The Basics

You would think the nature of basic camera operations like aperture and shutter speed would be fundamental to teaching photography, but a surprising number of students, even college students who have had a photography class, know next to nothing about them.
You would think the nature of basic camera operations like aperture and shutter speed would be fundamental to teaching photography, but a surprising number of students, even college students who have had a photography class, know next to nothing about them.

My newspaper and I had another intern the last couple of weeks, a nice young college kid named Ashlynd. She is very enthusiastic about becoming a journalist, and we can already tell she’s going to be a good writer.

Ashlynd told me she didn’t much care for her college photography classes, echoing a number of students who came to me over the years needing help with very basic photographic skills, skills they should have gotten from previous instructors.

Yes, I understand that college is held to a different standard than other fields of instruction. At the same time, I wonder how college students get into photography classes without demonstrating some understanding of their prerequisites. I remember being vetted by an instructor in college before I was allowed to get into her class, though I don’t know how a lot of my classmates managed to get in.

Seriously. Students tell me all the time, “That professor didn’t tell me about aperture or shutter speed or ISO or…” You get the idea.

I appreciate the idea that the purpose of college is to educate at the next level, but I also appreciate that if you don’t learn the very basics, it’s difficult to advance. I also appreciate all the really great college photography instructors who can set aside their egos and cater to their students. The students and their families, after all, are paying for it.

Making a simple portrait of our neighbor's dog seems like very basic photography, but people come to me all the time asking me how I did it, and I'm happy to help them.
Making a simple portrait of our neighbor’s dog seems like very basic photography, but people come to me all the time asking me how I did it, and I’m happy to help them.

I’ve been teaching since 2007. When I teach Intro to Digital Photography at the Pontotoc Technology Center, I start at the beginning. That’s the only way it can work. Almost everyone in those classes is holding a camera that is set to shoot the way it was when they opened the box, attached a lens, charged the battery, and started shooting. In the biz we refer to this setting as “green box mode,” since most cameras have a big green box or icon on the exposure mode dial, often marked with an “A” or the word “Auto.” This setting essentially takes over almost all the settings, making a potentially powerful camera into a point-and-shoot.

Is there a solution to college kids who don’t get what they need from classes? Is there such a thing as remedial photography?

I’ll marry this idea to one I experienced in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2013. Oklahoman photographer Jim Beckel and I were photographing the historic plaza when we came across a group of photographers shooting with some very expensive, very new-looking equipment, who seemed to be struggling to express what they were seeing. They asked us to make a group photo for them when they told us they’d just taken a class from someone (I don’t remember his name or the name of the class or school.) They all rolled their eyes simultaneously, and one of them said, “He was quite a character!”

I hope no one I am instructing ever refers to me that way.

Finally, I am a firm believer that students who are having fun taking pictures are dramatically more likely to remain engaged, and retain more of the craft we are teaching.

A young photography student named Jennifer takes pictures in my class at the Pontotoc Technology Center a few years ago. I hope I gave her what she needed.
A young photography student named Jennifer takes pictures in my class at the Pontotoc Technology Center a few years ago. I hope I gave her what she needed.

And the Moon Shall Become as Blood

I have a revelation for you: the night of January 20 into the very early parts of January 21, all of North America that has clear weather will be able to see, and photograph, a total lunar eclipse. I hope to photograph it myself, as does my wife Abby.

The moon takes on various shades of amber during the September 2015 total lunar eclipse. The dim, red light is created by sunlight refracting through earth's atmosphere.
The moon takes on various shades of amber during the September 2015 total lunar eclipse. The dim, red light is created by sunlight refracting through earth’s atmosphere.

Here are a few tips and tricks…

  • Longer is better. If you have a telephoto lens, consider that despite its impressive appearance in the sky, the moon is actually quite small, about 0.5 degrees, smaller in apparent size than your fingernail held at arm’s length. To fill up the frame with the moon, you need as much telephoto as you can get. If you have a 300mm, you will probably be disappointed at how small the moon is in the frame. Adding a teleconverter can help, but a cheap teleconverter can rob so much sharpness, the image ends up much worse.

    As formidable as this combination of the Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 and its TC-14 teleconverter looks, it's still not really long enough for photographing objects the size of the sun and moon.
    As formidable as this combination of the Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 and its TC-14 teleconverter looks, it’s still not really long enough for photographing objects the size of the sun and moon.
  • If there is an astronomy club near you, consider joining. You will have shared access to real astronomical telescopes that eclipse (pun intended) photographic lenses.
  • The moon moves surprisingly fast across the sky. Exposures of more that a few seconds will likely result in the moon appearing as an oval blur instead of an amber disc. Larger apertures and higher ISO settings are your friend, but the next level is to put your camera on a telescope with a drive mechanism that tracks objects across the sky, leaving you free to use lower ISOs and longer shutter speeds for maximum sharpness.
  • It’s January. It will probably be cold outside. Bundle up. You’ll probably spend some time standing around waiting unless you’re lucky to live in a dark area…
  • Find a dark area. The full moon is quite bright, but by the time it’s in full eclipse, it might be dim enough that you have trouble locating it; I did a couple of times three years ago. If you are in the city, it might be difficult to get around all the light pollution.
  • Don’t believe the absurd things you hear about eclipses and other stellar phenomena. Eclipses aren’t omens. Mars will never look as big as the moon. Asteroids are not going to crash into the earth. There are no space ships hiding behind comets. The world is not flat… eclipses are obvious proof of that. Before you spread bad memes, learn some good science. And have fun photographing the eclipse next month.
This is an assembled composite from seven images made at 20-minute intervals of the Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, lunar eclipse.
This is an assembled composite from seven images made at 20-minute intervals of the Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, lunar eclipse.

Find out when and where to photograph the next lunar eclipse here (link). 

A Look Back: The Nikon D200

The Nikon D200 stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip. The D200 is a good-looking, great-handling camera from the mid-2000s.
The Nikon D200 stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip. The D200 is a good-looking, great-handling camera from the mid-2000s.

The Nikon D200 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a sturdy, capable, good-looking camera from the mid-2000s. It has a 10.2 megapixel sensor that will shoot from ISO 100 to 3200, a decent autofocus system, and it fits just right in my longish hands.

I’ve made tens of thousands of images with my D200s. I own three, all gotten cheap on Ebay, though one of them died earlier this year. In 2018, I don’t consider the D200 a front-line camera, but I still grab them from time to time, and they still deliver.

Luminaries glow at Relay for Life 2014 at Ada High School Friday, May 30, 2014. Made with one of my D200 cameras, color, contrast, and sharpness are all excellent.
Luminaries glow at Relay for Life 2014 at Ada High School Friday, May 30, 2014. Made with one of my D200 cameras, color, contrast, and sharpness are all excellent.

At the end of the film era, many of us used the excellent Nikon F100 SLR, often with the MB-15 vertical grip. I had two of them at my newspaper from 1997 until I retired the last one in 2005, when I only shot a handful of film negatives.

We waited eagerly for its digital equivalent.

The F100, sometimes nicknamed the “Baby F5,” was everything we could want in a film SLR, viceless, well-built, and a pleasure to use. When the D100 appeared, it didn’t deliver on the promise to be the digital F100. The D100 was slow to shoot, slow to think, and sported some very awkward controls, most notably the badly-implemented exposure mode dial. See my D100 review here (link.)

It wasn’t until November of 2005 that we got a look at what would be the “digital F100,” the Nikon D200.

The Nikon D200 digital SLR stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip with an older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted.
The Nikon D200 digital SLR stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip with an older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted.
  • I was amazed when I saw the noise in this image made with a D200 by a photographer at another newspaper, until I realized it was originally a JPEG, not a raw file. I shoot raw files exclusively with the D200.
    I was amazed when I saw the noise in this image made with a D200 by a photographer at another newspaper, until I realized it was originally a JPEG, not a raw file. I shoot raw files exclusively with the D200.

    Build quality is head and shoulders above its predecessors, the D70 and the D100, and its contemporary, the D80. The D200 feels solid in hand, and its operations feel smooth and powerful.

  • Though the rubber coating on Nikon D70s is disintegrating into a sticky mess, the same-era D200’s rubber grip panels are fine.
  • Image quality at modest ISO settings (below about 1600) is excellent, with sharp details, accurate color, and low noise. ISO 3200, which is “Hi-1” on the display, is pretty noisy, and it’s not good-looking noise, tending toward blotchiness.
Ty Hoppe nervously chews on his tassel prior to Latta High School's first ever commencement ceremonies in their new multi-million dollar gym Tuesday evening, May 20, 2014. Though somewhat noisy at the D200's maximum ISO of 3200, the image still worked well.
Ty Hoppe nervously chews on his tassel prior to Latta High School’s first ever commencement ceremonies in their new multi-million dollar gym Tuesday evening, May 20, 2014. Though somewhat noisy at the D200’s maximum ISO of 3200, the image still worked well.
  • With the MB-D200 multi power battery grip, it holds two batteries, and adds a vertical shutter release. This combination feels and looks very professional.
  • Media storage is the Compact Flash (CF) card, which I have always liked because it is about the right size for my workflow and in my hands. SD cards seem a little small and easy to lose, although I now use them all the time and have never lost one.
The back of the Nikon D200, which is the side we use, after all, has the usual controls in the usual places. An odd choice was to made some of the lettering pale yellow.
The back of the Nikon D200, which is the side we use, after all, has the usual controls in the usual places. An odd choice was to made some of the lettering pale yellow.
  • The D80, introduced a few months after the D200, uses the same sensor, but is constructed of plastic.
  • The D200 viewfinder is large and bright, and the monitor is big for its time at 2.5 inches diagonal.
  • The D200 has a pop-up flash on the pentaprism, a feature I occasionally wish was on pro models for use as fill light in sunny situations.
  • The exposure mode button on the top of the D200 is a professional standard. It made scrolling through the P, A, S, and M exposure modes quick and easy.
    The exposure mode button on the top of the D200 is a professional standard. It made scrolling through the P, A, S, and M exposure modes quick and easy.

    Unlike all models aimed at amateur photographers, the D200 does not have an exposure mode dial, but an exposure mode button, which I very much prefer. It doesn’t need the mode dial because it doesn’t offer “green box” mode or scene modes, which are used almost exclusively by amateur photographers.

  • Also unlike current amateur Nikon cameras, the D200 has a focus motor in the lens mount, so it will focus older AF Nikkor lenses.
  • The D200 has an aperture indexing ring around the lens mount, allowing it to use automatic exposure with non-autofocus lenses.
  • Color out of the D200 is adequate, but even using the “vivid” setting, it can be a little on the muted side. Both noise and color rendering are vastly improved by shooting raw files.
  • The D200 can be converted to shoot infrared.
This is the Vietnam Veterans travelling wall, which visited Ada a few years ago. The D200s 10.2 megapixel sensor has enough resolution to give an image like this excellent sharpness and clarity.
This is the Vietnam Veterans travelling wall, which visited Ada a few years ago. The D200s 10.2 megapixel sensor has enough resolution to give an image like this excellent sharpness and clarity.

Overall, I would say that the Nikon D200 was an excellent camera for news, sports and magazine photography, and though it is older technology, I have no intention of retiring or selling mine; for one thing, they cost nearly nothing, and I couldn’t get anything for them if I wanted to sell them. Ebay shows D200s in good condition for less than $200, sometimes less than $100. It’s also worth noting that if someone gave me one, or I saw one at a garage sale for $25, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to snatch it up.

One of my photography students smiles in late summer sunshine in this image made with the Nikon D200 and my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.
One of my photography students smiles in late summer sunshine in this image made with the Nikon D200 and my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.

Geotagging, Selfies, Crowds, and the Menace to Nature

I last visited the majestic, awe-inspiring Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River south of Page, Arizona in 2015. I don't anticipate seeing it again, at least not when it's crowded.
I last visited the majestic, awe-inspiring Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River south of Page, Arizona in 2015. I don’t anticipate seeing it again, at least not when it’s crowded.

An article on Petapixel recently brought to my attention the fact that due to recent invasions by huge numbers of tourists at an easy-to-access but previously only sparsely visited location, Horseshoe Bend, which I have visited twice, now has a new $750,000 steel railing at the overlook.

My experience with Horseshoe Bend is the same as anyone else's: I was part of a very large number of people trying to enjoy the experience of a very beautiful natural place.
My experience with Horseshoe Bend is the same as anyone else’s: I was part of a very large number of people trying to enjoy the experience of a very beautiful natural place.
Abby and I got married at Arches National Park's beautiful and evocative Delicate Arch, which, fortunately, was not at all crowded on that October morning. This image was made six years later, on a sunny afternoon, packed with visitors.
Abby and I got married at Arches National Park’s beautiful and evocative Delicate Arch, which, fortunately, was not at all crowded on that October morning. This image was made six years later, on a sunny afternoon, packed with visitors.

I’ve been aware for some time that crowds are discovering and choking places that were once only inhabited by a few dedicated naturalists or photographers.

The worst of these, in my opinion, has to be Antelope Canyon, which I saw in 2012, and to which I have no intention of returning. It has been taken over by geotaggers and their phones, and because it is so popular, holds little appeal to me. On that visit, a women in our tour group put away her camera halfway through the tour. When I asked her why, she said, “This isn’t relaxing.”

Geotagging is using the GPS coordinates to mark the location associated with your photos, allowing others to easily find it and visit it.

It is also significant that locations swarming with visitors dilute the value of photos you might make there: sure, you have a nice image, but so do all the hundreds or thousands of people huddled around you. Instead of creating a unique image, you are part of a group of stenographers.

Visitors make pictures at Antelope Canyon in 2012. This is a splendid example of a beautiful natural phenomenon being crassly commercialized.
Visitors make pictures at Antelope Canyon in 2012. This is a splendid example of a beautiful natural phenomenon being crassly commercialized.

Even our beloved Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, which I have had the privilege of visiting nine times,  including when  Abby and I got married there in 2004,  may soon have restricted visitation or even require a permit.

Then, to make matters worse...
A pair of artworks by renowned painters Salvador Dali and Francisco Goya were damaged over in Russia after a group of girls posing for selfies accidentally knocked over the structure on which they were being displayed.
While it is true that our National Parks belong to all of us, such privilege also comes with it an implicit mandate of responsibility to protect and respect the natural world. This image was made at Mather Point at Grand Canyon National Park in April 2015.
While it is true that our National Parks belong to all of us, such privilege also comes with it an implicit mandate of responsibility to protect and respect the natural world. This image was made at Mather Point at Grand Canyon National Park in April 2015.

There is a little bit of good news, though: if it takes a fair amount of physical effort, like hiking 10 miles for example, most of the population are too lazy and out of shape to do it.

A friend photographed me on the Joint Trail at Canyonlands in 2016. It is a moderately difficult, moderately long day hike, and unlike features close to roads and cities, we had it nearly to ourselves.
A friend photographed me on the Joint Trail at Canyonlands in 2016. It is a moderately difficult, moderately long day hike, and unlike features close to roads and cities, we had it nearly to ourselves.

So what is the essential cause of this issue, why does it matter, and what can we do? Is this just a symptom of an Earth with 7.7 billion people on it? Do we have the internet to blame? Social trends? The selfish selfie scene?

By their very nature, people are destructive to many of the natural phenomena we hold in high regard, not just by their appearance, but also by their consumption and erosion of natural features. Their footfalls and Twinkie wrappers are far more damaging than their appearance in our images.

A truth to remember, though, is that we all want to create beautiful photographs, we all want to record and preserve our memories, and we all want to show off our experiences. It’s hard to be too critical of tourists and photographers while being one of them.

What can we do to both protect and experience these beautiful places?

  • Visit during off-peak seasons
  • Visit when the weather discourages visitors, like when it’s super-cold
  • Get to the trail head before the sun comes up, and get off the trail before the crowds start to thicken
  • Obey and defend the Leave No Trace paradigm

Despite some locations being “discovered,” there are still wild, unspoiled spots in the world, worthy of our exploration and our respect.

In 2014, I photographer Delicate Arch in Arches National Park on a cold pre-dawn October morning. As a result, I had beautiful, unique light, and was completely alone at an otherwise crowded location.
In 2014, I photographer Delicate Arch in Arches National Park on a cold pre-dawn October morning. As a result, I had beautiful, unique light, and was completely alone at an otherwise crowded location.

30 Years at The Ada News: Evolution and Revolution

Portions of this entry are from my Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 column in The Ada News.

This was one of the first images I made at The Ada News in October 1988, shot with my Nikon FM2n and my 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF Nikkor at Hayes School. It ended up winning an Oklahoma Press Association award for feature photos.
This was one of the first images I made at The Ada News in October 1988, shot with my Nikon FM2n and my 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF Nikkor at Hayes School. It ended up winning an Oklahoma Press Association award for feature photos.
This is the page-sized process camera in the office directly below mine. It was once served by a dumbwaiter, and was made obsolete by the 1998 addition of an imagesetter.
This is the page-sized process camera in the office directly below mine. It was once served by a dumbwaiter, and was made obsolete by the 1998 addition of an imagesetter.

I started at The Ada Evening News (The Ada News since 2012) October 24, 1988, 30 years ago today. In that time, a lot has changed, mostly for the good. A few notes…

  • In the 1980s and most of the 1990s, all my newspaper photography was on film, most of it black-and-white…
  • Most of those images were printed using a system invented in the 1950s, the Kodak Ektamatic processor, which used activator and stabilizer with papers that had developer incorporated into their emulsions, like Ektamatic SC, which…
  • …was a single-weight, fiber-based photographic paper offering very fast turnaround at the expense of quality and longevity. Although there are literally thousands of Ektamatic prints in within my reach as I write this, none are worth saving.  Additionally, because the prints had only been stabilized, not washed and dried, they smelled like vinegar.
This is the Kodak Ektamatic processor in my darkroom at The Ada Evening News in 1989.
This is the Kodak Ektamatic processor in my darkroom at The Ada Evening News in 1989.
I happen to think the Ada area is home to many great sports traditions, and for me, shooting celebrations and dejections is as important as shooting the action. In this image, Ada softballers Amory Morgan and Taryn Jack celebrate an extra-innings score at the Ada High Softball Complex in 2010.
I happen to think the Ada area is home to many great sports traditions, and for me, shooting celebrations and dejections is as important as shooting the action. In this image, Ada softballers Amory Morgan and Taryn Jack celebrate an extra-innings score at the Ada High Softball Complex in 2010.
  • Sometimes sports photography, like sports itself, comes down to a few critical seconds. In this image from a February 2002 area playoff basketball game at Wilburton, Latta Panther players and fans celebrate a go-ahead score against Haworth with just 1.2 seconds remaining in the contest. Latta won the contest to advance to state.
    Sometimes sports photography, like sports itself, comes down to a few critical seconds. In this image from a February 2002 area playoff basketball game at Wilburton, Latta Panther players and fans celebrate a go-ahead score against Haworth with just 1.2 seconds remaining in the contest. Latta won the contest to advance to state.

    When I first came to The Ada Evening News, we had no capability to reproduce four-color images on our own, and had to send images to an Oklahoma City first to have color separations made, so having a color photo in the paper was relegated to holidays and special events. In 1991, we inherited a primitive color separator (its software was stored on a microcassette), and could then have a color picture on Sunday.

  • A lot of more of my shooting in the film era involved flash photography for the simple reason that we couldn’t change ISO settings like we can today. I would shoot two or three assignments on one roll of film, usually T-Max 400.
  • The digital era began for me in 1998, when my newspaper bought a 35mm film scanner (a Nikon LS-2000) and a computer (an Apple PowerMac G3,) which had a floppy drive, and a Zip® disk drive, but only a CD-ROM, so I was unable to archive scanned images from that era. The editor during that period was too cheap to buy Zip disks for archiving, which was very seriously short-sighted,

    though we still have the negatives on file.

I made this image of Boy Scouts presenting the colors at an Ada Cougars home football game at Norris Field in my first week at The Ada Evening News, in October 1988. It later placed in the Oklahoma Press Association's Photo of the Year contest in the "character study" category.
I made this image of Boy Scouts presenting the colors at an Ada Cougars home football game at Norris Field in my first week at The Ada Evening News, in October 1988. It later placed in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year contest in the “character study” category.
  • Music legend Mae Boren Axton presses her handprints into cement at the McSwain Theater in the 1990s, not long before her death. I am honored to record this kind of history for our community.
    Music legend Mae Boren Axton presses her handprints into cement at the McSwain Theater in the 1990s, not long before her death. I am honored to record this kind of history for our community.

    It was around this time that my newspaper got its first imagesetter, a device that printed the page-sized negatives of newspaper content, replacing the downstairs process camera and fundamentally advancing our layout, design and publishing methods.

  • In 2000, I asked for and received a Minolta medium format film scanner, which I used as often as I could, but which gave poor color scans.
  • My first digital camera was the Nikon D1H, purchased by my newspaper in August 2001. Despite its 2.66 megapixel sensors, the D1H was a great addition to my toolbox, and despite having film cameras and scanners in my bag, digital became increasingly prevalent in my work. My last photographic negatives were made in 2005.
  • By the middle of the 2000s, the scanners we had slid into obsolescence due to their SCSI interfaces, which stopped being supported my modern operating systems. Although I could scan with USB-based flatbed scanners, I was never able to get a true high-resolution film scan again.
  • Since 2007 I have been teaching photography at the Pontotoc Technology Center, and I hope being a news photographer has made me a better teacher, and that teaching has made me a better news photographer.
If you lived in Ada in the spring of 2000, you remember when the mill burned in the middle of the night in downtown Ada, and how it smelled for a month afterwards.
If you lived in Ada in the spring of 2000, you remember when the mill burned in the middle of the night in downtown Ada, and how it smelled for a month afterwards.
  • We sold our press in 2012 or so, and began printing our product at our sister paper, The Norman Transcript, and delivering it by mail. With the departure of our press crew and our carriers, our building became mostly vacant. Portions of it were so poorly cared for that they are probably beyond rehabilitation, and will remain closed off and used as storage.
The Ada Cougars claim a state championship trophy at Owen Field at Oklahoma University in 1994. Since I have been at The Ada News, the Cougars have brought home five football championship trophies.
The Ada Cougars claim a state championship trophy at Owen Field at Oklahoma University in 1994. Since I have been at The Ada News, the Cougars have brought home five football championship trophies.
  • One of the best developments in these three decades has been my relationship with the community. While it’s true that bosses and coworkers have been unkind to me on occasion over the years, the public is overwhelmingly glad to see me, impressed with my work, and regards me as the face of The Ada News.
  • According to a count by a few long-lasting co-workers and me, in my time at our newspaper, there have been eight publishers and 14 managing editors.
Not all news is good, as in this image of a firefighter frustrated that he can't get water to his hose during a snowstorm at the scene of a fatality house fire north of Ada in January 2010.
Not all news is good, as in this image of a firefighter frustrated that he can’t get water to his hose during a snowstorm at the scene of a fatality house fire north of Ada in January 2010.

A Look Back: The Nikon D70S

Abby scans the scene at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska for a photo with her then-new Nikon D70S in hand. She made a lot of great images with that camera over the years. Abby keeps a d-ring on the strap of her camera to clip to her belt loop to keep it from swinging when she hikes.
Abby scans the scene at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska for a photo with her then-new Nikon D70S in hand. She made a lot of great images with that camera over the years. Abby keeps a d-ring on the strap of her camera to clip to her belt loop to keep it from swinging when she hikes.
Abby holds her Nikon D70S as she smiles for me at a rest stop in the Texas Panhandle.
Abby holds her Nikon D70S as she smiles for me at a rest stop in the Texas Panhandle.

Nikon struggled and stumbled in the early 2000s, as did many companies, with how to adapt to the coming digital era.

On more than one occasion, Canon took big steps ahead that Nikon didn’t, and more than a few photographers switched entire systems during that period.

Nikon’s flagship cameras, the D2H and the D2X, were behind the curve even when they were introduced, while their Canon contemporaries, the 1D Mark II and the 1Ds Mark II, had twice as many pixels and were nearly twice as fast.

Despite a fair amount of dust and sticky leatherette panels, our Nikon D70S still works fine.
Despite a fair amount of dust and sticky leatherette panels, our Nikon D70S still works fine.
The author switches back and forth between the Nikon D70S, with a wide angle zoom on it (in hand), and the Nikon D100, with a telephoto zoom, at Mesa Verde National Park in October 2005.
The author switches back and forth between the Nikon D70S, with a wide angle zoom on it (in hand), and the Nikon D100, with a telephoto zoom, at Mesa Verde National Park in October 2005.

In 2004, Nikon introduced the D70, a lighter, smaller, more affordable DSLR than either of the D2 series, and photographers snatched them up, some even asserting that it was Nikon’s “only” professional camera. In 2005, Nikon offered the D70S with some incremental updates to the D70. At that point my newspaper and I traded my two Nikon F100 film cameras for a D70S, and in the summer before Abby and I travelled to South Dakota on our vacation, Sundance, we bought a D70S for her.

The D70S was head and shoulders above the Nikon D100, which I reviewed in August. Some observations…

  • The D70S has a fairly weak anti-aliasing filter, so fine lines and and repeating patterns can exhibit the “Christmas tree lights” effect.
Abby uses her D70S with the lightweight 75-300mm f/4-5.6G at Scott's Bluff National Monument in July 2005.
Abby uses her D70S with the lightweight 75-300mm f/4-5.6G at Scott’s Bluff National Monument in July 2005.
  • At six megapixels, the D70, D70S and D100 were right in the middle of the count or the era. Nikon’s D2H had four, and the D2X had 12.
The Nikon D70S and its usual kit-lens companion, the 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5, make a very straightforward lens and camera combination, with no surprises and nothing amazing.
The Nikon D70S and its usual kit-lens companion, the 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5, make a very straightforward lens and camera combination, with no surprises and nothing amazing.
  • JPEGs straight out of the camera tend to be too yellow. Both Abby’s camera and my work one did this. It required a deep menu adjustment. This might have been Nikon’s counter reaction to their previous cameras exhibiting JPEGs that were a little bluish.
  • The top LCD display on the D70S contains most of the important information you need. Many new entry-level cameras put this info on the display on the back of the camera to save space.
    The top LCD display on the D70S contains most of the important information you need. Many new entry-level cameras put this info on the display on the back of the camera to save space.

    Shutter operation is smooth, but limited to three frames per second, slow by news and magazine standards, even compared to the film days. Better, though, was the fact that files wrote to the CF card fast, and the D70S would keep shooting. I seldom filled the buffer and had to wait. This was a key failing of the D100, which would stall and stop after shooting just a few RAW files.

  • The material covering the surfaces of the camera is a cheap plastic of some kind, and got slick soon after delivery. Eventually, Abby’s D70S’s surface got sticky as the plastic started to decay. Despite the D100’s shortcomings, this was one of the few things Nikon got right with it.
  • Another key item that set the D70 above the D100 was the exposure mode dial. Important settings in the D100 required turning the dial to change them. The D70 and the D70S moved those to buttons in the back of the camera, so the exposure mode dial only controlled the exposure mode. This was an important step from Frankencameras to true digital cameras.
The Nikon D70S has a true exposure mode dial.
The Nikon D70S has a true exposure mode dial.
  • Unlike the D100, Nikon never developed a battery grip for the D70. This is common on today’s entry-level.
  • Unlike the D100’s magnesium alloy body, the D70 and D70S are mostly plastic.
  • Most entry-level DSLR cameras don't include a second command dial, found on the right front of the camera under the right index finger. The reason for this is, along with removing the top LCD display, to save space and make very small cameras, but I use the second command dial every day.
    Most entry-level DSLR cameras don’t include a second command dial, found on the right front of the camera under the right index finger. The reason for this is, along with removing the top LCD display, to save space and make very small cameras, but I use the second command dial every day.

    The D70S has a dedicated second (front) command dial, which is mostly missing on Nikon’s later entry-level cameras to save space. I find having two command dials indispensable.

  • The D70 and its predecessors include the so-called “screwdriver” autofocusing connector on the lens mount so it will focus older AF lenses in the Nikkor lineup. None of Nikon’s entry-level cameras today include it, requiring lenses with built-in focus motors (AF-S) or a photographer willing to manually focus.
  • ISO in the D70S is limited to 1600. I don’t care how noisy 3200 and 6400 might have been, Nikon; I needed those ISOs.
The back of the D70S reveals a work in progress. Controls are a bit clumsy and small compared to more modern cameras, as is the two-inch display.
The back of the D70S reveals a work in progress. Controls are a bit clumsy and small compared to more modern cameras, as is the two-inch display.
Abby photographed me with her D70S at Monument Valley in 2006. As you can see, color rendition and sharpness are excellent.
Abby photographed me with her D70S at Monument Valley in 2006. As you can see, color rendition and sharpness are excellent.
  • The D70S was one of the last, maybe the last, entry-level camera to use Compact Flash (CF) cards. THe D40, D40x, D50, D80, and D90 all use the much smaller, and equally capable, Secure Data (SD) cards.
    The D70S was one of Nikon’s last, maybe THE last, entry-level camera to use Compact Flash (CF) cards. THe D40, D40x, D50, D80, and D90 all use the much smaller, and equally capable, Secure Data (SD) cards.

    The “kit lens” that came with the D70 series, the AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G, was a decent performer, sharp and lightweight, but with a stiff zoom ring that the longer focal lengths together, making fine zoom adjustments difficult. In addition to the Abby’s, I still have one in my bag at the office, which I use when I want to lighten up, like at ball games where I will only need a few wide angle frames.

Despite the pixel limitations and other shortcomings of digital cameras of the early 2000s, Abby and I were able to make great images that print well and stand the test of time. See Abby’s daughter’s wedding (link), which we shot entirely with two Nikon D70Ss.

Abby’s D70S still works to this day, but after about 30,000 frames, the one at my office died. It now lives in the trophy case in the front entrance to my newspaper.

Abby makes pictures with her Nikon D70S at a turnout on U.S. 64 near the New Mexico/Colorado border in October 2005.
Abby makes pictures with her Nikon D70S at a turnout on U.S. 64 near the New Mexico/Colorado border in October 2005.

A Look Back: The Nikon D100

My last remaining Nikon D100 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera stands tall in my home studio recently.
My last remaining Nikon D100 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera stands tall in my home studio recently.
Like any camera, the Nikon D100 was able to make amazing images in the right hands and the right circumstances, as in this image of my lovely wife in December 2009.
Like any camera, the Nikon D100 was able to make amazing images in the right hands and the right circumstances, as in this image of my lovely wife in December 2009.

The first digital camera I used regularly was the Nikon D1H, a relatively low pixel count camera at just 2.6 megapixels. My newspaper bought it for me for primary news gathering, and though its limitations were obvious, so was its ability to replace film, and thus save money and streamline workflow.

I immediately loved shooting digitally. It wasn’t instant gratification that charmed me, but the idea that the process could get out of my way and let me do my job. I liked it so much that I started hunting for digital cameras of my own. The first one I bought was a Nikon Coolpix 885, a compact camera I hoped would become my snap shooter.

This image of a tree silhouetted against a pond at sunset was made with the Nikon D100.
This image of a tree silhouetted against a pond at sunset was made with the Nikon D100.

I still wanted more, though, so I watched for cameras to go on sale. In the summer of 2002, I bought a Minolta DiMage 7i, and at the end of 2003, I brought my first digital single lens reflex (DLSR) camera, the Nikon D100, when it was discontinued and marked down.

The D100 has Nikon's classic good looks, and features a magnesium alloy chassis to make it lighter and stronger. Note the "D100" logo in the military stencil style.
The D100 has Nikon’s classic good looks, and features a magnesium alloy chassis to make it lighter and stronger. Note the “D100” logo in the military stencil style.
A horse sculpture made from chrome car bumpers stands on the street in downtown Wichita, Kansas in November 2003. I photographed it with the D100.
A horse sculpture made from chrome car bumpers stands on the street in downtown Wichita, Kansas in November 2003. I photographed it with the D100.

The D100 was a contemporary of the Fuji S2 Pro, and the two have some characteristics in common. Both cameras were anticipated to be the digital replacement for the excellent Nikon F100 film camera, but fell well short in most respects.

One reason I decided to write this now is that a coworker moved from one area of the building to another, and in cleaning out her desk, found a D100 I “gave” her a few years ago to shoot ads, and to make a few images of her daughter playing basketball. As far as I was concerned, she could have kept it forever, but when she handed it back to me, I cleaned it up and put it into occasional service, and wow! The D100 was as bad as I remember, and especially glaringly bad compared to cameras just a generation newer like the D70.

My wife Abby explores the bamboo forest at the Oklahoma City Zoo in this image made with the Nikon D100 and the AF Nikkor 75-300mm f/4-5.6.
My wife Abby explores the bamboo forest at the Oklahoma City Zoo in this image made with the Nikon D100 and the AF Nikkor 75-300mm f/4-5.6.
  • Releasing the shutter results in a asthmatic click-pause, click-pause, click-pause. It almost seems like the camera has been deliberately hobbled to keep  it from competing with other Nikons of the era.
  • The viewfinder is quite small, and while I was able to use it in 2003, today my older eyes can’t quite discern if the autofocus hit or missed on my subject. It feels cramped and cheap.
  • The display on the back of the camera is 1.8 inches diagonal, which today seems like a joke, but it was the tech for its day. The Nikon D1H and D1X had two-inch displays, and cost thousands more.

    The exposure mode dial on the D100 was one it's worst features.
    The exposure mode dial on the D100 was one it’s worst features.
  • The true Achilles heel of the D100 is the exposure mode dial, which you have to move out of shooting mode to change basic settings like ISO and white balance. Failing to put it back into a shooting mode can result in a shutter pull, a missed shot, and a momentary baffled look until you realize what you’ve done.
  • JPEGs out of the camera are, and always have been, achingly soft, even with the sharpening option set to “high.” I presume this is due to the camera’s aggressive anti-aliasing filter. The next Nikon, the D70, had a much lighter anti-aliasing filter, and while it made sharper JPEGs, it also frequently displayed aliases in patters like plaid clothing or stadium seats.

    One positive about the D100 is the top display, which, though not particularly large, contains all the basic information I need.
    One positive about the D100 is the top display, which, though not particularly large, contains all the basic information I need.
  • Thus the only option for sharp images out of the D100 is to shoot RAW files. Doing so doesn’t slow the frame rate, but the buffer fills immediately, and the camera pauses while it writes the 10MB files to the card. If you turn on RAW file compression, it takes more than a minute to write each frame to the card, a glaring coding flaw. It’s not an option.
  • Color rendition with the D100 is excellent and accurate.
  • Certain lenses don’t get along with the D100s autofocus system. My AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8, for example, is one of my favorite lenses, but always front-focused on the D100.
  • Nikon got the battery right, using a modern, reliable lithium ion battery. The Fuji S2 Pro seems very primitive by comparison.
  • The D100 isn’t particularly good in the high-ISO regime, but it beats out the better-in-most-categories Fuji S2 pro. The D100 goes to ISO 1600, followed by Hi1 and Hi2 (3200 and 6400, respectively), but those are so noisy, they can only be used in a pinch.

    The D100's lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.
    The D100’s lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.
  • Build quality is good. The frame is magnesium, lightweight and well-crafted. Unlike its contemporaries the D1H and D1X, which suffered from an embarrassing tendency to shed their grip covers, the D100’s surfaces remain in good shape to this day.
  • The addition of the MB-D100 vertical grip makes the camera look and feel five times more impressive and professional. It doesn’t change anything about the cameras performance except to add an extra battery.
  • In the era of cameras with 50 or even 100 megapixels, the D100’s six million pixels seems like far too few, but I have a number of 13×19-inch prints from it that hold up very well, thanks to filling up the frame with my subject, and attention to post-production editing. It was often enough, but barely.
The battery grip takes the place of the battery in the handle of the D100 and allows the use of two EN-EL3 batteries. This does not improve the performance of the camera, but the combination of batteries stays charged longer. This accessory also has a vertical shutter release, which I use all the time.
The battery grip takes the place of the battery in the handle of the D100 and allows the use of two EN-EL3 batteries. This does not improve the performance of the camera, but the combination of batteries stays charged longer. This accessory also has a vertical shutter release, which I use all the time.
The D100's lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.
The D100’s lens mount is the Nikon F-mount, and it will autofocus earlier Nikkor AF lenses.

You can find D100s in good condition for less than $100 on sites like Ebay, but in all honesty, unless you just want to find out what it was like, the D100 is no bargain at any price.

The deciding, and somewhat contradictory, factor in the final analysis is that despite the D100s failings, I was able to make some amazing, remarkably sharp, clear photos with it.

It is difficult to imagine another camera making a better image than this, shot with the D100 at the White Rim Overlook at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
It is difficult to imagine another camera making a better image than this, shot with the D100 at the White Rim Overlook at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Like any tool in the photographic toolbox, a camera’s job should be to get out of the way so we can move forward with expressing our vision, and the D100 didn’t do this particularly well. I attribute most of my success with it to patience and effort.

Despite the D100's deficiencies, I was able to shoot news and sports with this camera, like this image of the Konawa Lady Tigers claiming their OSSAA state championship trophy.
Despite the D100’s deficiencies, I was able to shoot news and sports with this camera, like this image of the Konawa Lady Tigers claiming their OSSAA state championship trophy.

It’s easy to forget that in 2003, zillions of people made great images with this camera, and its easy to toss it on the scrap heap of technology, but I am glad I got to shoot with it. I took my D100, for example, to shoot the Trinity Site, location of the first atomic bomb test, in 2006, and have no intention of returning. My images from that shoot, and many more with the D100, were entirely successful.

Despite the technological limitations of earlier digital cameras like the Nikon D100, it's hard to argue with an image as beautiful as this one at White Sands National Monument.
Despite the technological limitations of earlier digital cameras like the Nikon D100, it’s hard to argue with an image as beautiful as this one at White Sands National Monument.