A very non-destination wedding

This one is just for fun. People always ask me about the amazing and exotic places we’ve shot weddings, and we loved our experiences in place like Singapore, Hong Kong, Chile, Aruba and more. But we also had fun setting a different sort of world record: The closest possible start to the wedding day. And to that end Tatiana Breslow and I present our photography from the getting ready stage of a wedding in our apartment.

What is going on here? Is this a new part of our full-service package? We’ll tell the whole story soon with the full post from this amazing day, but we had fun with this, and it also gives you a peek at our studio. PS: Check out Tatiana’s new site!

Review: Nikon D750 and D810

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For more info and purchase of the Nikon D750
For more info and purchase of the Nikon D810

If you’re like me, you read camera reviews by skipping to the conclusions first, so I’m going to start with the spoilers: The Nikon D750 and D810 are both great cameras. How good? Well, I’ve used them constantly since purchase, with first one and then both Nikon D4‘s sitting to the side.

So are these cameras better than the much more expensive Nikon D4? It’s more complicated than that, and that’s why this review will be deeply seated in my personal experience as a photographer. I nearly always shoot 13-hour weddings 65+ times a year with two cameras. While the D4 is ergonomically perfect when it’s in my hands, it’s way too big and clunky when it’s a 2nd camera hanging on my side. Using two D4s feels like dual-wielding howitzers. After two wedding seasons marked by lower back ache, it’s time to look for something lighter, something that makes me feel I can dart to whatever position I need to get the perfect angle without bashing a six-pound camera into chairs, floors, tables, or small children (all of which have happened).

Fortunately Nikon has been listening to the demands for “smaller, lighter, and professionally capable” equipment for the past few years, releasing a slew of light, small f/1.8 primes from 20mm to 85mm. (I beg them to continue that to 135mm, that would not be very light or small.) They also put out cameras like the D610 and Nikon Df, which produced beautiful images even in low light but had several caveats in their use, most notably a mediocre AF system. The D800 was astounding in its image quality and had pro AF but also felt sluggish to me in its buffer and Live View.

This year, Nikon said “no more caveats.” The D800 line has always had a bit of schizophrenia – the super-high resolution sensor and fantastic dynamic range at low ISO are aimed squarely at the medium format market – studio portraits, landscapes, product and still-life – but Nikon also markets it as the replacement to the beloved D700, a low-resolution camera aimed at photojournalism and documentary work. The D810 seeks to improve both uses – for the medium format crowd, it takes away the AA filter, which should allow for sharper images when every other part of shooting technique is perfect, and it changes the base ISO from 100 to 64. For the documentarians, it increases the buffer speed and significantly shortened the annoying delay in using Live View.

And now comes the D750. There are a number of ways to see this camera in the lineup – the name suggests it’s a D700 replacement, but really it seems to be a toughening up and professionalization of the D610. It is nearly exactly the same size and weight as the D610 but adds the professional 51-point AF system. Better still, it’s been tweaked enough that Nikon’s own rating suggest it is the best low-light autofocus across the entire camera lineup, better than even the D4s. And about that D4s? The D750 only weighs 63 percent as much, and it only takes up 54 percent as much cubic space. That’s a big deal, and a lot easier to have hanging at your side. For example, it’s about the size difference between a Smart Car and a regular sedan:

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Of course, shooting with a mirrorless system or even just my iPhone would be even smaller and lighter, so here are the real questions I want to answer: How good are these cameras anyway? What kind of trade-offs are there compared to the much more expensive D4s? Which of these cameras might be better for you? And finally, what are the benefits and trade-offs of owning and using both? To answer all of these, first we’ll discuss the common denominators of both cameras, then we’ll drill down on each one separately, and finally talk about how I use them together for my own work.

The D750 and the D810

These cameras have a lot more commonalities and differences. I’ll leave aside the obvious ones (yes, they both take the same lenses and flashes), since the important part is they sit right in the middle of Nikon’s “prosumer” line and thus are Nikon’s newest cameras with any professional aspirations. Thankfully, Nikon has corrected some of their previous prosumer mis-steps with these cameras, including my personal pet peeve – not having an exposure preview in the Live View of the D600, D610, or Df. When used right, Live View is one of those transformative technologies that says “Digital cameras can feel like more than just an instantly scanned film camera.” Being able to instantly see the correct exposure before you shoot is a leap ahead in functionality, and kudos to Nikon for enabling it in both the D750 and D810. The D800 had this functionality but it also felt like it took forever for the Live View to even turn on.

Although the D810 and the D750 take different battery grips (which I haven’t yet used), they take the same En-EL15 battery. Nikon rates them at about the same battery life, but I’ve found the D750 to burn through them much faster (this may be individual model variance, or simply that with the flip screen I use battery-killing Live View even more on the D750).

Both cameras have nice, deep grips, and I found even the smaller D750 to be a pleasure to hold, significantly better than the Nikon Df. But there is a huge ergonomic caveat here – like all smaller cameras without vertical grips, they’re only ergonomic wonders as long as they’re paired with lighter lenses and flashes. Put something like a 24-70 and a Nikon D810 on and any time I use the setup one-handed, I feel painful pressure on my wrist. It’s made me more likely to move my flash off-camera onto stands when possible, and even lenses like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art feel unbalanced on these cameras, particularly the D750, leading me back to the old, cheap Nikon 50mm f/1.8.

But for my use, the biggest change in these cameras is metering. Nikon changed the recipe in sometimes fantastic, sometimes frustrating ways. The most obvious change is a new metering mode: highlight-weighted spot metering. The closest way to explain how this works is that your camera says “whatever you’re focusing on, I’m going to pretend that you put the spot-meter right at the brightest point in the frame.” So in any backlit scene, this mode is basically “instant silhouette maker.”

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this metering mode is rolling out now. All of the others – matrix, center-weighted, and spot – are also on Nikon’s film cameras like the F6. Highlight weighted metering would be almost useless on film cameras, unless you really, really liked silhouettes. But recent Nikon pro cameras, especially from the D3s on, have had a hidden trick: there’s a lot of information in those shadows. With film and cameras like the Canon 5D or Fuji S5, it was always a good idea to err on the side of overexposure, but with Nikon’s it’s the opposite. You don’t have to go too far for a blown highlight to be unrecoverable, but you can raise shadows as much as five stops on some models while still getting a fairly clean image. So the other way of looking at this mode is “cram as much of the tonal range of the scene as possible into the file and let the photographer process it later,” which can allow us progress toward the holy grail of cameras that see scenes with the same sort of dynamic range as the human eye. For example, here’s different processing of the same shot above:

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I wouldn’t recommend this metering as a default mode, the way I used normal spot metering on the Nikon D4, since there will be plenty of scenes where a light bulb or bright backlight make the scene way darker than you want, and there are plenty of times where it’s A-OK to let some highlights blow out to white. But it’s a great option to have when you’re trying to focus on a groom wearing a tux and you don’t want to turn the wedding-dress-clad bride into a luminescent spirit.

The only problem is that they also seem to have changed the recipe on the normal spot mode a bit. My only evidence is taking hundreds of thousands of photos with the D3, D3s, D4 and D4s and saying that these cameras seem to meter differently. Because of the existence of highlight metering mode perhaps, spot mode seems even more calibrated to say “who needs highlights?” Even metering on skim-milk-colored Irish skin like my own will tend to blow out the rest of the scene unless you use exposure compensation. Worse, they seem widely variable. Five to ten percent of the time with normal spot metering, a shot come out about five stops overexposed out of nowhere, even the darkest shadows pushed into the upper highlights. It’s not that the D4’s metering is perfect, but it’s repeatable – if it’s going to mess up a scene I can anticipate exactly how it will mess it up before I shoot it, and use EV compensation or manual mode to get it right. I’ve seen this happen on both cameras, but it seems to happen a bit more with the D810.

The D810:

Like the D800 before it, the D810 is defined by its 36 megapixel sensor. And yes, it’s sharp, sharp-sharpity sharp. In fact, this is the wrong place to look for a review of this aspect of it, because it’s much sharper than I need. In fact, I was fine with the 12MP of the D3s until this morning, when an iMac showed up at my doorstep with a 14.7 MP screen (and it’s still not bad). Henri Cartier-Bresson said “sharpness is a bourgeois concept” and to some extent he’s right. Not all bourgeois concepts are bad, and whether an image is in focus or not is different than whether it’s critically sharp pixel-for-pixel, but when I’m looking at a documentary image, critical sharpness is nice but way, WAY down the list of factors that make it a good photo to me or not. Every once in a while I take a huge group photo or landscape where the sensor is nice, but generally the 24MP of the D750 is already more than enough, and the D810 just likes to clog up my hard drives and increase my upload times. But it’s not terrible – in 12-bit compressed mode the RAWs come out to about 33MB, which is just 15 percent more than the file size of the 6-megapixel Fuji S5 I shot in 2007.

D810 at ISO 4000:
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The D810 sensor has other benefits too. ISO 64 plus 1/8000th of a second makes this the best light-killing camera in Nikon’s lineup, with almost two stops more power over the sun than the D750’s ISO 100 and 1/4000th max shutter. If you like shooting in the middle of the day at f/1.4 – say if you’re a fan of a certain panoramic portrait method – then this is the camera for you.

The D810 has one more advantage that is a big deal to photographers: in the words of Bjork, “it’s oh so quiet.” Even in normal mode the shutter is soft, and in quiet mode its barely there at all. I feel comfortable using this camera to take pictures close to the head of a priest, which would have made my skin crawl to try with the clacking D4.

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The D750

The D750 is an incredible camera burdened by its own name. As the camera that took the D610 to the next level, it probably should have been called the D700. But wait, there already is a D700, and its users love it. The D700 was such a good camera for the price that it almost didn’t make sense – especially with the battery grip, it did nearly everything the D3 did at a lower price. So a lot of people can only see the areas where the D700 is slightly better – 1/8000th of a second shutter speed! 8 fps with battery grip! The viewfinder is not my preferred shape! These are a fanatical lot, so I want to make sure everyone knows I say the following as someone who used and loved the D700 for many years: For wedding work, the D750 slaps the D700 silly. First, here’s the D750 at ISO 12,800:

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I’ve used the D700 many times at 12,800, and it doesn’t look like that.

Also, the D700 only uses one CF card. You might say “Well, I’ve never had a card fail!” All I can say is “Shoot more.” It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. I have had clients memories saved only because every image was being shot to two cards. In the D750 and D810, I just keep a large SD card in the 2nd slot and write JPEGs to it. That card does not get formatted until all the weddings on it are delivered, so that even in the worst-case scenarios where my other six backups somehow fail I can still deliver and edit JPEGs (which is just fine for 95 percent of images, but takes a little more processing time). You can never be paranoid enough.

And yes, the D750 only has 1/4000th of a second, but it also goes to ISO 100 whereas the D700 starts at ISO 200. Unless for some reason you’re trying to stop bullets in your wedding photographs, this comes out to the same thing. The D810 does win handily in this regard, but you still can shoot at f/1.4 outside in the sun with the D750, as long as you’re careful, like so:

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Also, the D750 is Nikon’s first full-frame camera with a tiltable review screen. As someone who has lied down in goose poop and broken glass at the same time to get a shot, this is really exciting for me. I don’t use it very often in photojournalism, because the AF speed during Live View just still isn’t where it needs to be, but it is fantastic when getting the right angle for portraits. One of my favorite adages in photography is this: “When you look at the portfolio of a good photographer, you should have no idea how tall they are.” MAYBE the best height to take a given photo is in the six-inch zone around where your eyes are, but usually there’s a better vantage, and a tilting screen will help you find it without nearly as many dry cleaning bills.

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Then there is the sensor. It’s hard to be definitive about the sensor because Adobe still hasn’t released an update for Lightroom that will work with it, but even with what we can tell now the sensor looks like a winner. It looks better at high ISO than the D810 (which is also pretty darned good, especially when the giant files are resized to print), it produces all the file size you need while gumming up your hard drives a bit less – everything just feels balanced for the kinds of variety you need in wedding work.

The only disappointment for me is the shutter sound – and I was only disappointed because I’d been using the D810. It’s quieter than the D4 or D3s, but definitely louder than the D810 or D610, and the quiet mode seems to even make it slightly louder, sounding like you’ve stepped on a small twig every time you take a picture. It’s not bad, but the D810 had set my hopes high.

USING THEM TOGETHER

This is my setup right now. I stumbled into it, because I bought the D810 before the D750 was announced, but for now it works well for me. You can infer from the rest of this review that if you took the best things about the D810 and the best things about the D750 you’d have a near-perfect wedding camera, and this is the simplest way to get the advantages of both. The D810 is used as my main camera for ceremonies is quiet churches, for example, and also leads the way for most of the portraits, while I pick up the D750 when I need the tilting screen or for fast, constant action on the dance floor.

I am loving these smaller cameras; in fact I love them enough that they’re making me rethink my lens system. I’ve recently bought an old 180mm f/2.8 as a sometimes-replacement for the Nikon 70-200mm VR II and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 as a sometimes-replacement for the amazing-but-heavy Sigma 50mm f/1.4. I’d already preferred the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 to either company’s 35mm f/1.4’s, and it balances like a dream on the D750. Yes, this is all giving me Gear Acquisition Syndrome for cheaper equipment, but all of these are sharp and fast-focusing.

The one major annoyance to using both cameras is that the D810 uses the “Pro” control layout, and the D750 uses the “Prosumer” layout. Buttons in the same place on each camera do entirely different things. For maximum speed as a photographer, it’s important to build muscle memory with your camera system, and it’s a major stumbling block to say “Ok, which camera is this? Do I change ISO on the top or on the back?” If I do end up selling one to start using two of the same camera, that will be the reason why.

And if that happens, which camera will I keep? Drumroll please… the D750. I will just have to live with the snapping twigs.

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE D810

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MORE PHOTOS FROM THE D750

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For more info and purchase of the Nikon D750
For more info and purchase of the Nikon D810

Wainwright House Wedding: Liz and Aaron

There’s a terrible irony when it comes to blogging weddings: The more wonderful weddings you go to, the less time you have to actually show anyone. Of course, this is a bit of a “sorry not sorry” situation, since we’ve mostly sacrificed blogging to increasing the time and focus we put into client communication and satisfaction, which is our number one priority by a very long shot. But not telling everyone how wonderful our clients and their weddings are hurts us a bit in the soul, so we’ll set up the coffee IV drips next to our workstations and endeavor.

After all, you can’t not share a fantastic experience like Liz and Aaron’s wedding at the Wainwright House. Yes, they were more recipients of the long string of perfect weather we had this year, and the Wainwright house is beautiful and so are they, but that’s not what matters most. The incredible sense of personal commitment to each other and their family is what made this stand out — the ceremony was entirely performed by family members, with parents on each side and grandparents all taking roles. They were magnetically drawn to their guests all night, all the “wedding stuff” taking a back seat to the deeper meaning of catching up and celebrating with friends. I love it when weddings have a bigger, broader atmosphere of love, and I felt it every moment.

Thanks to Dave Paek for helping on this wonderful day.

iPhone 6 Plus Engagement Photo and Quick Review

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You may not have heard since it’s been on the down low, but little company called Apple released some new phones yesterday. I was excited because I had finally allowed myself to skip an upgrade last year, and I was eager to see the new improvements since the iPhone 5, especially with the camera, so when I got the iPhone 6 Plus I wanted to put it to the test.

Now, there are all caveats here: 1) I did not “do a shoot” with the new iPhone. Over the course of 90 minutes, I used the phone for about 15 seconds to produce this photo, after we had already nailed the scene with the Nikon D810. I don’t put anything, especially tech geekery, before clients’ needs. And of course there are other hardships in a 15-second-long photoshoot. But it gave me some insights into the camera and its use.

The Good:

  • This isn’t just a cell phone shot in tricky mixed lighting, and it came out great! This isn’t out-of-camera, of course — it’s processed to the same level as everything else I do, otherwise it would be at a distinctive advantage. But you can’t — or at least I can’t — take an image that is noisy, muddy garbage and make it great later, so it’s nice that this is turning out some good pixels.

  • I am loving the exposure control in iOS 8. It allows me to quickly focus where I want to without worrying whether that spot is too dark or light for the overall exposure.
  • Speaking of focus, the new phase-detect focus is speedy enough that I never had to think about it, which is all I want in this kind of camera.

The Bad:

The exposure control in iOS 8 is basically a + or – EV control, which just means “render this scene brighter or darker than you normally would. That is very different from having actual exposure control. Because we were adding enough light to the scene, the phone chose to shoot this at 1/30th of a second, where I would have preferred around 1/10th to make the train pulling into the station show a lot more blurred motion — especially because the iPhone 6 plus has optical image stabilization. We could have lowered the lights and tried again, but that’s a lot more annoying than a button click (and remember, we only took 15 seconds for this). I’m eager to see how third party apps take advantage of the new software development options to give us more and more control in weeks to come.

The Ugly

To make this camera so good and the phone so thin, the camera has to protrude a bit, making it wobbly when you set it down. I don’t mind much, but it’s one reason that I can’t wait to put a case on this thing.

One more thing:

The LED flash on this thing is really strong. I expect I’ll be using it a lot in ring shots, or when I have to sneak a quick night shot in and don’t have time to get my video light. That is probably the only way this will have a direct effect on my professional images. It’s good, but it’s nothing like a D810.

This is For Keeps

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Patrick looks back at Lisa one last time before getting a wedding ring tattoo right before their wedding at Midtown Loft and Terrace on Saturday.

I just finished the busiest weekend of my career — so far and likely ever — and through a great deal of careful planning we showed up each day much better rested than the bride and groom. Now I look back on so many wonderful moments from 57 hours of shooting and it overwhelms me. Where to begin? So I will begin simply sharing images that make me happy, and this image made both Tatiana and I tear up a bit.

I feel so lucky to be a part of moments like this.

Lens: 45mm f/2.8 PC-E
Camera: Nikon D4

Central Park Boathouse wedding: Jennifer and Marc

Sometimes love is stately, refined and intimate, romantic and quiet. Sometimes it is messy, raucous and public. The vast majority of wedding-related media focuses on the first aspects, but my favorite weddings are the ones that show both: Two people deeply, obviously in love, showing it through countless intimate, gorgeous moments together … and then, as they say, it all comes out on the dance floor. Weddings are public celebrations, so let’s set aside decorum and show how deeply, broadly, and loudly we care about our guests. Let’s get crazy.

Jennifer and Marc’s Central Park Boathouse wedding perfectly exemplified all of this. It was hilarious and heartwarming, wonderful and wild, and made full use of this strange but fantastic record string of nice-weather weekends we’ve been having. (I can’t tell you how much wood I knock on every time I talk about this.)

And I got to share it all with Tatiana, once again proving herself to be the biggest secret weapon in the world of wedding photography.

Harbour Island, Bahamas wedding: Ann and Bill

This is Harbour Island:

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You see that tiny, glowing beacon in a place so quiet and dark and peaceful that stars New Yorkers have never dreamed of come out to shine? That is a place to get away, where a plane to a different plane to a boat to a golf cart will take you to beaches of pink sand, perpetually pleasant afternoons, and a simple feeling of “This is it. This is what it’s been all about. This is what you were waiting for.” Sort of like marriage.

I love when I get to shoot for the same family again. I’ve shot for sisters, brothers, and cousins of previous clients, but Ann and Bill’s wedding was the first time I got to photograph the wedding of the father of a previous client, Jessica. When you come out to a remote island and spend the day as two photographers among only 40 guests, you really have to integrate well, and Ann and Bill made it so easy. They were warm, as happy as you could imagine in such a perfect setting, and so deeply connected to their friends that the bridesmaids, daughters of one of Ann’s friends, felt like members of the family.

The wedding was perfect against all odds — the weather holding strong even though the eight weather apps my paranoia requires told me that it rained on every other Bahaman island at ceremony time. A raucous young brass band led the guests from an intimate dinner to a beach reception, which was more wild than 40 people should have been capable of. (This is another advantage to the highly-walkable, virtually car-free island: No reason to stop partying.)

It was an honor just to be here, a pleasure to spend the day with these people (some for the second time), and one of the highlights of my entire year that I got to do it all with the amazing Tatiana.

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Ritz Carlton Naples Wedding: Joanna and Tony

You don’t know how many times Tatiana and I have sat around our office saying “I wish our clients were here, right now.” We have so many clients who are not just pleasures to work with, but people who would brighten any of our days, and it’s one of the things we’re most thankful for. Joanna and Tony exemplify this … almost literally, as I believe Joanna’s multi-watt smile could be examined as a new alternative energy source. It was such an honor to have them fly us to forida for their Ritz Carlton Naples wedding. It is such an intensely beautiful place — the literal moment we pulled up the evening before, I had to jump out of the car to photograph the sunset on my iPhone, because our bags were still packed, and it was one that I couldn’t bear missing. People show up each night on the show to stand there and applaud the sunset the moment the sun crosses the horizon.

Yes, location isn’t everything — I’ve photographed weddings I’ve loved in gymnasiums — but this sort of scene really didn’t hurt. More important, though, was what an uplifting, hilarious day it was. To see Joanna and Tony’s love for each other and their family, and to be able to share it with Tatiana* … thank you. Thank you all.

*who did just a phenomenal job, once again maintaining her status as wedding photography’s biggest weapon.

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Review: Nikon Df

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45mm f/2.8 PC-E, ISO 100, 1/1000th

The Nikon Df is sort of a strange camera to review … or at least a strange Nikon. In the DLSR era, Nikon has succeeded by trying to make their cameras as functional and simple as possible … but no simpler. Leave it to weirdoes like Fuji to make quirky cameras with non-standard sensor arrays, or let fresh-and-hungry Sony take huge chances like releasing a $3K camera with no viewfinder and a fixed lens — Nikon would keep making solid, efficient cameras. And, in the words of Henry Ford, pros you can have any color they want, as long as it’s black.

But 2014 is a very different world for camera makers than 2004 or even 2009, and Nikon is waking up to that. Few people need decent point-and-shoot cameras any more than they need to walk around with a compass, map and pocket calculator — our phones have them all. The only way forward to profit for camera makers is to do the things that phones cannot do. The most obvious is to harness the power of a big sensor. But from a marketing perspective, there’s something else: we want to stand out. Thanks in large part to cell phones, more photos are now taken each year than in the entire history of photography before 2010, a DSLR is a conscious choice to say “There’s more to me than selfies.”

No wonder, then, that cameras have turned to a brand that these disruptive, futuristic devices cannot do at all: Retro. The Fuji X100 blew the doors off, shocking any executive that just thought about specs. Cameras like the OM-D and X-Pro1 followed, and their popularity showed that photographers wanted more than just good pictures, they wanted the act of photography to be an experience.

The Df is Nikon’s entry into this space, and everything about the release materials shows how much they are emphasizing the experience of photography over simple, numerical specs. For instance, here is the environmental picture from the Nikon press room for the Df next to the environmental shot for the similar-specced D610:

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The D610 photo shows the same sleek, modern image that Nikon tries to impart with all of its cameras, while the gorgeously styled image of the Df implies that this is a camera Indiana Jones would pack right next to his bullwhip. The Df is about how it looks and feels as much as the images that it takes.

All of this makes it something of a strange camera to review. You can look at the image above and already know if it speaks to you or not. If the retro styling and dials grafted onto a modern dSLR makes your soul sing, if it would revive your love of photography, if it would make you get out there and take pictures you weren’t taking, then this is a valuable camera for you.

But as a constantly working professional, I’m entirely unsentimental. I’ve owned two gorgeous Noct-Nikkors … and promptly sold them because they made me nervous. I need gear that does its job well, gets out of the way, and can be bashed against a rock or two and keep going. But because I carry two cameras for thousands of hours each year, I join many pros in aching (literally) for something smaller and lighter, a D700 for the new decade. And so the idea of having a sensor like the D4′s — with beautiful color, low noise, and high dynamic range even at high ISOs — in a smaller body is deeply appealing.

So, for the market, the Df is caught between two worlds: Is it a camera just for the nostalgic manual-focus users or is it something that could be a pro’s main camera? As a modern Nikon dSLR with a fantastic sensor and perfectly good specs it can serve both roles well, but it also falls a bit short in either direction.

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28mm f/1.8G, ISO 3600, 1/125th

The Good:

The Nikon Df really is nice and light and (compared to my D4′s,) quiet and small. It is very well-balanced with smaller, lighter lenses (like manual focus lenses), and I really liked pairing it with the light, awesome-for-the-price 28mm f/1.8G. Its less obtrusive profile and shutter made it just a bit easier to get closer, to capture moments of people as they really are, not how they react to having a camera around. And the fantastic sensor made it easy to freeze action in all sorts of light. The room above was not nearly as bright as the photo makes it look, and the Df is shooting at ISO 3600 with nary a spec of noise and lots of fine detail. I could have left my 28mm glued onto it and been happy, but it also works well with large lenses that don’t truly balance with any camera, like the 70-200. It’s the mid-range lenses like the 24-70, heavy but tempting for one-hand use, where the small grip causes ergonomic trouble.

Despite the styling, this has everything you expect from a modern Nikon … other than video capabilities, which were deliberately left off. It has reasonably fast operation, feeling less sluggish in basic operation and buffering than the D800 but not as effortlessly speedy as the D4. I was able to shoot large “Brenizer method” panoramas without getting into the sort of annoying buffering problems that the D800 would bring:

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105mm f/2, ISO 100, 1/2000th, 65 images

The relatively small size made it a fun camera for personal use, although the bag you’d need for this wouldn’t be much smaller than for a D4 set-up, especially once you pack the same lenses and flashes. Still, Tatiana and I had fun just messing around with it:

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Again, the sensor is as good as anything with dynamic range, color, and low-light performance. The photo on the left was taken in light you could barely see in, while the one on the right mixes full sun with shadow, and the Df can handle them both admirably:

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The Almost (For the retro-friendly user)

The image on the right above is from the manual-focus 50mm f/1.2, another lens that not only balances well with the camera, but looks darn good. Clearly one of the perceived user bases for this camera are older photographers pining for the feeling of a Nikon F, and with a closet full of manual-focus glass collecting dust. The Df exposure dials are clearly designed to work best with cameras that have aperture rings, just like the ones in the promotional image. Nikon has an long history of incredible lenses, and the Df pays homage to them, including some retooling to allow older, pre-AI Nikkors. But there are two problems, one that I don’t care about and one that I do:

1) The market base that cares most about the way cameras and lenses look and feel are the ones most offended by the existence of plastic. They remember the days when plastic in a lens or camera meant “Danger, Will Robinson!” This doesn’t bother me much, but it is noticeable when paired with older lenses.

2) More importantly, the Df makes no special effort to be the manual-focus lens user’s friend. There is no focus peaking in live view, no easily swappable viewfinder screen, just the same iffy green focus dot we’ve had for more than a decade. This is something that is conceivably improvable in firmware, though I imagine these days a firmware tweak that in-depth would just mean releasing a “Dfs.”

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The Almost (For the modern-minded photographer)

This one will be a bit nit-picky, and I apologize. For a better explanation, let us also call this section: “Hey Nikon! What we really need is a new D700 with current tech!”

First, Tatiana pointed out something ironic — with modern, aperture ring-less lenses, the control make it harder to work in old-school, complete manual mode. If I’m shooting ambient, I’m a heavy auto-ISO user, allowing me to follow the moment into whatever light it takes me, but she had more trouble with the camera simply because she embodies the sort of purism the marketing campaign plays to.

The camera only goes up to 1/4000th, but this doesn’t bother me much — I shot just fine for five years with the D3 and D3s, which may have done 1/8000th but only went down to ISO 200, amounting to pretty much the same thing. A bit worse is that it shares the AF system of the cheaper D610, instead of the high-end AF of the D800 and the D4 lines. I never had too much trouble with the AF, but it didn’t wow me either — the AF points are so tightly packed that you end up focusing and recomposing quite a bit.

But for me, all it took was one thing to rule it out for me as a backbone of a pro system in 2014: The Df only has one memory card slot.

“No problem,” you say. “I’ve shot many times and never had a memory card problem,” you say.

You’re lucky. Shoot some more. Anything that has a non-zero chance of happening WILL happen if you shoot enough, and in weddings I do everything I can to reduce to chance of image loss to as close to zero as possible. Because it does happen. Just last year I had a memory card failure so total that if I hadn’t been shooting to two cards more than a third of a wedding would have been lost to the ether. Any one-card camera I’ve used on weddings, like the Canon 6D, Olympus EM-5, or the Df, has to merely be one of many cameras on the job or my well-earned paranoia kicks in. To add insult to injury, the cheaper D610 has two card slots.

Sadly, one feature the Df does share with the D610 is the crippled live view exposure mode. Again, it is ALMOST there — the back LCD is clear and sharp, and it has far less lag than the D800, but you cannot preview exposure like you can with the D4, D800, D3s, and others. Live View exposure preview is a godsend in many situations, allowing you to work more quickly, focus in the sorts of insane low-light that the Df sensor is capable of shooting in, and in particular when using the manual-focus lenses that this camera is styled for.

This camera was a huge risk for Nikon, and I admire their willingness to make the move. But risks don’t always pay off perfectly. I imagine we’ll get a Dfs some day, but I’d be shocked if it had top-of-the-line AF. Maybe, hopefully, it will have multiple card slots. But I could easily see them making the manual focus experience even better, putting it in line with the best-in-class. Ironically, though, along the way they may realize that the people most crazy about acquiring and shooting with old lenses these days are the video shooters, so we’ll see if they give them a nod as well.

I had a great time shooting with this camera, and it is the right camera for some people out there, just not quite for me. It’s not a D700 update with modern sensor and dual-cards, but sadly nothing is.

More Photos with the Df

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Layers of a Lovely Day

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Sometimes the problems solve themselves, at least when you have brides like Jennifer, awesome enough to brave a forest trail in a gorgeous couture gown. We’ve had this strange but beautiful thing where all the rain and nasty weather has fallen on weekdays. The New York Times even had to point out that there is no reason for special seven-day cycle in the weather. Me? I credit karma.

Apparently the reason that sometimes you come to my site and there is no site here is that someone out there has been attacking ryanbrenizer.com for a long time. We’re working on fixing it, but in the meantime, please hold back for a bit, Mr. Cyber-Jerk. I have so much great stuff coming to the blog this week, from gorgeous weddings to camera reviews, that we’ll probably bring the site down all by ourselves.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G