Sunday, 1 March 2009

Why the D2H still holds its ground

First up, a warning - this post is a little bit technical. But only insofar as it allows me to contextualise myself for the sake of my ramblings. Please don't let this put you off; instead, read on to find out why I still whole-heartedly believe older equipment is still capable of standing up to more recent (and blatantly snazzy) technology.

So... A bit of back-history: The D2H was introduced in 2003 and was something of an odd-ball, due to a relatively low
resolution of 4.1 megapixels.

'Resolution', for those that don't know, basically refers to a camera's ability to record detail; we are told that the higher the megapixel count (resolution), the more detail can be captured in a picture.

Favoured by sports photographers and photojournalists on account of its ability to capture images at a rate of 8 frames per second, this camera was replaced in 2005 by the D2Hs. At the time that I purchased mine, around the beginning of 2004, feedback for the model had been generally very positive and so I decided it was a worthy addition to my kit bag.

But let me get to the point...

In spite of the marketing men screaming at us that we should buy the latest models, with the highest resolutions and all the bells and whistles, my day-to-day working experience remains somewhat defiant. In practice, for the type of work that I am involved in, 6-8 megapixels is plenty. But wait - I just said the D2H has 4.1 megapixels. Yes, I know that. However, I still maintain that it can hold its own in the ever-lengthening quest for pixel power.

The pictures on the left here show a couple of images I shot some years ago, reproduced on the side of a Renault Traffic van (roughly the same size as a Ford Transit). The actual printed size was somewhere in the region of 6ft by 7ft. From a 4.1 megapixel camera.

Now, many people are shocked when I reveal this to them, saying "But it can't be - that level of resolution would never hold at such a size". In fact, at one point, even I wasn't convinced and I went back through the archives to double-check I had my facts right. Sure enough, they were shot on the D2H. Furthermore, the first image is a crop, showing the central portion of the original picture.

So, how and why am I able to produce this scale on imagery on this camera? Well, of course, it helps that the photograph is correctly focused and exposed in the first place, and that any post production is applied carefully. The next consideration is that of correctly upscaling the image to spec - in this instance, I used a programme called Genuine Fractals, which allowed me to enter the output size and create a larger version of the picture without any loss of quality. All clever stuff.

I was also reminded of this camera's performance capabilities at another recent shoot. I have often maintained that photography is nothing without light - apply either too much or too little, and you will produce inferior-quality images which do not make the most of the technology at your disposal. This picture is also a crop, representing about 1/9th the total area of the full image. Focus is shallow, concentrating somewhere near the middle. Lighting came courtesy of a Nikon SB-800 bounced off the ceiling directly above. And the subject was no more than 8 inches across. You may not be able to see at this size of reproduction, but trust me when I tell you that on closer inspection, the clarity of the sugar dusting and texture of the 'egg' sweets is quite simply breathtaking... And yes, only 4 megapixels. In fact, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between images shot on this and my other higher-resolution cameras.

As I said, I am not easily swayed by the manufacturer's marketing departments, and it is true to say that there is a lot of hot air blown around when it comes to technology and 'advancements'. But here is a cold hard fact - good, crisp, clean lighting will work wonders when it comes to bringing out the detail in all manner of subjects, regardless of the camera used. And experience has taught me that the much-vaunted argument of camera resolution only carries so far.

I have found flash to be particularly complimentary to the D2H - which is why, in the past, it has served very well as the camera to use in studio arrangements
. OK, so this machine is getting on for 5 years old now, but it works - works well, works for me, works as far as my clients' imagery is concerned.

What is that old saying, now...? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Quite right.


Pete Tiley / Titan Images said...

A good read, but other photographers do not have the ability to work under great light or create light hence the advancement of technology being a god send for some. I used to shoot with agency D2X's at 1600-3200 ISO under flood lights and dreaded the output of the camera. The thought of shooting with a D3 at 6400 ISO in RAW was a mere dream but it has happened and it is required. On another note, AP recently ran a test citing 4mp as the rubicon on quality for the digital camera with a crop sensor.

Giles said...

Hi Pete,

You are quite right - the quality capability of the D3 at higher ISO levels is astounding - and in fact, that is the one thing that would draw my interest to it. The D2h, by comparison, really shows its limitations afer about ISO 640/800 in poor light.

But again, cameras are tools of the trade, and as we both know, the only way that a craftsman is going to produce the results he/she wants is to know the abilities and limitations of these tools.