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How do you know you need a new camera?

by on May.27, 2017, under Reviews


Introduction

For the vast majority of shooting I do, even on weddings, I find my aging DSLR is still more than enough camera for the job. After all, it’s the photographer, not the camera, right?
Nikon 35mm F2 D
ISO 200 | 1/1000 sec | F8

‘Do I need a new camera?’

Unsurprisingly, I get that question a lot. I also ask myself that question a lot, especially after working at DPReview for the last eighteen months. My answer has always been ‘no.’

Until now, that is.

You see, I shoot all my personal work on a Nikon D700. Why is that, you might ask? Well, I was handed-me-down a Nikon D80 way back, built up a collection of lenses, and followed the (questionable, these days) full-frame upgrade path. And once I got there, to my used (and abused) D700, I abruptly stopped. What on earth did I need more camera for?

I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of this D700 because a) it’s covered in tape to hold it together, so its ugly and therefore worthless to most resellers, and b) it’s been around the world with me and back again, and hasn’t missed a beat.

It still shoots 5fps, and that’s usually enough for weddings and events. Exposed properly, ISO 6400 is perfectly usable. It’s stood up to everything I’ve thrown at it (and accidentally thrown it at). And, most importantly, I’ve become familiar with all of its ins and outs, and how to work around its limitations. I am able operate it completely by muscle memory and, despite its aging tech, I’ve been confident that if I didn’t get the shot, it wasn’t the camera’s fault – it was mine.

With my flash and exposure set, focusing and grabbing this image of a soloing saxophonist on the dance floor didn’t pose much of a problem for the D700 and an 85mm F1.8 D lens I was using – but that wasn’t always the case.
ISO 6400 | 1/200 sec | F1.8

But as I was shooting a recent wedding, the Nikon D5 kept popping up in my mind. I was lead reviewer for that camera, and this nagging voice kept saying ‘the D5 could make this so much easier.’ And when a camera makes the task of capturing an image easier, my mind is that much more free to focus on composition, lighting, posing, and so on.

So am I buying a D5? Well, not without selling my motorcycle and my car, which would be a problem for getting to gigs since Nikon hasn’t included teleportation into their $6500 flagship. But now I’m finally looking at something a bit newer, and not just because I think it’ll make things easier for me.

Megapixels do matter

Sometimes, anyway.

For my own casual photography, for when I want to just take a camera along and document a camping trip, a friend’s barbecue or snap some photos at Thanksgiving, 12 megapixels is plenty. No one’s printing these photos big, and friends and family are just going to put them on Facebook or Instagram anyway. Maybe, just maybe, I might make some 4×6’s.

It’s for these sorts of wider group shots that I really came to lean on my second shooter’s higher megapixel cameras.
Canon 35mm F2 IS
ISO 100 | 1/1000 | F3.5
Photograph by David Rzegocki

Then my second shooter and I were wandering around the grounds of the University of Washington in Seattle with the bridal party, and shooting some more expansive group shots; shots that I knew that if people zoomed in to their faces on my D700 files, they could be disappointed. So I borrowed my partner’s 6D (or just let him frame up the shot) to make sure that, should they want to make some prints, or just take a closer look at their dresses and suits, they had the resolution they needed.

Now, I said they could be disappointed. There’s every chance that they wouldn’t care. But I’m reaching the point in my freelance career that it just wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.

‘What? The autofocus missed?’

Now don’t get me wrong – the pro-grade autofocus system in the D700, lifted directly from the D3, is still pretty fantastic. Most of the time. But I’m increasingly realizing that I want a system to be fantastic all of the time – there were a few strange autofocus mishaps I experienced that cost me a shot I was hoping to nail.

Surely it’s more about the mixed, dim lighting and old screw lenses than the camera in this case, right? On the contrary, I knew from my time with the D5 that Nikon’s newest autofocus system absolutely sings even with older lenses like mine, with a level of precision in marginal light that I’d expect from the D700 in bright daylight.

All I wanted a quick candid of the back of the bride’s necklace. It looks okay at 590 pixels, but zoom in any further and it’s soft, despite the lens being stopped down and the autofocus point having been placed over the necklace (so plenty of contrast).
Nikon 85mm F1.8 D
ISO 200 | 1/320 sec | F2.8

Lastly, as many times as I have insisted to our technical editor Rishi that 3D Tracking works ‘just fine’ on the D700, I shall now be unceremoniously cramming those words into my mouth. It was so unreliable compared to the newer models that I fell back on manually placing my autofocus point. I’d been doing this for years before I experimented with tracking on the D700, so my muscle memory came back pretty quickly, but I still knew I was taking a step backward and making just a little more work for myself.

Plus, that eight-way controller on the D700 is like an undercooked banana loaf; it’s just a mushy mess.

So what’s next?

Nikon 35mm F2 D
ISO 200 | 1/1600 sec | F8

I have officially sold one of my two D700’s (the one that’s in mint condition, not the one that’s dented and covered in gaff tape to keep the grip rubber on). And as for now, I’m not really sure what’s next – Nikon would probably be my first choice, as I still have plenty of lenses, but I’m totally open for some camera-brand soul searching.

One thing’s for certain, though. I’m going to take my time with this one. That’s because I want the next ‘main camera’ to be one that I can keep and be as satisfied with as long as possible, just like the D700. This may sound odd coming from a camera reviewer, but I just don’t want to upgrade all the time. I want to build up the same level of muscle memory I had with my old Nikon, and besides that, I have enough other interests and expenses that if a new camera won’t make a really measurable difference for my style of photography, it’s best to just skip it.

But then again – if I hadn’t had the opportunity to experiment not just with the Nikon D5, but also cameras like the Nikon D750, Canon EOS 5D IV, Sony a7R II, the Olympus E-M1 (original and Mark II), Panasonic GH5, Fujifilm X-T2 and many, many more, I wouldn’t have known what I’m missing.

Nikon 50mm F1.4D
ISO 6400 | 1/200 sec | F2

Now, for better (for my photography) or worse (for my bank account), I do know what I’ve been missing. After having so many opportunities to try out all those alternatives, I unequivocally know that a newer, updated camera could really benefit me as a photographer. And that’s how, finally, I know that it’s a good time for a change.



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Video: Portrait pro Tamara Lackey on self-doubt

by on May.26, 2017, under Reviews


Self-doubt and/or self-consciousness can get in the way of your photographic goals, especially when it comes to making pictures of people. Fortunately Nikon ambassador USA and portrait photographer Tamara Lackey has sound advice on the subject. Instead of seeking to overcome your self-consciousness, embrace it and use it as a tool to bring out authentic expression in your images. How? Watch the lecture and find out.



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Video: Kai Wong's first impressions of the new DJI Spark drone

by on May.25, 2017, under Reviews


 
DJI’s latest drone is here and it is tiny, stabilized and reasonably priced. A floating selfie stick of sorts, the DJI Spark is likely to appeal to a wide array of casual users and enthusiasts. So is it any good? Kai Wong spent some time testing out a prototype of the Spark prior to its release, and seems impressed with the video quality and stablization. Have a watch for specifics and some insightful commentary, as well as a bit of humor.



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