Even though I know photography is all about concept, light and composition, I remain unrepentantly obsessed with gear. After all, one can only concentrate on concept, light, and composition if one knows the gear well enough that it doesn’t get in the way.
Although I’ve been shooting with the D7000 since October of last year, I’m still encountering situations where the habits developed over three years of D300 shooting degrade my results. Which brings us to this year’s most frustrating shoot to date: the Nordhoff High School For the Love of Dance concert.
During Romeo and Juliet and Dancing With The Ojai Stars, I realized that the D7000 focuses differently than my trusty old D300. I didn’t realize how significant the difference would be until I got into a very familiar setting (a dance concert at Matilija Auditorium) and couldn’t get very familiar results.
I shot 3400 frames over three concerts and selected 649 for further processing. That’s almost 20%, a very good keeper rate for an event with numerous moving subjects. But with the D300, my culls were usually based on compositional elements, not technical problems. With the D7000, a shocking number of the images were out of focus, including some of the keepers.
Hero blogger Thom Hogan had warned me that the D7000’s focusing system would require adjustments to my habits. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how yet. Using dynamic area focusing, I kept missing my desired focus point in the foreground, as the camera seemed to prefer higher contrast elements in the background (more brightly lit dancers, for example).
I switched to single point focusing and that helped a little, but only a little, because I forgot something in Thom’s D7000 guide book: unlike the D300, the D7000 does not offer focus tracking of moving subjects in single point focus mode. Thus, shooting wide open from the back of the theater, I failed to accurately focus on individual leaping dancers unless they leapt within the plane of focus. Any movement forward or back resulted in missed focus.
Another difference between the D300 and the D7000 is the number of focus points. With the D300’s 51 focus sensors, it was easier to keep a focus point over my desired subject. The D7000 has 39 focus points, so it’s more difficult to compose images precisely. As I learned during Dancing With The Ojai Stars, 3D Focus Tracking doesn’t really help when the stage is full of similar looking dancers.
Finally, there is the problem common to all autofocus cameras in this situation: when the subject (e.g., a dancer’s face) is smaller than the focus point, the camera will struggle to find focus. Zooming in for tight crops helped me get sharper images, but good dance images require space/context around the dancer. I face the same problem photographing birds. It’s a lot easier to get a sharp image of a heron than it is to get a sharp image of a hummingbird.
I’m committed to working with the D7000, so ultimately; the solution will come down to practice. I just have to figure out how to practice for something I shoot only once or twice a year. The honeymoon may be over, but I still love my D7000, so now begins the daily effort to make a relationship work. I’m coming up on my 33rd wedding anniversary in July, so I have some experience in these matters.