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We’ve Come a Long Way!

Jul 14

In history, Tips & Tricks at 2:12pm

I’ve been friends with Mike Corrado, the originator, orchestrator, and pied piper of the merry band of disparate, dysfunctional (hey, we’re photographers) talented oddballs who make up the Nikon Ambassador crew, for more than 25 years. He is a blood brother, a good shooter, and a fierce advocate for photogs and their worth. He is also blessedly inappropriate.

Together, we have lost a prototype Nikon camera in Miami Bay, smashed another one perched on the end of a hang glider into a telephone pole, and had a 70-200mm lens run over by a truck. We at one point tried to run a photo set on a beach spitting distance from another crew who were running a full blown porno shoot complete with scuba tanks, fins, masks, but no swim suits. Needless to say, Mike’s attention on that occasion was, uh, divided.


He also tends to show up on these occasions with the coolest, newest toys. Such as last week when he loaned me his newly minted D810, and, in the briefest of interludes, I shot 27 frames with it. Luckily for me, during that two minute stint, I had a wonderful subject, Joe McFadden, a Schuylkill River rowing legend, in front of my lens, standing in equally wonderful window light. I shot quickly, hand held, at ISO 1600.

My current iteration of this camera, the D800E, to me has been a camera all about control. I use it in the studio, and work with it when I need the res, have the time to manage the buffer, and shoot in the realm of lower ISO. (Like a flash portrait, go figure.) But, when confronted with the great unknown, a coverage that could go any which way, something that might head into the fire swamp of high ISO, I’ve dragged out a D4 or a D4S.

The D810 keeps the allure of high res, but removes the fear of high ISO. It was nothing short of remarkable.

In the days of ASA, 1600 was the magic number. It was a frontier. It was a factor of speed that enabled you to shoot most night time sports and still come back with a reasonable facsimile of what your eyes actually saw. To go beyond that number was like going north of the wall. Few came back to tell about it, or get another assignment. Below is an example of Tri-x hot souped in a closet of a darkroom at Yankee Stadium in 1978. Good shot, but grain you can drive a truck through.

Same with Giorgio Chinaglia, here heading the ball for the NY Cosmos, also circa 1978.

Film was a tricky beast to manage, occasionally, and I speak from the rueful experience of having mismanaged it on all too many a job. Below is a one of my favorite portraits of Carly Simon. I had to overexpose, given the nature of the bright sky behind her, which blows the neg apart a good deal. I could have done better with my focus, too. (I think I should have used a flash maybe? Sigh.) Still her ebullient expression carries the day for me, and I love the frame. Just wish I had done better. Or had a D810.

I’ve been living in the digital world of photography for quite some time now, and the technology can still take me by surprise. I shake my head in wonder. As Captain Jack Aubrey said in Master and Commander,  “What a fascinating modern age we live in.”

More tk….

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on July 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

So this is a full Thumbs Up and a replacement to the D800e? My D800 has served me well, and I think the new shutter mechanism is worth the upgrade, but I have hesitated a bit as my replacement budget is a bit thin right now. They are remarkable pieces of equipment.


lyle says:

on July 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Oh how I miss ASA 1600.
It’s like a surreal dream from my youth, come back to haunt me.
And nary a noise filter in sight.

I was working in 1978. shot a lot of that stuff with guys like Randy Taylor and Brent Petersen.

Your posts are great.
Write more books.

jk says:

on July 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Even if it’s grainy that you can drive a truck through, out of focus like a Leica I. It’s still treasure of gold, Joe! Digital hasn’t that feel anymore, it’s worthless compared to this great moments.

Thanks for sharing!

Life with Kaishon says:

on July 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I think that picture of Carly Simon is the most lovely image I have ever seen. Sometimes imperfection is perfect.

Karl bratby says:

on July 14, 2014 at 5:39 pm

The d810 on paper sounds like a perfect camera

Paul Drew says:

on July 14, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Ah, the days of KODAK T-MAX P3200 Professional Film! I was using it only 10 years ago photographing fluorescent blood splatters in total darkness as a Police Forensic Photographer. Brings back memories!

Jim Donahue says:

on July 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Nice Story…Thanks.

Johan Schmidt says:

on July 15, 2014 at 12:06 am

Besides the unbelievable high ISO we get out of modern cameras, we now have the equivalent of multiple ASA speed films in the camera at the same time! (which also doesn’t run out after 36 exposures!)

Alexey says:

on July 15, 2014 at 2:09 am

Interesting post, Joe! I got pretty much the same feeling when tried D800 in reporting whereas D4 showed the best. New technology is a real wonder.

Rumi says:

on July 15, 2014 at 2:09 am

Where’s YOUR minted D810?

Peter Steiner says:

on July 15, 2014 at 2:59 am

Maybe it’s because I started out with the craft of photography when high ISO ready digital pixel-perfection was already a given, but I for one love the texture and character your stunningly beautiful portrait of Carly Simon displays. :)

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on July 15, 2014 at 4:46 am

I certainly haven’t done it nearly as long as you (you’ve forgotten more about photography than I’ll probably ever learn) but isn’t it something: You put those first photos online today, and you’d be flamed for “all that grain.” Yet, that baseball pic is, to me, one of your iconic images, one I think about often. Because you got the moment: the expressions, the dust, the dirt. All those old cool concert photos shooters did in dark clubs…the Tri-X is pushed and the grain is there. And the grain is good.

Yet today, we’re trying for those clean photos at hi ISO. It’s a wacky thing, this photography.

Thanks for introducing me to it.

~ Mark

Joe McNally says:

on July 15, 2014 at 8:14 am

Waiting in a store (Adorama) for the arrival of my credit card number….:-)

Joe McNally says:

on July 15, 2014 at 8:17 am

Bill, the improvements in D810 (and I have literally held one for just a couple minutes) principally revolve around the high ISO. There are other tweaks I’ve heard about, but haven’t explored. There’s no uptick in resolution. So, I guess you would have to factor how often you push your current 800 into higher ISO realms. Best, Joe

Paul Papanek says:

on July 15, 2014 at 9:08 am

If only they would put the D4s chip inside that body! A lot of us who don’t need the D810 rez would love a true D700 replacement. (sigh…let the comments begin…)


Barry Kidd says:

on July 16, 2014 at 2:32 am

I’d have to agree with you on that score. So often I hear people moaning the blues about film and how much they miss it. Now granted there was something magic about watching a print come to life in front of your eyes but other than that one thing? Well, I carried 2 F3’s around for 20 years with no need to upgrade.

The way I see it, since 3rd generation digital with the D3 film just can’t come close to what we can now do with and it just gets better and better.

Nope, I don’t miss the days of film.

damian says:

on July 16, 2014 at 7:48 am

Joe: you have learned to me that there are two things in a photo
1) Technical aspects: iso, Aperture, Shutter speed etc.
2) Artistics aspects: composition, light, ambient, characters, story to tell etc.

you can take an amazing photo only with Nº2, but not only with Nº1.

PD: i am still learning both of them (as you do)
Best, Damian

Kyle Jerichow says:

on July 16, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Captain Jack Aubrey is a good man to quote!

L Atkins says:

on July 16, 2014 at 6:12 pm

about pushing tri x at night, jumping out of a Black Hawk, with rangers, hovering 6 ft. off ground, looking and shooting thru a early night vision duct taped to the lens. then push,push,push processing. Guess what? decent images for the time (20 years ago)

L Atkins says:

on July 16, 2014 at 6:14 pm

love your work, especially black and white. powerful images are about content, not grain size.

L Atkins says:

on July 16, 2014 at 6:18 pm

like P.Drew above says, When T Max P3200 came along, we thought we had finally arrived !!!!!!

Steve Combs says:

on July 19, 2014 at 10:43 pm

I’m a tad older than you… Was learning photography back in the mid ’60’s pushing Tri-X in a 10 year old Speed Graphic for my high school newspaper. I commented a couple of weeks after getting my 5D MkIII (last year) that the grain @ ISO 12,800 wasn’t as bad as Tri-X pushed to ASA 1600! I love today’s tech but do kinda miss some of the stuff I did to ‘get the pic’ back in those days.

Homepix says:

on January 14, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Great story and work. Love it.

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