In the past year, I started on a hobby I always wanted to pursue but didn’t really feel like spending the money to go down, photography. Now, armed w/ a Nikon D7000 and a couple of beat up used lenses, I had the chance to go to AX and explore that hobby at the same time. I’ve always visited AX on an exhibitor or press badge, but never really took full advantage of the press badge. This year was going to be different!
Ever since I started this whole trip down into dSLR world, I knew I had one obsession: low light/no-flash photography, of the candid sort. That’s why I decided to upgrade from a simple point and shoot camera, I needed a bigger sensor. And carry about 3kg of lenses on my back every day. So for AX I came w/ this kit of gear:
- Nikon D7000, released late Fall 2010, it’s currently their best DX format camera yet, with awesome low light performance. I regularly use up to ISO 1000 without worrying about noise (from ISO 400-1100ish, Lightroom takes care of the noise extremely well) When forced, I can push to ISO 6400 for shots that absolutely must be taken.
- Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 – Ultrawide rectilinear zoom. When you need wide views, there’s few lenses that can go this wide w/o being fisheyes. The hard part about using this lens is you have to be very brave and get up close to your subject.
- Nikkor AiS 50mm f1.2 – Fully manual focus, but the only lens Nikon currently makes that goes down to f/1.2. It’s a bit fuzzy, in a flattering warm sense for portraits at f/1.2 and 1/4, but razor sharp by f/2. If you get good at nailing down the focus quickly, it makes a really nice portrait lens.
- Nikkor AF 80-200mm f2.8 – A beat up old telephoto from the 90s, but still awesome glass and built like a tank. It doesn’t have any of the fancy vibration reduction features of the newer high-tech lenses, so you have to make up for it w/ technique. But it’s one of the cheapest ways to reach 200mm f/2.8 (300mm 35mm equiv!).
I was supposed to get a 35-70mm/2.8 from a friend, but it broke during transport. (There just went $200. OTL) It probably would have been ideal for use at the con, but alas. Don’t really feel like getting a replacement for it though.
Instead, someday soon I’ll pick up a AF-D 24mm/2.8 and that should complete my lens kit. It should cover most of the range I need to do portraits close up without going crazy, and it’ll give me AF capabilities where I currently have none.
Being a pretty big fan, I wanted to shoot the Kalafina panel and concert the most. Luckily, while everyone else at the panels and concerts were barred from taking any pictures, the press were allowed to shoot as much as they wanted during the panel, and for the first 3 songs of the concert.
Knowing that I had a time limit for the concert, I went a bit trigger happy w/ my camera and wound up taking probably 1100 shots combined, most of which were thrown out later, but even then, I now have more high quality pictures of Kalafina than I really know what to do with. Admittedly, this is a very nice problem to have.
The concert itself put all the press on the balcony, so while we had a much better view of the concert, the shots aren’t as personal as it would be had we been down in the pit shooting from where the audience was. We weren’t allowed to move around though, so all of us made do w/ what we had. I certainly don’t regret buying that 80-200/f2.8 lens. Only the 70-200/f2.8 VRII or the awesome 200/f2 might have been “better” for the situation. The 70m would have let me possibly fit all 3 in a frame w/o switching lenses (80mm at 1.5 crop was too narrow and I had to settle for two-shots), and the 200/f2 has that extra tiny bit of aperture, and was optimized for 200m.
Aside from the time and seating limitations, shooting the concert was easier than I expected. Spot lighting was ample for most parts, so a quick spot-meter on the face usually got a good exposure even at ISO 640. None of the singers moved very much while singing, made things easier. 1/100s at f/2.8 made for nice shots. We were also far enough that I didn’t have to stop down to get depth of field. The dark made the matrix meter totally useless, and even at 200mm (w/ a DX’s 1.5 crop factor) center-weighted was totally thrown off by their black clothes.
At the same time, because they didn’t move very much (w/ the rare exception of Keiko moving), it was very difficult nice shots that had a strong pose, or nice action in them.
The Miku concert was fun for the tons of fans that gathered, but photographically, it was a huge challenge for me. The problem w/ being Press was that much of us were dumped into the farthest left seats of the hall (though a few more intrepid photographers worked their way to empty seats near the front) , and the projection of Miku onto the glass didn’t have enough light for my camera without pushing hard. It was very much like trying to shoot a ghost. The camera had a great deal of trouble getting Miku into focus, or metering off her, so I just had to use the drummer or bassist as reference points.
Thankfully, we were allowed to shoot for the entire duration of the show. I went through probably 700+ shots, and threw out over 600 as being unusable. Even the ones that remain, most are pretty bad.
After tons of experimenting, it seemed that the only way to get Miku to expose properly is to crank up the ISO and simply expose the scene brighter. Towards the end of the program, I was using ISO 4000 and 5000, when normally I try to restrict myself to ISO 1000 or lower on my camera. The few people armed w/ a D3s or other full frame sensors probably had a much easier time w/ this concert. Miku needs more candlepower!
Supposedly Miku looked much more solid from more reasonable seats (this originally was the reason why they didn’t sell seats on the far wings, the viewing angle of the projected image wasn’t as good.) I saw a lot of press people use their cameras to photograph the huge screens on the sides of the hall because those had much brighter images.
Still, despite all the technical difficulties, it was fun. I got to shoot a bunch of shots of Zalas doing otagei near the front of the concert. His bright red glowstick and t-shirt repeatedly pop up in even the official nico streams of the concert, so I’m sure over time he’ll be famous. I was also surprised to find that the string section of the band put papercraft versions of Miku on their music stands after the encore. I certainly wouldn’t have noticed had I not taken pictures of them before and after, and noticing
that something had been added.
Oh, how was the concert? Fun, but very loud. Being so close to the wall speakers, eventually I had to put in earplugs just so I my ears wouldn’t be overloaded. The floor was also disgustingly sticky. It’s like some one spilled a barrel of soda on the entire floor on purpose. What was up with that?!
I’m not a very good portrait photographer. There’s just something not quite genuine about taking posed shots of cosplayers. I’d so much rather take pictures of people from a bit farther off, while they’re naturally interacting and showing human emotions. Still, it’s hard to take a camera to an anime convention without wanting to at least take pictures of people wearing very nicely done cosplay outfits, so I gave a shot at it.
Sadly the 80-200 was absolute overkill for where I had been spending most of my time, the south hall and the exhibitor’s room. There just simply wasn’t enough time or room to back off to take headshots or torso shots, let alone full body shots. My AiS 50/1.2 was perfect for much of the time in the south hall, except it’s a very old manual focus lens. If I nail the focus manually, it’s very flattering. I love the lens to death, but in a fast paced scenario, having a manual focus lens means missing shots, which is very unfortunate. I did go walking around using it to take pictures, and some of them came out very well, but it takes concentration to make sure you didn’t mess up a shot.
That left the only one other lens in my bag, a Tokina 11-16/2.8 ultrawide angle lens. It’s a somewhat heavy, but solidly built lens that was perfect for the close quarters of the exhibitor’s hall. I could take a full body shot while being less than 3 feet from a person. However, for shots in the south hall, I found myself having to get uncomfortably close to the subject, or just flat out crop away the excess. It’s sad to throw away pixels, but having autofocus is rather important, so I dealt w/ it.