Showing posts sorted by relevance for query D700. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query D700. Sort by date Show all posts


Sunday morning stream of consciousness. Another D700 joins the team.

Ben and the Leaf A7i Digital Camera.

Thursday, last week, was a lot of fun for me. I had nothing pressing to do. The hoopla of Independence Day was past. I had signed up to photograph the kid's programs at long time client, Zach Theatre, and I was ready for a day spent playing with two cameras, three lenses and no shot list, no minute by minute schedules.

I clipped my official, silver colored Zach name badge onto my shirt pocket, picked up a magnetic key card and spent the day walking between the theater's three stages, two rehearsal halls and two temporary classrooms. I was aiming to get a representative sampling of the program's participants; kids from five years old to high school age, and I was looking for a nice mix of activities; from acting to dancing to playful improvisation. 

The theater will use the images to promote their programs and recruit students from across every neighborhood in Austin. 

I started in the biggest rehearsal hall where the kids were learning the basics of ballet and where the theater had set up about forty feet of portable ballet bars against which to practice the various dance positions. Since the kid weren't moving fast here it was a great place to concentrate on tighter compositions of individual kids concentrating on their poses and showing off a bit of innate physical grace. I started off shooting with an 85mm 1.8 lens but I felt like I had to get too close to get the tight compositions I wanted and my proximity seemed to invasive. I then opted for the 70-300mm VR and it allowed me to comp as tightly as I wanted without being right in the mix.

That lens, the 70-300mm afs ED VR has gotten mixed reviews over time. When it was first introduced reviewers like Thom Hogan called it, "Highly recommended." Other reviews claimed it to be very, very sharp at every f-stop up to and past the 300mm mark, giving up only a bit of sharpness as one neared the maximum 300mm.  Over time, as the fashion of "no holds barred" everything must be the best in the universe took over the photo universe a new mythology started to take hold in which the 70-300mm lens was "okay" but "not in the ballpark" with the $3,000 Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AE-P etc. lens. It seemed as though someone reached in and threw a switch which turned a good lens bad just because much pricier lenses could perform better at the edges of the use envelope.

At first, because of the revisionist reviews, I was reticent to use the lens at its longer settings but as I started shooting I started ignoring all the written metrics and started just enjoying the reach and the scope of the lens in my hands. Ditto with camera noise. Soon I was routinely pegging the lens over to 300mm and shooting it with reckless abandon; handheld. The light in the hall dictated that I abandon fear of image noise and head right into ISO 6400 territory with both my D700 and my D800e cameras. After reading the hysterics on the web I was almost certain that I'd spend hours doctoring files peppered with chroma noise but I was happy this isn't what happened. 

The beauty of a lens you can use at 200, 250 or even 300mm is the ability to compress images in interesting ways and to also pull out individual subjects by rendering them in sharp focus while dropping the objects around them nicely out of focus.

The 85mm was great for closer, tighter spaces. But I never felt the need to go wider than 70mm during my day of photography.

With the Nikon D800e I felt comfortable using the auto WB even though I was shooting medium sized fine Jpegs with that body. I could tell from spot checking the rear panel with a Hoodman loupe that they color was quite usable. The D700 isn't quite as good at nailing auto WB in hard mixed light situations so in those venues, when using the D700, I made custom white balance settings by doing a preset from a Lastolite white balance target. 

I think the secret of working with kids of all ages is to always have a sincere smile on your face, to be calm and relaxed at all times and to not care too much about making every shot work. It's truly a situation in which the mode and affect you convey are more important than worrying the technical stuff too much. A vibe of being overly concerned with nuts and bolts is contagious and it makes the kids feel like like being photographed isn't as much fun as they otherwise thought. Being mellow and ready to move on if something isn't working perfectly is the preferred method. Things fall apart and re-group all day long. If you didn't nail that perfect expression at 10:15 am so other kiddo will give you and even better expression to try and capture five minutes later.

I used to work with a small camera bag but I used my small, Amazon Basics, photo backpack instead. I'm using some heavier, traditional cameras these days and along with the full frame sensor size comes bigger, heavier lenses. The backpack makes for balanced portage as, as the day went on and I used the 70-300mm more and more I found myself dipping into the backpack for stuff less and less often. 

At the end of the day I had captured about 1200 images. I narrowed the take down to 600 and sent them along to the theater. The marketing director was very happy and had an immediate use for three of the photos. The catalog will serve the theater for at least a year or so and give the marketing team a nice folder of images for fast breaking project. 

The business adopts a second D700. 

It's embarrassing but I have to admit that I've loved using the first D700 I bought, on a lark, a few months ago. I owned one years ago when they first hit the market but I guess I wasn't ready for it back then. Now, after having been through so many systems, the old school nature of the D700 has much more appeal to me know. It's so much more a match to the old film based systems I worked on in the early days of my photography. The D700 is heavy but so solid. And while I own two cameras that are 36+ megapixels each I've come to understand that a great looking 12 megapixel file can also be a very good thing.

On Friday I took a walk and made some images with the D700. When I examined them in detail I liked what I saw very much. The huge pixel pitch and the enormous size of the pixels gives a different look than files from cameras with much higher pixel density and smaller pixels. I can't explain it technically but the difference seems apparent to me. The files feel tighter and the edges sharper. 

The interesting thing for me was comparing similar files taken in crappy light on Thurs. While it's obvious on a 27 inch screen that the D800e files have more resolution it's not the astounding difference most would expect when they hear that one camera has THREE TIMES the number of pixel more than another camera. While it's true you can blow up the files from a 36 megapixel camera to larger sizes you really have to look at linear pixels to understand that you're getting slightly less than twice as big a file if you just compute the number of pixels on the long side of the rectangles.

The reality is that a 12 megapixel files makes a perfect 10 by 15 inch print at about 300 dpi. Can you go bigger on a print? Oh heck yes. Even on my older Kodak DCS 760 (Six megapixels) I was able to have prints made as large as 30 by 40 inches that looked great at appropriate viewing distances. But cameras are so much more than just the sum of their resolution. For anything we're looking at on a Retina screen that's 27 inches across, our 6 megapixel cameras were the tipping point of sufficiency and 12 megapixels is generous. Bigger than that and we're constantly in the weeds of interpolated screen images.

However I want to rationalize my choices I really wanted a second D700 body. The one I bought previously has a bit over 100,000 shutter actuation and I wanted something closer to "new." A week or so ago I was in Precision Camera looking over the used inventory when I came across a mint looking D700. We checked the shutter actuation count and found it to be just a hair over 10,000 clicks. Barely used. I was grappling with too many other things at the time, all financial, and just didn't have the bandwidth to do the amount of self-inflicted justification to buy the camera at the time. But yesterday was different. And the camera was still there. A brief hiatus in the ongoing popularity of this particular model...

The price was $600. The camera was put aside on the hold shelf for me and I headed out to pick it up. When I got to the store (God Bless Bricks and Mortar Camera Stores) to pay for and collect the camera the sales associate informed me that it was "Used Equipment Day" at the store and that ALL used equipment was 10% off. I walked out of the store having spent $540 on a nearly new D700 and with a smile plastered across my face. I only wish I had more time to work this year (I've spent about 45 days this year in San Antonio working on legal and estate issues for my parents...) because the store also had a used Hasselblad 205 TCC with prism and a 110mm f2.0 FE series Zeiss Planar lens, all for about $3300. I could have saved some cash if I had picked it up yesterday. probably not. There are more D700's out there that could use a good home....


You went retro and bought a Nikon D700. What's my recommendation for a great first lens?

By: Austin, Texas. 2018

If you read the blog you'll know that I've reached back in time to cherry pick few really good cameras that Nikon made and to use them for much of my still photography work. I've written a bunch about one of my favorite cameras, launched in 2008, the D700, because it seems to me to be a wonderful blend of compromises that led to a camera of high reliability, great mechanical performance and speed, and it has a sensor that delivers 12 really good megabytes of resolution along with some of the best color performance and tonality I've come across in cameras; at least since the days of the Kodak professional cameras...

In the last few weeks there has been a run on good, clean, used D700 camera bodies as people snap them up and discover which part of the compromise equation they may have missed out on due to their allegiance to a certain camera conception or mythology. For example, one friend never shot full frame before. When they came to digital photography they embraced the basket of compromises and features (light weight?, small size?, good video?, good stabilization) that micro-four thirds cameras offered and rejected other options. Now they've decided to experiment with a different format and a different basket of compromises and, most would agree, that older full frame cameras flooding the markets right now can be a bargain. Certainly, the expense of $500 for a good, used imaging tool isn't going to break the bank; and if the new adopters decide the added weight, the moving mirror --- with its attendant noise and vibration--- and the lack of in body image stabilization isn't the balance they most enjoy they can easily sell the camera back into the market without much, if any, loss. They will have only really lost


Just kicking back and enjoying the D700 and a little handful of cheap lenses.

As you may remember I picked up a Nikon D700 a couple weeks ago with the intention of seeing whether or not I was missing something distinct or magical from the old days. Was there something in the older cameras that was basically right but then got ameliorated by our mindless lust for resolution? I've had lots of other stuff on my mind but I've been systematically mixing the D700 and some vintage Nikon lenses into my work mix (golf pro last week, studio portrait of doctor this week) and today I had time to step away from work, and family administration, and just go for a walk with the camera and one lens. The lens I chose today was the 85mm f1.8 AF-D lens. It's a lens many of us have owned, either in the digital age or in the days of autofocus film Nikons, and it has a solid reputation as being fairly good at the wider apertures and very good at f5.6 and beyond. It's one of the noisy autofocusing lenses that uses a little screwdriver drive cam to move the lens elements. Being an older prime it has no image stabilization.

In contrast to the mirrorless cameras and lenses I normally use the D700 feels at least twice as heavy and the lens is heavier that the Sony counterpart as well. It always takes me a while to dial in my subconscious understanding that the image in the finder is NOT what the final image will look like once it's been through the exposure and digital processing chain so chimping is a more frequent practice in actual use, as is making iterative exposure and color adjustments. 

All in all the camera and lens are well balanced and fairly compact (especially compared to the D2XS) and they didn't constitute any real burden over the course of a two hour walk through an urban landscape. 

I'm always surprised when I get back home from a walk with a vintage camera. I think I am expecting a much more primitive or less complex file with which to work. But lately, with either the D700 or the D2XS, I am surprised at just how modern, detailed and rich the files I'm getting seem to look. I did a color check with a vector scope on the Atomos monitor and in the "neutral" profile setting the colors were remarkably accurate. Much more so than similar test shots done on a much newer Sony A7Rii. Kind of amazed that two cameras that are each over ten years old nailed the basic color science to a more accurate degree than a much more recent generation competitor. Almost makes me want to try the same test with a Canon 5D mk2.....

I shot mostly at f3.5 and was surprised to see again just how shallow depth of field is for that particular optic when combined with a full frame sensor. 

How well have I filled out my (totally) vintage Nikon system? Well, I always want two bodies so I have a useful back-up that takes the same lenses, so I have the D700 and the D2XS. I like the color and file depth (richness) out of both of them. They both need more sharpening than the current cameras I am used to but once post processed from RAW they look very competitive if I stay in the native file sizes. I'm guessing the need for more sharpening comes from the use of stronger anti-aliasing filters that were required because of the lower pixel resolution and the danger of moire.

Here are the lenses I have sourced to date (all locally, from Precision Camera): the 24mm f2.8 AF-d, the 28mm f2.8 ais (manual focus), the ancient 35-70mm f3.5 ai lens, the 55mm f2.8 ais micro lens, the 85mm f1.8 AF-d lens, the 105mm f2.5 ais lens and finally, the 70-210mm f4.0-5.6 AF zoom lens (which I have owned before and found to be quite good; it's a push pull design with auto-focusing). 

Were I just starting out I believe I could handle most photo oriented jobs with just this small assemblage of gear. While none of it is "stellar" (with perhaps the exception of the 105mm) it's all very workable and all the bodies and lenses deliver acceptable results. No one will write home to glorify the high ISO performance of the D2XS but isn't that why the photo gods invented flash?

Will this assemblage morph and grow to replace the Panasonic GH5s and assorted lenses? Not likely. The Panasonic collection is too insanely good at video to even think of jettisoning. And it does a better job in most respects for still imaging than either of the ancient Nikons. If I were to consider a switch I'd have to give the D850 a workout, only for its potentially good 4K video performance. But then I'd be back down the rabbit hole spending more on individual lenses than I've spent so far on my entire collection of old, used stuff. Total system expenditure so far for the vintage Nikon collection is less than $1800. The flip side of that reality is that either camera could give up the ghost at any moment and would cost more to revive than to replace.... The 55mm micro already is showing intermittent signs of sticky aperture blades; a known flaw.

Whether or not owning the aging Nikon gear is sensible is something I'll leave to each of you. I love the nostalgia of it and the surety of it when I use it within its performance envelope. They are not, in this day and age, anywhere near the ultimate performers but then again they are not nearly as far behind as I would have imagined before going back and re-testing. See the images for more subjective evaluation.

If I were starting out, young and broke, today I think a couple of D700s or Canon 5Dmk2s and a handful of older lenses would be the best use of limited funds for me. And a useful introduction into the basic work life of most photography. It's an interesting option versus newer and more consumer oriented base model cameras, and certainly more cost effective than some of the mirrorless options out on the market. Sure, there's no video and no EVF but $$$ for $$$ this old stuff is as basic as a good hammer. It's usable and gets the job done. You can always ask for more, the question is whether you really need it or just want it. 

Funny, Austin is an MSA (metropolitan survey area) with nearly 2 million people and yet there was almost no one on the streets of downtown today. I guess they were all hunkered down in coffee shops, fearful of the rain and the chilly 70 degree temperatures....

The last remnants of "old" Austin. A window A/C unit at the #1 Fire Station. 


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 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...


Why do I still have warm, fuzzy feelings about the old Nikon D700? I guess it's because the photos I shot with it eight years ago still stand up today. Can't say that about some other cameras I've bought....

New Pix at Instagram:

One of the most fun photo assignments I've done for Zach Theatre was a season subscription brochure shot back in 2008 or 2009. We photographed the actors who were going to be cast in different productions and the marketing team let me decide how to light them and how to design their looks. I wrote about it in a very early blog post here: Hot Lights. Fun Lights. I used a Profoto Tungsten light in a beauty dish pounding photons through a 72 by 72 inch scrim to light my subjects. As an afterthought I wrote about the camera I used to make the shots. Just so happens that it was a Nikon D700. Lost to the sands of time and memory is what lens I used. Looks like a 105 f1.8 to me... 

I remember that we shot on a Saturday and that my art director/friend/theater marketing mentor, Jim Reynolds, loved it when I shot more frames. We photographed six or seven actors that day and probably went through 500 shots per actor to get just exactly the right photograph for Jim. The camera never missed a beat and probably made it through that shoot with a battery and a half (not that Nikon was ever in the business of making half batteries). I guess I was so confident in what I would get from the D700 that it was barely a footnote in the original article. The files were like butter to edit. The skin tones fell right into place and the tonality was perfect. I've shown these photos over and over again and I love the look and the general file characteristics. 

But what about MORE MEGAPIXELS????? It never came up. The files worked flawlessly and transparently as printed pieces on glossy paper at 10 by 13 inches (CMYK Offset Press) as well as on life size lobby posters. No glitches, no issues with the super big enlargements. I grabbed one of the files from an archived DVD yesterday and played around with it in the current revs of PhotoShop and Adobe Raw and I'm able to make even better files today. The software got better and can do more complex processes with the files (Something I am certain camera makers DO NOT want you to ponder.... as in: "Was my 2008 camera's primary limitation just the processing software of the time???? What would happen if I used the most current version? OH MY GOD, IT'S BEAUTIFUL!!!! IF I'D ONLY KNOWN").

I moved on from the camera (big mistake) because I thought I needed a more sophisticated (and quieter) shutter and more resolution. I could not have been more wrong. I just needed ten years of software improvements.

The final image I'm showing here was done in the laundry room of a wonderful and beautiful five million dollar, west Austin home. We needed a nice laundry room in which to make this photo of a spirited kid grabbing his teddy bear from a gas dryer. It was part of an ad campaign for a Texas utility company. This one photograph could have paid for a bag full of Nikon D700s. And it was done with a D700 camera and a small European flash system. I loved what I could get out of those cameras then and love the files even more now. We have other cameras. They are each good, in their own way. But there's something very cool about the D700. Ah well. 


This is post #3600. That's a lot of post. Let's talk about lenses and other stuff.

Black's BBQ on Guadalupe St. in Austin.

I'm having a blast with the Nikon D700 camera and a small assortment of lenses. Nothing is new, nothing is luxe and nothing would turn heads if I was sporting it over one shoulder at a workshop or expo. 

One of the lenses I picked up recently was a nicely used 24mm f2.8 AF-d lens that was languishing on the used shelf at Precision Camera. I'm betting that if I made an enormous enlargement after shooting the lens wide open and I looked into the corners with my handy, dandy Zeiss 5x loupe I'd probably find the extreme corners to be a little soft. I wouldn't care because the lens seems to be nicely sharp and well behaved for the situations in which mortals photograph. 

I took the lens and the D700 camera with me when I went to Black's for lunch with art director/friend, Greg. The sliced brisket sandwich was sublime and the sausage link filled in the few empty spots not assuaged by the sandwich. Oh, the lens? I shot a couple of handheld shots of my lunch, just like a hipster, and I'm happy with the way it looks, works and focused.

As is my habit, whenever I have acquired a new lens, I took a spirited walk around the Austin downtown area, snapping away with the same camera and lens. I find it to be a nice combination even though I am usually averse to using wide angles for my personal work. I am thawing toward the wide angles and, at the same time I am softening on the whole issue of optical view finders. I still hope Nikon launches a professional camera with an EVF and that they decide to keep the current lens mount but I'm not holding my breath and I'm not holding these views against the D700 because it's from another era....

The other lens I'm having a good time with is the now elderly 24-120mm f4.0 zoom (the newest version).  It's funny, when I use this zoom I sometimes check the focal lengths I am using and typically find that I'm normally hanging around in the 35-70mm range. That's fine with me. I keep the longer and shorter focal lengths in reserve.

All the images below are from the 24/120mm f4.0. The lens has a plastic shell but is dense and seems solidly constructed. It's also pretty heavy but the zoom doesn't droop when you walk with it dangling by your side from a strap. Optically it's nicely sharp but does have ample distortion at the wider angle settings. The distortion should be correctable in Lightroom or PhotoShop but as with all camera and lens combos a software corner correction always spreads pixels and lowers sharpness. Starting with a high resolution sensor is preferred if you care passionately about perceived corner sharpness. 

The image just below is a handheld image from the long end of the 24/120mm. Again, I'm sure that a giant enlargement might show up all sorts of issues but anything smaller than 20x30 probably won't trigger your criticism.

Nikon D700 + Nikon 24-120mm f4.0. At the long end.

All the images below were done with the D700+24/120mm f4.0. It's a pretty fun rig. I don't mind the weight when I'm shooting for $$$ because there's so much else we're bringing along on a shoot that the heft is meaningless to me. But after spending a week getting used to the bigger Nikon stuff it was a relief to grab a Panasonic GH5 with which to shoot the product photo at the top of the blog post and to also take along to coffee in the late afternoon. Viva la difference.


An exercise in Nikon Nostalgia. Out shooting an assignment with a D300S and a D700.

Here is the dynamic duo that I used to complete a P.R. assignment this past Tuesday afternoon. The camera on the left is a D300S and the camera on the right is the D700. The D300S was equipped with an old, push-pull 70-210mm zoom lens with the D700 sported a slightly used 24-120mm f4.0. Why were they a good choice for this assignment?

Yeah, I know this is all a bit crazy but I've reacting to the widespread false narrative that working professional photographers need to be using the newest and highest performing cameras on the market in order to get the shots that pay the bills. Actually, I'm beginning to think that in many cases nothing could be further from the truth.

About a month ago I started getting interested in cameras with fat pixels. I think some of them, because the pixel sites are so much bigger, have a different look to their files. In many applications the files actually look sharper and better defined. I can't argue about situations where raw resolution is essential, vital or otherwise preferred but in uses where the file's resolution exceeds the resolution of the final target my preliminary dive into the issue seemed to confirm to me that there is an aesthetic difference that most people can see. I won't go into the "why" of the effect; I am certain there are smarter folks here on VSL who can explain the science or engineering behind my observations.

The obvious cameras to grab from the dusty used cases were the ones where the biggest sensors have the smallest number of total pixels because....each pixel is bigger. This led me back to the D700 which has pixels that are bigger than 8 microns across. For reference the pixels in my GH5 are about 3.3 microns across. My intuitive break point between bigger pixels and smaller pixels seems to be set at about 5 microns. At that size and smaller I'm thinking the pixels are small while at anything over 5.x microns the pixel are in the larger camp. Anything over 7 gets me into a zone that yields the visual effect I've come to identify as the big pixel look. 

There are several cameras I've owned that had enormous pixels and, even with the huge pixel wells they were still plagued with high ISO noise that was off the charts, so I want to make it clear that what I am seeing is not about noise or lack of noise but more about edge effect, acuity and the perception of file sharpness. The Kodak DCS 760, the files from which I was always impressed, clocks in with pixels that are 9.18 microns while another favorite, the Nikon D2HS has pixels that re 9.32 microns.

Even though the last two cameras are not full frame it's their pixel size that sets them apart in my mind.

In contrast the Nikon D800e whose files are nicely detailed but which lack, for me, a certain snappy look have pixels that are closer to those of my micro four thirds cameras at 4.87 microns. Even my D2XS and D300S cameras have pixels that are 5.48 and 5.51, respectively. This may account for the perception that the D2XS files seem sharper if neither the D800e files or the D2XS files are used in final targets at more than the native resolution of the D2XS. We get the benefit of the greater perceptual acuity of the older camera and its illusion(?) of greater sharpness.

At any rate my curiosity has led me to buy and borrow various cameras and to test their files at various magnifications to see, just perceptually, which ones yield files that look most photographic to me. (And be aware that this could be a prejudice of visual habit, of variations in each camera's contrast rendering and a host of other parameters). I've shot some files with a camera I never owned; the Canon 5D, and can see how it pushed the 5D line into prominence. Big pixels and nice tonality with an undercurrent of well managed sharpness.

Recently I added a D300S to the mix because I found a treasure trove of old concert photo files that I re-imagined in the latest rev of Adobe's raw converter and was pretty surprised at the quality inherent in the files. So my curiosity about bigger pixels is now intersection with the idea that older cameras created raw files that contained much good information that was neglected or sub-optimally processed by older raw converters which led us to conjecture that it was new camera hardware that was making newer cameras seem cleaner and better when, in fact, it may just be the continual introduction of much more processor power being available to process the files which has led software engineers to be able to distill more detail, color information and nuance from all files. This also seems to be apparent as I test more stuff.

But at some point you have to stop testing and go out to shoot some jobs for clients. Otherwise, how will we pay for the boxes and boxes of new stuff that we're hauling back from the camera stores?

I was asked to do photographic event documentation for the groundbreaking of the new site for the headquarters of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin. In our pre-planning phone call the marketing director let everyone know that the ten acres had just been cleared and that the dust and pollen on site was plentiful. A continuing dry spell wasn't helping but bulldozers pushing the dry dirt around were the biggest culprit. We would walk a quarter of a mile to access the space and the whole event would take place without a covering tent. We would be in full sun on the hottest day of the year so far, in the middle of an intermittent dust storm. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this; if there was ever a case for having a couple of "trash cams" to take into the field this would be one of the front runners.

I chose the D700 because the full frame is a nice match of the flexibility of the 24-120mm f4.0, which is the only image stabilized lens I have for that system right now. I grabbed the D300S because it was a good match for my only really long Nikon lens right now; a lowly 70-210mm f4.0-5.6 consumer zoom which is actually very nice for outdoor stuff. I put each lens on its body before I left my car in an attempt to keep the sensors as dust free as possible. Then I stuffed both rigs into my all purpose Amazon photo backpack and trudged down a quarter mile dirt and dust path to the location.

With ND filters on both cameras I was able to use on camera flash to add many stops of dynamic range to the system which was very advantageous for shooting in direct sun. The flashes were used in a total manual mode with me riding the power settings for various distances.

I photographed a group of cheerleaders from a local school who opened the program. There was a drum band and then speeches by politicians, donors and board members of the organization. Every time the wind whipped up a cloud of dust and debris swirled through the crowd. By the time the event was over and I had ambled back to my car my dark brown hiking boots were covered with a light gray coating of dust. My cameras were speckled with dust every where and the fronts of the filters looked as though someone had misted them with dust.

When I got back to the studio I swept the dust off my boots outside the office door. I grabbed a can of compressed air and carefully sprayed off every square inch of each camera and lens, trying to make them as dust free as possible. I used an artist's paint brush to dust off any resilient dust specs before opening the memory card doors and pulling out the cards.

The files were uniform and good. The flash helped lift the shadows a good bit, putting them into a good level and allowing me to just finish off the files with a lift of the shadows in post. I edited down from 600 shots to 300 shots, color corrected and tonal corrected each shot (usually in small groups) and delivered them the same evening.

Shooting raw, setting a smart color balance and using fill flash judiciously were all ways of equalizing whatever improvements have been made in sensors over the years. The raw converter seems to lift all boats.

If either camera had been compromised by the dust and rendered unusable it would be much less sad than losing a shiny, new camera for which I had paid the full retail price. This was one of the many situations photographers work in frequently where just about any pro caliber camera made in the last 10-12 years would have acquitted itself well. The files are ample, the colors great and the overall look of the files generated is right in line with the work we expect from today's cameras.

If you think my P.R. client, posting images to the web and for mostly online use, really needed the latest medium format, 50 mp file camera to document an event like this----you are nuts.


Once you've gone Nikon-Retro what is your second lens choice? What would you pair with your D700?

A Fairly Modern Copy of the Timeless Nikon 105mm f2.5 ai Lens.

Here is where I'll lose a huge swath of photographers whose focus is on landscapes and street photographer versus portraiture and detail work. If you are one of the lucky VSL reader who just got your hands on a new/old Nikon D700 (or D3, D3x or D800 of any flavor....) you might be wondering about which lenses to pair with your new and wonderful camera. Especially if the Nikon world is new to you...

Yesterday I made the argument that the first lens most people should consider would be the 24-120mm f4.0 VR zoom lens. It's wide focal length range, high sharpness over most of the frame, and its very good image stabilization make it a really good all around choice for such a wide variety of situations that I think it doesn't require much deep thought to appreciate its value. But what comes next?

Well, a prudent business person could probably stop at the 24-120mm zoom and get most of his or her work done without having to invest another cent in lenses but I know most of us aren't wired specifically for practicality; and that the lure of the lenses is


It is impossible to do professional work with cameras having less than 12 megapixels of resolution. We all know that. Just impossible. It never happened. Ever.

Kodak DCS 760C. 6 megapixels
Sony R1. 10 megapixels
Kodak SLR/n. 14 megapixels. Shot in the 6 MP mode.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Fuji S5. 6 megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 megapixels.
Fuji S3. 6 megapixels. (Shot in 2006, still in use by client).
Kodak DCS SLR/n at 9 megapixels in square crop.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak SLR/n. 6 megapixel mode.
Canon 1D mk2. 8 Megapixels.

Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 megapixels.