PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

9Oct/070

Nikonian Ramblings

Almost all the photographers I know subscribe to the Canon faith. Because of this I’m often polled for my opinion on Nikon news. And what Nikon news we’ve had this fall… I’m distilling here all the conversations I’ve had on the topic for the last 2 months.

First off, about this author: I’m a high-end buyer with a very finite budget, not likely to own a D3 as a result, and completely obsessive about optical quality.

The D3 : here

First reaction: hun?

At first I stared at this replacement for both D2X and D2H product lines (implied by name) and couldn’t understand why Nikon would go up against a 21MP machine with a (comparatively) weak 12MP. For a split-second I was disappointed. Now that some time has passed and images are relatively abundant, it’s clear that the D3 is primarily intended to be a 1D MkIII competitor that just happens to get within scratching range of the 1Ds Mk III. But at half the cost.

I wasn’t the only one to be confused, even long time Nikon-watchers were spun around.

Second reaction: OMG!

The D3 is a massively impressive tool: an FX-format (35mm), 9fps machine with a 30% larger pixel pitch than the 1D Mk III. Unless Nikon screwed up, this should win hands down on image quality. It instantly obsoletes all previous Nikon cameras on all technical aspects. D2s are ready to become history.

At minimum this product ends the Canon hegemony in the high-speed photography domain. It is not likely to form a new standard just yet however, because long Nikkor lenses are slower and that cancels the advantage imparted from the larger pitch. I must also say the shooting buffer is kind of short, but it’s possible the dual-memory design may reduce the need.

As for competition with the 1Ds Mk III… only time will tell if Nikon has prepared an ever bigger bomb to drop on Canon, but even if they haven’t the D3 stands up to Canon’s flagship quite well on bang per dollar. The 1Ds Mk III is going to have more total bang, however. Having neither 5K$ or 8K$ to spend on my next body, this is all very academic.

In the end the D3 is absolutely a milestone camera for the Nikon faithful. It ends an era of DX-format at the high end and marks the arrival of several new technologies. In 10 years time, Nikon photographers will still be talking about “when the D3 finally came out”.

The D300 : here

Reaction: this is the best DX-format camera ever built by man.

The D300 has most everything the D3 has except the sensor size (more on that below) and that makes it a very difficult product to beat. It whips the 40D on every spec (resolution, speed, AF, LCD, flash and sealing). It also costs more, but not enough so to flip things around.

Call me biased, but I think the D300 is the clear winning product in this category. And of course, it too relegates the D2 series to a historical footnote.

Now back to “best DX…” part, is that a good thing? Well it has the dubious honor of being the best of all the cameras I don’t really desire anymore, because now I want an FX-format sensor too.

The impact on DX-format image quality

This is where my feelings become mixed up. Now that Nikon has shipped the FX-format at the high end, it spells doom on hopes of high-quality DX primes, or even high-quality DX zooms. To keep believing in the future of high-end DX lenses is to hope against business sense.

While you may be able to find a 35-mm or 50mm-equivalent kind-of-fast-ish prime for DX, none of the choices are actually any good. This is my obsessive personality talking. An f/1.4 lens you need to step down to get good results is a mislabeled product, outrageously so for an f/2 or f/2.8 one. One always buys a fast prime to use it wide-open, the aperture might as well be welded open.

That was actually one of the promises of the DX format, if you’ll recall back to the beginning. A smaller sensor, requiring smaller image circles, should make possible some truly outrageous lenses for the same physical size and weight. Alas this is not to be now, as DX is only going to be a cost-reduction medium from now on.

FX-format for all

Show me the 5D-killer. A D300 body with the D3 sensor will nail the 5D to the wall. Call that the D300x and ship it for 2799$.


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