Name of course/trip: Getting started with D810/D800/D800E Part 1
Location: Nikon School, London
An excellent course which has not only greatly increased my knowledge of how to use this camera, but my confidence in using it to produce amazing images. Fantastic staff and facilities at the school mean you can ask questions and try out new gear while you are there; it’s a course that really delivers what it promises and more.
Would I go on this course/photography day again?
No, but only because I think you only need to do it once. I took plenty of notes through out the day, so as long as I read them and practise what I was taught I don’t feel like I’d need to repeat the course.
Would I recommend this course/photography day to someone else?
Yes, for anyone trying to get to grips with this camera body I would highly recommend it. Even if you feel you know Nikon’s SLR button layout and functions, the many new features the D800 range has, and the huge number of tips and tricks we were given to get the best out of the body, make it an incredibly worthwhile course for me.
Would I attend other courses/photography days at this place based on this experience?
Yes, I definitely would! Just need to figure out an easy way to get down to London… I’m certainly interested in doing the ‘Getting started with D810/D800/D800E Part 2’ course which follows on from this one in the new year.
Day of attendance: 30th September 2016
Previously been to this place for training/photography experiences?
Who is the course/photography day aimed at?
This is not a course for complete novices to SLR photography (the Nikon school has other courses for that!). Basic understanding of what aperture/shutter speed/ISO/white balance is and how they work together to influence your camera settings is assumed. I think the course is aimed at people who have some experience using SLR cameras, but have just upgraded to one of the D800 range bodies, or upgraded a while ago and are struggling to get the best out of the camera. All the course information is specific to the Nikon D800 range bodies, if you don’t have one of these then the course is not for you!
The course starts at 10am, which I appreciated as I had to take a several hour long train ride to get into London that morning. The friendly staff in the ground floor of the school welcome you and direct you to the ‘classroom’ downstairs, where the course group assembles drinking tea while waiting for everything to start. The course started on time despite two people being late (which I thought was good, there is so much information to cram in I guess they can’t waste time waiting for people), so try to get there on time or you’ll miss the start! You then get three approximately two hour sessions of instruction with a power point presentation taking you through the D800 range structure and function, broken up with coffee breaks and lunch. Our instructor encouraged us to interrupt with questions whenever we wanted to and he was very good at making sure everyone was on the same page while navigating the various menus and settings in the camera software. You have your camera out the entire time so you can try the various settings and functions the instructor is describing throughout the day on your own camera. We did not go out on the streets to shoot anything as practise, although apparently this does happen in some courses. We did get to experiment with all the metering modes on the outdoor stairs leading up to ground level though. At the end of the course the instructor was available for questions or further discussions about any aspect of photography.
Value for Money:
In my opinion, the value for money is good. They supply a full day of detailed training, give you access to all the Nikon lenses they have to practise with or try out and they supply refreshments, lunch and stationary to take notes with. The course I attended usually costs £129 but I got a discount of 10% for being a Nikon Professional Users member, which is free as long as you register three Nikon camera products that are considered ‘semi-pro’ or ‘pro’ range online.
Number of people on the course/tour: 12
Duration: approximately 6 hours, although I was there for another hour at least chatting to the staff about lens upgrades… **sigh** just need to win the lottery now!
The school itself is a nice place to be, the walls are covered with amazing photographs from various Nikon users and the ‘school room’ in the basement had plenty of space for everyone to fit. I did note that there were not enough ‘desk chairs’ (those chairs with a little desk on one arm so you can take notes) for all the course attendees, those that were late had to make do with other seating so maybe the school normally has courses with fewer people? The sheer number of fairly large camera bags in the room also made moving about during the breaks a little tricky, but you just have to watch your feet for tripping hazards. They have a large projector for the power point presentation and a large TV screen that the instructor hooked into the camera body he was demonstrating on so we could clearly see the menu choices or settings adjustments he was doing. The school has a backroom filled with every Nikon lens you can image and all sorts of other things too for people to borrow and try out while there. If your battery runs flat during the course they also have spares on hand and chargers so you can re-charge your battery.
The school provides refreshments, lunch and of course has toilets for you to use. I was a bit disappointed with the refreshments; there were lots of tea and coffee options but for the weirdos like me that don’t like hot drinks there was only a rather uninspired jug of tepid tap water. But I’m glad I didn’t have to take part in the queue for the coffee machine, which only made one coffee at a time and was pretty long! Lunch was fine, they got in a bunch of pre-made wraps (the kind you can find in any large city) and some crisps which everyone seemed to enjoy. The organisers do ask ahead of time if people have any dietary requirements so they can get people suitable things to eat.
Having such a knowledgeable and friendly teacher. My course was given by Neil Freeman who ran the day with the perfect blend of structured learning objectives and informal ease so everyone in the class felt they could ask questions at any point. He could answer every single question our class had about photography in general and this camera body in particular, while being happy to get side tracked into off topic subjects for the course (e.g. post-processing images, protecting your gear, lens choices…) if asked (especially if asked in the various breaks throughout the day!).
This may be just something that I found tricky, but the sheer amount of (often very specific) information being provided was tough to scribble down during the course. I was madly writing notes for the whole 6 hours, and I was one of the few that did during the day (perhaps my classmates have incredible memories?). I think that people would get the most out of the course if they could be confident in taking all the information away with them at the end of it, and currently you can only do that by taking tons of notes for the 6 hours. I think the experience could be greatly improved by having some summary slides available to the class after the course is complete, or provide the class with some large print outs of images of the various sides of the camera body that you could easily annotate during the course with what all the button functions are. I certainly would not be able to remember everything without notes and I didn’t want to miss anything, so I spent much of the day madly scribbling sketches of the camera body to show button placements to link to notes about functions and jotting down menu pathways so I could understand all the settings changes I was doing, and could replicate them by myself if needed.
How to get there:
I imagine there are lots of ways to get to the school as it’s in central London so it’s pretty well connected. I went into London by train in the morning, arriving at Liverpool Street and then took the central line (the red one) on the underground west to Oxford Circus. The school is less than 5 minutes walk from this tube station, just walk up Regent Street (towards the cinema), crossing over Great Castle Street, and Margaret Street is the next road that intersects Regent Street. Go right onto Margaret Street and the school is on the right less than 2 blocks down.
You don’t need to bring absolutely every lens that you own to this course, I did and then regretted lugging it all around London. You basically just need one lens, a smaller one is probably better for the indoors snaps you take during the course (I used my 17-55mm mostly). A full frame lens is better to take than a cropped frame lens, just so you can really experiment with the camera’s ability to artificially act like a cropped sensor camera so you can get that little bit of extra reach if you need it (very cool! And negates the ‘should wildlife photographers use cropped sensor cameras’ debate). I spent that part of the course swapping my cropped frame short lens for my full frame long lens, not ideal! But I managed so if you only have cropped frame lenses then it’s not the end of the world.
Before and After Shots
I only went out shooting with my D810 once prior to the course and found it an exercise in frustration (although that can partly be attributed to the exposure bar being inverted from what I’m used to on the D200, which I’ve now fixed). Even though I was shooting slow moving, relatively well lit creatures like these pheasants on a feeding station, all my images were coming out slightly soft despite my best efforts and I really didn’t know what was happening. Little did I know that the D810 is notoriously unforgiving when it comes to camera shake, and on the course I learned that you essentially have to double the shutter speed you’d normally consider your minimum via the reciprocal rule.
When I was told this I felt my heart sink, light is in short supply while out shooting wildlife photography in Scotland, especially in the winter when I do most of my seal work. Getting shutter speeds to accommodate my 70-200mm lens on my cropped sensor D200 without camera shake (1/300 minimum) has frequently been a challenge, so how could I now jump to 1/400 (if using full frame sensor) or even 1/600 (if using the crop sensor function on the D810)!?
Thankfully, the course went on to extol the virtues of the low light capabilities of the D810 and explain that while yes, you have to have higher shutter speeds to hand hold this camera, the improved low light performance would compensate for this, giving you more light to work with to get those shutter speeds, and sharp images. I got to test this out very thoroughly the day after the course while visiting Cotswold wildlife park in a thunderstorm, despite the black sky and pouring rain I still could ramp up the ISO settings, get those higher shutter speeds and get some nice sharp images in dark conditions, like the one below of one the clouded leopards at the park.