Studio 450 Wedding: Rosanne and Chris

Take a firecracker of a bride, a calm and cool groom who’s love for friends and family shows through the rare smiles they goad out of him, and a gorgeous day in a late Manhattan fall. Add laughter, tears, rambunctious children, and a Dad who really knows his way through Gangnam Style. Mix it all together in Studio 450 and stir. I would have had a fantastic time at Rosanne and Chris’s wedding regardless, but it was a further pleasure to be joined by Andre Lambertson and Dave Paek.

Nikon D600 Review

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I’ve tried every professional camera that came out in 2012, and I’ve never had people clamor for my review as much as with the Nikon D600. It’s clear that the attractive price point, including staggering holiday sales with lens bundles, are attracting people to move up to a full-frame sensor while it becomes more affordable than ever. Great! In late September I got one of the first models, I tested it out, found some things I loved, some things that I didn’t, and I was ready to go! I used it on an engagement shoot, used it at a wedding, and was ready to really put it through the paces in my extremely busy fall schedule.

892427And then … it broke. I’d started my second engagement shoot with it, and almost immediately it just stopped autofocusing. Not good. It turns out that my model had been damaged in transit. This means a couple things for this review:

  1. The reason you are reading this in late December instead of early October is that I had to sit and wait to see if this was a persistent problem with the model. I suspected this was a one-time case of bad luck, but if I’d started reading reports that D600 autofocus was failing left and right, then this would be a very different review.

  2. I have not been able to test it nearly as thoroughly as I like to for a dSLR review, especially as it was just a backup camera at the wedding I shot. I would have skipped the review altogether if people didn’t beg me for it every single day. That said, I have some insights on it as a working camera that I believe are valuable.

I have not seen anything about this being a persistent problem with the model, so I wouldn’t take this as a point against it in the review. A single data point is not in any way valid for determining whether the camera is particularly fragile.

OK, let’s get to it:

What is this camera all about?

This, not the D800, is Nikon’s real successor for the D700 … which shows how confusing the model naming system is. The D700 was all about fitting a full-frame sensor in as compact and broadly usable a camera as possible for a more affordable price. The D600 has the same mission, and uses a few design choices and technological progress to make the camera even more compact and affordable, weighing 22 percent less than the D700. The D800′s mission is totally different — from extremely high resolution to crazy dynamic range, Nikon set out to make the best ISO 100 DSLR around, and they did so. But the trade-offs are giant files and a sluggish, un-Nikonlike response speed. (see full review here)

So one of the central questions people have is this: Is it a worthy upgrade? Absolutely. In almost every way, the D600 is a superior camera to the D700, so pay no attention to that model number. It’s been four-and-a-half years since the D700 was released, and that’s a lifetime in sensor development. Even though the D600 has twice as many megapixels, you will absolutely get better prints at the highest ISOs from it, especially in regards to color fidelity. The D700′s sensor is virtually identical to the 2007-designed Nikon D3, and the color and overall tone gets muddy at the highest ISOs. Five years ago, no one cared that a photo was a bit muddy at ISO 6400 — we were too busy saying “I can take a usable photo at ISO 6400? What strange sorcery is this?”

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The Nikon D600 at ISO 5000, good color and all

The only major potential drawback in the comparison was that the D700 used the best autofocus design available at the time, the same as the much more expensive Nikon D3, while the D600 uses a modified version designed for the “semi-professional” Nikon D7000. I expected this to have more of an effect on me, but I used it all day next to the D3s and in practice I didn’t notice any real difference in focus acquisition. Any effects were minimal compared to other factors like which lens you were using.

The diamond design of the focus points plus the large frame make the AF points feel a bit more clustered than others, especially if you’re shooting in the corners. But pretty much all full-frame cameras are pretty bad on this front, so I’ve learned to adjust for it a long time ago. Get as close as you can, then focus and recompose — it’s the full-frame way. (Live View actually lets you put the AF point wherever you want, but it’s much slower). Someone coming from, a pro DX camera like a D300s might be shocked at the difference though.

So what’s it like to use?

The sensor:

Even though its resolution pales next to the D800′s 36 megapixels, the 24 MP of the D600 is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s take a look at a picture of the New York skyline next to a 100 percent crop of the same picture, that lets us look at all of the best footholds for King Kong on the Empire State building:

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Now, I know what some of you might say. “Noise on a low ISO image?!? Get the pitchforks!” But this image was taken underexposed to keep the data in the highlights, and then sharpened so that it would look good in a smaller print. Luckily I’ve uploaded a RAW version for the techies to play with, because I care.

Nikon seems to be maximizing the resources of its sensors, whether they’ve designed them or they’re tweaking Sony’s designs, because all of their full frame cameras from the D3s on have the same general high ISO output of “very, very good.” They all look different at the 1:1 range, but if you were making an 8×12 print from each camera at high ISO, they would all fall pretty close to each other. I haven’t tested the D3x, but according to DXOMark, the D600 wins the battle of 24MP on all fronts at dramatically lower cost.

On Color: Another reason this review took a long time coming is that 3rd party software took forever to properly support this camera, and it is still very hard for me to get the results I want out of Lightroom with D600 files, particularly in skin tones. This is likely just a continuation of my frustrations with Lightroom, but I’ve got it pretty well figured out for the D3s, and it certainly treats D600 files differently. Capture One does a better job for me, and I suspect that Capture NX2 does it perfectly … but I can’t test that because I lost my serial number long ago after I realized that processing a wedding in Capture NX2 is like crawling across a field of broken glass in the hot sun, except without the sense of adventure.

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Started the processing in View NX for better color

The body:

This is not a manly camera, and that’s the best thing about it for me. It’s as small and light as Nikon has ever had a full-frame digital sensor in, and is a fantastically compact package when paired with great lenses like the 28mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.8G. Like most cameras without a vertical grip, I find it poorly balanced with heavy-but-not-gigantic lenses like the 24-70mm f/2.8G, since too much weight gets put onto one wrist (luckily there’s an optional vertical grip).

But there’s something even better than weight — it’s quiet, really the only full-frame Nikon DSLR that I would give that designation to. Particularly in silent mode, the shutter barely disturbs your subjects. Now, I love the giant shotgun miror-slap of a 6×7 camera and the sharp clack of my D3s, but I shoot weddings and photojournalism for a living, and I count every shutter click as an “annoyance unit.” Stand in front of someone and fire off your camera, and eventually they will think about you instead of what they’re doing, and soon thereafter be annoyed by you. The quieter the moment and the louder the camera, the quicker the annoyance. With my D3s I never press the shutter multiple times in a church ceremony, because the sound carries everywhere. But with the D600 I felt more free to capture multiple shots to get the right expression, capture a small panorama, and whatever I needed without the subjects thinking about me:

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For a Nikon wedding photographer, this is easily the best feature of this camera over others.

Also, the D600 retains that classic Nikon responsiveness that the D800 doesn’t have — generally, the camera can keep up with you, and you know that when your finger hits the button, a picture will happen. Doing multi-image panoramas with the D800 can be an exercise in patience, but the D600 kept up handily with this 47-image stitch, resulting in an image near 250 megapixels:

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The dual slots are a great feature, and I like that they’re the same kind of card. It just makes my life easier … (I’m looking at you, Nikon D4). In fact, if not for the next paragraph, I could have easily made this my next camera, as its strengths make it a good complement to a D3s or two.

But…

Here’s where my disappointment comes in. I don’t want to end a review of a great camera on a down note, but I would really like Nikon to listen to me on this. One of the things that would have made this the perfect complement to the D3s is an even better Live View. Live View is one of the few recent camera bells and whistles than can dramatically improve photography when used correctly. A good live view system can show you everything you need before the image is captured, from exposure to white balance to true depth-of-field to flare and backlight and details in light too low for your eyes to make out. Recent Nikon cameras not only have better back LCD’s than the D3s, but they also fix the D3s’s major Live View problem, which is that it only works up to a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second. So I took it out of the box and immediately played with the Live View. Nice and sharp! Good color! OK, so how do I set it up to preview my exposure?

You can’t. You can’t.

Nikon doesn’t generally play the game of intentionally crippling their cameras for purposes of market segmentation, (unlike some major camera-makers), but its hard to see this as anything but. The other professional cameras they’ve released can do this — the D800′s works great but is filled with lag, and the D4′s is a dream. There’s no reason for them not to fix this. I imagine they could fix it in firmware, but I thought the same with the Canon 5d Mark III‘s glaring “black AF point” problem and as far as I know they haven’t fixed that yet. Nikon, if you are reading this, fix this. This reason alone is why I didn’t ask for another one when this one broke.

(Of course, I then bought two Nikon D4s instead, so I’m not exactly teaching them a lesson).

I think for most users this will not be a huge issue, and certainly not worth a $4,000 premium to move to the Nikon D4, but it was for me.

Let’s consider this a race. Will Nikon fix the Live View crippling first, or will Canon fix their AF points? Who will win the firmware battle of consumer satisfaction? I’m not taking any money on this, but if this sounds like a nitpick to you, then you might want to consider putting money on the D600, because otherwise this is a great camera.

Just don’t smash it on stuff.

PS: One issue that has received a lot of press is the grease and dust spots in the upper left corner that seems to be pervasive. Yes, I saw it. Here’s the upper left of a stopped-down image:

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I can’t confirm this, but from what I’ve read this goes away after a couple thousand shots and a good cleaning, so if you buy one, go to town for a week or so and then clean it well before using it seriously.

Other D600 photos:

Buy it here

Sometimes You Just Have to Play

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It’s the end of a busy year, and even though weddings are a bit slower here we have lots and lots of photos to process before 2013. But personal work important, sometimes to explore entirely different genres, sometimes to clear out your head of the normal way of doing things, and sometimes just to play. yesterday, with Dominique Dicaprio, I got to do a bit of all three.

Just a quick taste. It got really nutty.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6

New York Botanical Gardens Wedding: Lindsay and Brian

Personality, connection, inner children, playfulness — it all comes out on the dance floor.

There’s a reason that we dance at weddings. You’ve worked so hard for months and months for an event that you could have done by yourself in a few hours. Why? To celebrate with people you love. After so much work, and with so much emotion, a few hugs and polite conversations won’t do — let the music come and show that you don’t care about decorum, about anything but having a good time with people you care about.

I love crazy dance floors at weddings for these reasons (and I’ve been known to get a bit crazy myself on my own time), so I knew right from the start that I’d have a great time documenting the wedding where the bride is a fitness instructor and dancer.

But I was doubly excited, because Lindsay and Brian are my neighbors. I didn’t have to just guess that they were awesome, I know that they are. You form a certain bond with people when you play Rock Band with them, and I have respect for anyone that can stand my singing voice.

The beauty of the New York Botanical Gardens was a fantastic backdrop for the outsized personalities of this great couple, their friends and families. Thank you Lindsay and Brian; I’ll see you in Rock Band.

Northern New York Wedding: Bill and Trish

“Great photography is about depth-of-feeling, not depth of field.”

This is likely the most currently popular quote about photography. I’ve seen it attributed to W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, and countless other masters, but as near as I can tell it goes back to 1987 and Peter Adams (no relation). Now, if anyone should want to argue against this, it should be me. I’m well-known for a technique to increase depth-of-field control beyond normal physical limitations. Heck, it has my name on it. But no … I feel this quote more and more deeply the more that I shoot. After all, I could take photos with impossibly shallow depth-of-field right now, in my apartment. And yeah, they’d look kind of cool. But instead I’m out there weekend after weekend, reveling in the chaos and joy and affection unfolding in front of my lens on wedding days.

In so many ways, Trish and Bill’s wedding brought this all into sharp relief for me. We start with the couple themselves. Bill has the kind of laugh that you have to join in on, the attitude that yes, life is supposed to be fun and we’re all in this together. It would be hard to get the two of them to stop smiling even if I wanted to. Even if we were strangers, I would have looked back on this day fondly.

But no, we share countless connections. Their wedding took place just miles from where I was born. When I walked in, I saw the coordinator I’d been e-mailing back and forth with … and realized she was a classmate I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. I went to elementary school with the pastor (who likely gave the funniest wedding speech I’ve seen in more than 300). I spent half my time growing up at my grandmother’s house, next door to one of the best men. And yes, that’s my mother popping up in some of these photos, since she’s a co-worker and apparent co-conspirator with Bill. And the reception was at the same venue that I photographed the first wedding I ever booked (but not the first I had shot), oh so long ago.

But there’s more. Because I have these connections, I learned that Bill’s lovely grandmother had died shortly after the wedding … but she made it to the ceremony. Those photos matter … not just to Bill and his family, they matter to me. It reminds me of my great-grandmother, who hung on at the hospital until I was born. She saw me, she held me, and she died a few days later. All I have of her are stories … and photos.

This is why. Magazine articles and awards and and workshops and the like are all very nice. They keep me fed, make me proud, and allow me to get hired for more weddings. But it’s times like these that remind me of the central paradox of weddings — we take getting married, something that can be very quick and easy, and we make it very, very hard. And yet it’s worth it. Because each envelope we lick, each seating chart we pore over, every place card we carefully pick out … each are a person, a relationship, a history. And that is worth capturing.

Thank you, Bill and Trish, for having me document all of this.

Coming soon: Susanne and Jason at the Douglaston Club

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One of the problems with the Brenizer method is that it’s hard enough to pre-visualize and execute a multi-image panorama of a portrait, and much, much harder if you want to have a sense of motion or candid dynamic emotion in the image. But no one said this job was supposed to be easy.

Now that the season is just about to slow down a bit, I will first be making sure my fall clients are taken care of, but then working on the how-to to end all how-tos for how to do these sorts of photos in all their iterations, taking people from “the What method?” to flawless execution, for a cost that you could probably pay just by scouring your couch cushions. Watch for release in early 2013.

Camera: Nikon D600
Lens: Lens: 35-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 30mm f/0.5 according to Brett’s calculator)

Blue Hill at Stone Barns Wedding: Jingjing and Yixi

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of my favorite venues anywhere in the world, much less in the NYC area. When clients even mention it I start thinking about the beauty of the Rockefeller farm, and the food … oh man, the food. Jingjing and Yixi had the same thought — they wanted to have an intimate wedding for themselves and about 30 of their close friends and family, and what better way to share that experience than over a fantastic meal?

They are warm, caring and kind — the sort of people who, when doing a picture of all their Columbia friends said, “Hey, Ryan went to Columbia! Get in here!” They take the people around them and make them friends. That is a relationship I am thrilled to document. The gorgeous venue just doesn’t hurt.

Love Gives You Wings

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And so, apparently, do some South American wedding traditions. Between the stunning bride and the wings she was wearing, we got some attention from New Yorkers. Nothing gets New Yorkers attention. I’ve seen topless women walk by a few blocks south of this spot with nary a startled look. But we did it.

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

Pratt House wedding: Linda and Joseph

Wedding photographers see the world a little differently. Our weekends are on Wednesdays, our crunch time might come at 10 p.m. We measure time and history a little differently too. Yes, I will always remember how kind, smart, and funny Linda and Joseph are. I will remember their laugh, the way they celebrate with friends and family. I will remember the intimate beauty of the Harold Pratt House, the deft planning of Christine at Exquisite Affairs Productions.

But I will also remember this as my first wedding where the guests truly owned Gangnam Style.

There’s elegance and grace, and then there are elegant, graceful people willing to dive through someone’s legs to re-enact a Korean music video. These are my people.

Thank you to Dennis Pike for second-shooting, and being awesome in general.

Bridgewaters Wedding: Megan and Michael

The highest compliment I can give a wedding is that it made me wish I was a guest. Not only was I itching to get out on the dance floor with Megan and Michael — the entire affair was so stylish that I left thinking “Man, I have to get a new suit.”

Yes, I expected style from the couple that brought me the Mad Men-themed engagement shoot, complete with newspapers actually from 1963. But pair that with with a ceremony in a midtown terrace and a decorated-to-the-hilt reception at Bridgewaters, and it was a fantastic day throughout. Now about that suit…

Congratulations, Mr President!

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The Empire State Building has turned blue to mark the re-election of Barack Obama. Congratulations, Mr. President!

It’s been a long road since this one I took in 2008 (and a shorter one since a few weeks ago)…

Wainwright House Wedding: Joey and Tony

I got an e-mail from a client this week that said “I can’t believe I’m going to say this but THANK GOD it was raining.” It wasn’t Joey, but it could have been — or at least, thank God it rained when it did.

They had a gorgeous ceremony at the Wainwright House, without a drop or an ominous cloud anywhere. But I pretty much run an entire weather van out of my pocket on wedding days, so I kept eying the sky for the storm that I knew was coming.

And it came, just as soon as everyone was back safely in the tent. The Dark Sky app has been my constant companion in a season of rapidly changing weather, and I got asked Joey “So, it’s about to rain in three minutes. Can we do a photo outside that will take two minutes?” Despite her fantastic dress, she was brave, and we got it.

It was an intimate wedding marked by intensely deep connections between friends — such as a maid-of-honor who had “Groom” tattooed behind her ear because of how many times she and Joey had dreamed of staging a wedding as kids. Joey has had her dream wedding planned for a very long time, and I’m so glad she got it, and that the rain only helped.

Thanks to Dave Paek for assisting!

Back in the Swing of Things

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It was quite a week, but now we’re getting back to normal here.

Of course, with Susanne and Jason, it’s better than normal. Because they decided to celebrate their 15-minutes-old marriage with a stop by the carnival behind the church. No Photoshop effects here, just panning.

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