Having been loaned a D4s by Nikon, to trial during the Edinburgh festival(s), I was keen to get it set up and do a couple of test shoots before taking it up there. Trial runs are always best before getting a new piece of kit out in the field with a commissioned job and your reputation riding on it. Buttons and menus move, sensors respond to light in a different way and, if you are not prepared, these things could throw you off kilter if you are daft enough to use a brand new camera on a job without getting to know it first. I mean, you wouldn’t get on an unknown horse, for the first time, at the starting gate at the Grand National, now would you?!
This week presented a couple of excellent opportunities to put it through its paces. To take it out on the Gallops.
Low light and fast movement are the things that this camera is made for. Usually given to sports photographers to trial, this could be said to be under-testing for its true ability. Contemporary dance, with lighting designed by the likes of the Master of Darkness, Michael Hulls, is probably the ultimate test for a high performance camera like this (it’s essentially shooting sport in the dark, or maybe more like photographing subatomic particles, unlit, where the very fact of observing, changes the direction of travel).
Anyhoo, not having the likes of the ultimate (no light, fast moving) test this week, I did get two great opportunities to see how it handled under ‘normal’ (for dance/theatre) conditions.
English National Ballet’s “Coppelia” was the first chance I had to use it. Married to the 70 – 200mm, it felt both familiar and strange. The sound of the shutter is certainly different. No quieter, even in quiet mode (shakes fist at Nikon). The sound shouldn’t really matter, but it does, in an environment where the noise can disturb the subject and those around. (There was an amusing incident recently where a member of the audience at a dress rehearsal came over to the whole corps of photographers, there to shoot for the press/publicity, to ask for their shutter sounds to be turned off as we were disturbing his appreciation of the opera. N.b. if you don’t understand the subtleties of that then 1. You can’t turn a shutter ‘sound’ off (unless you turn the camera off) It’s a mechanical sound. 2. We were doing our job of work, invited because we are published in the right media, to help generate ticket sales. 3. He got in for free, to watch. 4. Publicity means ticket sales – no ticket sales, no next dress rehearsal). Top tip, if you are easily distracted by camera clicks, buy a ticket for a performance.
It was an utter pleasure to be able to set shutter speed to a fast-enough level to know you are able to freeze(ish) motion, whilst not sacrificing quality to high ISO. Usually, it’s a real balancing act, with most calculations being based on shooting wide open (f2.8) at the slowest you can handhold for the focal length (and often below) at the highest ISO your camera will do before disintegrating like something being teleported. Yes, you can use a tripod/monopod, and I occasionally do, but this means you lose agility/responsiveness (and most of the pictures end up as landscape!). So, the results weren’t any better, on this occasion. Not in terms of output, anyway. But there was more peace-of-mind about getting a sharp shot at speed.
Colour is another thing. The new sensor seems to handle colour in a very different way to the D3s. I am still getting to grips with that (which is a feat in itself if you don’t have two identical cameras to shoot with!).
The second test was with a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” with (as the title of the blogpost suggests) Gillian Anderson. No low-light advantage over the D3s here, though I did appreciate the slightly larger sensor size. At 16mb, it allows a little leeway on framing, when there’s a whacking great revolve trying to take your legs out from under you and you need to get far enough back to get the shot without being dead-legged.
What I didn’t appreciate was the number of thieving barstewards who stole my work (screengrabbed, complete with copyright watermark) for their blogs. Yes, it is illegal. Yes, it harms my livelihood. Yes, I shall pursue legal recourse if you haven’t removed it within the next week. The Truth Is Out There!