Nikon D7000 in the (battle)field

Now don’t you worry, I haven’t been near any armed conflict, thank God. But competitive sports in Youth classes can get a bit of a mini war, and in this particular type of eventing (horse jumping), the pace is fast and screwed enough that, for a beginner like me, it definitely has the rushed flavor of a PJ assigment

OzoirCSO14-58In horse jumping contests things can get fast, and hectic

So let me set the background for ya : yesterday, Marla and I put on sunscreen, light clothes, hats, packed the Think Tank Retrospective 7 (best photobag, ever, though I haven’t given up on the Moore&Giles Waxwear Rangertan, yet), and headed out in the 30°C heat and blazing sun to support our riding team, “Les Ecuries d’Has”, at a nearby club competition. By club I mean the level wasn’t hugely high, those contests are mostly training grounds for both kids and ponies aiming at competing at a higher level later. The rules are slightly loser (one of her teenage girl riders, for instance, had a rather embarrassing “white pants leakage” issue (welcome to woomanhood, baby), and the jury made no objection that she could show in dark colored pants. However, the schedule and organization are still pretty tight, and once you’re in that arena, dude, God help you because no one else will. Riders get a little over two minutes of show time. As a photog’, that’s your window of opportunity, and tha’s that

OzoirCSO14-37They come in once the competing pair is getting the Go ! bell, try to familiarize their pony to the place without being in the way of the former, and once this one is done and out, it’s their turn to go, while the next pair comes in. And so on, until their is no one left to go. Considering the average running time is around a minute, that makes a lot of pressure and stuff happening in a very condensed amount of time. And those kids are anywhere between 11 and 18 I’d say, while later in the afternoon another leg of the competition has no age or size (for the horses !) limit, and I’ve seen adult riders on full grown horses, just coming there to be gently introduced to competing.

OzoirCSO14-56Here’s an example of an adult rider, on a horse

Let me back up here a minute. I mentioned my photo bag, but failed to describe what was *in* it. So here goes : first and foremost I took the D7000 that my friend Charlotte’s father, M. Toing, has so nicely accepted to let me have for a week. A pretty nice gesture as, being a friend of his daughter, he still doesn’t know me, I met him briefly once for a few minutes. I guess that the numerous pictures I’ve taken for Charlotte before have been useful ambassadors of my dedication to the craft, and now a shiny D7000 has made its way to me (planned to be returned next Wednesday). I initially thought he owned the D7100, which is the model I an eye on, as I considered upgrading my 4 yr old D90 (excellent model which has actually been in circulation for *six* years, which is a LOT of digital time…). Turned out he had the D7000, but I was still thrilled to get to borrow it. I figured if it beat the D90 by a good margin, the D7100 would only build up on that yet, and would then be a pretty safe bet

OzoirCSO14-77NBTruth be told, I didn’t expect the D7000 to be such a leap from the D90. The latter is a much, much loved camera for me, and I hold it in very high esteem. But there was no way around accepting the obvious upgrade in IQ, namely in high ISO and more specifically color fidelity at higher values. The D90 loses color really quick as you go up the ISO scale, but the D7000 handles it quite gracefully. The 39 AF points module is also a welcome addition, though it’s been documented to be finicky on some units, and it can indeed, be a little capricious at times. That being said, it didn’t give me a single AF error yesterday during the contest, which I’m grateful for. Other than that, and the fantastically pleasurable to hold grip texture, it’s very much another D90. Dang, I even almost left with the D90 yesterday as I got fooled by their similar looks !

OzoirCSO14-68Here I was very close, probably no more than 2 yards from the jump), the pony was coming very fast. Nailing AF was no issue

So, the D7000 was there. Of course, a body is nothing without a proper lens screwed on it. And I had high hopes (that have NOT been disappointed, quite the opposite) for the Sigma EX 50-150 F:2.8 HSM II I was bringing along. I’ve dubbed it the “Baby Bazooka”, and boy does it stand well the comparison with its much loved bigger brother, the 70-200 F:2.8 HSM DG Macro II ! Both lenses are fantastic, fast, silent, optically superb, and capable of crispy detail and buttery smooth bokeh

OzoirCSO14-67They’re also superb portrait lenses

OzoirCSO14-43Subject isolation is great, and it gives a lot of “3D” pop

OzoirCSO14-25And it’ll pick focus on a child walking (or even running, for that matter) towards you, without a glitch

OzoirCSO14-74and it has gorgeous color rendition… Need I go on ??

Okay, okay, I hear you object, so where was the NEX7 ?? It was there alright. In the bag. With the SEL35/1.8 mounted for quick “candids” and really shallow DOF capabilities. Except it never came out of the bag. Not once…

OzoirCSO14-62WHY ?

Because once you’re outdoors, 50-150 on APS-C is a pretty darn versatile focal range. Sure, 35-200 would be even better, but so is winning the lottery, yet neither is going to happen, right ? (at least not in *my* world)… This is what the grounds looked like when we got there. As you can see there was not a square inch of shade ANYWHERE

OzoirCSO14-66I actually heard a mother tell her daughter, gesturing to the pony “But don’t let it stand there in the sun, get it in the shade !!”. She was yelling. And I thought “WHAT shade”, you stupid ?!? Don’t look for it, there was NONE

OzoirCSO14-49Which made me so happy I had litteraly lathered my kiddo in sunscreen, and imposed the hat ! I wasn’t smart enough to go all the way and lather *myself* as well, and came back home with an shiny, angry red bosom 😉

OzoirCSO14-64When Marla andI first got there prizes were being awarded from previous runs

OzoirCSO14-63Memory serving well, the Blue goes to the winner

OzoirCSO14-65Then riders got to lope an “honor round”, under scattered applause

OzoirCSO14-27Overall, as in all competing events I’ve attended, there’s a lot of waiting involved

OzoirCSO14-26Which is always a good opportunity to grab some candids. Stick around people with pets or children long enough, you’re usually bound to get some pretty cool moments. Another reason the NEX stayed in the bag : the Baby Bazooka was perfectly suited for nailing those as well

OzoirCSO14-23PMShortly after we arrived, our team showed up. Of course Marla was over the moon. This is Camille, her role model

OzoirCSO14-70The performers… pre performance (notice the ragged jogging bottoms)

OzoirCSO14-29As competition still raged on…

OzoirCSO14-71…we went to prepare our ponies

Please take a minute to note the dynamic range in this shot. This was about the worst, over contrasty conditions, you’ll ever encounter. 2:30pm on a baking hot summer afternoon. Sun as its peak. Yet, save for a rather limited area on Doudou’s back, there are very few burned highlights, the sky has retain ALL its detail (heat clouds included) and Yanne’s face, despite being shaded by his hat, is also clearly visible. I always raved about Sony DR, because it is such a strength for their cameras, but the D7000 delivered about equal performance… if not even better. I was seriously impressed (I must specify I had Active D-Lighting turned to Auto. I usually set it to Low, but under such duress, though Auto was a good bet… and it turned out to be)

OzoirCSO14-75PMAgain, super portrait properties of the 50-150

OzoirCSO14-73And those are not even processed from RAW !! Having absolutely zero trust in any metering system that isn’t my eyes, I doubled the *whole* session in RAW format. I thought I’d probably have a bunch of misexposed shots that’d need some salvaging in PP. Guess how many I processed in LR, then ? Zero 🙂

OzoirCSO14-72Montaine checking Viva’s braids

OzoirCSO14-76Doudou getting all geared up

A word on the dual SD card slot on the recent Nikon cameras. The D7000 is 16mp, but once you set it to RAW+jpeg in L size, the two cards are gonna be a must. And I’m not even mentioning the D7100’s *24*MP files ! Knowing that Nikon now offers 24mp across the board, starting from its one SD slot, entry level camera, is a little head scratching. I guess if you get a body with only one slot avalaible, you can either shoot smaller size files (S and M are available, along with L), or buy gimongous capacity SD cards… With the D7100 on order, I’m starting to consider getting a couple of really big cards myself !

OzoirCSO14-44PMAnd, here are our little misses warming up

OzoirCSO14-45PMThe facility were the contest was taking place is huge, and beautiful. It was my first time there and I was very impressed

OzoirCSO14-46Marla, Yanne and Lili took a seat to watch the girls warm up

OzoirCSO14-36Meanwhile, the competition went on, in the previous category. My eye was caught by this good looking pair (notice the matching red jacket, leg wraps, and stirrups !). Riders love to compete in style 😉 Also note the superb subject isolation, clarity and perfect color rendition the D7000+50-150 delivered

OzoirCSO14-38This pretty horse is either Arabian, or partbred Arabian

OzoirCSO14-40He seemed quite in harmony with his rider and they made an excellent run

OzoirCSO14-41They certainly were a treat for the eye, and the camera seemed to love them too. As a photographer, the main rub in such an event is positioning. There was only one accredited photographer allowed in the ring. The rest of us (one guy other than me being seriously equipped, the rest just casual shooters with entry level gear, come to grab snaps of competing family or friends) stood outside of the fence, and had to make do with whatever angles we could secure

OzoirCSO14-39I looked at the pattern for a couple of runs, then decided on the one position that I felt was letting me in on as many jumps as possible. It was all a matter of choice. Running from one vantage point to another with speed demons traveling like their tails are on fire is not even an option !

OzoirCSO14-42So sure, some angles are pretty screwed, but overall I had a pretty desirable spot, and I didn’t complain. Plus, it was my first attempt at this, and overall I’m not unsatisfied of how the shots turned out

OzoirCSO14-30PMViva la Vida d’Has

OzoirCSO14-22PMAlmighty d’Has, aka Doudou

OzoirCSO14-31PMMarjorie on Oceane, also on the Has team

OzoirCSO14-52PMThe warm up arena has its own small jumps

OzoirCSO14-53PMEmilie revving it up

OzoirCSO14-50Emilie and Montaine, right before the pants swap

OzoirCSO14-28The “reconnaissance”. That’s a fun moment I always like to watch. Riders, horseless, go through the course on foot, to memorize the order of the jumps. Once in the arena and when the bell has rung, there’s no space for any doubt or hesitation about where to go !

OzoirCSO14-47PMMeanwhile parents, spouses, and coaches, keep the ponies moving and engaged

OzoirCSO14-55And, with Yanne and Marla squeezing between too umbrellas, our girls went off to jump

OzoirCSO14-01PMEmilie was first of the team to go. Marjorie would go second, and Camille, last. Doudou is a 4 year old stud that doesn’t have that many events under its belt. Emilie has yet to turn 13. So it’s a pretty young, and overall not very experienced team. The run they pulled was very, very good. Not to mention the horse is being quite behaved, for a stallion (they can get very rowdy and hard to manage in presence of others horses, namely, mares)

OzoirCSO14-02PMA little head throwing is Doudou’s signature. I’ve ridden him a few times in April (which was always a pleasure, he’s super comfortable and really sweet), and boy does he like to do that

OzoirCSO14-04PMAgain, I had to make a positioning choice, that didn’t give me a great angle on many jumps. I really played it by ear, as I am inexperienced at this

OzoirCSO14-03PMI figured if I couldn’t get all the jumps well, the girls would still like to have some in-between-obstacles pics

OzoirCSO14-05PMSee that turned head ? That’s good and proper, she’s already focusing on the next jump, as she should

OzoirCSO14-06PMScoring is done on a dual base of points per fault (you lose 4 for a fallen bar, for instance), and time. The faster, the better. Unless there are a lot of faults, you’d better do none to hope a prize. So the whole thing goes pretty fast

OzoirCSO14-07PMThe jumps were not high per se, 75cm or so, but the ponies often make much bigger jumps than needed

OzoirCSO14-08PMAgain, the camera and lens performed quite well. I did have some out of focus (or critical focus) shots, but they were only a minority

OzoirCSO14-09PMflying phase

OzoirCSO14-11PMSometimes it takes all the strength a girl has to control those mad ponies !

OzoirCSO14-10PMAnd the last of the course ! CLEAR ! Zero fault, great job !

OzoirCSO14-32PMMarjorie and Oceane were next. A little slower paced, but still pretty swift

OzoirCSO14-33PMUnfortunately one bar fell, they ended up with a 4 points penalty run

OzoirCSO14-34PM

OzoirCSO14-35PMThat kind of situation is when you truly need a background blurring lens. Those show grounds are always swarming with parasite stuff. People, gear, buildings, fences, there are always a million things polluting your frame. A longer focal lens, preferably with faster aperture, can blur all that to acceptable mush, bringing focus back to your subject. I’m even considering getting the excellent Nikkor 70-300 F:4.5-5.6 G VR again

OzoirCSO14-12PMLast but not least (by far, as you’ll see later) Viva and Camille. Why both girls rode in a long sleeved, zipped up jacket in 30°C weather is beyond me…

OzoirCSO14-13PMI had a good feeling about their run as they went. They were zipping around the arena, and clearing all bars

OzoirCSO14-14PMNote that this is a very, very tricky horse color to shoot. Nightmarish, in fact

OzoirCSO14-15PMThe iron grey makes it very hard to maintain detail in the coat, and it always want to pick up a green tint. Awful

OzoirCSO14-16PMViva is Doudou’s sister, and one year older. Camille is Emilie’s twin sister

OzoirCSO14-17PMThey made a beautiful and clean run

OzoirCSO14-18PMThis was the first of three jumps in sequence. The mare showed all signs of stopping dead in front of the third one, but Yanne, who was sitting fenceside, yelled at the top of his lungs, and she looked stung and just went over. We all sighed with relief, Camille included !

OzoirCSO14-19PMAs they zipped around I kept thinking, “Gosh, they’re really whipping it !”

OzoirCSO14-20PMLady photographer in the background. I couldn’t quite make up her gear, but I assume it was a gripped semi-pro Nikon body with what might have been a Sigma 100-300 F:4 lens. Only guessing here, though

OzoirCSO14-21PMAs they cleared their last jump, I knew they had a good thing going…

OzoirCSO14-48We hung around a bit more after that

OzoirCSO14-69I shot a couple of extra runs in the next category

OzoirCSO14-61

OzoirCSO14-59

OzoirCSO14-54

OzoirCSO14-60

OzoirCSO14-51PMand a Lili headshot (notice the very good DR again)

OzoirCSO14-57PMAnd the winner was… Camille !!

Unfortunately I had not stayed to watch the prizes being handed. It was dog hot and Marla was nearing exhaustion (she had a blast, though). I was also eager to get home, transfer the pictures on the computer, and see what. The whole experiment was crazy fun, and I can’t wait to go support either Gwen or her team again (I have plans for more coming very soon). In the meantime I’ll be handing back the D7000 to Charlotte in two days. All that goodness has convinced me to order the D7100 (which I’ll review quite thoroughly). And while I am addicted to full time exposure preview via LiveView on the NEX cameras, one thing remains : when you’re faced with demanding shooting conditions, you want the fastest and most reactive tool you can get, with the widest availability of lens choices possible. Trust me, when those horses come stampeding towards you, nothing but pro grade AF is going to cut it. Sure, I can already hear some of you guys remark how “nobody ever took a sports picture even before the rise of autofocus ?!”. Sure, they did. They were plenty limited, too. I had no real assignment here, hence no real pressure, but I wanted to see if I’d be able to come up with a handful of reasonably professional looking images. And I think I did. Had I used the NEX7, even with the LA-EA2 SLT adapter, I would have had considerably less success, for sure, as its AF module is quite basic.
I’m hoping to have the D7100 delivered by the end of the week. I bet you guessed what I’m gonna say next ? Yup, stay tuned !

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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7 Responses to Nikon D7000 in the (battle)field

  1. Interesting challenge! Had no idea there was a dress code for those competitions!

    I am a bit confused by your use of the word pony. To me they all looked like horses. Is it an insider’s term, or some of those horses are indeed poneys? (Pretty sad I can ID a bird by a mere chip note, but don’t know crap about mammals and other living stuff)

    • marla2008 says:

      Laurent, let me help you here : any horse no taller than 148cm technically is a poney ! But there’s more to it than mere size, ponies usually have slightly shorter legs in proportion to their bodies, wider foreheads, bigger eyes, smaller ears, and thicker mane and tail. They’re also more opiniated, have toughest hooves, and enjoy pretty solid health. Pirouette is pretty untypical as she is long legged, narrow chested, and fine boded, quite the mini horse !

  2. Amazing, amazing set. Honey, after this it’s clear the DSLR ain’t dead. And you are clearly contributing to its resurrection, hehe 😉

  3. marla2008 says:

    Thanks Tracey, you’re kind as always. One thing is sure, I had a total blast making these, and I can’t wait to go shoot more !

  4. Aurélie says:

    Hi 🙂 I am an acquaintance of Charlotte and saw your post on her Facebook. I love photography but unfortunately I don’t have nearly enough time to work on it. I have a 3 yr old Canon T3. When I bought my first DSLR I thought I coudn’t go wrong with Canon. But I keep noticing how sharp and vibrant Nikon photos are. In your opinion, does it have to do most with camera settings, the lens, or the brand?
    And off course, you photos are beautiful!

    • marla2008 says:

      Hello Aurelie and welcome !! It’s a tough question, because truly I think the output you get has VERY little to do with the gear you use. On this blog 90% of the pictures were taken with Sony cameras, and a good deal with 40+ yr old manual focus lenses, the rest with Nikon, Panasonic, and yes even Canon cameras. Yes, camera settings do play a part, so do optis (lenses) but also please be aware that 100% of the images you see on the blog (and on the internet in general) have been postprocessed in an edition program (Photoshop in my case, but there are many others). That might be the “vibrancy” factor that you’re looking for. Getting to know your camera better is also a good idea. I know the T3 and it’s a great tool. Getting a better lens than the kit zoom might be a first step. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need more info !

      • Aurélie says:

        Thanks a lot for your reply! I understand the vibrancy coming from post processing, but I still believe that an unedited photo from Nikon is crisper, sharper than with my T3. Maybe I just have a dirty lens, I have logged this camera is lots of places. How do you clean your lenses? I definitely need a better lens but I don’t know what to get. Do you have a suggestion? I need a more powerful zoom that’s for sure. I could use a wide angle lens as well. I would appreciate advice as the world of lenses truly intimidates me. I have a modest photo blog, it shows what I’m able to do with the T3 + post processing (http://mosaicearth.blogspot.com/), maybe you can see what I mean with sharpness and vibrancy compared to your photos. In any case, thanks for your previous reply 🙂

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