Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Graduating Soon. . .

I enjoyed a cool photo shoot recently with Scottie for his high school grad portraits. This guy is talented (musician), smart (going to college), good looking (has a cute girlfriend), comes from a great family (his dad is a pastor) and just has "success" written all over his future.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Nikon update

A couple of months ago, I posted here about switching systems from Canon to Nikon. Now that I've had some time to adjust to the change, I wanted to share some insight with you, especially those who are also considering a similar move to Nikon. I'm going to focus on the differences in the cameras involved: The Nikon D3 and the Canon 1D Mark IIn. These are both professional DSLR (digital single lens reflex) workhorse camera bodies. The D3 is newer and so is more advanced, and has a 12 megapixel sensor, vs. the 8 megapixel 1D IIn. But I'm not concerned with "pixel-peeping" here. This is about observations in the use, handling and overall thoughts on the look of the images straight out of the camera.
When I first picked up the D3, it had a very solid feel of quality. It's a relatively large camera body & somewhat heavy, but that's the feel I want from a pro level DSLR. It has a nice, tactile grip and I've always been a fan of vertical shutter release so that your hand is in basically the same position whether shooting in landscape or portrait orientation. The buttons and knobs are large and well-marked, and for the most part, easily accessed. But my first reaction was that I liked the feel of the Canon body better. I'm sure part of that reaction was due to the fact that I had shot with Canon for nearly 20 years. But the placement of the controls and the large rear control dial on Canon really felt better, especially in the vertical (or portrait) position. I noticed that the stretch of my thumb to the dial on Canon was much more comfortable than on Nikon, which requires a longer reach to the multi-selector dial (in the vertical position). This made it more difficult with Nikon to quickly scroll through the AF selection points when going from landscape to portrait. It's still something that I'm not completely comfortable with and it could just be a matter of time before I come to "grips" with it. Something else that jumped out at me on the D3 is the beautiful 3" LCD monitor on the back. It really helps in reviewing images and setting controls to have a nice large high resolution screen. And, to go along with it, the center button of the multi-selector dial can be set to zoom in during playback for a quick close-up to check focus.
One of my issues with Canon was the low-light focusing capability. It just seemed to struggle when light levels dipped to evening/night levels. So I was thrilled when I noticed how quickly the D3 latched onto the subject in low light. Very fast and very accurate. The flip side is that the D3 does have difficulty with low contrast subjects. It really needs some distinct contrast or it will hunt for focus. I'm sure part of this is due to the fact that not all of the AF sensors are the crosshair type, so if I'm using an AF point outside of the 15 crosshair sensors, focusing will not be quite as responsive under certain conditions.
I've never shot with a camera that produces a cleaner image at high ISO settings than the D3. Even at 3200-6400, files are pretty darn smooth considering the ability it's giving you to shoot in dim lighting. I love that Nikon kept this pro body full-frame sensor at 12 megapixels, which allows it to maintain very low noise while pushing the ISO up. This was another issue that concerned me with Canon. Every new body pushed the megapixel limits of cropped sensors, unless you go up to the 1Ds series, which retail for about $8,000. More megapixels is not always the best solution to better image quality. There are other factors involved.
There seems to be a general consensus that Nikon has the superior flash system. I tend to agree and have been very impressed with the consistency of the flash. I was equally impressed with the build quality (SB-900) and that Nikon includes a diffuser and color correction filters with their top level speedlights. However, at close distances, Canon handles flash exposure more accurately. The Nikon, when in tight, tends to overexpose.
Another industry consensus is that Canon makes better prime lenses, while Nikon's fast zoom lineup is tough to beat. For the work I do, I prefer a couple of fast (f2.8) zooms, like the 24-70 and 70-200, instead of an arsenal of prime lenses. So I'm quite happy with the quality and performance of the Nikon lenses. The image quality produced by Nikon optics is outstanding.
This is certainly a subjective area. To my eye, Canon produces a slightly warmer and straight-out-of-the-camera sharper image than Nikon. But Nikon's colors are so beautiful and seem to render a more film-like color quality. Nikon also takes a less aggressive approach to in-camera sharpening. So, initially, the images may appear a bit soft, but really only require the photographer to add sharpening in post-production to suit his or her needs or preferences. I also noticed that Nikon exposures are a bit lighter than what I was used to with Canon and I've begun to appreciate the shadow detail more apparent with Nikon image files.
-I miss the small lug at the bottom of the Canon grip which allowed a hand strap to be attached without having to use the tripod socket as a connector. Nikon does not have this feature, so a connector plate must be attached first, adding bulk.
-Canon handles strong backlit conditions much better. Nikon underexposes way too far in similar situations.
-Nikon's auto white balance does a better overall job in most lighting conditions.
-Batteries get a lot more mileage from Nikon.
-The sound of the mirror slapping open & closed during exposure on Nikon is classic.
-I love all the customization options to tailor my D3 to my shooting style. But I'm really a minimalist and would love a pro camera body with fewer bells & whistles, scaled down to the bare necessities. Sometimes, technology just gets in the way.
One system is not better than the other. They both offer professional gear and there are strengths & weaknesses in both Canon and Nikon systems, so there are trade-offs either way. My personal preferences and shooting style prompted me to make a difficult decision to switch over to Nikon. To be honest, at first I really thought I had made a bad decision. But it was mainly because I had grown so comfortable with Canon and there was a learning curve in getting acclimated with different controls on new tools. But as I became more familiar with Nikon, I gained confidence in not only the camera system, but in my decision to make the switch. I had actually been a Nikon shooter many years ago. My suggestion is. . .if you're comfortable with your system, don't switch. It's an expensive move and the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side. But if you really find yourself longing for a different feel and see some real benefits in another system, then do what's best for your photography. The bottom line is that the camera isn't creative. It's only a tool to help you create your images.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Sports Photography Exhibit

The current show at The Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City is a real winner! It features the work of Walter Iooss and Neil Leifer, two of the greatest sports photographers ever. These guys created amazing images, mostly in the era of film and manual focus/exposure cameras & lenses. Highly recommended, but go soon. . .it ends on March 14th.