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Top Gear Philippines

Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Now before you reach for those pitchforks and lay siege to our office for such a vile declaration (someone did say that it's always the Indian and not the pana, right?), let me just qualify my statement by saying that the gear you plan to use for car shoots--or any photo shoot for that matter--will depend on where you intend to showcase your work.

Top Gear Philippines will always go for the quality of the images it prints. That is why all of us Top Gear photographers agree that Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) bodies and their lenses, despite being big, bulky and a pain in the ass to haul around, should be the primary tools for the trade. For the better part of the last decade, they have evolved into the golden standard when it comes to operational speed and quality of photographic work. Thus, DSLRs are still the first weapons we grab whenever the editorial gods of Top Gear Philippines commission us for shoots.

In 2010, when I began working for the team, I shot with a consumer-grade Nikon D90 along with a semipro Nikkor 24-85 F2.8-4 AFD, a heavy-duty 80-200 F2.8 AFD and a Nikkor 50mm F1.4. All of my equipment then was acquired secondhand, mind you. My very first cover assignment was shot with this very setup.

 

Car photography tip: Your gear matters

You always remember your first time: the April 2010 cover shot with a run-of-the-mill consumer camera, the Nikon D90


Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Timing is crucial in any photo shoot. With most of the important buttons within thumb's reach, a feature-packed DSLR can help you access and manipulate settings a lot quicker than basic entry-level cameras


But because of the abuse I put my gear through in the name of the profession, the shutter curtain of my D90 broke during one out-of-town event. And that's when I decided to invest in a real 'pro' body. A camera that can withstand the rigors of continuous shooting in harsh environments, one that will focus in a snap, and will do it so accurately that I need not worry--a tool that is built like a tank so downtimes, if any, would be far in between. So I bought a Nikon D3. A used one, of course.

Car photography tip: Your gear matters

A few years ago, this was the camera to have if you wanted fast and accurate shooting


The D3 was the top-of-the-line Nikon DSLR...back in 2009. But in the three years I had it, the camera served me well. My first shoot with it was the Ford Fiesta cover gig done in Thailand. That cover even ended up as a billboard along C5.

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Car photography tip: Your gear matters

The magazine's August 2010 cover was shot with the full-frame Nikon D3. Its heavy-duty shutter assembly that allows for fast frames-per-second bursts got me a lot of keepers without even trying


Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Having a fast burst rate can ensure at least a few keepers when shooting like this


Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Superior image quality is what you get from a full-frame DSLR. Its color depth and resolution just trounce the output from consumer bodies


Car photography tip: Your gear matters

A distinct advantage of full-frame cameras is the minimal depth of field they afford due to their sensor size. Shallow DOF equates to background separation. Paired with the right lenses and the appropriate aperture opening, you can make your subject pop from the background much easier with a full-frame camera


Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Because of its big sensor, a full-frame camera can capture a wide dynamic range of light. Highlights and shadows retain more detail and lend themselves to more extensive post-processing after the shoot. With full-frame cameras, details are better preserved on both ends of the exposure

 

With the D3's phase-detect focusing system, I could always rely on it for instantaneous and spot-on subject tracking. Its battle-ready shutter mechanism gives it fast and reliable shot-to-shot speeds. And being weather-sealed, I never had to worry about working with the D3 in the rain. It was as solid as solid could get, just as any pro shooter would expect. Some of my best works were shot with this monster. Heck, I could even have used it to whack that pesky photographer who intentionally stepped in front of my shots at some of those events I covered. Not that I did, but I was tempted to.

Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Pro-bodies are generally weather-sealed. Shooting in bad weather and difficult locations is just second nature with such a sturdy piece of kit

 

The D3 and its successors, as well as their equivalent models, are what professional photography tools should be: fast, reliable and nearly indestructible high-image-quality-producing cameras. However, despite their superiority in the field, DSLRs along with their lenses all have one common flaw: They are all heavy. And that's why mirrorless cameras came into the picture (pun intended).

Car photography tip: Your gear matters

Aside from myself, the Nikon D3 was just too heavy for comfort

 

With the advancement of sensor, processor and lens technologies in the past couple of years, a new breed of cameras is now poised to take over the bags of photographers. The Mirrorless System Camera (MSC) in its various iterations (1-inch, Micro Four Thirds, Advanced Photo System type-C or APSC, and just recently the full-frame mirrorless) are all making professional photographers rethink their equipment lineup. Imagine having the same, if not better, image quality than most DSLRs minus the weight. Hallelujah!

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Unlike other photographers in Top Gear Philippines' pool, I have used various MSC models in quite a number of shoots assigned to me. But do you ever notice which assignments were taken with DSLRs and which ones were shot with smaller, but equally capable, mirrorless bodies?

Do let me know if you do; it takes a trained eye to catch the differences. The revelations in the next part of this series just might surprise you.

Mikko David
Photographer
Mikko is the team's in-house race car driver, roadtrip GPS, assignment lifesaver, calorie-counting convert and go-to writer and photographer. The only thing he likes better than shooting cars is driving them, to the limit if needed.
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