This is Harbour Island:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.”
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.
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
The first time I shot at the Rockleigh Country Club, it was just 36 hours after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the region. This time, I was second-shooting for the fabulous Tatiana Breslow, and during the reception everyone’s phones started clanging with flash flood warnings. So our reaction? Let’s go out in it! Thanks to the Michelle and Michael’s willingness, an intrepid Tatiana lighting, a helpful wedding guest, and four umbrellas, we made this shot work in the driving rain.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II
Tatiana and I are famous for the kinda-sorta-vacation. I spent my birthday in Barcelona … processing weddings. Tatiana spent Christmas in midtown Manhattan … processing weddings. We’ve done work in places we should be enjoying ourselves all around the world. But at least once we got to turn it around a bit.
One of the great things about weddings is that people tend to want them to happen in pleasant places and times, and sometimes it works out really well. Looking at my calendar, I realized I had a wedding one weekend in south Florida, and a wedding the next in the Bahamas. The stars were aligning, virtually forcing us to sit down, shut up, and just enjoy life for a few days. And there are few better places to do it than The Cove in Eleuthera, a place so magnificent in its celebration of relaxation that the only choices you can make are “Do I sit in this hammock or that one?” or “Which beautiful ocean cove should I swim in now?”
Of course, Irish people and the sun are natural enemies, and I learned after my first day paddleboating and exploring the island that sunscreen and even khaki pants can only do so much for my vampiric brethren. Still, it was a gorgeous time with a gorgeous woman … and we both took some pictures along the way. More about those weddings quite soon…
(Some of these are by me; some are by T. Some are by DSLR, and some are by iPhone.)
One of the things that makes being a wedding photographer feel special is that I so often get to go out and document the formation of a new family. Who knows the trials and strength and joy that lie ahead, but I get to capture the moment when it all coalesces in one giant celebration. This was doubly so with Michelle and Michael, who were not only celebrating their marriage, but their new role as soon-to-be parents. And it was a celebration — at the start of the day, neither of them new the sex their baby would be, but one person did know — the cake-baker. They sent the hospital notice unopened to the baker, who would make the frosting inside blue if it was a boy, and pink if it was a girl. I’ve seen more than 400 cake-cuttings in my time, but none were as meaningful as this one.
Which one was it? Look below and you’ll find out…
Thanks to the awesome Jashim Jalal for second-shooting!
Here’s another of Serena from the filming of our next educational video. It’s been a long, hard, fun road to develop a personal style and way of looking at the world, and recently B&H Photo Video Pro Audio did a video of me giving advice about how photographers can develop their own. See it here!
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
Even if nothing else comes of it, I am so glad we’ve been working like crazy this week to film an educational video about flash composites just so I could take this picture. Thank you for hopping in, Serena!
Thanks again to the great production team at B&H Photo, who came in to film a segment about engagement sessions with me. Here we discuss not only some of the advantages to these sessions, but my general approach to planning and discussing them as well as on the shoot itself.
And thanks to Jen and Charles for posing for us, and doing a great job even though they had never met! Jen’s actual fiancé had a last-minute schedule change … we don’t normally provide stunt doubles for shoots but we’re always willing to go the extra mile!)
Here’s a frame from the shoot:
In the world of modern families, we might need some new descriptors. It may sound mostly confusing to say that Taylor is my step-half-neice, but the important thing is that she’s awesome. She’s filled with warmth and giant smiles even when she’s not getting married, so all of the beautiful lighting at Sacred Oaks at Camp Lucy was redundant; she could have lit the whole thing by herself.
It didn’t matter that the off-again, on-again rain turned on again, disallowing the gorgeous outdoor ceremony they had hoped for, they were far too excited for that. And man, I know Texas is proud of a lot of things, but the Austinites’ performance on the dance floor should be high on that list. This would have been a fantastic, uplifting experience even if it didn’t allow me to see my sister and her family, or if I wasn’t seconded by the fantastically talented Tatiana. But I was. Thank you for experiences like these.
This photo makes me happy because it was always my secret favorite from my latest Obama shoot, even if not the obvious choice. There’s a hint of storytelling and context to it with the woman’s hand, the man straightening his tie, and even Pete Souza poking around the corner. The President is still perfectly identifiable thanks to his famous ears, and it’s an angle you don’t get to see often because it is not easy to get two feet behind a sitting POTUS (I had to do a great deal of friendly negotiating with the Secret Service).
I’ve been lucky to be in lots of wild situations, and today brings a new and exciting challenge — I’ll be speaking about business and how I keep things fresh and exciting despite my massive workload today thank to B&H Photo Video Pro Audio, and we’re streaming it for FREE! at http://bandh.com/weddings. See you at 5 p.m. Eastern!
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G