Interesting geometry is a compositional element I am always trying to include in my images. My recent photographic adventure involved a nature subject chosen specifically because of its interesting shape. For years I have been inspired by the surf photography that comes out of Hawaii. From surfers riding precarious monsters of rolling thunder to beautiful liquid arches that envelope the imagination, I was compelled to try this for myself. The planning that went into making the trip successful was very extensive but mostly focused on surviving all of the potential hazards and researching locations. On the other hand, choosing what camera equipment to use was pretty straight forward. I needed a camera with a superfast frame rate and excellent high ISO performance.
To that end I recently had the pleasure of using a Nikon D4 with an SPL housing to photograph the world famous shorebreak waves of Oahu’s North Shore. Not being accustomed to Nikon cameras or flagship models, the first thing I noticed about the D4 was all of the controls. I soon realized many were duplicative for shift hand shooting. Being a long time Canon user it was difficult to find my way to the settings I needed. During the time I had the camera I got pretty comfortable with all its functions. Fortunately this type of shooting allowed me to just set it and forget it. A key feature of the D4 that made this possible was its brilliant Auto ISO options.
The Auto ISO feature (should be called “Smart ISO”) allows you to set a maximum ISO setting for the camera to use. The D4 has really great performance at higher sensitivities thus allowing comfortable use all the way to 3200 and beyond. But wait, here’s the best part; you can also set a minimum shutter speed! This allowed me to use whatever aperture I needed for depth of field and keep a quick enough shutter to catch the fast moving waves just right. The ISO adjusts for everything else with no worries about loss of quality. The improved metering system of the camera does a fantastic job at accomplishing all of this at incredible speed.
So here’s the next best part about the D4, 10 frames per second of continuous shooting until your little memory card has a fat happy belly. With the speed at which incoming swells turn into breaking waves and subsequently explode on the beach, having a camera with rapid fire greatly increases the chance of capturing a wave just right. The rubber pistol grip release of the SPL housing feels great and you can hear the D4 humming along when you hold it down. The unfortunate side effect of this is that filling your memory card it a bit too easy and will leave you firing blanks in no time at all.
On the down side of the D4 is Nikon’s choice to include the XQD card slot. It was enough to worry about swimming with very expensive rented equipment. But having to open a surf housing on the beach to swap out memory cards is an operation of anxiety. In hind sight I should have asked about renting an XQD card in order to make use of the data overflow but then I would also have to figure out how to download from the card.
My overall impression of the D4 is a sweet machine with some serious muscle that can hang ten with style. The 16 megapixel sensor is great for making large prints but not quite enough for serious landscape photography. The frame rate is incredible but will force one to acquire non main stream memory cards. By far my favorite feature is the parametric ISO and shutter combination.