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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2001-12-19

D1H Captures Hearts of Small Staff
By Ron Holman, The Visalia Times-Delta

(Editor's note: a lot has been made on the proliferation of digital cameras at newspapers, even in the pages of Sports Shooter. But most have centered on large metros like the NY Times at the top of this issue and recently the total conversion of the staff of the Denver Post to Nikon D1Hs. We asked a small daily to relate their experiences on its conversion from total film to digital.)

Our photography staff consists of three full-time staff photographers and a chief photographer. We shoot for two Gannett owned papers- the Visalia Times-Delta (circ. 21,906) and the Tulare Advance-Register (circ. 8,257). Both are published six days a week.

It seems long ago that we assembled our first digital proposal. Seemed easy enough until we got word that our $80,000 vision was cropped to $57,000 including computers.

In May of this year we began our quest to squeeze out eight professional digital cameras, new computers and the necessary accessories from this budget. Nikon users on our staff out-numbered the lone Canon photographer 3:1 (except when he uses the paper's pool equipment.) So the decision to stick with Nikon was clear since most of the glass we carry is personal gear and the paper was in no position to replace the longer pool lenses
.
I sought opinions, prices, and aspirin from peers, vendors, and strangers- but not necessarily in that order. Many thanks to Robert Hanashiro (former chief photographer in Visalia) for his guidance before the purchase and for sharing his digital wisdom with us all along the way
.
News broke that Nikon would discontinue the D1. It was a significant part of our plan that included a few D1H's which we felt were needed for sports. In June I added the Fuji S1 to the list of potential camera bodies.

I set up a spreadsheet in Excel to tinker with various combinations of Nikon D1's, D1H's, S1's, zoom lenses and the other devices to support them. I watched as the bottom line came closer to our capital expense target. The numbers were getting better but the overall package was beginning to go sour.

Even more than my Canon-faithful comrade, I had serious doubts that we would be satisfied with the end result if money kept us from getting the tools I felt we needed to do the job right. I also knew that whatever camera we bought would be around for as long as it could produce pixels or until the next quantum leap in imaging medium that would save the newspaper even more money.

Part of our proposal included new computers. I would be remiss if I did not credit and thank our computer guru Gary Woodside for his persistence in getting computers at rock-bottom prices. Combined with those savings and the cooperation of Louis Feldman at Samy's Camera in Los Angeles we managed to get eight D1H's. Each staffer would get two. I was now confident that our digital experience would be a good one --- once we learned an efficient workflow
.
The purchase order was faxed to Samy's on July 12th. Anticipation, fear, and panic were some of the expressions I saw as I informed the rest of the staff. We knew this digital thing was coming but we could only guess when. Newspapers were high on Nikon's priority list for delivery. Weeks later I saw those looks of terror again when I announced the goods would arrive the next day.

Wednesday August 8, 2001: Eight D1H's, four 17-35mm zooms, two 80-200mm zooms and some other related equipment arrived via UPS from Samy's camera in LA. I spent most of the afternoon and into the evening taking inventory, sorting, and recording serial numbers. It was about 8:00 p.m. before I even took a D1-H out of a box. That probably sounds unbelievable to most.

Ron Taniwaki from Nikon had agreed to come train our staff. He "suggested" that we hold off on using them and avoid developing "bad habits" before proper training. I had to find a secure place to store all this new stuff until we could be properly trained. I finally went to bed at 1:15 a.m. It would have been sooner, but I did open that one D1H

During the next 24 hours or so I read parts of the D1-H user manual (really), cruised for Internet postings about the D1-H, and slept. Most of what I found on the Internet pertained to the D1-X that was released about a month earlier. I found several little nuggets of information (30 min "on", etc.) The most valuable advice I found just in time. I had charged one battery to take one camera out for a spin.

The topic of the post was battery conditioning. Cycling each battery three times on the charger prior to use was certainly worth a potential 30-35% more capacity and is also recommended by Nikon. This "Boot Camp" for batteries is about a two-day event (per battery) unless you give up other activities like work and sleep. My advice to others who purchase several D1-H's (or X's) is to unpack the batteries and chargers first. Avoid extreme temperature environments for charging.

My first live experience came Monday August 13 when I shot two accidents, a portrait and a baseball game. Initially, I considered shooting both film and digital at the game. But the second, and more serious, accident occurred right between my dinner break and the time I usually head out for a baseball game- a span of about 10 minutes. Arriving late in the second inning, I decided to put all my pixels in one basket, per se, and go digital. Neither of the accidents was published. The portrait and game action were both for the next day.

Keep in mind that at this point I am just a hacker without any digital experience to speak of and these actions should in no way reflect on any other person or company mentioned in this article
.
The accidents I shot were in broad daylight so "white balance" seemed enough to select (later I learned that the "cloudy" setting would have been better). I tried to add some fill-flash to the portrait of a local baseball player. It was then that I realized I had an old SB-26 in the bag instead of the new SB-28DX. After standing in the hot sun for about two minutes trying to make it work like I thought it should, I just set it on manual and took an educated guess from days gone by. Being able to review the image on the LCD monitor was somewhat reassuring but the bright sun made it difficult. The shade of the dugout proved to be a better environment.

When I finally got to the actual game I selected the "Shadow" setting for white balance since direct sun had all but left the ballpark by the time I got there. In retrospect, should have used a different setting as the overhead lights began to dominate the ambient light in the third or fourth inning. I was able to correct for color cast in Adobe Photoshop

As the lone operator of digital cameras until we received training, I felt compelled to act as an ambassador to digital photography. It wasn't hard to do. When the "Anybody else got film?" call came out from fellow staffers as they headed into the darkroom, I just smiled and said, "Film? What's that?"

It was about two weeks before I managed to entice another photog to try the new camera on assignment. This surprised me a little, but we are a busy crew with little time for duplicationor experimentation. Once I convinced a photog to make that first attempt no further encouragement was needed. Getting them to take it out the door was the only real challenge (aside from putting on all the straps for them.) After that, the camera sold itself.

Friday afternoon the remaining two holdouts asked for a camera to take home in preparation for complete training on Monday.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/Sports Shooter
On August 27, 2001 our staff was treated to "Digital 101" presented by our friends Ron Taniwaki of Nikon and Robert Hanashiro from USA TODAY (or is it Sports Shooter?). Bless them both for taking the time to educate our staff on the essentials of this new media. In our short time together I could tell by the expressions of my coworkers that their fears had been replaced with curiosity and a growing understanding. There would still be more to learn, but we were off to a good start.

Later we went to dinner where photogs were still hunched together looking at the tiny monitors to compare the effect of different settings on their most recent portrait (usually someone just on the other side of the table with a mouthful of pasta.) I suppose now would be a good time to thank the rest of the newsroom for accommodating our all-day hiatus.

Some early digital images played a big part in that as well. We have just one question that lingers: What shall we do with all these hole punches?

In the weeks that have passed the staff has settled into the new environment pretty well. I still found myself taking an extra step, or ten, backwards to adjust for the apparent change in focal length. And occasionally, if it were not for previewing images on the monitor or "chimping" as Taniwaki calls it, I'd have shot an entire assignment on the wrong "White Balance." By the way, "Auto-Chimping" or #1 in the Custom Setting Menu really drains a battery fast. Turn it off.

It wasn't long before everyone thought only of digital shooting-- until we hired stringers for prep football. On Oct. 11, 2001 we covered Rev. Billy Graham's appearance in Fresno, CA. Staffer Steve Fujimoto sent pictures back via the laptop in order to make deadline. Except for some toning issues back at the paper, all went well. In addition to saving money, we had also improved our ability to cover events out of our area.

Making reprints for the public became an issue when we switched to digital. In the past we took negatives to a local film processor and had 8x10's or 11x14's made. Having this lab make prints from digital files proved to be rather costly. We now print these images in-house on a color laser printer at such a low price that we were able to lower the price for the public.

Editors are also able to see images much faster than before. This is especially helpful for centerpiece stories that develop late in the day or evening. The sooner we can show good pictures, the better our chances are for getting bigger play or for getting that extra frame published.

A minor point, but worth mentioning, is that digital photography frees the photographer from having to guesstimate how many rolls of various speed films to bring along. And then there's deciding whether to change film and waste two-thirds of a roll, or risk motion blur as darkness falls. Those situations I will never miss.

I have rediscovered the amazing possibilities of shadow detail once available only in color slides. With the conversion to digital I have returned to the philosophy of underexposing when in doubt. There is a limit to this approach that becomes more obvious at higher sensitivity when digital noise begins to manifest in the deep shadow areas of the image. From what I've seen, the D1H (and X) have an unbeatable combination of low noise and high sensitivity.

Looking even further back when we switched to color negatives, I missed that arc of vivid color pulled from a wet roll of E-6 on a stainless steel reel. I still miss watching a black and white print develop before my eyes. But those dreamy moments are gone in this business where "gotta have it now" is no exaggeration. Now we can edit and tone dozens of digital color frames on screen in the time it used to take to make a couple of black and white prints. I do not miss making color prints on deadline.

Some features of the D1H I found useful:

Slide Show - combine this with the video out jack and a VCR and you have instant entertainment. This is a favorite at home with my kids. I even used it to edit at home once and commit to a vertical picture over the radio long before I returned to the office.

Preview enlargement- great for getting names of certain individuals within a frame after a group shot and people have scattered. It is somewhat helpful for checking focus. Perfect for checking expressions and other composition elements.

No CF Card (CSM-34)- Camera deactivates the shutter when memory card is absent. Turn this ON unless you have some really good reason to do otherwise.

Display Mode (CSM-27)- I use "Both" to see all the information. The blinking highlights are helpful and pretty cool.

These settings could have a direct effect on image quality:

Image Quality- We use "JPEG Fine" for most of our assignments and RGB (TIFF) in studio type environments. We get about 100 to 120 JPEG's or 16 TIFF files on a 128-MB card. My experience points toward this rule of thumb for JPEG compression: The longer the glass, the more frames per card you can store. I'm sure this has to do with cleaner (or dark) backgrounds normally found in sporting events like tennis, waterpolo, football, and soccer.

White Balance- Six settings plus three custom settings. Each of the original six can be fine-tuned. A real gray card is required to make the most of this feature.

Center Weight (CSM-14)- Default is 8mm. There is also a setting to average the entire image area. This is important if you have older lenses that do not support matrix metering.

Sharpness (CSM-23)- Normal, Low, High, or None. I use "None" and prefer to control this effect in Photoshop.

ISO Boost (CSM-31)- Works better than we expected, but I would avoid using the "2steps over 1600" if at all possible. I seldom use either setting.

Color mode (CSM-32)- We use AdobeRGB, which is the larger color space. The other mode is sRGB. B&W is also an option.

Flash- I leave mine on "Slow." I used my F5 on "Rear/Slow" most of the time. The "Rear" setting seems to interfere with TTL metering on the D1H and seemed to cause underexposed subjects.

My features wish list:

1- Auto sensitivity. It already has auto-everything-else. I would like to be able to pick shutter and aperture settings and have the camera pick sensitivity. Sounds simple enough.
2- More frames per second. (But I do appreciate that 40-frame buffer!)
3- Audio file attachment or some other method for including custom information to individual frames similar to the MB-28 data back for its film based cousin the F5.

TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT GOING DIGITAL:

1. No more "freckles" on my Khakis from mixing the Blix.
2. Our 300mm f/2.0 is now a 450mm f/2.0!
3. Less film in the fridge means more room for food.
4. Boss doesn't nag about using Fuji 800 for Pet-of-the-week.
5. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Got)
6. SWIG (Bragging- See What I Got?)
7. Fewer expletives resulting from what you thought would be a 5-frame burst but ended on the first frame because you reached the end of a "short" roll.
8. A quick self-portrait combined with the LCD monitor makes a good substitute for a mirror. (The growth of one's own bald spot can be observed daily.)
9. Memory cards stack better, and higher, than negatives.
10. "We're burnin' CD's" is a good line to excuse smoke that has strayed from a well-stoked Cuban.

TOP TEN FEARS ABOUT GOING DIGITAL:

1. All my pictures are in that little thing?
2. Dust
3. Wind and Dust
4. My 20mm lens is now a 30mm lens.
5. Rain
6. Wind and Rain
7. What do ya mean it doesn't use AA's?
8. Microdrives that "reformat" on impact. (We don't use 'em.)
9. Leaf blowers, jet planes, and other devices that suddenly shower you with debris while changing lenses.
10. Reviewing images in camera during the game and realizing you need to stay a little longer

A footnote: On Halloween of this year I accepted a position out of the newsroom to manage the pre-press area of the newspaper as we prepare to centralize imaging paper-wide for quality control. This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make during the dozen years I've worked here. Photojournalism and those who continue to pursue it on a daily basis will always be special to me. Since the tragic events on Sept. 11th of this year millions of our countrymen have rallied together with patriotic images in mind like those of a US flag being raised over debris that once towered in New York City.

Many take for granted the hardworking men and women who produce these unforgettable beacons of hope. I urge all of you behind the cameras to take a moment and reflect on the unique privilege that you have to share your daily observations with the world. Keep it up, the free world needs you now more than ever. I'll end with Brooks Atkinson's (1894-1984), a U.S. critic and essayist, Once Around the Sun (1951) entry for August 28: "The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking."


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