Settling into a groove with the Nikon D750 camera and some of the older lenses.

I fall in the love with the idea of a new camera pretty quickly but I warm up to them slowly, once the blush of initial excitement wears off. I see it, I want it, I buy it --- but then it takes a while for me to get comfortable with the menus, with the placement of the buttons and knobs and with the way a particular camera makes colors and tones. 

I more or less cheated with the D750. I'd spent a fair amount of time just before getting this camera ranging around with two of its immediate predecessors, the D610s. My hands were comfortable with the size and my brain had figured out most of the menu items. A lot of my recent time spent with the new camera has been spent working on the stuff that has changed. Little things like color profiles and the nuances of the AF system. 

My first really deep dive with the D750 was a video and still assignment for an ad agency's own self promotion campaign. I spent several full days shooting stills on locations that were lit by either daylight, tungsten or LED lights. Nothing fast moving but everything had to be just right. Another full day was spent shooting video and I'll say that working with a camera for 8 hours straight is a great crash course in what can be done. But it's in the post production and editing where you see how the camera really did its part of the job. While I still think the D810 is a tad sharper I am very happy with the overall performance and video handling of the D750. It's my preferred shooting camera for work now over the D810.

One thing I never thought I'd use on the D750 is the 1.2X crop mode. I was shooting portraits in the studio this week and wanted to use the 85mm f1.8G because it's a sweet optic and it nails focus very well for head and shoulders work. The problem was that I wanted a bit tighter crop. Of course I could crop in post but I really like to see and shoot for final crop in the camera. With the camera set at 1.2X I could shoot at the equivalent of 102mm which was absolutely perfect. I lost some pixels but I didn't miss them. With crop lines in the finder it was almost like shooting on one of my old, rangefinder cameras. 

I'm in awe of you guys out there who can memorize a camera menu, understand all the custom function buttons and master a camera in a weekend. Even more fascinated by those of you who profess to be able to put the camera aside for weeks or months and then pick it up, fully ready to go without even a dry run in between. I confess that I really need to live with a camera, a lot, to get comfortable with it. When I'm working with a relatively new camera I might carry along a "known" back up camera for months until I am willing to let go of the training wheels. 

A case in point: I've had this camera for a month or so and only yesterday did I discover (and then use) the ability to set "clarity" in the  monochrome settings. Hadn't needn't it before and never went looking for it. But there it is, along with the slider for sharpness, contrast, etc. 

Yesterday was also the first day I had willfully gone out and forced myself not only to use the camera's built in HDR feature but to also use the camera with an older, manual focus Nikon lens and a polarizing filter. Lot's to mentally manage at one time but a nice exercise in camera operation, nonetheless. 

I chose to use the 25-50mm f4.0 lens because I think there is something really cool about it. I haven't put my finger on quite what the coolness is but I think if I use the lens enough I'll find it. It may just be that it's from such a different lens design era and it just looks different enough to me from the modern lens designs to make it a visual standout. I know it has a good deal of distortion at various focal length settings but I also know it's pretty sharp and highly flare resistant at f8.0. 

After a spell of letting both my Nikon and Olympus cameras do their autofocus thing during jobs and personal shooting it was very, very refreshing to get back to using a manual focus lens with hard stops at infinity and close focus. And unlike the "fly by wire" autofocus lenses for the Olympus it was also refreshing to go back to a lens with a marked distance scale. I was shooting in bright sunlight so I set the camera to manual exposure. As long as I shot images drenched in Texas sun I never, ever needed to change exposures or even look at the meter indications. It was just like shooting with an older Leica M3 and having the Kodak exposure chart Scotch taped to the bottom plate of the camera. 

Once you nail down the right exposure you never have to think about it until the sun starts to set or until you step into shadow.  By the same token a 25mm focal length lens, stopped down to f8.0 has a pretty generous depth of field. I found myself zone focusing most of the time when I was in the wide region of the zoom range. As I got closer to 50mm I took more care to fine tune. But when shooting buildings that sit one or two hundred feet away at 20mm-28mm I was pretty darn comfortable rolling the lens to the infinity stop and blazing away. It's a different way of shooting than what I watch most photographers do. Mostly they use AF lenses and automatic exposure. They lock focus with a half press of the shutter button and then commit. But the whole process more or less coaxes one to compose to the AF squares. Not as much fun (or as fun to look at) as a more chaotic and alternative compositional style. 

I discovered the black and white fine tuning late in the day and didn't have as much time to experiment as I would have liked but it's got me reset back into my old black and white film days. I came home and put a 50mm on the camera and locked the ISO to 400, just like Tri-X of old. 

There's a bonding process that occurs when you carry the same camera with you a lot of the time and shoot with it over and over again. You get comfortable with it and it's not that it disappears but more like it starts to collaborate with you and allow you more emotional range while shooting. 

I am smitten with the D750 and would like one more. All cameras should travel in pairs. Like rattlesnakes. It's good to shoot with identical cameras; it reduces the conscious thought process that sometimes slows down good seeing.

Have you seen our Cantine Cafe and Bar video?
We didn't shoot it with Nikons but I think you'll like it. 

1 comment:

Olaf Hoyer said...

Thats the cool thing about Nikon Cameras: You are still able to slap (mostly) any old Nikkor lens on it and it will produce nice images.

Had this weekend some portrait work with some beautiful models in a national park in Czech, where I used a D7100 (crop camera) with an old Nikkor 55m f/1.2 Ai - one is required to work with some care and precision with focusing, but the results were outstanding, as 55mm on crop translate to approx. 83mm - so being comparable to one of the classic focal lengths in portrait photography...
Even wide open it can behave well, and stopped down to f/2.8 or more it was really able to show newer lenses their place...

Working with MF lenses on a DSLR is also a good exercise or way to work more consciously, because you will have to care about some things the camera usually hides from you, so you will have to concentrate really on the subject- which usually yields better pictures.