Best Camera for Natural Light Portraiture?

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by elementgs, Jun 25, 2014.

  1. Tee

    Tee Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    If you're looking at natural light, you'll want a camera that rates well in the low light/ high ISO category to protect you in various shooting environments. Based on low light/ high ISO alone,. the Nikon DF comes out tops according to DXO Mark with the D3s second but over all best is the D800e. There's also the D610 nestled in there with good scores for color depth. Keep in mind if you choose the D800e you'll want a computer that can handle such high megapixels.

    It's a lot of money to drop. I suggest you go with the essentials first and then use your remaining money after you determine what your needs are.

    For example:
    • D800e - $3,200 (can buy used for less)
    • 85mm 1.8 -$500
    • 24mm 1.4 - $1,900
    • 70-200mm - $2,400
    • 5-n-1 Reflector - $50
    • Batteries, grip, memory cards - $1,000
    Total: $9,050

    Or you could substitute the D800e for the DF which will save you hundreds of dollars on computer upgrades and storage drives.


     
  2. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I've been taking pictures with varying degrees of devotion and studiousness off and on for right around 40 years. Since 2001, I've become more interested in it as a hobby/semi-professional casual portrait shooter/hobbyist/camera nut//freelance sports photographer for two years doing 2 to 3 assignments a week, then later shooting whatever paying gigs I have time for, and in general, really enjoying the "craft" of photography. And yeah, I DO think there are some clearly "better" cameras for portraiture. I've shot with 35mm SLR's (Canon AE-1, Minolta SRT-102, Yashica FX-3, motorized Nikons FM,FE,FE-2, and F3HP; Mamiya RB67 in-studio; motorized fully electric long-roll 35mm camera in-studio for 2 years 5 days week x 8 hrs. day/ 49 weeks a year in-studio; motorized Bronica SQ-AM; Mamiya C220 and C330, Yashica-Mat 124G; and have owned and shot multiple d-slrs for about 2 years each, at minimum: first, Nikon D1, then Fuji S1 Pro, Nikon D1h, Fuji S2 Pro, Canon 20D, Nikon D2x, Canon 5D,Nikon D3x. With a lotta' different lenses. At one time I had two Canon bodies and 10 lenses, including the 24-105 L and 70-200/2.8 L IS USM and 135/2 L, 135 2.8 Soft Focus, 85/1.8 EF, 50/1.4 EF, and a couple Sigmas, an 18-125 for APS-C, Canon 580 EX-II flash. I used the D2x from 2005 until 2012. I also shot the 5D "classic" from 2006 until early 2012. I bought the D3x in spring of 2012. I've also shot a few camera for six months to a year and decided I did not like them much. Nikon F meterless, Nikon F FTN, Nikon F2 of three varieties....ehhhh....

    So--are "any" of those cameras better than one another for portraiture? In a word, YES. Are ALL of them equally good for portraiture? NO, no they are most certainly not. Was I able to make nice portraits with all of those cameras? YES, yes I was able to do that. But there actually are certain cameras that work better, easier, and with fewer hassles than others. You can learn to work around almost any limitations in any camera. I've used some very slooow, clunky beasts: Argoflex TLR ca. 1938. Zeiss Contaflex Super ca. 1955. Russian Zenit ca. 1976. Mamiyaflex TLR, 1958. Kodak Pony 135-B ca. 1954. I made one of my FAVORITE pictures with the Mamiyaflex TLR in 1976 of my dad,brother, and grandfather, in natural, summer sunlight, in a boat on the Columbia River. But overall, that camera was tough to use.

    NEW, modern, full-frame, professionally oriented d-slr bodies handle FAST, have big batteries and huge memory cards, and accept some of the finest lenses made today. Medium format, like 6x6 square or 6x4.5cm rollfilm is 12-shot on 120 square, and 15 frames on 645, and double that on 220 film. Medium format has slow handling, big lenses, with slow aperture, not many zooms, and shallow depth of field at each picture angle, compared to 135 or "full frame". Medium format digital is not even medium format really....it's more like 127 SuperSlide...meaning the lenses all have crop-factor, AF is slow or absent, and the cameras and lenses are big, and limited in scope/variety.

    The thing is, the quality of the light, and the direction the light hits the subject, and where you PUT the subject and the camera, in relation to the light, are keys to photographing in ambient, naturally-sourced light. You do NOT need extraordinary High-ISO performance like the Nikon D4 boasts about; that's for news and sports, where the light is utter rubbish, but you NEED to make pictures. If the light is so bad that you ned much more than ISO 2,000, chances are very high that you'll want supplementary lighting: strobe, LED, speedlight, hot lights, something that you plug in and that runs off of batteries or wall current or an inverter/battery combo. You want a camera that you can SEE WELL through, which is where the high-end full frame bodies shine. You want a camera with a good LCD screen for reviewing. A camera that can handle wide scene dynamic range is super-helpful. You want a camera that handles fast, and is not a total slowpoke.

    Best camera for natural light portraiture? It depends a bit, but in terms of preference, here's a rough list that summarizes my feelings, in more or less order from most-ideal for ME, to least-ideal to "ME":

    I would say Nikon D3x;Nikon D800 or D800e; Canon 5D-III;Nikon D4 or D4s; Canon 1Ds-Mk IV;Sony A99; Canon 1Ds-Mk III; Nikon D3s; Canon 6D, Nikon D600 or D610; Nikon D3s; Nikon D3;Nikon D700; Canon 5D-II; Canon 5D Classic. I could work with any of those, with my favorite being the D3x for ergonomics and file size and MP count and build, battery, and controls over the D800 or D4. The 5D Classic I used for a long time, but it's the weakest 'body' and weakest "AF" of any of those, and the 5D-II also has rather weak AF under tough conditions.

    The fact is that "some gear" just works really,really,really well and is almost transparent in use. Other stuff you need to "ride herd on", or "work around certain issues". As the British say, some cameras are just, "perfectly sorted." Others...have "issues", or "quirks" and whatnot. You gotta buy something you will like, and get some good lenses and accessories. And buy some flash gear too.
     
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  3. elementgs

    elementgs No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thanks for the responses guys, lots to chew on for sure. I had not even considered the DF but was just completely shocked looking at the specs on it. Little funky looking but wow, those stats.

    Tee, I'm ahead of the game in the computer department. I just picked up the new MacBook Pro with the Nvidia card and its been working really well as a tethering machine and remote development is actually flawless in Lightroom so far. It's a screaming computer. My desktops are also all very high end and I have a storage solution in house with 20TB of space though I plan on doubling that when I start doing more portraiture. Thankfully storage is cheap these days. :)

    I recognize the cost is a tremendous investment but I'm more worried about my bang for the buck. The D800e has been my leading contender for a while.

    This one was just announced (or I would have posted earlier about it) and amusingly enough, the article has tomorrow's date on it which means this is breaking news. :)

    Meet the D810. New Gear: Nikon D810 Full Frame DSLR | Popular Photography

    Looks like it has comparable stats to the DF - new range of ISO 64-12,800 and a whole other host of ass kickery.

    http://nikonrumors.com/2014/06/26/nikon-d810-official-announcement.aspx/
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2014
  4. elementgs

    elementgs No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Darrel, as always, thank you for your time and response, very much appreciated. :)
     
  5. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Sure thing John. Lately I've been reevaluating a lot of my shooting techniques and approaches, and trying out some different equipment. Trying to keep an open mind about what I like versus what younger people want, and what I can do to make my images look different than everybody else's images. I really always have tried to go with a very natural, "straight photography" approach...like August Sander's old-fashioned sort of straight documentary look-at-the-camera-and-stand-there-and-let-me-record-how-you-look, with basically natural, accurate color. But I've also always liked soft, ethereal,pictorial renderings, and kind of dreamy looks, some blown highlights, and strong backlighting looks too.

    Here is a smattering of images I shot Friday, and processed on Saturday. I shot all day with two lenses, and mostly, one camera. I made about 835 exposures. These are just basic Lightroom processed shots. I don;t "do" skin smoothing on these kind of web uploads...that's not my thing. I suck at skin smoothing,and basically seldom do it except for clarity adjustments and the very rare Gaussian blur layers. I want things to look "real". I will clean up blemishes and zits with the clone tool, but I try and use the natural light so that I do not have to do much except adjust my highlights and shadows and make an exposure tweak and be done with each frame in about a minute or so. I'm still using Lightroom 3.6...I probably should upgrade to 5.x or whatever. I don't have the time to slave over 500 or 800 frame sets, I just try and crank them out and move on to the next one.

    Here's a few frames that I liked, all totally natural, available bright sunshine on the very last day of spring, at the Oregon coast on the windiest damned day one could ever hope to not have to shoot on.
    D3X_9497_SneakPeak-2.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    f/8 at 1/250 second, monopod, ISO 250, Exp +1.0, 200mm VR-G, 3.16 meters,Hawaii 5-O Lightroom processing


    D3X_9500_web.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    f/8 at 1/250, monopod reflection visible in eyeglass lens. ISO 125, Exp + 1.0, 200mm VR-G, 3.35 meters, cold-tone B&W processing look


    D3X_9687_web.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    Sepia-tone "eye cut" on 3/4 face view, evening, 80-200 AF-S at 112 mm, ISO 400 at 1/200 second to stop windy hair, f/3.5, exposure + 1.33 EV, 2 meters. sepia tone. Her new profile image.


    D3X_9723_SneakPeak.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    Deliberately shot against the BRIGHTEST,most blinding, intense backlighing sun we could find, 80-200mm AF-S at f/5.6 for corner to corner sharpness, ISO 400 to build shutter speed to 1/640, 10 meters distant at 165mm. cream-tone monochrome


    D3X_9495_web copy.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    3/4 face view on windy beach, cold-tone B&W, f/8 at 1/250 second 200mm VR-G, ISO 220 at 3.16 meters


    D3X_9775_web-2 copy.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    late in the day; 80-200 AFS at f/5.6 at 1/1250, ISO 400, + 1/3 EV, 4.47 meters. Strong sidelight from low sun, front fill light from sandy beach. cream-toned monochrome.


    DSCF0063_WEB.jpg photo - Derrel photos at pbase.com
    end of the day, last shots. Subject facing toward the evening sun over the ocean, 1/640 at f/10, 3.98 meters, 200mm VR-G. cold-tone B&W processing
     
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  6. ghache

    ghache No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Most ignorant statement ever. i know plenty of people who can actually shoot amazing photos using lights OR natural light
    Matter of fact, i shot with lights only for years and shoot more and more natural light. oh well, i guess im just lazy.
     
  7. KmH

    KmH In memoriam Supporting Member

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    Those that are good at using just sunlight generally have extensive experience and knowledge of doing photographic lighting with a variety of light source types.
    There is no doubt that having such experience and knowledge is helpful.

    You yourself mention that you have years of experience using lights, thus making a circular argument that chases it's tail by stating "i [sic] guess im [sic] just lazy".
     
  8. TCampbell

    TCampbell Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I think Derrel has given you great advice.

    While you could use just about any camera, I suspect you'd find you prefer the look of a full-frame body (Nikon D600 series or D800 series / Canon 6D or 5D series ... or higher level bodies). The "full frame" means the same lens provides a wider angle of view and this causes you to tend to shoot at a closer distance -OR- to switch to a narrower angle of view lens. But that change (to achieve roughly the same subject framing) changes the physics so that you naturally get a shallower depth of field and stronger background blur than you'd get with a crop-frame body.

    In regards to "natural" light... I use the term "available light" because a wavelength is a wavelength regardless of what generated it. What you REALLY care about is how tight or broad the light source appears to be as this affects how rapidly areas of light can transition into areas of shadow. Gentle transitions tend to look better. When "natural" light is full sun in mid-day... it doesn't look very good. Light modifiers are more important than light sources and hence, the light you can control is better than the light you cannot control. It naturally follows that what you really want is to be able to control the light.

    But supposing you want to use "available" light (hint: buy a few reflectors... they're cheap), then you may find yourself really cranking up that ISO sensitivity for areas that just don't have much available light. When you do this, you'll get more "noise" in the image. Full frame sensors naturally collect more light and tend to exhibit far less "noise" at high ISOs.

    Nikon just announced their D810... while you could wait for a D810 to show up in the retail chain, this announcement will typically cause a drop in price for the bodies that it's intended to replace -- meaning a D800 may become more affordable. I'd say this will "save you money" but we all know you'll spend the money anyway... but you'll get more gear! ;-)
     
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  9. elementgs

    elementgs No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thanks again for the response. I've had my eye on the rumor mill for the 810 and yesterday's announcement almost entirely sealed my decision.

    It seems to have (based on the stats) everything I need to do what I want to do while still allowing me the flexibility in the craft to be happy.

    My only concern is that they still didn't include wifi and gps. I just don't understand why they wouldn't include that.
     
  10. TheFantasticG

    TheFantasticG No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Be butthurt all you want but that's how it is. Read hundreds and hundreds of posts from hundreds of people and it's painfully obvious that it always turns out they don't know how to manipulate light to make it look natural no matter the source. Since you say you know how to manipulate light, I wasn't talking about you so not sure why you even got the butthurt.
     
  11. TheFantasticG

    TheFantasticG No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I thought it included GPS? Hmph. I just glazed over the specs. Congrats if that's what you go with as I'm sure it'll be a great camera.
     
  12. imagemaker46

    imagemaker46 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Photography is learning how to read light, doesn't matter what kind of light. There is no "best camera body" for shooting anything, there is knowing how to use the camera that is sitting in a persons hands. There is no best light to be using, there is just knowing how to use the light that is there, it doesn't matter if it's coming from the sun or a 10watt bulb.

    I believe in a simple approach to taking pictures, use the light and shoot. I'm not sure why people like to try and complicate their lives when it comes to photography.
     
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