Digital Lifestyles Photography Workflow

Another sunny day in digital paradise

Ah, the wonderful rays of summer sun falling on beatific scenes. The sweet smell of fragrant flowers, the gentle hum of bees busy about their work. The sudden sound of a camera motor whirring to re-cock the shutter. And perhaps the one I like best… the sound of not having to reload my camera with film. Kind of like the sound of one hand clapping, isn’t it?

Yep, I like digital. I’m thoroughly entrenched in the world of CMOS and CCD, compact flash and lithium ion batteries. Bigger hard drives, better image sensors, faster motor drives, more options.

Ten years ago I was doing this with film. Ugh. Set it up, shoot a Polaroid proof, load film, shoot, unload film, put it in a cooler, repeat.

Last summer I was doing all this digitally, but with an Arca Swiss 6×9 F Line camera delicately connected to a Sinar eMotion 22 megapixel back via a Kapture Group sliding back adapter. Mounted on the front was a Nikkor 65mm view lens, and on the back was a 90 degree Hasselblad prism finder. With my reasonably lightweight tripod, this was a 19.5 pound rig… a serious pain in the… shoulder. (Shoulder 0, gravity 1.)

THIS summer… however… I’m traveling a little lighter (over 6 pounds lighter!) and shooting the new Nikon flagship D3X with the Nikkor 24mm Tilt/Shift. The key phrase here is lighter, folks, not light. When I pick up the tripod and sling it over my shoulder, I still know it is there and there is a small anvil on the end, but I have significantly decreased the size of the anvil. (Shoulder 1, gravity 1.)

Surely, you say, I can’t expect to get those great architectural images with a mere SLR? You must use a view camera for that!

Well, I have to say that I am very favorably impressed with the D3X. It is a pretty smart camera (lucky for me), and the sensor is where all the money is. That jump from my D3 (which I still love) to the D3X was tremendous. Image quality is fabulous. Color balance and rendering of the buildings I shoot is superb. And FAST. I’ve spoken before in previous articles about shooting quickly on site. This is commercial photography, not art… time is money. Shooting quicker gives more opportunities to shoot more views in a day. More views in a day can translate into getting my traveling done quicker. Getting the traveling done quicker can mean that I get to go home sooner and spend time with my vaguely neurotic cat.

[slidepress gallery=’nikon-d3x-sunny-day’]

I don’t shoot the D3X handheld much – probably less than 10% of the shots so far with it were not on a tripod. Pretty reversed from the D3, which I shoot over 80% of the time handheld. Of course, I’m shooting at ISO 100 on the D3X and ISO 200 on the D3, so that helps a little. Probably the real difference is that I’m shooting mostly with the shift lenses on the D3X, and I’m just not able to shoot a shift lens straight when it is shifted unless the camera is firmly locked down to something. When I do, I seem to feel drunk, nothing is straight.

OK, so I can’t reverse the effects of gravity. Lightening my load is an important consideration now for me, with knee ailments getting in the way of easy mobility. But weight is only one consideration… a second is that I can work faster in the field. Finally, a solution from Nikon for the professional architectural photographer – the D3X with the appropriate tilt/shift lens is the package for me!

Postscript: Since I finished this article, I got lucky at a tradeshow this week and picked up a carbon fiber tripod. The legs weigh 3 lbs 7 oz. Sweet. I put an older Bogen 410 head (all geared for us picky architectural shooters). With this setup and the D3X and 24mm T/S lens, the whole package comes in at 11 pounds 11 ounces. (Shoulder 2, Gravity 1. Big smile on the face of the guy who has to lug it.)