As a teenage boy I regularly raided my Dad’s adult magazine collection. You had to stand on a chair and reach right to the back of the wardrobe. My best mate Marc would keep lookout. Leafing through one hairy adventure we stopped at a page that had a gift token cut out. Two weeks later on a rummage in the closet we found a large box. The gift had arrived. To his credit Marc didn’t say a word. Neither did I. We closed the box and went outside to play football. This unwelcome memory is why for two days a similar box has been left ignored under a tossed towel in the corner of the bedroom. It takes a bottle of Burgundy and a shot to confront the parcel. The following morning I wake in a bed of bubble-wrap, instructions and cellophane. A recollection jabs the eyes. I open the wardrobe, pick up the box and tip out the contents. A loaned Nikon D7000 AF-S DX Nikkor with 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR plops onto the bed.
Today it’s my day to have a play. I grip the ribbed girth of the 18-105mm lens and blink into the day with Ron Jeremy prowess. Double-check the kit and there’s no memory card. You can still photograph in Demo mode but I’m not the sort of man that enjoys shooting blanks. I swap for my regular camera and release a rapid rattle. Contact the Nikon PR, they don’t provide memory. I’m going on a Nikon Press Event and was hoping to be up to speed before the day; there are prizes to be won, champagne to be quaffed and dinner at a top London restaurant. Perhaps they’ll serve the soup without a spoon.
I’m not used to being in a room with other photographers. There must be a joke about what you’d call it, an Egoclectic? The rain pours harder. We are to take part in a Photographic Challenge & Treasure-Hunt, four teams, five locations. I cross my fingers for team Kate. I’m in team Nick, Nikon’s heavyweight technical consultant. First we have half an hour to complete a quiz, I scour the room for Judith Kepple. She’s not here. The riddles provide our shoot destinations; a former entry point into the underground whose name sounds something like an old Scottish Hag? Hmmm, we all ponder for a moment, what do you call a Scottish woman, “A Prostitute” I offer finger pointed aloft in triumph. No. Hmmm, Caledonian, something, something “Auld-Wych” Nick’s in the zone and I slowly zone out.
Quiz solved and we’re off, Martin is our black cab driver. Also in the team is Blah, staff writer at Digital Dude Magazine and Wooo! Editor at Push My Digits. Blah seems a bit overwhelmed being in London and fashions a hat out of newspaper. I try to photograph the millinery offering with the 18-105mm. It doesn’t respond well in such cramped proximity. I like to shoot close and wide and swap for a 35mm fixed Nikkor Lens. Better. Light, balanced, nimble in hand and feels serious. Nick tells me the dappled black exterior absorbs most light eliminating reflection. It emits a searchlight to assist focusing in low light and I momentarily startle Wooo! with the exploratory beam. This would have to be turned off to be discreet and manual focus enabled.
We reach our first challenge, to be pictured with a Juggler in Covent Garden. I shoot some frames. My initial perception was that any built in pop-up strobe flash was amateurish but there is a real gloom so I flick it on. It will pop up automatically when needed in Auto mode. It’s very effective, once I get over mistaking the hot shoe accommodation hole for the viewfinder. You can’t use it too wide or there’s falloff from the 16mm coverage. Later I’d discover there’s no PC sync connector but am informed of an optional connector adapter that mounts on the intelligent hot shoe. On challenge two Wooo! takes me aside to tell me Nikon Nicks name is Jeremy. I am grateful. My camera is drenched. Jeremy says it’s not a problem and just to give it a wipe at the end of the days shoot. We continue to snake the capital snapping in tunnels and subways where the camera copes admirably with a quick up pump of the ISO although as is the case most digital cameras, it over exposes slightly for my taste in auto modes.
There is a wealth of menu options on the D7000 that will keep any geek busy customizing shoot preferences. While I do appreciate choice in many situations, as the day advances I find myself turning most of the functions off and distilling the camera to what photography is essentially all about. To make the process from what you see to what you capture as simple as possible. Manually set aperture, ISO and shutter speed, press shutter, job done. When I’ve accepted this I am a happy snapper. Breathe and shoot, breathe and shoot. The sound of the shutter is a welcome rhythm of life. I am complete and fleetingly start to enjoy the pure process of picture making. I try to dismiss the foreboding sense that at any moment without warning a Getty snapper might step in front of the lens.
The teams come together at Smiths of Smithfield in a private room for a slides-how and prize giving. I grab a glass of Heidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Brut. Gags drift over, “I’ll have the fisheye,” “We made it in the Nikon Time.” I get a refill. Each teams effort is displayed on a large screen with varying results. The videos are the climax. Rules restricted us to a 30-sec video out of the 20 continual gorgeous minutes available of Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) at 24fps. Most efforts overlooked the nifty virtual horizon facility or I’m starting to sway. There is background noise from the built in mic so an external mic is advised. All of the encountered improvements and upgrades on the D90 are mere foot soldiers in the pecking order. The swinging dick of additions for me is dual SD card-slots, (also compatible with SDXC & SDHC). Configure the camera to send RAW files to one and JPEG to the other. Designate each for stills or video or just let one full card flow seamlessly over to the next. General Dual Slots I salute you.
The evening reaches the crucial point I’ve anticipated. If I’m going to kit chat over dinner I want it to be with the sweetest face. While others amble table-wards I vault myself into position next to team Kate. “Hello Kate.” Her name is Lily. Dammit Dench. I recover the situation and listen to the poetic details of the D7000; 16.2MP CMOS sensor, Scotch Egg, a shutter speed of up to 1/8000, Walnut & Blue Cheese Salad, 39-point AF System with 3D tracking, Dill Fishcake, up to 6fps continuous shooting, Malbec 2009, Scene Recognition System, Roast South Devon Rib, 2016 metering sensor, refill, ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 25600), Blueberry Cheesecake, 3.0 Inch 921k dot LCD screen. After dinner a Nikon PR starts to work the table like a blushing bride. I dread the inevitable question. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but I’ve spent the afternoon driven around London in the rain being photographed in various bad band album cover poses. It hasn’t cracked into my all time top 10 days ever. “Did you enjoy yourself?”
On reflection it’s not been a bad day and Nikon an affable host. The Nikon philosophy resonates. It’s not about the amount of Mega pixels but trustworthiness and creativity. They seem to care, more Centre Parcs than Disneyland. I am about to make the real time leap into Videography. Would I buy the D7000 for it’s live view continuous focus high ISO and low noise capabilities, yes I would. Would the 28 minutes of 1080p at 24fps per 4GB memory card edge me away from the D7000’s competitors, yes it would. Would I return to Smiths of Smithfield for the beef, without question. Will the move away from the more traditional Don McCullin Nikon association to Jamie Oliver and the Channel 4 Soap Hollyoaks matter to me, no.
Arriving home I turn out my pockets; menu, bus ticket, pen, pad, gum and Wooden Spoon. Wooden Spoon! Ah yes, the prize giving. We came last in the challenge. It’s signed ‘from Lily.’ I pour a glass, self-toast the achievement and put in on the shelf next to my World Press Award.