I know that as a blogging, professional photographer I am supposed to make all of the photographic assignments I shoot sound big and dramatic, and matters of life and death (or matters of "Light and Depth" ---the title of one of my favorite books on lighting by R. Lowell---yes, the founder of Lowell Lighting). But the reality is that most of my assignments are re-shootable and most of the photographs I take are actually just for fun. I do earn nearly 100% of my living taking images but that only constitutes about 1/5th of the total images I take. The rest I do because it's fun and the act of photographing makes me feel as though I'm doing something artistic even when I am just taking images of my coffee cup or the same street corner I've looked at a thousand times before.
So, when I proceed to talk about my walk around downtown yesterday with the big, honking Nikon D810 you won't imagine that I was embarking on any solo master class aimed at shifting any paradigms. I was just out to enjoy the heat, the biker rally in downtown and the straightforward act of looking at stuff and playing with the camera. My little exercise for the day was to use the camera at its lowest, native ISO (which is 64) and couple that with my favorite new lens, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. I wish I had seen noble bikers or luscious biker babes but most of the people I saw were obese, middle aged people who just happened to own Harleys. Everywhere I looked downtown it seemed as though I was watching scenes from the Tim Allen movie, Wild Hogs.
I stopped looking for interesting biker photos and satisfied myself by finding scenes which would show of the capabilities of my camera and lens combination. Setting the camera ISO at 64 means you have to pay closer attention to shutter speeds and f-stops. I shoot mostly in aperture priority when I'm just goofing around so if I set f11 for a sunlit scene that I need depth of field for I must remember to head back to the wider apertures when I get into areas of open shade or walk through a hotel lobby, otherwise I'll end up with some shutter speed like 1/15th and since neither camera nor lens have I.S. it's a real issue.
The interesting thing about shooting the D810 at 64 and using the 14 bit, uncompressed raw files is the sheer amount of dynamic range you end up with in each exposure. You can be a stop or two under and at least a stop over exposed and you can make a beautiful image just by moving the sliders in Photoshop. Of course I love to take things to extremes so when I played with the image above and the image below I went a little slider crazy. My own wacky version of HDR. Only shot in camera and realized in post.
The amazing attribute of the D810 that I never read about from other photographers and reviewers is the way the camera's sensor renders clouds. The absolute lack of noise coupled with super high resolution means that for the first time since I started shooting digitally I don't see any unwanted texture in the solid blue sky areas. That was my real epiphany from yesterday: The combination of low ISO in combination with high resolution means totally convincing blue skiesfor the first time since medium or large format transparency film. Wow! Everything I pointed the camera+lens combination at looked hyper-real to me. Not in a beat you over the head with it way but in an almost natural way; like waking up after a storm has blown through and cleared out all the haze and junk. The D810 would be an addictive camera and the Sigma lens a keen partner if the whole darn rig wasn't so bulky and heavy. The trade off for perfect files?
Either I am very fickle or I do things in some sort of sinusoidal rhythm. I started a job on Friday with one set of cameras. The job entailed documenting a meeting and seminar in a big sun and fluorscent lit, tiered auditorium on that day. I used a Nikon D610 and a Nikon D810 with a selection of appropriate lenses doing reportage of a billionaire mentoring 125 kids, ages 19 to 24. I shot almost everything available light and at ISOs ranging from 1600 to 3200. I shot raw because of the insanely mixed lighting. The cameras functioned perfectly and the files are as noise free as I need them to be for the job parameters.
The very next morning I'd spent another four hours with the same kids and different trainers in the ballroom at the Westin Hotel in the Domain Center in north Austin. This time around I used two Olympus EM-5.2s and a small smattering of little lenses. Leaning most heavily on the Panasonic 12-35mm and the old, Olympus 60mm f1.5 lens. Why not use the Nikons again? Boredom? Closer quarters? More intimate environment maybe?
I shot about 500 images on Friday afternoon and another 400 on Saturday morning. When I edited everything in Lightroom you could tell the differences between the two sets of files but it was more of a stylistic differentiation and not so much about absolute quality. Both sets of cameras do available light well. The Olympus cameras had the advantage because the ballroom had uniform light color with no pollution from windows so I could set a custom white balance on both cameras and leave it there for the whole morning.
When I finished my editing in the middle of Saturday afternoon I just reflexively reached for the Nikon. Later as I was walking around in our meager downtown I was reflecting on my choices. Almost like satori in a walking meditation I realized that the assignment previous to the Friday afternoon assignment had been shooting video at Cantine Restaurant with the Olympus cameras. I was unconsciously switching between camera systems for every other job. My Saturday afternoon walk-with-camera was just a continuation of the pattern! A creature of alternating realities.
It's a continual trade off of strengths and weaknesses. And that's what makes the pattern so much fun. You go out and try to maximize the strength of each system. From a work-for-money point of view it makes enough sense to be rational. The contrasts between systems drive one to learn the best ways to use each system to its highest potential. Part of a continual learning cycle.
But it confuses my consumer brain. When I paused for a coffee this afternoon I started thinking about augmenting one system or the other. Should I buy a Nikon D750 to gain an additional full frame camera with great video capabilities (ditching the two D610s in the process) or should I hold fast on Nikon purchases and pick up the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 that's getting such great reviews?
I was fixated on that until I talked to a friend who was working through a more expensive crisis of choice (love that phrase). He was trying to decide which dedicated professional video camera to buy for his full time video production business. His ordeal was even worse as neither of his two contenders is even on the market yet... they've been announced but won't be released until August. And his investment dwarfs either of my choices.
I mentioned this all to my son who chuckled, shook his head, and said, "Yet another set of first world problems."
And I felt just a little embarrassed.