A day among the (virtual) clouds by Laura Daly

A few weeks ago now, we spent some time with Virtual Aviation at Cambridge airport.  They have a couple of Boeing 737-800 simulators that trainee pilots (and occasionally, newbies like us) use to practice flying - they are genuine simulators, set up to give you the same feel that the real aircraft would.  Very cool! Obviously, photographing in this environment would be very challenging, due to the low light and bright screens simulating the view out of the window.  But, I do enjoy a challenge, and luckily the low light performance of the Nikon D750 is just fantastic.  I dialed in an ISO of 3200 - easily manageable by the D750, producing very usable images - and started shooting.  Luckily, with it being a controlled environment, once you have the settings in manual, you can just shoot away as they are unlikely to change.  This makes it much easier to focus on composition and trying to get some more unusual looks.  My time was limited, as I was quickly roped into being a co-pilot for my husband!  However, I did get some nice documentary images of his first take-off, flight and landing at Heathrow.  So, as a slight change I decided to present these images as a photo story.  I hope you enjoy.

(A big thanks to Virtual Aviation for their hospitality and great tuition during our afternoon)

learning the ropes-1487Accelerate-1488Pete-1491Taking the controls-1489Easy, right--1494LHR landing-1501

Exploring group shots by Laura Daly

Group shots.  Weddings, events, parties, family gatherings; at some point there is always a group shot to be taken.  I've been trying to figure out how to get the best quality group images - focus, depth of field, exposure, all of these things can make or break a shot (this becomes even more important if it's a paid job).

Arranging your subject

My subject in this case happens to be some Lego minifigures (to me this group *perfectly* represents a wedding party.  Everyone has met a space monster [the relative you had to invite], a fencer [the one who doesn't want to be in the photo]...).  Depending on the lens you use, you will get different compression and therefore the way you arrange your guests will determine how far away everyone appears, how many guests were there etc.

Aperture and depth of field

If it's a dark day, chances are you will want to go for a wide aperture to keep the shutter speed up.  You focus, you shoot, you review, you swear.  The focus can often be off, with the most important guests appearing fuzzy.  Not good.  Here are some examples:

Fuji xpro1 @ f/2.8.  Focus here is on the hotdog guy in the middle of the frame.  The subjects in front and behind of him are not in focus.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/5.6.  Focus here is now on the troll in the front row (where perhaps a bride would be).  Now you've got the first two rows, but the back row has been lost.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/5.6.  Focus here is back on the hotdog guy in the middle of the frame.  Surrounding subjects are clearer, but still not sharp.

The best results were with a smaller aperture (wider depth of field), but more importantly the focus is in the middle.  The point of focus for a lens is a bit like the centre of a sphere.  There will be some stuff in front of (and behind) that point which will also be in focus.  Therefore, if you focused on the bride (say its the troll in the images above), there is less chance of second cousin Ken at the back being in focus.  Clearly, as you decrease the size of the aperture (the f stop number increases), your depth of field will become more forgiving, and this will be easier.

Nikon D700 @ f/16.  Dealing with depth of field becomes even more tricky when using full frame.  The focus here is on the troll again, but even at f/16, not everyone is in focus.  This could be rectified by using a wider angle lens (e.g. a 24 mm).  There would be less compression, so people would appear further apart, but the depth of field is much wider with a lens like this, ensuring everyone is in focus.

With a full frame body like the D750, depth of field is even more narrow so even at f/16 not everyone is completely in focus.  However, that being said unless someone is going to be reviewing a print with a magnifying glass, it may not be noticeable to the regular viewer.  You still need to remember the focus point though - here it is on the troll, and second cousin Ken is still suffering slightly.  If the focus is shifted to the hotdog guy (lets call him Uncle Bob), this problem is rectified.

Nikon D700 @ f/16.  Dealing with depth of field becomes even more tricky when using full frame.  Moving the focus to Uncle Bob in the middle, more people are in focus and sharp, producing an acceptable image.

The Wedding party

These examples are useful when thinking about a normal party, or a family shot at a wedding.  However, there is usually the ubiquitous *everyone* image that is taken at weddings, usually from a height.  Doing this, I actually found that (depending on whether you were shooting DX or FX) you could be a little more creative.

Our wedding couple now are the space ranger and the fencer, who are traditionally positioned at the front of the group.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/11.  The same rules apply here, and in fact are more important as your couple are now further away from the people at the back.  Second cousin Ken is once again getting a raw deal...

Fuji xpro1 @ f/16.  By shifting focus to the front row of the guests (the troll again), pretty much the whole of the group is in good focus [one thing to note - the fujinon 35mm seemed to back focus a little, with there not being much in focus in front].  These images were all shot with natural light only (backlit), so there would be no need for moving around lots of lights.  I quite like the effect too, it does produce a nice, light, airy feel to the images, which would suit a set of wedding shots.

One final thing - if you aren't so fussed about all shots having everyone in focus all the time, using a full frame body can give you some nice images where you can focus on the main subjects (say a bride and groom).

Nikon D750 @ f/2.8.  Taking advantage of the nice bokeh produced by the Nikon 50mm, you can produce images completely focused on the couple, which I actually quite like.

This has been a learning exercise for me, and a very useful one.  I really enjoy shooting with prime lenses, but they do take practice and an understanding of things like depth of field and focusing distance.  Hopefully some of this stuff is also of use to you guys out there.

Nikon D750 - Unboxing and first impressions by Laura Daly

After 4 great years, my Nikon D90 and I have finally said goodbye. It was tough, it was emotional, but it was time. Ok, maybe it wasn't as dramatic as that, but it was a big milestone in my photography experience so far - upgrading to full frame. Of course, this meant sticking with Nikon as I already had lenses, remote releases etc. Also, Canon weren't really offering (in my opinion) anything great enough to jump ship for. I mean, yes, the Canon 5DIII is amazing with a price tag to match, but that itself is ageing and I'm sure will soon be replaced with the Mark IV (I'm ignoring the 5Ds and 5Dsr, ridiculous megapixel count!). So, staying with Nikon left me with a few options. The Nikon D610 - cheapest of them all, quality seems to be under control now after the pretty disappointing issues with early copies, and contains a lot of features suitable for most shooters (2 card slots, big LCD, fair autofocus system). But, something was off with me. It seemed (and felt in the shop) a little underspec, a little too entry-level (hopefully that doesn't make me sound like a gear snob, really I'm not!). That left the D8xx series and the D750. The D8xx cameras really are beautiful, GREAT ergonomics, absolutely packed full of features and of course that MP count. All the images I have seen from these bodies are amazing, and I've read many articles from photographers moving to the cameras from medium format. However, the price and the megapixels eventually stopped me from pulling the trigger. My computer purely wouldn't cope, which would mean further expense after purchase. Same thing with lenses too - I would absolutely have to buy new glass for that sensor. D750 front

So, it had to be the D750 for me. Two card slots, magnesium-carbon monocoque, same AF system as the D810/D4 (Multi-CAM 3500II), GREAT sensor (24.3 MP), slightly smaller and lighter than the other Nikon FF bodies (750g with no battery), it seemed like a winner.

Nikon have really worked hard with their packaging, to make it more environmentally friendly and streamlined - so, more cardboard, less plastic, easier to re-package the gear. Great. There's not an awful lot in the box, which is fine as you get everything you need (giant manual, naff strap, charger and cable - disappointed there was no wall adaptor here, USB cable).

D750 box triptych

And then there was the body. Initial impressions were that it was surprisingly weighty (obviously not as heavy as the D810, that is a beast) but it feels reassuringly heavy and it feels very well built. Much has been made of the skinnier LCD on the top of the body, but all the information is laid out sensibly and actually it seems a little bit more streamlined. The back of the body contains that fantastic 1.2 million pixel RGBW screen out of the D810, which can also tilt. This was the one thing that actually made me apprehensive about this body - I was worried about catching the screen and tilting it when getting it in and out of the bag. We will see how this goes with more use...

D750 back

Finally, one of my favourite features of Nikon's new range of cameras, is the improved ergonomics. Specifically, the grip on the D750 is fantastic! Deep, curved so that your middle finger can rest under the shutter, and the thumb grip has also been beefed up. Coming from the good ol' D90, this grip is a revelation.

D750 side

Final thoughts? The Nikon D750 is a great looking camera, with fantastic ergonomics and a great feature set with a weather sealed sturdy metal composite body. Yes it is pretty heavy, but not "I need a splint for my wrist" heavy. Loads of pro features and in my opinion the sweet spot of megapixel count. Initial shooting impressions will be coming soon, when I took the camera out for the first time to a local air show. Stay tuned, thanks for reading.