Which Camera? Or, the Nikonian Conundrum
“It’s time for a new camera.” We’ve all said these words. We’ve all walked down the path of researching the brands and models. It’s one daunting experience to say the least! You can go absolutely crazy trying to process all the information out there. Besides the manufacturers websites that provide the specifications, there are also myriads of photography forums where users share their own experiences with the products. This can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is, you get feedback from people who actually own/have used the camera you are interested in. The curse is, there’s plenty of whackos with all kinds of dumb opinions! Forums are often raft with contradictory experiences. It can be hard to get an accurate vibe about a product.
Even amongst the “Photography Rabbis/Gurus” that are celebrated on the Net, there are differing opinions about cameras. One guy says buy this camera, the other says no, this is the better camera. Like I mentioned, there is no end to the opinions. But I will argue – my opinion – that we shouldn’t be making a decision based on other’s opinions. Often we do, especially from the Rabbis. We take their word as gospel. However, we need to make informed decisions about upcoming purchases based on hard data instead.
This issue has been plaguing me personally for months. It’s been at the forefront of my mind. I’m a Nikon guy shooting my D300s. It’s a nearly perfect camera. I love the build quality, the ergonomics, battery life, almost everything. The only thing that I complain about is the ISO performance. In low light, it’s lack luster. So, I have been wanting to remedy that for quite some time and going to an FX full frame Nikon has been my goal. But I have been in agony about what camera to buy. It should be simple, but it’s not. In the previous generation, Nikon made the D3 and the D700. Choice was easy. If you were sports/action full time pro, D3. Everything else: D700. It was and is and epic camera that will go down in history as such. It was the ultimate all rounder. Amazing ISO performance. Fast FPS that got better with a grip. Great battery life. No movie mode though, which came back to bite it as Canon’s 5DMII gobbled up the videography market. That aside though, it was the perfect FX camera.
The problem that both Canon and Nikon ran into though was that the D700 & 5DMII cannibalized sales from their top end cameras. Full time working pros were buying these amazing performers at a much cheaper price point and getting tremendous results. In this latest generation of cameras, efforts have been made to prevent the problem from happening again.
Instead of having two FX choices, Nikon users now have 3 wonderful tiers to choose from. D4 for the ultimate in low light and speed, D800 for maximum resolution and print ability and, D600 as a great all-rounder. The D800 is radically different from the D700 and, it is not necessarily the logical upgrade – despite the branding. Nikon has split the once lower tier into 2. The D600 is probably the more logical upgrade to the D700 in spec and performance, but with caveats. And those caveats are causing the Nikon “FX Conundrum.”
The D800 has the build quality, controls and feel of the D700 and that D300s users know and love. The D600 is fashioned more from the D7000 DX camera lineage. Both cameras produce incredible image quality, as testified to by DxOmark. But a camera is more than a sensor. It’s the whole package that comes together to make it work. Both the D600 and D800 are impressive, however I would have been tremendously happy if the we could have had the D600 sensor in the D800 body (Kinda like a Canon 5DMIII). I want the build quality, controls and feel of my D300s in the D800, but I don’t really want the huge glory of 36MP RAW size. 24MP would be perfect, but I don’t like the more D7000-esque controls of the D600. So what’s a D300s user to do? Gotta pick one.
That to me is the key question I ask myself. What do I need in an FX camera? I believe this must be the starting point rather than pouring over endless camera forum opinions and even camera manufacturer spec sheets. What do I need? What do I shoot? What are my photographic goals now and what will they be in the future? What camera will help me reach those goals? After all, cameras are just tools.
I do a lot of off camera flash portraiture stuff. The first bone of contention with the D600 was the 1/200 second sync speed drop from 1/250. Small, but fairly critical. You lose a third of a stop of flash power. Also, some of the fit and finish of the D600 system feel like a “down grade” from my D300s, especially regarding the autofocus. I also shoot a lot of landscape so the added detail of the D800 would be welcome, but in all seriousness, the D600 is one amazing landscape camera. Either would be very capable. Likewise for macro work that I also love to do. The image quality and resolution of both would be more than enough.
So for me and my needs, I decided to pull the trigger and get the D800. At the end of the day, I felt that it would help me reach my photographic goals better than the D600 – marginally though, which made it an agonizing decision! Also, I feel that the D800 will be more future-proof as computers get faster, storage gets cheaper and huge resolution gets bigger and more common. And, it may sound stupid, but I’ve always wanted an integrated eyepiece shutter too for time lapse or long exposures. Minor I know! But over all, the D800 was more like my D300s which I still plan on using, especially for events. Having similar controls makes switching back and forth a more seamless experience.
Will a 36MP hog become my everyday, goto camera? No. No it won’t. And this was a big hangup I had for a long time! I feel that a D700 or D600 could easily be because they are not so unruly in file size and over all management. But ironically, since I’ve had and used the Nikon 1 V1, this need has been met in an even more portable/manageable non-DSLR format. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring it anywhere, especially for snapshots of the kids. Where any DSLR is just too bulky to contend with, the V1 fills the need for having a small, light goto, do anything camera. But for more serious stuff, the D800 is going to do everything I need and then some.
So there you have it. This is how I arrived at my decision. I highly recommend you do a needs-based assessment of your photographic goals first before reading the never ending stream of internet opinions about cameras. You will have a much clearer direction in mind before you start to read spec sheets and other guru opinions. Find the camera that is right for you.