I needed something higher resolution than my D300 for the big banner project. I’ve been a Nikon user forever so was leaning toward the D3x, since it would give me twice the resolution of my D300 plus a full size sensor and lower noise. I also considered the Canon 5D MkII and some medium format cameras. The Canon was a little lower resolution than the Nikon and online reviews and samples showed the D3x to have a (sometimes small) lead in image quality. The Hasselblad CF22 shoots at 4080 x 5440 pixel. The photos are to be printed at 18ftx9ft, or a 2:1 aspect ratio. So the number I care about here is the 5440 pixel horizontal resolution, which is less than the 6000 pixels of the D3x. I looked at specs for the Hasselblad CF39 at 5412×7212, which is more pixels and a bigger sensor. But considering that that’s only a 20% increase in resolution and it would be a totally new and strange system to work with, the D3x was the sensible choice for me. Plus, the camera is laid out just like my D2x so felt comfortable and familiar.
I rented it from an equipment house in Dallas and took it to the studio for some tests and to zero in the focus on the 3 prime lenses I was planning to use, a 50 f1.4, 85 f1.4, and 105 f2.0. I was also borrowing an 80-200 from a friend. I was going to be shooting close to wide open for limited depth of field and found that both the 50mm and 105 had to be compensated for in the setup menus.
This was going to be six shots spread out over 3 days. The first day of the shoot went well, having the D3x tethered gave me quick feedback on sharpness and cropping, although the Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 software just about drove me crazy. (that’s going to be another post!) The morning of the second day was when things changed. I was shooting some test exposures and when I looked down at the camera’s display, I was looking at the previous shot. I shot a few more and noticed that the counter was not incrementing. Another photographer was assisting me that day and he shoots with a D3, so knew this camera well. We had been shooting on dual CF cards in Backup mode, so the images were supposed to be written to both cards, but nothing was being written.
We pulled the cards and swapped them. Nothing. We tried the cards one at a time. No data was being written but the camera thought it was fine and showed no errors. Then I tethered to Camera Control and was able to control the camera but after exposing it wrote no files to the laptop. Then we tried Live View, both tethered and stand alone and neither worked. We did the 2 button reset, changed batteries, changed lenses, left it off for a few minutes with no battery, stood on one leg, basically tried everything. When we inserted and formatted yet a third card, it started shooting again but after 3 good frames the last one came up striped green on the screen, the kind of green that makes you stop breathing for minute if you’ve ever gotten that kind of data corruption before. That’s when we decided to stop shooting and reschedule for the next day. The camera had failed and I had a client looking at me from across the room. Normally, I would have a backup body, but this was a special situation with a rental and we just had to quit for the day.
We were really stunned that the D3x failed, as was the rental house. I was able to get another rental from another place in town and finish the job, using the same memory cards and same setup with no more problems. Unfortunately the rental house was unable to make it fail again and suggested that it was not the camera but the memory cards. That conversation didn’t end well, but I did get the job done, and the quality of the images was really impressive.
Three of the six shots were done with just ambient fluorescent light and a couple of reflectors. I used a Lastolite grey card for color and it worked well. A sturdy tripod was really important here since even a tiny bit of shake could really mess with a 1/4 second exposure with an 85mm lens.
Here’s the setup for two of the shots with the final images: