Twenty Years of digital wedding photography

Digital wedding photography began for me twenty years ago. July 2022 will be the twentieth anniversary of the first wedding I shot with digital cameras. All because the couple wanted their wedding shot completely in black and white.

Every wedding I had covered up to this point had been with 35mm film cameras, namely the wonderful Nikon F5. One of the best cameras I’ve ever owned. Each wedding was shot with one camera loaded with colour film and the other with B&W. The client would get 7×5 prints of the colour images and 20′ x 16″ enlarged contact sheets of the Black and White, from which to select prints or which images would go into an album.

(Many couples framed these contact sheets – I got a booking from a couple who when house hunting saw these on a house staircase they were looking at and asked the owners for my details. Not sure if they bought the house, but they booked me.)

But to shoot a wedding solely with black and white film was expensive, when done properly. Out of this couple’s budget. The solution seemed to be to finally shoot weddings digitally. Not shot a wedding on film since…*

Digital wedding photography with the Nikon D1X

I owned two digital cameras then, the Nikon D1X, which came out in 2001 and the previous Nikon D1. The D1X was the high resolution version of the D1. When I say ‘high resolution’, it had a 5.47 megapixel sensor! The cameras I shoot weddings with in 2022, the Sony A9II, have a 24 megapixel sensor. There is a world of difference apart from the sensor size too.

(History: the first iphone came out in 2007)

I had used the D1X for a fair bit of corporate/PR work since buying it in 2001. Digital photography was still a bit of a novelty back then. Pioneer days still. Partly because people didn’t have cameras in their mobile phones yet. I remember photographing a Government Minister in a Manchester Museum for a PR shoot. She was surprised when I said I had the shot so quickly, but showing her the image via the screen on the back of the camera, the job was done quickly. But…but the D1X had it problems. Some, like the utterly woeful battery life became all too apparent shooting a long wedding day.

(The D1X cost me £ 4350.00 in 2001. A Sony A9II, in 2022, is around £ 4199.00)

Nikon D1X digital cameraand a Nikon F5 Film camera
A Nikon D1X digital camera alongside a Nikon F5 film camera

A liberation or not?

So, with the D1X and the recently-released D100 (6.1 megapixels), digital wedding photography began for me. There were plusses, there were minuses. On the plus side, less restrictive. With weddings shot on film, there was a shooting fee, plus a cost per roll of film. I would usually say about twelve rolls per wedding (36 frames a roll equals 432 times the shutter button was actually pressed.) If I was going over from this, sometimes up to fifteen rolls or so, I’d check with the couple. Very different to digital. Not that early digital cameras meant you could be trigger-happy.

The biggest CF card it could take (Only one card slot – almost taboo these days) was a 2GB one. I mostly used 1Gb cards. Including the 1Gb IBM Microdrive. Said to be more vulnerable given its moving parts but I never had a problem with any of them. The buffer on the D1X was about six frames – shoot a ‘burst’ and it was almost 30 seconds before all those cleared the buffer. Compare this to the two fast 128GB SD cards that sit in the A9II and a buffer that is quite hard to fill.

1 GB IBM Microdrive

Taking photos? The shutter – there was a slight delay from pressing the button to the shutter tripping. It almost looked like the F5, it just wasn’t as slick. In the small viewfinder, only five focusing points. Not only was the viewfinder small, so was the LCD monitor on the back with a very limited zoom function to try to check the focus if necessary. Nowadays you can do all this with your eye to the camera, no need to use the monitor on the back. Plus the zoom is significantly greater and more useful.

Nikon D1X screen
Digital wedding photography with a Nikon D1X
Nikon D1X

But one of the biggest downsides was the iso only reached 800. So much that we take for granted with digital now, being able to shoot in poor light with an iso of 12800 or more, just didn’t exist with early digital cameras. These were not full-frame cameras. I was reliant on flash still in many situations, now I barely use it and only on the dance floor if needs must.

Add to that the not ideal colour that the camera sometimes produced (the D100 was better) with you seeing many magenta skin tones in publications around this time. The software then was just as unsophisticated. Lightroom didn’t arrive until 2007. Photoshop was just on version 7 – which I quite liked and kept a version of it going as long as I could. Apple’s Aperture arrived in 2005, again I liked this software but in 2002, shooting RAW wasn’t really an option if you were then processing 300 or so images from a wedding, so jpeg (with its limitations) it was.

Some digital wedding photography images from the D1X and the D100.

digital wedding photography

Digital wedding photography carried on for me with the Canon 1d MkII in 2004 (had to train it to Brussels to get hold of some) the Canon 5D and 5D MkII. Then in 2011 the revelation that was the sublime and tough workhorse, the Nikon D3S – followed by more Nikon cameras, the D4, D750 and D5, until reaching the Sony A9 in 2017. Digital wedding photography has changed a lot.

Digital wedding photography
The Nikon D1X next to, twenty years later, the Sony A9II (grip attached)
  • Alongside my F5 film cameras, I would use one of my favourite cameras, the Hasselblad Xpan, that shot panormaic images using the full height of 35mm film, rather than a crop. Great camera and lenses. At a wedding it would often be a panoramic from the back of the church (I used to shoot in churches more often in those days) during the ceremony. I carried on doing this for a bit after switching to digital, until I tired of carrying a third camera just for this shot.

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