Hard Body: New Nikon D300s Prompts a Trip
Down Memory Lane – 1976-2010


I Turn My Camera On

Last week I finally made the jump from pro-sumer gear to a mid-level pro rig with the bad-ass Nikon D300s, a 12 megapixel monster boasting a Magnesium body, impressive 8 frames per second, low-noise at extremely high ISOs (up to 6400!) and quality HD video at 16:9 720p.

Business has been good this year, so I justified the purchase in preparation for my upcoming trip to Europe in which I’m going to travel across with my new RV I got from RV Sales, once again riding on the coat tails of The National, this time for their kick-off tour promoting their new album High Violet, due out May 11. When I heard they were headlining the Royal Albert Hall in London and co-headlining on the Pavement reunion tour in Paris (not to mention the chance to go back to the kick ass city of Berlin), I just couldn’t help myself.

Sold my Nikon D80 and a Canon Vixia HD Camcorder, cashed in on some Nikon rebates, and shipped to a friend in New Jersey for a savings of $220 in taxes. Whoever said New Jersey was good for nothin’?

I filled out the purchase with an expanded outfit of lenses, which now includes:

  • Nikkor 85mm prime f/1.8: Shot the Ethan Lipton show with this and it’s a dream. Great portrait lens, super-shallow depth of field, great results in low light. Fucking sweet.
  • Nikkor 18-200mm IS zoom, f/3.4-5.6: Amazing range, image stabilization (works great!). The only lens I’ll need to carry for casual shooting.
  • Nikkor 50mm prime 1.8: A sister lens to the 85mm. Tiny, light, and fast as all hell.
  • Nikkor 70-300 zoom f/4.5-5.6: Not the fastest lens, but great zoom, with half-frame equivalent of 450mm at its longest focal range. With this lens (and a D80) I got my best shots to date on the R.E.M tour last year.

You can see the first road-test of the D300s/85mm here.

I got all nostalgic after this purchase, so I thought I’d write a song To All The Cams I Loved Before, starting from 1976 at age 7:

Kodak Instamatic X5F: 1976


My dad has been a great photographer since the late 60′s. With this little gem, he began instilling (imposing?) his love of photography on me. He bought me this immediately after moving to the States from Mexico City, before I had even mastered the English language at the age of 7. My folks love to tell (and re-tell) my first reaction: “Me gusta mi camera mucho!” If you recall, this little doll shot great little square rounded corner prints with that classic 70′s de-saturated look.

Canon FTb: 1984

Canon FTb

I inherited my first SLR from my dad. It weighed a ton and was completely manual. With this little beast I began my brief stint as photographer for my high school yearbook my sophomore year. I had no idea what I was doing and basically shot nothing of note. At this point I abandoned photography in lieu of wooing girls. It hadn’t hit me yet that the two practices could go hand in hand. Doh!

Minolta SRT101: 1991


My second SLR. I loved its solid black body. My great-grandmother passed it on to me and I treasured its complete package that included a genuine leather camera bag, full-size flash and a host of filters. My psycho-bitch girlfriend at the time took it hostage after dumping her when she came after me with a steak knife. No, seriously. For real. Fatal Attraction much?

Canon Elph2: 1999


I was finally bit in earnest with the photography bug after moving to New York city. Bought this fantastic little tank of a point-and-shoot film camera that used the relatively expensive (and small framed) APS film. It was actually made of metal. Towards the end of its life it had an actual dent in the body and still performed flawlessly. They just don’t make them like that anymore. Taught me the joys of the happy accident by mostly shooting from the hip. My ongoing series NYC At Your Feet was born.

Holga 120s: 2000


Briefly experimented with this plastic pin-hole camera from Russia. The big draw: it shot 120 film and created that wonderful vignetting ’cause it leaked light like all hell. No shutter speed setting (or any settings for that matter), so you just had to guess at the length of your exposure. After shooting in New Orleans and the obligatory Coney Island, I realized I wasn’t very good with it, abandoning it after 4 or 5 rolls.

Lomo LCA: 2000


I loved this camera. Fully automatic point-and-shoot, with a high-grade plastic body and lens, it shot beautiful, super-saturated images (particularly with Fuji Velvia film) in a square-crop format. Got tons of great shots from the hip, quickly filling out my growing collection of At Your Feet shots. But my dearest memory of shooting with it comes from the week immediately preceding the Sept 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Accompanied by fellow photographer Geoff Badner, we set up tripods at the base of the Manhattan Bridge and shot long exposure times to capture my only images of the Twin Towers. A sad, serendipitous occasion.

Polaroid 600: 2000


My then-girlfriend (not the psycho-bitch–a sweet, beautiful, talented gem of a girl) gave me this as a birthday present. My first and (regrettably) only Polaroid, it’s a low end model with a plastic lens shooting the so-so 600 film. I got nothing of value out of it at the time (I was poor then and couldn’t really afford the film). But last year, I rushed to B&H to gobble up as many rolls of the remaining Polaroid film as I could before it disappeared from the market forever. These rolls sit patiently in my refrigerator. I choose my opportunities with care. Got some great shots at Sea Side, FL a couple years ago.

Nikon CoolPix 950: 2001


My first digital camera. For its time, it had a unique reticulated lens that could rotate 180 degrees, allowing for easy shooting from low and high vantage points while keeping the LCD in view. Got some nice 2M pixel shots, but it suffered from a manufacturing defect that kept the battery door from engaging, requiring some ghetto McGyver-ing to keep the batteries in place. I still have it as a keepsake, but used it for only a year before moving on to the Canon PowerShot Digital Elph.

Canon PowerShot Digital Elph SD970IS: 2002


For some time, this was my absolute favorite camera. Shooting at 12 megapixels and equipped with a 35mm wide angle lens, its compact size was great for my favored shoot from the hip style. I was a little disappointed in its chintzy plastic body, missing the heavy metal of its analog counterpart. Still, I got great images from it and used it for years, primarily street photography in NYC. Its video functionality was decent, but it crapped out after 3 years, though it continued to shoot stills just fine. Lost it on a trip to San Francisco and had to move on.

Nikon N70: 2002


My third 35mm SLR, an entry level model that captured surprisingly good images. Auto/Program/Full Automatic, this was the camera that helped me ramp up my game. I took it to Paris and France and got memorable images. The 10-day trip itself only cost me $1200 dollars, all-inclusive. The film and processing alone cost me $600. Time to move on to a digital SLR. Yet, it’s the only remaining film camera I own.

Nikon D70: 2007


The DSLR was making great strides by this time. This entry-level pro-sumer ramped up my game even more as I learned more about the technical aspects of shooting in manual mode. The real-time results were a boon to my creativity and gradual command of technique. My first introduction to auto-focus.

Nikon D80: 2008


Wanted more and more… Gave the 1-year old D70 to my wife and upgraded to the D80. Higher pixel count and, more importantly, faster frames per second and a solid body.

iPhone 3GS: 2009


Many people bemoan the quality of the phone’s shitty little camera. It can indeed be quite a disappointment, but by applying some of the great available iPhone camera apps, you can transform a fairly pedestrian shot into little works of art. I consider it the Polaroid of the Oughts. Pro photographer Chase Jarvis has embraced it’s potential, claiming that “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” Indeed, I’ve shot some sweet images with it, three of which were selected by Macworld’s online exhibition of the best of iPhone pics. I’ve written a more extensive review with a slideshow here. You can also see the entire inventory of these images to date here.

Canon G11: 2009


I fell in love with the body of this digital pocket camera after playing with Scott Devendorf’s G10. It’s a little tank, complete with, you know, actual dials and nobs that harken back to the analog SLRs of yore. Plus it shoots 10M megapixel RAW images and has remarkably good low-noise results with high ISOs. And a range finder! On the down side, it’s larger than your typical point-and-shoot– it’s only a pocket camera if you favor a loose-fit hip-hop wardrobe. And I wan’t so sure about its reticulated LCD screen, as it contributes to it’s footprint and needs more careful handling when slipping into your pocket. I mean your man-bag.

I considered its sister model, the S90, which has a trimmer figure, but instead gifted it to my dad for his 60th b-day. Now we have both in the family, ripe for a father-son tradeoff. Ultimately, after shooting with the G11 for a couple of months, I made the right choice. Not sure if that trade off is gonna happen now. Sorry, dad!


And that takes us up to date. Would love to hear your experiences with your image capture device of choice. Bring it!