With so many big, arena-filling acts with intensely restrictive shooting policies, photographing basically all of the legendary Willie Nelson's set at the Country Throwdown 2011 was refreshing to say the least.
This was an interesting show for a couple reasons. First of all, I shot entirely with the “little” Nikon D7000 DSLR, a great DSLR that I reviewed back in January. With my main camera body the Nikon D3 still away for repair, I decided to try out the Nikon D7000 at this gig, and I have to say that it did well for Willie Nelson.
However, more surprising than the D7000's performance was that of a last minute addition to my camera bag – the Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E manual focus zoom lens. The D3 isn't the only piece of my kit being serviced – my standby telephoto lens, the Nikon 70-200mmm f/2.8 VR, is also in the shop, so before heading out the door I threw this old manual focus lens in the bag.
To my surprise, I found the 75-150mm f/3.5 easy to manually focus with the D7000's relatively large and bright viewfinder. Even though I had the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 in my bag, I found myself using the old E Series Lens for its flexibility of range – even with the added time spent manually focusing the lens.
I often get asked for cheap alternatives to the pricey 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms of Nikon and Canon, and now I can confidently say that this old 75-150mm f/3.5 is a fantastically cheap alternative. While the Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 and the rest of the Series E line were introduced as an “economy” line of relatively inexpensive lenses, the actual image quality of many of these budget lenses are quite good. The 75-150mm in particular gained favor with portrait photographers for the great range it provided.
I had no hesitation shooting this old zoom lens wide open – if it's in focus, it's sharp. And thanks to the bright 100% viewfinder of the D700, I was shocked out how easy it was to lock focus shooting this gig.
These days, you can find the Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 on eBay for about $50-75 USD – it doesn't get much cheaper than that for a constant-aperture zoom. Right now there are 7 on eBay and seemingly no shortage of this bargain glass. It's also worth noting that this lens was introduced in 1980 – the same year as Willie Nelson's classic Honeysuckle Rose.
But back to the show. It was great. This was one of the few stops of the Country Throwdown Tour 2011 that was held in a festival-style atmosphere, parked out in a field. Most of the other stops for this tour are being held at amphitheaters, by contrast.
Perhaps it was the festival setup and use of a non-standard concert venue – a shooting range! – that contributed to one rather nice benefit to this show, which was seemingly no shooting limit to Willie Nelson. The only reason I left the pit before the end of the set was to get a 10-minute head start on traffic.
Lighting for this show included spotlights from the front and lots of light from the back – so much so that flare was a constant issue, with lights shining directly into the lens for many shots. Still, I liked the look this gave, as this treatment gave the background a lushness that can be lacking when strong spotlights are used.
Aside from the old Series E zoom, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 was great for everything else. I had a trio of f/1.4 prime lenses in the bag, but they only came out of token use. The lights were bright enough that the flexibility of the zooms easily won out.
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