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I got a new toy the other day and instead of laying down in bed in the evening with the owners manual and camera, going page by page to "learn" its operation, I decided to just go out and shoot an assignment with it.
Bad choice…although I have been using Nikons since the film days (F5's) and digital for years now I thought intuitively I'd know where everything I needed was.
Not the case with the Nikon D4 entirely. They moved some key commands to new locations. For example the M/S/C focus toggle switch is now a two step operation requiring both hands when it used to be just a one thumb maneuver. I use this often as I am shooting sports. If I had bothered to read the manual before going on the job I wouldn't have missed a thousand shots. Actually much lower than that. I hate editing tons of stuff.
The out-of-the-box default position is S which is Single focus. It only takes a photo when something is in focus and won't let you trip the shutter at will. Basically useless for action photography in which "the peak moment" is vital to keeping food on the table. I searched like an idiot, as the game progressed, for a way to switch it to continuous focus which allows you to trip the shutter at will whether the subject is in focus or not. But more importantly it also activates focus tracking which adjusts the focus automatically as the subject is moving.
Very useful for sports photography even though when I first began shooting with a Nikon FM2 there was no autofocus. You had to focus manually and you'd better learn fast how to be good at it or you'd starve. But with technology these kinds of skills become absolute…or maybe we just get lazy and depend upon machines too much to do everything for us. I think its a combination of both.
Anyway the one right decision I thought I made was choosing an assignment that I considered not nearly as important as some others in my field. A JV (Junior Varsity) Girl's Soccer match. It has been awhile since I have covered one of these. They are usually given to the rookies. JV are kids in high school who are I guess 13, 14, 15 year old's who aren't ready for the Varsity squad. And so they learn how to play in that sort of "minor league arena" before hopefully being promoted to the next level of competition before they graduate.
To my surprise I had forgotten how much harder it really is too shoot this level of competition. Sure they move a lot slower than the seasoned athletes and all, but the key thing that makes it so difficult is that they don't know what the fuck they are doing. I mean shooting sports involves having a knowledge of the game's rules and plays so that you can anticipate where the action is going to be, or should be, so that you can be ready to grab the "good" shots as they unfold. But with JV…expect the unexpected always. They never are where they should be and never do what they should do…well not exactly never…but far and few in between would seem a fair analysis. With the seasoned college level players and especially pros, they are where they should be and do what they are suppose to do. They may not always succeed but you can count on them to be there. You get into a rhythm if you will and can shoot with eyes closed if need be. Which incidentally I almost have on a few occasion when covering an early Sunday morning event after being out in the pub to the wee hours of the morning drinking the night before. You can almost fall asleep standing up…especially if the game is boringly low scoring like soccer. I'm kidding futball fans. I actually enjoy shooting soccer because there is always a lot of activity on the field for the entire match.
Well getting back to the main point I was lucky enough to come away with a few "keepable" shots. Just enough to satisfy the AD (Athletics Director) in spite of being like a fish out of water with a camera I did not know…yet.
Regarding the D4, I have since "learned" it…and my first review of it is that its an animal. A picture taking machined brute. I love it. I haven't had a pro level top of the line Nikon since the F5's. I just felt that the digital pro Nikon's weren't up to that standard yet for the price they wanted for them. But now they are. They truly have arrived…the megapixels are near where they should be. This particular one has 16.3 MPs and a real 100 - 12800 ISO in an FX format (1:1 ratio)…more than enough for any sports/journalism photographer. The prices are still ridiculously high…but I suppose Nikon justifies that by telling us they have to pay the salaries of the engineers who think up things like, "Hey let's make a one thumb action a two handed hassle and charge people lots of money for the improved mousetrap that didn't need fixing." Gotta love the 21st century.
Oh and the moral of the story? Know your equipment well before you expect someone to pay you for using it. I got over this time…barely
Hopefully you'll learn from my mistakes (Do as I say, not as I do. lol)
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikkor 300 F/2.8
Metering: Center Weighted Average
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Focus Mode: Single
Focal Length: 300mm
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