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Head-2-Head Portrait/Fashion Shootout: Nikon Mid-Range DSLRs
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posted on Dec 23, 2009 at 7:56PM

Head-2-Head Portrait/Fashion Shootout: Nikon Mid-Range DSLRs

Introduction: The Matchup

By Ted Dillard


You can read all the specifications and data about cameras you want. You’re still not going to find out the little things, the things that only show up when you use the camera in an actual shoot. The shoot environment resets your priorities: instead of theorizing about things like what control is where and what focus point will work better, you’re concentrating on the shot, working with the model, or making the client happy. It brings to mind the old saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes. What sounds good or bad on paper doesn’t quite hold up in actual use.

This article looks at the top tier of Nikon's DSLR stable, the D300s, the D700 and the D3s, with a concentration on a fashion/portrait assignment. We’re shooting full-figure shots under strobes at low ISO (ISO 200), some head shots under strobes, and some “available light” shots with tungsten, shot with an ISO 800 setting, and identical lenses on all the cameras, the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.

We’re not going to talk (too much) about the control layout or handling of the three cameras. Most issues that we encountered on location can almost entirely be attributed to the demands of the shoot. Instead, we're going to focus on the output and usability of the various cameras and how they performed in a Fashion and Portrait environment.

There are more similarities than differences between Fashion and Portrait photography, but the one overriding advantage Fashion work has is, in some cases at least, budget and production. Where a portrait photographer may, at most, be making some salon prints for the family at a maximum size of 20” x 24” and doing the retouching and printing in-house, many fashion shoots have to take into account large poster and even billboard reproduction. Retouching is done outside, as is printing, and generally there is a fairly respectable production budget, covering stylists, assistants, and, of course, brunch. Well, sometimes brunch.  

A key thing these two shooting styles have in common is the frequent need to print out at around the 8” x 12” size, whether as a final product (in a magazine spread, or a glossy for the grandparents) or as a test or a proof. After all is said and done, and we’ve pixel-peeped to our heart’s content, we’re then going to size these files down to 8” x 12”, and take a look at a nice, corrected, sharpened file to see what we really are going to be producing with the cameras, and look at the differences.  

The interesting thing about the shootout is that it’s presuming brand loyalty. We’re thinking you’re in the Nikon or Canon line already, you have an older model and you’re trying to sort out exactly what you get for your money with an upgrade, and how the new models fit into your equipment lineup already. Do you want to add a new body with new capabilities? Do you want to get a camera that steps you up a notch, and keep your old camera as a backup? Maybe you’re going to “cycle” your equipment and sell off the old cameras and pick up two new models, giving you a redundancy failsafe. This shootout will give you a little glimpse into how each model fits into the lineup, both historical (including your present cameras), and current.  

The Matchup

This matchup looks at a bit broader range than the Canon Portrait/Fashion Shootout. We’re looking at the Nikon D300s, at under $2000 ($1799 MSRP) up to nearly the upper limits of the Nikon line: the D3s at $5200. Two of the cameras are sporting a full-frame 35mm sensor: the D3s and the D700, the D300s has the “APS’ sized sensor, yet all three have a 12mp effective pixel count. Probably the most significant difference is the maximum shooting speed, with the D3s yielding a scorching 9 fps, and ISO, with the D3s at a “pushed ,400” equivalent.

Everything about the D3s seems built to handle conditions that a high frame-rate is necessary. It’s a heavy, rugged build, presumably well-sealed. It has two CF card slots, and at a RAW file size of around 18MB, that 9 fps is going to fill up both of them in short order. The D700 and D300s both are close to the same size, a bit smaller and lighter, and solid but missing that heavy, Pro-Nikon feel. That’s both good and bad. They may not stand up to the abuse, but they’re a lot easier on the arms after a long day shooting, especially toting two (or more) cameras around with lenses. 

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