DxO Marks Published for the Nikon D600

The team at DxO (who measure sensor performance for cameras across the industry) have published the scores for the Nikon D600, and the results look pretty darn good!  (they use the term “enthusiast photographer(s)” many times during their writeup, which I thought was kind of fun, too…  :))  Before we get to the benchmarks, you might want to see my post “Should I get a new camera?”.

The overall DxO score of the D600 was 94, just one point behind the $2999 D800 and two behind the $3299 D800e.  Pretty amazing.  Even more incredible is comparing the $2100 D600 to the former-flagship Nikon D3X that lists for $7,999.  The D3x scores only an 88 and is bested in every category.  Of course, the D3x was no low-ISO king, so what about the other flagship, the king-of-the-night D3s?  82 vs. 94.  The D600 doesn’t measure up to the D3s in terms of ISO performance, but crushes the D3s in dynamic range and color to claim the crown.  Even the much-loved, former entry-FX Nikon D700  scores an 80.  Wow.  If you’re a Canon shooter, the news is even worse.  While they don’t have a new 6D to test, the current 5DMkIII priced at $3464 scores only 81 and we have little reason to think that Canon would embarrass the fairly-new 5DMkIII with a 6D.

One Important Note: These numbers aren’t the only measure of a camera by any stretch.  In fact, I’d take the position they are very often used to place too much emphasis on the sensor when you really have to look at the entire system and make decisions based on handling, autofocus performance, lens compatibility, weather-sealing and other factors  Iif you’re a regular reader, you know I hate the technology bullies who say you must have the latest sensor.  I chose the D300s with pro handling and AF over the newer D7000 with the better sensor but prosumer AF and handling – I couldn’t be happier.  For the record, the D600 has the same handling and (essentially) AF as the D7000.  That is a good thing for a whole lot of people, just not my personal preference.  I happily shot my similar-handling D70/D90 for years, though, so I’m not saying the D600 doesn’t handle very well – it handles great.  It just doesn’t handle like the pro-handling D300s/D700/D800 – it is a tow-MAY-tow, tow-MAH-tow kind of thing.

The Bottom Line:  These numbers absolutely say that the D600 represents an amazing value.  Nikon is hitting the ball pretty hard these days.  The price of FX isn’t for everyone, but this camera sure lowers the cost of entry.  If you’re a Nikon-shooting Enthusiast Photographer, this gives you a terrific price point for an easy-shooting camera with great durability and stunning performance.

You can check out the full DxO write-up by clicking here.

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Nikon D600 – Full-Frame for the Enthusiast Photographer

The subject of swirling rumors and debates for many months, the worst-kept secret in the photography world finally saw the light of day today: Nikon finally announced the first “prosumer” (my term) full-frame DSLR, the D600.

Before we talk about the specs, lets talk about the price.  Many rumors put it as low as $1500.  I guessed it to be Euros and put it at $1899 or $1999.  All of that was wrong – the price is $2099.  That places it at the same price as the D700 did once the D800 came out, and potentially leaves enough room underneath for a D300s replacement.  On the whole, I think it is a good price but not a great price. An additional $900 gets you to a D800, which will make a lot of people think (personally, I think the D800 is under-priced).

As for specs, they are pretty much what everyone thought:

  • 24.3 Megapixel FX (full frame) sensor, producing images as large as 6,016 x 4,016
  • 5.5 Frames per second
  • ISO 100-6400
  • 39-point autofocus system with 9 cross-type sensors
  • Dual SD slots
  • Built-in screw drive for non-AFS lenses (in other words, lenses that don’t have a built-in motor)
  • U1/U2 user-definable presets like the D7000
  • 3.2″ screen, 921,000-pixel screen
  • 1/4000 maximum shutter speed
  • 1/200 flash sync

Those last two have a lot of people up in arms, and frankly I can’t see why.  This is a camera for the enthusiast.  A body for the serious amateur photographer seeking the low light performance offered by a full-frame sensor.  With ISO 100 and 1/4000, it covers a similar range as the D700 with a base ISO of 200 with a 1/8000 shutter.  Want both ISO 100 and a 1/8000 shutter?  Welcome to the D800.

Ergonomics and autofocus are virtually identical to the D7000, which is a good thing.  I’ve read some reports of the D7000 not working well with superzooms (think 600mm prime lenses as long as your arm), but I don’t see why people who own one of those lenses are going to shoot a D600.  All the lenses the target customers will want to use will work perfectly on the D600.  Ergonomics are classic Nikon, which is a good thing.  Personally, I much prefer the handling of my D300s over the D7000, but it offers a great combination for the novice and advanced shooter.

Since we don’t have comparisons, ISO performance and other figures, it is hard to compare the D600 to anything and come to a full conclusion.  But it is probably very good. Nikon hasn’t laid an egg in a long time (I don’t count the D800 focus issues, since that is a quality control escape, not a product design issue), and this is a new category for them: They’ll hit the ball pretty hard and it will be a winner.

Should you buy one?  Harder to say.  It isn’t cheap.  You only get partial function from your DX lenses if you have any (there is a DX-mode that lets you shoot DX lenses, but I’d like to see it in use before I say that is something you’d live with happily…).  If you don’t have any lenses, your bill for FX glass is generally going to be higher than DX.  At 24MP, your holding technique had better be pretty good or it is going to show up big-time in your photos.  24MP is going to mean bigger cards, more hard drive space and chew up some performance on your PC.

Low-light performance should be strong, and a well-executed image is likely to be very, very good.

If the money isn’t a big deal, I’d say you can’t go wrong.  FX at this price point is a bargain, and you’ll get plenty of help from the camera to get great images.  But like my last post, I don’t ever want to have a great camera and poor lenses.  Being glass-poor is going to make any camera look bad.  Great glass is going to give you wonderful results even from a limited camera.

You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned video.  Call me a curmudgeon, but I have no desire for video on my DSLR, and frankly I don’t know enough about it to offer perspective or opinions.  I’m sure the internet has no lack of those for the video features.

I’m sure a lot of you will be happy owners of a D600, and it is likely to be a big success for Nikon.  As for me, I’m focusing on the equipment I have, and looking at the blank spot in Nikon’s product line where the D300s used to be.  If I was going full-frame, I’d be strongly tempted to pick up a used D700, but I’m a happy DX guy at this point.

Read the official press release, information and see many photos on Nikon’s website.  Also, check out dpreview.com’s preview of the D600 here.

So what do you think about the announcement, the price and the camera?

“Should I get a new camera?”

The Nikon D800 might soon have company…

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…

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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.

The future of Pro DX: Dark

I was reading an article today from Thom Hogan, titled “The DX Problem”. In the article he essentially states we’re getting two more DX cameras this year and that Nikon’s mentality has devolved to a sensor/form factor view as opposed to a customer/user view. Where I’d see Consumer, Prosumer and Pro with use categories underneath (e.g. family shooter, advanced consumer, serious amateur, sports, wildlife, etc.) that would slot into products that fill the need, Nikon sees Coolpix, 1, DX, and FX, at least in Thom’s view.

I think he’s right, and it makes me feel like Nikon is removing a product from their current lineup. Two more DX cameras sounds an awful lot like a D7100 and a D5200, replacing/updating two products that are a tad paler with the D3200 announcement (especially the D5100).

What is left out? A D300s replacement.

As someone who went from a “prosumer” D90 to a “pro” D300s, this is a big disappointment.

Why, you ask? Why wouldn’t a D7200 or a D600 replace a D300s? Why isn’t the latest DX sensor or a new prosumer FX enticing to me? Easy. The answer is handling.

When the PC industry went through a phase where the megahertz and megabytes, it devolved in to a morass of slapped-together, mainly disposable junk. Anything more than a couple years old was bad, and you needed a new one. Cameras are apparently heading this way too. Megapixels rule the day.

The D300s wasn’t an upgrade for me in terms of sensor or megapixels, but it is a liberating camera. The “pro” handling, where switches and knobs allow you to set most key settings instead of a bunch of buttons and menus in the camera’s software, is a terrific thing. It gives me much more instant command of my camera, allowing me to stay focused on the shot in front of me. I can switch all the important stuff without looking at the camera. Awesome.

And it has spoiled me. The D7000 is a terrific camera, and I have no doubt the D600, which appears to be an FX sensor in the D7000 body, will probably be a game changer in the prosumer area. For me, it would be a return to menus and buttons, and I’m just not going to do that. What good is a great sensor if you’re fiddling with buttons and missing the shot? I think the consumer and prosumer cameras are getting the handling just right for the people who are using them, but expecting the wildlife, sports and other folks who want a DX sensor and are used to the “pro” handing of the D200/D300/D300s (not to mention the older D1x, D2x, D2h, etc.) to move to the prosumer models is crazy.

No matter how good the sensor is, those guys and gals aren’t going to be very happy, because the handling is a core part of how they shoot. I don’t think I’m at that level yet, but I can tell you that I’ve benefited a lot from the D300s, even though I didn’t upgrade my sensor at all. Do I want ISO 100, a nice 24MP sensor with the dynamic range of the D7000? A few other things? Sure! (though I’d settle for 16MP, which of course won’t happen). But I want it in a D400 package, not the D7100 or D600. It looks like Nikon is getting out of that business.

I guess the good news is this my wallet is safe from Nikon for a long time. Outside of the blog, I can stop thinking about the next camera so much and focus more on the next shots.

…and the Saga of the D600 Continues…

If you’ve found your way here via a search engine, the Nikon D600 has now announced.  Check out my take on it here.

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The internet (at least the Nikon area of it) is abuzz again today with updated rumors of the FX camera said to be a D600.  The biggest piece of news is that the autofocus motor is now rumored to be included, contrary to previous reports. This makes the camera much more attractive to people like me who have older FX lenses like the original Tamron 28-75 and the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 ED that are manual-focus lenses on a body without a built-in motor like the consumer Nikon D3200 or D5100.

From a glass perspective, this camera still poses an issue.  I have three DX lenses in my kit – the Nikon 35mm f/1.8, the Nikon 18-200 VRII and the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8.  All of these lenses are terrific, and I don’t think I’d sell them to chase the FX-equivalents: the “nifty fifty” 50 f/1.8 and the 28-300.  Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do for wide on FX – wide is pricey on FX!

I’m still hoping for a true DX-based D300s successor.  As I said before, the camera described at Nikonrumors sounds a lot more like a D8000 than a D400/D600.  Since I have upcoming trips to Asia and Europe looming in the next six weeks, I’ll probably be watching from the sidelines…

Nikon D600: a step closer?

NikonRumors has posted some additional details on what they say are specs for a full-frame (FX), 24 megapixel D600, set to be announced before September. Since I mentioned it as a possible tradeoff I was willing to live with, it is pretty funny to me that the updated information purports the new camera to have a 39-point autofocus system (presumably similar to what is in the D7000), which I mentioned in my D400/D600 post.

If that is true, this really sounds like something other than a camera that would be called a D600. With dual SD card slots, no AF motor, U1/U2 preset modes and the 39-point AF system, this sounds a lot like a four-digit model (D8000?) for consumer/prosumer than a pro model (D400/D600).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the prices are rumored to be as low as $1500, but I’m thinking that is Euros (around $1900), lower than the current D700 price of $2199, but high enough and with a feature set that won’t drag too much away from the D800 (though the D800 could use a little easing of demand given the massive-if-likely-inflated orders out there…). That price would give them room for a D400, too…

Whatever they call it, I think the D600 will be a big hit. If there is no D400, I can only hope it pushes used prices down on the D300s and D700, because it won’t be a camera for me – I’m too invested in lenses that require a screw-drive to change now…

What do you think? Is a D600 the right camera for you?

What really replaces the D300s?

If you’re a Nikon guy (or gal – I’m a Nikon guy), you’ve done a lot of wondering lately.  How is Nikon recovering from the disasters in Japan and Thailand? When will the D800 and D4 come out?  What is going to happen with the D700?  When will Nikon meet the demand on these products.

We’ve got some level of answers on several of these questions, but not all of them, and we have others.  For example, what replaces the D300s and when does that happen?  And in some cases the answers we got generated new questions.  Specifically, I’m referring to Nikon declaring that the D800 wasn’t a replacement for the D700, but a “whole new class of product.”  That may just be marketing hyperbole.  It might also you insight to where Nikon is going.

Rumors have been out there about a D400 for a while, and when the D3200 came out, lots of folks declared this 24MP sensor with the pro-build around it was the underpinnings of the replacement for the D300s.  Logical enough.  I posted my D400 wishes here earlier, and it remains one of my most popular posts (at least in terms of hit-count).

But what if Nikon really wants to shake things up?  What if they define a product that replaces both the D300s and the D700?  What if they created an entry full-frame camera at 24MP that had a 12MP DX mode complete with the same viewfinder shroud I understand  is featured in the D700/D3 (that makes what you see in the viewfinder the DX image you’ll get instead of relying on lighted borders or guessing)?  What if they put that product out at $1699 or even as low as $1500 and called it a D600?

Rumors about a Nikon D600 have been popping up on websites that range from lightly trustworthy (Nikonrumors) to very trustworthy (CNET) over the last two weeks, and appear to be gaining momentum.  In general, I like the sound of it.  It means like Nikon is looking forward, not back – Looking to pressure the competition, not protect generations-old product categories.

There is one detail that disturbs me about all this talk: The rumors also say the body wouldn’t have a built-in motor, similar to the entry DX bodies like the D3200/D5100.  That would leave my beloved Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 and Nikon 80-20 f/2.8 out in the cold, and I can’t have that.  My guess is the ability to meter with manual-focus glass and possibly fine-tune lenses would also be left out of this crippled entry offering.  All three of those things make it a non-starter for me.

Part of the bargain of a D700 (or the replacement I described) for me would be that my two best lenses would still work and work well.  These are both terrific lenses that are (relatively) affordable by the Enthusiast Photographer.  If the D600 won’t focus these lenses, it isn’t the camera for me. 😦

It isn’t that I’m against creating limitations to create separation across product lines.  Heck, I’d put the D7000 autofocus system (39 points vs. the 51 of the D300s, D700 and the newer/bigger Pro bodies) and lose a few other features to keep the screw-drive in a D600 along with the other tools that let me use some of the best and most affordable lenses out there.

Ultimately, Nikon is going to do what they think they have to do drive sales and get ahead in the market.  Much like BMW, one of my other favorite brands, it may cost them to future loyalty and sales of the old-school folks who care more about photos and less about video, who want to have strong core features and are less worried about frills.

As right as the D600 probably is for Nikon’s balance sheet, it leaves me out of the equation unless a D400 also appears.  I don’t see how that can happen based on the price point of the D700 and the rumored price point of the D600.  Even if the D7000 drops to $999, I can’t see a D600 at even $1599 with a D400 somewhere in the middle.

So I’m rooting for the D600 rumors to be wrong, or even just nothing more than rumors.  And I’m still wondering when we’ll know…