, and I'll begin re-thinking the notion of an 18 month technology life-cycle for cameras. I may not change my position, but these current offerings certainly make it worth discussing.

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Nikon vs Canon - Conclusions

To choose, to choose. Barbie or Penelope? Errr.....Nikon, or Canon?

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Honestly, I am glad I don't have to choose. I've got a blonde and a brunette...err...a Canon and Nikon.

For large commercial jobs, where I am thinking I want a higher native resolution, it'll be the Canon I reach for. For low light situations, which are all too common, it will, without a doubt, be Nikon. In fact, with the noise issue out of the way, and most client deliverables needing to be down-rezzed anyway, I can see that the Nikon not only would be a better solution to speeding up my post-production process, but moreover, storing the RAW/DNG files will save me significant hard-drive space in my archives over the larger Canon files.

Will the Mark III have issues it's earlier Mark III siblings had? I hope not. Will Nikon have an as-yet-unknown issue? Who knows. We're all their guinea pigs, shelling out thousands to fuel their R&D, with the consumers being the beneficiaries.

Advantage? Photo Finish - Nikon by a nose, for what I do. How about you?

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Barbie The Photographer

I was strolling through Target the other day, and I stumbled upon "Barbie i can be...a baby photographer" play set, both in caucasian and African-American versions.

I thought it funny, at first, then I thought that I hoped that Anne Geddes was getting a piece of this, then I realized that Mattel probably wasn't being that magnanimous.

If you're looking for a gag-gift for that female photographer friend of yours, or if you're looking to inspire your daughter to become a photographer, (mine are playing with these, as I type, since the shoot is over), this is a great idea! Who'da thunk it?

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Client Deliverables - The CD-ROM gets a makeover

Back in October, I was at PhotoPlus Expo, and tucked away in a corner was a very small booth. So small that I didn't notice it during my first pass-thru of the show floor. On a second walk-around, I noticed the printers spinning, showing off the CD's, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice they looked - they were printed on a DYMO CD/DVD Color Printer.

I grabbed a brochure, and asked when it would be available, and they said November, so I put it on my back burner until it popped into my mind on a flight back from LA last night, when an in-flight magazine had an ad for Dymo, and I thought to myself that I wanted to check to see if it was available now. And it is.

I plan on migrating from my silk-screen printed discs to a more customized output using this device. Far too often, I burn a disc that cost $1.50 (CD + silkscreening costs) and it fails, and I'd rather not print the CD until it's been tested as good.

I use the following CD for client deliverables:

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I am looking forward to replicating that layout and design with my new Dymo. It expect it to look very very close to a silk-screened disk, and I am excited about that.

Quite often, after we deliver a CD, and encourage the client to make copies, they instead come back to us to burn a second disc, which we do for 50% of the original. So, if our CD output charge was $75, the second CD is $37.50. For the CD's that are $175 to output (which is about 80% of what we do), our second CD charge is $87.50, plus shipping/couriers. The clients like that it looks professional, and consistent with the other CD they received.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Louis vs. Apple - Settled?

There appears to be news on the copyright infringement front. Back in July, I reported, in Louis vs. Apple (July 5, 2007) that respected photographer Louis Psihoyos was suing Apple over copyright infringement over the photo on the right. Check the previous article I wrote for the alleged infringing image that Apple used. As I quoted Apple Insider back then:

According to the complaint, both Apple and the photographer had been negotiating a license for the image in advance of the Apple TV ad campaign. Apple backed out of any such deal, but promptly began using the imagery anyway, Psihoyos' attorney Richard Kaudy wrote. In doing so, he added, Apple knowingly tossed aside the "rights and feelings" of the plaintiff and deprived him of potential profits.
Now, Information Week is reporting:
A Colorado photographer who sued Apple over images used in commercials to promote the iPhone and Apple TV has dropped the complaint, raising the possibility that he's reached a settlement with the digital media company.

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Court records show that Louis Psihoyos withdrew his copyright lawsuit against Apple in early October and that the case has since been dismissed "with prejudice" -- a legal term meaning the lawsuit can't be re-filed.

Attorneys often agree to withdraw a case with prejudice following a settlement. Psihoyos said in an e-mail Monday that he wouldn't comment on the case
As someone who may or may not have signed a settlement agreement in the past, which would preclude me, or the other party from discussing the settlement terms, or that there even was a settlement, Information Week probably has got it right here.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Safety In Numbers

Babel was a city like no other. A city where people were unified and spoke the same language, in ancient times, a city with a tower. The Tower of Babel. The story goes that the city's occupants were cast to the wind, forced to use a fabled 72 languages, confusing all who tried to communicate with one another.

Since then, series like Star Trek have had devices like the Universal translator, and in fact, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it was the Babel Fish that provided universal translation.

The US has standardized our currency, so that we all deal in dollars, to avoid possible unknown, or illegal alternative currencies. One well known foreign currency was that issued during the civil war, called Confederate States of America Currency, as shown here.

Private industry too has standardized. How, for example, do you describe pink? Is it pink skin, pink like a pig, pink like bubble gum? Is what you see as pink on your monitor and approve to have 10,000,000 widgets made the same pink that I see on my monitor? If not, who's going to cover the costs to remake the widgets when you're not happy? Pantone provided a solution, and now every designer, print shop, ink maker, and so on all operate based upon a specific Pantone #. The Pantone # I was thinking of when I said "Pink", by the way, was Pantone 1767. (adding the "C" means that the color is one coated with a finish.)

How about us photographers? Can we standardize what we do?

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Yes, but wait a minute, this next one's really good.

In order to save your life, the American Medical Association has created what are called CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) and HCPCS (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System), so that when a doctor orders a Platelet Count or a Hemoglobin count, they use a series of numbers. The HCPCS codes are standardized by the US Department of Health & Human Services here, and the CPT codes are standardized by the AMA here. When your doctor places a check in the box next to "005249", the nurse knows what test to order, the lab knows what test to perform, doctor's billing department knows how much to bill, and the insurance company knows that they are paying for a Platelet count, and not a Hemoglobin test (which would be 005041 by the way).

Thus, no more mistaken tests, re-drawn blood (ouch!) because of an error, or a positive returned for high cholesterol which is seen as a positive for low white cell count. This is real life here.

So, where am I going with all this? Yes, there is safety in numbers, and a standardized system for licensing your creative works, it's called the PLUS System, and it's FREE. I interviewed the CEO of PLUS, Jeff Sedlik in a a video here at this past year's PhotoPlus Expo, and there's a great example I wrote about in Detailing Understandable Rights Packages - Editorial Covers back in August. I even wrote more about them back in April - PLUS + You + Client = Clarity and Understanding.

Check out PLUS's description of these terms and the accompanying PGID number: Collateral; or the variety of clarity needed for packaging; the ambiguity of the word advertising; and the misnomer that is advertorial.

What about the client who demands "all rights"? How can you placate that request? Try granting them (with the appropriate fees):
PLUS (Rights Ready) Packs
All Commercial Use (PRCU)
Use in any medium intended for advertising and other commercial or promotional purposes.
Be sure to specify: Duration, Region, Region Constraints, PLUS Industry, End User, Product or Service Name, License Start Date
Back in the magazine sample, I have a sample license written out with the PLUS language in it.

While using PLUS codes may not be as life-saving as HCPCS codes, they will save you (and your client) a world of misunderstandings when it comes to who can do what with your photographs.

Thus, there is safety in numbers (and standardization).

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Speedlink - 12/4/07 - Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III Review

This one's worth it's own speedlink -

Now go! Check 'it out, and when you're ready to buy, click THIS LINK to get one from Adorama, or maybe you want to get a D3 from them? Click HERE to get a D3, and support the blog, it won't cost you any more!
(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Nikon: Getting it Wrong (again)

If you told me that George Bush was becoming a Democrat, or that Joe Gibbs was becoming the Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, or that Bill Gates secretly used a Mac in his office, I would be less surprised than the recent news that Nikon Professional Services genius Scott Andrews is leaving Nikon to work for Canon.

(For those of you who know Scott, I know that that thud was the sound of your jaw hitting the floor.)

What could Nikon possibly do to fail to keep Scott on-board? For decades Scott has been Nikon's go-to guy in Washington, and, to be honest, around the nation for high profile events. From the OJ Simpson trial, where Scott got remote cameras working to get images out of the court room, to countless NASA shuttle flights where Scott's images documented, and facilitated the documentation by every other news outlet, to every inauguration I've covered, Scott's technical know-how has been the driving (and supportive) force behind many a major news event. below is Scott's handi-work ensuring that over 100 cameras all are pointed towards the podium to capture the swearing in of the President. All are rigged to a single box, all are set according to the photographer's lens and camera choice, and this wouldn't be possible without Scott's know-how.

When the news made it to me today that Scott, as of last week, was no longer with Nikon, I thought for sure he'd gone out on his own, or gone to work in the technical section of the photo department of National Geographic. When I heard he was to begin working for Canon, I didn't know what to think.

(Continued after the Jump)

I have been critical of Nikon's leadership in the past, to be sure. The failures of the D2x and the inaccuracies about that camera's noise was what caused me to shelve my Nikons, and purchase a Canon system. Recently, I was excited about the D3's impending arrival (Nikon D3 Spotted in the Wild, 10/31/07), because I had purchased one (They've Been Ordered, 9/3/07) and I looked forward to dusting off my trusty Nikon lenses. Then that excitement was dimmed by Nikon's promotion of an extremely poor business practice - shooting on spec, in their magazine. (Even When Nikon Gets It Right, They Figure Out a Way to Get it Wrong, 11/27/07).

Now, again, I can't imagine what Nikon did, or didn't do, to cause this cataclysmic shift in the photo world. I can't think that Canon finally decided to throw an ungodly sum of money at Scott, because, aside from the likelihood that they can't do that, Scott's not for sale. Scott has always been 100% truthful and straightforward with photographers about cameras - brands of all types - and their strengths and weaknesses. I am certain that Scott will bring back lost glory of Canon's days-gone-by to Washington, but what the hell is Nikon thinking (or doing) that created this situation? How can they get one more thing wrong when they are on the verge of getting a camera right for a change?

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Separate But Not Equal?

When does the creative/usage fees a photographer recieves of $4,130 not equal a creative fee of $1,650 + and a licensing fee of $2,480?

You might say, "John, I remember second grade math, and they're the same."

There is a debate that rages over this subject. There are valuable points to be made about the risks that accompany separating out the creative fee from your licensing fee, and there are many cases where doing so is a bad idea.

That said, there are many cases where having them combined is the right solution.

What's that you say? Can't you just make one size fit all?

(Continued after the Jump)

Nope. Doesn't work that way.

Even when I say "banish the day rate", I say that in reference to editorial and corporate/commercial work. It just is a bad bad approach. However, if you're a photographer shooting on-camera flash at an all day symposium, billing out at $150 an hour, where that rate is with a minimum of X hours, is appropriate, and also includes not just your actual on-site time, as well as your creativity, but also the client's usage fee for those images. Some people might get $200/hr, some $250/hr, and I know more than enough that only charge $75/hr. All of these are plus expenses/post production, and so forth.

When you're doing a highly stylized production shoot, where, while it was just one day of principle photography, it was a lot of other time spent tech scouting, pre-production scouting, conference calls, and client meetings, wrapping all the fees together is appropriate.

When you're doing a product shot on white seamless, where you're applying your creative vision to making it more than "just a product on white seamless", this is one case where separating them out makes more sense. You list your creative fee at, say, $1,800 for the shoot, where the final deliverable is one licensed image, and then $12,000 for a licensing package that extends over two years. Why? Because if the fee is wrapped up all together, the end client will look at your paperwork and say "I'm not paying $13,800 for a photographer to take one photo for me...", and you may well lose the assignment. However,
when you break it apart, and it says "$1,800 creative fee" and "$12,000 licensing package, as outlined below for two years", the end client can look at that and see the breakdown. This can help them understand what they're paying for, and that you're not a $13,800 "a day" photographer, for one days' work, but rather, you're an $1,800 "a day" for the photographer and a $12,000 "for two years" licensor.

I encounter clients all the time that need explanations about the difference. Further, I know of many photographers - top tier as well as mid-level, who go through this. Often, it's the end client who needs the explanation more than the middle-person (whether firm, or agency), and their having to explain it to their client is not as good as it's being done already.

Wish it were not the case, but photographers/reps/etc find ourselves an inordinate amount of the time having to explain rights to clients, more than we'd like. We appreciate when clients don't need that explanation, that someone else has done the hard work already.

When you're dealing with an agency that licenses music, footage, high profile talent, and so forth, you almost never have to explain it. In fact, if you're not careful, and you do begin to explain it, the prospective client will be thinking "what am I, stupid?" and you're off on the wrong foot.

When you have an ongoing relationship with a client, and you know how they prefer to receive estimates, you follow their protocol (in other words, meet their needs as well as meeting your own), but that is based upon an ongoing relationship. In fact, in once instance for example, where I was estimating a job for a major agency, that was in excess of $10k, I had put the creative and licensing fees together, as one, and the art buyer called and asked for a break-out of the two. I was happy to provide that to her, and it resulted not only in my being awarded the job, but I've done 11 other comparable jobs for them over the last 2 1/2 years for the campaign to date, and I am scheduled to do four more before June. So far, 12 assignments for a major agency have netted me in excess of $120k, because I did it the way the AB asked me to, and it is a wonderful, ongoing relationship.

EVERY SINGLE TIME I have an opportunity to explain to a prospective client how things work vis-a-vis licensing and fees, I welcome it, because as I explain it, I become a resource/knowledge-base for them, and they often then become an ongoing client. In fact, my studio manager and post production manager listen intently as I explain these things to folks who call, and when I get off the phone, I usually can tell if I'm getting the assignment, or not. They like to hear that I still have to do it, and they sometimes will listen on another extension in the office because I want them to become as adept as explaining it as they can, so they can help me in a pinch, and will be better positioned to do it themselves when they leave to go out on their own.

Further, and most importantly, you must be prepared to work through the numbers above the Total line so that they work for the client and the client's client. If you're not, you're risking losing the entire job because you won't shuffle the numbers around. I've had clients who have said "you can't line-item an assistant's airfare, but you can roll that into excess baggage charges...", or "I need you to break out hair, makeup and stylist. I know they're all the same person for this shoot, but I can explain it easier to the client if they don't see a $2,600 hair/makeup/stylist charge for a one day shoot for one person.
If you break it up, as hair - $350, Makeup - $350, Stylist Shop/Present/On Set/Returns - $1,900, I can better explain that to the client". Lastly, When a prospective client says they want a $15,000 figure broken into creative fees and licensing fees, I'm going to do that. It may call for some further explanation, and I may break it into other fees that previously weren't separately listed - like Pre-Production/Location Scout/Tech Scout/Permitting Services/Set Build/Set Strike, but I'm not going to lose a job with a bottom line I am comfortable with because I wouldn't re-work the above-the-line numbers.

A mechanic's tool chest has many drawers. a 13mm socket also works (sort of) on a 1/2" nut. A crescent wrench isn't as good a plumbers' monkey wrench, which then again may be better accomplished using a fixed-size wrench. Knowing which tool is the right one for the job is why there's a difference between a journeyman mechanic and a master mechanic. In the end, the repair work done, but it's having the right tools at your disposal to get from start to finish in the best way possible.

Knowing which methodology you prefer, and how you can work to accommodate client requests is a matter of experience. Knowing that you should do what you can to accommodate client requests is a no brainer. Asking the client questions - like "is this a bid or an estimate", and "is this assignment going to be awarded on price, or are there other factors like style and approach that are more important" will be helpful.

In the end, send along the estimate, and follow up to confirm they've received it. Ensure them that if they have any questions, or require further explanation about an item, that you are more than happy to explain it to them. When you're dealing with someone experienced, and who can explain it to their clients, you won't get any calls. When you're dealing with someone who's never hired a photographer before, you'll get calls. Take that as an opportunity to help this client so that they feel you are helpful and willing to be of assistance. I know of far to many cubicle-jockeys with creative talent that did not understand the need to be responsive to client needs and deliver first rate customer service.

If as a photographer you remain rock-solid in your insistence on keeping the figures together when the bottom line figures do not change, and you will just never separate them, that's somewhat problematic, from my perspective, especially if, as a result, clients just opt not to call you/your photographers. Just as we negotiate things like terms (net 30, 50/50, 2/10 net 30, and so forth) as well as credit line placement (or lack thereof), exclusivity, and the many other myriad of issues that are a part of a negotiation, so too do we negotiate other issues as well, and that can include things like separate/together for the fees.

A step in the wrong direction would be to lose the job because you didn't know what to do, or were inflexible/unresponsive. There are many steps in the right direction, there isn't just one right direction.

Note: This post is a compilation and slight edit (for continuity) of two messages I made on an ASMP listserv. Since the content above is mine alone (i.e. it's what I wrote, and not someone elses' writings), I am presenting it here as well.

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