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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Some Answers to Readers' Questions

Over these several past years, I've tried my best to help you all out with your photography and camera questions, either indirectly by publishing articles and spreading the knowledge, or even directly, by communicating with you. Through your comments here on the Amateur Nikon website, on Twitter, or through private messages on Facebook, I have attempted to facilitate the process of purchasing a new camera, choosing a new lens, or realizing the specific needs of a given photographic situation.

I thank you all for this communication, which I hope will continue. I don't have all the answers (and when I do offer an answer, I don't claim to have the best one - let alone the sole one) but I promise you it will always be an honest one, that is, I will say things as I believe them.

For today, I picked a few questions I was asked over the last few months, and published the answers I gave, for everyone's benefit.

Note: For clarity's sake, the questions & answers are slightly edited from the original discussions.

Q1. Is the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 really worth it over the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

I've also been asked the same thing about the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 vs the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8. In both cases, it all boils down to value, which is entirely subjective. In other words, if you need the extra aperture and if you don't mind paying extra, then it's a no-brainer: the f/1.4 is worth it. But, realistically speaking, the vast majority of people asking this question don't really need it. In terms of optical quality, you'll see little if any difference between the two versions (by f/2.8 they're all the same; at f/1.8 the f/1.4 can be very slightly better). Additionally, please do realize that shooting at f/1.4 requires quite a bit of discipline (and a well calibrated autofocus system). Few things can be more frustrating than missing a shot because of missfocusing.

Q2. Which one should I opt for, the Nikon D3200, the D3300, or should I wait for the new model?

I've talked about this before. I think with each update, we get less of meaningful stuff and more fluff. Photographically speaking, the D3200 and the D3300 are virtually indistinguishable, particularly if you're shooting Raw (which you should, if you're serious about your photography). Having said that, if the newest model has a little detail (the "fluff") you're interested in and you don't mind the extra price penalty, go for it. You can't go wrong with either.

Q3. Do I need an umbrella, softbox, dedicated lights, or other piece of equipment for nice portraits?

This depends on so many things. As a professional portrait photographer, I sometimes do indeed have use for such things. More often than not - perhaps though because I take photos on location in rapidly changing environments - I prefer to go light. Personally, I prefer to just have one on-board speedlight plus a secondary remote one and that's it. I can't afford 10 assistants holding umbrellas, reflectors and softboxes for me. IF you do, and IF you know how to use such equipment (or can afford the time to learn about it), and IF you can afford it, and IF you have a concrete understanding in which way it will affect your photography, then yeah, go for it. But, as perhaps this slightly tongue-in-cheek answer has demonstrated, for most people and most occasions, no, you don't need such stuff for nice portraits. What you do need? Know (and in some way care about) your subject, engage with them, talk to them, find out about them. A 50mm f/1.8 lens and some soft light (e.g. in early morning, overcast, or dusk) can help.

Q4. Can you suggest a Nikon film camera?

I don't know if it was because of my film series a year ago (I doubt it :P) but I got several messages this past few months asking for suggestions on a film camera. Well, getting a film camera is a bit like a digital camera, though admittedly more complicated: it depends on what you need. If you want to learn some good habits and particularly some manual focus discipline, get a Nikon Fm2. If you want a dirt-cheap box that will let you autofocus AF-D lenses and be super-easy to use, get a Nikon N55 (F55 in Europe). If you want the finest piece of film technology Nikon has produced, get a Nikon F6. For most people, I would suggest the Nikon N80 (F80 in Europe) as the best value.

Q5. Can I create good photos without knowing and using Photoshop?

I left the most interesting (in my opinion) for last. Photoshop - or any other similar program - is the digital darkroom. With its help you can do amazing adjustments (and very easily) to your photos. I'm not now talking about advanced stuff like what you can find in this website or in my eBook, but about simple, basic, and yet very powerful fine-tuning of things like contrast, luminosity, and saturation. Having these in mind, you can create good photos without a digital image manipulation program, but you will be relying on the camera manufacturer's engineers (Nikon's that is) and their built-in-camera settings ("Standard", "Portrait", "Vivid", etc) as well as your own skills at adjusting them (and White Balance, on top of it). With Photoshop and shooting Raw, you basically only have to worry - at least in technical terms; composition is an entirely different matter - about exposure and focus. Everything else, including White Balance, can be adjusted later. So, the bottom line is: yes, it is possible to create good photos without Photoshop, but it will increase your workload. Ultimately, I think it's definitely worth investing in learning at least some basic image manipulation. It will be very useful.

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