Sunday, January 3, 2010

Whats in the bag? The Camera. Part 2.

What's in the bag? Its a question El Strobisto is asked more than any other. For all you gear-heads, here is a rundown of what I carry when I am shooting a wedding or other event.

The Camera: Part 2.

Nikon D200.
Things that El Strobisto DISLIKES about the D200:

1)Glue that holds rubber on the body is crap.- After 3 years of use, much of it in the sub-tropical climate of central/south-florida, the rubber on the camera body is affixed about as solidly as a post-it note. El Strobisto has attempted to repair the situation with gorilla-glue to no avail. Under certain situations, the rubber can impede the turning of the command dials, costing valuable seconds during shooting. Apparently this has been a problem since the introduction of the F5 (which is currently in El Strobisto's bag as well, albeit without rubber-related-problems). In this humble strobisto's opinion, this is a problem much in-need of a solution from Nikon.

2) Not FX.- As a long-term investor in Nikkor Lenses, El Strobisto has purchased mostly full-frame glass, always looking towards the future. Face it, DX is a consumer format developed to allow for greater-range in consumer-grade zooms. The 650$ 18-200 VR nikkor is a great lens, but it doesn't compare to the image-quality of any of the primes it supposedly replaces.

"But El Strobisto, you can still use your FX lenses on your DX sensor, and you get the added bonus of using the sharpest part (the center) of the projected image every time." True. But that 1.5x crop factor also means that it is very difficult to get very wide. A 20-35 on the F5 is an amazing lens; Super-wide at the 20mm end, and just long enough at the 35mm end to justify the size and weight. This same lens on a DX sensor is...well... NOT WIDE. 20-35 converts to roughly 30-53mm; not exactly a desirable zoom range. This situation forces the DX shooter to purchase a super-wide lens specifically developed for DX sensors, which is great...until the DX shooter switches to FX, at which point he/she is going to be shopping for new lenses to cover the wide end of the FX spectrum. Interestingly enough, the 1.5 crop factor, and the associated DX mm measurements provided by manufacturers are not 100% accurate; for example, a 12-24 DX format lens should convert to an 18-36 FX equivelent, yet we find that this is not so. In fact, the 12mm end on a DX body looks EXACTLY like the 20mm end of a 20-35mm on an FX body! As such, the Tokina 12-24 that was tested would more accurately be described as a 13.5-24mm.

3) TINY finder.- Ok, it's HUGE compared to the finder on a D40, 70, 90, 5000, or any other consumer cameras; but compared to ANY 35mm (consumer or pro-grade) body, this is a puny window through which to view the world! Larger finders alone are enough to justify keeping multiple film bodies "in the bag".

4) High ISO performance.- The D200 is a 1st gen digital camera. As is to be expected from gen 1 hardware, the high ISO performance leaves MUCH to be desired. At ISO 640 and up, shadow detail becomes more like a kaliedescope, with strange dots and colors that remind El Strobisto of that time in college when someone gave him seventeen ...nevermind.

Custom El Strobisto Upgrades/Modifications:

1) Built-in flash button removed.- At some point in during the first year of shooting, the button to flip-up the flash became cumbersome, apparently necessitating removal. The act of removal is still a complete mystery, as one day the button was present and functional, and the next day: gone! El Strobisto's advice to anyone else who wants this amazing customization on their D200: Use it every day (especially at bars and clubs) and given enough time, you too will be the proud owner of a "custom" D200. The Removal of the flash-button required custom modification #2, detailed below.

2) Built-in flash button replaced with "soft-tip" dart tip, affixed with mono-filament to the camera strap.- Yes, you read that correctly. From time to time, the dart tip requires customization to fit in the flash-button hole, this is accomplished through the use of El Strobisto's front incisors. (photo Below) A backup "flash-button" dart-tip is also carried on a long mono-filament "leash", affixed to a lens-case that is carried on a belt during high-intensity shoots. (photo below)

3)Loud "Steal-me-now" Nikon brand strap replaced with a much more subdued, Tamrac strap.- This Modification has 2 major benefits, first, as mentioned above, the "stock" strap loudly proclaims that you are carrying a Nikon D200; El Strobisto does not want just anyone knowing what camera he is carrying... only those posessing the James-Bond-like ability to identify every make/model of camera based on a 1 sec. glance (those "with honor") deserve to know what type of camera is around El Strobisto's neck.
The second major benefit to the aftermarket strap is extra length. Due to his "grande" stature and muscular build, El Strobisto requires a bit more than what the skinny-fashionistas over at Nikon think is appropriate. Nikon's disapproval of persons with chest dimensions over 50 inches is, to this Strobisto, quite clear. Please note that Canon brand straps have not been extensively tested, and as such, El Strobisto cannot accurately gauge the level of size-discrimination inherent in Canon products.

Check back soon!
Coming next on El Strobisto:
What's in the Bag? Lenses: Part 1.

Whats in the bag? The Camera. Part 1.

What's in the bag? Its a question El Strobisto is asked more than any other. For all you gear-heads, here is a rundown of what I carry when I am shooting a wedding or other event.

The Camera: Part 1.
Nikon D200.

Yes. I still shoot with a D200.
"But El Strobisto, why would a Strobisto such as yourself use such an ancient (3 years old) piece of solid-state-capture-technology?!?" The answer is simple:

El Strobisto puts his money where it matters: Lighting and Lenses.

In 4 years, the D3s will be worth one quarter of what you paid for it on the release date. In 4 years, El Strobisto's lenses will be worth at least as much, if not more, than what he paid for them. Same goes for flashes. Having the best glass in front of your sensor, with great quality light shining in, and it's hard to get bad photos. Only amateurs and marks worry about megapixels. [As a side-note, the origin for the term "mark" is worth noting here. Back in the dark-ages (1910), con artists would help each other out in crowded places by leaving a mark of chalk on the back of a rich or particularly easy target, allowing other con-men to see the "mark" and not waste their time on poor targets]

Back to the D200. El Strobisto's has taken 63,844 images and counting. It's a killer camera! As illustrated in the photos below, it is a workhorse, and takes all the abuse El Strobisto can hand it. (for those of you worrying about "banging-up" your gear, just go ahead and sell it, hang up your flashes, and leave the room, we don't have time for your kind in here) If you are honestly making money from your tools, you don't worry about scratching them up, regardless of what those tools are. Can you imagine a carpenter who doesn't want to take his hammer out to work because it is raining-lightly outside!? He wont be a carpenter for long; same goes for photographers: same situation, slightly different tools.

Things El Strobisto likes about the D200:

1)All-metal, weather-sealed, body.- Rain and Snow don't even faze this camera. Please Note: El Strobisto recommends using the hot-shoe protector that comes with your camera when shooting in the snow, he has heard of other photographers who have shorted out their cameras with a well-placed chunk of snow.

2)Separate AF-on button.- Crucial! El Strobisto likes to keep the act of engaging the autofocus, and actually taking the photo, separate. As such, El Stobisto's shutter button does not engage the AF when depressed halfway, allowing for more accurate "focus, lock, and recompose" sequences. Don't believe it? Try it yourself, you'll be hooked.

3)Built-in flash functions as commander for sb-600's and sb-800's. This one is HUGE...sometimes. It is handy for situations where every ounce of gear counts, or when your radio-triggers crap out. There are, however, drawbacks. First and foremost, even though it is supposed to be possible to turn the built-in flash off for the exposure and only use it to control remote flashes, this is not so. If your subject is close, your built-in will show up in your final exposure. This can be good, when you want a little on-axis fill (and who doesn't!?), but it can be terrible if you are using a lens that casts a shadow from the built-in (which is most lenses), or if you are using gels on your remote flashes. In the case of the gels, you have the option of holding/taping a gel over your built-in, or dealing with a Mixed-Color-Lighting-Situation (gasp! the dreaded MCLS).

4)Ability to manually set white balance with the Kelvin scale or by taking a WB calibration shot.- This is less-important now that El Strobisto has adopted a RAW workflow, but remains a great feature that would be missed if it weren't there.

5)Separate ISO and WB buttons.-CRUCIAL. A good photographer should be able to operate his/her camera in the dark with his/her eyes closed (El Strobisto has practiced extensively and can confidently say that he is equally competent in the "dia" and the "noche", with or without eyes closed.)

6)Ability to matrix-meter with manual-focus, non-cpu lenses.- A great feature missing on most consumer-level, and "prosumer", cameras. What this means: When El Strobisto wants to use that amazing, tack-sharp, smooth-as-a-baby's-behind, 50 f/1.4 Manual-Focus Nikkor, he can. The only caveat here is the difficulty in focusing a short depth-of-field in the D200's TINY finder. El Strobisto much prefers the finder of a Nikon FE, whose huge-size, combined with it's ground-glass focus indicator, allows for precise focusing even in very dark situations. That being said, the D200 does have a "focus-indicator-light" in the viewfinder, which glows green to indicate a "good focus"; El Strobisto used to trust this feature, until crucial shots were missed during a very darkly-lit seance in Tijuana while on shore-leave with the Moroccan Navy. Convinced that the apparition of Sammy Davis Jr. would properly expose at ISO 3200, El Strobisto did what any honorable photographer would do; he got naked (except for his sombrero and camera) of course. Needless to say the photos are bad... and by bad, I mean... out of focus.

Check back soon, the second part of "What's in the bag? The camera." including what El Strobisto DISlikes about the D200, and a detailed description of all of his custom, hispanic-themed modifications, will follow tomorrow!

For those of you who do not "hablo espanol"...

Hello, and welcome to the El Strobisto blog! Here you will find articles, un-biased gear-reviews, and techniques that work in the real world of shooting flash photography.

My name is Matt Moore, and I am El Strobisto (for those of you who do not "hablo espanol", El Strobisto is spanish for... The Strobisto!)

Check back often, there will frequent updates, with new content appearing when you least expect it!