Monday, December 15, 2008
This postulates what the future might be - the rise of FX bodies in the same manner as recent DX models. Instead of a new D60 or D90, we should see the D600 and D900 - FX models created to fill a price point with the continuing feature sets Nikon develops for new cameras. Honestly, I would go bonkers if a D700 base model was developed for under $2000. Would I buy another DX model if it were? Maybe - maybe not...
Our glass collection is the major factor. Obviously. So we need to decide if it's time to reconfigure our kits while these lenses still have any value. Many are problematic. Some are classics. The bottom line of cost over time is more important. Personally, I've spent as much on lesser lenses as I could have on pro glass - and I'm not proud of it. For economic reasons, Nikon isn't overly interested in adding top level performance or extreme focal ranges for DX optics. This presents limitations to the DX lineup as well.
Therefore, I'm moving forward to FX glass - first for the quality and secondly for some longevity as FX rises into the mainstream. The typical DX customer isn't looking for premium glass but will spend an equal amount over time trading up to better versions.
Which one are you? Time will tell...
Therefore, my strategy for purchasing lenses has changed for the better - pro glass to be more specific. With FX bodies on the rise, I expect to be shooting in that format within a year or two, so it was decisionmaking time regarding any new glass I would acquire. As a result, I have added two of the best zooms Nikon makes to my stable while shedding a handful of older DX and AI samples. They will perform beautifully on my current D300 and D40 DX bodies until I begin to acquire an FX body.
D200 with 14-24/2.8 Nikkor
A few 'for sale' posts were setup in photography forums this month to sell off my 18-70 Nikkor, 10-20 Sigma, a 35/2 AI Nikkor and an even older 135/28 AI'd Q Nikkor. (I've already liquidated other older lenses like the 180/2.8 AI, 70-300 ED and several pre-AF-S DX consumer zooms.) These recent sales netted me half the cash needed to finance my latest pro zoom, the new 14-24/2.8 G ED AF-S IF Nikkor. (When I realized the cost difference of just $300 between it and the otherwise excellent 17-55/2.8 DX Nikkor, it was a no-brainer.) As a new standard in superwide performance, this FX design effectively obsoletes the 14mm Nikkor prime, making this pro zoom a valid substitiute for all previous designs. Combined with the new 24-70/2.8 VR and 70-200/2.8 VR models, you have a full range of focal lengths that offer excellent wide open performance, high AF speed and top optical results under any circumstances.
This decision came on the heels of my first pro glass buy earlier this year - the 70-200/2.8G ED AF-S IF VR Nikkor - likely the most popular and first pro glass choice by most amateur/semipro shooters. Everyone seems to have one. Nothing prepared me for the image and build quality of this classic midrange tele. VR technology enables handheld or monopod shooting for much greater flexibility and response to imaging opportunities. And the wide open performance extends the use of lower ISO's under lower light levels. To my surprise, it also works beautifully with my $125 Kenko 1.4 Pro Teleconverter producing perfectly sharp images while retaining all lens functions.
This trend toward FX-ready optics is being followed by many forum participants who have run the course of prosumer glass and are also looking to the future now in their lens choices. If you never intend to graduate to an FX body, this is not necessary for producing excellent images - Nikon makes a number of DX zooms worthy of your attention. Several I like include the 17-55, 16-85 VR , and 70-300 VR. Although optically slower and offering lower performance wide open, they are more than sufficient for well lit subjects and flash photography.
Make no mistake - FX pro glass is an investment and any choices should be made with more care than we may have used with our DX choices. But each one is also a keeper - prized optics that will serve for a lifetime as we move into the FX format and offer a greater return over time.
10.5/2.8 Fisheye Nikkor
In addition to adding these two jewels to my kit, I became enamored with Nikon's 10.5/2.8G ED AF-D DX Fisheye Nikkor - a fullframe design with speed and sharpness to boot. Fortunately, I managed to acquire a perfect, used sample for 2/3 of the retail cost, making my potentially last DX lens purchase even sweeter. Presenting a whole new perspective on composition, I spent an exploratory afternoon shooting in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, which you can view here: A Fisheye View of Knoxville.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
For those who have owned a 100% viewfinder camera, you know what I'm talking about. For the rest, what you don't know hasn't hurt you. Until now. An interesting comparison of the D700, D300, D200 and D40 viewfinder might influence your next purchase simply based on this spec. We spend so much time looking through these devices, I thought it was one of the more critical areas of concern. What do you think?
Viewfinder: SLR-type with fixed eye-level pentaprism
Diopter Adjustment: -3 to +1 m-1
Eyepoint: 18 mm (-1.0 m-1)
Focusing Screen: Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI screen with superimposed AF points and framing grid lines
Frame Coverage: Approx. 95% (vertical/horizontal)
Magnification: Approx. 0.72x (50mm f/1.4 lens at infinity; -1.0 m-1)
Viewfiner: SLR Type, fixed eye-level Pentaprism type; built-in diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0 m-1)
Eyepoint: 19.5mm (-1.0m-1)
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 100% (vertical and horizontal)
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.94x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0m-1
The differences are obvious. Now compare this info with the lower end D40 body viewfinder specs.
Viewfinder: Fixed-eyelevel penta-Dach-mirror type; built-in diopter adjustment (-1.6 to +0.5m -1)
Eyepoint: 18 mm (-1.0 m -1)
Focusing Screen: Type-B BriteView Clear Matte screen Mark V with superimposed focus brackets
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.8x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0m-1
Why, even the D200 outperforms the D700 handily - its specs can be considered a minimum performance for a pro level camera:
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Eyepoint: 19.5
Magnification: 0.94x with 50mm lens at infinity
Very interesting. A new $3000 body has less magnification and the identical eyepoint of a $400 Nikon body. When it comes to a key feature for any camera - looking through it - we need to remain aware of Nikon's efforts to consumerize camera design when price advantages translate into feature compromises. This is a more drastic one considering the D700's price tag, IMHO. Am I to expect the view within the D700 to be similar to that of a D40? (I have a D40 and use it less and less due to its squinty viewfinder experience compared to the D300. It's basically a backup body at this point.)
This was also one of the reasons I opted to buy the D300 - viewfinder performance is a pro level 100% with a .94X magnification - and, believe me, you can see the difference. Bright, open and easy on the eyes, you can practically 'look around' the image and study it during composition. Owning a pro level Nikon has always been a dream for me, and the D300 has made it come true as it continues to be the most unique offering in the Nikon lineup today - for now. 'Priced to sell out' is how B&H is describing the D300 - and Adorama no longer has any new stock for sale. The writing is on the wall. At $1624 on the street, it represents a bargain in what Nikon calls their "compact professional DSLR". No other currently available Nikon DSLR has a 100% viewfinder but the D3. In view of the foregoing comparison, doesn't that scare you just a bit?
If you've read this far, you will appreciate the following information published at Luminous Landscape on the viewfinder - "the single most important user interface on any camera". Their advice clearly steers us toward the better viewfinders of the D200, D300 and D3 specs for pro level cameras. The D700 is underqualified for its price point. Buyer beware...
Saturday, July 26, 2008
It's been coming for a while and now I see it's the only way I can go. I've no time to think, little time to compose, and the situation is never going to change. It's time dated. Short lived. Measured in minutes - not hours. Nothing can be repeated. Nobody waits for you. You work with what you have and must always be ready - until it's over.
What kind of situation is this?! Job interview? Tax audit? Oh, no - I'm talking about wedding photography!
Every location is new. Every customer is different. Every group of people is unpredictable. All of this is designed to test your preparedness and nerves, not to mention your manners.
Being in control of yourself is the key to success. The ceremony is predictable - cover every minute, literally. Shoot until people start looking at you funny. The family/friends group shots are cut and dried - you're in charge and they will turn out fine. But catching people in their most natural state and making good images of them can be two different things. (She's ugly. He doesn't smile. Will someone check their pulse, please?)
So, you put on the charm and coax them into a romantic mood with promises of fabulous photos for their efforts. If they believe you, there's a chance you'll get some shots even you will like. If not, they can't say you didn't try. Usually, something good happens and if you apply one of the aforementioned dictums, you will have a decent shot of even the worst subjects.
Are they all like that? Not at all. When the mood is festive, the location is engaging, and people are ready for the event, it can be a fantastic experience. But the rules don't change and you gotta come home with the goods. So, shooting voraciously is de rigeur. Don't stop and enjoy the moment - shoot it!
But more truly is better - a more picturesque location begs for creative coverage. Well dressed people are portrait practice potential. Attractive rooms become interior design challenges to show off the wedding decor. Late afternoon sun, the swimming pool, the dinner tent - each adds extra dimensions to what you can record - so do it quickly! Time is running out! Light is fading - people are moving. You are the only constant in this human drama. You're not there for the same reason they are. They will want to see this day again - and that's why they hired you.
Taking advantage of creative timeframes is a luxury. Most couples don't spend all day getting married like they use to. You get 3-5 hours to perform your miracles of modern photography and what you can cram in that space in time is all you get to work with. So revel in the opportunities to shoot in a garden after the ceremony and before the reception takes control of your time. Build in a half hour at a guaranteed location that will deliver cool personal images. You'll make a bigger fee, sure, but you'll feel even better for the images you gained.
All this is wrapped up in wedding photography - and it is a blast. You perspire. You improvise. You cajole the kids and compliment the bride's mother. All to get that elusive image that turns you on. Your images will tell the tale. You are a wedding photographer!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Moral of the Story During camera exposure, push that histogram as far to the right as possible and don't delete those blown files until you've checked them out in LR - even a couple of stops of overexposure can be corrected on many shots.
PS I've also made it a practice to move the Recovery and Blacks sliders to adjust exposure - then adjust Fill if needed. With big corrections, the Exposure slider can tend to reduce saturation and contrast and complicate the process. Also, the Auto button often adds excessive Black values in the shadows portion of the histogram. This worries me as I prep for printmaking, so I manually adjust Black levels to just touch the left side of the histogram to retain maximum detail in dark areas.
Monday, July 21, 2008
DSLR D300 w/ 16-85/3.5-5.6 VRII
Flash SB-800 Speedlight
ISO's 1800 + 6400
6400 ISO @ 1/1000 f5.6 w/ +100 Sharpening (Amount, Radius, Detail), +100 Luminance NR
Produced a very cool grainy effect and revealed decent image detail...
1800 ISO @ 1/1000 f5 w/ +100 Blacks, +100 Clarity, -100 Vibrance,
High contrast and color shift adds a different look...
The D300 and SB-800 work beautifully together in creating images from 1800 to 6400 ISO's - add FP flash and you have a powerful nighttime image machine at close quarters.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
On this three-hour assignment, I shot 703 RAW images at an outdoor wedding in sunny 96-degree weather. Here's what I used and how I did it:
Location Outdoors (backyard wedding)
Lighting Direct sun > open shade > late afternoon cross lighting
DSLR D300 w/ MB-D10 Grip
Lens 16-85/3.5-5.6 AF-S VRII
S Mode set to 1/250th
AF Mode AF-S and AF-C (as needed)
Apertures varied from f5.6 - f6.3 (with flash)
Auto ISO activated (never left base ISO with SB-800 in use)
D-Lighting Normal level
Matrix Metering used in shaded areas (with no sky in the frame)
Spot Metering for bright and mixed lighting scenes
SB-800 iTTL and set as fill on D300
Initially set to ISO 200, I later moved the base ISO to 400 to get a smaller aperture, but that was about it. Shot in S mode with the shutter pegged at 1/250th with fill flash selected and the SB-800 picked the apertures - between 5.6 and 6.3 for the most part, but I didn't really pay any attention since the 16-85 has already proven to me that it can and critical even shoot wide open very well. Made a few adjustments along the way to soften the fill flash, etc. but generally kept an eye on the histograms and worked toward an ideal exposure for each frame.
I'm more impressed with the D300/SB-800 combi than the last time I did a wedding - mainly cuz I know more of what I'm doing! Used to freak a little when shooting in direct sunlight, but now I just don't worry about it. I find the right level of fill (via the histograms mostly) and spent very little time dealing with the camera at all - just shot, chimped and went back to shooting. Even as late afternoon cross lighting began to appear, I did nothing else to control exposure - the D300 and SB-800 did just fine on their own.
AF was sufficiently quick - quicker really in AF-C cuz it doesn't have to confirm focus before firing. In 96-degree weather, I discovered the NiMH batts get incredibly hot when I do my changeout after the ceremony. They performed beautifully, though, with frequent bursts at close range and a keeper image each time. A second set of NiMH's carries me through the reception with no problems. The MB-D10 battery power never really dipped with no power load on the body but basic shooting functions - the vertical release was a welcome addition.
I'll adjust final exposure, contrast and saturation in Lightroom where the fabulous Synch feature allows for rapid processing of these adjustments to every image group, as well as creative effects along the way for some variety.
All in all, a much more comfortable experience than ever. The setting left a lot to be desired - open yard with little or no gardens and trees. Background mountain scenery was awesome but not terribly useable where we were shooting. Still, a technically successful shoot and one that left me looking forward to the next one with greater confidence and appreciation for all things Nikon.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Situation You're covering an outdoor event on a sunny day (or a high contrast stage lighting environment) where lighting is different everywhere you turn. The dynamic range of the scenes is often far beyond our sensors ability to record easily. We need need intuitive camera control!
Problem We've got our favorite mode in place - A, S , P or even Manual. Spot metering is isolating our subject for accurate exposures. AF is in Continuous Mode with Tracking Lock-on activated. iTTL flash is at the ready to add fill and, eventually, become our main light source. Seems like we're in control, but as the lighting changes and the day draws on bringing afternoon shadows... keeping an accurate exposure is a dizzying accomplishment. Then, as light fades, the flash ceases to expose adequately, so we raise the ISO manually. Later, we resort to exposure compensation dialing. Then flash compensation dialing. Shutter speeds slow and apertures widen - creating mental fatigue which is robbing us of enthusiasm and creativity. What to do?
Solution Enter Auto ISO - champion of automated camera control! With one swift switch, we have continuously automated adjustment of all the aforementioned areas. Set to run from a 1/8th shutter speed and up to the top ISO available, our camera will now follow our lead obediently. Watch it work...
Set up in Program, A, or S mode, as light increases Auto ISO lowers sensor speeds, shutter speeds increase and flash output fills automatically. As light dims, Program mode will to respect our need to use handheld settings, while A and S modes adjust their respective variables to suit the situation. In the background, ISO moves up or down to maintain these desired camera operations.
In A or S mode, we can hold onto our desired f-stop or shutter speed as ISO moves around for us - but this is a bit less flexible in realtime use as you push ISO's up more quickly at f8 or a 1/250th shutter speed. Good lenses shoot well more side open and VR optics give us easy handheld capability in the 1/25th range - this will really extend Auto ISO's contribution.
Ingeniously, as light diminishes, Auto ISO coordinates usable settings with Nikon's superb iTTL flash adding more output to illuminate the scene as needed - going from fill to main when the need arises. Recycle times will be affected more by our default f-stop or shutter speed, so haggle out a workable combination of shooting at f4.5 or 1/25th and Auto ISO will take up the slack nicely.
For the most part the camera is now self-running - very cool. The other side of Auto ISO is proficient postprocessing. Top end DSLR's (D2x, D200, D300, D3) will handle noise fairly almost to their ISO limits. Midrange DSLR shooters (D40, D40x, D50, D70, D60, D80) will need to avoids excessively high ISO's to keep images from breaking up on the computer - set your ISO limit to around 1600 to be safe.
With Auto ISO, we can extend the range of useful operation in any situation until we either run out of recordable ambient light or available flash power. I prefer to use S mode to maintain handheld shutter speeds during a wedding or even casual snapshooting. you can create your own strategy based on shooting preferences you practiced over the years. Any way you do it, Auto ISO givs you greater control of fast moving, action-packed shooting... use it!
Monday, July 14, 2008
Let's start by repeating once again that underexposure is a major faux pas, and that it introduces noise immediately in underexposed (I prefer to call them unexposed) areas. Routinely overexposing at 1/3 of a stop is the right way to go with plenty of recoverable highlight data available in today's RAW files. Well-lit subjects (sports, birds, etc.) in particular won't suffer from noise like those dimly lit artistic shots taken at twilight. So use of higher ISO's shouldn't be an issue until there isn't enough light - ambient or artificial. (Sports shooters have been going this route for a long time, and with the advent of the D3 are pushing this envelope even further!)
Tests done on the D300 against its competitors reveal a tremendous high ISO performance in properly exposed images with half the noise of Nikon's previous top DX models. Do your own tests to discover this advancement - preferably with flash for maximum color saturation and proper contrast levels.
My initial test results below are RAW images taken with my new 16-85/3.5-5.6 VR Nikkor and the D300's built-in flash for a full histogram of data. The D300 was set with NR Off and images were saved as 800-pixel JPGs at the 100% Quality setting. (These are 350k+ images, so download 'em and take a closer look on your own screen.)
First, an unedited 200 ISO image...
Then, unedited 800/1600 ISO images and their counterparts with 100% Luminance NR applied in Lightroom to fully impact the image for noise reduction.
800 ISO w/ 100% Luminance NR
1600 ISO w/ 100% Luminance NR
On my monitor, even at 1600 ISO, image quality is simply superb - excellent tonal range and fine detail is very well maintained. For any use other than stock photo submissions or extreme enlargement, you will get excellent results from 8X10 size prints to litho reproduction in brochures and magazines at the 800 and 1600 ISO settings.
Well, there you have it - no need to make a lot of noise over the D300. It is the 'quietest' DX camera available and designed to handle high ISO's very smoothly. Next, we'll be exploring the advantages of the Auto ISO feature for the most flexible shooting technique ever developed by Nikon. Stay tuned...
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Lowering links (aka dogbones) change up the geometry of the rear wheel via the pivoting shock mount arm that connects the rear monoshock to the frame. I know, it doesn't make sense to read this so just take a look under your bike and you'll see what's involved. The monoshock is attached to a alloy casting that articulates the monoshock while pivoting on the frame itself. Two flat metal 'dogbones' determine the overall height of the ride based on their overall length. Lengthening the links shortens the frame height, which lowers the bike. It's really just that simple. More than a 3/4" lowering will significantly change this bike's handling and road clearances, so make sure you need more drop before you start messin' around with this important aspect on your V-Strom. This is strictly an at-your-own-risk modification for mechanically-inclined bike owners, so if something isn't clear to you - don't do it!
Didn't know if the cheaper aluminum lowering links that sell for $17 on eBay would be stout enough to replace the steel OEM parts, so I went for a Kevin Baker's nicely finished steel lowering links ($44 shipped) and won't have to worry about it. Murph's mailed 'em out ASAP and they were waiting for me when I returned from a 10-day work week in Missouri.
Rear Suspension Links
Installation is pretty simple - remove two nut (17mm) and bolt (14mm) assemblies and changeout OEM dogbones with the KB's. You will need to create 5-6" of swingarm lift to get the bottom bolt on the KB dogbone started in the shock arm - I employed a square-edged shovel under the limp rear tire to leverage the swingarm up. Wasn't the swiftest approach but in a one-man situation it did the trick. A block and 2X4 would be the simplest way to do it but you'll figure something out when you get to that point. Regreasing the shock arm bearings and putting some blue removable LockTight on the link mounting nuts are two more smart details in this part changeout. Other than that it's a cakewalk...
To complement the geometry change in the rear suspension, a drop of the tripletree in the front forks is needed. This is even easier - just loosen the three 10mm bolts on each side and retighten finger tight. Take a rubber hammer and firmly strike the middle portion of the handlebars to slowly move the top tripletree downward. Establish a visual starting point of the shock tubes and stop when you get to within 5/8"-3/4" of the shock tube showing above the tripletree. DO NOT exceed 3/4" or you risk slamming the top of the shock tube into the lower tripletree!! Take your time, hammer and measure frequently, and it'll go very smoothly. Tighten all the 10mm bolts up as tight as you can get them by hand.
So, what's it like to ride 3/4" lower on a Wee? Awesome! At 5'10" with a 32" inseam, I can easily prop this beast up at a redlight now for safer braking to a standstill and takeoffs in traffic. With the CG (center of gravity) closer to the ground, there's no more tipsy balancing act on uneven surfaces. No more nervous slow speed maneuvers and turnarounds. Clearance is more than adequate for the street and the center stand and kickstand continue to operate just fine too - a greater drop than this will necessitate mods that you won't want to have to make.
On the road, the Wee is starting to handle more like a sportbike! Not quite an SV clone, of course, but it's a much more manageable adventure touring setup than what came out of the factory.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
16-85/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX Nikkor
Nikon's newest prosumer zoom - the 5.3X Nikkor 16-85/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR - is an appealing wide angle to short tele design that will fit many shooters needs. A more useful range at each end has been added to overcome the limits of the 18-70 and 24-120 DX models. Unsatisfactory performance has plagued both the 18-135 and 18-200 kit lens offerings from Nikon with numerous comments from users that are moving to pro glass as a result. Will the 16-85 keep the average Nikon afficianado happy or not? Preliminary reviews show a decent performance for daylight shooters - will semipros and serious amateurs feel the same way? Time will tell...
Overall, I get a positive impression from the construct of the 16-85. Apparently built out of the same plastics as the 18-70 and 24-120, it exudes a quality feel with smooth turning rings and clean finish. The zoom ring has an obvious friction (my preference) with no sag or slop in the telescoping lens components. The focus ring is smooth and well damped. A thin, vertically oriented rubber gasket encircles the lens mount gap when mounted on camera. More of a 'flap' than the type of gasket you would find on your car's oil filter, it keeps dust out of the mirror box but is itself exposed and deserves a little care to avoid damage.
The peculiarities of the new Nikkor are not significant but worth knowing:
- The AF-ON switch will not activate the VR - partially depressing the shutter release is needed for focusing.
- Turn the camera off before detaching or attaching any VRII lens
- VR will not be available on cameras with built-in flash while it is recharging.
- Do not operate in the presence of flammable gases or with wet hands.
How does the 16-85 feel? On my D300 body, the 17-ounce optic falls right in place with the zoom ring at a comfortable distance that does not require moving your palm away from the edge of the camera body for handholding (I seldom use the manual focus ring but its right there close to the body and out of the way for steady AF use). It's the same width as the 18-70 and a tad shorter than the 24-120. It takes on an almost weightlessness when added to my D300 with the MB-D10 grip attached.
Test images taken in my office confirmed that the 16-85's AF-S snapped into focus consistently even in low room light with indistinct subjects - even at the wide open f5.6 aperture at the 85mm focal length. Accuracy is also excellent with no errors on the camera's part in my test images. This unit should keep up just fine in general action situations - high speed sports or other scenarios will likely need to be well lit for optimum performance.
This feature is very subjective since time is needed to establish image stability in each shot and then decide when to release the shutter. My initial experience with the 24-120 VR is improved noticeably with this optic and I expect to get better as I use VR more often - but it is a voodoo hat trick in my book and everyone will have a different take on it. I like it and am becoming more dependent on VR to get a sharp image.
VR draws its current from the body power source, so carry spare batts in steady use - neither me or Nikon have any idea how long the camera can support using VR at the track or during events you'd employ it for. You gain an almost unlimited power supply when adding the MB-D10 grip to your D300, which includes longer shoot time using the popup flash as well.
Initial images gave me this impression- we've got another winner!
CA is minimal by f4 - still present at f8
Image edges are very good by f4
Overall image is very good at f4 & gets better at f5.6
Obvious field curvature
Detail at infinity very good at f3.5
No CA 'wide open' at f4.5
Image edges are very good at f4.5
No CA 'wide open' at f5
Very ittle degradation at f22
Some CA wide open at f5.6
Image edges are very good at f5.6
No CA wide open at f5.6
Image edges are fairly good at f5.6
Taken as a whole, the 16-86 VR is a very well controlled lens, including above average wide open performance at all focal lengths - with truly good images just above 16mm especially. One stop down from wide open is all it took to bring images into a very good rating and just another stop to give great overall performance (according to 1:1 previews in Lightroom). Typical optical compromises in the 16-85 have allowed some visible CA and obvious distortion - still, Nikon is making real progress in this price category, which drew one reviewer to think that a 17-55 pro glass buy might be wasted money.
While the $600 street price point might be a stretch for some, the 16-85 is money well spent in spite of its slow lens speed if you factor in the wide to short tele focal range and VRII features. My lovable 18-70 has now been transferred to the D40 body and the 16-85 is the new 'normal' zoom on my D300.
Monday, May 26, 2008
It's not too complicated to see how much the cost of your next fuel-saving vehicles will impact your gas bill. Fuel mileage is taking centerstage faster and faster nowadays and the money spent on better MPG's will more quickly outpace the time it takes to offset a car's price tag.
Using a 15,000 average miles driven per year and a soon-to-be $4 per gallon gas price, see how quickly fuel costs outpace the price differences of your car.
24 MPG Vehicles
625 gallons per year X $4 per gallon = $2500
Monthly Fuel Cost: $208
35 MPG Vehicles
428.5 gallons per year X $4 per gallon = $1714
Monthly Fuel Cost: $142
At a more common 20,000 annual mileage average, the differences add up even faster:
24 MPG Vehicles
833 gallons per year X $4 per gallon = $3332
Monthly Fuel Cost: $277
35 MPG Vehicles
571 gallons per year X $4 per gallon = $2285
Monthly Fuel Cost: $190
Cost of ownership affects more than the monthly household budget. Cost is affected by length of ownership and operating costs accrued over that ownership period. The greatest economy can only be achieved when the cost of ownership is spread out over longest period of time. Trade-in and resale values will soon hold fewer advantages than in previous years when operation costs (purchase price, taxes, title and registration fees, financing interest, fuel, insurance, maintenance) were cheaper and permitted frequent changes in vehicle ownership.
Calculating total cost of ownership for your vehicle is sobering when fully considered. For example, a $15,000 vehicle comes with many costs. For example:
Purchase Price: $15000 + fees
Taxes: $1000+ per year
Insurance: $800-$1000 per year
Financing Interest: $400-$600 per year
Fuel: $1700 - $3300 per year ($2500 average @ $4 per gallon)
Maintenance: $250-$500 per year
Typical Cost of Ownership $600-$700 per month or $22 per day
The moral of this story is simple:
Drive as cheaply as possible - gas is just going to get more expensive.
Don't drive unless you have a reason - get organized to control this lifestyle cost.
Watch every contributing expense that affects cost of vehicle ownership - from checking insurance rates to keeping your tires properly inflated.
Slow down a bit and fill up less often.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
That little 2500cc water-cooled, six-speed conveyance defined what I still look for in quality two-wheeled transportation. Reliability first - performance and fun factor second. Every feature of that bike is still working except the problematic speedo assembly (I balked at a $100+ parts list to make another attempt to keep it working). And that's it. The tranny is shifting a little harder and the throttle is less snappy in its response, but the bike is more than drivable and relatively safe with its ancient disc brake and rear drums. Getting 85 mpg is a nice feeling, too.
Having owned 3 Hondas all told - a 1966 305 Super Hawk, a 1975 CB350, and the 1989 NX250 - my overall experience was very positive. Few if any breakdowns. No maintenance problems. And a couple of tumbles due to my foolhardy driving. For me, motorcycles are Hondas. Until now...
With a much lauded 2007 Suzuki DL 650A V-Strom, I have entered the midsize bike realm. For me, it is a whole new era of comfort and performance with a bike that can take me anywhere. Power and handling are first rate. ABS braking technology is a must-have now in my mind. And careful accessorizing has now turned my V-Strom into a capable adventure tourer. But reliability is still an issue. With just 6500 miles on it, the speedo is malfunctioning and an intermittent stall occurs when I come to stop. Some things never change... (we'll also see what kind of dealership experience is in store for this era too).
Will the Wee stand the test of time that the NX has managed to endure? Only time will tell in this new era of modern motorcycling - and I can only hope so....
Monday, March 31, 2008
As an adventure tourer/street/commuter all-purpose design, my 2007 Suzuki DL650A (ABS) V-Strom is a superb example of power and comfort for less than $7200 MSRP (due to hogh demand this figure could be potentially more in 2008 at some dealerships). It's also a class act in providing a versatile cycling experience encompassing both economy and performance. Capable of attaining mid-50 mpg fuel consumption, its 5.8 gallon tank can carry the conservative rider upwards of 250 mile on a single filling. At $3.40 per gallon (for now), a $19.72 87-octane fuel investment translates into an 8 cents per mile operating cost. (I used to get that scale of economy with my car - no more!)
Ride position/comfort and overall handling is above average for a bike of this price range and its popularity in the touring circles confirms its rightful place among much more costly models. A few more thousand dollars will transform the basic configuration into a worthy touring machine. Keeping it stock is all you will need for street/weekend and commuting purposes. Make what you want out it - the Wee will deliver!
Engine performance from the 650cc v-twin is steady and strong - its proven SV650-derivative powerplant has been tweaked and upgraded from the original design specifically for this model. Dependable and easily maintainable, you mostly get on it and ride. The six-speed gearbox is easy to use with many situations needing just a single downshift to add power or engine braking for turns and speed zones. My 2007 model is surprisingly buzzfree at any speed and grunts nicely during acceleration to let you know it doing its job. Low speed rolloffs in high gear are very doable around 3 grand, but I'll drop it down a cog or two to get the good stuff when I'm not lazy. The suspension is more than adequate for a non-aggressive driver like myself and easily upgraded if need be. I've found it to be fine for my 190 pounds plus gear. Skilled riding techniques will reap much of what this bike can do from the factory without pouring a lot more money into it.
In the handlebars department, the 'up and back' barbacks that came with mine helped my reach a lot - rotating them a tad brought my hand/wrist positioning into proper alignment and alleviated all of the initial discomfort. A pair of $9 Grip Puppies will further improve the grip experience and a set of $28 Symtec heated grips has extended the riding season as well. Handling is as good as you are - get to know this machine and you'll be happy with its response from milque toast puttering to pushing it in the curves. With it's lower torque and wide power band, Suzuki has done a remarkable job of transforming its sportbike SV cousin into a long distance newcomer.
The cable operated clutch on the DL650 is smooth and positive - especially after I disassembled, cleaned, relubricated and adjusted the clutch release mechanism. This procedure is covered in the manual as a worthwhile maintenance step to repeat for each riding season. Shifting is very solid and smooth - I haven't had any 'false neutrals' or anything else for that matter. After a few hours of operation, this is one area where you begin to sense the level of quality that's built into the V-Strom.
Adding a $128 Kevin Baker Fork Brace was also a smart move. Fork stability is clearly improved with this accessory in long sweeper turns, rough pavement and windy conditions.
What can I say about the ABS braking that hasn't already been expounded on thoroughly? ABS adds a whole new level of safety and is easily the most valuable feature on my Wee - immediate maximum brake power at any time with no dangerous side effects is worth the paltry extra $500 they ask for, in my opinion. Thanks to BMW's relentless brake development, tests have shown ABS to be consistently safer and more effective than any degree of manual braking techniques. Required as standard equipment on all Canadian units, the U.S. is being starved for ABS models with no expectations of seeing any in showrooms all year! As a result, finding a DL650A in the U.S. during 2008 has been difficult to impossible - while non-ABS models are commanding their highest prices to date. (So glad I snatched up my 2007 ABS Wee late last year - whodaknown?!)
I repositioned the rear brake pedal as far down as I could to cover the pedal more effectively in traffic. Also replaced the anemic factory rear brake pads with EBC's sintered HH-rated pads. I can now start to learn how to trail brake the rear wheel during turns like the big boys...
Also adjusted the gear shifter downwards quite a bit to get at it more easily and keep my left foot at the ready to downshift. Replacing the front stock sprocket with a 16-tooth OEM GXSR 600 front chain sprocket removed 300 rpms for a longer first/second shift pattern at takeoff and lower the engine speed on the highway.
Raising and angling the Windstrom windscreen from its stock position has smoothed out the airstream a good bit - more would be better. This process might take a while to maximize but is an important step in improving the riding environment.
As reported by the original owner, in just 6,000 miles he replaced the original rear Trail Wing tire with an Avon Distanzia after repeated trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since I've owned the bike, the front TW was showing its age a bit prematurely with remaining tread producing a 'lumpy' feel as if I was feeling the tire casing. For the 2008 season, I replaced it with a V-rated Metzeler Tourance and have a super front end again. Tire pressures set to 41psi rear and 36psi front have rendered wander-free straight running, excellent tracking through road snakes, over railroad tracks, etc. I'm finally getting to see the Wee great handling for the first time!
While my Wee came with a pair of Givi side hard cases, I added a Bestem 52-liter hard case on top. There doesn't seems to be any issues with them regarding aerodynamics or fuel mileage. I'm getting a consistent 53-54 mpg performance as a 190-lbs. rider in local rides with top speeds of 70-80 mph.
Now, to be honest, this bike IS top heavy. I have already tipped it over once trying to make a slow speed turnaround in a driveway - my fault of course for not having practiced that maneuver beforehand. However, it is very different from my much smaller dual sport Honda NX250 and, as a more 'full figured' motorcycle, requires a different mindset. Nonetheless, I love the Wee's overall ride/handling qualities am have become much more confident of its abilities the more I ride (duh!). It's size and weight is simply perfect for everything from highway and state roads to twisty secondary roads.
Reading a copy of Lee Park's performance riding book has been an excellent education in motorcycle dynamics and as I implement those principles I am certain my ability and confidence will better match the Wee's abilities. After a recent 4-hour roundtrip run from Knoxville to Rugby, TN through everything from typical intown traffic to state route twisties, the Wee is the kind of bike you don't want to park.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
First, the freight elevator takes us up to around 350 feet...
The various plant systems lay before us - don't know what is what, really.
This is one of several ponds - that was an easy call, I know.
Their concrete fabrication inventory is enormous and provides the components needed for tilt-up concrete buildings and other structures.
Meanwhile, train cars snake around the complex delivering raw process materials.
On our floor, huge steel process structures surround us doing the job of making cement.
At over 300 feet elevation, these huge process ducts dwarf the superstructure holding them up.
Our emissions testing equipment draws flue samples out of the stack for characterization analysis. Flow velocity, CO, dioxins and particulate are several of the parameters being measured at this site.
I'd love to tell you what this is for... I just can't.
Massive piping meets up with even more massive vessels as the cement process goes on and on.
Appearing like a giant waffle iron, these forms add rigidity to the structural steel they are welded to.
Monday, March 17, 2008
These four fiberglass composite stacks each measure 20 feet across and are contained in a single concrete 'stack'. They receive flue gases from the four main boilers that provide the power to generate electricity.
Looking up the interior of the larger exterior stack wall.
Here is our only transportation. We squeezed personnel and equipment into it to take us 420 feet above! (I made at least 30 trips on it during our three days of testing.)
The coal yard and cooling ponds alongside the muddy Ohio River.
Coal barges are constantly navigated to the site for offloading 24 hours a day.
Fellow stack testers set up their monitoring equipment.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
First rides of the season are a big deal only because they're the start of more rides. Six to seven months of rides to be exact. Long one. Short ones. Every one of 'em. And getting ready for those rides is a big deal. Cuz this means work. Fixing, adjusting, adding, changing, finding, buying, and eventually finishing everything you set out to do so you're really actually ready to ride this spring. This process usually requires working in a cold, poorly lit garage, repeated unplanned spending of parts and supplies, and huge sacrifices in quality TV viewing. Why? To make the 2008 Riding Season better than last year's. There's also the hours spent on internet research. More hours spent keeping up with your bike's forum members for all those details and insight you can't get anywhere else. Then, choosing the right items that will make your ride truly deluxe. There's never enough time or money. We must prevail. Spring is coming!
I bought my 2007 DL650A in December and had put only a few hundred miles on it until mid-February. In the meantime, I had my 2007 Winter To-Do List. Did I get it all done? You bet I did! Everything on the list is crossed out. What did it take?
- Repositioning the rear brake pedal for better leverage and quickly activating the tail light made all the difference in rear brake operation. Replaced the stock rear brake pads with a new set of EBC HH-rated sintered pads. I am now able to easily operate the rear brakes to the point of activating the ABS for maximum performance. This fixes the flaccid factory braking syndrome many DL650 riders are experiencing.
- Adjusting the shift lever all the way down for a more ergonometric grab with my right foot was big help.
- Careful handlebar and clutch/brake lever repositionings worked for me and took the pain out of my forearms. If I concentrate on my posture now, riding is really quite comfortable.
- An Eastern Beaver fuse box/relay harness is wired up and powering accessories with plenty of room for future add-ons.
- Symtec heated grips have been installed and are an absolute must-do! Not having to wear thick winter gloves is a big step in maintaining safe control in cold weather. The best $36 accessory I have added thus far.
- A Kuryakyn LED battery meter is keeping real-time tabs on the DL's power usage.
- The Bestem top box tail light and LED side markers will add some visibility, but I really want to convert the turn signal-only assemblies into a true parking/turn signal configuration.
- Two new Richland Rick RAM-mount mirror extenders are mounted and ready to accept future RAM-mounted accessories during 2008.
- A 16-tooth Suzuki OEM Gixxer 600 front sprocket has already proven to be a better gearing partner for the stock rear sprocket over the stock 15-tooth spec. This install included a thorough cleaning, lube repacking and adjustment of the clutch release mechanism - a good seasonal chore for us all.
- A Bestem 46-liter removable top box now holds my HJC CL-31 helmet and other riding gear. My Cortech GX jacket fits in one of the Givi side cases for a complete stow at the curb.
- A black Kevin Baker DL fork brace has stabilized the front end for smoother turns and better tracking in rough pavement conditions.
- 3M Black Reflective Tape has been applied on the frame and hard cases for better night visibility. I added some stylish patches on my helmet too.
- My PVC Koozie Kola Kooler drink carrier will keep me slaked on those longer roads.
- And there's fresh Shell Rotella T 5-30W synthetic oil in the crankcase for a long season of get-on-it-and-go convenience.
Now that's a feel-good post for any rider! If you spent last winter prepping your beastie for Spring of 2008, you know what that means. This year is gonna be the best one ever - we made sure of that!
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
For just $6 per unit at WalMart, these weatherproof, three-LED encapsulated marker lights are perfect - their flat sides allow for industrial strength Velcro fastening out of sight in the daytime but clearly visible at night - classy and practical. A separate switch on my fabbed rear power panel will control these parking light additions.
Jim Davis lives in Japan and builds premium electrical harnesses for motorcycles. He also dispenses the Powerlet line of plugs and connectors, a variety of fuse boxes and all the electrical components you'd ever need to wire your bike to the highest automotive code. His Eastern Beaver (www.easternbeaver.com) cycle website is replete with kits and bits that will turn your ride into a local utility for accessories through fused protection against the elements.
I asked Jim to rig me up a variation of his deluxe 6-fuse box harness to equip an even bigger 8-fuse version with ground cables and all - what he calls the Whole Kit and Kaboodle. And it's just that - a fully fused electrical harness that will accomodate all the add-ons I have planned: LED side lighting, a Battery Tender charger conduit, future GPS and XM connections, Symtec heated grips, a Kuryakyn battery monitor and more. Here's what I got:
I'll be documenting the installation on this transformation to the V-Strom, along with help from John at V-Strom Riders International (http://11109.rapidforum.com), who's electrical writings offer excellent guidance to any budding bike electrician's dreams.
More as this project develops...
Tell you what - I'll change the subject a little. Let's talk about me instead, OK? As an aging adventure seeking, young at heart type, the V-Strom fills the bill for my style and need in an adventure touring cycle. It's not heavy (I thought so at first, but I'm acclimated and love the whole feel now), it turns on a dime, it's incredibly smooth fuel injection/throttle technology is state-of-the-art in motorcycles (goodbye carburation!), it possesses a modest suspension for us mature laid back riders, and has a slew of mainstream name brand accessories available for it.
As good as it was debuting in 2004, the 650 V-Strom keeps getting better - and in important ways, not just trim packages and color changes. Check out these changes for 2007:
Optional ABS brakes (right on!)
Wheelbase increased from 60.6 into 61.2 in (more comfy...)
Dual spark plugs for increased combustion efficiency and improved emissions
Graduated Chevron Tank Graphic (that's cooler too)
New rubber boot protectors at swingarm pivot
Hazard switch was moved outboard of the Hi-Lo beam switch as a separate button switch
Larger kill switch and starter button is a larger sprung rocker switch instead of a button
Luggage rack revised from silver to black.
Deletion of idle adjustment screw (requiring special tooling for throttle body synchronization).
Dry weight increases from 418 lb to 427 lb (no biggie here)
With an abundance of used 650 V-Stroms available online - and many with a list of farkles to sweeten the pot - the V-Strom phenomena is like nothing I've ever experienced. This is the most reasonably priced bike of its kind - and it beats out the competition in almost every way. For example, Kawasaki's Versys is a competent design, but it can't hold a candle to the V-Strom's stock configuration for daily use. A Beemer delivers a higher level of handling performance but costs plenty more with its maintenance-heavy schedule and expensive parts continuum. KTM dual sport bikes are legendary, and you'll pay for it with your wallet and your posterior. Besides, I wanna go to rural America, not Cairo - but I could if I wanted to, huh?
And yet, the V-Strom is no slacker in the get-up-and-go department - I can always hit 70 mph a lot faster than I want to. And that without an embarrassing fuel mileage average either. The Wee is a potential 200-250 miles per tank road bike, thank you very much. Ask your buddies how far their bike will take them on a tank. Finally, add some offroad clearance for fire roads and hauling capacity to the V-Strom for a bike that balances more needs than any other design for the money. And here's the best part - it's rock solid dependable. Even first year models are still purring along at 50,000 miles or more due to Suzuki's world class build quality and user-friendly service intervals. (Hey, I intend to do the 12,ooo mile valve check/adjustment myself...)
So, are you looking for an easy to ride, affordable, power and torque-endowed, on-road/off-road, coooomfortable, dependable and economical motorcycle? I think I found the perfect choice for you. It's called a Suzuki DL650A V-Strom.
After a hiatus from riding on two wheels for a few years (due to a stolen, but recovered, Honda NX250), I finished off 2007 with the purchase of a slightly used (6,234 miles) 2007 Suzuki DL650A V-Strom in classic metallic Oort Gray (the 2008's are painted in Yellow and Flat Black - yuk!).
Almost bought an end-of-year stock model but found this jewel a day before buying. So, on December 8th I found myself in Ft. Payne, AL (three hours from Knoxville, TN) at Pro Source Motorsports and looking at a very well farkled machine. I had made my deal on the phone and although a fellow from Texas was making plans to buy and freight the bike to his house, my check was written first and I trucked it home in my son's pickup.
What a deal! Besides being ridden only 5 months, this bike was loaded! First, it is the ABS model which is a bit hard to find and even better when you're not really paying for it! I managed to get this bike with all its accessories for $1000 under its original street price. Now, add these premo farkles :
Hepco and Becker Engine Bars
Stebel Air Horn (this thing is loud!)
OEM Suzuki Gel Seat
OEM Suzuki Center Stand
OEM Suzuki Handguards & Mirror Extenders
Givi E36 Monokey Hard Side Cases
Windstrom Manta Windshield
And best of all - a 48-month Suzuki Extended Warranty through 2011! I'm still shaking my head in disbelief...
Here in East Tennessee we get many warm days and I'll be on the V-Strom every chance I get. My few hours on the 'zuk have already convinced me this bike is going to be perfect for commuting and long/short range trips any time I get a chance.
In the meantime, during these colder winter months, I've been modding this adventure tourer as follows:
OEM Swingarm Spools (for dealer repairs, etc.)
Dan Vesel Switchplate and Kuryakyn Battery Monitor
46-liter Bestem Hard Top Case
3M Black Reflective Tape
Koozi Koka Kola Kooler (PVC pipe & test plug...)
LED Side marker Lighting (from WalMart)
Symtec Heated Grips
8-Fuse Wiring Harness (from Eastern Beaver)
Rear Power Panel (Battery Tender and auxiliary power)
In another couple months, I'll be ready to write some trip reports from our area - so stay tuned!