Remember in Jurassic Park, when there would be the distant thud of the stalking T-Rex, and the water glass in the jeep would tremor? Or in Saving Private Ryan, when they felt the earth shake well before they saw the tank?
That’s kind of the way I feel about the D3X. It’s out there. You can hear the distant rumble. A monster of a camera.
I can’t really comment on the camera intelligently (regular readers of this blog are saying to themselves, “Uh, Joe, tell us something we don’t already know.”) cause I’ve had it in my hands for precisely one shoot. I can say a couple of things….
It feels and acts exactly like a D3, except slower, due to the size of the files it is pushing. My D3’s are buffer upgraded, and even shooting NEFs on consecutive high, they rock and roll. The D3X is, well, more suited to a waltz.
The files are eye popping. I was looking at them on my bedraggled Macbook Pro, and I felt like an extra in a horror movie. You know the ones, where the mirror in the bathroom starts morphing and making eerie, groaning sounds? Mr. Movie Extra gets ridiculously quizzical, and like a curious cat, cocks his head to the side and stares at the wacked out mirror, which is obviously not supposed to be moving or muttering guttural, satanic curses. Instead of running, he stays rooted in front of his reflection, eyes getting wide, his jaw going slack, and then little slurpy things with yellow eyes and seventeen rows of razor sharp teeth explode outta the mirror and bore through both his eyeball sockets like evil little wood chippers and feast noisily on his brain matter. Of course, they don’t find much to chew on ’cause anybody stupid enough to stare at the mirror instead of running hasn’t got much of a meal up there in the first place.
That didn’t happen to me. Though I have to admit, when a D3X NEF finally boiled to the surface of the screen, I cocked my head, my eyes got wide and my jaw slack, just like in the movies. My standard for detail has always been Kodachrome 25, and the D3 zoomed past that pretty handily, and now this thing gives you a file that is like frikkin’ Stargate. Who knows what’s on the other side of this?
Hadda give the camera back. Probably a good thing, cause lawdy, lawdy, the files positively gave me the vapors, and I don’t wanna like my pictures that much. I never wanna be seduced by all those pixels to the point that I confuse a detailed picture with a good picture. All this technology (which is fantastic, and I love it) is like the Sirens on the rocky shore-come closer, wayfaring photographer, we will drown you with more pixels.
We got pixels aplenty. What we need at the camera is a beating heart and an ability to see. In terms of being a shooter, I’ve always figured I’m like the frikkin’ plumberâ€”when the valves are popping and the waters are rising, sometimes I get the call cause I’m a halfway decent problem solver. But you know, how fancy a wrench do I need? As Magnum shooter Donald McCullin once said, “I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”
Here’s where I see this camera playing huge. Most of the covers of LIFE, Sports Illustrated, Time, or Newsweekâ€” what I would call the newsstand magazinesâ€” I’ve shot over the years were shot 6×7 medium format. As opposed to the Geographic, which has historically let a cover evolve naturally out of a coverage, those magazines often specifically assign a cover, either the subject or the theme. For those kind of jobs, portraits, illustrations, what have you, it was time to drag out my Mamiya RZ Pro II system. (Which I sold a year or so ago, before it turned into rust. Thank you Equipment Lady!)
The detail of the D3X for me, obviates the need for a medium format approach to just about anything I would tackle. (Note I said, “I would tackle.” I’m not out there shooting DeBeers campaigns, much to my chagrin. The studio, still life, beauty, car shooting crowd are most likely very intrigued by this camera. It opens new DSLR doors. Shoot huge files, and couple this monster machine to Nikkor glass. Schweeeet!) And, here’s where the technology gives us a gift we didn’t even know we wantedâ€”the D3X, just like its cousin, the D3, has a 4×5 aspect ratio you can click in. That’s not too far off from my old 6×7 cover comfort zone. For the cover job, the job needing excruciating detail, the set of pictures that needs to leap off the page, this camera will be an astounding tool. Maybe, just maybe, if I ever get another crack at one of those pictures inside a yellow border, I just might use this camera.
Can I say a word or two about my aforementioned “bedraggled” Macbook Pro? This poor computer has been through it. It’s been in deserts, the woods of Northern Spain, knocked around in production vehicles from Istanbul to Berlin to Rome to God knows where. When I have tethered to it, at least twice I have yanked it off its platform and seen it fall to the floor. It has dents galore, and the CD drive slot has been pried back open with a Wave tool, and it keeps working. At this point, when I turn it on, it screams, “Yo, Adrian!!!!”
But it still turns on and works. An amazing machine.
Lighting, Roberto, the Pain Chisel…..okay. (As fearsome as he looks, he’s real easygoing.) The background is chrome diamond plate flooring, two 4×8 sheets butted together. Had a bear of a time lighting it, cause my first idea of lighting the wall behind it and having that light wrap around and grace the chrome with blue highlights didn’t work out at all. I mean at all. Nada. Zilch. Bad idea. Brain glitch. All the little photons collectively said, “You zink we will do zeese for yuuu? Hah! We fart in your general direction!”
Plan B. I just lit the diamond plate like I would light a regular background, and instead of getting specular highlights, which I feared, I got a reasonable spread of color, pretty even across the board. Live and learn.
Did 4 SB800 units for the background, and then winged two more units, left and right, behind and to the sides of him, continuing the edge of blue around his body. The diamond plate flashes were Group A, and the wing lights were Group B. Right about at Group B position is two Lowell Omni lites, barn doored so that just a sliver of directional, hot light gets to the chains. That gave us some rattle and motion. The camera was set at 1/6th at f/11. All pix made on Lexar 8 gigger UDMA cards.
Up front, I lit Roberto overhead with the Lastolite Ezybox, with an SB900. This thing has become a favorite solution. It just rocks as a hot shoe flash delivery system. Bango, directional, contained, soft light. What a nice gift of a piece of equipment to make location life easier. “Candygram for Mongo!”
The low fill is an SB800 with a warm gel, and a Honl 1/4″ grid spot on it. Kim Weber did the makeup and the uh, hair. She was great chatting with Roberto (turns out they had mutual friends) and getting him camera ready.
Some oil for sheen, chains for good measure. Tattoos like crazy. Tough guy. Big. Powerful. A subject to match the camera.