No Camera Is Perfect

When high ISOs give you grain, make grain-ade. Sometimes noise reduction software saps the life out of my high-ISO images, so I go the other direction and accentuate the grain for a more painterly look.

Regular readers know that I’ve been very happy since switching to the Nikon D7000 last October. For most of what I do, the D7000 is more than adequate, and a lot of fun too. But over the weekend I shot 2400 frames at a dance competition, and I was disappointed with the results.

There’s nothing wrong with the D7000, but it has limitations I did not respect. For one thing, it boasts a low light sensitivity of ISO 6400.  With previous cameras, I  considered the highest ISOs suspect, and rarely used them. But I’ve always wanted faster shutter speeds for dance, and the allure of 1/500 overwhelmed my better judgement, so I shot the whole event at ISO 6400 and ended up with some very, very grainy images of nicely frozen action. I should have limited Auto-ISO to 3200, shot at my usual dance shutter speed of 1/320, used a monopod or tripod, and chosen my moments more carefully.

My other approach to grain: convert to black and white, since people are accustomed to seeing grainy black and white images. Actually, this one's not too grainy, because it's not significantly underexposed. But as long as I'm digressing, you may recall that B/W conversions are also my favorite solution to mixed lighting sources and over-saturated reds, which this image contains.

But wait, shooting at ISO 6400 wasn’t even my biggest mistake! During rehearsals, I became enamored of Nikon’s 3D Tracking autofocus feature. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “It went so well in rehearsal!” That’s how I felt while reviewing hundreds of mis-focused images. I failed to consider two important things about the 3D focus tracking: 1) it’s slightly slower than the other dynamic modes when acquiring focus, and 2) when two people are wearing the same costume, it gets confused. During rehearsals, the dancers wore street clothes, and the camera had no trouble telling who was who. Not so for several of the dances.

Because I was off to one side, I tried to keep the foreground dancer in focus. I rarely succeeded in cases like this. The 3D focus tracking couldn't tell the subjects apart, and seemed to be drawn to the higher contrast lighting of the dancer in the background. This happened all night.

In the future, I’ll stick with 9 or 21 point dynamic autofocus for dance, as this worked well in the past. I chose the D7000 as the best compromise for the kind of photography I do MOST of the time. There’s a reason sports and news shooters choose Nikon’s higher end cameras. They offer faster focusing, higher ISOs, and speedy frame rates for fast action. They also cost at least five times what a D7000 costs, and I generally work with two camera bodies. The Nikon D3s might be perfect for dance photography, but two of them would cost over $10,000.  I’d have to sell a lot of 4×6 prints to justify that…

I got a few nice images, and achieved my primary goal to provide keepsakes for the participants and a record for the teacher. But you know, I still want to make a great dance photograph, and I'm going to keep trying.

After the competition, alum Tenaya Cowsill performed. I moved in closer with a shorter lens, and was ready as she moved through the best lit part of the stage. This may have provided the best lesson for next year: If I don't care about the audience, I can move around in front of the stage and get some interesting stuff. I must resolve to be more ruthless in the future.

1 Comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Low Light, Post Processing

One response to “No Camera Is Perfect

  1. Pingback: Is My D7000 Honeymoon Over? | Camera Club Confidential

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