I Got A Niiiikon Camera

Posted by Scott

A lot of people have been asking about my photographic process for this trip so I thought I would break it down in a post. As Paul Simon before me, I got a Nikon Camera.  A Nikon D80 to be exact.  I don’t particularly like it, but unfortunately I didn’t realize that until after the return period had expired.  That fact aside, I have been able to coax some pretty satisfactory results out of it with a lot of post work.  I am usually shooting at around 800-1000 ISO with Aperture priority fixed at F2.8 for shallow depth of field and quicker exposures for the low light stuff.  My main gripe with this camera is the hopelessly inferior auto focus system.  It simply DOES NOT WORK.  Everyone has been raving about Canons so I think I’ll make the switch in the coming  year some time.  I have been lusting over the EOS 5D ever since my friend Simon showed me the shots he got with a borrowed one.  Really incredible stuff.

I am usually shooting in FINE JPEG as opposed to RAW just to save space.  Once in Photoshop I do a lot of color correction using the Shadows, Midrange, and Highlights sections of the color balance dialog.  I think that’s the key to really getting the pictures to pop, you have to adjust all the ranges independently.  That’s when you start to get some really nice cross processing / Lomo vibes going on.  Next I like to use dynamic lighting to bring the range out.  The dynamic range of a digital CMOS sensor is nowhere near that of film.  Using software effects like Adobe’s Shadow/Highlight or Nikon’s D-Lighting can simulate an expanded dynamic range in a digital image without crossing that thin line into the unnatural looking world of HDR imaging (a technique that intrigues me on a technical level but that can feel overdone and synthetic).  Of course, the end result of all this is a rather processed looking image, something some people don’t appreciate but I myself enjoy. People tend to bad mouth digital post processing but this has never made much sense to me. Processing is a huge part of analogue photography but people don’t seem to have much of a problem with that fact.  Needless to say, the results I have achieved on this trip have made me a convert to digital photography as an artistic medium.  Before I used my digital only for work tasks like product photography and such.  Now I feel like I could get away solely with a digital SLR and never look back. I would miss the unpredictable, organic nature of film but I wouldn’t miss the all the extra time and money that goes into analogue photography.

In case you missed the reference in the title, here’s Paul Simon’s Kodachrome, a song that always makes me lament the fact that I was born about 20 years too late.


32 Comments Leave A Comment


Mike says:

January 24, 2008 at 10:43 am

Wow your shooting those all digital. I could of sworn that you were shooting slide film and just cross-processing it, because of the look that the photos had. Very nice work. Also what lens are you using on your Nikon? I also have the Nikon D80 and I haven’t been too happy with it either. But I make do with it.


Alex says:

January 24, 2008 at 10:49 am

Well for an entry level dSLR, I think the D80 beats Canon’s offerings hands down IMO (having owned both D80 and 400D). The saturation is a lot more natural, quality of build is better, it has a built in remote flash trigger, and uses a lamp for assissted focussing rather than firing the on-board flash like Canon’s entry level offerings.

The focussing problem you have is maybe due to the lens more than anything else – I just got my first prime lens (50mm 1.8) ad it’s quick as you like! Proper tasty bokeh too. Yum.

Still, I think all of those fatures would start to pale when you bring the 5D’s full frame sensor into the offering. And like Hampus says…

PS. Been enjoying your shots & the PP work on them. Have a go on Lightroom’s split-toning for mass cross-processed stylee.


Alan says:

January 24, 2008 at 10:51 am

I really enjoy the processed look to images too. I don’t usually post process any pictures that i take with my D40x, but i really like how it looks.

keep it up : )


sean says:

January 24, 2008 at 11:29 am

before you make the switch to Canon, check out the new D300. I just picked one up to replace a D200, due to terrible focusing (which by the way was still the same with a 50mm 1.8). The focusing is amazingly quick and the high-iso noise has been reduced considerably. Just a thought before you shell out another 1k on a 5D.


nickd says:

January 24, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I own a D80 as well. The AF does tend to be slow, but that depends heavily on the lens you’re using; my ($220) 50 f/1.4 focuses horribly in comparison to my (sadly $1,700) 17-35 f/2.8, owing to the use of an internal focusing mechanism in the latter. I think going for pro lenses is a far more compelling (and, unfortunately, money-sucking) option on Nikon since their lower-grade stuff isn’t really so hot.

What I find more frustrating, though, is the build quality… the D80 has been on the market longer than all of Nikon’s other in-production DSLRs, and it shows. Buttons and switches feel markedly less comfortable and natural than even the D40.

As for post-production, I use Lightroom exclusively at this point; Photoshop is an afterthought. I strongly second the other commenters that you check it out. I tend to step up the contrast and saturation a bit in most of my shots, and then increase the blacks and highlights to get the kind of tonality I want. Very similar to the p’shop color balance dialog, but seems to be more intelligently tuned to most situations I find myself in.


Sara Flemming says:

January 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm

That’s a bummer about the auto-focusing being so slow; I’m surprised, too since it’s newer than my D70 and that focuses quite well.

I can second the lightning-quick focusing of the D300, though. Especially with the vertical grip’s shutter button. It’s a rock-solid camera, but definitely a big step in terms of weight/size/cost from the D80.


Patrick says:

January 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Sorry to hear about the troubles with the D80. I hate to mention it but today is PMA 08 and there’s very good chance that Nikon will be announcing a successor to the D80. Pentax announced their new bodies today and the specs on the K20D are very impressive. With my new set of unique-to-Pentax pancake lenses (not mine), it’s going to be a great year for street photography.

Agree w/ nickd: pick up Lightroom for 99% of your photo management. It has terrific cataloging and tagging features plus all the histogram and photo-editing controls you need. The one caveat is that it doesn’t do any local editing, ie. tweaking portions of an image. However, it hooks into Photoshop seamlessly so you can quickly move back and forth as needed.

I also recommend shooting in RAW. You get a lot of control over white balance which can be especially helpful for correcting odd lighting shots. Not sure about Nikon but with RAW on Pentax, you get extra dynamic range due to 12-bit RAW vs 8-bit JPEG. If you do heavy post-processing, that can be extremely helpful.


Corby says:

January 24, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Also, Pentax has the new K20D (also as Samsung GX-20) and K200D announced this week. I have the K100D Super, and think it’s a really decent camera. Worth looking into more than just Canon for your next set up.


Jasper F. Agterbosch says:

January 24, 2008 at 2:20 pm

I started using Raw when I found out that those can be opened as ‘smart objects’ in PS.
I never thought about it too deep, but it gives me the feeling I have even more control.
That way I can always go back to the Raw file and tweek it.

A 1 GB card only costs you like 2 Scandinavian Hamburgers you know :-)
I always have a couple of them on me when I’m shooting.

Scott, it might be silly but I’m really looking out for your Dutch Cloud photo’s.
I’m a fan of skies and clouds, but a particular kind of cloud.
Next time you spend time in Holland, take the time and go to one of the islands and/or the province ‘Friesland’.
It’s flat, empty and basically a horizon and enormous clouds with, sometimes, a tree or a cow somewhere down the line.
Hard to describe (as it goes with images) but you might just have a more fun time there then in Amsterdam (which is kind of a tourist attraction)


Burticus says:

January 24, 2008 at 3:04 pm

I found your site through Bittbox or Computer Arts, I forget. Anyway, your work is amazing and inspiring, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work.


Marcus Evans says:

January 24, 2008 at 5:13 pm

I personally use a Canon EOS 350D with three lenses.

The camera it’s self isn’t that fantastic. Auto-focus is fine in the day but in low light is hopeless. The view finder compared to old film cameras is tiny and has no focusing tools. Hmmmm, it’s pretty noisy too. Also there is no control over the flash’s brightness so I try my hardest to avoid using it completely. I’ll go buy a wireless flash unit for it sometime.

Mostly I’m in love with my Sigma 10-20mm lens. It nearly cost as much as the camera it’s self but it’s absolutely amazing… I’ve found it immensely useful while skiing as the extreme wide angle helps me to get people in show while I’m skiing at high speeds backwards and not looking down the view finder. It’s also been fantastic indoors or in crampt spaces. It has some problems of course… It’s not so great when people are on the edge of the photo because they streeeetch and it’s so fat it blocks the flash a tiny bit. I also have a Canon 18-55mm that I want to replace. It’s the cheapest lens Canon makes and they bundled it with the camera. Finally, I have a compact 55-200mm Sigma telescopic lens that works pretty well.

I’ve noticed how much you use colour balance and that you favour greens and reds. I myself have to restrain myself from making images with too much cyan and blue on the shadows with orangey highlights hehe. I just tell people who try I shouldn’t post process where to stuff it. Especially when the dynamic range of dSLRs is SO poor.

It’s the difference between

I tend to stick to using RAW now. Especially as I just picked up another 2GB sandisk ultra memory card for £12 ($24 or so). My 2GB sandisk extreme (useful for sequential shots) cost me something like £70 when i got it a couple years ago lol.

In my opinion… At low level, the Nikon cameras are better… Once you break over a certain cash level, the Canons seem to be superior. I’m also interested in the 5D.


Wayne says:

January 24, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Scott, thank you for posting this (especially while on the road) – very good insight into your creative process.

I’ll add my hat into the Lightroom ring. I rarely use photoshop now for color processing, only for clone/heal operations, and specific graphical elements. I shoot with a Canon 30D & 28-135mm lens, and again the posts above mention the advantages of RAW, I couldn’t agree more. With a larger capacity CF card, space is no concern, and creative process is endless. Too bad all the good stuff costs more, eh?

Thanks for sharing.


NAVIS says:

January 24, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Depending on who’s doing the photoshopping, I really enjoy the post processing look. I just got into photography this past July and have been using a 30D. The more I shoot with it, the more I want a 5D now. At first I couldn’t really see the different between what a 30D and a 5D picture looks like. Now that I can, I really want a 5D.

Here’s a shot I took with my 30D from the window (while rolled up) of a car I was riding in on my way back from a trip to Mammoth:

I’ve only picked up a Nikon a few times but I prefer the way a Canon feels in my hand. For me, it’s really intuitive and easy to control on the fly.


Simon says:

January 26, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Good to know about PMA, I’ll keep an eye on that. As a longtime Nikon user it will be sad to swtich over to Canon just because of the 5D, hopefully Nikon will pull a prosumer SLR with a fullframe digital sensor & what ever magic tricks Canon included to get those amazing low light shots – out of the hat!


Kamil says:

January 28, 2008 at 4:42 am

Hi Scot,

Firstly just wanted to say that I am a fan of your work, and the fact that you are constantly traveling and snapping away!

I am new to PP in PS, and was wondering if you could perhaps post some tips on how you get the Lomo Effect in PS?

Thanks a lot!


Will says:

January 30, 2008 at 6:44 pm

I use both canon and nikon all the time, and it is true that Canons AF system is beyond better than what Nikon has to offer, especially in the lower end SLR’s. I’ve had my hopes up for a 5d replacement for a while, since I am really looking to go back to full frame on my digital setups. The Canon 40d takes some really amazing photographs though, the digic update to the image processing really makes that camera rock. I’d still prefer the full frame 5d just for being able to shoot truly wide without special setups, and hopefully the replacement will be what I’m truly looking for (weather sealed).


marcos ojeda says:

March 20, 2008 at 6:38 pm

i’ve had the same experience with the d70, which is otherwise a great camera, but it kinda sucks when you’re at a party or walking down the street and you hold the shutter down only to have it do a little focus freakout dance and then not actually do anything or focus on the wall behind your friend’s head.

sadly, i’ve recounted this to other people only to have them tell me that i’m daft, but i think it’s a problem that only manifests itself if you are taking many impromptu or spontaneous shots.

also, love lightroom, but it seems to suffer like other programs when the catalog grows too big, but i guess that’s life for you. also, after using film cameras for long enough, nikon dslrs feel normal and canon dslrs feel strange… i know that’s not a really good description, but they just feel off…


Jayden Lawson says:

August 6, 2008 at 8:43 pm

This is all I could read from the above post…..

[…] that’s a pretty had price point to justify, so I don’t think I’ll be ditching my D80 just yet (as much as I’d like […]

Anyone know how to read it in full??


Jessica Evans says:

August 11, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Comparing a consumer grade nikon with a professional grade canon doesn’t really work as a thing. I take perfect photos with my Nikon D200, it’s even discontinued. Yet, somehow I still manage to take better photos than most people owning 5D’s…

Lenses and skill are what make a photo great not how much you push into buying a camera. Personally I’d rather stuff the same amount of money at Nikon for a better camera than I would to Canon (considering their products aren’t even better but still higher priced) and go for a low/mid level Pro camera from Nikon instead of a consumer one and save my money for something useful like good lenses instead of wasting it on a Canon. I hear people bitch a lot about consumer cameras, personally I wouldn’t own one if you paid me but you get what you pay for I suppose. Just my 2 cents. :)