Tag Archives: d600

Nikon D750 – Let the Stoning Begin

The Nikon D750 (image used courtesy of Nikon USA)

In photography as in life, it sometimes seems no good piece of kit goes unpunished. In 2012 as the world imaging community prepared to descend upon Cologne, Germany for the biennial imaging fair known as Photokina, the two leading manufacturers of consumer and professional digital cameras introduced major new products. About a week before the fair Nikon introduced the D600. Days later, Canon introduced the EOS 6D. Marketed as entry level full-frame CMOS sensor bodies, the D600 and 6D were intended to attract enthusiasts and crop-frame camera users to make the move into full-frame. The D600 joined Nikon’s flagship D4 and professional D800 and D800e in the FX category of full-frame DSLR bodies. Canon’s flagship 1DX and professional 5DMkIII welcomed the EOS 6D in completing that full-frame lineup.

Fast forward to the present day and, as the 2014 edition of Photokina opens, Canon has not introduced a new full-frame body since 2012. By contrast, Nikon has introduced four new FX (full-frame) DSLR cameras, including the just announced D750. The D750 features an impressive spec sheet:

  • An all-new 24.3 MP CMOS sensor
  • Nikon’s most advanced 51-point auto focus system (incl. group area AF)
  • Nikon’s flagship Expeed 4 image processor
  • Native ISO range of 100 to 12,800 (expandable to ISO 50 and 51,200)
  • Full 1080p/60 HD video (incl. auto aperture/auto ISO smooth adjust)
  • Light but strong carbon fiber and magnesium alloy frame
  • Nikon’s first FX body to feature built-in WiFi
  • The first full-frame DSLR by any manufacturer to sport an articulating rear LCD screen
The Nikon D750 features an articulating rear LCD screen (image used courtesy of Nikon USA)

The Nikon D750 features an articulating rear LCD screen (image used courtesy of Nikon USA)

The response to the D750 on the InterWeb has been immediate and impassioned. Much of the response has been intensely negative. Peruse the popular rumor and fan boy sites, and you will likely see comments such as – Another toy camera from Nikon…It’s disappointing…This is an instant fail IMO…This sucks.

So, why all the venom directed toward a camera that, on paper, makes a strong case for being the best all-around DSLR on the planet? To understand, we need to go back in time to another Photokina summer. In July 2008, Nikon introduced the D700, a professional full-frame DSLR body. It was just the second FX body developed and released by Nikon and was packaged with many of the performance specs of the flagship D3. The D700 featured the same sensor as the D3, a rugged frame, similar controls and layout as the top line pro body and a burst rate that, when paired with Nikon’s battery grip, topped out at an impressive eight frames per second. D3 shooters bought the D700 as their backup body and many pros bought the D700 as their primary body. Adding the rugged crop sensor (DX format) D300 to the mix gave Nikon a trio of professional bodies to meet the needs of dedicated still photographers,

In digital photography, the lifespan of a flagship body generally runs between two and four years. Canon unveiled the EOS 1DX in October 2011. This body replaced the EOS 1DsMkIII (2007) and was a shot across the bow of the long-in-the-tooth Nikon D3. Thus, it was not at all surprising when Nikon announced the all-new 16 MP D4 in January 2012. The D4 replaced the D3 and immediately established itself as a worthy adversary to the 1DX. With the D4’s release, D700 and D300/D300s shooters waited for the next shoe to drop. Which would it be, a replacement for the D700 or the D300?

One month later in February 2012, Nikon announced the D800 and D800e. Previously, Nikon had built a reputation of developing low megapixel (relative to Canon) pro bodies that excelled in low light. With the 36 MP D800 and D800e, Nikon more than doubled the resolution of the Flagship D4. These bodies quickly became favorites of landscape and portrait photographers. However, loyal D700 shooters were left wanting more. While the D700 could make images at an impressive 8 FPS, the D800/D800e barely made 4 FPS. What they wanted was the D4’s sensor, Expeed 3 processor and auto focus system in a D800 body.

An overhead view of the Nikon D750 (image used courtesy of Nikon USA)

By mid-2012, the Web was abuzz with talk of a D700 replacement being announced at the next Photokina. When the D600 emerged as Nikon’s major announcement in Cologne, D700 fans were not pleased. Despite its 24 MP (two-times the D700’s resolution) CMOS sensor, superior low light performance and 1080p video recording capability, the D600 was missing several key features in the eyes of D700 loyalists.

  • No professional build quality. The D600 offered weather resistance but didn’t have the D800’s rugged full magnesium alloy frame.
  • No 51-point auto focus system. The D600 inherited the D7000’s 39-point AF system.
  • Not a pro layout. The controls and menus were designed to be familiar to D90 and D7000 shooters.
  • No 1/8000-second shutter speed. The D600 peaked at 1/4000-second.
  • No 1/250-second flash sync speed. The D600 peaked at 1/200-second.
  • No 8 frame per second burst rate. the D600 peaked at 6 frames per second.

What D700 owners had asked for was a D4 imaging system in a D800 body. What the D600 offered was basically an FX version of the consumer D7000. What was Nikon thinking? Well, they may have been focused on costs and customer retention. In business, one of the keys to maximizing profit is to reduce operational costs. The rugged, pro-build quality of the D4 and D800 bodies were more expensive to produce than the consumer quality D7000. While a hypothetical D700 replacement would need to be manufactured in Japan at greater expense and narrower margin, the D600 could be manufactured in Thailand at lower cost and a higher profit margin.

Another factor Nikon must have considered was the migration of point & shoot photographers to smart phones. The rise of the smart phone had given the general public a take everywhere camera with immediate access to Facebook and Twitter where they could share photos with family and friends. Point & shoot camera sales were in free fall in 2012 and Nikon must have been concerned this trend would eventually hit the crop sensor market. Rather than invest in a format they considered to have a questionable future, Nikon chose to entice enthusiast and crop sensor photographers to upgrade to full frame. The D600 was priced at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of Nikon’s professional FX bodies yet delivered comparable image quality. Yes, the D4 was better in low light and, yes, the D800 delivered higher resolution, but the D600 was no slouch. It offered comparable performance at a consumer price…or so it seemed.

Soon after D600 bodies started shipping. Reports surfaced on the web of oil and dust particle build up on the camera’s CMOS sensor. One D600 owner produced a time lapse video showing an accumulation of debris and oil that would choke a horse. Nikon had a problem. Their gift offering to enthusiast photographers was turning out to be a Trojan horse. However, Nikon refused to acknowledge what the reports and evidence clearly indicated – the D600 shutter mechanism had a problem. Nikon’s failure to immediately address the problem would allow it to grow into a major public relations disaster that deeply tarnished the company’s reputation as a manufacturer of quality imaging products.

In February 2013, Nikon finally issued a service advisory on the D600. The advisory offered guidance on the correct procedure to use when removing the natural accumulation of dust from a sensor. In essence, Nikon was dismissing the reports as normal dust accumulation. Meanwhile, D600 owners continued to report problems with their cameras and the impact on sales was immediate. When the camera was first introduced in September 2012, a launch price of $2,097 had been set. By November, Nikon was offering instant $100 rebates on their new body. By Christmas, customers were offered a free 24-85mm lens with the purchase of a D600. In January 2013, grey market distributors were pricing the D600 at $1,686. In May, a factory refurbished D600 was priced at $1,560. The camera’s value was in rapid decline and its reputation as a product that had been rushed to market too soon was forever sealed.

In October 2013 – only a year after the first D600 bodies shipped – Nikon introduced the D610. It was announced as a minor upgrade to the D600 but everyone knew it was an attempt to bring and end to the dust and oil disaster. The move backfired. If anything, Nikon’s decision to reissue the D600 with a new shutter mechanism was seen as tacit admission that the dust and oil problems were real. In February 2014, Nikon issued a service advisory to D600 owners offering a free inspection, cleaning and shutter assembly replacement, regardless of the warranty status of their cameras. In March, China ordered Nikon to stop selling the D600. This was followed soon after by a third service advisory that mentioned the option of, on a case-by-case basis, replacing defective D600s with D610s. In August, Nikon reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit with D600 owners. As part of the settlement, litigants were offered new D610s in exchange for their D600s.

To date, Nikon has yet to publicly acknowledge and take responsibility for delivering a camera with a poorly designed shutter mechanism that allows the accumulation of dust, debris and oil on the sensor.

A view of the Nikon D750 interior reflex mirror system (image used courtesy of Nikon USA)

To fully appreciate the damage the D600 dust and oil debacle has done to Nikon’s reputation, consider that DxO Mark tested the D600 soon after its initial release and ranked it as the third-best digital camera sensor on the market. This should have been a time of celebration, with Nikon reaping the rewards of having delivered an outstanding entry level full-frame DSLR camera. Instead, they spent a year in denial and are still in damage control. Even the D610, which by all accounts does not suffer from the dust and oil issue of the D600, has not been able to distance itself from that long, dark shadow.

Which brings us back to the just-announced Nikon D750. In early August when Nikon Rumors announced Nikon’s plan to introduce a new full-frame body at Photokina, the early reports described it as an action camera. Then, came the rumor that the new DSLR would be called the D750. This generated an immediate buzz as people made the obvious connection to the dream of a long-awaited successor to the D700. The online comments quickly focused on the wants of D700 owners: professional build quality, fast and accurate auto focus and a lightning quick burst rate. A D4s sensor in a D810 body is what D700 owners had come to expect.

That is not the D750.

Nikon markets their DSLR cameras in three categories: Entry-level, Enthusiast and Professional. The D750 is Nikon’s top Enthusiast level DSLR camera. Nikon does not market the D750 as a professional camera body. It is not the D4s sensor in a D810 body. Neither is it, as the many critics have claimed, a souped up D610 sensor in a D610 body. And this, friends, is where the D750 story gets interesting. One could fairly describe this camera as a cross over. It borrows features from all digital camera categories.

The D750’s outward appearance is almost identical to the D610. Beneath that enthusiast level surface, lies a completely new animal. The frame is a magnesium alloy, carbon fiber blend resulting in a rugged, weather resistant and relatively lightweight body. The layout of the interior components is completely new for Nikon. This internal redesign created space for fully-integrated WiFi while substantially reducing the size and weight of the camera body. WiFi is pretty standard stuff in consumer bodies. Small size and low weight are definitive qualities of mirrorless cameras. Rugged build and weather resistance are qualities that define professional DSLR bodies.

A side view of the Nikon D750 showing the articulating rear LCD screen (image used courtesy of Nikon USA)

The Expeed 4 processor and 51-point AF system are taken straight from Nikon’s flagship D4s and professional D810. Other features borrowed from Nikon’s professional lineup include full 1080p/60 HD video, auto aperture and auto ISO during video recording, and an industry-leading focus detection range of -3 to +19 EV. The articulated rear LCD is another feature taken from their consumer line of camera bodies. Performance characteristics shared with the enthusiast level D610 include a 1/4000-second maximum shutter speed and a 1/200-second flash sync speed.

In the D750, Nikon has delivered a camera designed and intended to appeal to a broad audience. In so doing, they’ve made a camera that – while incorporating features from several genres – is impossible to peg into any one category. The 24 MP sensor is among the best available…but it’s not the D810’s 36 MP sensor. The 6.5 frame per second burst rate is among the fastest in the market…but it’s not as fast as the 1DX or the D4s. (or the D700) The 1080p/60 HD video recording capability is very good…but it’s not 4K. The build quality is rugged and weather resistant…but it’s not weather proof. It’s impressive feature set is packed into a small, lightweight body…but it’s not mirrorless small.

In a nutshell, the D750 seems to be a Jack of all trades and a master of none. There is, perhaps, one exception. Could the D750 be the master do-it-all camera?

If you enjoy shooting sports, the AF system and burst rate will more than get the job done. In the professional full-frame DSLR category, only the Canon 1DX and Nikon D4/D4s have faster burst rates. If you enjoy portraiture and landscapes, the 24 MP sensor will deliver gorgeous, detailed images. Only Nikon’s D8XX lineup offers higher resolution. On paper, no DSLR does a better job of achieving focus in low light and the high ISO performance of the D750 is among the best in the market. If you enjoy shooting video, the D750 allows production in full HD with stereo audio. The dedicated video professional may be better served by the Panasonic Lumix GH4 or the Sony A7s. However, the D750 offers video functionality that is more than adequate for the enthusiast.

In short, the Nikon D750 looks for all the world like one of the best – arguably the best – choice as the camera that can do it all. If you are a professional photographer looking for a second body, wouldn’t it be nice to replace your current backup with something that is a little smaller and lighter? Something with outstanding resolution and low light performance? A camera with industry-leading auto focus? A camera you can use to capture quality video and sound? A backup body that does all this at a price point below $2,500? If you are an aspiring professional looking for one body that can take on any assignment (or an enthusiast seeking the same) does the D750 look like the perfect all-around performer? This is a camera body that, on paper, appears capable of shooting anything: editorial, sports, wedding, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, street, video…you name it.

Is the new Nikon D750 the best all-around DSLR camera in the world?

Bill Ferris | September 2014


The warm morning light of a midsummer day illuminates Hallett Peak's reflection off the mirrored surface of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Bill Ferris)

The warm morning light of a midsummer day illuminates Hallett Peak’s reflection off the mirrored surface of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Bill Ferris)

The reflected image is a common compositional element in photography. When effectively employed, it adds something special to an image. In macro photography, this technique is often used to reveal the surrounding world as reflected in a single dew drop. In portraiture, the image of your subject reflected against rain-streaked glass adds drama. A reflection in a landscape photograph can make an image more compelling to the eye.

What is is about a reflection that draws our attention? Well for one, a reflection presents the world in a new and different way. In the above photograph, Hallett Peak is seen reflecting off the glassy surface of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reflection turns everything upside down, delivering an unusual perspective on a twelve thousand foot mountain. A reflection can imbue a scene with a strong element of symmetry. If you block the lower half of the above image, the upper half is irregular in form, hue and texture. In short it is not symmetrical and that is very common in nature. Rarely does nature produce a straight line, a perfectly round circle or a perfectly balanced scene. So, when we find such a thing, it tends to get our attention.

A reflection draws our attention to the seam where the reflected and direct views join. In this image, the seam coincides with the junction between the pine forest and the water’s edge. Typically, this would not be a leading line or a particularly strong element in the composition. The mountain would be the dominant element. However, as the brain seeks to understand this oddly symmetrical pattern, it naturally seeks and identifies that transitional area of the image. Finding the seam or fold allows the brain to determine that the unnaturally symmetrical form is not a singular artificial construct. It is simply a reflection of an otherwise normally irregular landscape scene.

The first light of day paints the Continental Divide as seen from the shore of Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Bill Ferris)

The first light of day paints the Continental Divide as seen from the shore of Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Bill Ferris)

Finally, a reflection plays on the inherently voyeuristic nature of visual perception. The act of looking at something establishes a clear distinction between you, the observer, and the subject, that which is observed. On the morning I made the above photo, I hiked about 3/4-mile along a trail to the east side of Sprague Lake. During that walk, I was in nature. I was within and part of the place. However, the act of setting up my camera and observing the scene as a subject to be photographed established a distinction or separation between me and the natural setting. That act transformed me into an outside observer.

A person can observe someone or something either directly or indirectly. The act of observing indirectly is inherently voyeuristic. Some element of the observation was unintended. This can result from observing in secret without the subject’s knowledge or permission. It can also result from an observation that reveals some unintended quality of the subject. The reflected image is not natural. It is not how the subject normally appears to others. It is a bit like jogging down the sidewalk on your morning run and having your neighbor walk out the front door in his bathrobe. It’s 6:00 AM and he figured the rest of world would be asleep as he went out to fetch the morning paper. Surprise, surprise.

So to summarize, a reflection skews our perspective, presenting the subject in a way we are not used to seeing. A reflection triggers the human brain’s natural tendency to recognize symmetry and patterns, and to analyze such appearances to determine if they are natural or artificial. A reflection can also trigger feelings of being a voyeur. Because we see the subject in an unusual or unexpected manner, there is a sense of being privy to something that is either uninvited or unintended.

Of course, it is quite natural to respond in unexpected ways to these visual, mental and emotional stimuli. You might be momentarily confused, even questioning the authenticity of the scene. There may even be an emotional response. Seeing something again for the first time can produce strong feelings. Whatever the response, it is the very fact that seeing something in reflection can be a catalyst for intense thoughts or feelings that makes it such a powerful element of composition. As artists, we photographers feel joy when others take pleasure in our work. We may feel pain when others are critical. But the greatest sadness comes when others simply dismiss our photographs as not worthy of notice.

Now, get out there and shoot.

Bill Ferris | September 2014

Bucket List – Monument Valley

A winter sun kisses the horizon between East Mitten (middle) and Merrick Butte at Sunrise (Bill Ferris)

A winter sun kisses the horizon between East Mitten (middle) and Merrick Butte at Sunrise (Bill Ferris)

There are few places in the American West that call to a landscape photographer as clearly and compellingly as Monument Valley. Straddling the Arizona and Utah borders in the Four Corners region, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is home to an inspiring and iconic collection of buttes and natural landforms. For many, the significant time and effort required to get to Monument Valley can be a deterrent to making the trip but that effort is often rewarded with awe-inspiring views.

Anyone who has seen a John Ford western film knows this landscape. Ford, the Hollywood legend whose films defined the American Western for generations, used this remote area of the Desert Southwest as a location for numerous productions, including Stagecoach (1939), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956). Timeless leading man John Wayne starred in many of Ford’s films, including the four just mentioned.

Before John Ford, Westerns had churned out by the dozens as film serials and held in low regard by film critics. Through Ford and his classic films, the Western rose to international acclaim as a genre that reflected American values of rugged individualism, and a willingness to risk everything in the pursuit of one’s dream or in defense of honor. Monument Valley came to be synonymous with the genre and to symbolize those cherished values. Today, more than 40 years after Ford’s passing, this place retains its status as the one location that, more than any other, signifies the mythology of the American West.

On a recent visit to Monument Valley, I had the opportunity to photograph the park from several locations. I arrived on a summer morning just before lunch. After paying the $20 entrance fee, I parked at the View Hotel and enjoyed the lunch buffet at the hotel restaurant. After lunch, I stepped out onto the tiered observation deck along the east side of the hotel. This platform offers an expansive view into Monument Valley, including the now famous arrangement of The Mittens and Merrick Butte.

Two half-buried boulders near the View Hotel can, with careful positioning of your camera, be used to obscure the dusty dirt road visitors and guides use to tour Monument Valley.

Two half-buried boulders near the View Hotel can, with careful positioning of your camera, be used to obscure the dusty dirt road visitors and guides use to tour Monument Valley. (Moto X photo by Bill Ferris)

The one drawback of The View’s observation deck is the visibility of the main dirt road visitors and tour guides use to explore the park. The road, vehicle traffic and associated dust will be prominently placed in any wide angle photograph taken from the deck. There is a spot just north of the paved deck where a pair of half-buried boulders can be used to good advantage. Visitors stand on or lean against the boulders for “we were here” shots. They can also be used as foreground elements in wide angle shots that hide the dirt road in a landscape composition.

The aforementioned dirt road is something of a double-edged sword, in my opinion. While it adds to the charm of the experience, the road’s poor condition is a practical liability. The posted maximum speed limit is 15 MPH, which is challenging to maintain over the steep half-mile descent from the east rim into the valley. Ruts, exposed rocks and sandy areas make navigation of the road a bit challenging. Drivers often weave from side to side in search of the least bumpy route.

For those who continue beyond John Ford Point, the road is posted as one-way. I encountered several vehicles traveling against the flow on this loop and had chalked it up to a tourist mentality of enjoying the view while ignoring the traffic signs. However, approaching the spur road to Artists Point, several vehicles had inexplicably pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. I did the same and walked up the road to find out what was going on. A vehicle was having a difficult time negotiating the uphill climb through loose, sandy terrain. After several failed attempts, the driver gave up, backed down the hill, made a Y-turn and began the long trek back the way he’d come…against traffic flow.

My trusty AWD Pontiac Vibe made short work of the hill. While high ground clearance is not (currently) needed to drive the Monument Valley road, a vehicle with AWD or 4WD might come in handy on some sections of road. The quality of light during my midday drive through Monument Valley was predictably poor. The high overhead sun and overcast skies painted the buttes and formations with a flat, harsh brush. The heat and generally poor placement of roadside viewpoints contributed to my decision to stay in the air conditioned comfort of my vehicle as much as possible.

Throughout the two-hour drive, I kept thinking about a sign I’d seen which indicated that the road was open only from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. While those are normal business hours, they exclude the optimum times to view the magnificent stone structures of Monument Valley. The best times of day to experience a scenic masterpiece are around sunrise and sunset. Those times of day are when the quality of light is reliably at its best. To deny visitors access to the park when the light is most likely to have that magical quality made no sense to me. I was really stewing on this issue when I drove through the roadway entrance gate on my way out of the valley at 3 o’clock.

The View Campground at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park features campsites with million dollar views.

The View Campground at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park features campsites with million dollar views. (Moto X photo by Bill Ferris)

It was time to find a place to make camp for the night. On my last visit to Monument Valley in March 2014, I had stayed at a worthless excuse for a campground located about a mile down the road from the park entrance station. It was little more than a series of picnic tables surrounded by bare ground. I had pitched my tent there for a few hours sleep on a cold late-winter night and, in a pinch, could do the same on this trip. However, The View Campground (closed during the winter) is located at the entrance gate to the valley. So, I stopped by the campground office to check on site availability. A few minutes later, I was out in the sand dunes choosing a campsite. I went with the first open site I found, which happened to offer a spectacular view of The Mittens and Merrick Butte.

Returning to the campground office to let the attendant know which site I had selected, I asked about the road hours sign I had seen. “Can I go into the valley at sunset and sunrise to do photography.” The attendant confidently reassured me that the gate remains open throughout the night. If I wanted to go into the valley to do photography, that would be fine. With a campsite secured and my concern eased over after hours park access, I drove over to the View Hotel restaurant for an early dinner. The hostess seated my at a two-top with a window view of the valley. While enjoying my sandwich, I watched as the harsh midday light gradually softened and warmed in response to the sun’s race toward the western horizon. There weren’t many clouds to add a sense of drama to the sky but at least the light was improving.

About two hours before sunset, I drove a short distance down the valley road to the first large pullout I could find. After parking the Vibe and strapping on my photo pack, I walked across the road and followed a well-worn social trail over the flat, sun baked surface. I wanted to find an elevated vantage point offering a clear view of The Mittens and Merrick Butte. From a location east of the dirt road, I should be free to compose wide angle shots without having to contend with a dirt road cutting across the frame. A short hike delivered me to the perfect venue. Soon, I was setting up for the evening.

The golden light of a setting summer sun bathes The Mittens and Merrick Butte in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. (Bill Ferris)

The golden light of a setting summer sun bathes The Mittens and Merrick Butte in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. (Bill Ferris)

The location I chose was an elevated shelf with a clear view of the most recognized collection of buttes in Monument Valley: West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte. As the day drew to a close, I experimented with composition and exposure, eventually making a fine image of The Mittens and Merrick Butte. The soft, warm quality of the light gave the entire scene – foreground desert, buttes, sky and clouds an inviting summery quality. It wasn’t the only keeper of the evening but is my favorite exposure from the session.

At 3 o’clock the following morning, my watch alarm went off and I begrudgingly awoke to start the day. This reluctance didn’t last long as the thought of a sunrise in Monument Valley peaked my enthusiasm for the predawn expedition. I decided to save time by leaving my tent set up. More than likely, I would be back before most of the other campers were even awake. I made the walk to the restroom where I was treated to a most wonderful surprise. The bathrooms at The View Campground have complimentary showers…with hot water.

The shower left me feeling refreshed and energized for the day. It was about 3:45 AM when I rolled out of the campground parking lot in the Vibe, making the short drive to the same pullout I had used the previous afternoon. With my headlamp shining at full brightness, I had little problem finding the overlook in the July morning darkness. By 4:25 AM, I was making test exposures and at 4:40 AM, the horizon was showing enough color to nicely frame the landscape in silhouette. Low, thick clouds negated the obligatory starbust shot of the sun’s initial peak over the horizon. As soon as the deep, rich colors behind the buttes started to fade, I made the decision to move to another location.

A summer day dawning fills Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park with a golden glow as seen from Artists Point. (Bill Ferris)

A summer day dawning fills Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park with a golden glow as seen from Artists Point. (Bill Ferris)

The previous afternoon, I had surveyed Artists Point as a possible sunrise location. Nearby rock formations block a clear view to the east where the sun rises but the vista does offer a fine view of the major formations to the west. If the early morning light were of the right quality, some fine landscapes and panoramas would be on the table. I raced the Vibe down the dirt road, taking a shortcut against the posted traffic flow to cut a solid 20-30 minutes off the drive time.

Within minutes of my arrival at Artists Point, I was setup and checking compositional options. Eventually, I settled on working East Mitten, Merrick Butte and the flat, open desert to the right (east). It wasn’t spectacular light but there was a warm, soft quality to it that produced several pleasing frames, including the one above. After a half-hour, the last of the golden hour light yielded to a duller, somewhat lifeless glow and I began packing up my gear. It was just then that several vehicles arrived at Artists Point, all filled with visitors and cameras hoping to make a memorable photograph.

The spectacular landscape of Monument Valley really deserves more time than I had available to give. After Artists Point, I drove back to the campground, packed my tent and went over to the hotel for breakfast. Afterwards, I would hit the road for a sunset date with Arches National Park in Utah. The meal allowed time to reflect on the previous 18 hours. This was my third trip to Monument Valley. I had come for one sunset and sunrise cycle, and had successfully captured several keeper photographs. Having focused on making images of the more popular vistas, I was already thinking about my next visit and the opportunity to explore the less frequented scenes found within this iconic symbol of the American West.

Hey, you should get out and shoot.

Bill Ferris | August 2014


Wotans Throne stands bathed in sunrise's golden glow as seen from Cape Royal on a July morning in Grand Canyon National Park. (Bill Ferris)

Wotans Throne stands bathed in sunrise’s golden glow as seen from Cape Royal on a July morning in Grand Canyon National Park. (Bill Ferris)

Years ago, my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Stephen Trimble’s, Lasting Light ~125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography, for Christmas. This coffee table art book tells the story of Grand Canyon photography from the late 1800’s to the present day. It is filled with stunning images by great landscape photographers. Ansel Adams, David Muench and Jack Dykinga are just three of the artists featured. The book is well worn from years of loving use. I’ve read and re-read every chapter, scrutinized each photo, and still review the images before heading out to shoot landscapes. In fact, when I’m at Grand Canyon to make landscapes, I’ll often visit then nearest gift store to browse a display copy of Trimble’s book. Flipping through the images, I am looking for inspiration and guidance.

I’m not ashamed to say I’ve attempted to reproduce several of my favorite images in Lasting Light. If I’m being honest with myself and with you, I must acknowledge that the act of reproducing a previous work is, to some extent, derivative. To quote from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, it is “something that comes from something else.” To call an artist’s work, derivative, is generally considered a criticism. At best, it suggests an absence of originality.  At worst, it suggests a plagiaristic quality . While the act of reproduction can be derivative, it also has the potential to be creative. If something new comes from the act, that work can accurately be described as inspired and original.

With this article, I want to explore the arguably fine line separating the inspired from the derivative. I’ll start by asking the obvious question: why reproduce another photographer’s image? To understand my motivation, it is worth pointing out that I reproduce only those images I consider to be great photographs. Making an homage to a past classic is an accepted and time honored practice in many circles. If one paints in the style of Monet, one is called an impressionist. If one incorporates a musical phrase reminiscent of Miles Davis, one is called a jazz musician. The writer whose work is inspired by Allen Ginsberg is called a Beat poet. The quality all these examples share, is that the inspired work contributes something new to the art form.

Panorama of Grand Canyon with Butte in Foreground. Photo taken by Ansel Adams and used courtesy of the National Archives

This tradition extends to photography, as well. If you look on page 32 of Lasting Light, you’ll see Ansel Adams’ iconic photograph of Wotans Throne taken from Cape Royal on the North Rim of Grand Canyon. On page 54, is Dick Dietrich’s image of the same subject. Dietrich is widely considered among the great landscape photographers of the 20th Century. His image was taken from nearly the same location as Adams’ and with almost identical framing. However, Ansel Adams made his photograph during morning light while Dietrich made his at sunset. Dietrich’s decision to shoot at a different time of day and his use of color film stock produced a photo capturing a very different personality of this iconic scene. In making these choices, Dietrich produced an original interpretation. His image was inspired.

What this illustrates, is that the real issue is not that photographers sometimes reproduce elements of prior great works. There is no debate, here. It happens and with greater frequency than some would care to admit. The real issue is this: in taking inspiration from past work, is the resulting photograph essentially a reproduction or does it contribute something new. Is the photograph derivative or inspired?

Finding the answer to this question is not as simple as one might think. A photographer may start by mimicking a master’s work. Over time, however, the nature of creativity often conspires to lead the photographer in new directions. In other words, the act of reproducing a prior great work may be where artistry begins. But this is not where the artistic process ends. To understand this process, let’s consider the act of reproduction within the context of my growth as a photographer.

Key to what makes a photograph great are the choices of time of day, perspective and composition made by the photographer. The act of reproducing a great photograph deepens my understanding of the effect lighting, location and framing have on the resulting image. Two of the biggest mistakes made by casual photographers are arriving when everybody else arrives and standing where everybody else stands. Sunsets are awesome but everybody is up at that time of day. An overlook railing identifies where good views – and photographs – can be had but everybody stands at the rail.  Climbing over the rail to set up a tripod at the edge of an abyss in predawn darkness is where you begin to separate the merely derivative from the inspired.

The Golden Hour light of sunset pours into Clear Creek as seen from Cape Royal on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (Bill Ferris)

The Golden Hour light of sunset pours into Clear Creek as seen from Cape Royal on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (Bill Ferris)

On a recent photo excursion, I spent four days and three nights at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. I had a goal of reproducing the images Adams had made of from Cape Royal of Wotans Throne and from Point Imperial of Mt Hayden (Lasting Light, page 33). Each evening, I arrived at Cape Royal two hours before sunset to select an optimum spot from which to capture the magic of the late day light working the landscape. Each morning, I awoke at 3:00 AM to leave camp and drive to a chosen overlook in time to catch the first glow of predawn twilight.

On three consecutive days, I drove to Cape Royal for sunset. I would walk to the overlook, climb over the rail, walk to the edge of the Kaibab limestone platform and make a five-foot downclimb to a shelf offering an unobstructed view of the scene. Each night, monsoon rain clouds blocked the golden glow from kissing the landscape. I could have been so frustrated by the weather that I simply packed my gear and returned to camp. Rather than giving up, I worked with the available light and experimented with composition in an effort to make good images.

Mt. Hayden basks in early morning light as seen from Point Imperial on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. (Bill Ferris)

Mt. Hayden basks in early morning light as seen from Point Imperial on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. (Bill Ferris)

The first two mornings I went to Point Imperial to photograph sunrise. The clouds were less dense at this time of day, which allowed nature’s light to paint the landscape. Reproducing Adams iconic image of Mt. Hayden was on my To Do list. With that shot made, I was then free to explore the scene for other images. The reproduction was something of an aperitif, a drink to stimulate my creative palette. You see, the act of reproducing a great photograph is, for me, a first step in the process. It’s almost as though I need to get that image out of my system. With that image made, I am free to let my creative eye wander and seek its own frame.

Having experienced the dingy gray of seasonal rains at Cape Royal, I returned there on the last morning in search of magic hour light. Nature cooperated and sunrise’s deep golden glow elicited rich red hues in the stone layers of Wotans Throne. I made my homage to Adams’ image and, with that task out of the way, there was room for my compositional eye to step forward and assert control over the balance of the shoot.

Of course, there was no guarantee my choice of location, selection of framing or determination of the decisive moment would produce an image as good – let alone any better – than the iconic image inspiring my effort. At the very least, however, the resulting images would be original. Yes, they were inspired by another photographer’s prior work. But my images reflect my interpretation of the scene. They are mine. Nature’s light never paints the same landscape, twice.

Now, get out there and shoot.

Bill Ferris | July 2014

Bucket List – Grand Canyon

A late summer afternoon glow fills Grand Canyon as seen from Yaki Point on the South Rim. Cedar Ridge and O'Neill Butte bask in the light in the foreground. (Bill Ferris)

A late summer afternoon glow fills Grand Canyon as seen from Yaki Point on the South Rim. Cedar Ridge and O’Neill Butte bask in the light in the foreground. (Bill Ferris)

The summer travel season is in full swing and, over the next three months, photographers from around the world will descend upon Grand Canyon National Park. They will arrive by car, bus and train. They will number in the hundreds of thousands and all will have the same goal: to make a once-in-a-lifetime photograph.

With annual visitation of nearly 5 million people, Grand Canyon is among the most photographed natural landscapes in the world. While 4 million of those visitors will come from the United States, travelers from around the world make Grand Canyon their vacation destination of choice. 200,000 Brits, nearly the same number of Canadians, 100,000 Japanese, another 100,000 Germans and 50,000 Dutch will be among those visiting the South or North rim of the canyon.

So, what can you do to maximize your chances of capturing that bucket list photo? First and foremost, chase the light. Great light makes for great photographs. A view of Grand Canyon can be awe inspiring at any time of day. But sunrise and sunset are the times when the quality of light is almost guaranteed to be amazing. These “golden hour” times, offer the best and most reliable opportunities to capture great images. Sunrise has the added advantage of being so early in the day – you’ll need to wake up no later than 5:00 AM to catch a 5:30 AM sunrise – that you’ll be competing with relatively small crowds for position to make your bucket list photo.

Second, pay attention to the weather. Grand Canyon is located entirely within the state of Arizona in the American Southwest. Since record keeping began, June is the sunniest and driest month of the year in this part of North America. With July comes the summer monsoon, the annual rainy season for this arid high desert environment. A typical monsoon day will dawn clear and dry. However, humidity and clouds build throughout the day. By late afternoon, thunderstorms dot the horizon throughout the park. Some of the greatest landscape photos feature dramatic weather and its impact on the immediate environment. If you are visiting Grand Canyon in July or August, leave your late afternoon schedule flexible so you can take advantage of clouds, lightning and rain to capture a dramatic landscape photo.

Evening twilight and a cobalt blue sky frame Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (Bill Ferris)

Evening twilight and a cobalt blue sky frame Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (Bill Ferris)

Third, include a strong foreground element in your photos. Whether the gnarled trunk of a Juniper tree, a blooming cactus or desert plant, or the imposing profile of an inner canyon butte, a strong foreground element gives your photo a subject. It anchors the image and draws the gaze. At Grand Canyon, there are great views to be had from every overlook on both rims. Since the South Rim gets the lion’s share of visitation, those are the overlooks people flock to for their photo ops. Hopi Point is often recommended as “the best” overlook from which take in a sunset. However, I would recommend you explore a variety of overlooks during the day in search of that perfect place from which to photograph sunset or sunrise.

My favorite South Rim overlooks include Desert View, Lipan Point, Yaki Point and Mather Point. Desert View and Lipan Point are exceptional for both sunrise and sunset. The Desert View Watchtower offers a great compositional element. These overlooks also offer the best views of the Colorado River from the South Rim. Yaki Point and Mather Point are also nice sunrise vistas. However, sunsets offer the most dramatic light for photography from these overlooks. Mather Point is conveniently located near the park visitor center. Yaki Point, though technically accessible only by shuttle bus, can be accessed on foot. If you park your vehicle at the picnic area just down the road from the Yaki Point drive entrance, you can follow social trails through the forest to get to the overlooks.

As sunset's golden light washes over Grand Canyon, a summer monsoon rumbles across the great chasm as seen from Cape Royal on the North Rim. (Bill Ferris)

As sunset’s golden light washes over Grand Canyon, a summer monsoon rumbles across the great chasm as seen from Cape Royal on the North Rim. (Bill Ferris)

My personal favorite overlook for photography of late afternoon thunderstorms rolling through Grand Canyon National Park, is Cape Royal. Located on the North Rim, Cape Royal offers an astounding view of flat-topped Wotans Throne. The gently curving ridge of Kaibab Limestone connecting the North Rim to Wotans Throne introduces a natural leading line that guides your eye directly to the subject of the photograph. As sunset approaches on a July afternoon, thunderstorms bathe the inner canyon in a brilliant warm glow. The quality of light combined with dramatic weather and  the imposing landscape creates an almost alien scene for the camera. Being a North Rim overlook, photos taken at Cape Royal have the advantage of standing out from the crowd of images made along the South Rim.

To summarize, chasing the golden hour light of sunrise or sunset, taking advantage of a dramatic mid-summer thunderstorm and adding a strong foreground element to your composition are three key things you can do to make a bucket list photo during your visit to Grand Canyon National Park.

In the meantime, get out there and shoot!

Bill Ferris | June 2014

Lasting Light

Lowell Observatory staff and workers work to remove a 400-lb. counterweight from the mount for the historic Clark Refractor. This 120-year-old telescope is undergoing a complete refurbishment.

Workers prepare to remove a 400-lb. counterweight from the mount of the historic Clark Refractor. This 120-year-old telescope is undergoing a complete refurbishment at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. (Bill Ferris)

Photographers and astronomers share a lot in common. Arguably, the most important shared quality is their reliance on light. For the photographer, light paints the subject. It imbues a scene with certain qualities. Light can be bright and happy, dark and brooding, or any of a variety of personalities. For the astronomer, light is information. By examining the light from a celestial body, an astronomer can determine its distance, size, composition and how its moving. In the same way that light adds drama to a photographer’s composition, light – and the information it carries – allows an astronomer to answer fundamental questions about the universe.

In the 1890’s Percival Lowell established a research observatory in the sleepy railroad town of Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell was, in many respects, a pioneer of modern science. He built his observatory in the western United States far from his Boston home. At a time when many observatories were still being built at locations near major cities and universities, Lowell chose the site for his observatory for its remoteness and the quality of its skies. As important as light is to the astronomer, the best places from which to explore the night sky are those far from city lights where natural darkness allows the feeble glow of distant objects to be seen.

Soon after Lowell Observatory was established, its founder contacted Alvan Clark & Sons and commissioned them to build a 24-inch refracting telescope. It would be among the largest such instruments in the world and from first light in 1894 through the 1960’s, the Clark Refractor at Lowell Observatory regularly contributed to the science of astronomy. Lowell staff astronomers used the Clark to make some of the first photographic images of the planet, Mars. The Clark was used to study the motions of so-called spiral nebulae. These observations produced the first evidence of an expanding universe. During the Apollo program in the 1960’s cartographers used the Clark to make detailed maps of the lunar surface. Apollo astronaut Neill Armstrong even visited Lowell Observatory to observe the Moon through the 24-inch Clark, before making his one giant leap for all mankind.

Workers prepare to lift a counterweight through the open shutter of the Clark Dome at Lowell Observatory.

Workers prepare to lift a counterweight through the open shutter of the Clark Dome at Lowell Observatory. (Bill Ferris)

In recent decades, larger and more powerful telescopes have replaced the Clark Refractor as the principal research tools used by the Lowell science team. However, the 24-inch telescope has definitely not been put out to pasture. This historic instrument has been used almost every clear night for years to share the wonders of the universe with the general public. For several years, I had the great privilege and pleasure of working at Lowell Observatory as a tour guide and observer. The joy I experienced when operating the Clark was exceeded only by the awe felt by visitors when, for the first – and possibly only – time in their lives, they stood in that darkened dome, peered into the eyepiece and saw Mars as it can only be presented by a world-class refracting telescope.

Of course, the decades have been at work on this historic instrument. Time, use and the elements have taken a toll on the great refractor. In January 2014, Lowell Observatory staff removed the telescope from its home on Mars Hill to begin a months-long project to refurbish the Clark. When friend and Lowell Observatory Communications Manager Kevin Schindler invited me to be there for this historic happening, I immediately jumped at the chance. Although it has been years since I last observed with the Clark, memories of astounding views of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are still fresh in my mind. There was no way I was going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Lowell Observatory's Ralph Nye (on right in blue jacket) inspects progress toward removing one of the 400-lb. counterweights from the mount of the Clark Refractor.

Lowell Observatory’s Ralph Nye (on right in blue jacket) inspects progress toward removing one of the 400-lb. counterweights from the mount of the Clark Refractor. (Bill Ferris)

The telescope was removed from its dome in stages. The lens cell and lenses are the heart and soul of any refractor. The 120-year-old optics of the Clark were removed, first, and stored safely away from the work area. Next, several 400-lb. counterweights were removed – one at a time – from the telescope mount. Finally, the 32-foot optical tube was disassembled, with each section raised through the open dome shutter by a large crane.

I was struck by the number of people in attendance and the variety of ways they were documenting the historic undertaking. The observatory had hired a professional videographer and a pro photographer to capture the event. Additionally, several observatory staff used smart phones to make movies and photos. I was there with my D600 shooting a time lapse video. There was at least one iPad in use and a quadcopter hovering just outside the dome. While observing this hive of activity, it dawned on me that if this work had happened five years ago, there would be no quadcopter, no iPad, no DSLR’s shooting video. It is amazing how much can change in just a few years.

Of course, I’m looking forward to the return of a refurbished and fully-functional Clark telescope. That should happen in 2015. And on that day, I plan to be back on Mars Hill with my camera documenting the homecoming for this historic instrument of science and public education. That will be a grand day but the real treat will be the next clear, dark night in northern Arizona when the 24-inch Clark Refractor sees first light for the second time in her life.

Now, get out there and shoot.

Bill Ferris | February 2014

Classic Beauty

Looking east inside the Wisconsin Capitol. Two glass mosaics (pendentives) are seen: Liberty (left) and Justice (right) (Bill Ferris)

Looking east inside the Wisconsin Capitol. Two glass mosaics (pendentives) are seen: Liberty (left) and Justice (right) (Bill Ferris)

There is just something about classic, old world architecture. I love it and, best of all, so does my camera.

Built during the early 1900’s by George B. Post & Sons of New York, the Wisconsin Capitol building in Madison is a fine example of Renaissance Revival architecture. It features the largest granite dome in the world, a rotunda constructed of marble from Greece and the classical lines and archways one would expect to find in a European capitol. At 284 feet, 5-inches tall, the Capitol is three feet shorter than the nation’s capitol in Washington, DC. In 1988, the state of Wisconsin began a major renovation project to modernize the infrastructure while restoring the original 1917 appearance of the building. Completed in 2002, the result of that work is shown in the photos accompanying this article.

Architectural photography and landscape photography have a lot in common. The most significant commonality is that a good wide angle lens and tripod are key to capturing dramatic images filled with rich color and detail. All the photos in this article were taken with a Nikon D600 and Nikon 16-35mm zoom lens. All were shot at 16mm. To capture as much detail as possible, I used small apertures (f/16 to f/22), which deliver great depth of field. To minimize noise and preserve the detail of the exposures, I selected an ISO of 200.

I visited the capitol building on a late November day, finding an interior illuminated by wonderfully soft natural sunlight. Because I was shooting with small apertures, my exposures needed to be quite long. The above photo, for example, is a 0.8-second exposure. As you look through the other images, you’ll see captures from 2- to 5-seconds in length.

Looking southeast from beneath an archway in the Wisconsin Capitol building, three pendentives are seen: Liberty (left), Justice (center), and Legislation (right) (Bill Ferris)

Looking southeast from beneath an archway in the Wisconsin Capitol building, three pendentives are seen: Liberty (left), Justice (center), and Legislation (right) (Bill Ferris)

This is a 2-second exposure shot at f/16. The dome interior was overexposed by a full stop but the arches and corridors were properly exposed. Shooting in RAW made it relatively easy to correct the overexposed dome in Photoshop. I opened the original RAW image, making subtle adjustments in exposure and color saturation to optimize for the arches, corridors and pendentives. (Pendentives are the colorful glass mosaics between the arches.) This file was then saved as a TIFF. I then re-opened the original file, this time bringing the exposure down by a full stop to optimize for the dome interior. I copied this into a new layer in the TIFF file and used a layer mask to reveal just the dome interior.

This is the beauty of working with RAW files. Because they are uncompressed and contain the widest dynamic range of any format, RAW files allow you the greatest latitude in adjusting exposure, brightness, contrast and color saturation without loss of detail. I can often decrease or boost exposure by two full stops without significant degradation of the image.

A view from the Wisconsin Capitol second floor balcony up toward the dome. Three pendentives are visible. The pendentives are glass mosaics representing the three branches of government: Justice (left), Legislation (center) and Executive Power (Government - right) (Bill Ferris)

A view from the Wisconsin Capitol second floor balcony up toward the dome. Three pendentives are visible. The pendentives are glass mosaics representing the three branches of government: Justice (left), Legislation (center) and Executive Power (Government – right) (Bill Ferris)

The graceful curves and lines make this building perfect for a photographic style that emphasizes balance and symmetry. While setting up, I noticed a small patch of sunlight illuminating the dome interior so, I framed the shot to include this detail, which anchors the upper boundary of the image. This, again, is where a tripod is essential gear. Shooting with a tripod allowed me to carefully compose each shot. I used the D600’s virtual horizon to get the camera level along the horizontal X-axis. Tilting in the vertical Y-axis would still preserve a symmetrical view.

After composing the shot, I used the camera’s AF-S (Auto Focus-Single Servo) mode to set focus on a distant detail. I had also assigned focus activation to the AE/AF lock button. With focus set, I could then pay attention to any final framing adjustments before taking the exposure. To minimize the chance that vibration would introduce shake during these long exposures, I used the camera’s self-timer to delay shutter actuation by 10-seconds from the moment I pushed the shutter release button. This delay allowed the camera body to settle and capture crisp, detailed photos.

The only drawback was that, on several occasions, people would walk into my frame during the 10 second delay. Oh well. When that happened, I would wait for them to leave the frame before starting another exposure count down. Patience, is a valuable asset to have as a photographer.

Looking up from the ground floor toward the center of the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol. With east at bottom, south at right, west at top and north at left, all four pendentives (glass mosaics) are visible: Liberty (bottom left), Justice (bottom right), Government (top left) and Legislation (top right) (Bill Ferris)

Looking up from the ground floor toward the center of the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol. With east at bottom, south at right, west at top and north at left, all four pendentives (glass mosaics) are visible: Liberty (bottom left), Justice (bottom right), Government (top left) and Legislation (top right) (Bill Ferris)

This image was taken at 16mm, f/16, ISO 200. It is a 5-second exposure. I intentionally overexposed the dome by two full stops to capture enough light to allow the arched ceilings to show good color and detail. As with the other images in this set, I used the exposure adjustment tool when opening the original RAW image to create multiple layers in the final Photoshop composite. The base layer was optimized for the architectural details in the corners; the next layer, for the arches; then third, for the glass mosaic pendentives; and the uppermost layer exposure was optimized for the dome interior. Exposure was decreased by nearly two stops, which shooting in RAW makes possible.

The real fun of photographing a structure such as this–with its graceful lines, European flourishes and classical beauty–is having the time to play with composition. After capturing a frame featuring one detail, you might move the camera just a few degrees to reveal another detail that serves as the focus point for the next exposure. There is almost no wrong way to work a subject like this. Of course, this assumes you’ve brought your camera along for the trip.

Now, get out an shoot.

Bill Ferris | December 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 lounge.in 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