Internet forums are abuzz about what Nikon will (and possibly won’t) announce soon. The widely-rumored announcement of the D600 in September has a lot of D700 and D7000 owners thinking about an upgrade, while many D300s owners lament Nikon’s apparent lack of intention to release a successor to that product.
As all the specs and debates swirl around, I’m reminded of the advice I got early on: Invest in better lenses first.
Why? Lots of reasons, but here is my big three:
First, constant-aperture lenses (called “fast glass” on lots of forums) give you a lot more flexibility with ISO and shutter speeds. When I got my old Tamron 28-75 f.2.8, it was just terrific on my D90, and it improved my ability to shoot in low-light a lot. My Nikon 35mm f/1.8 is even better. There are even 50mm f/1.2 lenses that can be had on the used market for under $500. These lenses give you as much as two to four times more light to work with than a kit lens. Those additional “stops” of flexibility are hard to achieve at the sensor, and expensive, too…
Second, good lenses make any camera better. Your view is only as good as the window you’re looking through, and average lenses are going to deliver average performance or worse. Good lenses are going to give you better results, even if you aren’t using their low-light capabilities. They tend to produce sharper images with better colors and contrast.
Lastly, for the most part, the nice lenses you invest in today will still be nice lenses on your next camera. So my D70, D90 and now D300s all have been able to share and benefit from the same lenses. I said “for the most part” because Nikon makes lenses specific to their DX “crop sensor” platform. Three of the lenses in my bag are DX lenses (the Tokina 11-16, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and the Nikon 18-200 VRII), so they won’t work if I ever decide to switch to FX. However, unlike bodies, lenses tend to keep their value extremely well. I could probably sell the lenses I bought used for the same money I paid, and the two I bought new are still worth 85%+ of their original purchase price. In return, they’ve made all my photographs better, and I’ve gotten shots I would have missed with a kit lens. That is an investment.
Contrast that to a body that is two or three years old. Some are worth only half of their original price, and eventually become very difficult to sell. Lenses tend to hit a price and pretty much stay there unless a new version pushes the price down, though occasionally the older models are worth more.
Great lenses don’t have to be expensive. In Nikon’s portfolio, the 85mm f/1.8 G is astounding and sells brand-new for under $500. I mentioned you can pick up the astounding Nikon 50mm f/1.2 for about the same money used, or get the classic “nifty fifty” 50mm f/1.8D for around a hundred bucks. My Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 is ancient and sells for around $300, less than 1/3 of the pro-Nikon version, with 90% of the performance (in my opinion).
My point is this – there are lots of internet bullies who’ll tell you that anything but the latest sensor isn’t worth having. Don’t buy into it (literally and figuratively). Especially at the megapixel range we’re seeing in Nikon’s latest lineup (16MP D7000, 24MP D600, 36MP D800), focusing on lenses first is a much better idea. These cameras are going to make average glass look pretty darn average. They’ll make good glass sing.
Not only will you likely spend a lot less money upgrading your lenses, they’ll make a bigger difference in your photography, and they’ll last longer, too…
UPDATE: I wanted to add one more thing. If you’re an Enthusiast Photographer, think beyond the body and glass. Are you doing landscape or other shooting where you’re going to need a tripod? Budget for a decent one. I’m not saying you have to go spend $1500 on ReallyRightStuff.com (though I would if I could), but get something serious if you’re a serious hobbyist. My point is that bodies are sexy (:)), but you have to think holistically about your system to get the best results, and a good tripod and head are a big part of that for a lot of us. If you shoot landscapes, etc. and are wondering if you should spend your money on the latest body or a good tripod setup, my vote would be tripod.