DPS 7-04: Hot Deal on Nikon D700, Sigma 120-400mm Lens Field Test, Camera Straps, SpyderCube, Lensbaby Composer and more...

Welcome to DPS 7-04--the nikondigital.org newsletter.We've got some great new product announcements and updates as well as the results of our Sigma Lens field test for you in this issue, plus an upgrade to our November Botswana Safari and an announcement of our Texas Bird Photo Safari for next April. Mixed in you'll find some useful photo tips we picked up in Texas this April.

Hot Deal on Nikon D700 D-SLR!

As regular readers know I've been stalling for nearly a year on getting a D700. And I was bummed when the exchange rate changes caused the price to surge back up to nearly $3K. But this morning I found a deal I couldn't resist. Right after I ordered one I figured I should pass the details along to you...

Unlike more dedicated camera stores, Amazon does not appear to have updated their low D700 camera price to reflect the weak dollar. So you can still ! This is $300 to $400 lower than B&H, Cameta, Adorama, etc. Mine arrived yesterday and it is the full retail kit with all the normal accessories. Amazon lists that they only have 11 in stock so I thought I'd better pass the information along pronto. I haven't had much chance to use it yet, but I'm thrilled to get the low-light (high ISO) performance that I enjoyed so much when I had a D3 at less than half of the cost! [The only skin I have in the game (aside from being excited about my soon to be new camera) is that we get a few $$ in referral from the site if you purchase it through our link]: or even by using the search box on our site to start your Amazon session (or your B&H session, but they don't have the best price on the D700 right now). If you need a good deal on a full-frame mid-range mid-level zoom for $550 more you can order the

The Ultimate Camera Strap?

As I eagerly awaited my new D700 it was time to order a strap for it. Like tripods straps are highly under-rated. For extended length shooting situations they can not only make or break your experience but make a difference in what images you capture. As usual, I've gone through several over the years to find the best...

I switched from my trusty Op/tech camera straps to the Upstrap QR a couple years ago for one simple reason. The Op/tech straps, although comfortable, kept slipping off my shoulder. For whatever reason the neoprene on the Optech even with the little nubs slides off. The Upstrap doesn't. In particular when my hands are full it is frustrating and time consuming to have to deal with a strap slipping off. The Upstrap QR, in addition to being non-slip, has the Quick Release center section that I can replace with a short strap for when the camera is on a tripod (one less thing to dismay animals or for me to get tangled in) and it has Kevlar sewn through it so it is unlikely to ever break or be cut off by a thief. At $55 + $5 shipping it sounds a bit expensive for a strap. But like tripods, straps are used so often and last so long that the true cost is tiny compared to the possible benefits.

The one advantage of the Op/tech strap is that it is a little easier for me to rotate the camera up and shoot than with the Upstrap. I know you're supposed to be able to "shrug" the Upstrap up off your shoulder and quickly shoot, but that is a little easier said than done. Personally I also like the way you can snap the two ends of the Optech straps together without a middle section. That way I can quickly put the "long" strap on the camera I plan to carry and leave the other on my tripod without messing around with yet another loose section to fit between the two ends the way I need to with the Upstrap. The short "wrist strap" mid-section for the Upstrap can double as something of a "shoulder holster" for a second camera body in a pinch however, so it has some advantages in that regard.

What about the venerable cloth straps provided by the camera vendor? Frankly there isn't anything wrong with using one if it doesn't bother your shoulder with its lack of padding. But for the heavier cameras most photographers find they want the additional support and comfort of a pad. My other concern is that they blare out the make and model of your camera. It seems like that would act as a thief magnet. But the vendor straps are very compact so my Nikon D70 strap lives happily on my Infrared converted D70 to help it squeeze in my bag as a third camera.

The Upstrap is available from . straps are widely distributed including by .

When David Tobie first showed me what looked like a Christmas tree ornament at the Press Sneak Peak event at PMA I thought perhaps it was a trendy European household decoration befitting the new European management at Colorvision/Datacolor. But once I realized it was carefully colored in white, gray and black it dawned on me that the SpyderCube was actually a pretty cool photo tool.  

Every bird photographer knows how difficult it is to photograph woodland birds--especially the colorful ones like warblers and buntings. And for those with either too little mobility or too much sense to race around the woods with a tripod it is usually impossible.

[img_assist|nid=219|title=Varied Bunting|desc=Varied Bunting from South Texas Photo Safari in 2009|link=popup|align=center|width=426|height=640]

Varied Bunting, South Texas Photo Safari 2009
Nikon D300, 200-400mm f/4 lens

That's why I'm always so excited about our trip to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas each April. Through painstaking construction of photographer friendly blinds several of the ranch owners there have made their properties a bird photographers' paradise. With the use of water features and steady feeding the birds--both local and migrants--are drawn in to where it is possible to get great shots of literally dozens of species that are not only hard to see elsewhere in the US but nearly impossible to photograph.

[img_assist|nid=220|title=Pair of Crested Caracara|desc=|link=popup|align=center|width=640|height=427]

Pair of Crested Caracara, South Texas Photo Safari 2009
Nikon D300, 200-400mm f/4 lens

This April was another great experience for our group. We always keep our groups very small so there is plenty of time for individual instruction. This year we had five participants and my daughter Annie who was assisting with the food and logistics and myself. The slideshow at the end of the week was a testament to everyone's success, as were their very positive comments (See feedback form)

For our small group trips we focus on some of the premium private ranches which are only available to groups on a guided basis. That helps ensure that the result is a unique experience for the participants and plenty of excellent photo opportunities. We spent enough time on each property so that everyone got to try a variety of blinds including both baited Raptor blinds and the more traditional "songbird" blinds with water and birdseed to attract a large variety of birds in from the desert.

[img_assist|nid=218|title=Cactus Wren on Prickly Pear|desc=|link=popup|align=center|width=426|height=640]


One of this year's highlights was the variety of Buntings we were able to photograph. In addition to the beautiful Indigo and Painted Buntings we were treated to excellent opportunities with a Varied Bunting two days in a row. The Buntings complemented the many good opportunities we had with local specialty species including Greater Roadrunner, Green Jay, Scaled (Blue) Quail, Bobwhite, and of course Northern Cardinal and the hard to find Pyrrhuloxia.


As always we had a great group of participants. Rhodes & Sarah from Florida were already avid birders and involved in environmental projects at home. Larry & Debbie from Texas spend a lot of their time photographing underwater, so birds were a great change of pace for them. And Michael was happy to get out of the office for a week and savored every minute of the beautiful Texas desert country and the wildlife we found there.


In addition to plenty of instruction in the field we had classroom sessions at lunchtime on Digital Workflow, Using Photoshop to improve your Bird Photos and how to make a professional quality book of your trip or photo safari. In the evening we had some entertaining slideshows of Africa, Southeast Asia, and of course a showcase of the participants best images from the week on our final night.or See the .

We're excited to announce that thanks to some new flight schedules and lower fuel surcharges we've been able to upgrade our November African wildlife photo safari to include Victoria Falls without changing the price. 

Today was looking quite soggy so I figured it was a great time to try out my new Composer from Lensbaby. I have a 3G Lensbaby but have never found it easy enough to use to make it a regular in my camera bag. When Sam showed me the Composer at PMA I was very impressed. It's a no-brainer to operate with a simple focus ring and a front element you can simply point where you want. But how are the images...

Unless you're blessed with nearly endless golden light like we have during the summer in Alaska, the relatively short periods of soft light near sunrise and sunset are the bane of wildlife photographers. Especially in the evening when activity often picks up just as the light disappears it can be very frustrating to watch the quality of your images decline as the sun sets. I can't help you make the sun stay out longer, but I can share an old photojournalist trick with you that can let you keep capturing images long after you might have had to stop otherwise...  

We just finished another successful Texas Bird Photo Safari. I'll be writing more later in the week but since so many of you are curious about the Sigma 120-400mm Telephoto Zoom lens I wanted to let you know that it was a complete success. In other event news we have 3 spots left for one of our in July (the other is already sold out), and .

A Closing Thought--It's all to easy to obsess about the issues with our world and with the economy. One of the great things about photography is that it let's us get out in the field, or even on our local streets, and get our mind around something constructive and creative. When in doubt, go out and shoot! As always, let us know your thoughts and share your experiences in our . --David Cardinal & Lorrie Duval