Sunday, January 3, 2010

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!

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