When I got my Nikon Z9 in late December 2021, I was a bit nervous. Would it live up to the buzz? Was it going to be the cam that Nikon had promised (and many Nikon users had been waiting for)?
Right now that very first day my issues were laid to rest, and over the course of the following week, the more I found out, the more I liked it. That led to a long, mostly glowing, article. And as I continue to use it, I continue to be impressed. That got me thinking of this digital photography journey I’ve been on for the last 25 years. It’s gone from awful to amazing.
In 1996 my manager at the paper in Rochester, NY, returned from a photojournalism conference where he ‘d been informed, “digital photography is the future.” So he went out and purchased one, a modern digital video camera, the Kodak NC2000e (“News Camera for the new millennium”). Starting life as a Nikon N90s, Kodak then turned it into a digital electronic camera (ala Frankenstein). Since I was the computer geek on personnel, he handed it to me and stated, “See what this can do.”
The results weren’t pretty.
It taped 1.3-megapixel images (1280 x 1024 pixels!) on a removable disk drive. There were four ISO options, 200, 400, 800, and 1600, but 800 was so loud it was hardly functional. 1600 benefited laughs. With white balance, even if you bewared, images tended to have a magenta cast.
The battery was built-in, so if it passed away while you were out (an almost daily event), you needed to plug it into a portable, however heavy, external battery. You got all of that for the low, low price of just $15,000. Oh, and there was no LCD for reviewing photos. Shoot and pray. In spite of all that, it transformed newspaper photography.
State-of-the-art digital for 1996, the Kodak News Electronic camera 2000e (improved!). 1.3-megapixels, no LCD, very minimal ISO, questionable color and non-removable battery for just $15,000.
Prior to digital cams, before you might send a photo for publication, the film needed to be processed and a print made (or eventually, the film scanned to digital). Take away film, and you eliminate the requirement for processing. No more desperately viewing minutes tick away on deadline waiting for film to end up. No more taking a trip with portable processing packages to turn hotel bathrooms into darkrooms.
Now, merely getting rid of that little hard disk from the electronic camera and linking it to a computer system meant you might “process” your photos anywhere, anytime, and then transfer them to the paper. Even if you weren’t taking a trip, it indicated you might stay longer at an event due to the fact that you didn’t have to consider time to process movie when returning.
Burr Lewis, personnel photographer at Gannett Rochester Newspapers, in the print lab in 1990. This was the best darkroom I ever operated in, and was advanced for its time.
Sure, the quality wasn’t excellent, but neither was recreation at many newspapers. In the spring of the list below year, 1997, our paper turned into one of the largest in the U.S. to do an overall digital conversion (and the only newspaper to provide each professional photographer 2 video cameras). Luckily, already, the price had actually dropped to just $13,000.
In an effort to make the change as successful as possible, every professional photographer received not simply those 2 electronic cameras, but a package of fast-aperture zoom lenses (at 1.3 MP, you didn’t have the high-end of cropping, you needed to frame firmly). Given that going above 800 ISO wasn’t practical, every person also got a lighting set, and the staff shared two bigger high-power kits. That’s since every indoor high school sport we shot had to be lit. We were on the bleeding edge of digital photography, and it was challenging.
Covering expert sports, inside or out with the NC2000e was a difficulty at finest due to the fact that we couldn’t utilize flash. Low shutter speeds, fast apertures, great deals of sound and doubtful color. The image at the top of this story, as well as this one, was shot with that electronic camera.
However, the professional photographers weren’t forced to shoot digital. Each staffer was allowed to keep one movie electronic camera and informed that if they could not get the job done digitally, to proceed and shoot movie. And you understand what? After six months, no one shot film again. In spite of all the difficulties– the low resolution, the bad high ISO efficiency, the sluggish frame rate (2 frames-per-second!), and general poor quality– the benefit and speed of getting images out trumped whatever else.
By mid-1999, the major camera makers were beginning to develop their own digital electronic cameras, from the ground up. Rather of a Frankenstein-type cam, we got the Nikon D1. It recorded 2.7-megapixel images on removable CF cards, had a rear LCD, a frame rate of 4.5 fps, 200-1600 (with 1600 really usable), and a removable battery amongst lots of other excellent (for the time) functions. About eighteen months later on Nikon launched new versions with advanced features (the D1X and D1H), and the race was on, mainly between Nikon and Canon. Kodak was left in the dust and is now a case study at company schools.
Given that getting that first D1 in early 2000, I’ve now shot (and taught) a total of 52 various Nikon digital SLRs and mirrorless electronic cameras. Numerous were incremental upgrades to an existing style, however some, like the D3 and now Z9, were groundbreaking in their features and image quality.
Here’s a fast comparison of the first Nikon digital camera I’ve utilized, the D1, and the current, the Z9. The purchasing power today of $5000 in 1999 dollars would be comparable to over $8300.
Shooting the Chiefs/Steelers video game with the Z9 last weekend, I utilized the Wide-Area AF (L) location mode on the Z9. Here’s part of a 28-frame sequence of Travis Kelce making a catch and running in for a touchdown. I was utilizing the Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 lens, and zooming out as he ran towards me. Nikon’s NX Studio software can reveal me where the autofocus system is focused in each frame, and in these 18 frames from that burst, it reveals that first it’s on his body, but then quickly shifts to his eye, and stayed there even when he was filling the frame from the waist up. A good friend sent me an 81-frame series from an NBA video game shot with the Z9, of one gamer on a quick break, and he’s sharp in every frame. This most current generation autofocus system is quite incredible.
So what does the future hold? Honestly, I have no idea. I always keep in mind back to the days when we first got 6-megapixel, and after that 12-megapixel video cameras. Each time we thought we ‘d passed away and gone to paradise. And truthfully, who needs more than 12 megapixels? However, as all of us now know, if we can get more resolution while still having terrific high-ISO (low-light performance), we’ll take it. And autofocus that can get the eye of a fast-moving individual or animal, even if they’re not a big part of the frame? Yes, please!
I only understand that whatever the future brings, I’m looking forward to it. I just hope that twenty-five years from now (offering I’m still around,) I’ll look back on 2022 and state, “Oh yes, we thought we had it good back then, today …”
About the author: Reed Hoffmann is a professional photographer and photography trainer who has remained in the photo industry for years and who has actually utilized every Nikon DSLR (and taught the majority of them). The viewpoints expressed in this post are entirely those of the author. Follow in addition to Hoffmann’s most current workshops here. You can also discover more of Hoffmann’s work and writing on his site, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This article was likewise released here.