I didn't really have a mission in mind but I'd been working on a project in the studio and I wanted a reason to go out and bake for a little while in the intense sunlight that's finally come (late in the Summer) to Austin. I had the EM5.2 on the front seat of the car (random heat testing) and after I started the engine I had second thoughts so I brought the toasty little camera into the studio and grabbed one of the Nikon 610s instead. The one with the 50mm Sigma 1.4 Art lens welded permanently on the front. I double checked on the two buzz kill parameters before I left the driveway: Does the camera currently have a (charged) battery inside? And, Does the camera currently have a memory card, with space, installed in one of the slots? If the answer is "yes" then the trip to downtown proceeds. The answer was "yes."
I'm usually pretty flippant with my own, fun work. I use the cameras in the large, fine Jpeg mode a lot. It works well for lots and lots of stuff. But I'd been bouncing around a few operational ideas in my head and wondered just how much of a difference it would make if I "upped my game" and started shooting at the very high edge of this camera's potential. I set the camera to Raw, Lossless Compression, 14 bit color. I set the ISO to 100 and I set the lens aperture to f3.5 or f4.0 --- theoretically the sharpest zone for that particular lens.
I strolled through the yellow heat of the day from my car to the Graffiti Wall a half mile away. The camera dangled over my left shoulder. I got to the wall and sat on a bench, in the shade of a line of trees that sits on the street side, east boundary of the park and watched the Sunday afternoon throng. In the middle of the bench was a man who had come to the park with his kids. They came all the way from Arlington. Their final destination was Fiesta Texas (huge amusement park) in San Antonio, Texas. My bench friend had heard about "the Wall" all the way up near Dallas and wanted to see it for himself. The kids were off spraying paint and having a blast. The father and I both agreed that every city should have a big wall that anyone can paint on. Any time. Any day.
After my brief respite from the heat I got up and starting looking for photographs. I let the camera strap dangle and I hold the camera in both hands when I am walking around. My left hand around the lens and might right hand wrapped around the grip. I shot some details and then walked up to the North corner of the wall. That's what's in the image above.
I looked at the scene in front of me. I wouldn't have tried shooting it with an older generation of camera; digital or analog, because the left hand side of the wall is in full, 3 p.m. sun while just around the corner the conjoined couple is standing in full, open shade. f16 versus f5.6? Cameras with much lower dynamic range would presumably either block up the shadow areas or blow out some highlights as I tried to straddle the two vastly different exposures. I decided to make the exposure for the sun drenched side of the frame and let the shadow side fall where ever it intended to land.
But here's the interesting part: when I go back to the frame, select the couple and then recover the shadows this is what I get....
This is a normal exposure with the Active D-Lighting turned off. No HDR. No special handling other than the settings I talked about above. But it is a perfectly good frame in and of itself, other than being enlarged to about 100%. What this shows me is that the ability to recover shadows had benefits in post production that are amazing. To really make a "scientific" comparison I would have had another camera, representing the "lower DR" camp, set up on exactly the same spot and I would have shot an identical frame. Well, that's not going to happen on my leisure time but my memory for camera performances is pretty good and I can't remember using a digital camera (other than a D810) that comes close to this kind of shadow recovery performance.
This is one of the reasons I come back to the D610s again and again. According to DXO tests and comparisons the D610, at 100 ISO, yields 14.4 stops of DR while the D810 at ISO 64 yields an outrageous 14.8 stops of DR. The closest Canon (5Ds) comes in at 12.4 stops; two full stops less dynamic range. The D610, based entirely on raw file performance, is the 4th best camera on the DXO test grid and it's only a hair under the performance of the next three top cameras. Not bad for a camera which one could pick up, lightly used, for just $1200 as recently as a few weeks ago.
While I can plainly see the results of the wide dynamic range in the initial shot at the top of this blog I can also tell you that in print, when printing to photographic printing paper, or when going into color separations, this dynamic range is a visible tool that allows you to play with the contrast and representation of your images.
You want a killer, full frame camera to play around with? Need some ultra wide dynamic range for your work? You can pick up a trouble free Nikon D610 with a USA warranty for about $1495. Taking a chance on a lightly used one? Think $1200 for a good price point. Just thinking out loud here but sure am happy to have a couple of these as back-ups for my D810...