Monday, December 29, 2008

It's hard not to like the D40!

I must admit, ever since I got my first DSLR, a Nikon D40, earlier in the year, I have looked for ways not to like it.
That is becoming increasingly difficult.
As a dyed-in-the-wool film guy, digital somehow did not seem real but the more I use the little D40 the more I like it and the harder it is to cling to my belief that my film cameras are better than my new digital toy.
Over the dreary holiday period I had the time to play with the D40 and to get to know it better. I am now absolutely convinced this is a little gem!

Let me say right up front, I only use the camera on its “manual” setting so, apart from the ergonomics, the picture-taking process is not all that different from that followed when using my analogue cameras. At least half of the time I set the exposure using a hand-held meter to take incident light readings.
But what is truly amazing about this camera is the amount of control tucked away in the menu system.

Flash-triggering is now easy

By setting the on-camera pop-up flash to “manual” -- as opposed to “TTL” I was able to turn off the horrible pre-flash sequence and so have the flash fire only once, when I pressed the shutter release button.
I also discovered I could turn the flash power right down. This opens enormous creative opportunities, as it is now a simple operation to use the on-camera flash as a trigger for off-camera flashes fitted with cheap “peanut” optical triggers.
It is easy to purposely over-power the on-camera flash with the stand-alone units or to tailor it to pop just right amount of flash onto subject in order to soften shadows.
It’s a facility that effectivley allows me to carry a full studio in my camera bag.
But another benefit is I can now safely use my old hammer-head flashes, because, when used as slave units, their high trigger-voltage obviously has no effect on my camera.
Modern digital cameras’ circuitry can easily be fried if the trigger-voltage of a hot-shoe-attached flash exceeds that specified by the manufacturer.
I believe Canons should not exceed 6v while Nikons can handle anything less than 250v. I am not sure what the numbers are for other brands but some older flash units pump out as much as 500 volts.
Naturally, if the flash is not attached to your camera -- ie it is a slave unit -- it cannot damage your DSLR.

Cheap manual flash units

There are heaps of excellent, old, manual, flash units to be found at give-away prices. I have a Sunpak 5000 hammer-head that is unbelievably powerful that I bought at camera flea-market sale for R10 (about $1.00). It will now be reporting back for duty.
Yesterday afternoon I saw storm clouds gathering so I grabbed my Rolleiflex and the D40 and headed for Breedtsnek, one of the highest points in the Magaliesberg.
From the top of the pass I watched rain storms moving across the valley. I quickly set up the Rollei on a tripod and fired off a few frames of black and white then grabbed the D40 and shot about 20 frames -- just because I figured I should.
I haven’t had the chance to process the shots taken with the Rollei but have posted a few shot with the Nikon.
More than ever, I am beginning to feel my firm positions are increasingly on shaky ground!


OrelleJ said...

Great pics once again. I look forward to seeing the Rolei pics too! Happy New Year

Hilton Hamann said...

Thanks very much. Happy New Year to you too.

Sam said...

Great stuff. See how you go with the digital. I was very taken with my D80 for about two years. Now I feel I haven't taken a "real" picture if it's not on film. Something ever so slightly plastic about the (very good) digital files. What I really want is a better scanner (since all my film shots end up digital in the end anyways).

Hilton Hamann said...

Thanks for taking the time and trouble to write a comment, Sam. Really appreciate it.
I know exactly what you mean. In an earlier post I compared digital and film cameras as being like leatherette and genuine leather. I think a better comparison may be a Timex and a Rolex. In pure functionality, time-keeping ability and convenience the Timex is better -- but it's still not a Rolex!
I would be quite happy to shoot only film if clients did not want immediate results.
But what you say is true. When I shoot pics with my favourite camera, a 1957 Voigtlander Prominent, photography again becomes real.
I have a very good lab that does exceptional and large scans but getting medium format scans done will be a problem if the lab ever shuts down. In that case I will likely have to send the negs to a lab in Cape Town, about a thousand miles away.