Earlier this week, Nikon announced the latest camera in the DX lineup — the Nikon D300s. While the specifications may have changed, the sensor hasn’t. So… what exactly does this new and improved camera bring to the table?
Nikon D300s Announcement
Announced July 30, 2009 the Nikon D300s is touted by Nikon USA as “combining professional-level performance with agility and enhanced D-Movie capabilities to deliver a new benchmark for creative versatility.” This is directly out of the first paragraph of the Nikon Press Release. The press release also states that this new body is supposed to hit dealers later this month for a price of $1799.95. You can already pre-order it from Amazon – Nikon D300s for this advertised price, though they claim it won’t ship until September 13th. I’m guessing these will go fast so if you want yours when it comes out, you’re best to pre-order it now!
In looking through my RSS streams of digital photography news, I realized that DPReview came out with their own Nikon D700 review. While DPReview has been tauted as one of the best sites for in depth comparison and review of Digital Cameras, I find that their tests tend to be biased toward a lab setting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I am more interested in first hand, in the field experience such as the Thom Hogan review I posted about last week. Regardless, they give it a great review from my perspective and so I really cannot complain.
Unfortunately, yet another great review does nothing to reduce my desire to try out this camera myself. However, I do keep reminding myself that I still have so much to learn with my present camera!
Nikon just announced (well, about a week ago now I guess) the new Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens. This is pretty much the same lens as the older, built to last Nikon 50mm f/1.4D that I have except that it adds an internal focusing motor as well as a slightly new internal design.
Up to now, there have been numerous 50mm designs by Nikon. This lens replaces the venerable Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D lens which has been a staple for low light photography since 1995. I own this D version. It’s phenomenal. For low light photography, fast lenses can’t be beat. I can’t imagine how well this would work on a D700 or D3 with their incredible high ISO performance. You could shoot in just about any lighting conditions.
However, over the past few years, Nikon has removed the focus motor from some of their consumer level dSLR cameras such as the D40, D40x and D60. This means that a lot of the really good older lenses such as the 85mm f/1.4 which is touted as one of the best portrait lenses ever, is not usable by these entry level cameras. In my opinion, these cameras were designed for the DX market of lenses which all had the focus motor built into the lens. They were not designed for working professionals which might use these really good, but more professional lenses.
Aside from the more obvious internal motor (which also allows seamless manual focus override by just grabbing the focus ring), they’ve made the lens a bit more complex by adding an additional lens element. Therefore, the new lens has 8 elements in 7 groups as opposed to the older lens which had one less (7 elements arranged in 6 groups). What this should help to fix is the softness in the corners when shooting wide open. Not that this was very apparent, but Nikon claims that this new design will decrease this.
Also, the new lens boasts a new 9 bladed diaphram which may give a nicer look to the bokeh than the older 7 bladed diaphragm which sometimes gave a somewhat jagged 7 sided spotty look. I’ll be curious to see how the reviews rate this newer lens.
For all these new features, the price of the new lens is over $140 more than the older version at $440.
As much as I enjoy the idea of the AF-S design with the real-time manual focus override, I really have no performance issues with the current version. In fact, I use the lens so much that I rarely remove it from my camera. Therefore, I really don’t think paying for another one is really worthwhile since I have no problems with what I have. Plus, I usually make a distinct choice to go from manual focus to auto focus so I think I’ll live with what I have.
Plus, the version I have is really solid and should last for years. I’m not so sure that all the newer lenses are quite as durable.
However, I do wish that Nikon would step up and start filling the holes in their current prime lens lineup. With very few wide prime lenses still in production, I really think that those of us in the Nikon camp are feeling a bit neglected.
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!