A Nikon Wedding Photographer
I'm a Nikon Wedding Photographer - there I've said it!
Does it matter? Is it any different to being a Canon wedding photographer or a Fuji wedding photographer say? After all it's just a brand, isn't it? Well, in recent weeks I've had meetings with couples and the question has come up. What cameras do you use? Often it's because one half of the couple, or even both, are keen amateur photographers themselves. Perhaps it's just for reassurance that I use professional equipment. Maybe it's curiosity? What I do know is that at least half of the couples who book me are very creative people themselves. Graphic designers, artists, art teachers, filmmakers and photographers....many photographers. I've always taken this as a big positive for my work. That people like this, who have 'eyes', recognize how I shoot. They book me based upon my work not whether I've been to a venue before, on some suppliers list or even just on price. Does what camera I use matter though?
Yes and No.
So what do I shoot with? Why am I a Nikon wedding photographer? Here is some of my kit.....(I don't just shoot weddings!)
In 2014 I shot weddings with the following cameras. The Nikon D4, Nikon D3S, Nikon D800, Nikon D750 and the Fuji X-T1 cameras. Yep, I looked at going mirrorless......but then Nikon brought out the D750. I've been shooting with it for several months now. It's a camera that has turned many a diehard Canon user in recent weeks. Facebook is abuzz with wedding photographers ditching their Canon gear for the D750 and proclaiming it. But my use of Nikon cameras dates back many, many years. To the days of film, when digital was the fantasy of Hollywood movies. A graduation present of a Nikon F3HP with MD4 motordrive. It saw me through my photojournalism course at The London College of Printing (now Communications). It then came with me for my week's work experience at The Times newspaper, followed by another week. At the end of which, the picture editor flicked through my college portfolio, told me to get a second camera, a car and a mobile phone and that I started there the following week.
(I spent the next three years spending every penny on new kit. F801's, an FM2n and an F4S quickly followed (see below). I also had to pay off a big student overdraft, largely from buying Ilford Multigrade photo paper from Vic Odden's shop outside London Bridge station, on my way home from college - the shop is now long gone)
Days with Canon
But I have to confess first. For many years I shot with Canons, even weddings. But I always had a Nikon camera or two and some lenses that I used for editorial feature work. I just liked the way Nikons look, feel and work. Cameras like the FM2n, the F4S and the fantastic F5. I shot weddings on film with the Nikon F5 for years - blinder of a SLR camera. But then digital came along and to be frank in 2000/2001, it was rubbish. My first digital slr was the Nikon D1, followed by the D1X. I'll compare digital between 2002, when I shot my first wedding solely on digital, to today, later in this post. But what the digital cameras can do today, is light years ahead of thirteen years ago. It took digital a few years to come of age.
Between 2004 and 2011, I shot with Canons. Canon digital had the edge then for me. It was a big step, trading in all my Nikon gear. The Nikon D3 was several years away. I even went over to Brussels to do the deal there, as the Canons (1D MkII's) were impossible to find in the UK. (Kept my Nikon film cameras though). Finally the images started to look more like film - less purple skin tones and bit by bit you could shoot in lowlight without flash but it was a slow evolution. By 2010, shooting a December wedding in a tent, (many of the guests having not made it because of the thick snow) in very, very low light, my Canon 5D MkII's were not cutting it for me. It's the key to the way I shoot and want to shoot - in often awful light. I'd been looking at the Nikon D3 and debating a switch back. Then in 2011, I got an offer of the loan of a Nikon D3S and a couple of lenses. Not sure how it happened, I'm not on Nikon UK's radar at all, but I shot a wedding with a Canon and a Nikon D3S. By the end of the wedding ceremony I knew what I was going to do - back to Nikon! Nikon digital had arrived in the D3S - here was finally the F5 in digital form.
Canon and Nikon have always leapfrogged each other with their equipment advances and abilities. In the days of film, Nikon flash was superior. Canon EOS autofocus was better than Nikon's, as were their range of fast prime lenses. Nikon at first refused to believe in full frame digital cameras. Canon moved to full frame and reaped the benefits. But for me, Nikon finally got it all together in the D3S - full frame, fast, slick. Until last year I shot with the D3S. What a camera. Strong, unfazed by the weather, reliable, quick, intuitive and that high iso ability - wow! But they are big and heavy. When you are shooting a wedding from anything like eight to say twelve hours, mostly on your feet, big cameras can get tiring. Time for smaller, lighter equipment. I have the Fuji X-T1's - nice system and some wedding photographers do very well with these. They become part of what these photographers are well known for. I liked shooting with them. Light and very quiet. I like the system, but for me and the way I work, they are not there yet. Maybe in a year or two? I'm keeping them for now. But if they had the D750 sensor in them now, well........
So, pushing on, back to that original question of what do I shoot with? Well since October 2014, two Nikon D750 cameras,along with a Nikon D4 as backup. Lens wise, I prefer fast prime lenses rather than zooms. I will change lenses for what I think is the right fit to cover a particular wedding. You read of many documentary wedding photographers using just two lenses, often the 35mm and 85mm, I find this limiting myself. I want a better range of focal lengths. So if there was a core that I tend to use for weddings, it is this...
(L-R: 20mm f1.8, 28mm f1.8, 58mm f.1.4, 85mm f1.4 and 135mm f2*)
* If and when Nikon FINALLY update the 135mm, the Canon version was so good, I would probably dispense with the 85mm. 28, 50, 135 - that would work for me. Nikon just need to update the 50 and the 135. I still miss the Canon 50mmf1.2 and 135mm f2. Nikon just does not have comparable lenses at that focal length still.
But often it will be a 24mm f1.4 or a 35mm f1.4. The excellent, but heavy, Sigma ART 50mm f1.4 may replace the 58mm. Even a 105mm f2.0. I'm not set in my ways. I'll bring in what lenses I need, depending upon the wedding/assignment. The sublime 200mm f2.0, a real beast of a lens, but so sharp and clear - perfect for candlelit wedding speeches, some drinks reception shots or even couple portraits, like the one below. Too heavy to carry for long though.Even my 300mm f2.8, usually reserved for photographing football matches, came with me to a wedding at Southend Barns last year, as the guests played a game of rounders under a setting sun. I also use old manual focus Nikkor AIS lenses like the 105mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.2. Plus Zeiss manual focus lenses like the 35mm f2, the 50mm f2 and f1.4 or the seriously nice, 100mm f2 - no better pieces of glass!! Whatever gets me the shots I'm after for my clients.
There is an old adage about a camera being just a box that lets light in. That it's the operator that counts. That's certainly true. The one single thing that differentiates one photographer from the multitude of others, is their 'eye', their vision (and their skill at capturing that I guess?). The skill for a wedding couple, choosing a photographer, is to be able to recognize this when they see it! Those that don't may well regret it later.
But cameras aren't just boxes anymore. They are extremely complex computers that you stick a lens onto. Not only is it a question of how the camera operates but also how it sees. Instead of a roll of film, it is the quality and abilities of the sensor that matters. In documentary wedding photography, it is how it sees in low light that is paramount for me. This is the evolution in digital that matters to me most, rather than megapixel counts. This is why I shoot with Nikons. Cameras are a tool. It is a question of getting the best tool that fits the way you work and allow you to capture the way you see the world.
So, how does the first digital camera I used to shoot weddings, compare to the one I shoot with now?
Nikon wedding photographer, then and now.
So back to the summer of 2002 and my first wedding shot just digitally. I had been using the Nikon D1 and D1X for some editorial and PR work, although many of the magazines still wanted medium format colour transparency then. (I miss my Hasselblads!). But for weddings I was still using the fantastic Nikon F5 film cameras. Then I had an enquiry for a wedding to be shot just in black and white. It wasn't the first ( I'd love to shoot more of these B&W only weddings now, it's where my heart lies with photography) but shooting just B&W on film was very expensive, if done properly. Not every couple had the big budget for this. The solution seemed to be digital. So armed with the Nikon D1X and the Nikon D100, the digital era began for me. I've never shot a wedding on film since.
I was curious myself how digital would work for shooting weddings. Seems funny now but when I got my laptop out to review what had been shot already (all jpeg), quite a crowd of the groom and his mates gathered around too. Seeing the images from only a few minutes ago still had a 'wow' factor in 2002!
First digital wedding with the D1x and D100 - less tilt these days though 😉
I said earlier that digital then was 'rubbish', bit harsh but we kind of knew that at the time. But it was the best there was. In nice light it was fine but it could struggle in less than perfect light. Skin tones could also be very troublesome....purple faces anyone? The high iso capabilities were non-existent, certainly no better than film, in fact not even close. The D1X went up to only 800 iso. But multiple ISO at the flick of a switch, rather than changing rolls of film, that was nice. The battery life on the D1X was hopeless though - I mean really, really hopeless! Even the software we had then was pretty basic to what we have now. I think Photoshop was at Version 6? (before the CS versions) and certainly no software like Phase One's Capture One Pro that I use now. RAW(NEF) files were not as usable as they are now, nor was there the software or computer processing power to really take advantage of them. I shoot solely in RAW now.
It was digital photography in it's infancy. But that doesn't mean you couldn't get nice images from these cameras. I still have an image from 2003 in my portfolio, taken on a D100, in pretty low light, as the veil was placed upon the bride's head during the preps. Here it is.
My Nikon D1X cost me £4350. Just one 1GB IBM Microdrive memory card cost me £352. 1GB!!!! This was in September 2001. It was pioneer time for digital photography and we paid for it! A popular saying then, amongst picture editors, etc was that digital was 'free'. As there were no film or processing costs. Yeh, right! It wasn't free but for wedding photography it did mean you could price a wedding without worrying about the mounting cost of each roll of film used. I averaged 12 to 14 rolls of film per wedding - 504 shots max. Now with digital while you couldn't machine gun a wedding, the camera buffer was poor and the memory cards small by today's standards (I use 32 & 64Gb cards now, but then the image file sizes are massive in comparison) but neither were you inhibited by the 36 frame limit per roll of film. It was the future, but the future took a few years to come. (The future was on facebook recently when one of the 'world's top wedding photography duos', from across the Atlantic, posted that they had shot almost 19,000 images at their last wedding!!?).
Let's roll on to now. This is not a review of these cameras, plenty of popular blog posts by wedding photographers out there for that. The only review that counts is your own when you have the camera in your hands. But how does my first digital camera, for weddings, stack up to my latest Nikon cameras. The D1X vs the D750. Basic stats first.
D1X - the top Nikon professional digital camera then. 5.3 Effective Megapixel CCD sensor. DX format, so lenses are magnified 1.5x. A 50mm lens becomes effectively a 75mm lens. ISO range 125 to 800. One memory card slot. Top shutter speed of 1/16,000. Weight 1100g
D750 - not the top Nikon professional camera now, the D4s is that, but lighter and smaller. 24.3 Megapxel CMOs sensor. FX - full frame, like 35mm film. A 50mm is a 50mm. ISO range 100 to 12,800!! Two memory card slots. Top shutter speed of 1/4000th. Weight 750g ( a D4S is 1180g)
Today's Nikon D750 and yesterday's Nikon D1X
So how have things changed since September 2001, when I bought the D1X? You can buy two D750 cameras for that price now! Here are a couple of portraits of my son. Same lens, the Nikkor 85mm f1.4 AFS, so a bit more magnification for the D1X portrait first up. The D1x was shot at 800ISO, the D750 portrait below, at 12,800ISO! Not a scientific test by any means, no need to shoot at 12,800 in this subdued light. But although it's a touch more grainy, not ugly grain though, but remember this is 12,800 iso! This camera can eat up light we could only dream of shooting in with both film and early digital cameras. I don't usually go past say 8000 iso, but it's there if you need it. To capture the ambience of a scene rather than firing off a flash, off camera or not. It's the key progress for me. One that Nikon seem to be winning at the moment.
Nikon D1X 800iso 1/60th @ f1.6
Nikon D750 12,800iso 1/4000th @ f1.4
Nikon D750 8000iso 1/1000th @ f1.6
Nikon D750 3200iso 1/320th @ f1.6
So heading into 2015 it will be the D750 cameras, a selection of fast prime lenses and a mission to push my work to a higher standard. This equipment helps me with this but if Nikon want to make me very happy, can they push the buffer up a bit for the D750, bring out a slick 135mm f2 AFS lens asap and look again at the 50mm? 😉
Another year beckons as a Nikon wedding photographer.
Update : Bought a third D750 since writing this.
Update: Summer 2016 - losing faith?
So D750 still but....five years since I did the big switch back from Canon. Still no updated 135mm lens from Nikon. The 85mm (1.4), the 300mm (F4) - great lenses - clean, fast, sharp but still no update for a focal length I like. Five years...no sign. So...bought a Canon 5d MKIII, a canon 50/1.2 and the 135/2. Boy is the Canon quieter than the Nikons!! Back to a hybrid approach. I'll see what the MKIV from Canon is like...beginning to lose faith with Nikon. So many prime lenses that need updating. Where is the new 135, Nikon?
Update: Autumn 2016
And then the 105/1.4 came out...! #newlegend
An outstanding lens....and now shooting weddings with the D5...time for another blog post I think? One of Nikon's best ever lenses. Looks like I'm staying in the Nikon camp for now.....Fuji cameras and lenses sold.
Firmly a Nikon Wedding Photographer.
When does the upgraded D750 come out? Better buffer - more AF points, a couple more stops of iso, built a bit stronger? Come on Nikon!
Update: Spring 2017
Been using the Nikon D5 since last autumn - strange to go back to a bigger, heavier camera - but like the F5 and the D3S, an exceptional camera. The 105mm - still one hell of a lens. As for the 135mm.....well, Sigma beat Nikon to it. The 135mm f1.8 ART, it may be big and heavy but it is quick and very sharp. Got the kit now, so no excuses...;-)
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