PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux


Is the D3 a milestone camera?

Not every second camera that comes out sets a milestone, you can’t just drink the marketing cool-aid for this. In my book a milestone camera would be one that defies classification when it comes out, whose moniker might later be used to refer to the whole class it engendered, or that otherwise offers capabilities that are either wholly novel or newly affordable to serious photographers.

The best example of a milestone camera is Canon’s 5D. Even on the day that it came out nothing about the 5D was really novel or redefined the absolute state of the art, but it put then-prohibitive quality in the hands of devoted middle-class photographers. This isn’t to say that the 5D is or ever was “affordable”, but many will find money for their passions (cars, motorcycles, boats, golf, whatever… cameras) if the golden opportunity presents itself. For many serious amateur photographers the 5D was that opportunity and it created a class of cameras, the “5D-class”, which to this day comprises of the 5D alone (but this is set to change soon).

As well not all milestones cameras are great, but it helps a lot. The most recent example of a milestone camera that stirs only mild excitement is Sigma’s DP1. Independent reviews that I am inclined to trust (i.e. from people I trust) paint the DP1 as a brilliant idea, an engineering success (particularly the lens) which then got wrapped into a cheap gizmo. It would be sad if no-one ever refers to the “DP1-class” cameras in the future, because that would mean the brilliant idea died with the DP1 (not that the DP1 is dead yet, it was just born).

Back to our topic of the day then: is the D3 a milestone camera? Yes. I'm sure of it.

In more ways than one it marks the end of Nikon’s first digital era (started by the D1), and the beginning of its second. The D3 carries the flag for a serious advance on image quality, restores the best of the film heritage and does away with old baggage at the same time. It defies classification by referring to every professional camera out there at once, while also maintaining a safe distance in comparison.

The jury is still out on whether the D300 is a milestone camera however. It probably is the best APS-C camera ever made, I believe it, and it shames the D2-series for a fraction of the cost. But I think the D300 suffers from the shadow of a D300-with-FX-sensor looming over the horizon - that might be Nikon's next contender in the milestone category.
Let's see if 2008 brings any other milestones...

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Entertaining and informative – a rear combination. Thanks

  2. The D3 is without question a milestone, just as the 5D is. The D300 is a bit of a grey area though. I own one, and love it, but I think it’s an important camera, not a milestone. It’s high ISO performance is amazing, and I think it’s the standard that other non-full frame cameras will be judged by for a long time to come but it will pass into history long before the D3 does. When Nikon releases the full frame Dxxx series camera the D300 will fade from memory because it doesn’t offer anything ground breaking. Being the current best does not a milestone make. The smaller sensor size will live on for years to come in amateur cameras and pro cameras. That crop factor is a boon for long distance shooting. Short lenses and walking up to the subject is great for a lot of shooting styles, and quite admirable, but the grizzly bear is going to notice you in his face with a 24mm lens. In another 6 months or a year Canon, Nikon or another manufacturer will release a camera that is just a little better and while everyone will still point to the D300, it will no longer be on top. Important but not a milestone.

    I am really enjoying the photography side of your blog. Great content and written very well.

  3. Thank you Topslakr, and I agree with your comment as well. Well said.

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