Nikon Df Update, Etc.

The Nikon Df continues to be a controversial camera. At least for internet armchair quarterbacks. My observations and experience with the camera suggest almost everyone that actually buy’s one and uses it seriously ends up loving it. After sustained use most people feel a lot like this guy does. That doesn’t mean the camera is without fault. I’ve never owned a camera I didn’t wish something was a hair different. Like all cameras there are niggles here and there.

My wish list is quite different from referenced Df convert. A few of his complaints appear trumped up not to sound too fan-boy-ish. If I had to guess, his real complaint is the ISO dial. He claims adjustment with one hand impossible. I have no idea how the hell you’d use two hands. My thumb presses down the lock and my index finger of the same hand spins the dial. Then again what do I know, maybe he doesn’t have opposable thumbs?

That’s the update, now for the etc. part. Etc substituting for a title something like ”Lens selection, working method, what you want your pictures to look like, the job at hand, psychology behind the camera, and gear”. A fair bit too long so I went with etc.

First off, let’s take the job at hand part. If you happen to be making photographs for someone else, working on a deadline, and have a set of constraints that are fixed then selection of gear and lens choice can make that a lot easier. In fact, those choices may even be the difference between possible and impossible. I’ll offer one extreme example for consideration. Say you are hired to make pictures of a sports event. Maybe a football game? Let’s say it’s for web and print publication. It’s certain that you’ll have a limited choice of where you stand. One of those choices is not going to be on the field close to the players. The job at hand calls for a long tele. That ”how you want your pictures to look” part plays no role in your gear selection. They’ll look similar to every other person that takes pictures of sporting events from far away.

Reverse that for a moment. You’re only making photographs for the sake of art. How you want those pictures to look is completely up to you with nobody else to satisfy. If I were interested in football my choice would be to get on the field with the players. So close I would actually be with the defensive or offensive line. I’d use a short lens from a few feet away. That’s how I like my pictures to look. Could I do this in a pro football game? No chance in hell. Could I arrange for it with some team somewhere on some level during practice? You bet I could.

My point is that choices are not fixed. They are not dictated by subject matter. Choices are based far more on context and how you personally want your pictures to look than some optimal solution for a set of parameters. The cliche about the gear doesn’t matter only serves to demonstrate that some arbitrary measure of a certain metric has little to do with the way your pictures look. Gear choices and how you make them certainly impact an almost infinite number of significant subjective and aesthetic characteristics of the photographs you make. How the gear affects you or your subject psychologically can have huge influence on your results. I’ll never argue with some particular gear choice that someone makes subjectively. I’ll argue until the end of time about some ultimate better-ness.

Case in point, my own personal preference for focal lengths. I want my images to feel close. That’s subjective to a degree but it does have some limit of how far away you can actually stand no matter what your personal assessment of “feeling close” means to you. For me that close feeling is limited to under six feet. Typically I stand a lot closer. I don’t like what I consider obvious lens effects. I want my pictures to feel more transparent. I don’t want the first thing about them to be a feeling of “wide” or “long”. I want them to feel ”normal”. Last but not least I like to manipulate perspective to various degrees while standing in the same spot.

All of those things above have nothing to do with any particular “job at hand” coming from it from this perspective. They all have to do with how I like to make my pictures look. The last one is a bit of a red herring though. A bit of gray area that crosses over between the way I like pictures to look and the job at hand. Of course there’s some overlap. I take pictures of people — females for the most part — lenses in the “normal” range happen to allow me to completely transform the way someone looks with minor variations in the subjects relationship to the film plane or things like that. I’ll be more accurate — lenses in the normal range in combination with my preferred framing and proximity allow me to manipulate subject size relationships extremely easily.

Of course I’m optimizing for what is an extremely small range of results. Why? Because I like my pictures to look a certain way and that particular way happens to be a pretty narrow band. Some other day I’ll discuss the lifetime of possibilities within my narrow band and more on the psychology of that. Maybe even a bit on how attempting to nail down variables in what you want can assure you of never making the images that you want.

I’ll leave you with this. Two extremely similar pictures I made by accident that in my narrow band of wants are worlds apart.

Above image made with my 28mm hunk-o-crap Non-Ai from 1973.

This one was made with my 50mm 1.4/G a few moments later. Two more just to beat a dead horse. I swear I didn’t plan this.


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