Nikon D4 & D800: What do the Professionals Think?
The Music Photographers: Neil Lupin and Andy Sheppard
Music photography is a very specialised, very challenging genre. A combination of unpredictable, often very poor lighting and tight restrictions on what you can shoot makes capturing images of live bands one of the most difficult - and rewarding - types of photography out there.
For music photography, speed, AF accuracy and high ISO performance are critical. We asked two professional Nikon shooters what they think of the new D4 and D800, and whether either camera might tempt them away from their current equipment.
As a concert photographer, the ability to shoot at high ISOs wide open at f/2.8 with as little noise as possible is the be all and end all. On my old Nikon D2X I never shot over ISO 800 - noise levels were just too high and it meant shutter speeds often dropped too low to freeze the action. When I upgraded to the D3 and D3S I found myself starting at ISO 1600 and working up from there depending on light levels. Bad light is par for the course when shooting concerts, and with my D3S, provided my shots are correctly exposed, I rarely need to do any post-capture noise reduction below ISO 3200.
|U2 perform at Croke Park in Dublin, in 2009. Neil used a Nikon D3 for this shot, with a 15mm fisheye lens.|
I'm very excited by the D4 for a few reasons - not least the bump in maximum ISO compared to the D3/D3S. ISO 6400 is useable on the D3 but requires careful exposure to avoid too much noise, but if it's true that ISO 6400 on the D4 will be as good as ISO 1600 was on the D3/D3S, then I'll be at the front of the queue when they start shipping. Also, the backlit controls are a long overdue addition for anyone working in low light situations - very handy indeed. Even though the D800 doesn't have the same low-light performance as the D4, it does have the same AF improvements, which include sensitivity down to -2EV. This could make a meaningful difference to AF accuracy in really poor light.
|This shot, of Rage Against the Machine performing at the Download Festival in the UK in 2010, was shot using a Nikon D3 and AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.|
I can't say that I am at all enthusiastic about the video options on the D800 and D4 though - video is a feature I have no interest in, so even though their video specification looks phenomenal, I doubt I'd ever use it.
In a perfect world, I would have loved to have seen the 24.5MP of the D3X harnessed with the speed and low light capabilities of the D3S. Neither the D4 nor D800 are that camera, but both are interesting. The huge resolution (and relatively) low cost of the D800 are pretty appealing, but as a D3S user I'm focussed on the D4, and I'm both excited and nervous. Excited because of the potential for a big leap in image quality. Nervous because it will mean a difficult conversation with my bank manager!
Neil has been photographing musicians for as long as he can remember but he turned professional in 2003. He shoots for Redferns Music Pictures / Getty Images in the UK and during the course of his career he's photographed some of the biggest names in the industry.
When I chose my D700 over the D3 a few years ago, the differences between the two cameras were so subtle that I didn't hesitate to save myself some money and go with the D700. I have never regretted that decision - the D700 is a great camera, although there are times when I wish it had the speed of the D3 and D3S. My camera gear upgrade path in the last four years has been from D80 to D300 and then up again to D700. The leap in image quality from the D300 to the D700 was massive - I still remember taking my first frames with it and how incredible they looked compared to what I was used to.
The biggest change in the D800 is the increased pixel count, obviously, but the additional resolution wouldn't really affect me in everyday use. I don't even shoot in Raw mode. Twelve megapixels is fine for news, book and magazine print. My images are a manageable size and I have seen them enlarged to life-size prints and they look great.
|The Prodigy perform at Wembley Arena in London in 2009. Shot with a Nikon D700 and AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8.|
An increase in high ISO image quality would sway me, but from what I've seen and heard I'm not expecting a massive leap in 'real world' low light performance from the D700 to the D800. High ISO image quality is essential for my work, especially in smaller venues where lighting is a complete afterthought, and you're usually forbidden from using flash. If I had the money and the room in my camera bag I'd go straight out and buy a couple of D4s for this reason, but I can't justify the expense.
|Skunk Anansie perform at UK's Sonisphere Festival in 2010. Andy took this shot with a Nikon D700 and AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8.|
I'm especially pleased to see the introduction of a second card slot in the D800. And particularly as one is an SD card which will make it much easier to work in the field without carrying a compact flash card reader around all the time. It's great to see Nikon finally challenging Canon's dominance in the HD video arena but for me video is not a priority. On the rare occasions that I need to capture video I'll do it with my phone.
|Andy is a freelance photographer specialising in Live Music. He works with Redferns Music Pictures / Getty images in London and as well as dealing with bands and artists directly, Andy also works with BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 6Music, Festival Republic, UKTI, The Guardian, NME and Rolling Stone.
You can see more of his work at his website, www.lowlightphoto.co.uk