I’ve been lusting after an upgrade to my trusty 80-200mm 2.8 lens for a while now. Not that there is anything wrong with it – it produces fabulous images in most situations. Its been absolutely faultless for a few years and I’ve taken many, many photographs with it. I’ve found when shooting weddings in particular it has migrated from my second body to spending 80% of the time on my D3. But, always wanting to improve my images and increasingly depending on natural light (I’m still a relatively “heavy” and confident strobe user compared to most photographers in Nelson to supplement poor light where appropriate – more on that later) I’ve found that sometimes hand-holding a long, heavy lens just doesn’t give the results I require.
So, my main reason for upgrading is the VR (vibration reduction), touted by Nikon to give as much as 3 stops advantage. Does this $3000+ investment deliver? Absolutely, I’d say. I’ve only had the lens a couple of days and not had the opportunity to use it in anger (not that I ever get angry at weddings) so I headed out in the late evening to stalk the local cats! Fast moving, unpredictable and generally uncooperative, they are ideal subjects to test new equipment on. The light was falling fast, really fast and I doubted that I could get any sharp shots but the hit rate was fantastic. Obviously, the VR does nothing to counter movement of the subject so patience and timing are still a prerequisite (very much like wedding photography) but I found that I could get away with much more and utilise pretty appalling light.
The photo above was pretty typical of the results. Its a 50% crop of a shot taken at 200mm, f2.8, 1600 iso and 1/15 of a second. Yes a 15th – handheld! To me, that’s very exciting as I’m sure it is to many other photographers. For everyone else in the real world, this sort of photograph shouldn’t really be possible! Much of the credit must go to the extraordinary ability of the D3 and I should have done a comparison with the 80-200, only I don’t think that the model would have hung around long enough for a lens change. I can predict though that it would have been a blurred, vaguely cat shaped mess.
But we don’t live in a bubble (at least most photographers who make a living out of creating images don’t) and the bottom line for me is always what these revelations mean to my clients. Simply, better images in a wider range of situations and delivering photographs that surprise and delight them. Having the best equipment is great in itself in the same way that using the perfect, well made tool always is. Being able to to deliver results that no one else at the wedding, with their still-amazing-but-limited consumer cameras, simply cannot. Sure, they can get lucky and take great photos but what sets the professional apart is the ability to be lucky the majority of the time. If we can’t do that, we may as well give up.
This comes through compositional skill (a great eye), experience, the ability to work under continual pressure and a passion for the best images possible. It also comes through a willingness to invest in the best technology available (or that you can afford) and taking the time to learn how to use it. The camera does matter and I challenge anyone to take a picture as technically god as the one above on a budget of less than $5000.
In short, respect for the client and the importance of their day.