BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Film-Based Camera Equipment : 35mm Cameras : Comparing Camera Models

Photography Question 
Amber Mizer

The Right Camera

I am torn between a Nikon N80, N90 and F100. I know for sure I want a Nikon because of the extensive lens capability.

I will be mostly shooting weddings, portraits and candids on location. I plan to use Kodak Portra film with high quality processing and I need a camera that will give me the sharp pictures, lots of flexiblity and ease of use for quick shots.

I am an amateur looking to "go professional" and need a camera to grow with. I would love to find one with a remote trigger and a grip. Also, is medium format the only form that allows interchangable backs for mid-roll changes?

Thanks so much... I could really use some great advice on this! OH! Also... have you ever heard of the New York Institute of Photography, and do you recommend their course?



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8/20/2001 5:15:37 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
Instead of telling you which Nikon body to buy, my advice is thinking about the entire system you will need for this. It goes beyond body and lens. Consider the light path that results in an image on the negative:
Light Source(s) -> Subject(s) -> Lens -> Film

You didn't mention anything about lighting equipment, so I don't know if you've thought about it. I recommend your first priority be on lighting; both equipment to create it and to control it. These are the most important tools of the wedding and portrait photographer. It goes beyond on-camera flash and even a powerful "potato masher" flash handle a photojournalist might use. You will have to create more light than the average hot shoe flash can create, you will need to be able to provide it from any direction, control where it goes, and control how harsh or soft it is. Complete control is not possible "on location" compared to a studio, but there much that can be (reflectors, diffusers, etc.). For weddings, you need to produce a portable studio for the formal groupings. If you haven't investigated what you will need in lighting equipment, you should do so. The list of possibilities and options go beyond the scope of this Q&A. Look for some books at a large bookstore or library about portrait lighting. Part of your studies will undoubtedly include this too.

I won't say much about the subjects. Your studies will also include methods of posing people and groups of people along with controlling lighting.

The lens is more important than the specific camera body. The optical qualities of the lens(es) you have will affect the images much more than the camera body. Buy excellent optics and place budget priority on them over the camera body. I also recommend buying body and lens separately. The ones bundled with these bodies are at the bottom end of the Nikkor's (typical is a 28-80 zoom). By buying them separately you avoid paying for a lens you will not use.

The most important aspects of a camera body for professionals is reliability and durability. A full-time professional can easily shoot over 1000 frames of film a week. Film usage is measured as a "burn rate" in frames per hour when working, and it is bought by the "brick" (IIRC, that's 20 rolls). Any of the bodies you mention are capable of the essentials you require, albeit a few things require workarounds (i.e. lack of a PC socket). For professional use, probably the N90s or F100 would be better.

Last, think about backup for essential equipment. No professional I know of shoots a wedding without some kind of usable backup for lighting, lens(es) and camera body. It may not be as new, easy to use or elegant as the primary hardware, but it can be pressed into service. Something that can be used to continue shooting is better . . . much, much better . . . than being dead in the water (the ultimate nightmare for a wedding photographer). If you have a 35mm SLR camera body and lens now, I strongly sugget keeping them as backup until you build enough of your new system that you have some backup equipment with it.

-- John

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8/22/2001 12:10:55 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
Forgot about your second question . . . removeable backs for mid-roll changes. I don't know of any 35mm SLR system that allows the kind of quick mid-roll changes that removable film backs with "dark slides" on medium format SLR bodies allow.

You can change film mid-roll on a manual wind, manual rewind 35mm SLR, but it's a royal pain, takes a few minutes, and you lose a frame doing it. Here's the procedure:
a. Note frame counter and rewind until you feel film just pull out of the takeup, then STOP.
b. Open camera back, pull out cannister and _mark_it_ with the next frame to be used (last used frame plus two; leaves a blank frame to prevent overlapping images).
c. Load next film cannister.

To reload a partially used roll:
a. note next frame to wind to (it was marked on it, right?) and load the film.
b. put lens cap on, set shutter to highest shutter speed, and stop lens down completely.
d. Cup hand over the lens cap, then shoot and wind until you're at the next frame to be used. I keep my hand cupped over the lens cap just in case there's a slight light leak around it.

I don't know how one can do this with the newer bodies that have auto loading and motorized wind/rewind built into them. By comaprison, inserting a dark slide, pulling off a film back, putting a new one on and pulling out its dark slide is much, much easier.

I recommend building a solid 35mm SLR system before moving into medium format. They're very nice to use for portraiture and formal shots at weddings. The negatives allow huge prints with magnificent detail levels. However, medium format SLR's with prism finders are big and heavy compared to 35mm, and film loading takes longer (unless you have a stack of preloaded backs). They easily become unwieldly and tiring at wedding receptions where the shooting style is more photojournalist.

-- John

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8/22/2001 12:42:12 AM

Amber Mizer   John,

Thank you so much for your thorough answer of my questions. I appreciate you input more than you know, as I've had such a hard time finding someone who really knows about this stuff and is not just trying to sell me equipment!

I know you didn't want to specify a camera without knowing lighting, but if you could choose between the N90s and the F100, which do you think would be more useful for what I need? Please keep in mind that I will need it in my beginning stages (which is to say I know nothing of apertures and shutter speeds, yet) as well as when I get to be more of a professional.

As far as lighting... the reason I'm focusing on the camera, quite frankly, is because the whole package is so overwhelming and confusing, and I really have no idea what to look for. Plus, I know that if I HAVE to start out with just a camera and a good speedlight, I can do that and just charge not much over my expenses. I am supposed to shoot a preschool next month and I had planned to buy a soft box light (no idea the technical term, sorry) and a backdrop, but haven't even considered what I'm going to need for an October wedding I have. I had already planned to buy the lenses seperately... probably a wide to normal and a zoom? Is there anythink I really need to look for when purchasing lenses? Since I want top of the line for excellent pictures...

I definately plan on keeping my Minolta, even though I can't control shutter speed or aperture at all... it has programs like portrait, landscape... maybe eventually will buy another SLR. And I definately plan to steer clear of medium format until I'm quite good at all this. Besides, the budget does not allow that, yet!

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm running out of time and need to start buying all this equipment.


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8/22/2001 8:29:06 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
At this point I would lean toward the N90s which allows a larger budget for lighting and lenses. You can do a wedding with on-camera flash. However, you should use a flash bracket. It needs to keep the flash directly above the lens, no matter which way you turn the camera. It should also elevate it a number of inches higher than the hot shoe to better control shadows and greatly reduce red-eye risks. Red-eye at receptions with low lighting and after people have consumed some alcohol can be a big problem (the alcohol dilates the pupils even more). Stroboframe is one of *the* names in flash brackets. If there is a large camera store near you, take a look at the different ones they have. Ensure your camera body will fit it and that you feel reasonably comfortable with holding it. You will have to run a cable from the camera to the flash head. I believe Nikon has one the slides into the hot shoe and connects to the flash. There are two basic styles of bracket: one the allows you to flip the flash to keep it above the lens as you turn the camera, and the other allows rotating the camera inside the frame. Your flash should have a GN of at least 100-110, and 125 is even better. You will lose between 1-2 stops of light with a diffuser on the flash head, depending on make and model. Practice with using the bracket. It takes a little getting used to. There's more weight and camera balance changes signficantly with it.

See also my tutorial for weddings here:

It's geared for the advanced amateur who does not have more sophisticated portable strobes, light stands, etc., the cost of which is not justifed in using them only once or twice.

Fundamental principles for shooting your first few weddings:
a. Keep It Simple from a hardware standpoint. You can shoot a wedding only using a fast 50mm lens. The fast 50mm (f/1.8 or f/1.4) also has a huge advantage with low lighting at receptions; it gives you a much brighter viewfinder.
b. Ensure you can put out enough light.
Take your Minolta as a spare and think about how you could mount and hook it up to the same flash bracket so you can switch between them.
c. Take plenty of film and spare batteries for everything. Depending on your flash power, you will probably have to use ISO 400 film. Portra 400 NC has pretty good grain structure.

For tight portraiture of one or two people (head/shoulders), a longer lens in the 85mm to 100mm range will keep you from getting too close to them which can cause perspective problems. This is a consideration for the pre-school event you mention. It will increase working distance requiring more flash power than a shorter lens. The flash bracket is very important for this to avoid red-eye, which is a generally a greater risk with small children (for reasons I don't fully understand).

-- John

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8/22/2001 1:40:41 PM

Amber Mizer   John,

Once again, can't thank you enough for all the advice. I don't feel so overwhelmed, anymore.

Just fyi... I plan on going with the N90 and will purchase a good flash and bracket. Also, for the preschool shooting, I don't think I'll be able to purchase that camera outfit, yet, so I think I'll go with a faster lens (I only have the one that came with it and a not very fast zoom) the lighting and a backdrop. Also, I was surprised by your suggestion to use a longer lens for that shoot... should I just buy a fixed 100 since it would be less expensive than a zoom? And, just for reassurance, I can still get a sharp picture at that range? I should be able to work the rest out for the wedding... (thanks for the link, can't wait to read your tips on wedding photography!)

Some more questions, if you're not sick of me yet... Can you recommend any Web sites or catalog companies that carry studio equipment such as lighting and backgrounds? I haven't had luck finding one yet.

If I use a light box will I still need a flash and braket?

I think that's it! OH! One more thing... you never said how you feel about New York Institute of Photography.

Thanks, again!!!


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8/23/2001 8:30:45 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
With a good camera hold, decent lens and proper focus, and good aperture selection you don't have to worry about sharpness. The very short duration of flash strobes tends to freeze motion. The reason I suggested a longer lens for portraiture is to keep from getting in too close for tight shots. You can easily do them with a 50mm lens provided you get no closer than about 5 feet. This is a 1/3 portrait of an adult (bottom of sternum to top of head). Closer can get you into perspective trouble with the close nose looking big compared to the farther ears looking small. For one or two people I recommend no shorter than 50mm, and use caution with shorter lenses for larger groups (keep people away from frame edges, and especially heads out of the corners). If you do a lot of portraits, you'll eventually need a focal length between 85mm and 105mm.

Quick tips on portraits: If you can pick a focus point, focus on the eyes. Don't break at a body joint (waist, knees, ankles, etc.). For a partial (2/3, 1/3, etc.) put the frame edge between body joints. Don't get too close with a 50mm lens. Leave some border on the long dimension of the frame in the viewfinder. Standard prints are 5x7 and 8x10. If the full 35mm frame is printed though, it would be 5x7-1/2 and 8x12. You have to be able to crop the long dimension to make standard size prints from 35mm. In addition, the lip of a picture frame covers about 1/4-inch all the way around the print (a mat does also).

*The* mail order company on the web for new equipment is B&H in New York City ( They have an impeccable reputation and are used by professionals around the world. Their on-line ordering system works extremely well, but presumes you know what you're looking for (brand and model). Pricing on new equipment is generally very competitive.

Even if you use a light box on the flash, it should still be on a bracket. The box will "soften" the light but it won't help reduce red-eye. Shadows are still there, but with softer edges. If you cannot get enough light with the box on the flash, remove it. Remember, it absorbs some of the light along with diffusing it. Don't compensate for this by opening up the lens any wider than f/5.6 or you'll have depth of field problems. I have something similar for my flash, but there are times when I pull it off because I can't get enough light at longer working distances.

I've heard of NYIP, but do not know much about them. My "education" in photography was by making tons of mistakes and much self-study to sort out why.

-- John

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8/25/2001 11:48:17 PM

Melissa Williams   I have a Rebel 2000 with auto load/wind and reuse half used rolls. Just take note of what frame you left off on, and then hit the rewind button. I use a Sharpie marker to write down the frame # I was on, onto the film cannister.

To reload the film you have to get the film leader out. To do this you can walk into most film developing places, I recommend Wolf/Kits/Ritz Camera stores and tell them to get the film leader out for you because they have contraptions for extracting the leader. Then when you want to use the rest of that roll, load it as usual, with the lens cap on, etc. Use a fast shutter speed and smallest aperture, cover the lens with a dark cloth if you want(lens cap on still), and shoot off the frames until you get past the one you were on, and then shoot a couple extras to be on the safe side. Like John said =)

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6/24/2003 7:55:00 PM

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