My Gear Choices for Tucson Wedding Photography Part 1: The Camera

This will be the first in a series of posts where I will endeavor to answer some of the questions that are most frequently asked of me.

One of the top ones (and the one I am tackling first) is: "What kind of gear do you use, and why?"

This one question itself will need to be addressed in multiple posts, and we will start with my choice of Cameras.

First off, let me start by saying that I don't want this to be turned into a Nikon vs Canon thing. (or Sony or Pentax for that matter)
I could go into the history of why I personally use Nikon (and I may do that in some future post), but suffice it to say that it usually comes down to which one you are already heavily invested in with lenses and other accessories.

If you are just now starting out, and aren't invested in any one system, and you are spending between $5k and $6k on a camera you are going to be getting a top notch camera either way.

I don't think a Nikon D4s owner or a Canon 1D X owner either one can look down on the other. Each is superb and each has it's niche that is slightly better than the other. And no matter which you feel is better at present, either manufacturer will soon come out with something newer.

So, at this point let's just suffice it to say that I'm a Nikon shooter, so any comparisons I make will only be between it and other Nikon cameras unless I specifically say otherwise.

Like most Wedding Photographers, I actually use two cameras.

My main camera is my D3s:

and my 2nd camera is my D700.

Both are full frame 12.1MP professional cameras.

(As an aside, the term "professional" camera is bandied about a lot. I don't mean to suggest that a "professional" photographer can't use an entry level Nikon D3300. What I mean in this context is that these cameras were designed specifically with the professional in mind, and have never been available in Walmart or Costco for the average consumer to just wander across.)

If I were a Sports Photographer, then burst rate in terms of frames per second may be an over-riding factor, and I might choose to upgrade to the D4s. (11fps vs 9fps for my D3s and 8fps for my D700)

If I were a Landscape Photographer, then more Megapixels might be an over-riding factor, and I might choose to upgrade to the D810 (36MP vs 12MP)

However, for Wedding Photography and the sizes of prints normally required for a professional wedding album, anything above 7MP sufficient and 12MP is more than sufficient, and 8fps is more than fast enough.

Also, my style of photography dictates what's most important to me.

There are photographers that put their camera on ISO 400 or ISO 800 and then use the flash to properly expose their subjects, and there are photographers that prefer to expose for ambient light, and use the flash for fill only.

I personally fit into the latter category.

It's partially just a matter of personal preference. I don't care for the look where my subject is well exposed, but the background is very dark.

(If I was a fashion photographer where perfect light on my model is paramount, or even a Wedding Photographer with different tastes, I would probably go another direction.)

It's also a matter of practicality. When a flash is only contributing enough light for fill, your flash doesn't work nearly as hard, or use nearly as much battery.
More importantly, if you take a couple of shots in quick succession and your flash hasn't had a chance to re-charge the capacitor and doesn't go off, then your shot is still properly exposed and can be used.
Whereas if your flash was supposed to provide most of the light for the exposure, if it fails, then your shot is useless.

So, because this is my preferred style, the over-riding factor for me has to be performance at high ISO.

Sure the newer D750 with it's 24MP and base ISO of 100 or the D810 at 36MP will take a picture with more dynamic range and better overall image quality in good light.
However, when you live at ISOs between 1600 and 6400 as I do, it's more important to have a camera that gives the highest image quality at those particular ISO settings.

The fact is because of it's extremely large pixel pitch of 8.4μm the Nikon D3s gathers more light and has a higher signal to noise ratio (less noise) and better tone range and color sensitivity from ISO 200 to ISO 102,400 than any other cameras by Nikon or Canon either one at those same ISO settings. (Including the current flagship cameras Nikon D4s and Canon 1D X)

Here's and example of a shot I took at a recent "Valentine's Day" Party. Even though there was no DJ with lasers and lights and such, just a boom box, someone still decided it would be a good idea to turn off the lights in the middle of the dance floor.

It was so dark out there, I had to make a decision to either stick with my usual plan of exposing for ambient and using flash only for fill (which in this case required an ISO of 16,000) or use a more reasonable ISO setting and let my flash provide more of the light for the exposure.

I chose to stick with my normal method, but only because I was using my D3s. (I would not have attempted this with my D700)

I took several shots in succession, and on this final shot, the flash didn't fire because the capacitor was still charging. So, this shot would have been completely black if I had taken it at an ISO under 3,200, and still unusable even at ISO of 6,400.

However because I was at ISO 16,000 I still got a useable image even if I didn't get the amount of fill light I would have preferred.
(Click on the image to see a larger version)

ISO 16000

Taken with Nikon D3s and Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens.
EXIF: ISO 16,000 50mm f/2.8 1/80

(No Noise reduction of any kind applied in camera or post processing) 

This ability to me, is worth more than any of the features of any of the newer cameras, and why I won't be upgrading any-time soon.
(And for the record, the D700 has the same pixel pitch, but without the same micro-lens arrays built in, so it still outperforms the D610, D750, and D810 and is nearly as good as the D4s and Df are at high ISO, so it's a very worthy second camera, and I know quite a few Wedding Photographers that sill use the D700 as their main camera)

In my next post, I'll be talking about my choice of lenses (specifically for Weddings)

I hope this was informative for someone. Please leave your comments and don't be afraid to like or share this post on Facebook, Google+ and/or Twitter.

And as always, please visit my personal web-site: Maranatha Wedding Photography


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