Frame of frames from the Nikon V1 at ISO 800. In the glow of the stage lights....
I often allude to the idea that, if not for being a photographer I would never have seen so much of corporate America from the inside out and I would never have travelled as extensively as I have. And I will say that I have been "inside the gate" at some very, very interesting meetings and events. I've watched half drunk CEO's throw temper tantrums in Paris and I've been a "fly on the wall" for private meetings of former presidents and billionaires. In almost every instance of "brushes with greatness" I've been dressed in a suit and tie, shoes shined and fingernails cleaned. You gain proximity by appearing to belong.
I can't really write about the substance of the conference I've been photographing for the last three days as it was by invitation only and only one media person was allowed to attend.....and then only for a few hours. But I will say that the conference was both interesting and, in certain regards, scary. It dealt with issues of world finance and business. I can say I wore a different suit each day. And my shoes were shined.....
But what I can and will talk about are the cameras I used over the last 72 hours. And why I'm amazed at one of my newest acquisitions. I'm just going to fill in the rough plot here but I'll write a more comprehensive report once I get my client's "okay" to release some of the conference images so you can get a taste of the differences I saw. Also, I am photographing an audio session in a recording studio tomorrow so I'll supplement this piece with some photos from that project as soon as I get them processed.
On sunday I shot standard "grip and grin" images at a reception and dinner for 150 people at the conference center. I used a Canon 1D mk2N with the 24-105mm zoom, in conjunction with a Canon 580ex2 firing into a Rogue flexible bounce modifier. (Which I highly recommend). Even though I was using eTTL I was careful to use the camera in spot meter mode, lock in the focus and use FEL religiously. I got a near 98% success rate from the combo. The finder of the big Canon, along with a split screen makes the camera fun to shoot.
On monday I used the Canon 1ds2, and the Canon 1dmk2, the Canon 5Dmk2 and the Nikon V1. The 1Ds2 got bagged after twenty frames. The screen on the back isn't wonderful and you can only shoot raw in the full size format. I didn't need files that big. It's also clunkier to use with shoe mount flash. It doesn't seem as responsive as its stablemate, the 1D mk2N. Definitely a camera I like using tethered.
For most of the day monday I haunted a table near the main stage and shot images of speakers, presenters and panels, on the stage. I ended up shooting the 70-200mm on the 1D mk2 and the 24-105 on the Canon 5D2. I brought the three Zeiss primes but I only flirted with the 85mm. The light was too low and the people too kinetic to make the 85mm much fun. It was also too short. I liked the longer zoom for individual shots and the other zoom for wide stage shots. So, into the bag for storage went the three Zeiss primes, along with the Canon 1DS mk2.
After I got into the rythme of the event and realized that each session would last anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half I started pulling out the little Nikon and putting it through its paces. I had to shoot at ISO 800 or 1600 to get a fast enough shutter speed under the rather anemic stage lights. (In defense of the guys in production, the room has low ceilings which means lighting truss is lower and that puts lights closer to presenter's eye lines. That means you need to dial down the lumens to keep people on the stage from squinting...)
By the end of a nine hour shooting day I'd logged about 1300 images on the little Nikon. Here's what I found out: You can use the electronic shutter on this camera and it is SILENT. Not just quiet. Absolutely silent. Needle drop silent. Makes an old Leica rangefinder sound like a hammer on corrugated iron by comparison.
The camera will focus on anything in good light and hold onto it like a pitbull who's got ahold of a brisket. Even though I am a card carrying luddite I found myself playing with modes like: Scene select and focus follow. I even had good luck combining face recognition with focus follow. It was amazing.
The EVF equals or betters the VF2 on the Olympus (more about the slap down in just a few paragraphs). Of course, I could change all the menu items in the EVF so I never had to take the camera away from my eye. I'd done a few tests the week before to see how the EVF and the back LCD match up to my monitor in the office and those tests gave me the courage to depend on the viewfinder for color and exposure.
The V1 focuses faster than my Canon 5Dmk2 but not as fast as my 1D.
The meter in the V1 is pretty amazing as well. I left it in evaluative but I did my exposures in manual. I was rarely disagreeing with the meter by more than a third of a stop in one direction or the other.
I got tired of carrying all the big stuff with me so on Monday evening I reconfigured. Out went the One series Canons and in came the 5D2 with a 60D as a back up. (the difference in batteries alone was two pounds.) I also added the Olympus Pen EP3 with VF2 finder, the kit zoom and my favorite old 60mm 1.5 Pen FT manual focus lens. Now everything got interesting. And now everything fit in one bag.
Between the two Canons the operation of the 60D was much smoother and, at ISO 2500 the files were pretty darn close. I shot everything set to 3200K (WB) after confirming with the show director that we were using naked tungsten lights on the stage. The Canons both gave me smooth, detailed and low noise files. No real contest here. And no teasing: Both were two stops better in noise handling that the two little cams.
By the end of the day I was shooting 40% of the shots with the Nikon V1 and probably 40% of the shots with the Olympus Pen EP3. I ended up keeping both cameras at ISO 800 and tried to be careful to catch people at the peak of their actions to reduce blur. Most exposures were between 1/80th and 1/160th of a second with the lenses used wide open. The other 20% of the shots were done with the Canons.
Here's how it breaks down today: Even though I shot the EP3 in raw and the Nikon in Jpeg (with high ISO filter set to low) the Nikon had at least a full stop advantage in observable noise over the Olympus. And believe me I worked the Noise Ninja as hard as I could.... It also consistently delivered a more pleasing overall color balance. The image stabilization in the Nikon V1 (kit lens to kit lens comparison) is more tenacious and efficacious than the Olympus version.
I give the Olympus points for several things. First, superior feel in the hand. Second, built in flash that works without issues. Third, the ability to use cool, old MF lenses. Really cool lenses. When I say one camera is less noisy than another that's not a condemnation of the noisy camera. It's just a difference.
Both of the smaller cameras were quick and accurate in their focusing. The Nikon V1 was more accurate in the metering. The Olympus feels more luxurious. The Nikon more utilitarian. Which would I own? Both.
If you had to choose between them you'd have to get clear on what you want from a camera. At ISO 400 there's nothing to complain about from either camera, where image quality is concerned. If you shoot sports the little Nikon is hard to beat. If you like to drop things out of focus in your portrait backgrounds the EP3 with the 60mm 1.5 is pretty tough to beat. Or you could just go back and forth.
If Nikon ever starts shipping the little flash I'll do my next interior conference with the V1 system and take the EP3 as the back up. Everything else can stay home and pal around with gravity. These little cameras are high enough quality to do the job. As long as the rider is up to the task.
More will be added here after I shoot the recording session tomorrow.
Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered the LED book. I think my publisher was shocked that your responses drove the book from obscurity to #3200 on all of Amazon in less than 48 hours. I was amazed and happy.
Now, let's all get some sleep.