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on Jan 22, 2014 in Gear Head Wed

GearHead Wednesday 14-04


Got a gear question you want answered? Send your gear questions to me at Gear Questions and I’ll do my best every Wednesday to answer as many questions as I can. Keep in mind the answers are just my $.02 worth and you have to take what works for you and embrace it and ignore the rest. So here’s this weeks questions ….

A year ago I bought a Nikon D-800 that I was happy with although the pictures weren’t tack sharp. Later I bought a 24-70 f2.8 which also wasn’t sharp. Took the camera and lens to the local camera shop and they told me that even using the maximum AFA fine tuning it was still off. I returned the lens. Later bought the 80-400 Nikon and couldn’t get a tack sharp photo.

Bottom line-send the camera to Nikon and now it is tack sharp.

Question-What do you do when getting new equipment to ensure that it is functioning properly and focusing accurately? Do you just shoot some pictures or do you use focusing targets?

Lynn, glad to hear you’re getting the results you want, that’s important! When I get a new piece of gear, body or lens, I marry myself to that piece of gear for a couple of weeks. And I shoot, shoot, shoot! No matter what it is or its main purpose, I will use that piece of gear for everything I shoot to understand what are its strengths. Real world shooting is how I “test” any piece of gear, no targets or newspaper tacked to a wall. Now keep in mind that the photographer is just as important a variable in the “great image” equation as the gear. I start my shooting with an odd old tradition of taking a picture of my big toe (long story) and then I normally point it at the dogs, my wife, the house, but never a focusing target.

In all my years of testing and shooting gear, I’ve only come across a handful of lenses where they were truly the issue (and these were three different brands) for image softness. And especially with the D800, I heard a lot of “sharpness” issues for shooters. All the issues I got to see and test personally were what I call politely, pilot error. The D800 captures a ton of detail, good and bad. I wish I could have shot with your system prior to it being sent in because while very rare, these things do happen and I would love to have seen it first hand.

Hey Moose,
Do you ever calibrate your telephoto lens with your camera bodies? And if you do, what do you consider an acceptable range for the AF Fine Tuning value?

Randy, this is a real common question and regrettably, my answer is real disappointing. Nope, I never have calibrated a lens/camera and in talking with my peers, so far, haven’t found a single one who does as either. Do folks do it? Oh heck ya. Any many swear by it. Does it hurt image quality? I’ve not seen anything to suggest it does. I did shoot once with a body and three lenses that were calibrated and to be honest, I didn’t see any “wow” in sharpness it delivered. Does it make a difference? I have meet some photogs who swear by it, but personally I have not had issues with my sharpness that this would cure.

Hi Moose,
I currently shoot with a Canon cropped sensor camera and like the extra reach that the 1.6x crop factor offers for wildlife and sports photography. As I contemplate a move to a full frame body and how that might impact my lens selection, I have the following question:

Using a 400mm lens an example, if I’m able to fill the frame with a subject on my cropped sensor, which of these scenarios will offer the best image quality?
· 400mm on a cropped sensor camera. Subject fills the frame.
· 400mm on a full frame sensor camera. Crop the image in post to fill the frame
· 400mm + 1.4x or 1.7x extender on full frame sensor camera to fill the frame.

I currently shoot with a Canon 7D and am considering a Canon 5D-MK-III

I enjoy Gearhead Wednesdays. Keep ‘em coming!

Dan, less focal length often produces the best quality for most because it isn’t as dependent on perfect technique for good results. As focal length increases, so must ones technique to get that sharp image (might refer to Long Lens technique video). With that said, as I mentioned in last week’s GearHead, I’ve shot with all the teleconverters (even Canon over the decades) and never had any loss of quality. Sensor size doesn’t matter, it’s all about the photographer’s skills brought to the click.

Like many photogs, I have the impression you’re over thinking this a whole lot. First and foremost, the size of the sensor isn’t the keystone factor here. How close physically you get to the subject is the keystone factor. “Get close physically and use optic to isolate” is something I’ve been teaching for a long time. Sensor size nor focal length matters to image size when you zoom with your feet. It does matter in how much of the background is incorporated and there lies the storytelling.

I’ve had an Epson 4900 for a year or so, and I printed on it fairly regularly. I had to go out of state for about six weeks, and when I came back home I was anxious to print some photos. I tried to print some test prints and they came out looking bad, indicating many clogged nozzles. After several cleaning functions the problem remained. I called Epson servicing and they determined a new print head had to be installed – at a cost of more than what a new 4900 would cost me. Even the service tech advise to throw out the printer and buy a new one, rather than fixing this one. So, it appears my 1 1/2 year old Epson 4900 is destined for the dumpster, after a life time of printing less than 300 prints. How do you avoid clogged print heads on your 4900? The service tech indicated this printer is meant to be turned on once, and to be run continually (do not let it sit idle for more than a day or two). Do you run prints on a daily basis? This is just not practical for most of us. Now I’m worried about getting a replacement printer. Should I use a printing service rather than buying a new printer? Any thoughts or suggestions?


Rob, you are not the first to have this issue or this problem. My best friend had the same thing this past summer. I’ve had my Epson 4900 now since prior to the world knowing about them and it just keeps pounding out the prints, the count over 5000. Clogged heads seems to be a constant thread and I regret that I’ve not had that issue with either my 7900 or 4900 to have a solution. And I do everything technically you’re not supposed to do. I live in a very dry environment, humidity usually less than 10%. The 7900 might go a couple of months between printing. The 4900 is on at least once a month and with both, when I do a printing session, it’s an all dayer.

Unlike what many avoid, I have the AutoClean turned on and while it does technically use more ink and ink is expensive, I don’t have these issues. Normally, I turn on a printer 30min prior to use. 15min prior to printing I manually run the cleaning cycle. Then I go to printing after that cycle is done. And there are times while printing, things come to a halt as it has to clean again even though I might have manually done it just one print earlier. And with that, I’ve not had, knock on wood, any issues with my printers.

I ~really~ don’t like how “disposable” nature of printers when it comes to problems, but I can’t change that. I can tell you that my best friend did have his print heads swapped out and has been printing like a mad man ever since without an issue. I swear by my 4900 and would recommend getting another one to you. Wish I could be of greater help!

Thank you for Gearhead Wed! Even if some questions are not questions I have, it is always good to retain knowledge in case of future problems.
I am a longtime follower of your blog and have read your print lab series and still have problems printing effortlessly. Then I saw your blog report on PrinTao 8, and will say, this looks like it would be easy to use. My gearhead question is as follows:
I have an Epson 4900 but I do not print frequently. Sometimes I may go two or three months between printing. I now am faced with nozzle clogs because of infrequent use and cannot seem to get clear. The printer is fairly new (2 years old) with probably only 50 to 75 prints total. Once I am able to get the nozzles cleared, what is the best maintenance to use for printers with low volume printing. And maybe how to unclog and keep clear the nozzles?


Ray, glad you saw PrinTao, it really does a great job! As you can see above, you’re not alone with this issue. I’m hoping that some of above will help you. Keep in mind that the ink is not a liquid, it’s a funky “powder.” While I have no proof, nor has anyone said anything to me about this, but I have always felt that my lack of issues might be related to the fact that before I insert a new cartridge, to say I shake it, is an understatement. Now logically, you wouldn’t think this would make any difference as the system is charged. But it is the only thing I do about the printer that is not in the instruction book.


I am looking for some guidance. I currently have a D7000 that I use primarily for wildlife and nature photography. I am getting great shots with the lenses that I currently have( DX: 40mm, 55-300 mm and share 18-55 with my son). I am considering investing in the 17-55 f2.8 and letting son keep the other for his D3100. Question is, is the 17-55 f2.8 that much better than the 18-55 f3.5-5.6. The reason I ask is I am considering upgrading to a D610 next year and getting a used F6 so that I can shoot film.


Jay, it’s great you’re doing photography with your son! I can tell you first hand, there simply is nothing more rewarding (especially when they get the better shot!). If I understand the unlinking part of your question, you want to buy a lens now for a DX sensor that you can use later when you move to a FX sensor. If this is the case, the 17-55f2.8 is a DX lens and while it will attach and work on the FX camera, it won’t totally cover the image area. With all of that in mind, I would recommend going with something like the 16-35AFS or 18-35AFS if you want to move it up to FX. If I’m not understanding this correctly and you’re not moving to the FX sensor, than I would definitely second your choice of the 17-55f2.8!