“Take a lover that looks at you like maybe you are magic.” This quotation, often misattributed to Frida Kahlo, sums up my ambivalence toward my Nikon 610, a practical and perfectly functional camera, compared to my Nikon D500, which is clearly magical in its speed and focusing abilities. I own a wildlife camera and a portrait camera, and I chose the portrait camera for a visit to the zoo.
I took the D610, 200-500 f/5.6 lens, and SB800 flash to the Los Angeles Zoo, and wrestled with three quandaries: 1) Would the D610’s dynamic range and large sensor be more useful to me than the D500’s uncanny focusing abilities and small-sensor pixel density? 2) As the proponent of “no bad light,” could I find a way to let a bright, contrasty day LOOK like a bright, contrasty day and still make good photos? 3) Is fill flash practical and/or necessary compared to the faster shutter speeds I could use without flash?
In brief, I came to these conclusions: I need the D500’s expansive focusing system to get eyes in focus with off-center subjects, along with the greater “reach” provided by the cropped sensor. I need to try “found light” rather than flash, because the 1/200 shutter speed limitation reduces critical sharpness, particularly shooting at 500mm; besides, trying to overwhelm bright sun with a small flash at considerable distances is a fool’s errand. And yes, it’s possible to recreate the squinty brightness of a sunny summer day, but I’m not sure I want people squinting at my photos.
So, I’ll be heading back to the zoo with a different camera and a different mindset. We’ll see how it goes.