Bill Frakes on Shooting The Nikon D4

[Bill Frakes was one of the first photographers in the world, alongside Joe McNally and Corey Rich, to get his hands on the Nikon D4. Here’s his story on shooting Istanbul and Its Many Faces.]

We had an intense 10 days in Istanbul making this short documentary shooting exclusively with the Nikon D4. Exhausting and invigorating. Crazy great fun.

It’s a wonderful place. The only major city in the world spanning two continents. Divided by the Bosphorus, this place is packed with activity and people, but yet is comfortable and calm.

This is where East meets West. It is an ancient city with modern rhythms. It has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years, every stone is steeped in history — while every day new fascinations emerge combining eastern style with European flare.

I picked Istanbul because of its history. A city of one thousand names, it has been the capitol of two major civilizations. The Ottoman and the Byzantine. It was the eastern Capitol of the Eastern Roman empire. For thousands of years, it has been a cultural and religious center.

Our challenge was to really put the D4 to the test. And to challenge ourselves to extend our vision, to use this incredible new technology to not just make our lives better, but to honor the people who gave us the opportunity to have these chances by making better images.

This is photojournalism. We controlled nothing. Everything is candid. Reportage.
It’s real world solutions to real world problems.

In post we did virtually nothing to the files. We edited the video native.  On the stills we did minor corrections so that they would fit with the video when we put them together. No sharpening nor grain reductions. Some burning and dodging. Cropping. That’s pretty much it.

We used the cameras 18 hours a day for 10 straight days. We used it as a still camera, a video camera, an audio recorder and an intravolometer.

What stands out for me most about this camera is the power of subtle changes. Small ergonomic changes make it incredibly comfortable to hold. You can activate backlight on all of the buttons and controls, now you can see everything on the camera in the dark. The video controls are the best of any DSLR I have seen, and I think I have seen them all. Audio, always a Nikon strength, is better than ever. They dominate this just like they do small flash.

The camera is amazing. The high ISO files exceeded my expectations, and after the D3S I had huge expectations! The new video and audio functions have transformed this camera into something beyond what we have seen before.

It is a rock solid, well crafted, easy to use machine. The menus are simple and elegant. The autofocus is extremely fast and accurate. The sensor delivers perfect, very sharp images.

I didn’t have any concerns about the technical, the Nikon engineers had taken care of that for me. I was free to concentrate on the creative, which is exactly as it should be.

We had a tight team of four.

Laura Heald. My creative partner in Straw Hat Visuals. She is everywhere on these projects. She shoots video and stills. Collects audio. Carries gear. She just makes things happen in the most positive way possible. When we get back to the studio she puts the pieces together. Having her on location making creative decisions is incredibly helpful both in the field and then in the edit bay because she has such a great feel for the material. She is the calm in the storm.

Andy Hancock. Our good friend and long time associate came to Istanbul for the first half of trip to help with the stills and video for the backstage video. Andy’s only been out of the country a few times, twice with us, and it’s great fun watching a Texas cowboy on the loose. If you meet Andy ask him if he remembers his first trip abroad., it’s a really good story.

Jana Erb joined us from Munich to do data management and run some of our robotics. Like Laura, Jana doesn’t understand the word no. Whatever needs to get done, she figures it out. Always in motion she is, as my good friend Paolo Frisson from Manfrotto says, “an EXPLOSION.” Although she was constantly scolding her mobile for it’s imprecision, she managed to navigate us seamlessly through the labyrinth of the city once known as Constantinople.

My job on these things is to do the connecting. I figure out what we need to do and keep pushing until we’re done. I do the lion’s share of the shooting both stills and video. I am in charge of quality control. In the edit process, I do the rough edits for concept and style. And then I try to stay out of Laura’s way until she is ready for me to weigh in on the final edit.

Things happen for a reason. We were ready to go. Spent seven hours packing 14 cases of gear. Left for the airport with plenty of time for our 3 p.m. flight home. We got to the counter, nobody there. Jana took off to find her gate for the flight to Munich. Laura found an agent. We missed the flight out of Istanbul. I had looked at the wrong flight. Back to the city, tired, cranky and annoyed at what this was going to do to our post production schedule -which was too tight.

We got to the hotel. Checked back in. Rescheduled our flights. And went for a walk. Two cameras for me.  Laura took her beloved P7000.  Headed into the center of the old city for an hour. We got lost. Ended up walking for seven hours, slowly covering 12 kilometers, and we made my favorite images of the trip.

Lost and slow. Lovely way to see a new city.

You can see more from Bill on the Nikon D4 over at, see his work at, and follow him on Twitter.

  1. Well done! I enjoyed it. The video showcased awesome framerates of the camera! It was butter smooth, and felt like a live broadcast to be honest. Very envious that you got to go over to Istanbul and experience the culture and colour :P

  2. Very nice video and photographs. Highly impressed with the quality of the camera. While I l know the camera is amazing. The people behind make it stunning.

  3. I live in this city and its beautiful, thank you Nikon and Bill for visiting Istanbul. greetings from all Turkish people. even though I am a Canon shooter:)

  4. Im really looking forward to the mini selection toggle in portrait mode that was missing in the D3s and the 1080P video. But I didnt think it were possible to get better that the D3s in low light – thats impressive! Nikon really is on top of everything.

    1. I saw that video yesterday, and I am also curious to hear what Scott (and the other Photoshop Guys) has to say about it. Is a Photoshop backlash about to begin. I think people have always aesthetically appreciated the retouching efforts of professionals, but there seems to be some trouble brewing…

  5. My D3s is amazing in low light, I see the only reason to upgrade is if you double as a videographer. On the other hand the new D800 excites me for studio shooting. I shall continue with the D3s and once I can get my hands on the D800, that is where I shall put my $$. Nice article thanks for posting

  6. The D4 looks great! The video killed me though. It was a bit jarring and looked a little cheesy (really long too) for something done by a professional. The behind the scene photos in the blog were nicely done, though, and I really enjoyed the story. Looks like the D4 is on my list of things to buy.

  7. What an awesome video!! The thousand faces of Istanbul, couldn’t get a better location for showcasing the technical characteristics of the D4! Incredible low light shots.
    I know how easy it is to get lost in Istanbul and regretting you didn’t bring a spare pair of shoes with you! That most of the times, turns up to be the highlight of the trip, unplanned and unexpected! Great team, by the way, Bill; shows how important it is to be surrounded by the right people. Terrific images, pace, music…very well done!!

  8. As an observationist, a thousand faces, tell a thousand stories, about a thousand places, over thousands of years. It’s all there, for all to see, every line and wrinkle of Istanbul. You’ve captured the culture, the mood, the ambiance, it’s all there, but for the smells…Well done indeed! The camera aint half bad either…keep up the spiffingly good work… John R Gibbs.

  9. Great stuff Bill & Laura!!! —- Fantastic images!

    However, does anyone else share my concern that the emphasis of still photography camera makers has all of a sudden turned almost exclusively to video sometimes at the expense of still image photography. I’m thinking that resolutions seem to be falling to accommodate video. Am I wrong? What happened to 24+ megapixel range sensors that were competing with the much more expensive Medium Format camera sensors? Have Nikon and Canon decided to call a truce and concede the larger file size images to Medium Format?

  10. Wow, Bill – this is an amazing piece. Well done. I can only imagine the amount of work that actually went into this. Beautifully told – definitely about the culture but for me – the faces – the stories that are told of life. Nice – thank you for sharing something so incredible with me – free of charge to enjoy and soak in. Colorful, and timeless. This is the type of project I would have loved to just be a bag carrier on.

    Best to you!

  11. If you check Bill Frakes website and blog you’ll see that he uses Apple Aperture and Final Cut Pro to put his work together. Will be interesting to see what the final video capabilities will be in LR4.

  12. “………a thousand faces, tell a thousand stories, about a thousand places, over thousands of years. It’s all there, for all to see, every line and wrinkle of Istanbul. You’ve captured the culture, the mood, the ambiance, it’s all there, but for the smells…Well done indeed! The camera aint half bad either…….”
    I can’t say it any better than John Gibbs. Watching it brought back wonderful memories of Istanbul and it’s people. That’s the power of a photographer with great tools to tell a story.

  13. Wow! I would really like to see many of those images not in a video … so I can look at them longer. Fantastic work!!!

    Also wish I had a reason to justify buying the camera as I most love available light photos. Sigh.

  14. Great story and stunning shots! I can relate completely – shooting in Istanbul with a Nikon D4 is exactly the same as me with my Nikon D70 in El Segundo! Oh well, one can dream. Can’t one?

  15. Fantastic Bill ! As i am not a videographer nor likely ever will I commend you on your ability to
    master the medium, providing the warmth, charm and character of an ancient city. One could almost smell the city as the last rays of light painted the harbour sky.
    I will likely keep my D3 and continue with my Phase one/Leaf combination as there is no substitute for dynamic range and a tripod.
    Cheers !

  16. Would you recommend the use of a CompactFlash to SD card adapter to allow CF
    slots to use SDHC cards? It’s getting more difficult to find CF cards locally
    and was wondering if this adapter might work in my Nikon D3S. Thanks

  17. Hi…
    Very nice video and photographs. Highly impressed with the quality of the camera. While I l know the camera is amazing. The people behind make it stunning.The last two paragraphs explain life better than anything I have read in years.The end of this post is great reminder of the fact that you have to be able to roll with the punches and be flexible. Things don’t always go according to plan and you have to be able to deal with it when the sh*t hits the fan.this is very nice and good post and kept it up..

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