Nikon’s Current Digital SLR Offerings

Don’t get me wrong — I love my Nikon D200.  It’s great for what I use it for and feels great in my hand.  After having had it for close to 8 months or so, I have finally put about 5000 images through it and I’m just now starting to feel totally comfortable with it.  Yes.  It takes that long.

However, with the recent announcements from Nikon, I’m starting to have camera lust…  Not only has my beloved D200 been replaced with the new Nikon D300, but the professional Nikon D3 has come out with it’s little brother the Nikon D700.  While the $5,000 D3 is clearly out of my price range (not to mention I really have no need for such a camera), the $2,800 D700 looks very appealing.  The biggest draw of this camera to me is that it’s full frame and has some really impressive high ISO performance from the test images I’ve seen.  But it’s not quite so easy.

Nikon D300 – $1,600

While this is clearly the upgraded D200, it boasts a host of new features.  It’s quite reasonably priced for a semi-pro camera and the performance of the auto focus is supposed to be much better than my D200.  Also, it adds a nice 3 inch screen on the back which would be a huge upgrade from the D200′s 2.5 inch screen.  Not to mention the fact that it incorporates Live View which allows framing of shots by using the 3″ screen instead of having your eye plastered to the viewfinder.  This sounds great for landscape shooting.

However, on the flip side, the D300 really doesn’t have that much of a pixel advantage.  12.1 (D300) vs. 10.2 (D200).  What’s more, it’s a pretty high price to pay for a camera which has been surpassed by the D700.

Nikon D700 – $2,800

Here’s where the fun really starts for me.  While the D200 and newer D300 are both DX cameras, the D700 is FX (Full Frame).  What’s the difference?  From the beginnings of digital photography, the image sensors were smaller than the general 35mm frame from film bodies.  However, Nikon didn’t want to come out with a whole new range of lenses for their digital cameras so they made them compatible with all the existing 35mm lenses.  What this means is that the edges of the image as seen through the lens are not actually projected onto the image sensor.  This means that the D200 and D300 (having 10.2MP and 12.1MP respectively) are getting just the central part of the image projected through a 35mm lens.  For this reason, a normal 50mm lens is the equivalent of a 75mm lens on a full frame camera.  Everything is ‘zoomed’ by 1.5x.

This can be good or bad.  For bird photographers or other nature photographers where their subjects tend to be far away, a DX sensor will give an added 1.5x zoom to that 400mm telephoto lens making it equivalent to a 600mm lens.  And since the pixel density is higher on the D300 than on a full frame body, great detail can be resolved out of that central pert of the image.

However, take the flip side.  For landscape work, the DX bodies have been quite frustrating.  That wide angle 20mm prime that has been around since film days is now equivalent to a 35mm lens.  Not nearly as wide.  Certain manufacturers have been coming out with DX specific wide angle lenses, but there are a ton of really good prime lenses which are nice and wide on a full frame body but really weren’t all that nice for DX bodies.

One should not that, Nikon did indeed come out with new lenses for the DX sensor.  These lenses are smaller and lighter than their FX counterparts mainly due to the fact that they need to project a smaller image onto the sensor.  However, now that the new top dogs of the Nikon lineup are both full frame, is DX even going to be around that much longer?  It seems like these specialized DX lenses may become somewhat of an orphanded group in the not too distant future.

For my work, I really think that the full frame sensor makes good sense.  I tend to enjoy shooting landscapes and portraits and I think that it would simply be a better choice.  Not to mention that the low light (high ISO) abilities of the D700 are vastly superior to the D300, let alone the D200.

So, what’s the verdict?

What I really want is a D700 with a slightly more pixels.  The 12.1MP is nice, but I’d really like to see 16 or so for that kind of money.  However, I think I’ll get over that.  More megapixels means larger files.  Larger files mean more processing time and hard drive space.  The real hurdle is that one of my main lenses is a 18-70mm DX lens — meaning it won’t work on a full frame body!   And as much as I’d love an excuse to go out and get the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, at over $1500, it’s another huge hit on the budget!

In the end, I really can’t justify the cost of a new camera since I’m really not making much off my present camera.  But hey — it’s fun to dream, right!

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be busy reading Thom Hogan’s review of the D700 and dreaming!