Photography Equipment: What I Pack, Part 2

In the last blog post, I detailed the contents of my carry on luggage.  That’s what it was, and, conveniently enough, I only had to open the bags propped under my feet at Chicago’s Midway Airport to record this list.
On that list were two Nikon D700’s.  
“Well, Mr. Technology, who must have the best, newest camera on the market,” you are probably thinking, “you’ve slipped up!  Don’t you know Nikon has retired the D700, rolling out the D800 — and, fool you, it’s even better.”
To which I say: “Our survey says?  BAAAAAAAH!”
The big advance in the Nikon D800 is video.  If you read my series on trends in photography, you probably already know I have no interest in being one of these photographers who thinks he’s a videographer.
I’m not a videographer.  I am a photographer.  My interest is in capturing still images and photos.  That said, you may also know I’ve launched a new service called “PICmotion”, which combines the still photo captured with a video background.  Then the entire thing is exported as a video file.
That’s all the video I do — and, until computers leap to the next generation — all I care about doing.  You see, the reason I offer PICmotion is to tap into video social media — but with a photo execution.  Processing speeds and software aren’t currently fast enough to produce a green screen video of BOTH a video foreground and background — the rendering times just take too long.  When technology improves and redering times speed up to seconds vs. minutes?  Then I might reexamine.  
But when I do launch an all video service, it will be utiizing VIDEO CAMERAS.  I want to use tools specifically designed for the media I’m working in.  Unless I find workflow is better with a video optimized SLR hybrid.  If there’s a great reason to use this, a real benefit, then I’ll be the next dude in line.  But so far?  I’m not there.  
That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s great people can capture video on their D800 — or, for that matter, on their iPhone.  But if I’m offering a professional service, I want the equipment I use to be designed for a professional rendering of that image.  I want a professional workflow (more on that in a second).  Disagree with me if you’d llike: and go buy the D800.  I’lll stick to the D700 — for now.
Which, is a work horse.  At a top ISO (not the pushed ISO’s, the H1, 2, etc.,) of 6400, I am happy.  Do I ever use 6400? No.  Do I use 5000?  Yes.  Do I use 5000 and have photos that aren’t grainy and ugly?  Yes.  Do I blow these photos up to a billboard on Times Square? Only once.  And then I shot on Raw.
When Nikon came out with the D800, they threw out the use of the WT4 wireless transmitter with it — and opted for a different transmitter.  Well, that’s all fine and good, but the new transmitter doesn’t offer an ethernet connection — a hard wire from the transmitter, to the computer.  It’s only a wireless transmitter… but….
I seldom use the wireless capabilities of the WT4.  I used to.  It used to be, that’s how I’d transfer the photos from my D700 to the host computer.  But, what I found?  In many (MANY, MANY!) event environments there is so much wireless “noise” that the connection was not reliable (and caused me stress). The result? The damned transmitter blinking red (not connecting) just as a high profile celebrity walked in for her meet and greet.  This used to cause me to double apply my deodorant.
I tried to solve the problem by boosting the wifi signal.  I bought an Amped Wireless network adapter for my computer, trying to suck in the transitter’s wifi signal through a stronger entrance to the computer.  Maybe a little better, but not much.  I tried to buy a bigger antenna for on the WT4, hyping the power on the transmitter’s end: no go.  The result?  I decided the best way for the communication to stabalize was with a hard, ethernet line.
And I was right — what a difference!  Now, I never worry the signal will be blocked, dropped or just piss me off.  However, D800?  Not an option.  That’s a deal breaker.  I am not going back to worrying about wireless connectivity.
There’s something else about the D800: in order for my mom to get the color temperature right, we had to go in and fine tune the settings (it was skewing warm, even with very low color temps).  Now, it’s OK, but she went through hell trying to get it right, and the menu to fix it is buried down in the bowels of the camera.
So, that leaves the Nikon D4 series as the next option.  And, hell yeah!  Those are great cameras!  But at triple the price as the D700 for similar specs, I couldn’t justify it.  And, when my cameras (both of them) were stolen out of my bag last year at the World’s Suckiest Five Star Hotel (see blog) Ritz Carlton LA Live, I felt justified in that decision.  I replaced them, moved on.  I had new cameras in two days without crazy debt.
So, for me, it’s the tried and true, wt4 ethernet loving workhorse D700.  Which reminds me….
One advantage of a new camera is they always increase the pixels it’s capable of shooting.  Well, whoopee.  Do you realize most of my images are distributed live, via social networks?  Have you ever tried emailing a 20 megabyte file on a Verizon internet card with one bar?  Or, my portable satellite?  Now, multiply that by 1000 photos.  During an Indycar race, for example, we take about 1,000 photos a day.  All are uploaded to a server, then downloaded to a tablet, which are all connected to a central RFID system.  After this upload/download occurs, the participant scans an RFID bracelet, and the photo posts to their email or Facebook, depending on what they selected when they registered.  The process is meant to be FAST.  So if those upload and download times are SLOW, the entire point (as my grandpap would say) is MOOT.  (Yes, I know that’s not the right word, but I’m quoting Al.)  By the way, this isn’t my workflow, it’s a process I work with because of the requirements of Indycar.  I have to fit my flow to their methods, not the other way around.  If I can’t do that, I might as well get a job at Picture Place.  Maybe someday I could be manager.  Hmmm.
Upload/ download time under this process? Well, that needs to be under 10 seconds, doesn’t it?  Internet at a race:  either satellite or Verizon.  Either way, it’s speed is challenging — and directly affected by file size.
When would you use a 20 meg file?  Well, I guess if you are blowing up an image to a sofa sized reproduction.  Or,  a billboard — though they have technology that uses algorhthms to achieve those large file sizes.  Maybe some fine art or high fashion applications.  But nothing I do.  My files usually need to be a couple of meg in full resolution, and about 500 kb (or less) for social media distribution.
So, now it’s time to buy a camera.  There’s more too it than file types it produces, sensor size, weight, etc..  When you’re an event photographer, you have to consider workflow.  The better the workflow (getting photos from capture to distribution) the smoother your event day.  The smoother your event day, the less you drink.  The less you drink, the thinner you are.  The thinner you are, the more handsome you are.  The more handsome you are, the happier your partner.  The happier your partner, the easier it is to tell him:
Honey, I need a new camera.
My rant will continue.

One of my tried and true D700s with 2 SB900 flashes.  
A room shot with above setup.  Notice a few things: 1) speaker and audience exposed correctly 2) no white flash off ceiling 3) it doesn’t look like this was taken with flash.  Why? Low flash output on both flashes set to manual, high ISO.
Want to connect more?  Catch me on Twitter (USeventPhotos), check out the web site, US Event Photos.com , or Facebook,  USeventPhotos.