Saturday, February 26, 2011

The User’s Review: Nikon N4004 (F-401) released in 1987

Fig. 1. Nikon N4004 front and top view.

N4004, manufactured in Japan and without body SN, is the first of three-model family F-401 (including N4004, N4004S and N5005). Nikon says that N4004 is featured with Nikon's Decision Master System (as marked on the camera top panel, which is an exclusive image master control), AM200 AF sensor (200 CCDs), advanced AE with unique triple-sensor metering, and a built-in auto TTL flash with balanced fill-flash capability. A date-printing version equipped with a QD film door is available.

Launched in 1987, the Nikon N4004 is Nikon's slr camera with point-and-shoot function (Fig. 1). When the speed and aperture dials are set to A and/or S, the 3-sensor exposure metering system ensures correct automatic operation in program, aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes. Manual mode and centerweighted exposure mode (for manual mode or the AEL button is pressed in other modes) are also available. N4004's 1 - 1/2000 sec shutter speed and B gear give you ample opportunity to experiment with your photography skills. This 35mm SLR camera's user-friendly viewfinder helps you understand proper timing to use flash. The built-in flash covers 28mm lens and above. The flash synchronizes at 1/100 sec. in program auto and aperture-priority, and at 1/125 sec. for manual mode. With Nikon’s BriteView screen and central focus brackets, the viewfinder has 0.8x magnification capacity with 50mm lens, and 92% frame coverage. The signals shown at the bottom of viewfinder include focus indicator, exposure indicator, over and under exposure warnings, and flash. The usable film speed ranges from ISO 25 to ISO 5000, which is automatically set. On the right side of film door, there is a second window showing film advance status (Fig. 2). I saw two versions of this window, marked with yellow or green signs. The green version, which is also installed on Nikon N5005, is better for use. Furthermore, the Nikon N4004 accepts 4 AA batteries that last for longer period.

Fig. 2. Nikon N4404 top panel and back door with two windows showing film status.

With 154 x 102 x 65.5mm in size, N4004 body only is of 645g. I feel it big and heavy in my hands, but it responses well except the auto focus in dim light, in which the focusing is hesitated. In auto-focus mode, the shutter can not be released when focusing is not reached.  The sounds from N4004 are loud, they tell me what it is doing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The User’s Review: Nikon N5005 (F-401X) released in 1991

N5005, made in Japan and without individual SN on body (Well, later I found there is a 7-digit SN near the 'Made in Japan' label on the bottom. The SN seemed to print there, not clear to find), is the most advanced among the three models of Nikon F-401 family, which includes N4004 (F-401), N4004S (F-401S) and N5005 (F-401X). They all have a black plastic case and a date version to print date and time on film.

I received this N5005 in a lot of four Nikons for recycle. Since it looked good, I put on a lens (Nikon G-series lenses work on N5005), and inserted film and 4 rechargeable AA batteries. It works fine with some sort of noise during its operation, but I have no complaint given its age.   

Fig.1. Nikon N5005 front and top. 

It likes a piece of brick once in your hands, heavy (647g body) and big
(154 x 102 x 65mm) for my mid-size hands. However, it responses pretty well and is very easy to use (Fig. 1).

Film speed, ranging ISO 25 – 5000, is set automatically. Two windows on the camera back show film cartridge (Fig. 2, top image, left) and film advance (Fig. 2, top image, right), respectively (Fig. 2). The frame number window on the camera top is cloudy of some yellow color, not easy to read. The film rewind switch and its lock button are close to the speed dial on the camera top.

Fig. 2. Nikon N5005 back view

Power-on, shutter speed and aperture can be set using two dials. There is a silver button to release the dials from L (power on/off), A-P and S-P positions (Fig. 2, top image).

N5005 has 3 exposure modes including aperture-priority, shutter-priority and auto programmed (when the dials are set at A-P and S-P, and no aperture and speed values are given).

Fig. 3. Nikon N5005 bottom with open battery chamber.

It has manual and auto focus modes with a blue LED indicator at the bottom of viewfinder. Its auto focus can track a moving subject. In very dark, low contrast and no vertical line conditions, the blue focus LED blinks, indicating that the auto focus can not function well and manual focus is needed. While the LED is blinking, the shutter will not fire. If only horizontal lines in the viewfinder, turn the camera vertically to auto-focus (you can feel the differnece). Comparing with the previous model N4004, I can feel OBVIOUS improvement in auto focusing (especially in dim condition) in N5005. Neither of them can do depth-of-field preview.

N5005 equips two types of exposure metering systems, 5-segment matrix (in programmed, A and S exposure modes) and center-weighted (in manual mode or when AEL is pressed. AEL is the button locates below the speed dial) (Fig. 1, top image, under 'AF').   

In the programmed, A or S exposure modes, the flash indicator in the viewfinder may blink in a dark condition. In manual mode, the indicator will not blink even if the flash is needed. A flash charge takes 2 – 3s. Once the flash is ready, the indicator will stay on as long as the shutter is half-way pressed. During flash charging, the shutter is locked in all modes. Flash synchronizes at ≥ 1/125 second. To lift the flash, two release buttons on both sides of the flash need to be pressed simultaneously. This two-button system avoids powering on the flash accidently.

The self-timer on N5005 is unique. It has one- or two-shot options. Two shots will be chosen if the self-timer button is pressed for ≥ 3 seconds (Fig. 2, top image). You can not tell which is which among the three F-401 models from bottom (Fig. 3).

Fig. 4. Nikon N5005 and N4004. Differences are on their front faces and top covers. Click on the images to see details. 

N5005 updates (vs. N4004) (Fig. 4):
1)      5-segment light metering system (vs. 3 sensors in N4004)
2)      AF-tracking
3)      Auto TTL and matrix balanced flash covering 28mm lens
4)      Auto programmed exposure mode
5)      Shutter settings: T, 1 – 1/2000 (B, 1 – 1/2000 in N4004)
6)      A two-mode self timer (vs. one mode in N4004)
7)      A dial release button
8)      New versions of top cover and strap eyelets
9)      A bigger Nikon sign and more front location of ‘red line’ on the camera grip

Nikon also developted a pool of accessories for N5005 (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Nikon N5005 accessories

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The User’s Review: Pentax K-x digital slr camera, black kit with DA L 18 – 55 mm zoom

Color catches potential buyers' eyes, but I prefer the black.
For me, I use camera to record colors
rather to paint colors on.  

Fig 1. Pentax K-x front and top

The body (SN 3772695) and lens (SN 5105285) were made in Philippines and Vietnam, respectively. Brought at $479.99 with no sale tax and free shipping from Adorama (in NYC) via on December 4, 2010. With the bonus points from and my Discover credit card, my final cost should be reduced to ~ $450. The black or navy blue bodies are ~ $20 more expensive than those in white, red or other colors in the US market.

Fig. 2. Side views of Pentax K-x.

Why did I buy? Right price and smaller size compared with equivalent Canon and Nikon; 720 HD video; and AA battery usage.

Fig. 3. Pentax K-x rear view with a glass LCD protector and SD card cover.

What I like: compact CMOS digital slr with in-body shake reduction, excellent workmanship (8.5/10), quick response, a GREEN button (for user-assigned function), DOF preview, mechanical MF/AM switch (on my Minolta Maxxum 70, such switch is functional only when power-on), bright viewfinder (although it’s the mirror type), a power-on indicator (the white piece behind the shutter button, and between the GREEN and AV buttons in Fig. 1 bottom image), 3-frame bracketing, acceptance of SD and SDHC card, 19 languages (I use only two), a 300-plus-page English manual with an index, and an optional AC power supply.

Fig. 4. Pentax K-x bottom and battery cover. 

What I do not like: no light-up focus spots (but only AF frame (area) without known focused point) in the optical viewfinder, preset-aperture video with mono-sound, lower video quality in low light or with fast moving subjects (such as kids), short battery life (REALLY short like draining when using both LCD and flash. Therefore, 4 high-capacity rechargeable AA batteries are HIGHLY recommended), the battery cover under the grip does not close tightly (my fingers feel this, which is a little bit annoying). Cosmetically, I prefer a  total black body without the chromed line around the bottom of top cover. It's plastic mounts on the DA L lenses (notice the difference between Pentax DA and DA L lenses, the latter ones are low-cost). K-x is some sort heavier, compared with the last generation of low-end slr 35mm film cameras such as Canon T2, Minolta Maxxum 70, Nikon N75, and Pentax *ist, which were released around 2003 - 2004.

Later in 2011, I brought a AC adapter for my K-x to fuel it through AC since it drains my four rechargeable batteries. At the end of 2011, I also wrote a review on the AC adapter K-AC84U.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The User’s Review: Canon PowerShot A1000 IS

I had an emergency abroad and my old PowerShot A70 had been sent back to Canon for a service, so I went to a local store to get a new digital point-and-shoot. A1000 caught my eyes since it is compact, has video function and a viewfinder (I get used to this from my film cameras). Later I found it had three color variations: brown, blue and purple. A1000 was my quick pick, and is a right one (proven by my use in the past 20 months).

Figs. Front and back of PowerShot A1000 IS. The LCD covers by the original protector. 

Materials and Methods
Canon A1000 IS, SN 7022045280, made in Malaysia (2 figures above) and released in 2/2008. The cost was $129.99 plus 7% tax in Sears on 5/2/2009. I knew it was not lower, but wanted to get ride off a shop gift card.

Different SD cards (from 2gb to16gb SDHC) used

2 Kodak Rechargeable NiMH AA batteries (HR6), ≥ 2400mAh

Pros: Simple to use (with 9 commonly-used buttons beside the LCD), good image quality, autofocus under indoor light, satisfied video (up to 640x480 pixels, 30 fps) without length limit (well, as long as you card can hold), long battery life (even longer if you turn off the LCD and use the viewfinder only), zoom monitoring in the viewfinder, and user guides in both English and Espanol (for US market).

Cons: unsatisfied shutter lag, not cute (my wife’s word), plastic tripod socket (be careful not to damage it when mounted on a tripod), and thinner user guide (printed in 2008, compared to my A70’s one printed in 2003. probably A1000 is has less special accessories to explain), and wear-out prints on the camera buttons.

A1000 is is a well-designed camera, balancing functions and size.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The User's Review: Warranty of memory/media card matters

When I bought the SD cards for my digital cameras, I paid more attention on the card format (e.g., CF vs. SD and SD vs. SDHC), capacity, speed (Class #) and price. After several years’ usage, 2 - 3 cards went dead. Well, the contents on the cards are not under any warranty, but, if a card is still in the manufacture’s warranty period, at least you can have the card repaired or exchanged as the card producers promise. In most cases, they do not repair and they send you a new one although you have to pay the postage to send the bad one back first.


Here I list the warranty periods (from 3 months to ∞) of some SD and SDHC cards that are currently common on the USA market:

Life time: A-Data, Dane-Elec, Delkin, Edge Tech, Kingston, Kodak, Lexar, OCZ, PNY, PQI, Transcend

10 years: Duracell

5 years: ACP-EP, Centon, Fujifilm, Patriot, SanDisk, Wintec

3 years: DataMINE

2 years: Easystore, RiDATA

1 year: EP Memory, HP, Polaroid, Sony, Verbatim

3 months: Eye Fi

Next time, I will buy only with ≥ 3 years’ warranty because the card will not worth much after 3 years. Check the manufacture’s websites for details before you send any card back, and correct me if any error you find here. Thanks.

Over the past two years, three 16 g SD cards made by Centon failed in my hands. A red one can not be read/written any more, and the other two white ones lost their lock bars. I put a SanDisk and Centon SD cards side by side, and found that SanDisk has a stronger plastic shell.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

One brand of single lens reflex (slr) cameras with multiple lens mounts: Kenko for Nikon F, Yashica/Contax YC and Pentax K

In the slr would, one of the most important features about your cameras is the lens mount. I used Yashica slr during 1980-1990s and had to buy YC mount lens or to use an adaptor if I wanted to us a lens with different mounts. All camera lens makers produce lens with different mounts. However, Kenko goes an unique way, producing cameras with different mounts. I like this idea because slr cameras usually dead before their lens do. I can find a brand new camera to work with my YC lens if my FX-3 becomes un-repairable.

I found 4 models of Kenko slr cameras: KF-1N (black or black-silver, shutter 1/2000 to 1s, for Nikon F Ai), KF-2N (black, shutter 1/4000 to 1s, for Nikon F Ai), KF-3YC (black, 1/2000 – 1s, for YC) and KF-4PK (black, 1/2000 – 1s, for Pentax K). Wondering if Kenko is going to add more models like KF-xC (?, ?, for Canon), KF-xMA (?, ?, for Minolta A) and KF-xZ (?, ?, ?)?