Woo hoo, it’s the long awaited Camera Entry!
Shut up. I heard that. Look, if you don’t like it, the Back button’s right there.
In a previous photo entry I mentioned that back when I was a much younger idiot than I am now I used to be into film photography. Had a nice little Olympus OM2-S setup (because my then-girlfriend had an OM4 and I could steal her lenses), but once everything went digital I got left behind*. No money to upgrade, busy with new career, too stupid to learn new skills, the usual.
Also mentioned in earlier entries: NewWifey(tm) started a small business and it’s starting to gain some traction. Her designs and products are being carried in shops around the country. The world. She’s becoming a star in the land of beehive hairdo’s and support hose.
If you clicked on the link to her biz back there and then clicked “Products”, I staged and shot almost all of those pictures (with the exception of those cheeky yellow waxers that populate the bottom 2/3 of the page – NewWifey(tm) shot them in a light box). They were taken with a little Samsung point-n-hope we bought just for that purpose, and overall I think it did an ok job. Good enough for what was needed at the time, anyway.
But now NewWifey(tm) is becoming a victim of her own success. The president of France bestowed the key to the city of Paris on her, she won a MacArthur Fellowship genius grant, some magazine wants to do a spread on her business and needs profile and product pics, and Taylor Swift called and begged her to be part of her squad.
I’m tellin’ you, NewWifey(tm) is good.
Alright, so only the magazine spread thing is true. For now. Anyway, the mag asked for pictures – a nice portrait of NewWifey(tm), and a few high quality images of her latest releases.
No sweat. I grabbed the bright red $129 Samsung, gave NewWifey(tm) a beer to make her smile, and popped off a few head shots. Then a few product pics. In less than 15 minutes they were on their way to the publisher.
In less than 5 minutes we got a reply back. “Is this a joke? Please send us pictures taken on a camera, not an Etch-a-Sketch.”
Uh-oh. Not good. The Samsung isn’t able to give the sharpness the magazine wants. If this is gonna be a regular thing, we really need to get a new camera. But cameras ain’t cheap, and we need all our available funds for disaster relief at the moment.
But…NewWifey(tm) could really use the exposure this fluff piece will give her. We decided we had to go for it.
I sold a kidney (my third), NewWifey(tm) turned a few tricks, we set up a still in the woods, and…ok, actually NewWifey(tm) just took every last penny she had in her company’s account and shoved it at me. “Get me a camera” she said. “One that takes pictures those assholes will like.”
I looked at the bag of mostly nickles and food stamps. This was not gonna be easy….
Fortunately the magazine’s deadline for submissions is January, so I had a bit of time to work this miracle. I started scouring websites for suggestions, then hit up retail shops, Craigslist, and anything else I could think of to perhaps score a killer deal.
And I got one!
I’ll spare you the details of the hunt, but this is what I ended up with after several weeks of clicking and sweating:
Nikon D3300, refurbished, body only, from a Nikon authorized refurbisher. Came with battery and all cables.
Nikon Micro‑Nikkor Macro Lens, 40mm, f/2.8, used, from B&H Photo.
Lens mounted ring light.
Remote shutter release.
Big-ass SD card.
It looks like this:
(And a hard shell case.)
All for under 400 clams. I still had several food stamps left for NewWifey(tm) when it was all over.
I really really really wanted a speedlight too, or even a pair I could use for a master/slave setup. But I just didn’t have enough money left, so it has to wait. I do have some studio lights already, along with a light box, and that will have to do in the interim.
For the photogs reading this: I was specifically asked to assemble a macro setup. Not only are many of NewWifey(tm)’s pieces very small, but she sometimes reproduces historical stitched pieces and needs 1:1 closeups of minute thread patterns. I wanted the Nikkor 105mm macro, or equivalent Sigma, Tamron, or even Tokina, but OHMYGODTHEYCOSTMORETHANMYCAR!!! The 40mm cost less than that. By a factor of whew. The tradeoff, of course, is that you have to get much, much closer to your subject with the 40. So close for her smaller pieces that the extended lens was casting shadows. Hence the ring light, which solved the problem.
This is the office NewWifey(tm) built in our basement. She tore apart the back crawl space and laid down a floor, put up new walls, wired up lights and outlets, and emptied IKEA of all their office-y stuff. This is where we’ll do all our camera work. That ceiling, though, is just a c.h. over 6-foot, something that plays into portrait lighting. But I’ll get to that. (This pic, the previous one, and the next one, all taken with the Samsung. If that’s not obvious.):
This is the light box macro setup:
I was using one of NewWifey(tm)’s designs, a thimble holder, as a test subject:
To give you an idea of it’s size, here it is with a thimble and one of my last dimes:
(Technically poor shot, but this was from my first test session. I’m still trying to figure out the SEVEN ZILLION MENU COMMANDS AND SETTINGS I’VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE. So it’ll get better. I hope….)
I do want to mention here that I have no post-production programs, or skills. This is all JPEG, straight off the memory card. I really would like to shoot RAW and work all sorts of magic in post, but honestly…I’m too stupid. The Nikon came with a photo editor, which I downloaded and spent several nights trying to decipher. But no good. I can’t even figure out how to save a picture, let alone how to adjust things. So I’m going all-JPEG start to finish until I get that donated brain. Maybe this Christmas will be the one where it finally happens….
That macro lens can really get in tight:
No, I mean tight:
Incredible, right? You can see the threads that the threads are made of.
This is one of the reasons I went with the Nikon. NewWifey(tm) needs this kind of fine detail for her work, and the D3300 has a whopping 24.2 Megapixel sensor which records down to near microscopic levels with extraordinary clarity (particularly when shot through a fast dedicated macro lens like this). That shot is a zoomed-in and cropped detail of the previous pic, in JPEG, no editing. Not many entry level DSLR’s – especially DX’s – can come anywhere near that level of detail. Zoom in a shot this much on most other DX models and you’ll end up staring at what looks like a pile of tapioca.
And if I ever do get up to speed with an editing program and can shoot RAW, she’ll be able to see practically down to the molecular level. I think.
So those were my first test shots in the light tent. I wasn’t happy with the ultra-shallow depth of field in a lot of shots, even in aperture priority on f-16. Playing around since then I’ve gotten better results running tons of light, shutter priority 1/30 or a little longer, and riding the exposure compensation to keep that ol’ 17% grey effect at bay.
Here’s one where I got the depth of field I wanted it, but forgot to pop the exposure up. You can see the camera turned the snow-white background a light grey bottom-left, dark grey upper-right:
That is one of my favorite of NewWifey(tm)’s designs, btw. It’s a pincushion, called “The Secret Garden”. Those two pieces fit together to form a cube, the outside of which is decorated to look like a plain fenced in bit of greenery. But pull the two halves apart and the bottom half reveals a spray of flowers with a tiny stitched bee perched atop, with the top half showing the blue sky above with some taller fronds stretching into it. (For you stitching nerds out there: NewWifey(tm) is a master of finishing techniques. None of her pieces are glued. Only stitched. She’s in great demand to teach finishing at shows and retreats.)
Of course I also had to take a portrait shot of NewWifey(tm). Fortunately, 40mm digital is about 55mm film (or so I was told) and I was used to shooting portraits back in the day through a 50mm prime.
I set the office up for a head shot, but this was where that low ceiling came into play. Light bounced everywhere. It was nutty, with shadows all over and children screaming and space shuttles exploding. I had to get a handle on it.
This was the final setup:
The softbox bouncing off the ceiling was the prime. I used two fill lights: the gooseneck table light in the background, and the boom-arm job in the foreground (one of NewWifey(tm)’s magnifying stitching lights). There was a recessed ceiling light right over her head for the halo.
This was the result (again, no post processing):
Not bad. A speedlight and umbrella or other diffuser would have helped, but for what I had to work with I’m happy.
Bit of a change from my previous entry’s pic of her, huh? She cleans up nice.
BTW, here’s where knowing my model really helped. NewWifey(tm) was stressed and not used to posing, and I couldn’t get a natural looking smile out of her for the first umpteen shots. So I set the camera to continuous shooting (5 fps) and started telling her stupid jokes. This money shot was the result of, “How can you tell when a woman is wearing panty hose? When she farts, her ankles swell up.” She looks so classy, doesn’t she? Picture of elegance.
NewWifey(tm) had a very specific request for this shot, by the way: she did not want her thimble box in focus. Only her face. She doesn’t want anyone copying her design via its picture – a very real concern in her business. And she wanted a certain amount of detail that showed she was in her actual work space (no bokeh). For that, it took some playing with the settings and having her hold the box at different distances from her body. But eventually she gave both her Seal of Approval AND her Walrus of Tranquil Repose. A rarity.
While I was at it, I took a shot of her pussy:
(Longtime readers will wonder what took me so long to get to that predictable joke. Sorry. I must be getting old.)
Hey, speaking of bokeh, I tried this quick shot of a Christmas cactus bud yesterday just to see:
Impressive, right? I think – think – that lens has either 9 or 11 leaves. Either way, the bokeh is nice and round. I like it.
I took that shot early in the morning, with the sun coming up just over our trees. I decided to see how the camera would handle severe front light, so I stepped out on the porch:
I gotta say, that’s a LOT better than I expected. I had a lens hood on, and dropped the compensation one and a half stops. I’m amazed that shooting straight into the sun didn’t blow the whole thing out. And I can hardly see any lens flare at all (although there was a fair amount when I didn’t compensate for exposure).
So overall I’m in madly love with this Nikon D3300, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an entry level DSLR. Just the fact that it has a 24-megapixel sensor should be enough to sell you on it. Unless you’re gonna pop some serious coin on an FX camera you won’t do better, from what I’ve seen. Plus it’s light, comfortable, and has nifty buttons and screens that make you look real impressive when someone stares at you for pulling it out at a funeral. (“But the light across his bullet wound was perfect!“) The only thing I wish it had was a depth of field preview, especially with that macro lens. But if that’s the only fault I can find, this puppy is a winner, hands down.
Finally, I’m just vain enough that I think someone out there might be interested in hearing what a one-time film photography enthusiast thinks now that he’s finally gotten hold of some 21st Century technology. So here ya go (since this entry wasn’t long enough already).
Cliff Notes version:
One: the most obvious change is, of course, film itself. Or rather lack of film itself. Goddam but shooting with film got expensive, from buying it through developing it. Especially if you were an enthusiast like me, where just bracketing shots would eat up one of those canisters faster than you could say “But it was a 36 shot roll!” Now I can take 36-hundred shots if I want, and it won’t cost me any more than a band-aid for the blister on my shutter finger.
Two: just as obvious is time. As in, it takes none. Remember this: drive down to the pharmacy, drop off your canisters, and………….wait? Unless you had your own darkroom, that’s what you had to look forward to after every session. By the time your pictures were ready and you drove back to pick them up, you sometimes forgot what was on the roll(s), let alone what camerasettings you’d used (unless you kept a log…which I didn’t usually). Now? ‘Click‘…and it’s there! Right there for me to look at! No pharmacy needed! You have no idea….
Three: WOW, there are a lot of menus. I’m used to changing settings with lens rings and knobs, which meant that you only had a certain number of settings you COULD change. Now I scroll through menu after menu of things I’ve never heard of and have no idea what they do, and I wonder…do I need this to take a good shot? There’s a pretty steep learning curve, so while I get acquainted with them I’m concentrating on the basics: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. That still goes a long way to insuring a decent outcome…right? Or did that change too while I was sleeping?
Four: post production editing. I had no idea this was such a big thing with anyone other than professionals, which is how it was back in my film days. So big that you’re looked on askance if you DON’T do it now, from what what I gather. This is presenting a real challenge for me. As I mentioned earlier, I am pretty much computer illiterate. I don’t even have a cell phone. When I opened up the Nikon editor I first thought I must have downloaded a virus. It was completely incomprehensible, even after reading through online support. So were other free editors I found, like Photoscape and RawTherapee (I know Lightroom is the industry standard, but…$$$$$$$). I need to either grow some new neurons fast, or just resign myself to never shooting RAW and being unable to take advantage of all those megapixels we just shelled out for.
This reminds me. The YouTube channel that taught me much of what I needed to know about my D3300 and how to use it is “Tony & Chelsea Northrup”, husband and wife pro photogs. If you’re *really* into camera photography as opposed to taking pictures on smart phones, Tony’s vlog about why consumer cameras may be a dying breed, and what camera manufacturers should to to stanch the blood flow, might be of interest to you. It was to me. Start it at 16:20 if you want to jump to his specific cures.
You know what’s funny, though? All my obsessing about gear, all my stress trying to learn new systems, all my foundering around trying to figure out things like histograms and in-camera edge distortion controls…none of it matters. If I set this camera to “Automatic”, point it at NewWifey(tm), and press my finger, this Nikon takes such incredibly sharp pictures that even without post editing it’s guaranteed to meet that magazine’s editorial standard. Which is, after all, why we shelled out all that money in the first place. Mission accomplished, right?
Of course that’s right. But you know as well as I do that that never matters. You would do the same. Right? Right.
But wait, there’s more!
First, remember that asterisk you saw a couple of hours ago when you first started reading this bloated carcass of an entry? It leads to this:
* I still have that OM2-S, tucked away safely in a closet inside a nice camera bag along with several lenses (28mm, 50mm, 70-210mm), two speedlights, cable release, a couple of filters, etc., etc., etc. And I don’t know what to do with it. I mean, can you even buy film any more? Much as it pained me to do so, I put it up for sale on Craigslist hoping to get enough for at least a speedlight for the Nikon. But there were no takers. I think part of the problem is I don’t even know how much to ask for it all – eBay prices I saw were all over the place. Like, literally from 40 dollars to 300 for the same body/lens combo. If some camera maven here has an idea what I should ask for this pile, could you post it in my comments? I’d appreciate it.
Ok, that about wraps up this monstrous – and no doubt monstrously boring to most people – edition.
Just one funny thing left to mention….
The day the Nikon was delivered I read just enough of the manual to learn how to turn the thing on, and then ran downstairs with it to NewWifey(tm)’s office and set up the light box. I leveled the tripod, turned the baby spotlights on, and…unzipped my pants.
“What the hell are you doing?” said NewWifey(tm), who’d followed me down.
“Check this out!” I said, and reached a hand into my underwear. “Look!” I said, yanking it back out. “A pubic hair!”
“Yeah, I know what it is” she said. “Stop waving it in my face. Again: what the hell are you doing?”
“C’mon, haven’t you always wanted to see one of your pubes magnified 340 zillion times? I want that to be the very first picture I take with this camera!”
She rolled her eyes almost audibly. “Can I ever look forward to the day when you are not a 14 year old boy finally?”
I hit the Magic Button.
“Oh my god, look at that!! You can even see the little bulb where it was anchored under my skin!” I showed NewWifey(tm) the playback screen.
She was unimpressed. “I’m sorry now I told you not to get that Brazilian.”
“You know what I’m gonna do?” I said. “I’m gonna write a Dangerspouse entry about how freakin’ awesome this camera is, and I’m gonna post this pube picture right at the top of the page!”
“Oh god” she said, “Please. I beg you. Don’t. Just don’t.”