Friday, 24 July 2020

Shooting in the Dark with the D750 and X-T2

South on York
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

I headed up to the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve last night to shoot comet NEOWISE with a good friend of mine.

Not having any real experience with astrophotography, I pretty much filled two camera bags and hauled everything (seriously, I carried lenses I never bother with normally, like my 300/4.5 AI'd and my 50-135/3.5 AI-S. 4 lenses stayed home, and entirely because they were duplicated in my kit for each body already). That was too much kit. I used 2 lenses on the X-T2 and 4 on the D750. I swapped more on the D750 largely because the X-T2 was doing all the really long exposures (a few 8 minute ones and one 15 minute)

Some takeways

1. Nikon's long-exposure stupidity is really annoying. Nikon basically breaks all AE modes by disabling the metering readout switch once the EV gets low enough (but the camera will still do AE). Plus your longest timed shutter speed on the D750 is 30 seconds (the D780 and the Z's do fix the last bit) The X-T2 has timed shutter speeds out to 15 minutes accessible via the T setting on the shutter speed dial. This Nikon challenge has been there for years, it annoyed me on the F100 and the D300 and still annoys me on the D750. The latest bodies solve the shutter speed issue, but not the exposure display issue.

2. Direct access to ISO is very nice. The X-T2 is super easy to set from the dial, you press to unlock, then twirl with the setting always showing on the screen. Nikon is by feel, although once you get used to where the button is it's not bad.

3. The D750 and X-T2 both have playback and delete buttons in the same place on the left shoulder. Too bad they're swapped (play on the left on Nikon, delete on the left on Fuji). I'm damned lucky I didn't accidentally delete any shots switching back & forth between the two. Neither is incorrect, but it is a gotcha worth mentioning and one I tripped over regularly when shooting in the dark.

4. This was the first time I got to use the dual-flip screen on the Fuji while on a tripod. It's every bit as good as I expected. Single-axis articulation is an idea whose time is long gone.

5. Despite the relatively hard to find by feel buttons relative to the Nikon, I found the Fuji much easier to control in the dark. The combination of full data on the LCD (vs the D750 where I was switching between the rear LCD and the top LCD constantly to track info I needed), better communication of what the camera was doing (Fuji counts down long-exposure times on the display, and displays processing during long-exposure NR, sadly without a timer, while Nikon only communicates the long-exposure NR on the top LCD) and generally the Fuji is easier to control without actually looking at the camera.

6. I actually gave up on Live View on the D750 once it got dark, relying on test shots and hard infinity stops on my 15/4 and 105/2.5 to get the stars in focus. The Fuji did better in really low light, but eventually I gave up framing there as it got really dark and only used LV to focus when switching lenses. I used the 15/4 and XC35/2 on the Fuji and missed having a hard infinity stop on the 35 (which not only has an uncoupled focus ring, but can focus past infinity). On the Nikon I used the 15/4, the 24-50AF, the 105/2.5 and the 300/4.5 (the last for a couple moon shots early on). Most shots on the Nikon were with the 15 or 105, hard infinity stops are so useful for astro (unless you have a camera with star focusing, which is a gimmick unless your lenses don't have a hard infinity stop. Well played Olympus)

7. I now truly understand why astro shooters make such a big deal about UWA speed. I'd have killed to have f2 or f2.8 instead of f4 to keep the ISO down with exposures short enough to not get star trails. You can always stop down, but you can't always open up. I really did not understand how big the impact of a 1 stop shorter shutter speed can be in astro work. I do now.
8. Despite the small battery and really long exposures, the X-T2 did just fine in battery life. I used half a battery or so on the X-T2 and a quarter charge on the D750, and took about 50% more shots with the X-T2.

9. I do love that little joystick on the X-T2. So much quicker and easier than a D-pad. So Nikon, why does the $1400USD Z5 get a joystick, but the $2300USD D780 doesn't (and the answer most likely is that the D780 has been sitting around for 2 years waiting for release, it's clearly a pre-Z6 design in terms of control layout)

Overall, I'm reminded both that the D750 remains an amazing camera today and that the X-T2 is just a little further up the food chain in some ways, despite the format difference it really is oriented towards the same sort of user who would buy a D8x0 over the D750. This is mostly around things like dedicated physical controls over overloaded buttons that switch context.

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