Tag Archives: Nikon

Q&A: Recommendation for a Full Frame Starter Kit

(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:

Nikkor 28-300 FX
Nikkor 20/2.8

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:

Street vendor - Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Street vendor – Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Himalayan peak

Himalayan peak

Waiting to die - Kathmandu, Nepal

Waiting to die – Kathmandu, Nepal

Greatest versatility, and higher quality:

Nikkor 16-35/4 FX (optional – for wider reach)
Nikkor 24-70/2.8 FX
Nikkor 70-200/2.8 FX Mk. II

This is the kit I carry most often.  They’re very sharp, fast, and durable.  Often, 24mm is enough, so you might go without the 16-35.  Not sure what kind of mission activities you’ll be doing, but looking over my trips, 95% percent of my shots were (or could have been) shot just with the 24-70.

Considerations:  Really the only downside of this kit is the cost and size / weight.

Here are a few shots with them:


Young Kenyan girls - Marigat, Kenya

Young Kenyan girls – Marigat, Kenya

London, UK

London, UK

Young Kenyan siblings - Marigat, Kenya

Young Kenyan siblings – Marigat, Kenya

Young lion cub - Maasai Mara, Kenya

Young lion cub – Maasai Mara, Kenya

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.

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Q&A: New Entry-Level Camera Purchase Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Here is an opportunity for you to redeem the reputation of Nikon aficionados by guiding me in the selection of a new DSLR camera. 🙂 My budget is up to $1,000, but that can go primarily to the camera body if need be. On the lower end it looks like the D3200 or D5100 might be good choices. On the higher end the D7000 got really good reviews. My original Nikon was a D50 (it’s kaput now) and it came bundled with an 18-55 lens and a 55-200 lens. My impression is that neither lens is particularly great, but they work and sticking with them for now gives me more budget for the camera body. Do you agree? So, what do you think overall?

A:  Well, crud.  Nikon had a Black Friday deal that ended yesterday for $999 on a D7000 and 18-105 lens.  Now it’s around $1200.  Still $300 cheaper than usual, but not within the $1K limit.

The cheap kit lenses really aren’t bad, and the 18-55 (either VR or not) looks surprisingly good for the price on my favorite lens testing web site.  The 55-200 doesn’t fare as well, especially in the middle of the range.  But most lenses will do a fair job if you keep them stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8.  (On the D7000 and other high resolution bodies, you can’t stop down too much or you start to lose sharpness due to diffraction.  On it or even worse, the D3200, f/11 is the most you can stop down, and even there, you have started to lose sharpness, especially on the D3200.)

Anyway, the D7000 is a great DX body with excellent performance, focusing, etc.  It’s around $900 right now.  Can’t go wrong for a higher-end body.  Does movies, too, of course.  Great body for an “enthusiast.”  17MP, which is more than enough.

If you’re looking for a great lower-cost body for family and vacation shots / movies, then I would look closely at the D3200.  It’s 24MP!  Does movies, if you care.  Has all the expected ease-of-use features you’d ever want.  Great body for a person for whom a point-and-shoot isn’t cutting it any more, but who doesn’t really anticipate becoming a camera nut.

I have the 18-70 and 18-200 lenses if you want to try them out if you buy a body.  I like them both for different reasons.

This is so exciting!  Always glad to help others spend their money.  🙂

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Q&A: Which Body to Buy?

(This post is from an email conversation with a friend of mine who was buying his first DSLR. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  My question is whether I should rather go for the D40 and spend more $$ on lenses?

I am just not sure whether the D5000 would be a lot simpler for a novice like me.

A:  I didn’t realize that the price of the D90 had come down. It’s now at $810. So it should be in the running, too.

With respect to the D40, it’s a very good camera. The pros are that it is small, cheap, and light. It also offers 1/500 sec. flash sync, which is really useful for fill lighting in daylight. But it is a three year old camera. (I didn’t even know they were still selling new, as I was looking to pick one up six months ago and they weren’t available. There are two main down sides. Most importantly, the sensor uses older technology and will not be good in low light. Above 640 ISO or so, the pictures will be noticeably noisy, so you will need a flash indoors. And second, it will only work with AFS lenses, the lenses that have the AF motor built in. That’s OK for the 18-200 (and every lens that I regularly use), but there are lots of lenses out there (like most of the cheaper non-zoom fast lenses, e.g., all of the 50mm lenses except the new $460 AF-S version) that will not autofocus with it. So that’s a consideration.

Here are some pictures that I took with my D70, which is a 6MP camera that probably has the same or at least a similar sensor to the one in the D40:

Angkor Wat

Bayon Temple

Ta Prohm

Trenna and Ashlynne


Cambodian Girl

Green Heron Siblings

(If you get really bored sometime, here’s my photography site.)

The D5000 has the same AF-S requirement that the D40 has. But it is small and light, and uses a very good recent vintage sensor (12MP), so it will be good to at least 1600 ISO, probably negating the urgent need for a flash.

The reason I would consider the D90 is because it costs just a little more than the D5000, and it is a better camera than the D5000 in most respects. The only thing you lose is that it is bigger. But it also has a good recent sensor (12MP) and will work with all lenses.

I realize I haven’t made the decision any easier.

Overriding principles to keep in mind:  The lenses are more important than the body. The photographer is more important than the equipment.

Case in point:  We had an event a month ago up in Colonial Williamsburg, VA, where we had some photographers go out in the AM to shoot and then gave them hands-on with our pro photography application, Aperture, that afternoon. The best picture of the day was one taken by a guy using a D1H, which is an old 4MP made in 2001! It was an incredible shot, due not to the body or lens, but the photographer.

Any of the three bodies will take great pictures. If I had $1k to spend, there’s no question that I would buy a D40 and 18-200 used and know I could take great pictures in most settings. You’ll be replacing bodies from now on, but the lenses you buy now will stick with you for decades.

Hope somewhere in there is some helpful info.

Postscript:  He bought the D90 and a used 18-200. We’ll see how it turns out!

[Update, 6/30/15 – This post is moved from my old web site and thus all of the links are broken.  I’ll update them as soon as the rest of the site is finished.]

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