Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sports Photography

Wide angle zooms reach infinity focus within 2 to 3 meters, allowing you to freeze motion and achieve good depth of field even at the widest aperture. This image was shot at 16mm, f/4, ISO 4000, 1/500-second

Wide angle zooms reach infinity focus within 2 to 3 meters, allowing you to freeze motion and achieve good depth of field even at the widest aperture. This image was shot with a Nikon D600 full-frame DSLR using a Nikon 16-35mm wide angle zoom lens at 16mm, f/4, ISO 4000, 1/500-second. (Bill Ferris)

Sports and wildlife photography are extremely demanding of you, as a photographer, and your equipment. You are often shooting in low light, farther from your subject than you’d like–when it comes to wildlife, sometimes too close for comfort–and trying to capture a moving target. These are situations where your photographic technique and your equipment’s ability to make good images are pushed to the limit. In this blog entry, I’m going to focus on sports photography, offering some tips on how to capture compelling, dynamic images under challenging circumstances.

Battling for position beneath the basket. This image was captured at 70mm, f/2.8, ISO 2500, 1/800-second

Battling for position beneath the basket. This image was captured with a Nikon D600 and Tamron 70-200mm zoom lens at 70mm, f/2.8, ISO 2500, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

Basketball is a sport which allows photographers to be relatively close access to the action. This doesn’t make the sport easy to shoot but it does make basketball easier to photograph than other sports. I used a Nikon D600 to capture all the images in this article. Sports photography is one area where a full-frame sensor, such as that in the D600, can give you an advantage over a digital camera with a smaller crop-sensor. The pixels on a full-frame sensor are larger than those on a crop-sensor DSLR body offering similar resolution. Larger pixels are more efficient. In other words, they do a better job of capturing light than smaller pixels. As a general rule, A full-frame DSLR will deliver at least a full stop of improved high ISO performance in comparison with a similar resolution crop-sensor body.

Why is this important for sports photography? If your objective is to capture a moment, your objective is often to freeze motion. (Please, note that freezing motion is not required for good sports photography. It is, however, a common practice.) To freeze motion, you need to take really short exposures, typically using shutter speeds between 1/500 and 1/1000 second. To make a good quality image at such fast shutter speeds, you’ll need two things: a fast lens and a camera with good high ISO performance. (Since flash photography is prohibited on the field or court, you’ll need to rely on your lenses and sensor to make the most of the available light.) Most sports photographers shoot with lenses offering fixed apertures of f/2.8 or faster. ISO settings are typically in the 1600 to 6400 range…sometimes faster.

In the above image, I was shooting at 70mm, f/2.8 using an ISO of 2500 and a 1/800-second exposure. If you zoom in to 100% on the full-size version of the image, you’ll see a slight touch of blur on NAU player’s right eye. Also, the reflected lights on his cornea are slightly elongated. Even shooting at 1/800-second, the image does not completely freeze the motion.

This image was taken with a Tamron 70-200mm zoom at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800-second

This image was taken with a Nikon D600 and Tamron 70-200mm zoom at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

Another advantage of a full-frame sensor is its comparatively shallow depth of field. This advantage is due to the fact that crop-frame sensors effectively extend the focal length of a lens. Nikon’s DX format sensors have a 1.5X crop factor. In other words, any lens used on a DX format body will have an effective focal length 50% longer than it will on a full-frame or FX format Nikon body. The lens I used to take the above image was set to 70mm on my full-frame Nikon D600. On my crop-sensor D90, that same lens would have an effective focal length of 105mm and a correspondingly greater depth of field. The pleasing bokeh in the above image would not be as dramatic in images made with the D90. Objects in the distance would be more in focus, reducing the separation between the subject and the background.

This photograph was taken with a Tamron 70-200mm at 135mm, f/2.8, ISO 3600, 1/640-second

This photograph was taken with the Nikon D600 and a Tamron 70-200mm at 135mm, f/2.8, ISO 3600, 1/640-second. (Bill Ferris)

Here’s an image that does a nice job of freezing the action. If you zoom in to view the image at 100%, you’ll see the NAU player’s eyes are in focus. This is the number one rule of good photography: focus on your subject. When shooting basketball or another sport where the athlete’s face is in view, you should focus on the eyes. How do you know if you’ve succeeded? Look at a 100% view of the the eyes in the original image. If light reflected off the cornea is sharp and well-defined, the image is in focus. If the eye is soft or fuzzy, the image belongs in the recycle bin.

A technique I use to achieve good focus is called, Back Button Focus. Back Button Focus (BBF) moves the auto focus function of your DSLR from the shutter release button to the Auto Exposure Lock/Auto Focus Lock (AE-L/AF-L) button, typically found on the back of a DSLR body. Why do this? Most DSLR shutter release buttons allow you to activate auto focus with a half-depression of the shutter release button. To take a picture, depress this button fully to actuate the shutter. When shooting sports, there is an advantage to separating auto focus from shutter release.

Taken at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800-second

Taken at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

In the above photo of NAU men’s basketball head coach, Jack Murphy, he was squatting while speaking to his team. The distance from him to my camera wasn’t changing. In that situation, I used the AE-L/AF-L button to set focus on his eyes, then waited for him to turn and face me before taking the exposure. If the Shutter release button also triggered the camera’s auto focus function, taking the picture may have reset focus on another person in the frame, ruining the picture.

Another advantage of moving auto focus to the AE-L/AF-L button is the potential to extend the battery life of your camera. If you shoot with vibration reduction (VR or VC) lenses, that half-depression of the shutter release button will activate the vibration reduction motors. The VR motors draw additional power from your camera’s battery. Using the AE-L/AF-L button for auto focus allows you to wait longer before engaging VR, which will extend your battery life.

200mm, f/2.8, ISO 5600, 1/800-second

D600 with Tamron 70-200 at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 5600, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

So, how do I set up my camera for a sports photo shoot? First, I put the camera in full Manual mode. Why? Well, I know there are two factors over which I want total control. The first, is aperture. I want to use my lens’s widest aperture. This maximizes the amount of light falling on the sensor, which allows me to make a good image using short, fast exposures. A wide open aperture also delivers images with beautiful bokeh, creating clear separation between the subject and surrounding environment. The second factor I want to control, is shutter speed. If I’m trying to freeze the action, I’ll choose an exposure of 1/500-second or faster. You’ll notice many of the images in this article were taken with exposures of 1/800-second.

Having selected the aperture and shutter speed, I will then engage a setting I rarely use: Auto ISO.  When doing landscape and portrait photography, I generally select a low native ISO setting of 100 or 200 to reduce noise in the resulting photograph and maximize image quality. Sports photography is one of those scenarios where you need to use–and trust–the camera’s high ISO capability. Selecting Auto ISO allows you to concentrate on framing, focus and when to push the shutter release button. You can choose to manually control ISO and, to be honest, many photographers are able to make ISO changes on the fly without missing a shot. Personally, I prefer to keep things simple and Auto ISO reduces the number of critical variables I have to monitor. Of course, this technique is only as good as your DSLR’s ability to meter and select a proper ISO.

D600 with Tamron 70-200mm at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 5000, 1/800-second

D600 with Tamron 70-200mm at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 5000, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

With the manual settings in place, I’ll then double-check my camera’s auto focus setting. For landscapes and portraits, I use Nikon’s Auto Focus Single-Servo (AF-S) mode and choose a single auto focus point. In a nutshell, the AF-S mode tells the camera to set focus just once and lock that in place until the shutter is actuated. Landscapes don’t move and, in many portraiture settings, your subject is not moving. So, AF-S is a mode that allows you to precisely set and hold focus. Choosing one auto focus cross-point gives you further control over these critical factors.

Sports photography is a different animal, altogether. Since your subjects are moving, it’s generally better to select Auto Focus Continuous-Servo (AF-C) and a cluster of cross points where your subject is most likely to be within the frame. With AF-C selected, my D600 offers options of 9, 21 or 39 cross point clusters to predictively track and follow focus. This illustrates another advantage of assigning auto focus to the AE-L/AF-L button. With my right fore finger resting atop the shutter release button, my right thumb is able to depress and hold the AE-L/AF-L button to engage continuous auto focus. When I’m ready to take an exposure, I press the shutter release button.

D600 with Nikon 16-35mm at 16mm, f/4, ISO 5600, 1/640-second

D600 with Nikon 16-35mm at 16mm, f/4, ISO 5600, 1/640-second. (Bill Ferris)

Burst rate is another setting I’ll adjust prior to the game. Again contrasting sports photography with landscapes and portraiture, shooting constantly moving subjects is a scenario where your camera’s high speed burst rate is a real asset. Over the course of one or two seconds, a basketball player can go from the top of the key to leaping and finishing with a layup kissed off the glass or a monster dunk. My D600 has a maximum continuous burst rate of 5.5 frames per second. That’s one frame about every 0.2-second. If you have any doubt about how much can happen in two-tenths of a second, review a short burst sequence. In that collection of 5 to 10 images, there may be one where the player’s face is visible, the ball is visible, focus is pin sharp and framing is perfect. The other images may be soft in focus, poorly framed or have some object obscuring the subject’s face. I don’t recommend holding down the shutter release for seconds on end. But a well-timed, one-to-two second burst at your DSLR’s fastest rate can go a long way towards ensuring you get the shot.

Nikon D600 with Tamron 70-200mm at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800-second

Nikon D600 with Tamron 70-200mm at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

Let’s talk about subject matter for a moment. Certainly, the primary objective of your photography will be to capture the critical moments and plays in the game. But sports are about more than just the action on the field or court. It’s also about what’s happening on the benches, in the stands and on the sidelines. The above image has nothing to do with the final score. But it captures a genuinely personal moment among the players on the Northern Arizona bench. If you didn’t attend the game, you probably don’t know what the final score was. However, seeing this image, may give you a clue. NAU dominated. They led by twenty or more points throughout the second half and won by that same margin. Hence, the players on that bench felt comfortable sharing a light moment–a bit of humor–before the final buzzer sounded.

200mm, f/2.8, ISO 4000, 1/800-second

200mm, f/2.8, ISO 4000, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

Finally, I’ll share a few thoughts on lens selection. I brought three lenses to this shoot: Nikon 16-35mm, f/4; Tamron 24-70mm, f/2.8 and Tamron 70-200mm, f/2.8. All are zoom lenses with vibration reduction. The two Tamron lenses are fast, with fixed f/2.8 apertures throughout their zoom ranges. The Nikon 16-35mm is one stop slower at f/4, which would normally be a significant limitation in this setting. However, the excellent high ISO performance of the Nikon D600 body allowed me to freeze the action with this ultra-wide angle zoom.

Of the three, if I had to choose just one to bring to a basketball game, it would be the 24-70mm, f/2.8. It’s wide enough to frame players, head-to-toe, beneath the basket and long enough at the 70mm end to isolate a player from the waist up. The 70-200mm, f/2.8 would be next in my bag. The reach of this lens allows me to get up close and personal, filling the frame with the face of a coach or player. It also allows me to follow action on the far end of the court. In fact, if I were limited to just one lens for all sports shooting, it would be the 70-200, Sports like football, baseball and soccer are played on larger fields that demand a longer zoom range to bring the action closer to you, the photographer.

This photo was taken with a Nikon D600 and Tamron 70-200mm combo at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 4500, 1/800-second

This photo was taken with a Nikon D600 and Tamron 70-200mm combo at 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 4500, 1/800-second. (Bill Ferris)

In summary, the key to successful sports photography is freezing the action. The tools that allow you to do this are a camera body with very good high ISO performance (advantage: full-frame sensor), fast lenses (f/2.8 or faster), and an auto focus system that accurately tracks and predicts focus on moving subjects. Shooting in manual allows you to control at least two critical settings: aperture and shutter speed. Using the camera’s Auto ISO feature can simplify things for you. Using your camera’s continuous auto focus setting and moving control over auto focus to the AE-L/AF-L button are an asset to achieving accurate focus. Focus on the eyes of your subject. If the eyes aren’t in focus, the image belongs in the recycle bin. When you’re ready to shoot, a well-timed short burst will help to ensure you get the shot. And finally, capture images that tell the full story of the event, including action around the court.

Now, get out and shoot!

Bill Ferris | November 2013


Hit the Street

It's a busy Friday night at "The Sweet Shoppe" in historic downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. (Nikon D600, Tamron 24-70 at 70mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/250 sec.)

It’s a busy Friday night at “The Sweet Shoppe” in historic downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. (Nikon D600, Tamron 24-70 at 70mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/250 sec.) (Bill Ferris)

Street photography is all the rage. Candid images of unsuspecting people capture the personality of a community. On a recent Friday night, I roamed the streets of Flagstaff looking for scenes of real life to photograph. The above image of a friendly exchange between a customer and employee in a downtown Flagstaff business, captures a touch of the good feeling that filled the streets on this particular evening. It was the first Friday of the month. People were out and about having dinner, buying a dessert to share with a friend and enjoying out the diverse collection of art and artists on display. It was wonderful to be out and in the midst of such a positive vibe.

Often, street photographers seek out subjects that challenge our senses or sensibilities. There is nothing wrong with taking that approach unless it crosses a line and becomes exploitation. Homelessness is a real problem in America. At the very heart of this problem is a healthcare system that leaves far too many people without access to needed professional medical treatment for mental illness or addiction. Mental illness and addiction make it incredibly difficult for a person to function in society. As a result, far too many people suffering from these illnesses are out on the streets–homeless.

Homelessness is tragic. It is all around us and easily recognized. I suppose this explains, in part, why the anonymous homeless person is a favorite subject for some street photographers. What the photographer sees, is the person’s circumstance: homelessness. What is missed, is the person’s condition: illness. Personally, if I never see another black & white photograph of an elderly person in tattered clothes, blankly staring and oblivious to the passing world, it will be too soon. There is a good chance the person in that photograph is suffering some form of illness. And that, in my opinion, makes the act of photographing the person a form of exploitation.

It seems to me there is a misguided notion that photographing the homeless carries on a tradition begun during the Great Depression. What most people don’t understand is the fundamental quality that made homelessness during the Depression so different from today’s version. During the Depression, the underlying condition or cause of homelessness was not a physical or mental illness. The underlying condition was a global economic collapse that had destroyed the very foundation of society.

The catastrophic economic disaster which produced the Great Depression sent tens of millions of Americans out of their homes and onto the streets. By and large, these were not folks struggling with mental illness or addiction. They had been fully-functioning members of society–working, raising a family and being neighbors. But the physical institutions that served as the foundation for American society had been hit by an economic tidal wave. With entire industries destroyed, there literally was no societal framework within which a person could function. There was only chaos, a maelstrom engulfing millions who lost their jobs, their homes…everything.

The families and individuals featured in the most iconic of Depression-era photographs were just like you and me with one significant exception: They were homeless. An economic collapse was sweeping across the nation like a plague. Jobs had not been lost as casualties of a dreadful addiction or a debilitating mental disorder. The jobs had simply gone away. Not given to another person. Just…gone.

You could see the despair in people’s eyes in those photos. You could also see the determination and the dignity. These were people who had all the potential and ability in the world. In any other circumstance, they would have been the neighbors we met at the local super market, joined in worship on Sunday or socialized with at the next school open house. What made the Depression-era homeless so admirable, was that look in their eyes. They had been stripped of every physical element of dignity. But that circumstance did not touch their inner sense of dignity. They were survivors and they were determined to regain what they had lost.

In the 1930’s, homelessness was a random act of cruelty. Today, homelessness is more preventable and treatable. This makes the act of photographing a homeless person different. Depression-era photos are evidence that a person can lose every worldly good, and still retain their resolve and dignity. Photographing the mentally ill and addicted exposes people at their weakest, at a time when dignity and resolve are rare commodities. It is a means of objectifying a person in need of medical attention. It is exploitative. We may not be able to rescue every homeless person from the addiction or illness that has sent them to the curb. But we can, at the very least, treat that person as more than a compositional element in a photograph.

A patron sits lost in thought at a downtown Flagstaff cocktail lounge.

A patron sits lost in thought at a downtown Flagstaff cocktail a different circumstance altogether. (Bill Ferris)

So, while out walking the streets of downtown Flagstaff the other night, I wasn’t looking for homeless people to photograph. Instead, I looked for every day people. People like you and me. People who share the same dreams, struggle with similar worries and who, on a Friday night, were seeking a brief respite from their work-a-day lives. I looked at the man in the above photograph and wondered, “What is he thinking?” I suppose he could have been contemplating some great world problem. Or maybe, he was thinking what I would have been thinking in that situation, “Should I go home or have another beer?”

When I got home that night, I did enjoy a cold beer. But I didn’t head home, right away. I had my camera, a fast lens and a downtown full of interesting people to photograph. People like you. People like me. Good street photography reveals the qualities that make a town a community. It celebrates the people, their dignity, their compassion for others and their ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Like a bag of chocolates or a cold beer.

Get out and shoot!

Bill Ferris | November 2013

What’s Old is New Again

Featuring old school design and a premium full-frame digital sensor, will the Nikon Df bolster sales for a leading manufacturer of consumer and professional cameras?

Featuring old school design and a premium full-frame digital sensor, will the Nikon Df bolster sales for a leading manufacturer of consumer and professional cameras? (Photo used courtesy Nikon USA)

Nikon has gone retro. With the introduction in November 2013 of the Df, Nikon hopes to recapture a level of dominance in high end consumer and professional photography the camera manufacturer enjoyed during the 1970’s. Nikon revolutionized 35mm photography in 1959 with its introduction of the Nikon F. The F was Nikon’s first single lens reflex (SLR) camera body and the first camera body to incorporate a host of new technologies in one compact frame.  Strong sales launched Nikon to the top of the 35mm pyramid, a position it enjoyed well into the 1970’s. Nikon F, F2 and F3 bodies were standard issue gear for photojournalists, and set a high bar for both quality and durability in the industry.

Nikon’s position as king of the 35mm SLR hill was challenged in 1975 when Canon introduced new autoexposure technology in its consumer model, AE-1 body. Canon’s rise continued in 1978 with the introduction of the A-1. This body’s programmed autoexposure technology and other advanced features made it an instant best-seller. Advances in autofocus technology dominated the next ten years, culminating with Canon’s introduction in 1987 of the EOS system. EOS autofocus technology was a huge step forward; so significant that professional photographers (including many Nikon shooters) began selling their gear and making the transition to the Canon EOS system. This transformation rocketed Canon to the top of the 35mm SLR camera manufacturer mountain. In many respects, Nikon has been playing catch up, ever since.

Nikon and Canon have been trading blows, so to speak, since the beginning of the digital revolution. While Canon remains the leader in worldwide digital SLR (DSLR) sales, Nikon’s D3 and D4 camera bodies had earned reputations as being the best low-light 35mm bodies available. Canon’s 1D-X and 5D-MkIII bodies have since countered that challenge. Nikon chose a slightly different tack in 2012 with its introduction of the 36 megapixel (MP) D800. Since 2008, the introduction of a host of new capabilities (video), technologies (mirrorless) and platforms (smart phones) have generated significant uncertainty as to digital photography’s future.

Nikon Df, a 16 MP, full-frame DSLR

Nikon Df, a 16 MP, full-frame DSLR featuring old school design cues. (Photo used courtesy Nikon USA)

Perhaps, this is why Nikon looked to the past for inspiration in the development of its latest full-frame DSLR, the retro Df. Featuring design elements reminiscent of vintage F-series bodies and the D4’s acclaimed 16 MP sensor, the Df delivers the latest in digital imaging technology in an old school package. The photographic community’s early response has been, shall we say, mixed. For those who, like me, cut their teeth in photography shooting 35mm film cameras, the Df harkens back to a time when we were falling in love with the art form. My first camera was a 1980’s vintage Nikon F3. I bought it, used, and immediately fell in love with the feel of the body in my hands and the intuitive layout of controls.

Viewed from above, the Nikon Df's layout of retro dials is a clear homage to the F-series bodies of 1970's.

Viewed from above, the Nikon Df’s layout of retro dials and controls is a clear homage to the F-series bodies of 1970’s. (Photo used courtesy Nikon USA)

If the Df reminds you of your first camera and stirs fond memories, you are not alone. Nikon has made a bold move developing a modern DSLR packaged in classic wrapping. Marketing a professional quality camera based on its design and outward appearance is a first for Nikon. In hindsight, it’s a wonder they didn’t employ this strategy, sooner. Products have been successfully marketed according to aesthetic appearance since the beginning of time. But photography is a hobby and profession driven by advances in technology. The history of Nikon’s rise to prominence and Canon’s subsequent ascension clearly illustrates this. So, while the outward appearance of the Df can be seen as a bold–and potentially brilliant– move by Nikon, the key to this camera’s success will be its performance. If the Df packages great performance in a retro body style that sparks the imagination, it will be a hit. If performance is seen as inadequate, the Df will flop. Let’s take a look under the hood to see what this baby can do:

  • 16.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor (same as D4)
  • EXPEED 3 Image processing engine (same as D4)
  • Native ISO range: 100 to 12,800
  • Expanded ISO range: 50 to 204,800
  • 5.5 frames per second (fps) burst rate
  • 39 autofocus points
  • 100% coverage optical viewfinder
  • 3.2-inch LCD (921K)
  • Magnesium alloy top, back and bottom panels
  • Shutter Speed: 30-second (min.) to 1/4000-second (max.)
  • Flash Sync Speed: 1/200-second
  • Lens Compatibility: Compatible with AI and non-AI Nikon F-mount lenses

With this new emphasis on retro design and appeal, Nikon has also trimmed the fat, so to speak, removing functionality purest photographers sometimes criticize as superfluous:

  • No video recording capability
  • No built-in flash
  • No large, top panel LCD display

If you look just at the specifications, it’s hard to decide exactly where the Df fits in Nikon’s line of full-frame bodies. In terms of resolution, it joins the D4 as featuring the second-lowest megapixel sensor in the full-frame line-up. The D800E and D800 top the list with 36 MP sensors, next comes the D3x with 24.5 MP resolution, then the D600 and D610 at 24.3 MP, the D4 and Df with 16 MP sensors and, finally, the D3s at 12.1 MP. However, while the D4 boasts a cheetah-like 11 frames per second (fps) burst rate, unsurpassed build quality, 51-point autofocus, 1/8000-second shutter speed, 1/250-second flash sync speed, HD video recording and outstanding high ISO performance, the Df offers only the same low light performance.

The rear panel of the Nikon Df DSLR

The distinctly modern rear panel, controls and viewfinder of the Nikon Df DSLR. (Photo used courtesy Nikon USA)

The D4 is Nikon’s flagship full-frame DSLR and nobody questions this standing. Where does the Df fall within that spectrum? On paper, one can make the case that the D800E and D800 should rank ahead of the Df. Similar cases can be made that the D600 and D610 are at least the equal (if not slightly superior) to the Df. But from a pricing standpoint, Nikon seems to believe the Df ranks right up there with the D800-series bodies. Here, are prices for all five (as of 11/09/13) bodies:

  • D800E: $2,996.95 (new)
  • D800: $2,796.95 (new)
  • Df: $2,746.95 (new)
  • D610: $1,996.95 (new)
  • D600: $1,499.00 (refurbished)

For an additional $50, the prospective Df customer can get a 36 megapixel D800, HD video recording, 51-point autofocus, built-in flash, 1/8000-second shutter rate, 1/250 flash sync speed, a CF card slot, expanded bracketing (up to 9 frames) and two additional stops of exposure compensation. At $750 less than the Df, the D610 offers 24 MP resolution, HD video recording, a second SD card slot, a slightly improved (though, arguably irrelevant) 6 fps burst rate, and equivalent performance in autofocus, viewfinder coverage, shutter speed, flash sync speed, and rear panel LCD. And if you’re willing to accept the risk of getting a body that needs regular sensor cleanings, a refurbished D600 can still be had for an incredible $1,499. That’s a bit more than half the price of the Df.

A customer sits lost in thought at the Rendevous in the Hotel Monte Vista in historic downtown Flagstaff. Shot with Nikon D600 and Tamron 24-70 at ISO 3200, 70mm, f/2.8, 1/60-second

A customer sits lost in thought at the Rendevous in the Hotel Monte Vista in historic downtown Flagstaff. This image was made with the Nikon D600 body and Tamron 24-70 Di VC USD lens. The exposure was made at ISO 3200, 70mm, f/2.8, 1/60-second. (Bill Ferris)

What does the Df offer by way of compensation for your willingness to part with about $2,750 US? Some would argue its improved build quality and high ISO performance separate the Df from the D610. However, looking at high ISO comparison images taken with D610 and D4 bodies (The Df features the same sensor and image-processing engine as the D4), the D610 holds its own up to ISO 6400. This begs the question, how often will you need an ISO of 12,800 or higher? In my experience, paired with quality, fast glass, the Nikon D600 and D610 are competent nighttime street photography camera bodies.

This leaves one other factor: style. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Nikon or its customers for being style-conscious. I’m style-conscious. (My wife would probably disagree.) I buy clothes that, in my opinion, are flattering to my appearance. I drive a vehicle that matches, in its outward appearance, my self-image as a man who enjoys the outdoors. I shoot Nikon, in part, because I enjoy presenting myself as a photographer who uses quality equipment. Understand, I love the ergonomics of Nikon bodies and control layout. And I’ve always been very pleased with the quality of the images my Nikon camera bodies have produced. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that style is a selling-point with me.

A front view of the Nikon Df, 16 MP, full-frame DSLR with retro styling

So, if I were in the market for a full-frame DSLR body, would the Df be my body of choice? I do like the retro styling. It appeals to me as an homage to what the experience of being a photographer has the potential to be. That said, the Df’s classic styling also reminds me of the reasons I sold my vintage Nikon F3. I sold the F3 to finance the purchase of a Nikon D70, my first digital SLR. It took me about five minutes to embrace digital technology and say, “Good riddance,” to film. Gone forever were the days of not having the correct ISO film in my camera, of having to wait for negatives to be processed to learn if I’d gotten any keepers, and having to be judicious with each and every one of my 36 exposures. The ability to choose ISO on the fly, to instantly review exposures and to spend a week doing a wilderness backpack shooting all 500+ exposures on a single media card instantly sold me on the benefits of digital. Yes, I have fond memories of my old F3, but I have absolutely no desire to relive those days and frustrations.

Which body would I choose? After comparing the performance characteristics of the Df versus Nikon’s other full-frame bodies, I have no doubt what my decision would be. I would do just what I did about six weeks ago; seek out a refurbished D600 body and buy it.

Now, get out and shoot!

Bill Ferris | November 2013