camera review: Nikon Df – the steampunk Nikon D4

The anachronistically retro styling of the Nikon Df (vendor), along with the digital trappings, really makes this the steampunk D4. Especially so since it has the same top-notch sensor as the Nikon D4 (vendor)

If you have used a film camera, and specifically one of the F-series cameras, this camera will catch your eye. It’s obvious that Nikon is aiming at the same sector of photographers who found the Fuji X100s (vendor) so appealing. That vintage look and styling definitely brings a certain cool factor into play. I bought the original Fuji X100, and then the Fuji X100s partly because it looked sexy. It looked like a fun and eye-catching camera, that also happens to be a serious machine.

Now we have the Nikon Df, and it takes all your Nikon lenses and accessories. Perfect for those photographers who would find this styling interesting, and already have an array of gear. I really think this camera is meant for the connoisseur – someone who wants a camera that is stylish looking, and a superb image-making tool.

Yup, it’s all quite interesting. But let’s have a look at how the Nikon Df (vendor) performs and handles in actual use. At the same time we’ll see how it stacks up against the bigger super-awesome Nikon D4 (vendor)

You can order the Nikon Df now from Amazon. It comes in a Silver and Black style.

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photographers … so you think P on your camera stands for Professional?

I know, I know .. it’s a funny comment that P stands for professional. But somehow it always irks me to the extent that I just can’t suppress my reply. Maybe it’s the purposeful dumbing-down making it seem okay not to want to know more and continually improve. Maybe that’s what gets to me. Still, I think my reply is more cute.

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photography: the progression of an idea – Regal Portrait with a Ferret

While on a trip to Denver, I had some time free to meet up with my friend, Lynn Clark, one of the best boudoir photographers in Denver. I had asked her to be a subject for my next book, 60 Portraits, and she indulged me. I want each portrait to reveal something of the person I am photographing, and also have some interesting snippets of info for anyone who dips in the book, and of course, for anyone who follows the Tangents blog.

So while Lynn is an accomplished boudoir photographer, I didn’t want to go with the obvious idea of doing a boudoir photo session of her. I met up with Lynn, and our mutual friend, Petra Herrmann in Lynn’s studio. (You may remember Petra as a recent guest on Tangents - increase your sales in boudoir photo sessions.) Lynn’s boudoir studio is home-based, with two large rooms that had been converted in shooting space. I spent some time looking around, and figuring out angles and lighting and backgrounds. The usual things we need to juggle when we consider the setting for portraits.

I liked the one direction where I knew I’d be able to compress the perspective with a 70-200mm lens, and shoot from the adjoining room. Then I could use the red drapes in the background, and throw the chandelier and the rest of the room out of focus. So far, so good. This would be good for a basic portrait. Solid, but not engaging yet. Lynn and Petra and I bounced some ideas around.

Lynn and her husband runs a Ferret B&B in Denver, CO. They take care of ferrets when their owners are on vacation. Lynn and her family also keeps 6 ferrets. So there are ferrets … and they are adorable. In chatting with Lynn and Petra, they mentioned that Queen Elizabeth had been fond of ferrets, and there was a portrait of her with a ferret. And then the idea clicked!

Throwing the chandelier out of focus and keeping it in frame, we’d have a glowing halo of light above Lynn. The red drapes worked too. Then … the costume. We didn’t have anything nearly as ostentatious so we went for a tiara and some bling jewelry.

And then we added Elliott, the energetically curious ferret you see in the photo.

The final portrait of Lynn is whimsical. There’s an absurdity about it. Hopefully the portrait is also quite cute and amusing. I do think it shows that playful aspect of Lynn, though she insists she’s actually a serious person. This impromptu homage to the portrait of Royalty with a pet ferret, was certainly fun to shoot.

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headshot photography in the studio

Mike is an actor / musician friend of mine, who also works with the Modern Gypsies at times. We recently updated his headshots with a session in and around the studio. As a working actor in New York, he has appeared on stage, as well as some spots on television. Amusingly enough, while shooting outside the studio against the warehouse building’s facade facing the main street, a young boy, walking past us with his mom, turned around and asked Mike, “Are you famous?” Of course we couldn’t disappoint the kid.

Being a character actor, and shooting with that in mind, we took many photos where the expressions were quite goofy and strange. But I’ll leave that up to Mike to show to the world. Someday perhaps. Here’s a small selection of headshots of him, where we show some of the character and expression. That’s actor Mike. For raconteur Mike, you’d just have to meet him in person.

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review: Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens

November 15, 2013

review: Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens

The Nikon 58mm f/1.4G (vendor) is an odd focal length. It’s not-50mm. More than that, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (vendor) is only $440, and this new 58mm lens is $1,700 … yup, that’s a pretty hefty difference! The price of the 58mm lens is in line with the 85mm f/1.4G … so could one expect improved performance?

I have to admit that the 50mm f/1.4G is my least used lens, along with the fish-eye. I’m just not that excited about using it. The focal length is just not wide enough (like a 35mm might be), nor tighter like a 85mm lens might be. So while the 50mm lens is affordable, it doesn’t set my creativity alight. So here’s a new version, which from the outside, looks like it is only slightly different. So what would set this new 58mm apart?

Looking at Nikon’s info about the lens, a little more is revealed:

Its fast f/1.4 maximum aperture produces outstanding evenly lit images with edge-to-edge sharpness—virtually no sagittal coma or light falloff. Its unique design and rounded 9-blade diaphragm produce stunning bokeh and depth of field control from f/1.4 to infinity—equally useful in daytime portraits and nighttime cityscapes.

So we’d expect a crisply sharp lens with minimal optical aberrations when used wide open. This would make the lens geared towards low-light photography (with pin-point light-sources that are controlled well.) And this lens is designed to have great bokeh.

That it handles coma very well, would indicate that this lens might be seen as a successor to the Noct Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 which is a legendary performer.

I was fortunate in being able to try out the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G (vendor), and took some photographs at night in Manhattan. I also did a few comparison shots with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (vendor). Now, I didn’t shoot that much because it’s cold out there! So I’m only posting a few images for now, but they should suffice to show the optical performance of this lens.

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book review: Gregory Heisler – 50 Portraits

Gregory Heisler is an undisputed genius when it comes to photographic lighting. If ever you get the opportunity to attend a seminar by him, do yourself a favor. The story behind each portrait, and the motivation and the struggles to create those images, don’t just make for entertaining anecdotes – and Gregory Heisler is an entertaining speaker – but the stories are insightful. Educational. But not just educational in a do-this-do-that explanation of technique. It’s much more than that.

In this book he has collected 50 of his his best portraits he has taken during his career, and he discusses the thought-processs behind each image. He offers insight in how he came to take specific images, and how he decided why to set up up certain portraits in certain ways. Gregory Heisler’s humility, and the way he allows glimpses into the frustration and disappointments along the way – the struggles to get to iconic images – all this is told in entertaining and thoughtful way. There is also much to learn here.

This is a book to devour, and then dip into again and again. What truly impressed me about Gregory Heisler, is how innovative he is. He seems to want to steer clear of repeating formulas that work, and come up with portraits based on ideas that are challenging and full of risks.

Something I also found refreshing are the “Thoughts on Technique” at the end of each photograph’s description. Here he discusses technique – but not in the statement of bland numbers, but again, always with the thought-process in mind. And this is where the value lies in what he shows us – the way his mind works. The why and the how.I highly recommend this book.It needs to be on your shelf! For a mere $25 you have an amazing collection of images and words in hardcover, from a man who is endlessly inventive when it comes to photography lighting! That’s incredible value for money. This is a book to immerse yourself in, again and again, and feel inspired by.

 

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photography composition – getting down lower for a better perspective

It’s a bit of a cliche perhaps, seeing a photographer on the ground, laying on his side, or sprawled on the ground. What might look like a strange form of attention-seeking, is actually a very solid way of improving your composition with full-length portraits. The lazy temptation is to just stand there, camera to the eye, and take the photograph. What happens then (usually), is that the photographer is shooting down on the subject. The best advice generally, is to step back for full-length compositions. When you shoot down on someone, especially with a wider angle lens, is that the perspective distortion cause the feet to appear much smaller, and your subject’s head to be disproportionally larger.

With a longer focal length, such as used in this outdoors portrait of Elle, perspective distortion is less of a concern. The lens was zoomed to around 135mm, and that means her head and feet are equidistant to the camera. No distortion. (By the way, this was taken during a photography workshop at my studio.)

However, if you, as the photographer, take the photo just standing at full height, then you are still shooting down, and you’re getting far too much of the ground in the image. The path here behind Elle isn’t awful, and doesn’t distract. But it’s the colors behind her which helps make this image pop, complementing the colors of her clothing.

So let’s look at a series of three images, shot while I was standing up, kneeling down, and finally, laying flat on the ground. Notice how the background changes as my perspective changes.

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photographers – when was the magical moment when you first got hooked?

I’m sure we all have similar stories – how we got hooked on photography, and it became less of a mild interest, and more of an over-riding fascination. A fascination bordering on compulsion, where you felt you just had to take photographs of everything around you. What was the moment where you realized you’re hooked on photography?

Let me kick this off then – My own interest in photography started somewhere during high-school years. I was an avid nature enthusiast as a child, devouring anything to do with animals and nature. From this I was also a keen bird-watcher.

My dad had a Praktica camera. In fact, it was the Praktica Mat model. Praktica cameras were made in East Germany. Solid in every aspect, and not as sweet and lithe as the Japanese cameras. But as a first camera, I loved using it. My first proper camera that was mine, and not just borrowed from my dad, was a Pentax ME Super, but I digress. My dad also had a Tokina 300mm f/5.6 with stop-down metering. This clunky old lens was my first step in trying to photograph animals and birds … and I soon realized that photography was far more interesting than passively observing animals.

That’s where it started for me. I steadily became more and more interested in photography, but there was one moment where I knew this is it, WOW!

I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, the windows blacked out with towels in a make-shift darkroom … and I was developing my first B&W print from the first roll of B&W film that I shot and processed myself. As that first image sprang to life and that white sheet changed into a black-and-white – an actual photograph! – that was it. Pure magic.

That first photograph I printed was of a Dalmatian we had as our family pet. I loved that dog! Disney had it right in how wonderful Dalmatians are. While I still have that original B&W negative, it is in deep archive. And by deep archive, I mean some random box deep somewhere in the basement. Instead, here is another photograph of another Dalmatian I had years later.

The photograph at the top is of Brakko, who was one of two dogs that I owned way back when we lived in South Africa. (This is from early 1990′s.) I used him as a test subject when I tried out my brand-new used flashmeter that I had just bought. The light is from an off-camera speedlight diffused through an umbrella that I lay on the ground.  Very simple lighting.  That guarded look on his face is because he wasn’t sure about an 80-200mm lens pointing straight at him.

Of the photos I took of him, I loved this very tight crop, with his eye the only bit of color in the frame .. aside from him not having had a bath in weeks and weeks.

Ok, your turn. Let’s hear about your moment when it just hit you that photography is something I just had to do.

 
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promotion: Dream Strap

November 11, 2013

Dream Strap – comfy sheep-skin lined camera straps

Dream Straps are sheepskin-lined camera straps that are super-comfy. Just as importantly, is that they are strong, finely crafted, easy to attach and adjustable from 34-58 inches. All the good stuff we expect from camera straps.

Sheepskin fibers provide breathable, luxurious comfort that synthetic materials just can’t match. Weight on your shoulders or neck are eliminated because the weight is more evenly distributed due to the dense for and the width of the strap.

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flagging your back-lighting flash with the black foamie thing

My favorite on-camera light modifier, the black foamie thing, is of course, nothing more than a very affordable (and flexible) way to flag your flash. This helps control how the light from your on-camera flash spills. (It’s not a flash diffuser!) I also keep one on hand when I use off-camera flash, to flag any direct flash – whether to control it from flaring the lens, or from spilling onto my subject.

When I did the photo session for the review of the Canon 600EX-RT, I had to flag the one speedlight so it didn’t spill on our model. So it has other handy uses other than just for on-camera bounce flash.

During a recent photography workshop at my studio, we photographed Aleona in a freight elevator for that gritty urban look. We added a speedlight behind her to have the rim-light create some separation between her black outfit and the dark silver wall in the back. However, it spilled to the sides, and we had to control the light better …

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