Kelsie.

I’ve already shown some of Kelsie for the Olympus review, so I figured I’d dive right in with the rest, so to speak.

One of the most important goals for my professional life is to always keep my passion for shooting. It sounds self-centered to focus on my own joy, I suppose, but really the only thing that’s going to keep me going the extra mile for clients, to keep learning and growing as a photographer and even be a better businessperson is if I keep being excited to show up to work every day. And perhaps the surest sign of that is that even in what little free time I have, I want to keep shooting. After filming an upcoming show in Boise, I had a beautiful day to spend with my friends Dylan and Sara of Sara K Byrne Photography. So of course we spent it shooting. I’d seen Kelsie’s great modeling work, and specifically her incredible hair, and I said “OK, what other chance am I going to get to shoot in the middle of a river?” Let’s do it.

And it was a learning experience. I learned, for example, that the Boise river is freezing cold even after a series of 104-degree days. Freezing cold. And that Kelsie can look great even in harsh mid-day sun. Also that the most important thing in underwater photography is figuring out how to stay down without then killing yourself. We couldn’t get the proper sort of ballast in a 9-foot pool, so the shoot was accomplished with a series of downward pushes on my shoulders by Dylan. Now that’s a trust exercise — thanks for not murdering me!

For the record, it was Sara who had Kelsie take her shirt off. Since the whole impetus for the shoot was her insanely long and thick hair, I figured it was a safe enough covering for the blog.

Olympus Tough TG-1 Review

Specs and purchasing information

Pocket digital cameras are in an existential crisis these days. Their main selling point — taking up little space so that you have something you can take pictures with at all times — is being completely dominated by camera phones. No matter how small or light a camera gets, it can never add less heft than something you were carrying around anyway. And as camera phones get better and better, the advantages in visual quality become fewer. Most standout pocket cameras these days are aiming for better quality than you get with most camera phones, either by adding larger sensors like the Sony RX100, or super fast lenses like the f/1.4 aperture in the Panasonic LX7.

But there are a few other things you shouldn’t do with a camera phone — drop it on the ground, drop it underwater, freeze it, step on it, and many other things that I have actually done to destroy various iPhones. The Olympus Tough TG-1 is built to handle all of these things, so while the quality of its sensor may not be significantly better than that of the best camera phones, you can worry about it less or get photos that are actually impossible with them. The TG-1’s ruggedness is no joke — it’s rated to be waterproof to 40 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, freezeproof to 14°F and crushproof to a weight of 220 pounds. Adorama told me that I was free to hit it with a baseball bat to test this, but I think they might have been joking. I weigh under 220, though, so I did stand on it with my full weight, and all that managed to do was turn it on without a scratch. I also put it though some other paces, as you will see below. Olympus has paired this ruggedness with a number of new improvements, such as a 25-100mm equivalent lens that is a fast f/2 on the wide end. Although it’s a slow f/4.9 at the long end, that gives you more options in the dark, or particularly underwater, where this camera really shines. Every port on the camera is double-sealed against the elements, and the lens is covered with a strong, easy-to-clean coating. Because the lens doesn’t protrude at all, the camera is quite pocketable, but it’s also surprisingly easy to have your thumb sneak in the corner of pictures if you have big hands.

Image quality:

I don’t use point-and-shoots other than my iPhone very much, so I’m a bit nitpicky. Most shots out-of-camera have a real digital look to them, with some smeared detail even at base ISO, and lots more as you go through the range. At ISO 800 or above the smearing can seriously affect your images, but the digital look happens in uncertain ways — I have ISO 200 images that are smeared and ISO 1600 images that look pretty good:

The above image is ISO 1600 in Super Macro mode, which you can see works really well. The subject matter may be forgiving, but the image shows a surprising amount of texture in any case. The TG-1 also has an LED light which can help with some macro images (though it will give an on-camera-flash look to the photo, which is rarely the best option).

In good light, the photos look nice and snappy, even of a poor subject like me:

Fill flash works decently well — it won’t overpower full sun, but here you can see even coverage of the leaves about eight feet away in the foreground:

But things fall apart a bit in mixed light, as this ISO 800 image shows:

Controls

This is what keeps the TG-1 from being any kind of true pro camera. I bet you could fix a lot of the digital look at lower ISOs in a good RAW converting program — but we’ll never know, since the TG-1 doesn’t shoot RAW. It also doesn’t have any way to let you directly control the shutter or aperture. Even though the exposure compensation is fairly easy to ride, this is a huge blow for a control freak like me, particularly since otherwise this could be a decent professional option as an underwater camera.

It DOES have a lot of “art” effects, which are generally pretty silly, and even sometimes downright frightening, such as the mirror effect:

The controls feature set definitely seems aimed at the amateur market. But where this camera really shines is…

Underwater

Underwater housing for professional DSLRs is extremely expensive, and it becomes cumbersome enough that you need to learn to shoot all over again. Being waterproof to 40′, and with all sorts of underwater options such as Underwater Macro mode and underwater-specific white balance settings, this camera is great for swimming, snorkeling, and shallow-water scuba enthusiasts, as well as people who want to dip their toe in underwater portraiture. I did just that in a recent trip to Boise with the fantastic model Kelsie, and I liked the photo quality underwater even better than on dry land! (It probably doesn’t hurt that clear water is constantly cleaning and functioning like a lens itself). All controls were easy to use underwater and easily visible — dealing with the camera was by far the easiest part of a difficult shoot.

I started with photos from very close to water level while wading in the Boise River. You could use an unprotected DSLR for this — and I did for some — but you’re really pressing your luck when you want to dip down to get a reflection. The best photos from this session had implied nudity, so I will pixelate for those of you at work, and you can click to see the actual photo:

Then we shot in a pool, with sunlight trickling in for a great effect. For the first half of the shoot I tried the TG-1’s high-speed shooting so the ripples of light would hit Kelsie just right, which is a crazy-fast 60 frames per second at three megapixels. I’m glad I switched to full res, which still is a very speedy 10fps but with a smaller buffer, because the high-speed photos do not look very good. Clearly these are just frame-grabs from video, and they look like it, with a bit of poor-video CCTV quality to them. 3MP should be more than enough for the Web, but even here, with the very best of them, you can see the difference between the high speed photo (left) and the normal res photo (right):

I do not recommend the high-speed mode for still photography unless you really need 60fps, and don’t care about quality.

But the color, the steadiness of exposure, the handling and speed were all excellent. If I spent more time around water, I’d keep this camera in my bag. No matter how convenient your cellphone is, you probably don’t want to do this with it:

More snapshots

Buy it here!

Bryant Park Grill wedding: Chika and Andrew

This feels like a long time coming. When I first photographed Chika and Andrew, they knew they were getting married … someday. In some hemisphere. But that was about it. You see, even though their ties to the U.S. and New York run deep, they currently happily live in Japan.

Sadly I didn’t travel to Japan, but they did one better and came to me. In fact they figured out their wedding based on my schedule — always the highest honor I can receive, much more meaningful than any award. And we had a gorgeous day at the Bryant Park Grill, deep in the frenetic energy of a midtown summer.

I figured from knowing them that this would be a fun day. I figured from meeting Chika’s friends that it would be a crazy dance floor. But I admit I was totally surprised that the true life of the party was Chika’s dad. That guy can tear it up.

It was a fantastic capstone on a long journey for me and a longer one for them … and hey, there’s always room for a Tokyo anniversary shoot.

The Air Up There

I’m returning from Boise now, where I shot an episode of the FRAMED show, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. So what does one of the busiest wedding photographers around do once he’s in a new town with a weekend off? Why not shoot a wedding? And then spend all the next day shooting for fun?

I do a lot of things to make sure that I keep the elemental joy of taking photos alive, to make sure that I never get to the point where clicking that shutter doesn’t sound like fun. So I shot a wedding and with my Boise-based friends Sara and Dylan of Sara K Byrne Photography, and had an absolute blast being around all the joy of a wedding day with none of the pressure. Also, it’s a lot easier to sweet talk local skater kids when the team includes someone who looks like this.

Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
Camera: Nikon D3s

Banyan Tree Mayakoba destination wedding: Spencer and Danielle

I’m not saying that Spencer and Danielle’s Banyan Tree Mayakoba wedding in Playa del Carmen was wild. What I’m saying is that the same people introduced themselves to me on three separate days, because they’d forgotten we’d already met and had several long conversations.

Fun. Crazy. Awesome. Sweet. And, oh boy, endurance. This is what it’s all about. This is celebration.

These are the sorts of stories best told in photos. I’ll let you imagine the photos I’m not showing. Really all you need to know is that the last shot was taken during the reception.

Lightning Strikes Twice

120704 221806 85mm f1 6B
After the fireworks, Mother Nature decided to put on her own show.

Hand-held. I managed to hold my 85mm at 1/10th of a second, but still not an easy thing to capture. As much as I’d like to say this was all skill, photography is the art of being prepared to be lucky.

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
Camera: Nikon D3s

Metropolitan Club Wedding: Ariana and Eric

Ariana and Eric’s wedding was just … more. Yes, the Metropolitan Club is what you’d expect from a place J.P. Morgan built when he really wanted to impress people. Yes, Ariana bought her amazing dress in Paris and few to Italy for a private fitting at the invitation of the designer. But that’s just what made the wedding fancy. What made the wedding amazing was how warm, funny, and self-effacing the bride and groom were, and the deep family connections. It’s not often that you see heartfelt tear-jerking speeches between the groom and the bride’s father, to say nothing of the connections between their own parents.

Every aspect of the day was designed to the smallest degree, but at all times it was clear that what really mattered was the people and the connections between them.

Speaking of amazing people, Sara K Byrne flew in from Boise to second-shoot, and she was fantastic as always. Ariana and Eric made us feel like family as well. Thank you for having us tell this story.

New York Botanical Gardens Stone Mill Wedding: Eric and Lea

The Stone Mill at the New York Botanical Gardens is one of my favorite spots for intimate weddings. It feels like the most awesome bed and breakfast sitting on top of an amazing catering company, plunked down in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Hard to go wrong.

It also has a lot of connection to Fordham alumni like Lea (and myself) for whom the NYBG was an oasis amid tests and theses and countless late nights. Lea and Eric actually commissioned a map for their guests of the long and winding road their relationship had taken, from the Bronx to LA to Canada and back again.

It was a great experience to share in this part of their journey.

Julianne and Steven’s anniversary shoot

I think that sometimes the photographic community over-emphasizes the importance of portraits on the wedding day. Partially this is because weddings are filled with so many moments and connections between so many people that demand skillful, emotional documentation. But it’s also this: Awesome portraits are the only part of the experience that can happen on another day.

Of course, one argument — that it is a gigantic, expensive pain to get the outfits on and do the hair and makeup again — is very, very true. But the other thing you hear is “You will never look better than on your wedding day!”

Well … maybe. Or after all that craziness, you can say “You know what? My life isn’t over. I’m going to keep working hard, and I can look better than ever next year, and then even better the year after that.” And that calls for some photos.

That’s exactly what Julianne and Steven did. They wanted to do a shoot to commemorate not just their fourth anniversary, but all of the hard work they’ve been doing to live and eat right, with Julianne alone losing 90 pounds over the past two years.

And it was an amazing experience. They looked fantastic, their connection is so strong and visible, and I could have kept shooting them for hours. Did all the fitness work pay off? Look at that last photo and you tell me. They are wedding photographers themselves, and because the cobbler’s kids have no shoes, they told me they have no good photos of themselves together.

Well, we changed that. They said they’d love to do a shoot with me every year, and hope to look even more amazing next year. I absolutely love that attitude. As someone in the best shape of my life at the not-so-tender age of thirty-mumble-mumble, I’d love to see a lot more people do this challenge. Marriage is just the beginning of a new, even better life.

Yale Club Wedding: Jessica and Doug

This wedding freaked me out — nothing went wrong. Nothing.

That doesn’t happen. How can I be a problem-solver if there are no problems to solve? Everything ran an hour-and-a-half ahead of schedule. The weather was amazing, the Yale Club gorgeous as always (and the church of Saint Vincent Ferrer isn’t too shabby either), and Jessica and Brian are warm, loving, and absolutely hilarious. I mean, her office printed giant cardboard heads for them, so naturally they used them for the reception entrance.

In one of my favorite moments, as we were going down the elevator to the first look, it stopped on a middle floor, opening up on Jessica’s family. I’d been talking to her about set-up, not in photo-taking mode, but I managed to throw my camera up and get their priceless reaction.

Thanks to Eileen Roche for helping out and doing great work!

Nikon D800 review



Specs and purchasing information
Most new cameras are evolutionary. They push a few specs forward, make some tweaks, and hopefully make it a little easier to take photos that are a little better. But every once in a while, a camera comes out that disrupts the natural order, that surprises you and may even allow for big changes in the way you take photos. The Nikon D3 was like this — most people expected the first Nikon full-frame camera to be a megapixel monster, but instead it focused on high-ISO quality unsurpassed at the time. Now Nikon has disrupted the market in reverse: The headline spec of the D800 is the resolution, 36.3 megapixels, which had only been the domain of medium format cameras. But what made it truly disruptive is the price — $3,000, $500 less than the Canon 5D Mark III and just over half the price of Nikon’s own D4. It seems that at first glance you’re getting a lot more camera for a lot less. But there are trade-offs, most notably shooting at only four frames-per-second. And then, of course, there are the files, which depending on your settings range from very large to incredibly massive. So how does it stack up overall?

That Darned Sensor: Resolution

How much is 36 megapixels? A lot. In the video world, we call 1080p to be true HD, the hallmark of fancy televisions and forcing movie stars to invest in better make-up. Here’s how a 1080p frame compares to the D800’s 7,360 x 4,912 pixels:

Here’s a 100 percent crop of the image next to it:

This is an old, manual-focus lens, the 105mm f/1.8, shot wide open and free-lensed. While yes, to maximize the resolution it helps to have the best lenses, shoot at the sharpest apertures, have high shutter speeds and impeccable technique, you can still see advantages of that resolution even without all that. It gives you extra detail that shows up at even more moderate sizes, since a downsized image will tend to keep the “best” data, and noise will tend to have a finer grain structure. The pictures are big, that’s no surprise. But what really made the D800 interesting to my was another trick it has up its sleeve:

That Darned Sensor: Dynamic Range

At low ISOs, particularly ISO 100, the d800 has absolutely incredible dynamic range, better even than cameras like the Fuji S5 that used an entire extra set of sensors just to extend the range. Like most recent Nikons, it keeps a lot of this range in the shadows. There is an incredible amount of ability to lift shadows, particularly compared to the Canon 5D3. You can raise ISO 100 images by as much as five f-stops and still maintain a usable image. Now, that doesn’t mean your exposures have to be off by 32x, but it does give you an incredible ability to either selectively dodge an image or simply lift shadows until it looks very similar to the dynamic range of the human eye. We’re so used to having to choose between bringing out extreme highlight or extreme shadow, even though our eyes could see both, that this — even more than resolution — is what can really change the way you do photography with the D800.

The inside of Bethesda Terrace in Central Park is completely dark. The outside is a summer day. Most cameras would force you to choose which tones you want to keep. But with a little help in post the D800 can pull it off.

Dynamic range functions more like a normal camera at higher ISOs. Of course, most forms of photography that really make the most of high resolution — landscape, studio portraiture, product photography, etc. — also tend to be shot at lower ISOs. Doubtless the folks in the sensor lab worked hard on that synchronicity.

<centerThat Darned Sensor: High ISO

The big worry when the D800 was announced was that, because of the smaller pixels on the sensor, the camera would be noisier at high ISOs. But the D800 does remarkably well, especially when images are shrunk to print or display sizes. Sure, you’ll see more noise at 100 percent pixel peeping, but there’s also a lot more pixels. Overall you get a fine grain structure, a lot of detail, and most importantly it maintains good color at high ISO, like the D3s and D4, instead of the muddiness you can get from the D3 and D700 at the highest settings.

The photos below are at ISO 4500 and 11,400. Is there noise at 100 percent? You bet. But it works:

Live View: A Mixed Bag

Even though I never do video, I absolutely love using Live View for photography. The instant response of a great viewfinder will never be totally replaced, but in so many situations it is incredibly helpful to see exactly what the final picture will look like in front of you. Viewfinders don’t accurately record depth-of-field of super fast lenses, and they definitely don’t record different white balances or the overall contrast and tonality of a scene. So much of the expertise of photography is learning to interpolate exactly how your camera sees. Live View is an end-run around all of that.

The D3s has pretty good live view with one major flaw — it only works to 1/250th of a second. Want to shoot f/1.2 in daylight? Live View should be great for that, but you can’t do it on the D3s. On the D800? No problem, it works at any shutter speed. And it’s great. I took the ring shot above using Live View — it perfectly let me see how the depth-of-field was affecting the shot, a huge issue in macro photography. It also let me put the specular highlights in exactly the right place.

But there are a couple issues. The first is that Live View is when I really notice the greenish cast of the LCD. Nikon first said this was more accurate and now says they’re working on changing it, but in any case green is not the best tone to overlay on a scene when you’re photographing people.

But worse, when using Live View you can really feel how the camera is struggling with that much data. On the D4, shooting is nearly instantaneous. On the D800, there’s a very noticeable delay after every shot, more than enough to be annoying. In fact, it’s very un-Nikon. Nikon cameras are known for being workhorses that are always ready to take a shot. Using Live View on the D800 is beautiful but quirky, like an old Fuji DSLR. Because my primary uses for the D800 are portraits and details, where Live View matters a lot, this is a real issue for me.

General use: Focusing and ergonomics

Some people have noticed quirkiness with the outer focus points on this camera; for me it’s performed like a champ. In least in theory it’s the same AF system as the almost twice as expensive D4, and it works fantastically well in low light. AF in Live View is slower but still remarkably accurate with a good lens.

I’ve also noticed that most of my lenses need less micro-focus-adjustment on the D800 than on my D3s’s, but that’s probably just that my D3s’s have been ground down nearly to a fine powder. In any case, most of my lenses were spot-on the moment they were put on the camera.

What annoyed me is that, as near as I can tell, one of the buttons on the back is missing from the button re-configuration menu. That meant that I had to reach my thumb way over to find the AE-L/AF-L button, which I use as a “fire the shutter now!” button to catch moments even if the camera isn’t quite sure it’s perfectly in focus. This also ruined a few Brenizer-method panoramas, as the camera would try to re-focus halfway through when I couldn’t keep the button held. Keep in mind I have gigantic hands, so this may be an even bigger problem for other users.

Overall the camera feels great, well-balanced and a great general workhorse. Four frames per second is almost always fast enough for me; the only time I ever ran into problems with its speed was in buffer issues while doing panoramas.

The Big But: File sizes

The tragedy of the D800 is that it has no Small RAW option like Canon cameras (which don’t even need it as badly). Heck, the smallest JPEG option is still 18 megapixels. The largest settings for a RAW file will set you back around 75MB for every shot. Optimized fully for size you can get that down to about 33. With so much data and dynamic range, I felt pretty safe compressing a tiny bit of it away.

For most professionals, 33 MB isn’t so bad. Remember, the Fuji S5 shot 25MB files to produce essentially a really sharp six-megapixel file. But I shoot a LOT — more than 250,000 photos a year. Next week I’m doing four full weddings in five days. Shooting with the D800, I’d end up with more than half a terabyte of data. And even if I compress the RAW files, I’m still ending up with abnormally giant JPGs, which means bigger hard drives sent to clients, longer upload times, etc. etc. I have a lot of budget for hard drives, and of course this data is still paltry compared to videographers, but for someone with my volume having to shoot at 36MP all the time is a huge liability.

The Final Word: It’s good for me, fantastic for most

Nikon has built an extraordinary camera. It doesn’t quite get out of my way and just do its job as much as the D3s does, but the trade off is a lot more resolution and greater dynamic range, as well as lighter weight and much less cost than the D4. For most advanced photographers and professionals, this is really going to hit a sweet spot.

If Nikon ever manages to produce a firmware update with a good SRAW option, I’d switch my entire line-up to three of these the next day.

In any case, I really hated giving this back. Here are some more pictures I’ve made with it. This camera renders images amazingly well, not just amazingly large.

There are also some more photos of Dominique on my Facebook page taken with the D800 that might be too hot for a camera review.

Buy it here!