See the two year update to this article - The Canon 5D Mark 3 for documentary wedding photography and why
Gosfield Hall in Essex is a truly inspiring location for a wedding. There are many opportunities for the documentary wedding photographer so it was a real treat to work there.
Not only does it lend itself to great lighting but its architecturally historical interior is an advantage when framing subjects and layering up images with narrative and context. I could say I'd like to work there all the time but I don't buy into photographers being better at venues they're familiar with, perhaps because they're a featured supplier there.
I personally feel that shooting at many different venues, from fantastic ones like Gosfield Hall to really tricky venues such as Aston Villa football ground or a school in Bedfordshire with poor available light (covering a large Asian wedding), really keeps you on your toes and ultimately makes you more sensitive to the effects of the environment with less potential for complacency and creating a carbon copy of your previous work - a much less personal product for your customer.
In addition to the superb venue, Jane and James are incredibly nice people with complete faith in the documentary style.
For those of you following my recent ramblings regarding my Canon to Nikon switch - this is my first Nikon wedding to be on the blog. My reasons behind the switch were very justified. As with a lot of documentary style photographers I rarely use flash and this is absolutely fine for the majority of the time when you have great venues with good available light. But on the odd occasion when you don't have these things handed to you on a plate, for instance the Asian wedding held at a school in Bedfordshire that I shot several years ago which had appallingly low levels of available light, it really does push your cameras to their limits. Unfortunately, it was during one of these very infrequent occasions that the Canon 5D Mark 2 system was ever so slightly compromised. The particular 5D issues were the high ISO noise capability and low light and contrast auto focus difficulties.
I've used Canon since 2002, so it was a really tough decision to make and I'm sure many other photographers out there are currently having a similar dilemma. It's particularly hard once you've bought into a brand, after all, a switch of brand doesn't just involve your bodies, you have your glass and accessories to think about too, it's costly and there really does have to be good reasoning to justify those costs, not just kit lust. It's also unnerving - after working with the 5d Mark 1 followed by the Mark 2 for so long I can operate them with my eyes closed, I know how to get the best out of them in different environments and ultimately I know the limitations of the camera and exactly what the RAW file is going to allow me to do during post production.
I can already hear Canon users screaming - 'what about the 1D Mark 4!' - a truly amazing camera and a very tempting option which I very nearly took. However, I use primes and I didn't want to stop using primes for my documentary weddings and didn't want to have to alter my system because of the cropped sensor on the Canon 1D Mark 4. I also didn't want the large, 1 series body or the price tag associated with that.
I'm not going to lie either, I'm quite (very) rough with camera kit - it's a tool as far as I'm concerned, not a set of testicles to carry around during trade shows. I'm definitely not camera club material. Whilst I know, having worked with Canon 1 series cameras in the past, both film and digital, that they're tough, I also know that they're not 'Allister proof', so more expensive to repair, service and insure - costs also factored in to my decision. The smaller professional cameras are tough enough and not too expensive to replace regularly. I could have also waited for the replacement to the 5D Mark 2, but when would that be? I'd heard several dates - all after this year's wedding season and I needed to do the switch before a very busy May. I didn't want to be compensating for the shortfalls of the Canon system during my 2010 work which would form my portfolio for next year.
After some trials and many conversations with Canon 1D Mark 4, Nikon D3 and D700 users (thank you, you know who you are), I went for two D700 cameras. In the end it was the obvious choice, Nikon's equivalent to the 5D - a high quality, full frame sensor in a small, more discreet package allows me to use exactly the same set up as before - a 50mm and 24mm and no flash, only this time I have a camera that doesn't hold me back.
However, for photographers looking for a cropped sensor or a large, professional body, I appreciate that the decision making has several more elements involved.
The Nikon D700 compared with the Canon 5D Mark 2 is much more of a photographer's camera - it's more intuitive, more specialised and more customisable. With the introduction of the 5D Mark 2 I felt that Canon were neglecting a large majority of it's users, I don't want to make HD movie footage, I want to make stills, and stills that don't look unnaturally sharp and digital. With the recent introduction of the Canon 7D it appears that this small but professional range within the Canon lineup is going to continue to be Jack of all trades, master of none. I personally like the softer, more film like Nikon files, in fact I'm now able to get similar results to when I used to use the Nikon F100 35mm camera with Kodak and Fujifilm monochrome negative. I find the files more authentic than Canon images straight out of the camera. I also like the more sensitive metering system you get in the D700, I get much more information in the shadows straight out of camera and when I need to can fill a 3200 ISO file considerably before getting bad noise and banding. No more issues with blown highlights in the red channel either - something I will definitely not miss when photographing bands during the evening reception.
The autofocus is much more sophisticated too, operating well in much darker and often backlit and low contrast situations, in fact you get the same AF system in the D700 as the flagship Nikons - it doesn't have a much weaker, watered down system to it's big brother, something that can't be said for the Canon 5D Mark 2.
The lenses were my main sticking point I had before the switch - were they going to be as good as Canon? Well, I can safely say that they are, the only lens I feel Nikon need to hurry up and produce is a 50mm 1.4 replacement, something to rival the Canon 50mm 1.2 USM. Other than that Canon and Nikon primes are so closely matched, for my style of photography anyway, that it's simply not an issue to factor into the equation when deciding on whether to take the plunge and switch, other than the cost involved of course. The decision needs to be based on the camera system alone.
So, am I happy now that I've shot around ten weddings, some portraits, a couple of documentary projects and some personal work with it? Absolutely. I'm not suggesting that the system doesn't have it's weaker points compared to the Canon. I'm not biased and am not guilty of any 'brand loyalty' that I've discovered discussing this topic via twitter and the blog, can be a little 'Mac or PC'. The preview screen, for instance, isn't accurate and the compact flash card door gets pulled open by the palm of your hand, especially when using the camera one-handed, not good. However these aren't issues that have a direct impact on image quality.
For me, the most important improvement has been that the Nikons are not at the forefront of my mind when shooting, they're completely in the background because I know they will allow me to capture and reproduce what I see, in almost any environment. The cameras are now a seamless link in my image making process.
If you're considering the switch, have an interest in or completely disagree with what I've said, I'd be interested in hearing your comments on the blog.
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