(This post is from an email conversation with a friend. I thought the content might be useful for others.)
Q: I suppose I should begin to look seriously at a good digital setup and begin practicing.
What are your recommendations? Nikon has new FX models to replace the DX models. Apparently the FX CMOS has larger surface area. What is your recommendation about a multi-purpose lens?
Any acutal user opinion would be appreciated.
A: First of all, if I were starting to put together a kit today, I would seriously consider a mirrorless four-thirds camera. They are easier to carry in both size and weight, and have good lens options. What you lose is a bit of AF speed (but nothing like the point and shoots of a few years ago) and low-light performance (again, not as bad as you’d think). Here is a site with the formats illustrated. The main players are full frame (what we were used to shooting 35mm; Nikon calls theirs FX), APS-C (typical for early or consumer digital SLRs; Nikon calls theirs DX), and four-thirds (which is about half the full frame in both dimensions, or 1/4 the overall area). The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is a highly rated example. I’ve never used a four-thirds camera, but based on what I’ve been reading I would definitely consider it if I didn’t already have such a large investment in Nikon DSLRs and lenses.
It’s really amazing how much bigger DSLRs are than the SLRs we used with film. And you’ll feel it even more since Pentax’s SLRs were some of the smallest.
Because of the strong capabilities of the four-thirds cameras, I wouldn’t mess with DX (APS-C) cameras. To me, they are the worst of both worlds: the size and weight of the full-frame DSLRs with the poorer low-light capabilities of the four-thirds cameras. (The Nikon D7200 is a good one if you want to consider one though.)
If I decided I was going with a full-frame DSLR, I would choose one of two Nikon FX bodies – either the D750 (24MP) or the D810 (36MP). The D750 is smaller and very quick. The D810 is an incredible camera – decently quick (5FPS), but the highest quality images you can imagine. I wouldn’t consider the D610 or Df. They are all pricey. The DPReview site has a good table comparing the D610, D750, and D810.
Another thing to consider is how large the files are that these bodies produce. My D810’s RAW images are close to 50MB each, and nearly 250MB when converted to TIFF or PSD files for editing in Photoshop or other destructive apps. They’ll eat up your CF/SD cards and disk space, and really tax your computer’s CPU and GPU. On the other hand, you can make 4’x6′ prints from the D810. Everything is a tradeoff. Unless I need RAW files, I often shoot in low res JPG formats for 9MP, which is often still much more than enough.
Finally – on the bodies – I LOVE having a battery grip on the bottom of whatever camera I’m using. Feels better (though bigger and heavier) and gives me another set of controls for shooting vertical. And on the D810, it can bump you up to 7fps.
For lenses, the choices are endless, and I have most of them. 🙂 There are three main sets of lenses that’ll get you from very wide to at least 200mm. I’ll not list the option of just using primes, but here are the other two:
Lowest cost, weight, and size:
Those are the two lenses I carried up into the Himalayas. 28mm is not wide enough for many settings, so carrying the relatively tiny 20mm gets the wide end taken care of.
Considerations: The zoom’s maximum aperture is usually f/5.6, so you’ll be a little hard-pressed to blow the background out of focus. The zoom is sharp enough at f/8-f/11 to be perfectly fine on my D810, which is actually pretty amazing considering the 11x range. It’s great to be able to go to 300mm, and not to have to switch lenses as much – especially in dusty (typical) locations.
Here are a few shots with that zoom:
Nikkor 16-35/4 FX (optional – for wider reach)
Nikkor 24-70/2.8 FX
Nikkor 70-200/2.8 FX Mk. II
Considerations: Really the only downside of this kit is the cost and size / weight.
Here are a few shots with them:
I wish we lived closer. I have all of this gear plus the full set of primes and would love for you to be able to try it out and see what you like. I think I will be driving to [your state] in either two or three weeks and could bring stuff for you to get your hands on. BTW, I have a D700 (12MP) body (discontinued, but a fantastic camera) I don’t use.
Anyway, if you want to move quickly to get a DSLR, I’d get a D750 with either the 28-300+20/2.8, or the 24-70/2.8. And if you don’t have a preferred camera dealer, I’d strongly endorse Brad Berger at Berger Camera up in NY. They typically meet B&H/Adorama pricing, but with much more personalized service. He’s gone way out of his way for me many times.