A day spent defying logic and reason in the realm of professional photography.

Want a full frame camera cheap?
I noticed that our local camera store is 
full of used Nikon D600 and D610 cameras, 
most for less than a thousand bucks.
This post is about a different camera.

I have a client that makes physical stuff. Not software or vaporware or social networking opportunities, but real stuff made from metal or plastic and sometimes both. They fabricate everything from sheet metal enclosures for data hubs to wiring harnesses for the auto industry. They even populate circuit boards using surface mount technology. And like just about every other business they need to advertise, and market, which sometimes means that they need photographs and videography. Like most companies of a certain size they aren't rushing to have an intern create their content with an iPhone; they actually hire people with experience to come to their locations and make images. Amazing, right?

I did work for them back in 2012 and 2013 but I hadn't heard from them since. I never conjecture about where a client has gotten off to because having run an ad agency I know that some clients think of creative tools as a five year investment and some are hoping the materials people create for them will last ten years. Some times client circle back and some times they disappear and you never see them again. It's just the nature of the business...

At any rate, this particular client has expanded, they now have facilities here in Austin as well as in India, Mexico and China. They figured that with all the new locations and all the new services they are offering it's high time their almost six year old website (and print collateral materials) got updated. The ad agency they used in 2013 is gone; out of business, as is the production company that did their first and only video. I'm the last guy standing. Pretty weird if you ask me, but the company got in touch and they'd like me to handle the content creation. If I were rational and logical I'd just cherry pick the stuff I like to do, and which has the most profit attached, and ignore the rest. There is an old saying amongst therapists; it goes like this: "Just because somebody throws you a ball doesn't mean you have to catch it." But I am a slow learner so I agreed to make a new set of photographs for their Austin and Mexico locations and to try to salvage a good video edit out of the materials they were able to rescue from the now non-existent production company. My first call was to my favorite editor. That's the easy part; getting the client to do things my way is, inevitably, the hard part.

The first leg of our new journey together was to photograph a day's worth of material at their Austin location. This included images of their new surface mount circuit board assembly resources, their wire harness production line and a bunch of similar subjects. Just for fun we took another run through their machine shop to document the continued existence of their CNC machines and some of their precision mechanical toys.

When I packed last night I had every intention of using the Nikon D800e to do all the heavy lifting today; I packed the D700 as a back up camera, just in case. But this morning when I opened the backpack with the camera gear I just had the most contrarian impulse to pick up the D700 instead and to spend the day shooting it. So that's exactly what I did.

This was a "throw back" Friday for my photography. Armed with a raft of lenses that I've used in previous iterations of my business, and a stout and solid tripod, I sallied forth to capture photons across the big pixels on the D700 sensor. Out of a selection of eight lenses I mostly leaned on some ancient favorites like the 20mm f2.8 AF-d, the 24mm f2.8 AF-d, the 28mm f2.8 Ais, the 85mm f1.8 AF-d and, for ultimate flexibility, the 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens.

When I got to the location I was very happy to learn that the nasty old florescent tubes that flickered their way through our previous shooting had all been uniformly replaced by very nice LED tubes. One custom white balance got me through the entire day and my own LEDs were perfect for discreet fill lighting. What a time saver it is to have an entire facility uniformly lit!

So, how did the ancient and battered D700 fare? I'm going to say it did really well. Most of the images were of people engaged in their jobs; anything from fabricating braided cables to quality checking circuit boards. In a job like this people aren't moving quickly and the light levels are high enough to keep the ISOs under 640 (for the most part). I worked almost entirely on a large tripod and took advantage of the mirror lock up coupled with a shutter delay setting. I tried to figure out and shoot at each lens's optimum aperture but I did use the 85mm at f2.0 a lot in order to blur backgrounds.

What did I find out when I came back to the studio and started post processing in the newest version of Lightroom? I learned (for the millionth time) that your ancient D700 can look as good as the newer cameras if you take time to: Set a good custom white balance. Watch your histogram. Nail your exposure. Use prime lenses. Use prime lenses at their best performing apertures. Put your camera on a dense and vibration free tripod. Use the mirror lock up. Use the shutter delay setting. Stay close to the lowest real ISO on the camera. Focus carefully. Add fill light when needed (also called: instant dynamic range). 

I'm uploading 650+ images to Smugmug.com right now to share with my client. They all look great.

We'll be working on getting a concept nailed together for re-making their video and, in a couple of weeks, the CEO and I are heading to Mexico to shoot at their facility. I hate to make the dilettantes unhappy but I'll probably shoot that with the D700 as well. But not to worry, I'll take along the D800e as a back up.

And yes, we are shooting all the video as All-I 200 mbs 10 bit, 4:2:2 with twin Panasonic GH5's'; the video in the D700 sucks...


  1. I showed this one to a friend who was heavily criticized for getting a D800e a couple of years ago. I think I'm going to need vinegar to wipe the smile off his mug! :)

  2. You have often said that the nature of the content beast is the small screen- Web sites where still or video is viewed on a desktop monitor, laptop or mobile phone. and that Mega Pixels are ofter downsized to fit viewing device. It's interesting that adding light and low ISO coupled with a heavy tripod and shot discipline - how many readers bother with mirror lockup??- produce better images than amping up the gain and shoot at a high ISO.

  3. My biggest regret of the last year was buying the Sony A7 II, new. I hardly buy anything new anymore, and would be financially happier had my foray into full frame been second user! Would still have bought the A7 II, though. In the U.K, I see the 5D MK I selling for £300, the D700 for £500-600 and the D610s around £800. Plenty of cheap lens options for all three, and perfect for any amateur wanting to try out a larger format.

  4. Hello Kirk, very interesting. As for your recommendations: "take time to: Set a good custom white balance. Watch your histogram. Nail your exposure. Use prime lenses. Use prime lenses at their best performing apertures. Put your camera on a dense and vibration free tripod. Use the mirror lock up. Use the shutter delay setting. Stay close to the lowest real ISO on the camera. Focus carefully." Most of us old-time photographers follow these practices (although with a Leica M or Rolleiflex you do not have to worry abut the mirror). But I am always amazed how many of the new caveman-discovers-fire digital photographers refuse to listen to advice and think they know better with their super-technological new cameras. Sigh....

  5. Kirk, I think you just helped me past the latest flare-up of Nikon Acquisition Syndrome. My wife and I thank you. Try out an extra-battery grip on your D700 some time. Presto, poor man's D3.

  6. Back in the days of 35mm film, I think there was a camera called the Pentax K1000, that was introduced, and then stayed on the market for about 20 years or so, absolutely unchanged. I do miss those days.

    With digital, you get a new camera from the manufactures every one to three years, whether or not you wanted one. A six year old digital camera is almost considered an antique. Ten years old, and it's basically worthless, regardless of the initial asking price.

    Not only has this been a very bad trend for photographers all all stripes, but it really sucks for the environment too. Things are no better in the realm of computers, cell phones, tablets, TV's, etc., etc. Way too much digital junk out there. People are really getting tired of these constant upgrade cycles, both in hardware and software.

    As a computer technician, people hate it when I tell them that the software/hardware they were using so productively no longer works because they just installed the FREE new OS upgrade in place of So if they want their old stuff to work again, they are going to have to BUY the upgrades....if they are even available. You would think people would have caught on to this scam by now, but they are always surprised, as if this has never happened before. And they are SHOCKED, absolutely SHOCKED when I tell them "Well, you don't HAVE to upgrade your OS..."

    So nice to see you using the old iron. Perhaps an optical finder isn't all that bad after all. :-)

  7. I have been tempted by the D700 for a while. Our local camera place had one for just over $500. I love the color of the D700, and of course it feels solid in your hands for a good reason. The D700 would allow me to spend my money on a really great lens, (and of course I am partial to the two fast 24-70 that Nikon offers.)

    My question is, what do you do if you suddenly see something that leans toward video rather than stills? (Even in the assignment you described, you might run across a press brake machine that really only "shows its stuff" in video.) Do you carry two cameras?

    For the average hobbyist/enthusiast, we are not likely to carry two cameras, so it seems like the ideal solution is a newer camera?


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