Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 — 1/100 sec, f/1.2, ISO 4000 — map & image data — nearby photos
dark path to someone's home, made bright by Nikon
I haven't done much since returning to Japan a week ago. Tired from the trip... overwhelmed with work (that I don't even get paid for)... and spending an inordinate time at the doctor for some acute back problems. It's been a long week.
But I was feeling okay last night, so after Mass in downtown Kyoto, I thought I'd give my new Nikon D700's legendary low-light performance a spin, combining it with the fastest lens that I could get my hands on (that is, one that lets in the most light), the same Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 that I borrowed from Zak for my Artsy-Fartsy in Kyoto post earlier in the year.
There isn't a color camera with better low-light performance, and if there's a commonly-available lens with better low-light performance, I don't know of it. So, the combination should let me get all kinds of rich, full-color glossies, without a tripod, in absolute total darkness.
Or something like that.
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 — 1/100 sec, f/1.2, ISO 2500 — map & image data — nearby photos
sparsely-lit restaurant balcony overlooking the Kamo River
Besides having no plan beyond shoving the camera and lens into my bag before heading out, I faced two major hurdles...
The first is that I haven't yet opened the D700's manual, so I don't know much about it beyond what I brought over from having used the D200 for a few years. It's not really fair to put equipment to a test like this when it's likely that any failure will be what, in polite conversation, is referred to as “user error”.
The second problem is that there are a lot of things conspiring against getting accurate focus:
- At f/1.2, the depth-of-field is very thin, so focus must be perfect to have any chance.
- It's hard to focus in the dark, especially when it's so dark that I can't clearly see what I think I'm aiming at.
- The Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 is a manual-focus-only lens. Autofocus won't work with it.
- The stock focus screen on the D700 is designed for autofocus; it's horrible to use with manual focus. The first time I put the D700 to my eye, I thought the lens I had on it was broken because I couldn't get it to focus, even by hand. It took a few moments to realize that I'd been so used to the sharp “focus snap” of the Katz Eye Focusing Screen I'd put in my D200, that I'd forgot how extraordinary it really is. (Sadly, Katz Eye doesn't yet make a focusing screen for the D700.)
- From what I've heard, the “live view” mode on the D700 would allow me to easily get perfect focus, but like I said, I haven't yet cracked the manual, so I don't know how to use it.
Anyway, never to be daunted by the harshness of certain failure, I set out for a 20-minute walk around the Kyoto-nightlife area of Kiyamachi / Pontocho, with the lens fixed at f/1.2, and the camera set to automatically bump up the ISO sensitivity as high as it needed to in order to maintain at least a 1/100-second exposure.
Of course, night photography is relatively easy if you have a tripod and the thing you're photographing isn't moving, so I've posted plenty of tripod-assisted night shots taken over the years with my D200, including cherry blossoms at dusk, a lantern festival, cherry blossoms over a river, Kyoto nightscape, small stream and cherry blossoms, Itsukushima shrine, and cherry blossoms in Gion.
No tripod on today's trip, though.
All the images posted here are straight out of the camera (well, straight out of Lightroom) without any extra post-processing, except for resizing for my blog. (They were shot in the inferior “12-bit NEF” mode, because I didn't realize until today that the 14-bit NEF mode is not the default.)
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 — 1/100 sec, f/1.2, ISO 1250 — map & image data — nearby photos
Metering for a reasonable exposure was generally difficult due to the extreme dynamic range in most of the scenes I was drawn to. Often, 99% of the scene would be really dark, with just a few points that, even though they weren't very bright, were so much brighter than the rest of the frame they totally screwed up the metering.
So, both spot metering and exposure lock were my friends, as well as occasional positive exposure compensation.
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 — 1/80 sec, f/1.2, ISO 12800 — map & image data — nearby photos
almost pitch black, but
There was so little light in the scene above, I could tell no more than that a couple was sitting there, and I had no hope that anything would come of the picture. Indeed, the result is boring unless you realize that in reality, the scene was almost pitch black. Private investigators (and peeping toms) will love this camera.
This was the dingy entrance alley to some kind of entertainment/food establishment, itself off a tiny passageway running between two small streets (Kiyamachi and Pontocho). It was “out of the way” to several orders of magnitude, and in more meanings than one.
Much of the lighting came from the establishment's sign at the end of the alley, which is nothing more than a washed-out square of white in this photo because in exposing for the dinginess of the alley, the light from sign itself totally washed out the image sensor. (If I'd had a tripod and the inclination, I guess I could have tried to take multiple shots and create some HDR-like composite, but the whole point of my short stroll was not to make lasting art, but just to see what the camera could do.)
I couldn't tell what the thing was in this scene at a shuttered karaoke place, except a monster of some sort. Now that I can see much more detail, I still can't tell.
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 — 1/100 sec, f/1.2, ISO 1600 — map & image data — nearby photos
sadly, woefully out of focus
There was plenty of light in this scene, but I had to use spot metering and +2/3 exposure compensation to avoid a silhouette situation.
This place looked quite nice from outside, so I should have gone in for a cup of coffee, or something. It's right across from the church, so maybe someday I will.
Overall, I'm pleased with what I ended up with, although I really would like to get a better focusing screen.