Every working photographer (generalist) needs
a folder full of all kinds of cloud-jeweled skies.
I call it the Cloud Folder.
Perfect when the sky
is not cooperative.
I shudder to write anything nice about any gear anymore because as soon as I do people remember a nice article or review I wrote four or five years ago about a different brand of equipment and they go ----what is the phrase I am looking for ???? ---- oh yeah, Ape Shit Crazy. And then the furor starts.
"Gear Head." "Fanboi." "Indecisive." "Camera addict." "Equipment butterfly." etc.
It seems, in the world of cameras, that you are only allowed to select and use one system for the entirety of your engagement with digital photography. To use different cameras is to be in some way adulterous, not only to the cameras you owned but to the other owners of that brand who may still cherish them. I think it's even more difficult to the hard core brand loyalists when people like me shoot with three or more systems in a short amount of time. Well, the critics can go pound sand because to me, using the same stuff all the time does two things: 1. It keeps you from finding out about cameras, lenses and lights that could improve your photography either by providing a new feature, or level of performance. Or, 2. It keeps you from trying cameras which have menus that sync with the way you think, or grips and control placements that fit your hands (and working methodologies) exactly. And, B: It makes one dull and bored doing the same thing over and over again. You wouldn't eat the same food every day, would you?
Someone in the comments inferred that what I wrote a week ago about not suffering pangs of desire for new gear was already moot and, because I wrote positively about it I would be rushing off to order my Sony RX10-2 as soon as the keyboard released me. Didn't happen. May not happen. But it doesn't dampen my enthusiasm and respect for the RX10-2. Or the fact that it may be a perfect camera for some clearly defined projects. Mad that someone buys gear "too" often? Get over it.
But I'm going to go ahead and write some nice stuff about my real world engagement with a Nikon camera and two lenses. Neither of them are particularly new to me but all of them keep worming their way into my shooting consciousness because they keep delivering the goods.
It's remarkable that I feel the need to justify writing about gear that's been on the market for at least a year at this point. But I think we've gotten far too used to people writing "reviews" after two weeks of casual shooting and faux "lab measurements." In my humble opinion most of the stuff that gets written in the heat of launch is mindless drivel. To really understand how it is to shoot a particular camera I think you have to spend time with it, and shoot it on lots of real jobs to see how it handles...how it performs.
There are so many variables that only show up over time. If you live in Phoenix, AZ. and you review cameras there you may never learn about how a camera handles high humidity environments. If you live in Montreal, Canada and get a test camera in the dead of winter you'll likely never know if it's going to overheat in heat saturated environments. And if you are a casual, bumbling reviewer with no particular work pressure, or pressure to deliver real images for pay, you may find the access to hidden controls or contrary menus just fine and dandy. Always time to figure out the mysteries with a cup of coffee in one hand, some scones in front of you and a good view of a cute barista in your line of sight.
But trying to remember the custom WB sequence in the intense noon day sun, with the temperatures climbing into the hundreds (fahrenheit), with a nervous marketing director looking over your shoulder and a CEO in front of you, starting to grow perfect little drops of sweat across his face, is a totally different way of appraising the performance, holistically, of the camera under consideration.
I've used the Nikon D750 on thirty eight paid assignments, to date. I've also spent many days shooting personal work with the camera and attendant lenses, and I've learned a few things about the camera.
My copy, without micro-adjusting, nails focus with every lens I have in the bag. When I pair the D750 and any lens for the first time I test them out by shooting my inclined test target and also by shooting a close up portrait with the lens at, or near, the maximum aperture. It's a good test for the way I shoot. I prefer to use the central area in single frame AF, and use Nikon's group focus feature. The camera seems to know what I want to focus within the square formed by the four focusing boxes and I have yet to be disappointed. It is on par with the AF of the D810 and that camera is the best phase detection, DSLR autofocusing sensor camera I have ever used.
The 24 megapixel sensor is just right for most portraits. Too much bigger a resolution (I'm looking at you, D810) and the files become too big to fit enough of onto a memory card, take up too much space on my redundant back-ups, and take too long to process and convert into useable files from the raw files. Anything smaller than 24 megapixels and I lose the sloppy tolerance of sharpness and detail that covers my ass.
Coming from either the Sony RX10 (1 or 2) or the Olympus cameras you'll be convinced that the battery life of the D750 is miraculous. It's not as good as the batteries in the big, pro cameras but it's better than anything in the mirrorless realm except for the remarkable, Panasonic GH4 (which I still consider one of the finest all-around cameras to grace the marketplace).
The finder isn't "phenomenal" but it's good and workmanlike. The control layout is very logical for someone who has owned many previous generations (and concurrent generations) of Nikon digital cameras. (For those keeping score: D100, D2H, D2X, D2XS, D200, D300, D80, D610, D750, D810, D7000, D7100, D3200, as well as four different Coolpix cameras, the model numbers of which elude my frail memory...).
The camera is smaller and lighter than the D810, or even the D610s I owned. And the exposure metering has yet to fail me as long as I believe the histograms instead of the rear screen. All in all it seems to be a well done camera and is available at a fair price point. Final, positive point: The rubber eyecup has never come off. Not even come loose.
Ho-hum. You've heard it all before, as have I.
So, now that I'm feeling comfortable with the camera, know where all the controls are and such, I've started taking more chances and pushing the ( Ming-patented) performance envelope just a bit more and that's what I really wanted to write about.
Yesterday I spent the quality core of the day, those wonderfully productive hours from 11 am to 5 pm, setting up in various locations on the twenty something-th floor of a new, downtown office building, making quasi-environmental portraits of lawyers. I'd love to show you a sample but, well, they are lawyers and they haven't even seen the images yet... Suffice it to say that the photographs are "awesome, amazing, artistic, cutting edge and worthy of many awards," or at least might be after I've done some post production to them. If, indeed, they do fall short I'll take the blame instead of the camera or lenses as I really did see some flashes of genius in their camps.
Why was yesterday a departure? Well, I was using a combination of available (diffuse) daylight through floor to ceiling windows, augmented by some new LED lights to make some of the images. I used two LED lights as main lights (though plane of diffusion) for shots done deeper in the interior of the offices where there was not sunlight component AND I shot almost every frame of 950 frames with the lenses either wide open or, at the most, one stop down from the maximum aperture! Take that!!! all you experts who routinely advise shooting portraits at a dismal and boring f8.0. (Like I did last week with the images destined for clipping paths---- oh! the inconsistency of this blog...).
Daunting? Well, I probably wouldn't have tried this with a film camera loaded with slide film, I can tell you. The mixed light alone was like mixing an atonal musical piece from Karlheinz Stockhausen with something melodic from Ravel. It was difficult and, at times, discordant. In each situation I designated the LED lighting as my primary, or main lighting and then corrected it with a delicate touch of gel filtration to nudge their daylight balance into closer compliance with whatever was coming through the windows or beaming down from the ceilings. I did use a Chimera 4x4 foot ENG panel with a black, opaque fabric, to kill hot, direct and sharp top (overhead) lights.
I started out using the Nikon 85mm f1.8 G lens (a nice lens but not a subject of this discussion in any primary sense). It was too short for the compression I wanted to get in some set ups and too long for the tight rooms I had to work in for other set ups. After a short time experimenting I settled on using the world's most appropriate lens for people photography, along with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 art lens.
The primary shooting lens was the older, Nikon 105mm f2.5. It had the best combination of "perfect" focal length, good sharpness at and near wide open and an indescribable mellowness within the sharpness that is flattering when used for portraits of real (not "model") people.
The issue with using a manual focus lens of a longer telephoto range, near its maximum aperture, is that the sliver of area in sharp focus is rather small, and with most of the AF cameras there are no optical focus aids built into the eyepiece/finder/focusing screen. Depending on the green, focus confirmation dot can be a dodgy game of hit and miss. I used the Live View with image magnification to do my initial focusing and had my subjects stand behind a chair so they would have something (the chair back) to put their hands on and also put them into a relatively stationary position. For the most part it worked very well. I probably stopped and re-checked focus more often that I should have but I have worked with medium format and large format cameras so the slowdown of shooting pace wasn't totally foreign to me. It probably kept me from overshooting. The majority of shots done with the 105mm were from about mid torso to just over the subjects' heads (composed horizontally) which is a good compromise between the ability to do flexible cropping while using enough magnification to keep depth of field narrow; just the way the client, agency and I wanted it.
Having looked at several hundred images taken in this way today I have to report that the Nikon 105mm f2.5 is seriously sharp at f4.0 and sharp enough even wide open to satisfy most people. The only thing that really prevents me from wanting to use it wide open is my paranoia that a slight shift in the subject's stance will throw the system far enough out of focus to make the image too soft.
All of the shots done with the 105mm f2.5 were