Using the Nikon D810 as a "Zoom" Camera.

Chanel Haynes-Schwartz at Zach Theatre. 
©2015 Kirk Tuck

I'd love to own every lens in the Nikon catalog (except the crappy kit lenses and weird, DX lenses) and I'd also like to own all of the Sigma Art lenses but, unfortunately, I live in the real world reality of a commercial photographer working in a second tier market. C'est la vie.

If I had all the lenses I want I'd have one of the discontinued Nikon 300mm f2.0 lenses and a full time assistant to carry it around for me. I chose to buy a car instead. We still need those in Texas. We don't need 300mm f2.0s quite as much.

But where it would always come in handy is when shooting dress rehearsals on the new Topfer stage at Zach Theatre. In the two older stages we rarely ever shot dress rehearsals with a full audience and the venues were tiny by comparison. Generally, I got by handily with a fast, medium range zoom and something like a 70-200mm or sometimes even just a 135mm f2.8. Something with enough reach that, from the front row, created a sense of close intimacy.

Ah, how things change. We are now shooting with almost full houses and while I could move about (marketing takes some precedence over "family and friends" non-paying audiences) I think it's too disruptive and too difficult to work around and in front of a packed house in the same way. I've mostly chosen a vantage point that allows me to shoo fully stage shots (side to side) from the middle row, sitting in front of the videographer and just on the aisle row that has space between the front and read of the house.

Now if I want an intimate shot I'm racking my 80-200mm f2.8 all the way out and praying that the actors do fun and interesting stuff near the front of the stage. Lately, I've decided to do what I would have never done with a less resolution intensive camera and I've started using the various crop modes that the D810 offers. I can easily switch between the full frame (200mm) a 1.2X crop (240mm) or the DX crop (300mm). I know that these modes are really just crops of the sensor but they help me visualize (with the finder lines) exactly what I'll end up with and, since I shoot so many images it potentially saves me a ton of time in post production.

This shot is a perfect example of where a high resolution camera, in crop mode, shines. Chanel was near the back of the stage, at least 100 feet from my stationary position and I really wanted to get in tight enough to make the shot interesting. I did a longer, vertical shot of her to show off the dress with the exaggerated train but I felt like the tighter composition would be more engaging. Since I was already at the 200mm setting of my f2.8 zoom it was necessary to start using the "punch in" crops. I used the 1.5X, DX crop and I still had enough resolution to allow the art director to crop even tighter, if she wanted to. When you click on the image above you'll see it at around 2100 pixels wide but the original file is 5520 x 3680 pixels. That's still an amazing amount of resolution to play with, especially for web use.

More amazing to me is the image quality of the files given that they are shot at 1600 ISO and are handheld with neither the camera nor the lens having the benefit of image stabilization. At a 300mm equivalent that's pretty great performance from every part of the chain (including me).

I now pronounce the Nikon D810 the current, ultimate zoom digital camera. Crop to your heart's content and do it in camera so you know what you are getting. Cropping after the fact is just an act of desperation or stubborness...

And, by the way, take a chance and read the novel....


Wolfgang Lonien said...

That's why paparazzi also love them... ;-)

typingtalker said...

Kirk wrote, "At a 300mm equivalent that's pretty great performance from every part of the chain (including me)."

Corrected to read, "At a 300mm equivalent that's pretty great performance from every part of the chain (mostly me).

Hardware is important but it's mostly technique that makes the difference in difficult situations. And great technique comes with experience. Take a bow, Kirk.

James Pilcher said...

Now, Kirk, regarding that Nikkor 300mm f/2, you can put a ZD 150mm f/2 on your E-M5.2 and get the FOV and shutter speed of that legendary Nikkor. And probably better image quality. Additionally, most mirrorless aficionados are aware that the current M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO gives you an 80-300mm f/2.8 for FOV and shutter speed. It's just a stunning lens in every respect.

And just for my own fun, I would own a Nikon D750 and the Nikkor 200mm f/2, if financial reality were suspended. Just for fun.

We are blessed with so many modern choices! I, for one, do not miss leaving behind the film world.

Anders said...

Hi Kirk,

You can also gray out the area outside the crop area using these settings:

D800: Set autofocus a5 (AF point illumination) to off.
D810: Set autofocus a6 (AF point illumination) to off.

Then select cropped mode DX, 1.2x, 5:4 etc.

The view finder will now show a shaded gray area around the cropped format.

I think it is a bit more relaxing than keeping an eye on the crop lines.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Anders. That's great info that I never ferreted out. I'll try it tonight for a shoot tomorrow. Again, Thanks!

Gato said...

Thanks to Kirk for the post and thanks to Anders for the tip. I rarely have need for long lenses - certainly not often enough to buy a really good one - so I'll try this next time I have a chance.

Glad I checked back for new comments.

Anders said...

Hi Kirk, you are more than welcome.

Cliff R. said...

Kirk, I'm 31 years old and I'm stunned at how well you can handhold a lens like that without VR. Compared to my dad I have very steady hands but I find it a challenge just to use the 85 1.8G on a D7000 and get good sharp shots at anything below 1/250. Obviously my technique needs improving.