Pro DSLRs, Pro Photographers

Nikon D4, Nikkor 35mm F1.4 AIS (exposure not recorded). Lighting: Profoto Pro-7b power pack and heads with 5-foot Octa softbox (camera right) and silver umbrella (camera left). John Lok/The Seattle Times.

The Canon EOS 1D X and Nikon D4 offer all of us tantalizing looks at the top of the technology ladder for pro cameras. Yet there's no denying that these DSLRs are developed primarily to serve the unique needs and demands of working professionals such as photojournalists. For them, features like durability, intuitive ergonomics and lightning fast performance are non-negotiable requirements that can mean the difference between getting published and being out of work.

With this in mind, we recently sat down with two Seattle Times staff photographers to get their take on what it's like to use these cameras on a daily basis. Dean Rutz, a longtime Canon shooter has been using the EOS 1D X since its launch. John Lok has shot professionally with the Nikon D3s in addition to the Canon gear issued by the Times. At our request, he agreed to spend a few weeks using the Nikon D4 for many of his daily assignments. 

Canon EOS 1D XEF 400mm F2.8L IS USM ISO 800, 1/1000 @F2.8. Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times.

In this interview, both photographers give us their take on Canon and Nikon's latest pro bodies, providing a wide-ranging and inside look at what it's like to earn a living covering breaking news in a major US city with the most expensive and highest performing DSLRs on the market.

What was your introduction to photography and photojournalism?

Dean Rutz: My father worked at the Chicago Tribune his whole life. He was an executive at the newspaper and was reading through two or three papers at the kitchen table every morning, so newspapers were something I always paid attention to. Because of that, my interest in photography was always related to photojournalism. I first got published in newspapers at 14 years old. I was shooting high school sports for the local papers. There was a huge appetite for that, so they were hiring stringers all the time at $25 for a picture of anything!

Canon EOS 1D XEF 50mm F1.4 USM ISO 2000, 1/1000 @F2.8. Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times.

I was actually a photo editor at the Seattle Times for 10 years. I was also shooting for the paper when the need arose, but in 1992 I covered the Barcelona Olympics and I became really enamored with the spectacle of sport. It was then that I committed myself almost full-time to sports photography, while still working as a photo editor. After 1998 I left the desk and went back to full-time shooting.

John Lok: I had a business undergraduate degree and was doing social work when I was younger. I only discovered photography when I was about 28. It happened when I spent a weekend up at a cousin's house in Canada. Photography was something he did as a hobby. We went to a local park and I started taking pictures with his gear, of pretty generic stuff like flowers and ducks. Later we got the pictures back from the one hour photo lab and...I can't really explain it but I just fell in love. Something about the photography process and the gear just lit a fire in me.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 35mm F1.4 AIS, ISO 1000, 1/800 @F2.
John Lok/The Seattle Times.
Nikon D3SAF-S Nikkor 60mm F2.8 Macro, ISO 200, 1/100 @F3. John Lok/The Seattle Times.

I got back home to Seattle and looked into how I could become a photographer. I looked for schools that offered programs in photojournalism and ended up quitting my job and attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. A month before graduation I got a position as a three year resident photographer at the Seattle Times. Just a year after that I was hired on as a full time staff member. That was ten years ago.

Canon EOS 1D Mark II, EF 70-200 F2.8L IS USM ISO 250, 1/8000 @F2.8. John Lok/The Seattle Times.

As working pros, what are your top requirements for a camera?

JL: I can't have any lag in shutter response or AF performance. I need the shooting rate to be as fast as possible. I need 1080p video. I need a solidly built body that won't break if I knock it on something. And of course the body has to be part of a very extensive system of lenses and accessories. Nikon and Canon are unrivaled there.

DR: Like John, my first priority is the responsiveness of the shutter. When you press the button, it's gotta go! There was a little delay on the 1D Mark III but on the 1D X when you press the button it fires. That is a big deal in sports.

 Nikon D3S, AF-S Nikkor 600mm F4 VR, ISO 2000, 1/1600 @F4. John Lok/The Seattle Times.

Image quality is big. On the 1D X I can crop an image without a real loss in quality. That's huge in sports because I don't know anybody who can publish uncropped files all the time (laughs). Fast write speed to the cards is also important. We saw big delays in the 1D Mark III and earlier models. The 7D was a great improvement especially after the firmware update. But the 1D X, with three processors is so much faster that I shoot all raw, all the time on my sports assignments. I can underexpose a little bit and don't have to worry about weird color balance when shooting in arenas.

And two card slots let me archive JPEGs for crisis situations where I have to use my iPad or iPhone to transmit images.

Has the ability to shoot video with a DSLR changed your roles as photojournalists?

JL: Yes. Now we are being asked to come back with video clips for breaking news and even longer form stories to accompany the stills and the words. I don't have to shoot tons of video but I do it fairly frequently. 

DR: It's a little different in sports because the federations have taken control over their images. The NFL is a classic example. You can post only 45 seconds of video online. That's all you get. And that's for the first 24 hours after the game. Then you have to pull it down for like 10 hours. So its just not worth it for sports assignments.

Nikon D3S, AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8G VR II + TC-14E II 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 400, 1/50 @F29. John Lok/The Seattle Times.

Click here for page 2 of our Pro DSLRs, Pro Photographers article...

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.

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Total comments: 125
By Dennis (Mar 13, 2013)

Thanks DPR ! I'd love to see more features like this in the future.

By nz769r (Mar 13, 2013)

What a great discussion! I thoroughly enjoyed his article!

1 upvote
ed kelly
By ed kelly (Mar 13, 2013)

Great job from all party's. Thanks.

By SirSeth (Mar 13, 2013)

Great shots and fantastic commentary. Good reporting DPR. Please do more of this!

The look on the cheerleader's face just before John gets pummeled is priceless too. ;)

By ravinj (Mar 13, 2013)

Excellent read, packed with great information. For a change, it was good to read opinions from pros who make a living out of it and a refreshing detour from the opinions on various DPR forums from the "experts".

By HubertChen (Mar 13, 2013)

I enjoyed your differentiation of pros and "experts" :-)

By ozgoldman (Mar 13, 2013)

Dpr please give us more articles like this. Extremely informative and of great value to the many amateurs that visit this site. I sure learnt a lot from their comments.

By s0upb0ne (Mar 12, 2013)

Great Article! Excellent insight into their workflow and opinions of the tools they use.

By fauxtog (Mar 12, 2013)

Outstanding read, Amadou! Thanks to Dean and John for the insights into their careers, and the tools they use in them.

Though I am a Nikon D4 shooter, my commitment to one platform over another is mostly motivated by the glass I've already bought. (If I'd started with Canon glass, I'd be a 1DX shooter.)

As for connectivity (which was briefly discussed), I do use Nikon's WT-5, and love it. I use it mostly for iPad-controlling the D4 for shooting videos of myself, which has been great, as I previously needed someone to operate the camera, for focus, exposure, etc., which I can now do on my own.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Mar 12, 2013)

Glad you like it. It was definitely an enjoyable assignment. Dean and John are both really great guys as well as outstanding photographers.

By vFunct (Mar 12, 2013)

Yes the workflow is the real issue nowadays. I was hoping this generation of pro DSLRs would have included far more processing/publishing options within the cameras, but it looks like we'll have to wait for the next generation.

We really need to be able to quickly compare, select, tag, straighten, crop, exposure, white-balance, grade, and upload thousands of photos within seconds of an event.

Newspapers are competing against all the Instagrammers/Twitterers at an event that post photos their photos immediately, which is causing news audiences to decline.


Comment edited 2 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
By StanRogers (Mar 14, 2013)

Right now, that's where Photo Mechanic shines brightest, and you really can't beat a reasonable-size monitor for that sort of thing. You don't need a 30-incher for field work, but the LCD on even a large camera is insufficient. (I use PM on a low-power 10.5" netbook-class machine, and it still sizzles. Yes, I'm using an SSD rather than spinning rust, so that makes a difference. It only does what it needs to do, so it'll scroll through RAW images as fast as I can press the arrow keys for the pick editing, and global adjustments/exporting are also stink-fast. It ain't Lightroom if you're into tinkering, but it's not meant to be.) You'll never compete with the speed of uploading a single snap from an iPhone, but if you take the time to edit & upload between images, your going to miss more than you take. And who wants to use an iPad-sized camera?

By nigpd (Mar 14, 2013)


Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By NancyP (Mar 12, 2013)

Good article. Great photos. Glad to hear that John Lok didn't get squashed by the off-bounds football player. Greetings from St. Louis.

Total comments: 125