Really Right Stuff LC-A12 Collar Review (Nikon 70-200 f/4)

rrsf4collar-2One of my few complaints about Nikon’s new 70-200 f/4 was the lack of an integrated foot for mounting on a tripod. A lens of this length and weight is going to have best stability when mounted on a foot, and while Nikon is probably assuming most of these lenses will be in walk-around mode mounted to a D600 or D800, I really wanted a collar.

There are three main options: Nikon RT-1 ($170), Kirk ($160) and the Really Right Stuff LC-A12 ($195).  I rejected the Nikon collar because it doesn’t have the Arca-Swiss dovetail on the base.  Kirk does, of course, but the foot has to be removed with screws and has less flexibility than the RRS.  It has a lens support on the end I feel is unnecessary.  So I ordered the RRS LC-A12 package.

After a bit of a wait, I finally got it.  After having a chance to play with it a bit, here are my thoughts:     (you can also see my video review here on YouTube):


  • Removable Foot Design:  Excellent for minimizing space consumed in your bag
  • Rotation Markings:  On the top and both sides (though Nikon doesn’t make good use of them – detailed below)
  • Dual-Dovetail:  The foot allows use of the very slick (but pricey) flash bracket (better explained in the video)
  • Hole in Collar Mount:  Allows mounting to a tripod or strap if you don’t have the foot
  • Slip-stop:  Helps ensure your lens doesn’t slide off your ball head when you loosen the clamp.  Handy.


Handling is very good, as you’d expect from RRS though surprisingly I did have a couple of concerns.

The Good

  • Removable foot:  Allows you to save space and weight in your bag when you don’t need the foot.  I toss the foot in a side pocket if I think I’ll need it.  Otherwise, the collar stays attached without the foot.
  • Dual Dove-tail:  Enables you to use RRS’s very cool (if pricey) line of flash brackets.  If you don’t have an RRS foot, you’ll have to attach a heavy bar on the bottom of your L-bracket, which is heavy and complicates switching between tripod and hand-held.  The spacing on the ring to the lens is less optimal, too…
  • Easy to remove:  True of both the foot and the collar itself.

The Not-so-good

  • Knob:  The big silver knob used to adjust tension is…well, big.  I really wish it could be smaller.   Mine also squeaks a bit when tightened (I’ll be calling RRS about that as their manual specifically says not to lubricate the parts)
  • Rotation:  Not as smooth as my 80-200 f/2.8 (which had an integrated, non-removable  collar).  It feels a little dry.  I’m not sure if that is the lens or the collar.
  • 90° Markings:  The RRS collar has great markings.  Unfortunately the Nikon lens only has one, so when you go to portrait mode you have to look a the side of the lens.  My 80-200 had markings that allowed me to look at the top of the lens to match up.


What do you expect of RRS?  The thing is extremely solid and has all the hallmarks or RRS design. Entirely made in the USA, it matches colors of the lens perfectly.  Other than the squeaky knob, I’ve got no complaints or worries here at all.


Value is subjective.  You can save $30-$40 with the Kirk or Nikon collar setups, and I have no doubts about their quality.  The extra money gets you a more flexible setup, and the removable foot in particular is a big plus for me.  Yes, you can find far, far less expensive ones on eBay, but remember the value of the lens and camera that depend on the collar to avoid a nasty fall.  A poor place to economize.  I’ve also heard reports that there is a little slop in some of those cheapie collars, which defeats the purpose.


LC-A12 Collar and LCF-10 Foot.

LC-A12 Collar and LCF-10 Foot.

rrsf4collar-9 rrsf4collar-12rrsf4collar-5rrsf4collar-3

The single alignment dot offered by the f4

The single alignment dot offered by the f4

Front View

Front View


LC-A12 foot with an RRS flash bracket mounted. Very cool.

rrsf4collar-8 rrsf4collar-13


A mounting hole is available for tripods or straps even if the foot isn’t connected.


I’m a fan of RRS.  I can’t say I find the “dry” rotation or the squeaky knob were expected, but I still think this collar/foot combination is worth having.  I wish they didn’t cost as much as they do, but for $30 more than the Nikon offering, I think RRS is an easy choice.  If I didn’t care about the removable foot, I’d still but the Kirk over the Nikon collar.

What do you think?  Anyone have the Nikon, Kirk or one of the knock-offs?  Please comment with any experiences or thoughts.  Thanks for stopping by!


“Should I get a new camera?”

The Nikon D800 might soon have company…

Internet forums are abuzz about what Nikon will (and possibly won’t) announce soon.  The widely-rumored announcement of the D600 in September has a lot of D700 and D7000 owners thinking about an upgrade, while many D300s owners lament Nikon’s apparent lack of intention to release a successor to that product.

As all the specs and debates swirl around, I’m reminded of the advice I got early on: Invest in better lenses first.

Why?  Lots of reasons, but here is my big three:

First, constant-aperture lenses (called “fast glass” on lots of forums) give you a lot more flexibility with ISO and shutter speeds.  When I got my old Tamron 28-75 f.2.8, it was just terrific on my D90, and it improved my ability to shoot in low-light a lot.  My Nikon 35mm f/1.8 is even better.  There are even 50mm f/1.2 lenses that can be had on the used market for under $500. These lenses give you as much as two to four times more light to work with than a kit lens.  Those additional “stops” of flexibility are hard to achieve at the sensor, and expensive, too…

Second, good lenses make any camera better.  Your view is only as good as the window you’re looking through, and average lenses are going to deliver average performance or worse.  Good lenses are going to give you better results, even if you aren’t using their low-light capabilities.  They tend to produce sharper images with better colors and contrast.

Lastly, for the most part, the nice lenses you invest in today will still be nice lenses on your next camera.  So my D70, D90 and now D300s all have been able to share and benefit from the same lenses.  I said “for the most part” because Nikon makes lenses specific to their DX  “crop sensor” platform.  Three of the lenses in my bag are DX lenses (the Tokina 11-16, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and the Nikon 18-200 VRII), so they won’t work if I ever decide to switch to FX.  However, unlike bodies, lenses tend to keep their value extremely well.  I could probably sell the lenses I bought used for the same money I paid, and the two I bought new are still worth 85%+ of their original purchase price.  In return, they’ve made all my photographs better, and I’ve gotten shots I would have missed with a kit lens.  That is an investment.

Contrast that to a body that is two or three years old.  Some are worth only half of their original price, and eventually become very difficult to sell.  Lenses tend to hit a price and pretty much stay there unless a new version pushes the price down, though occasionally the older models are worth more.

Great lenses don’t have to be expensive.  In Nikon’s portfolio, the 85mm f/1.8 G is astounding and sells brand-new for under $500.  I mentioned you can pick up the astounding Nikon 50mm f/1.2 for about the same money used, or get the classic “nifty fifty” 50mm f/1.8D for around a hundred bucks.  My Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 is ancient and sells for around $300, less than 1/3 of the pro-Nikon version, with 90% of the performance (in my opinion).

My point is this – there are lots of internet bullies who’ll tell you that anything but the latest sensor isn’t worth having.  Don’t buy into it (literally and figuratively).  Especially at the megapixel range we’re seeing in Nikon’s latest lineup (16MP D7000, 24MP D600, 36MP D800), focusing on lenses first is a much better idea.  These cameras are going to make average glass look pretty darn average.  They’ll make good glass sing.

Not only will you likely spend a lot less money upgrading your lenses, they’ll make a bigger difference in your photography, and they’ll last longer, too…

UPDATE:  I wanted to add one more thing.  If you’re an Enthusiast Photographer, think beyond the body and glass. Are you doing landscape or other shooting where you’re going to need a tripod? Budget for a decent one. I’m not saying you have to go spend $1500 on (though I would if I could), but get something serious if you’re a serious hobbyist.  My point is that bodies are sexy (:)), but you have to think holistically about your system to get the best results, and a good tripod and head are a big part of that for a lot of us.  If you shoot landscapes, etc. and are wondering if you should spend your money on the latest body or a good tripod setup, my vote would be tripod.

Nikon D600: a step closer?

NikonRumors has posted some additional details on what they say are specs for a full-frame (FX), 24 megapixel D600, set to be announced before September. Since I mentioned it as a possible tradeoff I was willing to live with, it is pretty funny to me that the updated information purports the new camera to have a 39-point autofocus system (presumably similar to what is in the D7000), which I mentioned in my D400/D600 post.

If that is true, this really sounds like something other than a camera that would be called a D600. With dual SD card slots, no AF motor, U1/U2 preset modes and the 39-point AF system, this sounds a lot like a four-digit model (D8000?) for consumer/prosumer than a pro model (D400/D600).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the prices are rumored to be as low as $1500, but I’m thinking that is Euros (around $1900), lower than the current D700 price of $2199, but high enough and with a feature set that won’t drag too much away from the D800 (though the D800 could use a little easing of demand given the massive-if-likely-inflated orders out there…). That price would give them room for a D400, too…

Whatever they call it, I think the D600 will be a big hit. If there is no D400, I can only hope it pushes used prices down on the D300s and D700, because it won’t be a camera for me – I’m too invested in lenses that require a screw-drive to change now…

What do you think? Is a D600 the right camera for you?

D3200 Emerges

So now we know.  The D3200 announced last night, and it looks to be a pretty strong little camera: 24 megapixels, 1080p movies, 11-point autofocus system that now works while shooting video, improved ISO range (6400 with a HI setting for 12,800, which probably won’t be all that usable), upgraded 4 frames-per-second shooting and the ability to add the Nikon Wifi module.  It appears it is only available in a kit with the 18-55 VR lens, which is a pretty nice lens.  For some reason Nikon keeps making special-edition colors of this camera. There is a screaming red version of this camera if that rocks your socks.

For $699, it is a lot of camera, and appears to be a very good starter/travel/entry SLR, at least on paper.  There really isn’t a pothole to fall in these days in the Nikon or Canon SLR families – they are all good products.  Honestly, if you’re scouring the internet trying to decide between Canon and Nikon, I’d say just buy the one you can find the best deal on unless you have some other reason to pick a brand like a family member with a lot of lenses they could loan you.

For me, the D3200 is an important window to where Nikon is going:  more megapixels and more video.  I’m still not screaming for either – I want clean ISO 3200 and 6400.  What it means for the D400 is that 24MP is almost a guarantee.  I’m sure we’ll get more video as well.

I’m not sure where Nikon is going with SLR’s these days.  Everything seems very evolutionary and stepwise.  There isn’t much going on from an innovation perspective that separates them from Canon, which is in the same boat.  Somewhere there are new features and designs that people want – Nikon and Canon should figure it out.  I’m also frustrated that great features like the U1/U2 presets in the D7000 aren’t in newer cameras like the D800.  It is a great and useful feature.  Share.

If I was in the market for a camera in this general category, I think the D5100 would still be my choice.  Among other things, the ISO performance is likely to be better and the flip out screen is handy if you’re using the camera for video.  I also can’t get over how small the D3x00 cameras are in my hand.

I guess we’ll continue to wait and see what Nikon’s next announcement brings…


My wife has found the perfect spot in our house for orchids. She has three plants thriving there, and they always seem to be in bloom...

It has been quite a while since I posted any of my photos, and that is the whole point of having a camera, right? As I said above, my wife’s orchids are very happy, so I took a few photos the other day. Shooting things like this is fun because you can really experiment with the composition and see the little changes that can make a big difference. One tip from Kelby’s books I remember constantly is the concept of looking for compositions beyond what you walk up to – sometimes “the shot” is just a step or two away…

Filling the Void: Nikon D400 Wishes

Now that we’re safely past the D800 and D4 announcements, all eyes turn to Nikon for the third piece of the trifecta, the successor to the D300s: the D400 (at least that what I assume they’ll call it).

Honestly, I thought the announcement of the D7000 in the Fall of 2010 really made the D300s look a bit long in the tooth. The D300s was only a year old, a light update to the D300 announced two years before that, but it was outclassed by the D7000 is several areas – ISO performance, dynamic range, resolution and more. Only the fully pro build, a deeper buffer and Nikon’s best auto-focus system gave the D300s an edge. I actually value the auto-focus performance more than the megapixels and even the ISO performance: Low light capability and dynamic range don’t matter much of the shot is fuzzy.

But D7000 had pretty darn good auto-focus and a big step forward in metering, which put the D300s under fire almost immediately. A lot of pros and BIF shooters didn’t care – the D300s was a pro tool, had a deep buffer and served the purpose well.  Some hopped on the D7K and liked it a lot.

But we’re now 18 months beyond the D7000 announcement, and the D300s doesn’t look like a camera worth anything close to its $1699 on-line price (B&H, etc.). Nikon’s recent sorta-announcement of the D700 at $2199 also puts pressure at the relative price point. And the D7000 sits at $1299. Nowhere for the D300s to go…

Thom Hogan said somewhere that you’re either a DX shooter or an FX shooter. Generally I agree with that, but I really sorta want a blend. I love the image quality of the D700, and I love the reach of DX. So what am I looking for in the D400?

  • Resolution: Honestly, I don’t really care. In today’s spec-war environment, megapixels are going to be more than the 12MP of the D300s. I’ll take anything from the D7000 resolution of 16MP all the way up to the rumored 24MP that is out there. Beyond that, the burden on my PC and storage is more than I want.
  • ISO Performance and Dynamic Range: I’d really love to have the ISO/low light performance of the D700 with the Dynamic Range of the D7000. Honestly, I don’t know how these things trade off against each other, but we’re talking wishes here, right?
  • Auto-focus and Metering: Since I’m going hybrid, I want the D700 auto-focus with the new metering ushered in with the D7000. We’re talking about a pro-class body, so this needs to be the good stuff!
  • Other stuff: This is the D300s replacement, so the build, buffer capacity should be consistent with that product. I love the concept of the U1/U2 buttons from the D7000, which let you store a whole set of camera settings. Video should be as good as the D7000. USB 3.0 would usher it into the 21st century. I’d like to see the same seven frames-per-second performance of the D300s as well. I’d prefer dual SD card slots, but Nikon seems to prefer one Compact Flash and one SD card in this category, so I could live with that.
  • Oh – and price: Keep it at $1799 list.

As I said in my Open Letter to Nikon post about the perfect Enthusiast Photographer Full Frame camera (which is nicely answered with the existing D700 reduced to $2199), I’d love to see a market research site that would let you design your perfect camera, trading price and weight for features. It would be a really cool way to gather some information, plus get some other ideas for features.

Readers: Do you want a D400 or whatever the heck a D7100 is? What features aren’t on cameras that you’d like to see?

Never say never…

Trey's D3x was a terrific tool that captured photos like this.

Trey Ratcliff, the HDR whiz and founder of Stuck in Customs recently tempted the fates with a bold statement and is now paying the price.  Earlier this year, Trey declared DSLR’s are going the way of the floppy disk and stated he wouldn’t be buying the then-upcoming Nikon D4 or D800 (my take on that can be found here).  Of course that meant that on a recent shoot in Hawaii, his D3x got ruined.  Ouch.

Make no mistake, I’m a huge fan of Trey’s work, so I’m not implying I’m glad it happened, but I can barely utter a hopeful word about traffic without regional gridlock descending on my route to work. Trey waved a red cape at a bull named Karma, and everyone knows what happens when you do that!

But seriously, Trey put more miles and good use on that D3x than just about anyone, and I’m bummed to hear about the camera giving up the ghost.  I’m sure he looks at it pragmatically:  it is a piece of equipment.

The question is, what tool replaces his D3x?  He’s made a few possibly joking references to trying out Canon, but the additional cost of lenses and the interchangeability factor make that unlikely.

Personally, I think Trey is the perfect customer for a D800 – it is a lot closer to his D3x in terms of what he’s interested in (high megapixels, core ISO performance, etc.) and it will save him a fair bit of weight in his bag, too!  The D4 is really more of a replacement of his backup camera, the D3s – the low light performance and somewhat larger resolution probably aren’t what he’s looking for.

If I were in Trey’s shoes, I’d probably be tempted to do both – the D800 to replace the dead D3x and the D4 to replace the D3s, just to lighten his load a little further and have the improved video capabilities.  It is always easier to spend other people’s money… 😉

I’ll be interested to see what he decides!  What do you think he should do?

D700 – Dead or Alive??

Nikon’s answer to my question “Where’s My full-frame” camera is apparently the D700. Or is it?

Last week there was a lot of hoopla on the internet with rumors of the D700 list price dropping to $2199 (from $2699). As usual, chippiness on the internet ensued, with many insisting Nikon wouldn’t do that, didn’t have any D700’s to sell at that price or some other D700/D800 declaration. It amazes me how many people on the internet make statements that seem to say they have direct knowledge of volumes and industry data (e.g. “the D700 killed the volumes of the D3” or “there aren’t enough D700’s to sell to make $2199 a real market price”).

Well, I disagree with the fist-pumpers that say the D700 is gone sooner than later, for a couple key reasons. First, I think it is a smart thing to do, but secondly, they might not have a choice. Let me explain.

As I’ve mentioned before, my day-job has been in the technology industry for over twenty years, and I closely followed it for years before that. I’ve worked in product management for many years, which has given me a fair bit of insight and knowledge about how development, testing, manufacturing, marketing, etc. work when it comes to PC’s and peripherals. I can’t say my experience and understanding is directly analogous to cameras, but I’d bet things aren’t too much different.

When I say Nikon didn’t have much of a choice to keep the D700 in production, I mean exactly that. More than likely, Nikon had very long lead-time commitments and minimum volumes on a variety of expensive components on the D700. In other words, they probably owned the parts even if their production at Sendai was severely limited by the tsunami and the effects on the area. On top of that, the costs of tooling and manufacturing equipment is amortized over the expected volumes of the product. Net: They need to keep the program whole to make their money, and they probably owned a lot of the critical parts. The alternative to continued production was likely a huge financial write-down, which probably wasn’t attractive given the impacts of the Tsunami in Japan as well as the Thailand floods, which disrupted other parts of Nikon’s business.

The assembly lines for these kinds of things don’t require as much space as you might think, and are actually somewhat portable – in other words, they could pretty easily make room for the D800 production lines in the buildings where they are making the D700. Their main concern is enough power and reliable power (the power production in the area was said to be erratic, which manufacturing lines don’t tolerate well).

If Nikon can the lights on and the machines running, there isn’t any reason at all they can’t run full-scale D700 and D800 production concurrently. They’ve had enough time to prepare and get the planning done, workers in place, etc and lots of incentives to do it. Barring some kind of component shortage, I could easily see them keeping the D700 around a while, just like the D90. Why not? It gets rid of the parts they likely are committed to, pays for the tooling and manufacturing lines and essentially fulfills the financial promise the D700 team made to the company.

Then there are the reasons I think it is a smart thing for Nikon to keep the D700 in the family. It fills a price cell they don’t currently address and makes Canon a little uncomfortable as they try to compete with the D700 @ $2199 and the D800 at $2999 with the 5dMKIII @ $3499. In the days since, Canon has reduced the 5dMkII to $2199 as well. Maybe Nikon and Canon will even get an idea of whether an “entry” FX platform is truly viable without having to invest in entirely new products, not to mention creating something that is distanced enough feature-wise from the D800 that it isn’t going to drag on that product (in my opinion).

Personally, I’d love a D3s sensor in a D700 body (detailed in my Open Letter to Nikon…). I’d start selling blood and light up eBay with everything I could find lying around to get one. In the meantime, I think you’ll see D700’s available in moderate volumes. Only time will tell, and even then it will validated only by perception/word of mouth – all these chippy guys who make all these bold statements about shipping numbers never seem to produce any source for their information. I wish Nikon did release more data – it would be fascinating. In the meantime, it will also be interesting to see how long Canon keeps the 5dMkII around – I doubt they intended to do that, so who knows how well they’ve been able to source the components necessary to continue production.

If you’re judging from stock at B&H, you can get the Canon 5dMKII right now, while the Nikon D700 says “Backordered”…

What do you think?  Is the D700 going to be around for a while like the D90 has been since the D7000 has announced, or is the $2199 thing just a short-term blip?

An open letter to Nikon: Where’s MY full-frame?

The Nikon D800, from the Nikon home page

Dear Nikon:

Congratulations for introducing two two terrific products, the Nikon D4 and D800/800e! Both products are new benchmarks of DSLR performance, and worthy members of Nikon’s pro lineup.  Given the terrible tragedies in Japan and Thailand, I commend and congratulate you for what must have been a Herculean effort by your employees to persevere and deliver.

Now, I must ask you – where the heck is the full frame camera for the Enthusiast Photographer?

In truth, I personally can’t afford a brand-new full frame camera.  I’ve got three spawn and enough demands on my income that a $3,000 camera just isn’t going to happen.  Since plenty of Enthusiast Photographers bought and loved the D700, and I greatly covet one, I figure it is worth exploring what I’d really like to see in a full-frame camera targeted at me, because today I’d take a D700 over a D800 if someone offered me a free choice between them.  What I really want is something in the middle.  The D800 seems kind of like the D700 when it came out: a baby version of the flagship, except in this case the downsized camera was the D3x.  I definitely don’t want one of those.

So what would my full-frame camera look like?  Here’s my list (which admittedly ignores the realities and technicalities of the sensor platform):

  • Full frame sensor with 16MP-18MP.  I don’t need or want to deal with the file size that 36.3MP creates (even for JPEG).  Storage is cheap, but as a guy who takes a lot of photos on family occasions, business and personal travel and my general creative photography, the downstream burden on the rest of my technology overall is too much.  I don’t want to watch my PC wheeze an more than it already does while I try to load and edit the files.  I like very much that my backup system (an old ReadyNAS Duo with two 1TB drives in it) hasn’t maxed out yet despite a fair bit of photography since I purchased it. My 16GB cards hold plenty of photos, I don’t want to buy bigger cards any time soon…
  • D3s ISO performance.  I don’t crave more megapixels, but I really do crave ISO.  I think a lot of folks are “available light” shooters like me, using a little fill flash here and there, but the lower light I can shoot in the better.  So call it ISO 100-12,800.  You can remove the LO and HI extenders.
  • Dual SD card slots.  Don’t make me collect two completely different kinds of cards.  As a pro, that would be completely infuriating – who needs the complexity of managing different kinds of storage with different performance levels?  Maybe one (probably Compact Flash) is the primary and the SD is secondary/safety (or one for RAW and the other for JPEG) on the D300s/D800 for the pros, but I want one technology.  As a non-pro, I prefer the cost and availability of SD, but I’d take Compact Flash.  Just make ’em the same, broadly available technology.  Sheesh.
  • D700-class autofocus.  All that great ISO performance is wasted without great AF.  This isn’t a D7000, so give me the really good stuff.
  • D7000 build.  Let’s face it – lots of buyers of the D700 weren’t professionals, so the weight and size of the D700 is wasted on most of us.  I do want a rugged metal chassis with good weather-sealing, but for the most part my equipment stays cozy, warm and safe.  I’m out and about, but not in a war zone, a jungle or the Himalayas.  Give me survivability but not a tank.
  • Lighted buttons.  Please don’t tell me this is such a high-dollar design that it is affordable only on the flagship.  We’ve got the ISO to shoot in low light, give me buttons to help.
  • Same viewfinder as the D800 with virtual horizon, etc.
  • Same metering, shutter and flash of the D800.  If you must separate the products somehow, an evolution of the D700 would work.
  • U1/U2 buttons like the D7000.  In a rare moment of agreement with Ken Rockwell (who can’t seem to figure out if he thinks megapixels are useful or not), how the heck was this left out of the D800???
  • USB 3.0.  Or even better, whatever is cheaper between in-camera USB 3.0 and throwing a USB 3.0 card reader for SD/CF in the box.
  • 6-8 Frames per second is fine.  You don’t have to improve the FPS with the grip, especially to keep it to a reasonable price.  $616 list (which still translates to $449 at B&H) is a shameful price when the grip for the D7000 is $219 and the grip for the D700 is $234 (at B&H, the list prices are $297 and $334, respectively).
  • Same video and audio as the D300s.  It will give folks a reason to buy the D800, and I use my Flipcam or smartphone for most of my video.  If you really want to create some product separation, take video off (along with a couple hundred bucks…).

I’m sure there are things I’ve missed.  I’d love to see simpler menus, a touch-screen and a few other things, but that is the main baseline.  As far as price, it would have to be more than the still-hypothetical D400 (which I’m guessing will be $1999) while not cratering your D800, though I think the build and other features I’ve described here are enough to keep the hard-core pros up there.  Let’s call it $2399 – about what the D700 was selling for new just before the terrible events in Tōhoku/Sendai or $2199 for a no-video version.

Here’s another thought for my friends at Nikon:  Create a “Build Your Perfect SLR” web-app in DX and FX editions, and even “what kind of shooter are you” categories.  Build in enough logic that users have to keep it real as a user in terms of manufacturability, sales price and family structure.  In other words, you have a “budget” to spend in the app for the design and features trade off against each other.  Put an “other” box in there somewhere for suggestions.  It would be a lot of fun, and my guess is you’ll learn a lot about what people really want.  And for Enthusiast Photographers like me and a lot of others, it isn’t a D4 or a D800 for full frame…

Readers:  Comments on your dream full frame or DX?  What features are you wishing for?

Draftee Enthusiast Photographer Shoot Results

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue

My favorite shot of the day...

As I posted a few days ago, I was asked to shoot some photos for a company event.  Since I’m much more of a kids-and-landscape shooter, usually using available light with maybe a little of fill from the on-board flash of my D90, I was a little intimidated.  Arming myself with a borrowed a SB-900 flash, I re-read a lot of Scott Kelby’s words of wisdom, surveyed Flash 101 from Dave Hobby at Strobist and even reached out to some pals in the BMW community in the photography subsection of the Off-Topic forum for some very useful practical advice and experience.

The good news was I had a chance to go see the venue the day before and test some things out.  The bad news was it was a tough environment: a vaulted area of a high school library with a mix of fluorescent, incandescent and muddy, cloudy light from a window.  I shot a number of test shots, trying to dial in the best combination I could come up with of exposure, reasonable shadows and an editable file to work with.  I had a large, white vertical wall about 12 feet to the right of the podium I could use to bounce, which was useful.  I entered the day stressed – I’d dreamed about flashes and focal length during a restless night.

So how did it go?  Overall, I’d call it a success.  The team got the photos they were asking for and I came away with a few shots I liked.  One of my least-favorite (a group shot with a throng of other cameras around me a and a wilting SB-900), got picked up in the business wire story about the event.  My favorite shot of the day was the one at the top of the page.  I was shooting Manual, mainly at ISO 400, with a shutter speed of 100 (to get a reasonable freeze with the flash) and aperture of f/8 so the background was clear.

A few lessons learned:

  • (with a nod to Scott Kelby) Charge everything the night before.
  • Pack the night before with the idea of accessibility for whatever you’re likely to use or might need quickly (like spare batteries).
  • Before you leave the house, check that everything successfully charged, and take one practice shot with your camera (another Kelby nod :)).  Look at the settings information and make sure it agrees with what you intended.  If you don’t have your camera set to lock unless there is a memory card in it, double-check that you have a card and an extra.
  • Get there early.  There is no substitute for having a chance to look around a bit beforehand, not to mention the value of staking out your spot 😉 – things got awfully crowded when the real press guys showed up with video cameras…
  • Bring three sets of batteries, or maybe better said one set more set than you think you’ll need.  This is especially true of the batteries for the flash.  I brought only one extra set.  It was enough, but I was sweating it…
  • Shoot JPEG or JPEG+RAW if you need to give something to someone else quickly.  Since there were multiple press offices involved, I was asked to hand over photos before I left.  A real pro would probably be shooting JPEG only in this situation and be done with it, but I also shot RAW since a fair number of the photos I shot will become internal stock photos, and I wanted the change to make them look as good as possible.  Plus, as an amateur, I wanted the defensive depth of a RAW file in case I missed something and had a quick chance to edit on the fly.
  • Watch the flash carefully.  I’d heard about the SB-900 thermal shutdown, and wondered if it was as bad as described.  I’d have to say yes.  I could have made things easier on the flash by shooting at higher ISO, but I was only shooting at 80-100 focal length – I didn’t think I was taxing it very hard.  I was wrong.  About halfway through, I’d shot enough pops to wear out the batteries (which I’d done some test-shots with the day before), and soon after swapping in the new ones, the thermal switch popped in.  I moved to a slightly higher ISO, and shot with the on-board flash while the SB-900 cooled off – I removed it, turned it off and set it aside.  I’m sure more than a little of this was due to the photographer – I don’t know flash well, I probably could have shot with different settings to ease the load on the flash and I was probably over-eager to get a lot of shots.  Getting good facial expressions is a trick, so I compensated with more snaps.  There is a reason pros shoot with a D3s in machine-gun mode :).  The SB-900 cooled down fairly quickly, and I shot with a little more discretion once it was back in action.

Overall, I’m happy with the results and everyone else seems to be, too.  I edited the photos I had and felt like the results were very reasonable, though even the shot at the top of the page could use a little white-balance adjustment.  I wish I’d had a little more positioning flexibility so the logo of National Academy Foundation wasn’t partially blocked.  I debated moving and decided to stay put.  I have to say I’d avoid the SB-900.  I’d opt for the Enthusiast-Photographer-level-and-price SB-700 or maybe the pro-quality and apparently more graceful SB-910 used or when the price comes down a bit.  For now, the SB-900 goes back to my buddy Kevin with my sincere gratitude and I’ll go back to more more normal photography pursuits.  For the future, I’ll add a flash to my “want-in-the-bag” list, and continue to learn about off-camera photography.  Of course, if I can wangle a D3s from work to be an on-call photographer…

Any C&C, suggestions or tips on the photo above or the shoot in general are welcome!