Having established that the lens I took to the Isle of Grain in March was probably faulty (not sharp and far too much CA) – which was probably why most of the pictures I took with it looked so awful, I went back there with the D5000 and an old 18-70mm (ex-D70 kit) zoom to have another go. The weather forecast promised interesting skies and as Doug was already going out there, it seemed an excellent opportunity to get a little more serious about picture-taking.
We were right – when we got there the skies were great – fantastic clouds, bright sunlight, beautiful landscape colours. We set up and got to work.
I’d also decided to bring along my old trusty Sekonic L-398 light meter (bought in the 1980’s, still available today), I thought I’d make a few comparison readings with the D5000’s own values, because I was not entirely happy with the exposure values the D5000 sometimes came up with.
After 50 or so shots, though, I decide to take a peek. Normally, when I shoot on the D5000, I keep the screen turned into the body – it saves power, it protects the screen, I don’t need usually to see the photo I’ve just taken (we never had that privilege in the past – except for Polaroid) and, more importantly , I shouldn’t need to keep checking the exposure, I should know I’m doing. But, because of what had happened previously, I thought I’d take a peek. And I wasn’t happy with what I saw.
The images looked dull, muddy and out of focus, I zoomed in using the D5000’s screen and that seemed to confirm my suspicions – Doug agreed with me. The photos did not look good. I made a few quick exposures capturing both RAW and jpeg and they still looked poor. I also took the SD card out of the camera and transferred the image to the iPad. The pictures still looked the same – murky, opaque and definitely not sharp. I decided there was a problem with the D5000 – perhaps the 20mm lens wasn’t faulty at all – and despondently went back to the car to dump the DSLR and get the G9, to salvage something from the day. The light was still good on Grain – I took a few snaps, but, to tell the truth, my heart wasn’t in it – even when the light got even more picturesque towards sunset.
When I got home and uploaded the days shoot onto the MBP, I got a bit of a surprise – the D5000 shots were, by and large, sharp and reasonably well exposed (not the case first time around). The images were nowhere near as disastrous as they appeared in the previews. So what had gone wrong?
The only reason for this, I can think of, is the jpeg preview is not very accurate on the D5000. When you navigate through a series of images in Lightroom, for example, you’ll see the picture change significantly when the full photo file loads and, to me, that was the difference between the camera preview and the captured image. You’ll see the same on other cameras, but perhaps, in my experience, not so markedly as on the D5000.
So what’s to do? Can I trust my camera when taking a photo? What checks do I have to put in place to ensure that I’ve got the photos I set out to get?
I’d say the first thing is to be absolutely sure of the camera you’re using – and that means making test shots to confirm everything is as what one expect – focus, exposure, F-stop and use the histogram. The second is to trust your judgement. In particular, don’t trust the camera preview – look at the histogram and your meter’s light readings.
It’s what we used to do with film, I don’t necessarily think that digital photography is making us lazy, but I think we, perhaps, we’re taking too much for granted and depend too much on what the manufacturer has put in place – which is averaged out for a consumer demographic.
When you think about it, your camera might have a thousand different scene modes and ways if metering, but fundamenally it’s not that much different from how film used to be. Apart from ASA setting, the only things you ultimately control are; focus, focal length (if it’s a zoom lens), F-stop and shutter speed. I’d like to go back to a camera that primarily concentrates on these parameters – this certainly strengthens the case for getting a Leica.