San Antonio, the city so nice, I stayed an extra day! (WARNING...HUGE POST!)

NOTE: If you just want a summary of my experience with the Nikon D3 , just skip to the last 2 paragraphs... enjoy and let me know what you think down in the comments section!!

I got sent to San Antonio for a training for work this past week, and let me tell you... this city is awesome!!! This was my first time in Texas, and it was great to be in 85 degrees weather away from the 40 degrees it was in VA when I left. It was WAY off what I was expecting. South Texas, I was thinking I'd see stetsons and cowboy boots and every bar would be a bunch of line dancing, I couldn't be further off!

I had to climb through a construction site to get this shot without obstructing the tower
San Antonio Arc04

There were about 20 of us sent from all over the country for a DSLR "Train the Trainer" session. We will be in charge of giving an in-depth DSLR training to the rest of our districts (there's about 80 districts in the company with about 11-15 stores per district). They supplied anyone without a camera with a Nikon D80 or a Canon 40D and an assortment of gear such as tripods, flashes and lenses and let us loose on the city. Apparently quite a few people were curious about the army of photogs running around the hot spot in town, and I was asked by at least 20 people if we were with the newspaper, magazines, or paparazzi. I usually told people what was REALLY going on but decided to get some fellow tourists and some of the locals excited by telling them "I can't tell you who's in town due to a NDA, but they're definitely big. You didn't hear it from me, but they're staying on the fifth floor of the Hyatt Regency" (guess what room I was referring to... LOL). I was asked so frequently because, although a decent number of tourists had SLRs... none of them were walking around in their "Photo Ninja" uniform (black shirt, black pants, black shoes, no ninja mask if you're wondering), carrying a D3 with a SB-800 and 17-55 attached, a 80-200 in the other hand, an extra SB-800 in one pocket, a 105VR Micro in another pocket, so I definitely looked quite conspicuous compared to the 40 year-old guys walking around with Rebel XT's and their families.

Jessica, Ann, and Kris all outside with their SLR's for the first photo assignment
Best Buy Paparazzi

Jermaine enjoying his extra day at the hotel
Having fun while being the best

I took this opportunity to full test out my brand new Nikon D3, and let me tell you, this thing is absolutely AMAZING! It is truly a low light king. This image was taken in a very dark area under a bridge on what is known as the River Walk (which is similar to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City/Ocean City - virtually every place you'd want to be is along it) right across from our hotel. This image was taken handheld at 11PM!!!

1/2" Exposure    ISO 4000     (yeah, I said .5 seconds at ISO 4000!!!)
River Walk at 11PM

The river walk had some beautiful locations (engagement shoot anyone?)
River Walk

Saw this guy up on street level just chillin' and thought he had an interesting story to tell.
Aged in more ways than one

The first night I was there I hung out with my roommate James Brooks and we were just walking along the River Walk and happened to pass by three guys around our age who were carrying cameras too, about 15 feet after passing them, as almost as if on cue we turned around (as did they) and said, "You work for Best Buy I'm guessing?" and sure enough they were there for the training too. James and I wound up going to a bar called Mad Dogs British Pub right next to the hotel before going out and taking some night photography. That place was so cool (unfortunately I didn't have my camera at the time)! They have half a Mini Cooper, a British phone booth, a mini-Big Ben, a fake Royal guard and a ton of waitresses running around in short plaid kilts (an interesting spin on a mainstay of any good British Pub :) and had a really fun atmosphere. Immediately next to Mad Dogs was a cool, yet dark Jazz Lounge that had some good live music, however I completely am blanking on the band's name (sorry guys).

Would you like to hear Mr. Ron Burgundy play the jazz flute? (yes, I know it's an oboe, but I had to make the Anchorman reference)

Ron Burgandy's Jazz Flute

Afterwards we wound up exploring the immediate area around the hotel and bumped into some interesting characters. We were joking about how many people must have fallen into the river as they were leaving the pub, as there were RARELY any railings of any kind keeping anyone from dropping into the drink. 

This is an example of intentional vignetting by forcing full-frame mode on a DX lens)
River Walk at night

This was near a part of the river walk where you actually have large stepping stones to get across (the gap is only like 2 inches between stones though)
Let the River flow

The second night there quite a few, (and by that I mean all of us) went out to hit the town and experience all that San Antonio had to offer. We started out the night at Joe's Crabshack (which had easily the worst service any of us had ever had) and about every 15 minutes the ENTIRE staff starts dancing around the place. Don't remember how the food was but I remember the crazy hair-do the guy at the front of the conga line had! Afterwards we headed over to Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar, which we stayed at for all of 30 minutes after hearing horrible music from 30-40 years ago (and when I mean bad...I mean stuff you've tried to forget). We tried finding a nice place to go along the Riverwalk, but it all seemed the same, so we asked some locals about where to go and headed over to The Texan based on their recommendations. Nice little pool bar just about 2-3 blocks away that was a ton of fun. My favorite memory from there is this 50+ Mexican local all dressed up in a basketball jersey and cap dancing to some Bon Jovi. This guy must be seen or described in person (I left my camera back in my room for safekeeping from my self) the gyrations and hand motions and facial expressions were reminiscent of Michael Jackson's Thriller album but done by a lunatic who escaped the ward and forgot his pills. After a few hours there, we headed over to Coyote Ugly. I've seen about 10 minutes of the show on TV about this chain, but have never been to one before. If there is a "Worst Coyote Location in the World" award, this would be it. They must have sent all their rejects from around the country here...'nuff said. After leaving there, it was about 2:30AM which gave me about 5 hours to get back to my room before I needed to be up the next morning...I did not feel so hot the next day.

Aeron tested out my camera by taking a shot at 6400 at Joes' Crabshack...this is a 100% crop
Noisy, yes...but definately usable and still sharp!!!
100percent crop iso6400
If the yellow stripe in his hair isn't distracting, that expression sure is!

Joes Crab Shack Crazy Attack

Our 'work day' was over by 5PM every day so we had ample time to go out on our own and do what we wanted, and even though I had planned to go inside the Alamo and look for the basement to find my missing bike (if you don't know the reference...look up some of Paul Reuban's work) I completely forgot by the time I got there. I walked by it several times and the fewest number of people outside I ever saw was about 20 (this includes midnight), so unfortunately I was never able to get a nice human-free shot. The Alamo was significantly different than I had imagined it, smaller, more serene and smack in the middle of everything. To the right of it was the local mall ( which the river ran right through), to the left was a stone skyscraper, and it was right across the street from a wax museum (weird location right?). 

Emerald green grass, azure skies and old brick are a gorgeous combination!

Remember the crowd at the Alamo
Coming from the 40 degree weather in the frozen tundra that in Northern VA this time of year, I was happy to see green trees again. This particular one stood out to me for some reason and was adjacent to the Alamo.
San Antonio Beauty

I was stunned, however by the vast diversity in the architecture. In most cities I've visited, most buildings are boring metal and glass duplicates of each other and don't have any sort of character or any real style of their own. This city is truly diverse, yet not to the point it looked slapped together. It had a strange cohesiveness that was unusual due to the varied design.

I got as far back as a I could without standing in the middle of the busy street (I was already about a foot into one lane), without a full-frame body (and I'm talking about my D3, not me :) this would have been an impossible shot.

SanAntonio Arc03
This was the view from my room, taken at ISO 6400 for 1/6 second
View from the room

While I was hanging out taking a few pictures near the Alamo I bumped into Jermaine (from NC) and we went exploring a new section of town and happened upon one of the oldest buildings in the city, Saint Joseph's Cathedral (circa 1719AD). After taking some exterior photos, Jermaine and I had to go inside and take a look. It was dead quiet and since some people were praying, we both decided to take 1 and only 1 shot a piece and leave without disturbing anyone. We later found out from David (one of the corporate trainers) that photography inside that particular church is forbidden and we lucked out that no one saw us.

Quite ominous for a church
St Peters Cathedral
St Peters Cathedral

Beautiful interior, wish I could have taken even 1 more shot
St Peters Cathedral

I wanted to save my favorite for last. This is a shot of Anna (from CO) achieved with a gelled diffused flash held my trusty voice-activated light stand (I mean Jermaine) and a looonnggg shutter to suck in the background ambiance. We were holding up a massive amount of foot traffic to get this shot along the river, as Matt was redirecting people behind us and I was shooting about 3.5 feet from where a couple had just sat down for a nice quiet evening meal. We got so many people wondering who we were taking pictures of, was it a supermodel, was it a celebrity (sure was!)? Anna wound up playing model all week as we used her for a 'light painting' demonstration the final day where she had about 24 cameras on tripods pointing at her from about 10 feet away and it didn't faze her in the least.

Anna's Photoshoot

I loved this city and was supposed to be home in about 15 minutes from when I'm typing this...if you haven't guessed I decided to stick around for another night, and when I say I decided I mean my flight was cancelled. Apparently about 3000 flights (oh, yes that's 3 zeros) were cancelled today due to negligence of about 5-6 airlines who decided NOT to perform required maintenance on the hydraulic and electrical systems on their planes. So I've had an extra day to hang out around town, but as I had no vehicle and the hotel the airline put me in was about a 20 minute drive from anything but the airport and an Applebees...I've been relaxing in my room all day and going through all my photos. I took about 700 shots (that I KEPT before downloading my cards) over a 3.5 day period and needed to pair those down to a point I could manage.


Hands-on D3 experience: The Good
Amazing detail from ISO 200 through ISO 12800!!! (25600 looses a tad) and throughout the ISO range, noise levels (or lack thereof) are astounding!!!
Compared to my D200 at ISO 1600, I can crank the D3 past 6400 and have LESS noise, not to mention most of it is luminance and more closely resembles film.
I love wide angles for buildings and I love getting tight for shots of unsuspecting citizens from a distance so I don't disturb them, with one click of the wheel I can instantly switch between  FX and DX mode to get a 1.5X extension on any of my lenses when necessary.
Color rendition and saturation is amazing, as is the Active-D Lighting modes. Unlike D-Lighting on other consumer class Nikons, this processing is done before the image is recorded and can very effectively preserve what would otherwise be blown out highlights or crushed shadows.

Panning exposure with subject, kept from blowing out highlights using normal Active D-Lighting -- 1/50 of a second
Texas Blur 02

Hands-on D3 experience: The Bad
Never had a problem with dust on my D200, 1-2 small specs after a year of use. 4-5 specs are on my D3 after a week, and I neglected to bring my Giottos Rocketblower. This is really on noticeable at f./14 and smaller. I like to shoot wide open or just a stop or two down when possible to get that nice shallow DOF, when I get home a quick squeeze of air will clean that all right out.
Had 1 time when my Pocketwizards refused to fire when trying to sync through the hot shoe, but when plugged into the PC Sync connection...flawless, might have a dirty connection on the shoe mount for my PW II.
Still trying to get used to the new focus system, I wish they had spread out the points a little more to cover more of the sensor in FX mode, but whenever my subject is approaching the thirds of the image or even partially passes through the center, focus is spot on!

Yep, this pidgeon only has one I don't know the background story, just loved the lighting, and he was willing to pose for I don't really know if it's a him...
Crippled Pidgeon

The Nikon D3 simply allows me to capture images that would simply have been IMPOSSIBLE with any other camera that has been released to date. What other camera can literally go into a windowless room with the lights off, and at 1/20 of a second get a nice bright exposure from a small amount of light creeping from under a door? What other camera would allow you to, without fail, KNOW that you captured the exact moment or expression you wanted instead of just giving you 3 to 6 versions, it gives you 9 to 11 versions in that second to pick EXACTLY the shot you want and at a click of a switch zoom in an additional 50% without changing lenses, perfect for capturing the moment you weren't able to swap lenses in time for. This kind of tool allows me to be fully creative and no more am I frustrated by the inability of my equipment to get the image I see in my head, if I can't get the shot now, I don't have a 600mm f./2.8 lens or I screwed up.