Should I buy a Nikon D7100?

D7100_heroIf you’re in the Nikon world you’ve heard about the recent announcement of the new Nikon D7100 (unless you were under a rock somewhere).  Predictably enough, the Nikon sections of the various photography forums are ablaze with questions of whether a given photographer should upgrade.

If you’ve found your way here, you might be wondering the same thing.  Regular readers of Enthusiast Photographer are probably predicting my answer already:  for the vast majority of people, it is “It depends, but probably not.”

Heresy.  Crazy talk.  Doesn’t a new camera make your images better?

Usually not.

Here’s the thing – why do you want to upgrade?  What isn’t your current camera doing for you?  In what way or ways are you exceeding the capabilities of the camera? Do you know the camera inside and out?

If you can’t answer those questions in some detail, you probably don’t need to upgrade (but you want to ;))

The desire is always there for the latest thing, and certainly the D7100 is a compelling camera.  If you’re carrying a D90 or D7000 (especially the latter), my recommendation is probably to sit tight.  Yes, the autofocus system is more capable and sophisticated as you go up from the D90 to the D7000 to the D7100.  Yes, you get more megapixels at each step.  The D7000 has a pretty big jump in ability to pull details out of shadows (dynamic range) vs. the D90, and we can assume the D7100 offers even further improvement.  There is a small bump in low light (ISO) performance – likely to be less than a stop between the D90 and the D7100, which isn’t much.

As I’ve said many times here, you can generally get better and more enduring benefits from investing in high-quality lenses than buying a new body.  The lenses will usually work on your next body.  If they don’t they tend to keep their value extremely well, especially compared to a body (which is more like a car – the older it gets, the less it is worth).

Maybe you can answer the questions above, know your camera inside and out and you have a clear idea of what problems the D7100 solves for you – you’ve wrung every bit of performance out of whatever camera you own.  Maybe you’ve got a complete kit of great glass and you’re ready to take the next step with the body.  If one or more of those is true, the D7100 will be a great camera to have.

If you’re on an older body, a D70 or a D80, I think the case for replacing your body is stronger.  There are a LOT of improvements in features, usability and performance in a D7100 over those cameras.  It might be wise to save a few bucks and grab a D7000 as it begins its ride into the sunset, too…

There are a lot of sensor-bullies on the internet who will say your aren’t getting good images quality unless you have the latest sensor, which is ridiculous.  Every other camera that went before didn’t suddenly become less capable – Nikon just took another step forward.  There are lots of ways to improve your images, and the top three are, in order most to least:

  1. Improve the photographer
  2. Shoot with better lenses
  3. Shoot with the best camera you can

OK – that is a little arbitrary, but it is pretty darn true! 😀

At the end of the day, it is hard to get away from the desire to buy a new body.  My general advice is to resist and focus on the other two things.  The next body will always be there…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the D7100, upgrading or any other topic – feel free to comment!

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“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…

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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 ReallyRightStuff.com (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.

The future of Pro DX: Dark

I was reading an article today from Thom Hogan, titled “The DX Problem”. In the article he essentially states we’re getting two more DX cameras this year and that Nikon’s mentality has devolved to a sensor/form factor view as opposed to a customer/user view. Where I’d see Consumer, Prosumer and Pro with use categories underneath (e.g. family shooter, advanced consumer, serious amateur, sports, wildlife, etc.) that would slot into products that fill the need, Nikon sees Coolpix, 1, DX, and FX, at least in Thom’s view.

I think he’s right, and it makes me feel like Nikon is removing a product from their current lineup. Two more DX cameras sounds an awful lot like a D7100 and a D5200, replacing/updating two products that are a tad paler with the D3200 announcement (especially the D5100).

What is left out? A D300s replacement.

As someone who went from a “prosumer” D90 to a “pro” D300s, this is a big disappointment.

Why, you ask? Why wouldn’t a D7200 or a D600 replace a D300s? Why isn’t the latest DX sensor or a new prosumer FX enticing to me? Easy. The answer is handling.

When the PC industry went through a phase where the megahertz and megabytes, it devolved in to a morass of slapped-together, mainly disposable junk. Anything more than a couple years old was bad, and you needed a new one. Cameras are apparently heading this way too. Megapixels rule the day.

The D300s wasn’t an upgrade for me in terms of sensor or megapixels, but it is a liberating camera. The “pro” handling, where switches and knobs allow you to set most key settings instead of a bunch of buttons and menus in the camera’s software, is a terrific thing. It gives me much more instant command of my camera, allowing me to stay focused on the shot in front of me. I can switch all the important stuff without looking at the camera. Awesome.

And it has spoiled me. The D7000 is a terrific camera, and I have no doubt the D600, which appears to be an FX sensor in the D7000 body, will probably be a game changer in the prosumer area. For me, it would be a return to menus and buttons, and I’m just not going to do that. What good is a great sensor if you’re fiddling with buttons and missing the shot? I think the consumer and prosumer cameras are getting the handling just right for the people who are using them, but expecting the wildlife, sports and other folks who want a DX sensor and are used to the “pro” handing of the D200/D300/D300s (not to mention the older D1x, D2x, D2h, etc.) to move to the prosumer models is crazy.

No matter how good the sensor is, those guys and gals aren’t going to be very happy, because the handling is a core part of how they shoot. I don’t think I’m at that level yet, but I can tell you that I’ve benefited a lot from the D300s, even though I didn’t upgrade my sensor at all. Do I want ISO 100, a nice 24MP sensor with the dynamic range of the D7000? A few other things? Sure! (though I’d settle for 16MP, which of course won’t happen). But I want it in a D400 package, not the D7100 or D600. It looks like Nikon is getting out of that business.

I guess the good news is this my wallet is safe from Nikon for a long time. Outside of the blog, I can stop thinking about the next camera so much and focus more on the next shots.

Photos from China and Japan

Apologies for the long gap between posts!  I just got back from a business trip that took me to China and Japan, and luckily afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit of time with a photographer buddy taking pictures.  I tend to focus too much on hardware sometimes on Enthusiast Photographer – I hope you enjoy them!  Some of them are kind of touristy, which is fine – I was a tourist!  🙂  I did try to be a little creative, but my main focus was having full command of my camera and having fun.  A D300s looms in my immediate future, and I wanted to be fully comfortable without the nanny “Auto” mode.

So here are a few from my travels.  Comments and feedback are welcome!

Dinner in Beijing

Lights

A Manhattan in Beijing

Woman watches a Fountain Art installation in Beijing

Pipes in the 798 District of Beijing

Impromptu parking garage…

Biker takes a break from the mid-day sun in Beijing

View from the top of the Mori tower in Tokyo

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.  This one is an example of where composition and zoom can actually reduce the scale of the subject.  The tourists in the foreground make the Buddha seem much smaller than it is…

A better composition of the world’s largest Buddha.

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan

A monument near the great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan.

It was a really enjoyable trip, even if it was work!  Even better, my wife and I are heading to Europe for two weeks early next week, so I’ll be a traveling Enthusiast Photographer once again!

By then, all the D600 rumors will probably be sorted out… 😉

As a quick equipment note, this was my first big trip with the all my gear, plus a couple other items – my Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the Snoop insert performed well – if anything, it holds too much!  The Gitzo 2531/Sunwayfoto XB-44 performed well, but the setup is really too large to fly with.  I took my new Sirui monopod and the monopod head/clamp setup provided by Sunwayfoto, and these were a great solution.  The head and clamp gave me excellent flexibility with the monopod, and allowed me to shoot in some pretty low light.  Unfortunately, even monopods weren’t allowed on the top from the Mori Tower, so that shot was hand-held.  I’m debating whether I can/should take the tripod to Europe.  I want to find a way to take it, but I’m thinking it is going to be hard to get on the plane, and I’m not taking a suitcase big enough to put it in.  More on that later…

Don’t fear the FUD

One of the most-viewed posts on Enthusiast Photographer is about my solution to the dilemma of using the Black Rapid Strap with the Arca-Swiss plate system, in my case my RRS-L-bracket on my Nikon D90.

For those of you who haven’t seen what I’m using, here it is:

A phone-cam picture of Black-Rapid/Arca-Swiss bliss…
Note that I’ve added a safety strap in case of some kind of strap/clamp failure (somewhat unlikely) or in the event I’m a forgetful doofus (somewhat likely).

Note I’ve attached my “safety strap” to the D-ring. That is the most likely of the very unlikely failure points on the strap.

On the various forums I frequent, there is invariably a mention of a series of e-mails Bosstail (a Black Rapid competitor) has on their website from Nikon and Canon support regarding the use of the tripod mount for attaching the strap. Predictably enough, they are negative on the idea.

Personally, I think that information from Bosstrap is disingenuous – Given the popularity of these types of straps, you’d think there would be an official word from Nikon/Canon, etc. on this matter, especially if there was risk to the equipment. As best I can tell, there is no official word or warning from Nikon or Canon on their website or in their user manuals referring to the use of straps in the tripod mount.

No – I’m not an engineer, but I don’t think the forces applied to the mount are significant compared to use with a tripod plate/clamp/head setup. It seems to me that a 70-300 lens (with no foot) mounted on a tripod would put significantly more stress on the mount than the lens hanging down on a Black Rapid or similar strap. I don’t think that is the common use case anyway – the biggest lens I’m using when mount to the BR strap to the tripod mount is my 18-200. When I’m running around with my 80-200, I’m using the mount on the foot for the strap, which I’d think would have the same benefit on the strap as it does on the tripod – more balance and less stress.

 

The massive 80-200 set and ready to go. I put the knob on the right side of the lens to keep it out of the way.

Unless I see an official warning from the camera OEM’s, I’m not going to worry about it. A copy/paste of e-mails (that might be legit, but sound more like CYA than policy) and 2nd-hand statements from “Nikon staff” aren’t very compelling arguments. Additionally, it seems like Black Rapid and similar guys would be opening themselves up to lawsuits if their design inflicted damage on the camera.

Lastly, on FredMiranda and Photograhy-on-the-Net (POTN) (and others) I’ve seen many, many comments from working pros who have been using these straps with big lenses and flashes for multiple years and reported no issues with damage to the camera base.

Net: I think Bosstrap is being a little shady and using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to drive sales. Show documented, engineering-based proof or publicly official statements from the camera manufacturers, not anonymous e-mails from some pimply-faced Nikon support tech trying to keep his job and nebulous “Nikon staff”. If you can’t do that, innovate, engineer, market and compete fairly. FUD is a sign of the weak who can’t compete with a better solution.

I’d really like to see something official from Nikon/Canon on their site and in their user guides. I think my use of the Arca-clamp on the L-bracket further mitigates any concerns by spreading the weight and stress beyond just the screw-point of the tripod mount, but I doubt it makes any real-world difference. I strongly doubt there is an issue for anyone using the Black Rapid FastnR in their tripod mount (the standard way if your tripod mount doesn’t live on your camera).

I do wish Nikon and Canon would declare one way or the other. In the meantime, I love my Black Rapid RS-7!

(I did a quick check on Black-Rapid’s site – no mention of the Arca-Swiss-compatible solution they alluded to at CES…)

Orchids

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…

A bad habit…

I was sitting around watching March Madness and playing with my D90.  During a commercial break, I was goofing around shooting my DirecTV receiver that was ten feet or so away.  Since it was a black box with blue lights, it was obvious that I wasn’t cleanly pressing the shutter.  In fact, I realized I was “punching” it.  Maybe I’m guilty of skimming the books I’ve recommended here a number of times, or maybe the lesson on good shutter technique was too subtle for me.  So I shot at a deliberately absurd hand-held shutter speed of 1/2, played around with a couple lenses and experimented a bit.  Before get to what I came up with, let’s look at what I was doing until today:

Tokina Punch Big Crop

Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, f/2.8 - heavily cropped (approx 300%).

80-200 Punch

Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, f/2.8 - Re-sized only

So…now I know why some of my hand-held shots aren’t as sharp as I’d like – my technique is terrible. I have always tried to be smooth as I pressed the shutter, rolling my finger across the button (I do recall this from my first read of Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography series, but this made it pretty clear I was bouncing the camera.  It was clear after a few minutes that the biggest culprit was not pressing the button, but actually releasing it!  After a few minutes of trial and error, I found a style that made a big difference.

Net: I roll smoothly across the button and don’t move my finger at all until the shutter cycle is complete.  The improvement was pretty significant:

New technique with Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, same crop, etc.

Better, right? The heavy crop and very low light don’t make this very sharp, but it certainly illustrates how much less movement is in the release. What about the big, heavy 80-200?

New technique with Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, just re-sized.

I’ve still got room for improvement here, but I was still in my Al Bundy couch pose and the 80-200 really is a big piece of glass.  Net: the shake is reduced by at least 2/3, and I’d say good posture and a little more focus on my hand-holding technique would give better results – it ain’t bad for a hand-held shutter speed of 1/2 with a station wagon strapped to the front of my D90!  Realistic shutter speeds would help, too.

I’m sure there are photographers reading this and saying “Well duh!” and I’m hoping that when I re-read my Scott Kelby there isn’t a completely obvious tip on this.

In the meantime, I hope it is helpful to other Enthusiast Photographers.  For me, I’ll be doing a little more research and reading on the basics of shutter and hand-holding techniques!

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?

Off to the Farmer’s Market

Things have been a little hectic on all fronts around our household, so last Saturday we decided to change things up a little and head to our local Farmer’s Market.  Since I hadn’t done a lot of shooting lately, I grabbed my camera.  My wife asked me what I was going to take pictures of, and I aid “I don’t know.”  Sometimes I think I spend too much time thinking about what I’m going to shoot, what time of day, what the weather will be like, etc.

Ultimately, what is important to do is just shoot, and let the rest just come to you.  So I did, and it was great fun.  Here are a few samples from the day:

Loose Candy
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Dried
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Farmer’s Market Jars
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Old Door at the NC Farmer’s Market
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Horrified Birdhouses

Contrast at the Statuary
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Self Portrait at the Statuary
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Grumpy Cupid
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It was nice to do some easy shooting, without any real pressure of losing the light or any hard-core theme – it was fun to just shoot!  Most of the time when I do this I’m drawn by color, texture or a story and there is a little bit of all of those here for me – hope you enjoyed them!

As a note, it was my first real day out with my bargain-priced Snoop bag and I had the camera on my Black Rapid Arca rig all day, and both performed flawlessly.

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!