Recuperating with a Nikon D300

... a bout with pneumonia and a fascinating new camera

from Don Norris

Do I reveal any secrets by beginning this article with a photo of my favorite evening cocktail beverage? Perhaps that emphasizes my point: I have been suffocated for two weeks now with pneumonia, on anti-biotics, feeling miserable -- but the ocasional martini sort of glues life together once again.

And yes, two weeks ago at the onset of this bug, I did buy a sparkling new Nikon, a D-300 to replace my aging D-200. Some folks chide me for such extravagance, but then mathematically I am reaching the end of my rope. So what other pleasures can I conjure?

Of course there is the new motorcycle, but then this is mid-winter.

Now the problem is, with this sickness, it is best I stay near home. Which means that any experimentation I do with my new Nikon will happen right here in this house. The situation, however, provides a good lesson. Look around at the the beauty right here at home, the geometric patterns, the way the sunlight plays upon the dark interior, the muted colors, the piles of records from so many years of dicing with the stock market, manuscripts that should have been tossed long ago, and the collection of eight decades of stuff.

So here's is what I see:

The new D-300 has a max ISO (its sensitivity to light) of 6400, which is phenominal. As a result I can delve into dark corners, and under the desk to record what is really under all that dust. At the left are a pile of ledgers dealing with art, the stock market, journalism, our system of maintaining a balanced budget ... At the right is a really dark spot under a desk which houses an air conditioner. It is so dark there that one really can't make out what that object is -- and so I was so surprised at how my new Nikon went into the depths of that darkness.

Is there beauty is an oven-roaster? The shade, the subtle light, the geometric patterns? I see it, but I often wonder if the rest of world does. In the center is the hermetically spic and span of the examining room at Lahey Clinic. I usually shoot a picture of myself in the dressing mirror here, but not this time. At the right is the 60-year old cabinetry of our kitchen. I see a very simple beauty in this simplicity. Silver on white, with shadlows.

What is this a picture of? A tomato? A bunch of wirey and colorful spring fasteners? A pair of scissors! Or just an attractive pattern in sunlight that has been bounced off six walls before reaching this interior decoration.

I bet I've shot this photo a hundred times, striving each time to get something different -- change the light, change the shadows, light up the phone, bounce reflected light off a green wall. It's not beauty really, but I am still fascinated with the values of light and darkness that this simple natural photo presents, day after day.

This is a test. The Nikon rep at Hunt's Camera in Melrose used this method to show me how much more sensitive the sensors of the D-300 are, and how little "noise" is created in the blackness of the nylon bags. I have endless shades of gray, defined patterns, while shooting at F8 at a quarter of a second. Still, there is form, shape, textue and, yes, some beauty in this simple photo. And virtually no noise.

Detail, lots of detail -- which is really a function of the Nikkor lens -- but also of the new 999000 censors in my new toy. By the way, that F-1.4 Nikkor lens in the foreground is not for a digital camera, but was manufactured probably fifty years ago. I discovered a way to adapt new and old, and save a a chunk of change. What a marvelous lens. Another old one I have adapted is the Nikkor 105mm F-2.5, a great lens for portraits and short telephoto. So precise!

Nothing so dramatic here. It's simply what I see in our kitchen. Patterns, light, shadows, repetative forms -- and a roll of paper towels. Oooph da. And the kettle on the stove, at 3:50 p.m. on an overcast day.

The sun has set and we are dealing with 25-watt new-style flourescent bulbs, which give a much truer light than the old normal incandescent. It's the busyness of this picture that gets me. It is busy, there's no real center of interest -- except maybe that one pillow. At the right, it is the pattern of several round things -- the multitude of natural round formations, a conglomeration of pillows, couch armrests, all offset by the stark straight blackness of the telephone table. I see all of that, and I enjoy it for what it is: beauty in simple form.

If you want to see what color cold is, look out this window. Then compare that icey look with the yellow warm inside our living room. What a lesson. If and when I go, I want to take bunch of pencils and a pad with me so I can record the other side.

At the left is my wife's tea table -- under my D-300 instruction book and a myriad of other bits and pieces -- even two caleidoscopes. In the middle is that funky plastic wall decoration that tells me I'm in the bathroom. I picked it up at a yardsale and will keep it forever. On the right is yet another experiment in darkness -- the camera is on a tripod, the lens set on F-1.4, and I let the machine choose the critical shutter setting -- it's called "the program". Otherwise than I kicked the tripod, the D-300 captured good definition in what seems to me to be total darkness.

And finally, a mundane photo of the cabinet, the cover of a health magazine at Lahey Clinic, and the stack of meds I am forced to take if I ever want to get out of doors again.

As for the D-300, it is a fabulous camera and I recommend it heartily. List price is $1800, body only. Your thoughts are welcome.

January 2, 2009

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