Sunday, April 21, 2013

gear matters :: size matters :: nikon d4 :: betsy :: my workhorse :: and some fuji activists

Get it? Workhorse? Save the standing O for the end and I'm not talking about your O face.

Today, I will be sharing my, almost a year, experiences with the Nikon D4.

Also, David Hobby and Zack Arias are outed.

Proceed with caution...


It was a beautiful spring day in Philadelphia, May if I recall. I was, as usual, working hard, producing imagery, marketing my work and doing my utmost to better myself in every way possible.

If I recall, the iPhone rang in the early afternoon. Caller I.D.? Calumet. There was only one reason that my local pro shop would be calling on that sunny afternoon, to inform me that my new Nikon D4 had finally arrived. You see, I ordered that beast the day of the press release, which was mid January of 2012. My friends, a press release is just that, a press release. Actual products don't hit retailers for months after these announcements. I was well aware of this but was impatient regardless.

I nervously answered the phone and heard my Calumet sales rep's strong accent on the other end. His name? Oswald Ramirez. Oswald was a super awesome representative. Back on the day I ordered, I was making the transition from Canon to an entirely new to me, Nikon system. I not only had to invest in the brain of the system but also much needed professional Nikkor glass. On that spring afternoon, Oswald thankfully explained to me that my delivery had arrived. I just about pissed my pants as I ran to my Xterra to head on down Columbus Blvd., the location of that particular Calumet facility.

Ok, fast forward a bit as I don't wan't to bore you with any unboxing stories.

Needless to say, almost a year has past and today I would like to share with you my well developed (um, I swear that was not on purpose) thoughts on this time passed.

The New Activists

Recently, in the world of photography, there are a couple, very big names mind you, rebels on the streets. Which streets do I refer? Who are these rebels? These two men who have decided to stir the pot a bit? As a professional photographic community at large, do we need to shut these guys down? You decide.

Be on the lookout as these two activists are packing gear and are by no means dangerous.

1. David Hobby. Photographer and owner of the famous Strobist blog, where Hobby teaches countless readers how to work with off camera lighting. Hobby has educated across the skill gamut, from the newbie to the seasoned pro, all of which have ingested and utilized some of his knowledge bombs. David Hobby has a strong hold on the land of lighting which many have unsuccessfully tried to penetrate. In this department, he corners the market. Many believe its a form of monopoly, or worse, a cult, but none have been able to prosecute as he evades the system. David, when not traveling, is based out of the state of Maryland, U.S.A.

2. Zack Arias. Zack, also a successful blogger, has made his mark in the world as a renowned editorial and music photographer, shooting corporate bigwigs and hipster rockers. Arias, like Hobby, also educates the masses about lighting and other photographic techniques. Recently, Zack had been announce the winner of the G.P.P.  2013 Shootout in Dubai, where he had known associates attack Gregory Heisler with what seemed to be some form of international water torture attack in the U.A.E. Arias is based out of Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., a city which he also refers to as the A-T-L, in gang like fashion.

These two known rebels have often been seen in each other's company, possibly conspiring about a new attack on the photographic community. New attack? Yes.

By now you are wondering why these men are being accused of being rebels and/or activists.

The attacks on the community have been more mental than anything else. In the beginning, It seemed as if Zack Arias was working alone but then soon thereafter, David Hobby reared his head.

It was probably a year ago when Zack became what seemed to be the spokesperson for the new X-series lineup of Fujifilm digital cameras. Arias hit the streets of India and other regions, showing the pure awesomeness of these cameras. I have to admit, my mouth was watering, Arias had lured me in. His spell was intoxicating. Maybe he emits some special frequencies from his beard, I couldn't be sure. Whatever it was, I was an instant Fuji fan.

Why? The new lineup is sleek with a retro or even Leica style. The files, from what I've reviewed, are phenomenal. The price? A bit steep for this styled camera but much much more affordable than a Leica. Furthermore, much more affordable than the entire new Nikon system I had just invested in. Buyers remorse? Nope.

Back to the Z man. Today, the name Zack Arias has become somewhat synonymous with the Fuji X-series. And I have to say, rightfully so. Arias jumps ships often, as he once shot Nikon, then Canon, then Phase One, now Fuji. Has he given up the big medium format? Only time can tell. These actions are what put him on this rebel/activist listing.

Now, recently, I've noticed that David Hobby has also boarded the Fuji train. I was floored when Hobby compared his traveling gear from a few years ago to the traveling gear today. A few years ago, Hobby would have a few Nikon strobes, a bunch of Pocketwizard triggers, cameras, lenses, the whole nine. NOW, he is preaching that he is only lugging around his little Fuji, an even smaller strobe, an iPhone and some accessories. This, my friends, is where I became concerned with our well being as photographers. Hobby, who once lugged gear that may have neared his own bodyweight, now has gone rogue. Be on the lookout.

All of this is simply pointing to the fact that these guys are opting for "compact" over "bigger is better."

Go Big Or Go Home!

Here's where I share my two cents.

Ok, so Arias and Hobby are on the mission to Fuji(ize) the community. Look, I'm cool with it, I too dig the Fuji. I'm not a hater by any means. Hell, I'm sure Arias is getting payback for his promotion and rightfully so. Hobby, I'm not so sure if is on the Fuji payroll, YET.  Again, I love the X-series and if at the moment, I had the extra dough, I'd grab one up as well. In fact, I've recommended the Fuji X-series to many of associates and even clients.

I do stand my ground though, labeling the two activists as I see them, rebels.


Look, I'm not going to sit here and talk about dynamic range, battery life or frame rate. I simply want to explain why I've opted to stay on my side of the fence, defending "go big or go home" or "bigger is better."

Before shooting the Nikon D4 I was working with a smaller, enthusiast sized DSLR. Don't get me wrong, it allowed me to shoot as I've never shot before, changing my life in fact. But getting that beefy, big, Betsy in my hands, well, changed things.

Sure my reasoning may be a bit strange for loving the D4 but to each his own, right?

Before I get down and dirty, let me explain the image quality, programability, and performance from the beast. Amazing.

Ok, done.

Now, for my slightly skewed approach on the review and why I have mentioned the lovers of the Fuji.

The first thing you notice before anything with the Nikon D4 or any professional body, for that matter, is its sheer size. They are big. And I'm talking hide the children and pets big because this beast can do some damage. Ok, maybe that was slightly exaggerated. Funny, this is exactly why Hobby and Arias love the X-series. Compact and yet awesome. I, on the other hand, am the exact opposite.

You see my friends, I'm a big dude. I'm not talking Andre the Giant big but I'm bigger than the average folk. In height, I'm a whopping 6'3" and about 240lbs. My hands are like  porterhouses with sausages for fingers. Well, that was sure descriptive. They aren't quite THAT big but you get the idea.

Before, when I was shooting the enthusiast's leveled body, the awkwardness came, not from learning the controls but by simply holding it. It wasn't long after the first DSLR that I purchased the battery grip, not for the extra battery power but so that the camera could fit more comfortably in my hands.

The first time I held my D4, I was instantly in love. This baby fit like a glove. My fingers pinky and ring fingers weren't hanging off of the bottom as they do with other bodies. I didn't have to crank my fingers into unnatural positions to adjust the aperture or trigger the shutter. It was divine.

For the first time ever, I am able to shoot without any inhibitions. With the Nikon D4, which is designed not for design sakes but for real shooters, I am able to work every dial, every trigger, every control, with absolute ease.

As simple as this may seem, this has taken my photography to a new level. The size allows my hands to naturally wrap around its body. The weight allows me to more easily steady when shooting handheld. This combination, along with every other amazing feature the D4 offers, makes this the hands down winner in my book.

This takes me back to Arias and Hobby, two amazing photographers. I've never met them in person but from reading and viewing videos, I could tell that they are both of very average height (and there's nothing wrong with that by any means). With their average height, they likely have matching average hands, unless they are some sort of mutants. With those average hands, it makes it much easier to control an X-series Fujifilm camera. And that's just great. Seems they both prefer to carry around the smaller Fuji rather than their pro bodies when hitting the streets. I, on the other hand, don't mind lugging around my D4. I'm comfortable with it in every way.

Now, as for carrying around tons and tons of equipment, I'd have to side with Hobby. Since working with the Nikon D4, I've easily lessened my gear load on the street. I used to, without fail, carry a strobe or two along with my past bodies. Yes, even when doing street work. Why, my past bodies really crapped out beyond ISO 200, in terms of noise. The D4, on the other hand, can hit ISO levels beyond 200,000! Sure, up in those levels the noise can be a bit much but I shoot around 10,000 and 12,800 without blinking an eye. Coupled with the insane ISO performance and some mind boggling dynamic range (ok, I couldn't avoid it), the D4 blows my mind on a daily basis.

Let's Wrap It Up With Some Sort Of Organized Summary

Arias and Hobby? I suppose we can live happily on the same focal plane.
As for lugging around my big pro body? No sweat.

Am I a hater of these two photographers? Absolutely not! In fact I look to the information they share on a daily basis as a way to improve myself and I would recommend, regardless of your skill level, to reference them in the same way.

The bottom line? You all know what they say about opinions right?
That about sums up the entire post.

Nerd File:

First of all, if you are confused; Betsy is what I named her, my D4. Second, the photograph of the horse alludes to part of the title, "my workhorse."

I created this image recently as I was traveling south to Elmer, NJ, as I was doing some location scouting for my upcoming indy film. More on that soon enough.

While driving with friend and one of the actors for the film, Larry Ledrich, we noticed a herd of horses off of Buck Rd in Upper Pittsgrove Township. I couldn't resist pulling off to the side of the rural road to capture some images of the beauties.

The Nikon D4 was in the Xterra strapped with the Nikkor 24-70 2.8G ED. Not a long lens for this type of situation but I was able, thanks to the horse shown herein, to get a nice frame filled capture.

99% of the time I work in full manual mode. However, on this particular day, with the bright ambient, I decided to manually choose my shutters and apertures while letting the highly advanced processor of the D4 choose the ISO. I wasn't worried since with my modest shutter and aperture settings that the D4 wouldn't give me a horrible ISO. In fact, I have the D4 programmed to cap off at 12,800 when shooting in auto ISO mode. A super awesome feature.

This particular image was created with these settings:

Shutter: 1/800
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 2200

Almost forgot, I had an ND filter in place as well.

Taking this in the digital darkroom, the first thing you obviously notice is that is was converted to black and white. First, I worked the file, as usual, in the Adobe Camera RAW editor. After those tweaks were completed (white balance, exposure, sharpening, curves, lens correction) I exported the file to Photoshop where I manually converted and adjusted for black and white.

Until next time...